Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Candy Man Can!

White Chocolate Maple Fudge
Holiday baking season is upon us! After weeks, the Fall term is winding down and I get some time in the kitchen to create sweet treats for my friends and co-workers. Although I don't have a huge sweet tooth, I happen to know a lot of people that do and welcome a plate of eggnog cookies, New Orleans Pralines, or (always a favorite) fudge! This time around I did three versions of this tasty holiday treat: a regular chocolate, a chocolate peppermint, and then a batch using two beloved winter-time ingredients - maple and walnuts! This is extremely sweet and not for the faint of heart. Also, make sure you have a candy thermometer to make sure it comes out smooth and creamy and not a grainy mess! 

- 2 c. white sugar
- 1 c. brown sugar
- 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (plus about 1 Tbsp. for greasing pan)
- 1 jar marshmallow fluff
- 2 c. white chocolate chips
- 2 tsp. maple extract
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 c. chopped walnuts

Line a 9x9" baking dish with heavy-duty foil and butter thoroughly with about 1 Tbsp. softened butter. Set aside.

Heat butter and sugars over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed medium-sized pot. (Clip a candy thermometer to edge of pot to keep track of temperature.) Stir mixture constantly until the butter is melted and the sugar becomes smooth. The mixture will come to a soft boil, when the thermometer reaches 238˚F remove from heat.

Pour fluff, extracts, nuts, salt, and chocolate chips into the butter and sugar mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until everything is melted and well combined.

Working quickly, before mixture cools too much and begins to set, pour into prepared pan and spread evenly with wooden spoon.

Allow fudge to set for at least four hours before cutting. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Cut it up! Share with friends! Yum!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Moussak-It To Me!

Lamb Moussaka with Potatoes and Eggplant
I have been woefully negligent about food-blogging, but my excuse is work, work, work. More awesome directing gigs come at the cost of time to experiment in the kitchen. Thankfully, this Thanksgiving weekend has afforded me time (and ample leftovers) to create some culinary magic. My parents came up to spend Thanksgiving with us for a total of nine around our Thanksgiving table. It was a great night, but a 22 pound turkey (plus ample sides) left more leftovers than we knew what to do with. Days of delicious sandwiches have been followed by a gallon of turkey noodle soup, but what about all those mashed potatoes? There are a few recipes out there that I deem "Pain in the Ass Recipes" (my mom's delicious Pumpkin Chiffon Pie comes to mind). These are absolutely delicious dishes, but they don't get made all that often. Lasagne, ravioli, and German Chocolate cake rank amongst my favorites . . . but they are too much fuss to make unless I have the time on my hands to dedicate to a variety of steps, sauces, and a disaster of a kitchen. Well, today I decided to avoid the office all together and work from home. This allowed me to be a little closer to my stove and put in the time to create an amazing Greek-style dish utilizing all those delicious leftover mashed potatoes. While this is certainly not an "everyday" kind of recipe - it sure hits the spot on this cold December night! Try it if you have people to impress or a huge cold-weather appetite . . . or just a bunch of leftover mashed potatoes.

- 1 lb. ground lamb
- 1 large eggplant, trimmed and sliced lengthwise into 1/4"strips
- olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, trimmed and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 c. red wine
- 1/2 c. chopped kalamata olives
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes and their juices
- salt and pepper
- 4 c. whole milk
- 1 stick butter
- 1/2 c. flour
- 4 egg yolks, whisked
- 1 tsp. white pepper
- 2 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tsp. all spice
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes 
- 2 tsp. garlic powder, divided
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp/ fresh grated nutmeg
- 2 Tbsp. fresh chopped oregano and thyme
- 2 Tbsp. fresh chopped Italian parsley
- leftover mashed potatoes (about 2-3 cups)

Begin by preparing the eggplant. Line a baking sheet with heavy foil and spritz lightly with cooking spray. Arrange eggplant slices on baking sheet and sprinkle one side with salt. Allow eggplant to "sweat" for about 10-15 minutes. Flip the eggplant slices over and repeat on other side. After little beads of condensation collect on eggplant, rinse with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Line up on baking sheet and heat oven to 425˚F. Sprinkle eggplant slices with chopped oregano and thyme and drizzle with 1 Tbsp. of olive oil. Roast for about 15 minutes, flip over slices drizzle with additional olive oil. Roast for another 10 minutes until eggplant is soft and tender. Remove from oven and set aside.

While eggplant is roasting, prepare the béchamel sauce. Heat milk to lukewarm in a small sauce pan. Do not bring to a boil. When milk is warm, set aside. Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium-sized sauce pan over medium heat. Once butter is melted, whisk in flour and continue to whisk for 1 minute until you have a smooth roux. Turn down heat slightly and slowly pour in heated milk about 1/2 c. at a time. Whisk the mixture together as you add the milk, it should create a smooth, creamy sauce. Once all the milk is added, take about 1/4 c. of mixture and slowly pour into whisked eggs, beating together with a fork until the egg mixture is smooth. (Tempering the eggs in this manner will keep them from curdling when you add them to the béchamel sauce.) Continue to slowly add the creamy sauce to the eggs while whisking together with a fork until you've added about 1 c. of the béchamel sauce. Once the eggs are brought to temperature, pour into the béchamel sauce and whisk to combine, set aside. Season with salt, 1 tsp. garlic powder, white pepper, and nutmeg to taste.

Once the béchamel sauce is prepared, work on the red sauce. In a large, heavy skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. of olive oil. Add chopped onion, pepper, and garlic and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook onion mixture for about 8-10 minutes until the onions are soft and sweet. Add the lamb, paprika, olives, 1 tsp. garlic powder, all spice, cinnamon, and pepper flakes to the skillet. Cook over medium heat until the lanb is browned and cooked through. Season with salt and pepper. Turn up heat slightly and add tomato paste, stir vigorously for one minute then slowly pour wine into the mixture. Bring to a boil, add tomatoes, and turn heat down to low. Allow mixture to simmer, stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes until the tomatoes are soft.

 To assemble the moussaka, preheat oven to 400˚F and spritz a 13x9" baking dish with cooking spray. Line a heavy rimmed baking sheet with foil and set baking dish inside (this will keep for oven clean in case the moussaka boils over). Pour 1/2 c. meat mixture on the bottom of the baking dish and spread around with a spatula. Arrange half the roasted eggplant slices on the bottom of the baking dish so that is covered completely (eggplant slices should overlap slightly.)

Pour half of the remaining meat mixture on top of the eggplant slices then top with about 2 c. of the béchamel sauce. Layer the remaining eggplant slices on top of the béchamel layer then top with remaining meat sauce. Pour about 2 c. of remaining béchamel sauce over meat layer and spread evenly. Top with mashed potatoes and spread evenly over moussaka, sprinkle potatoes with chopped parsley.

Bake moussaka in oven for about 40 minutes until the sauce mixture is boiling and the potatoes begin to brown on top. Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes before serving. It is a time-intensive endeavor, but it's well worth the effort! Yum!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Vanilla is Nice Nice, Baby

Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Cupcakes with Brown Butter Vanilla Bean Frosting
For the past three years I have had this really cool directing gig. I get to fly out to St. Louis and direct a play with an awesome theatre company, the St. Louis Actors' Studio. It's a great opportunity. And while I miss my home and sweetie very much, I enjoy my time in the city immensely. I get to see the sights, work with talented professionals, and show off my baking skills to a new audience. Cupcakes seem to be a universal morale-booster. This year's work on Suzan-Lori Parks' profoundly moving Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Topdog/Underdog, has been an incredible experience for me. Because of the nature of the material, however, it is very emotionally-demanding of the actors. What better way to keep people engaged and positive than a tasty sugar rush? My only real responsibility when I'm here in St. Louis is directing the play, leaving hours of free time during the day to explore, go on runs, visit museums, and bake treats. I've whipped up banana bread, brownies, and the ever-popular Red Velvet Cupcakes (stage manager Amy's choice). When I asked Chauncy, who is playing Booth, what his favorite cupcake flavor was, he said "Just vanilla." Well, there's no such thing as "just" vanilla. I happen to adore vanilla and so put together this recipe with the remaining buttermilk from the Red Velvet Cupcakes. Plain old "boring" vanilla gets a tasty twist with the rich flavor of vanilla bean paste and a brown butter frosting. Enjoy!


- 2 c. flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 1/4 c. sugar
- 1 stick butter, room temperature
- 1 1/4 c. buttermilk
- paste from 2 vanilla beans, divided
- 3 eggs
- 3 c. (or more) powdered sugar
- 2 Tbsp. good quality vanilla extract, divided
- 2 sticks butter

Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Line standard-sized muffin tin with 24 paper liners and spritz lightly with cooking spray. Set aside. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl blend together room temperature butter, half the vanilla paste, 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract, and sugar with an electric mixer until well combined. Slowly pour in buttermilk and blend together (mixture may be slightly curdled looking). Alternating between portions of the flour mixture and eggs, add remaining ingredients to buttermilk mixture and blend together. The batter will be smooth and fairly thick.

Fill prepared cupcake liners with portions of batter to 2/3 of the way full. Bake in heated oven for 12-15 minutes until the cupcakes are cooked through and slightly springy. Turn out on a wire rack and allow to cool completely before frosting.

Place remaining sticks of butter in a small sauce pan and melt over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon until the butter has completely melted. It will begin to foam and bubble, stir gently to keep from burning. After about 5 minutes the foam will subside and small brown bits will form at the bottom of the pan. Remove immediately from heat and pour melted browned butter into a medium bowl to cool. Allow the butter to cool and return to a semi-solid state. You can place it in the refrigerator to help it cool more quickly.

After butter has cooled add remaining vanilla and vanilla paste to bowl with about 2 cups of powdered sugar. Blend together on high speed with a hand mixer. The frosting may be too thick or thin, continue to add powdered sugar by the 1/4 cupful until it reaches the desired consistency. It it becomes too dry and flaky, try lightening it up with a splash of milk.

Once the frosting is spreadable and the cupcakes are cooled, frost and serve. Store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for up to 3 days before serving.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

When Life Gives You Zucchini

Lemony Zucchini Bread
I'm still a rather novice gardener. Last year I attempted my first tomatoes, onions, and herbs all in neat little barrel planters lining in the unforgiving rocky "soil" of our rental house. This year, as an official homeowner, I went fairly ambitious with my first real garden. Our new home came equipped with four generously-sized raised beds and hours of sun exposure each day. Tomatoes, eggplant, kale, onions, cucumbers, and a large variety of herbs have been flourishing in spite of my previous reputation as a "brown thumb." I decided to plant one zucchini plant because they are such notoriously abundant producers. What surprised me, however, was not the amount, but the sheer size these monsters will swell into. I would check on the garden in the morning and find a couple of zucchinis not quite ready for harvest, that evening they had engorged to the size of footballs. I mean, I like zucchini enough, but what the hell am I going to do with forty pounds of it? Young, small zucchinis are tender and flavorful, but when they get too big, they lose much of their sweetness leaving them a poor option for a stir fry or gratin. Luckily, the pulp is excellent for baking and zucchini fritters. I grated up one of the larger beasts and came up with this tangy and moist quick bread. I dash of ginger powder gives it just the right bite. Enjoy it with your morning coffee as the summer begins to wane.

-  2 c. grated zucchini (use a large box grater)
- 1 c. white sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 c. vegetable oil
- 2 c. flour
- 1/2 c. sour cream
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- juice and zest from 1 lemon
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. ground ginger 

Preheat oven to 325˚ F and lightly spritz a 9x5" loaf pan with cooking spray. Set aside. In a large bowl combine sugar, eggs, lemon juice, lemon zest, and oil. Beat with a whisk until ingredients are creamy and smooth. Stir in grated zucchini. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, ground ginger, and cinnamon. Slowly add dry ingredients to zucchini mixture, whisking as you go. Fold in sour cream and gently mix until batter is smooth. Pour mixture into loaf pan and bake in oven for 50-60 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of the bread. If it comes out clean, you're good to go! Allow bread to cool slightly before running a knife around the edge of the pan. Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool before slicing and serving. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Stout Out Loud!

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Chocolate Espresso Buttercream Frosting
 It was my beloved's birthday last week and it was time to celebrate! When I asked Matt what he wanted to do for his birthday, he responded without hesitation: "Power Hour." Power Hour, if you are not familiar, is an exercise power drinking - taking a shot of beer every minute for 60 minutes. It's become a bit of a birthday tradition for Matt - much like my own birthday marathon (involving running rather than drinking). To go along with the evening's centerpiece activity, I decided to develop a couple of beer-themed recipes including sweet and smoky beans slow-cooked in beer and, of course, a beer-themed dessert. The result was a moist, chocolatey, and subtly sweet cupcake with a fluffy buttercream topping. These were definitely a hit for chocolate and beer-lovers alike.

- 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
- 2 c. sugar
- 12 oz. dark chocolate stout (such as Guinness)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 4 eggs
- 1 stick butter, melted
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 2 c. flour
- 1 c. sour cream

- 1 c. sugar
- 3 large egg whites
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract or vanilla paste
- 2 sticks plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into tablespoons
- 4 oz. extra-bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
- 2 Tbsp. espresso powder
Preheat over to 350F˚ and line a cupcake tin with paper liners. Spray very lightly with vegetable spray, set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl blend together melted butter, sugar, vanilla, and melted chocolate with an electric mixer until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and add stout. Mix thoroughly on medium-high.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and add eggs, one at a time, alternating with portions of flour mixture with the machine running on medium. When the mixture is well combined, add sour cream until just mixed. Spoon batter into prepared cupcake liners until they are 2/3 of the way full. Bake in batches in oven for 12-15 minutes until the cupcakes are cooked through and springy.

Allow to cool completely on a rack before frosting.

Whisk together eggs whites and sugar in a medium-sized double-boiler. Place the double-boiler over medium-high heat and whisk together over heat until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the warmed egg and sugar mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Add vanilla and whisk together at medium-high heat until the mixture is glossy and stiff, about 8 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and turn mixer back on to medium heat. Add butter, a couple pieces at a time making sure the mixture becomes fully incorporated before adding more. Once all the butter is incorporated and mixture is light and fluffy, add melted chocolate and espresso powder and mix until fully blended. 

Frost cooled cupcakes with an offset spatula. Buttercreams can be delicate, store frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator if making ahead of time. Allow to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bridal Shower Power

Summer Garden Bounty Quiche
It's wedding season. And wedding season means showers of the bridal variety. On Saturday we celebrated Lacey's bridal shower and were asked to contribute to the feast. No problem! With my garden bursting with zucchini and my hens laying overtime, I had the perfect idea in mind for a potluck brunch. Quiche is an ideal take-along meal. It can be made ahead of time, travels easily, and is great at room temperature. While I toyed with the idea of adding bacon to the recipe, I ended up creating a vegetarian dish to appeal to a variety of eating habits. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful gathering - cheers to Lacey and her upcoming marriage to Jeff. There couldn't be a more ideally matched couple.

- 1 medium zucchini and 1 medium yellow squash, sliced thin crosswise
- 2 small sweet yellow onions, peeled and sliced crosswise into disks
- salt and pepper
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano and thyme
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 6 eggs
- 1 c. smoked cheddar or mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 batch Perfect Pie Crust recipe (omit sugar)

Melt butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir and allow the onions to soften and turn translucent. Reduce heat to medium-low and allow onions to slowly brown for 20-30 minutes. As the onions begin to caramelize, add sliced zucchini and squash and stir to combine. Allow onions, squash, and zucchini to continue to cook down until all the vegetables are softened, browned, and sweet (an additional 10-20 minutes). Sprinkle in fresh chopped herbs and stir thoroughly. Allow vegetables to cool before mixing into eggs.

Meanwhile, make the pie crust. (Using a pre-made pie crust is perfectly fine, but my Perfect Pie Crust recipe is fantastic. You will only need to make half the recipe and omit the sugar for a savory dish, such as this quiche.) Roll pie crust out on a floured surface and press into a 9 1/2" pie dish. Pinch the edges in a decorative manner and place crust in refrigerator until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 400˚F. While oven is heating, whisk together eggs and heavy cream. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add cheese and cooked vegetables and stir to combine.

Pour egg mixture into prepared crust and bake for 35-45 minutes until the eggs are cooked through and the edges of the crust are just beginning to brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool before serving.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Garden Fresh

Lemony Lamb-Chops with Summer Garden Pistachio Pesto  
 I have been woefully negligent on my food blogging . . . but I do have an excuse - really! Spring quarter was a busy one personally and professionally between teaching, directing prep, getting engaged, and buying my first home among other things. Whew! The home has been amazing. Matt and I set to work priming, painting, and making it our own. It's taken a lot of work and love and we've ALMOST gotten rid of the previous owners' poor taste. In spite of the ugly colors on the walls - the cute little house came with the perfect set of raised planter beds. I've been gardening up a storm and taking advantage of Oregon's long summer days and, so far, the garden has been good to me with a bounty of delicious herbs, greens, and tender young zucchini and yellow squash. This pesto and lamb dish was pulled from my summer garden. It was easy, fast, and super taste. Feel free to experiment with what you have growing in your garden! (Note: I made four small lamb chops - plenty for two people, but the amount of pasta would easily feed four if you want to add more meat for a larger crowd.)

- 4 individual lamb chops
- 1 shallow, chopped
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
- 2 lemons (juice and zest)
- 1 lb. dried pasta
- salt and pepper
- 4 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint, divided
- 1/3 c. pistachios
- 1 c. basil leaves
- 2 c. spinach leaves
- 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 c. Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 young zucchini and 1 young yellow squash, trimmed, halved and then sliced into matchstick-sized pieces
- 1/4 c. plus 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- splash of cooking sherry

Sprinkle both sides of lamb chops with salt and pepper, set in a shallow dish. In a small bowl, whisk together juice from 1 lemon, oregano, thyme, 2 Tbsp. mint, shallot, and 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Pour mixture over lamb chops, cover dish with plastic wrap, and allow lamb chops to marinate for at least 20 minutes. While lamb chops marinate, make pesto.

Mince four cloves of garlic in a food processor. Add nuts and pulse to a coarse texture. Add remaining mint, juice and zest from remaining lemon, spinach, and basil. Pulse to combine. Add cheeses to mixture and begin running machine. Slowly add 1/4 c. olive oil while machine runs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set pesto aside in a medium-sized bowl.

After lamb chops have marinated thoroughly, complete the meal by bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta to al dente (depending upon the shape it's usually between 9 and 11 minutes). When pasta is cooked, drain reserving 1/2 c. of pasta cooking liquid. Add cooked pasta to bowl of pesto add a little cooking liquid at a time until the consistency is smooth and silky.

While pasta is boiling, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a heavy pan over high. Add lamb chops and marinade and cook until browned on both sides (about 4 minutes per side for medium rare). Remove cooked lamb chops from heat and let rest on a plate, tented with foil. Add a splash of cooking sherry to the pan to deglaze, scraping brown bits off with a wooden spoon. Turn heat down to medium and add zucchini, squash, and remaining garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables of soft and have soaked in the marinade juices. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss cooked vegetables together with pesto pasta. Divide among plates and top each serving with two lamb chops. Enjoy the bounty of your garden! Yum!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cookie Monster!

French Toast Cookies
I won't hide it . . . I've become a little hooked on Pinterest. It's kind of an obsession, a much more dangerous form of procrastination than Facebook (if you can believe it). I've picked up a few great recipes and a few duds - but more often than not, I find some great ideas that need a bit a tweaking. I happened upon a recipe for French Toast Sugar Cookies . . . intriguing, right? The idea was flawless . . . but for some reason the flavors were a bit bland and the cookies came out with too thin a spread.  I did a few modifications to the recipe and came up with a tender, sweet/salty treat worth trying. (My students loved them, by the way!)

- 1 c. granulated sugar
- 1 c. salted butter (2 sticks), room temperature, divided
- 4 tsp. vanilla paste, divided
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp. ground cinnanon
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3 c. flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 c. sour cream
- 2 c. (or more) powdered sugar
- 2-4 Tbsp. heavy cream
- 1 Tbsp. maple extract

In a large bowl, cream together 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter with sugar with an electric mixer. When it becomes smooth a creamy, add 2 tsp. vanilla paste and egg. Beat together on high until light and fluffy. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Working in batches, add dry ingredients to butter and sugar mixture, alternating with sour cream. Add ingredients in two batches each, making sure ingredients are thoroughly incorporated after each addition.

Once the dough is completely incorporated, wrap in plastic and let rest in refrigerator for 30 or overnight.

When the dough is ready, preheat oven to 370˚ F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Set aside. Remove dough from refrigerator, cut into 4 equal portions, and roll each portion out on a floured surface to 1/4" thick. Roll dough into a rectangular shape and slice into relatively equally sized pieces. Place pieces, in batches, onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Working in batches, bake cookies, for 8-10 minutes, until the cookies are barely browned around the edges. Remove form baking sheet, and allow to cool completely before frosting. 

While the cookies are cooling, prepare icing. In a large bowl, cream together remaining butter and vanilla paste until smooth and creamy. Slowly add powdered sugar until the mixture is a bit crumbly. Slowly add cream, a tablespoon at a time, whip together with butter and sugar mixture until it becomes creamy and spreadable. Add maple extract and whip together until thoroughly combined. Frost each cooled cookie with a appropriate amount of maple icing. Enjoy! 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Going Deep

Veggie Loaded Pasta e Fagioli Soup
With Easter three days away, the end of my Lenten vegetarianism is in sight! But there are still a few meatless meals in my path. After thirty-seven days of flesh-free soups, salads, and pastas, I'll admit I've been missing the illusive and simple depth of flavor that even just a little animal fat supplies. Suddenly lacking my go-to ingredients, I am marveling at how much richness a few ounces of bacon or a thin cut of steak can supply to an entire meal. Not that I want to dismiss veggies! I love them - the crunch, the unexpected texture, and necessary light notes are invaluable guests at the dinner table. With this soup, I was in search of ways to add that savory depth meat so easily provides and came up with spice and smoke. (One of my favorite additions to my vegan chili, for example, are chilis in adobo sauce.) This rich vegetarian twist on a Pasta e Fagioli Soup (literally "pasta and beans") is packed with protein and a variety of delicious veggies with a subtly spicy kick. I topped it with homemade toasted garlic croutons, but any good quality bread is the perfect finish for this richly satisfying soup.

- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
- 2 stalked celery, trimmed and diced
- 1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1/2 c. dry red wine
- 6 c. vegetable broth
- 1 14.5 oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 sprig fresh basil with leaves
- 1 Parmesan rind
- 1 small bunch kale, stems removed, leaves torn into small pieces
- 3/4 c. dried ditalini (or similar) pasta
- 2 Tbsp. Italian parsley, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- croutons, bread, and grated Parmesan for serving

Heat olive oil in a large heavy soup pot over medium. Add diced onion, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until it becomes soft and translucent, about five minutes. Add chopped carrot, celery, and garlic. Cook for an additional 5-7 minutes until all the vegetables soften. Increase heat to medium-high and add paprika and pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes. Add red wine and tomato paste. Cook for one minute. Add diced tomatoes, bay leaves, Parmesan rind, vegetable broth, beans, and basil leaves. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Once soup reaches a boil, cover tightly, and decrease heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove lid from soup pot and discard bay leaves and basil leaves. Add dried pasta, fresh parsley, and kale to the soup. Bring soup to a boil and cook until the pasta becomes tender and kale is bright green, about 8-10 minutes. Remove soup from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls, topping with grated Parmesan, croutons, and slices of crusty bread. Yummy!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Meanwhile . . . Back at the Ranch

Huevos Rancheros for Two
The chickens are working overtime! With the first whispers of spring in the air . . . we have a dozen fresh eggs coming our way every few days. I put this quick and delicious dinner for two utilizing a number of leftovers (vegetarian chili and guacamole) and on-hand items. The only ingredient that took me down the block to the store was for a can of salsa ranchera (smokey, tangy, and a little sour), but your favorite salsa will do just fine. This is a great family-friendly meal because it's so easy to modify to suit different pallets and appetites. (I like my egg yolks bright and runny, Matt likes them cooked through. I'm full after a half portion - a single tortilla and egg. He needs the full order.) Spicy, mild, vegetarian, or meat . . . the sky is the limit! This batch was made for two hungry diners, but double or triple it with ease for larger groups.

- 4 small corn tortillas
- 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 4 oz. shredded pepper jack cheese
- crème fraîche or sour cream
- 1 c. leftover chili (canned is fine, whatever you like)
- 1 small can salsa ranchera (I used Herdez)
- 1 green onion, thinly sliced
- 4 eggs
- salt and pepper
- guacamole, pickled jalapeño peppers, hot sauce for topping

Heat oven to 375˚ F. While oven is coming to temperature, heat vegetable oil in a small non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Cook tortillas one at a time - about 15 seconds per side- until they are softened slightly and brown bubbles appear. Drain tortillas on paper towel-lined plate and blot out excess oil.

Spray a 13x9" baking dish with cooking oil and begin assembly.

Set two tortillas side by side in the baking dish. Top each with half the chili. Spread each with about a tablespoonful of salsa ranchera, add a dollop of crème fraîche, and then sprinkle each with a quarter of the grated cheese. Top each with another tortilla. Spoon one more tablespoonful of salsa on top on the tortilla, sprinkle each with half of the remaining cheese, and then top each with half the green onions.

Bake in oven for about 20 minutes until the chili is heated through and the cheese is melted and slightly bubbly. In the last few minutes of cooking time, prepare eggs as desired - I suggest fried or poached.

Remove cooked tortillas from oven and plate. Dollop each with guacamole, additional crème fraîche, salsa, and other desired toppings. Add cooked eggs on top. Eat! Enjoy!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Drop It Like It's Hot

What the Heck Do I Do With All This Leftover Fried Rice? Egg Drop Soup With Leeks and Greens!
It's been a long time since I have written. Not that I haven't been cooking . . . but in the midst of directing Three Sisters, over a full load of classes, and the limitations of my annual Lenten vegetarianism, I've been relying on old favorite recipes rather than much experimentation. Well, I'm back. The show is closed, spring is right around the corner, and kitchen creativity is beckoning me! This first recipe since my blog-sabbatical is based on one of my favorite culinary challenges: leftovers. Tonight's culprit: Fried rice. We've all had white take-out containers taking up precious refrigerator space. I made an absolutely lovely batch of Bon Appétit's Shrimp Fried Rice for last Thursday's dinner with my gluten-free friend, Arin. The rice was a hit, but even three hungry people couldn't finish off the generously portioned recipe. Since Friday morning the rice-filled Pyrex has been staring back at me every time I've opened the refrigerator. Leftover rice. I've put it into burritos before or just resigned myself to eating it no matter how increasingly dry and unappetizing it became. Thankfully, in this instance, inspiration hit . . . egg drop soup! This hearty, easy, and quick protein-packed soup is a standby in my house. Thanks to our own eager flock of lovely chickens, we always have an abundance of fresh eggs and I have made multiple variations on this recipe - usually with noodles. This batch was whipped up in about twenty minutes. I used some mustard greens, but any hearty bitter green will do (kale, chard, whatever). I topped my sweetie's portion with a little shredded chicken breast, but left mine vegetarian (although it did spice it up with a generous Sriracha topping).

- 2 c. leftover fried rice 
- 6 c. vegetable stock
- 2 Tbsp. cooking sherry
- 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 4 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 tsp. sesame oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 leeks, trimmed, rinsed, and thinly sliced crosswise
- salt and pepper
- 1 bunch mustard greens (or other bitter greens), stems removed and roughly chopped
- 4 eggs
-  2 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced crosswise

It certainly was a tasty batch of shrimp fried rice, but after we had picked out all the shrimp . . . it was well . . . just rice.

In a medium, heavy-bottomed sauce-pan, heat olive oil over medium-high. Add sliced leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are soft, sweet, and begin to turn translucent. Season lightly with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Add vegetable or chicken stock and turn heat up to high.

When the broth is brought to a boil, add soy sauce, rice vinegar, sherry, sesame oil, and leftover rice. Lower heat to a simmer and add torn greens. Cover and simmer 3-5 minutes until the greens and softened and bright green. Remove lid and raise heat back up to medium-high so that broth comes to a boil.

Carefully crack eggs into soup and let boil 3-4 minutes until eggs just begin to set. Carefully stir broth mixture so that whites and yolks are drawn into long threads through the broth. Remove from heat. Season to taste with additional salt or soy sauce. Ladle soup into bowls and top each with several drops of sesame oil and a sprinkle of sliced green onions. Enjoy!


Friday, January 11, 2013

Back to School Night

Potato, Leek, Broccoli, and Cheese Soup with Ham and Cheese Melts
The holidays are over. January is here which brings an end to the parties, sleeping in, and general laziness associated with "winter break." The combination of cold weather and a busy work schedule makes me crave a quick, easy, and hot dinner when I get home. This is one of my absolute favorite mid-winter meals when it gets dark around 4 pm and all I want to do is cuddle up under a blanket.

- 1 lb. broccoli florets
- 2 medium sized Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1" chunks
- 3 large leeks, trimmed, rinsed, and chopped
- 1 qt. chicken broth
- 4 c. shredded baby Swiss cheese, divided
- 1 c. heavy cream
- salt and pepper
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 3 oz. diced Canadian bacon
- 2 Tbsp, minced chives
- 1 ciabatta loaf, split lengthwise, then cut into 4 equal portions
- 1/3 c. mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp. butter

In a large, heavy soup pot melt butter over medium high. Add leeks and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook over medium, stirring occasionally until the leeks become tender and fragrant. Add chicken broth and potatoes. Cover and bring to a boil. When the broth reaches a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes become soft.

While the potatoes are simmering, prepare the cheese toasts. In a medium bowl combine ham, mayonnaise, chives, and half of the shredded Swiss cheese. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper and the spread ham mixture in equal portions on sliced ciabatta bread. Arrange ciabatta slices on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in a 350˚ oven for about 15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and starts to bubble.

Once the potatoes are soft, add broccoli to the soup, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover and simmer for an additional 8-10 minutes, until the broccoli is tender and bright green. Remove soup from heat and slowly stir in remaining shredded cheese and cream. Sprinkle with paprika and additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve with prepared ham and cheese toasts for dipping!