Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chickpea and Rosemary Soup - Take it Off Food #3

Perfect ANY this post I'll spare you the story of how the chickpea saved my life and get right to the point...I can hear the collective sighs of relief! This Chickpea and Rosemary Soup is so easy, healthy and satisfying, if you make it once it will become a staple in your home! (It is hands down one of my favorites!)

Just a few basic ingredients: olive oil, garlic, fresh rosemary, red pepper flakes, chickpeas, broth, and's hearty enough to be a main course and I have yet to share it with friends who (upon cleaning their bowls) aren't begging for the recipe!

Oh FYI - I finally started a Design Wine and Dine Facebook Page hope you'll visit me there! Just click the link above or on the Facebook badge on the sidebar!

My notes:
*I use a hand blender instead of the regular blender, makes it even easier!
*Taste before you add any salt, sometimes it's not needed depending on what broth you use
*To make it even heartier, serve it with homemade garlic croutons or pita bread
*I often do not drizzle with olive oil at the end - optional

Chickpea and Rosemary Soup
Created by April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig

Ingredients:Serves 6

3 tablespoons olive oil , plus additional for drizzling
8 cloves garlic , finely chopped (I use 3-4 very large cloves)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves , minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 cans (15 to 19 ounces each) chickpeas , rinsed and drained
4 cups chicken broth (or veg. broth)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Sea salt

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic, rosemary and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly, until garlic starts to sizzle, about 1-3 minutes. Add chickpeas and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 30 minutes; let cool slightly.

Transfer 1 cup of soup at a time to a blender; cover loosely and puree until just smooth. Return to saucepan. Repeat two more times. Stir lemon juice and salt into soup to taste. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hard Boiled Egg and White Bean Salad Take It Off - Food #2

Akin to a deviled egg, this low fat, low cal, egg and white bean salad may not be sexy, true, but just imagine how sexy you'll look if you eat it...often!

Growing up in my family, deviled eggs shared the ranks of shrimp cocktail, mini crab cakes and smoked salmon, as those hors d'oeuvres we'd fight 'till the bitter end for, if only one remaining. Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, graduation, assure if we were together... there was a tray of my Grandmother's world famous, parsley and paprika laced homemade deviled eggs! I have vivid memories of my father and brother strategically positioning themselves aside the table, so to discretely pop the creamy little morsels in their mouths one after another, after another. Like naughty children sneaking candy before supper, the stealthy pair would carry on shamelessly - thinking no one else was watching.

My grandma quickly realized that to keep the peace, she'd need place one deviled egg tray atop the buffet, one in the kitchen (the men had no idea existed), and a whole boat load more in a Tupperware container hidden in the fridge. When it came time to sit and eat, the rest of our plates would be full of our fair share of granny's deviled eggs. To this day, where all those extra eggs came from, my father and brother will never...ever know!

Now, don't get me wrong, this Hard Boiled Egg and White Bean Salad is not my grandma's deviled egg - hers were loaded with mayo and certainly not low cal. In fact, I'm sure she's looking down on me from above thinking, "Beans? Oh heavens no Dear, no beans!" But it's my past memories and love for the simple deviled egg, that make this low fat version of it, a meal I can truly enjoy!

I make the egg salad with one large spoon full of plain, low-fat yogurt in place of high calorie/high fat mayonnaise. The paprika, crisp onion and celery, and protein packed eggs and beans, make this a perfect, extremely filling salad to keep on hand when you're trying to loose some weight! I ate the salad you see here with an ice cold glass of mint and lemon, sugar-free tea - the entire dish kept me satisfied for hours!

Egg and White Bean Salad
6 Hard Boiled Eggs, diced
1/2 can small white beans, drained and rinsed
1 large piece on celery chopped
1/2 small onion diced
1 heaping spoonful of plain low-fat yogurt (or mayo or combo of both)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh dill
a few shakes hot sauce (optional)
1/2 tsp. paprika
kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix well. I like to eat it very cold.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Black Beans and Cheese and Once again...Easy for Bobby

I didn't use Bobby’s exact recipe, but ever since watching him make a version of these Stuffed Poblano Peppers, I knew it was only a matter of time. Actually, when it comes to Bobby's shows... I'm really very easy. I need only see a glimpse of that audacious culinary smile to instantly crave the myriad flavors associated with American Southwestern cuisine.

I swear there have been times I've been so mesmerized by one of Bobby's shows, I find myself in the pepper section of the supermarket having no recollection of how I got there. The next thing I know, I'm blindly handing money over to a woman behind a conveyor belt full of beans, cheese, hot peppers, mustard, spices, honey, chips and two dozen limes. (What on earth does a girl need with two dozen limes?!)

At last, I'm purchasing a six-pack of Negro Modelo, large bag of ice, Blue Agave Tequila... and like a wet noodle to the face....twenty-four limes make perfect sense! I spend the entire trip back euphorically daydreaming that Bobby's at home prepping our kitchen, anxiously waiting my arrival. (I truly am in love with my husband, he's aware of my crush and knows that to love me... means acceptance.)
These Poblano peppers 'snugly' stuffed with basmati rice, cotija cheese, black beans, tomatoes, scallion, and chorizo were exquisite! Lightly charred on the outside, easy to bite into and a cheesy bean explosion in the center - I loved them even more than I expected! My first one was especially spicy, so be sure when cleaning out the inside of the poblano, you do your due diligence in removing the seeds. My second one was perfect, hot and spicy, but not overly so. The red sauce (an afterthought by my husband the "hot saucier") truly made the dish come together. (Recipe follows) Last, while we incorporated 4 oz. chorizo sausage, which certainly added that extra little something, these stuffed poblano peppers would be equally delicious and obviously healthier - left vegetarian.

Stuffed Poblanos with Black Beans and Cheese
By Kate Ramos, on

•1 cup uncooked basmati rice
•1 1/2 cups water
•3 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
•6 medium poblano peppers
•1 cup cooked black beans
We also added 4oz. cooked and crumbled chorizo sausage
•1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
We did this but am sure 1 tsp cumin powder would work too
•3/4 cup sour cream
•3/4 cup crumbled Cotija cheese (about 4 ounces)
We used closer to 1 cup cotija. (Monterey jack would make a fine substitution)
•1/2 cup chopped cilantro (about 1/2 bunch)
•1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (about 2 small tomatoes)
We used 1 can of fire roasted diced tomatoes instead
•2/3 cup chopped scallions (about 1/2 bunch)
•1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Place rice in a colander or a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear. Combine rice, water, and 3/4 teaspoon of the salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pan and reduce heat to low; cook until water has been completely absorbed, about 10 minutes (rice will be slightly undercooked). Remove the lid and set the pan aside to let rice cool.

*We cooked our basmati in the microwave and it comes out perfect every time! Place 1 cup rice and 2 cups water in a microwave safe round 2 quart bowl with lid. Cook covered on high for 5 minutes. Reduce power setting to 50% and cook an additional 15 minutes. Let sit a few minutes, then remove lid and fluff with fork. Done.

2.To prepare peppers for stuffing, use a paring knife to cut a wide circle around each stem (like when carving a jack-o’-lantern), so you end up with a cap that can be replaced once you have stuffed the peppers. Be careful not to puncture or rip the peppers. Clean any seeds and membranes from the cap and from the interior of each pepper; set aside.

3.Place beans in a large mixing bowl. Using a potato masher or the back of a fork, lightly mash them (some whole beans will remain).

4.Stir cumin, sour cream, Cotija, cilantro, tomatoes, scallions, pepper, and remaining salt into mashed beans and mix until evenly combined. Gently mix in cooled rice. Taste mixture and, if necessary, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. (Note that the filling should be quite salty to compensate for there being no salt on the peppers.)

5.Divide rice mixture into 6 equal portions. Stuff each pepper with the filling and replace each cap, pressing caps into the stuffing so the peppers remain closed while on the grill; set aside until ready to cook. (If you’re stuffing the peppers more than 30 minutes before grilling, cover and refrigerate them. Let peppers sit at room temperature at least 30 minutes before grilling so that they cook faster and more evenly.)

6.Heat a charcoal or gas grill to medium heat (about 350°F). Once the grill is heated, place stuffed peppers on their sides and close the lid. Roll each pepper a quarter turn every 7 minutes or so to cook all four sides. The peppers are finished once the filling is hot, the skins are well-charred, and the flesh is soft to the touch, about 30 minutes. If serving as a side dish, slice peppers in half lengthwise

Red Pepper Tomato Sauce:
In a small sauce pan he added one chopped tomato (seeds and all), 1 tablespoon of cilantro, 3 pinches kosher salt, 1 pinch black pepper, 1 T white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Brought it to a boil for about 4 to 5 minutes. Next he seeded and chopped up a medium red bell pepper. Last he added the heated tomato mixture and the raw red pepper to a blender and pureed until smooth. S&P to taste. Pour on the bottom of the plate and place stuffed poblano on top. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pico de Gallo, A New Blog Series, Foods I Love to Take It Off #1

OK, so (like many of us do in the summer) I'm going off the beaten path and sharing with you a New Blog Series...foods I love to eat when I want to TAKE IT OFF! (I'll sporadically share over the next month...)
Food #1: Pico de Gallo with Black Beans

Back in 2002 when I was trying to get in shape and loose a few pounds before our wedding, I made some serious lifestyle changes. I joined a gym, cut sugar out of my coffee, drank tons of water, and lived on sushi, grilled veggies, fish, salads, nuts and beans. Now I love food (to the point of absurdity) but whenever I feel myself slipping, feeling lethargic and unhealthy, I instantly take myself back to that young bride 8 years ago who realized with just a little planning, thought, and self control... eating 'smarter' was easy! Back then, my 5'6 frame went from a size 8 to a light size 4 - I was getting married and not only committing to my husband, but also to a healthier me and it felt good.

By now we all know...crash diets don't work and if you starve yourself for a week, you'll gain back double the next. I also know I'm lucky because I love healthy foods. I have many a friend who can't stand the thought of eating a bean and whose idea of a salad is smothered in cheese with grilled beef and bread on the side. <-- And hey, there's nothing wrong with that! BUT - here I'll share with you the first (in a series of many foods) I eat whenever my body whispers, " it's time to feel lighter...healthier... and more in control!"
Pico de Gallo in any of the following forms: plain, in grilled tortillas, on eggs (great breakfast), or as a side to grilled meat or fish....sweet, spicy, satisfying and delicious! Make LOTS and put on everything!

Pico de Gallo

2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 a large onion, diced
1 jalapeno (seeded or not depending on desired heat level) chopped
1 small handful fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 the juice from a lime
S&P to taste
* I usually add a can of well rinsed, small black beans for a more complete meal

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cornmeal Crusted Bay Scallops, A Maine Memory

Cornmeal Crusted Bay Scallops

It was 1999 and a long distance relationship. He was in Boston, I was in Philly. I packed my bags, boarded Amtrak and before I knew it, was in Back Bay Station. (It was actually the longest trip of my girls hair and make-up should ever be expected to last that long!) I thought we were headed back to his tiny brick apartment on Beacon Hill, but instead it was a quick luggage drop-off, bathroom break and back on the road. I had no idea where we were going and honestly was slightly agitated, "can a girl not just grab a bite in Back Bay?"

Hours later there we were, on a picturesque section of beach in Kennebunkport, Maine. It was cool and breezy but he brought sweatshirts, coats and wool throws. He placed a picnic blanket atop the sand and pulled out of the basket two beautifully wrapped ham, brie & honey-mustard sandwiches, assorted cheeses, crackers, nuts, grapes and wine. We nibbled, sipped and talked about life. Some time passed and the sky began to darken - an increasingly steady rain puddled our footprints. We didn't want to leave.

We ended up at an ocean front restaurant eating an amazing seafood dinner, sharing a bottle of wine and getting lost in conversation. One particularly memorable appetizer was a deep fried scallop that we still talk about to this day. (I regret not asking for the recipe.) It was crunchy, mildly spicy and delicious. All in all it was perfect......everything about that day was...
Here's a deep fried bay scallop recipe we found online at Though not the exact same, it's a fun recipe we absolutely about a crowd pleaser! We serve a Chipotle Dipping sauce on the side, we swear...goes with everything! (adapted recipe follows)

Cornmeal Crusted Bay Scallops

3-4 app. size portions

oil for frying (we use vegetable)
7 ounces (23 pieces) frozen bay scallops, defrosted (these were fresh, never frozen)
3 tablespoons potato starch
1 egg
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried parsley
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the oil to 350 degrees F. (Oil or candy thermometer is a good investment if you don't have one.)

2. Drain scallops and toss with potato starch until all pieces are coated. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Beat egg in a small bowl. Set aside. Combine cornmeal, ancho, garlic, and parsley in a another small bowl.

4. Dip scallops in egg mixture. Let excess drip off and toss with cornmeal mixture. Shake off excess and fry (in batches, depending on the size of your pot). Scallops are done when they float, about 1 minute. Season with salt to taste and drain on paper towels. Eat immediately.

Chipotle Dipping Sauce:

Source: adapted over time
Equal parts...
1/2 cup Mayo
1/2 cup Sour Cream
1 Chipotle Pepper in Adobo
1 teaspoon Lime juice
Mix above ingredients in a small food processor. S&P to taste if needed.

Filet of Beef Tenderloin

Here is a simple and memorable Filet of Beef Tenderloin that no matter how many times I find myself wanting to stray...yearning for something husband begs and pleads otherwise. I love him so very much, we have made it more times than I can count!

Chances are, you have an amazing Beef Tenderloin recipe up your sleeve - I've found most people do! Aside from over-cooking, especially a prime or choice cut is tough (no pun intended) to mess up! If you care to share, all recipes welcome...If not......YOU MUST TRY THIS ONE...such an easy, yet elegant way to prepare arguably one of the most "refined" cuts of meat!

Filet of Beef Tenderloin1 cup port wine
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tsp all spice
1 large onion sliced
1 6lb tenderloin

Mix above ingredients together and marinate tenderloin for 1-4 hours. Preheat oven to 425. Pour entire mixture into roasting pan and cook for 1 hr, until medium rare. DO NOT OVER-COOK! Slice and serve with juices.
*My brother adds fresh garlic to the marinade

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Spanish-Style Garlic Shrimp with Ham and Bell Peppers, A Barcelona Story Part II

Click Here for Barcelona Story Part I

As our taxi pulled up to the hotel on La Rambla, we could barely contain our excitement! There were stalls, shops, tourists, locals and street performers as far as the eye could see. Stepping out onto the tree lined street, we felt its energy rush through our this was what we were expecting! Equally impressed with our hotel's lobby, there were marble floors and walls, a towering floral centerpiece tastefully positioned atop a large pedestal table and precisely lined luggage carts sitting idle by the door. We were instantly greeted by the gentleman behind the front desk.

We checked in, exchanged pleasantries, then rolled our bags (past the shiny carts) onto the elevator and off we went. After a shaky ride, the doors finally opened and (as if transported to another planet) the grandiose decor had changed. The green carpeting smelled moldy and cigarette haze blinding. There was a cerveza machine right outside our door and haggard looking people meandering down the hall. (All of a sudden the vacancy and amazing room rate made perfect sense.) Novice American tourists we felt swindled, duped and frankly, a bit embarrassed. The lack of accommodation planning on "the male's" part, left me second guessing myself... maybe on this trip, there would be no engagement.

As we cautiously opened the door to our room, we were greeted by more of the same. There was a brown vinyl couch with cigarette holes on the seat and a small TV with dirty duck tape wrapped around its knobs and antenna. The bed was outfitted in faded sheets with red and green flowers and accessorized with a flat, stained pillow missing its case. The people next door were engaged in a hostile verbal exchange (the only time during our trip we were relieved to not have a complete grasp of the Spanish language). The lone, small window to our room was missing a screen and precariously propped open with a rusty metal bar. There was an angry cat screeching down below. For the life of me, I can not remember the bathroom.

Despite our dissatisfaction we couldn't stand the thought of drudging our bags around to find another hotel, so we both agreed we'd make do for one night. After all...we had so much to see and do, the plan was to spend all our time out and about. We'd only return late that evening to carefully cover the bed with our coats and precisely rest our heads 'just so' until morning. Begrudgingly, we left our bags in the room, locked the door and went about our way. A subtle look of disapproval to the guy behind the desk, we walked outside of the 'phony lobby' and were once again taken aback by the beauty and charm of Barcelona.

Our first stop would be down to the waterfront restaurant to sit outside, enjoy some cerveza, share a traditional Spanish dish and map out the rest of our trip. We took in the scenery and people gazed our way down La Rambla. An unusually warm February day, we ended up sitting on the waterfront for hours, caught up (as usual) in eating, drinking and conversing. I was so happy to be there but one thing consumed my every thought.... If there was a ring, he never would have left it back in that room. If there was a most certainly had to be on him......but where?

Spanish-Style Garlic Shrimp with Ham and Bell PeppersGourmet, February 1992

2 pounds large shrimp (about 28), shelled, leaving the tail and the first joint of the shell intact, and deveined
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
8 garlic cloves, sliced thin lengthwise
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 pound thick-sliced cooked ham, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/3 cup Oloroso Sherry
minced fresh parsley leaves for garnish if desired
slices of crusty bread as an accompaniment

Rinse the shrimp and pat them dry. Sprinkle the shrimp on both sides with the salt and let them stand between layers of paper towel for 10 minutes. In a large heavy skillet cook the garlic in the oil over moderate heat, stirring, until it is golden and transfer it with a slotted spoon to a small bowl. Add the ham and the red pepper flakes to the skillet and cook the mixture, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the ham deepens in color. Add the bell pepper and cook the mixture, stirring, until the bell pepper is softened. Add the shrimp and sauté the mixture over moderately high heat, turning the shrimp, for 3 minutes. Add the Sherry and the garlic and simmer the mixture, stirring and turning the shrimp occasionally, until the shrimp are just cooked through. Transfer the shrimp mixture to a heated serving dish, sprinkle it with the parsley,and serve it with the bread.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Fresh Shoestring Potatoes and Another Confession

It's not what you think, but here it goes. Despite my strict ground rules for this past weekend's hot dog social (that all toppings aside from ketchup & mustard be lovingly homemade) ...early Saturday morning I found myself blankly staring into the freezer chest at my local grocery store. I was scanning for an acceptable, thinly-sliced french fry I could pass off as my own. ...As my own? I mean what was I thinking, did I really believe they wouldn't notice? The dishonesty gnawing away at my conscience, was only usurped by the panic and desperation I felt, having so much left to do. Our guests arriving at noon...I was in search of divine intervention!

As I stood there (frozen as the fries I coveted), fellow shoppers maneuvered their way around my cart. Like Bubba in Forrest Gump, I began reading aloud, "steak fries, wedge fries, waffle fries, curly fries, sweet fries, spicy fries, tater tots ..." I watched grocery dwellers come and go, grabbing various bags of fried potatoes. I don't know if it was the woman's cart bursting at the seams with sodium rich, children's frozen entrees... or the young, fit, girl donning sweatband, merely using the aisle as a pass through to get to her organic milk...but I snapped out of my trance and hot-footed it over to produce. There amongst a sea of fresh greens, reds and yellows, stood a huge display of beautiful, earthy, Idaho potatoes (seemingly awaiting my arrival). As I placed the spuds in my reusable bag, all seemed right with the world!

I've had a few days now to think about my actions. I'm not saying I'm too good for frozen fries (noted on this blog I love these) but it was the consideration and contemplation of lying to family and friends, that leads me to this post. On one end, I was the hostess Nazi, "only homemade toppings will do, oh and put some love into it would you....?" and on the other end, I was the hostess cheater, "they'll never, ever know!" It made me realize, the passion I have for the kitchen, eating, entertaining and "the party" sometimes compels me to do crazy things. My behavior becomes erratic (like mowing down the guy at Whole Foods or hiding avocado from my unsuspecting family) and I turn into a person I'm not even sure I like.

So, all I can say is I'm working on it...or at best trying to define, "it." In the meantime, I'll continue cooking, testing recipes, entertaining, planning parties and writing this blog - because it's what I love to do. Putting pen to paper (or keys to screen) is leading to some startling self-revelation. These words may just be the first step (in a process of many) that is "understanding my condition." And perhaps...just maybe... there are people out there reading, who think all of this sounds way.... WAY too familiar.

*signifies only do this step if time allows

Scrub potato clean - don't peel

Cut in half lengthwise

Cut your halves in 1/2 lengthwise

Take your 4 pieces and cut those all in half perpendicularly

Cut lengthwise into tiny strips (you'll have thin rectangular like potato strips)

Take a few of those strips and stack them on top of each other and cut into strips again lengthwise

Or someone buy me a nice mandolin because I desperately want one!

*Place a clean kitchen towel on counter and cover it with two paper towels

*Place potato strips on paper towel

*Cover with two more paper towels and another kitchen towel

*Weigh down with heavy pot for an hours to get potato strips as dry as
possible before frying

Heat a few inches oil in pan to 360 degrees.

Fry in batches until crispy and golden brown (about 3 minutes).

Carefully remove from oil with slotted or mesh frying spoon and place on
brown paper bag or paper towels to dry.

Sprinkle with kosher or sea salt while hot and serve.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Hot Dog Social and Taste Test

The Hot Dog...few things in life evoke such feelings of nostalgia ~ another place and time... when we were young, things were simple ~ and life ~ was good. We eat them at baseball games, festivals, on city streets and the beach. We eat them in parks, by the fire and on wooden benches in our own backyard. So this weekend, with the opening of the World Cup Finals and in the spirit of the Serious Eats Weekend Cook and Tell Hot Dog Showdown, we decided to host an impromptu Hot Dog Social!

There were few rules, just bring your favorite homemade toppings or choose a country to highlight (so we might sample and expand our hot dog eating repertoire). My husband and I provided some toppings of our own, the dogs (Hebrew Nationals), an assortment of buns and the Weber charcoal grill. As with most friendly competitions...there were highs, lows, light-hearted 'trash-talk' and only one instance of unprovoked aggression when the neighbor's Lab ran-off with one of the wieners! So, without further ado... here are some photos, notes and highlights of how it all went down:

The Mexico City Hot Dog ~ My husband's submission (after some research) ~ and new all time favorite! He noted, "it will be sometime before I can go back to the doldrums of mustard and ketchup."

Mexico City -"jocho" pronounced "hocho" A hot dog offered on street carts outside of nightclubs. Served grilled and covered with melted oaxaca cheese , pico de gallo, ketchup, mustard and bacon. <--- (source: Wikipedia) (1 favorited this hot dog) SPICY AWARD

The Brazilian Hot Dog ~ my submission #1 ~ inspired by one of my best friend's who spent a year in South America, she has fond memories of the ginormous hot dogs sold on the streets of Buenos Aires. I tried my best to do it justice - just short of the kitchen sink, I promise you there is a hot dog in there!

Grilled hot dog with mashed potatoes, peas, corn, grated cheddar and parmesan cheese, homemade shoestring deep-fried potatoes, ketchup, mustard and a mayonnaise-sour cream sauce. (2 favorited this hot dog) COMPLEXITY AWARD

The New York Hot Dog ~ Joe's submission ~ He's a man of simplicity, no fuss ~ just a good old fashion hot dog with mustard and kraut. Joe reminisced about frequenting Manhattan hot dog vendors when he used to live in the city. During a recent trip back to The Big Apple, he was astonished by the $2-$3+ price tag from the vendors peddling their dogs on the Upper East Side.

Grilled hot dog with mustard and sauerkraut (2 favorited this hot dog) CLASSIC AWARD

The Italian Hot Dog ~ Jackie's submission ~ she told a story of growing up in New Jersey ~ her family used to visit an 'old school' establishment that only sold authentic, Italian hot dogs. One substitutions! Young and naive she always demanded hers plain (just some mustard on the side). This drove her father nuts, as he'd be paying for 'the works' but only getting - a dog - in a bun. Today, Jackie loves the Italian hot dog - potatoes, peppers and all!

Grilled foot-long with grilled green peppers, onions, fried potatoes and spicy mustard (2 favorited this dog) HOME-STYLE COMFORT AWARD

The Plain Jane Hot Dog ~ Mike's submission ~ grilled dog, no bun - ketchup & mustard on the side.

Picture says it all. (All children favorited this hot dog) NO-CARB ECONOMY AWARD

The Smokey Apple Hot Dog ~ my submission #2 ~ since I lean towards the aforementioned New York style dog, I thought I'd try to come up with something different, using a combination of no-fail flavors and textures.

Toasted Italian roll with melted Cherrywood Smoked Mozzarella, charcoal grilled hot dog nestled into the cheese, topped with: grilled sweet onions, sauerkraut, diced-up gala apple that was sauteed in a bit of butter and 1 teaspoon spicy whole-grain mustard until soft, finished off with generous pinch of crispy homemade bacon bits. (3 favorited this hot dog) TASTE & CREATIVITY AWARD

Let me conclude with a shout-out to all those who participated on such short notice! As we relaxed watching the World Cup, sampling beers and each others work, it occurred to me... whether an all beef frank, veggie dog, or sausage...... eaten alone, on rice paddy or stuffed between a bun...the hot dog is an iconic symbol whose definition is only broadened by state, country, and continental lines. An unpretentious, simple food with the unequivocal power to unite, the hot dog (in all its forms) will always represent our human need to eat and unyielding will to create!

SO...what did we do right? What did we do wrong? What is YOUR favorite Hot Dog creation YOU make at home or buy!?
The only Bad Dog in this post! (but look at that face...)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Easy Lentil Soup and a Crucial Decision

When you write a food blog, what pork product to use is honestly one of the most crucial decisions you'll face all day. Thick-cut bacon (fresh from the farm), a piece of ham steak AND a block of prosciutto - all sitting in my fridge - jockeying to be the first rendered down to lend its 'smoky pork essence' to an equally deserving dish...I wracked my brain...placed phone calls...referenced recipes... and (at my weakest point) engaged my three year old in a pork related rendition of 'eeny-meeny-miny-moe.' In the was the pork farm thick-cut bacon that trumped all others. (No worries, the ham steak and prosciutto will have their day of glory too...just not today.)

At the risk of a blog post (some may consider) a bit out of was remarkably cool here for June...and in my pantry resided all the necessary ingredients to make this hearty and (*)healthy, Easy Lentil Soup. There are a million versions of lentil soup out there - but having already faced one momentous decision ~ I had to keep it simple ~ resulting in the recipe below.

We couldn't resist serving it without big pieces of warm, crusty, bread (left-over from the previous days sandwiches). A few shakes of Tabasco (optional) and the bread dipped bowl was all we needed to feel completely satisfied! The best thing was...we were left with plenty more for an equally delicious (dare I admit better) lunch the next day!

(*) for healthy soup, please omit thick-cut bacon and replace with thin-cut - Ha, Ha!

Easy Lentil Soup ~adapted from soups I've seen and made over the years....
5 slices thick cut bacon, diced up
1 1/4 cups lentils
2 medium carrots chopped
2 medium pieces of celery chopped
1 medium onion chopped
1 scant tablespoon cumin
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
5 cups chicken stock (more if you prefer a soup not so hearty as seen here)
S&P to taste
Tabasco on top to taste (optional)

Over medium heat, render down the bacon pieces. When cooked down remove half to add back to soup at the end (leave the remaining pieces in). Saute up onion until soft, approximately 5 minutes. Add cumin and red pepper flakes and stir for 1-2 minutes. Add carrot & celery and saute up another 3-5 minutes.

Pour in lentils and stir for 1 minute. Add chicken stock and stir. Bring to a boil. Next turn down stove to a simmer and cover for 45 mins-hour (or until lentils are tender). In batches, carefully pulse soup in a blender to desired consistency and return to the pot (add more stock at this point if soup is too thick for your liking) OR use your handheld soup blender (my favorite tool!)and pulse to desired consistency. Fold reserved bacon back in. Taste! Only S&P if necessary! Top with a few shakes of Tabasco if desired. Serve with crusty bread and get happy!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cherrywood Smoked Mozzarella Sandwich, A Love Letter

Cherrywood Smoked Mozzarella Sandwich

Dear Cherrywood Smoked Mozzarella,

Where do I begin? My only regret is I waited too long.

Last night while in my kitchen, I pondered how many times I walked right past you. How many times (while sifting through your refrigerated chest at the store) I came so close to knowing you. I heard your name in certain circles, came upon it on menus in my past, never giving it much thought...nary a second look. If not for my sister's insistence to meet you - I'd still be living a dull, fruitless life...going about my days unaware of your endless possibilities... unaware of the magic that's created when the two of us are together.

I considered hiding our relationship - unwilling to share you - for fear of stretching you (and our time together) too thin. Selfish maybe...but I cannot deny a truth so real. My yearning for you finds me in the car late at night, on my way to your shelf at Whole Foods. I shudder at the thought you're not there - off gallivanting with "that other," who I watched hastily brush her fingers across your soft, supple face, only to second-guess and ultimately walk away. She moved onto another (...feta I think...) but that look she gave you...has me certain she'll be back.

I know her style...I know her kind...and so the question to ponder dear cheese...what are her plans for you? Does she truly understand your wants, your needs, your desires? What is her intent? With these words...with these pictures...I hope mine is clear. I love you smoked mozzarella, so wearing my heart on my sleeve, I thought I'd share it here... with anyone who will listen.

Anxiously awaiting your response... ~me

Pictured above Ciabatta Garlic Bread Sandwich with sauteed mushrooms, onions, roasted red peppers, tons of basil and topped with *Smoked Mozzarella, placed in 350 degree oven until cheese is melted.

*I find this award winning, handmade MapleBrook Farms Cherrywood Smoked Mozzarella Cheese (pictured below) difficult not to eat like an apple - that's how much I love it! I found it at Whole Foods.
For more information, click here to visit the MapleBrook Farms Website.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Fried Calamari ~ A Barcelona Story Part I

He surprised me with a trip to was January 2001...and we were leaving in a week. I had two instant thoughts. First...I swear if he doesn't propose to me on this trip he's a dead man! Followed by a close second...YUM, tacos, burritos, margaritas! Yes, that's right...tacos. I can hardly believe I am sharing this with you. I think I was just overwhelmed. Were we getting engaged? What should I pack? Will I like the ring? What about work? Will it be big and blinding? Will I need a hair drier adapter? Will it have a platinum band? (Shallow? Maybe.) I was quickly "enlightened" (by my dear husband to be) that Spain and Mexico were in fact two separate cultures, both with their own unique history, customs and food. (I knew this by the way.) Instead of empanadas and quesadillas, he assured me we'd soon be enjoying our fill of tapas and paella. (Condescending? Definitely.) I immediately hit Barnes & Noble to pick up books on Barcelona and spent the next few days reading all about their catalan dialect, places of interest, markets, museums...and food!

The day came and I was ready! Freshly manicured nails, a never before stamped passport in one hand, guide book in the other - after a few too many at the airport, I was feeling fine at 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. We arrived in Barcelona thirsty and hung over, or as we liked to call it "jet lagged". Our first trip overseas, we somehow managed to get a taxi (all while stressing over to tip or not to tip, damn it guide book...!) and arrived at our ultra modern hotel on the outskirts of Barcelona. We dropped our bags, freshened up and were ready to eat! Bring on the tapas, the prawns, the serrano ham and squid! Barcelona, here we come!

So we walked, and walked...and walked....and walked. We were definitely outside of Barcelona. It wasn't the hopping Las Ramblas scene I had read so much about. A restaurant? A bar? Anything? We noticed a brick building with a tiny light on that sort of resembled what might be an underground jazz club in NYC or Boston. My "man" peeked inside while I hung back. Immediately five or so scantily clothed girls stood at attention and began walking his way. He quickly closed the door and turned around, "not a bar he said, definitely not a bar." Moving on and not wanting to wander too far off course, we turned the corner and to our delight...a lit up establishment! There were attractive people sitting inside, the faint sound of Spanish chit chat among the clanking of silverware. Yes finally...tapas! Let's get six, no eight, no ten! Turned out it was a pizza place. We ordered a margarita pizza and some fried calamari (I was hellbent on that squid) and joked the rest of the night how we flew clear across the ocean to step into a brothel and eat some pizza pie!

Still no ring, we found our way back to the hotel and slept for hours. We woke up, checked out and headed to a new hotel on Las Ramblas (another whole story, stay tuned.) The entire city seemed to smell of Spanish oregano. We were excited. Picasso and Gaudi in our immediate future, we had tapas, cerveza (and an engagement perhaps) top of mind.

(Note: wouldn't this story have been way better if the pizza place had been a taco joint!)Click Here for Barcelona Story Part II

Fried Calamari~adapted from Emeril's 2004 recipe on bought 1lb fresh squid and cleaned and cut it myself - sort of an ordeal but not too bad! Cut off the head of the squid, find the cartilage and remove by pulling it out in one long piece (not hard to do), clean out the inside and cut into rings (use the tentacles too if you like) seen here:

Place cleaned calamari rings in a bath of buttermilk and a few dashes hot sauce for 30 minutes (I used a Ziploc bag.)

Next, place the calamari rings into a bag full of flour and shake lightly to coat. (I used semolina flour but next time will use plain as I think I prefer my calamari a little lighter in texture.)

Heat canola oil (about 3-4 inches deep) to 350 degrees. Carefully fry calamari in batches for approximately 2 minutes (+/-). Drain on paper towels. S&P to taste. Top with fresh, chopped flat leaf parsley. Serve fried calamari immediately with lemon wedge and marinara sauce. Yielded one large plateful.

Caretaker Wines, California Pinot Noir, 2008

Here's one that drew mixed reviews. Only available at Trader Joe's this $9.99, 2008 Caretaker Wines, California Pinot Noir resembles many we've shared in the $18-$20 range. Possibly a bit too young and in need of some's still a great deal at that price and makes for a nice, light, summer drinking red. Sustainably Farmed.

Have you tried this wine? If so, what did you think?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rava Dosas with Potato Chickpea Masala ~ "The Greek Fates were Indian that night my friend..."

When we first moved to New York City we were not well versed in Indian cuisine. My husband wasn't terribly fond of curry, so despite all the highly acclaimed Indian restaurants in Manhattan, “let’s go out for Indian food...” simply wasn't a phrase in our 'dining out repertoire.' Until one blustery winter night in the late 90’s when a twist of fate had the two of us staring down a traditional clay pot of tandoori chicken with fragrant side of fluffy basmati rice. Here's how events unfolded...

In the mood for a quiet, intimate setting, we left our 4th floor walk-up apartment in the center of York Town, in route to the tiny French place right around the corner. I recall looking forward to drowning myself in bechamel, while 'my man' was adamant about finally ordering the escargot appetizer. As we eagerly approached the front door something seemed off. Did we round the wrong corner? Did that sole glass of wine back home cause us to be terribly misguided? The soft ecru panels that hung so elegantly in the window were replaced with bamboo blinds and the color of the door had gone from red to blue. Without focusing on the words, the menu displayed aside the window seemed different...and the smell (though vaguely familiar) was definitely unexpected. That’s when we noticed the sign up above, "Upscale Indian Cuisine."

As is customary after experiencing a sudden loss, we spent the next few minutes mourning our quaint French bistro ~ reminiscing over meals we shared and tearing up over those we hadn’t. My husband's sadness quickly turned to complete dismay over the escargot that so many times could have (and that night certainly would have) been. What about our waiter?! Had we meant nothing to him?! We felt cheated...depressed...but most of all...we felt hungry.

Freezing from the frigid wind tunneling up 1st Avenue, all of a sudden we found ourselves comfortably seated at a cozy table outfitted with tiny, tea lights and crisp white tablecloth. The gentleman in charge brought us a plate of hot, soft, chewy flat bread (we'd come to know as naan) whose garlicky aroma and multiple dipping sauces had us mesmerized the instant it came into view. We were apprehensive to order off the unfamiliar menu.

We spent the rest of the evening in the pleasant company of our waiter Sanjay, listening to the soft strumming of a sitar, drinking Kingfisher and sampling the exquisite flavors of Indian cuisine. So much more than “curry” we were ashamed and embarrassed by our lifetime of close-mindedness towards this ethnic food, full of enchanting flavors and vibrant colors! Snails... a distant memory, the words “aromatic spices,” “saffron-almond” and “glowing charcoal” were top of mind. As we sat there sharing a clay pot of tandoori chicken, it couldn't have been more clear that French food...that particular evening... was never meant to be. That blustery, winter night in the late 90’s..."the Greek Fates were Indian my friend"...and for the two of us...they had another plan in store!

Here's a South Indian Vegetarian Dish we made the other night. (Be sure to see cook's notes and substitutions below the recipe.) Spicy, Fresh and Delicious... the only thing I missed was a bit of crunch (maybe the coconut I omitted would have provided) - so maybe consider adding thinly sliced onion or pepper - not sure that's authentic - but it's honestly what we missed from the recipe. Otherwise this vegetarian Indian meal was an awesome change of pace!
Rava Dosas with Potato Chickpea Masala
Gourmet, November 2009
by Melissa Roberts

For masala filling:
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1/3 cup dried grated unsweetened coconut
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 (3-inch) fresh jalapeño, coarsely chopped, including seeds
1 (2 1/2-inch) piece peeled ginger, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups water, divided
1 large onion, chopped (about 3 cups)
1 (15-to 19-ounces) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup frozen peas (do not thaw)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

For rava dosas:
1/2 cup semolina flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
Vegetable oil for brushing

Make Masala filling: Peel potatoes and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Transfer to a bowl and cover with cold water. Toast coconut in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and wipe out skillet. Toast cumin seeds in skillet over medium heat, shaking skillet frequently, until fragrant and just a shade darker, about 30 seconds. Transfer to another small bowl. Reserve skillet. Purée jalapeño, ginger, and garlic in a blender with curry powder, cinnamon, turmeric, oil, 1/4 cup water, and 1 teaspoon salt until smooth. Transfer purée to skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until thickened slightly, about 1 minute. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to soften, about 8 minutes. Drain potatoes, then add to onion mixture with cumin seeds and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are barely tender, about 10 minutes. Add chickpeas and remaining 1 1/2 cups water, scraping up any brown bits, then briskly simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender, 16 to 20 minutes more. Add peas and cook, covered, until just tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in toasted coconut and cilantro.

Make dosas while potatoes cook:
Whisk flours, cumin seeds, salt, and water in a bowl. Generously brush a 12-inch nonstick skillet with oil and heat over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Pour 1/2 cup batter into skillet, swirling until bottom is coated. Cook, undisturbed, until dosa is set and edges are golden, about 2 minutes. Flip using a rubber spatula and cook dosa until underside is golden in spots, about 1 minute more. Transfer to a plate. Make more dosas with remaining batter, stacking and covering loosely with foil to keep warm. To serve, spoon masala filling into dosas.

Cooks Notes:
Masala filling, without coconut and cilantro, can be made 6 hours ahead and chilled. Reheat before stirring in coconut and cilantro.

*Instead of the curry, cinnamon and turmeric I used one tablespoon of the Indian spice Garam Masala. I also omitted the coconut as I didn't have any on hand.

For the Rava Dosas, we opted to make a Simple Crepe Recipe (By: JENNYC819 on of: 1 cup all-purpose flour, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup water, 1/4teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons melted butter (as oppose to the one above). Not as authentic - but in the essence of time they were perfect!

Kettle Brand Spicy Thai Potato Chips

I was first introduced to these Kettle Brand Spicy Thai Potato Chips while visiting friends from college. While perusing the aisle of their local specialty market, the bright red bag and bold letters SPICY THAI caught my attention. (I'm a marketers easy.) Once we opened the bags ~ we couldn't get enough!

This past weekend, the chips and I were happily reacquainted when I stumbled upon them at our local Whole Foods Market. Sitting amongst a sea of fried...baked...and puffed potato products - there were only two bags left - atop a completely ransacked (holiday weekend) shelf! Like a crazy woman, I set off in a mad dash to scoop the bags up before the young man standing at the opposite end of the aisle. (Something in his eye told me - he wanted them too.) If not for the sake of my unyielding quest to share new found (at least to me) products and flavors...I may have left one bag for him (a friendly Memorial Day cookout gesture of sorts) ...but with only hours until family and friends would be gathering in my backyard expecting food - hostess Godzilla's needs usurped his - and so I placed both bags in my cart and victoriously went on my way...never looking back!

Now I know people have strong opinions about their "chips" and those types and flavors they prefer. I'm actually partial to plain, finding most spice enhanced chips overly bold with phony tasting ingredients - but not these! If you love Thai food and crave that red Thai curry, sweet, lime, spicy, flavor... you have to give these chips a try! Their heat intensifies as you munch away, and like all good potato chips, they become increasing addictive the further your arm disappears into the crinkly, paper lined bag. All natural with no preservatives, these Kettle Brand Spicy Thai Potato Chips are a must have the next time... "you just gotta have that chip!"

*Check Out Kettle Brands Sustainability Page on their Website

*Again -I have no connection to this product or brand - just a darn good chip!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lobster Rolls and a Little Slice of Heaven

I often imagine heaven as sitting on an ocean side dock in Maine with my husband. Dressed in hooded sweatshirts, we're overindulging in a tray of lobster rolls and glass pitchers of ice cold beer. So it begs the question...if that's what I perceive as heaven...why is it everytime I contemplate making these decadent American classics (when it gets right down to it) ...I simply can not? I'm pretty certain it has to do with the actual 'ritual' of buying the lobster. After approaching the tank and enduring the arduous task of selection, we bring the lobsters home - to only spend a few minutes getting acquainted - before ceremoniously submerging them into a hot, steaming pot. Extracting the meat, only to chop it up and dress with mayonnaise, hardly seems appropriate! A lobster purest - cracked right out of the shell plain or dipped in clarified butter - is (and always will be) my preferred method of enjoying these feisty crawlers of the sea. But this night for the sake of something different, and to usher in the summer season, lobster rolls were on the menu.

Here's where you lobster roll enthusiasts will be (as my husband was) appalled and probably cease reading. Despite lobsters on sale at my local store, the recipe I eyeballed before leaving the house called for a combination of lobster meat and shrimp...and so yes... I supplemented my 2.5 lb crustacean with 1 lb. of beautiful prawns ~ I steamed in the same pot directly following the lobster.

Who's still with me?

The basic recipe below as a guide, my only addition was some finely chopped celery to lend a bit of crunch. Generously piled atop buttered and lightly toasted slider rolls...they were as you would expect... succulent & divine! We enjoyed them alongside homemade oven fries with sea salt and a light, bubbly prosecco with the slightest hint of ripened pear. Bob Marley faintly playing in the background and the fabulous company of dear family and friends ~ as the sun was beginning to set it occurred to me ~ heaven was right here all along... this whole my own backyard.

Mini Lobster Rolls
Gourmet, August 2007
Paul Grimes

Makes 24 hors d'oeuvres

1/2 pound cooked lobster, chopped (approx a 2.5+ lb lobster)
1/2 pound cooked shrimp, chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
24 small soft dinner rolls (we used slider rolls)

Stir together all ingredients, except rolls, with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, then chill, covered, until ready to serve.

Cut down into tops of rolls to split them, but do not cut all the way through, and fill each with 1 rounded tablespoon seafood. (We brushed ours with soft butter and lightly toasted which I highly recommend!)