mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Category: Food

creamy corn polenta . . .

I’ve been experimenting with making polenta for a couple of weeks. At first, I was put off by recipes that said you had to stir it for an half hour over the stove. You don’t have to.

In August, I’ll use fresh corn kernels cut off Silver Queen or Butter & Sugar corn. In the meantime, I add a small can of creamed corn to enhance this dish. It’s yummy!

Here’s the recipe:

  1. Measure 1 cup spring water (not tap) and 1 cup milk or light cream in a non-stick skillet or pan. Bring to a boil.
  2. Gradually add 1/4 to 1/3 cup of fine yellow cornmeal (I use Quaker Oats brand.) I find that remembering it’s about a 4:1 ratio of liquid to cornmeal that helps not to have to look up the recipe each time.
  3. Stir until the cornmeal is blended well with the liquid. Cook over medium heat until it bubbles and thickens slightly. Keep stirring – usually takes about 10 minutes which goes by quickly.
  4. When the polenta has thickened and cooked for about 15 minutes from when you started, take it off the heat and open a small can of creamed corn. With the pan still off the heat, add the creamed corn and stir it into the polenta and mix well (gently.)
  5. Add a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter and stir to melt.
  6. Add about 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
  7. Let the mixture cool at room temperature. Taste for seasoning – I added some sea salt because it was rather bland – up to you.
  8. Serve warm in small plates as a side dish.

This creamy corn polenta goes well with grilled kielbasa or barbecued chicken – and a green salad with a tangy vinaigrette. Enjoy!

 

chicken liver pate . . .

One of my favorite things to munch on is chicken liver pate. I’ve made it at Christmas time since my kids were young. Today, I decided to make a batch for a late lunch that we’re having with friends who are visiting the hospital for a post-operative checkup. It’s very easy to make and tastes wonderful!

Here’s the simple recipe:

Buy a container of fresh chicken livers at the market. Rinse the contents with cold tap water. Then, take each one out individually and trim off the connective gristle and tissue on the livers with a sharp knife. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Dry the livers on a paper towel. Melt a half stick of unsalted butter in a skillet and lightly brown a chopped up shallot. Place the dried and trimmed chicken livers into the skillet and cook under medium heat until cooked through, turning pieces over every once in awhile.

When the livers are about cooked through, pour in about two-three tablespoons of Madeira sherry. You can also use Marsala if you don’t have Madeira, but the Madeira adds a wonderful sweet aroma to the cooked livers. In the meantime, bring two eggs to a boil and hard-boil them. Drain in cold tap water and peel. The last major ingredient in this recipe is Philadelphia cream cheese, regular rectangular big size.

Let the livers/madeira cool in a separate bowl so as not to have the heat of the pan retain their temperature. In a Cuisinart or blender, add the livers, cut up the hard boiled eggs and add the cream cheese – also cut up to make it easier to blend. I use a Cuisinart food processor (the large one) and it is a breeze to puree the pate together.

Before I do, I sprinkle on some truffle salt – which is a wonderful umami taste enhancer and some cracked pepper. I whizz the whole thing together, taste for seasoning and then remove the pate to a nice looking serving bowl. On top of the pate, I usually add a bay leaf or two as decoration.

On toasted 7 grain bread; warm ciabetta slices, triscuit crackers or melba toast, this chicken liver pate will enhance any spread you decide to lay out on the table.

Bon Appetit! Can’t wait! It’s also a wonderful thing to have in the fridge for those moments when I have a craving for something savory in the evening or snacking in the afternoon when nobody else is around!

puff pastry apple tart! . . .

A couple of months ago, I started cooking with frozen puff pastry. First, I made a peach crostada with it which was beautiful! Next, I layered it on some leftover cornish hen that I combined with vegetables in a cream sauce as a chicken “pot pie.” It rose and browned up so beautifully that I was sorry I had come upon this alternative to boring pie crust topping at such a late stage in my life!

The Celtics were drubbed the other night – with a 50 point deficit and Isaiah Thomas aggravating a sore hip and now out for the remainder of the season. What this means of course is that I’ll be tuned into the finale of “Madam Secretary” tonight while flipping back and forth to the Celtics game. The pessimistic attitude towards the NBA playoffs, however, hasn’t restrained me from thinking up something to make for dessert tonight.

This recipe is from “The Nordic Kitchen,” a fabulous cookbook that I borrowed from the library the other day. Unbeknownst to me, the author, Claus Meyer, was the co-owner of Noma in Norway who also hired Rene Redzipi, the now renowned chef who has revived locally sourced dishes in Norway that includes reindeer moss and the like.

This book contains not only gorgeous photographs to inspire one to try out the recipes, but there is an intellectually purist streak through it all, simplifying cooking steps while improving classics at the same time. In this recipe, one defrosts a sheet of puff pastry and cuts into two rectangles that are rolled out slightly. Then apples (I had two Braeburn) are sliced very thinly through the cores with their skins on. Layered onto the pastry in a beautiful design, sprinkled some freshly grated lemon zest (my idea,) confectioners sugar and drizzled with melted butter (see what I mean?) it is baked in a 425 degree oven for about 15-18 minutes until the tart is puffed up and the apples caramelized. Serve it with creme fraiche, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream while it is still warm.

After this gorgeous tart came out of the oven, I began to think about other fresh fruit that this would work well with: mixed berries, pears, nectarines and PEACHES when they come into season – which will be soon! And I wonder what a slice of warm peach tart would taste like with a dollop of creme fraiche? How about glazing the peaches with some warm Bonne Maman orange marmalade on top? Endless possibilities!

Honestly, I’m convinced this very simple and elegant way to make a puff pastry fruit tart is so much simpler than peeling and coring fruit to make an apple pie – plus it looks absolutely wonderful and the frozen puff pastry does all the hard work for you!

 

“Potager” asparagus bread pudding . . .

This was the first meal I made for my husband-to-be when we first met. The recipe can be found in Georgeanne Brennan’s classic cookbook, “Potager.” It consists of asparagus, old bread soaked in milk, swiss cheese, eggs and parmesan cheese.

Tonight, we’re having an early supper before driving into Lexington for a concert performed by the Concord Chorus of Bach B-Minor Mass at St. Brigid’s church. The weather has cooled off considerably, the sun is out and the sound of birds is loud and clear through our open windows.

I’ve been saving about a third of a loaf of my home baked oatmeal bread in the freezer. Warmed up in the microwave this morning, I took a portion and zinged up bread crumbs in my little Cuisinart food processor, noting that I use that kitchen appliance probably more than any other with the portable electric mixer coming in second. The ingredients are laid out in the kitchen and ready to go later this afternoon to put together.

Mid-afternoon, I quarter cut some fresh asparagus – about 10 spears and cooked them gently in some unsalted butter. I soaked the bread in a cup of whole milk and prepared a buttered casserole dish. After about 20 minutes, I hand squeezed the milk from the crumbs and arranged the milky bread in a layer on the bottom of the baking dish. Then, I added half the sauteed asparagus, seasoned with salt and pepper. On top of the asparagus, I sprinkled some grated swiss and parmesan cheese. Then, came another later of bread (squeezed dry,) asparagus and cheeses.

To this layered casserole, I added three extra large eggs beaten with about 3/4 cup of light cream (or you could use milk too) and poured it carefully all over the casserole so it was well combined. Into a preheated oven of 375, this asparagus bread pudding dish puffed up and looked golden brown in about 45 minutes.

Note: Sometimes the middle of the dish is not cooked as well as the ends, so another 5 minutes or so in the oven will ensure that you won’t get any soggy egg when you cut into the casserole. If it IS soggy, just serve the ends to yourselves and put the pan back into the still warm oven. When you take it out again – it will be cooked through.

Very delicious!

 

eggplant parm (with ricotta!) . . .

I love cooked eggplant. It’s great sauteed over high heat with lots of garlic and hot sauce at Chinese restaurants. I like to cook eggplant tempura when I make shrimp tempura with some sweet potatoes too. Tonight, even though it’s still pretty warm outside, I’m cooking the eggplant I bought at the farm stand a couple of days ago.

The eggplant was sliced on the thin side and sprinkled with Maldon salt – left it for about an hour. Then, I rinsed it well under cold water and DRIED it all and let it sit for a couple of hours. When ready to put the dish together, I heated up a skillet with oil and dipped the eggplant slices in egg first, then very lightly dredged in flour mixed with  Lawry’s garlic salt and cracked pepper. Then, I cooked the eggplant slices until it was crisp and cooked on both sides. Drained the oil off of it and finished cooking the rest of the slices. Having blotted all of the oil from the cooked slices, I was ready to put everything together.

There’s a fluted white porcelain oval baking dish that is perfect for this size eggplant parm. The sauce we like is Ragu traditional (might seem boring but it’s not too acidic and the taste is to our liking.) I took a tablespoon and spread a little sauce on the bottom of the casserole. Since all the eggplant was cooked, I did the reverse of what I usually do – which was to save the nice uniform pieces for the top level and used the cut up “ugly” pieces on the bottom layer! Can’t believe I never thought to do that before. I spooned on a scant layer of sauce, then added some dollops of fresh ricotta cheese. There was about a third of a container of ricotta cheese in the fridge and it tasted great – so I was confident it would taste good in the eggplant dish. I used the microplane to grate fresh parmesan cheese over the entire layer. Then repeated the layering steps with lots of parmesan grated onto the top.

The oven was heated to 375 and I cooked it until the eggplant parm was golden brown on the top. It was very tasty – not too much tomato taste, tender eggplant and sweet melted ricotta cheese in between. Yum!

 

 

lemony poppyseed tea bread . . .

It’s day three of a heat wave here in New England mid-May while we’re waiting to put our plants out by Memorial Day (just kidding!) The Celtics are coming up against LeBron James and the Cavaliers tonight at 8:30 p.m. Around two in the afternoon, I began looking around for some “treat” to make for the game tonight from ingredients that I already have on hand.

This is an exercise not unlike doing the “Jumble” anagram puzzle in the newspaper every morning! My goal is to make something from scratch with ingredients I already have on hand. No fair getting in the car to get something just to make a spontaneous treat in the middle of the day! Anyhow. I wanted something fresh and tender to the bite so I settled on a lemon poppyseed cake baked in a loaf pan. The reason it’s “lemony” is that I’ve used fresh lemon zest and fresh lemon juice in the cake – and with the spare amount of lemon juice left, I’ll add some confectioners sugar to it and dribble a little lemon glaze on top of the cake when it comes out of the oven!

 

 

 

 

quick brownies from the pantry! . . .

When I remembered that the Celtics (Boston!) were scheduled to play Game 7 tonight in the NBA playoffs, I looked around the pantry for ingredients to make some brownies.

Here’s the simple recipe – mixed by hand with some leftover salad glazed walnuts and poured into a buttered porcelain baking dish  into a preheated 350 oven:

COCOA BROWNIES:

Melt 1 stick of unsalted butter

Add 1 cup sugar and beat with butter

Add 1 tsp. vanilla and 2 eggs into the creamed mixture

Add 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

Add 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder and same of salt

Preheat 350 oven and bake for 25-30 minutes (do not overbake)

The Celtics lost by one point in Game 6. Let’s hope they’ll have better luck (and a bigger winning margin playing at home tonight!)

Footnote: we sliced up the brownies after dinner and had a taste with our coffee. They were tasty and moist – a good combination!

 

 

dumplings and noodle bowl for dinner. . .

There’s a lot of cooking purity out there – you know, make everything from scratch all the time. I must admit I can be like that some of the time, but sheepishly, I confess to taking more and more shortcuts while maintaining a homey feel to a dish for dinner.

Tonight, I’m feeling a little lazy, having put on an impromptu eat-in last night for friends and family. So we’re going to go light tonight – both in the amount of effort on my part and the amount of food. I picked up a packet of asian chicken soup dumplings at Trader Joe’s this morning. I plan to steam them up and serve them, eating each one nestled in a large pottery soup spoon with dipping sauce so as not to lose the precious soup inside each dumpling.

Separately, I’ll cook a handful of somen noodles – very thin Japanese noodles that are usually eaten cool in the height of summer, dipped in a cup of sauce. But tonight, I’m going to add the cooked somen noodles into a dashi/chicken broth with some sauteed bok choy hearts.

It turns out that this was one of our anniversary dates that we celebrate (March 7 when we eloped and May 11th when we held a ceremony and party for friends and family.)  G. surprised me with roses and a card late this afternoon: I had completely forgotten about it! Instead of running out to an expensive restaurant in town, we enjoyed our light, simple and very tasty supper at home. Wouldn’t you?

 

raspberry ricotta cake . . . ‘best ever!’

The title of this post might be easy to misinterpretation. I just put this cake in the oven and the batter was the best I’ve ever tasted. Honestly!

My daughter, C. and I came upon a ricotta cake with berries when we got together for coffee the other day at Verrill Farms in Concord, MA. We’ve had it for dessert since then and I was struck by the moist cake and nice flavor with blackberries and blueberries here and there in the cake.

This morning, I just mixed together a recipe for ricotta cake with raspberries. I melted a stick of unsalted butter in the microwave, mixed the dry ingredients together using turbinado sugar instead of granulated white sugar. Mixing it together, the batter seemed awfully dry to me – turns out I forgot to copy down the three eggs in the recipe. Using a small electric mixer, I blended the batter together. It looked beautiful – which is a lot to say about cake batter, right?

Into a fluted white porcelain pan buttered all over, the batter filled it almost to the top (I hope it doesn’t spill over as it bakes!) Along the top of the cake, I inserted fresh raspberries and licked the bowl. Yummy batter! So tonight, we’ll have to confirm whether the cake is the best ever!

One of George’s long-time friends may be dropping by midday and the raspberry ricotta cake might be a nice treat. Now, I’m going to go ahead and make up a batch of turkey ricotta meatballs to bake in the oven after the cake comes out. We’ll have them tonight with some sauteed zucchini and mushrooms in tomato sauce and angel hair spaghetti.

Ricotta is a new ingredient  to our recipes – and boy, it’s tasty good!

Footnote: the cake was moist and dense, very tasty! Next time, I’ll look for a slightly larger baking pan so that the batter has more room to fluff up and cook in the middle. The batter was still the most awesome I’ve ever licked!

 

“pasta primavera” . . .

Today’s weather was sunny and mild once the rain fell and moved on this morning. The result is a fresh garden with birds twittering along while I make dinner tonight.

Over the weekend, I bought a handful of fava beans in their shells – the most expensive green vegetable anywhere, as far as I’m concerned. You end up paying the weight of these massive outer skins to reveal a few fava beans wrapped in their protective membranes. Parboiling the shelled beans in their skins, then rinsing them under cold water, then enables you to peel that skin off of each bean to harvest the bright green, tender fava bean within. It’s worth it but it’s tedious.

With the fava beans (and plenty of crushed garlic,) I planned to quarter cut some fresh asparagus with the tough stems broken off. Earlier, I had a small bit of fresh spinach that I cooked in butter, chopped up and added a bit of heavy cream to make creamed spinach. When the fava beans were shelled (G. kindly lent a hand there,) I sauteed two cloves of garlic in a generous amount of unsalted butter, added the fava beans, asparagus and after they were cooked, the creamed spinach. What beautiful greens!

To a pot of boiling water, I added dried egg fettucine and cooked them through, draining them and adding back to the pot with a gob of butter to coat them, along with some truffle salt and chopped parsley.

To serve, I’ve begun plating pasta dishes in shallow soup dishes that  I found at Brimfield, eons ago – they turn out to be just the right shape and size for a good-sized serving of spaghetti, or in this case, fettucine with Spring vegetables. I also like to squeeze a crescent of fresh lemon over the dish after the vegetables and before freshly grated parmesan cheese is provided on top.

YUM YUM YUM! (and the kitchen smells divine with the garlic, vegetable, butter aromas wafting around. . . ) Now, to rescue the bottle of wine I remembered to put into the freezer a little while ago. The wine was divine – a wonderful one given to us by C. with an odd name: “Qupe.”

Happy Tuesday!