Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Artichokes - Roman Style



Roman Artichokes or Carfiofi alla Romana. I was going to post this one month ago - but then "life" happened as it often does.

Straight forward and easy (yes, cleaning the artichokes takes a little time. Put on music and go to your zen place) but once that is done, it's smooth sailing.

Traditionally, the recipe calls for about one tablespoon of fresh Italian parsley and three tablespoons of fresh mint. My early spring garden had Italian parsley, oregano and a touch of mint so that's what I used.


Ingredients - serves 3-6
3 artichokes - halved, trimmed
4 tablespoons fresh chopped herbs (Italian parsley, mint, oregano, basil)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
3/4 cup boiling water


Preparation
Trim artichokes and remove choke. "How to instructions" can be found here and here. Plunge each one into lemon water as you continue trimming.
Combine minced herbs, garlic and olive oil. Put herb mixture into the cavity of the halved artichoke.
Fit them all snuggly into a deep pan so that they don't fall over. Pour the white wine and boiling water over them and simmer for about an hour until tender.





Hunger is a great motivator. I often wonder when someone pulled up their first artichoke and declared, "A thistle! Let's eat it!" I think that's what I love about the "cucina povera." The frugal, peasant recipes of Italy will always call to me. It's a bond with past generations.

And that's about the amount of cooking I have managed in the last two months because...


... in April I was at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah working on my play Almost, Mary (about Mary Anning, the first female paleontologist).



And then I was in Evanston, IL with the Purple Crayon Players for my play Bound by Stardust - my quirky Otto Schmidt/North Pole/physics play.



And then I was fortunate enough to be in Independence, Kansas at the William Inge Festival of New Plays with my one-act A Paper Forest (about climate change).That's William Inge's home above - I am a great fan of that playwright - he wrote so eloquently about small town America.



And because we needed more excitement - Matthew successfully defended his PhD in plant pathology in May. Ironically, his degree will confer on May 31 - the same day that Kirsten's AuD will confer. (They're a little competitive.) So ladies and gentleman - may I introduce Dr. Haas and Dr. Haas!

AND...thirty years ago today, I began an adventure ...


The adventure continues today. The "kids" took us out for a celebratory dinner (Italian) and tonight - we will do Chinese take-out. How's that for a journey of an Italian cook? And because we weren't busy enough this spring, we will be hosting a farewell barbecue for my eldest who moves to Germany on May 30th. (It's getting real.) Happy Spring, all.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Chicken Spinach Lasagna Roll-Ups


One year ago, I posted a lasagna roll up recipe with spinach, ricotta and tomato sauce. They were a hit - mainly because it is super-easy to exercise portion control and very easy to serve. Last December, I saw a similar recipe with alfredo sauce and loved the looks of it. But of course, when I went back to find it - all I could find were fillings that contained cream cheese, ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan. And I thought: "Mama-Mia! - that's a lot of cheese!" If you weren't lactose intolerant before the meal, you might be afterwards.

This is rich - but it won't send you into a coma. It's filled with chicken, spinach, mozzarella and parmesan. Plus - you can devise the amount in the filling to suit you. I've seen some with broccoli, others with just cheese. You just can't mess this up. I made this early in the day, refrigerated it and popped it in the oven when the guests arrived. It's a nifty, 30-minute coking time.

Ingredients - serves 6-8 depending on appetites (the three females at the table had a serving size of one; the three males took 2-3)

2 cups your favorite alfredo sauce
15 lasagna noodles
2 cups cooked chicken
1 10 oz package frozen spinach - well drained (of course, you can use fresh spinach)
1-1/2 - 2 cups shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup Parmesan
Italian seasoning (or fresh Italian parsley)
A little garlic is nice




I didn't over stuff-them. Just adjust the filling amount to what works for you.

Preparation
Get out all the moisture in the frozen spinach. (I drained over night.)
Cook lasagna noodles. Drain on paper towels.
Mix cooked chicken, spinach and cheeses in a bowl. Season to taste. I just used some Italian seasoning and pepper.
Thinly spread some alfredo sauce in the bottom of your lasagna pan.
Thinly spread about 1 tablespoon of the alfredo sauce on the drained noodles. Add about 3 tablespoons of the filling and spread thinly. Roll up the lasagna noodles and place seam-side down in the pan. Repeat. And repeat. Dollup each roll-up with 1 tablespoon of the alfredo sauce.

When you are ready to cook them, preheat oven to 350 degrees F and bake for thirty minutes. Serve. Tada!


I needed two pans.

I has leftovers. Everyone rejoiced and took some home.


We've had a mild winter. I walked most of the winter. I also gained weight. (I think the two cookbooks: French Comfort Food and Winter Cabin Cooking had something to do with it. I meant to post the recipes all winter (very good). Winter Cabin Cooking is also too pretty - makes you fall in love with winter. So as I look at my jeans that I do not fit into, I am reminded how comforted I was this winter!

We barely need the fireplace. March has been warmer than usual. But Matthew's cat is here now and Puck loves it so it goes on for a bit.


And the three cats are mostly getting along.

The theatre work (the stuff I am supposed to be doing when I am not cooking) has gone well. I am flying to Salt Lake City in April to develop a youth play about the first female paleontologist, Mary Anning. Then, I go to Chicago to develop my arctic-physics play Bound by Stardust. Then I come home for a day and do laundry and then go to Independence, Kansas for my one act play about climate change. I had to laugh - I finally get into some places that I have targeted for years - and all happens in April. So, April won't be the cruelest month. Just a busy one.

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.


INGREDIENTS:
Cake
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

Frosting
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 ...