The Lighter Side

The Lighter Side

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.

Happy Social Distancing!!

When the Shelves Are Bare…We Bakers Turn Private Eye!

When the Shelves Are Bare…We Bakers Turn Private Eye!

 

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

2 eggs

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.

 

 

 

One Pretty Picnic

One Pretty Picnic

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!

 

Poached Chicken

In a Rich Tuna Sauce

serves 6 to 8

For chicken:

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.

When Life Gives You Lemons….. Make Lemon Curd!

When Life Gives You Lemons….. Make Lemon Curd!

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

makes 6

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

For berries

1 pint strawberries, stemmed and cut in half

For mascarpone cream

1 (8-ounce) container mascarpone cream

¼ cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

For biscuits

¾ cup buttermilk

1 egg

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 Glass Half Full

The Glass Half Full

As I look around me and watch the posts on social media during this COVID-19 crisis, I see many of us are stressed by the reality of social distancing and self-quarantining of families. Restaurants are closed and grocery store shelves are picked clean. You can’t give your grandma a hug, and it’s hard to plan any social event in the future. The situation is entirely unnerving.

S-T-R-E-S-S! Perhaps we can put this into perspective!

Being a Floridian for most of my life, I’ve weathered plenty of tropical storms and several  full-blown hurricanes. When we lost power, there was no electricity, no refrigeration, no lights, no television, no phone chargers and no air conditioning.

Before the storm hits, you fill up tubs and pots with water, because you will lose water after the storm. That means no flushing of toilets, no hot showers. Grocery store shelves are bare before the storm, and often shut down for days after the storm. Gas stations can’t pump gas because they have no electricity. Truck drivers can’t drive product to the stores, because they can’t get gas.  The longest stretch I’ve experienced during a storm’s aftermath is two and a half weeks. But many have experienced longer.

So, I look at this crisis with my glass half full vision. Yes, I’m quarantined, staying home for (at least) two weeks. But I have running water, an electric stove and fridge, air conditioning, gas in my car and open grocery stores that are constantly re-stocking their shelves. Not too bad. But I do admit, I miss comfortably being in a room with my pals and sharing a meal.

More than this, the unfamiliarity with this crisis adds a different kind of stress. To reduce it, I thought I might give you a couple of basic ideas for food you can cook at home.

Yes, I totally encourage all of us supporting our local restaurants and ordering meals for pick up or delivery. But, let’s balance this with cooking at home. You’re probably stuck in the house with kids that are driving you crazy by now. Our kids are used to being entertained, and they are looking to you to entertain them.

Instead, let’s work together to teach them the skill of cooking for themselves.

After all, they will all go off on their own one day, and this just may be a skill worth learning.

Let’s start with a chicken! One of the first items you might want to tackle is cooking chicken soup. Not only is it easy, but you have the benefit of having soup on hand, in case you or your family members come down with the virus.

Soup is nourishing, tastes great when you’re sick, and helps to keep you hydrated.

Another plus when cooking a chicken is, you can use leftover meat for other dishes. This soup recipe is just an idea of what’s possible…but really, you can USE ANY COMBO of veggies and spices!

Rinse and pat dry your chicken… any chicken. You can use a whole chicken, which is best, or chicken pieces, which are also good. Try to use chicken pieces with skin on and bone in. These pieces will end up moist, and the broth will collect the nutrients from these parts.

Place the chicken in a deep pot. Cover with water. Boom! That’s it!!!!

You can add stuff to the pot. Good add-ins are onion, carrot, celery, garlic, ginger, turmeric and herbs like parsley. Basically, investigate your vegetable drawer and grab hold of the least fresh things you can find. You don’t have to cut them, peel them or dice them. Just throw them in the pot!

Now you’re ready to bring the water to a boil over medium high heat, reducing the heat to medium-low, or just hot enough to simmer what will become the broth.

You can cover the pot with a lid and simmer away. If you uncover the pot, and the liquid has evaporated significantly, add more water.

I usually simmer the soup for 1 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the chicken, or if I’m using chicken pieces. The broth is ready when the chicken is cooked through.

Use a meat thermometer, inserted into the thickest part of the chicken to determine when it is cooked through. You can simmer for longer than this. There are no set rules!

Here’s the FUN part. Use a BIG colander to strain the broth into a large bowl. Transfer the HOT chicken to your cutting board and let it cool. You can discard your add-ins at this point!

To turn your broth into soup, I dice up onion, celery and carrot. Using that same soup pot, cook the diced veggies in some olive oil until they are soft. At this point you can add rice if you like.

Pour the strained broth back into the pot. This is the time to season the broth with salt and pepper.

Remove the skin and bones from the chicken. You can dice up some of the chicken and put it back into the soup.

Store the remaining chicken in a resealable plastic bag. I normally dice up the dark meat from the thighs, legs and wings for the soup, and reserve the breast meat for other dishes.

Simmer the soup and continue to season it as you wish. When the rice is cooked (you could substitute with noodles for chicken noodle soup), the soup is ready to eat or store. Store the soup in jars. Cool the soup to room temperature before you put it in the fridge or freezer.

Now, for my Bubba Gump moment…

Take that extra chicken and turn it into chicken and brie paninis, curried chicken and grape salad, chicken and mushroom quesadilla, chicken casserole, chicken Caesar salad, Buffalo chicken dip, barbecue chicken flatbread, chicken and veggie pot pies, chicken tacos, chicken wraps, pulled chicken sandwiches, chicken and black bean enchiladas, chicken and broccoli pasta, chicken lettuce wraps…… get the picture?

Until we get past this Cornavirus nightmare…

My next few posts will be dedicated to simple cooking of simple ingredients. If you have anything you want me to simplify, just let me know.

I wish you good health, and a swift passing of this crisis. But, more than this, I wish you joy in the moment. Finding the joy amid stressful times is hard… but, I know we can do it!

 

Traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage Made Right!

Traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage Made Right!

Several years ago, I attended a St. Patty’s Day party at a friend’s house. It was one of those annual parties that grew in guests every year, and by the time I got invited, there was quite a crowd!

The hostess served traditional corn beef and cabbage, which, if you’ve ever been served this dish, you know tends to be on the bland side of the taste spectrum.  Thin slices of corned beef are served with braised cabbage, boiled potatoes, and a couple of dollops of mustard. Not too terribly exciting.

But what I remember most about my friend’s preparation of the dish was the smell. In order to accommodate her growing number of guests, my ingenious friend opted to cook both the cabbage and the corned beef in her slow cooker. Well, her slow cooker and every slow cooker she could borrow!

You see, if you snuck a peek into her garage, you would find several (and by several, I mean dozens) of slow cookers with their electrical cords inserted into multiple plug strips and placed onto tables, ledges and even the floor!

Now you may know this about cabbage…

It can be a tad odiferous when it’s cooking. If you take into consideration my friend was slooooow cooking her corned beef WITH her cabbage in multiple machines….. well, you can guess what the neighborhood smelled like as you drove up to her house.

It was memorable; so memorable in fact, I created another whole dish for St. Patty’s Day that minimizes the aroma of cooking cabbage, and maximizes the flavors of the season.

For my dish, I slow cook cured (already brined) brisket with root vegetables. I puree the flavorful veggies, and then, in a separate pan, I sauté the cabbage with bacon and onion. A creamy mustard-horseradish sauce tops off the dish. Yes, it’s pretty darn tasty and yes, your neighbors will thank you for choosing a not-to-too aromatic Irish holiday meal.

P.S. If you’ve never experienced the Blarney Stone, I encourage you to read all about my hilarious visit there in Canvas and Cuisine (page 62)!

 Slow Cooker Corned Beef

with Root Veggie Puree and Sautéed Cabbage

Makes 6 to 8 servings

For the Corned Beef and Veggies

1 (4 pound) raw corned beef brisket

2 (12-ounce) bottles dark beer

2 dried bay leaves

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

6 small potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

2 medium rutabagas, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

4 small white onions, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

Place the corned beef into the slow cooker. Cover with beer. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns and mustard seeds. Cook on high for 7 to 8 hours. During the last 2 hours of cooking, add the veggies to the slow cooker. Cook until the veggies are fork-tender.

Transfer the cabbage to a platter and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the vegetables from the slow cooker to the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and pulse to puree. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

For the Cabbage

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ pound bacon, about 4 to 5 slices, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 large onion, peeled and sliced

1 medium head Savoy cabbage, cut into 2-inch slices

Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium high heat. Cook the bacon in the pan until browned and crisp, abut 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the bacon from the pan and place onto paper toweling to drain. Add the onion to the pan and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the cabbage to the pan and cook until just soft, about 8 to 10 minutes more. Transfer the cabbage to a bowl. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle on top of the cabbage. Keep warm.

For the Sauce

2 tablespoons horseradish

2 tablespoons sour cream

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

Whisk together the horseradish, sour cream and mustard. You can add a spoonful or two of the corn beef cooking liquid to thin and add flavor to the sauce.

Cut the corn beef, across the grain, into thin slices. Place a generous spoonful of puree onto a plate. Top with a spoonful of sautéed cabbage. Lay slices of corned beef on top. Dollop with a tablespoon of sauce.