Friday Night Chinese in One More Snowstorm

Green Onion Pancakes .. or you could call them Spring Onion Pancakes.

Last summer, before I went away to school for two months, I picked up a little book called QUICK & EASY CHINESE by Nancie McDermott; photography by Maren Caruso (San Francisco:  Chronicle Books, 182p., 2008, $19.95).  I had every good intention of using the summer, where I’m cooking away from my own kitchen (and need easy recipes),  to drum up some great Asian dishes.  I thought I’d increase my Asian cooking skills, which are nil, and also make great use of the St. Paul, Minnesota Farmer’s Market.  A little extra in the way of vegetables wouldn’t hurt us.

Well, the book came along for the ride, packed with my music books and one Ina Garten cookbook.  What I didn’t know was that the courses I had chosen would take over my whole life and I would be lucky to eat at all. Ha.  Of course, Dave and Emily pitched in when they saw me working night and day, but we didn’t get to the Chinese. More’s the pity.  Back home came the book in August.  Boohoo.  Dave loves Asian food and I am so stuck in French and Italian (or other Mediterranean) meals.

Occasionally, I’d grab the book off the shelf and start to whip something up only to find I had no Black Bean Sauce or fresh ginger.  You must make a commitment to Asian food in your pantry as well as in your cookware.  Though, truthfully, the cookware can be fudged. Ginger can’t.  A few months went by before recipes began to be chosen, the appropriate condiments purchased and  stored, and we finally began to cook from the sweet little book.  I should say that I shopped and Dave cooked.  He is, after all, great at chopping and using a wok.  Among many other things.

Meantime, this week we have taken a few days off for “spring” break.  Even went out to The Summit at the Broadmoor (another blog–how wonderful).  Snow just kept arriving every other day or so, despite plans for a trip to Denver, to the movies, etc.  So, we just stayed home and warm…cozy up on the mesa.  What a spring.  Obviously time to try another great Chinese meal.  All the time in the world as the snow flew and the wind and the dogs howled.

So here is the menu (this is the second or third one he’s tried) and then some pics from Dave’s  Friday night foray into QUICK AND EASY CHINESE… I’ll put in one recipe at the end, with appropriate credit to Nancie McDermott.  Thanks a lot….  Check out her book.

  I love Chinese in the snow.

Egg Flower Soup, page 38
Green Onion Pancakes, p 39-40
Broccoli with Ginger and Garlic, p 127
Almond Chicken, p 49 (Cook’s note:  We added a bunch more vegetables here because we had them.)

wine:  dry riesling (German)
dessert:  none

                                                                      (Two-Dog Ktichen Above!)

Green Onion Pancakes (Taiwan street-food flatbreads)

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
3/4 c water
About 1 T vegetable oil, plus 3T for frying
1T salt
1/2 c thinly sliced green onion

*Med bowl:  combine flour and water. stir well to mix and turn into soft dough.
*Lightly flour work area and your hands, and then scrape the dough onto the floured work surface.  *Knead the dough for 5 minutes, turning and pressing to form it into a soft, smooth dough.  Cover the dough with the bowl and let rest 5 min.
*Divide the dough into 3 portions, cutting it apart with a butter knife or pastry scraper.  Leaving the other two portions covered while you work, place one portion on the floured work surface, and roll it out into a big, round pancake, 6-8 inches in diameter.
*Use about 1t of the oil to lightly and evely coat the surface of the pancake.  Sprinkle it with 1t of the salt, and then scatter about 1/3 of the green onion over the pancake.
*Starting with the far edge and pulling it toward you, carefully roll up the pancake into a plump log.  *The soft dough will need a little coaxing, and it won’t be perfectly even, but that is just fine.
*Shape the log into a fat spiral, turning the righ end toward you to make the center and curving the remaining log around it.  Tuck the loose end under and gently but firmly press to flatten it into a big, thick cake.  Using your rolling pin, roll it gently into a 7-in pancake.  The green onion will tear the dough and poke out here and there, but that’s not a problem.
*To cook, heat a heavy, medium skillet over medium-high heat until hot.  Add about 2 t of the oil and turn to coat the bottom of the pan evenly.  When a pinch of the dough and a bit of green onion sizzle at once, place the pancake in the hot pan and cook until handsomely browned and fairly evenly cooked on one side, 2-3 minutes.
*Turn and cook the other side for about 1 min., until it is nicely browned and the bread is cooked through.  Use the remaining dough to roll out, season, shape, and cook two more pancakes.  Use additional oil as needed.  Cut into quarters, and serve hot or warm. (QUICK AND EASY CHINESE, by Nancie McDermott.)

Cook’s note:  This is a bit salty in a good way…If you are watching your sodium intake, you should cut the salt accordingly.  Dave cooked these 1/3-1/2″ thick and they were done and chewy like fat flatbread.  If you’d like a tender, more quickly cooked pancake, roll them out thinner and cook quickly.  I thought they might have been good with a soy-ginger sauce for dipping…a la Asian dumplings.  These are a little time-consuming, but not much.  Might be fun to take somewhere as an appetizer…They are fine at room temp and could be transported all-ready-to-go cut in a cloth-lined basket.

Also, some people call green onions “scallions,” and some call them “spring onions.” 

Sing a new song; eat green onion pancakes,
In Memoriam—

Lois June Valentine
                 June 28, 1917-March 20, 2010

Ever ready for a new adventure, she’s now on the ultimate trip.

Grilled Asparagus with Tex-Mex Dip or Spring Eats in the Snow

                                 Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush. ~Doug Larson

Living on the edge of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, I’ve seen snow every month of the year.  Sounds impossible to most folks, but it often warms up for the many false springs (and sometimes summers) we love and then turns stormy bitter overnight.  July 4 can bring mountain snow, though probably not down here in the Springs.  We once sat through an outdoor July concert in Woodland Park until we couldn’t stand the blowing snow anymore and ran down the hill to McDonald’s for coffee. (Not a lot of choices.)  We never put away our jeans and sweatshirts and we  keep a coat, a candle with matches, a bottle of water, and a chocolate bar in the car 365 days a year. You’ve heard this tale.

Still, like most Americans, we dream of spring in March, and hey, we sometimes get a little.  It was 65 the other day and, inside the house it was above 70.   Turned the oven on to bake bread (Irish Soda, of course) and the kitchen was soon 75.  Two days later, it snowed all day long and we were building fires, warming up soup, and snuggling our toes inside wool socks.  Ah, Colorado:  no water and weird weather.  Not always a good combination.   Praise God for central heat and gas stoves and food trucked in to places where it can’t be grown.  I guess? 

Friday night, as I set the table and lit the candles, I knew I had a light meal that needed either an appetizer or dessert.  As I’m currently cutting my caloric intake by 25% a day in a concerted effort to seek health, I decided on  a vegetable appetizer.  A pound of asparagus bored to death in the frig had a little bit to do with it; I’ll give that to you.  I never tire of grilled asparagus (or as my good friend Sue says, “I’d pay anything for it.”) and, given the time constraints (dinner was almost done and Dave had begun the music), grilled sounded good.  I promise I won’t blog asparagus anymore this spring. (Fingers crossed.)

When I shot this pic, I realized I probably didn’t even need to do it.  No doubt there were multiple shots of grilled asparagus stored on the computer.  Finding them (my photos need organizing pretty badly) was another story.  I clicked two times and above you see one of those.  Gives you an idea of my skill level.

These were skiiiiiiiiiiiinneee asparagus (doesn’t equate with good or tender), so I knew they wouldn’t take long to grill, and, while I like them almost done, I don’t want them limp.  Time to think of a dip, a sauce, a topping, a …whatever.  I’m crazy about fresh lemon squeezed over asparagus; it’s one of my favorite things.  Kinda old, though,  Alyce.  What else?  Some finely chopped peppered cashews?  Hmmm.  Getting better.  What about salsa?  Atypical.  What about salsa and Greek yogurt?  Hepped up with garlic?

Sounding better all the time and was quick as spit.

Here’s how I did it:

Grilled Asparagus with Tex-Mex Dip

1# fresh asparagus, washed and trimmed
1T olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 c plain, non-fat Greek Yogurt (or any plain yogurt will do)
1/3 c best quality salsa (make sure it’s gluten-free)
pinch each table salt and fresh ground pepper
1 clove garlic, grated or smashed well

Heat grill outdoors or stovetop grill to medium-high.  Brush with olive oil and lay asparagus on grill in an even layer.  Sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.  Grill, turning once, for 8-10 minutes.  Meantime, make dip:

In a small bowl, mix yogurt, salsa, salt and pepper, and garlic.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

Place grilled asparagus on serving platter with a bowl of dip and enjoy.

2-Dog Kitchen Continued
Sing a new song; enjoy a new spring,

Potato Soup and Irish Soda Bread

I had a farm in Ireland…….
Not.  I did, however, visit once.
I wish I could go back.
I can’t go today, but I can make Potato Soup and Irish Soda Bread on
St. Patrick’s Day……
I’ve been making this meal for a long time.  I love it, but I don’t make it any other time of the year.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be special if I made it, say, in May or September.  You, however, have no holiday strings emotionally strumming over these recipes and could make them next week or next year.
Go you.  So, here’s the soup………..and then the bread–
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Potato Soup

  • 2 slices of bacon, diced; 1/4# Canadian bacon, chopped*
  • 2 onions (different kinds are nice), chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 leeks, chopped
  • 3 large pototoes, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 turnip, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces, optional
  • 6-8 cups unsalted chicken broth
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 c Greek yogurt or sour cream
  • parsley or dill
  1.  In an 8-10 quart soup kettle, saute bacon until about half-done; add Canadian bacon.  Cook until well browned.  Remove meats  from pot and drain on paper towel-lined plate.  Cool and  refrigerate until you’re going to serve the soup. 
  2. Pour out all but enough bacon grease to coat the bottom of the pan well.  Add onions, garlic and leeks and saute until almost golden, stirring often.  Add potatoes, turnip and parsnip and cook 2-3 minutes until hot.  Add chicken broth.  Bring to a  boil and lower the heat.  Simmer until all vegetables are soft, about 25 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  
  3.   Puree in food processor, with hand-held blender or by hand using potato masher.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream, a bit of the bacon and ham and a garnish of fresh parsley or dill.  Make sure there’s fresh ground pepper at the table.
    *You could choose to use all bacon.
  4. Printable recipe for both soup and bread below the bread recipe.
There isn’t much better than soup and bread anywhere.  If you’re cold.  If you’re really hungry.  Can you think of anything better?  I have a friend whose husband doesn’t like soup,  Just doesn’t like it at all.  He did, however, eat soup at my house once.  And asked for the recipe later.  Such folks are few and far between.  Who doesn’t walk in a house, smell soup simmering or bread baking and go, “Wow!  It just smells so good in here.”  And, while we can’t always put our fingers on what makes us happy in life, we do know we like it when the house smells like something good to eat.  Those  “Wow”s come with big smiles and anticipatory movements that include looking around for the delighting elements.  So, here’s the bread.  More on the provenance later.
Irish Soda Bread – American Style
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 cup currants or raisins
  • 1 1/3 cup buttermilk (+ 2-3 T, if at altitude)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  1.  Grease a 2qt  round bowl (ovenproof), casserole or  deep cake pan. Alternately, line a baking sheet with parchment paper for a free-form loaf.
  2. Preheat oven to 375F.
  3. In food processor, or large mixing bowl, measure dry ingredients and mix well.  Cut in with blade attachment or with knives or pastry blender, the butter. 
  4. In a large mixing cup, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs; add the currants and baking soda.  Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry and mix well to form a very wet dough. 
  5. Turn dough out onto a floured board and knead briefly.  Shape into a round loaf.  Turn out into the prepared baking bowl or onto baking sheet and bake for about an hour  (or a bit more)  until bread is very well-browned and firm in the center.  A wooden skewer stuck in the middle of the bread should come out clean.  You may have to test several times.
  6. Let this bread sit 15-20 minutes before cutting or it will crumble.  Cool completely before wrapping tightly in foil and storing in the refrigerator.  Will keep 3-4 days.
  7.  Excellent leftover just as it is, but even better for toast made under the broiler. 

{printable recipe for both soup and bread}


Me and the green.
A couple of notes on the provenance of the recipes:
I began (and later changed) the potato soup years ago from a recipe called  “A Cold Winter’s Day Potato Soup” from THE EASTERN JUNIOR LEAGUE COOK BOOK, edited by Ann Serrane and published by David McKay in ??1980.
The bread recipe is one I have no idea about from whence it came.  It’s on a recipe card I’ve had for so many years.  I’d guess I copied it out of a magazine or a book at the library one day as a young wife.
While we are making the potato soup, Tucker tries to figure out if he likes onions skins.   Nah….
Sing a new song,
all photographs copyright Alyce Morgan 2003 and 2010

Saving your Sole in a Fish Bowl

        “I might have been a goldfish in a glass bowl for all the privacy I got.” 
                                                                                            — Saki (Hector Hugh Munro)

I don’t know what I was thinking.
I guess I thought I knew better. (I didn’t.)
Maybe I was confused by both interstates being shut down at once.
Go Colorado.
Or I was over the top because a student had transposed a small, but two-handed piece of music into six or seven different keys, including B major.
Or, I knew, and just had to see for myself.  Like a child.  Hmm.  More likely.

Anyway, I did one of those unthinkable culinary things.   Or, I went outside the fish pond.  I took some sweet, thin sole and poached it in a chunky, bit of heat tomato sauce.   Yes, I did it.  Well,  I tried to make it a, we might say, gentle tomato sauce.  I could barely manage it.  Capital “T”-  Tiny piece of garlic, not toooo much onion.  Sweetened with an adorable, small carrot complete with top, and a bit of Colorado honey (something we do well out here.)  I cooked some risi (tiny pasta like rice) and sat the whole shebang along side it.  Was it good?  Yes.  Was it a home run?   Not the best of them. Did I eat it?  Decidedly.  And I’m blogging it because?  Because maybe we should blog the things that aren’t perfect.  That aren’t what the rest of the world thinks of as the best ideas.  Maybe we should keep on keeping on…and change our soul–I mean sole.

(*Note two days later:  I tried this again so Dave could eat some for lunch and adored it on second take.  I used no fresh basil in the sauce and put, instead, the 1/2 t Herbes de Provence.  I have revised the recipe.)

Did I mention the sole was $6.99 a pound and fresh?  (As fresh as fresh is in CO.)  Or that I had zucchini that had to be used?  Husband gone; quick fish meal in order.

Now I love sole in the regular ways.  A little flour, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, into the butter bath…out again,  squeeze the lemon into the butter, pour it over the fish, and serve it topped with parsley.  I do, I do, I do love it.  The mildness of it is its beauty.    I also like it just barely kind of grilled in a skillet with only a little olive oil and salt and pepper.  I know very well that I need something hearty like snapper to stand up to the treatment I desired.  I can’t claim I did the dumb thing because I live in a land-locked state.  I’ve lived all over.  In other words, sole is delicate and must be treated like it.  Falling apart easily, it won’t make it through any rough handling or bull-in-a- china-shop flipping tactics like tuna or salmon.  Cook quickly, slide a large thin fish spatula underneath and slide it onto a warmed plate.  That’s how you deal with sole.  There are some some people who must be treated similarly…  Another blog.

But I keep having this dream of fish poached in vegetables and I’ve been successful with it a few times…albeit with other fish.  I mean, what more could you want than fish poached in vegetables when you’re trying to be healthy, eat well, and still want to cook and eat gorgeously?  The grilled salmon and salad  or asparagus is nice, but it gets old.  It does.   I think you have more options on either coast; our available fresh fish is limited unless you can afford Whole Foods fish prices a few times a week.  I make a grilled tuna topped with marinara and served with orzo with spinach and raisins.  I hit up Whole Foods for that one and make it for my sister’s birthday or for my wine group.  Every day?  No, I’m like the rest of the world; I’m looking for bargains.

So what was this like?  It was a little like a shallow bowl of very thick, yummy soup with some fish and baby pasta in it.  Yet, it was hearty.  Filling, even.  I drank a Seghesio zin with it.  Here’s another instance of pairing the wine the preparation, not with the protein.  You could eat ALOT OF THIS and do no harm at all- if you limited the risi.  And, by gosh, the fish cooks in two minutes.  And they call drive-through hamburgers “fast food?”

My other idea was to roast a bunch of root vegetables, dissolve them a tish in some broth and poach the sole in that.  Maybe with sage.  In other words, just take sole out of its cubby and out for a run in the park.  That’ll be another day.  Ooo:  les poissons.

Well, you think about it.  I’ll write the recipe down.  Make it; I liked it.  I’d eat it again.  But it is different.  It’s odd stuff up against each other.  Gently.  Like spring in Colorado.

Saving your Sole in a Fish Bowl 
                                             serves 2 generously

1T olive oil
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 med. onion,          “
1 sm carrot,                “
2 stalks celery,          “
1 small zucchini,       “
4T fresh basil, sliced thinly, divided or 1/2 t Herbes de Provence
1/2 t kosher salt; 1/4 t fresh ground pepper
Pinch crushed red pepper, rubbed finely between your fingers
1/2 of a 28oz can of crushed Cento tomatoes
1 lemon, cut into two pieces.  Chop one piece into 1/2″ dice; slice the other half.
1/4 c red wine
1/2 c water  plus more as needed
1 t honey
1/2 # fresh sole

Cooked risi (tiny pasta) or rice  (I put salt, pepper and fresh basil in the boiling water.)  mixed with:
          2T freshly grated parmesan and 2T chopped fresh parsley

A Little Side Salad*

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat and add the vegetables, half of the basil, salt and peppers.  Cook until the vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes at altitude.  Stir often.  Add the tomatoes, half of the lemon slices, the wine, water and honey.  Lower heat and simmer 10-12 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little more water.  Stir often.  Add sole in an even, single layer, and cover for 2-3 minutes, cooking until fish is firm.  Gently remove fish from sauce and serve in a shallow bowl topped with some sauce (leave small pieces of lemon in the sauce and eat them:) and the side of rice or risi (tiny, rice-like pasta).  Add a slice or two of  rest of the lemon for punch and garnish with the rest of the sliced basil.  Leave room for a little crunchy side salad to one side or serve it in a tiny bowl.

*My side salad is like this:  2-3 c chopped romaine, 1/2 red pepper, diced, 3 T torn fresh parsley or basil–whatever fresh herb will do a trick for you, a shake of kosher salt and a pinch of fresh ground pepper.  Squeeze a little lemon over the salad before you dress it.   Dressing:  1T fresh lemon juice, 1 small clove of garlic, crushed, 1-2T fresh basil, minced, 1/2 t Dijon-style mustard…Whisk all that together well and drizzle in, still whisking, 2T best-quality extra-virgin olive oil. 

The dogs, of course, had to go out at just the critical point…when I sat down with hot fish.  I remember similar lives with nursing babies.  Once, after months of cold food, I spent the day arranging life so that I would have a hot piece of meat for dinner.  I bathed the baby in the morning. I fed him all day long.  I kept him up.  I had the meal ready to cook and nursed him.  Put him to bed, where he fell promptly asleep.  I proceeded to cook my little steak and, you guessed it.  Before I got the first piece in my mouth, he was screaming.  I was convinced young mothers never got to eat.  I sure appreciated the first hot meal I got when he turned, oh, 20 or so.

Sing a new song; eat your fish in a bowl,  try it hot…………but put the dogs to bed first,

Today, I thought I’d share this message from the World Food Program…
When food is scarce, women and children suffer the most.
Empowering women can break the cycle of hunger and poverty. WFP (World Food Program) distributes food through women as it’s the best way to ensure that entire families will eat.

In honor of International Women’s Day, March 8, you can send a message of solidarity to women worldwide. We’ll make sure your messages are shared across the globe. 

Your message will instantly be displayed on our message board and you’ll join our fight against hunger. As a member of our online community, you’ll receive the latest news about hunger and what we’re accomplishing together.   Click on the link below and fight world hunger…..  Thanks, Alyce

It Might as Well be Spring, Spring, Spring…

                              “A little madness in the spring is wholesome even for the king.”   -Emily Dickinson

It hit 50 F this week.  Maybe more.
If you breathed really deeply, love was in the air.

When a girl’s thoughts turn toward…

You guessed it:  asparagus.

Of course, it’s Fed Ex asparagus. (Ask me if I care.  I want asparagus and I want it NOW.  And, it’s never market-ready in Colorado Springs.  Like many other things, we’re kinda the import city of America food-wise.  Even the Native Americans never tried to live here and grow anything.  How smart were they?)

Living in Europe, I yearned and burned for green asparagus.  Germans, when I lived in Germany, cultivated only white asparagus, grown under mounds of dirt to prevent it from greening.  Green asparagus was for animals and it grew wild in Russia, where no one ever thought to bother it.  No, we ate spargel in Germany and, I guess we were glad to get it.  But, hey.  It was fat spargel.  And I never got used to its pale hue.  Looked a bit sick to me.  Give me the skinny green stuff any day.

We’ve had asparagus nearly all winter, but the other day it simply looked like spring asparagus to me.  I had to have some; I had to have a couple of bunches.  It was like a windfall of riches.  When I got home, I sat around dreaming about what I could do with it.  For, oh, about five minutes.  I had to get dinner done and get to book club that night.  (BLUE DIARY by Alice Hoffman–a good read that was oh-so-sad.)

I could have sauteed some onions, added the asparagus and some chicken broth and simmered the pot until the vegetables were tender.  A whirrrrrrrrr in the blender and  I’d throw it in bowls topped with sprigs of dill and a baby spoon of sour cream. We’d have “cream” soup.

I could have grilled it.  (This is my fave.)  Salt, pepper, olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Thassall.  Phew–right down it goes.

I could have steamed it in the microwave for TWO minutes and we could have eaten the spears with our fingers after dipping it into a mustard vinaigrette.

Somehow my head kept bowing in the direction of where the little book on risotto used to be (I had given it away.)  A little pesto (I had basil), a little onion, a handful of cheese and there was dinner.  Who could ask for anything more?   Here’s how I did it…

Asparagus Risotto made for Spring Love

1# asparagus, cleaned and cut into 1″ pieces
1T unsalted butter
1T olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped finely                                                                   
1 c arborio rice
Kosher salt; fresh ground pepper
1/4 t crushed red pepper
1/4 c white wine (use more chicken stock if you don’t care for wine)
4 c unsalted chicken stock, heated and kept warm in another pot on the stove

1 c fresh basil leaves
3T walnuts, plus a couple of extra whole ones for garnish
2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/3 c extra virgin olive oil                                                                    
1/2 c freshly-grated parmesan cheese
1/2 c   ”           ”      manchego (your choice–I had manchego)

In a heavy 4qt saucepan, saute the onion for five minutes over medium heat.  Add rice and cook another 5 minutes or so until it just begins to turn a tish golden here and there.  Careful it doesn’t burn.   Season rice and onions with salt and both peppers. 

Raise heat to medium-high and pour in 1 c chicken stock.  Stirring often, cook until stock is absorbed…   You must stir very well, particularly if you don’t have a really heavy pan.  It will stick and burn easily.  Pete and repeat using almost all of the stock.    (While the risotto is cooking, make the pesto.)  When you have only about 1 c stock left in the other pan, add the asparagus pieces and, for the last couple of broth additions, add only 1/3-1/2 cups broth.  Taste now to see how close to done the rice is.  You want it with a little bite, but the risotto should be juicy when you serve it.  Nothing mushy, please.

When the last bit of broth is absorbed, turn off the heat, stir in all but 2T of the pesto, and let the risotto sit uncovered for 3-4 minutes.  It will finish cooking now.  Eat hot, garnishing with a little pesto and a walnut half.

PESTO:  Combine basil, nuts, and garlic in the food process or with mortar and pestle.  Slowly add olive oil until you have a smooth paste.   Stir in cheeses.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Option:  A real meat eater might add 2 strips/pieces of bacon or pancetta, chopped and cooked up with the onion.

Below–  Next night:  leftover risotto with some grilled chicken on a bed of spinach topped with mushrooms, red peppers and garlic cooked in a bit of cream and chicken broth.

Tell me what makes it spring for you?

Sing a new song; make a new risotto,
Alyce           oh, and ….of course,


Share our Strength-Vote and $1 is Donated Toward Ending Childhood Hunger

The race for this year’s Champion Against Child Hunger is still close, and they need your vote.

Every day, Share Our Strength works to connect children with the food they need to grow and thrive, and individuals like these five nominees are at the heart of everything we do. Please take a minute to meet these local heroes and cast your vote for this year’s winner.

For every vote, Con Agra Foods Foundation will donate $1 to help Share Our Strength reach even more children facing hunger.

The 5 finalists come from all over the country, and each has made an incredible difference in his or her community.  Click on the link above to read their stories and to help Con Agra continue donating….

Here’s some information about children who need government food assistance that might surprise you..

The average monthly SNAP benefit is $132.99 per person, or $1.43 per meal.

36.5 million Americans used SNAP in August 2009, more than at any time in the past 3 years, according to the most recent U.S.D.A. report.

18.25 million American children received SNAP benefits in August 2009, according to the most recent U.S.D.A. report.

Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Monthly Summary; U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, “Leading the Fight Against Hunger,” June 2008;

End childhood hunger now………………….

If I Knew You Were Comin’, Ida Baked a Cake….

Sometimes, when good friends come to visit, or even acquaintances, they say, “When I come, will you make ____________?”  I’m happy to oblige.  Who wouldn’t feel good about that sort of request?

Sue knew she was coming for several weeks and said, “The only thing I want is a big chocolate cake; I’ve just seen that new Meryl Streep movie, ‘It’s Complicated.”  Well, Sue doesn’t really eat much chocolate.  Ever.  I didn’t know what to do with the request and I hadn’t seen the movie.  I make killer chocolate chip oatmeal cookies and, once when I sent some for her birthday, she took them to the office and told me, “You know I don’t hardly eat chocolate.”  And now she wants a chocolate cake?  Too weird.

Anyway, I absolutely LOVE chocolate cake. Seldom make it because my husband is not a chocolate eater.  Though he, too, seems to be coming around. Hmm.  Once, when I was staying at Sue’s, we stopped at a sweet cafe for dessert and I happily waded through a huge piece of multi-layer dark madness because I just never get any at home and, truly, most restaurants don’t have good dessert.  (So sad……….)

So what kind of a chocolate cake was I going to make?  I had made a Chocolate-Hazelnut torte for Thanksgiving.  One of those deep, murky, thick and seemingly  heavy, but sweetly light, melting things made in the springform pan.  Almost no flour. Great for gluten-free.  Basically ground hazelnuts (which made the “flour”) and melted oh-so-fine Callebaut bittersweet chocolate.  I thought I’d see a rerun of that cake.  Ooooo.  Did I really have a reason to recreate it?  I was in heaven.

This particular confection is not French, but Italian, and is called…………….

Torta Gianduja     ( as I tell my students, “Anything in Italian sounds good to eat!”)

and the recipe had come from COOKS ILLUSTRATED ITALIAN FAVORITES.  Since I’m now testing recipes from COOKS, I was even happier to try it all again and see how it went.  Their recipes are amongst the very well-tried and true resources for serious cooks.  If  you ever  use them, you’ll see the difference.

 I had no memory of the time involved to make this cake.  I had made it a few days before Thanksgiving because the recipe indicated “can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator for several days.”  Who wouldn’t do that at holiday time?  Besides, I wasn’t even cooking Thanksgiving dinner last year; I was just filling in the holes for a dinner my friend, and phenomenal cook, Tony was making.  I could take my time and make the few dishes I was responsible for…at my leisure.  Oh  joy.  NO timetable really.  But, as I began to put things together this time, I realized this was time-consuming.  Not terribly, but somewhat.  So, I warn you.  This involves slowly melting chocolate; don’t try the microwave for this one, though I otherwise recommend it for chocolate.  It takes 15 minutes to roast the hazelnuts the first time around and then you have to towel, towel, towel them to get the skins off.  You must then roast them a second time. This is if you have bought SHELLED hazelnuts and I usually buy nuts in the shell for something like this–just to insure freshness.  Nothing worse than stale nuts.  If you shell the nuts, that’s another half-hour or more if your hands aren’t in great shape.   You’re beginning to get the picture.  So, leave an hour and a half for making this cake.  It took me two hours because three people called in the middle of the prep and the puppy had to go out oh, twice.  Big breath.  Definitely worth the effort. Not something you make every week, is it?  So, here’s the cake I made…huge thanks to COOKS’


8 T unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for the pan                                                      
6 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

1 1/3 c hazelnuts (about 6 2/3 oz), shelled, toasted, skinned,
            and toasted again*
1 c granulated sugar, divided
2 T unbleached all-purpose flour or gluten free flour mix
6 large egg yolks
3 large egg whites
1/4 t salt                                                                                                 
Confectioner’s sugar
Whipped cream, optional                                                                         
Preheat oven to 350 and put rack in middle of oven.
Generously butter 9″ springform pan and set aside.
Place chocolate in heatproof small pot set over pan of simmering
water.  Melt, stirring occasionally.  Cool to room temperature.
Place toasted, skinned hazelnuts in food processor with 1/4 c
granulated sugar and process until finely ground.
In mixing bowl, with electric mixer (handheld or stand),  beat butter until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add remaining 3/4 c sugar, beating until creamy, 2-3 min.  Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add cooled chocoalte and beat briefly.  Add ground hazelnut-sugar mixture by gently stirring in. 
In another very clean and dry mixing bowl, beat egg whites with
salt and beat until stiff peaks form.
With rubber spatula, fold in one-third of whites to chocolate- nut
mixture.  Repeat twice, folding carefully to maintain lightness.  Pour batter into prepared pan.
Place in oven and bake 40-50 minutes until fairly firm and toothpick comes out clean.  Center of cake will be moist.
          Cool completely on wire rack for 
3 hours.  Cake can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator for several days.  Just before serving, dust with confectioner’s sugar.  Cut cake into wedges and serve with whipped cream, if desired.
*Toasting the hazelnuts:  Toast the nuts in a skillet or in a 350 oven for about 15 minutes.  Transfer nuts to kitchen towel and gather the corners of the towel together.  Twist the gathered corners to seal in the nuts.  Rub nuts together through the towel to scrape off as much as possible of the brown papery skins.  Ok if some patches of skin remain.  Carefully open towel on flat work surface.  Gently roll nuts away from skins.  Return nuts to oven or pan and roast/toast for 15 more minutes.

and, of course… NEWS FROM THE TWO-DOG KITCHEN:  
Thanks for a great visit, Suzy ; I loved making the cake.  The dogs enjoyed you, too!!
Sing a new song and bake a new cake, Alyce