Monthly Archives: April 2010

Lemony Cheese Danish

Something impressive and fool proof was needed for breakfast.

My father in law was in town for a visit, where he was a skilled sous chef in preparing the annual Tax Dinner.  For his final day at our house, the plan was to have a nice breakfast before he hit the road to return home to Washington.  In this house, we’re pretty much bowl of cereal or quick pancakes kind of people.  Fancy would mean adding bananas or chocolate chips to the pancakes.  That’s it.  My father in law on the other hand is a master of breakfasts and  has a wide range of pancakes and muffins and fruit mixes and … and… and… in his repertoire.  Yeah, this felt a bit like making a Mexican meal for Rick Bayless.

The game plan:  keep it simple, find one new fool proof yet dazzling recipe.  Thank goodness for Ina Garten, as I’ve trusted her recipes on complete faith several times and she’s never ever let me down.  Not one to read a recipe all the way through while making it first thing in the morning and wanting to rush, I noticed the words “easy” and “20 minutes” and actually paced myself for an easy 20 minutes while cooking up the sausages and eggs and slicing the strawberries.  Oh no, no, no.  The puff pastry needs to be defrosted, the filling needs to be mixed (duh),  the little danishes need to be assembled, the sheet of danishes needs to be refrigerated for 15 minutes, and THEN they are baked for 20 minutes.  Seems in my rush, I skipped over two little words before the 20 minutes:  cooking time.  Typical.

These lemony cheese danishes are truly easy, dazzling, and delicious!

Lemony Cheese Danish

adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home

Ingredients:

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

2 extra large egg yolks, room temperature

2 TBS ricotta cheese

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1 TBS lemon zest (about 2 lemons)

2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry, defrosted

1 egg beaten with 1 TBS water, for egg wash

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.  Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream them together on low speed until smooth.  With the mixer still on low, add the egg yolks, ricotta, vanilla, salt, and lemon zest and mix until just combined.  Don’t whip or the mixture will become runny.

3.  Unfold 1 sheet of puff pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll it slightly with a floured rolling pin until its a 10 inch by 10 inch square.  Cut the sheet into quarters.  Place a heaping tablespoon of cheese filling into the middle of each of the 4 squares.  Brush the border of each pastry with egg wash and fold diagonally to form a triangle.  Press the edges of each triangle together to form a sealed packet.  Brush the top of the pastries with egg wash.  Place the pastries on the prepared baking sheet.  Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry.  Refrigerate the baking sheet of 8 danishes for 15 minutes.

4.  Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking.  Serve warm.

Notes:

  • I rushed and sped up the mixer, contrary to directions.  Yes, it makes the filling runny.  A few minutes in the fridge firmed it up a bit.
  • The recipe actually has you fold the two outside corners of the puff pastry together, overlapping the corners, and adhering with a bit of the egg wash.  I was worried about the runny filling and just made triangles.
  • These passed the “teen test” with flying colors!
  • My father in law even asked for the recipe to try at home.  Success!

Skewered Tax Offering

Bartering is alive and well!  Years ago, a tax accountant friend offered to do our taxes as a thank you for the help and guidance my husband offered her kids.  This continued for a few years.  She would do our taxes, and we’d bring her a thank you gift of wine or dessert.  Her kids grew, and still she offered to do our taxes since she already had all of the basic data in her system.  Mind you, she works crazy hours during tax season, but still she held open the offer.  Finally, we told her that we’d need to pay her for her services, as this was just not right.  Remember here that by doing our taxes, she knows our finances pretty darned well.  Her response?  “You can’t afford me.”  Gulp.

Instead, we’ve worked out a deal where everyone feels like a winner:  she does our taxes and I cook a big ol’ dinner for her family on April 16.  How great is that?  Her family is simply wonderful, active, healthy, and loves to try anything I cook.  And, they’ve been living on bagged salads and frozen this and frozen that for the past few months.  I tell ya, its a match made in heaven!

April 16 happened to be the date of a swim meet for her teens.  It was also the date my father in law came to visit.  Lucky me!  He is great company and a talented cook.  We’d cook together.  Meal planning meant something the kids can quickly nosh on while sitting down to the main dish, sides, and dessert.  These beef skewers are great on their own, but show even more love in lettuce cups topped with carrots, roasted nuts, and peanut sauce.  One platter held tons of skewers and another had the lettuce cups makings.  The meal was rounded out with rice salad, mango and jicama salad, grilled asparagus, and cream puffs with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

Both the marinade and peanut sauce are from Steve Raichlen’s most amazing Barbecue Bible:  Sauces Rubs and Marinades, Bastes, Butters and Glazes. This is one of the best reference books for folks who are a bit adventurous with their food and are addicted to grilling.

Beef Skewers

(adapted from “The only marinade you’ll ever need” in  Steve Raichlen’s book)

Ingredients:

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes

1/2 tsp cracked black pepper

1/2 tsp kosher salt

4 strips lemon zest

3 cloves garlic, crushed with the side of a chef’s knife

1/4 cup parsley, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup herb mix (basil, cilantro, dill, oregano)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

chicken or beef, sliced into 1 inch strips

Directions:

1.  Combine the lemon juice, hot pepper flakes, black pepper, and salt in a bowl, whisking until salt is dissolved.  Whisk in olive oil.  Add the lemon zest, garlic, parsley and herb mix and stir to blend.

2.  Transfer marinade to zip lock bag, add chicken or beef, gently mix to combine, and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours.

3.  Bring chicken or beef to room temperature and put on skewers, being careful not to bunch the meat tightly together.  Grill over medium high heat, turning after 3 minutes.

Peanut Dipping Sauce

1 tomato, seeded and diced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 green onions, trimmed and minced

1 to 3 jalapenos, seeded and minced

1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth  (and a bit more as needed)

2 TBS fish sauce

3 TBS fresh lime juice

1 TBS brown sugar

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

1.  Toss it all in a blender and process until smooth.  Taste.  The sauce should be salty, tart, and sweet.  Correct seasoning by adding more fish sauce, lime juice, or brown sugar as needed.  The sauce should be thick, but pourable.  Add more broth as needed.

Notes:

  • These foods are quite simple, but the depth of flavor is amazing!
  • Just the skewers and dipping sauce are great for a crowd.
  • The original peanut sauce recipe calls for cilantro, which is great if you’re into that.
  • This marinade is truly fantastic.  Don’t spend a ton of money on all those herbs, but just use what you have.
  • Yes, fish sauce.  If you don’t have any yet, this is a safe opportunity to try.
  • I’ve made this sauce many a time, and yes, if you have that good peanut butter and not the processed stuff, it really is better.
  • After dinner we got a call.  Our friend’s son decided that she ~needs~ to do our taxes until she retires.  🙂   Sweet success.

Go-to Mango Jicama Chopped Salad

Everyone needs a “go to” dish or two.

Need to bring something to a pot luck or block party?  Toss together your “go to” dish.  Having friends over for a BBQ and need that one delicious dish that can be made that morning and stashed in the fridge?  “Go to” dish.

No need to browse all of your cookbooks or favorite blogs over and over for that one dish that is simple to make and is certain to please the crowd.  Save that for a leisurely day.

This Winter, my dish was a salad with sweet dried cranberries, crunchy tart apples, and savory blue cheese tossed with mixed greens.  It was easy to make, the ingredients are easy to find, and oh my was it a crowd pleaser.

The new “go to” dish is mango jicama chopped salad.  This is super easy to prepare, can be stored for several hours, and most importantly tastes fantastic.  It pleased my crowd and is sure to please yours, too.   Enjoy!

Mango Jicama Chopped Salad

adapted from Gourmet, January 2000

Ingredients:

Dressing

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

2 TBS honey

1 TBS rice vinegar

1 tsp garlic, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

Salad

2 cups jicama, peeled and chopped

2 mangoes, pitted, peeled and coarsely chopped

1/2 pound Napa cabbage, sliced crosswise

1/2 seedless cucumber, cut into wheels and quartered

Directions:

1.  Make dressing by pulsing together lime juice, honey, vinegar, and garlic in a mini food processor.  Add oil in a slow stream until emulsified.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.

2.  Toss together jicama, mangoes, cabbage, and cucumber.  Gently mix with dressing to taste.

Notes:

  • After mixing together the jicama, mangoes and cucumber, I was hesitant to add the Napa cabbage.  Those 3 ingredients just looked so perfect on their own.  After scooping some into a smaller bowl and adding the cabbage, it was clear that the salad is much improved by its presence.
  • The original recipe calls for romaine lettuce also.  The double batch I made filled the bowl, so the romaine just didn’t get invited to the party.
  • 1 cup of toasted pumpkin seeds was also in the recipe and the notes  online by other cooks loved them.  Unfortunately, I had shopped at our local store, not the good store in the next town.  No pepitas were to be found.  One more reason in a long string of reasons to avoid that store whenever possible.
  • A big shout out to my wonderful Father-in-Law, my sous chef!

Slow Cooker Sunday Gravy

Just a very few years ago, I was so naive about Sunday Gravy.  Perhaps it just sounded like a heavy topping that would sink to the bottom of your stomach, sapping all of your energy.  Or maybe it was just one of those terms used in Italian families to make something we all knew about, like spaghetti sauce.  Since it resembles marinara on first glance, maybe it was just an East Coast term.  After some delicious test dishes for a Sopranos Sunday Dinner dinner, and some very helpful background information from FoodBlogga and her first hand experience with such meals, we gave Sunday Gravy a try.  It looks like a nice little pasta sauce, but oh, the depth of flavors is amazing!

If you are from an Italian family, you may just want to stop reading right here.  What comes next is so sanctimonious it would cause Tony Soprano to cry.  Sunday gravy can indeed be made in a slow cooker with darned good results.  There is a bit of prep work in the morning, but then you can go on your merry way and let the Sunday Gravy love happen on its own.

Slow Cooker Sunday Gravy

Ingredients:

2 TBS olive oil

1 1/2  pounds pork country ribs (boneless)

1 pound Italian sausages

4 garlic cloves

1/4 cup tomato paste

3 cans Italian peeled tomatoes

2 cups water

salt and pepper

Directions:

1.  In a large cast iron or heavy skillet, heat the olive oil.  Pat the pork country ribs dry with a paper towel and cook in the skillet over medium heat until nicely browned on all sides.  Work in batches so as not to crowd the meat.  When each batch is browned, move the pork to the slow cooker.  Brown the sausages the same way, and move to the slow cooker when lightly browned.

2.  Drain off all but 1 TBS of fat from the pan.  Keeping it on medium heat, add the garlic cloves and cook for about 2 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove the garlic, chop finely, and add to the slow cooker.  Stir the tomato paste into the skillet, cook for 1 minute, and add to the slow cooker.

3.  With blender or food mill, puree the tomatoes with their juices and add them to the slow cooker.  Add the water, salt and pepper to the slow cooker.  Mix gently.

4.  Cover and cook on low for 6 to 10 hours.

5.  To serve, cook up a pot of pasta, drain and return to the pot.  Add ladles of the tomato sauce from the Sunday Gravy to the pasta and stir.  Serve pasta with Sunday gravy and sausages on the side.

Notes:

  • The country ribs pretty much dissolve into the Sunday gravy.  Anything you can pull from the sauce can be served on the side or added to another meal.
  • These sausages were most certainly from our most recent Sausage Saturday!  No post due to abysmal photos of the process.   😦
  • Yes, there is a bit of prep work in the morning, but the results are spectacular.

Asparagus and Shiitake Quiche

Oh, the asparagus has arrived!  This time of year brings with it great anticipation.  Asparagus harvested up the road means that the corn and tomatoes are being planted and that the strawberry fields will soon be ready for U-pick and then the whole summer will open up with an abundance of fresh local fare.  The asparagus always leads the band.

This lovely little dish is based on the asparagus and moral quiche recipe in the April edition of Sunset magazine based on what was hanging out in the pantry.

Asparagus and Shiitake Quiche

Ingredients:

2 frozen pie shells

4 eggs

1 pkg fresh shiitake mushrooms

3 cups thick asparagus spears, cut in 2 inch pieces, stalks split in half

3 cups half and half

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp white pepper

1 tsp Coleman’s mustard

1 1/2 cups provolone cheese, grated

2 green onions, finely chopped, optional

Directions:

1.  Prepare pie shells according to directions.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees while allowing the pie shells to cool.

2.  Blanch asparagus in a saucepan of boiling water until barely tender-crisp, about 45 seconds.  Drain in a colander and gently rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.  Drain and pat dry.

3.  Remove stem tips from mushrooms and slice into 1/4 inch pieces.

4.  In a bowl, whisk eggs half and half, salt, white pepper, and mustard to blend.  Sprinkle provolone and green onions in the prepared crusts, dividing evenly.  Arrange the asparagus and mushrooms in the pie crusts, again dividing evenly.  Pour egg mixture over vegetables.

5.  Bake quiche on bottom rack until filing no longer jiggles when gently shaken, 40 to 45 minutes.  Let cool in pan on a rack at least 30 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes:

  • The original recipe called for gruyere cheese which would be delicious in the recipe.  Provolone made it into mine due to the “clean the pantry” concept.
  • Yes, you can make your own crust.  And if you do, feel free to gloat.
  • Honestly, I’ve never had a morel mushroom, but they just didn’t look yummy in the magazine photograph.  And, I’d just picked up some fresh shiitakes at the store just because they were fresh and not dried.  Choose your favorite mushroom and use it without worry.
  • The recipe was expanded for two quiches simply because there were two pie shells in the package and an ample supply of ingredients were in the pantry.  It can be halved for just one quiche easily.

Lemon Lemon Loaf

One of the most enjoyable, stressful, and pretty much makes my day kind of days are when I’m making dinner for the Kaleidoscope Krockpot Brigade.  Kaleidoscope is a local cancer support group and the krockpot brigade is simply one of many components to the support offered to families dealing with cancer.  My part in this is simple, make meals for families and deliver. That’s it.  And honestly, it is pretty much my comfort level.  Two wonderful coordinators schedule the dinners with the cooking group and let us know of allergies and what not.  The challenge is to have a full meal at the designated family’s house at 5PM.  Usually, I’m just leaving work at 5.  Our family eats late-ish and usually we either do a soup or a main plus one side.  In the summer, a few extra fruits and veggies get tossed in for good health, but we keep it simple.  When cooking for another family, I try to do a main, a side or two, a salad, and dessert.  All to their house at the same time I usually arrive home.  Yeah, stressful.

But words cannot even convey the enjoyment I get out of planning, shopping, cooking and delivering these meals.  Planning is essential!  Meals tend to be delivered a day or two after chemo.  But really, exactly who will be home, who will be rushed to the hospital, and which family members may be visiting is all a guess.  The meal should be hot and ready to eat, hoping the family is having a good day, but should be ready to be stashed in the fridge and freezer if cancer is dictating the family’s schedule.

But it is dessert, always the dessert that gets me.  Desserts just scare me.  There, I said it.  First step towards redemption, right?  See, if a main or side dish gets off kilter, I can conjure up a few tricks and get everything back on track.  But desserts?  Eek!  Lumpy cheese cake?  Done that.  Flat any kind of cake?  Done that?  Crunchy chocolate sauce?  Yup, done that too.  Always one to give it another go, even while muttering under my breathe, I gave this a try.  Oh, and yes, to share with a family dealing with cancer.  Luckily, it was a home run as evidenced by what remained after one day of noshing by a teenager.

Recipe from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking via Epicurious

Ingredients:

Lemon cake

1 1/2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

2 1/4 cups sugar

8 large eggs, room temperature

1/4 cup grated lemon zest

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 cups unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/4 cup sour cream, room temperature

2 tsp vanilla extract

Lemon syrup

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup sugar

Directions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray the sides and bottom of two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans with cooking spray.  Line the bottom with parchment paper and spray the paper.

2.  Sift both flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl.

3.  Put the sugar, eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a food processor and pulse until combined.  With the motor running, drizle the butter in through the feed tube.  Add the sour cream and vanilla and pulse until combined.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

4.  Sprinkle the flour mixture, one third at a time, folding gently after each addition until just combined.

5.  Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, rotate the pans, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.  Let cool in the pans for 15 minutes.

6.  To make the lemon syrup, heat the lemon juice and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Once dissolved, continue to cook for 3 more minutes.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

7.  Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper and invert the cooled loaves onto the pan.  Use a toothpick to poke holes in the tops and sides of the loaves.  Brush the tops and sides of the loaves with the lemon syrup.  Let the syrup soak into the cake and brush again.  Let the cakes sit for at least 30 minutes.

Notes:

  • Those ingredients in the food processor barely fit.  Be ready to a bit of mess when transferring the liquids to the large bowl.
  • I left the cakes in the pans when poking them with toothpicks to pour in the syrup just to save a bit of time.
  • Yes, you did read the egg and butter quantities correctly.
  • Since this makes two cakes, you can wrap and freeze one for later, or give it to a friend.