Monday, December 14, 2015

Barbecue Chicken Pizza

Sunday night dinner in the Putnam house has traditionally included either a pizza or a store-bought rotisserie chicken.  We have made the preparation for this meal either extra easy, by picking up pizza, or eating a plain rotisserie chicken, or "more difficult", by grilling pizza or making an entree with the chicken.  Last Sunday, we chose a "more difficult" route, and prepared Chicken BBQ Pizza.

While I "worked pizza" at Bertucci's almost twenty years ago (gulp!), the brick-oven pizza chain introduced the "Polomatch"* pizza, toppings being chicken, diced tomatoes, BBQ sauce, cheese and scallions, This pizza was on the cusp of the fusion food movement, at least for me. The pizza was great! The fuse was a hit!

A few weeks ago, we had an "easy" pizza Sunday. I bought two frozen California Pizza Kitchen pizzas for dinner, which included one of their BBQ Chicken pizzas. It had been awhile since I had last had a BBQ Chicken pizza, but the husband demanded protein on his pizza. It was not as good as the Polomatch, but devoured.

Last Sunday, we had a "more difficult" dinner. I finally tried that Cooking Light recipe for BBQ Chicken Pizza that uses rotisserie chicken (I wrote about it in this post).  There was a bit more work involved for a Sunday than I thought, namely sauteeing the onion with the marinara and BBQ sauces.
Here is the before shot:

 Apparently, the grocery store does sell pre-baked, seven inch pizza crusts?!  

After 10 minutes at 450, here is the after shot:

Cut up scallions definitely add flavor and color!

These were considerable better that CPK's version, and worth it if you are a BBQ Chicken pizza connoisseur. These pizza crusts were also good, and much easier to handle than fresh dough. Still, not as good as fresh dough, but better than Boboli/Pillsbury pizza dough.  Worth remembering!

*The Polomatch is now called the BBQ Chicken pizza. Booooo Bertucci's.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The New Roast Chicken Sunday

It is a tradition in the South for families to share a chicken dinner together after church. Currently, our after church tradition consists of leftovers for lunch, followed by naps for all (except for a certain, special four year old). But now, for dinner, we have "New Roast Chicken Sunday."  This is because on Sunday, Harris Teeter puts there already cooked rotisserie chickens on sale for $4.99.

Cooking a roast chicken to perfection is supposed to be the penultimate challenge for a home cook. There are numerous recipes and methods touted by chefs, most notably Thomas Keller and Julia Child.  I usually use Simon Hopkinson's recipe in How to Roast Chicken and Other Stories.  But, when you have two hungry* kids and a week of meals to plan, the grocery store rotisserie chicken is an easy win, and the price is right - cheaper than buying an uncooked chicken and preparing it yourself.

Also, there are numerous recipes that you can make using the cooked meat from a rotisserie chicken. So, after giving the kids their bits of white meat, you can make an "adult" recipe . All of these meals are "deconstruct-able", meaning that the ingredients can be eaten on their own to everyone's individual tastes.

Here are some recipes for the cooler weather that I have had some success with:

King Ranch Chicken Soup.  From the November issue of Southern Living. This is a riff on the famous Texan casserole, King Ranch Casserole.  Other ingredients include onions, peppers, tomatoes, and corn tortillas.

Chicken Enchiladas.  I currently use Pioneer Woman's recipe.  But, this is so easy to adapt to your tastes.  Make it as difficult or as easy as you like.

Tortilla soup. The husband's favorite. Avocado is a MUST. It took me forever to find hominy in the store. Tip: it is in the canned corn section.

Parmesan Pasta with Chicken and Rosemary. I only eat pasta every few weeks, and rarely want to combine roast chicken night with pasta night, but sometimes it has to happen.

Here are some recipes for warmer weather:

Chicken Ceaser Salad.  Buy a ceaser salad kit, and a rotisserie chicken. Make sure there are extra croutons on hand.

Chicken and Peaches Platter.  Chicken, peaches, almonds, blue cheese - ingredients that don't need any further preparation.

Curry Chicken Salad: Always a favorite!

Here are some recipes I plan to try:

Fresh Fettucine with Roasted Chicken and Broccoli Rabe. Giada usually has her recipes fairly well tested. This also contains pine nuts and parmesan. Combining roast chicken and pasta makes me want to fast for a few days.

Quick BBQ Chicken Pizzas. Combine pizza and chicken night. But, this is a Cooking Light recipe, so you should feel better while eating it, right?

* If my children ever said they were "hungry," I would fall over dead.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Chicken with Mustard Mascarpone and Marsala Sauce

I didn't take a picture of this, because we ate it too fast. The husband and I actually bickered over who would eat the leftovers for lunch. It is extraordinary.

Giada De Laurentiis has been the source for many fabulous meals in our house. Everyday Italian inspired me to cook with many new ingredients, including pork tenderloin.  This particular recipe is from her Family Favorites cookbook.

I have never liked Fettucine Alfredo, mostly because it is, from the get go, not a healthy choice. I visualize my stomach expanding even as I read it on the menu (Note: this doesn't happen as I order the cheese plate, or my third drink).  The mascarpone is a lighter and just as flavorful replacement to Parmesan and cream (is that was Alfredo sauce is?).

We paired it with my "All Time Favorite Wine" - Allegrini Valpicello.  More on that later.

Eat at your own risk:  Chicken with Mustard Mascarpone and Marsala Sauce

Friday, November 20, 2015

Preschool Thanksgiving Turkey

I have roasted three turkeys in my life....all for the annual preschool Thanksgiving.  Each year, there has always been a small bit of drama associated with this donation.

The first year, I learned how long it took to defrost a turkey. My husband carried the turkey from the oven and into the church kitchen to carve. When the first turkey was eaten, ours came out and was devoured. I had counted on leftovers for dinner. Clare must have been there?

The second year, I bought the turkey at the last possible moment, and defrosted it outside of the refrigerator for a large chunk of time.  I woke up at six in the morning to put it in the oven. It finished at 10:30. I let it rest, and brought it to the church kitchen uncut (apparently uncarved it not a word.....). I cut it up and had it ready to serve as Ms. Lillian said the blessing.  We didn't get seats and ended up sitting along the edge of the hall,  One of the preschool substitutes told me how her husband had died from heart attack a month before during choir practice in the choir room down the hall. Meanwhile, Clare was crawling all over the floor.

This year, I decided to cut the drama and cook it the day before. (There was also an email from the preschool director stating that "All turkeys must be cut up ahead of him."  I took the hint).  It was still partially frozen the day before.  I read the instructions on the turkey wrapping, and it stated not to defrost outside of the fridge (whoops)  But, apparently, you can just cook it longer if it is still partially frozen.  After five hours, it came out great, and the kid had some "chicken" for dinner.  I put it in the fridge overnight, carved it up the next morning, dribbled it with chicken broth, warmed it up, and the husband carried it into the church hall before Rebekah's dance performance.  After her stellar dance, we went upstairs to the church hall, and didn't get seats again. All the turkey meat from all the turkey's were mixed on one plate, so who knows what we ate.  The kids ran around in chaos. Clare ate two pieces of pumpkin pie.  I am still hungry for some reason.

Meanwhile, here is the cutest example of cultural appropriation ever! Currently, she is making a "Native American" pie????

Thursday, November 12, 2015

"Chili" Saturdays

We have had chili for three Saturday nights in a row.  This means that we have been extremely lucky to have spent the last Saturday nights in the company of our family or friends.  It also means the temperature has dropped, which in North Carolina means to a chilly 60 degrees.

Three weeks ago, my father-in-law made his special chili for our family's visit.  It is always fantastic.

The following Saturday, Halloween, I made beef chili for all of my in-laws.  We ate it while handing out candy. This chili was, by far, my least favorite.  It was also my first time making a beef version of chili. I will spare you my analysis of the failure and just tell you that everyone managed to slurp it down.

Then, this past Saturday night, I had the healthiest/best chili I have EVER had at our friends' new house.  Our friend sent me the recipe.  It apparently had chia seeds in it? and butternut squash? Remember to pass the Fritos! (this was a whole new revelation.)

Butternut Squash and Turkey Chili
Thank you, Kim!

Wishing you all have a "Chili" Saturday soon!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

This past weekend, we ate the last Tomato Mozzarella Salad of the season.  We had it with a side of rib eye steak, and paired it with our favorite red table wine.  This is why we have a house with a garden and a grill. (Garden and Grill? Future possibility?)

The tomatoes and basil were the last from my husband's garden. He grew them from seeds. We will have to wait another year for more of his babies.  

I like my Tomato Mozzarella Salad to look chunky and wholesome rather than orderly and elegant. This is why I avoid calling it a "Caprese" Salad.  I also like more balsamic vinegar than olive oil.  Other additions: toasted pine nuts, sliced/diced peaches, lemon juice, or toasted bread (making it more of a panzenella salad).  

So simple and absolutely perfect!  It is now officially Fall. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dinner Mishaps

While I pride myself in my meal planning abilities, I cannot always depend upon the outcome of the meals. Despite "years" of experience, I can still manage to botch up an entire week of planned dinners. Was it Halloween? Was it sobriety? Maybe you can weigh in.

Monday:  Roast Chicken Breasts with roasted sweet potatoes and microwaved Honey Carrots. The  roast chicken initially came out under cooked and had to be put back in the oven (see photo). The frozen peas I was going to nuke had already been opened. There was no time to boil them. So, I nuked some carrots. The husband called it "beta carotene" evening.  Miso paste in the sweet potato was a win!

Tuesday:  Hosted Bible Study - Lasagnas came out great. I now have 12 individual frozen pieces in my freezer. When will I eat these?

Wednesday: Smitten Kitchen's Baked Potato with Mushroom Ragu.  This looked so good in the photos. I love potatoes, I love sauteed mushrooms, I love goat cheese. What could go wrong?  1) I only had a quarter of the mushrooms I needed for the recipe. 2) open vegetable broth for two tablespoons? no - used water. 3) open white wine for two tablespoons? no - used Marsala 4) and the kicker, I accidentally bought "Guava Goat Cheese". Thankfully, the guava part was in the middle of the tube, so I was able to cut out the plain part. There was still a fruity tinge. The husband ADDED the guava part and said it was good. Hmmmmm.  

Thursday:  Turkey Bolognese Sauce from the Kitchn web site, which was published in the Observer. Not as "easy" as advertised, but extremely elegant and tasted amazing. Unfortunately, I must have given the whole wheat spaghetti I planned to use to Loaves and Fishes, and ended up using elbow macaroni. Goodbye elegance!

I will spare you the weekend.

Monday:  Shrimp and Green Beans with Green Curry Sauce over rice, from Keepers. The green curry spice is supposed to be minimized by coconut milk. Apparently, there is also a product called "Coconut Cream," which I had bought instead. According to the label, it is used in Pina Coladas. I had no choice. I had to use it. The meal tasted fine, except it was Sweet and Sour Shrimp and no curry to be had.

Currently, Chicken Caccitore from Giada's Everyday Italian simmering on the stove.  Hopefully we will have success turned a corner.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Wednesdays have always been my favorite day of the week. Here is why:

1) When I was working, it was the day I could start thinking about the weekend. When Wednesday is over, the week is more than half way done.

2) Wednesday was usually date night. Since I was caught up on lesson planning/waiting for assignments/had a vision for the rest of the week, I could relax and see my future husband.

3) The Food Section of the New York Times arrives. Enough said.

4) Now that I have kids, they go to preschool on Wednesdays.

5) And lastly, the Harris Teeter VIC Coupon Specials arrive in my inbox.

Since I "retired" from teaching to become a homemaker, the same sense of urgency and success that I attained from lesson planning, I now attain by meal planning. I like to have meals planned for the entire week, all from different food sources, that contain adequate nutrition.  If there are not enough meals to plan, for example, we get Blue Apron meals, or we have many evening plans (LOL), I start to twitch.  Now that I have discovered Harris Teeter's coupon web site, my meal planning fantasies have gone wild. I am now meal planning, eating somewhat nutritious meals, and saving $$$$$$$$.
But the best part is THE LIST:

Money Shmoney! Who needs it when you can click on all the coupons you want, and print out a categorized list, WITH prices and amounts.

Added bonuses:
1) I did save $50 on a $150 grocery bill last week.
2) I have frozen pork tenderloin, chicken breast, ground turkey, and ground beef in my freezer.
3) Since I make lasagnas for families of new babies at our church, I have stocked up sauce, shredded mozzarella, lasagna pans, and frozen spinach - 5 of each for $20.
4) I will buy less next week because I have no more freezer space.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Butternut Squash Soup

The first year my husband and I were dating, his building shut the gas off.  The reason for this is all very boring, but it didn't matter. We were young and had no kids, so over the course of three months, we tried every restaurant in the neighborhood. And since it was Fall, the first words out of every server's mouth was, "The soup of the day is Butternut Squash."   I envisioned every restaurant's walk-ins filled floor to ceiling with butternut squash, and it all must be used. A visitor from abroad would think that butternut squash was all Americans ate since it was in everything from ravioli to dessert cakes.

Anyway, we tried a few bowls of the soup that season, and found it unremarkable. Come December, restaurants started touting "Chicken Noodle," or "Beef and Barley."  The gas in my husband's building returned, and we were able to let our sodium levels readjust.

A few years later, we found ourselves stuck in 625 square feet with a newborn, unable to enjoy the brisk Autumn sidewalk dining. But, the farmer's market had thousands of squash. I plopped a Butternut Squash under the stroller.

I don't remember the first recipe I tried, but, the one I use now is better than any restaurant's recipe. And you don't have to peel/dice the squash. Or, you can buy it diced (like I do!).  It involves an apple, and uses butter and cream (though I used half and half), key ingredients for cozy, Fall days.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Miso Paste

I started receiving the Charlotte Observer in March, and since that time I have become acquainted with the writing of its two stellar food journalists, Helen Schwab and Kathleen Purvis. While Ms. Schwab reviews restaurants and reports on food events, Ms. Purvis writes about local food and recipes.  Having been a subscriber to the NY Times for most of my adult life, and a major fan of its Food (formerly Dining Out) section, I had low expectations of the Observer's food journalism. This was because 1) I lived in "the South" now, 2) we had only been to five "very good" restaurants in our city of a million people and 3) after three years, I had still not found some decent sushi.

Then, one Wednesday in the spring, while skimming the Charlotte Food section, I came upon Ms. Purvis' "Top Five Flavor Shortcuts".  What could be on the "Top Five List" of a southern food journalist?  What does she know? And then I saw it, among Old Bay and Sea Salt (yeah yeah), MISO PASTE. My smugness over owning wasabi powder crumbled. I had never used this magic ingredient. I had never even seen it in the store! This is the South! 

Ms. Purvis wrote, "A tub of it keeps forever in the refrigerator, and it provides that elusive “umami” saltiness that gives things a deeper, richer flavor. Toss a dab with roasted asparagus, add it with butter to a baked sweet potato, whisk a little into scrambled eggs."

Where to begin? I could remain ignorant no longer.  First, I had to buy it.  After three grocery store trips, I found it at the Health Home Market 300 yards from my house.  Since I feared going rogue, I scoured my cookbooks for recipes and found only two in my handy Keepers by Kathy Brennan & Caroline Campion, who are both from New York. I knew they would not leave me astray.  

The first recipe was "Asian Pork Sliders with Magic Miso-Mayo." The Mayo was made by combining 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon white miso paste, and lime juice.  It definitely added that "elusive umami" that Ms. Purvis described.  I have since made it again to make sandwiches for leftover pork tenderloin.

The second recipe was for "Miso-Glazed Salmon."  This involved marinating the salmon in 1/2 cup white miso paste, 2 tablespoons white wine, and 3 tablespoons sugar before baking/broiling.  The results were a rich, moist salmon that was able to hold its own.

Is miso paste worth buying? Yes. Especially if it "keeps forever." Now, I still have to use up the half tub still in my fridge. I am going to try and convince my husband to add it to his eggs on Saturday. Will keep you updated!

Read more here: 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Turkey Chili

My love of chili is another food surprise that has sprung upon me during my thirties.  Maybe because I was thirty-one when I met my husband, and he LOVES chili. Then, it still didn't pass my lips until my sister made it for us in Tahoe, when I was 34.  Now, some years later, it is a family staple.

Maybe because I was raised in the northeast, by parents who were also raised in the northeast, I had never been served chili. I avoided it in school cafeterias, always choosing my backup meal of a few bowls of cocoa krispies.  The chili at JG Melon's in NYC always had a cult following, which I never gave a second thought. Who were these chili eaters? 

Then, in Winter 2011, Lake Tahoe, I could not avoid my fate. My sister, husband, and I arrived at the rental house with a cold wood stove among twenty feet of snow. My sister defrosted some Turkey Chili she had made for us in advance. There were no alternatives. There were no cocoa krispies. I was six weeks pregnant and freezing. And, it wasn't so bad. My husband devoured it all. 

With that ringing endorsement, I returned home and made a few batches.  While waiting for R to arrive, I even made some to freeze for a future meal.  

I have tried a few recipes over the years, even meatless recipes, and I always return to the original recipe my sister used, from All Recipes. 

Dinner: A Love Story also has a good recipe, which recommends a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Now I usually add some to the All Recipes recipe.   

Friday, October 9, 2015

Silver Palate's Baked Chicken with Apples

When you read as many food blogs as I do, you start to hear about different cult recipes from different cookbooks that "you must try."  This is one that always pops up in the fall as a perpetual favorite of many a home cook. I don't own the Silver Palate Cookbook, but many of the families I babysat for in the 90's had it on their shelf, usually next to The New Basics cookbook, and the updated Joy of Cooking.  I fondly recall many evenings reading through my clients' cookbook collections, and then trying to place them back in the exact empty spot. Anyway, this is my first recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook, and it fit the season and the mood impeccably.  

Personal Notes:  I used boneless/skinless chicken thighs.  Also, noting that the blogger below failed to note oven temperature, I chose 425 and just watched them cook until I thought they were done. They came out fine.  Further research found that the original recipe called for 350, but then I would have had to wait longer. I served this with cous cous, which I found perfect! I also paired it with valpolicello, my favorite light red, but it would also pair well with a heavier, oak y, chardonnay.

Baked Chicken with Cider and Apples
Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook
2 whole chicken chickens,quartered (I used 6 whole bone-in with skin)
2 cups apple cider
1 c flour to coat chicken
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/3 cup apple jack (I used a splash of apple cider vinegar)
2 apples, cored, peel-on, and cut into thin slices

The day before, place chicken pieces in a non-reactive shallow container. Pour cider over the chicken. Cover the chicken and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

The next day, remove the chicken from the marinade. Reserve the

Combine the flour, ginger, cinnamon and salt and pepper. Coat the
chicken with the seasoned flour, shaking off the excess. Place the
coated chicken pieces in a low sided roasting dish. Bake, uncovered, for
40 minutes.

Combine the reserved marinade, brown sugar, apple jack,and the apple slices in a medium bowl. (*Others have brought to a boil in a saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes) Pour the mixture over the chicken and continue cooking for 25 additional minutes or until the juices run clear. Baste with the pan juices.

Downton Abbey Claret

 I have not done a wine review in a while, but when I saw this on the shelf, it had to be done. So, the husband and I opened this up on Sunday night to watch Masterpiece Classic, which is not showing Downton Abbey but rather Indian Summers. We did an official tasting using the WSET Guidelines.

"Claret" is what the British call "Bordeaux," a blend of mostly cabernet and merlot grapes that grow in the Bordeaux region of France. The only reason I can give for this perpetual disparity is centuries of rivalry. But, after tasting the wine, the "Bordeaux' portion of this wine label should lobby to be removed.

Upon first whiff, there was absolutely no odor.  When pushed for a descriptor, the word "petrol" comes to mind.  The wine was extremely dry, full bodied, highly tannic with only medium acid, and had a short finish. There seemed to be no accentuating flavors. The husband declared it "flat as a pancake," and "not offensive, just bland," like the British Aristocracy. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup

I have always hated broccoli.  "You and George Bush," as my grandmother would say.  My mother, thankfully, never forced me to eat it, as I probably would have vomited from the smell alone.  When co-workers would microwave broccoli in the teacher's "lounge" at school, I had to "step out for a moment."  When I worked at Bertucci's, I would always eat the Rigatoni with Chicken and Broccoli, with no broccoli.  Therefore, I find it surprising that in these past few weeks, broccoli has deemed to pass my lips two times.  

I had been thinking about trying broccoli again (had I tried it before?) for a while.  While scrolling through the endless websites I cruise on a daily basis, I came upon Roasted Broccoli.  The writer proclaimed that it was the best way to eat broccoli, and you didn't even have to thaw the frozen broccoli, just place it on the pan with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and roast away.  I had been converted to asparagus and brussel sprouts with the same recipe. Anyway, I sat on the idea for the time being.  

Then came a night when I needed an emergency side, and I roasted the bag of frozen broccoli to the point of a little char, the way I liked other roasted vegetables. It did not smell heinous. I passed the broccoli through my lips, bit down, and didn't vomit. In fact, it tasted fine. I will just give it fine. My husband was thrilled. He had broccoli for dinner for the first time in five years. 

So, imagine my surprise when I clicked on Smitten Kitchen's blog last week, and saw her recipe for Broccoli and Cheddar Soup, and thought it looked good!  Good enough to make! 

So, we had it last night, and it was fine (especially with bread). The husband thought it was GREAT. And the kids did not let it pass their lips. I am not worried.   

Recipe Notes:  I did not use carrot in my soup, and it tasted fine. I would like to try it with carrot though. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Homemade Granola

Throughout my life, I have always, naturally, been among the most well-read in any group. I have spent nearly all of my free time since third grade reading novels/magazines/newspapers, and that is probably one of my greatest accomplishments. But really, it is only an accomplishment for yourself. You can never claim that you are "well read," because you will always be one upped, even by a non-reader ("Did you read the latest J.D. Robb?" "No, I did not." Inwardly seething).  If I find out that a dear (also well-read) friend has read a long, well-regarded book that I have not read, I MUST READ IT. This is the reason I slogged through The Executioner's Song, as well as recently became torn up  by A Little Life.

This is also the same reason I started making homemade granola. I was at a teacher's "retreat" at Princeton University, and my fellow teachers and I were discussing cooking, our go to meals, and how often we cook. Among NYC teachers, the most popular answer was "I store sweater's in my oven," so I was feeling smug. Then, my friend Samantha said that she made homemade granola, and that it was "so easy," and that "really, I wouldn't do it if it wasn't so easy, and it's so much cheaper than buying it."  She kept on saying it over and over, and I started inwardly seething as people started asking her about her favorite recipe, and which ingredients she liked.  Nobody was asking me anything! I had to make it.

I went home and googled the Mark Bittman recipe she referenced.  The boyfriend (now husband) and I hit Sahadi's, and we made our first batch using dried dates.  We never looked back.

Now, six years later, I am still keeping a jar of homemade granola on the counter. My husband adds it to his yogurt in the morning. I love the smell from the oven on a crisp autumn day.  When I peruse a cookbook/food blog, I brake for granola recipes.  Since the recipe is extremely flexible, and it really is "so easy," I will just post a few recipes and tips to get you started.

- Stock up at Trader Joe's, or a similar store with inexpensive nuts, dried fruits, and the like. I would avoid flavored nuts and fruits, but to each their own.

- Mix together the ingredients right on the sheet pan. Why clean another bowl?

- Keep on experimenting with different blends and recipes.  For this past granola batch, I used coconut oil for the first time as a binder. I also threw in some honey.

- If you can remember, move the granola around halfway through baking. But, you don't HAVE to remember.

- Add the dried fruit after baking.  My favorite is dried cherries.

This is my favorite recipe, but it is "more" labor intensive:
Eleven Madison Park Granola 

My friend Lisa swears by Smitten Kitchen's recipe.

Samantha, you changed my daily life, and it really is "so easy."

Friday, September 25, 2015

Food Web Sites

Even though this web site is called "Putnam Dinners," I have not wanted to define this blog as technically a "food blog."  I have no end goal of becoming a great "food blogger."  Also, most of my favorite food bloggers mix in other topics and stories of their personal lives.  Here are some of of my favorite food blogs, and why I like them.

1) Dinner a Love Story - Jenny Rosenstrach writes/provides accessible recipes for the working family. She also provides strategies for families with picky eaters and different appetites.  I own her cook book, and gift it at many a baby/wedding shower.  Even before I read her blog, an article she wrote in some magazine (Real Simple?) inspired me to write down all of the dinners I have ever made. I now keep a record from November 2011, one month after R was born, in a dinner journal
My favorite recipes include the Salmon Salad, Tortilla Soup, Baked Chicken with Tomatoes and Marscapone, Salad Pizza, and her Bourbon Pork Tenderloin (only in her cook book, and I never use Bourbon). Click on her Recipes link and explore!

2) Smitten Kitchen - More complicated recipes. Deb Pearlman is hilarious and realistic and really knows food. You know it's a good food blog when you read it and rarely use the recipes.  I try one every once in a while, most recently this Zucchini Casserole.  I didn't leave enough time to make it, and it came out too salty with excess liquid.  I also have made  her cucumber and avocado salad a few times.

3) Amateur Gourmet - Adam Roberts is a former professional food blogger who now writes for television. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading his journey from Park Slope, to Manhattan, and eventually to Los Angeles, with his now husband Craig.  He tries multiple recipes, has fun dinner parties, makes useful videos (I have found the "How to Cook Fish" and "How to Cook Steak" videos extremely useful), and has taken me to many amazing restaurants with his photo journals.  Recipes from his blog I have loved are Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies, Slow Roasted Salmon with Yogurt Cucumbers and Preserved Lemon,  While visiting his blog to write this paragraph, I just learned that he is starting a new, personal, no advertising blog called

4) Food 52.  Some good recipes, but not enough content. There articles have interesting titles and ideas, but are never longer than a paragraph.  Is this site meant for a phone?  I especially like their cookbook reviews, which seem to be longer than their other articles.

Happy Exploring!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What I have learned from Open Houses

There is a combined feeling of relaxation and excitement that comes upon you when you enter an open house. It doesn't have to be a great house, in fact looking at a ratty house just makes yours look better. This feeling never gets old, even after the fifty open houses I have been to in the past two years (and we are not moving, folks).

You might not consider going to open houses extremely adventurous, but on the contrary I have learned some tidbits over the years, about myself and real estate.
 Here they are: (in no particular order)

1)  The cookies don't help. You either want the house, or you don't. But, I will take one!
2) The one slip of paper flier is appreciated. I don't want a $5 print- out of contracts and deeds, especially when I skipped out on signing in.
3) I remind myself not to display my dirty flip flops and well-used Steve Madden flats when I have people in my walk-in closet for an open house.
4) The older the house, the more I want to see it, and the more I want to live in it.
5) The more nicely framed photos and paintings you have in your home, the more I want it. Ditto for wooden furniture. And books.
6) People who buy a home just for granite counter tops are idiots.
7) An Ikea rug is the cheapest, most temporary, and most obvious "fix" in history.
8) All roaches should be picked up before the open house.
9) An open house can only help a house sell.  There have been some houses on the market for months that have never had an open house. They have not sold either.
10) Move with the times, and have the open house posted online.
11) A balloon identifier on the sign is actually helpful.
12) FLUSH people.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


NYC has been the home of many ( mostly defunct) aspiring French Bistros. From the Upper East Side down to Murray Hill, there has been one on at least every other block.  Among my favorites were Jacques on 85th and 3rd, which features a Mussel Special almost every night, and the former Bateau Ivre on 52nd and 2nd, where my boyfriend (now husband) and I watched Obama win the presidential election on a chilly November evening while eating Sole Menuiere. By the time I moved from NYC in 2012, most of the bistros were being turned into trendier "wine bars" or "tapas" restaurants.

They all varied in quality and after trying out a few in your neighborhood, you knew which had the best roast chicken or your favorite steak frites, but they all had bad Vichyssoise.  It was a standard on the every menu, and was usually served extremely watery and with about three chives, forcing you to sip it with lots of "le pain".  And who knows how long it had been stored in their walk-in.  So when my grandmother (the same one who makes potato salad), made Vichyssoise once, I only ate some to be polite. But, it was good!

Homemade, fresh, Vichyssoise, is completely different.  It's actually savory (rather than liquid salt) and refreshing on a hot day. She mailed me her recipe (out of the Joy of Cooking).

My grandmother's Joy of Cooking recipe is pretty standard Vichyssoise, which calls for three leeks, one white onion, and four medium-sized potatoes.  The recipe calls for you to put the sauteed, softened ingredients through a very fine sieve, food mill, or blender. The recipe also calls for chives, which my grandmother states she "usually does not have."

I have also often used Mark Bittman's recipe. His calls for only leeks and potatoes (Yukon gold or russet), garlic, and for the cream to be optional. His suggested garnish is parsley or chervil (which is....?).  The end result is that cream is not "optional." But, I do use Yukon gold potatoes now.

I have found the best recipe to be by Simon Hopkinson, British chef and author of Roast Chicken and Other Stories. It's extremely simple, and requires cream and chives, along with the standard leeks (6) and potatoes (2). He also writes, "it really is worth passing the (blended) soup through a very fine sieve to achieve a wonderfully smooth result." While I wholeheartedly agree, I have two kids under four and won't be doing that anytime soon.

Bon Appetite!

from Simon Hopkinson

6 leeks, white parts only, trimmed and sliced
3 cups light chicken stock
2 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
Salt and white pepper
1 cup heavy cream
Small bunch chives

Simmer the leeks in chicken stock, covered, for 20 minutes. Add the potatoes, salt, and pepper and cook, covered, for another 20 minutes. Blend in batches until smooth, then strain if needed through a fine mesh sieve, cool, and add the cream. Correct the seasoning and chill thoroughly. Serve in ice cold bowls and garnish with chives. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Dinner Challenge - What to make with what's left?

On Tuesday, I had a typical "busy Mom" quandary - that being "What to make for dinner with no food?"  I usually schedule grocery time with my girls, as they enjoy going and are USUALLY well behaved. But, a last minute meeting with the grandparents, and a spontaneous play date prevented me from even darkening the door of the Teeter. Therefore, I took the challenge happily.

I have come to understand that one of the challenges that chefs partake on in cooking shows is to look in the pantry/refrigerator of someone's kitchen, and cook a gourmet meal from the ingredients they find.  I pretended to be one of those chefs as I sifted through my sparse cupboards.  All we needed was a main, as we still had the potato salad as a side (and we will be having it again tonight).
We had a quarter of a box of pasta, but no Parmesan. We had tomatoes. We had bread and turkey, but I really didn't want sandwiches for dinner. We had beans, cheese and tomatoes, and corn tortillas, but that really didn't go with potato salad.
I pondered for a few hours.
Frittata! We had eggs, feta, and frozen spinach. I googled the ingredients and came up with this recipe:
William-Sonoma's Spinach, Red Pepper, and Feta Frittata

And I even had the red pepper left over from last week's unused Blue Apron dinner!
The husband was skeptical, but it filled him up, and I was even able to have the other half for lunch the next day.  The recipe uses William Sonoma's Frittata maker, but you don't need one. I used my cast iron skillet, and finished it off under the broiler. Also, I only used six eggs instead of ten, and lowered the amount of the other ingredients to taste.
I think I won a small chef's challenge!    

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

My Grandmother's Potato Salad: A Labor of Love

This weekend, I had no kids in the house. They were at my in laws, and as a result I was able to rearrange rooms and sift through neglected piles.  My husband and I went to the baseball game and out to dinner every night. And, I was able to make my Grandmother's Potato Salad, a labor of love (especially since I made it on Labor Day!).  

When a family member first thinks of my grandmother, people think about her wit, her beauty, her loyalty to her family, and her generosity. They do not think about her cooking.  She really has had three or four good dishes she has depended on over the years (you only need a few!), and this potato salad is one of them. My family would arrive in Ohio from our twelve hour car trip and be greeted by this potato salad, the best one in the world. It had bacon, and was filled with egg, and I could even tolerate the celery.  

In my twenties, after stuffing a few scoops into my mouth, I finally asked for the recipe.  As customary, she mailed it to me in a card. She had carefully copied it down in blue marker in her clear, precise, signature penmanship, with her own notes. I folded it carefully in my recipe book. My Brooklyn "kitchen" could not tolerate potato salad for ten, and my apartment could not fit ten people.

My first attempt to make it was for my husband's (then fiancee's) thirtieth birthday party. In honor of his southern roots, I made southern dishes, thus potato salad (I also had a new kitchen!).  It took me hours and about twenty dollars worth of ingredients.  But it tasted the same, and people raved. 

Well, five years, three moves, and two babies later, I finally made it again. Assigned to make potato salad for the family's Labor Day picnic, I had the time and the kitchen space to attempt it again. Since I had a stocked pantry, I also had many of the ingredients (still didn't have "savory", but Mammo said she never used it either. What is "savory"?).  After peeling the potatoes and chopping the vegetables, it actually didn't take as long as I remembered. And the results were the same. Perfect potato salad that has just enough of everything.  

Mammo's Potato Salad (in her words)

6 medium potatoes

1 tsp mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 tsp Savory [I never have this ingredient]
salt and pepper
1/4 cup salad oil
1/4 cup vinegar  

2 eggs
4 strips of bacon [I probably make it six]
1 small onion
2 large stalks of celery
2 tomatoes [skin them by dipping in boiling water briefly] 
1 small cucumber
1/4 cup salad dressing - I use Miracle Whip
3 Tlbs pepper relish
lettuce [ washed and dried]

Boil potatoes, slice into a large bowl.
Place all seasoning in a jar with oil and vinegar. Shake well. Pour over the potatoes and let them mellow. Hard boil the eggs, put them in as you boil the potatoes. Cut onion, celery and cucumber. Slice all the cucumber peel and core [taking out all seeds].
Drain excess dressing from potatoes and add the rest of the ingredients and toss lightly. Refrigerate and when ready to serve place on a bed of lettuce. 

Putnam Dinner notes:  I only used four slices of bacon, I did not skin the tomatoes. I used Hellman's. and I used sweet pickle relish because I could not find pepper relish at the Harris Teeter. Does that exist?  We served the potato salad with burgers.  

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Accidental Blue Apron Dinners

After being away from home for two weeks, and only being able to prepare vacation menus apropos to a rental house, I took pleasure in reviewing my saved recipes from the summer and choosing the ones I have loved but haven't made yet. I also scoured my summer magazines for recipes I tagged, but have not yet made/saved.  I chose the perfect weekly menu and shopped for the grocery store ingredients that day (I shop almost daily for fresh ingredients), for the week.  When I returned home from round two, I found an email from Blue Apron reminding me that my dinners would arrive the next next day. I CHECK MY EMAIL EVERY HOUR OF EVERY DAY, FOLKS.  How could I miss this? 
Well, how great is that? I can afford to get three meals of gourmet ingredients sent to my home. Good thing the only fresh, un-freezable ingredient I got was cilantro.  

The next day, come 5:00, the Blue Apron box is still not here. I track the package. It is in WADESBORO? I call Lasership. I wait 15 minutes on hold before I am told that I am the 30th caller in line, "But my call is VERY IMPORTANT to them."  

7:00:  The kids are in bed, still no box.  Husband and I are hungry. We decide to start the earlier planned dinner, knowing that if we don't start it, the package will not arrive. 

7:35:  As planned, the moment my Pork Milanese and Panzenella Salad hit the table, the Blue Apron Box arrives. I grab it, open it, and leave it on the floor. I am too hungry to load up the fridge. My husband states, "You're just going to leave it open on the floor!"  Dude, it's been in WADESBORO all day. Ten more minutes on our floor won't hurt it. 

So, tonight we will have the Catfish.

And now my in laws are taking the kids for the weekend and we are hitting the baseball game, Kindred, and Del Frisco's. The steaks and chicken burgers will have to wait for next week. That's what freezers are for!  

Other goals besides trying to menu meals will have to suffice!  (Is it weird that I am secretly annoyed that I don't get to cook my planned menu?)  And I will be thinking about that cilantro all week.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Reflections on Vacation

I haven't seen this in a while. So many bloggers (am I a blogger? - we sill have to see) go on vacation and never return. Since I am not advertising this (or advertising), then it doesn't matter. Too much pressure.  Anyway, a few reflections on my recent "trip with kids" to my parents' homes in Cohasset, MA and Martha's Vineyard, in no real order of significance.
1) When you start to write on a regular basis (ie, the three weeks before the trip), you actually start to miss writing. Maybe because I am new at this.  I started thinking of many new topics to write about, and I didn't have (or make) opportunities to write.
2) I didn't have much opportunity to read as well. I am a voracious reader and it is also my means of escape. Pre-Kids, I read War and Peace in one week on MVY. I read East of Eden another week (Oh how I loved that book, and oh, how I cannot recall one sentence).  This vacation I managed to skim the last chapters of Candice Bergan's autobiography A Fine Romance (there will be more on that later), and I did manage to read H is for Hawk for Preschool Moms book club while the kids were in front of the TV at my grandmother's.
3) I don't live for beach days. I never really have. I like the essence of all things Vineyard, the salty air, the G&T at 5, driving to the fish market, grassy views with red barns, the white houses with views of the harbor. I like the beach, but it won't make or break a Vineyard stay.
4) My younger daughter really dislikes the beach.  This does not even have to be reflected upon. It just is, and hopefully she will put her toes on the sand next summer.
5) For some reason, the fact that the Banana Stand does not have a dishwasher did not bother me in the least. Go figure.
6) Central air has gotten into my bones. I can never go back.
7) Kids wake up extremely early on vacation. This is always a surprise. They woke us up at 7:45 today, for the first day of school.
8) I liked being among my Yankee people, but it was nice to return to the friendliness in the south, which was immediately noticed at the Charlotte airport.
9) People pretended to be happily ignorant of my screaming daughter on the flight home. It was a flight with TV and only two hours long, but it is still nice to be reminded that there is hope for humanity.
10) Watching your parents with your kids is wonderful!  So much love and cuteness. We miss Mimi and Grandad terribly.  

I should probably put these in a more artistic order, and I should also start trying to write without using lists.  We will see how that goes!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Whirlwind Menu Week

With the girls home every day this past week, we killed time by going food shopping almost every day, which makes menu planning more flexible.  It was also hot, so we grilled every day.
 The meals this week were the following:
Mon: Left over chicken legs in a "5 Ingredient Asian Sauce" I found on the Cooking Light web site. This is because I wanted to use this ingredient I had only used once, this "Sambor Timbor blah blah blah" stuff of which the name I can't remember.  On the side I roasted broccoli for the first time, starting from frozen! Used garlic powder, even easier! Will be doing this again (and I usually never let broccoli pass my lips).
Tues: A real simple "Real Simple" recipe: Grilled Zucchini on White Bread with Fontina and Tapenade.  A Tomato and Hazelnut Salad on the side, which was surprisingly delicious. We now have fresh tomatoes from our garden!
Wed: Grilled Trout with Coriander and Lime from Cooks Illustrated July/August Issue, which turned out good but lackluster in my book. A side of Panzanella salad using tomatoes from our garden.
Thurs:  I turned on the grill for the first time in my life, and I made the best turkey burger recipe I have found since my search began: "Turkey Burgers with Feta and Ricotta" from the Make Ahead Cooks Illustrated Cookbook.  I did make them ahead, and then grilled them MYSELF. We had sides of baked potatoes.
Fri: Our classic Grilled Pork Chops with Fennel. Sides of Panzanella Salad (again - must use tomatoes. A terrible problem! and the fresh bread).
We paired most meals with a chardonnay, of which my favorite was the Sterling Vineyards Chardonnay, 2012 (not the Sterling Napa Chardonnay).  

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Grilled Peach Pizza with Prosciutto

Tis' peach season here in North Carolina, and I decided to add a few peach focused recipes to my menu this week.  We started out with Grilled Peach Pizza with Prosciutto, a recipe I found in the Charlotte Observer a few weeks ago.  My folders are filled with  newspaper clippings of recipes, and I am always glad when I am able to try one out, especially so soon after publication.  It usually means that it is a keeper, and this recipe certainly is one!

The husband and I (well, really me, and the husband follows orders) began our grilled pizza experiment a few years ago, the summer our second daughter was born.  A few You Tube videos made my husband an expert at flattening out the dough for the grill. A "How Too" article with pictures, also found on the Internet, assisted.  Our first attempts were muddled by inexperience, and old grill, and screaming babies.  A few years later, we now have more experience, a new grill, and whiny children.  But, the whiny children at the pizza!


Since we were in detox from the night before, we paired this with seltzer water, but the sommelier in me would pair this with a Margaret River Riesling or a South African Muscat.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Gone Double Nap

The era of the double nap is gone. It has been nothing short of soul crushing. The era when both girls would sleep two, possibly three, hours, and I would do whatever I wanted. Or, check off tasks that needed to get done, that I didn't really want to do.

Sadly, my three year old dropped her nap. and my world has never been the same.  After about seven months of no nap, I still remain in deep mourning and I am working on creating a "new normal" for me and R.  This has only happened after a process of loss and acceptance, and involved considerable whining, many tears, some screaming, and loads of cartoons. It is still a work in process. Here is a picture of the new normal afternoon:

First, I put C down for her nap.
Second, I eat my lunch and give bites to R.
Third, I read R a book (this has been being rejected recently).
Four, I try to get her into bed to "just to lie down for a bit."  This gets rejected every time.
Fifth,  I give into her requests to watch the new favorite cartoon.
Six, I prepare something for dinner, and she helps. (She wants to chop. She can't. She wants to stir. She can't. She gets her fingers dirty. She cries. She wants to help more.)This is a post on its own and has been the most difficult to accept. My cooking time is MY time. Her intrusion has been heartbreaking.
Seven, we argue about juice.
Eight, we argue about whether to wake C.
Nine, there is usually a time out.
Ten, R is back in front of the TV, and I am imagining my husband coming home and making me a Gin and Tonic.

As you can see, it is a truly well thought out plan.

Good Bye Double Nap. No more RIP.  


Friday, August 7, 2015

Our Meal Schedule and Blue Apron Dinners

We occasionally do Blue Apron dinners.  I felt the need this week, mainly so I can have the freedom in my head that comes when I don't have to plan dinner. Otherwise, I feel that I am a better meal planner, and make quicker (though less complex) meals.

 Planning dinner is an intricate decision that is made with the following in mind:
1) What is in the fridge? (in my case, usually not much)
2) What recipes have I been hankering to do?  (usually time consuming, and I won't be able to do until the kids go to college).
3) What wines have I been dying to try?
4) What have I eaten so far this week?
5) Can I get the kids to eat some?
6) Is there gas in the grill?
7) What is the "scheduled" main for the evening?

In order to cut down on the decision making, I created a schedule

Monday: Chicken
Tuesday: Vegetarian
Wednesday: Fish
Thurs: Pork/Lamb
Friday:  Ground Meat
Saturday: Out
Sunday: Pizza (in or out).

This schedule is not set in stone. If I end up buying fresh fish on Monday, we will eat it, and have chicken later.  If we eat out on Wednesday, we will eat in on Saturday.  Anyway, it keeps boredom at bay and cuts down decisions.

I have been trying, throughout the years, to come up with a book of solid recipes I turn to that can eventually become, "Putnam Family Classics."  That is eventually the goal, to at least print out a cookbook for ourselves, eventually, in many years.....  Hopefully this blog/writing exercises will help.

The next few weeks will be all kids all the time, as camp ends and then we have three weeks until preschool. At least we will have two weeks up north with my family.  There will probably be no time to write.  Hopefully I will find time to pray and read every day. Hahahahahahahah!

It is amazing that I have sat down every day for the last three days with something in mind to write, and then wrote some thing else...... Will have to work on that.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Monasteries and Meals

When I was studying abroad in Rome during my Junior year in college, I lived in a convent on the Aventine Hill.

Thus began my journey into learning more about monasteries and convents, and admire the daily patterns of their community life.  (When we were on our honeymoon in Greece, my husband joked we should get a bumper sticker that said, "I brake for monasteries." He was only half kidding.)  

Though  we lived separate from the nuns, our little school of fifty students studied, socialized, and ate together for four months, all within that building above.  Most of us (including me), also slept in one of the guestrooms.  This was also before cell phones, so we all got to know each other quite well.

The food at this monastery was prepared by the nuns, and it had a lot to be desired. We had the same "nun buns" and coffee for breakfast. Lunch was hot (five hours later.....the 8 guys in our program were starving!) and was almost always breaded chicken cutlets with a side of lettuce.  Dinner was similar but even smaller, almost a snack.  This was quite a change from the never ending options of our college cafeterias.  

So, yesterday, at the Habitat ReStore, I was surprised to find this book:

My perfect combination: monasteries and recipes.  I was also surprised to find out there was good food to be had in monasteries. Apparently, nuns and monks truly pride themselves on spoiling their guests with gourmet food.  A recent google search for "monasteries, NC" took me to a job listing for a sous chef at a local monastic retreat center.  Where was the sous chef in Rome? In the best city for eating in the world?  

I really don't see how with two children under four I will be able to visit these monasteries anytime soon, and with these communities going into quick decline, there might not be much time to wait.  But, in the meantime, I can take in some of their spirit and prayers by cooking:

Chicken with Orange and Walnuts and Cheese Pie from Pendle Hill Quaker Center in Pennsylvania
or a Huguenot Torte from the St. Christopher Conference Center in Charleston.  

and praying:  

Bless our hearts
to hear
in the breaking of the bread
the song of the Universe.

(Father John Giuliani, Benedictine Grange, West Redding, CT).  

I will keep you all updated on how (of if) these recipes turn out!  

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Quick Dinner with Roast Chicken

The husband does not like a "put together" dinner. He needs something simple, with a main and two sides - a meal that doesn't have to explain itself.  My schedule driven husband has to eat this type of meal at the same time every day. It is always my goal to try and break this habit.  

I have opposite habits. I don't mind having a few cheese and crackers, a bowl of cereal, a cookie, and a glass of Rose (or 2) for dinner. This dinner usually happens at around 5:30, when the kids are eating (whining), and I am puttering (having sips of wine instead of screaming at the top of my lungs). I can only eat this dinner when my husband is not home for dinner, which is never.

Last night, I had dim hope I would be alone for dinner, sipping rose and eating Wheat Thins out of the box, when my husband announces that he is going to come home for dinner before leaving for the evening. #&$*(*&#$*(&.  What did I have?  A roast chicken from the Teeter, after R had begged for "white chicken" for three days.  I asked him, "Would you like some Roast Chicken and Avocado? or would you like me to make a chicken salad?"  He answers, "Oh! A Chicken Salad."  &*#($)&*

I knew I had curry and grapes. I googled, "Curry Chicken Salad," and came upon this Betty Crocker Recipe for which I had every ingredient, including the slivered almonds.  It came together fast, served with some leftover pitas and iceberg lettuce from last week. I added some scallions for a bite.  The husband pronounced it "good", and went on his way. I have to agree.

Curried Chicken and Grape Salad