In which I make Lasagna…for the first time in 25 years!

     Once upon a time, there was a cute young co-ed who fell madly in love with a handsome and dashing quarterback and after a long courtship, which involved far too many cafeteria meals, they were more than excited to set up their own little apartment and create a home together.  Now, since this young co-ed had become a preschool teacher and got off work at 3:30, it fell upon her to make plans for the evening meals and this was a responsibility that she actually quite enjoyed, much to the relief of her quarterback (at this point an entry level marketing manager, but let’s stick with quarterback).  Each day after work, she would make a quick call to his office to discuss what they might have for dinner that evening.
     One evening, they decided that they were in the mood for lasagna and so the preschool teacher set about to accomplish this.  She happily toiled away in her tiny kitchen with no dishwasher, a mini fridge, two burners and a stacked washer/dryer set that took up way too much space.  Later that evening, after a mediocre meal, and spotting a sink piled high with dirty pots and pans, the young quarterback said, “I just don’t think that it is worth it to make lasagna from scratch since you really can’t beat the one made by Stouffer’s”. Now the young preschool teacher, being quite practical and not terribly thin-skinned despite her tender age, took this to heart and never made lasagna again.
     The years passed. Children were born (4). The preschool teacher became a full time mom. She long ago gave up asking anyone what they wanted for dinner (except birthdays and special occasions, of course) and cooked what (and when) she was in the mood to cook.  And the children grew up without lasagna.  To them, it was just that frozen dinner in the red box that dad sometimes ate when mom didn’t feel like cooking.
     Then one day (yesterday, actually) this hopefully still somewhat cute yet decidedly middle-aged mom, decided that she was in the mood to master lasagna.  Surely now, after 25 years of more successes than failures in the kitchen, she would be able to best that giant of frozen entrees, Stouffer’s. She turned toCooks Illustrated (September 2004) which she considers to be the master of well thought out and meticulously tested recipes and what follows is documentation of…

“Damn, that was good lasagna!” -the quarterback

…and they lived happily ever after. 





  • Meat Sauce
  • 1medium carrot , peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1medium rib celery , roughly chopped
  • 1/2small onion , roughly chopped
  • (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes with juice
  • 2tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8ounces ground beef , preferably 90 percent lean
  • 8ounces ground pork
  • 8ounces ground veal
  • 1 1/2cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2cups dry white wine
  • 2tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Béchamel
  • 4tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 4cups whole milk
  • 3/4teaspoon table salt
  • Noodles and Cheese
  • 15sheets no-boil lasagna noodles (9 ounces)
  • 4ounces Parmesan cheese , grated (2 cups)





For the meat sauce: Process carrot, celery, and onion in food processor until finely chopped, about ten 1-second pulses, scraping down bowl as necessary; transfer mixture to small bowl. Wipe out food processor work bowl; process tomatoes and juice until finely chopped, six to eight 1-second pulses.




Heat butter in heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat until foaming; add carrot, celery, and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes.




Add ground meats and cook, breaking meat into 1-inch pieces with wooden spoon, about 1 minute.  Add milk and stir, breaking meat into 1/2-inch bits; bring to simmer and cook, stirring to break meat into small pieces, until almost all liquid has evaporated, 20 to 30 minutes. Using potato masher or wooden spoon, break up any remaining clumps of meat (no large pieces should remain). Add wine and bring to simmer; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated, 20 to 30 minutes.




Stir in tomato paste until combined, about 1 minute; add chopped tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Bring to simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook until sauce is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. (You should have about 6 cups meat sauce.) Transfer meat sauce to bowl and cool until just warm to touch, about 30 minutes.

2. For the béchamel: While meat sauce simmers, melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until foaming; add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 1 1/2 minutes; mixture should not brown. Gradually whisk in milk; increase heat to medium-high and bring to full boil, whisking frequently. Add salt, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally with heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, making sure to scrape bottom and corners of saucepan. (You should have about 3 1/3 cups.) Transfer béchamel to bowl and cool until just warm to touch, about 30 minutes.




3. To assemble and bake: Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 425 degrees. Place noodles in 13- by 9-inch baking dish and cover with very hot tap water; soak 5 minutes, agitating noodles occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove noodles from water, place in single layer on kitchen towel, and pat dry. Wipe out baking dish and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Stir béchamel to recombine; mix 3/4 cup warm béchamel into warm meat sauce until thoroughly combined.






4. Distribute 1 cup béchamel-enriched meat sauce in baking dish. Place three noodles in single layer on top of sauce, arranging them close together, but not touching, at center of pan. Spread 1 1/4 cups béchamel-enriched meat sauce evenly over noodles, spreading sauce to edge of noodles but not to edge of dish (see illustration 1). Drizzle 1/3 cup béchamel evenly over meat sauce (illustration 2). Sprinkle 1/3 cup Parmesan evenly over béchamel. Repeat layering of noodles, béchamel-enriched meat sauce, bechamel, and cheese 3 more times. Place final 3 noodles on top and cover completely with remaining béchamel, spreading béchamel with rubber spatula and allowing it to spill over noodles (illustration 3). Sprinkle evenly with remaining Parmesan.

5. Spray large sheet foil with nonstick cooking spray and cover lasagna; bake until bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove foil, increase heat to 450 degrees, and continue to bake until surface is spotty brown, about 15 minutes. Cool 15 minutes; cut into pieces and serve.


In the mood for a Tea Party, Southern Style!

  Although you never need an excuse to have a tea party, this one has a special purpose.  The folks atFoodbuzz have joined forces with Kelly Confidential  to raise money for The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund and are donating $50 for every tea party posted today.  And on Friday, these tea parties will be the subject of a Foodbuzz “Top 9 Takeover”!  Fun stuff… and all for a very important cause.  You too can help raise money by going to Kelly Confidential and simply voting for an outfit for Kelly to wear to her “virtual tea party”.
So welcome to my tea party….southern style!
 A southern style tea party needs iced sweet tea, of course!

Pimento Cheese, Tomato and Chive Finger Sandwiches

Two of the South’s favorite sandwiches in one.  How can something so simple be so sublime?  When I was little, I used to pick the slivers of red pimento out of my pimento cheese sandwich so I appreciated the version that my Aunt Caroline made in a blender.  My version uses mild yellow cheddar and those wonderful sweet fire roasted red peppers that you find in a jar.  And although I no longer have an aversion to colorful specks in my food, I still like to blend my pimento cheese.  It just seems to take that lovely pimento flavor all throughout the spread.
For the pimento cheese:
1/3 pound mild cheddar
2 tablespoons good quality mayonnaise
several strips of roasted sweet red bell peppers (I use the equivalent of 1/2 of a med. red pepper)
Blend ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth, adding more mayo if needed to get to a nice consistency for spreading.
For the sandwiches:
Very Thin White Sandwich Bread (I use Pepperidge Farm)
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced very thinly
1 bunch fresh chives, minced
salt and pepper to taste
Stack the bread and trim it so that each piece is approximately 3×3 inches.  To construct a sandwich, spread one slice of bread with mayonnaise and top with one or two slices of tomato.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Spread pimento cheese on second slice of bread and set that on top of the tomato.  Top with a third slice of bread and press slightly.  Wrap sandwich in plastic wrap until all sandwiches are assembled and you are ready to set your tray.
To serve:  Cut each sandwich twice on the diagonal to create 4 equal triangles.  Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise onto the long end, the “uncut” side, of the triangle and gently press this side into your minced fresh chives.  Repeat with remaining sandwiches and arrange on a platter.

Brown Sugar Shortbreads with Smashed Blackberries and Sweet Cream

Slightly sweet flaky biscuits slathered with smashed fresh blackberries and whipped cream…a southern take on the traditional British scones with jam and clotted cream.
For the shortbread:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1 cup heavy cream, plus 2 tablespoons for brushing tops of biscuits
coarse brown sugar for sprinkling (such as Sugar in the Raw or Demerara Sugar)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder sugar and salt.  Cut cold butter into small pieces and toss into the flour.  Then, with a pastry knife, two table knives, or your fingers, blend butter into flour mixture until it is the consistency of coarse crumbs.  Add the cream and stir quickly with a fork until flour is just moistened (do not over work the dough) then turn it onto a lightly floured surface and pat it gently to a thickness of about 1/2 inch.  Use a 2 inch round cookie cutter to cut out shortbreads and place them 1 inch apart onto baking sheet.  Brush with additional heavy cream and sprinkle generously with coarse brown sugar.  Bake 12-14 minutes or until puffed and just lightly brown.  Remove from oven and cool.
For the berries and cream:
1 pint fresh blackberries
3/4 cup heavy cream
sugar to taste
Wash the blackberries (don’t dry) then toss them with a tablespoon of sugar (or more, to taste).  Using a table fork, smash berries, leaving some whole until you get a nice chunky jam-like consistency.
Whip cream with a couple of teaspoons of sugar (once again, you can use more if you like).  With this amount of cream, I prefer to whip it by hand with a whisk.  It only takes a few minutes and is good exercise…at least for one arm!
Serve and shortbreads with the smashed berries and cream.

 Hush Puppy and Deviled Crab Bites

 There is nothing dainty about the flavor of this little treat.  Crispy hush puppies, hollowed out slightly and filled with a cool and creamy crab salad.
1 package frozen hush puppies  (I use Savannah Classics original recipe)
8 ounces jumbo lump crab meat, picked over for shell fragments
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon coarse grain Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
salt and pepper to taste
fresh parsley leaves for garnish
Prepare hush puppies according to directions on package.  Let cool slightly then cut top 1/3 off of each hush puppy and remove some of the interior to make room for a nice portion of crab meat.  You may also want to take a tiny sliver from the bottom of each hush puppy so that the finished product will stay level on a serving tray instead of rolling about.
In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice and horseradish.  Gently stir in crab until it is well coated then taste and add salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, fill hush puppies with crab salad and top each with a fresh parsley leaf.

In which I make our favorite Butter-Roasted Potatoes!

Today I am adding a new feature to my little recipe blog.  I’ve decided that I will, from time to time, publish a post that I will call an “In which I…” post (as opposed to an “In the mood for….” post).  In these posts, I will highlight a recipe or a method with detailed instructions and photos.  Mostly this will just be a fun way for me to continue to cook and learn photography at the same time…but it also occurs to me that it might help my kids, grown and almost grown, in their kitchen adventures. So, I’m starting off with something that they love.  It’s very easy but it feels pretty special when you get it right…crispy, buttery, roasted potatoes.




In the photos below, I am making butter roasted potatoes to serve 6-8 people.
3 1/2 pounds red potatoes
5 tablespoons melted butter
coarse ground black pepper
12×17 inch heavy rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.


To peel or not to peel?  That’s easy.  If your potatoes look like this
Don’t Peel!
On the other hand, if your potatoes look like this…
Put potatoes in a large pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Let boil one minute then…
Use a slotted spoon to transfer potatoes to a rimmed baking sheet.  Drizzle with melted butter and season with salt and pepper.  Toss to make sure potatoes are evenly coated then arrange them in a single layer with the largest flat side down.  (if the potatoes are unpeeled, make sure that they are arranged cut side down.)
Potatoes should be no closer together than this in order to roast properly.
Let potatoes roast undisturbed for 40 minutes or until dark golden brown on the bottom.  (If you try to  toss them around before this bottom crust is formed, they will stick to the pan) Remove from the oven and let sit for 2 minutes then toss them around with a spatula.  At this point, you can either taste for seasonings and serve right away or put them back in the oven for a few minutes.  In any case, they are at their best piping hot out of the oven.
Variations:   Before roasting….season with fresh rosemary and or garlic
                    After roasting….toss with fresh either fresh parsley, chives, or slivered basil
                                             toss with freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In the mood for Orange!

Orange is the subtle citrus…sweet and delicate compared to the power of lemon or lime.  Oranges and their juice and zest are a surefire way to bring a little sunshine to all types of dishes.


Tomato Soup with Orange and Cumin


I’ve been making this all winter and see no reason to stop now.  It is like a light tomato cream soup with no cream in sight, just a hint of orange juice and the warmth of cumin. If you have an immersion blender, now is the time to use it as it makes this soup a breeze to puree.  This recipe is from Food and Wine Magazine.
1 small yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2/3 cup fresh orange juice
1 medium baking potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 bay leaves
2 cans (28 0z each) peeled whole tomatoes with their juices (I like San Marzano)
1 tablespoon packed finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon kosher salt, more to taste
freshly ground black pepper 
snipped fresh chives for garnish
Put the onion, orange juice, potato, butter, cumin, bay leaves, and 3 cups of water in a large saucepan.  Cover, bring to a boil over high heat and reduce to a summer.  Cook  until a skewer easily pierces the potato, 15-20 minutes.  Add the tomatoes with their juices and the orange zest.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a steady low simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the potato chunks are falling apart, another 20 minutes  Discard that bay leaves; puree the soup with an immersion blender,  hand blender, stand blender, or food processor.  Strain through a medium/large sieve; discard the contents of the sieve. Season immediately, let cool completely if refrigerating or freezing.  Heat gently, adjust the salt and pepper as needed garnish with the chives and serve. (makes about 10 cups)

Scampi Al Dragoncello

This bright and beautiful shrimp recipe is from Christina’s Tuscan Table by Cristina Ceccatelli Cook.  The only change I made was to segment the oranges instead of slicing them.  It’s super easy if you have a small, sharp knife.  Just cut a bit off of both ends of the orange so that you can set it flat on a cutting board then,  slicing from top to bottom, remove all of the peel and pith from the orange.  When it is completely clean, you will be able to quickly slice between the membranes to remove the orange segments.

24 large shrimp, cleaned and deveined, tails left on
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons for cooking
juice and zest of 2 oranges
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
a few sprigs fresh tarragon, for garnish
orange slices for garnish
salt to taste

Combine shrimp, 1/4 cup olive oil, juice and zest of oranges and lemon, tarragon, garlic, red pepper flakes, and parsley in a bowl.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and cook the shrimp on high heat for 3-5 minutes,  adding a splash of marinade as you cook to keep them moist.

Season to taste and serve hot, garnished with fresh tarragon sprigs and orange slices. (serves 4-5)


Berries with Orange Sabayon

I could live without a microwave.  For the most part, I use ours to melt chocolate for baking and to warm a tepid cup of coffee.  When I prepared to try this recipe, I almost pulled out the double boiler to cook the eggs then decided that if Chef Laurent Tourondel suggests the microwave, I should at least give it a try.   It came together like a dream and I am thrilled to have such a quick and easy make ahead dessert recipe for entertaining this spring and summer. (And the flavoring possibilities are endless!) This recipe is based on one in his book, Bistro Laurent Tourondel, New American Bistro Cooking. 
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 cup heavy cream
scant 1/4 teaspoon pure orange extract
fresh berries, like raspberries, blueberries or strawberries (about 5 cups to serve 6)
Make a simple syrup by bringing the sugar and water to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Remove from heat and let cool.
In a microwave safe bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the cooled simple syrup (the rest will keep in the refrigerator for another use, if you like) and the orange juice until frothy.  Cook 8-10 seconds on high heat in the microwave.  Remove from the oven and whisk until smooth.  Repeat 9-10 times, until the sabayon is cooked and thick.  Let cool for 10-15 minutes. (I cooked it 8 times for 10 seconds and then 2 times for 8 seconds, whisking between each and it turned out perfectly)
In a large chilled bowl, whip the cream with the honey and orange extract until soft peaks form.
Fold the whipped cream, gently but thoroughly, into the egg mixture and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Serve the sabayon over fresh berries and garnished with orange zest if desired.
Mint would be nice as well, of course, but I just couldn’t spend money on fresh mint when it will be popping up all over the place around here in just a few weeks!  The daffodil below is the first to bloom in my woods this year…Spring is here!

In the mood for Chicken Soup!

Let’s talk soup.  Remember that TV show, Talk Soup?  Greg Kinnear was the adorable, sarcastic host who showed clips of daytime TV’s oddest moments and then just reacted to them…that was the whole show…but it was very funny.  I think that it is still on the air, renamed The Soup,  but I haven’t watched it since Greg Kinnear left in the mid 90’s to become a movie star.
Soup, namely chicken soup, is the ultimate comfort food and although there are many to choose from in the soup aisle of the grocery store, none will compare with what you can create at home. Try these and you will see for yourself.  Sorry Progresso.
Beethoven famously once said, “Anyone who tells a lie, has not a pure heart and cannot make great soup.”  He was reportedly dismissing an otherwise decent housekeeper for being untruthful.  Here are three really great chicken soups for the pure of heart among you.
Note: While you can serve each of these soups right after making them, their flavors will really develop if they have at least a few hours to sit, either cooling, covered on the stove top (or refrigerated) and reheated. If you are in a hurry, the Asian Chicken Soup is the one who’s flavors seem to come together the quickest.  And, of course, they are all most excellent on day 2 as well.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

None of these soups are difficult to make but this one is probably the easiest because I use the meat from a rotisserie chicken.  I’ve been making it for years and just finally wrote down the ingredients and amounts for the first time so that I could post it here.  For entertaining, it is fun to set out lots of toppings…cheese, sour cream, fresh diced tomatoes, green onions, and fried tortilla strips.  But even on a busy weeknight, I take the time to make the tortilla strips because my whole family would be terribly disappointed if I didn’t.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
1 can petite diced tomatoes with juice (14.5 oz)
2 cups Spicy V-8 juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed and cut into bite sized pieces
4 cups lower sodium chicken broth (I like Swanson’s or College Inn)
3/4 cup frozen corn kernels
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper, if necessary
fresh corn tortillas, cut into 1/4 inch strips
vegetable oil for frying
Optional toppings:
shredded cheese for garnish (I like Colby/Jack)
chopped fresh green onions
sour cream
chopped fresh cherry tomatoes
For the soup:
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion and carrot and saute for several minutes, until onion softens and just start to color.  Add the next 9 ingredients (everything but the black beans) and bring to a simmer. Simmer covered for 20 minutes then add the rinsed black beans and simmer 5 more minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Serves 6.
For the tortilla strips:
Prepare several layers of paper towels for draining the strips.  Heat 2-3 inches of vegetable oil in a deep skillet or sauce pan over high heat.  Test to see if the oil is ready by frying one tortilla strip.  It should sizzle immediately and turn golden brown in just a matter of seconds.  Depending on the size of you pan and the amount of strips you are planning to fry, you may have to do this in several batches.  Toss the tortilla strips constantly while frying to brown them evenly and don’t walk away for even a minute as they can quickly burn.  Remove to paper towels to drain, sprinkle lightly with salt while they are hot, then let them cool completely.  Most importantly, make more than you think you will need because while they are excellent on the soup, they are also just a yummy nibble.  They keep well in a zip lock baggie.

Asian Grilled Sesame Chicken  Soup

I’m not sure how to describe how great this soup is…you just have to try it.  I wanted to re-do the photographs with a slightly higher noodle to broth ratio but the whole batch was gone before I got a chance.  My guy actually made a special trip home for lunch saying that he had been thinking about this soup all morning! This recipe was inspired by one from Bon Appetit (Feb. 2002)

3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil (divided)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce

1 package bean thread noodles (3.75 oz.)
4 cups chopped Napa cabbage (from 1 head)
6 green onions, white and light green parts chopped, dark green parts slivered
8 cups canned lower sodium chicken broth
1 small carrot, shredded
salt if necessary

Mix together soy sauce, dry sherry and 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil and pour over chicken breast.  Marinate chicken for 15 minutes in refrigerator. (note:  I like to pound the chicken breasts to create thin, even cutlets that will grill quickly)

Stir together garlic, peanut butter, ginger, vinegar and chili sauce in a small bowl.

Soak the bean thread noodles in very hot water for 10 minutes.  Drain, squeeze out excess moisture, and with a large knife, cut noodles into 2-3 inch sections. Set aside.

Heat remaining tablespoon of sesame oil in a heavy large pot over medium-high heat.  Add cabbage and chopped green onions and saute until cabbage is tender, about 5 minutes.  Add broth and the peanut butter mixture and stir well to combine.  Reduce heat and let simmer gently.

Meanwhile, prepare a grill pan over medium high heat.  Remove the chicken from  the marinade and then pour the marinade into the simmering soup.  Grill the chicken for 5 minutes on each side, or until just cooked throughout.  Slice the chicken thinly across the grain into bite sized pieces and add it to the soup.  Add the cut bean thread noodles, carrot slivers and green pepper slivers and simmer just until everything is heated through and the noodles are tender.  This will only take a few minutes. Remove from heat and taste and adjust seasonings.  Serves 6.


Brunswick Stoup

This is actually a Brunswick Stew.  I stopped short of thickening it to the consistency of stew, because I prefer it as a soup.  Brunswick Stew apparently originated in the southeast United States and I found many variations in the combinations of proteins that can be used in it.  My boring little version features all white chicken breast because I was plum out of squirrel!  I’ve simplified this family recipe, based on the one in American Family Style, by Mary Randolph Carter, in order to make it a tidy one pot affair.  Thanks to Marinda for inspiring me to make this excellent dish…it’s a keeper!
6 small chicken breast halves
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cans (14.5 oz.) chopped tomatoes with their juice
4 cups lower salt chicken broth
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, divided
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
cups frozen corn kernels
2 cups frozen baby lima beans
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons Wondra flour (quick dissolving)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco and additional Worcestershire sauce to taste, optional
Trim the chicken breasts of any visible fat and cut in half crosswise.  Sprinkle chicken with the paprika and the salt. In a heavy soup pot, melt  1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon oil over med-high heat. Brown the chicken on both sides and remove from the pot and set aside.
Add the onion to the pot and cook until transparent.  Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, 1 tablespoon of the Worcestershire sauce, and red pepper flakes and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and when the broth is just simmering, return the chicken to the pot, cover, and cook for 15-20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  (Be careful to maintain a simmer and don’t let the mixture boil…this will keep the chicken tender as it cooks in the broth)  When the chicken is nice and tender but before it starts to fall apart, remove it from the pot and let cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it into bite sized pieces.
Raise the heat under the pot a bit and add the potatoes, corn and lima beans and boil gently until vegetables are tender then return the shredded chicken to the soup.
 In a small bowl, melt the 3 tablespoons butter with the lemon juice, then stir in the flour, remaining 1 tablespoon Worcestershire, and the parsley.  Gently stir this mixture into the soup to flavor and thicken the broth.  Remove from heat and taste for seasonings.  Serves 6

In the mood for Winter Salads!

The good news is that I’ve just seen some bulbs peeking out of the ground and the forsythia is already starting to bloom. The bad news is that our forecast is calling for snow tonight.  This is February in North Carolina. But you won’t hear me complaining…. I’ve spent enough years in the north to appreciate the fact that, around here, spring arrives in March rather than May.
However, for the time being, step away from those tasteless tomatoes you see in the grocery store and enjoy the wonderful possibilities of winter-time salads.  Here are just a few of my favorites.

Beet Salad with Grilled Red Onions, Goat Cheese, and Kalamata Vinaigrette

This hearty salad is adapted from The Oprah Magazine Cookbook and is attributed to Chef Jim Botsacos.  He suggests Manouri Cheese but any goat’s milk cheese will do.  I used goat gouda.
4 medium red beets, trimmed and peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium red onions, sliced into 1/2 inch slices
salt and pepper
6 cups mixed field greens
6 ounces goat’s cheese
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive brine (from a jar of kalamata olives)
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Cut the beets into bite sized pieces, toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil, season with salt and pepper and roast on the lined baking sheet until tender, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a grill pan and brush the onion slices with remaining tablespoon of olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill over medium heat until evenly charred and tender, 2-3 minutes per side.
To make vinaigrette:  In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, brine, honey, oregano, salt and pepper.  Gradually add oil, whisking in a thin steady stream until blended.
Toss the greens and cheese together and dress lightly with the vinaigrette.  Top salad with the roasted beets and the grilled onion slices.  Drizzle with additional vinaigrette. Serves 6

Frisee Salad with Egg and Bacon

This is a Bistro classic in France (Frisee aux Lardons) but this particular recipe is from Tyler Florence’s new book, Tyler Florence Family Meal.
1small shallot
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 large heads or 5 small heads frisee lettuce, washed and dried
10 thick cut bacon slices, diced
6 eggs
Make the vinaigrette:
Combine first 8 ingredients in a jar with a tight lid and shake until emulsified.
Over medium low heat, cook the diced bacon until it is crisp, 12-15 minutes.  Drain on paper towels.
Place the eggs in a saucepan with cold water to cover.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately remove from the heat, cover the pan and let the eggs stand in the hot water for exactly 14 minutes.  Drain the eggs and cover with cold water,  Once cool, peel the eggs and halve lengthwise (or slice).
Place the frisee in a big salad bowl and add the bacon.  Add the vinaigrette and toss.  Arrange the hard boiled eggs on top and season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Arugula with Manchego, Roasted Almonds and Quince Dressing

This wonderful little salad, with the flavors of Spain, is from Big City Cooking, by Matthew Kinney.  Quince paste is a firm jelly-like combination of quince fruit and sugar and can be found in the cheese department of many markets.  I bought mine from Fresh Market but have seen it at Whole Foods as well. And of course, it is also available by mail order sources.  Manchego cheese has become much easier to find in the markets lately… and it is one of my favorites.  But if it is unavailable in your area, big shavings of Parmesan will work as well.
Quince dressing
1/4 cup quince paste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 bunches fresh arugula, tough stems removed
4 ounces Manchego cheese, shaved
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
To make the dressing:
Put the quince paste and 1 tablespoon of the red wine vinegar in a small bowl.  Use a whisk to break up the quince paste, then whisk the mixture to a smooth consistency.  Whisk in the remaining tablespoon of vinegar, the oil, and the lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper.  The dressing can also be made in a blender but it will emulsify, making it thicker and opaque.  It will taste the same but you may want to thin it with a bit more red wine vinegar.
For the salad:
Just before serving,  toss the arugula with the dressing and most of the shaved cheese and chopped almonds.  If you are using the thicker, emulsified dressing, toss gently so that the leaves do not get weighed down.  Sprinkle with the remaining almonds and shaved cheese and serve.  Serves 4

In the mood for Holiday Food Gifts!

I grew up in a household that was absolutely showered with food gifts during the holidays.  My father’s career in the food business guaranteed almost daily UPS and FedEx deliveries, many packed in dry ice, between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We received luscious desserts, most only available to restaurant clients, chocolates and fresh nuts, coffees and teas, huge beef rib roasts, breads and pastries, cured meats and cheeses, and our favorite, the Bryan Family Christmas Ham.

These days, the only corporate gift that comes to my door is a lone tin of ginger thins from a certain banking institution.  Unfortunately, it often sits undisturbed in the pantry, only to be replaced by an identical, albeit fresher tin exactly 12 months later.  No… the gifts that show up at my door during the holidays are of the warm and personal variety….homemade food gifts.  Wonderful pies to eat right away or freeze for later, flaky breakfast pastries, delicate cookies dusted with powdered sugar, glazed pecans and walnuts and homemade jams are just some of the treats that we have been blessed with in recent years.

Here are three food gifts that you might consider making this year.


Toffee Sauce For Ice Cream

This is a great food gift for three reasons:
1.  You can multiply the recipe as needed to make big batches of sauce.
2.  The sauce will keep for a week in the refrigerator, and travels well.
3.  This is one of the best ice cream sauces you will ever taste.
Combine in a medium saucepan:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup evaporated milk (Pet or Carnation….not condensed milk!)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup light Karo syrup
dash of salt
Bring to a boil over low heat.  Boil one minute the remove from the heat and stir in:
1/2 cup chopped chocolate covered toffee bars (Heath or Skor Bars)
Let cool then refrigerate.
At this point, I like to add another handful of chopped candy to the sauce to add a bit of crunch since the candy you added earlier will have melted to become part of the sauce.  Or you could wait and sprinkle the extra candy over the ice cream when serving as shown below.  This recipe fills one medium sized jar, as shown in the photo above, and will easily serve 6-8.

Cinnamon Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Toasted Pecan Filling

Possibly one of the best coffee cakes I’ve ever had and most definitely the best coffee cake that I have ever made.  A very special gift for someone during the holidays that will keep wrapped, at room temperature, for up to 5 days.  I’m copying and pasting the recipe straight from Fine Cooking because I didn’t change a thing and I don’t want to make a mistake in the precise baking measurements.  Note: If you don’t have superfine sugar, just make some by running sugar, before you measure of course, through the food processor until it is as fine as sand.
1 Tbs. softened unsalted butter
For the Streusel Topping
2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter
3 oz. (2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
2 Tbs. light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. table salt
For the Filling
1 cup toasted pecans
3 Tbs. granulated sugar
3 Tbs. light brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. Dutch-processed or natural cocoa powder
For the Cake
11-1/4 oz. (3 cups) sifted cake flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. table salt
10 oz. (1-1/4 cups) unsalted butter, slightly softened
11-1/2 oz. (1-2/3 cups) superfine sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
16 oz. (2 cups) sour cream

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F (325°F if using a dark nonstick pan). Generously butter a 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom.
Make the topping: In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until almost melted. Remove from the heat and cool to tepid. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, pecans, both sugars, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt and stir with a fork. Add the flour mixture to the butter and stir until evenly moistened and crumbly.
Make the filling: In a food processor, pulse the pecans, both sugars, cinnamon, and cocoa 4 to 6 times to combine and chop the pecans.
Make the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sugar slowly, beating until combined. Scrape the bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time, blending each one completely before adding the next. Scrape the bowl and blend in the vanilla. On low speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients and the sour cream, adding the flour in four parts and the sour cream in three parts, beginning and ending with the flour, and scraping the bowl as needed.
Layer and marble the batter and filling: Spoon 2 generous cups of the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth with the back of a soupspoonsoupspoon.
Top and bake the cake: Take a handful of the streusel crumbs and squeeze firmly to form a large mass. Break up the mass into smaller clumps, distributing the streusel evenly over the batter. Repeat with the remaining streusel. Press the streusel lightly into the surface of the cake. Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown, the sides are beginning to pull away from the pan, and a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 70 to 75 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least an hour before removing from the pan.

This cake keeps at room temperature, well wrapped or under a cake dome, for up to 5 days; you can freeze it for up to 3 months.

From Fine Cooking 96, pp. 70p
October 22, 2008

Peppermint Pretzels 

You won’t really need a recipe for these addictive treats….like peppermint bark but with a salty crunchy bite.  Just buy more white chocolate than you think that you will need if you want to coat the pretzels as thickly as I did. (For example, it took 3 Ghiradelli bars to cover 12 large pretzels.)
All you need:
white chocolate
hard peppermint candies or candy canes, finely crushed (food processor make quick work of this)
wax paper
Melt the white chocolate slowly in a double boiler or as I do, in a stainless steel bowl set over a medium saucepan of simmering water.  Stir in just enough shortening to make the consistency thin enough for dipping.  (Start with one tablespoon and add more by teaspoons if necessary) Dip pretzels (I use a wooden or metal skewer to make dipping easier) and set on wax paper.  Sprinkle with crushed peppermints and let dry at room temperature until firm.  Although chocolate will firm up quicker in the refrigerator, I find that it makes the crushed candy sticky, so I recommend taking the time to let it set at room temp before storing.

In the mood for new everyday recipes!

The only thing that the three recipes below have in common is that they have been in my “everyday recipes” rotation for at least 15 years!  Most of us have a rotation, don’t we?  A set of recipes or meal ideas that we rotate through weekly or monthly.
As we are in the midst of the busy holiday season, I find myself returning to some of my old standbys…meals that I don’t have to put any thought into, meals that I have made so many times I can whip them up in short order.  It’s comforting too.  My daughter took one look in the old Le Creuset pot full of Baked Chicken and Orzo and exclaimed, “Oh, I remember this!”.  She should remember it…I must have made it once a week for a good while there when she was younger.  (hint for parents: I used to chop the tomatoes into tiny pieces so as not to terrify the children)
Dishes leave my rotation, as they should, when I tire of making them (or I sense a “not that again” attitude from my eaters, who are, for the record, much too polite to actually say “not that again”)
But I eventually return to them because they are really good and they bring back memories… just as the simple Madeleine cake does for Marcel Proust in A La Recherche Du Temps Perdue.  Sorry.  French major.  Don’t get to use it very often.
Anyway, these recipes are among the “keepers” in my collection.  Enjoy!

Spicy Vegetable Couscous

This is my idea of the perfect meatless meal (although not vegetarian, of course, with the chicken broth) It is a simplified version of the wonderful Moroccan dish that usually includes lamb, chicken and/or veal.  I found this years ago in a book published by Glamour Magazine with recipes from their Gourmet on the Run feature.  If you ever see it in a used book store be sure and pick it up as it is full of great, quick and easy recipes.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 small or 1 medium turnip, diced
2 carrots, sliced diagonally
1 can chopped tomatoes, drained
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2-3 small zucchini, sliced
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup couscous
fresh parsley or cilantro
sesame seeds
In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat oil.  Add onion and garlic and saute until tender but not brown.  Add turnip, carrots, tomatoes, salt, cumin, crushed red pepper and chicken broth.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender yet firm when tested with a fork.  Add zucchini and garbanzo beans; cook until zucchini is just tender.
Meanwhile, prepare the couscous.  Heat chicken broth and butter in a large saucepan with a lid.  When it starts to boil, add couscous, stir, cover, and remove from the heat and let sit for 15 minutes to steam.  When couscous is tender and has absorbed all of the broth, use a fork to fluff it and serve with the vegetables and broth garnished with parsley or cilantro and sesame seeds.  Serves 4-5

Ben Moy’s Spicy Pork Tenderloin

I found this recipe from Ben Moy in the Chicago Tribune years ago.  It was published alongside an “Earthy Herb” chicken stir fry and these two dishes have been favorites ever since.  I’ll be sure and make the chicken version soon and share that as well.  I added “optional” to the Szechwan peppercorns because I made it without for years being unable to find them.  They are available at Williams Sonoma now and they add a unique flavor but the recipe is also good without them.
2 small pork tenderloins, trimmed and sliced on the bias against the grain into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 small red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cup into thin strips
1 small red onion, peeped and sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
1 teaspoon Szechwan red peppercorns, crushed (optional)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled, crushed and chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
4 green onions, cleaned and sliced for garnish
In a bowl, combine the red pepper strips and red onion and set aside.  In a separate bowl, combine pork, garlic, jalapeno, red peppercorns, sesame oil, soy, sherry, cornstarch and chopped ginger,  Let sit 10 to 15 minutes.
Heat a large skillet or wok, until very hot.  Add 1 tablespoon oil and stir fry the vegetables until the are just beginning to soften. Remove vegetables to a colander and keep them close at hand.
Rinse skillet, wipe out and return to heat.  Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with the salt.  Add pork and seasonings and spread single layer to let pork brown lightly on one side before you stir fry it a bit to cook through.  You should do this in two batches if your skillet is not large enough to cook the whole lot at once.  When pork is ready, return vegetables to the pan and toss until well mixed and heated through.  Correct seasonings as desired and garnish with the fresh green onion.  4-6 servings

Baked Chicken and Orzo

This is one of only 3 casseroles that have a place in my recipe binder.  Now, I love casseroles, I grew up on them in small town Mississippi.  But they just never went over very well with my eaters.  And if I did make a “casserole”, I was always careful to rename it.  For example, a chicken noodle casserole might become Roasted Chicken with Linguini.  This Baked Chicken with Orzo was a hit, I believe, because of the extra large pieces of chicken breast that become melt-in-your-mouth tender while baking in the silky buttered tomato sauce.  Recipe from Casseroles, Classic to Contempory, by Nina Graybill and Maxine Rapoport.
6 chicken breast halves, skinned and cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons olive oil
28-ounce can plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juice
6 basil leaves, torn into small pieces, or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons butter (original recipe calls for a whole stick of butter…go for it if you dare)
salt and freshly ground pepper
8 ounces orzo
2 cups chicken broth, heated to boiling
Brown the chicken pieces in the oil  While chicken is browning, simmer the tomatoes, butter, basil, oregano, and salt and pepper in an uncovered saucepan for about 20 minutes until somewhat thickened.
Place chicken in a 3-quart ovenproof casserole with a lid.  When tomato sauce has cooked down a bit, pour over chicken and place covered casserole in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for 30 minutes. Add orzo and boiling broth to the casserole and mix gently.  Cover and return to oven for 30 more minutes.  The recipe notes that you can add more hot broth if the dish seems dry before the orzo is tender but I have never had to do that. Serves 6

In the mood for Baking with Apples!

“With an apple, I will astonish Paris!” Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) Still Life with Apples


“There’s small choice in rotten apples.” The Taming of the Shrew William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

“Comfort me with Apples, for I am sick of love.” Song of Solomon 2:5



Apple Crumb Nut Muffins

This recipe comes from The Muffin Lady, Muffins, Cupcakes, and Quick Breads for the Happy Soul, by Linda Fisher.
Linda has an interesting story… divorced and struggling to provide for her young son, she adapted her mothers pancake recipe into a muffin batter and began baking muffins and selling them out of her red Radio Flyer wagon on the sidewalks of Westminster, Maryland.  But soon the Health Department intervened, telling her that would have to stop as she did not have a department approved commercial kitchen.  Fortunately, the local community came together to support “The Muffin Lady” and the fire department offered her the use of their government approved kitchen.
Concerning baking with apples, she says, “Apples have a flavor, but they need some seasoning when they are baked.  Cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves are key spices with apple, pumpkin, and other autumn fruits.  Summer fruits don’t need them because they tend to be pungent enough on their own.”
These muffins are a great example of this as the moist base is just softly flavored with the fresh apples and the sweet, spiced, crunchy topping provides the complimentary flavor and texture.
I think the flavor of these muffins improves with time so try to make them a bit ahead of time. They easily keep for several days.
Streusel Topping
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup flour
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
Mix all of the dry ingredients except the nuts.  Cut the butter into the mix using your hands to break into large chunks.  Mix by hand until small balls form,  Toss the nuts lightly into the mix.
For the muffins:
2 large granny smith apples, peeled, cored and small diced (about 3 cups)
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup canola oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Sift together the dry ingredients,  Make a well in the center.  Blend in the eggs, milk, butter, vanilla and oil.  Fold in the apples.  Spoon the batter into a wax paper lined muffin pan, filling cups almost to the top.  Top with streusel and bake until light golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.   Baking time will be 25-40 minutes depending on size of muffin tin.  Makes 12 (4-ounce muffins) or 6 (8-ounce muffins.)

All American Apple Turnovers

I love making these turnovers.  It is best to use a combination of apples in your filling to create the best texture and flavor.  Try a combo of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious, Rome or Jonathans.  Just make sure they are of the firm, cooking apple variety.  These are amazing fresh out of the oven so for entertaining, get them all ready and keep them in the refrigerator, ready to bake.  They are still good the day after baking but you will find the pasty to be softer and less flaky.  The recipe comes from Gourmet Magazine.
First, make the dough and chill:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch slices
4 ounces cold cream cheese, pinched into small pieces
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
3-4 tablespoons ice water
In a food processor, combine the 2 flours, sugar, and salt and process until blended.  Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse 10-12 times until the butter is coated with the flour and is the size of small peas.
Combine the egg yolk with 3 tablespoons of the ice water.  Pour this mixture through the feed tube and continue pulsing several times, until the dough just begins to clump together, but before it forms a ball on the blade.  (Use the remaining 1 tablespoon ice water if the dough seems too dry)
Using floured hands, pat the dough into a ball, then press it into a 4×6 inch rectangle, about 1 1/2 inches thick.  Dust the dough lightly with flour and wrap in wax paper.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.
To make the turnovers:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large apples, peeled, cored and cut in 1/4 inch dice (3 cups)
1/2 cup apple cider, or unsweetened apple juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt
1/2 cup unsweetened apple butter
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of ground allspice
cream cheese dough
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add 2 cups of the diced apples and cook, stirring frequently, until the begin to color, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the cider, sugar, lemon juice and salt. Reduce the heat to moderate and cook until the liquid is reduced and the apples appear almost dry but still retain their shape, about 5 minutes longer.  Remove the skillet from the heat and sir in the apple butter, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves and allspice, along with the remaining cup of raw apples. Transfer the apple mixture to a medium bowl and refrigerate, uncovered, until cooled completely.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the cream cheese dough to an 18-20 inch rectangle, 1/16 inch thick.  Using a 6 inch plate or bowl as a guide, cut out eight rounds as close together as possible.  Gather and re-roll the dough then cut out 2 additional rounds.
Spoon the cooled apple filling on the lower half of each of the rounds.  Lightly moisten the edges of the rounds with water and fold the dough over the filling to form semicircular turnovers.  Press down on the edges to seal, first with your fingers and then with the times of a fork.  Using the back of a small knife, press into the sealed edges a 1/2 inch intervals to create a scalloped effect.   Transfer the turnovers to a heavy, parchment paper lined baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Bake the turnovers in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes.  Move them to the upper rack and bake for 8-10 minutes longer, or until the pastry is a deep golden brown and he filling begins to bubble.  Let cool on a rack.
Drizzle with a confectioner’s sugar glaze if desired:
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanille
2 or more teaspoons water
Whisk together until glaze is a nice drizzling consistency  Transfer to a zip lock sandwich bag and snip off a tiny piece of one corner and use this to pipe the glaze onto the turnovers.

Ina’s French Apple Tart with Cinnamon Ice Cream

Ina says that this just might be her favorite dessert and I just might agree.  I’ve made this a number of times and it is simply a perfect recipe.  You will find it in Barefoot Contessa, Back to Basics. The only addition I made was to use a baking sheet with sides and wrap it in foil because the sugar and butter do burn on the pan , and sometimes in the oven, and create a bit of a mess to clean up.  I like to have this all ready and bake it during dinner because it is to die for warm out of the oven.  Amazing, it stays crisp and if there are leftovers, they usually disappear around breakfast time the next morning. (Wish I had gotten a photo of the whole tart but sometimes enjoyment cannot wait for photography!)

For the pastry
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
12 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup ice water
For the apples
4 Granny Smith Apples
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, small diced
1/2 cup apricot jelly or sieved apricot jam

2 tablespoons water

For the pastry, place the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Pulse for a few seconds to combine,  Add the butter and pulse 10 to 12 times, until the butter is in small bits the size of peas.  With the motor running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to come together.  Dump onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat the open to 400 degrees.  Wrap a jelly roll pan with foil then line with parchment paper. (this will help with the cleanup)

Roll the dough slightly larger than 10×14 inches.  Using a ruler and a small knife, trim the edges.  Place the dough on the prepared sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.

Peel the apples and cut them in half through the stem.  Remove the stems and cores with a sharp knife and a melon baller.  Slice the apples crosswise in 1/4 inch thick slices.  Lay overlapping slices of apples diagonally down the middle of the tart and continue making diagonal rows on both sides of the first row until the pastry is covered with apple slices.  Sprinkle with the full 1/2 cup sugar and dot with the butter.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the pastry is browned and the edges of the apples start to brown. Rotate the pan once during cooking.  If the pastry puffs us in one area,cut a little slit with a knife to let the air out.  Don’t worry!  The apple juices will burn in the pan but the tart will be fine!  When that tart is done, heat the apricot jelly together with the water and brush the apples and the pastry completely with the jelly mixture.  Loosen the tart with a metal spatula so tit doesn’t stick to the paper.  Allow to cool and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serve with cinnamon ice cream or gelato, or vanilla ice cream sprinkled with cinnamon.


In the mood for Cheese Straws!

Ten years ago I moved to the land of cheese straws.  Actually, it is the land of chicken pot pie, sugar cake, pulled pork barbecue, country ham biscuits, caramel cake, AND cheese straws.  Every person I know has either a favorite recipe or a favorite source for each of these wonderful foods.

The arrival of November got me thinking about entertaining so I thought that I would share some ideas for pre-dinner party nibbles.  I like to save the heavy hors-d’oeuvres for cocktail parties and simply serve a couple of light savory bites before a sit-down party.  We call that having “just a little something” before dinner.



White Cheddar Cheese Straws

  On top of being light, crispy, and spicy, these are also extremely quick and easy to make.  This recipe is based on one published in Southern Living in 2007.
6 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, cut into cubes
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper ( I use 1/2 tsp. for spicy straws)
1 tablespoon half and half
Combine the first 4 ingredients in a food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add red pepper flakes and half and half and process until dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.
On a well floured surface, roll into a rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick.  Using a pizza wheel or a big knife, trim the edges a bit to even them up and then cut the dough into straws about 1/4 inch wide.  Place on an ungreased baking sheet (I like to use parchment paper).
Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes until ends are just slightly browned.  Cool on baking sheet on a wire rack.
Makes about 2 dozen





Olive Straws

Just realized that these don’t really fit the category of Cheese Straws as they contain no cheese… just olives and puff pastry.  But, I’ll call it culinary license and carry on.  I tried the recipe on a whim just because it looked fun…and I happen to love olives.   If you are an olive lover too, what could be better than wrapping them up in a crispy shell?  This is adapted from Michel Roux Pastry, Savory and Sweet.  The “adaptation” is that I use Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry instead of making it from scratch!
1 sheet Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry, defrosted
about 15 large green olives, stuffed with pimentos
egg wash (1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon milk)
ruler or tape measure
On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry sheet to measure 9 1/2 x 13 inches.  Cut this rectangle into two pieces, one measuring 9 1/2 x 5 1/2 and the other measuring 7 1/2 by 9 1/2.  Don’t stress over the exact measurements…these are the ones that worked for me.  The idea is that you need two pieces of puff pastry, both the same length but with one a couple on inches wider than the other so that you can have extra room to cover and go between the olives.  Now place these two sheets of pastry on a baking sheet in the frig. for 10 minutes to chill.
Take the smaller piece of pastry and starting about 1/2 inch from the short side, lay olives end to end.  Create three rows like this, with about 1/2 inch in between.  (see photos below…kind of blurry but maybe helpful)  Now brush all of the exposed pastry between the olives with the egg wash.  Cover with the larger piece of pastry and press the whole surface of the pastry between the olives firmly with your fingertips.  Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  With a very sharp knife, trim and neaten the edges of the pastry and cut it crosswise into 1/4 inch slices.  The olives may slip around a bit but you can trim and reposition them on the baking tray.  Lay the straws flat on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until lightly brown.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly and serve.

Pepperoni Pinwheels

Another easy nibble using frozen puff pastry.  I like to get these all ready to pop in the oven and keep them in the frig until the guests start to arrive.  They are quite irresistible when hot out of the oven and still awfully decent at room temp.  ( From Cocktail Food, by Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford)
1/2 cup finely grated Gruyere cheese
3/4 teaspoon dried sage
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 puff pastry sheet, thawed
2 tablespoons honey mustard
2 ounces packaged sliced pepperoni (I like to use the extra thin sliced pepperoni)
1 egg, slightly beaten
     Mix the Gruyere, sage, oregano, and pepper together in a small bowl.  Lay the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface with a short side closest to you.  Cut in half crosswise.  Now with a long side facing you, spread half of the honey mustard onto each half, leaving a 1 inch border at the tops.  Divide the pepperoni and arrange in a single layer over the mustard.  Top each with 1/2 of the Gruyere mixture.  Brush the farthest edges with the egg.  Roll each puff pastry piece tightly from the closest edge to the egg coated edge to make 2 logs.  Lay them seam side down on a baking sheet and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare 2  parchment lined (or foil lined) baking sheets.
note:  The puff pastry can be filled and rolled up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated, or frozen up to 2 weeks in advance,  Thaw, cut, and bake as directed





In the mood for Quick Pasta!

I’d like to dedicate this post to my friend Stewart, as we have spent many long walks dreaming of taking a week or two and attending a cooking school in Italy.  I am hoping that 2011 just might be the year that we make it happen.
These three pasta dishes are relatively quick to throw together, especially if you have the components prepped in advance.  And they all taste best if you serve them right away.  Two tips for all pasta dishes: Always reserve a cup or so of the cooking water before you drain the pasta.  It is the perfect liquid for loosening the sauce and rewarming pasta.  And, when a pasta dish calls for zest, as two of the recipes below do, try to use one of the Micoplane brand zesters.  They create a fine, snowy zest that just melts into the pasta.

Linguine alla Carbonara di Salsiccia

(Sausage Carbonara)
     I was nervous to try Carbonara because it involves tossing eggs with hot pasta to create a luxurious, creamy sauce (or, I feared, a mess of hot pasta and scrambled eggs!) But it came together like a dream and while this is certainly a rich, special occasion dish, I am thrilled to add it to my collection.
     There are a couple of differences between my photos of this dish and the Jamie Oliver recipe that I am going to post below.  First of all, I was out of linguine so I had to use spaghetti and secondly, I didn’t have any pancetta so I made it without.  Next time I plan to use the pancetta and leave out the sausage because this decadent, creamy, lemony pasta really doesn’t need much more in my opinion (and the dish would come together even quicker).  But the little meatballs are fun for sausage lovers.
4 good quality sweet Italian sausages
olive oil
4 slices of thick cut pancetta, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound dried linguine
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese
zest of one lemon
a sprig of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
extra virgin olive oil
With a sharp knife, slit the sausage skins lengthwise an pop all the meat out.  Using wet hands, roll little balls of sausage meat about the size of large marbles and place them to one side.
Heat a large frying pan and add a good splash of olive oil.  Gently fry the sausage meatballs until golden brown all over, then add the pancetta and continue cooking fro a couple of minutes until it’s golden.  While this is cooking, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add the linguine, and cook according to the package instructions.
In a large bowl, whip up the egg yolks, cream, half the Parmesan, the lemon zest, and the parsley.  When the pasta is cooked, drain it in a colander, reserving a little of the cooking water, and immediately toss it quickly with the egg mixture back in the pasta pot.  Add the hot sausage meatballs and toss everything together,  The egg will cook delicately from the heat of the linguine, just enough for it to thicken and not scramble.  The sauce should be smooth and silky.  If the pasta becomes a little sticky, add a few spoonfuls of the reserved cooking water to loosen it slightly,  Sprinkle over the rest of the Parmesan, season if necessary, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and serve.  Eat immediately!

Penne with Ricotta and Spinach

This quick, one pot pasta dish is from Cook What You Love, by Bob and Melinda Blanchard.  I love it for a vegetarian entree but it would also make a great side dish for chicken or salmon.
1 pound penne pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces baby spinach leaves
1 cup ricotta cheese (I use whole milk ricotta)
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into strips
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the penne and cook until tender but still firm.  Drain and return to the pot.  (don’t forget to save a cup of the cooking water, just in case)
With the heat on very low, add the olive oil, salt, pepper, spinach, ricotta, basil, parsley, and 1 cup of the Parmesan to the penne and mix well.  Heat gently, stirring occasionally.  As soon as the spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes, remove the pot from the heat.  Serve immediately, topped with the remaining Parmesan.

Spaghetti con Gamberetti e Rucola

(Spaghetti with Shrimp and Arugula)
This recipe is from Jamie’s Italy, by Jamie Oliver.  I’ve made it many, many times and it is one of our favorites.  The only advice I have is to only use a wine that you would be happy to drink.  It does makes a difference.  (I found that out the hard way)
1 pound dried spaghetti
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 pound large fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined (I like to butterfly them)
1 small wineglass of white wine
2 heaping tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste (I like the one sold in a tube, for convenience)
1/2 tablespoon butter (my addition)
zest and juice of one lemon
2 handfuls of fresh arugula, roughly chopped
Cook your spaghetti in a large pot of salted boiling water according to the package instructions.  Meanwhile, heat 3 good glugs of extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan and toss in the garlic and chili flakes.  As the garlic begins to color, add the shrimp and saute them for a minute.  Add the white wine and the tomato puree and the butter and simmer for a couple of minutes.   When the pasta is ready, drain it in a colander, reserving a little of the cooking water,  Toss the spaghetti with the sauce, squeeze in the lemon juice, and add half the chopped arugula, using a little of the reserved cooking water if you want to loosen the sauce a bit, and correct the seasoning.  Divide between four plates and sprinkle with the grated lemon zest and the rest of the arugula leaves.

In the mood for Chicken Paillard!

In my mind, I want to be the kind of person who makes lists.  The kind of person who sits down, thinks things through, writes notes to herself, checks off each item as it is attended to, and goes to bed each night  with that peaceful feeling of accomplishment.  But try as I might, I usually end up flying by the seat of my pants and making most things up as I go along.
 Take grocery shopping, for example.  I wander the aisles and wonder…Do we need this, or that?  And then I arrive home to find that the chicken broth that I just purchased will now join the other 6 cans in the pantry and that we are completely out of milk.
      So when I am undecided about what I will feel like cooking for the family on any given week night, I always throw a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts into my cart.  Since my pantry is fairly well stocked,  (overstocked, some might say) I know that I will be able to pull off a nice meal by dressing up a chicken paillard*.  The three recipes that follow are just a few of my favorites.  They are great meals for families because you can just keep the components separate for picky kids.  For example, with the crispy panko crusted chicken (last photo below), I serve the chicken sliced with the vinaigrette as a dipping sauce for my younger ones.  I haven’t met a kid yet who didn’t love it!
*paillard (n) a slice of chicken, turkey or beef that has been pounded thinly and cooked quickly

Chicken Paillard with Fresh Fig Salad and Blue Cheese

A Tyler Florence recipe from his book, Tyler’s Ultimate, brilliant simple food to make anytime.  I will give you Tyler’s original recipe with a couple of notes I made to cut back just a bit on the over-the-top decadence of this one.
Serves 4
3 tablespoons honey  (I use 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound pancetta (I find that 4 ounces, thinly sliced, is plenty)
extra virgin olive oil
1/4 pound blue cheese, broken into hunks (I use only an ounce or two)
1 bunch of arugula
1 small basket seasonal figs, quartered (could use pears, peaches or apricots)
Tarragon leaves for garnish
First ,whisk together all of the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a small bowl and set it aside.
Sandwich the chicken breasts between 2 layers of plastic wrap and pound them very thin with a mallet or rolling pin.  Remove the chicken from the plastic and season them well on both sides with salt and pepper.
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat.  Unroll the pancetta slices, add them to the pan and fry like a big tangle of bacon until the fat is rendered.  Drain on paper towels
Drizzle a bit of olive oil into the pan with the pancetta drippings and pan fry the chicken for 3-4 minutes per side to brown the breasts and cook them through.  Remove the chicken to the paper towels with the pancetta.  Add the vinaigrette to the saute pan and heat for a few minutes, stirring, to deglaze the bits of pancetta and chicken fro the bottom of the pan. (I like to pour out any oil remaining in the saute pan before adding the vinaigrette, to cut down on the amount of fat in the finished dish) Remove the pan from the heat.
To serve, arrange the chicken on a serving dish and scatter the blue cheese, arugula, figs, and pancetta over. Drizzle the dressing over everything and garnish with the tarragon leaves.

Chicken Paillard 

topped with fresh greens and pan-seared cherry tomatoes

This couldn’t-be-easier recipe comes from Simply Salads, by Jennifer Chandler.
Serves 4
1/4 cup Balsamic Grainy Mustard Dressing (see recipe below)
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
5 ounces mixed field greens
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Prepare the dressing:
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Place the vinegar and mustard in a small bowl and whisk together.  Slowly add the oil in a stream, whisking to emulsify.  Season with salt and pepper.
Place a chicken breast in a large resealable heavy plastic bag.  Using a mallet or rolling pin, flatten to about 1/4 inch thick.  Remove the chicken and season with salt and pepper.  Repeat with additional chicken breasts.
Warm the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat.  Add the chicken and cook until golden brown and no longer pink in the middle, about 4 minutes per side.  Remove the chicken from the skillet and keep warm.
Place the tomato halves in the same skillet used to cook the chicken.  Cook over medium high heat sirring often until slightly charred.
In a large salad bowl, toss together the field greens, tomatoes and Parmesan cheese.  Add the vinaigrette to taste and gently toss.
Place a chicken breast on each plate and top with the salad,  Serve immediately.

Sesame Chicken Salad with Spinach, Cucumber and Cilantro

Another Tyler Florence recipe from Tyler’s Ultimate.  This has become a family favorite and one that almost all of my kids have actually learned to make on their own.
Serves 4
1/4 cup soy sauce
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon crushed red chile pepper
1/4 cup sesame seeds
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
salt and pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
fresh baby spinach leaves
1 cucumber, un-peeled, cut crosswise into slices
handful of fresh cilantro leaves
1 scallion, chopped
cracked black pepper
In a bowl, whisk together the soy sauce,lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, ginger, sugar and red pepper flakes for the vinaigrette.
Rince the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Put a chicken breast on the cutting board and, holding a large knife parallel to the board, cup through the breast horizontally so that you get 2 thin fillets.  Repeat with the 3 remaining breasts,  Put the chicken on a platter, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette, and toss to coat.  Set the rest of the vinaigrette aside,  Let the chicken marinate for about  10 minutes.
Combine the panko and the sesame seeds in a shallow bowl and season with a little salt and pepper.  Mix with your fingers so that the seasoning is incorporated and then taste it. The panko should be well seasoned.  Dredge the chicken in the seasoned crumbs, patting the crumbs gently so that they adhere.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium hight heat.  Line a platter with paper towels and set that to the side of the stove.  Add about half of the chicken to the pan and cook about 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy.  Remove the chicken to the towel lined platter to drain while you cook the rest of the chicken.
Put the spinach in a bowl with the cucumber, cilantro and scallion and toss.  To serve, arrange a mound of greens on a plate, set a piece of chicken on top, stack a few more greens on top, and finish with another piece of chicken.  Drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with cracked black pepper.