Monday, June 29, 2009

White Bean and Garlic Scapes Dip

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The season for garlic scapes is short so high-tail it to your local farmer’s market before you miss it.

Garlic what?

Garlic scapes.

That’s right. They’re the whimsically curly, top green parts of garlic that contain the flower shoots if left to grow. Farmers cut them to encourage plumper bulbs and they’re frequently sold next to “green garlic,” garlic that’s harvested before the individual bulbs or exterior paper skin begins to form.

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The green garlic is a cook’s dream – no peeling away a pesky outer layer because there is none – just slice off what you need and throw it into a pan, or chop it if called for. It’s a little milder than garlic that’s allowed to fully mature.

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The scapes themselves have a peppery, sharp bite to them and they can be cut in small pieces and cooked like green beans or asparagus. That will tame the flavor somewhat. But you can also use them raw wherever the pungent taste of garlic is welcome. Here it takes center stage in a white bean dip recipe from the New York Times. Since the garlic flavor is quite pronounced, it’s best enjoyed when everyone partakes. Otherwise, keep the breath mints handy.

1/3 cup sliced garlic scapes (3 to 4)

(If you can’t find garlic scapes, use 2 plump cloves of garlic)

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, more to taste

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt, more to taste

Ground black pepper to taste

1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling

a sprig of rosemary

1. In a food processor, process garlic scapes with lemon juice, salt and pepper until finely chopped. Add cannellini beans (and rosemary if desired) and process to a rough purée.

2. With motor running, slowly drizzle olive oil through feed tube and process until fairly smooth. Pulse in 2 or 3 tablespoons water, or more, until mixture is the consistency of a dip. Add more salt, pepper and/or lemon juice, if desired.

3. Serve in a bowl drizzled on top with olive oil, and more salt if needed. Good with crudites or small crostini.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ciao Amalfi

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Wouldn’t you love to be here?  Me too, but the closest I’m getting for now is this postcard from Laura of “Ciao Amalfi.” A few weeks back Laura received a couple of postcards from Anne in Oxfordshire.  It seemed like a nice way to connect with another blogger whose neighborhood isn’t exactly around the corner, so I offered to send Laura a postcard from my hometown too.   Laura promptly replied that she’d be happy to send me one in return.   Little did she know I have a postcard fetish – everything from art postcards to pictures of scenic locales.  With all the ones I purchased over the years and the ones I’ve saved from friends who have traveled everywhere from Buenos Aires to Bangladesh, I’ve got hundreds.  This gorgeous scene of Amalfi that arrived in the mail the other day will now become part of my collection. 

Italy has so many gorgeous landscapes going for it, but the Amalfi coastline is surely one of the most breathtaking. I’ve been there several times, but I can never get enough of that blue Mediterranean sea lapping against the rocky shoreline, the houses stacked up along the mountain, or those narrow, twisty roads that hug the cliffs. And let’s not even talk about the fabulous seafood or the friendly people!

Even if I can’t be supping in Sorrento this summer, Laura’s blog takes me there vicariously – from her adopted hometown of Amalfi, to jaunts to Sorrento, Ravello, Positano and lots of other places in between. Laura’s an art historian and writer from the U.S., but is living out her dream as a travel writer in Amalfi, and her blog is evidence of her talent.

She posts great videos in addition to her beautiful photos and descriptive narrative. She really captures the history and essence of a place, whether it’s a religious procession by boat, the tiled floors of a church or the story behind an ancient villa.

If you’re an Italophile, and particularly one who loves the Amalfi Coast, stop by and give Laura’s blog a look. You’ll want to return over and over again.

Ciao Laura!

Ciao Amalfi Blog Villa Rufolo Laura

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mango Salsa

June 2009 206 Now is the time for all good women to come to the aid of their waistlines – and hips and thighs too actually. Alright, enough of the rich cakes, creamy risottos, greasy ribs and ice cream too. I’m trying to go light – at least for a couple of days. In my feeble and short attempt to rein in the fat and calories, (while still self-sabotaging with the leftover pita chips from the weekend) I made a mango salsa and steamed halibut for dinner.  The mild halibut was the perfect foil for the flavorful salsa – laden with mango, cilantro and jalapeno.  The salsa is also great on other types of fish, chicken or even pork chops. Or have some before dinner with tortilla chips and drinks. Whoops, I pledge allegiance to the bathing suit that I will stay away from tortilla chips and drinks, especially those gin and tonics.

The fish is a snap – hardly a recipe involved. Just sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of a piece of skinned and boned halibut and steam it. It took less than five minutes to cook.

The key to the salsa is making sure you’ve got a ripe one. Otherwise, you’ll be puckering more than a carnival kissing-booth sweetie. Most of the time, I can’t find a really ripe mango in the store. I buy the one that has the reddest exterior, and leave it on the kitchen counter for a few days, until it’s not so hard anymore. By then, it should feel the way an avocado does when it’s ripe – not mushy, but you should be able push down into the flesh a little with your thumb.

Mango Salsa

1 mango

2 scallions, sliced

1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced

1/2 red bell pepper, minced

2 T. minced cilantro

juice of 1 lime

dash of salt

Here’s the mango salsa over steamed halibut:June 2009 380

And here it is over day-old grilled chicken. Leftovers never tasted so good.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Spaghetti and Meatballs Cake

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This is cake.   Really.

It’s what I served for dessert on Father’s Day to my dad, my husband, and a lot of other relatives gathered at our house. Everyone was groaning after a gluttonous meal of ribs, burgers and lots of side dishes. “But you’ve got to leave room for spaghetti and meatballs,” I said. They laughed, thinking of course, I was joking.

Well, I was and I wasn’t.  Boy were they surprised when I brought this to the table!

This was a real show-stopper of a dessert and delicious too, although you may need a trip to the dentist after consuming all the sugar from the frosting and the “meatballs.” It’s a recipe I’ve been hoarding since 2002, when I clipped it from a Rosie magazine at the doctor’s office (don’t you all do that?) The time seemed right this year with all the men (and women) in my family at the table.  And come on, who doesn’t love spaghetti and meatballs, whether for dinner or dessert?

It’s easier than it looks, if you don’t try to do it all in one day. I made the cake and froze it one day, and made the chocolate “meatballs” two days before serving the cake. I frosted and assembled it all the morning that I served the cake. I followed the instructions to the letter, making the banana cake called for in the recipe. It was good, but too much like a banana bread rather than a cake. I’d much rather have a chocolate cake and that’s what I’ll make next time. The recipe for the “meatballs” (which are really a truffle candy) also call for semi-sweet-chocolate chips and cream cheese, but I’d use dark chocolate and butter next time. I also thought the “meatballs” needed a little more depth of flavor, so I added a squirt of coffee liqueur.  If you’re a candy maker, just use your favorite truffle recipe if you like.

Spaghetti and Meatballs Cake

Banana Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. each baking powder, baking soda and salt

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 2/3 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

3 ripe bananas, mashed (1 1/4 cups)

1 1/2 cups each buttermilk and very finely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With spray or butter, coat 13 x 9 x 2 in. baking pan. Flour pan. In medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In large bowl, beat butter and sugar on high until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in banana, then buttermilk. On low, gradually beat in flour mixture just until incorporated; stir in walnuts. Spread in pan. Bake 50 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center tests clean. Cool cake in pan 30 minutes on rack; invert onto rack; let cool. Invert cake onto oval serving platter with flat surface of at least 13 x 9 inches. Cover, refrigerate 3 hours or up to 1 day.

Chocolate Meatballs 

4 oz. cream cheese, softened

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

pinch of salt

2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

1 cup (6 oz) semisweet-chocolate chips, melted and cooled

1 cup very finely chopped walnuts

In medium bowl, beat cream cheese until creamy and smooth; beat in vanilla and salt. On low, gradually beat in sugar, then chocolate. Stir in nuts. Roll into balls. Cover and refrigerate. (can be made 2 days ahead)

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1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened

2 one-pound boxes confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1 T. each vanilla extract, milk

8 drops yellow food coloring

1/4 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

In large bowl, beat butter until creamy. On low, gradually beat in sugar. Beat in vanilla and milk. Add food coloring, a teeny bit at a time, and cocoa, to tint the frosting until the color resembles cooked spaghetti. Be careful because if you add too much, you can’t go back. It’s always better to add just a tiny bit at a time.

Using a serrated knife, trim the cake to fit a platter; cut off the edges and corners. Remove cake pieces; brush crumbs off platter.

June 2009 261 Spread about 2 cups of the frosting in an even, thin coat over the cake:

June 2009 263 Fill a pastry bag with some of the remaining frosting. Use a #5 plain piping tip (mine didn’t have a number but it’s about a 1/8 inch diameter opening) Beginning at bottom edge of cake, pipe “spaghetti” strands around sides, looping and overlapping on already piped strands, and working upward. Using up frosting and refilling bag as needed, continue piping so strands are densely piped around sides; extend those near top slightly higher than top edge of cake, creating a well.

June 2009 265  “Tomato sauce” and “parmesan”

2 10.25 oz. jars strawberry preserves

white chocolate

In small saucepan, heat preserves over very low heat, stirring, until just barely warm and pourable (DO NOT OVERHEAT). Transfer 1/2 cup “sauce” to pie dish. Put meatballs in sauce in dish; roll to coat.

June 2009 269  Spoon remaining sauce into well on top of cake. Spread to fill well, letting drips of sauce come over top edge of spaghetti. Put meatballs on sauce on top of cake and shave white chocolate “parmesan” over top, if desired.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

The Mushroom Hunter

Sauted Sulphur Shelf(2)

Dear Readers: Today I am taking it easy and leaving the writing (and photography) to a guest blogger – my brother Frank. He’s a top-notch mushroom forager, wild-game hunter and deep-sea fisherman – in short, an excellent person to have as a friend (or a brother). His morel mushrooms have already been the subject of a recent post, when I used them in a risotto.

This post is a bit longer than my normal ones, but it’s only scratching the surface on wild mushrooms. He’s got lots more information, and he’s a pretty good writer too. I think my brother should start his own blog. Maybe he could call it “Frank Forages”  or “Frank’s Feasts,” or just “Frankly Frank."  Any ideas?

Thanks for reading – Linda

Frank’s post starts here:

Have you ever heard of a cantharellus cibarius, boletus edulis, morechella esculenta, armillariella mella or a coprinus comatus? Perhaps the term chanterelle, porcini, morels, honey mushroom or shaggy manes may be a little less alien to some of you.

Let me start out by saying if you don’t know what you are doing, by all means don’t pick or eat wild mushrooms. Some species are mildly poisonous and one should seek medical attention immediately upon the first symptoms of any gastrointestinal, neurological or muscle aliments after ingestion. A few others are hallucinogenic and some are DEADLY poisonous, including the amanitas shown below. The taste of some of these have been reported by victims to be simply delicious, while having their stomachs pumped out in the local hospital emergency room.

That being said, the common cultivated white mushroom is not even in the same taste league as its wild cousin the agaricus campestris. Once you learn to identify the good from the bad from the ugly you will never look at boring old supermarket mushrooms with the same eyes again.

I supplied Linda with a fair quantity of morels I recently picked and dried, and she was good enough to cook them in a risotto that was shared with her family, our father and of course myself. After reading the comments posted about this dish it seems that many of you may have a taste for morechella esculenta “aka” morels or morells (not really sure which is the correct spellings since both are used frequently).

On the prowl

Each Spring I head to my well-guarded spots to gather one of the many free bounties that mother nature has to offer. Note the word free. I have seen dried grade “A” morels on sale from $23/oz to $150/lb. Many attempts have been made to cultivate the morel, but most have proven unsuccessful. Morels, like most mushrooms, are seasonal. Here in the Northeast you have to be in the right place at the right time to find them. We generally start to see them beginning around the middle of April until the middle of May.

white and black morel

Options to purchase fresh morels are limited, so if you want fresh ones, get your butts into the forest and learn to do the morel stalk, otherwise open your wallets and purchase what you can get for free!

But again, I repeat, don’t pick anything to eat if you don’t know what you’re doing. Take someone experienced with you, or search the web for a group that hunts mushrooms near you.

Although morels are a tasty treat I think they are rather bland when compared to many other species. The morel has a very delicate taste that tends to take on the flavor of whatever you cook them with.

I personally favor a hardier, earthy flavored mushroom that has a character of its own. Take as an example, the king bolete (Boletus edulis). Often times a particular species of mushroom has a regional name that defies description. We Italians know this as the porcini. In the U.K. it’s known as a penny bun. In Germany its call it steinpilz and the French know it as a cep.


Another is the Hen of the Woods (not to be confused with the chicken of the woods, an entirely different species but very tasty) which is often called a rams head in the coal regions of Pennsylvania. The list goes on and on, so it is always good practice to at least try and learn their scientific names as well.

Hen of the woods

I started foraging for mushrooms when I was a youngster on the heels of my father and grandfather. Their targeted species was usually Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa). Because of its spoon-shaped caps it is reminiscent of a fluffed up hen.

A fortunate find of the occasional Honey mushroom (Armillaria mellea) was often a bonus. The honey mushroom has a somewhat crunchy and sometimes slippery texture (depending how they are prepared ) with the ever present earthy and a slightly bitter taste. I remember very vividly when our grandmother used to pack them together with tomato sauce in mason jars.

Armilariella mellea) armillaria mellea

Our family and all our relatives called the Hen of the Woods a “naschi”. Although I may have spelled it wrong, no one seems to know where the name comes from, so I guess my spelling will hold, at least for now.

Grilled hen of the woods grilled hen-of-the-woods mushrooms

Over the past few years the hen of the woods has become a familiar site on the shelves of Giant supermarkets. It’s sold under the name of Matakie. The variety you find in the supermarkets is very small, usually under a pound. They are pitiful in size compared to the wild varieties that often topple the scales at 20 pounds each.

Each of the mushrooms I have mentioned has a particular environment and season that it thrives in. For instance the hen of the woods only appears toward the end of the summer and almost always grows at the base of a oak tree. Once you find one, remember the spot since it will continue to produce each fall for years to come. I have one tree in particular that has been productive for ten years now. Morels are a spring time mushroom that can often be found under tulip poplars, elms and ash trees as well as old apple orchards, just to name a few. So far one of the best places I have found them happened to be in section of forest that was ravaged with a forest fire the year before. This may have something to do sterilization and altered ph levels of the soil. Porcinis normally grow in the vicinity of pine trees and can be found from August through November.

Chanterelles appear around the same time but most often in hardwood forests. While searching for chanterelles your sense of smell can be as equally as important as you sense of sight. I have often detected the mild fruity and peppery aroma of chanterelles long before they are visibly spotted. Their texture is akin to the familiar cultivated shitake mushroom. It’s without doubt one of my favorites, about three steps down from the porcini. One final thing about the chanterelle - the more mature they become the more prone they are to infested with insect larva. But a little extra protein never hurts.


There are a few mushrooms that are very easily identified by the beginning mushroom hunter. Start out by getting a few field guides and then go from there. One book in particular I would highly recommend is “Mushrooms Demystified” by David Arora. It’s a very comprehensive guide to the fleshy fungi. I own many books about mushrooms but this book is without doubt the one I could not do without. It’s more than a thousand pages long with many color plates and descriptions of hundreds of mushrooms. If you have a chance, go to and read the reviews.

Here’s what he has to say about the sulphur shelf mushroom. In addition to his thorough description, I would add that I find them to have a slightly earthy, woody flavor.

Sulphur Shelf

 “Edible and delectable when thoroughly cooked. However there have been several cases of sulfur shelf poisoning on the west coast, so try it cautiously the first time, and never eat it raw. When young the succulent flesh has a mild flavor, tofu-like texture and “candy corn like color” making it especially attractive and delicious in omelets. Maturing specimens are tougher and develop a strong sour flavor. Their texture when cooked is reminiscent of white chicken meat, which makes them very good in sandwiches. If the specimens you find are mature (but not so old as to be asbestos-like) you can trim off the sender rapidly growing margin and perhaps return later for more.”

Another excellent resource is to start with is the “NAMA” North American Mycological Association. There are also numerous organizations and clubs throughout the country that hold regularly scheduled meetings and forays.

If you are into photography I can hardly think of a better subject than the lowly mushroom. They are not camera shy, you can always depend on finding them and they are easy to snap since they don’t move very fast. I literally have hundreds of photographs of numerous species. Their unusual shapes and color make them very interesting subjects, and you never know what you might find perched on one.

Happy Hunting.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Grilled Salmon with Rhubarb Relish

June 2009 231 Don’t let rhubarb season go by without trying this recipe. It’s a dynamite flavor sensation – sweet and savory with a nice kick from the jalapeno. It was almost overkill to pair it with this wild Alaskan Copper River Sockeye Salmon because the salmon was so terrific all by itself. Look at that dark, natural pink color and how moist it stayed, even after grilling. A little squirt of lemon was all it really needed.

But I’ve made this rhubarb relish in the past and didn’t want to miss out on the season without making it this year too.  I already had the salmon planned for dinner and it was wonderful with the rhubarb relish. The relish would really play up a less flavorful fish even better – say a cod, or even tilapia. It’s also great with meat – whether pork chops, chicken or a steak.

The rhubarb came from a friend’s garden and it didn’t have as much red color as I would have liked. In fact, it looked downright drab after I cooked it. So I threw in a quarter of a red pepper to give it some color. This is not the kind of recipe that you have to follow to the letter. If you don’t enough of one ingredient, or you’d like a heavier accent on any one of the ingredients, decrease or increase the proportions to your liking. Be careful of the jalapeno though. Too much and you’ll be drinking more water than a parched sailor.

I served it with grilled asparagus and brown rice. Directions on grilling the salmon and asparagus follow the rhubarb relish recipe.

Rhubarb Relish 

about 1/3 pound of rhubarb

1/3 cup sugar

grated rind of one orange

juice of one orange

1 jalapeno pepper

1 shallot

1/4 tsp. grated ginger

1/4 of a red pepper, diced (optional)

Chop the rhubarb into pieces about 1/2 inch to 1 inch long. Put rhubarb into a pot with all the other ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for about 20 minutes or until thick. Cool and serve.

Grilled Salmon

There are lots of ways to grill salmon, and this is only one of them.  Maybe you’ve got a different method, but this works for me. First of all, let me say that salmon is a fatty fish – rich in omega 3 fatty acids that are good for you. But it will flare up over direct heat.

I use aluminum foil and put skin side down. I splashed it with some soy sauce, a little minced garlic, some grated ginger and minced thyme (my everything herb). Once the grill was good and hot, I put down the salmon on the grill and closed the lid. Make sure you don’t go far because it can catch fire even with the foil barrier. (speaking from experience, unfortunately)

Check it every five minutes or so and after about 15 minutes, it’s almost done. Don’t overcook it. It should have some spring when you push into it with your finger. If it’s too cooked, it will be like pushing into a hard rubber ball. And it will taste dry.

Naturally, the skin side gets hotter since it’s closer to the heat and it will stick to the foil, which is good. I don’t like eating the skin anyway and with the skin attaching itself to the foil, you’ll be able to separate the flesh easily using a spatula. If you’re brave and want to try flipping it on another, clean piece of aluminum foil to get some grill marks, go for it. But don’t say I didn’t warn you if pieces flake off and fall between the grates.

June 2009 219  Use a spatula and separate the salmon from the skin before serving

Grilled Asparagus

You can get this going while you’ve got the salmon on the other side of the grill. Just take a piece of aluminum foil, double it up and crimp the edges.

Peel your asparagus using a vegetable peeler. (sorry but I always do this. It doesn’t take that long and you never have to bite into a stringy stalk.) Place the stalks on the foil and toss with a splash of olive oil, salt, garlic and freshly chopped thyme. (yes, thyme again)

Place the foil on top of the hot grates and cover the grill with the lid. Let the asparagus cook a few minutes, then lift the lid and rotate the asparagus. Cook for a few more minutes, then remove and eat.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Flag Day in Cranbury and The Dearly Departed

This post has absolutely nothing to do with food, but I thought it merited mentioning after taking a drive yesterday to the quaint town of Cranbury, New Jersey. Flags and bunting were everywhere and it suddenly dawned on us that it was Flag Day, something we had forgotten until then.

Cranbury certainly didn’t forget though, and many of its beautiful homes were decorated with the red, white and blue of the American Flag. Take a look:

Walking through town, we arrived at the town cemetery, a place some people might try to avoid.  I find old cemeteries fascinating. We’ve also got an interesting cemetery here in Princeton where I live, with lots of historic people buried there. They even give tours on Memorial Day.

But Cranbury’s claims centuries of history too and merits a visit as well. With gravestones dating back to Revolutionary times, I found some of the inscriptions mesmerizing. Unfortunately many of them, made of sandstone and limestone, were long faded away by elements of nature.

June 2009 186

The graves of veterans were marked with flags, and it was obvious that many fought in the Revolutionary War. Some of the people buried there lived to be quite old, while others were taken heartbreakingly early in life. It was a intriguing walk through history.

Here is a sampling:

This fellow, Jeremiah Brown, died in 1816 at 83 years, 11 months of age. He’s got a flag on his grave, so if he was born in 1733, then it’s a good bet he was a soldier in the Revolutionary War.  Did he ever meet General George Washington, who came through Cranbury with his troops in 1788?

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This woman, Elizabeth Wyckoff, lived until 1895 to a ripe old age of 95 years, 9 months and 12 days. Interesting when you think there were no vaccinations, or antibiotics, or anesthesia for surgery. I wonder what she ate, or why she lived such a long life.

June 2009 190

Then there were others, like little Sarah Dye, who left this earth at 3 years of age in 1782. Don’t you wonder what she died of, and if it would have happened today?

June 2009 188

These were particularly tragic, since they were both children in the same family. Richard Handley died at 1 year and 8 months, while William Handley, his brother, lived only 7 days. Imagine the grief those parents felt.

This plaque on the grave of Dr. Hezekiah Stites (don’t you love that old-fashioned name?) speaks for itself. Note how the town of Cranbury was once called Cranberrytown.

June 2009 191


These gravestones show that Captain James Patton, died in 1798, while his wife Ann, died in 1762. Do you think Captain James got remarried, or did he live as a widower for 36 years after Ann died?

There were hundreds of other such examples, and I could have spent much more time there. If you live anywhere near a cemetery with old gravestones, go take a look and maybe you’ll be fascinated too by the designs, the lettering, and most important the lives and stories that we can only guess about today.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Grilled Shrimp and Bulgur Salad (Tabouleh)


June 2009 172

It was one of those days when you don’t feel like making one more trip to the store. You know you can pull something together with what’s on hand, so why not use up some of the food already in the house? Ok, there’s shrimp in the freezer.  And there’s that Tupperware container you filled with bulgur months ago and never touched.  You’ve always wanted to make your own tabouleh and you’ve even got the fresh mint growing outside, not to mention the excess of parsley in the fridge crying out for attention. What, what’s that you say parsley?

“I’m so misunderstood. I’m always just tossed to the sidelines as a garnish. I’m never the feature player.”

Well, not tonight. Parsley takes a center role in tabouleh, a bulgur salad. I’ve typically eaten it with Middle Eastern foods like hummus and dolmades, but here it serves as a light, nutritious and delicious accompaniment to the herb and garlic-seasoned shrimp. 

First the shrimp:

For two people, I used twelve large raw shrimp. Defrost the shrimp and toss them in a bowl with 2 T. olive oil, 1 clove garlic, 2 T. chopped fresh thyme (or whatever fresh herb you like – oregano, rosemary, dill), a couple of shakes of red pepper flakes, a little salt and a little pepper.

Soak wooden skewers in water for a few minutes, or use metal skewers. On a grill that’s been preheated, cook each side of the shrimp about four or five minutes, turning once.

Now the tabouleh:

This makes plenty for two people, if using it as the main side dish and starch. It would easily serve four people, whose appetites are more restrained than ours. (I guess that’s a euphemism for “We ate too much.”)

3/4 cup bulgur (I bought it in bulk at the local health food store)

2 cups water

Boil the bulgur in the water for about a half hour. Drain and rinse with cold water. Squeeze out as much water as you can and put the bulgur into a bowl.

Into the bowl with the bulgur add the following:

1 large bunch of parsley that’s been cleaned and finely minced (comes to about 1/2 cup when minced)

1 clove garlic, minced

5 or 6 scallions, chopped finely

1 tomato, seeded and diced finely

a couple of sprigs of mint, minced

salt, pepper

juice of 1/2 lemon

2 T. olive oil

Mix everything together and it’ll look like this:

June 2009 163

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mom’s potato salad

June 2009 061

This is the potato salad I ate growing up.  No mayonnaise here, just oil and vinegar, Italian-style potato salad. Don’t get me wrong. I like the mayonnaise-based dressing as well as the next person, but this version is my kind of comfort food. I’ve made one change to the way my mom made it – and that’s to add a touch of Dijon mustard. It’s also good with cooked green beans tossed in too, a recipe my mother-in-law used to make. Now that summer is approaching, I’ll be making this often. Once you try it, I’ll bet you will too. Make sure you use those Red Bliss potatoes. They keep their waxy texture well and don’t fall apart during the boiling. A lot of other potatoes are just too starchy and absorbent and you end up having to add more and more oil. You don’t even have to peel these either. Scrub them well before boiling. And make sure you wait until they’re cool before you add the dressing.

Mom’s Potato Salad

6 Red Bliss potatoes

Place potatoes in a pot. Cover with water and put the lid on. Boil for about 30- 45 minutes or until tender. Test with a fork or knife to see if it pierces easily. Pour off the hot water and replace with cold water. Let the potatoes cool before cutting into chunks and proceeding with the dressing.


Use your own judgment to decide if this is enough dressing for your potato salad. Naturally, a lot will depend on the size of your potatoes. I usually use a ratio of about 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar, or sometimes 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. You decide what floats your boat.

1/4 cup olive oil

1/8 cup red wine vinegar

salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup red onion, minced

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

handful of minced parsley

Blend all of the above together with a fork or a whisk and mix into the potatoes. Toss in the parsley and mix well.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Five-Star Almond Cake

June 2009 069

Judging by the frequency of the dessert recipes I’ve been posting lately, you’d think that all I eat are sweets. (Well, actually you wouldn’t be too far off the mark.) But I just had to bake this cake, which I also ate at the annual picnic of my Italian chit-chat group, “Le Matte.” My friend Maria, a member of the group, brought this stellar dessert but unfortunately, I never got a photo of it last week.  I’ve been bugging her for this recipe for more than a year, so when she sent it to me following the picnic, I had no choice but to bake it in order to photograph it for you. Truth be told, it tastes so divine,  I was compelled by forces greater than nature to make this. Who am I to resist with those kinds of powers?

Maria warned that the cake may sink a little in the middle and mine was no exception. I’m not sure how to remedy this, so if you have any ideas, send ‘em my way. In any case, the rich almond flavor and moist texture makes this a delicious dessert all on its own, but if you want to gild the lily, serve it with berries or a scoop of ice cream.  

Addendum: Following a reader’s suggestion, I baked the cake again, altering the preparation, and lowering the oven temperature as well. It worked out PERFECTLY with nary a dip or valley in the cake. Rather than beat with a mixer for a long time, as the original recipe called for, I used a stick blender to mash the almond paste and butter together. It kept too much air from being incorporated into the batter, which was my goal, but I think a food processor would work equally well. This method not only produces a level cake, but it’s so much faster and easier too. So follow this if you want the same results. The picture on top and at the bottom of this post were of the first cake, and you can tell the cake has a slight dip in the middle. It was delicious nonetheless. But here’s a shot of the cake I made with the altered preparation instructions, cooking temperature and time. Here’s what it looked like out of the oven, with nary a dip or valley in sight:

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Five-Star Almond Cake

2 sticks butter, leave at room temp. until VERY soft

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (measure after sifting)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cup sugar

7-ounce tube almond paste, at room temp. until soft

4 egg yolks, room temperature

1 teaspoon almond extract (I do not use this but use vanilla extract)

1 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup slivered almonds, optional

Powdered sugar for sifting over cake

Oven 300

1. Butter sides and bottoms of 2 8-inch spring form pans; line bottoms with parchment paper. Butter paper. Place pans in freezer

2. Sift flour, salt and baking soda into a medium-size bowl. Set aside.

3. In a food processor, place almond paste and butter and pulse until smooth. Add sour cream, egg yolks, almond extract and sugar and whir until blended.

4. Take the  mixture out of the food processor and place in a bowl. Add the flour mixture and stir with a spatula or a spoon just until blended.

5. Divide batter between prepared pans and spread evenly.

(I added slivered almonds on top here.)

6. Bake 1 hour and 5 or 10 minutes or more until tops are golden and spring back when lightly pressed and cakes shrink from sides of the pans.

7. Cool in pans on wire rack. Remove sides of pans and paper.

8. Sift powdered sugar on top before serving and slice like a pie.

The cake improves with age but is fabulous the same day.

Yield: 2 cakes, 8 to 10 servings each.

June 2009 079

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Strawberry “Tiramisu”

May 2009 535

One of the best things about Spring (aside from the profusion of flowers and warm weather) is the arrival of strawberries. Not those horrid red blobs with white interiors you find in supermarkets masquerading as strawberries. But the kind in the picture below, that you pick yourself or buy at local farmers’ markets. They’re an entirely different fruit – red throughout, and bursting with flavor and juice in every bite.

May 2009 454

I’ve eaten my share of them straight out of the box (washed first of course) but when I needed a dessert to bring to the annual picnic of “le matte” earlier this week, I knew it had to be something using strawberries. I also wanted to play around with the recipe for lemon tiramisu I’ve made in the past, but adapt it to strawberries.  It was also a good excuse to use some “Fragolino,” a strawberry liqueur I brought back from Italy many years ago, when you could still take bottles into carry-on luggage. I think this liqueur is also available in the states now. This bottle must be at least 10 years old, and look how little we’ve used. Time to remedy that situation. 

May 2009 506I started out with the same basic mixture of ricotta and mascarpone as I used in the lemon tiramisu. But since I was adding some strained strawberries and some alcohol, I was concerned that the extra liquid might cause it to fall like a pink blob on the plate, rather than hold its shape when sliced. So I added a little gelatin for insurance. It did the trick and allowed me to slice small wedges that held their shape nicely on the plate.

Strawberry Tiramisu

2 quarts strawberries

juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup Fragolino or other liqueur

Trim 1 quart of the strawberries, cut into chunks and put in a saucepan. (Use the remaining quart of strawberries to slice for the middle and for the top.) Add the water, sugar and lemon juice and cook over medium heat, stirring when the mixture comes to a boil and mashing down the strawberries. Continue stirring and cooking for about five minutes. Remove from heat and put through a strainer, squeezing with a wooden spoon. If you don’t mind strawberry seeds, you can omit this step, but I prefer it without the seeds. Let it cool, then add the liqueur.

15 oz. container ricotta cheese (drain overnight in cheesecloth, if possible)

8 oz. mascarpone cheese

1/4 cup sugar

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 package of Knox gelatin

1 package of savoiardi biscuits (firm, sugar-coated ladyfingers – not the soft kind)

Mix the ricotta cheese, mascarpone, sugar and lemon in a bowl. Set aside. Mix a package of gelatin with 1/2 cup lukewarm water. Take out 2 T. of the gelatin mixture and add to the mascarpone mixture. Mix well. Add about 1/2 cup of the cooled strawberry/liqueur mixture and mix well.

Cut the savoiardi to fit the height of an 8 1/2 inch springform pan that has been lined with wax paper or parchment paper. This may not be a necessary step, but I wanted to avoid any possibility of the savoiardi sticking to the pan.

Dip each savoiardi into the remaining strawberry mixture, coating lightly only on one side. Place the side that has been moistened with this mixture on the inside of the pan, leaving the sugar-coated, plain side facing outwards. Layer the bottom with the trimmings from what you cut, adding savoiardi if necessary, cutting them to fit the bottom layer of the pan. Spread a bit of the strawberry/liqueur mixture on the bottom layer.

 May 2009 508

Slice some strawberries and place over the savoiardi. Pour half of the prepared mascarpone/ricotta mixture on top. Add a second layer of savoiardi, spread with the remaining strawberry/liqueur mixture, then add more sliced strawberries and the rest of the mascarpone/ricotta mixture.

Top it with freshly cut strawberries. Glaze it with some currant or apricot jelly that has been slightly heated and cooled. Caveat: Don’t do what I did and put the glaze on the night before serving or it will soften and/or discolor the berries. (There was a last minute run to the store for more strawberries.) Wait until shortly before serving to add the glaze.