Friday, September 30, 2011

Swiss Chard Cannelloni

Every once in a while, I start something and just want to give up. You know that feeling where absolutely nothing is going right. Maybe it's the day when you get home from graduate school, which you went to after work, and all you have the energy to do is microwave the last bit of leftovers from a previous dinner. Then, when you're carrying the hot bowl across the floor because, really, you can't be expected to wait two minutes for it to cool down, you drop it, sending your dinner flying across the floor. And you think, maybe I wasn't meant to eat dinner tonight after all.

That's how I felt with these cannelloni.

It all started with the swiss chard filling. I put my onions on to caramelize in my hot July kitchen, and an hour later, they weren't even close to the color or taste I desired. I sauteed down the swiss chard, which disappeared into almost nothingness in the pan, nowhere near enough to fill pans of cannelloni. Then, I added the mascarpone and parmesan. They seemed like such a good addition as I was measuring them out, but once mixed in, they gave the whole mixture this unusual pinkish color. I threw in an egg to bind the mixture together, and immediately regretted it. The whole mixture looked a little slimy.

I responded by hurriedly pouring the filling into a jar before it had cooled and putting it in the fridge. Then I deleted almost every picture of the swiss chard filling from my camera because I just knew it wasn't going to work. I almost threw the filling in the trash.

But when I woke up the next morning, my pasta maker was calling to me from the top of our kitchen cabinets. It's been so long since you've made homemade pasta, the little voice echoed.

So, forgetting everything that had transpired the day before, I climbed up on a stool and got it down. And, somehow, my luck began to change. The pasta dough came together beautifully. It rolled out in somewhat even sheets that were easy to cut. The cannelloni squares boiled up in less than two minutes and became even easier to work with as they sat and dried a bit. My tomato sauce benefited from the simple addition of onion and butter. And making the cannelloni was much easier than making the shrimp tortellini I had attempted for my first homemade pasta recipe.

I prepared three fillings for the cannelloni, out of necessity, really. My swiss chard filling didn't fill as many cannelloni as I originally intended, so I whipped up a quick tomato, onion and mascarpone filling. When they ran out, I mixed some boiled peas with mascarpone so that I could use up the leftover noodles. By the time I finished, I had three pans of cannelloni: one for dinner that night and two to freeze up for future consumption.

The real test came at dinner that night.

I pulled the cannelloni out of the oven after a 20-minute cook. The sauce bubbled. The parmesan grated on top was browned. I slid the cannelloni out of the pan and onto my plate, being sure to scrape up all the extra sauce. I sliced into the cannelloni with my knife and took my first bite.

Perhaps they weren't such a disaster after all.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Daring Bakers: Fresh, Fluffy, French Croissants!

Croissants. They're what I wish I could eat every morning. Plain and flaky, overflowing with chocolate or dripping with almond paste. Toasted with egg and cheese. However you prepare them, I pretty much love them.

So naturally, I was delighted when I heard that The Daring Bakers would go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!

These croissants were not quick, but they were worth the trouble. Sarah estimated that the entire recipe would take about 12 hours if you went straight through. I opted for the longer route, refrigerating the dough overnight instead of completing all the steps in one day. With the slow, overnight rise, my dough still rose quite a bit.

If you look close, you can see all the layers in the dough!
I was surprised by the lack of fat in these croissants. Only one stick of butter and two tablespoons of oil. This made the croissants a bit healthier, but I think I prefer my croissants on the fattier end, and I've since looked at recipes that call for four sticks of butter. Something to dream about, I guess.

The dough is rolled out and folded up again several times, which creates an amazing amount of folds in the croissant dough, resulting in flaky final products.

I ended up with a delicious mix of traditional and chocolate croissants, although I wished I had made more chocolate ones. They were on the small size, which was just perfect for a quick snack.

I'll update later with a PDF file for the recipe (and hopefully the actual text of the recipe). Be sure to visit The Daring Kitchen to see other bloggers who dared to make croissants this month!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Baked Sunday Mornings: Honey Corn Muffins

Sometimes I'm tempted to alter a recipe the first time I make it. When I made these Honey Corn Muffins from Baked Explorations, I first considered adding fresh kernels of corn. I thought about adding some spice to the muffins, a bit of cayenne or tabasco. I thought about baking the muffins into a loaf of bread.

But after sinking my teeth into the first warm muffin, topped with melting butter, I was glad I hadn't altered anything. Matt and Renato were right. These muffins had just the right amount of sweetness, contributed by a bit of honey. They didn't need anything else.

These were far better than the Jiffy corn muffin mixes I used to buy as a kid, and they weren't much more difficult. I whipped up a quick batch of buttermilk using 1 cup of milk and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. I had the rest of the ingredients on hand, and they came together quickly.

I enjoyed some fresh, and I also froze a few to have on hand for dinners. I'm glad I have a few left because I came across a delicious suggestion to top the reheated muffins with honey butter--yum!

Be sure to check out the Baked Sunday Mornings Facebook page to see posts by all the bloggers who made muffins this week. If you want to join us, pick up a copy of Baked Explorations and check out the recipe schedule here. The next recipe is an oatmeal chocolate chip breakfast CAKE.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

September has got to be the most amazing time of year at the farmers' market. The summer produce is still going strong. There are tables of heirloom tomatoes, ripe peaches and apricots. At the same time, there are tables covered by lettuce and other greens. The potatoes, onions and squashes are also present. It's the time when you can get just about any produce your heart desires.

Unfortunately, it's not going to last.

It's not surprising, then, that I left the farmers' market last week with a huge bag of veggies and no clear direction. I just grabbed what piqued my interest. One of those items was a beautiful green zucchini.

A little google search and I came upon Maida Heatter's Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread. She's number sixteen on Gourmet Magazine's list of 50 Women Game Changers in Food History. Of the selection, Gourmet wrote: "Maida Heatter--the beloved goddess of apple pie--and coconut layer cake, chocolate Bavarian, lemon squares, cherry cobbler--you name it. She makes every dessert in the land perfect."

While her chocolate chip zucchini bread wasn't quite dessert (since I did have it for breakfast every morning for a week), it was certainly perfect. The mixture seems dry at first, but when you mix in the zucchini (undrained) it reaches a perfect consistency.

You will want to make this. You will also want to visit the other bloggers who made recipes by Maida Heatter this week.

Val - More Than Burnt Toast
Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets 
Katie - Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Kathleen -Bake Away with Me
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Barbara - Movable Feasts
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Amy - Beloved Green
Jeanette - Healthy Living 
Linda - Ciao Chow Linda
Linda A - There and Back Again
Martha - Lines from Linderhof

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tea Sandwiches, a 1920s Throwback

We spent a recent weekend traveling back in time to the 1920s to hear Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra. Decked out in traditional (and inspired) garb, we took over Governors Island for a Jazz Age Lawn Party, complete with live music, dancing and delicious St. Germain cocktails. There are some gorgeous pictures here.

Having been to events at Governors Island before, we knew the lines for food would be outrageous. Too few food vendors trying to service too many people. That meant a picnic. And a 1920s picnic meant tiny tea sandwiches.

And, since you can't just make one kind of tea sandwich, I made eight. Here, I'll share some of our favorites with you, along with some choice images from our day. The sandwiches are all made from recipes by Shelia Lukins and Julee Rosso, number 15 on Gourmet Magazine's list of 50 women game changers in food history.

Of the selection, Gourmet wrote: "It's hard to overstate the influence of The Silver Palate--the 1982 cookbook named about the gourmet emporium this pair opened in 1977 on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Before, there was no ratatouille; after, there was chicken Marbella."

These are mint-cucumber sandwiches on circles of buttered white bread. They were incredibly small but quite refreshing on the hot day. Each sandwich was a single bite.

Our favorite was this ricotta and fig sandwich, complete with homemade ricotta cheese and a tasty fig jam. The ricotta had a bit of a lemon taste that paired beautifully with the fig jam. Unfortunately, I didn't anticipate these being tasty, so I only made enough for one each...oops!

These sandwiches began with a basil butter (just butter mixed with chopped basil). They were then topped with tomato slices and another piece of bread, with more butter, of course.

These sandwiches were made with a simple parsley butter (just chopped parsley and butter). Easy and tasty.

Another easy sandwich included a thick layer of basil pesto and a layer of butter (you may be noticing a trend). 

All in all, these sandwiches led to a delightful little lunch. 

When we weren't eating, we passed time watching dancers and admiring the outfits of our counterparts. 

This couple was one of our favorites. I certainly want to be out on the dance floor when I'm their age. 

We also enjoyed watching New York Time's fashion photographer Bill Cunningham in action. 

Be sure to visit the other bloggers who made dishes this week:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eggs for Breakfast

I like my weekday breakfasts to be quick. Particularly with teaching starting up again, I'm remembering how I don't like getting up any earlier than I have to. And unfortunately, making an involved breakfast takes more time than I'm willing.

You've already seen a few of my favorite breakfasts:  a slice of homemade bread with an egg in the middle, a rosemary apricot breakfast bar, delicious Nutella scones, this Spanish tortilla, and lots and lots of homemade bagels. Perhaps they are not all the healthiest options, but they all make me happy. 

Today I wanted to share with you two more of my favorite breakfasts. These are not everyday breakfasts, although they don't take too long to prepare. They are, however, very, very hearty. These are the breakfasts you eat when you aren't sure when you'll have your next meal. They will fill you up happily. You may not even be able to finish them. Of course, you could always cut the size in half if you wanted

The first is a hard-boiled egg sandwich. It couldn't be simpler. Start with the most delightful bagels you can find. I go for whole wheat everything bagels. For each bagel, hard boil two eggs and peel them. Toast a bagel, and drizzle a little olive oil on both sides of the bagel. Slice the two hard-boiled eggs thinly and arrange each egg on one side of the bagel. Top with za'atar spice, if you have it. Or, if your spice cabinet is severely lacking, as mine is, you could just top the eggs with salt and pepper. Place the top of the bagel on, slice in half and enjoy!

The second is an egg bowl. Toast two slices of bread or a roll cut in half, and tear the bread up, distributing it around the bottom of a bowl. Top with some cooked vegetables (here I used sauteed tomatoes and shallots, but I also like garlic scapes). Fry up two eggs so the insides are still soft, and place them on top of your bread/vegetable bowl. Break the yolks so they cover the bread. Scoop your spoon in and enjoy.

Quick. Simple. Totally satisfying. More than enough protein to last you until lunch. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Spanish Tortilla with Artichokes and Roasted Red Peppers

As the school year gears back up, I find myself searching for easy to make recipes that I can eat for days without getting sick of them. I'm particularly fond of recipes that work for breakfast, lunch or dinner, so I can eat them when needed.

The Spanish tortilla certainly fits the bill. This is a relatively healthy version of the tortilla, with only 7 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. It's got a good deal of protein contributed by the 8 eggs. Roasted red peppers and sliced artichoke hearts provide interesting texture and taste contrasts while you're eating.

This tortilla is delicious with tortilla chips (if you get the little scoops, you can even eat the tortilla if you forget your silverware at lunchtime), a light salad for dinner, or with a cup of coffee for breakfast.

You get at least 7 good sized servings out of this tortilla, so if you make it, you get to eat it for awhile.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tuna Noodle Casserole

I didn't grow up in a casserole family. The closest thing I had to a casserole growing up was my mom's pot pie, which was just overflowing with vegetables.

I will admit that, up until a year ago, I thought tuna noodle casserole was the most horrid sounding dish. I ate tuna fish cold, in tuna salad, and that was about it. Tuna heated up with pre-made cream of mushroom soup? I just couldn't imagine how that combination would be good.

Then, about a year ago, a friend set out to prove me wrong. With an elaborate list of ingredients and his mother's recipe in tow, he baked the largest tuna noodle casserole I've ever seen. He scooped more and more into his bowl, but I started with just one tentative bite. I was prepared to hate it, to beg for something for dinner.

But, somehow, the flavors and textures won me over. I loved the crunchiness provided by the breadcrumbs that topped the dish and the noodles that were a little browned on the side. The cream of mushroom soup, when melded with a little cheddar cheese and milk, played a nice supporting role against the tuna. The peas added a delightful brightness to the dish. I eagerly filled my bowl, ate it all and then went back for more.

As I walked through the grocery store directionless this week, I spotted the egg noodles that feature prominently in the dish, and, recent convert that I was, decided to go for it. Rachael Ray's tuna noodle casserole dish served as my inspiration. I was hungry, and I didn't want to spend hours searching for a recipe. I knew that whatever Rachael had to offer, it would be quick.

Rachael Ray was recently selected as number 13 on Gourmet Magazine's list of 50 women game changers in food history. In selecting Rachael, Gourmet wrote: "She's heee-eere. Your TV's haunted by her, and, love or hate the woman, her always easy recipes have cured millions of their kitchen phobia."

My final recipe was quite true to Rachael's, although I added more of everything I love (peas, noodles, tuna), and I threw in some sharp cheddar cheese for good measure. It wasn't quite on the table in 30 minutes or less, but I didn't mind.

Be sure to visit all the other bloggers who made recipes by Rachael Ray this week:
Val - More Than Burnt Toast
Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets 
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Kathleen -Bake Away with Me
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Barbara - Movable Feasts
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Amy - Beloved Green 

Linda--Ciao Chow Linda