Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thai-style chicken pumpkin soup

  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger (I used gourmet garden)
  • 1 tablepoon chili pepper blend (gourmet garden again)
  • 1.5lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 15oz can packed pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup mango nectar
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3 cups good quality chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • fresh cilantro, chopped
  • green onions, chopped
  • roasted unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • cooked white rice (take out is best)

In a skillet over a medium flame brown onion, garlic and pepper for 3-5 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in ginger. In large crock pot combine onion mixture with chicken, carrots, pumpkin, mango nectar, lime juice, peanut butter, chicken stock and vinegar. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Place a mound of cooked rice in center of serving bowl and pour soup around it. Garnish with cilantro, green onions and peanuts.

The dish: I hate our local newspaper, and yet I've been a steady subscriber forever. One of my favorite things to do is to settle back with the Sunday paper and read through all the news and save the colored funnies for a grand finale. Somewhere in there I sort through the mountain of store circulars and coupons. Hiding beneath that yogurt coupon is page after page of useless crap, ranging from Yankee's Christmas ornaments and limited edition trains to elastic waistband comfort pants made from genuine polyester (accept no imitations). One day a few weeks back I saw an ad for a set of three crock pot cookbooks among all the other crap. Feeling a little adventurous I sent in my check and waited 3-4 weeks for my bounty to come in the mail. When they arrived I thumbed through them and was not shocked to see mostly recipes I had seen before. This soup was one of the few new ones that stood out. We decided to be daring and try something new at home. The result was phenomenal; this soup is a winner. It turned out to be not spicy or sweet, but rather very distinctive and comforting. It will most certainly grace the red room again. If you're reading this in the fall of 2009, please be aware that there's a shortage of canned pumpkin and you may have to drive to more than one store before you stumble upon some.

garlic onion refrigerator pickles

  • 1lb small cucumbers (I've seen them called kirby and kuke, so I have no idea what is right)
  • pickling salt
  • fresh garlic, chopped
  • 2 onions, sliced into rings
  • cider vinegar
  • sugar
  • fresh dill
  • mustard seed

Combine about 1.5 cups of salt with 4 or so cups of water. Make sure that salt is well dissolved and pour over cucumbers in a tight container. Let sit at room temperature, out of the sun, for two days. Drain and rinse the cucumbers well. Combine 3 cups cider vinegar with 1.5 cups of water and 1/2 cup sugar, cook and bring to a boil stirring occasionally. Let cool for 20 minutes. In a tight fitting container, layer the cucumbers with the garlic, onion and dill with a few shakes of mustard seed. When vinegar mixture has cooled slightly, pour over the mixture and refrigerate for 1 week.

The dish: I once remarked to our favorite farmers that making pickles was more of a commitment than marriage was. I was being facetious, but there's an element of truth to that statement. There's no one step in making these pickles that's difficult, but if you skip one or screw it up your finished product will suffer. You can screw up in marriage pretty frequently and it can all end well anyway. Much like marriage, pickles are worth the effort, you'll never want to eat a pickle from a jar after you make your own. We used these on top of some pulled pork sandwiches and the taste was out of this world.

pork verde chili

  • 4 cans great northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1lb boneless pork spareribs, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 jar of good quality verde salsa
  • sour cream
  • fresh cilantro, chopped fine

Combine beans, pork and salsa in crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Garnish with cilantro and sour cream.

The dish: This is an easy recipe that comes across as more difficult than it should. Since there's only a few ingredients it's important that you use only the freshest and the best as the flavors will come through. I used Santa Barbara roasted tomatillo salsa and it was awesome. It was a bit more than some of the cheaper varieties, but well worth the added expense. We're quickly coming up on that time of year when it's cold and dark when we get home so walking into a warm dish in the crock pot is a great feeling. If you don't already have one I can think of a few reasons why you should part with the $30 and buy one.

cucmber salad with yogurt dressing

  • 2 cucumbers
  • 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • fresh parsley, chopped
  • coarse salt

Dice the cucumbers into bite sized pieces. Stir the lemon juice into the yogurt until well blended. Pour dressing over cucumbers, add parsley and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt.

The dish: Growing up in suburbia has its advantages: good schools, big houses and bigger yards. The one main drawback is the mid-teen realization that there's nothing to do. Like many other kids in my town, I spent countless hours at the Monroe Diner nursing my chocolate milk and gravy fries for as long as I could before the waitresses would kick us out or it would be curfew time. On any given weekend night 2/3 of the school would be piled into booths, hanging out and complaining that there was nothing to do. For all of the whining I did at the time I look back fondly on those years and realize that there's not much to do anywhere if you take that attitude. All those hours spent at the "teenage wasteland" that was the diner helped formed friendships that are still active to this day and it also opened my eyes to Greek cuisine. Pairing cucumber and yogurt together is a no-brainer as it is the basis for gyro sauce (yeah, I'm not even gonna try to spell it for real- too many consonants). John Lennon said that "life is what happens while you're busy making other plans" but for kids growing up in suburbia life is frequently what happens while you're complaining that there's nothing to do.

penne with sauteed kale

Cook pasta according to package directions. Top with sauteed kale and serve.

The dish: I just read an article on how the American diet has shifted from being spring based, leafy greens and such, to being autumn based, seeds and oils from them. The article contended that we evolved by naturally packing on a few pounds in the fall months in anticipation of the coming winter. The shift is because of individual tastes and preferences, but mostly has to do about money. Oils are more stable and last much longer than leafy greens, so food manufacturers and retailers looking to reduce spoilage opt for them. The result is predictable; we're all getting fat. We had some kale leftover from our last run to the farmer's market, so this dinner was a lay up. The combination of the whole wheat pasta and the kale was tasty and fulfilling, and it was good to give our bodies a nice spring meal when the days are getting shorter and the leaves are beginning to turn.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


  • sliced deli ham
  • muenster cheese
  • bread
  • butter

Spread bottom half of bread with butter, stack ham and cheese. Cut in half to serve.

The dish: There are few spots on earth where you feel as faultless and perfect as when you're standing in the sight of your grandparents. When your age can be counted on your fingers this becomes especially true. I bring this up because today was my paternal grandmother's funeral. My father gave the best eulogy I've ever heard and it really got me thinking about my nan as a person. Her own mother died when she was just a young child and she and her sister were raised by her uncle (another exceptional person; you'll hear more about him when I make something with honey). The obstacles my grandmother had to overcome never once diminished her spirit and her unwavering faith was the foundation of her remarkable life. She was valedictorian of her high school class and attended the college of New Rochelle on full scholarship (women in the 30s going to college? In the shadow of the 19th amendment, most were amazed they could just vote). She married my grandfather and raised 4 boys, building a family that's continually growing. 13 years ago she lost her husband of over 50 years and still remained strong, thriving in the role as the leader of the family. Her reward for such a rich and long life was a terrible disease that slowly robbed her mind from her, and yet her faith remained with her to the end. All of this of course, takes a back seat to the memories my younger self holds of the treat of going to nanny and poppy's house. My grandparents did a great job of making sure their home was always stocked with an endless variety of snacks; everything from chocolate milk, to fresh cold cuts to any type of Entenmann's cake you could imagine. One of my favorite treats was a ham and cheese sandwich nan would make where she would spread the bread with butter that was soft from sitting at room temperature. Those early memories were so great that they've left me with not only a fondness of food, but a feeling as to how a kitchen should look; nan too had a red room. All of the goodies my grandmother would give me were prepared in her red kitchen and it always seemed so sharp that when it came time to remodel ours the choice was obvious what color it had to be. It was great having nan visit our home because for someone who was always so svelte she had a great appetite and loved to try new things (that and more than anyone else in our family she loved our cat, Digit). It was great to fix nan a treat from my red kitchen, thinking back on how our roles were reversed from years earlier. In honor of nan, Kim signed us up for a walk to benefit an Alzheimer's association and as I get more information I'll be posting it as comments to this entry. If you'd like to donate or to participate, please do not hesitate to contact us.

bbq salmon

  • boneless, skinless salmon fillets
  • prepared bbq sauce

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place salmon fillets in casserole dish and cover with bbq sauce. Bake for 15 minutes or until desired doneness is reached.

The dish: I was at a party recently and a friend of mine that I've known since high school called me a "car geek". I guess the label holds true as I've always had a fondness of our four wheeled friends and spent a large chunk of my life wanting to design them (that dream of course died when I realized I was too dumb to earn an engineering degree). It's not surprising that one of my all time favorite jobs was driving for a huge auto auction. This was the largest dealer to dealer auto auction on the east coast and every Wednesday we'd sell thousands of cars to dealers that came in from as far away as California. There were seven auction blocks that were ranked in order of the quality of the cars sold; lane one had Porsches and BMWs, lane seven had Pintos. Since it was a one day a week job (I had two others at the time) we had a lot of retirees driving for us. It was explained to me that the older gents were assigned to the better lanes because they might not be able to handle some of the trickier cars that came through the bottom lanes (I drove a car that exploded once, but that's a different story). Naturally, I was a lane seven driver. My job was to hop in a car parked in our area of the massive auction's property, drive it to the block to be sold, drive it back to our area, park it, and hop in the next car to repeat the process all over again. I would drive about 100 cars a day which was a rush for a car geek like myself. One Tuesday a month we hosted the Ford, Mercury, Lincoln sale where every single car returned from a lease or a rental company was sold on our property. There weren't as many of us working on FML Tuesdays and it wasn't uncommon for your cars to be parked on a pretty remote corner of the massive lot. One such morning the auction van dropped me off in front of my row of cars at the absolute far reach of the yard, way out of sight or sound of anyone. We started pretty early and I was shot so I drove through the first part of my shift on auto-pilot. I was a few hours into it when I had a revelation and looked at the line of cars I had already driven, and then turned and looked at what I would drive for the rest of my day. I was so tired that I hadn't noticed that I already navigated 25 or so of the absolutely identical Ford Taurus through the auction block. White, with tan cloth interior, alloy wheels, the premium sound system (which back then meant a CD player) and just feet shy of 30,000 miles. I looked at the long line of them that vanished into the horizon and felt like I was trapped in the twilight zone. There was no one around for miles; just me and 100 or so of the identical mid sized sedan. I felt a little freaked and thought about asking my boss to be switched, but the only way I could get to him was to hop in a white Taurus, so I decided to just rough it out and try not to think about it. I bring this up only because posting salmon recipes one right after the other has a slightly similar effect on me. Although they're all different, they all basically start with the same ingredient and it does tend to feel the same when writing about them. At least at the base of the recipe is a fish that I enjoy; now if I could only say the same of the early 90s Taurus.

zucchini ribbon salad with pine nuts and goat cheese

  • fresh zucchini
  • pine nuts
  • crumbled goat cheese
  • white wine vinegar (I had some Chardonnay vinegar, but any would work)
  • olive oil
  • fresh ground pepper

Cook whole zucchinis in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Rinse under cold water until they are chilled enough to handle. Using a vegetable peeler, slice strips of zucchini until you reach the seeded center. Combine zucchini strips, nuts and cheese in large bowl. Whisk together olive oil and vinegar and pour over salad, toss to coat. Season with fresh pepper and serve chilled.

The dish: If you live in the sunny Mid-Hudson Valley, one sure way to know that the summer is right at the halfway mark is to look for the Orange County Fair to come to town. The OC fair combines the elements of an old time farm fair with modern amusements and enough of a sleazy element to keep things interesting. I'm a regular visitor and long about March I start looking forward to my annual day of eating fried foods and hanging upside down on a ride that dubs as a truck trailer. After I've eaten my annual allowance of trans fats and my stomach can't take anymore of giving gravity the finger, I know it's time to settle down for some games on the midway. The best and fairest of the amusements is a game called "Jone's I Got It", or "bingo with a bounce" if you're a regular. The concept is pretty simple; 10-25 players sit on stools about 3 feet away from bins that have grids of holes. In front of the players is a reservoir filled with little rubber balls (think the kind in the red vending machines in the front of the supermarket that you'd beg your mom for and then throw once and realize it was like watching your allowance bounce down the street) and when the announcer calls it, you have to toss the balls into the bin ahead of you and be the first to get 5 in a row. There's really no skill to it and it's only $.50 a game, so it's a great way to spend some time. We usually play long enough to win at least a few games, which means we can visit the illustrious Jone's prize table. They do a good job of making the junky prizes seem high end, keeping the table surrounded by a velvet rope and a having a prize official in a Jone's polo shirt to help you pick out your loot. We were on a pretty good streak this year and got to choose from the second tier of prizes. I saw the plain glass serving tray pictured above and knew I had to have it (really, I didn't just scoop the zucchini salad onto my counter). It was a little awkward carrying a platter around the fair while everyone else had stuffed bears and such, but it was worth the effort. I took it home and after scrubbing the fair funk off it (it was sealed in a package, but still) realized what a great tray I had. I do my best to keep things in a healthy rotation around here, but I'm sure you'll be seeing more of it in the future. Let's just hope that in 2010 I'm really lucky and can get that lighted picture of the New York skyline I've been eyeing.

lobster roll

  • cooked and chilled lobster meat
  • celery, chopped fine
  • mayonnaise
  • adobo
  • sub rolls
  • fresh lettuce, torn into pieces

Combine lobster meat (you can use our old friend crab stick in this recipe, but the real thing is such a nice treat) celery, mayo and adobo to taste in a large bowl. Pile onto lettuce placed on the rolls.

The dish: Not too long ago, after a particularly rough week for both of us, Kim and I decided we needed a brief break from everything. Not wanting to stray too far from home, we wound up in Albany to poke around the capital and check out the World Trade Center exhibit at the New York State Museum. If you haven't been, then go. The whole museum is great, but the WTC display is quite moving. The rest of the Empire State Plaza has quite a bit to see as well. Walking along the reflecting pools at the base of the large marble buildings, it's easy to get the feeling that you're in a mini-DC (another awesome place to check out). We killed a whole day exploring and as the sun began to set, darkening the sky behind the shillouette of The Egg, we decided to find somewhere to eat. We wound up in a place that was really unremarkable in every way, but figured any grub was good grub when you're starved and away from home. They advertised their "delicious" lobster roll, but I was a little reluctant to lay out too much cash for a sandwich in a dive. Kim convinced me to indulge, and the damn thing turned out to be great. Shortly after we got home somebody turned me on to 3 Kids Corp, and excited about the new source of cheap lobster and wanting to re-create our fun meal on our weekend away, I made this sandwich. It turned out great, but I think it tastes even better if you're wearing an I heart Albany t-shirt.


  • bagel, toasted
  • fresh tomato, sliced
  • cream cheese
  • balsamic vinegar

Prepare bagel; you can use fresh or frozen (I used Ray's frozen, which really are the best), toasted or not. Spread cream cheese on bottom half of bagel, top with tomato slices and vinegar to taste.

The dish: If you look at a map of the earth you'll notice that Japan is pretty much all the way to the right and California is way to the left. The land of the rising sun is so named because they're the first on the globe to get drenched in the fresh sunlight building from the east (this is also the reason why on New Year's Eve while we're still chilling the bubbly and wrapping the pigs in blankets, Dick Clark is cutting to shots of tired Asians that look like they've been partying awhile). By contrast, the folks in the Golden State are the last ones to roll out of bed in the morning. For this reason, through my admittedly limited research, I've come to the conclusion that Californians are more prone to an earlier and healthier lifestyle. They have no choice but to be early risers; the rest of the planet is already awake and going strong. This phenomenon can be clearly seen on the greatest show of all time, Melrose Place (the original of course, the new one premiered last night so it's too soon to tell). Although their lifestyles may not be psychologically healthy, all the young residents of LA wake early and always eat breakfast. Kim and I were watching some older re-runs of the show recently and were having fun noticing how not only does everyone always eat three squares, but those meals consist of lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. On one such episode, Dr. Peter Burns is having an early meeting with his colleague Dr. Michael Mancini, while fixing himself some breakfast in the break room of their posh office. Burns takes a cut bagel and spreads it with cream cheese and then piles on some fresh tomato slices and finishes it with some salt and pepper. I basically stole the good Dr's recipe, save the vinegar difference, but I did give him props naming it after him. Now that tomatoes are in full bloom, this is a great way to start your day like the residents of 4616 Melrose do, minus the waking up next to your ex/in-law/friend/friend's other, etc.