Wednesday, 30 December 2009

LINUS


This is Linus. A five and a half year old bichon frise who is very active and very affectionate. He also has a very healthy appetite. So it is fitting that there should be a post about him here, in a food related blog. He has watched me cook every recipe I've posted. He has even sampled some of them. Linus was kind enough to pose for the camera on Christmas day, 2009. With him was his very close and very best friend, Bastille. Linus hopes that everyone had a lovely Christmas, and he wishes a Happy New Year to all! Bastille concurs!


Bastille knows there's snow outside. On such days, she considers lounging by the fireplace a splendid passtime! This year we had a white Christmas. December snows are rare here in Philadelphia. We enjoyed the fire 'til the last few embers changed into ashes.

Bastille was feeling under the weather. The vet prescribed antibiotics, and she napped a lot. Bastille, get well soon! We love you very much!


Happy 2010 everyone!


Wednesday, 23 December 2009

STRING BEAN CASSEROLE


String bean casserole is a popular side dish to make during the holidays. Usually one finds recipes for it that call for canned cream of mushroom soup and bags of frozen green beans. Why use canned soup? It has an unbelievably high sodium content. Here we have a recipe that replaces the canned soup for a flavorful roux containing fresh mushrooms. The green beans are fresh and blanched to preserve their lovely green color. The onion rings are mixed with buttered bread crumbs, and once the topping is baked it takes on a crunchy and buttery deliciousness. Go back to the "original" recipes? After tasting this, NEVER!

Ingredients:
  1. 1 lb green beans, halved, ends trimmed
  2. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  3. 1 shallot, minced
  4. 2 tablespoons parsley
  5. 2 tablespoons butter
  6. ½ lb mushrooms, sliced
  7. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  8. 2 ½ tablespoons flour
  9. ¾ cup low sodium chicken broth
  10. ¾ heavy cream
  11. Ingredients for the topping, see below
Directions:




  • Blanch the string beans: Drop them in salted boiling water, lower the heat and cook them for 10 to 15 minutes, or until desired doneness is reached. Drain and blanch them by immersing them in an ice bath. This will stop the cooking process and preserve the green color of the string beans. Remove them and place them on paper towels to dry.

  • In a skillet heat the olive oil, lower the heat and add the shallot and parsley. Cook for one minute. Stir in the string beans and season with salt and pepper. Cook for one more minute stirring, remove from the heat and reserve.



  • Melt the butter and add the mushrooms and garlic. Season with salt & pepper and sauté until the mushrooms release their moisture and their liquid begins to evaporate, about 4 minutes.



  • Add the flour and keep stirring the mixture for about one minute. Add the broth and bring to a boil stirring all the while. Lower the heat, add the cream and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until you have a thickened mixture.

  • Add green beans to the cream and mix well. Correct the seasoning by adding salt and pepper if needed. Arrange the ingredients in a baking dish, spreading them in an even layer.



  • Sprinkle with the topping (see topping ingredients below), and bake at 425° F for about 15 minutes, until the cream is bubbly and the topping is crispy.
  • This dish can be partially prepared one day ahead. After arranging the string beans in a baking dish cover them and store them in the refrigerator. Store the topping in a separate container, and finish assembling when ready to bake. Make sure that you bring the dish to room temperature before baking.



Topping:
2 slices bread
1 tablespoon butter
1½ cups canned fried onion rings (3 oz)

  • Pulse the bread and butter and add it to the onion rings, mix well.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Escarole Soup, or Italian Wedding Soup


Mrs D is of Irish decent, a Canadian from Newfoundland, and she's had the reputation of making the best Italian home cooked meals in Philadelphia. That's a lot to say considering that there is such a large Italian population in the Philadelphia area. Many will disagree and nominate someone else to take over Mrs D's spot. I understand. A home cooked meal shared in the company of family and friends, made by a person one holds dear, can transport us to places of happiness and comfort and contentment. I suppose those are situations when we regress a bit, and become childishly carefree. We share our joy with those around us and we feel ever so cozy in the company of our host. Those are times well spent. So I am grateful to Mrs D and her family for "adopting" me, and giving me wonderful memories of occasions spent at their dining room table and at their hearth side. Mrs D, whose first name is Carmel, met Richard D, her Italian-American husband-to-be when he was stationed at an American air force base in Stephenville, Newfoundland, during the Korean war. Their love blossomed, they were soon married, and Carmel found herself ensconced in her new home in Philadelphia. It was West Philadelphia to be exact, the Overbrook section, St Donato's parish. Overbrook in West Philadelphia, was one of the neighborhoods where a large population of Italian Americans called home. Some of them still live there, most (like Mrs D and her family), have moved away. Carmel became close with her in-laws, especially with Anne, her new aunt. Aunt Anne taught Carmel all about Italian cooking, and soon Carmel was on her way to becoming a superb Italian home cook.
Carmel and Richard D... wonderful people!
So... my best friend is Donna D, Carmel's daughter. It is through Donna that I was first invited to Mrs D's, where eventually I spent many a Sunday and a holiday, sitting around the dinning room table talking, playing cards and "eating Italian." Thanksgiving and Christmas meals would always begin with escarole soup, otherwise known as Italian wedding soup. To honor Mrs D and Donna, I have taken escarole soup, tweaked it slightly (I like tweaking with recipes), and incorporated it into my own holiday traditions. Now when my Greek-Spanish-Italian family gets together for the holidays, we start our meals with escarole soup. When I go to see Donna for Christmas I always take a pot of the soup with me. We enjoy those succulent little meatballs swirling in aromatic chicken broth, and we reminisce about the old times. Her mother, our dear Carmel, is still with us at age 82, however she has succumbed to Alzheimer's disease. Unfortunately, her memory loss has become significant. She now resides in a nursing home and Donna oversees her care. Mrs D, Carmel, Carm, we remember you, we miss you, we love you!



ESCAROLE SOUP

Step 1: Make the chicken broth.
You can use store bought chicken broth, but we all know that to have a good soup base we must make our own broth, with chicken and soup vegetables. Store bought broth is all right to use if you need to make the soup in a jiffy, but for a special occasion start from scratch. To lessen the labor involved, the broth can be made a day before, or you can use broth you've made previously and then frozen. Here's how:


  1. Clean and wash one 5 lb chicken. Place it in a large soup pot. Add:
  2. three carrots roughly chopped
  3. three stalks of celery with leaves, roughly chopped
  4. one onion peeled and cut in quarters
  5. one parsnip roughly chopped
  6. one turnip cut in quarters
  7. one leek roughly chopped
  8. Add some dill and parsley, stems and all. Now spice it up:
  9. Add ten peppercorns, three cloves of garlic cut up, and salt.
  10. Pour water over the ingredients, filling the pot to about one inch from the rim. Place it on the stove top and bring to a boil, turn heat to low and cover. Allow soup to cook slowly, until the meat of the chicken can be easily pulled off the bone. Turn off the heat, and cool.
  11. When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove the chicken from the pot. Strain the broth and reserve it. Press down on the vegetables with a masher to remove their excess liquid and combine it with the reserved broth. Discard the vegetables.
  12. Remove the meat from the chicken bones and reserve some breast meat to be used when assembling the soup.
  13. You can save the rest of the cooked chicken for another use. You now have the broth that will be used as a base for your soup. Refrigerate it until ready to use.
  14. Tip: the fat in the broth rises to the top. While the broth is in the refrigerator, the fat will solidify. You can skim it off, and you will have a fat free broth.
Step 2: Prepare the escarole.

  1. Cook the escarole separately rather than in the broth. To save time you can make it a day ahead and store it in the refrigerator.
  2. Clean one large or two small heads of escarole very carefully. You'll have to wash them several times to make sure no soil or sand remains stuck to the leaves.
  3. Cut the escarole into pieces one to two inches in length
  4. Bring a pot of salted water to boil and add the escarole. Cook for about five minutes, until the escarole is wilted and has given off its liquid. Turn off the heat and drain the escarole. Immerse it in an ice water bath to blanch it. After about five minutes drain it and reserve it until ready to use.
Step 3: Make the meatballs.

  1. 1 lb lean ground beef
  2. 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  3. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 3 tablespoons parsley, minced
  5. 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  6. 1 egg beaten
  7. 2 tablespoons milk
  8. salt and pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients and shape into small meatballs, about one inch in diameter. Saute the meatballs in some vegetable oil until they are browned. Remove them onto paper towels. The meatballs will finish cooking in the broth.

Step 4: Assemble the soup
  1. Bring the broth to a boil (you should have about ten cups).
  2. Add two diced carrots and four chopped green onions.
  3. Drop the meatballs into the boiling liquid, lower the heat and finish cooking them.
  4. Cut up the reserved chicken breast into bite-sized pieces and add it to the broth.
  5. Add the escarole.
  6. Add two tablespoons of chopped dill and one tablespoon chopped parsley.
  7. Ready to serve! Plate it and pass around grated Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top.



Wednesday, 9 December 2009

CABBAGE AND RICE PILAF, FROM THRACE (LAHANORIZO)


Cabbage, the super vegetable! Cabbage is very low in calories - 35 calories for one cup. It's a good source of protein, vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, calcium, and fibre. It contains nutrients with anti-cancer properties, something cabbage has in common with the other vegetables in the cruciferae family to which it belongs. "Cruciferous" plants are so named because they bear four-petaled flowers, thus having blooms reminiscent of a crucifix. Some of the other vegetables in this family include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprout, turnip, radish, rapeseed (from which canola oil is processed), watercress, etc, etc, all of them with nutrients similar to those of cabbage, and all of them good for you.



At home, we remember the cabbage dishes grandmother used to make. She was a native of Thrace, a province in South-Eastern Europe, a region where cabbage and sauerkraut are popular cooking ingredients. 


Below is one of grandmother's recipes for cabbage: it's tasty and it's good winter fare. Sometimes this dish was served on its own, other times it accompanied roast chicken. I can still picture it in its serving platter in the middle of the table! 


Lahanorizo (cabbage and rice):


Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 head of cabbage, shredded
1 lb canned tomatoes, chopped
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup rice
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
  • In a Dutch oven heat the olive oil and saute the onions and garlic until the onions are translucent.
  • Add the cabbage and continue to saute, stirring frequently until the cabbage softens, about five minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and broth and mix. Bring to a boil.
  • Add the rice, raisins, almonds, pine nuts, and salt and pepper. 
  • Stir, and let simmer over low heat until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked. Make sure the rice does not dry out.
  • Place in a serving bowl, toss, then serve.