Sunday, December 29, 2013

Oyster Spinach Artichoke "Dip"

Oysters with a cracker crust bake on a bed of nontraditional spinach-artichoke "dip."  For two oyster lovers, this is a meal in itself served with crusty bread or buttered linguinni.  It is also an elegant hot buffet item that will serve several guests or a first course portion for four at a formal New Year's dinner.  

Oyster Spinach Artichoke "Dip"
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a first course, 6-8 as a dip

2 bags fresh spinach
1 can quartered artichokes, drained
2 8-oz containers freshly chucked oysters
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sour cream
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
6 butter crackers (like Ritz brand)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
optional: 2-3 slices cooked bacon for garnish

  1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Lightly oil two pie plates or four oven proof dishes.
  2. Steam spinach 2 minutes. (Use the microwave or a stove-top steaming basket over an inch of water.  Not water needed for the microwave.)  Remove spinach to a chopping board and chop.  Allow any excess water to drain.  
  3. Mix spinach with mayonnaise, sour cream, cheese, dill, salt and pepper.  Taste for seasoning. 
  4. Drain liquid from canned artichokes and arrange over spinach.
  5. Divide spinach among baking dishes.
  6. Drain liquor from oysters (reserve or freeze for another use) and place each oyster alongside artichokes, alternating to create a nice pattern.  
  7. Crush crackers finely and sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon of ground crackers over each oyster.  Dot oysters with butter.  
  8. Bake 12-15 minutes oat 375˚F until oysters are cooked through and crackers crumbs are lightly browned.  
  9. Serve with more crackers, warm pita triangles or baguette slices.  Set out a serving spoon for guests to spoon "dip" onto bread. 
Do ahead notes: the recipe can be prepared through step 6 several hours ahead.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  When ready to bake, remove from refrigerator.  Preheat oven while you take care of step 7.  Bake 5 minutes longer to ensure spinach and oysters heat through.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

No Fail Scalloped Potatoes

A new technique, updated oven temperature and revised cooking time makes scalloped potatoes easy. A cheesy topping makes them company ready.  Use this no fail recipe when you want an elegant company potato side dish next to roast beef, baked ham or steaks.

Scalloped and Au Gratin Potatoes are winter classics.  The trouble is many cooks struggle to determine when the potatoes are cooked and at their most tender and no one likes to bite into a hard potato at the center of the casserole.  A thin here, lumpy, curdling there white sauce is the other issue that is taken care of with this technique. 

The trick is to ensure the potatoes cook in hot milk while the flour and butter create a creamy white sauce.  Most recipes use milk right out of the refrigerator so the casserole stays cool in the oven too long and the potatoes do not cook through.  In this recipe, you create a simple slurry with flour, salt and pepper and some of the milk that is layered in with the potato slices.  The slurry ensures a smooth and evenly distributed sauce.  The remaining milk is heated and poured over the casserole as it goes into the oven.  The hot milk starts cooking the potato slices immediately.  The result is a no fail white sauce that the potatoes bubble in from the start.

Also, very thin potato slices helps this dish presents a fabulous layered look when cut into.  If you have a slicer or mandolin, this is the perfect time to use it.  If not, be patient and slice by hand.  Keep things safe by cutting off a slice at the bottom of each potato so it remains stable on your cutting board.  You will be surprised at how quickly you can peel and hand cut 6-8 medium potatoes. 

Our Scalloped Potatoes 
6-8 servings
Cook Time: approx1 hour 30 minutes

4 cups thinly sliced peeled potatoes, about 6 to 8 medium Eastern potatoes
2 tablespoons flour or potato starch
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons butter plus extra to butter backing dish
2 cups whole milk* separated into 1/2 cup; heat remaining 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar or Gruyere cheese

*Whole milk works best but you can use 1% milk.  Up to 1/4 cup cream can replace whole milk for an extra rich dish. 

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.  Generously butter a 2-quart baking dish.
  2. Whisk together flour (or potato starch),  salt, pepper and 1/2 cup milk. 
  3. Place a layer of the potatoes in the bottom of baking dish.   
  4. Pour a small amount (1-2 tablespoons) of the flour-milk slurry onto the sliced potatoes and dot  with about 1/2 tablespoon butter.  
  5. Repeat with remaining layers—potatoes sliced on a mandolin will be very thin and you will have 5-6 layers.  Potatoes sliced by hand will give you 4-5 layers. 
  6. Dot top of casserole with the last of the butter.
  7. Heat remaining 1 1/2 cups milk and pour over potatoes. Use a spoon or fork to shift potatoes slightly so that hot milk flows down into casserole. 
  8. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place on on a rack at the center of the oven. Place a cookie sheet or large baking pan on the rack beneath to catch any milk. 
  9. Bake at 400° for 45-60 minutes.
  10. Uncover and check center potato slices with a knife.  Potatoes should be almost tender, yielding to the knife.  (If potatoes are still hard, recover and continue to bake another 10-15 minutes before moving to final step.  Thicker, hand cut potatoes may take a little extra time.)
  11. When potatoes are tender, sprinkle cheese over the top. Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, for an additional 15 minutes until cheese has melted and begins to bubble.  
 Allow casserole to rest 10 minutes before cutting in wedges to serve.

Leftovers! Make this dish for a small group and enjoy leftovers that you can slice and reheat like wedges of pie.  Reheat for about 15 minutes in a low oven, 325˚F, uncovered to get a crispy crust  around the edges.  Reheat on low power in the microwave if you prefer a non-crispy crust.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Chocolate Bark Gifts

Chocolate Bark is fun and easy to make-- your own custom, pure chocolate bars and you control all the ingredients.  This year we concocted several flavor combinations we think will please the elves on our list. Left to right in the candy tin are Cranberry-Orange-Nut, Peppermint-White Chocolate, Strawberry-Almond and Sugared Fruitcake sprinkled with colored sugar.

The classic Peppermint-Chocolate Bark has minted white chocolate and crushed candy canes poured over milk or dark chocolate.  We're a dark chocolate family and used that as our base.  We covered the melted chocolate with peppermint patties cut into strips to reveal their white centers and some mini white chocolate-mint morsels.

Dried cranberries, toasted slivered almonds and freshly grated orange rind on a dark chocolate bed got a final drizzle of chocolate to create a pretty pattern.

We raided the dried fruit supply we normally use in granola and found dried strawberries to mix into a very special dark chocolate bark.  Other ideas include crystallized ginger, dried almonds, coconut,  raisins and dried cherries.  Make a Rocky Road version with mini marshmallows, walnuts and pretzel pieces.

Lastly, Sugared Fruitcake Chocolate Bark will win over even the picky with a combo of dried orange, lime and citron peel, almonds and a little glitter from colored sugar used to decorate cookies.

We plan a special chocolate pouring for our chili-loving friends that includes freshly roasted and ground chili peppers and cinnamon melted into the chocolate and topped with toasted pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds).

To experiment with several flavors, make small batches that use only 8-10 ounces of chocolate and small trays or pie tins.  Line the tins with foil to make the bark easy to peel away when the chocolate has set.  To make a large batch, use a larger cookie sheet lined with foil and melt 2 bags of chocolate morsels.

Slabs of chocolate bark ready to be broken apart
Chocolate Bark Master Recipe
Easy to double and triple

1 10-oz bag chocolate morsels (we like dark chocolate, at least 65%)
1cup toppings: a combination of toasted nuts, dried fruit, candies and mints, toffee bits
optional: mini marshmallows or chocolate morsels, more melted chocolate to drizzle over finished bark

  1. Prepare a pan by lining it with aluminum foil.
  2. Assemble the bark toppings.  (Once the chocolate melts you only have a few minutes to add the toppings and decorate.)
  3. Melt chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl in 30-second increments.  Stir between each interval.  Cut back to 12-15 seconds as chocolate is almost melted.  Stir and allow chocolate to finish melting out of the microwave.  This will ensure a glossy sheen to your finished bark. 
  4. Pour melted chocolate into prepared pan.  Use the back of a metal spoon to spread and smooth chocolate.
  5. Scatter your toppings over the chocolate.  If pieces are large, use the back of the spoon to press the toppings into the chocolate.
  6. Finish with a little extra melted white and dark chocolate drizzled over the toppings.  Now is also the time to dust the bark with sprinkles, jimmies or colored sugars.
  7. Place pan, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, until chocolate is set.
  8. Remove foil and chocolate from pan.  Peel away foil and break bark apart to set out on cookie plates, pack into wax-paper lined tins or bring to the next party. 
A nice way to break the bark apart in semi-regular pieces: Turn the bark over and lightly score the back of the chocolate bark with a sharp knife.  Bark will break along the scored lines. 

With just twenty more days until Christmas, it's nice to have a few fast and easy gifts from the kitchen.  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Scallops, White Beans and Fennel

Just about any pasta dish can transform into a bean-based dish.  Seafood like scallops go so well with white beans and get a mild lift from fennel in this simple, pure dinner.

The pure foods bonus is that this is so effortless to pull together using canned beans and frozen scallops. Just as easy as a pasta night.  A few fresh ingredients-- fennel and spinach-- add sophistication with no additional fuss.  You can even use frozen spinach and replace the fennel with celery if the cupboard is bare and a trip to the grocery store is not in the cards before dinner has to get on the table.

This is a good recipe to hold onto when holiday errands get a little hectic and eating properly becomes an afterthought.

Scallops, White Bean and Fennel Ragout
Serves 4

1 pound frozen bay scallops
2 cans low sodium white beans, drained
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil, divided
1 can chicken broth (low sodium)
2 bulbs fennel, sliced
1 8-ounce package fresh baby spinach (use 2 if your family loves spinach)
salt & pepper to taste

  1. Thaw scallops according to package directions. 
  2. Place drained beans in a large pot with chicken broth.  Heat beans over medium heat. When they begin to bubble, lower heat to a simmer while you prepare remaining ingredients. Do not cover beans.  
  3. Cook spinach and set aside.  If fresh,  microwave 2 minutes.  
  4. Slice fennel and saute in a wide skillet over medium-high heat in 1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil. Salt and pepper vegetables to taste.  Add cooked fennel to beans.  
  5. In same skillet, quickly saute thawed scallops in remaining tablespoon butter or olive oil.  Add scallops to pot and turn off heat.  
  6. Stir in spinach or use as a giant garnish.  
Serve ragout in wide bowls.  This meal is very happy alongside a simple salad or a slice of crusty bread to wipe up the juices.

Options: Frozen or canned artichokes, peas, freshly steamed asparagus or wilted kale are all good additions to this simple repast.  Any of these vegetables can be roasted instead of sauteed.  In fact, this meal was made for leftover roasted veggies like fennel, onions, carrots, etc.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Breakfast Apple Pie

Your homemade apple pie probably has less sugar and purer ingredients than any toaster pastry or even cereal.  Here is ours with a dollop of cranberry relish on the side. 

Use pie filling to make breakfast yogurt parfaits too.  In a clear glass layer apple or pumpkin filling with yogurt and alternate with crumbled pie crust or struesel toppings, toasted nuts and cranberry sauce. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving Morning Dried Fruit Compote

With a big feast on the way, breakfast on Thanksgiving day needs to be simple and use minimal kitchen space.  But the first meal must still have some substance and a little something special to mark the day too. 

A batch of dried fruit compote made a few days ahead can be set out to accompany simple fare like oatmeal, granola, toast and quick breads.  It can even be spooned over yogurt.  Stir in baked apples or pears (also prepared a day or two ahead) to extend the meal.  

Our version is all golden to celebrate colors of fall and garnished with crystallized ginger for a bit of sparkle.  You can mix and match the dried fruits you like best.  The key to the dish is to rehydrate the whole dried fruits to plump pillows of sweetness.  A sweet liquor forms as you cook down the juices with the fruit sugars.  We use a cider base with a little rum.  You can substitute brandy or calvados or use all fruit juice.  (Thin the cider with a bit of apple or orange juice if going virgin.)

Rum & Cider Fall Fruit Compote
Makes 2 cups

1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried calmyra figs (the yellow ones)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup cider
1/4 cup water
1/4 cum rum
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch salt
optional garnish: slivers of crystallized ginger

  1. Combine all ingredients together in a small, heavy bottomed pot with a lid.  
  2. Bring to a boil, them turn the heat to very low and cover.  Simmer covered for 30 minutes checking every 5 minutes to stir.  If the liquid evaporates to quickly, add more water and lower the heat to the lowest setting.
  3. During last 10 minutes, remove top and keep an eye on the pot.  Fruit is ready when plump and about the size of their fresh versions.  (They will be slightly flatter.) Continue cooking on low another 10 minutes if your fruit is very dry and needs extra hydration time.
  4. Let fruit cool in the pot.  Transfer to a seal-able container.   Store in the refrigerator.    
  5. To rehear, warm in a microwave on half power.  Garnish with crystallized ginger just before serving.  
Variation: Add fresh baked fruits like chopped apples or pears tot he mixture. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ploughman's Party

Molasses and vinegar flavored Branston pickle and pickled onions accompany a British cheese board.
Thanksgiving success is often a matter of keeping excess kitchen activity low, particularly during the hours before and even the night before the big meal.  Take inspiration from a meal that doesn't require much, if any, kitchen equipment or cooking time-- the very English Ploughman's Lunch-- for an easy pre-dinner cocktail hour.   Everything is laid out cold (or room temperature) so it can be set up quickly and does not interfere with any wild goings-on in the kitchen.
-->It can even stand in for dinner one night (maybe the night before Thanksgiving as relatives arrive) or as a Super Bowl theme.
Every culture has a bread and cheese meal, often served with a fruit confection like Membrillo (quince paste) with Manchego in Spain or fig jam with Italy's Pecorino Romano cheese.  Ploughman's Lunch is served in pubs across the British Isles and includes local cheese, slabs of hearty bread and pickled vegetables epitomized by Branston Pickle.  This jarred chutney, a combination of root and winter vegetables preserved in a molasses and vinegar pickling medium, is easy to find in the U.S.  It's strong, piquant flavor stands up beautifully to aged cheddars.

When I was a student in England I discovered the ploughman's lunch served with a pint of bitter, the England's pale ale and generally a lower alcohol choice.  Cider (hard or soft) and beer are natural partners. Fill a cooler or an elegant ice bucket alongside your Ploughman's cheese spread and let people serve themselves.

Sometimes the pub special included a really generous helping of pickled cauliflower florets, pearl onions and gherkins.   A little ham, pate or cooked and iced shrimp can augment your table to add a little more substance if the numbers are large or if this is the main meal on the night before Thanksgiving. When we enjoy a Ploughman's Lunch it accompanies a fall soup like pureed butternut squash and roasted pear soup.

While it is easy to picture an 18th century farmhand sitting in the shade of the plough enjoying his midday meal of cheese, bread and beer, the pub version was not popular in the U.K. until the 1950s. A serious post-war effort by England's Cheese Bureau intended to reignite their industry after intense rationing promoted the Ploughman's Lunch into such a classic that even today tourists expect to see it on pub menus.

Here in America,  it is easy to find a few classic English cheeses and pickles and chutneys to accompany.  If you cannot find Brandston pickle, try Major Grey's Chutney.  The American pepper jelly would also be welcome at this meal.  When I was shopping for cheeses I asked the counter man if there was anything else besides Cheddar and Stilton I could include among English cheeses.  I had just picked up a wedge of Wensleydale from Yorkshire speckled with cranberries which fit the season perfectly.

We went over to the Cheddar section where I selected a pale yellow Seaside Cheddar that had aged for 14 months.   As luck would have it, an Englishman was there too.  I explained my plan and when asked about the cranberries in the Wensleydale, he assured me this was enjoyed on both sides of the pond not just a gimmick sent to us for the season. I'm glad I saw it.  Cranberry Wensleydale is my cheese find of the season and will show up right through New Year's.  Wensleydale is mild with honey undertones, a nice foil to tart cranberries. 

He also intimated that though its nice to have a range of cheeses, if you can only find or afford one cheese, make it cheddar, English or American.  As he put it, "It wouldn't be a ploughmans without Cheddar."

Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving with all the sanity you can handle. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Pumpkin Alfredo Sausage Bake

It’s not quite Thanksgiving but that doesn’t mean any of us has to wait to enjoy the classic flavors of fall-- or work very hard to put dinner tonight together.  Pumpkin Alfredo Penne with Sausage manages to be a hearty seasonal supper that won’t weigh you down. Cottage cheese whipped into the sauce lightens the texture.  Pumpkin compliments the cheesy ingredients and mellows the intensity of the spicy sausage in this pasta bake. 

Around the table reviews included “cheesy” and “lots of sausage flavor.”  Pure cooking lets each food's own qualities shine through and this is a simple example.  Any sliced cooked vegetable like broccoli, mushrooms or green beans will also fit into the recipe nicely.  (We had our broccoli on the side.)

Pumpkin Alfredo Penne with Sausage

Serves 4

½ cup pumpkin puree (canned is fine)
2 ounces cream cheese
1/3 cup cottage cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound spicy sausage meat* (loose)
2 cups uncooked penne pasta
optional: 2 ounces mozzarella or other good melting cheese for topping

  1. Lightly oil a medium baking dish (should hold about 6 cups).  Preheat oven to 325˚F.  
  2. Make sauce.  Combine pumpkin, cream cheese, cottage cheese and grated Parmesan in a food processor.  Set aside.
  3. Cook sausage, leaving the meat in bite-sized chunks. Drain any excess fat.  
  4. Cook pasta until just al dente and drain.  (pasta will continue to cook in the oven).
  5. Return pasta to the pot. Add Pumpkin Alfredo sauce and stir to coat pasta.  Add sausage. 
  6. Pour into a prepared baking dish.  Top with grated or sliced mozzarella cheese.  
  7. Bake at 325˚F for 20 minutes, until bubbling.  Serve immediately.

*Use your favorite non-breakfast sausage, sweet or hot.  You can use turkey or a combo or pork and turkey. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's Fall Back Brunch Time Again

It’s that weekend when the clocks are turned back and somehow you get an extra hour.   No one in the household knows whether its time for breakfast or lunch. It is the perfect Sunday for an impromptu brunch. 

With the extra time, you can leisurely put together a waffle batter while you sip on some tea or coffee.  Fluffy waffles topped with fruit, syrup, compound butters or yogurt and fortified with a slice of bacon or a sausage patty are easier than you'd think, especially if everyone dresses their own.  

Since it is autumn, try some buckwheat waffles.  They may look like hearty wholewheat health fare, but this surprisingly soft flour creates a mild cake that takes any topping beautifully.  It's fun to have a little waffle toppings bar set out as the waffles pop off the iron.

I learned to make buckwheat waffles after experimenting with buckwheat crepes.  The crepe recipe requires a bit of regular flour but the waffles are 100% buckwheat flour.  This recipe is adapted from the excellent Simply Recipes version that also uses an all buckwheat flour base.

I use 3 eggs instead of their suggested '2 eggs plus extra egg whites.' The additional yolk adds extra moistness and tenderness and 3 whites are plenty to help with the waffles' stability and structure.  Also, the original recipe uses butter which can result in a heavier waffle.  I use vegetable oil instead of butter but you can use half and half.   

A really fun topping to put out with these waffles is an 'all in one' butter made with maple syrup and fruit, Maple Cinnamon Cranberry Butter.  Fresh cranberries are in grocery stores (and on sale) right now and they are easy to rinse and cook down with maple syrup and a touch of cinnamon.  Folded into softened butter, this waffle butter keeps well in the fridge for a week and is good on toast too. (See below for more interesting uses.)

If you are up really early and want to get a jump on the morning, make the waffles and keep them in a preheated oven (under 200˚F) on a flat cookie sheet lightly covered with foil.  They freeze well too.  Place sheet of wax paper between each and store in a resealable freezer bag.

Buckwheat Waffles with Maple Cinnamon Cranberry Butter
Makes 8 waffles

1 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
baking powder
baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch salt
1 cup yogurt
1 cup milk
3 eggs, seperated
1/2 cup vegetable oil (canola, for example)
1-2 tablespoons sugar
  1. Combine dry ingredients (buckwheat flour through salt) in a medium bowl.
  2. Combine yogurt, milk egg yolks and oil in a small bowl or pitcher.  Stir to break up the egg yolks.
  3. In a large bowl, beat egg whites until foamy.  Sprinkle on sugar and continue to beat until soft peaks form.  (This small amount of egg whites can be whipped quickly and easily with a whisk but you can also use a hand mixer.)
  4. Pour the yogurt milk mixture into dry ingredients and combine so that all ingredients are moistened.  
  5. Stir into the batter a large spoonful of egg whites.  This will lighten the batter.
  6. Pour the batter into the egg whites trying to pour down one side of the bowl so that most of the egg whites remain puffy.  Using a rubber spatula or large spoon, fold the egg whites into the batter by drawing the spatula through the mixture and pulling batter and egg whites up from the bottom.  When the egg wites are nicely incorporated into the batter, you are ready to eat the waffle iron. 
  7. Waffle irons very in size.  Follow the manufacturers instructions on preheating.  Place a little cooking oil or spray oil on the cooking surface and pour about 1/2- 2/3 cup batter onto iron. 
  8. Close and  cook about 3 minutes (more or less depending on your appliance, ours likes 3 minutes).
  9. Use a rubber spatula to help lift the waffle from the iron onto a waiting plate or a platter (that can go in a low oven to keep the waffles warm). 
Serve with your favorite topping including our new favorite, Maple Cinnamon Cranberry Butter.  This lightly sweetened fruit butter goes beautifully on waffles and pancakes.  If you have any leftovers, try a spoonful with roasted acorn squash.  Good on turkey or roast pork sandwiches too.

Maple Cinnamon Cranberry Butter
Makes 2/3 cup

1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed
1/4 cup water
4 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons softened butter

  1. Pick over cranberries and discard any soft berries and stems.
  2. Place cranberries and water in a small, heavy-bottomed pot and cook over medium heat until berries burst and water is almost cooked out.  As the berries break down, they will release their pectin and create a thick sauce.  
  3. Lower heat and add maple syrup and cinnamon.  Cook 1-2 minutes more until the jewel red sauce is quite thick.  Remove pot from the heat and allow cranberry mixture to cool. (Hint: you have just made a simple cranberry sauce from scratch).
  4. When the sauce is room temperature, whip the softened butter - 1 tablespoon at a time- intot he mixture. 
  5. Serve immediately or store in a covered bowl.  When chilled, Maple Cinnamon Cranberry Butter will harden.  It can be rolled and sliced for serving.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Baked Potato Soup

If you have some extra potatoes already baked, this soup is even faster on a chilly evening.  Just remove the peel and stir in the cooked potatoes once the cauliflower is tender.  Cauliflower adds a silkiness to the texture of the soup that is subtle but special.

Our Baked Potato Soup
Serves 4
2 slices bacon, chopped in inch wide pieces
2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
½ onion, diced
1 large baking potato
3 medium eastern potatoes
½ head cauliflower
1 quart low sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
Optional garnishes: grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, chives or chopped scallion, bacon (reserved from rendered bacon fat), black pepper

  1. In a large stockpot over medium heat, cook bacon until crispy.  Remove bacon as it crisps and reserve to garnish soup.   Leave bacon fat in pot.  
  2. Lower heat and add celery and onion.   Cook vegetables until tender.  
  3. Meanwhile, peel potatoes and cut into quarters.  Cut the large baking potato into eighths.  All the potatoes should be about the same size.  Add potatoes and chicken broth to pot and bring to a boil.  
  4. Chop cauliflower into large florets.  When soup is boiling, lower heat to medium and add cauliflower.  
  5. Boil soup over medium heat, partially covered for 30 minutes until potatoes and cauliflower can be easily mashed with a fork.   Add water if liquid becomes to low.  
  6. When vegetables are fork-tender, remove soup from heat.   Using a large spoon, break up the potatoes so they are in smaller, bite sized pieces.  Stir in milk.  Stir in half the salt and taste.  Add remaining salt if needed.  Finally stir in butter.  
  7. At this point you can serve the soup with garnishes or you can puree it.  To puree, use an immersion blender or allow the soup to cool about an hour before pouring into a blender to puree.  Soup may be made a day in advance.  Store covered and refrigerated.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Chili & Fire Prevention Week

This week's motto: Fire in the chili, not in the kitchen.  It's Fire Prevention Week. 

The leading cause of home fires and injuries is cooking.  (I always thought it was heating or electrical.)  In fact, two of every five home fires start in the kitchen.  So the National Fire Protection Association theme this year is "Prevent Kitchen Fires."

Some hot, fiery chili seemd like a natural companion recipe to a few simple tips and "best practices" to commemorate the week.  When making this recipe, you can put into use many of the habits of fire prevention in your own kitchen.
  •  The leading cause of kitchen fires is unattended cooking and most of that involves stovetop cooking.  
    •  If you are simmering, boiling, baking or roasting food, check it regularly and remain at home while food is cooking.  Use a timer to remind you to check on the cooking food.
  • Keep anything that can catch fire- oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels, long sleeves- away from the stovetop.
  • Keep a lid nearby when cooking to smother any small grease fire.  Smother the fire by sliding the lid over the pan and turning off the stovetop.  Leave the pan covered until it is complete cooled.  DO not throw water on a grease fire.  
  • If you decide to fight the fire, be sure others are getting out and that you also have a clear way out.  Have someone call 9-1-1.  When you get out, close the door to prevent spread of the fire.  
Let's make chili and show off some fire safety know-how. 

Recently, America's Test Kitchen did some very clever things to develop depth and oomph in a vegetarian bean chili.  Recipes for meat-based chilies can benefit from the addition of one of those tricks: dried mushrooms, ground in with your chili powder. The mushrooms add extra umami flavor, a deep flavor component that will mature your chili quickly. 

Kitchen Fire Chili
Serves 4
1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
1 tablespoon ground, roasted and seeded chilies*
1 teaspoon ground dired mushrooms (porcini, shitake, etc)
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2-1 teaspoon ground cumin
14-ounce can chopped tomatoes in juice
2 teaspoon tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
optional: cayenne

  1. Over medium heat, brown the meat in a wide, deep skillet.  Stir and turn occasionally to cook all the meat completely.  Pour off excess fat, leaving no more that a tablespoon (not necessary if using a lean meat; wipe any fat from the outside of the pan before placing back on heating element.)
  2. Lower the heat to medium-low and push the meat to the side of the pan. Sprinkle the chili, mushroom, oregano and cumin over the oil left in the pan and stir to coat and cook the spices for about one minute.  
  3. Combine the meat and spice mixture together and add the tomatoes, juice and tomato paste.  Stir to combine well.
  4. Cover and simmer over very low heat for 15 minutes.  Check mixture after about 5 minutes and add water, a few tablespoons at a time, if mixture is becoming dry. 
  5. Remove from heat (and turn off stove top).  Cover and let sit for 10 minutes. 
  6. Taste and add salt, up to 1/4 teaspoon if needed.  This is also the time to adjust for spiciness-- adding cayenne or hot sauce to suit your taste. 
Flecks of mushroom color freshly ground chili powder
*To make your own pure chili powder, roast whole dried chilies in a 300˚F oven for 10 minutes.  A nice combination is two ancho chilies and two gaujillo chilies.  Cool the chilies, abut 5 minutes so they are easy to handle.  Break open, remove seeds, stem and any large membranes inside each chili. Grind the chilies in a spice grinder (coffee grinder used only for spices) or food processor.   Grind with the dried mushrooms to make an instant, house-blend of chili powder. 

If you use a purchased chili powder that already contains cumin, oregano and other ingredients, simple add the ground mushrooms to your chili powder and proceed with recipe. 

Note: Beans are optional in your chili and can be added with the tomatoes.  Use one can, drained, for every pound of meat. 

Serve chili scooped into bowls over warmed tortilla chips or rice.  Garnish with any combination of chopped avocado, black olives and tomatoes, grated cheddar or jack cheese, sour cream lime quarters and fresh, chopped cilantro.  Pass the extra hot sauce. 

Special thanks to firefighters everywhere, especially the members of The Thornhurst Volunteer Fire & Rescue Co, our local heroes.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Carrot-Ginger Red Cabbage Slaw

Crispy salads from cabbage make really nice sides to fall meals.  We enjoyed this Japanese-inspired slaw with pork tenderloin.  If you like the carrot-ginger dressing on salads served at Japanese restaurants, you know what a nice match it is to grilled and roasted meats and fish.  Leftover sliced pork and the slaw make really good lunch tacos the following day.  This slaw is also a fresh and crunchy foil for vegetarian fall offerings like winter squash gratins.

Red cabbage is a vibrant choice.  You can also make this with green, savoy or napa cabbage.  Leftover steamed or roasted Brussels sprouts could get new life from this zesty dressing too. 

Carrot- Ginger Red Cabbage Slaw
Makes a little over 2 cups, serves 4

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 small carrot- finely grated
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 t grainy or Dijon mustard
Juice ½ lemon
Salt & pepper
Optional: ½ teaspoon honey, hot sauce

½ red cabbage, thinly sliced

  1. Make the dressing.  Combine the first five ingredients, ginger through lemon juice in a small bowl.  It is helpful to grate the ginger and carrot into the bowl first using a very fine grater.  
  2. Then add the mayonnaise, mustard and lemon juice.  Taste and add salt and black pepper as needed.   
  3. You may also enjoy a sweeter or hotter version—add honey or hot sauce to taste.  Start with ½ teaspoon honey and/or a few dashes of hot sauce.  
  4. Combine dressing with thinly sliced cabbage.  Be sure to cover the cabbage entirely so it will all cure in the dressing.  
  5. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour before serving.  Your slaw is ready when the cabbage is slightly wilted but retains some crunch.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Figs, So Simple

It's hard to beat the perfection of fresh figs over plain, whole milk yogurt.  Indulge while figs are in season. Today, no recipe; just cut the figs in slices or quarters. 

Perfect little 4pm snack, breakfast treat, late night dessert too.  No need to add honey even; the sweetness is inside each fig. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Corn Muffins with Grapes

We do not all feel harvest time in the same way that our grandparents did.  Then, even city-dwellers were aware of when certain foods were at their peak and ready for market.  We see grapes all year these days but some varieties, like red grapes from our northern hemisphere, are abundant now.  It's nice to acknowledge the harvest season and nicer still when you can make something easy and pure. 

These corn muffins with grapes are a fun school lunch or after-school treat.  Adults really like the grape surprise inside too.  Simply take your favorite corn muffin recipe (or the one below) and drop a few grapes into each muffin tin before baking. 

This recipe was inspired by Harvest Grape Breads, a wonderful slightly sweet flat bread or focaccia from Tuscany. After looking around at Harvest Grape Bread recipes, I found a Harvest Cake made with grapes, olive oil and semolina.  Thus was born an original recipe for corn muffins with grapes.  In the recipe below, you may substitute olive oil for up to half of the butter. 

Corn Muffins with Grapes
Yield: 12 muffins

1/2 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup red seedless grapes (about 40 grapes) washed and dried

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. Grease a regular sized muffin pan (12 muffins) with vegetable oil or spray.
  3. Melt butter in microwave or small pot over low heat.
  4. While butter melts combine cornmeal, flour and salt in a small bowl. 
  5. Stir melted butter and sugar together in a medium bowl.
  6. Add eggs and beat until well blended. 
  7. Combine buttermilk with baking soda and stir into mixture sugar mixture.
  8. Stir in cornmeal mixture until well blended and few lumps remain. 
  9. Scoop batter into the prepared muffin pan.
  10. Press a few grapes into the tops of each muffin.  (Batter will rise up around grapes.
  11. Bake at 375˚F for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center muffin comes away clean.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Basil's Moment

Home gardens are closing up and a bag of over abundant zucchini from a neighbor may arrive unannounced at your door.  If you are lucky as me, there is basil there as well, lots of it.

The key now is to preserve the bounty quickly.  Most of this year's basil windfall will become pesto, frozen in small quantities to make pesto noodles, add to soups or smear on baked chicken breasts.  I'll also freeze some chopped basil alone in olive oil. Make sure the chopped basil is completely coated with oil before storing.   Preserving in oil is fine as long as you are freezing the mixture.  Do not solely rely on refrigeration to retard the growth of bacteria. 

Below is a simple recipe for pesto and since our basil arrived with just picked zucchini, I've included a recipe for a buttermilk-basil sauce for zucchini and tortellini.  This sauce makes a nice salad dressing as well.  

Buttermilk Basil Sauce for Pasta Salad
Yield: Enough to coat about 4-5 cups pasta/vegetables
Note: A mini food processor or immersion blender is perfect for this small quantity.  If you have neither, you can rough chop then mince the basil and combine with remaining ingredients to make a more rustic but equally tasty version of the dressing.

1 cup basil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
black pepper

  1. Combine basil and cheese in a food processor and pulse to create a rough chop.  
  2. Add buttermilk and olive oil and process to a smooth dressing.  
  3. Add black pepper to taste.
To use, pour over  cooked noodles (short pastas, tortellini, macaroni, etc) and steamed and drained zucchini or other favorite vegetable (about 4 cups total veggies and pasta).  Serve hot or at room temperature.  (Cover and refrigerate to store.)

Basil Pesto
1 1/2 cups

3 cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried, large stems removed
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 
1/8-1/4 teaspoon black pepper
pinch salt

  1. Combine the basil, garlic and nuts in a food processor with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  
  2. Pulse to create a coarse chop of the ingredients.  
  3. Slowly add 1/2 cup olive oil as you process to create a smooth paste.  
  4. Add cheese and remainder of olive oil as needed to create a thick but pourable consistency.  
  5. Add black pepper and taste.  Add salt, if needed (the dry cheese will add salty flavor so taste before adding more salt). 
To use, toss several tablespoons pesto sauce with hot, drained pasta. Toss to allow warm pasta to melt the cheese and coat pasta with sauce. Serve hot or at room temperature.  Pesto may be refrigerated for 1-2 days covered in olive oil. 

Storage: Unused pesto will keep in the freezer for 3 months.  Many recommend freezing portions in ice cube trays.  We like to freeze 1/4 cup servings in snack-size plastic bags.  Any leftover thawed pesto is enjoyed on sandwiches in place of mayonnaise or as a base for dip. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Have You Tried Tempeh?

Move over tofu, tempeh is easy to find, store and cook.  Like tofu, it absorbs marinades and sauces beautifully but, for many, has a much more appealing mouth feel than tofu.  That’s due to tempeh’s more chewy texture, a result of its unique production process.

Most tempeh found at supermarkets here is a mix of grains and whole soybeans.  The taste is reminiscent of mushrooms with a little nuttiness. In fact, it goes very nicely in dishes with mushrooms like this starter tempeh recipe with pasta and mushrooms.  Despite having some Asian flavors in the marinade, this is not an Asian dish.  The cheese and mushroom flavor is what comes forward most.

The key to really tasty tempeh is to pre-steam before marinating.  This takes only 10 minutes in a steamer basket.  It opens the pores of the tempeh and allows the marinade to really penetrate. Cut your tempeh into the size you will use before steaming and simply cover and steam over (not in) boiling water or flavored broth.  Once steamed, cover with marinade and let rest turning occasionally for at least a half hour.  Now you are ready to grill, sauté or mix into stir-fries. 

Tortellini with Tempeh and Mushrooms
4 servings

1 package tempeh, cut into ½ inch blocks and steamed for 10 minutes
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon sherry
2 teaspoons lemon juice or rice wine vinegar
8 oz sliced mushrooms (try a mixture of portabello and morels)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 16-ounce package fresh tortellini (cheese or your favorite flavor)
1/4 cup cream or while milk
2-3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)
Black pepper to taste
Optional garnish: fresh herbs (basil, parsley)

  1. Place sliced, steamed tempeh in marinade of soy sauce, sherry and lemon juice.  Set aside for half hour, turning tempeh several times to coat completely.  
  2. When ready to cook, Boil water and cook tortellini according to package directions.  
  3. Meanwhile sauté mushrooms in a wide skillet in olive oil over medium high heat.    When mushroom are almost tender, lower heat and add tempeh and cook until tempeh is heated through.  
  4. When tortellini is ready, carefully drain pasta, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water.  
  5. Add cream and about an ounce of the pasta water to the mushroom-tempeh mixture.  Fold in tortellini and let all the ingredients cook together over low heat for a minute or two.  
  6. Sprinkle with cheese and add more pasta water as needed to create a light sauce.  
  7. Add black pepper and herbs, if using.  Serve at once.  Pass around extra cheese or herbs at table. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Plum Tartlets

These are the fastest tarts ever and since they are not too sweet, you can have them for breakfast topped with yogurt.  My favorite eating plums are the black plums that have just about peaked.  For tarts, I use prune plums which are coming into season now.  They are smaller, very easy to pit and hold their shape nicely when baked. 

My recipe uses squares of purchased puff pastry.  You can make your own or use regular pie dough instead.  The tarlets are baked in regular-sized muffin pans to create their small uniform size. 

They freeze really well and reheat quickly in a hot oven-- no need to defrost.  Also good travelers for the last picnics of the summer.

Plum Tartlets
Makes 12-14 tartlets

1 pound prune plums
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoons jam (fig or your favorite flavor)
2-3 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
dash salt
2 teaspoons corn starch dissolved in 1 ounce cold water
1 sheet puff pastry (about 12" X 12")
2 tablespoons grounds almonds (or fresh breadcrumbs)

  1. Preheat oven to 375˚F.  Chill a regular 12-muffin pan in the refrigerator.  
  2. Prepare plum filling. Halve each plum and remove pit.  Cut plum halves in thirds and place in a medium pot with a heavy bottom.
  3. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, jam and water.  Cook plum mixture over medium-low heat and stir as needed to prevent sticking.  Cook unitl plums are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes.
  4. Lower heat and add cornstarch dissolved in water and vanilla or almond extract.  Cook another 2 minutes.  Add a touch of salt. 
  5.  Remove from heat and taste. Add a bit more sugar if your plums are not very sweet. 
  6. Pour plums into a bowl to cool while you prepare pastry cups. 
  7. Place puff pastry on a lightly floured board.  Using a rolling pin, roll out puff pastry to create a large square, a little over 12" X 12" inches.  Larger is fine.  
  8. Using a non-serrated knife or pizza cutter, cut puff pastry into 12-16 squares.  (If you cut 16 squares, you will have leftover for more tarts or can form the remainder into a mini-tart (see photo below).
  9. Press each square into the chilled muffin pan.  Spoon about 2 tablespoons plum mixture into each pastry. 
  10. Bake at 375˚F for 18-20 minutes until edges of pastry are lightly browned and crisp.
  11. Remove muffin pan from oven and let pastry rest 2-3 minutes.  Then, remove each tartlet to a wire cooling rack.  If fruit has spilled over and tarts are sticking to pan, place them back in the warm oven for a few minutes to help loosen.  

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Farmers Market Potatoes

The humble potato is special when it comes from the Farmers Markets or a little mound in your back garden.  I love the really tiny ones that can only be gotten close to the source.  The first time I had such exquisite potatoes was at a dinner at one of those Vermont family houses with a name.  Not a ski house name like Trails End or Yodeler but a real architectural name. The house was built by a famous architect who had been part of a major shipping family and knew how to live on a grand scale hidden among the birch trees that dotted the property. 

In the interest of family privacy, I can tell you no more except about the potatoes. They came from my CSA portion for that week.   Each of us was bringing something to the dinner and the grand dame at the head of the table, the daughter of said architect and now a mature woman who knew her gardens and was a regular judge at the country's largest flower show in Philadelphia, scooped up a small bit of my simple potato salad and carried on to the more ornamental fare at the table. 

There were truly tiny potatoes.  None were larger than an acorn.  They took moments to boil and were served whole in their skins and a light dressing. A few larger ones were cut in half revealing a pale yellow interior. Their flavor was intense, what God had in mind when he made potatoes.

Halfway through dinner, the great lady who had earlier noted that potatoes tasted the same no matter the size, interrupted the conversation to search out the half empty bowl and asked for more potatoes.  Upon finding out they were from the organic farm that offered one of the state's first community supported agriculture programs to the southern Vermont area, she promptly signed up for a weekly delivery.  That is the power of the humble potato.  It can melt a gardening judge's heart.

When you get your hands on farm fresh potatoes, the key is to do almost nothing to them.  Boiled until just tender and stuffed into a grilled corn tortilla with some chorizo sausage like I once had in Oaxaca, Mexico or steamed then roasted in a small pool of olive oil in a 425˚F oven and lightly salted. Or, as we first had them, boiled and tossed in a light vinaigrette. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Farmers Market Sour Cherry Pie

I feel a little guilty writing this and posting it in August. The sour cherry season is so brief that by the time you read this it may already be over in your area.  Luckily, there are canned sour cherries available. 

Sour cherries don't look very promising when you buy the at the farmers market.  They range in color from pinky red to orange-flecked yellow fruits.  As you pit them, you feel their thin skin and and soft flesh.  Eventually you are tempted to sample one-- always as tart as you remember.  Not for eating out of hand!

But the very qualities of the sour cherry which make it hard to handle raw, give it its strength to survive a hot pie-baking oven. Sweet cherries dissolve and turn into mush in a pastry shell while the sour cherries firm and plump up, retaining their integral shape and providing a nice pop of pure cherry flavor in the mouth when the pie is eaten. 

I was in a hurry when I made this sour cherry pie.  I'd picked up the cherries at a farm stand along the road on the way home from a visit to family in Vermont.  It was Sunday afternoon, a work week was looming and I had 2 more hours of driving before I could even think about making pastry.  Still, with a short growing season, I could not pass by a supply of fresh sour cherries.  I went the easy way and bought a pie crust that I reformed into two small pies that I could bake and freeze for later in the month.  The lattice top helped me extend the pastry for two 6-inch pies.  Here is the filling:

Sour Cherry Pie
prepared pie crust for one pie or two small tarts
5 cups sour cherries, pitted and rinsed
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons corn starch
1 tablespoon cold butter, diced very small 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

  1. Place the bottom pastry in a pie shell and refrigerate it and the top pastry while you prepare the filling. 
  2. Combine all ingredients for pie filling in a large bowl.  Let sit 10 minutes.  Preheat oven to 400˚F while filling is resting.   
  3. Stir the filling to distribute sauce that has formed evenly.  Pour filling into prepared pie shell(s).  
  4. Cover with lattice strips of pastry or a regular pie pastry top and cut holes into pastry top to allow steam to escape while baking.  
  5. Lower the oven temperature to 375˚F and bake pie 40-60 minutes (less time for a small pie) until pastry is cooked and flakey.  
  6. Remove pie from oven and allow to cool at least one hour before enjoying. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Farmers Market Beets

Yellow,  red and white spiraled, pink and this year I learned the name for deep, maroon beauties. The farmer called them "Detroits."  Maroon beets are the most common in our supermarkets but I think these organic heirloom beets, which my sister bought, were another step into beet heaven.

During the summer, you can find a range of color and flavor in the beet family at your farmers market.  I took home as many colored varieties as they had--a bright red bunch, the mild apricot-yellow ones and the red and white candy cane striped beets named for Chioggia, a fishing town near Venice, Italy. (The very Venice where they dress in Chiogga-inspired stripes, colors and other harlequin patterns during pre-Lenten Carnivale.)

Perhaps your own garden yielded some of beet's best colors this year.  When I first move to this neighborhood years ago, a neighbor dropped off a 5-gallon bucket of deep ruby beets.  Some were the size of a small of cabbage.  I was momentarily overwhelmed.  Then grateful-- we had the best borscht, orange scented beets and beet relish and a supply to roast for fall. 

Can you believe we did not yet know about beets and goat cheese?  That salad combination was about to hit the big time at restaurants everywhere.  It is still a favorite, twenty years later.  Our favorite home combination surrounds roasted beets on a bed of greens with a tart or soft cheese and pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds) or roasted pecans. Here we had Camembert on hand, butter lettuce and roasted and salted pepitas.

That big beet windfall taught me how to prepare beets.  I tried a lot of methods to steam, boil, roast and even shave them thinly to eat raw and make into chips.  My favorite technique is to roast them in the manner that America's Test Kitchen recommends. 
  1. Cut off the stems, leaving about an inch.  
  2. Wrap washed but unpeeled beets in tin foil (wrap each individually if larger than a pin ping ball) and roast at a high temperature (400-450˚F) for 30-60 minutes.  
  3. Test for doneness by carefully unwrapping and pressing into the flesh with fork tines  
  4. When you can pass into the center, your beets are ready.  Remove from oven, open the foil and leave to cool until you can handle them (about 10-15 minutes).  
  5. Cut off tops with a butter knife and peel back skin with the knife or use a paper towel to easily pull away the skin.  
Beets are ready for salads, soup, or sauteed with a but of butter, cream and pepper.  Roasted beets will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for 2-3 days. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Farmers Market Zucchini Tomato Gratin

Now is the best time to make simple vegetable gratins.  Summer vegetables are at their peak at farmers markets and grocery stores and gardens are starting to burst at the seams.   Combinations like tomatoes with zucchini or shucked and shaved corn* with sweet or hot peppers show off the best of the season.  Summer gratins are easy and a lot faster than their winter cousins.

The key to this gratin is a thin layer of sliced vegetables beneath a crisp gratin coating.  The vegetables, baked in a single layer, steam in their own juices as the cheese and garlic-infused topping crisps. 

Make two, using two pie plates, if you are serving more than 4 people.

Farmers Market Zucchini Tomato Gratin
Serves 2-3 as a side

2 small zucchini or one large monster from your garden
1 medium tomato
¼  large onion
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Gratin topping
1 heaping tablespoon grated Parmesan Cheese
1 heaping tablespoon fresh bread crumbs
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
  2. Thinly slice zucchini, tomato and onion.  The zucchini looks very pretty cut on with a diagonal bias.  Slices should be no more than ¼ inch thick.
  3. Using half the oil, lay a thin film of oil on a glass pie plate.   Lay the vegetables on the pie plate in an alternating circular pattern with zucchini and tomatoes overlapping and the onion slices tucked between the two other vegetables.  Use only a few slivers of onion between each slice of zucchini and tomato.  Create only one layer.   
  4. In a small bowl, mix together the cheese, bread crumbs and remaining ingredients.  Sprinkle the topping over the vegetables.    Sprinkle the remaining olive oil over crumbs.  
  5. Bake at 400˚F for 25-30 minutes until the vegetables are very soft and the topping is browned and crisped.   
  6. Remove from oven and serve hot or room temperature with a drizzle if high quality extra virgin olive oil. 

Leftovers are great nestled into a hard roll or ciabatta for a sandwich-snack.

*Add a few tablespoons of water to the gratin dish to help the corn steam or use leftover cooked corn. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Many Vegetable Soup

To complete ‘Restaurant Month’, I share a back kitchen restaurant trick that you can employ at home to make a simple summer meal.

Restaurant chefs know how to make the most out of all the ingredients in their kitchens.  Making soup is a frugal way to use pure ingredients, like the last carrots or extra zucchini in the refrigerator.  Not enough to serve as a side dish at dinner, but in combination with a few other extras in the pantry, these remains in the vegetable bin can be part of a whole new creation.  30-Vegetable Soup is often thickened with a bean and tomato base that is partially pureed.  The soup is satisfying but not too heavy for a mid-summer night. 

Many of our favorite Italian restaurants in New York City offer a vegetable soup that boasts an enormous variety of vegetables.  As a house specialty, they buy their vegetables with this 30-Vegetable Soup in mind.  You can use the same thought process when you buy groceries with just five or six vegetables (or as many as thirty). Don't be put off by the number of ingredients.  This is a rustic soup and you can get away with a rough chop so prep time is fast. 

Here is a basic recipe that expands to fifteen or more vegetables but tastes just great with a small number of vegetables too.  

Many Vegetable Soup
Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion and/or 1 fennel bulb, sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
2 carrots and/or parsnips, peeled and sliced
2 zucchini or yellow squash, sliced
1 large potato, cubed
1 cup green beans and/or broccoli (florets and/or thinly sliced stems)
1 14-oz can peeled whole tomatoes
8 cups water (or ½ water ½ broth)
½ teaspoon dried herbs; choose from thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano or dill (if ¼ using fresh, add 2 tablespoons chopped at end of cooking)
½ small green cabbage, chopped (or 2 cups cole slaw mix)
1 clove garlic, chopped (optional)
2 cups spinach, kale or swiss chard leaves (rinsed well and coarsely chopped)
2 cups cooked or canned beans (white beans or your favorite)
to garnish: fresh herbs and grated Parmesan cheese

  1. In a large stock pot, heat oil over medium heat.  
  2. Add the prepared vegetables from onion through green beans/broccoli.  Cook until they are slightly wilted and soft, about 3-4 minutes.  
  3. Add tomatoes, water and dried herbs.  Lower heat and cover.  Simmer vegetables 10-12 minutes, until almost done.  
  4. Uncover pot and add remaining ingredients: cabbage, greens and cooked/canned beans.  
  5. Cook until all vegetables are tender.  
  6. Serve with fresh herbs and grated cheese.
Variations: For a creamier version, cool soup and puree half.  Return puree to soup and stir to combine.  Reheat to serve. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Shrimp & Corn Quesadilla

Restaurants inspire the home cook this month.

I often look to restaurant menus for inspiration.  It is helpful to see how chefs are combining ingredients and sometimes, you encounter a great dish and think, if I do this at home I can enjoy this all the time.

Mamajuana on the Upper West Side in New York City has a lovely lobster and corn quesadilla to go with their perfectly mixed mojitoes.  Priced right, it has a really good lobster flavor despite a modest amount of meat and a trio of fun dipping sauces.  Even as I ate it, I knew I'd be recreating a seafood quesadilla at home.

Mine uses large grilled shrimp instead of steamed lobster, fresh corn from the farmers market and smoked gouda instead of the Oaxcan cheese Mamajauna uses.  For garnish, a simple mango-avocado salsa steeped in lime juice and a dash of honey replaced the trio of sauces. 

It is colorful and brimming with pure flavors.  Any seafood, cooked lobster, scallops or crab meat can be used instead of shrimp.  Make the salsa a least an hour ahead.

Shrimp & Corn Quesadillas
3 quesadillas (cut in fourths, serves 4 as an appetizer)

1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined and split in half lengthwise
1/2 lime
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt and pepper
3 large flour tortillas
2 ears corn, cooked and kernals cut from the cob (about 1 cup corn)
6 ounces grated cheese- smoked gouda, smoked mozzarella*
1/2 cup fresh cilantro- unchopped
grape seed or canola oil

*If you prefer an un-smoked cheese, try fontina, fresh mozzarella or jack cheese.

  1. Toss the shrimp in lime juice, oi and salt and pepper.  
  2. Over a medium-high heat in a cast iron or heavy-bottomed skillet, grill the shrimp 1-2 minutes per side until a nice char develops.  
  3. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.  Wipe out pan and coat with a bit of vegetable oil.  
  4. Assemble the quesadillas.  Lay shredded cheese over the entire tortilla.  
  5. On one side only layer corn.  Place the  shrimp on top of the corn and a few sprigs of cilantro on the shrimp.  You can chop up the shrimp a bit to make it easy to cover the corn.  
  6. Fold the other side of the tortilla (with cheese) over the shrimp-corn side.  
  7. Heat the cleaned skillet over medium heat. Place a quesadilla on the skillet and cook until the cheese melts on the underside and the tortilla begins to brown.  
  8. Flip the quesadilla and continue to cook until the second side is browned and the cheese has completely melted. By using medium rather than high heat, the cheese will melt and the shell with not burn.  Check your temperature and start with lower heat if your stove burners run hot.
  9. Remove the finished quesdilla to a cutting board to set while you cook the remainders.  
  10. To cut, use a very sharp knife or pizza cutter.  Cut quesadillas in quarters.  
 Pile Mango-Avocado Salsa on top and serve.

Mango-Avocado Salsa
1 mango, peeled and chopped (frozen thawed or canned is fine, about 3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons minced red onion
2 tablespoons minced red bell pepper
1/2-1 seeded jalepeno, minced
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup fresh, chopped cilantro
1/2 avocado, chopped

At least one hour ahead or day before, combine all ingredients except the avocado.  Cover and let marinate.  Just before serving, add the avocado and a stir gently to incorporate. 

Vegetarian Version-- Skip the grilled shrimp and add in extra corn and some chopped red bell pepper.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Chorizo with Figs

Chorizo with Figs, the perfect tapas dish?
Recently, friends have been re-creating some of their favorite restaurant items at home and this month I'll be capturing some of the stand-outs that you can make in your own kitchen too.

Tapas, Spain's gift to the appetizer-light snack world, are small plates shared over a glass of wine.  My favorite cities for tapas are Madrid, where night revelers visit cool grottoes dug under the Plaza Mayor for house specialties, and Barcelona which, to my mind, serves up some of the most imaginative small plates highlighting pork and seafood.

That's why when I heard about the southern Connecticut restaurant named for Barcelona, I was ready to try old favorites and new finds.   Over the years, it's become a favorite birthday spot for some dear friends in Westport which has given me a chance to sample most of the menu with them.

Chorizo with Sweet and Sour Figs was new to me. If you ever found yourself unable to stop eating those little cocktail wieners in grape jelly and mustard sauce at holiday buffets, you will love this highly sophisticated and grown up version made with far purer flavors but the same addictive appeal. 

Now that most supermarkets stock chorizo sausage and dried figs are available year round, this quick dish can be enjoyed any time of year.  It recently starred at the McNee's graduation/bon voyage party for daughter Sarah on her way to Mexico City for her first job.  Ole Sarah!

Normally, this blog only publishes original recipes but for this little masterpiece, no reinvention is needed.  As my friend Marianne says, "Just follow the recipe."  Here is Barcelona's recipe for Chorizo with Sweet and Sour Figs.

 p.s.-- loved the whole sticks of cinnamon Marianne used to garnish the party platter. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Momufuku & Sesame-Ginger-Jalepeno Sauce

A version of this sauce is served at Momufuku's renown fried chicken dinners in New York City.  An array of sauces, condiments and lettuce wrappers come with the towering platter of Korean and Southern versions of fried chicken.  It makes a feast. 

One sauce really stuck with me after the meal. Thinly sliced fresh jalapenos and grated ginger steeped in sesame oil.  Spicy, hot, sweet, savory.  I have found that this sauce goes even better with grilled or breaded baked chicken than it did with the fried version served at Momufuku Noodle Bar.   It is simple and, while I provide my version of measurements below, very forgiving if you spill in extra oil or more/less ginger or jalepeno. 

Sesame-Ginger-Jalepeno Sauce
Makes about 1/3 cup. Recipe may be doubled

2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1/2-1 sliced jalapeno

Combine all ingredients and let the mixture steep 15 minutes before serving with baked chicken.
Delicious on steamed or grilled fish or vegetables too, especially happy with broccoli. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Fool Proof Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Baked sweet potato fries are not as easy to pull off as their white potato cousins. They can stick to the baking sheet and turn from an appetizing bronze to charcoal-tipped in moments.  This easy technique for baking then roasting lightly glazed sweet potato wedges takes the babysitting out of the equation and garners pure and wonderful results every time.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries
serves 4
4 medium sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2-3 tablespoons water or beer
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 325˚F.  Line a large baking pan with 2-3 inch rim with foil and lightly oil.
  2. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into wedges by cutting each in half lengthwise.  Cut each half into quarters to yield 8 wedges per potato.
  3. Combine soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger and water.
  4. Place sweet potato wedges in prepared pan.  Pour sauce over potatoes and toss to coat well.  Tightly cover baking pan with foil.
  5. Bake sweet potatoes at 325˚F for 40-50 minutes, until wedges are almost tender.  
  6. Remove foil top and turn oven temperature up to 375˚F.  Continue cooking 10-15 minutes, gently turning the wedges with a spatula halfway through. 
  7. When slighty crisp and a deep bronze color, remove sweet potatoes from oven and season with salt and pepper.
What do you dip you sweet potato fries in? Ketchup is alright, but not the best match.  Try a sour cream dip or whip up an aioli mayonaise (garlic-infused) to compliment this easy side dish. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Orange Couscous

This knock out side dish is almost too simple to be this good.  The citrus sweet tones go perfectly with grilled pork tenderloin.

Because of its short preparation time, couscous is perfect summer fare.  Steep the tiny pasta in boiled water for five minutes and the couscous blooms.  An infusion of orange juice, orange zest and basil gives the side a light, ethereal flavor that goes perfectly with any summer grilled main course.  A last minute toss with fresh chopped basil and toasted almonds and Orange Couscous is ready for company, hot or cold. 

Orange Couscous
Serves 4
¾ cup couscous
Zest of 1/2 orange
½ teaspoon honey
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
2 medium oranges (one juiced and the second peeled, pitted and sectioned)*
-juice of 1 medium orange plus enough  boiling water to equal 1 cup
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
5-6 basil leaves, chopped (julienned is nice)
*4 ounces store-bought OJ and a small can of drained mandarin oranges can be substituted)

  1. Place couscous, orange zest, salt and butter in a medium bowl.  
  2. Mix juice and honey with boiling water and pour over couscous. Stir to moisten all the pasta.  
  3. Cover bowl with a plate and let sit 5-7 minutes.  
  4. Remove plate and with a fork, fluff pasta.  
  5. Stir in basil and almonds.  Chop reserved orange segments into bite-sized pieces and stir into couscous.  Garnish with extra basil leaves.
Orange Couscous is also a match for grilled lamb, chicken or fish.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Pesto Chicken Shell Game

There are a lot of really great pesto pasta shell recipes on the internet.  One, with chicken, seems to have been copied about quite a bit.  

I use a different selection of cheeses in my Pesto Chicken Shells and add chopped broccoli.  Adding a vegetable helps to lighten the filling and who can deny that pesto loves broccoli?  It surprises me that more recipes don't include more vegetables in rolled, stuffed and ground dishes. 

Just last week I made a wonderful chicken enchilada with a pumpkin sauce that was crying out for mushrooms and zucchini in the filling.  Next time, I may skip the chicken and use all veggies plus black beans, one of pumpkin's best friends. 

Pesto Chicken Shells are very simple but take about 45 minutes to prepare if you are not using already cooked chicken, so plan ahead.  Other than that they are easy, you can recruit help for the stuffing stage and you can even freeze the un-sauced shells individually for a quick, pure dinner down the road.

Pesto Chicken Shell Game
Yield: about 20 shells

20-22 jumbo pasta shells
1 large chicken boneless breast (or 1 ½ cups leftover cooked chicken)
1 cup broccoli florets
2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
1 ounce cream cheese
1/2-3/4 cup pesto sauce

1-2 cups marinara sauce
1-2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
¼ pine nuts (optional)

  1. Poach chicken breast, cool and dice into small pieces. 
  2. Meanwhile, steam broccoli until juts tender, 5-6 minutes.  
  3. Cook pasta shells according to package directions, opting for the shorter amount of time listed in the package and when the shells are flexible enough to open without breaking but not fully cooked.  (Toss in a few extra shells in case any tear.)
  4. While pasta cooks, combine the chicken, half the mozzarella, cream cheese and ½ cup pesto in a large bowl.  
  5. Chop cooked broccoli to about the size of the chicken pieces and fold into chicken mixture.  
  6. Taste and add salt and pepper or more pesto, to taste.  These are pesto shells so you want that flavor to stand out.
  7. When shells are ready, rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.  Drain thoroughly.  Using a teaspoon, fill each shell with about 2 heaping teaspoons of filling.  Set each filled shell in a lightly oiled baking pan. (and 8”X8” pan will fit the shells snugly).  
  8. At this stage, you may freeze the shells. Once frozen, they can be repackaged into individual servings for later use.  
  9. If enjoying tonight, preheat oven to 350˚F.  Pour marinara sauce over shells (use a light touch) and cover with remaining mozzarella cheese and the Parmesan cheese.  Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes.  
  10. During the last few minutes of baking, sprinkle whole pine nuts over the cheese.  Allow the pasta dish to rest a few minutes out of the oven before serving.  This will help with a neat service.  Pass extra heated marinara if your family likes more sauce. 
Enjoy your vegetables and preserve your garden's bounty.  More ideas coming this summer. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Isles Flotant for Two

A dessert to share...
Inspired by our niece’s wedding cake last year, this is a lovely anniversary dessert with lemon and raspberry flavors (and a touch of chocolate).   While much lower in calories, it will remind you of many a wedding cake including, perhaps, yours.

This romantic dessert for two requires only 1 egg and can be made ahead.  Iles Flotant are scoops (islands) of simple meringue floating in vanilla sauce. The recipe takes very little time.  Whip the egg whites for the meringue and make the sauce while the souffle bakes.   My recipe is based on Julia Child’s that serves 12 (and requires 10-12 eggs).   I refer you to her recipe to serve a crowd. Tonight, it’s just you two. 

Iles Flotant for Two
(recipe may be doubled)

Meringue Souffle (the Islands)
1 egg white
pinch cream of tartar
2 T sugar
1/4 t vanilla
Butter to prepare pan

  1. Preheat oven to 325˚F.  
  2. Butter a small oven proof dish- that holds about 3 cups and is strait sided.  
  3. Beat egg whites until foamy.  Add cream of tartar and a few grains of salt and beat until soft peaks form.  
  4. Add sugar a little at a time and beat until stiff peaks form.  Batter will be shiny.  Fold in vanilla.  
  5. poon into prepared dish and bake at 325˚F for 20 minutes.  Make ahead or serve immediately.  Souffle may fall slightly but will not affect dessert’s taste or charm. 

Crème Anglaise  (Vanilla Sauce)
1 egg yolk
2 T sugar
1/3 cup milk
1/2 t vanilla

  1. While souffle bakes, make the vanilla sauce.  In a small bowl, gradually add sugar to egg yolk and whisk until pale yellow.  
  2. Heat milk to 180˚F.  (Use a microwave-safe glass pitcher on high for 30 seconds.)
  3. Temper the milk with a tablespoon or two of egg yolk mixture, then combine the remaining milk and egg mixture in  a small, heavy bottomed pot.  
  4. Cook over very low heat to thicken sauce, stirring frequently to maintain a smooth and keep egg from cooking on bottom of pan.  This will take about 5 minutes.  Add vanilla. Set aside.

Sauces and Fruit
1/4 cup warmed lemon curd (heat in microwave for 20-30 seconds to make it pourable)
1/4 cup warm chocolate sauce or shaved chocolate
1/3 cup fresh raspberries (or strawberries)

To Serve
 Coat two shallow dessert plates  (or one to share) with Crème Anglaise and spoon out “islands” of meringue souffle using a large tablespoon or serving spoon, giving each person 2-3 small islands.  Pour chocolate sauce over one island and lemon sauce over the other.  Garnish with fresh raspberries.

Happy Anniversary Brooke & Wilson!
Sans chocolate!