3/29/2013

Spring Vegetable and Goat Cheese Dip

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Easter weekend heralds the official start of Spring for many.  The resurrection of Jesus and the rebirth of Mother Nature make for a beautiful and welcome marker on our calendars.  Many of us will celebrate this weekend with a standout Sunday meal.  When I think of Easter meals, I of course think of the glazed ham.  The next food that "springs" to mind (yow!) is asparagus.  It just goes with Easter and lots of people (including me) love it.  Yes, the asparagus is there in a starring role on top, but there is a lot going on underneath in the flavor department.


Those flavors are a blend of earthy sweetness from spring vegetables and herbs blending with the sharp, tangy notes of the cheeses accented with a kick from a bit of cayenne (optional, but good).  The texture has a creaminess that makes the dip perfect for spreading on crostini, toasts or crackers.  It is a great starter for your Spring gathering, but with a glass (or two☺) of white wine, it can easily be made into a meal.

3/27/2013

Meyer Lemon Molten Cakes with Raspberries and Cream

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When planning holiday or entertaining menus, I always start with dessert first.  Why? I have an arsenal of sweet recipes to choose from and it is always hard to narrow it down to the right one.  And it can be the more labor intensive part of the meal with the creaming of butter and sugar, the rolling of the dough, the baking, the frosting, on and on... Having said that, this recipe was not hard to decide on and it comes together in no time with just a whisk and a bowl.

However, before I talk about it I want to give you a little background.  My children and I are visiting my parents in Charleston, S.C. this week during their Spring Break vacation.  Unfortunately, my husband is not able to travel with us.  Since we will not be home to spend Easter with him, I made an Easter celebration dinner on Monday before I left.  He's happy to have leftover ham sandwiches while I am gone and I am happy that I have some of the recipes to share with you. 

I first made this last year and it was good, but I knew I could make it better.  After a reader (shout out to Bobbi☺) reminded me that I needed to finally share the recipe, I put it on my springtime menu to-do list. I knew it would be the perfect ending to our Easter meal.  


I am sure many of you are familiar with the popular chocolate molten lava cakes. Well, this is a unique and wonderful twist to that concept.  The original recipe called for lemon curd, but I prefer the balanced tartness of Meyer lemon curd.  I used some from a batch of homemade, but you can substitute store-bought with good results.  Raspberries and lemons go hand-in-hand for a sweet pairing.  A dusting of confectioners' sugar and a dollop of sweetened whipped cream help to finish the dessert.  Although not pictured, after one bite I knew there was one more layer that would really make this dessert sing.  A batch of Red Currant-Raspberry sauce in the freezer sealed the deal.  The bonus to this recipe is that the batter can be prepared and refrigerated up to 24 hours in advance.  So you can bake these while dinner is on the table, then impress your guests with these individual cakes.

3/24/2013

Sunday Dinner

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Dinner Grits
Fordhook Lima Beans

Blueberry Streusel Bars with Lemon Cream Filling

Before my children and I depart for a little Spring Break trip, my husband and I had a little getaway together this weekend since he is unable to travel with us.  Seeing how we would be in the car returning today, I needed to have a dinner that could mostly be prepared in advance.  A little prep work this past Friday and I only have the grits and beans to prepare.  


These blueberry streusel bars offer a hint of the tastes of Summer (yes, it will come...someday) along with a satisfying oaty goodness.  It's kind of like getting your blueberry pie fix in bar form.  Speaking of blueberry pie, I like a pinch of ground cinnamon in mine along with the lemon flavor, so I added a bit here.  I also increased the amount of blueberries for an extra good blueberry flavor.  Since I did that, I also added a couple teaspoons of cornstarch to prevent a blueberry ooze.  They are delicious on their own whether chilled or at room temperature.  But like the pie... they are also enjoyed when served with some vanilla ice cream for an a la mode treat. 


3/20/2013

Penne with Pancetta and Parisienne cream

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It is really cold, but today is the first day of Spring.  That makes me think of warm earth in the garden, which leads my thoughts to the first thing to sprout, fresh chives.  I had to find a way to get chives into a yummy weeknight dinner.  Not only does this recipe accomplish that, it is also quick and easy to prepare and is a hit with everyone in the house.  It's a creamy, savory dish with flavors that interact nicely on the palate.  A smaller portion goes a long way toward creating a satisfied diner in every chair at the table.  Serve it with a simple green salad and a warm crusty baguette to wipe up every last bit of sauce on the plate.


3/17/2013

Sunday Dinner

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Pistachio Covered Goat Cheese Log

Steak and Guinness Stew
Cheddar Mashed Potatoes
Buttered Peas
Caraway Rye Bread

Guinness Brownies



When you think you should make soda bread, but need a platform for a sandwich to use up left over corned beef, what do you do?  Well, I make a loaf of crusty caraway rye bread.  One of the loaves goes perfectly well with the meal tonight while the second loaf can be baked, sliced, and ready to bookend a beautiful Rueben the next day. (Don't forget the homemade Thousand Island dressing.)


No matter what time of year it is, this is a loaf of rye bread that you can count on as a table bread or sandwich foundation.  Be spry and give Rye a try! (That sounds like discarded 1950s ad copy, but it'll have to do.)

Sunday Dinner one year ago
Sunday Dinner two years ago

3/15/2013

Guinness Ice Cream with Chocolate Covered Toffee Bits

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'Tis the season for all things Emerald Isle.  If you are a regular around here, you've probably had that point sufficiently (and hopefully deliciously) hammered home.  So let me make another excuse to open some Guinness... and eat ice cream with chopped Heath bars in it.  Got your attention?  Eat a couple spoonfuls of this wonderful concoction and your focus will split apart, then swirl back together while you try to figure out just what flavors you are tasting.  There is a coffee essence.  But wait---there is no coffee in the recipe.  Where does it come from?  Pour a Guinness (or a Jameson) and ponder for a while.  Then have some more ice cream☺.


Looking for more sweets with an Irish twist?  Here are some links from the archives...


3/13/2013

Irish Champ (or Mashed Potatoes with Scallions)

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This might look like an ordinary bowl of mashed potatoes, but is much more without much more effort.  Irish Champ is the under-appreciated cousin to the more familiar tuber dish called Colcannon.   Colcannon consists mainly of potatoes and cabbage (with the occasional addition of bacon or corned beef), where as Irish Champ is simply potatoes and chopped green onions.  

I boil the unpeeled potatoes whole to keep them from becoming water logged.  I use half-and-half for creaminess, of course some butter, and a whole egg that lends a pleasant rich taste without it becoming to heavy. I use an entire bunch of green onions, but don't let that alarm you. The mild onion taste that flavors the potatoes is quite harmonious with other Irish fare on the plate.


Speaking of Irish fare... 

Guinness and Cheddar Cheese Spread






3/10/2013

Sunday Dinner

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Guinness, Shallot, and Blue Cheese Pâté

Sweet and Sour Cabbage

Chocolate Guinness Pudding with Baileys Whipped Cream


I was in the mood for a roast chicken this Sunday, but the four other voting members of the house had something else in mind.  And with St. Patrick's Day right around the corner, I was willing to oblige☺.  I usually like to start our Irish themed menu off with our favorite-- Guinness and Cheddar Cheese Spread, but I thought I would change things up a bit and serve a variation of the beer/cheese combination.  

Like other recipes that involve Guinness, it is not that the taste of the Guinness is apparent, but it is a flavor enhancer.  This is wonderful as an appetizer, but it is also nice for a picnic lunch, a light meal, or a fruit and cheese platter at the end of a meal.   


You can use your favorite blue cheese or Stilton, but if you really want to keep this Irish, go with a nice Cashel Blue Cheese and some Kerrygold Butter.  A freshly poured pint of Guinness to go with it doesn't hurt either.  Sláinte!

3/08/2013

Date Bran Muffins

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With the Blanquette de Veau  on the menu this past Sunday evening, I wanted to start the day with something a little more friendly to the heart and waistline.  I am sure many of you would like to enjoy the health benefits of a bran muffin, but are scarred by biting into a dense, dry and flat tasting baked good.  This recipe will help heal those wounds and will have you looking at date bran muffins in a whole new light.

Upon first look at the recipe, you'll notice that there are several different types of wheat products.  There is your everyday all-purpose flour, some whole wheat pastry flour, wheat bran, and wheat germ.  Avoid using regular whole wheat flour in lieu of the whole wheat pastry flour.  That would be one of the culprits of that dry and dense muffin syndrome.  Sweetness comes from the addition of a little light brown sugar, orange juice concentrate (do not dilute), and the dried dates.  I like to process the dates in the food processor with the other dry ingredients so there are little specks of dates throughout each muffin and not big chunks.  It really adds to the taste and texture.  A pleasant tang from some buttermilk and a little spice from cinnamon and vanilla help to provide a healthy and satisfying start to the day. Well, that is if you don't slather on a good schmear of honey butter.  But why would you want to do a thing like that☺??


3/06/2013

Blanquette de Veau

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Before I begin, I must correct myself.  When I posted about our Sunday dinner this past week, I spoke about the "lightness" in the meal.  It sounded as if I meant light in flavor.  But after one bite, it was clear that this dish was only "light" in one way and that was the color.  When one cooks a recipe once or twice over the course of a couple of years, the remembrance of that dish can sometimes fade.  Having said that, this dish will have a permanent flavor fixture in my mind, mouth and belly from now on.

Blanquette de Veau is a classic French stew of veal, onions and mushrooms (see it's light-- in color☺). It is simmered in a simple flavored sauce that is enriched with egg yolks and cream (there goes the lightness).  However, the lemon juice that helps finish the sauce does provide a bright, fresh flavor that keeps it from being overly heavy and rich.  With the addition of mushroom and onions, there is not much need of another vegetable, but I do like to serve it with glazed carrots, a side of potatoes, or a simple salad.  All you really need, though, is a good chunk of bread to sop up every bit of that delectable sauce.  I kid you not, this sauce makes shoe leather taste good!


As far as the recipe itself, you'll note that it calls for blanching the veal stew meat in water first.  Not a common cooking practice, but it is important.  Why?  When veal is simmered, it releases quite a bit of cooking "scum" that you will want to discard.  The rest of the recipe is just steps, all of which can be done in advance like most stews.  But when reheating, note that this is a delicate stew and you do not want it to even come to a simmer.  Otherwise the egg yolk liaison will curdle and the sauce will break.  You might think that such a low and slow, step-by-step cooking process isn't worth the wait but trust me,  it is.  Enjoying a glass of wine helps pass the time☺.

3/03/2013

Sunday Dinner

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Blanquette de Veau (Veal Stew)
Potatoes Fondantes
Glazed Carrots
French Baguette

Warm Chocolate Tart


I like to think of this Sunday dinner menu as a seasonal transition.  It has the comforting foods of the cold season, but ushers in just a hint of lightness for the warmer springtime temps (at least that's how I see it).  And the tart speaks for both.  Served warm with a scoop of ice cream? Now that's comforting.  How about a sliver served by itself at room temperature or even cold? It hits the sweet tooth just right without being too heavy.  Not to mention it is super easy to prepare and on a Sunday when I'm busy in the kitchen, that is a bonus for me.

I added a touch of espresso powder, a little vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt to enhance the chocolate flavor.  Speaking of flavor--since the tart is all about the chocolate, use a good quality chocolate.  With a ganache like texture, a dusting of cocoa powder gives it a truffle-like appearance.  A sliceable truffle with a scoop of vanilla ice cream?  Don't mind if I do☺.

3/01/2013

Wheat Berry Salad with Blood Oranges, Feta, and Red Onion Vinaigrette

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Sometimes the stars align just so and you wind up with a healthy and delicious salad in front of you.  What, never happened to you?  Ok, well stars align for all kinds of reasons.  There were two things that happened in weirdly close proximity to get me to make this dish.  First--my junior high schoolers made recipes with wheat berries in their Health and Nutrition classes.  Then---Wouldn't you know it, a recipe featuring wheat berries popped up in the Good Eating section of the Chicago Tribune.  After not really thinking about these little gems much at all, really, I was awash in wheat berry tasting and discussion.

I like to use hard Red Spring wheat berries for their nutty taste and chewy texture, but you can use the soft variety as well.  I also added some pomegranate seeds for an additional taste and texture that pairs well with the blood oranges and feta cheese.  The vinaigrette makes more than you will need, but trust me and make the whole batch.  You'll find yourself dipping a piece of crusty bread into it-- it's that good. It is an excellent side salad to serve with roast chicken or fish and it is also very tasty on its own for a light lunch or dinner over a bed of baby arugula.

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