Friday, March 28, 2014

Heart to Heart

A gang of folks was playing pub trivia Wednesday night as we usually do, but one of our friends who usually joins us was conspicuously absent, as was another friend, Vicky. About halfway through the game, I got a text from Vicky saying that she was not at trivia because she was at the hospital with our other friend--he had had a heart attack! Fortunately, he survived, and they decided he did not need a bypass, but rather a few strategically placed stents (so it was fairly serious).

I am so grateful that he is going to be okay, but of course, he is going to have to make some lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, exercising for 150 minutes a week, and eating a heart-healthy diet. His wife says that it probably wouldn't be realistic to try and accomplish ALL of these changes at once, so he's going to start with stepping down the smoking and building up the exercise. But when he came home from the hospital today, I wanted to deliver a heart-healthy meal to them for their welcome home dinner.

I sort of followed the model of my favorite cavatini recipe, but making some heart-healthy swap outs that I hoped the recovering cardiac patient wouldn't notice. (It should come as no surprise that he's a very picky eater.)

First of all, I made a big cauldron of sauce, beginning with two pounds of low-fat turkey sausage (one mild, one hot), a large chopped onion, and a whole head of minced garlic. In the spirit of Jerry Seinfeld's wife who hides vegetables in various foods to fool finicky children, I also added a couple of carrots and a small zucchini (both shredded) and 12 oz. of finely-chopped brown mushrooms to the saute. I deglazed the pan with about a half cup of red wine and a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Then I stirred in a family-sized jar of chunky garden veggie jarred sauce, a couple of pints of my own home-canned tomato sauce, a big palmful or two of dried Italian herbs, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper (to taste).

Leaving the sauce to simmer, I boiled and drained some multigrain penne (I knew whole wheat pasta would be detectable and rejectable). As I was preparing a double batch of this "recipe," I made one 9x13 pan for the cardiac patient and his wife, and 8x8 pan for me and my roommate, and one additional 8x8 pan for another friend who is the primary caregiver for his mother, who unfortunately is battling cancer and a breathing disorder of some sort.

I built each casserole in disposable foil baking pans with some sauce on the bottom, a layer of cooked pasta, a layer of turkey pepperoni slices (on the two smaller pans, not for the man fresh out of the hospital!), more sauce, and a layer of shredded full-fat mozzarella cheese, because low-fat and no-fat cheese is gross. I repeated this order of ingredients in a second layer, and then baked the pans of pasta at 350 degrees for about a half hour.

I delivered the casseroles to their recipients this evening. Later, via Facebook, I learned that the cardiac patient had several helpings of pasta and was none the wiser about its healthfulness. (BWA-HA-HA, she laughs triumphantly!) And my other friend, the sole caregiver to his frequently hospitalized mother, declared it, "Yummy McYummerston!" Tee hee. I highly recommend this dish for those recovering from health issues, new mothers, those grieving a loss, folks who have just moved, or any time a delivery of a home-cooked meal would be especially appreciated.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

It may be Spring Break, but I'm still cooking like winter.

I just got back from a week-long vacation in Mobile, Alabama where it is lush and green and sunny and in all other ways, springtime. And yet, back home in northern New York State, we're still flirting with temperatures near zero and tormented by late-season snowfalls. So upon my return, I busted out my big purple Dutch oven and made a hearty, belly-warming beef dish called Flemish Carbonnade. It's a sweet and sour Belgian beef stew made with onions and beer. And I served it over butter and parsley egg noodles with a side of roasted sweet potatoes and parsnips. (The next day, I combined the leftover veggies into the stew, as pictured.) Very satisfying! 

Beef Carbonnade
(Source: Saveur)

2 lb. beef chuck, cut into 2″ x 1/2″-thick slices (my roast was over 3 lbs. and I cut it into big chunks)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup flour
4 tablespoons butter
4 slices bacon, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 cups Belgian-style ale, like Ommegang Abbey Ale
1 cup beef stock
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs tarragon
1 bay leaf

Bread, for serving (I served it over egg noodles with butter and fresh parsley)

*I also cut up and roasted several carrots and parnips to serve on the side, but I added them to the stew the next day.

Season beef with salt and pepper in a bowl; add flour and toss to coat. Heat two tablespoons butter in a 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add beef; cook, turning, until browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate; set aside. Add bacon; cook until its fat renders, about 8 minutes. Add remaining butter, garlic, and onions; cook until caramelized, about 30 minutes. Add half the beer; cook, scraping bottom of pot, until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes. Return beef to pot with remaining beer, stock, sugar, vinegar, thyme, parsley, tarragon, bay leaf, and salt and pepper; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until beef is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Serve with bread (or over egg noodles).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Too much milk? Have I got a soup for you!

I have been so CRAZED this semester, that I haven't even had time to act as the Soup Nazi at work like I usually do. I have also been too busy to do a ton of home cooking, so I am getting backlogged with my bi-weekly milk deliveries. (You should see the fridge in the garage--it's basically all jars of milk!) So I started searching for recipes that used about two quarts of milk, and I found this Loaded Baked Potato Soup. Not only is it full of dairy goodness, but it's really easy to make, and my co-workers HOOVERED it up--I barely got a mug-full myself! I definitely have to make this one again.

Loaded Baked Potato Soup
(Source: Southern Food at
Serves 6-8

2/3 cup (about 11 T) butter

2/3 cup flour
7 cups milk (I used two full quarts of Woven Meadows' Best--maybe more after it sat and thickened)
4 large baking potatoes, baked, cooled, peeled and cubed (about 4 cups)--I used eight smaller ones
4 green onions, thinly sliced (I probably doubled this amount)
10 to 12 strips bacon, cooked, drained, and crumbled
1 1/4 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese (I probably used 1 1/2 cups, cheddar and jack)
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
3/4 teaspoon salt (or more, to taste)
1/2 teaspoon pepper (or more, to taste)
*I also added about a teaspoon of granulated garlic (because I like it sprinkled on my baked potato!)

In a large Dutch oven or stockpot over low heat, melt butter. Stir in flour; stir until smooth and bubbly. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly, until sauce has thickened. Add potatoes and onions. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until soup begins to bubble. Reduce heat; simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients; stir until cheese is melted. Serve baked potato soup immediately. (It seemed to reheat well the next day, but do it on low so it doesn't break and get grainy.)

Sunday, March 09, 2014

My "New" Favorite Restaurant: Blue Paddle Bistro

A couple of months ago, I was in the thick of my annual quest to see all of the award-nominated films before the Golden Globes. I took my friend, Vicky, to the Roxy in Burlington, and after our double feature, we were discussing getting dinner, when I had the brilliant idea to call the Blue Paddle Bistro in South Hero, which would be on our route home. In fact, I have been passing the cute little restaurant for NINE YEARS travelling back and forth from the ferry to Vermont, but I had never stopped and tried it out. Big mistake. HUGE. Also, I had a JumpOnIt coupon to try it, so the Universe was clearly trying to tell me something. ;-)

First of all, I called to inquire about a reservation about 45 minutes before we arrived on a Saturday night, and they were kind enough to accommodate us. When we got there and stepped inside, we saw that it was cozy and charming, and the co-owner, Mandy, who manages the front of the house, was just a delight! In fact, we ended the evening trading pictures of our scruffy, bearded doggies and becoming Facebook friends.

And the food--oh, the food! Chef Phoebe might be turning out the finest food in the region. Our shared appetizer: Pan-Seared, Cinnamon-Dusted Caramelized Sea Scallops with a Cider Butter Reduction and Applewood-Smoked Bacon.

For our entrees: Vicky had a butternut squash ravioli, and I had Coffee-Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes, Sauteed Veggies and a Sweet and Spicy Hoisin Drizzle. Everything was CRAZY GOOD!

Recently, Mandy has started writing a column for the
Burlington Free Press called "The Unpretentious Gourmet," and in it, she has shared a couple of Chef Phoebe's awesome recipes. The one I made tonight was their most popular soup, cream of mushroom. Of course, I made a few adaptations, as is my way. Instead of chicken soup base, I used MUSHROOM soup base (see how clever I am?), I chopped the mushrooms instead of slicing them (personal/textural preference), and I didn't have any caraway seeds, so I used celery seed, thyme, and dill weed. DELISH!

Note: I asked about the direction to avoid extra virgin olive oil, and Chef Phoebe responded that, for small quantities, she thinks it's a better flavor. EVOO has flavor which you don't want with the mushrooms. She continued: "Here at The Paddle, we make large amounts of soup so I do use oil because it doesn't burn as fast as butter. Hope this helps."

Blue Paddle Cream of Mushroom Soup
(Source: Chef Phoebe Bright, Blue Paddle Bistro, South Hero, VT)

4 tablespoons kitchen oil or butter (not extra virgin olive oil)
1 medium white onion, chunky chopped (about 1 cup)
4 celery stalks, chunky chopped (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
8 cups domestic mushrooms, sliced
½ cup white wine (you should never cook with any wine that you wouldn’t drink, so have a sip)
1 tablespoon chicken (or veggie) base mixed with 1 cup water
1 quart heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
A shake of the wrist of Tobasco sauce

1. Warm up a stock pot.
2. Add oil, celery, onion and caraway seeds.
3. Let cook down to a medium softness.
4. Add wine and continue cooking on medium heat until the mixture is a bit softer.
5. Add mushrooms and chicken/veggie stock.
6. On low heat, continue cooking until mushrooms are soft (at least 20 minutes – this slow process brings out the flavor of the mushroom to an oatmeal color as Chef Phoebe called it)
7. Add one quart of heavy cream.
8. Add salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce to taste.
9. Let your soup simmer for another 15 minutes or so; do not bring to a boil.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Had a rough week? You need cheesecake therapy!

Despite (or perhaps because of) my long, arduous week at work, I came home and engaged in a little baking therapy. I recently ran across a recipe for...wait for it...CARROT CAKE CHEESECAKE(!) that I wanted to try. Although the result was tasty, it may have been an idea that was better in concept than in execution. It has you bake the carrot cake first, cool it, then pour the cheesecake mixture over and bake again. The double baking of the cake makes it, well, overbaked and a tad dry. Moreover, the cheesecake is delightfully tender and fluffy, but the dense bottom layer makes for a dessert that is yummy, but rather unsound structurally. I can think of only two remedies for this problem. One, maybe you could freeze the carrot cake until it's very firm, then bake the cheesecake on top of it. That might help matters. Or you could bake the parts separately and then combine, which sounds dangerous, but I've done it before successfully with this laborious recipe.

If you do make this cheesecake, I recommend using a 10-inch spring form pan; a 9-inch is a little too small and all the cheesecake won't fit in the pan, nor will there be room for the sour cream topping. Also, I quadrupled the sour cream in the topping (from 2 T to 1/2 cup), and I highly recommend that you do the same, or else you will get mostly sweetness and not that characteristic tang of sour cream, which I simply adore.

Carrot Cake Cheesecake
(Source: Food Network)

Carrot Cake:
1/2 cup pecan halves, plus more, chopped, for garnish
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
kosher salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups shredded carrot (2 to 3 medium carrots)

three 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sour Cream Topping:
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream (I increased this to 1/2 cup)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt

For the carrot cake: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F. Spread 1/2 cup of the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden and toasted, 10 to 12 minutes. Allow to cool, and then finely chop.

Combine the pecans, flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the oil, sugar and eggs in a separate bowl. Stir the carrots into the egg mixture. Fold the carrot-egg mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. Pour into an ungreased 9-inch springform cake pan and tap it on the counter to even out the batter. Bake until the cake bounces back when pressed and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. The cake can be made a day ahead and stored in the pan.

For the cheesecake: Beat the cream cheese, sour cream and granulated sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until smooth and creamy, about five minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the flour, lemon zest and juice and vanilla, about one minute.

Pour the cheesecake mixture over the carrot cake. Wrap the bottom and sides of the pan with a large piece of foil. Put in a roasting pan or a large baking dish and fill halfway up the sides of the cake pan with water. Bake until the cheesecake is pale yellow and just jiggles slightly in the center, about one hour. Turn off the oven and let the cheesecake rest in the hot oven for 30 minutes. Remove, run a sharp knife around the edge and let cool completely on a rack. Cover and refrigerate eight hours or overnight.

For the sour cream topping: Whisk together the confectioners' sugar, sour cream, vanilla and salt. Spread on top of the cheesecake; garnish with chopped pecans. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. Cut into slices and serve.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

(Who You Calling) Fat Tuesday

My dear friend, Janice, has been out of town a lot lately (she's teaching online classes only this semester), but she made it back to Plattsburgh just in time for us to celebrate Mardis Gras together with this FABULOUS Cajun feast that she and her daughter, Domenica, prepared for us.

Shrimp cocktail, mixed nuts, and a cocktail called Blackberry Bourbon Street Brut.

Crawfish dip with French bread, Andouille sausage slices, mixed nuts. 
The Blackberry Bourbon Street Brut (recipe to follow)
Tom sporting the requisite colors: purple, gold, and green.

The festive Mardis Gras table.



Left to right: Southern Fried Chicken over Ham, Mushroom and Potato Hash, Boiled Crawfish, and Baked Shrimp Scampi.

I forgot to photograph the desserts, but we had a king cake (of course), some Mardi Gras-themed petit fours, and a wonderful bread pudding with a very boozy rum sauce that my friend, June, brought to the party. Everything was delicious, but I think my favorite thing of all was the special blackberry cocktail that Domenica whipped up for us. 

The Blackberry Bourbon Street Brut 
(Source: Cosmopolitan Magazine)

1 1/2 oz. Camarena Silver Tequila
2 oz. brut Champagne
7 large blackberries
1/2 oz. agave nectar
1/4 oz. lemon juice
Garnish: blackberries

Muddle blackberries, agave nectar and lemon juice in a glass. Pour ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Add tequila, shake, and strain into a large rocks glass filled with ice. Top with brut Champagne and garnish with a skewered blackberries.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

And the Best Supporting Award Goes to...SHORT RIBS!

Today is my most high holy day: OSCAR DAY! My goal was to be in my comfy chair, live-blogging undisturbed by the time the celebrities hit the red carpet. So early in the day, I started a crock pot of short ribs going. It was sort of a hybrid of a couple of my favorite recipes, and they turned out FABULOUSLY, if I do say myself--definitely deserving of a Best Supporting statuette!

Italian-Style Short Ribs

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 lbs.(more or less) short ribs seasoned with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic
2 onions, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 red peppers, seeded and diced
*I sometimes throw 8 or 12 oz. of sliced mushrooms in as well, if I have them on hand
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups red wine
1 can tomato paste
2 tablespoons Italian herbs
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
pinch of hot red chili flakes
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
28 oz. diced or crushed tomatoes (I used one can Italian-style, plus one can fire-roasted)
1 1/2 cups beef broth

Abbreviated methodology:
Brown the ribs on all sides, add to the crock pot. Drain off all but two tablespoons of the fat from the pan and sauté all veggies until tender. Deglaze with wine, and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir, pour over ribs. Cook on high until the bones fall out (remove those as well as any big fatty/grisly bits), then cook a little longer until the meat can be pulled apart easily. Check the seasoning and serve over pasta (preferred) or mashed potatoes.

Note: As this is cooking, use a turkey baster to keep siphoning off the fat from the top of the sauce. Alternately, if you have the time, when it's done cooking, refrigerate overnight, remove the solidified fat and reheat. As a bonus, the flavors will be even better the second day!

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Glazed and Confused

I was running dangerously low on my beloved Bayou Bourbon Glaze with no Tastefully Simple parties in the foreseeable future. I thought about ordering a bottle from someone on eBay, but the glaze is eight bucks a bottle--which is bad enough--and then the shipping was another seven bucks! This is always the point at which I say to myself, "Screw it! I'll make it myself!" And so I did, just like the copycat of Garlic Garlic that I produced a few weeks ago.

I consulted the ingredients on the back of the TS bottle, and began my experimentation. The first batch was mighty tasty. My roommate even said she preferred it to the original, except for one thing--too salty. So batch number two had half the soy sauce. It tasted perfect, but by the time it sat in the fridge overnight, it was thick enough to glue on roofing shingles. So I melted it back down, thinned it out with some water, and TA-DAH, it was perfect. Annnnnd...I've just saved you eight bucks a bottle! #yourewelcome

Gina's Bourbon Blast Glaze

1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup bourbon
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups water
1 large onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons Tabasco (or hot pepper sauce of choice)
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer until thickened and syrupy, about 30 minutes.