Monday, June 30, 2014

A Restorative Soup for the Ailing and for Their Caregivers

Well, my ridiculous roommate has gone and done it this time! After the end of a tiring week on Thursday night, I was looking forward to coming home, chilling out, and fondling the remote control for awhile. But when I arrived, poor Cyd was writhing in pain on the couch, and then running to the bathroom to be sick off and on for about two hours before we decided that it wasn't getting any better, and she needed to go to the ER. I was there with her all night, until they finally admitted her at about 6:00am for further testing. And she's been there ever since. They have run almost every test imaginable, but they still haven't been able to conclude what's causing her such severe abdominal pain. It's very frustrating, and it's hard to watch her suffer. :-(

Meanwhile, I'm doing my best to finish teaching my summer class, hold down the fort at home, attend my musical rehearsals in the evenings, and be at the hospital with Cyd as much as I can, all at the same time. It has been exhausting, to say the least. And, of course, I've been eating a lot of crappy food along the way.

So I decided, if I didn't get some nutritious food in me, that I was gonna have to join Cyd in the hospital soon! So before I left for the hospital today, I started a crock pot full of a Portuguese sausage, white bean, and kale soup. Then I just added canned beans and kale when I finally got home, and had a quick but very nutritious dinner. I actually bought the ingredients to make this awhile ago, because I have two other friends who have been battling illnesses, and I wanted to take something healing and nourishing to them. But now I'm hoping it will sustain me while I play nursemaid to my poor roomie. And--God willing--they'll discharge her soon, and I can help make her well with the leftovers.

Portuguese Sausage, White Bean, and Kale Soup

1 lb. linguica (but mild Italian sausage will do)
1 large onion, diced
2 large stalks celery, diced
1 large red pepper, seeded and diced (or a couple of roasted/jarred peppers)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes, to taste
2 teaspoons seasoned salt
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon paprika (you could do 1/2 smoked, if you like)
2 cans diced tomatoes, with juice (I like at least one of them to be fire-roasted)
1 quart chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 cans cannellini and/or Great Northern beans, drained
Small bunch of kale, de-stemmed and finely chopped

Sauté the sausage, onions, celery, pepper and garlic until the meat is browned and the veggies are tender. Deglaze the pan with the wine.

Scrape everything into a crock pot and stir in the rest of the ingredients, except the beans and kale.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4. Fish out the bay leaves and add the drained beans and chopped kale. Cook for another fifteen minutes or so until the beans are warmed through and the kale has wilted.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I dont know about Portillo's, but I know I love this salad!

I can't remember where I ran across this chopped salad recipe, and I'm not even familiar with the restaurant from which it was copycatted, Portillo's. Apparently, it's famous for Chicago-style food, such as hot dogs with all the crazy toppings and Italian beef sandwiches. But people must also love this salad, because the knockoff version seems mighty popular. And after enjoying it for dinner tonight, I can certainly see why! I particularly love the addition of the ditalini pasta (which really is better if you let it marinate in some of the balsamic dressing overnight). It's kind of like the love child of a green salad and a pasta salad. Perfect for summer suppers and backyard gatherings. YUM!! (It was prettier before I mixed it all up, but it tasted better after everything was combined.)

"Portillo's" Chopped Salad
4 cups cooked ditalini pasta
1 cup cooked and crumbled bacon
3 cups chopped romaine lettuce
3 cups chopped iceberg lettuce
2-1/2 cups chopped red cabbage (I prefer radicchio)
2 fresh tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 cup sliced green onions
4 ounces crumbled gorgonzola cheese (about 1 cup)
2 cups cooked and diced chicken 

Sweet Italian Dressing:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Cook ditalini pasta according to package instructions. Make sure you salt the pasta water while cooking to give it some flavor. Drain and cool. Set aside.

Cook bacon in a skillet until done. Let bacon cool, then crumble it.

Combine romaine, iceberg, red cabbage, tomatoes and green onions in large salad bowl. Add cooled pasta, bacon and gorgonzola cheese to salad. Add chicken. Add dressing to taste right before serving so that it doesn't get soggy.

For the dressing: Place vinegar, garlic, sugar, oregano, salt and pepper in a blender. While the machine is running, slowly drizzle olive oil through the blender top or feed tube until dressing is combined and emulsified. Store in airtight container in refrigerator for up to two weeks.

A tip: If you make the dressing ahead of time and add a little bit to the cooled pasta and let it soak it up in the fridge for some time it adds a whole lot of flavor.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Solsticelebration 2014

I can't believe it's already the Summer Solstice! Sheesh...time sure flies, especially at this time of year. But solstice time is celebration time at Woven Meadows Farm in Saranac. There was another amazing gathering and potluck today, and LOTS of good eats--beyond the main stage pig roast.

Because pork requires an awesome slaw to go with it, I made a batch of that fabulous Alabama Hot Slaw that I love so much, figuring that the only kind of cole slaw there would be the mayonnaise-y kind. I was wrong. Someone brought a fermented slaw that looked exactly like mine. UGH! This happened to me last year, too, when I took a lovely volcano rice and quinoa salad with sugar snap peas, and there were half a dozen other grainy salads in the same vein. *sigh*

Continuing my Southern theme, I made a cake that I was quite certain that no one else would bring, a Hummingbird Cake. It's a traditional layer cake with bananas, crushed pineapple, and spices. Some believe that it's called a Hummingbird Cake because it's so sweet with all the fruit and sugar, but apparently, the inventor of the cake liked to decorate the cake with pecans sliced width-wise, making them look like little hummingbirds in flight. Of course, for an informal, outdoor party, I just baked the batter in a half sheet pan for about 30 minutes, cooled it, plopped the icing on top, sprinkled it with some toasted pecans, and called it good. Easy-peasy! And it was well-received by the partygoers. I just had one corner piece to take home to my invalid roommate.

Hummingbird Cake
(Source: Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook, January 1999 via My Recipes)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans, divided
2 cups chopped bananas
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; add eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. (Do not beat.) Stir in vanilla, pineapple, one cup pecans, and bananas.

Pour batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round cakepans. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla.

Spread cream cheese frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake; sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup chopped pecans on top. Store in refrigerator.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Recreating My Wegman's Faves at Home

While I was at the PBGV National last month, one of our best dog trainers and competitors celebrated one of her dogs earning a MACH 3 (a very advanced agility title). They had a specially-decorated cake--for us humans, not the dogs. Initially, I declined a piece, because I'm not really a cake person. But her husband (who bought the cake) insisted I try it, that it was amazing....blah, blah, blah. It looked like a regular old grocery store cake to me. Boy, was I wrong! It was DELICIOUS! It had a dark chocolate bottom layer, fresh raspberries in the middle, a lovely, moist vanilla cake layer, and then a fairly thin coating of this creamy, whipped frosting (not nauseatingly thick and grainy like most commercial frostings). I asked the hubby where he got this wonderful cake, and I should have known, it was Wegman's, the world's best grocery store.

When I stopped at Wegman's on the way home to New York, I was tempted to buy a lemon raspberry cake that they were selling, but I was afraid that it wouldn't survive the long drive home in a hot car. I did buy  many other wonderful things, though. I especially love Wegman's salad and deli bars with all the prepared dishes. My favorite is their gigante bean salad. I bought a container of that to eat right away, but I also bought a big bag of dried gigante beans to try to replicate the salad at home.

And today was the perfect opportunity, as my friend, June, had a little end-of-the-school-year barbecue and potluck at her house. It turned out to be quite the gourmet event, too! A new couple, Ray and Ben, made a splash with a lovely Israeli couscous salad with fresh veggies and mint. My friends, The Cones, made a yummy pimento cheese spread, and a stunning shrimp cocktail platter. (Jarrod told me that his secret was cooking the shrimp with pickling spice. Yum!) And my friend, Patti, brought a comforting bundt cake that was a recipe of her mom's.

As for my contributions to the affair, I went with the Wegman's theme, and I brought both a gigante bean salad that I could easily live on and a cake that was in the style and flavor of the one that we enjoyed so much at the dog agility trial. It had both a vanilla layer and a chocolate layer with fresh raspberries as well as raspberry coulis in the middle, and a soft, whipped vanilla bean frosting. It was humble-looking (like all my cakes are--decorating is NOT in my wheelhouse), but it held together as it was sliced (that was my main worry), and I think the taste and texture were excellent. It was certainly an experiment worth repeating. Next time, I might try an oil-based vanilla cake to make it less dense, especially when refrigerated.

Gigante Bean Salad
(Source: adapted from Tamara Duker's blog)

Cook half a pound of gigante beans (soak overnight, then boil until tender). Roast one small red pepper and one small green pepper over open flame (your gas burner will do just fine). Peel their skins off and slice peppers into super-thin strips. (I used red and yellow roasted peppers from a jar.) Mix cooked beans with 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, two tablespoons olive oil, one tablespoon fresh chopped parsley (I used chives), 1/2 cup (or more, to taste) of roasted pepper strips, one or two minced garlic cloves, and salt to taste. I added a teaspoon of paprika. Let salad marinate in fridge for several hours so flavors can blend. Serve at room temperature.

White on White Buttermilk Cake
(Source: BakeSpace)
Note: I made half of this recipe in one cake pan.

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/3 cups sugar
3 large egg whites
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
To make the cake: Place one baking rack one-third from the bottom of the oven and the second two-thirds from the bottom. Preheat the oven to 350-f degrees. Line three 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper rounds, grease with butter, and dust with flour (or spray with flour added).

Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl on medium speed about two minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg whites and vanilla and beat on medium speed for about one minute. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add about one-third of the flour mixture to the batter and beat on medium speed until incorporated. Add about half of the buttermilk and beat on medium speed until incorporated. Continue adding dry and wet ingredients alternately, scraping the bowl down and beating until incorporated after each addition. End with the dry ingredients. The batter will be thick and glossy.

Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared cake pans. Stagger the cake layers on the oven racks so that no layer is directly over another. Set two layers on one rack and the third on the other. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean and tops are flat and browned. Monitor the layers carefully for doneness; each one me be done at a different time.

Set the cake pans on racks to cool for ten minutes. Invert the cakes onto the racks and cool completely before frosting. At this point the cakes can be tightly wrapped in a layer of plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil and frozen up to three weeks.

Beatty's Chocolate Cake (aka Hershey's Black Magic Cake)
(Source: Ina Garten, via Food Network)
Note: I made half of this recipe and baked it in one pan.

Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-inch x 2-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place one layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

In between the layers, I spread on a couple of tablespoons of raspberry coulis that I had in the freezer and a generous cup of fresh raspberries. Then I frosted the whole cake with a sour cream vanilla bean icing.

Sour Cream Vanilla Bean Frosting
(Source: adapted from All Recipes)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
5-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

In a medium bowl, mix together the butter, sour cream, vanilla, lemon juice and salt. Stir in confectioners' sugar, and beat with an electric mixer until smooth.

Monday, June 02, 2014

AL Fresco Book Club with NYC Theme

My friend, Janice, is in Pennsylvania with her husband who is working there until July 1st. She has always been such an AMAZING friend to me, that I thought I'd surprise her by planting a vegetable garden for her in her absence. It was a lovely idea, but OY, I feel 100 years old after being the Gardening Warrior yesterday! In the span of less than four hours, I turned over about 30 feet of planting beds, then proceeded to plant 4 (green and yellow) zucchini, 4 eggplants (purple and pink), 4 Lacinato (black) kales, 2 Mexican Sour Gherkin Cukes, 9 different kinds of heirloom peppers, 10 different types of heirloom tomatoes, 6 basils (sweet and bush), 3 Mammoth Dills, rosemary, Italian parsley, and--for the win--9 marigolds for aesthetics and pest control. WHEW! Plus, it took two trips to Walmart late that night to find suitable hoses, and I had to water everything in at almost 11pm by the flashlight app on my iPhone. I'm surprised the neighbors didn't call the cops! Anyway, behold the (eventual) fruits of my labors...

After my planting marathon (but before the watering debacle), I took a break and joined some lovely ladies for an al fresco book club meeting. The book was a contemporary thriller called Reconstructing Amelia, the theme was NYC, and we had yummy things like Reuben egg rolls, mini hot dogs with beer cheese sauce, and a pizza with sour cream, lox, and red onion. For dessert, there were ginormous chocolate chip cookies warm from the oven (a la Levain Bakery--my contribution), a lime cheesecake, and mini macarons in apple pie, Manhattan, and Cosmo flavors (from Delish downtown). Great weather, great food, great cocktails (Manhattans and Mojitos), and great discussion!