Sunday Dinner

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Arroz con Pollo
Stewed Black Beans

Pineapple Coconut Upside-Down Cake
with lightly sweetened whipped cream

I could use a break from the cold, snow, and gray skies, but a vacation to somewhere warm and sunny is not in the cards right now.  So for now, the best way for me to escape the current weather conditions is through food.  This menu will certainly do the trick.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is a classic dessert that has either gotten lost in grandma's recipe files or just forgotten about.  I always wanted to enjoy Upside-Down Pineapple cakes, but they usually have canned pineapple slices and maraschino cherries and I am just not a fan of those ingredients.  I found this recipe for Pineapple Coconut Upside-Down Cake in Delicious. magazine a few years ago.  The recipe called for caramelized fresh pineapple slices, dried coconut, and lemon juice.  I knew right then that it was a winner for me.

For a single layer, this is a big, dense cake. I bake it in an 8-inch by 2-inch diameter cake pan and it fills the entire pan.  Like many sweets and savories, baking this a day ahead seems to improve the flavor and texture when eaten on that second day.  The pineapple juices seep into the inverted cake, keeping it moist and tender.  Serve it with lightly sweetened whipped cream--mmm, so good!  I will be dreaming about a warm and tropical getaway tonight.


Meyer Lemon Pudding

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After the recipe writing and eating of leftovers from our Sunday Dinner this week, I was craving something light and lemony to cut the richness.   Time to take advantage of those winter citrus fruits.

I love all things lemon and this recipe is one of my favorites.  In fact, Lori Longbothom calls this "My Favorite Lemon Pudding"--that makes two of us and I am sure you will be number three, four, five...

Lori's recipe calls for just lemons, and as good as that is, I like to take it to the next level and use Meyer lemons.  Meyer lemons are not quite as tart as lemons and are a sort of cross between a lemon and an orange, therefore they are a tad sweeter than a standard lemon with a noticeable floral essence.  If you can't find Meyer lemons,  you can get good results if you use half lemon juice and half orange juice--freshly squeezed of course.

By using simple ingredients and a simple technique, you will be rewarded with a spoonful of luscious, lemony love.  A dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream doesn't hurt either.


Braised Red Cabbage

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If I had a penny for every time I make this side dish in the Fall and Winter months... seriously, my family cannot get enough of it.  As Spring slowly approaches, that will change; which means I need to document this.

My children ask for this like they are asking for Mac-n-Cheese.  I know it's hard to believe, but this dish really is that good and comforting.  The cabbage is braised with apples, honey, and red wine vinegar, so there is a perfect balance of sweet and sour. After braising the cabbage for 1 1/2 to 2 hours--it just melts in your mouth.  Serve as a side to any roast meat or those Swedish Meatballs and I bet you will come back for more.  So simple--so good!


Swedish Meatballs

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I had some other recipes that I wanted to share this week, but like the Sauerbraten, it will be quite sometime before I make Swedish Meatballs again.  There are two reasons for this --- One, it is a seasonal thing and two, I made a double batch of meatballs, so we will enjoy it for leftovers, lunches, and have a little left for the freezer.  

I tore this recipe out of Martha Stewart Living some years ago.  It was originally called Veal Fricadelles and was served with rosemary mashed potatoes.  I thought the veal mixture would make a great Swedish meatball and I decided to infuse a light sour cream gravy with a bundle of fresh rosemary.  I am definitely not a Swede, but let me tell you that these are some good Swedish meatballs and gravy.  

The meatballs are delicately spiced with a bit of nutmeg and allspice and then slowly baked until they are oh-so tender.  The rosemary infused gravy pairs perfectly with the spices.  Serve them with a good Dijon mustard, Lingonberry preserves, and spätzle--it is a delicious dinner.  I think the only thing missing is a side of braised red cabbage--stay tuned for that recipe.


Sunday Dinner

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Pickled Red Onions and Cheddar Cheese

with Dijon mustard and Lingonberries

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cakes

This meal came about when I was at the market with my children earlier this week.  The good canned San Marzano Tomatoes were on sale so I said "Kids-- Spaghetti and Meatballs for Sunday dinner".  My son was busy chatting with the butcher and he only heard S-- Meatballs.  When he was done with his conversation he came to me and said, "I can't wait to eat Swedish Meatballs".  Wait--what??  I thought, "Oh my goodness I haven't made Swedish Meatballs yet this season."  Change of plans...tomatoes go in the pantry for another night and I turn my cart around to get what I need for this meal.

This meal is a seasonal favorite in our house.  From the onions to the pudding cakes, it is just good comfort food. Starting with the sweet pickled onions and cheese--yum, moving on to the savory meatballs in a rosemary gravy--so good, the cabbage and spätzle are a must and the lefse helps mop it all up.  But the finisher is the recipe I am featuring today, Sticky Toffee Pudding Cakes.  Moist and tender cakes with a sticky toffee sauce served with a ladle of crème anglaise--it is pure heaven.

The only change I made is to place all the dates in the food processor.  I have kids and they would rather eat dates in small pieces than in big chunks.  Other than that, this is a stand up recipe.



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Here it is--the classic Scotcheroo.  One bite of these and they will take you back to lunch box treats, after school snacks, bake sales, or just because someone loved you (and hopefully still does).  Chocolate, peanut butter, butterscotch, and Rice Krispies--what's not to love?

As good as they are when you stick to the original recipe, I like to double up on the chocolate-butterscotch layer.  In my opinion, it is a much better chocolate to crisp rice ratio.  I also use crunchy peanut butter instead of creamy for a little extra texture.  The secret to the perfect bite is to not press the rice cereal layer firmly.  I like to leave the rice cereal mixture with hills and valleys so the melted chocolate layer can fill in the gaps.  This is also a no-bake recipe, so the kiddos can help out in the kitchen.

Whatever your reason for making them may be,  just be careful.  One bite of these and you will be tempted to eat the whole lot.  So, do what I do and quickly package up a few bundles and share them with your neighbors.  They will love you for it!


Buffalo Chicken French Dip

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I knew this sandwich was going to be good, but I just didn't know how good.  Wow!  This sandwich exceeded my expectations by far.  In just one bite you get all of the flavors out of that classic Buffalo Wing appetizer; chicken, blue cheese, sauce, and even celery, but with out all, well--some of the mess.  The fact that the chicken isn't fried and that there is very little butter in the sauce makes my arteries a little happier.  O.K., who I am kidding.  I'll just make up for the loss of calories and fat in a little dessert afterwards.

If I owned a sports bar and grill, I would put these on the menu STAT.  But, if you are like me and you enjoy being in the comfort of your own home during sporting events, especially when the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers go head to head for a Super Bowl bid this Sunday, then I really think this would be the perfect sandwich to serve for your party.

I roasted my own chicken, but a store bought rotisserie chicken will save you time.  I made my own Ciabatta rolls, but a good sturdy french roll will do.  Just don't use a soft roll because it will get soggy in the sauce.  I also recommend using a good quality wedge blue cheese.  The pre-crumbled cheese lacks in flavor.  Assemble the sandwiches, slice them in half and plate them with a small dish of the dipping sauce and let your family and friends dip in and cheer on the home team--Go Bears!

Oh, and about that dessert?  Stayed tuned for a classic...



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Regular readers probably know by now that we enjoy our Sunday Dinner.  This Sauerbraten made the past weekend's dinner no exception.  It was delicious!  I try not to disrupt our meals with too much photography, but I want to make sure I document all of this for me and my family and it might be another year before I make Sauerbraten again (I make enough for lunches and leftovers to freeze so we actually will enjoy it one more time, but in the form of sandwiches or some other weeknight yummy).

I tore this recipe out of Martha Stewart Living some years ago and have been making it ever since.  It is a beef roast that is braised in a mixture of red wine, vinegar, and onions.  We love our onions, so I add lots of onions.  Mmm--beef and onions--so good!  It is sour, yet sweet and unbelievably tender.  Slice and serve it with some creamy mashed potatoes and glazed carrots (I will get to those recipes soon).  Trust me, it will be hard to leave the table.


Sunday Dinner

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Mashed Potatoes

Mile High German Chocolate Cake

I know that German Chocolate Cake really isn't German, but I was intent on having fun with this menu.  I had a hankering for braised red meat and something chocolate for dessert, so that is how this dinner menu came to be.

I had a favorite German Chocolate Cake from Gourmet that was rich and decadent, then I found David Lebovitz's version, and then last year my mother introduced me to a Cook's Country recipe that she swore by.   With too many recipes for one cake, I decided to blend the three.  I like the not overly sweet, yet tender cake from Cook's Country.  Their filling is nice too, but I needed it to be sweeter.  David Lebovitz makes a simple syrup flavored with rum to moisten his cake--nice, but I use Godiva Chocolate Liqueur instead.  I also liked the chocolate glaze from Gourmet, but I found that it is too rich for this cake so I use David's silky icing recipe but with dark chocolate.  Phew!

This German Chocolate Cake is tender and moist, with a perfect chocolate flavor that balances well with that sticky sweet filling of toasted coconut and pecans.

You'll have to excuse me from more writing.  I have a dinner to prepare and a slice of cake to enjoy--yum!


Vanilla Bean Biscotti

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During the cold winter months, a cup of tea or a nice latte always hits the spot in the afternoon to warm me up.  But I also like a little something sweet on the side.  Biscotti are always nice to dunk and after receiving a very nice Christmas gift of 1/4 lb. of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans (thanks Mom and Dad), I decided that a batch of these Vanilla Bean Biscotti would satisfy that sweet craving.

These biscotti are all about the vanilla.  Using vanilla beans really adds a beautiful, sweet, floral note.  I use the same recipe for my Cinnamon Toast Biscotti, but I use all white sugar and omit the cinnamon and egg glaze.  Like the Cinnamon Toast Biscotti, I sprinkle the cut biscotti with a little bit of Dr. Oetker Vanilla Sugar (my local grocery store carries packets of this) to really bump up that sweet vanilla flavor.

Not only are these simple and delicious, they will perfume your house with a wonderful vanilla essence.  My children came home from school yesterday and before they even said hello they said, "Mmmm--what's that smell?" with wide eyes and big grins on their faces.  I love that!  These are perfect with my cup of tea or coffee, but also great as an after school snack to dunk in a tall glass of milk.


Great Lakes Clam Chowder

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After shoveling several inches of snow this week in freezing temperatures, I needed something to warm me up.  This chowder does the trick.  It is rich, creamy, chunky, and delicious!

This clam chowder was adapted by Bon Appétit from SkipJack's, a Boston restaurant.  Since Skipjack's is on the East Coast they have access to fresh clams.  Since I am on the coast of the Great Lakes (hence the new name), I use Bon Appétit's version, which calls for bottled clams.  

With a few adaptations to suit my own taste, I have what I think is the very best approximation of this classic--next to fresh clam chowder.  I thickened it with some cornstarch, added a dash of Worcestershire and also a splash of dry Sherry.  It is  wonderful the day I make it, but after a night in the refrigerator, I think the flavor improves.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped fresh chives and handful of oyster crackers--they are a must.  This is a serious bowl of yum!

So, if you are freezing like I am and nowhere near a fresh clam source, this recipe is for you.  Or if you simply want an easier version of good clam chowder, then this recipe is for you too. Enjoy!


Spaghetti Carbonara

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There is really not much to say here other than this is simple, quick, and absolutely delicious.  Perfect for a quick weeknight meal, yet classic and decadent enough for weekend entertaining.  Serve it with a small salad and some crusty bread and you have yourself a wonderful meal.


Sunday Dinner

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Spuma di Tonno
Rosemary Grissini

Lasagna with Béchamel
Roasted Fennel
Broccolini with Gremolata

Chocolate-Layered Espresso Jellies

One of my favorite things to do with my free time is to go to the library and get lost in the stacks of cookbooks.  I pull books on classic techniques, French bistro food, chocolate and baking and create my own culinary world.  Unfortunately, for the past year and a half, our local library moved to a small and temporary location in order to renovate and improve the original building.   Getting lost in the stacks of cookbooks wasn't an option.  Yesterday, however, was the grand re-opening of the new and improved library.  Yeah!  To celebrate I thought I would put this appetizer recipe on our Sunday dinner menu.

I found this recipe a few years ago while getting lost in the stacks.  It was in the book Mediterranean Summer by David Shalleck.  It is about an American chef that spends an idyllic summer cooking for a wealthy couple aboard their yacht while sailing through the Côte d'Azur--a great read.  This recipe he developed was a favorite that summer and I have to say it is now a favorite of ours.

Spuma di Tonno, or tuna mousse, is super simple to prepare and has an incredible taste.  You won't believe how quickly this disappears.  I have even converted some non tuna likers with this spread. I serve it with Rosemary Grissini, but it is equally delicious on crostini or on thin slices of baguette for a passable hors d'oeurve.  I do hope you give it a try.



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Continuing with the light and healthy recipes, I wanted to document for my family and share with you this low fat cookie.  I found this recipe in the Food section of the Chicago Tribune back in September 2001.  It is hard to believe, but at that point I had never even made a Snickerdoodle.  And since these were low in fat, I was intrigued.  I whipped up my first batch that very day and with a few minor adjustments over the years, I have been making them ever since.

These cookies are wonderful.  Soft, tender, and almost cake-like centers, crisp edges, and a perfect balance of vanilla and cinnamon.  I like to keep the dough in the refrigerator and bake a batch when needed.  That way we can enjoy them fresh from the oven every time.  Warm...cinnamon...cakey...cookie--mmm!  So, if you are looking for a lightened up sweet nibble to enjoy, then look no further.  One bite of this cookie and shhh...you would never know it was lighter in calories and lower in fat.  Just enjoy!


Balsamic Vinaigrette

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After all of the holiday feasting, I suppose I should jump on the light and healthy bandwagon.  I prefer to eat in moderation, so I don't have to alter my eating habits, but I do have a few recipes that are light in calories and low in fat. 

This vinaigrette has only 4 teaspoons of olive oil, but it is packed with flavor.  Half of the recipe comes from the balsamic vinegar, so please use the best vinegar you can find.  If I am going to use all of the vinaigrette right away, I like to grate the garlic on my microplane. If I am going to use only a portion of it and store it in the refrigerator, then I just crush the garlic and leave it whole to infuse the vinaigrette with garlic flavor.  That way the garlic doesn't overpower the vinaigrette as it sets up in the refrigerator.

Toss it with a mix of baby mesclun greens, sliced red bell pepper, sliced english cucumber, or any veggies of your choice.  Then season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  You would never know that it was light in calories and low in fat.


Soupe au Pistou

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After all the holiday parties are over, the presents are put away, and the decorations are taken down, there is one thing that I look forward to immediately after the New Year. That thing is walking out onto my front stoop, opening up the mailbox and retrieving that first of many garden/seed catalogues.  It is actually a love/hate feeling.  I love looking at the pictures, dreaming and designing my 2011 kitchen garden, but I hate the fact that I still have to wait what seems like an eternity until the first frost-free date. And where I live, that date falls in the month of May!  

The catalogue that I received yesterday had the most beautiful looking sliced tomato on the cover.  It made me think of walking past my tomato plants and smelling that tomato vine smell--so earthy, so wonderful.  And then I thought of the large pots of basil planted nearby.  Mmm...basil and tomatoes, how I miss that fresh summer taste.

Fortunately, I can still enjoy that taste of basil and tomatoes in the dead of winter and it is in this soup.  Soupe au Pistou is a French Provençal vegetable soup made with a pistou.  Like the Italian pesto, a pistou is a "pounded" sauce of garlic, basil and cheese (I like to use a bit of freshly squeezed lemon juice)..  And since I have some frozen basil piston that I made in the freezer from the end of last year's harvest, this soup is on the menu tonight.

I make the soup base with chicken broth, onions, potatoes and carrots.  I then add some haricots verts (french green beans), navy beans, and broken spaghetti noodles and season with a bit of saffron.  To add body to the sauce I crumble in a piece of day old white bread.  But what really gives this soup a lovely fresh taste and velvety texture is stirring in a mixture of tomato paste and pesto. Ladle into bowls and serve with crusty white bread--it is the next best thing to walking in my garden when it is 20º degrees outside.


Sunday Dinner

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Shrimp and Sherry Cheese Spread

Braised Pork Hash
Collard Greens
Hoppin' John
Baked Cheese Grits

My Mother's Chocolate Pound Cake

Well, it is the first Sunday of 2011.  Being born and raised in the South it is only natural that I would make this meal.  In case you are not familiar with this Southern tradition, it involves eating black-eyed peas and greens on the first day (in my case Sunday) of the New Year.  The black-eyed peas when cooked swell in size, therefore they represent prosperity.  The green color of the collard greens   represents good fortune.   Prosperity and fortune--I can't think of a better reason to eat your veggies.  Well, I guess our health is important too:)  Continuing with the Southern theme of this menu, I couldn't think of a better dessert than my Mother's Chocolate Pound Cake.  I know--pound cake; every one seems to have a recipe.  But this one takes the cake (pun intended).

We didn't eat many sweets growing up. Sheer torture I tell you.  But when we did, they were really good.  This cake is the perfect example.  Just looking at that picture invokes wonderful memories; mostly of picnics packed with cold fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, and various pickled vegetables.  The cake was never on a cake stand.  Instead it was always wrapped in aluminum foil, sliced, and eaten out of hand.  Any leftovers were stored under the aluminum foil and left on the counter to tempt the passerby.  Me, I was always tempted and I still am to this day.

This cake is not only wonderful in flavor, but it is another make-ahead dessert (love those).  In fact, I recommend making it at least a day in advance.  This is one of those cakes that improve with age.  Chocolate, dense, tender, and moist--so satisfying and so yummy! 

I am a seasonal cook, but this is one of my desserts that I make year round.  In the Spring, I serve it with a rhubarb and strawberry sauce and a dollop of whipped crème fraiche.  In the Summer we enjoy it with berries and whipped cream. And in the Fall and Winter, we eat it as is or maybe with a scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of chocolate sauce.  

As many of my readers know, we break out the linen napkins and light the candles for our Sunday dinners.  But for nostalgia reasons tonight, I think we are going to clear the table after dinner, take the cake to the kitchen, slice a piece, then eat it with one hand and the other hand underneath to catch the crumbs.  Then I will cover it with aluminum foil and try not to wake up in the middle of the night to sneak a sliver and enjoy it with a tall glass of cold milk (another way I enjoy this cake).

Happy New Year!
May you reflect on the memories of kitchens past and create new ones in the year to come.

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