Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ginger Brandy Cookies

Gingerbread people have long been holiday staples around our house. My sons loved decorating as much as they enjoyed eating the sweet treats. But these days we're a house full of grown ups and it seemed like a good idea to create a slightly more sophisticated version of our old favorite. We used mini-cutters from Williams Sonoma for crisps to top holiday flan, but two inch rounds make a tasty accompaniment for a nice cup of afternoon tea. Hope you like them!

GINGER BRANDY COOKIES
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 package vanilla instant pudding
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 shot ginger brandy
FRUIT CRUMBLE
1/4 cup dried fruits (I used pineapple, mango and papaya bits)
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
4 ounces white chocolate chips (to melt for for dipping)
Put fruit bits, flour and sugar in a mini-processor until finely ground. If mixture is sticky add a little more flour and sugar in equal amounts until texture resembles ground nuts. Set aside for later.
Beat butter, sugar, dry pudding mix and egg in large bowl with mixer until well blended. Mix remaining ingredients. Gradually add to pudding mixture, beating well after each addition. Refrigerate 1 hour or until dough is firm.
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into shapes with your favorite cookie cutter. Place 2 inches apart on parchment covered baking sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Let stand on baking sheets 2 minutes. Remove to wire racks; cool completely before garnishing with melted white chocolate and fruit crumble. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rush Hour Chicken

Properly sautéed chicken breasts are deliciously simple. Do what you like with them when they're done: make a simple pan sauce: maybe add a few sun-dried tomatoes  and eat them as is, or slice them up to top a salad: or toss with pasta: or  fill tortillas (throw a few green peppers in the pan and a squeeze of lime). I like a side of risotto but buttered noodles are nice, too. 
A few tips for great taste: thick chicken pieces take too long to cook and the middle will be bland. Use small breasts or cut each in half lengthwise to make thinner cutlets. Pounding with a meat tenderizer thins them out nicely as well; Use an all clad stainless pan instead of non-stick for better browning; Slice each cutlet crosswise before serving to allow the sauce to coat each tender morsel.
SAUTEED CHICKEN CUTLETS
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts halves
Dash of sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup chicken broth and 1/2 cup dry white wine or cooking sherry
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (1 tablespoon if dried)
Trim the chicken breasts if they need trimming. I use kitchen scissors and snip off any the odd bits of fat or gristle. Rinse under cold water and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle them with sea salt.

Heat a large pan over medium-high heat and add the butter, which should melt and foam, and the olive oil, which will keep the butter from burning. When the fat is all very hot but not turning black (many recipes say "when the foam subsides"), add chicken cutlets in one layer. Sear for 4-5 minutes until the bottom gets crusty and browned.
Use tongs or a spatula to flip them over, and cook another 4 or so minutes until the bottom is golden brown and the chicken is cooked through. You can cut a piece open to check, but pressing a cooked breast with your fingertip will give you a feel for its doneness, which great cooks claim will develop into the skill of knowing when it's done without cutting it. (I still cut to check and I’m no newbie at cooking.)

Keep the cooked chicken warm on a separate plate while you deglaze the pan. Pour the wine in and scrape with a spatula to dissolve all the yummy browned bits in the hot pan. Bring to a simmer. When the wine has cooked down about halfway, add the broth and turn the heat to high until the sauce cooks to a syrupy thickness (about 2-3 minutes of a good boil). Toss parsley in at the last minute Add salt and pepper to taste if needed. Drizzle sauce over the chicken and serve.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Healthy Holidays!

Risotto is great comfort-food and an easier than you think way to wow family and friends. With a side salad and fresh fruit it makes a low calorie, high energy dinner. Fill a flute with sparkling water garnished with a few raspberries for an elegant holiday table.

Not to mention, risotto is a satisfying and filling main dish to feed your vegetarian dinner guests without meat-eaters feeling like something's missing. Just be sure to use vegetable broth rather than chicken broth.

MUSHROOM RISOTTO
3 cups fat-free chicken or vegetable broth
2 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry sherry or dry white wine
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh arugula, chopped

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Sauté garlic until softened and fragrant. Sprinkle dried herbs and pepper. Add sherry and simmer gently 2-3 minutes before adding rice. Stir quickly to prevent sticking. Once the sherry has been mostly absorbed, add the broth, one cup at a time. Wait until each cup of broth has been absorbed before adding the next. Before adding the last cup, add mushrooms. Continue stirring until the liquid is mostly absorbed, the rice will be creamy. Mix in cheese and arugula just before serving. 260 calories per serving. Serves 4.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Leftover Rice?

Lots of meals call for rice as a side instead of potatoes. Braised lamb in stewed tomatoes is great with white rice. Plum chicken and pea pods is another better with rice dish. There's always leftover rice. 

Even Chinese take-out always come with too much white rice, but not quite enough to save for another day. Here's an easy and yummy solution for leftover rice. 

RUM RAISIN RICE CUSTARD 
2 cups scalded milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 c. sugar
 Dash salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup raisins or zante currants
1/4 cup rum or brandy
3/4 cup cooked white rice
Heat rum and 1/2 cup water to just below boiling. Remove from heat and soak raisins for an hour while making custard. Whisk together eggs, sugar and salt in a medium size metal bowl. Bring milk to scalding in a very heavy medium pan. Pour scalded milk over egg mixture, stirring constantly. Pour mixture back into the heavy pan and cook over medium low heat until custard thickens, stirring constantly. It will take about 10-15 minutes until custard thickens enough to coat a clean spoon. 
Remove from stove and put pot into pan of cool water. Stir custard to cool it as quickly as possible, add vanilla. Drain raisins and mix raisins and rice into cooled custard. Refrigerate at least one hour before serving. Sprinkle with nutmeg or cinnamon if desired. Stores well in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Steak and Salad to the Rescue

Cold air smacked us in the face late last Wednesday night as we headed out of the airport. Bro and sis-in-law, John and Lois Kozikowski, whipped up traditional turkey feast which made our holiday enjoyable and pressure free after the long flight and late arrival the evening before.

We were back from vacation, but we just didn't want to dive back into New England winter fare. We wanted to hold on to beautiful Puerto Rico. One way to do that was to recreate this mango poppyseed dressing at home. It took a couple of tries, but my third version tickled our taste buds. Accompanied by lean grilled London broil, it made for a meal that remembered the sunny days and sandy beaches of La Isla Bonita.

MANGO POPPYSEED DRESSING
1/2 cup mango puree
1/8 cup superfine sugar
Dash of salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice
3/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Combine mango, sugar, salt, dry mustard, garlic powder, cider vinegar and lime juice in blender or processor. Drizzle in oil, pulsing in until the mixture thickens. Pour into a salad carafe or other container. Add poppy seeds and shake or stir to blend. Store in refrigerator, shake before serving over mixed greens and grape or cherry tomatoes, garnished with grated raw carrot or toasted sunflower seeds.

MARINATED LONDON BROIL STEAK
3 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoon soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cumin seed
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 pound London broil steak (about an inch thick)

Add marinade ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk until well blended. Place the meat in a gallon-size, zip top plastic bag. Whisk the marinade once more and pour it over the meat. Seal the bag and turn the bag several times to cover the meat with marinade. Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours, turning the bag at least once. Remove the meat from the marinade. Discard the marinade. Grill or broil the meat (covering the grill if using the grill), to the desired doneness, about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Do not overcook. Remove from the grill and let stand 5 minutes. To serve, thinly slice the meat across the grain. Serves 4 to 6 people.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bake All Our Blues Away

Friends will attest to my tendency to bake after losing elections. Years ago, a good pal lost a shot at becoming state senator. I kneaded my way through the loss producing 27 loaves of poppy seed challah. The way I've been baking the last few days, you'd think we lost everything last Tuesday.

I texted that thought to an ally this morning and she immediately wrote back, "Well, we did lose a lot." Democrats, and it's no secret that I'm a Democrat, experienced sea change. Some of us saw it coming, helpless against that tide, stayed home to save ourselves. For us in Massachusetts, we had to work hard, harder than we have in a long time, to hold our fort. And we did ... but the reverb from the national landscape affected me more than I thought. Not that I'm whining. The thing about elections is there's always another one.

The good news? I've come up with a fabulous new quiche filling and savory butter crust recipe.

HERB HAM QUICHE
1 9 inch savory pie crust (recipe below)
1/2 cup shredded Virginia ham
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup whole milk
Dash salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped mixed fresh herbs (I used parsley and thyme, but any combo including dill, rosemary, oregano or chives tastes great).

Roll chilled dough to fit an 8 inch fluted pan. Trim any excess dough. Freeze pan with dough for one hour, then place on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 10-12 minutes. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool completely.

Lower oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl whisk remaining ingredients until well blended. Pour into cooled crust, return pan to the baking sheet and bake. Rotate quiche about halfway through the 25 minute cook time for even baking. the quiche is done when a toothpick inserted into the middle of the filling comes out clean. Remove from oven when done, set on a wire rack to cool 5 minutes before slicing to serve. Add a side salad for lunch or fruit cup for a yummy breakfast or brunch. Feeds six.

SAVORY BUTTER CRUST
1 cup all-purpose flour
Dash salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2-3 tablespoons very cold tap water

Using a food processor, pulse together flour, butter salt and pepper until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Gradually add water until dough comes together into a ball. Place dough ball on a lightly floured surface and form into a flattened disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for up to 2 days in the refrigerator, up to 3 weeks in the freezer. (Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before use.) Follow instructions above for quiche.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Getting Back to Basics

It was a big accomplishment to buck national trends and reelect our Democrats in Massachusetts. Can't help myself, friends, I'm a partisan cook when it comes to stirring up a political stew. It's been a busy week.

Now, the only thing I want is to put my feet up, watch a couple of movies from the local library's DVD collection and relax. Sent JP to choose the flicks while I cooked up an old recipe of a childhood favorite. Sloppy Joes are simple really, and pretty basic. Hearty enough to settle down hungry tummies without much fuss and yummy, too. We're ready for a lazy evening and a weekend of doing nothing much at all!

SORTA SLOPPY JOES
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground meat (lean beef, turkey or veal work well)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon seasoning rub (try McCormick's Montreal or Penzey's 4S)
1 medium onion, grated
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 cups tomato sauce
1 six ounce can tomato paste
4 split top sub rolls
4 teaspoon grated white cheddar

Heat oil in a large frying skillet over medium high heat, add meat to the pan. Break the meat into crumbles as you cook it, stirring constantly. Combine brown sugar and seasoning. Add sugar and spice mixture to the skillet and mix well into crumbled meat. Continue cooking until meat has browned; add onion and red peppers to the pan. Stir in vinegar, hot pepper sauce: reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce and paste to pan. Stir to combine well. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 10 minutes longer. Spoon mixture into split sub rolls, sprinkle on a little grated cheese and enjoy. Feeds four.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Soups On from the Founders of Democracy!

Starting at 7 a.m., our Democratic coordinated campaign poll checkers were on the job. That meant by 8 a.m., I was on the road to deliver treats. Volunteers were happily sipping gingerbread latte and Bob's Bakery crullers and paczki (a Chicopee E-day tradition) while homemade Greek lemon chicken soup simmered away on my stove top at home.

Back at the phone bank, Democratic congressional campaign staffer Jeremiah brought in chicken and tomato pizza. Congressman Richie Neal is a big supporter of Farm to School programs. Scroll down this page link to see his picture celebrating local foods in schools. He knows first hand that fresh fruits and veggies are better for school children and that healthier GOTV eats make for happy energetic volunteers!

GREEK LEMON CHICKEN SOUP
8 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 ounce shot limoncello 
1/2 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup minced celery
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 cup cooked orzo
1 cup diced, cooked chicken meat
Lemon zest
2 eggs
salt to taste

In a large pot, combine the chicken broth, lemon juice, carrots, celery and pepper. Bring to a boil on high, then simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs until light in color. Gradually add some of the hot soup to the beaten eggs, use a whisk to stir constantly. Stir the egg mixture to the soup pot with a big wooden spoon. It will look a little like eggdrop soup.

Add the limoncello, orzo and chicken. Heat through to a low boil, remove from heat. (The heat of the boiling soup removes the liquor but not the taste boost.) Ladle hot soup into bowls and garnish with lemon zest.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

More Italian Comfort Food

Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and what did he find? Lots of wonderful new varieties of food that he brought home to the best cooks in the universe. Yummy pineapples, sweet potatoes and corn in the West Indies, and he brought sugar cane to Puerto Rico from which rum is distilled, from the Caribbean islands he brought sweet peppers to Europe. That's when the fun started.

From one generation of Italian cooks to the next, sweet peppers have been a mainstay ever since. I think you'll enjoy my slow cooker version of sweet peppers and veal stew – a mild cousin to the sweet peppers and sausages my grandmother used to make. A perfect way to use up the end of season pepper crop from the garden.

VEAL AND SWEET PEPPER STEW
1 1/2 pound veal for stew, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 whole allspice (or 2 whole cloves)
1 bay leaf
5 whole black peppercorns
1 can ( size) tomato paste
1 cup ready-to-serve chicken broth
1 each green, yellow, orange, red sweet bell pepper, cut into thin strips
Hot cooked rice or wide noodles
Grated Parmesan

Combine flour, salt and paprika. Lightly coat veal with flour mixture; discard remaining flour. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat until hot. Brown veal, 1/2 at a time; remove from pan and set aside.

Add tomato paste to fry pan and stir over medium high heat until lightly caramelized. Deglaze fry pan with 1 cup broth, stirring until brown bits are loosened and sauce has a creamy consistency. Add tomato sauce, veal, bay leaf, peppercorns, allspice and sliced multi-color peppers to a crock pot; set on low for 6-8 hours, or until veal is fork-tender. Serve over rice or noodles. Sprinkle with cheese.

Add salt and pepper to taste, serves 4.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Brussels Sprouts Really Taste Good ... Honest!

Our garden is still producing fresh veggies. We made golumpki with a gorgeous cabbage over the weekend, began a batch of home infused vodka with Concord grapes and tonight, supper was a yummy pasta with fresh picked brussels sprouts and chicken in a tasty olive oil and butter sauce. This recipe is an adaptation from Food and Wine magazine. Recommended wine pairing: a crisp, cool chardonnay from Cakebread Cellars.

Backyard fresh is as local as it gets, folks. I love our garden!

CHICKEN WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND PASTA
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound chicken tenders
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 tablespoon red onion, minced
1 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups fresh brussels sprouts, cut into halves from top to stem end (frozen can be substituted)
1 cup chicken broth
1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 pound medium pasta shells or ziti noodles

In a large nonstick frying pan, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Season the chicken with the salt and pepper. Cook the tenders until just done, about 2 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the pan and let it rest for 5 minutes. Cut into small chunks. Begin cooking pasta.

In the same pan, on medium low heat, add the red onion and garlic, stirring occasionally until starting to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in Brussels sprouts, broth, and red-pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, until sprouts are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the chicken, lemon juice, parsley, Parmesan. Toss with hot cooked pasta and serve. Makes 4 servings, 478 calories each.

Monday, October 4, 2010

It's soup season!

Campbell's started canning tomato, cream of mushroom and chicken noodle soup in 1897 and America fell in love with soup convenience. More than 3 billion bowls of condensed soup are consumed annually in the U.S. - who doesn't have a can or two tucked in their cabinets? But there's no doubt homemade is better and the smells and subtle flavors of homecooked soup are worth the effort.

Crock pots offer up the opportunity to combine easy and slow. Once the rage, crock pot cooking rises and dips in popularity. There are pros and cons to using slow cookers: Some foods lose trace nutrients when cooked for too long. On the other hand, cheaper meats make better slow cooked meals and are great budget stretchers. For soups, the longer the better remains the rule and that's where having a crock comes in handy.

For lots of great sandwich ideas, check out pages 324-327 of The Silver Palate Cookbook. I like to make a grown-up version of grilled cheese made with French "pain de mie" - in English, Pullman bread, sliced Asiago or Gruyere with ham or tomato (or both). Ta-da ... lunch or dinner is served!

TOMATO BASIL SOUP
3 cups fresh grated tomatoes (or a 28 ounce can diced tomatoes)
2 cups chicken stock (or equivalent in canned chicken broth)
1/4 cup diced celery
1/4 cup diced carrot
1/4 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves (1 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh winter savory (1/4 teaspoon dried - substitute oregano or thyme)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup evaporated milk or half and half (if creamy soup is desired)

Throw everything, except the milk, in the crock pot. Simmer on medium for 6-8 hours. Spoon out the tomato and other veggie chunks into food processor. Puree until smooth. Return the veggie puree to the pot and let warm through again (about another 1/2 hour). Reduce heat to warm then add milk, if desired. Once the milk is added, the soup must be held at the lowest temperature to avoid curdling.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Not Your Normal Potato Recipe

I was a picky eater as a child. Turnip? Cauliflower? Parsnips? No way! Plain simple mashed potatoes were a favorite, especially Memere's. Always light, fluffy and very tasty – never pasty or clumpy. I loved Memere's potatoes. What I didn't know was she was feeding me turnip.

Turnip-potato casserole comes from French-Canadian cuisine. Those fur traders had to survive harsh winters and found lots of ways to gussy up their boring winter provisions. I substitute cauliflower in the early fall when local veggies are plentiful and switch to the traditional turnip when the weather turns freezing.

I'm a very lucky cook, a member of a true melting pot American household. French, Italian, Polish and a touch more of this and that -- the hardest part when it comes to whipping up family favorites is to decide which part of the family!

WONDERFUL WHIPPERS
1 head cauliflower, chopped
4 parsnips - peeled and diced
2 medium white potatoes - peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 tablespoon milk
salt and pepper to taste

Place the vegetables in a pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook until fork-tender.

Drain the water from the vegetables, and stir in the butter until melted. Beat with an electric mixer, adding milk until light and fluffy. Don't beat for too long, just until smooth. Season to taste and serve hot: makes enough for four servings.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Note from Red Sox Nation

OK, so what if they're out of it unless they win every single game left in the baseball season. This is Red Sox nation, and the game is on TV so guess what we're doing tonight? The Sox are playing for nothing but pride and we're damned proud of 'em.

Drinking red martinis and snacking on perfect rosy cold-cooked shrimp dipped in spicy red cocktail sauce while we root for our team. Hell, it's all tied up at the end of three … time for another red martini for me and the drunk guy sitting next to me on the couch.  As for the rest of you: Just wait until next year!

Update: Despite a late inning 2 run homer by Victor Martinez and what looked like a rally in the 9th, the Red Sox lost to the Blue Jays: 11-9. Oh well.

RED CANDIED APPLE MARTINI
2 fluid ounces pear vodka
2 fluid ounces sour apple schnapps (such as DeKuyper® Sour Apple Pucker)
2 fluid ounces cranberry juice

Pour the pear vodka, apple schnapps, and cranberry juice into a cocktail shaker over ice. Cover, and shake until the outside of the shaker has frosted. Strain into a chilled martini glass, garnish a slice of ripe pear and serve.

RED SEAFOOD DIPPING SAUCE
1 cup Ketchup
1 tablespoon horseradish
1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

Mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours before serving, can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Especially good with cold cooked jumbo shrimp.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Maine: New England's Potato State

Next week, the only multi-state agricultural fair in the United States will open in West Springfield, MA. The Big E is billed as "New England's Great State Fair" -- it's the sixth largest agricultural fair in the nation and the largest in New England. Each state has a small-scale replica of their state capital on the Avenue of States.

The star attraction? Food.

Vermont has maple syrup, Ben and Jerry's ice cream and lots of cheese. Rhode Island offers clam fritters and Massachusetts' apple pie washed down with, of course, cranberry juice. Connecticut has Italian ice and New Hampshire's chocolate fudge is amazing. Then there's Maine -- the building everyone flocks to. Sure, they have lobster rolls. But it's Maine baked potatoes (move over, Idaho!) that draws hordes willing to wait in long lines for a taste of hot, buttered, sour-creamed spuds.

Did I mention they weigh at least a pound each?

What about the leftovers? Ugh. I can't count how many halves ended up tossed after sitting in the fridge for a week. Why? Because other than breakfast fries, I couldn't think of a way to make cold starchy blobs lively enough to eat a second time -- until I came across this version of twice baked potatoes in a brochure at the (surprise!) Maine building about ten years ago.

The original recipe called for a classic Alfredo sauce but I had no Parmesan so substituted a mild Vermont made Colby that tastes so yummy, you'll end up baking extra potatoes (or buying a few at The Big E to take home!) just so you can make this casserole later in the week!

TWICE BAKED POTATO CASSEROLE
4 medium Idaho pre-baked potatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
dash of salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 bunch broccoli, chopped
1/2 cup grated cheddar or Colby cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut baked potatoes into chunks. Heat butter in saucepan. Sprinkle with flour, stir into a roux. Add the milk and seasonings. Simmer until just boiling. Remove from heat. In a large greased casserole dish, layer the potatoes alternating with sauce and broccoli pieces. Hint: In a hurry? Buy a package of frozen chopped broccoli and defrost it ten minutes before assembling the casserole so you can break it up for layering. Finish with a top layer of sauce. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake covered for 15 minutes. Toss the ingredients lightly then bake uncovered for another 5 minutes -- serves 4.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Best Butter Crust Ever

This crust recipe is worthy of the best French chef -- the simplest ingredients using a complicated technique that delivers scrumptious results. From fussy Frangipane with pears (full recipe below) to fresh berries glazed with seedless jam (microwave the jam a minute before brushing it over the berries piled in the perfectly baked crust).

Cooked chocolate pudding (make it dark chocolate) also makes a yummy filling. Add a dollop of whipped cream. Not exactly on the low-cal diet menu but I guarantee your family will be in awe!

BUTTER SHORTBREAD TART CRUST
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
dash of salt
1 stick very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, sugar and salt in the food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in — mixture will be the size of baby peas. Whisk the yolk in a small bowl before adding it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. Once the egg fully added, process in long pulses about 10 seconds each until the dough forms clumps. Turn the dough onto a work surface. Knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of a 9 inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Lightly press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another. Don’t press so hard that the crust loses its flakiness. Pierce the crust with a fork to prevent puffing.

If you prefer rolled dough: Chill the dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, for an hour before rolling. Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll out chilled dough on floured sheet of parchment paper to 12-inch round. Turn dough occasionally to keep it from sticking to the paper. Using paper as aid, turn dough into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom; peel off paper. Seal any cracks in dough. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold overhang in, making double-thick sides. Pierce crust all over with fork.

Whichever method you choose freeze the crust in the pan for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil (or use nonstick foil) and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. Freezing the crust eliminates the need to use weights during baking. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 20 minutes.

Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon or prick it with the tip of a small knife. Bake the crust about 8-10 minutes longer, or until it is firm and golden in color. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before adding fillings for the final baking. If using crust as a base for fresh fruit or cooked pudding allow crust to bake an extra five minutes to turn a darker golden brown; a pale crust has less flavor. Do not allow crust to burn however. Makes enough for one 9-inch tart crust

PEARS
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 medium-size firm but ripe Bartlett or Bosc pears, peeled

Bring water, sugar, and lemon juice to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add pears. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until pears are very tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool pears in syrup. Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

FRANGIPANE
2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
7 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
2 teaspoons brandy or cognac


Finely grind almonds and flour in processor. Mix in 7 tablespoons sugar, then butter and brandy. Blend until smooth. Mix in egg. Transfer filling to medium bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.)
When ready to bake your pear tart. Position a rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Spread almond filling evenly in pre-baked tart crust. Stem pears and cut each in half lengthwise; scoop out cores. Cut each half crosswise into thin slices. Gently press each pear half to fan slices but keep slices tightly overlapped. Slide spatula under pears and arrange atop filling like spokes of wheel with narrow ends in center. Cut one half pear into slices the long way. Fan three slices in between each spoked pear.

Bake tart until golden and toothpick inserted into center of filling comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool tart in pan on rack. Push pan bottom up, releasing tart from pan. Can be made up to 12 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperatureat least 4 hours before serving. Cut tart into wedges; sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Applesauce!

Only one ingredient matters when making applesauce. Pick sweet apples like Gala Fuji, McIntosh or Honeycrisp – forget Granny Smith's. They make great pie but sour applesauce. Use at least two different varieties. I have McIntosh apples and Bartlett pears from our own trees so I add a pear or two instead of a second variety of apple to enhance taste. I didn't need to add any sugar.

You can pick your own, or buy them at an orchard or grocery store. Here in western Massachusetts, the UMass Cold Spring Orchard reasearch and education facility sells all kinds of apples. If you are buying your apples from a commercial orchard, ask for "seconds" or "drops". Apples with a bruise or odd shape make great sauce and cost less than perfect apples. Not all orchards sell "seconds", but they're a bargain when you can get them. A half bushel of apples will yield about 12 pints of sauce.

Get the jars ready before you start cooking the apples. The dishwasher is fine for the jars. Leave the jars in the dishwasher on "heated dry" until you are ready to use them. If you don't have a dishwasher, wash the jars in hot, soapy water and rinse, then dip the jars in boiling water. Keep the jars in hot water until they are used. Keeping them hot will prevent the jars from breaking when you fill them with the hot applesauce.

Put the lids into a pan of hot, but not boiling water (manufacturer's recommendation) for 5 minutes, and use a magnetic "lid lifter wand" or a slotted spoon to pull them out.

Wash the apples in plain cold water. Chopping them is much faster if you use an apple cutter - you just push it down on a peeled apple and it cuts it into segments. Apples get brown edges fast so as you cut them, drop them in a bowl of lemon water (1 whole lemon squeezed into a quart of water) until you have enough to begin cooking.

Cooking the apples is pretty simple. Put 1/4 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice and 1/4 cup of store-bought apple juice into a 4 or 5 quart, thick-bottomed pot. Drop in the chopped apples until the pot is 3/4 filled. Put the lid on, and the heat on medium-high. When it starts to boil turn the burner down to medium and cook, stirring often, until your apples (and in my case a pear or two) are soft. Use a potato masher to squash the apples into a slightly chunky sauce and take a taste – if your sauce is a little too tart or too bland, you can add sugar one teaspoon at a time until you like the flavor. Go easy on the sugar, as a little goes a long way when it comes to applesauce. You can add cinnamon if you like. Again, start with a sprinkle because, like the sugar, a little goes a long way.

The applesauce does not need any further cooking; just keep it hot until you get enough made to fill the jars you will put into the canner Canners hold seven jars at once. Fill the canning pot 1/2 way with water and set to boil.

Fill the prepared jars to within 1/4 inch of the top. Using a clean damp cloth, wipe any spilled applesauce off the top, seat the lid and gently tighten the ring around the lid. Put the jars in the canner and add enough hot water to keep them covered with no less than 1 inch of water. Get the canner back to a full boil and begin timing. Boil pint jars for 15 minutes and quart jars for 20 minutes. (If you live more than 1,000 feet above sea level, check recommended canning time.)

Lift the jars out of the water and let them cool without touching or bumping them in a draft-free place (usually takes overnight). Once the jars are cool, you can check that they are sealed by pressing in the center gently, with your finger. If it pops up and down (often making a popping sound), it is not sealed. Refrigerate unsealed sauce promptly for use within a day or two. Some folks reprocess successfully but I don't recommend it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Love Me Tender Beef Roast

Not long after Farmer Paul and I said "I do" I tried and failed to make a proper beef roast. I underestimated how long it should cook based on a cookbook which said 20 minutes per pound. The next try, I overestimated and the result was more like bland beef jerky than a pink juicy roast. It wasn't until my mother-in-law bought me one that I realized that what I was missing was a good quality thermometer.

Boneless ribeye roast was on sale this week and today was just cool enough an afternoon to turn on the oven. A few simple ingredients and armed with your own trusty meat thermomenter, the result will be tender, juicy prime beef every time.

SUNDAY SPECIAL ROAST BEEF
One 3-4 pound boneless rib roast
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, finely grated

To cook evenly, the roast must not be cold - let it stand at room temperature, loosely covered, for one hour. If you don't let the roast sit at room temperature, your roast won't cook evenly, and you'll end up with well-done slices on the end and raw meat in the center.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Blend garlic, rosemary and parsley in a small bowl, set aside. Pat the roast dry with paper towels or napkins. Smear only the cut ends of the roast with butter. Rub the outside of your roast with the spice mixture. Do NOT salt your roast. Salt draws out moisture from the meat during cooking.

Place the roast, fat side up, in a metal roasting pan. Use a roasting pan with 3 inch sides and a raised rack so the roast doesn't sit in its juices as it cooks. Sear the roast for 15 minutes at the higher oven temperature (425 degrees F.), then lower the temperature to 325 degrees F for the rest of the cooking time. Do NOT cover your roast.

Begin checking the internal temperature after 45 minutes of baking time, using a good instant-read digital meat thermometer. Hint: Play it safe and start checking early, as you don't want anything to go wrong. Internal temperature, not time, is the best test for doneness.

When checking the temperature of your roast, insert meat thermometer so tip is in thickest part of beef, not resting in fat. Cook until roast reaches an internal temperature of 120 degrees F for rare, 130 degrees F for medium rare, 140 degrees F for medium. Remove from oven, cover with aluminum foil, and let sit approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Slice to desired thickness with a very sharp carving knife or electric knife for clean even slices. Serves 4-6.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Raspberry Ricotta Pancakes ... yum.

The first day of school is coming up fast. The pace picks up when busy mornings get even busier for most families. If you think it takes too much time to whip up a special breakfast on harried weekdays, this recipe will change your mind. Hint: Mix batter the night before and refrigerate - an easy timesaver in getting food on the table and everyone out the door on time.


Special thanks to Tinky Weisblat, foodie and blogger extraordinaire, for all her encouragement and caring in pulling together so many of us to celebrate Massachusetts Farmers Market Week last week!

RASPBERRY RICOTTA PANCAKES
1 cup biscuit mix
2/3 cup low fat milk
1 rounded tablespoon ricotta cheese
1/4 cup egg sustitute (or 1 small egg)
1/2 cup fresh or frozen raspberries

Using a wooden spoon blend biscuit mix, milk, cheese and egg until smooth. (If making the batter the night before, refrigerate before adding raspberries.) Gently fold in raspberries. Set aside for a few minutes while lightly oiled griddle heats up over medium heat. Spoon about 1/8 cup onto prepared griddle. When bubbles form over the top and the sides look dry, turn the cakes to cook another minute or two or until bottoms are lighltly browned. Serve with a dab of butter and raspberry or maple syrup. For an extra special treat add a dollop of Creme Fraiche instead of butter and drizzle the syrup on top. Makes 6-8 cakes.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Because fresh is best!

Don't let my last name or the fact that I make golumpki and pierogi with my husband fool you. My maternal grandmother, Maria Cavelli, was my first cooking teacher. Lasagna and insalata caprese served with hot crusty bread was the first menu I learned to make. A great meal anytime of year but not as good as what came during harvest season.

Stuffed eggplant dinner was something she made in late summer and early fall when the locally grown eggplants and tomatoes are ripe and fresh. When Tiny Weisblat from In Our Grandmother's Kitchens asked me to participate in the blogathan during Farmers Market Week, I knew this was the recipe to share.

Thanks to Farmer Paul, access to garden fresh (and I mean just picked fresh) fruits and veggies are at my fingertips daily. But not having backyard bounty is no excuse for not making the best of the harvest season. Shop at farmers' markets and roadside stands -- loving local this time of year comes easy.

My grandmother was a fabulous cook and her mantra was that it's not the time spent slaving over a hot stove that makes a great meal, it's quality ingredients. Please consider making a donation to support Massachusetts Farmers Markets. Remember, buy local because fresh is best! Or as my grandmother would have said, " Compra fresco locale è meglio."

STUFFED EGGPLANT ROUNDS
1 large eggplant
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 pound Italian sweet sausage
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup milk, for dipping eggplant
1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
Olive oil cooking spray

Remove sausage meat from its casing and sauté on medium low heat until cooked through and crumbly. In a food processer add cheese, egg parsley and sausage and pulse until filling is well mixed. Do not over-process, sausage crumbles should be visible and distinct. Slice eggplant very thin with a very sharp knife. Dip eggplant slices into milk, coating both sides. Add 1 tablespoon filling to the center of each round and roll. Secure with a toothpick if needed. Lightly spray oil in the bottom of a baking pan. Place each roll in the pan and sprinkle with breadcrumbs, then lightly spray the oil on the tops of the rolls. Bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes. Top with fresh sauce (see below).

FRESH TOMATO SAUCE
6 large ripe red tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely grated
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Using a sharp knife, slice a thin slice from one end of each of the tomatoes. Use a cheese grater and grate the tomato from the cut end over a bowl. When you finish the skin should be left in your hand and fresh tomato sauce in the bowl. Toss basil into the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste, cover and set aside. In a medium sized pan, sauté garlic in olive oil about 5 to 6 minutes. Cook on medium-low, do not allow the garlic to brown. Remove from the heat. Pour tomato mixture into the hot pan. Spoon over stuffed eggplant rounds immediately and sprinkle with grated parmesan. Hint: This sauce is also wonderful when tossed with hot pasta as a side.

Makes 4 servings.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Spice Islands Supper

Today was not the welcome relief of a crisp sunny day at the end of summer heat. The weather here in western Massachusetts turned raw and rainy. It made me wish for a warm beach and turquoise waters.

Spicy and infused with subtle local flavors like coconut milk, West Indies and other island recipes are fusions of African, Asian, Indian, Spanish, French and Dutch cuisine. In the islands, you're more likely to find a main dish kabob prepared with goat or lamb. I use beef sirloin tip, a tender, flavorful and economical substitute. Spoon whole kernel corn over brown rice for a side and your island style dinner is served.

Add a little spice island style to your life -- I think you'll like it!

ISLAND HOPPER BEEF KABOBS
1 pound sirloin tip steak, cut into one inch cubes
1 small yellow onion, cut in quarters
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger root
1 teaspoon red chile paste, or 1 finely fresh chopped hot chile pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon peanut or sesame seed oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Skewers, soaked in water for an hour to prevent burning

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except meat. Place meat in a large zip-loc bag. Pour marinade over meat in the bag. Zip closed and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Thread seasoned meat on moistened skewers. Discard marinade. Cover kabobs with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to grill.
Preheat grill for medium-high heat (450 degrees F). Brush grate liberally with oil, and arrange kabobs on grill. Cook for 5 minutes on each side, turning as needed to brown evenly. Serve with peanut dipping sauce.

WEST INDIES STYLE PEANUT DIPPING SAUCE
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon peanut or sesame seed oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon chile paste, or 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup coconut milk

Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor. Use puree cycle, adding more coconut milk to get your desired consistency. Serve the sauce warm or at room temperature.

Makes four servings.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Warm-your-insides Hot Cherry Peppers

On cool weather weekends, a good pot roast with hot cherry peppers on the side is a family favorite around our house. This year the peppers will be from our garden instead of the grocer's shelf.

Preserving food was a fact of life years ago. Today it's an artful craft resurging in popularity. Bringing freshness to the family table from the family garden creates an intimate relationship with our food.  And the taste can't be beat.

It won't be long now!

HOT CHERRY PEPPERS
2 pounds raw hot cherry peppers, mixed green and red
3 cups vinegar
1 cup water
2 cloves garlic, crushed

Leave peppers whole, cutting stems close to the top. Set aside. Combine vinegar, water and garlic in a large saucepan. bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simme five minutes. Strain out garlic. Pack peppers into hot pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Ladle hot liquid over peppers leaving the headspace. Press down on the peppers with the back of a spoon to release bubbles. Adjust two piece caps. Process ten minutes in a boiling water bath. Makes 3 pints.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Peaches, peaches everywhere ...

Imagine my surprise to find a 1/2 bushel box of peaches sitting on the picnic table out back. Firm, juicy and ripe and all the way from Maryland. Farmer Paul's fishing buddy Joe dropped them off -- my guess? A peace offering for sweeping said Farmer Paul off to the river for two days.

Good plan, pal, because those peaches kept me busy and happy all day. Can't wait to try this salsa on tomorrow's grilled mahi!

SWEET HEAT PEACH PEPPER SALSA
9 large ripe but firm peaches - peeled and diced
1/2 cup white onion - fine grated
3 hot peppers - chopped (I used Portugal peppers, a hot orange pepper but jalapeno work nicely)
1 sweet red pepper - chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro - loosely packed
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 cloves garlic - grated
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Put all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Pack into hot jars and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Check altitude directions for canning in your corner of the world. Makes four 8 ounce jars plus another 4-5 ounces to use right away. And it is one of few recipes that doubles up w/o losing anything.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

From the Cabbage Patch

With the tons of tomatoes, peas, pasta and beans my Italian grandmother's minestrone didn't actually taste very cabbagey. Then I married Farmer Paul. If you're part of a Polish family you can't escape cabbage. Sure I like golumpki, I would tell my husband's mother and aunts. But I unwrapped the cabbage rolls and ate the insides before discreetly tossing the actual cabbage part in the disposal.

Sometime in my mid-twenties I decided to give the whole golumpki a try and found I didn't hate cabbage at all. And from then on it was cabbage heaven for me. These days I wait impatiently for our garden to produce. Golumpki, kapusta, cabbage pierogi are standard cooked cabbage fare. Shredded cabbage instead of lettuce on tacos, and summer slaw are two favorite ways to use raw cabbage.

SUMMER SLAW
1 medium cabbage, chopped or coarsely grated
2 carrots, peeled and coursely grated
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
black pepper to taste

Combine the shredded cabbage and carrots in a large bowl. Whisk together the mayonnaise, heavy cream, sugar, vinegar, celery seed and pepper in a medium bowl. Add dressing to the cabbage mixture. Mix well to combine. Taste for seasoning; add salt, more pepper, or sugar if desired.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Why do you think he grows cabbage?

I married into a Polish family. Try as I might my golumpki never came out right. Tough cabbage, stuffing mix like lead, or worse -- a crumbled heap of meat and rice. I tried adding egg (meatloaf golumpki?), tomato soup, every trick I could find in the cookbooks the church ladies sold after Mass once a year. My husband poured on the Heinz to make them palatable.

After close to twenty years of frustration I threw up my hands and said, "Make them yourself." So he did. But first, he asked the experts for advice. Turned out Farmer Paul is his mother's son, his aunt's nephew and a pretty good Polish cook. It took time, but we've got a system now. He still likes ketchup on them but these Polish yummies don't need a thing beyond a fresh slice of seeded rye bread on the side.

CIOCE SOPHIE'S GOLUMPKI
1 medium cabbage, frozen whole at least 24 hours up to 3 weeks
1 cup of cooked River brand rice
1 pound hamburger, 20/80 fat to lean
1 one inch cube salt pork, chopped small
salt and pepper to taste
large oval baking dish


In a small fry pan, sauté the chopped salt pork until crispy and the fat has been released from the meat. Strain and reserve fat, discarding the pork meat. Put your ground beef in a large bowl. Add 1 cup (still warm)cooked rice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix with hands until well blended. Add reserved fat, should be about one tablespoon, and mix again until evenly blended. Cover and refrigerate while your cabbage boils.

Cioce's secret (I should have asked sooner) to getting cabbage leaves thin, tender and easy to work with was to freeze the raw head in advance then cook on a low boil for twenty minutes. Set for about 10-15 minutes on a plate to drain and cool. Reserve one cup of the cabbage water. The leaves should come off easily with little effort beyond cutting them away from the core.

Line the bottom of your baking pan with the darker and less tasty leaves on the outside of the cabbage. Take a hefty size tablespoon full of the meat-rice mix and place on stem end (hint: cut away the thickest part of the stem) of a cabbage leaf. Bring each side of leaf over into middle and roll. Place roll in baking dish with the seam side down. Repeat until all meat is used. Should make about a dozen golumpki.

Pour the reserved cabbage water over top of rolls. An added delicious treat is to place sliced kielbasa around the cabbage rolls if you wish. Cover with double layer of foil and bake about an hour on 350 degrees. Let sit 10-15 minutes before serving. Individually wrap extra rolls in plastic and freeze, they taste great as a microwave meal on busy weeknights.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Weigh of Life

After a delish girls night out at Judie's in Amherst, I came home ready to tackle the beast again. It's been awhile since I've mentioned Flat Belly Diet and that's because JP and I have been lax. Down 12 instead of 14, the gain was actually less than expected after the last few weeks of lobster crazy around here.

So we're back on the program. With the garden popping, our timing is good to be trolling for yummy lo-cal recipes using summer's best.  This morning's breakfast of a half cup cinnamon sprinkled oatmeal drizzled with 1 teaspoon honey, 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds (MUFA) and a cup of fat free lactose free milk was perked up lots by a cup of fresh picked blueberries from Easy Pickin's Farm in Enfield, CT.

And now that M & M candies come in dark chocolate (another MUFA), we might just consider adding the M & M diet plan to our daily weigh of life! Just kidding. :-)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Squashed!

I looked at the caller ID. It was my husband's buddy, no doubt calling about their scheduled fishing marathon -- something the two guys do a couple of times each year. Instead, he dove into whether or not I liked zucchini. Just another desperate gardener looking to unload an abundance of squash.

It so happens that we didn't bother growing zucchini this year and I do love both summer yellow squash and zucchini. So I said sure, but with the caveat that I only wanted small ones. No giant billy club zucchini, please. I could hear the disappointment in his voice but he agreed. When it comes to squash this time a year, you have to hold your ground.

Summer squash can make anyone yell "uncle" -- it can also be a bit tiresome to find new ways to prepare squash. And grilled summer squash gets old fast. This recipe is pretty easy and adds quite a bit of kick to a veggie that at times, can come out a bit on the bland side.

STUFFED SUMMER SQUASH
4 medium summer squash (yellow or zucchini)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small shallot, grated
1/2 celery stalk, chopped
1/2 carrot, grated

1/4 pound Italian sweet sausage, removed from the casing
1/4 cup marscopone or ricotta cheese
1 small egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup water (for the pan)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare baking dish by pouring water into a baking pan, set pan aside.

Using a teaspoon, scoop out flesh from squash. Chop. Should be about one cup. Place chopped squash in a medium bowl. Sprinkle hallowed out squash shells with pepper and salt. Turn cut side down on the cutting board. Set aside. Use a medium size skillet over medium heat. Add oil, shallot, celery and carrot. Cook 3 minutes. Add the chopped squash and cook 3 minutes more, stirring often to saute evenly. Turn burner up to medium high and add sausage. Stir constantly, being careful to crumble meat as it cooks.

Remove skillet from heat and set aside to cool. While it cools, mix cheese, egg and parsley in a small bowl. Once sausage mix has cooled for ten minutes add cheese mix to sausage mix, combining all ingredients well. Fill hallowed shells with the stuffing mixtute. Set the filled shells into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until squash is fork tender. Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a main dish.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

We're Havin' a Heat Wave

Cook? Are you kidding me? In 90-something degree weather?  If only my family would settle for a bowl of cornflakes ... I'd happily toss in a few berries or even cut up a banana. But noooo ... they were hungry for real food. And as much as I wanted to avoid the dreaded evening meal, the very thought of take-out Chinese in this heat just had no appeal.

Solution: a nice hunk of fish lightly marinated. Fingerling potatoes cut in half and tossed in olive oil then thrown on the backyard grill. Took less than twenty minutes. And dinner was served.

Bellies full. Edy's frozen lime fruit pops for dessert. A pitcher of iced tea in the refridgerator. All is well. But I'm still sweltering.  So, I'm headed out with a couple of friends to happily shiver through a midnight movie. Nothing better than hot buttered popcorn,  a comfy seat in a theater with the AC cranked up to winter storm warning levels and the latest movie release.

EASY GRILLED FISH
Juice of 1/2 lemon, freshly squeezed
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or winter savory

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
4 one inch thick fish fillets (mahi-mahi, swordfish, mako, or tuna)

Make the marinade by combining all ingredients, except fish, in a bowl. Place fillets in a shallow dish just large enough to accommodate them. Pour marinade over fish and turn it, coating both sides. Place coated fish in a ziploc bag in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours, turning several times. Grill over medium hot heat, 8-10 minutes per side, basting before you turn. Serves 4.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Breaded Bean Season

When we were a much younger family our backyard was so small that gardening was impossible. My late mom-in-law had plenty of yard but not as much energy to tackle the chores a good garden required. So we reached an accord. We would plant and care for her garden and we would all share in the bounty.

It worked out pretty well for a long time. I learned how to cook veggies the way Babci did. And so did my husband -- who was used to having everything cooked for him but discovered that he enjoyed kitchen duty almost as much as gardening. His yellow beans and Babci's simple recipe for them are a favorite around our house.

Sharing a garden was fun and challenging at the same time. I still miss her but the memories are sweet. When the tomatoes are ripe, I'll tell you about the tomato wars. And a good laugh will be had by all.

BABCI'S BREADED YELLOW BEANS
2 cups. fresh yellow beans, trimmed, cleaned, cut in 2 inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil beans about ten minutes or until tender, drain. Over medium heat in a 10 inch saute or frying pan, add cooked beans, oil and butter and toss until butter melts. Sprinkle generously with bread crumbs. Toss again. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4 as a side dish.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Auntie Nina's Biscuits

One of the best things about summer days at my great aunt Nina's dairy farm was her cooking. She made everything from scratch, mostly farm fresh. There are no words to describe the difference between the canned veggies too many of us grew up on and corn on the cob picked fresh from the garden. Or the milk from the cows that same morning. Best of all, one of my favorite foods to this day, was her homemade butter biscuits.

Flaky, delicious biscuits topped by sweet tart refrigerator jam made with whatever fruit happened to be ready to harvest that week. Sadly, my great aunt has since passed on and the farm sold off as a horse riders haven. But my memories of Auntie Nina's biscuits will last forever.

I tried many, many times, often with limited success, to recreate the exact taste of those biscuits. Even if I had her exact recipe, using store bought ingredients will never quite get there. After repeated experimenting, this recipe comes pretty close.


BREAKFAST BISCUITS
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Dash salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/8 cup shortening
3/4 cup skim milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Stir flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually stir in milk until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface, and knead 10-12 times. Pat or roll dough out to 3/4 of an inch thick. Cut biscuits with a large cutter or a juice glass dipped in flour. Repeat until all dough is used. Brush off the excess flour, and put biscuit dough rounds onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges begin to brown.  Makes 6 biscuits, about 175 calories each. Add a tablespoon of low sugar jam, a poached egg and a slice of bacon for a 370 calorie breakfast.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Pitcher of Sangria, a Boiling Pot and Thee

There's something sexy about lobster. The idea that seafood is an aphrodisiac goes back to the ancient Greeks whose goddess of love, Aphrodite, was born of the sea. With a nod and apology to my vegetarian friends, I can't help myself -- cooking and eating lobster has a primitive, almost barbaric, appeal for those of us who are meateaters.

Add to that the summer sun, a picnic table and a pitcher of white peach and raspberry laden vinho branco sangria (Portugese table wines are cheap and tasty, the perfect sangria ingredient) and there's no denying the joy of lobster.

PEACH MELBA SANGRIA
1 750 ML bottle of white table wine
1/2 cup peach infused vodka or brandy
1 cup sparkling lemonade
2 white peaches, pitted and sliced
1/2 cup fresh washed raspberries

In a large pitcher half-filled with ice, gently mix wine, vodka and lemonade before adding fruit. Pour into individual goblets, if needed use a spoon to make sure each glass has a share of the fruit. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

If you've never slathered low fat pound cake toast with homemade low sugar refrigerator jam, or store bought marmalade or peanut butter or even a whisper of butter or margarine, you've been missing out. Sprinkle a teaspoon of sunflower seeds on top and you have an under two hundred calorie Flat Belly Diet breakfast complete with MUFA.

So brew a pot of tea and pull out your toaster -- eating healthier never tasted so yummy.

Monday, June 21, 2010

And So Begins Canning Season

Jam challenged? I sure am. Just because there's a row of raspberry bushes in the backyard and my husband happens to have a green thumb doesn't make me an expert anything. Some things I struggle with and jam is one of those things. If you have a hard time with fruit jams then this is the recipe for you.

It works with crushed strawberries just as well -- has low sugar content and is easy to spread. Next Saturday morning, serve your homemade jam slathered on store bought lo-fat corn muffins (heat them up in a 325 degree F oven for ten minutes or so) with the morning joe. Your house will feel more like a B & B than an average family kitchen.

Now that's the way to start a pleasant weekend.

RASPBERRY REFRIGERATOR JAM
4 cups washed and drained raspberries
1/2 cup sugar

2 ounces orange liqueur
One squeeze of a lemon
1/2 package Ball Fruit Jell No Sugar Needed Pectin
2/3 cup water

Add sugar, orange liqueur, and a splash of lemon juice to raspberries in a medium saucepan. Stir thoroughly. Let this sit for 10 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Bring to a low boil on medium heat, stirring constantly. Let simmer for 2-3 minutes then remove from heat.

In small saucepan, whisk powder pectin into water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil while stirring for a full minute. The texture when ready will be similar to a thick white sauce.

Pour pectin mix into the pan with the raspberry mixture. Stir for at least 3 minutes before ladling into four 8 ounce clean sterilized jars. Leave a full inch at the top before putting lids. I use Ball jelly/jam jars and white Bell lids. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Keep one jar for immediate use and freeze the rest.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cheery Cherries

Not everything in life is easy. Take pitting a pound or two of fresh cherries -- a real PITA (Pain In The Ass) but once you bite into this Cheery Cherry Tart it'll all be forgotten.

Today was Father's Day. Ask any dad who worried that the mother of his children would never forgive him for his part in convincing her to make him a dad. OK, so the truth is that we never forget and we do tend to talk about it in gory detail for months afterward. Especially to other new moms -- it's like comparing notes after final exams. But we don't mind so much once it's over and the babies are so loveable that most of us are willing to try it again.

Having reason to celebrate Father's Day and/or Mother's Day is worth it. Kinda like pitting cherries.

CHEERY CHERRY TART
Crust:
1 -1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup confectioner sugar
Dash of salt
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, allowed to cool to room temperature.

Cherry Filling:
2 tablespoons corn starch
Dash of salt
3/4 cup white sugar
3-1/2 cups fresh pitted cherries
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Almond Crisp Topping:
4 tablespoons ground almonds
1 tablespoon sweet unsalted butter, chilled
1 tablespoon biscuit mix (like Bisquick)

Grease tart pan with butter or a cooking spray, use an 8 inch or 9 inch square or round tart pan with removable bottom.

To make topping:
Pulse topping ingredients in food processer until it resembles a crumb mixture. Set aside.

To make crust:
In a medium bowl, mix extracts into butter, stir well. Set aside. Sift flour, sugar and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper or parchment. Add zest and toss well. Slowly add flour blend to butter mixture, using a wooden spoon to blend well. Add enough flour to make a soft pliable dough ball (feels like soft cookie dough). Place the pastry in the prepared tart pan evenly press the pastry onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan. It's OK to use your fingers. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and place the pastry crust in the refrigerator to chill.

To make cherry filling:
While crust is in refrigerator, combine salt, sugar, corn starch and cherries in a medium sauce pan. Set heat to medium, stir constantly until cherries release some of their juice. Bring to a boil still stirring constantly. Allow to bubble just 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow cherries to cool for 15-20 minutes. Once cooled add extracts. Mix well. Remove crust from refrigerator and spread cherry filling over chilled crust.

Sprinkle almond crisp topping over cherries. Bake in preheated 350 degree F for 40-45 minutes or until cherries feel fork tender and juices are bubbling. Cool on a rack at least half an hour before serving. Serve warm or cold. Add a scoop of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia on the side for an extra touch of yummy.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thank you, George W... I mean it..

Our backyard raspberries are ripe for the picking. For the next two weeks, I will pick a cup or two of luscious homegrown raspberries daily. So by now you must be wondering what do my fresh juicy berries have to do with former White House occupant George W. Bush -- I finally found something to thank him for.

This Berry Angel recipe is adapted from an angel muffin Bush years White House executive chef, Bill Yosses insists on calling breakfast food. Before arriving at the Bush White House in 2007, Yosses had three decades under his apron strings as a French pastry chef and at some of New York's finest restaurants. His new cookbook, titled The Perfect Finish features these fluffy meringue based cakes that Chef Yosses calls "the eighth wonder of the world." Add a dollop of fresh whipped cream and  I couldn't agree more. When it comes to yummy ... mission accomplished.

BERRY ANGELS
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
dash of salt
1 cup fresh berries (raspberries, blackberries, small strawberries cut in half, or blueberries)
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated citrus zest (from fresh lemon, lime or orange peel)

Set aside 1 tablespoon granulated sugar for sprinkling. Preheat oven to 365 degrees F. Rinse berries (I used raspberries) thoroughly and set to drain in a berry colander. Line 1 dozen jumbo muffin tins with paper liners. Sift flour, powdered sugar and salt into a small bowl. Toss zest (I used orange) evenly throughout, making sure the zest is coated with flour. Set aside. Using an electric mixer set on medium, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar (except that already set aside for sprinkling). Beat until egg whites form stiff meringue peaks.

Toss vanilla in berries, covering the berries with the flavoring.  Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, gently fold flour mixture into meringue, use careful strokes so as not to deflate the egg whip. Fold in 2/3 of the berries. Fill each cake liner 2/3 full with batter. Top each with a few more berries and sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar. Bake for 20 minutes until tops are a gently golden in color and a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool on wire rack at least 15 minutes before serving. Best eaten within 24 hours.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Plum Good Chicken

The Chinese method of poaching chicken before baking guarantees a far more tender chicken than traditional western baked chicken and lends itself to using the juicy leftovers for fabulous chicken salad. I learned about this by reading a Chinese cookbook more than twenty years ago.

I'd bought the book hoping to learn the secret of making Chinese boneless barbequed pork. The pork was a failure but this chicken method has become my favorite. The glaze is my own version of Chinese plum glaze -- apricot jam or mandarin marmalade make a lovely glaze too but I always come back to plum. All fruit sugar free jams can be substituted for a low sugar diet. Yummy.

FRUIT GLAZED CHICKEN
1 whole chicken (3-4 pounds)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons plum jelly
2 tablespoons mango chutney
1/2 teaspoon honey

Rub chicken with soy sauce inside and out, generously season with black pepper. Put it in a pan with about 1 inch of cold water. Slowly bring it to a simmer, turn the heat down to med/low, cover, and let it simmer for 30 minutes. While the bird is steaming, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the chicken from the boiling water after 30 minutes and place into a roasting pan. In a small microwave safe bowl stir plum jelly, mango chutney and honey. Microwave jelly glaze on high for 1 minute then stir well before basting entire chicken. Put chicken in the oven, immediately lower heat to 325 degrees F. Bake for 45 minutes, basting with plum sauce again at the 30 minutes mark. Drizzle a side salad of mixed greens, apple chunks, dried cranberries and crumbled blue cheese with French dressing, pour a glass of sparkling cider and enjoy.

Serves 4.