Friday, December 31, 2010

Black-eyed Pea Salad for Good Luck

I'm not really sure exactly where 2010 went, but here we are at December 31st.  This year brought a lot of positive things to my life, including the start of this blog, a bigger and better apartment that actually feels like a home, and wonderful new coworkers and friends.  There were some disappointments to be sure, but I've learned that it's best not to dwell on those because there's always tomorrow.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Peppery Smoked Cheddar Popovers

My fellow bloggers never cease to amaze me.  In the blur of time that lapses between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, they continue to post delicious recipes, tweet to their followers, and stay in the loop on all things food.  I, however, am just trying to get dinner on the table before I fall asleep in my plate.  This this time of year can be ridiculously busy, not to mention outright exhausting.

Queue these super-easy popovers.  Crispy, fluffy and custardy all at once, popovers make an easy hors d'oeuvres or accompaniment to a fresh green salad, and come together in no time flat.  Popovers are a hollow roll made from a thin batter - when cooked in a screaming hot oven, the batter rises spectacularly  from the top of the tin (they "pop over," hence the name).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fried Cornish Hen

Deep within myself, I've been hiding a dark secret: I like eating cute things.  From teeny fowl, to diminutive french breakfast radishes, to dainty tea sandwiches -- and let's not forget anything falling into the "baby" vegetable category, except baby-cut carrots, which are not really a baby vegetable at all -- I'm fascinated with eating small things.  I could accuse my less-than-average stature of being the key to my fixation, but I think it's something more.  In a world of supersizing and an all-you-can-eat mentality, has something been lost in the balance of quantity versus quality?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Five Easy Ideas for Leftover Cranberry Sauce

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving!  I returned to Vermont from visiting my family in Texas a few pounds heavier, although I'm fairly certain the hefty dose of laughter we all shared burned some major calories.  (My family is some of the most fun people I know!)

Honestly, I'd meant to post this recipe a few days ago, but I got home, became wrapped up in getting unpacked, decorating the Christmas tree, catching up on work, et cetera.  I'm sure you can relate; this time of year is always so busy.  Luckily, that's where leftovers come to the rescue to spare you a few extra minutes in the kitchen or add a welcome dash of flavor in an unexpected way.

My family has made Bon Appetit's Cranberry Sauce with Port and Cinnamon the past couple of Thanksgivings when we've been together; and it has earned a permanent spot on our menu.  It's absolutely delicious, and having some leftover port to sip after dinner doesn't hurt either.  Inevitably we end up with leftovers, so I thought I'd post five easy ideas to use up cranberry sauce leftovers.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rosemary-Clementine Roasted Chicken

I am deeply, hopelessly enamored with the Thanksgiving holiday.  It is absolutely my favorite holiday of the year.  Growing up in Texas, my family would always prepare a ham in addition to a huge turkey, lots of cornbread stuffing, green bean casserole, my great-grandmother's rolls, and all the other fixins'... and that's not even touching dessert!  Typically we'd have apple pie, chocolate pie, pumpkin pie, and of course pecan pie... and usually a cake and/or cookies to boot.  Needless to say, it always stood to be an occasion of momentous, gut-busting proportions.

Now that I'm living nearly 2,000 miles from home (1,849 according to Google), Thanksgiving is not nearly as large, but it has given me the chance to pay homage to traditions while trying out a few of my own ideas.  When it comes to the bird, I had to test the waters on a turkey, for fear that I'd ruin 15 pounds of bird for nothing!  Enter the chicken.  A plump 5 pounder is a great test-dummy, not to mention a great substitute when a Thanksgiving table is only going to be serving a few people.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hot Cocoa Mix (Holiday Gift Idea!)

I have to admit, I'm posting this recipe a few weeks earlier than I had planned.  My 18 year old brother sent me a Facebook message letting me know he was running low on the hot cocoa mix I'd made him several months ago (he puts a spoonful into his morning coffee).  I knew I needed to get to work making him a fresh batch asap.  According to my mom he tried to use store-bought mix in its place; but eventually he proclaimed that it just wasn't the same, and drank his coffee plain.

This recipe also comes in handy when I just want one mug of cocoa and don't want to go through the trouble of making a big pot on the stove.  Quite frankly, sometimes I get lazy in the winter... I call it my hibernation time.  Unlike a lot of commercial mixes, this mix is made of things that you'll find in a lot of home kitchens.  That means no hydrogenated coconut oil or ingredients you can't pronounce, just good old-fashioned deliciousness.

Paired with a couple of mugs and a big batch of iced sugar cookies, this hot cocoa mix makes a great holiday gift.  Last Christmas, I found a couple of mugs made from Vermont business Bennington Potters, and put the cookies and hot cocoa mix into glass canisters.  It was a great, budget-friendly gift that my whole family got to enjoy.

It's a pretty simple recipe, so there's not much more to say.  My brother taught me that this mix is good for more than just regular hot cocoa, so I'd love to hear if you have other suggestions for using it!

Hot Cocoa Mix
Makes: A big ol' canister full

2 3/4 c. powdered nonfat milk (Note: This should be in the baking aisle of your supermarket)
2 1/4 c. powdered sugar
1 1/4 c. cocoa powder (Note: I prefer dutch-process cocoa powder, but regular cocoa powder works really well too. Dutch-process cocoa will produce more of a dark chocolate flavor, while regular cocoa powder gives the mix a more traditional milk chocolate flavor.)
2 t. cornstarch
1 t. salt
1/2 t. ground cinnamon

Mix all ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight container.  To make hot cocoa:  Fill mug 1/3 full with hot cocoa mix; top with hot water and stir well.  Top with marshmallows, whipped cream, or cinnamon if desired.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cheddar Ale Soup

I've been formulating this recipe for weeks... I had perfected it.  A rich, creamy cheddar ale soup made with Rogue Brewery's Chipotle Ale for a well-rounded touch of heat.  It would be the crowning glory of my blog; I would never need to write another recipe again.  Foodies world-wide would stand in awe of this recipe, proclaiming it the most delicious cheddar soup in all of history.  This recipe was perfect.

It was perfect, that is, until I was standing in front of the craft-brewery refrigerator at a local store, staring vacantly at the neat rows of bottles.  Something was missing.  Where was my beloved Chipotle Ale?  Had I angered the gods?  Why wasn't it there?  What would I do?  How could I go on?  Still in a state of shock and dismay, I analyzed my choices and picked Rogue's Dead Guy Ale.  With the rest of my concept still firmly in place, maybe I'd end up with the second-cousin to the greatest recipe in the world.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

French Onion Soup

The leaves have mostly fallen off of the trees, the sky is perpetually gray (or so it would seem), and day by day, the weather gets gradually cooler.  While the scene outside is less-than-inspiring for me, it's at this time of year that ideas fly around my kitchen.  Slow cooking, stewing, and braising become regular occurrences in my culinary repertoire this time of year; and french onion soup is the ultimate slow-is-better soup.  I'll occasionally order this soup at a restaurant, but it inevitably is always too salty, too beefy, or otherwise sub-par.  It isn't a soup that's overly complicated.  The key is to let the ingredients speak for themselves: slowly caramelized onions combine with rich broth, wine, and fragrant herbs.  Simmer the mixture for as long as time allows, and top the mixture with thick slices of french baguette and cheese.  Broil until bubbly on top. It's as simple as that... so why is it so difficult to get a good batch of french onion soup?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Apple Galette with Buttermilk Crust

I have a strong belief that buttermilk has magic powers.  It is thick and rich, yet amazingly low in fat; and moreover, it makes anything tender.  Really - anything.  Want delicious fried chicken? Marinate the pieces in buttermilk before breading and frying.  Want a moist, delicate crumb on that chocolate cake? Use buttermilk in place of some of your liquids (I like to replace water or milk in a recipe with buttermilk - but see the next paragraph for an important note about this.)  Then, there's pie crust.  Home cooks and chefs alike strive to have buttery, meltingly tender pie crust; and while having really cold butter and liquids is one key to the equation, using buttermilk in the crust provides a little extra insurance.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Breakfast Bread Pudding

Consider this post "My Ode to Eggs: Part II" - I've already waxed poetic about my adoration for them, and now here's a recipe that places eggs in harmony with other ingredients that I love.  It's one of those "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" dishes - a few humble ingredients, treated properly, are turned into something worthy of serving at a brunch with friends.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Potato & Onion Frittata

In January 2009, Bon Appétit proclaimed that the dish of the year was "Anything with an Egg on Top."  I have to say that it's one food trend that I don't get sick of... but more than that, I love eggs on their own; not just topping a burger, or a pasta dish, or a pizza, or an ice cream sundae.  (Ok, maybe the sundae went a little too far.)

To me, breakfast just isn't breakfast without eggs.  Sure, some people go for giant cinnamon rolls or a leaning tower of pancakes; but the sugary stuff just leaves me feeling jittery.  Give me an EGG, for pete's sake.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Chicken Stew with Fennel and Herbs

In my opinion, autumn and winter are absolutely, hands-down the best seasons for cooking.  Don't get me wrong, I love the first signs of life that emerge with the spring, and the bounty that summer brings to the kitchen; but autumn and winter have a lot going for them.  The cooler temperatures fill my head with dreams of soups and stews, and roasts, and anything that requires a long, slow cooking time.  Each autumn foodies everywhere  - and especially up here in northern New England - are challenged to use a narrower selection of fresh foods, supplemented with pantry staples and home-canned produce... at least, if you're lucky enough to have a garden.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Purple Cauliflower

This post doesn't really need a recipe - look at that gorgeous purple cauliflower!  I cut it into florets, tossed them on a sheet pan with 2 T. melted butter, a chopped clove of garlic, S&P, and topped it with a little good grated Parmesan.  Roast it in the oven for 10 minutes, then broil for 1-2 minutes until slightly browned.  Easiest recipe ever... and yes, it works with regular cauliflower, too.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Stuffed Poblanos

I love traditional (or at least, tex-mex) chiles rellenos, and I have fond memories of eating them in Texas.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the dish, it's basically a poblano pepper that has been seeded, stuffed with cheese and/or meat, breaded, and deep fried until delicious.  But from where I stand, there are two problems with chiles rellenos:  First, up here in Vermont - and from what I've experienced, New England as a whole - they seem to be coated in a fluffy batter somewhere between tempura and a beer batter.  After a little Google-based research, I think the batter is a mixture of egg white and flour.  I prefer a chile breaded with a mix of flour and a little fine corn meal, which creates a crunchy outer shell to contain all that cheesy goodness.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

20 Minute Dinner - Pasta with Asparagus & Pesto Cream Sauce

Somedays, I really don't want to cook. REALLY. Like on those days when umpteen projects all come in at work on the same day, that one guy from a certain department keeps bugging you with the most asinine questions ever, and you spill coffee on your shirt within the first five minutes of sitting at your desk. Those are the days that I'm extremely glad I have a husband who likes to cook as much as I do.

This was a team effort, in the sense that I said, "Hey, we should make a pasta with pesto cream sauce for dinner," and he said "Okay." He got to work putting water on to boil, digging out ingredients, and scurrying around the kitchen. I stood by the fridge and suggested that asparagus would make a nice vegetal addition. He agreed and I handed him the bundle from the crisper. I'm proud of my contribution to this meal.

Of course it's easy for me to say that this is one of the easiest dinners ever, since I didn't actually cook it. But that's what teamwork is all about, right? Regardless of who was cooking, this is one of those dishes that can be on the table in 20 minutes, easy. Unfortunately, we didn't realize until we were already into the process that the only pasta we had on hand was elbow macaroni, and not any penne or fancy-schmancy shapes. So we chuckled, poured a glass of white wine, and jokingly nicknamed our collaboration "Mac'n'Cheese for Grown Ups."

This pasta dish is very lightly dressed; not one of those pastas where the noodles are swimming in pools of heavy cream sauce. We used homemade pesto that we'd assembled over the weekend. It had considerably less oil than store-bought tends to have (3/4 c. basil, 1/4 c. parmesan cheese, 3 T. toasted pine nuts, 2-3 cloves garlic, 1/2 c. oil, S&P to taste - Blend until smooth), which worked out well because we didn't have to worry about our sauce being greasy. You can certainly use store-bought, but I would suggest straining the portion you'll use for this dish before adding it in. The asparagus we used was so thin it barely needed to be cooked - the whole bundle was kept together (easier to remove from the water) and blanched for just about 2 minutes.

Pasta with Asparagus & Pesto Cream Sauce
Serves 4-6

1 12-16 oz. box pasta
1 bundle of thin asparagus, cut ends trimmed away (keep in a bundle, but replace the rubber bands with butcher's twine)
2 T. butter
1/4 c. white wine
2/3 c. cream
Scant 1/2 c. pesto

Boil a large stock pot of water and salt with 2 T. kosher salt. Add the asparagus bundle and let cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until asparagus is bright green. Remove the asparagus with kitchen tongs and set on a cutting board to cool. Let the water return to a boil and add the pasta. Cook according to package directions.

Meanwhile, melt butter in skillet with high sides over medium heat. Once butter is melted, add white wine and let reduce for 30 seconds. Whisk in the pesto and turn heat to medium-low. Slowly whisk in the cream, being sure not to let it boil. Once cream has been added, let cook at a bare simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened slightly.

Cut the blanched asparagus into pieces an inch or so long, add to the cream sauce. Add cooked pasta to the sauce, stir thoroughly, and taste. Add S&P as needed & serve.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Chicken Chorizo Kebabs

I hope you've all had a wonderful Labor Day weekend!  I wanted to kick off my three work-free days with something that celebrated the wonderful bounty of summer.  The result were these veggie-loaded skewers, studded with lightly sauteed chicken chorizo sausage slices - although you can easily substitute traditional chorizo or your favorite chicken or turkey sausage.

I alternated crisp green bell pepper, red onion, tiny Sunset Gold cherry tomatoes, and bright Zephyr zucchini.  Simply seasoned with a drizzle of oil, salt, pepper and paprika before getting tossed on the grill (ahem - grill pan; unfortunately our third floor apartment doesn't grant us any real outdoor space), this is about as easy as dinner gets. They're cooked until the pepper, onion and squash are crisp-tender and the tomatoes are soft, with the gentle charring tasting like pure summer.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bon Appétit Review: Baked Eggs with Bacon and Spinach

Oh dear lord... you NEED to try this recipe - especially if you're like me and can't resist anything with an egg perched happily on top.  This recipe is amazingly simple, as is illustrated by it being in Bon Appétit's Fast, Easy, Fresh section of the September 2010 issue.

This is one recipe that I followed without straying (an unusual feat of discipline for me), except for the fact that I cut the recipe in half to make two servings instead of four.  I was worried that one little ramekin wouldn't be filling enough, but I thought it was a perfect serving, especially with a quick salad of local cherry tomatoes tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, served before the eggs came out of the oven.  Although, hungry eaters and/or teenage boys may disagree... in that case I'd serve two per person with a heartier side - mmm, homefries anyone?

I used Vermont Smoke & Cure bacon (my go-to... it's worth a dollar or two more), which is mainly maple smoked... which I prefer to applewood smoking.  Vegetarians could swap out the bacon for  smoked gouda or mozzarella, or even a smoked cheddar - just sprinkle a handful between the egg and the spinach where the bacon would normally go.  To be honest, I'm not hugely a fan of cooked spinach, so I shortened the cooking time of that step to a mere 20 seconds - it finished beautifully in the oven without becoming slimy.

I won't post the recipe here, Bon Appétit deserves 100% credit for this one.  Check it out on Bon Appétit's Website.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Homemade Tortilla Chips

Seriously... these tortilla chips are so incredibly easy, you'll wonder why you haven't made your own before.  These crunchy little morsels come straight from your home deep fryer/dutch oven, get seasoned to taste, and go straight to your table (or in this case, our wide window sill where our friends hang out and watch the sun set over Lake Champlain) while they're still warm.  I guess that technically, real homemade tortilla chips would start with homemade tortillas - but I cheated just a little and used store-bought 6" corn tortillas.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bad Computer Kharma

Readers: Work computer was infected w/ virus (IT claims Tastespotting installed malicious software? There goes my fave lunchtime activity!   **UPDATE 9/2/10:  Work PC back up and running.  IT says they now believe the attack was more widespread and didn't have anything to do with TS.  Thank goodness!**) Home computer has a bad keyboard - unfortunate tea spill. Hope to be back up and running in no time. In the meantime; enjoy the thyme!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Herbed Corn Chowder

Summer brings to mind a lot of things: green grass, summer vacations, warm weather - or in the case of this summer, HOT, HUMID weather - and corn.  Maybe it's just that I spent most of my teenage years growing up in the mid-west, but summer sweet corn holds a special place in my heart.  (I have a very different mindset on all that corn syrup masquerading as a filler in so many of our commercial foods, but that's another story.)

 So, what to do with all that sweet corn?  It's absolutely phenomenal cooked right on the ear, brushed with butter, and sprinkled with a little S&P (I like to wrap mine in foil and roast it until tender).  But after a few dozen ears, it's nice to do something different.  That's where this herb-flecked corn chowder comes into play.  It's my adaptation of several recipes I've seen over the years, and it's deliciously simple - it can easily be on the table in less than 1/2 hour if you've already cooked up a few ears of corn.  Or, if you'd like to really speed up the process, you can use frozen corn - the recipe will still taste great.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pasta Bolognese for a Blustery Day

The wind was certainly blowing in Burlington this weekend!  What better to serve than a slow cooking bolognese when the weather takes a turn?  This recipe may not be 100% absolutely true to a traditional pasta bolognese, but it's definitely tasty.  The slow simmering of the sauce allows the flavors to blend and concentrate and creates a deeply hued tomato sauce that's brightened with a touch of dairy.  Bolognese is named after the northern italian town of Bologna, where butter, milk, and cream tend to be much more prevalent than in the dishes of southern Italy.  It may seem odd if you've never seen this type of preparation before, but the dairy really does make a delicious addition and a great counterpoint to the tomatoes in the sauce.

Monday, August 9, 2010

White Bean & Tuna Salad

For a quick, protein packed lunch, nothing beats this white bean and tuna salad.  Alone or served over crunchy romaine or tender mesclun greens, this dish is a snap to create.  And I should probably note that this isn't so much a recipe as it is a method.  You can easily substitute or add your favorite vegetables to the base of tuna, white beans, and vinaigrette; or add a flourish of freshly grated parmesan on top; or add fresh herbs from your garden/market... it's really up to you.  In particular, I think a little thinly sliced fennel would be a nice substitution for the celery - the next time I make this, I will probably give that a try.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Farmer's Market Day

Each Saturday morning from May through October, Burlington's City Hall Park transforms.  Stands are set up as farmers, food vendors, and artists set up along the sidewalks surrounding the central fountain.  Two musicians set up in one grassy quadrant.  And then, as if out of nowhere, the city's residents gather to pick the freshest product, local meats, breads, and cheeses there are to find.

I'm fortunate enough to live within walking distance to City Hall so I don't have to worry about finding parking, a commodity that is in short supply in our town.  After I have my morning cup of coffee, my husband and I will walk up the road and take a lap through the stalls.  After we've made a round, then we'll pick  a few stands and stop for a few things in each.  This week, we bought just veggies: golden beets and wax beans from one farmer, garlic from another, and a melange of carrots and baby squash from two more.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Guacamole... the thought of it either makes people grimace ("Eww, green mush??") or salivate. I have to admit that I've only recently converted to the latter category. On a business trip a couple of years ago to Atlanta, we ate at a Mexican restaurant near our hotel. My coworker adamantly insisted that we order the guacamole, which was assembled table-side. I set aside my guaca-phobia and ate a bite; after all, I was raised with the idea that you should take "one big Girl Scout bite" of everything. And... I was in love. The creamy sweetness of the avocado, the slight heat of the chiles, and the tang of lime juice melded together into a heavenly, well-balanced blend.

But among the guacamole eaters of the world, the recipes vary greatly. What type of chile should be used? Is it okay to substitute lemon juice for lime juice? Cilantro or no cilantro? What about other add-ins?  What about consistency?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Chocolate-Raspberry Layer Cake

Welcome to the premier post of The Lunchbox Tree!  This is my outlet to post the recipes I try out, as well as discuss all things food.  As I begin posting, I look forward to hearing your comments and feedback.

For the first recipe of the blog, I really wanted to share something decadently delicious.  Luckily, I had to look no further than the June 2010 issue of Bon Appétit to find that inspiration.  I made this cake for a coworker's birthday, to rave reviews.  This is, hands down, one of the best cakes I've ever eaten.

The cake itself is rich, chocolatey, and not-too-sweet.  It's layered with seedless raspberry jam (although I think that seeded raspberry jam would be delicious) and a rich chocolate ganache, and topped with fresh raspberries.  Bon Appétit topped their version with powdered sugar, but I thought that the cake was too pretty to mess with once its crown of raspberries was in place.