Friday, November 6, 2015

The Pillsbury Bake-Off Mystery Pie :: De-Mystified

I made this mysterious pecan and cream cheese layered pie last week and I can tell you -- unequivocally -- that it's the best dessert I've ever made. No mystery at all.

I really don't have that much of a sweet tooth; it's cheesy, salty things I go for. (And pasta.) 

And, anyhow, I don't bake sweet things at home all that often, because Mr. Rosemary and I try to guard our waistlines. If I make a whole cake or pie, we'll either waste it or eat more than we want should. 

And while I'm a I'm a big fan of cheesecake (just about any cheesecake), and my chocolate chip pie, even my "TV pie" and the "no bake" chocolate chip cookie dough bars, I can easily turn down a dessert, especially while eating out. 

This one, however, I found irresistible.

Especially irresistible to me is the fact that I've finally made the kind of pie crust I've always wanted to -- flaky, tender, as good as the filling itself. For this, I have to thank J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and Serious Eats

Making a good crust has always eluded me. I've only made passable pie crusts, usually depending on graham cracker crusts or Pillsbury. But after studying -- and practicing a bit -- I finally have a good crust down.

My thanks goes, too, to MaryMcClain, who won the 1964 Pillsbury Bake Off with this recipe in 1964. Fifty years later, still absolutely a winner.


Bake-Off® Contest 16, 1964
Mary McClain
North Little Rock, Arkansas
Pastry for one crust pie
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
cup corn syrup
teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans

Place pie crust in 9-inch glass pie pan as directed on box for One-Crust Filled Pie.

Heat oven to 375°F. In small bowl with electric mixer, beat cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, the salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 of the eggs on low speed until smooth and well blended; set aside.

In another small bowl with electric mixer, beat remaining 3 eggs, 1/4 cup sugar, the corn syrup and 1 teaspoon vanilla on medium speed until well blended. Spread cream cheese mixture in bottom of crust-lined pan. Sprinkle with pecans. Gently pour corn syrup mixture over pecans.

Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until center is set. After 15 to 20 minutes of baking, cover crust edge with strips of foil to prevent excessive browning. Cool completely, about 2 hours. Store in refrigerator.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

No-Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bars | Say YES! to a No-No

It's embarrassing to admit that at my age, I still prefer eating the raw cookie dough to eating even  warm just-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. Isn't that really pretty childish?

I'm supposed to know better! I know that eating stuff with raw eggs in it is just plain bad. You'll end up with a sick tummy. That's what I tell the grandkids!

Still . . . . I just can't resist!

So when I found a "safe" cookie dough recipe, I believed it was made for me. A cookie dough cupcake with cookie dough frosting was the first things I ever made with my young cooking student, 9 year-old Wyatt. (He still talks about it; thinks we should do it again.)

These cookie bars have been quite a hit at my house these past few months. Mr. Rosemary tells me these are his new favorite.  So I guess it's going to be repeated some more.

There's only one problem with these cookies, so minor I shouldn't even mention it, but they do have to be refrigerated.  They can get pretty gooey at a summer picnic. But I think I'll suffer through.

No Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bars
From The View From Great Island

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 12-ounce bag (about 2 cups) mini chocolate chips
1 12-ounce bag of semi sweet chocolate chips

Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar and salt together until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla extract and mix in.
Beat in the condensed milk and the flour, alternately, mixing after each addition.
Mix in the chocolate chips.
Spray a 8x8 square baking pan with cooking spray and line it with parchment paper with long ends so you can lift out the bars for easy cutting later. t
Turn the dough out into the pan and pat down evenly with your hands. (You may want to flour your hands -- the dough is pretty sticky.) Smooth it out evenly.
Cover and refrigerate until firm, (about 4 hours) or even overnight if you like. The texture will be fudge-like.
To make the chocolate topping, put the semi-sweet chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl or measuring cup and microwave for one minute. Stir, and then return to the microwave for short bursts of 15 seconds until the chocolate is totally smooth and melted. Don't over heat.
Let the chocolate cool for about 5 minutes, and then pour onto the dough. Spread out evenly. Return to the refrigerator until the topping is firm. Cut into 16 squares.
Keep the bars in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Last Fresh Taste of Summer | Tomato and Corn Pie


I'm well aware that fall is fast approaching -- it's my favorite time of year! I get to celebrate my wedding anniversary and (a milder celebration!) for my birthday.

Still, it's hard to let go of summer, knowing that this beautiful fall season is short-lived and it's a harbinger of five months of snow on the ground in Pennsylvania!

I want to savor these precious waning days of summer. A tomato and corn pie has long been on my list of "things I gotta make." And finally I did it and it was worth the wait.

It's a perfect farewell to summer freshness, celebrating two of my favorite foods. Although corn and tomatoes can be found year-round, they are at their freshest best in summer.

They pair together exceptionally well. Mr. Rosemary tells me that as a child, his family would make meals out of just corn and tomatoes, although then, as now, he shies away from the fresh tomatoes.

When I first explored which recipe I was going to try, I was sorely tempted to make one from Smitten Kitchen. Double-crusted, with plenty of cheese, and a bit of mayonnaise, this pie was a favorite of James Beard and Laurie Colwin. How could you go wrong with endorsements like that?

Still, I'm standing guard over my waistline and feeling a need for moderation. So I turned to this lighter version from Eating Well.  It was very satisfying despite being scaled down some. I changed the recipe only slightly, upping the cheese (I'm no saint!) and using basil instead of time. The original recipe also includes a whole wheat pie crust, but I opted for convenience and used store bought pastry.

I ended up eating this myself, over several days, mind you. But I wonder, if I added bacon or sausage, would Mr. Rosemary go for it? A question that will likely never be answered.

Tomato-Corn Pie
Adapted from Eating Well
Makes 8 servings
Pastry for one crust pie, your own or store-bought
3 large eggs
1 cup low-fat milk
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 1 large ear)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F.
Roll the dough into a 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer to a 9-inch pie pan, preferably deep-dish, and press into the bottom and up the sides. Trim any overhanging crust. Line the dough with a piece of foil or parchment paper large enough to lift out easily; fill evenly with pie weights or dry beans. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil or paper and weights. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes or up to 1 hour.
To prepare the filling: Whisk eggs and milk in a medium bowl. Sprinkle half the cheese over the crust, then layer half the tomatoes evenly over the cheese. Sprinkle with corn, basil, 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and the remaining  cheese. Layer the remaining tomatoes on top and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Pour the egg mixture over the top.
Bake the pie until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Full Irish Breakfast | The Best I Ever Had

I absolutely love breakfast. But I love eating breakfast out infinitely better than cooking at home. There's so much juggling! Frying the bacon! Toasting the bread! Sauteing the potatoes! Chopping the onions before sauteing the potatoes! Baking the muffins! Dishing out the fruit! Pouring the juice! Cooking the eggs to individual tastes! And all that clean up!

How much better to go to a homey diner and be served! My standard order for my "big breakfast" out is two eggs over easy, sausage (patties, please,) hash brown potatoes, and rye toast. I'm often tempted by my all-time favorite breakfast -- Eggs Benedict -- but usually let my diet conscience persuade me to save that for a feeling skinny day.

Nowhere have I ever had better breakfasts than when I was lucky enough to visit Ireland this past spring! At every inn we stayed, we were offered wonderful cooked-to-order breakfasts, bearing no resemblance to all the breakfast buffets available at our American chain motels.

And although every place had a different menu, every one had some version of the full Irish breakfast, my standard "big breakfast" on steroids!

A typical full Irish breakfast usually includes fried eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, tomatoes, maybe mushrooms, maybe beans, black or white pudding, and plenty of hearty brown bread. And juice or fruit. And coffee or tea. Pretty substantial, wouldn't you say? Enough food to last a 250 pound Irish laborer the whole day. And certainly more than enough for a woman half that size ready for a day of shopping and sightseeing!

But I wasn't about to argue with such a lovely tradition, although I did order a half-Irish breakfast one day.

My favorite full Irish breakfast was at Number 31, a classic Georgian inn in Dublin. It's classic on the outside, with modern interior design.

I neglected to take a picture of our room but it was also lovely.

Breakfast was served in a second floor dining room with an enclosed porch. If you were seated in the porch room, you could enjoy watching the inn's breakfast chef perform, deftly juggling all those wonderful fresh ingredients.  We stayed at this inn two nights -- one morning I had to have the full Irish, but my second breakfast was Eggs Benedict, but it was hard to pass up scrambled eggs with smoked salmon.

One of the Inn's specialties is this cranberry nut loaf.  I can attest that it is wonderful -- moist, flavorful, just the right balance of sweet and tart -- although I've yet to make it at home.

I'll be sharing more of my Ireland trip. I put to bed any notion that the Irish don't eat well.

Cranberry Nut Loaf
Courtesy of Number 31, Dublin Ireland

4 ounces fresh cranberries
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2  teaspoon salt
2 ounces butter
1 egg, well beaten
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup walnuts pieces, chopped
Finely grated rind of 2 oranges
1/2 cup orange juice

Chop cranberries and set aside.  In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the peel, juice and egg. Mix well. . Lightly add to the dry ingredients. Add cranberries and nuts. Pour into greased loaf pan (9 x 5 x 3). Bake 350 degrees F for 75 minutes. Cool 15 minutes and remove from pan. Cool and cover.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My "TV Pie" | Mandarin Chocolate Pie

Chocolate and oranges have a natural affinity for each other. A lot of fruit goes well with chocolate, though, doesn't it?  Who can argue with strawberries and chocolate or raspberries and chocolate? Or coffee and chocolate? Nuts and chocolate. Chilies and chocolate. Heck, even bacon and chocolate is great. Okay, so maybe it's the chocolate.

Have to admit that when I was just a young cook and came across a recipe for a mandarin chocolate pie, I was:

  • incredulous and
  • intrigued

I never had heard of the combination. My adventurous self had to try it.

There was another reason I had to try it: It was simple, easy and fast. And I had to take something to a party.

It wasn't just any party. It was the big annual summer fete at an older friend's house. I worked with the woman and because at the hospital where we worked, we two were the only non-medical professionals, we became buddies. She was the director of nutrition. I was the P.R. director.

And it wasn't just any house. My friend's husband was an architect and of course their house was unique and gorgeous. And she wasn't just any hostess. In the 1960's, she appeared on the cover of Family Circle magazine as "Homemaker of the Year."

So, you see, I felt just a tiny bit of pressure to bring a dish that was elegant and sophisticated but within my realm of capability.

Thus came the Mandarin Chocolate Pie.

When I got to the party, I took my pie and put it with all the other desserts. They all looked sumptuous and my contribution looked paltry compared to the trifles and cakes and pies.

But later while we were eating, my hostess came up to me with a woman who wanted to meet whoever made that wonderful pie! She just gushed. How did you make it, she wanted to know. What was in it? Will you send me the recipe. Here, I'll give you my address. (This was all pre-e-mail.)

So, I put this little gem of a pie in my go-to repertoire.

A few years later, my local PBS TV station was assembling a "C is for Chocolate" collection of viewer's recipes. I contributed the pie recipe.

Then I got a phone call . . .  Would I like to make this pie on TV?

Of course! Tell Mr. deMille I'm ready.

I knew my husband wouldn't want to go, so I asked my mother-in-law. She was always ready for any kind of outing. Although I thought I told her that I was going to be demonstrating how to cook this on the show, it must not have registered with her. She thought we were just going to a show, not that I would be part of the show!

So that's how this little pie became what my family calls my TV pie.  My 15 minutes of fame.

The recipe came from a cookbook I bought while vacationing in New Hampshire in the late 1970's. We ate at a lovely little tavern and I bought the cookbook, I liked the food so much.

Mandarin Chocolate Chip Pie
Serves 8 to 10
from Peter Christian's Recipes
5 eggs
3/4 cup orange marmalade
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (or 1 teaspoon orange extract)
1/4 cup melted butter
dash salt
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup mandarin oranges, drained

Mix the eggs, orange marmalade, sugar, Grand Marnier, butter and salt together well in a  large bowl. Gently fold in the chocolate chips and oranges.

Pour into an unbaked pie shell and bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees F. for 10 minutes. Turn oven to 350 degrees F. and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until set.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Flourless Chocolate Cake | A Delightful Oxymoron

"Flour-less" and "cake" are just two terms I could never get to go together in my head. How could a cake have no flour, I wondered. It could hardly be called a cake, could it?

I was wrong. But it took me a long time to get on the flour-less bandwagon. Within the past couple weeks, I made one and ate another.

The first time, I made one with my 10 year-old cooking student. It was a first for both of us. His mother eats a gluten-free diet and so I do try and accommodate her.  The recipe we tried was from All Recipes.  It was good, but not quite as good as the one my sister made when our Tampa daughter came north (!) for a visit.

And now I know why . . . my sister's recipe was baked in a water bath, like cheesecakes are often recommended to be baked. And it had a lot more eggs that had to be whipped until double in volume.

They're both keeper recipes -- the first one is simpler, easy enough for a weekday, and more brownie-like. The second one, duplicated below, from Cook's Illustrated, is just richer, fudgier, just plain ol' more chocolaty!

Both deserve to be topped with a dusting of confectioner's sugar and fresh berries, raspberries, if you want perfection!

Flourless Chocolate Cake
from Cook's Illustrated
8 large eggs, cold
1 pound bittersweet chocolate or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound unsalted butter (2 sticks), cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 cup strong coffee or liqueur (optional)
Confectioners' sugar or cocoa powder for decoration

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees F.. Line bottom of 8-inch springform pan with parchment and grease pan sides. Cover pan underneath and along sides with sheet of heavy-duty foil and set in large roasting pan. Bring kettle of water to boil.

Beat in bowl of electric mixer fitted with wire whip attachment at medium speed (speed 6 on a KitchenAid) until eggs double in volume, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt chocolate and butter, adding coffee or liqueur, if you want, in large heat-proof bowl set over pan of almost simmering water, until smooth and very warm (about 115 degrees on an instant-read thermometer), stirring once or twice. Fold 1/3 of egg foam into chocolate mixture using large rubber spatula until only a few streaks of egg are visible; fold in half of remaining foam, then last of remaining foam, until mixture is totally blended.

Scrape batter into prepared springform pan and smooth surface with rubber spatula. Set roasting pan on oven rack and pour enough boiling water to come about halfway up side of springform pan. Bake until cake has risen slightly, edges are just beginning to set, a thin glazed crust (like a brownie) has formed on surface, and an instant read thermometer inserted halfway through center of cake registers 140 degrees, 22 to 25 minutes. Remove cake pan from water bath and set on wire rack; cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight to mellow. The cake can be covered and refrigerated for up to 4 days.

About 30 minutes before serving, remove springform pan sides, invert cake on sheet of waxed paper, peel off parchment pan liner, and turn cake right side up on serving platter. Sieve light sprinkling of Confectioners’ sugar or unsweetened cocoa powder over cake to decorate, if desired. Top with fresh raspberries or strawberries, too, if you'd like.

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.