Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes with Leeks and Thyme

I just pulled this big bunch of leeks from my garden! (BTW, leeks appear to be another crop that thrives on benign neglect!) 

Now the big question is -- do I wait until next week to make these delicious potatoes with leeks and thyme for Thanksgiving dinner? ... or, do I make them tomorrow, because I just can't wait?

The first time I made them was a test for a cooking class. It was love at first bite, especially the smooth, sublime flavor of leeks sauteed in butter, punctuated with fresh thyme -- not at all brash or pungent, as onions or garlic can sometimes be. 

The cooking class students who have made them since then also love them, including how easy they are to prepare. It is always very satisfying too get emails a few days after a class, saying they actually prepared the entire menu to rave reviews at home -- especially the mashed potatoes!

During this busy holiday season, isn't it nice to have a recipe that is just a little bit different and special for company dinner? These potatoes will not steal the show from Tom Turkey, but they will add to the enjoyment of the meal -- including that of the smart cookie, who prepares them ahead of time!

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes with Leeks and Thyme
adapted from Gourmet magazine
3 pounds russet (baking) potatoes (about 6) 
6 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), sliced and chopped, washed well, and drained
4-6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, minced (or 1- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme) 
1 1/2 cups half-and-half (or combination of milk with half-and-half or heavy cream, as desired) 

In an large pot, combine potatoes with cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring water to a boil and simmer potatoes until tender, 35-45 minutes. While potatoes are cooking, in a heavy skillet cook leeks in 4 tablespoons of butter over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Stir in thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Drain potatoes in a colander and return to pot. Dry potatoes over low heat, shaking kettle for 1 minute. Cool potatoes just until they can be handled and remove skins. While potatoes are still warm, mash by hand, until smooth, but with small chunks remaining. In a small saucepan, heat milk and cream until mixture just comes to a boil. Stir milk mixture into potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Spread potato mixture in a buttered 4-quart shallow baking dish. Cover and chill potato mixture for 1-2 days - improving flavor and saving time.  Preheat oven to 350° F. Dot potato mixture with more butter and bake, covered with foil, in middle of oven, until heated through and butter is melted, about 15 minutes.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hummus -- Ho-hum to Yum

Hello again!

After devoting a few months to my "special project" I'm beginning to ease back into other things like ... I took a big walk on the wild side recently and made my own hummus. I know! I'm sure I'm the last person on earth to make it myself instead of buying it already prepared and, yes, it is kind of embarrassing, but maybe it's happened to you too.

You know how sometimes you mean to try making a recipe for something you like and it seems simple and you really would enjoy eating it a little more often, but for some reason you just never get around to it? Well, that's my story with hummus.

Well, that and the somewhat ho-hum flavor of plain old hummus, but after I got over wanting it to have a bigger flavor and finally accepted it for what it is -- a deliciously light, healthy, nutritious, easy-to-make food that can be used in oh-so-many ways, I was ready to make it myself. It's hummus and that ho-hum flavor is part of it's charm. And it's also an invitation to make it yourself - creating a personal hummus statement that pays homage to the "centuries old taste" or embraces bigger, bolder flavors to add a little personality-punch. Goodness knows, I love to tinker with a recipe.

The ingredients are easy enough to keep on hand. OK, I confess I didn't keep tahini around before making hummus myself, but when I found it available in small amounts at my co-op, I was much more inclined to give it a small space in the fridge. And while I admit I don't mind the addition of tahini, I don't miss it if left out, especially if I add garlic, roasted peppers, olives, basil, cumin or a big squeeze of lemon. Now that's some good eating!

As a dip with pita wedges and raw vegetables, hummus can't be beat. My favorite though, is to spread it all over a plate and top it with a mountain of tender crisp vegetables, roasted to a light golden brown for a caramelized crunch. Our local vegetarian/vegan restaurant, the Longbranch Coffeehouse, serves this and calls it Vegetable Kalaya. I'm not sure what "kalaya" means, but since I've just gotten around to making my own hummus, it could be a while before I look it up. I just know it is delicious and a great way for me to eat smart - er.

What's your favorite hummus recipe or dish? I would love to try other versions, now that I've taken the plunge.

And FYI, I am beginning to like the flavor of fresh chopped cilantro added to some of the new foods I enjoy. Either it doesn't taste like soap anymore (but it still kinda does), or I've just learned to like soapy herbs. Yeah, I even like to keep a bunch in the fridge. It definitely is an "old dog, new trick" sort of thing for me!

Hmmm, I wonder what's next? 

A deliciously light hummus with sour cream or yogurt plus lemon juice for a bright flavor balance. For a little more depth of flavor, feel free to adjust the proportions and make additions to suit your own tastes. So easy! 

1 can (15 oz.) garbanzo beans (chickpeas) rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons sour cream or plain yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoon good extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tahini
2 teaspoons minced garlic
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1-2 tablespoons water, if needed

Place all ingredients (except water) into a food processor. Pulse several times to chop garbanzos and mix ingredients and then process for several minutes for desired creamy texture. Stop processing a couple of times to scrape sides of bowl, as necessary. If mixture is too thick, drizzle in a little of the extra water, while continuing to process. Feel free to vary the proportions to accent your favorite flavor ingredients. Makes about 2 cups. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Good Morning Muffins

Hello there! How have you been?

Me? A little Pinterest pinning, of course. And learning new recipes. Mostly discovering new things, reorganizing old things, re-prioritizing important things. Food blogging time has ended up on the back burner for a while. Just the natural ebb and flow of life.

Beautiful tablescapes
May meant a trip to Oxford, MS for a perfect weekend wedding. A.m.a.z.i.n.g. weather -- mild temps and low humidity. I'm all about dry, fluffy hair and crisp linen outfits. Absolutely beautiful rehearsal dinner under a tent on the lawn at William Faulkner's home, Rowan Oak, followed by a simply elegant wedding and lively reception Lots of Southern food at every event and two good restaurant discoveries. A visit to the famous Square Books nurtured the bibliophile in me -- I just love it there! I never would have guessed I was in normally hot and drippy Mississippi over Memorial Day weekend. A truly marvelous Mississippi weekend.

Two days - two bracelets
I was in New Hampshire in June to learn beading from a friend of a friend who visits once a year and is an accomplished bead weaver -- an a.m.a.z.i.n.g bead weaver, in fact. Two friends came along for a delightful learning opportunity and a relaxing great time with old and new friends -- and eating lobster!

Summer is also prime time for company at Prairie Wood. Fourth of July was the 9th annual cookout for my family and my dear friend Robin and all of her family -- two lifelong friends, two families and forty of us for the four generation Fourth! Beautiful weather, good food and lots of fun, as usual.

Granny glasses would look better
Also in July, I had a makeover. I was channeling my inner child of the 70s for a few weeks -- but not because I thought wearing a bandana would make me young again. I had another little kissed-by-the-sun spot removed on the top of my head. Sixteen stitches! Put a hat on your children and grandchildren every single day -- sunscreen in your hair is too messy. Lucky for me I live in a college town and there are more than a few hippies left from my bandana-sporting college years, so I was not as noticeable as I might have been elsewhere. Anyway, the stitches and bandana are gone now, but I'm left with a tender pink spot on top of my head that will always require a cover -- or bandana -- when I go outside.  

Annual 17th Street Barbecue dinner
August means the annual visit with our good friends Dannie and Bill from NC. Cooking, eating, talking, laughing, Pinterest pinning, Etsy shopping, beading, pool floating, Martini Lounging with the neighbors, -- and an unseasonably mild August night, complete with a fire for S'mores. Also a day trip to St. Louis jammed packed with something for everyone -- Lumiere casino, Viviano's Market on The Hill, Lady Bug Beads and the Apple store. Last stop -- a meet-up with #1-son and his girlfriend for dinner at The Block in Webster Groves -- a butcher shop and a restaurant in one ... more delicious details to share soon!

Otherwise -- I've been creating a healthier lifestyle with all that a change for the better involves. Making the commitment and learning to create new healthy, palate pleasing meals. Time consuming. Mind boggling sometimes.

Room for new smaller sizes
Good news - lots of great blogs with tons of delicious ideas just a click away. Down side -- lots of great healthy eating and lifestyle bloggers are already out there. Not necessarily a place where my novice voice has much to add. Up side -- I'm content to try new recipes, stay focused, track my progress and enjoy each and every subtle change and measurable success. Best news - while learning to navigate that old-dog-new-tricks conundrum, I've revisited the less-is-more philosophy. It's so very satisfying to have to downsize clothes twice in one season and it's been a great incentive for clearing out and reorganizing my closet!

And even though I may not have been blogging about everything on Cora Cooks, I've added new dishes to my culinary repertoire, new crafts have been attempted and old ones rediscovered. Staying busy at something not food related is definitely key to a healthier lifestyle success.

Today I suddenly decided it was time to share a little - beginning with some really good muffins. I have been making them almost every week and they have become part of the new line-up for breakfast, but are even good enough for a snack or dessert too. Dense, chewy, moist, fruity, easy, convenient to store and microwave-reheatable, without turning into little hockey pucks. Best of all -- they are only 4 or 5 Points Plus (P+) for Weight Watchers (WW), depending on optional additions. And I haven't even touched on all the options! Nuts! -- why haven't I tried nuts?

That's just a bit about what's up around here. I know some serious make-a-living-blogging friends would not agree with taking such a long leave of absence from blogging, but it's not a job for me -- it's journaling, exploring, contemplating and connecting. And along with the less-is-more lifestyle, I firmly believe in letting enough be good enough for me.

So if it's OK with you, I'll just ease back into blogging with more healthy lifestyle cooking, the occasional special treat recipe and some creative non-food crafting and shared thoughts. Maybe I'll add some books I'm reading or would like to read. Anything is possible. Clearly, I have not lost my ability to create a too-long post.

For now, I'll just share these muffins, as evidence that I am alive and well ... and still cooking. I think I'm going to have to add food photography skills to my list of lifestyle improvements after seeing this picture. Instagram small screen photos are so much more forgiving.

More to come.

Good Morning Muffins

My Basic Muffins:
2 cups All-Bran cereal
1 ¼ cups skim milk
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 mashed banana
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

My Optional Additions*:
½ cup shredded carrots
½ cup dried cherries
¼ cup dried, shredded coconut
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix All-Bran and milk in a small bowl; let stand for 10 minutes. Stir All-Bran and milk mixture; add egg whites, vanilla, applesauce, banana and brown sugar; mix thoroughly. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking soda, kosher salt and cinnamon. Add shredded carrots, dried cherries, coconut and optional chocolate chips to flour mixture and toss to coat. Add dry ingredients to All-Bran mixture; stir just until blended. Spoon muffin batter into greased muffin tin. I use Baker's Joy to spray. I also use and ice cream scoop to put batter into muffin pan. Bake for 15 - 17 minutes. Test with toothpick to be sure they are baked through. Allow muffins to cool. Store In a zip bag in refrigerator or freezer. Microwave for 30 second if refrigerated, or a bit longer if frozen. Makes 12 regular muffins.

 *5P+ as written here. To choose your own favorite optional ingredients, remember to re-calculate the recipe for Weight Watcher Points Plus.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Homage to Cheddar Bay

There they were in my email. A recent post by Brown Eyed Baker for Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits made at home, from scratch no less.

I rarely eat at Red Lobster, but even I know about the just-one-more-I-promise power of these appe-teasing biscuits.

And I rarely bake, thus limiting my desire to consume all manner of miraculous transformations of flour, sugar and fat. Life is just easier if the temptation is not there!

But sometimes ... it just has to be done. After a day of Pinterest probing and pinning and some long overdue email thinning, dinner was going to be a big bowl of boiled and chilled shrimp with homemade cocktail sauce and some large portabella mushrooms, stuffed with spontaneously chosen ingredients and baked. Then I saw these tempting biscuits from BEB and I had to join the legions of my fellow bloggers who have made them before me.

I liked the fact that BEB's Michelle took the time to create her biscuits from scratch, rather than using a packaged biscuit mix. The result is so light and tender and flaky and garlicky and cheesy and warm and  ... well, you get the picture. And, of course, I made a couple of minor tweaks of my own, out of necessity and being careful not to stray too far from the successful ratio of the BEB's wet-dry-fat formula.

Imagine my lack of surprise to find I had no buttermilk on hand. Therefore, I mixed up some 2% milk with a tablespoon of white vinegar -- and it worked fine. The garlic powder jar was no help either, but I did locate a jar of "granulated" garlic and subbed it in equal amounts -- and it worked fine too. For all I know, it is nothing more than garlic powder, but "granulated" gives it a bit more panache, don't you think. And I'm still trying to figure out why a woman without garlic powder or buttermilk would have a big bunch of fresh Italian parsley in the fridge -- but I did. So there!

My Favorite Husband at three biscuits! And they're nice sized at that! I, on the other hand, only ate one ... OK, two ... but only because I am making myself count WWP+ and I was afraid to see the point count for three biscuits. I was also afraid to see the total for two, but that did not occur to me until after the second one was history. Love the flexibility of WW and those weekly points to use at my discretion -- or in this case, indiscretion.

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon granulated garlic (or powder)
4 ounces (1 cup) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup, minus 1 tablespoon, cold milk
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 cup unsalted butter

Brush-on Topping:
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoon fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic (or powder)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a non-stick baking mat.

In a large bowl, measure the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, kosher salt and granulated garlic. Stir in the shredded cheddar cheese.

Melt the 1/2 cup unsalted butter and cool for about 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, stir together the cold milk and vinegar. Add the melted butter and stir until the butter begins to form small clumps.

Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and blend with a rubber spatula until all the dry ingredients are completely incorporated and just until the mixture forms into dough.

Use cooking spray or cooking oil to grease a 1/4-cup measuring cup. Scoop the dough with the cup and drop onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, keeping about an inch between the balls of dough. Bake the biscuits about 12 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

While the biscuits are baking, melt the remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons of butter for the topping. Add the chopped parsley and granulated garlic; stir until well blended.

Remove the biscuits from the oven and brush the tops immediately with the butter mixture. Allow the biscuits to sit for about 5 minutes before serving. You can store leftovers in an airtight container of zip bag for 2-3 days -- if they last that long!

Makes 10 (7pt+) biscuits, but could make 12 (6pt+), if using a smaller scoop.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mini Corn Dog Muffins - Food for Fun

Sometimes food is just so cute and so simple and, more importantly -- so much FUN! 

If you've seen them on Pinterest and found yourself remembering corn dogs at the state fair, then you need to know that these cute little corn dog muffins taste just like the deep-fried state fair dogs on a stick. No fuss, no muss and no vat of fat!

I used a little box of my favorite fast and easy cornbread mix and spooned the batter into prepared mini muffin pans. Next I sliced some hot dogs into 1-inch pieces and gently pressed the pieces into the muffin batter. Into the oven they went to bake for just a few minutes. 

Of course, your favorite homemade cornbread recipe should work just fine, but I might suggest adding just a spoonful of sugar to give the batter a more authentic fair flavor.

Slather on a little mustard, or ketchup if you must, but make mine mustard, please. Ketchup is for french fries and mustard is for corn dogs.

But ... follow all the rules and you will miss all the fun! Like the also perfect pairing of french fries and mayonnaise.

Chili and corn dogs are the perfect pair to warm up winter's chill. And it's OK to give into temptation -- spear them on a fork and plunge them into the chili

For the whole state fair in February experience, you know what's for dessert, don't you -- Fiddlesticks, of course! 

Save gourmet for another day.

Today is for food for fun and fun for food!


Cornbread Recipe or Mix
2 - 3 Hot Dogs
Mustard and Ketchup, if desired

Preheat oven and prepare muffin pans according to cornbread recipe or mix instructions. Spoon into muffin pan so each is about 1/2 - 2/3 full. Slice hot dogs into 1-inch pieces and place one into the center of each muffin. Bake according to directions, until slightly browned on top. Serve alone or with chili or soup.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Ukrainian Beet Salad

Not long ago, we had a visit from, Jerry & Sally and Mike & Libba, good friends from MFH's earliest days with the airlines.

MFH was a new-hire at Eastern Airlines when he was jump-seating back home to California from Miami one day to visit us. Jerry was a pilot on the flight and, as soon as he discovered MFH was a new-hire recently assigned to Boston, Jerry called for a flight attendant to come up to the cockpit. That flight attendant was Sally and, as it turned out, she had a house not far from the airport in Boston, where she rented rooms to pilots in need of temporary lodging.

Are you keeping up?

So, MFH was flying home to California for Grant's first birthday. When he arrived, he was excited to see us, of course -- but he was most eager to share his good news. He told me he had found a place to live in Boston that we could actually afford, while I stayed in California, working and trying to sell our house. When he got back to Boston, he would be moving in with a flight attendant -- and -- I was really going to like her.

I promise! That is exactly what he said! Do I really need to tell you that I was a little less than excited.

All I could think of was the book Coffee, Tea or Me?, written by Trudy Baker in the late 60s and, by the way, still available from Amazon used books for $.02 -- which is just about what I thought the future of our marriage was worth at that moment!

There I was, taking care of a house, a pool, a baby and a fulltime job -- which btw was supporting our little family during this career change -- while he, apparently, was off in Miami, being indoctrinated into a lifestyle that seemed to be ... well ... just a little different than I expected! And then, this BOMBSHELL!

He was moving in with a flight attendant.

And that was supposed to be a good thing!

Because I would LIKE her?

We were most certainly at the beginning of the end!

As it turns out ... and damn lucky for him too ... he was right about Sally. Renting a room from her was the perfect way to begin his airline career and make friends. There were so many people in and out of her house all the time that he soon knew lots of pilots and a few flight attendants too. And almost always had someone to share meals with, which is important when you travel for a living.

And he was also right about me liking her. Sally has become a dear friend. We love the same things -- shopping, decorating and cooking. She is probably the best cook I know -- absolutely fearless in the kitchen, whether cooking for one or one hundred, and is devoted to fresh ingredients, impeccable seasoning and uncomplicated preparation.

So back to her visit and the salad she made for dinner one night.

This salad recipe is one Sally learned from Annya, a Ukrainian exchange student who came to live with them for a year, as a high school student in 1994. Well, since then, she has graduated from high school and college, gotten a job, gotten married and is now a U.S. citizen -- but that's a story for another day. Annya has shared several family recipes with Sally over the years and we're always happy to sample them and get a taste of Ukraine. I'll admit, the idea of mixing these ingredients does sound a little unusual at first, but we were pleasantly surprised to find the odd combination made for a delicious new way to enjoy fresh beets. And that's a good thing for beet lovers and a nice change of pace from a lettuce salad.

Note to self: Ask Annya if they really use Hellman's mayonnaise in Ukraine, or that's just Sally's adaptation.

2 ½ lbs. fresh beets (2 ½ cups roasted shredded beets)
½ cup chopped prunes
½ cup chopped toasted walnuts
¼ cup sour cream
¼ Hellman’s mayonnaise
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash beets; coat with olive oil, salt and pepper and place on baking sheet. Roast in oven for 2 – 2 ½ hours. Cool beets and remove skins. Grate beets into medium size bowl; add chopped prunes and toasted walnuts. Mix sour cream and mayonnaise and stir into beets. Salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until serving.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Potato Pavé

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Potato Pavé. 

Well, I don't give it to you, exactly. Someone gave it to me. I'm sharing it with you, in a journalistic and photographic way. 

Well, in a cell phone photographic way, since I did not anticipate the successful results and was not properly prepared to take a well-lighted kitchen shot. I just reached for my trusty iPhone and took a quick one without white lights, my Canon or a tripod.

This all began when my neighbor, Jim, showed up at my door the other day with a chilled, foil-wrapped brick in hand. He told me I was in for a treat and instructed me on the preparation of the potato brick. 

I waited until My Favorite Husband returned home from a trip and then pulled two Allen Bros. filets from the freezer - thanks, again, Steve and Lisa - to serve with the potatoes. Or maybe that should be the other way around ... I served the potatoes with the steaks.

As instructed by Jim, I brought up Martha Stewart's website and located her feature of the Thomas Keller recipe for this classic French preparation for Pomme Pavé. 

Heavy cream, very thinly sliced potatoes and cubes of butter are layered in a pan and chilled. After chilling, the potato slab is sliced into smaller bricks. The bricks are then placed, very carefully, in a skillet with oil, crushed garlic and fresh thyme leaves and sauteed until crispy brown. The potato brick is then flipped over, careful as you go again, and crisped on the second side.

Voila! Potato Pavé. 

Let me assure you that my ease in preparing my potato bricks is due to Jim's careful preparation of Thomas Keller's recipe from his cookbook, The French Laundry Cookbook. The recipe is not complicated, but the success is in the detail. My only contribution / alteration to the process was using light olive oil, rather than the canola oil called for in Keller's recipe. Sorry, but canola oil leaves a weird aftertaste in my mouth.

I was torn between using a cast iron pan or heavy aluminum non-stick. In the end, I chickened out and went with the non-stick, but a well-seasoned cast iron would be my choice next time. I'll also cut them into smaller bricks, perhaps 2-inches square. I'll probably use a mandolin to slice the potatoes too. Jim's knives and knife skills are way better than mine, so the mandolin will give the thin and even slice required.

The potatoes paired perfectly with the Allen Bros. filets. That was my idea, and perfectly executed, as well, I must say. More on that later.

If you are looking for something delicious to prepare for a special occasion, especially for meat and potato lover, I can highly recommend Potato Pavé. I'm not sure Jim delivers everywhere though, so you and Thomas Keller's recipe are on your own. It's a little over six weeks until Valentine's Day, just in case you want time to make a trial run.

Let me also suggest it might be a good idea to prepare them a day ahead, or at least several hours, and keep refrigerated until time to saute. My brick sat in the refrigerator for a couple of days and worked beautifully. The rest is, as they say, easy ... and delicious!