Archive for the ‘Comforts from Winter weather’ Category

h1

January 06, 2016: “Little Night” on “Little Christmas”

January 6, 2016

 

Moo's Minestrone SoupI get this Christmas article done just under the wire: today is the last day of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Today, January 6th, is known as “Little Christmas” or (in Irish) “Nollaig na mBan” otherwise know as “The Feast of the Epiphany” when the wise men, according to tradition, gave the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ-child. It is also the day, James Joyce used to place in time one of my favorite short stories, “The Dead.”

It is quite appropriate that I should publish this on “Little Christmas” as it concerns the Christmas dinner I made for my family, which I called “Little Night.” Swaseys+DogsFor a while now, I have been promising a “Big Night” for my folks. This is a dinner based after one of my most favorite foodie films of that name. The film features some of the most amazing Italian food in cinema, and my idea is to make a number of dishes from the film to serve after my family seeing the film. Christmas, of course, has too much going on to devote all that time to cooking, so I thought I would give my family a scaled-down version to whet their appetite…hence, “Little Night.”

One of our family traditions for some time was developed when, years ago, I made Minestrone Soup at Christmas and it was a universal hit. Even the guys who won’t eat veggies (…and you know who are…Stephen Swasey…oh, did I just type that?!!!) liked it. A tattered copy of my recipe has been hanging around for some time, and the actual dish has been duplicated so well by others, that I haven’t made it at Christmas for years now. Moo did an excellent job with this years’ batch. The rest of the meal was mine, ‘tho. We had:

Moo’s Minestrone Soup Chicken Roasted in Spiced Dough Bow Tie pasta with Greens Fancy Salad Tiramisu Chicken B-Ball

The chicken dish is called “Pollo al Sal” or chicken roasted in a salted dough. The dough spices the meat as it traps all the delicious moisture in. The dough bakes as the chicken roasts. At the end of cooking (dubbed the “chicken basketball” by the guys by virtue of how it looked) and after resting, you break the dough with a hammer and you have the most tender chicken of your life! We decided to substitute fresh herbs (rosemary, and thyme) instead of salt for a healthier, tastier chicken.Hammering Chicken

My next dish was a bit of a flop…this time. I usually make the bow tie pasta dish with broccoli raab, a slightly bitter veggie that looks like broccoli gone to seed. It sweetens very nicely when you saute it with garlic in olive oil and sweet red peppers. Trouble was…I couldn’t find broccoli raab anywhere, so I substituted dandelion greens instead. This ended up a little too bitter for most of my family’s taste. I also made the mistake of grilling the parmesan cheese which ended up hardening the pasta a bit. Microwave always has worked for me in the past. Lesson: stick to what works for the basic dishes.Plated Chicken+Pasta Salad

My salad was nice with a center of lentils cooked in olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and spices. This was covered with exotic greens, matchsticked fennel, fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, pomegranate seeds, clementine sections, all topped with a blood-orange olive oil and wine vinegar. The salad tasted very good, but I need to work on my salad-arranging skills for the next big meal.

My Tiramisu has been perfected over the years, and I love especially it near Christmas. When I found out that Nickki my niece liked it, I had to make it! Most recipes use beaten raw egg yolks. I cook mine with kaluha, beating all the while, to make zabaglionTiramisue, an Italian light custard, which I then cool before whipping in the marscapone (an Italian cream cheese.) I could not find espresso either, so I brewed a strong coffee and concentrated its brewing to get a good substitute. I also could not find spiced cocoa, so I made my own. Then, it’s all assembly: lightly dip lady fingers in the coffee, a layer of the custard, sprinkle of spiced cocoa, and shaved dark chocolate. Cover and chill. I save the top layer of chocolate shaving until just before serving. Steve+Sophie“Little Night” was my gift, but my family spoiled me rotten with gifts of their own, with the charming company of four lovely dogs, as well as their own sparkling personalities!

[Thanks to Stephen Swasey for all photos, except the one of the family (me) and the one of me and Sophie (Nickki)]

Advertisements
h1

March 08, 2015: A Riff On A Classic

March 8, 2015

Riff On A ClassicMost of my adult life I have been prone to slam my mother’s cooking. In recent years, I’ve come to realize how unfair my attitude has been.

Like most children, I suppose, we don’t find the true worth of a parent until it is far too late. My mother had to cook, daily, for ten people. If she sometimes found shortcuts to stretch my dad’s salary and cover what must have been a huge drain on our household…well, now that I am older and perhaps a bit wiser, I realize she did a pretty decent job, all in all.

Like most women of post-WWII, my mom took advantage of popular foods of the day. Many of these included, frozen and canned foods. Some were bland and awful…and a few were pretty spectacular! One dish my mom made often was “her” tuna fish casserole. I seem to remember that it came right off the back label of a Campbell’s mushroom soup can. It was a combination of boiled noodles, a can of tuna fish and two cans of the mushroom soup (plus milk) then baked. It was cheap, fast, fed a lot of hungry kids, and was a no-brainer. Best of all, as kids, we loved it! No wonder my mom made it often!

I thought I could make a healthier, veggie-based, slightly more jazzed-up version of this dish:

Peel skins off 3 large portobello mushrooms (I put these in a sandwich bag and keep them frozen until I make my next broth.) Slice them 1/2″ thick, and saute in 4 Tblsp. melted butter until soft. Add the juice of 1 lemon and a splash of sherry. Continue cooking a little until the shrooms almost absorbs all the liquids.

Chop 1 head of broccoli. (In keeping with my mom’s economy sense, I used the stalks as well, but chopped them a bit finer.)

I set about 4 Qts. H2O to boil while I made my veloute. This is always slightly different, depending on the dish, but this one was:

4 Tblsp. of melted butter+4 Tblsp. flour whisked together on medium heat until it has turned a slightly tawny color. Add 2C. whole milk and 1 can mushroom soup and continue whisking until just thick enough to pour easily. I had some organic mushroom gravy so I added 1C. of that. Normally, I would have used veggie broth instead.

When the H2O came to a boil I added 1 bag (12 Oz.) wide egg noodles. These usually boil for about 7 minutes, but I did them for 6 (knowing I was to bake the dish, a bit al dente is best) adding the broccoli for the last 2 minutes. Drain.

Butter the bottom and sides of a large (18″ X 12″) Pyrex pan and add drained noodles and broccoli. Top this with mushrooms and add veloute. I then topped this with 1/2C. each grated Swiss, Asiago, and Colby Jack cheeses and a sprinkle of each ground pepper and herbs de Provence and baked at 325°F for half hour.

A crunchy, cheesy top with tender noodles and veggies underneath. Best of all was the earthy, tangy, lemony shrooms that accented every bite.

Mom’s dish was more easily made than mine, but with just a tiny bit more effort and time, this classic turned into a real treat!

h1

January 01, 2015: NYE Seafood Gratinée

January 1, 2015
Photo by Daniel Winkler

Photo by Daniel Winkler

Teja and Barb had their annual New Year’s Eve celebration at their house. This is usually a bring-your-own affair. Dan brought his popular sous-vide beef and we both made a sauce/gravy for it. I was hoping to make a reduction with the beef juice, but time got short and we had to resort to a semi-gravy instead to get the proper “sticking” texture Dan was looking for. Katie regaled us all with her delicious, tiny, and skillfully decorated cupcakes. As always (…and how I cannot imagine, this ALWAYS happens with Teja and Barb) everyone brought the perfect balance of meats, starches, veggies, salads, and sweets to round out the meal!

My contributions were a champagne cocktail for the New Year’s toast and a Seafood Gratinée with a Champagne/Vanilla Sobayon Sauce.

The cocktail was the very same “Poinsettia” Cocktail that I served Dan for Christmas. I added orange peel to the decoration as well as a cranberry, and used a rosé champagne that I’ve never had before.

The Seafood Gratinée is a Emeril dish he had published in a Christmas & NYE themed cookbook. I duplicated the Sobayon Sauce exactly…as it is perfect. The base I changed by adding lobster and imitation crab and for the “bread” part of this I used a cranberry/sage Triscuit cracker (which I found poor as a cracker, but thought would be excellent in this dish.) I also changed the cheese to Asiago.

Seafood Gratinée with Champagne/Vanilla Sobayon Sauce:

2 C. Cranberry/Sage Triscuits (broken into crumbs)
16 oz. Imitation Crab Meat
7 oz. Lobster Meat
1 large shallot-diced
8 Tblsp. melted butter
1C. fresh parsley (1/2 coarsely, 1/2 finely, chopped)
1 small parcel (.75 oz.) fresh chives
1 C. grated Asiago cheese

6 egg yolks
1/2C. Champagne
1/2Tsp. Vanilla extract
sprinkle of salt and white pepper

In a shallow pan, melt the butter and saute the shallots until soft. In a large pan crumble the triscuits, add coarsely chopped chives and parsley. Chop lobster and crab into chunks and add butter and shallots, also. Add Asiago cheese and mix. Add the whole mixture to buttered baking dish. Top with a sprinkle more of Asiago.

Over a double boiler (medium heat) add yolks and whisk until thickened. Add vanilla, champagne, salt and pepper and continue to whisk until thick. Top seafood mixture with the Sobayon. Sprinkle with nutmeg and fine parsley and chives. Bake 400F until top is golden (about 1/2 hour.)

h1

December 25, 2014: “Chrome for the Hollandaise”

December 25, 2014
Photo by Daniel Winkler

Photo by Daniel Winkler

It is interesting to me to trace the origins of meals that I have made. This one began with a  joke from social media.

Last week,I was fairly certain that I would be spending this Christmas away from family, at the same time my friend, Dan, was sending out feelers for what my plan was for this Christmas. He (kindly and humorously) sent me a post on Facebook that pictured Eggs Benedict on a hubcap, with the caption “There’s No Plate Like Chrome For The Hollandaise.”

Funny enough, I was thinking of Eggs Benedict for my Christmas breakfast, and he thought that it was a grand idea to join me. In actuality, Dan is the kind of guy that searches out us lonely former-Christians/non-denominationists to help us through the holidays. At the last count, he has netted at least three of us so far this season…and bless him for his efforts. I constructed a menu that I thought would temper the company with the season. Dan and I usually eat quite spare and wholesome. We mutually agreed to splurge on my decadent concoctions. It is testimony to our rather Spartan diets that we had to space out our decadence to stretch this meal over about four hours. I still feel the need to run a few miles to burn off the extra calories, but I feel it was worth it.

Christmas Brunch 2014: Eggs Benedict Broccoli Latkes Veggie Sausage “Poinsettia” Cocktail Fruit & Nut Dessert Crepes Espresso

Eggs Benedict: My rather untraditional (and vegetarian) approach to a classic recipe was to take  a slice of a sunflower loaf bread and to toast it under a broiler until lightly toasted. I then covered the top of the toasted bread with a slice of hickory-smoked Tofurky and then, grated Monterey-Jack cheese, and re-broiled until the cheese had melted. I then added a poached egg and topped with Hollandaise Sauce and a sprinkle of chopped chives.

Hollandaise Sauce for Two: .5C. Butter (melted) 1.5 Tblsp. Lemon Juice (warm) 3 Egg Yolks 4 Tblsp. hot H2O Over a double-boiler, melt butter, put aside. Over medium heat, whisk egg yolks until they thicken. Tblsp. by Tblsp. add hot H2O while whisking. Add lemon juice and finally butter, whisking all the while. Put Hollandaise aside and add to double-boiler just before serving to re-heat.

Broccoli Latkes: 1/2 Large Vidalia Onion. Diced, fried in 1 Tblsp. Butter until browned. 1 Washed, skinned and grated large baking potato. (I put this in a paper towel lined bowl for a while, to absorb H2O) About 1C. finely chopped Broccoli 2 Beaten Eggs 4 Tblsp. finely chopped fresh parsley 1/4C. Flour Dusting of freshly ground pepper and Italian spices. Form into patties and pan-fry in vegetable oil until browned on both sides. Top with sour cream and sprinkle with tarragon. [12/26/14 update: Tried these as leftovers this morning. The grated potatoes alone, made them too tough and chewy. I think the next time I will mix half mashed potato to half grated. It’ll take more time, of course, but it will be worth the effort to get a creamier latke. I think fresh chopped tarragon cooked with the onions would add more and better flavor, also.-SV]

I’ve prepared regular crepes many, many times before, but I’ve never made a strictly dessert crepe before, so this was an interesting derivation:

Photo by Daniel Winkler

Photo by Daniel Winkler

Dessert Crepes: .5 C. + 1 Tsp. Flour 2 Beaten Eggs 1 Tblsp. Brown Sugar 1 Tsp. Vanilla Extract .75C Milk 1.5 Tblsp. Butter (melted) Whisk eggs, then flour, then everything but the butter together. Rest for .5 hour. Add butter just before making crepes. On a non-stick pan, coated with melted butter, using a small ladle (a coffee scoop works well) over medium-high heat about 3 scoops in the pan. Cook each side until slightly brown. Flip. Place on a plate. Layer each crepe between a piece of parchment paper. When room temperature, cover with plastic wrap.

Crepe Filling: .25C. each, coarsely chopped pecans and walnuts. 1 Tblsp. Butter 1 Tblsp. Brown Sugar  for fruit (+ 1   Tblsp. for nuts) .25C Grand Marnier 1C. Blueberries .25C. Dried Cherries Wash blueberries. Combine with cherries, sugar, and Grand Marnier. Refrigerate. Shake occasionally. In a pan, melt butter and nuts. Lightly toast nuts. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon,  nutmeg, and sugar. Add fruit and cook (stirring often)  until fruit exudes juices. Add fruit/nut mixture to a crepe. Fold. Top with sour cream and a then a sprinkle of cardamom.

“Poinsettia” A cocktail I’ve adapted from a Christmas recipe book. My derivation substitutes vodka with Grand Marnier (my favorite liquor.) I do this glass-by-glass, when it is just a few people. In a champagne glass, fill 1/8th with Grand Marnier, then fill to almost 1/2 with champagne. Fill the rest with cranberry juice. I add a single cranberry to each glass. You may add crushed ice and/or an orange twist to this cocktail.

We also did a taste comparison between his gift of Makers 46 Bourbon vs. Regan’s gift of a regular Makers Mark. We both found the 46 to be more complex in flavor, but both quite enjoyable.

Photo by Daniel Winkler

Photo by Daniel Winkler

As a gift, I was able to give Dan my Christmas Bark and he deemed it “The best candy he’s ever had!”

As entertainment, I opted to introduce Dan to one of my favorite Christmas films, “Love, Actually.” Although Dan enjoyed the food, he detested the movie, finding the characters shallow, trite, and unrealistic. But, such is friendship. Dan and I might go back-and-forth on our opinions of this film forever, neither actually ever likely to budge. I’m dreamer…he’s a realist. C’est la notion d’amour. C’est la vie.

h1

December 10, 2014: Empty Platter

December 11, 2014

Empty Platter LayoutI have volunteered as a chef’s assistant for several months now for an organization that provides home cooked meals and a pantry supplies to needy families in the area.

When I started at my present job, I was still living on scraps as I had so numerous other bills. Food wasn’t as much as a priority as like…keeping my house and paying for gas for the car. The owners of my company suggested I try Open Table (the local food pantry assistance program) and thought I might benefit from their service. I hemmed and hawed for a couple of days when I finally came to the conclusion that my pride was deeply meshed with my stupidity, and it would be foolish to not take assistance from an organization that was specifically there to help people in exactly my condition at the time.

So I registered for the pantry service. One thing about a service like this is that there is always a little waiting around. You are given a random number that groups you in a queue according to that number. While waiting, I took in the whole environment. The first thing I noticed is that most of my fellow patrons seemed very appreciative to have the service, happy even…despite their obvious current setbacks. It was no wonder, as each Open Table volunteer…to a person was charming, sympathetic, and helpful. The volunteers themselves seemed happy to be there as well. I knew how hard it was for individuals like myself, but my heart went out most of all to the families. I wondered and worried about how many nights the parents had nothing to offer but the empty platter of hunger to their children.

As I waited, being a foodie, I could not help but be interested in the food they served (I never had the meals at Open Table as the pantry suited me fine, and I did not want to burden them any more than I had to.) I found the meals well-made, clearly geared for popular appeal, nutritious, well presented, and best of all…well received! I decided my first night that as soon as I didn’t need the pantry service I would pay them back a bit by volunteering where I thought I could do the most good…the kitchen.

So it has been for some months. And a more peasant kitchen experience I cannot imagine: there are a group of assistants, a group to clean, a group to serve and a lead chef. Everyone pitches in and does whatever is needed to do, often with being directed, and best of all they help each other, all with a pleasant chatter making the whole experience warm and fun. I was always capable of more, but I was happy prepping and cleaning. After all, to my mind I was paying back a debt. The notions that I was having fun, learning a bit, especially about cooking for a huge group of people, and keeping my knife skills sharp (yes…pun intended) were all bonuses.

I got a surprise the other night, when Jim, the lead chef this week told me, “We’re serving ham for the main course, but there will be a few people who cannot eat ham. I would like you to take these ingredients and make something pleasant for them.”

People tell me all the time about these cooking shows where they have challenges/eliminations like this. I’ve never seen any of them, but I imagine that this was like that…minus the TV cameras and lights…and fame…and money…and restaurant positions. On the plus side, I was doing it for coolest folks doing good works for the needy, and it was fun! I ended up making lightly breaded and fried Chicken Breasts, smothered in sautéed Mediterranean Vegetables. I left pleased. It was not my best dish ever (I usually plan way ahead of time) but I thought I did OK, considering the turn-around time.

I went back to work, but after a couple of minutes I had that “DOH” moment when it occurred to me that this would make a good blog article, so I went back down to try to get a shot of my dish. When I found it, the only thing that was left was the empty platter it was served on. At first I thought with a laugh, “Oh, it went over well” but then I remembered the reality: the staff packages the leftovers from the meal and gives them to people as they are leaving, the idea seeming to be to get every scrap of food into the hands of those that need it.

Looking down at that empty platter…something clicked…a switch was thrown. I don’t know if I can describe it, but I’ll try.

I’ve written before that making food is like another form of an expression of love. If I’ve cooked for you, the chances are pretty good (at least at the time of the meal) that I held you in such high regard as to give you the best of my creative industry. Friends and family…easy…cooking for them is pure joy. On the flip side, working in the French restaurant was not only hard work, but I never even saw a patron. The catering jobs I’ve done were smack down the middle. I enjoyed people I didn’t know…enjoying what I made.

So, I’ve cooked in a lot of different situations. Somehow, cooking at Open Table the other night was very different. I discovered that I had created something that could possibly stave off hunger for a few people, for a little while. Although I would never meet them, or talk to them about their troubles, I had been part of something that could make people’s lives (who need it the most) in the tiniest way…a little less painful. That empty platter of mine made someone else’s platter a bit more full. To me, that empty platter was the symbol of the highest expression of love to our fellow-men.

So. At this time of year we are focused on giving. If you truly want to practice “goodwill towards men” I urge you to donate to your local chapter of food and pantry assistance services like Open Table. There is almost certainly one in your town or close-by. Your money will be well-spent giving comfort to those who need it the most.

But you don’t have to listen to just me. People have been writing about the theme of caring for the poor (particularly at Christmas time) for some time. A popular traditional source is the carol by John Mason Neale (1818-1866) in “Good King Wenceslas”

“Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye, who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.”

If you are looking for another contempory source, here’s what Bill Murray has to say about it all. Trust him. He’s a changed man.

 

h1

April 08, 2013: Kabocha Soup

April 8, 2013

Kabocha SoupFor sure, I am not sorry to see Winter on its way out, but I shall miss some of the good soups of the season. Before it got too warm, I thought I would take a crack at a Japanese Winter-ish soup made from kabocha squash.

Kabocha looks a little like a small flattened green pumpkin, and can be found in the produce department of most grocery stores, owing to it growing well in Mexico. It tastes much like acorn squash (which can be substituted, if you cannot find kabocha.)

How this squash migrated to Japan is a story: squash came from the New World and was brought to Europe by the Spanish. The Portuguese  brought seeds when they went to the East and grew it in Cambodia, and from there, they introduced it to the Japanese. Through a miscommunication, when the Japanese asked the Portuguese the name of the vegetable they were told the country’s name “Kampuchea” (what Cambodians called their country.) From that word, the Japanese got it “kabocha.”

Kabocha Soup
Take two medium kabocha squash (about 4lbs.) and soak in H2O and scrub skin. Remove skin and save. Cut each squash into quarters, de-seed and de-pulp. Cut into 1″ pieces and soak in clean, cold H2O. Wash, skin (save skins) and chop 2 medium carrots and section into 1″ pieces and add to H2O. Similarly, wash, skin and chop into 1″pieces, two medium potatoes and add to H2O.

Add all veggie peelings to a large pot with a little oil, salt and pepper, and over medium heat cook the veggies for a couple of minutes. Add enough H2O to cover veggies and  bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the veggies are soft (about 1/2 hour.) Strain. This is the stock for your soup (makes about 2-3 quarts.)

Strain 1″ cubes of veggies and in a little oil fry 1 chopped medium onion and then add strained veggies. Cook over medium heat while turning for about 10 minutes, add broth, salt and pepper, a sprinkle of cinnamon and dash of nutmeg, 2 bay leaves, and 2,  4″ pieces of kombu. Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer until all veggies are soft. Remove bay and kombu (all green veggies are removed.) Blend well with an immersion blender until smooth. Add 2C. heavy cream and 2 Tblsp. white miso. Serve soup topped with the chopped green part of spring onions.

h1

February 08, 2013: A Winter-Storm Pottage

February 8, 2013

Winter-Storm PottageDue to the wonders of modern meteorology, New England has had a decent advance warning of the current Winter storm. The last few days I could observe my fellow New Englanders preparing: oceans of people at the grocery stores, gas stations, etc. They are saying three feet now, and vehicular travel has been prohibited after 4pm today, punishable by $500 and/or a year in jail!

So, there’s a few things I do to get ready for a storm. First, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to run for a couple of days, I managed to get off a run before the snow got too deep. A run for me, is both bracing and warming. I realize that a run in Winter weather is not everyone’s cup of tea, but then why not try a cup of warm tea (or coffee or cocoa) to warm up? Then, a warm shower. Then, dressing for a cold house: thermals plus double-flannels. Finally, and the best…a warm, vegetable pottage!

This is my clone of my most favorite prepared food: Progreso Lentil Soup. At close to $1.50 for a 19 oz. can, I realized that, for a little bit more investment, I could make a more healthy and tasty version, and make much, much more , that would keep me fed for some time! It has an added quality of having a nice bright red color, more appealing than the rather gray-ish store-bought brand.

Winter-Storm Pottage
Take 1lb. dry lentils, sort to look for stones and cover with cold H2O for two hours. Skin and slice thin, 3 medium carrots. Dice celery and sweet red pepper to make 2C. celery and 1/2C. pepper. Skin and dice 1 large Vidalia Onion and 1 large clove Elephant Garlic. Add onion, carrots, peppers and garlic to 2 Tblsps. Olive Oil and sautee, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft. Add lentils and 2 Qts. veggie broth. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and add celery and 1 (1Lb. can) of crushed tomatoes and 3 Tblsp. tomato paste. Add 1 Tblsp. each dried Oregano, Basil and sal de mer, ground pepper, 1.5 Tblsp. Cumin and 1 Bay Leaf. Simmer for about an hour until the lentils soften. Remove bay leaf and give a short grind with an immersion blender (not too much…you want to have about 1/2 ground, but leave enough of the veggie to give the pottage substance and texture.) Add filtered H2O to correct the texture, and while still warm, taste and correct the seasoning.

This recipe made about 6 Qts. of pottage. When cool, half went into the freezer. The rest improves as leftovers as the pottage flavors blend over time.. This pottage is wonderful with cheese, a good bread and a glass of a hearty red wine!

To my fellow New Englanders: careful driving and shoveling, stay off the roads if you can, and warm up with this delicious pottage!

%d bloggers like this: