Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wild Garlic and Grilled Shrimp

With all the beautiful weather around here the last couple of days, it's been hard to focus on anything but getting outside and enjoying ourselves. Fortunately, we've been able to shrug off some of our responsibilities and head out for lots of long walks to enjoy the mild temperatures and budding growth.

One of the best things about March in the Midwest is watching the world around you change from barren and brown to alive and green, sometimes overnight. I mean, two weeks ago I was donning 3 layers to get through my morning run without freezing to death, and now the happy faces of blooming daffodils greet me on my way back home! What a change!

Spring, of course, is also the time for inspiration and planning. While some friends are busy cultivating large gardens and awe-inspiring goals, I'm just happy with what I can find just off the sides of the trails. Have you heard of Wild Garlic?

Around here this little find is a certifiable weed. It plagues those who keep dairy cows, imparting a garlicky taste to the milk (something I would certainly not like!). The plant is also a nuisance to those who keep perfect lawns, as it's clumpy bunches grow faster than typical grass and spread like wildfire. But sometimes, weeds can be delicious!

As one of the first plants to show it's green growth in the Spring, wild garlic is fairly easy to find. I can remember munching on the leaves as a kid, mesmerized (even then!) with it's heady garlic/onion smell and sharp taste. Today, I find the plant valuable for the mild garlic taste it imparts to dishes with minimal work. Finding some great bunches of it while out on a walk, I plucked some leaves knowing I would want to make something with it.

Quickly investigating the freezer, I discovered a lost bag of shrimp calling out to me. Ten minutes later the shrimp were lounging in a marinade of wild garlic and lemon, patiently waiting their time with the grill. The smell was overpoweringly delicious!

Now I don't know how you grill (but you should tell me!), but when we do it, we typically put our food on aluminum foil to save mess. However, after thinking about it this recipe would make a great skewered shrimp kabob. The fresh taste of the wild garlic and lemon couple incredibly well with the light and smoky taste of grilled shrimp. If you live in a place where wild garlic grows free (the eastern and central States), you have to give this little weed a chance.

Gosh, I'm so sad we don't have any leftovers!

Grilled Shrimp with Wild Garlic
Serves 2

What You'll Need:

A grill

Aluminum foil
1 medium sized bowl
1 medium pot, for pasta

20 raw medium shrimp (we buy frozen)

2 generous handfuls broccoli, chopped

2 generous handfuls cauliflower, chopped
1 Jalapeno, chopped
1/4 pound whole-wheat spaghetti (angel hair would be great)

1 generous handful fresh wild garlic leaves, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Zest of one lemon
1 tsp red pepper flakes

10-15 leaves fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Sea Salt / Pepper to taste

What You'll Do:

1. Thaw your shrimp in a colander by running cool water over them. Toss regularly to ensure even thawing.

2. In a medium sized bowl, combine wild garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and red pepper flakes. Add shrimp to mix and toss to coat with marinade. Cover and let sit for 20 minutes.

3. Cover your grill in aluminum foil to create a surface for your shrimp and vegetables. Alternatively, you could use a skewer to create kabobs. Warm your grill so that it gives off a medium heat.

4. When shrimp is done marinading, remove from marinade and place on grill. Add your broccoli, cauliflower and jalapenos to the grill and toss with shrimp. Drizzle both vegetables and shrimp with leftover marinade.

5. On the stove top, cook your spaghetti according to package instructions. Make sure to heavily salt your water, which gives a better flavor to pasta. Drain and set aside.

6. Cook over a medium heat until shrimp is pink and cooked through and vegetables are barely tender (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat.

7. Toss your cooked vegetables and shrimp with pasta and serve. Garnish with parsley and salt/pepper to taste.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sweet Limoncello Cupcakes

Last fall, a good friend of mine was living and studying in Florence, Italy. In talking to her, I learned more and more about traditional Italian cuisine and lifestyle. The knowledge was intoxicating, in more ways than one.

On one memorable morning, my friend explained to me a drink she had been given to celebrate her 21st. It was yellow, tasted of lemon and terribly alcoholic. The drink was limoncello, and I was intrigued.

Last weekend, my lovely friend came up to Ohio for a visit. A month before, soon after we solidified our plans, I began making limoncello. The process requires weeks of infusion and some time in the freezer before the drink is ready to consume, and the wait was agonizing. I couldn't wait to taste this delicious liquor!

Thursday, I started sketching up desserts to serve with our after dinner digestiv. Flashes of lemon bars and cake flashed through my head, but no. I wanted something smaller, more individual, and something more suitable for a light party. Cupcakes. Yes.

Once I knew in what form my dessert would be served, the recipe came quickly. I modified a staple muffin recipe, adapting the all-purpose flour with a combination of whole wheat flour for structure and whole wheat pastry flour for a bit of lighter bite. With all of the wheat flour, I knew I would need some additional help to keep the batter light and cake-like. An addition of milk would do the job beautifully. Meanwhile, lemon zest and limoncello would provide the bright flavor, and a splash of vanilla would give a mellow under current. I started having visions of perfectly round little cakes glazed lightly with a deeply lemon-sugar crust. I even drooled a little on my newly minted recipe.

This cupcake was perfect for the spring-like weather we enjoyed the weekend, and accompanied our after-dinner drinks amazingly well. While lemons are still inexpensive and the weather requires peppier desserts, these cupcakes are my favorite...

Sweet Limoncello Cupcakes

makes 12 cupcakes

What You'll Need:
1 pan of muffin molds
12 paper cupcake liners


For cakes-
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), softened
2/3 c. sugar
1 cup whole wheat all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp limoncello*
2 tbsp skim milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp lemon zest, grated finely

For glaze-
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp lemon zest, finely grated
1 tbsp cardamom/sugar**

*You may substitute limoncello for plain or slightly sweetened lemon juice.
** To make, mix 1/2 tsp cardamom with a scant tbsp sugar.

What You'll Do:

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line muffin tin with paper cups.

2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together softened butter and sugar.

3. In a separate bowl, mix flours and baking powder until evenly combined.

4. Add flour mixture along with limoncello, milk, vanilla extract, beaten eggs and lemon zest to creamed butter mixture. Mix together until smooth and slightly lighter in color.

4. Divide mixture evenly among the muffin molds. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until firm and lightly golden around edges. Remove from oven and let cool completely before frosting.

To glaze-
1. In a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. The mixture should form a very thick and translucent paste.

2. Spread thickly on cupcakes using a butter knife or spatula. Smooth out frosting.

3. While frosting glaze is still wet, sprinkle lightly with sugar and cardamom mixture.

4. Let glaze harden, then serve.

These cupcakes will last up to 4 days and are served well with breakfast as well as after-dinner drinks.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cleaning the Fridge, or "Rustic" Lentil Soup

It's a late Saturday evening, and our fridge is full. I sleepily open the door to discover a partially eaten roasted chicken and several shelves full of week-old vegetables. I look behind, pull out a wedge of cheese as a snack and settle in to plan a soup to use up the leftover chicken and vegetables.

I have traditionally thought of soup as a way to use up food before it goes bad. This approach has served us well. As twenty-somethings who would rather spend a day wandering around a good grocery store or market than going somewhere to have watered down drinks and dance the night away, you can imagine the state of our refrigerator. We'll do spontaneous things, like buy three different bunches of greens just because they were on sale and I want to compare their tastes. It makes for a collection of disparate vegetables which we can't eat fast enough. Soup is one of the easiest ways to get a large quantity of vegetables cooked down and preserved for a little bit longer.

But, soup is much more than a method to save my vegetables from the trash bin. To me, it's the ultimate comfort food. If done right, soup can be the only meal you need. And trust me, my soup? It's done just right. Chocked full of vegetables for lots of flavor and color, lentils and barley to give additional volume and protein, plus chicken for extra oomph (and, of course, more protein). I top each bowl with a generous topping of Pecorino, and the two of us settle in with a great movie and wonderful company. It's a soup that is suitable for serving to guests, as well as for a quick heat up for lunch.

To me, the process of making this soup is almost therapeutic. I like to take the time to simmer a stock from a chicken carcass, and I feel that the flavor is better with a homemade stock. Yet, I know that many people don't have or don't want to take the time to make a stock. And that's fine. There are plenty of good homemade stocks on the market. Choose one that is very low in sodium and very high in flavor. You can't go wrong. Soup is all about trial and error, and taking chances. So grab your stock pots and get experimenting! Don't forget to let me know how your soups turn out.

Delicious Slow Cooked Italian Lentil Soup serves 10-12

Note: You may start with pre-made chicken or vegetable stock or use your favorite store-bought stock to start off this soup. In this case, simply skip the instructions detailing the process for making the stock.

What You'll Need: A large stock pot. (Seriously people, huge)


For stock-

One fairly picked over chicken carcass

1 large carrot, scrubbed not peeled, chopped roughly

2 stalks of celery and and leaves, chopped roughly

1 small yellow onion, chopped roughly

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1/4 tsp salt

1 handful chopped parsley (optional)

For soup-

1 pot of stock (recipe to follow)
1.5 cup French lentils (sort through to remove sticks and stones)

2/3 cup Barley

1-2 handfuls of parsley, chopped

1 medium-large yellow onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and pepper, to taste
3-4 large carrots, peeled and chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 28 oz can roasted tomatoes (or use your own and roast them on the grill!), diced or crushed

1/2 head of broccoli, chopped roughly

3-4 large florets of cauliflower, chopped roughly

Shredded chicken meat

Grated Romano cheese, to serve (optional)

What You'll Do:

For the Stock:

1. Strip chicken carcass of all use-able meat, and set aside meat for later use.

2. Break down the bones into manageable chunks, which are able to easily fit in your stock pot. Toss the chicken hunks and any leftover skin and fat into the pot, and fill pot with water until bones are covered with at least 2 inches of water.

3. Add in all other ingredients, and insure everything is covered with at least an inch of water. Add more if necessary. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.

4. Using a slotted spoon, occasionally skim surface clean of any foam. Continue with this skimming and simmering for about 3-4 hours.

5. When time is up and stock is both colorful and flavorful, strain to separate bones and vegetables. Repeat, if necessary, to insure that you remove all the bone fragments. For a clearer stock, strain through a cheesecloth.

6. Stock will save frozen for at least 2 months, and save in the refrigerator for a few days.
For the


1. Rinse both lentils and barley, and sort through to remove any stones or sticks which may have been mixed in during harvesting.

2. In your large stock pot, add pre-made stock (about 5-7 cups) and another 3 cups of additional water. Bring to a boil.

3. Stir in your lentils and barley once you have reached a good simmer. Add parsley, onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper (I like to add a handful of red pepper flakes, but if you don't like a little bite don't worry about them).

4. Cook for about 20 minutes. As the lentils and barley cook, you may need to add additional water. Add in additional ingredients (carrots through cauliflower) and cook for another 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

5. Add in shredded chicken meat and cook for another 5 minutes, or until chicken is thoroughly warmed. Check your seasoning, and adjust as necessary.

6. Serve, garnishing with a little grated Romano cheese.

7. Any leftovers may be refrigerated for up to a week. Reheat on stove to a light simmer, or microwave, to serve leftovers.

*Note: What makes this soup recipe so amazing is its flexibility. The lentils and barley add a lot of fiber and protein, making the chicken meat and stock go farther nutritionally. In addition, the lentils and barely continue to flavor the stock. This means that as you eat through the pot, you can add water and vegetables and "stretch" your soup out for a couple more days. Any sort of bean can be substituted for the lentils, and you can exchange the barley for pasta. However, I find that barley is much cheaper and offers more protein than most other grains. To add even more nutrition substitute vegetables as they come in season, or add 2 heaping handfuls of chopped greens (kale, spinach, collards). Anything goes!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fruit and Custard Crumble

Crumbles and baked fruit desserts have a long history. In the Middle Ages, baked desserts called puddings combined grains and dried fruits to form a custard-like meal finisher. Honey and fresh fruits were used for sweeteners, as sugar was not widely available. The crumble is a variation of this sort of fruit pudding dessert. Its easy sweetness lent it an appeal to those with an inability to access heavy amounts of sugar. The addition of oats in the crumbly topping is what gives the dish it's British name 'crumble'. Without oats, this dish is a 'crisp'.

Nowadays, there are plenty of ways to increase the sweetness appeal of such a simple dessert. The important thing to remember is to allow the heady fruit flavors to shine through, like they did in the original puddings.

Sweet crumble desserts have always been my one of favorites. Is there anything better than the rich cinnamon and sugar smell of stewing fruit wafting through the house, or breaking into a crusty flour and oatmeal covering and finding a warm and chunky fruit center? I don't think so.

With my mother and grandmother promising a quick weekend visit, I began to think of desserts I could pull together and bake while we ate dinner. I needed something I could prepare and shove in the refrigerator until they arrived. Luckily, some spring-inspired sales on strawberries and blackberries immediately turned my mind to a rich crumble. On my way home with my treasures, my mind began to turn to variations on this classic.

I would add apples, of course. But what about pears for some added sweetness? Stewing the fruit before hand would give me the ability to really soften it, and infuse it with flavors of Marsala wine and cardamom. This would also allow me to cook the fruit long before baking and stick it in the fridge. Perfect!

Yet, as I opened my refrigerator, I discovered another ingredient. Yogurt! What if, like in the old days, I made my crumble into a custard? Now that sounded good. Stewed fruit topped with a rich vanilla custard and smothered in crumbles! I was drooling at the thought. Quickly, I pulled out the yogurt and settled in to devise a custard filling.

When I assembled my dessert, I had enough fruit, custard and crumble left over to make a second, smaller crumble. Even after this, I had a lot of fruit left over. I recommend using this leftover fruit as a topping for ice cream or French toast. You can also just eat it with a spoon!

Fruit and Custard Crumble
serves 6-8

What You'll Need:
1 large souffle dish, or 6- 8 ramekins (see above for instructions on refrigeration)
1 medium saucepan
2 medium mixing bowls
1 wire whisk, or electric mixer


For Crumble-
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
5 tbsp unsalted butter, cold and sliced
1/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup rolled oats
1/4 tsp cinnamon

For Custard-
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups plain non-fat yogurt
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp vanilla extract

For Stewed Fruit-
2 braeburn* apples, peeled and diced
2 Anjou pears, peeled and diced
1 handful fresh strawberries, quartered
1 handful fresh blackberries, halved
1/2 cup Marsala
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom (optional)
zest of one orange (optional)
1/3 cup sugar
* Braeburn have a great balance of sweet and tart for this dessert, but you may use any good baking apple

What You'll Do:

For Crumble-
Combine flour and butter in a mixing bowl. Using either a knife and fork or your hands, mix until the ingredients begin to come together in the consistency of bread crumbs (chunky). If needed, add water by the tablespoon to create bigger crumbles. Do not over mix. Stir in the brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and oats. Set aside.

For Custard-
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until lighter in color and smooth. Add in yogurt and vanilla. Continue whisking until almost fluffy. Add in flour and beat until smooth. Set aside in refrigerator.

For Stewed Fruit-
Combine apples, sugar, vanilla, spices, zest and Marsala in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add enough water to cover apples (about 1-2 cups). When liquid begins to simmer, lower heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for approximately 5 minutes, or until apples begin to tenderize. Add in diced pears and other fruit. Mix well to cover new fruit with syrup mixture. Add more Marsala and water, if necessary. Cover and cook for an additional 5 minutes on medium-low. Remove from heat.

To make crumble-
Preheat oven to 350°. Using a large spoon, dish fruit mixture into bottom of souffle dish or individual ramekins. Make sure to include plenty of juices from the pan. Fill dish approximately 1/3 of way. Reserve some of the fruit mixture to top finished dessert.
Over top of fruit, fill dish or ramekins with custard mixture. Leave approximately 1/4 of dish unfilled.
Finally, top the custard and fruit with your crumble mixture. Go ahead and fill your dish or ramekins all the way up to the top.
Place dishes into oven and bake. For the souffle dish, bake approximately 1 - 1 1/2 hours. For the ramekins 30-40 minutes will do the trick. You are looking for the custard to lightly set and the crumble to brown slightly.

To serve, top with leftover fruit mixture and fresh sliced berries.

Vanilla Cornbread Surprise

I have a confession. Christian cheats on me. He'll sneak off to secret trysts in the kitchen, hoping I won't follow him and find out the truth. But, I already know about his sneaky ways. I can hear the mixing bowls clanking together from the other room, and his frantic ripping open of packaging. Scents gently billowing from the warm oven assault my nose ...

That boy! He's always into the Jiffy cornbread! What a flirt!

Knowing his weakness, the day finally came when I caved to his pleading, and his constant puppy-dog eyes. He needed cornbread. A sweet, grainy bit of fluff; perfect for accompanying stews and spicy sauced chicken. But, his sad eyes told me, he wanted me to make it.

I suppose I can consider this a truce. We'll have the cornbread, but this time, it won't come from a box. I scoured the internet for the perfect recipe. Of course, the wonderful Karina Allrich of Gluten-Free Goddess came through for me. Her skillet cornbread held me mesmerized to the page.

Figuring I could simply follow her instructions for all-purpose flour, I copied down the recipe. Of course as soon as I pulled out the mixing bowls, I couldn't resist a few changes. I took Karina's wonderful advice to change the recipe from delightfully spicy to beautifully sweet, then added even more of a vanilla boost with some wonderful vanilla infused olive oil from the people at ___. I substituted all-purpose whole wheat flour for regular, and doubled the cinnamon. Next time I think I'll try cardamom instead.

We ate the whole skillet of bread in a day. Wow, cornbread never tasted so good. I might even start to reach for it too, just not the boxed stuff. I'm a skillet convert.

Karina's Skillet Cornbread, in Vanilla (click for original recipe)
serves 8-10

What You'll Need:
A 10 inch iron skillet, seasoned*

1 cup stone-ground cornmeal
3/4 cup all-purpose whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp fine grain kosher salt
2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cup vanilla infused olive oil (or simply double your vanilla)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup skim milk

What You'll Do:
1. Preheat your oven to 375

2. In a large bowl, combine your cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well to incorporate. Add in cinnamon and light brown sugar and mix again.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk your eggs lightly. Add in olive oil, vanilla extract and milk and mix well.

4. Add your wet ingredients to your dry and mix briefly until dry ingredients are just wet.

5. Warm your skillet over a medium-high heat. Add your batter to the skillet and top with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

6. Bake in center of oven for 20-25 minutes, or until firm and slightly darker around the edges.**

7. Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting, then enjoy!

*If you don't have an iron skillet, you can line muffin tins with paper cups and make corn muffins. Just reduce the baking time to 18-20 minutes and enjoy!

**If using whole wheat flour, be aware that your cornbread will be a darker, richer color than the cornbread you are used to. This means the edges of your bread will be much closer to a brown than a gold.

Fresh Strawberry Oatmeal

As an avid runner, oatmeal is more than just a delicious and nutritious breakfast food. It's a training tool. When I am running high mileage weeks, eating becomes less of a pleasure and more of a science. What to eat, how much to eat and, most of all, when to eat. Life can be a delicate balance when you are pushing yourself to exhaustion on the roads, but want to avoid sugar headaches and chemical-laden 'energy bars'.

Usually, my breakfasts consist of sauteed vegetables and an egg with some fruit. It's delicious, filling and good for me. But this week, I really amped up the mileage. A couple of days in, and I could tell my normal nutrition just wasn't cutting it. I needed more carbs. I was craving them. So after a particularly beautiful morning run, I went back to the breakfast drawing board.

Check out that sky, and that beautiful running friend!

I have to admit. I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to oatmeal. I don't believe in making it savory, and I don't mix up my recipe. My oatmeal, developed by watching my grandfather for years, is made with milk. I add almonds and raisins and a little honey. It's delicious, and perfect. But, it's also a little heavy. A little too heavy for my delicate after-run stomach.

So instead of my normal recipe, today I grabbed a pint of strawberries and used the microwave. The result was amazing. If you like oatmeal at all, you have to try it. You do. Come now, it only takes 5 minutes.

I keep thinking of variations. Maybe apple/cinnamon oatmeal? Pear and cardamom? What about adding orange zest? Let me know what you try!

Fresh Strawberry Oatmeal
Serves 1

What You'll Need:
1 small bowl, or large coffee mug
A microwave

1/3 cup oats (may use instant, I didn't)
3-4 fresh strawberries, diced finely
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp honey (optional)
1/2 cup milk

What You'll Do:
In your small bowl or mug, fill the bottom with sliced strawberries. Over the top of fruit, sprinkle spices and honey. Add in oats over the top of strawberries, and pour in milk. You want to make sure there is enough milk added to cover the top of the oatmeal. At this point,there is no need to stir your mixture.

Place your cup in the microwave. Cook on high for 3-5 minutes. Watch carefully. As your oatmeal cooks, the strawberry goodness will rise up and bubble out. Don't let it overflow, it can be a disaster to clean off the bottom of your microwave. Remove from the microwave and stir. You may need to cook an additional minute or two after the initial bubbling.

Wait for oatmeal to cool slightly and add another tablespoon or so of cold milk. Stir well and enjoy!