All posts by LynnHoll

About LynnHoll

I have been an artist and designer all my life incorporating graphic design for websites, gardens, publications, fabrics, interior design and cooking. I am now retired from my professional job, but still create artistic visions in all forms on a daily basis.

Red Wine-Braised Brisket

How could it be that the two of us—avid and accomplished home chefs—had never cooked a brisket before? It actually dumbfounded us, and felt we needed to remedy this omission in our culinary repertoire. A Red Wine-Braised Brisket recipe from Bon Appétit, gave us a jumping off point.

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Mind you, their recipe called for a 5-pound brisket, way too big for the two of us. Instead we chose one half that size at 2 1/2 pounds and made numerous adjustments to most of the other ingredients, all of which are incorporated in our new recipe below.

You know those dishes that everyone says taste even better if you make them ahead of time? This is a perfect example. The flavors continue to deepen as the braise sits, and it’s that much easier to skim the surface when the sauce has a chance to chill—although there was no fat for us to skim! So go ahead and make it when you have a good chunk of time on your hands and then serve it during the week when you’re short on time, your family will thank you.

The depth of flavor was out of this world, and served with our side of Cider-and-Bourbon-Glazed Shallots, well it did temporarily transplant us to another universe, yes the meal was THAT good!

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You may notice in one of the photos that I added the carrots in Step 3, instead of waiting until the last 30 minutes of braising. It wasn’t until three hours into the process that I realized my mistake and figured the carrots would turn to mush so I prepped a few more bunches of baby (and I mean tiny) carrots and nestled them in as noted in Step 5. Interestingly, the original additions weren’t mushy at all, and I was glad we had the extra carrots for our leftovers later in the week.

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Red Wine-Braised Brisket

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 2 1/2-lb. untrimmed flat-cut brisket
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 celery stalks with leaves, cut into 3″ pieces
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leave
  • 1 14-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 bottle full-bodied red wine (375 ml)
  • 12-16 small carrots

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Season brisket with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat oil in a large ovenproof pot over medium-high. Cook brisket, turning occasionally, until browned all over, 8–10 minutes; transfer to a plate. Pour off fat from pot; discard.
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  3. Place onions, celery, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, tomatoes, tomato paste, and wine in pot and stir to combine; season with salt and pepper. Place brisket on top, fat side up.
  4. Cover and braise in oven, spooning juices, onions, and tomatoes over brisket every 30 minutes, until meat is fork-tender, 3–3 1/2 hours.
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  5. Uncover pot, nestle carrots around brisket, and cook until carrots are tender, top of brisket is browned and crisp, and sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes.
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  6. Skim fat from surface of sauce; discard.
  7. Remove brisket from pot and slice against the grain to serve.
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  8. Remove and discard thyme sprigs and bay leaf from sauce. Arrange sliced meat on serving plates and ladle sauce over each portion.
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NOTE: If not serving immediately, transfer brisket to a large bowl and pour braising liquid over; let cool in sauce. Cover and chill, at least 4 hours and up to 4 days. To serve, preheat oven to 325°. Skim fat from surface of sauce; discard. Cover and reheat brisket in sauce, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

http://www.lynnandruss.com

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Whole Wheat Apple Pecan Bread

Apples with walnuts are the more common pairing, but The Mr. detests them, claiming walnuts taste like soap. I personally like them especially in baked goods, but to keep the peace, pecans became the nut of choice for this recipe. And they do have some redeeming health benefits, such as monounsaturated fats which help reduce the risk of heart disease.

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In addition, since pecan nuts are fiber-packed, they improve digestion; are rich in magnesium which is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits; and are an excellent source of vitamin-E, vitamin-A, zinc, folate and phosphorous which play an important role in maintaining good skin. And let’s face it, they taste darn good too!

While on the subject of health, I incorporated whole wheat flour. When baking, you can replace part, but not all, of the all-purpose with whole wheat. Blending equal parts whole wheat flour with all-purpose flour lightens the finished product while maintaining the nutritional benefits of whole wheat. The end product has a slightly coarser texture and less volume, which I prefer.

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One slice with a schmear of butter (or maybe apple butter?) with your cuppa joe—or green tea in my case—makes for a perfect start on a busy morning…

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Whole Wheat Apple Pecan Bread

  • Servings: 1 loaf
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 2 Honeycrisp apples, peeled and chopped (yields about 2 cups)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup melted unsalted butter (melted and cooled)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped and divided

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Grease a loaf pan and set aside.
  3. In a small mixing bowl add the eggs, vanilla extract, melted butter and applesauce. Stir until completely combined. Mix in the sugars. Stir until combined.
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  4. In a large mixing bowl add the flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and cloves. Stir with a fork to combine. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
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  5. Add in the chopped apple and 3/4 cup of the pecans, stir.
  6. Pour dough into prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup pecans on top.
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  7. Bake for 45 minutes, top should be golden brown. Insert a toothpick in the center to test for doneness. The toothpick will come out clean with no dough stuck on it when it’s finished. If it doesn’t, continue baking for another 5 minutes and check again.
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  8. Allow bread to cool in pan for about 10 minutes. Turn upside down and remove bread loaf from pan and allow to cool completely on wire rack.
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NOTE: You can store covered at room temperature for four days. Afterward, store any leftovers in tightly sealed wrapping in the refrigerator. Slice and warm as needed.

 

Meatballs in Almond Sauce

Meatballs in Almond Sauce is a great party food served with little plates, or a substantial main course for six people. Taken from “Tapas” by Penelope Casas, the sauce of ground almonds in this dish creates a dense, flavorful coating, almost thick enough to eat with a fork.

According to Penelope, these meatballs come from Santa Maria del Paular, a hotel on the grounds of a Benedictine monastery. Guests are told to “respect the silence of the grounds” with this enclave being a welcome respite from the hectic world of Madrid, some 40 miles away. But you don’t have to travel to Spain to enjoy this wonderful Albondigas en Salsa de Alemendra tapa, just make them at home.

In the final step the sauce is supposed to thicken. Well that didn’t seem to be happening for me, I’m guessing it was because I used Spanish Marcona almonds (go figure), which tend to be a bit oilier than regular blanched almonds. So I removed the meatballs from the pot, added in some ground blanched almonds and boiled it for a few minutes to reduce the mixture. Luckily that worked and I slipped the meatballs back in.

The dish was our contribution to a party of eight about 25 minutes away. We placed them in an oven-safe serving dish wrapped with tinfoil, and gently reheated them upon arrival.

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Meatballs in Almond Sauce

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 13 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3/4 lb. ground beef
  • 3/4 lb. ground pork
  • 3/4 lb. ground veal
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 Tbsp. minced parsley
  • 2 1/2 tsp. salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 cup slivered blanched almonds
  • 1 3/4 cup beef broth
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 scallions, chopped

Directions

  1. Soak the bread crumbs in 1/4 cup of the white wine.
  2. Finely chop 3 cloves of garlic and combine with the bread crumbs, meat, eggs, 3 tablespoons of parsley and the salt and pepper. Form into ping-pong sized balls.
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  3. Heat the oil in a large shallow casserole. Sauté the meatballs until well browned on all sides. Remove to a warm platter.  (You may have to do this in several batches).
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  4. Add the onion and carrots to the casserole and sauté until the onion is wilted (add more oil if necessary).
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  5. Stir in the remaining cup of white wine and the other 10 cloves of garlic (halved if very large) and boil until most of the liquid has evaporated.
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  6. Meanwhile in a food processor grind the almonds as finely as possible.
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  7. With the blade running, pour in the beef broth very gradually. When well-mixed, add this mixture to the casserole, bring to a boil and add the remaining parsley, peas, bay leaf, scallions and more salt and pepper as needed.
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  8. Slip in the meatballs, gently mixing them around so they are coated with the sauce.  Cover and cook slowly for 45 minutes.
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These may be prepared ahead and gently warmed before serving.

http://www.lynnandruss.com

Whole-Grain Farfalle with Spicy Shrimp and Roasted Peppers

We love pasta and using a whole-grain variety somehow makes one feel a little bit better about consuming it. Here, the rustic pasta is enhanced with the mild sweetness of roasted peppers and shrimp, and the kick of a spicy garlic marinade. You can use jarred roasted peppers, if you like, but roasting your own will make the pasta tastier, especially if you make them a day ahead.

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To roast the peppers you can do so on a grill, under a broiler, or directly over a burner on a gas stove like I did. Once blackened all around, seal them in a ziploc bag for about 15-20 minutes, this will loosen the skin so you can easily sloth it off. Our box of whole-grain farfalle was only 8 ounces as opposed to 12, but it was more than enough for two of us with plenty of leftovers.

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I’ve mentioned many a time, that our broiler is sub-par and I wasn’t confident it would sear the shrimp properly so I used a skillet method (noted in the directions below). Doing this, I didn’t have to remove the shrimp from the marinade or pat them dry, lending more of the spicy flavor to the dish. Plus, the reserved pasta water wasn’t needed, saving yet another step. It is also much easier to flip the shrimp in a skillet then under a hot broiler, just sayin’ 😉

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Whole Grain Farfalle with Spicy Shrimp and Roasted Peppers

  • Servings: 4-5
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 5 medium cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 Fresno or other small fresh red chiles, cut into a few pieces (remove seeds and ribs for less heat)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed
  • 2 tsp. crumbled dried oregano
  • 2 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes; more to taste
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • Fine sea salt
  • 3 red bell peppers or a mixture of red and yellow, roasted, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 lb. extra-large shrimp (26 to 30 per lb.), preferably wildcaught, peeled and deveined
  • 12 oz. whole-grain farfalle
  • 4 oz. (1 cup) crumbled mild feta, preferably sheep’s milk
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 to 1-1/2 oz. (1 to 1-1/2 cups) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions

  1. In a food processor, pulse the garlic and chiles until finely chopped. Transfer to a medium bowl, and add the oil, oregano, Aleppo, cumin, and 1/2 tsp. salt; stir well with a fork to combine.
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  2. Transfer half of the mixture to another medium bowl and stir in the roasted peppers and vinegar.
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  3. Add the shrimp to the remaining marinade, gently toss to coat, and set aside to marinate for 15 minutes.
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  4. Meanwhile, position a rack 4 inches from the broiler element, and heat the broiler on high. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente.
  5. While the pasta cooks, lightly grease a large rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Remove the shrimp from the marinade, gently pat dry with paper towels, and place on the baking sheet. Broil, flipping once, until opaque throughout, 3 to 4 minutes total.
    OR Lynn’s Version: Heat a heavy-duty cast-iron or carbon steel skillet on medium-high and when hot, toss the shrimp, marinade and all into the pan. No need to add additional oil. Sear both sides of shrimp until opaque, turning once, 2-3 minutes total. I then aded everything to the skillet—minus the reserved pasta water, it wasn’t necessary—gently tossed and heated for another minute.
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  6. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and transfer to a large heated serving bowl. Add the peppers with the marinade, feta, parsley, and 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Gently toss with a large serving spoon for 1 minute to warm the feta, adding a bit more pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce. Season to taste with salt.
  7. Divide the pasta among heated shallow bowls. Sprinkle generously with the Parmigiano, and place 4 to 5 shrimp on top of each serving. Serve, passing more cheese at the table.
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http://www.lynnandruss.com

Adapted from a recipe by Maria Speck from Fine Cooking

Fudgy Layered Irish Mocha Brownies

It was the holidays so of course I had to raise the bar on dessert, right? Which is exactly what I did for a dinner we were invited to just days before Christmas. I usually bring an appetizer, but I was in the mood to take a walk on the sweet side of life with these Fudgy Layered Irish Mocha Brownies.

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But I elevated their status another tier or two with the green colored mocha layer—after all the name includes “Irish” and it was Christmas. Plus, a smattering of dark chocolate chips on top of the ganache takes it over the top, especially for chocolate lovers like the hostess Barb.

They are quite simple to make, but have to be assembled in three stages: the brownie layer, the mocha middle, and the ganache topping. Keep in mind, there is some refrigeration time after both the icing and the chocolate finale.

If sweet is your thing, then these brownies are for you… If you have any left after a couple of days, wrap tightly and refrigerate. Bring to room temp before serving again.

Fudgy Layered Irish Mocha Brownies

  • Servings: 16 brownies
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 6 tablespoons baking cocoa
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FROSTING:

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons Irish cream liqueur
  • Dab of green food coloring (optional)

GANACHE TOPPING:

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons Irish cream liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • 1 oz. dark chocolate chips or shaved chocolate (optional)

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Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Remove from heat; stir in cocoa, oil and instant coffee granules.
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  4. Cool slightly; stir in sugar and beaten eggs.
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  5. Gradually add flour mixture and vanilla; mix well.
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  6. Spread batter into a greased 8-in. square pan; bake until center is set (do not overbake), about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack.
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  7. For frosting, whisk together confectioners’ sugar and butter (mixture will be lumpy).
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  8. Gradually whisk in Irish cream liqueur and green food coloring if using; beat until smooth. Spread over slightly warm brownies.
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  9. Refrigerate until frosting is set, about 1 hour.
  10. Meanwhile, prepare ganache: Microwave all ingredients on high for 1 minute; stir. Microwave 30 seconds longer; stir until smooth. Cool slightly until ganache reaches a spreading consistency.
  11. Spread over frosting. Sprinkle on dark chocolate chips if using.IMG_0290
  12. Refrigerate until set, 45-60 minutes.
  13. Cut into 16 squares and serve plain or with ice cream.
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http://www.lynnandruss.com

Recipe found on TasteOfHome.com

 

Little Ears and Small Balls

Who doesn’t love meatballs, other than vegetarians of course? These little mini chicken meatballs will steal your heart not only because they are charmingly quaint and fit in your mouth in one easy bite, but also they taste fabulous! We have to thank Giada De Laurentiis for the Orecchiette with Chicken Meatballs recipe. (Orecchiette means “little ears” in Italian.)

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Now ground chicken can be somewhat difficult to handle. One trick I’ve learned is to keep a bowl of water at the ready so you can keep your fingers and palms moist as you roll the balls. If you have time or can make the mixture ahead, refrigerating it for a few hours can also make it easier, but it’s not necessary. I did not use any instrument other than my hands to form them—which made exactly 60 as the recipe indicated.

The second time I made them I took the suggestion of another reviewer and used chili garlic sauce instead of ketchup, which gives an ever-so-slightly spicy component rather than a sweet one—but that’s a personal preference.

The first go-around, the bocconcini mozzarella cheese ingredient was a bit of a mystery to us, as it was to the cheese monger at the store who also had never heard of it. So while we just bought a chunk of regular mozzarella, later we found out that Bocconcini, described by its Italian name which means small mouthfuls, are small mozzarella cheeses the size of an egg. We just diced our block into small cubes. The second time making this, I used the small mozzarella balls.

In the end, it was such a nice change to have a light, brothy sauce instead of a heavy one. And of course it will make a noticeable difference if you can incorporate homemade chicken stock as opposed to the boxed or canned store-bought varieties. But it’s not a deal breaker if you don’t have any because there is a lot of flavor in the meatballs themselves.

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Orecchiette with Mini Chicken Meatballs

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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Ingredients

  • 1 pound orecchiette pasta
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup (or chili-garlic sauce)
  • 3/4 cup grated Romano
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock, hot
  • 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 8 ounces bocconcini mozzarella, halved
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. (My orrechiette directions indicated 15-18 minutes, so go by your package instructions for al dente.)
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, eggs, milk, ketchup, Romano cheese, and the salt and pepper. Add the chicken and gently stir to combine.
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  3. Using a melon baller (or your hands), form the chicken mixture into 3/4-inch pieces. With damp hands, roll the chicken pieces into mini meatballs.
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  4. In a large (14-inch) skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the meatballs and cook without moving until brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Turn the meatballs over and brown the other side, about 2 minutes longer.
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  5. Add the chicken stock and tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to low and simmer until tomatoes are soft and meatballs are cooked through, about 5 minutes.
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  6. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water. Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl and add the Parmesan.
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  7. Toss to lightly coat orecchiette, adding reserved pasta water, if needed, to loosen the pasta. Add the meatball mixture, mozzarella cheese, and 1/2 cup of the basil. Gently toss to combine. Garnish with the chopped basil.
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http://www.lynnandruss.com

Adapted from a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis

A Mexican Twist to Leftover Chicken

Recently roast a chicken and have leftovers? Use the remaining meat, or buy a small rotisserie chicken at the supermarket—either way, you’ll have this Chicken Enchiladas with Salsa Verde dinner on the table in 30 to 45 minutes depending on your cooking method of choice.

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The following recipe details using the broiler, but as I’ve complained on numerous occasions, my broiler is a bit finicky to say the least, so I heated them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes until the cheese just starts to brown. But if you’re confident in your broiler’s abilities, go ahead and use that route, it’ll save you about 15 minutes.

Our cheese was a shredded Mexican mix with jalapeños and then I tossed in a bit of leftover shredded cheddar for an additional pop of color—and let’s face it, more cheese 😉 Meanwhile, you can make the side dish of Mexican Rice and Beans which take a total of 40 minutes to assemble. If you have any leftovers, it’s very good by itself reheated.

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Chicken Enchiladas with Salsa Verde

  • Servings: 5-6
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

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Ingredients

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lb. tomatillos (about 15 medium), husked and rinsed
  • 3 jalapeños, stemmed and halved lengthwise (seeded, if you like)
  • 1 large yellow onion, half cut into 4 wedges, half chopped
  • 2/3 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • About 3 cups of leftover chicken meat, chopped
  • 8, 8-inch corn tortillas
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Directions

  1. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the tomatillos, jalapeños, and onion wedges; cover and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes.
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  2. Drain well and transfer to a blender along with 1/3 cup of the cilantro. Purée until just slightly chunky and season to taste with salt.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbs. of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped chicken, chopped onion, cumin, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper and cook, stirring occasionally to break up the meat, until heated through, about 2 minutes.
  4. Stir 1/2 cup of the salsa verde into the chicken.
  5. Position a rack about 6 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler to high. Grease a 9×13-inch metal or ceramic baking dish with the remaining 1/2 Tbs. oil.
  6. Wrap the tortillas in a few slightly damp paper towels and microwave on high until warm, 30 to 45 seconds.
  7. Working with one tortilla at a time, spoon some of the chicken mixture down the center of the tortilla and sprinkle with 1 Tbs. of the cheese. Roll up snugly and transfer to the prepared baking dish, seam side down.
  8. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and beef mixture. Pour the remaining salsa verde over the enchiladas and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
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  9. Broil until golden brown and bubbly, 3 to 5 minutes. Garnish with the remaining cilantro and serve.
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http://www.lynnandruss.com

Mexican Tomato Rice and Beans

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked medium-grain white rice
  • 1 14-1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes (preferably “petite-cut”)
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 medium fresh jalapeño, cored and finely chopped (if you like spicy foods, leave in the ribs and seeds; if not, remove them)
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tsp. kosher or fine sea salt
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano leaves and tender stems
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems

Directions

  1. In a 1-quart saucepan, combine the rice with 2 cups cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the pan stand, covered, for another 5 minutes.
  2. While the rice steams, set a fine sieve in a bowl and drain the can of tomatoes. Pour the tomato juices into a 1-cup liquid measure. Add enough water to the tomato juices to equal 1 cup.
  3. Heat a 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in the oil and stir-fry the garlic and jalapeño until the garlic browns and the jalapeño smells pungent, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the black beans, salt, cumin, and chili powder; stir two to three times to incorporate the mixture and cook the spices, about 30 seconds.
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  5. Stir in the tomato juice and water mixture and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans absorb much of the liquid, 5 to 7 minutes.
  6. Add the tomatoes, oregano, cilantro, and cooked rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is warm, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve immediately.IMG_4093

http://www.lynnandruss.com

Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork with Apricot-Sage Stuffing and Bourbon-Mustard Glaze

WOW, the name alone gets my mouth watering! And paired with our Cauliflower, Pear and Fennel Soup and Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Parsnips side dish, what a meal it made! It’s a little time intensive and a bit tricky to wrap, but you’ll amaze yourself when you take the first bite.

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Initially I wanted to get one larger pork tenderloin, but it’s almost impossible to get just one from our grocery store, they always seem to come prepackaged with two. A one-pounder just didn’t seem like it was going to be enough for four of us (let alone 6-8 as the recipe describes), so we devised a way of overlapping the two, giving us nearly 2 pounds of meat. Well, let’s just say, there was a good bit leftover…

Since we did enlarge our portion of meat, we doubled the amount of glaze, a smart move. My only critique would be to perhaps include a pan sauce or gravy to spoon over the slices when plated.

Prosciutto makes a fantastic wrap, holding the bread stuffing in place and crisping up during roasting. If it’s a bit on the fatty side, the fat will melt away, revealing the stuffing underneath. A little cayenne in both the stuffing and the glaze balances the dish’s inherent sweetness.

Here’s a step-by-step visual before the written directions:

IMG_0414Gather your ingredients
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Sauté the onions and celery
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Toast the bread cubes
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Strain the apricots over a bowl, squeezing them to extract more liquid
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Whisk the broth and eggs, and pour over the bread mixture, toss well
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Shingle 2 rows of prosciutto to roughly make a 14×14-inch square
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Use your hands to lightly press the stuffing mixture into an even layer, leaving a border on top and bottom and on each side
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Position the pork across the center of the stuffing
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Lift the plastic to help wrap the prosciutto and stuffing around the pork, and continue to roll up like a sushi roll, encasing the pork with the stuffing and prosciutto
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Tuck in the ends of the prosciutto, then wrap the roll tightly in the plastic wrap, twisting the ends to tightly compress the roast
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Remove the plastic wrap from the pork and place the pork seam side down in the center of the rack

Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork with Apricot-Sage Stuffing and Bourbon-Mustard Glaze

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

For the stuffing

  • 10 oz. sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 8-1/2 cups)
  • 2 Tbs. bourbon
  • 4 oz. dried apricots, finely chopped (about 2/3 cup)
  • 1 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 1 large sweet onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 2-3/4 cups)
  • 1 medium celery rib with leaves, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh sage
  • 1 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne
  • 1-1/2 cups lower-salt chicken broth
  • 2 large eggs

For the pork

  • 1 pork tenderloin, trimmed (1 to 1 1/2 lb.)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 16 thin slices prosciutto

For the glaze

  • 1 Tbs. reserved apricot soaking liquid (from above) or water
  • 3 Tbs. light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Pinch cayenne
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Make the stuffing

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350°F. Arrange the bread in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast until crisp, about 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the bourbon with 2 Tbs. water. Add the apricots and soak until soft, about 20 minutes. Strain the apricots over a bowl, squeezing them to extract more liquid. Reserve any liquid—it won’t be much—to add to the glaze, and set the apricots aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, and cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as necessary, until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the bread, apricots, parsley, sage, thyme, mustard, 1 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper, and the cayenne.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk the broth and eggs, and pour over the bread mixture. Toss well, let sit for 5 minutes, and toss again. cover and chill for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day.

Wrap the pork

  1. Pat the pork tenderloin dry and season well with salt and pepper.
  2. Lay some plastic wrap on a work surface so that it measures at least 20×20 inches; overlap a couple of pieces of plastic wrap as needed.
  3. Shingle 2 rows of prosciutto, using 6 to 8 slices for each row to make a 14×14-inch square.
  4. Spoon the stuffing mixture onto the prosciutto, then use your hands to lightly press it into an even layer, leaving a 1-1/2-inch border on top and bottom and a 1-inch border on each side. Position the pork across the center of the stuffing.
  5. Lift the plastic to help wrap the prosciutto and stuffing around the pork, and continue to roll up like a sushi roll, encasing the pork with the stuffing and prosciutto.
  6. Tuck in the ends of the prosciutto, then wrap the roll tightly in the plastic wrap, twisting the ends to tightly compress the roast. Tuck the ends under the roast to keep snug.
  7. Chill for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day. Longer is better as it helps the stuffing to firm up.

Roast and glaze the pork

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 375°F. Set a rack in a roasting pan lined with parchment.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine the reserved apricot soaking liquid with the brown sugar and mustard over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the cayenne, and season to taste with salt and pepper. if too thick to brush easily, thin with a little water.
  4. Remove the plastic wrap from the pork and place the pork seam side down in the center of the rack. Roast, brushing the prosciutto with the glaze during the last 10 minutes of cooking, until cooked (135°F), 55 to 65 minutes.
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  5. Let rest for 15 minutes, then slice the roast with a very sharp knife into thick slices.
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http://www.lynnandruss.com

Best Bang for the Buck in the “Burbs”…

…. According to Zagat… And Fayette Street Grille is among the recipients of the 2017 Experts’ Choice Award—fewer than 2% of restaurants worldwide receive this honor! Who can argue with these accolades? Opened in 1998, Fayette Street Grille has proven their worth with consistently providing high-quality food and attentive service. The BYO with a three-course prix fixe dinner menu, an open kitchen, and a casually elegant atmosphere was perfect for an evening out.

Our friends Karen and Ed Mortka chose the establishment—somewhere between our two places of residence, because they had been there before to celebrate their anniversary, and loved it. And we’re always up for trying new restaurants, especially BYOs with great ratings. We were more than willing to make the 35-minute road trip.

Located in a small brick building in the heart of Conshohocken on Fayette Street, arriving practically at the same time, we found street parking directly in front. Since it was on the early side (for us anyway), inside there were many unoccupied tables and a smattering of high tops, but as the night wore on the place filled up, and the noise-level rose quite a few decimals.

It had been a while since the four of us got together so we chatted and sipped wine for about a half hour before we put in our food orders. Their three-course meal includes a half dozen choices under each header beginning with Starters, followed by Entrées and ending with Desserts. Once we made our choices, a basket of warm, crusty, toasted bread (always a good sign of things to come) arrived at the table and we continued the conversations.

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All of the listings were tempting so it took a while to finalize our choices. Ed and I were on the same page with Starters as we both chose the Beef Kabobs skewered with seasoned, grilled medium-rare beef cubes, bell peppers, mushrooms and yellow squash then topped with a sesame-wasabi vinaigrette and microgreens. While I did think the kabob was good, the dish wasn’t over-the-top thrilling for me.

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But Russ and Karen couldn’t say enough about their selection of Mushroom and Crab Ragout containing seasonal mushrooms, crab claw meat, chopped garlic and fresh parsley tossed in a roasted vegetable veloute and gorgeously plated in a phyllo dough cup with a pop of microgreens.

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For entrées we all went a different direction, although it wasn’t an easy choice for any of us because everything sounded delicious. However, I pretty much knew Russ would get the Port Wine Braised Shank of Lamb which was accompanied by braised red skin potatoes and braising vegetables plated on a bright yellow dish. Did he love it? You betcha!

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The Mediterranean Bass Blanco was calling my name, and I am sooo glad to have chosen it as it was one of the most sublime pieces of fish I’ve ever eaten—no doggie bag for me! The shallow poached bass was served over a pillowy lemon-thyme risotto, and finished with a seafood bechamel and a side of roasted green beans. OMG, I think I died and went to heaven!

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Karen elected to try the Seared Ahi Tuna, something she said she’d never had before. The ample portion was seared rare and placed onto a pineapple and sage risotto with those same roasted green beans, then all finished with an orange-sesame vinaigrette. Let me just say, that we all cleaned our plates, with no leftovers what-so-ever…

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Not to be outdone, Ed ordered the Shrimp Monsignor (now how did it get that name?) which was sautéed with shiitake mushrooms, diced tomato and basil, ladled over a bowl of penne in a light seafood broth. The added microgreens did not thrill him, so wife Karen was the recipient of that ingredient.

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Since dessert came with the meal, everyone ordered, although I took my Chocolate Gateau served with Mint Creme to-go. (We hosted a brunch for 7 the next morning and everyone had a taste.) As with the Starter, both Russ and Karen chose the same Apple Crisp served with Vanilla Ice Cream. Ed on the other hand opted for the Saint Louis Butter Cake with Strawberries. BTW, all desserts are prepared in-house.

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The pace was very leisurely and we never felt rushed. In fact, even after dessert we continued chatting and before we knew it, it was over 3 1/2 hours since we sat down! While it is not exactly in our back yard, we know for sure we’ll be making another road trip to Fayette Street Grill.

Cheesy Scalloped Potato Bundt

For the holidays we always ratchet it up a notch or three when meal planning. And this year we needed to map out three days in a row, plus a homemade dessert for a fourth day. While surfing the net, I put the brakes on when I came across this gorgeous Cheesy Scalloped Potato Bundt from the Food Network Kitchen.

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The boys were visiting with girlfriends for a few days so we put them to work in helping prep the meals. A couple of them were novice cookers, so it was a teaching moment on how to follow recipes, prep appropriately and time the dish to finish when dinner is served.

IMG_0334Son David slices the potatoes very thin on the mandoline; while girlfriend Vykky measures and chops. To boost their confidence, we let them wear our “King & Queen” aprons.
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Believe me when I tell you, you won’t be able to stop eating these creamy, cheesy spuds. The crowd-pleasing potatoes are layered in a bundt pan and (should) make an impressive dome shape that is sure to intrigue. But it is no simple feat.

Because our bundt pan was fluted, it was tricky when building it to get the potato slices to stick to the sides. However, they unfortunately DID stick when it was cooked and time to remove from the pan. So while it wasn’t the prettiest presentation, they sure did deliver in flavor, as there was nary a slice left when dinner was done—and there were only six of us!

Since I had about a 1/4 cup of grated parm leftover (and we were a little lean on the cheddar slices), I sprinkled that on top (which is actually the bottom when inverted), giving a golden crusty finish. Be sure to plan ahead when adding this side dish to your menu as it takes a full two hours to assemble and cook.

As an added bonus, I included a tasty green bean side dish recipe at the end…

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Cheesy Scalloped Potato Bundt

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes (about 8 medium)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 slices mild cheddar, cut in half

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Generously butter a 12-cup bundt pan (use all the butter; it may seem like a lot, but the potatoes need it to stick to the sides of the pan and to crisp up).
  3. Thinly slice the potatoes on a mandoline (they need to be thin enough to easily bend when folded). Starting on the bottom of the pan lay the potatoes in a slightly overlapping formation, sticking to the butter, until the entire pan is covered in one layer of potatoes.
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  4. Stir together the heavy cream, Parmesan, garlic, rosemary, scallions, 2 teaspoons salt and a few grinds of black pepper in a large bowl. Toss the remaining potatoes in the cream mixture until well coated.
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  5. Using a quarter of the potatoes, layer them in a circular formation, slightly overlapping in the bottom of the pan. Top with 8 pieces of the cheddar in a slightly overlapping circle. Repeat two more times.
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  6. Top with the remaining quarter of the potatoes so that all of the cheese is covered. Bake until the potatoes are a dark golden brown, crispy on top and a paring knife can easily be inserted and removed into the center of the dome, about 1 hour 20 minutes.
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  7. Let rest for 10 minutes. Run a small offset spatula around the edges of the pan to help loosen the potatoes from the side. Invert onto a serving platter. Serve immediately.
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    Our potato bundt was paired with sous vide beef tenderloin au poivre and lemony green beans with frizzled leeks (recipe below).

http://www.lynnandruss.com

Recipe courtesy of Food Network Kitchen

Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Leeks

Olive oil–fried leeks add crunch, flavor, and an impressive look to this classic holiday meal side. Only three main ingredients too!

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Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Leeks

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 pounds green beans, preferably haricot verts, trimmed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
  • 3 lemons
  • 2 large leeks, white and light-green parts only
  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Cook green beans in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, 5–7 minutes. Drain, then immediately transfer to a large bowl filled with ice water. Drain again and pat dry.
  2. Meanwhile, zest lemons to yield 1 Tbsp. zest. Juice lemons to yield 1/4 cup juice, then slice any remaining lemons into wedges. Cut leeks crosswise into 4″ sections, then thinly slice lengthwise into matchsticks.
  3. Heat oil in a large deep-sided skillet over medium-high until shimmering. Cook half of leeks, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden brown and crispy, about 5 minutes.
  4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels; season with salt. Repeat with remaining leeks; reserve oil in skillet.
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  5. Cook green beans, pepper, lemon zest, and remaining 1 tsp. salt in reserved oil over medium heat, tossing occasionally, just until warmed through, about 5 minutes.
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  6. Add lemon juice and toss to coat, then transfer to a platter. Drizzle about 1/2 cup oil from pan over; reserve remaining oil for another use. Top with leeks and serve with lemon wedges alongside.

Do Ahead

Green beans can be blanched 1 day ahead; let dry, then transfer to an airtight container and chill.

http://www.lynnandruss.com

By Anna Stockwell from Epicurious

Say Hello to Silky Elegance

Sweet, earthy, and aromatic with an amazingly smooth texture, this Cauliflower, Pear, and Fennel Soup makes an elegant first course, with the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. It was an ideal Christmas Day starter to our holiday meal, but would be wonderful served anytime.

It is chock full of veggies, and if you use homemade chicken broth it will elevate the flavor profile even more. The lone parsnip and single ripe pear, along with the bottled pear juice add just the right amount of sweetness, while a squeeze of fresh lemon and a tad of finishing salt brighten the flavors.

Cauliflower, Pear and Fennel Soup exhibits the maturity of understatement, with the intelligence of communal flavors. For more convenience, you could purée and refrigerate it a couple of days ahead; then add the cream and seasonings after gently reheating it.

Happy slurping, er I mean sipping….

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Cauliflower, Pear and Fennel Soup

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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Ingredients

  • 2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter
  • 3 medium leeks, white and light-green parts only, sliced 1/8 inch thick (about 3 cups), rinsed well
  • 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 medium parsnip, peeled and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup pear juice
  • 7 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
  • 1 small head cauliflower (about 1-1/2 lb.), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (about 5 cups)
  • 1 large ripe pear, peeled, cored, and chopped (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh tarragon; more for garnish
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream; more for garnish
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Directions

  1. Melt the butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks, fennel, parsnip, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5 to 8 minutes.
  2. Add the pear juice, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced to a syrup, 6 to 8 minutes.
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  3. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the cauliflower, pear, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper.
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  4. Turn the heat down to medium low, partially cover, and cook until the cauliflower is very soft, about 40 minutes. Stir in the tarragon.
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  5. Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender until smooth and transfer to a large bowl.
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  6. Return the soup to the pot, stir in the cream, and reheat. Stir in the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  7. Serve topped with a thin swirl of cream and a sprinkle of tarragon.
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http://www.lynnandruss.com

By Arlene Jacobs from Fine Cooking

The Sous Vide Finally Takes a Bow

The Mr. added a sous vide machine to his Christmas wish list—last year. Of course, being the dutiful partner that I am, I ordered it, artistically wrapped it, and waited in anticipation for one of the succulent meals they are known to provide.

As unlikely as it seems, hubby didn’t get around to using it until one year later—Christmas 2018. Yes, I know, I could have gone ahead and made something myself, but it was his present after all, and I figured he should be the one to have the first crack at it. Patience is a virtue, right?

IMG_0312Before the cooking starts, our sous vide machine gets an update through the iPad.

When you cook a center-cut beef tenderloin roast for your family/friends, the pressure is on. You want to make sure the meat emerges perfectly cooked and gorgeous—especially considering you’re working with one of the most expensive items at the butcher shop. The star of our maiden voyage was a 3 3/4-pound beef tenderloin, pictured below, costing just a smidgen under $100 smackaroos. Not a piece of meat one wants to screw up, especially when serving guests on such an important family holiday.

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In an ironic twist, while penning this post, I received and email offering from Amazon with the header The Effortless Sous Vide Cookbook: 140 Recipes for Crafting Restaurant-Quality Meals Every Day.” Coincidence or what? A bit unnerving really…

But I digress.  How does sous vide work? The words sous vide, French for “under vacuum,” refers to the vacuum-sealed bags that the food is typically placed in before being submerged in water. Many people incorrectly assume it is very complicated and requires a ton of commitment.

Consider it a “set it and forget it” method, like a slow cooker and pressure cooker. With the benefit of cooking at a specific and consistent temperature, sous vide takes a lot of the guess work out and ensures that your food will be cooked perfectly every time. You with me now? Then how about this?

Sous vide is basically poaching inside sealed bags under very precise and measured conditions. The water in your cooking vessel is regulated at a specific temperature and is circulated to maintain consistency. Additionally, especially for proteins, very little, if any, extra fat is added into the packages and instead, the protein cooks in its own juices, which leaves the food moist, juicy and tender.

An immersion circulator is the tool that controls the temperature of the water as the food cooks. You can use it in any pot or pan you own as long as the pot is big enough to hold both the immersion circulator and your food.

Just clip it to the side of the pan, or in the case of a Joule, a magnet on the bottom lets you stand it upright in most pots and pans. The immersion circulator will pull the water through its internal heating element, circulating the water in the pot and keeping it at a precise and steady temperature.

Another advantage for sous vide cooking is flexibility. Since this cooking method is so gentle, you have a pretty big window in which your food will be ready. This means that you can start your food cooking, runs some errands, get stuck in traffic, or snuggle up in front of the fireplace with a good book—and all this time, you never have to worry about your food. If you’re not back right when the timer goes off, no big deal!

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For a sauce, we ordered an Au Poivre from ChefSteps.com that also showed a video on this method of cooking.

Sous Vide Beef Tenderloin

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 to 4 lb. beef tenderloin
  • Oil for searing as needed
  • 2 Tbsp. Butter, divided
  • 3 Thyme sprigs
  • 1 Rosemary sprig, cut in half

Directions

  1. Preheat Joule to 133° for medium-rare, or adjust to your own preference.
  2. Use butcher’s twine to truss the tenderloin in three spots, creating four to six even sections, depending on the length of your roast. (We had to cut ours into two pieces in order to fit in the pan and skillet.)
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  3. Set a large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the bottom of the skillet with oil, and when it’s shimmering, sear the exterior of the loin, turning occasionally, until it has a nice, dark caramelization all over the exterior. This will take about two to three minutes total. (Remember, you’re only giving the exterior a quick sear, not trying to cook it through.)
  4. Set the loin on a plate. Add half of the butter to the pan, and when it’s finished foaming, add the herbs and sauté them until fragrant, removing the pan from the heat as soon as they turn bright green.
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  5. Transfer the tenderloin to a ziplock-style or sous vide bag, add the cooking juices and herbs, and set the bag into the preheated water. Cook for two hours. (You can leave it in there for up to two more hours if you wish.) Center-cut tenderloins tend to be about two inches thick, but if you’ve got a three-inch-thick cut, leave it in the water for an extra hour.
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  6. Set a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the remaining butter. Pull the loin from the water, and pour the cooking liquid and herbs from the sous vide bag into the skillet.
  7. When the bubbling slows down, return the loin to the skillet for a final sear, quickly crisping the outside for about 30 seconds per “side” while spooning the hot liquid over the top.
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  8. Cut into thick slices one or two minutes before dinner, and serve.
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http://www.lynnandruss.com

Cookies and Cream Peppermint Bark Cheese Cake

It’s the Most Wonderful Dessert of the Year… if you like cheese cake, peppermint candy and Oreo cookies that is. Well The Mr. seemed to think his boys would love it as their Christmas meal finale, so I was more than willing to give it a go. I noticed the advertisement from Kraft Foods while thumbing through one of our foodie magazines.

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However, when I started looking at the ingredients and instructions, I realized I could save myself a step or two (actually Steps 7-9) by using already-made white and dark chocolate peppermint bark. And seeing as how we were going to be cooking for 4 days straight, that was a no-brainer. (The recipe below is the original.)

There’s a big “BUT” coming, baking the cheesecake actually took an additional 25 minutes! At the 55 minute mark, as indicated below, the center was still almost soup consistency. I added another 10 minutes, still not ready; another 10 minutes, still too wet; 5 minutes more, finally done.

IMG_0391Son Dan and girlfriend Tina savor the efforts with a glass of eggnog.

It will serve up to 16 guests, depending on how thin you slice it. And if doesn’t all go in the first round, a fresh cheesecake will last a week in the refrigerator if covered properly. Keep in mind,  bacteria grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F; so it should be discarded if left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature.

Can you freeze cheesecake? Yes, to freeze: wrap cheesecake tightly with aluminum foil or plastic freezer wrap, or place in heavy-duty freezer bag. Properly stored, it will maintain best quality for about 2 to 3 months, but will remain safe beyond that time.

Cookies and Cream Peppermint Bark Cheesecake

  • Servings: 8-16 slices
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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Ingredients

  • 30 Oreo cookies, divided
  • Tbsp. butter or margarine, melted
  • 35 starlight mints, divided
  • pkg. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
  • cup sugar
  • eggs
  • pkg. (4 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • oz. white chocolate

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 325°F.
  2. Use pulsing action of food processor to process 18 cookies until finely ground. Add butter; mix well. Press onto bottom of 9-inch springform pan. Bake 10 min.
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  3. Crush 30 mints, then chop 10 of the remaining cookies.
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  4. Beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl with mixer until blended.
  5. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed after each just until blended. Stir in crushed mints and chopped cookies. Pour over crust.
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  6. Bake 55 min. or until center is almost set. Run knife around rim of pan to loosen cake; cool before removing rim. Refrigerate cheesecake 4 hours.
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  7. Meanwhile, crush remaining mints, then chop remaining cookies. Cover baking sheet with parchment.
  8. Melt chocolates separately as directed on packages. Spread semi-sweet chocolate into thin layer on prepared baking sheet; top with tablespoonfuls of the white chocolate. Swirl gently with spoon.
  9. Top with crushed mints and chopped cookies. Refrigerate until firm.
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  10. Break chocolate bark into small pieces; sprinkle over cheesecake before serving.

Variation

Substitute 3/4 cup crushed candy canes for the starlight mints. Reserve 1 Tbsp. crushed candy for sprinkling over the swirled chocolate bark; stir remaining crushed candy into the cheesecake batter before baking as directed.

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Back to an Old Neighborhood Haunt

Café Antonio in Morrisville sits just steps away from the Calhoun Street Bridge that crosses the Delaware River to New Jersey. A place we used to patronize on a more regular basis when I lived in Yardley, sister township to Morrisville. I know I blogged about it many years ago, but even I can’t find the post!

Well, nothing like the present. I’ll start with the obvious, parking was always an issue. But while we did get a street spot just steps away from their building, we did notice a new parking lot “above” with a staircase leading down to street-level. A promising beginning. And the old-world charm, complete with the historical Vespa motorcycle—a mainstay from years past—still greets you in the entrance. Plus holiday decorations adorned nooks and crannies in a nod to the season.

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Once inside, the place was jam-packed, but we figured with reservations, we’d be seated promptly. Not so. It was a good 15 minutes before the hostess came back to show us our table. While waiting, we noticed that many other patrons were bringing in their own wine, yet we knew that Antonio’s now had a liquor license with a full-scale bar, when for years they were a BYOB. Once seated, our waitress Diane explained that they allow diners to bring their own wine but have a $10 corkage fee. Something to consider in the future…

After selecting a “Fat Bastard” bottle of Merlot (a night special), we concentrated on what to order. While there was a separate specials menu with a few listings, we began to notice that the regular menus each contained different appetizers. It became apparent when Russ began describing Julia’s Favorite Flatbread as a suggestion and I had no idea what he was talking about because it was not under my list of appetizers. (Diane explained that they were working on making them all the same—I should think so!)

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Well, we were in a seafood kind of mood that evening and decided the flatbread was calling our name. Julia’s consisted of a medley of shrimp, crabmeat, tomato, basil and red onions in a pesto cream sauce topped with melted mozzarella cheese. Wowser, it was good, and pretty filling to boot.

Our entrees came with side salads and Russ upgraded his to Maurizio’s Salad for a few bucks extra; I went with the regular house salad. Both were nicely chilled with crisp greens.

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In a recent conversation with friends, “pasta purses” was a topic of discussion and we all agreed, they were impressive little morsels. Antonio’s still had them on their menu, so after some back-and-forth, Russ decided to go with their Seafood Pasta Purses filled with fontina cheese then topped with shrimp, crab meat, scallops and shiitake mushrooms all bathing in a creamy vodka sauce. He was not disappointed!

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I pretty quickly zeroed in on Chef Chris’s Grilled Salmon. The hefty portion came plated with baby shrimp, jumbo lump crab meat, shiitake mushrooms and plum tomatoes in a light butter white wine sauce with seasonings. Both of our portions were more than enough, so we took home two doggie bags, each brimming with at least half of our entrees.

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While our waitress was friendly and attentive, service was slow. But for a Saturday night during the holiday season, it was no surprise; and in fact, we rather enjoyed the leisurely pace. Other than the fact that the caliber of food was still top notch, we also gained knowledge into additional parking options and the possibility of bringing our own wine—although it pains me to have to pay a $10 corkage fee.

New and Improved Decorated Sugar Cookies

As you know, I’m a bit of a fanatic when it comes to Decorated Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing. I’ve been making them in some fashion or another since I was a young child. The past couple of years I have been using a new-and-improved cookie dough that stays in shape, doesn’t need to be refrigerated for hours, rolls out nicely and is easy to handle.

But the recipe got buried in another blog so I thought I’d post it in and of itself. The images depict a variety of reasons or seasons to make the cookies. Believe me, there is a cookie cutter for just about anything you can think of.

In fact, my next batch after the holidays will be for my garden club. I am a co-designer of one of the annual gala tables, with an overall theme of “Bloom with a View” and our specific table idea centers around an “Artist’s Studio” so stay tuned for an upcoming blog featuring those creative little devils.

IMG_2745Hearts for Valentine’s Day.

IMG_4696Hot air balloons for a child’s pastel-themed first birthday party.

spring cookiesFlowers and butterflies for my Master Gardner’s presentation.

IMG_1218Santa Hats as a donation for a bake sale at an artist’s organization.

Decorated Sugar Cookies

  • Servings: 3-6 dozen
  • Difficulty: cookie is easy; icing takes practice
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (1 cup), room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • Zest from ½ a lemon (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups unsifted flour (plus more for rolling cookies out)
  • ½ tsp salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Add the butter sticks and the sugar and cream together in a stand mixer, about 3 minutes.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the egg, lemon zest, baking powder and vanilla extract, then beat again for 2 minutes until a creamy.
  4. Add 3 cups flour and ½ teaspoon salt and mix on low speed to combine about 2 minutes.
  5. When done, form the dough into a ball.
  6. On a floured surface or pastry cloth, roll out the cookie dough ball to desired thickness level, about an 1/8″ or a little thicker. Cut out shapes and place on an unrimmed baking sheet.
  7. Reform any leftover dough into another ball and repeat the process.
  8. Put baking sheet(s) in the freezer for 10 minutes.
  9. After 10 minutes take the baking sheet out of the freezer and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges just start to turn a light brown. (Mine took the full 12 minutes.)
  10. Remove cookies from oven, allow to cool for a few minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting. Decorate—or not—with Royal Icing.

ROYAL ICING

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. confectioners sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. meringue powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup warm water

Directions

  1. In a stand mixer, beat the meringue powder and water for about 30 seconds on med-high speed.
  2. Stop the mixer, add the confectioners sugar and beat on low until incorporated. Turn the speed up to high and beat for 7 minutes. Stiff peaks will form.
  3. Divide the frosting into bowls based on the number of colors you are using, remember white is a color too.
  4. Add your food coloring and mix each bowl thoroughly, adding a few drops of water as necessary.
  5. Put about 1/3 of each color in separate pastry bags for piping. Thin out the remainder with more water (a 1/2 teaspoon at a time) to achieve a flooding consistency and add that to squeezable bottles as shown.
    IMG_4661
  6. Add finishing touches as desired.

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