Hail Caesar!

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Caesar Salad - Simple & Satisfying

Caesar Salad – Simple & Satisfying

I’ve been on a Caesar Salad binge for about a month now…crispy heads of Romaine, salty homemade croutons, and creamy dressing: what could be bad about this?  I have all the fixins prepared ahead of time, and most days I indulge shamelessly and consume a nice amount of Caesar.  Lettuce counts as a vegetable in my eyes.

From what I can remember, Caesar salad has been around as long as I’ve been an adult – in other words for a long, long time.  Other salad trends come and go, but Caesar is a staple and beloved by so many young and old.  And it seems like everyone has a favorite Caesar salad recipe.  Many cooks love the drama and flash involved with making this tableside with a wood bowl, a whisk and elbow grease.  But me?  I’ve never been a showman, I should say show-woman.  All I care about is that the final creation I make brings joy to me and to those I am feeding   

This is one of my recipes I made by the gallon back in my catering life.  Everyone asked about our Caesar, and ironically I landed a few jobs just because of this simple salad.  While I was a business person, I never dared divulge my tried and true catering recipes.  And now?  If you ask me for a recipe, I’ll gladly share with you!  

I simplified my catering recipe even further since I now own a Nutribullet – although a blender works just dandy too.  I don’t even bother to grate the parmesan cheese, but weight out what I need and let the blender do all the work.  And everything goes in at once, making this a breeze. The version I’m sharing has anchovy paste because I love the salty flavor, but if this doesn’t float your boat just skip the anchovy and add Worcestershire sauce.  

It's all about the dressing...

It’s all about the dressing…

Blender Caesar Dressing

Makes 1 ¼ cups dressing

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Ingredients
  • 1 whole egg (supposed to be coddled for a minute – I used a pasteurized egg instead but you can read how to do this here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coddled_egg)
  • ½ cup high quality grated Italian Parmesan/Reggiano cheese-eyeball it or if you have a kitchen scale,r simply weigh out a  2 ounce chunk of cheese
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (1 large lemon + add unseasoned rice vinegar if you don’t have quite enough juice from one large lemon)
  • ½ teaspoon anchovy paste (If you don’t like anchovy, use one teaspoon Worcestershire sauce)
  • 2 whole cloves garlic
  • ½ tsp fresh black pepper ground
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ cup salad oil (not olive oil – I use canola oil)
Instructions

To begin with – HAVE EVERYTHING (eggs, lemon, cheese and anchovy paste)  AT ROOM TEMPERATURE!  If the ingredients aren’t at room temp, you’ll have to slowly drizzle in the oil at the end.

Add all the ingredients including the oil to a Nutribullet or whirl using a blender, run the motor until everything is smooth.  This takes me about 20 seconds.      

Pour into a glass container and refrigerate at least an hour or up to a week.  Let stand at room temp 15 minutes before serving.

To compose the salad, use chopped or whole leaves of Romaine lettuce and fresh croutons too.  

Cook’s notes:  

Be sure to make homemade croutons! Just cube up a denser (usually leftover) baguette bread into ¾ inch pieces (I use a small loaf from Macrina bakery from my beloved neighborhood Metropolitan Market called “Giusseppe Roll”).  Coat the cubes with half a tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt, then bake 325 for ten minutes – or until the cubes are brown.  Cool and store at room temperature.  I usually make a bunch of these for the week and briefly pop them in the toaster oven at 300 degrees for a few minutes to freshen them up before I toss my salad. I’ve also made the salad a bit unique by using leftover rye bread for croutons.  It’s surprisingly great.

It’s not traditional, but I often add halved cherry tomatoes and avocado to my Caesar.  Or I add cherry tomatoes  along with fresh mint and oregano.  I”m shameless.

And finally, if you aren’t into cheese, you can make this eliminating the parmesan — you’ll end up with a creamy, garlicy lemony dressing that is mighty fine.

And finally finally: my grandkids love this salad!

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Consummate Chinese Chicken Salad

As spring approaches it’s getting to be salad time again! So I’m re-posting one of my most beloved recipes … a real crowd-pleaser! (Originally posted in August 2012)

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Click here to view recipe.

Colorful Chinese Chicken Salad

The popular dish Americans label with the name “Chinese Chicken Salad” has absolutely no ties to China and does not resemble the food found anywhere in the Far East. Because most Chinese Chicken salad dressing recipes include “traditional” Chinese ingredients (i.e. soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, and sesame seeds), I suppose I understand my countrymen’s insistence on the name. But when it comes to incorporating ingredients like ramen noodles or fried won ton wrappers (no thank you) or mandarin oranges (double no thank you) – I draw the line.

Regardless of my reservations about the title of this dish, I must admit that this salad is a “go to” item to have on hand for the summer – especially for large groups or visitors who tend to arrive without much notice. I have the greens, the peppers and such in one bag, the nuts and sesame seeds and herbs and chicken ready to go, the dressing pre made. And voila! It takes me exactly one minute to either pack a lunch or to serve this to anyone who drops by. Everything stays fresh as can be for five days or even longer, and those who have had this salad at my home rave about the unusual flavors.

Fresh Ingredients

It is pretty much a no brainer – not really “cooking” per se but toasting nuts and seeds, and preparing everything else in advance…chopping – lots of chopping. Whenever I roast or make rotisserie chicken on the BBQ, I do an extra bird so I can save it to shred for lunches. If  I am feeling very lazy or haven’t planned ahead, a store bought rotisserie chicken works too. Just remove the skin and take the meat off the bones. The carcass can always be used for stock that same week or frozen for items like risotto.

Note: Really anything fresh and seasonal could be added to this mix. The other night I added sliced fresh radishes, leftover roasted green beans, farmers market English cucumber batons, and some tiny cherry tomatoes from my rooftop garden. I put the salad ingredients in a 6-cup sealed container, poured some dressing in a repurposed bottle, stuck in a plastic fork and a few napkins and when noon rolled around I merely poured the dressing on top, sealed the container and shook the whole thing. Such a lunch!!

Handy Dandy Container for lunch

The recipe below originated from a friend of a friend and many changes have been made from my global kitchens.

Consummate Chinese Chicken Salad

Makes 10-12 large servings

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Ingredients for the dressing:
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • ½ cup tamari
  • 2 tsp. black pepper
  • 4 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 ½ tsp. fresh ginger-peeled and grated on a microplane grater
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
  • ½ cup canola oil
Instructions:

Heat sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved, then add the rest of the ingredients and keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. The salad has a kick to it from the mustard, pepper and ginger, so back off on these ingredients if you like milder flavors.

Ingredients for the salad:
  • 1 large head or two regular size heads of Napa cabbage, sliced 1/8 inch
  • 1 large head romaine, sliced the same as the cabbage
  • 3 julienned carrots, 1 ½ inch, done on a hand held peeler like you use for green papaya
  • 2 red peppers, cut into matchstick pieces 1 ½ inch by 1/8 inch
  • 1 yellow pepper, cut like the red one
  • 2 cups edamame beans, cooked (I buy them frozen and already shelled – just defrost them)
  • 4 cups snow peas, trimmed and cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 2 lb. shredded cooked chicken
  • ¾ cup chopped cilantro
  • ¾ cup mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 cup toasted slivered almonds (I bake them at 350 for 3 minutes in the toaster)
  • Optional: sunflower or bean sprouts, sliced radishes, halved grape tomatoes or anything else you like

I keep all of this separate from the dressing with the lettuce/cabbage mixture in a huge bag, and another container with veggies etc. That way at the last minute you can make one or two servings of salad. OR you can make a huge bowl of this for company.

You can easily make half of this recipe if you wish.

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Super Sour Cream Pecan Coffee Cake

Want your house to smell insanely decadent in the morning? Whip this one up! (Originally posted in November 2013)

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Click here to view recipe.

Piece of cake!

Piece of cake!

This is another special recipe from  my “favorites” category.  This old fashioned, rich coffee cake frequently appears for brunch or breakfast celebrations at my home, and when it bakes in the oven the entire house smells like butter and vanilla.  I’ve had numerous requests for this particular coffee cake over the years.  Nothing could be easier or as foolproof as this formula!

The next time you have company for brunch, serve this with coffee or tea.  It makes a large cake pan full and I often freeze half of it.  Just a sliver of this perfectly balanced cake satisfies anyone’s sweet tooth… I’ve even been known to serve this for dessert following dinner!

Pan full of goodness - ready for the oven

Pan full of goodness – ready for the oven

Sour Cream Pecan Coffee Cake

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Cake ingredients:
  • 1 cup salted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
Topping ingredients
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 c dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped  pecans
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Instructions:

Have all ingredients at room temperature.  Position a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Grease with butter and flour the bottom and sides of a 9 x 12 cake pan and set aside.

Combine flour, soda and salt and stir well and put aside.

Cream butter and sugar for four minutes, then add eggs one at a time until well blended. Add vanilla and then the sour cream, making sure it is incorporated.

Quickly add the flour mixture in two batches and mix until combined.  Put batter in the cake pan, evening out the top.  The raw mixture is thick and can be a bit difficult to spread.

Combine topping ingredients, mix thoroughly and evenly sprinkle on top of the cake.  Press down lightly with the palms of your hands all over the top so the sugar-nut mixture doesn’t come off.  Bake for 30+ minutes.  BE SURE IT IS DONE by testing with a toothpick.  Remove to a rack and cool completely.  Covered, this stays moist at room temperature for 4-5 days or can be frozen for up to two months.

 

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Perfect Poached Eggs (by request!)

The Perfect "Poached" Egg

The Perfect “Poached” Egg

There was a time back in the day when eggs were pretty much forbidden for having saturated fat, raising cholesterol, all of it.  Yet I’ve always loved eggs.  My late father used to drive an egg truck, and he adored eggs;  he instilled in me and all of my siblings to this day an appreciation for fresh, amazing eggs. In fact, one of my sisters raises chickens that lay beautiful, colorful, scrumptious eggs just so she can enjoy the freshest of the fresh.

My favorite, simple way to cook eggs is to poach them – well, technically I guess I actually steam the eggs since they aren’t cooked directly in the simmering water.  For years I  struggled to make the eggs look more professional.  Vinegar or salt in the water, swirling the boiling water so the egg whites would form a neat disc.  AND THEN, about ten years ago I was in Vancouver, British Columbia, in an Asian market no less, where I saw these silicone “pods”.  Hmmmm.  I usually don’t go for cooking gadgets or unnecessary paraphernalia, but I bought them, I tried them, and out came the most perfectly done, gorgeous eggs I have seen.  Now these pods have morphed into a  gift for friends and family who happen to be egg lovers.

The Poaching Pod

The Poaching Pod

It’s so easy.  Using a shallow sauce pan, put about 1 ½  inches of water inside and bring it to a boil.  Meanwhile, butter the inside of these pods and crack an egg inside each one, then carefully lower the pod into the simmering water.  Cover with a lid, set the timer for four minutes (that is, if the eggs are taken straight out of the refrigerator) for soft yolks (or more or less depending on your taste).  Then remove the lid, and lift each pod out carefully using tongs.  I tilt the pod the get rid of water condensation, then go around the rim of the egg with a spoon to loosen it.  Slide the egg into a saucer and voila!

This has been an easy project I do with my seven year old grandson.  I do the stove part but he greases the pod, cracks the egg into a measuring cup (keep it close to the bottom of the cup, not in the air).  He then pours the egg into the pod.  Of course we had one egg land on the counter and one land on the floor, but that is part of the learning curve.

Zay Helping Out

Zay Helping Out

An adult needs to lower the pod into the water to cook and remove the lid and pods after they are finished.  I had him loosen the egg around the rim and slide it into the saucer.  My grandson pronounced this the best egg he has ever eaten!  The egg white is cooked, the yolk is runny.   This goes along with my mantra that food you make yourself always tastes better.

Think about getting a couple of these silicone pods as gifts for nieces, nephews, grandkids, spouses.  I don’t buy my grandkids clothing or fru fru things, but I love to find kitchen tools or interesting craft ideas for gifts.

My neighborhood grocery store carries these in the kitchenware department, or you can order them on Amazon.com, 2 for $ 6.49.

Now get crackin’!!

 

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Luscious Lamb Shanks

SUCH a delicious winter meal … I just had to share again! (Originally posted in January 2013)

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Click here to view recipe.

Lamb Shanks, Sweet Potatoes & Vegetables

We have been to New Zealand twice: the first trip we covered parts of the North and a few areas of the South Island — and didn’t feel like we’d seen nearly enough. Two years later we returned and spent two weeks in the South Island and this time we knew the ropes and decided to do things a little differently. We rented a Mauri camper van for travel and lodging, staying in motels only two times. The campgrounds were not crowded and featured nice bathrooms with showers, washers and dryers and hook ups for electricity and sewage as well. Oddly we did not see even one other American in the campgrounds!

New Zealand Sheep! (the little white spots in the background)

I make no apologies for the fact that I love lamb – lamb shanks, lamb stews, ground lamb, lamb chops, leg of lamb. And New Zealand is the “Land of Sheep” – they are everywhere and so it made great sense that lamb shank was on the menu of every single pub we visited. I venture to say that during our trip we had lamb shanks at casual eateries at least five times a week. Each preparation was different but I cannot tell you that any of the dishes were less than wonderful. In New Zealand, shanks are traditionally served with various vegetables and a heap of mashed “kumara,” a term they use for sweet potatoes.

While I was there I picked up three cookbooks by a New Zealand cookbook author and TV show doyenne, Annabelle Langbein; her name consistently came up when I asked natives for a good New Zealand cookbook author. Indeed! She is the equivalent of the Barefoot Contessa in my book, and I have used Annabelle’s books not only for lamb recipes but for inspiration when making vegetables, salads and other dishes. The only caveat is that I need to convert grams to ounces and oven temperatures from Centigrade to Fahrenheit. I love mathematics so it makes it challenging for me! (It’s easy to convert via the internet though)

The lamb shank preparation I love the most began with a recipe from Annabelle’s cookbook Assemble. I had to search in Seattle for lamb shanks that we not enormous (fore shanks are smaller and I greatly prefer them). I also found it interesting that lamb from Australia and New Zealand is grass fed and most likely organic – and I found the perfect shanks at … Safeway! Go figure…

Make these on a cold Sunday, and mash some sweet potatoes to soak up the savory juices. Roast some Brussels sprouts, green beans or brocollini and you will have a filling, beautiful plate of food. Invite some friends over, and pretend that these were very difficult and time consuming to prepare! You’ll be a star, I promise.

Key Ingredients

Luscious Lamb Shanks

Serves 4

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Ingredients
  • 4-5 lamb shanks
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ⅓ tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 cup sun dried tomatoes, diced* (I always keep these as a kitchen staple in my fridge. Mine are in oil so I drain them and use these)
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste (a good reason to have a tube of this in my fridge)
  • 1 Tbsp pesto (I keep this frozen in my freezer in 1 Tbsp quantities for cooking, but jarred pesto is fine too)
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp each fine sea salt , ground pepper and sugar (remember the sugar combats acidity from the tomatoes)
  • Grated zest of 1 large lemon
  • 3 cups chicken broth-homemade or canned is fine too
  • 1 cup dry vermouth or white wine (again, I always keep vermouth in the fridge since I do not drink white wine)
  • 2 cans white butter beans, drained or 3 cups home-cooked white beans (any variety except garbanzo)
Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and put oven rack close to the bottom. Line a roasting pan with parchment paper (for easier clean up). Dry the shanks very thoroughly with a towel, then rub the shanks all over with the salt and pepper. Place in the roasting pan in the oven uncovered for about 40 minutes until shanks are a little browned. Remove and pour off fat at the bottom of the roasting pan (mine had about ½ cup of liquid I poured off). Turn oven down to 325 degrees.

Sprinkle diced sundried tomatoes around the shanks – tucking them in so they are evenly distributed. Then mix together all the rest of the ingredients, then pour everything else over the shanks. Cover the roaster and keep cooking for three hours, basting every 45 minutes or so until they are fall-off-the-bone-tender. I often take the lid off the roasting pan 15 minutes before it is done so that the lamb browns a little more and the juices concentrate.

Serve in a large bowl on top of a heap of mashed sweet potatoes and steamed or roasted vegetables around the lamb for color. In a pinch I have even used frozen veggies (a mix of corn, carrot and peas).

If making this ahead – and I often make the lamb the day prior to serving – the lamb fat can be removed then the lamb and liquid can be reheated in the roasting pan at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.

FYI, cooked lamb shanks freeze quite well in a little of the juice for up to 3 months.

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Things I Love – Spicy Mayan Chocolate Cookies

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I figured I’d share this delicious cookie recipe again. Just perfect for the one you love. (Originally posted in February 2014)

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Click here to view recipe.

Marvelous Cookies (and milk)

Marvelous Cookies (and milk)

I cannot believe I am writing about yet another type of dessert I’ve just made.  If we spoke face to face, I’d assure you that I prefer savory food, that I don’t like weird (to me) combinations like cayenne and black pepper and chocolate and cinnamon and coffee altogether, ever.  So when my middle sister Susan came to town last November and announced that she wanted to make these concoctions for Thanksgiving, I protested heartily, confident in my belief that they wouldn’t do a thing for me.

BOY WAS I WRONG!  She pulled a few out of the oven and gave me a tiny bag (just five cookies) of these to take home.  I popped one into my mouth as I was driving back from the knitting shop and …Oh-My-Goodness.  The flavors were subtle and the spiciness came at the end of the bite.  I begged for the recipe, which Susan got from her friend Jill who got it from Momofuku in New York.  A close version appeared all over the internet with minor variations as well, some adding nuts, some with semi-sweet chocolate, some with more or less spice, some with allspice, some rolled in cinnamon..some recipes posted as far back as 2002.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, I suppose.

Susan’s cookie recipe is now included with my computer recipes under “cookies” … but also under “things I love.”  And I’m sharing her recipe with you.  These one or two bite beauties are the perfect ending to a nice meal, just my style.  And the word “Mayan” in the recipe?  Ha!  Mayan refers to a culture or civilization of indigenous people mainly in Central America who had a big hand in discovering the wonderful world of chocolate.  I’ve visited Mayan ruins in Belize, Mexico and Guatemala so the word resonates with me.

Just wait until you bite into this plain looking cookie and dark warm chocolate comes forth, followed by an intoxicatingly spicy aftertaste.  Just wait…

Balls of love

Balls of love

Mayan Chocolate Cookies

…via Susan via Jill via Momofuko but who knows where the recipe originated: with my changes and explanations

Yield about 3 dozen cookies

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Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup (1 ½ sticks) salted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided ( ¾ for the dry ingredients/dough and ¼ for rolling the cookies)
  • 1 1⁄2 cups all purpose flour
  • 
1 1⁄2 tsp aluminum free baking powder
  • 
1⁄2 tsp fine sea salt
 or table salt
  • 1⁄2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 
1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • 
1⁄4 tsp fine ground black pepper (I used pre-ground)
  • 
3⁄4 cup unsweetened Scharfenberger or other great quality cocoa powder
  • 
1 large egg, room temperature
  • 
2 tsp pure vanilla
 extract
  • 1⁄2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (I use Guittard 60% -they are pretty big so if you prefer semi sweet chocolate chips, use five per cookie rather than three)
Instructions:

Sift flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, espresso powder, cayenne, ground pepper and cocoa powder in a medium bowl and stir to combine.

In a small cup combine egg and vanilla.

Using an electric micr beat butter with 3/4 cup sugar for six minutes on high speed.  This will make the cookies lighter in texture, so don’t omit this step.  I actually set a timer, impatient person that I am.  Lower speed and add egg and vanilla until incorporated.

Add sifted dry ingredients together in three batches and stop the mixer when everything is evenly combined.  Do not overmix.

Cover the bowl of dough and refrigerate (it will be thick) for a half hour.

Preheat oven to 350.

Roll a piece of dough the size of a walnut (about 1 inch in diameter) in between the palms of your hand. Press an indentation in the center of the ball  and place three of the large chocolate chips in the center, and then mold the dough around the chips. Roll into a smooth ball and coat in the 1⁄4 cup sugar that was set aside. Place on parchment paper on baking sheet.  I put 18 cookies per sheet since they don’t spread much.

Bake for eight minutes.  Let them cool on the cookie sheets.They form cute little half domes. Let them rest five minutes or so.

Note: these are the best right out of the oven while the centers are gooey and chocolaty.  OR I put the pre-baked, room temperature cookies in my handy preheated toaster oven at 300 degrees for two minutes.  OR I zap a few in the microwave for 8 seconds.  In addition,  I roll the raw cookies in sugar, just like before baking them but “flash freeze” the raw balls of dough on a parchment lined cookie sheet in the freezer.  Once solid I store them in a ziplock container, then remove a few for 45 minutes before I bake them in the toaster oven.  This way you can do a few at a time and they are always fresh.

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The Perfect Pastry Mat – My Latest Kitchen Find

A Better Baking Mat

The Perfect Pastry Mat

At my age, and as an experienced cook, I’ve accumulated a lot of kitchen tools over the years.  My pots and pans, knives, and baking equipment are all top quality and old (like me) – but I love what I have and I don’t really desire anything new at this point.  Being a minimalist, I have culled and given away many items that I wasn’t using, and I am embarrassed to say that I have a closet full of catering equipment, huge bowls, pots, thousands of sheets of parchment paper, gigantic rolls of saran…all waiting for my adult children to claim.  This may never happen, but I have held onto my quality kitchen equipment nonetheless.  Note: in five years, I’ll offer these things to anyone who wants to cook for the masses.

Sorry…  I got carried away.  What I wanted to tell you is that my sister Kay called and told me about this silicone pastry mat she found to replace her cloth one. She was making strudel and reported that this mat was the best thing since sliced bread. I have an old canvas pastry cloth, and it works but sometimes slides all over the countertop and has to be laundered after every use.

Back in the dark ages, I was taught by my mother to roll my pie dough and cookies and crackers on a mat to avoid using too much flour.  I’ve used a cloth mat ever since, and at first I scoffed at the idea of a new silicone pastry mat — who needs it?  My cloth one is fine. I don’t like silicone.   I don’t want any more kitchen stuff, I argued… as I often do.

My other sister Susan followed Kay’s lead and bought the mat and raved about it.  And then I had a change of heart.  I am here to tell you, this is my new favorite kitchen tool.  My pie crust, cookies, challah braids all need less flour to roll, the mat stays put on the counter, baked goods release from the mat with ease, cleaning it is simple, storage is easy  and so I’m imploring you  — buy this now at your local kitchen shop or here’s a link so you can buy it on Amazon.  You’ll thank me.

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Marilyn’s Meatloaf

Yup – I’m reposting another winner for winter. What’s not to love about meatloaf!?? Plus you can double the recipe and freeze one raw. The perfect, easy comfort food. (Originally posted in December 2011)

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Click here to view recipe.

Truly comforting food!

My neighbors just had a baby on Monday, and my gift to new parents is often a home cooked meal delivered within the first few days of new parenthood. I was thinking about this last night because I made my famous meatloaf, onion mashed potatoes and green beans coated with olive oil and tomato slices. It is nothing exotic or particularly gourmet – just good, old-fashioned comfort food!

I’ve been preparing meatloaf of at least 30 years and don’t even know where I found the initial recipe. My global adventures made me curious about the origin of this kitchen staple so I did a little investigating. Meatloaf, or some derivation thereof, has apparently been around since the 5th century. It is traditionally a German, Belgian or Dutch dish and my Italian friends adopted it to make meatballs. In America, German-Americans made it with scrapple – which was a mixture of ground pork and cornmeal. This doesn’t sound too appealing to me – but it was likely quite a treat back in the day. Meatloaf as we know it today didn’t appear in American cookbooks until the late 19th century and I can only imagine the hundreds of variations that have since been developed.

My own recipe has been tweaked over the years but the one thing I insist on is fresh, high quality meat. The butcher near my home has wonderful fresh ground chuck which I use without fail. Though many recipes call for it, I don’t combine pork or veal or any other meat with the beef. (I do make a delicious turkey meatloaf that is entirely different – I’ll reserve that for another post.) I don’t add any type of cheese or exotic ingredients. Everything that goes into the mix is always in my cupboard and fridge – eggs, bread, ketchup, carrots and so on. During the cold, dark winter nights this hits the spot and is an easy, last minute dinner for me to serve when I am not in a particularly creative cooking mood. (Yes, that happens even to me.)

A beautiful thing about this recipe is that it makes a large loaf and leftovers can be used in endless ways. I like to have meatloaf sandwiches with fancy mustard, greens, tomato, or slice and grill it and serve it as a “slider” or repurpose it open-faced with mashed potatoes and gravy for a slightly different twist. I usually double the recipe, even when I make it for the two of us and I leave one that hasn’t been baked in my freezer for times when I have no time or energy to cook.

Marilyn’s Meatloaf

Serves 6

Meatloaf Ingredients:
  • 1 slice of whole grain bread-cut off the crusts and tear into small pieces
  • ½ c tomato juice or soy milk or regular milk
  • 2 lb ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ c diced onion
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp ground pepper
  • 1 tsp dry basil
  • ½ c shredded carrots
Instructions for meatloaf:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Dump all these ingredients into a large bowl. Put on disposable gloves and gently mix the components together until they are combined. Remove from the bowl (don’t wash the bowl yet) and pat gently into a greased loaf pan. I bake it in my 40 year old 9 x 5 Pyrex meat loaf pan.

Before it goes into the oven

Slide the meatloaf into the preheated oven for 15 minutes, and while it is baking make the topping in the same dirty bowl.

Topping Ingredients:
  • 3 Tbs. brown sugar
  • ½ c ketchup
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • Heaping tsp of dry mustard
Instructions for topping:

Mix the topping ingredients together well. After the meat loaf has baked for 15 minutes without the glaze, remove it from the oven. Gently cover the top with the ketchup-based sauce and bake another 45 minutes or until interior temp hits 160 degrees.

Rest for at least 10 minutes, the cut it into slices and serve.

Note: There is a lot of juice and fat that accumulates around the meatloaf when you bake it in a pan. Generally I pour all of this into a Pyrex measuring cup and remove the fat only, and then return the juice to the meatloaf pan. OR you can eat the meat loaf as is and refrigerate the leftovers. The next morning you will see an orange layer of fat that is easy to lift off with a spoon.

Some of my friends add ½ cup of Parmesan cheese to the meat mixture.

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Comforting Cassoulet

It’s getting cold around here so I wanted to re-share this delicious, comforting recipe. Enjoy! (Originally posted January 2014)

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Colorful Cassoulet

Colorful Cassoulet

One of my favorite winter dishes hands down is Cassoulet. This traditional dish from Southern France, full of rich white beans, fat and chicken and/or meat, is cooked very slowly, the flavors building and melding over time. The name Cassoulet depicts the traditional casserole-like pot.

My version does not resemble the traditional Cassoulet recipe – it is certainly not as rich in flavor but it is not as time consuming to prepare either.  It’s on my “favorites” list this winter though and I think if you try this you’ll agree it warms you inside and out. Served alongside a hearty seasonal salad, with crusty bread it is regularly in our lineup of comfort foods.

I don’t know the origin of my recipe except I can tell you I have tweaked it over and over so I’m sure this version is a far cry from the original formula.

Simmering Ingredients

Simmering Ingredients

Chicken “Kind of Cassoulet”

Serves 4

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Ingredients
  • 4 ounces turkey bacon, chopped ½ inch
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large brown skin onion, sliced in half lengthwise then into 1/8 inch semi circles
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup dry vermouth or leftover white wine
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste (remember the tube?)
  • 5 large crimini mushrooms, stems removed and cut into six pie shaped slices
  • ½ cup fresh tomatoes – chopped into 1/2 inch pieces or larger
  • 4 cups chicken broth – homemade or canned
  • 3 ½ cups fresh cooked cannellini or Northern beans or 2 15-ounce cans of organic Great Northern or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into ½ inch rounds
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme (I use the whole branch)
  • 1 4-inch branch of fresh oregano
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper taste (since I use salted broth I add very little salt and do so at the end)
  • 3 cups leftover roasted chicken thighs, skin and bones removed. Cut into 3/4 inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley leaves
  • Extra virgin olive oil to add at the end
Instructions

Heat a 5-quart heavy pot and add about one tablespoon olive oil.  Add the chopped turkey bacon and sauté for about five minutes, turning and stirring at least three times. Remove the cooked turkey bacon with a slotted spoon, leaving the drippings in the pot.   Add the olive oil, onions and a pinch of salt to the pot and cook until golden brown, stirring every three minutes or so, about 12 minutes total. Add the garlic and wine and simmer for about two minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and broth.

Add the beans, carrots, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, salt, pepper and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes or until the carrots are tender.  Add the turkey bacon and chicken and continue simmering another three to five minutes.  If the stew is thin, let it cook, uncovered for a few minutes.  If it is too thick, add a bit more broth.  Taste to adjust the seasoning and top with chopped parsley and an extra drizzle of olive oil when serving.

Note: Chicken thighs are preferable here so the meat doesn’t dry out.  And if you eat pork bacon, by all means use it in place of turkey bacon!

 

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Chicken Piccata With Fresh Fettuccine

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Chicken Piccata

Chicken Piccata

When I wrote in May about foods that are in my regular line up and that are easy and seasonless, several of my subscribers replied and asked for the Chicken Piccata recipe. And so I quantified what I really do (because of course I’ve been kind of winging it) and…Voila.  Thanks for asking!

PS – this recipe is for chicken with fettuccine … but I’ve also served it with quinoa or mashed yams or rice or, or, or…

Lemony Chicken Piccata with Fresh Fettuccine

Serves 4

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Ingredients
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (I pound mine slightly and often cut them in half width-wise)
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp salted butter
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½  tsp fresh ground pepper
  • One large lemon (for zesting and juicing)
  • 1 cup chicken stock (homemade is best but store bought is fine too)
  • ¼ cup capers, drained, rinsed
  • ½ pound fresh or dried fettuccine
  • ½ lemon (thinly sliced for garnish)
Instructions

In a pie plate, combine flour with salt, pepper and lemon zest.

In a 2-cup measuring cup, combine chicken broth, capers, and lemon juice.  Keep by the stove top.

Heat oil and butter together in a large sauté pan over medium high heat.   Coat both sides of the chicken breast fillets in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess flour and add them individually into the hot pan with butter/oil. Cook until well browned on each side.

Begin boiling water and making the fettuccine noodles so they are done a few minutes before the chicken is done.

Use tongs and remove cooked chicken from the pan to a rimmed plate.

Take the pan off the burner and slowly add the chicken stock, capers, and lemon juice to the pan.  Stir in any bits from the bottom of the pan.

Use the tongs and put the chicken back in the pan, letting the liquid boil and then simmer until the liquid has reduced, basting often with the juice.

Strain the fettuccine and shake off all the water.  Divide among four plates.

Top each plate with the chicken filet and the pour the juices on top of the whole shebang. Garnish with a wedge of lemon and serve with either a green salad or broccolini.

 

PS: This recipe works if you substitute lime for the lemon..and fish filets that are thinnish (think Petrale Sole) can be made the same way, but I use half the broth (veggie broth in this case).

 

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