Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Easy Kalamata Olive Bread

I wrote a play. And started another. As I try to increase my writing output (while I still have something resembling a brain), I look for ease in the day-to-day stuff. This kalamata bread is as easy as bread gets. Briny, crusty and pliable - this is what you want in January. It's not a boon to my waistline but it certainly elevates the mood as we watch the thermometer plummet.

Paul and I simply spread butter on slice after slice after it came out of the oven (who needed to wait for dinner?). But someone mentioned that this would be tasty with some olive tapenade. And I agree. Next time. This is from The Wanderlust Kitchen and I would keep most everything as is - except maybe increase the salt and garlic powder a wee bit.

It needs only two rises, so you don't have to decide at 6 a.m. that you would like fresh bread. The mixer does the kneading and you don't need specialty flours - so even if you're snowed in, you can make this. No more standing on line for the requisite bread and milk every time the weather promises a blizzard. (Yes, East Coast - I did feel for you.)

Ingredients for Kalamata Olive Bread
1-1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup lukewarm water
1/2 teaspoon salt (I would increase that a bit)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (go whole hog and use a teaspoon)
1/2 cup pitted, chopped kalamata olives (can use more)

1. Combine first six ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Roughly combine the ingredients. Let rest for fifteen minutes to activate the yeast.
2. Fold in the olives. Attach the dough hook and mix (knead) for five minutes. If the dough isn't releasing from the sides of the bowl, you can sprinkle in a bit more flour (I didn't need to).
3. Transfer kneaded dough to an large, oiled bowl. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for sixty minutes. (I actually put mine on the stovetop where I had the oven on very low because it was one of those Polar Vortex days.)
4. Punch dough down and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Shape into a loaf and let it rise for another 60 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place a second baking sheet on the bottom rack. Dust your dough with some flour and make three shallow cuts on the top of the dough.
6. Place the baking sheet with the dough in the middle o the oven. Pour 1/2 cup of water in the baking sheet below. Bake for thirty minutes.
7. Supposedly you let it cool on a wire rack before slicing. Let me know how that works for you.

White Bear Lake finally did freeze over and the ice fisher-people rejoiced. I manage a winter walk on most days (because: bread and waistline). One of my resolutions that I made last July was to try and embrace winter. I love the looks of it. I love the rosy-cheeked glow. I am good with winter white. And I spent three years working on a play that went back and forth to the arctic. Somewhere around Draft 12, the arctic got into my system and I said, "All right. You can stay."

And below - is a cat - for no reason. Except he's kind of cute. Happy January!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Winter-Spiced Chocolate Cake

I am all about the savory. Savory pies and appetizers draw me in but once in a while - chocolate comes calling like the four calling birds and I call back, "Yes, I will bake it."  And so it happened with this fudgy chocolate cake spiced with winter. Winter is here - or the meteorologists say it's coming. (Yesterday's prediction was "1-18 inches" will hit the Twin Cities Monday through Tuesday. Dear Meteorologists: How vague can you get?")

I don't do "pretty" very well - but it did come out of the bundt pan very prettily. And since pretty is as pretty does - I don't fret that my frosting efforts don't look as professional as they are in my head. (Years ago when I tried to pipe snowflakes in a Martha Stewart fashion my then young daughter soothed me with, "That's okay, Mom. She's a professional." Le sigh.)

I was pleased with the sugared cranberries. You don't need small motor skills to get those right.

The recipe comes from http://www.louisespis.com/2013/12/spicy-chocolate-bundt-cake-with-ginger and I really advise you visit the blog (scroll down for English) because she makes things very, very pretty. Louise provides a lot of the ingredients in grams - some of my amounts are near-approximations.

The cake has a nice dense, chocoholic-almost-not-quite-fudge crumb and the sour cream in the batter keeps it moist for days. It's very helpful to make things ahead of time where you are expecting 36 for a Midwestern Christmas Eve dinner and then turn around and provide an Italian Christmas Day dinner. So yes, make it ahead.

It is of course perfect for Christmas - my internet was out the week before Christmas (tricky when your recipes are online) but really - there's still New Years, Valentine's Day, family celebrations and even snowstorms where this would be welcome at the table.

And it's really easy - nothing to it (until you frost the cake and find your hands consist of ten thumbs). But remembering this cake - we are ending 2015 on a chocolate cloud.

8 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup cocoa
1-1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of ground cloves
1 cup sour cream
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice mix

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 10-12 cup bundt pan.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Once melted, add the cocoa and spices and whisk until smooth. Add the water and remove from heat. Add the sugar, sour cream, vanilla and eggs to the cocoa mixture and whisk until smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the cocoa batter to the flour mixture and whisk until well-blended. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes (until firm to touch and slightly puled away from the sides of the pan). Remove from oven, cool twenty minutes. Carefully loosen cake with a knife and invert onto a large plate (really, that was the scariest part of the process. I had a caramel-apple pie ready\y-in-waiting in case it all fell apart). Cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting: Combine ingredients with in a large bowl with electric mixer or if your arms need a workout - by hand. Spread frosting on cake and dust with cinnamon and/or confectioners sugar. Decorate with lingonberries or cranberries.

I had two days of laughter over the holidays and three generations. It's warming and fuzzy and sweet - and exhausting!

Pino and Pippin entertained my son's cat (Puck) and my sister's cat (Murray-the-cat) for two days.

He was a wee bit Christmassed-out!

Puck is going to be a visitor for awhile. Matthew will be in Germany and after figuring out how to safely get here there, it was decided that she will stay with us for awhile. Both my family and Paul's family have a history of family members taking in our furry loved-ones while we moved around. We will continue the tradition.

Puck is tiny, and affectionate and a little sassy. Just what our fur boys need to be kept in line.

Tonight all is quiet. And we wait. For the 1-18 inches of snow that was supposed to arrive three hours ago.

The fire's lit. There's leftover Chocolate Cake. 

Just as winter should be. I hope your December has been as cozy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Lidia's Chicken Breast with Oranges and Olives

'tis the season - where candles are lit to ward off darkness. Where sparkle is called for and the usually-muted Claudia looks for a bit of glitter. And for dinner - I want flavor - more than the riches of fats and sugar so prevalent in December - I want the bright tang of oranges coupled with some briny salt. So I brought Lidia Bastianich's chicken with oranges and olives to the table. And was promptly told I could make it again.

So should you. 

Ingredients - serves 6 (I halved it and it served two just fine)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 pounds thinly sliced chicken cutlets
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Flour - for dredging
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large red onion, sliced
1 cup pitted Gaeta or Kalamata olives, whole or halved
Juice and zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup white wine
1 teaspoon fennel powder (I used fennel seeds)*
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh Italian parsley 

For fennel powder: put 1/2 cup of fennel seed in spice grinder and mill until you have powder. Makes 1/4 cup. Store at room temperature, sealed.

1. In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat olive oil. Season chicken with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and lightly dredge chicken in flour. Lightly brown the chicken in oil (until it has a blonde crust), about two minutes per side. Cook chicken in batches. Remove chicken to plate.

2. Add butter and onion to skillet and cook until onion is softened - 3-4 minutes. Add olives, orange juice, zest white wine and fennel. Add chicken back into skillet and simmer until chicken is cooked through and the sauce coats the chicken - about 4 minutes. Season with remaining salt, sprinkle with parsley (I used some fennel frond) and serve.

We had a trim-the-tree dinner. 

It will never be a designer tree. The ornaments come from our travels, our quirks - all the stages of our lives. Trimming the tree evokes all the threads of our Christmases -  Past, Present and Future.

This little beauty was from my parent's earliest Christmas together.

And this came from a neighbor when I was five years old. I am willing to bet some of you have him.

Paul (who prefers to direct the trimming of the tree) noted that the lower third of the tree was bare.
And it still is. Because ...

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thanksgiving: Turkey Meatballs with Apple-Cranberry Chutney

I write this in Thanksgiving. For the holiday coming up. For the thanks I offer all year round for this life - with all it's roller coaster rides - for this life. 

My offering for the holidays starts with a meatball. And then I go all-American with it. Apples. Cranberries. Minnesota fare. It has a little spice, and a little fruit (and you know that "healthy" thing). You can make a meal for two or feed a crowd. It's a recipe that owes it's heritage to Italy (meatballs) but is decidedly American.

Grandma Gresio, who served a huge turkey (after the lasagne) every Thanksgiving would approve.

It's jazzed-up turkey meatballs coated in cranberry-apple chutney. Turkey and cranberries. Think about it. It seems to work.

TURKEY MEATBALLS: (Makes approximately 28 1-inch meatballs)

1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (crushed red pepper, cayenne)
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
16 ounces ground turkey
8 ounces cranberry-apple chutney
3 tablespoons orange juice (I used apple cider)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray.

Whisk first six ingredients together. Add milk. Whisk and let stand for fifteen minutes. Add egg and mix well. Add ground turkey and mix well.

Form turkey mixture into 1-inch meatballs. (Very sticky stuff - use hands and consider spraying them. After they were formed, I went over them with a spoon trying to get a semblance of meatball shape.)

Place on baking sheet. Bake for approximately fifteen minutes.

While baking, combine cranberry-apple chutney and orange juice. Heat in microwave for 1-2 minutes. When meatballs are done, combine warmed chutney in bowl with meatballs and serve.

Or place in a slow-cooker on low to use as appetizers for guests.

Cranberry-apple chutney recipes can be found here or here. Or you can do what "expedient Claudia" does and buy Stonewall Kitchen's Apple-Cranbery Chutney.*

*I am not on Stonewall Kitchen's payroll nor did I receive coupons or anything for this plug. I am simply - a big fan.

It's been a rough week for our world. I wish you love.  I wish ...

Hugs are in order.

Smiling and greeting and holding doors open for people seem more important than ever. Throwing love into the universe to counter the unloving has to help.

And somehow, on November 16, the earth still brings forth pink smiles. And I am grateful.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Chicken Normandy: A Very Good Idea

I've taken a lot of detours as of late with my "Italian blog." This is my last detour for a bit and I promise you that you will enjoy the journey. It's a side tripe to France - home of sauces that should be served with cholesterol warnings (unless you're French - the sauces don't seem to affect their cholesterol) - home of women who learn to wear scarves before they can walk - home of Monet, Renoir, Impressionism and all things pretty. 

With Calvados, apples, cream and chicken - you have the perfect bridge from autumn to winter. Plus it's Dorie Greenspan's recipe from Around My French Table and when Dorie is your guide, you know you will eat well. It's a worthy addition to any Holiday Wish List (shhh .... I know it's early November). Plus Calvados is always a good idea. Calvados is an apple-brandy that hails from Normandy and a small shot of it during a chilly eve works as well as a fireplace to lull you into thinking you love the winter cold. You may use another apple brandy or even apple cider.

It comes together surprisingly fast (my mantra now that I am a woman "of a certain age").

Chicken, Apples and Cream a la Normande
Chicken Normandy

flour for dredging seasoned with salt and pepper
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts at room temperature (Patted down a bit if thick; I used six)
1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch chunks) (I used 2 medium MN apples sliced thinly and cored but not peeled)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
8 mushrooms (thinly sliced; I sometimes omit)
1/3 cup chicken broth (I use more)
2 tablespoons Calvados, apple jack or brandy (or cider)
2/3 cup heavy cream (I use a little less)
My addition: fresh thyme sprigs to finish


1. Put the seasoned flour in a shallow bowl and dredge the chicken in it, shaking off any excess.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter (I almost always combine the two even when seemingly unnecessary) in a large deep skillet. If the pan isn't large enough for all the chicken, brown the chicken in batches.
3. Cook each side approximately 3 minutes until they are browned.
4. If needed, add in the other tablespoon of oil and tablespoon of butter (I always need). Leaving the chicken in the pan, add in the mushrooms (if using), onions and apples. If the pan won't hold everything, you can briefly take out the chicken while you sauté the mushrooms, onions and apples. Make sure everything is coated with the oil-butter mixture. Saute for 1 minute and then add in the broth. When the broth boils, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about ten minutes. (Tines will vary depending on the thickness of chicken.)
5. Increase the heat and add in the Calvados (if you're feeling very ooh la la Normandie - use a little more). Boil until it is just about evaporated - about 1 minute.
6. Add the cream and with the heat still high, let the cream boil down about 1/4 - about 3-5 minutes.
7. Adjust seasonings, arrange on platter and serve. I finish it with some fresh thyme.

And now it's your turn - serve it with rice, sautéed spinach or crusty bread - what you think is a good idea.

We've had a blissfully warm autumn. Those of us in Minnesota look to El Nino for "short winters" (under 7 months). There is dancing in the streets when the words "El Nino" first appear in the summertime. Yes, the photo below was taken in mid-October, but I am still am amazed that I have geraniums, petunias, shrub roses, sage, thyme, parsley, bridal veils and other assorted happy plants.

Our patio days are numbered, but the "good ideas" are in full force. A fire on the patio is always a good idea. Calvados remains a good idea.

There have been many family discussions as of late. Matthew is poised to get his doctorate in April/May 2016. He has been "job" searching (for a post-doc). (And obsessing. He is his mother's son after all.) And last week, his number one choice came through and he accepted a two-year position at IPK in Gatersleben, Germany. It's a world-class lab for his work (plant pathologist). My "little guy." Living and working in Europe. Such a good idea.

And below:

He came to us exactly one year ago. Cioppino-Pino-Bambino was a very good idea. The days may be shorter, but November is filled with good ideas.