Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pizza Addiction

When push comes to shove, pizza is my favorite food. It is simply the perfect fusion of cheese, bread and everything else you could possibly imagine, even fruit (Hello, Hawai'ian pizza!). Sometimes I feel as though I need to go to a Pizza Whores Anonymous meeting just to unburden myself of this knowledge. Instead, I'll blog about it. :)

Today is a Just Me Day, the kids are at their dad's and I could make myself anything I wanted: risotto, vegetable biryani, pad thai, any one of the countless dishes my kids would not eat if I paid them $20 per bite. But no. Today, I have decreed that it is Pizza, Beer and Chocolate Day.

The chocolate: Lindt & Ghirardelli

The Summer Ale is crisp and refreshing.

Here is the Amber Wheat beer.

Mmmm, frosty.

I had to crop out the hairbrush on the table next to this beer. See?

Now THAT'S "Keeping it real," just like some other mom-blogger out there.

The pizza: my favorite sun-dried tomato, kalamata olive & artichoke pizza topped with feta, mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, aged asiago and provolone.

Look at the sun dried tomato and the artichoke, crisping up on the edges. See the shapes of the feta chunks pushing up the blanket of melted, browned cheese.

Seriously, YUM.

I don't have an adorable, weepy-eyed bassett hound like some other people, but I do have an obnoxious, evil-eyed orange tabby.

Just "Keepin' it Real, folks."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Grown-up Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese just might be the epitome of comfort food, and by "mac and cheese," I don't mean some boxed crap with a cheese sauce made from a fluorescent orange powder of unknown provenance - Velveeta, whether in block form or dehydrated into a powder is not cheese. No, I mean a real, baked in the oven, stick to your ribs, look-Mom-I-made-a-cheese-sauce-from-a-roux, luscious, creamy, totally decadent mac and cheese.

Be a pretentious fool if you want to be and call it pasta e formaggio. This is mac and cheese for grown-ups... and discerning kids. My kids love this stuff now that I have finally weaned them off the boxed variety. Now when they request mac and cheese, this is what they want, from the non-orange cheese sauce to the crunchy crumb topping.

Grown-up Mac and Cheese

  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni
  • butter
  • 2 vidalia onions
  • 1 shallot
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small vidalia onion
  • 2 t whole grain mustard
  • hot sauce (I've been using Cholula lately)
  • 1 package (5.2 ounces) Boursin cheese with shallot and chive
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (you should have about 2 cups tightly packed cheese)
  • 1/4 cup shredded parmigianno cheese
  • 1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • extra shredded cheddar for topping
  • paprika
  1. Coat a 2- to 2 1/2-quart baking dish with cooking spray.

  2. Heat oven to 350°.

  3. Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water, under-cooking slightly, otherwise the end result of the casserole will yield mushy, overcooked pasta. Not good. So, if the pasta is supposed to cook for 8 minutes, I'll cook it for about 6 and a half minutes.

  4. Drain and rinse the macaroni with cold water; set aside and let drain some more.

  5. Cut the vidalias in half and slice into thin strips. Slice the shallot thinly.

  6. In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Toss in the sliced onions and shallots, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring to coat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let cook slowly until nicely browned, slightly caramelized.

  7. Pour in the white wine and let cook down. Add the chopped garlic and season with salt and pepper. Once the liquid has all been absorbed, remove from the heat and set aside.

  8. Peel a small vidalia onion and cut in half, removing the root.

  9. Pour the milk and cream into a microwave safe bowl or measuring cup. Add the bay leaf and the halved onion and scald in the microwave) about 2-3 minutes on high). Remove the onion and bay leaf.

  10. In a large saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir until well blended and bubbly. Season with a bit of salt and pepper, and them pour in the milk and cream mixture, whisking constantly.

  11. Cook, stirring, until thickened. Add the mustard and hot sauce, stirring well and tasting to check the seasoning.

  12. Fold in the boursin cheese, and cheddar. Cook, stirring, until cheeses have melted.

  13. Dump the drained macaroni into the prepared baking dish. Add the caramelized onions and mix well.

  14. Pour in the cheese sauce and stir to make sure everything is evenly distributed and coated.

  15. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the casserole and top with grated cheddar and parm. Sprinkle with paprika.

  16. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cheese sauce is bubbly and topping is lightly browned.
  • About the onion and shallot mixture, take your time cooking it down. We want them browned and slightly sticky with that warm sweet taste of caramel, not blackened and crispy with that awful, ashy taste of carbon.

See? Creamy and delicious.

Monday, June 14, 2010


I rented Julie and Julia recently, which is lovely little movie and about as far as I go on the chick-flick meter. Honestly, I like this movie mostly for the food, although I can relate to Julie Powell to an extent. She said at one point that she felt lost and likened it to the sensation of drowning.

Now, unlike Julie, I didn't feel that way around my 30th birthday - 30 was a good year for me: I was happily married, pregnant with my first child, had a cute little house near the water, yes life was shiny and wonderful for me at age 30. Once I neared 40, however, it was a different story: marriage in tatters, one child in a grave, no prospect for employment after 10 years spent at home as a stay at home mom. Indeed. I am floundering and beyond lost. My life has been circling the drain since my husband left me in 2006. Cooking tasty food is almost the only outlet I have that gives me any pleasure anymore.

I rented the movie recently because I wanted to be inspired again. Those two women, Julie Powell and Julia Child also faced down some angsty life moments, but they seemed to conquer them. I guess I wanted reassurance that it could happen.

Ok, tangent over, now to the real point: When I was watching the movie, I was struck again by how absolutely luscious the food looked. That one scene near the beginning where Julie and her husband are eating a plate full of bruschetta had me salivating from the start. So yesterday, I whipped up my own version.

In case you've never seen the movie, you can see the marvelously mouth-watering bruschetta at the 1-minute mark in the trailer below.


  • rustic artisan bread - ciabatta, rustic Italian, French- something with a crusty exterior, but still soft inside.
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in half
  • 1 heirloom tomato or a beefsteak/vine-ripened, hothouse tomato if it isn't quite tomato season yet
  • fresh basil - 8 large leaves
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt & pepper
  • shredded parmigianno

  1. Chop the tomato and put in a bowl.

  2. Drizzle with about 1 T olive oil and 2 t balsamic vinegar.

  3. Tear up 8 large leaves of fresh basil and toss in with the tomatoes

  4. Season with salt and pepper, and toss with a fork.

  5. Set aside to marinate for about an hour.

  6. After the tomato mixture has sat for about an hour, heat a skillet or heavy griddle over medium-high heat.

  7. Cut the bread into thick slices.

  8. Rub each side with half of a cut garlic clove.

  9. Pour some olive oil into a small bowl and with a pastry brush, smear the olive oil onto both sides of the bread.

  10. Place the oil-saturated bread in the hot skillet and toast until golden brown on each side, turning once.

  11. Remove from heat, plate, and top with the tomato-basil mixture, and sprinkle with freshly grated parm.

  12. Eat immediately while the bread is still toasty.

  • In the movie, they used a variety of heirloom tomatoes- yellow, orange and red. Once my local Farmer's Market is in full swing with more fresh tomatoes, I'll be making this again with a wider variety of tomatoes.

  • Susan Spungen, food stylist for the movie, gives the recipe for the movie version in an article in The Atlantic.

    My version differs only in the addition of the balsamic vinegar to the marinating tomatoes and the grated cheese on top.

  • If you want to cut a few calories, you can toast the slices of bread in the oven until browned instead of basically frying them in a skillet or on a griddle, but why would you want to do that? ;-)

  • I used to be skeptical about the whole rub a cut garlic clove on the bread thing until yesterday when I realized that I could actually taste the garlic. I had no garlic in the tomato mixture at all and was using regular olive oil, not the kind infused with garlic. There was a definite hint of garlic in the final product -subtle and perfect, so I am totally sold on that.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Key Lime Bars

It has been hot lately, very summery, and I was craving that wonderful combination of sweet and tart. I have 7 gorgeous lemons in a basket on my counter, ready to be squeezed for lemonade, lemon curd, or lemon bars. Lemon wasn't quite what I craved though, so I reached for bottle of key lime juice in my fridge.

I know that you purists out there might be rolling your eyes and gagging at the thought of bottled key lime juice but in my defense, I have never seen fresh key limes up here in central New York, so... a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do for that distinctively tart sensation. I can't haul myself down south to pick some up, so I'm afraid that my next best bet is bottled juice.

Then, I thought, what to make? I didn't really feel like pie, so I thought I'd try making key lime bars using my standard recipe for lemon bars. These are exceptionally tart, which I happen to like. I don't care for lemon/lime bars which are too sweet - what makes them a refreshing treat to me is their eye-opening tartness.

Key Lime Bars


For the shortbread base:
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar (or 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the custard:
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup key lime juice
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

  2. In a food processor process the butter, confectioner's sugar, flour and salt until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs and can hold together when pressed up against the side of the food processor bowl.

  3. Sprinkle the crumb mixture into a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan and press down onto the bottom of the pan as evenly as possible. If necessary, flatten it with the flat blade of a sturdy spatula, smoothing it out.

  4. Bake the shortbread crust about 20 minutes, until it starts to turn golden.

  5. While the shortbread is baking, prepare the custard.

  6. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and granulated sugar. Stir in key lime juice and flour, mixing very well with a whisk.

  7. Pour the custard mixture over the hot shortbread.

  8. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F and bake until it is set, about 30 minutes.

  9. Let it cool completely in the pan, then sift some confectioner sugar over bars before cutting and serving.

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