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Monday, December 30, 2013

Vegetable Quiche

A friend of mine gave me some fresh eggs for Christmas and I wanted to make something special with them. Cooking with fresh ingredients is so satisfying...I still have some Rosemary and Thyme growing in my garden, imagine that!  Anyway, a sweet something was out of the question because, quite frankly, my system is in sugar shock following all the holiday goodies.  

I am, however, feeling like something savory.

So, about a year ago I pinned (on Pinterest) a recipe for Vegetarian Quiche.  Perfect. It calls for eggs (naturally) and a bunch of other things I had on hand (bonus), including tomatoes, spinach and cheddar cheese…I had a nice hunk of Irish cheddar cheese, carefully wrapped in fancy cheese paper with pictures of cows, sheep and goats on it, the sources of all cheese.  I also added arugula and garlic -- because it is never bad to add arugula or garlic – and some roasted red peppers. This recipe calls for a puff pastry crust, but I made it with a regular piecrust.  Also, instead of cottage cheese, I used ricotta, because I had it in the fridge.

Daughter returned from a holiday trip, and although she doesn’t normally like quiche, I think she will like this veggie-blast version.  Also, quiche freezes beautifully.  Make sure to wrap it well with plastic wrap and place the wrapped wedges in a zip-lock freezer bag.  Defrost a wedge whenever you feel like quiche! 

Quiche is not just for brunch, you know…it’s perfect for breakfast and paired with a nice salad, makes a great dinner entrée. And don’t forget about those appetizers…mini quiches make fabulous and functional finger food.   Also, try it crust-less…sister has been making crust-less quiche for years, but just be sure to spray the dish well for easy serving.

Vegetable Quiche
Adapted from:  allrecipes.com

Ingredients
1 ready-to-fill pie pastry
¾ cup fresh spinach, stems trimmed
¾ cup fresh arugula
4 tablespoons water
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg (because spinach and nutmeg are perfect together)
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons butter
4 eggs
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
¼ cup of roasted pepper, chopped
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Preheat oven to 400° and bake the pie pastry (unfilled) for 10 minutes. 

In a large skillet place spinach and arugula and 4 tablespoons water. Heat the mixture over medium and cover the skillet. Cook until the spinach is done, approximately 2-3 minutes then drain well. Add nutmeg to the spinach mixture, chop it up a bit and set aside.

In a large skillet, saute the onion and garlic with butter until the onions are soft and transparent.  Meanwhile, in a medium-size mixing bowl, beat eggs. Stir in the cottage cheese, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, and half the of cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange onions along the bottom of the pie crust...

...and then pour the egg-mixture over the onions and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. 

Bake at 350 degrees F for 55 minutes, or until the quiche has browned and is set in the middle (begin to check it at 45 minutes).   The cooking time will depend on the diameter of your quiche pan.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Minestrone Soup with Arugula Pesto

We met for our last dinner club of the year in a restaurant in Media, PA called Ariano.....there are some beautiful frescos in the restaurant.  We shared the most delicious appetizers, including Arancini – fried rice balls coated with breadcrumbs and filled with prosciutto, mozzarella and tomato, and two incredible pizzas.  We drank, laughed, exchanged Christmas gifts and, once again, expressed how incredibly lucky we are to share the weekly dinners with each other.  Our gatherings go way beyond the meal served.  There are chats, chidings and sometimes cries but most of all, we create treasured memories among dear, dear friends and this blog is loving chronicle of our highly anticipated Wednesday evenings.

Always grab the opportunity to create a memory.

The week before our restaurant rendezvous, it was Singer’s turn to cook.  I don’t know about you but, for me, winter is definitely soup weather.  There’s something comforting and warming about a bowl of homemade soup, accompanied with a hunk of fresh, crusty bread and a nice glass of wine.  When you’re a grateful guest in a friend’s home and soup is served on a cold winter night, even better, and we hit the jackpot when Singer served Minestrone Soup with Arugula Pesto.  She tinkered (as she always does) with the original Cooks Illustrated recipe and the results were amazing. 

The recipe is topped with pesto.  You know, pesto does not have to be limited to basil and pine nuts.  This particular pesto is made with arugula and parsley. You could use any leafy green such as spinach, chard or kale and any nut besides pine nuts….walnuts, almonds or pecans work nicely and will give the pesto an earthier quality.

Minestrone Soup with Arugula Pesto
Adapted from:  Cooks Illustrated

Ingredients
4 oz pancetta or bacon
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 carrots, sliced (or you can use butternut squash)
1 cup green beans, sliced
1 generous bunch of spinach
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves pressed garlic (I always use more garlic than called for)
1 pinch coarse sea salt
1 pound plum tomatoes or 1 large can of peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1 Parmesan cheese rind
1 bay leaf
Fresh ground black pepper
1 can of white cannellini beans
1 cup of small shaped pasta, shells or occhietti work well.

For the Pesto
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 medium garlic cloves
1 cup packed fresh arugula leaves
1 cup fresh parsley leaves
7 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions
Place the tomatoes in a saucepan with the sugar and cook for 15 minutes until the tomatoes begin to loose their shape. Puree the mixture in a food processor fitted with a steel blade or with a hand-held mixer. Set aside.  Heat the olive oil and pancetta in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or soup pot, stirring frequently while the pancetta browns.

Add the garlic and onions and sauté until the onions begin to soften. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the celery and beans and cook for 2 minutes, then add the spinach and cook for 5-8 minutes. Add the pinch of salt and cook for an additional minute.  Add the tomato mixture, the Parmesan rind, the bay leaf, the pepper, and the stock to the vegetables and stir to combine. Cook, covered for 45 minutes.

Add the tin of beans, with their liquid. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat, cover, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Add the pasta and cook for 10 minutes until the pasta cooked.

Toast the nuts in a saucepan until they are lightly browned, then combine the nuts, garlic, arugula, parsley, salt and oil in a food processor or blender until smooth.  Serve the minestrone with a spoonful of fresh pesto on top.

I hope you all had a wonderful 2013!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Chicken, Chard and Kale Pappardelle Pasta

 
I am so far behind in my posts. For that, I apologize and promise declare hope to be more diligent in 2014.

I will may also knit more.

Those sound like resolutions.

When sister and I were in Italy on a culinary tour in 2009, we made (and devoured) a delicious Bolognese served over pappardelle pasta.   Below is a photo of us in that Italian kitchen cutting ingredients to make the Bolognese.  What a wonderful trip!
 
Back in the States, and for some reason, these ribbons of lusciousness are not as easy to find in these parts but I finally found some made by Severino, an artisanal pasta company, at the local Coop

I love the Co-op. 

I’m sure if I planned an escapade to the Italian Market in South Philadelphia, I may have had more success.  Or, I could have gone to Westmont, NJ where the Severino Pasta Company is located and where they’ve been making pasta since 1970.
 
Regardless, I now have a source.

The name papparadelle comes from the Italian word for gobble up, “pappare” and gobble up we did with the dish I prepared for one of our recent Wednesday evening gatherings, Chicken and Kale Pappardelle Pasta.  This dish doesn’t present as beautifully as some other dishes I’ve written about, but don’t let the modest look fool you…it packs a impressive flavor punch and is relatively easy to make.    The flavors of the shredded chicken breast, fresh kale, sherry sauce and freshly grated Asagio cheese blend together brilliantly to create a special pasta experience that is sure to become a favorite, go-to dish!

I think you could use any green in this dish and I was thinking about making it with spinach or arugula the next time.  Also, leftover turkey would work just as nicely.

Chicken, Chard and Kale Pappardelle Pasta
Adapted from:  thindish.com

Ingredients
½ lb. green Swiss chard
½ lb. Kale
1 medium lemon
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 large garlic cloves pressed through a garlic press
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup dry sherry or any dry white wine (which is what I used)
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup shredded asiago cheese (I used a blend of cheeses, including asiago)
Shredded rotisserie chicken meat (I used only the breast meat)
½ to 1 pound of pappardelle pasta or one package

Directions
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and cook the pappardelle. Meanwhile, trim the stems and ribs from Swiss chard and kale and cut the leaves crosswise into wide ribbons. Finely shred a zest of lemon and then set aside the zest.  Juice the lemon and set aside 3 tablespoons of juice.

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add fresh garlic and red pepper flakes and and cook it until the garlic is fragrant. Increase heat to medium-high and add the chicken broth, wine, chard, kale, and lemon zest.  Cook everything until the greens are tender, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Next, add the cream and half of the cheese and stir combining everything.  Stir in the shredded chicken and cook it until warmed through.  Stir in the lemon juice and season the sauce mixture to taste with salt and pepper. By now, the noodles shold be tender to the bite so, drain them and add the noodles to the frying pan with the sauce.  Sprinkle the remaining asiago.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dark Molasses Gingerbread Cake

First of all. Try. This.  Cake.

I was suspicious at first, but I wanted to bring something a little different to our Thanksgiving celebration.

And Lynne Rossetto Kasper, of The Splendid Table, recommended it.

So I made it. 

Then I tried it.

I do declare, the complexity of flavors in this cake explode in your mouth!  It is THAT good. It has all the ooey-gooey texture, fudginess and look of chocolate – dark and intense – but all the dark, bitter sweetness of the molasses.  Other spices happily contribute to this molasses melody and every once in a while, their notes shine through.

If you like the spicy, autumny goodness of gingersnaps, you will love this cake…and the smooth, rich and slightly tangy cream cheese frosting is perfect slathered atop this brunette bomb shell.  I used pre-made cream cheese frosting, but please don’t tell anyone…it will be our little secret.  Throw some walnuts on top for a bit of nutty earthiness.

As the name suggests, the main ingredient in this cake is molasses. I chose Brer Rabbit, full-flavor, unsulphured molasses.  This variety is more concentrated and has a darker color and richer flavor than lighter molasses and that’s what gives this cake its dark, chocolate-like color.  This natural, gluten-free sweetener is made from unsulfured juice of sun-ripened sugarcane…no preservatives, artificial flavors or colors. Molasses is an excellent source of Calcium and Magnesium and a good source of Potassium.  Back in the day, molasses – originally exported to the U. S. to make rum – was the go-to sweetener because it was cheaper than refined sugar.  Refined sugar became more reasonably priced after WW1 and most American bakers converted.    Now, molasses is pricier than sugar, but you could not possibly make this cake this good by somehow omitting it.
 
Dark Molasses Gingerbread Cake
From: the kitchn.com

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) unsulphured dark or unsulphured blackstrap molasses
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons espresso powder (The original recipe says adding this is optional...nix the optional because it adds a nice flavor and dimension to the cake.)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups whole milk

Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter or grease a 10-inch springform cake pan.

Place the chunks of butter in a 2-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Pour in the molasses and whisk in the brown sugar and white sugar. Whisk as the butter melts. When the butter has melted and is completely liquid, and the sugar has dissolved and is no longer grainy, give it a final stir and turn off the heat. Set the pan aside to cool. Don’t be concerned if the two don’t look completely combined.

Use a clean dry whisk to combine the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and espresso powder in a large bowl.

Whisk the vanilla, eggs, and milk into the saucepan with the molasses and melted butter. When the liquid mixture is completely combined, pour it slowly into the bowl of dry ingredients. Whisk thoroughly to combine, making sure there are no lumps.

Pour the thick batter into the prepared springform pan. Bake at 350°F for 45 to 50 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 20 or 30 minutes, then run a thin, flexible knife around the inside of the pan to help the cakes edges release. Remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely on a cooling rack before icing.   You can also make this cake in two loaf pans and bake for 40-45 minutes.   Ice the cake with your favorite cream cheese frosting. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Table

So, one day way back in 2012, I’m browsing through eBay looking for something unusual and I see this table:

Hmmm, says Herself.

It’s an Eastlake table and I have a few similar pieces in my house.  If you look closely at the bottom, it appears to have water damage, which perhaps lessened its value (to some) and explains why it was selling for a song.

Sold.

I planned to have the lovely Linda of FuNkYFuRniTuRe work her magic on it anyway.

Eastlake furniture – so named for its namesake, British architect Charles Eastlake – was made during the Victorian era and is identified by its rich wood, intricate carvings, moldings and other geometric details.  Some consider the modern gothic-esque furniture garish, but I consider it downright stunning.  If this piece were not water damaged, I never would have painted it!  

Fast forward to summer 2013 and I reconnect with my FuNkYFuRniTuRe friend and hand the table over to her with little instruction other than I love what she did with this similar piece:


I trust her…she knows me and my style and after all, her motto is “paint it happy!” 

I anxiously waited for the masterpiece to be complete and when I finally got the facebook message that the piece was ready to be delivered, I was downright gleeful.  My glee was trumped only by sheer elation when I saw the finished piece of art:
 
 
There are…

Checks…

Sunflowers…

Flowers and Baubles…

Dots and Stripes…

Scrolls and Scallops.

Everything I adore and just the fanciful stuff every happy painted piece of furniture should have.  AND...the top is RED! You can see my other pieces that Linda painted here and hereVisit FuNkYFuRniTuRe's facebook page here.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pasta alla Puttanesca

We had dinner at Architect’s house this past Wednesday.    On Monday, she just returned from a lovely escapade visiting her daughter in Costa Rica, who was there for a traveling writer program…it’s a beautiful country, as you can see:


 



Still a little travel weary she wanted to make something easy, so she made one of her go-to dishes, Pasta alla Puttanesca.  Loosely translated, puttanesca means “of the prostitute.”  The myth is that the ladies of the evening would make this fast, spicy and easy (no pun intended) dish with readily available items in the pantry and the aroma of the dish cooking would waft out of the windows and lure clientele into their “establishments.”  

I think the correct term might be bordello.

This is a tangy recipe with plump, delicious tomatoes harmonized by the saltiness of the olives, capers and anchovies, the spiciness of pepper, and the always pleasing, and the oh-so-satisfying aroma of garlic. It’s traditionally served with any long pasta but Architect chose to serve it over a heartier pasta, rigatoni.  Because it takes only minutes to prepare, start the sauce while the pasta is boiling.

We felt downright sultry just eating this dish although we didn’t hear any additional clients guests knocking at the door. 

Darn.
Pasta alla Puttanesca
Pasta with Olives and Capers
From:  The Ultimate Italian Cookbook

Ingredients
4 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
Small dried chili pepper, crumbled OR 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
1 two oz can of anchovy filets, chopped
12 oz of tomatoes, canned or fresh, chopped
2/3 cup of pitted black olives
2 Tablespoons capers, rinsed
1 Tablespoon of tomato paste
1 lb of pasta
2 Tablespoons of chopped parsley for garnish

Directions
Add pasta to salted boiling water and cook until al dente.  Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan.  Add the garlic and pepper and cook for 2 minutes, until garlic is golden.  Add the anchovies and mash them into the garlic with a fork.  Add the tomatoes, olives, capers, and tomato paste.  Stir well and cook over moderate heat until the pasta is done, about 8 minutes.  Turn the pasta into the sauce and cook for another minute or two, turning the pasta constantly.  Sprinkle with parsley to garnish.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Chicken Pot Pie


Last Wednesday we had dinner at Foodie’s house and she decided to make something that is considered by some to be the ultimate comfort food, Chicken Pot Pie.

There was a reason for her menu choice...that day, she lost her beloved pet of 16 years, a sweet little terrier mix named Lucy. Lucy was a happy little dog that was always delighted to see our little crew (and everyone else) when we arrived. I remember once seeing her bounce the highest I’ve ever seen a dog bounce and now, in retrospect, perhaps that was a metaphor for her personality...a happy, lively and effervescent little dog who simply loved doing what dogs do. Rest peacefully, sweet Lucy, we will miss you.

Losing a pet is so difficult. 

Chicken pot pie...it’s all the good things wrapped up on one, isn't it? Chock full of vegetables, a velvety sauce, spices and a delectable puff pastry topping…mercy, what could be better? There are obviously many ways to make this all-time favorite, but I like the simple, straight-forward approach that Foodie uses. When her children were young, she told us she would make individual pot pies to suit their special preferences – one with more chicken, one with no mushrooms – and Foodie gave us the same loving attention.....she served each of us our own pot pie presented in lovely handmade, yes I said handmade, crocks.

In my opinion, chicken pot pie is a go-to fall/winter dish...a must on the menu repertoire...
 
...and, the ultimate comfort food. We were happy to be with Foodie to remember a great dog.

Chicken Pot Pie
By: Foodie

Ingredients
One whole chicken or chicken parts
Chicken broth (enough to cover the chicken)
8 oz of mushrooms (any kind, but shiitake work well; they add a bit of earthiness)
1 cup pearl onions
4 carrots peeled and sliced
4 potatoes cut into bite-size pieces (I like Yukon Gold)
Frozen peas or string beans, pre-cooked (if desired)
1/4 cup heavy cream
Spices of choice (tarragon, rosemary, sage, thyme work nicely with chicken)
Puff pastry sheets (Trader Joes makes a nice product)

Directions
Cook a whole chicken or chicken pieces in chicken stock until the chicken is fully cooked and falling off the bones. Remove the chicken from the pot and, when cool, tear into bite-size pieces. Set the chicken aside and reserve the stock. Sauté the mushrooms in a bit of butter or olive oil and set aside. Place pearl onions, carrots, potatoes in the broth and cook until the broth is reduced and the vegetable are a bit tender (remember, they will cook a bit more in the oven). The starch in the potatoes will thicken the broth a bit but add some cornstarch to thicken it a little more. Add some spices, heavy cream and a splash of white wine if desired to the broth and vegetable mixture. Pioneer Woman also adds a bit of turmeric to her chicken pot pie sauce to give it a lovely amber richness. Add the reserved mushrooms, chicken and peas/string beans (if using) to the vegetable mixture and pour into one large or four individual casserole dishes. Top with the puff pastry, brush with a beaten egg and bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes...just to brown the pastry.

For dessert, I made whole-wheat brownies slathered with apricot jam and gussied up with white chocolate shavings.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Roast Duck Breasts with Pomegranate-Chile Sauce

Ok, so the bar has officially been raised.

We had dinner at Singer’s house on Wednesday and she made Roast Duck Breasts with Pomegranate-Chile Sauce.  Yep, you read correctly.  It was quite fancy.

And tasty.

Now, I am ashamed to admit this, being a cook and all, but before Wednesday, I never (yep, I said never) had duck before. All I can say is, “what the hell have I been missing?”  Singer used organic duck breasts, and I am told it is a bit more flavorful than run-of-the-mill supermarket duck.  I wouldn’t know, never having had duck before.  To me, duck tastes a bit nuttier and gamier, than the most succulent, flavorful dark chicken or turkey meat you’ve ever had. 

This particular recipe is a bit sweet, courtesy of the pomegranates with a nip of heat, thanks to the chile.  Even though the name of the recipe seems a bit intimidating (I walked into the kitchen and saw the recipe sitting on the counter and thought, “damn, she must have been cooking all day!”), it’s actually pretty easy and straight forward, having less ingredients than most fancy recipes. 

Pomegranates are filled with beautiful and delicious red seeds.  To open the fruit, score the perimeter with a knife and pop it open.  The seeds reside in a white pulp and separate more easily in a bowl of water…the ruby rewards detach from the pulp and sink to the bottom of the bowl.  Our trusty friends at Trader Joe’s have done this work for us, 5.3 oz. for $3.99, and no staining of your hands and clothes!  Pomegranate seeds are sweet, crunchy, and full of antioxidants.  Also, they are blood builders and are believed to be useful for stopping gum and nose bleeds….I wish I would have had some pomegranate seeds a few weeks ago when I walked into a wall and my nose bled for twenty minutes. 

Roast Duck Breasts with Pomegranate-Chile Sauce
From:  www.epicurious.com

Ingredients
Sauce
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cups refrigerated pomegranate juice (such as Pom)
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
4 large dried California chiles, stemmed, seeded, torn into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons adobo sauce from canned chipotle chiles in adobo
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin (not toasted)
Coarse kosher salt

Duck
8 5-to 6-ounce boneless duck breast halves, skin and fat trimmed to size of breast
Coarse kosher salt
Ground coriander
Fresh pomegranate seeds

Directions
For sauce:
Stir sugar and 1/2 cup water in heavy large saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil until syrup is deep amber color, swirling pan occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add juice, broth, and California chiles. Boil until sauce is reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat; cool. Puree in tightly covered blender until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl. Whisk in adobo sauce, vinegar, and cumin. Season to taste with generous amount of coarse salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm over low heat before using.

For duck:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Score skin of duck (don't cut into flesh) with 5 cuts in 1 direction; repeat in opposite direction, making diamond pattern. Sprinkle duck all over with coarse salt, pepper, and ground coriander. Place 2 large ovenproof skillets over medium-high heat. Add duck, skin side down, to skillets, dividing equally. Cook duck until skin is crisp and deep brown, about 7 minutes. Turn duck over; cook 1 minute. Pour off fat. Transfer skillets to oven. Roast duck until cooked to mediumrare, about 5 minutes.

Transfer duck to cutting board. Let rest 5 minutes. Thinly slice each breast crosswise on slight diagonal. Arrange slices on plates. Spoon sauce over. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

This. Dish. Is. Amazing.
 

For dessert, we had pumpkin tartlets and they were deliciously flaky and quite tasty.  That sounds like a commercial, but they were really good.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Farro, Kale and Sausage Stew

It was my turn to cook on Wednesday night.

As I have written, dear readers, and because it explains why my posts have been so patchy, October was a travel-a-rama month.  I wasn’t sure which airport I was in half the time.  My aerial adventures facilitated a lot of reading time.  I finished one book (that I will write about), started another, read many on-line articles and salivated over countless recipes in cooking magazines.  One such recipe is “Farro, Kale and Sausage Stew” in the November 2013 issue of EveryDay with Rachael Ray.

I love that this magazine is printed on recycled paper. 

Anyway, the issue is packed with many delights (including one for infusing honey with espresso coffee…yum) but I chose to make this one for my Wednesday evening get-together.

The recipe calls for kale.  Irish Guy tells me that it is an Irish tradition to serve potatoes and kale on Halloween.  Being the curious sort I am I did a little research.  It appears that the Celts celebrated All Hallowtide' or Samhain – marking the end of summer, the start of the harvest season, and the night spirits revisited the mortal world.  The Celts lit bonfires and wore masks believing that both would help to keep evil spirits away.  The night before was known as 'All Hallows Eve' now, Halloween. Before heading out for an evening of tomfoolery on Halloween, the Irish prepared a traditional dish called Colcannon made with boiled potatoes, curly kale, and raw onions.  Sometimes as a special treat they hid clean coins in the potatoes for children to find and keep. 

Even though my dish did not include potatoes (or coins), it did include kale and a grain and it was served on Halloween Eve, so it felt a little Irish to me!
 
Kale is often called “wild cabbage” and is in the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts.  This cruciferous vegetable has been dubbed one of the world’s healthiest foods, containing high levels of vitamins A & C and manganese and the best way to enjoy the health benefits of kale is to steam it. The flavonoids in the vegetable contain antioxidants and provide anti-inflammatory benefits.  Additionally, kale has risk-lowering benefits for cancer, and helps the body with natural detoxification. 

I knew I felt better on Thursday morning.

Farro, Kale and Sausage Stew
From:  Rachael Ray

Ingredients
1 cup whole-grain farro
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces hot Italian sausage (about 2 links), casings removed
4 cloves garlic, sliced
5 cups chicken stock
1 bunch kale, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped (about 4 cups)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (I used thyme from my garden….I love I can still use my herb garden!)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino-Romano cheese

Directions
1. In a large, heavy saucepan, cover the farro with a couple inches of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, salt the water and simmer gently until the farro is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium. Cook the sausage, breaking it up, until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Cook the garlic until golden, 2 minutes. Add the stock; bring to a simmer. Stir in the farro and kale and simmer until the kale is tender, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Return the sausage to the pan and stir in the thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the stew among bowls, top with the cheese and drizzle with the remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil

My notes….
I used pearled farro and it turned out just fine.  I only used four cups of broth and sweet Italian chicken sausage but added red pepper flakes during the browning process.  Also, I doubled the garlic…sorry, I’m half Italian and can’t help myself.


For dessert, Singer made baked apples that were so incredibly tasty – I wanted another, but reluctantly refrained.  After dinner, Foodie and Architect whipped out their knitting projects.  Architect is knitting this sweater and I think it will be ready to wear very soon! Foodie already finished hers…we won’t discuss about my knitting project.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

  
So, I’m strolling through Target and I ramble over to the food section.

I just love that Target sells groceries…it’s like one-stop-shopping.  Now if only Pennsylvania would allow liquor sales in other than Commonwealth controlled Wine and Spirit Stores…that would facilitate the Saturday morning errand hat trick.

Anyway, I walk by the Giada De Laurentiis For Target section (because, as we all know, Target is all about the designer signature sections and Giada is completely adorable) and I see a box of Lemon Ricotta Cookie Mix.

Hmmm….
 
....and YUM.
 
The nicely-designed box says “add your own fresh lemon and ricotta cheese.”  Okay, this falls nicely into my kind of homemade rule…taking something that’s premade and gussying it up to make it better your own.

In the cart it goes. 
 
It was my turn to bring dessert to last Wednesday night’s soirée (which was really onTuesday last week) and these would be perfect. I had planned to make Bacon-Bourbon Apple Pie and that will have to wait for Thanksgiving when we can give appropriate thanks for bacon…and bourbon.

There is no recipe other than to follow the instructions on the box, but if you wanted to make these cookies from scratch, here is G’s recipe.  

I served with a dollop of ricotta cheese....the creamy hint of cheese and the smooth texture of the ricotta made for the perfect accompaniment! These. Are. So. Damn. Good.

There’s a tip on the box that says “use an ice cream scoop to place dough on the cookie sheet”….great minds think alike.  I've been doing that for years!

 
That night Architect made a Roasted Chicken with ParmesanRoasted Butternut Squash as a side dish.  The butternut squash, with the creamy, sage-infused sauce, is the perfect dish to welcome Fall.  It would be a definite hit on the Thanksgiving table.  Absolutey delicious!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Banana Bread with Chocolate Glaze

So yet another week has gone by and I was AGAIN out of town and unable to have dinner with my Wednesday night pals. I miss them. But, even though I have not dined with them, I still cook/bake, trying recipes that catch my eye. For instance, as I was paging thorough the Best of Cooking Light (that I bought while in one of the FIVE airports I've been the past two weeks!), I came across this recipe for banana bread. I love banana bread….I like it even better when chocolate is involved and this particular version calls for a chocolate glaze.

Can you say scrumptious?

As with all Cooking Light recipes, the CL test kitchen staff reworks traditional recipes and lightens them up. This version calls for three bananas, two large egg whites, fat-free milk and reduced fat sour cream. Referring to this as the “most temping of all our quick breads,” the original recipe first appeared in a 1996 edition of Cooking Light and has been a consistent staff and reader favorite.

One taste and you will see why.
The texture is so satisfying and the bread itself is melt-in-your-mouth moist. I made three mini loaves and gave two away...one to younger daughter and one to across-the-street neighbor who watched Faye the Boston Terrier during another excursion.

As I write this post, I am sitting in the Albany airport trying to pass the time because my flight is delayed….thank goodness for the Internet, my laptop, and my iPhone.

Banana Bread with Chocolate Glaze
Cooking Light, reprinted October 2013

Ingredients
1 cup of sugar
¼ cup of butter
3 large mashed ripe bananas
¼ cup fat-free milk
¼ cup reduced-fat sour cream
2 large egg whites
2 (scant) cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Cooking spray
2 ½ tablespoons half-and-half
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chunks

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350°. Combine sugar and butter in a bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add banana, milk, sour cream and egg whites. Combine flour, baking soda and salt, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to the banana mixture and beat until just blended….do not overbeat! Spoon the batter into a 9x5-ince loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. For the glaze, place half-and-half and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute, stirring every 20 seconds. Cool slightly and drizzle over the bread.

There are only 184 calories in a slice (1/16) of this bread….a confection bargain for those of us who can’t resist quick breads or muffins and a cup of coffee in the morning.

Enjoy, dear readers!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Eggplant Parmesan with Mushrooms

This past week I was in California and was not able to join my dinner-making friends for our weekly frolic. Last week, we enjoyed an excursion into Philadelphia and dined at a restaurant called Zahav that serves Israeli cuisine.
I had a wonderful drink called a Desert Rose that blended gin, hibiscus, grapefruit and cucumber into a yummy little tonic.  The mini jaunt fit nicely into our recent obsession with making dishes from the Jerusalem cookbook.

The week before, however, it was my turn to cook. I saw some lovely eggplants at the local specialty foods market and I decided to make eggplant parmesan with mushrooms.

Eggplants were first grown in China as far back the 5th century BC, right around the same time the Spartans beat the Athenians in the Battle of Mantinea.  Early varieties were quite bitter, and as with anything bitter, people avoided them, believing them to be harmful and toxic. A few centuries later, less bitter varieties were introduced and the aubergine beauty became a staple in many European and Middle Eastern cuisines. The Italians happily adopted it into their family in the 14th century.

Eggplants contain nasunin, an antioxidant known to protect the fats in brain cells from free radical damage (maybe biology major younger daughter can explain this to me...it has something to do with unpaired electrons), and, as all vitamin commercials remind us, antioxidants may help to promote graceful aging.

I wonder if there a cookbook dedicated to eggplant preparation. 

Eggplant is a fruit closely related to the tomato and that perhaps explains why the two pair so well together. Eaten raw, the eggplant is bitter but relatively spongy so it absorbs the flavors of recipe companion ingredients nicely. To reduce the bitterness, some suggest salting, draining and rinsing prior to cooking. I think this method flattens the taste of the eggplant and personally, I like to simply slice it thinly, dredge it in flour, eggs then bread crumbs and sauté until brown on both sides prior to baking.  To make the sauce, I used a can of San Marzano tomatoes -- they have less seeds -- and a few fresh tomatoes from Irish Guy’s garden.


Eggplant Parmesan with Mushrooms

About 2 tablespoons olive oil
½ sweet Vidalia onion, chopped
3 fresh garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
A few turns of sea salt in a salt grinder
1 28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil
1 tablespoon of fresh marjoram or oregano
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
¼ - ½ cup of water
Splash of red wine vinegar
1 large eggplant
3 cups panko bread crumbs
About 2 cups of flour
1egg, beaten
½ cup olive oil
1 8 oz container of sliced mushrooms
2 cups of mozzarella cheese
1 cup of Parmesan cheese

To make the simple tomato sauce, in a large saucepan over medium heat, heat 2 swirls of the pan of olive oil and add onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. Swirl is such a happy word, don’t you think? Sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and their juices and the fresh tomatoes, breaking them up as they cook with a wooden spoon.  Add some water if the mixture appears too thick.  Add the salt, brown sugar, marjoram or oregano and basil and bring to a boil. Add a splash of wine vinegar… this boosts the flavors! Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 20 minutes.

To prepare the eggplant, peel the eggplant and slice into thin pieces, about ¼”.  Dredge the slices in the flour, then the egg, then the bread crumbs and sauté until lightly browned on both sides.  In a large casserole dish, add a layer of the sauce, then a layer of browned eggplant, some sliced mushrooms, then some of the cheeses and repeat until all the ingredients are gone.  Bake at 375° for 40-45 minutes or until the mixture is bubbling.  Serve with buttered noodles or rice.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Apple Cranberry Crisp

When we have dinner at Architect’s house, it’s always my turn to bring dessert.  We have a “who brings what” rotation going and it revolves around the traveling salad bowl.  When I host dinner, the bowl stays with me and I know to bring the salad (in the traveling bowl) to the next dinner, and so on.

A simple little system.

Anyway, I wanted to make a light dessert.  I had apples to use and I’d been craving cranberries, perhaps a nod to the imminent crisp, autumn weather (although it’s been downright balmy in the northeast lately).  I love cranberries…maybe because they are a shade of red, my favorite color.   So, thinking about coupling apples and cranberries, how about a Apple Cranberry Crisp?  A quick search revealed this little jewel:
 
 
And, even though it’s an Emeril recipe, I found it on marthastewart.com so it was my immediate choice.

As we all know, I adore Martha.

The sweet notes of the cranberry, the tanginess of the orange, the wholesomeness of the oats, and the complexity and interest of the spices combine nicely to give your taste buds a fine how-to-you-do with each bite! I thought about replacing the butter and sugar crumble with a healthier wheat-germ version and I’m glad I didn’t…sometimes a recipe (and a girl) just needs butter and sugar!   A dear Irish friend suggested I drizzle fresh cream on top just before serving…it was a lovely suggestion and the cream added a perfect, rich, velvety touch.  This recipe is a must try…perfect for a pot-luck dinner contribution.

I chose to use organic frozen cranberries and they worked very well in this recipe.


Apple Cranberry Crisp
Emeril’s Recipe posted on marthastewart.com

Ingredients
Unsalted butter, for baking dish
6 sweet, firm apples, such as Gala or Braeburn, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
12 ounces cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest, plus 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice (I used a little more)

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (I used a deep pie dish).  In a large bowl, combine apples, cranberries, sugar, flour, vanilla, and orange zest and juice. Transfer to baking dish and sprinkle with topping.  Bake until topping is browned and juices are thick and bubbling around edges, 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.  Drizzle on heavy cream.

Crisp Topping

Ingredients
6 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
2/3 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Directions
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Using an electric mixer, beat on low until coarse crumbs form.

I made this again for my cream-suggesting Irish friend who shared it with his friends….the deliciousness enjoyed in yet another Pennsylvania county.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Buttered Shrimp and Scallops with Tomato, Olives and Arak

I am two weeks behind in my posts about our little dinners and I am downright ashamed of myself. I have no excuses either, other than I just have not sat down to put pen to paper or, more appropriately, fingers to keys.

BUT, just because you haven’t read about our adventures, doesn’t mean they haven’t occurred. Since our summer hiatus ended, Foodie and Architect have both hosted, well, Architect kind of hosted.  She fell and sprained her ankle (a true damsel in distress situation complete with a local knight teacher riding in on a white horse Honda to save her) so Mr. Architect cooked one of his specialties for us.  A nice little dish of chicken, prosciutto, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese served on a bed of rice. Quite tasty.

I hope I don’t embarrass my friends with my little quips…that’s the nuisance of having a friend who is also a blogger.

Back to dinner.  Recently, there has been a lot of chatter about the cookbook Jerusalem.  Apparently, the book has caused quite a supply/demand quandary with local spice markets who can’t keep the spices used in the book in stock….spices we may not be as familiar with like arak, sumac, and za’atar.  A more common ingredient used in many of the dessert recipes is Orange Blossom Water and I just ordered a bottle on amazon.com because I am so making the Semolina, Coconut & Marmalade Cake on page…well I don’t know what page because I have the damn Kindle version of the book (that’s the LAST time I do that)! You can read the NYTimes review of the Jerusalem cookbook here. 

Arak, btw, is an alcoholic spirit that tastes like anise.

There is a predecessor book by the same authors of Jerusalem called Ottolenghi and Foodie make a dish from it…Buttered Shrimp with Tomato, Olives and Arak except she added scallops too.

Buttered Shrimp (Prawns) and Scallops with Tomato, Olives and Arak
From:  Ottolenghi

4 plum tomatoes
12 large shrimp
1 lb. of scallops
4 ½ Tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup pitted kalamata olives
4 teaspoons of Arak or Pernod
3 cloves of garlic
2 Tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Coarse sea salt
 
Start by preparing the tomatoes.  Make a tiny shallow cross with a sharp knife at the bottom of each one and put them in boiling water for 30 seconds.  Remove, refresh under plenty of cold water, then drain.  Now peel the skin away and cut each tomato into wedges.  To prepare the shrimp, peel the shells and remove the dark vein.  Place a frying pan over high heat and when very hot, add 2 ½ tablespoons of the butter and sauté the prawns and scallops quickly for a few minutes, shaking the pan as you go along.  Add the tomatoes, pepper flakes, and olives and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the shrimp and scallops are nearly cooked through.  Add the arak carefully (it tends to catch fire!) and let the alcohol evaporate for a minute before adding the remaining butter, garlic, parsley and some salt.  Toss for a second for everything to incorporate in a runny sauce then serve immediately. 

We also had Grilled Broccoli with Garlic, garnished with grilled lemons.  It was Singer’s birthday so dessert was a vanilla birthday cake with goat cheese icing garnished with pistachios.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Deep V Tee


I like writing these posts but since I cook more than I knit, my knitting posts are – shall we say – scarce?  I don’t mean for that to be the case, I really don’t.  I’m just a slow and careful knitter and, as we know by now, I get bored with knitting projects easily.  Not like Foodie who knits lovely garments. Everything she makes is meticulously crafted but she also has a keen eye for the perfect yarn to use; something I have not yet (and may never) master.    

At one of our shindigs, she wore this airy little deep-V tee shirt meant to be made using an earthy hemp-like yarn. Foodie used a linen and cotton slub yarn.  She says she loves the pattern and will probably make another; perfect for layering over sleeveless tops or dresses! The garment is worked from the top down, knitted back and forth, until the “V” and sleeves are complete, then joined and worked in the round.  The pattern is from Caron and was originally published in the Spring 2012 edition of knit.wear.  It can be purchased through ravelry.com here.

Meanwhile, while shopping at one yarn store we like, Slip Knot Knit, in Havertown, PA, we noticed a set of interchangeable circular needles. Using a set of interchangeable needles is a great way to have all the sizes of needles and cords you need just when you need them.  The set comes with various lengths of cords and, of course, several needles sizes.  Here's how a set of interchangeable needles work… you choose the length of cord and needle you need for the project at hand, then you screw the needles into the cord and, just like magic, you got yourself the required tool!  There are even size-specific markers included so you can come back to your project later if you choose to use the needles for another project! The sets are expensive -- about $90 --  but probably a lot cheaper than buying several circular needles in various cord and needle sizes.  Knitter’s Pride and Clover each make a nice set. 

Here is my current project….to be fair to me, I did not like the way a dropped-stitch correction look so I tore this back to row 10 (I was almost to row 50)!  This lovely, lacy little shawl (the kid mohair yarn from Italy has sequins…you know I love the sparkle!) is knitted back and forth on circular needles.  More on this project  that will be perfect for our upcoming fall weather later.