Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Cheesecake Epiphany

I trust that you all had a MERRY CHRISTMAS? Ours was nice and quiet, and I prepared a somewhat Italian-themed feast which consisted of an aged prime rib roast that we acquired at this great little Italian market that we discovered in Albany called Cardona's. I marinated the roast beast in a ton of garlic, cracked black pepper, fresh rosemary, olive oil, and balsamic--and cooked it in my fabulous new All-Clad roasting pan that my roomie got me for Christmas! SQUEE!

For our side dishes, we had pumpkin ravioli (acquired at Trader Joe's in Albany) in browned butter with crispy sage leaves, grated Grana Padano, and pine nuts; steamed green peas in a lemony vinaigrette; and homemade chocolate cream pie for dessert. Then after dinner, I cleaned out the back fridge (full of old, frozen leftovers) to make room for the new leftovers (ha!), and even managed to haul the trash out over the ice floes AND gather the mail from across the treacherous turnpike without falling on my ample posterior. It was truly a Christmas MIRACLE!

The next day, I spent an hour trying to dig Cyd's car out of the ice and snow, but no dice. Then yesterday, it took us an additional 45 minutes and the strategic application of ice melt, kitty litter, and pots and pots of hot water, but we FINALLY managed to get her freed from the ice floe that is our driveway and parking spots! YAY! Another Christmas miracle! So the poor thing was able to go see her beloved Patriots play in Foxboro, MA at Gillette Stadium, which was my birthday and Christmas gift to her. I got a text from her this afternoon after the game had started. It said, "It's awesome. In freezing rain but awesome." LOL! The poor thing. Living the dream. The wet, cold dream.

Of course, with my roomie gone, that left me rattling around the house alone, which rarely ever happens. It was fine, because I had an article for the local food magazine overdue, and I got that done at long last. Then my dear friends Janice and Domenica took pity on me being on my own and invited me over to dinner tonight. Somehow I made it there alive despite sliding all over the icy roads, and we had a lovely meal and lively conversation.>

But the highlight of the evening was THIS: Goat cheese cheesecake with a toasted walnut and graham cracker crust and this crazy (but crazy delicious) red grape, walnut, red wine, and rosemary compote on top. It may sound a little weird, but it might be the best cheesecake I've ever had...and I've had a LOT of great cheesecakes! I strongly encourage you to give it a try. I know I'm going to make one to share with Cyd when she gets home.

Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Red Grape Compote
(Source: Cuisine at Home Magazine)

For the Crust:
1 cup walnuts, toasted
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 stick butter, melted

For the Filling:
1 pound goat cheese at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
3 eggs at room temperature
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Red Grape Compote
rosemary sprigs for garnish

Preheat oven to 350.Toast walnuts in a 350 oven until golden and aromatic, 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool. Process walnuts, cracker crumbs, and sugar in a food processor until fine, then transfer to a bowl and stir in butter. Press crumbs onto the bottom and 1" up the sides of a 9" springform pan. Patch any holes that could cause the filling to leak. Bake crust until golden, about ten minutes; cool while preparing the filling.

Reduce oven temperature to 250. Beat both cheeses, sugar, and sour cream together in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or a hand mixer on low speed) until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat in cream and vanilla. Pour filling into cooled crust, smooth the top, and bake at 250 for 1 to 1 1/4 hours. The center will not be fully set. Remove cake from oven and let stand at room temperature until completely cool; cover and chill overnight.

To serve, remove sides form the pan, then slice. Before making each cut, dip a thin-bladed knife into a glass of hot water and wipe dry with a towel. To remove a slice from the cake, turn the knife sideways and lift the piece out, or use a narrow-bladed spatula. A small offset spatula works well. Garnish with Red Grape Compote and a sprig of rosemary.

Red Grape Compote 

3/4 cup dry red wine 
1/3 cup sugar 
2 teaspoons cornstarch 
2 cups red grapes, halved 
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped 
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped 
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice 
freshly ground pepper 

Simmer wine, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking until thick, two to three minutes. Pour syrup over remaining ingredients, toss to coat. 

NOTES : Suggested wine is Cabernet Sauvignon. Don't overcook the wine syrup or else it will thicken too far and make the grape topping sticky and gloppy.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Party fare...thoughtfully made.

We are enjoying a delightful ice storm in the region at present, so I wasn't too keen on leaving the house and having to chip my car out and slide down the roads. But my dear friend was having a Christmas party Saturday night, and I was afraid that she might not have many guests. Since I decided to attend at the last minute, I didn't have much time to pull together anything fancy to take to the potluck party. So I threw together that simple Tuscan white bean dip and crostini that I had at the Christmas cookie exchange last week.

For once I was purposefully trying to be low-key and not to impress anyone with my gourmet wizardry. But when I got a plate of food from the fabulous buffet and sat down to socialize, a friend specifically asked if I had brought that white bean dip? I said yes, but how would she know that? Her response was that she knew by the crostini that were so "thoughtfully made." LOL! All I did was cut up a baguette, brush some olive oil on the slices, and broil them for a few minutes, and only on one side! Not very fancy. But I guess some folks would open up a box of crackers and call it good? (To avoid protests from the Boxed Cracker Defamation League, I'd like to say publicly that I am a strong supporter of boxed crackers, especially those red bean and sweet potato Triscuits.)

Anyway, I followed the recipe below, but I added the zest of the lemon that I juiced, about two tablespoons of shredded parmesan, and about the same amount of pine nuts. Oh, and a bunch of chopped fresh parsley. Good stuff! 

White Beans and Rosemary Crostini
(Source: adapted from Under the Tuscan Gun)

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
1/4 pound pancetta, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thickly sliced
3 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed
2 (15 ounce) cans cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
zest and juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons shredded parmesan, optional
2 tablespoons pine nuts, optional
1/4 cup chopped, fresh parsley, optional
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Baguette, sliced

1. Heat fireplace to a medium heat. Adjust grill racks over the flame and heat a heavy dutch oven over the rack. Alternatively, heat a medium saucepan over medium heat.

2. Once hot, add the oil to heat. Add pancetta and render some of its fat. Add rosemary and garlic and sauté until fragrant.

3. Stir in beans and lemon juice and zest. Mash the beans with the back of the wooden spoon. Don’t mash them all smooth- you want some texture. Stir in the parmesan, pine nuts, and parsley (if using), and season with salt and pepper.

4. Toast sliced baguette. Serve the beans on top of the toasted bread. Drizzle with olive oil, if desired.

Ooh, and here's a great idea if you have any of the spread left over. I made a double batch for the party, so I had some left. Today I took four smaller sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed them, and put them in the crock pot with about six cups of chicken (or vegetable) stock and cooked this for several hours on high until the the potatoes were very tender. Of course, you can just simmer this on the stove if you're in a hurry. Once the potatoes were soft, I used a stick blender to blend the potatoes and broth until smooth, then I stirred in about two cups of the leftover bean spread. At this point, you can add some cream or half-and-half, too, if you like. Garnish with some crabmeat, and TA-DAH, Sweet Potato and White Bean Bisque with Crab! (You could also swap out the sweet potatoes for any kind of winter squash.) DELISH!

Friday, December 20, 2013

In which I create blackberry beer jam...

Back in September at a meeting of my book club, I sampled some blackberry beer jam that a friend acquired at a microbrew festival in Quebec. When I mentioned the jam in passing online, my beer connoisseur and brewmaster friend, Mike, got all excited and wanted to try some. So I thought I might buy a couple of jars for him as a Christmas gift. But it's not available online, and even a trip to the Unibroue Brewery in Chambly, QC proved, err, fruitless. So I thought, fine then, I'll make my own dang blackberry beer jam! How hard could it be? was a bit of a challenge, mostly because I searched the entire internet for a recipe that I could use or at least follow somewhat closely and modify, but I couldn't find much. Was this a bad sign? Is the sweet pairing of berries and beer that uncommon and far-fetched?

As it turns out, I ended up morphing together a recipe for rhubarb beer jam (yes, that's a thing) and a methodology for making seedless blackberry jam without commercial pectin, and I was shocked that my Franken-jam actually turned out GREAT! It was delicous, and it set up perfectly using natural pectin from green apples. I ended up with 14 half-pint jars of the stuff, and I mailed quite a few of those all over the country for friends at Christmas who were enticed by just the idea of blackberry beer jam, and by some of the pictures that  posted on Facebook, no doubt. I used frozen fruit at this time of year, of course, but I can't wait to try this again next summer when the local berries are ripe, and maybe make a raspberry beer jam, too!

I recommend making this jam over two days to split up the work and spare the cook, and also to enhance the flavors. I completed Phases I and II of Operation Blackberry Beer Jam in one evening session. Last night, I crushed four pounds of blackberries with a potato masher and cooked them with five cups of chopped Granny Smith apples (cores, seeds, peels and all) in three pints (four cans) of Long Trail Blackberry Wheat Beer for about 25 minutes until soft and pulpy. I pressed all of this through a fine mesh sieve, removing most of the seeds and skins. To the resulting ten cups of puree, I added an equal amount of sugar (I might cut this down to 75% next time), two split vanilla beans, and the zest and juice of three lemons.

At that point, I put the whole pot in the fridge and let it macerate overnight. Then today, I cooked it down until it reached 220 degrees (and passed the frozen plate test*), and then I jarred it up, processed it in a boiling water bath for ten minutes, and prayed that it would set without commercial pectin. And it did! YAY! I swear, I may have to go into business selling this stuff--it's a hot commodity!

*When you start cooking your jam, put a small glass plate in the freezer. Once the jam hits 220 degrees on a candy thermometer, place a teaspoonful on the frozen plate, let it cool for a minute, and then press it a bit gently with your fingertip. If it wrinkles, you're good to go. Alternately, run your fingertip through the middle of the jam, and if the furrow stays clear and the two halves of the jam don't run back together, you're good to go. If not, keep cooking the jam another five minutes and try the test(s) again.

LOOK at the gorgeous color of that purée!

I got 14 jars--PLENTY to share with friends as tasty little Christmas gifts!

Clinging to the spoon as it cooled--a PERFECT set!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cookie Party 2013: Christmas in Tuscany

If classes are finally over and fall semester is complete, it must be time for the Annual Padula Christmas Cookie Exchange! This year's luncheon theme was Christmas in Tuscany, and as always, it was an epicurean throwdown! Let me share some pictures from the affair...

How AMAZING is this wreath made of rosemary branches topped with a olive medley and marinated sundried tomatoes? So clever!

Appetizers: White bean and pancetta spread on crostini and more crostini stopped with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and fried sage. YUM!

The lovely luncheon tablescape.

The place settings--a tiny crock of homemade cinnamon honey butter made with Amish butter from Pennsylvania. Domenica said, "Like Texas Roadhouse, but BETTER!" Ha ha.

The main entrée was the world's BEST chicken and dumplings, or rather, homemade ricotta gnocchi that were light as a feather! I will have to make this delectable dish for myself at home. But in the meantime, here's the link to the recipe in Bon Appétit.

As if the cookies weren't enough, Domenica baked a showstopping dessert: An Italian cream cake filled with fresh orange curd and topped with toasted coconut and candied pecans. WOW!

THE COOKIES! (Thank you, Google, for the holiday "auto awesome" twinkle effect. Tee hee.)

As for my contribution to the festive exchange, I made Almond Roca Cookies. Apparently, Emeril had a cookie contest one year, and Lynn Scully of Rancho Sante Fe, CA was the winner. Well, I can tell you, these cookies are big winners! They look really fancy, but they are very simple, and I banged out six dozen of these bad boys in no time flat.

I only made one substantive change to the recipe. It calls for coarse ground almonds, so when I went to the store for ingredients, I bought almond meal or flour. Then when I looked at the pictures more carefully, I could see that they meant sliced almonds that you chop up further (I used a pastry cutter) in which to roll the dough. But I already had the almond meal, so I decided to use it, swapping out one cup of the AP flour. Then I doubled the baking soda to one teaspoon, as the nut flour is heavier than wheat flour. The cookies turned out nutty and crispy and absolutely delicious!

Oh, and I ran out of milk chocolate for drizzling at the end, so I did the last few with bittersweet, and though I am usually a fan of the darker chocolate, milk is the way to go to make these cookies taste similar to Almond Roca. However, my roommate and chief taster preferred the ones with bittersweet chocolate. So you do as your heart leads. ;-)

Almond Roca Cookies
(Source: adapted from The Cooking Channel)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I swapped out one cup of almond meal/flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (increase this to one teaspoon if using almond meal/flour)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 package toffee bits (I used the English toffee bits with milk chocolate)
1 cup coarsely ground almonds (I used sliced almonds that I broke up more with a pastry cutter)
4 ounces milk chocolate
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour(s), baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend sugars together on medium speed. Add butter and mix to form a grainy paste. Add eggs and vanilla and mix at medium speed until light and fluffy. At low speed, slowly add the flour mixture and then the toffee bits. Mix until just blended; do not over-mix.

Place ground nuts in a small bowl. Using hands, roll balls of dough into 1 to 1 1/2-inch balls, then roll in the ground nuts. Place on cookie sheets several inches apart. Bake approximately 22 minutes and then transfer cookies to a cooling rack.

Melt the chocolate with the vegetable oil in a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Drizzle melted chocolate over cooled cookies. Place cookies on a cookie sheet and place in freezer or refrigerator until chocolate is firmly set.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Early Deep Freeze! Time for a Warm-Up.

GOOD NEWS--of the Christmas miracle variety--is that it "warmed up" to 18 degrees today, and the hot water's back on in the kitchen! I am running the dishwasher at present, and if it stays thawed until tomorrow, I might even sneak in a load of laundry before the next deep freeze. CLEAN UNDERPANTS FOR EVERYONE! MERRY CHRISTMAS! HO HO HO!

Since the winter blast has come early and viciously this year, it's definitely time to get some hearty soups and stews bubbling away in the old crock pot. And I just happened to see the perfect candidate on a recent episode of Bitchin' Kitchen, a marvelous-looking stew where the vegetables are roasted before adding them to the stew. It sounded deliciously intriguing, so for dinner tonight, I made my version of Nadia G's Beef and Roasted Vegetable Stew. My friend, Karen, teases me that I'm always making a "version" of someone else's recipe, implying that I can't leave well enough alone, I suppose. And I know she's right, and yet I can't help but tinker.

More specifically, Nadia G's recipe called for beets (I hate them) and parsnips (love them, but didn't have any on hand). So I swapped out both sweet and gold potatoes in the roasted veg mix. I also had half a can of tomato paste knocking about in the fridge, so I threw that in the braising liquid for good measure. Oh, and I didn't have red lentils, so I used brown, and as is my way, I stewed the beef in the crock pot instead of on the stove top. So I'm not sure when it stops being Nadia G's recipe and starts becoming mine, but I always try to give credit where it's due.

Beef and Roasted Vegetable Stew
(Source: adapted from Nadia G's Bitchin' Kitchen)

5 carrots (4 chopped, 1 halved lengthwise)
4 parsnips, chopped (I swapped a few Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks)
2 red onions, chopped
4 beets, chopped (I swapped out a few sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 (1-inch thick) slices beef foreshank, with the meat cut into bite-size cubes, reserve bone (I believe I used a big flat-iron steak that I unearthed from the freezer)
1/4 cup flour, for tossing beef cubes into
1/2 cup red wine*
half a small can tomato paste, optional
6 cups beef stock
1 celery stalk, halved
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 pinch black peppercorns
1/2 cup dry red lentils (I used brown lentils)
pinch of brown sugar
*Cook's Note: Only use wine quality you would drink

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Chop four carrots, four parsnips (or gold potatoes), two onions and four beets (or sweet potatoes) uniformly, so they roast evenly. Spread root vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet, coat with 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, and add garlic, salt, and ground pepper. Mix. Roast in oven for 45 minutes. 

Heat three tablespoons olive oil in a large pan on medium-high. Lightly toss the beef cubes in flour and add to pan. Sear for a few minutes on all sides until meat has a crisp exterior. Deglaze the pan with red wine. Transfer the beef and juices into a big pot and add the halved carrot, organic beef stock, halved celery stalk, fresh parsley, bones (from the foreshank), bay leaves, thyme, and peppercorns. Cover and simmer for two hours (or in the crock pot on high for about six hours); check on stew occasionally, remove the scum from the surface of the stew. 

Remove and discard the soggy carrot halves, celery, bones, and herbs. Add the roasted vegetables, red lentils, and pinch of brown sugar and let simmer an additional 20 minutes. I added the brown lentils and brown sugar to the crock pot and cooked the lentils for about another hour until they were tender, THEN I added in the roasted veggies. (I would add the roasted veggies until after the lentils were cooked no matter what kind of lentils I was using and even if I was cooking the stew on the stovetop.)

Serve the stew in bowls topped with fresh, minced parsley. I serve mine over steamed rice, because that's how my momma did it. :-)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Minty Christmas Cake for My Colleagues

HALLELUJAH! I have come to the end of a very rough, very long semester. There were definitely points where I wasn't sure I was going to make it. Oh, I still have some more data entry to do to finish up grades, but it's pretty much all over but the shouting. And tonight, the Faculty Association ate, drank, danced, and shouted! It has been a few years since we've had a full-on holiday party, but the lovely wife of our new union president insisted it be reinstated, as she said she missed the dancing! (I did, too.)

We met at the local Elks' Club for a buffet dinner, but we were asked to provide a variety of homemade desserts. I was willing to contribute, of course, but I was just too wrung out and exhausted from finals to make anything elaborate. So this recipe is a bit of a cheater, as it starts with a boxed cake mix. And as usual, I managed to produce the ugliest cake in Christendom, so I hid a multitude of sins with some mini M&Ms and filled the hole in the middle of the bundt cake with fresh vanilla bean whipped cream. The people at the party had it half-devoured before I could even finish my dinner and get across the room to snap a messy, blurry picture. So I guess they liked it, regardless of its lack of visual appeal. ;-)

Mint Chocolate Cake
(Source: The Hungry Housewife)

1 box Devil's Food Cake
1 3.4 oz box cook and serve chocolate pudding mix (not instant!)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup coffee
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 1/2 cup Andes Creme de Menthe Baking Chips*

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cake mix and pudding mix. Add the eggs, oil coffee, sour cream, vanilla and peppermint extract. With and electric mixer, mix on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Stir in the Andes mints. 

Pour into the prepared bundt pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a tooth pick comes out with a few moist crumbs on it.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Invert onto a cooling rack and allow to completely cool.

Mint Fudge Icing

1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup Andes Creme De Menthe Baking Chips**
1/2 cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Put the Andes mints and the chocolate chips in a medium bowl.
In a small sauce pan over medium low heat, add the sweetened condensed. Bring the mixture to just under a boil. Remove from heat and add extracts. Pour the hot sweetened condensed milk over the mint and chocolate chips. Allow to sit for just a few minutes. Stir until the chocolate chips are completely melted. Pour over the cake.

*Cake- If you can not find Andes Creme de Menthe Baking Chips, you can use 54 regular Andes Creme De Menthe mints. Just unwrap and chop. You would need TWO 6 oz packages. Use all 36 in the first package and 18 of the second package.

**Mint Fudge Icing- if you can not find Andes Creme de Menthe Baking Chips, use the remaining 18 mints. Unwrap and chop.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

A Luscious Vegan Meal...With a Side of Meat

I have a friend from college and a former roommate when I was in grad school in Seattle who is a vegetarian, and she introduced me to a great vegan web site with many terrific recipes that would tempt (or fool) the most hardcore carnivore. I usually let my pal Vicki test drive the recipes, and then she recommends which ones I should try. That's how I discovered Oh She Glows' Layered Raw Taco Salad that's just out of this world, and I SWEAR you'd never miss the meat or the dairy!

The next recipe I tried was perfect for winter--hearty and rib-sticking, savory and meaty, without the meat. It's called Cozy Millet Bowl with Mushroom Gravy and Kale. Not only is it delicious, but it has an amazing amount of protein (16g) from the grain, mushrooms, and nutritional yeast. Now millet was a new grain to me (except when it's baked into bread), and nutritional yeast sounds like something a bodybuilder throws into his smoothie to bulk up. But apparently, it's used for its flavor as well as its nutritional value, especially for vegan recipes calling for a cheese substitute, as it has a nutty, almost parmesan-like flavor. You can find it at your local co-op (along with the millet), and the vegetarians have a cute nickname for it: "nooch!" LOL! I will definitely make this dish again, but next time, I might try swapping out different grains, like quinoa or farro. The possibilities are endless.

So I made this lovely vegan meal tonight, then decided it needed a side of meat. HA! At my friend Joanna's party over Thanksgiving weekend, the best appetizer that she served was also the simplest. She roasted cubes of butternut squash and some slices of smoked sausage, and put one piece of each on a toothpick to be served with a garlicky dip. It was SO GOOD! I didn't have butternut squash on hand, but I used about four peeled and cubed sweet potatoes and half of a smoked sausage, sliced up, and then everything tossed with a couple of tablespoons of grainy mustard and a little brown sugar before roasting at 400 degrees until tender and browned. I can't even begin to fathom the nutrient density and superfood power of this delicious meal! So make the millet dish as a bowl unto itself or as a side dish, but make it! 

Cozy Millet Bowl with Mushroom Gravy and Kale
(Source: adapted from Oh She Glows)

1/2 cup uncooked millet (makes 2 cups cooked)
1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped sweet onion (1 medium onion)
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups sliced crimini mushrooms (300 grams)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium tamari (soy sauce)
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1  1/4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup fresh chopped kale, stems removed
freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt, to taste

1. Toast millet: In a pot or skillet with a lid, toast the millet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it starts popping. Be careful you don’t burn it. The goal here is a light toast. Remove from heat. Cook millet: Bring a medium-sized pot of 1 cup water, a pinch of salt, and 1/2 cup uncooked millet to a low boil. Reduce heat to low and cover with lid. Simmer for 15 minutes or so. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes covered. Remove lid and fluff with fork. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, grab a large skillet and heat oil over medium heat. Add in chopped onions and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes.

3. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté for about 12 minutes longer, stirring as necessary. Now stir in the rosemary, nutritional yeast, and tamari. Cook for a few minutes.

4. In a small bowl, whisk together the broth and cornstarch until clumps are gone, and then stir into the mushroom mixture. Stir in kale. Cook for another 5-6 minutes or so, until slightly thickened. Portion millet into two bowls and serve the mushroom gravy on top.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Best. Party. EVER.

My friends, Joanna and Donnie Jackson of Woven Meadows Farm, threw a FABULOUS party over Thanksgiving weekend! The food was great (potluck) as was the fellowship, and we had LOTS of fun playing parlor games. One was a movie mashup game that was the brainchild of Professor Jackson.

She gave us two--or even three--movie descriptions where the ending of one title shared a word or letters with the adjacent movie title. An example would be if Kevin Spacey and John Cusack stared in a low-budget gore fest directed by Sam Raimi where antiques dealer, Jim Williams, encounters spirits inhabiting a cabin deep in the woods in Savannah, you would have Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Dead! Get it?

The rest of the night, we played a game that was like an extreme version of Celebrities called Salad Bowl. You fill a bowl with names of famous (or locally-known) people, then break into teams, and each player gives verbal clues to their teammates, trying to get them to guess as many answers as possible in one minute. Then the second round, you put the papers back in the bowl, and go again, but this time, you can only give one-word clues. For the third and final round, you do it one more time, but you can only act out the clues, like Charades. It was a RIOT! (Yes, we North Country folk have to work hard to make indoor fun when we have seven months of winter. Tee hee.)

Anyhoo, as I said, it was a potluck. And as I blogged before, I made some weirdly-addictive cracker candy thingies that both befuddled and delighted the guests. I also took a crock pot of my famous turkey wild rice soup, and it was very well-received (I had several recipes requests, as I always do). Though I was deeply offended when my (former?) friend, Tracy Guynup, declared it the "second best" soup he'd ever eaten, then started babbling about some Bookbinder Seafood Soup he'd had at a local deli (Broadview Deli) before it closed.

So I searched the interwebs and discovered that Red Snapper Bookbinder Soup is the signature dish of the Drake Hotel in Chicago, and the recipe has been widely circulated. I made some tonight for dinner. It was very good--but not even in competition with the beloved turkey wild rice, day-after-Thanksgiving soup! HMPH! (To be fair, my soup only had tilapia in it, and the one Tracy had was reportedly brimming over with different types of seafood. Maybe I'll try adding some shrimp and scallops next time.)

Red Snapper Bookbinder Soup
(Source: adapted from The Chicago Tribune)
Yield: 8 servings

Soup base:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 each, chopped: carrots, celery ribs, garlic cloves
1 onion, chopped
1/2 each, chopped: red and green bell pepper
12 crushed white peppercorns (I used multicolored)
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons each, chopped: fresh thyme, rosemary, cilantro
8 cups vegetable broth
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
salt to taste

Red snapper:
2 small onions, finely chopped
3 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 to 2 fillets (10 ounces total) red snapper (I used tilapia)
1/4 cup sherry (I used cream sherry)

1. For soup base, heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, garlic, onion and bell peppers; cook, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes. Stir in peppercorns, bay leaf, tomato paste, thyme, rosemary and cilantro. Cook 2 minutes. Add 7 cups of the broth: heat to boil.

2. Melt butter in small saucepan; add flour and cornstarch. Cook, stirring constantly, 4 to 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in remaining 1 cup broth until roux is smooth. Add roux to soup base; cover, simmer over medium-low heat 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Strain through fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth; discard solids. Return broth to pot.

3. For snapper, heat water to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and celery; blanch until soft, about 3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon; add to broth. Boil fish in same water until cooked through. Remove fish from water; flake very finely with fork. Stir snapper and sherry into soup base; heat through.