Saturday, September 3, 2016

Pistachio Muffins

I worked in Delaware for 15 years and, as you may remember reading, I started working in Center City Philadelphia again last year.

I couldn’t be happier.  

Except for one thing.

When I worked in Delaware, I could walk to a place that had the best (BEST) pistachio muffins. So every so often, I would take a stroll and buy a few to satisfy my inevitable craving.  Despite the  plethora of bakeries and eateries in Center City, I have not been able to find pistachio muffins.  

Giant, bless their hearts, carries them every now and then.  More then than now.

So, considering this distance and dearth dilemma, the only thing a girl could do is to bake her own. 

So I did.

Pistachio Muffins
Adapted from a few recipes

1 box of instant pistachio pudding (3.4 ounce package)
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup wheat flour
¾ cups granulated sugar
½ cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Dash of sea salt
1/4 cup pistachios, ground pretty finely
2 eggs
1 cup of milk
½ cup canola oil
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and add liners to the muffin pan. In a large mixing bowl mix all dry ingredients – pudding, flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and most of the ground pistachios (save a little for topping).  In a separate bowl mix wet ingredients, medium mix eggs, almond extract, milk, oil and lemon zest.  Combine wet and dry ingredients and hand mix until incorporated. Sprinkle on the reserved ground pistachios and some coarse sugar, which adds a nice, subtly sweet crunch.

Fill muffin cups and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until toothpick done.

These muffins are so good.  The ground pistachios add a little munch, the zest brightens things up, and the almond extract contributes a natural nutty note.  Bonus, they freeze beautifully!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Grilled Tuna with Nectarine Red-Onion Relish

It’s grilling season.

Although for some, especially those with easy-to-fire-up gas grills, grilling never stops and continues through all seasons.

I grill on a Weber charcoal number and I prepare the charcoal in one of those chimney things.  I’ve had a few gas grills but, we don’t get along.  I singed my hair once standing too close investigating why the goofy thing would not fire up.  

It eventually did, as my hair discovered.  

I don’t have much luck with lawn mowers or weed-wackers either.  I've resorted to a manual push mower and a crew of very nice people with heavy equipment.

Younger daughter did fix my weed-wacker, so beware.

These disclosures bring me to the point of this story.  We had dinner at M.'s house this past week and she made grilled tuna. Grilled tuna itself is a treat but top it with a fruity relish and, my friends, you have a genuine taste-bud dance party! Serving fresh fruits with meat not only makes for a pretty presentation but the bright notes of the fruit accentuate and complement the smokiness of grilled meats and fish.  I suspect you could use this combination of ingredients with any seasonal fruit you have on hand.  Substitute cilantro for the basil and add some jalapeño for a more spicy and savory relish.

Nectarine Red-Onion Relish
From:  The Thrill of the Grill

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
6 ripe but firm rectories or peaches, peeled and cut into 8 slices each
1 medium red onion (for the color as much as the flavor) sliced into long, thin pieces
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup julienned fresh basil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons lime juice (one lime)
1/4 cup olive oil
Sand and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently.  The larger bowl allows you to toss the ingredients together nicely without sending some precious bits over the sides.  Chill until ready to serve.  This is a slightly runny relish and will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Pasta with Creamy Mushroom-Pea Sauce

Before I write about our latest Dinner Club gathering, I have to say I skipped a week.  Oh, I was present alright but I forgot to take a photo of the absolutely delicious Butternut Squash Lasagna that C.’s daughter’s made.    

C.’s daughter, a farmer who grows the most wonderful vegetables and herbs, has been cooking at Pendle Hill, a local Quaker Retreat House, honing her farm-to-table brilliance.  Anyway, for reasons I can’t fully recollect, I forgot to take a photo as we sat down for dinner, which is so not like me because I am usually annoying everyone, delaying dinner, attempting to get the best shot in the best light.  However, we did have a guest that evening, a wonderfully talented creator of magical things who stayed with C. while she built spectacular Rammed Earth Walls as part of the Central Park Swarthmore project.  

Maybe the talk of the gorgeous walls and the fascinating construction process threw me off. 

Maybe it was this damn rain because it has rained the entire month of May, except for maybe two days, Mother's Day being one of them and I took advantage of the sunshine to sand a badly damaged farmhouse table.

I am not exaggerating.

So, the week after the photo fail, it was my turn to cook and to lift our dreary and drenched spirits, I decided to make the ultimate comfort food, pasta. Apparently, I was not the only one because when A. arrived and asked what we were having she said she was hoping for pasta. That’s the wonderful thing about Dinner Club…we wait all week to have a delicious meal prepared for us and we really do anticipate whatever delight is served.  

It’s a lovely thing we have going.

I made Pasta with Creamy Mushroom-Pea Sauce from, a site packed with recipes, menu plans, wine and spirits guides, cooking tips and techniques, nutrition news and much, much more. I made this recipe several times and it’s always a big hit.  

This recipes calls for prosciutto and I mistakenly got it sliced.  Just ask for 2 ounces of prosciutto at the deli counter and dice it up, it will hold up much better.  Bacon will work well too but the Italian stuff is much fancier.  Also, I’ve made this recipe with different kinds of mushrooms and all work well but the chanterelles and creminis give the dish an earthy and deep flavor.  I like this recipe a little creamier so I added a bit more cream.  Oh, and don’t be tempted to use Half & Half instead of heavy cream….you’ll be disappointed because there is something so satisfying, velvety and luscious when proper cream mingles with white wine.

This recipe is quick, delicious and a little fancy.  Perfect topped with some Parmesan cheese and served with a crisp Pinot Grigio or Rose.

Pasta with Creamy Mushroom-Pea Sauce
From EatingWell:  May/June 2007

8 ounces whole-wheat pasta, such as fusilli or rotini
3 cups shelled English peas, (4 1/2 pounds unshelled) or frozen peas
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces sliced prosciutto, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups quartered cremini, or sliced chanterelle mushrooms (about 6 ounces)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup whipping cream
Lots of freshly ground pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and peas; cook until the pasta is tender and the peas are cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook prosciutto, stirring, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they release their juices and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle flour over the mushrooms; stir to coat. Add wine and let simmer for 1 minute. Add broth, return to a simmer and cook, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in cream and pepper.

Drain the peas and pasta; return to the pan, add the mushroom sauce and toss to coat.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Braised Chicken with Artichokes and Olives

We seem to have trends at dinner club. For a while, we religiously cooked from the Jerusalem cookbook and, thankfully, every now and then a meal or dessert from one of the Ottolenghi books graces our table.  Lately, NYTimes Cooking seems to be the reliable go-to, and for good reason.  The recipes are interesting, satisfying, flavor-packed, fairly easy to follow and the introductory comments are both informative and often entertaining.  

I am behind in my posts, so it's a good thing the chicken that A. made three (yes, three) weeks ago was completely delicious and memorable (what else is new….all of our meals are so good), and it was courtesy of NYTimes Cooking, Braised Chicken with Artichokes and Olives.

What can go wrong when you braise chicken and add a Mediterranean brew of artichokes, garlic, mint and olives?  And, if those flavors are not temping enough, introduce the bright notes of white wine and lemon juice and, by golly, you’ve got yourself a tasty little dish.

Really. Tasty.

A note about the artichokes…they are a lot of work and frozen artichoke hearts are just as good and way less effort than the peeling, slicing and scooping required in this recipe.  The good folks at NYTimes cooking are probably gasping at the thought but, we’re all busy and why not benefit from shortcuts when someone has already gotten to the heart of the matter, or in this case, the artichoke.  

Seriously, this recipe is crazy good and once you surrender to the fresh artichoke alternative, it’s also pretty easy, especially for a fancy week-night meal.You’ll want to serve this with crusty bread so you can sop up all the garlicky/lemony/winey/savory juices.  
We started the evening with a wonderful bottle of rose...crisp and light, the tasting notes describe this wine as "a subtle rose, with deep pink color; notes of strawberry and cherry; light body and a dry, refreshing finish."

Braised Chicken with Artichokes and Olives
By:  NYTimes Cooking

1 ½ lemons
3 medium artichokes, about 1 1/2 pounds
3 ½ pounds bone-in chicken pieces
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes, halved
Pinch red pepper flakes
¾ cup dry white wine
⅓ cup pitted olives, halved (use black, green or a mix)
2 large rosemary branches
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, as needed
Chives or mint leaves, for garnish (optional)

Use frozen artichoke hearts OR to use fresh artichokes squeeze the juice of 1 lemon into a large bowl of water. Discard the outer leaves of each artichoke. As you do so, and as you continue cleaning the artichokes, dip them into the lemon water to stop the cut sides from browning. Use a paring knife to peel the base and stems. Slice off the top third of each artichoke. Slice the artichokes in half lengthwise. Using a teaspoon or grapefruit spoon, scoop out the hairy chokes inside, pulling out any prickly purple leaves as well. Slice each half into three pieces. Put trimmed artichoke pieces in lemon water until needed.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Pat the chicken dry with paper towel and season with salt and pepper. In a large (12-inch) ovenproof skillet with a lid, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces and sear in batches until well browned, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to a plate.

Add artichokes and garlic to pan, adding more oil if needed, and cook, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and red pepper flakes; cook 1 minute more.

Pour in wine and stir in olives, rosemary branches and grated zest of 1/2 lemon. (Do not discard after zesting.) Return chicken to pan. Bring liquid to a simmer.

Cover pan and transfer to oven. Cook until chicken is tender, 30 to 35 minutes. (Check white meat after 25 minutes and remove from oven if done.) Transfer chicken to a plate and place skillet over medium-high heat. Simmer until pan juices thicken and become saucelike, about 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk in butter.

Return chicken to pan and sprinkle with cheese. Adjust oven heat to broil and place pan in the oven until cheese is melted and golden, 2 to 3 minutes. (Watch carefully to see that it does not burn.) Squeeze juice of remaining lemon half over pan and serve garnished with chives or mint if you like. A. used parsley because parsley makes everything better.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Chicken Tacos with Chipotle

It was a New-York-Times-State-of-Mind Dinner Club last week.

First, M. served to-die-for Chicken Tacos with Chiptole.

Then A. presented the most beautiful Pistachio Poundcake With Macerated Strawberries.


And I wonder why those pesky 3-5 LBS just linger.

Chicken thighs are used in the taco recipe and are simmered, cooled, shredded then added to a mixture of sautéd chipotles, garlic and adobo sauce. The result is the most succulent, perfectly spiced and balanced chicken that has ever graced a taco.  Mix in the suggested toppings and, let me tell you, this is not your average taco.  It makes me sad to think that the taco experience of most people is limited to chain-restaurant fare, except perhaps for those who live in California, where there are the best little stands sprinkled along the highways.  

Miners in Mexico used to snack on tacos and soon stands, referred to as taquerías, sprung up in Mexico City selling the little envelopes of deliciousness. Since then, tacos have become wildly popular in the United States and are frequently featured in NYTimes cooking and other popular cooking sites and shows.   

Then there was the pistachio poundcake.  With macerated strawberries.  And whipped cream.  

I cannot resist anything with pistachios and I bet you can’t either so here's the link to the poundcake recipe.

As I read through the taco recipe, one reader said (I like reading the comments section because that’s where you see reader short cuts and ingredient workarounds)…”25 ingredients!  Are you kidding me for a weeknight dinner?” And, to be fair, there are a lot of ingredients in the taco recipe but don’t be deterred….so worth it!  As you are reading you may ask…what exactly is an allspice berry.  Well, it’s just the whole version of ground allspice, like pepper. About five allspice berries equals about one teaspoon of ground allspice, so about 1/4 teaspoon of ground allspice will do the trick if you don’t have whole on hand!

Chicken Tacos with Chipotle
NYTimes Cooking

4 large bone-in chicken thighs, about 1 1/2 pounds
3 scallions, left whole
1 bay leaf
1 thyme branch
3 black peppercorns
1 allspice berry
2 cloves
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 or 3 chipotle chiles in adobo, chopped
3 tablespoons adobo sauce, from the can
½ cup broth (use broth from simmered chicken)
8 fresh corn tortillas

1 small white onion, finely chopped, soaked in ice water for 10 minutes and drained
Thinly sliced serrano chile
Thinly sliced radishes
Sliced avocado
Crumbled queso fresco or mild feta cheese
Crème fraîche or Mexican crema
Cilantro sprigs
Dried oregano
Lime wedges

Put chicken thighs in a saucepan and cover with 3 cups water. Add scallions, bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns, allspice, cloves and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Simmer for 30 minutes, then remove chicken and cool. Shred chicken with your fingers, discarding chicken skin and bone. Strain broth and reserve. You should have about 2 cups shredded chicken.

Put olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add diced yellow onion, season with salt and cook until softened and a bit browned, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cumin and cook for 1 minute more. Add chopped chipotle chile and adobo sauce and stir to combine. Add shredded chicken, salt lightly and stir to coat. Add chicken broth and simmer for 2 or 3 minutes, until sauce has thickened somewhat. Keep warm.

Heat the tortillas over steam or by your favorite method, keeping them soft and pliable.  Build the tacos quickly: Put a spoonful of the saucy chicken in the center of each tortilla. Top with a teaspoon of chopped white onion, a few slivers of serrano chile, some radish and avocado slices, a teaspoon of queso fresco and a teaspoon of crème fraîche. Add a few cilantro springs and a small pinch of oregano. Serve immediately with lime wedges on the side. 
Then we had the poundcake.  Good grief, was that ever good!