Sunday Dinner

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Foccacia and Garlic Oil

Brined Roasted Rack of Pork
Tuscan White Beans
Braised Kale with Onions and Pancetta

Chocolate Budino

The times that I can sit down to watch television have become rarer and rarer, but every now and then I can sneak in a cooking show on the PBS stations on a Saturday afternoon like America's Test Kitchen, Fast Food My Way, or in this case, Lidia's Italy.  I saw her make this dessert a little over a year ago.  Fortunately, I had all the ingredients on hand, even the leftover cookies.  I made it that night for our Sunday dinner and we have been enjoying it ever since.

Budino means "pudding" in Italian.  In this budino, Lidia uses leftover biscotti to add texture and flavor, but you can use any cookie or dry cake that you have on hand.  Shortbread, pound cake, or in my case, leftover Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies are all good candidates for a budino.  The original recipe called for chopped hazelnuts, but I omit them.  I also added a bit of vanilla extract, some espresso powder, and a touch more cornstarch for a firmer pudding.

Slice and serve it in shallow bowls with lightly sweetened whipped cream, chocolate shavings, more crushed cookies, or even some fresh berries.  It is simple and delicious.


Baked Macaroni and Cheese

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Can one have too many recipes for macaroni and cheese?  I think not.  I have several.  Months ago, I posted my stove-top version.  It is quick, easy, creamy, and really delicious.  This recipe is a baked version.  There is a bit more labor, but loads more flavor. The extra time involved is completely worth it.  This time of year, I like to serve it as a main dish with slow roasted Roma tomatoes and a green salad.   Sometimes I add diced ham or chicken and veggies, like sautéed mushrooms and onions.  It is also a great side dish to a baked ham or a roasted rack of pork.  I must warn you though, this recipe feeds a crowd.   Therefore, it is great for holiday entertaining, but it can easily be halved to enjoy on weeknights.

Even with all of the flavor here, the thing that might really get you pushing the "have another bite" button with this mac and cheese is the play on texture.  Cheesy, soft noodles topped with buttered, crisp bread cubes--creamy and crunchy all in one bite--yes, please!  It is some serious comfort food.  Since I recently shared with you my White Bread recipe, you can now make this dish.  O.K., of course you can still make this if you don't make your own bread, but I must say the buttery flavor of homemade bread cubes--yum-yum!


White Bread

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I make almost all my own bread.  I make bagels, foccacia, challah, country loaf, pita bread, kaiser rolls...the list goes on.  But this is the one that I probably make the most-- the classic white sandwich bread.  It is a soft and light textured bread that is just perfect for toast, croutons, and of course, sandwiches.

I love the whole art of making bread--the science involved engages the left brain, the creativity brings the right brain into the mix--o.k., I also make it because it makes my house smell really good!  Any way I look at it, I know that making my own bread is a beautiful and rewarding experience.  With the rising price of commodities and food, it is a cost-effective reason as well.  A loaf of bread made at home costs a fraction of a bakery or store bought loaf, especially if you buy the ingredients in bulk. 

If you have never made your own loaf, do not be intimidated.  Like anything new, it just takes a little practice. I have even taught a 5th grade class how to make this bread and they loved it. Especially the part where I ran home, baked it, and brought it back to school for everyone to have a slice of warm, freshly baked bread with a slathering of butter:)  The only real trick is to get the moisture level right.  In the winter, the air is cold and dry, so a little more water might be needed and it might take the dough a little bit longer to rise.  In the summer, the air is warm and humid, so a little more flour might be needed.  I can usually tell that my dough has the right ratio of water and flour when the dough is just sticking to the bottom of the mixing bowl and the sides are clean. The most important thing to remember is to not add too much flour.  Doing so will result in a dry and dense loaf.  The addition of butter, sugar, and potato flour really give the bread a wonderful flavor with out being overly sweet and rich.  It slices beautifully and tastes delicious.


Sunday Dinner

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Shrimp and Sherry Cheese Spread
with crackers

with a Shallot, Garlic, and Vinegar Sauce
Brown Rice with Almonds and Parsley
Buttered Peas

served with orange segments poached in a simple syrup
and a dollop of whipped cream

I am busy filling a dessert order today, so I knew I needed a Sunday menu that would take it easy on me, but still be delicious.  The appetizer and dessert can be prepared the day before.  While the chicken roasts, I can cook the rice and simmer the peas.  Once the chicken is done and resting, I will finish the sauce.  As with all of our Sunday Dinners, I like to feature one recipe.  Since it is already prepared, I am sharing the Shrimp and Sherry Cheese Spread today.

If you look back on Sunday Dinner menus past, you will notice that this appetizer is one we enjoy.  I created this a few years ago looking to use up some things in the refrigerator and freezer.  It is simple to prepare and so tasty.  I use poached shrimp, cream cheese, lemon juice, chives, shallots, and a wee bit of sherry.  It is the sherry that really makes this dish.  It really rounds out all the flavors and brightens the shrimp.  With a dash of Tabasco to spice it up, you will have a hard time staying away from this.

We like to serve it on crackers with some extra hot sauce, but I think this would be lovely between two slices of white bread (crusts removed of course), sliced into finger sandwiches with one side dipped into some chopped fresh herbs for those southern garden tea parties:)


New York-Style Crumb Cake

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Weekend mornings in my house, especially Sundays, are all about sleeping in, lingering at the breakfast table, and reading the newspaper (yes, the one with the mashed pulp and ink that ends up on my walls by the light switches).  Since we eat a later breakfast, I like to serve  something that will fill us up until happy hour.  This crumb cake certainly does the trick.  

I have never been to New York and I don't know the first thing about New York crumb cakes, but I do know that this recipe is delicious.  This cake is all about the crumb topping--little pebbles of brown sugar and butter sweetened with a hint of vanilla and cinnamon.  The cake, although dense, is the perfect base to support the heavy crumb layer.  The recipe calls for cake flour; please do not substitute.  Using all-purpose flour will make a dry, tough cake that you could probably use as a hockey puck or dangerous projectile rather than a delicious breakfast or break-time treat.  I do recommend baking this the day before.  The resting time gives the cake that "next day better" taste and it will give you more time to enjoy that weekend newspaper.  Oh, and even though I am not a big coffee drinker, I do break out my French press for this--it is a tasty pairing.

Note:  If you are a  regular reader, you will notice that I like to use extra large eggs in my recipes.  I like them because I think you get a little more for your dollar and the end result when using extra large eggs in baking is a little nicer.  But, you can certainly use large eggs if that is what you have on hand.


Ranch Dressing

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I adore salads.  I eat them almost everyday.  They are seasonal and fresh; the possibilities are endless.   But growing up, I had a problem with the All-American ranch dressing.   The ranch dressing I ate as a child was made from a packet of powder-eh.  In college I bought the bottle in the store-double eh.  Once I found this recipe, there was no going back to the other stuff.  I make it so much that I have handed over the cooking reins to my middle child  to free up my time in the kitchen.  She loves to make it.

We serve it on salads, use it as a dip for veggies, and I have a great cold pasta salad recipe that uses this ranch dressing (more on that one at a later time).  It is simple to prepare and I always have the ingredients on hand.  This ranch has the perfect balance of dairy and greens--creamy , but without too much onion or herb flavor.  Once you make this recipe, you won't want to go back to any other.


Chicken and Slicks

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My favorite meal growing up was my mom's Chicken-n-Dumplings.  Tender biscuits, moist chicken, velvety broth, a few veggies for good measure--it was comfort food at its best.  I can still taste it to this day.  Recently I came across this recipe for Chicken and Slicks in Cook's Country magazine.  I was immediately intrigued by the name.  I had never heard of it or had it, but somehow I felt quite familiar with it.  How?  Why?  Well, it turns out it is an old Appalachian dish.  My family heritage goes back in the Carolina Appalachia (bluegrass banjo pickin' and all), so it all began to make sense.    

If you love dumplings, noodles, and chicken, then this dish is for you.  It is basically chicken noodle soup on steroids.  The homemade "slicks" are wide, noodle-like dumplings that are quite slippery, hence the name.  The broth is thickened with a dry roux and I threw in a few veggies just like Mom for good measure.  

When my children asked me what we were having for dinner, they looked at me with a high brow.  Chicken and Slicks sounded foreign, but one bite erased any doubt and they were quickly excusing themselves from the table for seconds.  I guess it's in their blood.

Making the slicks does take a little extra time, but the results are completely worth it.  All components can be made ahead of time; the broth and chicken up to 2 days and the "slick" dough up to 1 day.  Instead of making the dough by hand, the recipe uses the food processor for ease.  I found the dough very easy to work with.  

Once processed, turn the dough onto a very lightly floured (you really don't need much at all) surface.

Knead until smooth.

Divide the dough in half.

Roll each dough half into a 10-inch square of 1/8-inch thickness

Using a sharp knife or pastry wheel, cut the dough into 5-inch by 1-inch rectangles.

Stack the slicks between layers of parchment paper and freeze briefly before simmering in the broth.

Then after finishing the broth, you will have yourself a bowl of some down home yum!


Sunday Dinner

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Prosciutto wrapped Shrimp

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Green Salad with Creamy-Parmesan Peppercorn Dressing
Baguette with Roasted Garlic

Coeur à la Crème
with Raspberry Coulis

Our Sunday dinner menu before Valentine's Day needed to have some of our favorite dishes that we love.  It also needed to have that special dessert, Coeur à la Crème.  Normally, I don't buy special pots or dishes for just one dish, but this is where I make an exception.  The heart-shaped mold is just perfect for this time of year and it creates a real WOW factor when served to family and friends.

One would think that with a fancy name and a special mold that this would be a difficult dessert to prepare, but it couldn't be more simple.  It can also be prepared a couple of days in advance.  It is basically a no-bake cheesecake; rich, creamy and decadent.  The only changes I made to the original recipe is to reduce the amount of ingredients.  The first time I made this it made way too much for the 7-inch porcelain mold that I have.  Served with a ruby red raspberry coulis and a few chocolate wafer cookies on the side, it is the perfect ending to our meal.


Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles

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I think it is safe to say that most of us have eaten our fair share of raw cookie dough.  When I was a kid, my mother would purchase cookie dough balls from our school Market Day program.  I think I ate more dough balls than freshly baked cookies:)  However, with the safety issues of raw egg consumption,  recipes have been created for us to have our raw cookie dough and eat it too.  The only way to make it better is to cover it in chocolate--yum!  

Many recipes for cookie dough truffles call for sweetened condensed milk.  I don't use that in my actual cookie dough, so I use David Lebovitz's recipe for cookie dough.  David's recipe is just butter, sugar, vanilla, flour, and of course, chocolate chips.  Now, THAT is cookie dough.  His recipe calls for melted butter, but I like to cream the butter and sugar together to achieve that cookie dough texture.  Shaped, rolled, chilled, and then dipped in milk chocolate--it is raw cookie dough dressed for the grand ball.

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, so I decided to change up the usual truffle shape this year.  I found these adorable little plastic heart-shaped boxes at the craft store and I thought about how perfect they would be for my children to give as Valentines to their friends and teachers with a heart-shaped cookie dough truffle nestled inside.  I used a Wilton silicone mini-heart mold to get the shape.  Once frozen in the mold, they were easily removed.  Decorated with some candy heart sprinkles, it is a fun and tasty way to say "I love you", not just for Valentines, but for any day of the year.


Chorizo and Potato Stew

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We enjoyed this dish earlier this week and I couldn't wait to write it down.  It was so delicious that we all went back for a little more.  This stew was inspired by two other recipes that I have that include Spanish chorizo.  One recipe is for a chorizo and bean stew, the other is a recipe for chicken, chorizo, and potato stew.  I didn't have any chicken on hand, but I did have chorizo, beans, and potatoes, so I decided to blend the two recipes and-- boy, am I glad I did.   This was just the perfect thing to warm us up on a very chilly night.

The one thing that I do need to point out is the difference between Spanish chorizo and Mexican chorizo.  Spanish chorizo is a cured spiced pork sausage that is easily sliced.  Mexican chorizo is a fresh sausage that  crumbles when it is cooked.  Both are tasty, but make sure you purchase the hard cured Spanish chorizo for this dish.  I use Palacios Mild Chorizo.  

To bring out some smoky flavors, I added some chipotle peppers in adobe sauce and a little smoked paprika.  I felt the broth needed a bit more body to it, so I stirred in a few crushed tortilla chips to thicken it up.  Just before serving, I added a little brown sugar and balsamic vinegar to balance out the flavors.  Served with some crumbled ricotta salata, diced avocado, and some extra tortilla chips--this was a body-warming bowl of good eats.


Peppadew Peppers stuffed with Feta, Garlic, and Chives

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We enjoyed this appetizer this past Sunday.  The vibrant red color and the heart-like shape had me thinking about the upcoming Hallmark holiday and I thought it would be a perfect recipe to share in case anyone is looking for something new and tasty to serve.

Peppadew peppers are small and sweet piquanté peppers from South Africa.  They are stemmed, seeded, and pickled.  The sweet flavor and the pickling process remove a majority of the heat, so they can be enjoyed by all.  My children adore them.  They are stuffed with a mixture of feta cheese, cottage cheese, garlic and chives.  

When I make these, I prefer to use feta in block form.  I find it creamier and less salty than the pre-crumbled feta.  I also use 4% milk fat cottage cheese because that is what I keep in my refrigerator.  Simply purée the ingredients (I use my Cuisinart mini-prepand then transfer the mixture to a a pastry bag to easily fill the peppers.  If you don't have a pastry bag, just spoon the mixture into a ziploc bag and cut off a small tip of a corner and proceed with the recipe.  Then garnish with chopped fresh chives and a drizzle of good olive oil.  Serve them on small plates for tapas or plate them all together and allow guests to serve themselves with toothpicks or small bamboo forks (the kids like these).  They are simple and delicious.


Sunday Dinner

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Stuffed Peppadew Peppers
Cheddar Cumin Coins

Ginger Braised Spareribs
Cilantro scented Red Beans

Lime and Macadamia Nut Tart 
served with Papaya Coulis and whipped cream

I'd like to say that the macadamia nuts and the papaya in this tart are somehow magically transporting me and my snow-addled mind (yes, it is snowing again) to Hawaii or at least to a time in my life where I lived on Oahu and I was able to step outside my backyard and pick a papaya right off the tree (yes, that is actually true). Well this time, that just ain't happenin', but this dessert is really good.

This tart is a simple lime custard with the lovely addition of ground macadamia nuts.  As wonderful as it is with just a dollop of whipped cream, the papaya coulis really makes it sing.  Lime and papaya--a match made in tropical heaven. 


Chocolate Sauce

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We received so much snow on Wednesday that the schools were closed again on Thursday.  Lucky for my kids I had three chocolate waffles leftover for them to enjoy on yet another snow day.  As they were enjoying their breakfast, one of my children (with a mouth covered in chocolate) said, "Mom, this chocolate sauce is so good.  Are you going to put it on your blog?"  Silly me--I forgot to include the chocolate sauce recipe with the waffle recipe.

I have recipes for chocolate syrup and hot fudge, but this is my version of a classic chocolate sauce.   With just a few ingredients, it is simple to prepare, yet has a rich, deep flavor.  Enjoy it with cakes, tarts, ice cream, or any sweet treat that needs an extra boost of chocolate.  Serve warm or cool--it is just divine!


Chocolate Waffles

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This is how you start your morning when there are 2 feet of snow blowing around at 50 mph outside.  First, peek out your bedroom window at 5:00am and think to yourself how wonderful snow days are.  Then slide back underneath the covers and sleep in:)  Next, be awakened by your children a couple hours later because the snow has barricaded the front and back doors and they can't let the dog out to go potty.  Ugh!  Then think to yourself how much you dislike snow days and shoveling all that white stuff.

Oh well.  It is a good thing I planned in advance to make sure we had all the ingredients for our snow day breakfast special--chocolate waffles.  One bite of these and you'd think you were eating dessert for breakfast.  Any excuse to do that is ok by me.

I use my standard waffle recipe and then add some Dutch-processed cocoa powder, a bit more sugar, and some espresso powder to really bring out that chocolately flavor.  I cook mine in my Villaware waffle maker and then as soon as it is ready, I transfer it to a plate and immediately sprinkle it with a few mini-chocolate chips.  The heat from the waffle melts the chips into the nooks and crannies.  Drizzle the waffle with a little chocolate sauce and top it with sliced berries and whipped cream (don't forget the tall glass of milk) and there isn't anything that could ruin your day--not even mounds of blowing snow.  Once everyone has had their fill and is all sugared up, just man them with shovels and let them loose to do the dirty work while you do the dirty dishes! (Honestly, there was so much snow I did my fair share, too.)

However, if you do not have snow days to enjoy this breakfast special, then I would recommend serving these to your little sweeties on Valentine's morning.  Chocolate waffles are a great way to say "I love you".


Tomatillo and Poblano Guacamole

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With the Super Bowl just around the corner, I thought I would share this recipe that we enjoyed this past Sunday.  Just looking at it makes me forget that we are in the midst of a blizzard warning/worst winter storm in Chicago history--my snow shovelin' back already hurts!  

I have been making this guacamole ever since I saw it in the Food & Wine, August 2006 issue.  I love it because it is different from the standard guacamole with tomatoes (I have one of those recipes too) and equally delicious, if not more.  The roasted tomatillos make it tangy yet sweet, the roasted poblanos give just a hint of heat, and the garlic gives it a real depth of flavor.  I also add a bit of habanero hot sauce for an extra kick.  

You can use this guacamole in tacos, burritos, or salads.  But, to really appreciate all the flavors, I think the best way to enjoy it is simply scooped up by a crunchy, salted tortilla chip.  It is creamy, crunchy, and oh-so delicious!

My favorite tortilla chips: El Milagro "totopos" Homestyle Corn Chips
My favorite habanero hot sauce: El Yucateco Green Habanero

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