Sunday, July 21, 2013

Update, and back to Blogger!

Hello there my darling people!  I am in the process of switching back over to Blogger, so please be patient.  I think I am going to just post the WordPress pages here slowly, interspersed with my new blog posts.  Hopefully, it will work out for the best!

Hope you're all well, and here's to the heat breaking in Michigan!

Here's a photo of our older kitty Rua.  She hasn't been well, and it's a matter of time before she leaves us!


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Who knew lentils tasted good too?

Happy March everyone!  You should know that I am running this blog in two places, here on Blogger and on at WordPress.  I heard it was an easier site to work with, and so I am trying it!  Let me know what your thoughts are on the new format and ease of use.

Although this has been the mildest winter I can ever remember, the sun hasn’t been out much here in Michigan, so the dismal look and feel of the winter is still around.  It makes me cook comforting, cold weather food and lentils really fit the bill here. I can honestly say, other than heavy, gloopy canned soup; I haven’t really eaten much in the way of lentils for most of my life.  When I started cooking for a vegetarian, I discovered the ease and variability of cooking with beans and legumes.  Then one day we were exploring around a natural gourmet food store, and I came upon a bin of these beautiful slate green lentils that were so eye-catching to me! I had to have them, so bought 2 pounds and took them home immediately!

If you follow Nigella, as you know I do, you have probably heard of Puy lentils but I had never really researched or experimented with them.  My memories were always the little cylindrical plastic sleeves you see in the supermarkets for “soup mix”.  They always have a solid chunk of lentils in them, right next to the spice that mix that you can never really put your finger on. The Puy lentils are different from them and are actually famed for being “the best”.  Typically, you see them called French green lentils.  They hold up very well to cooking and they don’t go all to mush unless you crush them when you’re cooking them.  Puy’s have a distinctive flavor, very earthy and hardy, with a bit of crunch to them, and I have grown to love them. 

There are many other types of lentils, red, yellow and also orange which you typically see in Indian foods and are called dal.  All of those types tend to be more tender when you cook them.  In general, lentils are very high in fiber and protein, are very easy to cook and flavor, and even these special “Puy’s” are definitely very inexpensive to buy.  So you get great bang for your buck with them.

Now, this recipe has a great deal of red wine in it, so if you’re cooking for kids, you may want to substitute the wine for some good quality, low salt vegetable broth.  And remember, if you won’t drink it don’t cook with it!  Also, when you start cooking, the liquid seems to be way too much.  It’s exactly the right amount so trust me here.  I typically start checking them at about 35 minutes, because each batch of dried lentils you get is different, so if the liquid is still covering the lentils, continue cooking for another 10 – 15 minutes.  But, once you hit the 40-minute mark, start listening for a dry pan and check every few minutes although you should resist the urge to stir them much. 

Puy Lentils in Red Wine

1 cup green French green Puy lentils (or any lentil, except red or yellow)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 shallots, finely chopped*
2 garlic cloves, sliced finely
2 bay leaves (optional)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (1 teaspoon fresh)
2 cups good red wine (Spanish wine is great here, maybe a nice Tempranillo)
1 ½ cups water
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or apple cider, red wine, balsamic vinegar, anything with nice flavor)

Before you start cooking, rinse the lentils well, pick through them and remove any stones, leaves or stems, then place them in a bowl and cover them by about an inch with hot water and let them soak for about 20 minutes.  Once they’re soaked and slightly soft, drain them, rinse with cold water and set them aside to drain in a colander. 

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large heavy pot with a tight fitting cover.  Once it’s melted add the shallots, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Cook, stirring frequently until the shallots turn golden brown.  Be careful not to burn them, or you will have to start over.  Lower the heat to medium and add in the wine.  Bring the mixture to a boil and allow to cook for 1 minute. Add the drained lentils and then the water, stir well. Allow the pot to come to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 40 - 45 minutes. There will be little to no liquid in the pot, and the lentils will easily mash when you press them with a fork.  If you find there is still a lot of liquid, take the lid off, and raise the heat up to medium, and the the extra liquid boil away.  When there is virtually not liquid left, take the pot off the heat and stir in the vinegar, then taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

As always, comments are welcome and variations are encouraged!

*Note: If you don’t have shallots, you can use more garlic (2 more cloves) or add a small finely chopped yellow union.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Who doesn't love pudding?

As hard as it is to believe, it's winter, and although we have had the mildest winter on record, I still want to hibernate and cook dark, gravy-laden food, food that you have to cook for hours, and can just sit and smell, rather than having to fiddle over.  It’s an inherent drive, I guess!

Last night, Tim and I went out to a nice Italian place we love, and the waitress highly recommended the “wonderful homemade rice pudding”.  Turns out, she made it, so she was all about seeing what everyone thought.  It was wonderful, and reminded me of the rice pudding I use to help my mom make when I was a kid.  As Tim and I sat there and enjoyed it, I realized that I could probably attribute my ability to know when a sauce, custard, pudding or gravy is ready, to being the stirrer of the rice pudding when I was a kid!  I must remember to thank my Mom for that one!  I used to stand there and stir and stir and stir, then suddenly the bottom of the pot got slick and slippery, I knew the alchemy of a thickened food was happening!  To this day, I know that’s the moment when I probably should switch to a whisk, to prevent lumps, and that it’s just about to be ready.

So, in honor of winter and all things yummy and warm, I am going to give you a foolproof chocolate pudding recipe.  You’ll have to stand there and stir, but you will never look at pudding again once you have made your own, I promise you!  As always, you can do this many ways, you can substitute skim milk, you can use half and half, coconut milk, almond or hazelnut milk, rice milk, anything you have in the house. You can use white, milk or bittersweet chocolate, but if you do use white, exclude the cocoa powder. You can spike it with a hazelnut liqueur, rum you name it.  

Enjoy it and let me know what you can come up with!

Chocolate Pudding
4 tablespoons corn starch
6 tablespoons sugar (brown sugar is nice here too)
1 ½ tablespoons cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
Pinch of salt
2 ¼ c. heavy cream
1 ¼ c. milk
6 oz. semisweet chocolate
1 ½ tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon and salt.  Make sure they’re well combined and there are no lumps.  In another bowl, mix together the milk and 1 ¼ c of the cream.  Slowly whisk the cream/milk mixture into the dry ingredients, make sure there are no lumps. Then put the pot on a medium-high flame and stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil and is thickened.  Add the chocolate and stir until it’s melted.  Then take the mixture off the heat and beat in the butter until it’s melted and combined.  Transfer the whole mixture to a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Make sure the plastic is touching the entire surface of the pudding, (unless you’re a fan of the pudding skin, then leave it off) and let it cool, for 45 min, it will be ready to eat at that point, and you can serve it with the remaining 1 c. of cream whipped.  Otherwise, cool it completely in the refrigerator, and spoon into serving bowls, then use the remaining cream on top.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Happy new year everyone!

Yes, I am wishing you a Happy New Year on January 14th... a bit late, and such a long time since my last post, but the wishes are just as sincere now as they were on the day!  Many things have gone on since my last post, chiefly, work, work work... and some pretty awesome cooking too.  It's flurrying outside today, and I have been so guilty about not posting... I hope you enjoy what I came up with!

We had a truly lovely Thanksgiving at our house this year, as has become the tradition for the Curtis/Suliman/Neal/McLenon/Hennessey house!  We have basically kept all the traditions going that Tim's mom and aunts started many years ago, including pretty much all of the menu.  I have cut back considerably on all the sugar that they used to use, and I have added a few twists from my life and Tim's favorites. (A quick side note here, have you ever spatch cooked your turkey??  I have now for 2 years running and I will never go back!  More on that in the next post!)  For Christmas we were off to New York for the Hennessey celebration.  I have to say, I didn't cook much at all for Christmas, but I did make a genuine Irish fruit cake two months before hand, dutifully doused it with brandy every week or so, and brought it with us.  That also was part of the New Years Day chocolate fondue I made.  My brother Mark, sister in law Carie and their children John and Elsa came for a quick visit to my parents to see us, which was, as always, an utter delight!  Family is so great to have around, and nothing beats it!  The gift I was the most excited about was a Le Creuset oval dutch oven!  I will admit, I asked Santa for it, but it was such a delight to actually unwrap it and take it home!  I have already made a version of vegetarian chili topped with cornbread in it, and was so happy with it, I can't even describe it!

As for most people, January is usually a busy month for us, not just because it's the new year and we want to start everything fresh, but also because my father, sister and oldest niece all have birthday's a few days apart from each other.  Today is my Dad's turn, and as I was talking to him this morning, he mentioned that, although it's not really possible, it would be so great to have us living nearer the kids.  I have to admit, I agree with him.  I would love to be able to have the kids drop by, and cook with them, or just sit and talk.  As they (and we) get older, it's harder to have real ties and relationships to them, they're discovering who they are, and Aunt Bep (or Libet, or Elizabeth, depending upon the kids) may not be the hip happening person they want to be around all the time.  So, my NYR (new years resolution) is to make the extra effort to be more there for the kiddies, all 8 of them!

How does that work it's way into this blog?  Here's how!  I was thinking today about what I would make if I had all the kids to myself and had to occupy them for a while?  The kids range from almost 13 to almost 4 months... quite a spread!  Most of the answers I came up with were either too simplistic for them (or at least for the older ones) or too complicated to do with masses of kids all at the same time.  But, I did prevail.  What do you think most kids would never pass up?  I think brownies fits that bill to a tee!  Now, I know some kids have dietary issues so please understand I am not allowing for that completely in this post.  I will say that the recipe below will do fabulously well with the non-gluten flours on the market, and you can always use soy yogurt or apple sauce or pureed banana's to substitute for the sour cream or yogurt that I suggest... you get the picture though, it's fairly easy and as always, you can tweak this a million ways to suit your kids and their needs.  My one and only insistence is that  you NOT use carob.  It's awful tasting and doesn't melt the way a decent chocolate does.... if that's the only option you have, leave the chocolate out or substitute a dried fruit or a nut that the kids like.  Come to think of it, dried pineapple would be SO good in this!  Hmmm... off to the kitchen!

Easy and Delicious Brownies

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

14 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder (Hershey’s will do fine, or go for the good stuff)

1 & 1/4 cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1/3 cup sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt, or plain soy or coconut milk yogurt)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped nuts of your choice or dried fruit or chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325°. Line a 9-inch square pan with foil or parchment paper so that 2 inches hang over two opposite sides.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a nonreactive pan or in the microwave. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl and allow to cool slightly. Beat in cocoa powder and sugar until well blended. Add in sour cream and vanilla extract, then add each egg and beat to incorporate fully, then add the next egg. Combine flour and salt well, then slowly add to the chocolate mixture.  Once fully combined, add in the nuts, fruit or chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 40-45 minutes or until done. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool in pan on wire rack.

Makes 16 brownies.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pancakes.... any way you like them!

Ah, Saturday mornings!!  Leisurely, deliberate, lingering, delicious.... NOT!  I usually wake around 8am on any given day off, but quite frankly, I am a "coffee first thing" chick, the food can wait for hours.  My husband is a "food immediately" guy.  So, he usually makes and egg scramble with veg and cheese, less than 15 minutes after our feet hit the floor in the morning.  I of course make the very strong, very dark coffee.  Recently though, I have had a guilt thing going on, so I have made several bits and pieces myself.  I absolutely adore the Welsh rarebit muffins that I stole from Nigella (YUM vegetarian Worchestershire sauce...)  I also love the (completely vegetarian) biscuits and "sausage" gravy I made a few weeks ago for Tim's birthday breakfast.  Also the cheese scones with very, very sharp Red Leicester cheddar.  But my big fall back is a Ziplock bag of "homemade Bisquick" that I culled from several recipes over the last few years.  With which I make any number of types of pancakes!

About 2 Christmas' ago, this was the Mommy and Daddy gift I handed out to my brothers, sister and parents.  I have no idea if any of then replenished this after they used it and ran out, so I am giving this wonderful basics recipe to you.  Use it, experiment with it and make it your own.  Just remember, you can change out most of these ingredients, but you MUST have the baking soda, powder, salt ratio has to stay the same.  That's what gives these babies their heft.

Pancake Mix:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup self rising flour (you can use 4 cups of all purpose or replace the cup with whole wheat or any number of other flours)
3 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients together in tin, or jar.  Before you use the mix, you should shake the tin or bag, so that all the ingredients are thoroughly mised again.

Pancake recipe:
(makes 6 large or 12 small pancakes)
1 cup of mix
1 cup of milk (or buttermilk)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons of melted butter
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients in the pancake vessel of your choice.  Don't mix too hard, leave a lump or two.  Drop by the spoonful onto a hot greased griddle.  Once you see bubbles on the top of the pancake, and it seems drier, flip it.

My very favorite version of this is the buckwheat version... so good and so high in fiber, it's ridiculous.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Homemade Preserved Cherries (for cocktails, or what you will!)

Are you as in love with cocktails as I am?  I love all the ritual, the flavors and all the care that goes into a truly good cocktail preparation.  I think it all stems back to when I was a very small girl, and my parents would go out for a rare evening in Manhattan.  They would come home, and my mother would come to check on us, after the babysitter left, and she would smell faintly of Manhattan's and smoke.  I loved that smell, because it meant she was home!  

As I may have mentioned before, Tim is a beer aficionado, and I don't mean he drinks tons of Bud.  So, I have been turning him on to wine and spirits.  I have yet to make him a gin lover, but that might happen one day!  So, we go out for a cocktail as a grown up night cap when we get the chance.  We have a new cocktail establishment in Funky Ferndale, MI called The Oakland Art Novelty Company and they make most of their own “stuff”, including their own preserved cherries.  We also have a local restaurant called The Atlas Bistro, and they make their own bitters and cherries too.  I have about 8 different types of bitters on my cocktail table, and I have found a way to use all of them, with the exception of the mint... I think I will save that for the Grasshoppers I have been dying to make!  All that being said, my beloved Manhattan wouldn’t be the same without a rosy cherry waiting for me in the bottom of the glass! 

I decided after having several cocktails with their house made cherries in them at Atlas that I really needed to learn to make my own.  So, when we were at a summer get together at Tim’s cousin Allison’s house, and there was a sour cherry tree in her yard just bursting with cherries, I picked many and took them home, determined that I would do it.  Here are two attempts in one recipe.  One is with honeyed bourbon, and the other is with the delicious, if a bit sweet to drink alone, maraschino liqueur.  I honestly liked the honey bourbon upon first blush, but I have to admit, the maraschino cherries really are my fave now.  I can’t explain it, since they are nothing like the jarred varieties we all grew up eating on ice cream sundaes…. they are just wonderful.  All will keep indefinitely in the fridge, as long as you make sure they’re covered well and covered with liquid at all times.  Good luck!  It also has to be mentioned that I am posting this at the behest of my friend Manny.

Honey Bourbon or Actual Maraschino Cherries

Two cups of sour cherries, pitted
1 ½ cups of bourbon or maraschino liqueur (must be good quality)
½ cup of honey, or ½ cup sugar

In a heavy bottomed small pot off the heat, combine the sugar and maraschino liqueur, or the honey and bourbon and stir well until the honey or sugar is dissolved.  Place on a medium flame, being careful to stir gently, but not so vigorously as to splash and ignite the liquor.  Eventually the liquid will come to a boil, so let it biol for a minute or so, then turn off the flame, and remove the pot from the heat.  Carefully add the pitted cherries, and return to the heat, and cook over a medium flame for 10 minutes.  Since they’re pitted, the cherries won’t pop, but they should swell and start to bleed some of their color out.  Once they’ve cooked, take them off the heat and allow them to cool down enough so you can pour them safely into a container for storing.  At this point if you want to can them, you can.  If not just put them in your fridge and allow to cure at least overnight.  At the best, you want them to cure for three full days, then you can eat them, or use them in your fave drinks. 

It should be noted that you can use ANY kind of cherry here, no matter what the ratio is equal parts cherries, and alcohol (combined with sweetener if you're using it) ... I imagine yellow Rainier's would be really interesting!  But the sours are really the least sweet, and so they compliment the liquor.  If you do use black cherries, I would omit the sugar/honey completely. Also, if you come upon this new "craze" honey bourbon (I have seen a Jim Beam variety of this already) just omit the honey and use 2 cups of the bourbon.

Let me know how it goes, and what you use them for!

There's nothing like the deep summer to make and eat some soup!

I will be making up for my lack of blogging with two recipe’s this weekend.  A few weekends ago, were unintentionally productive (the preserved cherry recipe will be the next entry I do…)  I wanted to do lots outside, but this hellish heat-wave settled in on Friday, and after weeding the shade garden behind the house, outside was not an option.  So, I went grocery shopping.  I tried to reign in my prolific food spending, but managed to just buy less expensive things that I use in my store cupboard.  If anyone reading this has any idea of me, they know I am pleasurably obsessed with Nigella Lawson.  And from her, I got encouragement that yes, my very, very, VERY stocked pantry is entirely necessary! 

And so, I came up with a fabulastic garlic soup recipe, culled from previous tries, an encounter with the unfortunate Jeff Smith (AKA the Frugal Gourmet, who also introduced me to cheddar beer soup…) and a reminder that I hadn’t made this in a while from Mark Bittman.  Mr. B reminded me that sage is lovely here, and that I have a thriving sage patch in my container garden.  Also TONS of variegated lemon thyme that I brush up against every time I walk out my back door.  So here is my garlic soup, with a nod to the wonderful Mr. Bittman.  I'd like to add here that I had soup left over and made a wonderful dish of steamed new potatoes and this soup the following night and it was heavenly... Tim wanted seconds!

For the soup:
2 smashed and peeled garlic heads, sliced into thick slices/cut into manageable bits
¼ cup good olive oil
4 – 5 medium fresh sage leaves (don’t use dried, just don’t use anything if fresh isn’t available.)
6 cups of good low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock, or water (with a little soy sauce thrown in for taste, I also have been known to use water and some Vegeeta which gives it a lovely yellow color)
salt and pepper to taste

For the croutons:
4 thick slices of good Italian or French bread
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 sage leaf
1 garlic clove, cut in half

Heat the olive oil and the garlic slices over a low flame in a heavy bottomed soup pot. Sprinkle over a little salt to help the garlic release its juices.  When the oil starts to sizzle a little, toss in the sage leaves and allow them to fry for a bit.  What you’re going for here is cooked garlic that has not colored at all, just softened and cooked.  If you get browning on the garlic throw the whole lot out and start again.  If you go slowly and watch carefully it should take about 6 – 7 minutes on a low flame.  When the garlic mashes easily with the back of a spoon, add in the chicken stock and raise the heat up to medium and bring it to a boil.  One it comes to a boil, allow it to bubble for about 2 – 3 minutes, then lower the heat to a simmer and cover.  Simmer for 10 minutes watching carefully that the water doesn’t cook away, and stir occasionally.

After you have simmered for 10 minutes and are assured that the soup has good flavor (check and add salt and pepper as you feel it needs) take it off the heat and cool for about 10 minutes.  Add the cooled soup to a blender and puree, or use your immersion blender until the soup is completely pureed and milky looking.  Add it back to the pot, or just cover the pot you used the immersion blender in and set on the stove at a bare simmer.

Then make the croutons.  If you have a toaster oven, use that, otherwise heat your oven to 375.  Place the 4 pieces of bread onto a baking sheet and use the oil to drizzle over them.  Put into the oven to toast for 6 minutes, but keep an eye on them, don’t let them burn.  When they are toasted, you can toast the other side if you like, and then take them off the baking sheet and rub with the halved garlic cloves, and run the sage leaves lightly over them.  Place the croutons in large bowls and pour the soup over them, and eat right away.