Not for the Lactose Intolerant.

I once worked with a great producer who told me about her theory of the Dairy Buffer. It's pretty simple, as far as theories go: any food is improved by adding dairy to it. For example, a burger is delicious, but a cheeseburger is a real treat. Pie is good, but pie a la mode is better. Baked potatoes are nothing without sour cream, tortilla chips are pointless without cheese, and whipped cream can do no wrong. Peas? Parkerhouse rolls? Polenta? Butter, butter, and more butter.

The Dairy Buffer theory isn’t fool proof; so far, I haven’t found the right dairy partner for sushi and spring rolls. But for the most part, it’s pretty spot on. And the type of dairy doesn't matter. Cheese, butter, sour cream, yogurt, creme fraiche, the Dairy Buffer does not discriminate.

I was thinking about the Dairy Buffer, while contemplating these gorgeous late-summer apricots that were starting to get a little wrinkly in the fridge. I wanted to turn them into some fabulous dessert, but pies and cakes and tarts all seemed too fussy. And they’re so yummy on their own, all they needed was a little something….dairy! Yes! I didn’t have any ice cream or whipping cream on hand and for once, butter wasn’t gonna cut it. But I did have some fresh goat cheese.

Fresh goat cheese isn't as...um, goat-y as aged goat cheese. It's actually pretty mild, with a slight tang. Whipped with some honey, it was an interesting counterpoint to the apricots. Naturally, by "interesting", I mean "damn good." I roasted the apricots, to concentrate their sweet apricot-ness and also to combat my frustrating stone-fruit allergy. If you’re not a fan of the goat, then sub mascarpone or ricotta. It'll definitely be good - the Dairy Buffer says so.

Roasted Apricots with Honeyed Goat Cheese
serves 4

1 lb. fresh apricots
3 Tbsp. crème de cassis
6 oz. fresh goat cheese
2 Tbsp. honey
Raspberries for garnish (highly optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Coat an 8”x8” baking dish with cooking spray. Halve the apricots and remove pits. Toss the apricots with the crème de cassis and lay them, cavity side up, in the baking dish. Roast for 30 minutes, until they get a little shriveled and wrinkly and seem brighter in color. The crème de cassis will get sticky and concentrated.

2. While the apricots roast, whip together the goat cheese and the honey.

3. Serve with a mini-dollop of goat cheese in each apricot. Garnish with raspberries and drizzle with the concentrated crème de cassis.


Blogging is making me fat

I have been saddled with the Eastern-European, potato-eating, worry-wart peasant metabolism. My metabolism is so freaked out that I won’t be able to get through the winter, that I will waste away to nothing, that it clings desperately onto every last calorie it meets. In recent years, my metabolism has expanded it’s area of concern from just winter to encompass all the seasons.

Despite repeated assurances that there is no chance of my wasting away to nothing, my metabolism persists in it's storage efforts (on the off chance that I did actually waste away to nothing, no one would likely notice, since they’d be so preoccupied watching the pigs fly.) Blogging has sent my peasant metabolism into an over-the-moon, glorious tailspin. Always on the hunt for more to write about, I’ve been feeding it such a wealth of wonderfully delicious calories that it’s gone into hyper-storage overdrive. Which basically means my jeans are getting tight.

It is in these times of impending chunkiness that I turn to an old friend: Cooking Light.

Cooking Light
has a surfeit of excellent “lightened” recipes that actually taste like food you’d seek out when the fit of your Honeys isn’t an issue. But don't be fooled: the main reason a lot of Cooking Light’s recipes fall into the “light" category, is because the suggested serving size is miniscule, barely bite-sized. These are not the kinds of serving sizes that people who have been driven to seek “light” recipes normally abide by. If we found skimpy servings satisfying, we wouldn’t be in the market for “light” recipes, now would we?

In Cooking Light’s defense, their creations are lower in fat and calories than regular versions of the same things. And at least the presence of the nutrition information encourages me to stop and think about how much I’m packing in. This is one of my favorite Cooking Light recipes, because you could conceivably eat two of their so-called servings and still maintain a very reasonable calorie count for a satisfying dinner.

I love this recipe because it tastes a lot like the excellent chicken satay served at our local Thai place. The accompanying cucumber salad is also really tasty, and plays the perfectly cool, crisp, slightly sweet foil to the peanut sauce. Served with a side of rice-noodles, this is a excellent meal that won't convince your tastebuds that you're eating light, but it should be able to pull one over on the metabolism.

Chicken Satay
Courtesy Cooking Light, July 2005
Serves 4

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 8 strips
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons ground fresh ginger (the magazine recommends bottled ginger, but I keep a knob of ginger in my freezer - it lasts for ages - and just use the microplane to take off as much as I need for a given recipe)
1 teaspoon grated lime rind
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced

Peanut Sauce:
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons natural-style, reduced-fat creamy peanut butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced

1. Combine chicken and next 6 ingredients (through 2 garlic cloves) in a medium bowl. Let stand 10 minutes.

2. In a separate medium bowl, combine 1 tablespoon brown sugar and the next 5 ingredients (through 1 garlic clove), stirring until sugar dissolves.

3. Thread chicken strips onto each of 8 (8-inch) skewers (I didn’t bother with the skewers). Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 5 minutes on each side or until chicken is done. Serve chicken with sauce.

Nutritional Information (serving size: 2 skewers and 1 tablespoon sauce)
CALORIES 205(20% from fat); FAT 4.5g (sat 1g,mono 0.4g,poly 0.4g); PROTEIN 29.3g; CHOLESTEROL 66mg; CALCIUM 26mg; SODIUM 672mg; FIBER 0.8g; IRON 1.5mg; CARBOHYDRATE 11.2g

Cucumber Salad

Courtesy Cooking Light, July 2005

1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon minced seeded jalapeño pepper
1 teaspoon grated lime rind in a large bowl.
3 cups thinly sliced English cucumber
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Toss to coat.


I’m Stuffed!

I’m not a vegetarian. I swear. I couldn’t possibly be more in favor of eating animals. Delicious, tasty animals. But when I looked back over the last four and a half month’s worth of recipes, I realized that you, my loyal readers, might be having a hard time buying my non-vegetarian-ness. Granted, there are my obsessive bacon entries, but there are also 12 entries in the “vegetables” category and only 1 or 2 in every other category. Obviously, I need to do something to reinforce my carnivorocity and convince you that this is not a blog about eating your greens. Unfortunately, this entry is not that.

It's not really my fault; my intention was to write about these gorgeous lamb steaks I picked up at the farmer's market last weekend. But the lamb guy at threw in an obscenely huge zucchini, just because he was trying to unload it. Despite Nick's well-documented disaffection for all things courgette, I couldn't not turn this 18" zucchini into something delicious. So, I did what anyone with a foot and a half long zucchini would do. I took it home and made a lot of really bad sex jokes.

Once that was out of my system, I stuffed it with quinoa, feta, and pine nuts. The original plan was to serve this with the lamb steaks, but the stuffed zucchini was a hearty enough meal in itself, alongside a tomato salad. So the steaks were set aside for another night and, alas, you’re stuck with another vegetable recipe.

To make up for yet another veggie-centric posting, I'll leave you with this, guaranteed to make any 4th grader laugh:

What’s zucchini’s favorite game? Squash.

Quinoa Stuffed Zucchini

Serves 4

1 obscenely large zucchini or 2 normal sized zucchini
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, minced
3 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 cups quinoa (prepared from 1 cup dry quinoa and 2 cups water)
2 oz. Greek feta, crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375-degrees.

2. Trim the ends and cut the zucchini in half. Using a melon baller, scoop the pulp out of the zucchini, leaving a ½” thick shell.

3. Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté onion until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another two minutes.

4. Toss onion mixture, oregano, pine nuts, with the quinoa. Add egg and mix quickly, so the egg doesn’t scramble among the other warm ingredients. Season with salt and pepper and fold in the feta. Fill the zucchini shells to heaping with quinoa filling.

5. Bake shells for 30 minutes.


Would you like something to drink?

This is one of a collection of Betty Crocker recipe cards from 1971 (you can see the entire collection here).

On the reverse is a recipe for the depicted Man-Pleasing appetizer, which is horseradish spiked beef bouillon, with a celery stalk (cleverly referred to as a “swizzle stick”.) I think if I served this libation to my man, he would not find it terribly appetizing. It might even encourage him to stop being my man. Maybe he would go be the man of someone who doesn't consider soup a beverage.

But what really bothers me about this Man-Pleasing Appetizer, is the striking resemblance it bears to this Weight Watcher’s recipe from 1974. The potable on the left is also beef bouillon served in a glass with a celery "swizzle stick" (courtesy of Candyboots):

So is bouillon a satisfying man-snack, a suitable substitution for beef jerky and buffalo wings? Or is it a thirst quenching pitstop on the road to sylphlike willowy-ness? It can't possibly be both, can it? Is the bouillon lobby playing both sides of the fence?


A Letter of Apology

Dear Swiss Chard,

I am sorry for the disrespect I showed to your Vitamin-K-rich leaves recently. It was not my intention to cause you any harm, emotional or physical, or to imply that you required an excessive amount of seasoning in order to attain edibility. I hold your collection of vitamins, minerals, and fibers in the highest esteem. My bones, my colon and I are indebted to your vast nutritive properties. I have the utmost respect for your slightly bitter, slightly salty flavor and I am committed to making sure people don't confuse you with your cousin, Spinach.

I look forward to many fruitful years working together.

Best wishes,

The Best Bite

Sauteed Chard
Serves 4, as a delicious, nutrient dense side

3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 large bunch green or rainbow chard
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium white onion, minced
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
Juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Heat a small frying pan over medium heat and toast the pine nuts until fragrant. Set aside.

2. Rinse and drain the chard. Pull the stems off the greens. Chop the stems and set aside. Cut the greens crosswise into 1-inch-wide slices and set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the onion and raisins, and cook until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add the chard stems and cook until they start to soften. Add the chard greens and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the chard wilts, probably not more than 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and the pine nuts, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, and serve immediately.


The Obligatory Tomato Recipe

Am I the only one totally sick of salad? Am I the only one dreaming of slow-cooked stews and meaty feasts? Enough with the summer produce already, produce so gorgeous and colorful and tasty that it doesn't need much more than a sprinkling of salt and olive oil to reach complete vegetal nirvana. Enough with the abundance of perfect zucchini and tomatoes and peaches and corn. Dammit, I want to actually cook when I'm cooking. I want to work with ingredients that need me, like butternut squash and ugly little celeriac.

Yes, I mourn the loss of potential beach days. Yes, I will miss wearing flip-flops to work. And yes, yes, yes, I will completely regret writing these words when I have snot frozen on the end of my nose. But I've had it up to my eyeballs with salad as of right this very second.

The tomatoes, however, are posing a problem. They’ve been just about as gorgeous as tomatoes have a right to be. Sweet and fat and properly tomato-y. It would be a crime not to give them a proper shout-out, almost disrespectful to the effort they've put into being delicious. So here is one more salad recipe, because I know that come January, this is the salad that will occupy the majority of my occipital lobe, where I file all my food fantasies.

This is my variation on the classic Greek salad. Unlike the American version of Greek salad, I prefer it lettuce-free, the way the Greek peasants traditionally went for it (I assure you, the romaine in the photo is strictly garnish.) Unlike the Greek peasants, I ditch the olives because I’m not a fan (I’ve tried. I will continue to try, but it’s just not happening.) I serve it with warm pita chips (not sure where the Greek peasants stand on those.) Maybe it's more Greek-ish than actually Greek.

If you can’t get your hands on luscious, straight-from-the-farm, end-of-summer tomatoes, then don’t bother. Order in Thai and eat it straight from the container, because that’ll be the equivalent of the kind of authentic Greek experience you’ll get if you make this with listless supermarket tomatoes. Otherwise, it's a glorious tangle of summer flavors, enough to almost love salad again.

Greek-ish Salad

Serves 6

2 lbs. extra fabulous tomatoes, cut into 1” chunks
¾ tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 tsp. minced fresh oregano leaves
1 medium clove garlic, minced
Pinch sugar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/3 red onion, sliced as thinly as humanly possible
1 English cucumber, halved lengthwise
3 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
fresh ground black pepper to taste
4 pitas (I prefer whole wheat) toasted and sliced into sixths, so they’re sort of chip-like.

1. Toss tomatoes with ¼ tsp. of salt, and set aside. The salt will draw the water out, so it doesn’t wind up diluting your vinaigrette later.

2. Whisk together the remaining ½ tsp. salt and the next six ingredients (vinegar through olive oil). Set aside.

3. Toss the onion and cucumber together. Drain liquid from tomatoes and add those to the onion and cucumber. Drizzle with enough vinaigrette to moisten and toss, adding more vinaigrette if necessary. Season with pepper. Crumble feta over salad and serve with toasted pitas.


Behold the Indian Feast!

Can two dishes plus rice be considered a feast? They can if you’re the one making it.

Indian food is a pain in the ass to cook. Most recipes have so many steps, that the prep requires a load of prep: spices need toasting, onions need chopping, tomatoes need dicing, chicken needs skinning. Those two dishes can take hours to make. But Indian food is top of my favorite cuisines list, with its exotic spices, complex flavors, fragrant sauces. Why should restaurants get to have all the fun? Which is where Suvir Saran’s “Indian Home Cooking” comes in.

Suvir Saran is a pretty well-known chef in New York, and he’s cooked stellar upscale Indian at a couple of great places, including the wonderful Devi, where I had a great meal (with wine pairings). So I was delighted and a little bit mystified when I spotted the very talented Mr. Saran manning the steam tables in our very mediocre corporate cafeteria.

Here is how I imagine this came to be, but I could totally be making it up: “Indian Home Cooking” is published and some adroit publicist has a stroke of genius: send Suvir Saran to corporate cafeterias to cook his amazing food, armed with stacks of books. It's an excellent idea, really: we corporate drones are, quite literally, a captive audience. What the adroit publicist did not bank on was the restaurant-obsessed groupie who yelled “It’s Suvir Saran!” and waved maniacally across the cafeteria.

I can’t help it. It just came out. I wasn’t expecting to see a Michelin rated chef near the sporks. His eyes got really big and he looked scared. I bought my Indian lunch, and a copy of the book to boot (hats off to you, adroit publicist!). But Suvir is a man of strength. He can handle a fan base. He recovered and graciously autographed my book. He even gave me his email address and suggested I come into Devi as his guest. Obviously, he didn't think I was that much of a freak.

I never took Suvir Saran up on the offer. Partly because I wanted to cook something from “Indian Home Cooking” before I contacted him, but mostly because I was afraid he would think I was just trying to mooch a free meal off of his goodwill (which was pretty much the plan). But I liked that I had the option. I was truly disappointed at news of Devi’s shuttering last week. Now, if I want to eat his food, I have to make it myself. So that's what I did, preparing his Lahori Chicken Curry and Chilled Smoky Eggplant with Yogurt and Cilantro in tribute.

Suvir's recipes (I feel like we're on a first name basis; he gave me his email address) are actually reasonable for a home cook. And they're even reasonable for an American home cook, who might not have "12 cardamom pods" and "9 whole cloves" just sitting around (they lose their punch quickly, so use them stat or store them in the freezer.) Yeah, there's a lot of prep just to get your mise en place set, but that's just the nature of this kind of highly spiced cuisine. The chicken was really tasty and was a brighter, less-greasy version of the chicken curry available from our local take-out joint.

But the eggplant. Oh. My. God. The. Eggplant. Creamy and silky and smoky. Rich, but still seemingly virtuous. You can take Suvir's advice and roast your whole eggplant directly on the flame of a gas burner, but if you're like me, you'll switch to the less stressful oven roasting method when the eggplant catches fire and a flame shoots up from it. (Although I had taken the batteries out of the smoke detector.) It is a little more work than usual, for what amounts to a side dish. But it's worth every bit of effort, at least until my buddy Suvir embarks on his next restaurant gig. Or comes back to our cafeteria.

Chilled Smoky Eggplant with Yogurt and Cilantro
Courtesy Suvir Saran
Serves 4-6

1 large eggplant
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 medium red onion, diced
1 tsp. salt
2 cups plain yogurt
1" fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 fresh hot green chile, minced
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 tsp. garam masala

1. Roast the eggplant on a cookie sheet in a 500-degree oven until blackened, about 20 minutes. Let cool and peel the skin off. Cut off and discard the stem. Put the eggplant into a bowl and mash with a potato masher.

2. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Add the onion and salt, and saute until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the mashed eggplant and cook, stirring often, until the dry, about 10 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and let cool for about five minutes.

4. Whisk the yogurt until smooth in a large bowl. All the eggplant and all the remaining ingredients and stir well. Chill until cold. Taste for salt and serve cold.


Whither radicchio?

Recipes are like friends; some you’re willing to go a little more out of your way for than others. Spinach Salad with Grilled Red Onion and Tahini Vinaigrette never seemed like it was going to be my BFF. It had been on my radar for a while, but it took the proper planet alignment in order to claw it’s way onto the table: a leftover jar of tahini (courtesy of Virginia T. Habeeb) happened to coincide with a fortuitous trip to the farmer’s marker (baby spinach! red onion!) and a gut-bustingly large Indian lunch. Fate had determined that a light dinner was on the cards and this was the light dinner it was meant to be.

I loved the idea: caramelized red onions and mild baby spinach tossed in a nutty tahini vinaigrette and served in bowl-like, purple radicchio leaves. But the radicchio was a problem, namely because I didn’t have any. There was none at the farmer’s market. None at the crummy grocery store 5 blocks from my apartment (hardly a shocker) and none at the overpriced-but-cute gourmet shop another two blocks beyond that.

I had to make a crucial decision: how important was the radicchio? It’s not like I was trying to make spaghetti and meatballs without meatballs. But the radicchio sounded good. My mental tastebuds imagined how the bite of the leaves would balance the sweetness of the onions. I wanted the radicchio, but I’d already been to three places and walked a mile in search of it.

Part of living the car-free life, means that the number of errands I can run or the distance I can travel in a day is limited to how far my hot-pink Pumas are willing to take me. Today, they weren’t very willing. I went home, radicchio-less.

The salad was great. The dressing is creamy, but still light (mixing it in a blender is a must) and the onions (I broiled) are fantastic. The recipe makes quite a bit of dressing, and I used the leftovers as a marinade for notoriously-bland tilapia a few days later with stellar results.

But I couldn't shake the feeling that those sweet onions and the nutty dressing could have used a bitter counterpoint. It needed radicchio. I guess I'll have to look a little harder next time.

Spinach Salad with Grilled Red Onion and Tahini Vinaigrette
Courtesy Bon Appétit, June 1996
Serves 10

1/2 cup water
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons tahini (sesame seedpaste)
2 tablespoons coarse-grained mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1 small garlic clove, minced
3/4 vegetable oil

2 large red onions

12 cups (packed) baby spinach,trimmed
10 large radicchio leaves

1. Combine first six ingredients in blender and blend well. Gradually blend in oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Cut onions lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick wedges, leaving root ends intact. Place onions in 15x10-inch glass baking dish. Pour 1 cup vinaigrette over onions, coating evenly. Let marinate 3 hours. Chill remaining dressing. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill onions.)

3. Prepare barbecue (medium-high-heat) or preheat broiler. Sprinkle onions with salt and pepper. Grill or broil onions until golden, turning occasionally, about 12 minutes. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

4. Place spinach in large bowl. Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Fill radicchio leaves with spinach. Top with grilled onions. Pass remaining dressing separately.