Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cold Soba Noodles and Vegetables

Wow. It is hot. Again, I’m not complaining. I remember all too well the frigid temperatures and deep snowfall of this past winter, and given the choice I will choose to spend my days in a sort of heat-induced lethargy. I am just thankful beyond words that I don’t have a job which involves leaving the house. Even though we do not have air conditioning, I would not want to be commuting. Or shingling a roof.

I didn’t run last week, it was just so nasty outside. But this week I have forced myself to go out. Nights spent tossing in an 85 degree bedroom are not pleasant, so I have tried to wake up early and go out. Unfortunately all of my trails are grassy, so my feet are usually soaked before I leave the yard. And cobwebs! All through the woodland trails the spiders spend their nights spinning webs back and forth across the trails. I have taken to waving a forked branch in front of me which does catch 90% of the cobwebs, but it’s not a pretty sight but I am thankful that I am running on our private property and nobody has to see that. By the time I return I am beat. At 8am! But a shower revives me; then breakfast, and I plan the rest of the day’s meals.

Who wants to cook when it is so steamy outside? I plan to make a cold soba noodle salad for lunch and am now boiling water in the microwave. I’ll add some of the veggies just before the noodles are done cooking, drain it all, toss with a sesame dressing, and chill. Jack wants spaghetti for dinner, so I’ll boil the pasta then, as well. It’s tricky to boil past in the microwave, but I’ve figured it out for mine (since microwaves vary in power, it’s almost impossible to give general directions that everyone can use. It becomes a test-and-adapt process).

There is no recipe for this salad. I used soba noodles, strips of red pepper, carrot, onion, and cucumber. The pepper and carrot were added to the noodles about 1-1/2 minutes before the noodles were done, then all was drained and then plunged into ice water and drained again. I made a dressing from soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, a little Thai hot pepper, and sesame oil. Strips of cucumber and then the veggies and noodles were added, tossed, and served with sesame seeds sprinkled on top.

Simple, delicious, and COOL! ;)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blackberry Mojitos

I have been very lazy of late, using the excuse that the weather is simply too hot for exercising. Early in the morning, the trails are soggy and it is too warm to go out after 8am. The exercise bike is on the upstairs level of our brick oven of a home, so that’s out as well. All I really have been doing is using Jack’s weight machines in the basement (which is the only semi-comfortable place in the house!).

So I forced myself to go out for a run yesterday morning. To be honest, I shamed myself into it by stepping on the scale!. Inactivity and Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches are taking a toll on me. :)

The run was not very enjoyable. Hot and muggy, and in the woods I kept running through cobwebs. I got in almost 2 miles and slogged home, happy beyond words to take a cool shower. But there was one bright spot in this—I picked the first blackberries of the season. There weren’t many, maybe about 2/3 of a cup. I carried them in my cap and am thankful that I chose the black one for that run—the blue-black berry stains hardly show at all.

What I really, really want is a blackberry pie. With vanilla ice cream. But 2/3 of a cup of berries does not a pie make, so I used the blackberries for the next best thing. Mojitos.

Blackberry Mojitos

(makes 2)

15 fresh mint leaves

¼ cup fresh lime juice

2 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar

¼ cup white rum

½ cup fresh blackberries

cold seltzer or soda water

In a small pitcher, muddle the mint leaves, fresh lime juice, and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to sit at room temperature for 10-30 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon and pick up most of the mint leaves then use a second spoon to squeeze the leaves almost dry of liquid. Discard the mint.

Add the rum and blackberries. Mash the berries lightly; stir.

Fill 2 (12-14 ounces each) glasses with ice and divide the rum mixture between. Fill with seltzer. Stir gently.

This is a great mojito variation, the lime and mint pair quite well with the blackberry flavor.

I still want that blackberry pie, though!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Grilled-Vegetable Flatbreads

Don’t you just love it when you try something new, absolutely on the spur of the moment, and it turns out to be wonderful? That happened with dinner tonight, and here’s how it all came together.

Yesterday I was shopping in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, an area which features a very nice mix of food stores along with artists’ shops and other places to spend your money. I spent an hour in the huge kitchen store and realized just why my kitchen is so crowded—I seem to have everything I need. Not everything that I want, there’s a big difference. :) I stocked up of fresh fruits and vegetables, plus some specialty items which are so expensive at the local grocery stores.

When I was trying to decide what to make for dinner this evening, and went through what was in the refrigerator. I had a chicken breast which had been marinated in the lemon/olive oil/garlic marinade which I described in the previous post. I had grilled it on Saturday night and put it in the refrigerator, and *poof* forgot it was there. So it had to be used. I also bought pocketless pitas yesterday, and that reminded me of a recipe I had seen in June’s Food and Wine. Grilled veggies with walnut dressing, on flatbreads. Add that chicken breast (chopped) and it sounded like a great meal.

It was!

The recipe for the grilled veggies with walnut dressing follows, with the flatbread recipe after it. I didn’t have shitake mushrooms or asparagus, but added red bell pepper instead. Jack ate two flatbreads and commented that he could have easily eaten two more. I could have had another, myself. These were sooooo good. Next time I will add chopped tomatoes after the flatbreads are removd from the grill.

Vegetables with Walnut Dressing

  • Recipe by Grace Parisi

Instead of toasting walnuts in the oven, use a grill: Wrap the nuts in foil before placing them in the coals or on the grate.


    1. 2 zucchini, sliced diagonally 1/3 inch thick
    2. 1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed
    3. 1/2 pound thick asparagus, peeled
    4. 1 red onion, sliced 1/3 inch thick
    5. 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
    6. Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    7. 1 cup walnuts
    8. 1 small shallot, very finely chopped
    9. 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
    10. 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
    11. 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Light a grill. Brush the zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus and onion with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the vegetables over high heat, turning occasionally, until lightly charred in spots and tender, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer the grilled vegetables to a serving platter.
  2. Meanwhile, spread the walnuts in a pie plate and toast for about 12 minutes, until fragrant. Let cool completely.
  3. Transfer the toasted walnuts to a food processor. Add the shallot, thyme, lemon juice, lemon zest and the 1/2 cup of olive oil and pulse until the nuts are coarsely chopped. Season the dressing with salt and pepper and drizzle over the grilled vegetables. Serve.

Serve With

Shaved pecorino cheese.

The following recipe was altered only to add the chopped grilled chicken and reduced-fat feta instead of pecorino romano. It was delicious.

Grilled-Vegetable Flatbreads

  • Recipe by Grace Parisi


    1. Vegetables with Walnut Dressing (above)
    2. 8 pocketless pitas
    3. 2 ounces fresh pecorino cheese, shaved (1 cup)


  1. Light a grill. Cut the grilled vegetables into bite-size pieces and scatter over the pitas. Carefully transfer the flatbreads to the grill and cook over moderate heat just until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Transfer the flatbreads to a platter and drizzle the walnut dressing over the vegetables. Scatter the pecorino over the flatbreads and serve.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Shrimp Feta Skewers, Lemon Orzo Pilaf, Double Chocolate Torte

Hello, Blog. It's been a long time. :)

It has been a while since I have had the time for, or any inclination to, cook anything that I would consider posting here. But I am (fingers crossed) over that and hope to be posting more soon.

It is a beautiful, although warm and sticky, mid-July day. I am on the back porch, all of the windows are open, and I really like what I see and hear. My perennial flower beds are in full bloom and our weeding efforts over a few days during the last week have certainly paid off. I have always looked through magazines, BH&G being the one which immediately comes to mind, and was envious of the flower gardens which were featured every month. I never thought that I would have those, but after years of trial-and-error, planting and replanting and repositioning, and simply waiting for the perennials to come into their own filled-in glory, I can say that I am as happy with mine as I ever thought I could be.

The only daunting task remaining is to finally get the goldfish pond cleaned out and a good filter system installed and running. Sadly, over the past (terrible, horrible) winter we lost all of our frogs and all of our toads (my eyes are tearing up!) so there now is no excuse not to move the fish temporarily, drain and clean the pond, and start anew.

I am watching a doe and 2 fawns, still wearing their spots, snacking on redbud trimmings which Jack produced yesterday and hasn’t yet carted away. How cute, even if they do decimate my holly bushes in the winter.

There is a huge maple tree shading the far corner of the porch where I am now and although cool breezes are coming through the windows I was outside no more than a half hour ago, replenishing the hummingbird feeders, and I know that in the sun it is very hot. There are several dragonflies darting around and above the pond, crickets are chirping, and I’ve recently noticed that the cicadas are active, whirring their little legs or wings or whatever in the trees above.

I love this place, this time.

Last night, we entertained for the first time this year. I can’t believe that I’m writing this, but it’s true.

And that is why I feel able to spend time working on my blog today—the entire house is cleaned, and pressing outdoor chores are completed; all of the special serving dishes are washed and put away, and there were enough leftovers for lunch. It’s an odd feeling, not to have a “to do” list nagging at me. I could get used to it.

Last night. Every time we get together with certain friends, we both wonder why this is so infrequent. We like these people, we enjoy being with them, so why on earth does it happen only a couple of times a year? I really have to work on this.

Okay, to the heart of this blog. Food.

The menu was:

Chicken and Shrimp Skewers with Feta Sauce (Food and Wine, June 2004)

Lemon Orzo Pilaf

Chopped Salad with lemon-garlic vinaigrette

Double-Chocolate Torte (Cuisine at Home, April 2010)

Dinner-in-a-Photo (less dessert, see below!)

As an appetizer I had purchased hummus with whole wheat pita chips and two of our guests brought a delightful platter of olives, marinated mushrooms and artichoke hearts, and fresh mozzarella balls. Mmmmmmmmmmmm!

First up, the skewers. The F&W recipe was for chicken, but I made shrimp as well. Surprisingly, for a recipe from this source, the sauce amount was a bit skimpy. I made 50% more, and had a little remaining for leftovers.

A pinot grigio, brought by a guest, went well with everything.

Shrimp and Lemon Skewers with Feta-Dill Sauce

  • Recipe by Grace Parisi
  • Squeeze the charred lemons over the shrimp before serving for a tangy, smoky hit of flavor. You may want to make extra feta sauce to have with lean lamb steaks or chicken skewers.


Fast, Healthy


    1. 1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
    2. 1 scallion, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
    3. 4 large garlic cloves, very finely chopped
    4. 2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
    5. 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (2 ounces)
    6. Salt and freshly ground pepper
    7. 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    8. 2 pounds peeled and deveined large shrimp
    9. 2 lemons, each cut into 12 wedges


1. 1. Light a grill. In a medium bowl, mix the yogurt with the scallion, 1/4 of the garlic and 1/2 tablespoon of the dill. Stir in the feta, mashing it slightly. Season with salt and pepper.

2. In a large bowl, combine the remaining minced garlic and 2 tablespoons of dill with the olive oil. Add the shrimp and lemons, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Thread 4 shrimp and 2 lemon wedges onto each of 12 skewers. Season with salt and pepper and grill over a medium-hot fire, turning occasionally, until the shrimp are charred and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer the skewers to a platter and serve at once with the feta sauce


One Serving: 244 cal, 9.5 gm fat, 2.6 gm saturated fat, 5 gm carb, 0 gm fiber.

Vicci’s notes: Before skewering, I marinated the chicken for 1 hour, and the shrimp for 30 minutes, in the following:

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, crushed

salt and pepper

I also subbed fresh oregano for the dill in the feta sauce.

Next up...

Lemon-Orzo Pilaf

Serves 4


    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 2 teaspoons butter
    • 1/2 cup finely chopped sweet onion
    • 12 ounces low-sodium chicken broth
    • 8 ounces water
    • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon rind
    • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    • 1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano leaves
    • 1 cup orzo pasta
    • 1 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
    • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts


  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the olive oil, and sauté onion until softened.
  2. Add the chicken broth, water, lemon juice, lemon zest, and oregano and bring to a boil.
  3. Stir in the orzo and return to boiling. Lower heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the orzo is just tender (about 10 minutes).
  4. If all of the liquid has not been absorbed, turn into a colander and drain for a few minutes before serving. Do not continue to cook until the liquid is absorbed because, then, the pasta will be soft to the point of mushiness (this I know).
  5. Garnish with parsley and pine nuts

And the salad...

Dressing for Chopped Vegetable Salad

¼ cup olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 clove garlic, crushed

salt and pepper

I used a mixture of chopped romaine and red oak lettuce, plus chopped cucumbers, green bell pepper, and tomatoes; scallions cut into ½” lengths (white and light green parts), and chopped fresh parsley and mint to taste. This cried out for crumbledFont size feta, but we were already having a feta sauce with the main course (and feta-stuffed olives made a surprise appearance as well). Some drained chickpeas would have been good, too, but I didn’t think of it then.

And the best part of all…

This photo was taken of the same cake which I made earlier this month. The recipe makes a little extra ganache, and I used it all on this one. When I made it again, I used only as much as needed to allow the excess

to drip down the sides (rather than puddle), chilled the cake for a while, then rewarmed and

re-poured the remaining ghanache for an extra layer of deliciousness. :)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Double Chocolate Torte

Recipe By : Cuisine at Home

Servings : 12

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

-------- ------------ --------------------------------

1/3 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1 stick unsalted butter -- cubed

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips -- (very good quality, 60% cacao); my bag contained only 11 ounces, but it worked fine

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder -- (I omitted)

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1/3 cup Amaretto -- or cold brewed coffee

2 teaspoons almond extract

6 large eggs, roomtemperature

1/2 cup heavy cream

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips -- (I finely chopped a bar of bittersweet chocolate)

toasted sliced almonds -- for garnish

fresh strawberries -- for garnish

Preheat oven to 325F. Coat a 9" diameter (2"high) cake pan with non-stick spray. Cut a piece of parchment to fit in the bottom. Spray again with non-stick spray.

Bring water and sugar to a boil in a large saucepan and stir to dissolve sugar; remove from heat. Add butter, 12 ounce bag of chocolate chips, espresso powder, and table salt. Allow to sit for 2 minutes then stir until smooth.

Whisk in liquer and almond extract.

Whisk eggs until well combined, when whisk into chocolate mixture. Pour batter into prepared cake pan, and place the cake pan inside a large roasting pan (sides should not touch). Carefully add warm water to the roasting pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the cake pan (do not allow any water to get into the cake pan).

Carefully transfer the roasting pan to the oven and bake the torte until soft to the touch and puffed, 40-45 minutes.

Remove the roasting pan from the oven, then remove the cake pan and set on a rack to cool. Allow to cool for 1 hour.

Run a small knife around the inside edge of the cake pan invert onto a platter.* Peel off parchment. Cool completely.

If refrigerating for later use, place in refrigerator for an hour, then cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Cake should be cold before frosting.

To make ganache, heat the cream in a large microwave safe measuring cup in a microwave until boiling (about 1-1/2 minutes on high). Add the 4 ounces (3/4 cup) of chocolate chips and allow to sit for 2 minutes. Stir until smooth. Allow to sit for another 2-3 minutes. Pour over cake, smoothing top with an offset spatula and allowing excess to roll down sides (there will be some excess ganache, you can either reheat it after the first layer cools, reheat the ganache gently, then pour it in a squiggle pattern. Or just eat the excess!).

Place in the refrigerator until chilled, then cover with plastic wrap (use about 5 toothpicks placed around the perimeter of the cake to keep the plastic off of the ganache) and chill.

Cake is best served at room temperature. Remove the plastic, then the toothpicks, and after the ganache softens a bit, sprinkle toasted sliced or slivered almonds around the edge (making sure to cover the toothpick holes with nuts). Serve with strawberries, if desired.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

NOTES : Don't look at the nutritional information!!!!! It will only spoil the experience...

*- The cake must be inverted onto the serving platter. It is impossible to transfer it to another serving plate after this step.

To slice the cake easily, run the blade of a long sharp knife under hot water, wipe dry, and cut. Repeat with each slice. A little fussy perhaps, but it makes a difference.

Heaven. Chocolatey heaven!