Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Summertime Rhubarb and Strawberry Pudding Cake

Article first published as Summer Strawberry and Rhubarb Pudding Cake on Blogcritics.

We went berry picking this weekend and hauled in a huge amount of sweet, flavorful gorgeous berries.  There’s nothing like the taste of berries fresh from the field.  Invariably, when you get them home to hull and clean them, you find that many on the bottom are mashed and soft.  Here is a perfect way to use up those sublimely sweet and tart berries in a dish that won’t show their imperfections.  Rhubarb and strawberry is a classic fruit combination and in this dish, and the addition of the orange is an unexpected surprise.  You could also make this a bit later in the summer with a combination of blueberries and blackberries, paired with lemon instead of orange. 

The cake is almost like a soufflé it is so light and airy, and the cornmeal adds a really nice and unique texture.  Southerners will recognize it as a sweet spoonbread!  This dessert definitely benefits from being eaten warm with something creamy, like whipped cream or good quality vanilla ice cream…or both.  A little indulgent, but worth every calorie!  

Cooking Spray
Juice and Zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh strawberries
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup corn meal
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 stick (1/2 cup) light butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp turbinado or raw sugar

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 400°F. Spray an 8-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Zest the orange and set aside.  Juice the orange into a ¼ cup measure.  Fill the ¼ cup measure with water if the orange does not produce ¼ cup of juice.
Stir together the juice / water mixture, cornstarch, and about ½ of the sugar in a small saucepan, then stir in the rhubarb. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, for about 3 to 5 minutes until soft. Remove from the heat and stir in the strawberries and orange zest.
Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and remaining sugar in a medium bowl.
Whisk together the egg, milk, melted butter, and vanilla in a large bowl, then whisk in the flour mixture, just until combined.
Reserve 1/2 cup fruit mixture, then add the remainder to baking dish and pour batter over it, spreading evenly. Drizzle the reserved fruit mixture over the batter. Sprinkle the raw or turbinado sugar on top. Put the baking dish on a cookie sheet to catch drips and then bake for 30 – 35 minutes, checking for doneness with a toothpick. Cool in the dish on a rack for 10-15 minutes before serving.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream and/or fresh whipped cream.

This recipe makes about 6 servings.  You could easily double it and use a 13x9 casserole dish, but you’ll need to adjust the cooking time.  Enjoy!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Seared Salmon with Smoky Kale and Cannellinis

Article first published as Seared Salmon with Smoky Kale and White Beans on Blogcritics.

I’ve been trying to get more beans and greens into my diet.  How about you?  Together, dark leafy greens and dried beans offer a nearly perfect and very economic combination of fiber, protein, iron, complex carbohydrates, and antioxidants.  Tonight I decided to use kale and cannellini beans, and for an added boost of protein and omega-3’s, I added some beautiful seared salmon.  The buttery, creamy salmon and bright smoky kale, with some bacon and seasonal Vidalia onions were perfect with the soft and luscious white beans.   The whole dinner came together in under 30 minutes and was a perfect Sunday meal, paired with a slightly buttery, well-oaked Chardonnay and finished with some berries with black pepper and aged balsamic vinegar and some good quality vanilla bean ice cream.   If you wanted to make this a more hearty meal, add some polenta, or cornbread on the side.   Here’s how I made this dish, but you could use any dark leafy greens you have available, legumes of your choice, and you could choose to use salmon, or add some sausage to this dish and toss it with pasta as an alternative.  If you want to go meatless, just omit the salmon and bacon altogether and add some mushrooms to give the dish depth.  If you went that route, I’d toss it with some whole wheat penne and parmesan cheese.   Enjoy!

4 (5 oz.) salmon fillets
3 tbsp Olive Oil
6  pieces bacon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small or ½ large Vidalia onion, diced
1 tsp crushed red pepper
6-8 cups kale, stemmed and rough chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
¾ cup reduced sodium chicken broth
1 (15 oz.) can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp sugar (sugar in the raw preferred)
2 Tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400.  Heat olive oil in medium sized sauté pan.  Season Salmon with salt and pepper, and place in the heated oil, with the skin side up.  Sear for 2-3 minutes.  Season skin side with more salt and pepper and flip over, searing for 2-3 minutes more on the skin side.  Remove from heat and set aside.  In another large saute pan, cook the bacon until crisp.  Set aside to cool, and saute the garlic, onions and crushed red peppers in the bacon drippings.   Saute for about 5 minutes until the onions are soft and the garlic is quite fragrant.  Add the chopped kale and sauté until soft and reduced to about ½ volume.  Add the broth to the greens and cover, simmering on low heat for about 7 minutes.  Add the drained and rinsed beans and simmer for about 3 more minutes.  Meanwhile, place the salmon, in its original sauté pan in the 400 degree oven and finish for about 7 minutes.  Remove salmon from the oven when done, and set aside.  Check the greens to be sure they are cooked to your pleasing.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the juice and zest of 1 lemon, the crumbled bacon, the sugar and one tbsp. of the balsamic vinegar.   Serve a plate of the beans and greens with one of the salmon filets on top.  Drizzle the remaining  balsamic vinegar over the salmon.  Enjoy!   This is an economical, healthy and relatively quick meal that’s perfect for a family dinner, but also unique and delicious for a special occasion.  Have fun and enjoy!  

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Blueberry, Fennel and Feta Salad with Mint

Article first published as Blueberry, Feta and Fennel Salad with Mint on Blogcritics.

I’ve posted a few different arugula salad recipes lately, but wanted to try using blueberries in a salad, because they are so plentiful and affordable right now.  The contrast of the sweetness of the berries with the briny sharpness of the feta, and pepperiness of the greens is an unexpected delight.  You could substitute raspberries, blackberries or strawberries if you prefer.  And if feta is too strong a choice for you, use soft goat cheese.  You can also omit the nuts altogether, or try your favorite variety.  If you're over arugula, try mache or watercress for a nice change of pace. 

I used this as a first course for a meal that included a mustard and honey-brined pork tenderloin and butternut squash puree, but you could totally make this a main dish by adding a little grilled chicken.  Have fun with it and enjoy!

 6 cups of arugula
1 fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
1 pint fresh blueberries
3 oz. crumbled feta cheese
1 small cucumber, seeded and diced
¼ cup fresh mint, chopped
2 Tbsp slivered almonds

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp White balsamic or white wine vinegar
Juice and zest of one orange
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together and set aside.  Unless your arugula is quite young and small, rough chop the leaves.  Peel, seed and dice the cucumber and slice the fennel very thin – almost shaved.   Place all salad ingredients in a large bowl and gently toss.  Add dressing and just toss just before serving.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Zucchini and Carrot Mini Muffins

Article first published as Zucchini and Carrot Mini Muffins on Blogcritics.

Squash is starting to grow well locally here in the Mid-Atlantic.  We love both yellow squash and zucchini, sautéed, steamed, or raw in crudite.  I really wanted to make some breakfast muffins from some local, tender zucchini I was given, but wanted to boost the fruit and veggie content and keep them healthy.  These muffins have both carrots and zucchini, whole wheat flour, applesauce, and very little processed sugar.  My kids thought they were yummy and my diabetic husband was able to enjoy them with reckless abandon too!  They were the perfect Sunday morning treat with coffee, apricot and banana yogurt smoothies, and some sliced cantaloupe.   Enjoy!

Cooking spray
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup sugar in the raw (can substitute white sugar)
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp salt
1 medium zucchini, grated
1 medium carrot, grated
2/3 cup milk
¼ cup brown sugar
1 large egg
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
3 tbsp canola oil
2 tsp vanilla
¼ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray mini muffin tin generously with cooking spray and set aside.  Grate carrots and zucchini and then squeeze excess moisture out with paper towels.  Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Mix wet ingredients in a medium bowl with a whisk, including grated veggies and chopped nuts.  Add wet ingredients to dry, be careful not to over mix.  Divide batter evenly into muffin tins and bake for 12-14 minutes.  Cook for about 4 minutes and then remove from tins and enjoy.  These are delicious served plain, or with a bit of whipped honey.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Salad of Arugula, Apricots and Pistachios

Arugula is in season now in the mid-Atlantic.  It is by far my favorite green.  I adore it in salads, I like it lightly sautéed, and it is wonderful raw and undressed as a bed for juicy proteins too.   It is tender and peppery and a bit sweet – such a unique flavor.  Tonight, I tried it with some local fresh apricots, diced fennel, and pistachios.  It was a divine combination that went perfectly with the locally-sourced pork chops we enjoyed, cooked simply pan-seared with lemon, olive oil and oregano.  We also had a unique quinoa dish – quinoa tabbouleh.  I’ll share that recipe later too.


2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp apricot jelly or preserves
2 tsp whole grain mustard
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
Juice of ¼ fresh orange
Sea salt and pepper to taste


6 cups fresh baby arugula leaves
4 small apricots, pitted and sliced
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1/3 cup natural pistachios, shelled

This salad could not be simpler.  Simply put all the dressing ingredients in a blander and mix them up.  If you do not have apricot preserves, you can use peach, or orange marmalade, or even an additional fresh apricot pureed into the dressing (I’d add a teaspoon of honey if I went that route).
Toss the arugula with the sliced apricots, pistachios, and fennel and dress just before serving.  Season liberally with fresh cracked pepper and a bit of high quality sea salt.  Enjoy!  This is divine paired with Riesling and either pork or grilled chicken.  It would probably make a great main dish salad with seared scallops too.  

Monday, May 9, 2011

Banana-Spice Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

Article first published as Banana Spice Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting on Blogcritics.

Banana Spice Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

We should own stock in Dole around my house!  We buy 2 bunches of bananas every single week.  They are the hands-down favorite of my younger daughter and a frequent mid-morning snack or commuting breakfast for me.  I also love to use them in desserts because their unique texture and inherent sweetness often allows for lighter recipes.  Here is a banana cupcake recipe that I use regularly – I have some in the oven right now as a Mother’s Day treat. 

For the cupcakes:

2 large or 3 small very ripe bananas
½ cup sugar
6 Tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup flour
½ tsp baking soda
 ¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
1 (6 oz.) container light vanilla yogurt

For the Frosting:

2 Tbsp butter, softened
4 oz. reduced fat cream cheese, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.  Line a muffin tin with paper liners – this recipe will make 12 cupcakes. First, mash the bananas well and mix in ¼ cup sugar. Set aside.  In medium bowl, mix all dry ingredients together.  Set aside.  In large mixer, mix softened butter, remaining ¼ cup sugar, and vanilla.  Beat well.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Now, add about 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by 1/3 of the yogurt.  Repeat until both are gone.  Bake for 25 minutes and cool completely on wire rack.

To make the frosting, mix the softened cream cheese and butter together with the powdered sugar, and add in the vanilla.  Beat until smooth and creamy.  Frost the cupcakes and then garnish with chopped walnuts, chopped pecans, mini chocolate chips, or toasted coconut as desired.  

Steak and Summer Vegetable Saute

Article first published as Summer Vegetable Saute on Blogcritics.

It’s not quite summer yet, but I’m already starting to see some great summer produce in my markets from just a little south of here.  The corn tastes sweeter, the zucchini is more tender, and the cherry tomatoes are at their plump and juicy best.  Also, Vidalia onions are in season and I just adore the sweetness they bring to dishes at this time of year.  We’re having some beautiful steaks and a great cab tonight for Mother’s Day (followed by Banana Cupcakes!), so I wanted to nice, easy, fresh and sort of light side dish that would showcase the steaks.  If you had some fresh okra or fava beans available, either one would be a delicious addition to this dish as well.  

1 Tbsp Olive Oil
3 ears of corn, kernels removed from the cobs
1 medium zucchini
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in halves
¼ Vidalia (or other sweet) onion
1 clove of garlic
salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup basil, sliced into ribbons
1 cup baby arugula

First, chop the zucchini into ¼ inch rounds and then cut the rounds into quarters. Set aside. Mince the garlic and chop the onion.  Melt the butter and olive oil together in a large sauté pan.  Add the onions and garlic first, sautéing over medium heat until soft, but not browned.  Add the zucchini and continue sautéing, until slightly softened.  Next add the corn and cherry tomatoes and continue sautéing until the corn is cooked.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add the basil and arugula, just before serving and enjoy!  I’ve served this before with seared scallops and shrimp and it was divine.  Sometimes, I add in a bit of crumbled bacon and/or goat cheese at the end, but because of the steak, I wanted a lighter dish tonight.  Use it however you’re inspired though!  It’s a quick way to use loads of the gorgeous produce coming to markets over the next few months.   As I mentioned, I served it tonight with steak, and I also made some tiny creamer potatoes, simply cooked in chicken stock and water, and then basted in butter and a variety of fresh herbs.  It was an amazing meal that my husband and kids really loved…and mom was happy too! 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Rockfish with Arugula, Citrus and Fennel

Article first published as Local Fish with Citrus, Fennel and Arugula on Blogcritics.

I was already craving some gorgeous fish for dinner and contemplating whether it would be sea bass, salmon or seared tuna when my neighbor popped over and told he had gone fishing on the Chesapeake and caught more rockfish than he could ever use.  Talk about a happy twist of fate!  Wow!  Rockfish!  Local Rockfish!  Local rockfish caught that day!  Amazing.  If you haven’t had rockfish, it’s a mid-Atlantic delicacy, very light and creamy with a subtle sweetness, a beautiful snowy color and mild taste.  To me, it’s like a cross between sea bass and orange roughy or grouper, if you’re familiar with those fish.  Anyway, it’s not a fish you want to overcomplicate, especially not when it is so fresh.  We decided to just broil it simply with good quality olive oil, sea salt, pepper and lemon.  I wanted to celebrate this simple preparation with a salad of locally sourced seasonal greens and citrus.  It turned out to be an amazing dish and it all came together in under 15 minutes.  We paired it with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and rounded out the meal with some mango sorbet for dessert.  You could do this dinner with nearly any flaky, tender and mild whitefish, and if it is not quite as fresh as mine was, just marinate it for a few minutes in the salad dressing before broiling and you’ll love it!  Enjoy!!

First, make the salad dressing:

2 (5 oz.) rockfish fillets
3 Tbsp EVOO (use the best quality olive oil you can find)
Juice of ½ orange
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and pepper to taste (use sea salt or fleur de sel if possible)

Next, prep the fish:

Check for small bones and remove any that you see.  Line a broiling pan with foil and place the fish on the pan.  Season the entire fish with salt and pepper.  If fish is not right-from-the-bay, pour a bit of the dressing over it and let it sit for about 15 minutes before broiling.  If keeping it simple, just drizzle a little olive oil over the fish and brush it to coat evenly, adding lemon slices on top.  Preheat broiler to high and place pan in oven with doo ajar.  Broil about 10 minutes until fish is opaque and the lemons are slightly caramelized on top.

While fish is cooking, make the salad:

4 cups baby arugula
1 small fennel bulb
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup basil leaves, cut into ribbons
¼ cup almonds, slivered
1 cara care navel orange
1 blood orange or regular orange
1 tangelo or clementine

Slice the fennel very thin, using a mandolin if available and toss in a large bowl with the baby arugula leaves.  Ad the almonds and crumbled feta cheese.  Remove rind and pith from the citrus fruits and add just the sections into the salad.  If you only have plain oranges, that’s totally fine.  I just showcased what I happened to already have since citrus season is coming to a close.  If you’re an olive fan, sliced kalamata or oil-cured black olives would be a wonderful addition to the salad – I just didn’t have any.  Add dressing and gently toss all ingredients together.  Transfer and divide onto plates, and remove the fish from the broiler.    Add the fish on the side and enjoy both together.  The sweetness of the fennel is an amazing compliment to this tender fish and the arugula adds just the right amount of pepperiness.  That together with the briny element of the feta (and the olives if you add them) and the brightness of the citrus fruits is a real winner.  If you absolutely must have a starch, I‘d do polenta, couscous, or simple basmati rice.  Or, you could have some crusty warm bread, to mop up the excess dressing.  I was truly satisfied without it, because the dish was gorgeous to look at, smelled sublime, filled my whole plate, and thanks to the fennel and almonds, had a perfect crunch to it.  Bon appetit!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Roasted Root Vegetables: Parsnips, Carrots and Apricots

Article first published as Roasted Carrots and Parsnips with Apricots and Herbs on Blogcritics.

Yummy!  Is there anything better than roasted root vegetables?  If you don't agree, you're missing out!  Roasting brings out their sweetness and deepens their aroma, preserves all their wonderful vibrant color and vitamins, and allows for great flavor enhancement without a lot of added fat.

Today I saw some gorgeous parsnips and apricots at the market so I decided to feature those, but you could change this up based on what’s available.  By the way, you’ll notice in my picture that I julienned the vegetables – don’t.  I think they would be better in larger chunks to preserve some of their texture while still cooking long enough to really caramelize the outside.   

I think this would be a classic side dish for roasted pork and some greens, but I chose to serve it tonight with chicken legs basted with a honey BBQ sauce,  a mixed greens salad with sliced apples, dried pears, almonds, gorgonzola cheese. and a balsamic vinaigrette.  Since it’s Saturday, we also downed a luscious Riesling and rounded out the evening with a low fat pumpkin praline cake. Totally scrumptious!  Here’s how to make it:


Cooking spray
1 lb. carrots, peeled
1 lb. parsnips, peeled
2 Tbsp Olive oil
¼ red onion, cut into chunks
3 fresh apricots, cut into 1/8th’s
1 Tbsp butter, melted
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp. fresh thyme, removed from stems
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400.  Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside. Peel the parsnips and carrots and cut into even-sized chunks.  Toss in a bowl with the olive oil, thyme, rosemary, red onions, and salt & pepper to taste. Spread evenly in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Melt butter in the microwave and stir in the maple syrup.  Pull the vegetables from the oven and shake them around a little.  Add the apricots to the baking sheet and drizzle the top with the maple/butter mixture.  Return to the oven for 15-20 minutes until the fruit and vegies are nicely caramelized and fragrant.

Enjoy!!  This dish tastes decadent but it’s packed with vitamin, fiber and antioxidants.  It’s relatively low in fat, easy enough for a child to make, and economical.  Plus, I’ll bet it’s a nice change from your regular rotation of vegetable side dishes.  You could substitute pears or nectarines for the apricots and omit the parsnips or replace them with fennel, based on what is in season and available at your local market.  Have fun with it!  Want to know more about parsnips?  Read more here:  http://www.vegparadise.com/highestperch21.html