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Apr 16, 2014
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Just Five

Just Five: Leeks Vinaigrette

Thursday, March 20th, 2014


This is a classic French dish that, like many French recipes, is simpler than you expect. (That accent makes them sound far more intimidating than they really are!) The mellow leek marinated in a mustard dressing mixed with tarragon’s delicate licorice flavor makes for a truly cultured dish. Adding a final flourish of chopped hard-boiled egg lends an extra creaminess and complements the texture of the leeks. Serve this with a simply prepared chicken breast, a lightly seared tuna or as a main dish with some peasant bread and nicoise olives.

Leeks Vinaigrette
4 Servings

2 eggs
4 small leeks, dark green ends removed
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon, plus more for garnish

• Hard-boil the eggs: Place the eggs in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, cover, remove from heat and let sit 10 minutes. Transfer to an ice water bath for 10 minutes, then them remove and refrigerate until ready to use.
• Slice the leek almost in half, stopping ¾-inch from the root. Rinse under cold water to remove any dirt or grit between the layers. Keeping the base of the leek intact, trim the end to remove the root.
• Bring 2 quarts salted water to boil. Submerge the leeks in the boiling water, lower the heat to medium, and simmer 12 minutes.
• Carefully remove the leeks and place in an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Drain them on paper towels, then slice through the leek completely, separating the halves. Place on a serving dish and set aside.
• In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, the olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper until combined. Stir in the tarragon. Pour the vinaigrette over the leeks and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.
• Bring the leeks to room temperature 2 hours before serving. Peel the hard-boiled eggs and separate the white and the yolk. Coarsely chop the egg. Garnish the leeks with chopped egg and chopped tarragon and serve.

Just Five: Rosemary-Parmesan Crackers

Thursday, March 6th, 2014



You can and should make crackers at home. Homemade crackers are far better than anything you will find in the grocery aisles. They are cheap, easy to make and give you a decent upper body workout while you roll out the dough paper-thin. Without the pepper, rosemary and cheese, these crackers are your basic butter cracker, but so much better than store-bought ones. They bake up with crispy browned bubbles and only take about 30 minutes from start to eat.

Like bread, crackers are a fun blank canvas. Try adding a little lemon zest and serve with a mild cheese, or mix in minced dates or minced dried cranberries and serve with bold cheddar. You can even add finely chopped black olives to crackers and spread with a tangy goat cheese or feta.

The key to these crackers is rolling the dough as thin as possible. If you don’t, the crackers will be a bit chewy. Here’s the trick: flip the baking sheet over and roll the dough out directly onto the bottom of the sheet. This way, you won’t bang your pin or your knuckles on the rim of your baking sheet and you can bake them directly on this surface. Be sure to place a slightly damp towel under the baking sheet to keep it from sliding while you roll. Here’s the recipe, now – I can’t help myself – get crackin’!

Rosemary-Parmesan Crackers
Makes 40 to 50 crackers

2 cups flour plus more for dusting
1 Tbsp. sugar, plus more to taste
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
¼ cup grated Parmesan
2 Tbsp. butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
2/3 cup milk (not skim)

• Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
• Add the flour, sugar, salt, pepper, rosemary and cheese to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the pieces of chilled butter and process about 10 seconds, until the butter is incorporated. With the food processor running, pour in the milk and blend until the dough comes together.
• Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 3 to 5 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and cut in half. Flip a baking sheet and roll out one of the dough halves as thin as possible (It should be almost transparent.). Repeat with the remaining dough ball on the bottom of another baking sheet.
• Sprinkle the dough with salt and pepper to taste. Then pierce the dough all over with a fork and score it with a knife into 1½-inch squares or whatever size cracker you’d like.
• Bake on the inverted baking sheets 12 to 13 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the cooking time. Remove from the oven and let rest for a few minutes, then move the crackers onto a wire rack to cool completely, at least 1 hour.
• Crackers will keep up to 1 week in an airtight container.

Just Five: Honey-Vanilla Pork Tenderloin

Thursday, February 20th, 2014



There are no exotic ingredients or fancy prep work required for this dish, just simple, satisfying flavors. The sweetness of the honey and vanilla are cut with the slightly acidic cider vinegar, though you could substitute any vinegar you like. Balsamic adds sweetness, rice vinegar would be wonderful and in a pinch, plain old white vinegar works, too. I add smoked paprika to a lot of dishes to give it a little oomph without adding heat. (Though if a little hot sauce found its way into the glaze, that would be lovely, too.)

This is not a dish that will change your life, but it will change your day. After all, not every dinner needs to be mind-blowing, but they should always be delicious.

Honey-Vanilla Pork Tenderloin
4 to 6 Servings

¼ cup honey
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. smoked paprika
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 ¾-lb. pork tenderloins

• Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
• In a small glass bowl, whisk together the honey, vinegar, vanilla and smoked paprika. Microwave 20 seconds and whisk again to combine. Set aside.
• Season the tenderloins with salt and pepper to taste.
• In large, ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high. Sear the tenderloins about 2 minutes per side, then pour all but 2 tablespoons of the glaze over the meat, turning the tenderloins to coat. Bake 10 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into the center of the meat reaches 155 degrees.
• Let the pork rest 5 minutes, then slice and serve drizzled with remaining glaze.



Just Five: Cheese Tortellini with Browned Butter

Thursday, February 6th, 2014


Trolling the Internet recently, I came across a great website: seriouseats.com. I was lost down the rabbit hole for days after and found several gems. The author of one post went through a lot of trial and error (and a heck of a lot of cookies) to come up with “the best chocolate chip cookies.” The most significant trick in this recipe: He browned the butter he used in the cookies.

Browning butter is my new favorite kitchen trick. It completely transforms the flavor of the butter into something rich, nutty and complex. Now try as I might, I cannot make chocolate chip cookies with five ingredients, so I immediately decided that the next dish I made would include browned butter.

This simple recipe will make you a weeknight hero in the kitchen as you transform five simple, inexpensive ingredients.

Cheese Tortellini with Browned Butter
4 Servings

¼ cup pine nuts
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
14 oz. cheese tortellini
2 cups fresh broccoli florets
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

• In a small dry skillet, toast the pine nuts over medium-high heat, tossing constantly, about 4 minutes. As soon as they start to brown, remove them from the skillet and set aside.
• Place the butter in a small pot over medium heat. When it melts, slowly swirl the pot until the butter turns a light brown color, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside.
• Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the tortellini and cook according to package instructions. During the last 5 minutes of cooking time, add the broccoli florets.
• Meanwhile, add the minced garlic to the browned butter.
• Drain the pasta and broccoli, shaking out as much water as possible.
• Place the pasta and broccoli in a serving bowl and pour the browned butter and garlic over the pasta. Top with the toasted pine nuts and basil; serve immediately.

Just Five: Spicy Sesame Shrimp

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014



I believe you should always keep a bag of frozen shrimp in your freezer. Yes, I know, fresh is better, and if you are trying to impress guests, by all means, spend the money and time to get good, freshly-caught shrimp. But folks, this is the Midwest. Our shrimp is not local. It was not caught this morning. It is coming from a few hundred miles away, no matter what.

And when you’re in rush, frozen shrimp makes a darned easy weeknight meal. It takes a few minutes to defrost and then – bam – you can have this or this. Or throw this little Indian-inspired number together.

Indian food is tough to recreate with limited ingredients. Thankfully vibrant turmeric not only has a beautiful color, it also is one of the many ingredients in curry. Mix it with garlic and red pepper flake to give this dish warmth and nuance, and add toasted sesame seeds for a little nutty crunch. Serve this with basmati rice and some fresh or jarred mango slices. Who knew Indian food could be so simple?

Spicy Sesame Shrimp
Inspired by a recipe from Indian in 6
3 Servings

3 Tbsp. white sesame seeds
3 to 4 garlic cloves
Pinch plus 1/8 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1 tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, plus more to coat, divided
12 oz. medium-large shrimp*, peeled and deveined

• Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly until they start to brown slightly. Remove from heat immediately and set aside.
• Add pinch of salt to the garlic and mash with the side of a knife to form a paste. Mix together the garlic paste, turmeric, red pepper flakes, 1/8 teaspoon salt and a few drops of oil in a bowl. Toss the shrimp in the mixture until coated.
• Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet, add the shrimp and cook 2 minutes, then flip and cook 2 minutes more, until shrimp is opaque. Remove from heat, toss with the toasted sesame seeds and serve.



Just Five: Fish en Papillote

Thursday, January 9th, 2014



This dish has it all: the fancy factor (It’s French!), the fun factor (paper folding!) and the healthy factor (steamed fish and vegetables!). Cooking in parchment paper is a great way to impart lots of flavor and very little fat into your “healthy eating in the New Year” dinners. It works with shrimp, salmon, cod – even mussels and clams.

True, it is “blind cooking”, but here’s the secret: since you are effectively steaming whatever you put into the packet, it is relatively foolproof. You’ll be fine even if you forget it in the oven an extra minute or two. All this dish needs is liquid, some vegetables, a little oil and some herbs. Play with Asian (garlic, ginger, soy sauce, bok choy, broccolini, red pepper flakes, sesame oil and cilantro), Italian (zucchini, peppers, onions, garlic, vermouth, oregano and basil) or French flavors (yellow squash, mushrooms, green beans, white wine, parsley and thyme). Serve the fish sealed in their packets; each guest can open their own for a steamy, aromatic presentation.

Fish en Papillote
2 Servings

Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp. honey or agave
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 shallot, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
2 6-oz. swordfish steaks (or other fish)

• Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
• Whisk together the lime zest and juice, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Stir in the shallots and tarragon to create a marinade and set aside.
• Fold 2 15-by-20-inch pieces of parchment paper in half lengthwise to create two wide rectangles. Unfold, and place a piece of fish on the crease of each piece.
• Divide the marinade evenly between the packets. Pull the two ends of the parchment up over the pieces of fish and close the packet with small, tight, overlapping folds, leaving plenty of room inside for steam to cook the fish. Fold the ends of the packets closed in the same way. If you are worried they will open, staple the edges closed.
• Place the packets on a baking sheet and cook 10 minutes*. Remove the packets from the oven, place on plates and serve.

* Ten minutes works best for a 1-inch thick fillet. Cook for less time if the fish is thinner. Add time for thicker pieces.



Just Five: Polenta with Roasted Tomatoes

Thursday, December 26th, 2013



This is the simplest of dishes, sincerely. It’s also pure comfort and regularly requested in my home. And do you know what makes this dish so good? It’s the love that goes into it – and lots of cheese. My family stands around the kitchen table and attacks this dish with forks. It’s not pretty. But it’s one of my favorite things to make.

Polenta is incredibly versatile. Make it with broth instead of water or add some milk to make it creamier. Throw in sauteed mushrooms, onions, squash, leftover chicken or beef. It is a lovely foundation upon which to build a meal.

Polenta with Roasted Tomatoes
4 to 6 Servings

2 pints red or yellow cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes or small roma tomatoes
5 to 6 cloves unpeeled garlic
6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme, divided
A few pinches kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal (polenta)
2 cups grated smoked mozzarella cheese*, divided

• Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Slice the tomatoes in half and toss in a bowl with the garlic, 3 to 5 sprigs of thyme, a few pinches of salt and pepper and 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil. Bake 2½ hours, then let cool.
• When the garlic is cool, remove the peel and mash the roasted cloves, some olive oil and salt into a paste. Set aside.
• Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Spray a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. Bring 4 cups water to boil in a medium-large pot, and slowly whisk in the polenta. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring every couple minutes. Continue 20 to 30 minutes, stirring regularly until the polenta is creamy.
• Remove the leaves from the remaining thyme and chop. Add the chopped thyme, 1 tablespoon olive oil, the cheese and roasted garlic to the polenta.
• Pour the polenta into the baking dish. Top with the tomatoes and remaining cheese. Bake 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Remove, let cool 10 minutes and serve – or get out of the way!

*Parmesan, fontina, pepper jack and cheddar would all work well.

Just Five: Spiced Carrot Jam

Thursday, December 12th, 2013



With apologies to Flo Rida and Will.i.am: Oh hot damn, this is my jam! To give credit where it’s due, I got the idea from my friend Carrie, who found it in Food & Wine magazine. I love when I stumble upon recipes by spying on people’s grocery carts. Carrie shared the recipe with me, and I knew immediately how I wanted to alter it. I added harissa since carrots, lemon and harissa work brilliantly together. The original recipe calls for cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, so pumpkin pie spice was the obvious substitute.

This recipe is so easy to make, though please do not cheat and buy pre-grated carrots. They are far too dry and will not macerate well. You have to grate by hand for this jam. It’s a wonderfully versatile condiment; serve it to guests with crackers and goat cheese or use it as a base for a terrific dressing for a spinach salad (mix 1 tablespoon jam with 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons white wine or cider vinegar and ¼ cup olive oil). It is equally delicious on a bagel with cream cheese. Or serve it with pork tenderloin. Or just grab a spoon and dig in (I admit to nothing!).

Spiced Carrot Jam
Adapted from a recipe from Food & Wine magazine
Makes 2 pints

6 cups freshly grated carrots (about 1 lb. medium carrots)
1¼ cups white sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
½ tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 Tbsp. harissa (or to taste)

• Mix the carrots, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt in a nonreactive bowl, cover and refrigerate 6 to 8 hours or overnight.
• Pour mixture and all the juice into a medium pot. Stir in ½ cup water, harissa and pumpkin pie spice and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat to medium and cook 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces and reaches a syrupy consistency (Add more water if needed.).
• Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Place the jam in sterile mason jars and refrigerate. Jam will keep refrigerated up to 3 weeks.





Just Five: Apple Tart

Thursday, November 28th, 2013



Are you ready for a little classical French cooking? Don’t freak out! We got this.

This is the easiest and most impressive thing you can do to wow family, friends and enemies. Bring it to every holiday event. Make it because it’s Monday night, your kid’s report card came, and it was all B’s. Make it because it’s Thursday, you only got through a third of your inbox, and you dropped mustard on your favorite shirt at lunch. Make this because when you bring it out of the oven, you feel like adopting a silly French accent, throwing on a beret and singing “Frère Jacques.”

The chewy, peppery ginger elevates this dish beyond a basic apple tart. Many tart recipes call for additional sugar or butter – not necessary. This is simple perfection (Though if a scoop of vanilla ice cream were to find its way to the plate, it would not be a crime against nature.). Bon appetit!

Apple Tart
6 to 8 Servings

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced ¼-inch thick
4 Tbsp. apricot preserves
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp. crystallized ginger, chopped

• Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unfold the puff pastry onto the baking sheet and lightly smooth out the creases.
• Mix the apricot preserves with 1 tablespoon water in a small, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high 30 seconds, add the cinnamon, and stir to combine.
• Brush the puff pastry liberally with half the apricot mixture. Sprinkle the ginger over the apricot preserves, then arrange the apples in a circle so they overlap slightly, leaving 1½ inches of puff pastry around the edge. Gently fold up the edges to create a rim. Brush the remaining apricot mixture over the apples and the edges of the puff pastry.
• Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the pastry is nicely browned and flaky. Remove from the oven and serve warm or at room temperature.



Just Five: Mr. Autumn Man

Thursday, November 14th, 2013



Tis’ the season for warm sweaters and boots, bright pumpkins, the crunch of leaves underfoot, the smell of soups and stews… Autumn is a season for all senses. However, I have not purchased my ticket on the pumpkin spice bandwagon. I understand it, and I don’t judge it; it’s just not my thing. Bourbon, cider and ginger? Now we’re speaking my language.

I generally don’t go for fruity, sweet cocktails, so when I was playing with these flavors, I added bitters, which gave the drink some depth and edge. I topped it with ginger beer because I had a summer filled with Dark and Stormy cocktails. If you prefer your drinks sweeter, add your bubbles with ginger ale.

I highly recommend sipping this drink next to a fire built by a bearded man dressed in flannel with a deep laugh.

Mr. Autumn Man
2 Servings

1 tsp. cinnamon sugar
3 oz. bourbon
6 oz. apple cider
4 dashes Angostura bitters (You can also experiement with chocolate mole or orange bitters too.)
6 oz. ginger beer, divided

• Pour 1 tablespoon water on a small plate and pour the cinnamon sugar on another. Take 2 rocks glasses and dip the rims in the water, then into the cinnamon sugar until they are evenly coated.
• Stack bourbon, cider and bitters into a shaker with 4 ice cubes. Shake hard for 30 seconds and strain half into each glass.
• Top each drink with 3 ounces of ginger beer and serve.



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