Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Saga of the Paella Pan

I am a passionate person. Those of us who are passionate people tend to anguish over many things. My anguish du jour (and I say “du jour” because indeed I do anguish about something new almost every day) is my late husband’s paella pan. Let me tell you the story of this pan.

My husband, too, was a passionate person, and one of his passions was cooking. He introduced me to all kinds of exotic cuisines that were completely new to my experience, and I embraced them all. One thing that he particularly enjoyed making was paella. He would make big pans of it, spending all day long on a dish that wasn’t supposed to be all that difficult, and would serve it at big parties we had with our friends. He decided one year, that the pan he had wasn’t big enough to serve the masses that often descended upon our home for a meal, and that he needed a bigger one. Upon hearing this, my mother’s ears perked up. She was always looking to buy someone that special something for Christmas that they didn’t deliberately ask for, wouldn’t expect, but would be delighted with its receipt.

So, my industrious mother managed to find a company that sold Spanish products, including paella rice, paella seasonings, and paella pans, and she put together quite a package of paella goodies for Jim that Christmas. Having never made paella, she had no idea what a paella pan looked like, so when she placed her order she asked for a large one. I can still see the look of shock and surprise on Jim’s face when he opened that box. My mother had given him the biggest paella pan that he had ever seen. If you’ve ever been to an open-air food market, say Camden Market in London, you may have seen food vendors stirring up food for the masses in pans this size. This pan is roughly 2 feet in diameter. This was way too big for Jim’s needs plus, every year one or other of our friends died off, and, sadly, our parties kept getting smaller and smaller. So, Jim put the pan aside.
Fast-forward a dozen years to today. My mother has now been gone five years, Jim has been gone a little over two, but the pan is still here. I stumbled upon it today, and it was like a kick in the gut. It was still in the shrink-wrap (and that was mighty shrink wrap, I had a devil of a time extricating the pan), and a wave of sadness swept over me. Suddenly, I remembered my mother’s delight in finding Jim the perfect gift; I remember the look of shock and surprise on his face when he opened it. I remember the parties that we used to have under the striped umbrellas, on the big brick patio at our house, with pitchers of ruby red sangria, pans of steaming, seafood-studded paella, laughter, music, conviviality, the works! Such good times. I have since moved house, most of those friends are gone, and here I am left with this pan, this unused, monster of a paella pan. It’s funny how something inanimate, and relatively insignificant, can cause such pain.
You may be inclined to tell me to donate it and get it out of the house, but I can’t do that. The fact of the matter is, I like it. I don’t make paella, I would never make this much paella, but because this pan caused happiness, shock, and awe in the past, it is going to have to be a part of my future. So, I am asking for your help. What can I do with this pan? It is big enough to use as a serving tray, I’m aware of that, but at a hefty ten pounds all on its own it, would be too heavy to carry. It is almost the size of my entire cooktop, so I cannot use it on the stove, and it would be too big to use near the stove. It may work as a centerpiece on a large table, but I’m not sure I have a table quite that large. Use your imagination, go little crazy if you like, and tell me what you would do with this behemoth among paella pans.

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Monday, July 30, 2018

Mushroom Bolognese

I have recently jumped onto the "Meatless Monday" bandwagon. You may have noticed this last week when, on Monday, I posted a recipe for Portobello Burgers. I am still thinking about that burger. 

I was paging through the America’s Test Kitchen Complete Slow Cooker Cookbook, and came across a recipe for Mushroom Bolognese. Despite my having issues with those America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks (I want a cookbook that does two things, first, provides me with delicious recipes, and, second, offers beautiful pictures of what those recipes yield. America’s Test Kitchen books give me way more conversation than I could possibly want. I really don’t want or need to know why a recipe works. All I want to know is that it does.), I decided to take a chance and give it a try.

On one hand, this bolognese is more work than your usual crockpot fare. On the other, it tastes as though it has been cooking all day long on top of the stove, and doesn’t smack at all of something from the slow cooker. Not that slow cooked food is a bad thing. Heaven knows, I make a lot of it! But this is a unique dish that tastes like it was a lot of trouble. Because I was interested in a more mushroom tasting bolognese than one heavy on tomato, I eliminated one of the 14-ounce cans of tomato from their original recipe. Because I wanted a sauce that tasted rich and meaty, I only used half of the called for crimini mushrooms, substituting portobellos for the other half. I was amazed at how good this was. It has a beefy, woodsy, sophisticated taste that smacks of a high-end eatery. As I said, it’s a good bit of work, and you’re going to need to get out the food processor, but it makes four ample servings, is a company worthy dish, and you won’t miss the
Mushroom Bolognese
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Complete Slow Cooker Cookbook

1 lb. crimini mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
1 lb.
Melissa’s portobello mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 14-ounce can peeled diced tomatoes, undrained
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2-oz. pkg.
Melissa’s dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed and minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3  large garlic clothes, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Bay leaf
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Pulse crimini mushrooms in food processor until pieces are no larger than 1/2 inch; transfer to a large bowl. Pulse portobello mushrooms in food processor until pieces are no larger than 1/2 inch; transfer to same bowl.  Pulse onion and carrot in food processor until finely chopped; transfer to the same bowl. Pulse tomatoes and their juice in food processor until almost smooth; set aside in separate bowl.

Heat oil in a 10-inch sauté pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add processed vegetables and porcini mushrooms. Cover and cook until softened, about five minutes. Uncover and continue to cook until vegetables are dry and brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, garlic, and oregano, and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Stir in wine and simmer until nearly evaporated, about three minutes; transfer to the slow cooker.

Stir in tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar, and bay leaf in the slow cooker. Cover and cook until sauce is deeply flavored, 7 to 8 hours on low for 4 to 5 hours on high.

Discard bay leaf. Stir in cream and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Before serving, stir in 2 tablespoons parsley for every 3 cups of sauce.

If you prefer a little meat with your pasta, you will LOVE this Cheesecake Factory copycat recipe for Da Vinci Pasta.

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Friday, July 27, 2018

Double Chocolate Cherry Muffins

I hate summer. I admit it. It is my least favorite of the four seasons. My second least favorite is spring because spring is what brings summer. So, I am not a person that you’ll ever find wintering in Florida, or retiring to Arizona. I just won’t do it. I hate the heat. The only thing that makes summer tolerable for me are the bing cherries that are in season right now. Bing cherries beckon to me like a long lost lover. I love their juicy, flavorful goodness that explodes with every bite. I have liked cherries for as far back as I can remember. They are cute, they are portable, they are delicious, and they are so good for you.

This month, I decided to make use of them in a way in which I had not before. I had to act fast, because I eat cherries so quickly that they don’t stay around here for long. Some time ago I had printed out a muffin recipe that sounded so delicious, it took me back to the days of my youth when I used to beg my mother to get me a box of chocolate-covered cherries. They were called cherry cordials, and that word “cordial” seemed so classy and civilized to my seven-year-old self. I would slowly bite into them and let the liquid fondant ooze into my mouth followed by that delicious cherry, and wonderful chocolate shell. I knew right then and there that chocolate and cherries were the absolute perfect combination.

That combination is in these muffins, and they are phenomenal. You don’t have to like cherries to like these. They are dense, and chocolaty, and you will be sold with the first bite. Technically, these are muffins, so I give you permission to have them for breakfast. I certainly will, but you could also serve them for dessert, because they have a real Black Forest vibe going on here. Top them with a cherry sauce, split them in half and put a scoop of ice cream in between, and drizzle more chocolate on top, or frost them with your
favorite chocolate frosting. No matter how you want to enjoy these, you are going to love them. So get yourself out to the market, and buy as many fresh bing cherries as you can carry, because they freeze beautifully. Once you taste these muffins, you are going to want to have loads of cherries on hand because you will never stop making or eating them.
Double Chocolate Cherry Muffins
From allrecipes.com

2 1/3 cup flour
1 ¼ cups sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
½  cup whole milk
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 ½ cups
Melissa’s fresh bing cherries, pitted and chopped
1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat an oven to 400° F. Grease 12
jumbo muffin cups, or line them with paper baking cups.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together sour cream, milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and almond extract until well blended. Pour the sour cream mixture into the well, and stir in the flour mixture just until combined. Fold in the cherries and
chocolate chips. Spoon into prepared muffin cups, filling each half full.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack five minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack. Store tightly, covered, at room temperature.

If you are more of a muffin traditionalist, then you might want to give these New York Style Coffee Cake Muffins a try. The family will love them!

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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Blueberry Coffee Cake

I feel about blueberries the same way in which I feel about strawberries, I cannot get enough of their juicy blue goodness. So, I picked up a big container of them, and started baking. Take note of this day. It’s not often that I bake. But, I had seen a recipe for Blueberry Coffee Cake on the Barefeet in the Kitchen blog, and it spoke to me. Am I ever glad that it did; I think this is probably one of the best coffee cakes that I have ever tasted. It is intensely flavorful, loaded with the sweet goodness of fresh blueberries, and the crumb topping takes it over the top. I, unlike the late Mr. O-P, like round coffee cakes, so I baked mine in a 9-inch round pan.

If you like blueberries as much as I do, give this coffee cake a try. My guess is that it would be equally good with chopped fresh bing cherries, or halved raspberries.
Blueberry Coffee Cake
Slightly adapted from Barefeet in the Kitchen

½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 T. lemon zest (I used
Melissa’s Meyer lemons)
2 T. fresh Meyer lemon juice (Melissa’s again)
2 t. vanilla extract
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup sour cream
6 ounces fresh blueberries

2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease an 8” square pan (or like I did, a 9” round pan – this one) with butter (I used Baker’s Joy). In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 6 minutes. Stir in vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until just combined.

In a medium bowl combine flour and baking powder. Place the blueberries into a small bowl and sprinkle with a couple tablespoons of the dry ingredients; stir gently to coat the berries (this keeps them from sinking to the bottom of the coffee cake). Alternately add dry ingredients with sour cream to the butter/sugar mixture, mixing until just combined, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.

Fold in blueberries gently, and pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place flour and sugar for the topping in the same small bowl that held the blueberries, and stir in melted butter. Toss with a fork to combine and sprinkle over the batter in the pan. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean or with moist crumbs. Allow to cool before slicing.

If you love a good coffeecake, and with plum season on the horizon, you MUST try this Plum Streusel Coffee Cake.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Strawberry Syrup

Sometimes my zealousness gets the better of me. I tend to tackle absolutely everything I do with such zeal, that it’s not unusual for me to get a tiny bit carried away. Such was the case when I was in the market the other day shopping for strawberries. I had such a craving for them that I had to have the biggest box available. I bought 4 pounds of them. Four pounds is a lot of strawberries. I ate as many of them as I could, but they were ripening faster than I could keep up with them. I had to do something that would use up those that remained, and yet give me the most use out of those berries.

Obviously, the absolute best thing for me to do was to make strawberry syrup. That may not seem all that obvious to you, but think about it. If you turn your strawberries into strawberry syrup you can flavor all kinds of things. You can make a delicious strawberry lemonade (something I have been wanting to do) without mashing up a bunch of strawberries to do it. You simply make
regular lemonade and add this syrup. You can make strawberry ice cream by stirring this into your recipe for vanilla ice cream, you can make yourself delicious strawberry frappes and shakes, and, hello strawberry margaritas! You can also pour this on top of pancakes, waffles, or French toast for breakfast in the morning, or drizzle it over cheesecake for dessert at night. Bottled attractively, it makes a wonderful gift. (I use these bottles.) The list is absolutely endless. Nothing is more versatile. 
I used it in a smoothie and the flavor was intense!

There are a number of recipes for strawberry syrup online, and, essentially they are all pretty much the same. You clean, hull, and cut up strawberries, throw them into a saucepan, cover them with water, simmer them until all flavor is extracted, strain them, put the juice back into the pan, add sugar, simmer, and Bob’s your uncle. It’s absolutely delicious, has the most beautiful jewel tone color, will keep in the fridge for 10 days to two weeks, and surprise and delight you at every turn.

Strawberry Syrup

1 pound of fresh strawberries
2 cups of filtered water
1 cup granulated sugar

Clean, hull, and dice strawberries, and place them into a medium/large sauce pan. Pour 2 cups of water over them and bring to a low boil. Turn the heat down slightly, and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat, strain, and return syrup to a clean saucepan. Add sugar, bring to a low simmer, and simmer 5 to 6 minutes until sugar is dissolved. Cool, decant into bottles, and store in the fridge. Use as you see fit. Be sure to share your ideas with me.

If you prefer sauce to syrup, you will love this alcohol-infused Fresh Strawberry Sauce.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Slow Cooker Stuffed Pepper Soup

Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that this past week I harvested my first green pepper from my deck garden (with glee). Those who follow me on Facebook also know that less than two days later, something (I suspect the dreaded Japanese beetle) completely defoliated both of my pepper plants. I was not happy. Undaunted, I gathered up and discarded the leaves that had been so viciously torn from the stalk of the plant that I had tended so religiously throughout this blazing hot summer, gave it a good watering, and pressed on. Here’s hoping the plant does the same.

I tasted the pepper, warm from the sun, just after harvesting, as I did my first tomato. It was so amazingly good, and nothing like those that I buy in the market. I decided to make good use of that pepper by making this Stuffed Pepper Soup in the crockpot. Because this homegrown pepper had flavor so much more intense than what I buy at the store, I knew this was going to be extra good. It was! (And I didn’t heat up the kitchen.)
Get cute with your garnishes! Here I used basil flowers.
Slow Cooker Stuffed Pepper Soup

1 pound ground chuck, browned
1 large
Melissa’s French shallot, chopped
½ cup diced
Melissa’s Fire Roasted Red Bell Peppers
½ green bell pepper, diced
1 14-oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1 14-oz. can tomato sauce
1 14-oz. can beef stock
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic salt

½ teaspoon Montreal Steak Seasoning
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups cooked rice

Place everything except the rice into the slow cooker. Cook for 6 to 8 hours on “low,” or 3 to 4 hours on “high.“ Serve topped with a generous scoop of rice.

If you hanker for a soup that is creamy rather than chunky, you will love this Cream of Red Bell Pepper Soup.

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Monday, July 23, 2018

Grilled Portobello Burgers

My number two son is quite the innovative cook. Despite the fact that I have been cooking a heck of a lot longer than he’s even been alive, he never ceases to amaze me with the things that he does. I have no desire to emulate him; I’m too old for that. I like good, relatively easy to prepare, comfort food, that pleases the masses. Unlike him, I have no desire to cook with liquid nitrogen, but like him, I do like to try new things.

Despite my love of mushrooms, prior to today, I had never grilled portobellos before. I couldn’t imagine how they would taste, but because the late Mr. O-P would not have liked them, I never pressed the issue. The other day, when I was in the market mushroom shopping (yes, I do go mushroom shopping), I picked up a couple of them. It has been so unbearably hot all summer long (crankiness abounds!) that I haven’t grilled much, but I figured this would be something that I could grill that would require little effort and time. 

So, as I do, I rummaged around on the Internet and came up with a recipe that sounded decent. I made the herb mayonnaise early in the day, adding a bit more rosemary than called for, because I grow my own and I love it, and I put it into the fridge to allow the flavors to meld. When dinnertime came, I fired up the grill, and while the mushroom was cooking, washed up some beautiful Boston lettuce, toasted the buns, and waited.

I could not believe how good this was. Despite the fact that I have been told they were delicious and meaty tasting, I really never believed that. And while I would take issue with them tasting 100% like meat, they certainly are every bit as satisfying as a burger. My above-mentioned son, cooks burgers on the grill, and serves them in a portobello mushroom. That’s something I’m going to try next. Meanwhile, if you’re a mushroom-loving skeptic like I am, give these a try. You’re apt to be pleasantly surprised. 
Grilled Portobello Burgers
Adapted from epicurious.com

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons grainy Dijon mustard
6 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary, divided
1 garlic clove, minced

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
4 large portobello mushrooms, stems trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of salt, pepper, and Montreal Steak Seasoning

4 brioche buns, toasted
Boston lettuce

Mix mayonnaise, mustard, 2 teaspoons rosemary, and garlic in small bowl.

Spray grill rack with nonstick spray, then prepare barbecue (medium heat). Brush mushrooms all over with olive oil. Sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon rosemary, salt, pepper, and Montreal Steak Seasoning. Grill until tender, about 10 minutes per side.

Spread mayonnaise mixture over buns. Place mushrooms and lettuce on bun bottoms. Cover with bun tops.

If you are an indoor burger kind of person, you will swoon over these Famous-Barr John White Burgers.

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Friday, July 20, 2018

Homemade Pastrami

Last March, just before St. Patrick’s Day, when the corned beef was on sale everywhere, I bought two of them. Why, I asked myself, should I just buy one? Why, when I love this so much, do I only make it once a year? Right then and there, I vowed to take a walk on the wild side and buy two. And so I did. I turned one into a beautiful St. Patrick’s Day dinner, the other I put into the freezer. I had completely forgotten about that second corned beef, until I attempted to shove something into my way-too-full freezer, and it dislodged itself and landed on my naked toe. A 4-pound corned beef can do a lot of damage when landing on an innocent toe, but I digress.

It seemed like no accident that this dislodged itself on the same day that I found a recipe online for homemade pastrami. I had never eaten pastrami before, but I used to read Ellery Queen books, and he and his dad used to eat pastrami sandwiches from a New York deli all of the time. I used to ask the late Mr. O-P why we never had pastrami (he was the grocery shopper in our house), and was told that he never got it locally because it was always fatty. Huh, my mother used to say the same thing, so up until now, I have led a pastrami-less life.

But, as I said, I occasionally like to take a walk on the wild side, so I decided I was going to make this recipe. I mentioned this to my number two son, who enjoys cooking a good deal. He eagerly awaited results.  I told him that it was juicy, tender, flavorful, delicious, but because I had never eaten pastrami, I honestly couldn’t say how good it was. Don’t get me wrong, it was excellent, but did it taste like pastrami, who knew? So, I asked him what pastrami tasted like. He told me that it tasted a lot like corned beef, except it has a wonderful spicy seasoning on top that gave it zing and flavor. Bingo! That’s exactly how this tastes!
Despite a recipe that looks a bit lengthy, this could not have been easier to prepare. Before I went to bed one night I put it into the crockpot to let it slow cook all night long and into the morning, and awakened to a heavenly aroma. After that, all I needed to do was remove it to the refrigerator for six or more hours, and then bake it. Honestly, the hands-on time here was probably only about 10 minutes. What fabulous results, for such little prep time.

Whether you like pastrami, or whether you don’t, you are going to love this. I didn’t have any rye bread, but next time I’m going to plan ahead. There is a fabulous German bakery not far from my house that makes the most amazing rye bread that is only available one day a week. Next time I’m working around them.
Homemade Pastrami
As seen on the blog Recipe Tin Eats

1 4-pound corned beef, with a thick fat cap

Spice Mix:
 4 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper*
2 tablespoons coriander powder
1 ½ teaspoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder

*I used
Melissa’s Organic Rainbow Peppercorn Grinder, it yields the freshest, most delicious pepper.

In a small bowl, combine spice mix ingredients; spread mix out onto a tray. Remove beef from packaging, pat dry, and then roll in spice mix, coating completely.

Place beef, fat side down, on top of a large sheet of heavy-duty foil. Wrap carefully, and then repeat again with another sheet of foil. Flip the beef so that the fat is on top.

Place rack in slow cooker (I used
this one), place foil-wrapped beef on rack. Slow cook for 10 hours on “low.”

Remove beef, cool for one hour, then refrigerate for 6+ hours. Reserve juices in slow cooker (optional).

Unwrap beef, place on rack on tray, place beef on top of rack, bake for 30 minutes at 350° until spice crust is set. Remove from oven to a cutting board and slice finely. If desired, place some pastrami in a dish, spoon reserved juices over top, cover and microwave to warm, if desired.
Pile high on toasted rye bread slathered with plenty of mustard and a pickle along side, use in Reuben sandwiches, or just enjoy as is. It’s hard to stop eating it. This will kick the offerings from your local deli (unless your local deli is Katz’s in New York) right to the curb. You don’t need them anymore.

You might want to top your pastrami with My Favorite Mustard Sauce.

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