28 February 2014

Warm Meals for Cold Winters

Boeuf en daube a la Camargue, from the south of France

Pipes freeze. Cars don't start. Joints stiffen. Sidewalks are icy. Furnaces run overtime.

It's winter in Wisconsin. Will we see some relief in March?

Blueberry-Nectarine Crisp

Blueberry-Nectarine Crisp
For weeks homeowners in my area have let their water trickle in at least one sink to prevent frozen pipes. I don't recall a colder winter, and it's getting on everyone's nerves. Cabin fever set in about a month ago, and we can't wait for spring. 

There's nothing like a summer dessert to help pry an ice-bound Badger out of winter's grip; when I surveyed the contents of my freezer, I found frozen blueberries and peaches. So I just may make myself a version of this dessert, from 2007:

26 February 2014

Making Jésuites, a French Patisserie Classic

Jésuites from the market in Old Cahors, 2008

Each visit to France has had its own flavor as we explored both city and countryside, north and south, examining the differences.

I love the constant street noise in Paris, even after midnight, but I also love the deep quiet of the dark countryside at 2 a.m.

Both city and country have one thing in common: Incredible outdoor food markets, filled with produce, cheese, meat and baked goods. The baked goods found in Paris seem a bit more inventive and elegant while the pastries of the south are rooted in tradition.

25 February 2014

Salmon and Asparagus Salad

I'll be turning to this salad more than once in the weeks ahead.

It's Lent and seafood beckons. Looking for something light, I found inspiration in Kalyn's Warm Salmon and Asparagus Salad from the archives at Kalyn's Kitchen in 2006 and have made in a Lenten tradition ever since.  My addition to the recipe consisted of roasted red pepper and sautéed almonds.

I've been a fan of both salmon and asparagus for a long time, and have made asparagus as a side dish for salmon many times. This trumps anything I have done in the past.

24 February 2014

Fresh Broccoli Salad with Maytag Blue Cheese

Look Christmas-y, but it's a salad for all seasons.

If I had to choose one green vegetable I could not live without, it would be broccoli. Sorry, Brussels sprouts; you did come in second. Kale, you are chic right now, but no.

Broccoli is tops.

A Dozen Fresh Must-Have Items in My Refrigerator

Red and white cipollini onions from Immerfrost Farm.
Availability of fresh, locally-grown produce has waxed and waned over the 20 years since my husband and I moved back to our hometown. In 1994, we could not find casual restaurants that served anything but fried food. Thankfully, over the years a new generation of owners and chefs took over area restaurants and most emphasize healthier cooking with local ingredients.

23 February 2014

Split Pea Soup, a French Canadian Classic

Split yellow peas
My friend Pru, whose grandmother was French Canadian, made pea soup the other day, and that got me thinking about how much I would like to make some, too. I associate pea soup with late February and early March and the coming of Lent; that's when my mother served it.

22 February 2014

Roasted Cashews with Rosemary and Sea Salt

Roasted Cashews with Rosemary and Sea Salt: Rustic but elegant.

On our last trip to Paris I was famished by the time we checked into our Latin Quarter hotel and quickly demolished a jar of cashews with rosemary I found in the mini-bar.

The taste will forever remind me of that sunny, breezy Thursday afternoon in May, the perfect kind of day to arrive in Paris.

How to Roast Garlic in Your Oven

Taken from the oven, roasted garlic is sweet.

Our depression-era parents grew up associating garlic with urban, working class families from the Old Country. By the start of World War II, garlic was catching on as a component of ethnic food and then when hungry GIs tasted it in Italy, they embraced it and, in a sense, brought it home to American cuisine.

Chicken with Apples and Calvados

Chicken was a Sunday dish when I was growing up, and a firmly-planted tradition in Grandma Annie's kitchen. This post was updated from 2007:

In college, I devoured young women's magazines, and somewhere along the way clipped an extensive article about Normandy. The accompanying photos of lace curtained windows, baskets of apples and bottles of Calvados formed my ideas of what a French kitchen should be, and I saved them for years.

21 February 2014

Roasted Carrots with Brown Sugar and Thyme

Roasted Carrots with Brown Sugar and Thyme

I really never know what's on the menu for the week until I shop at the farm market.

Soup with Cider-Glazed Vegetables

At dusk my neighborhood smells of woodsmoke. This scenario never fails to invoke Grandma Annie, who kept a "burn barrel" in her backyard, as did many of her neighbors in those pre-recycling days. I never got too close to the barrels, but I am imaging they were filled with old newspapers and egg cartons and other materials that we recycle today.

20 February 2014

Roasted Potatoes with Garlic and Thyme

Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes with Garlic and Thyme

I love matching flavors and textures but believe it is best done with a light touch. Layering too many different flavors into one dish all too often changes the taste of the main ingredient.

Pear-Ginger Crisp with Salted Almond Topping

Pear-Ginger Crisp with Salted Almond Topping

From 2007: Tarte Tatin and Cherry Clafoutis not withstanding, pears are the fruit I have always associated with a true French kitchen.

When Grandma Annie wanted fruit, she usually chose a juicy pear. Her mother, Mémére, loved them, too. It took me years to develop a taste for pears, as I found them too metallic.

I like them now, and they are second only to apple desserts in my repertoire.

This dessert was created from odds and ends and leftovers on a snowy night in 2007. It was better than I expected, and I've made many times over since that wintry night.

19 February 2014

New! Greek Chicken with Bacon, Spinach, Feta and Olives

My husband's Greek Chicken is delicious.

A few months ago, my husband brought home some Greek Chicken from a local deli. We thought it was a delicious, once-in-a-while treat that we could make at home.

He was in charge of recreating the recipe. What he came up with was a keeper!

New! Slow Cooker Baked Beans with Québec Maple Syrup

I remember so well the pantries of my childhood, my grandmother's and my mother's, stocked with several sizes of classic bean pots, along with molasses and maple syrup. Several times a year, the bean pots were dusted off and put to use, and then the aroma of bacon, molasses and maple would fill the house.

A few years ago, I bought my own bean pot at a flea market, but I was already accustomed to making beans in a roaster. It's an all-day project, and I like those. This time I wanted to try beans in a slow cooker.

18 February 2014

New! Window Shopping for Sweets

Strawberry desserts from a bakery near the Bastille, 2007.

There's enough Catholic school girl left in me that I actually want to make a Lenten sacrifice of some sort and just enough Jewish to make me feel guilty if I don't.

A Dozen Pantry Staples I Can't Do Without

It's been snowing for nearly seven hours as I write this, and some prognosticators say it's not going to stop for another 20 or so. Oh, goody.

Fortunately, I've baked beans in the slow cooker. When you keep navy beans and condiments on hand, it's an easy meal to make. All you need are beans, bacon, ketchup, mustard, onions, bacon, molasses and brown sugar - pantry staples for most of us.

There are a few other pantry items I am never without, in addition to flour, sugar and other baking-related supplies. Here's my list:

17 February 2014

Old-Fashioned Chicken-Pasta Salad with Almonds and Pimentos

Chicken Pasta Salad with Almonds and Pimentos

There are some days when only the food our mothers made will do. Those are often the days when we find ourselves out of sorts with the contemporary world of instantaneous and overly curt and abbreviated electronic conversations, immediate satisfaction, cheap goods made in China, and well, twerking.

Zesty Homemade Tomato Soup with Herbes de Provence

One winter day in 2007 I came home from work at 11 a.m., displaying all the symptoms of approaching upper respiratory ailment. I intended to make chicken soup and take a nap.

I didn't make chicken soup at all.

16 February 2014

Mascarpone Pasta Sauce with Bacon

Bacon is trending, no doubt about it. But when I first tried this favorite dish in my first year of blogging, I felt rather decadent for suggesting it. From 2007:

My father thoroughly understood the link between food and learning. When I was in grade school, Sunday night dinners at our house often involved “lessons” to match the food served. Learning by eating, so to speak.

Patricia Wells' Fricassee of Chicken with White Wine, Capers and Olives

Fricasee of Chicken, cooking in the skillet

This is one of the most popular recipes I've posted. It's worth a repeat, just in time for Sunday dinner. From 2007:

When I was a student at UW-Madison in the 1980s, everyone was talking about alumna Jane Brody, the New York Times writer who was making a name for herself writing cookbooks about healthy food.

15 February 2014

New! Sweet Bell Pepper Pizza with Cipillini Onions, Chevre, Black Olives and, yes, Meatloaf

My beloved Grandma Annie was incredibly hip for a grandmother born in 1888. She knew how much we kids loved pizza and often made it for us, using a package that included crust mix, a small can of tomato sauce and a packet of parmesan cheese. Toppings were improvised: usually hamburger, tomatoes and onions.

13 February 2014

New! Apricot-Mascarpone Bread Pudding for Four

Apricot-Mascarpone Bread Pudding

It's too bad I had to eat my loaf of braided apricot bread because it really was a work of art. I had a slice, just to determine what I could match it up with: I considered something earthy, like brie.

Then at the grocery store I saw a carton of mascarpone. A light bulb when off, an aha! moment occurred.

And that was that.

New! Sweet Ginger Girl, a Drink to Warm Your Winter

A Sweet Ginger Girl in a blue-tinted glass.

I set up my first blog more than a decade ago and called it Blue Ginger Girl. I had fun setting it up. But then I couldn't think of anything to blog about: Imagine that!

12 February 2014

Cooking from the Heart: Chef James Haller

This morning I opened my e-mail to find that Chef James Haller of Portsmouth, NH, would be cooking a very special meal on March 3 at The Wellington Room in Portsmouth. The menu consists of: 

Easy Chocolate Truffles

From 2006: These chocolate truffles are easy to make and the perfect DIY Valentine's Day gift for someone special.

Let me confess one thing up front: I have never made truffles and photographed them before.

I have never even made truffles that anyone — other than my husband — has seen.

In a sense, I was a truffle virgin. Because certainly, you cannot call those other — things — truffles. Not the chocolate kind. They looked more like the truffles Peter Mayle writes about with such elegance.

They were misshapen, they were crooked. They bulged where they should have been smooth. They were unevenly coated. They tasted wonderful, but they were not photogenic.

Maybe we were in too big a hurry to eat them. They tasted rich and deep and boozy.

With these I took my time. Mostly they came out smooth and round. Really, if you are patient and careful and make sure the chocolate base is cool when you roll them, these truffles will turn out very well.

Easy Chocolate Truffles
  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate pieces
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons — or more — cognac or brandy
  • granulated sugar

Empty the chocolate pieces in a large bowl. Bring the cream to a boil in a small sauce pan. Pour it over the chocolate and blend until the chocolate is smooth and without lumps. Chill for at least three hours.

Once the chocolate base is thoroughly chilled, make small chocolate balls and roll them in sugar or baking cocoa until thoroughly coated. Chill until firm.

Makes about two dozen. Keep them refrigerated and they should keep for up to two weeks (they won't last that long, trust me!). They are very, very rich so one at a time will do it. Or maybe two.

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11 February 2014

Baked Apples with Calvados for Two

I love apples.

I always have them on hand, and was delighted last fall to receive a huge bag of organic apples, which quickly became applesauce and apple crisp.

I love apples so much, I signed up to receive e-mails from the U.S. Apple Association, which reminded me recently that eating apples is a good way to celebrate Heart Month, which is February.

You know, the old adage so I won't repeat it.

At my house, apple-anything is the favorite dessert. Apple crisp on its own or combined with some other seasonal fruit (apples, of course, are always in season) is on the menu almost constantly.

This is another favorite:

Baked Apples with Calvados
  • two baking apples (Northern Spy, Golden Delicious or Rome Beauty)
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • juice and zest from orange or lemon
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup Calvados or apple brandy
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise seed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 cinnamon sticks

Preheat oven to 400. Peel and core the apples. Stuff the centers with walnuts and butter. Place in buttered baking pan and set aside.

Blend the other ingredients in a small bowl and pour over the apples. Bake for about 35-45 minutes or until apples are soft (but not mushy). Baste periodically while apples are baking; you really need to check them for doneness anyway, since oven vary.

Serve warm, spooning the thickened juice from the bottom of the baking dish over the apples. Ice cream or yoghurt are great toppings. I also like a hunk of cheddar with mine, to offset the sweetness.

The spices were perfect in concert with the brandy, giving the apples a complex, almost mysterious taste.

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10 February 2014

New! Green Beans Amandine with Shallots

Green beans have a reputation as a vegetable most people can tolerate. They are fairly bland, which may be why they are often drowned in cream of mushroom soup and smothered in onion rings for holiday dinner.

Not at my house. I like them fresh and simply prepared, usually with just butter, salt and pepper.

Unless they've been frozen. In the fall, I stock my freezer with bags of frozen vegetables, bemoaning the end of the local harvest and the outdoor farm market (although I am pleased we have two indoor farm markets that sell herbs, eggs, baked goods, onions, apples and a few other edible delights).

I've shared my recipe for making frozen carrots palatable and my method for preparing Brussels sprouts. Now let's talk green beans.

I've been making frozen green beans this way for decades: I sometimes use fresh, too. I've tried other recipes, and this is my favorite. I plan to experiment a bit more, but not with cream of mushroom soup, I can assure you.

Green Beans Amandine with Shallots
  • 1 package frozen green beans
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 small shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons almonds, sliced or coarsely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Using a saucepan, prepare beans according to package directions, using at least two cups of chicken broth in place of water. You may need to add water to the pan. Drain and set aside.

In large skillet, brown shallots in oil and butter, adding almonds once the shallots begin to caramelize. Put the green beans into the skillet, lower the heat, and stir, allowing flavors to blend. Alternately, you can pour the browned shallots and almonds into the saucepan, and blend with the beans. Season. Serves 3-4.

Anything prepared with almonds is generally called amandine, but sometimes you will see the term "almondine" in American cookbooks. Same thing. Those in the know use the French term.

This is a simple approach to making a bag of frozen green beans taste delightful.

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09 February 2014

Tart with Cipollini Onions, Goat Cheese and Squash

From 2012: I bought some more cipollini onions today. I can't help myself. They are so sweet, in taste and in form.

A while ago, I made this dish and the memory of it propelled me forward. Sometimes you need one recipe to suggest another.

I'd never worked with cipollini onions until 2012, although I must have consumed them in something at some point. (They look light flattened versions of regular onions, or maybe little vegetable spaceships.) One night, I made a side dish with delicata squash. Surely there's a sweet marriage here somewhere?

(I worried about peeling these flat little beauties, and thought I might lose a finger, but then I found these suggestions online. As it turned out, I had no problems once I halved the onions so they were easier to peel and slice.)

I also had a small round of Crottin de Champcol, a pasteurized goat cheese produced at Sancerre in the Loire region of France. I'd never tried that before either. It comes in a small wheel that you can hold in the palm of your hand, and is close to the consistency of cream cheese.

So here's how it all came together:

Sweet Autumn Tart with Cipollini Onions and Delicata Squash
  • 2-3 cipollini onions, peeled and sliced of diced
  • 1 small delicata squash, seeded and sliced in 1/4 in slices*
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 cup grated gruyere cheese
  • 1 sheet commercial puff pastry
  • 1 small wheel Crottin de Champcol or any other goat creamy cheese
  • 1/2 Tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons bacon bits, optional
  • dash sea salt, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a large skillet, brown the onions in butter and brown sugar until they begin to caramelize. Remove from skillet, leaving some juices behind. Set aside. Brown the squash slices in the same skillet, flipping over to ensure both sides turn a golden color. You may need to add more butter.

Set aside both the onions and the squash while you prepare the crust.

Roll out the puff pastry to ensure it fits in a greased tart pan. To be honest, I simply lay the pastry sheet in the pan and work it until it is evenly distributed. Next, sprinkle 1/2 cup of gruyere on the bottom of the crust. Distribute evenly. Bake the crust for roughly 10 minutes in the oven, monitoring it carefully. When you remove it, you will need to use a spoon or spatula to flatten the bottom of the crust.

Next, layer the squash, followed by the onions and the goat cheese. (If you choose to add bacon, do it now, distributing evenly. The cheese is creamy, so it will need to be tucked in between onions and squash. The cheese acts as a binder, holding the onions and squash together.

Finally, season with sea salt before returning to the oven for another 25-30 minutes of baking. About 15 minutes into the baking, add remainder of shredded gruyere cheese and fresh thyme. Check frequently; the top of the tart should turn a golden color before you remove it from the oven. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

This is sweet, but not a dessert tart. It would make a great appetizer, or a meal in itself. In the latter case, I'd serve it with ham and a green salad, pairing it with a Riesling.

As it is, the sweetness tempers the slight tanginess of the tart. The cheese provides a good foil for the faint hint of brown sugar.

* You could use any winter squash.

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08 February 2014

Bread of the Month: Braided Apricot Bread

Braided apricot bread from Bay Bakers.

Just when I was complaining inwardly that I hadn't won anything lately, I learned that I'd won a year's worth of free bread - well, one loaf per month - from Bay Bakers, a vendor at my favorite farm market.

I couldn't wait to get it home to eat photograph it. In January, I chose cherry-walnut bread but ate it too fast to shoot it.

I knew this bread would be out of this world, because I'd bought a braid of apricot-almond bread for Christmas breakfast from the same vendor. I don't think it lasted ten minutes.

A loaf like this is a treat for me. It's really a good thing I only get one free one per month.

I'd love to try making this, and you might, too, so I found this recipe, which looks very similar.

I'm not very adept at making shaped breads, but this could find it's way into another recipe.

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Sweet Onion-Leek Soup with Truffle Butter and Thyme

We are lucky to have not one but two winter farm markets here, but I am counting the days until the summer market opens. Recently I revisited this soup from 2012, inspired by what I found at the market that year.

I've had the farm market habit since the days when I lived within walking distance of the Dane County Farm Market in Madison, Wis.

I'd leave my apartment for the market's opening, make one turn around Capital Square, and head home, both arms full. I'd eat breakfast, and go back around 9 a.m., returning home again loaded down with produce, baked goods, herbs and more. In those days, I could eat for about $20-30 a week.

I like the sense of community a farm market generates. I see the same shoppers every week, and there's lots of bantering back and forth between shoppers and growers. 

The following sweet onion soup recipe was made from two varieties of Immerfrost Farm sweet onions and leeks, garlic, thyme from my own garden, bay leaves from another vendor, and topped with cheese from a regional cheese factory. Only the broth and the black-truffle butter (a splurge) were not locally produced.

Sweet Onion-Leek Soup with Truffle Butter and Thyme
  • 10-12 small sweet onions, sliced
  • 3 medium leeks, sliced (tender white and green parts)
  • 2 small cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 Tablespoons truffle butter
  • 1 32-ounce package free-range chicken broth, or homemade stock*
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • dash herbes de Provence
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1-2 Tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • thickening agent 

You could choose to start by making a roux with flour and butter. (I often forget this step and use this method. I find that a cheese rind often does the trick, too.)

Prepare onions and leaks and brown in oil and truffle butter stock pot over medium heat until transparent and slightly brown. Stir frequently. Add broth, herbs, and bay leaves. Allow to nearly reach boiling point, then simmer for about 40 minutes or more over very low heat. Add fresh thyme about midway through the simmering process. Remove bay leaves before serving. Season to taste.

Serve with grated or flaked cheese; I used flaked Parmesan. but Gruyere would be perfect, too.

Light, sweet, subtle: I served it with hard French rolls. It's also great with a ham sandwich.

*This is much better with homemade stock. I save juice from just about everything, including slow cooker chicken and pork chops. Add water, chill overnight, and skim off the fat. I use this strategy with broth made from a chicken carcass, too.

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07 February 2014

Maple-Roasted Carrots with Onions and Thyme

How to make a bag of frozen carrots taste delicious.

So what happens to those bags of frozen vegetables in the back of the freezer?

I can't bring myself to throw them out without making an effort to do something with them: my frugal French genes makes in hard for me to waste things.

I found a bag of carrots the other day.  I couldn't bear to throw it out, even if the contents tasted like freezer. (Freezer is not a taste. It is not sweet, sour, salty, savory, bitter, freezer, etc.)

I saved those carrots. And then savored them. It was like eating dessert.

Here's what you need to make Maple-Roasted Carrots with Onions and Thyme from a bag of frozen carrots. Of course, fresh would be better.

  • 1 13-ounce bag of frozen carrots
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 large or 2 small sweet onions (I used cipollini onions, of course)
  • 2 Tablespoons, fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • dash sea salt
  • 2 Tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 400.

If there is any ice on the carrots, rinse them in cold water and allow to dry in a colander or on a paper towel. Once they are dry, place them in a large saucepan and cover with broth; allow them to partially cook (bring to a boil, then remove from heat). I used vegetable broth and tossed in a stick of cinnamon. (Refrigerate or freeze the broth for another use.)

Drain the carrots, and toss with olive oil, maple syrup and chopped thyme. Add salt. Place on a lined cookie sheet or in a shallow baking dish on an upper - but not the top - oven shelf. Allow carrots to further cook and brown - at least 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them: All ovens cook differently.

While carrots are browning, caramelize onions in a small sauté pan with butter. When both carrots and onions are browned, toss and serve.

Simple and fast, this side dish taste is also sweet and salty - and I love that. Pair it with pork or chicken and a green salad.

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06 February 2014

Red Lettuce Salad With Blue Cheese

Since renaming this blog several months ago, I have spent hours revamping my blog format and resizing photos. Only two months ago I was ready to throw in the towel completely, mentally hanging a big Do Not Resuscitate sign on it. But something stopped me.

I am not ready to let go. So many of my blogger friends from 2006 are no longer blogging and I miss them. Their comments and e-mails got me through a time of transition, while offering suggestions and encouragement. So I'm not ready to stop blogging.

Instead I began curating, as they say today - I call it editing - my own archives, deleting hastily written or ill-conceived posts - surely there is more to come, or should I say go? - and evaluating posts that were effective, or just plain delicious. This is one that originally ran in 2007.

I still make this salad several times a year. It's so tasty, and a great foil for any savory meal. And colorful: The pomegranate arils, which provide such sweet bursts of flavor, look like little rubies tucked away amidst the lettuce. But now I think I want it. Our menu has been heavy lately, lots of stews and casseroles and one-dish meals. All very savory, I might add.

This fresh salad is a perfect light dish for this time of year, a pleasant way to put the gastronomic excesses of the holidays and winter far behind you. It is delicious with any meal, or by itself.

Red Salad with Blue Cheese
  • small head of red lettuce
  • 1 small red onion, chopped or sliced
  • 3/4 cup pomegranate arils (or dried cranberries)
  • 1/2 cup roasted pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup blue cheese
  • Pomegranate or raspberry balsamic vinegar for dressing
Tear up the lettuce. Slice the onions. Grab a handful of cranberries or pomegranate arils. Roast pecans in the oven. Toss it all together. Add some blue cheese crumbles. Drizzle on the dressing.

I make this for holiday potlucks and its always a hit. The blue cheese can be optional; I never add it until the last minute, once I'm sure everyone at the potluck eats it. You can add butter and brown sugar to your pecans for roasting. Frankly, you can toss in whatever you have on hand.

Note: Want to peel a pomegranate? Here's how.

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05 February 2014

Apricot-Walnut French Toast

Apricot-Walnut French Toast

I am fairly conservative with money, preferring to save what I can for travel. I never buy anything not on sale and in the past year, I've become a thrifter, haunting second-hand stores for clothing made when clothing was well made, and buying it for a few dollars.

When it comes to grocery shopping, I look around for the best deals. I have been known to clip coupons, read weekly circulars, shop at several different stores and use leftovers - or pop unused portions in the freezer.

All this careful frugality goes out the window when I am in or near a patisserie or baker's market stall in France.

I buy more than my husband and I can eat, just because I want to try it. Financiers, tarte tatin, Jesuits, brioche, olive bread, pain au chocolate and more. I cannot resist. I am helpless. Weak.

Fortunately, I know what to do with leftovers. French toasts and bread pudding are an excellent way to use up what we cannot eat. French people buy bread daily for a reason: It grows hard in a day or two, unlike the bread we buy so carefully sliced and wrapper.

Apricot-Walnut French Toast for Two

For the bread
  • 6 slices apricot or cinnamon-raisin bread (I used apricot bread with raisins)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup cream or whole milk
  • tablespoon brown sugar
  • teaspoon vanilla extract
  • dash cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • butter to melt in skillet
For the sauce:
  • 1/2 cup apricot preserves (something I always buy in France, but you can use honey)
  • tablespoon melted butter
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, chopped*
Beat eggs, cream or milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon in large bowl. Soak bread until it is thoroughly moist, but not falling apart. Butter skillet; use medium heat to melt butter. Place in skillet, continuing to use medium heat, and brown on both sides, carefully turning over frequently with a spatula.

While bread is turning golden brown, heat preserves in a small saucepan over a low burner. Add butter and walnuts.

Remove bread from skillet and smother in apricot-walnut sauce. This is delicious when served with vanilla yogurt and apricot nectar. I have also paired it with cream cheese, which I consider breakfast food, and maple sausage.

*As I recall, I could not find a nut grinder in the kitchen we were renting, so I skipped this step.

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04 February 2014

How to Make Frozen Brussels Sprouts Taste Good

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Carrots
At the beginning of every winter we stock up on essentials, like coffee, paper products, laundry detergent and kitchen staples. Wisconsin weather is fickle, and it's more likely to turn bad than good. Some days it is just too much of a hassle to run errands. That is the beauty of early retirement: Going outside in winter only when it is an absolute necessity.

We also fill our freezer with vegetables and fish. My vegetable list is topped by Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli. I replenish my stock mid-winter, and hasten to clean it out by June. I think my semi-annual Clean Out the Fridge Month, which comes in spring and lasts longer than four weeks, is my favorite time of year. It is a creative time, when much experimentation takes place in my kitchen. I also spend less on groceries during that period!

Frozen vegetables are supposed to be a better nutritional value than fresh vegetables that have traveled hundreds of miles to supermarkets, so I always have plenty on hand from September to May.

I love the earthy taste of Brussels sprouts, and I don't think I have ever had a dish made with them that was not good. My soup and warm salad recipes are repeat performers. They are best made with fresh Brussels sprouts.

So what can you do to dress up a bag of frozen Brussels sprouts? Here is my favorite dish, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Carrots.
  • 1 bag of baby Brussels sprouts (about 32 ounces)
  • 4-5 medium carrots, parboiled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Clean, parboil and slice the carrots. Set aside.

Spray a low baking dish or low casserole dish with oil (you could actually skip this step). Empty the bag of Brussels sprouts directly into the dish (or into a separate bowl), add the carrots, and drizzle with oil. Season. I added some Mural of Flavor from Penzeys, one of my new acquisitions, which blends shallots, onion, garlic, thyme, rosemary, basil, coriander, lemon peel, citric acid, black pepper, chives, green peppercorns, dill weed, and orange peel. I think thyme and a dash of lemon peel would be a an equally perfect addition.

Roast for about 30-40 minutes, or until sprouts cook through and begin to brown.

The result is sweet, earthy and nutty and the perfect side dish for a meal featuring pork. If you have time, caramelized shallots would be a wonderful topping.

Coming up: How to make a bag of frozen carrots taste good.

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03 February 2014

Cauliflower Soup with Lime

I am in the process of reviewing all posts on my blog for relevancy and repetition. A blog that is about to mark its 8th birthday (June 11) simply needs updating, no matter how many minor facelifts it has had. I pondered throwing in the towel completely but could not bear to do so. I have put too much into this project, which started as an attempt to educate myself about blogging so I could teach my students - college freshmen and sophomores - how to write a news blog. Besides, I no longer have a real job, and I can now give this blog the time and thought I think it deserves. In reviewing early posts, I found a few that merited reposting or updating. This is one of them. From early 2007:

When I was four years old I refused to eat white food.

I drank milk if I could not see it, which meant I had a covered cup with a cartoon character's face on top. The straw was inserted in its mouth.

Mashed potatoes? Only if I could not see them. Bread had to be toasted golden brown and slathered with peanut butter or cinnamon so no trace of white could be seen. I am not certain if my parents resorted to blindfolding me for meals, but they may well have done that.

Today I eat white foods in moderation. I've learned, like everyone else, that brightly colored foods are higher in nutrients. You can imagine how delighted I was to discover that colored cauliflower has finally made it northern Wisconsin. Of course, I had to buy some. What a great way to get kids to eat!

The first thing I made was a purple-and-green cauliflower salad with carrots and red peppers. I topped it with my Honey Dijon Dressing (see Jan. 13 post) and sprinkled a few bacon bits and some chopped cashews on top. Pretty good for a slapdash sort of thing.

Then I went upmarket, stumbling across this Lime-y Cauliflower Soup on Epicurious.
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup half and half
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

Roast the cumin seed in a small dry skillet over medium heat until it is fragrant. Once it has been roasted, place it in a mortar and pestle or in a wax paper bag and crush it until in becomes a coarse powder. Note: I could not find cumin seed, so I roasted cumin powder.

Cook the onion in butter in a small but sturdy saucepan over medium heat until the onion is softened, but not caramelized. Add cauliflower, broth and water and simmer until cauliflower is tender. (Watch it carefully as adding more water than the recipe calls for will result in a thin soup. )

Next, puree small batches of the mixture in a blender, until the contents of the pan are liquid and creamy. Add the half and half and lime juice; stir. (At this point, I added just a dash of fleur de sel.) Sprinkle on cumin.

Note: This is a delicate soup well suited to a cold winter day in Wisconsin when thoughts of spring are inevitable. It would pair well with an equally delicate white table wine and a light meal of chicken and rice. It is also a perfect lunch soup.

To my palate, cumin has citrus-y undertones and is a good mate for lime.

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01 February 2014

Fig-and-Walnut Tart with Cognac

It was so much fun to gather windfall figs from the yard.

I'm reposting this original recipe because this dessert is really exceptional and very rich. It's exactly the kind of dessert to serve in winter. 

France, The Lot, Fall, 2008 - It was late September, and we left the house* each day at mid-morning, ready to explore the meandering river country, driving up into mountain villages and down into vineyards: Montcuq, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Luzech, Albas, Douelle, Catus and up into the still-green Dordogne to visit lovely LaRoque Gageac. And every day, into Cahors, sometimes taking the dizzy-ingly high bridge that sneaks up on you as you snake around the city.

Nights were dark and still, and mornings so cold you could see your breath. We'd eat a hearty breakfast, load the market baskets into the Mini and drive off to enjoy the warm heart of the autumn days. We'd return to our tiny village by late afternoon, my husband to a nap, and me to the kitchen and the yard to ponder supper.

I loved this time of day, when we could hear the rush of traffic climbing the hairpin turns of the road beside the gorge: Workers returning from the city to the village, where the air was fragrant with grapes and woodsmoke. There was excitement, too; the grape harvest was near.

The figs on the tree in the yard that sloped toward the vineyards were ripe and falling; I picked a basket of them and paired them with the ubiquitous walnuts of the Quercy. A smidgeon of cognac and voila! Truly the richest dessert I have ever tasted.

Here is what you will need to make my very simple Fig-Walnut Tart:
  • 1 pie crust
  • 10-16 ripe figs, halved from top to bottom
  • ¼ cup Cognac 
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 5 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 cup walnuts, broken
  • dash orange zest (about a teaspoon)
  • dash sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare your pie crust as usual; originally, I used a pate brisée (pie crust) mix from Carrefour, a somewhat upscale French supermarket. Place in a round tart pan or pie plate.

Prepare figs and drizzle with Cognac, brown sugar, orange zest and 1/2 of melted butter. Place open side up in pan. Sprinkle walnuts on top and drizzle with the remainder of the butter and a dash of sea salt.

Bake tart on lower shelf in oven for 40-50 minutes. Watch carefully to ensure walnuts do not get too dark. Allow to cool a bit before serving with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Since I made this in France, and have not replicated it in the US, I recommend checking it frequently during cooking time.

It was rich and rustic; softness and crunch with deep dark hints of pleasure. How satisfying to create a dessert this good from fruit plucked from your own backyard, even a rented backyard!

One of the reasons I have not recreated this dish is that I have not found a source for fresh figs. Plums or apricots would be a good substitute; you may have to adjust the amount of sugar used.

*Readers can rent the house we stayed at here.

PostScript: What about this take on figs? Yum!