Thursday, June 25, 2009

Food: Quick Grilled Chicken and Caesar Potato Salad

When I think of summer barbeques and picnics, two of the items that instantly come to mind are potato salad and grilled chicken. A couple of weekends ago I made this really quick meal for dinner, inspired by the Caesar Potato salad recipe featured in June's Bon Appetit. I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me to try a Caesar dressing on potatoes before, but this was great! Not only was it a non-mayo potato salad (which makes it more transportable for sticky, summer days), it's all fancied up for a celebration (or in this case a casual dinner) with colored baby potatoes, radishes, and crunchy sugar snap peas. It'd make a fantastic, showy, 4th of July side dish - especially if you mixed in some purple potatoes. I'm looking forward to making it again very soon.

Sorry...another blurry iPhone picture....

Smoky Grilled Chicken MM


  • 4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • 1 Tb Smoked Paprika
  • 3 Tb Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper


  • Pre-heat your grill to medium heat
  • In a small bowl, mix together smoked paprika, olive oil, salt and pepper
  • After trimming any excess fat off the chicken, lay the breasts on a counter between two sheets of waxed paper and pound them flat to ensure they are all of uniform thickness.
  • Brush both sides of the chicken them with the oil/paprika mixture
  • Grill 8 to 12 minutes on Direct Medium, turning chicken mid-way through
Caesar Potato Salad with Sugar Snap Peas
From Bon Appetit (June 2009)

  • 1 1/2 pounds unpeeled assorted fingerling potatoes or baby potatoes (such as white-skinned, red-skinned, and purple), cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 8 oz trimmed sugar snap peas
  • 1 bunch radishes, trimmed, sliced
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


  • Steam potatoes on steamer rack set in large pot over boiling water until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Add sugar snap peas and steam until peas are crisp-tender and potatoes are just tender, about 1 minute longer. Transfer vegetables to large bowl. Cool slightly.
  • Add radishes and onion.
  • Whisk next 4 ingredients in small bowl to blend. Whisk in Parmesan. Season dressing with salt and generous amount of pepper. Add dressing to potato mixture; toss to coat. Season with more salt and pepper, if desired.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Gardening: Mother Nature

Sometimes Mother Nature isn't quite so motherly. Last night storms blew through the Detroit area. And although normally I would welcome lots of rain in mid-to-late June, this was more than just a gentle shower. As you can see from the photos below, we have some flooding next to the house. We had it get pretty close to the house a couple of springs ago after large quantities of snow melted and the ground was still frozen. But I've never seen it get this high in the summer months - probably since this time the flooding was caused by a clog in the grate covering the drainage pipe. I fear many of the plants I started from seed have been lost as >60% of the area we planted is under water. I doubt it'll dry up in time to save them. Keep you fingers crossed...maybe they're stronger than I think.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Riley: An Introduction

I don't believe I've introduced all of you to Riley. She looks quiet and innocent, right? But she's a Jack Russell (a.k.a. a Parson Russell) we all know better.

Some days I think who ever grouped certain dog breeds in a category called "terriers" must have really meant to call them "terrors" but decided to jazz up the spelling. A perfect example of why I think this, occurs when Riley and I go on walks through the neighborhood. Most of the time it is very pleasant (and brisk, may I add) experience. However, if Riley sees something on wheels that makes too much noise (vehicles driving too fast, delivery trucks, kids on get the picture) or small furry things (namely squirrels), the pleasantries are all over. I experienced a "Riley the Jack Russell Terror" morning today. While on our walk, I think we saw a squirrel running across the street or climbing up a tree at every other house we passed. That's a lot of squirrels... considering we walked almost two miles! The method she uses to greet the tree climbers is to belt out a horrible, high pitched squealing noise that probably makes my neighbors think she's hurt (or that I'm beating her), which can be quite embarassing. And with a pet who has springs for legs, in these situations, it's not only difficult to keep her quiet but also grounded. I keep trying to tell her if she really wanted to catch a furry tail she'd learn to be stealth like a cat, quiet and sneaky. But being a dog, she's just not wired that way and being a terrier she tends not to listen unless it's something she wants to hear (like "treat" or "outside").

Riley's favorite toy is shown in one of the photos above - a black, squeaky stiletto (which I have determined is indestructible and wished Target would bring back). If she has the pick of any toy in her basket it's always, never failingly the first one she goes and picks out. It's pretty funny too because guests tend to freak out when they first see it thinking she's taken one of my shoes.

There's a window in my sunporch that will never be clean due to constant nose smearing and my house always feels like it's a little bit in disarray (either from every single toy being taken out of the basket at once or Riley's hair and the carpet fibers kicked up from her running back and forth being tracked all over my hardwood floors). But the moment she gives you the "please" look when she asks to sit on your lap to snuggle, or lays on the floor crossing her front paws, or races around the house wrestling her favorite shoe to the ground, or burrows herself in her bed so deep you can no longer see her, you tend to forget about all the rest and remember why it is you wanted a "terrier terror" in the first place.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Food: Brown Bagging No-No's

I love fresh, juicy, summer peaches. However, I decided today they aren't really ideal lunch food...especially when you're brown bagging it and end up eating your lunch in front of your computer while doing work (case and point below). At least I had the sense to eat the peach over a paper towel. But it still made a gigantic mess. I suppose tomorrow, slicing one and placing it on top of cottage cheese would be a much more responsible (and ladylike) way to eat one.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Food: Shrimp Cakes with Spicy Sour Cream and Bok Choy

We're headed to the Carolinas on vacation in a few weeks and I've already started thinking about burying my toes in warm sand, finally being able to snuggle up with a book and read it cover-to-cover in one sitting, and spending time with family. I'm even looking forward to that salty crust the ocean water leaves on your skin and sunglasses and getting up entirely too early in the morning just to walk on the beach at sunrise. As a result of all of this, I've been craving food that reminds me of the sand and sunshine and relaxation.

For many of us, when we think of food from the East Coast, fresh crab and crab cakes come to mind. But, unless we live in that region, fresh, lump crabmeat isn't exactly easy to find at your local market/grocery store. As a result, when I saw a recipe for seafood cakes using shrimp, I was instantly intrigued. Maybe it's a fairly common thing for all of you in coastal towns, but being a mid-westerner, I can't say I've ever seen let alone tasted a shrimp cake before. I suppose I shouldn't feel too guilty about it though since even Bubba from the film "Forest Gump" left out shrimp cakes in his famous shrimp-this, shrimp-that spiel. Anyway, with that said, I decided to try out this recipe. The end result was a warm, fresh-tasting, lightly seasoned, crispy on the outside cake with a spicy, kick-in-the-mouth of a dip on the side. Saute up a little bit of baby bok choy with some freshly grated ginger and you'll have a perfect little meal. The cakes make great left-overs and can be either eaten alone or on a sandwich - but make sure you consume them within a day or two.

Shrimp Cakes
Adapted from a recipe by Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar (Maui) featured in Bon Appétit, September 2005


  • 2 bags, frozen uncooked, peeled, deveined large shrimp (~2lbs), thawed, rinsed, and patted dry
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons stone ground mustard
  • 3-4 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 3 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 t hot sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, minced


  • Coarsely chop shrimp in processor.
  • Add eggs, shallot, lemon juice, mustard, cilantro, hot pepper sauce. Blend in using on/off turns.
  • Add 2 cups panko and blend in using on/off turns.
  • Form mixture into 3-to-4-inch-diameter cakes. Roll cakes in remaining 1 cup panko; transfer to waxed-paper-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate 20 minutes. (Can be made up to 4 hours ahead).
  • Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry cakes until cooked through and golden brown on both sides, adding more oil to skillet as needed, about 6 minutes.
  • Spoon Spicy Sour Cream on to each cake or serve alongside for dipping.

Spicy Sour Cream
MM Original

  • 8 oz container Light Sour Cream
  • 4 Tb Chili Garlic Sauce (found in the Asian Foods Section)
  • Zest from 1 Lime
  • 1 t freshly grated ginger

  • Combine all four ingredients together in bowl. Stir to combine.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Food: Simply Delicious Deli's Banana Muffins

Why is it when you purchase bananas they decide to get overly ripe entirely too soon? I've found that even when I try to be dedicated to my purchase and consume them before they turn mushy, I still end up with a couple of seemingly undesirable bananas at the end of the week.

So what do you do when you have a couple of browned fruits glaring at you from across the kitchen? You make THE BEST BANANA MUFFINS ON EARTH (I'm not kidding). This moist and flavorful recipe originated at a little deli in Warren, OH that sadly is no longer in business. However, after it closed, a cookbook with customers' favorites was published...The Best of Simply Delicious Cookbook. I was lucky enough to receive a copy as a gift.

As a side note, I'll be sure to share other recipes from Walt and Andrea Lazar's cookbook in the future. It contains so many wonderful dishes. For example, one family favorite is a salad called "Spicy Peanut Noodle," consisting of noodles, sweet-and-spicy sesame-hot pepper sauce, whole peanuts and green onions. Another is the most incredible chicken salad using poached chicken, fresh lemons, homemade mayo and sliced almonds (my mouth is just watering thinking about spreading it over a fresh croissant).

Banana Muffins
From: The Best of Simply Delicious Cookbook (c 1992)

  • 4 oz unsalted, room temperature butter
  • 1 c granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 large, ripe bananas, mashed (MM Note: I've sometimes used three and it's turned out just fine)
  • 2 c unbleached flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 4 T sour cream (MM Note: You can use low-fat sour cream, but using fat free will result in sub-par muffins)
  • Zest from 1 orange (MM Note: When zesting, use only the colored portion of the rind, the white portion is bitter)
  • Juice from 1 orange
  • Cream together butter and sugar.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition.
  • Add bananas and mix well.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and soda.
  • Add dry ingredients to banana mixture. Stir until just mixed.
  • Gently fold in sour cream, orange zest and orange juice. (MM Note: Be careful not to completely blend in the sour cream - otherwise you'll miss out on the nice, thick flecks of baked, sour cream goodness when you bite into the muffin).
  • Spoon into greased (or lined) muffin tins.
  • Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until done in center.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Food: Carrot Cake

Several weekends ago when my family came to visit, my mother arrived bearing a freshly baked carrot cake. It's a recipe she's used for years and years and there's something about it that causes instant delight, which makes it a rather grand thing to share amongst friends. For example, this past October, mom brought one of her carrot cakes to my 30th birthday celebration. It was so popular, I ended up sending out the recipe to every female in attendance. One friend quickly wrote back and said she planned to make a cake the very next day. Talk about enthusiasm about a few cups of shredded-up carrots! The cake is nicely dense, perfectly spiced and has great textures - attributed to shredded carrots, plump and juicy raisins, crunchy walnuts and smooth, tangy frosting.

The recipe is from a cookbook by Marian Morash published in the early '80s. For a time, Marian was the series chef on The Victory Garden (PBS), a show I remember watching with my dad when I was a kid. I can't say at that age I was super interested in gardening (or cooking for that matter). And I highly doubt I absorbed much the hosts were saying or trying to teach the viewer. But I'm sure it must have had some sort of influence in my life - if it's only for the carrot cake legacy it's left to my family.

Carrot Cake

Recipe from The Victory Garden Cookbook (c 1982)


  • 2 C. flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp/ baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. mace (can use nutmeg)
  • 1 1/2 C. sugar
  • 1 1/4 C. oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 C. finely shredded carrots
  • 1 Tb. finely grated lemon peel
  • 3/4 C. chopped walnuts
  • Sift together the flour, soda, baking powder, salt and spices; set aside.
  • Beat together the sugar and oil.
  • Gradually beat in the eggs and then the flour mixture.
  • Stir in the carrots,lemon peel, and nuts.
  • Oil a 10 " tube pan. Pour in the batter, tap on the counter to release any air bubbles, and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 50 - 60 min. or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Cool on a rack for 15 min. Invert and remove from the pan. Cool completely prior to icing.

Cream Cheese Frosting


  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 6 Tb. butter, room temp.
  • 1 tsp.vanilla
  • 2 - 2 1/2 C. confectioner's sugar
  • Combine the ingredients and beat until smooth and creamy.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Garden: The Peony Garden at Nichols Arboretum

Before going out to dinner last Saturday, Jonathan took me to see my favorite late May/early June wonder - the Peony Garden at Nichols Arboretum (University of Michigan). I only discovered the garden a year ago after living in the metro-Detroit area for 7 years (Why did it take me so long?!?).

Since we visited the arboretum last year, we were better educated about where to park. But we still weren't smart enough to discover the wide-open lot next to the Ronald McDonald House (closest to the garden) was permit parking only on week days (i.e. free on weekends) and instead, fed the meter by parallel parking across the street. Oh well, I suppose we now we know for next year...

We strolled into the garden behind an elderly couple holding hands and I couldn't help but think how lovely it was to see the two of them taking an evening strolls through garden, still in love after all of those years. There were a lot of other couples and families in the arboretum and, as we were entering, Jonathan told me a man gave him a sympathetic look when he we passed by (I suppose not everyone can appreciate massive amounts of peonies in all their glory!). It was really a peaceful and pretty setting. There were people picnicking on the hill and others running through the arboretum on an evening jog. But most visitors were like the two of us, wandering around, inhaling the fragrant blooms, trying to capture the fleeting beauty. I think if I could live all summer long in a garden filled with blooming peonies I would...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Food: Artichoke Torta

I wanted to post some photos of a lovely artichoke torta I made a couple of weekends ago. It combined store bought puff pastry (hence the pieced-together base), frozen (yes, frozen!) artichoke hearts, ricotta and nutmeg, and made the whole house smell heavenly. I think everyone at some point should cook artichokes in a pan with some olive oil - you would not believe how incredible they smell! I served the torta along side a summery salad consisting of tomatoes, spring mix, and kalamata olives with lemon and olive oil dressing. It was a perfect, light meal.

The recipe is from
The Wednesday Chef (a.k.a. Luisa Weiss) and can be found here: Pietro Gangemi's Torta di Carciofi. Although recommended to serve cooled but not cold, the torta was actually quite delicious straight out of the fridge the next day. I even started picturing myself making one to take to the beach at the end of the month, but then decided it would be silly to try to transport it such a long, long way. It would also make an impressive presentation for a Sunday brunch and you could take guilty pleasure in hearing the many compliments, knowing the pastry was actually super, super simple to construct.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Food: Rhubarb Strusel Bars

If you haven't figured it out already, I greatly adore rhubarb (hence my second posting featuring the ruby-red veggie in the past two weeks). So when I was flipping through magazines last week looking for inspiration, I got so excited when I saw this recipe, I immediately ripped the page out of my Better Homes and Gardens magazine almost tearing it in half (oops!). I don't know how I could have missed it (yes, this recipe was from the May 2008! issue, page 198). The fact I still have year-old magazines sitting around my house is kind of embarassing, but it was a fun to discover something new...and clean my house at the same time ;)

Since I'm not big on super-sweet desserts (sweet-tart is more my style), I decided to leave off the ginger icing and crystallized ginger on the top. This ended up being a good call since the cookie bar-base is very sugary. If I make this recipe again I would probably double the amount of rhubarb and hope it didn't make the crust too soggy since I thought this turned out to be more strusel than rhubarb-flavored. But it was still good nonetheless.

Recipe from Better Homes & Gardens

  • 1-1/2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen unsweetened sliced rhubarb
  • 1 recipe Ginger Icing (see recipe)
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped crystallized ginger (optional)


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 8x8x2-inch baking pan with heavy foil extended beyond pan edges.
  • In large bowl stir together oats, the 1 cup flour, and brown sugar. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside 1 cup oats mixture. Press remaining on bottom of prepared pan. Bake 25 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in medium bowl stir together granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, and ground ginger. Add rhubarb; toss to coat. Spread on hot crust. Sprinkle reserved oats mixture; press lightly.
  • Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until top is golden and filling is bubbly. Cool on rack. Drizzle icing, sprinkle crystallized ginger. Lift from pan; cut into bars. Store, covered, in refrigerator up to 2 days. Makes 16 bars.
  • Ginger Icing: In small bowl sitr together 3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, and 3 to 4 teaspoons apricot nectar, orange juice, or milk.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Gardening: Bloom Update

I thought I'd share some flower garden eye candy with all of you oriental poppies, pink lupine, white festiva maxima peonies and purple clematis.

Over the years peonies have become my favorite flower, in particular the festiva maxima variety I have growing in several locations on my property. There's just something about their huge, petal-heavy blossoms and lovely scent that puts a big smile across my face and completely relaxes me. I suppose I've always had a special place in my heart for these flowers. Growing up, we had an old chicken coop at the front of our property (used for storage, not chickens). Sarah Bernhardt peonies bloomed every summer along the side of the cement block building and I would always admire them. I remember not being allowed to pick them when I was younger since they attracted ants (I would end up bringing the pesky creatures into the house with me). But who could have blamed the little guys - peonies look and smell so delicious!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Food: Mahi Mahi with Fava Beans and Warm Apricots

This weekend I decided to find out what the fava bean hype is all about since nearly every food magazine I have read recently has featured them in a recipe. I happened to see favas in a big barrel at my local Meijer a couple of weeks ago and when they were still in stock last Friday, I bought a couple of pounds to try them out. Although many recipes kept saying all of the work was worth it (shell the beans, then dunk the beans into boiling water for 30-60 seconds, cool the beans, peel the beans), I've decided the flavor and texture isn't really anything special (I'm sure some of you are screaming at me right now). And quite honestly the fava didn't provide an overwhelming taste/texture experience. I will admit they have a cool name and interesting pods (the pods look and feel like sponge when you pop them open), but other than that they're pretty boring. I think next time I could quite easily substitute shelled edamame (Die-hard fava fans can agree to disagree with me).

fava beans, hype
fava beans, hype
fava bean, hype
fava beans, hype, mahi mahi, apricots
Adapted from a recipe by Molly Stevens
This is a great technique for fish - it produces a light but crispy crust that seals in all the moisture.
  • 1 Tb finely chopped Parsley (can substitute basil, lemon balm, or mint)
  • Finely grated zest from 1 Lemon (can substitute orange zest if you want a sweeter finish)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1/2 t Red Pepper Flakes (if desired)
  • 3-4 Tb Flour
  • 1 Tb Olive Oil
  • 2 fillets of Mahi-Mahi


  • Combine parsley, zest, salt and pepper. Rub both sides of the fish with the parsley-zest mixture (can be done in advance to allow the flavors to soak in). Just prior to cooking, dredge the fish in flour.
  • In a skillet, add ~1 Tb of olive oil (just enough to cover bottom of pan) and heat to medium-high.
  • Cook fish for 4-5 minutes per side until nicely browned and cooked through.


Fava Beans: After beans have been properly prepared (shelled, dunked in hot water, peeled), sautee in a skillet with a touch of olive oil until tender and then sprinkle with a little salt and fresh ground pepper.

Apricots: Wash and halve 4-5 apricots, removing pits. Place cut side down on hot grill pan until sear marks appear and apricots are heated through (3-4 minutes).

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Food: Bacon and Swiss Chard Pasta

Last spring, Bon Appetit published a recipe for bacon and swiss chard pasta. When I first saw it, I was immediately reminded of a pizza my mother used to make in the summer. When my parents' beautiful garden was full of big onions and leafy chard we were all in for a special treat. It was at this time my mom would mix up a batch of homemade pizza dough. After it had risen, she would roll it out, place on a cornmeal dusted pizza pan and then coat with a combination of wilted chard, translucent onions, crunchy bacon and a nice dusting of grated parmesan. This pasta combines all of the flavors that I loved in that pizza. And the nice thing about this recipe is you don't have to wait the 30-45 minutes for dough to rise - you get rather quick gratification. This is a perfect, easy going summer meal. I could even see it being modified to add some fresh, meaty tomatoes when available to provide a little added tang to the dish.

Recipe by Bon Appetit Test Kitchen - May 2008

  • 1 pound linguine
  • 12 oz bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 very large red onion, halved, sliced (about 6 cups)
  • 2 large bunches Swiss chard, stemmed, chopped (about 12 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

  • Cook linguine in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
  • Meanwhile, cook bacon in heavy large pot over medium heat until beginning to crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
  • Drain all but 2 tablespoons bacon drippings from skillet. Add onion and sauté over medium-high heat until softened, about 7 minutes. Add Swiss chard and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add pasta cooking liquid to skillet. Toss until chard is wilted and tender, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle vinegar over; cook 1 minute.
  • Add linguine and oil to sauce in pot and toss to coat. Transfer to large bowl. Sprinkle with bacon and cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
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