Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Recipe: Salad Nicoise-ish

I like to cook. I love to cook. But I've come to one of those places in my life where I've realized that I don't actually cook much. Huh.

Let's see -- I...
  1. Lived in NYC and talked about food incessantly in addition to eating out whenever possible
  2. Went to a fancy French cooking school
  3. Worked as a personal chef for 8+ years
  4. Opened a recreational cooking school of my own
  5. Got so darn busy that I stopped cooking for myself and my family
I fell into that trap of getting busy and hiring other, wonderful folks to work with me and to broaden our class offerings at The Kitchen Studio, and in the meantime, got sucked into working at night, working during the day, shuttling teens from track practice and softball 7 days a week and, well, I'm sure you know the drill.

But I really, really like to cook. So I've decided to do just that, and gear up for a summer of lovely vegetables and herbs.

To start things off, I'm going back to my beginning (cooking school) -- Salad Nicoise. Ish. Because this is traditional in feel, but not all the way across the board. I made it the way I like it, and I'll tell you, it's pretty darn fantastic, and not at all difficult to make, though it can be a bit of a process.

Salad Nicoise-ish
Serves 4-6
  • 1 pound baby potatoes, any variety
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 4 eggs, hard boiled and quartered
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 or 2 heads of butter or Boston lettuce, your choice, washed, dried, & torn into pieces
  • 1/4 cup minced chives
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon good quality Dijon or grainy mustard
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2/3 cup good quality olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Excellent quality canned tuna in olive oil, 265 ml (not the cheap stuff)
  • Optional: Nicoise Olives, green beans

Scrub your potatoes and place in a medium pot. Cover with cold water, plus another 2" or so, and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook for 10 minutes. Remove one from the pot to test that it's cooked through. If not, add a few minutes until tender. Drain in a colander and cut potatoes in half. Place hot potatoes in a bowl. Pour white wine over potatoes and allow to rest for 10 minutes. The potatoes should soak up a bit of the wine, which is yummy. Trust me.

In a separate bowl, add the chives, thyme, parsley, mustard and vinegar. Whisk well to combine, then drizzle in olive oil while whisking. Season with salt and pepper.

Using a lettuce leaf, taste the vinaigrette to see if you like it. I tend to the vinegary side, so you may want to add a little more olive oil -- your call. I used this fancy-pants mustard that I bought this past weekend in NYC. Isn't it cool? And yes, it's delicious as well. :)

Like your vinaigrette? You're set then. Add about 1/3 of the vinaigrette to the warm potatoes and toss gently to combine, taking care not to smash the potatoes. At this point, you can refrigerate the potatoes and hold off on assembly until you're ready.

To assemble, place the washed and dried lettuce in the bottom of a large, flat bowl or on a platter. Add quartered tomatoes, quartered hard-boiled eggs, red onion, and if you're using them, the olives and green beans. (Note: I totally bought green beans to go into this salad at Costco today, but when I cooked them they tasted rotten and disgusting and weird, so into the trash they went. Not that I'm angry or anything. But I am. Harumph.)

Drain the tuna, and please, please, please, no Chicken of the Sea here. You've got to use the best quality you can find.

I'm thinking that Juliet's Italian Market on Church St. in Frederick must have some of the good stuff. This tin cost $10.99 at Fairway in NYC, which it totally how much I thought it would be, but may freak you out price-wise. A little goes a long way.  Mmmmmm. 

Check it out. How gorgeous and summery and lovely is that?

Assemble right before serving, and drizzle with as much of the remaining vinaigrette as you like. You may have some left over, but you can save it in the fridge for up to a week to use in something else if you like.  I also love to serve this with a crusty baguette to sop up any dressing left pooling on my plate. Now, doesn't that sound nice?

Recipe: Israeli Couscous Salad Caprese

Have you tried Israeli couscous yet? I am simply obsessed with this little bitty pasta. Not everyone is using it, which makes it a fun take-along for potlucks and all of those great end-of-season get-togethers you'll have for your kid's sports.

Israeli couscous is a pumped up version of it's tiny cousin couscous and takes just 10 minutes to cook. It's extremely versatile and is open to almost any adaptation from pasta salads currently in your repertoire. You'll find this in the Middle Eastern section of Wegman's or at The Common Market.   You can make this as a vegetarian option or pump up the protein by adding some grilled chicken to the mix.

Israeli Couscous Salad Caprese

Serves 4
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup roasted tomatoes, diced into small pieces (get 'em at Wegman's at the olive bar)
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional: 1 cup cooked chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
Place the water and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, add Israeli couscous, cover, and immediately reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, then place in a colander and rinse with cold water. Allow couscous to drain for 5 minutes.

Place couscous into a large bowl and add mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, fresh basil, and chicken (if using) stirring well to combine.

Prepare dressing by placing red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard in a bowl. Whisk to combine.

Slowly pour extra virgin olive oil into the vinegar mixture while whisking. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the black pepper. Pour dressing over salad and toss to combine.

Serving note: If not serving immediately, reserve half of the dressing and add just before serving.

Now, doesn't that sound yummy? And easy? It's perfect for the hot weather we're having and terrific leftover too. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Favorite New Cookbooks: Make The Bread, Buy the Butter & The Homemade Pantry

I've been on a kick lately. A cookbook buying jag if you will. You see, cookbooks have a season just like baseball or basketball, or tomatoes. New cookbooks make their grand entrance in the spring and in the fall (to get a jump on that holiday wish lists). And this spring has been a doozy.

It seems that now, making your own stuff is very, very important in the cookbook world. I'm not talking about dinners or sandwiches or fondue, but making the basics. Bread, mayonnaise, cheese, Pop Tarts. Huh. Making your own Pop Tarts? Absolutely, I'm in.

Thanks to my spiffy Amazon Prime membership, a quick click and a day or two later, snappy new books, right on my doorstep (so worth the $75 annual fee, for real).

Up first, The Homemade Pantry, by Alana Chernila.
(Don't bother clicking to look inside, because I lifted the pic from Amazon. Kthanks.)

Author of the popular blog Eating From the Ground Up, this is Chernila's first book. I never read her blog, or had even heard of it prior to my purchase (sorry!), but I'm a reader now. I love her writing style, which seems so natural and honest and not nearly as earth-mothery as I had anticipated from a churn your own butter-type of book.

She makes her own "car treats", granola bars, Pop Tarts (toaster pastries) and does it easily, but not effortlessly, which I appreciate. I read the darn thing cover to cover at a softball tournament and have set about to cooking from the book. which I never actually seem to do.

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, by Jennifer Reese, a blogger at Tipsy Baker was recommended to me by one of the students in a recent knife skills class. He recommended, I bought the book the next day, 'cause that's how I roll.

The idea here is that Ms. Reese will let you know what you can be making in the kitchen (salsa, eggs Benedict, beef jerky, yogurt and so, so many other things), what is simply too much trouble (baguettes, corn dogs, burritos, etc.), and the level of hassle you can expect with each dish.

More than the recipes, I love the lengthy headnotes above the recipes and the longer back stories included as well. Her writing style, well, it's lovely, and something I really appreciate. I'm quickly becoming a regular reader here as well. Though recipes are a dime a dozen these days, good writing that really reaches you is something less available, but present in both of these wonderful books.

So go to Amazon, go to the library, and don't feel guilty when you decide that curing your own meats is too much effort for you. It's important that you cook what you like and what makes you feel comfortable. Personally, I rather buy a beautiful charcuterie plate than cure the meats and make the Camembert myself, so no guilt with these lovely books -- just possibilities.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Intro to Canning at The Kitchen Studio (or How to NOT Kill Your Family & Still Eat Yummy Food)

Canning is definitely a case of everything old is new again...don't you agree?

Just take a look at that picture. Middle of winter, I assure you those goodies, carefully and safely tucked away in those snappy jars, are a welcome sight. Depending on the severity of the winter, one might go as far as to say those jars are dead sexy. I kid you not.

Due to a small error in calculation, I just planted 15 tomato plants, 5 cucumbers, a bunch of peppers, and some other stuff that truthfully, I don't have a clue about. Ok, and when I say that I planted them, I mean that I forced my children into slave labor and had them do the planting. For Mother's Day. Y'know...because I'm a mom. So who KNOWS what will happen over the course of the summer.

But if all goes well, and my gardening by neglect doesn't fail (seriously, how can this not work?), I shall be rewarded with lots of yummy things. Too many yummy things. And that's where canning comes in.

Caroline McAllister is one of my instructors at TKS. She's awesome. Just look at her.

Caroline is one of those real frontier woman types. She grows her own garden (really, really well), takes care of varmints (you simply must ask her about groundhogs), and cans all those extra goodies for her family. She's a real pro. She's kind of like The Canning Queen of Frederick, which is why she's teaching Intro to Canning at The Kitchen Studio on Saturday, June 30 at 9am.

Caroline is going to teach you how to can without killing those you love. Isn't that fun, that little element of danger? Ok, not really, which is why it's important to really know what you're doing if you're going to start canning.

In class, Caroline will show you the tools you'll need (not many, and they're fairly inexpensive) and the process of water bath canning. You'll whip up Spiced Strawberry Butter, Chamomile Scented Strawberry Syrup, Dilled Carrots, and of course, Classic Cherry Preserves. Cost of the class is $65 per person and does include a few samples to take home.

Space is pretty limited in class, so bust a move and get your registration in now. You''ll learn a new (old) skill that you'll have for a lifetime. You can register for class right here. Thinking of taking another fun-filled class this summer at TKS? Please do! We have great options over the summer, and you can peruse the class calendar here. We'd love to cook with you this summer, whether it's Modern Greek (I simply cannot get enough Fattoush right now), our Summer Deck Party, Summer Ravioli, or even our not-quite-famous Farmer's Market class. We'll see you soon!