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31 Jul

Smitten Zucchini Bread

What do you do when a neighbor kindly gifts you a 3 pound zucchini?  You make zucchini bread.  Lots of zucchini bread.  And if you’re me, where is the first place you look for a zucchini bread recipe?  Smitten Kitchen, of course. Continue reading



27 Jul


Dear Gwenny,

You really do make it too easy to pick on you.  You can’t help the fact that you are genetically blessed, so I won’t hate you because you’re beautiful.  I also won’t hate on you for your career success (truth be told, I really enjoyed you in  View From The Top and I was sorry to see you lose your head in Seven) or for landing a rock star husband.  Some people are just lucky. Continue reading

Waste Management

24 Jul

Wasted Potential

Buying items just because they are on sale is only a bargain if you use them.  Otherwise they’re a  huge waste of money.  Impulse grocery shopping usually comes back and bites me in the butt.  My most recent example?  Those cherries on sale at The Fresh Market were a great price.  I was expecting cherries as delicious as the ones I got direct from the farm at Baugher’s.  What I got instead was a heaping serving of disappointment. Continue reading


22 Jul

viking-48-oven-12-56-2006A good amount of the disk space on our Tivo gets taken up with cooking shows.  Food Network, PBS, I like to mix it all up.  When I watch them, I frequently experience kitchen envy.  Seriously, have you seen Paula Deen’s or Ina Garten’s kitchen?  Dreamy.  Multiple cooktops, deep fryers, and refrigerator drawers.  Best of all are those professional stoves.  48 to 60 inches of high btu muscle with double ovens.  They are the kitchen equivalent of the Ford Mustang in Steve McQueen’s Bullitt.  High revving, rubber burning, wild horses.  I so wish I could have one of those.  My kitchen, in comparison, is more like a Honda Accord.  It’s reliable for getting you where you need to go but would never win in a drag race.

Not that having fancy, expensive equipment means anything when it comes to serving up good food.  Deb, who I heart, from Smitten Kitchen turns out the best food from a teeny, tiny New York City apartment kitchen.  Think your kitchen is small?  Try working in a 24 square foot space.  That’s smaller than my closet.  And yet, without the aid of fancy equipment, she turns out all sorts of baked, fried, and roasted goodness.

Like anything else, your equipment is a tool that either you know how to use or you don’t.  That 48 inch Viking isn’t going to magically transform a bad dish into a good one.  So work with what you have, find its muscle, and make it work for you.  Your kitchen may not burn rubber like Steve McQueen’s Mustang, but it won’t need new tires as quickly either.

Oven Roasted Salmon

Cook’s Illustrated

I added paprika and chili powder, not original to the CI recipe.

  • 1 skin on salmon fillet, 1 3/4 – 2 pounds (I used two individual skinless fillets)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Paprika
  • Chili powder
  • Salt

Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees.  If using skin on salmon, make 4 or 5 shallow slashes about an inch apart along the skin side of each piece, being careful not to cut into flesh.

Pat salmon dry.  Rub fillets with oil and season with salt, paprika, and chili powder.  Reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees and remove the HOT baking sheet.  Carefully place salmon skin side down on baking sheet.  Roast until centers of thickest part of fillets are still translucent when cut into with paring knife or instant read thermometer inserted in thickest part of fillets registers 125 degrees, 9 to 13 minutes.  Transfer fillets to individual plates or platter.

Pineapple Avocado Salsa

The Washington Post

  • 4 ounces fresh or canned pineapple, cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice (1/2 cup)
  • Flesh of half a medium avocado, cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 scallion, white and light green parts, cut crosswise into thin slices (2 to 3 teaspoons)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Juice of 1 to 2 limes (1 tablespoon)

Combine the pineapple, avocado, scallion, salt, and lime juice in a mixing bowl.  Toss to combine.

Atlantic Salmon on Foodista

Don’t Judge a Book by the Cover

20 Jul

i want chocolate

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.  Not only is that some commercial tag line, it’s also the God’s honest truth.  Sometimes, bad first impressions can’t be overcome.  Other times, if you look past them, you find that you were totally wrong.  Like that time in middle school when both Kristen Heher and I thought each other was trouble, with a capital T.  Maybe we were, but after we got to know each other, we were best friends for two years.  As hard as it is for me to admit when I am wrong, it’s even harder not to share with you something so ugly it’s good. Continue reading


15 Jul


Here at Exit 51, like in life, it’s funny how sometimes totally unrelated things intersect.  One day I’m going on and on about pickled this and pickled that.  The next I’m gushing over my glorious mandoline.  And today, I shall bring the two together. Continue reading

Weird Science

13 Jul


Remember how you were always told in school that math and science were important in life?  Me, I didn’t believe it for one second.  I think my response was something along the lines of “yeah, whatever”.  But if I could, I would go back and tell my adolescent self to sit up and pay attention because, I swear, it’s true.

I use math in the kitchen constantly.  Want to scale a recipe up or down?  You’ll need to know your fractions.  Planning on putting a turkey on the table for Thanksgiving?  You’ll need to tap those times tables to figure out how much oven time Tom’s going to need.  That’s the easy side of things.  The science of cooking, I leave to the experts to figure out for me.

Like the folks at Cook’s Illustrated.  Thanks to them, I finally understand why I’ve never cooked a steak at home that is as good as ones I get at restaurants.  The answer is because I don’t understand how to make food science work for me.  As someone who loves a tender, medium-rare, slab of beef on my plate I figured it should be easy.  I was so wrong.

It’s not enough to just put it in a hot pan.  All that gets me is a charred exterior with an undercooked, bloody interior.  Or worse, with thinner cuts, a charred exterior with an overcooked, dry interior.  Neither of these are a good use of my food dollar.  So what’s the solution?  According to Cook’s Illustrated, I should be starting my steak in a low oven and finishing it on the stove.

The science of tender steaks as explained by Cook’s Illustrated:

“Our steaks spend a long time in a warm oven, yet taste more tender than traditionally prepared steaks, which can be tough and chewy.  The explanation?  Meat contains active enzymes called cathepsins, which break down connective tissues over time, increasing tenderness (a fact that is demonstrated to great effect in dry aged meat).  As the temperature of the meat rises, these enzymes work faster and faster until they reach 122 degrees, where all action stops.  While our steaks are slowly heating up, the cathepsins are working overtime, in effect “aging” and tenderizing our steaks within half an hour.  When steaks are cooked by conventional methods, their final temperature is reached much more rapidly, denying the cathepsins the time they need to properly do their jobs.”

Yeah, what they said.  Because it totally works.  Not that you have to remember all the sciency stuff.  Just remember to start low and finish hot.  See, science IS fun, and tasty too!

Pan Seared Thick Cut Steaks

Cook’s Illustrated

CI says, “Rib-eye or filet mignon of similar thickness can be substituted for strip steaks.  If using filet mignon, buying a 2 pound center cut tenderloin roast and portioning it into four 8 ounce steaks will produce more consistent results.  If using filet mignon, increase the oven time by about 5 minutes.  When cooking lean strip steaks (without an external fat cap) or filet mignon, add an extra tablespoon of oil to the pan.”

If using strip steaks, buy two thick steaks and cut each in half.  Rib-eye steaks should be cut in half and each piece tied with twine.

  • 2 boneless strip steaks, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches thick (about 1 pound each)
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 275 degrees.  Pat steaks dry and cut in half vertically to create four 8 ounce portions.  Season steaks liberally with salt and pepper; using hands, gently shape into uniform thickness.  Place steaks on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and transfer to oven.

Cook until instant read thermometer inserted horizontally into center of steaks registers 90 to 95 degrees for rare to medium-rare, 20 to 25 minutes, or 100 to 105 degrees for medium, 25 to 30 minutes.

Heat oil in 12 inch heavy bottomed skilled over high heat until smoking.  Place steaks in skillet and sear until well browned and crusty, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, lifing once halfway through to redistribute fat underneath each steak.  If fond begins to burn, reduce heat.  Using tongs, turn steaks and cook until well browned on second side, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes.  Transfer steaks to clean rack and reduce heat under pan to medium.  Use tongs to stand 2 steaks on their sides.  Holding steaks together, return to skillet and sear on all edges until browned, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Repeat with remaining 2 steaks.

Return steaks to wire rack and let rest, loosely covered with foil, for 10 minutes.  Use pan to make Sun Dried Tomato Relish.

Sun Dried Tomato Relish

Cook’s Illustrated

I haven’t tried this relish yet.  But I think it would be a much better match for the steaks than the Red Wine Mushroom Pan Sauce.

  • 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons oil packed sun dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Pour off all fat from skillet and return to high heat.  Add chicken broth and scrape browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add pepper flakes and boil until liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 5 minutes.  Add any meat juices, tomatoes, capers, honey, olive oil, and lemon juice to pan and whisk to emulsify.  Remove pan from heat and add parsley.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Spoon over steaks and serve immediately.