Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pom Pom Peking Duck

I adore pomegranates, but until recently I had never done anything with them except toss the seeds in a winter salad along with some gorgonzola and toasted pecans (YUM!).

Just a few weeks ago, I even painted my living room pomegranate red (seriously, that's the color of the paint chip). So when I read about the POM Wonderful recipe contest in the Foodie BlogRoll newsletter, I was intrigued.

POM Wonderful is giving away $5,000 to the best blogger recipe and the Foodie Blogroll is giving away a case of POM Wonderful juice and a case of fresh pomegranates! So the big question was, what could I make with pomegranates?

Of course the Kitchen Genius was all over this idea and he thought pomegranates would go really well with duck. That night, as luck would have it, we ate dinner at the Hunan Gourmet in Orleans and saw Peking duck on the menu, served with Chinese pancakes.

Ignorant of what we were getting ourselves in to, we decided to try to make Peking duck. Our first hint that this might be a challenge came when KG called a friend of his who attended the Culinary Institute of America. His friend had never made Peking duck.

“You know, they do that really well in restaurants,” he said.

Well yes they do, but we were determined to try this at home. We read a lot of recipes and did a lot of research and combined the best of what we learned with the ingredients we liked most.

The most important thing we learned was that it’s really important to make sure the skin on the duck is DRY. As in really, really dry – before you ever cook it. The crispy skin is the Holy Grail of Peking duck and KG was determined to achieve it.

This is not a recipe for those who don’t love food because it takes about two full days for that afore mentioned drying. First KG washed the duck and dried it thoroughly with paper towels.

He decided to make his own Chinese five spice mix and toasted whole peppercorns, fennel seeds, whole cloves and star anise until they were aromatic (my kitchen still smells wonderful).

He then ground them with some cinnamon with a mortar and pestle until they were a fine powder and liberally rubbed the inside cavity with the mixture, reserving a teaspoon for my pomegranate sauce.

Here’s the weird part and the final proof to our neighbors (and children) that we are in fact as crazy as they suspected: He hung the duck outside on the front porch on a hook over a drip pan and then went up into the attic to dig out a fan, which he set up to blow on the duck.

Four hours later, we ladled some steamy hot broth with ginger and scallions over the duck repeatedly. This helps render the fat so you can get that all important crispy skin.

After the steam bath, it was back outside in the frigid air for our poor duck for another four hours. Afraid the critters would steal our meal if we left it out overnight, we put the duck in the fridge, uncovered, for the night and the whole next day.

After all that prep, the actual recipe isn’t too crazy. Basically I roasted the duck on a rack for a little over an hour, turning it three times. In the meantime I made my pomegranate sauce and the pancakes for wrapping.

After the duck was done, KG carefully removed the skin and put it back on the rack in the baking pan and broiled it for another five minutes, because really that skin just can’t be crispy enough. While he carved the duck, I prepped the toppings.

This is a fun meal where everyone makes their own little duck wraps. The basic procedure is to take a pancake and place about five slices of duck in the center. Top with one or two strips of crispy skin. Drizzle with one tablespoon pomegranate sauce. Sprinkle with scallions and fresh pomegranate seeds. Fold and enjoy!

The Recipe:

Pom Pom Duck

Preparing the Duck:


5 pound duck
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon star anise
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

10 cups water
1/4 sliced fresh ginger
1/4 cup sliced scallions
4 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons Madeira wine
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 4 tablespoons water

Wash duck and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Heat peppercorns, fennel seed, cloves and star anise in cast iron skillet over medium heat until aromatic. Using a mortar and pestle, grind spices with cinnamon until fine powder. Coat inside of duck with three tablespoons of mixture and reserve remaining spices. Hang duck outside over a drip pan with fan blowing on it for four hours.

In a large Dutch oven, heat ten cups of water, ginger, scallions, honey, wine, vinegar and corn starch mixture until boiling. Place duck in a large strainer over a second Dutch oven size pan and ladle boiling mixture over duck. When all the mixture is gone, transfer pans and reheat water mixture and ladle over duck again. Repeat two more times. Hang duck outside with drip pan and fan for another four hours. Place in refrigerator uncovered overnight and all the next day until ready to cook.

Put duck, breast side up on a rack over baking dish. Roast in 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. Turn upside down and roast another 30 minutes. Turn duck again and roast for 10 more minutes. Take out of oven and remove skin. Place skin on rack and broil for another five minutes until extra crispy. Meanwhile carve meat off duck in slices and transfer to a platter. Slice skin in thin strips and serve with Chinese pancakes, pomegranate sauce, scallions and pomegranate seeds.

Pomegranate Sauce:

2 1/2 pomegranates, cut in half, seeds removed
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five spice mix

Mix all ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring frequently. Strain mixture through fine sieve strainer, pressing on seeds with back of spoon to remove all the juice and put juice back in saucepan. Heat to boil. Meanwhile mix 2 tablespoons corn starch with 4 tablespoons cold water until smooth. Add to syrup in pan and mix until thickened.


Four cups flour
2 cups boiling water

Add boiling water to flour and stir quickly until dough comes together. Knead dough until it is smooth and let rest 30 minutes. If dough is still to wet to work with add more flour as necessary, up to one cup. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out circles with 3-inch round cookie cutter. Roll each circle to about 6 inches and 1/16 inch thick. Heat non-stick skillet and drizzle with sesame seed oil. Cook pancakes in small batches until firm and lightly brown on both sides, about five minutes. Stack pancakes on plate and cover with plastic wrap to keep warm.

To serve:

Put in small bowls on table:
Pomegranate sauce
5 scallions, cleaned and sliced
Seeds from remaining 1/2 pomegranate
Put duck meat and skin on a platter
Put pancake plate on table

Take a pancake and put five slices of duck in the center. Top with one or two strips of crispy skin. Drizzle with one tablespoon pomegranate sauce. Sprinkle with scallions and fresh pomegranate seeds. Fold and enjoy!

For a printable recipe click here

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bramble Inn Flourless Chocolate Cake

The Kitchen Genius’s birthday was the day before Thanksgiving this year, so we had dinner for ten the night before we had dinner for ten all over again.

Instead of a traditional birthday cake, KG requested his absolute favorite dessert: flourless chocolate cake. My whole family adores this rich chocolate cake and it is as easy to make as it is decadent to eat.

The recipe is from Ruth Manchester, chef and owner along with her husband Cliff of our favorite special occasion restaurant, The Bramble Inn, in our hometown of Brewster. I’ve interviewed Ruth several times over the years for stories I've written and she is absolutely delightful – warm, generous and an incredible cook.

She finds inspiration for her recipes from the local bounty of Cape Cod and every dinner is served on real antique china. If you are in the area, definitely give the Bramble a try. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Ruth’s Bramble Inn Flourless Chocolate Cake recipe is included in local writer Mark Jasper’s book, The Cape Cod Christmas Cookbook, a cookbook I use extensively every year during the holiday season.

I always serve the cake on a plate covered with raspberry puree and top it with homemade whipped cream. This year, my little sweetie helped me make the whipped cream. She LOVES to cook with her Nani and Papi. Licking the beaters is just a bonus...

Happy Birthday, sweetheart!

The Recipe:

Ruth’s Bramble Inn Flourless Chocolate Cake

12 ounces good quality semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
4 large eggs
1 stick unsalted butter, softened and cut into 6 pieces

Break chocolate into small pieces. Place in work bowl of food processor and process to a fine grind. Combine sugar and water together in small saucepan. Bring to boil and boil hard 3 minutes. With processor on, pour hot sugar syrup down feed tube and process until chocolate is melted. Add butter in pieces and process until all incorporated. Add eggs, one at a time and process smooth.

Spray sides and bottom of a 9-inch cake tin with vegetable oil spray. Line bottom with round of wax paper and spray again. Pour batter evenly into prepared pan. Place pan in larger pan and surround halfway up with hot water. Bake in 350 degree oven 50 minutes. Cake will look like a brownie on top and puff up slightly. Let cool 10 minutes. Invert onto serving platter and rap to remove from pan. Peel off wax paper and cool completely. Serve with raspberry puree.

Raspberry Puree

2 tablespoons clear red jelly like raspberry, current or beach plum!
2 small containers fresh raspberries

Melt jelly in small saucepan over medium heat. Add raspberries and cook, stirring constantly and mashing berries for 5 to 7 minutes. Strain puree through fine sieve strainer. Line plate with puree and place a slice of flourless chocolate cake on top.

For a printable recipe click here

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Kitchen Genius's Chicken Cacciatore

One of the Kitchen Genius’s favorite meals is chicken cacciatore. He likes it best made with chicken on the bone because it’s so much juicier and that Sicilian man just loves to suck on bones.

The first time I watched him eat this dish was at the now closed Lo Cicero’s Restaurant in Orleans. I literally stared and occasionally winced as he chomped on crunchy things I would never consider eating. It was like watching a lion at the zoo.

The kids look like him, but take after me. Seriously, the rest of us eat our chicken and leave a pile on our plate with enough goodness still on them to make a decent stock. KG’s plate has just a smattering of BARE bones.

One year he requested this dish for his birthday dinner. It took me hours to make it and I wasn’t happy enough with the results to ever make it again – accept for that whole husband’s favorite dish thing. I have a well-known tendency to overcook chicken and I certainly did so in that case.

Since then chicken cacciatore has become the Kitchen Genius’s area of expertise and he pulls it off splendidly. He has thought about it, read about it, and experimented with it until it is pure perfection.

His best tips: use only chicken thighs, saute the chicken in small batches over medium high heat to ensure a nice brown skin, and then nestle the chicken in the tomato sauce in a baking dish with the skin exposed so the meat can soak up all that yummy flavor from the sauce, but the skin will still be crispy.

And that's why I call him the Kitchen Genius. Buon Appetito!

Chicken Cacciatore
Serves 6

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time 45 minutes

12 chicken thighs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, julienne sliced
1 large green pepper, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced with knife
1 cup white wine
1 large can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh ground Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Rinse chicken, pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Put olive oil in a large sauté pan and heat pan over medium high heat. Cook chicken skin side down in small batches until browned. Remove from pan and reserve.

Add onions, peppers and garlic to pan and sauté over medium heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Add wine and stir to deglaze pan. Cook for two minutes then add tomatoes and seasonings.

Pour tomato mixture into a 13 by 9 baking dish. Nestle chicken in sauce, leaving skin exposed to crisp up. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until chicken juices run clear. Serve over pasta of your choice with bread and a salad.

For a printable recipe click here

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hearty Ham and Bean Soup

Cooking is so much more fun when you do it with others and the foodie blog world offers countless opportunities to connect with people from around the world even as you cook right in your own home.

One of my favorite bloggers, Deb in Hawaii at Kahakai Kitchen, sponsors a “Souper Sunday” every week where she posts her own soup recipe and invites other bloggers to join her.

Since I think soup is a near perfect food, I was excited to participate. My soup of the week is Ham and Bean Soup made with a 15-bean mix. The basics of the recipe came from my church, Northside United Methodist, where they sell the bean mix every year at our “Holly Fair” fundraiser each November. (They sell a similar dried bean mixture in most grocery stores.)

Their recipe was a tad plain for me, so I added some of my favorite soup ingredients (like celery, carrots and herbs) and now this is truly one of my favorite soups because it’s hearty, filling and full of flavor. I make it every time I have a ham bone, but you can also use bacon or kielbasa if you don’t have a ham bone.

One of the most important ingredients is the lemon juice. It really brightens up the soup and makes the flavors just pop. I use a Wooden Reamer to juice the lemon right into the pot. Love that little gadget!

What kitchen gadget is your favorite?

Ham and Bean Soup

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 4 1/2 – 5 hours

1 bag dried bean mixture (I like the 15 bean mixture)
1 meaty ham bone
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
5 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 – 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon basil
1 bay leaf
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 dashes Tabasco sauce

Rinse beans thoroughly. Place in Dutch oven with 4 cups water and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil and boil for two minutes. Set aside for two hours. Drain and rinse beans. Clean Dutch oven and place beans back in pot. Add two quarts of water, ham bone, onion, celery, can of tomatoes, salt, pepper, basil and bay leaf. Bring to boil – then simmer slowly for 2 1/2 hours.

Add carrots, lemon juice and Tabasco and simmer for another half hour. Remove ham bone and cut off any ham still clinging to bone and chop it up and add to soup. Serve with a salad and a nice crusty bread.

For a printable recipe click here

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Italian Cookies

As much as I love to cook, baking intimidates me. A Daring Baker I am not, even though I greatly admire those brave souls.

I read terms like “gently fold mixtures together” and give up before I even start. Or how about this one: “Beat egg whites and extract until firm but not dry” Huh??? As firm as what? And what exactly do “dry” eggs look like?

But I’ve decided the only way to conquer these fears is to do a whole lot more baking than I ever have before. The kids are already thrilled.

True confession: the only time I bake cookies is Christmas. That fact is particularly embarrassing because I know better. I grew up in a household where the cookie jar was always full, and now I don’t own a cookie jar. If I placed a cookie jar on my counter, my kids wouldn’t even know what it was.

But every December 23, I spend about 12 hours baking cookies and that does me in for the whole year. Those foreign ingredients and directions and the pacing around while the cookies bake makes me crazy. Really what can you do in 8 to 12 minutes? I fill the next cookie sheet to kill time and then I only have about five minutes – which feels like 30 as I tap my fingers, wash my hands, re-fold the kitchen towels and wait.

The whole day is fraught with anxiety. I want to make 12 different kinds and the Kitchen Genius thinks 5 will do. It’s one of the few heated fights we have, which is pointless because time and energy usually settles the matter at about 7 varieties, so technically he wins.

Why, you ask? Why do you torture yourself that way? Because when you only make cookies once a year, stale or frozen simply will not do. I only like fresh cookies (blame my Mom and that ever flowing cookie jar).

And if you only bake cookies once a year, you want to make sure you make everyone’s favorite. We’re a family of six and everyone has a different favorite. Add one new recipe that I want to try just because I’ve got my baking shoes on and I'm up to 7 varieties in no time.

The only problem with Christmas cookies is they’re so Christmas-y. I needed some recipes this week and I needed them fast. The first place I turned for a recipe is Life, Lightly Salted because I know my dear blogger friend Michele loves cookies and is fearless about creating her own recipes when baking.

I remembered that she posted a yummy looking recipe (with gorgeous photos) for Italian Anise Cookies. Since Italian cookies from Mike’s Pastry in the North End of Boston are my one sweet weakness that recipe stuck in my mind like honey on a spoon.

Michele’s recipe was so easy to follow that I felt like she was in my kitchen with me, leading me by the hand. Other recipes say beat the butter and sugar until “light and fluffy.” Well I thought that meant about 30 seconds, but Michele specified five minutes.

I grumbled a bit that she must have a KitchenAid Professional Mixer as I stood there circling my cheap Hand Mixer
around the bowl, but I noticed that the butter and sugar really did get much lighter and fluffier the more I mixed. It even changed color.

The cookies turned out great, thanks to her very excellent recipe. They were light and moist and most delicious. I’ll be making these again at Christmas. Click here for her recipe.

Since I was on an Italian cookie roll, next I made Coconut Almond Macaroons per the KG’s advice. He didn’t get the title without reason, and now I no longer fear “folding,” even though I still don’t know what “dry” eggs look like (I hope).

Observations in the baking experiment so far: It’s really important to know your oven. Mine tends to run hot, so I always turn the temperature down 25 degrees and adjust the time to about 3/4 of whatever the recipe says. It took me many batches of burned cookies over the years to discover this, but now that I know, I rarely burn cookies.

The Recipe:

Coconut Almond Macaroons
(from Odense Almond Paste)

Yields about 30 cookies
Prep time: 20 minutes
Bake time: 20 minutes

1/2 cup egg whites, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 (7 ounce) box Odense Almond Paste, grated
2 cups powdered sugar
14 ounce package sweetened flaked coconut
Optional (but highly recommended!) melting chocolate to drizzle over cookies

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl beat egg whites and extract until firm but not dry. In a separate bowl beat almond paste, sugar and coconut until the texture of small crumbs.

Gently fold mixtures together. Drop tablespoons of dough one inch apart onto cookie sheets (small scoop with wire release works well). Bake for 13 minutes or until lightly browned on bottom and firm to touch. Cool cookies on wire racks.

Melt 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips in microwave. Using a fork, drizzle the chocolate over cookies in a back and forth pattern.

For a printable recipe click here

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cast Iron Skillet Pear Tart

Last week at my writers’ group, a couple of my writing buddies who are faithful followers of my blog (God bless them!) mentioned that I don’t have very many dessert recipes.

Well that is true, mostly because I don’t make dessert very often. When I’m having a dinner party and someone asks, “What can I bring?” I always say dessert because I know that left to my own devices, it probably won’t be on the menu because I always run out of time. I know, I know – I feel bad for my guests too.

My worst memory of the first time I cooked for the Kitchen Genius is that I made a kick-butt lasagna, but he wondered what was for dessert. Good thing that man loves my lasagna because there was no dessert.

Even on special occasions dining out, I rarely order dessert, usually because I am too full. I’ll sip a cup of coffee and have one bite of KG’s dessert and be perfectly happy. This confession rarely makes me popular and most people look at me like I’m a freak of nature, but my weakness is salt, not sugar.

In order to fit in better with the rest of the world, I’ve resolved to change my entertaining ways. With that in mind, I actually did make dessert for my impromptu dinner party last Thursday. I decided to attempt a recipe I read about years ago, but never got around to making – a cast iron skillet pear tart.

For some reason cast iron pans just make me happy. I caressed a whole bunch of them just yesterday at The Cook Shop in Lemon Tree Village in Brewster. They remind me of camping and I adore camping, but best of all they can go from stovetop to oven and that’s just what I did for this recipe.

First I melted some butter and mixed in some sugar and cinnamon. Then I carefully arranged pear slices on that caramel-like goodness and cooked them until nearly tender.

In an attempt to go all natural, I decided to use real butter, instead of my normal Butter Flavored Crisco for the crust. It was much harder to work with, and I wasn’t in love with the results. The crust had a nice flavor, but was kind of dense - nothing like the delightful flakiness I prefer in pastry.

The Kitchen Genius says that he’s read a combination of half real butter and half shortening makes the best crust, but I’m sticking to my Crisco from now on. Feel free to use whatever you prefer in the recipe and if you have any thoughts on the butter versus shortening dilemma, please share them in the comments section, because this is really bothering me. I want to like butter better.

But back to the tart…I managed to roll out the crust and carefully placed it over the caramelized pears, tucking in the edges.

The trickiest moment came after I pulled the tart out of the oven. I let it rest for about five minutes until all the bubbling calmed down and then I held my breath as I placed a plate over the top of the skillet and flipped it over. For a heartbeat nothing happened and then I felt a gentle thud as the pastry hit the plate.

Perfection! The tart came out of the pan intact, with barely a pear mussed. Even though the crust wasn’t quite what I hoped for, the tart was pretty tasty and my whole house smelled wonderful. Maybe there is something to this dessert thing…

The Recipe:

Cast Iron Skillet Pear Tart

Serves 8

1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
Single crust pastry

Melt butter in a ten-inch cast iron skillet. Add sugar and cinnamon and stir until combined and bubbling. Carefully arrange pear slices in a pleasing pattern in the pan. Simmer for ten minutes, until pears are almost tender.

In the meantime, make pastry:

1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup Butter Flavored Crisco
5 - 6 tablespoons of ice cold water

In a mixing bowl stir together flour and salt. Cut in shortening until pieces are the size of baby peas. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of water over part of the mixture and gently toss until it comes together. Push to one side and repeat until all the flour mixture is moistened and easily forms into a ball.

Knead once or twice until dough comes together. Roll out to a ten inch circle and place on top of the pears. Tuck in the edges so that there is no overhang (or up-hang as the case may be).

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 25 minutes (checking after 20), until crust is light brown and filling is bubbly.

Let cool for five minutes in skillet. Place a flat plate over the skillet and flip over quickly. If any pears remain in the skillet, gently scrape them and place them on tart. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

For a printable recipe click here

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Scrod Jardinière and a Comfort Food Contest

When I list the things I’d like more of in my life, entertaining is at the top of my list. Yet somehow I never get around to it. There are plenty of excuses not to – everyone I know (including me) is too busy and too tired and it’s really easy to let those excuses rule my world for weeks, months, even years on end.

But election night showed me that entertaining doesn’t have to be limited to just weekends. After a long stressful week, I decided to throw an impromptu dinner party on Thursday night and invited my oldest daughter and her boyfriend back over for dinner. They both work Friday and Saturday nights, so weekend get-togethers are out.

Even though it was a work day for me, I cut out early and cooked up a storm. I made homemade whole wheat bread using the very easy (and quick) recipe Zesty Cook posted that day on his blog. (You can visit Zesty for his recipe - it's a keeper!)

My bread wasn’t as pretty as his because it rose out of the loaf pan and dripped down while baking, but this just gave me some tasty treats to snack on while I cooked the rest of the meal.

I decided to make a pear tart for dessert. More about this later…

After all the baking, I needed to put together a quick dinner that would still impress. Scrod Jardinière is a tried and true favorite at our house. The best recipes evolve over time and this is one of them. The Kitchen Genius came up with the basic recipe a few years ago and I added the crumb topping somewhere along the way.

Speaking of recipes, I entered my Oatmeal Honey Bread in the Comfort Food Recipe Contest that Marx Food is sponsoring. One of their representatives stopped by my blog and encouraged me to submit my Macaroni and Cheese recipe, but when I saw that at least four people had entered Mac and Cheese, I decided to try something a little different.

If anyone else wants to enter the contest (you’ve still got a day), click on the link below.

The deadline is November 17, and you can vote for your favorite recipe at Marx Food on Wednesday, November 19. The Kitchen Genius wants some white truffles for Christmas, so if I win, I'm buying him those and more yummy treats from Marx Food. Wish me luck!

The Recipe:

Scrod Jardinière

Serves 4

2 pounds scrod, loin cut
1/3 cup white wine
1/2 lemon, juiced
Fresh ground cracked pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 yellow bell pepper
1/2 orange bell pepper
1 slice soft oatmeal bread
2 tablespoons butter

Cut scrod into serving size pieces. Place in baking dish. Add white wine. Sprinkle scrod with lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Put olive oil in sauté pan on medium heat. When oil is hot, add onions and peppers. Saute, turning often with tongs, until peppers and onions are crisp-tender, about five minutes. Layer mixture over fish fillets.

Process oatmeal bread in mini food processor until crumbs. Melt butter in microwave. Mix bread crumbs with butter and sprinkle on top of fish. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until fish flakes easily.

For a printable recipe click here

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Kielbasa and Sauerkraut - A Combo of Comfort

What do you want for dinner?

That question is the source of a daily conversation in our house. Even the kids join in and usually dinner is a collaboration of ideas and effort.

One meal that is sure to make everyone happy is homemade macaroni and cheese. The kids just plain love it, and it is a touchstone of comfort for the Kitchen Genius and me.

I’ve been cooking the same recipe for as long as I’ve known how to cook. This is a recipe that transcends generations in my family. My Mom put her version of it in the cookbook she wrote for all of her kids.

My sister-in-law Dana cooks that recipe for my brother Chris because it’s his favorite childhood dinner. I’m pretty sure it’s my son Tommy’s favorite dinner too, so I’ll be sure to pass this one down to his future wife.

I start with a basic white sauce that originally came from my Mom’s old copy of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 1968 Edition. Years ago the Kitchen Genius suggested adding a little Dijon mustard and hot sauce and I’ve done so ever since.

This HORRIFIED my brother the one time I made it for him. He was in the kitchen talking to me while I cooked and when he saw me add the mustard, he yelled, "What are you doing?"

"We like it better this way. Wait until you taste it," I assured him. He just shook his head when the hot sauce was added.

To him, it was utter sacrilege to alter Mom's recipe and he picked at his dinner like a two year old that night. Hmmm…this might be where his sweet daughter Lola gets her fussiness about food from…

The Kitchen Genius picked up some Hillshire Farm Turkey Polska Kielbasa and sauerkraut so we had that (per his recipe ideas) and some baked beans on the side. It is the perfect marriage of affordable flavors.

I hated kielbasa when I was younger and didn’t get around to trying it again until a few years ago.

My in-laws, Jack and Gini, served some grilled turkey kielbasa at a family picnic and it smelled so good, I decided to give it a try. I loved it. Turkey kielbasa has a nice smooth texture and none of the crunchy things I remember hating. I’ve been buying it ever since.

It’s funny how tastes change over the years. Are there any foods you hated as a child that you now love?

The Recipes:

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1 box elbows or pasta of choice
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground cracked pepper
2 dashes hot sauce
2 teaspoons country Dijon mustard
4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 slice soft oatmeal bread
2 tablespoons butter

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile in a medium saucepan over medium high heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Stir in flour and cook until bubbly, just a few seconds. Add milk all at once and whisk to mix. Add salt and pepper. Whisk continuously until mixture come to a bubbling point and is thickened.

Take off burner and mix in hot sauce, mustard and cheese. Mix cheese sauce with cooked pasta and pour into a deep casserole dish.

Break up slice of bread into mini food processor and process until crumbs. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in the microwave. Mix butter and bread crumbs together and sprinkle on top of mac and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until top is browned and sauce is bubbling.

For a printable recipe click here

Baked Turkey Kielbasa with Sauerkraut

1 tablespoon bacon fat (or butter)
1 medium onion
1 pound bag sauerkraut
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground cracked pepper
1 pound package Hillshire Farm Turkey Polska Kielbasa

Melt bacon fat in skillet and sauté onions until tender. Drain sauerkraut in colander, rinse and drain again. Add to skillet along with sugar and pepper. Stir well to blend flavors and heat through. Place sauerkraut in 9x9 inch baking pan. Cut kielbasa into four pieces and arrange on top of sauerkraut. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

For a printable recipe click here

Monday, November 10, 2008

An Award and Meme

Thank you Deb in Hawaii at Kahakai Kitchen for bestowing on me the Kreativ Blogger Award! Deb is living in Paradise and cooking up some truly creative food. If you love soup like I do, check out her “Souper Sundays!”

Deb is also one of the founders of a new foodie book club called “Cook the Books” along with friends and fellow bloggers Jo at Food Junkie Not Junk Food and Rachel at The Crispy Cook. This month’s selection is La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture by Lily Prior.

The award came with a meme, which I have never done. Not sure if anyone cares, but here’s my answers:

7 Things I did Before
1. Lived on a farm in upstate New York
2. Read romance novels
3. Worked as a waitress, bartender, house cleaner and secretary
4. Volunteered for three years as an advocate at a battered women’s shelter
5. Made crafts for my Mom’s gift shop
6. Sewed all my kids Halloween costumes and Prom dresses
7. Worried too much

7 Things I do Now
1. Work as a freelance journalist
2. COOK!
3. Read obsessively - everything but romance novels
4. Host a fiction writing group every week
5. Am thankful every day for my husband, children and extended family and friends
6. Take more photos of food than people (Gotta fix this one)
7. Worry too much

7 Things I want to Do
1. Finish my novel
2. Repaint my whole first floor of my house
3. Plant a bigger garden next year
4. Visit Italy
5. Drive cross country in an RV, sampling regional food
6. Start cooking in a tripod cast iron Dutch oven in my fireplace (since I know you’re reading this Kitchen Genius, that’s a hint for Christmas!)
7. Stop worrying so much

7 Things that Attract Me to the Opposite Sex (which of course means The Kitchen Genius!)
1. Chemistry
2. Sense of humor
3. Nice smile, great laugh
4. Kindness
5. Generosity
6. Intelligent
7. Laid back and calm – i.e. doesn’t worry

7 Favorite Foods
1. Lobster
2. All seafood
3. Steak au Poivre
4. French fries
5. Apple pie
6. Anything lemon
7. Homemade bread

7 Things I Say Most Often
1. I love you
2. Thank you
3. YUM
4. You think?
5. Really?
6. What do you want for dinner?
7. Amen

Now I get to pass this award on to 7 other bloggers who I find creative, interesting and fun to read. Despite my propensity for not following recipes, I’m a rule following gal most of the time, so I did the “7s” meme before accepting the award. But that is not necessary for anyone I give it to unless they enjoy doing memes.

I already gave an award to some of my favorite bloggers (check them out here), so this time, I chose blogs I visit all the time, but haven’t already awarded.

1. First I must reciprocate and give this award to The Mediocre Cook, who gave me the Excellent Blog Award and who continues to amaze me with his truly funny and honest writing style and adventures in the kitchen. His latest entry is his first crack at making homemade bread and I could totally relate every step of the way. I learn something new every time I visit.

2. Cory at Zestycook is in fact a most zesty guy who takes food blogging to a new level and he’s only been doing it for three months. What a natural! His photos and food ideas are pure YUM and lately he’s been giving a lot of bloggers I visit help with awesome blog makeovers. He’s also a great go to guy if you have cooking questions.

3. Dawn at Vanilla Sugar is a fellow Cape Cod foodie blogger who bakes the most mouthwatering desserts you’ll ever see – and see them you will because her photographs are gorgeous. She also has food cravings that will make you laugh and a sparkly fun writing style and fabulous sense of humor.

4. Dharm at Dad ~ Baker & Chef is cooking up some awesome food in Malaysia for his wife and beautiful children. When I ran into trouble posting my Joust photo, he graciously did it for me. His blog makes my mouth water and he also makes me laugh. His “parental guidance suggested” Bond story is not to be missed – my idea of the perfect day.

5. My new friend Jo at The Adventures of Kitchen Girl whose motto is “Live, Love, Cook.” She not only cooks some terrific recipes on her blog, but also advises others on how to become more plugged in to the foodie networks. Check out this post written by her ten year old son as a guest blogger and tell me this isn’t someone you want to be friends with too.

6. Irene at Cape Codder in Montana. Irene is a writer friend from Cape Cod who moved out to Montana to be closer to her daughter last year, where she and her husband Jim “feel like tourists in a foreign country.” Irene is a terrific writer and still plenty salty. Following her adventures is like reading a novel and her photographs are simply gorgeous.

7. Finally I would be totally remiss not to pick Jenn The Leftover Queen. Even though she has a bunch of awards already, they are all well deserved. She not only blogs about food and travel, but started the Foodie Blogroll and Forum to help food bloggers connect with each other and dreamed up the Royal Foodie Joust. Thank you, Jenn for introducing me to a whole new world of wonderful food and almost all the friends listed above. Oh, and you’ve changed the way I look at leftovers – now I save even a couple of tablespoons and every time I do, I think of you.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Oatmeal Honey Bread

Turns out my husband Steve actually reads my blog and hates it when I refer to him as "the Hubby" because he thinks it makes him sound like a bumbling fool. That is far from true, especially in the kitchen.

So from now on I will be referring to him as the other moniker I've used for him, the much more respectful and appropriate "Kitchen Genius," because at least half of the magic that happens in our kitchen is due to him.

Now that we've cleared that up, on to the food. This is a post that I planned to follow up my Kale Soup entry with because the only thing better than homemade soup is homemade soup with homemade bread. I’ve experimented with a lot of bread recipes, but the one I come back to time and time again is the oatmeal honey bread I first fell in love with as a teenager.

This recipe is in my Mom’s cookbook, but it originally came from our neighbor Theresa Foran, who lived with her husband Jim and their four kids in a cabin they built themselves with logs from their own land.

I used to babysit for the Forans and visiting their home was like a field trip to another way of life. This was back in the 1970’s in upstate New York and the Forans were living like people from a previous century. They had to walk outside to pump water from their spring or to use the outhouse and they heated and cooked with a woodstove.

Theresa was a voracious reader and after I put the kids to bed, I would curl up with one of the big fat historical novels from her bookshelf. All the angst of high school and my real life would drift away with the faint smoke from the oil lamps that provided the only light in the cabin.

Theresa’s oatmeal honey bread is an easy one bowl prep with no kneading in the first step.

The recipe makes two loaves, which is a happy occurrence because this chewy flavorful bread makes the most awesome toast I’ve ever had. It’s so good that I break my close to 20 year “no butter on bread” rule and slather on a thin layer just to watch it melt into the nooks and crannies. The only time I do that is with this bread, because the taste brings back such good memories…

Our schedule has been a little crazy lately and that second loaf came in handy to make a quick French toast for a breakfast dinner. The Boy requested that I make a bacon and egg sandwich with his French toast and I was very impressed with the result. There’s hope for that Boy after all. Future Kitchen Genius???

The Recipe:

Oatmeal Honey Bread
Makes 2 loaves

1 cup quick-cooking oats (not Instant)
2 cups milk, scalded
1 package yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110 – 115 degrees)
1/2 cup honey
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ginger
4 1/2 cups flour

Put oats in a large bowl and cover with milk. Stir and let stand until lukewarm. Sprinkle yeast in warm water. Let stand a few minutes and then stir until dissolved. Add yeast mixture, honey, salt and ginger to the oats mixture. Stir in flour and mix well. Cover and let rise in warm place until double in bulk, about one hour.

Knead down on well floured board and put into two greased loaf pans (9x5x3). Let rise until double in bulk, about 45 minutes. Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 45 – 50 minutes.

For a printable recipe, click here

Election Day Party

For election night we decided to have a little party and invited our daughter Jess, her boyfriend Scott, and my Uncle Jim over for dinner. Prepared for a long night, we decided to do several hors d'oeuvres that could be eaten in the living room in front of the television and then a lighter late dinner.

But what to make? For such a historic event it seemed like the food should reflect a theme. I thought about doing a red, white and blue theme, but good blue food is hard to come by and “three cheers for the red, white and blue” didn’t accurately sum up my feelings about this election.

In the end we chose an exotic twist on some all American food for appetizers to symbolize our choice for President (Obama!) followed by an international main course to symbolize how important this election was to the whole world.

Since it was a special event, we started with some beach plum martinis, made with my homemade beach plum cordial. I was too busy cooking to take a photo, but I promise you, they were total YUM!

The first appetizer was inspired by a recipe one of the Hubby’s work colleagues told him about. They were like little BLT’s stuffed in a cherry tomato. I scooped out the tomatoes and filled them with a mixture of bacon, chopped lettuce and mayo. Simple, but slightly time consuming.

Next the Hubby made mini chicken burger sliders with Boursin cheese and arugula for the grown-ups and cocktail franks wrapped with Pillsbury croissant pastry for the kids. These little burgers were simply awesome and a dozen disappeared in no time. Aren't they adorable? I love little food!

For dinner I decided to make a recipe one of my fellow Foodie BlogRoll Jousters created for this month’s contest. Dharm at Dad ~ Baker & Chef in Malaysia made a delectable dish called Citrus Prawn on Spiced Pumpkin that was perfect for my international theme. I knew my daughter would love it.

Yep, she did, and so did everyone else. The dish was spicy and bursting with pumpkin flavor, which was a perfect savory pairing with the orange marinated shrimp sautéed with sage and garlic. The only change we made to Dharm’s recipe was to exchange coconut milk for regular milk just because we had it and it seemed like a nice addition.

Dharm used much larger prawns and added pretty garnishes. If you want his recipe (and I assure you, you do) or just want to drool over his photos, click here.

I found Dharm’s blog after he helped me post my photo for the Joust and I absolutely love it! It has great recipes, gorgeous photos and his writing style is fun and witty. And once again he has proven to me that food bloggers are the most generous and helpful people ever.

The Recipes:

BLT Appetizers

40 cherry tomatoes
6 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped
2 cups chopped lettuce
2 – 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Slice thin slice off top of each cherry tomato. With a sharp knife gently separate the tomato membranes from shell. Scoop out the insides of tomatoes using the 1/2 teaspoon on a set of measuring spoons. In a medium sized bowl, mix together remaining ingredients. Stuff each tomato with the mixture.

To print this recipe click here

Chicken Burger Sliders with Boursin and Arugula

Makes 12 sliders or four 1/4 pound burgers

1 pound ground chicken
1 tablespoon butter
2 shallots, minced
1 egg
1/2 cup cornflakes crumbs
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon of herbs de Province
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

To Serve:
A dozen mini rolls
12 tablespoons Boursin cheese
Arugula leaves

Sauté shallots in butter and cool. Mix together all burger ingredients and form into 12 equal sized patties. Fry in olive oil on medium high heat for three minutes each side or until lightly brown. Transfer to a baking sheet. Bake in 350 oven for about five minutes or until burgers are cooked through.

At the same time slice buns and toast in oven on separate baking sheet. Spread the bottom of each bun with a tablespoon of Boursin cheese. Top with arugula leaves and burger.

To print this recipe click here

Monday, November 3, 2008

Portuguese Kale Soup

I love homemade soup. For me it is a perfect dinner for a cold night, and then I have an effortless lunch for the next few days.

If you’re looking for a bowl of traditional Cape Cod comfort, clam chowder isn’t the only choice. The Portuguese immigrants who originally arrived in Provincetown to work on whaling vessels in the late 1800’s became the mainstay of the town’s fishing fleet for nearly a century, bringing a flavorful food tradition that lives on today.

Portuguese kale soup is hearty, delicious and on the daily menu of several local restaurants. The first time I tried it was at the local pub, the Land Ho! and I’ve loved it ever since.

It never occured to me to make kale soup at home until I saw a recipe in the Cape Codder Newspaper about 20 years ago. I probably still have that newspaper clipping in my recipe box (because that's the kind of pack rat I am), but I've made this soup so often that I know it by heart.

Most restaurants use the Portuguese sausage linguica, but I prefer chorizo for its slightly spicier flavor. For this batch of soup I used the yellow carrots I grew in my garden. I have a few beets and carrots still in the ground ready to be harvested and then it will be time to put the garden to rest for the winter.

This soup is wonderful paired with a loaf of homemade bread. As the Portuguese say, Bom apetite!

The Recipe:

Portuguese Kale Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red pepper, diced
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound package of chorizo or linguica, sliced
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cans chicken stock
5 red bliss potatoes, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil or 2 teaspoons of fresh
1 bunch kale, washed and sliced
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Heat olive oil in large soup pot. Add onions, red pepper, and garlic and sauté for five minutes. Add chorizo and sauté another minute. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, potatoes, and carrots, salt, pepper, basil and enough water to cover vegetables. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add kale and kidney beans and simmer for another 20 – 25 minutes.

For a printable recipe click here