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.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Spring, Spring, Spring!!

Well my Blog Friends, it’s been a while, yet again!  Easter has come and gone (I owe you some recipe’s there), so has Memorial Day, and here we are in June!  As with everyone’s lives, quite a bit has happened in the interim… I have been home to NY twice, once alone for my nephew Chris’ communion and again with Tim for my niece, Elsa’s communion.  Book end trips for May.  It was lovely weather and so wonderful to see the entire clan twice in just a few weeks!  A real treat!  Seven (and a half) nieces and nephews, that’s a lot of kids running around at once!
What does Spring mean to you?  With me, it means the garden and fresh peas, fresh vegetables and my beloved peonies and lilacs.  I am completely in love with big blowsy peonies (see my pic from last years crop above), and I have a bunch of them planted in our small garden.  My ultimate goal is to have a very English overgrown garden, but after 4 years of working on it, I have an overgrown garden with many weeds, some crazy rudibeckia, and an overabundance of mint, but also some beloved plantings.  Some of them I put in myself, some were there before I lived in Tim’s house.  All of them I love, although I did pull out and give away the majority of the day lilies… they’re not my cup of tea.  This year I added bachelors buttons, some iris, a huge pink and yellow flowered honeysuckle and, finally, some herbs and tomato’s!  Even with Tim’s intense dislike of tomato, I bought some very hardy Hungarian tomato’s and planted them in pots.  We shall see how that comes along.  I also planted basil, lemon thyme and two types of sage, purple and golden.  I am not a huge fan of sage, but you can’t beat a simple pasta tossed with browned butter and fried sage leaves, so there you go!

Now, I did mention peas just a bit ago, and although it’s a bit too early this year for the fresh kind, I can’t sing the praises of frozen peas enough.  And, in the long run, they’re very versatile all year ‘round, not to mention delicious!  So, when I was at a loose end this week, I decided to make a frozen pea soup.  It’s wonderful hot, but also can be delicious and refreshing as a cold soup.  I also added in some cubes of browned queso fresco, which I just happened to have a block of from Costco (I know, I know… no judgments’, please!)  I was thrilled and Tim wanted it two nights in a row, so it must have been good!  I am giving you the basic idea below, but you can certainly change up the spices, or leave them out entirely… it’s all up to you!

Spiced Up Spring Pea Soup

2 tablespoons of good olive oil (or as an alternative, I used garlic oil to punch up the flavor)
1 medium onion chopped
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
Good grinding of fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon dried ground chervil (use parsley if you don’t have chervil)
1 teaspoon dried ground basil
1 tablespoon dried ground cumin (or 1 teaspoon whole cumin bashed around)
1 teaspoon hot paprika or any hot chili powder (it’s optional and totally to your taste)
3 – 4 cloves of fresh garlic sliced
2 bags of frozen peas (believe me, it’s MUCH easier to do this with frozen)
4 cups of good quality, low sodium vegetable stock (or no meat chicken stock or water)
1 cup of water set aside to thin if necessary
1 block of queso fresco (or halloumi would be great here!)

Heat the oil in a large soup pot, with a heavy bottom.  Add the onion and salt on medium heat and cook until transparent and soft (about 7 minutes), stir as much as possible so they don’t brown and stick.  Add in the remaining spices and cook for a minute or two until well mixed and you can smell the spice mixture.  Allow to cook for a few minutes.  Add in the garlic and frozen peas and stir to coat.  You don’t want the garlic to fry, just to cook.  Add in the stock or water, stir well to combine, and cook, uncovered for about 10 – 15 min, until you see the soup start to boil and the peas are bright green and cooked.  At this point take it off the heat and taste it.  It should be flavorful, and you should definitely taste the sweetness of the peas in the broth.  Adjust the seasoning as you would like.  After it has cooled for a few minutes, use and immersion blender to puree the soup.  It’s up to you if you want it chunky or completely pureed smooth, but remember that if you’re chilling it, smoother is much better (or at least it is to me.)  After the soup is pureed, return it to the heat and let it simmer for a while.  Use the additional water to thin this if it’s too thick for your palate.  Don’t overcook this, unless you love mushy peas….. enough said.  Serve in bowls with the cheesy garnish.

To serve, I flash fried some cubes of queso fresco, the trick to that is a dry non-stick pan.  Place the cubes in a hot pan, have your tongs ready, as soon as you see it looking “melted” on the side touching the pan, grip them tightly with the tongs and turn them over.  The tight grip is key to the browned bottom releasing and turning over…  Let them brown on the other side for another minute and immediately place them in your bowl of green soup.  It’s delicious, and a nice change to bread cubes.  Another idea would be browned cubes of polenta… YUM!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to you all!  Below is our menu for today, I'll be posting recipe's in the next couple of days for some of the better goodies!


Deviled eggs
Spanakopita (bought, not homemade)
Cheese platter

Beef/vegetarian Wellington
Roasted Pork loin with mustard cream sauce
Small boneless leg of lamb (not well done, but medium)
Roasted potatoes
Roasted asparagus with lemon and olive oil
Homemade creamed spinach
Glazed baby carrots
Roasted Brussels sprouts
Sauteed savoy cabbage (with butter and lemon)
Bread rolls (out of a package)
Green salad

Italian cream cake
Chocolate espresso cake with cream and chocolate Easter eggs on top

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mushroomy goodness!

That’s our new couch.  Isn’t it beautiful?  I love everything about it, the style, the way it fits perfectly into the space that the previous sofa lived in only better.  I even love the color, a silvery, mushroom brown.  It’s a cross between the color of the gills inside a lovely fresh mushroom and good quality cocoa powder.  (Those of you that know me will know the tug of war we have had over painting and in particular my Beloved’s love of all things beige/brown.)  Tim and I have decided that if we are staying in our house, we are going to make it a place we love.  And so, new couch and plans for painting!!  More on the paint later, but now back to the mushrooms! 

Years ago, when I lived in New York, I was a culinary fiend; I bought cooking magazines like mad and cooked from them often, I had all kinds of quality pans and cooking utensils all packed into a tiny kitchen.  My only problem was I rarely had anyone to try the food out on, which made it a bit boring.  There’s nothing quite like carefully preparing food and then having someone else love it!  Even then, when I cooked meat all the time, I fell in love with mushrooms.  I cooked them a hundred different ways, and they were always wonderful.  My specialty became sautéed mushrooms with polenta.  I still make it today and it’s heavenly, even if I make it vegan.  Imagine my surprise way back then when I came across (I believe in Bon Appetite) a recipe for a mushroom lasagna.  It had no tomato, which immediately intrigued me, and it also didn’t have the tiresome chore of typical lasagna, boiling the noodles and draining them, etc.  I was delighted with it, and immediately started planning!  I made several versions of this, and the recipe below is the easiest, I developed a few tweaks to make it work on a weeknight, so you can eat before midnight!  

My most loved version is below and although it’s slightly more detailed than the recipes I usually share, I wholeheartedly encourage you to make it.  It’s simple and lovely, rich and delicious, but truthfully, I can’t eat more than a small piece at a sitting, it’s that rich.  My recommendation is to make the mushroom sauté in advance and then assemble the entire thing just before you bake it.  Allowing the mushroom mixture to mature overnight does intensify the flavors.  One note here, the recipe here calls for Jarlsberg, but to create this authentically to this recipe, you can use any nutty, semi-soft cheese.  Gruyere comes to mind as a fine substitute.  But, the beauty of this is that you can use any cheese: goat's, mozzarella, even good-quality cheddar would work.  It’s all up to how it pairs with mushroom.  My one must is that you can’t make the béchamel with skim or lowfat milk without compromising the texture of the lasagna.  That being said though, you can lighten this up by using half skim/low fat and half full fat.  Good luck and Happy Cooking!

E's Mushroom Lasagna

Mushroom sauté
3 tablespoons of olive oil
6 fat cloves of garlic chopped fine
4 small baskets of mushrooms (can be all white button, or a combinations of several different types)
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, removed from the stems or ½ teaspoon of dried
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup red wine (use something you would also drink, no box wine)

Béchamel sauce
½ cup all purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter
½ teaspoon nutmeg (or several gratings of fresh)
3 ½ cups whole milk, plus an additional  ½ cup to thin if necessary

3 cups shredded Jarlsberg cheese mixed with ½ cup freshly grated parmesan
1 box no-cook lasagna, or about 1 lb. of fresh lasagna sheets
(optional: ½ cup of breadcrumbs mixed with 1 tablespoon of melted butter)

For the mushroom sauté, roughly chop all your mushrooms, until you have pieces resembling the size of peas, set aside.  In a large non-stick sauté pan, heat the olive oil on a medium high flame and add the chopped garlic.  Sauté until you can smell the garlic and then sprinkle lightly with a scant pinch of salt, this will help the garlic to release some of it's juice and prevent it from burning.  Continue to cook carefully, making sure it doesn’t burn, for about a minute.  Add in your chopped mushrooms and turn them in the oil until all are coated with it, stir in the thyme.  At this point cover the pan and lower the flame to low, but keep an eye on the mushrooms and stir occasionally so they don’t burn.  Cook covered for about 7 minutes, or until the mushrooms are dark brown and releasing their juices.  Add in the wine and turn up the flame to medium, allow the wine to start to boil and stir until it looks as though all juices and the wine are well combined.  Cover the pan again and allow to cook for about 7 – 8 minutes.  When you lift the lid to check, there will be a great deal of liquid, and that’s perfect.  Now, raise the heat to high and with the lid off, stir and cook until most of the liquids are reabsorbed by the mushrooms and you start to see the bottom of the pan clearly when you are stirring.  Once the mixture has dried up a bit, set the pan aside and let the mixture rest.  Taste the mushrooms and add salt and pepper to your taste.  At this point, you can put the mushroom mixture in the fridge overnight, or just set aside to cool while you prepare the béchamel.

For the bechamel, heat the 3 1/2 cups of milk in a saucepan, just until you see bubbles forming at the sides and it is heated through and set aside off the heat.  In another non-stick deep bottomed saucepan, melt the unsalted butter, don’t let it burn.  Once all the butter is melted, take off the heat and whisk in the flour, then put the pan back on a low flame.  Congratulations, you have now created a roux!  Let the roux cook for a few minutes, to allow it to lose that floury flavor.  It will take on a pale almond color, don’t allow it to color any more than that.  Take the roux off the heat and carefully whisk in a cup of the heated milk.  With your whisk, make sure there are no lumps of flour, then whisk in the second cup of milk, and return the pan to a medium flame.  It will immediately start to thicken, and as you continually whisk, and in the remaining third and a half cups of milk.   One you start to feel resistance with your whisk, and the mixture is the consistency of hummus, you can take it off the heat and add in the nutmeg.  Taste it to adjust seasoning, I usually like some black or white pepper and let it cool a bit.

To assemble the lasagna, use any Pyrex baking dish, or any pan you normally would use for lasagna.  The first thing you layer is a thin coating of the béchamel.  If it has cooled to the point that it's hard to spread, use the 1/2 cup of milk you reserved to thin it a bit. Then a layer of the lasagna noodles.  Cover that layer with another thin layer of béchamel, a layer of cheese and a layer of mushroom, then béchamel again.  Keep layering until you are at the top of the pan, and have the final layer be béchamel and then cheese.  You can top this with the breadcrumb mixture, but it’s only if you want a bit of crunch on the top of your lasagna.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 - 40 minutes.  You’ll know it’s done when the breadcrumbs, or cheese are lightly toasted and you can see the béchamel bubbling up at the sides of the pan.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest and cool for at least 15 minutes.

Enjoy, and let me know what variations you try! 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An interesting alternative to Bar Cheese?

I think I found a good alternative to the Velveeta in the bar cheese I posted a little while ago (Pudge's Bar Cheese)

I think with a little bit of tweaking, it might even fool Tim!!  A BIG thank you to Copy Cat Recipe's ( for the recipe!

The Pantry Cheese Spread

1 lb. margarine, room temperature (not butter)
3/4 lb. sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 lb. Romano cheese, grated
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
Mix all ingredients together until fluffy, using electric mixer on low speed. Spread on sourdough French bread and toast under broiler. Note: The spread keeps for months if stored in the refrigerator in airtight container (if it lasts that long).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

This one is for my friend Helen!

Helen is the busy mother of twin boys ( are they 10 now Helen?), and she deserves this recipe.  It's a really fast version of coq au vin, and when I published this blog on Facebook, she asked did I have a fast one.  So, Helen, here you go!

Quick coq au vin (you can even do coq au riesling... works just as well.)

4 slices of streaky bacon chopped into 1 inch chunks
4 - 6 skinless boneless chicken breasts cut into chunks (although I have used skin on thighs and it's delicious, esp if you like dark meat)
1/2 package of frozen pearl onions
2 cloves of garlic chopped or minced
1 container of mushrooms (quartered)
1 1/2 cups good red wine (will boil off so the boys can eat it)
1 cup good quality chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch (or Bisto if you have it, if so follow package directions)
1/4 cup cold water

Rice for serving (or boiled potatoes... or mashed... yum!)
1 covered quart size oven safe casserole

Preheat oven to 350°F. Sauté bacon in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl and set aside. Leave the drippings in the pan.  Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper to taste and brown in bacon drippings in skillet. Sauté until cooked through, about 6 minutes per side; transfer to casserole and put in oven covered to keep warm.

Add onions to skillet and saute until warmed through and slightly cooked, add in mushrooms; season to taste with with salt and pepper and some thyme if you have it. Sauté all until until brown, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and saute until you can smell it, only a few minutes. Add wine, broth, and bacon and stir well. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Allow to boil briskly for 10 minutes.

While the sauce is boiling, in a separate cup combine the corn starch and 1/4 cup cold water, stirring until smooth, then add to sauce. (if using Bisto, follow package directions) Cook until sauce thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Check for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if needed. Add chicken and any accumulated juices into the sauce. Stir to combine, and put into the lidded casserole. Bake for an additional 35 minutes, or until it's bubbling and the sauce has thickened well.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Beef Wellington, without the beef....

Really that should say Veggie Wellington.  I made it for Tim and we loved it so much, and had so many vegetables left over, I made it again the following day.

When I was a kid, watching Julia Child, she made beef Wellington and put a mushroom duxelle on top.  I was so fascinated by the process that I started making the duxelles by hand all on my own.  A duxelle is very finely hand chopped mushrooms slow sauteed in butter, until you almost have what looks like browned chopped meat.  It adds so much flavor and moistness to the package that I just loved the idea.  Perhaps I should also explain, Beef Wellington is a puff pastry package of a hunk of beef (usually seared prime rib or tenderloin) with diced sauteed vegetables on it and a type of Bordeaux gravy or sauce all wrapped in the pastry.  It's delicious and surprisingly easy to do.  But, as you know, Tim is a vegetarian, so the beef part is out.  I constructed a vegetarian version of this that is really delicious, although a little bit time consuming.  It makes a nice presentation when cut (my poor iPhone photo is above) and you can easily adapt this with any vegetable, green or cheese. 

Vegetarian Wellington

1 thinly sliced beet
1 sliced turnip
thinly sliced carrot
green beans
swiss chard (or spinach or kale)
thinly sliced zucchini
sliced mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic sliced
3 - 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 package (2 sheets) of puff pastry
Jarlsberg cheese (2 cups) shredded

Equipment needed:
covered large non-stick skillet
large ceramic baking dish
several cookie sheets for cooling vegetables
long strips of parchment paper

Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in skillet, heat up 1/2 of the garlic and add in the sliced carrots in batches.  Cook them until they are softened, but still hold their shape.  Do the same to all the sliced vegetables, leaving the beets for last and adding garlic and olive oil in as needed.  As each batch of vegetables is finished, put them to the side on the cookie sheets to cool.  Season each batch with salt and pepper as you cook, it should all be flavorful as you go.  Once all the vegetables are cooked and cooled, take more olive oil and oil the inside of the baking dish.  I also sometimes take strips of parchement and after I oil the baking dish, I place the strips of parchement down and hang them over the sides so you can easily remove the whole package once the top is on.  Take the puff pastry out of the  fridge and line the baking dish with one sheet of puff pastry.  Layer all the cooled vegetables one at a time in over the puff pastry alternating with layers of cheese.  When all the layers are done, take the last sheet of puff pastry and cut a circle that will cover the top of the layers.  Take the puff pastry from the original layer, seal it over the circle that you covered the layers with.  Use a fork to seal the edges and refrigerate the whole thing for 20 minutes. 

After 20 minutes, invert the whole thing over a baking sheet, use the strips of parchment to pull the whole thing out easily.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  It will be golden brown all over, and you may see some moisture from the vegetables and cheese.  Let it cool for 10 minutes, then slice and serve.

Once again, you can substitute any vegetables. The second one I made was yellow squash, onion, potato, turnip, celery root, kale.  You can really use anything.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cooking soothing, happy food for ailing people


Tomorrow at 6am, barring too much snow in NYC, I fly home to NY to help my Mom when she gets her shoulder operated on.  I was thinking of what to make and freeze for my parents during the time in the next few weeks while Mom Hennessey  is recuperating.  Suddenly I remembered that last time my mom was operated on, probably 20 years ago, and all she craved before and after the operation was swiss chard, which was in season at the time.  I was going through a trendy cooking phase and chards of all kind were "de rigeur" if you had any credentials in trend cooking.  So, I made her a bit pot of chard and white bean soup, complete with anchovy paste.  My mother hates anchovies, but she never knew it was in there until I told her.  She promptly got ill, thinking that she had eaten those "little hairy fish"!  But, I made it several times and she never questioned the ingredients again.  I also made a swiss chard streudel that was wonderful which I have posted previously on this blog!

Over the years, I have found myself coming back to that basic recipe when people are ailing and their appetites need a little coaxing.  Recently my very good friend and her husband lost their baby during a pregnancy and they were devastated.  I did all I could, the mamma in me wanted to take the hurt away, but all I did was listen, hold hands, be there and nourish her through this devastating time.  Once they were home from the hospital, I immediately ran to grab the ingredients for this soup, with a few tweaks.  They loved it, and in their grief, they didn't have to think about what to eat.  That to me is the real joy of being able to cook, and even more importantly cook for people you love.  You nourish and care for them, through good times and bad, and you make sure they will be ok, with even a simple dish of soup!

The version I am giving you below can be tweaked in many ways, but the basis is still delicious, filling and so soothing.  I call this a Swiss chard soup, but cavolo negro (a dark, beefy Italian kale) or any good dark bitter kale or green would work.  I can not be too pushy about this one, the chard must be washed very, very well.  It is very sandy and it will really ruin the soup.  I don't recommend spinach, because after a while the leaves fall apart and turn to mush, not good for a soup of this type.  The chard is great because the leaves really stand up to cooking, but become soft and easy to slurp, and the stems get lovely and tender after you cook them, but still retain some bite.  Another important note is that you use good quality chicken stock, or vegetable stock.  It's one of the main flavors of the soup so good quality makes a huge difference.  Now, the basic recipe only calls for chard and white beans, but below I am adding in tortellini.  You can add cooked rice, brown rice would be yummy, couscous, barley, pastina, lots of other tiny pasta's or starches, or none at all.  This one is all about a classic Tuscan recipe that you can make your own!

Swiss Chard, White Bean and Tortellini  soup

3 tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly or use a garlic press
1 large bunch of Swiss chard, washed well, stems chopped and set aside, leaves cut into strips

6 - 8 cups of good quality low sodium chicken broth (or vegetable stock or water)
2 12 oz cans of cooked white beans, drained and rinsed well
1 package of fresh cheese tortellini

Optional: Parmesan rinds 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Saute the olive oil, garlic and chopped stems from the chard in a thick bottomed soup pot on low to medium heat.  Optionally, you can add in some dried chili flakes, if you like it spicy.  Add salt and pepper to taste, go easy on the salt, the broth tends to be salty, even the low sodium ones.  Cover and cook the mixture for 5 - 7 min or until the stems are softened.  Add in the shredded Swiss chard and saute until wilted.  Taste a strand to see if seasoning needs to be corrected.  Add the shredded chard and saute until wilted.

Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil and let it simmer for 7 - 8 min.  Add in the beans and let the soup simmer for 20 min, covered.

I usually serve this with some toasted sourdough bread rubbed with olive oil and a garlic clove, but you don't have to do that.  The optional Parmesan rinds can be added once you add the broth.  If you do add them, add about 20 more minutes to the cooking time, then remove and discard the husks when you are ready to serve.

Another optional item is a good grating of Parmesan over the bowl and a drizzle of good olive oil.

Enjoy! I hope you will show someone your love with this dish!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hello New Year!

I am ashamed that I haven't written here in several months, but I do have some very good excuses.  A bout of diverticulitis, a broken bone in my foot that I didn't know I had, a huge Thanksgiving at our house, and a wonderful drive out, but fraught with snow drive back from New York for Christmas.  In summary, things have been BUSY!

I did however, do quite a bit of cooking over the holidays and the few months before.  I found and modified a great recipe for shortbread that includes rosemary, which was delicious.  I made a family recipe for Irish Christmas cake, which I will not give away, but I was quite impressed with my modifications.  No raisins, so I ended up using all the dried fruit I had in the house, I had no whiskey so I used bourbon, and, I can not believe I am saying this, Tim didn't have any stout in the house, so I used a delicious and very dark beer he had in the back of the fridge.  It turned out wonderful, and I even had time to age it and bring it to our Christmas at my parents house in NY. 

I have been thinking and thinking about what the heck I was going to share with the blogosphere.  What I suddenly remembered was the brunch we had the weekend before Christmas at our house.  My friend David was in town from California, and staying at our friends Melinda and Keith's house.  So, they came to us for brunch.  I made a feta dip, and had a lovely cheese platter, but what saved the day was the mini crustless quiches that I made.  David, as it turns out has celiac disease, so pretty much everything I made had gluten, except the quiches.  Thank goodness, he loved them, and could eat them!  As always, you can substitute just about any cheese or filling.  I also made them in jumbo, non-stick muffin tins.  However, buttering them well is essential, so don't skip that step.

Brunchtime Mini-quiches

6 jumbo (room temperature) eggs
1 cup half and half, or milk, or cream or any combination of the above (I used half and half and creme fraiche)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1 cup cheese (I used shredded Jarlsberg, but cheddar or goat or any other are fine)
1.5 cups sauteed spinach

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees
Evenly divide the cheese and spinach between the muffin tins.  Some people put the cheese in the bottom of the cup so it forms a sort of crust.  I didn't worry about the order.  People also have used ham and lined the cup with that... also a little too much prinking for me.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, dairy and salt, pepper and cayenne until they are well combined and you can't see any more eggwhites.  With a ladle, fill the muffin tins to just below the rim.  You should have just enough eggs to fill 6 jumbo tins.  I wouldn't recommend a smaller size, they will cook and dry out too quickly.  You can also use individual ramekins, I think the capacity is 1.5 cups.  Put the tin on a baking sheet, and bake in the oven for 20 - 25 minutes.  You will know when they are done when the tops are very puffed up and browning.  They may have some jiggle in the middle, but they should not be liquid in the middle.

Now, these will loose their puffiness fairly quickly after coming out of the oven, a bit like little souffles.  The key to unmolding them is running a flexible spatula around the sides of the tins, so they won't stick.  Place them on a plate and enjoy!

Let me know how they come out!