Monday, July 18, 2011

Cappuccino Pudding

I have a few recipes that are what I call my Sandra Lee Specials.

Don't know who she is?

Check it out:

Once you finish laughing, you can go here to check her out for real.

She's infamous for her "Semi-homemade" dishes - to say nothing of her cocktails - using mostly pre-made ingredients, tossing them together and voila:  Semi-homemade fabulousness, sometimes horrifying; sometimes intriguing; sometimes downright mystifying.

I whipped this bad boy up in the spirit of Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade ethos, and ohmygoodness, it's not half-bad! And since I used skim milk and a package of sugar-free instant pudding mix, it's ok for phase 1 of the South Beach diet.

Cappuccino Pudding

  • 1 small (1.34 oz) box of instant vanilla pudding
  • 1-1/2 t espresso powder
  • 2 cups skim milk

  1. Mix according to the package instructions, BUT... add the espresso powder when you add the pudding powder.
  2. Eat, probably out of the same bowl you made it in.


  •  If you want to get all fancy-schmancy like I did, you can put it in a martini glass (Cocktail Time, anyone?) and add a chocolate swizzle stick as a high-falutin' garnish. 
  • As you can see, mine is melting because it is as HOT AS HELL here.  
  • Side note, heat and humidity do not bring out the shining best of my personality.
  • But this pseudo-recipe rocks because it's ready in 2 minutes. You just can't beat that.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Roasted Baby Squash with Basil and Lemon

I think that roasting veggies is the easiest way to add flavor in a hands-off way while you cook them. All that's required is a hot oven, some olive oil and salt and after a half hour to 45 minutes, you've got an easy side dish. I'll roast beets, potatoes, onions, leeks, garlic, asparagus, almost any vegetable. Even the denser winter squashes like butternut squash and pumpkin benefit from a nice roast to deepen their flavors, and it's so easy to do.

Baby summer squashes, in addition to being insanely cute, are incredibly tender and delicious. Fresh basil leaves, when roasted, become crunchy and lend that basil flavor that just screams "Summer!"

Put it all together, and you get a great side dish with minimal prep and fuss.

Roasted Baby Squash with Basil and Lemon

  • Assorted baby squash, pattypan, zucchini, summer squash
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Purple basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a roasting pan with foil.
  2. Toss the squash and basil leaves with olive oil, salt and pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
  3. Pour into the lined pan and roast for 20 minutes.
  4. Take them out and shake the pan to flip them over and roast for another 15 minutes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Roasted Asparagus Soup

Soup is good food. I like all sorts, from the lighter brothy soups to hearty bean soups, to thick, satisfying chowders. Pureed vegetable soups, though, are among the quickest and easiest to make, and they can be incredibly tasty.

Asparagus is amazing lightly steamed or flash-cooked in a stir-fry. Toss it with olive oil and salt and then roast it, though, and you deepen the flavor immensely. I'll often prepare asparagus and shallots this way and serve that as a veggie side dish.

See how delicious it is?

Sometimes I'll take it step further and combine the roasted asparagus with roasted shallot, add some fresh herbs and puree it with some broth for a criminally easy soup.

Roasted Asparagus Soup with Herbed Cheese Crisp

Serves 2 as a starter or 1 as a main course

  • 1/2 lb. asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 shallot, peeled and cut in half
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • fresh thyme
  • 1 T creamy-style cottage cheese


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Toss the asparagus and shallot with olive oil, and hit it with a little salt and pepper and roast for 20 minutes, flipping them or shaking the pan t toss them after 10 minutes or so.
  3. Let the asparagus and shallot cool for about 10 minutes, and then puree in a blender with the 1/2 cup of the broth.
  4. Add some thyme, salt and pepper and cottage cheese and continue to blend until it is the right consistency for you, adding more broth as needed.
  5. Mix together the shredded parm, salt and 1/2 teaspoon of fresh thyme and drop it into mounds on a Silpat-covered cookie sheet.
  6. Bake for 5-8 minutes or until lightly browned and starting to crisp up - I didn't let mine cook enough so they were chewy rather than crunchy, but they were still addictive.
  7. Top the soup with a crisp, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Quick-and-Dirty Guacamole

Raw veggies are a staple snack for me on South Beach phase 1. I usually like some sort of dip as an accompaniment: ranch dressing, hummus and white bean puree are among the top 5. Standing in at number is guacamole. Thank God that according to The South Beach Diet: Good Fats, Good Carbs Guide, avocado is ranked as a good fat, suitable for all phases of the diet.

Avocado is great in a salad with mango and jicama, as a topping for gazpacho, even just sliced and drizzled with cream. Sprinkled with salt and eaten straight out of the shell is also a not-uncommon prep around these parts. My favorite preparation of avocado is in guacamole, whether it's made with a fresh, homemade pico de gallo, cumin, and a shot of tequila or this quick-and-dirty version. When a fast craving for the green stuff hits, it's good to know that I can have guacamole in about 3 minutes - as long as I have an avocado on hand! :)

Quick-and-Dirty Guacamole

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 2 T salsa
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 T chopped fresh cilantro

  1. To cut the avocado: With a large, sharp knife, slice the avocado in half the long way. When the knife hits the pit, rotate the avocado so that you make one long cut all the way around. Twist the 2 halves of the cut avocado as if you're opening a jar. Take your knife and gently whack the pit and twist it off the avocado half.
  2. Scrape the avocado in a bowl.
  3. Mix with salsa, lime juice and cilantro and serve with bell pepper slices.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Parmesan-Coated Baked Tilapia

I've mentioned my pizza-love on occasion. I've also mentioned that I'm doing the South Beach diet. The first phase of the diet involves pretty stringent restriction of carbohydrates, not just refined carbs like white sugar and flour, but also fruits, starchy grains like rice and bulgur and vegetables with a high-glycemic index such as carrots, beets and other root vegetables. Basically my favorite foods.

As you can imagine, restricting carbs is pretty difficult at first, but once I get on a roll, I can really get into it. After the three-day hump, I don't crave the carbs as much, and by three-day hump, I mean three solid days of absolutely no carbs whatsoever, not even a trace of sugar. During those three days, I am ravenous, my body seeking quick energy from the carb foods I crave. I even dream about my favorites: bead, potatoes and pizza, oh my God, the pizza.

My last pizza before embarking on South Beach was an especially carb-o-rrific one topped with slices of roasted beets and roasted potato and topped with herbed goat cheese and fresh thyme. It packed a serious carb punch.

Ah, some day, I will make this again.

*wistful sigh*

In the meantime, there are plenty of delicious vegetables and protein sources waiting. Fish is on the Phase 1 South Beach menu. I make a chopped salad using canned tuna and brocoli slaw mix for a filling and satisfying lunch quite often. For dinner, I also like to make a pan-fried fillet of white fish or roasted salmon. One of the easiest ways to cook fish is baked in the oven, because it's fairly hands-off and yields great results every time.

My usual fish recipe uses parmesan , Old Bay and bread crumbs as a coating and a touch of mayo so the breading will stick. To make this South Beach friendly, I just omit the bread crumbs. I use Old Bay, paprika an Creole seasoning pretty interchangeably. The Creole seasoning is really nice with the juice from the lemon slices in this variation - it's bright and the only way I can describe it is to say that it makes my mouth sing.

Parmesan-Crusted Baked Tilapia

  • tilapia fillets - or other white-fleshed fish
  • finely grated parmesan
  • Creole seasoning
  • salt
  • pepper
  • lemon slices
  • chopped parsley
  • olive oil cooking spray
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a roasting pan or a cookie sheet with foil. Spray with olive oil cooking spray.
  2. Mix together the Creole seasoning and the parmesan in a pie plate.
  3. Dredge both sides of the fillets in the cheese and place on the pan. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and hit with another spray of olive oil
  4. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the thickest part of the fillets are opaque and flake easily with a fork.
  5. Top with thinly sliced lemon and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I'm back on Phase 1 of the South Beach diet for a while, so that means no carbs for the foreseeable future.  It means plenty of fresh vegetables and lots of creativity so that I don't end up eating the same 5 dishes over the next several weeks.

I try to get in as many cruciferous veggies as I can when doing South Beach: slaw mix with tuna makes a great chopped salad, raw broccoli and cauliflower florets with hummus or a white bean puree is a favorite snack, kale tossed into a lentil soup or cut into ribbons and braised is another popular side dish. Then there are brussels sprouts.

Like many people, I used to hate them. I'd only ever had them boiled into an unrecognizable mushed-up mess of flatulence-inducing leaves until I stumbled across a recipe for roasted, salted sprouts. Roasting them brings out some sweetness and also adds some crunch, while the salt really boosts the natural flavor.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts


  • 1 lb. Brussels sprouts, cleaned and halved
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Shaved parmesan


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a roasting pan with foil.
  2. Toss the brussels sprouts with olive oil and salt liberally - trust me, the more salt, the better with this dish
  3. Roast for 20 minutes, take out the pan and shake them or flip them over. Add a bit more salt and some pepper and roast for another 15-25 minutes until they are nicely browned and some of the outer leaves are crisping up.
  4. Add a touch more salt to taste if needed and top with the shaved cheese.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Yellow Cherry Tomatoes Stuffed with Purple Pesto

Tomato and basil is one of my favorite flavor combinations out there. I often use pesto on pizza and top it with slices of tomatoes, top it with aged mozzarella and dot it with fresh mozzarella. Not a bad pizza.

I love cherry tomatoes. I've had some recently that were so sweet that snacking on them was almost like snacking on candy. I also like stuffing them with a variety of things: herbed goat cheese, feta & kalamatas, pieces of marinated or smoked mozzarella, the list goes on and on. By far, my favorite stuffing is pesto. Today I wanted to do a mix-up using yellow cherry tomatoes instead of red, and purple pesto instead of green.

Still pretty damned tasty.  :)

Yellow Cherry Tomatoes Stuffed with Purple Pesto

Purple Pesto 

  • 1/8 cup garlic scapes, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1-1/2 cups purple basil
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup good quality Parmigiano-Reggiano, you know, the fancy parmesan
  1. Place the scapes in a food processor and pulse until pretty well minced
  2. Add the pine nuts and process until the mixture is very well chopped.
  3. Toss in the purple basil and parm and process. Drizzle in the olive oil until your get the consistency you prefer.

Purple basil

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dark Chocolate Espresso Brownie Bites

The concept and title of this blog revolves around comfort food. Food can be classed as comfort food either because of the warm-n-fuzzy memories we have associated with it or because of an almost therapeutic effect it has on us, whether it's like a chemical addiction for a bona fide carboholic, or the actual cathartic process of making it, like anger-management bread-dough therapy.

Crisis Brownies, the food, arose because, put simply, sometimes there are just those occasions that are so harrowing and stressful - like a break-up or extreme PMDD - that you need a fudgy, deeply intense, dark chocolate brownie. You may need just one; you may feel as though you have to eat half the batch straight from the pan. Whatever, why waste that burning need on something from a box when you can melt the best quality chocolate you can find and use real butter?

I love adapting and tinkering with this recipe to try out various flavor combinations and create different textures - by far, I prefer fudgy, dense and moist to cakey, but that's just me. I also prefer dark chocolate brownies that border on bittersweet to those that use milk chocolate. This is the first time I made them into miniatures by baking them in a mini-muffin tin. You end  up with what is the perfect mouthful of  brownie. Very satisfying.

I had wanted to top these with an espresso glaze or ganache, but when I ate my first tester brownie after I'd taken the out of the tins, I realized that these need nothing else except maybe a tall, cold glass of something milk-like whether it's milk, soymilk or almond milk. They are the perfect dark chocolate morsel.

Dark Chocolate Espresso Brownie Bites

Makes 16 mini brownies

  • 1 T espresso powder
  • 1/4 cup All-Purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup turbinado sugar
  • 3 T salted butter
  • 1 T strong brewed coffee
  • 6 oz. semisweet chocolate
  • 1/4 t vanilla
  • 1 egg at room temperature, beaten

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 2 mini muffin tins with butter, shortening or cooking spray - I filled up one whole 12-muffin tin and had enough batter to make four more in another tin.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder and espresso powder with a whisk. Make sure to break up any clumps of cocoa powder.
  3. In the top of a double boiler, gently heat the butter, sugar and coffee until the butter starts to melt. 
  4. Add the chocolate and as it starts to melt, stir with a baking spatula. Once most of the chocolate has melted, take the top of the double boiler off the heat and keep stirring until it has all melted and is well mixed. Let it cool for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the vanilla extract to the chocolate mixture. Once the chocolate has come down in temperature to the point where you don't burn yourself when you stick your finger into the mix to test it, add the beaten egg and stir well.* See Notes
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate and stir well. 
  7. Scoop the batter by spoonful into the muffin tins to fill the about 2/3 full. I had enough for 16 mini muffins.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out fairly clean. I usually underbake them slightly.
  9. Let cool in the muffin tins for about 45 minutes before turning them out.


  • Usually when incorporating eggs into hot liquids, you'll want to temper them by adding a tiny bit of the hot liquid to the beaten eggs and whisking it pretty vigorously to raise the temperature of the egg, then you add that to the rest of the hot liquid mixture and keep whisking. This is so that that the egg won't curdle immediately upon meeting the hot mixture. No one wants scrambled eggs in gougeres, custards or brownies, right?
  • It's worth noting that the magical temperature at which egg starts to curdle is 175 F. Sometimes when I am dealing with a pretty thick liquid mixture, like the chocolate mess with these brownies, it is a pain in the ass to use it to temper the eggs. Sometimes I'll scrape the chocolate mixture into a bowl nested in an ice water bath and let it cool before adding the eggs. The problem with that technique is that if it cools too far and you add the egg and try to stir it in, the chocolate mixture is grainy and won't accept the egg as well.
  • That's when I decided to check the temperature manually. I've been making these for so long this way that I can tell by feel when the chocolate is cool enough but not too cool. It is important to stir the chocolate as it cools so that it is a uniform temperature with no blazing hot spots in there just waiting to curdle the eggs.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Rustic Swiss Chard Tart

Tuesdays in summer is the Downtown Farmers' Market. The best thing about working downtown, aside from the whole getting-a-paycheck thing is that I am steps away from a terrific farmers' market. No longer can I use laziness as a excuse not to visit the market and revel in truly fresh and local produce.

I stop in Tuesday mornings on my walk to work from the parking garage and pick up whatever strikes my fancy, as they say. The first week, among other items, I got a loaf of cracked pepper-cheddar bread that was so insanely delicious that it was gone by 10:00 that evening; the next week, I scored some granulated maple sugar that will be a key player in an upcoming maple-walnut apple strudel ; last week the highlights of my produce bag were garlic scapes and a lovely bunch of Swiss chard. Those scapes made a scrumptious pesto which I devoured on rosemary & olive oil Triscuits with slices of provolone while watching Midsomer Murders on Netflix at 2 in the morning, and the Swiss chard  - along with a few scapes - realized its happy vegetable potential by ending up as the star of this Rustic Swiss Chard tart.

When I got to the market today, I found the same vendor and told her how delicious her chard and scapes were. She had some absolutely gorgeous purple basil and some 8-ball zucchini that just begs to be stuffed with something - I'm thinking artichoke hearts, some of that purple basil, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh parmigiano reggiano. Look for those in the coming days here. :)

The next time you visit the farmers' market, be sure to check out Daily Harvest Farm.

Now for the tart.

Look at it. There could be anything in there.

But cut it open and taste a delicious mixture of chard, cheese and herbs.

You just can't beat that.

Rustic Swiss Chard Tart

  • 1 lb. Swiss chard, washed and dried well
  • olive oil
  • 5 garlic scapes, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 (15 oz) container of ricotta
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano - or the stuff in the green can if that's what you like
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/4 t black pepper
  • 1 T fresh thyme
  • 1T fresh oregano
  • 1/8 t grated nutmeg
  • 1 package of frozen puff pastry - 2 sheets
  1. Thaw the puff pastry.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Remove the leaves from the stems and slice the leaves into thin ribbons. Set aside.
  4. Slice the stems thinly and saute in olive oil of medium high. Add the scapes and let them cook until the stems and scapes are tender.
  5. Toss in the smashed clove of garlic and the minced shallot and raise the heat to medium-high and cook for 2 minutes. 
  6. Add the chard leaves and let cook down until any moisture that has been released has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
  7. Remove from heat and let cool.
  8. Roll out one sheet of the thawed pastry between sheets of waxed paper until the pastry is at least a 12 inch square and set it in a 9 inch tart pan. Trim off excess pastry until there is a 1 inch overhang of pastry.*See Notes
  9. To the cooled vegetables, mix in the ricotta, beaten egg, parm, herbs, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix thoroughly.
  10. Put this vegetable-cheese mixture in the tart pan and roll out the second sheet of pastry to a 12 inch square and trim it to an 11 inch circle. 
  11. Place it on top of the filling and pinch the edges together and then fold the joined overhanging pastry edges inward and crimp the seam. I like to tuck it inward, even.
  12. Slash a few vent holes in the top of the pastry and bake for 40-45 minutes or until starting to turn golden brown.
  13. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into it.

  • Ever wondered about what to do with scraps of leftover puff pastry?

    Check it out: Cinni-minis

Coming soon...

Dark Chocolate Espresso Brownie Bites

Monday, July 4, 2011

Egg Baked in a Potato Shell with Salsa, Cheese and Chives

I've never been a fan of cold cereal for breakfast; I'm an eggs-for-breakfast kind of girl. Add potatoes to that and I'm in heaven. Eggs and hash, potato-filled omelette, peasant breakfast, scrambled eggs with a thin German potato pancake, I can't think of an egg-and-potato preparation that I wouldn't love.

I love the presentation of oeufs en cocotte, and I've done my own take on that by baking beaten eggs and cream in leftover mashed potato. Yesterday I was pondering the pile of roasted potatoes I had leftover from making my roasted beet, potato and goat cheese pizza (recipe forthcoming), and I decided to try baking an egg in a hollowed-out potato shell.

Tasty, plus it had that satisfying comfort food feel to it.

Egg Baked in a Potato Shell with Salsa, Cheese and Chives

  • 1  medium potato, baked and cooled
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T salsa
  • 2 T shredded cheddar
  • chives
  • salt and pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Slice off the top of the potato - about 1/4 of the way down.
  3. Place the potato in a ramekin.
  4. Scoop out the insides of the potato, leaving a shell with about 1/8 in. layer of potato - I like to use a grapefruit spoon.
  5. Season the insides with salt and pepper
  6. Put 1 T of salsa on the bottom, followed by 1 T cheese.
  7. Carefully crack the egg into the potato and top with the remaining 1 T of cheddar.
  8. Bake for about 20 minutes, then top with chives and a few more shreds of cheddar if you like and serve immediately.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Spicy Kale Chips

I'm a sucker for anything salty and crunchy. I can't even buy potato chips on a regular basis because I am utterly powerless against that combination of crispy and salty. I also really enjoy greens, and while my usual way to treat kale and other greens is the standard braise or a light saute in some sort of fat - usually olive oil or occasionally bacon grease - or tossed into lentil soup, I am always looking for a new way to eat greens.

Why not oiled, salted and baked?

It almost defies logic that leafy greens can yield such a perfect, salty crunch with so little work, but they really do. They have that satisfying light crispiness that dances on the tongue and for God's sake... it's kale. What could be more virtuously packed with goodness than kale?

Spicy Kale Chips


  • 1 bunch of kale
  • olive oil
  • chipotle salt*
  • dusting of parm


  1. Preheat the oven to 375.
  2. Wash the kale and rip the leaves from the thick stems and tear them into large pieces.
  3. Toss with olive oil and chipotle salt in a bowl.
  4. Place on a large cookie sheet and bake for about 8 minutes, flip the kale over and bake for another 8 minutes or until the edges are nicely browned, but be careful not to let it burn.
  5. Dust with a bit of parm and serve.


  • I bought this fancy-schmancy chipotle seasoned salt, but I imagine you could make your own by pulverizing a dried chipotle and adding it to the salt and then crushing that together in a mortar and pestle. Use only the dried chipotles sold in bags, not the canned chipotles in adobo. 
  • You could also add red pepper flakes for more heat. 
  • Really, you could use any seasoned salt you like.
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