salmon with a bow-tie

This week not only marks the start of new school year but also a new soccer season. My husband coaches my sons team and has for the past few years, but this year he’s also going to be assisting on my daughter’s “Little Cleats” team. (Yeah I know, pray for him.) My boy has also recently decided to participate in a skateboard class through our rec department and the girl wants to take an Intro to Sports clinic. So between school activities, soccer practice and games, sports clinics and oh yeah homework— the next couple of months will be busy ones to say the least.

If you’re schedule sounds like mine then I’m sure pasta is part of your typical weekly menu. I like pasta just as much as the next girl but while the kids never tire of having it with simple red sauce and cheese, I grow weary of that combo pretty quickly. I do occasionally switch things up with pesto or garlic, butter and cheese, as a poor man’s carbonara or a quick mac n’ cheese. But not being one to ever rest on my “good enough” laurels, I’m always on the lookout for new recipe inspiration.

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about yogurt, specifically cooking with it. I like yogurt and we consume a pretty good amount of it in our house. The kids eat it for breakfast, I add it to my smoothies, swap it out for sour cream on tacos, add it to my blueberry muffins and I’ve even made yogurt from scratch (which was far easier and more rewarding than you would think!) But what about using it as a sauce for pasta? As I considered the idea a dish slowly formed in my mind. I’ve been on a sardine kick lately and while the combination of yogurt and sardines didn’t sound particularly appealing, salmon and yogurt did. And what goes perfectly with salmon but capers, lemon and fresh chives.

Voilà! An easy and fast pasta dinner for everyone and something more exotic than red sauce for me.

Farfalle with Salmon & Yogurt Sauce
I served this pasta dish warm, but I imagine it would totally work as a chilled salad as well.

salmon pasta6

3/4 lb. farfalle pasta
1 6 oz. can boneless/skinless wild salmon
3/4 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsp. Spanish capers
3 cloves garlic, grated
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. fresh chives, snipped small
lemon zest, for garnish

  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. While it cooks break up the salmon and place it in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and gently mix.
  2. When the pasta is al dente, drain it extremely well and add it to the bowl. Gently fold the pasta into the yogurt sauce. Adjust the seasonings, garnish with lemon zest and more chives and serve.

Death Row Chicken

I love good food. And by that I don’t necessarily mean fancy or even artfully presented, but good. Food that someone has clearly put time and thought into. When I think about some of my favorite things to eat and favorite places to eat them, a few restaurants immediately spring to mind. There’s a little cafe in Manchester, Vermont that makes a killer Niçoise salad, a Portuguese restaurant in Newark, New Jersey with a flank steak in red wine sauce to die for and a coffee shop on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that serves an Eggs Benedict with spinach that literally makes my eyes roll. But, if you were to ask about my most favorite home-cooked dinner, my death row meal, it would without hesitation be roasted chicken. Yup, good ol’ soul satisfying roasted chicken.

I have apparently instilled my love of roasted chicken in my children because they actually cheer when I tell them that’s what’s for dinner (I’m a lucky mom!) and so I make it pretty regularly. Ordinarily when I roast a chicken it’s a fairly simple affair; salt and pepper, perhaps some lemon and onion in the cavity and a nice schmear of butter on the breast. If that’s all it takes to garner hoots and hollers from my family then why mess with it, right? But, (I know, there’s always a but) I just recently read a review of the Jane Hornby cookbook Fresh & Easy and in it they mentioned her roasted chicken with tarragon sauce. Hmmmm, we all love my no muss, no fuss chicken but maybe a little cream sauce now and then would turn the everyday and expected into something special. And it did.

Roasted Chicken with Tarragon Cream Sauce
This chicken is equally fantastic without the cream sauce, but the sauce really makes it something special.

1 5 lb. organic whole chicken
1 lemon
1 small onion
1 handful fresh tarragon
2 tbsp. butter, softened
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 lbs. small red potatoes, quartered
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lb. green beans
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 cup frozen peas
3/4 cup brandy
1 cup light cream
1 1/4 cups chicken broth

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Rinse the chicken and liberally salt and pepper it inside and out. Cut the onion and lemon in half, squeeze the juice of half a lemon all over chicken and place the lemon, onion and a handful of the tarragon into the cavity of the chicken.
  2. Tie together the legs with kitchen twine and rub the softened butter all over the breast and thighs. Place the chicken in a roasting pan, add 1/2 cup of water to the bottom and roast for 40 minutes.
  3. Toss the quartered potatoes with olive oil. After the chicken has roasted for 40 minutes add the potatoes (cut side down) to the pan. Return to the oven and continue roasting for another 30-40 minutes or until the internal temp. reaches 165°F.
  4. When the chicken is golden and cooked and the potatoes are tender, transfer everything to a large oven proof platter, turn the oven off and place the platter in the oven to keep warm.
  5. Pour off any excess fat from the drippings in the pan. Place the pan on your stove top over low heat, then add the wine and let bubble (scraping up any cooked on bits) for 2 minutes. Add the cream, broth and green beans and let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  6. Add the frozen peas and mushrooms. Roughly chop the remaining tarragon, stir it into the sauce and return to a simmer. Continue to cook until the veggies are tender, about 8-10 minutes.
  7. Carve the chicken and serve with the vegetables and drizzled with cream sauce.

*adapted from Jane Hornby: Fresh & Easy

my garden’s bounty

I recently went to see a man about some chickens. No I’m not speaking euphemistically here, I mean actual chickens; hens to be exact. I’m kicking around the idea of perhaps keeping a few in my backyard. Oh what lovely fresh eggs we could have! I’m sure to some of you this seems like no big deal, what’s so strange about having a couple of hens or maybe even a pigmy goat? But the rest of you are probably laughing too hard to even be able to continue reading this. In case I haven’t mentioned it before I live in Northern New Jersey, roughly 11 miles outside of New York City. So close that I imagine if you stood on my roof and looked East you would see midtown Manhattan— not exactly farm country! But that hasn’t stopped me from trying to make the most of my little plot of land. (My mother, who actually does live in the country, gets the biggest kick out of my urban agriculture and refers to my yard as “Green Acres.”) Anyway, I currently have two raised bed gardens filled with veggies (with plans for a third dedicated to garlic, leeks and onions) and a half-dozen or so containers overflowing with a variety of herbs. The kids and I water, tend and harvest something wonderful from our backyard nearly everyday.

While last months heat wave had some dire effects on my cucumbers and squash, the remainder of my garden seems as happy as ever. My cherry tomatoes, jalapeño and cayenne peppers and corn are all ready for the picking, my basil is huge (but has started acting like it wants to start flowering) and my leeks have grown big enough to rival store-bought. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” I thought to myself, “if I could make something delicious with this bounty from my garden. Something simple that would let each homegrown ingredient shine.” I started flipping through some cookbooks for inspiration and decided pretty quickly that Ina Garten was the way to go. I love the Barefoot Contessa for her relaxed unpretentious style, her simple, delicious and totally accessible food and the way she seems to enjoy the process of planning and executing a meal the same way I do. I would channel my inner Contessa and come up with a sensational meal.

The dish I ended up making was a sautéed cherry tomato, leek, roasted shrimp and feta cheese combination— and holy cow was it good! I used every ripe vegetable my garden had to offer, some lovely fresh herbs as well as sweet shrimp and salty feta. Served over a little orzo with some crusty bread and a glass of white wine, it was summer perfection in a bowl.

And as for those chickens, I’ll keep you posted…

Roasted Shrimp with Tomatoes, Leeks & Feta
This combination of garden fresh veggies and herbs, sweet shrimp and zesty lemon is fantastic as a first course, entrée or even spooned over thick slices of grilled bread as an appetizer.

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups leeks, sliced thin (about 3 medium)
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 fresh cayenne pepper, chopped (optional)
1 cup white wine
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp. tomato sauce
1 tsp. fresh oregano, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. medium shrimp (36/40 count), peeled
6 ounces feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup panko
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
5 large basil leaves, julienned
the zest of 1/2 a lemon
the juice of 1 lemon

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large ovenproof skillet heat 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-low heat. Add the leeks, garlic and hot pepper and sautee for 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half.
  2. Add the cherry tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, salt, and pepper to the skillet. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
  3. Arrange the shrimp in one layer over the tomato mixture and sprinkle the crumbled feta evenly over the shrimp.
  4. In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs, panko, parsley, basil, and lemon zest with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle generously over the shrimp.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked and the bread crumbs are golden brown. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the shrimp and top with additional fresh basil. Serve over orzo, rice or on grilled bread.

limoncello— boozy sunshine

Many years ago, long before children were even part of the discussion, my husband and I used to meet friends for dinner a few times a month at a small Italian restaurant in Manhattan. Back then we had nothing but time and spent many a long evening at that restaurant eating, drinking and enjoying our young lives. It was on one of these carefree evenings that I was first introduced to the Italian liqueur Limoncello. The restaurant made their own and after dessert and coffee the owner would often bring over a bottle, pull up a chair and join in on the conservation. Ahhh, those were the days…

Around the same time I made my first trip to Italy. Perhaps it was the idyllic train ride to Florence, while listening to Andrea Bocelli and reading Frances Mayes or the melt in your mouth gnocchi that we encountered upon arriving, but we couldn’t help but feel fortunate to be able to experience such a perfect vacation. Amazing sights, amazing sounds and amazing food. And as good as my NYC limoncello had been, it couldn’t compare with the nectar from the motherland.

A lot of years have passed since those carefree Italian dinners, but sometimes on a quiet evening, with a conversation of “remember when’s” and a little homemade limoncello, it feels like not so long ago.

Limoncello
I’ve heard limoncello referred to as sunshine in a bottle. Sweet, boozy sunshine.

26 thick-skinned lemons
1 1.75 ltr. bottle good quality vodka
2 cups sugar
4 1/2 cups water

  1. Gently wash and dry the lemons under warm water. Using a microplane, remove the lemons’ yellow zest, taking care to avoid the bitter white pith. (Save the zested lemons for another use.)
  2. Place the zest in the glass jar with a lid and add vodka. Cover the jar with plastic wrap and then seal tightly with the lid. Let the mixture steep until the peels begin to lose their color and the liquid turns bright yellow and very aromatic, at least three weeks but up to 40 days.
  3. After the lemon zest and vodka have steeped, combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool completely (this step can be done ahead of time and refrigerated).
  4. Pour the sugar syrup over the infused vodka. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  5. After the limoncello and simple syrup combo have sat overnight you’re finally ready to bottle your liquid sunshine. Strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer lined with a layer of moistened cheesecloth (to remove all traces of peel) and into a clean jar or bowl. Be sure to squeeze the last drops of liquid from the zest. (I did this three times.) Now line the mesh strainer with a coffee filter and strain the limoncello once more to collect any fine lemon residue and oil. (This step is the key to crystal clear limoncello. If you don’t do this final filtering you’ll end up with a cap of lemon oil in each of your bottles.)
  6. Using a funnel, pour the finished liqueur into clean bottles and seal tightly with a cork or cap and store in the refrigerator.* Or… pour yourself a glass, sit back and enjoy the fruit of your efforts.

*The longer the limoncello is allowed to age in the refrigerator the smoother it will become.

*adapted from imbibe magazine