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Duck Crostini with Radicchio Slaw and Roasted Apricots

Duck Crostini TasteFood
Messy is ok sometimes – especially when you are heaping lots of delectables onto crisp crostini. In such the case it’s inevitable that some of the ingredients will tumble onto the plate, creating random ‘garnishes’. This is when the term rustic comes in handy. Rustic implies comfort and nothing too fancy, with an emphasis on adjectives such as finger-licking and delicious. Or at least that’s how it works here.

Crostini are a fun way to present a light and casual meal. They are also a great way to showcase simple fresh ingredients and use up interesting leftovers. For this recipe I used duck meat that was leftover from my current cookbook project. I shredded the leg meat and quickly caramelized it in the oven, then mounded it over the toasts. While chances are you may not have leftover duck loitering in the back of your fridge, duck legs can usually be found at your local market or butcher. Otherwise, shredded pork is a great substitute. The point is to have a little fun building your crostini, and try to be creative with what you’ve got. And it’s ok if they are messy – just call them rustic.

Duck Crostini with Radicchio and Apricots
Makes  12

Radicchio slaw:
1 small head radicchio, shredded
1  1/2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1  1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper

2 apricots, halved and pitted
Vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 (1/2-inch thick) ciabatta or sourdough bread slices, cut in half
Extra-virgin olive oil

8 ounces cooked and shredded duck leg meat with skin
1 tablespoon rendered duck fat (or vegetable oil)
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Coarsely chopped Italian parsley leaves for garnish

1. Combine the radicchio slaw ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
2. Heat the oven to 375°F. Brush the apricots with oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. Place in a baking dish and bake, skin-side down, until the flesh is soft, about 10 minutes. Remove and cool; do not turn off the oven.
3. Arrange the bread slices in one layer on a baking tray. Brush the bread  with the olive oil and lightly season with salt. Bake in the oven until golden and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove and cool.
4. Turn on the oven broiler. Combine the duck ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Spread in a baking dish and broil until brown and beginning to crisp in parts, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring once.
6. Drain the radicchio. Arrange the bread on a serving platter. Mound some of the radicchio over each bread slice. Top with a few pieces of duck and a small dollop of apricot flesh. Garnish with parsley and additional salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Asparagus Carbonara

Asparagus Carbonara TasteFood

Just grill it – in a skillet. My favorite cooking vessel is my cast iron skillet. Not only is it versatile in the kitchen, it’s handy on the grill. When it’s too hot to cook in the kitchen, I move outdoors and use my grill as an oven and a stovetop, and my cast iron skillet becomes a grill pan. Last night I made a simple carbonara pasta dish on the grill. Carbonara is the Italian version of chicken soup – a supremely comforting meal for all ages – consisting of pasta and bacon whisked with a slick sauce of eggs and cheese. It’s a family favorite year round, which I like to lighten up with seasonal vegetables.

If you use a gas grill, prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat. The pasta may be boiled on the grill in a grill-proof pot (most are), and the bacon and asparagus may be prepared in a cast iron skillet. Alternatively, use your stove!

Asparagus Carbonara
Serves 4

The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs when mixing. Be sure to do this away from the direct heat to prevent the eggs from scrambling.

8 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large eggs
1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for sprinkling
1 pound orecchiette

3/4 pound thin asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook the bacon in batches in a large skillet (or on a griddle) over medium heat until the fat renders and the bacon is crispy. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel. When cool enough to handle, break into small pieces. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the skillet.
2. Whisk the eggs and cheese in a bowl until smooth; set aside.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the orecchiette and cook until al dente; drain.
4. While the pasta is cooking, add the asparagus, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes to the skillet. Saute over medium heat until the asparagus are bright and crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the orecchiette and stir to combine. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly add the eggs and cheese, stirring constantly to coat the pasta and to prevent the eggs from cooking. Add the bacon to the skillet and stir once more.
5. Serve immediately garnished with black pepper and grated cheese.

Greek Tabbouleh Salad

Greek Tabbouleh Salad TasteFoodWhen it’s super hot outside (like now), who wants to cook? (Not me!) In the heat of summer, dinner prep should be low maintenance with oodles of fresh ingredients. I like to make all kinds of salads brimming with crispy garden vegetables, often including a grain or legume and not-so-much heavy meat protein. These salads can stand in for a light dinner, or accompany anything fresh off the grill. Tabbouleh salad is a favorite of mine, a Middle Eastern mixture of bulgur wheat, handfuls of fresh herbs, peppers and spice. It’s light yet substantial with a kick of heat to wake up any lazy tastebuds enjoying a siesta.

Greek Tabbouleh Salad
Serves 4 to 6

1 1/2 cups bulgur
1 1/4 cups boiling water
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
4 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 poblano pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely diced
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup crumbled feta

Combine the bulgur, water, and lemon juice in a bowl. Cover the bowl and let stand until the liquid is absorbed and the bulgur is tender, about 20 minutes. Add the oil, cumin, salt, black pepper, and cayenne and stir to blend. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning. If the bulgur is too dry, add additional olive oil to achieve your desired consistency. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to develop. Serve as is, or add to pita pockets with spoonfuls of tsatsiki and harissa.


Strawberry Cake

strawberry cake  tastefoodReprinted from the TasteFood archives, because it’s the end of the school year, and  we all deserve cake.

More strawberries, you say? You bet. I am greedy at this time of year when spring produce is cluttering up the market shelves. A rotation of asparagus, peas, and strawberries passes through our kitchen to the table on a daily basis. You would think we would tire of all of this goodness, but it never seems to be the case. It also helps to have a variety of recipes to choose from to change things up a bit. While nothing beats fresh strawberries with a little cream, put a few aside to make this simple cake. It’s light, gently sweetened, and generously studded with more strawberries than you know what to do with. Actually, I don’t mean that – we all know what to do with strawberries. Just be sure to save some to make this cake.

Strawberry Cake

I halved my jumbo sized strawberries in the pictured cake, but recommend quartering them if very large, so they will begin to break down while baking, making a luscious juicy mess.  Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, divided
1 pound strawberries, halved – or quartered if very large

Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a 10-inch (25 cm) pie or tart pan (I used a 9-inch extra-deep pie pan).

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Combine the butter and 3/4 cup sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in the egg, buttermilk, vanilla, and 1 teaspoon lemon zest on medium speed. Add the flour and mix to combine without over-mixing. Spread the batter in the prepared dish. Arrange the strawberries, cut-side down, on top of the batter, gently pressing to partially submerge. Squeeze in as many strawberries as possible – it’s ok to be greedy. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake in the oven until the top of the cake is light golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes clean, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Before serving, sprinkle 1 teaspoon lemon zest over the cake. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.

Jerk Chicken

jerk chicken

Jamaican Jerk is a thick and heady Afro-Carribean marinade chock-a-block full of ingredients. Don’t let the lengthy list of spices and aromatics deter you. All you need is the fire of a grill to unify the flavors and create a spicy-sweet finger licking dinner – perfect for a summer barbecue. The heat in the marinade traditionally comes from Scotch Bonnet peppers (super hot). I’ve modified that with jalapeños – but feel free to go all out with a scotch bonnet (carefully seeded with gloved hands!) if you dare. And remember – as with most meat marinades, the longer the chicken can soak in the marinade, the better the flavor.

Jerk Chicken
Serves 6

6 garlic cloves
4 scallions, chopped
2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded (optional)
1 (2-inch) knob ginger, peeled, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

6 chicken legs and/or breasts with skin and ribs

1. Place the marinade ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process to form a paste. Arrange the chicken in a large baking dish. Rub the marinade all over the chicken and under the skin where possible. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
2. Prepare the grill for indirect cooking over medium heat. Grill the chicken over indirect heat until charred and golden brown and thoroughly cooked through, 30 to 45 minutes, depending on size and thickness. During the last few moments of grilling, move the chicken to direct heat to char the skin as needed.
3. Serve garnished with fresh chopped parsley.

5 Salads for your Memorial Day Grill Menu

It’s Memorial Day weekend, which not only is the gate to summer, but an excuse to get outside and grill. Here are 5 fresh salads to see you through the upcoming BBQ season, perfect to accompany any grill menu.

pepper potatoes tastefood

No -Mayo Peppery Potato Salad – hard to believe there’s no mayonnaise in this creamy salad, chock-a-block full of peppers, chiles and onion.

fava green saladMixed Greens with Fava Beans and Mint – the essence of late spring on a plate.

Corn Tomato SaladCorn and Tomato Salad – this classic summer salad is sweet, juicy and fresh with the kick of poblano chiles and crisp red onion.

mustard blue potato tastefoodBlue Potato and Mustard Salad – another no-mayo potato salad, napped with olive oil and spiked with fresh mustard leaves. Use blue potatoes if you can find them for color value. Otherwise, yellow potatoes will work too.

fattoush salad tastefoodFattoush Salad – a hearty and fresh Middle Eastern salad fragrant with mint and coriander, composed of crisp greens, crumbled feta and grilled pita bread.


Prosciutto, Fennel, Mint Rolls – a different kind of Spring Roll

prosciutto rolls tastefood These Italian-inspired rolls are bursting with fresh spring ingredients, including baby fennel, mint, and lemon. In method, they are inspired by Vietnamese rice paper spring rolls, where fresh vegetables are wrapped in a sheet of rice paper and served raw. In this appetizer, prosciutto replaces the rice paper as the wrap, adding a salty savory component to the crisp vegetables and piquant Parmesan. Serve these rolls as a bright appetizer. You can prepare them up to 4 hours in advance – lightly brush the rolls with oil, then cover with plastic and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.

Prosciutto Rolls with Arugula, Fennel and Mint
Makes 16

8 slices prosiutto, halved lengthwise
Extra-virgin olive oil
Finely grated lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups baby arugula leaves
1 medium fennel bulb, core and fronds removed, halved lengthwise, each half thinly sliced lengthwise
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved
16 mint leaves

Place a slice of prosciutto on a work surface, short end closest to you. Lightly brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of lemon zest and freshly ground black pepper. Arrange 4 to 6 arugula leaves horizontally at the base. Place a few slices of fennel and Parmesan shavings over the arugula. Top with a mint leaf. Roll up from the base, tucking the prosciutto tightly around the vegetables, and continue to roll, placing 1 or 2 additional arugula leaves in the fold as you roll up. Place seam side down on a platter. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Cauliflower Purée

cauliflower puree tastefoodCan you ever get tired of potatoes? No, you firmly say, and I would agree. Sometimes, however, a fluffy-creamy-comforting side dish is called for, and potatoes (shocker) just don’t do the trick. Usually it’s simply a menu issue, meaning potatoes are not a perfect match to the entree. Think shellfish, for instance, such as scallops or shrimp. Or a cuisine that doesn’t traditionally include potatoes. Step in, caulflower. There’s something a little magical about this gnarly crucifer. Eaten raw, its flavor is pronounced in an earthy, grassy, unmistakably cruciferous way. When steamed, it transforms into something else, morphing into a buttery, milder version of itself – slightly sweet, a little fresh, and beautifully enhanced with, yes, butter. When roasted, it becomes something else entirely, evoking adjectives which include caramelized, nutty, crisp, and addictive. I made this puree recently to accompany a dinner of slow-cooked lamb. It goes equally well with just about anything.

Cauliflower Purée

The chicken stock adds great flavor to the purée. If you prefer a vegetarian version, substitute vegetable stock. Alternatively, you can use water, but adjust the seasoning accordingly. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

1 large head cauliflower, florets and core cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, loosely packed
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1  teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for garnish
Fresh thyme leaves

Place the cauliflower and chicken stock in a large pot. Bring the stock to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer until the cauliflower is very tender, about 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower to the bowl of a food processor. Add 1/4 cup of the chicken stock and process until smooth. Add the cheese, butter, garlic, salt, and pepper and process to blend. If the purée is too thick, thin with additional spoonfuls of the stock to your desired consistency. Serve garnished with fresh thyme leaves and extra black pepper.

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Crispy Prosciutto and Egg

Asparagus salad tastefood

I made this salad for an Easter brunch last weekend. It’s a lovely way to serve asparagus; and prosciutto; and egg. There is not much else you need to add to this trio except a squeeze of lemon and a good splash of olive oil. If you can get your hands on a bunch of baby greens, then use them as a bed for the asparagus to absorb the oil and lemon.

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Crispy Prosciutto and Egg
Serves 6 to 8

1 pound asparagus, woody ends trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 ounces prosciutto
2 hard cooked eggs
3 ounces mixed baby greens (such as kale, arugula, mizuna, spinach)

Heat the oven to 375°F. Spread the asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle a little olive oil over the asparagus and turn to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until the asparagus are bright green and crisp tender, 10 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness of the stalks. They should be crisp tender and not too floppy (unless you like them that way; then cook a bit longer). Remove from the oven and transfer to a plate to cool. Keep the oven on.

Arrange the prosciutto on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake until shriveled and firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool to the touch. The prosciutto will continue to harden as it cools. When cool enough to handle, break into shards.

Spread the greens on a serving platter. Arrange the asparagus over the greens. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over the asparagus and greens. Grate the egg over the asparagus, then sprinkle the prosciutto shards over the salad. Garnish with black pepper.

Coconut Chocolate Macaroons

coconut macaron tastefood

Happy Passover: Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

The bane of my childhood candy experience was a Mounds Bar. I just didn’t get it. I would bite into the chocolate nugget, which would immediately give way to a grainy, chewy, grassy interior, that in my opinion had no rightful place in a candy bar. I was mystified by my friends who bought supersized packages of Almond Joys to scarf down when we were at the movies. Every halloween when my brothers and I would pile our loot in the middle of the kitchen table, gloating, eyeing and sizing trade-ups, my chocolate covered coconut bars were the first to go with no regrets. Unfortunately, my brothers were not so keen on coconut either, so the negotiating could get ugly.

It baffles me that my family loves coconut. As a result, I have slowly, with time, age and parental compromise, learned to like coconut. I’ve come to terms with its flaky texture and appreciate its nuttiness in a sea of sweetness. I eat it now, unforced, and prefer it paired with dark chocolate. Sometimes I make macaroons, a jumble of coconut bound together with egg white and, ahem, condensed milk. Yes, the milk is icky-sweet, but it seems to yield the best  juicy soft interior, which is what distinguishes a great macaroon – and alleviates its propensity to dryness. I’ve followed a recipe from Ina Garten from time to time, but switch out some of the sweetened coconut with unsweetened. It helps to tamp down excessive cloyiness. And I always dunk them in dark chocolate, which has a magnificent grounding effect on, well, everything.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons
Makes about 24

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
8 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
6 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

6 ounces dark (70-72%) chocolate, melted

Heat oven to 350° F (180° C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour milk, coconut and vanilla in a large bowl and stir to combine. Beat egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks from. Fold into the coconut.

Drop tablespoon-sized mounds of coconut on baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cool on rack. Dip half of the macaroons in melted chocolate. Transfer to a plate lined with parchment. Refrigerate until set.