Passover Leftovers and Beyond

Well, I survived the first two seders of Passover.  I wanted to post pictures from the desserts I made.  They were amazing this year and will definitely become a regular part of Passover future.  Let me refresh your memories.  I made a Chocolate Caramel Torte and an Almond Cake with Mixed Berries.

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I always cook more than I need.  I’m not sure if I do it because it’s just my way, if I secretly am hoping my tables will be filled with more family and friends or because I love the leftovers.  This year I way over bought Matzo.  I have always loved the Barefoot Contessa’s Baked French Toast Casserole Recipe, so I thought I’d adapt it to do a baked Matzo Casserole.  I took a few liberties, but it was a hit!  Enjoy.

Baked Matzo Breakfast Casserole

  • 1/2 cup Butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup Brown Sugar
  • 8 Eggs
  • 4 cups Heavy Cream
  • 3 Tablespoons Honey
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • Matzo, enough to layer in pan

Pour the Melted butter into a 9X13 pyrex pan. Sprinkle brown sugar over butter.

In a medium bowl beat together eggs, cream, honey, vanilla extract and kosher salt.

Layer Matzo in pan, over brown sugar. You may need to break pieces to fit evenly in pan. Layer to top of pan.

Pour cream mixture over matzo, slowly. When about half full, weight down matzo with oven safe glasses.  Keep filling pan until cream mixture just reached the top.

Refrigerate for at least an hour or up to overnight, to absorb liquid.

Preheat oven to 350 and bake covered for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 30 – 45 minutes until custard is set.

Let cool for 10 minutes, then serve.  You can serve straight from pan or turn casserole out onto platter.  The brown sugar will flow out as a glaze.  YUM!!!

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Sweet Summer is on it’s Way!

Summer is on its way! For those of us on the west coast it seems to already be here. Naturally, our minds shift to getting our bodies beach ready. Recently, I was sharing some personal goals with a friend, and was asked what were some ways I was going to work toward those goals and not be overcome with hunger. It was a good question, since I manage to surround myself with food everyday. The first thought was snacks and meal replacements that would keep me full.

I was putting together some smoothie recipes and my mind drifted to diabetes. I am always hearing about another person that is diagnosed with type1 or type 2. I seem to be meet people all the time that are living with diabetes. More and more I am meeting people who are thriving with diabetes.

I often end up in a conversation about the dietary “restrictions” many diabetics have to adhere to. I am always surprised by how many people think it is just a sugar thing. Believe it or not it is no longer just sugar used as a marker. Obviously, it is sugar that is measured and insulin that is adjusted but there are so many other factors that contribute to sugar elevation.

When you are diagnosed, and as you live, with diabetes you learn about exercise, stress management and diet. In addition to sugar, carbohydrates and calories play a large role in managing diabetes. Another factor is making sure you keep your blood sugar throughout the day. While there is a lot of talk about how many meals you need to eat a day, and in a non-diabetic day there is varying opinion. In a diabetic’s day, there is no dispute to eating regularly throughout the day, usually every 3 hours. This doesn’t always mean whole meals; sometimes it is just a snack.

I thought I’d give the dieters, my friends living with diabetes and really anybody looking for a yummy snack a few shakes and smoothies to use as snacks and meal replacements. Before you start, I use a medium banana. I usually under sweeten in recipes, you can add more. I put ice in first then whole ingredients then liquid. Calorie and carbohydrate counts are approximate. I know you are going to love what I came up with!

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My Favorite Green Smoothie

  • 1 ½ cups fresh Spinach
  • ½ green apple, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup coconut water, unsweetened
  • ½ frozen banana
  • 1 teaspoon honey or agave nectar
  • ½ cup ice

Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

155 calories; 44 grams carbohydrates; 35 sugars

Mango Pumpkin Smoothie (meal replacement)

  • 1 cup frozen mango chunks
  • 1 cup pure pumpkin puree (great source of “fill me up” fiber)
  • 3 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 cup coconut water, unsweetened

Blend until smooth.  Serve immediately.

208 calories; 49 carbohydrates; 40 sugars – per serving

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Cantaloupe-Ginger Smoothie

  • 1 cup chopped fresh cantaloupe
  • ½ frozen banana
  • ¼ cup white grape juice
  • ½ teaspoon ginger juice (buy at health food store or use garlic press to squeeze juice)
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 1/3 cup greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • ½ cup ice, if needed

Blend until smooth.  Serve immediately.

213 calories; 48 carbohydrates; 27 sugars

Passover, new traditions and old answers!

Passover is just days away and, as is the case every year, my phone is ringing with people asking for “new” recipes. I decided to do some research, this year. Why do we always eat the same things? Why are the “laws” so different for Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews? Do we really want “new” recipes or is there comfort in the familiar? When I was growing up, we only served Manischewitz Concord Grape wine and the kids drank it too. As a matter of fact, we looked forward to Passover and the opportunity to get a little drunk on sweet wine and say the word  “ass” over and over again. It seemed to be a right of passage. Of course we ate the same menu every year. Now kids get grape juice and modern hagadot use different language. The answer to the difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews Passover diet is easy yet complicated. To oversimplify it greatly, it’s all about stubbornness.

Originally, the prohibition against leavened food only applied to “the five species of grain”. This includes wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt. Since other grains don’t rise (rice, millet, beans and lentils) no matter what or how it is kneaded and manipulated, they were allowed.

Fast forward a couple of centuries and the subject came up again in the Mishneh and Talmud. Somehow, the Mishnah in the 3rd century says its okay and the Talmud of the 5th century says no dice. Later law codes of the Ashkenazim hold a “stringent” line and don’t eat from any species of grain and the Sephardim who usually follow Maimonides only abstain from the original five species of grain. I was raised Ashkenazi but find the Sephardic way, much easier to follow.

As for the menu, as I read through website after website looking at menus, it seemed most followed the same pattern. You must have matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, brisket, some sort of vegetable dish, some sort of potato dish and dessert. Jews have a long history as nomads. Consider the term “wandering Jew”. As a result, “our” food history is one of adaptation. Each time the Jews had to move to stay alive, they would take the recipes and traditions they had and convert them to work with the local food availability and the new culture they were in. Because they were forced to move around, and often didn’t have a lot of money to start with, they looked for inexpensive foods items and preparations that would stretch the uses and make less palatable ingredients, taste better. Brisket started out as an inexpensive cut of meat. We got a hold of it and now it is a cultural icon. Nobody would accuse chicken livers of being designer, but we took it and made chopped liver another iconic preparation. I would like to propose that this year when you are thinking about being enslaved and then being freed; think about your menus, your recipes and your traditions. Free yourself. Take the menus and recipes that have been handed down to you and make them your own. Judy Zeidler published The Gourmet Jewish Cookbook in 1999. While there are a lot of “gourmet” Jewish cookbooks and even some specific for Passover, this is still my favorite. Judy gives you several Passover menus and recipes from all over the world. Before I give you a few recipes to try, I’d like to offer up one more tradition on the newer side. Place an orange on your Seder plate to represent Women and in recognition of the LGBT community, widows, orphans, Jews who are adopted and anybody that may have felt marginalized by the Jewish community. Susan Heschel started this tradition in the late 1980’s. At an early point in the Seder she would ask each participant to take a segment of the orange, say the blessing over fruit and then eat the segment. If you come across a seed, spit it out as if to cast out any discrimination. The orange is there to remind us that we are all part of a whole and that each segment sticks together. I will post pictures to my instagram, Facebook and twitter pages.  Chag Sameach!

Whitefish Quenelles

  • 6 cups store bought fish or veggie stock
  • 1 bottle dry, white wine
  • 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/4 lbs. pike fillets, skinned, cut into medium pieces
  • 1 1/4 lbs. whitefish fillets, skinned, cut into medium pieces
  • 1 1/4 lbs. carp fillets, skinned, cut into medium pieces
  • 2 eggs, plus 2 additional whites
  • 3 Tablespoons matzo meal
  •  1 1/2 Tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons super fine sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • a couple of passes of fresh nutmeg on the grater
  • 1/2 cup ice water

For the Quenelles: Pulse the onion in a food processor until finely chopped. Add half of all the fish and process until smooth. Scrape down sides as needed. Transfer to a large bowl and puree the other half of the fish. Then return the first portion and pulse to incorporate all flavors together. With the food processor running, add eggs and egg whites; process until just combined. Pour this mixture into a large bowl and stir in matzo meal, salt, sugar, lemon juice, pepper and nutmeg. Add the ice water, slowly, stirring until all in. Press through a large, fine-mesh strainer and refrigerate, 30 minutes. (you can do up to here a day in advance of next step) Bring stock and wine to a gentle boil, in large stockpot. You can add additional herbs for flavoring if you’d like. Try dill or parsley. Using two, wet, tablespoons, shape the quenelles. Use one spoon to get a mound of the fish batter and holding the spoons opposite each other, use the other to shape it. Spoon back & forth a few times to get a smooth surface (they make oval shape ice cream scoops too). Drop each quenelle into stock after forming. Cook until the float. You want to work in small batches at a time. I usually do 8 – 10 at one time. As they float to the surface use a slotted spoon to transfer them to large shallow dish. I like a lasagna glass dish. Strain some stock over quenelles, to keep them moist. Cool, then cover and refrigerate over night. The day you are serving take the quenelles out and let them sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Serve as you would gefilte fish, with horseradish. I like a little drizzle of the stock over the fish. Figure 2-3, per person.

Almond Cake with Mixed Frosted Berries

  • 2 ¼ cups almond flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch kosher salt
  • 1 pound mixed berries
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup fine granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon rosewater (optional)

In a medium bowl, whisk almond flour, baking powder and salt. Using a hand mixer, in a large bowl beat the eggs, sugar and rosewater, at high speed until thick and very glossy. Fold in the flour mixture and about 2/3 of the berries, (The rest will be garnish). You will want to work in alternating batches, usually three. Pour the batter into a greased 9-inch spring-form pan, bottomed lined with parchment paper. Bake at 325, until toothpick comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Let cook for 10 minutes, unmold and cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar For garnish berries: Whisk together 1/3 cup egg whites with 1/8 of a teaspoon fresh lemon juice, until frothy. Toss, gently, the berries in the egg whites and then strain the egg whites off and lay the berries on paper towels to absorb excess egg whites. Do not let them dry. Working quickly but in batches, toss the berries lightly in 2 cups of superfine sugar. Shake off excess and mound in center of cake. Serve immediately.

Passover Chocolate Caramel Torte

  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup Mrs. Richardson’s caramel sauce

Place 1 cup of chocolate chips and butter in a glass or ceramic bowl. Heat in microwave 30 minutes at a time until butter is melted and chips are all but melted. Stir to completely melt the chips. Stir in salt, espresso and vanilla. With a handled mixer, beat n eggs, one at a time, until just smooth. Add the cocoa powder until just combined. Pour batter into a greased tart pan with removable bottom. I line my pan bottom with parchment paper. Bake at 375 for 25 minutes Cool in pan for 5 minutes then lift out onto serving plate and cool completely. For the next step, heat the cream in a saucepan until it is just simmering. Meanwhile put the other cup of chocolate chips in a heat proof bowl. When cream is simmering, pour it over the chocolate and let it sit for 3-5 minutes. Stir until smooth and thoroughly melted. Pour chocolate sauce over the cake and allow to set. Warm the caramel slightly, in microwave. Spoon the caramel over the top of the ganache. Some of the ganache may melt into the caramel, that’s fine. Serve at room temperature.

Havana (Shabbat) Nights!

On December 14, 2014, the United States and Cuba started the process of resuming diplomatic relations. Since then I have been unable to squelch my curiosity about all things Cuban, but especially food. I was intrigued to find that many Cuban dishes have their roots in the Sephardic Jewish population. Ropa Vieja, a popular dish can even be made with a brisket cut of meat. Since I am Jewish I think of it as Cuban Shabbat dinner.

My favorite movie is The Godfather movie. You can find me on any Saturday looking to see if it is showing on any one of hundreds of TV channels. Cuba has a large role in Godfather II. That is where Michael went to meet with Hyman Roth and other important dignitaries to plan their business takeover. I wonder if the meal Mr. Roth was serving was his Shabbat in Cuba. That was my first look at the fascinating brightly colored homes and the well-preserved, vintage, American cars that make up Havana. My first taste of Cuban cuisine came from the restaurant Versailles. I live in Los Angeles and like most cities in the US that have any Cuban population; we have a few Versailles’. They serve a wide variety of Cuban food with a, slightly, American flair. Here in LA it might describes as the ‘gringo” version. The Ropa Vieja, below, is based on their recipe.

Travel companies are gearing up for the first tours to Cuba, airlines are asking for gate space and Americans are lined up to get their visas. As we wait for all this to happen, I thought it would be fun to give you a Cuban food primer, in your own home. I am making my own experience more authentic, by turning up the humidifier!

Havana Harry’s, is a popular Miami restaurant. They serve all things Cuban. While Vaca Frita is typically a beef dish, they do a chicken version that is out of this world. When I first looked down at the plate I felt betrayed. Was I in little Havana or Israel? Vaca Frita looks very much like Shwarma meat served on the plate and accompanied by pita. The real secret to a great Vaca Frita is the “mojo”. This iconic citrus marinade is used in so many aspects of Cuban cooking. It can be made with or without oil. The oil becomes crucial when you are cooking meats, such as chicken and fish that have a lower fat content. Every cook has their own version of mojo, but the basics stay the same. Mojo is usually made with bitter Seville orange juice. However, it can sometimes be difficult to find in big American grocery stores. I chose Nelly’s Key Lime Juice, sweet orange juice and lemon juice to try and get the balance of sweet and bitter. Another option is tangerine juice or even pink grapefruit juice.

It wouldn’t be Shabbat without dessert and as a matter of fact we recently celebrated Purim. I am including a recipe for a guava cream cheese pastry. My version is a cross between hamantaschen and sopapilla. Guava paste is very sweet, and so is the Cuban coffee you will serve with it. Cafetcito by definition is little coffee so a little goes a long way when serving dessert, too.

There are as many opinions on how to make “cafecito” as there are Cubans. There is a Cuban blend of espresso and you can make it in a Mokka (an espresso pot). But you can also use a good Columbian or French roast. You can also boil it on the stove. Some stir their sugar in halfway through the brew process and some make frothy mix of sugar and coffee to stir in after the coffee is brewed. My suggestion is to start with www.3guysfrommiami.com. They have a good but simple version. Just like the mojo, you will find your own personal style.

All that’s left to do now is put on some Buena Vista Social Club, start dancing around your kitchen and cook!

Chao!

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Chicken Vaca Frita

  • 2 pounds skinless, bone-in chicken thighs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • chicken stock, to cover, about 3 cups
  • 1/2 head, roasted garlic, minced
  • 4 Tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 cup sweet orange juice
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup key lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon, rough chopped, oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 small sweet onions, peeled and sliced thin
  • 6 additional cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste

Place Chicken and bay leaf in a large pot and cover with chicken stock.  You can add parsley or cilantro stems, even hearts of celery.  Add whatever you have on hand to boost flavor.  Bring to a boil and start skimming off foam from surface.  Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes, or until meat falls off the bone. Remove chicken and let cool, so it can be handled.  Let the extra stock cool and then freeze or use immediately.  Its a nice start to soups and sauces.

remove chicken from bone and shred. Set aside.

**Mojo is a sauce/marinade (you are about to make it).  Make extra and and keep it in fridge for up to a week**

Heat 2 Tablespoons of the oil in a heavy skillet and saute the roasted garlic.  Add in juices, ground pepper, oregano and cumin. Reduce heat and whisk until heated through.  This is your mojo.  Pour into a bowl and keep warm.

In the same skillet heat remaining oil and saute chicken with sliced onions until the onions are tender.  Stir in remaining garlic and cook until meat is crisp and browned. Season with salt & pepper.

Transfer to a heated platter and serve with white rice and black beans.  Garnish with fresh limes.

Ropa Vieja

  • Servings: 4-6
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  • 2 pounds flank steak (or brisket)
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, sliced in strips
  • 1/2 spanish onion, sliced in strips
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup red wine

Add all ingredients to a slow cooker.  Add just enough water to cover steak.

Set cooker to low heat and cook for 6-8 hours until meat comes apart with fork.  Shred meat and set aside.

  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 3 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 Tablespoons tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon, minced oregano
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Transfer peppers and onion from slow cooker to skillet, reserve juice.

Add tomato paste, tomato sauce and beef broth.

Add shredded beef to tomato mixture and cook for another 20 minutes, stir occasionally.

Stir some of the reserved juice into cooked white rice and serve.

Guava & Cheese Turnovers

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tablespoons cold water
  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry dough
  • 1/2 cup guava paste (use preserves if you can’t find paste)
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, start with block bring to room temp and beat it until creamy
  • 2 Tablespoons raw sugar (turbinado)

Preheat oven to 400

Be a together egg and water

On a cutting board use a sharp knife to cut 4-6 squares from each sheet of pastry and brush each lightly with egg wash.

Spoon 1 tablespoon each of guava and cream cheese onto squares, slightly off center.

Fold square in half forming a triangle and press edges together.  Crimp edges with fork and brush tops with more egg wash.  Sprinkle with sugar.

Arrange pastries on a parchment lined baking sheet and chill in freezer for 20 minutes.

Bake until golden and puffed, about 15 minutes.  I like to rotate at least once during baking.

Serve warm (but they’re really good at leftover room temperature)

Saint Patrick’s Cupcakes!!!!!

St. Patrick’s Day is this week. I’m not much of a drinker or a bar hopper. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to enjoy the party. Many years ago, I developed a recipe for and Irish Car Bomb cupcake. The chocolate cupcake is enhanced with Guinness Stout. The beer really seems to pump up the chocolate taste to another level. The frosting is an Irish Crème liqueur based frosting. Can you say yum? I hope you enjoy these cupcakes as much as I did creating them.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! May the luck of the Irish be with you!

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Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups supefine sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup, or more, Guinness Stout, for after baking

Preheat oven to 350

Cream together butter and sugar, until fluffy

Add egg yolks, one add at a time, blending after each

Beat egg whites until stiff

In a separate bowl combine dry ingredients

Blend dry ingredients, by thirds, into butter/egg mixture, alternating with milk

When well blended add vanilla

Fold in egg whites until just incorporated

Scoop batter into greased and floured muffin tins

Bake for 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean

Remove from oven and while cakes are still hot poke holes int each cupcake and spoon 1 Tablespoon of stout into each cupcake.  Let cool in pan 10 minutes then turn out to cool completely

Frost with Irish Creme Frosting and serve

Irish Creme Frosting

  • Servings: 24 cupcakes
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  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup Irish Creme Liqueur

Cream Butter thoroughly and gradually add in powdered sugar

add in vanilla and salt

add liqueur one tablespoon at a time until blended thoroughly.  You may need to add a little more powdered sugar to get consistency right.

I make a reduction of Irish Whiskey and sugar then drizzle over the top of frosted cupcakes (optional)

Happy Birthday! Let’s Party Cake

Today would have been my Mom’s 80th birthday. It is also my youngest daughter’s 14th birthday. You have to know that my Mom was always the life of the party and she would, for sure, want us to be celebrating her life. My Mom and daughter were “soul sisters”, so by celebrating my daughter I am honoring my Mom.

In one of my first post I told you about a leather binder, filled with recipes that came from my Aunt Rosie’s house. When I started thinking about celebrations for my mom and daughter the binder was the most logical place to find the perfect cake. In this magical binder, I found several recipes for “Party Cake”. Obviously I was intrigued that a cake could demand its presence at a party by calling itself “Party Cake”. I looked more closely and it appears that this cake is very similar to a pound cake. It is a little lighter. So in honor of my Mother, my daughter and all the March birthdays out there, let’s make Party Cake

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Party Cake

  • 1 cup butter or margarine, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Cream together butter and powdered sugar until fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time, blending well after each.

Combine flour, salt and baking powder and gradually add into butter mixture, alternating with milk.  Blend well.

Stir in vanilla and almond extracts

Pour into a greased and floured 10″ tube pan and bake at 325 for an hour and 45 minutes.  Check after an hour and 30 minutes.  You may need more or less time depending on your oven.

For a glaze, whisk together 1 1/2 Tablespoons whole milk with 1 cup powdered sugar.   Add the juice of one lemon. Pour generously over the cake.

Try Something New! Marinara Sauce

I have so much I want to cover this week so I am going to get right into it. It is the end of the month and I want to give you something new to try. I also had a question that came up during the week about asparagus soup and finally I have a tip to share.

When I first wrote about trying something new, I said that recipes don’t have to be difficult to have the wow factor; making your own marinara sauce falls into this category. I know quite a few women, who make their own sauce on a regular basis. A mother or grandmother or even an auntie taught most of them. Even Clemenza taught Michael Corleone how to make sauce.

The recipe that follows has a lot of wow factor for small effort and if you put in a little more effort you can really amp it up. The recipe calls for a 28-ounce can of plum tomatoes. Use the San Marzano’s. They have a sweeter and richer taste. Further down the recipe calls for a chopped, sweet red bell pepper. Try using a roasted red bell pepper. It will give your sauce a richer depth of flavor. I promise to post several easy methods for roasting peppers; for now just use a raw bell pepper or store bought roasted.

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I was at dinner with some friends and was asked about why one’s asparagus soup had turned brown. The flavor was good but the brown color left it less appealing to the eye. Why did that happen? I immediately went to lemon. Had she added lemon to the recipe? This will sometimes stop the browning process. She had. Had she used an aluminum pot? Acid will interact with aluminum and cause discoloration. Nope, the pot was ceramic. I turned to my foodie gurus from my writing class. What we came up with was to try blanching the asparagus before you use it in the soup. This process uses boiling water to submerge the asparagus just long enough to see that bright green color appear, then submerging the asparagus in ice water to stop the cooking process. The other idea was to add the acid, in this case a lemon rind, just at the last moment so as not to cook it too long at high heat; another process that can cause discoloration.

Finally, today at the Farmer’s market I bought beautiful berries. I want to share a tip that I use often. Rinse your berries in a solution of one part white vinegar and two parts cold water. Let them swirl in the water for a couple of minutes. Rinse them thoroughly in cold water and lay them out in a single layer on paper towels to dry. Store them layered with paper towels in a covered container in the refrigerator. They will last at least a full week. I have to be honest I don’t remember where I heard this tip but it works like a charm.

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I hope you will make the marinara and try something new. Let me know how your marinara tastes. Use the hash tag #trysomethingnew. Send me your tips, too!


Marinara Sauce

1 28 ounce cans whole plum tomatoes *

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

5 cloves garlic, sliced. Reserve 1 for mincing

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 large red bell pepper, chopped *

2 Tablespoons sundried tomato paste

4 large fresh basil leaves, whole

Put tomatoes in a medium bowl and crush with your hands or scissors. Rinse the can with ½ can of water and add to tomatoes.

Heat 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil, sliced garlic and ½ teaspoon salt in a dutch oven, over medium heat. Heat until garlic starts to sizzle, slightly. Watch carefully, you do not want the garlic to burn.

Add bell pepper and cook until soft. This should take about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add the crushed tomatoes and the liquid. Add the whole basil leaves and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer. Stir occasionally until the sauce is thickened, approximately 45 minutes. Be sure to check and stir, you don’t want the bottom to burn.

Once it is thickened, use an immersion blender to puree to desired consistency. I like mine a more coarse but you can have it smooth if that’s your preference.

You can serve immediately over pasta. Garnish with chopped fresh basil. You can also cool completely and put in jars. Store in refrigerator for up to a week and in the freezer for up to 3 months. This recipe will make about a 32 ounces of sauce.

*see notes in the body of the post.

A Grown Up Pajama Party!!!

On February 17th, the Today Show did a piece on hosting a sleepover as a way to keep kids occupied during the Siberian Express. It made me think, even though 2015 is already filled with some great occasions; weddings, graduations and births; why not do our own pajama party for grown ups?!

I’m already excited! Lets start by inviting everyone in their coolest pjs. I love www.punchbowl.com They have such great and unique selections for invitations and once you customize your invite, they email them for you. If you like an old-fashioned touch, and want to send printed invites, I like www.paperculture.com

My favorite part, of course, is putting together the menu. Let’s do breakfast foods and trick them out for an evening party! No breakfast party menu would be complete without a Mimosa or Bloody Mary so break out your finest recipe and make a couple of pitchers. A Bloody Mary Bar is always a fun way to get your guest’s creative juices flowing. You could even have a contest for the best, worst and most creative Bloody Mary. Make your own Bloody Mary Mix, I’ve added one for you to try, if you don’t already have a favorite, and leave all the ingredients out for your guests to personalize their drink and for the contest. Be sure to have a couple of flavored salts to rim the glass. If you need more inspiration go to www.foodiecrush.com Heidi has some awesome ideas!

There’s a restaurant near me that makes an amazing Brunch Carbonara. Instead of long pasta, they use orzo (a rice shaped pasta) and they put a poached egg on top instead of mixing it into the sauce. This is a really sophisticated way to incorporate breakfast into a dinner menu.

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A sleep over staple is pizza. So for fun let’s do a Pizza Frittata. It is so yummy!

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I feel like we have to have something sweet to finish it off and of course what’s more breakfasty than Rice Krispy treats. I’m sure you have a favorite recipe you love. An old friend of mine told me the real secret is a freshly opened box of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies.

Great! We have invitations, food, and drinks. Let’s have some fun! If you have a friend that is handy with a movie-editing program, have them cut together scenes from classic movies with sleepover scenes. There are movies such as Pillow Talk and Pajama Game but even Grease has a great sleepover scene. You can project the movie loop on the walls.

For our party I had everyone send over their top five party songs and hired a DJ to play them in the mix with other fun dance music. If you have a group that will get up and dance on their own, you’re set. If you feel like your friends might need a little motivation first, ask your DJ if he has party dancers. You can even call a local dance school and see if any of their students would like to help to get your guests moving. You only need them for an hour or so. Once the party gets going your guest will be on their own.

I think it is fun to give your guests a little gift at the end of the night. Krispy Kreme will do a two pack of donuts and you can add a package of instant cocoa mix or a small carton of milk. Another cute idea is to do hangover prevention kit. Be sure to include a packet of Tylenol, small bottle of water and a cookie.

Be sure to send me pics of your party using the hash tag  #pajamaparty.

Good Night!

 Brunch Carbonara

6 ounces pancetta, chopped

2 tablespoons butter

1 pound orzo

5 cups chicken stock (homemade or low-salt broth)

1/2 cup cream

3/4 cup frozen peas

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1 Tablespoon thyme

salt & pepper

6-8 eggs, poached* or fried


In a large pan cook pancetta over a medium heat until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels. Leave one tablespoon of the fat, in the pan.

Add the butter to the pan and cook gently until it just starts to brown. Pour in the orzo, and stir until toasted and coated well. Pour in 4 1/2 cups of the stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the orzo is tender but al dente and the stock has been absorbed, about 8 minutes. 
Stir in the cream and add the frozen peas, bring back to a simmer. Toss the pancetta into pan, and add half of the Parmesan cheese and all of the thyme. Stir well, and then season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the remaining stock so you have a nice creamy texture. Turn off the heat. Toss with half the remaining cheese. Top with eggs. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with remaining cheese.

 *If you haven’t yet mastered the poached egg, you can use fried eggs. I l am really enjoying the trend of crispy eggs, fried in olive oil.

 

Pizza Frittata

4 Italian sausages

½ red bell pepper, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 scallions, sliced, include some green

½ cup sliced mushrooms

6 eggs

2 Tablespoons water or milk

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon dried basil

Salt & pepper to taste

1 Roma tomato, sliced thin

Pepperoni slices

¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat broiler

Cook together sausage and bell pepper, for about 5 minutes. Break up sausage with a wooden spoon.

Add garlic scallions and mushrooms. Cook until sausage is cooked through and veggies are tender. You can add 1 teaspoon of olive oil, if needed.

In medium bowl, whisk together eggs, water and seasonings. Pour over sausage mixture in skillet and cook until eggs are set and top is almost dry. This should take 10-12 minutes.

Arrange tomato and pepperoni slices on top, like a pizza. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.

Broil until frittata is puffy and cheese is melted, about 1 minute.

You can slice wedges, like a pizza or serve whole on a warmed plate.

Bloody Mary Mix

1 good size lemon

1 good size lime

16 ounces Tomato Juice

8 dashes Tabasco Sauce

2 Tablespoons prepared horseradish

16 dashes Worcestershire Sauce

1 teaspoon celery salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

Squeeze the lemon and lime wedges in a shaker and then drop in. Add the remaining ingredients and fill rest of the way with ice. If you are adding the vodka ahead of time, add 1 cup quality vodka.

Shake to mix thoroughly .

A Last Minute Valentine Toast to Love!

Okay calm down! It is the afternoon of Valentine’s Day and you haven’t planned anything yet. It’s never too late to put something together. Get a pen and paper and make your list.

Your first stop in your local grocery store. You’ll need:

a box of powdered sugar

whole milk

whatever red cake decorations or candy they have left

the best milk chocolate they have (bar or chips)

a bag of mini marshmallows

graham crackers

Your next stop is to your nearest donut shop, to get plain cake donuts. You may want to see if you can pick up flowers somewhere too. However, if you are going for the puppy dog, “I forgot” appeal, pick flowers from your yard or somebody else’s.

Now that you are home, get out whatever oven safe pan you have and grease it. If you bought a chocolate bar, chop it up and put it in the bottom of the pan. For the chips just pour them in and melt them in a 325 degree oven. Give them a little stir every so often. Melting should take about 10 minutes.

When the chocolate is melted, pour the mini marshmallows over top and put them back in the oven, except under the broiler. Watch them closely and let them get to a nice toasted brown. Remove from the oven and serve with graham crackers, broken into sections, as a dip. If you have strawberries put these out with the dip to add color and romance.
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You’ve got the first great surprise for your Valentine. For another cute gift, lets decorate donuts! Mix together ¾ cup powdered sugar, sifted, and 1 Tablespoon whole milk. You can add more milk, a teaspoon at a time, if you feel it is too thick. Just be careful, you don’t want it to thin out too much. You can also double the recipe if you need more. I like to leave the glaze white. You can add a couple drops of red food coloring, if you prefer.

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Dip the donuts, in a swirl motion, in the glaze and place on a rack to catch drips. While the donuts are still damp, sprinkle with your red decorations and let dry completely. I think it’s cute to package them in some sort of craft box. You can get them at Michael’s. You can even wrap an open shoebox in valentine paper. Just make it your personal creation.

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You are all set! Have a fabulous day or evening! And don’t forget to toast to love! XO.

Valentine’s Day – Decadence light

Valentines Day is coming and I would like to welcome you to stay home for dinner. There are a lot of different ways you can go when thinking about your menu. Some would say do all your most rich and decadent recipes. Others would tell you to make sure and have as many aphrodisiacs as you can. Still others would say cook what you know and do it well. Why not try and incorporate all of the above.

Let’s explore the concept of rich and decadent. Decadence is great and rich is even better but I don’t think I would build a whole meal around that. Let’s face it Valentines Day is suppose to incite love and intimacy. Think back, how intimate did you feel at the end of a heavy rich meal? Yep, you got it. So maybe we want to feature just one recipe that is rich & decadent. Dessert is always a good choice. Because it is at the end of the meal you won’t necessarily be tempted to over indulge.

For the rest of meal it is my humble opinion that you err on the side of lighter and cook what you know. So let’s delve into what I consider basics. These are the recipes that every cook should have in their repertoire. Food & Wine recently posted their list and it included roast chicken, risotto, and apple pie. You will eventually have you own list but I propose the following recipes be included. Have a great soup, a great cookie, and a great wow factor recipe. The wow factor is that one recipe you know people go crazy for, every time. It doesn’t have to be a hard, time intensive recipe just one you always get the reaction for. We’ll talk more about that in a future post.

Let’s start to build our Valentines Day menu. I love the idea of being cozy by the fire and sipping a soup and eating a sandwich. What is your favorite soup and sandwich combination? I love vegetable puree soups. You can make them with out cream and they can still have a rich quality. Even though soups are very popular, they still give the impression of being labor intensive and therefore, wow factor. Here is an amazing recipe for broccoli soup that is really easy to prepare but your guest will think it took hours.

 Broccoli Soup

4 cups of good quality (or homemade) chicken stock

2 cups water

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2 pounds (about 12 cups) of broccoli crowns, trimmed and chopped

¼ pepper salt

¼ teaspoon white pepper

1 14-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed

In a large saucepan bring stock and water to a boil.

Add the broccoli; make sure the broccoli is completely covered. You can add more water if necessary.

Cook until tender. It usually takes about 8 minutes but keep an eye on it.

While your broccoli is cooking, puree the rinsed cannellini beans. You can use a blender or food processor. Set aside.

When broccoli is cooked, start pureeing in batches, with a little of the liquid at a time. Special note here: hot liquid expands and can be volatile. Pay attention to what your appliance recommends for maximum hot fill line.

Once you have pureed all the broccoli return it to the pan and whisk together with remaining liquid. Bring back to a boil.

Reduce heat and whisk in pureed cannellini beans.

Season with Salt & Pepper, adjust as desired

Serve immediately

This will serve about 6 people a good size portion

Of course you have to have a great sandwich to go with it. You can do a grilled cheese or pick your favorite. It’s up to you. You find that recipe and I will take care of dessert.

I love chocolate! It is the most sensuous of foods and of course it is an aphrodisiac. This recipe combines the richness of a chocolate brownie and the memory inducing taste of s’mores. I love serving this “deconstructed” but you can put it all together to make it yours, too.

S’mores Brownies

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 ounces unsweetened bakers chocolate

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 cup flourIMG_2388_2

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ chopped pecans (optional)

Melt together the butter and chocolate, let cool slightly

Mix the eggs and sugar together, until well blended

Temper egg mixture with chocolate and then blend mixtures together, well

Gradually add in flour, while mixing

Add in Vanilla then fold in nuts

Pour into a greased and floured pan. I used muffin tins but you could use a bread pan. (You can use muffin liners if so desired)

Bake in a low oven, 275 for 35-40 minutes. It will still be slightly “wet” when it comes out but will settle.

Cut marshmallows in half and place across the top of either each muffin or the loaf. You can brown the marshmallow under a broiler or with a kitchen torch. Serve over graham cracker crumbs and a garnish with a Hershey miniature.

I love this dessert. It is whimsical and decadent but not to rich. Don’t forget the wine or champagne and let’s raise a glass to love. Happy Valentines Day!

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