Monthly Archives: April 2017

Greens and Beans

Creamy, earthy beans and plenty of greens make this delicately lemony soup satisfying enough for a light meal. We simply served Spinach and Leek Soup with Garlic and Cannellini Beans with a small side salad, but pair it with some good crusty bread—or a sandwich, if you’re really hungry.

The pale creamy-white beans with a firm texture and nutty flavor, otherwise known as cannellini beans, are particularly popular in Italian cuisine. They are a major source of protein and have a very low calorie count while increasing the feeling of being full. Some of the major health benefits of these little miracle workers include their ability to promote heart health, prevent cancer, lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, reduce risk of colorectal adenomas and prevent wrinkles as well.

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Important for us sun lovers: antioxidants in cannellini beans play a role in protecting your skin. Because of the way it protects against oxidative stress, the free radical inhibiting properties of the beans can help keep your skin supple and youthful by preventing loss of skin elasticity caused by too much sunlight. (If only I’d known this decades ago!)

Most of us know that spinach, another main ingredient in this recipe, is one of the world’s healthiest foods. Remember Popeye who consumed vast amounts of the leafy green to give him strength? Well you may not look like a body builder after one meal, but cooking spinach actually increases its health benefits! Just half a cup of cooked spinach will give you thrice as much nutrition as one cup of raw spinach. When shopping for ingredients, look for mature spinach, rather than the baby variety for this soup because it wilts down to practically nothing when cooked.

The pièce de résistance is the topping of grated Gruyere cheese, an excellent melter, with its rich, creamy, slightly nutty taste. It blanketed all of the other elements under a velvety soft comforter of deliciousness, lending an overall decadence to a simple meal. SIGH.

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Ingredients

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 3 medium leeks, white and light-green parts only, trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 large cloves garlic, sliced lengthwise
  • 2 tsp. dried mustard
  • 6 cups lower-salt chicken broth (preferrably homemade)
  • 8 oz. spinach, rinsed, trimmed and cut into 1-inch ribbons (about 8 lightly packed cups)
  • 1 15.5-oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (our can was 19-oz.)
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 oz. finely grated aged Gruyère (about 1/2 cup)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving

Directions

  1. In a 6-quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring often, until tender and browned in spots, about 5 minutes.
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  2. Add the garlic and mustard, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 15 seconds. Raise the heat to high, add the chicken broth, and bring to a boil.
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  3. Add the spinach and beans, and cook until the spinach wilts. Stir in the lemon juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Serve topped with the cheese and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
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By Ronne Day from Fine Cooking

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Start Swooning—Succulent Chicken Too Good To Pass Up

Spring was finally in full force and the temps were getting warmer by the week, which usually signifies an end to our braising season. But a Sunday in late April was forecast to be cool, wet and windy, which got us thinking that maybe one last hoorah in the braised dish category was in order. However by the time the weekend rolled around, Saturday was the bogus day and Sunday dawned bright and sunny. Mother Nature loves to throw a curve ball every now and then, but it wasn’t enough to make us change our minds about that braised chicken.

And we all know, a good cook needs an assortment of chicken dishes to fall back on. Aside from roasting or frying (in addition to grilling which will happen very soon), braising chicken is a simple technique to master. It is said, chicken thighs make the best braises; and you want to use skin-on bone-in thighs for the best flavor. Though it could be done on the stovetop, this Braised Chicken with Lemon and Olives dish is oven-braised.

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The essence is a Mediterranean/Italian hybrid that I was literally swooning over as I savored every succulent mouthful. It’s so simple to make and exudes so much flavor from all of the fabulous ingredients, you’ll want to make it again and again. Because I prefer white meat, I added a couple of bone-in, skin-on breasts along with the thighs. I know, I know, conventional wisdom says the white meat will dry out, but keeping the skin and bones intact provides protection, so I was willing to take the risk.

It seems like most everyone is divided over white meat versus dark meat chicken. Between me and hubby there is a clear divide. He likes the dark meat, preferring the leg or thigh and I am solidly in the white meat camp. Although, while I’m still not a fan of poultry legs, I have been warming up to the thighs. And truth be told, I almost never eat the skin, but I do understand that it’s essential during the cooking process to keep it intact for the white meat to remain juicy.

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While I was prepping all of the ingredients, Russ came in from doing an errand and alarmingly said, “It supposed to be thighs, not a whole chicken! Did you buy the wrong thing??” The truth of it was, I was thinking ahead to another dish earmarked for later in the week that called for a whole chicken. Just pulled out the wrong bird is all, but not before taking the “group” photo of ingredients. Crisis averted.

The verdict between the braised breasts and the thighs? Both the dark and white meat were scrumptious and juicy with outstanding flavor notes from the Meyer’s lemon, fennel seed, herbs, garlic and olives—which by the way, become soft and malleable when braised. We both concur, we’re not sure we can wait for the Fall when the weather cools down to make this recipe again… nor should we have to…

Braised Chicken with Lemon and Olives

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 8 chicken thighs, skin-on and bone-in, about 3 1/2 to 4 pounds
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 Meyer lemons, cut in wedges
  • 1 cup flavorful olives with pits, a mixture of black and green, about 1 pound
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Directions

  1. Pat chicken thighs dry with paper towels. Season well with salt and pepper and place in an earthenware baking dish in one layer, skin side up. Sprinkle with red pepper, garlic, fennel and rosemary and drizzle with olive oil. Rub seasoning into thighs on all sides. Tuck lemon wedges here and there. Let marinate for 15 minutes. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
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  2. Put baking dish in oven, uncovered, and roast until skin browns lightly, about 20 minutes. Scatter olives evenly over chicken and add broth. Cover tightly and bake for 1 hour, until meat is very tender when probed with a skewer.
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  3. Remove thighs and lemon wedges and arrange on a platter. Keep warm. Pour pan juices into a saucepan and quickly skim fat from surface. Over high heat, simmer rapidly until reduced by half. Spoon juices over chicken, sprinkle with parsley and serve.
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http://www.lynnandruss.com

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To round out the dinner, we served our chicken with some garlicky mashed potatoes and fresh peas drizzled with a Tuscan herbed olive oil.

By 

Seriously BIG Flavor with Little Effort

Pernil is a brightly flavored roast pork dish from the Caribbean that is seriously tasty business. This version uses quick-cooking tenderloin in place of the more traditional pork shoulder, but it has the same robust flavorings, including garlic, cumin, oregano, vinegar, and lime. As I write about this delish dish, I fondly recall the tempting fragrant aromas wafting through the house…

In Puerto Rico, the dish covered in a garlicky marinade then roasted, is commonly shared during Christmas, and typically accompanied by arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas). When finished, the meat “falls off the bone” and the crispy skin (cuero) is separated, cleared of fat, and then served separately as cueritos (skin chips).

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But this Pernil-Style Pork Tenderloin is a quick weeknight version deserving of the “EASY” button. Granted it does not exactly match the caliber of an original slow-cooked, highly seasoned Puerto Rican pernil with the crackling skin, but it’s more than a decent enough facimile when you don’t have the luxury of time. In fact, I think it’s certainly company-worthy (but than you wouldn’t have any leftovers 😉 )

Although rice is typically served as a side, we paired ours with that yummy and very healthy Quinoa and Avocado Salad that I recently blogged about.

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Ingredients

  • 3 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2 small shallots, coarsely chopped
  • 4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 3/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1-1/4-lb. pork tenderloin
  • 4 lime wedges

Directions

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F.
  2. In a food processor, combine the garlic, shallots, 3 Tbs. of the oil, the vinegar, chili powder, cumin, oregano, sugar, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Pulse for several seconds to make a paste.
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  3. Cut the tenderloin in half crosswise (we didn’t have to do this since our package came with two tenderloins) and then butterfly both halves by holding a knife parallel to the cutting board and cutting a lengthwise slit to within 1/2 inch of the other side of the tenderloin. Spread 1 Tbs. of the paste inside each slit. Tie with kitchen string or secure with toothpicks (I used both) and season with salt and pepper.
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  4. Heat a heavy-duty, ovenproof, 10-inch skillet over high heat until hot and add the remaining 1 Tbs. oil, swirling the pan to coat the bottom. Add the tenderloins and sear on all sides until golden-brown, 3 to 4 minutes total.
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  5. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 8 minutes. Turn the tenderloins over and spread the remaining paste on top. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of each registers 145°F, about 6 minutes more.
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  6. Transfer to a cutting board, remove the string and/or toothpicks, and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice 1/2 inch thick and serve with the lime wedges.
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Scoop up any mixture that falls off while slicing the pork and add it to your plate. Squeeze some fresh lime over the medallions.

By Arlene Jacobs from Fine Cooking

All We Are Saying, Is Give Peas A Chance

It’s springtime and what veggie exemplifies this season of rebirth more than fresh peas? Sadly true in some cases, many people think peas are just a cheap restaurant side dish that adds some ‘green’ to your plate. In reality, they are little powerhouses of nutrition that are a boon for your health and the whole planet.

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In the weight management arena, peas are low-fat but high-everything-else. A cup of peas has less than 100 calories but lots of protein, fiber and micronutrients. Coming from peas’ strong anti-inflammatory properties are prevention of a whole host of issues including wrinkles, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, bronchitis, osteoporosis and candida.

Here’s an interesting fact, although considered a vegetable, green peas really are a fruit since they contain seeds developed from a flower—bet you didn’t know that! And our neighbor Canada is the largest producer of peas in the world. These little green wonders have such high-quality protein that many commercial protein powders are starting to use it to avoid the possible side effects of soy or dairy products.

So I’m giving you two different recipes in one blog highlighting peas as the centerpiece of each dish. First, is the Peas and Prosciutto Salad (below) that we served with our roast leg of lamb for Easter Dinner. Russ found it in our recent Bon Appétit magazine and thought it would make a perfect starter while the lamb rested after coming out of the oven. Topping it off with grated fresh horseradish over the salad adds a wonderful pop of flavor so don’t omit it.

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This Peas and Prosciutto Salad combines both blanched fresh peas from the pod and sugar snap peas.

Peas are a perfect match with ham and cream, and together, they create a fast but luxurious sauce in the second recipe of Creamy Linguine with Peas, Ham, and Sage. If you don’t like sage, (seriously?) feel free to leave it out or substitute another herb, such as thyme or tarragon.

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If like me, you’re concerned about the high fat content and calories in heavy cream, you can slim it down a notch, while keeping in mind the flavor and texture of the recipe may be slightly different than you would get using heavy cream. *For each cup of heavy cream in the recipe, melt 1/3 cup of unsalted butter and add it to ¾ cup of milk. (Note that if you use low-fat milk, you will want to add 1 tablespoon of flour to thicken the mixture.) Just melt the butter and let cool, then blend in a bowl with the milk. Stir until well mixed.

Alternatively, for each 1 cup of heavy cream in a recipe, you can use a substitute of butter and half-and-half. *Melt 1/6 cup of butter and allow it to cool. Be sure it does not solidify during the cooling process. Put 7/8 cup of half-and-half into a bowl and stir in the cool melted butter until they are well blended.

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TIP: Before you drain the pasta and peas, you’re instructed to reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water (which I didn’t end up needing, although you may.) In prior recipes that required I save some of the pasta water, I unintentionally drained it all away, so putting a measuring cup in the strainer will remind you to reserve some of the liquid before you drain.

My instincts told me to add more sage (one of Russ’ favorite herbs) and some lemon zest to brighten up the dish. Unfortunately, all I had on hand was a half of a lemon that was already zested, so I just squeezed the juice over our plates and it did indeed add a bright note. Your call if you want to do the same.

Peas and Prosciutto Salad

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Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 1¼ cups shelled fresh green peas (from about 1¼ pounds pods), or frozen peas, thawed
  • 12 ounces sugar snap peas (about 3 cups), trimmed
  • 4 ounces arugula, tough stems removed (about 6 packed cups)
  • 4 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced
  • Knob of fresh horseradish, peeled (for serving)

Directions

  1. Whisk lemon juice and mustard in a large bowl. Gradually add oil, whisking constantly until emulsified; season vinaigrette with salt and pepper.
  2. Working in batches, cook green peas and sugar snap peas in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes per batch. Immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water and swoosh peas around until cold; this sets their color and halts the cooking. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Add green peas, sugar snap peas, and arugula to bowl with vinaigrette and toss until well coated with dressing; season with salt and pepper.
  4. Arrange salad on a platter and top with prosciutto. Finely grate horseradish over salad to your liking.

Creamy Linguine with Peas, Ham, and Sage

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Ingredients

  • 12 oz. fresh linguine (or fettuccine)
  • 1-1/2 cups shelled fresh peas or frozen peas, thawed
  • 2 cups heavy cream, or substitute as noted above*
  • 1 heaping Tbs. chopped fresh sage, more to taste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 oz. ham, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1-1/2 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, more for serving
  • Lemon zest, optional

Directions

  1. Cook the linguine in boiling salted water according to package directions until al dente, adding the peas about 2 minutes before the pasta is done. Reserve 1/2 cup of the water and drain the pasta.
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  2. Meanwhile, in a 12-inch skillet, simmer the cream, sage, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.
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  3. Turn the heat down to medium, add the drained pasta and peas, ham, and Parmigiano; toss to combine and heat through. Add some of the cooking water to loosen the pasta, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve topped with more Parmigiano.
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Adapted from Caroline Campion and Kathy Brennan of Fine Cooking

Orfeo

It all began at Orfeo, located in the Army Building on 3rd Avenue in the Belltown section of Seattle. On one of the first sunny days they’ve had in ages, my 3-hour Gourmet Walking Tour started at this contemporary, Northwest-centric Italian restaurant. Orfeo impressed me so much that I encouraged my husband and his coworker to make dinner reservations with me the very next evening!

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A bit of a local legend, their Chef Kevin Davis takes land-based, seasonally-driven foods and features artisan cooking techniques. For the last fifteen years he has developed a strong reputation as a seafood chef, but this is a cuisine where the focus is on the food sourcing rather than the cooking technique.

A highlight of their kitchen, is the custom Spanish designed Woodstone Josper, a charcoal burning oven with a natural convection that circulates smoke around the food cooking inside of it. Orfeo also puts a strong focus on their traditional wood burning oven which turns out pizzas, and roasted meats and vegetables.

3ofusFrom left, Russ, David and Lynn.

wine
Every restaurant we dined at while in Seattle presented patrons with a huge wine list, and Orfeo was no exception. We finally settled on a local Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon’s leading wine country.

Heather, my walking tour guide highly encouraged the group, should we get the opportunity to come back, to try the Mediterranean Mussels roasted over the coals. Knowing Russ’ penchant for mussels, it didn’t take much persuasion to get him to order them as his appetizer. He was thrilled with the mollusks that were tender and juicy seasoned with garlic, rosemary, preserved lemon and black pepper. They came topped with several thick slices of toasted homemade, whole grain bread that came in handy to mop up the flavorful sauce.

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Not normally a bread eater, I couldn’t resist snatching a piece and tasting that mouth-watering sauce.

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Our dining guest that evening was David Greenspan, Chair of Psychiatry at Einstein Medical Center and Russ’ coworker who was also attending the National Behavioral Health Conference. He zeroed in on the Antipasto for starters with an assortment of cured meats, olive salad, tomatoes, white anchovies, pickled onions and bruschetta.

Before selecting his entrée, David wanted to know the backstory on Katie’s Pasta. Our server told us that Katie was the executive chef of the restaurant for some time and this was her favorite way of making pasta for herself. When she left the restaurant, they put this dish on the menu in honor of her. It’s a simple dish consisting of capellini made in house and tossed with garlic, truffle oil, basil and butter.

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steak

Sometimes you just have to have a good steak. And this was one of those days for Russ. Enticing him that night was the Meyers all-natural beef Blasted New York Steak with sliced roasted potatoes, topped with exotic mushrooms bathing in sauce au poivre. Since we were staying in a hotel and couldn’t bring home a doggie bag, Russ was forced to eat the entire meal!

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It being Restaurant Week in Seattle, I took advantage of their 3-courses-for-$32 special menu. On it was the delicious Polenta Arrostita with bolognese sauce that I enjoyed on the Walking Tour the day before. It was so friggin’ good, I had to have it again. This time the polenta cake was smothered in a lamb bolognese (instead of pork) with exotic mushrooms and miner’s lettuce. I think it may have been even better the second time around…

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My entrée of choice was the beautifully plated and extremely flavorful Line Caught Hawaiian Swordfish with a salsa salmoriglio and asparagus gremolata perched on a bed of potato purée. Having ordered off of the special menu, I was allowed dessert, the third course. Not one to eat dessert, I let the guys decide which one they wanted to split and they unanimously chose the Lemon Tiramisu that consisted of lemon curd, dotted with fresh raspberries, and adorned with fresh mint and shaved white chocolate.

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David also enjoyed a double scoop of Pistachio Ice Cream.

I highly recommend this forward thinking, Northwest-centric Italian restaurant if you ever get yourself to Seattle. Orfeo is the third restaurant from Chef Kevin and Terresa Davis, creators of Steelhead Diner and Blueacre Seafood.

Chew On This

Quinoa, the supergrain of the future, is loaded with health benefits. First and foremost, it is one of the most protein-rich foods we can eat because it is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids. So along with heart-healthy avocados, a side of Quinoa and Avocado Salad with Dried Fruit, Toasted Almonds, and Lemon-Cumin Vinaigrette is sure to win you points in the ‘eat well’ department.

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Besides its attractive maroon color, red quinoa has a slightly deeper, nuttier flavor than white quinoa. Both, however, are excellent in this bright, lemony salad.

If you need more convincing, quinoa contains almost twice as much fiber as most other grains. Fiber lowers cholesterol and glucose levels and may help you to lose weight as it takes a longer time to chew than does other foods. It makes you feel fuller for longer and is less “energy dense” which means it has fewer calories for the same volume of food.

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And avocados are no slouch in the healthy eating department either. This fruit is prized for its high nutrient value and is often referred to as a superfood. They contain more potassium than bananas and are loaded with heart-healthy monosaturated fatty acids. In addition, like quinoa, avocados contain a relatively large amount of fiber.

Then you throw in dried fruits. Again more fiber! Plus, dried fruits like apricots and raisins used in this recipe contain high amounts of beta carotene, vitamin E, niacin, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium. Dried fruits consist of little to no fat but also contain significant calories per serving, so it is with a watchful eye that you add a judicious amount.

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And if that’s still not enough to sway you, let’s talk quickly about the health benefits of almonds. A high-fat food that’s good for your health? That’s not an oxymoron. Almonds help to lower the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. They do this by lowering the LDL (or bad) cholesterol in the body by significant amounts. And a quarter cup of almonds contains more protein than a whole egg. One last plug for almonds. They appear to not only decrease after-meal rises in blood sugar, but also provide antioxidants to mop up the smaller amounts of free radicals that still result.

OK, enough about how healthy all of the ingredients are. How about eating it because it tastes good? We were very impressed with this dish and plan on making it often—just love the crunch of the toasted almonds. I think it would be a great addition to a picnic or potluck because it can stay at room temperature for quite some time.

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Ingredients

  • 3 Tbs. raisins (preferably a mix of dark and golden)
  • 2 Tbs. dried apricots, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup red or white quinoa, rinsed well
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 large lemon
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
  • 2 medium firm-ripe avocados (6 to 7 oz. each), pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 2 medium scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 2 to 3 Tbs. coarsely chopped toasted almonds
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, soak the raisins and apricots in hot water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
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  2. In a 2-quart saucepan, bring 2 cups water, the quinoa, and 1/2 tsp. salt to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is translucent and tender, 10 to 15 minutes. (The outer germ rings of the grain will remain chewy and white. Some germ rings may separate from the grain and will look like white squiggles.) Immediately fluff the quinoa with a fork and turn it out onto a baking sheet to cool to room temperature.
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  3. Finely grate the zest from the lemon and then squeeze 1 Tbs. juice. In a small bowl, whisk the lemon zest and juice with the olive oil, coriander, cumin, paprika, and 1/4 tsp. salt.
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    In a large bowl, toss the vinaigrette with the quinoa, raisins, apricots, avocado, scallions, and almonds. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.
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    An easy way to cube the avocado flesh is to score it in both directions with a pairing knife, then scoop out with a tablespoon.

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No need to worry about keeping this salad warm because it can be eaten at room temperature.

By Deborah Madison from Fine Cooking

Mini Herbed Pommes Anna

The lowly, humble potato—that often misshapen, boring brown lump—transforms itself into opulent, glistening, tastefully elegant jewels called Mini Herbed Pommes Anna. If you never heard of Pommes Anna, they are a classic French dish of sliced, layered potatoes cooked in melted butter and baked until they form a cake.

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An example of the original Pommes Anna as one large potato cake that gets sliced into wedges.

This buttery golden potato cake known as pommes Anna originated in 19th-century Paris when Adolphe Dugléré, chef of the Café Anglais, created it for his favorite customer – the celebrated courtesan Anna Deslions. Here, one of our favorite cookbook authors, Molly Stevens, minimizes the large cake into small individual muffin-sized stacks with a single-serve attitude.

It is essential that you slice the spuds uniformly very thin using a food processor fitted with the slicing blade or a mandoline. Given that the potatoes were small, I used my mini-mandoline instead of breaking out our industrial strength appliance. After tossing with melted butter and chopped fresh thyme, arrange slices in overlapping, concentric circles in the bottoms of the parchment-lined and buttered muffin rounds. It conveniently works out that 6 small potatoes fills 12 cups.

Definitely more time-intensive than baked or mashed potatoes, these gems are worth the effort. Time to impress your guests!

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 12-24 small tender thyme sprigs plus 2 teaspoons coarsely chopped leaves
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 3/4 pounds small waxy potatoes (such as Yukon Gold or German Butterball), each slightly larger than a golf ball
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Brush muffin cups all over with butter. Line bottoms with parchment-paper rounds. Arrange 1-2 small thyme sprigs in center of each round. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon butter into bottom of each cup.
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  2. Add chopped thyme and garlic to remaining butter in saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. Using mandoline, slice potatoes crosswise into very thin rounds (about 1/16-inch thick), placing them in a large bowl as you work. Pour herb butter over and season with salt and pepper; toss to coat well.
  4. Divide potato slices among muffin cups, layering overlapping slices to create a circular pattern. Lightly press center of each to make compact. Drizzle any remaining butter and seasoning from bowl over the tops.
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  5. Cover muffin pan tightly with foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake until potatoes can be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, about 35 minutes. Remove foil; invert a rimmed baking sheet over pan.
  6. Turn, lightly tapping on counter, releasing potatoes onto sheet. Rearrange any slices that may have fallen out. Using a metal spatula, carefully turn cakes, thyme sprigs facing down. Discard parchment.
    DO AHEAD Potatoes can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.
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  7. Increase heat to 425°. Uncover cakes if needed. Bake until bottoms and edges are golden and crispy, 25-30 minutes. Carefully turn cakes, thyme sprigs facing up.

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These glistening jewels were served along with a roasted leg of lamb for Easter dinner, and company adored them.

Recipe by Molly Stevens

Shrimp and Asparagus say “I Do”

Fresh asparagus is synonymous with Spring and those spear-like green stalks lend a crisp contrast to shrimp’s juicy flesh. We love the delicate, briny flavor that shrimp brings to a stir-fry, especially in Stir-Fried Shrimp and Asparagus in Garlic Sauce—a perfect recipe that marries the two in a harmonious union.

If you use shelled, deveined shrimp, few dishes can be faster. In most cases, we buy the shrimp with their shells intact because we like to save them for making homemade seafood stock. Although I must admit, shelling and deveining the little critters are near the least favorite of culinary tasks.

The technique used here is atypical. Instead of a searing-hot skillet to cook all of the components, cook the vegetables on high but turn down the heat before adding the shrimp, which are then shallow-poached in sauce to keep them moist and tender. The sauce is built on a flavorful base of soy sauce, sherry, and sherry vinegar. A little cornstarch ensures that the sauce thickens to just the right shrimp- and vegetable-coating consistency.

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Start the shrimp stir-fry by tossing the shrimp with a little salt and sugar, which adds complexity without noticeable sweetness, and let them sit for 30 minutes. This not only seasons the shrimp but also helps them retain moisture during cooking. The rest of the meal doesn’t take long to prep, and just mere minutes to stir-fry making the recipe an ideal candidate for a weeknight dinner.

NOTE: Asian broad bean chili paste or sauce is also known as toban djan. Check out our other blog on this sauce, An Avid Fan of Toban Djan, with a very tasty recipe of Chicken, Shiitake and Watercress Stir-Fry.

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Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup plus 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Asian broad bean chili paste
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 3 large scallions, white parts chopped fine, green parts cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 ½ pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut on bias into 2-inch lengths

Directions

  1. Combine shrimp, sugar, and salt in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
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  2. Whisk 1/3 cup sherry, soy sauce, chili paste, and vinegar together in bowl. Whisk cornstarch and remaining 2 tablespoons sherry together in second bowl.
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  3. Heat oil and garlic in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until garlic is just beginning to brown at edges, 3 to 4 minutes. Increase heat to high, add scallion whites and ginger, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add asparagus and scallion greens, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until asparagus is crisp-tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer vegetable mixture to bowl.
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  4. Add sherry–soy sauce mixture and shrimp to skillet and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are just cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes.
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  5. Whisk sherry-cornstarch mixture to recombine and add to skillet; increase heat to high and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Return vegetable mixture to skillet and toss to combine. Transfer to serving dish and serve.
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IMG_1531We served ours over a bed of jasmine rice steamed in homemade seafood stock.

Found on Cooks Illustrated

We Put the Tang in Panang

Curry in a hurry? Relatively speaking. With a few tweaks to jarred curry paste, this rich, savory-sweet, deeply fragrant Thai classic, Panang Beef Curry can be as easy to make as a stir-fry, but don’t try to shortcut it further by using a quick-cooking cut of beef such as sirloin or flank steak. Use boneless short ribs instead. They become at least as silky as chuck does after just one hour, and they require almost no knife work. (Use my shortcut and cook the meat a day ahead—while you’re doing something else—to make an even quicker meal the following night.)

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For a cook who has time, making panang curry from scratch can be a labor of love, but most of us don’t have that luxury, especially during the week. Hey, even in Thailand, many cooks start with store-bought paste, which can make this dish easier to pull together than a typical stir-fry. By using store-bought red curry paste, you can skip the laundry list of ingredients and focus instead on a few additional key items.

Savory Thai curries are often categorized by the color of the spice paste used to flavor and thicken them. Green is hot and pungent, mild yellow is sweet-spiced, orange is pleasantly sour, and salty-sweet red, my fave, features a lingering burn. And then there is panang—a sweeter, more unctuous derivative of red curry that’s enriched in this recipe with ground peanuts and seasoned with sugar, fish sauce, deeply fragrant kaffir lime leaves, and a touch of fiery Thai chile.

Boiling the beef in water and combining it with the curry during the last few minutes of cooking doesn’t infuse the dish with deeply meaty flavor—and that’s the point. Unlike Western beef stews, which are meant to taste ultrabeefy, traditional versions of panang curry cook the beef separately so as not to muddy the flavors of the spice paste. So if you try the beef right after it’s cooked, don’t be alarmed by the bland taste or looks.

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Beef slices are added to a large saucepan and covered with water.

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The beef looks almost unappealing after simmering for over an hour in a covered pan.

Red curry pastes from different brands vary in spiciness, so start by adding two tablespoons and then taste the sauce and add up to two tablespoons more—not surprisingly I added four. Another ingredient, silky kaffir lime leaves are well worth seeking out. The leaves boast a tangy, floral aroma that perfumes many Southeast Asian dishes. They’re available in Asian markets and freeze well. If you can’t find them, a combination of lemon zest and lime zest will approximate their flavor. (Note: These leaves are also called “makrut lime leaves,” as “kaffir” is an offensive term in some cultures.) 

Years ago Russ and I needed to purchase kaffir lime leaves for some Asian dish we were making and easily located them in the produce section at Wegman’s. Our initial shock of the $39.99 per-pound-price wore off quickly when we weighed them and one ounce was plenty more than we needed. Over the years, the extras kept well in the freezer until we needed to use more.

This was one of those dishes that I instinctively knew I would like, but wasn’t prepared for how fabulous it actually was. Love, love, loved it! In addition to chopped peanuts, our other toppers included thinly sliced scallions cut on a diagonal and a sprinkling of more Thia red chile slices. To complete the meal, we served it with jasmine rice steamed in chicken broth and paired with a side of baby bok choy stir-fried in some minced fresh garlic and ginger with a splash of fish sauce.

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Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. boneless beef short ribs, trimmed
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2-4 Tbsp. Thai red curry paste
  • 1, 14-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk, do not substitute light coconut milk.
  • 4 tsp. fish sauce
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 thai red chile, halved lengthwise (another thinly sliced for topping, optional)
  • 1/3 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves, center stem removed and then thinly sliced

Directions

  1. Cut each rib crosswise with grain into 3 equal pieces. Slice each piece against grain 1/4 inch thick. Place beef in large saucepan and add water to cover. Bring to boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until beef is fork-tender, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.
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  2. Using slotted spoon, transfer beef to bowl; discard water. (Beef can refrigerated for up to 24 hours; when ready to use, add it to curry as directed in step 2.)
  3. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add 2 tablespoons curry paste and cook, stirring frequently, until paste is fragrant and darkens in color to brick red, 5 to 8 minutes.
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  4. Add coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar, and chile, if using; stir to combine and dissolve sugar. Taste sauce and add up to 2 tablespoons more curry paste to achieve desired spiciness. Add beef, stir to coat with sauce, and bring to simmer.
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    After the coconut milk was stirred in, I added an additional two tablespoons of Thai red curry paste.
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  5. Rapidly simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened (see below) and reduced by half and coats beef, 12 to 15 minutes. (Sauce should be quite thick, and streaks of oil will appear. Sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.)
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  6. Add kaffir lime leaves and simmer until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove the chile halves, transfer to a serving platter, sprinkle with peanuts, and serve.
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    Slice out the center stem of each lime leaf and discard, then make thin slices from the leaf halves.
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Steamed jasmine rice makes a perfect bed on which to ladle over the panang curry.

By Annie Petito from Cook’s Illustrated

six/seven Seattle

Our first evening in Seattle we dined at six/seven, a signature restaurant that offers Pacific Northwest cuisine and breathtaking views. Located inside The Edgewater, six/seven, features seasonally inspired cuisine crafted with the freshest and finest organic and naturally raised ingredients. To complement the chef special preparations, their ever-evolving wine selections highlight the finest artisan, boutique and hard to find Washington, Oregon and Northern California wineries.

All day we had been walking around the city taking in numerous tourist attractions, so by the time dinner rolled around, and the fact that six/seven was a good trek away over some pretty steep inclines, we decided to hail a taxi. Upon arriving, we were greeted outside by a massive rustic riverstone fireplace ablaze with a flickering fire, a theme that continued with the inside decor.

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Russ peruses the backlit menus, which I think all upscale restaurants should adopt!

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This cool light fixture intrigued us in its simplicity and innovative design.

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In more typical Seattle fashion, the day had turned overcast and gray, so our window seats overlooking Elliot Bay were a bit dreary, however not enough to dampen our spirits. Speaking of spirits, it was time to order some wine… Unlike in the Philadelphia area, Seattle does not appear to cater to BYOBs, but almost every dining establishment is flush with a long list of local and European wines (which were actually cheaper, go figure!)

Seafood was going to be my focus while in the Emerald City, and six/seven was not about to disappoint. The menu was not extensive, but everything looked delicious so it took ample time for both of us to zero in on our choices. For First Tastes, Russ selected a plump Dungeness Crab & Shrimp Cake nestled in a lemongrass reduction with tomato jams, which arrived like an island oasis on a sea blue ceramic plate. He generously offered me a taste, and wowser, it was the bomb!

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I almost got the same thing but opted instead for the delicious Arugula & Endive Salad artfully arranged in triangular fashion with a medley of Washington pear, medjool dates, candied pecans, rogue smoked blue cheese all drizzled with a white vinaigrette. Very good, but I wished I had ordered that crab cake…

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For our entree we both did select the same thing from the Simply Put menu, the incredible Seared Diver Scallops bathed in a browned butter vinaigrette and plated with an awesome bright green chimichurri purée, a microgreens salad, grill roasted tomatoes and lemon. The dish was dancing with color and the scallops were plump, juicy and seared to perfection.

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Because we couldn’t resist and they sounded divine, we split a Shareable, the Foraged & Cultivated Mushroom Ragout which arrived steaming hot in a small cast iron skillet brimming with succulent mushrooms in a velvety brown sauce and garnished with a smattering of chives.

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Although on the pricier side, daughter Julia’s Xmas gift card put a nice dent in the total tab. Thanks Jules and Byron! If you ever have the opportunity to visit Seattle, you may want to put this restaurant on your agenda…

Awards include: Seattle Magazine 2016 Best Restaurants; Reader’s Choice Best Brunch; Best Hotel Bar by Food & Wine Magazine; Open Table Diners’ Choice Top 10 Best Outdoor Dining Restaurants and Best Seafood.

Meatless “Meat” Sauce

You want it quick. You want it easy. Most of all, you want it to be as hearty and satisfying as a beefy red sauce. Do you really need meat to achieve the look, feel and savoriness of a good meat sauce? No, you can create this vegetarian version. Start with cremini mushrooms and tomato paste—both rich sources of savory flavor. Extra-virgin olive oil does double duty, enriching the sauce and helping toast the classic Italian aromatics: garlic, dried oregano, and red pepper flakes.

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A popular meat alternative, earthy, neutral-tasting cremini mushrooms become a savory stand-in for ground beef as long as it is balanced with other components. Quickly chop them into ground meat–size bits by blitzing them in a food processor. From there, sauté them in extra-virgin olive oil with a bit of salt. Once the mushrooms have developed some color, add an onion (also chopped in the food processor) and a healthy scoop of tomato paste, another umami booster.

When the onions are translucent and the paste has darkened to a deep rust red (a sign that its sugar had caramelized and its flavor had intensified), add garlic, dried oregano, and red pepper flakes; stir in the tomatoes; and simmer the sauce for about 20 minutes. And here’s the interesting clincher, bulk up the sauce with chopped chickpeas! Just make sure to rinse them of their excess starch after pulsing in the food processor. Finally, to thin the sauce without watering down its taste, add vegetable broth which loosens the sauce without diluting the flavor. For an authentic finish, stir in chopped fresh basil.

To finish, we added some grated parm, a bit of chopped fresh basil, and of course in my case, another sprinkle of red pepper flakes. Any type of pasta will work. We chose gluten-free rigatoni with ridges to help capture the sauce into all of the nooks and crannies. Result? Very satisfying and just as filling as a meat sauce. Now officially in our bank of “will make again” recipes is Meatless “Meat” Sauce.

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Meatless Meat Sauce

  • Servings: 4-
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned
  • 6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1, 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1, 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil, more to garnish

Directions

  1. Pulse mushrooms in two batches in food processor until chopped into 1/8- to 1/4-inch pieces, 7 to 10 pulses, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. (Do not clean work bowl.)
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  2. Heat 5 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add mushrooms and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are browned and fond has formed on bottom of pot, about 8 minutes.
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  3. While mushrooms cook, pulse onion in food processor until finely chopped, 7 to 10 pulses, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. (Do not clean work bowl.) Transfer onion to pot with mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  4. Combine remaining 1 tablespoon oil, garlic, oregano, and pepper flakes in bowl.
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  5. Add tomato paste to pot and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is rust-colored, 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and push vegetables to sides of pot. Add garlic mixture to center and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and broth; bring to simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer sauce for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.IMG_1477
  6. While sauce simmers, pulse chickpeas in food processor until chopped into 1/4-inch pieces, 7 to 10 pulses. Transfer chickpeas to fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water until water runs clear; drain well (don’t omit this step). Add chickpeas to pot and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month.)

http://www.lynnandruss.com


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In the end, it resembles authentic meat sauce, and pretty much tastes like it too!

From Lan Lam of Cook’s Illustrated

One Fish. Two Fish. Blackfish. DeeLish!

With over-the-top enthusiastic praise from our friends Paula and Mike Graham who recently patronized Blackfish, we were thrilled to get the Mistral group of eight of us back together for another dining experience. As soon as we all agreed on a date, Paula arranged a five-course tasting menu that was designed to fit our own personal preferences. I could hardly contain myself in anticipation of imbibing at this top-end, Zagat-rated establishment!

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Kim Tomlin and I also became Facebook friends that same day.

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Russ and Paula Graham are friends from way back.

According to famous Philly area restaurant critic Craig LaBan, Blackfish is anything but the next run-of-the-mill BYOB. It is a simple space, with white walls, contemporary pine-cone paper lights, and a frosted-glass porthole in the kitchen door that lends a vaguely nautical air. Located in downtown Conshohocken, PA, it is filled with appealing details, like the well-used cookbooks conspicuously stacked on shelves near the front, or the olive servers from bent spoons.

Caterer-turned-restaurateur Chip Roman was trained at Drexel and worked at both upper-crust restaurants Vetri (it took years for us to finally get a res in May a few years ago to celebrate Russ’s birthday at Vetri) and Le Bec-Fin. With a keen sense of serving the very freshest, he is known to drive to Cape May to fish for much of the blackfish (a.k.a. tautog) and black bass that serve as the restaurant’s signature dish—thus the name.

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Jeff Boily and Mike Graham looking studdly!

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Good friends and neighbors of the Grahams are Denise and Dan Marcalena.

First to arrive, Russ and I secured our table for eight in the back room. The reservation was for 5:30, way early for us, but they only do large table tastings early or late, like 9:00 which is really pushing the envelope. After we were all settled in and wine was poured, the waitstaff brought around a basket of homemade bread and chunks of foccacia, your selection being served with silver tongs. There was no menu to review since we were all having the same five-course tasting dinner (with one small exception.)

Mind you, I was not at all that thrilled when the amuse-bouche—a single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre—was an oyster, one of my least favorite food items. However, I became a quick convert because this was an amazingly tasty little mollusk. Amuse-bouches are different from appetizers in that they are not ordered from a menu by patrons, but are served gratis and according to the chef’s selection alone. So thank you chef!

Amuse-Bouche: Starting off the dining session was a complimentary oyster with a refreshing, velvety Persian cucumber and Meyer lemon foam on a bed of seaweed (which was just for looks and not necessarily edible.) 

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First Course: Sushi grade Hamachi Tuna Crudo with shoestring watermelon radish, daikon, wasabi and micro cilantro. The yellowfin tuna (Hamachi) is a species of tuna that is found in subtropical and tropical waters around the world. It is frequently marketed as ahi tuna due to their similar features; however, they are two different species.

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Second Course: Flash-fried quail egg surrounded by gently smoked Scottish salmon and topped with an Idaho potato chip and micro-mizuna, a piquant, mild peppery flavor that is slightly spicy. Here it is shown both plated and deconstructed with the egg yolk oozing out. That singular, provocative potato chip was crisp and salty with a flavorful zesty kick.

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Third Course: Blue crab risotto topped with baby tarragon that really popped against the bright red plate. This was Russ and my least favorite because risotto should be thick and creamy and this was a bit watery and rather bland. But that’s just our opinion…

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Fourth Course: Roasted rabbit loin (both medallions and rib), white asparagus, and morel mushrooms. Rabbit meat is a little more “meaty” than chicken but like chicken it tends to take on the flavor of whatever you put on it. As picky as I was when younger, I do remember liking rabbit. Denise just adored the morel mushrooms.

Out of eight, Kim was the only one who did not eat rabbit so they gladly substituted hers with a braised beef short rib and a scallop with the same sides. Kim graciously offered Russ and I a taste of both her items (not so appealing in the photo below) and we concurred that the short rib and scallop were off-the-charts flippin’ good!

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Final Dessert Courses: We actually were served two desserts—cinnamon sugar, berry-filled beignet over a crème anglaise; and a molten chocolate lava cake, the aroma of which was heady and decadent. Not a dessert eater, I offered mine to the others but most were too full to finish them off.

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While none of the portions were what one would call large, we were all more than satisfied, in fact full, once the last course was delivered. Blackfish also offers a 7-course tasting if you are interested…

Blackfish opened in 2006 and has since been named “Best Restaurant” in Philadelphia Magazine’s 2011 “50 Best Restaurants” issue. It has earned a coveted “Three Bells: Excellent” review from The Philadelphia Inquirer’s food critic, Craig LaBan, who most recently named Blackfish among the area’s top five BYOBs for 2012, noting that “there’s a reason the white rooms of this contemporary storefront are perpetually filled with fine-wine-toting Main Line devotees…

Gourmet Seattle Walking Tour

A Seattle virgin, I was so excited to be visiting this cosmopolitan, yet unpretentious low-key city, tagging along with Russ for his National Behavioral Health Conference—nearly 6,000 attendees strong! It was the first week of April, and I was going to be flying solo during the day for the better part of our stay. But on our first full day, we got to sightsee together at some of Seattle’s most iconic landmarks such as the Space Needle, the Chihuly Glass Museum and of course Pike Place Market.

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Chihuly Garden and Glass

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Selecting a local bottle of wine at a shop in Pike Place Market on Main Street.

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One of the many fresh seafood stalls inside the Market.

Given its location near the Puget Sound and its soaring views of Mt. Rainier and the Olympic Mountains, Seattle is generally quite temperate—except for the fact that the weather tends to put a damper on things. The city’s climate is ever-changing, but if you expect rain, you likely won’t be disappointed. Although our trip began and ended with precipitation, we lucked out and had a stretch of three wonderful, mostly clear and sunny days, something the Seattleites hadn’t seen in months! (One is advised not to plan on any elaborate hairstyles due to the climate, but I can’t plan on that no matter where I am!)

A few weeks prior to our trip I googled tours and excursions to pass the time while poor hubby would be attending the conference, and one of the first that caught my eye was the Gourmet Walking Tour. It’s billed as a three-hour tour (uh-oh, shades of Gilligan’s Island?) around the city’s finest restaurants and hot spots, visiting seven tasting locations in Belltown, downtown Seattle, and Pike Place Market. From appetizer to dessert, we were to enjoy a relaxed pace and an introduction to some of Seattle’s most popular restaurants. Need I say more? Although I was concerned it would be too much food, I booked the only available time slot left during our visit.

Hey, there’s got to be something said for folks who wear jeans to work, and prefer backpacks to briefcases, appreciate some of the finer things in life, and are open to new influences in food and art. I was ready to walk the walk, even though Seattleites have a rep for being cold and standoffish. Their cloudy disposition has become so well-known, it’s been branded as “The Seattle Freeze.” In reality, it wasn’t at all as mean-spirited as people make it out to be.

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Now about that food tour. It began at 2:00 starting at the Orfeo Restaurant on 3rd Ave., only a short walking distance from our hotel. The restaurant was closed for the day due to a private party later that evening but was open to our group of 12. After our guide Heather led us up to the second floor table, we began introductions. We all agreed the 60-ish couple from Belgium came the furthest! Others included four female friends from Missouri, a woman from Tulsa, Oklahoma celebrating her 54th birthday, a mother and her daughter and friend from my home state of Michigan (the mother also an alum from U of M), and a guide-in-training Carla, originally hailing from New Orleans—itself a gastronomic epicenter.

Sometimes the best way to experience a new place is through its cuisine, which suited me just fine. Heather, a vivacious young women and original Seattleite who trained to be an actress in NYC for a spell, was completely passionate about healthy, organic, locally-sourced food and wine—the highlight of the Washington State culinary scene. In fact, the state has grown from 4 to 400 wineries in just 20 years!

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For starters we enjoyed a Polenta Cake with Pork Bolognese sauce topped with grated parm and microgreens. Orfeo’s owner, straight off the boat from Italy, explained in accented English, their passion for using the best ingredients and making everything from scratch. He also poured us each a glass of the delectable Tattinger’s Champagne. We were off to a titillating start…

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Executive Chef Kevin Davis, left, and our guide Heather off to the right.

Before we embarked on the rest of the tour, we went to the open-faced kitchen and met head chef Kevin Davis. He passionately described the custom Woodstone Josper: a charcoal burning oven with a natural convection that circulates smoke around the food cooking inside of it. Spanish by design, these ovens burn 60% less fuel than a regular wood burning grill and are popping up everywhere in European kitchens. Orfeo’s also has a strong focus on their traditional wood burning oven which turns out pizzas, and roasted meats and vegetables.

Chef Kevin Davis: I grew up cooking and eating Cajun food but I really wanted to cook the classics: French and Italian. Kind of like a blues musician who wants to sing opera.

Our second stop was at Serious Pies—at this small place alone they spend $30,000 per month on imported Italian cheese! Chef-owner Tom Douglas is an American executive chef, restaurateur, author, and radio talk show host. Impressively, he is known for winning the 1994 James Beard Award for Best Northwest Chef. And in 2005, he appeared on an episode of the Food Network’s Iron Chef America, where he defeated Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Now that’s talent!

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Here we tasted two pizzas where the dough raises for three days breaking down the carbohydrates culminating in thin, crispy crust. My favorite of the two was the mushroom pizza with black trumpet and cremini ‘shrooms. The other was a Margherita pie, but I was the last one to get a slice and it contained no cheese 😦

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Next up was the large establishment Cutters Crabhouse, a landmark restaurant located next to Seattle’s Pike Place Market and situated right on the banks of Elliot Bay with panoramic views including Mt. Rainier. They are an upscale restaurant offering NW seafood in a refined, understated space. Here, we enjoyed a Dungeness Crab-Stuffed Tiger Prawn plated with a small side salad, and a glass of Cedergreen Sauvignon Blanc.

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Winding our way along the tree-lined streets of Belltown, downtown Seattle and Pike Place Market, we met more top chefs and food artisans who shared some of their cooking secrets and tricks of the trade. Even though it was bright blue and sunny out, Heather held high a neon pink umbrella so that we could see her in case of crowds.

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A short walk away was La Buona Tavola-Truffle Café (The Good Table) known for their wine tastings, truffle salt and specialty food sample tables. They also specialize in products for those who have to refrain from gluten and excess sodium. In addition to explanations of the differences in white truffle (mostly used on white or light-colored foods) and black truffle oil (for pretty much everything else), our treats here included a sample of real truffle salt, two mini-toasts with truffle spreads, and a small portion of creamy potato soup dotted with white truffle oil, one of the most salacious soups I have ever tried!

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A staff employee teaches us about truffle salt while the Belgian couple, to the right, looks on.

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It may not look like much, but this potato soup with white truffle oil was to die for!

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All around the store you are encouraged to try samples of everything.

After networking the room sampling all of La Buona Tavola’s other goodies, we headed to the Steelhead Diner, with its Southern-influenced seafood-focused menu. Here, food concerns concentrate on our planet and support groups that practice sustainability and good-for-the-earth activities: fisheries, local growers, bread makers, cheese makers; organic and natural beef producers.

Remember Executive Chef Kevin Davis from Orfeo’s? Yep, this is one of his places too. With a glass of Wysling Wine from Columbia Valley, we enjoyed a bowl of a fabulous Razor Clam Chowder loaded with tons of flavor, some from a bit of bacon, and topped off with a drizzle of white truffle oil. Usually I am not a fan of clams, but in the end I think this was my favorite dish from the tour. For the three guests in attendance that did not eat meat, they offered a vegetarian chili which garnered two thumbs up.

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A group shot at Steelhead Diner with Heather standing over us.

A few more stops to go… and next on the agenda, thankfully a little further away so that we could walk off a few calories, was Von’s GustoBistro, or, Von’s 1000 Spirits, a 100% sourdough scratch kitchen. Our delicacy here, along with a glass of French Rhone Valley Rosé, was a small plate of homemade Sourdough Pasta with an Asiago cream sauce, salmon and mushrooms—OMG, heavenly!

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Their chefs only purchase frigid water wild salmon caught in the Pacific Northwest, so it just killed me when the women seated next to me picked out all of her salmon pieces and pushed them to the side of her plate. I mean, salmon at its best, is synonymous with the Pacific Northwest, so how could anyone push it aside?? With only a few small pieces on my plate, I had to refrain myself from picking it off of her dish…

IMG_1238Walking into Von’s you are overwhelmed with thousands of liquor bottles and kegs.

Alchemy is the soul of their bar, and the Von alchemist is a dedicated bar scientist whose calling is to create and refine house-crafted small batch bespoke liquors. Legend has it, that at the end of one day long ago when they did not make their $8,000 daily allotment, a (very rich) gentleman bought three of the $1000-a-shot scotches to meet the necessary quota. One of his drinking companions declined the offer, so it was left as an open tab for another of his friends… although no one seems to know what happened to that open tab…

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The BarBible is a tome listing thousands of scotch, bourbon, gin, vodka, etc. choices.

Nearly three hours later we arrive at our final destination Fran’s Chocolates, since 1982 a family-owned confectioner hand crafting truffles, salted caramels, gold bars, chocolate-covered fruits and nuts. A few of them have the distinction of being the designated official White House Presidential chocolate during the Obama administration.

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With Easter less than two weeks away, they were showcasing a luxurious treasure trove of delicious treats for the holiday. As with most eateries in Seattle, Fran’s offers a selection of items created with the finest, all-natural, local and organic ingredients. Company founder Fran Bigelow is considered one of the best chocolatiers in the country and has been credited for sparking the artisan chocolate renaissance in the United States. Her Gold Bars are considered the gold standard for sophisticated candy bars and are sold in specialty markets from coast to coast.

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In the far background, the framed artwork of Fran’s daughter is actually made up of over 15,000 individual pieces of chocolate.

Fran Bigelow has studied in Paris and California, and says she fueled her early interest in the culinary arts by cooking through Julia Child’s books. While hearing the history behind Fran’s we feasted on three samples: an Oolong Dark Chocolate Truffle, my personal favorite; an Orange Peel Confit covered in 70% IP Belgian chocolate; and a Milk Chocolate Carmel with Welsh-smoked sea salt.

Time to bid adieu but as parting gifts, Heather gave us all a 10% off card to a huge number of participating restaurants and told us we were entitled to five free truffles from a certain shop at Pike Place Market—both of which I put to good use. Luckily my trek back was further away then when I started—after all, dinner was only 2 1/2 hours away!

Sidebar: To counterbalance all of the wonderful meals and wine over the course of six days (two spent traveling from coast-to-coast and you know they don’t feed you on airplanes), I made sure to not only work out in the hotel fitness center every morning, but to also walk around town as much as possible. With breakfast just a fruit cup, and lunch a salad or nothing at all (except of course on this walking tour), I managed to actually lose a pound!

 

A Penchant for Purple

The diagnosis? OCD—Obsessive Color Disorder: When the basis of your every choice is contingent upon the fact that your selection be from a singular color family. In my case, PURPLE. Russ maintains it wouldn’t matter what he bought me as long as it had the proper pigmentation, meaning that he could buy me a cow chip and I’d be happy—as long as it was purple! Now, even I must say, that’s taking it a bit too far (honestly however, there may be a kernel of truth to that…)

I swear, when viewing that color, it’s practically an aphrodisiac. As far back as the age of 15 I’ve been addicted, when everything I wore from underwear, eyeshadow, and jewelry to the bow in my hair had to be a purpuraceous hue. In the early 70’s, I recall bustin-a-move to songs from the rock group Deep Purple, and chillaxin’ to Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix. In my early 20’s while on a women’s softball team in North Jersey, my nickname “The Grape” was stitched on my team t-shirt.

Over the ensuing decades and to this day, I am impulsively drawn to any shade in that beloved spectrum—be it amethyst, lilac, lavendar, plum, aubergine, orchid or fuschia. I own 7 purple coats; a collection of footwear including shoes, boots, sneakers and sandals; a hairdryer; gloves of every shade; my signature nail polish color; pocketbooks, wallets and other accessories; and a wardrobe all dominated by purple. Even my flippin’ kindle and luggage!

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I purchased a pair of purple Sloggers specifically to schlepp around the rainy Seattle terrain. However, they had an unusually sunny stretch of days while we were there and they weren’t needed for the most part.

And it’s not just at home. At work, my pens, Franklin Planner, coffee mug and coaster, sticky note pads, and folders are all in my obsessive color palette. One of the perks though, if I ever leave one of those objects in another office or the ladies room, my coworkers immediately know who to give it to! Albeit, one consumer product that I never had in my favorite tone was an automobile, much to Russ’s relief—although don’t think that I haven’t contemplated it.

Which brings me to one of the restaurants we patronized while in Seattle. While researching where to dine on our recent visit to the Emerald City, the Purple Cafe and Wine Bar popped up, thus prompting an audible groan from Russ. And if you know me at all, you just know I insisted we make a reservation. Because he loves me, Russ did just that…

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And joining us that evening was David Greenspan, Chair of Psychiatry at Einstein Medical Center and coworker of Russ who was also in Seattle attending the NatCon Conference. When he found out my penchant for purple, to Russ he quipped “Oh so that’s the reason you came to work at Einstein!” (Their brand colors are purple and gray.) And yes, I did wear my choice color to the restaurant, but refrained from taking any photos of such attire.

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Upon entering through the massive steel door highlighted with a backlit namesake, one is immediately struck by the immense wine tower. Once seated, our very knowledgeable French waitress explained the establishment was opened in 2007 in what was once the University of Washington bookstore—and it took some imagination to picture how that could have been.

What we did not know ahead of time, was that it was Restaurant Week in Seattle, BINGO! Which means you can choose three courses from a predetermined select menu for only $32 at any number of participating restaurants—and Purple happened to be one of them. The regular menu features an expansive list ranging from artisan cheeses, starters, soups, salads, sandwiches and pizzas to pasta; and puts serious emphasis on wine pairings—but instead we opted for a bottle of Veña Cerrada Reserva, a Spanish Red Rioja.

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In the end, I was the only one of us to take advantage of the special menu. For my first course, I chose the Grilled Cauliflower which came beautifully plated with toasted almonds, golden raisins, Greek yogurt, Calabrian chiles, browned butter topped with a sprinkle of fresh cilantro. It was beyond good and I have to figure out a way to reproduce this delectable dish in the very near future.

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The guys both ordered from the regular menu with David opting for the Baked Brie appetizer that came oozing with cheese and infused with apricot preserves, caramelized onions, candied walnuts, and grapes accompanied by long housemade crackers plated on a slab of wood. Russ, God bless him, ordered the Purple Chopped Salad consisting of romaine lettuce, bacon, avocado, hard-boiled egg, tomato, blue cheese, and red onion (the only purplish thing about it) dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette.

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For our main dishes we ordered a pretty eclectic assortment of entrees. With seafood reigning supreme in Washington State, I zeroed in on the Pan-Roasted Cod on a bed of piquillo peppers, chickpeas and wilted spinach bathed in a warm chorizo vinaigrette. The Anderson Ranch Lamb Burger was calling David’s number and it arrived with marinated cucumber, olive tapenade, pomodoraccio tomatoes and a feta yogurt spread with a side of house-cut fries.

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Not at all shockingly, Russ got the Cassoulet that came in a gorgeous, bright orange mini Le Crueset braising pot brimming with cannellini beans, pork shoulder, duck confit, pancetta lardon, pork sausage and duck fat breadcrumbs. He loved every morsel, but in the end it was even too much for Russ.

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Nobody had room for dessert, but the Restaurant Week Special came with mine, so I opted for the Sea-Salt Caramels. They packaged them up in a cute little box for future enjoyment—which so far has been unopened…

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Back home, one would think that our house might resemble an amethyst-hewn bordello, but far from it. Only one guest bedroom has bed linens, a few accessories and one wall sporting the notable shade. But I must confess, I did make one purple purchase at Sur La Table in Seattle, and that was a large microplane zester.

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A penchant for purple? A sickness perhaps, but ironically, one that makes me feel better…

Lemony Light Spaghetti

Delicate yet filling, this Spaghetti with Shrimp, Lemon, and Chard came together super fast and easily. A generous amount of lemon, in zest and juice forms, keeps things bright, while a bit of cream ties everything together—just don’t expect a thick sauce. Silken Swiss chard replaces spinach in this delicious riff on shrimp Florentine.

My only complaint would be the amount of chard. By the time you cut out the thick stems and wilt down the leaves, there’s not much left! Do your self a favor and double the amount. Another option is to chop down the thick stems and sauté them with some shallots before you add the tender leaves. Just be aware that the red color from the stems will bleed and turn your bright yellow sauce a different color.

And you just know we increased our quota of red pepper flakes! This was so good as leftovers for lunch the next day too.

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Ingredients

  • 10 oz. Swiss chard, tough stems removed, remaining stems and leaves cut crosswise 1/2 inch thick
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lb. large shrimp (31 to 35 per lb.), peeled and deveined
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 12 oz. spaghetti
  • 1 Tbs. finely grated lemon zest plus
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (from about 1 large, or 2 small lemons)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Freshly ground black pepper

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Remove tough stems from tender leaves. If desired, chop the stems and sauté with some shallots before adding leaf strips. 

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Washed chard strips are added to a hot skillet.

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The chard wilts down dramatically so you may want to increase the amount.

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After the spaghetti is al dente, add the remaining oil, lemon zest, and cream to the reserved pasta water. Bring to a boil, and cook until slightly thickened.

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Mix all ingredients together and let sit for a couple of minutes before plating.

Directions

  1. Rinse and drain the chard, but don’t spin dry.
  2. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 2 Tbs. of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chard, 3 Tbs. water, and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the shrimp and pepper flakes; cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp is just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes more. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  5. Boil the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta. Return the reserved cooking water to the pot.
  6. Add the remaining 1/4 cup oil, lemon zest, and cream. Bring to a boil, and cook until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.
  7. Add the pasta, lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Toss together and remove from the heat.
  8. Add the chard mixture and toss for about 1 minute to allow the pasta to absorb some of the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.

by Mindy Fox from Fine Cooking

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Top with shredded parmesan cheese if desired.