Chicken in Moroccan Style

Another visit to Tangiers International, and a recent viewing of one of the best movies of all time, Casablanca, put us in the mood for something inspired by the exotic locale of Morocco. Always looking to put a different spin on chicken, we came up with this dish that uses a classic Moroccan ingredient, preserved lemons. The particular lemons we used were preserved whole in their own juice, salt and sunflower oil and seeds. Their taste is intensely lemony with a bit of saltiness. Some garlic and dried cilantro tamed the lemon flavor and couscous was a perfect accompaniment to the tasty roasted chicken.

4-5 pound roasting chicken
6-8 preserved lemons (can be found at a Middle Eastern grocery store)
1 head of garlic
1 -2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup water

Preheat the oven to 400. Place the preserved lemons down on the bottom of a roasting pan. After splitting the chicken down the back, rest, skin side up, over the lemons. Brush the chicken skin with olive oil, then sprinkle it with salt, pepper and the dried cilantro (to taste). Separate the garlic cloves from the head, then peel them and cut them in half. Place those around and/or under the chicken. Add the water to the pan and place it in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Cover the chicken with aluminum foil and lower the heat to 325, then bake for 45 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 180. To crisp the skin at the end, uncover it and baste it, then raise the heat to 400 again and bake it for 15 minutes longer. Serve with the lemons with couscous or your favorite side dish.


"Spruced-up" Sugar Cookies

Both of us love to cook, but neither is particularly fond of baking, as is true for a lot of people. For holiday goodies, we tend toward candy making - rum balls, peanut butter buckeyes, brittles and barks, stuff that like. However, we do make cookies throughout the year as well as during the holidays. Everyone loves a good cookie! This particular "recipe" (if we can call it that) is easy, quick and unique. It makes a lot of cookies, which is great if you're sharing. These cookies are very popular among our friends and relatives (who will be surprised when they read this at what cheaters we are). Finally, we get to use our very own home-grown rosemary (yes, these are savory and sweet) in this recipe, which adds that holiday "spruced-up" flavor.

1 tube store-bought sugar cookie dough (Pillsbury makes a good one)
zest of one lemon, chopped finely (about 1 teaspoon worth)
a large sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped finely (about 2 teaspoons' worth)
juice of 1/2 lemon

In a large bowl, mix with your hands all the above ingredients well. Sprinkle both the dough and your surface for rolling out the dough with flour. Roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thick. Using a cookie cutter (shape of your choice), cut into shapes and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-9 minutes until edges are brown. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.


Best. Salad. Ever.

Cavey's Restaurant, Manchester, CT, upstairs (Italian): The menu reads: "just made mozzarella with tomatoes and arugula." What it should say is, "The freshest mozzarella you ever had, halved grape tomatoes that taste as if they just came off the vine even though it's December, and deliciously peppery arugula are tossed with the perfect amount of oil and vinegar abd combine to make a salad that, when you take the first bite, transports you to that summer you spent in Tuscany." Yeah, it was that good.


Fried Egg Over Black Bean Soup

Chris loves huevos rancheros. When we were dating, on those rare occasions (wink wink) when we shared breakfast, he would take me somewhere that served them and order huevos rancheros. I, on the other hand, could never understand spicy Mexican food for breakfast. In fact, I've never bitten into a breakfast burrito. However, I will have eggs, or any type of breakfast for dinner, which brings us to today's recipe - fried egg over black bean soup.

He had a dentist appointment this afternoon, so Chris requested "soup and bread" for dinner tonight. Since I've had a hankering for Mexican lately (for dinner, that is), I decided on spicy black bean soup and let him pick up his choice of bread. I was going to garnish the soup with the usual - a bit of shredded cheddar, chopped cilantro, sour cream, or even better, creme fraiche - but suddenly it all seemed so boring. So been there, done that. And while I think the fried egg topper has also been ubiquitous as of late, I've never tried it over black bean soup. It turns out, this little recipe of mine was the perfect thing for the huevos rancheros loving, comfort food needing, end of the semester paper writing graduate student known as my husband.


3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 tablespoon ground chipotle chili pepper
3 15-ounce cans black beans
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons dried cilantro leaves

Place 2 tablespoons olive oil, chopped onion and minced garlic in a soup pot. Turn the heat to medium, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook until onions are softened, about seven minutes. Add the chili powder and ground chipotle and cook, stirring constantly, for one additional minute. Add the broth and the beans. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour. To thicken, blend briefly with an immersion blender. When ready to serve, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggs and fry to your liking (note: we did them over-easy so the yolk would mix nicely into the soup). Add the lime juice to the soup, stir well, and remove from the heat. Serve the soup in a bowl topped with the fried egg and sprinkled with a teaspoon of dried cilantro leaves.


Holiday Appetizer Idea

We love brie, so when the folks at Tangiers International Market told us about Puck, a cream cheese spread made in Denmark, we were very excited. Puck, they said, tastes like brie but it comes in a jar, so it's much easier to use. Perfect for holiday appetizers, we thought. We used a melon baller to scoop the Puck into mini phyllo cups, then topped each with chopped walnuts and honey. Five minutes in the oven, and done. We filled 30 cups with one jar of Puck ($5.99) and did it in about 10 minutes. The verdict? They were pronounced "delicious" and disappeared quickly. Nothing wrong with that!


Turkey Cassoulet

Cassoulet - the word alone, in all its romantic French-ness, sounds so sophisticated, and most recipes for it are pretty intensive. However, at its very base, it's peasant food -- the quintessential one-pot meat and bean stew. No, we didn't make a traditional cassoulet. That's on the "one day" list. But we were looking for one last way to use our plentiful Thanksgiving leftovers and decided on a quick and easy version of the French classic. This recipe made three individual sized cassoulets - one each for the "couple in the kitchen" and one for my lunch buddy and foodie friend Joanne (who gets credits for the photos). Homemade stock and both hot and sweet Italian sausage gave the cassoulet a rich, dark flavor. White beans supplied heartiness, panko offered a crunchy brown topping, and a shot of brandy added some warmth. We didn't add seasoning since we thought we had plenty from the cooked turkey and stock, but next time might add some type of herb mixture (herbes de Provence, perhaps). Simple and satisfying, this dish is definitely making it into the "leftovers" recipe file, for turkey, chicken or duck (just kidding - I never have duck leftovers)!


2 cups shredded leftover turkey
2 15-ounce cans of white beans, drained and rinsed well
2 links hot sausage - cooked, cut into rounds, and quartered
2 links sweet sausage - cooked, cut into rounds, and quartered
1 1/2 cups turkey stock
2 ounces brandy
1 cup breadcrumbs (we like panko)
1 tablespoon of some type of fat (we used fat skimmed from the stock we made, but duck fat or butter would work) to grease the baking dishes and add a bit of moisture to the top

This recipe filled three individual size baking dishes. Make sure to separate the stock, brandy and breadcrumbs into equal measures according to the number of baking dishes you're using. Also, if you're making them ahead of time, assemble, cover and refrigerate without baking. When it's time, bring to room temperate (about 1/2 hour) then bake at 400 for 1/2 hour.

Heat the oven to 400 and grease your baking dish(es). In a large bowl, mix together the turkey, beans and sausage. Fill the baking dish(es) with this mixture. Pour over the turkey stock and brandy. Top the entire thing with a thin layer of breadcrumbs. Drizzle the top with a bit more stock or whatever fat you used to grease the dishes. Bake for 30 minutes until brown on top and bubbly.


Lemongrass Shrimp and Bamboo Rice

We grew lemongrass in our garden over the summer, and when it was time to bring in the herbs, we washed and separated the stalks and put them in the freezer. Today, it was time to use them. We decided the lemongrass stalks would serve as skewers for a marinated shrimp that we served over bamboo rice for a homemade Asian-inspired meal. While the lemongrass infused its essence into the shrimp, the marinade made with Thai ingredients such as lime juice, sriracha, and coconut milk, gave it zip and zing. Rounding out the flavors was fresh Thai basil which is sharper than regular basil and has a mild anise taste. The rice, which we bought from our friends at Boxed Goodes, gets its light green color and subtle flavor from being soaked in bamboo. Try our easy, Asian-at-home recipe and enjoy!

1 pound shrimp
1 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/4 cup Thai basil leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons salt
6 lemongrass stalks

Soak the lemongrass stalks in cold water. In the meantime, prepare the marinade by mixing the coconut milk, lime juice, olive oil, garlic, basil, sriracha, ginger and salt in a large bowl or Ziploc bag. Marinate the shrimp for 1/2 to 1 hour, during which time you can prepare your favorite rice as an accompaniment. Skewer the shrimp onto the lemongrass stalks and grill or broil them for two minutes on each side, until they are pink and serve over cooked rice.


Beaujolais Nouveau est Arrive!

Every year, on the third Thursday of November, the year's Beaujolais Nouveau is released from France. In France, this comes close to a national celebration, and bars, cafes and wine shops all over the world rush to stock their shelves and hold tastings of the new wine. The quality of the year's Beaujolais Nouveau is also seen as an indicator of the quality of other French, particularly Burgundy-region, wines produced in the same harvest year, as it is the first one out.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a light, fruity red wine made from the Gamay grape. It becomes even more fruit-forward when it is served slightly chilled. Because the Gamay grape has a thin skin, this particular wine is low in tannins. It is very versatile in that it pairs well with several dishes, including turkey, making it a great choice for the holidays. It's also relatively inexpensive, usually priced around $10 a bottle. Beaujolais Nouveau is a young drinking wine that is not meant to age, therefore it is best to drink it within a few months of its release date.

Last night, our local small chain of liquor stores (M & R) held a tasting of good Thanksgiving wines, focusing on this year's Beaujolais Nouveau from Georges Duboeuf, the largest producer of Beaujolais Nouveau. The Duboeuf website claims that this year's harvest is the best in 50 years, apparently due to superb weather and growing conditions. After tasting it, I have to agree, perhaps not with the 50 year thing, but it is the best one I've had. Last year's was a bad one - high in mineral taste - I felt as if I had a penny in my mouth. But this year's smells of grapes, and has a light, slightly sweet, fruit-forward flavor that finishes nicely. This is not a complex wine, but that's what's great about it, in my opinion. So, drink up - Beaujolais Nouveau 2009 est arrive!


Chicken in Pomegranate Sauce

For the past few posts, we have been raving about what a great experience we had on our Afghani Food Tour. That experience has obviously stayed with us, because last night we made a dish from Cooking With Samia, the cookbook we bought from Tangiers International Market that was written by Nancy Samia Latif, the matriarch of the family that owns and runs the market.

One product in particular had caught my eye while I was browsing the aisles of Tangiers- pomegranate molasses. By chance, as I was flipping through the book yesterday, I noticed a chicken dish that called for that ingredient. The dish is called "D'jaj bi'l Dibs Rumman," or "Chicken Baked with Pomegranate Sauce" and it is amazing. We followed the recipe almost precisely, only adjusting the amount (we're cooking for a couple, not for twelve kids!), and we used dried herbs (for shame, I know). The chicken (we used bone-in, skin-on thighs) was cooked perfectly and was tender and juicy. The sauce was sweet and tart and made the house smell wonderful. We served it with basmati rice that we cooked in a rice cooker with a few shakes of ground cardamom, then we garnished the plate with some pomegranate seeds. Here's our slightly adapted version of Mrs. Latif's recipe. It's a great dish for fall, when pomegranates are in season.


4 chicken thighs
salt, pepper and hot paprika to taste
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, cut in half
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tomato, cut into eight wedges
1 tablespoon each dried parsley and dried cilantro
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses

Turn the oven on to 400 degrees. Lay the chicken thighs in a glass baking dish and season them with salt, pepper and a light sprinkling of hot paprika. Roast the chicken uncovered at 400 for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 325 and continue to bake for thirty minutes more. When the chicken has only about 10 minutes left to cook, prepare the sauce. Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil unti golden, stirring frequently. Add the tomato chunks and the parsley and cilantro. Simmer, covered, for about five minutes. Add the pomegranate molasses, stir well, and simmer for five minutes more. At the end of the roasting time, remove the chicken from the oven and remove the fat from the pan. Pour the pomegranate sauce over the chicken as evenly as possible, then return the chicken to the oven for ten minutes. Finally, place the chicken on the top rack and broil for 3-4 minutes. Enjoy with rice or another Middle Eastern side dish.


Afghani Food Tour Part Two: Shish Kebab House of Aghanistan

The afternoon part of our Afghani Food Tour brought us into West Hartford Center to the restaurant called Shish Kebab House of Afghanistan. We were treated to a tasty appetizer of light pancakes filled with potato and scallion, with two different dipping sauces served alongside. The owner's son gave us some history on his family, including how his father escaped from Afghanistan during the Communist takeover and made his way to the United States, starting the restaurant over 20 years ago.

We were led into the kitchen, one of the cleanest kitchens Chris and I have ever seen in all our years working in restaurants, and we had an hour-long lesson in some of the secrets of Afghani food. We learned how to cook the fluffy, delicious Basmati rice (see photo) for which Afghani cuisine is famous. We learned how to enhance the rice and make it into a meal by adding different ingredients, such as almonds, cardamom, raisins and carrots (a dish known as kabuli palow). The cooks taught us how to make homemade yogurt and to use it as a condiment for sliced fried eggplant with tomato sauce (a dish called brony bonjan pictured above in preparation and below being plated). Finally, we learned the secret to Shish Kebab's famously delectable rice pudding (but we won't tell).

When the cooking lesson was over, we enjoyed a scrumptious lunch. We drank hot Afghani tea, made with black tea, milk, cardamom and beet juice. We tasted the eggplant dish we had learned to make, along with chicken and lamb kebabs that had been marinated overnight and were seasoned with sumac to give them a light lemony finish. Our luncheon by scraping up every grain from our dish of homemade rice pudding.

The myriad of spices, the reliance on fresh, homemade products, and thousands of years of experience make Afghani cuisine an interesting, healthy, and distinctive one to explore. We're glad we have, and we encourage our readers to as well.


Grilled Halloumi Cheese

On our Afghani Food Tour, we learned that Halloumi cheese is great for grilling. We thought that would make a perfect snack that evening, since we had eaten all morning and afternoon on the tour so we weren't starving, but we needed a little something. The Halloumi we purchased is from Cyprus, from where this type of cheese traditionally comes. The package contained one large piece of cheese that seemed to have been folded in half and packaged with some flakes of mint and a little bit of brine. We unfolded it and split it into two pieces which we grilled in a teaspoon of olive oil on a skillet over medium heat for about 3 minutes on each side. The cheese did not melt but browned up nicely. The inside texture was firm, and it sort of squeaked when we bit into it. The taste was salty and mildly tangy. We enjoyed it simply grilled and eaten with a fork, but imagine it would be great on top of a salad or in any other way a cheese-lover could think of.


Afghani Food Tour Part One: Tangiers International Market

For birthdays and anniversaries, Chris and I tend to get each other gifts of experience rather than of material. That is to say, instead of "presents," we get "presence" - each other's, specifically, in the form of taking a trip, or taking a class, or going to a play or concert. When I saw Prudence Sloane's Afghani Food Tour, I knew this is what I would get Chris for his birthday, and although his birthday was in September, we experienced it on Saturday.

We pulled up to
Tangiers International Market at 9:00 a.m., just in time for some strong Turkish coffee and an introduction to Prudence Sloane (a food expert, TV/radio personality, writer, dancer and all-around celebrity in these parts) and the many members of the Latif family who own and run the market. The handsome and charming Winfield, a.k.a. child #5, would be our tour guide through the products the store carries, how they are used, and their role in Middle Eastern cuisine.

First, we tasted our way through the dairy case, trying several cheeses, including Halloumi, one we were told is great for grilling. We heard about other varieties of cheese and yogurts, how they are made, and how they are cooked and/or used in recipes. The frozen foods section yielded some goodies as well, such as phyllo dough, spanakopita (spinach and cheese in phyllo dough), a variety of pita and flatbreads, and more.

We were introduced to and chatted about different meats and cuts of meat, and the best way to cook each. Then we got to taste one of the market's specialties, falafel. Their falafel is delicous, warm and soft and flavorful on the inside, crisp and not greasy at all on the outside. Interesting to note here that they fry their falafel in extra virgin olive oil, which adds to the excellent flavor and texture. After I dipped mine in the housemade tahini sauce, I realized that I never had decent falafel until that moment. Chris gave me the "I told you so" look because this is where he first tried, and fell in love with, falafel.

In the aisles is where I had the most fun. "Win" pointed out some of the more interesting products that we might not be familiar with - preserved lemons, a spice called sumac, pomegranate molasses, Turkish tea, candy made from sesame seeds, and much, much more. We tasted olive oil and found out which one they use to fry their falafel. We also tasted Tangiers' homemade hummus and baba ghanoush, both delicious dips sprinkled with lemon juice and drizzled with another olive oil they carry and recommend.

Finally, when we turned to face the lunch and bakery counter, my eyes grew wide with desire as I gazed upon the baklava that was being handed to me to taste. Light, flaky phyllo dough soaked with honey and filled with walnuts - sweet, crunchy, salty, savory - this is everything in one. Love. It. There were many other varieties of pastries and cookies as well. Prepared foods are available to eat at the counter or to take home including spinach, meat and cheese pies, salads, stuffed grape leaves, curries, and of course, kebabs.

As I flipped through the matriarch's cookbook (available for purchase, naturally!), I realized how little I had known about the cuisine of the Middle East before, and how much I had learned in that morning. Laden with purchases, including the cookbook, we left feeling satisfied, in both our stomachs and our minds.

Tangiers is a local, family-owned and operated business. Their prepared foods are homemade and each one is better than the last. The family members are polite, friendly and disarmingly good-looking. They are also more than willing to answer questions. If you like Middle Eastern food, or if you'd like to find out more about it, get to Tangiers. You won't be sorry you did.


We Were Finalists in a Recipe Contest!

Today we are giving ourselves a big pat on the back because one of our recipes made it to the Top Ten Favorites in the Latin American Diet Recipe Contest sponsored by The Oldways Table and the Latino Nutrition Coalition. Go us!

Visit the
Latino Nutrition Coalition webpage to see our recipe (Chris and Amy - that's us!) for Shrimp with Pineapple Coconut Rice. Then drop by The Oldways Table's official blog to check out the winning recipe (congratulations, Nicole!).


Braised Beef with Tomato and Indian Spices

We've been into spices lately - warm, flavorful spices that smell like fall and taste like exotic places. That's why, when we saw this recipe in a WebMD magazine at the doctor's office, we knew it was destined for our Sunday afternoon table. It was originally from Padma Lakshmi's book Tangy, Tart, Hot and Sweet, and is a traditional North Indian dish. As usual, we adapted it to what we had on hand, and to our particular tastes. It definitely satiated our craving for spice, between the pepperoncinis and the Indian spices. The longer we cooked it, the better it got; leftovers the next day were simply delicious. The meat was fork-tender and the gravy soaked into the jasmine rice that we served it over. In the future, we're going to try it with other proteins, perhaps lamb or chicken.


2 teaspoons canola oil
2 pinches ground cumin
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
4 dried whole pepperoncinis
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 bay leaves
2 cardmom pods
4 whole cloves
1 1/2 pounds beef stew meat, cut in large chunks
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
2 cups hot water
salt to taste
2 tablespoons flour mixed with hot water (optional)

In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped onions, minced garlic, minced ginger, chilies and cumin. Saute for five minutes, until the onions start to become translucent. Stir in bay leaves, cardomom pods and cloves. Add the meat and stir-fry it until it is brown on all sides. Add tomatoes and garam masala. Cook for three minutes, then lower the heat and add hot water to cover the mixture. Let it come to a gentle boil, then add a pinch of salt, cover, and reduce heat to low. Allow it to simmer for 2 hours, stirring every so often. About 1/2 hour before it is finished, if you feel it needs thickening, add the flour and water mixture and stir it in. Serve over rice, noodles, or as a stew with some bread.


Green Tomato Jam

Last weekend brought temperatures in the thirties and forties with a couple of snow squalls dropping large white flakes from the sky. Yes, it's a bit early for all that, but we do live in New England after all. The chill in the air destroyed our previously bountiful basil plants (so sad!), thus prompting us to get outside and harvest the remaining herbs and vegetables in our garden. And by vegetables, we mean the two dozen or so green tomatoes that were still clinging to the vine. A friend happened to stop by during our task and suggested we make green tomato jam - that's what his grandma used to do after all. And so, after some research and deep thoughts, we bring you the great green tomato jam of 2009, a three-day experiment.

The jam turned out surprisingly sweet, but at the same time savory. It was a bit thin at first but set well after being refrigerated. Next year we plan to try it with different spices, and work harder to eliminate the seeds. Overall, though, we're quite happy with the results of our experiment, and proud to have this product, made from our own home-grown tomatoes.

Note: This recipe yielded six 8-ounce jars.

4-5 pounds (whole) green tomatoes
4 1/2 cups sugar
Juice of two lemons
2 cinnamon sticks
4 whole cardamom pods

Special Equipment:
Food mill
Canning jars

Wash and dry tomatoes then dice them. In a large bowl, combine the diced tomatoes, sugar, and lemon juice. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.

The next day, pour the tomato mixture into a large pot. Add the cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool, pour back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate another 24 hours.

The third day, remove the cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods from the mixture. Put the tomato mixture through a food mill in small batches to eliminate some of the seeds, breakdown the skins, and smooth out the mixture. After milling, pour the tomato mixture into a large pot. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Put the jam into clean, sanitized jars immediately and seal them. Immerse the filled jars in boiling water for 15 minutes. Remove them carefully and allow the jars to sit overnight. Refrigerate after use.


"Om My" Roast Chicken and Caramelized Vegetables

A few weeks ago, during one of our outings to the Coventry Farmers' Market, we noticed a new vendor, Boxed Goodes. Boxed Goodes is a company from the Litchfield, CT area that sells organic spice blends and snack foods. On this outing, we bought a few of the blends, among them the intriguing "Om My" - a blend of fenugreek, onion, coriander, cardamom, cumin, garlic, ginger and fennel. Quite nice for the fall and winter months, don't you agree?

Those fall and winter months crept up quickly. The recent cold snap found us inside last Sunday, craving something roasted, something to make our house and our tummies warm. Roasted chicken and vegetables! We had accidentally "harvested" the teeny-tiny beginnings of a bulb of fennel from our garden the day before, and wanted to try that flavor in our vegetable mix. After looking at the ingredients in "Om My," we knew it would be the perfect complementary seasoning for our chicken dish. The scent of the chicken and spices filled the house with the warmth we were hoping for and the meal was delicious - one we'd definitely make again.

3-4 lb. chicken breast for roasting
1/2 fennel bulb, sliced
2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch long pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 dozen (or so) baby carrots
1 lemon, cut in half
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons Boxed Goodes "Om My" Spice Blend, divided
1 tablespoon balsamic vinaigrette
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place the chopped vegetables (fennel, celery, onion, carrots) in the bottom of a medium-sized roasting pan; this is the "bed" for the chicken to cook on. Season the vegetables with salt and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Pour 1/2 cup of water into the pan with the vegetables and set it aside. Season the chicken, inside and out, with salt. Put the lemon halves inside the cavity of the chicken. In a small bowl, mix 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon of "Om My" spice blend to make a paste. Cover the chicken with the paste and place the chicken on top of the vegetables in the roasting pan. Season the contents of the pan with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of "Om My" then place it in the oven. Roast the chicken uncovered for an hour and fifteen minutes (or until the "I'm done" popper pops and/or the temperature of the meat reaches 165). Remove the chicken from the pan and set it on a carving platter to rest. Add the balsamic vinaigrette to the pan with the vegetables and set the pan over medium heat on the stove top. Stir the vegetables in the balsamic, water and pan drippings until the liquid reduces to almost nothing and the vegetables are caramelized. Slice the chicken breast and serve it with the vegetables for a great autumn dinner.


Foodie Book Friday: Gourmet Rhapsody

Muriel Barbery, French author of the bestselling novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog, focuses on the life (and imminent death) of a famous food critic in her sophomore offering, Gourmet Rhapsody. (I read Europa Editions' English translation by Alison Anderson).

On the first page, we are introduced to Pierre Arthens, and in his first person point of view, he claims, "I am the greatest food critic in the world." It is on the next page that we learn that Pierre only has 48 hours to live, and in those hours, he plans to rediscover the flavor that for years has eluded him, the flavor that "holds the key" to his heart. Ironically, it's his failing heart that is leading to his demise.

In chapters that alternate with Pierre's own version of his search, the reader gets brief glimpses into his character via the voices of people who know him - relatives, acquaintances, the concierge in his building, lovers, even a statue of Venus, and a cat. And on page after page, there are gratifying descriptions of food that are so exquisitely detailed that you think you can smell and taste it through the page. Rhapsody indeed.

This is a gorgeously written novel that challenges the reader to think - not just about food, but about the meaning of life. As Pierre himself attests, "The question is not one of eating, nor is it one of living; the question is knowing why."


Scrimshaw Restaurant, Greenport, New York

After reading through Edible East End, a magazine devoted to harvesting local, seasonal foods on Long Island, we decided to spend our second evening of our long weekend getaway dining at one of the fall issue's feature restaurants, Scrimshaw.

Scrimshaw is located on Preston's Wharf in downtown Greenport, across the street from Claudio's, where we had enjoyed our first meal. The menu was elegant in its simplicity; there were only five appetizers, five entrees, and a few specials from which to choose, but all had several components and seemed to be influenced by Asian cuisine. The decor was also elegant yet simple - candlelit white walls with photographs of scrimshaw (delicate engravings done on whale bones or teeth) and masthead statues scattered throughout.

Continuing my newly-developed love affair with pork belly, I decided to try the special appetizer. Two large squares of pork belly arrived in a hoisin sauce alongside a basket of steamed buns. The meat was a bit undercooked for my taste, some parts having the consistency of jelly, but the flavor was amazing - star anise and five-spice stood out in particular - and I enjoyed making little sandwiches with the meat and the buns.

For my entree, locally raised duck, of course, or "Crescent Farm Long Island duck breast with cherry sauce and sweet potato fries." This is the duck mentioned in the Edible article. Again slightly undercooked, the skin and fat on the duck breast did not have the crispness I wanted, but the meat was tender and juicy, the sweet potato chips were crispy, and the sauce was a great accompaniment. It was a very good fall dish that paired well with the Wolffer Estate Pinot Noir we were drinking.

Chris started with the Scrimshaw chowder, a lovely stew of Long Island seafood simmered in cream, leeks and potatoes. It was a cream-based broth, but wasn't overly thick, as many New England-type chowders tend to be. In addition, it had plenty of fish and herbs to give it great flavor and heartiness.

Chris was disappointed in his entree, a sea bass served with mussels in a tomato-coconut broth. The bass was overcooked, a couple of the mussels had an off-taste, and the tomato-coconut broth overpowered rather than enhanced the fish.

The service was a let-down, especially for a place that looked and felt so sophisticated. Servers were bustling to and fro but our water glasses sat empty on the table, as did our dirty dishes. In all, there were some ups and downs at Scrimshaw, but the Asian-inspired American seafood menu is unique and, in my opinion, worth a visit.
Scrimshaw on Urbanspoon


Lavender by the Bay, East Marion, New York

We had plenty of time to catch the ferry, so the sign on Route 25 East caught our eye: Lavender by the Bay Lavender Farm. The fields behind the barn glowed in the sun. Lavender, as far as the eye could see, and the scent was at once intoxicating and calming. We purchased bunches of freshly picked sprigs and some infusios for tea or cocktails. I think lavender will be ingredient in some upcoming dishes. Definitely worth the stop!


The Wines of North Fork, Long Island

New York is well known for its wines, and winery-hopping was definitely on our to-do list when we visited over the beautiful Columbus Day weekend. A little research here, a few questions to the locals there, and we were off to explore the vineyards on Route 25, North Fork, Long Island.

Our first stop was
The Old Field Vineyards where we experienced not only our favorite wine of the day but also the best hospitality. Warm and welcoming, the ladies running Old Field chatted, poured, and gave great tips on how to spend the day. We enjoyed their spicy 2006 Cabernet Franc, but especially liked the light, smooth and inexpensive Rooster Tail.

There was a party going on a
Osprey's Dominion, with limos and buses and what looked to be bachelorettes everywhere, but we braved the mob and were rewarded. Above the din, a gentleman described each wine we tasted in great detail. Highlights here included the award-winning 2005 Cabernet Franc (so different from the 2006!), the rich and velvety Port, and the Spice Wine (served warm, it reminded us of the hot mulled wine we enjoyed on the streets of Prague). Plus, the Italian cheese plate was worth every cent.

We loved the wine-country look of
Lenz - lots of barn and barrels, and we were intrigued by the fact that they beat Petrus in a blind tasting. Still, none of the wines we tasted really spoke to us.

Our next stop was a total bust. We went into
Bedell Cellars looking for the Cab Franc we enjoyed at the previous night's dinner, to find it is only sold at their "sister winery," Corey Creek. We made a mental note to stop there on the way home and headed back out on our journey.

Peconic Bay, we were treated to live music and hot food for sale (the chicken pot pie was especially delish). Both the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were good, and the (somewhat disingenuous) staffer claimed that the 2007 Merlot was "the best vintage on Long Island, ever." Perhaps we're hard to please, but nothing from Peconic came home to Connecticut with us.

After a few disappointing stops, we decided to go with what we know and went further down the road to
Pellegrini, where we were once guests at a wedding. It was as beautiful as we remembered, and the wines were excellent. Our pourer was focused, friendly and very helpful. He was knowledgeable about the wine and not afraid to share his own opinion. Highlights here included the hearty 2007 Steakhouse Red, the silky 2005 Cab Franc, and the surprisingly flavorful 2005 Merlot, all of which are headed into our cellar to age.

Clovis Point seems to be a relative newcomer to the scene, with only four wines available. We tried them all. The standout was the 2006 Barrel-fermented Chardonnay, because it tasted like buttered toast. Their award-winning 2004 Merlot couldn't hold a candle to Pellegini's 2005.

Our last,and most exciting, tasting was at
Jamesport Vineyards. Live jazz by "Jazz on the Half Shell" accompanied a $1 per oyster tasting benefiting the Southold Project for Aquaculture Training (upcoming post on that). Their 2006 Pinot Noir was very good but at $35, was also one of the most expensive wines we tried and we decided not to buy a bottle.

The end of the day found a case of wine in the trunk, mostly empty wallets (there is a charge for tastings on Long Island!) and two tuckered out travelers who needed a nap before dinner. But it was a really fun day and we'd recommend a visit to anyone who loves good wine!!!


Claudio's, Greenport, New York

Claudio's is the oldest same-family-owned restaurant in the United States. It was opened in 1870 by a former whaler in the town of Greenport, New York on the North Fork on Long Island. From what we could see last Friday night, the family has kept the restaurant going successfully by maintaining a beautiful Victorian building and serving up fresh, local seafood (and more) at great prices.

We came to Long Island by ferry, and after checking into our weekend's lodging, took the short drive into town for dinner. We found Claudio's on the water, near the docks, with plenty of well-lit signage to guide us there. The first thing we noticed was the gorgeous Victorian bar, reportedly salvaged from a New York hotel in 1885. Our imaginations immediately went to work: standing at the bar were Long Island elite, Gatsby types, stopping in to imbibe in a glass or two of illegal spirits during Prohibition, or America's Cup sailors fresh off their yachts coming in to snack on freshly caught, shucked oysters.

We did a little bit of both ourselves. We started by ordering a bottle of one of the many local wines, choosing a Cabernet Franc from Bedell Cellars, a wine we enjoyed enough to seek out the winery the following day. We stayed local for the rest of our dinner as well. Wanting to taste from the local waters, we ordered a raw bar sampler. Eight each of Peconic Bay littleneck and cherrystone clams, eight oysters caught from various farms on the North Fork, and four wild (Pacific) jumbo shrimp were served up atop chiseled ice on a large platter with lemon and cocktail sauce. All were exquisitely fresh and delicious. For our entree, we could not resist getting "Claudio's Friday Night Bake" (see photo). For a mere $21 each, we got a thin mesh net full of king crab legs, jumbo shrimp, clams, mussels, steamers, corn on the cob and red potatoes steamed in a wonderfully garlicky broth. How can you beat that?

Gorged on fabulously fresh, well-prepared seafood, we passed on dessert and took a walk around downtown Greenport thinking what a beautiful little place we've discovered! As for Claudio's, we'd recommend it. What could easily have been a cheesy tourist trap in fact was a great dinner served in a romantic setting with a touch of history to make it that much more interesting.
Claudio's Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Fettuccine with Sausage, Sage and Crispy Garlic

Something about today calls for pasta. Chris and I have both had a few stressful days in a row, so maybe we just need a little comfort food, and pasta is certainly that. But we also wanted to try something different. So during my lunch break (yes, even when I'm eating, I'm planning my next meal), I browsed through "My Recipe Box" on Epicurious.com. I love Epicurious because it indexes recipes from Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and other sources, and puts them in easy-to-search, printable formats with user ratings and notes. It's much better than saving all those magazines, plus you get good tips from other home cooks. Today, I found this tasty-sounding recipe and ran it by Chris. We adapted it according to our tastes and now have a new pasta to add to our ever-growing repertoire. Crisping the garlic just slightly gave the dish a bit of crunch and nuttiness, while the fresh sage jacked up the spices found in the sausage. Yummy!

1 pound fettuccine
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced (think of the dinner-in-prison scene in GoodFellas)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (we used regular, purple, and variegated sage from our garden)
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
salt to taste

Place 1 tablespoon butter with the olive oil and all the slices of garlic in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute until light golden, about one minute. Using a slotted spoon, set the garlic aside. Increase the heat slightly and add the sage to the skillet. Stir until it begins to crisp, about 10 seconds. Add sausage and saute until browned, breaking it up with a fork, about 8 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and salt to taste. Meanwhile, prepare the pasta according to package directions and drain it. Add the pasta and the remaining tablespoon of butter to skillet. Toss the pasta with the sausage mixture. Serve the pasta topped with the crispy garlic and breadsticks.


Apple Picking and Apple Pie

Saturday was a perfect fall day in New England. The sky was blue, the leaves have begun to change, and the air was crisp and cool. You needed a light jacket or sweater, but the sun was warm on your face. It was a perfect fall day for the most perfect fall activity -- apple picking.

While Chris stayed home working on grad school stuff, I took the drive up from Connecticut, my sister, her husband and their 3-year old took the drive down from Vermont, and we met up at my parents house in Massachusetts. One of my dad's friends has a farm in Amherst, and with his usual generosity, offered it up for our (free!) apple picking enjoyment.

Bags in hand, we began our walk through the orchard. The trees were laden with red and green fruit, literally ripe for the picking. My niece walked up to a low-lying branch and informed me, "This is how you do it, Auntie Amy: twist and pull!!!" It was an instruction that was repeated often throughout the afternoon. We picked until the bags were filled with Cortlands, while visions of crisps and crumbles and pies danced in our heads. It was, in fact, the perefct fall day!

Here's my recipe for apple pie, or should I say, apple pie filling because I use
Pillsbury crust.

1 package refrigerated pie crust, or homemade crust
10 apples, variety of your choosing, peeled, cored and diced
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons apple pie spice
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 425. Place one pie crust in an ungreased pie plate and press firmly against the side and bottom of the dish. In a large bowl, toss the diced apples with the lemon juice. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients well. Pour the dry ingredients into the bowl with the apples and mix well so that all the apples are coated. Spoon the filling into the crust-lined pie plate. Cut the butter into pats and place randomly on top of the apple pie filling. Top with the second crust and press the edges together to seal (if using refrigerated pie crust, see package directions for a two-crust pie). Brush the crust with the milk. Cut slits in several places in the top crust and bake for 45 minutes, until apples are tender and the crust is brown. Cool for at least an hour before serving.


Suzi Sells Stonington Sea Scallops to Serve in the Shell

Last weekend's farmers' market (Coventry, CT) was buzzing with new vendors, among them Suzi's Seafood. It was the large sea scallops, caught locally in Stonington, CT, that called to us, and we bought a pound. Suzi had a recipe suggestion, copies of "Scallops on the Half Shell" from Alton Brown. She even had complimentary shells on which to serve them, so we went for it. We even made up our own tongue-twister (see post title).

The fresh scallops were huge, tender and succulent. For the tomatoes, we only need one (it was a big one, though!) of the heirlooms from our garden. While we've forgotten the exact variety, it has the oranges and reds of a gorgeous sunset, and tasted very sweet. Finally, we substituted panko for regular breadcrumbs. Overall, we loved the ease and freshness of this light, tasty dish.

Ingredients (adapted from Alton Brown, 2005):

1 pound sea scallops
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt (separated)
2 cups panko style breadcrumbs
1 large tomato, chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Rinse the scallops with cold water and thoroughly pat them dry. Melt the butter in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Once the butter is melted add the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and cook for 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and toss in the bread crumbs until well combined. Set aside. In a small bowl, toss together the chopped tomato, parsley and the remaining salt. Evenly divide the tomato mixture between 8 large scallop shells (or oven-proof ramekins). Place the scallops over the tomato mixture and top with the bread crumbs. Bake in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown on top. Serve immediately.


Goodbye, Tavern on the Green

It seems that one of New York City's landmarks is set to close. Tavern on the Green, the epitome of NYC's old-school, fine dining restaurants, aptly located in Central Park, has filed for bankruptcy, according to this article in the New York Times. It will close its doors on New Year's Eve.

I was lucky enough to have eaten at Tavern several times, as a young lady brought into the city on day trips with the other ladies in my family. These were special treats, funded by my self-employed, hard-working father who had no interest in going to the city, but knew his girls loved it. Sometimes it was just my mother and I, then, as my sister grew older, she came along, and sometimes so did grandma (mom's mom) and an aunt or two (mom's sisters). Almost always the trips were around the holidays, so we could see New York's shop windows in all their festive finery. There was window shopping, real shopping, and usually a show, on Broadway, at Radio City, or at Lincoln Center. And, almost always, we luncheoned (for that's what ladies do) at Tavern on the Green.

I forwarded the article to my mother and sister and we passed emails describing memories of our visits to Tavern. My mom recalls a raspberry Charlotte russe dessert that made her want to lick the plate (she didn't of course). I remember feeling decadent (and quite important, thank you!) when I placed an order for French Toast that cost $12 (it was the early 1980's and that seemed like a lot of money for French toast!). It was the first time I had French toast that wasn't made from white sandwich bread but with challah, and, besides learning what challah bread is, I realized how fabulous French toast could be. All of us laughed when we remembered the time we were sitting in the
Crystal Room, looking out at Central Park in all its glory - the trees changing color, the squirrels building their nests. It was only after we finished eating and left that my mother told us that those squirrels were actually rats. But even that is a fond memory, one we always mention when we talk about "those trips." And my sister, well, she is mostly just disappointed, for Tavern is a part of our childhood that she won't be able to share with her daughter.

Goodbye, Tavern on the Green. Thanks for the memories.


Foodie Movie Friday: The Ramen Girl

Okay, it's not a book, as we normally do "Foodie Book Friday." However, when we saw the charming film The Ramen Girl, we knew we had to let our fellow foodies know about it. Thus, "Foodie Movie Friday."

Abby, played by Brittany Murphy, is four years out of college ("Phi Beta Kappa" she'll have you know) but she has nothing to show for it. She has followed her boyfriend to Tokyo, and when she arrives, he decides he never wanted her to come, and leaves her (at least he gives her the keys to his apartment!). Feeling abandoned, out on the terrace with a beer in hand, she catches sight of a ramen shop. Her first visit is cathartic - the ramen is the cure - and she decides it is her life's goal to learn to cook it.

She begs the ramen chef, a crotchety Japanese man named Maezumi, to be her sensei (teacher). He agrees, but in the style of Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid, she must earn her way up through the kitchen by starting with the "grunt work." It is the scenes between student and teacher that are the most authentic, and the most touching. He speaks little English, she, little Japanese, and there are subtitles to help the viewer. But the ramen is their shared language, and what makes this a great movie for foodies. That, and it gives ramen its rightful place in the world of noodles.
Best of all, it reminds you that spirit is one of the most important ingredients in any dish.


The Cat Ate My Cookie!

Sunday morning we stopped at our local Italian bakery/cafe for double espressos, and after peeking into the cookie case, I bought a half-pound of cookies. Turns out my favorite one is a light and airy sugar cookie with a sweet jam center. Unfortunately, I did a variety box and bought only four of these now-favorites. Last night I found a half-eaten Italian cookie on the floor. Naturally, it was the last of my favorites. It had little bite and scratch marks in it, which was a clue - I don't think Chris took a nibble and then dropped the cookie on the floor. I went into the kitchen and saw that the pastry box containing the cookies was open just enough. It too had scratch marks on it. Very interesting. One of our cats, Stanley, has "thumbs," and since he can open a Hershey's Kiss (he really can!), I figure he's the culprit. Yeah, the cat ate my last cookie. At least I know he has good taste.


Chunky Tomato Soup

We spent some time Labor Day weekend harvesting, cleaning, stewing and freezing our crop of plum tomatoes in preparation for the fall and winter months. Then this past weekend, we found ourselves craving tomatoes. We also found ourselves craving soup, as the temperature cools down and the air of early fall turns crisp. When this happens, what better meal is there than tomato soup and grilled cheese?

We grabbed a bag of those stewed tomatoes from the freezer and chopped up a few of our ginormous beefsteaks for the base. A few potatoes, a couple slices of bacon and a can of white beans rounded out our list of ingredients. We let the soup simmer long enough to mix the flavors and allow the tomatoes to break down, worked some magic with the immersion blender, and served it with a grilled cheeses made with fresh mozzarella. Unfortunately, we neglected to take a picture. We'll remember next time!


3 slices bacon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 large red potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups stewed tomatoes
2 large fresh beefsteak tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
1 14-ounce can cannelini (white) beans, drained and rinsed

Cook bacon in a large saucepan until it is cooked to your liking and the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon and set it aside on a paper towel to cool. When it is cooled, chop the bacon. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the bacon fat and add the chopped onion to the pot. cook it in the bacon fat over medium heat until it is soft and translucent. Add the garlic to the pot and cook until you can smell the garlic, about a minute. Then add the potatoes and cook about five minutes. Add the stewed and chopped tomatoes and the chicken broth to the pan. Allow to cook over medium heat for 30 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through. Stir in the brown sugar, salt and pepper to taste, and cook for a couple of minutes longer. Move half of the soup to a large bowl or blender and set aside. Put half of the white beans into the soup pot and half into the soup that you've set aside. Blend the set-aside soup in the blender or using an immersion blender. Return the blended mixture to the soup pot. Add the bacon, stir well and cook five minutes longer.


Foodie Book Friday: Girl Cook

"Chick lit" meets the chef scene in Hannah McCouch's 2003 novel Girl Cook. The author knows of what she speaks, as besides being a writer, she is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu and has worked as a cook in many restaurants, just like her heroine, Layla. Layla is longing for culinary success, but must fight her way through the misogyny of the restaurant world in order to get it. Her tale starts, "I've been tossing mesclun greens in the garde-manger at Tacoma for the past nine months, and I'm about to lose my sh*t. I've been begging the chef to let me give the Caesar salads and cold beet couscous specials a rest and actually cook something for once." The food talk is completely satisfying - suffice it to say, the description of the mashed potatoes (pages 90-91 in the paperback edition) changed the way I'll cook them forever. But there's more to the story than food, there's the problem Layla's love life (or lack thereof). Part romantic comedy, part inside-look into the world of professional cooking, if you like both, you'll love this quick read.



We love arancini, those golden, fried balls of rice originating in Sicily. Some are filled -- with meat, cheese, and/or vegetables. Some are made from leftover risotto (if you can ever manage to have any risotto leftover!). Some just consist of saucy rice that has been breaded and fried. The insides are red with tomato sauce when they're served in Spain, yellow with saffron when they're served in Arabic countries. They can be baked, but they taste better fried (what doesn't?). Arancini can be whatever you want them to be.

In the "fritter" or "croquette" family, arancini got their name from the Italian word for "orange," based on how they look. But the arancini we tend to buy, from D&D Market in the Little Italy section of Hartford, are cone-shaped. And yes, we said buy. The truth is, some things are best left to the experts. We've attempted arancini at home, using leftover risotto. It just didn't cut it, and left us unsatisfied. Besides being an amazing Italian market, D&D makes some tasty arancini.

Chris stopped by D&D on his way home Friday night. Along with the other goodies he purchased (provolone, parmegiano reggiano, fresh mozzarella, speck), he bought two arancini. We heated them and served them over marinara for simple, rustic dinner which we enjoyed on our back deck. With a little chianti, it was like a summer evening in Tuscany. Mangia!