Monthly Archives: June 2012

FAST Spaghetti with Infused Lemon Thyme Oil (serves 4-6)

We got back from our 5 day Beach Holiday late this afternoon and the weather was opressingly hot (and I am understating the case). The plan for the next two posts was to continue to document our time there, (read previous 3 posts if you want to know more), but tonight, I made something so refreshing for dinner, I wanted to get the recipe down before I forgot it altogether.

Spaghetti with Lemon Thyme Oil

As we were driving home I happen to catch a program about food, and the host of the show went on a rant about how she loved her mortar and pestle. She talked about grinding rosemary to a paste and mashing lemon zest. I got caught up in the lovely images of citrus and herbs, and that naturally got me thinking about what to make for dinner.

The thought of adding more heat to our already boiling hot-house by turning on an oven, or spending time mixing something or other on the stove-top was out of the question. This dinner had to very fast.

Lemon, Thyme, Olive Oil

When I opened the fridge I was greeted by 2 lovely lemons, and I immediately wanted to zest them into something! I cut some thyme from my garden, dropped some spaghetti into boiling water, and by the time the pasta was al dente, the rest of the dish was ready to receive it.

It was Summer-y, delicious, and everyone’s plate came back to the kitchen as clean as a whistle.

*This is a Blood Type A Diet Dish (using neutral or beneficial ingredients)*

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You will need:

zest of 2 lemons

juice of 1 lemon (more to taste)

2 chicken breast fillets, thinly sliced (optional & neutral food for Type A)

2 celery ribs, including leaves, diced

4 garlic cloves, peeled & finely chopped

5 to 6 sprigs single thyme stems

1 yellow squash, small dice

4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp sea-salt (I use Maldon sea-salt flakes)

1 lb spaghetti (I use Barilla brand)

1 cup cooked pasta water (reserved after you cook pasta)

Method:

1 – Prep dice veggies. Place the zest, lemon juice, 2 tbs oil, and thyme sprigs into small bowl and set aside.

Garlic & Celery

2 – Put pot of water on to boil for pasta and cook according to instructions, reserving 1 cup of pasta water just before draining. Do not rinse pasta.

3 – Put large saute pan on medium heat and add the remaining oil. Saute celery, garlic and squash for 4 minutes, then add the chicken breast. Turn heat up and cook the chicken for 5 minutes, stirring everything occasionally.

Saute ingredients

4 – Add the lemon oil mixture and stir into veggies and chicken. Add salt. Taste and adjust seasoning to your taste (add more lemon juice if you feel it needs it at this time). Turn off pan.

Add Spaghetti & water

5 – By this time the pasta will be ready. When it is drained immediately add it, along with the reserved pasta water to the pan and stir.

Divide between shallow plates and garnish with a little more lemon zest and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (if you have it).

Day 3: Amazing Sand Sculptures On The Beach. (Also, promised Green Bean Side-Dish (serves 4-6)

Evening on the beach

The most memorable thing about Day 3 at the beach were the beautiful sand sculptures made by my kids, their friend, and my friend Celine – wow!

Celine’s buddha

We walked down to the beach before sunset because I needed to take pictures of these masterpieces, as well as to of course watch the sun setting on the watery horizon.

Part of an Etruscan City wall

We were a little scared that they might have been vandalized by rowdy kids (or adults!), but they were still thankfully still very much in tact, and the kids began working on them again.

Figure with snake

I was amazed at how much work they put into things that would be washed away overnight by the relentless rolling of the waves. They excavating, and dug with intensity, all the while discussing the ultimate story of the piece. 

Building an ancient sand city

One part was an Etruscan City, with tombs, buildings, and the essential wall that protected everything. The wall then extended to protect the buddha guarding the city, while the figure outside the wall battled with a snake.

Extending the city walls

I hung out watching the sand building, sipping my wine and chatting with my friends. Then, we all got to enjoy the great red ball that was the sun slowing dip out of sight and move to the other side of the world. And to think that this happens every single day.

Beach sunset

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Here is the recipe for the green bean side-dish I served with my meatloaf the other night (type meatloaf in search box to the right of the blog).

*This is a Blood Type A Diet Recipe*

This is a great way to cook green beans, and it seems to be a green that pleases even the most vegetable-phobic person!

Green Bean Side-Dish

You will need:

1 lb green beans, washed, and string-end snapped off

1 large sweet or yellow onion, large dice or sliced into medium/thin half rounds

3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

1 tsp cayenne pepper flakes (optional & omit for Blood Type A Diet)

1 tsp ground cumin (optional)

1 tsp sea-salt (I use Maldon sea-salt flakes)

several grinds black pepper (omit for Blood type A diet)

4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

Method:

1 – Put 1 1/2 cups water in big pot and place on high heat. When it boils, add the beans and cover with lid. Boil for 4 or 5 minutes. Drain and transfer to colander and cool down beans with cold water. Set aside.

2 – Put large saute pan (big enough for the beans) on medium heat and add the oil. Add the onions and garlic and cook for 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne flakes or cumin (if you are using).

3 – Turn heat up and add the green beans. Cook for 5 minutes on high heat, stirring often. Add more oil if necessary. Turn off pan and serve.

*You can cook everything up to the last step (# 3), and finish right before serving*

Green Bean Side-Dish

Divide between plates with a main dish of your choice.

Let’s do this again tomorrow

The Beach: Day 2! For Dinner: Roast Chicken with Colorful Veggies & Herbs (serves 8)

The Beach: Day 2!

Day two at the beach proved to be just as much fun as Day 1, maybe even more so since we have all gotten into the rhythm of our grand vacation house. Sharing a house with friends can turn out to be surprisingly difficult in some cases, but luckily for us we all have such different habits we seem to avoid the usual pitfalls: like getting up at the same time and then never enjoying a morning cup of coffee in peace and quiet (we all seem to arrive to the kitchen at a conveniently timed stagger, hence coffee blissfully alone!), I like to cook dinner, while the rest of the culinary-inclined are happy to peel the potatoes, set the table and keep our wine glasses full, and last but not least, our kids seem to be happy doing anything once they are eternally glued to each other. All in all, a very happy arrangement.

Roast Chicken with Colorful Veggies & Herbs (Recipe below)

In the morning I got to do something I rarely get to do, and that is run on the miles of beach right outside the door. I tried really hard to appreciate every sandy step, and had fun following the edge of the waves as they threatened to drown my running shoes. I had to contend with blustery winds for the last couple of miles, but complaining in this beautiful setting would have been sinful.

getting wet

The rest of the day was spent hanging out on the beach doing strenuous activities like lounging in my stripy beach chair, looking for sea shells and walking along the water’s edge with my friend talking about what we had been up to the rest of the year. 

This bird was intent on getting a couple of pieces of popcorn from my son’s hand. (He warded him off with a very menacing plastic sand shovel!)

Then it was back to the porch for aperitivo, before making dinner. I made something easy (aperitivo was extended!), but the small amount of effort exerted by me in the kitchen did not affect the deliciousness of the resulting food.

Nice dinner after a day doing absolutely nothing.

We ended our day with a walk, and explored the strange neighbourhood of beach rental houses, wondering who inhabited them, and where they were from. The kids sleepily recounted the best parts of the day, and it was so lovely to listen to their voices floating through the darkness.

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Roast Chicken with Colorful Veggies & Herbs

(this CAN BE  a Blood Type A Dinner. Omit the red pepper & sausage. The rest of the ingredients are either beneficial or neutral)

You will need:

Chicken for 8 (bone-in skin on: thighs, drumstick, legs, breast. Use whatever you prefer or a combination of several favorites)

8 Italian sausage (optional)

1 head garlic, broken into cloves, left unpeeled

3 celery ribs, sliced (including leaves)

1 red pepper, large dice

bunch of herbs (I used 4 sprigs oregano, 4 sprigs thyme, 6 sage leaves – use whatever you have on hand)

1 cup white wine

3 1/2 cups chicken or veggie broth (or good quality stock cube & water)

4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven 450*

1 – Prep all veggies and lay in the bottom of a big saute or roasting pan. Add liquid.

Veggies in bottom of pan

2 – Place chicken on top in an even a layer as possible (it will be snug), and place sausages in between chicken if using. Drizzle with oil (and sea-salt and black pepper if you like). Place in preheated oven for 1 1/4 hours.

Chicken on top

3 – Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes to cool and rest.

Oven for 1 1/4 hours

Serve with any number of things. We had our dinner with tagliatelle and a beautiful Greek salad. Feel free to enjoy this dish with rice, pasta, bread, or simply alone.

The Beach: Day 1. Also, Meatloaf for Dinner (serves 8)

Delicious Meatloaf recipe is included in this post (just scroll down)

We have escaped to the beach for a week, and I am more than ready to embrace the experience! Dear friends of ours who live not just far away, but in a different country altogether, rented a beach house for 1 week and invited us to join them.  I couldn’t think of a better place in the world to hang out with them, a place where the most important decisions would be what to make for dinner and if we should pack beer or wine to enjoy while lounging on the sand with the waves at our feet!

The Beach

After our big joyful hello, we took a tour of the fabulous beach house. It had everything we could desire, and more: spacious, well-stocked kitchen (even had sharp kitchen knives), massive dining room table, airy screened-in porch for lazy evening cocktails, an outdoor shower and space galore (it would be easy to find a quiet place to read and write).

Lucky find on the beach: horseshoe crab

I came armed with groceries for the week and my friend Celine just laughed and told me she knew I would do this and left space in the fridge for my mountain of food. I did this so I wouldn’t be burdened with shopping in a strange supermarket and waste good beach time. My plan was to go from the house to the beach, and back to the house. I wanted nothing to interfere with our time together.

friends together

It has been less than 24 hours since our arrival and we have already enjoyed hours on the beach, had cocktails on the porch, and cooked a magnificent dinner. The dinner for tonight has already been discussed, wine stocked in the pantry, and we are well under way to having a glorious week.

Afternoon stroll

Stay tuned!

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Meatloaf (serves 8)

You will need:

3 lbs ground meat (can be a combination of beef, pork, buffalo, lamb, or pick just one of them)

2 eggs

3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

2 large sweet or yellow onions, small dice

1 orange pepper (red will do fine too), small dice

4 to 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 slices white bread (can be anything from rolls, buns to loaf bread)

1 cup milk (any %)

1 lb streaky bacon

1/2 cup marinara sauce (if you don’t have any made, using jarred sauce is fine)

1 tbs mild madras curry powder

1 tbs smoked paprika (if you cannot find the smoked variety, use sweet paprika instead)

1 tsp sea-salt (I use Maldon sea-salt flakes: look in my pantry section for more information)

several grinds freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Preheat oven 400*

1 – Prep the onions, peppers and garlic. Place a saute pan on medium heat and add the oil. Saute the onions, peppers and garlic until soft (about 12 minutes). Set aside.

saute onions and peppers

2 – Tear the bread into a bowl and add the milk. Leave to soak for about 10 minutes. In large mixing bowl, beat the two eggs lightly with a fork. Add the ground meat, spices, salt and pepper. Add the soaked bread, sautéed veggies, and marinara sauce. Mix together until everything is well-incorporated. (I find that my hand works the best)

Mix meatloaf ingredients together

3 – Divide mixture into two and place in a roasting pan or good quality saute pan. Form into loaves (they don’t have to be perfect).

form loaves

4 – Cover with bacon stripes, by placing on top and tucking the ends under the loaf as you go. You can do it horizontally or vertically (I did one of each for variety). Place in oven for 1 hour

Wrap in bacon

5 – Remove from oven and cover with foil to rest for about 10 minutes before serving. You can also leave for longer as the meat will stay warm for up to 40 minutes.

Cook in oven for 1 hour

This can be served in so many different ways. Everyone I cooked for clamoured for mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans (and of course I gave in to this laborious request out of love and a desire to please!)

Serve

However you can also serve it on a bed of greens, with pasta and a light red sauce, or, make a meatloaf sandwich with your favorite bread and condiments.

* I will post the green bean side dish later this week*

Life Guards off-duty for the day

Pork Chops in Seriously Good Red Sauce (serves 6)

Pork Chops in Seriously Good Red Sauce

My day was so busy I didn’t think too much about dinner until it was time to make it. I would have to make do with whatever was available in my kitchen, as I wasn’t in the mood to go grocery shopping. The only protein I had was pork chops, and after that, the fridge looked a little like old Mother Hubbard’s pantry:bare!

important flavor ingredients

What saves me at moments like this is the fact that I always have onions on hand, and a supply of herbs in the backyard. That would have been enough to work with, but I also discovered a big can of crushed tomatoes and so settled on a rich red sauce. What made it rich was the cup of red wine I added to the mix. I had some red wine and was looking for an excuse to use it for something other than drinking it (too fruity for my plate). It worked perfectly.

The sauce is something that could easily stand alone, (without the meat) and would work great for a lasagna or a nice alternative for a marinara sauce.

So you see, you can make something seriously good without too many ingredients. All you need are the basics, and winging the rest can be fun.

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You will need:

6 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

6 Rib-end pork loin chops

2 large sweet onions, large dice

2 celery ribs, diced (including leaves)

6 fresh oregano sprigs

28 oz canned crushed tomatoes (I used San Marzano)

1 cup red wine

1 cup water

2 tsp sea-salt (I used Maldon sea-salt flakes)

several grinds black pepper

Method:

Preheat oven 450*

1 – Prep all veggies. Season chops with salt and several grinds of pepper. Place big saute pan on high heat and add about 3 tbs of the oil. When it is hot add pork chops in single layer, and sear on both side until golden brown. Add oil as necessary and continue to cook meat until everything is seared, transferring to a plate as you go.

Sear chops on high heat

2 – Turn heat down to medium and add the onions, and celery. Saute for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Saute onions & celery

3 – Add oregano and continue to cook for another 3 minutes.

add herbs

4 – Add wine and turn heat to high. Let the liquid bubble for about 3 minutes (the wine will reduce and intensify).

then wine

5 – Add the crushed tomatoes and water, and bring mixture to a bubble. Turn off heat and add pork chops to the sauce in an even a layer as possible (there will be some overlapping, which is fine)

add crushed tomatoes & water

6 – Cover with lid and place in oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes to rest and cool down.

Serve

Serve with whatever you have on hand: it is good with rice, pasta, potatoes, romaine leaves or even by itself.

Slow-Cooked Chicken with Capers, Oregano & Onions (serves 4)

It is extremely hot here and that might beg the question: why use my oven to cook dinner? Well, I was going to barbecue this chicken in the backyard, but the thoughts of standing out in the sun grilling meat (as well as grilling my delicate skin!) was enough to give me a heat rash, so I took a different tack.

Slow-Cooked chicken with Capers, Oregano & Onions

There was no one here in the late afternoon, so I put the chicken in the oven, grabbed a book, went to my air-conditioned bedroom, and did not come out until the chicken was cooked and the kitchen cooled down.

This dinner took me all of 10 minutes to prep from start to finish, so I didn’t even deserve the praise bestowed upon me for “going to all that trouble” And, as long as a family member never reads this post, I will let them think what they like.

So, if you want a nice dinner, but don’t want to hang out nursing it, make this, and escape to another room, or for a meditative walk (or run). Dinner will ready by the time you return.

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You will need:

1 cut-up chicken or a variety of chicken, such as chicken breast, thighs, legs (bone-in, skin on) This can be for 6 people if you add more chicken.

8 medium garlic cloves, peeled & left whole

4 medium onions, peeled & cut into 6 wedges

3 skinny carrots, cut into thick match sticks

3 tbs capers, rinsed (omit for blood type A)

4 sprigs fresh oregano

1 cup white wine

2 cups chicken or veggie broth (or 3 cups broth, OR 1 bouillon cube & 3 cups water)

3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp course sea-salt flakes (or kosher salt)

several grinds black pepper (optional)

*If you want this to be a Blood Type A Dish, Omit the Capers & Black Pepper*

Preheat oven 375*

Put veggies & liquids into bottom of pan

1 – Prep all veggies as instructed above and scatter into the bottom of a heavy casserole, along with the capers and herbs. Add the wine and broth (or broth only, OR, bouillon cube and water).

Place chicken on top

2 – Place chicken on top of vegetables and drizzle chicken with oil and salt (and pepper if using). Cover with lid. Place in preheated oven for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off oven and leave the pot in oven for another 10 to 15 minutes to rest.

oven for 1 1/2 hours

Serve as is or with some sort of carbohydrate (potatoes, pasta, bread, rice…)

I had this alone, but the rest of the family had their chicken with egg noodles (tagliatelle)

Summer Solstice Eve (A Very Long Drive, Music, Stars, Isabella’s restaurant & More Driving)

 Last night was Summer Solstice Eve, the day before  the earth’s tilt is at the greatest vantage point for the sun to shine on it’s northern hemisphere for the longest stretch of time. This means that this is the longest day of the year, and of course that is misleading: we don’t have more time (it keeps trouncing on), but the illusion of more time, because of longer light!

American Museum of Natural History

Today is hailed to be the first day of Summer, but I like the more pagan view of it, and this actually being Midsummer, when ghosts, fairies and goblins are out doing mischief and the plant world especially trembles with life, (think Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and you’ll get the picture).

“I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine” (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

I find if you don’t have something planned on semi-obscure days like this, one tends to forget about them until they have passed. When my sister-in-law Jennifer said that her string quartet (Cassatt) would be ringing in the Summer Solstice in the Hayden Planetarium at America’s Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, and if we would like to come to listen while watching the stars and planets dancing on the domed ceiling, I was delighted. It sounded a little more magical and apt than anything I could have planned (besides a pilgrimage to Stonehenge), and it would be a chance to hang out with my brother and his family.

“Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere” (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare)

It takes about 2 hours to drive to Manhattan from our house, and by-in-large that is a pretty accurate estimate. Sometime however, I have been stuck in traffic due to a road accident (other unfortunate people, not me as yet – touch wood), or when there are a gazillion cars trying to squeeze into the city at the same time. I planned for these events yesterday and we set out 4 hours before the performance. With a little nail-biting and gnashing of teeth, we made it 10 minutes before the lights went out and the stars appeared, making it the longest time it has taken me to get to the city ever!

“I must go seek some dew-drops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear” (from A MiDsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare)

Was sitting in the Hayden Planetarium and watching a detailed astrovisualization of the Solstice sky, while listening to music performed by Cassatt in perfect synchronicity worth the harrowing drive, and then the dead heat of the city? For me, it is a resounding “yes” and by all accounts everyone present seemed to be in the same revery for the hour-long event as I was. During the music that I found particularly beautiful, I became aware of a feeling that I can only describe as happiness. That definition changes for me on a daily basis, so I am more than pleased that I not only had that experience, but also glad that I recognised that fleeting moment among the mostly routine moments of my life.

“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear” (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare)

Isabella’s at 359 Columbus Avenue at 77th St. NYC

After that it was off to dinner where Jennifer had made reservations a few blocks away. We walked through the little park adjoining the museum to Columbus Avenue and 77th st. to Isabella’s. Apparently, the restaurant was named after Queen Isabella of Spain, who had sent Christopher Columbus sailing across the ocean to discover the New World. This is the story that came from a lovely conversation I had with Carly the manager, who was one of many very friendly staff members working the dinner shift last night.

Columbus Avenue, NYC

OK, so why do people go to restaurants? There are many reasons for me, and the food is definitely very important, but last night was a little different. The food was good enough for me not to complain, but not so spectacular that we talked about little else while eating.

diners at the outdoor cafe at Isabella’s

The thing that will bring me back to this part of town was the refreshingly wonderful staff and the complete and undivided attention our waiter bestowed upon us. This is a city where the choices are so varied and endless it takes nothing more than the slightest negative gesture by a restaurant’s help to send you out of the place, never to return.

Herb Roasted Chicken with Broccoli Rabi & Carmelized Onions

Granted, you can tolerate arrogance and the feeling of being invisible if the food is sublime, but frankly, I don’t know what food is worth being treating badly over? And, then there is just downright incompetence, where you wait endlessly for a fork to eat your spaghetti, or for that important initial drink when you first sit down.

Cheeseburger with Fries

These things play a big part in the whole “dining experience” So many times I have been in restaurants where the food is so-so but the service is so good, it melts your culinary-hardened   heart. This is not a restaurant I would have chosen, having an aire of sophistication that is off-putting to me. I look for different characteristics depending on where I am, and when in Manhattan, I seem to like a hipper place where the food can be anything from very traditional (authentic French, Italian, Asian) to something more modern and experimental (like Momofuku).

Hay & Straw Linguine with Chicken, Mushrooms, sun-Dried Tomatoes & Herbs

When we walked into Isabella’s it was alive with diners and the lady at the reservation desk was simply lovely. What else about this place won me over: our waiter Boudhi (who is known in the city as Brandon because people had a hard time pronouncing his name?) had drinks on the table and the specials listed before I had time to put my napkin on my lap. He also gave in to my request to sell the house prosecco (sold by the glass only) by the bottle, and then never left my glass empty. He was attentive without being a sycophant. I shouldn’t mention that he was tall, dark and handsome, but it would be a shame not to, as tacky as that might sound.

Eve really enjoyed her Berry Sorbet!

I know I may have gone on a bit of a tangent but I wanted to write about a place that I would normally just skip over by saying we had dinner at some no-name restaurant on the Upper West Side, and that would be that. I found something charming about the place, and will remember it for it’s warmth and inviting atmosphere.

Time Square

What happened next? Well it was time to say our goodbyes and drive home. It was so late at this point we decided we may as well as drive through Time Square for one last adrenalin rush before leaving the big city. I am also happy to report it only took 2 hours to get home. We were all dead by the time our heads hit our pillows, but it will be a Summer Solstice I will remember.

“The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve;
Lovers, to bed; ’tis almost fairy time”