Friday, February 26, 2010

Pasta: Two Ways, No Sauce

Rachel here: For this post, we decided to explore alternatives to the traditional pasta with tomato sauce. Now, this isn't because either one of us can't get down with some good old spaghetti. No, that's not it at all. It's just that it's nice to utilize staple ingredients in less common ways from time to time and pasta is nothing if not a staple. I vividly recall the dish my mom has posted below from growing up. It's quite tasty and this is coming from somebody who basically avoids cauliflower and broccoli like the plague. My soup recipe was the byproduct of epicurious (via the November 2004 issue of Bon Appetit) perusing and, though this was the first time I made it, it will definitely be making further appearances on the dinner table in my house. Plus, I'm thinking that this may generally be the way I make meatballs from now on since I have never had them hold up so well (and to stirring, even!) and this is a healthier approach than just cooking them in oil. Anyway, check out our recipes below and then let us know how you like your pasta. Happy eating!

Escarole Soup with Pasta and Meatballs
feeds 4 as a main course, 6 as a starter

3/4 lb. lean ground beef (according to reviews of this recipe turkey works just fine, too, for an even healthier alternative)
1 1/3 c. fresh grated parmesan (divide into 1/3 c. and 1 c. units)
1/2 c. fresh breadcrumbs from crustless french bread
1 large egg
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tspn. salt
1/2 tspn. fresh ground pepper
7 1/2 c. low sodium chicken broth
2 T. olive oil
2 large celery stalks (including tops), chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 c. orzo
1 small head of escarole, coarsely torn

In a medium bowl, mix together the first seven ingredients (beef through pepper). Form this mixture into 3/4 inch balls (moisten your hands to prevent sticking to the meat). Heat 1 1/2 c. of the chicken broth with the 2 T. of olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add meatballs and simmer until they are firm and hold their shape (roughly 5 minutes). When the meatballs are firm, remove them back to their bowl. Boil remaining liquid until reduced to a glaze. Add onion and celery and stir until they start to soften. Add the remaining 6 c. of chicken broth, the meatballs (along with any juices) and the orzo to the pot. Simmer until pasta is soft (roughly ten minutes) and season with salt and pepper as needed. Add the escarole and simmer until it wilts (roughly 5 minutes). Ladle into bowls, top with remaining parmesan cheese and enjoy.

Cauliflower Pasta
serves 6

one head of cauliflower, cut into bite-size pieces
one medium onion, choppped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 ounce can of your favorite diced tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
about 3/4 teaspoon oregano
about 3/4 teaspoon basil
about 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound spaghetti (I prefer thin but that's just me)
grated Parmesan

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and add the chopped onions. Saute until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and saute for about 1 minute. Add the cauliflower and saute for about 5 minutes until it's just start to get tender. Add the tomatoes and seasonings. Let simmer for about 15 minutes until the cauliflower is cooked the way you like (I like my vegetables crunchy).

While the cauliflower mixture is simmering, fill a pot with about 4 quarts of water and salt it. When boiling, add the pasta and cook until it's the way you like it (I prefer al dente), about 10 minutes or so.

Drain the pasta, place portions on the plate, add the cauliflower mixture, top with Parmesan and you are ready to go.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Food for Thought Thursdays: Mom's Apple Pie

Obviously Rachel and I aren't the only ones with food memories, so we will periodically feature other people writing about their feelings on Food for Thought Thursdays. Kicking it off for us is Kaja Reynolds — elementary school teacher, potter, runner and cross country skier, one of our relatives (obviously the last name was a giveaway), and a wonderful cook who was inspired by my post last week about my father and pie crust to write this.

Kaja here: I could relate to the image of the tall apple pie your dad made because my mom also made an amazing apple pie. I remember slicing the apples with her and mixing in a little of this spice and a bit of that spice. My mom rarely would measure out those kinds of things; it was all by feel and by taste. As a result, I, too, cook in a very similar way. However, when baking she would always measure the important ingredients like the baking powder, butter or the flour. My mom taught me how to make her delicious, flaky pie crust, and now I make it mostly from memory. She said the key ingredient (which her mom told her) was to use frozen butter and ice water. When she taught me, she was using a food processor and that made working with the frozen butter easier. Then, when adding the ice water to the butter/flour mixture, you only poured in one tablepoon at a time, so that you would not make the dough too sticky. I still make pie crust the same way, and now one of my favorite pies to make is pumpkin pie, which I make every Thanksgiving. I have tried whole wheat flour and rice flour, but the best is the good old unbleached white flour. I love any pie with rhubarb, too, and of course, I still love good old apple pie.

Since my mom is no longer alive, one way I connect with her is through cooking. I have such lovely memories of us cooking together in the home I grew up in, and also in the home I live in now. Another way I remember her and keep her memory alive is by sharing the way she cooked with my two daughters. Whether it is making a pasta sauce, a stir-fry, a Swedish birthday cake or baking any kind of pie, I always feel like a part of my mom is there with me. I think cooking and the wonderful aromas that go along with each dish evoke such visceral memories. Sharing recipes and memories is a wonderful way to connect to your past and to your family.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Crazy for Cookies

Janet here: A few weeks ago, I made — or more accurately, tried to make my mother-in-law's molasses sugar cookies. We were coming up to the anniversary of her death and my husband asked me to make them. I thought it would be a nice way to remember her.

But then I looked at the recipe and it called for Crisco instead of butter and I just couldn't wrap my baking head around using Crisco for anything other than part of pie crust (and my father would roll in his grave if he knew I used anything but pure butter for all of it) so I substituted butter and they were good but not quite the real thing. (Not that I'm sure anything would have really been the real thing anyway because my mother-in-law wasn't making them, and I mean that in all the best ways.)

So when we decided to make cookies this week, I decided to try to redeem myself and make another molasses recipe, this one the Barefoot Contessa's ultimate ginger cookie from her At Home cookbook. It included the all-important molasses ingredient of my mother-in-law's tasty cookies but also included bits of crystallized ginger (a particular favorite of my husband). Although I was nervous while working with the dough — it was much drier than most cookie batter — I'm happy to report it was a success. While not a substitute for his mother's cookies — nor should they be — Peter proclaimed them tasty.

Ultimate Ginger Cookies
makes about 16 cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dark brown sguar, lightly packed (I only had light brown and it was fine)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
1 large egg at room temperature
1 1/4 cups chopped crystallized ginger (6 ounces)
granulated sugar for rolling the cookies

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and salt and then combine the mixture with your hands. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or if you're like me, just in a bowl where you're going to mix everything with a trusty old fork), beat the brown sugar, oil and molasses on medium speed for 5 minutes. Turn the mixer to low speed, add the egg and beat for 1 minutes. Scrape the bowl and beat for one more minuted.

With the mixer still on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the crystallized ginger and mix until combined.

Scoop the dough with 2 spoons or a small ice cream scoop. With your hands, roll each cookier into a 1 3/4-inch ball and then flatten slightly with your fingers. Press both sides of each cookie in granulated sugar and place on the cookie sheets.

Bake exactly 13 minutes. The cookies will be crackled on the top and soft on the inside. Let cool on the sheets for a minute or two. Then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Try not to eat a half dozen.

Rachel here: Without planning on it, or much discussing it, it seems my mom and I both baked cookies with other people in mind this week. Aren't we good people to know? Anyway, one of my dearest friends in the world is coming to visit for a few short days this weekend and I am immersed in an insanely chaotic couple of weeks right now so, to prepare for her visit I made cookie dough ahead of time this past weekend. Since it's a recipe I'd never used before, though, I figured it would only be wise to bake off a quick dozen to make sure they're edible. This has actually been my approach to cookie baking for the last year or so, and I have to say I highly recommend it. I make the full dough recipe and then usually just bake a dozen, either refrigerating or freezing the rest of the dough depending on when I think I'll be wanting more cookies. This way, fresh cookies are never more than ten minutes away in my house and, let's be honest here, there's nothing like a cookie warm from the oven. Plus, it's a great way to get a chunk of baking out of the way in advance when you have a busy week with an event looming at the end of it.

Anyway, the recipe I used I modified from one I found on epicurious that was featured in the July 2003 Bon Appetit. The texture is perfect, I think (and my co-taster, John, agrees). In a completely spacey pregnant moment, I forgot to put in all of the spices and nearly (like, very very nearly) forgot to put in the oats. I remembered the oats in the nick of time (like, right before I was about to put the cookies in the oven) and, at that moment, realized my complete neglect of the spices. I didn't want to over-mix the dough, though, so I sprinkled the spices on top. I imagine these cookies are a little bit better with the spices mixed into the dough and I suspect you can go a little heavier on the spices than the recipe calls for. Even with all of my errors, though, these cookies are seriously delicious. Now I just have to try to forget how much dough I have in the fridge until closer to my friend's arrival...

Oatmeal Cookies with Raisins, Cranberries, Walnuts and Chocolate Chips

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tspn. baking powder
1/2 tspn. baking soda
3/4 tspn. salt
1 1/2 tspn. cinnamon
1/2 tspn. nutmeg
3/4 c. butter, room temperature
1/4 c. vegetable shortening, room temperature
1/2 c. white granulated sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar (I used dark)
2 large eggs
1/4 c. honey (for ease, 1/4 c.=4 T...easier to measure in this case, I think)
1 T. vanilla
1 c. raisins and cranberries
1 c. walnuts, broken
1 c. chocolate chips (I used bittersweet...sooooo good)
3 c. rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine first six ingredients (flour through nutmeg) in a small bowl and set aside. In your mixer, beat the butter, shortening and sugars until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, honey and vanilla. Mix in the flour mixture. Stir in the last four ingredients (raisins/cranberries through oats). Spoon batter onto cookie sheet (I used a heaping tablespoon) and bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. Let sit on sheet a minute or so before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Yum!

The base for this recipe, I think, would lend itself well to anything you wanted to add in the place of the last four ingredients (though, personally, I'd keep the oats). The original recipe called for way more sugar, too, so if these aren't sweet enough for you, then feel free to increase both of the sugars to 1 cup.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Blogs That Make Us Hungry: Honey & Jam

Rachel here: If you feel good about yourself, it's probably because you haven't visited Honey & Jam (I say this with all of the admiration and well-wishes in the world). Nineteen year old Hannah does this site all on her own and it is one of the most professional looking and down-to-earth sounding blogs I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Seriously, this girl both makes my inferiority complex swell (so driven! so talented! so unimpressed by herself!) and reminds me of all of the reasons that the kitchen is a great place to be. Her recipes cover an impressive range, her instructions are thorough AND she takes her own photographs (something I grapple with for every post...any tips would be welcome on how to improve!). Check her out. You'll be amazed, inspired and hungry within seconds of opening her page.

Janet here: Although Rachel gave me the heads-up about how great Honey & Jam was when she advocated we highlight this blog on Blogs That Make Us Hungry, I was still unprepared for the simple beauty of this lovely blog about food. The photos are just stunning and the simplicity of the writing, the complete lack of ego, is just so refreshing. Plus she makes homemade donuts that look absolutely killer and carrot cupcakes that make me want to grab one right off my computer screen — and I don't even like coconut! If you're a foodie, you'll love this blog.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Squash This

Rachel here: We decided to feature squash for this post because it's a vegetable (ok, actually it's technically a fruit) that neither one of us is particularly used to working with. In my cooking, before this meal, I had only used it cubed in stir-fries and soups. Anyway, I was delighted to discover the recipe that I am sharing below. It is completely delicious, absurdly easy and really rather quick, in addition to being a phenomenally cheap meal to prepare. An added bonus was that it gives a nod to Thanksgiving dinner in its flavors, one of my all-time favorite meals. I found the recipe while trolling through epicurious (a wonderful way to spend a morning, in my opinion) and modified it ever so slightly from its original posting in Bon App├ętit in October 1995.

Acorn Squash with Wild Mushroom Cranberry Stuffing
feeds 2

1 1/2-1 3/4 lb. acorn squash, halved and with seeds removed
1/2 c. dried cranberries or currants (I used a mixture)
1/4 c. hot water
3 T. butter
4 oz. fresh wild mushrooms (I used shiitake), de-stemmed and chopped
1/4 c. chopped onion (I chopped on the bigger side)
1 tspn. dried sage
1 c. fresh whole wheat breadcrumbs
1/4-1/2 c. freshly grated parmesan arregiano
few ounces of goat cheese (to taste)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place squash cut side down on a glass baking dish and cover tightly with plastic wrap (I just used a pyrex pie plate). Microwave on high for 10 minutes (or a bit longer if your microwave cooks on its own terms like mine does...I only added 2 extra minutes and it was perfect). Pierce plastic to let some steam escape and then remove plastic completely. Season squash with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, combine your cranberries and/or currants with the hot water and let sit. Melt the butter over medium-high heat in skillet. Add mushrooms, onion and sage and saute until vegetables begin to soften. Add breadcrumbs and stir until they begin to brown (roughly 3 minutes). Now add the cranberries and/or currants along with all of their soaking liquid. Season this with salt and pepper and then add the bulk of your grated parmesan, reserving a little to sprinkle over the top of the squash halves once they are stuffed.

Mound the stuffing into the squash halves, pressing down to get them good and full before creating the mounded tops. Sprinkle remaining parmesan over the top and place in oven for approximately 10 minutes, until heated through and crisp on top. I served the squash halves with a bit of goat cheese and John and I both felt that the tartness of the goat cheese was a nice complement to the dish. When we were eating, we were daydreaming about other things to stuff squash with (walnuts? sausage? the possibilities seem endless!)...what have you tried?

Janet here: The other point Rachel left out in our decision to make a squash dish is that neither of us is that fond of it so it doesn't make it to the menu that often in either of our households. There was a time, though, BK (that would be Before Kids) when I would make stuffed squash from my then-favorite vegetarian cookbook, The Moosewood Cookbook, and it was, as Rachel noted, an easy, tasty, cheap dinner. But then whining children came along and it became a harder sell (in fact I don't even think I tried).

I had been thinking about making a stuffed squash too but then found this recipe for a squash flatbread in Real Simple and thought it looked so beautiful, that I made this instead. I'm here to tell you that with the exception of it being a little squash-heavy (I personally think 1/2 a pound or maybe 3/4 of a pound tops would have improved this), it was delicious. The thyme added a lovely subtlety and the cheddar just the right bit of sharpness.

Butternut Squash Flatbread with Cheddar and Pine Nuts
serves 3

1 pound store-bought pizza dough (if you make your own, go for it; this recipe was filed under easy weeknight meals so the assumption was you didn't have time)
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, sliced 1/4 inch thick (see above comment re. amount)
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (I used dried and saw no difference)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 grated extra-sharp Cheddar (6 ounces)

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Shape the dough into a large oval and place on cornmeal-dusted baking sheet. (I used a pizza stone and that worked fine as well.)

In a large bowl, toss the swuash, onion, pine nuts, thyme, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Scatter over the dough and sprinkle with the cheese.

Bake until golden brown and crisp, 25-30 minutes

Friday, February 19, 2010

Eat Your Veggies

Janet here: I have a new favorite vegetarian cookbook, New Vegetarian by Robin Asbell. I have made two recipes from this cookbook and they both have totally rocked. If you like vegetables, you won't go wrong with this cookbook.

I decided to make the roasted parsnip and gruyere strudels for one reason and one reason only: It involved phyllo dough. The flaky, buttery goodness of phyllo dough makes it one of my all-time favorites. It's a bit of a pain to work with, but once you get past your inhibitions about it, you'll never go back. If a recipe has phyllo dough, it will be good. Period.

And before we go further, a word on parsnips. I thought they were like turnips. I was wrong. They are sweet, not bitter, and tasty. I now have to make up for lost decades and eat a lot of these since I ignored them before. As for this recipe, it's an appetizer, but these are fairly substantive so you could make this as an entree to go with soup and/or salad and you would be good to go. We had plenty left over from our little dinner party and my friend took some home and ate one for breakfast. Yum!

Roasted Parsnip and Gruyere Strudels

makes 12 appetizer-size pastries

2 pounds parsnips, peeled, quartered and sliced
2 large carrots, peeled, quartered, and sliced
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (I used dried; it was fine)
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley (I used dried; it was fine)
4 ounces gruyere chees, shredded
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
olive oil spray
6 sheets phyllo

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the parsnips and carrots in a large roasting pan. Add the onion, thyme and olive oil. Toss. Cover with foil and roast for 20 minutes, stir and re-cover and roast for 20 minutes more. Then ucover and roast for an additional 10-20 minutes until lightly browned. Cool

Mix the parsley and cheese with the parsnip mixture and season with salt and pepper. Coat a sheet pan with olive oil spray.

Place the phyllo on the counter, cover with plastic wrap, and then cover with a barely damp towel. It's important not to let the phyllo dry out.

Take a sheet of phyllo, cut in half across the short side and spray it with olive oil. Fold the half-sheet in half, making a tall strip. Place 1/4 cup of the parsnip mixture on the bottom of the sheet and fold up flag-style, forming a triangle as you pull the lwoer left corner up to the right edge, and then the lower right corner up to the left, alternating as you go. Place seam-side down on the sheet pan. Repeat with all sheets.

Bake uncovered until browned and crisp about 20 minutes. (I brushed them with olive oil before baking, which I think made them even a little crispier.) Serve warm.

Rachel here: So, when we decided to go the vegetarian route for this post, I had the totally lame and unoriginal idea to just make some stir-fry. It's basically the only time we don't eat meat of some sort with our dinner and it's not only easy but easy to do using only locally-grown ingredients. Mine was going to feature some kale, mushrooms and tofu along with lemon and garlic. However, before I even got to stir-fry night this week, my mom got to her vegetarian dish that she's shared with you above. Once I saw her picture and read her recipe I realized that there was, quite literally, no way in hell I was going to suffer the humiliation of posting stir-fry as my counterpart to her gorgeous I ordered chicken wings instead from Red Buffalo. HA!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Food for Thought Thursdays: My Pie Crust Phobia

As with most things, it's one, if not both, of your parents' faults. This is true for everything from why you can't stay in relationships to why your nose is clearly bigger than you'd prefer. What the "it" is, doesn't really matter.

So it is that I blame my father for my fear of making pie crust. An expert baker, my dad was the pie baker in our family; my mother wisely decided not to compete after sitting through a famous family moment in which my father and his mother — also apparently a great pie baker, although I don't remember sampling her wares — had a pie bake-off. They each baked a pie and then my mother, luckly lady, was among those asked to pick the best one. Talk about the proverbial family win-win. I'm not sure how she weaseled out of it, but she did — and she never, not once, not ever, baked a pie for our family. Quel surprise!

My dad's pies were the stuff of dreams. He mostly made them annually for Thanksgiving since he worked all the time and frequently came home after I went to bed at night. His apple pies were at least six or seven inches high, no joke, while his pumpkin pies were delectable. But while the fillings were terrific, it was all about the crust, which was buttery and simultaneously light and doughy at the same time. Post-holiday, my sister and I usually ate the pies for breakfast for as long as they lasted, which wasn't long, believe me.

Now while I pride myself on being a good cook and a damn fine baker, I'm no fool. I'm not competing unless I think I have a shot, and as long as my dad was alive, I wouldn't even enter the starting gate. That fear lingered long after my father was dead, indeed until this past Thanksgiving when I decided, at Rachel's urging, to make a pie crust from scratch.

I finally realized — aging really does make you wiser — that my fear wasn't about making a bad pie crust; my worry was that I might make a good pie crust and therefore somehow shatter the myth behind my father, a myth that has helped keep him alive and with me somehow even though he's been dead for over 20 years. It was a silly worry, of course. As I stood at the counter before Thanksgiving kneading and rolling the dough, I actually felt as if he was there with me. I only wish I'd done it sooner.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Under the Sea

Rachel here: Seriously? I have an awesome husband. Not to gloat, but I really do, and only one of the reasons is that he is a great cook. Throughout our relationship he has been making me linguini (almost always freshly made with his own two hands) with clams and other various undersea creatures, and every time he does, it feels wonderfully decadent, partly because I have never made clams in my life and so it's a food I feel like I access through his culinary prowess. The other night, though, I asked him to teach me how one deals with these little shelled critters, and he did. John doesn't use recipes; he just thinks about food and then makes it and so, what you'll find below are loose guidelines for approaching a seriously delicious (and, to my surprise, rather easy if you don't make the pasta) and hearty dinner.

linguini (As I mentioned above, John usually makes it fresh; this time we bought it freshly made at the grocery store)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced (depending on how garlicky you like your food)
1 small shallot, diced
chicken stock (see recipe)
white wine (see recipe)
2 T. butter
clams (we used 8 small ones per person, although John prefers using the large ones--and thus fewer per person--for better flavor)
2+ T. parsley, chopped
grape tomatoes, large handful, cut in half

Make your linguini, cooking it until it is nearly done. Remove from heat and douse in cold water to stop the cooking. If you are using fresh pasta, toss with olive oil to prevent the pasta from sticking to itself. Wash your clams. In a large pan, saute the shallot and then the garlic. Add 1/2 c. to 1 c. white wine and 1/2 c. to 1 c. chicken stock (using less will make a less brothy meal, more will make it brothier...this second way is how we prefer it) plus the 2 T. butter to pan. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon in and add the clams. Cover the pan and simmer until the clams are cooked. Once the clams are cooked (they'll all be open now), add the pasta, parsley and a large handful of grape tomatoes. Other additions that are yummy include capers, chili flakes, or a little cayenne. Serve with crusty bread and a wedge of lemon and enjoy!

Janet here: I am a huge shrimp fan and was very excited to discover this recipe in Ellie Krieger's cookbook, The Food You Crave. My parents loved to eat out and on Saturday nights, we often traveled an hour away to a restaurant my dad had somehow discovered in the pre-internet era in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York. Cows munched contentedly in a field across from the farmhouse restaurant. Inside, my sister and I had run of the place while my parents enjoyed a cocktail with the innkeeper before we ordered dinner in front of a roaring fire.

Shrimp cocktail was one of my favorite hors d'oeuvres. I felt so grown up munching on jumbo shrimp and sipping my Shirley Temple (later named a Barbra Streisand by my father when I was older). This baked shrimp with tomatoes and feta isn't the same obviously, but if you love shrimp, you'll love this. I served it over orzo, which worked quite well.

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta
serves 4 (with plenty for leftovers)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 14.5 ounc cans diced tomatoes with their juices
1/4 finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh dill (I used dried because I didn't have fresh and it was fine)
1 1/4 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper or to taste
2/3 cup crumbled feta

Heat oven to 425 degrees
In an ovenproof skillet heat oil over medium high heat. Add the onion; cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, cook one minute. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 5 minutes until the tomatoe juices thicken.

Remove from heat. Stir in the parsley, dill, shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Springl the feta over the top. Back until the shrimp are cooked through and the cheese melts, about 12 minutes. Enjoy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Blogs That Make Us Hungry: Simply Breakfast

Janet here:
Without a doubt, my favorite meal to eat out is breakfast. At home, I eat basically the same breakfast day in and day out — yogurt with granola, the only variation being the kind of yogurt I eat. Breakfast is something to be done with, to get over, so I can start my day of running around and busyness.

But eating out means stepping outside the breakfast box and allowing myself the pleasure of eating a decadent meal that is far beyond anything I would ever contemplate making for myself. It means slowing down and savoring. Because it's so unusual, it seems so much more special. I mean, people meet for dinner but how often do we meet for breakfast (and I mean as in meet, not as in agree to have coffee to discuss some kind of business idea)? The answer, simply put, is not enough.

So we were intrigued to discover Simply Breakfast, a blog devoted to this much-maligned meal. Not only is it devoted to just breakfast, but it's also basically just photos of breakfast: beautiful photos that make me want to sit down to that table wherever it is and eat the wonderful goodies Jennifer Causey has meticulously created and then lovingly photographed.

Rachel here: Jennifer Causey, it seems, photographs her breakfast most days (as opposed to, say, eating her cereal standing at the counter while working on homework). With virtually no text and no explanation of her project, those of us following her posts are allowed to create our own fantasy context for her delicious looking meals. It's a really good idea, I think, in that she is both sharing her own experience and inviting viewers to create their own, thereby rendering a sort of shared meal. Plus, most days her breakfasts look pretty doable which serves as a good reminder to me that really, eggs and toast can be so satisfying and just take a few minutes longer than combining yogurt and granola. I guess what I'm always left thinking after looking at Jen's photos is that breakfast is one of the signals we give ourselves for how our day will go and that I am worth starting the day with a little bit of thought and effort (and not just on weekends, when at least in my house, breakfast is often quite a production). What do her photos bring to mind for you?

The Cupcake Wars

Rachel here: I only made these cupcakes because my mother upped the cupcake ante by purchasing mini cupcake tins. Yup, that's the kind of daughter I am: You got a cute accessory for this post? I will make the most complicated recipe I can find. Not really sure what I'm proving (or to whom, since my ma's not eating these from Connecticut!), but after they were done I proved that I can eat an insane amount of sugar. But anyway...

For this post, I re-approached the cookbook I used for my two failed scone attempts. Remember how I protected the name of the cookbook to preserve the innocent? Well, I have to say, I am actually not that impressed by this cupcake recipe, either (though, of course, I will eat the cupcakes dutifully). The cupcake itself is pretty anticlimactic and once drenched in chocolate and coconut it's just sort of, well, too much. If you are a nut for chocolate and coconut (and, speaking of nuts, I'm thinking these would be good with nuts in/on them), though, then this just might be the recipe for you (although maybe only dip the tops in chocolate to provide a little balance). And yes, I will continue to try recipes from this book because, well, I just really want one of them to be wonderful and because I am a glutton for sugary punishment.

Lamington Cupcakes
from "The Craft of Baking" by Karen DeMasco and Mindy Fox

2 c. unsweetened shredded coconut
1 1/2 c. cake flour, plus more for the muffin tin
1 tspn. baking powder
1/2 tspn. kosher salt
8 oz. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and very soft, plus extra for greasing muffin tin
1 c. granulated sugar
1 T. pure vanilla extract
1/4 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out, bean and seeds reserved
1/2 c. whole milk
4 large egg whites
1/4 c. plus 3 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 c. confectioners' sugar
1/4 tspn. kosher salt
1/2 tspn. pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Spread coconut on a baking sheet and bake until it is lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove, cool and transfer to a bowl (large enough to dipping cupcakes into later).

Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a standard muffin tin (ok, so she says not to use paper liners...I greased and floured and whatnot, but my cupcakes still stuck and so, in the future, I'm using the paper liners because you end up coating everything in chocolate anyway).

In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

In your electric mixer (with the paddle attachment) beat the butter, granulated sugar, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean and seeds on medium high until light and fluffy. If you are operating sans mixer (soooo sorry), umm...good luck beating the butter and whatnot into fluffy submission. Scrape down the sides of your bowl.

With the mixer on medium speed (or with your left hand if you are your mixer), add the milk and flour alternately in three additions. Scrape the batter into a large bowl and remove the vanilla bean. If using an electric mixer, you now to have to clean and completely dry your mixer bowl. If you are mixing by hand, bust out a clean bowl and relish in this moment of not having to stop to clean a dish mid-baking process (it's maybe the only advantage to doing things the old fashioned way for this recipe...don't get too pleased, though, since you are about to work your whisking arm into an exhausted frenzy).

Whisk your egg whites until they are in soft peaks. In your mixer this takes about 4 minutes at medium speed with the whisk attachment. Without a mixer I have no idea, but I am pretty sure it will take longer than 4 minutes (I only got a mixer recently and I'm also pretty sure I always called John into the kitchen for steps like this in recipes...he's so big and strong and useful). In three turns, fold egg whites into batter.

Divide batter amongst muffin cups and bake approximately 20 minutes, rotating halfway through. Remove from tins and cool on wire rack. Let cool completely before glazing.

Place a sheet of foil, parchment paper or whatever underneath wire rack for this next part (or, forget this step and get chocolate all over your counter like I did...there are worse things). In a medium bowl, sift together the cocoa powder, confectioners' sugar and salt. Add 1/4 c. plus 2 T. water and the vanilla and whisk until smooth.

Dip each cupcake into the glaze, covering completely and then immediately rolling through the bowl filled with coconut before placing on wire rack to dry. Wait for the glaze to set before trying to eat (or don't, it's just messier).

Janet here: Yes, I annoyingly texted Rachel and told her I had purchased mini cupcake tins AND cute little cupcake paper holders all because I wanted to one-up her. (Not that we're competitive or anything.) Anyway, I had heard about this cookbook on NPR and was immediately intrigued. Called Salty Sweets, it's by Christie Matheson and is all about the wonderful combo of salt and sweet. I can remember loving hot fudge sundaes as a kid precisely for the the mix of salty peanuts and hot fudge sweetness. Seriously, is there anything better?

I've only made one recipe from this book but I'm here to report, it's pretty damn tasty and while I kind of freaked out about paying a lot of money for a tiny jar of fleur de sel, it was totally worth it. I served this to friends Friday night and the oohing and ahhing was music to this baker's ears. It's 48 hours later and there are only two left. Now that's a success!

Dark Chocolate Fleur de Sel Cupcakes
with snappy butterscotch icing
makes 12-14 regular size cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/3 cup water
1 large egg
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
fleur de sel

Cupcake Method
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cute cupcake liners
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, sugars, baking soda and fine sea salt together in a bowl (I don't sift so I didn't do this and it came out fine, but that's the official recipe line so I'm giving it to you.)

In a small saucepan, heat the butter, oil and water over medium low heat, stirring until the butter is completely melted and incorporated.

Whisk the butter mixture into the dry ingredients on low speed until combined. (I did this by hand; I don't have an official mixer; it was fine). Whisk in eggs, then whisk in buttermilk and vanilla.

Fill the cupcake liners 3/4 full with batter and sprinkle with a tiny bit of fleur de sel over the top of each. Bake for 22-24 minutes until the tops of the cupcakes are set and spring back when you touch. (For mini cupcakes I cooked for 15 minutes.)

Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan and then transfer to a wire rack for cooling (or to another spot if you're like me and don't have a wire rack). Ice with snappy butterscotch icing.

Snappy Butterscotch Icing

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon water
1/4 fine sea salt

Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until the butter is melted and the sugar is completely dissolved, 3-5 minutes.

Turn the heat down to low and let simmer 8 minutes without stirring until the icing has thickened. Remove from the heat and let cool completely so the icing will thicken enough to spread. Refrigerate or freeze for 30 minutes to spped up the thickening process. Icing can be stored airtight in the fridge for up to 3 days.

I will tell you my icing didn't really get as thick as it was supposed to, probably because I didn't really pay total attention to the timing etc. I will also tell you it still was mighty fine on the cupcakes ... and off the spoon I licked repeatedly.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Spinach vs. Lamb — You Decide

Janet here: Rachel and I decided to go our own ways on this week's entree entry and you'll be able to see in a heartbeat the basic difference between our cooking: mine is vegetarian and hers involves eating a once-cute little baby sheep. Now I never liked lamb even before I pictured it in my head, but the cute fuzzy lamb part made it an easy red meat to give up 30 years ago. (Now the smell of a burger on the grill or bacon cooking, that's a different story! I've been known to pop a piece of bacon in my mouth from time to time. Heaven!)

Anyway, enough of the whole vegetarian vs. carnivore thing. You're going to love this Greek pizza from Mollie Katzen's The Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook because it's just good. I first heard about the Moosewood phenomenon when I became a vegetarian and was searching for a good vegetarian cookbook that wasn't too hippie-dippie. I mean, I was giving up red meat, not good food. Moosewood did the trick; my copies of the Moosewood Cookbook and the Enchanted Broccoli follow-up are ripped, dog-eared, stained and just generally reflective of the use and loving they've received. I've made one flop from these cookbooks in 30 years — zucchini pancakes, but that's another story.

If you've never worked with phyllo dough, Katzen eases you into it with detailed instructions. While a little time consuming, it's not hard, and the buttery, flaky goodness that is the end result is totally worth it. Enjoy!

Greek Pizza
serves 4

1/2 pound phyllo pastry leaves (defrosted, all day ideally)
1/2 cup melted butter
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon crushed basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
juice from 1/2 large lemon
1 pound fresh spinach--cleaned, stemmed and chopped (or, if you hate dealing with spinach like I do, one frozen 10-ounce package chopped spinach, defrosted)
black pepper to taste
1 pound grated mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta
2 medium tomatoes, sliced thin
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs

For the phyllo: defrost the package, still wrapped, all day. Unwrap just before using, unroll and what you need if your package is not wrapped in 1/2 pound increments. Then rewrap the part you're not using in wax paper and seal in a plastic bag and refrigerate or refreeze until you need it next.
Melt the butter and 1/4 cup oil.

In a large skillet, saute the onions and garlic with salt in 2 tablespoons oil until the onions are clear and soft. Add the herbs, lemon juice and spinach. Cook over high heat until the spinach is cooked and the liquid is evaporated.

In a 13X9 inch backing pan, begin layering the phyllo dough, brush each surface with a generous amount of the melted butter and oil combination. Do this until you've used up all the phyllo layers. Brush the top surface with the remaining butter/oil. It will look like it's too much butter but it's not!

Place the spinach mixture on top of the phyllo dough evenly. Sprinkle on feta and half the mozzarella.

Dredge the tomato slices in the bread crumbs and then arrange them on top of the pizza. Add remaining mozzarella. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees.

Rachel here: The photo for this meal was taken with haste, as neither John nor I were able to muster the patience to take several pictures due to the unbelievably good smells emanating from our plates. Seriously? This recipe is delicious. While meat loaf has always seemed sort of boring to me, this recipe has changed this association forever. I would eat this regularly. Scratch that--I will eat this dish regularly. This stuff is so simple and so satisfying, I'd be a fool not to. Anyway, give it a try and let us know what you do with your meatloaf. This recipe has gotten me thinking that the possibilities just might be endless.

Balsamic-glazed Lamb Meat Loaf
from the February 2010 "Real Simple"

2 slices white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces (I used part of a fresh loaf of rustic country bread instead)
1 lb. ground lamb
1 large egg
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T. fresh thyme leaves (I used lemon thyme)
2 T. balsamic vinegar (I used closer to 3 T.)
2 T. olive oil
1 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
30 oz. canned cannellini beans, rinsed
1 T. fresh lemon juice (I just squeezed half a small lemon)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the bread and 3 T. of water. Add the egg, 2 cloves of the garlic (chopped), half the thyme, 3/4 tspn. salt, 1/2 tspn. fresh cracked pepper. Mash these ingredients and then add the lamb, mixing everything together.

On a foil-lined baking sheet (which I would recommend spraying with cooking oil, though I didn't, because my loaf got a little stuck during cooking), shape the meat mixture into a 6-inch loaf that is about 3 inches thick. Bake, brushing with balsamic vinegar several times during cooking, for 30 to 35 minutes or until a thermometer registers the center at 150 degrees. Remove from oven and let rest at least 5 minutes before slicing.

While the meat is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bell pepper, onion, and remaining garlic and thyme, tossing periodically and cooking until vegetables begin to soften. Add the beans, 1/2 tspn. of salt and 1/4 tspn. of fresh cracked pepper and cook until the beans are heated through. Stir in the lemon juice. Serve with the meatloaf.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Food for Thought Thursdays: Grandma Reynolds

This was our last lunch: a soggy, weak hospital tunafish sandwich. We had shared countless meals, my grandparents and I, including tuna sandwiches. Those meals had transpired in my grandmother's dining room or kitchen, though, and she had prepared and served them instead of a nameless and faceless hospital worker. Over our other meals, conversation had bounced around school subjects and books read, instruments played and sports games won or lost. Most of our meals involved at least seven of us (a number certain to keep conversation flowing), but even when they hadn't, when I had gone to visit alone during high school afternoons, the conversation had circled around me and my brothers instead of my grandparents. Grandma and Grandpa were so doting and curious that I didn't notice this pattern until I was older.

This lunch, the last lunch, was different. I had anticipated it across days and miles and somewhere in there identified two guiding desires: to help my dad and share part of this experience of losing with him side-by-side and to see my grandma. While I can't say that I accomplished my first aim (although I hold these days my dad and I shared incredibly close to my heart), I did succeed in seeing my grandma. I had wanted to see her in sickness so I might better understand her in health, to pick her brain and quiet my own enough to really hear her, to see her with my dad as a mother and with my grandfather as a partner. I wanted to break away from my cross-generational perspective and glimpse this woman as a complete person. This "seeing" happened and, I think, I am forever changed by this experience. In my openness to my grandma and her willingness to show me what I sought, I ended up seeing myself in ways I'd never before fathomed.

But back to this lunch. The nurse brought in Grandma's tuna sandwich with a little juice and I'm sure fruit or some other bland, hospital-y side. Grandma--ever the hostess, wife and grandmother--promptly offered Grandpa and me some of her meager lunch. Of course, I refused. Grandpa willingly partook, though, and Grandma insisted and so the three of us ended up splitting this sandwich amongst us. There was a part of me that couldn't stand this, that wanted desperately for her to devour this meal as though somehow that would give her the strength she needed to go on living forever, but the part of me that craved normalcy and familiarity and intimacy kicked in and told me to shut-up and eat, to settle into this moment, and so I ate.

Of course, it's not actually the tuna sandwich that's so significant in this memory. Instead, it's the conversation I witnessed between my grandparents. John and I had decided to make our partnership official in the eyes of our families and the law and had set June 27th as the date for this celebration. I knew that Grandma wouldn't be in attendance and so, to bring her into my experience of this uniting, I asked her and Grandpa about their own courtship, wedding and honeymoon. Their eyes twinkled and they stared at each other as they spoke, vividly recounting their first days together and the blossoming of their partnership. As I sat and listened, I came to realize in a way that I never had before that John was the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. Here these two people were before me, people I love beyond measure and who love me just the same, and yet, after nearly 60 years together I seemed to almost disappear as though I were the sand beneath their toes on their honeymoon in Bermuda. To see them look at each other with such tenderness and devotion and excitement, a simultaneous calmness and complete consumption with their respective partner was, for me, a moment of clarity and a moment of tremendous hope. There was something about seeing my grandparents at the end of their road right as I stood on the brink of my path with John that was, quite simply, a beautiful and perfect gift. True and everlasting love had never been so concrete to me and, with that foundation, I will go forward always knowing that what I want from partnership is real and possible.

When we were done eating, Grandma squeezed my hand and told me that she hoped my wedding day was everything I hoped it would be. I sat with my grandparents a little bit longer until they were both asleep, Grandma in her bed and Grandpa in the chair next to her with his hands on her feet. For a while I just watched them, and then I gathered the lunch tray and carried it out of the room and, with that, my meals with my grandma were done. I had never been so full.

February 14, 2009 Jan Lighthill Reynolds passed away. She is loved and remembered and missed by all who knew her.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Be My Valen-scone?

Janet Here: Okay, so Rachel wins the I-Can-Make-My-Scones-in-a-Cute-Shape, Take-That Contest. But I'm telling you that this recipe for Currant Scones from the New Blueberry Hill Cookbook is the tastiest. And since we're 3,000 miles apart, she's just going to have to take my word for it. (Oh and I only had to make them once.)

Anyway, I've always enjoyed scones. Somehow they feel less caloric to me than muffins, and fewer calories, sadly, has been something I've been consumed with for most of my life. That said, I don't think I actually discovered them until I went to England in my 20s. I grew up in an era when chocolate chip cookies, cakes and pies were pretty much all the dessert options. Scones would have fallen under that odd ethnic category left to things like ravioli and Indian food — yeah that's right, I didn't have that until my 20s, too. My kids have no idea how lucky they've been. Anyway these are terrific! My husband ate one right off the baking pan.

Currant Scones


2 cups unbleached white flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sweet butter
1/4 cup currants
grated rind from one orange (of if you're lazy like me, orange peel from a spice jar)
1 egg
2/3 cup half-and-half
1 egg yolk plus 1 tablespoon water, mixed

Heat the oven to 425 degrees
Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender or fork (that would be me) cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal (or you get bored and tired of doing it, which is what happened to me since I was using a fork). Stir in the currants and orange rind

In another bowl beat the egg lightly with a ford. Slowly beat in the half-and-half. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and combine thoroughly.

Pat the dough into a flat circle about 6-8 inches in diameter (I put down a little flour to prevent stickiness). Cut into six pie-shaped wedges. Place wedges on an ungreased baking pan, sides not touching. Brush the tops with the egg yolk and water mixture, and sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar.

Bake for 10-15 minutes until brown on top. Mine took 15.

What's your favorite scone recipe?

Rachel here: To answer my mother's question regarding favorite scone recipes (I'm pretty sure she's not asking me, but that hasn't stopped me from butting into her conversations yet, so...), the one that she used is my favorite of all time. Yes, that's right: the woman used my favorite scone recipe. I suppose it's fair, seeing as how the cookbook is hers and I never bothered to transfer the recipe to California. Still, though, this felt like a losing battle from the get go. And, as it turns out, it wasn't just a feeling. I bought myself a new cookbook the other afternoon when I found myself with a few hours to kill (a rare moment, for sure). Not only is this cookbook new, it is from a category in which I have never indulged before: baking. Now, of course, this isn't to say that I've never owned a cookbook with baking recipes in it. Far from it. Instead, what I mean, is that I've always bought my cookbooks for their breadth instead of their focus. Buying a cookbook that's just on baked goods always seemed sort of frivolous (this is so revealing about my personality, right? ugh) and, in turn, the actual purchasing of one felt nothing short of decadent. Not only is the cookbook super focused, it's super focused on food that has little to no nutritional value. I walked to my car with a bounce in my step and, instead of starting for home, I sat there and thumbed through each page, fantasizing about which insanely delicious looking/sounding treat I would make first.

Now, you may have noticed that I have withheld the name of this cookbook. This is because I tried one of the scone recipes from it twice and each resulted in its own special total failure. Were I making pretty much anything other than scones I would be completely willing to assume responsibility for these culinary disasters. The problem, though, is that if there is one thing in the world that I can bake it's scones. Ask my mother (I suspect it's why she used my favorite recipe). Ask John. Ask anybody, really. I can make scones. And so, to protect the innocent, I am keeping the name of this cookbook a secret in hopes that the next recipe I try from it will work out and then I will sing its praises. For the time being, though, I have to believe that the scone recipe is inept and/or riddled with typos...I simply refuse to believe that this recipe somehow stumped my scone-making prowess (Honestly? I was so maddened by my first failure that I got out of bed last night to try, I couldn't sleep after making bad scones...another personality revelation, I'm sure).

And so, this morning, I turned to my old faithful, The Best Recipe by Cook's Illustrated. I've mentioned this tome before (and it really is a could keep your house grounded in a tornado it's so thick) and, though the scones I made were petite (my own decision), they are yummy...and, as my mother so begrudgingly noted (though I'm not sure why since I think she's got her own heart-shaped scone in her picture), certainly festive. A little jam, a cup of tea and a book and I couldn't be happier (although, I will reiterate, if you're making scones, use my mom's recipe from above because, truly, it's superior).

Citrus Honey-Nut Scones
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tspn. cream of tartar
1/2 tspn. baking soda
1/2 tspn. salt
1/4 c. chopped walnuts
2 T. lemon zest
4 T. butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 c. whole milk, plus extra for milk wash
1/4 c. orange juice
2 T. honey
Demara sugar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees with rack in middle position. Whisk flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt. walnuts and lemon zest together. If you have a food processor, pulse everything except the lemon zest until combined and then add the zest, pulsing just to incorporate. Cut the butter into this mixture, using whichever method you prefer if working by hand (I have always been partial to the two-knives approach) or the steel blade of your food processor. You want the mixture to resemble coarse cornmeal with a few slightly larger clumps.
If you are working by hand, form this mixture into a well and add the milk, orange juice and honey to the middle. Quickly blend the ingredients into a soft, slightly wet dough. If you're going the food processor route, add the liquid through the feed tube, pulsing until the dough forms a rough ball.
Place your dough on a well-floured surface and roll it to 1/2 inch thick. Using a greased and floured cookie cutter, cute out your scones and place them on your baking sheet. The number of scones this recipe yields depends on what size cookie cutter you use. Swipe tops with a milk wash and sprinkle with demara sugar. Bake 10-12 minutes, rotating halfway.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Blogs That Make Us Hungry

Rachel here: When my mom directed my attention towards Kate and her blog Savour Fare and I went to check the blog out and was greeted by a recipe for mashed potatoes with broccoli, I knew this was a woman I could get behind. Mashed potatoes are one of my comfort foods and I appreciate any person who spends time experimenting with this pillowy pile of goodness outside of major holidays. As I perused further, my respect only grew. Kate has an interest and determination to cook and enjoy good food that I can relate to as a busy partner and mom-to-be. She has cooked throughout her life, undeterred by law school or motherhood and, through this, the possibility for all of us to eat well seems just a little bit more attainable. Plus, her blog features recipes from pork to plum pie; Kate makes jam and she makes risotto. Her site is a concise little cookbook in its own right and I highly recommend checking it out for inspiration, both psychical and culinary. We'd be sharing a few tempting pictures and a sample recipe (most likely the mashed potatoes I mentioned above), but alas we weren't on our game this weekend and didn't contact Kate in time to go about sharing stuff from her site in all of the right and respectful ways (you know, with her permission). We apologize and suggest just taking a leap of faith and clicking the link over to her site. We're pretty sure you'll be glad you did.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Slurp! Soup!

Rachel here: The recipe I'm sharing this week is from my grandma on my dad's side (my grandma on my mom's side is/was my grandy). The last time that I had it with her was a few years ago when I brought John to Connecticut for the first time to meet my family. We went to my grandparents' for lunch and this was on the menu. I had started gathering recipes from my grandma a little bit earlier and so, after lunch, I followed her into the kitchen and asked her for this one. Chicken soup is one of the great simple foods, I think, when it's done well. So often, though, it's a mediocre product. My grandma's recipe (which she would want me to reveal she learned from her brother's former wife because she was humble like that), however, gives chicken soup all of the tlc it needs to turn around and give that tlc right back to the person eating it. It is at once complex and familiar, hearty and basic. When my kitchen began to smell like my grandma's house, I was transported back to that afternoon copying her recipe while she chattered about how nice John seemed while putting the lunch dishes away. I could see the sunlit snow through her windows and hear the quiet calm that always hugged her home. My house smelled like my grandma's house last night and, frankly, as I come close to the one-year anniversary of her death, it is nice to know that she is a part of my home and my new family, that something as simple as chicken soup--and with it, my grandma--can be carried and woven and traced throughout my life.

Grandma's Belgian Chicken Soup
1 roasting chicken (3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pounds)
1 large onion, sliced
2 medium leaks, cleaned and chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
3 small carrots, sliced
1 parsnip, sliced
4 c. water
1 1/2 c. dry white wine
4 sprigs of parsley (plus extra to garnish)
2 tspn. fresh thyme (I used lemon thyme)
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves (I used 1 tspn. ground cloves instead)
1 T. instant chicken bouillon
2 tspn. salt
1/4 tspn. pepper
1/4 tspn. nutmeg
1/4 tspn. cayenne
2 egg yolks
1/2 c. half-and-half
1/2 lemon (or, one small lemon) thinly sliced

Combine the first eight ingredients (my grandma's recipes always give instructions this way and I find it nice and concise), from the chicken through the wine in a large pot. Make a bouquet garni with the parsley, thyme, bay leaf and cloves (or don't...I didn't, but if you are not going to then definitely go with ground cloves and don't forget to fish out your bay leaf when the soup is done cooking). Add to soup pot along with bouillon and spices (by spices I am referring to the ingredients from the salt through the cayenne). Bring this all to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover, letting simmer for an hour or more until the chicken is tender.

About halfway through, rotate the chicken if it is not entirely covered by the liquid. When chicken is tender, remove from pot. At this time, if you have used one, you should also remove the bouquet garni. If you didn't go the garni route, this would be a good time to find that bay leaf and pull it out. Remove skin from the chicken and cut the meat from the bones into bite-sized pieces. Skim the fat from the chicken broth before returning the now bite-sized chicken to the pot (if your chicken is on the larger side you may not need to add all of the chicken back into the pot which means you will have some very yummy meat for fact, it's so delicious that I would recommend erring on the larger side for your chicken in the name of having leftover meat).

Combine the egg yolks with the half-and-half and stir this mixture into the soup. Heat until hot, but do not boil. Stir in your lemon slices. Sprinkle each serving with chopped parsley, put some hearty fresh bread on the table and dig in.

Seriously? I think this soup is perfection. What do you think? I also think the stock would be a great base for other soups, though I've never tried it because this recipe is so good that I never want to not make it.

Janet here: As the older of this duo, I love reading how much cooking with her grandmother means to Rachel. It makes me feel so heartened to see the story continues even after the death of the cook.

Making soup always makes me feel so cozy. The process is so relaxing — cutting up the vegetables and other ingredients — and like baking cookies on a cold rainy or snowy day, it just makes me feel so safe and warm. This roasted vegetable soup is my adaptation of a recipe I first made from one of the Barefoot Contessa's cookbooks. I hope you like it. As with most of what I do, there's room for variations and individual ideas. Enjoy!

Roasted Root Vegetable Soup
makes at least 10 servings

20 ounces of turnips, peeled and cut into cubes
5 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
3 large potatoes, skin on and cut into cubes
64 ounces of chicken or vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Put the vegetables into a large bowl. Dribble with olive oil and salt and pepper. Mix well.Put onto a roasting pan. Cook for about 40 minutes until the vegetables are done. Turn at least once in the middle to make sure all sides get roasted well.

After the vegetables are cooled, add to a blender a little at a time with some of the broth and puree. I happen to like my soup just one or two steps above mashed potatoes, but if you like it soupier, then you'll want to perhaps use more broth in general.
Heat and serve when you're ready. This is soup with substance, so all you need is some bread and maybe a salad to have a complete winter meal.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ice Cream and More (Galore!)

Janet here: We are not a family of cake eaters. Did that start because I'm not a cake eater and never made them, the same way we never had soda in our house growing up so I never developed a taste for soda? Who knows, but whatever the reason, we have homemade ice cream cakes for birthdays... and they barely last a day.

I'm not sure where I got the idea to make an ice cream cake (or perhaps more accurately, an ice cream pie) but once I did, the path was set. The way it works, each birthday person can pick the kind of ice cream and whatever mix-in they want smushed in. Depending on the birthday child, it's been anything from M&Ms to Reeses Peanut Butter Cups to Heathbars (and sometimes all of them). This recipe is absurdly easy (and fun to lick the bowl afterwards). Hope you enjoy!

Homemade Ice Cream Cake

20 oreo cookies, smashed
20 (give or take) small Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, smashed (or whatever you choose)
2 pints of ice cream (coffee is a favorite at our house but again the choice is up to you)

Put the ice cream out to soften.
While it softens, mash the oreo cookies in a bowl. I use a pestle but a covered hammer could work too.
Place the cookie "crust" in an 8 or 9 inch pie pan, making it level. Make sure there is enough for the sides. (You can always add more mashed cookies if you need more.
Mash the smush-in of choice in the same bowl. When you've got enough, add the softened ice cream and mix up some more. Spread into the pie pan and put it in the freezer for at least an hour. (It will be hard to wait but worth it.) Serve it up!

Rachel here: So, as evidenced by my mom's cake, ice cream was the theme for this post and, as evidenced by the fact that the picture right above these words is a picture of sorbet, I strayed. Oops! I'm pretty sure my mom's used to my, shall we say, interpretations of guidelines at this point. But anyway...

The reason I made sorbet was that, well, I wanted to. I keep getting really excited at the grocery store when I see California berries at a reasonable price in the middle of winter and, though I could have made ice cream with them, sorbet seemed to honor their magnificence just a bit better since the fruit stands on its own more (don't get me wrong, though, I adore ice cream). For the last few weeks I've noticed gold raspberries and I've been meaning to try them and so I picked some up (along with some red raspberries and some strawberries...I wasn't kidding when I said I keep getting really excited at the grocery store) and embarked on my very first sorbet making adventure. You can follow me along this delicious path using the recipe below and substituting whatever is local and fresh in your produce department.

1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. water
juice from one small lime
3 c. gold raspberries
3/4 c. red raspberries
1/4 c. sliced strawberries

Make a simple syrup with the sugar, water and lime juice. Don't know what simple syrup is? It's a syrup that is quite simply made by heating the sugar and water (and, in this case, the lime juice) over the stove until the sugar dissolves. Mmmm...
Place in fridge or freezer until quite cold (but not frozen).

In a food processor, break down your berries until smooth. I've heard that some people like to then strain the seeds out of this berry concoction, but I like evidence of the fresh fruit I've used so I left them in. If you don't have a food processor, I am going to post a little alternate recipe below that should turn out just fine. Back to this version, though...
Place the berries in the fridge and chill until quite cold.

Combine berries and syrup in a pourable container. Set up your ice cream maker/attachment (don't have one? No big deal with sorbet. Just put your well mixed berries and syrup in the freezer, checking on it every 15 minutes or so and fluffing it up so you don't get ice crystals until it's a good texture for you) and let it work its magic. Put your sorbet in an airtight container and freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.

Alternate version
So, you don't have a food processor. It's ok, I didn't always. I got one this summer when John and I got officially hitched. It's awesome and sort of like having a kitchen b*tch, but I'm sure I don't need to rub your face in its wonders. So, what you should do instead is take half of your simple syrup and combine it with 1/2 c. lemon juice. This should taste like sweet lemonade. Now just mash or chop up your berries and mix them into this. Everything else you need to know from here it posted in the main recipe above. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Food for Thought Thursdays: Ice Cream

Janet here: Ice cream has figured large in my life since I was a child, so it's no surprise it's the stuff behind a lot of memories in the family my husband, Peter, and I have created. The question is where to begin talking. With the memories I have of Sunday Sundaes in my childhood? With homemade ice cream trips with the neighborhood kids when we picked my father up at the train in New Jersey? The list goes on.

After a lot of discussion, Rachel and I decided to kick off what will likely be the first of many ice cream posts (stay tuned for tomorrow's on homemade sorbet and homemade ice cream cakes for instance) with a place that has a special spot in our family's collective hearts: Donnelly's Ice Cream in Saranac Lake, NY. They don't have a website but you can click here for a posting and photo on this Adirondack blog about this special spot.

My husband and I came together over two things: Pride and Prejudice and the Adirondacks. I'll leave Mr. Darcy for another day, but our time in the Adirondacks has been a repeated treasure year after year. We began with our honeymoon in Long Lake and continued soon after with annual summer vacations with our growing family. It was during one of our first summer visits there that Peter and I discovered we also shared a Donnelly's love. He had gone there for years as a child and I first discovered Donnelly's while making the long drive to and from New Jersey to St. Lawrence University. Donnelly's was also a wonderful way to end a long day of hiking. With the exception of a cold Michelob, licking a soft-serve cone and staring at the mountains across the road after hiking is really as good as it gets.

The allure of Donnelly's is in part its simplicity. A small shed on a dairy farm, they serve up one flavor and one flavor only each day. They also only make soft-serve. I like that no-nonsense approach. It's about eating the ice cream, not some frou-frou experience. And it's about slowing down and savoring the moment, one of many such moments that make family vacations so great. Yes, the big trips are memorable, but these small moments, a cool lick of chocolate and vanilla swirl, are really the best.

Rachel here: Oh, Donnelly's. Just the mention of the name makes me struggle not to buy a plane ticket and fly east. Nestled amongst the beautiful Adirondack mountains (the place where we spent nearly every summer of my childhood) the mere thought of Donnelly's conjures feelings of relaxation, silliness and fresh air. No matter how old we were, my brothers and I were always able to get along in the name of a trip to Donnelly's (admittedly, we generally got along better as kiddies when we were in the Adirondacks...the mountains gave us perspective even then), always willing to spend a little bit longer in the car if it meant a pitstop at the yummiest, creamiest, freshest soft-serve ice cream stand we've ever known. With only one flavor served a day (a conviction which has always impressed me), when G and S were little we could only go on certain days because they weren't up for the "nut surprise" day or whatever. This led to a few smug private trips to Donnelly's by me and a parent to which I can vividly remember returning to the cabin by the lake and gloating, "I had Donnelly's and you didn't" only to pause melodramatically before revealing that I had had pistachio and vanilla swirled together, something that for reasons that remain mind-bloggling to me, didn't appeal to my brothers.

I think what felt so fun, besides sort of being at Donnelly's whim in terms of what kind of ice cream we had, was that my parents were just as enthusiastic about Donnelly's as we were. When you're little it's the rare event that generates equal enthusiasm amongst all of your family's ranks and yet when we'd pile in the car, or take the detour, towards Donnelly's there was an effervescence that could be felt emanating from each one of us. This kid-in-a-candy-store delight continues to this day. We all laugh when it's too hot and our ice cream slides off the cone (only, of course, because it means we get to go in and get another, thereby ensuring just a little extra ice cream consumption), we stand around and lick and giggle and reminisce and look at the mountains around us. These are timeless moments, moments in which I feel connected to every summer past standing in the same spot with my family, like some sort of constellation or connect-the-dots. I am both 10 and 20 as we sit on the bench in front of the tiny store, and I couldn't be happier. Thank you, Donnelly's, for giving my family a place to pause year after year (oh, and sometimes day after day when we're in the Adirondacks) and, of course, for making such fantastic ice cream.

Do you have a favorite ice cream memory? Or maybe you've been to Donnelly's. We'd love to hear.