Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Big News!!!

Thank you for visiting me on blogspot, but The Undercover Cook blog has moved to

Please make the jump and visit me on my website blog for the latest recipes, easy smarter eating tips and interesting food trends.  See below for easy links to my most recent July posts on The Undercover Cook.  Hope to see you soon on my new website!

■7/18/11 Fantastic Blueberry Cinnamon Multigrain Pancakes

■7/16/11 Blueberry Boy Bait

■7/14/11 The Nutty Banana Smoothie

■7/11/11 Chickpea Marsala Burgers

■7/7/11 Chipotle Mango BBQ Chicken

■7/5/11 Banana Nutella Muffins

■7/1/11 Homemade Watermelon Sorbet

Friday, July 1, 2011

Homemade Watermelon Sorbet

The 4th of July weekend is finally here!  For me that means barbecues with friends, beach time with my little guy and even a little neighborhood parade for the kids.   Now that is the good stuff!
So I have been looking for a great new recipe worthy of the 4th of July weekend.  I wanted something cool and refreshing and not too complicated for my laid back weekend of fun.  The first food that popped into my mind was watermelon.   
To me watermelon is one of the quintessential signs that it is summer!  I have lots of great memories of sitting in the backyard with all the neighborhood kids around a couple of giant watermelons.   One of the dads would slice and pass out big pieces to all the kids.  We would sit in the grass eating watermelon right out of the rind with glorious sweet red sticky juice running down our arms.  The collective moms would generally ban us from returning inside until we hosed down.  What you want us to play in the hose on a hot summer day??  Bonus!!
In my quest for the ultimate 4th of July dish I found a great recipe for Watermelon Sorbet with Chocolate Seeds on Epicurious.com.  The recipe for watermelon sorbet, which was previously published in Gourmet magazine, was simple.  I followed it exactly leaving out the optional liqueur kick at the end to keep my sorbet kid-friendly.  
The most time consuming preparation step was cutting up the watermelon and picking out all the seeds.  You could opt for a seedless watermelon to save time, but they aren’t quite as flavorful as the seeded variety.

I did skipped more complicated Gourmet presentation suggestions of trying to freeze the sorbet in the left over watermelon rind and making my own chocolate “watermelon seeds” out of melted chocolate.   Simply serving sorbet in bowls with a sprinkling of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips will be perfect!

Now I mentioned that I left out the optional liqueur when making the sorbet to keep my dish family friendly.  There is still an opportunity for a more adult version after the sorbet is made if you so desire.  This sorbet makes phenomenal Watermelon Zinger drinks.  Just skip the the chocolate chips, scoop servings into drink glasses, add a shot of vodka and give a quick stir.  
Happy 4th of July weekend everyone!
Watermelon Sorbet with Chocolate Seeds
Total Recipe Time: 3-4 hours  (25 minutes prep + freezing time)
Makes: 1 1/2 quarts
Approx 3 1/2 pound piece of watermelon
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
Cut the watermelon into chunks remove and discard all the seeds and rind.
Place watermelon chunks into a food processor. Give a few pulses on low until you get watermelon  puree.  Repeat until you have 5 cups of watermelon puree.
Place 1 cup of puree and sugar in a sauce pan.  Heat on moderate heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved (approximately 2-3 minutes).
Remove sauce pan form heat and stir in the remaining watermelon puree and lime juice.  Blend well.
Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until the watermelon mixture is fully cold.
Pour the watermelon mixture into an ice-cream maker.  Run ice-cream maker until sorbet is frozen to a slushy state (approx 25 minutes).  Place frozen sorbet in the freezer for at least 2-3 hours to further freeze.
Portion into bowls, sprinkle semi-sweet mini chocolate chips and serve immediately to your delighted guests!
Watermelon Zingers
watermelon sorbet (without semi-sweet chocolate chips)
vodka or rum
Portion watermelon sorbet into glasses.  Top with 1-2 oz of vodka or liqueur of choice.  Stir and serve with a straw.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Ultimate Southern Pesto to Dress up Dinner

Oh joy!  A friend gave me a new cookbook last week, Bon Appetite, Y’all by Virginia Willis.  High-brow French cooking meets down home southern - I am in love already.  
I had the best of intentions of diving into the pages over the weekend and cooking up a storm on Sunday.  But the reality of being the on-the-go mother to a toddler set in and I managed only to skim the first few chapters during little man’s nap time.  (I really need one of those time-turners thingies like in the Harry Potter movie, to create some more hours in my day!!)
Today I was determined to try something new from the luscious pages of my new cookbook.  What I came up with was an awesome little super quick recipe, perfect for dressing up ordinary chicken on a typically rushed Monday night.

Pecan-Basil Pistou is Willis’s southern twist on a basic pesto recipe (or pistou which is the French version of the italian classic condiment).  The southern twist, as you may have guessed from the name, is the pecans.  
Pesto is incredibly easy to make it.  There are 5 basic ingredients - fresh basil, garlic, parmesan, pine nuts and olive oil, plus a little salt and pepper for seasoning.  With the aid of a food processor you can whip this recipe up in about 5 minutes.  This southern version swaps out the pine nuts in favor of pecans which add a rich meaty flavor.  I modified the recipe slightly to fit the ingredients I had on hand and my personal taste.

Pesto is an excellent condiment for dressing up pasta, or bread or variety of other foods.  For dinner tonight I added a dollop of my freshly made southern pesto to pan seared chicken.  

My chicken was simple - thin sliced chicken breast seasoned with garlic salt & pepper then quickly seared in a dash of olive oil over medium high heat.  I made the pesto in the food processor while the chicken was sizzling away in the skillet.   After plating the fully cooked chicken, I added a spoonful of of my freshly made pesto right before serving.  It took my chicken from everyday ordinary to Italian-Southern fusion cuisine!  Now that is what I call totally delish!!

The Ultimate Southern Pesto
Total prep time: 5 minutes

  • 2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, finally chopped
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 3/4 shredded parmesan
  • 3/4 cup extra-version olive oil (plus extra if needed to get to desired consistency)
  • course salt and freshly ground pepper
Place the basils leaves, chopped garlic, pecans, shredded parmesan and 3/4 cup of olive oil in a food processor.  Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed to get all ingredients fully processed.  
With the food processor running on low, slowly pour in a little more olive oil until the pesto reaches the desired consistency.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Store any left pesto in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days.  Or freeze for up to one month.
Tip: If you opt to freeze the pesto, try freezing in an ice cube tray.  When fully frozen, pop out the pesto cubes and store in freezer bag in the freezer.  This way you can easily take out just the portion you want to use.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Brown Sugar Teriyaki Steelhead Trout with Toasted Pecans

Yeah for the first day of summer!  Warm days, vacation plans and the inevitable need to get into a bathing suit again.  (deep sigh!)  Time to head back to the gym.
Naturally, I am trying to work out more this time of year. I won’t lie...it is so hard to make time most days.   My best opportunity is to use my lunch hour to pop over to the gym for a quick workout, but even that is a challenge to accomplish.  
I am trying to sneak in a little extra work out time in other places too - like Logan’s bath time.  While he plays with his bath toys I grab my arm weights (which I keep under the sink) and sneak in a few reps.  Logan helps me count.  Of course being barely 2 years-old his numbers tend to come out in random order.   I have no idea how many reps I am actually getting in, but I figure any number is 100 times more than what I was doing before , so it is all good.

In keeping with my new found quest to become bathing suit ready, I am trying to keep it lean and healthy at dinner time.  I am also trying to eat more seafood.  Tonight my healthy choice was steelhead trout baked in a super simple teriyaki and brown sugar glaze then finished with a few toasted pecans.  It was totally delish!

If you have never tried steelhead trout, it is a meaty fish that looks a lot salmon.  However the flavor of steelhead trout is milder than salmon.  It is also less oily and therefore has less omega 3 fatty-acids than salmon as well.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Brown Sugar Teriyaki Steelhead Trout with Toast Pecans
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20-25 minutes
Makes: 4 entrees
  • 4 steelhead trout fillets (skin off)
  • 3/4 cup teriyaki sauce
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans
  • tin foil

Preheat oven to 350º.
Tear off 4 sheets of tin foil, each approximately 12 inches long.  
Place 1 fillet on each piece of tin foil.  Top with each fillet with 3 tablespoons of teriyaki sauce and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar.  Pull two sides up of the tin foil together and roll closed.  Pull the other two sides up and roll closed to form a sealed packet.
Place the 4 sealed packets of fish on a baking sheet.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until fish is fully cooked.
While fish is cooking, place pecans on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until the color deepens and the nuts become fragrant. 
When fish are fully cooked remove from the foil packs and place on serving dishes.  Top with brown sugar teriyaki sauce to taste (from the foil packets) and toasted pecans.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Rational Roast Chicken vs Wonderful Waffles

Today as I was picking up little dude from daycare I hear one of the other mother’s making an innocent comment about her kids being on a waffle kick for breakfast for the past month.  And just that quickly the urning for waffles began.  All of a sudden the left-over roasted chicken and fresh asparagus I had planned for dinner sounds so plain-Jane and boring.  I want waffles!
I have the internal debate the whole ride home.  “Responsible mommies do not serve waffles for dinner.” “Waffles would be so easy.” “There is healthy respectable roasted chicken and fresh asparagus in the fridge that shouldn’t go to waste.”  “I want some yummy waffles!"

As you probably guessed - the waffles won out.  However I did decide if I was going to be that “irresponsible” about dinner then I was going to have to work for it a little bit.  So I went home, tossed Logan in the stroller and we walked to the grocery store to pick up my contraband waffles.  Now I live on the coast in southern Georgia and it is the middle of June.  It is hot, humid and the ‘skeetos and lethal.  This was some serious penance for a few waffles.  

So here is how dinner ended up - Kashi 7 Grain Waffles smeared with MaraNatha All Natural Roasted Almond Butter, a generous handful of fresh berries topped with just a subtle kiss of Kirkland Signature 100% Real Maple Syrup.  And to drink I whipped up my Sunshine in a Glass Mango Smoothie.  It was heaven!  

After careful examination of the various nutrition labels I have determine that with the possible exception that there was nothing green on our plates, dinner actually wasn't all that bad for us.  Yeah for yummy waffles!  The roast chicken will just have to keep until tomorrow.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pearl Couscous with Brown Butter, Sizzled Sage and Walnuts

I can not lie, this week has been a doozie.  Work is flat out kicking my butt - too many projects, too many priorities and not enough time!  It is enough to drive a foodie to cook excessively.  By Friday I am in need of a de-stressing detox and someone to hide the carton of cookies and cream ice cream I have stashed in the back of the freezer.  
I check the pantry for a healthier alternative before the cookies and cream wins the battle of the dinner plate.  I manage to find some whole wheat pearl couscous, walnuts and dried figs.  This may sound like a weird combination but it actually gives me dinner inspiration.

Dinner tonight will be brown butter couscous with sizzled fresh sage and walnuts paired with a fig, goat cheese and walnut salad.  Sounds fancy doesn’t it?  It is actually a really easy dinner to pull off.

Brown butter is one of my favorite indulgences.  Browning butter only takes a couple of minutes in the skillet and you are rewarded with a nutty rich butter experience.    Once the butter is browned simply add some fresh chopped sage and walnuts let it sizzle for for another minute or two and toss it with the cooked couscous.  Capital “P” - Perfection!

My fig and goat cheese salad was another easy thrown together thing.  It doesn’t even require a recipe just an assembly list - green leaf lettuce, yellow bell pepper, sliced dried figs, goat cheese and toasted walnuts.    I topped it with a balsamic vinaigrette.  

Friday detox dinner accomplished!  One delicious dinner and a lovely glass of pinot noir  later and the stress level has come down....at least until Monday comes back around again.  

Pearl Couscous with Brown Butter, Sizzled Sage and Walnuts
Prep time: 2 minutes - Cook time: 23 minutes - Makes: 4 servings
1 1/2 cup whole wheat couscous
4 tablespoons butter
6 leaves fresh sage, chopped
1/2 cups chopped walnuts
Cook couscous according to package directions.
Place butter in a large skillet and put on high heat.  Sizzle the butter until it turns brown.
Add chopped sage to the butter.  Sizzle the sage for 1 minute stirring occasionally.  Add walnuts and sizzle for another 20 seconds.  Add the drained cooked couscous, toss together and serve.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Undone Lamb and Rice Stuffed Grape Leaves

This week I wanted to make something savory, healthy, delicious and interesting. I went looking for a recipe for something I have never made before.  What I found was recipe for Lebanese Stuffed Grape Leaves in the current issue of Eating Well magazine.  Now this is something I have never made before!

One slight problem though, I live in a fairly rural area.  Our local Winn Dixie doesn't exactly stock grape leaves.  Not to be deterred I decided to modify the recipe.  Instead of stuffing and boiling the grape leaves, I pan sautéed the filling and served it with naan (which is available at my local grocery store).  

The results was delicious!  In case you have never had lamb, it a naturally flavorful meat much more flavorful than ground beef.  The lamb and spice blend flavored the brown rice and lentils beautifully.   I served my Lebanese lamb,and rice dish with naan and a side of cool creamy plain yogurt.  I didn't miss the grape leaves at all!

The other modification I made to the Eating Well recipe was to add some lentils.  I really like lentils in dishes like this.  Not only are they a tasty edition, they also reduce the amount of meat in a portion and add in a healthy dose of protein, fiber, and other healthy nutrients.  

Lebanese Lamb, Rice and Lentils
Prep time: 8 minutes
Total time start to finish: 1 hour 10 minutes
Makes: 12 1/2-cup servings

1 lb ground lamb
1 1/2 cups uncooked brown rice
1/2 cup lentils
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons dried mint (or 2 tablespoons fresh minced mint)
1 tablespoon dried marjoram leaves
2 teaspoon s ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
lemon wedges for serving
plain yogurt for serving

COOK brown rice and lentils according to package directions. 

PLACE ground lamb, rice, lentils, parsley, mint, marjoram, cinnamon, cumin, salt, pepper and allspice in a large bowl.  Use you hands to fully MIX the ingredients.

PLACE lamb and rice mixture into a large skillet on medium high heat.  Brown meat until fully cooked, stirring fairly often to help the mixture cook evenly.

SERVE the Lebanese lamb, rice and lentils hot with lemon wedge and yogurt on the side if desired.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hanging Out with Food Bloggers for the Weekend

Last weekend I attended BlogHer Food in Atlanta.  It was my first blogging conference and I was thrilled to meet a bunch of women and a few men who share my passion for food and food writing.  The bloggers at the conference ran the spectrum.   There were some very well-known established bloggers, newbies who had written only a couple of posts and everything in between.  There were professional chefs and new cooks; food activist and food connoisseurs; the diet conscious and those who savored more indulgent kinds of food.  It was a glorious experience. 
first day at the conference

I sat in on many great break out discussions.  Two of the ones I found most relevant to me were about getting your family to eat healthier.  (I’ll talk about that more in a future blog post.) 

One break out discussion I wished I had attended was Food Blogging for Change.  This one featured “Mrs Q” who writes Fed Up with School Lunch.  Mrs Q apparently works in a school and is simultaneously doing a little undercover reporting on the state of school lunches while advocating for change.  I like her already!  Her latest triumph was reforming the daily lunch menu at her son’s daycare.  Go Mrs Q!
Mary Eva indulging my need for between session chocolate

At the conference I learned about many great new food blogs like Devil and Egg by Caroline Campion and Black America Cooks by Donna Pierce.  In fact I learned about so many great blogs that I could make this post just one long list of yummy food blogs.  Instead though, I am going to savor them slowly and then making individual postings about the interesting food I find along the way.

Katie and Jenna at dinner at the Terrace

Of course it was not all work and discussion groups while I was in Atlanta.  There was also some pretty good food to be had too.  On my free night I went with a friend to The Terrace, a farm to table concept restaurant in the Ellis Hotel.  It was awesome.  From the scrumptious mushroom pate with a hint of garlic to the perfectly cooked lamb with smashed potatoes and mint Greek yogurt, the meal was excellent!  If you are ever in Atlanta, I highly recommend it.
the menu with food sources listed to the right
my fabulous lamb and smashed potato dinner

The last day of the conference we took a field trip to Sweet Auburn Curb Market as a group.  The market, which had its origins in the 1920’s, was a bevy of fresh greens and freshly cut meat.  
Loved the sign - "Buy your whole pig here"!

bins and bins of fresh veggies

one more look at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market

It was a shame I couldn’t do more shopping since I was flying out later that day.  At least I had a delicious lunch at Afro Dish while I was there.  This restaurant serves up authentic Caribbean and African cuisine.   I had the jerk chicken with plantains and rice served up to me by the owner himself, Ralph Sarpong. 
a great find at the market
Not a great picture, but my lunch was delicious!

So that was my first food blogging conference.  A big thanks to Katie Williamson and MaryEva Tredway for palling around with me in Atlanta.  It was a great experience. Now that I am back, I am looking forward to trying out some new ideas in the kitchen and checking into some new-to-me blogs on line. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Avocados and Hummus

Toddlers are tricky little beasts, aren’t they?  Last Sunday my little pumpkin loved avocados.  He scarfed down all that I gave him and then asked for more from my plate.  Today he took one look at the luscious perfectly ripe green chunks on his plate, shook his head vigorously and declared, “No like it ….no like it.” 
“Please take a bite, Logan.  You do like it!”
With slight giggling (at silly mommy) then more vigorous head shaking my 2 year-old declares, “No like it, mommy….Noooooo like it!!”  (audible sigh from mommy) 

Two year-olds are tricky beasts indeed.
Every week or so Logan picks a new favorite food.  Last week the favorite was almond butter.  He wanted large spoonfuls of almond butter as his meal and snacks.  He was only mildly interested in other foods if I smeared them heavily with almond butter.  
This week he has moved on from almond butter and his new love is hummus (which he pronounced “tumus”).  He wants copious amounts of hummus at every meal including breakfast.  So much for the food diversity I had in mind!  
Having a favorite food though isn’t all bad.  It has turned out to be a great carrot to hold out to get Logan to at least take a bite of the other foods on his plate.  I dole out the favored food of the day in smallish spoonfuls.  Before he gets the next spoonful he has to take a bite of another food on this plate.  For the most part it is working reasonable well, but only if I sit with him and keep suggesting (or insisting) on alternating food bites.  Bottom line is getting a 2 year-old to eat healthy is generally a lot of work no matter how you do it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Changing the World Starting with Dinner

I am a new mom with a beautiful 2 year-old son, named Logan.  I have been thinking a lot lately about what are the “right” foods for a healthy growing toddler and how I get my precious boy to eat them.  I want my child to grow up with a healthy love of real food but I will admit as a full-time working single mom it can be a challenge to get healthy food choices to the table every night.

60 years ago moms stayed home and cooked from scratch.  Dinner time was sacred family time.  But today moms work full time jobs and dinner is shoved in between a flurry of after-school and social activities.  As a nation we cook less therefore the skill of cooking is growing weaker with each generation.  Our only choice in our harried lives seems to be relying on convenience foods which generally are over processed and under nutritious.  What are the consequences of placing such low value on the food we put in our bodies?  A national obesity crisis and sky rocketing health care cost.  I shudder to think what we will look like as a nation 20 years from now.     

I want to change things.  I want to raise my child with a love of food, healthy balanced eating habits and the ability to live and eat in the modern world.   I also want to see our nation develop a healthy relationship with food again.

But the national food problem is so large and so pervasive (and we are just too busy to cook up a solution) it is hard to get motivated to tackle the problem head on.  It is easier to rock back on our heels, complain and throw the blame.  Because clearly it is the fast food industry’s fault or the food manufactures who are to blame for our societies growing waistlines and lack of will power.  It couldn’t possibly be our faults for over-scheduling our lives and demanding ever cheaper convenience food items could it?  

So what do we do now to solve the toxic relationship we have developed with food?  Lobby congress to change food regulation?  Run for congress and write new laws?  Change the school curriculum to include food education?  Pressure school districts to take junk food vending machines out of schools?  Boycott fast food establishments?  Go organic? Go vegan?  When so many things are wrong it is hard to know where to start.

For now I am going to start by with my own family.  I pledge to keep family dinner sacred and to do my best to cook real foods.  I am still a working single mom who has not magically found extra hours in the day to make all my food from scratch.  It is going to be a balancing act.  I don’t have the ability to farm my own vegetables or buy all organic meat at this time, but I can certainly start cooking more food that is unprocessed or at least minimally process.  I will do the best I can starting with small changes and work my way up to bigger ones, one meal at a time.