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March 17, 2012

Spring has sprung in Chicago and I’m going out to work in the garden and yard while the getting is good. Just put 2 rounds of Irish Brown Bread in the oven and the Corned Beef in the slow cooker. I’m going to try to make Colcannon tonight and will post soon if it turns out. For now a little Irish ditty…
May your thoughts be as glad as the shamrocks.
May your heart be as light as a song.
May each day bring you bright, happy hours.
That stay with you all the year long.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

World Plates

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Check out this easy bread that is great today with dinner or tomorrow toasted for breakfast. It only takes about 5 mintues to put together and another 35 minutes to bake.

Irish Brown Bread

  • 3 cups whole wheat flour (I use at least half graham flour)
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 cups buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk on hand use 2 Tbsp white vinegar and 2 scant cups of milk)

Preheat oven to 375°. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Rub butter into flour mixture. I put it in a food processor and pulse about 10 times until butter is well incorporated into flour. Put back into bowl and make a ‘well’ in the center. Gradually add buttermilk, mixing with flour until a soft ball is formed…

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Dinner of Unusual Ingredients or Unusual Combinations

March 12, 2012

Last night’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pans dinner may have been one of my favorites. Despite being only 6 strong, the offerings each person brought were thoughtfully prepared and fit the theme of the evening – make a dish using an unusual ingredient or an unusual combination of ingredients. I had several strong cravings today for these flavors, that’s how good it all was.

Our hostess Tina, greeted us with Gin and Tonic Royals… a lovely G&T with a splash of Veuve Clicquot and a pitted loquat floating in the bottom of the martini glass. None of us could resist eating the alcohol laden loquat that tasted like a cross between apricot, pear and mango. This photo does not do the drink justice… none of the pretty bubbles show.

Tina’s unusual ingredient was agar, more a helper than full-on ingredient, agar is a gelling agent made from the cell walls of some species of red algae, so it’s vegan and kosher a win win for some folks. She used it to make brie cream to top Pringle potato chips that she sprinkled with ground coffee beans and olive oil she had infused with vanilla beans.

She also used agar to make bittersweet chocolate gelée that went with grilled cauliflower and cocoa nibs and a smidge of sea salt. Do I have your attention yet? Tina has 3 very active boys at home so I’m not sure how she pulls this stuff off but both these taste treats were fantastic.

Our last appetizer was oven roasted radishes. Not being a radish lover I was hesitant, but of course tried one and schazam, wow. These were really good. Cooked in a piping hot oven they were sweet and no longer had the usual radish hot bite.

While we sipped and savored these bites, the rabbit Emily stuffed with prosciutto, pancetta, salami, garlic and fennel fronds was resting,  just waiting to be carved so she regaled us with the story of taking her sons to Paulina Meat Market to purchase the rabbit, trying to be stealth about it with Easter coming in less than a month…this has us in tears. With no collusion, Emily’s rabbit was complimented perfectly by Sue’s sumac bread salad. Made with an abundance of grilled onions, tomatoes and cucumbers, much to our amazement no vinegar or oil was added making it very light yet packed with flavor.

Here’s a closer up of Sue’s unforgettable salad made with sumac that is quite tart and often used in place of lemons in recipes.

 After sitting a spell, we moved on to dessert.. Oh boy. Liz brought her famous Snow Pudding, a recipe from her childhood combining very lemony meringue topped with crème anglaise packed with microscopic vanilla bean seeds… ummm. I’d been dying to try this since she first posted it on her blog, Lazy Cook, Crazy Cook, last winter.

My contribution to our dinner was Stout Ice Cream. My neighbors, Rod and Paige, were very generous to part with a cup of their home-brewed 1815 Oak Stout from the last half growler they had stashed away. My idea that beer and ice cream are far from being unusual ingredients on their own, used together, they fit the unusual combination requirement for tonight’s dinner.

As if all this was not enough, Tina carried out about 8 bottles of ports and liqueurs for us to sample. Luckily, we know that alcohol kills any germs spread from sharing glasses so we had sips of a chocolate cherry port, another tart cherry liqueur and a couple of others but the consensus was the Spanish Licor 43 over ice was our favorite. Made from select fruits and herbs from the Mediterranean basin it is smooth and the perfect end to a perfect meal. Thanks to these amazing women with their talents, humor, wisdom and willingness to share ideas, “The Sisterhood” is moving into its third year together. Next meeting looks to be at the end of April, theme undecided but there is little doubt how great it will be.

Kale Chips as a snack and with Gnocchi

March 12, 2012

Kale, whether raw or cooked is a nutritionally superior food. We’ve all been reading and hearing this for years but eating is believing when it comes to certain things and for whatever reason it took me some time to warm up to kale. When the kale craze hit a few yeas ago, a friend sent me a recipe saying she makes it and eats it straight from the mixing bowl on the counter…the leaves are just a tad tough and bitter for my taste so I shyed away from her raw recipe. Then I learned about kale chips. Cross my heart and hope to die (not really), they are so good and easy to make especially if you have a Trader Joe’s nearby where you can buy kale pre-washed and cut into bite sized pieces. All you have to do is preheat the oven to 400, pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil into the palm of your hands so you can toss the leaves to lightly coat, then bake for 10-15 minutes. The dark green leaves turn into gorgeous, translucent, airy-light chips. During the baking time toss with a spatula every few minutes to keep any leaves from burning. No salt needed.










Baking removes all the moisture from the otherwise thick leaves.

I’d not intended for them to be eaten this way but learned that gnocchi and kale go great together.

Next – el Bulli

February 27, 2012

Thanks to some great connections (and friends) the dining/theater at Next el Bulli still has me speechless. Posts to this blog are usually food I cook that I hope you’ll try for yourself. Not this one. Instead, I will tell you that the seemingly ridiculous amount of money spent on this one meal was worth every cent (or ten spot). 29 courses, mostly bite sized portions paired perfectly with libations ranging from sparkling Cava to Sake, custom brewed beer, sherries or vino de Jerez, fruit nectar and exceptionally good coffee. The pictures I took with my little point and shoot camera are only a record of the food and drink. What they don’t capture is the character of the waitstaff who are highly versed in every ingredient, preparation and detail of the menu. They are professionals, fun-loving and clearly enjoy being there. With a language of their own that doesn’t use words, their eyes are always open, aware of how the meal is being experienced, there to make the experience perfect. It was.

I’ve edited the 220 photos I took down to a mere 70+...for you to enjoy on Youtube.  Here is a preview photo.

cauliflower cous-cous with solid aromatic herb sauce (cous-cous de coliflor con salsa sólida de aromáticos) from the 2000 menu at elBulli, the highly acclaimed, much-lauded restaurant on  Cala Montjoi, Catalonia’s Costa Brava that closed in 2011. The menu we were privileged to partake in was a collaboration of Chefs Ferran Adrià, Grant Achatz and Dave Beran.

Stuffed Fried Green Olives

February 8, 2012

Like other forms of art, cooking and recipes are not usually completely original ideas. Rather, they are variations on themes and a conglomeration of past experiences. As you know, I always give credit when and where credit is due and for this recipe I would like to site something I saw a month or so ago but for the life of me can’t remember where I saw it. It sounded really good so I made note of the general idea, stored that in my brain’s recipe file and pulled it up for our Sisterhood of the Travelling Pans holiday gathering in December. It was a whole lot easier than I’d anticipated except for the fact that only a quarter of the large green olives I’d purchased were actually pitted. Pishaw, 15 olives were hardly enough to take to a party so I dialed up a friend and much to my delight she owned, and could put her hands on, an olive/cherry pitter. These were rather large green olives so it took some brute strength and a few very misshapen olives some with pits still attached were produced but I made my way through about 45 of them and laughed at the big ol’ mess I’d made. You can fill these with pretty much anything you’d like. I made a mixture of chopped hard salami, cream cheese, some tomato powder from the Spice House and a few herbs and spices, they get rolled in flour, then egg and finally panko before hitting the hot oil. They cook in less than a minute and go down even faster. Keep the cocktails flowing when serving these…they are a tad salty but SO good.

Stuffed & Fried Green Olives

  • 50 large green pitted olives
  • 2 Tbsp ground hard salami
  • 4 Tbsp cream cheese
  • 1 tsp dried tomato or tomato paste
  • a few shakes of oregano
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 1 cup canola oil for frying
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup panko

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Chia Seeds

February 5, 2012

You might ask “Chia seeds in cookies” ? and I’d say “yup, really good and really good for you”. I love these tiny seeds, their snappy pop and the great health boost they provide. I add them to banana pancakes and bowls of granola. Unlike flax seeds that must be ground to release all their goodness, chia seeds are eaten whole. I added them to this recipe a friend at work had posted on Facebook. I changed the recipe quite a bit and while I liked the original, this one is much healthier. Grinding oats is easy and I often replace some flour in recipes with it. Adding Rice Krispies cereal lightens these cookies and extends the batter a bit. If you don’t have chia seeds the recipe works just fine without them and you don’t have to grind the oats, just make sure to use a full cup of flour and lower the whole oats to half a cup. I find this to be a great combo cookie taking the best of traditional peanut butter, oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies all packed into one. Adding the tiny but mighty chia seeds just ups the nutritional ante.













Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Chia Seed Cookies


Makes 36 cookies

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats (1/2 ground to flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup Rice Krispies cereal
  • 1/2 cup shaved dark chocolate or semisweet mini chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a medium bowl or stand mixer cream together the butter, white sugar and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in the peanut butter, vanilla and egg until well blended. Grind half the oatmeal in a spice grinder until flour like. Combine the ground oats with whole wheat flour, baking soda and salt; blend into the batter until just moistened. Mix in the whole oats, rice krispy cereal, chia seeds and shaved chocolate until evenly distributed. Using a cookie scoop or teaspoon, drop on lightly greased cookie sheets. I like to press them down with a flat bottomed cup dipped in sugar. Cookie in photo below on bottom left has not been pressed down. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. Cool on cookie sheets for about 5 minutes before transferring to newspaper to cool.

Spinach Pie take II

January 31, 2012

This updated version of  Birthday Breakfast Pie has prettier pictures and a phyllo dough crust. Think of it as open-faced spanakopita, a whole lot easier to make than the traditional triangles you get in Greek Town.  One of the things I love about phyllo dough is that it is forgiving. If one layer rips, just lay on another… only you will know. Keep the dough you’re working with covered with a damp tea towel to keep it from drying out. If you have a refillable pump mister, melt butter and combine it with olive oil to mist between the layers, if not, use a pastry brush and gently brush or pat the butter/oil mixture between the 6-8 layers of dough you’ll be putting down. The end result is πολύ καλή (very good – poly kali).














Spinach Pie with Phyllo Crust or open-faced Spanakopita

  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 16 oz. chopped spinach, thawed
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup shredded white cheese – brick, mozzarella, provolone
  • 1/2 tsp.  salt
  • a dash cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. dill weed
  • freshly ground pepper
  • Athens® Fillo (phyllo) Dough, thawed
  • 3 Tbsp melted butter
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil

Heat oven to 350. Heat olive oil in large skillet and sauté onions and garlic. Add well-drained spinach. Cook for one minute. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with milk. Add eggs and seasonings and mix well. Put spinach, onion and garlic in bowl and mix again. This can sit overnight if you are making it the night before or set aside as you prepare the Phyllo crust. Butter a square or rectangular baker. Unroll phyllo dough onto a clean dish towel and cover with another slightly damp, clean dish towel. Peel one sheet of dough and lay it into pan allowing edge of dough to hang over edge of baker. Mist with butter/oil or using a silicone or traditional pastry brush, cover with a thin layer of butter/oil. Lay another piece of phyllo over in the opposite direction, butter and continue adding layers until you have 6-8 layers total ending with a good coating of butter/oil. Pour in spinach mixture. Bake for 45 minutes. Check after 20 minutes and cover edges with pieces of aluminum foil if they are browning too quickly and to prevent burning, finish baking until top is golden brown and knife inserted in middle comes out clean. Let cool and serve warm or room temperature (it’s even good cold).














Several layers of Phyllo dough in baker. See how imperfect if can be? and it will still taste great.

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