Sunday, October 18, 2009

Easy "en Papillotte" for the Working Set

As I have written about before, my kids - especially my son - love fish. Salmon is a particular favorite, and I think it is a hoot that the fish monger at our local store recognizes my 6 year old. It is his job to select the fish each week.

But, as much as I love roasted fish - it can get a bit boring. So I thought it would be fun to try a riff on fish en papillote. What is this (for those that don't know) - basically fish and cut up veggies with some sort of scant liquid then wrapped in a parchment paper package that is then baked. You open the package at the table and voila! dinner.

Of course I have parchment paper - but what could I do that would be easier than individual packages?

Lunch Bag.

Yes. The plain brown lunch bag makes a great substitute for traditional parchment paper.

Here is the recipe. Feel free to substitute fish/veggies/etc. This is just what I used because I had it on hand - the technique remains the same. Also, I used one bag with a larger piece - you could make "mini" bags with individual portions.

Salmon in a Paper Bag

Brown Paper Bag
Olive Oil
1 lb. center cut salmon - bones removed
4 slices lemon
1 brussel sprout - shredded
1 carrot - thinly sliced
1 zucchini - thinly sliced
salt and pepper
1 tsp dried herbs (I used herbs de provence)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Brush olive oil all over the brown paper bag (on the outside only).
3. Season fish with salt and pepper and herbs.
4. Toss veggies in bag. Place salmon and lemon slices on top of veggies.
5. Close the paper bag and place on baking sheet.
6. Bake for 8-10 minutes depending on thickness of salmon or fish.
7. Bring to the table and slice open the bag!


Monday, October 12, 2009

Sauteed Shredded Brussel Sprouts and Apples

I know.

You are thinking - brussel sprouts? Really? But, when you either take the leaves apart or thinly "shred" the brussel sprouts and then saute them in some olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper - they take on a whole different texture and flavor.

Tonight I got back later than expected from the office. The kids had been home all day with Dad because it is Columbus Day and of course they had off (health care does not close on CD). So as I was driving home I stopped at the local grocer to see what kind of veggies looked good. And honestly, the brussel sprouts were beautiful! Small bright green heads of mini cabbage goodness. So - with a few of those and some apples the kids picked earlier in the Fall, I concocted my plan. Pasta. Easy. Apples and parmesan - always a good combo. And cabbage (I like to think of the brussel sprout as a baby cabbage) and something sweet like an apple - classic.

So - here it is:

Shredded Brussel Sprouts and Apples

I tossed this with enough spaghetti for 2 adults - kids "tried" some (there was plain spaghetti on the side) you can increase the amounts of veggies/etc. to toss with a lot of pasta - or you can serve this as a side dish (if you do this, I would not add in the parmesan - that was more for the spaghetti mix...)

Spaghetti - Cooked/Warm
4-5 brussel sprouts - cut in half through the core and thinly sliced or "shredded"
1 apple, cored and sliced thinly
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 cup grated parmesan

1. Heat olive oil in pan.
2. Saute brussel sprouts and apples until wilted and slightly browned/carmelized.
3. Add pinch of salt and pepper
4. Toss with spaghetti
5. Add in parmesan cheese and mix together.

Serve it up!!

Friday, October 2, 2009

The best noodle kugel

So my favorite food magazine is closing: Gourmet. I can't believe it. Over the years I have collected, clipped, poured over, re-read, etc. etc. so many issues. I have to say that I thought some of the more recent changes to the magazine were not the best. However, the writing was stellar, the photography always beautiful, and so many of the recipes really were adaptable for "real life" - at least in my house.

At least the recipes are on-line at epicurious.


Anyway - as were are well into Sukkot, I thought I would pass along a great recipe I played with a bit over the holidays. I was never a fan of "savory" kugels nor do I particularly like ones with cheese. So, I always make mine "sweet" with more of an egg custard than anything else. It usually includes apples and "plumped" raisins - which are raisins soaked for about 20-30 minutes in either wine or grape juice. This year, I added some extra egg, used butter (the meal I was taking it to was dairy - you could use margarine to make it pareve if you need to) and also added in dried cranberries.

This one - a definite keeper.

Cranberry, Apple and Raisin Kugel

1 bag wide egg noodles
6 eggs
2 peeled, diced and cored apples
1/2 cup "plumped" golden raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
pinch of salt and pepper
1 stick butter (or margarine) cut into pieces
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp (or a bit more) sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9x13 baking pan. (size doesn't really matter - this is what I had on hand).
2. Prepare egg noodles as directed on package and drain (I usually cook mine slightly under since they are cooked again in the oven).
3. While the noodles are cooking, in a large bowl, beat six eggs. Mix together with apples, raisins, cranberries, salt and pepper.
4. When noodles are drained and still warm, toss with egg and fruit mixture. Toss in pieces of butter (or margarine) until they are melted.
5. Place noodle mixture in prepared pan. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon all over the top.
6. Bake for 35-45 minutes until set and golden brown.

YUM! (By the way - this can be served hot, warm, room temperature. I also like it cold. It will keep in the fridge for about 1 week.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Roasted Mustard Salmon

Despite being really crazy at work, I have had time to cook for the family. What I have been relying on are old standbys that the husband and kids love - they come out great every time and are quick and easy.

As I have written about before, my husband does not love fish (his love for tuna from the can boggles my mind). However, he does love salmon and this way in particular.

Some things to note.

1. When I buy fish, I buy fresh not frozen, and I usually buy on the same day I am making the fish. I usually go to Whole Foods (or some other store that is very clean - I am a bit obsessive about this point) and look for what is on sale, then talk to the fish guy about when it came in, quality, etc. This way, I get the freshest, best fish I can.

2. Fish should not smell fishy. Really. This is how you know it is fresh. It should have a slightly oceany smell but not very strong (like tuna from a can for instance).

3. I usually ask for a center cut and ask that the pieces be of the same size and thickness. This way, they all cook about the same time. Also, I ask them to remove any pin bones and depending on the fish, the skin. Some people like the skin - so up to you.

Roasted Mustard Salmon

1 side salmon
1 tsp olive oil
2-3 tsp dijon mustard - enough to put a thin layer on top of the salmon
salt and pepper
1 tsp herbs de provence or thyme

1. Preheat oven to 425. Or preheat broiler.
2. Place salmon in roasting pan or on tray rubbed with olive oil. Smear mustard on top of salmon so it is all over the top. Sprinkle with herbs and salt and pepper.
3. Put in oven for 10-12 minutes or until it is pink through and flakes. (Fish will continue cooking after you remove it from the oven - so best way to check is simply to stick a knife in and see if it is almost evenly pink throughout. If it is, pull it out. If you like it more rare, cook for less time.)

That's it!!! There are lots of variations on this. Sometimes I mix some breadcrumbs or panko with the mustard and put that on top. Sometimes I stick some slices of lemon underneath. Sometimes I put parmesan cheese on top of the mustard. They all work.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Grilled Whole Chicken

Yesterday was probably one of the most beautiful days in Chicago this year. The sun was out, it was in the low 70's and the sky was blue. Really a perfect day for grilling.

I often have used our grill (gas one I should mention) as a second oven. On holidays and other times when I simply run out of room, I have used it to roast vegetables in a pan, keep side dishes warm, make sauces or grill main courses.

And while I have rotisseried whole chickens and flattened them and grilled them, I never have used the grill to "grill/roast" a whole one.

Until yesterday.

Let me tell you something. This is a great way to make whole chicken. Easy, no fuss and the taste was terrific. It had some of the smokiness of the grill and the meat was incredibly juicy, with crisp lightly browned skin. Delicious.

Grilled Whole Chicken

Whole Chicken - About 3 1/2 lbs. Washed and Trimmed
1 lemon cut in half
10 sprigs of fresh thyme/rosemary or other fresh herbs
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil (about 1 tsp)

1. Heat the grill - both sides.
2. Prepare the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the lemon and herbs. Rub with salt and pepper and a bit of olive oil.
3. When the grill is heated, turn off one side. Put the chicken on that side. Close the cover.
4. Cook the chicken for between 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 1/2 hours or until temp in thickest part is 175-180 or juices run clear. If one side cooks quicker than the other, turn the chicken so the less cooked part is closer to the heated side. Be careful not to spill out the juices.
5. Let rest for about 10 minutes and serve!

Happy Spring!!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pasta Balloon Tie

So the kids named this pasta dish - I think it was because of the shape of the pasta I used - gemelli - which sort of looks like two pieces of string twisted together. Like a balloon tie!

But more to the point, this is a non-meat take on Pasta Carbonara! Creamy, delicious - (no smokiness because of lack of bacon/smoked meat, but really good nonetheless. I could have experimented with some liquid smoke or smoked salt/pepper - may try that next time).

I find that when I use fun shapes the kids tend to be more adventurous in what the eat so...

Pasta Balloon Tie

Some sort of pasta (I used 1/2 box of Gemelli)
2 egg yolks
1 cup finely diced fontina or monterey jack cheese
pinch of salt and pepper
dash of hot red pepper flakes (to taste - don't use too much!)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving

1. Start making pasta as usual.
2. In a large bowl that you can mix the pasta in later, mix together all ingredients except the grated parmesan.
3. Drain pasta.
4. As soon as it is drained, pour pasta over mixture in the bowl. Continue tossing with sauce until the cheese is a bit melted and all pasta is covered with sauce.
5. Serve with grated parmesan.

A couple of things you can add...

1. Saute some onions in olive oil - carmelized would be delicious - toss with the pasta and sauce AFTER so the hot onions don't cook the egg.
2. Spinach. Once the pasta is tossed with the sauce, add some chopped spinach. The heat will wilt it some.
3. Other fresh herbs. In addition to parsley - try some chopped fresh basil!
4. Lemon zest. Add some freshly grated lemon zest to the sauce.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Flatbread - Socca - Whatever.

This is another one of those... really? it works? it tastes good? kind of recipes. It is an adaptation of socca - a basic flatbread recipe - and works great with all kinds of flavoring/etc. The idea of course is from Mark Bittman of the NY Times - forwarded by my dad. 

The kids especially liked it - using it to scoop up hummus and the like.

Give it a try. FYI - the only problem is it takes between 45 minutes and an hour depending on the type of flour you use - but other than the mixing - it pretty much "bakes" itself!

Basic Flatbread

1 1/2 cups flour (I used white flour because that is what I had. You can use whole wheat/chickpea/combination/etc.)
1 1/2 cups water
1 tbsp olive oil
1 green onion chopped
1 tsp cumin
pinch of kosher salt (about 1 tsp)

1. Preheat oven to 450.
2. In a 10 inch non-stick skillet, place olive oil.
3. In a bowl, mix together flour, water, green onion, cumin and salt.
4. When oven is hot, put skillet with olive oil in for 2 minutes to heat oil.
5. Remove heated skillet and oil from oven (don't forget to wear a mitt before handling the handle! Ouch!!)
6. Pour batter into skillet. Put back in oven.
7. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour - or until golden brown on edges. You can flip it and cook a bit more if you want something crispier.
8. Cut into wedges and serve!

The texture is not completely crisp - but a bit chewy and crispy at the same time. If you want something less crisp, add a bit more water - or cook for less time. For more crisp, a bit less water and more time. Just watch it so it doesn't burn.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


During Passover I had the thought to make spinach ricotta gnocchi. Also, since my dad was around, and we love to cook together, I thought we would do something we had always talked about. Making cheese.

Yes. Cheese.

Now don't go - Dani, you are out of your mind!

This was so simple I am getting ready to make my next batch. The recipe is also very forgiving - no measuring temperature or anything.

Here is the recipe - next time I will take pictures and post. (Adapted from Mark Bittman)

1/2 gallon milk (I used whole milk)
2 cups buttermilk
salt (optional - the first time we didn't use it)

1. Place 3 layers of cheesecloth on top of one another - wet them, wring them out, put in the strainer over a bowl.

2. Place milk in heavy bottomed pot. Heat milk until it is bubbling up the sides a bit. Every once and a while stir it and "scrape" the bottom so the milk doesn't burn. This takes about 10 minutes or so... maybe a bit more.

3. When milk is bubbling, pour in the buttermilk and start to stir constantly. Remove from heat.

4. Keep stirring. What will happen is the curds will separate from the whey. It will look like egg whites floating in yellow liquid. Seriously cool.

5. You can add salt at this point or not. You can also add salt later.

6. Pour curds and whey through cheesecloth and strainer.

7. Since we made ricotta style cheese, we left it for about 15 minutes, then put it in a container. If you want more "compacted" cheese, use 4 cups of buttermilk instead of 2, simply take the ends of the cheesecloth, twist together and tie, let whey continue to drip through strainer for a bit, (you can hang it and let it "drip out") then refrigerate.

This was not only easy, but tasted delicious.

We incorporate the ricotta into what eventually became a spinach/ricotta casserole/lasagna.

Delicious. You need to try it and see it to believe it!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Easy Salmon with Butter and Olive Oil

I know lots of people are afraid of making fish - but there are some simple techniques that make it a snap.

The best one I know - roasting. Easy, no fuss, and usually - no mess.

Simple Roasted Salmon with Butter and Olive Oil

3 4 oz pieces of salmon fillets (make sure they are about the same size)
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter cut into thirds (or the number of fillets you have)
salt and pepper

Note: You will want to use a small frying pan or other small pan that has sides - just big enough to fit the salmon without crowding, so the olive oil is about 1/8 inch deep and coats the pan. You are not looking to "fry" the salmon - but place it in enough olive oil so it doesn't stick and there starts to be a sauce in the pan.

1. Preheat oven to 425.
2. Put olive oil in bottom of small heat resistant frying pan so there is a nice layer of olive oil on the bottom of the pan.
3. Place salmon in the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes.
5. After 10 minutes, place one tab of butter on each fillet. Return to oven for another 5 minutes of cooking - or until just done (salmon should 'flake' - the salmon will continue cooking once it is removed from the oven)
6. Remove from oven and with a spoon, gently spoon olive oil and butter over fillets.
7. Serve and enjoy!

I served this salmon tonight with some quinoa mixed with diced carrots and peas for a quick quinoa pilaf and a salad. Simply follow the directions to make the quinoa (1 cup of quinoa + 2 cups of water bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes until all water absorbed) and add some diced veggies at the beginning to the pot (essentially throw everything in together - simmer for 15 minutes and voila!)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spring Peas, Asparagus and Pasta

It's almost Spring. I can taste it. Last week we had a couple of warmer days - even though it rained. And, you can just begin to see the buds coming out on the trees. Oh, it's there. Believe me! Personally, I cannot wait! Chicago has had a terribly long and snowy winter and the thought of walking around a farmer's market and starting to plan out our veggie garden makes me giddy (and thank you Target for putting out your garden stuff early... SO tempting!!)

Anyway, I digress.

Question, as always - what's for dinner? As we look toward spring, I want green. Lots of it. And I want peas. The best days are when early in the spring season you go to the farmer's market and there are FRESH peas - in the pod - so sweet. Unadorned, they are a great snack. Slightly steamed works too. In addition to peas, Spring makes me think of tender asparagus. Thin stemmed. Slightly steamed - delicious.

However, there are certain (ahem) wonderful significant others who really don't like asparagus. However, if you saute it (or roast it) - it loses a lot of the bitter taste and sweetens up. Pair asparagus with some fresh (or frozen) petite green peas - mix with pasta and you have a winner! If the kids don't go do sauteed veggies in their pasta, make everything separate (I always have a bowl of plain steamed carrots or peas just in case) and they can put it together as they like.

Spring Pasta with Asparagus and Peas
(serves 4)

1/2 box favorite pasta (rotini, etc... something that will hold up to the veggies)
1 bunch asparagus
2 cups fresh peas (or frozen)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp fresh minced sage
kosher salt

1. Start making pasta (boil water, add salt, add pasta, etc...)

2. As pasta is cooking, prepare vegetables. For asparagus, snap off the ends (there will be a natural break where the stem is tough), and cut into 2 inch pieces (thirds).

3. Heat oil in pan. Toss in garlic and swirl gently so it doesn't burn. After about 30-45 seconds (before garlic turns brown), throw in asparagus. Cook for about 5 minutes, tossing gently so it is coated with olive oil and garlic.

4. When the asparagus turns bright green, sprinkle with a small amount of salt and pepper (layer the flavors people!!)

5. Toss in rest of ingredients (peas, sage) and saute gently until the peas are just bright green and warmed through.

6. By this time, the pasta should be done.

7. Drain the pasta, toss with the veggie mixture and serve with grated parmesan.

By the way, if you like a bit more of a "sauce," you can always add a bit of vegetable stock to the veggie mixture as it is cooking - about 1/2 cup should do - a tbsp or two of cream at the end (my family doesn't really do "cream sauce")

That's all folks! Enjoy!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quesadillas or Grilled Cheese Made on a Tortilla

So what's a quick and easy meal when you have hungry kids, really don't feel like cooking but want to do something other than pizza?

Think quesadilla.

Yes. Quesadilla.

It is about as easy as it gets. Of course, in our house, we only put cheese on our quesadillas. But, you can certainly fill them with a couple of other things (veggies, chicken if you like, etc.) I wouldn't recommend more than 1-3 items as it gets to "full" but once you master the technique - you can pull this out quickly.

Add a quick salad, some condiments (salsa, guacamole, etc.), cut up some mango - and you have a great easy weekday meal.

Easy Quesadilla

1 cup shredded cheese (or slices that you cut up... just lay them in one layer)
4 tortillas (I used whole wheat)
Non-stick frying pan

1. Warm frying pan.
2. Put down one tortilla in pan.
3. Put cheese on tortilla.
4. Put other tortilla on top of cheese.
5. After about 1 minute, flip quesadilla. Cook for about 1 minute more or until it is slightly browned and cheese has melted.
6. Remove from pan, cut into triangles.
7. Repeat and serve.

(Yes - it is really that easy, and no the type of cheese doesn't matter. Whatever you like that melts easily or can be shredded. My kids like cheddar, mozzarella, havarti, swiss)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Well, I haven't written anything since December. Sorry about that. We were visiting family, and then January just pounded down like nobody's business. But that doesn't mean we weren't eating, cooking, etc.

Actually, we have been doing what most folks do during the winter months - comfort food and easy.

However, we have also been trying to get our youngest to eat more veggies. As I have said before, both kids prefer veggies when they are not cooked and don't have lots of sauce. A good thing!

And, we have been eating lots of salad.

So, how do you get a 2 year old and almost 6 year old to eat salad? Put fun stuff in it! We mix in dried cranberries, sunflower seeds and cut up cucumbers and tomatoes. I chop up crunchy lettuce like romaine, and mix in some different flavors like radicchio. And, I have discovered that if I use baby spinach (and don't call it that) - the kids love it!

How do we dress salad? I don't. It keeps better if there are leftovers without dressing.

For the kids I get some sort of "spray" dressing - it is fun for them. And, although I don't make it myself - they are eating it - who cares. They love the "Ken's" Italian.

As for the adults, simple is always best - vinegar, chopped shallots, mustard, honey, olive oil - pinch of salt and pepper. If I hit it with an "immersion" blender, it emulsifies really well. If I am simply too tired, I put it in an old jar kept for such purposes (cleaned out mustard jars are great) - and shake, shake, shake.