Friday, March 25, 2011

Two Chilled Soups Put a Fresh, Cool Spin on Easter Picnicking

With Easter on the pink of tonight’s horizon…what is it—about 3 more weeks to go…? our menus entertain the idea of deviled eggs, country hams, asparagus and perhaps a succulent lamb with mint jelly; all tasty traditions yes, but when I looked for inspiration for this year’s Easter feast, my muse turned out to be a picture of a Fabrege egg; I wanted to research them as something fun and unusual to talk about in my Nana blog for April, and as I read more and more about the royal Russian intrigue surrounding this world famous egg décor, it hit me that I have been inspired by Eastern Europe’s culinary leanings, simply by living so long in South Florida—in Sunny Isles and Hollywood, FL there is a hub of Russian culture, asserting itself in stores, newspapers, markets and restaurants; these flavors certainly enliven the vibrant foodie scene down here, making those of us in Broward and Miami Dade counties crave dumplings in place of the Cuban rice we so frequently enjoy. Check in at Nana’s Kitchen to get the scoop on dumplings made two different ways in my post entitled: “What’s in Your Basket?”

But where was I…ready to drown in the comforting cream of a great Russian meal?

I’ve been in Russian myself and appreciated the wonderful food there; it’s got a repertoire beyond Borsht that could stretch around the earth and back. Because the Easter holiday—or Paskha—is sacred to Russia, I was compelled to see if any of their delicacies this time of year were reminiscent of the recipes printed in my own cookbooks. Sure enough I turned up more than one. What really caught my eye was a refreshing cold soup, chalked full of in season spring veggies and a taste of the sea (crab) for garnish; the colors in my Chilled Three Green Soup with Crab Relish match the brilliance of its flavors. Pack it in a thermos, tuck it into your Easter basket and grab a lovely outdoor seat to catch the Easter Parade! Pictured with today’s post, is an Easter celebration that a Russian born reader of my entertaining blog supplied when I asked for her input on a perfect Spring dish.

I told her what my winter weary palate was craving, and that’s why—when she began to describe her grandmother’s Botvinia, it was music to my ears. Botvinia is a green vegetable soup with fish, and so close in ingredients to my chilled three green soup that I wonder if I was channeling her Babushka when I created my own version all those years ago and published it in At Home Entertaining. The three kinds of lettuce add variations on green hues that remind one of the height of springtime—and reminds me that I should also share my Chilled Vichyssoise—made especially for springtime slurping as it features a unique addition of in season cauliflower that cools you off as things heat up. You may not be allowed to wear white before May, but you can definitely drink it! You’ll love the taste of this potato rich soup that welcomes spices like ginger, parsnips and cumin—the perfect excuse, really, to go shopping for the ultimate soup thermos and other picnicking gear, talked about in a winter picnic piece I wrote last December.

These are the salad days of our 2011 folks—enjoy their freshness and turn down your oven ranges to savor a bowl of chilled perfection.

Chilled Vichyssoise

Servings: 20 or more
Preparation Time: 60 minutes plus refrigeration

4 large leeks, white part only, rinsed and sliced
1 large yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
8 medium celery ribs, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
1 small head cauliflower, cut into flowerets, chopped (about 2 ½ cups)
¾ cup butter (1 ½ stick)
8 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 quarts chicken stock
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup fresh garlic chives, chopped

Heat the butter in a large pot over medium high heat.

Add the leeks, onion, celery and cauliflower to the pot. Cook until soft, about 15 minutes.

Stir in the potatoes. Cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the chicken broth and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.

Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.

Use an immersion blender (or a food processor) to puree the soup. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Stir in the heavy cream and garnish with fresh chopped chives.

Chilled Three Green Soup with Crab Relish

Servings: 8
Preparation Time: 45 minutes plus refrigeration

1 quart chicken stock
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ medium head escarole lettuce, washed, dried and torn into 1-inch pieces, about 2 cups
1 bunch (6 to 8) green onions, chopped (about ½ cup)
½ medium heads romaine lettuce, washed, dried and torn into 1-inch pieces, about 2 cups
6 ounces fresh spinach leaves, torn (about 2 cups)
1 cup whipping cream
Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 pound fresh crabmeat, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced (about 1 cup)
1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced (about 1 cup)
1 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)

Heat the chicken stock, garlic and red pepper flakes in a large soup pot, over medium high heat until it begins to boil.

Reduce heat to medium. Stir in the escarole and green onions. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the romaine lettuce. Cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes.

Add the spinach. Cook for 2 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Alternatively, you may puree the soup in batches in the bowl of a food processor.)

Season with salt and pepper. Chill for at least 2 hours.

Combine the crabmeat, peppers, cucumber, cilantro and lime juice in a bowl. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Add the whipping cream and lemon juice to the chilled soup.

Adjust seasonings.

Divide the crab relish into 8 serving bowls. Ladle the soup around the relish.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Special Edition St. Patty’s Day Post Offers Food Worth Stewing Over

When you shake out the dinner napkin, letting it fall on your lap in anticpation of a supberb meal, chances are there’s a certain region to thank—if it’s a hearty Irish seafood stew, you’ll feel like the Emerald Isle has just offered you one of the finest dining experiences of your life—no exaggeration. As Ireland is the 20th largest island in the world, it’s no surprise it reigns supreme for seafood stews and pies. I had a chance to see for myself, when I visted “The Island” in 2008, expecting to be wined and dined on cornbeef and cabbage; what a pleasant surprise to uncover smoked wild Atlantic salmon, plump native oysters and Dublin prawns.

What I Know About Irish Delicacies
I spent the bulk of my vacation in Waterville after an attempt to kiss the Blarney Stone went awry. If you ever make it to Waterville—and love it like I did—you’ll have something in common with Charlie Chaplin, who put vacationing there on the map. I wonder if Charlie enjoyed the Market price section of his Irish menu?? Beyond its seafood, Ireland is also renowned for the quality of its beef and lamb, soda bread and farmhouse cheeses—it’s field research like the kind I so enjoyed conducting in Waterville that prompted this post, as well as an Irish crackers and cheese plate recipe set to appear in my future cookbook, Diary of an Extreme Party Planner. Keep reading me for scrumptious spoilers and publishing details!

But We Won’t Talk About That Now…’Cause Soup’s On & There’s Fresh Bread For Dipping!
As a huge proponent of using the freshest ingredients available in my cooking, it’s my Irish Seafood Stew that takes the cake. The rich flavor of the stew broth seasons the seafood as it cooks—and better yet, it’s the perfect solution as a crowd pleaser because you can prepare the broth the day before, and reheat it as guests arrive.

Since this stew is best enjoyed with bread, might I suggest making my Irish soda bread to go along with? Both are a staple in most coastal pubs and restaurants and will allow you to feel your Irish roots thousands of miles away as we all settle down to enjoy a nice late March supper. If and when you want to materialize this deeply satisfying feast, be sure to load your grocery cart with plenty of root vegetables, oysters, shrimp, mussels, cod and salmon. This recipe leaves plenty of room to be creative and substitute with lobster or clams. Last but not least, don’t be afraid to invite all your friends—seafood stew took off in Ireland centuries ago, when so many of the characteristically large families residing there appreciated how filling it was—and how far you could stretch it.

Golden Crouton Recipe Also Makes Stew Flavors Pop
If you’d like to serve your seafood stew with something besides Irish soda bread, prepare garlic croutons by slicing a loaf of French or Italian bread into 1 inch pieces. Place the cubed bread into a bowl. Sprinkle with garlic powder, dried oregano or basil, and a small amount of olive oil. Toss to coat the cubes. Place the bread on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan Cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes or until the croutons are golden brown.

Afterward, when you’re angling for a dessert that celebrates St. Patty’s Day in high and colorful style, check in with the Nana blog on Crème de Menthe Cheesecake. Even if you decide to order Chinese take-out during this long month of Irish heritage, may your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow, and may trouble avoid you wherever you go…happy March 17th, everyone!

Irish Soda Bread

Yield: 1 loaf
Preparation Time: 15 minutes plus 30 minutes baking

3 ½ cups all purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 to 1 ¼ cups buttermilk
1 large egg
1 cup raisins, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes, then drained

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.

Whisk together 1 cup buttermilk and the egg.
Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture in three additions mixing the dough with a fork after each addition. The dough should be moist and sticky. You can do this in a mixer using the dough hook if you prefer. Use additional buttermilk if the dough is too dry.

Mix the plumped raisins into the dough.

Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface.

Shape the dough into a round about 2-inches thick. Place the round onto a Silpat lined baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to cut a 1-inch deep cross into the top of the bread.

Bake until golden, about 35 to 40 minutes. The bread will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack.

Irish Seafood Stew

Servings: 8
Preparation Time: 1 hour

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 large red bell peppers, diced (about 2 cups)
2 medium celery ribs, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
6 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
6 8-ounce bottles clam juice
1 ½ cups white wine
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 medium head escarole lettuce, washed, dried and torn into 1-inch pieces, about 4 cups
1 ½ pounds salmon fillet, skinned, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 ½ pound grouper fillet, skinned, cut into 2-inch pieces
16 large sea scallops
1 ½ pounds large uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 24)
1 ½ pounds small mussels

2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, chopped
Garlic croutons

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat.

Add onion, pepper, celery and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the canned tomatoes. Stir in the tomato paste.
Stir in the clam juice, white wine, fresh herbs and bay leaves. Reduce heat, simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Use and immersion blender to puree the stew base. Alternatively, you may puree the stew base in a food processor or a blender.)

If the sauce is too thin thicken it by adding a mixture of cornstarch and cold water. Thin a thick sauce by adding more clam juice or chicken stock.

Add the escarole and cook for 5 minutes.

Nestle the salmon, grouper and sea scallops into the stew. Cook for 5 minutes.

Add the shrimp and mussels to the stew. Cook for 5 minutes or until the mussels have opened, the shrimp is opaque and the fish is cooked through.

Ladle the stew into shallow bowls. Garnish with chopped parsley and garlic croutons.

Friday, March 11, 2011

In Many Ways Drinking Irish Coffee Is An Affair to Remember

Irish coffee turned fifty-eight on November 10th of last year. Did you realize it was so young? The drink literally flew into the United States when a travel writer from the San Francisco Chronicle brought the recipe with him on a return flight from Shannon Airport. The belly-warming bar favorite, made with a frothy whipping cream, loads of sugar, piping hot coffee and 2 parts Irish whiskey, is based on a rather romantic story—perfect for sharing in the month of March when it’s all about St. Pat tidings and gathering friends for a little Guineas, some darts, and perhaps, in coming weeks the savory foods and desserts I’m bringing to the table in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Between this and the Nana blog, you’ll dig into Irish delights like seafood stew, Irish soda bread for dipping and a fun and easy Crème de menthe cheesecake recipe that’s color celebrates the approaching spring.

In the Meantime, Cuddle Up With a Good Cup of Joe, or Should I Say Cup o’ St. Patty?
The necessity of Irish coffee’s fortifying ingredients were clear on a frigid winter night in Ireland in the 1940s, when a group of weary American passengers disembarked from their flying boat Pan AM flight (these were the precurosor days to the Shannon airport) and asked the guy in charge on the dock, Joseph Sheridan chef of County Limerick, if he had anything to remedy dampened spirits. The answer turned out to be a history-in-the-making yes when he concocted Irish coffee for them; about a decade after that, it was all the rage in the Emerald Isle’s Shannon Airport, where the American journalist with the very fitting name of Stanton Delaplane fell in love with the drink and popularized it at California’s world famous Buena Vista café in the fall of 1952.

Let Your Inner Irishman become Lord of the (Bartender) Dance!
While the focus of this entertaining blog is on gnoshing, nibbling and all out feasting, its got its fair share of entries, devoted to beverages too—thirst quenching, party pleasing cocktails and hot drinks, like Mexican coffee. But now is the time to celebrate our inner Irish! My recipe possesses all the ease, familiarity and romance of the original served up in 1952. I recommend making The Extreme Party Planner’s Irish Coffee, on a night when you want to indulge at home with your friends, rather than go out barhopping. Whipping up a batch of Irish coffees in your own kitchen is done faster than you can say, Blarney! So get out your hot sugar cubes, best whiskey shot glasses and clear mugs that illustrate your point, which is to say, “Kiss Me! I’m Irish!”.

The Extreme Party Planner’s Irish Coffee

Servings: 8
Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Granulated sugar for dipping
8 cups brewed coffee
1 cup cream
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
¾ cup Irish Whiskey

Dip 8 tall, glass coffee mugs first into cold water and then into granulated sugar. Use a cooking torch to carefully brown the sugar on the glass.

Whip the cream with confectioner’s sugar.

Divide the whiskey among the 8 mugs. Pour in the hot coffee. Top with whipped cream.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It’s Pancake Day in America and I’m Rollin’ Out my Favorite Short Stack!

No matter what you call ‘em: griddle or johhny cakes, flapjacks or crepes, pancakes are in the hearts and tastebuds of many right now, especially as Lent approaches. The official start date for Lent (this 2011) is March 8th, but the USA—getting a jump on things before the United Kingdom ushers in their fun tradition of pancake races on the eve of Ash Wednesday—is observing International Pancake Day on the first of this month. In fact, IHOP is serving complimentary short stacks all day long and putting diners’ proceeds toward Miracle Children’s Hospitals.

Pancakes Racing Through History…

As a foodie, I have to say I’m on board with the U.K.’s centuries’ old practice of—with hotcakes in mind—clearing out their pantries and cupboards for that one last indulgent feast before Lent; really….pancakes do seem like the best use of those materials on Fat Tuesday. Across the Pond, pancake races are internationally televised—people running with skillets in hand and tossing flapjacks in the air as high as they’ll go. The tradition was born of a the tale of a long ago housewife who was so busy preparing the family’s breakfast on the morning they were all due at church that she ran outside with flapjacks still in her skillet when the church bells started going off.

It seems pancakes were all the rage long before this charming story ever took place, with anthropologists and archaelogists claiming them as one of the first foods primitive man ever enjoyed. Fast forward to know and watch pancakes circle the globe (there’s even a Banana Pancake Trail tourists love to dine on in South East Asia) in popularity—served every which way, under every topping under the sun, sweet or savory, loaded with goodies, thick or thin…okay, most of us are craving syrupy carbs right now, which is why I want to talk relatively guilt-free pancakes.

Whole-Wheat Pancakes on Fat Tuesday!

My Whole Wheat Pancakes with Strawberry Syrup are the purest of the pure when it comes to ingredients—and who doesn’t want to be pure right before Lent? The syrup is achieved simply by bringing water, strawberries and honey to a boil; this is a welcome recipe, especially now that strawberries appear to be back on sale at the supermarket. These whole wheat hotcakes are Particularly wonderful given their three and a half-inch thickness – or 3 ½ -inch thickness, reminding you of how you’ll be fortified all day long because it’s such a yummy challenge to get everything up on your fork!

If you plan to set a nice and festive breakfast table in honor of Mardi Gras, it might be kindof fun to lay out purple, green and gold napkins. Purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power; these are Mardi Gras’ official colors, set in motion in the early 19th Century when Russia's Grand Duke, Alexis Romanoff visited New Orleans during the grand event, decreeing these were the best colors for Fat Tuesday…apparently it was to impress a girl. Color coordinated breakfast or no, German pancakes are magnifique. Laissez les bons temps rouler—Let the good times roll, everybody!

Whole-Wheat Pancakes with Strawberry Syrup

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4Serving Size: 3 3-inch pancakes

2 pints strawberries hulled and quartered (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup water
½ cup unbleached white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup fat free milk
2 large eggs

Place the strawberries, honey and water into a saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until the mixture reduces and becomes syrupy, about 20 minutes. Use a hand held blender to puree the syrup.

Whisk together the flours and baking powder in a bowl. Stir in the milk and eggs.
Preheat a griddle over medium high heat
Coat the griddle with vegetable oil spray. Ladle the pancake batter onto the griddle, turn when bubbles rise to the top, and continue cooking, about 4 to 6 minutes total.

Serve the pancakes with the syrup.
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