Monthly Archives: August 2010

Family-Flexible Fajitas

So far this summer, we’ve had two occasions to get most of us together as a family.  Somehow, it seems that each time (actually, even the time I went away to visit a sibling in May this also happened), I ended up in the kitchen making my requested, family-favorite guacamole and pico de gallo recipe.  This is usually paired with our Family Flexible Fajitas, as it’s about one of the few dishes on which we can all agree to feed the crowd gathered for dinner.
You know how it is:  one person doesn’t eat meat, another can’t have dairy, the kids don’t like to do anything but pick at their plates, it’s the day of the week where someone else only eats red food, someone is on a diet, etc., etc.  It really is enough to make one’s head spin, and it sometimes gets to the point where even the local Chinese take-away can’t satisfy everyone.  In that case, we turn to this meal to try to accommodate everyone’s tastes and dietary situations.  It’s relatively quick and easy to make, and the components can be put together by different members of the family working at separate stations in the kitchen.

Pico de Gallo

The other great part about this recipe is just how colorful it is, as the first photo shows.  The produce alone was enough to make the woman behind me on line at my parents’ suburban supermarket comment that I must be making something wonderful with all those gorgeous items.  As we eat with our eyes first, this is also a way to introduce some different textures and flavors to the children, although not all of them will go along with this, as everyone knows.  Sometimes, however, cousin-see, cousin-do actually gets them on board with new tastes and food.  Nothing like family peer-pressure to encourage even the fussiest ones to open up their palates!

Family-Flexible Fajitas

Prep time: about one hour (can prepare the Pico de Gallo in advance)
Serving size:  at least 4 adults and a few children, depending upon their appetites, but easily expanded


Sautéed Peppers and Onions (recipe below)

Chicken in Coriander and Lime Juice (recipe below)

Tortillas (flour works best)

Cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack or your favorite Mexican mix)

Sour Cream
Scallions, chopped
Pico de Gallo (see link for recipe)
Guacamole (see link for recipe)

The key to getting this on everyone’s plates is to set up the dishes in stations, so that everyone can create the dish he/she wants to eat and so that parents can supervise what their kids are having.  Although this recipe is written for fajitas, the same ingredients can also be used to create quesadillas, with the tortillas being heated in a pan.  This will just add a bit more time to the process of getting everyone to the table to eat as a family, but the cut-up triangles might be more appealing to your little ones.

My recommendation is to start the pico de gallo first, so that the flavors have time to meld together.  You can make it anywhere from the morning of the meal where you’d like to serve it to a hour or so ahead of time.  Once you’ve made the pico and the guacamole and set some aside for serving with the meal, let everyone dive in with tortilla chips to help themselves to it as an appetizer.

Sautéed Peppers and Onions

Prep time: 25 minutes

1 large onion (yellow or white)
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/4 tsp salt
1 pinch black pepper
1 large red pepper
1 large yellow pepper
1 orange pepper (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano

Cut the onion in half and then slice each half thinly to create half-circles.  Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat for 30 seconds.  Add the onions and stir to coat the onions in the oil.  Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes, until the onions are soft.  Don’t let them burn or get too dark.

While the onions are cooking, cut open the peppers and remove the seeds and the core.  Slice the peppers into lengthways strips about 1/8-inch long.  You want to keep everything more or less the same size so that they cook evenly.  When the onions have cooked for 10 minutes, add the peppers to the skillet.

Toss the peppers so that they are on the bottom of the skillet and the onions are on the top (as much as you are able).  Cook the peppers and onions for 8-10 minutes, turning them occasionally, until the peppers become soft but do not brown.  Sprinkle the additional salt and pepper and add the oregano to the mixture in the skillet.  Stir to incorporate thoroughly.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Chicken in Coriander and Lime Juice

Prep time: 20 minutes

2 Tbsp canola oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. chicken breast meat, cut into 2-3 inch strips
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 lime, juiced

Heat canola oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Add minced garlic cloves and let cook for 30 seconds until you can smell the perfume of the garlic, but do not let it turn brown.  Put the chicken into the pan and stir to coat in the oil.  Let it cook for 8-10 minutes, turning over the pieces so that each side cooks.

Sprinkle the salt, pepper, and coriander over the chicken and then pour in the lime juice.  Stir everything to incorporate it and let it cook for 5 minutes more so that the seasonings get into the meat.  Serve warm.

Kitchen Witch Tips:
I come from a family where leftovers can be a prized commodity.  In fact, the second time when I was at home and made this dish, I was making lunch of leftovers when my father came into the kitchen a bit hang-dog looking for them, although he lost a bit of interest as there wasn’t any chicken from the night before.  This is survival of the fittest, fajita style.

Huevos Rancheros – a great use for leftovers!

I ended up making two brunch-style dishes from the remains of that meal: one an open-faced quesadilla topped with an over-easy egg and the other more of a breakfast burrito with the egg cooked omelette-style and wrapped up with all the peppers, onions, and cheese.  The left over pico and guacamole went well with them, too.

Buon appetito!

New Amsterdam Market Ice Cream Festival

This Sunday, when I looked outside, it hardly seemed like appropriate weather to head downtown to the Ice Cream Festival at the New Amsterdam Market.  Still, the chance to try six sample-sized cones of handmade, artisanal treats for just $20.00 was too tempting to keep me lounging around my apartment for long.  Besides, I had written about how much my grandfather had enjoyed eating ice cream, and this would be a way to honor his memory as well as that of his Dutch ancestry, as that same site has housed many of New York’s markets.

My first stop was to try MilkMade Ice Cream’s Blackberry and Gingersnap flavor.  I loved the tart fruit paired with the peppery backnote of the ginger.  This one definitely topped the fruit category for me of the samples that I had at the market.  They offer a monthly delivery program where you can have a pint of locally-sourced, handmade ice cream right at your door, if you live within a certain area.  I discovered that I am in one of the zip codes they serve, which makes this an item to put on my holiday wish list.

The next stand I visited was Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, which has a store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and several trucks stationed around the city.  I opted for Pistachio, which can sometimes be a difficult flavor to love.  This one was rich and creamy with lots of nuts.  On an errand of mercy later in the market, I grabbed a cup of their Chocolate for Karen Seiger, who was manning the table for her terrific book, Markets of New York City.  She raved about how delicious it was.

For my next two choices, I went a bit out-of-the-box as far as ice cream flavors go, at least for me.  I stopped by Roberta’s (based in a pizzeria in Brooklyn) and Early Bird Cookery (a catering and food-delivery service).  At the former, I had their Husk Cherry cone.  This is based upon a fruit called the cape gooseberry, which is a small, papery-husk covered yellow orb.  The taste is something like a cross between a cherry and a pineapple.  It made for an interesting sample.  I could see having a scoop of it along with a molten chocolate cake or a slice of pound cake as a tangy-tart counterpoint.

At the latter place, I tried their Hay ice cream.  Yes, that is right, hay.  This one tasted a lot like honey with a nutty backnote, which was not an unpleasant flavor at all.  One of the more interesting aspects of this stand, however, was that the bowls they were using are made of a compostable sugarcane base.  The spoons were made of birch.  This is a long way from the plastic-coated paper cups of my elementary school days.

Finally, I was faced with a dilemma.  Two tickets left and two stands to go.  Should I pick one flavor to try from each, as I’d done with the others?  I asked the two women who were standing next to me as I finished up my most recent selection.  Go to The Bent Spoon and try their Bourbon Vanilla Sea Salt Caramel, they advised, you can’t miss it.  Oh, they were so right!  It is a good thing that I didn’t have this as my first flavor of the day, as I don’t think I would have continued to eat anything else.  At first bite, my synapses fired on high alert: bourbon, vanilla, salty, sweet, creamy, decadently smooth, rich lusciousness all at once.  This was ice cream heaven!

The other recommended flavor (on the left in the photo) was the Nectarine, which had a deeply fruity, refreshing palate cleansing taste.  It is made from Terhune Orchard produce, which I know from visiting their stand at the Union Square Greenmarket on Saturdays.  Still, I think that my favorite ice cream of the day was the first one that I tried from The Bent Spoon.  Apparently, other folks thought the same way as I did because it had the longest line of any of the stations.

My apologies for not visiting Marlow and Daughters, but I ran out of tickets by that point, and the downpour had become torrential.  I hope that the New Amsterdam Market folks decide to hold another one of these events, so that I can get there next time.  There were also so many other flavors that I had wanted to try including Peach and Black Pepper and Concord Grape.  It was wonderful to see all the ice cream being made locally and with seasonal ingredients, and I think that my grandfather would have enjoyed making a trip with me to check out all the samples.

Buon appetito!

New Amsterdam Market is located near the South Street Seaport, between Beekman Street and Peck Slip, near the site of the former Fulton Fish Market.  See website for directions and closest means of transportation.  From Sunday, September 12, 2010, the market will be functioning on a weekly basis.

Food and Funerals

If the title of this entry didn’t already cause you to click to some other page, I hope you’ll appreciate this post. Things have been quiet over here for the past week because I was away due to the passing of a very dear family member, my grandfather. This resulted in a gathering of all of my siblings and nieces and nephews in one place, along with one of my parents. I’m just now making it back home and back on line.

As we all tried to figure out what we would contribute to the memorial service at the point when the minister (my brother-in-law, actually) would ask us to speak about my grandad and our memories of him, there was a bit of a stumbling block. There are plenty of stories that he told to us, and we have many more about spending time with him in his house in a small Midwestern town. Chief among these tales are ones about food, well, and great stories about my dad. Not all of them would be relevant to the larger audience, but they composed our picture of him.
See, he was of the “meat and two veg” generation, as my father put it. My dad recalled that was always the meal put on the table when he was growing up. He was also fond of salad, so they had that with mealtime, too. I remember going out with him to a French restaurant located near the White House when I was working in Washington, DC after graduating from college. He handed the menu (written in both English and French) back to me, asking me to pick something out to order for him. Despite the fact that he’d served overseas during World War II and had lived in DC for a period of time, his tastes still remained the same. Having multiple meat, poultry, seafood, and fish choices, especially in a foreign cuisine, was just a bit daunting for him and his palate.
When you went to stay with him, the meal was always pretty standard. I really didn’t know how to tell him that the canned fruit cup that was often on offer at breakfast was something that had actually haunted me in elementary school. I had to fake it and just tell him that I would only eat the banana that was on the side. White bread was also a staple in his cabinet, as was luncheon meat, neither of which I eat willingly. Vegetables were basically limited to salad.
Dinner could be a steak, not often the greatest cut either, but something that he could have and feel like he’d indulged a bit. Another brother-in-law talks of watching him cook it in butter. I guess he felt like he needed to bring out more of the flavor in the meat that way. Then, there was dessert. This is really the area that sent all of us into fits of giggles and is something all of us could relate to from our visits to see him.
Remember elementary school when you were sometimes allowed to purchase the ice cream that came in those waxed paper cups? The ones that had the peel-off tops and came with a wooden paddle-type spoon packaged in paper? If you ever wondered where those went, somehow they stayed in the Midwest only to end up in my grandfather’s freezer where they were offered to us after dinner. The vanilla tasted the same way as I’d remembered it, kind of pale and chemical-y (I was big fan, frankly, of the extremely-rare peppermint version.). We all joked that we should hunt those down and bring them to the memorial, but a. we talk more than we carry things out and b. we really did stop to think whether this would be appropriate.
So, in addition to all the other memories of my grandfather’s generosity and support of all of my personal endeavors, although sadly he wasn’t able to follow the development of this blog or my interest in pursuing more of a food-related career, I will always remember his dietary preferences, which were so much different and of another era than his East Coast-reared grandchildren. I hope that one day I have grandkids (or great-nieces and -nephews) whom I can leave with their own food memories of me and my time here, just as my grandfather did for me and my family.
Buon appetito!

Scallops with Crème Fraîche-Chili Dressing

You know how sometimes there’s that restaurant dish that you really enjoy and that you really wish you could figure out how to make at home without having to employ an army of sous-chefs? Occasionally, I actually manage to deconstruct one of those meals to reproduce in my own kitchen. It doesn’t happen very often, and it’s always an approximation of the real thing. On the other hand, it’s generally easier on my wallet than going out to eat when a craving for a particular meal hits.

The first time I ate this dish was at Public restaurant in Nolita. My mother and I had gone to try it out as we’d both heard of it when it opened. The space is very industrial with several different spaces carved out of it. The menu reflects the seasons but is also adventurous, with items and flavors from New Zealand and Australia on offer. In the several times I’ve eaten there, I don’t think I have ever had a bad dish, and I’ve often had something unique and wonderfully delicious.

One dish with which I fell in love and have ordered every time it has been available is the Grilled Scallops with Sweet Chili Sauce, Crème Fraîche and Green Plantain Crisps. I’m not sure the origin of the recipe, but I found something similar in a Peter Gordon cookbook that I had from when I lived in England. His Sugar Club restaurant (now closed) was also one of the places I’ve really enjoyed eating. Unfortunately, I found the list of ingredients to be too long and not so easy to come by to make this dish on my own. That made me sort of sad.
Then, after taking a seafood-fish cooking course with Carl Raymond at Astor Center, earlier this summer, I decided to revisit my ambitions of making this at home. For me, this is the perfect starter to serve for a party or elegant meal à deux. It is simple, with bright clean flavors, a bit of creamy and punch of spicy chili to offset the meaty scallops along with a peppery crunch of the salad. The trick was how to get around the seemingly-daunting sauce recipe.

I don’t usually promote using pre-made ingredients, especially as many of them contain too much added salt and sugar. In this case, I decided to give myself a time-saving, sanity-preserving exception and go with a Thai-style chili sauce that I found at the grocery store. With scallops purchased from P.E. & D.D. Seafood bought at the Greenmarket (a line worth standing on and they will give you a bag of ice to keep it cool while you transport it), along with microgreens and crème fraîche (also from the Greenmarket), I could forgive myself for the little bit of cheating I’d have to do to make this dish work. One word of advice, however, if you do make it to Public to order the original for yourself, definitely save some room for dessert. The Hokey-Pokey ice cream with Passionfruit caramel and Gingersnap is worth every bite.

Buon appetito!

Scallops with Crème Fraîche-Chili Dressing

Serving Size: 2 portions (can easily be doubled)
Prep Time: 30 minutes

8 sea scallops, dry variety*
2 Tsp. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. canola oil
2 tsp. crème fraîche
2 tsp. Thai-style sweet chili sauce
1/2 c. microgreens or 1 bunch watercress

Pat scallops dry with a paper towel. Put flour, salt, and pepper on a plate. Dip the scallops in the flour mixture and coat until covered. Shake off any excess flour and set aside. The flour will encourage the brown crust on the scallops when they are cooked.

In a large saucepan (or small one if you prefer to work in two batches), heat the canola oil. When the oil seems to be very hot, which you can test by seeing if the oil creates ripples when you tip the pan (this will take a few minutes), place the scallops in the oil, starting the furthest from you and then working in a circle. Take care not to crowd them in the pan, otherwise they will not brown and will steam instead.

When there’s the hint of a brown crust on the bottom of the scallop, it is just about ready to turn over. You can also see how cooked the scallop is by the flesh changing from translucent to milky-white opaque. When it is not quite halfway up the side of the scallop, flip it over. Then, watch carefully to see the ring of the crust forming on the second side.


These should cook about a minute on the first side and a bit less on the second side. Remove and let cool briefly on a paper towel. If cooking in two or more batches, place on a plate tented with aluminum foil to keep them warm.

Place four scallops on each plate. Dollop each one with 1/8-1/4 tsp. of the crème fraîche. Drizzle the same amount of Thai-style chili sauce (or less depending upon your spiciness comfort zone) over top of that. Divide microgreens or watercress among the plates and place in the middle of the scallops. Serve immediately.

*Kitchen Witch Tips:
Aside from knowing your fishmonger, which is the best way to ensure that you are getting the highest quality product, another thing to do is to ask questions of your supplier. Scallops are sold “wet” and “dry.” “Wet” ones have been chemically treated to extend their shelf life and will shrink dramatically when cooked as this process also means they absorb extra water. “Dry” ones are usually fresher and more-recently caught and have not been treated with chemicals. One rule of thumb is not to buy scallops unless you can get the “dry” ones. They should be kept on ice, not frozen, and cooked within the day of purchase or the day after that.

Peach Melba

Peach Melba is the perfect dish to celebrate three of the wonderful things about summer: ripe golden peaches, ruby red raspberries, and ice cream. It is also a dessert that my mother enjoyed eating, so it holds a sentimental place in my heart, although I’m much more of a Poire Belle Helene person myself. Named after an Australian singer, Dame Melba, and created by the famous French chef Escoffier, this can claim to be a bit more grown up ice cream sundae and something worthy of a dinner party table.
In the recipe below, you get the contrasts of sweet and tart and creamy and crunchy. This is a bright way to end any meal or for an afternoon snack, as mine was today. I served it in a bowl, but it would be really beautiful presented to your guests in a wide-mouthed champagne glass or dessert cup. Drizzle a little raspberry sauce on the bottom, add the ice cream and peaches, and then drizzle some more sauce over the top. Sprinkle the almonds over everything and eat.
Peach Melba
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Serving Size: 4 portions
1/4 c. almonds, blanched and slivered
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. vanilla sugar*
1/4 c. sugar
4 peaches, cut in half
1 c. raspberries
1 T. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 T. sugar
1 pint top-quality vanilla ice cream
Heat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Place almonds on shallow baking tray. Put in oven and let toast for about ten minutes until lightly golden brown. Check on the almonds a few times in between steps with the peaches to make sure they don’t get too browned or, worse, burnt.
Poaching Peaches: While the almonds are toasting, prepare the poaching liquid for the peaches. This is a simple syrup, which is water and sugar cooked together in equal amounts. Put sugars and water in saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugars have dissolved and the liquid is starting to bubble a little bit. Turn the heat down to medium-low.

Place the peach halves in the syrup cut side down and pour a couple of spoonfuls of the liquid over the peaches as they cook for three minutes on that side. Then, turn the peaches over to the skin side and let them cook for another three minutes. Scoop the peaches out and put on a plate to cool. By this time, the almonds should also be out of the oven and set aside to cool. When the peaches are not too hot to handle, take a knife and gently lift off the skin, leaving the smooth fruit. The skin should come off easily.
Raspberry Coulis: While the other parts of the dish are cooling, take out a food processor to make the raspberry sauce. Place the raspberries, lemon juice, and 2 T. sugar in the bowl of the processor. Blitz on high until everything is a liquidy puree. Then, take a fine-mesh sieve and place it over a clean bowl. Pour the puree into the sieve and, with the help of a rubber scraper, force the liquid through the sieve without pushing through any of the pips of the raspberries. Discard the pips. This will create a thick, silky smooth sauce or coulis which is useful in any number of recipes.

The final stage is to bring it all together:

You can make the peaches and the raspberry sauce in advance and then assemble the dish shortly before you are ready to serve it. Divide the vanilla ice cream into four portions (about two scoops per person) and place two of the peach halves alongside the ice cream. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of the raspberry sauce around the dish and over the top of the peaches. Sprinkle the almonds over all of it. Serve immediately.
Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tips:
To make vanilla sugar, place a vanilla bean pod in a jar of sugar and leave so that the perfume of the pod infuses the sugar with vanilla aroma. This is a good use of a bean pod when you have had to use the seeds for another recipe.

Curried Lamb Burgers and Grilled Veggie-Mozzarella Sandwiches

As much as I love a great hamburger, as seen a few posts down, over the past few years, I’ve really started to get into Lamb Burgers. I’ll opt to get that if I see it on a menu when I’m out to eat so I can see how they are prepared. Restaurants also seem to be realizing that patrons are willing to try something a bit out of their comfort zone and offer more lamb on the menu, which I’m really glad to see.
A couple of years ago, Bon Appetit published a recipe that has now become part of my summer rotation. This Curried Lamb Burgers with Grilled Vegetables and Mint Raita is a handful of a title for a dish that is actually super simple to make and has great flavors. The lamb is moist and meaty with a bit of a kick from the curry (without it being too spicy or overwhelming). The yogurt sauce or raita cools it all down with a mint-citrus freshness, and the grilled vegetables take full advantage of the fresh, local produce now available.
This is definitely one of my summertime standby recipes. I love just loading up on eggplant, zucchini, and peppers and grilling up a whole batch to serve alongside these burgers. The burgers themselves freeze very well, so it is easy to have them on hand for a weeknight supper. This weekend, I seemed to have overbought in the vegetable department. I ended up cooking the whole batch and put them into the refrigerator hoping for some culinary inspiration.
Fortunately, I didn’t really have that long to wait. One of my other late-summer favorite meals is a mixed, grilled vegetable sandwich with cheese on toasted bread slathered with homemade pesto. Usually I use a goat’s cheese, but today I had a hankering for mozzarella. So, I headed to Milano Marketplace, the Italian deli down the street, bought some handmade cheese, and went back home to build my perfect sandwich.
I started with a round bread roll, sliced it open, and drizzled extra-virgin olive oil on each of the facing sides. Then, I placed it on a hot grill pan to toast. After about a minute, I took the bottom half of the roll and spread some of the pesto I made earlier onto it along with a few slices of the cheese. I layered the grilled zucchini, squash, eggplant, peppers, and some more mozzarella on top of that.
Then, I put the more-grilled top half of the bread over the filling. The whole sandwich was returned to the grill pan for another minute to warm it all through. Biting into the crisp exterior with the gooey cheese, soft vegetables and savory pesto, this is the perfect summertime meal in a sandwich.

Buon appetito!