Monday, February 28, 2011

Lamb Burgers with Mint, Feta and Garlic

Naturally for day two of Greek week, I wanted to make something to go with day one's tsatsiki. I've never cooked (or even eaten) lamb before, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I'll be honest, not my favorite. But keep in mind, I'm not a big meat eater in general, so I might not be the best one to ask. And even though I'm not a lamb convert, I recognized while I was eating these burgers, that they were good (the garlic, mint and feta are a fantastic combination). 

When I asked my husband Chuck what his thoughts were on this recipe, he said (and I quote), "I love lamb. I love burgers. And I love these lamb burgers." I knew it was true because he polished off a lot of them for dinner (and what he didn't have for dinner, he enthusiastically finished for lunch the next day).

Makes 12 large burgers (or 25 minis for hors d’oeuvres)

1 1/2 lb. ground lamb shoulder
heaping 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 large garlic cloves, pressed or finely minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
tsatsiki for serving (optional)

1.      Place lamb in large bowl. Add feta, garlic, mint and salt. Gently mix to blend.
2.      Divide lamb into 12 balls (or about 25 for minis). Flatten each ball into a 3/4-inch thick patty. Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap well and refrigerate.
3.      Heat olive oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook lamb burgers (in batches if necessary) until browned on both sides and cooked to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium. Serve with tsatsiki.

adapted from Molly Wizenberg
fresh mint
mixing it up
mini burger patties
burgers cooking
burgers ready
going for a dip

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Welcome to day one of Greek week! Why Greek week? Well, there's a Greek restaurant about 20 minutes from our house, that happens to have a Greek market right next door. Last week, after treating ourselves to a nice meal out, we popped into the store...and with all the imported feta cheese, olives and fancy filo dough staring me in the face, it was obvious that just one day wasn't going to cut it. 

I'm kicking off Greek week with a favorite dip of mine, tsatsiki (aka tzatziki). It's great as a dip for bread (preferably a nice pita) and vegetables. It also makes a delicious sauce for meat, poultry or fish. You can even use it as a sandwich spread or salad dressing. It's so versatile that I'm working on a version that can both caulk your tub and cure the common cold.
tsatsiki served with lamb burgers

Makes about 1 1/4 cups

1/2 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup plain Greek yogurt*
1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)

1.      Toss cucumber with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a colander and let drain for 15 minutes.
2.      Meanwhile, mince and mash garlic to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt, then whisk together with olive oil, yogurt, dill and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.
3.      Squeeze out any excess water from cucumbers with your hands, then stir cucumbers into yogurt mixture. Season to taste.

*You can use a thinner type of yogurt if you're using the tsatsiki as a sauce (and not a dip). You can also strain your yogurt with cheesecloth if you like your dip even thicker.

adapted from Estiatorio Milos
slicing cucumber
diced cucumbers draining
fresh dill

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pears Poached in Red Wine

I made these poached pears mainly because I wanted to use up the leftover marsala wine from the chicken marsala I made recently (that, and I love poached pears). You'll notice my pears didn't turn that gorgeous, deep red color they often do when poached in red wine (my marsala was on the light side). So you might want to pick a different wine if you're going for that look.

I served these with the poaching liquid, crème fraîche and pizzelles. You should consider crumbling the pizzelle over the top (I made the mistake of putting mine on top of the poaching liquid and the pizzelle soaked up most of it). It was still delicious, just a little soggy.

Makes 4 servings

1 (750 ml.) bottle dry red wine
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cinnamon stick
4 firm but ripe pears, peeled, stems left intact

serving suggestions:
crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream

1.      Combine wine, water, sugar, orange juice, orange zest, cardamom and cinnamon in a heavy large saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to simmer.
2.      Add pears and return mixture to simmer. Reduce heat and simmer slowly until pears are tender when pierced with knife, about 25 minutes. Transfer pears to plate. Boil liquid in saucepan until reduced to 3 cups, about 20 minutes.

(Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill pears in poaching liquid. Before serving, rewarm over medium-low heat until pears are heated through.)
3.      Serve each pear with crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream.  Drizzle with poaching liquid.  Garnish with pizzelle or biscotti crumbs (or serve whole on the side).

adapted from Bon Appétit, March 1997

peeled and raw
everybody in the pool
poached on a plate
with just poaching liquid and pizzelles on the side

Friday, February 25, 2011

Crème Fraîche

Riding high after successfully making homemade ricotta cheese, I saw a recipe for homemade crème fraîche and decided to keep the momentum going (really I just wanted to use up some extra buttermilk I had no plans for, but the momentum thing sounds more exciting).

If you've never had crème fraîche (pronounced krem-fresh), it's a French soured cream (tangy like regular sour cream, but a bit thinner). It's used as a sauce or topping for both savory and sweet dishes. It's more expensive than sour cream and not always as easy to find (which is great motivation for making it yourself at home).

Yield: 2 cups

1 pint heavy cream
1/4 cup cultured buttermilk

1.      Heat the heavy cream to lukewarm, about 100º F. Remove from heat and stir in the buttermilk. Pour the mixture into a 1-pint glass container.
2.      Cover with a clean kitchen towel.  Leave in a warm spot (away from drafts) and let sit until it has thickened and has a slightly sour, tangy flavor, 18-36 hours (time depends on the temperature of your kitchen).
3.      Stir and refrigerate for another 24 hours before using. Can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

This recipe is a compilation of many recipes I read online and one from Peter Berley.

lukewarm milk with buttermilk added
I made a double batch in a 1-quart jar
I used a rubber band to keep my towel on (looks like the sheik of dairy)
after 18 hours
after 20 hours
at 29 hours (jackpot!)

Here are some recipes I've made with crème fraîche: Salmon with Watercress-Herb Salad and Lemon Sauce, Mashed Potatoes with Fennel & RosemaryTagliatelle with Mustard-Crème Fraîche Sauce and Pears Poached in Red Wine.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


not our family crest
I've had a pizzelle iron for at least a year, just sitting in my cabinet. I finally broke it out and made my first ever pizzelles! They were really nice...very delicate and not overly sweet (and pretty). 

Pizzelles are Italian wafer/waffle cookies. I've heard they're the oldest known cookie in the world, but I think there are other cookies that make the same claim, so who knows. I've also heard there used to be families in Italy who had their family crest imprinted on their pizzelle iron to personalize their cookies.

Pizzelles can also be rolled into a cone shape for, you guessed it, ice cream cones.

Yield: 30 cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
6 eggs
3 cups sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons anise extract
2 pinches fine salt

1.      Mix together the ingredients in the order given.
2.      Heat pizzelle iron according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Drop about 1 tablespoon dough on the hot iron. Close the iron and wait 2-3 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough.

adapted from recipe submitted to by Ed.

dough mixing
pizzelle irons come with different patterns
dough on pizzelle iron
the extra dough around the edges breaks off easily
I probably should have made some of these into cones,
just for show (some how I never think of these
things until I'm writing the post).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mashed Potatoes with Fennel and Rosemary

If you ask me, mashed potatoes don't need much embellishment. They usually hit the spot with just a little butter, milk and salt. But every once in a while, it's fun to mix it up, especially if you're having company over for dinner. Adding fennel, rosemary and crème fraîche definitely takes traditional mashed potatoes to the next level.

Makes 8 servings

3 large fresh fennel bulbs (about 2 1/4 lb. total)
1 medium onion, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 1 3/4 cups)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1.      Preheat oven to 375° F. Line large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. 
2.      Trim the fennel bulbs and cut into quarters. Remove the center core and discard. Cut into 3/4-inch pieces. Combine fennel, chopped onion, oil, and 1 teaspoon sea salt in large bowl; toss. Spread in single layer on prepared baking sheet; sprinkle with pepper. Roast until fennel and onion are very tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool slightly. Transfer fennel mixture to processor and puree until almost smooth.
3.      Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, about 25 minutes. Drain well.
4.      Return potatoes to the pot; add the butter and mash with potato masher until smooth.  Mix in fennel puree, creme fraiche and rosemary. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

adapted from recipe by Lora Zarubin

whole fennel
fennel bulb quartered (core hasn't been cut out yet)
chopped fennel & onion before roasting
fennel & onion puree
potatoes draining
chopped rosemary

I think I should have added some of the fennel fronds, at least as a garnish on top (that would have been nice). Oh well.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Steamed Artichokes

served with garlic butter for dipping
Here's a recipe that is simple to make, but kind of a project to eat (pulling off the leaves, dipping them and scraping off the paltry amount of flesh with your teeth). Some may think it's too small of a reward for the effort, but I think it's a fun activity to share with friends on a night when you want to take your time and dine (as opposed to the usual shoveling in of dinner as quickly as possible so you don't miss Wheel of Fortune).

Yield: 2

2 whole artichokes, washed
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1.      Trim off and discard the stems and tough outer leaves of the artichokes (make sure you don’t cut off too much of the artichoke heart when cutting off the stem). Separate the leaves to open a little (so they will steam more evenly and it will be easier to check the center for doneness).
2.      Fill the pan with enough water to just reach the bottom of the steamer insert. Bring to a boil. Place steamer insert in pot and put artichokes in the steamer, stem-side down.  
3.      Drizzle the butter in between the artichoke leaves. Then squeeze the lemon over the leaves, trying to get the juice in between. Cover and steam until tender, about 45 minutes (leaves should pull off easily and a fork should slide very easily into the center).

How to eat:
Remove a leaf from the artichoke. Dip in melted garlic butter (or other butter/sauce) and scrape the fleshy part off with your teeth (do not eat the whole leaf). Try not to argue over who gets to eat the heart in the middle!

raw artichokes, leaves pulled apart a little to open them up

I sprinkled minced garlic on my artichokes before I steamed them and the garlic turned a greenish-blueish color (which is why I think dipping the leaves in garlic butter might be a better way to go).  I don't think it will hurt you to eat greenish-blueish garlic, but it is a little disturbing. You might be able to see what I mean if you click on the photo above.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chewy Toffee Cookies

I realize this might be unpopular, but sometimes I just get tired of the chocolate in my chocolate chip cookie (gasp).  I find myself really enjoying the rest of the cookie and wishing I could pick out the chips. Not always (I do like chocolate, really).  So one day when I saw a package of toffee bits at the store, I knew what just what to do with them.

As long as you don't overcook these or make them too small, they'll come out nice and chewy. This photo makes me imagine a whole cabin built out of cookies (near a waterfall of cold milk).

As I wrote this, I couldn't shake the feeling that I might be perceived as some kind of a psycho if I said I don't like chocolate (which I do, I swear)!  My heart goes out to those of you out there who really don't like chocolate and have to deal with the shame and funny looks. It can't be an easy life.
Yield: 18 (3 ½ inch) cookies

2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 heaping cup toffee bits (like Heath brand), or more to taste

1.      Preheat oven to 325º F. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2.      Mix flour, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
3.      Mix butter and sugars until thoroughly blended (by hand or with electric mixer). Mix in egg, yolk, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients; mix until just combined. Stir in toffee bits.
4.      Form scant 1/4 cup dough into a rough ball, being careful not to smooth the dough’s uneven surface much. Place formed dough on cookie sheets, about 1 ½ inches apart.
5.      Bake, reversing cookie sheets’ positions halfway through baking, until cookies are light golden brown and the edges start to harden yet centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes. To ensure a chewy texture, cool cookies on baking sheets. Store in airtight container.

Note:  Dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen up to 1 month (shaped or not). Frozen dough requires an extra 1-2 minutes baking time.

adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, January 1996

butter and sugars mixed
toffee bits
I was originally going to add just 1 cup,
but then I thought if 1 cup would be good...
dough all mixed
dough ball (resist the urge to smooth it)

My friend Elizabeth makes a vanilla chip cookie that's also a nice change of pace from the traditional chocolate chip.