Posts Tagged ‘delightful food’

We’ve all got them.  Those tried and true, always getting accolades, could make them in your sleep recipes.  Where you can say to your friends – I’m bringing the orzo and they know what you mean.

The really cool thing about this recipe is you can serve it hot or cold.  If you toss the orzo while it is still hot with the fresh spinach, the spinach will cook, wilt and melt into the dish.  Or if you wait until the orzo cools down to toss it in, the dish tastes more like a pasta spinach salad – fresh and crisp.

Last week we attended a concert at The Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park on the Chicago lakefront.  A beautiful night with awesome friends.  We had a great picnic on the lawn while listening to Ray LaMontagne.  And no…..we absolutely did not sneak any lemon drop martinis into the pavilion.  (Here’s a picture of Ruth and Fred at the concert.  Ruth is doing a really good job hiding the lemon drop martini)

My very talented friend Kerri brought lemony orzo and spinach for the picnic and it was scrumptious!  I can’t wait to share it this recipe with you.

Lemony Orzo and Spinach


1 box orzo (rice shaped pasta), cooked and drained according to directions

6 oz fresh baby spinach, washed and dried

1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1 cup crumbled feta

1 pint sweet grape tomatoes

Dressing Ingredients

1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

2/3 cup really good olive oil

1 TBSP Dijon mustard

3 large garlic cloves, crushed

3/4 tsp coarse salt


Squeeze the fresh lemon juice and whisk all the dressing ingredients together until emulsified

I wash the spinach in the sink.  Be sure to pull the spinach out before you drain the water, then the grime and dirt from the spinach stays in the water.

If you do not have a salad spinner run, don’t walk to the store and get one as soon as possible.  I love my OXO salad spinner and use it just about everyday.  I have a little one to spin fresh herbs in too.

Toss the orzo (hot or cold), spinach, grape tomatoes, parmigiano-reggiano, feta and dressing all together.  Enjoy!!


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Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver, the other is gold.

In college my sorority ended every chapter meeting with the girls spread out in a huge circle, all connected holding hands by placing our right hand over our left wrist and grabbing our neighbor’s similarly placed hands.  We sang the same song every time, the main verse quoted above.

At twenty I was way too cool for school, not super sentimental and partaking in quite a bit of dramatic eye rolling while engaged in this endeavor – what a sappy old-fashioned song we had to sing.

With quite a few years and tears under my belt, I did find myself humming this verse all weekend.  You see, we were lucky enough to spend the weekend with old, treasured (super treasured) friends and I am sentimental, old-fashioned and sappy thinking about how special these folks are to my hubby and I.

And one of our favorite things to do together is cook, which we did Thursday evening.  We made this salad.  I thought it would be fun to share.

This is a very robust salad with big flavors, especially in the vinaigrette.  If anchovies are out of your comfort zone, just trust me and give them a try.  I love the protein punch the garbanzo beans provide.  The Kalamata olives and Asiago cheese create an antipasto platter taste.  I also add sliced Genoa salami to make it an entrée salad.

Chopped Italian Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette

inspired by Mother’s Best cookbook

Salad Ingredients

1 large head Romaine lettuce, washed and dried.  Cut core off the end and slice lettuce crosswise into very thin strips (about 6-8 cups)

1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives

1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1/2 cup finely chopped red onion

1 cup Asiago cheese, cut into match sticks

1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all salad ingredients in a large rustic bowl and toss with Italian Oregano Vinaigrette

Italian Oregano Vinaigrette Ingredients

3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled

3 TBSP dried oregano (yes – 3 TBSP, please buy a fresh jar – dried spices lose most of their flavor after only 3-6 months on the shelf)

6 oil packed anchovy fillets

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 cup extra light tasting olive oil.  (or you can use half regular olive oil and half salad oil)

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 8-10 times until emulsified.

Drained and rinsed Garbanzo beans, basil  and a can of anchovy fillets.

Asiago cheese cut into match sticks

See, the anchovy fillets aren’t too scary!

Put all vinaigrette ingredients in a food processor and pulse 8-10 times until emulsified.

This vinaigrette packs a powerful flavor punch!


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Since starting the blog, my hands down favorite thing is hearing back from people who have enjoyed the posts and are trying new things, inspired and delighted to be in the kitchen.  My friend Sue (who I hope you all visited a couple of weeks ago when I guest-posted at The Desperate Housemommy ) sent me this message on Wednesday:

“I am frizzling capers and measuring anchovy paste by decree of The Barefoot Contessa. Stay tuned!!!”


My second favorite thing is posting and archiving my all time favorite recipes.  Most evenings, after the house is buttoned down for the night, you can find me curled up perusing the stacks and stacks of cookbooks and magazines which have a tendency accumulate at my house.  (Mr. “One-Click” at Amazon beckons me frequently.)  I am always trying new recipes, but it is pretty rare for me to like something so much I want to make it a second time.  Or tell my friends about it.  I am pretty picky.

Over the years, after trying thousands of different things, I have built a répertoire of “go-to” recipes I make over and over again. These are my “A” player recipes, the ones I count on and always get gobbled up with rave reviews.  Spicy Thai garlic ginger peanut sauce is way at the top of the list.  It’s a recipe circa 2001 from Cooking Light.  I make this all the time.  It is quick, simple and versatile.  It goes great with grilled chicken or beef satay skewers.  I also use the sauce to make hot Peanutty Noodles – click for the link.

I don’t have a deep bench when it comes to Asian/Oriental ingredients in my pantry.  I love, love, love Asian flavors and food, but I tend to go out to restaurants to get my fix rather than cook it at home.  I like this recipe because there is not a long list of asian ingredients or tools you have to go out and buy first before making it.  The recipe does calls for a couple of ingredients you might have to hit the store for: fresh ginger (don’t worry I will show you how) and chili garlic sauce.  Other than that, you should have everything else at home.

Spicy Thai Garlic Ginger Peanut Sauce

inspired from CookingLight magazine


2 tsp fresh grated ginger

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 TBSP olive oli

1 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter

1/4 soy sauce

3 TBSP rice vinegar

1 TBSP Chili Garlic Sauce


This is a knob fresh ginger – find it in the produce section next to the bean sprouts and snap peas.

Break off one of the arms and peel it with a vegetable peeler.

Grate the peeled piece of ginger until you accumulate 2 tsp.  Inhale deeply and let the wonderful aroma transport you away.  The unused ginger  can be stored in a baggie and refrigerated.

Saute the fresh ginger and garlic in the olive oil for a quick 30 seconds.

Add the chili garlic sauce.  Here is a picture of the chili garlic sauce.  I get the brand with the rooster on the label.  Another brand easy to find is Lee Kum Kee.

Add the chicken broth, peanut butter, soy sauce and rice vinegar.

Stir until well blended.  Reduce heat and gently simmer for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.

It will get thick like this when it is done.  Toss it with hot noodles to make Peanutty Noodles.  Grill chicken or beef skewers and serve with this dipping sauce for satays.  It’s great to make it ahead and refrigerate.  (Let it come to room temperature before you use.)  Let me know if you have more ideas on how to use it!


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Shhhh…..I’ve got a secret.  Risotto is really not hard to make.  It’s easy!  If anyone tells you different they are sandbagging. Parmigiano-Reggiano Risotto is basic and classic and oh-so good just as its perfect self.  But….(drum roll please)… once completed you can add in any number of other goodies to the creamy rice like caramelized butternut squash or grilled lemon shrimp to take it up a notch.  But let’s save those risotto recipes for another day.  Today is all about never letting basic risotto technique intimidate you again!

Parmigiano-Reggiano Risotto


6 cups chicken stock (may need a little more or less)

4 TBSP butter cut in cubes

1 medium onion, small dice

2 cups Arborio rice (do not substitute any other rice- find it in the specialty Italian aisle at the market)

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

salt and pepper to taste


Empty the chicken stock into a sauce pan and heat it up to a simmer.  Reduce the heat to low and keep the stock warm on a side burner. We will use it in a minute.   In a separate large saute pan melt the butter and add the diced onions.  Cook over low heat for 8-10 minutes until onions are translucent and soft.

Unless you can get your hands on Italian risotto Aborio rice don’t attempt this recipe.  Look for it in the specialty Italian aisle at the market.  Add the Aborio rice to the onion mixture and saute for 3-4 minutes.  Sauteing the rice kernels first is a very important step and activates the starches in the rice to cook properly. If you don’t saute the rice first your final risotto will be mushy.

After the rice has sauted for 3-4 minutes add the white wine.  Cook over medium heat stirring frequently until the rice absorbs all the wine which will take 2-3 minutes.

It will look like this

Next add two cups of the hot stock.

Simmer stirring occasionally until rice absorbs all the liquid.  This will take about 8-10 minutes.  Repeat this method of adding hot stock and cooking the rice until it absorbs all the liquid twice using two cups of hot stock each time.  If you happen to use up all the stock and the mixture is still too thick (or maybe the rice has not cooked all the way yet) no worries –  just add a little hot water until you get the consistency you want.  Visa versa, if the mixture is too runny just cook it a little longer until the liquid is absorbed.

It should look like this when finished cooking.

Take it off the heat and stir in the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.

Heavenly & delicious!

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Second only to my love of Mediterranean flavors comes my love of Mexican flavors.   Many years ago I made tacos by browning ground beef, ripping open a yellow packet of Old El Paso taco seasoning and melting shredded Kraft Mexican blend cheese on a tortilla.  Luckily our very own Chicago chef Rick Bayless has written many cookbooks and opened my eyes to the world of exquisite Mexican cooking using fresh, authentic ingredients and flavors.  He has three restaurants in Chicago: Frontera Grill, Topolobambo and the new XOCO exploring Mexican cuisine.


Last spring we were lucky enough to attend a corporate event in the development kitchen above Frontera Grill.  Those are my friends Pete, Kerri and Tom listening to Rick Bayless explain how to make empanadas.

Rick Bayless also offers a wonderful line of grocery products under the Frontera moniker.  It can be found in the Mexican food aisle at the grocery store.   Rick Bayless’ website says this about his restaurants “If Topolobambo pampers and Frontera dances, then XOCO rocks. Though the word XOCO is Mexican slang for “little sister” there’s nothing little about XOCO’s big, bold Mexican marketplace flavors and contemporary expressions of Mexico’s most beloved street food and snacks “ Today in the spirit of XOCO I bring you a pulled chili pork street taco – using Frontera gourmet tomatillo salsa of course!  The pulled pork does not need a lot of prep time but it does cook for 3-4 hours.  I usually make the pork ahead of time and then it’s easy to assemble the condiments later to make for a quick and tasty taco.

Pulled Chili Pork Tacos with Tomatillo Slasa


4 pounds pork stew meat (pork shoulder, butt or country style ribs)

1/3 cup apple cider

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 TBSP fresh lime juice

1 TBSP ground cumin

1 TBSP oregano

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 tsp ground cloves

3 bay leaves

1-2 canned chipotle peppers

2-3 cups chicken broth

Condiments (as a suggestion – feel free to use your imagination!)

tortilla shells (corn or flour)

Frontera gourmet tomatillo salsa

pineapple salsa (Whole Foods has a great fresh pineapple salsa or you can make your own by dicing pineapple, jalapeño, red onion, red bell pepper  and tossing it with fresh cilantro and lime juice – salt to taste)

diced red onion

diced fresh avocado

crumbled authentic mexican cheese (Queso Fresco or Oaxaca)


We are going to braise the pork for the tacos so it is important to pick the right cut of meat.  Braising is perfect for tough, fattier, inexpensive cuts of meat which are laced with lots of collagen and connective tissue.  The long, gentle cooking time breaks down the meat and makes it incredibly tender, moist, delicious and full of flavor.  Once finished cooking it literally falls apart when pulled with a fork.  The best cuts for this dish are pork shoulder, butt or country style ribs.  (Costco sells a great pack of pork shoulder – boneless country ribs that I always use pictured above)

Cut the pork into large 2 inch chunks

The first important step is to sear the meat.  This caramelizes the outside and infuses lots of flavor into the dish.  Heat a large heavy bottom skillet over medium high heat.  Add a touch of oil.  Working in batches add a few pieces of pork to the pan. Don’t overcrowd the meat or it will steam instead of sear and won’t develop the outside crust.

At first the pan will “grab” the meat.  In this picture I am actually pulling as hard as I can on the meat and it is stuck to the pan.  Don’t worry the pan will “release” the meat once a beautiful caramelized crust is formed.

As promised the meat effortlessly pulls away from the pan once the crust is developed.  Turn pieces over with tongs and repeat the process on the other side.  Once completed transfer to a holding plate and start the next batch.

Once completed the pan will look like this.  Take the pan off the heat.  We don’t want to lose all that good flavor still in the pan so we will deglaze the pan with our braising liquid.

To make the braising liquid combine the apple cider vinegar, lime juice, cumin, oregano, cloves, salt, pepper and chicken stock.  Pour into pan to and stir to loosen the drippings.

Swirl it around until the bottom of the pan is clean and add the chopped chipotle pepper(s)  The chipotle peppers are very hot!  Use only one or two depending on how much heat you want.

One chipotle pepper from a can

Put the seared meat in a crockpot.  Pour the braising liquid over the meat.  Add the bay leaves and crushed garlic.  Put the lid on, turn the heat on low and cook for 3-4 hours.  If you don’t have a crock pot you can put the meat in a dutch oven, cover it and cook in the oven at 300 degrees for 3-4 hours.  It is really important that the meat cooks gently for a long time.  If you look in the crockpot and it is fiercely  boiling turn the heat down or lift the lid to release some heat.

When it is finished cooking the meat will literally fall apart when pulled with a fork.  If you have time I always let the meat sit in the braising liquid for about another hour off the heat once it is done cooking.  This allows the meat to rest and infuses the meat with the braising liquid making it extra tender and juicy.  Remove the chunks of meat from the liquid and pull apart by shredding it with a fork.  Discard any fatty parts once the meat is pulled.  You can use a little of the braising liquid to moisten the meat but then discard the rest.  The meat is now done and can be used right away or stored and reheated when you are ready for the tacos.

These are the condiments I use for the tacos.  The Frontera tomatillo salsa is perfect for the pulled chili pork because it is strong and acidic and compliments the flavor.  The same for the pineapple salsa.  I don’t like using red tomato based salsas for this taco because I feel it muddies the fresh flavor of the pulled pork.

This makes my mouth water!  Enjoy!!

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Do you see my new “How Do You” button right up there on top of my blog?  As an extreme novice on the technology side of blog world I have to say I’m pretty darned proud of it!

Looking back at my own inspiring and delightful moments with food, I’d have to say most of them had the “whole package”.  You know what I mean – simple food wonderfully prepared and shared with awesome folks, engaging conversation, twinkling candles, great music and a perfectly paired wine. And….if I happen to be dining alfresco under the stars well, you just can’t get much more delightful than that.

So my new button is all out about the “simply prepared” component of the whole package.  Because to be honest I have always loved food but I have not always known how to cook.  I vividly remember back in the day holding an onion in my hand and having no idea how to dice it.  I’ll be adding tips and techniques frequently.  This is basic, basic, basic stuff, so you advanced cooks out there can just skip over the “How Do You” posts.  And I will have a certain someone in mind as I am writing them……

Last August the final box was unpacked, all suspect surfaces lovingly disinfected, the vacuum thoroughly run and refrigerator (over) stocked.  It was finally time to give my son a quick hug and race to the airport.  He was officially installed in Boulder in his first ever college apartment happily anticipating the start of classes at CU the following week.

For those of you who have not had this wonderful “child’s first apartment” experience, the sheer terror level is probably akin only to watching as the bus whisks them away, off to the first day of kindergarten.  My biggest and most gnawing thoughts centered on obsessing how he was to feed and sustain himself in this apartment…when he did not know how to cook.  Unlike my daughters who were blessed with the “lovetocook&lovetoeat” gene, my son only got the “lovetoeat” gene.  He was never around when the slicing, dicing, broiling or baking occurred but rather mastered the art of sliding in just as the scrumptious food was set on the table.  Did he know how to peel a carrot or dice an onion?  Hmmmm?

I must go on record here.  At absolutely no point in time did I ever text or call him multiple times a day inquiring “what’s up” and then ingeniously and sneakily slipping in food minded questions (such as what he had eaten for lunch).  Absolutely not.  Never did that.  Nope, nope not me. It did not happen.

Because I remembered my own college days.  (These were the days before I knew how to cook and before I tried not to eat food with things on labels I did not recognize.)  We became masters at the art of cooking Ramen Noodles in immersion hot pots.  (These tin contraptions were originally meant to heat a cup of water for tea but we found many more crafty culinary uses for them.)  And there is the vague recollection of a long bus ride to a dingy government outpost somewhere in Dekalb, IL which dispensed five pound blocks of a velveeta-like cheese substance.  All you had to do was fill out the forms declaring you’ve met the qualifying  low income requirements of said government dispenser.  As you see in the picture we were healthy, happy and well fed. So…..really there was no need to badger my son about eating – right?

Instead of wasting time worrying I channeled all the energy into creating the idea of a “How Do You?” button  for my blog.  So Topher, if you are ever cooking dinner at your apartment one night and have a “how do you?” question, no worries!  Just click on Mom’s blog.

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