xmas presents in action…final 2012

Yes… It has taken me this long to use the present. It is a huge heavy granite mortar and pestle that looks lovely in my kitchen but that I had not found a use for…but it did a very good job of pulverizing the rather coarse lemon verbena leaves into the olive oil that was used for my watermelon salad dressing.  I have a lemon verbena plant which I had been looking for and then of course found it at Gethsemane Garden center here in Chicago. Now I am having fun finding recipes that will highlight it. My favorite was actually grinding up (in my smaller mortar and pestle) lemon verbena leaves with some sugar and then mixing into some store bought french vanilla ice cream.

The salad recipe is from Food52. I would also like to state that this time I successfully toasted the pistachios.

simply-est is always best

How often do we over-complicate our lives just to impress others…or lie, I guess some people just lie.

Well, I am making myself a new promise, every time I think I might not be measuring up to someone’s unrealistic expectations, that I am somehow just way too boring; Then I will remember this simple grilled chicken salad and how very perfect and satisfying it was even without…..2 kids, 3 pets, 4 hobbies, 6 outdoor sports obsessions, a passport full of stamps, 12 hot friends who like to go clubbing every weekend, 3 charities you volunteer for on a regular basis, and owning and running a small business!! ugh!

okay. stop. breath.

(quiet)……grilled chicken. beans. arugula. lemon and basil. a glass of cheap red wine. the soothing sounds of cicadas and traffic on a summer night. (sigh) better.


1)  Whisk together:

  • 1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup of fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

2) Pour 1/3 of this on the chicken:

  • 4 chicken breasts

3) Grill the chicken

4) Combine the beans and the arugula, add dressing, top with slices of the grilled chicken

  • 1 can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • some baby arugula (also called rocket)

5) Make sure you have a glass of cheap red wine to go with it.


So I’m not sure that this is the best use of rhubarb if you have limited amounts but I enjoyed it so if you have a lot and want to try something savory this time then…

Basically you just cook down the rhubarb and mix in with your favorite bottled barbeque sauce. Now I don’t have a favorite bottled sauce so I bought Local Folks Foods Hab-a-que sauce made with habenero peppers (because I like their ketchup).   I thought the hot and the rhubarb would be a good combo. I think I may have been wrong. I liked it, but the heat took away from the rhubarb flavor a bit and I think the tart with a sweeter fruit based sauce would work well.

Anyway…the recipe was for roasting the chicken, but it is summer and I grill everything so I cut it into pieces and grilled it. The recipe also had you put some of the sauce in the orzo (with green onions and shredded carrots) This is not a good call. Orzo and veggies should not have rhu-hab-a-que sauce on them.  I would have preferred just a little little olive oil and lemon juice.

for you CSA people out there…

Back in the day when I lived in VA, my roommate and I signed up for a CSA and they kept sending us collard greens, spring and fall, week after week after week. Perhaps you are having a similar experience. Neither of us had the slightest idea what to do with them and after an experiment or two with a big pot and a ham-hock we started giving up and many delicious bundles lived in the produce drawer for awhile and then were trashed…If only we had this Virginia Willis recipe then!!

First, please make this just so you have an excuse to buy the smoked salt! Not only is it delicious but you can get that smoked flavor without using meat. Genius! Second, I suggest that you take the time to make the hot pepper vinegar. I’m totally loving mine.  Both are going to get a lot of use in my kitchen this summer.

And yes.. that is another broiled chicken, this time Alton Brown’s recipe. Perhaps I have a need for juicy meat steeped in melted chicken fat and then how the skin gets crispy as the fat melts out of it into the meat and gets all brown. They are just so darn easy AND then I have so many options for making great things with the leftovers the rest of the week. This week: chicken tacos and arugula salads. Greatness…

North African food and xmas presents in action – parts 2 & 3

Part 2 – So this was the first recipe made from a cookbook I got for xmas, Moroccan Merguez Ragout with Poached Eggs. The book is called the The Food52 Cookbook with recipes that came from the web site food52.com. It sounds silly I suppose but I like my real paper cookbooks that I can hold on to and write in and drip grease and chili paste on.

Anyway, for this recipe there are 12 ingredients. 7 of them you will always find in my kitchen, 2 I might have or I may have to pick up, but the last 3: merguez sausage, ras el hanout and harissa, those cannot be found in the city of Chicago. Okay. They probably can but not in the 3 or 4 places that I looked and so I was forced to make them….okay not really ‘forced’, more like ‘happy to’.

  1. Ras El Hanout – Supposedly translates to “top of the shop.” Spice vendors would all make their own super secret blends. I got a very simplified recipe from the North Africa section of my Essential Mediterranean cookbook. I picked it because I basically had all the ingredients and because I like to use my scale to measure things.

    7 g tumeric
    15 g allspice berries ground allspice
    30 g black peppercorns
    1.5 2 smallish whole nutmegs
    1 whole clove
    10 cardamom pods
    1 cinnamon stick
    1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
    3 rosebuds 2ish teaspoons of lavender flowers

    So I used what I had:  ground allspice, and although I looked for some edible rosebuds I did not find them so I substituted in a couple of teaspoons of lavender flowers. All went into my spice grinder. I was a little worried about the two nutmegs but I picked small ones and ground in short bursts to take layers off slowly. It is possible the blade on my spice grinder (old coffee grinder, that I believe was a hand-me-down from a college roommate) is ruined. I haven’t really tried to use it since then though.

  2. garlic paprika based spice mix in morter and pestleMerguez Sausage – The web site and cookbook offered possible substitutions and a suggestion for turning some ground lamb into this sausage. I then found this recipe online and I liked it because it uses sumac and I have some sumac. I just used ground lamb. I figured I would be perfectly happy without adding fat, buying a meat grinder or putting it in casing and then taking it back out again. The recipe also called for…
  3. Harissa –  A hot chili paste/sauce which I could not find. I used the recipe from my Suvir Saran cookbook that I have been wanting to try for awhile now. Traditionally it is made with dried piri piri peppers which I did not have. I had guajillos and pasillas. I rejected the pasillas and then went and got another a small bag of guajillos and also used some generically labeled ‘red peppers’ the kind you get in bottle in the spice aisle at the grocery store but don’t really know what type of pepper they are. I stemmed and seeded all the guajillos before weighing and soaking them, the little generic red ones I left all the stems and seeds. This is partially because I like hot but not ‘really hot’ in my food, also partially because I did not strain the chilies.  I can’t seem to find the right kind of strainer for this type of job. I would greatly appreciate suggestions.

This leads to xmas presents in action part 3 (see photo above); One of my new mortar and pestles smashing up the harissa, spices, and seeds with the garlic for the sausage.

Lamb sausage ragout with poached eggFinal product: It was a lot more meaty then the picture in the cookbook which may be that there is less grease because of the leaner meat… I guess. I also I struggled with poaching of the egg, most of the yolk was cooked. It was quite spicy and delicious and I now have extra merguez sausage in my freezer, a couple small jars of harissa in my fridge (I put some in John Ash’s Grandmother’s Bean Soup leftovers the other day… brilliant!) and a jar of ras el hanout in my spice cabinet. It is going to be an everything-North-African-flavored winter!

1 brick and a brown plastic tarp please

panini brickI wanted to make panini but did not want to buy a panini press or some small electric appliance to try to fit into my apt’s limited cabinet space. Aside: I will make space for the waffle maker I got for xmas! With limited space you must have priorities.

Anyway…The recipe actually suggested a foil covered brick and although I was not sure about this I decided I could make make the 95 cent investment to try it out.  I headed to Home Depot and while I was there I wanted to buy something to cover up my outdoor furniture for the winter so I purchased a brown plastic tarp. I did feel a little odd buying one brick and tarp. I felt it necessary to explain to cashier why. I don’t think she cared though.

Anyway, I picked kind of a square brick and used my cast iron grill pan and it workedpanini fabulously. Cheap and effective. I highly recommend it. My foil was a little wimpy so I suggest using heavier duty foil. I just washed it off when I was done and put it away, foil and all. I don’t think the same foil will last forever but at least for one or two more sandwiches.

The recipe calls for you to thinly slice some cucumber and red onion and do a quick pickling with vinegar, sugar and salt. You can leave them in the pickling mixture for an hour or 24. I liked it. A fresher crunchier version of pickles on your sandwich.  I just made my own honey mustard, as I already have both ingredients: honey and mustard. I made my own thousand island dressing also. That required a few more steps. I just had to boil an egg and very finely chop some olives and onions…and yes, thousand island contains mayonnaise and the recipe came from my Betty Crocker cookbook.