Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day, to all the Mom’s out there, be it of human children, doggie or kitty children, or any of the combinations this modern life affords!  You’re the most important thing to a child, and one day is truly not enough to honor all that you do!  In particular, I send this to my own mother, who’s name happens to also be Elizabeth Hennessey.  She is such a wonderful person in general, that her being an amazing Mom to us, and to many that are not her own children, is something I am grateful for each and every day!

If I lived near my mom and dad, I would do a great deal more cooking for them.  But, I live 600+ miles away, so the cooking has to be special any time it does happen. When Mom came out to help with the Hubby’s recovery, I made lamb shanks for my Mom’s birthday celebration dinner, labor intensive, but so worth it for my mom!  I know my Dad is a big dessert lover, in particular blueberry pie and cherry pie.  I am not a big blueberry pie fan, but the cherries, I adore, I guess I got that from him!  

You will recall I gave you a recipe for preserved cherries (AKA Maraschino cherries) here so it’s obvious I love them in any form they come in.  So, when I got a blog post from Faith from TheKitchn for strawberry sour cream scones this week, I suddenly thought, ohh… cherries!  Then it went off into the transom of my mind, and as usual with my menopausal mind fog, I forgot about it.  But Hubby and I went to Whole Foods last night, and they had bags of gorgeous frozen cherries and they were on sale!  Win, WIN!  The idea of the scones popped back into my head.  Now, I will tell you, my go to thing when cooking with the kiddies are chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes (my niece doesn’t realize they’re actually muffins with Nutella on…) or scones.  And for the scones, I steadfastly go to Nigella Lawson’s cheese scone dough (in Nigella Bites) as “the one” recipe with some tweaks. It’s simply the easiest and tastiest scone recipe, but it’s not the traditional lead bellied bombs you usually see.  They’re light and airy, and she uses them for making pigs in blankets… I have to say they’re divine!  I take out the mustard powder and substitute sugar, and chocolate chips go in rather than cheese, and VOILA, you have a chocolate chip scone!  For one thing, Nigella begins with self raising flour, which I have at the ready all the time, I even travel with it if we drive home to New York!  She also doesn’t use the usual sour cream or buttermilk and I find that incredibly easier for impromptu cooking.  

Faith’s recipe calls for all the traditional things, sour cream, buttermilk, eggs.  I made a bit of a detour and combined the two recipe’s with a few tweaks of my own.  For example, instead of adding the sour cream, I just added an egg yolk for richness and a bit of dough enhancement.  These are simpler, and take mere minutes to toss together, and are really delicious!  Once again, you can substitute many things here, the constant is the flour amounts and the liquids have to roughly remain in the same proportions, or you end up with a too wet mess.  Let me know what you think, and I actually took a few photos’ so you’ll see what inspired me about these this morning.

 

Mother’s Day Cherry Scones


1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon fine kosher salt

1 tablespoon sugar (can be refined white, or raw brown)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (cardamom might be nice here too..!)

2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

1 cup frozen (or fresh) cherries pitted and cut in half

1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)

1/2 cup milk (I used coconut milk, since we never have milk in the house)

1 egg yolk

Scant 1/3 cup Demerara sugar (or some crunchy, large grain sugar for topping)

 

Preheat your oven to 400°, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper, foil or a silpat.

In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon), stir well to combine.  Add the cold butter to the mixture and toss to combine.  With your finger tips or two forks, or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour, just until the cubes are better combined, and the mixture starts to look crumby.  Toss in the cherries, still frozen and the almonds if you’re using them and set aside.  In a jug or bowl, combine the milk and egg yolk and beat to combine well.  Here comes the tricky part, combine the liquids and flour/cherry mixture in the bowl with a wooden spoon.  It will instantly clump up, and so my best advice it to use your hands and, as gently as you can, mix the two together.  It will be a sticky messy dough, but it will hold together fairly well.  Don’t worry about clumps of flour or butter, that will all work itself out in the oven.


Cherry Scone dough


Once most of the flour in incorporated, turn the whole lot out onto the parchment lined baking sheet and shape it into a round. With a bench scraper, or a large knife, dipped in flour, cut the round into wedges.  Now you’re ready to bake!


Ready for the oven


Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.  They will be darker than you think they will be, that’s due to the frozen cherries melting a bit.  Let them cool to room temperature to try them.  I like them just as they are, but you can split them and slather with butter too!


Fresh from the oven

 

So, I hope your Mother’s Day is wonderful!

 

 


These are a few of my favorite things!

Who doesn’t love The Sound of Music?  It’s where I get today’s blog title.  With the advent of vegetarianism entering my meat eaters life, I began to realize two things.  The first is, living without meat and meat by-products isn’t as hard or easy as it sounds, and second meat substitutes are OK, but vegetables and alternative sources of protein are much better for you!

So in my quest to help my husband reach his goal of being the worlds fattest vegetarian (Joking of COURSE!) I have found some really tried and true products that allow me to keep him vegetarian and well fed, and don’t make me miss meat at all!  Here are several of my tried and true products, and a few sources of where to find them, along with a few “can’t live without” kitchen items that I would truly be lost without!

Quorn is a product that I have become completely addicted to.  You can find their website here: http://www.quorn.us/  or here: http://www.quorn.com/ .  Their products are not soy based, but made from Mycoproteins, which are a kind of fungus, similar to mushrooms.  And I can tell you, they’re delicious!  They come in chicken and beef styles, and everything from cutlets with goat cheese and cranberries to meatballs.  They’re out of this world, and we eat them at least twice a week!

Our two favorites are the cranberry and goat cheese cutlets and Quorn roast, which is what Tim eats for holidays.

Cberry gcheese cutletsTurky roast

Believe it or not, Meijer in Michigan is very vegetarian friendly, and they have these fantastic soy products called “Gardein”, they have BBQ chicken wings, beef tips, which I use for a fast stew in the cooler weather.  They have a website too (http://www.gardein.com/index.php), and tons of options, that are all super good!

Gardein

There is another product, we get it at Whole Foods, called Match.  It’s a sort of raw ground meat type product, it comes in beef, chicken and sausage flavors, and it seriously tastes and looks like ground meat.  I make faux chicken cutlets with it, and hamburgers.  It’s really delicious, and a soy based product.  They do have a website, to find where their products are sold near you:  http://matchmeats.com/wp1/

Match meat

We do use several other “meat replacement” products.  TIm loves the Tofurky products (http://www.tofurky.com/), I don’t particularly like them, they don’t really agree with me.  His favorite, after the famous Tofurky roast is brats and now they can be grilled, which is pretty sweet when you’re going to a BBQ.

We have a local restaurant that I may have mentioned before, Brooklyn Street Local (http://brooklynstreetlocal.com/), and they make this uniquely Canadian dish called poutine.  It’s french fries, cheese curd and beef gravy, sounds odd, but it’s delicious! They make a vegetarian version that Tim loves with mushroom gravy.  They also make a traditional diner breakfast, with tempeh bacon, which we have now found!  It’s admittedly NOT bacon, but if you like the smokey flavor, this will hit the spot.  Much better than the faux bacon strips that look like pink and white communion wafers….

Tempeh bacon

There are many other things that I adore, although right now, I have an obsession with a juicer we got.  It’s bright yellow and sunny looking, and juices citrus like a breeze:

Fancy juicer

However, my very old friend, the wooden reamer has to do for larger citrus, like large oranges and grapefruit:

Non fancy juicer

I am in the process of getting more blog posts put together, so I won’t be posting so sporadically, upcoming is the promised tomato gazpacho, and a really lovely desert my cousin Petula taught me to make that they called “Wellington Squares”.  I recently found a version of it in a New Zealand blog I have been following.  Maybe this favorites will be a  quarterly thing, not sure yet, but I love giving people options that they may not have known on, or wouldn’t have tried if they hadn’t heard of it.

Happy Fall everyone, the weather here in Detroit seems to have turned, I hope for the cooler side of things!

PS: Look at what Tim brought me back from Hungary!  YUMMY!!

Truffle honey

Pretzel bread…. YAY!

Last weekend, we had a semi-surprise family gathering at our house.  Tim’s second cousin was in town with his dad at the local bar playing a show.  The family, Tim’s uncle and his cousin, as well as another cousin, came by for drinks and some picky food before we all went over to the show.  It was a nice opportunity to see everyone, talk about the upcoming family wedding, and just catch up.

Of course, I was all a-twitter about what to serve, and ended up making Tim’s mom’s “Olive Puffs” … so yum… and buying other things, like some marinated mozzarella balls, and various dips.  We had cocktails and wine too.  When Tim’s cousin Keith arrived, he came bearing a cheese plate and pretzel bread.  The bread was SO good and I was reminded that one of my brothers loves it.  So I started thinking about how to make it.  I had attempted hard pretzels many years ago, but this was a new thing for me.

I looked at several recipes I found online, and there are many ways to make pretzel dough.  I attempted two of them, one involving refined sugar, one using a combination of self raising flour and plain flour, but neither was very successful.  The self raising flour seemed to bubble up all over the place and the baking soda flavor was overpowering.  So I looked at all 5 of the recipe’s I found and came up with this one.  This time, it came out great, moist, dense and very flavorful, with that chemical tang that you find in pretzels but can never pinpoint the exact flavor.  There are two methods of imparting the flavor that I came up against, both involve boiling, one in a water/baking soda solution and one in a water/lye solution.  When I mentioned to Tim about the lye, he was 100 against it, (“Why would you want to boil bread in Drano?!”) so I went for the baking soda solution.  The purpose is to set the crust, and sort of flash cook it, so it really darkens and caramelizes when you bake it, similar to the way that bagels are made.  I also added some salt to the water, because I figured it would add more flavor, and it really did.

A few notes here about the flour you use.  I ended up buying bread flour, which I know I will use again, but if you only have all purpose, don’t sweat it.  They will both work fine, I also think you can combine whole wheat and plain flour to make it a little healthier and more hardy.  I would go 1 cup whole wheat, and the rest plain flour.  And yes, it’s worth opening up another package of yeast for this one.  Believe me, it makes a huge difference, both in the rising of the bread and the flavor.  We made mock chicken burgers and had them on the breads last night for dinner… and it was divine!

Elizabeth’s Pretzel Bread

Dough:
3 ½ cups of bread flour (or all purpose flour)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
3 teaspoons (1 ½ packets) instant yeast
1 cup lukewarm water (110 – 120 °F)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
2 tablespoons whole milk or half and half
½ cup flour reserved for kneading
1 tablespoon oil

For the soak:
4 quarts water
½ cup baking soda

For the coating:
Kosher salt to taste (or pretzel salt if you can find it)
2 tablespoons melted butter

In a large bowl combine the flour and salt, make sure they are very well combined and set aside.  In another small bowl, combine the water, honey, dark brown sugar and yeast.  I suggest mixing it all together and dissolving the sugars, then adding the yeast and then mix so the yeast is completely dissolved.  Let this mixture set for 10 – 12 minutes until the yeast starts to proof (bubble up.)  Once the yeast mixture is creamy and bubbly, add in the milk and the cooled melted butter.  Add to the dry ingredients.  Mix well, you can use a stand mixer and paddle to start this, and you will have a slightly sticky solid dough or you can use a wooden spoon and your hands.  Once you have a cohesive dough, turn it out on a floured surface, or you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook, in any case, the reserved flour will help you to get a smooth supple dough (the old saying, smooth as a baby’s bottom comes to mind.)  The dough will feel heavier and more solid than you may think it should be, but that’s OK.  Oil a large bowl with some flavor neutral oil, although I used olive oil in this case.  Make sure the bowl is big enough to hold the dough after it has doubled.  Toss in the dough, turning it so it’s covered lightly all over with the oil, this prevents sticking.

Cover the bowl with a slightly damp tea towel, and allow to rise for 30 minutes, punch it down, make sure it’s not sticking, it won’t seem to have risen a whole lot, but once you punch it down this time, it will rise like crazy.  This time let it rise for another hour in a warm dry place, until it’s doubled.  I suggest on your stove top, with the oven on low.

At this point, preheat your oven to 400 ° C.  You may use a pizza stone if you like, but a good old cookie sheet with parchment over it will work just as well, set it aside, ready for action. The point here is, you need a very hot oven.  About the time you’re done with the second rise, put the 4 quarts of water on to boil.  You will add the baking soda to this when it has come to the boil, but in the mean time, you will punch down the dough again and shape it into the shape you want it to be in when baked.  I would divide it into 8 round balls, also known as boules.  My first time I tried to do pretzel shapes, but they failed miserably, came all undone.  So until you’re more confident, I would try the simple boules below, then experiment with other shapes.  Remember you can also make these into much smaller shapes, bite size servings.  It makes no difference, so do what you want.

Shaped and resting boules, before boiling

When the dough is shaped, let them rest while you add the baking soda to the rapidly boiling water.  Stir well so it’s totally combined.  Work with one dough at a a time and drop your formed breads into the water, top down, and boil for 30 seconds, turning them mid-way.

Boiling in barely bubbling water, 15 seconds a side.

Set the boiled dough onto the final baking sheet and cover with the Kosher salt.  Continue the process with the remaining dough balls.  Once they’re all on the pan and salted, cut some X’s or patterns around the tops, about 1/8 inch deep with a very sharp knife so the dough has somewhere to split and rise when baking.  You can be really creative here, it makes for a dramatic presentation and finished product.

I used a flat slotted spoon to drain them before I put them on the baking sheet.
Course Kosher salt is good, don't over salt, they'll be hard to eat.

Slide them onto your hot oven, and bake for 25 minutes, but start checking them at 20 minutes, they should be highly risen and very dark brown all over.  They may be done between 21 – 23 minutes, depending upon your oven.  They may stick if you used tin foil (as I did for these photos) but they will become easier to remove once they cool down.

They're done! Now for the melted butter.

When the breads are out of the oven, brush them lightly with melted butter, it will make them shiny and soft, as well as adding some nice flavor to them.  Let them cool well before you eat them.  An alternative to the butter after baking, is to brush an egg wash over them before you put them in the oven, that will make them shiny.  All you have to do is lightly beat one egg with a teaspoon of milk or water, and brush it over the loaves, then salt them and proceed as above.

YUM! Salty and sweet at the same time!

Who doesn’t love pudding?

As hard as it is to believe, it’s winter, and although we have had the mildest winter on record, I still want to hibernate and cook dark, gravy-laden food, food that you have to cook for hours, and can just sit and smell, rather than having to fiddle over.  It’s an inherent drive, I guess!
Last night, Tim and I went out to a nice Italian place we love, and the waitress highly recommended the “wonderful homemade rice pudding”.  Turns out, she made it, so she was all about seeing what everyone thought.  It was wonderful, and reminded me of the rice pudding I use to help my mom make when I was a kid.  As Tim and I sat there and enjoyed it, I realized that I could probably attribute my ability to know when a sauce, custard, pudding or gravy is ready, to being the stirrer of the rice pudding when I was a kid!  I must remember to thank my Mom for that one!  I used to stand there and stir and stir and stir, then suddenly the bottom of the pot got slick and slippery, I knew the alchemy of a thickened food was happening!  To this day, I know that’s the moment when I probably should switch to a whisk, to prevent lumps, and that it’s just about to be ready.
So, in honor of winter and all things yummy and warm, I am going to give you a foolproof chocolate pudding recipe.  You’ll have to stand there and stir, but you will never look at pudding again once you have made your own, I promise you!  As always, you can do this many ways, you can substitute skim milk, you can use half and half, coconut milk, almond or hazelnut milk, rice milk, anything you have in the house. You can use white, milk or bittersweet chocolate, but if you do use white, exclude the cocoa powder. You can spike it with a hazelnut liqueur, rum you name it.
Enjoy it and let me know what you can come up with!
Chocolate Pudding
4 tablespoons corn starch
6 tablespoons sugar (brown sugar is nice here too)
1 ½ tablespoons cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
Pinch of salt
2 ¼ c. heavy cream
1 ¼ c. milk
6 oz. semisweet chocolate
1 ½ tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon and salt.  Make sure they’re well combined and there are no lumps.  In another bowl, mix together the milk and 1 ¼ c of the cream.  Slowly whisk the cream/milk mixture into the dry ingredients, again, making sure there are no lumps. Then put the pot on a medium-high flame and stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil and is thickened.  Add the chocolate and stir until it’s melted.
Take the mixture off the heat and beat in the butter until it’s melted and combined.  Transfer the whole mixture to a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Make sure the plastic is touching the entire surface of the pudding, (unless you’re a fan of the pudding skin, then leave it off) and let it cool, for 45 min, it will be ready to eat at that point, and you can serve it with the remaining 1 c. of cream whipped.  Otherwise, cool it completely in the refrigerator, and spoon into serving bowls, then use the remaining cream on top.

Happy new year everyone!

Yes, I am wishing you a Happy New Year on January 14th… a bit late, and such a long time since my last post, but the wishes are just as sincere now as they were on the day!  Many things have gone on since my last post, chiefly, work, work work… and some pretty awesome cooking too.  It’s flurrying outside today, and I have been so guilty about not posting… I hope you enjoy what I came up with!
We had a truly lovely Thanksgiving at our house this year, as has become the tradition for the Curtis/Suliman/Neal/McLenon/Hennessey house!  We have basically kept all the traditions going that Tim’s mom and aunts started many years ago, including pretty much all of the menu.  I have cut back considerably on all the sugar that they used to use, and I have added a few twists from my life and Tim’s favorites. (A quick side note here, have you ever spatch cooked your turkey??  I have now for 2 years running and I will never go back!  More on that in the next post!)  For Christmas we were off to New York for the Hennessey celebration.  I have to say, I didn’t cook much at all for Christmas, but I did make a genuine Irish fruit cake two months before hand, dutifully doused it with brandy every week or so, and brought it with us.  That also was part of the New Years Day chocolate fondue I made.  My brother Mark, sister in law Carie and their children John and Elsa came for a quick visit to my parents to see us, which was, as always, an utter delight!  Family is so great to have around, and nothing beats it!  The gift I was the most excited about was a Le Creuset oval dutch oven!  I will admit, I asked Santa for it, but it was such a delight to actually unwrap it and take it home!  I have already made a version of vegetarian chili topped with cornbread in it, and was so happy with it, I can’t even describe it!
As for most people, January is usually a busy month for us, not just because it’s the new year and we want to start everything fresh, but also because my father, sister and oldest niece all have birthday’s a few days apart from each other.  Today is my Dad’s turn, and as I was talking to him this morning, he mentioned that, although it’s not really possible, it would be so great to have us living nearer the kids.  I have to admit, I agree with him.  I would love to be able to have the kids drop by, and cook with them, or just sit and talk.  As they (and we) get older, it’s harder to have real ties and relationships to them, they’re discovering who they are, and Aunt Bep (or Libet, or Elizabeth, depending upon the kids) may not be the hip happening person they want to be around all the time.  So, my NYR (new years resolution) is to make the extra effort to be more there for the kiddies, all 8 of them!
How does that work it’s way into this blog?  Here’s how!  I was thinking today about what I would make if I had all the kids to myself and had to occupy them for a while?  The kids range from almost 13 to almost 4 months… quite a spread!  Most of the answers I came up with were either too simplistic for them (or at least for the older ones) or too complicated to do with masses of kids all at the same time.  But, I did prevail.  What do you think most kids would never pass up?  I think brownies fits that bill to a tee!  Now, I know some kids have dietary issues so please understand I am not allowing for that completely in this post.  I will say that the recipe below will do fabulously well with the non-gluten flours on the market, and you can always use soy yogurt or apple sauce or pureed banana’s to substitute for the sour cream or yogurt that I suggest… you get the picture though, it’s fairly easy and as always, you can tweak this a million ways to suit your kids and their needs.  My one and only insistence is that  you NOT use carob.  It’s awful tasting and doesn’t melt the way a decent chocolate does…. if that’s the only option you have, leave the chocolate out or substitute a dried fruit or a nut that the kids like.  Come to think of it, dried pineapple would be SO good in this!  Hmmm… off to the kitchen!

Easy and Delicious Brownies

  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder (Hershey’s will do fine, or go for the good stuff)
  • 1 & 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt, or plain soy or coconut milk yogurt)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped nuts of your choice or dried fruit or chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 325°. Line a 9-inch square pan with foil or parchment paper so that 2 inches hang over two opposite sides.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a nonreactive pan or in the microwave. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl and allow to cool slightly. Beat in cocoa powder and sugar until well blended. Add in sour cream and vanilla extract, then add each egg and beat to incorporate fully, then add the next egg. Combine flour and salt well, then slowly add to the chocolate mixture.  Once fully combined, add in the nuts, fruit or chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 40-45 minutes or until done. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool in pan on wire rack.

Makes 16 brownies.

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! 

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.

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!

Late nights and what I want to do in them

Well, I am unemployed, newly married (almost a year to Tim) and looking for ways to get a job and get back into my cooking as a regular thing. Anyone else out there in the same boat? I have heard of people that are taking their awake at night times and cooking in them. Coming from a mother that would redecorate the house as we slept, I am thinking that might be a great idea!

Tim and I won’t be having kids, but we have lots of nieces and nephews in NY and MI who we rarely see. I want to pass along the family cooking traditions, as well as my personal food obsession, on to them. My husbands mother was a really big cook, and we have her old recipes in books and card files waiting to be explored. My tastes run more towards fine food, Tim’s mom’s cooking ran more towards Americana cooking. I’d like this blog to come down somewhere in between. I don’t expect it to be well read, but it would be great to have people come up and comment, and perhaps share their food memories, and their special techniques or recipes.

SO! Lets start with something simple, but so delicious, and redolent with childhood memories!

When I was a small child, and was sick, my mom, who was born and raised in Ireland, used to make me what we called “egg in a cup”. I was the only one of her 4 children that would eat eggs, or anything out of the ordinary for that matter, so I loved the little tea mug full of soft cooked egg and buttered toast. Actually, some of my fondest memories were my Mom and I watching Upstairs Downstairs on “Masterpiece Theater” and eating pickled beets out of a jar. I was a foodie even as a kid! So – here we go with my childhood cup of love!

1 soft cooked egg (not poached, but that might work as well as long as the yolk is runny)
1 slice of white toast, buttered well and cut into batons
salt and pepper to taste

Place the buttered toast in a large tea or coffee mug that you have warmed with some hot water and dried thoroughly. Scoop the soft cooked egg into the mug and mash it together with the toast batons. Do this fairly quickly, since you want to retain the heat, but also to capture the runny yolks before they congeal and cool.

Add salt (essential for eggs) and pepper to your taste.

Serve to your sickly loved one, along with another mug of hot sugary tea!

More in a day or two… when I have the time. Perhaps next time, cooking with something other than white flour!

E.