Friday, March 27, 2015

Playing with Phyllo | Greek Meat Pie

The first time I played with phyllo, I was young . . . and fearless. I was unfazed by the prospect of working with the paper thin sheets, of tearing sheets or wasting them. I became famous in my small world for being brave enough to make baklava and spankopita.

Now I'm older, maybe wiser, and I don't play with phyllo much any more. I tend to keep a box of frozen sheets in the freezer. One of puff pastry, too. And every once in a while, I look at the expiration dates and tell myself to use them.

So when I needed a little dessert to take to a party, I make phyllo cups and filled them with a chocolate mousse.

The trouble was deciding what to do with the half a package that remained!

A quick survey of what was available between fridge and pantry didn't leave me with too many choices.

But I did land on this meat pie. I think the only thing that really makes it Greek is the addition of sweet spices and feta.  I bet it would be great with lamb.

If I make this a next time, I would use butter instead of cooking spray.  The pastry still browned and had a nice crispiness to it, but it lacked richness. If you're going to the trouble of playing with phyllo, use the butter!

Meat Pie with Phyllo Dough
from Bonnie Traynor 
Servings: 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
1pound lean ground beef
6 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon allspice
salt and pepper
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
olive oil-flavored cooking spray
10 sheets phyllo dough

Preheat the oven to 375 F degrees.

In a medium skillet, heat the garlic with half of the olive oil. Add the ground meat and onion.When the meat is almost cooked through, add the tomato paste. Add salt, pepper, cinnamon and allspice to your taste. When cooked completely through, remove from heat and set aside in a bowl.

In a large lasagna size glass pan, coat the bottom of the pan with cooking spray.
Carefully place one sheet of the phyllo dough in the pan. Be sure and keep the rest of the phyllo covered with a damp towel as you're working. Spray that sheet and add another layer the same way until you have 5 sheets coated with the spray and layered on top of each other. Once you have 5 sheets, spread the meat mixture evenly over the phyllo. Sprinkle the feta cheese evenly on top of the meat mixture.

Then layer the remaining phyllo sheets, one by one, on top of the meat, spraying each sheet.
Bake for about 15-17 minutes or until it is lightly golden on the top.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Love, Downton Abbey and "I Want to Marry You" Cookies

I know Valentine's Day is over, but I've still got love on the brain.  Could be because I love my husband and we had a nice (although non-traditional) Valentine's Day celebration of our own.

Could be because it's so &#*=!$/ frigid outside! (I wonder how many babies will be born nine months from now.)

Could be because I'm still thinking about Downton Abbey. I really don't watch very much TV at all and there are very few television programs I faithfully watch. I confess that Downton Abbey is one of them. I set the DVR. I sit down and binge watch if I have, too. I'll even watch programs over and over. Nice to know I can watch on my iPad, too.

I could apologize for this guilty pleasure of watching what is becoming just a bit soap-opera-ish, but I won't. The dialogue is often (not always) so witty, and the costuming and setting so wonderful to see (always), there will be no apologies.

Last Sunday's episode, which I just happened to watch in real time,was all about love. There was romantic love, of course, but there was also parental love, unrequited love, marital love, even love for a pet and love between friends.  There was no crime, no real melodrama, just the very real drama of love, on so many levels. I don't think I've enjoyed an episode quite as much as this one.

And since there were three potential marriages on the table, what better way for me to end this post than with "Will You Marry Me Cookies?"

These cookies are unique in two ways:

  • The method is unusual. By melting the butter first and adding the sugars, then the eggs and vanilla, and then all the dry ingredients, there's just one pan to dirty. 
  • The hint of cinnamon adds just a touch of spiciness that complements the chocolate well.

My plan was to make these Mr. Rosemary's Fat Tuesday treat, since he always gives up sweets for Lent. He loves chocolate chip cookies more than anything, except maybe brownies. I thought offering him chocolate chip cookies that were a little different, a bit extra special, would show how much I love him. And they came so highly recommended. I thought they were great.

But he was not overly impressed. He prefers his standard issue chocolate chip cookies. He likes the tried and true best. "Don't mess with something that works," is his mantra.

Good thing he likes me.

"I Want to Marry You" Cookies
The original recipe appears to have come from Melissa Stadler and The Cooking Channel's "The Perfect Three" in 2011, although there are other versions, from  Chris at The Cafe Sucre Farine and BakerGirl and several others. And, of course, Pinterest.  This version has pieces of several. The original used dark brown sugar and The Cafe Sucre Farine's used pecans.
makes 24 cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar (may add up to 1/4 cup more if desired)
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 cup uncooked rolled oats
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Remove from the heat.
Add both the sugars and mix until smooth.  Chill the mixture for 10 minutes.
Remove from the refrigerator and stir in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla.
Add the flour, oats, baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cinnamon and mix together.
Stir in the the nuts white chocolate chips and chocolate chips.
Roll by hand into 24 medium-size balls or use a scoop, and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
Chill for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator and bake for 12 to 14 minutes. Leave on pan for 1 minutes, then move to a cooling rack.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Kale Pesto | Why Didn't I Think of That?

It was one of those heel-of-hand to forehead moments when I realized that I could make pesto from kale! Duh!  Didn't I make pesto from spinach years ago, when there wasn't enough of my own basil? Wasn't it pretty good? Hadn't I read about using cilantro in a pesto?

So I had a minor epiphany when I skimmed a magazine at the doctor's office and saw "kale pesto" featured. Genius, I thought. But then, as I looked for recipe variations, I found that it was not so genius, after all. Pretty common, in fact.

I must have been living under a rock.

Still, and even though kale has lost its luster as the #1 super food, I have been looking for more ways to make kale a part of my meal planning.  And I'm lucky that Mr. Rosemary likes it.

My favorite way to use kale is to saute it in garlic and oil and then add cooked brown rice to it, dressing it up with pieces of roasted red pepper and a bit of feta. I've made kale chips and even convinced a few finicky teenagers to eat them. And I love massaged kale salads. Just plain, though, kale's a bit much.

But kale pesto? That made it a whole lot more versatile. Now that I've woken up, I've added kale pesto to mayonnaise to spread on sandwiches and added it to spaghetti sauce and soups. Just like traditional pesto. (Duh!)

Isn't it funny that pesto has gone mainstream and become almost ordinary, like marinara or mayonnaise. One of these days, McDonald's will be using pesto!

Pesto -- in its original form of basil, Parmesan, garlic and pine nuts -- didn't enjoy widespread popularity until the 80's. It used to be considered "gourmet" before then.

But when food processors invaded every day kitchens, pesto was catapulted to universal popularity, a popularity that doesn't look like its going to end anytime soon. (Just like kale.) It certainly makes sense that kale could easily substitute for basil.  So could mint. So could cilantro, although I have a few friends who wouldn't go for that, no matter how much cheese and garlic was in it.

The first time I veered off the traditional pesto path, I used spinach and walnuts. And, to be honest, the difference between the basil and pine nuts version and this one was minimal. 

So why did it take me a few years to use kale? Slow learner? Late bloomer? 

Whatever the reason, I'm now sold on kale pesto. It was wonderful in this pasta dish with mushrooms, using pipette rigate, a pasta shape that's not just fun to eat, but allowed the pesto to sneak into all those ridges.

Kale & Walnut Pesto with Mushrooms and Pipette Rigate
adapted from Real Simple

1 bunch kale, thick stems discarded and leaves torn (about 12 cups)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1 pound pipette rigate, or any other small shaped pasta
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound button mushrooms, quartered

Bring a large pot of  water to a boil. Add the kale and cook until it's bright green; doesn't take long, half a minute. Using tongs, move the kale to a colander, reserving the cooking water. Squeeze dry when cool enough to handle.

In a food processor, combine the kale, Parmesan, garlic, and the walnuts. Process until finely chopped. With the machine running, add the oil through the feed tube in a steady stream.
Bring the reserved cooking water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, and saute until lightly brown. Remove from the heat.

Drain the pasta when done, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot. Add the pesto and ¼ cup of the reserved cooking water and toss to coat. Add the mushrooms, adding more cooking water if the pasta seems dry. Serve the pasta and feel noble that you're eating kale.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Red Lentil Soup | National Homemade Soup Day

Any day -- especially a gray, wintry day -- is a good day to make soup in my book. Tell me that it's National Homemade Soup Day, and I'm all over it.

It's not just the eating of it that's comforting, it's in the making, too. There's the first couple minutes of the butter melting, then the onions softening, then the warm aroma of the spices joining the party, the satisfying pleasure of stirring, the familiar awe when something creamy deliciousness evolves from nearly nothing. Every sense is touched. The process itself is soothing.

I don't have much experience cooking with lentils. Only once or twice have I made soup with the brown lentils I found at the supermarket. And it was met with a murky, sidelong glance from Mr. Rosemary. About the same reaction I got from split pea soup.

So it was a bold move I made when I picked up a bag of red lentils at Trader Joe's on one of my semi-annual trips to the "city."  Maybe it was the color he didn't like, I thought to myself.

Still, that pretty bag of coral colored beans sat in the pantry for several months. I hid them behind a bag of rice so they wouldn't chastise me any more. Then one day I relented.

I was naive enough to believe that the red lentils would remain a pretty color when they cooked. But they weren't brown nor green, so I was still on safe ground. I also -- although I didn't write it in the recipe below -- added about a cup of cubed sausage, knowing full well my life partner does not deem beans a fair substitute for meat.

The curry added just a nice dash of sweet spiciness to the soup and the coconut milk, as you'd expect, the right amount of creaminess.

Mr. Rosemary had seconds.

Red Lentil - Coconut Milk Soup
Adapted from Good Food Matters
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup diced onion
2 carrots, about 1/2 cup, diced
2 stalks celery, about 1/2 cup, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
1 cup red lentils
3 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 14-ounce can whole coconut milk

In a large pot, over medium heat, add the butter and olive oil. Stir in onions, carrots, celery and garlic and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the curry powder and cook for about 1 minute. Add the lentils and 3 cups of chicken broth and simmer for about 15 minutes.  Add the red pepper flakes and the coconut milk. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes and serve.

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.