Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Best Part of This Year's Super Bowl For Me: Mushroom Bacon and Swiss Stuffed Bread

It's getting close to Super Bowl time again.  This is actually one of my favorite times of year, not because I love the Super Bowl, but because it means that football season is almost over for six or seven blissful months.  In my opinion that's something to celebrate.

I think I started disliking football when I was in about the 4th or 5th grade.  The game sounds on the TV in the family room on Sunday afternoons were like a macabre alarm clock ringing in the doom of the upcoming school week.  It must have reminded my mother of the same thing because her cries of "Karen, do you have any homework?!" always coincided with the sounds of the refs' whistles and that just made things worse. 

Oh I've tried to move on from these childhood memories and learn to like football.  Once I even sat down to watch a game with my husband and son to ask questions and maybe get a handle on this football thing.  No such luck.  I asked a couple of questions, but found my mind wandering to thoughts of ponies and rainbows during their explanations.  It was an unpleasant experience for all of us.  So I decided to own it and just be honest with myself.  I just really don't care.  There I said it.   Well, I do care when there is someone I know playing in the game, but Detroit's season is over so I repeat, I don't care.

This doesn't mean that I don't have a Super Bowl tradition or two, oh no far from it.   Every Super Bowl Sunday I find myself a chick flick and go see it while Mr. H watches a bunch of men tackle each other and over indulges in a meal of small spicy bites in glorious peace and quiet.  And please don't worry about me. Oh no I won't be alone.  The movie theaters are packed with women just like me and there are even a few men there too wearing dark sunglasses and ball caps pulled down to shadow their faces.

This makes me especially happy since I have a friend who actually plays fantasy football with her husband.  I'm not sure when and why she went to the dark side, but I think it best my husband never finds out about this unicorn.  If he thinks there is hope to change me, he might just decided to hold another football class.  Yuck.

Before I head out for the movie on this holiest of sports days,  I will lovingly assemble my husband's football watching buffet to help him feel like I am there in spirit. There are a few things that he requires like guacamole and chicken wings, but for the rest of the menu I am allowed to go freestyle.

Seeing that the Super Bowl is next Sunday I am now auditioning dishes for the final menu.  One of the dishes that has already made the cut is a pull apart bread dish that Lea Ann from Cooking on the Ranch brought over to my house for our friend Yvette's Muy Bueno Cookbook signing party.  I have since seen a couple of variations, but I loved Lea Ann's version smothered in mushrooms and cheese, so I am using that as a base and adding some of my husband's favorite flavors (bacon) to it.  With food like this lying around maybe Chick Flick Sunday (or Super Bowl Sunday if you must) isn't going to be that bad after all.

Mushroom Bacon and Swiss Stuffed Bread

This recipe calls for a store bought loaf of bread, but if you are an "Artisan Bread in Five" fan like me and have some dough in the fridge, boy are you in for a treat.  Just form a boule and bake it according to recipe, let it cool and start from there.

6 slices bacon
8 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions (white and light green parts)
1 cup shredded Gruyere or Swiss Cheese
1 small round loaf of unsliced rustic bread (my bread was the size of a mini boule)
5 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice or red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the bacon in a medium to large size frying pan over medium high heat.  Fry bacon to crispy, transfer to a paper towel to drain.

Saute the mushrooms in the hot bacon drippings in the same frying pan.  Once they are soft (about 5 minutes) add the crushed garlic and saute for one minute longer.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Drain mushrooms and transfer to a medium size bowl to cool.

Once the bacon and mushrooms are drained and cooled, crumble the bacon on top of the mushrooms in the bowl.  Add the green onions and cheese.  Stir well and set aside.

Slice the bread into a grid in 1" sections almost all the way through the bread, leaving a 1" base at the bottom to hold the loaf together.

Set the bread on a large piece of aluminum foil.  Stuff the mushroom mixture into the crevices of the bread; set aside.

Whisk together the butter, vinegar and mustard in a small bowl.  Drizzle over the bread on top of the mushroom mixture.  Wrap the foil up around the edges of the bread toward the top.  I prefer to leave an opening at the top so the bread gets crispy.  For a softer result, close the foil at the top before baking.  Bake until heated through, approximately 30 minutes.  Serve immediately.

This recipe easily serves 4.

Monday, January 21, 2013

My Dad's Answer to Dessert: Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake

I, like probably half of you who are reading this, am a child of divorce.  I was eight when my family fell apart. I really hate to put it like that, but it is what it is.  Even though I survived it did leave an indelible mark on me.  Now before I totally bum you out and you exit out of my site, I have to say that it wasn't really all that bad in the end. Experiences like this made me who I am, and even though there are a few people who might disagree, I think I turned out alright.

Starting at this early age I spent every other weekend with my Dad.  Obviously I would have preferred having my parents together, but the times I got to spend with him one on one were priceless. He was both loving and fun and made running even the most mundane Saturday morning errands enjoyable.  By the time we had the car washed, his ears lowered, and the dry cleaning picked up, and even though I was half full of "candy and junk" (my mother's words, not mine), he rewarded me with lunch at one of our regular places where I got the VIP treatment.  I don't think I've had a waitress ask me since if I'd like "the usual".

Saturday lunchtime with Dad may have meant pit barbecue and drugstore cheeseburgers, but nighttime was reserved for one of his "jungle" buffets at home.  Why he called it this was and still is a mystery to me, but I think he was just trying to make simple sound special.  He would often pull out some onion dip and taco flavored Doritos for an appetizer which was followed by a main course of  Little Smokies drenched in barbecue sauce with a side of dill pickles and some soft, fluffy white bread.  Poor old one protein and two veg Mom, how was she supposed to keep up with this?

After the dishes were done he would most likely pull out a boxed treat of some sort for dessert in front of the TV.  Two of our favorites were gingerbread and lemon pudding cake.  The pudding cake was always my number one choice.  I thought then (and still do) that this little box mix was no less than genius.  By just adding a little boiling water and popping it in the oven, it magically separated into not one, but two, layers of lemony goodness.  On top a light and airy souffle-like cake; on the bottom a silky smooth warm pudding sauce that had the absolute perfect viscosity time after time.

It has been a long time since I've seen one of those boxes on the store shelves, but many years ago a friend gave me her great aunt's mother's cousin's best friend's recipe.  Since I've had a persistent craving for one of these lately, I've been looking for a reason to pull out that little yellowed index card and make one.   A couple of days ago when I walked into the grocery store and saw a big display of Meyer lemons I knew that this was my opportunity.  I hope you'll like this recipe as much as I do.

This one's for you Daddy.

Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake

Meyer lemons were introduced to the US in 1908 by agricultural explorer Frank Nicholas Meyer who brought a sample back from China while working for the US Department of Agriculture.  Thought to be a cross between a true lemon and a mandarin or ordinary orange, its flavor is sweeter and milder than true lemons.  While Meyer lemon trees produce throughout the year, most of the fruit is harvested in the winter months. 

2 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated placing yolks and whites in separate medium size bowls
1 teaspoon lemon zest (for easier zesting, zest lemons before juicing them)
1/3 cup lemon juice (about 2 juicy medium size lemons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 – 1/3 cup milk
Powdered sugar to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Spray an 8” square glass or ceramic baking dish (or a dish of a similar size) with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.
Cream butter and 1 tablespoon of the sugar with an electric mixer set to medium until it is fluffy and lemon colored.  Mix in egg yolks one at a time alternating with the remaining sugar until it is all combined.  

With the mixer set to low, add lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla; mix well.

Add the flour a tablespoon at a time mixing well after each addition.

Add salt and mix well.

Slowly add the milk; set aside.

Beat egg whites to stiff peaks.  Fold in 1/4 of the beaten whites into the yolk mixture to lighten the batter before thoroughly folding in the remaining whites.  The batter will be thin so don't worry.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.  Place the baking dish in a larger heat proof baking pan.  Place the pans on the middle rack of the preheated oven towards the front; pour boiling water into the outside pan until it comes 1/2 of the way up the side of the inside dish.  Carefully push the pans toward the back of the oven.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until top is golden brown.  Remove from the oven and cool for at least 5 minutes before dusting with powdered sugar and serving.  This recipe is also delicious served warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8 servings

This recipe is delicious made with just plain old lemons too.  If I have any fresh or frozen berries around I also like to sprinkle a handful into the bottom of the prepared dish before pouring in the batter and baking.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Celebrating National Soup Month: Cream of Sun Dried Tomato Soup with Bacon and Fried Onions

I understand that January is National Soup Month.  I'm kind of proud of myself for knowing this because I usually miss these commemorative days for some reason.  I guess there must be some sort of app I can find so National Glazed Doughnut Day no longer goes unnoticed, but I'll be darned if I can find it.

Well never mind, the important thing is that I didn't miss soup's special month.  I love that I am not alone in thinking that soup is so important that just one day won't do.  Soup after all helps to heal us when we are sick, warms us when we are chilled to the bone, and in the case of vichyssoise and gazpacho, sustains and cools us on a hot summer day.

For January's soup celebration, I wanted to make something that was just a little bit special, but still was approachable and affordable for a weeknight meal.  Since the weather is dreadfully cold most everywhere during this month, I thought it needed to be hearty as well.  After mixing and chopping for a couple of days I finally came up with a soup that I think fits the bill.   Creamy and wholesome, flavorful and satisfying, this is definitely a celebration soup, even if you are celebrating just a regular Tuesday night.

Cream of Sun Dried Tomato Soup with Bacon and Fried Onions

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large carrot, cut in half lengthwise and very thinly sliced across
1/2 medium size onion, thinly sliced across and chopped
1 large stalk celery, very thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large bay leaf
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
5 cups chicken stock
4 slices bacon
1/2 medium size onion, very thinly sliced
3 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup water
3 slightly heaping tablespoons good quality sun dried tomato pesto (I used my favorite from Christopher Ranch)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon shredded Parmesan cheese, plus a couple of tablespoons more for garnish

Melt butter together with the vegetable oil in a large saucepan or small stock pot set over medium high heat.  When butter starts to sizzle add the carrot, onion and celery.  Sauté until the vegetables are soft, approximately 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and bay leaf and continue cooking for one minute longer, stirring constantly.  Add the sugar and white pepper; stir well to combine.  Add the chicken stock, stir well, cover and lower the heat to low.  Cook for approximately 15 minutes or until the vegetables are very soft.

While the soup is cooking, place bacon in a medium size frying pan over medium high heat.  Fry until the bacon is crispy.  While reserving the bacon drippings in the frying pan, transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain; set aside.

Add the thinly sliced onion to the bacon drippings and fry until they are brown and crispy, approximately, 5 minutes; transfer to a paper towel to drain and set aside until ready to use.

Remove the vegetable and stock mixture from the heat.  Remove the bay leaf.  Puree vegetables with an immersion blender, or if using a counter top blender, allow mixture to cool to warm before carefully pureeing and returning to the pot and heating over a low heat.

In a small bowl or cup, gradually stir the flour and water together to form a paste.  To the paste add 1/2 cup or so of the hot liquid from the stock pot to temper it a bit.  While stirring the soup in the stock pot continuously, add the flour mixture.  Increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil while continuing to stir.  Cook and stir for one minute before adding the pesto and cream.  Continue to heat until the mixture just begins to return to the boil.  Remove from the heat and stir in a tablespoon of the Parmesan.

Divide soup evenly among 4 - 6 soup bowls.  Spoon fried onions and bacon on top and garnish with some of the Parmesan cheese, or if you want to add a special touch swirl a little lightly whipped unsweetened cream on top.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4 - 6

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Something From Nothing #8: Mexican Shakshuka

I give my family credit for my love of cooking.  My father, mother, grandmother and aunts were all great cooks and I was always welcome in their kitchens.  Sometimes I got to help, other times I just got to hang out, watch and learn.  Often times I learned more by observing their techniques and recipes while we talked and laughed than any other time.

I've also learned a great deal about cooking from my friends.  My friend Karen makes the best Yorkshire puddings I have ever eaten, Joanie makes a saffron chicken that I dream about, and Susan can throw together a five star dinner by merely cleaning out the contents of her refrigerator.  I always laugh and say that some of my best recipes are stolen from my friends.  Little do they know that I'm  not really joking.

I love the times I get to stay with ( and mooch off of) Susan and her husband Adrian during my visits to England.  I have learned so much while watching her scurry around, the whole while answering the questions that I pepper her with about the ways of her kosher kitchen.  She's a great teacher and is always very patient with me even when I break the rules and use one of her "meat" spoons to stir the cream into my coffee. 

Adrian is my kind of guy.  Not only is he funny and sweet, he will pretty much eat anything that won't eat him first.  He is such a great host that he refused to let me eat alone during our trip through London's Borough Market.  He selflessly threw aside all of his dietary concerns and the disapproving looks of his healthy eating wife and shared a dream buffet of fat and calories with me.  He is such a trooper that he didn't even bat an eye when I asked him to split a grilled cheese and onion sandwich, chase it with a duck baguette and a glass of red wine, and follow it all up with an order of fish and chips for dessert.  It was one of the best lunches I've ever eaten.

In between our culinary binges, Susan does her best to reel us in and  fortify our diets with simple, healthy foods to get us ready for our next relapse.  At the end of a busy day I love hanging out in her kitchen drinking a glass of wine and leafing through her cookbook collection while she cooks us something delicious.  She's got books from all over the world, but my favorites are her kosher cookbooks since they are so different from the ones I have in my own kitchen.

One of the recipes that I discovered in one of these books was for eggs poached in tomato sauce or shakshuka, also known as eggs in purgatory.  While researching this post I must have found a million versions of this dish and they all seemed to have two things in common, the ingredients are pretty simple, yet the preparation can be involved.

For my "Something From Nothing" version of this recipe I've whittled down the ingredient list and simplified the preparation.  This recipe proves that all you need to do is combine a couple of flavorful ingredients in a simple way and boom!  You have a delicious meal.

 Mexican Shakshuka

For my easy Mexican version of this dish, I've skipped all the chopping and sauteing by starting out with canned fire roasted tomatoes with green chilies.  To make the basic recipe all you really need are the tomatoes, egg, salt and pepper, but I have dolled mine up with cheese and chopped green onion.  Of course this is a deviation from the classic recipe, but that's how I roll.

1 cup diced tomatoes with green chilies (I use Kroger brand diced salsa style fire roasted tomatoes in tomato puree and they were perfect.  If you don't have those available look for a brand of canned tomatoes with green chilies that is packed in tomato puree.  I think Rotel is a bit watery for this recipe.)
1 large egg
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/4 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese (you can also use cojita, queso fresco, feta or any other favorite cheese you choose)
Chopped green onion or chopped cilantro to garnish
Warm corn tortillas (optional)

Place tomatoes in a heat proof pan (I use a 6" cast iron skillet for my single serving) over medium heat.  Heat until tomatoes start to simmer.  Heat and stir until the tomatoes are piping hot all the way through.

For a medium doneness, gently crack an egg (you can also squeeze 2 eggs into this small pan for heartier appetites) into the center of the simmering tomatoes.  Cover with a lid and cook for approximately 3 - 4 minutes (my egg was cold from the fridge so it took closer to 3-1/2) or until whites are mostly set around a bright yellow yolk.  While shakshuka is simmering, preheat broiler.

After 3 - 4 minutes sprinkle eggs with grated cheese and place under the preheated broiler.  While watching carefully, broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly, approximately 1 minute.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle with chopped green onions or coarsely chopped cilantro.  Serve immediately with warm corn tortillas.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Pillsbury Bake-Off and a 1960 Classic: Dilly Casserole Bread

This past Thursday was kind of a challenging day.  First, the highly anticipated Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest opened for entries and posted its rules.  Much to my dismay, if you want to be one of the finalists you are going to have to ask your friends and family for votes.  I really love this contest, but I can't tell you how much I dislike that.  I have never won a popularity contest in my life and I'm afraid that I never will.   Besides that, voting contests are notorious for being manipulated.  I haven't seen many of these contests where the best recipe won.  I will have to trust that Pillsbury won't let that happen.

Then, to top it all off, my cake decorating class which was to start the next night was cancelled because I was the only one enrolled.  This wouldn't have been so bad had I not already bought $200 worth of class supplies and removed them from their packaging.  I should have known better, but I have always loved playing with new school supplies and couldn't help myself.

To make myself feel better I did what usually does the trick and picked a fight with my husband.  That did relieve some of my tension, but it left me needing to apologize which just made me feel worse in the end, so I had a glass of wine and went to bed. 

After sleeping on my problems, I came to some conclusions.  I think I'll just keep enrolling in the class each month and see how long it takes for someone else to decide they'd like to be a cake boss too.  I'll also do my best to stay out of my supplies so nothing gets lost or broken which so often happened to me in elementary school.

As for Pillsbury I guess I'll just have to go with it.  It is their million dollar contest after all and they can run it any way they see fit.   As I see it I have two choices, either enter and ask for votes or just not participate at all.  I'm not sure what my final decision will be, but please don't be surprised if I am asking for favors in the next few months.  That is if I am lucky enough to get that far.

Since I am talking about Pillsbury here I thought I'd endorse a Bake-Off recipe from the good old days.  This recipe is a throw back to the days when the main qualifying ingredients were Pillsbury flour and a healthy dose of imagination.  I think you'll really like this recipe if you'll just give it a chance and not be put off by the 1960s list of ingredients, because just like I Love Lucy and young Elvis, it is a true mid-century classic. 

Leona Schnuelle's original Dilly Casserole Bread From the 1960 Pillsbury Bake-Off

This is just one recipe of several from the Bake-Off that have become American favorites over the years.  You might not even realize that those little peanut butter and Hershey kiss thumbprint cookies that your grandmother has been making for years is a Bake-Off recipe.  You may even be more surprised to know that it did not win the 1957 contest.  The grand prize actually went to the now lesser known Accordion Treats by Gerda Roderer.   As for that Peach Cheesy Pie that you have been eating your whole life, yep you guessed it, that was 17 year old Janis Boykin's winning recipe in 1964.

2 to 2- 2/3 cups Pillsbury BEST® All Purpose Flour

2 tablespoons sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons instant minced onion
2 teaspoons dill seed
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 pkg. active dry yeast
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon margarine or butter
1 cup small curd creamed cottage cheese
1 egg
2 teaspoons margarine or butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, if desired
In large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, sugar, onion, dill seed, 1 teaspoon salt, baking soda and yeast; mix well.
In small saucepan, heat water, 1 tablespoon margarine and cottage cheese until very warm (120 to 130°F.). Add warm liquid and egg to flour mixture; blend at low speed until moistened. Beat 3 minutes at medium speed.
By hand, stir in remaining 1 to 1 2/3 cups flour to form a stiff batter. Cover loosely with greased plastic wrap and cloth towel. Let rise in warm place (80 to 85°F.) until light and doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes.

Generously grease 1 1/2 or 2-quart casserole. Stir down batter to remove all air bubbles. Turn into greased casserole. Cover; let rise in warm place until light and doubled in size, 30 to 45 minutes.

Heat oven to 350°F. Uncover dough. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until loaf is deep golden brown and sounds hollow when lightly tapped. If necessary, cover with foil to prevent over browning. Remove from casserole; place on wire rack. Brush loaf with melted margarine; sprinkle with coarse salt. Cool 15 minutes. Serve warm or cool.