The Fabulous Foodie

The Fabulous Foodie, hosted by Chef Aimee, is an online account of one amateur chef's kitchen successes and mishaps, recipe and product roadtests, and food experiences. Chef Aimee's philosophy is that Food Is Love, and her blog contains reflections on the connection between fabulous food, a happy marriage and solid-gold friendships.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Take Your Zuke and Stuff It!

So with the call of yesterday's challenge, I returned home from work last night and decided to use up a nice big summer zucchini I had in the fridge.

One problem: Steve, in a sentiment betraying his otherwise progressive and egalitarian view of marriage, called and said, "What are you making me for dinner?" I've created a monster, I think.

For a moment, I questioned my choice of a vegetarian dinner, knowing that my very British, very metabolically-gifted husband would be wanting a meal recalling the "meat, starch and veg" days of his youth in Croydon.

But then I decided: My Kitchen, My Menu... and confidently replied, "I'm making stuffed zucchini."

Silence.

I continued: "You can order in if you'd like, and I'll even place the order so it's here when you get home." I thought that was still a "Food is Love" approach, really...

And there I had done it. Stood my ground, stayed on course to meet the challenge I set forth yesterday...

Twenty minutes later, with the road not taken still a victory fresh in my mind, Steve walked in with a bag of McDonald's. He set it on the counter beside my confetti pile of chopped vegetables, kissed me on the cheek and said, "I picked something up on the way."

And I did, for a moment, feel badly that my husband would be dining Morgan Spurlock-style...

But then I finished a perfect vision of Stuffed Zucchini... firm and juicy boats of summer-fresh vegetable, filled with a heaping mound of color and taste, topped with a little tang of feta cheese, and baked until slightly toasty on the tops and edges. So I say, if you are a Food is Love gal like me, and someone turns his or her nose up at your offering, then tell them to "stuff it!"

And then "do as you say" with a lovely fresh zuke while the summer's still sporting them!

Here's the recipe:

Chef Aimee's Zesty Stuffed Zuke

One medium zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise
Extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
2/3 cup finely chopped mushrooms
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup finely chopped yellow pepper
1 plum tomato, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
3 T part-skim ricotta cheese
2 T feta cheese, crumbled
fresh parsley, basil, oregano or any herbs you like

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

With a spoon, "scoop" out zukes, reserving flesh. Brush the inside of each half lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

In a non-stick skillet, heat 1 t of olive oil. Saute garlic and onion until just fragrant. Add other reserved flesh and chopped veggies, saute for 5 minutes. Take off heat, and add in breadcrumbs and ricotta cheese, combine until desired consistancy. (You may choose to have a "wetter" filling by adding more ricotta, or leaving out the breadcrumbs all together.) Sprinkle in feta, and combine.

Place zucchini halves on baking sheet, and mound each with filling, use your fingers to press the filling into the halves, and then to form a rounded top on each.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until zucchini is tender and cooked through. (Time will depend on how much flesh you scooped out, and the size of the squash you started with!)

Sprinkle with fresh herbs as soon as you remove from the oven.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Word From My Mother....

"You're sabotaging yourself!" My mother called me at work to let me know she loves my new blog... but felt the need (predictable!) to let me know what the Food is Love philosophy could do to my waistline.

"Huh?"

"What are you doing making things like raspberry bars?"

I informed her it was only sabotage if you ate more than one (or three)... she seemed stumped.

"You mean you don't feel compelled to eat all four corners, and then even off each row of bars as you go along????"

Well, if I'm honest... yes, I do feel compelled to do that occasionally -- because after all, I am her daughter and such things are genetic. As I've mentioned before, I may actually be the biological daughter of Ina Garten, but it doesn't really matter because something tells me Ina's down with the four-corner trick, too. But I resisted with this batch...

The truth is that the Food is Love philosophy has to be balanced...

You'll be happy to know, Mum, that I used up the remaining heirloom tomatoes last night in a light orzo and tomato salad, and grilled up some chicken breasts to serve alongside. No raspberry bars. No full-fat mozz. Everything in moderation, after all, and after spending all weekend in moderation-land, I returned to the level-headed, responsible path of good-for-you, sensible food; and showed up for penance with my trainer at New York Sports Club this morning.

Which brings me to the point of this post, I suppose: is there a line that crosses between a healthy food passion and a gluttonous food obsession, and how fine is it?

It's an issue familiar to most foodies. Check out The Amateur Gourmet's recent adventures with a pound cake before his appointment for a cholesterol test. Good luck with that, my friend... I hope it's in the normal range. I wonder if there is an herb or other supplement that disguises such indiscretions in your blood... like goldenseal supposedly works to hide drugs in your system (Note to Lance Armstrong: Goldenseal is available at GNC.)

Or, check out this beautiful post in Words to Eat By, which she so eloquently titled "Exile in Fatville". And indeed, that's how "that place" feels. I know. Check out her recap of the exile, which prominently featured Fish and Chips, Hot Dogs and other road trip food... and then spun itself into a very sad place... where in a difficult and trying time, food was a comfort, a diversion...and a friend. Since then, she's been getting on track with Weight Watchers, a program which I myself use with success (and failure), but mostly success. You go, Debbie! Good for you!

So can one be a healthy, fit foodie? Can you trust a skinny chef? There's a woman in Hoboken who hosts a site called, "Skinny Chef", and while my first instinct on reading her site was to hate her and the metabolism she rode in on, the more I read, the more I liked her. You know why? Because she embraces moderation, doesn't deny herself, revels in the beauty of food... but she also balances it all yoga-like with a healthful approach.

I've had an unhealthy relationship with food at times in my life... and I've had a healthy (but passionate) relationship with food, and feel I have that now. Food really is Love -- a way of expressing it, anyway. But it's not a substitute for it.

So thanks, Mum... for reminding me of that the line between sabotage and moderation is in fine, indeed... and I need to be ever-aware of not stepping over it.

So a challenge to me (and to you, if you choose to play along)... 7 days of healthful food -- a recipe a day, a post a day -- that fits in my philosophy as well as my pants.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Biscuits, Raspberries and Tomatoes... Oh My!

So a weekend in review is in order, I suppose... and a great food weekend it was.

Friday night, I felt like I needed to make up the whole Crock-Pot fiasco to my husband... so I greeted him at the end of his long day with a nice glass of Pinot Noir, and a pretty little simple nibbles plate that contained some plump Kalamata and Black Beauty olives, some yummy almonds, some wine biscuits and some Parmesan (the good stuff!) drizzled with balsamic vinegar. It was a little gesture, but it worked!



Now a word about wine biscuits. I picked up a little bag of these on a recent trip to Truro Vineyards in Truro, Massachusetts (that's on Cape Cod, folks). Now, Steve and I were only impressed with one of the 10 wines we tasted that day (the 2001 Triumph)... but in the obligatory stroll through the gift shop, I picked up this little pack of "American Vintage Wine Biscuits"... I selected the white wine, shallot and cayenne recipe. Holy goodness... you can definitely taste a little hint of wine, nicely balanced by the sweetness of shallot and a little hit of cayenne in the aftertaste. These were great... they made a great little nibble, and I bet would be a fabulous base for a quick goat cheese hors d'vours. You can get 'em, too if you click the link!

This weekend, I also managed to try out a great recipe from the most recent issue of Cook's Illustrated... Raspberry Bars! Now, I like a bar cookie as much as anyone else, but I agree with the troubles that Cook's pointed out in the test article: usually, the bottom is soggy, the filling is skimpy, or the topping is crumby -- figuratively and literally.

Well, this recipe is delicious, as you can tell by the lip smacking of my dog Simon when the bars caught his attention:



Sunday was the Heirloom Tomato Festival sponsored by the Hoboken Historical Museum. They lined up all sorts of heirloom varieties from a local farmer, and provided "back to back" tastings. Now, not only are these tomatoes a funky looking, diverse and flavorful bunch, they have fabulous names that, in my opinion, make them even more fun to eat: Aunt Ruby's German Green, Tigerella Orange, Brandywine Pink or Yellow, Green Zebra, and -- my favorite -- Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter (so-named because there was a man named Charlie who grew and sold so many of his prized tomatoes that he paid off the mortgage on his radiator repair shop!)

So anyway, off I whent to the small walkway passage on the Hudson River where the Historical museum is, and wowser... thatsalotta tomatoes! I tried all of them, selected a few... and came home with my bounty, which I promptly sliced up, paired with some fresh mozzarella and basil, sprinkled with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, and drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil.

Moral of the story is: go get yourself some heirloom tomatoes while the gettin' is good!

So that's it for my weekend... Oh, before I go... a non-food-related item: I also got sucked into a few hours of Celebrity Fit Club on VH-1 on Sunday... and boy, that drill sergeant Harvey is a piece of work. He has a new exercise video out... and the commercial came on during a break in the show. As I was sitting in front of the TV, he pointed to me (I swear), and said, "Instead of watching celebrities get fit on TV, why don't you get off your fat ass and workout with my new videos!!"

I think he was speaking to me. Me -- with a quite large hunk of full-fat mozzarella in my mouth made calorically acceptable (in my mind, at least) by the fact that it was accompanied by tomatoes. Yes, Harvey was speaking to me. And I did, in fact, go to the gym this morning. So thank you, Harvey... thank you.

Friday, August 26, 2005

A Bottle of Chili Sauce, an Evening of Pain...

Now every once in a while, my day job gets ahead of me... and it overcomes my mission to cook wonderful, beautiful food for our dinner. And really, on a day to day basis, wonderful, beautiful food satisfies my needs more than my husband's, anyway. If I'm honest with myself -- and therefore with you, dear reader -- while I believe Food is Love, my husband thinks that allowing him to watch the Yankee game is Love, and so there you have it. So while I'd like to think that my desire to nurture our spirits, bodies and relationship through the gift of food is a crucial part of our marriage; my husband would likely tell you that in fact he didn't marry me for my cooking, and would be perfectly happy eating Wise Barbecue potato chips for dinner if I let him.

This digression is really to set the stage by establishing that the following story is made worse by virtue of my husband's record of eating -- happily -- just about anything you put in front of him.

So Chef Aimee had a busy day ahead of her. Chef Aimee had heard great things about a sweet and spicy meatball recipe that could be made -- effortlessly -- in that love-it-or-hate-it appliance called a Crock Pot. First, let me say that I am not a Crock Pot lover. I consider the Crock Pot a necessary evil, and potentially the one thing that can make a homemade meal possible after a busy day -- and for that reason, and that reason only, I registered for one when I got married, received one at my shower, and very occasionally use it. I can hear working women all over middle America saying, "What the hell is wrong with a Crock Pot, you flippin' snob!?!" Nothing... I'm just saying that I prefer to take a more active role in my cooking... and I tend to question some of the ingredients typically found in Crock Pot recipes. I have also never seen a Crock Pot meal that looks beautiful... need evidence? Click here! (I should add that the
Aimee from Aimee's Adventures is not Chef Aimee!)

Anyway... all that aside... Chef Aimee flew in the face of her gourmet sensibility and decided that just because the recipe called for a 1/2 cup of ketchup didn't mean that it wasn't a great dish... and just because it was something that would "cook itself" while I was working away all day didn't mean that it wouldn't be a fabulous meal.

Chef Aimee was dreadfully wrong.

But surprisingly, the ketchup was not the problem.

The 12-ounce bottle of chili sauce was the culprit.

The recipe, which I originally found in Cooking Light and also had recommended to me by friends, calls for slow cooking small meatballs (turkey or beef) in a sauce made with 1/2 cup of ketchup, a 12-ounce bottle of chili sauce, a can of cranberry sauce, 1T of lemon juice and 2 T of brown sugar...

When I tell you that this sauce was spicy, I mean SPICY. I mean spicy of the "you best not have chapped lips" variety... I mean spicy of the "keep the Rolaids handy" variety... I mean spicy of the "are you trying to kill me" variety.

Which is what my husband -- who as I said is a human garbage disposal -- said to me. He took a bite, turned to me, his bride of under a year, and said, "Are you trying to kill me?"

This is from a man who regularly orders vindaloo at our local Indian joint.

That oughta tell you something.

So Chef Aimee's lesson for today: if you are considering a recipe that calls for a 12-ounce bottle of chili sauce just for the sake of a homecooked meal... run, don't walk, for the nearest takeout menu. The road to heartburn is paved with such good intentions.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Who is the Fabulous Foodie?

So who is the mysterious Fabulous Foodie?

Well, I'm a decidedly amateur chef -- although by comparison to most of my friends (one of whom has a recipe called the "Burrito Bachelore") and my husband (whose cooking has two types: boiled or burnt), I'd probably be deemed gourmet.

I'm a lover of food... all food. Except for raw oysters. Forget what they say about aphrodisiac properties and all that -- I can't get past the fact that they feel like cold phlegm as they slip down your throat.

I'm a frequent guest at restaurants all over New York City (where my office is), and also in Hoboken, NJ (where my home is!)

I'm fairly sure I could have been the next Food TV Star, but I missed the entry deadline.

I could have been the one to tell Gordon Ramsey to "Stuff It!" on the reality program Hell's Kitchen, but I couldn't afford to leave my day job.

I'm an avid kitchen gadget junkie, frequent surfer of Epicurious, a sucker for speciality food products, a collector of cookbooks and hoarder of back issues of Cooking Light, Gourmet Magazine, Cook's Illustrated and Food and Wine.

I'm the secret girlfriend of Christopher Kimball (see the Cook's Illustrated link to read about the bow-tied genius) -- but don't tell my husband!

I could potentially could be the biological daughter of Ina Garten. Ina if you are reading this, I would like to come have dinner on your East Hampton estate with you, Jeffrey and any random selection of your gay friends... I would gladly cheese for the camera, make food-orgy faces and echo each description of your recipes with a hearty, "How bad can THAT be?!" E-mail me, Ina! E-mail me!

This is all to say that while my professional ventures from 9-5 are focused in an office in midtown Manhattan, most of my other mindspace, spare time and creative urges go to the pursuit of beautiful food -- eating it, creating it, and thinking about it.

I started this blog so that others could benefit from my mishaps and successes in the kitchen, so that I could spread the word about the great (or awful) products or recipes I test, and so that others might catch onto the lesson I've learned well: Food is Love.