Monday, January 31, 2011

My Sunday Gravy and a visit to the "Cake Boss"

I was not born into an Italian family.  I just adore Italian food in any way, shape or form.  I've had enough Italian neighbors and friends that have passed on some of their "family secrets" to me for a good "Italian Gravy".  It does take a little time, but that's what Sunday's are all about; what you always remember growing up, relaxing and having a special meal on Sunday.

One thing I do add to my gravy is a basil pesto cube.
I grow fresh basil every year in my garden.  Towards the end of the summer when the basil is overflowing, I cut nearly the whole plant down and make my basil pesto cubes.  In a food processor, pack as much fresh basil as you can, add fresh garlic, parmesan cheese and olive oil to make a thick paste.  Transfer the paste into ice cube trays.  When frozen, pop them out and store in zip-top freezer bags.  Add one cube (or more if you prefer) to your simmering sauce, or use it just as is for a quick pesto pasta.  As the cube melts into the sauce, you immediately get the fragrance of the fresh basil as if you just picked it.  They last me all winter long, depending on how many times you make your gravy.  I only have two left :o(.

One more special addition before we get on with the gravy.  When you buy a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano, or Locatelli Romano, and you can't grate any more from the wedge - you are down to the rind of the cheese - add the rind of the cheese to the simmering gravy.  This cheese is very expensive and you can get the last bit of goodness out of the cheese and add more flavor to your gravy.

Each family has their own traditions for Sunday Gravy, passed down from generation to generation.  I took bits and pieces from everyone I knew - tried everyone's method, and this is my version.

Sunday Gravy
  • 1/4 cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 1- 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 5 to 6- 28 oz. cans whole plum tomatoes (San Marzano if available or Tuttoroso )
  • 4 Tb. chopped parsley
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 basil pesto cube
  • 5 to 6 meaty pork neck bones
  • 1/4 - 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 lbs. ground veal, pork and beef (sometimes called meatloaf mix)
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced fine
  • 2 large eggs
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Sausage - 3 lbs. Hot or Sweet Italian Sausage or a mixture of both

Pass tomatoes and their liquid through a blender and set aside.

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large 5 quart pot of medium heat.  Stir in the onion and cook, stirring until wilted about 4 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Add red pepper flakes and oregano. Add tomato paste and cook, until the tomato paste loses its raw flavor (as you would flour in a roux) about 2-3 minutes.  Add wine, bring to a boil and cook until reduced by half.
Now the tomatoes.  I pass all the tomatoes through a food mill to remove the seeds.

It does take a little extra time, but the picture below is what will NOT go into your gravy.

Bring sauce to a boil, adjust the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring often until the sauce takes on a deep, brick red color, 2 to 3 hours.  Add basil pesto cube and salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  While sauce is simmering, place sausage and pork neck bones on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with a little olive oil and bake until golden brown - 30-40 minutes.

Add sausages and pork neck bones to the simmering gravy.  Drain the fat from the baking sheet.  Add a few ladles of sauce to the baking sheet to pick up any browned bits from the sausage.  Add to the gravy.

Mix all ingredients for the meatballs.  You can bake the meatballs along with the sausage, or as I sometimes do, I form them and put them directly in the sauce.  Just give them a chance to cook a little before stirring.

After about 30 minutes to an hour - you can start dunking.  This should be done in half hour intervals, or if your really hungry, about every 15 to 20 minutes.  White bread, italian bread - take a chunk and dunk.  As the gravy simmers you may need to adjust seasonings.

Serve with lots of crusty Italian bread and butter and a nice dry red table wine. This recipe makes about 16 cups, enough to dress about 4 lbs. of pasta.  Refrigerate up to 5 days, or freeze up to 3 months.  You will never buy a jar of pasta sauce again.

Now onto dessert.  My son and I took a trip to Hoboken, NJ to visit Carlo's Bakery.  This is the famous bakery on Food Network - Cake Boss.  Surprisingly, the bakery is very small, but from talking to some of the patrons, the line is usually out the door.  This was a snowy, cold, day and everyone was packed inside.  The line went smoothly, everyone taking pictures.  We even saw a camera man filming!  I didn't see any familiar faces from the TV show, but it was worth the trip.  I have never had a better cannoli.  They fill them fresh when you order them, so the shells are fresh and crisp.  The cannoli filling has just the right amount of cinnamon to make them irresistable!  There would be a picture of them for you to see, but unfortunately they have vanished.  A little on the pricey side, but if you are ever in the area, make a stop.  I took as many pictures as I could without looking obnoxious. It's for the cause!
Lo ama la cucina Italiana! Buon Appetito!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Crispy Edamame with Garlic Sea Salt

Edamame (green soybeans) is a delightful little bite, easy to prepare and fun to eat.  Edamame is high in protein and has a nutty flavor.

I was recently introduced to this healthy snack by a friend with two small boys (Hunter and Grant).  She served this to her 3-year old as part of his lunch.  Her 6-year old can eat a plate-full of these like they were candy!  She sprinkled my portion with freshly ground garlic sea salt - you can get addicted to these!
 To eat, hold pod by stem end, and slide the individual beans out with your teeth.  Fun!  It was just adorable to see this little 3-year old munching away at these.  They may seem a little intimidating to a little one at first, but once they get started, before you know it, the plate will be filled with empty pods and they will be getting a full serving of protein.

Just microwave one 12 oz. package of frozen edamame for 3 minutes and sprinkle with sea salt.

~Jenn, Hunter and Grant

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Alpine Bratwurst and Sauerkraut with Applesauce Dumplings

What comes to mind when you think of German Cuisine?  Sauerkraut and bratwurst, German Chocolate Cake and beer, lots and lots of German beer.

German peasants and the poor made do with their homemade beer and filled their stomachs with kraut and bacon, firm, dark breads and light dumplings.

This is a complete, satisfying cold winter's supper.  Simple, hearty and delicious!

Alpine Bratwurst and Sauerkraut with Applesauce Dumplings
  • 1 lb. bratwurst (5 links)
  • 2 Tb. bacon fat
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 16 oz. bag sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup white wine or apple juice
  • 1 Tb. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. chicken bouillon
  • 1 bay leaf
In a large skillet, melt bacon fat over medium high heat.  Brown bratwurst on all sides.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Cook onion and garlic in drippings until tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally.  Stir in sauerkraut, water, wine or apple juice, brown sugar, bouillion and bay leaf.  Add bratwurst to sauerkraut mixture.  Cover and simmer 20 to 30 minutes.

I added two pork chops to the skillet

While bratwurst are simmering, prepare Applesauce Dumplings.

Apple Sauce Dumplings
  • 1-1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 Tb. chopped parsley
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 Tb. cold, unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2/3 cup chunky applesauce
  • 2 Tb. apple juice
  • 1 egg
Whisk together flour, parsley, baking powder and salt in a bowl.  Cut cubed butter into flour mixture until the size of peas.  Combine applesauce, apple juice and egg in a bowl.  Stir into flour mixture with a fork just until combined.

Remove bratwurst to a plate, cover and keep warm.  Discard bay leaf.  Scoop dumpling batter onto simmering sauerkraut in 2 Tb. measures.  Cover and steam about 15-18 minutes.

Guten Appetit!

Servings:  4
Total Time 1 hour
~Pork, the other White Meat

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Som Tum - Thai Papaya Salad ala Brian

My son and his girlfriend frequent a small Thai restaurant nearby and have been trying to re-create Thai dishes at home.  Not that simple if there is no Asian market nearby.  My son prepared this dish for us recently.  I barely did anything except go from market to market with him to try and find a fresh green papaya.

This Asian variety is honeydew color on the inside with white seeds, not the typical orange-flesh that we are familiar with.  We couldn't find it anywhere.  Of course, we could have taken a trip to an Asian market in New York City, but that was a bit extreme.  I wonder where he gets his determination from?

The recipe calls for the papaya to be shredded.
   We bought the hardest papaya we could find.  Got home, pulled out my Mandoline and tried to shred this papaya.  We ended up with strings of  soft, mushy threads.
Ok, what now?  We had to improvise.  We had all the other ingredients and wanted to finish the dish.  The only thing I could come up with was to try Jicama - crunchy flesh, used in salads.  They never heard of it.  After a bit of research and some google attempts, we had two alternatives; shredded cabbage or cucumber.  When we thought about the raw cabbage, that didn't go over well, so we decided on the cool, crispy cucumber. I wrote the recipe with the original ingredients called for, and put in our substitutions.

This is Brian's version of Som Tum - it really was deliciously different!

Som Tum - Thai Papaya Salad
  • 2 cups shredded fresh green papaya (cucumber)
  • 3 medium plum tomatoes thinly sliced, or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Handful of fresh green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 lb. fresh shrimp, large
  • 4-6 fresh Thai chilies (1/2 tsp. red chili flakes)
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tb. fish sauce
  • 2 Tb. palm sugar (granulated sugar)
  • 2 Tb. fresh lime juice
In a medium pot, bring salted water to a boil.  Add shrimp and cook approximately 7 minutes, or until shrimp are just cooked through.  Since the green beans needed to be blanched, I added them to the shrimp to save a step.  This is all I did.  Brian did the rest.

The original recipe call for a mortar and pestle to crush the garlic and the chilies.  I suggested to my son to grate the garlic on his "new" Micro-plane".  Used crushed red pepper flakes for the chilies.

The dressing for this salad is done spoon-by-spoon, taste as you go.  I asked him to go easy on the fish sauce for my serving.
 Servings: 4
~Adapted from Import Foods

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chicken Pot Pie Soup with Puff Pastry Biscuit

Did you know that the first pies were often made from pastry that was intentionally barely edible?  Pastry was used as a method of keeping meats and fillings moist during cooking and also to seal the filling to keep it from spoiling. YUM. 

Many believe the term "pie" has its beginnings from "magpie", a bird that collected a variety of different objects. 

The Chicken Pot Pie was the first frozen pot pie available in the US, developed by the Swanson Company in 1951.  As the saying goes, the rest is history.

This recipe makes a large pot of stock.  Use what you need for the Pot Pie Soup and freeze the rest in quarts for later use.

The Stock:
  • 1 whole chicken, 2 to 3 lbs.
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 carrots - cut into 2" pieces
  • 2 celery stalks - cut into 2" pieces
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 1 head garlic, halved horizontally
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme, washed and tied with string
  • 2 boullion cubes
Season chicken with salt and push two cloves into one of the chicken thighs.  Add to large stock pot, cover with 4 quarts of water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Add carrots, celery, onion, garlic and thyme.  Bring to a gentle simmer and skim surface as necessary.  Lower the heat, and simmer 45 minutes to one hour until chicken is tender.  Adjust seasoning.  Remove chicken to a baking sheet and allow to cool for a few minutes.  Remove and discard thyme bundle.  Take the breast and thigh meat off the chicken.  Break chicken into bite-size pieces.  Set aside.

The Sauce:
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 cups onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups carrots, diced and blanched 2 minutes
  • 1 10-oz. pkg. frozen peas
  • 1-1/2 cups frozen pearl onions
  • 1/2 cup parsley, minced
In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute onions over medium heat for 10 minutes or until softened.  Add flour and cook over low heat, stirring for 2 minutes.  Add hot chicken stock to the onions.  Simmer until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.  Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Add heavy cream, carrots, peas, pearl onions and parsley.  Mix well.  Simmer 5 to 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Thaw puff pastry according to package directions.  Do not unroll pastry sheet.  Cut evenly into 4 pieces.  Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper.  Bake 20-25 minutes until puffed and golden brown.

Divide filling into soup bowls and place puff pastry on top.
Servings: 4 Generous
Source:  ~Adapted from Tyler Florence
                Slice of Life Sunday
Gooseberry Patch - Soups and Stews
Everyday Sisters - Sharing Sundays
The Country Cook - Soups and Stews Linky Party
Sunday Night Soup

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Homemade Ciabatta Bread

It's cold out, cabin fever setting in.  Soup, soup and more soup.  I adore any soup, but what goes better with soup than some homemade crusty warm bread.  You know the smell when you first walk into a bakery when fresh bread is coming out of the oven.  It's intoxicating! (to me anyway).  I don't bake alot of bread, but enough fresh pizza dough to invest in a pizza stone and a "peel".  The secret to a crusty loaf is a hot oven (preheat 1 hour before bread is ready to bake) and STEAM.  The hot oven  warms up the kitchen nicely on a cold day, and the aroma of the bread baking warms your soul.

Back in the day, whenever my mom would bake bread - usually Babka for Easter -  she would put the bowl of dough to rise on the radiator or furnace.  I'll admit, I still do the same.  You just need a toasty place for the dough to do its' magic.

With a little effort, you can fill your family's senses with memories that will last a lifetime.  There is very little prep time.  If your home on a Sunday, preparing for the week ahead.  The 3 rises of the dough takes minimal the chores in-between.

Basic Ciabatta Bread Recipe

  • 3 cups Bread Flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 pkg. Active Dry Yeast
  • 2 tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2-1/2 cups warm water
Add dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and whisk to blend ingredients.
Add the oil and water.  Hold some of the water in reserve and add later if needed.  You are aiming for a very, soft, sticky dough.  Not what you are normally used to if you bake bread.  Mix for about 5 minutes if using a mixer.

Place dough in a large bowl.  Dust bowl well with lots of flour.  Normally you would oil the bowl, but not in this method.  Cover dough with plastic wrap or kitchen towel and let rise until double in bulk, about an hour.

Scrape out dough onto floured board.  Fold the top and bottom of the dough piece into the middle.  Now fold each side into the middle.  Gently flatten the dough and shape into rectangular form.  Cover, and let rise again until the dough doubles in size again, about 1 hour.  Now you will see the bubbles forming in the dough.

Repeat the folding again, using plenty of flour.

If you are using a "peel", sprinkle peel liberally with corn meal (as ball-bearings to slide the dough off onto the pizza stone).  If you are using a baking tray, grease tray with some olive oil or non-stick spray.  Place dough pieces on peel or baking tray.  Cover and let rise once again until doubled.

Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to 450F.  When dough has doubled, bake in hot oven approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown and crusty.

Steaming Methods; this can be accomplished easily using the following methods:

     1)  Place a baking pan in the oven at least 1/2 hour before bread is to be baked to preheat pan.  Place
          pan on the bottom of the oven underneath the rack where the bread will be baking.  Slide bread onto
          baking stone, toss one tray of ice cubes into hot pan and close the door immediately.

     2)  Go to the pharmacy and purchase a small spray bottle (usually in the make-up aisle).  This will cost
           you about 99 cents.  Fill the spray bottle with water.  Place dough in oven and spray 14 times.
           Yes, 14 times - that is what I was told!  Sounds like OCD to me, but hey if it works!  Again, close
           oven door immediately.
I think this would make a fantastic pizza dough, or great for panini sandwiches.

Source: Squidoo
Servings: 2 Loaves

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tiramisu - Heaven in your Mouth

Tiramisu; literally "pick me up" cake.  Most of us are familiar with this classic Italian dessert.  If your a coffee lover, this is the dessert for you.  Layers of espresso-soaked lady fingers and a sweet mixture of mascarpone cheese, eggs and sugar.

This is my version.  I have this on my catering menu and it is one of my most requested desserts.  Who can resist a chocolate, coffee cream dessert?  These are bite size cakes, perfect for a cocktail party or a simple get together.

Mini Chocolate Tiramisu Cakes
  • 9 oz. German Chocolate cake mix (approx 2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tb. water
  • 1 Tb. Instant espresso powder
  • 8 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/3 cup coffee liquor
  • Whipped Cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray mini-cupcake pan with non-stick spray.  In a medium bowl, mix cake mix, sour cream, egg, water and espresso powder.  Beat on low speed until incorporated. (mixture will be thick), about 2 minutes.  Fill with approximately 1 rounded tablespoon of batter into mini-muffin cups.  Bake for 8-10 mins.  While cakes are still warm, brush with coffee liquor until all liquor is finished.  Let cool completely.

Mix mascarpone cheese with sugar and vanilla.  Fill piping bag and pipe cream cheese frosting onto each cupcake.  Dollop with whipped cream and dust with cocoa.

Servings: 24 mini cupcakes
Prep time: Approx. 30 minutes.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

No Bake Macaroni & Cheese

I've recently has some requests for quick, easy and healthy foods for kids.  Kids love mac and cheese and this version cooks nearly as fast as that one in the box.  While the pasta is cooking, make the ultra-creamy sauce and your done! 

No-Bake Macaroni and Cheese
  • 8 oz. Whole wheat pasta (your choice)
  • 1 10 oz. pkg. frozen chopped broccoli (fresh is even better)
  • 1-3/4 cup low-fat milk, divided
  • 3 Tb. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper (optional)
  • 1 cup shredded xtra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Cook pasta for 4 mins.  Add frozen or fresh broccoli and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until pasta and broccoli are just tender, 4 to 5 minutes more.

Heat 1-1/2 cup of milk in a medium pot over medium-high heat until just simmering.  Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup milk, flour, garlic powder, salt and pepper (if using) in a small bowl until combined.  Add the flour mixture to the simmering milk, return to a simmer and whisk until thickened, 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and whisk in cheddar, parmesan and mustard until cheese is melted.

Drain the pasta and broccoli and add to the cheese sauce,  Return to heat and stir until heated through, about 1 minute.

Mmm, Mmm, Good!
Servings: 4
Total Cooking Time: 25 mins.
~Adapted from Eating Well

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Top Banana Bread

When bananas get covered with brownish-black spots, the frugal alternative to pitching them in the trash has always been to mash them and make a quick banana bread or muffins.  This recipe is SO good, that I can't wait for the bananas to ripen and get spotty.
These bananas could wait a little longer, but I couldn't!
This recipe calls for microwaving the bananas to release their "juice".  Bananas do exude juice from this process.
Straining the juice and reducing the banana liquid makes a concentrated liquor.  It take a little extra time, but well worth the effort.

Top Banana Bread
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6 large, very ripe bananas*
  • 8 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup packed, light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped, (optional)
  • 2 tsp. sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray 8-1/2 by 4-1/2 inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.

Place 5 bananas in microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap and cut several stem vents in plastic with paring knife.

Microwave on high power until bananas are soft and have released liquid, about 5 minutes.  This can bubble over, so keep an eye on it.

Transfer bananas to a strainer placed over medium saucepan and allow to drain, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.  You should have about 1/2 cup liquid.

Bring banana liquor to a boil and cook over medium-high heat until reduced by half.  Remove from heat, stir reduced liquid into bananas, and mash with a fork until fairly smooth.  Whisk in butter, eggs, brown sugar and vanilla.

Pour banana mixture into flour mixture and stir until just combined with some streaks of flour remaining.  Gently fold in walnuts, if using.  Scrape batter into prepared pan.  Slice remaining banana into 1/4-inch-thick slices.  Shingle banana slices on top of the loaf leaving the center space open to ensure even rise.  Sprinkle with granulated sugar evenly over loaf.

Bake until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 55 to 75 minutes.  Cool bread 15 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Make a point of having a bunch of bananas waiting in the wings.  You will be craving this.

Makes one 9-inch loaf
Source:  Andrea Geary, Cook's Illustrated
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

City "Chicken"

Not many people have heard of City "Chicken".  It is not chicken at all, but breaded pork and veal skewered.
I was introduced to City Chicken years ago by a relative who lived "up the lake" in Pennsylvania.  After some research, I discovered that an overwhelming majority of people who have heard of this dish live in regions of Pennsylvania.  There have been some sightings in Milwaukee, Sheboygan and Detroit.

I recall when we were there for an overnight stay, Mary chopping up lots of garlic, adding it to the veal and pork cubes and marinating this overnight.  I marinated the meat with the garlic for an hour.  Her husband made her "special" skewers or dowels especially for her City Chicken.  Most wooden skewers come 10 inches long and I had to cut them down to 8 inches to accomadate my frying pan.

The original recipe originated during the depression when chickens were expensive.  Pork and veal were substituted and fashioned to look like a drumstick.  It's the kind of dish you would expect Aunt Bee from Mayberry to serve Andy and Opie - Shazam!

Of the few recipes I've found, most of them used cracker meal for the breading.  I've updated it by replacing cracker meal with seasoned panko crumbs.

Grandma "B's" City Chicken

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut veal and pork into cubes.  Add minced garlic, cover and marinate at least one hour or overnight.

Thread skewers alternately with pork and veal pushing the pieces tightly together.  In a shallow bowl, mix egg, milk, salt and pepper.  Dip skewers into egg mixture, then in breadcrumbs to coat.  Let rest 10 minutes to set.

In a large skillet, heat oil until hot.  Add skewers and saute about 4 minutes, or until browned on all side.  Place in shallow baking pan and add chicken broth.  Cover with foil and bake 1-1/2 hours until meat is tender.  Remove foil last ten minutes of cooking time.  I needed to add a little more chicken broth towards the end of the cooking time. Serve with mashed potatoes and pan juices.

Servings: 4
Prep Time:  35 mins.
Total Time: 1-3/4 hrs.
~Wikpedia, M. Borys

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Maple-Jalapeno Sour Cream

Fun Facts:

Did you know?..........sweet potatoes are not even potatoes!  Not even distant cousins, twice removed.  Sweet potatoes are part of the Morning Glory family!  So if you ever get on Jeopardy, you can ace this question!

Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes:
  • High nutrition rate compared to other vegetables
  • Rich source of anti-oxidants
  • Top 3 sources of Potassium
  • Low glycemic index
  • Fat and cholesterol free
  • High in fiber

4 sweet potatoes, scrubbed, dried
Cooking oil
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tb. pure maple syrup
2 tsp. seeded, minced jalapeno
1 tsp. fresh lime juice
Salt and Tabasco to taste
Bacon Bits
Sliced scallions


Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. with rack positioned in the center.
Rub sweet potatoes with oil and salt.  Bake directly on rack for 40-45 minutes, or until soft when pierced.
Combine sour cream, maple syrup, jalapeno, lime juice, salt and Tabasco; chill until ready to serve.
Serve potatoes with sour cream mixture, bacon bits and scallions.

Servings: 4
Total time: 40-45 mins.
~Adapted from Cuisine at Home
  N. Carolina Sweet Potato Commission

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Butter Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad

Your're already familiar with crusted chicken - now try it in a salad.  The pecans and spices in the crumb mixture add an extra dose of flavor.  The best part?  The crumbs left in the saute pan are delicious!  Instant croutons!

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 3/4 c. finely chopped pecans
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
Dipping Mixture:
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
Honey-Mustard Dressing:
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 3 Tb. Dijon mustard
  • 3 Tb. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tb. apple cider vinegar
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 cups mixed greens, romaine and red leaf lettuce
  • 1/2 c. thinly sliced red onion
  • 4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
  • Toasted crumbs from pan

Prepare chicken breasts by halving and pounding.  Whisk egg whites, cornstarch, and lemon juice in shallow dish.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Dip chicken breasts in egg white mixture and coat with pecan crust mixture.

Let rest, then saute in 2 Tb. olive oil and 1 Tb. butter.  Saute about 5 minutes on each side on medium heat until chicken is cooked through and crust is golden brown.

  • Combine all ingredients for the dressing until well blended.
Toss dressing with greens, onions and feta cheese. (You won't need all the dressing).  Arrange greens on four plates.

Top greens with sliced chicken.  Sprinkle any toasted crumbs left in the pan on salads.  Serve extra dressing on the side.

Servings: 4
Total time:  About 1 hour
~Adapted from Cuisine at home

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Boursin Creamed Spinach

Creamed spinach is standard steak-house fare - and usually pretty mediocre.  This version brings new life to this side dish.

  • 1/2 c. diced onion
  • 1 Tb. unsalted butter
  • 2 Tb. all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 pkg. (5.2 oz.) Boursin cheese
  • 1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 2 Tb. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. minced lemon zest
Salt, white pepper, cayenne, and nutmeg to taste.
Crumb Topping:
  • 2/3 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 Tb. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tb. olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste.


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F., coat a shallow 2-cup baking dish with non-stick spray and set aside.
Saute onion in 1 Tb. butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Cook until onion is soft, about 5 minutes.
Add flour and stir to coat onion.  Cook about 1 minute.
Gradually whisk milk and cream into onion mixture, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.  Simmer sauce 1 minute.
Stir in Boursin a little at a time until cheese is melted and smooth.  Remove saucepan from heat.
Add spinach, Parmesan, zest and seasoning.  Transfer spinach mixture to prepared baking dish.
Combine crumbs, 1 Tb. butter, oil, salt and pepper.  Top spinach with crumbs pressing them to adhere.
Place dish on a baking sheet; bake until crumbs are golden brown and sauce is bubbly, 20-25 minutes.

~Cuisine at Home

Monday, January 3, 2011

Blueberry-Lemon Cream Parfaits

Although I was going to dedicate most of this month to quick breads, soups & stews, I came upon two of the tropical cocktail glasses we "stole" on a cruise to Bermuda several years ago (I don't recall the potent rum cocktail that was served in the glass).

Upon arrival

The day being so dismal and dreary, still recovering from three feet of snow, inspired me to make a summer dessert.  The beautiful glasses, swirls of blue and yellow, made me think of blueberry and lemon.

So, on a cold, dismal winter's night, I went back to Bermuda for a little while and prepared this Lemon-Blueberry Parfait.  The blueberry compote is sweet with fresh blueberries (off to the Farmer's Market I went) and the Lemon Curd Cream is tart and tangy.

Blueberry-Lemon Cream Parfaits
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 2 tsp. water
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 1-1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 6 Tb. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
 Not quite London


Blueberry Compote:  In a medium saucepan, combine the blueberries, sugar and water and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the berries start to release their juices, about 3 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until cool.

Lemon Curd:  In a heavy saucepan, whisk the eggs with the granulated sugar, lemon zest and juice.  Cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly until warm, about 5 minutes.  Whisk in the butter, then continue to cook until just thickened and hot, about 5 minutes.  Immediately transfer to a bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming.  Refrigerate until chilled.

In a large bowl, whip the heavy cream until it begins to thicken.  Add the confectioner's sugar and whip until the cream forms stiff peaks.  Fold the whipped cream into the lemon curd.

Divide the compote between 6 parfait or other tall glasses.  Top with the lemon cream.  Cover the parfaits and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour.

 This is a light and refreshing dessert.

Horseshoe beach....all to myself 
Optional:  This can also be layered with buttery pound cake or angel food cake cubes.

Servings: 6
Active time:  45 mins.
Total time:  2 hrs. 45 mins.
~Adapted from Food & Wine

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Moroccan Lentil Soup

Lentils in themselves can be bland, but they have a marvelous quality of absorbing the flavors of supporting foods cooked with them.  Lentils are full of vitamin B.  This soup is deliciously spicy, completely vegetarian, has no cholesterol, and is high in protein and fiber.

  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 (15 oz. can ) chick peas (garbanzo)
  • 1 (15 oz. can) cannellini beans
  • 1 (14.5 oz can) diced or stewed tomatoes
  • 1/2 c. carrots, diced
  • 1/2 c. celery, diced
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tb. oil

In a large pot, saute onions, garlic and ginger in 1 Tb. olive oil about 5 minutes until softened.

Add water, lentils, chick peas, cannellini beans, tomatoes, carrots, celery and spices.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, until lentils are tender.

Puree half the soup in a food processor or blender.  Return the pureed soup to the pot, stir and enjoy!

This soup only takes about 20 minutes prep time and has all the warm, sensual spices of Morocco.

Servings: 6
~Adapted from Grace and Mae
Sunday Soup Night
Sharing with The Country Cook - Soups and Stews Linky Party

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