Sunday, April 14, 2024

Brie Careful What You Wish For, a Grilled Cheese Mystery, Reviewed

This is the first time that I have read anything by this author, having not heard of this culinary mystery series before. I have to be honest with you, what drew me to Brie Careful What You Wish For, aside from the rather charming cover (Yes, I do judge books by their covers.) was the fact that the main character in the book, Carly Hale, operated a grilled cheese restaurant, and recipes were promised at the end of the story. I am an avid fan of grilled cheese sandwiches of all kinds, like books that offer recipes, and am rarely let down. That is until this one, where only two were provided, neither of which, alas, really blew my skirt up, but I digress.

 One thing that I didn’t like about this book, besides the cutesy title, was the repeated mention of the pandemic. First of all, I think in the long run that’s going to date this book. Second, I think that is a time that is best left behind all of us, so mere mention raised my hackles just a bit. I’m also wondering how she manages to stay in business considering she gives away so much food, I know, it’s fiction, but that annoyed me because it seemed as though she gave away more food than she sold, and I found that unbelievable.

 All of that said, the book is nicely paced with largely likable characters in a vibrant setting. The mystery is a good one, and the culprit surprised me, something I always find pleasing. I found the restaurant setting to be a lot of fun. I enjoyed reading about the customers, the goings on in the kitchen, and all of those delicious sounding grilled cheese sandwiches. I would have liked the lesser characters to have been a bit more developed than they were, but that is easily overlooked.

 I would have appreciated (and this is not just limited to this book, but most books in general) a listing of characters at the beginning of the book to refer back to during the course of my reading.

 All in all, I think this is a good, solid, four stars, and I would recommend it.

 You can purchase a copy here.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Beyond the Page publishers for providing me with an advanced digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday, April 12, 2024

Jamie Oliver’s Minestrone

I recently read an article about an Italian family who boasted longevity. Family members would routinely live well into their upper 90s many even into the hundreds; the most recent member of their family to pass did so at the age of 109. When asked to what they attributed their longevity, a spokesperson from the family said that every day for lunch they had a bowl of minestrone, a piece of bread, and a glass of wine. Guess who has altered her lunch plans from here on out? Yes, that would be me. I decided to try a different recipe for minestrone than the one that I generally use, and chose this one by Jamie Oliver. This is the first time that I have ever used kale in soup, and I really liked it. Now for that piece of bread and glass of wine..catch you later.

Jamie Oliver’s Minestrone

Slightly adapted

 1 clove of garlic

2 small onions

Extra virgin olive oil

2 bay leaves

2 carrots

2 ribs celery

2 large handfuls of curly kale

1 14.5-oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes

1 15.5-oz. can cannellini beans

1 15-oz. can kidney beans

1 T. vegetable soup base

½ c. ditalini pasta

Parmesan cheese

Crusty bread, to serve

 Peel and finely chop the garlic and onion. Put a large shallow casserole pan on a medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Add the garlic and the bay leaves, followed by the onions.

Trim and chop the carrots and celery into rough ¼” dice, adding to the pan as you go. Remove and finely chop any tough stalks from your greens and add to the pan. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring regularly, or until softened and caramelized.

 Add the vegetable stock, tomatoes, beans, and a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

 Shred your greens and sprinkle into the pan, add soup base, and top up with 4 c. of boiling water. Add the pasta, cover, and leave to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the pasta is just cooked and the soup has thickened to your liking.  

 Season the soup to perfection, then serve it with a grating of Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

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Thursday, April 11, 2024

Springtime Brunch Tablescape

 I don’t know about the rest of you gardeners out there, but I get very eager for seed planting long before I’m able to do so. As tempting as it is to plant seeds on the warm days that we have in April, I know there are going to be some cold, plant-killing frosts before we reach the second week in May, after which it is safe to plant for those of us who live in Zone 6B.
As a consequence, I feel compelled to do tables with a gardening theme, so this is my offering for the month of April. The
seed packets scattered about on the tablecloth are part of a set. I am so excited about these because it will allow me to grow things that I haven’t grown before -- at least from seed -- scallions, for example. Fingers crossed that they grow.  
The Sonemone dinner plates that I used in this table are a recent acquisition. They struck me as being Scandinavian, and because I’m such a big fan of Scandi noir, I had to have them. Plus, they’re so different from everything else that I have.

  I paired them with round woven placemats atop of which I placed Bordallo Pinheiro geranium leaf chargers
 Picking up the salmon pink in the plates, I decided to use my salmon water and juice glasses (pattern unknown) that I bought straight out of college. I fell in love with these because they were the perfect match for a set of Fitz and Floyd “Coquilles” dishes that I spent years buying piecemeal as I could afford them. Funnily enough, I seem to have lost track of those.
The wine glass that I chose featured blue hydrangeas that echo the blue hydrangeas the bunnies are holding in the centerpiece. This glass is by Portmeirion.
Also from Portmerion is the cup and saucer. The glass and the cup and saucer are a part of their vast “Botanic Garden” and “Garden Harmony” collections. I find this entire set irresistible, but my wallet says no.

The “Urban Villa” green napkins are from Amazon, the silverware, also included in last month’s table setting was a gift from a friend and is by International in the “Contessa” pattern.
The pair of bunnies at center is reused from my Easter table. They work well in a garden theme, although most gardeners do not want bunnies in their gardens. The little stand holding the brunch menu I got from Michael’s years ago. I don’t use it nearly as often as I should. I have decided that I am going to find one of my mother’s handwritten recipes and use this stand to display it in my kitchen.
 Hopefully, enjoying meals at this table will satisfy me until I can get out and plant those seeds.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Melissa’s Potato Leek Soup Kit

Photo credit: Melissa’s Produce
Recently, I have been telling you about all of the wonderful kits that are offered by Melissa's Produce. Another “kit” that they offer is one for making potato leek soup, available year round. Each kit consists of 2 6-ounce packages of Cleaned and Sliced Leeks, 1 bag of Baby Dutch Yellow Potatoes®, 1 3-oz. package of shallots, 1 package jumbo garlic, 1 bunch fresh thyme, and 1 bunch fresh curly parsley. (It does not include the whole leeks as shown in the picture.) Having happily used their Cleaned and Sliced Leeks in the past, I can tell you that they are a wonderful time saver.

When I received the kit, I was a bit surprised in that it wasn’t exactly a kit, per se, but all of the components used to make potato leek soup. Also, and this was a bit troublesome, there was no precise recipe for doing so. So, I developed my own recipe using the ingredients that they sent, and it is delicious! I know this is not really soup season, but the great thing about potato leek soup is that it is just as good chilled as it is warm.

 Bon Appétit!

Potato Leek Soup

 3 T. butter

2 6-oz. pkgs. Melissa’s cleaned and sliced leeks

1 shallot, peeled and smashed

3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1 3-lb. bag Baby Dutch Yellow Potatoes®, cleaned & halved

7 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1/4 c. chopped parsley, reserve some for garnish

3 sprigs thyme

1 t. kosher salt

¼ t. freshly ground black pepper

1 c. heavy cream

 In a medium stockpot, melt butter. Add the leeks, shallot, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until wilted, about 8-10 minutes.

 Add the potatoes, stock, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper to pot and bring to a boil. Cover, turn the heat down to medium/low, and simmer for 20 minutes.

 Remove the thyme sprigs and purée with an immersion blender until smooth. Swirl in heavy cream and serve immediately garnished with reserved parsley.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Bananas Foster Bread Pudding

Opening day of the baseball season always makes me nervous. That’s why I generally plan to do something and watch baseball in the periphery so as not to be let down. As luck would have it, I wasn’t, but I digress. This is a recipe that I have had around for ages. It’s from St. Louis’s “Feast” magazine. I had cut it out years ago with the intention of making it, and never did. I thought today would be a good day to do that, so I did. It is wonderful! You can read about how it came to be here.

 On a damp, chilly, windy day like today to be followed by a darned cold night, this is going to be a welcome evening addition with a cup of tea. By the way, I cut this recipe in half and baked it in an 8” x 8” square pan. It worked out perfectly. I’ll also add that the banana bread is good all on its own.

Bananas Foster Bread Pudding

As seen in Feast Magazine

Banana Bread (Yields 2 large loaves)

3¾ c. flour

1½ t. baking soda

4 overripe bananas

2¼ c. tightly packed brown sugar

1 t. kosher salt

½ c. canola oil

4 large eggs

2 t. vanilla extract

5 oz. whole milk, divided


½ c. tightly packed brown sugar

1 t. kosher salt

1 T. vanilla extract

2 T. dark rum

4 large eggs

1 c. whole milk

3 c. heavy cream

Foster Sauce

½ c. unsalted butter

1 c. tightly packed brown sugar

1 t. vanilla extract

½ t. ground cinnamon

½ t. kosher salt

1 T. honey

¼ c. heavy cream

¼ c. banana liqueur*

¼ c. dark rum

1 c. pecan pieces, toasted

Preparation – Banana Bread:Preheat oven to 350°F.

Butter and flour 2 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. **

 In a mixing bowl, sift flour and baking soda; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat bananas, brown sugar and salt on medium speed until smooth. With mixer running, add oil, eggs and vanilla until combined. Reduce mixer to low, add ¹⁄₃ dry ingredients and ½ milk; repeat until fully incorporated. Divide evenly between 2 prepared pans; bake until golden brown, 55 to 60 minutes. Cool bread in pans for 10 minutes.

Preparation – Custard: In a mixing bowl, whisk all ingredients together until smooth and thoroughly combined.

Preparation – Foster Sauce: In a sauce pot over medium-high heat, heat all ingredients except alcohol and pecans until thick and bubbly, 5 minutes, stirring. Remove from heat, add liqueur, rum and pecans. Allow to cool.

Assembly: Preheat oven to 350°F. Cube bread and add to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour custard over top and bake until firm, 45 to 60 minutes. Pour cooled sauce over bread pudding and bake 10 minutes more. Serve.

 *I did not have this and didn’t intend to buy it, so I just doubled up on the rum.

 **This is too much work. I just sprayed the heck out of the pan with Baker’s Joy.

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Monday, April 8, 2024

Pasta with Lemon, Ricotta, and Spinach

I watch a lot of Italian television, and in the shows that I watch, they cook and they eat. One thing I have noticed when they cook pasta is that they don’t drain it. They use tongs and they take pasta right from the boiling water, and drop it into whatever sauce they happen to be using. That strikes me as immensely practical. It spares you the draining process (and dirtying another dish), and setting aside some pasta water to stir it to make sauce creamy, because the pasta that you have removed from the pan of boiling water already has enough adhered to it.  I put that style of pasta making to use when I made this dish, and I don’t think I will make pasta any other way.  
This dish is very light and refreshing. It’s the perfect springtime pasta.

  Pasta with Lemon, Ricotta, and Spinach

 8 oz. spaghetti

½ 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach

1 c. whole-milk ricotta

1 T. extra virgin olive oil

1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese

1 large garlic clove, grated

1 lemon, zest and juice

¼ - ½ t. kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package directions until al dente.

 Cook spinach according to microwave package directions.; set aside to coo; slightly while you make the ricotta sauce. 

In a medium mixing bowl, combine ricotta, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, garlic, lemon zest and juice, salt, and pepper. fold i  cooled, cooked spinach until combined.

 When pasta has finished cooking, use a tongs to extract it from the cooking pot, placing pasta directly into ricotta sauce. Toss with the tongs until evenly coated with the sauce, and serve immediately. If you'd like it creamier, feel free to add up to 1/2 cup pasta water.

 Makes 2 main dish portions, or 4 side dish portions.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Honey Butter Chicken Biscuits

Have you seen the price of fast food lately? Shocking! I am not one who generally eats fast food so wasn’t aware of the huge increase in prices. Recently someone posted the receipt for the purchase of a burger and fries from Five Guys online, and it was nearly $27. For a burger and fries! That’s why I have pretty much decided to make my own fast food at home, even though it’s not so fast when you do it yourself.
These took a lot more time than I had anticipated. They are simple to make, but it takes a little time to set up a dipping station, bake biscuits (I’m not overly fond of the refrigerated biscuits, so I made my own), make the honey butter, and get oil to heat up to 350°. That said, these were really delicious. I used one chicken breast, so I ended up with four little chicken patties. I had two for lunch one day with the biscuits, and the other two I had the next day sliced on top of a salad. They were still crispy and delicious even after spending a night in the fridge. Because the breading is Panko, I found it separated a bit from the seasoning so next time I’m going to sprinkle some Slap Ya Mama on top of the chicken as well as using it in the breading.
Honey Butter Chicken Biscuits

 2 chicken breasts, cut in half lengthwise and cut in half to make 4 pieces from each breast

2 c. panko bread crumbs, crushed

2 t. Slap Ya Mama seasoning

2 t. paprika

2 t. black pepper

1 t. garlic powder

2 large eggs

¼ c. heavy cream

Vegetable oil, for frying

½ c. butter

¼ c. hot honey

1 can Pillsbury biscuits, 8 count

In a shallow dish, combine the panko bread crumbs with all of the seasonings, mix well.

 In another shallow dish, whisk together the eggs and heavy cream.

 Dredge each chicken bite in the egg mixture and then into the breadcrumb mixture.

 Heat oil in a large frying pot over medium-high heat. Fry chicken bites, in batches, for 7-8 minutes or until golden brown and completely cooked through. Remove and place on a plate lined with paper towels.

Place biscuits on a baking sheet and bake according to package directions, or until biscuits are golden.

 In a small microwave bowl, heat butter until softened/slightly melted.

 Mix honey into butter and stir to combine.

Cut biscuits in half and add a piece of chicken to each biscuit.

 Drizzle the chicken with honey and brush the tops of the biscuits with the honey butter. Enjoy.

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