Sunday, April 8, 2012

Nail-inators and Focaccia for Easter

When I was about N's age (6 give or take) I liked to hammer nails into leftover pieces of wood.

I called them nail-inators.

Somehow my creations morphed into a means to dry the decorated egg shells that have been part of my family's Easter tradition for 79 years.

The egg shell idea came from my great grandmother. It was the Depression, so making due with what you had was what everyone did. Egg shells were cracked so the yolk and white could be dumped out through a quarter-sized hole in the pointy side of an egg. The shells were then painted, stuffed with candy, hidden and then hunted on Easter. In the picture, you can see three generations (my mom, me and N) painting eggs and drying them on the nail-inator.

This is a close-up of a nail-inator with some hammer-and-sickle eggs created by my husband.

This has nothing to do with focaccia except that, in preparation for tomorrow's Easter party, I painted eggs and made focaccia.

Focaccia is an easy thing to take to a party since it does not need to be refrigerated and tastes delicious. I like to pair it with fresh whipped ricotta and a glass of sparkling wine. I have a few bottles of Arte Latino Cava Brut that were $6 at Wegman's new liquor store in Cherry Hill that I will be bringing as well.

Side note: For $6 this wine cannot be beat. It is dry and lacks the depth of a higher end wine, but it also lacks the chemical taste of many cheap wines. For that reason, it is perfect to pair with appetizers and other rich foods that are complex on their own. If I am going spend the money on a high-end bottle with lots of depth, I am going to pair it with simple foods. A beautiful grass-fed rib eye with nothing but salt married with a deep rich Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, for example.

To make focaccia you need:

1 Store-bough pizza dough (I like Wegman's or you can make your own if you have the time. Don't use Trader Joe's dough, it tastes like chemicals)

Approximately 1 cup of whatever looks good from an antipasti bar. This time I used oil-cured tomatoes, roasted red peppers and roasted garlic. I could make all of these myself,but I needed to pack and get the house ready for a trip to Pittsburgh and DC, so I didn't.

Approximately 1/4 cup of good olive oil.

A couple sprigs of rosemary chopped fine.

Salt and pepper to taste.
  1. Starting from frozen (or cold) dough, drizzle dough with olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for a few hours until doubled in size and fluffy.
  2. Coat a rimmed baking sheet liberally with olive oil, use more oil than you think you should to make sure the dough doesn't sick. Alternately you can use less oil and a sheet of parchment but I like the fruity taste the olive oils give the bread.
  3. Press dough out into a rectangle-ish shape approximately 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick and cover with same plastic wrap.
  4. Allow dough to rise again for maybe another hour, give or take.
  5. Press your finger tips into the dough to make dimples and mash down any high spots.
  6. Top the focaccia with whatever toppings you chose along with the rosemary, salt and pepper.
  7. Drizzle with more olive oil.
  8. Bake in the over for approximately 25 minutes until golden brown and delicious.
  9. Drizzle more olive oil over the focaccia as soon as it comes out of the oven.
  10. Serve with fresh whipped ricotta (made by mixing fresh ricotta with heavy cream (or milk) and olive oil using a hand mixer until light and fluffy.)
This is the raw focaccia right before it went in the oven. You can see the pools of olive oil on the top. All of that will soak in. I experimented with using a silpat (silicone baking mat) since I was bringing this to Easter and I wanted to make double sure it didn't stick.

This is the golden brown and delicious focaccia right out of the oven.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rainy Day Chili

When I was very young we lived in Philadelphia, shopped at a co-op and mostly home made minimally processed foods. After my dad graduated college we moved to an apple orchard outside of Allentown and started growing a portion of our own food in addition to making our own bread, yogurt, etc.

I am really off the topic of chili here but there is a fun story about me as a 4 year old refusing to eat kale that my mom made. Kale is super curly and bumpy so you have to wash it really carefully to get all of the dirt off. My mom had carefully rinsed each leaf but when she served the cooked kale to 4 year old me I insisted there were bugs on it. My mother insisted it was pepper and assumed I just didn't want to eat the kale. My father chimed in: "Actually Irene, these are aphids." I didn't have to eat kale that night.

So what does a child raised to eat minimally processed natural foods do? Rebels a little. Stops reading labels. Stops being horrified by unpronounceable food additives.

Then she has a family of her own and reads "Omnivore's Dilemma" and news stories about pink slime in ground beef and starts to think carefully about the kinds of meat and dairy products I buy for my family.

So what does this have to do with chili? Nothing except that Whole Foods grinds their own chicken and turkey from locally sourced poultry and it only costs an arm. (instead of an arm and a leg, ha!)

The only pre-planning I did for this weekends chili as buying ground turkey. I had the rest of the ingredients on hand.

To make I used:

1 lb dry red kidney beans (soaked overnight but you can use 2 or 3 cans of canned beans with the liquid drained and discarded)
1 lb ground turkey thighs (or other ground meat is fine)
1 package chicken sausage (I used chicken andouille sausage from trader joe's)
1 large onion chopped
2 large garlic cloves chopped
1 shallot chopped (optional, I was using up what I had)
1 tablespoon cumin
1 can of fire roasted green chilies (also optional, I had these in the cabinet so I used them. You could also chop one fresh jalapeno pepper or skip it all together)
2-3 chipotle peppers (or the whole can if you like super spicy) from a can of chipotles in adobo (This is a great ingredient with lots of spice and flavor. Other things can be substituted but I would not substitute this.)
1 large can of whole tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon brown sugar
salt to taste (I started with 1 tablespoon and adjusted from there)

Sour Cream

  1. If you are using dry beans soak according to package instructions. I do this the night before.
  2. For optimal results, start your chili by around 11 am if you plan to have it for dinner that evening. The longer it cooks the better it gets.
  3. Chop onion, garlic and shallot and saute in olive oil over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of cumin.
  4. Add ground turkey to onions and chop with a spatula so that the turkey is in uniform pieces.
  5. Add whatever chilies you are using along with the broth, tomatoes and bay leaves.
  6. Chop sausage into bite size pieces and add to chili.
  7. Reduce heat to your stove top's lowest setting and simmer partially covered for 4-5 hours stirring occasionally to make sure the bottom of the pan is not burning. 
  8. As the tomatoes cook you should be able to mash them with the back of a spoon so they blend into the chili.
  9. After 5 hours the chili will have thickened and reduced by about 30-40%. Taste for seasoning and add salt as needed. You may need a pinch or so.
  10. I like to add about a tablespoon of brown sugar to soften the acidity of the tomatoes. It is not enough to make the chili sweet.
Once the chili is cooked set it over a very low burner to keep it just warm until you are ready to serve. I have a setting called "keep warm" that works perfectly. You could also put it in a slow cooker on it's lowest setting if you don't like to leave your stove on.

Serve the chili in bowls with sour cream, cheddar and cilantro as a garnish. Add beer and you have a perfect meal for an impromptu gathering of friends on a rainy afternoon. This batch served 6 adults with leftovers. 

Corn muffins make a lovely accompaniment even if you burn them a little. Good thing I have such wonderful friends who find nice things to say about burnt corn muffins ("the tops are super crispy and caramelized.")

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pow-Pow-Power Greens

Whole Foods has a new product called "Power Greens" and they are awesome!!

Power greens are a combination of baby spinach, baby chard and baby kale.

I sauteed them with a little butter and salt and served them with garlic and rosemary roasted chicken thighs and fingerling potatoes in a lemon and pepper broth.

Maybe someday I will start taking pictures with my camera instead of my blackberry so they don't turn out so blurry.

This is the version of the same dinner that I made for N. He doesn't like the texture of cooked greens but will happily eat them raw. He even declared kale his favorite but I suspect that was part of his diabolical plot to earn dessert.

To recap, buy power greens. They are good, they are good for you and your kids will eat them.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Made up as I go Grilled Cheese

Everything tastes good melted between two pieces of buttered and toasted bread. By everything I mean:

  1. Stinky French Brie with Rosemary Ham and Balsamic and Port Cherries
  2. Aged Gouda, Sharp Cheddar, Cilantro and Beer and BBQ Shallots
  3. Plain Sharp Cheddar

To make the Balsamic and Port Cherries I poured about 1/2 bag of frozen pitted cherries into a small sauce pan. To that I added maybe 2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (I didn't measure so really I have no clue) and another tablespoon of Noval Black (a cross between and Ruby and a Tawny Port I had at Spraga).  I cooked the cherries over medium heat until the liquid reduced to a syrupy consistency.

To make Beer and BBQ Shallots I sliced one really large (freakishly large really) shallot into rings approximately 1/8" thick. I cooked the shallots in a small sauce pan with olive oil, salt, pepper, 1/2 bottle of beer and 3 tablespoons of BBQ sauce over medium low heat until they almost melted into an oniony, bbq-ey paste.

The above things are made better by good friends who hang out in the kitchen with you while cook and more exciting by the herd of three boys running laps through the kitchen.

Friday, February 24, 2012


If there is one food that the whole house gets excited for, it's waffles!

Years ago Mark and I were inspired by Alton Brown of  Food Network's "Good Eats" fame to purchase a waffle iron. As Mr. Brown suggested we got a simple inexpensive model like this one. The first batch we made was this recipe from Good Eats. The waffles were good but not as light and crispy as we had hoped for. A quick internet search by Mark revealed that the secret to truly crispy waffles was corn starch. He found this recipe which I adapted and used to make this mornings waffles.

The recipe below is a doubled version and will make about 8. The waffles freeze nicely. Mark toasts the frozen waffles for a few minutes until they are warmed through and serves them on school/work day mornings. Beats the pants off store bought waffles any day!

To make you need:

1.5 Cups Flour (Whole Wheat or White Whole Wheat are especially good)
1/2 Cups Cornstarch
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Baking Powder (There are recipes that use yeast instead of chemical leavening but they require more advanced planning than waking up and deciding to make waffles)
2 Cups milk
2 Lemons worth of Zest and Juice
3/4 Cup Vegetable Oil
2 Eggs (separated)
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1/4 Cup Turbinado Sugar
2 Tablespoons Sugar

  1. Zest two lemons into a 4 cup measuring cup or a medium bowl. 
  2. Squeeze lemon juice from both lemons into the same cup/bowl.
  3. Add milk to lemon juice and set aside. (This is a substitute for buttermilk that I like more than using buttermilk itself. I always have milk and usually have lemons. I never have buttermilk.)
  4. Whisk together flour, cornstarch, salt,  baking powder, baking soda and turbinado sugar in a large bowl. Set aside. 
  5. Separate the eggs. Yolks can go directly into the milk/lemon mixture. Whites go in a separate bowl.
  6. Add oil to the milk, yolk mixture and whisk to combine.
  7. Pour step 6 mixture into step 4 mixture and whisk to combine.
  8. Whip the egg whites that you separated into their own bowl in step 5 until frothy. Add the 2 Tablespoons of (plain) sugar and whip until soft peaks form. Sometimes I do this by hand just to prove that I can do it. Other times I am more reasonable and use a hand mixer with a whisk attachment.
  9. Fold whipped egg whites gently into batter, set aside.
  10. Pre-heat your waffle maker according to manufacturers instructions. 
  11. For my waffle maker I can fit about 6 oz of batter per waffle without it exploding out the side. Cook waffles for about 3 or so minutes until the steam stops and the waffle is golden brown. Trial and error is the only way I know of to come up with the right amount of both bater and time. As I have discovered, steam and smoke can look surprisingly similar.
  12. Do let your waffle maker return to temperature between waffles. A hot iron will lead to better texture. 
  13. Waffles for a crowd can be kept warm in a 200 F oven.
  14. Waffles are especially good with the best syrup ever.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012

    They're Bananas!

    One of (the many) reasons my husband and I make such a good couple is our ability to complete a bunch of bananas together. I only like barely ripe bananas with a good bit of green. He only likes ripe bananas that are just beginning to get spots. Sometimes we completely miss the proverbial banana boat and the bunch goes all the way to over ripe. When this happens I toss the bananas into the freezer and save them to make banana muffins. Thrifty, huh?

    To make you need:

    3 to 4 over ripe bananas
    1/4 cup of melted butter or vegetable oil
    1/4 cup sugar
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (sometimes I use 1 cup flour plus 1/2 cup almond flour)
    1/4 tsp salt
    1 egg
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    Chocolate Chips (as many as you want)

    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
    2. Mash the bananas in a large bowl.
    3. Mix in the melter butter (or oil), sugars and egg.
    4. Add flour, salt and baking soda.
    5. Mix together by hand until just combined.
    6. Add chocolate chips and stir to incorporate.
    7. Did you notice that this recipe can almost be accomplished in one bowl!
    8. Line a muffin tin with 12 muffin liners. I've never successfully extracted a cupcake or muffin without a liner so I always use them.
    9. Divide batter evenly, should make 12 muffins.
    10. Optional: Sprinkle the top of each muffin with some turbinado sugar to give them a little sparkle and crunch.
    11. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until puffed, cracked and golden brown. Rotate the pan halfway through for even cooking.

    We had these muffins for dessert the night I made them and then for breakfast the next morning.

    Monday, February 6, 2012

    Surgery Day

    February 7th is surgery day. It started in 2006 when my infant son had open heart surgery to repair a defect that prevented oxygenated blood from properly flowing through his body. Before the surgery, he was blue; after he was pink. I am certain we celebrated 2/7/2007, 2008 and 2009 with a fancy meal and a bottle of wine. We remembered last minute 2/7/2011 and I think I threw something together, but I don't remember what.

    Tomorrow is 2/7/2012, my son has no memory of the surgery and has perfectly normal heart function. This year, I am going to let it go. It's time.

    So for 2/7/2012, we are going to have turkey sloppy joe's (made with a pound of ground turkey, a can of tomato paste and a packet of sloppy joe mix) and microwaved sweet potatoes because that's the kind of "easy to throw together everyone likes" dinner we have on a an average school/work night.