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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Quick and easy are my go-to ideas this summer





Maybe it’s the heat, but this summer I’m less interested in semi-elaborate recipes and more inclined to go with quick and easy. One night I fed two teen-age boys, so I had to take into account what they will eat and what not. (My grandson, a picky eater who’s getting better, is always suspicious of my cooking, and his mom keeps telling me not to fancy things up for him.) So here’s what may be the simplest chicken casserole ever. I have no idea where I got the recipe.

Grandma’s chicken casserole

3 cups cooked chicken, cubed

1 can cream of mushroom soup

½ half cup mayonnaise

2 cups grated cheddar (if I have said it before, let me repeat: grate your own cheese; the pre-grated in the stores has filler in it, like ground up wood or something to keep it from clumping; I have this on the word of the cheese monger at Central Market).

3 cups finely crushed Ritz crackers

            Layer in a greased baking dish and bake 20-30 minutes at 350o

A couple of lessons learned: the recipe called for two cans soup, but I misread (who, me?) and only had one. It was fine the night I served it, but the leftovers were a bit dry. So I suggest the compromise of a half cup of mayonnaise. You can try the two cans of soup, but your casserole may get soggy.

I baked this in my toaster oven in a high-sided round casserole dish, which was a mistake. Somehow that dish focused too much heat on the surface of the casserole, and some of the topping burned. I advise a low, rectangular baking dish—the largest one that will it in your toaster oven, if that is what you, like me, are restricted to using. And maybe lower the temperature to 325 and bake a bit longer.

Which reminds me: one of the best gifts anyone ever gave me is a jelly-roll style pan—like a cookie sheet but with a lip—that fits exactly in my toaster oven. I use it all the time.

Quick and easy appetizer spread

4 oz. crumbled feta

2 Tbsp. Greek yogurt

Honey

In small food processor, blend feta and yogurt until smooth and creamy. (You can experiment with the amount of yogurt—start small and increase if you need to). Chill. When ready to serve, drizzle lightly with honey.

Herb sauce for everything and anything

            Sometimes I buy a fresh green herb—often parsley or cilantro—for a specific recipe that calls for, say, 2 Tbsp. finely chopped. Then the rest of the herb (and they’re not cheap) sits in the vegetable crisper until it gets old and I throw it out. Here’s a better idea:

1/2 cup mixed herbs

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt (I always use Kosher)

1 large garlic clove, grated with microplane

1 small shallot, finely chopped

Use on fish, steaks, vegetables, whatever strikes your fancy. May be doubled easily. Will keep a week in the fridge.

Happy cooking and stay cool!




Thursday, July 11, 2019

A smorgasbord dish




I find myself beginning a lot of food-related posts with, “When I was a kid,” which only tells me that I got my love of food and cooking and feeding others as a child. I credit my mom, who was incredibly patient with me on the kitchen. This memory though comes from a restaurant that my parents took me to more than once. The Kungsholm in Chicago, located in the former McCormick Mansion on the near North Side, offered a true Swedish smorgasbord, a huge table filled with all kinds of delicacies from the three traditional stages of smorgasbord dining: herring and seafood; hot entrees, like Kalvfild a la Oscar (veal tenderloin with shrimp and asparagus tips covered by béarnaise sauce); and salads and cheeses, followed by dessert and coffee or wine. I think it was at that table that I loved to learn fishy things like herring and caviar.

An additional treat but not food related: after dinner we adjourned to a room that had been converted into a puppet theater, and that’s where any knowledge I may have of classic opera came from. I particularly remember seeing Faust there. The characters moved mechanically on tracks hidden in the floor; they were controlled by people behind the set, often young people with operatic ambitions—I had a friend whose brother worked there.

Back to food: last weekend, with neighbors, we had a pot-luck German dinner, and one of my contributions was the herring salad. If you think you don’t like pickled herring, I urge you to try this. I wanted to start with herring in wine, but the grocery gave me dill-flavored—no matter. It was good. This will serve four people as an appetizer or a side.

Herring salad

12 oz. jar pickled herring, drained but keep the onion rings

One large potato, cooked, peeled, and cubed (I find it easiest to boil the potato whole—watch that the pot doesn’t boil dry—and refrigerate. After a few hours, the chilled potato is easy to peel and holds together when you cube it

4 green onions, sliced

2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and diced

(The original recipe also called for one-half tart apple, cubed, but I found the hardness of the apple incompatible with the rest of the salad; I also omitted a half cup pickled cucumbers because I forgot to buy a cucumber, but sliced cucumber, pickled in equal parts vinegar and water, might add a really nice crunch without being as hard as an apple)

Salt as needed—you shouldn’t need much if any because the herring is salty

For the dressing:

¾ cup good Greek yogurt

½ c. mayonnaise

(you can vary the proportions, but I prefer mostly yogurt0

A pinch of white pepper (if you don’t have white, use black—it’s not the end of the world)

Juice of half a lemon

1 Tbsp. cream of horseradish or plain preserved horseradish

Chopped fresh parsley to decorate

Add the dressing a bit at a time—the quantities were in metric, and my translation to standard American measurements is loose. You want the ingredients lightly coated but not swimming in dressing.

Serve chilled.

In case you need a little encouragement to try herring, did you know that this fish helps produce red blood cells, is extremely high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids, promotes healthy bones, stimulates the brain nerve, lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, is high in antioxidants, and helps improve the memory and avoid dementia. Why, who knew a fish could be a miracle drug!


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Summer Soup—again




           
The Fourth of July has thrown my schedule all off, so here it is Saturday night, and I’m just posting last Thursday’s Gourmet on a Hot Plate blog. Hope you had a pleasant Forth—Sophie and I spent it quietly at home. She is terribly spooked by thunder but not so much so by fireworks. Still, I hated to leave her home alone—and truth be told I didn’t have any better invitations.

So I stayed home and fixed myself summer soup and a big salad. I know I just posted about a wonderful cold soup I’d newly discovered, but this time it is an old favorite that I rejuvenated. I love a good thick split pea soup in the winter, but I also love a lighter spring pea soup once the weather turns warm. I cut the original recipe down to serve two—which gave me a hearty soup supper for two nights.

Spring pea soup

½ white onion, diced fine

1 clove garlic, diced

1 small stalk celery

¼ tsp. Celery salt

A pinch or more of dried thyme, according to taste.

1 small to medium potato, peeled and cubed

1/2 package frozen petit peas

2 cups chicken broth

Sauté onion, garlic, and celery, celery salt, and thyme in a bit of olive oil until vegetables soften but are not browned. Add potato and peas to skillet and cover mixture with chicken broth. Simmer until potato is soft. Remove from heat, and let it cool a bit.

Puree mixture. You can either do this is a small food processor or in with an immersion blender. Mixture should not be thick—if it is, it will stick and clog the immersion blender (trust me, I found out the hard way). Simply add more broth. When mixture is fairly smooth—a few whole peas just add interest—season with salt and pepper

Serve chilled with a dollop of good Greek yogurt in the middle. Also garnish with finely chopped parsley or sliced scallions if you wish.


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Those ubiquitous strawberries






On some of the cooking blogs I follow I’m beginning to see the same plaintive question: “What new thing can I do with strawberries?’  You’ve made shortcake, and you’ve served the berries over biscuits and angel food cake. You’ve put out bowls full of sugared berries. What else can you do to capture that summer flavor? Here are some ideas.



Strawberry salsa

            These days we make salsa out of every fruit imaginable, but when I first made this, ten years ago, it was cutting edge. I proudly served it with corn chips on Easter Sunday and wouldn’t you know, one of our extended family refuses to even try anything with onions in it. But don’t leave them out.

Strawberry salsa

1 pint chopped strawberries

8 green onions

2 pints cherry tomatoes, chopped

¼ c. fresh cilantro, chopped

Mix together. Coat with a dressing made of:

6 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Pinch of salt

Refrigerate at least an hour. Serve with tortilla chips.

Want a dessert? Here’s one simple and one more intimidating..

Strawberry fool

            This is basically strawberries and cream. Serves four.

1 cup strawberries, washed, stemmed, and sliced

2 Tbsp. sugar (divided)

2 cups whipped cream

1 tsp. vanilla

Cookies crumbs for topping (optional)

Toss the berries with one Tbsp. sugar.  Reserve a few slices for garnish, and puree remainder in blender, with vanilla, until smooth. Whip the cream with the remaining sugar. Gently fold the puree into the whipped cream.

Spoon into four small serving dishes or cocktail glasses. Top with crumbled cookies of your choice and/or reserved strawberry slices. Some recipes call for butter cookies, but I think Girl Scout thin mints would be exceptional if you happen to have them in the freezer.



Strawberry Pavlova



It isn’t that this is hard to make. It’s just that the idea of meringue is a bit intimidating. The late Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, for whom the Pavlova dessert was named, is said to have been ethereal, delicate and slightly controversial. Her namesake, this simple confection, is a ethereal and delicate but there’s no controversy about the taste. As light and airy as you expect a ballerina to be.



Meringue



3 egg whites

¾ cup sugar

Pinch of cream of tartar

1 tsp. vanilla



            Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Be sure your bowl is perfectly clean and there is not a speck of yolk with your eggs—you do separate each into a separate dish, don’t you, so if you ruin one, you haven’t ruined the whole batch? Slowly add sugar as you beat, a tablespoon at a time. Beat until whites form glossy peaks.

Spread the meringue in a ten-inch circle on your prepared baking sheet—it might be wise to draw the circle on to give you a guide.

Bake 1-1/2 hours at 275. Turn off the oven but do not open it, no, not even to peek. Let the meringue dry six hours or more. Overnight is great—or all day.



For the strawberries;



1 pint strawberries—washed, stemmed, and halved or quartered

½ tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

2 tsp. sugar



Combine above ingredients and let sit in a covered bowl at least 15 minutes. When ready to serve, whip



2 cups heavy cream



Carefully peel paper off pavlova and set it on a platter. With the back of a spoon, make a gentle indentation in the top. Don’t be alarmed if it cracks; it’s supposed to. Spoon whipped cream over the meringue and top with the berries. Serve at once, cutting very carefully into serving size pieces.



My cooking oddity for the day



I’m a big fan of Sam Sifton, food editor for The New York Times, but occasionally his experimentation goes too far for me. Like the other day when he offered a recipe for broccoli with apricot puttanesca. Puttanesca is a sauce for pasta that normally includes tomatoes, garlic, olives, and anchovies. The name comes from the Italian for prostitute, because those “loose women” served pasta with a sauce made of whatever was in their cuupboards.

            Apricot? Really/ With broccoli?

           




Thursday, June 20, 2019

Cold summer soups




            Once the weather turns hot, there’s little better for a light supper than a cold soup followed by a salad. The choices are endless—spring pea soup, watercress, gazpacho, white gazpacho, cucumber, avocado, zucchini. I once had a recipe for cold corn soup with bourbon—wish I could find it again. Sometimes soups are fruit-based—peach or watermelon come to mind.

Cold soup always makes me think of my former mother-in-law. She came from Romania as a very young child and lived all her life in the Bronx, only venturing to Texas a few times to visit her son, then my husband. Once we took her to one of Fort Worth’s upscale restaurants—this was in the early seventies and there were only two, maybe three such places in addition to private clubs. Vichyssoise was on the menu, and Joel asked his mom if she’d like some. She said she didn’t know what it was, and he inelegantly replied, “Cold potato soup, Ma.” Her eyes got wide, and there was horror in her voice when she answered, “Could potato soup? I couldn’t.” And she didn’t.

Recently I found a recipe for okroshka, a traditional Russian cold soup of vegetables and a cooked meat in a base that was, historically, something called kvass, a nonalcoholic beverage made from fermented black or rye bread. The meat could be beef, veal, sausage or ham. Sometimes the soup was garnished with sour cream. Later versions used kefir, a fermented milk beverage like a thing yogurt, and there lies the foundation for today’s updated version of this soup.

My version used buttermilk and Greek yogurt (plain, full fat) diluted with a bit of water as the base. I made half the original recipe, served it to one guest, and happily ate leftovers for almost a week. It’s one of those things you kind of always want to keep in the fridge for those summer moments when hunger strikes and you want something that doesn’t require cooking.

For timid eaters, who might be put off by okroshka, you can always call it cold cucumber soup.

Cold cucumber soup (serves two with lots left over—or at least six at one seating)

Dice and combine in a large bowl:

1 medium Yukon Gold potato, boiled, cooled, peeled and diced

2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and diced

1 small cucumber, peeled and diced

1 cup diced meat (I used chicken, but I think ham would also be good; beef might be too heavy)

4 radishes, cleaned and sliced thin

3 green onions, sliced

In a separate bowl, mix:

2 cups plain Greek yogurt

2 cups buttermilk

2 cups cold water

1 lemon or lime, scrubbed and sliced thin

½ tsp. Kosher salt

You can just as easily use 4 cups yogurt or 4 cups buttermilk or kefir if you can find it in a specialty market. I liked the mixture          lot.

Pour the liquid mixture over the vegetables. Stir and chill before serving. At serving, garnish with chopped parsley if you like.

            Summertime, and the livin’ is easy! Enjoy!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Don’t overlook cabbage




My relationship with cabbage has been one of a slow progression from cole slaw to main dishes. I’ve always liked the crispness and slight tang of cabbage, but for years I didn’t know much to do with it except cole slaw and occasional shredded red cabbage to brighten up a green salad. Hard to use up a whole head that way, and I found we often tired of it with half a head still in the fridge.

Somewhere years ago one of my sons decided he liked cabbage sautéed in butter, and then we got adventuresome and added sour cream. But it still was not something I cooked often. For one thing, the rest of the family didn’t like it.

Then along came grilled cabbage, which like its cauliflower counterpart, became a trend. You can do it on the grill (where it has a tendency to fall apart) or in the oven on an oiled cookie sheet (my preferred method).

Simply cut “steaks” – pieces about an inch wide—from the center of the cabbage. Maybe simply is the wrong word to use—I find slicing raw cabbage is a feat of strength. Be sure to core the head before you slice, and then be careful to keep the slices together. Brush both sides with olive oil and dot with garlic or let a garlic clove sit in a Tbsp of olive oil for a bit to flavor the oil. I’ve also heard of cooks using a vinaigrette dressing to brush the cabbage.

Bake at 450o until the edges just begin to brown. If you roast too long, it can become bitter. Serve with salt and pepper, and it’s hearty enough to be the entrée for a light supper. But wait! There’s more.

I saw a suggestion recently for garnishing the roasted slices, so I tried it but added some touches of my own, sprinkling the steaks with crumbled bacon, chopped tomatoes, diced green onions, and crumbled blue cheese. (Note: think about adding blue cheese the next time you make cole slaw.) Then I drizzled with good, homemade ranch dressing (I avoid commercial brands of ranch which have a tinny, preservative taste to me).

These decorated slices were a little difficult to eat—knife and fork needed, and the cabbage falls apart if you’re not careful. But the taste is wonderful. 

Or make a cabbage wrap instead of a lettuce wrap. I served this to a friend recently, and it met with raves. Peel and discard outer layer of leaves from a head of cabbage. Then carefully peel away large leaves, keeping them intact if you can. Start by slicing at core end where leaf attaches to the head, and then starting at the top, gently peel.

Bring a pot of water to boil and, using tongs, submerge the leaves for twenty to thirty seconds, just long enough to soften. Lay leaves flat on work surface, put some sauerkraut down the middle, and top with a cooked piece of kielbasa or Polish sausage. Mustard optional.

You can eat as is or, with toothpicks holding the wrap together, grill just enough to heat but be careful to avoid burning the cabbage. It might be one of those cases where you put the heat at one end of the grill and the food at the other.

Cabbage is a nutritional winner, high in protein and fiber density, low to none in fat content, and low in sugar. We all ought to make better use of it, and I hope these suggestions will help you combine a tasty meal with healthful eating.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Three Bites for Politeness Sake




Did your parents use to preach that doctrine to you? My mom’s voice rang in my head like a refrain as I read a recent thread on the New York Times Cooking Community Facebook page. It all started when someone asked, “What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?”

I know my brother would say, “Spinach souffle.” It’s a legendary story in our family. But, seriously, the answers were astounding. Many dishes came from Asia and were things I’d never thought about eating—fried and dried insects of various kinds, scorpions, squid on a stick. Whale and blubber were mentioned frequently, along with kangaroo and tapir, sea urchin ceviche. One woman had dancing shrimp salad, which turned out to be tiny live shrimp that “danced” because the vinaigrette in the dressing bothered them.

There were a couple of things I’d never thought of as objectionable, even if they’re not on the list of foods I crave. I’m not fond of lima beans but how bad can they be? And oatmeal? The reason given was, “It’s too slimy.” One person objected to one of my favorite dishes, now sort of retro—sloppy Joe.

And there were a couple we can all agree on, like muskrat. Phew, smelly! But margarine? I don’t like the stuff, don’t eat it or cook with it, but it’s not really gross which, to me, is an extreme category. Then again, it was invented during WWII to fatten fowl for consumption. And we eat it?

But what astounded me was the number of dishes I like that were on other people’s lists. Blood pudding—well, I don’t particularly like it, but it wasn’t bad. I had it in Scotland, and when I asked the B&B host why they added blood to the oatmeal, he shrugged and said something about using all parts of the animal. Bone marrow—as a kid I fought with my brother to get the little bit of marrow inside the bone in a round steak, and today I’m delighted that it’s on trendy menus in larger quantity. Kidneys—lamb, never beef; my mom chicken-fried them with bacon and served with ketchup, especially for my Anglophile dad. Today I’d like to try to see if I still like them, but you have to order a case which seems excessive when all I want is two. I had hoped they’d be on breakfast menus in Scotland but no such luck. Escargot—my ex-husband taught me to like that delicacy, though I admit what I like best is bread soaked in the rich garlic and butter sauce—forget the little critters. And pickled herring—in the late sixties and seventies, I used to put large bowls of it out for our annual holiday party. Today, I get the feeling nobody but me eats it.

To nobody’s surprise, liver was frequently mentioned. Many of us have childhood memories of being told, “Eat your liver. It’s good for you.” My mom was a terrific cook, but she didn’t get liver right. Like most of her generation, she cooked it until it was well done, sort of like shoe leather. I remember dreading the nights we had it for dinner. But now I can cook it so I really like it—and you probably would too, if you’d try. Lemon juice makes the difference—it cuts the gamey taste.

Liver and onions

1 lb. calves’ liver

Butter

Diced onion

At least one lemon

            You can cook the liver in serving-size pieces or in finger-size strips. Either way, squeeze plenty of lemon juice over both sides of the raw meat and let it sit briefly. Then flash fry in butter (no substitutes). The meat should still be soft, rather than hard and overcooked. Quickly remove meat and cover with foil to keep warm. Sauté diced onion in remaining butter, scraping up bits from the pan. If necessary, add more butter. Squeeze more lemon juice into the butter and onion mix and pour over meat. Serve quickly. Nice with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable.

As for that line about politeness, I’ve tried it on my grandchildren, and it doesn’t work. I think it’s an old-fashioned thing.