Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Simple Blueberry Banana Baked Oatmeal


I love breakfast. I love hash browns and scrambled eggs and bacon. I love French toast and pancakes. And I love oatmeal. It didn’t start out that way. As a child I remember eating Oscar Meyer liver sausage on toast with little dried minced onions on top. Yuck. I know. Really yuck. I remember Fruit Loops and Rice Krinkles, Apple Cinnamon Cereal and Captain Crunch. And I remember my father making pancakes or fried eggs on Sunday morning. (He let my mother sleep in because this was always on a Sunday morning before Sunday school.)

 My father was a cook in the army, we were often reminded. I remember him telling us about the SOS dinner. He called it shit on a shingle. I am quoting here. It was, I believe dried shaved corn beef in white gravy over toast. Luckily I never had to partake in that. But now that I’m thinking of it we did eat a lot of those Buddig shaved meats that come in plastic packages. I think I might have had those on toast, too.

 But back to oatmeal. I was not a fan of it growing up. I remember my brother eating oatmeal. It never looked good to me. It was soupy and lumpy and tan. Then he sprinkled poured sugar over the top, salted it, put on lots of butter, no it wasn’t butter because I don’t remember butter in my house, only margarine, or that stuff that was in a tub, (which was probably margarine, too) and then he poured milk over it. No fruit or nuts. Just soupy, lumpy oatmeal topped with sugar and salt and that yucky margarine that always for some weird reason had a coconut taste to me. But then again, he probably didn’t like liver sausage.



Well, it took me a long time to make oatmeal. I think I was on a diet when I first tried it. And guess what?  I discovered I liked it. Maybe it was because granola was popular and I was getting use to eating toasted oats that I then decided I could cook them. Whatever. I am now very happy to eat oatmeal.

Recently I spotted a recipe for baked oatmeal. I thought it sounded good but more complicated than I wanted to do first thing in the morning. So I simplified it. My husband eats oatmeal every day and I don’t like his version. It is thick and gloppy and tasteless. And when he is kind and makes it for me, I try to be polite, but I know when my daughter says to me, “Dad made you oatmeal” and she hasn’t put her spoon in it first, well, you get the picture, don’t you?

Maybe next time when he wakes up before me he’ll pop some of this into the oven. Because that is what it is good for. Get your dish out. Mix it up in a bowl. Put it in your greased dish to bake while you shower. Get dressed. Walk back to the kitchen where you are greeted with this sensuous smell of bananas and cinnamon. Whether you made it or he made it won’t matter. You will just be glad that you have a great way to start your day!


Banana Blueberry Baked Oatmeal    (Serves 2-3)
1 c toasted nuts chopped (Mix and match your favorites)
½ c oats
¾ c applesauce (I used cinnamon)
2 T maple Syrup, agave, honey, brown sugar, or your favorite sweetner
2 t vanilla
1/8 t salt
½ t cinnamon if you like
1 ¼ c milk (your favorite be it real, almond, soy, coconut, etc)
1 c fruit (dried, frozen or fresh-I used ½ c frozen blueberries and 1 banana)

Mix up in a bowl. Pour in greased dish. Bake for about 45 minutes at 350. Pour more milk over top if you want. Eat and enjoy. I saw it mentioned that some folks like this cold. I prefer it warm!

So, This is How I Cook. This month we went from Brazil to China to Italy and the Middle East. And of course the good old USA. I'm tired!


Other Things To Try:






Monday, February 25, 2013

Cantonese Steamed Chicken with Black Mushrooms, Green Onion and Sausage (Good for at least 30 years)



Cantonese Steamed Chicken
It seems kind of funny that I’ve had a Chinese steamer travelling with me over the last 33 years. I can even remember where I bought it. My steamer was found on a sidewalk sales table at a kitchen store in the Foothills Mall in Fort Collins, Colorado. It must have been cheap and I must have thought that this was a great find or I never would have bought it. I don’t even think I knew what pot stickers were and dim sum – well, I’d never heard of such a thing way back then. The only thing I can figure is that I had this cookbook that has long since fallen apart that contained a variety of recipes and one of them required a Chinese steamer.

And so it goes without saying that I’ve been making this recipe a long time. It is amazing that this simple little recipe packs so much flavor. Not only that, but it is easy and quick, though it does require a Chinese steamer. Now that I have a steamer I’ve used it to steam dim sum and it is great for reheating potstickers and then using it as a serving dish. You can put it in the microwave but there is one tiny metal piece that can get very hot-so watch it!

Getting ready to steam!



Steaming


Cooked!
Today is Monday and I’m not very good at planning ahead since I never seem to know what to plan ahead for. But I always have chicken in my freezer and generally, I keep a stash of dried mushrooms around except that I just ran out. Green onion? Check. Those are a staple for me. And Chinese sausage, well, I never have that. So I use turkey pepperoni. OK! I know it sounds weird but it works. And if you don’t want to use it leave it out. I keep pepperoni around to hide my dogs little pills in and it wasn’t until this last time that I decided to try subbing the pepperoni for the Chinese sausage. For years I made it without. I think it gives the chicken a bit of extra spice that is good. Very good.

No need to feel daring. This is a good dish. It’s a keeper. After all I’ve been making it for about 33 years.



Cantonese Steamed Chicken with Black Mushrooms, Green Onions and Sausage (attributed to an Eddie Mui in Doraville, Georgia)

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
5 dried Shitake mushrooms soaked and thinly sliced
1 Chinese dried sausage or about 12 slices turkey pepperoni
4 scallions, sliced on the diagonal in 2 inch pieces
1 2 ½ inch thick piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1  ½ T cornstarch
½ T sugar
½ T soy sauce
1 T oyster sauce
½ t sesame oil
Good Pinch of white pepper
1 T dry sherry
1 T peanut oil

Remove any fat and gristle from chicken. Slice on diagonal into I inch pieces. (A trick I know is to freeze the chicken for bout 15 minutes and then slice it. Your job will be easier.) Set aside.

Combine mushrooms, sausage, scallions, and ginger.

Combine cornstarch and ½ T cold water, stirring well to dissolve cornstarch. Stir in remaining ingredients except peanut oil. Toss chicken with liquid ingredients and then add peanut oil. Toss well. Toss in the veggie and sausage mixture and 3 T cold water.

Spread mixture on a china plate (I use a regular dinner plate) that fits in your wok. Put water in wok and set steamer inside. Bring to a boil. Place plate on rack and cover. Steam for 12 minutes or until just done.

Serve with white rice. This recipe will be good for at least another 30 years!


Friday, February 22, 2013

Not My Mama's Cherry Pie and Toasted Coconut Cookies




Not My Mama's Cherry Pie



               “If life is a bowl of cherries, then what am I doing in the pits?”
                                                           Erma Bombeck

Today is George Washington’s Birthday. A long, long time ago when I walked miles to school we celebrated George’s birthday on his real birthday. I don’t think President’s Day was invented yet. And when I walked those miles home all by myself, or with my brother, and no one worried about stranger danger, we were greeted with cherry pie. In honor of George, of course. Because he chopped down that cherry tree; because he could not tell a lie. Which is just a myth, don’t you know?

In any case, thanks to George, my mother would buy a frozen pie and sprinkle the top with sugar before she put it in the oven and we had cherry pie for dessert. I don’t remember having many desserts, at least at the kitchen table, so this was very special. It was delicious; even if it was frozen. I think it is still my father’s favorite pie. So today when I give thanks to the founding father of our country, I also give thanks for cherry pie.

Yes, I make these. I couldn't help my self promotion.

Years ago when we bought our home there was a cherry tree in the back yard. It has long since passed to wherever cherry trees go when they can no longer show us their delicate pink blossoms. I though it was a good sign we had a cherry tree and I wish we would plant a new one. For many years we were blessed with cherries which meant pies and a really good cherry cobbler. Since its demise I have had to find fresh, sour, pitted cherries at the farmers market to bring home and freeze. The last few months have found me subscribing to frugality which means my freezer is quickly being cleaned out. It was during this discovery process I found enough cherries to bake one more pie. Thank you George!

(And as a side note I will tell you that our Skye Terrier is named George. The breeder we bought  from gave him his name. She also told me she named his sister Martha!)

But back to the pie. When I discovered the cherries, I also discovered that I was out of butter which meant I couldn’t make a pie crust. So necessity being the mother of invention (was that Ben Franklin?) I decided to do a Momofuku. Go look up his cookbook. David Chang. I love his stuff. He is the one that makes awesome Japanese food and has a bakery where he makes cookies and then crumbles them all up to make crack pie. It’s good. I made it once. So, you guessed it. My freezer had cookies, too. These were not my faves which is probably how they ended up in the freezer. Not that they weren’t good cookies but I tend to like soft, chewy cookies and these are chewy, but crisp. Luckily, I had a refrigerator pie crust leftover from God knows when, and I decided to use that as my bottom crust and crush up my leftover cookies for a really good crumbly top crust. A bit of a streusel, you say.

Now lest you think you must go to the trouble and make the cookies for the crust I say, fear not. Use whatever crust you want for this pie. The refrigerated Pillsbury ones that come rolled up in the refrigerator aisle will suffice. And I say that crust is good, but in this case it is the filling that counts! Those cute little tart cherries with a hint of cinnamon are killer. But if you do decide to bake the cookies they will be an added bonus because then you can eat cookies AND pie. Yes, the cookie recipe makes enough for you to have leftovers. I mean leftover cookies, it doesn’t get much better than that. So once again-thank you George!

A few notes on cherries: You may be able to find frozen sour cherries in the freezer case, in which case use them. You can also buy sour cherries in a can. I, repeat after me, do not like cherry pie filling. Make your own. It is SIMPLE!

A note on crust: Use your favorite. Make a graham cracker crust. It’s the cherries that count. But I do love a good crust so we will revisit crust at a later date!




Not My Mama’s Cherry Pie
Decide on your favorite bottom crust. Make it.

4 c pitted sour cherries drained but save ½ c cherry juice
1 c sugar
1 T flour
2 ½ T cornstarch
¾ t cinnamon (If you like)
2 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Put sour cherries and juice in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle in the sugar, flour, cornstarch and cinnamon. Toss well and place in your choice of bottom crust. Dot with the 2 T butter.

Top with streusel and bake for about 45 minutes. If top starts to get too brown (like mine did) cover with foil. You can later sprinkle with powdered sugar to hide that unsightly too brown streusel!

For the streusel:

Toasted Coconut Cookies – (Gourmet Today) Makes about 6 dozen (Don’t worry. Your pie will not taste like coconut.)

1 ½ c sweetened, flaked, toasted coconut
1 ¼ c all purpose flour
1 t baking soda
½ t salt
1 ¼ c unsalted butter, softened
½ c packed brown sugar
¼ c sugar
1 large egg
1 t vanilla
1 c white chocolate chips (my addition to recipe)

Place rack in middle of oven and preheat to 375 degrees.
Spread coconut evenly on baking sheet and lightly toast in oven, stirring once, until pale golden, about 7 minutes. Cool.

Stir together flour, baking soda and salt in mixing cup.
Beat butter and sugars in a large bowl with electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture and coconut and chips (if using) until well combined.

Place level teaspoons of dough about 1 ½ inches apart on parchment paper line cookie sheet. Bake in batches until golden, about 8-10 minutes. Cool on sheet for one minute.

Freeze 15 cookies to use for streusel.

Streusel Topping
Put your leftover 15 frozen cookies in a plastic bag and pound them until crumbly.
½ stick unsalted butter
½ c unbleached flour
½ t cinnamon
¾ c brown sugar

Using a pastry blender cut butter into cookie crumbs and flour. Stir in cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle streusel over unbaked pie.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar if crust turns too gold!


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Porcini Mushroom Lasagna or Treasure in My Mother's Pantry



I did not grow up liking mushrooms. They seemed like slimy little creatures and they were brown. They came in cans and one had to always pick them off of pizza or out of spaghetti sauce. I DO NOT LIKE THEM said SAM, I AM. Until I had a gorgeous hunk of a boyfriend. He was very tall and blonde and even my parents liked him. He played basketball and had great biceps and drove a forest green beetle when he came to see me. HE liked mushrooms AND they weren’t out of a can. He cooked me dinner one night. I remember a steak. And I remember butter and mushrooms and him in his tight little ribbed white t shirt sautéing them at the stove. I couldn’t not eat them. And so I did. And from then on I had mushroom fever.

I didn’t know mushrooms came fresh and from then on I think my mother started to serve them many ways. She sliced them and put them in salads. She grilled them. She sautéed  and stuffed them. But every now and then those canned mushrooms still made an appearance. As they still do, especially in my mother’s pantry. It was while visiting this last holiday that I decided I couldn’t take it any more. It was getting tougher and tougher to find the See’s candy and the Heath bars and all the varieties of mixed nuts and specialty popcorns and caramel corns that have been bestowed upon my father as gifts over the years. Yet somehow my mother managed to hide this treasure in her vast closet called a pantry.

It was after she sent us on an errand to find crackers on Christmas Day that I decided I should lend a hand. They were needed for an hors doeurve that I can’t recall. And so it is I found myself at Walgreen’s on Christmas Day buying crackers. Only to return and find at least 6 unopened boxes of crackers that may or may not have had expired dates from before I was  born. (OK – I’m exxagerating on the dates, but not the number of boxes.) Now mind you these were the unopened boxes; the others have now died and gone to cracker heaven. And soon I caught myself rearranging. I couldn’t help myself.

I put dried soups and canned soups on the same shelf. I lost track of how many of those there were. But let it suffice to say that if there is an apocalypse, as long as there is water, there is enough dried soup to see my parents clear through to kingdom come. It is good to know they are prepared. I then got to the crackers and shortly thereafter I hit pasta. My rearranging was causing me to think that there weren’t enough shelves in this pantry. I didn’t want to be impolite and throw a lot away but I’m thinking I should have.

I then entered the canned arena where I found tomato sauce and tomato paste and crushed tomatoes and whole tomatoes and diced tomatoes. And sundried tomatoes both in the package and the jar. And then I hit the beans, well I won’t bore you further. But it was at that point I discovered the mushrooms. Lots and lots of little cans of tinned mushrooms. Costco is very happy to have my mother as a card holder, I assure you.

It was at this point while zeroing in on the shelves I hadn’t yet gotten too that I discovered the real thing. The giant, at least 454g, of dried Italian porcini mushrooms. They looked lost sitting next to the flour and the sugar and THE CANDY. So I helped them out. Out of the pantry that is. They deserved a spot of beauty for they were uncared for and forgotten. They were starting to crumble and turn to dust. They needed a home where they were appreciated. It was at that point I asked my mother where she got these dried, forgotten, specimens of mushrooms. To which she said with forlorn eyes, “ When we were last in Italy.” And when was that dearest mother?  “I can’t remember, she replied, but it was a long time ago.” Well, one thing led to another and I was able to come home with a zip locked bag of dried porcini mushrooms from Italia.

To which I say to all of you. Just because they are dried does not mean they last forever. Porcini dust is not what you want to pay for. You want big, beautiful slices of gorgeous porcinis to fill your bag. And you get what you pay for. Heavenly, intoxicating aromas will greet you like an old friend if you buy them correctly. And they are expensive so you must treat them with dignity and love. Use them, don’t wait. And if you have friends going to Italy plead with them in that special Italian way to bring some back for you. And then reward them with this lasagna. They will be happy and so will you!

And as a footnote. I never got to discover the rest of my mother’s pantry. I have no doubt that by now it has returned to its natural state. Which leaves me starting on the shelves I didn’t get too whenever I return. I’m dreading all the little dried up bags of brown sugar that are yet to come. And luckily, the spices are not kept in the pantry…

A very decadent dish!


Porcini Mushroom Lasagna (Serves 8-10 or 6 hungry people)

1 box of no boil lasagna noodles
1 stick unsalted butter
6 T all purpose flour
3 c milk heated with 1 bay leaf (I do this in a 4c measuring cup in the micro. Heat for about two minutes or until it feels hot to the touch but hasn’t yet boiled.)
Freshly ground nutmeg
Salt and fresh round pepper
2 c dried porcini mushrooms
1 c chicken broth
1 lb baby bella mushrooms sliced
6 shallots, peeled and diced
2T extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic minced
1 c white wine
1 c gruyere shredded
1 c fontina shredded
1 ball of smoked mozzarella shredded
2 T of truffle oil (That’s another story, but try to use the good stuff or leave it out.)
¼ c flat leaf Italian parsley minced
2 t fresh thyme

1 c grated parmesan cheese (only for the top)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a 13 x 9 pan.

Soak your dried porcinis in 2 cups of hot chicken stock. (I use Better than Bouillion and it comes in a jar.) After they have softened chop them up and drain them well.

Bechamel Sauce
In a medium, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk that has been heated with the bay leaf but remember to remove the bay leaf. Whisk until smooth. Simmer very slowly for about 10 minutes or until  bit thickened. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. (You need to trust that fresh nutmeg gives it a little extra pizzaz. I didn’t used to like it but I think it was because most people insist on using the ground variety.) Reserve 1 ½ c sauce .

Mushrooms
In a large sauté pan heat 2 T olive oil over medium heat and sauté the garlic and shallots until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the fresh mushrooms and cook until done. Add the parsley and thyme and use the wine to deglaze your pan. You can do this again if you want to use up your porcini/stock liquid too. More flavor there if you like. Season with salt and pepper.

Now stir these mushrooms and the porcinis into the larger portion of your béchamel. Also stir in ¼ c of the fontina, gruyere and mozzarella. Add the truffle oil if you are using it.

Assembly
Run each sheet of no boil lasagna under hot water. It doesn’t say to do this but I think they cook better. Make sure they are dry.

Pour 1 c of béchamel on the bottom of the pan. Now a layer of pasta. Now some of the mushrooms/béchamel sauce. Add a little of the cheeses. Now more pasta, more sauce, more cheese. Do this until you’ re out of mushrooms. I got three layers. Finish with a layer of pasta and cover with the remaining béchamel. Sprinkle with parmesan. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

DO NOT EVEN THINK OF USING CANNED MUSHROOMS!

Mangia!





Monday, February 18, 2013

Brazilian Coconut Lime Shrimp Stew


By the time Sunday night rolls around I am not in a great frame of mind to cook. I’ve laid around with any luck over the weekend, and sometimes it is hard to get inspired. Going out is not an option for us right now as our budget is very tight. I’m not a fast food person and even if I caved and let my husband go to Chipotle I’d have a hard time justifying the $8 or so that he would spend on a burrito. I’m hoping this changes very soon because I am more than ready for a break; cooking and otherwise.

In the meantime I guess it is good that I can cook. I get bored easily when cooking so when someone asks me what my specialty is I have a hard time answering. Truthfully, it is whatever I’m cooking that day. I love to read about food, and when times are good I love to dine out. Somewhere in my odd mind I tuck these food thoughts away and at other random moments they reappear. I tend to want certain foods based on when I had them during my travels. Several conferences in Baltimore and New Orleans during the spring months in the pre kid era, now causes me now to want crab cakes and Cajun food in the spring. And of course last year I was in Jerusalem so now I add Middle Eastern food to the mix. When I was pregnant I had strong cravings for McDonald's cheeseburgers but that ended about 22 years ago, thank goodness; though I still crave sesame shrimp and much to my chagrin that restaurant closed a long time ago. I still love dim sum during Chinese New Year and my need for potstickers never disappears. April and this year in March, has me thinking matzoh and so I need Passover recipes. Summer is entirely filled with corn and so it goes. I’m sure if you follow this blog long enough you could spot a trend.


But what does this have to do with Sunday night? Not much really. But I found a good recipe that has me escaping to Brazil at least in my mind. (Denver does have a good Brazilian restaurant that is fun to try if you ever need something to do.) Maybe it is a little like I imagine Brazil to be-peppery, rich, but not to rich, and colorful. This was a quick recipe which is good on a Sunday night and it even gave us leftovers for the week. It is perfect dinner party fodder as you can get it ready and add the shrimp 5 minutes before you are ready to serve. I made a coconut lime rice that was perfect and with the addition of a salad you definitely have a meal that everyone would be happy with. It is a pretty dish but the light at night doesn’t show it off. Well, hopefully you get the idea!

The strange thing is that this dish has me singing this song-“You put the lime in the coconut and mix’em both up. You put the lime in the coconut and drink ‘em both together. You put the lime in the coconut-then you’ll feel better.” The strange thing is-I think it might be working! See for yourself.

Brazilian Coconut Lime Shrimp Stew – Serves 4

2T olive oil
1 c chopped onion
1 c chopped red pepper
1 seeded jalapeno sliced thin
3 cloves chopped garlic
½ t red chili flakes
1 15oz can chopped tomatoes
¾ c canned unsweetened coconut milk
Juice of ½ a lime
¼ c chopped cilantro
¼ c chopped green onions
¼ t fresh ground black pepper
1 lb raw medium peeled, deveined shrimp

Heat 2T oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, peppers and chili flakes. Saute 5 minutes. Mix in tomatoes, coconut milk and lime juice, cilantro and green onions. Simmer a few minutes. You can turn this off if you are not ready to serve yet. When you are, rewarm over low heat and then add shrimp. Season with black pepper and salt if needed. Let shrimp cook for about 5 minutes or until they are opaque and have turned color.

I served this over coconut rice.

Coconut Rice
1 c rice
1 clove garlic
1T oil
Juice of ½ a lime with a bit of zest
¾ c water
1 c coconut milk
½ t salt

Saute garlic in oil and add rice to toast a bit. Then add lime juice, coconut milk, water and salt. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Turn down to low and cover with lid. Let cook for about 15-20 minutes or until when you lift lid water has evaporated and there are dimples in your rice. Stir in a bit of lime zest and fluff rice with a fork.  Enjoy!










Friday, February 15, 2013

Chicken Vesuvio, A Wedding, and a Great Shabbat Dinner

Chicken Vesuvio

 It only took me 33 years to discover Chicken Vesuvio. Pretty pathetic, I know. After all I grew up off of I57, spent numerous years trailing my parents to various restaurants in Chicago and yet had never had Chicken Vesuvio. I think they were holding out on me. It took going back for a wedding 21 years ago to bring it to my attention. And it has held it ever since.
Chicken Vesuvio is a Chicago dish filled with lots of garlic, oregano and wine. And, of course, chicken. And I didn’t mention the potatoes; my first favorite food among many. Golden brown crispy potatoes covered with garlic and oregano and wine. The smell alone could kill you. And it is a smell and a taste that stays with you. After all, I’ve been making it ever since.

It’s a story that began with an invitation to my Uncle’s daughter’s wedding which must have been about 22 years ago because my kids were a year old. We had just moved into a home about 30 minutes away from our first place that was caving in under the addition of two more. The only babysitters I knew were teenagers who lived near our old place. And then the wedding invitation came and my mother said you have to be there. Now, it is not that I didn’t want to be. I mean the thought of escaping from 2 roving, almost one year olds was appealing. And unpacking boxes in a new house – well, those could wait. So I made the airline reservations and began to pray. I mean leaving my two children with two teenagers in a strange neighborhood, in a strange house and missing their first birthday – well that would equate to child abuse today. But I did it anyway. And I missed Zoe’s first steps and of course there are no 1st birthday photos with those cute little pointed birthday hats and those cute little faces smeared with chocolate frosting. But I did get the recipe for Chicken Vesuvio. That will have to do.


The rehearsal dinner was held at Harry Carey’s in Chicago. I was seated at a table with someone I had been fixed up with on a blind date many years before. We each introduced our spouses to each other. What fun. But that fun was quickly replaced with little cast iron pans of – you guessed it- Chicken Vesuvio being placed before us. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I’m still not sure if the thought of eating and only feeding myself was contributing to this exhilarating feeling but whatever it was has never left. I still love Chicken Vesuvio even if it leaves my cook top a giant greasy mess.

You can go online to find links too many dishes that say they are from Harry’s and maybe they are. Mine is very close and I’m not sure that it is that different. But it is mine. You decide. I will tell you the bonus recipe of Chicken Vesuvio hash is mine because I so totally made it up. It is almost better than the real thing but you have to go to the real thing to get to it. I will also tell you that Chicken Vesuvio is a great dish for Shabbat. You can get it ready ahead of time and throw it in the oven when you desire. It is perfect for a winter’s night and it makes your home smell warm and inviting. All be it – Italian.

But I almost forgot. The wedding? It was fabulous. And my cousin is still married. And her youngest will soon be having a Bar Mitzvah. Just maybe they will serve Chicken Vesuvio. Wishful thinking, perhaps?


Chicken Vesuvio
Serves 4-6
Time to Make: About 30 minutes hands on
Ingredients:
1 4 lb chicken cut up into 8 pieces
4 potatoes peeled and quartered lengthwise
10 cloves of garlic
Salt, pepper, oregano, garlic powder
1/2 c olive oil
1 ½ c white wine or vermouth (I prefer vermouth)
1  ½ c chicken stock
1 c frozen green peas
3 T chopped fresh Italian parsley
Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Put ¼ c olive oil in your favorite cast iron skillet and heat over medium heat. (No, you don’t need cast iron, but I do bake my chicken in this. Otherwise you may have to transfer it to a pan.)

Add 5 cloves of garlic to oil. Then add chicken and brown on each side. You may have to do this in stages. And don’t crowd the chicken, it takes longer that way. If your garlic cloves start to burn take them out. After chicken is browned, remove from skillet and do the same with potatoes. If at any time you think you need more olive oil feel free to add it. When potatoes are brown remove from skillet. 

 Now use your vermouth or wine and deglaze your pan. Let simmer a minute and scrape the bottom of your pan. Now add the other 5 garlic cloves and and chicken stock. Let t simmer about 5-10 minutes to thicken until reduced by half.

Add back chicken and potatoes that have now been WELL SEASONED with garlic powder, oregano and salt and pepper and place in hot oven. Place the potatoes on top of the liquid so they stay crisp! Otherwise you will get soggy potatoes. Bake for about 45 minutes until chicken and potatoes are well browned and crisp. Add frozen peas during last 5 minutes of baking.

When chicken is cooked, removed from oven sprinkle with 2 T vermouth or wine mixed with the parsley, and 1 minced garlic clove.

 Light the candles and eat.

BONUS RECIPE:  Chicken Vesuvio Hash (Since there are now just two of us eating enough chicken for four)

½ cup chopped onion
1 red pepper chopped
1 T olive oil
Leftover chicken from above with skin and bones removed, chopped
Potatoes, chopped
¼ c white wine
Salt and Pepper

Fried eggs optional
Ketchup, possibly!

Heat oil in pan and add pepper and onions. Saute until soft. Add chicken and potatoes and cook until golden. Use wine to deglaze pan. Add rest of Vesuvio mixture, like the sauce and peas to pan. Let brown some more and get a little crusty. It is ready to eat, fried egg or not!

More to try:






Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New Orleans and King Cake

King Cake
I’ve got New Orleans on my mind. Way back in the 80’s we were able to visit several times. Twice for a conference, once just for fun, one with sadness attached. I love New Orleans. I love the energy that it gives me. N’awlins makes me feel like I’m in another world and I could use that feeling right now. When I think of the Big Easy I think of my husband’s relations who treated me like family from the get go. Gentle, honest, just nice people they are. And loving, definitely loving.

I also think of the salty, wet dampness in the air and the lingering smells of liquor and perhaps mold. But hey, that’s what it smells like to me; unless you are in front of the bakery or local candy shop. And then the smell of butter and sugar drifts out and oh so politely draws you in. Well, that might have been the guy handing out samples.

And oh, the candy shops. I’ve never seen such decadent looking caramels and pralines and marshmallows. I’m sure there is chocolate but here it plays a back seat to the brittle and such. I happened to be their pre Mardi Gras when the bakeries were filling their windows with King Cake. I had never seen, let alone tasted a King Cake but their gaudiness appealed to me. What a happy food. What a fun food. And they come with a tiny plastic baby-and beads. I love those beads. Purple and gold and green. This cake lets you be a kid for a day and who wouldn’t love that?

When you go I strongly recommend a reading. The one I saw told me I would have twins and this was two years before I was pregnant. Don’t say no way. I have it on tape. They gave it to me when I handed them my dollars. And make sure it is a happy reading. After all you are on vacay.

Peruse the voodoo shops. Take in the music. Stay in a quaint hotel. One with black iron railings that serves chickory coffee each morning along with fresh, warm beignets. One that closes the gates at night and makes you feel secure and secret and safe and all tucked away from the world. And when you are lying in your big 4 poster bed listen for the sounds of the trumpet. You will hear it along with the magical trombone.

Go in the antique shops. Visit the cemetaries. Talk to the people. They all have a story. Take the hurricane tour. (We were there prehurricane.) Pretend you are Scarlett and Rhett will rescue you. Run, don’t walk to every restaurant in town. Eat at Commander’s Palace. Visit Emeril. And Paul Prudhomme. Go to Galatoire’s, but men must have a jacket. And the myriad of others. Have a Po’ Boy. Have Bananas Foster and a Hurricane. Eat crawfish. I must confess that when we left after four nights I’d never felt more full in my life. Full of life and full of food. You can eat way to much down there and it is all rich and good until you have to get on that plane. I don’t think I ate for two days when I got home.

Which somehow brings me back to King Cake. I never tasted one from there. But it made me want to go home and bake one. It wasn’t what I thought it would be but it has become somewhat of a tradition in our home. When my kids were young they both fought over who would find that damn baby in their slice. I always prayed it was me so the two of them wouldn’t argue. And what does that baby mean? Well, it usually means you buy the cake or host the party next year. I’m not sure my kids thought of that.

Bloggers will do anything to get the right shot. 

Like even putting food on the floor.
 King Cake isn’t really a cake. To me it’s more like a giant cheese Danish. I understand they fill them with all kinds of things down there but up here, I keep it simple. It takes the place of a coffee cake and isn’t overly sweet. Like I said they may look a bit gaudy but the glaze is what makes the cake, at least in my opinion. I love the crunchiness of the sugar but some just dye the glaze and skip the sugar.

According to Emeril, the history of the king cake began in 12th century France when the cake was baked on the eve of January 6th, the Feast of Ephipany. It was meant to celebrate the visit to the Christ child by the three kings. The small token or magi, in this case the plastic baby, was hidden in the cake as a surprise for the finder. In New Orleans the cake is still baked then and parties are held to share the cake. Whoever gets the baby must hold the party the next week and so on, until Mardi Gras. (These are my kind of people!). The cake is circular to represent a crown and richly decorated with green symbolizing faith, gold is power and purple is justice.

Well, I will let you decide, but I love baking this cake as it lets the inner artist in me explode. And even though there are allusions to Christ I still think it is fun to make for Purim. Sacrilege, I know! But Purim has a king and a queen and a bad guy. And we get to go crazy on Purim so maybe this is my way of showing it. But I do bake hamentaschen, too!

Let the good times roll!

The guts of the matter!
King Cake (Adapted from Emeril’s Every Day’s a Party and United Cakes of America)

1 package of active dry yeast
¼ c warm water at 115 degrees
¾ stick unsalted butter chilled and cut into ¼ inch cubes
½ t salt
¼ c c lukewarm milk
½ t vanilla
2 eggs
2 ½  to 3 c all purpose unbleached flour

Combine the yeast and warm water in the bowl of a standing mixer and let sit for 5 minutes. Your yeast should now be a bubblin’!

Add butter, salt, milk , vanilla and eggs to the yeast and use the paddle attachment to mix on low speed for 20 seconds. The mixture will look lumpy.

While beating slowly add the flour a third at a time stopping when a soft dough forms. Now switch to your dough hook or knead by hand. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic and looks like a beautiful, not sticky, yellow ball. Sprinkle on more flour as necessary.

Place dough into well greased bowl, cover with a clean cloth, and let rise until doubled in a good warm spot. This can take a few hours or not. (In my home this is in front of the living room window where the sun comes in.)

Meanwhile make the filling.

Filling
8 oz cream cheese
½ c confectioner’s sugar
1 t vanilla

Beat with electric mixer or by hand on low speed until smooth. Set aside.  (I used brown sugar and ½ t cinnamon in my filling.)

Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Punch dough down. Roll out on lightly floured countertop to a rectangle about 6 by 18” in size. Now spread the filling on, leaving a two inch border. Fold in sides and roll up lengthwise with seam remaining at bottom. I shape this as an oval but feel free to do whatever shape the artist inside tells you.

Transfer dough to baking sheet. Cover again and let rise until double in bulk. Now make the egg wash.

Now preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Egg Wash
Whisk together an egg, 1 t vanilla, and other flavorings you may want such as rum!

When the cake has doubled brush with egg wash and place in  preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden and has a hollow sound when you thump it. Let cool on a rack and then spread or drizzle the icing. Use  gorgeous colored sugar crystals to your heart’s content.

Icing
1 1/2 T milk
1 t vanilla
1 ½ c confectioners sugar

Stir together to blend well and get rid of lumps. Spread or drizzle over baked cake.

Additionally:
Green sugar
Yellow Sugar
Purple sugar

As a footnote: I must say that I have never had the real thing in the real place. Nor have I ever been to Mardi Gras. And unlike Scarlett I will let Rhett rescue me! Please hurry up. I are running out of time. A girl’s charm doesn’t last forever!

Let the good times roll and Happy Lent!



Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Brown Sugar Scotch Pudding to Soothe the Soul

Brown Sugar Scotch Pudding


Some days I need to be soothed. Yesterday was one of them. I am tired of people that assure you they will do something and then they don’t. Ok, let’s give them credit for trying. But just like yellow ribbons didn’t matter when my kids were small (they knew only the blue counted) trying doesn’t really help. And promising makes it worse.

 Yes, I’m feeling a bit bitter, a bit angry, a very bit depressed. When, oh when, will our lives improve? I keep giving thanks for having made it thus far but sometimes I am just tired of being thankful. Sometime I want to yell and scream and lay in bed and not get dressed. I want to give up and scream at this crazy world that doesn’t make sense. I want to shout that my husband is more qualified than most of you f---ers. I want to tell you that I’m not feeling sorry for myself, but I am. I want to tell you that I’m scared and that I’m sorry for sharing all of this with you-whoever you may be. I want to tell the therapist that said to write it all down because it will help that it really doesn’t. And I want to tell my friend that brought me newspapers and fabric that that was the best thing that happened to me all day. And the kindest.

And that’s enough if you made it this far because I’m blubbering like a baby and I just can’t take it any more. I want someone else to figure out my life because I’m just too tired to figure it out anymore. Least of all care.  And so I’ll share with you about the only thing I have left to give; because food touches my soul. And I’m guessing for those that are still reading it may touch yours, too. And that is about all I’ve got today. Something above assures me that the sun will still come out tomorrow…



Brown Sugar Scotch Pudding (adapted from Gourmet)
Serves 4

2 c half and half
3/4 c packed dark brown sugar
2 T cornstarch
2 large egg yolks
¼ t salt
1 T unsalted butter
½ t vanilla
1 T scotch

Stir together half and half, brown sugar, and cornstarch in a 2-3 quart heavy saucepan and heat over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and mixture is heated through. (Do not let boil.)

Whisk together yolks and salt in a medium bowl until smooth, then add hot half and half mixture in a slow stream while whisking. Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking for 1 minute. Mixture will thicken.

Immediately pour through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl and stir in butter, vanilla and scotch until butter is incorporated. Cover surface with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator until chilled-or you can just eat it warm which isn’t so bad. Well, it is pretty good, too.

Choice of Toppings:

Whipped Topping

Mix ½ c heavy cream with ½ c sour cream and beat until mixture holds stiff peaks.

OR:

Caramel Sauce

1 c dark brown sugar
¾ c heavy cream
2 T butter
1 t ground coffee

Stir all ingredients together and heat in microwave on low power until melted.