June 2009


Quesadillas
OK, this is crazy easy. Large tortilla; spray each side with a bit of butter spray; heat in a heavy skillet on low-medium heat. The first one I made I let brown too long before assembling, and it turned out a little too crispy for me. If you like really crispy quesadillas, go for it. The second and third I made with a dozen seconds on one side, flip, assemble, fold, and keep flipping til the cheese is melted and the outside is the way you like it. These turned out much, much softer and more to our liking. I made two cheese & chicken quesadillas (using pre-cooked, pre-sliced, packaged chicken from the refrigerated deli case) and one that was just cheese.

It turns out I am in love with SimplyRecipes.com. Elise’s excellent recipes are well and clearly written, and so far, incredibly tasty. And her “How to Cut and Peel an Avocado” link is INCREDIBLY useful. Her instructions make me feel confident enough to tackle a new vegetable and a new recipe all in one go.

Perfect Guacamole 
serves 2-4
 2 ripe avocados*
1/2 red onion
1-2 serrano chiles, stems and seeds removed, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped**
1 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
1/2 tsp coarse salt
dash freshly grated black pepper
1/2 ripe tomato, seeds and pulp removed, chopped***

*My grocery store’s avos weren’t Haas, they were Mission and unbelievably small, so I got 4 of the smaller-ish ones.
**Cilantro is not used in my house, because my husband and I are both these people. Cilantro is vile & tastes like soap to us, ruining everything it touches. As it turns out, that means there’s a protein, or scent receptor, in our noses that doesn’t work.
***I used one whole plum tomato, seeds and pulp removed, which I always do to tomato anyway.

1. Cut avocados in half. Remove seed. Scoop out avacado from the peel, put in a mixing bowl. (See How to Cut and Peel an Avocado.)

2. Using a fork, mash the avocado. (NB: I used a potato masher!) Add the chopped onion, cilantro, lime or lemon, salt and pepper and mash some more. Chili peppers vary individually in their hotness. So, start with a half of one chili pepper and add to the guacamole to your desired degree of hotness. Be careful handling the peppers; wash your hands thoroughly after handling and do not touch your eyes or the area near your eyes with your hands for several hours. Keep the tomatoes separate until ready to serve.

Remember that much of this is done to taste because of the variability in the fresh ingredients. Start with this recipe and adjust to your taste.

Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole to prevent oxidation from the air reaching it. Refrigerate until ready. Just before serving, add the chopped tomato to the guacamole and mix.

I also added a 1/2 tsp of minced garlic from a jar (I have gotten so sick of constantly mincing garlic!) and a couple generous splashes of orange juice. I think I picked that up from the commenters on SimplyRecipes. Also, toss the avocado seeds back in the guacamole, it apparently helps retard the oxidation process and staves off the guacamole turning icky slimy brown.

This recipe yields LOTS of guacamole! I think I could get 4-6 or possibly 8 servings from this recipe, depending on how hungry my guests were. With the quesadillas and some sour cream, a very filling meal.

Corned Beef
Put corned beef brisket in crock pot, cover with water, set on ‘low’ and ignore for 8-12 hours. Ridiculously easy, ridiculously tender. I’m not a huge corned beef fan, but this wasn’t bad. It was tender, and it had a good flavour without being overwhelming (sometimes the brine flavour is a little overwhelming). I would do it again, which makes Jim ridiculously happy. All he has to do is trim the thick pad of fat from the underside of the brisket, and ten hours later I asked him to manoeuver the brisket out of the crockpot using two spatulas. Downside (for me): the house smelled like corned beef all day and evening.

Leeks in Cream Sauce
I was overcome this week by a yearning for something made with leek. At first I thought I’d try a soup or stew, to counter the cold icky un-June-like weather we’ve been having, but then the recipe I had was so confusing that I gave up and went for a creamy side dish instead. I still have bacon from the Monterey Chicken, so all I needed to get was leeks.

There are two things I would change about the recipe, which I got out of the Irish Food & Cooking book. First, the recipe calls to cut the leeks in to “large chunks,” which I found cooked irregularly and were awkward to handle. If I do this recipe again, I’ll cut the leeks in to my usual rings, as in the Welsh Leek Pie. Second, the recipe makes the “cream sauce” part from the cooking liquor left over from the leeks, plus some light cream, an egg, and some whiskey mustard, returned to the heat in a sauce pan and not allowed to boil, but thickened. There was way too much liquid, and it did not thicken very substantially. Next time (if there is a next time), I am not using all of the leftover leek liquor, maybe only half a cup or less to impart some flavour, and with less liquid the sauce should thicken more easily and also be less abundant.

On the other hand, the cream sauce is excellent in conjunction with the corned beef: the beef soaks it up and the sauce adds a mustardy flair to the beef. I could make just the sauce and happily serve it as a gravy. Also, leeks+bacon are excellent, and the next time I make the leek pie it just might be leeks & bacon instead of ham. The strong bacon flavour definitely perks up the leeks, and simultaneously showcases the mustard…

I also now have a bottle of Jack Daniels’s Old No. 7 whiskey mustard in the fridge, and no good ideas what to do with it. I might try applying it straight to some leftover corned beef…Or maybe find a marinade.

This recipe comes from Orangette, via Janice, with Meghan’s recommendations. In other words, this salad has an impressive pedigree.

 

Chickpea Salad with Lemon & Parmesan

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
a pinch of salt
1/4 cup loosely packed shredded Parmigiano Reggiano

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and stir gently to mix. Taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve immediately, or chill, covered, until serving.

 

Bad news. Though he’s been eating them intermittently for the last few years and has never raised a fuss before, today Jim all of a sudden doesn’t like chickpeas. *facepalm*

I feel like this salad needs a little more zing. Next time I make it (apparently all for myself) I’m going to use orange juice instead of lemon juice, some orange zest, and something else for additional punch…not sure what that is yet but it will come to me. There may be a spice I’m missing. The Parmesan has a very strong flavour, and the chickpeas can do little to stand up to it.

iGoogle has a Simply Recipes widget, and one day this recipe for Quick & Easy White Bean Salad turned up. Beans are excellently healthy but difficult to incorporate in to the diet, if they aren’t already a staple. This recipe really is quick and easy, and the hardest part for me was leaving it overnight in the fridge to stew in its own flavours.

Quick and Easy White Bean Salad
1 can white beans, drained AND RINSED*
2 Tbsp chopped red onion
lemon juice
2 tsp wine vinegar, red or white**
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp dry herbes de provence
salt & pepper

*I know the website says not to rinse the beans, but like one of the site’s commenters, I find there is much less gastrointestinal distress and WEIRD BEAN GUNK with even slightly rinsed beans. So I drained the beans still in the can, refilled the can with water, swirled and drained and repeated.
**I used Chianti red wine vinegar from Ponti. When wine vinegar is going to be taking a starring role, I always prefer red (or balsamic if in a vinaigrette dressing, but I digress).

Take the 2 Tbsp chopped red onion and put that in a little glass prep bowl with some lemon juice. It really does tone down the intensity of the onion, and oh my but raw red onions can be really intense. I did this first, before I opened and rinsed the beans, to let it sit for a while. Then dump everything in a bowl, stir it up, and put it in the fridge.

Very good served cold for next day’s lunch, and I wish I had a fresh, warm crusty French baguette on hand too to soak up the oil, vinegar, and herbes swirling around in the bottom of my bowl. Lemony, vinegary, herby de provence-y. I didn’t even bother with the salt and pepper, since I feel that is to each person’s tastes, but with the delicate herbes de provence I wouldn’t dare add more than a wee pinch of salt to play up the flavours, and no more.

This recipe’s yield is very modest, so next time we’re going to double or triple it to get more than one meal for two people out of it.

I love desserts and if they’re good for you too, or at least not awful for you, all the better. This recipe comes from a cookbook called Healthy Exchanges, and the author, the late JoAnna Lund, had the philosophy that good-for-you food didn’t have to be without taste. The loveliest thing about her recipes is that she uses grocery-store items and often tells you which brand she prefers. The only downside is that this cookbook is old enough now that some of the canned items now come in smaller cans, and a little rejiggering must be done to get the quantities to come out right. What used to come in 16-ounce cans, for example, may now come only in 14.5-ounce cans, and so two cans will be necessary and you will have some leftovers.
 

Black Forest Pie
 Serves 8
201 calories per serving, 7g fat
Diabetic exchange: 1 fruit, 1 starch, 1 fat 

1 1/2 cups water
1 4-serving package sugar free cherry gelatin
1 4-serving package sugar free vanilla cook-and-serve pudding mix
2 cups pitted red cherries, fresh, frozen, or canned, packed in water, drained*
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 6-ounce chocolate-flavored pie crust
1 8-ounce package fat-free cream cheese
1/4 cup lite frozen whipped dairy topping
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
sugar substitute to equal 2 teaspoons sugar**
 1/4 cup (1 ounce) chopped walnuts***

*I used canned dark Bing cherries, whole, and then cut them in half. This way I made sure all the pits were out, and made the enormous cherries a more manageable size.
**I use sugar, not sugar substitute.
***I don’t use walnuts. I don’t like them in my banana bread, either

In a medium saucepan, combine water, dry gelatin, and dry pudding mix. Mix well to combine. Stir in cherries. Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens and starts to boil. Remove from heat. Stir in almond extract. Cool for 5 minutes. Pour mixture into piecrust. Refrigerate for about 2 hours.

In a medium bowl, stir cream cheese with a spoon until soft (NB: You’ll be there all week, and your arm will probably fall off; use an electronic mixer if you have one). Add to this the whipped dairy topping, vanilla extract, and sugar substitute. Spread mixture evenly over set pie filling. Sprinkle walnuts evenly over top. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

If you like cherries (like I do), you’ll love this dessert. It is rich and luxurious without being too bad for you! It travels pretty easily just with some clear plastic wrap over top, and is a good treat to take to a friend’s house.

This recipe was brought to my attention by Meghan, who found it online here. Not ever one to follow the recipe, I changed it a little to suit my and Jim’s tastes, and proceeded as follows:

Chicken breasts, halved in thickness, then pounded flat with a meat hammer
No green chiles (although I actually have some in the fridge, leftover from the Spicy Artichoke Dip)
REAL bacon (though admittedly low-sodium bacon) instead of bacon bits*

Pound chicken thin and flat, season with pepper, and cook up in large skillet on the stovetop; I did up the bacon in a small skillet on another burner while the chicken was cooking. When cooked through, remove chicken to a baking sheet. Now here’s where I diverged a little from the recipe: the recipe says to put the barbeque sauce down at this stage, and I meant to, but I was a little distracted by frying up the bacon that I skipped the step. I rectified it later, no worries. What I did do was put a half a slice of bacon on each piece of chicken, two half slices of bacon for the larger pieces. Top with petite diced tomatoes minus the green chiles, and by “top” I mean mound the silly things over; I used almost the whole 14-ounce can. Cover with a generous bit of cheese (I used fancy-shredded store-brand Mexican four cheese mix [Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Queso Quesadilla, and Asadero]) and put in a 400 degree oven to melt the cheese, about 5 minutes.

This was the point at which I realized I had completely forgotten the barbeque sauce. Nobody panic! When it was time to serve, I just drizzled the BBQ sauce down and gave it a quick zap in the microwave to help bring it up to temperature.

Easy, fast, and Jim loves it. Definitely a new menu staple!

 

*I realize that the recipe probably uses bacon bits because they impart bacon flavor but are probably easier on the points than real bacon. I’m not particularly worried, and I much prefer real food to processed food product. I am not a huge fan of the bacon bit flavor, and even though DH actually likes bacon bits and wouldn’t have minded my using them in this recipe, he also will never say no to actual bacon, and now we’ve got something with which to make BLTs.

UpStairs on the Square
Harvard Square
Cambridge, MA 

Zebra Tea with a Kick (x2)
Our traditional three-tiered afternoon tea: Savory Treat, Assortment of Tea Sandwiches, UpStairs Sweets & Pot of Tea…with a Glass of Bubbly.

tea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

photo by Meghan

 

Champagne plus tea? Does anyone have a problem with this?

I certainly don’t.

For years now I have been wanting to have Saturday afternoon tea at UpStairs on the Square. First of all, they have an adorable, tea-sipping zebra as their mascot. Second, they support the Boston Baroque through advertisements in the playbill, and companies who support the arts are okay by me. Third, the website has lured me in with promises of bright, jewel-like colors and exotic-print fabrics. The problem has been finding a willing victim to accompany me: my husband would if I demanded it, but (pardon the pun) it really isn’t his cup of tea. So about a month ago it occurred to me that my best friend, who shares a lot of my tastes, would be the perfect victim, and her birthday would be the perfect excuse. So a few weeks ago I found a clear Saturday afternoon on her calendar and made reservations for two. I didn’t tell her where we were going, just to dress nice.

The Winthrop Street entrance to UpStairs is hidden, but even once you find it it is hard to tell you have come in the right door; the signposting is a little week and it feels like you are entering through the staff’s back entrance. But eventually we stumbled through the right door and were seated for tea. The room was dark and warm, but we decided that we loved the bold color palette — pink and green and purple and gold dominated, with accents of ruby red.

The three-tiered Zebra Tea is three layers of excellent, luxurious treats. We choose Earl Grey as our tea of choice — something solid and traditional — and our wee little flutes of champagne came out right away.

Tier 1: Savory Treats
A cheese and chive mini quiche, a date bread tea sandwich with a schmear of creamy butter, and a cheese  biscuit. You know what I love? When food actually tastes like something and you can tell that skill definitely went in to the creation of the food. I am sure they make hundreds of these items for their teas, but that doesn’t mean that someone hadn’t been paying attention to the quality of what was leaving the kitchen. Buttery flaky quiche crusts. Moist, sweet date bread. Cheesy, slightly salty biscuit. NOM. I don’t like quiches, and I loved that quiche.

Tier 2: Tea Sandwiches
Mozzarella and tomato on olive oil-soaked focaccia with a bit of Parmesany basil spread, chicken salad (with a cranberry!) on white toast, open-face salmon and cucumber with a dill creme fraiche spread, egg salad on buttery mini brioche, and ham salad and chive on a dense cheese and herb biscuit. The chicken salad was moist without being wet and the white toast was thin enough to still retain softness, but toasted enough to keep any liquid from the chicken salad from getting all over your hands — at afternoon tea, daintiness is a virtue. I was a little let down by the egg salad on brioche: the bread was so heavy and buttery that it overwhelmed the egg salad, and if the egg salad hadn’t had a little crisp green onion, the filling may have been lost entirely. Either a thinner bread or a dab more filling was necessary. Mozzarella and tomato on focaccia was so heavy on the olive oil that it left salty cheesy herby goodness on the fingers (minus daintiness points) but it was so soft and delicious that I forgave it. Salmon and cucumber — a great flavor and texture combo of thinly sliced smoked salmon and thinly sliced cucumber with herbed creme fraiche, not butter. A twist on the traditional cucumber tea sandwich, but not the most impressive of the selection on this tier in my opinion. I saved the ham salad for last because it looked fantastic. We discussed how it reminded us of my Welsh Leek Pie, and in fact I’d like to try my own version of it with not chives but a bit of sauteed leek, actually a generous slice of it as a base for ham salad. I just need to source a good ham salad or find an easy recipe.

We decided to pause after this layer, continuing to sip our tea and champagne, before we moved on to the sweets.

Tier 3: UpStairs Sweets
UpStairs’s signature homemade turtle, a mini eclair filled with creamy vanilla bean custard, a chocolate-almond profiterole,  a mini chocolate petit four cupcake with airy frosting and shaved cocoa nibs, and a mini lemon tartlet with a fresh blueberry. I started with the eclair, since I was under the mistaken impression it was filled with ice cream, which it wasn’t, just a rich vanilla bean custard; and the chocolate atop the eclair wasn’t just a thin smear as one usually finds, but a thick layer of chocolate joy. The chocolate profiterole was dense and rich, and chocolate-almondy. I was suspecting the mini cupcake itself might be similar, but it was not as dense nor did it have the rich almond undertones. The frosting, which I suppose one would say was chocolate, was actually more like sweetened air than anything else — it was literally like eating air, it was so smoothly made. You know how some frostings can be ridiculously granular? Heavens forbid such a calamity befall this cupcake’s frosting. I am not normally a fan of turtles, but the UpStairs signature turtle was actually quite enjoyable. The only downside was that the chocolate melted slightly at room temperature, and totally at body temperature, so it couldn’t be enjoyed slowly between sips of tea or champagne, but had to be eaten without being put down. It was completely unladylike, but oh well. I saved the lemon tartlet for last because I love lemons insanely, especially anything filled or covered in lemon curd. I removed the blueberry first and enjoyed that, because usually I am not a fan of blueberries, but this one had lemon curd on it. I took a dainty bite of the tartlet and reveled in the shortbready tartlet crust and taste of lemon, then unceremoniously popped the whole rest of the thing in my mouth and sat there in a state of near-bliss. I am inspired to make my own version at home, even though I know it won’t be anywhere near as delicious as the one at UpStairs.

OKAY, EDIT: Meghan reminds me that I forgot the most hilarious part of the afternoon, when she bit in to the lemon tartlet without checking to see whether it had a paper wrapper. Well, it did. FIBER!!! Hahahaha. The white paper blended perfectly with the ivory paleness of the tartlet shell. So if you visit UpStairs for their tea, just remember to peel the paper off your tartlet before scarfing it down.

Next Page »