Saturday, February 27, 2010

Meatless Mondays

Sometimes the best intentions never come to fruition. I have been busy teaching many cooking classes lately and always plan to document so I can share. Time flies and it seems inappropriate to stop in the midst of a class to take pictures while participants wait for class to continue or more importantly, to eat.

Last night, I did a private class for a group of hard working moms. A night out, a little wine, tasty food and friendship. With lots of chatting amongst the ladies, I was able to snap a couple quick pics. Meatless Mondays was the topic of the night. One meat-free meal a week is beneficial for your health, great for your budget and an easy way to support the environment. For more information on this movement check their website.

On the menu, French Lentil Casserole with Croutons, Butternut Squash and Cheddar Bread Pudding, Swiss Chard Galette with Goat Cheese and an oldie from the yellow house, Eggs Baked in Parmesan Tomato Sauce.

Before guests arrive, I finished some last minute prep.

Ingredients and equipment gathered together, to keep recipes straight and seamless.

The Lovely and Talented Trish. I couldn't have done it without her. She is amazing and my right-hand "partner in crime" every Sunday.

Fresh spinach for the bread pudding.

Wine and social time sans kids.

Filling for the Swiss Chard Galettes. These. Are. Delicious! (if I do say so myself)

These galettes were truly a hit. A delicate crust with a bit of whole wheat and crunch from stone ground cornmeal. A new way with dark leafy greens. Goat cheese makes this dish. This one should have more, in my opinion. Is there such a thing as too much goat cheese?

I think the ladies had a great time. I know I did. I ended the evening with a sense of accomplishment hopefully, having taught them to feed those they love.

Also, I really wanted to eat that last galette.

Swiss Chard Galettes with Goat Cheese

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 t. sugar
1/2 t. salt
7 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 T. plain yogurt
1/4 cup ice water

1/4 cup golden raisins plumped with boiling water or in the microwave
1# (about 2 bunches) Swiss chard, stems removed and finely nchopped
2 T. olive oil
2 cups finely chopped onions
1 T. finely chopped garlic
1 t. fresh thyme or 1/4 t. dried thyme
1 generous pinch red pepper flakes
4 T. parmesan cheese
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

In the bowl of a food processor pulse all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt several times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until it has a sandy texture. Alternatively, whisk in a large bowl until well mixed. Grate butter into the bowl and toss with flour. Working quickly, rub butter into flour with finger tips.

Whisk together the yogurt and water. In a food processor, gradually add while pulsing machine until mixture comes together in a ball. If working by hand add liquid and mix with a wooden spoon until mixture becomes a shaggy mess. Turn out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a manageable dough. Do not over knead or allow to get warm.
Divide dough into 4 equal disks, wrap each in plastic wrap and chill for one hour or up to two days. Dough may also be frozen, well wrapped for up to a month. Thaw in
the refrigerator and proceed with recipe.

Roughly chop chard leaves and wash well. Spin dry in a salad spinner or on flour sack towels.

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft and caramelized. If onions begin to burn add a few tablespoons of water. Add garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes, cook stirring constantly for a couple minutes. Drain the raisins and add with chard leaves and finely chopped stems to the pan. Cook until the chard is wilted and tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper. Allow mixture to come to room temperature.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface roll dough into rough circle. Transfer to the baking sheet. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of parmesan onto each dough round. Top with with 1/4 of chard mixture leaving a 1 1/2" boarder. Sprinkle with 1/4 of goat cheese.

Bring the edges of the dough up over the outer edge of the filling. Center of chard will remain uncovered.

Bake until golden about 20 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, February 26, 2010

2-Toots with Henry

Henry loves trains. I love that Henry loves trains. When the school held kindergarten preview last week the kindergartners had the day off. When a friend (thanks Georgine) clued me in on this fun lunch place in Glen Ellyn called 2Toots, I knew I wanted to take him as a special treat. To make the day extra special he invited his best friend Carson.

The food is delivered on a train that travels through the whole restaurant and to all tables. Talk about cool. BTW, if you touch the train "too hard", it derails. Thank goodness no one lost their lunch. The really nice staff took it in stride.

Finishing up a delicious hot dog/chicken nugget lunch. I had a classic grilled cheese.

Behind the tracks is an old fashioned ice cream fountain. They make shakes, too. I used to work at an old ice cream fountain in high school. A bit of nostalgia is always good.

A chocolate sundae for dessert that came with a train whistle. That was the best part, at least for them.

There is still a bit of baby in those hands.

They had a great time. Classic kid faire, treats from the gumball machines and chocolate sundaes.

And then there were the train whistles on the ride home.....

Monday, February 22, 2010

Fresh Pineapple Crumble Cake

Back when I wrote catering menus, I always created seasonal meals. It just made sense, fresher products and better prices. Years later, I found I was ahead of the pack, since it seemed to be a novel idea - not to eat strawberries at Christmas. Who knew?

March is a good month for tropical fruits and I always think of pineapple. Yes, I am jumping the gun, hoping for an early spring. Six days until March or not, I was making pineapple upside down cake. Until I came upon Pineapple Crumb Cake! With hazelnuts? Come on!

First, I ground about 3/4 of a cup hazelnuts in the food processor to be folded into the cake batter.

An easy crumb topping. Butter, flour and sugar. No nuts, just the way I like it.

When I started this project, I realized I was out of two things. Parchment paper and powdered sugar for dusting. The powdered sugar I could do without. Since the paper would be inside the pan, I used waxed paper instead. The butter keeps it in place making it easier to butter again, then flour. Perfect substitue and less expensive, too.

Batter then pineapple.

More batter, more pineapple and all that streusel topping.

Smells great. Looks great.

Tastes even better. They were begging for one more before-dinner-bite.....


Fresh Pineapple Crumble Cake

adapted from Baking For All Occasions by Flo Braker

6 T. all-purpose flour
6 T. firmly packed light brown sugar
3 T. unsalted butter, softened
1/4 t. cinnamon

Fresh Pineapple Cake
1 1/2 cups, medium sized fresh pineapple chunks (about 38 chunks)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
Scant 3/4 cup hazelnuts, finely ground to yield about 1 cup
8 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs lightly beaten
1 t. vanilla extract
2 T. powdered sugar for garnish

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8" round springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper, butter again and then flour.

For the streusel, in a medium bowl, mix together flour, sugar, butter and cinnamon with a fork or your finger tips until mixture is crumbly. Set aside.

For the cake, set the pineapple chunks on a paper towels to absorb some of the juice.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Add hazelnuts to the flour mixture and toss to incorporate. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamy and smooth then slowly add sugar. Beat until light and fluffy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beat after each addition until just incorporated. Add the vanilla extract. On the lowest speed, gradually add the flour mixture and beat until just incorporated, stopping to scrape the bowl as needed.

Spoon half the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface before topping with about half of the pineapple chunks. Press lightly into the batter. Spoon the remaining batter over the pineapple and smooth, carefully covering. Top with remaining pineapple and sprinkle with streusel over the top.

Bake until the cake is nicely browned, and a wooden pick inserted in the center, comes out clean. About 45-47 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool to room temperature.

When cool, run thin spatula around the inside of the pan, release sides. Carefully turn cake upside down on to remove parchment/wax paper. You may also place a second cooling rack on the top of the cake, invert and remove pan bottom and paper. Place the first cooling rack on the bottom of the cake and invert again. Cake may then be carefully moved to serving plate.

Dust with powdered sugar for serving.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Do You Fondue?

Usually for Valentine's Day I make Boeuf Bourguignon and the air is filled Edith Piaf. This year, at Max's request, we had fondue and Edith didn't join us. Nonetheless, the air was full of familial conversation and festivity. Fondue is such a fun, communal way to eat, it's a shame we don't do it more often.

We gathered around the cocktail table in the family room - no television - and enjoyed a basic Gruyere fondue with lots of things for dipping. It's soooo easy to make. Heat some wine, toss some grated cheese with a bit of flour and then slowly melt it into the simmering wine. All of about 5 minutes.

Probably the most time consuming aspect is the preparation of the dipping bits. I quickly blanched broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. The red carrots are a Green City Market score. The fingerling potatoes cooked quickly in a pot of boiling water.

I got those great Pillivuty porcelain fondue plates last year after Christmas. They were an amazing deal and lots of fun for this special meal. Definitely heirloom worthy.

Everyone dove in to the fondue with joie de vie. (can't leave Edith out altogether). We ate and ate, and ate, and ate and then ate some more until we were stuffed. Then we had to have dessert.

Bittersweet chocolate and cream. How can you go wrong?

A sweet way to finish this meal. Bananas, angel food cake and more of those lovely heart-shaped marshmallows. The kids loved bananas but I liked the marshmallows drenched in chocolate the best.

Then, of course, I heart marshmallows.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Beans, Beans...

I love beans of all kinds in all forms. Black beans, cannellini beans, re-fried beans, bean soup. In a pinch canned beans will do but they are sometimes mushy and are processed with a lot of salt. It's always best to use dry beans and rehydrate them on your own but sometimes that's easier said than done. My theory is that grocery store beans are old, sitting on the shelf for....years? The longer they sit, the drier they become and the longer it takes to cook them. Nothing is worse than working on a great pot of soup all day only to have the beans be boarder line crunchy.

I wrote about Three Sisters Garden last April in this blog post. Check it out for more info on the beautiful black beans above. In the meantime, this recipe is to-die-for!

Besides the beautiful beans, the star of the show is this Spanish chorizo. A dry cured pork sausage with garlic and paprika. It's really flavorful and since it's dry, keeps well. I bought this pieces so long ago, I don't remember when. The kids were mortified as it grew a nice coat of dry white mold. Before preparing it, I wiped with a bit of vinegar to remove the mold and I was off...

Onions. Lots of onions.

Sauteed onions and sausage alongside the soaked black beans. The recipe suggest a quick soak of one hour covered with boiling water. Consider an overnight soak, just to ensure they soften properly. Even fresh beans from the market like these require a bit more soaking the longer they sit as was the case with these local beans.

Cover with stock and allow to cook until beans are tender. I decided to thicken the soup up a bit and used the immersion blender to puree some of the beans for a rich texture. The final touch freshly squeezed orange juice to brighten the flavors.

A dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle cilantro and a big piece of hot cornbread. Perfect.

Black Bean Soup with a Hint of Orange
Sunday Soup

1# dried black beans
2T. olive oil
8 oz. Spanish chorizo sausage, cut into 1/4" cubes
2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 T. dried oregano
1/8 t. red pepper flakes
1/2 t. kosher salt, plus more if needed
7-8 cups chicken stock (veggie would work, too)
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/3 cup sour cream
2 T. very finely julienne orange zest to garnish (optional)
2 T. chopped cilantro garnish

Rinse and sort through the beans to remove any pebbles. Put beans in a large heat proof bowl and cover with 6 cups boiling water. Soak beans for 1 hour, then drain and set aside. (You may also place beans in a pot with water to cover, bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to sit in water overnight)

Heat oil in a large, heavy deep-sided pot (with a lid) set over medium heat. When hot, add chorizo and saute, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add onion and cook, stirring for 3 minutes more. Add oregano, red pepper flakes and 1/2 t. salt. Cook and stir for 1 minute more. Add beans and 7 cups stock and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat and cover.

Cook soup, covered, at a simmer until beans are tender, for about 1 hour or longer. Remove lid and if too much liquid has evaporated, add up to 1 cup of remaining stock. If the soup seems too thin, remove 1/2 cup of solids from the soup and puree them in a food processor or blender, then stir them into the soup to thicken it. (alternately use immersion blender) Add the orange juice to the soup.

Taste soup and season with salt, as needed. Serve with sour cream, cilantro and orange zest, if desired.

The soup can be made 2 days ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat uncovered over low heat.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This Small Object = I Love You

The first time I went to the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago, I met the friend of a friend of a friend. Sarah Neuburger, the artist behind The Small Object. She makes lots of limited addition small things, one more inspiring than the next. What struck me the most that day, was a little wooden post card screened with a day brightening image. I knew I wouldn't want to part with it and so I hatched a plan.

This sweet little postcard moves through our house, hidden in secret spots where, eventually, it will be found. The recipient then hides it for a brother, sister, mother or father and the game continues.

It's become a fun little thing to do and a nice way to say "I love you". Times come and go where our little "I love you" gets lost in the shuffle as sometimes I love yous do. Then one day, when we least expect it, someone find it in an apron pocket or back of a drawer and off it goes again.

I hope this will be one of those great little memories my kids share after I am gone. Wouldn't it be wonderful it they continued this tradition - wherever they may be?

Monday, February 15, 2010

I Heart Marshmallows

I love to make marshmallows a few times a year. Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter seem to be marshmallow making holidays. Last week I made them for those I love and those the ones I love, love. (i.e.-girlfriends *sigh*)

I consulted David Lebovitz to figure out how to make use of the boxes and boxes of sheet gelatin I had bought at such a great price. The thing is, 4 packages of Knox is way easier but a deal's not a deal if you don't use it. Math is not my forte and it took forever for me to figure out how to substitute sheets for packages. After much calculation, I figured it out and then promptly threw the notes away before I could share them. The marshmallows turned out beautifully so my math must have been good.

So often, when I give marshmallows, recipients are surprised that you can make them yourself. That always strikes me as funny since most anything edible you can buy, you can always make better yourself. The surprise always makes the gift more fun to give.

Really it's a simple project of easy steps, make a sugar syrup, slowly add to the softened gelatin, add vanilla and spread in a pan. After adding the sugar syrup, the mixture begins to grow and turn a luxurious, glossy white. Kids love to watch this transformation. If hot sugar scares you, trust me, try this once and you'll be hooked. Be like Julia, don't be afraid!

I have the "marshmallow pan", an odd 11x17 pan that Martha's recipe suggests. Really you could use any size pan, keeping in mind the volume. Smaller pans yield thicker marshmallows. Good for eating but not so good for a cup of cocoa, in my opinion.

For Christmas I just cube them for cocoa. Valentine's Day requires hearts, of course. Aren't they cute?

One occasion when gilding the lily is the only way to go. I like them best dipped in dark chocolate but milk chocolate is good, too. I used good quality Guitard. After all you don't gild a lily with aluminum foil.

Martha's Marshmallows
The Martha Steward Cookbook

1 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups water
3 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 t. salt
2 t. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, plus additional for rolling

Oil an 11x17" Pyrex baking dish with vegetable oil. Line the dish with heavy aluminum fouil and lightly coat with more oil. (if using a non-stick pan like mine, oiling the foil is sufficient)

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, soften the gelatin with 3/4 c. water.

Place the sugar, corn syrup, the remaining 3/4 cup water and the salt in a heavy pan. Bring to a boil and cook over high heat until the syrup reaces 235-240 degrees, or softball stage on a candy thermometer. (invest in a good quality thermometer and you'll have no problems)

With the whisk attachment of the mixer at full speed, beat the hot syrup slowly into the gelatin until mixture is very stiff, about 15 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Pour the mixture into the foil-lined pan and smooth the top with an oiled spatula. Allow the mixture to rest, uncovered at room temperature 10-12 hours.

Using a fine sieve, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar onto a cutting board. Turn the stiffened marshmallow mixture out onto the sugar, and using a small, lightly oiled cookie cutter, cut into shapes. Be sure to dip the cut edges of the marshmallow into confectioners' sugar to prevent sticking.

Dip in chocolate and add a few festive sprinkles. They'll love you.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Charlie Brown Valentine

Cut-out cookies are one of those things that I always plan to do but never quite get to the execution phase. This year, I thought it would be fun to make cookies for Henry's valentines. With a fail safe sugar cookie recipe I knew I could pull it off really easily.

Henry is a huge Peanuts fan. When I pulled out our modest Valentine decorations, I came across this cutter from my childhood. The Hallmark store had cookie cutters like this for every season. My mother bought all of them for my brother and I and years later I get to use them for my kids. That makes me happy.

Using these as an inexperienced child baker was difficult. The dough has to be just the right thickness. Too thick and it sticks. Too thin and the imprint is too faint. Now, with years of cookie rolling under my belt, I was pleasantly surprised those frustrating memories are now a thing of the past.

I made a triple batch of cookie dough and was able to cut out 24 valentine's for Henry's class plus extras. There was also plenty of dough for assorted heart cookies for Max's team's bake sale for Haiti and Jake's party. It took far less time than I had planned. The silpat mat was a blessing yet again.

The other thing that cut out cookie practice gives you is the ability to get as many cookies as you can out of a single roll. I'll roll a piece of dough twice but after that the baked cookies would be too tough. Obviously, the more you are able to cut out of a singe roll, the better your cookies will be.

Henry made tags to tie onto each bag with medium-sized hang tags. He put a Peanuts sticker on each, wrote his name and the name of this classmates on each. He was so proud of his efforts.

Sugar Cookies
Williams-Sonoma Kitchen

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
12 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract

Over a small bowl, sift together the flour and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on high speed for 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium, slowely add the sugar and beat for 2 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and vanilla etract then beat or one miute, stopping the mixer once to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stop the mixer and add half of the flour mixture. Beat on low speed until most of the flour has been absorbed. Add the remaining flour and continue beating until all of the flour has been absorbed and the dough starts to pull away from the bowl, 2-3 mimutes.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide ito 2 euqal balls. Shape each ball into a disk and wrap sepaately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at leas 2 hours or up to two days. Remove from the refrigerator and let stand for 5 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of 3/16 to 1/4 inch.

Preheat an ove to 350 degrees. Line serferal baking sheets with parchment.

Dip the cutters into flour just before using and cut out the shapes. Transfer to baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough. Gather scraps and reroll once. Refrigerate cookie the cookies until firm, 20-30 minutes.

Bake the cookies until golden brown around the edges, 12-15 minutes. If baking more thaqn one sheet at a time, switch the sheets between the racks and rotate them 180 degrees halfway through baking.

Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies driectly onto the racks and let cool compltely.

Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Homemade Egg Noodles

Making my own noodles has always been something I wanted to try and when it wound up as number 39 on the Saveur 100 this January my fate was sealed. Making a pot of soup is a nice thing to do on a cold day and a better thing to do for someone under the weather. The stars aligned and I was on my way.

Most important for the egg noodles are the eggs. I used eggs from a local farmer that I bought at the Community Winter Market last week. Small and tall yolks with brilliant color. This photo doesn't do them justice.

Incorporate the beaten eggs into salted flour. About this point, you can't imagine it'll ever come together.

After a good workout of kneading for 8-10 minutes, suddenly it really does come together. But how will this dry blob be rolled into noodles?

After a 30 minute rest in the fridge, nicely hydrated noodle dough, ready to roll.

I've made lots of pasta but never hand rolled any and I think I expected this to be more difficult. I am happy to say that it was really easy. I didn't need to add a lot of extra flour since I used the roll-pat and soon the dough was super thin and leathery to the touch. Have I mentioned how much I love my roll-pat?

The noodles weren't sticky but I dusted them lightly with flour before rolling loosely to prevent them from sticking to each other after cutting.

I didn't plan to use them immediately, I set them out to dry and added a bit of time when cooking them. Since these noodles were slated for soup after I did cook the noodles I kept them to the side. Noodles keep absorbing liquid and get mushy the longer they sit in broth. Especially the homemade ones.

I've add a few handfuls of kale to the broth and soon a ladle of steamy turkey soup with lots of carrots, celery, onions and garlic will be ladled over those tasty homemade noodles.

Hopefully, just what the doctor ordered.

Homemade Noodles

Saveur-Janurary 2010

Whisk together 2 cups of flour and 1 t. kosher salt in a bowl. Form a well; add three beaten eggs. Whisk to make a dough; knead on a floured surface until smooth, 8-10 minutes. Form into a ball; wrap in plastic wrap; chill 30 minutes. Cut dough into quarters. Working with 1 quarter at a time, begin rolling dough.

Continue rolling in several directions (you may need to add a bit of flour to the surface), picking it up and stretching it occasionally until it reaches a 3/16" thickness.

Gengly fold up the dough, sprinkling four onto the dough as you go to keep dough from sticking to itself.

Cut folded-up dough crosswise into 1/2" wide noodles. Repeat with reamining dough pieces. To cook, boil in salted water until al dente, 3-4 minutes.