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Friday, April 29, 2011

The Week in Review

Is it the end of the week already?  Phew!  This has been a long week here in Kentucky.  The weather hasn't been nearly as bad here as in other southern states, but since last Friday, my town has had three tornado sirens (two of which were in the middle of the night) and several tornado and flood watches.  We've been very, very lucky, but it has created an exhausting week for everyone around here. 

Here are some of the posts I've liked this week.  It's been difficult to keep up because every time I sit down to rest and read, I end up falling asleep!  I think, though, given what I bookmarked this week, I'm in need of some goat cheese.  :-)
  • Annie's Eats has a Parmesan Crusted Goat Cheese with Basil Oil that I just want to sink my teeth into!  I have a party planned next weekend for my son's birthday and baptism, and this just might make the cut.
  • I am also planning on making A Food Centric Life's Goat Cheese Salad--Hawaiian Style as soon as tomatoes and cucumbers come into season.  The salad, which includes typical salad fare, also includes beets and pineapple.  This sounds like a perfect summer salad.
  • And on a food-related note, Food & Water Watch has a great graphic on factory farms in the U.S.  As you may know, my family steers away from non-local meat from large factories.  In addition to just tasting better and supporting local farmers, there is just too much scary stuff going on in large-scale meat factories for me to feel safe in feeding it to my family.  I was happy to see that Kentucky, although a large agricultural state, is relatively free from extremely high density farms.  This means that local meats are coming from more small-scale farms.  Where does your state fall?
What have you been reading this week?

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Herbed Couscous - Perfect for a Lamb Tagine

I promised that I would post my Easter sides for you this week, so here's the first: Herbed Couscous.  My husband will make fun of me because this isn't really a recipe like he thinks of recipes, but I realize that not everyone cooks with couscous, so I thought I'd share my basic method.  I also heard from a friend the other day that he disliked couscous because it was flavorless, so I wanted to prove him wrong.  ;-)

Couscous is basically a pasta, believe it or not, so if you cook it in just plain water, it will be flavorless.  But just like other pastas, you can be creative and add flavors.  I generally use chicken stock (homemade is best, but if I have to use store-bought, I use a low sodium so I can control the salt) to cook it in.  You can then add whatever you'd like, like when I added mushrooms and garlic to my Couscous aux Champignons.

For my lamb tagine, I decided to go simple.  I cooked it in chicken stock with a little salt and added the herbs used in the tagine.  When a stew is served over it, the little couscous bits soak up all of those lovely juices.  Yum!
Herbed Couscous
Serves 6-8

2 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups couscous
1/4 cup mixed chopped herbs (I used cilantro and fennel fronds.)

Bring the stock and the salt to a boil in a saucepan.  Add the couscous and stir.  Cover tightly with a lid and remove from the heat.  Let sit for about 5 minutes.  Fluff the couscous with a fork, either in the pan or in a serving bowl.  Add the herbs and mix.  Serve hot.
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Monday, April 25, 2011

A Moroccan Easter Feast: Lamb and Fennel Tagine

A couple of weeks before my birthday in March, I told my husband that I was on the lookout for a tagine.  And not just any tagine, but a traditionally decorated clay tagine.  He replied, "Really?" And I went on to explain that perhaps I would start a clay vessel collection.  I already have a cazuela from Spain and a baeckoeffe turine from France.  I thought the next addition should be a tagine.  Lo and behold, guess what I got for my birthday--the beautiful tagine in these photos!  And the funny part is that he had already ordered it before I mentioned I wanted one.  He's quite a husband!  :-)

The beautiful Moroccan tagine
I hadn't had time to make anything in it, but we thought that Easter would be the perfect time to test it out.  And let me tell you, this little clay vessel can cook a mean stew.  The lamb practically melted in our mouths.  According to the Moroccan cookbook that my husband also gave me, you can create a tagine (which also can mean the stew) in a dutch oven or pot with a heavy lid, but dutch ovens can't beat a traditional tagine's beauty--it brought a certain elegance to our table that is often missing with a four year old and an 11 month old.

I served this tagine with a traditional bed of couscous and some Moroccan carrots on the side.  (I'll post about these later this week.)  This is definitely a time consuming, if simple, dish to make, so plan accordingly--but I'll be looking for every excuse I can to use this special birthday gift!

Lamb and Fennel Tagine
Adapted from Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco
Serves 6-8 easily

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated onion
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3/4 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of saffron
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 1/2 to 3 pounds lamb shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks and trimmed of excess fat

1 clove garlic, smashed1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
4 small fennel bulbs
1 preserved lemon, or one lemon plus 1 Tbl olive oil, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/8 cup lemon juice

In the base of a tagine or a dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  (If using a tagine, make sure to use a diffuser.)  Saute the onions until translucent.  Add the salt, pepper, ginger, saffron and turmeric and stir for one minute.  Add the lamb, garlic, cilantro and one cup of water and stir well.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer over medium to low heat (keep at just a simmer) for 1 1/2 hours.  Stir every so often and add water if necessary.

While the lamb is cooking, prepare the lemons if you do not have preserved lemon.  Slice the lemon into thin rounds.  Heat about one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a non-stick skillet.  Add the lemon slices and one teaspoon each of salt and sugar.  Cook, stirring often, until the lemons soften and start to brown, about 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat and set aside.  (If using preserved a preserved lemon, quarter the lemon.)

Trim the tops off of the fennel bulbs and quarter them lengthwise.  Cut into 1-2 inch pieces.  Add to the lamb after it has cooked 1 1/2 hours.  Cook, covered, for 10 minutes.  Add the lemons, olives and lemon juice and stir well.  Cook, covered, for another 10 minutes or until the fennel is tender.  Taste and add salt or pepper to taste.

Serve in the tagine or in a large bowl with couscous.  Serve hot.
Although my 11 month old doesn't understand the concept of an elegant Easter dinner, he sure did enjoy it!

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Friday, April 22, 2011

The Week in Review

I finally made it through my RSS reader today--I've been so busy lately that I fell way behind.  Some of the posts below might be a little older because of this, but hey, go check them out anyway!  :-)
  • These Sandwich Rolls from Handle the Heat are going on my to-make list.  My family has almost completely cut out high fructose corn syrup from our diets, but believe it or not, hamburger buns are almost completely impossible to find in my town without the stuff.  There is one brand, but they fall apart with our juicy hamburgers.  I have vowed to start making my own, and these will be the first I try!
  • Although I won't be making this one, I will be making a lamb tagine for Easter with a lovely tagine my husband got me for my birthday in March.  Gastronomer's Guide has a beautiful picture of the cookware and the food.  I just hope mine turns out as nicely!
  • As I mentioned last week, I love Mexican food.  Luckily for me, Our Life in Food has created a Chile Relleno Frittata.  This has got to be easier than making chile rellenos from scratch!
  • And finally, in the dessert category, The Craving Chronicles has posted a recipe for Chewy Lemon Sugar Cookies.  Like her, I prefer my sugar cookies to be chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside.  Not only do these look delicious, they also fit my cookie needs perfectly.
What have you been reading this week?

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Charcuterie Plate (and Wine, Of Course!)

Today I'm not going to share a recipe, but more of a method for a quick and delicious meal.  This is an extremely busy time for both me and my husband.  We both work at a college, and this is the time of year when papers are due, students are panicked about summer plans, and grades are looming.  Yet this is also the prettiest time of year here in Kentucky (at least in my humble opinion).  The weather starts to turn nice, and we all want to spend time outside--not in the classroom, not in an office, and definitely not in the kitchen (especially when you have to work longer days because of the looming deadlines!)

And this is where my oh-so-imaginative (haha!) technique comes in.  Put out a selection of meats, cheeses, spreads, breads, veggies, and fruit out and let everyone dig in!  Our favorites include one to two meats (salami, sopressata, prosciutto, serrano ham, etc.), two to three cheeses (a combination of soft and hard cheese is best), hummus, and olives.

After a long day at work, it's awfully nice to lay out the already prepared ingredients, pour a glass of wine, and sit out under our newly budding maple tree.  That's what I call an oasis in the midst of end-of-year chaos!

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Finally...Crispy Oven Fries!

I have a love/hate relationship with potatoes.  I love to eat them; I'm terrible at cooking them.  I make a mean mashed potato, but I can never get potato pancakes to crisp or oven fries to crunch...until now.  I stumbled across this recipe for Crispy Oven-Baked Potato Fries a few weeks ago at The Comfort of Cooking, and now I have a go-to recipe for homemade fries without all of the grease from a deep fryer.

These were delicious with just some salt and pepper, but I will surely experiment with other herbs and spices in the future.
Crispy Oven Fries
from The Comfort of Cooking
makes 3-4 servings

3 russet potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs. total), peeled and cut lengthwise into even-sized wedges
5 Tbl vegetable, canola or peanut oil, divided
¾ tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

Preheat the oven to 475˚ F. Place the potato wedges in a large mixing bowl. Cover with hot water; soak for 10-30 minutes. Put 4 tablespoons of the oil onto a heavy, rimmed baking sheet. Tilt the sheet side to side to evenly coat the pan with oil (a pastry brush can also help with this). Sprinkle the pan evenly with the salt and pepper. Set aside.

Drain the potatoes. Spread the wedges out on layers of paper towels or on clean kitchen towels. Pat dry with additional towels. Wipe out the now empty bowl so it is dry. Return the potatoes to the bowl and toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Arrange the potato wedges on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 5 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the bottoms of the potatoes are spotty golden brown, 12-20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet after 7 minutes. Using a metal spatula and tongs, flip each potato wedge keeping them in a single layer. Continue baking until the fries are golden and crisp, 5-10 minutes. Rotate the pan as needed to ensure even browning.

When the fries are finished baking, transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain some of the grease. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

The Week in Review

This week has been crazy!  I was at a conference in San Antonio for three days, and I had hoped to share all of the wonderful food that I ate there, but the truth is that I didn't have time to eat any wonderful food.  Then, on the night I returned home, my daughter told me her ear hurt.  She ended up with a double ear infection.  Phew!  All of that to say that I didn't have much time for blog reading this week, so I decided to focus on some local Kentucky blog posts.  Enjoy!
  • Melissa over at My McDonald Meal made spinach-walnut ravioli with her kids out of wonton wrappers this week.  I did this once long ago, and really liked it, but she reminds me that making fresh food (with your kids!) can be easy.  I'll be making something like this soon with my daughter.  :-)
  • To go along with the Mexican food I posted this week (refried beans and tamales), I found this awesome looking recipe for puerco pibil over at Forks, Knives & Spades.  The tacos she made with the leftovers look delicious!
  • And finally, for dessert, I would like to introduce you to My FIANCE! Likes It, So It MUST Be Good's Samoa Cupcakes.  My favorite Girl Scout cookies are the samoas, so it will be fun to recreate them in cupcake form when I run out of my yearly stash!

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Green Chile Chicken Tamales

I grew up eating tamales for breakfast.  We'd often spend short vacations in northern Mexico, and every morning, my dad would take one of us kids to the local pastry shop so we could help choose the pastries for the morning.  The real treats, however, were the tamales tucked away in the back of the store.  My dad would get a dozen or two, and when we returned to the house, we would feast on Mexican pastries and tamales. 

Although I love these meat-filled, cornmeal-dough-wrapped cylinders of goodness, I had never attempted making them.  Suddenly, right before Christmas, I got the urge to try, and I talked my mom into helping me make them when I was visiting for the holidays.  I had heard that they were difficult and time consuming to make, but I had time--I was on vacation!  It turns out that they aren't difficult once you get the hang of stuffing them, but they are time consuming.  My suggestion would be to make the fillings a day ahead and then stuff them the following day.  Extra hands cut down on the work, as well, so if making these, make it a tamale party!  (My mom would like for me to point out here that her shopping skills and hands were crucial to this enterprise.)  And make extras--they freeze well, and you'll definitely want more of these! 

We made green chile chicken tamales, which aren't typical.  Most are made with beef or pork, and although we did make a batch of beef tamales, the chicken ones were the hands-down favorite.  The combination of the chiles and the tomatillos created a deep, rich flavor that works well with the chicken and corn masa.  If you've never had tamales, I encourage you to try them...just make sure to discard the corn husks before eating!

You will need to either invest in a tamale steamer, which is a large, tall pot with a steamer insert that sits a couple of inches above the bottom of the pan, or create something similar with gadgets you already have.  If you're cooking a big batch, I recommend investing in one of these, but if not, you could always use a steamer insert.  We were able to find a very large pot for about $20 at the local Mexican tienda, and if you don't make tamales very often, it could also be used to make stocks and soups. 

We didn't make the masa below because the local Mexican tiendas also sold freshly-made masa by the pound.  If you have that option, I highly recommend it--they make it every day and know exactly what the consistency should be.  If you don't have this option, then you can try the recipe below.

Buen provecho!

Green Chile Chicken Tamales
Adapted from Bon Apétit, May 2003
Makes about 2 dozen

1 8-ounce package dried corn husks (This can be found in the Mexican aisle of your grocery store or at a Mexican tienda.)

1 lb. tomatillos, husked and rinsed
4 3-inch serrano chiles (or other spicy chile), stemmed and chopped (This can be adjusted for your level of heat.  When making the sauce, start with 1 or 2 chiles and add more to get it to the right heat level for you.)
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 Tbl olive oil
2 cups chicken broth (Homemade is preferable, but if you don't have any, use low-sodium.)
4 cups (packed) coarsely shredded cooked chicken, about 1 lb. (I poached chicken breasts, but you could also use a roasted or rotisserie chicken.)
2/3 cup chopped cilantro

1 1/3 cup lard or solid vegetable shortening
1 1/2 tsp salt (omit if the masa already contains salt)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder (omit if the masa already contains baking powder)
3 1/2 cups masa harina (can be found in the Mexican aisle at your grocery store)
2 1/4 cups warm water
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Place the corn husks in a large pot or bowl and cover generously with water.  Place a heavy plate on top to weight them down.  Soak for at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.

Preheat the broiler.  Line a baking sheet with foil and place the tomatillos on the sheet.

Broil until the tomatillos blacken in spots, turning once, about 5 minutes on each side.  Move the tomatillos and juices to a food processors and allow to cool.  Add the chiles and the garlic to the processor and blend until a smooth puree forms.

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat and add the tomatillo-chile puree and boil for about 5 minutes, stirring often.  Add the broth, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce coats the back of a spoon thickly and is reduced to about 1 cup, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes.  Season with salt.  Add the chicken and cilantro.  (This can be made one day ahead.  Cover and chill if using later.)

If making your own masa, mix the lard or shortening with a mixer until light and fluffy.  Mix the masa harina and the warm water, then add it to the lard in four additions.  Reduce the speed to low and beat in 1 1/2 cups of broth, forming a tender dough.  If the dough seems firm, add more broth, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough is softened (similar to a very light cookie dough).

When you are ready to put your tamales together, fill the bottom of your tamale steamer with water so that it almost reaches the bottom of the steamer insert.  Line the insert with some of the corn husks.  Tear some of the other husks into long, thin strips (about 24 or enough to tie each tamale) and set aside. 

Using a very large husk or two smaller husks overlapping slightly, spread about 1/4 cup of the masa onto 2/3 of the husk, leaving about an inch at the widest part on the top and 1-2 inches at the narrow part on the bottom free of masa.

Spread about a heaping tablespoon of filling along the edge of the masa.

Fold the the long edge of the husk over the filling and roll, lifting the edge of the husk when the masa meets, and then rolling the rest of the way.

Fold the bottom part of the husk under the rolled tamale.

Lay the folded part onto a husk strip, pull it around the tamale and tie it gently into a knot.

As you finish each tamale, place it into the pot, open end up.

Continue placing them into the pot until the filling is used or the pot is full.  If the pot isn't full when you are ready to start cooking them, fill the empty spaces with loosely crumpled foil to prevent the tamales from falling over.

Bring the water in the pot to a boil.  Cover the pot and reduce the heat just enough so that the water doesn't boil away, but keep it high enough to continue to create steam.  Steam the tamales until the dough is firm and comes away from the husks easily, about 45 minutes.  Add more water to the pot as necessary as they cook to make sure that you don't burn the bottom of your pot.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Tamales can be served warm or at room temperature. 

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Refried Black Beans and Tostadas

I can't believe that I don't post more about Mexican food. It's one of my favorites, and since I grew up in Southern California, I cook a lot of it at home. I guess I haven't thought of it as special enough to post here because it's an "everyday" kind of food, but given that I cook mostly "everyday" kinds of foods and that I'd like to start posting more "everyday" foods, I'll start with the tostada.  (Although I will be posting a more complicated recipe--tamales--later this week, so stay tuned!)

Tostadas are basically Mexican open-faced tacos. You can use whatever toppings you have on hand, but my standard toppings include beans and/or meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sour cream salsa, and avocados or guacamole. Feel free to be creative! Kids love this because it can all be assembled at the table--just put all of the ingredients into separate bowls and pass around. My daughter can pick and choose what she likes and loves that she gets to eat this meal with her hands!

Refried Black Beans
Makes enough for about 6 tostadas

2 cups freshly cooked black beans (or 1 15-oz can)
1 Tbl olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2-1 cup chicken, beef or vegetable broth
1 Tbl (or more to taste) lime juice (Lemon juice is fine too.)
2 Tbl cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until starting to brown lightly. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add the coriander and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the beans and about 1/2 cup of the broth and lower the heat to medium. Smash about half of the beans with a potato masher. Cook for a few minutes until the beans start to thicken. Add more broth if the beans get too dry. Add the lime juice, cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.
Black Bean Tostadas

6 corn tortillas
vegetable oil

Refried Black Beans
Pepper jack cheese, shredded
Romaine lettuce, chopped
Tomatoes, finely chopped
Onions, minced
Sour Cream
Avocados, chopped or guacamole

Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a small skillet. Using tongs, place a tortilla in the oil. It should bubble all around. When the tortilla starts to stiffen, turn over. Remove to a paper towel when it it starts to brown. Repeat with the rest of the tortillas. The tostada shells should be crunchy all the way through. If it is not, you have not left the tortilla in the oil long enough.

Once the shells have cooled, pile them with your toppings. Enjoy!
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Friday, April 8, 2011

The Week in Review

Because of my blog makeover, I haven't had as much time this week to visit the blogs I love.  Regardless, I found quite a few posts that I thought you might like.
  •  Lori at Fake Food Free always posts beautiful and healthy food.  This week she made her own Ginger Chicken Potstickers.  Now, I'm not sure I'm ready to make my own wrappers, but this is definitely going on my to-make list!
  • I just discovered Forks Knives & Spades, a new Kentucky food blog.  Shannon Marie always has great recipes, but I was struck by her Carrot Cake this week.  My husband loves carrot cake--in fact, one of our wedding cake layers was carrot.  It won't be a surprise after he reads this, but I'll be making this soon for him.  :-)
  • And finally, in the strange-but-I'm-totally-going-to-try-this category, I ran across a recipe for Spiced Beet Mousse at Culinary Adventures with Camilla.  I know most people may find this dish strange, but I find it rather intriguing.  We always get a ton of beets from our CSA in the summer, so I'll be trying this as a fun summer dessert.
What have you been reading this week?

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Roasted Asparagus, the Simplest of Sides

As you may have noticed, since this is my second post this week featuring the vegetable, I love asparagus!  I'm lucky enough to have a daughter who loves it too, so when it's in season, it's all asparagus, all the time.  My favorite way to cook asparagus is to roast it.  It's quick; it's easy; and roasting it preserves the crisp freshness that epitomizes the flavor and texture of this spring vegetable.

After having it roasted, you'll never go back to the boiled, cheese-laden excuse for asparagus again...and you may even win over some of those asparagus haters!  :-)

Roasted Asparagus

1 lb. asparagus (You can make more or less here--just adjust the amount of oil you use.)
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.  Wash and trim the woody parts of the stems off of the asparagus.  Lay them in one layer on a cookie sheet (with edges so the olive oil doesn't drip to the bottom of your oven).  Drizzle just enough olive oil over the asparagus to cover them lightly, but completely.  Salt and pepper them to your taste.

Place in the oven for about 10 minutes.  The asparagus are done when they are starting to get a little crispy on the tips.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Ushering in Spring: Lemon, Dill and Asparagus Pasta

Spring has been slow in coming here in Kentucky.  We had a few beautiful days before the temperatures plummeted again to snow-like temperatures.  Regardless, asparagus is coming into season, and partly because I look forward to this time every year and partly because I was desperate to force a little spring into our lives, I bought two pounds of asparagus last weekend.

I usually just oven roast it with a little olive oil, but I wanted something a little sunnier.  I opted for this Lemon, Dill and Asparagus Pasta.  I never thought dill and asparagus would go well together, but this was a bright, flavorful and quick dinner--it took longer for the water to boil than it did to actually cook the dish.

And when asparagus is out of season?  I'll be substituting green beans.  This is seasonal cooking at its best.
Lemon, Dill and Asparagus Pasta
Adapted from Simply in Season
Serves 4-6

1/2 box (8 oz.) angel hair pasta
2 1/2 cups asparagus, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 Tbl butter
1/2 cup green onions
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon peel
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
3 Tbl lemon juice
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tsp dried dill (or 1 Tbl fresh)
1/4 tsp salt, or more to taste
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
Pepper to taste

Put water on to boil in a large pot.  While you are waiting for it to boil, prepare your other ingredients--this comes together pretty quickly once you start cooking.

Cook the pasta in the boiling water for 4 minutes.  Add the asparagus and cook for two more minutes.  Drain and set aside if the other vegetables aren't ready yet.

While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the green onions, lemon peel and garlic and saute for one minute.  Add the lemon juice and cook until the lemon juice is almost evaporated, about two more minutes.  Turn the heat down to very low.

Beat together the eggs and milk with a whisk.  Add the pasta and asparagus to the pan along with the milk mixture.  Cook over low heat until it becomes slightly thick, about two to four minutes.  Do not boil.

Stir in dill, salt, nutmeg and pepper.  Serve immediately.

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Welcome to The World in My Kitchen!

I love change.  I know I'm strange and I cause consternation to my loved ones and coworkers alike...I just can't leave well enough alone.  I'm constantly looking for new ways to do things, regardless of how well they may be working.  I like to change my furniture around periodically.  I've lived in three different states and three different countries.  And I might have a recipe I love, but often choose a new one over the old just to try something new. 

My blog is no different.  It finally came time to buy my own domain name, and I opted to change the name of the blog while I was at it.  And then since I was changing those aspects, I thought I'd do a redesign to boot.  I hope you enjoy the new look and feel!  Let me know what you think!

And if you haven't already, you can subscribe to the new feed below!

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