Sunday, May 31, 2009

More More Morels

May 2009 495  Morels are not exactly the kind of mushroom you can run out and readily find in the stores. For the short season they make their appearance in the spring, they’re not that easy to find in the woods either, unless you know what to look for and where to look.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to look.  My brother Frank did. He’s an experienced mycologist from way back and knows his amanita from his boletus, if you know what I mean.

When he called and offered to bring me some morels, I grabbed the chance and offered to cook some for him, as well as some venison from his last hunt in December.  It’s been in the freezer for several months and it was time to use it before the weather got really warm. Besides, I needed to show him my appreciation for his hunting/gathering skills so he’ll keep me in mind when he heads out  deep-sea fishing for tuna this summer (Are you reading this Frank?) Yeah, my brother is one of those people who could easily live off the land (and sea) with the survival skills he’s honed over the years. But what would you expect from a guy who was holed up in a nuclear sub for months at a time (after his cushy stint on the USS Constitution).

I’ll save the details on the venison until at least the fall, when you’ll feel like braising again, but suffice it to say that after adding four cups of wine and simmering the roast for four hours, a couple of people at the table (who shall remain nameless) went back for seconds, and then for thirds. But more about that another time.

If it had been winter, I’d have served the venison with polenta, but in a nod to the season and in deference to the morels that were begging to be used, I made a risotto instead. It’s basically the same technique as any other risotto, but the ingredients this time were morels and zucchini.  

The morels Frank brought in the photo above were dried, so I needed to rehydrate them first. Here’s what they looked like after an hour or so in room temperature water. Sort of like little brown sponges.

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And here’s what the finished risotto looked like:

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Here’s the recipe. Now I know that morels aren’t available at your corner store and not everybody has a brother Frank like mine, so just substitute dried porcini if you can’t get morels. You could even use fresh button mushrooms, but they wouldn’t have the same earthy, woodsy flavor.

Risotto with morels and zucchini

1 T. olive oil

1 T. butter

1 medium onion, finely minced

1 zucchini, diced

1 cup dried morels, rehydrated in water (slice them if large, otherwise leave whole)

2 cups arborio rice

1 cup dry white wine

about 4 cups chicken broth

salt, pepper

2 T. fresh thyme, minced

2 T. butter

3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

minced parsley

Add the 1 T. olive oil and butter to a pan and saute the onion briefly, then add the zucchini and saute for a few minutes. Add the rehydrated morels and saute for a few minutes. Here’s what it will look like:

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Then add the rice to the skillet and cook for a couple of minutes over medium heat. Add the white wine all at once. Stir over medium heat and slowly begin to add the chicken broth, a ladleful at a time. Add the thyme, salt and pepper. Keep stirring the rice and adding more broth each time the liquid starts to evaporate. Continue this process for about 20 minutes, or until the rice seems cooked and becomes “creamy” looking.  Remove from the heat, add the remaining 2 T. butter and the parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the minced parsley on top.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Shrimp and Avocado Salad with Creamy Dressing

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I’ve nearly always got a bag of frozen shrimp in the freezer and it comes in handy for a quick throw-together meal, such as pasta with shrimp – or this cold shrimp and avocado salad, perfect for when the weather is warm. It makes a nice first course if you’re having company, but it’s also great as a lunch or dinner if you make the portions larger and add some crusty bread. The hardest part is remembering to buy avocados and ripen them at home for a couple of days ahead of time.

Shrimp and Avocado With Creamy Dressing:

Cook the shrimp in some boiling water that’s been seasoned with a celery stalk, some black peppercorns and a slice or two of onion. Cook the shrimp for only about three minutes, then drain and cool. Do not overcook!

Slice 1/2 of an avocado and arrange on a plate next to six jumbo shrimp. Squeeze some lemon juice over shrimp and avocado. Decorate with parsley sprig. Pour the dressing on top.

Here’s the creamy dressing recipe, which makes A LOT. We served six jumbo shrimp per person and had plenty of dressing leftover. If you were to use it strictly for this recipe, you’d probably have enough dressing for eight people. Or save leftover dressing in the refrigerator and use on other salads, or as a sandwich spread.

Dressing recipe:

1 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup ketchup

2 T. lemon juice

1 1/2 t. sugar

1 t. chopped onion

1/8 t. paprika

1 garlic clove

2 t. capers

1/4 c. chopped parsley

handful of chives

1 sweet pickle, chopped

1/4 c. dill

Place all of the above ingredients in a food processor and whir for a minute or so until everything is chopped up and blended together. Refrigerate.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Citrus-Glazed Polenta Cake

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This is the second recipe I’ve tried from Gina DePalma’s book “Dolce Italiano,” and so far (please don’t throw stones) I’m not enthralled with her recipes. I know that’s almost heretical to say, since she’s won awards and kudos from many people much more culinarily qualified than I, so I’ve concluded that I’m doing something wrong. Gina worked in the pastry kitchen at the Gramercy Tavern and was pastry chef of The Club Room before Mario Batali hired her at Babbo restaurant. She’s also this year’s winner of the prestigious James Beard  award for outstanding pastry chef. Unfortunately, she’s also struggling with ovarian cancer right now and I wish her nothing but the best.

I’m also hopeful about this cookbook, even though I’ve had less than stellar results so far. It’s loaded with recipes and photos that really speak to me since they are reminiscent of many of  the simpler desserts I’ve eaten in Italy and with my Italian friends here. That includes single-layer cakes like this one, rather than the multi-tiered layer cakes so commonly served in the U.S. (not that I don’t love them too). I still want to try many of her other recipes, including a luscious-looking mocha-cinnamon bonet and those darling chocolate-kisses cookies, but so far the first two desserts I’ve made have left me wondering what all the fuss is about.

The first recipe I made from this book was the ricotta pound cake, which has been rhapsodized by so many bloggers. On my first attempt at the recipe, the flavor was good, but the cake sank in the middle and had a slightly rubbery crumb. I figured I must have done something wrong – maybe I didn’t follow the recipe exactly or maybe I should have left it in the oven longer. So I baked it again, being meticulously exact in measuring the ingredients. I left the cake in the oven a bit longer to avoid what happened the first time and still, it cratered slightly in the middle and had a rubbery texture.

Yesterday I tried my hand at the citrus-glazed polenta cake. I used all the proper ingredients, including the fine polenta called for in the recipe. Before baking it, I searched the web for photos and comments by other bloggers who had made the recipe. So many of them showed photos of a cake with a sunken middle, similar to my pound cake experience. Several of them said it wasn’t cooked enough for the time given in the recipe.

I baked it according to directions, but at the end of the required 30 minutes, it looked nowhere near done. I knew if I pulled it from the oven, it wouldn’t be completely cooked and would sink in the middle, similar to those other bloggers’ reports. So I left it in another 10 or 15 minutes. By now it had attained a pale golden color and had risen properly. It looked perfect.

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I glazed the cake as directed and cut into it in the morning.

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I was underwhelmed. It looked pretty, it was cooked through, but it was dry. The flavor could have used a little sparkle too. Without the citrus glaze, it would have been really dull, even though I had used plenty of  zest from the citrus fruits.  If I were to make this again, I would soak the cake after it came out of the oven in a syrup made from water, sugar and citrus juices, or maybe some Limoncello. Or serve it with ice cream. Everything tastes better with ice cream.

If any of you reading this has ever made either of these desserts and has a clue on what I did wrong, I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Citrus-Glazed Polenta Cake
(torta di polenta con agrumi)
From Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen
Yields one 9" cake
1 1/2 cups flour, plus 1 T., plus more for dusting the pan
1 lemon
1 lime
1 orange
3/4 cup instant or fine polenta
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour a 9" spring form pan. Grate the zest from the lemon, lime, and orange and set aside. Reserve the fruit for the glaze.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, polenta, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until they are pale yellow and have tripled in volume, about 3-4 minutes. Beat in the reserved citrus zests.
Add the flour mixture to the eggs in three additions, alternating with the oil and beginning and ending with the flour, beating just until each addition is incorporated. Pour the batter into the pan, smooth the top with a spatula, and bake until the cake pulls away from the pan and springs back lightly when touched, about 25-30 minutes. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then remove the sides to allow the cake to cool completely.
While the cake is cooling, make the glaze: squeeze 1 tablespoon of juice from each of the reserved fruits into a bowl. Gradually whisk in the confectioners' sugar until smooth. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake and allow it to set until it is completely dry.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Rhubarb Cake

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It’s Memorial Day! Like many towns across the U.S., Princeton, N.J. holds a parade to commemorate the brave men and women who gave their lives to defend our country.  The parade was held on Saturday and some of our friends stopped by for a quick cup of coffee and cake before we walked downtown to watch the parade.

I wanted to make something with rhubarb before the short season slips away, but not the usual strawberry/rhubarb crisp or pie that I normally make for dessert. A crumb-type cake seemed more apropos for breakfast fare, and I found a delightful recipe for one on Let Her Bake Cake that included cornmeal among the ingredients. The recipe calls for coarse cornmeal, which I thought worked great. But if you’d prefer a crumb without the crunch from the grittier meal, use a finer textured one.

I also peeled the rhubarb, something I’ve always done when making pies or other desserts. But I think next time, I’ll leave it as is, since peeling it also removed most of the pretty red color. It doesn’t matter so much when you’re combining rhubarb with another red fruit like strawberries. But all on its own, its pale green interior isn’t that attractive without the red outer layer, even though it tastes terrific. The cake tastes great the next day too, when I took the above picture of the last remaining piece. But after it sits covered in plastic wrap, the coating on top starts to lose its crunch.

Here’s the recipe that Hilary from Let Her Bake Cake (A London blogger) got from Nigel Slater, whose recipe appeared in the U.K’s Observer Magazine:

Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake
1 pound rhubarb
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 Tbsp water
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp coarse cornmeal
1 1/3 cups all purpose or plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
grated zest of a small orange
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp butter, diced
1 large egg
2-4 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp dark brown sugar

Preheat the oven to  350F. Grease a 8in cake pan, preferably springform. If you don't have one, use a regular cake pan but grease very well, line the bottom with a circle or parchment paper, and grease again.
Trim the rhubarb and chop into pieces a couple of inches long. Put in a baking dish with the sugar and water and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft but still retains its shape. Drain the fruit and set aside you can reserve the juice to serve with the cake if you wish.
Put the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and sugar in a large bowl, or in the bowl of a food processor or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the grated zest and the butter. If using your hands, rub the butter in as if making pastry - until the mixture resembles large crumbs. If using a food processor you just need to blitz for a few seconds, and if using a stand mixer, mix on low to medium speed for about 30 seconds.
Break the egg into a small bowl and mix with the milk. Now add slowly to the crumble mix, stopping as soon as everything has come together to form a soft, sticky dough. You may not need all the liquid, or you may need a little more milk to get the right consistency.
Press about two thirds of the crumble mixture into the bottom of the cake pan, pushing a little bit up the sides of the pan. Place the rhubarb on top, being careful to leave a small rim around the edges uncovered. Crumble the rest of the mixture over the fruit in fat lumps, using your fingers - don't worry if the fruit isn't all covered. Scatter over the brown sugar.
Bake for 40-45 minutes. Cool the cake a little before removing from the pan.

If you’re still with me, here are a few scenes from Princeton’s Memorial Day Parade:

May 2009 310 Gotta have some people in military uniform

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And a high school marching band

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And fire trucks

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And kids waving flags

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And a Korean dance troupe (doesn’t everybody?)

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And a choo choo train

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And a calliope (complete with tiger) piping out “Yankee Doodle Dandy”

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And I just couldn’t resist another cute kid toting a flag



Saturday, May 23, 2009

Swiss Chard Stalk Fritters

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Swiss chard is finally coming into its own and is now easy to find in a bright array of colors at farmer’s markets and supermarkets. It wasn’t always that way, but I’m glad people have finally discovered the “queen of greens” – a vegetable that takes me back to my childhood.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy it is to blanch the leaves, stuff them and serve them with either a tomato sauce on top, or gratineed with some parmesan cheese. You can find that recipe here. When I don’t have time to fuss, I just stir fry the leaves in a little olive oil, salt, garlic and crushed red pepper. But whatever way I make it, I always cut the stalks from the leaves and cook them separately. It’s like getting two separate vegetables for the price of one. Most of the time I cook the stalks in some boiling water, then toss them in some butter. I’ll either serve them simply like that, or top them with bread crumbs mixed with parmesan cheese, a little dribble of butter, then put them in the broiler for a few minutes.

As a young girl, I remember my mother cooking up swiss chard stalk fritters in our basement kitchen (yes, we had two kitchens) but never got around to making them myself – until now. I didn’t have her recipe, so I just made it up from what I remembered decades ago.  If they weren’t exactly like hers, they were pretty darn close. The memories of all those parties in the basement, complete with my Dad holding court behind the bar he built, came flooding back. It’s amazing how food stirs such memories.

Swiss Chard Stalk Fritters

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Start by taking the stalks and chopping them into pieces. I had about 1 1/2 cups of stalks, enough for about 6 swiss chard fritters, each about two to three inches in diameter.

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Boil the stalks in water until tender, about 10 minutes, then drain.

Then mix up the following in a bowl:

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

salt, pepper to taste

chopped parsley, about 1/4 cup

The mixture will be stiff and may seem a bit dry, but once you mix in the stalks, some of the moisture from the stalks will work its way into the mixture. Add the stalks to the bread crumb mixture and press into patties.

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Fry the patties in hot oil, turning once. Drain and eat while hot and crispy.May 2009 016

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mocha Nut Torte

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This cake looks like something you’d see in a cafe in Vienna ….. but shhh! It’s ridiculously easy to make at home. The whipped cream frosting and walnuts cover a multitude of sins and the chocolate shavings are easily created using a vegetable peeler. I’ve even made the cake portion ahead of time, frozen it and frosted it the day I needed to serve it. I got the recipe from a woman named Connie who lived near me years ago and I’m not sure where she got it. I only know it’s one of those cakes that almost makes you wish you were eating alone. Who needs (or wants) conversation to intrude when you’ve got those luscious flavors and textures front and center.

Mocha Nut Torte

5 eggs, separated

1 cup sugar

1 T. instant coffee granules

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup ground walnuts

Beat whites until firm. Add sugar and beat until stiff. Beat yolks in a separate bowl until thick and light (about 5 minutes). Fold into whites. Blend coffee, flour and nuts. Fold into egg mixture until evenly colored. Grease and flour a 9 or 10 inch cake pan; pour in batter and bang pan to remove bubbles. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Cake rises when baking but deflates when it cools – don’t panic.


1 pint heavy cream

1 T. instant coffee dissolved in 1 T. rum, brandy or other liqueur

2 T. confectioner’s sugar

Beat cream until thick. Add coffee and liqueur mix and confectioner’s sugar.

Slice cake into three layers.  Use a serrated knife to do this. This can be a little tricky and the layers will be thin. Don’t worry if you poke a hole in the center or anywhere else. It gets covered with the frosting.

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Frost between layers, sides and top. Decorate sides with crushed walnuts and top with chocolate shavings (I use a dark chocolate bar.)

Then all by yourself, find a quiet corner, plunge fork into cake and indulge.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gnocchi alla Romana

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This wonderful dish of goodness is called Gnocchi alla Romana, but it’s not at all like the gnocchi you may know of, commonly made with potatoes. These are made with semolina and they will fast become your favorite comfort food. In Marcella Hazan’s “The Classic Italian Cookbook,” she mentions that this dish can be traced back directly to Imperial Rome.  Apicius, the Roman gourmet who lived during the 1st century, had a recipe for gnocchi made of semolina exactly like these, then fried and served with honey.  These are made the same way, but baked in the oven with freshly grated parmesan cheese and are as light as can be.

My friend Alessandra, who’s not from Rome, but from Padova, prepared them for yesterday’s gathering of “Le Matte.” Alessandra is one of those people who you thank God you have as a friend. Not because she’s a wonderful cook, a welcoming hostess, a talented quilt-maker, a nurturing mother and grandmother, and a gifted teacher (all of which she is), but because she stands alone in her generosity of spirit and ability to bring out the best in people, whether they’re her personal friends or not.

So even if you can’t count on Alessandra as your neighbor and friend, at least you can have her gnocchi alla Romana. Here’s the recipe:

Start with the semolina. You can sometimes buy it in bulk in health food stores, but our supermarkets sell it in vacuum-sealed packages that look like this:

May 2009 261 Now here’s what to do with it:

Gnocchi Alla Romana

printable recipe here

One package of semolina (17.6 ounces or nearly 3 cups)

2 quarts of milk

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 stick butter, melted

1 cup parmesan cheese, plus a few more tablespoons for sprinkling

Bring two quarts of milk to a boil and slowly pour in a stream of the semolina, mixing the whole time. Cook for a few minutes, then remove from the heat and briskly add the eggs, being careful not to scramble them.  Add  about 1 cup of parmesan cheese. Spread the mixture on a cookie sheet moistened with water and chill. Using a round cookie cutter or the rim of a glass, cut the semolina into disks. You will be making two layers, so save the nicest rounds for the top layer. Starting with the bottom layer, arrange the disks around the perimeter and use the little odd shapes that remain for the interior of the bottom layer. Pour half of the melted butter over the disks, and sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese. For the top layer, place the disks all over the first layer, except for around the perimeter. You’ll want to leave them exposed so that they too become golden brown in the oven. Pour the rest of the butter and a couple more tablespoons of parmesan cheese over the rest of the rounds. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. For even more color, place under the broiler for a few minutes at the very end.

Wait a couple of minutes if you have the patience of Job, otherwise dig right into these:

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stuffed Eggplant

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I’ve had my share of cooking disasters, and this one looked like it was headed that way. Before I left the house, I put brown rice and water in the rice cooker, clicked it to start and went on my merry way, expecting to use the results in a stuffing for baked eggplant. Three hours and many errands later, I came home to uncooked rice and a puddle of water on top. The electric outlet stopped working.

By now it was too late to cook  the rice so I moved to plan B – bread crumbs instead of rice. 

Sauté the ground meat (check), dice the onions (check), mince the garlic (check) and …..brrrring …… it’s the phone and husband calling. When I tell him I’m in the middle of preparing dinner he asks: “What are you making?” me: “Stuffed eggplant.” Silence for a few seconds, then a comment about the last time I made it when the eggplant wasn’t cooked through. I have to admit it was like eating shoe leather. “Make sure you cook the eggplant long enough,” he advises.

With that thought in mind, I scooped out most of the interior of the eggplant, and parboiled the eggplant shells first so they’d get a good head start cooking before their time in the oven. But 20 minutes in the boiling water was too long. Here’s the sorry state they were in when I rescued them from the pot:

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I had scooped out all but about 1/4 inch of flesh, but most of that flesh had cooked away to nothing in the boiling water. Still, I thought I’d try to reshape the purple blobs with the stuffing mixture and use the oval shape of the casserole to keep them intact. Whaddaya know? It worked. Here’s what it looked like just after I put the stuffing in:

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And here’s what it looked like just before it went into the oven, topped with cheese and tomato sauce:

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And here’s what it looked like just before it all disappeared quicker than you can say mozzarella.

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I’m kind of glad the rice cooker didn’t work because I liked the bread crumb substitution even better. And the eggplant was so soft and silky that the shoe leather memory was now history. The dish had such a luscious mouth feel it was like eating eggplant-flavored ice cream.   Hey, maybe that could be the next big thing!

Here’s the recipe that will serve four people or two shameless gluttons:

Baked Stuffed Eggplant:

1 large eggplant

1 pound ground meat (I used ground chicken breast)

1/2 cup minced onion

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 T. olive oil

red pepper flakes, to taste

salt, pepper to taste

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

1 cup grated mozzarella (Don’t bother spending the extra money on hand-made mozzarella for this recipe – the already-grated kind in a plastic bag actually has a better melting characteristic.)

1 egg

handful of chopped parsley

about 1 cup of tomato sauce

  1. Cut the stem off the eggplant and cut it in half. Run a knife around the perimeter of each half, keeping about 1/2 inch of the flesh intact. Scoop out all the rest and chop it in small pieces. Place the two halves of the eggplant into boiling water and boil for about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and drain.
  2. Sauté the ground meat and discard any fat or water left over. Set the meat aside in a bowl.
  3. Sauté the onion until soft in the olive oil. Add the chopped eggplant pieces and cook through, continually stirring so they won’t stick to the pan. Add the garlic when the eggplant is nearly cooked through. Sauté until the eggplant is soft. Remove and place in the bowl with the ground meat.
  4. To the bowl, add all the rest of the ingredients except the tomato sauce, but save a little bit of the parmesan and mozzarella to sprinkle on the top. Mix together and fill the eggplant shells, forming them with your hands into an oval shape if necessary.
  5. In an ovenproof casserole, place a small amount of tomato sauce. Place the eggplant halves into the casserole, and top with more of the sauce and the cheeses.
  6. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30-45 minutes.
  7. If you can keep your mitts off, let the eggplant rest about five minutes before slicing. It will hold its shape better that way.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Nest Egg

May 2009 064 Have you ever eaten eggs you plucked yourself from beneath a chicken? This was a first for me. See those eggs in that bowl above still clinging to some straw and dirt from the chicken coop? I snatched them from beneath Jane, a Wyandotte hen owned by a friend of mine. 

My friend, whom I shall refer to as chicken lady since she’s violating our borough laws by keeping hens in her yard (We wouldn’t want the chicken cops to come after her, now would we?) has eight hens in total – three Wyandottes, three Red Stars, and two Plymouth Rocks. Look at them scurry in their pen – running around like, well . . . like “chickens with their heads cut off.”May 2009 046They’re all scurrying except Jane, who prefers to sit inside the wooden chicken coop “broody as a hen,” sitting on eggs – not just hers, but everybody else’s.  The other chickens put all “their eggs in her basket,” climbing into her box to lay their eggs and have her sit on them. Talk about the maternal instinct! May 2009 044I felt like a “tough old bird” reaching in and taking those eggs away from her. But I did it anyhow, knowing she’d just be sitting on more the next day. Jane was truly a “good egg.” During the summer, the chickens produce between five to eight eggs daily, not exactly “chicken feed.”  Speaking of which, they are fed nothing but organic feed and vegetables that chicken lady would otherwise compost. They have room to roam in the sunlight too, something that’s “rare as hen’s teeth” in commercial egg production. So you know these eggs have got to be healthier than what you buy at the store. May 2009 189 I wanted to honor these eggs properly by making a dish that really gives them top billing. So I made a dish inspired by The Barefoot Contessa’s “herbed baked eggs.” I changed it, omitting the cream, but adding a few dabs of ricotta cheese and pieces of tomato, in addition to the herbs and parmesan cheese. Be careful when broiling if you like your eggs runny. They’ll need only a few minutes under the broiler, which you should preheat to get really hot before putting in the casseroles.  Since we’ve got an “empty nest,” (hey, I’m no “spring chicken”) I used only four eggs for the two of us.May 2009 195 Herb-Baked Eggs

For each person, drop two eggs in a buttered small casserole dish. Add 1/2 of a fresh red tomato, cut into bits. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, dot with a tablespoon of butter, a couple of dabs of ricotta cheese, a couple of tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese and chopped herbs. I used freshly chopped thyme, oregano, chives and parsley. Place under a preheated broiler for two or three minutes.

This could be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We ate it for dinner, along with some garlic bread fresh out of the oven and a green salad. But have it any time of day you or whoever “rules your roost” wants it.

P.S. I hope I don’t have too much “egg on my face” after all these “fowl” expressions. But it is interesting how all these chicken terms have “come home to roost” in our vocabulary.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

No-Fear Phyllo Torte

Sorry to repeat this one, but a reader kindly pointed out that although I called for dill in the instructions, I forgot to mention the quantity in the recipe. It’s there now. Obviously, I still need an editor.

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When I saw this recipe in the New York Times last month, I knew I had to try it, but it’s got so much butter and cheese that I needed a group event before I’d dare make it and risk eating most of it myself. Fortunately, my Italian ladies chit-chat group - “le matte”  - provided just the opportunity.  The Greek-inspired offering for my Italian group was obviously meant to be, since Milena, another of Le Matte who hosted the gathering, had a platter of dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) on the table when I arrived. It was a perfect pairing of cultures and food.

Don’t let working with phyllo pastry scare you away. It’s not that difficult if you follow the directions and this recipe doesn’t even require you to butter the phyllo sheets individually. You’ll be rewarded with this gem of a dish if you do.  May 2009 150

 Phyllo and Feta-Ricotta Torte

1 pound Greek feta cheese, crumbled

3 cups cottage cheese (I used ricotta)

3 large eggs

1/3 fresh dill, minced

1/4 cup Romano cheese (I used Parmesan)

1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

1 1-pound box phyllo dough

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

Greek honey, for serving (optional)

The day before making this, thaw the phyllo in the refrigerator. Then, when you go to bed at night, place the box on the counter at room temperature. I also took the extra step of refrigerating the ricotta cheese overnight in a sieve lined with cheesecloth with a weight on top. It might not be necessary, but at least 1/2 cup of liquid came out from the cheese.

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a food processor, combine feta, ricotta, eggs, dill, 2 T. Parmesan, the nutmeg and pepper and pulse to combine. (You can also use a large bowl and a fork). Mixture should be well combined, but still chunky, not smooth.

2. Butter a bundt pan. Sprinkle remaining 2 T. Parmesan into the pan. Drape a sheet of phyllo on top of bundt pan, poke a hole into phyllo where center tube is and push phyllo into pan to line it. Do this with another phyllo sheet, but place it perpendicular to first sheet. Continue adding phyllo sheets in this crisscross manner until all sheets are used. Don’t worry if it seems like an excessive amount of sheets. They will compress down and absorb all the butter that you’ll pour on top in the next step.

Here’s what it looks like when you’ve got all the sheets in place:

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3. Scrape cheese filling into pan, and fold edges of phyllo over filling. Using a sharp knife, poke many holes (at least 20) in dough that reach all the way to bottom of pan. Slowly pour melted butter over torte; some butter will seep through holes and some will remain on top of dough.

4. Place bundt pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour 15 minutes, or until torte is puffy and golden brown and looks like this:

May 2009 135 5. Allow torte to cool in pan for 1 to 2 hours before inverting onto a plate and slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature, with honey if desired.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Citrus Scallops

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I hope all you mothers out there had a lovely Mother’s Day yesterday. The weather here in central New Jersey was picture perfect – and so was my lunch – expertly prepared by our son and daughter, who came home to help celebrate the day. My husband actually chose the recipe, clipped from a Good Housekeeping magazine he found at the gym. The kids collaborated in the kitchen to produce the delicious and healthy meal you see in the above photo. It was even served to me on a plate that said “Today is your special day,” along with their gift of a dozen beautiful roses as a centerpiece.  A special day indeed.

Here’s the recipe for the scallops:

1 lemon

1 lime

1 1/4 pounds sea scallops

3 tsp. olive oil

1 T. finely chopped shallot

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

5 to 6 oz. baby lettuce greens

1/4 c. fresh parsley leaves, chopped

1. From lemon, grate 1/4 tsp. peel and squeeze 2 T. juice. From lime, grate 1/4 tsp. peel and squeeze 1 T. juice. Set juices aside. In small bowl, combine peels, 1/8 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper.

2. Place scallops on paper-towel-lined plate; pat dry. Sprinkle with citrus peel mixture.

3. Heat a cast-iron skillet until very hot. Add 2 tsp. oil until heated, then add the scallops. Cook for a few minutes only, or until opaque, turning once. Remove from pan; cover

4. To the skillet, add 1 tsp. oil and shallot; cook three minutes or until tender. Stir in Dijon mustard and citrus juices, scraping up browned bits; cook 1 minute. Toss sauce with greens; place on plates. Top with scallops and chopped parsley.

They served the scallops with couscous mixed with feta cheese, scallions, tomatoes and parsley.

The cooks at work in the kitchen:

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For dessert, we walked to town and indulged at Princeton’s “Bent Spoon,” a small artisanal gelateria owned by a charming and extremely hard-working young couple, Gabrielle Carbone and Matt Errico. Some of the choices we made: coffee and chocolate gelato, chocolate and earl grey gelato, mascarpone and lavender gelato. If you’re ever in town, make sure to stop in. They’ve gotten rave reviews from many local and national publications, and once you’ve tried their offerings, you’ll understand why.

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Lemon Violet Souffle

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So you did what I told you to and picked wild violets, right?  Then you’re all ready to get started on this recipe.

What? No violets? Never fear, this souffle tastes great without them too. Or you can throw in some berries if you like – blueberries are a perfect match, but raspberries or strawberries would be nice too. But if you’ve got violets, it makes a stunning presentation. As a bonus, they’re high in iron and vitamins A and C. The flavor is very delicate, and hard to describe – lightly floral, slightly lemony. Violets have been used by gourmet cooks for centuries, when ancient Greeks and Romans made violet wine and used the flowers for syrups, salads and other recipes. Even the leaves are edible, but like I said in my last post, make sure you pick them in a place that hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides.

This is one of those cold souffles that is really a mousse. Easy to make ahead of time and store in the fridge until serving and perfect for Mother’s Day.

Here’s the recipe:

Lemon-Violet Souffle (makes 6 servings)

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

1/2 cup cold water

4 eggs, separated

1 cup sugar

pinch of salt

1/2 cup lemon juice

grated rind of 1 1/2 lemons

1 cup heavy cream

fresh or candied violets

Sprinkle gelatin on cold water to soften. Combine egg yolks, 1/2 cup of the sugar, salt, lemon juice and rind in the top of a double boiler. Cook over boiling water, stirring constantly until slightly thick and custardy. This is what it will look like at this point:

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Stir in the gelatin and cool. Keep checking because if you let it get too cold, it will gel completely and then you’ve got to reheat again and let it cool again. (Guess who goofed up here and had to reheat again.)

Beat the egg whites until they hold shape, then add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat until mixture forms peaks. Whip the cream until it holds shape and fold in the violets, maybe about 1/4 cup or so:

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Pour mixture into a souffle dish and chill two to three hours. The recipe fills a four-cup souffle dish completely, but if you want it to look extra tall and sit above the rim of the souffle dish, choose a smaller dish (I used two individual souffle cups) and tape a wax-paper collar around the top edge. The mixture is sufficiently dense and will not dribble down the sides if you tape the collar tightly enough. Remove the wax paper collar before serving.

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Just look at this creamy texture.

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Serve in pretty stemware. I drizzled some of my violet jelly on top.

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