May 25, 2010

I'll Just Take The Salad, Please

Here's a fast and easy recipe for a delicious salad to take to a potluck supper . . . family reunion picnic . . . neighborhood  barbecue . . . whatever!

I asked my mother to make Layered Salad last weekend as her dish to take to the big family graduation party for my niece Megan.

 Scroll down to see what's underneath all this Swiss cheese

I love this salad! It always feeds an army, so it is a little over the top for everyday dinner at our house these days.

Although, if there are any leftovers, just seal the bowl again with plastic wrap and it's really tasty the next day!

And I guess it wouldn't be impossible to reduce the ingredients to make a smaller salad.

But this is the size we used to make to feed the eight people assembled around the table for our family meals when I was still living at home . . .

You do remember I grew up with five younger brothers, don't you?

There are probably thousands of recipes floating around out there with variations for layered salad. That's usually what happens when something becomes a popular take-along dish.

But this is the best one I've ever tasted -- maybe because it was the first.

I don't know . . . it's just really good . . .  and summery . . . and feeds a lot of people . . . and is easy to make!

Thank goodness for pre-shredded Swiss cheese!

LAYERED SALAD
big bunch of salad greens (your choice of fresh spinach with stems removed, romaine and/or iceberg - or 2-3 bags of salad greens, if you prefer)
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
1 lb. bacon, crisp-cooked and chopped
16 oz. frozen green peas - uncooked
1 large bunch green onions, sliced (or 1 thinly sliced purple or Vidalia onion)
1 c. mayonnaise
1 c. sour cream
16 oz. shredded Swiss cheese
1 large clear glass salad bowl that will show off all the salad layers

Wash and dry salad greens; chop or tear into bite-size pieces. Combine mayonnaise and sour cream in a small bowl and whisk to blend; set aside. Place 1/2 of the salad greens in and even layer in the bottom of the glass bowl. Place the hard boiled egg slices in a layer over the salad greens -- use all the eggs. Spread a layer of chopped bacon pieces over the eggs. Add the remaining 1/2 of the salad greens. Spread the frozen peas over the salad greens. Spread onions over the frozen peas. Spread the mayonnaise-sour cream mixture completely over the last layer, covering completely to the sides of the bowl. Sprinkle the shredded Swiss cheese as the final layer. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to seal tightly. Refrigerate until time to serve. Easily serves a large group. Excellent for potluck dinners. Dig down to get all the good stuff!
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May 16, 2010

Finally, Granola Bars I Can Sink My Teeth Into!

Today I decided to make some granola bars. I've looked at recipes for some time now, but never managed to actually bake any of them.

I tried to make them once before and the result was inedible little bricks of gooey, sticky bleck!

Then I saw an episode of the Barefoot Contessa last week and she was making granola bars.

"I guess it's time to give it another go," I said to myself and to Ina, who didn't appear to be listening.

I rooted through the pantry and gathered all the ingredients -- all things I had on hand. And there they sat for a few more days.

I'm not sure what that's about.

Commercially prepared granola bars do nothing for me. But I do like oatmeal, and nuts, and dried fruit, and now that I've finally developed a taste for honey, I keep thinking there must be a great tasting homemade granola bar that would work for a quick breakfast or snack on the go.

Something softer than a brick, and less tacky than flypaper. Something I could actually chew!

Simple ingredients, with no unnecessary preservatives and fillers.

As I set out with the BC recipe, I thought about how my friend Debbie/Deb/Debra shudders in disbelief every time she reads that I am making a BC recipe. I believe she characterizes them as facile -- lacking depth of flavor or nuance.

And something about Ina's laugh seems to irritate her.

Really? I like Ina!

Her recipes call for ingredients that are straight-forward and readily available -- even here in my little hamlet. The preparation requires a very manageable investment in time. It is cooking for cooks, not chefs, but the results are reliable and pleasing.

I like that too!

OK, there might be just a little more to my personal affection for Ina.

I suspect if I colored my chin-length-bob-with-bangs-swept-to-the-side, and put on one of my "signature" outfits -- black pants, knit top and tailored cotton big-shirt -- you probably couldn't tell us apart.

At least, not until we laughed. Where Ina's laugh is polite and restrained -- very TV-like, mine is jolly and tending toward boisterous. Not one ounce of restraint when I laugh!

I may not live in the Hamptons, or have a band of tall, good-looking, merry men at my beck and call, but . . .

I, too, have a pretty nice place to call home, a large group of talented and lovable family and friends who are willing to gather 'round my table at a moment's notice. They bring flowers, and honey from their own hives, and homemade breads, and pies, and homegrown asparagus and tomatoes, and thoughtful little treasures for my kitchen, garden and home.

And I love to cook for them too.

So Ina's shtick works for me, and so do her recipes.

No apologies.

You can find Ina's recipe for Homemade Granola Bars on the Food Network website, if you don't have access to a copy of her Back To Basics cookbook. I won't print it here because of that copyright stuff, but I will show you the tempting photo essay below.

 All the ingredients, except the butter, which was still in the fridge.
This is where you insert the picture I forgot to take 
of oatmeal, almonds and coconut ready to toast
to a golden brown.


Aha, there's that butter, ready bubble up with the 
honey and brown sugar.


Oh! And here's the toasted oatmeal, coconut and almonds afterall, 
topped by some wheat germ!


See how the golden glow of artificial kitchen lights 
washes over the apricots, dates and craisins.

Mixing the oatmeal stuff with the honey stuff 
and the dried fruit stuff.


Dumping the sticky, gooey stuff into a buttered 
and parchment-lined baking dish.


Press the sticky, gooey stuff into the parchment-lined baking dish -- 
wet your hands first, so they don't get stuck!


Baked to a golden brown (at 300 degrees), turned out and 
cooled for a few hours, so the sticky, gooey stuff sets up.


All cut up -- using the half, half, half, half, half, half, half . . .  
and one more half method -- and presto, sixteen nice even pieces.

 And finally -- the artsy shot of a homemade granola bar!
Mmmmmm . . . 

And now, the results . . .

. . . taste is good . . .  

. . . method is good . . .

. . . texture is chewy good . . .

. . . could be just what I'm looking for . . .

. . . with a tiny bit of tweaking, or personalization, if you will . . . 

. . . a little more salt, a good bit more vanilla, a little more coconut, some nuts with bigger flavor -- perhaps roughly chopped pieces of whole toasted almonds, pecans, walnuts or cashews even -- and maybe just one or two fruits, instead of three -- just apricots and cherries maybe?

I'm not even ruling out a few chocolate chips!

Just a thought.

I will definitely make them again. Fast, easy, tasty, chewy -- a very nice homemade granola bar
 
Great for breakfast, a snack, or munching out of the trails.

Yikes! What am I saying?

Me hiking?

Now that's funny! Worthy of a big, loud, jolly laugh!

You're laughing with me -- right?

BTW - I calculated the calories for the entire recipe -- it's just something I do when I'm keeping track of my healthy eating -- and following the recipe to the letter, cutting them into sixteen bars, the total calorie count per bar is 255.

May 13, 2010

Fresh, Ripe and Ready - Enjoy Locally Grown Fruits and Vegetables

SEASON TO TASTE
(my monthly food column for Heartland Women)
May 2010

Every year I promise myself I will have my accumulated must-try recipes all organized by season and ready to go when I need them – like when the good stuff starts showing up at the Farmers’ Market. Once I realized my tastes and cravings were governed by the four seasons, it seemed like a no-brainer to develop a similar system for my recipes. So far, though, the must-try’s remain in seasonally sorted stockpiles, just waiting to be hole-punched and loaded into colorful binders.

My intention is to have a binder for each season – once I finish sorting, punching and inserting my files. And, of course, the binders will be color-coded. I’m thinking fresh green for spring, sunny yellow for summer, harvest orange for fall, and snowy white for winter.

At the risk of having you think I’m completely crazy – the color thing sounds a little over the top, I know – I do already have something of a binder system for keeping track of recipe files that has evolved through the years, so I know it will work. The colored binders are handier for quick identification – really, they are!

I began collecting recipes, like most new cooks of my era, with cute, hand-written cards, kept in matching recipe file boxes. When that system became overloaded and unwieldy, the cute cards were installed into cute photo albums, with clear plastic sleeves for individual photos/recipe cards. Flipping through pages was faster and easier than thumbing through file boxes of cards, and the recipes stayed neater.

The first of the true binders appeared one day when I couldn’t manage the loose file for all those newspaper clippings and magazine tear outs of recipes I wanted to try – my own magazines, not those in waiting rooms, of course! All I had to do was punch holes in large pages and place smaller pages inside clear plastic pocket pages. Brilliant!

Now there are several binders and currently they are organized by category of food – from appetizers to dessert. Several categories even have subcategories. And there is also a binder for holidays for quick reference to Thanksgiving and Christmas. It works well, but there is a further refinement of this system that calls out to me as the next generation of binder organization.

For the past few years, I’ve continued to collect clippings and print out recipes from the Internet, but they languish in tipsy stacks and not in binders. I’ve decided the whole system needs an overhaul, to include a necessary purge of anything that just doesn’t sound that appealing anymore. The stacks are being sorted into seasons, which I now find to be the most helpful way to simplify the way I cook, write and teach cooking classes. After the loose stacks are finished, then work begins on the categorical binders. The whole recipe system is going seasonal!

I may be obsessive about all this, but I do acknowledge that few cooks maintain such an extensive recipe resource. With that understanding, I’ve culled through my own messy collection to present some of my top choices for this very month, with its first of the season fresh produce. And by top choices, I mean those with the most likelihood of making it into my personal test kitchen rotation this year, and a chance to become enshrined in Tried-and-True Blue binder! Oh, yes, there is really a blue binder for the all-time favorites.

Whether you are a home gardener, food forager, or a Farmers’ Market lover – and no matter what system you use to file away recipes to try – these are the top ten fresh foods that should be available locally during the next few weeks. And these recipes are some of the most promising I’ve found for each one. I’m on my way to pick out those new binders and finally get things organized!

SEASONAL PRODUCE FOR MAY
Asparagus
Beets
Carrots
Greens
Herbs
Lettuces
Morels
Radishes
Rhubarb
Spinach
Strawberries

ASPARAGUS WITH PARMESAN AND LEMON ZEST
1 lb. medium-size fresh asparagus
Very good extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly grated lemon zest
Salt and pepper

Wash asparagus spears and trim tough part from bottom of stalks. Slice diagonally into 2-in. pieces. Cook asparagus briefly, by your favorite method (boil, steam, stir-fry, or roast) until hot, but still slightly crunchy. While still warm, toss asparagus with olive oil, Parmesan cheese and lemon zest. Serve immediately, or hold and serve at room temperature.
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ASPARAGUS & PROSCIUTTO ROLLS
12 asparagus spears
4 large sheets phyllo dough, thawed
12 slices prosciutto, thinly sliced
12 pieces sharp cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
4 tbsp. salted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Have bowl of ice water on hand. In a pot of boiling, salted water, cook asparagus for one minute. Transfer to ice water with slotted spoon. Once cool, transfer to paper towels to drain; pat dry. Lay first phyllo sheet on cutting board; brush entire surface with melted butter. Top with next phyllo sheet and brush with butter; repeat with remaining two sheets. Cut into 12 smaller rectangles. Place one piece of prosciutto and cheddar on each rectangle. Place asparagus spears on top with tips extending beyond edges. Roll phyllo around asparagus spears and brush with additional butter. Place rolls on baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden. Serve warm.
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BARLEY RISOTTO WITH ASPARAGUS
5 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups barley
1 cup dry white wine
1 lb. asparagus, cut diagonally into 1-in. pieces
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Warm the broth in a small saucepan over low heat. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 mins. or until soft. Add the garlic and cook 1 min. more. Add the barley and cook, stirring, for 2 mins.. Stir in the wine and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 3 mins. Add the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring occasionally and waiting until it is absorbed before adding more. Add the asparagus with the last 1/2 cup of broth and cook until tender. It should take 30 to 35 minutes for all the broth to be absorbed. Remove from heat, season with the salt and pepper, and stir in the Parmesan. Spoon into individual bowls.
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BUTTERED BEETS WITH SPRING HERBS
10 medium beets (about 2 inches in diameter) rinsed, tops trimmed
1 cup water
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives or green onion tops
1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
2 tsp. minced fresh tarragon
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 375°F. Arrange beets in single layer in 13 x 9 x 2-in. baking dish; add 1 cup water. Cover and bake until beets are tender when pierced with knife, about 1 hour. Cool beets. Peel and cut into 1/2-in. wedges. Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add beets; stir until heated through. Mix in chives, parsley and tarragon, then vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.
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CARROT-WHEAT BERRY SALAD WITH CUMIN AND RAISINS
1 cup uncooked wheat berries
1 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
2 lbs. carrots, chopped
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2/3 cup golden raisins
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Place wheat berries and 1/2 tsp. salt in a medium saucepan; cover with water to 2 inches above wheat berries. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook, uncovered, 50 mins. or until the wheat berries are tender. Drain. Cook half of carrots in a large pot of boiling water 2 mins. or until tender-crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon. Rinse with cold water and drain. Repeat procedure with remaining carrots. Combine carrots and wheat berries in a large bowl; add 1 tsp. salt, juice, cumin, paprika, pepper, and garlic. Stir in the raisins and oil, and toss well to combine. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or until chilled. Sprinkle with the parsley and cilantro. Serves 8-10.
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ROASTED RADISHES
Fresh radishes – cleaned and trimmed
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash and trim radishes, but leave whole. Place radishes on a heavy baking sheet and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for about 40 mins., until slightly browned and softened. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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CHICKEN, GNOCCHI AND SPINACH SOUP
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp. flour
3 cup chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup grated fresh Parmesan
2 cup shredded fresh spinach leaves, stems removed
3 - 4 cups roasted chicken, torn into bite-size pieces
1 pkg. gnocchi, cooked as directed on package
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat large Dutch oven for 1 min. over medium heat. Add olive oil and diced onion; sauté until onion softens and is clear. Stir in garlic and cook for 30 seconds – do not brown garlic! Add flour; stir to blend and cook for a couple of minutes, but do not brown flour. Add chicken broth and stir with wire whisk to blend until there are no lumps and mixture is thickened. Add white wine and stir to blend. Once mixture is heated through, add Parmesan cheese and stir until melted. Mixture should be a creamy liquid – if not, add more chicken broth to thin to desired consistency. While liquid mixture is still very hot, add spinach shreds and cook until all spinach is wilted. Stir in chopped chicken and cooked gnocchi and heat through; add salt and pepper to taste and more liquid to thin, if necessary. Serve immediately.
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FRESH STRAWBERRY SORBET
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
4 cups quartered hulled fresh strawberries (about 18 oz.)
3 tbsp. fresh lime juice

Combine 1 cup water and sugar in medium saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 mins. Transfer to bowl and chill until cold. Purée quartered strawberries in food processor until smooth. Add lime juice and sugar syrup; process until blended. Chill mixture until cold, about 1 hour. Transfer strawberry mixture to ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. Spoon sorbet into container; cover and freeze until firm, about 4 hours. Can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept frozen until serving.
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STRAWBERRY RHUBARB CRISP
3 cups diced fresh rhubarb
1 ½ cup sliced fresh strawberries
1/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
Topping:
1 cup flour
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup Quick Quaker Oats
½ cup butter or margarine, melted

Place rhubarb and strawberries in a buttered 9-in. square pan. Mix them up. Sprinkle with sugar, flour and cinnamon. Combine ingredients for topping and sprinkle over the fruit mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 mins., or until golden brown. Serves 4-6.
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STRAWBERRY RHUBARB PUDDING CAKE
¼ cup water
1 ½ tsp. cornstarch
1/3 cup plus ½ cup sugar
2 cup chopped fresh rhubarb stalks (10 oz.)
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries (5 oz.)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 large egg
½ cup whole milk
½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter an 8-in. square glass or ceramic baking dish. Stir together water, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan; stir in rhubarb. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly; simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3 mins. Remove from heat and stir in strawberries. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl. Whisk together egg, milk, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl; whisk in flour mixture until just combined.
Reserve 1/2 cup fruit mixture, then add remainder to baking dish and pour batter over it, spreading evenly. Drizzle reserved 1/2 cup fruit mixture over batter. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center of cake portion comes out clean, 25 to 30 mins. Cool in pan on a rack 5 mins. before serving. Serves 6-8.
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May 11, 2010

Slow Cooker Beef and Barley Stew


Beef and Barley Stew is not something I would ordinarily prepare this time of year, but there are extenuating circumstances.

A cold front passed through here over the weekend and our spring temperatures took a dive.

A warm and comforting stew sounded so good.

And barley happens to be on the list of good foods to eat for one who suffers from Damp.

Not dripping wet damp, Traditional Chinese Medicine Damp.

Nobody wants Damp. I don't want Damp, but I have it.

And also, after weeks of being a stranger in my own kitchen, I just had to know.

So I threw the following ingredients into the slow cooker to create Beef and Barley Stew -- just what the keeper of ancient Chinese secrets ordered.

Fast and easy. Comforting. Delicious!

Damp-Be-Gone Beef and Barley Stew.

Now I know I've still got it!

It being the ability to create something good to eat from my own kitchen.

Oh, yeah, and Damp. But with a little barley magic, I won't have it much longer.

Stay tuned for more amazing revelations.


BEEF AND BARLEY STEW
1 lb. beef stew meat, cut into small cubes
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. seasoned salt
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 pkg. frozen diced carrots, celery and onions
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 cup barley, rinsed
1 pkg. brown gravy mix
4-6 cups water or beef broth
salt and pepper

Toss cubes of stew meat with flour and seasoned salt to coat. Heat olive oil in a skillet and brown beef cubes. Place frozen diced vegetables in a slow cooker with garlic and rinsed barley. Sprinkle brown gravy mix over vegetables. Add browned beef cubes and water and stir to blend. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours. Taste for seasoning; add salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook on medium, if meat and barley need more time to be tender.
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