Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Surviving the Holidays with Food and Friendship

Christmas/Winter Break is going to be rough for me this year, but thank goodness I have friends who are helping me through it. They don't have to do much except invite me over to sit on the couch and watch something together. And if there are also good eats to share, more's the better! Recently, my friend Sally, who has been one of 2016's very few blessings in my life, invited me over for a fusion meal of chicken lettuce wraps and taco soup with rice while we watched Frozen.

So tonight, I decided to return the favor by trying out a new recipe on her from a Delish video that scrolled through my Facebook feed the other day for Garlicky Shrimp Alfredo Bake. Sally loves shrimp, as do I, and nothing can ever be too garlicky for me, so I declare this dish a real winner, and a cozy casserole to share with dear friends.

Garlicky Shrimp Alfredo Bake
(Source: Delish)

10 oz. penne
3 tbsp. butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. medium or large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. milk
1/4 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 c. shredded mozzarella
1/4 c. plus 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large tomatoes, chopped (about 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook penne according to package directions until al dente. Drain and return to pot.

Meanwhile, in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add garlic, shrimp, and two tablespoons parsley. Season with salt. Cook until shrimp is pink and no longer opaque, two minutes per side. Transfer shrimp to a plate. (Keep juices in skillet.)

Add remaining two tablespoons butter to skillet to let melt, then add flour and whisk until golden, one to two minutes. Add milk and chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Stir in 3/4 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan until creamy. Season with salt and pepper.

Return shrimp to skillet. Add tomatoes and cooked penne and toss until combined. (Add more milk if mixture is too thick.) Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup mozzarella and two tablespoons Parmesan and bake until melty, five to seven minutes. Broil two to three more minutes until top is golden (watch it carefully so it doesn't burn!).
Garnish with remaining tablespoon parsley and serve.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas with a French Twist

My dear office mate and friend, Lee Ann, very kindly invited me for Christmas dinner this year, and it was truly an incredible feast! Her husband and daughter took a trip to France this year, so the theme of the dinner was decidedly French. I asked the hostess what I could bring, but she didn't text me back until this morning...after all of the shops were closed. Of course, she said I didn't have to bring anything, but my momma raised me right. Under duress, she said I could bring a salad or vegetable. The problem was that I had to make due with what I had on hand, and keep in mind, the culinary theme of the dinner is FRENCH! YIKES!

So I went searching, and found a (frozen) head of cauliflower in the garage fridge, and I still have kale left from the garden (you heard me!), and I always have bacon. So I steamed the cauliflower florets in my magic pot, and then made a creamy, cheesy, mashed cauliflower and kale gratin with smoky bacon bits. Anything "gratin" is French, right?  I think the kale and bacon make it look Christmassy with the red and green bits, non? (This picture is before I topped it with panko and more cheese.)

Here is a more detailed description of my methodology: First, I Googled how others steam a cauliflower in the IP and did that (four minutes on steam mode in a wire basket over a cup of water). While the cauliflower was cooking, I browned some bacon on the stove, removed it, and then sautéed a couple of cups of chopped kale in a few tablespoons of the bacon fat. 

When the cauliflower was done, I drained it and mashed it in the pot with four tablespoons of butter, four oz. of cream cheese, half a cup of shredded Swiss cheese, seasoned salt, pepper, one teaspoon of dried thyme, a half teaspoon of granulated garlic, and a grating of nutmeg. Then I stirred in the sautéed kale and about eight pieces of the cooked bacon (chopped). I put this mixture in a casserole dish, topped with half a cup of panko tossed with another couple tablespoons of Swiss cheese, and dash of garlic powder. I baked this uncovered at 350 for 30 minutes, and then topped it with another two slices of crumbled bacon before serving. VOILA!

 The Christmas dinner guests all assembled.
The appetizer was French onion soup...with a homemade bread crouton.
 Homemade French bread.
 The Christmas feast!
 Three French, err, Cornish hens.
 Lamb chops and mashed potatoes.
Asparagus with Hollandaise.
 Spinach souffle and my cauliflower kale mash.
 Roasted leeks and fennel.
 Cream puffs.
Crepes made to order with sugar, berries, and/or Nutella.
 Pear amandine tart.
 A toast to the memory of loved ones.
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum!


Friday, December 23, 2016

Porchmas 2016

I have an amazing group of young friends that used to all live in this two-story house that had a glassed-in sun porch on the upper level. We had so many good times on that porch, that even though everyone has moved out of that residence now, we still refer to ourselves as "Porchlings" when we have our get-togethers. Likewise, our seasonal gift exchange and potluck is dubbed "Porchmas." Tee hee.

For my first culinary contribution, I made Pulled Pork Sliders with Homemade Pickled Green Tomatoes.

For the pulled pork, I marinated about three pounds of boneless ribs in soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, vegetable oil, sriracha, garlic powder and black pepper overnight. Then I browned them on all sides in a large skillet, placed them on the trivet along with a sliced onion over a cup of beef broth, and cooked them on "Meat" for 25 minutes. I let them sit for 10 or 15 minutes before releasing, then shredded the meat with two forks. I sprinkled the shredded meat with a couple of tablespoons of cider vinegar, added a few drops of liquid smoke, a big tablespoon of grainy mustard, and a small bottle of spicy honey barbecue sauce. I served the pulled pork on Hawaiian rolls with homemade pickled green tomatoes.

Pickled Green Tomatoes
(Source: Garden Betty)

Bring the following brine (per quart) to a boil:
1 cup white distilled vinegar (5% acidity)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
Place in a washed quart jar:
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dill seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, peeled

Slice the tomatoes to desired thickness and pack into the jar. Cover with hot brine, leaving a half inch of head space. Remove bubbles with the end of a wooden spoon or a chopstick, wipe the rim, and add a lid and ring (fingertip tighten only). Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Store in a cool, dark place. Wait 3-4 weeks before tasting.

My second potluck offering was my old standby, potato salad prepared quickly and easily in the magic pot (four minutes!), which I made a little more festive-looking by including some of my homemade red-and-green cucumber relish that I made this summer/fall. (It was the Year of Peppers and Cucumbers!)

Instant Pot Potato Salad

3 lbs. red potatoes (I peel mine, but you can leave the peels on if you prefer), cut into one-inch chunks
4 large eggs
about 1/2 cup chopped green onions (four large, ends removed)
2 tablespoons sweet relish (I use homemade piccallili or cucumber or pepper relish)
1 large dill pickle, chopped (and about a tablespoon of juice)
about 3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons mustard (I like to use one yellow and one Dijon)
1 teaspoon ground celery
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
salt and pepper, to taste (I like to use Cajun seasoning for more "zip")

In a steamer basket over 1 1/2 cups water (I like to use 1 1/4 cups water plus 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar to infuse the potatoes with some tanginess) put in the potato chunks with the whole eggs on top. Cook on manual/high for four minutes, then immediately release. Spread the potato pieces out on a cookie sheet to cool, and dunk the eggs into cold water until cool enough to handle.

Peel and chop the eggs. Mix together green onions, relish, chopped dill pickle and pickle juice, mayo, mustard, ground celery and granulated garlic. Toss in the slightly warm potatoes, using a potato masher or pastry cutter to create a texture like very chunky mashed potatoes, then fold in the chopped eggs. Season to taste. Chill thoroughly, then serve.

Cucumber Pickle Relish
(Source: Ball Blue Book)

4 cups chopped cucumbers
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped sweet red peppers (or hot peppers)
1/4 cup salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 tablespoon mustard seed
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
2 cups cider vinegar
3 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Combine cucumbers, onions, red peppers in a large bowl; sprinkle with salt and cover with cold water. Let stand two hours. Drain; rinse and drain thoroughly

Combine sugar, spices and vinegar in a large sauce pot. Bring to a boil. Add drained vegetables; simmer ten minutes. Pack hot relish into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes (15 for pints) in a boiling-water canner.

Yield: About four pints 

Lastly, for Christmukkah treats, I made three batches of the beloved matzoh toffee, so that I could bag it up as little gifts. And as we are going through a very early cold snap, I was able to use my own porch as a blast chiller for both the potato salad and the matzoh toffee before the party. Ha ha.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas in Brazil

If there was ever a good excuse to get back to my long-neglected blog, it would be the annual Padula Christmas Cookie EXTRAVAGANZA! Because one of the Padula boys has a Brazilian girlfriend, this year's culinary theme was Christmas in Brazil, and it was DELICIOUS!

View #1 of the cookie exchange table. (My cookies aren't pictured, as they were on the porch chillin',)
View #2 of the cookie table.
The beautiful tablescape!
The appetizer was this Brazilian shepherd's pie type of affair with reconstituted carne seca (dried beef) and veggies underneath and mashed yucca root on top called Escondidinho de Carne Seca. Yucca is a staple in Brazilian cuisine.
These were yummy little chicken-filled croquettes called Coxinhas.
Apparently, the Christmas turkey (Ceia de Natal) is traditionally served with peaches. YUMMY!
The turkey was served with rice and black beans and Brazilian hot sauce, and a fruity bread stuffing.
I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy this dried fruit-studded bread stuffing, but it was SO GOOD! I'm not sure what it's called in Portuguese, though.
This is called Farofa, and it's toasted cassava flour. It's sprinkled on everything in South America, like Parmesan cheese.
For my money, this dessert was the star of the show! It's called a Torta de Bombom Sonho de Valsa, or Bonbon Pie. AMAZING! Here's the recipe:
The other dessert (which I did not have room for, but looked incredible) was a Passion Fruit Cheesecake. (Passion fruit, or maracuja, is another Brazilian culinary motif.)
I made three different (rather homely, but very tasty) cookies for the exchange this year, inspired by a holiday baking show I saw on the Food Network recently. The first was a soft maple bacon cookie that was supposed to be a whoopie pie, but I ended up just frosting the individual cookies so that I'd have more to share.

Maple Pecan Cookies (or Whoopie Pies) with Bacon Cream Cheese Frosting
(Source: Adapted from Poet in the Pantry)

6 strips thick-cut bacon
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons bacon fat, reserved from frying bacon for the filling
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/3 cup dark maple syrup
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

Fry bacon until crisp and reserve and cool the fat.
Crumble (or cut with kitchen shears) bacon and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat together the butter, cream cheese, and confectioners' sugar for three minutes. Add the vanilla, syrup, and salt. Remove bowl from mixer and stir in the crumbled bacon. Transfer to an air-tight container and store in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Get out two rimmed nonstick cookie sheets and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Beat together the butter, bacon fat, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing until fully incorporated. Add the buttermilk, mixing until smooth.

In a liquid measuring cup, add the cream, baking soda, and white vinegar, stirring to combine. Turn the stand mixer on low and mix in half of the dry ingredients. Add the cream/baking soda vinegar mix, mixing until combined. Mix in the last of the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla, and beat until well incorporated. Stir in the toasted nuts.

Portion out the batter with a small cookie scoop and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned on the edges and the tops are springy. Transfer to wire cooling racks immediately. Cool completely.

Remove filling from the fridge at least 20 minutes before starting assembly. Stir before starting assembly. Using a pastry bag fitted with a decorating tip, or simply a butter knife, apply filling on the flat side of one cookie/cake. Press the flat side of another cookie/cake and press gently together.

Wrap each whoopie pie in a small piece of plastic wrap store and in an air-tight container. Best eaten the same day. For longer storage, keep in the refrigerator.

*You can also just frost the top of each individual cookie (as I did here) instead of making whoopie pies.

The second cookie I made was a sour cream cookie infused with Earl Grey tea and frosted with a honeyed lemony icing. YUM!

Earl Grey
Tea Cakes with Honey-Lemon Frosting
(Adapted from a sour cream chocolate chip cookie recipe that my friend, Kallie, gave me--unsure of the original source)
1 cup sour cream
2 bags Earl Grey tea
2 eggs
2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour

Mix the sour cream and the tea from the two bags and set aside.

 Cream butter and eggs together. Add sugar and mix in. Add baking soda, baking powder and flour. Add vanilla and sour cream and tea mixture. Bake at 350° until lightly browned (10-12 minutes). Cool completely before frosting.

Honeyed Lemon Frosting:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1/2 pound (about 2 cups) confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 to 1/4 cup heavy cream
zest of one lemon, finely grated
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Beat the butter on high speed until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Beat in half of the sugar until combined. Stir in the vanilla and honey. Beat in the remaining sugar. Add the heavy cream, lemon juice, and lemon zest, whisk on high for 6 minutes.

The third cookie that I made--and my personal favorite--was a Rosemary Browned Butter Shortbread. Now, I am ALWAYS down with some nutty browned butter, but savory rosemary was an unusual guest at this sweet cookie party. It may sound strange, but applied with restraint, the rosemary takes this shortbread to a whole other level of deliciousness! I was loathe to give (most of it) away.

Rosemary-Walnut Browned Butter Shortbread
(Source: The Kitchn)
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped small (none larger than pea-sized)--or combine walnuts and almonds
1 tablespoon rosemary, minced
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup confectioner sugar (or another 1/4 cup granulated, if you don't have confectioner's)

Melt the butter in a medium sauce-pan or skillet over medium heat. Swirl occasionally and cook until all foaming has subsided, the butter is dark tan colored with little black specks, and smells fantastically nutty. Transfer to a heat-proof bowl and let it cool to room temperature. (The butter should be solid but still smooshy.)

Mix the walnuts, rosemary, and all the dry ingredients together in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or medium-sized bowl with a hand mixer). While beating on medium-speed, add the cooled brown butter in several additions until it's completely incorporated and the dough looks grainy. The dough should hold together when you press some in your fist - if not, add a few teaspoons of cold water until it does.

Turn the dough out onto your work surface and shape it into two thick logs about 1 1/2 - 2 inches in diameter (or smaller if you want smaller cookies). The dough will be pretty crumbly, but that's ok. Wrap the logs tightly in plastic wrap and freeze until hard (30 minutes, or up to three days).

When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350°F. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Take out and unwrap one of the logs. Slice it into 1/4 inch round cookies using a sharp knife and transfer to the cookie sheet. Place cookies about a half inch apart - they won't spread much during baking. If any of the cookies crumble, just press the dough back together with your fingers and a bit of water.

Bake for 10-13 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges and very fragrant. Allow to cool five minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a cooling rack.

Prepare and bake the other half of the cookie dough as above. Cookies keep in a sealed container for about two weeks.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Instant Pot Hodgepodge Soup to Share with Work Colleagues

I wanted to make a big batch of soup to take to a lunch meeting at work yesterday, but I wanted it to be easy and to make use of whatever odds and ends I had in the vegetable bin and pantry. I came up with the following, and my co-workers raved. I didn't have the heart to tell them it was just a crazy hodge-podge that I made up as I went along. (But a tasty hodgepodge nevertheless!)

Instant Pot Italian Chicken, Veggie and Wild Rice Soup

1 1/2 cups wild rice, barley, and dried veggie* mix
8-12 cups homemade chicken broth, divided
2 large stalks celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 large frozen boneless/skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes (with garlic and onions)
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon vegetable soup base (Better Than Bouillon), or more to taste
1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
pinch of red pepper flakes
four handfuls of fresh spinach (or chopped kale)

*The soup mix I used had carrots in it, otherwise, I would have diced some fresh carrots to add in at the same time as the celery and onion and all.

Pressure cook the wild rice mix in four cups of chicken broth on Manual/high for 20 minutes. Add all of the other ingredients including another four cups of chicken broth, but not the spinach. Cook on Manual/high for another five minutes. Thin with more broth, remove the rosemary stems and bay leaves, correct seasonings, and stir in the spinach just before serving.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Real Food Real Fast Using the Instant Pot!

I have a class that goes until 8:45pm, so I got home late, but I still wanted a proper dinner. So I put two FROZEN Creole-seasoned chicken halves layered with sliced onions in the insta-pot on the trivet over a cup of water laced with 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar and maybe a tablespoon of hot sauce. I pressure-cooked it for 18 minutes, then broiled it in the oven for a few minutes on both sides until crispy. While the chicken was in the pot, I threw together a corn, chili bean, and avocado salad as my side dish. In about 30 minutes, I had real food...fast! YAY! 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Magic Pot Meatloaf: Homely but Tasty!

I had play and choir rehearsals back-to-back today with just a half hour at home in between, so I thought I might make a quickie meatloaf in the Instant Pot. It may not have been the most gorgeous meatloaf I've ever made, but the taste and texture were both lovely!

I made the meatloaf in an eight-inch spring form pan lined with foil.
I removed the meatloaf from the IP, then put it in a foil-lined sheet pan.
I broiled the meatloaf for a few minutes until the top was browned and crispy.
I glazed the meatloaf with BBQ sauce, then broiled it for a couple of minutes until set.
I brushed it with more BBQ sauce and broiled it one more time.

Here's what it looked like on the inside. (It's going to slice beautifully for sandwiches tomorrow!)

TA-DAH! Quick and easy, delicious, hearty, and comforting dinner!

Instant Pot Meatloaf

2.25 lbs. ground chuck
1 lb. hot Italian sausage (or mild, if you prefer)
1 small onion, finely diced
2 large eggs
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons teriyaki sauce
1 tablespoon hot sauce (or to taste)
1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

your favorite BBQ sauce (to glaze the top)

Mix everything together and pack into an oven-proof vessel (not too tight!) that will fit in the IP; I used an eight-inch spring form pan lined with foil. Cook for 30 minutes on the "Meat" setting, then NPR. Transfer to a lined sheet pan and broil for a few minutes until brown and crispy. Then brush with BBQ sauce and return to the oven for a couple of minutes to set the glaze (and repeat).