Monday, January 30, 2012

Winter Veggies

I'll be the first to tell you that I adore spring and all that comes with it - robins, hyacinths, strawberries and so much more. Summer is also a delight since I love to garden, swim and visit the seashore. The Fall is a stunner here too with glorious foliage, pumpkin stands and apple festivals. But winter calls to me as well, even with the cold weather and barren trees in the Northeast U.S.  Aside from transportation problems (like being stuck in Chicago during a snowstorm last weekend), winter presents opportunities for skiing, for hunkering down by the fire with a good book, and for cooking soups, stews and vegetables associated with cold weather, like the three I'm presenting in this post.

This broccoli romanesco is one of them. I admit, it's not easy to find where I live, so when I saw it last week at the local health food store, I all but clapped my hands in jubilation. It's something that omnipresent in Italian food markets, but for some reason, it's not as well known here. I hope that's about to change. I've told you about it before when my blog was fairly new, on a post you can find here, featuring pasta and broccoli romanesco. But this time I wanted to cook it whole and drizzle it with olive oil, red pepper flakes, garlic, salt and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Nestled into polenta, it made a satisfying vegetarian lunch. 

Here's what it looks like inside. Even though its name is broccoli romanesco, the taste is closer to cauliflower than broccoli.

Beets are another one of my favorites - whether cold in a salad - or warm in a sauce with orange segments. Be warned that the orange segments will turn pink once the beet sauce hits them.

See.....I told ya'. But they're kind of pretty that way too.

OK, now here's the morning quiz for you. What's this vegetable? Trick question. 

They look like parsnips, right? Well that would have been a good guess, but they're not. They're parsley root - something I had never heard of much less cooked. So naturally I had to try them. The taste is vaguely reminiscent of parsley - but more like a carrot crossed with celery. Apparently, parsley root has lots of salubrious properties. (That means it's good for you.) It's a blood purifier, a diuretic, useful in liver and gall bladder problems and helps prevent flatulence (you can look that up yourself.) 
I sliced them up like French fries, tossed them with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary and roasted them at a high heat.

Maybe I left them in a bit too long on one side, but they were delicious nonetheless. Who says that French fries have to be made just with potatoes?

Printable recipes here

Broccoli Romanesco

Trim the bottom leaves off, then cut a little bit into the core from the bottom, to help it cook more evenly. Place a little water in a saucepan - enough so that it comes up about 1/2 inch. Then place the entire head of the broccoli romanesco into the water. Cover and cook for about five to ten minutes, testing to pierce with a fork. It should not be crunchy, but soft enough to pierce easily. In a separate saucepan, heat 2 T. olive oil with a clove of garlic, a dash of red pepper flakes. Add some salt and pepper, then pour over the head of broccoli romano that you serve over polenta, noodles, or just by itself. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Beets and Orange Sauce

Boil or roast one large beet or two small beets until tender. (To roast, rub with oil and put in a small oven-proof dish at 350 degrees, checking after 45 minutes to see if it's cooked.) Peel the outer skin off the beet (I do this on a dish, not on my cutting board, since it's so hard to get the stain off wood, but easy to clean a plate.) Slice the beet. In a small saucepan, place 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/2 tsp. butter, 2 T. red wine vinegar (or sherry vinegar or white vinegar). Add the sliced beets and heat them together with the liquids. In a small cup, mix 1 t. cornstarch with a 2 T. water. Add to the beets and heat until the sauce thickens. If it's too thick, add more water or some more orange juice. Section one large orange and just before serving, stir them into the warm beets. Warning: If you do this more than a minute or two before serving, the oranges will disintegrate into the sauce.

Parsley Root Fries

Trim the parsley root and peel the outer layer. Slice into matchsticks and place on a cookie sheet. Dribble a little olive oil over them, give them a good shake of salt and pepper, then sprinkle some chopped rosemary over them. Roast at 425 degrees, checking after 5 minutes. Turn them over and roast another 5 minutes, or until browned.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mushroom Lasagna

 You won't find tomato sauce or ricotta or mozzarella in this lasagna. What you will find are fontina cheese, bechamel, porcini and baby bella mushrooms. Don't get me wrong -- I love the traditional Italian-American classic as much as anyone, but I also love different versions too like butternut squash lasagna or mushroom lasagna. 

Start with soaking the dried porcini in water and slicing the baby bellas. 

Sprinkle some grated parmesan over the fontina.

Repeat a couple of times, ending with a layer of pasta. Spread with bechamel and sprinkle with parmesan. 

Bake at 350 degrees, covered, then increase the temperature to 425 degrees and bake another 15 minutes until browned on top.

Mushroom Lasagna

printable recipe here

6 portions, depending on appetites

1 large shallot (or two smaller ones)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 T. olive oil

1 T. butter

1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in water for 1/2 hour, then drained

16 oz. baby bella mushrooms (small portabella mushrooms), sliced

2. T. butter for sauteeing the mushrooms

salt, pepper

a few sprigs of fresh thyme (about 3 T. minced)

1 cup grated fontina cheese

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 package of fresh lasagna sheets (like an 8.8 oz. package of Rana brand), soaked in hot water for about 5 minutes (or use fresh, home-made lasagna if you're ambitious.)

@ 2 cups bechamel sauce

bechamel sauce

4 T. butter

1/4 cup flour

2 cups milk

salt, pepper

a few grindings of fresh nutmeg

Place the olive oil and butter in a pan and add the minced shallot. Let it soften then add the garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes then remove from pan. Place the 2 T. butter into a large pan and add the baby bella mushrooms. Cook on high heat. A lot of water will be released. Keep cooking until the water is evaporated, then lower the heat, and add the porcini mushrooms, along with the cooked shallot and garlic. Season with salt, pepper and fresh thyme.

Make the bechamel sauce in a separate pot by melting the butter, then adding the flour and letting it cook for a couple of minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time, adding more if necessary, or stopping when it's thick enough. It should be no thicker than the consistency of a very loose pudding, since it thickens more when it cools. Add 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese, which will also thicken it more.

Meanwhile, soak the packaged fresh lasagna noodles in hot water for five minutes. Drain and pat dry.

Assemble the lasagna by spreading a bit of the bechamel on the bottom of the casserole. Place a sheet of pasta over the sauce, then cover with cooked mushrooms, some of the fontina and some of the parmesan. Dab some bechamel over this, then cover with another sheet of pasta. Do this two more times and finish with a layer of pasta. You should have four layers of pasta when you're done. There will be two sheets leftover in the package - use them for another recipe.  Then spread the final layer of pasta with bechamel sauce and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees, covered, for 1/2 hour. At the end of 1/2 hour, remove the foil, then increase the temperature to 425 and bake another 15 minutes.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Apple Sharlotka and Apple Muffins

 When you leave for a trip, are you like me -- down to the wire trying to finish it all? Wash clothes and pack suitcase ... check. Water plants ... check. Halt mail and newspaper ... check. Pay bills ... check. Send itinerary to family ... check. Type out instructions for neighbor ... check. Empty out fridge of perishables ... um, okay, but wait, I can't just throw out that cheese, that bulb of fennel, those apples, etc. And they won't be edible when I get back either, so I find myself squeezing in some last minute baking and cooking that adds to my whirlwind of chores. I really hate to waste food, and my friends would much rather have baked offerings rather than raw apples on the precipice of rottendom.
This apple sharlotka from Smitten Kitchen was a great way to get rid of a lot of apples that otherwise would have met their demise in the fridge while I traveled from Princeton, N.J. to warmer climes last week. (Note to self: When returning to snowy New Jersey, stay longer in warm Scottsdale, Arizona if you're likely to be stranded overnight in snowy Chicago.)

The recipe called for six apples, but I used eight, since I wanted to bring them all the way to the top of the pan, as Smitten Kitchen had in her photo. 
The batter is supposed to be beaten until very thick, then poured over the apples and baked. I followed the directions, but the batter was so thick, it had trouble oozing its way to the bottom of the pan. I figured it would drizzle down, but even before placing the pan in the oven, there was no way all that batter was going to fit inside. Of course, I had increased the amounts of batter ingredients since I had also increased the number of apples too. I should have known better than to tamper with a new recipe the first time out.
Here's what the pan looked like when it came out of the oven. The top had developed into a lightly browned crunchy disk that was difficult to cut without making a mess. A serrated knife kept the mess to a minimum. But the top was supposed to look more like a lunar landscape, with bumps of apples peeking through, rather than a flat plane of beige.
Before placing the large pan in the oven, I had scooped out some of the apples and mixed them in the bowl with the leftover batter. I poured this leftover batter and apples into two small buttered ramekins. These little beauties turned out much better in texture than the sharlotka in the larger pan, since the batter was distributed much more evenly. (Is this making any sense to you?)
I was also able to flip the small cakes out onto a plate, reverse them, and serve them neatly without any problem, something that Smitten Kitchen suggests with the larger sharlotka. But had I tried this with the larger sharlotka, mine wouldn't have held together since there wasn't enough batter dispersed with the apples to help it retain its shape. 
Here's a photo of a slice from the large sharlotka. It's got a good "cake-like" consistency at the edges but not in the center, where it's nearly all apples and no cake. It was good, but not as good as the small sharlotkas, whose apples were mixed in the bowl with the batter.
Have a look for yourself at the interior of the small sharlotkas. The apples and cake are distributed evenly throughout. Next time I make this (and I will because it's a delicious dessert that uses no butter, no milk or cream - i.e. almost dietetic!) I'll make it in the large pan, but will fold the apple slices into the batter.
 I still had a couple of hours (and two apples) left before leaving for the airport, so I made these apple muffins at the last minute, using a recipe I found on the blog of my good friend, Stacey Snacks. She made it as a cake, but I've baked them as muffins a few times and they always turn out great.

They were still warm when I wrapped them and left for the airport.  The smell kept tempting me throughout the flight, during which no snacks or food was served. I'd like to report that I had strong enough will power to resist, and delivered the box intact to my friend in Scottsdale. I said I'd like to, but alas no... During a wait for a connecting flight in Dallas, the symmetrical box of nine muffins was reduced by one as I gave in to temptation. Sure wish I'd had one with me when I got stuck in Chicago on the way back home.

Apple Sharlotka

From Smitten Kitchen

My changes are in red.

Butter or nonstick spray, for greasing pan

6 large, tart apples, such as Granny Smiths
(I used 8 winesap apples)
3 large eggs (4 eggs)

1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar (1 1/4 cup)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (1 1/4 tsp)

1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour (1 1/4 cup)

Ground cinnamon, to finish

Powdered sugar, also to finish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. (I would say forget the parchment paper. It makes it messy when it comes time to slice, since the apples are moist and you don't really need it.) Butter the paper and the sides of the pan. Peel, halve and core your apples, then chop them into medium-sized chunks. (I cut each half into four “strips” then sliced them fairly thinly — about 1/4-inch — in the other direction.) Pile the cut apples directly in the prepared pan. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, using an electric mixer or whisk, beat eggs with sugar until thick and ribbons form on the surface of the beaten eggs. Beat in vanilla, then stir in flour with a spoon until just combined. The batter will be very thick.
Pour over apples in pan, using a spoon or spatula to spread the batter so that it covers all exposed apples. (I had leftover batter and mixed in some remaining apple slices into the batter, then placed in two small ramekins. This technique works better in getting the batter distributed than just pouring it over the apples, as I did with the larger pan. Next time I make this recipe, I will fold the apples into the batter with the large pan rather than placing the apples in the pan and pouring the batter over the apples.) Bake in preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a tester comes out free of batter. (The large pan needed about 1 1/4 hours in the oven. The small pans only about 50 minutes.) Cool in pan for 10 minutes on rack, then flip out onto another rack, peel off the parchment paper, and flip it back onto a serving platter. (Good luck with the flipping part. It worked great for the little ones but the large one was just too juicy on the bottom to try without courting disaster.) Dust lightly with ground cinnamon.
Serve warm or cooled, dusted with powdered sugar. Eat it plain, or with a dollop of barely sweetened whipped or sour cream.

Apple Cake (or Muffins)

From Stacey Snacks

My Favorite Easy Apple Cake:

Printable Recipe Here

1 egg

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tbsp whole milk or heavy cream

1 tsp bourbon vanilla (or 1/2 tsp of bourbon + 1/2 tsp vanilla)

1 cup flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp nutmeg

2 small apples, peeled and diced

1/2 cup chopped walnuts


1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

3 tbsp maple syrup

1 tbsp cold water

Mix the egg, oil, milk and bourbon vanilla in a bowl and gradually add the rest of the ingredients, adding the apples and nuts last. Mix with a wooden spoon.

In an 8" springform pan, cut a piece of round parchment paper for the bottom of the pan, and butter the sides of the pan. (I used a muffin pan and got 10.)

Spread the batter into the pan and bake 45 minutes at 350F.

While the cake is in the oven, make the icing. Mix with a fork in a bowl until it reaches the consistency you like.

Drizzle the icing with a fork while the cake is still warm. (The icing is delicious but they're also good just with a dusting of powdered sugar.)

Let rest in the pan 20 minutes before removing sides.

This cake is delicious warm out of the oven, and also excellent the next day.
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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Baked Apples

Who isn't a bit sated after the excesses of the holidays? Every year I resolve to be healthier in January but my resolve weakens quicker than a snowflake in the morning sun. Yesterday I finished off a bag of caramel corn laced with chocolate chunks and sugar-glazed nuts before 11:30 a.m. There is still torrone in the cupboard; extra-creamy cheeses in the fridge; and Christmas cookies in the freezer. What's a gal to do?

I've given some of the goodies to friends, but they too, are trying to eat healthier as the calendar turns a page. Even away from the house, everywhere I turn, I can't escape the temptations. Food seems to be the common denominator that brings friends and family together, whether it's lunch with friends, espresso and cakes with my Italian chit-chat group or dinner with family. Only those with the the strongest will-power can avoid succumbing to the temptations.

If you want to steer clear of temptations, but still want a little sweetness at the end of your meal, forget about those leftover goodies for a while and try some baked fruit, like this apple. It's gussied up enough to feel special, yet there's little sugar and lots of flavor to satisfy your sweet tooth. The cinnamon stick idea was borrowed from my good friend Stacey of Stacey Snacks, who took it from Stephane at Zen Can Cook. Whenever I make baked apples, I like to add some dried prunes to the stewing liquid. For those of you turning your noses at the idea, give it a try. Once the prunes have cooked in the marsala wine for an hour, the flavor is intensely redolent of marsala and sweet plums.

I could suggest gilding the lily with some super-rich ice cream on the side, but that's only for those of you who have behaved in the last month.

So what will I do with all that ice cream? .....

I wonder if my neighbor's cat Ahso, who visits me occasionally (and stalks my bird-feeder), likes Haagen Daz vanilla?

Baked Apples

printable recipe here

For each apple:

Peel the top 1/3 of the apple and cut into the center from the top, excavating the core and leaving a space for the other ingredients.

Mix a few chopped walnuts and raisins with a tablespoon of brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon. Place a small pat of butter into the apple center, then stuff with the walnut/raisin mixture. Place a cinnamon stick in the center. Place the apple into an oven proof container and strew some prunes around it. Pour 1/2 cup marsala wine over the apple and prunes. Cover loosely with an aluminum foil "tent." Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to one hour, or until the apple can be easily pierced with a fork. If you remember, go back into the oven and occasionally baste with the wine.

I like to use winesap apples, but other baking apples, including Granny Smith, are good too.

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Little Bitty Peppers

Why is it that we're drawn to all things diminutive? Well, at least I am, whether it's puppies, people or peppers, like these multi-color capsicum cuties I've been enjoying lately.

One of my favorite bloggers, Marie of Proud Italian Cook, posted a piece about them a while back and since then, I've cooked with them a few times. They're really too small to eat as a main course, unless you eat lots of them, but they're delicious and lovely as a side dish. 

You might be able to stuff them raw, but I roasted them first for about 15 minutes in a 425 degree oven. Then I cut off the tops and scraped out the seeds.

Beforehand, I made a batch of brown rice (leftover risotto would be great here too), let it cool, then mixed it with salt, pepper, chopped parsley and a heaping amount of grated fontina cheese. I stuffed the peppers, using a demitasse spoon, then baked them again in the oven at 350 degrees, just until the rice was warmed through and the cheese melted - about 15 minutes or so.

Drizzle with a little reduced balsamic vinegar glaze and they're irresistible morsels all by themselves.
Or try topping with a mixture of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese before baking.

Another way to serve them is to mix them with ricotta and goat cheese, plus a lot of herbs. Again, after stuffing, put them back into the oven to warm up - about 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Drizzle with olive oil and grated herbs and enjoy. It's enough to make Peter's Pipers pass on the porridge.

Little Bitty Stuffed Peppers

1 package small red and yellow peppers
1 cup brown rice, cooked and cooled
1 cup fontina cheese
1 egg
salt, pepper
1/4 cup minced parsley

On a cookie sheet or baking pan, drizzle the peppers with some olive oil, then roast them at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.
Cook 1 cup of brown rice (or any kind you like) and let it cool.
Mix with 1 egg, 1 cup fontina cheese, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup minced parsley. Stuff the peppers with a demitasse spoon and bake at 350 degrees until heated through and the cheese is melted - about 15 minutes.
Drizzle with a reduced balsamic glaze if desired (Take about 1/2 cup supermarket balsamic vinegar, 2 T. honey and bring to a boil. Cook until thick, then let it cool.)


Mix 1/2 cup goat's cheese with 1 cup ricotta cheese, one egg, salt, pepper and a big handful of minced fresh thyme and minced parsley. Stuff the peppers, then bake at 350 degrees until the filling is hot.
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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Flea Markets in Paris

I'm sure like many of you reading this post, anytime I'm in a new city, I'm likely to spend the bulk of my time perusing museums, partaking of restaurants, and patronizing music venues. But I can't resist a good flea market either. So on my recent trip to Paris, I headed to two - one at St. Ouen, at the northern part of the city near the Clignancourt metro station, and one at Vanves, on the southern side near the metro station of the same name.

If flea markets bring to mind the pesky little creatures that sometimes torment dogs and their owners, let it be known that there were no shortage of dogs to be found at either of these two flea markets. I can't guarantee there were no fleas. While their owners tried to peddle everything from chairs to chains, these doggies settled in for the day and made themselves comfortable.

Unlike the flea market at Vanves, where you find lots of mom and pop vendors getting rid of household bric-a-brac, most of the vendors at St. Ouen are professional antiques dealers with bargains few and far between.  Still, it's a fun way to spend a few hours on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday and you never know what you might tote home with you from your day of scavenging.

Need a mahogany and marble fireplace or an ornate grandfather's clock? You'll find many here.

You could just as easily take a fancy to a ceramic vase with a scene from mythology.

Or perhaps more utilitarian, but still beautifully made, porcelain dinnerware.

And of course, you'll need some silverware to go with that dinnerware, right? No shortage here.

Looking for lovely lace children's frocks? You'll encounter them in many stalls.

As well as plenty of colorful 18th century frippery.

How about a crown to go with your regalia? You say you want rubies and emeralds? No problem.

There's even something for brides-to-be, or other fashionistas.

If art is your passion, there are plenty of ways to satisfy your urge, like this wooden medieval sculpture of a madonna and child.

You'll also find paintings of all styles, including this Cezanne-inspired one. 

You'll need some sustenance to keep plowing through the 17 acres and thousands (yes thousands) of dealers' stalls. There are cafes and bistros scattered here and there amid the vast expanse. 

Nothing like a cafe creme and freshly baked croissant to rev you up for the next flea market.

This is the scene at the Vanves flea market, also held on weekends and right off the bat, you can tell it's got a more relaxed feel. There are no permanent stalls, just tables set outside. It's also smaller and easier to navigate in its entirety in just a couple of hours. The vibe is more like what your next-door neighbor might sell at a garage sale, but that's not to say that some real treasures can't be found.

Including this beautiful set of dinnerware.

Or hand-embroidered napkins. Oh, that my name were Linda Lincoln, Mary Thomas, or Beverly Vanderbilt. I'd have swooped them up in a second.

Somewhere in the crowd there's a shoemaker-in-training just waiting to emerge. 

Or maybe a blacksmith or carpenter. 

There's some lovely artwork to be found too, whether you like prints...

Or original oil paintings.

Hey, this one looks familiar. But I don't think it's an original. 

It's a copy of Leonardo Da Vinci's "Lady with an ermine." While it's normally on display in a museum in Krakow, Poland, I had seen it a few days earlier in London at the National Gallery, in a special exhibit of paintings created by Leonardo while he was in Milan. 

I found a few trinkets to tuck inside my suitcase, but one of the most enjoyable treats came not from a flea market, but from my metro ride home from Vanves, when I sat across from this petite tresor. There was something about her that made me smile then and still does now. It wasn't just her spiffy red glasses and matching clothes, nor her jaunty cap. It was also her natural charm and enchanting gaze as she chatted away next to her proud grandmother. She reminded me of a more polished version of Pippi Longstocking, without the braids. I hope she has the same effect on you. 

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