Sometimes, in the bleak mid-winter when absolutely nothing is in season, you absolutely have to have a salad. Here in the northeast United States, certain foods, no matter what the time of year, always come from elsewhere, foods like avocado, lemon and olives. I'm not sure there's a season for rotisserie chicken, either. So, why not take all of these out-of-season ingredients and toss them with a great from-the-pantry dressing? For these chicken and avocado lettuce boats, I used heirloom cherry tomatoes from Trader Joe's. If you can't find decent winter tomatoes, use red bell pepper instead, for color and crunch. Close your eyes, take a bite, and you'll forget all about winter.
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When I'm lucky enough to get to an Asian market (the closest is nearly 20 miles away), I steer my cart right to the produce aisles to stock up on things the grocery store in my village doesn't carry: choy sum, lemongrass, fresh bean sprouts, and my favorite baby bok choy, a miniature Chinese cabbage. You can make this stir-fry with grown-up bok choy, by trimming the head through the root into smaller wedges, but if you can find the babies, you'll love the sweeter flavor and more delicate texture. Choose heads with either white or a pale green stalks; the taste is the same, so buy whichever color coordinates with the rest of your dinner. This recipe utilizes one of my lazy-girl techniques for wok cooking: pan steaming, the same method used to make potstickers. Rather than blanching the bok choy in a separate pot, I stir-fry in the wok, then toss in a small amount of water and slap a lid on to catch the steam. The tender baby bok choy heads cook quickly this way, while absorbing the flavors of the sauce -- and I only have to wash one pan.
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Yesterday, for Martin Luther King's birthday, which also happens to be my birthday, I wanted nothing more than the company of my husband Ted, a snuzzle from the cats, a few hours to read in the middle of the day, and a bowl of this spicy Asian shrimp cocktail. When I was a little girl and my family went out for dinner on special occasions like birthdays, I always felt quite grown up when I ordered shrimp cocktail in a restaurant and the waiter brought a martini glass with shrimp hanging around the rim. This dish, served with a bit less fanfare, hits all of the high points for me: spicy, salty, smoky, sweet, shrimp. No birthday cake with candles on top can do that. Not even if it's chocolate.
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"Exact proportions aren't terribly important," Julia Child used to say about stews and soups, as she taught us to relax and have fun with serious cooking. Nowhere does that concept apply more than to this slow cooker ratatouille (pronounced rat ah TOO eee), a classic French vegetable stew that uses everything I can find in my garden or at our local farmers' markets right now: eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, potatoes and thyme. If you have more of one thing than another, that's fine. Want to add some olives? Fine. Have white mushrooms instead of portobellos? Fine. Stick in a small sprig of rosemary? Fine. Best of all, ratatouille works as a pasta sauce, an omelet filling, a rice topper, a side dish for grilled fish or chicken, a sandwich stuffer... well, you get the idea. It's versatile, healthy and vegan, and the slow cooker makes it oh-so-easy. I like my ratatouille vegetables cut into big chunks, and they'll hold up much better in the slow cooker if you go big, too.
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