Archive for February, 2009

Fresh Fish

My cousin David and his wife Joka live in Shanghai with their ADORABLE new son, and my aunt and uncle recently went over to visit.  The first grandbaby in our family is a very big deal.  In fact, we are all just dying to get our hands on that little cherub – why is it that babies with a lot of hair, especially the kind that sticks straight up, are so irresistable?!?

The consolation prize for not getting to see him in person was this great story about Joka’s dad preparing food in their little apartment.  Apparently most Chinese houses, even apartments in high-rise buildings in huge cities, have a little outdoor sink.  And I’m not sure if this is the usual practice or was just convenient, but Joka’s dad came home with fresh, i.e. SWIMMING fish, and dropped them in this little sink until he was ready to cook them.  From swimming in the sink to the dinner plate in an hour – now THAT is what I call fresh food!!!




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Pancake Tuesday

We had a wonderful breakfast-for-dinner feast to celebrate Pancake Tuesday with our bible study group last night!  For those who aren’t familiar with this festive occasion, Pancake Tuesday is an old tradition of eating pancakes to clear cabinets of flour, eggs, butter and other ingredients that were supposed to shunned during Lenten fasts (for the very orthodox, few people are that hard-core anymore).  None of us have decided to go fully vegan for the season of Lent, but we loved the idea of a pancake supper nonetheless! 

Our collaborative efforts included scrambled eggs, a berry fruit salad, bacon and mimosas.  All was delicious!!!  I tried a new recipe for the pancakes, using real buttermilk, which was pretty good!  I initially was afraid they weren’t very fluffy because they weren’t cakey and thick, but even though they were thinner than I expected, they were still really light in texture.  And of course the  buttermilk flavor was great.  I added vanilla to this, but if you were going with a blueberry syrup or just butter and confectioner’s sugar, you might want to use a little lemon zest as flavoring instead.


Buttermilk Pancakes (adapted from Emeril Lagasse)


Serves four hungry eaters.  Can be halved.


2 cups all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons of sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups buttermilk

2 large eggs

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla or 1 teaspoon lemon zest for flavoring


1.      In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

2.      In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, butter and vanilla or lemon zest.

3.      Slowly pour the milk mixture into the center of flour bowl, whisking until just incorporated.  Allow the batter to sit for 5 minutes.

4.      Cook the pancakes in batches on a lightly greased, hot griddle.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes or until the batter bubbles and is golden brown.  Flip over and continue to cook until golden brown.

5.      Serving ideas for the vanilla pancakes include: maple syrup, cinnamon-sugar, toasted pecans, sliced bananas, baked apples.  The lemon-scented pancakes are best served with butter, confectioner’s sugar, fruit toppings or a blueberry sauce.






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Remember when I shared my new BEST chocolate chip cookie recipe with you??  I should have not said anything and just linked to the blog Orangette, where Molly says everything in a much wittier and charming way than I.  The woman who writes this blog is a fabulous writer and she’s got great food taste, plus a book coming out next  month that looks highly entertaining (http://www.amazon.com/Homemade-Life-Stories-Recipes-Kitchen/dp/1416551050/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=I2QA8IA1I5MSOD&colid=15B3R2U6OLGXO).  I always enjoy her column in Bon Appetit magazine, so I think the book will be great.

Anyway, when I read her blog the other day she linked to a post she made this past summer about the exact same  chocolate chip cookie recipe from the New York Times!  And I KNOW that if she thinks it’s good, it must be great.  So check out her description of the recipe (and the little short cuts she took; she says it still came out great!) and try them soon if you haven’t yet!  You seriously WILL NOT regret it. http://orangette.blogspot.com/2008/07/bold-statement.html

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Leftover Pizza – the best yet!

So as you know, I am always experimenting with leftovers and other random ingredients on that fantastic Trader Joe’s 99 cent pizza dough.  Portobello mushrooms were on sale at Harris Teeter last week, so I grabbed a package, not quite sure what I wanted to do with them, but excited about finding something fun with a yummy ingredient we rarely use.  The ultimate result, a Mushroom and Goat Cheese pizza, was my favorite pizza creation thus far!!!

I’ve never been a big mushroom fan, and I think it mostly has to do with the texture.  I’m NOT into slimy texture in food, and boring old cooked button mushrooms are still pretty gross to me.  But I do really enjoy portobello mushrooms, ever since I tasted it on a sandwich and thought it tasted like steak.  Which to me is a very high compliment. 🙂  I’ve found I even ENJOY mushrooms when they are well-cooked with a deep flavor.  And mushrooms really do have a very profound and rich flavor to share when they are cooked long enough to coax it out of hiding! 

For the mushroom pizza, I tossed the sliced portobellos in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and then grilled them on a very high heat (with salt and pepper) for about 5 minutes a side, until they were very dark and carmelized.  I heated some olive oil in a pan with sliced garlic to add flavor, which I pulled out before adding some chopped spinach leaves and basil.  Once the basil and spinach were wilted, I put those as the first layer on the herb pizza crust, then covered it with a regular old five cheese Italian blend from the store.  I then layered my cooled mushrooms on the top of the pizza and sprinked the whole shebang with chunks of goat cheese.

And my GOODNESS was it fabulous!!!  The basil and garlic added great flavor to the spinach and was a nice base.  And the mushroom flavor was seriously to die for.  Goat cheese provided a perfect counterpoint to the veggies.  Michael and I both decided this was the best pizza creation yet, and we’ll definitely make it more often!



By the way, did you know there’s really no possible way to make pictures of pizza look appetizing with a regular point-and-shoot camera?  Yeah, there isn’t.  I promise it really did taste delish! 🙂

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My Valentine.

Michael and I have been together for coming up on four years, and this past Saturday was the FIRST Valentine’s Day we have ever spent together!  The past few years I have been out of the country every February 14 – Guatemala, Mali and Madagascar.  The odds of that are not good, because I really don’t travel THAT much, but for some reason it has always been in February. 

This is especially sad because I am one of those {annoying} people who actually LOVES Valentine’s Day!!!  My mom always made it so special when we were little…I remember fun treats for breakfasts, dressing in pink and/or red, addressing our little Valentine’s for the decorated shoebox ‘mailbox’ at school, and always loving the ones I opened that had some little candy in them!  I also got fun little care packages for Valentine’s Day in college.  I’ve always just loved the holiday, even though I’d had some pretty terrible romantic luck for the day in the past (I once broke up with a very badly-behaved boy on Valentine’s Day weekend!).

So for our first Valentine’s Day together, we planned to swap roles in cooking for each other – Michael usually makes weekend breakfasts for me, and I usually cook dinner.  So I made HIM a special Valentine’s breakfast – pink pancakes with raspberries and strawberries and fresh whipped cream on top!  I didn’t get to the grocery store to buy buttermilk so I just used the regular Bisquick, to which I added a little vanilla and a little baking powder to puff the pancakes up a bit – and of course, the hot pink food coloring.  They were perfectly pink and golden at the same time!  What a festive breakfast. 🙂


By the way, I’d show you a picture of what Michael cooked me but we were SO full from bison burgers at lunch with my aunt and uncle that we couldn’t even face the grocery store…so I got another special treat!  We ordered in Thai food which we NEVER do and I have been craving, and downed it on the sofa with a bottle of wine and Sleepless in Seattle.  PARFAIT!!!  Too bad I have to wait another year for such a special day to come again…I am DEFINITELY not missing it next year!

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An All-American Dinner

We had the great pleasure of hosting the Bishop and his wife for dinner last week.  I feel like that’s a movie title…except I guess it was “The Bishop’s Wife” and not “The Bishop and his Wife”.  Anyway, the story is that the Bishop of our sister parish in Rwanda has been visiting Chapel Hill this week, and we invited him and his wife over for dinner with some other Africa friends.  It was such a lovely night…joyful and humble, with guests who are very real and comfortable with who they are.  Even though we don’t know all of them that well yet, there was a comfort in being among people who genuinely care about others and lack that self-promotion that can be so exhausting in other circles.  I really like REAL people.

For our Rwandan guests, we served a very All-American dinner.  I wanted something un-fussy and not too unusual for foreign palates; we settled upon hamburgers, sweet potato fries, salad and brownies.  It was a little  bit summery but I think it still hit the spot.  Of course most of this could all be made with shortcuts, and it would still be a great meal; being the cooking nerd, I made most of it from scratch, but that really would not be necessary if you were short on time.

Our burgers were grilled on the new outdoor George Foreman which Michael got for Christmas – we live in an apartment so we can’t have a ‘real’ grill on our balcony, but this one is electric and plugs into our outdoor outlet, while still standing tall and having some semblance of a regular grill.  The main asset is that we can cook things in a grill-ish manner without smoking the house up.  We haven’t used it a ton yet (it’s been mostly freezing since Christmas!) but we really like it so far!  I got big fluffy Kaiser rolls from the bakery and spread them with butter and toasted them.  I chopped bacon and crisped them the night  before so they were ready.  I also carmelized the onions earlier and had them waiting on the side.  We served the burgers with (all on the side) bbq sauce, bacon crumbles, blue cheese, and carmelized onions.  I just LOVE that combo…

The baked sweet potatoes were a new recipe from the latest Barefoot Contessa cookbook, Back to Basics.  Unfortunately, and I really wish this were not so, I hate sweet potatoes.  They are a wonderfully healthy food, and everyone else loves them, but I have always despised the flavor.  So poor Michael, who adores them, doesn’t get them at home often, or ever, actually.  But I thought they’d be perfect for this meal, because there were lots of people to eat them, even though I don’t, and also the yam/sweet potato is a very familiar vegetable to Africans and I was pretty sure they would like it – you don’t want to bombard visistors with lots of new foods all at once!  I can’t really comment on them myself, but I will say that I did not have any left over and two people had seconds, so I think they were well-liked!  They definitely need more cooking time than is recommended in the recipe – I cooked these for about 1/2 hour and I also think I had them cut smaller than hers.

Baked Sweet Potato “Fries”, from the Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics


2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled

2 Tbs olive oil

1 Tbs light brown sugar

½ tsp kosher salt

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 450 degrees.


Halve the sweet potatoes lengthwise and cut each half into 3 long spears.  Place them on a sheet pan and toss with the olive oil.  Spread the potatoes in one layer.  Combine the brown sugar, salt, and pepper and sprinkle on the potatoes.  Bake for 15 minutes and then turn with spatula.  Bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve hot.


I also tried a new salad dressing recipe, Green Goddess dressing from the Barefoot Contessa At Home cookbook.  This was wonderful!!!  It has the garlic and anchovy taste from caesar dressing but with scallions and basil in it, it has a wonderfully herb-y flavor too.  It  made a TON (we’ll be eating salad for a week!) so I’d cut it in half, but otherwise it was absolutely wonderful and definitely worth making on your own.  This is another recipe that’s super easy if you have a food processor – it just dumps in, blends, and presto!  You could serve this with tomatoes but I didn’t feel like adding more, so I just toasted up some croutons from leftover bread cubes in the freezer and topped the salad with those.

 Basil Green Goddess Dressing, from Barefoot Contessa At Home


1 cup good mayonnaise

1 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts (6 to 7 scallions)

1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)

2 tsp chopped garlic (2 cloves)

2 tsp anchovy paste

2 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 cup sour cream


Place the mayonnaise, scallions, basil, lemon juice, garlic, anchovy paste, salt and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth.  Add the sour cream and process just until blended.  If not using immediately, refrigerate the dressing until ready to serve.


Finally, for dessert, we had a very classic American brownie!  This brownie recipe is from my friend Stephanie LYMAN (she just got that  new last name a week ago!) and they are really to die for.  I’ve always LOVED brownies with frosting since my mom used to  make them when we were little.  And this recipe is fantastic, since the brownies are from scratch as well as the frosting.  Perfect classic ending to a great American meal!

Frosted Fudge Brownies



1 cup butter plus 3 tablespoons butter, cubed

¾ cup baking cocoa

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract



6 tablespoons butter, softened

2 2/3 cups confectioner’s sugar

½ cup baking cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ to 1/3 cup milk


In a saucepan, melt butter.  Remove from heat; stir in cocoa and cool.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


In a mixing bowl, beat eggs and sugar.  Combine flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to egg mixture.  Stir in vanilla and the cooled chocolate mixture; mix well.


Spread into a greased 13x9x2 inch baking pan.  Bake at 350 for 25-28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean (do not overbake).  Cool on wire rack.


For frosting, in a mixing bowl, cream butter, confectioners’ sugar, cocoa and vanilla.  Add enough milk until the frosting achieves spreading consistency.  Spread over brownies and cut into bars.

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Fish Tacos

This recipe is one of my own creation, which basically cherry-picked what I liked out of several other recipes.  It’s very simple, very healthy, and very flavorful.  Michael loves this dinner, and I love that he loves it!  I also like that it’s a little unusual so it’s a nice change of pace to our usual soups, etc.

There’s not a lot you could do to ruin this recipe; feel free to add in or drop out various ingredients depending on your own preferences or what you have around.  This is the sort of ‘ideal’ recipe, but I’ve left things out when I didn’t have them and they still taste great.  Sorry there’s no picture, we were too busy scarfing them down to pause for a photo op! 🙂

You can find the canned chipotle chilis in adobo sauce in the ‘Mexican/Latin’ foods section of the international aisle at the grocery store.


Fish Tacos


¼ cup mayonnaise

½ cup sour cream

~1 canned chipotle pepper (I use one medium one), diced (you can use more or less depending on how spicy you like your food)

1-2 teaspoons of adobo sauce from the canned chipotles

1 lime, juiced, divided

½ lb tilapia fillets

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp dried oregano

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

Olive oil

Tortillas (flavored flour tortillas are best)

2 cups shredded green cabbage

1 cup fresh salsa

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

½ cup chopped green onions


1.      Combine cumin, oregano, salt and pepper.  Sprinkle over both sides of the fish; drizzle with olive oil and ½ of lime juice.  Set aside.


2.      Combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, chipotles, adobo sauce and ½ of the lime juice in a small bowl.  Set aside.


3.      Heat tortillas in a cast-iron pan on both sides until they just begin to brown.  Set aside and keep warm with a towel.


4.      Heat a large sauté pan at medium-high heat and cook fish until golden on both sides (about 3 minutes on the first side and 2 minutes on the other side).  Transfer to plate and cut into bite-sized pieces.


5.      Assemble tacos: layer the chipotle sauce, cabbage, salsa, green onions, cilantro and fish.  Roll up and fasten with a toothpick.


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