Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to you all!  Below is our menu for today, I’ll be posting recipe’s in the next couple of days for some of the better goodies!

Elizabeth!!

APPETIZERS:
Deviled eggs
Spanakopita (bought, not homemade)
Cheese platter

DINNER:
Beef/vegetarian Wellington
Roasted Pork loin with mustard cream sauce
Small boneless leg of lamb (not well done, but medium)
Gravy
Roasted potatoes
Roasted asparagus with lemon and olive oil
Homemade creamed spinach
Glazed baby carrots
Roasted Brussels sprouts
Sauteed savoy cabbage (with butter and lemon)
Bread rolls (out of a package)
Green salad

DESSERT:
Italian cream cake
Chocolate espresso cake with cream and chocolate Easter eggs on top

Mushroomy goodness!

That’s our new couch.  Isn’t it beautiful?  I love everything about it, the style, the way it fits perfectly into the space that the previous sofa lived in only better.  I even love the color, a silvery, mushroom brown.  It’s a cross between the color of the gills inside a lovely fresh mushroom and good quality cocoa powder.  (Those of you that know me will know the tug of war we have had over painting and in particular my Beloved’s love of all things beige/brown.)  Tim and I have decided that if we are staying in our house, we are going to make it a place we love.  And so, new couch and plans for painting!!  More on the paint later, but now back to the mushrooms! 
Years ago, when I lived in New York, I was a culinary fiend; I bought cooking magazines like mad and cooked from them often, I had all kinds of quality pans and cooking utensils all packed into a tiny kitchen.  My only problem was I rarely had anyone to try the food out on, which made it a bit boring.  There’s nothing quite like carefully preparing food and then having someone else love it!  Even then, when I cooked meat all the time, I fell in love with mushrooms.  I cooked them a hundred different ways, and they were always wonderful.  My specialty became sautéed mushrooms with polenta.  I still make it today and it’s heavenly, even if I make it vegan.  Imagine my surprise way back then when I came across (I believe in Bon Appetite) a recipe for a mushroom lasagna.  It had no tomato, which immediately intrigued me, and it also didn’t have the tiresome chore of typical lasagna, boiling the noodles and draining them, etc.  I was delighted with it, and immediately started planning!  I made several versions of this, and the recipe below is the easiest, I developed a few tweaks to make it work on a weeknight, so you can eat before midnight!  
My most loved version is below and although it’s slightly more detailed than the recipes I usually share, I wholeheartedly encourage you to make it.  It’s simple and lovely, rich and delicious, but truthfully, I can’t eat more than a small piece at a sitting, it’s that rich.  My recommendation is to make the mushroom sauté in advance and then assemble the entire thing just before you bake it.  Allowing the mushroom mixture to mature overnight does intensify the flavors.  One note here, the recipe here calls for Jarlsberg, but to create this authentically to this recipe, you can use any nutty, semi-soft cheese.  Gruyere comes to mind as a fine substitute.  But, the beauty of this is that you can use any cheese: goat’s, mozzarella, even good-quality cheddar would work.  It’s all up to how it pairs with mushroom.  My one must is that you can’t make the béchamel with skim or lowfat milk without compromising the texture of the lasagna.  That being said though, you can lighten this up by using half skim/low fat and half full fat.  Good luck and Happy Cooking!
E’s Mushroom Lasagna
Mushroom sauté
3 tablespoons of olive oil
6 fat cloves of garlic chopped fine
4 small baskets of mushrooms (can be all white button, or a combinations of several different types)
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, removed from the stems or ½ teaspoon of dried
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup red wine (use something you would also drink, no box wine)
Béchamel sauce
½ cup all purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter
½ teaspoon nutmeg (or several gratings of fresh)
3 ½ cups whole milk, plus an additional  ½ cup to thin if necessary
3 cups shredded Jarlsberg cheese mixed with ½ cup freshly grated parmesan
1 box no-cook lasagna, or about 1 lb. of fresh lasagna sheets
(optional: ½ cup of breadcrumbs mixed with 1 tablespoon of melted butter)
For the mushroom sauté, roughly chop all your mushrooms, until you have pieces resembling the size of peas, set aside.  In a large non-stick sauté pan, heat the olive oil on a medium high flame and add the chopped garlic.  Sauté until you can smell the garlic and then sprinkle lightly with a scant pinch of salt, this will help the garlic to release some of it’s juice and prevent it from burning.  Continue to cook carefully, making sure it doesn’t burn, for about a minute.  Add in your chopped mushrooms and turn them in the oil until all are coated with it, stir in the thyme.  At this point cover the pan and lower the flame to low, but keep an eye on the mushrooms and stir occasionally so they don’t burn.  Cook covered for about 7 minutes, or until the mushrooms are dark brown and releasing their juices.  Add in the wine and turn up the flame to medium, allow the wine to start to boil and stir until it looks as though all juices and the wine are well combined.  Cover the pan again and allow to cook for about 7 – 8 minutes.  When you lift the lid to check, there will be a great deal of liquid, and that’s perfect.  Now, raise the heat to high and with the lid off, stir and cook until most of the liquids are reabsorbed by the mushrooms and you start to see the bottom of the pan clearly when you are stirring.  Once the mixture has dried up a bit, set the pan aside and let the mixture rest.  Taste the mushrooms and add salt and pepper to your taste.  At this point, you can put the mushroom mixture in the fridge overnight, or just set aside to cool while you prepare the béchamel.
For the bechamel, heat the 3 1/2 cups of milk in a saucepan, just until you see bubbles forming at the sides and it is heated through and set aside off the heat.  In another non-stick deep bottomed saucepan, melt the unsalted butter, don’t let it burn.  Once all the butter is melted, take off the heat and whisk in the flour, then put the pan back on a low flame.  Congratulations, you have now created a roux!  Let the roux cook for a few minutes, to allow it to lose that floury flavor.  It will take on a pale almond color, don’t allow it to color any more than that.  Take the roux off the heat and carefully whisk in a cup of the heated milk.  With your whisk, make sure there are no lumps of flour, then whisk in the second cup of milk, and return the pan to a medium flame.  It will immediately start to thicken, and as you continually whisk, and in the remaining third and a half cups of milk.   One you start to feel resistance with your whisk, and the mixture is the consistency of hummus, you can take it off the heat and add in the nutmeg.  Taste it to adjust seasoning, I usually like some black or white pepper and let it cool a bit.
To assemble the lasagna, use any Pyrex baking dish, or any pan you normally would use for lasagna.  The first thing you layer is a thin coating of the béchamel.  If it has cooled to the point that it’s hard to spread, use the 1/2 cup of milk you reserved to thin it a bit. Then a layer of the lasagna noodles.  Cover that layer with another thin layer of béchamel, a layer of cheese and a layer of mushroom, then béchamel again.  Keep layering until you are at the top of the pan, and have the final layer be béchamel and then cheese.  You can top this with the breadcrumb mixture, but it’s only if you want a bit of crunch on the top of your lasagna.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 – 40 minutes.  You’ll know it’s done when the breadcrumbs, or cheese are lightly toasted and you can see the béchamel bubbling up at the sides of the pan.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest and cool for at least 15 minutes.
Enjoy, and let me know what variations you try! 

An interesting alternative to Bar Cheese?

I think I found a good alternative to the Velveeta in the bar cheese I posted a little while ago (Pudge’s Bar Cheese)

I think with a little bit of tweaking, it might even fool Tim!!  A BIG thank you to Copy Cat Recipe’s (Copycat.com) for the recipe!

The Pantry Cheese Spread

1 lb. margarine, room temperature (not butter)
3/4 lb. sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 lb. Romano cheese, grated
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
Mix all ingredients together until fluffy, using electric mixer on low speed. Spread on sourdough French bread and toast under broiler. Note: The spread keeps for months if stored in the refrigerator in airtight container (if it lasts that long).

This one is for my friend Helen!

Helen is the busy mother of twin boys ( are they 10 now Helen?), and she deserves this recipe.  It’s a really fast version of coq au vin, and when I published this blog on Facebook, she asked did I have a fast one.  So, Helen, here you go!

Quick coq au vin (you can even do coq au riesling… works just as well.)

4 slices of streaky bacon chopped into 1 inch chunks
4 – 6 skinless boneless chicken breasts cut into chunks (although I have used skin on thighs and it’s delicious, esp if you like dark meat)
1/2 package of frozen pearl onions
2 cloves of garlic chopped or minced
1 container of mushrooms (quartered)
1 1/2 cups good red wine (will boil off so the boys can eat it)
1 cup good quality chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch (or Bisto if you have it, if so follow package directions)
1/4 cup cold water

Rice for serving (or boiled potatoes… or mashed… yum!)
1 covered quart size oven safe casserole

Preheat oven to 350°F. Sauté bacon in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl and set aside. Leave the drippings in the pan.  Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper to taste and brown in bacon drippings in skillet. Sauté until cooked through, about 6 minutes per side; transfer to casserole and put in oven covered to keep warm.

Add onions to skillet and saute until warmed through and slightly cooked, add in mushrooms; season to taste with with salt and pepper and some thyme if you have it. Sauté all until until brown, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and saute until you can smell it, only a few minutes. Add wine, broth, and bacon and stir well. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Allow to boil briskly for 10 minutes.

While the sauce is boiling, in a separate cup combine the corn starch and 1/4 cup cold water, stirring until smooth, then add to sauce. (if using Bisto, follow package directions) Cook until sauce thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Check for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if needed. Add chicken and any accumulated juices into the sauce. Stir to combine, and put into the lidded casserole. Bake for an additional 35 minutes, or until it’s bubbling and the sauce has thickened well.

Beef Wellington, without the beef….

Really that should say Veggie Wellington.  I made it for Tim and we loved it so much, and had so many vegetables left over, I made it again the following day.

When I was a kid, watching Julia Child, she made beef Wellington and put a mushroom duxelle on top.  I was so fascinated by the process that I started making the duxelles by hand all on my own.  A duxelle is very finely hand chopped mushrooms slow sauteed in butter, until you almost have what looks like browned chopped meat.  It adds so much flavor and moistness to the package that I just loved the idea.  Perhaps I should also explain, Beef Wellington is a puff pastry package of a hunk of beef (usually seared prime rib or tenderloin) with diced sauteed vegetables on it and a type of Bordeaux gravy or sauce all wrapped in the pastry.  It’s delicious and surprisingly easy to do.  But, as you know, Tim is a vegetarian, so the beef part is out.  I constructed a vegetarian version of this that is really delicious, although a little bit time consuming.  It makes a nice presentation when cut (my poor iPhone photo is above) and you can easily adapt this with any vegetable, green or cheese. 


Vegetarian Wellington

1 thinly sliced beet
1 sliced turnip
thinly sliced carrot
green beans
swiss chard (or spinach or kale)
thinly sliced zucchini
sliced mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic sliced
3 – 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 package (2 sheets) of puff pastry
Jarlsberg cheese (2 cups) shredded

Equipment needed:
covered large non-stick skillet
large ceramic baking dish
several cookie sheets for cooling vegetables
long strips of parchment paper

Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in skillet, heat up 1/2 of the garlic and add in the sliced carrots in batches.  Cook them until they are softened, but still hold their shape.  Do the same to all the sliced vegetables, leaving the beets for last and adding garlic and olive oil in as needed.  As each batch of vegetables is finished, put them to the side on the cookie sheets to cool.  Season each batch with salt and pepper as you cook, it should all be flavorful as you go.  Once all the vegetables are cooked and cooled, take more olive oil and oil the inside of the baking dish.  I also sometimes take strips of parchement and after I oil the baking dish, I place the strips of parchement down and hang them over the sides so you can easily remove the whole package once the top is on.  Take the puff pastry out of the  fridge and line the baking dish with one sheet of puff pastry.  Layer all the cooled vegetables one at a time in over the puff pastry alternating with layers of cheese.  When all the layers are done, take the last sheet of puff pastry and cut a circle that will cover the top of the layers.  Take the puff pastry from the original layer, seal it over the circle that you covered the layers with.  Use a fork to seal the edges and refrigerate the whole thing for 20 minutes. 

After 20 minutes, invert the whole thing over a baking sheet, use the strips of parchment to pull the whole thing out easily.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  It will be golden brown all over, and you may see some moisture from the vegetables and cheese.  Let it cool for 10 minutes, then slice and serve.

Once again, you can substitute any vegetables. The second one I made was yellow squash, onion, potato, turnip, celery root, kale.  You can really use anything.

Cooking soothing, happy food for ailing people

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Tomorrow at 6am, barring too much snow in NYC, I fly home to NY to help my Mom when she gets her shoulder operated on.  I was thinking of what to make and freeze for my parents during the time in the next few weeks while Mom Hennessey  is recuperating.  Suddenly I remembered that last time my mom was operated on, probably 20 years ago, and all she craved before and after the operation was swiss chard, which was in season at the time.  I was going through a trendy cooking phase and chards of all kind were “de rigeur” if you had any credentials in trend cooking.  So, I made her a bit pot of chard and white bean soup, complete with anchovy paste.  My mother hates anchovies, but she never knew it was in there until I told her.  She promptly got ill, thinking that she had eaten those “little hairy fish”!  But, I made it several times and she never questioned the ingredients again.  I also made a swiss chard streudel that was wonderful which I have posted previously on this blog!

Over the years, I have found myself coming back to that basic recipe when people are ailing and their appetites need a little coaxing.  Recently my very good friend and her husband lost their baby during a pregnancy and they were devastated.  I did all I could, the mamma in me wanted to take the hurt away, but all I did was listen, hold hands, be there and nourish her through this devastating time.  Once they were home from the hospital, I immediately ran to grab the ingredients for this soup, with a few tweaks.  They loved it, and in their grief, they didn’t have to think about what to eat.  That to me is the real joy of being able to cook, and even more importantly cook for people you love.  You nourish and care for them, through good times and bad, and you make sure they will be ok, with even a simple dish of soup!

The version I am giving you below can be tweaked in many ways, but the basis is still delicious, filling and so soothing.  I call this a Swiss chard soup, but cavolo negro (a dark, beefy Italian kale) or any good dark bitter kale or green would work.  I can not be too pushy about this one, the chard must be washed very, very well.  It is very sandy and it will really ruin the soup.  I don’t recommend spinach, because after a while the leaves fall apart and turn to mush, not good for a soup of this type.  The chard is great because the leaves really stand up to cooking, but become soft and easy to slurp, and the stems get lovely and tender after you cook them, but still retain some bite.  Another important note is that you use good quality chicken stock, or vegetable stock.  It’s one of the main flavors of the soup so good quality makes a huge difference.  Now, the basic recipe only calls for chard and white beans, but below I am adding in tortellini.  You can add cooked rice, brown rice would be yummy, couscous, barley, pastina, lots of other tiny pasta’s or starches, or none at all.  This one is all about a classic Tuscan recipe that you can make your own!

Swiss Chard, White Bean and Tortellini  soup

3 tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly or use a garlic press
1 large bunch of Swiss chard, washed well, stems chopped and set aside, leaves cut into strips

6 – 8 cups of good quality low sodium chicken broth (or vegetable stock or water)
2 12 oz cans of cooked white beans, drained and rinsed well
1 package of fresh cheese tortellini

Optional: Parmesan rinds 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Saute the olive oil, garlic and chopped stems from the chard in a thick bottomed soup pot on low to medium heat.  Optionally, you can add in some dried chili flakes, if you like it spicy.  Add salt and pepper to taste, go easy on the salt, the broth tends to be salty, even the low sodium ones.  Cover and cook the mixture for 5 – 7 min or until the stems are softened.  Add in the shredded Swiss chard and saute until wilted.  Taste a strand to see if seasoning needs to be corrected.  Add the shredded chard and saute until wilted.

Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil and let it simmer for 7 – 8 min.  Add in the beans and let the soup simmer for 20 min, covered.

I usually serve this with some toasted sourdough bread rubbed with olive oil and a garlic clove, but you don’t have to do that.  The optional Parmesan rinds can be added once you add the broth.  If you do add them, add about 20 more minutes to the cooking time, then remove and discard the husks when you are ready to serve.

Another optional item is a good grating of Parmesan over the bowl and a drizzle of good olive oil.

Enjoy! I hope you will show someone your love with this dish!

Hello New Year!

I am ashamed that I haven’t written here in several months, but I do have some very good excuses.  A bout of diverticulitis, a broken bone in my foot that I didn’t know I had, a huge Thanksgiving at our house, and a wonderful drive out, but fraught with snow drive back from New York for Christmas.  In summary, things have been BUSY!

I did however, do quite a bit of cooking over the holidays and the few months before.  I found and modified a great recipe for shortbread that includes rosemary, which was delicious.  I made a family recipe for Irish Christmas cake, which I will not give away, but I was quite impressed with my modifications.  No raisins, so I ended up using all the dried fruit I had in the house, I had no whiskey so I used bourbon, and, I can not believe I am saying this, Tim didn’t have any stout in the house, so I used a delicious and very dark beer he had in the back of the fridge.  It turned out wonderful, and I even had time to age it and bring it to our Christmas at my parents house in NY. 

I have been thinking and thinking about what the heck I was going to share with the blogosphere.  What I suddenly remembered was the brunch we had the weekend before Christmas at our house.  My friend David was in town from California, and staying at our friends Melinda and Keith’s house.  So, they came to us for brunch.  I made a feta dip, and had a lovely cheese platter, but what saved the day was the mini crustless quiches that I made.  David, as it turns out has celiac disease, so pretty much everything I made had gluten, except the quiches.  Thank goodness, he loved them, and could eat them!  As always, you can substitute just about any cheese or filling.  I also made them in jumbo, non-stick muffin tins.  However, buttering them well is essential, so don’t skip that step.

Brunchtime Mini-quiches

6 jumbo (room temperature) eggs
1 cup half and half, or milk, or cream or any combination of the above (I used half and half and creme fraiche)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1 cup cheese (I used shredded Jarlsberg, but cheddar or goat or any other are fine)
1.5 cups sauteed spinach

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees
Evenly divide the cheese and spinach between the muffin tins.  Some people put the cheese in the bottom of the cup so it forms a sort of crust.  I didn’t worry about the order.  People also have used ham and lined the cup with that… also a little too much prinking for me.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, dairy and salt, pepper and cayenne until they are well combined and you can’t see any more eggwhites.  With a ladle, fill the muffin tins to just below the rim.  You should have just enough eggs to fill 6 jumbo tins.  I wouldn’t recommend a smaller size, they will cook and dry out too quickly.  You can also use individual ramekins, I think the capacity is 1.5 cups.  Put the tin on a baking sheet, and bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes.  You will know when they are done when the tops are very puffed up and browning.  They may have some jiggle in the middle, but they should not be liquid in the middle.

Now, these will loose their puffiness fairly quickly after coming out of the oven, a bit like little souffles.  The key to unmolding them is running a flexible spatula around the sides of the tins, so they won’t stick.  Place them on a plate and enjoy!

Let me know how they come out!

I have found Nirvana…!!

I have always prided myself on being able to tell a great story.  I hear it all the time, “Oh, you’re so funny, you should write a book!” And so, I have thought about writing a book of my humorous stories and becoming the next David Sedaris (a complete joke on my part!).  Alas, usually after relaying the story a time or two, it is gone from my increasingly sieve-like mind.  And so, writing a book based on my crazy life, pales as time passes.  When the world of blogging came into being, I thought in a smug, self-satisfied way that it was only for people that liked to hear themselves talk, and who were caught up in the whole “me, me, me” culture that I see popping up all around me.  It took years for me to actually stop and read people’s blogs, on topics that interested me.  Like cooking.

And so this blog was created, and I have tried to keep it up, even though I sometimes forget about it totally.  I thought about cooking myself through all kinds of books, similar to the woman that cooked her way through Julia Child’s cook book (and had a movie made about her book, about her blog…)  I don’t have enough discipline to do that, my attention span just won’t stretch that far.  My next idea was to write what I was cooking on a weekly basis, but, true to form, I can’t remember to write it all up in the blog.  So, the next idea was to create my own ingredients, and show people how easy it is to make your own stuff, and take the mystery out of all the packaged foods we buy and eat on a daily basis.

One reason why this idea was a winner is where I grew up, versus where I live now.  I grew up in New York, in Flushing, Queens in fact.  Or as my niece and nephews call it “the big city.”  You can find ANY ingredient there, at any time of the day or night.  Not so in Michigan, just outside of Detroit, where I live now.  Although there are many upsides to living here, not the least among them being, it’s fairly handy to be able to walk down the street to what is called  “party store” and pick up wine, beer or spirits and mixers on any day of the week, well into the wee hours of the morning.  That counts for quite a bit when you’re a foodie and a cocktail-er, as I am.  I am actually passionate about telling people that they can make things so much better if they make it themselves, rather that going out and buying something that may be of questionable quality, and certainly of indeterminate freshness and pureness.

And that is now my goal.  I will attempt to give people the skinny on things that I myself make, or have made, that are simple and easy and infinitely cheaper than most of the stuff you try to buy in the stores.  Today’s lesson is homemade ricotta.  Full fat, home made and delicious cheese.

Living in New York for the first 30+ years of my life, the cheery, bright yellow Polly-O Ricotta was a wonderful staple of my cooking repertoire.  With my husband being a lacto-ovo vegetarian, good Italian casseroles are a great way to keep us fed and quickly ready for dinner.   Alas, after moving to Michigan, I have come to find that there isn’t a readily available source of ricotta that I can find at any store.  And thus the use in most Michigan recipes of cottage cheese in those foods that I have grown to love and make all the time.  That to me is sacrilege and 100% unacceptable.  But, I found a shop nearby that sells what I expect is normal, out of the tub ricotta for a ridiculous price.  I use it sparingly and don’t buy it much because it’s expensive.  Imagine my surprise when I was watching The Cooking Channel and saw one of the chefs making cannolli with homemade ricotta that he had sweetened before the cheese making process.  It was a revelation!  I COULD do that and on a regular basis, and a fraction of the cost!  And so, I made it today, and made the best ricotta gnocchi (thank you, Mark Bittman) that I have ever had!  On this day, I pass along to you, the simplest recipe I have ever made (although that’s not saying much) which packs an amazing flavor punch for as few ingredients as you have to have on hand!  Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think, or what your experiences are doing it… I can always use a critique!

(NOTE: I use full fat milk here, but once you get used to making it, you can use skim or anything in between)

Homemade Ricotta cheese:

2 quarts of full fat milk (8 cups)
1 pint heavy cream (optional)
1/3 cup of lemon juice, no pips (1/4 cup if you use the heavy cream)
1 tsp salt

Implements you will need:
2 sheets of cheese cloth, folded so you have 6 layers
Colander with many holes (mesh ones are usually best, but a metal kitchen colander is fine)

In a heavy bottomed, large pot, combine the milk and cream and on a medium heat, bring the milk to a steady boil.  While heating it stir it occasionally to prevent a skin from forming over the top.  Keep and eye on it, and when you start to see a foam form around the sides of the pan, and it starts a slow rolling boil, pull the pan off the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two and stir in the salt.  After cooling briefly, and making sure all the salt is dissolved, add in the lemon juice.  Stir it gently until well combined.  You will see the mixture will thicken slightly, and you will see a little curdling.  Once you have stirred the juice in, stop.  Let it all sit for an hour to an hour and a half.  It will seem to be turning a darker yellow, but resist the temptation to stir it.  The idea here is that you want to allow the cheese to form as large of a curd as you can manage.

While the cheese is cooling, line the colander with the cheesecloth and set the whole thing into the sink.  After the cheese has set for a while, take it gently to the sink and use a ladle to spoon the mixture into the cheesecloth lined colander.  When you have about half of it in the cheesecloth, you can pour the remaining cheese into the colander and let it drain.

DO NOT press on the cheese curds to extract liquid.  Resist this as strongly as you can, so you don’t lose valuable cheese as opposed to liquid, or whey that drains out.  You will see the cheese will start to become creamier and more solid.  I usually wait anywhere from 15 to 30 min to check where the progress is.  The goal for this is to have a creamy and very small curd cheese.  After about 30 min, I usually gather up the cheese cloth and either hang it from the faucet in the sink, or transfer the whole thing to a mesh colander, which will allow the whey to drain much faster.

It is completely up to you, how long to drain this.  If you want ricotta, then maximum of 45 minutes draining.  If you want to make something like Indian paneer, at least 2 hours until the cheese is very firm (similar to firm tofu)

Fresh ricotta will not keep long, so my suggestion would be to make it as you need it and use it soon.  It really does not freeze well at all, so keep that in mind.  It will keep for several days well covered and completely cooled in the refrigerator. 

A few notes here on flavoring.  You can very easily make this a sweet cheese for desserts by omitting half the salt and adding in 2 tablespoons of sugar in the step where you add the salt.  Remember to stir well so all the crystals melt and are fully combined, then proceed with the lemon as above.  Also, on the savory side, I made a batch of this with 3 finely chopped cloves of garlic (you may even want to grate them finely), 1 teaspoon of dried fresh basil, and a good solid grinding of freshly cracked black pepper.  Also, for the curdling agent, the lemon is a good non-flavoring agent, but I have also seen about half the amount of white vinegar used.  I have not used it myself, so I don’t know how the vinegar effects the flavoring.

OK, go forth and create cheese!

E.

The most awesomest tofu burgers!

As I have mentioned many times before, DH is a vegetarian.  Not being a vegetarian myself, it’s hard to make meals we both can enjoy together.  Eating together isn’t the issue, it’s the enjoy part.  Plus, since I am pretty much the only one cooking, I need to make sure we are both getting the nutrition we need.  So, I have made huge strides in making everything tasty as well as healthy.  I subscribe to countless blogs, read web sites all the time, and have more cook books than I can decently list here.  One of my old standby websites is Heidi Swanson’s “101 Cookbooks”.  She has a great approach to food, that just happens to be vegetarian.  Go local and go fresh, and although she lives in the San Francisco area, it applies all over the country.  (Please note, not vegan, just vegetarian).  She had a tofu burger recipe that I tried a few times and we loved each time we did it.  I do give Heidi credit here, but honestly I have made changes to her basics and made it mine.  I also find that the ingredients here can easily change, making this awfully versatile.  Similar to the Portobello burgers I posted recently, the condiments here can be just about anything you like, you can swing to the more Asian style, French mustard, barbecue, anything and they will still be completely wonderful.  A word to those of you that just want a burger to LOOK like a burger… give up.  These are definitely not going to look meaty, but they taste heavenly!

Tofu Burger’s

1 pound / 16 oz / 450 g extra-firm tofu
2 large eggs
1 cup  bread crumbs
1/2 cup nuts (walnuts, pecans, cashews, whatever you like)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (preferably unsalted)
1/2 cup mushrooms (slice finely and whir first in your processor)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon garlic powder (or dehydrated garlic or onion)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (do not use table salt here, kosher or sea is best)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Place the mushrooms and nuts into a food processor and pulse until they start to look finely chopped.  Add in the remaining ingredients except 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs and the olive oil and process until a smooth paste forms.  Scrape down the sides of the food processor once or twice if needed. If it seems a bit thin to you, add the remaining bread crumbs a small handful at a time until everything comes together.  This should resemble a thick and pasty mixture, so the burgers retain their shape when formed. 

Divide the mixture into eight equal portions and use your hands to press and form into round but flat-ish patties. (It helps to lightly oil your hands.)  I usually freeze half of them for future use.

Pour the olive oil into your largest skillet over medium-high heat, and arrange as many patties as you can without crowding. Cover, and cook turning once, until deeply browned on both sides. Roughly ten minutes. You want to make sure the middle of the patties cook through. If your pan is too hot you’ll burn the outsides before the middle cooks up, so be mindful of that.  The cooked texture should be firm when you press in the middle of the patty, similar to the fleshy pad near the thumb of your hand.  Don’t worry if they crack a bit, that’s fairly normal.

Dress these as you would any burger.  I always love cheese and really sour pickles with them.  Remember that if you use a more flavorful nut, like walnut or pecan, they will taste strongly of that.  You can mix types, I find cashew and walnut or almond work well together.  Also – the cayenne can be replaced by anything if you don’t like a little mild heat.  You will truly barely notice the heat if you do use it.  I have tried dried basil, half the amount of thyme, and a mixture of whatever I had on hand and it always works.

Enjoy!  And let me know how you flavor your burgers!!

Swiss chard, how I love you!

Sorry for the large break between posts, but guess what?  I got a JOB!  So – my last couple of weeks has been occupied with the whirlwind of interviewing, waiting, accepting and finally starting the new job in very short order.  The joy of a new job and adjusting to working in a non-profit is overwhelming.  We also had Tim get hired into the company he has been contracted to for a while, so all in all it’s been a very eventful couple of weeks!  So, on to my lovely recipe of the day!

One of the delights of my cooking life is greens.  I am addicted to lovely, bitter broccoli rabe, kale in any of it’s forms, garlicy wilted spinach, smokey, yummy collards and finally, the rainbow of colors that is Swiss chard.  Years ago, long before I moved to Michigan, my mother was operated on and during her recovery period, she was craving Swiss chard.  So I made it in as many ways as I could.  I make chard soup, wilted chard and I steamed it like a pro.  Then I happened to be going through my cook books and I found this recipe for Swiss chard strudel.  I know it sounds odd, a dish that usually includes apples and lots of butter, but believe me this one is anything but sweet.  The original recipe called for Jarlbserg cheese and Parmesean, and for a while I did make it that way, but I made it today with VanGogh cheese (think a cross between really sharp cheddar and an aged gouda) and a beautiful smoked blue cheese we happened upon at Hirts this morning.  If anyone reading this is ever in Eastern Market in Detroit, get yourselves to JR Hirts.  It’s a wonderland of cheeses and meats and all kinds of yummy goodies.  They even have vegetarian cheese!

On to the most delish Swiss chard recipe I know!

Swiss Chard Strudel

1 large bunch of Swiss chard, about 15 oz (washed well, drained, stems separated and chopped, leaves roughly chopped)
2 tbsp olive oil
6 garlic cloves sliced or chopped roughly
1 small onion chopped fine
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp dried basil (optional)
4 1/2 tbsp good breadcrumbs
1/2 cup shredded flavorful cheese (your choice)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or another flavorful dry cheese)
1/2 stick good butter, melted and cooled
6 sheets phyllo dough (or good puff pastry)

In a large saute pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and add the garlic and onion.  Saute until the onion and garlic until soft and fragrant, about 4 minutes at medium heat.  Stir while softening, don’t allow either to brown or burn. Add in the chard stems and saute until they are also soft, about 6 more min at medium heat.  To speed up the process you can cover the pan and walk away for a few minutes.  When everything is cooked, add in the chard leaves and stir well, making sure they are coated by the oil, add the dried basil.  The leaves will wilt but won’t cook down like a spinach, so cook them, stirring occasionally another 6 – 8 minutes.   Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.  After cooling a few minutes, drain some of the liquid off the chard, put the mixture in a large bowl, add in 1 tablespoon of the bread crumbs, the cheeses and salt and pepper to taste, mix well and set aside.  (*Note, the cheeses tend to be salty, so go very easy on the salt, taste after you add all the cheese before you add salt.)

While the chard mixture cools, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, then prepare a large baking sheet.  Mix the remaining olive oil into the cooled butter and with a brush, lightly butter the baking sheet and place one of the phyllo sheets on it.  Butter the sheet all over and sprinkle it with breadcrumbs.  Place the next sheet of phyllo over this one, and repeat the butter and crumb process with the remaining 5 sheets.  You need to work fairly quickly here, since the phyllo will dry out quickly.  Don’t worry if there are tears in the sheets, all the layers will cover most holes and you will never even notice it after baking.

Spread the cooled chard mixture onto the phyllo sheets, spread it all over the sheet, leaving 1/2 in margin all the way around the sheet.  When you have spread it evenly, fold over the margin onto the chard.  Starting at the short end of the pastry, roll the phyllo over the filling, making a streudel shaped roll.  Lay flat on the baking sheet with the seam side down.  Use any remaining oil/butter to paint the outside of the struesel, and cut some shallow slits into the top of the struesel, to allow any steam to escape.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes, you will know it’s done when it is golden brown on the outside.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so, cut and serve.  You can serve this at room temperature, or hot.

Enjoy!