March 24, 2010

Onions to the 4th power

I found this great roasted onion soup recipe in an upscale food magazine from a Northeastern U.S. supermarket chain and while I love onion soup, oddly enough I had never made it before. Onions actually belong to the lily family - the same family as garlic, leeks, chives, scallions, and shallots - and provide numerous health benefits including colds and cough relief, cardiovascular help, and cancer prevention. Roasting brings out great complex flavor in onions and the combination of roasting the onions and then smothering them in red wine produces the most flavorable onion soup I have ever tasted. I hope you enjoy it as well.

Roasted Four-Onion Soup with Gruyere Croûtes

4 leeks, white parts only, cleaned, cut in half lengthwise, then cut into 1" slices
2 large Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
2 large red onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 T olive oil
1 t salt, or to taste
1/8 t freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 T chopped fresh thyme or 1 t dried
2 cups dry red wine
8 cups beef broth, low or no sodium
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
16 baguette slices
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated

1. Preheat oven to 450ºF.
2. In a large roasting pan, toss leeks, yellow and red onions, garlic, oil, salt, pepper, and thyme until well mixed. Place on middle rack and roast for 30 minutes.
3. Remove from oven, add wine, and stir well. Roast another 15 minutes.
4. Remove from oven and transfer onions to a large pot. Use 1/2 cup broth to scrape up any bits clinging to bottom of roasting pan. Add this and remaining broth to pot with onions.
5. Simmer soup, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning.
6. Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Place baguette slices on a baking sheet. Broil 1 minute or until just barely toasted. Remove and flip slices over. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp. cheese on top of each slice and broil another 1 to 2 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbling. Remove from oven and keep in a cool, dry place until ready to serve. (Croûtes can be made a day ahead of time.)
7. Serve hot, each bowl topped with 1 or 2 croûtes and a sprinkling of parsley.

September 10, 2009

Zucchini Zucchini!

September in northern New England is bringing us nice sunny days and fall-ish cooler nights. It is also bringing us an abundance of the versatile zucchini fresh from local gardens. A friend recently gave me some zucchini from her garden along with some fresh herbs and I proceeded to make good use of this bounty in a pasta dish ripe with the flavors of garlic, tomato, fresh oregano and African blue basil, and of course zucchini. From Wikipedia: "In a culinary context, zucchini is treated as a vegetable, which means it is usually cooked and presented as a savory dish or accompaniment. Botanically, however, the zucchini is an immature fruit, being the swollen ovary of the female zucchini flower." A low calorie food, zucchini is also nutritious containing folate, potassium, Vitamin A, and manganese. Zucchini can be grilled, sauteed with other vegetables, cooked in soups and just adds an interesting texture and flavor to whatever it accompanies. The contrast between the al dente pasta and the zucchini in this recipe is perfect - I hope you enjoy it as well.

Ratatouille on pasta:

3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, cut
1 14 oz can whole tomatoes (coarsely chop all but 2 of the tomatoes, food process the last two with juice to a coarse puree)
1 medium zucchini, sliced in thin coins
2 T fresh basil, chopped
2 T fresh oregano, chopped
coarse ground pepper
sea salt
extra virgin olive oil
3/4 lb. thin spaghetti (I use Barilla Plus - a healthy whole grain pasta)
Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Heat 1/4 c. olive oil on medium heat in a large saute pan. Add garlic and onions and saute for about 5 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, zucchini, pepper and salt to taste (I use about 1 t. of each), stir up and cover - simmering on medium heat. Continue checking in and stirring every 5 mins. or so - zucchini will get soft and translucent. At this point, add the fresh basil and oregano, stir up and simmer another 5-10 mins. on medium low heat. Assuming you have boiled the pasta by now, transfer the cooked spaghetti into the veggie/sauce mix a little at a time, using large tongs to mix. You should be able to use all the pasta in this recipe and still have a good mixture of pasta to vegetables/sauce. Use tongs to plate the dish, fine grate fresh parmesan on top. Bon appetit!

July 26, 2009

Olive oil and bruschetta

Ask most anyone and they will tell you that one of their favorite appetizers is bruschetta (pronounced correctly as 'brus-ketta'). This Italian appetizer has a number of variations but the basic recipe is good bread, grilled with olive oil, rubbed with garlic and topped with a mixture of chopped tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, sea salt, and cracked pepper and then electively topped with finely grated parmesan cheese. Recently I made some bruschetta for some friends and discovered one very important lesson - the quality of the olive oil matters greatly. I had used a national brand from the grocery store and while it is not the cheapest oil going, it just did not have the rich buttery flavor of a good olive oil. So I did what I typically do when I need more input on a food item - I Googled for information. The first thing I found was this cool blog called I Love Olive Oil by a guy who pens himself Costas the Greek. I then went to my local Marshall's store and found a Spanish olive oil called Pons which I got for a great price. To finish up this tale, I today made a small batch of bruschetta using this oil and it was very yummy. Point is people, for this appetizer, for salads, for bread dipping, it really matters that you use good quality extra virgin olive oil. And then save the other stuff for cooking. Anyway, here is my recipe for bruschetta:

Rustic baguette or pane mediterranean style bread
Vine ripe tomatoes
Fresh basil
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Cracked pepper
Garlic clove, peeled
Parmesan cheese wedge

Chop the tomatoes and let them drain in a colander for about 30 mins. Meanwhile, brush the bread slices both sides with olive oil and grill in a frying pan or grill pan on medium high heat - grilling both sides until a bit crispy. Take the garlic clove, slice off the top, and rub it across one side of the hot bread slices and then place them on a platter or cookie sheet. Mix chopped tomatoes, olive oil, basil, salt and pepper to taste. There is no hard and fast rule here on the quantities - you want enough oil to taste it but yet you do not want to have the tomatoes swimming in oil either. The basil volume also is to taste. Spoon tomato mixture onto bread slices garlic side up. Fine grate fresh parmesan cheese lightly across top and serve.

June 14, 2009

Alice Waters

Alice Waters is an American chef who is tonight being featured on CBS's 60 Minutes program. She is a progressive foodie who is working on bringing the fundamentals of growing, cooking, and sharing healthy food to school-age children with the hope to integrate this important area into school curriculums nation-wide. Follow the link from my favs here ( to learn more about Alice and her foundation and to view a video of her project. In the meantime, stay tuned foodies for more food from me...I have been on hiatus a bit but am ready to get back to the business of food. Til then, peace.


January 1, 2009

Loving artichoke

There's a nice home and lifestyle magazine that comes in our daily newspaper here in Bangor, Maine, where I found this artichoke/parmesan spread recipe that I decided to make and bring to a holiday gathering this year. The combination of the tender artichoke hearts with the grated parmesan cheese mixed with the onion/garlic flavorings made for a very tasty spread that the party guests went gaga over. Artichokes are quite healthy, actually, providing a good amount of fiber as well as key vitamins and minerals such as folate, Vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium. I also love artichokes on pizza with red bell peppers, mushrooms, and kalamata olives - great combination. The cool looking artichoke - definitely an under-utilized food that I plan to visit more often. Let me know what you think and healthy and happy New Year 2009 to you!

Artichoke Parmesan spread on baguettes:
  • 2 14 oz. cans artichoke hearts (plain, not marinated)
  • 4 tablespoons red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2/3 cup real mayo
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 2 baguettes, approximately 3 inches in diameter (This is meant to be a two-bite appetizer.)
  1. Drain and chop artichoke hearts. In a bowl, combine the artichokes hearts with the next five ingredients; mix well. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or overnight.
  2. When ready to serve, cut baguettes into 1/2-inch slices. Place on a baking sheet and top each slice with some of the artichoke mixture. Sprinkle each piece with Parmesan cheese. Place under broiler until cheese is golden brown. Watch them closely. It will only take a few minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature. Yield: approximately 24 to 36 baguette slices.

July 8, 2008

Chicken and spice

Chicken is one of those great summer grill foods. You can marinate it, you can spice rub it, you can grill it and then spread it with a barbeque sauce. A couple years back I came across a yummy Middle Eastern spice rub recipe from Rachael Ray that I now like to use with boneless chicken breasts. It also works well with fish and other meats. The key to getting moist and tender boneless chicken breasts is in the preparation and the cooking. You can buy thin sliced breasts known as cutlets, you can buy pre-sliced tenders, or you can buy boneless breast halves. I find the very thin cutlets work best in recipes where they are breaded and fried or in stir-frys where you cook the chicken very quickly. For this spice rub recipe, I prefer the boneless breast halves. To prepare the chicken for the spice rub, I find it best to use the butterfly and pounding technique. You all have surely eaten dry boneless chicken breasts cooked by someone who didn't know that the uneven thickness of a chicken breast that is thrown on the grill straight from its package creates a situation where the thinner part of the breast cooks first and then the thicker part is still not fully cooked. So these cooks flip the chicken over and over until they get that (what I call) shoe leather consistency. Anyhow, once you have prepared the chicken using the butterfly and pounding technique, you can then spice rub the chicken as directed in the recipe. I wrap the spiced chicken tightly in plastic wrap and then let it marinate for as much as 24 hours. When you are ready to cook the chicken, place the chicken on a medium to medium high heated grill pan (drizzle some olive oil in the pan first) or on your heated gas or charcoal grill. And here's where you really need to pay attention. I time the first side for 3-4 minutes, then flip and time the second side for 3-4 minutes. Immediately place the cooked chicken on a clean plate and then tightly wrap with aluminum foil. The meat will continue to cook in this warm setting. Mix some additional spice rub and a little sea salt with extra virgin olive oil in a pan over medium heat for a few minutes and use this as a dipping sauce. The chicken can then be served with any grilled veggies, salad, corn on the cob, and rice or garlic/rosemary oven roasted red potato wedges. Hope you enjoy and happy grilling!

June 28, 2008

Rhubarb is in the house... "Rhubarb is a vegetable with a unique taste that makes it a favorite in many pies and desserts. It originated in Asia over 2,000 years ago. It was initially cultivated for its medicinal qualities. It was not until the 18th century that rhubarb was grown for culinary purposes in Britain and America. Rhubarb is often commonly mistaken to be a fruit but rhubarb is actually a close relative of garden sorrel, and is therefore a member of the vegetable family. Rhubarb is rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber." Here in Maine rhubarb has been ripe now for the past month. I am typically a rhubarb scrounge this time of year, calling on friends and strangers to let me pick some of their rhubarb for my mother and me. Best used within a day or so of picking, rhubarb also freezes quite well. When using rhubarb for recipes or freezing, you should peel off most of the skin on the stalks - this eliminates having stringy fruit pieces in your rhubarb dish. My mother is a big fan of either rhubarb pie or strawberry rhubarb pie. The tart of the rhubarb is offset by the sweet of the strawberry and this makes a delicious combination. The past few years I have been fond of a recipe I found online for Rhubarb Strawberry Crunch. The combination of the rhubarb and strawberry mixture on the bottom with the crunchy oat/brown sugar/flour/butter (I swear by Smart Balance as a tasty and good substitute for butter) topping makes for a yummy dessert that people go crazy for when I make it. Try it yourself!

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups sliced fresh strawberries
  • 3 cups diced rhubarb
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, mix white sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, strawberries, and rhubarb. Place the mixture in a 9x13 inch baking dish.
  3. Mix 1 1/2 cups flour, brown sugar, butter, and oats until crumbly. You may want to use a pastry blender for this. Crumble on top of the rhubarb and strawberry mixture.
  4. Bake 45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until crisp and lightly browned.
Note: I like a stronger intensity of rhubarb in this recipe and so I adjust the measurement to 4 cups of rhubarb and 2 cups of strawberries.