May 27, 2009

Color Your World

Here are a few quick, easy & inexpensive ways to add a shot of color to your summer BBQ:

Clockwise from top left:

1. Fill a jar with drugstore candy and set it out for dessert. Sugared gumdrops or gummy candies work well, won’t melt, and come in a rainbow of colors. Your friends will gobble them up!

2. Grab a selection of Mexican religious candles from the grocery store. They’re inexpensive (sometimes less than a dollar) and generally filled with brightly colored wax and beautiful imagery. The tall glass votive shields the wind so they’ll stay lit outside. Just make sure none of your guests will be offended by their use!

3. Order a roll of kraft paper or newsprint – is a great resource. Create a tablecloth by rolling it down the table, put out flowerpots full of colored pencils, crayons, pastels or markers and let your guests doodle away. Or make sure everyone meets someone new by assigning seats yourself – just write everyone’s name in front of a place!

4. Pile flowers in milk jugs, cans or rinsed out jars for a pretty centerpiece. It’s a great time of year to find cheap blooms at a farmer’s market or go picking in your own backyard!

May 25, 2009

A Moment of Remembrance

For all who have given their lives to protect our freedom and way of life. Enjoyed the beautiful weather with good friends and good food - hope you did too. Happy Memorial Day.

Clockwise from top left: steaks ready for the grill, homemade salsa, caesar spears, sweet corn. 

May 23, 2009

Market Day

The Green Market at Piedmont Park
Clockwise from top left: Some feathered friends, colorful milk jugs, a sign of spring, beautiful bouquets

Fresh Fare
Clockwise from top left: a local farm, baby carrots, full harvest, radishes and spring onions

Friendly Faces
Clockwise from top left: the crepe chef and cheese monger hard at work, the coffee guy we love, a young farmer

Bonus Features
Clockwise from top left: flavorful pastas, breakfast treats, cheeses and meats, the crowd

May 20, 2009

Put the Lime in the Coconut

I was going to call this post “A Splash, A Squeeze and A Squirt”. But after I typed it in I started giggling like a twelve year-old boy… so that was out. It’s really a quick & dirty version of Thai Coconut Tom Ka Kai (or Gai) soup but purists beware! This recipe only has the essence of the original version - it lacks the nuances. That makes it great for a fast, easy dinner but it won’t replace your favorite Thai place for a real Tom Ka fix.

Dinner For One: Thai Coconut Soup

I made mine with dried egg noodles (aka Ramen noodles, just throw out the seasoning packet) but leftover rice would work really well too.

Before & After
How I make it:
Bring a can of chicken broth to a boil in a small pot over high heat. Add noodles and cook for one minute. Add a splash of light coconut milk – I usually use some or all of a small 5.5 oz. can. Squeeze half a lime and add the juice to the pot along with a squirt of spicy chili sauce. Stir to make sure everything is combined and taste – you may want to add more lime juice or chili sauce. Remove from the heat and you’re done!

Wanna do more? Try adding:
Thinly sliced mushrooms
Small, uncooked shrimp
Cooked, sliced chicken breast
Chopped cilantro
Bean sprouts
Sliced green onion

May 18, 2009

It's Monday Already?

I wanted to make something special for you this weekend, I really did. And I made a few things, new things even, that didn’t come with a recipe. But I didn’t really write them down, or photograph them so I can only tell you about them – which is really sort of boring I think.

The problem is, sometimes I feel like cooking, sometimes I feel like writing, sometimes I want to take pretty pictures. But rarely do I get the urge to do all three at once. And the weekend is just one day too short. If I had an extra day, see, I could plot and shop Saturday, cook and take pictures Sunday and write it all down with enough time to wrangle the computer and pull it all together on my special third day… It would be glorious. Wait – isn’t this coming weekend a long one? Oh yes – Memorial Day. Well, just you wait. It’s going to be good.

I did have a lovely weekend, though. A few of the highlights:

-Made Espresso Brownies and stopped by to visit with some friends who were doing this.

-Stopped by the green market at Piedmont Park during my weekend walk with friends. They picked up a selection of beautiful produce; we drank coffee and shared a chocolate croissant. (It’s a 5-mile roundtrip - we DESERVED it!) And the market has evolved into something really special – a baker, a cheese monger, fresh pasta, beautiful flowers, local harvests, eggs from a hen named Molly, and my very favorite French chocolatier – I wish it happened every day.

-Discovered this beautiful artist in the park. Liz’s voice is amazing - it stopped me in my tracks.

-Had a delicious dinner with friends, got to eat everything we had brought back from the market – sweet baby carrots still on the stem, fresh salsa, tender young broccoli, the most delicious lettuce (yes, lettuce can be delicious!) with Ina Garten’s amazing dressing, my pickled cucumber salad, couscous I made with chicken broth, golden raisins, almonds & mint, and grilled green garlic. All served alongside Jeremy’s Chicken, the best grilled chicken there has ever been, in a sauce full of fresh herbs. It was a very green dinner!

-Saw this movie. Very enjoyable.

And then it was Monday again.

May 15, 2009

'Tis the Season to BBQ

There's a few long summer weekends coming up: Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day. Sounds like it's time for a BBQ!

A BBQ is just an outdoor party waiting to happen…and it can happen anywhere. If you don’t have a house, town home or apartment with grassy space think beyond the backyard and host your BBQ at:
Your Building’s Rooftop
Your Apartment Balcony (use an electric grill & check your building’s rules!)
Community Pool
Local Park, Beach or Campground


Keep it all indoors, open a window & use a grill pan!

Bug Repellent Candles and Spray
Blankets or Folding Chairs
Paper & Plastic Plates, Cups, Napkins, Utensils
Big Trash bags
Essentials Bag with Paper Towels, Bottle Opener, Tongs and Sharp Knife

These dishes are full of fruits and vegetables, so hit your local farm stand to get the freshest produce you can. Everything can be prepped the day before, cooked on the grill or served at room temperature. Pick one or two of the side salads – they’re all mayonnaise-free which is a plus if the temperatures start soaring! Everything serves 6-8. If no quantities are listed get as many pieces of chicken, vegetables, peaches, etc. as you have people…

Lemon Bourbon Punch

Grilled Tomato Bruschetta

Spice Rub Chicken
Veggie Kabobs

Mediterranean Couscous Salad
Three Bean Salad
Pickled Cucumber Salad

Grilled Peaches with Ice Cream
Peanut Butter Banana S’mores

Lemon Bourbon Punch
1 dozen lemons
1 pound sugar
5th of bourbon (Jim Beam is good)
2 cups club soda
2 cups ginger ale

Squeeze lemons. Put all of the lemon juice, sugar, bourbon and half of the lemon peels in a large container. Let it sit for 24 hours. Stir to make sure all the sugar has dissolved. Add club soda and ginger ale, stir to combine and serve over ice.

Grilled Brushetta
1 French baguette, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 clove fresh garlic, cut in half
Olive oil
1 container goat cheese (plain or herbed)

12-15 plum tomatoes, seeded & chopped
10-12 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade-cut
1/2 half red onion, finely chopped
1 TB garlic, minced (approx. 3 cloves)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 TB balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste

Mix all topping ingredients in a large bowl, toss & let sit covered until you’re ready to serve. If preparing the topping mixture the night before, omit the basil and leave the mixture in the fridge overnight and bring back to room temperature and add basil before serving.

Rub each slice of bread with cut side of garlic clove and brush lightly with olive oil. Place on hot grill for 1-2 mins. per side. Watch it closely to make sure it doesn’t burn!
Top the toasted bread with a smear of goat cheese and one rounded tablespoon of topping. Serve immediately,

NOTE: Bread slices can be toasted in the oven ahead of time and stored in an airtight plastic bag.

If it’s not tomato season, try these other delicious flavor combinations...

Using the same bread & goat cheese base, add:
-Fig or apricot jam, fresh arugula & cracked black pepper
-Sautéed button mushrooms with red pepper flakes
-Roasted red peppers & jarred artichokes

Stack the basil leaves, roll lengthwise into a tube and make small slices. The result will be long, delicate strings of basil. Once cut, basil will blacken pretty quickly if left out so make sure you add it to the olive oil mixture right away and serve immediately.

Spice Rub Chicken
When it comes to convenience and quick cooking it’s hard to beat a boneless, skinless chicken breast. They’re not always the most flavorful choice though. The spice rub gives them a great flavor boost but, if you have the time, brined bone-in chicken pieces would be even better.

3 TB paprika
1 TB brown sugar
1 TB finely ground coffee
1 TB dried oregano
2 TB salt
1 TB ground black pepper

Combine the spices in a small bowl. Rub a small amount of olive oil on chicken and coat in spice rub. For extra flavor, rub spices into chicken a few hours before cooking and refrigerate it, covered, until you’re ready to cook. Cook over direct heat, about 5-6 minutes per side for boneless breasts.

Veggie Kabobs
Pick your favorite veggies, thread them on skewers & throw them on the grill!

NOTE: If using wooden skewers, be sure to completely submerge them in water and soak for at least 30 minutes before you place them over the fire so they don’t get scorched.

Veggies to Grill:
Bell Peppers
Quartered Onions or Pearl Onions
Eggplant Slices
Yellow Squash & Zucchini (Use the baby bite-size ones if you can find them)
Mushroom Caps
Asparagus Spears
Fennel Bulb
Corn Cobs (Break/Cut into halves or thirds)


Vegetable: How to Prep: Cook Time: Done When:

Bell Pepper: Stem, seed, quarter, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper: 6 to 10 minutes, turn once : Skin is blistered & a little charred

Yellow Squash & Zucchini: Trim ends, cut ½ inch thick lengthwise, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper: 5 to 6 minutes, turn once: Inside is tender with good grill marks, skin is slightly charred

Eggplant: Trim ends, slice ½ inch thick, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper: 5 to 6 minutes, turn once: Inside is tender with good grill marks, skin is slightly charred

Corn: Remove husk, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper: 15 minutes, turn 3-4 times to get entire surface in contact with grill: Kernels are tender with light brown grill marks

Onion: Peel off papery skin, slice ½ thick or quarter, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper: 15 minutes, turn once: Slightly charred and translucent

Mushroom (Portabella Caps): Trim stems, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper: 15 minutes, turn once: Meat is tender

Asparagus: Trim stems, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper: 10 minutes, turn once: Spears are limp with grill marks

Fennel: Trims fronds, slice bulb ½ thick, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper: 15 minutes, turn once: Tender, slightly charred and translucent

Three Bean Salad
1 15oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 15oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 15oz. can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

2 celery stalks, chopped 

1/2 red onion, chopped
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped 

1 TB fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup olive oil

1 1/2 tea salt

1/4 tea ground black pepper

In a large bowl, mix the beans, celery, onion, parsley and rosemary. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add the dressing to the bean mixture and toss to coat. Chill salad in the refrigerator for several hours, to allow the beans to soak up the flavor of the dressing.

Mediterranean Couscous Salad
1 14oz. can chicken stock
1 cup quick cooking couscous
10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved
½ red onion, finely chopped
3 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
5 TB olive oil
3 TB fresh lemon juice
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
Green or black olives, pits removed and sliced in half
Toasted pine nuts (optional)

Bring stock to boil in small pan. Mix in couscous, cover and remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with fork. Turn into medium bowl. Cool to room temperature. Mix tomato, onion and feta into couscous. Whisk together oil, lemon, salt and lots of pepper. Mix into salad. Top with olives and pine nuts.

Pickled Cucumber Salad
3 large cucumbers, peeled, thinly sliced
1 large white onion, thinly sliced
1 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients except cucumbers and onion; heat until sugar melts. Pour warm mixture over cucumbers and onion. Store covered in refrigerator.

Grilled Peaches with Ice Cream
This is best if you have a good cooler or are going to be close to home. I find it’s easier to let your ice cream (any flavor) soften a little the night before, scoop it out on a baking sheet & re-freeze it. That way you have ready-made scoops of ice cream when it’s time to dish out dessert.

Pick slightly under-ripe peaches, slice them in half vertically & remove the pits. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the cut sides and place them over indirect heat on the grill. Flip after a few minutes, you should have very faint grill marks. Once the peaches are heated through and slightly softened, pull them from the grill and serve with ice cream. Garnish with a sprig of mint if you’re being fancy…

Peanut Butter Banana S’mores
If you don’t want to mess with ice cream, try a summer camp classic. You know the drill – graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate bars. These have a little twist – a smear of peanut butter and a few banana slices. Just lay out the ingredients and let everyone assemble their own! Bring long wooden skewers so everyone can spear a marshmallow and roast it over the grill. And don’t forget paper towels or wet wipes to clean up sticky hands and faces when it’s over!

May 12, 2009

What the hell...

"The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude."
Julia Child, American cooking authority, cookbook author, TV Cooking show host

I  LOVED Julie and Julia and I can't wait for the movie to come out, you can watch the preview here

If you haven't read the book yet, what are you waiting for? Find it here.

May 6, 2009

TacoFest 2009

Casual Cinco de Mayo Dinner
(Serves 15)

Carnitas Tacos
Nacho Tots
Mexican Slaw
Spicy Brownies
Lots of cold Mexican beer (Corona, Sol, Dos Equis)


If you search on-line there are a ton of different theories on how to make carnitas. Mine isn’t the shortest or easiest method but it’s really delicious & you can absolutely make it a day or two in advance.

10lb pork shoulder
Four tablespoons each of garlic salt, ground black pepper and ground cumin
Peanut oil
One 24oz. bottle Mojo Criollo marinade*
One cup salsa fresca (canned or jarred is great)

Put a large stock pot with high sides over medium-high heat and add half an inch of peanut oil. Remove the skin and the thick layer of fat and cut the pork off the bone and into 1-2 inch cubes. Combine salt, pepper and cumin in a shallow bowl and dredge pork lightly. Fry the cubes in batches until browned and crispy on all sides and set aside, adding more oil as needed. The pork won’t be cooked through but don’t worry – the frying is just to get a nice crust so the pork has crispy ends when it’s all over.

When all the pork is browned, drain off the remaining oil and put the pan back on the heat. Add about a cup of the Mojo marinade and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the browned bits and spices that have stuck to the bottom. Reduce the heat and add the pork and the remainder of the marinade to the pot. Add water until it just covers all the pork, cover the pot and let it come to a boil. It will take awhile for the liquid to heat up but once it’s boiling, remove the lid and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let it go for about two hours until the pork is tender and falling apart.

Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool for 15 minutes. Drain off cooking liquid but don’t discard it – you’ll use it later. Using two forks, shred the pork, being careful to discard any fat that didn’t cook off.

I usually prepare everything up to this point and then re-heat it when I’m ready to serve. When it’s time to eat, heat the pork over medium heat adding some of the reserved cooking liquid and a cup of salsa fresca to keep it moist and flavorful. I like to warm it up in a big crockpot so it stays hot throughout the party and everyone can grab a taco when they’re ready.

Try it in a toasted corn tortilla with chopped onion & cilantro, a slice of pickled jalapeno and a squeeze of lime. Or go for Tacos al Pastor and add a thin spear of pineapple – so good.

* You can usually find Mojo Criollo in the Latin foods aisle at the grocery store. If your store doesn’t carry it you can substitute 8 oz. of orange juice, 12 oz. of 7up soda, 4 oz. of water, a chopped onion and five cloves of chopped garlic.

Nacho Tots

I could probably call these Soon-To-Be-World-Famous Nacho Tots but I can’t take any credit – we discovered these at The Vortex, a crazy burger joint/biker bar here in Atlanta. They have, arguably, the best burgers in town but I’m always too full of tots to enjoy one!

Here’s how to re-create them at home:

Cook tater tots according to the package directions and pile on a large oven-safe serving platter. Top with shredded cheese, salsa or chili, black beans, chopped onions, sliced jalapenos and olives – whatever you want. Put the platter on a baking sheet and pop it into a 300 degree oven until the cheese is melted. Top the tots with sour cream and shredded lettuce and stand back – your friends are going to attack them!

Chili Lime Slaw

This is a non-mayonnaise coleslaw – it’s a tangy and fresh side dish. Or try a little in your taco…

It’s super simple: Toss two bags of coleslaw mix (green and red sliced cabbage and shredded carrot) with the Chili Lime Vinaigrette recipe below and leave it for a few hours or overnight until the cabbage is wilted but still crunchy.

Chili Lime Vinaigrette
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup canola oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves

May 4, 2009

Setting the Pillsbury Doughboy on Fire

I’m having some friends over for Cinco de Mayo tomorrow. Since it’s a Tuesday night I’m keeping it casual & simple with make-your-own carnitas tacos, nacho tots and Mexican beers (more on all that later). But I wanted to start by telling you about dessert – I know that’s not the natural order of things but it really should be, right?

I started making Spicy Mexican Brownies a few years ago and I wasn’t sure if people would like them or think they’re weird. Turns out my friends can’t get enough – it’s without a doubt the recipe I get asked for the most. So here it is…

Spicy Mexican Brownies
(I always make a double batch, they’re that popular.)

Open a box (or two) of regular brownie mix and empty it into a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs and vegetable oil as instructed. Measure out the amount of water listed on the box and add two heaping teaspoons of instant espresso powder. Stir to dissolve and add it to the bowl along with three tablespoons of ground cinnamon and a teaspoon (or more) of ground chipotle powder. Stir to combine and work out the lumps. I usually add about two teaspoons of the chile powder but start with one and taste the batter before you add more – chipotle powder can be pretty hot. You should be able to taste the cinnamon with just a touch of heat at the end.

Bake the brownies according to the box instructions, let cool completely and shake a little powdered sugar mixed with cinnamon on the top.

These are incredibly good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

I didn’t take a picture because, quite frankly, they don’t look particularly special. But beware – these innocuous-looking treats can pack a punch!