Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

The rocky economy of contract negotiations and lay offs at the factory where my dad worked sent my mom back to the job market when I was a toddler. The truth is that my mother's feminism was borne more of necessity than her desire to be independent.

One dish dinners were the way to go and one of my favorites was chicken and rice. Okay, so I am guilty of being a little snobby about recipes that start with a can of soup. But I loved that casserole and so came up with an alternative that has a little more sophisticated flavor but still satisfies the comfort food zone.

There's a song lyric Farmer Paul and I sang to our sons when they were young, "Chicken is nice with palm butter and rice." It's a fun song, one of those catchy tunes kids like and laugh at. There's no butter in my recipe. I tend to substitute olive oil every chance I get.  I'm willing to bet folk singer Dave Van Ronk would have enjoyed this casserole just the same!

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1 small onion, grated
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 can chicken broth
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup half and half
1 cup raw, medium or long grain, white rice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning 
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil using a large oven proof sauté pan on stovetop burner set to medium high heat. Season the chicken pieces all over with salt and pepper. Lightly brown the chicken pieces. Remove chicken pieces and set aside in a bowl. Chicken should not be cooked through, only browned.

In the same sauté pan add another tablespoon of olive oil, lower the heat to medium, add the onion, and cook about 3 minutes. Add wine to the pan to deglaze the pan, scraping off the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Let wine cook down a bit, then add the chicken stock, and remove from heat. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, the cream, and the sour cream. Add the poultry seasoning, paprika and raw rice to the pan. Stir the rice mixture so that ingredients are evenly distributed.

Place the chicken pieces on top of the rice mixture (in a single layer if you can, they will be crowded). Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake in a 375°F oven for 45 minutes. Remove foil. If the casserole is still too liquidy, let it cook a few minutes more, uncovered until enough liquid has been absorbed to have the appearance of rice in a creamy sauce topped with tender chicken. Garnish with fresh parsley. Serves 4.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Making the best of it...

The lights flickered but never went out at our house but lots of friends and family were left powerless from Saturday's Halloween Blizzard. My nearly 80 year old mother held out stubbornly for two nights wrapped in a sweater and a comforter flipping through magazines by candlelight. It took promises of hot cocoa, Captain America on DVD and the recliner. She's camping out here until her power is restored so we're making the best of it. And enjoying every bite!


1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 eggs
2/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Dash salt
1/4 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 inch round (or square) pan using baking spray with flour.

In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and oil. Beat in eggs, molasses, applesauce and cranberry sauce. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt. Blend into the creamed mixture with a wooden spoon. Once mixed well, stir in the hot water. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake 50-55 minutes in the preheated oven, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool at least 20 minutes before serving with honey caramel sauce and whipped cream or with a dollop of sweetened chevre.

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup evaporated skim milk
1/4 cup butter

Cook in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat on the stovetop, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. Continue to boil, continue stirring constantly until thick and caramel colored. Should take about 8-10 minutes in total. Serve warm. Pour into a sterile jar and store in the refrigerator up to a month. Reheat in microwave for 30 seconds on high.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's Apple Harvest Time!

One of America's fondest stories tells about Johnny Appleseed. John Chapman was born in Leominster, Massachusetts in 1774. His family moved to Pennsylvania where he left his father's carpentry shop to travel barefoot, using a saucepan for a hat. He preached a simple philosphy of life and lived as a vegetarian. He made it as far as Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he died in 1845 at the age of 71. John Chapman planted about 10,000 square miles of orchards.

From the Garden of Eden to Greek Mythology to the discovery of the health benefits of apples, everything you ever wanted to know about apples can be found here.  Fun reading while this delicious apple cake bakes!

2 eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup white sugar
Dash of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups Bisquick baking mix
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 cups peeled cored sliced apples

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour one round 8 inch cake pan.

Beat oil and eggs with an electric mixer in a medium bowl until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat well. In another bowl combine baking mix, zest, salt and ground cinnamon. Slowly add this mixture to the egg mixture and mix until combined. The batter will be thick. Fold in the apples by hand using a wooden spoon. Spread batter into the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or until cake tests done. Let cake cool on a wire rack. Once cake is cool serve with a dusting of confectioners' sugar.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

First Butternut Pie of the New Harvest

Our butternut squash is local as local gets, right out of our backyard. My friend June says, "You sustainable people you!" and I laugh every time. But the truth is that home farmers contribute to a sustainable world with every bite of food grown. Negative environmental impacts are reduced in several ways. We don't use nitrogen based fertilizers the way industrial agricultural operations do. That means less nitrous oxide released in the air and less toxic runoff to damage the water table.

The only transportation homegrown foods require is to walk out back and pick the fruits and veggies we grow. The small scale of home farming makes using sustainable practices like composting, crop rotation, and mulching easy to accomplish. Not to mention the benefits of preserving homegrown foods. Jars of applesauce and stewed tomatoes are delicious reminders that once next spring arrives so will another season of fresh wholesome homegrown food! I think everyone should grow at least a small amount of their own food: a friend from NOLA now living in DC grows okra on her patio. When she cooks it, she's reminded of home. Sustainability fuels progress one bite at a time!

1 unbaked and chilled 8-inch pie shell
1 large butternut squash, cooked and pureed, about 1 1/2 cups pureed squash
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon ground Ceylon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Dash salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Place the whole squash, stem removed, on a oiled foil-lined baking pan; add about 1/2 cup of water to the pan. Cover loosely with foil and bake at 350° F for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the squash is tender and can be easily pierced with a fork. Let cool completely then cut in half, scoop out seeds and scoop the squash out of its skin. Mash or puree the squash or put it through a food mill. Measure 1 1/2 cups of the squash for the pie filling and set the rest aside for other use.

Increase oven to 400° F and position an oven rack in the center of the oven.

In a mixing bowl with electric mixer, beat the squash with the sugars. Add eggs, half-and-half, spices, salt and vanilla. Beat until well blended. Pour the filling into the chilled pie shell and place on the center oven rack. Bake 15 minutes at 400° F then lower heat to 350° F for another 35 to 45 minutes, or until set. Check after about 35 minutes and loosely set a ring of foil or a pie crust protector over crust so it won't get too dark.

When the filling is set, transfer the pie to a rack to cool at least two hours before serving. Serve just warm or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped topping or whipped cream. Refrigerate any remaining pie. Best eaten within 24 hours of baking.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The. Best. Cocoa. Brownies. Ever.

Ever wonder where and by whom the first brownie was baked? It's a good question on National Milk Chocolate Day, which happens to be today! Culinary historians have traced the first “brownie” cake recipe to Fanny Farmer in The Boston Cooking School Cook Book circa 1906.  According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, the recipe is similar an earlier Fanny Farmer chocolate cookie recipe, but with less flour and baked in a “7-inch square pan.” 

The next adaptation came along a year later when another Bostonian named Maria Willet Howard added an extra egg and an extra square of chocolate to the Boston Cooking-School recipe and called it Lowney’s Brownies. But we all know there's no such thing as too many brownie recipes. For her next batch, Maria added yet another square of chocolate and named the recipe Bangor Brownies. Hence came the falsehood that brownies were invented by a housewife in Bangor, Maine. 

Not so. Just like the American Revolution and that shot heard 'round the world, rich chocolatey brownies were born in Massachusetts. Take that, Michele Bachmann!

10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Reese’s Pieces candies or chopped nuts (optional)

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.  Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square cake pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. Set aside.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide frying pan or skillet of simmering water. Stir until the butter is melted and the cocoa mixture is smooth. Do not overheat. Remove the bowl from the simmering skillet to cool until the mixture is barely warm, not hot.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in the vanilla and chili powder, then add eggs one at a time, stir vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add flour a little at a time, stirring until you cannot see it any longer, then beat for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon. Spread batter evenly in the lined pan. Sprinkle candies or nuts on top.

Bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out slightly moist with crumbs when inserted into the center. Place pan on a rack and let cool to room temperature before lifting up the ends of the parchment or foil liner to transfer the brownies onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut into 16 two-inch brownie squares. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Uniquely American: Blueberry Buckle

From strawberries to raspberries to blueberries and then that second harvest of raspberries, fresh local berries are the belle of the summer season ball here in western Massachusetts. Cobblers, crisps, buckles, crumbles ... no matter what variation of simple fruit filled dessert you make, it is uniquely American. 

Early American cooks were extremely talented at improvising. When the ingredients for their favorite recipes were unavailable, they made do with what they had at hand.  Berries grew wild and bountifully in many regions. Fussy English puddings were turned in for slumps, pies, buckles and cobblers filled with fresh-picked juicy fruits of the season. Homemade simplicity reliant on taste not European pastry techniques...just another example of American ingenuity!

Cake Batter:
1 cup (130 grams) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup 1% milk
1 cup fresh blueberries 
Streusel Topping:
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray an 8 inch square cake pan with a nonstick vegetable spray. Make streusel first.  In a medium bowl, mix flour, sugars, and ground cinnamon.  Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or fork until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Refrigerate while you make the cake batter.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
In separate bowl beat butter until smooth.  Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated.  Add the flour mixture, alternately with the milk, and beat only until combined.  The batter will be thick. Spread batter onto the bottom of the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spoon or a spatula. Arrange the blueberries on top of the cake batter, then evenly sprinkle with the streusel topping.

Bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool slightly.  Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 9 servings.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Seasonal Surprises: Savory Blueberry Chutney

My first taste of Sheila Lukins came after stumbling across The Silver Palate food shop on Columbus Avenue, NYC in the late 1970s.  It was a short road to discovering chutney wasn’t just a mango and ginger concoction.  Sheila Lukins of Silver Palate Cookbook fame was cutting edge back then.  I was hooked from that first taste all the way to mixing things up with blueberry chutney to glaze Asian style roast chicken.

Blueberry chutney was the inspiration for my Spicy Blueberry Barbecue Sauce, an original recipe that made me a national award winner in the Highbush Blueberry Council’s 2008 recipe contest.  Who’da thunk?  Next month will mark two years since Sheila Lukins died -- too young but not without having made her mark on a generation of home cooks like me.

This recipe is adapted from an original Silver Palate recipe.  Over the years, I’ve added and subtracted this or that.  Serve with roasted turkey, duck or goose, meat or curries.  Hint: Mix a tablespoon of chutney with with 1/2 cup mayonnaise or plain yogurt and make a tasty dressing for turning chunks of leftover roast turkey or chicken into a yummy salad.

4 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and stemmed

1 teaspoon yellow mustard seed

1 tablespoon grated crystallized ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground Ceylon cinnamon (regular Cassia cinnamon will do)

1 medium shallot, grated (or one small onion)

Dash of salt

1 teaspoon orange zest
1-1/4 cups red wine vinegar

Dash ground nutmeg

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar                                                                                       

Place blueberries in 4 quart saucepan; add all other ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil; simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, or until chutney is thick.

Meanwhile, wash 4 half pint jars. Keep hot until needed. Prepare lids as manufacturer directs. Ladle the hot chutney into 1 hot jar at a time, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Remove from water bath and set on a flat surface covered with a clean dish towel to cool. When you hear the tops pop, the seal has been set.

Unopened jars store well for about a year. Once opened, refrigerate and use within 3 weeks.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Opposites Attract: Sweet Berries Love Tart Lemon Pound Cake

There’s no butter in this baby and the texture is amazing. Substituting olive oil for butter cuts way down on the bad cholesterol pound cakes are noted for. A sprinkle of powdered sugar finishes off the top nicely before serving. 

Add fresh local berries and voila! Heaven on a plate. Like having a diet soda to cut calories, using olive oil takes the sting out of that dollop of rich whipped cream. 
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp grated lemon zest
5 large cold eggs
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup Limoncello liqueur
Preheat the oven tot 350 °F. Grease and flour two 8 x 4 loaf pans. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt thoroughly in a large bowl and sift together. Set aside. In a second large bowl, beat the sugar, oil, and zest on high speed until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; continue to beat until the mixture is thick and pale, 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and add 1/2 cup of water. Beat just until blended. Repeat with another third of the flour, followed by the remaining water and the liqueur, and then the remaining flour.

Scrape the batter into the pans. Bake 50 minutes or until the cake tester comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pans on a rack for about 15 minutes before unmolding. Wrapped airtight, the cake keeps well at room temperature for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Thanks, Roger...that's what friends are for.

Real life friend Roger Fisk passed this recipe along via Facebook. And he attributed the recipe as having been passed along to him from another friend of his. That’s the way it works in today’s world: we keep track of friends near and far electronically. Facebook, Twitter, most recently Google+ (anybody have a spare invitation?).Lots of us post pictures of dinner and share the recipes with each other: especially when local ingredients and backyard garden bounty take center stage.

That is exactly the way this morning’s tomatoes became this evening’s summer supper! With the exception of using a pre-made frozen crust that was pre-made and frozen by me, I followed Roger's simple instructions. Roger said, “A purist-I love it. I aspire to this!” I won’t criticize if you choose the store bought pre-made route but the savory crust recipe used here for this quiche is absolute heaven ...for aspiring purists everywhere!  
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Roast bulb of garlic. Smear roasted garlic on bottom of pre-made frozen pie crust. Put down base of half-cup fontina cheese, layer tomato slices on top. Drizzle with olive oil salt/pepper, bake for half hour. Sprinkle another half cup of fontina on top of tomatoes. Add a few snips of fresh parsley and basil. Bake for another 20 mins. Garnish with fresh basil leaves. Add a green salad with French dressing. Pour French wine. Serve friends. Feeds six.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Summer Berry Brunch

Weekend mornings are for lazing around in jammies, sipping a fresh cup of tea and reading the paper while something yummy bakes up in the oven. Especially when the something yummy uses local berries and syrup and was prepared the night before. Another plus: this recipe requires little attention but to wait for the timer's buzz!

We're at the end of strawberry season here in western Massachusetts. This recipe works well with any fresh berry and jam ... try blueberries, raspberries, even blackberries work well. Once the apples are ripe, apple slices and apple jelly make for tasty seasonal substitutes. Hint: Use raisin challah and add a dash of cinnamon to the egg mixture when using apples.  

1/2 loaf of Challah bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (approx. 3 cups)
1-4 oz. package of cream cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup fresh sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons strawberry jam
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 cup maple syrup 
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup strawberry jam
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon butter
Grease a deep-dish 8-inch pie pan. Place half of the bread cubes in the bottom of the prepared pie dish. Equally distribute the cream cheese cubes, fresh berries, and jam over the top of the bread cubes.
Top with remaining bread cubes. Thoroughly whisk the eggs, maple syrup and milk in a medium bowl. Pour egg mixture over bread and jam in pie pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
In the morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake covered with foil for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake approximately 15-20 minutes more, or until the top is a toasty golden brown. Combine the syrup ingredients in a small microwave bowl. Microwave on high for one minute. If you prefer, use a small saucepan and heat over low heat on the stovetop. Serve hot with a tablespoon of syrup drizzled over each serving. Makes six generous portions.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Old Fashioned and I Like It

Arborio is fat, starchy rice that makes for creamy, cheesy risotto. Though lesser known for use in desserts, it makes an amazing version of an all time favorite comfort food; rice pudding.

My natural inclination is to throw in the traditional handful of raisins. Chopped dried apricots make a nice substitution. Suggestion: if the apricot option appeals, use lemon zest rather than orange.

I love any and all rice pudding ... but take it from me, hands down the sinfully rich arborio sends me over the moon.


1 cup water
dash of salt
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup Arborio rice
2 cups 2% milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
dash of ground cinnamon (Ceylon is preferred)

1/8 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 cup brown raisins (optional)
Whipped cream, for serving

Bring water, salt, and butter to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the rice, return to a boil, and then reduce the heat to the medium-low. Shake the pan occasionally and cook until rice absorbs the water but is still firm, about 15 minutes. Bring milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and zest to a simmer in a separate saucepan.

Add the cooked rice and cook at a simmer over medium-low heat until rice absorbs most of the milk and mixture starts to get thick and creamy, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir often with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and thoroughly mix in the raisins. Cool to room temperature. Transfer to a large bowl or individual serving bowls and refrigerate until cool and set. Serve with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Four servings.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A French Accent for America's Picnic Staple

Forget the grilled steak on a starry July evening ... there's nothing quite as satisfying as an elegant cold summer supper of shrimp cocktail, lobster salad and a creamy version of French potato salad, delicately herbed with fresh chopped tarragon and parsley.

Add a crusty baguette, a refreshing pinot blanc. Relax with the one you love while gazing at the constellations. Fireworks, anyone?

3 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water just until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain. Transfer potatoes to large bowl. Cool to room temperature.

Mix egg, celery, parsley and tarragon into cooled potatoes. Whisk mayonnaise, lemon juice and ground pepper in a medium bowl. Mix into potato mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. Can be made 1 full day ahead. Six servings.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Over 21 Frozen Yogurt

The key to achieving smooth, creamy, easy to scoop texture in this refreshing frozen treat is the addition of what makes a lemontini - vodka and lemon flavor liqueur. Pictured here as a tart-fresh accompaniment to an apricot rustic tart, it's luscious lemony tang compliments almost any fruit dessert or as stand-alone in a fancy glass. 

Card your guests before serving. And remember, it must be 5 o'clock somewhere!

8 cups plain yogurt
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup granulated sugar (I use fine sugar)
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1 1/2 teaspoons Ceylon cinnamon
1 ounce limoncello liqueur
1 ounce vodka
Place yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined colander set over a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours. At end of 12 hours, discard the liquid and cheesecloth. 

In a bowl combine the drained yogurt, honey, sugar, lemon juice, lemon peel, and Ceylon cinnamon. Transfer mixture to ice cream maker and process per manufacturer's instructions, about 25 minutes. Add both liquors during the final 10 minutes. Transfer frozen yogurt to an airtight container, freeze for at least 2 hours.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Colors of June

Strip steak sizzled to medium rare perfection on the backyard grill needs only simple accompaniment. This quick cooking summer squash and a side salad makes a company ready casual dinner. So low in fat and calories, you'll have more than enough room for dessert. Fresh picked strawberries and whipped cream, anyone?

1 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced yellow onion 
2 cups thinly sliced yellow summer squash 
Dash freshly ground sea salt
Dash of freshly-ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add the yellow onion slices, and saute for 1 minute.  Add the sliced squash, salt and pepper to the pan, and saute an additional 3-4 minutes, or until the vegetables are fork-tender. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 -- approximately 25 calories per serving and takes ten minutes total, 5 minutes prep time, 5 minutes to cook!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Homemade Fast Food is Healthier!

When my sons were little, I wasn’t much of a cook. Not that when I did cook it was terrible but between being a Realtor to support my political habit added to family activities like Boy Scout meetings, piano lessons and soccer, we didn’t have much time to cook at home, even on weekends.  I hate to admit it but we downed more than our fair share of not so healthy fast food. 

Then I discovered quesadillas in a Tex-Mex cook booklet at the grocery store check-out magazine rack... they sounded easy and lots healthier than B-K or Mickey D’s.  That was 25 years ago, before Chili’s and Chi-chis, On the Border and even Friendly’s came along and made Mexican favorites that rivaled Chinese take-out in popularity. We’ve tried them all but we actually prefer homemade. Easy, fast and always tastes fresher!
1/2 pound thin slices uncooked chicken breast cutlets
1 tablespoon lime juice
dash fresh ground salt and pepper 
1/8 teaspoon crushed dried thyme
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro leaves
4 large flour tortillas
1 cup Jack cheese, finely grated
2 tablespoons olive oil or grapeseed oil
Optional add-ins:
sauteed peppers and onions
sliced mushrooms
sliced black olives
diced fresh tomatoes
thin sliced fresh avocado
chopped lettuce
sour cream
Flatten chicken breast cutlets with a meat pounder to about 1/2 inch thickness. Sprinkle lime juice evenly over tops and bottom. Add one or two turns worth of fresh ground salt and pepper on both sides and sprinkle with thyme. Heat a large cast iron or heavy all-clad stainless frying pan to medium heat. Add a small amount of oil (about 1/2 teaspoon) and spread it around the bottom of the pan with a spatula (you could use butter as well but it adds cholesterol). Cook cutlets 2-3 minutes on each side. Slice warm cooked chicken into small pieces and set aside on a plate. Remove pan from heat and wipe clean with paper towel.
Add a little more oil to the pan and spread it around on medium heat. Place one flour tortilla in the pan. Flip the tortilla over a few times, 5-10 seconds between flips. Air pockets should begin to form within the tortilla.
When pockets of air begin to form, take a handful of grated cheese, sprinkle over the top of the tortilla, making sure that the cheese does not land on the pan itself. Add an even layer of diced cooked chicken and and whatever additional ingredients you choose - sauteed veggies, sliced fresh mushrooms, olives, tomatoes, etc. Take care not to layer on the ingredients to thickly - a thick quesadilla is hard to handle.
Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. The pan should be hot enough by now to have plenty of residual heat to melt the cheese and brown the tortilla. If the quesadilla begins to smoke too much, remove from the heat. After a minute, check to see if the cheese is melted. If not, return the cover and check every 10-20 seconds until the cheese is melted. As soon as the cheese in melted, lightly sprinkle fresh cilantro leaves then use a spatula to lift up one side of the quesadilla and flip over the other side, as if you were making an omelette. The tortilla should be browned and slightly crusty. Remove from pan and cut into wedges. 
Serve with your choice of accompaniments. Makes four generous servings.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Florentine Cookies ala Massachusetts' Cranberries

Nobody seems to have nailed down who came up with the idea of lacy nutty fruity crisps, sometimes coated on one side with chocolate. They are a favorite of Austrian bakers but considered a Tuscan specialty. With or without the chocolate candy glaze they are delish!

It was a tough call to give creative credit until I tasted my version of the the yummy little discs (pictured here both with and without the chocolate) with a luscious Tuscan Vin Santo for dessert. As far as I'm concerned that sealed the historical origin ... Italy wins!

2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/3 cup raw sugar (white sugar works too)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (or low cholesterol margarine suitable for cooking)
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon finely chopped dried cranberries 
1 teaspoon finely chopped dried apricots
1/2 teaspoon zest of lime
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips to melt (optional)

In a small saucepan, combine cream, sugar and butter. Cook on medium heat until it boils. Remove from heat. Stir in ground almonds, sliced almonds, lime zest and flour. Add vanilla, cranberries, apricots and zest. Set aside to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.  Drop batter by rounded teaspoons onto baking sheet two to three inches apart. (Batter will spread as it bakes.) Bake about 10 minutes until edges are slightly browned (centers will remain bubbly). Allow cookies to cool 1-2 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 18 two inch cookies.

Melt chocolate in a pyrex ramekin one minute on high in microwave.  Remove and stir until chocolate is smooth (You can melt your chocolate over hot water in a metal bowl in the traditional way if you prefer). Use a small spatula or butter knife to coat the back of each cookie with melted chocolate. Drop chocolate side down on clean parchment or waxed paper on a flat surface. Let cool for several hours until chocolate hardens. Wrapped with waxed paper, these cookies can be stored for up to ten days -- but it's doubtful they'll last that long!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Brunch: Easy, elegant and scrumptious.

Whether planning a lazy Sunday morning family brunch or a bridal breakfast for your BFF, this is the perfect recipe. Add a platter of fresh fruit, bacon or sausage, juice and coffee (or maybe Mimosas and Bloody Marys).

And the best part? 

These pretty little pastry quiche cups can be baked ahead, refrigerated and re-warmed about 10 minutes at 350 degree F before serving.

3 eggs
¼ cup low fat milk
dash salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup broccoli crowns, chopped cooked
½ cup crumbled goat cheese
1 sheet ready made puff pastry, thawed

Unfold the thawed pastry and roll lightly with a rolling pin to smooth it out. Cut into 6 squares per sheet. Lightly spray a muffin pan with nonstick spray. Fit a piece of dough into each cup, pushing into the cup but leaving the edges sticking up.

Mix together broccoli and goat cheese crumbles. Divide equally among each muffin cup lined with puff pastry. Whisk together eggs, milk, salt, pepper and pour equal amounts into each muffin cup lined with puff pastry. Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden and eggs firm. Makes six, serve warm.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cocoa Meringue Almond Bark

Farmer Paul pours through the Boston Globe food pages regularly looking for something that appeals to his picky palate. Every now and then he finds a winner.

Light, crunchy and chocolate ... what's not to love? Last week's Boston Globe recipe for Cocoa meringue almond bark is worth the effort.  And simply because I can't help myself from tinkering ... I used Hershey's dark chocolate unsweetened cocoa instead of regular cocoa.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Looks Like You Slaved Over the Stove

But didn't. Chicken Marsala is one of those easier than you can imagine dishes that everyone raves about. It goes with almost any starch side: smashed or roasted potatoes, buttered noodles, or a simple risotto.

The history of wines have always interested me. Here's a great little website to poke around. And what better place to start then with the Marsala page!

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup low fat milk
2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 4 halves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup sliced baby Bella or button mushrooms 
1/2 cup Marsala wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley 

Using a shallow bowl or plate combine the flour, basil, thyme and pepper. Stir to combine thoroughly. Soak the chicken breast halves in the milk 2-3 minutes, then quickly dredge each piece in the seasoned flour mixture, shaking to remove any excess flour. 
Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil cook the floured chicken breasts until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside. 
Add the remaining oil to the pan and add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are golden brown around the edges and have given off their liquid. Add the Marsala wine and bring to a low boil, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. 

When the wine has reduced by half, add the chicken broth and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly. Lower the heat to medium and return the chicken breasts to the pan. Keep cooking until they are cooked through and sauce has thickened, about 6-8 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Small Treat: Big Taste

There is nothing like chocolate to pull me out of the winter doldrums. Though calories count, there's one easy way to give in to temptation. Make small treats with big flavor by whipping up a batch of mini-cupcakes. German chocolate minis weigh in at 55 calories each. And they freeze well, so no excuses to overindulge in one sitting! 

For the frosting:
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
Dash salt
1/4 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut, lightly toasted
For the cake:
1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Dash of salt
1/4 cup cocoa (my fave is Hershey’s special dark chocolate)
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1/3 cup boiling water
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup Splenda sugar blend
3 eggs, room temp
For the frosting: Whisk yolks, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan.  Beat in the butter, and then gradually add cream and vanilla.  Cook over low heat to a simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon.  This will take about 15 minutes, and the mixture should be the consistency of a cooked pudding.  Stir in pecans and coconut. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.  
For the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine cocoa and instant coffee in a small bowl.  Add boiling water and mix until smooth.  Let cool to room temperature, then stir in the yogurt and vanilla.
Using a mixer, beat butter until smooth (about 30 seconds).  Gradually add the sugar and beat until light & fluffy (2-3 minutes).  Beat in eggs one at a time, combining well after each.  Scrape down the mixing bowl.
Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl.  With the mixer on low, add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and 1/3 of the cocoa mixture to the batter.  Repeat twice more, scraping as needed, until ingredients are just mixed - do not overbeat.
Drop enough batter into lined min-cupcake pans to fill each 2/3 full (approximately one well rounded tablespoon).  Bake 12-15 minutes until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 5-10 minutes on wire rack.  Turn out of pans and cool completely before frosting each mini-cupcake with approximately one tablespoon of the frosting. Makes 48 mini-cupcakes at about 55 calories each.

Friday, January 21, 2011

As Comforting as Comfort Food Gets!

Shoot, who doesn't love a perfect golden crusted grilled cheese sandwich? There's even a Baltimore based restaurant chain dedicated to the joys of every mom's fall back dinner special.

With a big flavor boost from homemade lightly herbed bread sliced thick, the classic grilled cheese sandwich is still the perfect partner for a bowl of homemade tomato soup. Both recipes below are easy and delish.

3 cups bread flour
1/4 cup non-fat dry milk powder
1 tablespoon finely grated cheddar
1 teaspoons fresh ground sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dried winter savory (or oregano)
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon very warm tap water
1 quarter ounce package quick rise dry yeast
1 teaspoon honey

Combine flour, milk powder, cheese, salt and herbs in food processor with a dough blade attachment. In a small bowl mix warm water honey and dry yeast. Allow yeast mix to sit 3-5 minutes.

Using 1 tablespoon oil, grease a large bowl, set aside.

Add yeast mix to flour in processor and pulse ingredients to moisten well. Add 1 tablespoon of oil. Continue to pulse mixture until it forms a soft dough, about five minutes. Place dough in greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover with a damp cloth; let rise in a warm draft free spot 55-60 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Punch down dough. Form into a loaf shape and place in a well greased 8.5 X 4 inch loaf pan. Let rise in a warm drafty free spot until loaf rises about 1 inch over the pan (about 30-45 minutes). Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. The crust should be a golden brown. Let cool before slicing.

CLASSIC GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH                                                           
4 slices bread
4 slices American cheese
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a small bowl, mix olive oil and melted butter. Place two slices of cheese on two bread slices, top with remaining bread slices. Lightly brush outside of each sandwich with oil-butter mixture. Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add sandwiches and cook 3-4 minutes on each side or until crust is golden and cheese is melted. Makes two sandwiches. Enjoy!