Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Brunch Part 5: Sides and Game Plan

This post is the final installment of my brunch recap. In addition to the breads and egg dishes that were served, we had fruit and potatoes. I tried to keep it seasonal (and inexpensive), so I served my favorite citrus: Cara Cara and Blood Oranges, with some chopped mint, and some Wisconsin-grown red potatoes, which we quartered, boiled for about 20 minutes, and then sautéed and smashed up a bit with some butter, dried herbs, salt and pepper. (I was hoping to roast the potatoes but the oven was overpopulated and set at too low a temperature all morning, so stove top it was.)

In case you want to copy my brunch idea which I copied from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and together we can start a brunch cafe sensation across the nation, here is my game plan, inspired by Smitten Kitchen's tips on how to make a good brunch "and still sleep in"... and thirty-one years of watching my Mom entertain with gusto.

Days (or months) before: Make quick breads and muffins and stick in freezer.
2 days before: Cook sausage for Aunt Judy's Egg Casserole. (Btw, if you are making a tofu-based scramble instead of egg dishes, make two days ahead because that will allow flavors to blend and intensify. It can be reheated on the stove with some water on Saturday morning. More on that at a later date.)
Day before: Go grocery shopping for eggs and produce.
Night before: Make Aunt Judy's Egg Casserole and stick in refrigerator overnight. Rinse and drain leeks, rinse and cook greens, and grate cheese for frittata. (Confession: I scored the oranges the night before and put them in the refrigerator, thinking that would save me ten minutes in the morning. It actually made them harder to cut, so don't do that. Just leave them out at room temperature overnight.)
Morning of: Put casserole in oven about 90 minutes before guests are expected to arrive. Arrange breads on platters. Chill champagne for mimosas and vodka for Bloody Marys, and set up your beverage station. An hour before people are expected, slice oranges, chop mint, and arrange on platters. A half hour before, quarter potatoes and put them in a dutch oven on the stove to boil. Start brewing some coffee. Right before guests are expected, start frittata, which will only take about 15-20 minutes and is best right out of the oven. While frittata is in oven, pan fry potatoes and toss with herbs, salt and pepper. Sprinkle with a little water and cover pan to keep warm. The casserole can be kept warm by covering it with foil. If the timing isn't quite right, stick it back in the oven while the frittata is cooking. Both egg dishes should rest for about 5-10 minutes before cutting. I think that's all. Have fun!

(P.S. I don't know why the font is so big!)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Brunch Part 4: Aunt Judy's Egg Casserole

Aunt Judy's Egg Casserole is really a strata with a deliciously obscene amount of sausage. It is wonderful. Famous even. Of everything that was served on Saturday - and, actually, of everything that is ever served for Christmas or Easter brunch at a Lenz family gathering - this is what gets the most rave reviews. It's without fail the pièce de résistance regardless of what else might be offered alongside it. It is rich and salty (did I mention I love salt?) and perfect and I fear it will have to be a monthly brunch staple, based on the feedback I received from my guests, both verbal (OMG, Edith! That sausage thing was unbelievable. I keep thinking about it.) and circumstantial (not a crumb left), and my desire to meet my guests' needs. What I mean is this: after you make Aunt Judy's Egg Casserole, everything else you serve people in the future sort of pales in comparison. So be careful. I'm just saying.


Dear Aunt Judy,

I can only hope to ever be a fraction as talented as you are in the kitchen.

Thank you for sharing your Egg Casserole recipe with my mom, who shared it with me. It's made me the most popular girl in Minneapolis.


P.S. You should come visit sometime. My daughter is super cute!
In making Aunt Judy's Sausage Egg Casserole, I learned something interesting: you can find organic cream of mushroom soup these days. Indeed. They had it at our co-op. Which leads me to believe that, yes, Jamie Oliver, you can win the revolution!

I bet you wanted that recipe though.

Here you go. Note: this has to be made the day before serving!

Aunt Judy's Egg Casserole
Yields: 20 fairly large pieces (but people tend to go for seconds)

8 slices bread
1 dozen eggs
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard (although I bet a tablespoon of wet mustard would be fine)
2 pounds seasoned breakfast sausage, bulk or patties, browned & drained
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 can cream of mushroom soup
6 ounces evaporated milk

Grease 13X9" pan. Cut bread into 1-2" cubes. Line pan with bread.

Beat eggs, mustard and milk. Pour egg mixture over bread. Sprinkle sausage and cheese evenly over bread and egg mixture. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. (You can also freeze it several days in advance and thaw it in the refrigerator overnight the day before you plan to bake it.)

Mix cream of mushroom soup and evaporated milk. Pour over top.

Bake in a 300 degree oven, uncovered, for 90 minutes or until top is beginning to brown. Let cool for about ten minutes before cutting into it. I cut 5 by 4 pieces. They were big and popular.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Brunch Part 3: Vegetarian Frittata

On to the main courses... the egg dishes. Or, rather, "why I love love love my nonstick skillet."

You love something more when you've lived without it, you know. And once upon a time my husband and I decided it was the right and moral thing to do to get rid of our toxic nonstick skillets and have only cast iron and stainless steel cookware. The decision was a good one except when we cooked eggs. Unless you (a) use an unseemly amount of butter or oil, (b) don't mind wasting half of your omelet, (c) have an extra sink lying around for long-term pan soaking, or (d) use a nonstick skillet, eggs can be v. tricky. After two years of egg-induced frustration, we caved and asked for a 12-inch nonstick skillet for Christmas. Santa came through in 2009, and I think our guests reaped the benefits of his chimney-diving labor this weekend. But for our fancy nonstick skillet, you see, the recipe below wouldn't have even been contemplated. And the word on the street was that it was very worthy of contemplation.


Leek & Swiss Chard Frittata with Tomatoes and Cheese
Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen, incidentally one of the most beautiful food blogs out there
Yield: a 12" frittata, to serve about 8-10 people

1 large bunch swiss chard, leaves and some of the stems coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 large leeks, thinly sliced
10 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
cayenne pepper
dried herb mix (e.g. Bouquet Garni)
salt & pepper
1 cup grated, good-quality cheese (I used goat's milk colby jack cheese)
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Rinse and drain the swiss chard. In a large, oven-proof nonstick skillet (I used an All-Clad 12" skillet, as recommended by America's Test Kitchen), sauté the swiss chard with the water that stuck to the leaves after rinsing it. Cover the pan and steam the chard until just wilted. Remove the chard, squeeze out as much liquid as possible, and set aside.

In the same skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they are softened, about 5 minutes.

While the leeks are cooking, crack the 10 eggs into a large mixing bowl and add the milk, a few dashes of cayenne, salt and pepper, and about 1/2 teaspoon dried herbs. Using a handheld mixer, blend the eggs and milk until fully combined. (You can do this with a whisk, but it will take a while, so if you don't have or are opting out on using a mixer, do this step before cooking the leeks.)

Once the leeks are softened, turn the burner's heat to low, spread the leeks out evenly in the skillet and gently pour the egg mixture on top. Evenly distribute the swiss chard and shredded cheese over the leeks and eggs and let cook for a minute or two. Run a heat-proof rubber spatula along the outer edge of the frittata to prevent sticking. (This part is cool. Ah, the wonders of non-stick!) Once the frittata starts to firm up a bit, layer the tomatoes on top. Place the whole pan in the 450 degree oven on top rack and cook for about 8 minutes. When finished, the frittata will be firm but will have some give when you push gently on the middle. Let cool for a few minutes.

Because I didn't want a knife to touch my precious nonstick skillet (and you shouldn't either!), I waited for the dish to cool a bit and then removed the frittata from the skillet by running a spatula around the edges to loosen it, and then gently tilting it onto a cutting board. It worked out nicely.

The presentation and ease of this dish are noteworthy. The evening before the brunch, I sliced the leeks, cleaned and steamed the swiss chard, and grated the cheese. Everything else was done on Saturday morning after many guests had already arrived. It came together quickly and beautifully. While I actually did not personally try it (I don't care for goat cheese), I received many compliments on it and appreciated its aesthetic appeal. It was gorgeous. I'll be making it again for sure, but next time with cow's milk cheese so that I can enjoy it with my mouth as well as my eyes.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Brunch Part 2: Sweet Potato Bread & Recap

Brunch was a success! We had eighteen adults and three babies present. The food was super good, the conversation was even better, and there were free-flowing mimosas, bloody marys and coffee, thanks to our dear Christian and Lisa. The $5 cover charge was well-received and even complimented as a brilliant idea (I stole it). Best yet - it wasn't that hard! Everyone asked what time I got up and the answer is 7 a.m., and that's only because my daughter was up by then. I didn't get into the kitchen until about 8, and brunch was fully ready by about 10:20. And it was a leisurely morning, both before and after our friends arrived. It was great! I can't wait until next month.

The most sought after items were the egg dishes (absolutely no leftovers) and the sweet potato quick bread (same), the recipe for which I'm posting today. It was much denser and more cake-like than the zucchini muffins, and accordingly more popular. I kind of miss it actually.

You will too.

Sweet Potato Bread
Adapted from Vanilla Garlic blog
Yield: Two 8" or 9" loaves

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup pureed sweet potatoes
1 cup pureed butternut squash (or another cup of sweet potatoes)
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled, plus more for greasing pans
4 eggs
1/2 cup maple syrup (grade B, ideally)
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Liberally butter two loaf pans and dust with flour.

2. Whisk together flours, salt, baking soda, and sugars.

3. In mixer, blend sweet potatoes, squash, olive oil, and butter. Add eggs one at a time until incorporated. Mix in maple syrup, water and vanilla.

4. Slowly incorporate flour mixture into wet ingredients.

5. Pour batter equally into two loaf pans and bake for about an hour or until tester comes out clean.

This bread is absolutely delicious and freezes exceedingly well. I stored one loaf in the freezer for two months. Today, at brunch, it was perfectly moist and, as I mentioned above, was a total hit.

As a side note, I also tried to make a vegan buckwheat maple bread for the occasion. It was an unequivocal failure. Good flavor, but the texture can be best described as sandy - not something you want in a quick bread. So I'm working on revisions right now... I love buckwheat pancakes with maple syrup and am convinced that a well-constructed maple buckwheat bread would be a simpler, perfect way of enjoying those pancake-y flavors with a crowd. Time will tell. But I'm working on it.

For those of you who made it today, thank you. We had a great time.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Brunch Part 1: Whole Wheat Honey Zucchini Mini Muffins

Starting tomorrow, my family will be hosting a monthly brunch. I have some fantasies about what it will look and feel like, but tomorrow will probably shape the possibilities better than my imaginings are able to. The goal is simply to enjoy good, local food with good, local community. We expect about twenty people, and we are asking for a $5 contribution to the meal for each adult (nothing for kids, who are welcome), so that we can do this every month, committing to our food ideals (local and/or seasonal + organic can sometimes = expensive) without worrying about the dent in our budget. Other than the five bucks, everyone is asked to bring just him or herself, and I'm responsible for the food, beverages, and entertainment (although I might have to ask a trusted former bartender friend to help me make bloody marys...). There will be muffins, quick breads, savory egg dishes, fresh fruit, mimosas, coffee, (possibly) bloody marys, and crossword puzzles. I'm so looking forward to it, and I wish all of you reading this could be there! I'll let you know how it goes.

Today I'm posting the simplest of the brunch recipes that will be featured tomorrow: Whole Wheat Honey Zucchini Mini-Muffins. (That's a mouthful. But a tasty mouthful, at least.)

I hope you like them as much as my baby liked them.

I think when I serve them tomorrow I might drizzle them with a lemony-powdered sugar glaze.

Whole Wheat Honey Zucchini Mini-Muffins
Adapted from here
Yield: 48 mini muffins

3 cups whole wheat flour (all-purpose flour would likely work fine, might rise a bit more though if you don't know how to adjust the leavening agents properly (which I don't) but there's nothing wrong with a puffy muffin, is there?)
2-3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup honey
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
2 eggs, whisked a bit
2 cups shredded zucchini*

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Liberally grease your muffin pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, spices, baking soda, salt, and baking powder. In a measuring cup, mix the honey, oil, and eggs. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until just incorporated. Gently stir in zucchini. (Maybe gently stir in some chocolate chips too, if you are so inclined.) Put about two tablespoons of batter into each mini muffin cup and bake for 12-15 minutes. If you make regular-sized muffins, use 1/4-1/3 cup batter and bake for 20-25 minutes. (To make a loaf, bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes.) Cool and enjoy.

*I used zucchini that I had shredded last summer and put in freezer. It worked fine. I let it thaw in the sink for a couple of hours and then dumped it into a strainer to get rid of excess liquid. I have frozen bags of fruits and vegetables that I use throughout the winter and spring in baking and soups and stews. If you get too many zucchinis from your garden or, say, your CSA, it's the best solution I've come up with so far, other than pawning veggies off on friends.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Best Nachos Ever

No really. EVER.

You know you've been eating too many of The Best Nachos Ever when you run out of chili powder several times since your daughter's been born, but you maybe never ran out of chili powder before she was born. Another clue is when you realize you can't make The Best Nachos Ever for your husband's birthday because you've already served The Best Nachos Ever to all the birthday guests when they've previously visited, and you don't want them to think all you eat is nachos. Even if that is sort of the truth.

The thing is, these are so good and so easy and did I mention they are the best ever?

What exactly, you may ask, makes these nachos The Best Nachos Ever? Well, there's a little something called America's Test Kitchen's Beef Taco Filling, plus a lot of love.

(Fancy chips and high quality cheese help too.)

The Best Nachos Ever
Adapted from Cooking at Home with America's Test Kitchen - 2006 Companion
Yield: enough for 3-4 big eaters (i.e., we have never had leftovers)

Beef topping
1 teaspoons oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced, or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
1 lb. lean ground beef (or other ground meat; we have successfully used yak and bison from farmer's market)
1/2 cup tomato sauce or diced tomatoes in juice
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons cider vinegar (or plain vinegar if that's what you have)

1 bag delicious, thicker-cut tortilla chips (or half a bigger bag)
4 ounces sharp cheddar or jack cheese, coarsely grated (about a cup)
2/3 cup (about half a 15 oz. can) refried beans with green chilies

To finish
Avocado or guacamole
Fresh, coarsely chopped cilantro
Fresh salsa
Sour cream
Cholula or other hot sauce of choice

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until hot and just shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, spices, and salt; cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the ground beef and cook, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon and scraping the pan bottom to prevent scorching, until the beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce or tomatoes, water, brown sugar, and vinegar; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low (or low if you have a hot gas burner, like we have) and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently until the meat has no more large chunks and the liquid has reduced and thickened, about 10 minutes. (This meat is great in tacos too, just as the American Test Kitchen gods intended.)

On a nonstick baking sheet, layer the tortilla chips, dollop with refried beans, evenly pour the beef topping, and finish with the shredded cheese. Place in oven and broil for about 5 minutes, until cheese is melted and tortilla chips are browning a bit around the edges. Nibble a bit to make sure the beans are cooked through. When done, serve immediately to only those most deserving of loved ones with the sides listed above and/or anything else that sounds good to you.

You are REALLY going to like these. Probably because they are the best ever.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Dear Sticky Toffee Pudding,

You had me at sticky. I love you more than my luggage. I miss you.



Yep. I promised cake and here I am delivering. Pudding in the UK means dessert. Sticky toffee pudding is a dessert of the cake variety. More specifically, it's a gooey spice cake with a gooey caramel glaze. It is DEE-LISH-US. Even the Cadbury's version that you buy in a weird tin and boil is delicious. So I suspected that the homemade Jamie Oliver version was going to be delicious too. I was right. It's better than the canned kind. Imagine that.

Dear Jamie Oliver,

Your fish recipes intimidate me but your puddings never let me down. Thank you.

Love and crumpets,


Here is the recipe, followed by some disclaimerish notes.*

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Cake recipe adapted from Jamie's Dinners, by Jamie Oliver
Caramel recipe from unknown source (but memorialized on scrap of paper in my trusty red recipe folder)*
Yield: big square cake, to be eaten by 4 or 16 people, depending on self-restraint and sweet-tooth of people in question

8 oz. fresh pitted dates (I used the kind that are rolled in coconut)
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon self-rising flour*
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves or allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons Ovaltine
2 tablespoons plain yogurt

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a pie dish (or, as pictured here, a 9X9" square dish).

Put dates in bowl with the baking soda and cover with 1 cup boiling water. Let stand for a couple of minutes so dates will soften. (Science in action!) Drain the dates and mash them with a potato masher or puree them in a blender or food processor. (If you use the coconut-rolled kind, they mash quite easily with the back of a spoon.)

In a separate bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar until pale in color, using a wooden spoon. Add eggs, flour, spices, and Ovaltine. Mix together well and then fold in yogurt and pureed dates. Pour batter into greased dish and bake for 35 minutes.

While the cake is baking, make the caramel sauce, like so:

In small heavy saucepan, stir together 1 cup brown sugar and 2 tablespoons cornstarch. Stir in 1/2 cup water. Add 2/3 cup half-and-half, 1/4 cup light corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons butter. Cook and stir over medium heat until bubbly. The mixture may look curdled, just keep cooking and stirring. Remove from heat once thickened and stir in 1 teaspoon (or more) vanilla. This sauce is great on bread puddings or ice cream or really anything.

*Notes: (1) Mr. Oliver's toffee recipe did not work for me and I have not figured out what I did wrong. Hence the trusty caramel recipe from my trusty red recipe folder. It's a sure thing. (2) I did not have self-rising flour, so I found a recipe online for self-rising flour. I thought it worked fine until the cake cooled. It totally sunk in the middle. This did not make the cake any less tasty, but it was definitely a bad influence on its presentation. So I recommend using self-rising flour or using a super precise substitute recipe (1 cup + 1 tablespoon of flour suggests a need for precision, yes?). (3) No veganization possibilities here. The butter is sort of what makes this bad boy so so good.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

As-Spicy-As-You-Want-It Miso Soup with Shrimp & Tofu

WARNING: This post involves the plagiarization of MYSELF.  I know.  I'm such a cheater.  But I want to keep current on Project Food Blog, and I just returned from a whirlwind-mini-break in California - 8-month old daughter in tow - and I'm tired and my house is in a mild state of disarray (although MC did a great job tidying up before I returned home, our suitcases have since vomited dirty clothing, baby toys and random hand-me-downs from my mother all over the floor) and my refrigerator is empty... so this is what I have to offer.  Lame, unadulterated pictures and all.  (Side note:  after eating my sisters' fantastic creations this weekend, ranging from an amazing duck cassoulet that took a week to prepare to an insanely decadent chocolate-crusted peanut butter pie that will be sticking to my waistline for years to come, I'm humbly inspired to get more ambitious in the kitchen, and that will take a little more organization and prep work, neither of which will get done until I unpack and do laundry.)

At any rate, in defense of this recycled post: (a) this recipe can use up some of that miso you bought for the Miso Chicken Piccata recipe (Lisa!), and, (b) honestly, it is worth putting on the internets twice.  It's quite yummy and, as I said when I posted it before, it's nutritious and tastes like it would help beat a cold. It's adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe from 2004 that I found online in my search for ways to use up shredded carrots. 

Miso (and so much more) Soup
Yield: Makes about 6 servings

4 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 t ground ginger (or 2 T fresh grated ginger)
1 ½ cups shredded carrots
5 T red miso
6 oz. baked tofu, coarsely chopped so that there are some cubes and some crumbles
1/2 lb. uncooked peeled deveined small shrimp*
1 bunch pak choy, coarsely chopped*
½ t Sriracha* and ½ t toasted sesame oil (or 1 t. hot chili oil, which is less good but that's what original recipe calls for)

(1) Bring first 4 ingredients to boil in dutch over medium-high heat. Add carrots and reduce heat to low.

(2) Place red miso in bowl or measuring cup and whisk in ½ cup hot broth. Stir miso-broth mixture into remaining broth mixture. Stir in tofu and bring to boil.

(3) Turn off heat. Mix in shrimp, pak choy* and green onions. Cover and let stand until shrimp are cooked through, about 4 minutes. Stir in Sriracha and toasted sesame oil. Serve and enjoy.

*Some notes in hindsight: Shrimp are tasty and all, but not essential given how pricey they are. (They were $15.99/pound! For reals! - The original recipe called for a pound and a half and I bought all they had at the store, which, fortunately, only ended up being a 1/2 lb.) I added the tofu to make up for the shrimp deficit, and I think it was great, like the miso soup we sushi restaurant-goers are more accustomed to. Re: pak choy.  It was really good. If you can get it for cheap, go for it. The original recipe called for watercress, and I don't eat watercress off-season because I get enough of it from our CSA when it is in season to last me the whole year and then some. Any cookable green would do, even spinach.  And regarding the spice factor:  as much as I want to be a die-hard-spicy lady, I can really only tolerate my spice in small doses.  But if you, cool die-hard spicy person that you are, like a firey soup, go to town with the Sriracha.

Check back Friday for a REAL POST.  I'm thinking - ready for this? - CAKE.  Seriously.  I'm on it.  

Friday, March 12, 2010

Italian Sausage and Lentil Soup

I'm on vacation! But here's what we had for dinner on Tuesday night, in my effort to be resourceful and use up the sausage we had in the freezer, the lentils that had been in the pantry for a while, the spinach that was starting to wilt on its own, and the other fresh veggies that would go to waste if I didn't use them up before catching my plane. We liked it a lot and so did the neighbors of ours who happened to not be allergic to lentils. (One neighbor had to miss out, unfortunately. Lentils!? Really!?) Tasted extra good with a nice bottle glass of wine.

Here you go...

Italian Sausage and Lentil Soup
A modified amalgamation of this and this.
Yield: Serves 6 as main course, or 8 as first course.  (Or maybe even more.  We are big eaters and this makes a whole lotta soup.)

16 oz. brown lentils
2 carrots, cut into 2" chunks
1 large celery stalk (or 2 small-medium ones), cut into 2" chunks
2 tomatoes, quartered
6" sprig of rosemary (optional)
6 cups water + 3 tablespoons beef bouillon OR 3 cups water + 3 cups beef broth
2 more cups water
16 oz. hot Italian sausage, casings removed (if your sausage comes in casings... mine did not)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cups fresh spinach (or other chopped cookable greens - see note)
Salt and pepper
Avocado and homemade croutons, to finish

Rinse and drain lentils in a strainer. Pour the lentils into a large saucepan and add 6 cups water and bouillon (or equivalent broth/water combo), carrots, celery, tomatoes, and rosemary sprig. Bring to boil, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Place a strainer over a large bowl and strain the mixture, reserving the cooking liquid in the bowl.

Put about half of the lentils and all of the vegetables into a blender. Purée the mixture, adding about one cup of cooking liquid to make it smooth. Put the other half of the lentils into the large saucepan and pour in the lentil purée. Add 2 more cups of water, stir, and place on stove over medium heat.

Heat the sausages, onion and garlic in a large frying pan. (If you are using chicken or turkey sausages rather than pork, you might want to start with a tablespoon of oil.) Break up the sausage and cook until the onions are starting to brown and the sausage is almost cooked through, about 8 minutes.

Add the sausage mixture to the soup and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in spinach and cook until wilted.

Serve with slices of avocado and/or homemade croutons.

NOTES: Swiss chard or kale could be used in place of spinach. The sausage provides the bulk of this soup's wonderful flavor... but if you wanted to make it vegetarian, place the onion and garlic in the saucepan right away with the lentils, broth, and other vegetables, use vegetable broth in place of water (maybe 4 cups broth + 4 cups water?), and add some seasoned, baked tofu and juice of half a lemon toward the end to brighten the dish.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Miso Chicken Piccata

First of all, THANK YOU SO MUCH! This blog has been graced with far more visitors than I'd even dared to hope for. I have such lovely, supportive friends. And I love that they love food! I hope you're enjoying it at least a fraction as much as I am - if you are, please feel free to pass on my link to others. I don't anticipate Smitten Kitchen success... but maybe Lottie + Doof?... ever so humbly?... Whatever, I am just having a lot of fun so far. Special thanks to those who comment - without you, I'd just be talking to myself on this here google machine, and I already feel like I talk to myself all day long as it is. (Not that I'm anything other than TOTALLY grateful for that! I love this time at home. And soon enough, when my daughter's noises evolve into the inevitable run-on sentences that I fear she'll embrace before we know it, I'm certain I won't get a word in edgewise. (Truthfully, though, I kind of can't wait for that. Kids say the funniest s*&t!))

But anyway, back to the comment gratitude. Food is worthy of dialogue in my opinion, so keep it coming. I love it, and plan on responding to all comments received within 48-hours of posting, so check back and see the ongoing conversation if you'd like.

Today's recipe is a simple, delicious dinner that MC and I have made twice in the last ten days, and ate four times, since each recipe yields at least four servings and we are just two. I don't often rave about chicken, as I think it's boring and dry most of the time, but this turned out quite juicy and flavorful both times. It's delicious and salty, and -

speaking of salty, let's just get one thing out on the table here - you will never, never hear (or read) me say that something is too salty. I don't understand too salty from a taste perspective, although I'm conscious of the health risks associated with sodium consumption. I use a lot of salt in my cooking (and baking, for that matter) but feel that since I try not to use processed, jarred or canned ingredients with any regularity, I've got some leeway -

The point I was getting at, anyway, is this: if you perhaps do not love salt as much as I do (and, frankly, you probably don't unless you're my dad, who I don't think is reading this because he confuses the "enter" key with the space bar still), you might want to start with smaller quantities of salt and other salty ingredients (e.g. miso, soy sauce) than the quantities I tend to suggest. I'm just putting it out there. It's for your own good.

(On a similar note, you'll probably never hear (read) me say something is too sweet either. I've never been one for subtlety. Or maybe I just have dull taste buds. Yikes.)

Here's that recipe I was talking about ages and ages ago. Salty salty salty and easy to boot! (And apparently "light", given its Cooking Light origins.)

Miso Chicken Piccata
Adapted from Cooking Light, August 2009

3/4 cup water
1/2 vegetable bouillon cube (Rapunzel brand are best, though they're slow to dissolve)
5 tablespoons miso (I used mellow red miso, but I'm sure any would be fine since red is, evidently, the strongest of the misos)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1.25-1.5 lbs in total weight)
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
2 garlic cloves, minced (CONFESSION: I used garlic powder both times and it was fine!)
1/4 medium onion, minced
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons capers
freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine bouillon and miso with water in a mixing cup until dissolved (as best as you can - mine was a little grainy both times, even after sitting for a bit, but once cooked it was fine). Set aside.

Place flour on a plate and grind some pepper on top. Pound each chicken breast between 2 sheets of plastic wrap until about 1/4" thick. Dredge chicken in flour.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 4 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove chicken from pan. Add wine to deglaze pan, scraping up any sticky brown bits. Reduce heat to medium and stir in miso mixture, onions and garlic (powder). Return chicken to pan and cook 3 minutes or so, until done. Remove from heat, add juice, capers and pepper and stir gently. Serve immediately, over cooked white, brown or wild rice, drizzling pan sauce over chicken and rice. Garnish with lemon wedges.

Salty! Yum!

P.S.  If you have the means and interest... consider supporting the next issue of a super cool, food-loving, independent publication called Remedy Quarterly. It's beautiful and clever.  The whole system is innovative and modern - if you need to raise funds for a project, it might be worth looking into.

Monday, March 8, 2010

No Nut Granola Bars

Sadly, or at least annoyingly, I'm allergic to nuts. Tree nuts, specifically. When I last had a scratch test done about five years ago, the allergist said that on a scale from 0-5, with 5 being the most severe, I was a 7 for pistachios and macadamia nuts, a five for several other tree nuts they tested, a 2 for peanuts and almonds, and a zero for coconut, which is not a nut at all but is, evidently, a somewhat common allergen. With respect to the mild allergy to peanuts and almonds, the doctor said that usually he'd tell someone she wasn't allergic with a mere level 2 reaction. Because of my off-the-charts reaction to certain tree nuts, however, he felt I should be careful. So I eat peanut butter rarely and, when there are nurses or doctors in the vicinity, I've been known to try an almond or two. Otherwise I stay clear. I am pretty used to my nut allergy, as it first developed nearly twenty years ago, so it's not really a big deal unless I'm out to dinner with friends and have to ask a lot of questions about the menu, which sometime makes me a little self-conscious. I am certain that I will never die from an allergic reaction, but it is inconvenient and ugly and uncomfortable - once I didn't leave my flat in Birmingham for four days because my fingers and eyes were so swollen - pretty! - so while I generally don't take phrases like "made in a facility that processes tree nuts" and "may contain traces of tree nuts" too seriously, and I've opted against handing out warning post-its to restaurant staff, I do closely read the ingredient label for anything I put in my mouth and I effectively grill every server who is privileged to have me in her section. Moreover, and most relevant to today's post, I am always on the look out for nut-free variations on items that are traditionally made with nuts. Someday, when I'm super ambitious, I intend to try making macarons with a coconut and poppyseed flour mixture in place of the almond meal. (I saw that substitution on the Baking Obsession website, whose creator has a son with a tree nut allergy.) In the meantime, I'll stick to less risky substitutions, like the ones I use in the recipe below, which is adapted from the Barefoot Contessa's version featured on the Food Network in 2008.

These truly are delicious. When I took my first bite, my instant reaction was, "could be sweeter," but that's because I'm addicted to sugar and I'd never eaten homemade granola bars before, so I was prepared for something more like a Quaker or Cascadian Farms granola bar, which is pretty much candy. But then I kept having more and more bites, and I didn't want them to be sweeter, so when I make these again (and I will make them again), I may play around with the fruit combinations and try experimenting with spices (and, okay, I might add chocolate chips at some point but only because chocolate chips and dried cherries make a fantastic granola bar combination!), but I wouldn't add more sugar or honey. They are excellent as is, and I can eat them and someday give them to my daughter for breakfast without feeling guilty.

Now you can too, because they are super easy but, since making homemade granola bars is apparently so rare that I'd never eaten a homemade granola bar before and I know a lot of people and eat a lot of food, totally impressive as well!

Here's the recipe. Now go impress someone.

No-Nut Granola Bars
Liberally adapted from Ina Garten
Yield: 16 delicious square bars, about 2X2"

1 cup rolled oats or old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup ground flaxseed (flaxseed meal)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2/3 cup coarsely chopped pitted dates
1/3 cup coarsely chopped dried apricots

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Grease an 8X8" or 9X9" baking dish and line it with parchment paper and grease the parchment paper.

Toss the oats, sunflower seeds, and coconut flakes on a separate non-stick baking sheet and put in oven while it's preheating. Remove when coconut and sunflower seeds have browned a bit. (Check on them often - the time between brown and ashes is short.) Once toasted, toss mixture with flaxseed meal and salt in a large mixing bowl.

In a small sauce pan over low heat, stir butter, honey, and brown sugar until melted and combined. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour liquid over toasted oat mixture and stir a bit. Add the dried fruit and stir until the dry ingredients are all coated with the honey-butter and the mixture is a bit sticky. Now give a spoonful to your husband and relish your good deed for the day.

Pour the mixture into the prepared square baking dish. Press the mixture with your hand so it is tightly packed in and evenly distributed. Bake for about 25 minutes or until golden. Cool for about two hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.

NOTES: (1) These have lasted in a glass, airtight container for four days now and taste good as new. Other food blogs suggest that homemade granola bars freeze well too, but I haven't tried that myself. (2) To veganize, (a) any of the following could be used in place of butter: apricot oil, walnut oil (if no allergy), or a mild-flavored olive oil, or Earth Balance margarine; and (b) use brown rice syrup (probably best) or, alternatively, maple syrup or agave nectar in place of honey. (3) I think using 2 tablespoons of maple syrup in place of the brown sugar might make an equally tasty, but delightfully stickier bar. I might try that next time.