Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Frog/Commissary Cookbook

Once upon a time I was gainfully employed with CIGNA Property and Casualty as a Loss Control Representative.  Imagine, me, a career woman traveling Connecticut and then Indiana visiting factories, schools, strip malls, sororities and any place we insured or were looking to insure.  I know, it's really hard to picture.   Maybe that's why I'm still a housewife twenty years later.  Maybe if I was really in the flow with my career it wouldn't have been so easy to leave and never return.  Twenty year-olds should really not make career decisions, but that's the way it works.  Could have stuck with biology after the dream of med school went up in smoke with my gift of a "C" in Honors Calculus first semester at Purdue.  Could have been a landscape architect.  That would have been fun.  But no, switched majors to Supervision because I could still graduate in four years (poor out of state student with barely enough money for four years) and Supervision majors had 98% placement (see the previous explanation in parentheses).

Wow, I can really take the long road to make a point, can't I?  CIGNA P/C was headquartered in Philadelphia.  On my first training visit I discovered this funky and way ahead of it's time restaurant, The Frog/ Commissary.  The first floor was The Commissary and you could order amazing salads, soups, pastas, desserts and everything wonderful cafeteria style.  The second floor was The Frog, a fine dining establishment that I regretfully never tried.  All the food was simply amazing.  Fresh, layers of flavor, creative combinations and beautiful presentation.  Needless to say, I bought the cookbook.

Growing up I only really baked, but as soon as I got married (and that was pretty soon as I was all of 21) I discovered I loved to cook.  If you can read a recipe, you can cook.  I think it's a bit of a gift that I can usually tell from reading the recipe if it will be something I'll love.  When we lived in Japan I would sit on my front step and read cookbooks while my little girls took a nap.  I didn't cook anything from a cookbook in Japan because I had a two-burner gas stove, a tiny microwave and a little refrigerator.  No oven.  Really, it was a lot like camping but without the view.  We lived amongst the masses in Tokyo, 45 minutes on subways from the ex-pat world and their glorious food store.  So, I read recipes and just imagined how delicious they were.  Truly, it was very satisfying.

After many hours spent reading my Frog cookbook with fun sidebars, witty notes and cute illustrations, I tried this recipe years ago for a 500 party.  Northern Italian Rice Salad with Shrimp and Clear Garlic Vinaigrette is a wonderful party salad, you can make it a day ahead (don't add the shrimp until the day of serving) and it's colorful and full of flavor.  Let's just call it Italian Rice/Grain Salad with Shrimp.  I used to make it with white rice (medium or long grain), but for dinner club I made it with wheat berries.  I think orzo or Israeli couscous would be great bases too.  Whatever floats your boat.  I have always made it with shrimp, but the cookbook suggest trying it with chicken and pepperoni.  Hmmmm??  It does sound good.  If you try it, let me know.

Italian Rice/Grain Salad with Shrimp


1 C vegetable oil
1/2 C white wine vinegar
1 3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 3/4 tsp pepper
1 T minced garlic
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 C minced Italian/flat parsley


6 cups cooked rice (3 cups raw), wheat berries, orzo, Israeli couscous or whatever grain you love
3/4 pound cooked peeled shrimp, cut in bite size pieces if large
1 C finely chopped green peppers
1 C finely chopped red peppers
3/4 C finely chopped red onions
1 1/2 C quartered marinated artichoke hearts (try a jar from Trader Joe's)
1/4 C small capers
1/3 C minced Italian/flat parsley
1/3 C minced fresh dill (this makes it, don't skip it)
1/2 C raisins (I know, sounds weird, tastes wonderful)

mixed baby greens, optional

Whisk together all ingredients for the vinaigrette and set aside.

Combine all salad ingredients.  Toss with dressing and marinate several hours.

Serve on bed of greens on individual salad plates if desired.
Greg's parents visiting us in Tokyo, 1994

Thursday, August 26, 2010

so many recipes, too many painkillers

Everyone is now happily back in their school routines,  dinner club has been hosted and my dad has been successfully surprised for his 75th birthday (and Ross's 49th birthday-their big days are back to back).  Time for a little breathing room, right?  Time to catch up on my little blog and the backlog of recipes I need to post.  But alas, I had oral surgery Tuesday and let's just say I underestimated how that would go.  Thankfully the doctor called that evening and I agreed to have him call in a painkiller just to be safe.  I'm not sure if they never told me or if I just didn't want to remember, but the sawing of bone and stitching of tissue turned out to be (duh) intensely painful.   You know, the kind of painful that wakes you and demands your attention (kind of like my cat if I don't barricade the door except he is not painful, just needy).  I'm not sure Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" is the perfect movie to watch when you are light sedated, but I gave that a run from four in the morning until it was time to "wake up" and get Sara off to school.  

Lost another day yesterday as I let the painkillers "take the edge off", as my doctor said they would.   Does he mean that as in, take the edge off and some of the brain while you are at it?  Useless and stupid.  Sara was pretty tolerant.  She usually has no patience for anyone functioning at anything less than a high level.  Particularly not me.  And really I'm not sure she's ever known me as "smart".  Those days are twenty years and two kids in the distant past.  I remember them fondly.

All right, if you didn't pass out in my introductory paragraph then let's move on to some food talk, shall we?  Dinner club comes to our home once a year and I'll just come clean and own the fact that I'm a control freak.  No where more so than in my kitchen, so despite all the generous offers to help I usually do all of the cooking.  So please don't feel like you need to tackle an entire menu that I might suggest.  I love to cook.  I have the time.  My kids are both legal adults (not that that little factoid reduces the laundry and cleaning or anything because I'm also and enabler).  I do not work outside the home.  And like I said, I'm a control freak.

I could not settle on a dinner club plan until I had an epiphany enjoying my third order of food from a "tapas" restaurant's booth at the tennis tournament in Cincinnati last Thursday.  Possibly visiting the same booth three times is a little obsessive, but it was perfect food for a hot day of hanging with the tennis ladies and working my way to the front row to take some pictures.  Good times.

American Mardy Fish and his abs.  He could use some of my food in the off-season.

Tammy and I split an order of empanadas with chorizo, potato and peppers served with romesco sauce.  Possibly they got their recipe from Epicurious just like I did click here for the recipe .  The only difference is that these yummy little pies are baked and not fried.  Thank goodness.  The dough chills for an hour while you make the filling.  I assembled and baked the little pies the day before dinner club and heated them in the oven covered with foil the night of the party.

The restaurant served them with romesco sauce which is one of my favorite savory flavor combinations:  almonds, roasted red peppers and garlic (among other things).  I whipped up a batch from a recipe I've had for ten years (vintage) and served the sauce with the empanadas and some delicious breaded and baked Parmesan zucchini sticks.  The romesco sauce complemented both dishes well as it does for fish, chicken, pasta and breads too.  Yummm.  Add it to your repertoire.  Easy way to add some depth of flavor.

my empanadas

My "tapas" menu also featured the OMG yogurt-herb marinated chicken skewers (see the July posts) with tzatziki sauce, korean beef tacos, caprese salad and a rice/grain salad from a recipe book from The Frog/Commissary Restaurants in Philadelphia (back in the day 20 years ago when my headquarters were in Philly and not in my kitchen).  I had some great farmer's market peaches I marinated in amaretto and layered with soft almond cookies and mascarpone cheese whipped with honey.  For tonight let's go with the romesco sauce and zucchini stick recipes.   BTW I did let a guest get all messy and help me bread the zucchini.  You can't really make them ahead and I can ask for help on occasion.

Romesco Sauce

1/3 C slivered/sliced blanched almonds, toasted
1 thick slice of hearty white bread, toasted
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 C roasted red peppers, drained and chopped (bottled ones from Trader Joe's are great)
2 T red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C olive oil

almonds, bread, pepper flakes, salt in food processor

Toast almonds in a heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring until lightly browned (3-5 min).  Use the same pan to toast the bread brushed with a little olive oil/garlic olive oil.  Tear the bread into smaller pieces.  Place almonds, bread, garlic and red pepper flakes in a food processor bowl and pulse to chop until fine.  Add roasted red peppers, vinegar and salt and process until smooth.  Add olive oil with the motor running until well blended.  Sauce can be served room temperature, chilled or warmed.
roasted red peppers added

finished romesco sauce

Parmesan Zucchini Sticks

3 large zucchini
1 1/2 C panko breadcrumbs
1/4 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
cooking spray and/or olive oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray baking sheet or jelly roll pan with cooking spray or brush on a thin coat of olive oil (cooking spray leaves a baked on sticky residue and I try to avoid ruining my pans).  Halve zucchini crosswise and cut each half lengthwise into 8 wedge-shaped sticks.  Toss panko, Parmesan, salt and pepper in a shallow pie dish.  Lightly beat eggs in another shallow dish (you can use 1/2 C egg substitute or one egg and one white if you are trying to be real "light").  Dip zucchini in egg and then dredge in crumb mixture.  Place on prepared sheets.  Spray with cooking spray if you like.  I didn't and mine were still crunchy and delicious.  Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes until golden brown.  Serve immediately.

serve up some zucchini sticks!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

last first day of school

Sara, Carmel High School Class of 2011
Last first day of school for Mom.  Last awkward photo moment, but they always played along.  Last morning with that lump in my throat and a few tears in my eyes as I send one of my babies off to school. Not once in the 16 years of first days of school have I been the mom jumping for joy.  Many of the ones when they were in grade school I'd feel a little guilty thinking we hadn't done all the crafts and been all the places I wanted to take them over summer vacation.  But I learned to let that angst go.  I've repeated the mantra "you were present" over and over comforting myself that I had the privilege to stay home with them and we did "do" most everything we could.  And we probably did even more.  Greg and I hold the family vacations, the family dinners and even the family bike rides around the neighborhood as the highlights of our life together. (That last sentence really did it and the memories flood in and the tears well and if I don't pull it together I'll have to stop typing).   So lucky to have it all to treasure.
I should share some favorite back to school traditional recipes with you, but really the morning picture is the only religiously observed tradition.

Tonight will most likely be pizza on the grill.  Kelly is home for another week before she heads back to Purdue.  My kitchen will be serving all the favorites before it's back to sorority house dining for her.  I'll be baking bread this evening for the daily peanut butter and honey sandwiches that Sara will take every day and most likely eat in the HiLite room while she's busy being Editor in Chief of the CHS newspaper this year. It's time to workout and then it will be time to get out the bread machine.  I do know how to fill up the day!  I am embracing feeding my family while they are under my roof.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

butterfly chicken

Let's talk grilled chicken today.  We eat a lot of grilled chicken.  I've previously posted some yummy marinades for boneless, skinless breast or breast tenders.  But as with all meats, chicken with the bone in and the skin on is still the tastiest.  

Here's a technique I learned from my Fine Cooking magazine to butterfly a chicken.  Butterflying a chicken allows you to grill it in one nice flat piece with more even cooking now possible.  You will be removing the back bone to open up the chicken like a book.   How fun is that?   Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

Buy a nice Bell and Evans whole chicken from Marsh or Joe's Butcher shop.  This week Marsh has whole chickens for $1.49 a pound.  Try one.  So much better for you and the planet than Tyson or Perdue mass-raised chickens.

Unwrap your chicken, remove and gizzards or other parts from the cavity, rinse in cool water and pat dry.  Get your kitchen shears/scissors and a boning knife ready.   Using your sharp shears, cut parallel to the backbone about 1/2 inch from the center repeating along the other side to remove the backbone.

At the wing end, use your boning knife to cut through the cartilage in the middle of the chicken until you hit the start of the breast bone.

Score the membrane down the center of the breast bone from top to bottom.

Grab the chicken and bend the sides backward popping out the breast bone.  Pull the bone completely out (this will make it easier to cut and serve the chicken, but if you just pop it to release it and leave it there, you will be fine).  The chicken will still be connected by the skin.

Flip the chicken over, breast and skin side up.

Tuck the tips of the wings behind the breasts so they don't hang out there and overcook.

Ta da!  You now have your pretty butterflied chicken to season and grill.  I like to rub my chicken all over with olive oil, salt and pepper and sometimes use a rub (Sweet Mesquite from Costco is a favorite). For extra flavor, lift up part of the skin over the breast and get some oil and seasoning in there between breast meat and skin.

When your grill is nice and hot, lower it to medium heat and put your chicken on with the skin side up.  Grill for 10-15 minutes and then grab two wide spatulas to turn the chicken skin side down for 15-20 minutes.  Flip the chicken so it's pretty browned skin side up and continue cooking until your instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast meat reads 170 degrees.  Put the nice bird on a platter, tent with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes.   Carve, serve and enjoy!

I have some great pictures of my pretty grilled chicken, but the uploader on has not allowed me to post pictures recently.  I'll check with my IT department (my children) and hopefully add some pictures soon.

Until then, let's try this link to a video from Fine Cooking which hopefully you can see without being a member (if you want to join, it is money well spent).

Friday, August 6, 2010

a week off

Husband's in Europe enjoying 70 degree weather and the girls and I are home surviving the heat wave.  Not a whole lot of big time cooking going on.  I did make a great salad with rotisserie chicken, grilled corn,  diced avocado, romaine, shredded cheese, black beans and a honey-lime vinaigrette.

It's Friday and the week off is drawing to a close with my husband coming home this evening.  I'm going to try another version of the chicken skewers marinating the chicken in yogurt, basil, garlic and thyme.  I bought some beautiful tomatoes and I'll serve them with my basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar along with the burrata cheese I was lucky to find on sale today at Whole Foods for $9.99 ($3 savings).  Kelly brought me some pretty Red Haven peaches from Michigan and I have some California peaches from Costco needing to be used in something wonderful.  I'll make a pitcher of my mother-in-laws recipe for "bloomer droppers" for something refreshing.
bloomer droppers in the blender

I delivered my in-laws to the airport yesterday so they could fly to Amsterdam to board a cruise to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with 10 other couples (two of which are also marking 50 years of wedded bliss).  I'm happy they are able and willing to go even though Greg's parents are not old (they married at 19 and 21 and had Greg 9 1/2 months later).

Greg and I celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary this week and of course he'll be traveling.  At least he'll be in the country this week.  I'm beginning to feel left out with him in Europe this week, his parents there the next two weeks and my best friend Susan on her way to a Black Sea cruise tomorrow.  I've lived in Japan and visited Bermuda (lovely honeymoon thanks to the lovely in-laws), Canada, Mexico, St. Thomas, St. John, St. Kitts, Nevis, Brazil and Argentina.  But still, never been to Europe.  I'm sure I'll get there, however!

Last year we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a family trip to the stunning and breathtaking Canadian Rockies.  Alpine hikes above the glaciers in grizzly country and white-water rafting in glacial rivers is an awesome way to celebrate.  If you are approaching this milestone let me give you fair warning that you will get "silver anniversary" cards from the relatives which will make you feel old unnecessarily.

alpine hike at Sunshine Meadows, Banff, Canada 08/09  ahhhhh.....

It is actual quite gorgeous now, so if I can't take a vacation I'm at least going to the pool.  Sara is guarding and I'm in the middle of a great book, "Cutting for Stone".  Here are some quick recipes.

Honey-Lime Vinaigrette

1/4 C honey
juice of 3 medium limes
1 T cumin
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/3 C olive oil

Combine all ingredients and whisk or shake to blend.  Makes enough for a salad for 8-12 people.

Bloomer Droppers

3 peaches, pitted and chopped (you can keep the fuzzy skin on)
6 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate
6 oz. vodka

Blend all ingredients in a nice strong blender and serve a nice not too strong beverage to your friends.