Archive for July, 2009

Lentil Burgers

It seems like the more we learn about the local foods movement vs. industrial farming, the less meat we’re eating.  We’re still a carnivorous family, and if we could afford it, we’d LOVE to eat some really nice, juicy steaks any day of the week.  But for this season of life, when we can’t afford the really tasty and well-raised steak, we’re veering away from the meat aisle at the grocery store.

One exception are the meats and sausages we get from our CSA, which usually offers about 3-5 meat options per week, usually some type of sausage or ground meat, and mostly pork but some beef and turkey too.  That stuff is delicious and I have no problem eating their yummy pig products.

So at the same time we’re generally eating less meat, we’ve been discovering some healthy foods that are actually very flavorful.  Many nights we’re very happy eating a wholly vegetarian meal, which does not feel like we’re denying ourselves because they have SO much flavor.  I have to credit a lot of these ideas to the wonderful food blog 101 Cookbooks.  Here she cooks mostly from whole, natural foods.  I don’t have quite the pantry built up that she does, and I’m probably not going to do a lot of baking from this site because I like my white flour and sugar and butter and I’m NOT giving them up.  Nevertheless we have had many delicious vegetarian meals from her recipes. 

My recent favorite were the Lentil Burgers.  Although they are a bit unsightly when smooshing them together, they were so delicious cooked up!  I ‘sandwiched’ them between two large pieces of butter lettuce, and put on a topping of goat cheese and a balsamic-onion reduction, and the flavors blended beautifully with the lentil burgers.  I really would think of this recipe as a good foundation to layer on any of your favorite flavors (for example, going Indian with this and adding some curry and garam masala to the burger mixture, and adding a chutney topping; or making it Provencale with herbes de Provence in the patties and chopped olives in the patties and sundried tomatoes and goat cheese on the top).  They cooked easily on the stovetop, were tasty and very healthy.  What a great way to get some good protein and use up delicious leftovers in the fridge!  This would be another one of those easy, good summer lunches with a glass of Rose on the side…


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Smoky Salsa

Here’s my salsa recipe which I needed to road-test one more time before sharing.  This is not a salsa fresca, with very fresh uncooked veggies, heavy on tomatoes and cilantro.  This is a smokier, roasted version.  I love both, but the smokiness of chipotles are definitely my favorite.  It’s harder to find that type in a fresh salsa in the store (and I know some people love them but I just can’t do salsa from a jar, I’ve never really liked it much) so I decided to try my own.

Chipotles are POWERFUL little peppers, and the first time I made this I put in way too many and had to add a ton of ingredients to calm it back down.  You’ll find these in a little can with other “mexican” foods in the international aisle at the grocery store.  Start with 1 pepper if you really don’t like a lot of heat, and then add more to taste.  I love the flavor the adobo sauce gives, so I always try to scoop some of that in as well.

These aren’t super cheap, and I can’t imagine a recipe in which you’d actually use the whole can, so here’s a tip for saving the ones you don’t use: divide the chipotles and the adobo sauce into small ziplock baggies (I usually put 2 in a bag) and pop them in the freezer.  Then the next time you want to use chipotles, you’ve got them already portioned out and on hand.  I use these in my fish taco recipe (mixed with sour cream) and occasionally in soups or stews to bring a little smoky heat.  The flavor is so wonderful…

I’ve used a lot of our nice summer veggies for this salsa, but you could probably make it fairly easily in the winter too.  The corn is a nice touch, which I added the first time I made this because I had some grilled corn left over in the fridge, but is not necessary.

Smoky Salsa


1 pint cherry tomatoes

1 large clove garlic, or 2 medium

½ large red onion

1 14.5 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

1-2 chipotle peppers with adobo sauce

½ lime, juiced

¼ cup chopped cilantro

1 cup grilled/sautéed corn (optional)



Olive oil


  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Chop the ½ red onion into large chunks.  Cut the garlic into3-4 large slices.  Put cherry tomatoes, red onion and garlic into a 9×13 pan and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast for 25 minutes or until browned. 
  3. Remove from oven and place ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until finely blended.  Pour into small bowl and cool.
  4. Drain the can of tomatoes and add to the salsa with the lime, cilantro, chipotles and corn, if using.  Add ½ tsp kosher salt.  Toss together and taste for seasonings, adding more chipotles if desired, or salt.

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All about Julia

It’s a big summer for Julia Child…the iconic cook hits the big screen in a seemingly highly-anticipated flick called Julie and Julia.  I have been very much looking forward to this movie, partly because it looks funny and I’m curious to see Meryl Streep as Julia, but mainly because it’s based on two of my very favorite books. 

The story line about Julia Child is based on her delightful book, My Life in France. (http://www.amazon.com/My-Life-France-Julia-Child/dp/0307277690/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1247575299&sr=1-4) Here she chronicles how she came to be a foodie and a ‘french chef’ (a title she was never comfortable with) late in life, when she moved with her husband to France around the age of 40.  It’s an inspiring book.  I loved reading about how she discovered her passion for cooking, how much she loved her husband (who seems like a stick in the mud but she adored him anyway) and her sense of humor.  She really had a very interesting life, and this wonderful book tells the story well.

The second book in Julie and Julia is by the same name as the movie. (http://www.amazon.com/Julie-Julia-Year-Cooking-Dangerously/dp/031604251X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1247575299&sr=1-2) It hilariously describes an early-life crisis of a young woman living in NYC who decides to find some purpose in life by cooking through Julia’s bestselling classic on french cuisine, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  This may sound like a fun little task but it’s actually a nightmare, in a lot of ways – the cookbook has recipes for all kinds of weird stuff that we don’t really eat anymore, from animal parts you’ve never heard of being eaten, using gelatin, etc. etc.  So this Julie chick goes all over NYC trying to find these crazy ingredients and then trying to cook them in her tiny apartment kitchen.  I thought it was so funny how many meals she described taking place after midnight by the time she finally got the food done!  Julie really went for the big guns in learning how to cook (I’d never recommend going straight for that cookbook, I’ve been intimidated from trying many recipes in it myself!) but in the process she does learn a lot about cooking and the kitchen and also comes to terms with herself and her relationships.  It’s a fantasticly entertaining book, whether or not you like to cook.

Finally, Bon Appetit had some great articles about the Julia frenzy – there was a wonderful editorial by Barbara Fairchild which I can’t find online, so you might need to just go buy the issue (but it’s a really great issue anyway).  The Cooking Club recipes for the month are all from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I made the vinaigrette dressing for a salad last week and I have to say it’s my new favorite basic dressing – just some olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and a bunch of fresh chopped herbs.  It blended right into the greens so it was nice and simple but still flavorful, the perfect counterpoint to a rich main dish.  Now that I have an herb garden (in the form of a window box on my balcony) it was so easy to go pick some basil, thyme and parsley to mix in.  Definitely check that out!  http://www.bonappetit.com/magazine/cookingclub/happy-birthday-julia/index/index_20090616

And among all this Julie Child hubbub, remember that one of her enduring lessons to all of us was to just get in the kitchen and HAVE FUN, and by all means don’t take yourself too seriously!  Everybody gets it wrong sometimes in cooking and it’s part of the game.  But when you get it right, oh isn’t it simply FABULOUS, as she would say?!! 🙂


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I took this picture a week or so ago, because the beautiful summer bounty in my basket was too good to not share.  It made me SO EXCITED to look at this because all the potential of what yummy things will come from this healthy collection.  Here is the pile that we started with:

Basket O Veggies

And here’s the list of food that it all went into:

– The corn was grilled with Old Bay Butter and what we didn’t eat was cut off the cob and went into a salsa with some of the fresh tomatos.  It was an awesome salsa in the end – I love smoky chipotle in mine, but I added way too much chipotle up front and had to keep throwing things in to cool it down so I can’t give you a recipe until I try it again with what I think are the correct proportions.

– The little sungold cherry tomatoes I usually eat for a snack, they are like candy to me, such wonderful sweet summery flavor!  (I love tomatoes, I can always eat them plain).  But these I used to make a topping for a lentil burger (post to follow on that recipe).  I sauteed a little onion in olive oil, then added the halved cherry tomatoes and balsamic vinegar and cooked them on a high heat, stirring frequently, with a little sugar added, until it became a nice jammy balsamic-tomato reduction type thing.  Really, really delicious w/ goat cheese atop the lentil burgers!

– The green tomatoes would have been awesome fried up in my new favorite recipe but we didn’t have time for the frying so they have just gradually become red tomatoes and will go into a salad soon.  Or just eaten plain with salt for my lunch.  I love them that much.

– The green pepper was cut up with onions and sauteed with shrimp in a Thai green curry sauce (my favorite jar from Trader Joe’s) as a stir fry with some fragrant basmati rice and topped with toasted coconut and peanuts.  Easy peasy and very yummy.

– The nectarines went over yogurt with honey for my breakfasts.

– The bananas went from green to brown too quickly for Michael’s taste (he likes the bananas for lunch) and so went into a banana bread which went into the freezer to take to our rental house for my sister’s wedding weekend coming up (yay!).

– The eggplant and red onion got a very simple treatment – chopped into large pieces, tossed in olive oil, doused with salt and pepper and roasted at 400 until they were sweet and tasty.  When they came out I added another quick pinch of salt and a drizzle of truffle olive oil.  They went with the next recipe as a veggie side.

– Some of the zucchini went into a Zucchini Tart.  This was a DELICIOUS new recipe that I got from the excellent blog 101 Cookbooks (http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/lasagna-tart-recipe.html).  It was particularly good because I used homemade ricotta cheese in it, which made it wonderfully decadent.  You may think homemade ricotta cheese sounds difficult; in fact, it’s unbelievably easy!  You bring milk, buttermilk and salt to a boil and let it sit a few minute, then skim the solid stuff off the top, let it drain and presto, ricotta cheese!  I found the recipe here: http://www.travelerslunchbox.com/journal/2009/5/31/ricotta-in-print.html, and have already made it twice.  It’s heavenly as dessert with raspberries or other fresh fruit on top.  And it definitely MADE the Zucchini Tart.

– The rest of the zucchini went into Zucchini Bread.  I’ve been meaning to tell y’all about this for a while.  Because zucchini is one of those things that overruns summer gardens and kitchens and everyone is always looking for great things to do with it.  And ALL of the ones I see are for savory dishes.  My mom made this bread for us growing up, so I assumed it was something people have heard of before, but I’m starting to suspect they have NOT because otherwise wouldn’t it be like one of the MAIN things that is suggested for leftover zucchini?  It should be, because it’s totally delicious, easy and freeze-able.  If it sounds strange, think carrot cake.  Similar flavors, and the zucchini gives the same moisture to it’s bread that carrots do to their cake.  This is really yummy for breakfast, and also made a nice little cupcake with cream cheese frosting when I had some of that left over from a big old cake.  Please do try this recipe, it’s wonderful!

Zucchini Bread


2 ½ cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp orange zest

¾ tsp salt

½ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp ground allspice

2 beaten eggs

1 ¼ cup sugar

½ cup oil

2 ½ cups shredded zucchini (about 2 medium zucchini)

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, orange zest, salt, cinnamon, ginger and allspice; set aside.
  3. In another bowl, beat eggs, sugar and oil together.  Add egg mixture to the flour mixture with the zucchini and nuts and mix.
  4. Turn batter into a greased loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then remove to wire rack and cool completely.


Makes one loaf.  This recipe is easily doubled, and the loaves freeze well, wrapped in plastic and then foil.

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Hummingbird Cake

There is something so comforting about a big frosted layer cake.  I guess people don’t really make them a lot these days, so it seems like a nice old fashioned treat.  I actually love making layer cakes, for one thing because I seriously love sugary frosting, but also because they aren’t too dificult to make and people feel really special when you make one for them. 

I had seen this recipe for Hummingbird Cake in my little booklet of recipes from Hominy Grill in Charleston that I love (I referred to it before in my posts on banana bread and granola).  I’ve never heard of this cake but they say it’s a cake lots of people know as a southern classic, although in fact it was a Southern Living recipe contest winner.  I hadn’t yet tried it, but once I saw Hummingbird cupcakes at the very chic Parker and Otis in Durham (http://www.parkerandotis.com/store/index.php) I thought there might be something to this recipe and I should check it out!

Dessert at our place with the old Overlook crew (the super fun guys Michael lived with in college and their awesome wives) provided a great opportunity to try the cake.  It seemed to be pretty successful…although I will say it’s nothing spectacularly unusual, sort of tastes like banana cake with cream cheese frosting…but it was tasty and homey and sure fed a lot of people (13 that night and 5 the next)!  Along with banana bread it will remind you of carrot cake, because of the spices used.  Wherever cinnamon is called for in baking I usually can’t resist throwing in a dash of nutmeg, ginger and cloves.  There’s plenty of frosting in this recipe – you almost don’t need to use it all, but then again you might as well because it makes it look very fluffy and white even if not everyone eats their generous portion.  All in all, it turns out the new old Hummingbird cake is pretty delish!


Hummingbird Cake (from Hominy Grill)

 For the cake:

3 cups flour

2 cups sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp salt

1 ¾ cup mashed banana (about 5)

1 ½ cups pecans, divided

1 cup crushed, canned pineapple

3 tsp vanilla extract, divided

3 eggs, beaten

¾ cup canola oil


For the frosting:

12 tablespoons butter, softened

12 tablespoons cream cheese, softened

5 cups confectioners’ sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Lightly butter 3 9-inch cake pans and dust them with flour, shaking out the excess.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.  Set aside.
  4. In a food processor, pulse the bananas and pineapple with 1 cup of the pecans until the pecans are coarsely chopped.  Add 1 ½ tsp of the vanilla and set aside.
  5. Combine the eggs and the oil and add to the flour mixture.  Stir just enough to moisten the dry ingredients.  Add the banana mixture and continue stirring, until just combined.
  6. Divide the batter into the three prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean, approximately 25-30 minutes.  Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes and turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.
  7. In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.  Add the confectioner’s sugar and the remaining 1 ½ tsp vanilla and beat until fluffy.
  8. Finely chop the remaining ½ cup of pecans and set aside.
  9. Place a cake layer on a serving plate.  Spread with approximately ½ cup of frosting, starting from the center and working towards the edges of the cake.  Top and repeat with the remaining layers.  Ice the sides and the top of the cake and garnish the top with the reserved pecans.


Serves a LOT of people (18 when I made it)!

 Hummingbird Cake

Hummingbird Cake Slice

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I have been excited about sharing this super easy and very tasty dessert with you, especially for the summer because it showcases fresh summer berries so well!  This is a simple little french cake, almost like a thicker, chewier shortbread.  I found the recipe a few years ago in Bon Appetit and LOVED it, and I now turn to it for a quick dessert because not only is it easy and very delicious, but it also doesn’t use up as many bowls and utensils in my kitchen!  My husband, who is the pots-and-pans washer in our family, appreciates that.

There are a few key ingredients: one is butter.  There’s a lot of butter in this and I do not apologize for that.  It’s delicious.  Secondly, hazelnuts.  Hazelnuts have a very rich flavor, and there are a lot in here, all ground up in your mini-food processor first (if you don’t have one, these are very handy: http://www.amazon.com/Cuisinart-DLC-1SS-Mini-Prep-Processor-Stainless/dp/B00007IT2M/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=home-garden&qid=1246539494&sr=8-2).  Finally, there’s a wonderful vanilla flavor to this cake.  The recipe called for vanilla sugar, which I think you can probably buy at Williams Sonoma but is basically regular sugar with vanilla pods ‘marinating’ in them…to give the sugar a strong vanilla flavor.  I don’t bother with that, instead I use a whole vanilla pod.  I’m lucky to have a stack of these in my pantry, which I brought back from my last trip to Madagascar.  Madagascar, you might not know, is where a huge percentage of the world’s vanilla is grown!  It’s usually pretty expensive to buy the pods here, but they do last a long time and you don’t use them that frequently, so I would suggest springing for them.  I really love using the seeds in this recipe because it adds so much flavor. If you DO buy the pods, here is what you do: using a small, sharp knife, carefully cut the pod down the middle to split into two long halves.  Use the tip of the knife or another small instrument to scrape out the teensy, tiny black seeds laying inside each half of the pod.  Scrape the off the knife and into the batter.  If you DO NOT use a vanilla pod, use the same amount of sugar called for and add a teaspoon of good vanilla extract.

You’ll see the the recipe also suggests organic eggs, because the yolks will be yellow-ier and give a nicer color to this cake.  Folks: this is SO TRUE!  It sounds somewhat dubious but I can swear to it, because we are now getting our eggs weekly in our CSA box and when you crack open one of those eggs and put it next to one of the ones from the grocery store – well, it’s very obvious which is which.  The grocery store egg looks pale and sick compared to the fresh egg that’s happy and tan and healthy!  Since this recipe calls for so many egg yolks, I think it’s worth getting the good eggs.  Not to mention the fact that (as I think I wrote in another post) organic or free-range eggs have half the cholesterol of regular eggs and it’s all the good kind.  So frankly it’s better for you anyway, this cake is just a good excuse.

One last thing to mention: this cake is wonderfully rich and flavorful but to really put it over the top, you should serve it with some kind of summer fruit.  The recipe suggests you can even just heat up some strawberry jam, which I bet would be delicious.  Or you could serve it with a scoop of ice cream and some raspberries.  Or make a nice sauce from summer berries and pour it over.  In the picture below, I drizzled a slice with a quick sauce I made from leftover strawberries – just a little water, the cut berries and some sugar heated up in a little pot til it becomes the consistency you like.  So feel free to experiment with anything you have around or your favorite fruit of the moment.  If you want to spend more time on it, this is my go-to raspberry sauce that we love on everything from cakes and ice cream to french toast (from guess who?): http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/raspberry-sauce-recipe2/index.html.  And then once you’ve wowed your dinner guests, toast a slice of this cake to enjoy for breakfast the next morning with your coffee.  Yum!  Bon Appetit!

Hazelnut Gateau Breton (adapted from Bon Appetit 2007)

  • 1/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise and seeds scraped out
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, lightly toasted, husked
  • 6 large egg yolks (preferably organic)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, melted
  • 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 2 teaspoons water (for glaze)

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325°F. Butter and flour 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Scrape the vanilla seeds out of the bean, and combine with 2 tablespoons sugar and the hazelnuts in a food processor; blend until nuts are finely ground but not pasty. Combine 6 egg yolks and remaining 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in large bowl; whisk until well blended and slightly thicker, about 2 minutes (do not use electric mixer). Whisk in hazelnut mixture. Gradually whisk in melted butter. Sift flour over batter; stir just until blended (batter will be thick; do not overmix or cake may be tough).

Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top with offset spatula (layer will be thin). Brush top generously with egg glaze. Using back of tines of fork, deeply mark crisscross pattern atop cake, marking 3 times across in 1 direction and 3 times in opposite direction. Bake cake until deep golden on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in pan on rack 15 minutes, then remove pan sides and cool cake completely.

Cut cake into wedges and serve with cut strawberries or with warm strawberry jam.

Hazelnut Gateau


Hazelnut Gateau - close up

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Happy Fourth!!!

We’re off to celebrate with some of our best buddies and the dogs with a hike and a picnic, and then some grilling and fireworks and bar hopping in downtown Durham tonight.  May there be cold beer and summer fruit and grilled meats galore in your day too…

more berries

Here’s hoping you all have a spectacularly hot and happy Fourth of July, wherever you are!

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