Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Something from Nothing | Refrigerator Soup

Way back when, a college friend was bragging to me about his mother's cooking and how much he missed it. (This is while we're wolfing down pizza and beer.) So I asked him what his mother made best, what did he miss the most. 

I was expecting him to get teary eyed over his mother's lasagna or her chocolate chip cookies or maybe her roast chicken or French silk pie. He thought for a long time before he finally answered and said, "Nothing in particular, really. She was just able to whip up something from nothing in no time at all. And it was always good.

"She'd just go into the fridge, gather a few things up, and -- Bingo! -- half an hour later, there'd be something delicious on the table."

Guess Rachel Ray had nothing on Mrs. Schwartz.

One of my favorite blogs to read (and cook from) is The Savoury Table by +Karen Harris. Something she does regularly is write a post about "something from nothing" -- those times when you just pull something together from what's on hand between the pantry and the fridge. That's where creativity happens, backed up perhaps by a bit of experience.

So, taking a lesson from Karen, I made this soup. It has a whole bunch of leftovers: leftover macaroni and cheese, some bacon left over from breakfast (imagine!) that went into the mac 'n cheese, and roasted broccoli from dinner the night before. Some chicken broth and a couple dollops of Greek yogurt pulled it all together in a soup that probably won't be repeated. 

Every couple weeks, a neighbor boy comes over for a cooking lesson. We've been doing this for about two years now. We've made all kinds of things, sweet and savory.  Meatballs, breaded chicken, cookie dough cupcakes, hand pies, beer bread, potato salad, pretzels. You name it, we've probably made it. He's learned how to measure correctly, to wash hands repeatedly, to chop, to saute, to make a roux. 

But every once in a while, when I run out of good ideas, lessons that can be taught in about an hour and a half, I'll wonder aloud, "What shall we cook this week?"

More than once, Mr Rosemary has said, "Why don't you teach him to make soup?"

"We've made soup," I've said. "We made wedding soup, white chicken chili, chicken tortilla soup."

"Not like that," he said. "You know, like you do. Something from nothing."

I'll have to think on that. 

In the meantime, my "refrigerator soup" was a great warmer upper on a snowy day.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Christmas Feasting | Brussels Sprouts and Arugula Salad

When a beautiful piece of tenderloin is the focal point of your Christmas feast, little else is needed. But we did anyway. It was Christmas, after all.  Before sitting down to this scrumptious feast, we had a wonderful variety of cheeses and spreads . . . and plenty of wine.

Then, in addition to the perfectly cooked beef, we had roasted broccoli, new potatoes, corn casserole and a Brussels sprouts and arugula salad. I forgot to take a picture of the oh-so-perfectly rich triple chocolate cheesecake.

My sister's annual fete for the five siblings in our family, appropriately dubbed "Sibling Christmas," was just a perfect blend of foods  -- color, texture, variety. Casually elegant. It's become a favorite new tradition among us.

Lynn is a most gracious hostess, the kind that can not only create a great meal but makes you feel both comfortable and special at the same time. She carefully plans menus and just may be the only person I know who keeps as many, and as much a variety of, cooking resources as I do. Many of the recipes I write about here have come from her testing; and I trust her instincts implicitly.

I was surprised, then, to learn that she doesn't really care for Brussels sprouts. Kale? Yes. Broccoli? Definitely. All kinds of vegetables. Just not Brussels sprouts.

So when I volunteered to bring a Brussels sprouts and arugula salad to our family dinner, she was elated. She was going to roast some sprouts herself because she knew so many of us liked them, but grateful that someone else was taking over the "B" sprouts.

And she further surprised me by saying afterwards that she really liked the salad. I also learned that she doesn't really like raw tomatoes. No wonder she gets along well with Mr. Rosemary!

Lynn had asked me to bring a salad and I went through my files looking for just the right one. That meant magazines, cookbooks, clippings, hand copied index cards and the internet. After all that searching, nothing was quite right. So I pulled pieces together from Food 52Williams SonomaGiada DeLaurentis and Family Day. And the salad I came up with is below. It's a repeat.

Brussels Sprouts and Arugula Salad
with Dijon-Maple Vinaigrette
Food 52Williams SonomaGiada DeLaurentis and Family Day
Serves about 6-8

For the dressing:
  • 2 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 almond oil
  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
For the salad:
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced fine
  • 3 cups of arugula
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Mix the mustard, maple syrup and vinegar.  Slowly add the oil, whisking until it emulsifies. Season with freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt as you like.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Battuto | Evan Funke’s Secret Weapon Is Now Mine!

Every year for Christmas, my sister wraps up a tin of anchovies for me. And while I do like them – a lot – I’m the lone ranger around here. I’ll dress up a salad once in a while or I’ll sneak a couple into a sauce, but I still have a nice tall stack of pretty colored anchovy tins in my pantry.

Then another sister suggested I try making the battuto she’d just read about on Tasting Table. Chef Evan Funke of Bucato in Los Angeles uses anchovies for his battuto, which combines the chile-infused olio santo of southern Italy with the warm garlic and anchovy bagna cauda dip of the north.

Technically, battuto is a flavor base often used in Italian cooking that usually contains some kind of pork fat, onions and garlic.

Funke swapped anchovies for the pork and spiced things up with red chiles. The result is a wonderfully versatile condiment that is – to me – a lot like Worcestershire sauce (which also contains anchovies) that adds just a little extra something that transforms the ho-hum into something special.

Although Funke uses fresh anchovies – what a treat that must be! – in the boonies, only canned anchovies are available. And my pantry needs to be trimmed a little anyhow. Tasting Table recommended using the Cento brand, which I happen to have. (Thank you, Rita.) Rinsing them and soaking in fresh olive oil for an hour improves the canned chovies.

Funke uses his unique battuto in a variety of ways:

  • He makes what he calls “a more genteel version” of  puttanesca by adding two tablespoons of the mixture into two cups of tomato sauce.
  • To make an easy Caesar salad dressing, whisk together three tablespoons of battuto, ¼ cup lemon juice, ½ cup Parmesan cheese, one tablespoon Dijon mustard, and a pinch each of salt and black pepper. –
  • As a marinade for beef, lamb or firm fish, add one tablespoon of red or white wine vinegar or lemon juice to ½ cup battuto, then rub it all over your protein of choice. Let it marinate at room temperature for thirty minutes before cooking.
  • -For antipasti, toss hunks of cheese, olives, or sliced carrots and peppers with a light dressing of battuto, and let them sit for 15 minutes before serving. "It adds a subtle garlicky and salty aspect to anything savory," Funke says.

I’ve been adding this battuto to hamburgers, meatloaf, salad dressings, and spaghetti sauce without a whimper from my unsuspecting Mr. Rosemary.  Just a “This is good.” Enough said.

From Chef Evan Funke,
Bucato, Los Angeles
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil, divided
6 white anchovy filets
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 red jalapeño, seeded*
⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt, to taste

Combine half the olive oil, anchovies, garlic, jalapeño and red pepper flakes in a blender. Blend on high speed until smooth. Add the remaining oil and season (carefully) with salt. Cover and store in refrigerator for up to a week.

* I successfully substituted dry red chiles.

Monday, November 10, 2014

DIY Velveeta | Better Than the "Real" Thing

With all due apologies to Kraft, I never liked Velveeta. As a child, I never remember having Velveeta in the house. Once when I visited a friend's house and watched her mother make macaroni and cheese with this rubbery block of orange stuff, I was less than impressed. But when I tasted the finished dish, I certainly was. It was rich, smooth, creamy and cheesy. All good.

When I went home and shared the story with my mother, she was less than impressed.  She just said something like, "Oh, honey, that's not real cheese."

But every once in a while, I'd eat something and find out that it had Velveeta in it and decided I should be a little more open-minded, less snobbish about my cheese preferences - although I've never met a cheese I didn't like.

And while I certainly enjoyed whatever cheesy something I was tasting, a part of me still harbored some kind of mistrust about a cheese you can pick up off a shelf, not from a refrigerated case.

That's why I was so delighted to happen upon this "how to" from Pittsburgh blogger The Brown Eyed Baker.  When I scanned the list of ingredients, I thought to myself, "Hmmm . . . . cheese jello."

What intrigued me even more was that TV food celebrity Michael Symon apparently developed the recipe after there was a rumored shortage of Velveeta in the northeast earlier this year. Imagine! A world without Velveeta ;)

If you'd like to read all about how "cheese food" is made, read this piece.

But I could not resist trying it. And it worked and it works in recipes like this from Brown Eyed Baker. Always a crowd pleaser. And isn't that why we cook after all?

DIY Velveeta Cheese
from The Brown Eyed Baker
¼-ounce packet unflavored gelatin
6 tablespoons dry milk powder
1 cup boiling water
16 ounces mild cheddar cheese, shredded

Line a small loaf pan with plastic wrap, covering all sides and leaving excess to hang over the sides.
Place the unflavored gelatin and dry milk powder in a blender or food processor. Pour the boiling water over top and immediately pulse to combine. Add the cheddar cheese and puree the mixture until smooth.
Immediately pour and scrape the cheese mixture into the prepared loaf pan, smoothing it into an even layer with a spatula. Fold the excess plastic wrap over the cheese, pressing it against the surface of the cheese, ensuring that it is completely covered. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours, until set. The cheese will keep in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 1 month.
(Recipe from Michael Symon)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

It's Only Bread . . . But I Like It!

I know I'm not alone when I say yeast intimidates me. After all my years of cooking and baking, making bread -- good bread, the kind that makes my husband swoon and say, "Honey, if only you could make bread like this!" -- still scares me.  As careful as I am to measure, to test, to watch and wait, I still hold my breath when I open the oven door and wonder, "Is it going to be okay? Is it going to be another doorstop?"

I'm envious of all those who tell me it's so easy. (I suspect they're the same ones who say the same thing about pie dough. Call me suspicious.) And I've had a good share of encouragement. After I donated my bread machine to Goodwill in despair, Mr. Rosemary bought me a Kitchen Aid stand mixer with a dough hook. My neighbor took me into her kitchen and performed breadmaking alchemy in front of my very eyes.

Even my brother can whip up a mean loaf of challah. Spurred by that sibling rivalry, I decided I'd make it myselfI did. It was lovely. But I rested on my laurels too long, and didn't repeat the feat.

I've other other confrontations with yeast and fared pretty well. I can make pizza dough, and I've made focaccia with modest success, but I still lack a good track record. Hit and miss successes are all I can rack up.

I've decided to accept the gauntlet again -- this time, it's because of my 9 year-old cooking student. He wants to make bread badly. I've tried to reason with the boy. I tell him we really don't have time for that rising, and shaping and re-rising during our after school sessions. So we've made some quick breads and had a ball making soft pretzels.

Still . . . . it's BREAD he wants to make. So the teacher has to learn before she can teach. And what better source than King Arthur Flour?

I read and watched and listened and I did it. And even though I held my breath when I opened the oven, it was with a smile this time.

An old dog can learn new tricks. Thanks for the hand-holding, KAF.

The bread baking saga will continue . . .

Basic Bread
King Arthur’s Classic White Sandwich Bread

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 heaping tablespoon honey
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons soft butter
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk granules

Mix all of the ingredients in the order listed, and mix and knead — by hand, or using a stand mixer — to make a smooth dough. It won't be particularly soft nor stiff; it should be smooth and feel bouncy and elastic under your hands.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or other container. Cover it, and let it rise at room temperature until it's very puffy, 1 to 2 hours.
Gently deflate the dough, and shape it into a fat 9" log. Place it in a lightly greased 9" x 5" loaf pan.
Cover the pan, and let the dough rise for 60 to 90 minutes, till it's crowned 1" to 1 1/2" over the rim of the pan. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bake the bread for 20 minutes. Tent it lightly with aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, till it's golden brown. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will read 195°F to 200°F.
Remove the bread from the oven, and turn it out onto a rack to cool. When completely cool, wrap in plastic, and store at room temperature.
Yield: 1 large loaf, about 18 servings.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Massaged Kale Salad with Watermelon and Feta

Every year at Christmas, my sister gives me a can of anchovies. It's always prettily wrapped, although it used to be just stuffed in my stocking. After several years, I have a pretty respectable stack of the tins accumulated in my pantry.

I use the anchovies -- I do -- but I have to admit, as much as I like them, only occasionally, as I'm certainly the only one in this household who does. Eating a whole tin myself seems a little too much of a good thing.

And the people I cook for aren't likely anchovy candidates. I have not told them how I slipped anchovies into the filling for the cannelloni they all like. And I haven't told them that anchovies are a key ingredient in the Worcestershire sauce so liberally sprinkled on their burgers.

What is it about anchovies that turns so many people off? I know they're salty, a little bit fishy, and -- sometimes -- they do have little hairy spokes, but I think they're just great. (Which is why, of course, I get my annual pantry contribution.)

All this is a roundabout way of telling you how I put together this kale salad.

I've made kale salad a number of times and I use kale whenever I can instead of spinach in dishes I cook. But the combination of a great abundance of kale in our garden and the growing stack of anchovy tins taking up valuable real estate in my little pantry led me to a little exploring.

The first time I made massaged kale salad I used a recipe from Aarti Sequeria. I substituted the available nectarines for the mangoes she recommended and loved the dressing.

But always searching for another way of making something, I found an article from Eating Well, that described a dressing for kale salad using -- ta-da! -- anchovies! Perfect!

The pungency of the garlic and the subtle (really!) flavor of the anchovies was the ticket to solving my overabundance problems. The addition of the watermelon chunks was a refreshing balance to those flavors.

I like mixing things with my hands. Meatballs. Meatloaf. Pizza dough. Probably why I like this salad. It's a pleasurable feeling to massage the greens until they soften. Like my husband's shoulders.

If you really can't stand anchovies, you can leave them out, but if you haven't tried massaging kale into a fresh salad, I think you'll be surprised.

I write a monthly food column, "Good Food Matters," for a local newspaper and my most recent article I titled "Let Them Eat Kale!", a title I copied from a new cookbook by Julia Mueller. I'll have to get that book because I can't just eat massaged salad, kale chips or a kaled version of my spinach rice.  It may not be a hit with a lot of my small town readers, but I hope I can convince a few more people about this great way to get a lot of good in your body.

I bet you're wondering what I did with the rest of the anchovies, aren't you?

Massaged Kale Salad with Watermelon and Feta
inspired by Eating Well and Aarti Sequeria
Serves 6

2 bunches kale
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 minced anchovy fillet or 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional, maybe)
2 cups watermelon cut in 1/2 to 1 inch chunks
1/4 cup feta cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

Strip leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Wash and dry the leaves. Tear the leaves into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Add oil, lemon juice, garlic, soy sauce, anchovy (if using), pepper and salt. With clean hands, firmly massage and crush the greens to work in the flavoring. Stop when the volume of greens is reduced by about half. The greens should look a little darker and somewhat shiny. Taste and adjust seasoning with more lemon juice, garlic, soy sauce if you want. Add the watermelon chunks and the feta and enjoy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Summer Surprise Salad | Lemony Macaroni Salad with Peas and Bacon

No one was more surprised than I was that this light and lemony macaroni salad was well received when I took it to a Fourth of July party last week. I knew that I would like it, but when people started asking for the recipe, I was pleasantly surprised, even though I was counting on taking home leftovers to feed us over the rest of weekend.

When I make a traditional macaroni salad, it's loaded with eggs, sour cream and mayonnaise. This version is still creamy but it has a distinct lemony flavor that makes it light and tangy.

There's a lot of lemon in the dressing --1/4 cup of juice and I 1/2 tablespoons of lemon zest. That's about two lemons. And except for grating the zest and squeezing the juice, this was very easy to put together.

The original recipe, from The Cozy Apron, called for pancetta and fresh thyme. But I had to substitute bacon and dried thyme. If I liked it so well with the substitutions, I can only imagine how I'll like it with fresh thyme.

This is a very pleasant change from typical pasta and macaroni salads. I hope you try it.

Lemony Macaroni Salad with Peas and Bacon
from The Cozy Apron
Serves about 6
12 ounces ditalini pasta, cooked al dente and cooled
 1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
 4 slices bacon,  diced and crisped bacon
For the dressing:
¾ cup mayo
 1/3 cup olive oil
 ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
 1 ½ tablespoons lemon zest
 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sugar
 1 ½ teaspoons salt
 1 teaspoon whole grain Dijon mustard
 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
 ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Put the cooked and cooled macaroni to a large bowl, and add the thawed peas and the bacon If you're serving right away, toss with the dressing. If you're making it ahead of time, keep the pasta, peas and bacon separate and toss together with the dressing right before serving.
To make the dressing, put all the ingredients in a food processor and process until the mixture is thick and creamy. Store in the fridge until you're ready to serve the salad