If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it (or most truthfully read it) a hundred times over the last few days: “I’ve run out of ideas of things to cook”! Yes, we’re in the seventh (or is it eighth) week of staying at home, and most of our cooking repertoires have gone south. I get it. How many ways can you make chicken?
Well, if you are like me, it also might be time for a little lightening up of the old menu. I’m not sure when I made the switch from eating nothing white (bread, potatoes, rice) to how many ways can I make grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch? When did those Thanksgiving side dishes make it to my dinner table every night? Have I really come up with a dozen different varieties of breakfast sandwiches? Since when did 4 o’clock become wine and cheese time?
In order to scale (not that one – I have avoided that measurement) back, I’ve played around with a couple of yummy, but less heavy meals to make. I think you might enjoy a couple of these:
Mama’s Chef Salad. This is a perfect way to use up all the veggies and meats you have in the fridge.
Fill a HUGE salad bowl with lettuces, sliced carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions. Top these with ham and turkey, any cheese you like, and even a hard boiled egg or two. Now, here’s the great part…
Stick that bowl in your fridge and tomorrow, when you reach for the sandwich bread, luncheon meat and chips, reach instead for a BIG BOWL of salad.
You can use any dressing. Mine is a simple combo of 1 small shallot (about 2 tablespoons), 1 teaspoon of Dijon-style mustard, the juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons), ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar, any chopped fresh herb you have and ½ cup olive oil. Whisk together the first five ingredients and then slowly whisk in the olive oil. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Store the dressing in an airtight container, and it’s ready to pour on your salad when you’re ready to eat!
Eggplant Rollatini. You’ll love learning to roll this way during the quarantine!
Heat your oven to 375°. Cut the stem from the top of an eggplant. Cut ¼-inch slices from the top to the bottom (long slices not circles). Drizzle some olive oil into a sheet pan.
Lay the eggplant slices into the pan, and turn to coat the with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Bake the eggplant until the slices are pliable, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and cool to room temperature. Sauté some spinach leaves with chopped onion in a skillet until the spinach wilts down. For one eggplant you need about 4 to 5 handfuls of spinach, which is about half of a large bag. When the spinach has wilted, place it in a colander to drain the excess liquid.
Place an 8-ounce container of ricotta cheese in a bowl. Transfer the spinach mixture to a chopping board and use a knife to chop, chop, chop. Transfer the chopped spinach to the bowl. Add about ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper. Use a spoon to mix the filling together.
Place a ladle full or two of marinara sauce (the jar kind will do just fine) in the bottom of a baking dish. Slather the filling onto the eggplant slices and then roll them up! Place the rolled eggplant into the dish. Cover the rollatini with more marinara sauce and more cheese. Bake at 375° until the cheese melts, and the rollatini are warmed through, about 20 minutes.
Artichokes in a White Wine Sauce. Email me if you need more instructions on this one. It can get a little thorny!
Trim 2 whole artichokes by cutting off the top third, peeling the stem and snipping the thorny part from the leaves.
Place the artichokes into a pan with water and bring to a boil. You needn’t cover the chokes with water, just about halfway up will do fine. Add 1 lemon, sliced in half. Cover the pan with a lid and boil the artichokes for 20 minutes.
Remove the lid and make sure you still have plenty of boiling water in the pan. Continue cooking until a fork is easily inserted into the bottom of the artichoke, about 20 minutes more depending on the size of your artichoke.
Remove the artichokes from the water and cool slightly. Cut each one in half from top to stem. Remove the thorny choke from the center of the artichoke. Cut the halves in half again.
Place 4 tablespoons butter into a skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 shallot, finely diced. When the butter is melted pour in ½ cup white wine. When the wine reduces by half, pour in ½ cup chicken stock.
Add in the juice of 1 lemon and season with salt and pepper. Place the artichokes in the pan and bathe them in the sauce.
After the Lysol, tp and hand sanitizers evaporated, certain food staples started to get sparse. I can understand milk and eggs vanishing, but I was somewhat surprised when bags of flour disappeared.
Then, the lightbulb went off. Flour makes bread. Baking bread is all about saving your sanity.
There is something about mixing, kneading, shaping and baking that says, “you’re home, you’re safe, life goes on.”
People who don’t even eat bread, are baking bread. So, bye, bye all-purpose flour! Just as I was thinking about converting to almond or coconut flour for my baking needs, an email from Carolina Ground popped into my mailbox, letting me know they are open and ready to ship!
Carolina Ground, in the Asheville, NC area is a mill that links the farmer, miller and baker. They use a cold stone milling method to grind locally grown grains into several varieties of flour. I ordered (you can too!). The flour shipped, and cookies were my first task.
And then…. as I was deep diving into my pantry, I found half a bag of King Arthur black cocoa. In the new normal and with so much time on my hands, I decided to experiment with my good-old chocolate chip cookie recipe, and modify it into a mucho decadent chocolatey, chocolate chip cookie. Boy did I knock it outta the (virtual) park.
Here’s the magic ingredient that makes ‘em so good: black cocoa and brewed coffee! Together, they bring out the dark chocolatiness of these cookies.
I used Carolina Ground’s Trinity Blend, which is a combination of hard wheat, soft wheat and wrens Abruzzi rye for the flour component. Yes, there’s a hint of orange in these cookies. Which also brings the chocolate flavor forward. It’s a mish-mosh of ingredients that just works!
You can substitute regular cocoa for dark cocoa powder if you like, but again, when you have the time on your hands to fill with baking, why not splurge a little and support our local farmers (and treat yourself) by purchasing from Carolina Ground?
BUT HERE’S THE MOST IMPORTANT “BITE” OF INFORMATION
Take half of the cookies and share them with someone that might not have the time to bake; someone spending their time protecting you and me!
Ridiculously Chocolatey Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 3 dozen
30 minute cuisine
2 cups flour (un-bleached all-purpose is fine)
½ cup black cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried orange zest
2 cups shortening (don’t judge!)
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup brewed coffee
1 teaspoon orange flavoring
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 (12-ounce package) dark chocolate morsels, about 2 cups
Preheat the oven to 375°. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and orange zest in a bowl. Use an electric mixer to combine the shortening with the sugars until fluffy. Mix in the eggs, coffee and orange flavoring. Mix in the flour in three additions. Mix in the oats and then the chocolate chips.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a medium (about 2-inch) ice cream scoop to measure batter onto the sheet. Use your immaculately clean fingers to flatten the cookie dough balls into disks. Bake until the top of the cookies spring back when touched, about 12 to 14 minutes.
As spring slowly begins to surround our stay-at home lives, we find ourselves searching for something different to do. A little change of pace. A supper to look forward to.
I have a plan based on my new favorite corner pub, the end of my driveway! Driveway drinks is my new normal during cocktail hour… but that’s another (socially distancing story).
For now, I’m thinking about setting up the ultimate picnic, and have the perfect recipes in mind.
What makes this supper special is that you can prepare it in advance (like even the day before). It tastes better served at room temperature than it does right out of the fridge. And, you can leisurely enjoy the meal. There’s no rush. If you are a grazer like me, eating this supper will take up some valuable time during these very long days.
For my supper, I’ll include three dishes
The first is a caprese salad. This dish is simply arranged by layering slices of tomato, mozzarella cheese and basil. Drizzle the dish with a splash of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. But, here’s the secret. Make this salad several hours before serving and DO NOT REFRIGERATE it. The salt and olive oil will bring out the flavor of the tomatoes.
The second dish is a riff on Niçoise salad, but in place of tuna, I substitute salmon that has been simply roasted with a rub of brown sugar, chili powder, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I include olives, hard boiled eggs, simply sautéed green beans, roasted baby potatoes and a white balsamic vinaigrette.
The third dish is one of my very favorites! Based on the Italian dish, Vitello Tonnato, cold poached veal with a tuna and caper sauce, I substitute chicken for the veal. The chicken is poached in wine and broth.
The liquid is flavored with onion, lemon and celery, but you can add whatever you like. Parsley, fennel and radishes are excellent additions. The trick is that the chicken is moist and retains that moisture by covering it with the very flavorful sauce. Again, although you refrigerate the dish to marry the flavors, the chicken is best eaten at room temperature.
So, set up your picnic table, lay out your platters, pour a glass of something FUN and leisurely enjoy the first picnic supper of the season.
Let’s look forward to many more to come….. together!
In a Rich Tuna Sauce
serves 6 to 8
2 large (or 4 medium) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups chicken broth
1 small white onion, peeled and cut into quarters
1 small lemon, sliced
2 to 3 stalks celery
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
For tuna sauce:
1 (7-ounce) can tuna packed in oil
4 to 5 anchovies
2 tablespoons capers, drained
Zest of 1 lemon, about 1 tablespoon
Juice of 1 lemon, about 2 tablespoons
1 cup mayonnaise
Place the chicken breasts into a pot. Pour in the wine and chicken broth. Add the onion, sliced lemon and celery. Add the salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a simmer (some steady bubbles but not a mad bubbling volcano). Cook the chicken in the poaching liquid until it is just cooked through, about 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the breast. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. About 165° is perfect. Remove the pot from the heat and keep the chicken in the poaching liquid,
Place the tuna, anchovies, capers, lemon zest and lemon juice into the bowl of a processor. Pulse to combine. Transfer the tuna mixture to a bowl. Fold in the mayonnaise. Remove one breast from the poaching liquid and place onto your cutting board. Cut the breast (across the grain) into ½-inch medallions. Fan these out onto your serving platter. Continue with the remaining chicken. Smooth the tuna sauce over the chicken. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour (or up to several hours) so that the sauce seeps into the chicken.
To serve, remove the platter from the fridge and bring to room temperature. Garnish with slices of lemon, capers and fresh parsley.
If there is a Facebook Quiz that analyzes your personality traits and tells you what color you are, I would be YELLOW. It’s my favorite color. I love all things yellow; yellow blouses, yellow tulips, yellow dishes, yellow gift wrap, yellow lemons…… yellow everything! Yellow is so not brown. Yellow is not red hot. Yellow is not calmingly green. Yellow is not a sad shade of blue. Yellow is perky and optimistic and bright and personable and…. well… me!
So, while others were hording toilet tissue, I was hording sunflowers (for my kitchen vase), eggs (sunny side up of course), semolina flour (that’s for my brand new pizza oven) and lemons. Lots and lots of lemons. Sure, lemons are sour, which is why God gave us sugar!
The combination of egg yolks with the zest and juice of lemons, produces a custard with a consistency between pudding and jam. You can spread lemon curd on your English muffin, swirl it in the center of a pound cake, whip it into a mousse, transform it into ice cream or make lemon curd parfaits for a light, airy and bright spring dessert.
And that’s what I did here. Enjoy!
Lemon Curd Parfaits
with Strawberries and Mascarpone Cream
30 minute cuisine, plus 20 minutes for biscuits
For lemon curd
3 large lemons, about 2 tablespoons zest and ½ cup juice
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
¼ pound butter, room temperature, 1 stick
5 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 pint strawberries, stemmed and cut in half
For mascarpone cream
1 (8-ounce) container mascarpone cream
¼ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup buttermilk
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup shortening
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Zest the lemons and place into a bowl with the sugar. Use a fork to combine. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the lemon-sugar, which you will need later when you assemble the parfaits. Pour the remaining lemon-sugar blend into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the butter and mix until creamy. Add the egg yolks, the juice from the lemons and the salt.
Heat water to a simmer in a pan (some bubbling, but not a mad boil). Place a heat proof bowl over the simmering water. You can use a double boiler for this. Pour the mixture into the bowl. Stir and simmer until the curd thickens, about 10 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer, you can make sure your curd is plenty thick when it reaches 170°. Cool the curd and then transfer it to a jar or plastic container. You can refrigerate the curd for up to 2 weeks.
Place the strawberries into a bowl. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the reserved lemon-sugar. Stir and set aside. You can chill the berries for up to several days.
Place the mascarpone cheese, sour cream and vanilla into a small bowl. Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture together until smooth and creamy.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the buttermilk and egg in a small bowl. Place the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and ½ cup sugar into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse once or twice to mix together. Take off the lid of the machine. Pinch the shortening into small pieces on top of the flour mixture. Return the top to the machine. Pulse until the flour turns into coarse crumbs and begins to climb up the side of the bowl. With the machine running, slowly pour in the buttermilk/eggs. The dough will clump together and begin to wrap around the blade.
Dump the dough onto your floured work surface. It will be soft and sticky! Dust the top of the dough with additional flour. Use your hands to pat the dough down to about ½-inch thickness. Use a 3-inch round biscuit cutter (or top of a glass) to cut 12 circles from the dough, reusing the scraps. Place the dough circles onto the baking sheet. Bake until the biscuits begin to rise and turn golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Melt 3 tablespoons butter. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the reserved lemon-sugar into the melted butter. Remove the biscuits from the oven and brush with the sugared butter. Cool to room temperature.
To assemble the parfaits, cut one biscuit in half. Break a biscuit half into pieces and place into the bottom of a glass (or container of your choice). Spoon some of the strawberries over the biscuit. Add a spoonful of mascarpone cream and a large spoonful of lemon curd. Repeat with the other half of the biscuit, strawberries, cream and curd. You can drizzle some of the sugared berry juice on the top. Place the remaining 6 biscuits into a resealable plastic bag. You can keep these in the fridge or freezer.
The egg is a perfect food, full of protein and loaded with nutrients. It contains zero sugars, no carbs, and they’re cheap! You can build an entire meal plan around an egg, a super food offering 6 to 8 grams of protein at only 70 calories per yummy oval.
To make perfect scrambled eggs…
Break two eggs into a bowl. Use a fork to break the yolks and stir together with the whites. Beaten eggs will be pale yellow (You don’t want to see any of the yolk or whites). Now, melt a tablespoon of butter in a skillet over low heat. When the butter is melted and foamy, pour in the eggs.
Use a wooden spoon or spatula to gently stir the eggs, creating small curds. This will take a while, about 3 to 5 minutes. You want soft, silky eggs. While you are stirring, you can season with salt and pepper.
If you like your scrambled eggs cooked more well done… just cook them longer! Now that you have perfect scrambled eggs, what can we do with them?
Well, I happen to enjoy creamy French style eggs, garnished with chopped tomatoes and chives. This oldie but goodie recipe was adapted from two recipes in my lifestyle cookbook Gorgeous: The Sum of All Your Glorious Parts.
It’s an incredibly versatile dish. If you don’t have chives, no worries! Use chopped bacon or any veggies you have on hand for a scrumptious veggie scramble. I love to wake up in the morning and say “Bonjour” to this style of eggs because I love the toast part, and creaminess the sour cream and butter lend the taste.
Bon appetite my friends! And don’t forget that in these chaotic times, eggs can be hard boiled, fried, beaten and added as luscious curds in soup, made into soufflés, or added to a malted egg cream dessert. Just save a few for Easter, when we’ll likely still be hunkered down.
Life can still be EGGScellent!
Creamy French-Style Eggs
Garnished with Chopped Tomatoes and Chives
20 minute cuisine
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon sour cream
2 slices Your choice) bread, toasted
1 medium plum tomato, seeded and diced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat them with a fork. You want a pale, frothy mixture. Stir in the cream. Season them with some of the salt and pepper.
Melt the butter in a pan over medium-low heat until melted and frothy. Pour the eggs into the pan and stir. I like a wooden spoon for this. Continue stirring until soft curds form. Transfer the eggs to the toast slices. Garnish with chopped tomato and chives.
For another topper, consider topping these eggs with a bit of caviar, or perhaps some capers. Instead of tomatoes, try peppered strawberries for garnish. Cut the stem from the strawberry and cut it in half. Dip the cut side into course pepper. It’s yummy!