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We are off to Michigan today to squeeze in a little beach time – a delayed 4th of July vacation, if you will. One of my favorite things about escaping the city for a few days is the almost instant sense of relaxation, which also means a relaxed approach to cooking. Our local market (where we always pick up a couple jars of our favorite tomato sauce) is stocked to bursting with fresh goodies, and we just grab whatever looks good. Dinner on a recent trip was:

Beautiful fingerling potatoes

Broccoli sauteed with olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper (prepared by our friend Kris)

Grilled burgers (meat purchased from the butcher down the street)

While preparing the meal, we like to turn on some music and pour out some drinks (as evidenced in the broccoli photo). Quality ingredients, simple preparation = more time to sit on the porch and watch for hummingbirds.

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Justin and I got married a year ago yesterday! In honor of the most amazing day, full of family, friends…and food, a look back at the wedding menu created by our amazing caterer, J&L.

All photos by the wonderful Susan Ryan Photography. Please do not reproduce without permission.

Appetizers

These were passed around in the lobby of the Notebaert Nature Museum during cocktail hour.

Grilled Jumbo Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce

Rice Paper Baskets with Seared Tuna, Avocado and Japanese Pickled Ginger

Not pictured: Miniature Scallion Corncakes with Prosciutto, Crème Fraiche and Chive; Herbed Crepe Bundles with Lemon Asparagus Mousse; Miniature Pizza Wedges with Spinach, Caramelized Onions and Shiitake Mushrooms.

First Course

Out on the patio: Trio of Chilled Soups served with Parmesan Bread Stick

Behind the scenes: Chef Kevin Kelly plating a LOT of soup

Left to Right: Mint Infused Spring Pea with Drizzle of Paprika Oil, Gingered Carrot garnished with Crème Fraiche, Chive Vichyssoise garnished with Crispy Leek

Second Course

Salad of Mesclun, Red Oak Leaf Lettuce and Watercress with Spring Asparagus, Roasted Red and Yellow Beet, Crumbled Goat Cheese, and Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette

Mmm, bread.

Entree Options

Served with mini truffle scented twice-baked potatoes and market veggies.

Roasted Salmon Roulade with Caramelized Leeks & Roasted Peppers, Stone Ground Mustard Veloute

Sliced Peppercorn Crusted Grilled Beef Tenderloin served with Red Wine and Balsamic Reduction

Crispy Pan Seared Risotto Cake with Sliced Wild Mushroom & Red Wine Reduction...and kiddie meal

Dessert

Created by Maggie Roeder Cakes (but, we didn’t actually have a cake!).

Cupcakes! Square: Mocha Chocolate Dipped in Ganache. Round: Almond with White Chocolate Buttercream and Chocolate Flower

Late-night friandise: Chocolate Ganache Tarts with Gold Dusted Ganache Filled Raspberries, Prickly Pear Pate De Fruit, Lemon Mousse Tarts with Lemon Candy Garnish, Cream Puffs Filled with Peanut Butter Buttercream and Dipped in Chocolate, Espresso Truffles, Apricot Linzor Bars, 3 Ginger Cookies, Meringue Sandwich Cookies Filled with Preserves

Petite sweets for a little sugar kick on the dance floor!

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Off to Africa for our sixth night of international cooking! Though one of my all-time favorite cuisines is Ethiopian, I didn’t quite feel up to the challenge of making injera. Nevertheless, we stuck to sub-Saharan East Africa to create sweet potato patties served with mixed greens and mung bean sprouts. The recipe is from a vegetarian cookbook called “World Food Cafe 2” by Chris and Carolyn Caldicott.

The patties are actually a mixture of sweet and white potatoes, onion, red pepper, and fresh corn, flavored with an array of spices including cumin, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, cayenne peppers, and fresh ginger and cilantro (the recipe also calls for ground cardamom, but at around $15 for a tiny jar, we skipped it!). After frying in sunflower oil, they had a scrumptious flavor similar to some Indian pakoras I’ve had the pleasure to consume. The accompanying piri piri, a chili-based sauce used throughout Africa, added just the right kick of heat – and we have plenty left over to use as a future marinade. Tip: ALWAYS wear gloves when handling hot chilies!

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Ah, Spain. Land of tapas: plates small enough that you can try a million different dishes in one sitting. Well, maybe not a million. Last night we opted for a more realistic count of three.

With my sister as a third chef in the kitchen, she, J, and I each chose a recipe from the “Tapas Deck” by José Andrés. No need to make a grocery list – just take the individual cards with you to the store! It’s said that tapas originated when Spanish sherry drinkers came up with the ingenious idea of keeping fruit flies out of their glasses by covering them with tiny plates bearing snacks. While we didn’t need to cover our drinks last night with small dishes, we did enjoy plating our creations on larger platters.

Justin’s Roasted Vidalia Onions with Cabrales Cheese

This dish initially stalled a bit as the onions didn’t brown as expected (we think it may have had something to do with the type of baking dish we used), but they came out  deliciously soft and sweet regardless, topped with creamy cheese crumbles, pine nuts, and chopped chives. Note: rather than make the extra trip to the Whole Foods cheese counter, we used the recommended substitution of gorgonzola.

Rachel’s White Mushrooms with Garlic and Parsley

This is the perfect dish for mushroom lovers (which all three of us are): a simple saute with olive oil, garlic, fresh thyme, and sherry, finished just as simply with salt, white pepper, and chopped parsley. The recipe notes that this preparation is common in Logroño, the capital of the northern Spanish province of La Rioja.

Lily’s Crab-Filled Cherry Tomatoes

The most complex dish of the evening is probably also the most appropriate for summer given its minimal cooking time. The tomatoes are quickly blanched and skinned, then stuffed with lump crab meat which has been dressed with mustard, mayo, parsley, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and crushed toasted nuts. For a finishing touch, a sprinkling of hard-boiled eggs added a pretty yellow color to the plate. While the tomatoes are small, they are quite rich and pack a good punch of flavor.

We rounded out the meal with a mixed green salad and bread, and some good family chat time. The three of us have been to Spain together before, and I think we’ll be cooking tapas together again!

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I think my love affair with Indian food started in college. My friends and I ate it about once a week, most commonly in the form of a Sunday morning buffet at our favorite restaurant following a late night out. We still laugh about how we would wait outside for the doors to open, and once at our table would order saag paneer in addition to the many all-you-can eat dishes on offer.

I had always wondered about how to recreate the complex flavors of Indian cuisine at home. In one of our few attempts many years ago, this involved grinding MANY different spices with a mortar and pestle. But when I recently took an Indian cooking class with my mom, I discovered another magic ingredient: ghee, or clarified butter. Our instructor had a large jar on hand and kept adding bright yellow scoops to seemingly all the dishes he was teaching us to make, resulting in an incredibly rich and creamy texture.

In our third (and most ambitious) night of world cooking, two of the three recipes called for the use of ghee as the cooking fat. Unfortunately, even a special trip to a market on Devon Avenue didn’t turn up the jarred version. I could have made my own by simmering unsalted butter until the moisture evaporates and the milk solids settle to the bottom, then spooning off the cooked butter…but I chickened out. The dishes were already complex enough without attempting a new technique, so I used the recommended substitution of vegetable oil. Next time!

All of last night’s recipes came from Julie Sahni’s “Classic Indian Cooking.” This is a really well-written cookbook, and I especially like how Sahni provides ideas for accompaniments for each dish. Using these suggestions, we prepared masala jheengari (shrimp laced with mild spices) served with gobhi sabzi (glazed cauliflower with ginger) and hari chutney ka pullao (mint pilaf).

Sahni notes that masala jheengari is the most widely eaten shellfish dish in India, and I can see why. The shrimp are first heated through in turmeric-spiced water, and the cooking liquid then forms the base of the sumptuous sauce consisting of onions, cumin, ground coriander, paprika, yogurt, salt, green chilies, and ground roasted white poppy seeds (I couldn’t find these at the store, so substituted sesame). After reducing to a thick gravy, the shrimp are added back in along with a swirl of heavy cream and some chopped fresh cilantro. The mouth-watering intensity of the finished entree was perfectly complemented by the more subtle flavors of the stir-fried cauliflower and rice studded with potatoes and infused with a mint and coconut puree.

Our Indian meal. Tip: When making basmati rice, factor an additional 30 minutes into your prep time to allow the grains to soak.

All in all (and despite a false start with the shrimp sauce in which I burned the onions and had to start over!), preparing this meal gave me more confidence with cooking Indian food, and I’m looking forward to creating some of our traditional take-out items at home (some favorites: butter chicken, samosas, malai kofta, and my old friend saag paneer!).

Because these recipes yielded a lot of food, we’ll be enjoying the leftovers tonight…but check back soon for our next international meal!

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Every household has its go-to recipes. In mine, it’s a rare week that goes by without seeing a burrito or a bowl of pasta on the table. While we love these tried and true meals, J and I have decided to challenge ourselves to try a new recipe each day for 7 days. It would be easy to scan the internet for ideas, but we plan to search exclusively within our wonderful but underused collection of cookbooks. With so many different cuisines to explore, we’re going to try a different one each day!

My parents are currently vacationing in France, so in their honor (or, let’s be honest, out of jealousy), we decided to start our world tour last night with a meal from France. For a muggy summer evening, we thought a light meal would be perfect, and we found what we were looking for in a recipe for la salade de roquette, asperges, et Parmesan de Ladurée from Patricia Wells’ “The Paris Cookbook.”

In the recipe introduction, Wells notes that she sampled this salad during a day at Ladurée, the famous French pastry shop (coincidentally known for inventing the modern macaron!). The fairly simple preparation of arugula tossed in a red wine vinaigrette and topped with asparagus, shaved Parmesan cheese, and a poached egg yielded fantastic flavor. Served with a baguette and a glass of rosé, la belle France set the bar high for our first day! Stay tuned for tonight’s recipe…

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As my sister and I were out of town last weekend (see “Scenes from L.A.”), our family’s Mother’s Day was a bit belated this year. Happily, we have a flexbile mom who was happy to postpone the celebration! Also happily, these kinds of special events provide an excuse to go all out on a decadent meal.

While I enjoy the adventure of planning a menu, it’s also fun to experiment with ones that have been planned for you. Epicurious.com allows you to search for menus (as well as individual recipes) from past issues of Bon Appetit and Gourmet based on an event, time of year, or specific ingredient. I didn’t find quite what I was looking for in their Mother’s Day files, but under Seasonal ideas I came across “Springtime Country Menu,” which sounded just right.

So, in honor of my mom, my sister, J, and I made the following on Sunday:

  • Crispy Bruschetta with Goat Cheese, Tomatoes and Mint
  • Radicchio, Grapefruit and Spinach Salad
  • Farfalle with Asparagus, Roasted Shallots and Blue Cheese
  • Lemon-Pistachio Tart
  • My dad brought the wine – as suggested, we had Côtes du Rhône (white during appetizers and a red with the meal).

    Photo by Bon Appetit. Ours didn't look quite as pretty, but tasted great!

    A few recipe notes:

    ~Bruschetta: The unexpected mint flavor was a nice change from the more conventional choice of basil. Rubbing the garlic on the warm toast made the kitchen fabulously fragrant!

    ~Salad: Interesting combination of ingredients. I would recommend leaving out the fennel seeds if you are not a fan of licorice.

    ~Pasta: Perfect for blue cheese lovers! Make sure to use a creamy blue so the pasta doesn’t end up dry. We combined a couple different types recommended by the friendly cheese counter guy at Whole Foods, and we’ll certainly be buying the buttermilk blue again (great flavor and price).

    ~Tart: The crust puffs up a lot, so next time I’ll try weighing it down with pie weights or beans while cooking. The lemon custard is amazing – we had a little left over which made for a wonderful breakfast spread!

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