A Tribute To Lidia

Last year was Julia Child’s 100th birthday.  A friend and I joined thousands of others in paying tribute to her by cooking her food.  It was such fun that we have been talking about it ever since.  That, combined with the gift of a cookbook by Lidia Bastianich for by birthday, led us to this year’s tribute dinner, this time to Lidia.

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We cooked in my kitchen together.  It took the better part of a late afternoon and evening, not because it was so complicated, but because we had to stop for several hours in the middle to feed, tub and bed the children.  Which worked out perfectly since my husband and her fiancée (they were engaged this year, inspiring the “love chicken” post) couldn’t join us until later in the evening as well.

And there were a few mishaps.  What would cooking a big meal be without some bumps?  Luckily, we were able to engage backup plans and to improvise which led to a delicious and hardy meal.  Believe me when I say, we were all so stuffed by the end and yet, all of us wanted to keep eating.

IMG_6644C. made the ravioli from scratch, dough and all.  She hand-rolled them and made the filling.  So delicious.  I’ll let her come post about that at some point- we have some great photos. IMG_6642

She also made a delicious puttanesca sauce and has a handy tip for pitting the olives.

IMG_6624And that mishap?  Well, we ended up with more filling than ravioli so C. made a delicious baked shell dish based on the filling and a bit of improvisation.  Also yum.

IMG_6641I made bread and a tomato mozzarella salad.  I also made stuffed mushrooms and cappuccino cake, both from Lidia’s recipes.  Both proved to be just right for the meal.  The mushrooms were filling and savory without being too rich and the cake was just the right mix of bitter coffee and sweet cream.

Stuffed Mushrooms (Funghi Ripieni) from Lidia’s Italian-American Table

Ingredients:

24 white or cremini mushrooms, with caps, about 1.5 inches in diameter

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped scallion

1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper

1/2 cup coarse, dry breadcrumbs

1/2 cup grated parmiegiano-reggiano cheese

1/4 cup finely chopped italian parsley

salt & pepper to taste

1/2 cup chicken stock

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 dry white wine

Directions

Preheat your oven to 425 F.  Remove the stems from your mushrooms and set them aside- do not get rid of them.  Also, wash your mushrooms first.

IMG_6582Chop the scallions, pepper, mushroom stems and parsley.  I was lazy and used my little chopper thingy.

IMG_6590Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet.  Add the scallion and cook until it is wilted, about 1 minute. Add the red pepper and chopped mushroom stems.  Cook, stirring, until tender, about 3 minutes.

IMG_6591Set aside and let it cool.

IMG_6592In a medium bowl, toss the bread crumbs, cheese, 2 tablespoons of the parsley and the cooled mixture from the skillet until thoroughly blended.

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IMG_6595Add salt and pepper to taste.  Using the back of a spoon (and truthfully, your fingers), stuff the mushroom caps until the stuffing is level with the cap.

IMG_6597IMG_6598IMG_6600Place the stuffed mushrooms in a baking pan that has been greased with butter.  Place about a 1/4 teaspoon of butter on top of each mushroom.  I didn’t measure this part, honestly, just put a little bit of butter on top of each.

IMG_6602Mix the wine, chicken stock and the rest of the parsley.  Pour it around the mushrooms.  Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the filling is nicely browned.  Remove from the oven and place on a warmed platter.  Pour the liquid out into a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat for a minute or two, allowing it to thicken slightly.  Pour over the mushrooms and serve immediately.

IMG_6639These were so good- salty and full of flavor.  The mushrooms were soft and the filling was crunchy and cheesy.  I probably ate at least four of them.  I could have eaten them all but I was trying to be a good hostess.

Stay tuned for the cake recipe.

Halloween Snacks

If you’ve been reading along here or if you’ve browsed the recipe index (which is totally due for updating….one of these days), you’ll know that I love the food part of Halloween.  For the last few years I’ve tried to make a “scary” dinner each Halloween.  You can see what I’ve made before by clicking here, here, here, and here (included there are ghastly ghosts, mummy meatloaf and eyeball cupcakes, among other things).  This year, because I suddenly have both less time in the kitchen and a somewhat picky eater around, I went for less of a dinner theme and more of a snack kind of thing.

The recipes I used can be found via Dinner: A Love Story blog (my new favorite) and Hungry Happenings.  You’ll also note that this is the most processed I get in my cooking.  While most of the time I bake from scratch, this year I opted for both cake mix and pre-made frosting.  Hey, it’s a once-a-year kind of thing.

Vampire Apples

Ingredients

apple, peanut butter (optional), slivered almonds

Directions:

Slice your apple into lip shaped wedges.  I used an apple corer/slicer and then cut those wedges in half.

Spread a little bit of peanut butter across the bottom apple (or you could use cream cheese or nothing, up to you- I was hoping to get a little bit of protein into the toddler).

Shove a few silvered almonds into the other half of the apple, to look like teeth.

Put this half on top of the peanut butter half.  Repeat.

Cheezy Monsters

Ingredients

8 oz cream cheese

8 oz shredded cheese (I used a taco cheese mix)

1/2 cup bacon bits

more shredded cheddar cheese

a few slices of white cheese

food markers or black olives

Thin pretzel sticks

Directions

Mix together the cream cheese, shredded taco cheese and bacon bits.  I used the food processor because I’m lazy like that.

Make sure it’s all combined well.

Let it sit while you prepare the rest.  Slice eyeball shapes from your white cheese.  You could use a fondant cutter but I used a corer of some kind- not sure if it was meant for apples or strawberries or what- it was Grandma’s- but it worked perfectly for this.  I then colored in the eyeball with a food marker.  You could also use thin slices of olives, I think.

I see you….

Break the pretzel sticks into halves or thirds.

Pour your shredded cheese onto a plate.  Using your hands, scoop out small amounts of the cream cheese mixture and roll into balls.  Drop them into the shredded cheese and press gently so the cheese will stick.

Place on a platter. Dab a little bit of the cream cheese mixture from the bowl onto the tip of the pretzel stick.  This will be the glue for the eyes.

Place an eyeball on the stick – gently!

Stick this into the cheese ball.  Repeat as many times as you like- some of mine had one eye, some had two and one had three.

I struggled with the mouths.  In the end, I tried an almond sliver, colored with a food marker, a pretzel stick, a piece of green olive and cheese colored with a marker.  The original post used black olive slices.

I think they’re pretty cute, if I do say so myself.  And rather tasty, if you like cheese.  Which I do.

Owl Cupcakes

Ingredients

Cupcakes (any flavor.  I used boxed chocolate)

Chocolate frosting (a buttercream type, if you’re making from scratch)

Oreos (or other chocolate sandwich cookie)

M & M’s – orange and brown (eyes and beak)

Directions

Make your cupcakes.

Make sure that someone is around to help you lick the bowl.

Once they’ve baked and cooled, frost them.

Separate your cookies so that you have two with white filling for each cupcake.

Place two cookies on each cupcake to be the eyes.  This would have worked better if I had made the tops of my cupcakes flatter but I didn’t have the time to be nit-picky.

Add one orange M & M between the cookies for a beak.

Dab a tiny bit of frosting on the back of two brown M & M’s – put it right over that “m”.  Place them on top of the white part on each cookie, for eyeballs.

Try not to die because they’re really, really cute.

200th Post

Not only is this my 200th post, according to WordPress, it is also the post that follows my Julia post, which was chosen to be “freshly pressed” by WordPress.  So, no small amount of pressure here.  It’s sort of paralyzing, really- should it be a Grandma recipe?  A family story?  A long over-due letter to my six month old son?

Yipes.  The pressure….

After much thought, I’m throwing caution to the winds and giving you a recipe from my father.  On this blog, I talk a lot about my grandmother who was a fantastic cook and poke fun at my mother, who was not.  I’ve written a bit about my father before but perhaps now I can say a bit more.

My dad and my mom divorced when I was 8.  They had been married 13 years and together for many years prior to that.  They were college sweethearts and managed to maintain a strong relationship after the divorce.  In fact, they remain friends now. Part of this was due to a mutual desire to co-parent me, part of it is just who they are.

A large piece of it was how close my dad was to my mother’s family.  Dad wasn’t close to his own family after high school and he and my (maternal) grandmother hit it off right away.  In fact, my parents are together- they both say- because when they broke up after college, my dad still spent time at the house with my mother’s brothers and parents.  When my mother pointed out to her family that they’d broken up and so maybe my dad shouldn’t be around all that much, her family replied, “But we didn’t break up with him, you did!”  My parents could see they weren’t going to win that battle and so, got married.

My father’s favorite memories of my grandmother are from when he would stay at the house.  He and my grandmother were morning people and so would sit together at the table, before anyone else was up, and have coffee, toast and chat about everything: stuff they read in the paper, things about the family, random thoughts.  They were very close.

So it’s only natural that my father was the other big cooking influence in my immediate family.  I mostly recall him cooking breakfasts for me but when I was in college, he’d cook dinner for me when I visited.  His range has expanded over the years but I most associate Tex-Mex with my college visits.  This is because we were in Colorado, not New England.

So, it’s no surprise that when he was here last, he cooked enchiladas for me.  He likes to cook when he comes to visit.  I cook with him- much like I did with my grandmother- and we chop vegetables, stir and gossip as we go.   In the end, we’re rewarded with yummy food and another bonding experience to add to our list (which includes wiffle ball games, walking on the beach, cook outs and attending CC  hockey games.  It also includes having “adventures”- which were everything from getting lost to trips to historical places.).

Here he is with my daughter, having an adventure (we visited the zoo). I’m pretty sure I have the exact same photo somewhere, only it’s me and we’re wearing more 70’s clothing.

I give you Dad’s bean enchiladas.  They’re quite good and other than the filling/rolling, not too hard or time-consuming.  You could, if you wanted to, add chicken or another meat but they don’t really need it.  The spice level can also be tailored to suit your tastes.  Dad eyeballed it and may have added a touch more cayenne than we meant to but in the end, it was all good.

Ingredients

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped (I don’t like green so we used one orange pepper)

1/2 onion, chopped

28 oz can tomato sauce

1 1/2 cups of corn (frozen is ok)

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped (if you’ve been reading along you will not be surprised by my hiss as I left this out- cilantro is the devil)

2 Tablespoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder

1/2- 1 teaspoon cayenne or 1 chopped jalapeno with seeds

1 package corn tortillas

4 cups of shredded mexican cheeses (usually cheddar and montery jack along with others)

1 28 oz can red enchilada sauce (you can actually make your own enchilada sauce without too much fuss- Cooks Illustrated has a great recipe)

Directions

Saute the peppers and onions in a little bit of olive oil over medium-high heat.  I’d throw in the onions first and let them brown a bit and then add the peppers. You want them soft but not burnt, crispy or caramelized.  Stir in the tomato sauce and the beans.  Then add the corn and seasonings.

Here’s Dad, adding ever so slightly too much cayenne pepper. Spicy!

You can vary the amount of sauce, adding a bit more if it seems too dry or thick.  Once it’s all combined, simmer over low heat for about five minutes.

Meanwhile, line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil.  Trust me- it makes for easier clean-up.

I was going to add these tomatoes to the sauce but we ended up just snacking on them as we cooked.  Sungold tomatoes may be the best thing about summer.  I’m just sayin’.

Here is where I diverge with my dad.  He says to use the faucet to thoroughly wet two tortillas at a time and then to microwave them on a paper towel for 8-10 seconds.  He claims this will heat and soften them enough to fill and roll them without cracking.  This was not true for me.  Mine cracked anyway.  I usually dip each one in the enchilada sauce and then roll them.  And they crack anyway.  So, I’m open to tips on how to do this without cracking?  I suspect the brand of tortilla as well as its age may be a factor.

At any rate, pour a little bit of enchilada sauce into the baking pan and preheat your oven to 375.  Get your tortillas ready any way you please and spoon a bit of the filling into each one.  Be careful, the filling is probably hot.  I’d say about a solid tablespoon or two should do it.

Add some cheese. Or put in the cheese first.  Either way.

Then roll it up- carefully, as it will crack, unless you’re a wizard or something- and place it, seam side down in the pan.  Continue until you have run out of filling.  Or are too impatient to do any more. (If that’s the case, the filling is yummy over rice or pasta or just all on its own).

Pour the rest of the enchilada sauce over the pan, making sure to cover all the tortillas so they don’t dry out.  Top with cheese.  Lots of cheese, if you’re me.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is all melted, gooey and yummy.

These freeze really well, too, so pop a few into a freezable container and then you’ll have dinner all ready when you’re craving something warm and comforting.

Pioneering

Well, hello there again!  Come on in, grab a seat.  Just move that basket of laundry aside (It’s clean, I promise), and, oh, wait, don’t sit on the crayons, let me move those.  Would you like something to drink?  I have….. milk, water and juice.  Hmm.  Apparently we have no wine or beer.  Anyway, would you like a snack?  I have, um, pretzels, snap-pea crisps and, um, baby yogurt.  Hmmm.  Apparently we don’t have much food.  Well, let’s chat about life.  What’s been going on with me?  Um….  actually, nothing.  Considering how much “free” time I have, it’s surprising how little I get done.  Mostly I spend time with my two kids- one is at daycare most days- and do laundry.  Lots of laundry.  Loads of laundry, if you will.

Sometimes I do watch television, though.  Mostly Food TV, Big Bang Theory re-runs on TBS and, sadly, various shows on Bravo (Millionaire Matchmaker and Tabatha Takes Over have sucked me in, hardcore.).  I recently got to watch an episode of The Pioneer Woman.  Now, I’ve been reading the blog for years and I love her recipes, her photographs and her story of falling in love with her husband (she was a city girl who fell in love with a cowboy and who moved to the middle of nowhere to live with him on a ranch.  She has four children and her life is magical- at least the public face of it.  Anytime I’m fed-up with my life, I click on her blog and daydream about moving somewhere isolated where I can simply spend time with my children and cook.  Then I return to reality.).  But I didn’t love her show.  She comes across differently in her writing than she does on television. Which is not a criticism, exactly, since who knows what it’s like to be on television?  I’d probably come across really differently too.

Anyway, I ended up making two recipes from that show and, who’s surprised, not only am I not the next iron chef, I am also not the pioneer woman.  The soup came out well- I’ll link to both her recipe and give you my take on it below- but the pots de creme did not work for me.  I followed her recipe exactly but for whatever reason, it didn’t set.  This is one of my continual kitchen issues.  Puddings just don’t set for me.  I did manage to fix it by cooking it in a water bath for a few minutes.  It ended up a bit like creme brulee- the top got a bit harder (read: slightly burnt) but the inside was silky smooth.

I may not be the pioneer woman, but I can pretend, right?

The Pioneer Woman’s Corn Chowder & Pots De Creme

Failure first:

The link to her Pot De Creme here.

I followed it exactly but used vanilla rather than grand marnier.  I don’t actually like chocolate and orange together.  As I said, they didn’t set but I fixed that with a bit of a bake in the oven.

Whipped cream will cover a multitude of sins.

Notice the “creme brulee” top.

Link to The Pioneer Woman’s Corn and Cheese Chowder here.

I actually followed her recipe pretty closely but I will admit, I did not measure anything.

I chopped the veggies.

Meanwhile, I cooked the onions in butter. I let mine get a bit darker than recommended.

I chopped the bacon (it’s easier to chop if it’s frozen and I tend to keep bacon in the freezer so that I always have some on hand- everything is better with bacon.) and added it to the onions.

Once the bacon and onions have cooked, add the chopped veggies.

Let those cook a bit as well.  Then add the corn.  I used frozen, the Pioneer Woman used fresh.

Sprinkle the flour over the veggies.

Stir and let the flour cook for a minute or two.  Then add the broth.

As it cooks, it will get thicker and creamy.  Add the milk or half and half or cream or whatever.

After that simmers for about fifteen minutes, add the cheese and let it all melt.

Mmmm.  So good.  The husband loved it (it has bacon) and he’s not generally a soup guy.

I may not be the Pioneer Woman but at least I can pretend sometimes.

Easing Back Into It

Well, hello.  I’m here.  Suddenly the mother of two under two and that’s sort of blowing my mind.  I’m not sure when I got old enough to be the mother of two children but, there you go.  My husband and I just looked at each other a few nights ago and said, “WTF?!  Weren’t we just at <insert name of favorite bar here> getting drunk?  Wasn’t that like, yesterday?”

Nope.  It was 12 years ago.  Yikes.

At any rate, I am now officially on maternity leave and am attempting to cook dinners again.  I’m easing my way back into it, doing some easy things while I adjust to the new (non) sleep schedule (it’s ironic but my almost two year old is having more sleep difficulty than my newborn.  Go figure.) and try to get to know the new man in my life.  So far, he’s pretty mellow and my daughter seems to like him.  I’m crossing my fingers that it will continue that way.

So, in honor of easing in, I give you two recipes.  Well, to be fair, I’ll give you one recipe that can then be used as leftovers to create another.  No “how-to” photos, just an end product.  Sorry about that.  Haven’t quite mastered cooking dinner while photographing and watching the newborn and almost two year old.  I’ll get there.  Maybe.

Easy Taco Salad

Ingredients

Romaine lettuce (not totally nutritious but has a good crunch and is marginally better than iceberg.  Marginally.)

1 lb ground meat (I used chicken, you could use turkey or beef)

1 packet taco seasoning (ok, full disclosure, I hate commercial spice mixes and would usually make my own- cumin, paprika, salt, pepper, chili powder, etc- but I was trying for easy.  Bring on the MSG.)

Shredded cheese

chopped tomatoes

1 red pepper, chopped

1/2 avocado, chopped

1/2 onion, chopped

Handful tortilla chips, crunched up into small pieces

Directions

In a skillet over medium heat with a bit of oil, brown your onion.  Add 1/2 the red pepper and the meat.  Cook until browned and then add the taco seasoning and mix well.  If it’s too thick, you can add a touch of water but not too much- you don’t want it to make a sauce, you want it to coat the meat.  Set aside to cool a bit.

On a plate, spread out your lettuce (I chop mine).  Sprinkle the tomatoes, the other 1/2 of the pepper, the avocado and any other veggies that appeal over the lettuce.  Top with the meat and the cheese.  Sprinkle some tortilla chips on top.

See?  Wasn’t that easy?  I liked mine with a bit of ranch dressing.  It even got a thumbs up from the husband who doesn’t mind salad but doesn’t love it either.

Bonus recipe:

Leftover nachos

Ingredients

Leftovers from Taco Salad

Beans (optional)

Tortilla Chips

Directions

Spread a handful of tortilla chips on a plate (best if it’s a plate that can go in the microwave or oven).  Top with the leftovers from the taco salad- meat, veggies, cheese.  If you want to be healthy, you can throw in a few spoonfuls of black or kidney beans.  I was too hungry to bother.  Pop into the microwave for a few minutes, until the cheese is melted.  I like to use the oven which yields more crispy chips but in a hurry (because was I starving and people were crying), the microwave will do.  Dig in, with one hand, while the other holds a baby.

And, a bonus photo:

See? Two under two. How did this happen?!?

Audience Participation

Ok, here are the bullet points:

1.  No baby yet.  I am due today.  My daughter was born on her due date (Only 4-5% of babies come on the actual due date) and I don’t think we’ll get that lucky again.  I am scheduled to be induced on Tuesday morning if the boy hasn’t arrived before then.

2.  As a result, I am exhausted.  I have two more testing reports to write for work and then I’m done.  I may or may not go into work tomorrow for a few hours just to wrap up- it will depend on how I feel (and if the baby comes tonight).

3.  Also, as a result, I haven’t meal planned at all for this week.  As in ordered spicy Chinese food last night (and took a long walk at the zoo today) and had carrots, celery and dip tonight.  Since I haven’t planned, I have made THREE trips to two different grocery stores in as many days.  So we have staples- milk, eggs, cheese, cereal, etc.- but no real ingredients for meals.  It means that I sort of wandered aimlessly through the grocery stores, picking up and putting down various items.  I had forgotten how much prepared or just-add-water food there is out there (and was reminded of the long-running joke in my house growing up, based on an old Sally Forth comic strip, “Do you want something from a bag or from a box?  From the freezer or the fridge?”).

4.  The best part of my wanderings is that I found this:

Yes, you’re reading it right.  Chocolate goat cheese.  I was curious enough to spend $8 on it.  I tasted it and it’s smooth, creamy, tangy and sweet, all at the same time.

My problem?  I have no idea what to do with it.  A google search yielded a few ideas- goat cheese canapes, truffles and frosting- but these do no appeal.  So this is where you all come in.

What would you do with it?  Let me know in the comments and maybe I’ll try it.

Christmas Eve 2011

What’s your Christmas Eve tradition?  Until a few years ago, mine was to have dinner with a dear friend and her family.  It started when I was in the 7th grade and continued, almost unbroken, until maybe two or three years ago.  The dinner kept expanding and incorporating new people (girlfriends, boyfriends, adopted siblings, parents) and eventually it was several tables long and, I imagine, quite the event to prepare. It was a true Italian feast- homemade pasta and sauce (tomato and pesto), shrimp and scallops and wonderful desserts. It was a lovely tradition while it lasted and I will always remember it fondly.

Without her house to go to, I was sort of lost on Christmas Eve.  I honestly can’t remember what we’ve done for the last few years.  This year I decided perhaps we needed to start a new tradition- dinner together.  Now, during the workweek, we sometimes have dinner together.  By which I mean, we try, but as my husband went back to school a few years ago his schedule is, um…. different.  On the nights he doesn’t have class or isn’t working, we all sit together for dinner.  There are plenty of nights where this doesn’t happen but we try.

For Christmas Eve, we decided that I’d feed the toddler at her regular time (which is when we usually eat, one step removed from the early bird special time!) and then after she went to bed, he and I would sit down for a somewhat elegant meal without her.  Which may be the first time we’ve done that.  Ever.

What to make?  Mac and Cheese, of course, though not the cr$%^p from the box that he favors.  And not the baked kind, which he does not love.  Instead, I made this Alton Brown version which is quite similar (though far less chemical-tasting) to this from the box.  I also made potatoes with cheese which were supposed to be all fancy-like but ended up flat and frisbee-like.  More on that in a minute.  For the main dish, I made beef wellington which is something we had at our wedding and which, four years later, my husband still talks about while getting all misty-eyed.

Ok, so the potatoes first- get the semi-failure out of the way first, right?  I made mashed potatoes and added a little bit of flour and egg to stiffen them up (I would have used potato starch but I didn’t have any).  I also added a fair amount of cheddar cheese (shredded).  Then I dumped it into a ziplock with the tip cut off and a pastry tip inserted.

Sad, deflated "pastry" bag

I piped it out onto parchment and threw it into the oven.

I'm aware that they look like piles of doo-doo. This was my first clue that something was amiss.

I was going for something like this.  My mistake, I think, was too loose a mixture and not broiling right away- I wasn’t paying attention and put them in on bake, which allowed them to do this.

Now, they were tasty- sort of a crunchy, cheesy crust and a smooth creamy interior.  But they were not pretty.  Oh well.  Experimental cooking at its best, I suppose.

On to the beef wellington.  A word about my version- it’s an amalgamation of a bunch of different recipes.  It never comes out the same way twice.  And I definitely can end up with some soggy bottom dough (which happened this time- it was not my best cooking day).  If you are looking for the perfect beef wellington, I suggest going to cooks illustrated as they have quite an extensive recipe with many steps and directions and I have no doubt that theirs comes out perfectly.  If you want something a bit more user-friendly and you don’t mind slightly soggy bottom dough, go with mine.

Beef Wellington

3 lbs beef tenderloin (full confession, I can almost never find this and tend to just use good steak)

1 package puff pastry, defrosted (I use Dufour brand and it’s great)

8-10 cremini mushrooms, washed, stemmed and quartered (fascinating bit on mushrooms here)

olive oil, butter

salt, pepper

Splash of sherry or marsala wine (optional)

1 egg, splash of water

Directions:

Season your beef with salt and pepper.

No tenderloin this time, I used I think boneless ribeye. Maybe? I can't remember.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium to high heat.  When hot, add the beef and sear it on all sides. You do not want it to cook through.

Set it aside to rest and cool.  CI will have you wrap it in plastic wrap and chill it for four  to twenty four hours (this is after you already let the tenderloin sit over a rack/pan in the fridge for something like 24-48 hours.  Too many steps for me!).  I simply wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it chill it the fridge while I did other stuff- about an hour or so.

Don’t wipe out your pan, just take it off the heat and set  aside while you prep your mushrooms.

Wash and remove the stems.  Cut any large ones into quarters.  Add them to your food processor and process until very fine.

In the skillet that has the oil and leftover beef bits, add about a pat of butter and heat over medium heat.

Once the butter is melted, add the finely chopped mushrooms.

Let them cook over medium heat until all the liquid is released.  They may start to stick to the bottom of the pan and when they do, I add a splash of sherry or marsala wine to help degalze the pan and add some extra flavor.  I add a pinch of salt and pepper as well. Again, cook until all the liquid has evaporated.

Set them aside to cool.  Pull out your puff pastry and lightly flour the surface you’ll use to roll it out.  Place the sheet on the floured area and lightly flour the top.

Roll it out, gently, until it is large enough to cover your meat (heh-heh, that sounded dirty.  Yes, I’m a 12 year old boy.).  Keep moving it around so that it doesn’t stick.  I lift mine and flip it every few rolls.  Since I had two steaks, I cut mine in half and rolled each half to size.  You’ll need to put it in the fridge after rolling to let it firm up again.  I did this by using the packing it came in to help fold it back up without it sticking.

Let it chill for a bit- this is when I made the potatoes and when I took a few photos of the toddler amusing herself with my baking things.

Ok, now that everything has chilled, set up your assembly line.  You’ll need your mushrooms, some egg wash (1 egg lightly whisked with a bit of water), a pastry brush, a sheet pan with parchment on it, your beef and your pastry dough.

part of my assembly line- not shown, the parchment pan

Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees.  Lay out your dough on the sheet pan.  Spread the mushrooms on one side (I used half for each steak). You may need to use your fingers. Make sure to leave some space around the edges.

Place your steak on top of the mushrooms.

Brush the egg wash around the edges.

Fold the other half of the pastry dough over and seal the edges.  I’m sure you could do this in an extremely pretty way but I didn’t.

Brush with egg wash.

Repeat with the other steak/dough if you have two.  Put them in the fridge for a bit to let the pastry firm up again.

Bake in the oven until the internal temperature of the beef reaches 113-155 for rare (15 minutes), 120 for medium-rare (20 minutes).  Take them out and let them sit for 10 minutes (to allow the juices in the beef to re-distribute) before slicing. 

Slice and serve.  Yum.

Obviously, the thicker cut of meat you use, the higher your wellington will be.  This worked just fine for us but again, the bottom was a bit soggy.  Traditional recipes also use pate and have an accompanying sauce, usually some sort of red wine-based.  Some recipes use pate and mushrooms on all sides.  For us, this was relatively quick, easy and somewhat outside our usual fare.  It may be the start of a Christmas Eve tradition!

‘Tis the Season…..

…..of squash!  I’m so excited.  I love squash.  Butternut and Delicata are my two favorite but I do like a nice spaghetti or acorn as well.  Mmmm.  Creamy, rich and still a vegetable!  What could be bad?

As a result, I’m constantly looking for new recipes to go with the squash.  My standbys are soup and risotto.  This weekend I wanted something more.  I’ve had butternut squash lasagna before but wasn’t sure I wanted anything that heavy.  I read this blog on a free-style squash and goat cheese lasagna but I don’t love goat cheese.  So I decided to improvise and make a hybrid of the two.

Hybrid Squash Lasagna

Ingredients

1 butternut squash

1 box no-boil lasagna noodles

1 onion

olive oil

1-2 cups chicken or veg broth

1-2 cups light cream

grated parmesan and/or mozzarella cheese- how much?  up to you- how cheesy do you want this?  I probably used about 1-2 cups combined.

salt, pepper to taste

Directions:

I started by roasting my squash.  I cut it in half, scooped out the seeds and put it face down- skin side up- on a baking sheet with some olive oil, salt and pepper. It roasted at about 425 degrees for maybe 30-40 minutes.  And it filled the house with such a nice, squashy smell.  Mmmm.  I set it aside to let it cool.  Then I peeled it and threw it into the food processor, then into a medium sized pot.  I put it over low heat.

Meanwhile, I sliced up two onions pretty thinly (ok, I’ll admit it, I used the food processor.  I’m so lazy!) and put them in a saute pan with some olive oil over medium-low heat.

I let these sit over medium to low heat for a loooooong time.  Don’t let them brown up or burn but do let them cook down and get all caramelized.  You could help the process along by adding a teaspoon of sugar but there’s really no need- if you have the time, they’ll do their thing.  Cook them until they look like this:

Meanwhile, to the squash on the pot on the stove, whisk in about 1-2 cups of chicken or veg broth and about 1 cup of cream.  Let that all sort of melt and meld together. Season a bit with salt and pepper if necessary.

Once your onions are done, you could throw in a bit of Marsala to deglaze the pan.  I love Marsala and find it worked well with the squash- a sort of sweet and slightly acidic undertone. 

Ok, time to assemble.  Start by putting a bit of the squash sauce on the bottom of your pan.  Top with the lasagna noodles (I had to break mine up a bit to make them fit- It was not the best pan choice) and some of the cheese.

I had some fresh mozzarella to use up but regular would probably be just as fine. Add a layer of your delicious onions.

Cover with more noodles.

Then more squash sauce.

Repeat until you run out of ingredients or room.  Finish with a layer of sauce and some parmesan and mozzarella cheese on top.

Bake at 375 for about 30-50 minutes or until it’s all golden and bubbly around the edges.  Mmmmm.

This was good- rich, creamy and not as dairy-ful as others I’ve had.  A little bit lighter and more squashy, I think because the squash wasn’t diluted with the cream sauce.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some good cream sauce, this was just a nice alternative.

And for the record, it’s taken me five days to write and post this!  Talk about a busy week!  Hopefully with an extra day off this week, I’ll be able to post something else.

 

Grown Up Brunch

When I was little, my family would get together with other families for dinner or brunch or some other meal.  I’d play with the children from that family and the parents would talk. Usually it would separate out by gender but I have distinct memories of looking up and seeing all the adults around the table, chatting, laughing and watching us play.

Today, we became my parents.  It was awesome.

We had friends over for brunch, two couples, one of whom has children.  The adults (though, since it’s us, I use the term loosely) sat at the table, chatting, laughing and eating while the two older kids played.  This is what it looked like when they were done playing:

It was great.  And we had so much food!  Bagels, cream cheese and lox (we’re good Jews), yummy cookies and pastries (thanks to one couple), homemade blueberry muffins (thanks to the other couple) and a mushroom and leek quiche that I threw together so that we’d have some more protein, you know, for balance.

It really was a lovely morning and it was nice to see G. and the other child play together.  He’s the son of a good friend from high school (with whom I’d lost touch but, thanks to facebook, we’ve re-connected) and it was neat to see our children getting along.  Also a bit surreal since most days I still feel like I’m in middle school- it’s hard to believe that high school was over 15 years ago and that many of us now have children of our own.

At any rate, here’s the quiche recipe.  I find quiche quite forgiving and it can take on a number of different flavors.  It’s a great leftovers dish since you can throw almost any veggie in there and have it end up tasty.  Eggs, cream, cheese….  what’s not to like?

Leek and Mushroom Quiche

Ingredients

1/2 recipe of dough (I use the Hippo’s recipe but I add about 1-2 teaspoons of sugar for a bit of sweet)

6-9 eggs, depending on the size of your pie pan

3/4-1 cup of milk, light or heavy cream- use what you have

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1/2 – 3/4 cup leeks (sliced and cleaned)

1/2-1 cup of grated parmesan cheese (other cheeses work well, too)

Directions:

Make your dough and let it firm up in the fridge.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Slice and clean your leek.  I make really thin slices and then separate the layers into a bowl, cover them with water and let them sit.  All the sand and dirt will sort of fall out and sink to the bottom. I actually love leeks- they’re milder than onions and sort of sweet.  I saved one leek to make potato leek soup later in the week.  I can’t wait!

Chop up your mushrooms while the leeks are soaking.

Heat a small saute pan on the stove over medium heat.  Add some olive oil and toss in the leeks (take them out of the water first).  Let them cook a bit until they’re soft and sort of translucent but not brown- maybe 5 minutes or so.

Add your mushrooms and let that cook until the mushrooms cook down (i.e. release their liquid and get smaller).  Meanwhile, crack your eggs into a large-ish bowl.

I think there's something really pretty about eggs. I know, I'm weird.

Whip them with a whisk until they’re all blended together well.

Add your cream (or whatever dairy you’re using) and some salt (and pepper if you wish).  Whip again to mix and set aside.  Then it’s time to roll out your dough.

Now, I am NOT a dough expert.  I can not crimp or flute to save my life so my crusts are always asymmetrical and sort of ragged looking.  I only started making my own pie crust in the last year or so when I realized that 1) the Hippo’s recipe was easy and did not involve lard (big debate in the pie crust world about how lard is what makes a really good, flakey, decadent pie crust which is probably true but, ick) and 2) I could make it in my food processor.  I love my food processor.  So take my rolling out advice with a grain or two of salt and find what works for you.

I roll my dough on a cutting board because I’m never sure my counters are clean enough and I am never prepared enough to clean it before I put the dough down.  Lightly flour your surface as well as your dough.

Start rolling from the center out, not from either end. I remember this from my bakery days but I’ll be damned if I can remember why- I think maybe it’s more even this way.

Flip it over and turn it 90 degrees.  Roll again, from the center.

Continue this until it is the thickness and roughly the shape that you want.  Again, mine are never symmetrical and never the correct shape.  Keep in mind that you want to work the dough as little as possible and that the more time it has to heat up the less flakey it will be- has to do with the butter melting and other food science-y stuff.  If you really want to know more, I’m sure Alton Brown can tell you. (I just watched the video link and he actually uses a ziplock bag and two pie pans which, if I had two pie pans, I might try)

I put my pretty red pie pan on top of it partly to measure and partly because it’s easier for me to get the dough into the pan.  You can be all fancy and roll the dough over your rolling-pin and then sort of drape it over the pan but I find that fancy makes holes in the dough (at least for me).

Flip it over so that the dough is on top of the pan.

Peel off your cutting board if necessary and then sort of drape the dough gently into the pan.  I press down gently to kind of tuck it into the sides and bottom.

At this point, you should make the edges look pretty.  I do not, but you should.  I just sort of leave it.

By now, your mushroom/leek mixture should be done (did you forget about it?  I hope not!).  Set it aside to let it cool for a few minutes while you grate your cheese.  I am (as well we all know if we’ve been reading along) lazy so I do mine in the mini-food processor.

Sprinkle about half of your cheese onto your crust.  It will sort of insulate it once you add the other things and make it less soggy as it bakes.

Your mushrooms and leeks should look a bit like this:

Add them on top of the cheese and sort of spread them around as evenly as you can.

Give your egg and dairy mixture another whip and then pour over.

Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top and toss into your oven.  You may want to put a baking sheet underneath, in case some of it spills over.

Let it bake for about 45 minutes to an hour.  About halfway through, I always need to cover it loosely with a bit of aluminum foil as it will be brown but still jiggley.  You want it to be firm and not wiggley in the middle.  When you take it out of the oven, let it sit for a few minutes before cutting into it, otherwise it won’t set as well.

Around here we’ll eat quiche for any of the our three meals.  It’s good both hot, room temperature and cold.  And it’s generally pretty easy to throw together last minute, too.  I’ll sometimes do a bacon cheddar cheese quiche or a sausage and other kind of cheese.  Sometimes it’s just whatever veggies I have on hand- peppers, broccoli, asparagus you name it, it can probably go into a quiche.

Enjoy with your friends and family (even if you’re not having brunch).

Unexpected Yummy

I was all set to blog about the pickles I made which were delicious and surprisingly easy.  I mean, who knew you could make pickles without laborious canning- all the jars!  all the heating!  But then I made this salad.  This simple, shouldn’t have really been anything special salad.  So mundane that I didn’t photograph while cooking because, never in a million years, would I put it on the blog.

Except that it was so good I can’t keep it to myself.

You know of my quest to enjoy quinoa.  It’s so good for you and so nutritious.  I just haven’t been a huge fan.  Something about both taste and texture. I’ve tried both red and white.  I’ve preferred red.   I’ve tried- here andhere– but still, it’s somewhat of a chore to eat it.  But now?  Oh, now, I have found the secret, at least for me.

Toasting it.  The longer you let it toast, the better it tastes (thanks to my friend S. for teaching me this- it only took a year for me to put it into practice, despite saying it in each recipe I wrote here!).

So, without further ado, here’s the easiest, healthiest, tastiest, quickest salad/main dish ever:

Quinoa Salad

1/2 cup red quinoa

1 cup chicken broth, veg broth or water

1 onion

2-3 cloves garlic

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 Red Pepper

1 cup sungold (or cherry) tomatoes

Feta cheese (I used the already crumbled kid)

Directions

Pour your quinoa into a mesh sieve and rinse several times with cold water.  Set aside to let it drain.  Peel and chop your onion.  Smush and chop your garlic cloves.  In a saucepan, over medium high, heat your olive oil. Add the onion and garlic.  Let it cook for about 2-3 minutes or until it’s soft.  Add the quinoa and let it get all toasty.  Stir it once in a while and watch so that it doesn’t burn but toast it a good long while.  10, 15 even 20 minutes.  Add the broth and let it cook until it is absorbed, stirring occasionally.  Set it aside and let it cool for about ten minutes.  Meanwhile, wash, d- seed and chop your red pepper into small chunks.  Halve your tomatoes.  Put the cooled quinoa into a bowl, add the veggies and mix.  Add some feta cheese (how much is up to you) and stir.  Pull out your spoon and be pleasantly surprised by how good it is.  It can be eaten warm, at room temp or cold- no matter, still good!

The sweetness of the tomatoes and peppers balances out the saltiness of the feta and the toasty-ness of the quinoa makes it feel filling and satisfying.  Really, this may become my go-to lunch salad.