Monthly Archives: April 2014

Cream of Asparagus Soup

cream of asparagus soupJPGI typically serve Cream of Sorrel Soup at Easter, but Spring was slow to arrive here in Michigan and there wasn’t enough sorrel.  So the logical alternative, for a great spring soup was cream of asparagus. Well, that was a great choice. It was definitely a highlight of the meal, even with the kids.  Cream of Asparagus soup at Easter 2014Not only is it delicious, but it’s super easy to make, and you don’t even need good asparagus. I was a little disappointed at how large the asparagus at my local grocery store was, but because the asparagus gets cooked down and pureed, you don’t need to seek out those tender thin stalks that can often be challenging to find. You can adjust the amount of cream in this soup – I went pretty easy on the cream because I loved the flavor of the asparagus. I used chicken stock as my base because I love the flavor (it’s in no way “chickeny”), but you could easily make this vegetarian by substituting vegetable broth. I served this as a small starter soup, but this would be great for a spring lunch on the patio, or as a weeknight dinner paired with a simple salad and bread, or with a sandwich.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Lbs. (about 2 bunches) Fresh Asparagus- cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 Large Sweet or White Onion -chopped
  • 3 TBS. Unsalted Butter
  • 5 Cups Chicken Broth (use Vegetable Broth for Vegetarian version)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 Cup Heavy (Whipping) Cream
  • Kosher Salt
  • White Pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

Heat the butter in a stock pot over medium low heat, add chopped onion and saute until tender. Add chopped asparagus and cook for about 5 more minutes. saute asparagusAdd broth and simmer, covered, until asparagus is very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Working in batches, purée soup in a blender until smooth. Return pureed soup to pot and stir in 1/4 cup of cream; add more to reach desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Heat and serve. Garnish each bowl with an asparagus tip if desired or fresh snipped chives or parsley.

Easter Dinner

Easter Table 3I think I might love Easter dinner almost as much as I love Thanksgiving dinner. Both really embrace and celebrate the season, and I love food that is seasonally fitting. Unlike Thanksgiving, where I it’s almost sacreligious to vary the side dishes too much (although recent years have brought new introductions), there are a lot of side dish options which are fitting for spring and bode well for Easter dinner. I typically serve lamb as the main dish, simply because I don’t really love ham and I do love lamb. If I were feeding a big crowd, I would certainly do both. Sorrel soup is usually a tradition for us (my mother always made it as well), but spring has been so slow in arriving this year, that I don’t have enough sorrel in the garden this year and it’s hard to find any place that sells sorrel. As for vegetable side dishes – the list is almost endless…think green and fresh. This year I plan to serve sauteed snap peas with mint, but I will also serve a light arugula salad. Asparagus is probably the most traditional spring vegetable, and I’ve served that many times in the past. Starchy side dishes are also nearly limitless. Buttered noodles with fresh chopped herbs is simple but appropriate, boiled new potatoes with butter and herbs would be equally great, as would simple herbed white or wild rice. I have made risotto (with mushrooms and asparagus) in the past, however, this year I  will be serving my grandmother’s scalloped potatoes (made with canned evaporated milk). My Dad loved these potatoes and my grandmother (my mother’s mother) was always thrilled to make them. I also usually make a quiche for any vegetarian guests – asparagus and mushroom or leek is always a hit. Bread and rolls are another important component of the meal. Last year I made cheddar scallion scones and they were a huge hit, so I’ll make them again this year, but I’m also going to make popovers because they are my families new favorite. Ah, and for dessert: lemon cakeLemon Buttermilk Cake with Lavender Frosting is the standard and I will serve that again this year since it is Auntie Sarah’s favorite and also because I’ll be making one for my friend Sara, but I think I’m also going to make a rhubarb pie or tart, since rhubarb is another spring icon. Last year I served a coconut cake (now “award winning” since it won our local dessert contest on the Fourth of July).

I love decorating for Easter, and I love coloring Easter eggs. Aracauna egg for EasterBlog thru April 4 003Two years ago I decorated the table with fresh Araucana eggs (they are often called the natural Easter eggs because they are beautiful shades of blue, green, beige and even an almost pink). Last year I died Quail Eggs and I loved the way those turned out.

Mini Easter Eggs (Dyed Quail Eggs)

Mini Easter Eggs (Dyed Quail Eggs)

Click here to see instructions for Dyed Quail Eggs

Click here to see Previous Easter Dinner Menu and Recipes

 

Grilled Leg of Lamb (Recipe by Alton Brown)

I take zero credit for this recipe – normally I can’t resist adding my own personal touches to a recipe to make it my own, but in this case, I wouldn’t change a thing. Click on the link above to go to the original recipe and read some of the nearly 100 five star reviews. Many people comment that, like me, they were skeptical of the mustard, but you just can’t argue with the results. Alton’s recipe calls for a charcoal grill, but you can make this on a gas grill, just turn off the center burner when cooking. It’s important to buy good quality lamb meat; if you don’t find what you’re looking for, ask your butcher. As I’ve mentioned before, we happen to have a farm we buy from, so even though our lamb is frozen, the flavor is always outstanding. This recipe is too good to only serve once a year – it would be great to serve at any occasion.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Boneless Sirloin Leg of Lamb

For the Paste:

  • 4 Cloves of Garlic
  • 8 Fresh Mint Leaves
  • 1 TBS. Brown Sugar
  • 1 TBS. Kosher Salt
  • 2 tsp. Black Pepper
  • 5 TBS. Strong Mustard, such as Dijon
  • 2 TBS. Canola Oil
  • 2 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary

INSTRUCTIONS:

Roughly chop the garlic cloves in the food processor. Add the mint and repeat. Add the brown sugar, salt, pepper, mustard, and oil and blend to a paste. Spread the paste evenly on the meat side of the roast. Roll the leg into a roast shape and tie with cotton butcher’s twine. Leg of Lamb MarinadeFire 2 quarts (1 chimney’s worth) of charcoal (natural chunk is best). When charcoal is lightly covered with gray ash, split the coals into 2 piles and move them to the far sides of the cooker. Close the lid and allow the grate to heat. Then, place the lamb, skin side up, on the middle of the hot grate. Add the rosemary sprigs to the charcoal briquettes and close the lid and grill. After 20 minutes, flip the roast and rotate it 180 degrees. Insert the probe thermometer into the roast and continue to grill until it reaches an internal temperature of 135 degrees, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the roast at 135 degrees. Remove the butcher’s twine from the roast. Cover with foil and rest it for 15 minutes before serving.

 Alternative: Lamb Chop (or Leg of Lamb) Marinade

INGREDIENTS:

  • 12-16 Small Lamb Chops (French Cut) – or 1 Boneless Leg of Lamb
  • 1 Cup Olive Oil
  • 4 TBS. Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice (about 1/2 juicy lemon)
  • 8 Cloves Garlic – chopped
  • 4 TBS. Fresh Rosemary – chopped
  • 4 TBS. Fresh Thyme- chopped
  • 4 TBS. Fresh Oregano – chopped
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

Pour olive oil into a glass baking dish. Add garlic, herbs, and lemon juice and mix until thoroughly combined. Add lamb chops (or leg of lamb) to pan and season with salt and pepper, turn over and season other side of meat. Spread marinade (including chopped garlic and herbs) over meat. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour (2 hours is better). Lamb chops in marinate

Easter Table 5

 

Rhubarb Tart

Rhubarb Tart

 

Lemon Cake with Whipped Cream and Edible Spring Flowers

Lemon Cake with Whipped Cream and Edible Spring Flowers

Blueberry Braised Short Ribs

Blueberry Braised Shortribs over Egg Noodles

Blueberry Braised Shortribs over Egg Noodles

OK, so some of you might have been tempted to opt out when you read the blueberry part of the title. Well, I’m glad you didn’t. I used to be married to a guy who would say: “I like fruit, and I like meat, but I don’t like fruit with my meat.” I am sometimes suspect when I see unexpected combinations, but I am usually unexpectedly surprised (that’s redundant) at the results. This is a perfect example. I made this because my “fruit and meat friend” had the dish at a local restaurant that is no longer in business.  So, not only is the dish no longer available, the recipe is not available via RSVP (a great column in “Bon Appetit” magazine). Typically, braising liquid requires an acid component- most often it is wine (made from fruit…seeing a connection that is not so unappetizing?). I figured I could substitute blueberry juice, concentrate, flavored vinegar, or puree. I struggled with just which component to use, but my choice was based on the following: 1. blueberries were horribly expensive at the grocery store, 2. the only blueberry juice available was combined with other fruits, 3. I have blueberry balsamic vinegar but figured many recipe readers might have difficulty finding it. I decided to use a combination of pureed fresh blueberries (you could certainly use frozen…this just now occurred to me – duh), and a couple of tablespoons of blueberry fruit preserves (Polamer brand All Fruit spreadable fruit). The fruit preserves gave me the flexibility to make the blueberry flavor stronger or weaker (my “fruit and meat friend” said she would have enjoyed an even stronger blueberry flavor). I also experimented a little bit with the type of short ribs I used. I used half bone-in and half boneless. The bone-in short ribs typically provide more flavor, but also fat (most of which I painstakingly skimmed off). I preferred the boneless cuts in the dish because I didn’t have to work around bone or fat to get to the meat. My tasters agreed that all boneless would have been better. Sometimes I will leave bits of braised vegetables with the meat or I put them in the blender/food processor and incorporate them into the sauce.  In this case, however, I thoroughly strained everything and did not include any vegetables or pureed vegetables in the sauce – I didn’t want anything competing with  that blueberry flavor. One final note, while I will often serve short ribs over mashed potatoes or polenta, I think this dish is better accompanied by good old wide egg noodles – again, the goal was to highlight the subtle  blueberry flavor.(Serves 6)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4-5 Lbs. Beef Short Ribs (bone-in, boneless, or combination)
  • 2 Carrots – peeled and cut into 1/2 inch rounds (or 12-15 baby carrots)
  • 1 Leek – white and light green parts only, sliced
  • 6 Cloves Garlic – finely chopped
  • 1/2 Medium Onion- chopped
  • 2 Stalk Celery – diced
  • 1-2 Pints Blueberries- pureed in food processor or blender
  • 1/2 Cup Fresh Tomatoes- chopped (can use cherry or grape tomatoes cut in 1/2)
  • 3-4 TBS. Blueberry Preserves
  • 32 Oz. (4 Cups) Beef Broth
  • 3-5 TBS. Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Flour
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 TBS. Dried ( 2 TBS.  Fresh) Parsley – chopped
  • 1 TBS. Dried (2 TBS Fresh) Thyme- chopped
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 3-5 TBS. Corn Starch(optional, for thickening)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 450 Degrees. Season short ribs generously (on both sides) with salt and pepper. shortribs seasonedDredge meat in flour until coated, shaking off excess. Add olive oil to a large stock pot or dutch oven and heat on stovetop. Working in batches, brown short ribs on all sides and set aside. browned shortribsAdd garlic and chopped onion to pot and saute until fragrant, scraping browned meat bits from the bottom of the pot. Add remaining chopped vegetables and pureed blueberries and saute until the vegetables begin to soften slightly – about 5 minutes. blueberry pureebraising ingredients before liquidAdd blueberry preserves, beef broth (stock), and herbs to the pot. Add the browned shortribs and any juice from the meat, cover the pot and place in 450 degree oven. Cook until simmering – about 20 minutes and then reduce heat to 350 Degrees. during braiseCook for another 2.5-3 hours until meat is tender, but not yet falling apart. Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat from the pot and set aside. Pour the cooking liquid and vegetables through a fine strainer into a bowl. If desired, puree the vegetables in a food processor and return to the pot – (I did NOT do this, but I do it for other braised recipes). Place the pot with the strained liquid on the stovetop over medium heat. If you would like to thicken the liquid to make more of a gravy (I did), make a slurry (corn starch and a little bit of water combined)  and add to the hot cooking liquid. Stir and allow liquid to thicken to desired consistency (a prefer a not so thick sauce)- for a thicker sauce add more cornstarch water mixture. If sauce becomes too thick, you can thin it with beef broth. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper and possibly more blueberry preserves if desired. sauceReturn meat to pot, return to oven or continue heating on stove top for an additional 45 minutes to 1 hour until meat has reached desired tenderness. Serve over noodles, mashed potatoes, polenta, or rice.

Our Blue Themed Table

Our Blue Themed Table

The Ultimate Banana Cake with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting and Caramel Drizzle

Banana Cake with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting and Caramel Drizzle

Banana Cake with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting and Caramel Drizzle

I’ve really been a cake making kick lately. I never used to bake cakes because, well, quite frankly, I didn’t want to be tempted to eat cake everyday, and tempted I would be. However, now that we have a crowd for friends/family dinner on Sundays, I don’t have to worry too much. We typically eat most of the cake, and I can always find some willing takers to pawn off the leftover slices. I’ve also been on caramel drizzle kick lately. That doesn’t need much explanation…almost any dessert is better when drizzled with caramel. This cake is super easy, as is the versatile (this version has pureed banana for extra banana flavor) whipped cream cheese frosting.

INGREDIENTS:

 

  • 1 1/2 Cups Ripe Bananas – mashed  (about 4 large) plus about 1/2 banana sliced to garnish top of cake (use other 1/2 of banana in frosting)
  • 1 tsp. Lemon Juice
  • 3 Cups Flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter – softened
  • 1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1 1/4 Cups Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Light Brown Sugar – packed
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1 1/2 Cups Buttermilk

For the Frosting

  • 1 1/4 Cups Heavy Cream
  • 14 oz. Cream Cheese – softened
  • 1/3 Cup unsalted Butter- softened
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1 3/4 Cup Powdered Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla
  • 1/2 Ripe Banana – pureed
  • Prepared Caramel Sauce (store bought or homemade)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 325°. Grease and flour two  9″ cake pans.  In a small bowl, mix mashed banana with the lemon juice; set aside. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, cream  butter, oil, and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Stir in banana mixture. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cakes from oven and allow to cool ten minutes. Remove cakes from pans and allow to cool completely before frosting. If desired, place cakes directly into the freezer for 45 minutes before frosting- this will make the cake very moist. While the cakes cool, prepare the frosting: In a chilled bowl, use an electric mixer and whip heavy cream on high speed until stiff peaks form, then set aside. In a separate bowl, Whip together cream cheese, butter, and pureed banana until smooth and fluffy on medium-high speed, about 2 minutes. Add in powdered sugar and vanilla and whip on medium speed, about 2 minutes longer. Add half of whipped cream into cream cheese mixture and gently fold until combined, then fold in remaining half. Place one cake on cake plate and frost sides and top. Place second cake on top of first, and frost. Garnish with slices of banana and drizzle with caramel sauce.
banana cake

 Banana Cake topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce

Banana Cake topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce

Pork Schnitzel

pork schnitzel with spaetzelMy neighbors and good friends host a foreign exchange student from Germany. He has been enjoying Sunday family dinners with us this year and I kept promising him I would cook him a German dish. At first I didn’t really want to make schnitzel because it’s so “typical,” and I’ve made it before. However, he loved my chicken parmesan – particularly the thin breaded chicken. You can make schnitzel with a variety of meats; Weiner Schnitzel is made with veal, but I haven’t eaten veal in years. Pork is a great alternative because it’s relatively inexpensive and you can easily find cutlets which means all you have to do is pound them out a little thinner. There really isn’t a huge difference between the preparation of chicken for chicken parmesan and the pork that I used for the schnitzel. There are a variety of sauces you can serve with schnitzel, but it’s really traditional to just serve it with lemon wedges. Potatoes make a great accompaniment, but I went with a spaetzel. I didn’t make the spaetzel homemade and kind of regretted it (except for the labor). I also made roasted brussel sprrouts because they are always at the top of the vegetable request list. This is an easy weeknight meal, but it’s also great if you’re feeding a crowd because you can keep the schnitzel warm in a low temp oven and they don’t dry out too much (I wouldn’t keep them warming for more than 30 minutes or so). This recipe serves about 6, but it’s certainly easy to adjust the quantity.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 Boneless Pork Loin Chops or Cutlets
  • 1 1/2 Cups Flour
  • Kosher Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper
  • 3 Large Eggs
  •   3/4 Cup Milk
  • 4 Cups Plain Bread Crumbs (can use 1/2 Italian Seasoned, but this is not traditional)
  • 4-6 TBS Olive Oil
  • 4-6  TBS Unsalted Butter
  • Couple Sprig Fresh Thyme
  • Lemon wedges

INSTRUCTIONS:

Place pork chops/cutlets in a plastic bag or between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound out until about 1/4 inch thick. Season pork cutlets generously with salt and pepper.seasoned pork cutletsPut the flour in a shallow dish or on a plate. Whisk the eggs and milk in another shallow dish and season with salt and pepper. Put the bread crumbs in a third dish and, if not using seasoned bread crumbs, season with salt and pepper. schnitzel dregdeLightly dredge each piece of pork in flour, then dip into the egg and then dredge with the bread crumbs.

Lay the breaded pork cutlets in a single layer on a parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet or large plate and refrigerate, uncovered, for 10 -30 minutes to allow the coating to set.breaded cutlets

Heat about 2 TBS. each of oil and butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add a thyme sprig and let it fry for about 1 minute to infuse the oil. Remove the thyme sprig and reserve. Gently lay 3 of the cutlets (or however many fit without crowding) in the pan and cook until golden brown and crispy (about 2 minutes, flip and repeat on the other side. Remove cutlets from pan and transfer to  paper towels to drain.Cover with foil to keep hot and cook the second batch. Wipe the fry pan out – removing any crumbs or leftover oil, add remaining oil and butter and thyme and heat, and then cook the second batch of cutlets.  Season cutlets with salt and transfer to a serving platter while still hot. Garnish with lemon wedges and the fried thyme sprig before serving. If you need to keep the cutlets warm before serving, place on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover loosely with foil and place in a low heat (200 degrees) oven.

Crispy Oven Baked Buffalo Style Chicken Wings

spicy buffalo wings plated 4My kids and I  love spicy (Buffalo style) chicken wings. My kids actually love the restaurant Buffalo Wild Wings; I hate it (for a variety of well-founded reasons). So, my solution is to make spicy wings at home. As my blog followers know, I am not afraid to fry- I have a fryer and will use it! However, for just a quick batch of wings, I’d rather avoid the mess and the hassle (and the waste of oil). Typically when I do fry, I fry in big batches that make it worth my while. Now, you might think that wings baked in the oven just won’t be good; I ask that you keep an open mind and give these wings a chance. One advantage of cooking the wings in the oven is that you can cook the sauce right into/onto the wings – of course, you add more sauce at the end- which given the wings a more in depth spice and flavor. I used fresh wings – they were on sale at my grocery- but I most often use frozen wings (sometimes labeled Wing Dings, Drummies, Drumettes). You can make this recipe with full-size chicken wings (or any chicken parts, for that matter), but I prefer the little wings. You could adapt this recipe to accommodate your favorite flavor or sauce (barbeque, terriyaki etc.) because it’s so simple.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3-5 Lbs. Chicken wings  – fresh or frozen and thawed
  • 2 TBS. Vegetable Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Non-stick Cooking Spray
  • 2 TBS. Unsalted Butter – Melted
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Hot Sauce (favorite brand – but typically a red hot sauce)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 Degrees. Spray a wire rack (I use my cookie cooling rack) with non-stick spray or coat liberally with vegetable oil. Position the rack over a baking sheet (foil lined for easy clean-up). Coat the chicken wings with vegetable oil, season lightly with salt and generously with pepper and place on the baking rack. chicken wings on rackBake for 35 minutes. baked chicken wingsIn the meantime, prepare the sauce by combining melted butter, cayenne pepper, about 1/2 tbs. black pepper, and hot sauce. spicy buffalo sauceAfter the wings have baked for 35 minutes, remove from the oven and coat with sauce (I just roll them around in the sauce bowl) and return to the oven – bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until the wings are thoroughly crisped.coat with sauce and return to ovensauce baked on wings Dredge the wings in sauce one more time before serving. Serve with Blue Cheese or Ranch dressing and a side of fresh carrot and celery sticks.