Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Run Down

I've been under the weather the past few days. Runny nose, cloudy head, achy body, the works.  I haven't really been hungry for much of anything which doesn't bode well for trying to write a blog post about food and cooking. The only two things that could possibly help me is lots of sleep and this recipe for my own version of chicken noodle soup.  It's ridiculously easy which is why even in my weakened state that I can still manage to put it on the stove.  With just the first bite of chicken/lemon goodness along with the salty flavor of the parmesan, I know that I am on the mend.  The hint of green makes me feel good too, like I'm eating my vegetables, but you can leave it out if you don't have any chives on hand.  Since I only make this magical concoction when I am truly in need of sustenance for my sickly body, I never thought about doubling or even quadrupling the recipe for a quick family dinner.  I suppose, that might be a good idea. 

Orzo in Chicken Broth
(serves one)
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup orzo
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1-2 dashes Tabasco sauce
black pepper
Pour the chicken broth into a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add orzo and cook for 11 minutes until just soft. Remove from heat.  Add lemon juice, grated parmesan, chopped chives and Tabasco.  Pour into a soup bowl.  Generously season with fresh black pepper.  Enjoy with a box of tissues.

Friday, April 17, 2015

DO try this at home

There are nights when I get home late after a long day of work, when my feet are hurting and I am so hungry that I find myself shoving cake in my mouth while I am looking in the fridge for something half-way nutritious to eat.  I just need a simple meal that I can enjoy while watching the latest recording of the "Real Housewives of New York".  (The "B" is back and I couldn't be more excited!)  A bowl of cold cereal doesn't go well with red wine, I've already eaten to many cheese and cracker meals lately and I'm over toasted  English Muffins.  Thankfully I have my recipe for "World Famous Tortilla Pizza" in my arsenal.  The first time I served this to the kids for dinner, I felt I had to put a fancy spin on the name since all it took was spooning some canned tomato sauce onto a wrap/tortilla and topping it with cheese before placing it under the broiler for less than 5 minutes.  Et voila!  They went for it, likely because they each had their own personal "pizza" that they didn't have to share and I made each one according to their personal specifications: Ava sauce, Declan no sauce. This is more of a formula than an actual recipe as you can change up the toppings to incorporate whatever you may have already on hand. I prefer to make mine a little more jazzy than the one's the kids like. Which is good, because then they won't come scampering into the kitchen, sniffing the aroma from the oven, asking me if they can sample some of my long awaited dinner. I scrounge out leftovers like last night's steamed asparagus and that tiny morsel of goat cheese that wouldn't be useful for anything else.  Lucky me, tonight, I found some grilled chicken, half an avocado and some cheddar cheese.  Add a little barbecue sauce and I created a masterpiece. You get the picture.  Assemble your favorite flavors, toast up the tortilla, slice it up, and serve.  It doesn't even require a plate, just bring the cutting board to your favorite comfortable chair, pour a glass of wine, put up your feet, banish the kids to the basement and don't forget the "Real Housewives"!

"World Famous" Tortilla Pizza
Barbecue Chicken with Avocado
(serves one)
1 wrap or large tortilla
1/2 grilled chicken breast, chopped into small pieces
1/4 cup barbecue sauce (I like Stubb's)
1/2 avocado, diced
2 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
Turn broiler on high.  Place wrap or tortilla on a cookie sheet and place under broiler for 2-3 minutes until lightly toasted.  Mix chicken breast and barbecue sauce together in a bowl.  Remove from tortilla/wrap from oven.  Flip over wrap/tortilla so that toasted side is now on the bottom.  Top with barbecue mixture followed by diced avocado and grated cheese.  Place under broiler for 5-7 minutes until cheese is bubbling and tortilla/wrap is crisp on edges.  Remove from oven and allow to rest for 1-2 minutes.  Cut into wedges and enjoy without sharing.
*This recipe is great for last minute guests and/or serving with cocktails.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Potage de la semaine: Cream of Broccoli with Cheddar Cheese Soup

I don't have time for soup du jour. There is no way I could pull off making soup everyday because my kids probably would complain about eating it.  They don't really like food that is mixed or blended together.  Everything is still separated on the plate, broccoli not to mingle with the rice and nothing touching the steak.  If you are a parent or a very picky adult, you understand.  But I do like a hot bowl of soup after a long day especially if it's already made and all I have to do is heat it up.  If there is a big hunk of crusty bread for dipping, so much the better.  So, in an effort to create some comfort for myself, I resolve to make soup at least once a week.  Well, at least this week.  We will have to see if I get bored with this idea and move on to another Big Plan come Friday (today is only Tuesday).  Until then, I give you:

Cream of Broccoli with Cheddar Cheese Soup
(Serves 6)
6 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup AP flour
2 cups whole milk, warm
3 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper
4 cups broccoli florets (about one large head)
1 large carrot, diced
2 1/2 cups (about 8 oz) grated sharp cheddar cheese (mix yellow and white)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
dash Worcestershire sauce

Melt butter in a stock pot over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Whisk in flour and cook until golden.  Gradually whisk in warm milk until smooth.  Add chicken broth, bay leaves and nutmeg.  Season with salt and pepper, if necessary.  Bring to a simmer then reduce heat to med/low-low and cook uncovered until thickened (about 20 minutes).
Add the broccoli and carrot to the soup mixture.  Simmer until tender (about 20 minutes).  Discard bay leaves.  Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.  Add the grated cheese to the soup and stir until melted.  Add Dijon mustard and Worcestershire.  Stir to combine.  If soup is too thick, add more chicken stock. 

Another delightful addition to the meal:

Fresh Chive Butter
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
dash Tabasco sauce
dash cider vinegar
1 small bunch fresh chives, chopped fine (about 1/4 cup)

Puree butter, salt, pepper, Tabasco sauce and cider vinegar in a Kitchen Aid with paddle attachment.  Add chives.  Combine thoroughly.  Slather on fresh bread and enjoy.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Control the controllables

When I am feeling stressed and the world seems completely out of control, I take to the kitchen and begin to bake.
Once after a particularly brutal encounter with a customer, I found myself sobbing as I measured out butter and sugar then whipped it into a frenzy in my trusty Kitchen Aid mixer.  Those chocolate chip cookies never tasted so good.
Lately, I'm feeling like all the signals in the Universe are somehow crossed and nothing really appears to be going quite right.  Sure, my family is happy and healthy but I'm lost in my own quagmire, seeking ways to get out of it but stumbling and falling, not at all successful.  That's when I need to drop everything that I'm "trying" to accomplish and do what a former head honcho for a retail company I once worked for would say, "Control the controllables."  He meant, when only a few customers walk through the door, build the sale instead of looking for multiple sales.  Control what you have in front of you instead of looking for something that's not there (and complaining about it).  Well, I have a pantry full of  "bakeable" ingredients.  So, I'm going to make marshmallows.
Not just some Jet Puffed knock off.  These are honest to goodness pillows of sweet satisfaction.  Soft, spongy and I can make them as big as I want.
Once I decided to make the marshmallows I had a moment of divine inspiration ....SPRINKLES. Much like glitter is to crafting, sprinkles add that extra "je ne sais quoi" to food that nothing else can.  Not chopped nuts, Not shredded coconut, Not powdered sugar. Rainbow nonpareil sprinkles, thank you very much.
Although this recipe is technically not baked, rather it's cooked on the stovetop, then poured into a pan and left to set up, that's all just semantics.  The main point is that marshmallows really can make the world seem like it's properly spinning on it's axis again and few sprinkles can only make things even better.

Confetti** Marshmallows
 ("Adapted from Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it" by Karen Solomon)
(makes 16 large marshmallows)

vegetable oil
2/3 cup water, divided
3 (1/4 oz.) envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons nonpareil sprinkles (rainbow, please)
1 cup confectioner's sugar for dusting
Lightly oil the insides of an 8"x8" baking dish using a small amount of vegetable oil. Generously coat the oiled surface with confectioner's sugar.
Pour 1/3 cup water into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Sprinkle the packets of gelatin over the water and let stand for 10 minutes until the gelatin has softened.
In a saucepan, combine 1/3 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt.  Heat mixture on medium high.  Cook the mixture without stirring until it reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Remove from heat.
With the mixer on low speed, carefully add the hot syrup to the softened gelatin.  Add vanilla.  Increase the mixer speed to medium high and beat for 8-13 minutes until mixture becomes white, stiff and sticky.  Add the sprinkles and mix to combine.
Spread the mixture into the prepared pan using a lightly oiled spatula.  Wet your hands and press the mixture into the corners of the pan.  Set marshmallows aside for at least an hour for them to become firm and cool.
Loosen the marshmallow from the pan with a wet knife.  Cut the marshmallows into squares, rewetting the knife as needed.  Toss marshmallow squares in powdered sugar to prevent from sticking.
Store in an airtight container for up to one week.
*These are spectacular when toasted over an open flame.  I like to light a burner on my gas stove and let the kids go to town.  Sometimes we get out the graham crackers and chocolate bars and create the most amazing s'mores....EVER!!
**Ava claims she created the name for these marshmallows while Declan demands to be known as the person who came up with the idea of mixing the sprinkles into the marshmallows instead of pouring them on top.  Meanwhile, I'm just the person who executed the plan.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Eat your vegetables with sauce

Pretty much everyone who knows me and anyone who reads this blog understands that I have a ginormous sweet tooth.  Just witness the last blog post, all about cake and sweets and decadence.  No wonder my dentist always asks me "How many sweets do you eat?"  I give a him a sideways look and promise to floss more so that he will drop the subject.
But even I have to retreat from sugar every once in a while.  However, you will never find me gnawing on plain celery sticks or those oddly shaped carrot nubs.  I will eat my vegetables but only after they have been properly prepared in order to entice me to do so.
First, one has to consider the state of the vegetables.  If they are in season and practically falling off the vine, tomatoes can and should be eaten raw.  Unfortunately, in the winter months, I completely abstain from fresh tomatoes because the ones in the supermarket make me sad and wishing for midsummer.  Instead, anything that can be roasted is a great idea to me. Red peppers, broccoli, asparagus, green beans and even Brussels sprouts (I hated them as a child.  Val used to boil them.) are delicious when tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper then baked in a hot oven.  This is a super easy way to prepare a platter full.  They can be enjoyed warm or at room temperature.


Then, there must be some sort of sauce. And I don't mean any old salad dressing from a bottle.  The sauce must be thick, almost like a dip and it should also be flavorful.  Think: garlic, lemons and a hint of hot pepper. It can be a little caloric as well because it is a sauce, not a soup so in most cases, I will only be employing it as a garnish.  The following recipes cover the best of both worlds: one is creamy and a little fatty, the other is all out healthy.  I like to make both as they complement each other well and the leftovers are great on sandwiches, pizza or straight out of the bowl by the spoonful.  Of course, that would defeat the purpose of pretending to be healthy for at least one meal of the day. 

Roasted Vegetables with Lemon Garlic Aioli and Fresh Herb Gremolata
(Serves 6)
Prepare the sauces up to 2 days ahead:
Lemon Garlic Aioli
1 small head garlic
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Wrap garlic loosely in foil.  Place in oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until garlic is soft when squeezed.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  (Garlic can be baked  a few days ahead and placed in refrigerator until ready to be used.)
Cut garlic head in half.  Squeeze out softened cloves into a small food processor or blender.  Add mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice and Tabasco sauce.  Blend until garlic is incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate sauce until ready to serve.
Fresh Herb Gremolata
1 cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/8- 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
Place parsley, garlic and olive oil in a small food processor or blender. Blend ingredients until parsley is leaves are chopped fine and olive oil is well incorporated.  Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes.  Blend again.  Add salt and pepper to taste and more red pepper flakes if desired.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Roasted Vegetables
1 lb asparagus
1 lb Brussels sprouts
1 large red pepper
(or any other vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, zucchini, summer squash, onions, etc.)
olive oil
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 
Wash all vegetables.  Snap off asparagus ends, peel dead leaves off  Brussels sprouts and slice in half.  Cut red pepper into 2" chunks.  Lay vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet.  Sprinkle with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Bake vegetables for 15 to 25 minutes until edges are browned and vegetables are soft.  Toss vegetables once or twice during baking. Remove from oven and serve warm or at room temperature.  Enjoy with delicious sauces!!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Marathon of Birthday Sweets

An array of decadent desserts paraded through my kitchen this past month honoring March otherwise known as "the birthday month" in my family.  It seems a lifetime ago that we celebrated Declan's 9th birthday on March 7th topping it off with tangy Buttermilk Panna Cotta with a sweet/tart/slightly bitter lemon syrup (both recipes from one of my new favorite cook books: "Prune" by the gifted Gabrielle Hamilton).  Unfortunately, Declan did not even want to taste this creamy, cool triumph as he ended the night by rolling around on the couch complaining that his belly was too full of hamburgers and the bacon jerky that his aunt bought for him purchased from Andy's Market on Rte 151. 
The snow receded a tiny bit more the following week when we went to Val's to celebrate mine and Karyn's birthday(s).  Val served a childhood favorite of mine, rolled chicken filled with ham and cheddar.  For dessert, Rob brought French pastry and I rounded it all out with "Crème au Chocolat Noir" (dark chocolate pudding) from "My Little French Kitchen" by another favorite author, Rachel Khoo.  Of course, we all thoroughly enjoyed the pudding topped with dollops of freshly whipped cream, although Declan deemed it to be "too rich" to finish his portion.  Where did I get that kid?
By the time we were on to celebrating Val's birthday the following week, we felt like the snow was never going to leave us, still piled high aside driveways and completely covering flower beds that by this time are usually raked free of dead leaves to allow the daffodils to poke through.  It was way too cold to imagine the sun would be able to ever melt it all and pretty much all of my friends on facebook were still posting photos of "icebergs" clogging the shores of Chapoquoit beach (enough, already!!).  This doom and gloom feeling called for not one but two chocolate cakes in celebration of Val and the springtime that was hopefully on its way sooner than later.  The flourless chocolate cake from epicurious.com which uses far less than the usual 400 eggs and 20 pounds of butter found in many flourless cake recipes is just as decadent and you don't have to use most of your grocery budget to buy the ingredients.  Sadly, when I search the website for the recipe to create a link, I cannot seem to find it but here it is below.  Lucky me, I wrote it down on a scrap paper!  I chose to adorn mine with powdered sugar, fresh raspberries and homemade whipped cream.  You can do whatever you want.

"epicurious.com" Flourless Chocolate Cake
(serves 8)
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 stick butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus extra for dusting
(optional) powdered sugar for dusting
fresh raspberries
homemade whipped cream (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Grease an 8" round cake pan, line the bottom with wax paper and grease the paper.
Chop the chocolate into small pieces.  Place the chocolate in a double boiler with the butter and melt over medium heat until the mixture is smooth.  Remove mixture from heat and whisk in sugar.  Add the eggs and whisk well.  Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.  Pour batter into pan and bake in the middle of the oven 25 minutes or until the top forms a thick crust.
Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes then invert onto serving plate.  Dust cake with additional cocoa powder or powdered sugar.  Serve with fresh raspberries and generous dollops of whipped cream.
Homemade Whipped Cream
( a good amount)
1/2 pint heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pour all ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixture with whisk attachment.  Cover top of stand mixer with a dish towel and allow towel to hang over sides of the bowl. (Do this to prevent splatter all over kitchen!)  Beat mixture on high for 1-2 minutes until still peaks form.  Enjoy immediately. 


I baked another chocolate cake for no other reason except that I just couldn't help myself.  This one is also gluten free. (My sister, Karyn is my new guinea pig/muse with her gluten free diet.)  I found this recipe on the amazing website www.food52.com   The Chocolate Mochi Snack Cake https://food52.com/recipes/34383-chocolate-mochi-snack-cake not only looked delicious in the photo (The website has drool worthy photos.) but I also wanted to try it because it only had one ingredient that I would have to add to my pantry: rice flour.   I used Bob's Red Mill brand and it baked into spongy perfection.  So many gluten free baking recipes call for an array of odd and expensive types of flour that it makes me want to abandon the idea completely.  This one was not only easy to make, but I will be baking it again for anytime not just to accommodate dietary restrictions.
We sent Val and Dick off to California to celebrate Ethan and his son's Nate birthday(s) hoping that when they arrived home a week later that the sun would be beating down on us but as you all know, the average temperature by the 25th of March was still about 20 degrees.  AAARGH!
Time to prepare for Ava's birthday on the 27th and my nephew, Ryson's day whenever this teenager could make himself available for us to shower gifts upon him.  Ava chose chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting.  She must have been reading my mind, I have been dying to make Ina Garten's
Chocolate Cupcakes & Peanut Butter Icing from her cook book "Barefoot Contessa At Home".  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/chocolate-cupcakes-and-peanut-butter-icing-recipe.html  The chocolate cupcake is deep and dark chocolaty tasting, so much so that Declan declared it to be "too rich" as he dramatically clutched his stomach which can only mean it is the perfect amount of dark chocolate perfection for me.  Was my kid switched at birth?  Never mind, we enjoyed the cupcakes for Ava's birthday dinner and the leftovers the next day along with her BFF's after a showing of the new "Cinderella" movie.  (A must see!)

March is always, for us, a marathon of celebrations and birthday sweets.  It's exhausting.  But I'm also thankful for the 31 days of complete madness that makes the end of the winter go by much faster and ushers in springtime just in time for all the raking and yard work so I can attempt to work off all of my indulgences.  Happy Birthday!