Dinner without Heat — Hardly Cooking.


A tale of two salads.

Tomato, avocado, lemon and olive oil.

Kale, canellini beans, onion, olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper.


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Minimalist-Inspired Salad

Our riff on one of Mark Bittman’s 101 ideas for picnic food.

Yellow cherry tomatoes, fresh parsley, white beans (one can, minus a handful for Mr. Baby — too hot to cook dried beans), two anchovies, halved mixed olives, juice of half a lemon, olive oil, freshly-ground pepper. Served with crusty bread, we found it to be a light but satisfying supper for two.


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Prosciutto and Tomato Salad

4 oz. prosciutto + 3 medium field tomatoes + most of a pint of yellow cherry tomatoes + olive oil, coarse salt, and lots of freshly-ground black pepper.


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Key Lime Pie with Chocolate Ganache Topping

An improbable pairing, perhaps, but perfect to take to a friend’s house — sometimes making homemade whipped cream is inconvenient. I couldn’t find a recipe anywhere, so I made a standard 1:1 ganache (and, to be honest, I used half and half because I didn’t have cream on hand), guessing at the right amount, which turned out to be just right.

I use the Joy of Cooking recipe for key lime pie — but I buy a graham cracker crust. If you know me, you know that I do not make pie crust. Or quiche crust. Or tart crust.

No crust.


Mix 4 egg yolks, the juice and zest of 3-4 limes, and 1 can of sweetened condensed milk. Pour into a graham cracker crust. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes — until the filling is set.

Chill, at least 4 hours. Overnight is fine.

Heat 1/2 cup cream on the stove (do not let boil). Chop 4 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir until smooth and shiny. Pour over cooled pie and chill for two hours. Finis!20120816-105958.jpg


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Summer Salad


Friday is the end of the fridge week here at Chez O, so I made a big salad (with some gifts from our generous gardening landlady) to share.

In the minimalist spirit of Mark Bittman, here’s a suggestion of a recipe.

Mix black beans with corn off the cob, diced fresh tomato, diced roasted chicken breast, and a simple vinaigrette (olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, and chili pepper flakes). Serve over a bed of fresh bitter lettuce, romaine, arugula, and fresh basil. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.


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Deconstructed Greek Salad

Deconstructed salad: red peppers, kalamata olives, fresh basil, cucumbers, thinly sliced onion, and feta cheese.

Later dressed with olive oil, balsamic, salt and lots of freshly ground pepper.


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Impromptu Summer Menu

Salad of cucumbers and RR’s fresh lettuce
Sliced tomatoes (also RR)
Fresh Corn, Onion, Basil and Tomato Gratin/Frittata (Recipe Follows)




Summer Vegetable Gratin-Frittata (inspired by AJ)

  • 5 ears corn
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 small Vidalia onion
  • 1 tomato
  • handful of fresh basil
  • splash whole milk
  • 4 tbsp. butter, cubed

Preheat oven to 425. Bring a pot of water to a boil; cook corn for 2 minutes.  Meanwhile, beat eggs with milk. Slice tomato into rounds. Dice onion. Chiffonade basil. Allow corn to cool, then slice kernels from ears. Place corn and onion in bottom of baking dish, pour egg/milk mixture, dot with butter. Top with tomato and basil.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on depth of pan. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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Pasta Salad with a Fruit Chaser

Adapted from my Aunt’s recipe, itself adapted from a Jaime Oliver recipe.



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Summer Vegetarian Kick

Tomato, basil, mozzarella on rustic bread, with lemon-marinated garden zucchini (from our landlady).


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Easter Feast

Photos from the first family feast we’ve made:

Vase made (!) by our friend CC, hand-carved nesting egg from her parents, flowers from AS, replica Faberge egg (a gift from Mr. O to me for Christmas), plates from my Dad, napkins from my Mom. It's a happy table.

The Breakdown: Lunch for four and a bit (us, our friends J and D, and a little guy who likes to take and throw food from our plates).

Hot Artichoke and Onion Dip

An 18-pound Ham

Deviled Eggs

Greek Salad

Blanched Asparagus

Couscous with Sultanas

and J made an absolutely amazing lemon cake (made with Tahitian vanilla) with whipped cream and lemon curd frosting. A perfectly sweet end to a lovely meal with friends.

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A Feast Day

After Thanksgiving, Mr. O and I, with our thrifty hats on, bought and froze a fourteen-pound turkey, without a clear idea when we ought to roast it.

And then came St. Patrick’s Day.

Now, the denizens of Chez O are only a quarter Irish (each), so we’ve never celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with green beer or renditions of Danny Boy. One year we might have had bangers and mash.  But winter seems almost over, and we wanted to get together with friends (there are never enough weekend hours for visits!), so we decided that our turkey would meet its end in mid-March.

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Turkey can’t be served on its own — too majestic — so Mr. O made his Nana’s stuffing with breakfast sausage and onion, and a golden-brown gravy, while  I made my Dad’s cranberry sauce, a simple green salad with vinaigrette, and Nigella Lawson’s chocolate Guinness cake (which tastes like it sounds, with a fluffy cream cheese & cream frosting that floats on the cake like foam on a pint).  Our friends (hey there, BA and AT!) brought us some lovely wine, and we had a cocktail composed of whiskey, ginger ale, and lime juice. Mr. Baby entertained us by destroying our carefully-built block towers, and the hours slipped away with conversation, clinking of glasses, and scraping of forks.

It’s never a bad day for a feast day.

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Kuchen Meets Brasadella

When I (Mrs. O here) was growing up in Cleveland, we took an occasional trip to the Entenmann’s outlet near our house.  I’m pretty sure that I’ve never met a pastry I didn’t like, but the older I get, the stronger nostalgia’s influence on my tastebuds.  And boy, do I miss Entenmann’s kuchen (which, as a kid, I mentally spelled “c-o-u-c-a-n”). I know I could get it at the grocery store down the street, but it just wouldn’t taste the same without the bargain price.

Fast forward fifteenish (ok, nearly twentyish) years later, and enter Mr. O’s Nana’s brassadella (Italian coffee cake), which she calls “Italian pie”.  She bakes the pastry in a pie tin, with a lattice pattern filled with damson plum jam.  It is heavenly, and hard to make. Many, many months ago, I bought damson plum jam in the hope that I might master brassadella, but a small baby of my acquaintance has thwarted my plan.

But yesterday, I couldn’t stand it any longer.  I had to have a breakfast pastry for dessert.

I knew that Italian pie is out of my reach, and research on kuchen (which, in German, is a generic term for cake, but here means a cakey breakfast pastry with fruit, or jam/jelly in the Entenmann’s version) led to lots and lots of recipes that involve yeast.  Yeast is not to be found in my house, I’m ashamed to say.

As a last resort, I turned to my trusty Joy of Cooking — and there it was: a recipe for a yeastless quick kuchen.  The JofC version calls for fresh fruit, but oh no, not for me. I had the jam and I wasn’t afraid to use it.

I was going for a pastry with jam spiraled on top, but experiments being experiments, the jam ended up in a layer on the bottom of the cake. Still delicious.

Lime-Glazed Kuchen with Damson Plum Jam

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch salt
  • 8-10 oz thick damson plum jam (I used Trappist Preserves brand)

For the glaze:

  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • powdered sugar

Butter a 9-inch baking dish/cake pan/ pie dish (I used my purple round pie dish from my excellent mother) and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Alternate adding the flour mixture and eggs (one at a time), stirring just until all the ingredients are incorporated.

Spread the dough in the baking dish/cake pan/pie dish. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

The amount of powdered sugar you’ll need to make a thick glaze depends on the amount of juice in the lime — but you do want the glaze thick.  Milk might give the glaze a better flavor than mine had, but I didn’t have time to test that theory.

Once the cake is completely cool, pour on the glaze, let it set for a few minutes, and serve.  Even better the next day, I think.

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Sunday Dinner, Chapter 15ish: An Anniversary Celebration

Mr. O and I, you may or may not be interested to learn, met three years ago tonight.  That night we had a delicious dinner at a cozy Italian restaurant, and tonight we planned to make Chicken Marsala, one of our favorites.

Life does tend to impinge on plans, and after shepherding Mr. Baby through a (delightful) birthday party for a babyfriend, we were tired.  Breading chicken seemed an insurmountable task.

Then, after Mr. O made me a hot chocolate/cocoa, we ran out of milk. That settled it: Mr. O had to go the store to buy milk, and so naturally he needed to pick up kosher dill pickles, kettle chips, and a reasonably-priced (= under ten dollars) bottle of white wine.

And so it was that we had delicious tuna sandwiches (I will at some point reveal my secret for perfect tuna on this blog), chips, pickles, white wine, and no cooking for our anniversary.

Marsala next year.




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A Dinner Inspired by Mrs. O’s Grandmother

My grandmother’s stroganoff is one of my all-time favorite meals.  I’ve tried to duplicate it, but it never turned out quite right . . . until now.

Grammie’s stroganoff is thinly sliced beef in a creamy, thin sauce with mushrooms and onions.  The sauce has an underlying flavor that I always thought came from wine or sherry; making the dish with either produces a nice meal, but it’s just not the same as what I grew up with.

The secret to the sauce, as I found out from Grammie this week, is brandy.

Grammie’s Stroganoff (Adapted)

  • 1 lb London broil, partially defrosted
  • 10 oz sliced porcini mushrooms
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 12 oz egg noodles
  • 1/4 cup sour cream (or a little more, if you like)
  • 2 tbsp. brandy
  • butter
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper

[Grammie cooks the beef, onion, and mushrooms together, but my pan isn’t big enough to cook everything at the right rate together.]

Melt butter and some olive oil in a pan (I play fast and loose with the amount of butter here — just start with a tablespoon and see how it goes.); add the sliced mushrooms and onions, and sautee until the onions are golden and the mushrooms are fragrant.

While the vegetables are cooking,  get started on the noodles, and slice the beef thinly. The easiest way to cut beef into thin strips,  I’ve found, is to let the beef defrost partially (either in the fridge, for a few hours, or in the microwave immediately before cooking), and slice it with a good bread knife against the grain.

Once the onions and mushrooms are done, transfer to a plate.  Add more butter to the pan, a few drops of oil, and melt. Add the beef, a couple sprinkles of salt, and fry until just cooked through.  The beef will release plenty of cooking liquid — instant sauce!  Add the mushrooms and onions back into the pan, along with the brandy. Simmer a few minutes, until the alcohol evaporates.

Take the pan off the heat, stir in the sour cream, season to taste with salt and pepper, and spoon over those noodles. Serve immediately. Roasted carrots are an excellent side dish.

And now, on to dessert.

Grandma’s chocolate chip cookies are the best I’ve ever had. Try as I might, mine are never the same, but this last batch looked better than my usual under/overcooked blobs, though the buttery taste was undercut by too much flour.  Alas, a baker I am not.

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Odds and Ends Salad

Broccoli, radishes, kalamata olives, orange peppers, feta cheese.  It’s the end of the week in the Os’ fridge.

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An Invented Salad and an Adapted Lasagna

This past weekend, Mr. O happened to see a cooking show that featured a vegetable lasagna, and since we had yet to finish the grocery shopping, we thought, “why not?”  We asked our Dear Friends LG and AR to come over for lunch, and set about preparing the ingredients.

You can find the original recipe here. Since spinach and I still aren’t entirely cordial, we substituted kale.  We also caramelized four onions instead of three (we had the food processor out to make purees for Mr. Baby), and added sauteed porcini mushrooms (some progress in cordiality there, you see).

Unless you have the pre-cooked ingredients on hand, it’s a rather labor-intensive recipe.  To make things simpler, we cooked the squash and onions one day in advance.

Mr. O made the bechamel and assembled the lasagna, and it was unbelievably delicious. Creamy, sweet, earthy. a bit spicy. Perfect.

To balance the richness of the lasagna, I determined to make a bright salad with my new favorite fruit — kumquats. They’re tiny citrus fruits, about the size of a mandarin orange segment. The peel is candy sweet and edible, and the pulp is lemony tart. Eminently eatable, but Mr. O thought he’d prefer them cooked or in a salad.  And so, here is:

Watercress & Kumquat Salad

  • 1 pint kumquats
  • 1 bunch watercress

For the vinaigrette

  • juice of 1 lemon
  • canola oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Wasabi mustard

Chop watercress very coarsely, and strew over a plate. Slice the kumquats, removing the seeds, into small rounds, and distribute over the greens.  Add all the vinaigrette ingredients to a jar and shake thoroughly to combine, and pour over the salad just before serving.

The amount of oil depends on how much juice you get from your lemon, of course. The Wasabi mustard I used is a mild, sweet variety that was a gift from our Maine visitors — a slightly spicy counterpoint to the kumquats that picks up the spiciness of the watercress.

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Refreshing Mid-winter Salad, Two Ways

Earlier this week, I made Nigella Lawson’s Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad (recipe here), since I had poached chicken on hand and cabbage is 49 cents per pound at Russo’s. Absolutely fabulous, but, as anyone who’s ever bought cabbage knows, even a small head is about triple the eight ounces called for in this recipe.

So tonight I made it again, giving the recipe my own twist.

Chicken and Herb Cruciferous Salad


  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 large red chile, seeded and minced
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar


1 pound green cabbage

  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 bunch kale
  • 2 chicken breast halves
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 1 bunch mint
  • 1/2 bunch basil
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Make a dressing in the bottom of a very large serving bowl. Slice the onion in a food processor and soak in the dressing for 15 minutes while the rest of the ingredients are prepared. Shred the cabbage  and carrot in the processor, and layer on top of the onion. Chop the kale coarsely and add to the bowl. Chop the three herbs finely and add. Chop the chicken; drizzle the soy sauce and rice vinegar over it and let sit for a few minutes before adding to the bowl. Carefully toss the salad, making sure that all the vegetables have a coating of the dressing. Serve immediately (the salad gets soggy overnight). Crisp, refreshing, and an excellent midwinter cheery dinner. And we’ll remember it again come summer!

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Dijon Pasta

Just a suggestion here, since I don’t remember exactly how I made the sauce:  sauteed cauliflower and white beans with spaghetti, spring onion, and a sauce with Dijon mustard, flour, butter, and vegetable stock.

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A Tale of Two Chilis

This superbowl weekend, we made two versions of chili. The first chili is is a white chicken chili (topped with cilantro and strained yogurt) based on a version I ate at Don Pablo’s years ago, and the second is a red bean and ground beef crockpot chili.  Both delicious, but the winner is the white chili, by a field goal.

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Here and There Fruit Salad

A fruit salad with homey staples and exotic faraway fruits.

Here and There Fruit Salad

  • 2 apples, cubed
  • 1 orange, in segments
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 2 starfruit, sliced
  • arils and juice of 1 pomegranate
  • spoonful of sugar (optional)

Mix all the fruits and juices in a bowl and let sit for about a half hour to let the flavors meld.




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