Monday, March 31, 2008

On Top of Spaghetti

That I love my kids' school is a great comfort. That I can sign them out for lunch mid-week is a great joy. That my oldest recently chose, instead of a restaurant, to come home and eat spaghetti with me is probably the biggest reason I'm writing this blog. My kids like my food, and I like the idea of having it all on record for them.

I love having a big lunch followed by a smaller dinner. Spaghetti and Meatballs is an easy lunch to prepare since I make three pounds of meatballs a few times a year and reserve them in the freezer. They cook up very nicely straight out of the freezer - I just add my house tomato sauce and some shaved Grana Padano (a super nutty Parmesan-type cheese). Here's how...

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Print recipe only here

1 # lean ground beef (96/4)
1 # lean ground pork
1 # lean ground veal
Fresh parsley

I pick up the beef at Trader Joe's and the pork and veal at Whole Foods.

Making Meatballs
In a large bowl, lightly beat:
2 eggs

Add and incorporate:
2-3 T milk (nonfat is fine)
1/4 cup breadcrumbs

In 1-2 T olive oil, sauté over medium heat:
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

Sauté for a few minutes, until onions soften. Set aside to cool.

Add to the mixing bowl:
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
2-3 t finely chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
1-2 t kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper

Add the meat and onions to the mixing bowl and combine everything well. It's easiest to roll up your sleeves and get into it with your hands.

Form the meatballs to desired size and transfer to a baking sheet (reserving some to cook fresh that day). When your baking sheet is full wrap it well in plastic wrap and transfer to the freezer. In 24 hours, transfer the meatballs from pan to a Ziploc freezer bag.

To cook frozen meatballs:
Preheat a nonstick pan on medium heat. Briefly sauté a clove or two of garlic and a pinch of chili flakes. Add frozen meatballs and brown all over. Add 1-2 cups tomato sauce (see below) or tomato puree and simmer uncovered - or loosely covered - until cooked through, 20-25 minutes.

To cook fresh meatballs:
Same instructions. Simmering time will be more like 5-10 minutes.

Essential Tomato Sauce
Print recipe only here

Food mill or Cusinart
28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes. I only buy Muir Glen.*
Olive oil
Fresh garlic
Chili flakes

Puree tomatoes in a food mill. If you don't have a food mill, you can spin them in a food processor.

In a medium saucepan, heat 2-4 T olive oil over medium heat. Add:
2 cloves garlic, smashed a bit
pinch chili flakes

Let the garlic brown gently on both sides.

Add the pureed tomatoes to the saucepan.

Simmer gently for about 15 minutes. The sauce will change in color from red to an orange.

Add kosher salt, to taste and serve. You can also add another tablespoon of good olive oil right here at the end. It finishes the sauce quite nicely.

*Whole peeled tomatoes that you puree yourself is not the same thing as canned pureed tomatoes. Don't buy the latter - this sauce depends absolutely on whole tomatoes. (I think the product difference is that the canned puree is cooked and more concentrated.)

Read Full Post

Thursday, March 27, 2008

How a Recycled Treo Helps Me Put Dinner on the Table

The more I listen to other people's life stories the more convinced I am that we all fight the same battles. Dinner is a battle. Not only does it demand a commitment from its maker at a wholly inopportune time of day (does anyone have the requisite energy, creative or otherwise, in the early evening to produce a balanced meal??). Moreover its preparation depends on advance execution of a menu plan and its resultant shopping list, and grocery shopping.

Cooking for my family is more than a priority for me, it’s a passion. And, yeah, cooking healthier foods a HUGE time drain. But over time I've streamlined my shopping habits, found some great resources and developed some fantastic recipes.

Following are four things that help me put dinner on the table regularly. How about you? How do you do it?

1. SPLASH SHOPPER. I really cannot say enough about this fantastic software. Download a trial copy and see for yourself. It will help you keep your pantry stocked so you can easily whip up a healthy meal at any time. Caveat: it's a Palm thing. I'm an iPhone user and still lug around a frumpy Treo because I cannot imagine life without SplashShopper.

2. DESK CALENDAR. I use a blotter-style desk calendar to map out what I'm going to cook for the week. Using it in the kitchen I get a good sense of balance for the week (how much red meat, fish or pasta am I planning) and for the month.

3. SET A MENU. Set aside 5-10 minutes each weekend to make a weekly meal plan. I do this by consulting a list I’ve made of all the dinners we like. I pick out what I feel like cooking and eating that week (taking care to make the week balanced) and then schedule meals according to what the family schedule looks like (I plan a quicker meal on evenings when I don’t have as much prep time).

4. SHOP. After you’ve decided what you’ll be cooking, make your shopping list (see #1) and don't leave home without it. Be sure to plan your veggies, too. After years of having multiple trips to the store I’m now generally able to hit the store once and be stocked to cook for the week. Nothing kills a cooking opportunity like an empty cupboard.

Read Full Post

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What Iron Chef Taught Me about Home Cooking

I'm reading several books right now, all of them orbiting around the central question of WHAT'S FOR DINNER? At the top of my pile is Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle along with Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food.

I'm also devouring other food blogs and found a noteworthy observation from Michael Pollan on the New York Times Well Blog (find the whole interview here):

...A lot of us are intimidated by cooking today. We watch cooking shows on TV but we cook very little…You’re going to have to put a little more time and effort into preparing your food. I’m trying to get across how pleasurable that can be. It needn’t be a chore. It can be incredibly rewarding to move food closer to the center of your life.

I don't watch food TV, in part because I've cooked professionally (I bet much of the success of cooking shows is based on the intrigue about the inner workings of a professional kitchen; there's less intrigue for professionals) and in other part because when TV moves closer to the center of my life I don't get anything done. More than hoovering productivity there's a danger in getting too wrapped up in food TV, celebrity chefs, and the restaurant scene in that it turns eating well into a complicated pursuit. Certainly it's fantastic that we have talented chefs who do amazing things with food, but the reality of cooking at home should be within reach of the home cook. Moreover, the gourmand's diet championed by such diversions is usually an unhealthy diet.

Of course there's the entertainment factor, and I can't argue with that.

What has Food TV done for you lately?

Read Full Post

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Get Me a Sangwich - Part II

Yesterday Pinch took delivery of three glorious loaves of bread from Zingerman's in Michigan. Thank you, Tami! In between mouthfuls, I remembered a few things:

1. I need to add the two remaining sandwiches to the Get Me a Sangwich or Somethin' post;
2. Chicago needs better bread bakers;
3. I need to add March to the list of months I could do without (right now only January and February are on the list). March is glorious when you live in the mountains (warmer days, spring skiing) and tedious when you live in Chicago where it snows but not quite enough to play in.


Here are the remaining sangwiches we love at Pinch, Chicken with Pomeray-Rum sauce and Frisee and Italian Beef with Pepperoncini and Giardinera.

Smoked Chicken Sandwich with Pomeray-Rum sauce and Frisee
Print recipe only here

I picked this up from a chef at Café Nola. It’s a tasty and original sandwich even if you don’t bother with the smoking part.

* Hickory wood chips
* Skinless, boneless chicken breasts
* Good crusty baguette or ciabatta
* Apple cider vinegar
* Meyers Rum
* Brown sugar
* Pomeray mustard – or a comparable course, high-quality mustard

Soak wood chips for 15 minutes.

Preheat grill.

Drain the wood chips and wrap in heavy-duty aluminum foil. Seal the package by folding over the edges and pierce the top side of the foil pack. Place the pack between coals and grill rack.

Rub chicken with a thin film of olive oil and a bit of kosher salt and pepper.

Wait 10-15 minutes until smoky, then grill chicken. If you have room on your grill you can grill the chicken over the front coals, with the foil pack at the backside of the grill. If not, no worries. The chicken will be fine cooking atop the wood chips.

In a saucepan, combine:

* ½ cup Apple cider vinegar
* ¼ cup Meyer’s rum
* 2 T Brown sugar
* ¼ cup Pomeray mustard

Simmer a few minutes.

Remove chicken from grill and allow to rest for 10 minutes or so before slicing.

Toss sliced chicken in sauce.

Serve on baguette with frisee, arugula or any spicy greens.

Italian Beef Sandwich with Giardinera
Print recipe only here

* Slow cooker or Dutch oven (I use a 3 qt. Le Creuset Dutch oven)
* 3 # beef roast. I use a lean tri tip roast from Trader Joe's.
* 1 jar (12-16oz) giardinra peppers, mild or hot
* 1 jar (12-16 oz) pepperoncini
* 10 oz beef broth (I use a good beef base plus water)
* Good crusty bread - baguette or ciabatta

Preheat oven to 175-200°

Drain the giardinera and pepperoncini and add to Dutch oven or slow cooker.

Add the beef broth (or beef base plus water) and the the roast and stir to coat the beef.

Slow Cooker: Cover and cook on the low setting for 18 hours

Dutch oven: Cover and place in oven for 6-8 hours

Use two forks to shred the beef, or remove from cooker/Dutch oven and slice.

Serve with crusty bread and the jus, pepperoncini and giardinera.

You can also toast the bread first, melt some provolone on top and top with sliced/shredded beef.

Read Full Post

Monday, March 24, 2008

Fish and Chips

Lifting one’s clear voice to the air is common in our house. We could probably record an entire album of silly songs. One such favorite is the oldie Fish and Chips and Vinegar. Join me in a rousing chorus!

Fish and chips and vinegar. Vinegar. Vinegar.
Fish and chips and vinegar. Pepper, pepper, pepper, salt!

Don't throw your trash in my backyard, my backyard, my backyard.
Don't throw your trash in my backyard, my backyard's full!

I cannot do the pepper, pepper part without a little head banging.

We’re having fish and chips this week. Fish and chips and vinegar. Fish and chips and vinegar and a big salad. And maybe that blackberry cobbler for dessert.

Heinz Malt Vinegar is the only way to go this side of the pond. The stuff in the right jolly jar that calls itself London Pub Olde English Malt Vinegar is just some junk from Piscataway and is not goode.

Here’s how we do Fish and Chips at Pinch:

Start the chips first because prep and cooking times are longer.

Preheat 1 or 2 baking sheets in the oven, set at 400°. If your sheet pans are not heavy duty (and warp in the oven) I wouldn’t preheat them. Just preheat the oven.

Plan on about one-two russet per person, depending on size (of person and potato).

Thoroughly scrub potatoes under running water. I don’t peel them, but I do trim the ends off and trim the long side to make a flat surface. It’s just easier to cut the chips that way.

If you have a mandolin use it. I set it to about 4-5 mm thick and push my spuds through. Or cut by hand. First cut the entire potato into 4-5 mm slices, then cut the slices length-wise into chips, or french fry shapes.

As you work, place slices in a bowl of cold water, or in a colander in the sink. Periodically spray down the potatoes as you add new ones.

When they’re all trimmed, rinse them a few times until the water runs clear. Then drain and dry on a clean kitchen towel.

Add potatoes to a large mixing bowl and toss with 2 T canola oil.

Remove one hot sheet pan from the oven, spray with canola spray and spread an even layer of potatoes on top. Toss in the oven and repeat as necessary with the second sheet pan, if using.

Roast for about 20 minutes, then flip (use a thin metal spatula if you’ve got it and be gentle). You may want to rotate the pans for even heating.

Total cooking time will be about 30 minutes. You want the chips to get a little browned and blistered. When they seem good to you, remove the pans and transfer the fries to a plate or bowl lined with a paper towel. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt and serve.

Get a basic white fish that you like. I usually choose cod, plaice or tilapia. Halibut is a fine option, assuming you don’t have issues with halibut.

Anyhoo, rinse your fishie in cold water and pat dry.

Make a seasoned flour: 2 T flour, 1 T cornmeal, salt, pepper, paprika (or shake a good blended seasoning in). Dredge the fish in the flour - both sides - and reserve.

Preheat a large cast iron pan on medium-high heat for a few minutes.

Add 1-2 T canola oil and heat for a few minutes.

Gently transfer fish to the pan. Don’t overcrowd the pan – work in batches if necessary. Add more oil if you must.

Cooking time will depend on the variety and thickness of the fillets you choose, but plan on about 4 minutes on one side and 2-3 on the other. Unless it’s tilapia. For a skinny fish tilapia takes forever to cook.

When cooked through transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Let the towels pick up as much of the surface oil as it can in a minute or two, then serve.

Read Full Post

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Quinoa (pron. keen-wah) reveals my inner six year old. For years I couldn't pronounce it, hadn't tried it and assumed I would hate it. I figured it was one of the stinky items on the hot bar at Whole Foods that had no place on my plate. Then I tried it. Its nutritional stats are commendable: no gluten, high protein - it's considered a nutritionally complete food. And it's tasty.

I've experienced irrational fear of other consumables including: poi (which I habitually confuse with the carp in Japanese gardens), scrapple (needs no explanation, I'm sure), shepherd's pie (I saw a production of Sweeney Todd. The line,"...shepherd's pie with actual shepherd" scared the scrapple out of me), chai ("Tea!" you're shouting. "It's just tea!" I say if it is tea, call it that and I'll have some. Chai sounds like something scraped off the surface of a pond.), and corn dogs because a) doesn't a hot dog cause enough trouble on its own? and b) what even is a corn dog?

Maybe someday I'll get over these aversions and extol the virtues of the corn dog. Until then, try quinoa. I think you'll like it.

Print recipe only here

Serves four as a side dish

In a covered saucepan, bring to a boil:
* 2 cups water
* 1 cup quinoa, rinsed

Cover, reduce heat to lowest setting and cook for about 20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.

Sauté in 1-2 T olive oil, about ¼ cup each of:
* Leeks, finely sliced and chopped a bit
* Celery, finely chopped
* Red pepper, finely chopped
* One shallot, minced

When softened, add to quinoa with salt and pepper to taste. Also add:
* ¼ cup sliced almonds, smashed a bit with your hands as you add them

Stir all together, taste for seasoning and serve.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

In a Pinch

Recently I heard a woman describe asking her husband to pick up some milk on the way home from work. There was no milk in the house and she needed some so that the family could have cereal for dinner. She omitted that last bit of information.

The thing about cooking is that it's a time hog. There are always going to be days when a dinner plan fails to come together or I just don’t have an hour to spend cooking. My priorities don't shift on these nights. I'm still shooting for lean protein and vegetables (usually in the form of mixed greens) and trying not cheat by relying empty fillers like pasta and rice.

The thing about cereal for dinner (and regularly ordering pizza, or relying too heavily on commercial fast foods or the microwave) is that we misrepresent our food values when we put it on the menu. And for the most part, we have good food values. We're just inconsistent about reflecting our values on our plates.

The good news is the real problem - not having items in the fridge or pantry that can be turned into a healthy, quick meal - is solvable by making some thoughtful additions to our shopping lists.

Spend some time thinking about meals already in your repertoire that are quick and healthy. Work necessary items onto your shopping list. And pass your healthy/quick meal ideas along! I'd love some new ideas myself.

Here are a few examples of quick meals we eat:

1. Tuna, 1 of 3 ways. I won't eat chunk light. I just won't. I don't care if it has less mercury than albacore. A deep-dish pizza has less mercury and I'm not eating that either.
Tuna Soft Taco - Prepared tuna scooped into warmed corn tortillas and topped with hot sauce. Add some avocado slices, if you've got 'em.
Tuna on a bed of greens - Mixed greens, drained water-packed tuna, straight out of the can and some salad dressing.
Tuna salad - Finely chopped onion, celery and mayo (personal fave) or with green olives, celery, lemon and mayo (à la Grandpa Gil).

2. Ham and Gruyère Panini. I have a deep affection for low-gluten sprouted bread, either Alvarado Street or the comparable version on the shelf at TJ. This is really just a grilled ham and gruyère sandwich. Gruyère is so flavorful that a little goes a long way - I only use a few, thin slices. I cook this on a non-stick pan, sprayed with canola spray. And I use that Petite Ham I love so much from Trader Joe's. Oh, and slather a good country dijon on the bread, too.

3. Avocado Toast. Avocado toast is fine on sourdough, but so much heartier on sprouted bread. Simply toast, slather on a fine film of mayo, top with thinly sliced avocado. Cut into nine squares (this is the hardest part because the avocado sticks to the knife and your beautiful slices get all moved around), and transfer for a plate. Sprinkle on a bit of salt and then squeeze the better part of a lemon all over.

4. Thai Kitchen Hot and Sour Noodle soup with Shrimp. I've taken to having frozen uncooked shrimp on hand to add a tasty protein to this quick soup.

5. Mama Lil's and Turkey. Having some turkey breast on hand makes my life so much simpler - weird that I don't have it on hand more often. Mama Lil’s peppers add some heat and great flavor.

6. Cheese Toast. This is really on the kids' menu. They've been raised on sprouted bread, so it's not a problem for them. Topped with a thin layer of cheddar, cheese toast is easy and fairly nourishing, especially with veggies on the side. Just toast the bread, then turn the dial on your toaster oven to BAKE (you have a toaster oven, right??) and melt the cheese. Sprinkle with a little Spike, cut into skinny slices or squares, and serve. With a pickle.

Shopping list for Meals in a Pinch:

Tuna, albacore in spring water
Sprouted sandwich bread, Alvarado Street
Fresh corn tortillas
Thai Kitchen Hot and Sour Noodle Soup
Sliced turkey
Petite ham (or thicker sliced ham from the deli)
Frozen uncooked shrimp (get the deveined, tail on ones at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's)
Mixed Greens
Condiments: mayo, mustard

Read Full Post

Monday, March 17, 2008

Irish Soda Bread

There are two kinds of Irish Soda Bread: the scone-like one with raisins and caraway seeds and the heartier one that is impossible to make with American wheat flours.

I really enjoy the scone-like soda bread. This year, however, I've procured some traditional wholemeal flour from the Food Ireland website and am thrilled with the results. It's the soda bread I ate in Ireland. It's the soda bread I was thought I was making last year when following a recipe from the gorgeous Saveur Ireland issue. It's the soda bread I'll be shaking my fist at in a couple of weeks when I realize I gained five pounds eating soda bread.

Wholemeal Irish Soda Bread
Print recipe only here

Preheat oven to 400°

In a medium mixing bowl, combine:

* 10 oz. coarse wholemeal flour
* 6 oz. all-purpose flour
* 1 t baking soda
* 1 t salt

Work in with your hands (rubbing in with fingers):

* 1 oz. unsalted butter (Kerrygold or a similar high-butterfat European butter is nice)

Stir in gently but thoroughly:

* Between 1 and 1 ½ cups buttermilk

When the dough just comes together, turn it out onto a baking sheet dusted with semolina (or a cast iron pan, or onto a dusted pizza peel). Pat it down a bit so that it's about 8 inches in diameter.

Use a sharp knife to cut a cross into the top. Dust the top with a small handful of wholemeal flour and place in the oven.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the bread is nicely browned and sounds hollow when you thump the bottom.

Erin go bragh.

Read Full Post

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lunch at De Cero: an update to Places in Chicago

Yesterday was a fantastic day in Chicago - low 60s and sunny. It's nice to see other urban cave dwellers emerge squinty eyed from their dens. Of course Cold Miser is not quite through with us here in the Land of Lincoln. It's dropping to the 30s over the weekend.

Delightful weather is cause for celebration in my book, so Josh and I went to a favorite lunch spot in the west loop, de cero. Since we always eat outside at de cero, I had all-but forgotten its very existence during the longest winter ever. (Ye from Lands other than Lincoln didn't believe me about urban hibernation, did you?!?)

Anyway, tagged as a modern taqueria, ordering at de cero is great fun because ordering a lot is encouraged - necessary, even, given the itty-bitty sizes - and I like ordering lots of different things. My general M.O. there is to get three soft tacos. My absolute favorite is the strip steak and I always have that. A pork and a fish taco round out the plate. Yesterday it was the tomatillo pork and the salmon with cilantro pesto. Possibly the best thing was that I also bought a bottle of their signature hot sauce for home. Mmm. It's so yummy - hot, smoky, sour and a brilliant red, to boot. I dribbled some on my breakfast potatoes this morning and look forward to slathering it on my huevos this weekend. The Egg Soft Taco is a favorite morning breakfast at Casa Fairbank. What movie is "Vaya con huevos" from? Was it Nobody's Fool?

The skinny:
de cero
814 W. Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60607

(312) 455-8114

Love the small soft tacos! My favorite: skirt steak with potatoes, onion, cilantro, lime, and chipotle mayo.

photo courtesy of de cero

Read Full Post

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Daddy Pancakes

Ava, the daughter of good friends, is a smart cookie. By age four she started making requests for Daddy Pancakes. Mommy, it turns out, is a Bisquick user. Daddy makes pancakes the old-fashioned way. He sends Mommy back to bed, makes pancakes from scratch AND a huge mess for Mommy to clean up when she gets up.

I love Ava's classification. I even have my own recipe for Daddy Pancakes. The pancakes I wrote about previously are quick morning pancakes. They're light and fluffy and somewhat nondescript. My kids LOVE them. They actually think these are too thick. I think they rock. I made them every once in awhile on Sunday mornings at Cafe Nola.

Daddy Pancakes
Print recipe only here

Serves Four

* 3 T unsalted butter

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together:
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 T sugar
* 1 t baking soda
* ½ t baking powder
* ½ t salt

Whisk together:
* 2 eggs
* 2 1/3 cup buttermilk
* melted butter from above

Swiftly combine the liquid and dry ingredients (just dump the liquids into the dry). Be thorough, but don't overmix or you will end up with tough, yucky pancakes. Most lumps will resolve themselves.

Cook on a preheated griddle and enjoy.

Read Full Post

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Among the Wildflowers Trout

I really like that Tom Petty song.

"You belong among the wildflowers. You belong in a boat out at sea. You belong with your love on your arm. You belong somewhere you feel free."

In 2005 we moved from this...

to this...

I didn't want to leave the mountains. But, with my love on my arm, I immediately fell in love with my new environs (the wildflowers helped, to be sure!). The biggest perk has got to be the diversity of city life, and the eating that goes along with it.

That said, a bunch of meals we started eating during our years in the mountains will be on the table for years. This is one. My kids are pretty picky. But they're pretty good about fish. And they both like trout. In fact, when we go camping we always eat trout on the first night. It's even better around the campfire.

The key (to the kids liking it) has to be the spices. They really do not like plain fish. On the occasions that I prepare it plain they scamper into the kitchen for a lemon - one lemon per kid - and drown each insufferable bite in lemon juice. Sometimes there's gagging. It's a different story when a dry rub (blended spices) is involved.

There are several dependable sources for quality blended seasonings: The Spice House in Chicago and Penzey's Spices both have fantastic catalogs, though nothing beats in-person tasting and smelling. Chef Paul Prudhomme's seasonings are available in most grocery stores (but you can't rip those open to smell). For this recipe, I use Hometown, a blend made out in Port Townsend, Washington. I stock up on it every time we're in Seattle. It can be found in Town & Country markets.

Hometown Trout
Print recipe only here

Purchase one trout per person (the children split one), looking for nice bright eyes or firm flesh. At Whole Foods, where I buy trout, the fish dude will 'top and tail' them for me so I don't need to deal with fish heads at home. Ick.

Preheat grill.

Rinse trout thoroughly in the coldest water - you want to do this with all your fish. Remember, they came from the icy depths. Many chefs will rinse saltwater fish in icy saltwater.

Pat dry with paper towels (both sides) and place on a large baking sheet.

Dust liberally with a good blended seasoning.

Grill skin side up for 2 minutes (on hight heat) and then flip using the biggest, firmest spatula you've got. Mine is stainless steel.

Cook another 2 minutes (check so see that it flakes easily) and serve. Lemons optional.

*Thanks to Kate for naming rights (she named it Hometown Trout after eating it) and Cousin John for capturing Chicago's wildflowers and skyline.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Happy Artichoke Season

Elsewhere on Pinch I've referenced my aioli. I used to feel like such a cheater about it. Actually, I still am a cheater - not only do I rely on Hellman's/Best Foods for the foundation, I've turned over its preparation to my husband who makes it better than I. I'm surprise by how much I like this dipping sauce (I was very committed to lemon-butter and am not a fan of mayonnaise). It's light and lemony and goes great with hot and cold artichokes (we often steam enough to have one or two around the next day).

Early in our marriage we missed an entire artichoke season. As the family gatherer, I received a lot of flak for this oversight. While you can find anything year-round, the season is early spring -March to May. In our home, if you want to show someone you really love them, you share - or fully gift - your artichoke bottom (and if you really, really love them you remove the fuzzy choke first).

Steamed Artichokes
Print recipe only here

Trimming an artichoke:
1. Trim the bottom layer or two of leaves and cut off the stem and a bit of the base.
2. Using your sharpest blade, cut the about one-half inch off the top.
3. Using clean kitchen shears, trim the pokie thing off the top of each remaining leaf.

Cooking an artichoke:

1. In a pot with a steamer insert, bring a few inches of water to a boil.
2. Steam for 15-20 minutes until the inner leaves are tender (remove one artichoke carefully and test a leaf or two to make sure).

Eating an artichoke:
1. Allow to cool slightly and serve with a bowl for discarded leaves and aioli, made by combining:

  • 2 T mayonnaise
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 clove garlic, pressed
  • Salt, to taste
Happy artichoke season.

Read Full Post

Monday, March 10, 2008

How to Pinch

Thanks – so much – to all who visited, subscribed, emailed and left comments this past week. My favorite part of this effort is the conversation. It’s been such a pleasure to be a part of.

I’d like to take a moment to address the top three questions that came up via email this past week.

Comments: There have been several questions about how to leave a comment. The bottom of each post (in the main column) looks like this:


If you click on 2 COMMENTS a screen will open up for you to add a comment. You also have to enter a code which proves that you are a human being, and not a spam-bot. Sorry about that. Not my rule.

Please leave comments! Share what you know!

Subscribing: There are three ways to subscribe to Pinch: via email, in a news reader, or live bookmark. Each of these keep you up to date on what’s been written on Pinch.

If you choose good ole’ email, you’ll be emailed each time I publish something new (no email means no new content).

If you chose news reader you will be able to view a few recent Pinch posts from the comfort of your home page on Google, Yahoo, etc.

If you chose live bookmark, you’ll get a bookmark in your browser window that shows recent posts.

What the heck is a food mill? This was a popular question. A food mill is a hand-powered kitchen tool used to make purées. It removes seeds and unnecessary fibers via perforated discs and a hand crank. I use mine weekly, almost exclusively on tomatoes. I buy whole peeled tomatoes, or those fantastic fire-roasted ones, and purée them in the food mill before cooking. You can spend $20 or upwards of $100 on a fully stainless steel mill. I really couldn't do without one (and I've got the $20 version).

Read Full Post

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Cookie Monster, Yoda, and Afternoon Tea

Big snacker, I am.

I recently stopped eating cookies in the afternoon. This sounds easier than it was. The kids are out of school at about 3:30 and in need of a snack. I had been joining them in a cookie here, a cookie there and was both shocked and appalled to notice I had gained weight. I find this particular balance hard to achieve: life is simultaneously too short to not eat cookies AND too short to have unrest about my appearance (or taken further, to not be in good physical condition). Self-control takes strength, but exercising it makes me stronger. And I’m stronger now than I was a year ago.

Hot tea works like a Jedi mind trick on me. Instead of waiting for Cookie Monster to hop on my shoulder and bellow, “Cookies! Great big cookies, son of gun!” I have a cup of Irish Breakfast tea. A little milk, a little honey, a little caffeine, and that warm slosh of liquid in my belly gets me right through to dinner (assuming I’ve eaten sensibly in the hours preceding).

Afternoon tea is the best thing that came out of the empire. The British Empire, that is. The best thing that came out of the Galactic Empire was Vader’s helmet. Surely Palpatine needs to be fitted for one of those. That dude is not aging gracefully.

Here’s my five favorite supermarket teas:
1. Twinings Irish Breakfast.
2. Tazo Honeybush
3. Sportea. This is made by a Colorado company. It's somewhat unlikely you’ll find it everywhere (so I provided the link).
4. Tazo Zen
5. Tazo China Green

Read Full Post

Friday, March 7, 2008

Lean Proteins - Ten Delicious Sources

Eating a sensible, balanced diet means saying no to excessive fats, sugars and empty calories our bodies don't need.

These are the animal proteins I cook with regularly. I define lean as anything with less than 3 grams of saturated fat per 4-ounce serving. I always remove all visible fats (and poultry skin) before cooking. The sources I used were the nutrition labels from Trader Joe’s products and the website All are 4-ounce servings, unless specified otherwise.

Nutrition information is available on most packages. I recommend checking fat content before purchasing - it's such an easy way to be kinder to your arteries.

1. Ham. Aside from the Niman Ranch varieties which are fantastic I wholly recommend the uncured Applewood smoked petite ham from Trader Joe's. We have this frequently for breakfast and use for sandwiches. A 3-ounce serving has 16 grams protein, 1.5 grams of total fat and no saturated fat (and no nitrates or antibiotics).
2. Pork loin. A boneless loin roast has 24 grams protein, 6 grams total fat and 2 grams saturated fat.
3. Fish. The example here is trout. A 3-ounce serving of farmed trout (at Whole Foods) has 21 grams protein, 6 grams total fat and 2 grams saturated fat. Tilapia is another high protein, low fat fish. (There isn't a fish I reject based on fat.) We mostly eat salmon, trout, red snapper and tilapia.
4. Flank steak. I buy the Australian ones at Trader Joe's. 24 grams of protein, 2.5 grams total fat and 1 gram saturated fat.
5. Lean ground beef. Again, TJ. The 96/4 beef has 24 grams of protein, 4.5 grams total fat and 1.5 grams saturated fat.
6. Tri-tip roast. I use this to make Italian beef sandwiches and BBQ beef. The one at TJ has no nitrates or antibiotics and is free-range and veg fed. 24 grams of protein, 5 grams total fat and 2 grams saturated fat.
7. Leg of lamb. Leg is the leanest cut. 20 grams protein, 9 grams total fat and 2.5 grams saturated fat.
8. Chicken breast (boneless, skinless). The individually packed ones at Trader Joe's have 26 grams protein, 1.5 grams total fat and no saturated fat.
9. Turkey Breast. Removing the skin before roasting is the healthiest preparation. It won't dry out if you rub a thin film of olive oil (and I usually shake a blended seasoning on the surface as well). 30 grams of protein, 1 gram total fat and no saturated fat.
10. Buffalo, ground. I like the Maverick label. The lean ground buffalo (97/3) measures in with 25 grams of protein, 3 grams total fat and one gram saturated fat.

Read Full Post

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Molto Penne

I’m half Italian. That’s how I have always justified my love for bread and pasta. But let's consider the traditional Italian meal. Pasta was never the main event. It is the first in a succession of courses (fish or meat, fruit and cheese, side dishes, dessert, etc.) and preceded by antipasti* and an aperitif.

This made me reconsider sitting down to a heaping portion of pasta (even though the pasta course served the purpose of filling eaters up a bit before more costly meats came to the table). Since I’m not in the position to serve multi-course meals, I usually now incorporate a protein (usually chicken) into my pasta dishes. It’s still a carbohydrate-heavy meal, but at least you’re forfeiting some carb calories in favor of proteins.

Chicken Penne Pomodoro
Print recipe only here

Serves four

* Food mill (a Cuisinart can substitute in a pinch, but I’m really not an advocate)
* Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about ½ to 1 breast per person, depending on appetite)
* One can (28 oz) of whole peeled tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)
* 1 # penne pasta (I like Barilla)
* Fresh basil - 4-5 leaves
* Garlic - 2-3 cloves, sliced
* White wine

Morning Prep:
1. Marinate a few boneless, skinless chicken breasts in olive oil, garlic, lemon or whatever else you like in there.

Evening Prep:
1. Preheat grill.
2. Boil water for pasta, adding a generous amount of kosher salt to the water.
3. Run tomatoes through food mill, set on a medium size extractor. Mine comes with three discs. I use the middle one for all tomatoes
4. Trim basil. Here’s how: stack about 4-5 leaves on top of each other. Roll the whole thing up. Take your thinnest, sharpest blade and make thin cuts, crosswise. This is essentially a chiffonade, but not quite as thin.
5. Grill chicken breasts. When cooked through, transfer to a cutting board and let sit for about 10-15 minutes.

For the sauce:
In a saucepan, heat 2 T olive oil over medium heat. After a minute add:

  • Pinch chili flakes
  • Sliced garlic

Sauté the garlic until fragrant. Then add the pureed tomatoes.

Cook for about 5 minutes until the color darkens. Then add:
  • ½ cup dry white wine

Cook, uncovered for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta (12-16 oz).

When the pasta has about 5 minutes left of cooking time, slice the chicken and add to saucepan. Then add the basil to saucepan. Taste sauce for seasoning, adding kosher salt and pepper as needed.

Drain pasta and pour into a serving bowl. Pour sauce on top and stir to combine.

*I’m throwing this out to those of you who speak Italian. I’ve heard both antipasti and antipasto. Is this a plural/singular difference like cannoli/cannolo (“Only one CANNOLO!?!? or panini/panino? Can anyone provide an explanation?

Read Full Post

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Asian Noodle Soup

One of my all-time favorite children's books is All the Places to Love. Here's an excerpt:

"My grandfather’s barn is sweet smelling and dark and cool. Leather harnesses hang like paintings against old wood and hay dust floats like gold in the air: Grandfather once lived in the city, and once he lived by the sea; but the barn is the place he loves most."

Place is such a huge influence, especially for my cooking. If I had a recipe from every place I ever visited or inhabited I could start a food blog.



I did!

This ramen is based on what I've eaten in Tokyo and at Wagamama, a favorite lunch spot in London (now worldwide). Hot, flavorful broth, noodles, crisp sprouts. I'm going to make this today.

Asian Noodle Soup
Print recipe only here


* Udon, ramen or soba noodles
* Pork Chops
* Chicken broth (I only use Imagine Organic)
* Soy sauce
* Teriyaki sauce (I like Kim’s Gourmet Spicy Teriyaki)
* Rice vinegar
* Shitake mushrooms (dried are fine, too)
* Asparagus tips
* Onion
* Garlic
* Ginger
* Green onions
* Bean sprouts

Asian Noodle Soup with Teriyaki Pork

Serves two, very generously


* Boil water for noodles
* Preheat grill
* Baste two pork chops with teriyaki sauce

Put in a small soup pot and bring to a simmer, uncovered, for about 20-30 minutes:

* 48 oz (6 cups) chicken broth
* ½ medium sized onion, sliced thinly
* 6-8 Shitake mushroom caps (remove stems and slice the caps)
* 3 cloves garlic, sliced
* 5-6 slices fresh ginger (peel about a 1-inch piece of ginger, then slice into rounds)

Thinly slice and reserve:
* 4 green onions

Prep and reserve:
* Small bunch asparagus – chop off the top 3 inches of the asparagus, and then chop those pieces in half so that all pieces are 1 ½ inches long.

Grill pork chops over high heat until slightly charred and cooked through. Let sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

Add to broth and simmer another 10 minutes:

* 3 T soy sauce
* 3 T rice vinegar

Cook udon noodles according to directions on package.

Slice pork and reserve.

Rinse udon with cold water and portion into large serving bowls.

Throw asparagus tips into the broth and simmer for 3-5 minutes, or until they’re just cooked. Pour the hot soup over the udon.

Top with a small tower of bean sprouts, a generous sprinkling of green onions and sliced pork. Serve immediately.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Crack of Dawn Pancakes

I have two distinct memories of eating breakfast as a small child. One involves a poached egg and other cleaning out the inside of both halves of a grapefruit to the pith.

My mom died when I was nine and this is where my breakfast memories really kick in. To keep us feeling loved and, well, mothered, my dad made us amazing breakfasts every morning before school. He made muffins, popovers, French toast, pancakes and - oh, this was good! - broiled grapefruit. I have no clue how he did it, though I suspect waking at the CRACK OF DAWN had something to do with it. I regularly pull off French toast and pancakes, but only developed my method on the latter in past couple of years. I cannot fathom muffins or cornbread on a school morning. I like my sleep too much.

What does the work-week breakfast look like in your house? Is it a free-for-all in the cereal cabinet? We have our fair share of those.

Here's my pancake trick. It's nothing new, really. Betty Crocker has been helping people do it for years with Bisquick.

My shortcut is to sift about 10 times the amount of pancake dry ingredients into a storage container and then, on bleak and bleary school mornings, combine 1 cupful of the mix with 1 egg, 1 cup buttermilk and a few tablespoons of canola oil. Voila. No need to get out everything and start measuring and make a huge mess. This is simple and time saving. I even bring it camping.

Print recipe only here.

Here's what to do:
1. Buy a good storage container. Mine is the stainless steel variety. Get one that holds at least 10 cups.
2. Buy a few boxes of cake flour. Cake flour is a little bit of a sticking point for me, as I prefer to use organic flours. I have not found an organic one yet. Low in gluten and protein, cake flour really is necessary for certain things - it really keeps pancakes light. You'll find it in the baking isle at any grocery store. It's in a 2# box.
3. Make your mix:
Sift the cake flour once before measuring. This is important. Don't even think about skipping this step.

Sift together (yes! again!):
9 cups cake flour
3 T sugar
2 T plus 3/4 t baking powder
1.5 T (equals 1 T plus 1 1/2 t) salt
1.5 T baking soda

You're done. See. That wasn't so bad. Now you can clean up the enormous mess you made on the floor and counter and feel happy that you won't have to make the same mess again until the container is empty.

To make pancakes:
I make half this amount for two kids, but I'm doubling it the first time so you get an idea of the quantity.

Whisk together in a medium sized mixing bowl:
2 eggs

Add, whisking in thoroughly:
2 cups buttermilk
3 T canola oil

2 cups pancake mix

Stir gently but thoroughly with a spoon or spatula. Cook. We like silver dollar pancakes around here. And snowmen. OH! I just remembered! My mom used to put our initials on our pancakes. She'd cook one side, then dribble our initials with batter onto the cooked side, let it set, then flip it over to cook the initial. That took some creative genius, but I can still taste Dad's popovers dribbling with honey-butter.

Read Full Post

Monday, March 3, 2008

Get Me a Sangwich or Somethin'

The title is, if memory serves, from that movie with De Niro and Billy Crystal where Crystal is the twitchy shrink and De Niro the mafioso. One of the guards says it just before both (?) get whacked. Scratch that. I’m assured it’s from Honeymoon in Vegas. "There's sections of Kaua'i!??!"

I'm a bit of a bread head. I really love bread - crusty, artisan loaves, with layers of flavor. Outside of my house I'm not much of a sandwich person (Potbelly is the exception. Mmmm, Potbelly.) for the simple reason that sandwich bread is usually yuck.

The sandwich recipes I'm including are all based on having access to a great, crusty baguette or ciabatta. If you don't have such access, I'm sorry. Very, very sorry. Actually, Chicago, for as good of a food city as it is, really lacks true talent in the bread department. I haven't yet found a ciabatta I adore. I pick up the city's best loaves at Pastoral (and they get them from a bakery in Evanston). The baguettes at Trader Joes are better priced and better in taste and texture than what's turned out in the local bread bakeries.

So here's five sandwiches I just love.

1. Roast Salmon Sandwich with Dill Aioli
Print recipe only here

One good baguette, or comparable good crusty bread that would make a good sandwich, toasted (I think toasting is optional, my husband disagrees).

Salmon filets, trimmed to be no thicker than the baguette, rubbed with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted or grilled until just done.

Dill Aioli. I used to feel like such a cheater making an aioli with mayonnaise. I got over it. I really couldn't justify spending so much time preparing something we would consume, at best, a couple of tablespoons of.

Combine in a small bowl:
* Juice of one lemon (shoot for 2-3 T, using more lemons as necessary)
* 2 T mayonaise
* 2 T fresh dill, chopped very fine
* Salt and pepper to taste

* Roast or grill salmon.
* Prepare aioli.
* Trim the baguette on a diagonal and slice down the middle. Place cooked filet and a generous spoonful of aioli.

2. Flank Steak with Roast Roma Tomatoes and Arugula

Oh, this is good one. It just screams PERFECT SUMMER MEAL to me. Even now. Even in the middle of the longest winter, ever.

Flank Steak Sandwich
Print recipe only here

* Again with the bread. Baguette or ciabatta.
* One flank steak. I've been picking up the Austrailian ones at Trader Joes. So good, no hormones, amazing price. Flank steak is quite lean, and the TJ variety has never disappointed. Rub it with salt and pepper and grill whole, about 6-8 min per side. Let sit 10-15 minutes before slicing, across the grain, as thin as you can get it without stressing yourself out.
* 4-6 Roma tomatoes, sliced about 3mm thick, doused in a light film of olive oil, salted and peppered, and slow roasted in a 250° oven for about 2 hours (Ok, ok! Regular roasting is fine here, especially when you don't have time to slow roast: 10-20 min at 375° is fine)
* Bunch of good arugula, tossed at the last minute in a spoonful each olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of kosher salt.
* Panini oil: combine about ¼ cup olive oil (best you've got - this won't be cooked), 2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped, 1-2 T fresh parsley, finely chopped, 1-2 T fresh basil, finely chopped, Salt and fresh ground pepper

* Realize you forgot to allow time to slow roast romas. Preheat oven to 375°, prepare romas and roast on a baking sheet.
* Preheat grill 10 minutes. Prep flank steak (trim excess fat). Rub a bit of grapeseed oil on grill rack (if possible - if not, no biggie). Set flank on grill.
* Make panini oil
* Prep arugula and baguette (slice ends on diagonal and crosswise down the middle, slather with panini oil).
* Wait patiently for flank to sit for 10 minutes on a cutting board before you bust into it. This is a good time to ruin your appetite snacking on baguette dipped in panini oil.
* Slice steak. Layer onto bottom half of baguette, top with romas and arugula. Serve.

3. Roast Vegetable Panini

* Again with the bread. Baguette or ciabatta. No. Make that baguette.
* Veggies! 4-6 Roma tomatoes, an eggplant, portobella mushrooms, red bell peppers. All prepped about the same: sliced about 3mm thick (just roast the peppers whole,then break down into strips when roasted and cooled), doused in a light film of olive oil, salted and peppered, and roasted in a 350° oven until they're nicely browned.
* Bunch of good arugula, tossed at the last minute in a spoonful each olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of kosher salt. Alternately, substitute whole, fresh basil leaves - about 2-3 per individual sandwich. I might like the basil here more than the arugula.
* Panini oil: combine about ¼ cup olive oil (best you've got - this won't be cooked), 2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped, 1-2 T fresh parsley, finely chopped, 1-2 T fresh basil, finely chopped, Salt and fresh ground pepper.
* Tapenade: combine in a mini-prep until nicely chopped up: 1 cup pitted kalamatas, 2 T fresh parsley, 1-2 cloves garlic, pinch salt. Then add, pulsing to combine:1-2 T olive oil.
* Fresh mozzarella, the balls that come soaking in brine.

* Trim down roasted red peppers (remove skin and slice into 1-inch strips).
* Prep baguette by slicing ends on diagonal and crosswise down the middle. Slather the bottom half generously with tapenade and the top half with with panini oil.
* Layer veggies on bottom half, top with mozzarella and basil leaves or arugula.
* Mangia!

4. Chicken with Pomeray-Rum sauce and Frisee - Coming Soon
5. Italian Beef with Pepperoncini and Giardinera - Coming Soon

Read Full Post

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Welcome to Pinch

Hello and thank you for being here.

Today Pinch makes its debut. This blog couples two things I really enjoy: food and talking. As I’ve been advised not to talk with my mouth full, blogging seemed an appropriate alternative.

Actually, Pinch is the result of listening. Listening to friends, male and female, lament not having enough time to plan, shop for, or cook sit-down meals. Listening to people who want to improve their own or their family’s eating habits but need a bit more know-how. Listening to the young woman in Milwaukee who…no, wait – that’s from someone’s campaign speech.

This space will feature my recipes and the food-related rumblings in my mind that I've come to recognize as brain activity.

Recipes and Rumblings will both appear in the main space (for print-only recipes, see the RECIPES & MENUS tab toward the top of the page.) You can also use the TOPICS sidebar to see what’s been written about a given subject. Another sidebar, MORE, is another venue for topics of interest at Pinch and offers a lot of recommendations. ENJOYING and TOO FUNNY offer insights and laughs, respectively (usually).

Can you digg it? Yes, you can! Look for the icon of the dude with shovel. Can you subscribe? You bet – via email or reader.

As this is new, please forgive the present photographs. My photos should improve swiftly once I replace the woodpecker in my camera.


Read Full Post