Friday, September 30, 2011

Beautiful Basics

Comfort food with fresh ingredients.  That's how I describe my cooking.  Though I have a sprinkling of adventurous days, I prefer the simple and comforting dishes over the complex and frustrating.  I guess you could say I like my food like I like my friends. The BLT makes a frequent appearance at our table especially on Saturday or Sunday afternoons.  One of my favorite add-ons to this sandwich is a farm fresh egg fried over easy.  So, when I read Dorie Greenspan's recipe for a deconstructed BLT with eggs, I felt an instant kinship.

I embarked on this recipe after one of those days. The morning began with a heartbreaking news report that brought to question my overall faith in humanity.  I returned home after a hectic work day only to be me with one child with a pile of overdue homework and another child in hysterical tantrums. I was not inspired to cook.  I was, however, inspired to have a good meal. As I collected my ingredients, a small sense of pride interrupted my anxiety and frustration. Over the summer I had canned homemade dijon-style mustard.  With a mason jar filled with this creation and fresh eggs delivered from my local CSA I had a mise en place of beautiful basics indicative of a simpler time.  I took a few liberties with this salad: I baked the bacon in the oven and chose to toss my croutons in butter rather than bacon grease, however once completed, the dish was simply beautiful.  This salad was filling without being heavy; the warm eggs and bacon lent a true entree feel while the sun-dried and cherry tomatoes balanced each bite with a zap of sweetness; the perfect meal to end a marathon day.  Over our BLT salad, the family sat together; more quiet than enthusiastic, but together.  It seems that in a crazy world, one can find peace in the basics.  Especially when bacon is involved. 

My one regret with this recipe was not attempting the homemade mayonnaise.  With a wonderful dressing made with homemade mustard, it seemed a crime to break out the jar of Hellmans. Homemade mustard has proven to be a great addition to my pantry.  This flavorful condiment gives a kick to sandwich spreads, salad dressings, even macaroni and cheese.  It also gives you the pride of adding one more homemade component to your meal.

Dijon-Style Mustard
Recipe By: Rick Field and Rebecca Courchesne
William's-Sonoma The Art of Preserving
1 1/3 cups dry mustard
2 cups dry white wine or flat champagne
1 yellow onion
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt

Makes 2 half pint jars

  1. Have ready hot, sterilized jars and their lids (see manufacturer instructions)
  2. In a bowl, stir together the mustard and 1/2 cup water until smooth.  Set aside.
  3. In a small non reactive saucepan, combine the wine, onion and garlic.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium, stir in the sugar and salt and simmer, uncovered, stirring often, until reduced by half, about 20 minutes.  
  4. Pour the wine mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into the mustard and stir until combined.  Transfer to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 20 minutes.
  5. Spoon the hot mustard into the jars, leave 1/4 inch of headspace.  Remove any air bubbles and adjust the headspace, if necessary.  Wipe the rims clean and seal tightly with lids.  Store the jars in the refrigerator for up to 1 year.  For the best flavor, let stand for at least 2 weeks before using.  
This BLT salad was another recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Around my French Table.  Log on to for more blogs on how this meal was enjoyed at tables around the world.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Saturdays, Interrupted

There are two things that I despise: going to bed and waking in the morning.  Naturally a night owl, I have not transitioned easily into adulthood where sleeping until noon is no longer possible nor appropriate.  Weekends were a small refuge; Friday nights enjoyed  a bit later with a movie or an extra glass of wine.  Saturday morning zzz's spanned until the youngest made a request for Sesame Street rather than the obnoxious sound of an alarm.  Change is inevitable, and this was no exception.

Whether it's a soccer game, a dance class, playdates or birthday parties Saturday schedules now rival the best of Wednesdays.  The leisurely paced morning has been replaced with to-do list tasks before we take to the city for the afternoon.  I could gripe on this interruption, but these afternoons have been some of the most enjoyable; watching the kids bask in their element and socializing with friends, we seem to take hold of life in a whole new way.   Wanting to save my Drill Sergeant persona for the weekdays, I have found another way to get the family up and at 'em Saturday morning: breakfast. The smell of pancakes, frittata, or the ever popular bacon lures even the sleepiest down to the kitchen.  Also, these large morning meals have the stick to the ribs power to move us through this activity marathon with grace and efficiency. 

In the past, I considered myself a waffle girl, however once I came across this recipe for Cinnamon Polenta Pancakes, I was a convert.  Made with whole grains, these fiber-packed cakes have the protein punch needed for an active morning.  Topped with blueberry spoon fruit and maple syrup, they also have the sweet indulgence that reminds us why we love the weekend.  

Cinnamon Polenta Pancakes
Recipe By: Marisa May
Food and Wine Magazine, December 2009
Serves: 4
Budget Note: I rarely buy buttermilk for baked goods as I never use the entire container before it goes bad.  A tried and true substitute is mixing 1 cup of milk with 1 TB white vinegar.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 TB
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 cup low-fat buttermilk (see note)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water

  1. In a bowl, whisk the flour with the cornmeal, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In another bowl, whisk the buttermilk with the eggs, olive oil and water.  Whisk the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, leaving small lumps.
  2. Set a griddle (or non stick pan) over moderate high heat and spray it with vegetable oil spray.  When the pan is hot, spoon in 1/4 cup mounds of batter and spread to form 4 inch rounds.  Cook the pancakes until the bottoms are browned and bubbles appear on the surface, 2 minutes.  Flip and cook until browned on the bottom, 1-2 minutes longer.  Serve pancakes warm. 
 These are truly unique pancakes and oh-so much better than the mix variety.  Easily assembled, they may even encourage your 4 year old to grab a spoon!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lunch on the Run

My father insists that time is our most valuable asset.  The older I get, the more I agree with him. On this assertion anyway.  Good food takes time; time to plan, shop and prepare.  I easily justify time spent on dinner, lunch however is another story. It seems a constant challenge to avoid redundancy in our brown bagged lunches.   While I want these midday meals to be wholesome and enjoyable, with enough variety to keep them out of the drive thru, I also don't want to spend half the morning putting them together.  On this quest for fast, healthy and creative I have discovered two assets: canned tuna and lavash.  Non perishable, tuna is a fantastic way to add protein to a garden salad or break up three days of turkey sandwiches. Lavash, a multi grained middle eastern bread, is both less fattening and more sturdy than a tortilla.  With lavash, you aren't packing a sandwich you are packing a wrap; way sexier.   The following recipe was inspired by leftovers and has become a brown bag go to. Packed with crunchy vegetables, this meal feels light as a salad.  Add the vinegar spiked rice and a siracha kick, it also passes for a poor girls sushi roll.  

Spicy Tuna Wrap
Recipe by: Lori Pierce
Grating the carrots adds moisture to the tuna salad and reduces the need for mayonnaise. 

2 cans tuna packed in olive oil, drained
1 TB mayonnaise
1-2 tsp siracha sauce
2 carrots grated
1/2 cup sliced radishes
1 stalk celery finely diced
1/4 cup yellow onion finely diced
1 cup micro-greens
1 cup leftover brown rice mixed with 1 TB rice vinegar, salt and pepper
3 pieces lavash

  1. In a bowl, combine the tuna with mayonnaise and siracha.  Taste and season as needed.  Add the carrots, radishes, celery, and onion.  
  2. With the lavash turned horizontal, lay brown rice and tuna salad side by side. Top with micro greens. 
  3. Wrap and enjoy!  

When packing these for brown bag lunches, I wrap them in parchment paper and keep them near a cool pack to ensure safe mayonnaise temperature, and crisp veggies.  These are wonderful in between meetings, class or as a time out round the house.  

Friday, September 23, 2011

French Poodles

I don't know if I'm a stickler for tradition or merely set in my ways, but I love designated family dinner nights.  Regardless of television shows, house guests, or a mere lack of desire the family sits together, eats a meal and learns to coexist.  So, when the my oldest child's soccer practice threatened a scheduled family dinner, I refused to see the tradition die.  We now enjoy an early bird special one night week.  With dinner and dishes finished by 6:00, a new tradition was born: baking night with my youngest.  As the oldest heads out the door with her cleats, the youngest and I grab flour and sugar and promise warm cookies after practice.  This week, we elevated our baking efforts with Dorie Greenspan's elegant French Madeleines.  We then balanced that elegance by making dog biscuits.  Balance: it's the key to parenthood and its largest hurdle.

Perhaps it's their French heritage, but I expected Madeleines to be difficult; they were not in the least.  In fact, it took no more than fifteen minutes for me and my four year old sous chef to bring together the batter and place it in the fridge to chill.   After a quick clean up, and a new mise en place (a true necessity when cooking with your children) we were ready to offer culinary excellence to our beloved doggie.
Growing up, my mother would prepare a 'stew' for our family pets.  It consisted of dry dog food, hot water and mix-it.  It smelled horrific; hence, the dogs were only fed in our laundry room, and mealtime was quickly followed by a thorough clean up.  As I prepared to make dog food in my kitchen, I was a bit worried about the pending aroma.  I'm happy to report that these treats not only utilize typical pantry staples, but lend the homey smell of freshly baked muffins.  As these treats cooled, the chilled Madeleine dough was placed into molds and baked to a beautiful brown.

Peanut Butter- Banana Dog Treats
Recipe Created by: Rachel Ray 
1 egg
2 TB honey
2 bananas, mashed with a fork
1/4 cup peanut butter
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a bowl, whisk together the egg, honey, bananas and peanut butter.  Stir in 3 cups of water; whisk until smooth.
  2. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon; add to the egg mixture.  
  3. Spray two 12 cup muffin pans with cooking spray; fill each cup three quarters full.  Bake until browned, about 30 minutes. Let cool. 
With a plate of warm cookies prepared for our pre-teen, and a plate of fresh biscuits prepared for our pup all was well in the Pierce household.  Well, for that evening anyway.  It is amazing how an interruption can shake up routine just enough to make an improvement.

These Madeleines are another fantastic recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Around my French Table.  I highly recommend picking up a copy and visiting for more blogs on how this recipe was enjoyed at hundreds of tables this week.   


    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    Alley Cats

    In life, there appears to be two things you never out grow: conflict and hangovers. Interestingly enough, one seems to lead to the other.  I'll set the scene: one alley, four neighbors and eighteen months of  resentment all put to rest after four bottles of wine, one difficult conversation and several fantastic foodie bits.  Around 2:00 AM everyone in attendance felt understood and loved; at least that is what we remember.

    Early Sunday morning the load that had been lifted from my shoulders seemed to take up residence behind my eyes.  Hoping to enjoy a rare morning to ourselves, the husband and I headed to the Farmer's Market for a resuscitating stroll and search for a hangover cure.  We found refuge in three items: Viva Villa Salsa, sunflower micro-greens and fresh tortillas.  After defrosting two filets of turbot and slicing up radishes and tomatoes, we had a fresh tasting indulgent lunch with enough heat to kick any signs of a headache.

    Farmers Market Fish Taco
    Recipe By: Lori Pierce
    *The salsa in this recipe truly makes the dish special; Viva Villa is a locally produced product with intense flavor and a strong jalapeno kick.  Pick up some at the Highland Village Farmers Market on Sunday mornings. 
    1-2 filets of firm white fish
    chili power
    1 lime cut into wedges
    whole wheat tortillas
    half cup sliced radishes
    half cup halved cherry tomatoes
    2 cups sunflower micro-greens
    Viva Villa Salsa*

    1. Preheat the broiler 
    2. Season fish filets with cumin, coriander, chili powder and salt and pepper.  Do so liberally, depending on your tastes.  
    3. Place the fish on a foil-lined baking sheet and slide into the oven on the higher rack under the broiler.  Cook 3-5 minutes depending on the thickness of your fish filets.  
    4. Once cooked, use a fork to flake the fish and top with fresh lime juice.  Taste and adjust for seasoning.  
    5. Assemble the tacos by layering the fish, radishes, tomatoes,  a small handful of micro-greens and a dollop of Viva Villas.  
    Still hitting the drive thru when happy nights turn to sad mornings?  No more... you're an adult now.  Resolve your conflict, drink your wine, and indulge with a taco!

    Sunday, September 18, 2011

    A Lever House Meal

    There are few places I love more than New York; my dream of life in the big city began at age 12 after spending the summer at the Jeoffery Ballet School,  it only increased when Carrie Bradshaw ran down Madison Avenue ten years later.  Though Texas is my home, Jersey relatives and Brooklyn besties allow for frequent opportunities to play New Yorker.  For me, a meal in New York is more than food; it is an opportunity to fantasize a life amidst the amazing energy and unique allure.  Years ago, Mom and Dad treated the husband and I to a meal at the Leaver House.  Not sure if it was the jetway-like entry, the gorgeous bar, or the Martha Stewart sighting, but by the end of the meal I was in love.  Luckily, they have a cookbook.

    I'm not usually a fan of restaurant cookbooks, however this particular one has a few recipes fit for a home cook.  This recipe for white bean soup is not only attainable, but a true marriage of comfort food and gourmet cuisine.   Originally created for a local newspaper's request for a one pot meal, this is a hearty yet luxurious soup.  Planned for a family dinner, I began preparations only to realize that I would not finish the dish before the clock struck extra curricular hour. The solution?  Moving it to the crock pot.  Luckily, this worked and the family enjoyed a piece of New York at the Texas table.

    White Bean and Chorizo Soup with Poached Farm Egg
    Recipe By: Dan Silverman & Joann Cianciulli
    Serves 6-8
    1 pound dried cannellini beans, picked through and rinsed
    Bouquet garni (1 large leek green 4 celery leaves, 2 thyme sprigs, and 1 bay leaf)
    1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. plus additional to taste
    1 pound Palacios chorizo (I used sausage form my local farmer)
    2 large Spanish onions finely diced
    5 or 6 celery stalks, finely diced
    freshly ground black pepper
    1 to 2 bunches green swiss chard chiffonade (I used rainbow)
    6-8 large farm fresh eggs
    1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
    1 teaspoon fleur de sel

    1. Put the beans in a large bowl and add cool water to cover by 2 inches.  Soak the beans in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or over-night. Drain and rinse thoroughly. 
    2. Transfer the beans to a medium stockpot.  Add the bouquet garni and fresh water to just cover, and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and let simmer until tender, about 1 hour.  Periodically, skim the foam that rises to the top.  
    3. When done, the beans should be soft and creamy but not mushy. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt only when they are cooked through and tender.  Remove from the heat.  Discard the bouquet garni. Strain the beans from their cooking liquid and reserve the broth.  You should have at least 1 quart of cooking liquid. (I only had 2.5 cups of liquid, and added chicken broth to compensate.) 
    4. Film a large Dutch oven or saucepan with 2 tablespoons of oil and place over medium heat.  Add the sausage and saute for 5 minutes, until the oil is a vibrant red color (but don't over-brown the sausage).  Add the onion and celery, season with salt and pepper. Saute until the vegetables are tender, 10-12 minutes.  Add the reserved beans and stir well to combine, mashing them a bit with the back of a wooden spoon.  Pout in 1 quart of the cooking liquid and bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and gently simmer for about 20 minutes, skimming any froth that rises to the surface.  
    5. Stir in the swiss chard and continue to cook until the chard has wilted into the soup and is tender, about 10 minutes. 
    6. Meanwhile, fill a wide pot with 3 inches of water, add 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a gentle simmer over medium-high heat.  When the water is just barely bubbling , carefully crack 2 or 3 eggs into it spacing them apart.  Poach for 3 minutes, until just cooked but the yolks are still soft.  Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon to a plate and dab the bottom of the eggs with paper towels to blot dry. Repeat with the remaining eggs.  
    7. Ladle hot soup into warm bowls, place a poached egg on top, and sprinkle the egg with a little paprika and fleur de sel.  Drizzle the soup with a few drops of olive oil.  

    After sautéing the vegetables on the stove and combining them with the beans and cooking liquid, I moved my soup to the crock pot.  The soup simmered for about two and half hours on the low heat setting.  Upon my return, I increased the heat setting to high, added the chard and covered for an additional 15 minutes.  Slow cooked gourmet... what more do you want?

    Thursday, September 15, 2011

    High glam in the midweek

    So, how do we elevate the everyday routine and still get everything done? The ever-essential midweek meal.  This week, I brought back a recipe for fish cooked in parchment; an oldie but goodie adapted from the quick meal master herself, Rachel Ray.  (Zip it Bourdain)

    My senior year of college I was religiously-occasionally dieting.  One week I decided to eat nothing but steamed fish and vegetables.  With little knowledge of cooking, and even less knowledge of fish I stocked my fridge and prepared to for an entirely new self.  This diet met a rather gross death after I prepared a piece of steamed catfish.

    Fast forward a decade, I love adding steamed fish to my weekly menu, in fact a beautiful filet of fish fresh from a parchment paper packet is one of my favorite meals.   Similar to stuffing a chicken with aromatics and spices, cooking fish in parchment allows you to layer flavors that infuse your end product in a delicate and delicious manner. The entire process is quick, easy and elegant.

    On a particularly overbooked weeknight I took to the kitchen a mere 15 minutes before my scheduled departure.  I chopped the few recipe requirements, layered them in paper and wrapped.  My packets then spent a few hours in the fridge as I tended to the post school activities.  Once the dance classes had been danced, and yoga namasted, I returned home and was a mere 30 minutes from this beautiful meal.  With an added side of brown rice, this was certainly a midweek winner.

    Fish in Parchment:
    Inspired by: Rachel Ray

    1 bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced
    1 large onion chopped
    4 large cloves of garlic, smashed
    1/2 cup good quality olives (I used leftover almond stuffed green olives)
    4 filets firm white fish (I used turbot... more on that below)
    salt and pepper
    Extra Virgin Olive Oil

    1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 
    2. Rip off 4 pieces of parchment paper, each a little over a foot long.
    3. Make layered stacks dividing the fennel, onions, garlic, olives, and fish among the parchment pieces, working in the center of each piece of paper.  Season the fish with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.  
    4. Arrange the packets on the baking sheet and place in the center of the hot oven.  Bake the packets for 20 minutes.  Cut packet open and enjoy!  
    Turbot proved to be a delicious substitution, however, after a bit of internet research it appears to have 5 times the fat content of cod or orange roughy.  Did we have a great midweek meal?  Absolutely.  Was it healthy?  Not so much.  In the future, I think we will stick with cod during the week and leave the buttery taste of turbot for the weekend dinner party.  

    Sunday, September 11, 2011

    Uneducated Lessons and a Roasted Chicken

    Two years ago I embarked on a quest to host 52 dinner parties.  One year ago, I hosted the fifty-second party and one year later... what?

    This blog has become a nagging relative that I've avoided like high fructose corn syrup.  My delima?  I have no idea what this blog is about or what business I have telling people how to cook.  I'm not a classically trained chef, nor a certified nutritionist. Why would anyone take cooking advice from me?  It finally dawned on me that this is not a classroom, it's a blog.  This is not a how-to site, but a snapshot of what mealtime in my home looks like on a given day.  Why is this  blog-worthy?  Because a meal can be a celebration.

    I am certain of one thing in life: change is inevitable. Some changes are exciting, and others are scary but both require action.  I think that action, forms our personal journey through life.  In this journey we encounter both celebrations and sorrows, but more than anything, we encounter the day to day routine;   the fearful steps into the unknown and the constant push towards a better future.  Why not elevate each day with a good meal? Each week, I plan meals for the family to enjoy quickly and healthily Monday through Thursday, and ones to splurge with Friday through Sunday.  If we are expecting Guests, I plan particular meals depending on the who and the when.  For Jeff, it's a fried pork chop for dinner, for Sha it's a bowl of hummus for cocktail hour, and for my mother, its pasta for a soul-warming evening.   In my house, food is how we show love, celebrate time together and give thanks for family and friends.  So, as I jump into a new year of dedicated blogging, this is my focus: cook often, cook with love and share  stories good and bad.

    I hope you enjoy my recipe journal and hope even more that it inspires you to fire up your oven and celebrate your day.  If not, well..... you would not be the first to find me impalpable.

    Roasted Chicken: 
    Last year, my youngest and I adopted Wednesday date days.   Each Wednesday I would pick her up from school with the intention of spending the entire afternoon together.  We used this time for zoo visits,   art excursions and the occasional playground jaunt.  When dinnertime rolled around,  I craved something quick and soul satisfying.  Roasted chicken proved to be the best option.  While my favorite roasted chicken recipe changes with the wind, my current love is courtesy of Ina Garten's most recent cookbook  How Easy is That?.   In an effort to be organized, I would prepare the chicken for roasting early Wednesday morning, enjoy the afternoon outings and upon our return, simply preheat the oven and slide in dinner.  Budget friendly tip: As part of our healthy weekday efforts, my husband and I avoid wine consumption Monday- Thursday.  Sunday evening, I pour any leftover wine into small tuperware containers and store in the freezer poised and ready for use in stews, sauces and roasted chickens.

    Jeffrey's Favorite Chicken:
    Recipe By: Ina Garten: How Easy is That?


    1 4-5 lb free range chicken
    salt and freshly ground pepper
    2 lemons quartered
    1 head garlic split in half horizontally
    2 Spanish onions peeled and thickly sliced
    1/2 cup white wine (see note)
    1/2 chicken stock
    1 TB AP flour

    Preheat oven to 425
    Remove and discard the giblets. Rinse and pat the chicken dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Place two lemon quarters inside the cavity along with the garlic. Brush the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. (I also put a bit of tin foil on the tip of the leg if I see it's starting to burn!) Place the chicken in a small (11x14-inch) roasting pan. (If the pan is too big the onions will burn.) Place the reserved lemons and the sliced onions in a large bowl (I used a ziploc baggie!) and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Pour the mixture around the chicken.

    Roast the chicken for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and a thigh. (
    Mine took much longer, and I used a thermometer - 165°!) Remove the chicken to a platter, leaving the lemons and onions in the pan. Cover the chicken with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the sauce.

    Place the pan on top of the stove over medium-high heat. Add the wine and stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits. Add the stocks a and sprinkle on the flour, stirring constantly for a minute, until the sauce thickens. Add any juices that collect on the platter under the chicken and taste for seasoning. Carve the chicken onto the platter and spoon the onions and sauce over it. If the lemons are tender enough to eat, serve them, too. Sprinkle with salt and serve hot or warm.