Mozzarella French Toast Sandwiches with Marinara Dip and Asparagus-Fennel Soup with Pistachio Pesto

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This week’s cooking class, SPRING BRUNCH, still has an opening for Wednesday, 4/29, 5-8pm; let me know!  Make any quiche,  then make your own favorite breakfast sausage. Top it off with Bananas Foster Bread pudding with Caramel Sauce.  List of upcoming classes and registration info located at the top, right corner of blog under CURRENT CLASSES. Can’t wait to cook with you.

When the rest of the country appears to be celebrating spring, we in the beautiful state of Colorado experience snow, hail, rain, thunder, and more all in one day.  The day before it was sunny and 65, but that didn’t mean peas were blooming or asparagus was ready; it just meant the tumbleweeds weren’t dry and blowing yet and the small pot of hopeful pansies was being very faithful indeed.

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I don’t think we get depressed about it because, after all, we probably have the best weather overall in the country.  We have temperate winters, rare rainy days, cool summer nights, and a continually changing western view as the clouds decide what they’re going to do with the mountains at any given time.  But we may need to occasionally think like spring.  And when we do, we make comforting skillets full of warming goodness because spring can be damned cold here.  A wet 45 is colder than a dry 10.  Last Thursday night when I came out of work after teaching the FRENCH NIGHT AT HOME class, I had to clean off inches of snow from the car and ruined my shoes in the wet frozen slush. Life has loveliness to sell, as Sara Teasdale says.  We’re thankful for the moisture because we live in fire country… Continue reading

One-Pan Orzo “Risotto” with Asparagus, Fennel, and Cherry Tomatoes

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Still have some openings in upcoming classes, which begin next Thursday, April 16, 5-8pm at Shouse Appliance in Colorado Springs.   There are  two available spots each in the FRENCH CLASS, April 16 and in the BRUNCH class (we’re learning how to make homemade sausage!), April 25, as well in the rest of the series.  Click at top on CURRENT CLASSES for list and registration info. Can’t wait to cook with you!

Orzo, the tiny rice-like pasta, and vegetables is a favorite combination of mine and you’ll see it on the blog a time or two. Or more. This particular comforting oh-so-green pasta dish, which is easily made vegan, seems to catapult spring vegetables such as asparagus, fennel, and baby spinach way up onto their long-awaited pedestal.  It also feels and nearly looks like risotto minus the questionably constant stirring, angst, and jaw-clenching risotto seems to engender. While it bubbles away nearly untended, you can look to other occupations like pouring wine, chatting,  setting the table, or if you’re like me, petting Rosie–just spayed and not too happy with it. Poor baby. She does like the pills that come all wrapped up in cream cheese for easy swallowing.

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For other meals, I cook orzo separately and make a heartier dish or pasta salad, adding feta, tiny tomatoes, celery or peas, basil or parsley, and a vinaigrette. Either variation is easy to make ahead early on a warm day for a potluck or as a bed for that night’s grilled fish, shrimp, chicken or chops. You can find regular orzo easily in the pasta aisle of your B-flat grocery store, but there are also some brands that sell the whole-wheat variety, which adds fiber and protein.  Try this:

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ONE-PAN ORZO “RISOTTO” WITH ASPARAGUS, FENNEL, AND CHERRY TOMATOES

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Cream of Pea Soup with Mint, Scallions, and Sharp Cheddar or Easter Leftovers

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Still have some openings in upcoming classes, which begin next Thursday, April 16.    Click at top on CURRENT CLASSES for list and registration info.

It is a joy and at times a true puzzle to figure out how to use up leftovers, but a good cook lets nothing go to waste.   Or, as Winston Churchill said,

Never let a good crisis go to waste.

And it is at times a “crisis’ in the fridge:  2 boiled eggs, two pieces of bacon, a quart of milk nearly gone bad, a bowl of boiled potatoes, and one piece of sad stale baguette are in your direct view every time you open the door.  Why isn’t there a lovely fillet of salmon, a great bottle of Chardonnay, and deeply-green spinach just out of the neighbor’s garden? Instead of a fresh fish meal, you make a quick potato soup topped with toasted breadcrumbs and then chop together a little egg salad for crackers as a side. And often you’re happier than if you’d cooked from scratch. (Aside: In Seattle, you’re fined $25 if food is found in your garbage.  You must use and eat or compost.)

below:  dogs all dressed up for Easter

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Tuesday morning’s “crisis” (OH DEAR) was a bit of cold Asparagus Vinaigrette with Chopped Eggs I had taken to friends for an Easter Eve supper.  Holiday leftover crises are somewhat worse than the traditional what’s-in-that-tupperware? problem.  Well,  I just heated a small plateful in a skillet and cooked two eggs on top for my breakfast:

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Good Friday–Hot Cross Buns and Clam Chowder

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The last days of Lent are full between w51bOCZagW9L._AA160_orship, study, shopping, cooking, and baking.   I often read THE LAST WEEK by Borg and Crossan…day by day or occasionally a couple of days at a time. (Read my Lenten blog Good Friday post here.)

Good Friday is, for me, Hot Cross Bun day and this year I used a new recipe from the BBC Good Food site by master baker Paul Hollywood. (Recipe here.)
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I adore these new buns and have now changed my recipe allegiance to Mr. Hollywood. (Here’s my old one.)  Where else would you look for a Hot Cross Bun recipe?  (Read about the famous buns’ history here.) Make some and cement friendships as well as protect yourself from evil!  Or just make them because they’re good.  Sing along to “Hot Cross Buns.

Rosie has kept herself busy “chasing” deer from one window to the next as I bake.  Tucker isn’t so energetic and knows the deer will be back soon. We’ve all been waiting for Emily to come home and she’s here!  I’ve made Clam Chowder for lunch to go with the buns.IMG_7408

d5e69-emily-graduationseminaryHere’s a photo from nearly two years ago now when she graduated from seminary and we sang in the choir for her service.  We’ll have to grab some pics this weekend, which is already feeling too short.

IMG_7420ABOUT MY BUNS–just in case you use this recipe:

1. The recipe uses metric measurements mostly, but not totally.  You’ll need to weigh your flour, sugar, etc.  I didn’t do the conversions to cups, etc., because I don’t mind baking like this.  If you don’t have a scale and need a chart for comparison/conversion, use this.  The recipe is worth it. (Soft, fluffy, flavorful rolls studded with gorgeous raisins flavored with orange and cinnamon. Sigh.)

2. The recipe calls for 3 proofs or rising.  I used two, refrigerated the dough in the middle, and found that worked fine.  In other words, I let the first rise go for a few hours, punched down the dough, put it into a zip-lock bag, and threw it into the fridge overnight.

3. Next morning, I added the apples, cinnamon, orange rind (skipping the rest of the dried fruit–no loss) and formed them into rolls.  Onto  parchment-lined pans they went covered with oiled plastic wrap to rise again on a stove with the oven on preheating.

4. After reading the recipe reviews, I didn’t make my crosses with flour paste, but rather made a simple vanilla buttercream icing and piped the crosses on with a quart plastic bag that I clipped a corner from. I like them better that way anyway.

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And just in case you’d like to make the chowdah….

QUICK CLAM CHOWDER  serves 4

This is so simple I didn’t see a reason to write out the recipe totally. Ingredients are in italics. Read through and you’ll have the idea.  You can embroider this Friday Fish Soup with added chopped asparagus or chopped tiny green beans. In my book (and here), I add fresh green peas. No bacon or salt pork in this recipe, though; it’s still a Friday in Lent.  Or try grating  some sharp cheese into each bowl — a nice addition.

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a 6-quart pot. Add a finely chopped onion, two each stalks of finely chopped celery and carrots, and a minced garlic clove.  Season with two teaspoons dried thyme, a bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper, and a pinch of crushed red pepper.  Cook covered over medium heat, stirring, until softened. Add 4-5 chopped new unpeeled red potatoes and heat through.  Pour in 1/2 cup white wine and let cook down a couple of minutes.  Pour in two bottles of clam juice and the juice from one 5-ounce can of clams. (Save clams to the side for a few minutes.)  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until potatoes are tender.  Mash the potatoes just a bit with a potato masher.  Throw in a handful of chopped parsley.  Pour in 2 cups  milk and 1 cup half an half and heat through without boiling. Stir in clams; warm through. Season with a few drops of hot sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot with oyster crackers. (Whoever gets the bay leaf has good luck until Lent begins again.)

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If you observe Good Friday traditions, I hope your day goes exactly as you need it to.  If you do not, just make some good bread and soup and enjoy.

Sing a new song,

Alyce

Friday Fish — Grilled Tuna Salad with Spicy Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette

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I never pass the fish and seafood in the store without seeing if something’s on the fire sale.  $9 OFF a pound is a fire sale for fresh tuna.  It means they have to get rid of it that day, preferably immediately. I’m willing to eat that tuna. I’m happy to run home and cook it straight away.  This is a typically summer meal, but you can squeeze it in for Friday Fish this month if your’e dreaming.

We’re in the last week of Lent; Palm/Passion Sunday was last Sunday and that means Easter’s on its way.   I’m always amazing how Lent takes us from the dredges of winter to the cusp of spring, and sometimes mixes it all up in one day. Just about how my life sometimes goes, I think, and maybe yours, too.  Here’s Holy Monday and Tuesday’s  single post from my Lenten blog, Praying in Saint Paul and here’s Holy Wednesday’s.  You can check out the rest of the week’s posts by going to the upper left-hand corner of the black bar at the top and clicking on Sidebar or if CLASSIC is up, click on that and then click on Sidebar in the menu.

Anyway, here’s what I did with that sale tuna–and what you might do, too, on Good Friday if that’s part of your faith tradition. Otherwise, save it for that first warm day.  What I did was all dependent on what I had in the fridge and on the counter after a visit to the market …

grilled tuna salad with vegetables &
spicy lemon-basil vinaigrette
serves 4

The vegetables for this salad are grilled (inside or out), but could also be oven-roasted for 20-30 minutes or so at 400 degrees F.  No matter how you cook it, you’re eating quickly and happily.

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1 medium eggplant, peeled, and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds or lengthwise into1/4″ thick slices
  • 2  3/4-inch slices of a very large yellow onion
  • 2 6-8 ounce thick tuna steaks
  • 1/2 cup each cherry tomatoes and boccocini (small mozzarella balls)–about 12 each
  • 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • 1/4 cup Nicoise or kalamata olives
  • Juice of half-lemon
  • Spicy Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette (recipe below)
Preheat indoor or outdoor grill over medium-high heat.  Brush eggplant, zucchini, and onion with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Grill about 8 minutes, turning once at mid-point.  Remove to a plate and set aside.  After a few minutes, slice into one-inch pieces.
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Brush tuna with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill 2 minutes on one side until there are dark grill marks; turn and grill other side about 2 minutes for medium rare – rare, depending on the thickness of the tuna. Cook another minute or two for medium-well.   Remove and let rest 1-2 minutes.  Cut into one-inch chunks.
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To a large bowl, add tomatoes and boccocini (small mozzarella balls), spinach, olives, and sliced eggplant, zucchini, and onions. Stir gently and drizzle with a bit of lemon juice; add tuna and stir again.  Drizzle with remainder of lemon juice and then generously with vinaigrette.  Divide between four pasta or shallow bowls, placing cherry tomatoes in one section, cheese in another, and so on. Garnish with olives and reserved basil julienne. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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Cook’s Note 1. If you’ve a large enough grill, grill the vegetables and add the tuna during the last few minutes.  I made this on a big cast iron indoor grill that covers two burners (Lodge), but it still wasn’t big enough for everything. Add to that, I’m only an indoor griller and like things in manageable batches. I leave the big gas or charcoal grill to Dave or whomever I can lasso into firing it up.  2. If you’d like a bit heartier salad, stir in a 15-ounce can of drained cannellini beans (season first pepper and with a bit of the vinaigrette) along with the grilled vegetables.
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spicy lemon-basil vinaigrette
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • generous pinch crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons shallot or red onion, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons basil julienne, divided
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

In a medium bowl, whisk together lemon juice, spices,  mustard, shallot, and two tablespoons basil.  Slowly add the olive oil, whisking all the while, until vinaigrette is well mixed and emulsified.  Taste and adjust seasonings. (Rest of basil is for garnish)

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Wine:  Go American and drink a great big California Chardonnay or an Oregon Pinot Noir.
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Note:  Recipe previously posted on this blog August, 2013.
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Sing a new song; make a new salad,
Alyce

Friday Fish — Sole Cooked on Kale-Basil Risotto with Green Beans Almondine

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Upcoming Cooking Classes 3rd+4th Thursdays of April, May, and June, 2015,  5-8pm at Shouse Appliance, Colorado Springs, Colorado. $55 adults; $30 kids.  $5 discount for cash/checks.  Includes French Night, Make a Great Pizza+ Salad at Home, Kids make dinner/dessert, Spring Brunch (Master quiche/homemade sausage!) Can’t wait to cook with you. Click here for list and sign-up info.

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The day began beautifully–a little chilly, but gorgeous.  I went to Bible study and when we finished had to run for the car as a white-out snow storm had hit. No hat, no scarf, no boots, I was frozen by the time I started the engine, found the snow brush, got the car cleaned off, and jumped in to head for home. (Channel Saint Paul, Minnesota.) Did I say the temperature was by then 10 degrees colder than when I’d left the house?  Brrr…. Of course the dogs were thrilled with the weather.

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Definitely a soup day today, I’m glad I made this fun one-pan fish meal last night preparing for Friday Fish.  (One more to go after this.)

If you follow a tradition of Lent, you might be interested in reading my Lenten journal (blog), written three years ago and chronicling the entire 40-day journey. Here’s the link for days 33-34; we’re a week away from the end as this Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday and next week is Holy Week. Sigh.

About the fish dish…I’d thought about this meal for a while and just never got around to making it until last night. As Dave asked, “How long does something like this perk in your brain?” (Who knows?)  The crux of it is you make a pan of risotto with a few vegetables and, when it’s done, add a layer of seasoned, thin fish fillets and lemons.  Put the lid on and let it cook just a few more minutes until the fish is firm and opaque and there’s your one-pan dinner.  As far as I know it’s an original dish, but who knows?  If you wanted to do this on a simpler rice preparation (say long-grain white rice cooked in chicken broth), I think it would work with some extra liquid.  If you do want to make the risotto and haven’t ever made it, read Mark Bittman’s article on “Laid Back Risotto,” and fear not!  I did make a pound or so of green beans, too, but just because I love them.  Try this:

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SOLE COOKED ON KALE-BASIL RISOTTO

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Friday Fish — Crab Cakes on Fresh Greens with Lemon Vinaigrette

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Upcoming Cooking Classes 3rd+4th Thursdays of April, May, and June, 2015,  5-8pm at Shouse Appliance, Colorado Springs, Colorado. $55 adults; $30 kids.  $5 discount for cash/checks.  Includes French Night, Make a Great Pizza+ Salad at Home, Kids make dinner/dessert, Spring Brunch (Master quiche/homemade sausage!) Can’t wait to cook with you. Click here for list and sign-up info:  

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During the past two weeks of Lent (if you’re interested, read my Lenten blog here), we’ve gone from cold/snow to 75F/sunnyIMG_2360, then back to 40F with nasty freezing rain.  While we have about one gray day a year, it’s here as I write today.  My good friend Roberta is visiting from the Twin Cities and I know she came for spring sunshine walksIMG_2362 with our puppies.  Instead she’s practicing her Bach on my piano in the living room and the dogs are in jail with wet feet from their fast foray out into the wetlands.

Even so, I’ve chosen a salad –-albeit a warm one–for Friday Fish and I’m a thief as I’ve stolen the idea for this Friday’s dinner from one of my favorite local restaurants– Marigold’s. Who knows from whence it originally came as there are a bunch of versions on the internet.  I don’t have the recipe from Marigold’s and have no idea how they make the salad except that it’s good.  My idea for any crab cake is lots of crab, not so much filler and a big lemony punch.  Cue this salad I figured out as I went along catch as catch can. Because I had it,  I served the salad with a cup of leftover Colcannon Soup from St. Patrick’s Day, along with a wedge of Irish Soda Bread. It’s pretty fine all on its own, though, or just with some biscuits. And butter. Try this:

CRAB CAKES ON FRESH GREENS WITH LEMON VINAIGRETTE

Serves 3-4 for a main course.  Serves 6 for a first course.

Crabcakes (Makes 6):  

  • 1 pound crabmeat–lump or claw-picked over for shells (in a 1# can, already cooked)
  • 8 Ritz crackers crushed finely*
  • 2 slices baguette crumbs (or other bread)*
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 scallions minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley minced
  • Several drops hot sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil

Mix all ingredients together well; taste and adjust seasoning.  Heat butter and oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy skillet.  Form crab mixture first into 6 balls, patting together, and then into patties 3-4 inches in diameter. If mixture won’t form balls or patties, let sit a few minutes so that the crumbs absorb the moisture. You can even stick it in the fridge for 15 minutes if needed.  Carefully place in pan. Fry on one side 3-5 minutes until very brown; gently turn over and cook other side another few minutes until it, too, is well-browned.  Serve hot or warm on greens.

*If you have a food processor, you can throw the bread and crackers into it and process using the steel blade until you have very fine crumbs.

Prepare the greens

  • 6-8 cups arugula or other fresh greens
  • 3 radishes sliced very thinly
  • 4 small tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 lemons–1 cut in half and 1 quartered
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Spread greens on a large platter and scatter radishes along the perimeter.  Add tomatoes and quartered lemon to corners of dish.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Squeeze 1/2 lemon over all and drizzle with the first two tablespoons olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more olive oil if necessary.

Put the salad together

Top greens with hot or warm crab cakes. Add a little more lemon juice to each cake.  Serve immediately.

Optional Garnish:  Dab  a teaspoon of mayonnaise on each crab cake and garnish with a bit of chopped parsley, cilantro, dill, or scallions.

Cook’s Note:  You can make the crab cakes ahead ( even the night before), cool and chill them, and briefly warm in a buttered skillet before serving the salad.

Sing a new song,

Alyce

Colcannon Soup–Bacon or Vegan– for Saint Patrick’s Day

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Colcannon, that adoring Irish and Scottish mash of buttery potatoes and cabbage or kale, is the inspiration for my soup that’s feisty without being overblown. The bacon is a salty, crunchy touch that you can easily leave out for a vegetarian or vegan version. You might add some toasted, sliced almonds or crispy croutons instead.  Make sure you have a pepper grinder at the table–or a bottle of hot sauce — for those who chase the spicy life. Scroll down for recipe.

Below:  At the cathedral in Down Patrick, Northern Ireland  August, 2014

IMG_1198Below: outside Waterford, Ireland

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Below:  pub in Waterford.  Dave’s first Guinness in Ireland.  Definitely not his last.

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Below:  Shredded kale (Remove kale stems and slice in 1/4-inch ribbons for soup; sauté sliced stems separately for a salad addition.) Continue reading

Friday Fish — Tuna Melt with Sriracha Thousand Island for my Sister Helen

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I have a sister who just loves tuna fish.  Also green beans.  Also tomatoes.  If you put them all together as in Salade Nicoise, she’s already entered heaven. We don’t live near to one another, but I often think of her as I cook and that’s what happened today.   This sweet old school favorite pumped up with the addition of a spicy thousand island sauce would be her order for lunch if she saw it on Friday’s menu.

Below: We always go out for lunch when we’re together.

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If you’re like Helen and love tuna, this is your Friday!  Fast and homey, great to serve on trays in front of the tv while you watch Chocolat, that quintessential Lenten film.   (Well, it is to me.) You’ll remember when Vianne opens her chocolate shop in the little French village, she’s in trouble for many reasons, but one of the largest is that she opens it during LENT, for God’s sake. What was she thinking? Continue reading

Friday Fish–Garlic + Ginger Shrimp and Broccoli with Sticky Rice

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I made my Friday fish on a cold day in Colorado where we’ve had weeks of snowy weather that I’m only beginning to tire of. Rosie, on the other hand, misses the more frequent walks of sunny days. She spends a lot of time in front of the windows–which are about to be replaced. (These freeze and melt inside the house–very cold and very sad.) You’ll also see Tucker-scroll down- on our in-process new staircase.IMG_2354

 

The beginning ideas for my shrimp, broccoli, and sticky rice meal originate in a book you’ve heard me tout before:  Quick & Easy Chinese by Nancie McDermott. I’ve simply appropriated a few methods and added them up into dinner; I think Nancie would like this meal.  If you don’t own this book, you really might like to buy it.  You’ll still get Chinese take-out, but you’ll also be quite happy with the meals you create right in your own little wok. While I cook many things –most, really — without recipes, I’m not comfortable enough with Asian techniques to go rogue. Nancie’s clear, simple, and concise instructions — along with fine photos — are perfect for me. (This would make a beautiful wedding shower gift and you could give a gorgeous set of rice bowls, a wok, or a tea set for the wedding gift.)

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Halfway down the stairs is the stair where I sit. Tucker:

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