Archive | June, 2012

Salade Niçoise

16 Jun

This is Day 2 of Planned Overs for Grilled Tuna.  We took this delightful dish to a picnic concert at Cincinnati’s Riverbend featuring Natalie Merchant.  While everyone around us ate sad-looking sandwiches, we had this bountiful feast that spilled off our paper plates.

Start with:

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Olives
  • Capers
  • Hard-boiled egg (and if you’re going to make hardboiled eggs anyway, make some extras and we’ll make a beautiful egg salad tomorrow)

From Day 1, we had:

  • Grilled tuna
  • Grill fries
  • Green beans, steamed and shocked

I like to top this with Brianna’s Real French Vinaigrette, or of course, homemade vinaigrette would be wonderful.

Natalie Merchant was funny and delightful, even singing a cover version of “Hey Jude”.

Planned Overs – Grilled Tuna

16 Jun

I don’t indulge in grilled tuna very often.  For one thing, it’s expensive.  For another, it’s at the top of the food chain and I feel a bit guilty about it.  I do love it though, and so we do it from time to time.  In this case, I needed a great meal for a picnic the next night (see my post on Salade Niçoise).  Everything from this meal, except the olive tapenade, is going to be part of tomorrow’s big salad.  (And you COULD use the olive tapenade if you have any left over.)

This is an easy meal:

Grill Fries – this time I cooked them right on the grill.  Cook a few extra for the salad tomorrow.

Steamed green beans – cook twice what you need and shock half of them in cold water as soon as they are done.  They’ll go on tomorrow’s salad

Tuna steaks – Again, prepare enough for tonight and tomorrow, cook the one for tomorrow a bit more so that it doesn’t have any ‘raw’ parts, but retains a bit of pink.  Marinate it in some Brianna’s Champagne and Caper Dressing or the homemade vinaigrette of your choice.  Grill and top with:

Rough-Chop Tapenade

  • 1/2 c. mixed pitted olives, finely chopped (use good olives from the olive bar or from jars – not a combination of Spanish olives and regular “black” canned olives)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 T. chopped parsley

Chop the ingredients and mix it up.

Ok – that’s it – dinner for tonight AND you’re almost done with dinner for tomorrow.  We’re going to have a great picnic while we enjoy a concert.

Quickies – Spinach, Red Onion, and Chickpeas

12 Jun

In early April, we met up with a good friend in Columbus, Ohio and had a fantastic meal at Barcelona.  One of the highlights of the tapas tasting menu was a spinach, chickpea and red onion dish.  When I saw a recipe for Syrian Spinach and Lentils on quête saveur, I knew I was close, although the restaurant had clearly used fresh spinach.

I go on the record again as saying that you don’t change a recipe the first time you try it (and if you do, you do not have the right to complain) — but I did make small adjustments.  I didn’t have any lentils and I was in a hurry to try to recreate the chickpea experience at Barcelona.  Also, to get closer to the Barcelona taste, I increased the cumin by 50% to 1 1/2 teaspoons.  I also confess that I added a pat of butter to the oil, again, because there was a certain richness to the flavor we experienced at the restaurant, but this wasn’t strictly necessary and I’ve left the butter out of the final ingredients list.


  • 1 16 oz frozen leaf spinach
  • 1 medium-size red onion, peeled
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil (or optional combination butter and oil)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

I used red onion, instead of white or yellow.

Instead of adding the lentils near the start of the recipe, I sauteed the onion and garlic with the cumin and then added the spinach.

Once I had that going well, I added the chickpeas.


It wasn’t the same as the restaurant, of course, but as my husband likes to say, “It were good.”

Seeing Red! (FD&C Red Dye #40 / Allura Red AC)

12 Jun

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I started to get hives.  All over my legs and arms.  Many, many times.  My mother finally became convinced that this allergic reaction was due to artificial fruit flavorings.  For me that meant, no strawberry milk, no Juicy Fruit gum, no fruit-flavored candies.  This went on for some time and then, I guess, I outgrew it.  In my teens, I ate raspberry Tootsie Pops and Twizzlers without incident.

About ten years ago, I got the flu and I took some cherry-flavored cough syrup.  Shortly after dosing myself, I began to get hives.  I called the manufacturer, demanding to get the list of ingredients.  They would not give me the full list of ingredients, but they took down my name, contact information and symptoms.  Someone from the FDA called me back and said it sounded like a Red Dye #40 allergy and that it was pretty common.  I wasn’t a believer.  I thought it was the fruit flavor that caused the problem.

A few months later, I was working late and getting hungry.  A colleague offered me a yogurt-covered granola bar.  Within minutes of eating it, I had hives behind my ears and down my neck.  Security was called in and there was an energetic discussion around me as others tried to decide if I needed an ambulance.  I read the label.  Red Dye #40. 

Since then, I have had several bad hive reactions.  It is usually worse if my immune system is already depressed because of a cold or the flu.  One episode lasted three weeks and I finally had to be on steroids to get rid of the hives.  Thankfully, nothing worse has happened, but I’ve become hyper-vigilant about Red Dye #40 in my food.  It’s in everything.  I have since learned that many children have adverse behavioral reactions to Red Dye #40.   In Europe, Red Dye #40 goes by the name Allura Red AC.

Red Dye #40 is an azo dye, so called because of the double nitrogen bond in the middle of the molecule.  Azo dyes are made from petrochemicals.  Yummy!  So let’s just think about that for a moment!  There are other azo dyes as well, notably two yellows (FD&C Yellow #5 and FD&C Yellow #6) that are approved for use in the USA.  I have not noticed that I am allergic to these yellow dyes, but I do avoid them, albeit with less dedication.

Here are some fun places where you can find FD&C Red Dye #40 / Allura Red AC:

  • Fruit-flavored candies and gum
  • Fruit-flavored drinks
  • Cough syrup and cough drops
  • Campari, which switched from carmine to Red Dye #40 a few years ago
  • Creme de Violette
  • Maraschino cherries
  • Grenadine
  • Box cake mix, including some yellow cake mixes and muffin mixes
  • Chips/crisps with flavored coatings, such as Dorito’s or cheese-flavored chips
  • Pill coatings, including Tylenol (the name is stamped on the caplet in red dye, but generic acetaminophen or paracetamol is usually okay), red caplets, pink-coated pills.  I buy dye-free ibuprofen and question my pharmacist relentlessly about anything she gives me.
  • M&Ms
  • Peppermints, including candy canes
  • ‘Strawberry’ or ‘raspberry’ sauce

A few other tips:

  • If someone serves you something you can’t eat, don’t trust them to start over.  I’ve had a waiter serve me a drink with a cherry in it and, upon being reminded that I ordered it without a cherry because I am allergic to the cherry, they simply removed the cherry from the glass.
  • Don’t trust the hospital dietary staff.  The allergy was on my chart, but they sent me red gelatin anyway.  A nurse tried to give me a reddish pill without checking the coating ingredients first.  I have to tell my medical professionals and then I have to be vigilant on top of that.  I am not shy about asking my doctor to have her nurse double-check the formulary when she writes me a prescription.
  • At the dentist:  the topical fruit-flavored anesthetic the dentist used had Red Dye #40 in it.  Why?  Who even sees that?  Also, my dentist had to order special non-colored polishing grit for me.  Double-check any toothpastes and mouthwashes, even flavored dental floss.
  • Don’t eat products from commercial bakeries without checking the packaging and ask your friends who bake at home what mix they used.  My own mother served me blueberry pie from the grocer’s freezer.  I had it in my mouth and was starting to chew when I realized what I had done.  My poor mom felt terrible!  The point is that you have to take responsibility for yourself.  If you don’t like asking about it, just don’t eat it.  It’s easier.  Just say, “No, thank you.”

As time goes by, I meet more and more people with Red Dye #40 allergies, so I know I’m not alone.

Have you found Red Dye #40 or Allura Red AC anywhere you weren’t expecting it?  Please let me know!

Frozen Overs – Moussaka

11 Jun

I know that Moussaka is supposed to be made with lamb and with Myzithra cheese, but I don’t cook with lamb much and I always have Parmesan cheese on hand, which works well enough as a substitute.  This recipe has way too many ingredients.  If I figure out how to fix that I’ll let you know.


  • 4 pounds eggplant, cut into one inch cubes
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 450F.  Spray two large baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray.  Toss eggplant with oil and salt.  Distribute evenly over baking sheets and roast about 40 minutes until browned and cooked.  Set aside.

Meat Sauce:

  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 T. minced garlic
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes in puree
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. sugar

Cook beef in a large pot over medium-high heat, stirring frequently and breaking up, until it is cooked through.  Drain well, reserving 2T of drippings.

Put drippings in the pan, add onion and cook until softened.  Add garlic and cinnamon and cook another minute or so.  Add remaining ingredients, bring to simmer and cook over low heat until filling has thickened and is no longer very wet, about 25 minutes.  Add additional salt and pepper, to taste.


  • 3 T. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • pinch nutmeg

Melt butter in a saucepan.  Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute.  Add milk gradually.  Cook over low heat, simmering slightly, until sauce thickens and floury taste has disappeared.  Remove from heat, whisk in cheese and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper as needed.


I use 8×8 Glad OvenWare pans for this dish.  As you will see from the picture, I usually triple this recipe for freezer storage.  Place eggplant in the bottom of 2 pans, spread meat sauce over top and top with cream sauce.  Cover each with plastic wrap and put the lid on the top.  Freeze.

To serve, defrost overnight in refrigerator or in the microwave on 50% power for 15 minutes.  Heat in oven at 350F on a cookie sheet (if using OvenWare pans) for about 20-25 minutes until top is slightly browned and bubbly.

Planning – Standard Grocery List

5 Jun

Standard Groceries are things you always buy, regardless of the week.  Depending on your home, these might be things like milk, cereal, fresh fruit, green vegetables, or coffee.  My husband likes to add “wax lips” on my shopping list.  Years ago, we had a cleaning lady who apparently noticed this.  We came home one night after work to find our bed made and a set of wax lips on each pillow.

I use GroceryIQ, an electronic grocery list minder, to keep track of my grocery list.  GroceryIQ is available as a free app for iPhone, iPad and Android and is also available online.  You can share lists with others, so if your spouse is going to the grocery store on the way home from work, you can just add an item to the list without calling or texting.  There are coupon and barcode scanning features as well.  Super!

I can indicate whether I will buy my items at any store or at a particular store.  For example, I like a particular brand of coffee that I can only buy at Kroger.  I can put it on my list as a Kroger item and I will only see ‘coffee’ when I’m at Kroger.  When I’m at Remke’s, I won’t see coffee on the list, but I will see all of the items that I am willing to buy anywhere.

If brand or price matters, you can add this.  You can also indicate quantity and size, which are really helpful features if you are sending someone else to the store for you!

You can set up the aisle order for the stores you regularly visit.  When you open the list for a specific store, your items appear in the proper order for whichever store you are in.

As you put the items in your basket, you click them and they remove from your list, so you don’t have to sort through a list of scratched off items to see what you didn’t get yet.  AND – if your store doesn’t have what you need, don’t click the item and it will appear in the list next time you’re at another store, unless you’ve indicated a single purchase price for that item.

I enter my standard list as Favorites, so they are easy to add.  What’s on my ‘standard list’?  Milk, eggs, butter, cereal, onions, garlic, and potatoes, amongst other things.  I don’t always need all of these things, but I’d be unhappy if I left the grocery store without them and I did need them.

NOTE:  Grocery IQ had a really annoying upgrade recently, but they have corrected the problems.  There are some cool new features, including voice recognition, so you can read your list to it.

Quickies – Fish with Onion, Herbs and Butter

5 Jun

This week, I planned a few recipes from other bloggers.  The other night, we tried Malou’s Buttered Fish with Coriander, Nuts and Spring Onions.


My husband had been working all day on a small property we own.  It was late.  He was tired and hungry.  I didn’t take great photos of the food and I didn’t stop to retake the photos because someone had been working on a ladder all day.  I have no idea why I thought it would be a good thing to take fish topped with green herbs and serve it with spinach on a green plate, but I wasn’t about to tell him he had to wait to eat it until I had replated it.  Check out the original post for better photos.

Secondly, let me say that I hate it when I give someone a recipe, he changes all of the ingredients, and then tells me that he didn’t like it.  I try very hard to make a recipe, as given, the first time, so I can have a sense of what it does.  In this case, I was convinced I needed to try Malou’s recipe, but didn’t have any cilantro (must have made it all into cilantro pesto!) and my scallions were in a terribly sorry state.  This dish is a really simple concept, though, so I figured messing with it a bit wouldn’t kill it.  In this case, no worries.  We loved it and I have something new for my Quickies repertoire.

So here’s the basic recipe:

  • Butter, softened
  • Nuts, chopped or ground
  • Fresh herbs, such as basil or cilantro, finely chopped
  • Very thinly sliced onion of some type (scallion, shallot, sweet onion).  If using sweet onion, I would also cut the slices into small pieces

Mix it together, slather it on the fish and bake at 350F until the fish is done.

I used cod fillets, basil, peanuts and very, very, very thinly sliced shallots.

I love that this proved the versatility of a few simple ingredients:  fish, butter, a fish-friendly herb, some nuts, and something oniony.  Not as heart-healthy as some dishes, but served with simple sides, not so bad, either. 

Brazil: Urca, Caipirinhas and Banana Pizza

3 Jun

It was our last night in Brazil in August of 2008.  We were in Rio de Janeiro at this point.  Our hostess took us on a whirlwind tour of a series of artists’ studios and we stopped for lunch to have Camarão na Moranga (shrimp in a thick pumpkin sauce served in a pumpkin).  Right after lunch, our hostess pushed us into a taxi and sent us off to Sugar Loaf to watch the sunset.

We spent the rest of the evening in Urca, walking along the waterfront.  Families, friends, and lovers were gathered along the wall, fishing, drinking, and laughing.  It was magical.

We found a little pizza place and drank way too many caipirinhas and decided to order whatever we would be least likely to find in the US.  There it was on the menu:  banana pizza.

While we waited for our pizza, we watched a father playing futebol with his son in a little beachfront playground.  The wind blew across the bay and into the open air seating area of the pizzeria.  Every day we’d had in Brazil, from São Paulo to Ouro Preto to Rio de Janeiro, had been fantastic and this dreamy evening was the perfect way to capstone an amazing trip.

My visa is still valid.  Just saying.

Banana Pizza

  • Pizza dough for one medium pizza (10-12″)
  • Olive oil
  • One ripe banana, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup shredded white cheddar
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • Cinnamon-sugar mixture, for sprinkling

Note:  Vegetarians should check the “Cheese List for Vegetarians” link for appropriate cheese brands/substitutes.

Preheat oven to 425F (also preheat baking stone if you are using one).  Stretch pizza dough to desired level of thickness – I like it very thin for this pizza.  Brush dough with olive oil.  Sprinkle cheddar over dough.  Top with banana slices.  Top with mozzarella.  Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar over top.

Bake about 15 minutes, until crust is very crispy.

Random Recipe – Pizza Alla Norma

2 Jun

I came across a link about eggplant on pizza at the Unorthodox Epicure.  It was the same week I had purchased a case of eggplant from Daisy Mae’s Market that I was desperately trying to use up.  Coincidentally, I had just finished making pizza with eggplant on it, so I was pleased to see that we weren’t the only eggplant pizza fans.  The combination of eggplant, garlic, tomato, basil and ricotta salata, loosely corresponds to an “alla Norma” preparation that you might have seen on an Italian menu somewhere.  It’s delicious.  Note that the ricotta is quite salty, so you will want to go easy on the salt for the eggplant.

We first tried this pizza, many years ago, at a little place called Sorbello’s in Orange Park, Florida that some friends introduced to us.  We haven’t lived in Florida in almost six years, but my parents are still there and my husband keeps Sorbello’s phone number in his cell phone just in case we have the opportunity to order a pizza while we’re visiting my family.  I guess I should mention that he loves it.  His eyes roll back in his head when we talk about it.

So I’m a loving partner and I made pizza alla Norma for my husband, who ate way too much of it.

I do make my own pizza dough, because I enjoy doing that sort of thing from time to time.  I will post the pizza dough soon.  You can freeze pizza dough, too, which makes it easier for the next time.  However, you shouldn’t be intimidated by that.  If you don’t want to mess with a yeast dough, just buy some frozen dough from the grocery.  (But if you haven’t tried making yeast doughs and you have a good mixer, you should give it a go.  It’s quite easy, actually.)


  • Pizza dough, room temperature
  • Marinara
  • Eggplants, 2 medium, cut into 1″ cubes
  • Garlic, 1 clove, minced
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Fresh basil
  • Ricotta salata, shredded
  • Mozzarella, shredded (Vegetarians should refer to the Note on cheeses at the bottom of the post)

Preheat oven to 450F.  If you have a baking stone, you should put it in the oven now.  Toss the eggplant and garlic with salt and olive oil and spread evenly on a lightly greased sheet pan.  Roast about 20 minutes until the eggplant is tender.  You don’t have to overcook it at this point, because it will get cooked again with the pizza. 

Stretch the pizza dough to the desired size and thickness and place on a sheet pan.  If you have a baking stone, put the pizza dough on a thin layer of cormeal on the back of a sheet pan to make the transfer easier.  Top with marinara, eggplant mixture, fresh basil and cheeses.  Put the pizza in the oven (or transfer to the baking stone).  Bake until the crust is fully cooked, about 20 minutes unless you have a smokin’ hot oven.

Note :  Professional pizza makers will use ovens that are fired around 600 degrees.  Many home ovens can’t get close to the level of heat.  If you have a a baking stone and you don’t mind the heat, turn the oven up and cook it hotter and faster. 

Note on Cheeses for Vegetarians:  Ricotta Salata is typically made without rennet.  Mozzarella is typically a rennet-based cheese.  You will want a substitute for the mozzarella if you are keeping a strict vegetarian diet.  Refer to the link in my Blogroll or here (Cheese List for Vegetarians) for information on substitutes.

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