Thursday, February 27, 2014


Earlier this week, I got an email at work informing us that the dining hall at the college dorms was going to feature the culinary stylings of a visiting chef and an authentic Slovenian menu. Yeah, my first thought was, "WTH is Slovenian food and is that different from Slovakian?" But I'm always game to try a new cuisine, especially in this little white bread, Applebee's-lovin' town. So I let my Plattsburgh class out a little early tonight and hustled over to the dorms to check it out. And I'm SO GLAD I did! It was delicious (that's "okusne" to you Slovenians)!

Risotto with pumpkin seed oil and Parmesan cheese.

Sautéed vegetables: Zucchini, yellow squash, onions, mushrooms, and colorful sweet peppers.

Two Slovenian soups: Chicken stew with chicken, vegetables, wine and spices (front), and one with pasta, cranberry beans, tomato paste and spices (back).

Primorska salad: Buckwheat, radicchio, asparagus spears, shrimp, and vinaigrette. (This salad was beautiful, unusual, and DELICIOUS! I am going to recreate it at home.)
Pork tenderloin with shiitake mushrooms, squash, bacon, and breadcrumbs served with a rich mushroom sauce. (Everything was delicious, but this took the grand prize, IMHO!)
Crispy haddock fillets with bread crumbs and pumpkin seeds.

Bled grmada: A light sponge cake layered with walnuts, vanilla custard, chocolate sauce, and raisins.

I thought the food was very interesting, and seemed to draw from many ethnicities; the risotto seemed Italian, the pork tenderloin with mushroom sauce felt Germanic, and the dessert definitely had a Slavic/Eastern European vibe. When I got home, I Googled up a map of Slovenia, and I saw that it is, in fact, due east of Italy, south of Austria and Hungary, and west of Croatia. Also, it has a tiny bit of coastline, so that explains the seafood elements. Fascinating!

The other thing I did when I got home--albeit a couple of days later--was to attempt to replicate the Primorska Salad. I didn't have time to stop at the co-op for buckwheat, so I swapped out some red quinoa that I steamed, crisped up in the oven, and then cooled. I blanched some cut-up asparagus spears then tossed them in an ice bath, thawed some cocktail shrimp, sliced a shallot into thin slivers, shredded some Parmesan, sliced up a few pieces of shaved prosciutto, and put all of this on top of a big pile of greens and radicchio, and drizzled everything with a Balsamic vinaigrette. Laborious, yes, but well worth the effort to put something elegant and unusual on the dinner table.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Just a bunch of stuff I had lying around...

On tonight's episode of Chopped: It was after 9pm, and we hadn't eaten dinner yet. I had a hankering for spaghetti (plus, it's quick & easy), but Cyd wanted Alfredo. So I thought, "Why not both?" So I pulled a jar of roasted red pepper Alfredo sauce and a pint of homemade tomato sauce with red wine and basil from the pantry. In the freezer, I unearthed a package of spicy sausage crumbles, and in the fridge, I found a package of Baby Bella mushrooms that was about to go around the bend on us. I sautéed a diced onion with the mushrooms, browned the sausage, added a few cloves of minced garlic, threw in some dried Italian herbs and black pepper, and stirred in both jars of sauce. Lastly, I boiled up a box of penne with ridges, sprinkled shredded Parmesan on top of the whole affair, and BOOM, faster than you could make Hamburger Helper or get Chinese delivery, we had a beautiful dish made mostly with real food. This "recipe" would be a real weeknight sanity saver! #yourewelcome

Friday, February 21, 2014

Yellow Hands, Happy Tummy

Despite a dearth of exciting food shopping in this town, one of the tiny jewels in our otherwise rusty crown is the North Country Co-op downtown--a great source of organic, ethnic, bulk, and hard-to-find foods. They also send a pretty great newsletter out monthly that has interesting articles and delicious recipes to try with local, seasonal ingredients.

This month, the item featured in the newsletter was fresh turmeric. I had never seen fresh turmeric, so I had no idea what it even looked like. As it turns out, it's in the ginger family, and resembles that type of tuber with a tough outer skin, but without the cactus-like limbs branching out from the main stem. And of course, it's BRIGHT orange inside (more on that later). It doesn't have the same punch as raw ginger, but it does have a milder flavor that perfectly complements the cabbage and chickpea curry that was featured in the co-op's newsletter. 

I pretty much followed the recipe as written, but I added one thing, some cubes of Haloumi cheese that I browned in olive oil. It makes the dish vegetarian and not vegan, but it's so yummy! It's my favorite thing to add to a vegetable curry. Also, as I alluded to earlier, learn from my mistake and WEAR GLOVES when grating fresh turmeric....unless you want to walk around with neon yellow hands the next day like I did.

Curried Winter Vegetables with Fresh Turmeric
(Source:  Marsha Lawrence, via the North Country Co-op Newsletter)
Prep/cook time = 45 minutes      Serves 6

3 tablespoons vegetable oil        
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, washed & cut into bite-sized chunks
2 medium onions, chopped  
3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 teaspoon curry powder (I upped this to one tablespoon)  
1 teaspoon toasted coriander seed, ground
1/2 teaspoon salt            
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1/2 head green cabbage, coarsely shredded (I used Savoy)
1 can (15 oz) chick peas, drain    
1 can (13.6 oz) coconut milk
3-inch length turmeric root, peeled and grated
1 medium apple, peeled & cut into bite-sized chunks, optional (use for sweetness)
8 oz. Haloumi cheese, cut into chunks and browned in a skillet with a teaspoon of oil, optional

Prepare or chop ingredients as you work your way through recipe.  Ingredients above are listed in the order of cooking length.

1.  In large skillet sauté oil, potatoes and onions.  Stir and cook 5 – 10 minutes, until onions translucent.  Prepare next items while this sautés.
2.  Add in all spices except turmeric and continue to cook on medium with some stirring.
3.  Turn heat to a lower medium and add cabbage and chick peas.  By now everything should have cooked for 20+ minutes.  If not, continue cooking.
4.  Turn heat to low and add turmeric, coconut milk and optional apple.  Cover and simmer 10 -15 more minutes or until potatoes are cooked. Stir in browned cheese, if using.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Best Gift is Time Spent with Friends

Once a person heads into middle age, it seems to more and more difficult to buy gifts for one's friends. They don't need anything, and anything they want, they just buy for themselves before their birthdays or other gift-giving holidays roll around. So more often than not, my local friends and I tend to give each other experiences in lieu of material goods. And this year, my friends, Lee Ann and June, outdid themselves!

In December, they asked me and another friend, Vicky, out to lunch and then presented us with these MAGNIFIQUE baskets filled with lots of goodies from Quebec: Maple leaf cookies and cookies with the Chateau Frontenac embossed in chocolate, Dark Chocolate Raspberry Whippets (like Canadian Mallowmars), and even a can of yellow pea soup (it's traditional--don't ask). But the best thing in the basket was a handmade coupon for dinner and a play in Montreal!

So yesterday, we finally took ourselves north to see The Book of Bob at The Centaur (the staging was inventive, but the play was just so-so), and then we had dinner afterwards at a nice wine bar in Old Montreal called Modavie. Everything we had was tasty, but the salad that June ordered looked especially scrumptious. The menu said it was made with frisee (which is why I didn't order it--I'm not a fan of bitter, spiky greens), but it came with mixed greens, lardons (crispy fried pork bits), and a softly poached egg on top. It looked incredible, and I thought, "Why can't I make this for myself at home?"

So...I did. I used smoky bacon ends from Oscar's Smokehouse, and though I admit, my freeform egg poaching skills are pathetic, a drizzle of Caesar vinaigrette covers a multitude of unsightly eggy sins. DECADENT and DELISH!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Another snow day...must make soup!

Ordinarily, one would rejoice at the prospect of a snow day--this time a proper one where classes are cancelled before you make it into school. But this is the second one in a week and a half, and I am starting to despair that my MWF classes will never get caught up!

That said, I slept in, took a hot shower and put on clean, cozy jammies, got the fire going, and started a pot of creamy Monterey Jack cheese soup for dinner. Now I'm trying to clear out the dvr, catch up on blogging, and I'm considering baking something...maybe banana nut bread? To top it all off, I just got a call from my oncologist's office with a "normal" blood work result! Now THAT'S a sweet Valentine's Day!

The soup recipe was another Pinterest discovery, and it's quite good. I made some changes, of course, like using my homemade salsa verde in place of the tomatoes, onion, and peppers in the recipe. Also, I recommend the addition of a couple of cans of corn and some cut-up grilled chicken strips to make it a heartier meal, though it's deliciously meatless as it. Either way, it'll warm your cockles on a snow day!

Monterey Jack Cheese Soup
(Source: adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything)

2 cups chicken broth
1 (4 ounce) can diced green chiles*
1 cup tomatoes, diced*
1 cup onion, finley chopped*
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups milk, hot
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3/4 lb Monterey jack cheese, coarsely chopped (about 3 cups - see note)
2 cans sweet corn, drained (optional)
1 lb. grilled chicken strips, cut into a large dice (optional)

*I used 1 1/2 cups of homemade salsa verde instead of the chiles, tomatoes, and onion.

In a medium pot bring broth, chiles, tomatoes, onion (or salsa verde), and garlic to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 10 minutes or until veggies are soft. (If using salsa verde, just bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and hold until ready to use.)

While the veggies are cooking, melt the butter over medium heat in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the flour and cook for three minutes stirring constantly. Stir in 3 1/2 cups of the hot milk, adding a 1/2 cup at a time. Cook for seven minutes over medium heat until thickened.

Remove veggie/broth mixture from the heat and stir into milk mixture 1/4 cup at a time. Add remaining 1 1/2 cups of hot milk, salt and pepper and Monterey Jack cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. (Make sure your don't heat the cheese soup on too high of heat or the cheese will "break" and be grainy.) If you like, add corn and chicken and just heat through.

Note: When making soups it's best to not use pre-shredded cheese which can have additives and doesn't melt as well. For creamier soups buy cheese in blocks. 

Follow-up (2/15): The soup was very creamy…UNTIL I reheated it (on low) today in the crock pot. Then I got the graininess going on. So either I left it heating too long, or it just doesn’t reheat well. So next time, unless I’m cooking for a lot of people, I’ll just make half the recipe.

Yet another follow-up (2/18): You know what "fixed" the grainy reheated soup? I can just hear the screams of the food purists and the "clean" eaters now, but I chopped up about a cup of sharp cheddar flavored Velveeta to the leftovers, and that did the trick. Took it right back to smooth and creamy. I know, I know. But desperate times called for desperate measures! ;-)

Monday, February 10, 2014

"Waiter...there's too much pepper in my paprikash."

This is how dumb and susceptible I am. My friend, Heather, posted a link on Facebook recently from Cooking Light. It was an article about spending Sunday preparing a week's worth of healthy meals. The photo accompanying the article looked delicious, so clicked through to the recipe to see what it was. I guess I must have skimmed the text, as I thought it just said Pork Paprikash, and the picture looked like it involved meatballs in a paprikash sauce over egg noodles. Of course, I have used pork in combination with beef for meatballs, but never a totally pork meatball. I was intrigued and thought I'd give it a try.

But when I got home tonight and read the recipe more carefully, I realized that it called for chunks of pork tenderloin. First of all, I wasn't going back to the store for a tenderloin, and secondly, I wanted pork meatballs! So, as is my way, I made up my own recipe and made use of my slow cooker to do it. And it turned out AWESOME! I am definitely making this dish again and again.

Crock Pot Pork Meatballs Paprikash 

1 tablespoon olive oil 
1 tablespoon butter 
1 large onion, finely diced 
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped 
2 cloves garlic 
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 
1 teaspoon dried thyme 
1 teaspoon ground celery 
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon black pepper 
pinch of red pepper flakes 
1 cup white wine, divided 
2 lbs. ground pork 
1/2 cup Italian-style bread crumbs 
1/4 cup half and half 
1 egg 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 

1 6 oz.can tomato paste 
2 tablespoons flour 
2 cups chicken or beef stock 
1 tablespoon sweet paprika 
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 
1 teaspoon sugar 
1/2 teaspoon black pepper 
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste 
1 cup sour cream 

wide egg noodles (or egg pappardelle)

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and saute the onion and mushrooms until tender. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the Worcestershire sauce, thyme, ground celery, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and half a cup of the white wine. Reduce for a few minutes until the wine is mostly absorbed. Combine this veggie mixture with the ground pork, bread crumbs, half and half, egg, and parsley. Mix with your hands until just combined--don't overwork. Form into balls (I used a cookie scoop and got about 35 meatballs) and brown them on all sides in the skillet. Add the meatballs to a crock pot set on low.

In the same skillet, combine the tomato paste and flour and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly. Pour in the chicken or beef stock, whisking until smooth. Add the sweet paprika, red wine vinegar, sugar, pepper, and salt, and cook for a few minutes until thickened. With a rubber spatula, scrape the sauce into the crock pot and stir gently to combine. Cook on low for four hours or high for two, then stir in the sour cream. Serve over wide eggs noodles or egg pappardelle. Garnish with a little more chopped fresh parsley.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Annoying Half Snow Day

Note to my college administration: Snow days are fun, but not when you get out of bed, get ready for work, clean off your car, risk your life driving to work, teach one measly 50-minute class, and THEN classes are cancelled, the minute before you are about to do a special lunchtime presentation to the faculty that now has to be rescheduled. BAH!

However, it was nice to be home for the afternoon, and as I had to luxury to do so, I cooked up a...ummm...storm! I made a lovely green salad with dried cranberries, roasted pecans, green onions, creamy dollops of goat cheese, and a homemade strawberry balsamic vinaigrette, then a semi-homemade chicken pot pie for our entree, and for dessert, croissant bread pudding, but instead of making the traditional hard sauce, I drizzled each piece with Fat Toad Farms' Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce. YUM!

The strawberry-balsamic dressing was based on something similar that my friend June made recently, though she mushed up a few fresh strawberries in hers (I used jam), and she didn't use mustard. For my version, I started with two heaping tablespoons of strawberry preserves, two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, two teaspoons of Dijon mustard, one clove of minced garlic, a good pinch of salt and pepper, and then I whisked in olive oil in a thin stream, probably a scant half cup. My roommate thought it made the best salad she's ever had!

Apart from preparing this fantastic meal, I had one other snow day project: to try and clone Tastefully Simple's Garlic Garlic Seasoning, which I LOVE, but it's frightfully expensive at nine bucks for a small container! As it turns out, it's pretty easy to make a passable copycat for much, much less. Now, keep in mind that when I make a dip, I like to use half Garlic Garlic and half Onion Onion. So if you want this to be more like straight GG, then decrease the minced onion by three-quarters. If you make a quarter of the recipe that follows, it will refill your empty TS container. As it is, this will almost fill a pint-sized container. #yourewelcome

Garlic Garlic Copycat Seasoning

8 tablespoons dried minced garlic (I had dried garlic slices, so I busted them up into small pieces by hand with a pastry cutter--you can use a food processor, but careful not to pulverize, as you want little bits)
4 tablespoons dried minced onion (or cut this back to one tablespoon if you prefer)
4 teaspoons sea salt
4 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 teaspoons dried chives
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII

HAPPY SUPER BOWL DAY! Or, as I prefer to think of it, Happy Expensive Commercials and Bruno Mars Concert Day! As my friends and longtime readers know, I loathe football, but I struck a deal with my roommate that she would go to the Sing-Along Frozen movie with me (tee hee), and I would prepare a junk food feast for the big game. Here was my menu:

Devilled Egg Footballs
Muffaletta Sliders
Festive Favourite Layered Dip
Asian-Style Wings
Beefy Enchilada Dip

Make your favorite devilled eggs, then use green onions or chives to make the "football" laces. Cute, huh? (Thank you, Pinterest!)
I bought little football-shaped potato rolls, spread each side with (prepared) olive salad, then filled the sammies with spicy cappicola, mortadella, Genoa salami, and provolone.
My friend near Quebec City, Isabelle, shared this recipe with me, saying she gets raves about it every time she takes it to a party. And I get that--it's YUMMY and so pretty! It would also be perfect for a Christmas potluck with the red and green.

Festive Favourite Layered Dip
(Source: adapted from Kraft Canada)

1 tub (250g) Philadelphia Cream Cheese Spread
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup Miracle Whip Original Spread
1 cup salsa
2 cups Kraft Mozzarella Shredded Cheese
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped (I used a jalapeno instead)
2 green onions, chopped (I doubled this)
Mix first three ingredients until well blended; spread onto plate or shallow dish. Top with layers of all remaining ingredients. Serve with crackers or sturdy tortilla or corn chips.

Asian-Style Wings

Mix together in a large bowl:
1 cup flour 
1 teaspoon granulated garlic 
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika 
1/2 teaspoon black pepper 
1/2 teaspoon salt

Toss 20-24 chicken wings in the flour mixture to coat. Bake at 425 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until crispy and brown.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, blend the following ingredients:
1/2 cup apricot pepper jelly (or plum jam/jelly)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
squirt of sriracha, to taste

When the chicken wings are baked, add them to a crock pot set on low, pour the sauce over, then fold gently to combine. Leave the wings to keep warm in the slow cooker during your party!

Beefy Enchilada Dip
(Source: adapted from Add a Pinch)

1 1/2 to 2 pounds ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups red enchilada sauce
2 cups grated Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese

sour cream
tortilla chips

Brown ground beef in a large skillet. Drain. Add in onion and garlic and cook until tender, about three minutes. Stir in enchilada sauce and top with grated cheese. Cover and allow cheese to melt, about three more minutes.

Top with sour cream and serve with tortilla chips.