Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Vintage Dining

This has been a very difficult year for me.  Although it has barely started, it has become, sadly, quite obvious, that at some point this year I’m going to lose my mother.  During the continuing physically and emotionally exhausting months of caring for her, I unexpectedly stumbled upon some treasures from my youth while putting up the Christmas tree at my parents’ home this past December.  I retrieved a box that I thought contained holiday ornaments but, instead, it held my very much beloved play food and a number of dishes and appliances.  I was transported back decades at the very opening of this box. Joy washed over me as I began sorting each of the items.  Firstly, I cannot believe that my mother saved these for me.  Secondly, I am so very glad that she did.  I guess I’ve been a foodie from birth.  This little, though incomplete, collection of food and dishes was something I spent hours arranging and rearranging.

As you can see, even back then I had matching appliances.

I made certain to serve balanced meals, putting a steak and two 
vegetables on each dinner plate.

The corn was for picnics, and I’d serve it with the beans and franks.

Bacon and eggs were served with the cardboard toast that was placed into the toaster that featured a spring mechanism that caused the toast to pop up when it was ready.

The turkey was my favorite.  I guess I loved Thanksgiving before I ever paid much attention to it. It was served with peas and slices of pumpkin pie.

Life doesn’t always deal us the best of hands, but it does tend to compensate by rewarding us with wonderful surprises.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Corn and Red Bell Pepper Chowder

If it isn’t cold where you are currently, then it probably will be in a couple of days.  That’s one thing that we can count on when it comes to winter weatherit’s going to be wintery.  Nothing warms up our frigid insides like a hearty chowder and this delicious vegetable version is no different.  It is incredibly easy to make and you probably have all of the ingredients on your shelves.  If you don’t, then I might suggest you buy double of everything because once your family tastes this chowder, I guarantee that you’ll be making it again.

Corn and Red Bell Pepper Chowder

4 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed, divided
2 cups low-salt chicken broth, divided
3 tablespoons butter
1 jarred Melissa’s Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bell Pepper, chopped
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 large shallots, chopped
¼ cup whipping cream
Chopped green onions

Puree 2 cups of the corn and 1 cup of the broth in a food processor or blender until smooth. Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the red bell pepper, potatoes, and shallots; sauté 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 cups of corn, 1 cup broth, and the puree that you made earlier.  Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 12 minutes.  Stir in cream. Season chowder to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls; sprinkle with scallions.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tarragon Chicken

As my mother's condition, sadly, continues to deteriorate, I find that even the simplest daily tasks can be quite overwhelming. While copious lists keep me on track, having a clear, achievable goal is what gets me through the day. Making a tasty and satisfying meal is a goal that I can embrace. The artistry satisfies my creative side, the repetition in the assembling and chopping of ingredients calms, and the heady aromas of my meal-in-the-making soothes.

Tarragon Chicken is one of my go to comfort foods, and one of my favorite recipes is Chicken Louisa that I showed you here. Today's version is slightly more sophisticated, is designed for the Crockpot, and found in The Gourmet Slow Cooker cookbook. The end result is a moist and delicious chicken with an earthy, aromatic taste that will send your taste buds on a trip to Paris.

Tarragon Chicken

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 chicken, cut I to serving pieces and skinned
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
6 sprigs tarragon
1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half

Combine the 3/4 cup flour and salt in a resealable plastic bag. Add chicken to the bag, several pieces at a time, and shake to coat completely.

Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat, and add the butter and oil. Add the chicken and cook, turning once, for 8 to 10 minutes, until browned on both sides. Using tongs, transfer chicken to paper towels to drain, then arrange pieces in the slow cooker.

Set the sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the onion and the 2 tablespoons flour. Sauté, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Gradually add the wine, stirring to scrape up browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add stock and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 to 15 minutes, until sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour the sauce over the chicken in the slow cooker and lay 2 sprigs of the tarragon on top.

Cover and cook on low for 3 to 8 hours, until chicken is tender.  At 3 to 4 hours, the chicken will still be firm and hold its shape. At 6 to 8 hours, the meat will be falling off the bone.  Pour in the cream and stir well. Cover and cook 10 to 15 minutes to heat thoroughly.

While the chicken finishes cooking, strip leaves from remaining 4 tarragon sprigs and coarsely chop. Remove and discard tarragon sprigs from slow cooker and stir in freshly chopped leaves.

Turn off slow cooker. Divide chicken and sauce among plates; serve immediately.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Baked Penne with Farmhouse Cheddar and Leeks

I am a big fan of leeks.  I love them.  I grow them.  I will eat them in any form.  And I am always on the lookout for any recipe at all that contains a decent amount of leeks.  So, while paging through an old issue of Bon Appétit (March 2009, to be exact), this recipe lept out at me. I only had three leeks on hand, so cut this recipe in half and, since I like a crunchy topping on my baked pasta dishes, dusted it with a layer of Parmesan cheese and another of Panko.  I find pasta needs a bit of a heavy hand with salt, so keep that in mind, and found that it benefited greatly from a splash of dry sherry.  Oh, momma, is this good!

Baked Penne with Farmhouse Cheddar and Leeks

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
5 cups chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only; about 5 large)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 4 cups packed)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 large eggs
1 pound penne pasta

Lightly butter 15x10x2-inch baking dish. Melt 1/4 cup butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks; stir to coat. Cover saucepan and cook until leeks are tender, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes (do not brown). Uncover saucepan; add flour. Stir 2 minutes. Add milk; bring to simmer, stirring often. Add cheese, mustard, and pepper sauce. Stir until cheese melts. Remove from heat. Season cheese sauce to taste with salt.

Whisk eggs in medium bowl. Gradually whisk in 1 cup cheese sauce. Stir egg mixture into cheese sauce in saucepan.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Return to pot.

Stir cheese sauce into pasta in pot. Transfer to prepared baking dish. do ahead Can be made 2 hours ahead.* Let stand at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake pasta until cheese sauce is bubbling around edges and some ends of pasta are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

Let stand 15 minutes. Serve hot.

*Out of necessity, I had to refrigerate this dish and bake and serve it the following day.  It turned out beautifully, so this dish is definitely make ahead.

This post is linked to: On the Menu Monday

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars

As much as I like cookies – they are, after all, my favorite dessert – I don’t particularly like making cookies.  All of that rolling, cutting, shaping, forming, icing, sprinkling, well, by the time the work is done I’m out of the mood.  So when I spotted this recipe for bar cookies that were supposed to be a better version of a Twix candy bar (another of my favorites), I had to make them.  I sent packages home with both of my sons who, with their wives, are more than happy to test recipes for me, and we all enjoyed theseA LOT.  They are easy enough to make, but take a bit of time waiting for each layer to cool before building the next one.  Trust me when I tell you that the time is well spent!

Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars
Spotted at Tracey's Culinary Adventures

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk

8 oz chocolate, finely chopped (I used bittersweet) 
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
Fleur de sel for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

To make the shortbread layer: Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients and beat just until combined. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and press into an even layer over the bottom (it'll be a fairly thin layer). Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool completely.

To make the caramel layer: Combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk in a medium saucepan. Set the pan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the butter is melted. Increase the heat to medium-high, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and turns a light caramel color. This may take 10 minutes or more, so be patient. Pour the caramel mixture over the cooled shortbread and spread in an even layer. Allow to cool completely, then chill briefly (I stuck mine in the fridge overnight, but you just want to chill enough that it won't melt when you add the warm chocolate in the next step).

To make the chocolate layer: Add the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter to a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until everything is melted and the mixture is smooth and glossy. Pour the chocolate over the chilled caramel and spread into an even layer with an offset spatula. Let cool for a few minutes, then sprinkle the top with the fleur de sel (if using). Let the chocolate set completely before slicing and serving.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Steel Cut Oats with Caramelized Apples

On these very cold mornings I have been starting my day with a hot bowl of oatmeal, McCANN'S Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal being my favorite. It's a good, healthy start, as we all know, but sometimes oatmeal alone can get a little boring without the addition of fruits, nuts, or other such tasty goodies.  Most of the time I add dried fruits,  Melissa’s blueberries and strawberries  being two of my favorites, and toss it in while the oatmeal is cooking, but today I was in an apple-y mood, so decided to caramelize some on the top of the stove while waiting for the oatmeal to cook.  It's easy to do, but if you're unsure how to make the apples, here is a simple recipe.

Steel Cut Oats with Caramelized Apples

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 large apples, peeled and sliced (any variety that suits you, or happen to be in your fridge)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Few gratings of fresh nutmeg
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
Pinch of Kosher salt

Melt the butter in a medium-large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the apple slices, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and salt, and toss to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are golden brown and caramelized, about 15 minutes. Arrange on top of steaming bowls of oatmeal. 

Serves 2.

Other fun ideas for oatmeal toppings are:

The Elvis Special - chopped salted peanuts and sliced bananas.

Tropical Isle - chopped macadamias, shredded coconut, and pineapple chunks.

Pumpkin Pie - 1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice and 2 T. pumpkin purée.

Gimme Granola - raisins, chopped mixed nuts, flax seed, coconut flakes.

Chocolate Lover's Special - mini chocolate chips and a light swirl of Hershey's syrup.

S'Mores - crumbled graham crackers, mini marshmallows, mini chocolate chips.

Snicker Bar – chopped peanuts, mini chocolate chips, and a teaspoon of dark brown sugar.

I'm sure that you can come up with many more on your own,  based on your family's preferences. The important thing to remember is that you are enhancing the oatmeal, not overwhelming it.

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