Hypertufa Inspiration


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Getting lost traveling from one garage sale to another last weekend resulted in this serendipitious find–a delightful Hypertufa Sculpture Garden on a small side road off the beaten track.  How could one not stop and enjoy a few minutes along the shaded, quiet lane?  I have been searching for just the right thing to put in front of my own house.  I saw some really cool scrap metal sculptures, but that involves welding, a talent I have neither the equipment nor the knowledge to do.  I have dabbled in hypertufa planter boxes, so a next logical step using that basic knowledge is to try someting that is three dimensional.  This has me psyched and hankering for the enough spare time before cold weather hits.


Chicken Marbella


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Grammy is coming for a visit today–in preparation, cooking is on the agenda for this morning.  Can’t have Grammy going home hungry after all of the meals she has prepared for me over lo, these many years. 

This recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks,  The Silver Palate Cookbook, first published in 1979.  Chicken Marbella is an easy, make ahead if you want, serve warm or cold, delicious, family or buffet meal.   Around here the weather is supposed to be rainy and downright chilly–perfect time to turn on the oven for the hour this takes to bake.

The recipe calls for 4-2 1/2 lb chickens quartered–10 lbs!   I usually use about 6 halved boneless, skinless chicken breasts and cut down on the amount of oregano and garlic used in the marinade .  Also, it’s a good idea to lessen the amount of brown sugar used while baking.  The rest I pretty much leave the same, because I like an abundance of taste for all the pieces of chicken.  However, I entered the recipe as printed in The Silver Palate so as not to confuse someone interested in feeding a crowd. 

In a large bowl, combine as much as 10 pounds of quartered chicken (or chicken breasts) with 1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed, 1/4-cup dried oregano, coarse salt tnd freshly ground pepper to taste, 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 cup pitted prunes, 1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives, 1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice, and 6 bay leaves.  Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly.  Sprinkle chicken with up to 1 cup brown sugar and pour 1 cup dry white wine (I prefer a dry wine like Chablis so it doesn’t get overly sweet) around chicken. 

Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices.   Chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, yield clear yellow rather than pink juice.

With a slotted spoon, transfer chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter.  Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro.  Pass remaining pan juices in a sauceboat.

Serve warm, or allow to cool to room temperature.  Warm juices for best taste.   16 pieces, 10 or more servings if all 4 quartered chickens are used.

The Salad

Around this neck of the woods, there is a popular green salad that most everyone has in her/his recipe box.  Memorial Day weekend, my friends who live on a hillside with the best view of the fireworks, had their annual eat-in-style/watch the fireworks party.  My contribution to the meal was the old stand-by with a few tweaks:

The Salad

Break the noodles from 2 pkgs. Oriental flavored Ramen Noodles into small bits.  Reserve the seasonings packets for the dressing.  Toast 1/2 half cup slivered almonds and the broken noodles in small batches in a skillet over medium heat.  (Speaking from the voice of experience, be sure to toast in small batches.  Otherwise, the larger pieces lie on top of the smaller ones, burning the ones on the bottom and leaving the bigger chunks barely touched by the heat.  The toasting contributes mightily to the flavor.)  When cool, toss with 7-8 cups torn lettuce.  

For the dressing, combine:  1-cup olive oil, 1/4-cup sugar, 1/2-cup white vinegar, 3-tablespoons soy sauce and the 2-packets reserved Oriental  seasonings.  Toss with the lettuce and toasted almonds/noodles.

Variations are encouraged.  For this occasion, I added a handful of dried cranberries and 6-sliced strawberries.  

As always happens, the few in the group who did not already know how to make “The Salad,” hastily jotted their e-mail address on the nearest scrap of paper, mentioning that it would be a great addition to their upcoming graduation party, Father’s Day meal or bridal shower brunch.  Bon appetit!


No-Soak Black Bean Soup



Crock pot to the rescue again.  This soup is filling, delicious and easy as pie.(Somehow, the words easy as soup don’t roll off the tongue in the same way, although the taste certainly does.)

Add 1-tablespoon olive oil  to a 5-qt slow cooker and turn it to the highest setting.  Stir in 1 chopped medium yellow onion.   Cook 5 minutes.  Add 1 medium green bell pepper that has been cut into 1″ pieces, 7 minced garlic cloves, 1 pound dried black beans that have been rinsed and drained, 5 cups water, 3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, 2 (4-ounce) cans chopped green chilies, 1-tablespoon ground cumin, 1-teaspoon dried thyme leaves, 1-teaspoon salt, 1/2-teaspoon black pepper and 2 dried bay leaves.  Cover and cook on high at least 8 hours.

Remove bay leaves.  Before serving, blend with a hand mixer or hand-held submersible blender until the mixture is thick, with beans, onion and peppers visible.

Ladle into soup bowls and top each serving with 1-tablespoon sour cream (very important to the final taste) and 1 teaspoon each red bell pepper and white onion that have been finely chopped.  Sprinkle with finely chopped cilantro.  Serves 8–270 calories per. 

As is usual with most soups, even better the second day–if it lasts!

Parmesan Soup



Heat 1 1/2-tablespoons unsalted butter and 1 1/2-tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat.  When hot, add 1 1/2-cup chopped shallots (about 1/2 pound or 5 large shallots).  Cook, stirring often, until softened and translucent, for 3 to 4 minutes.  Add 3/4-pound Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks, and, 1-tablespoon chopped garlic.  Cook and stir for another minute.

Add 2 1/4-cups each of  chicken stock and whole milk.  Bring mixture to a simmer.  Reduce heat and cook at a simmer until the potatoes and shallots are tender–about 15 minutes.  Gradually whisk in 3/4-cup grated Parmesan cheese.  Stir until it has melted.  Remove pan from heat, then whisk in a generous pinch (about 1/16-teaspoon) cayenne pepper.  Season to taste with Kosher salt–more or less depending on whether or not the chicken stock was low-sodium.  If the soup is too thick, stir in 1/4-cup each of additional stock and whole milk.  (The soup can be prepared 1 day ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate.  reheat over medium heat, while stirring to keep from sticking.)

To serve, ladle into soup bowls, then garnish with some of each of the following:  additional Parmesan cheese,  1 1/2-ounces thinly-sliced prosciutto, cut into strips about 3 inches long by 1/4 inches wide that have been sauteed until crisp in 1-tablespoon olive oil,  then drained on paper towels, and, 3/4-cup coarse fresh bread crumbs that have been toasted by tossing constantly in 1-tablespoon hot olive oil for 3-4 minutes.  (The prosciutto and breadcrumbs can be prepared 4 hours ahead; leave uncovered at a cool room temperature until ready to use.)

Serve with a green salad and fresh crusty bread.  C’est magnifique!

Chippewa Soup



Restaurant chefs commonly work long, frequently frenetic hours.  Understanding that their livelihood depends not only on the quality of the meal, but also on the uniqueness of their offerings, it is easy to understand why most are reluctant to share the recipe for a particular dish.

Locally, the recipe for a seasonal soup favorite that has been drawing customers for years was finally disclosed as part of a fund-raising cookbook.   The chef remained crafty, however, supplying the ingredients, but not the precise amounts.  In addition, the quantities are sized for restaurant usage, but, since it freezes easily and well, that obstacle can also be overcome.

Paraphrasing the adage that “the proof is in the pudding,” I am here to attest that the “truth is in the  taste buds.”  Experimenting has resulted in a hard-won set of guidelines that comes as close as I can get to this delicious winter soup:

Make 1/2 gallon homemade tomato soup https://coco724.wordpress.com/2008/03/02/tuscan-tomato-soup/ and 1/2 gallon green pea soup.  The dried green-pea soup mix can be found in the soup aisle of the grocery store.  Mix the two batches in a very large soup pot.  Separately, saute 6 chopped celery stalks, 3 chopped medium onions, and 3 chopped large carrots in 1/2 stick- butter and 1/4-cup olive oil.  Saute all until soft and translucent, but not brown.  Put  sauteed vegetables through a food mill or blend until smooth in a food processor.  Add to prepared mixed soups in large pot, along with 4 bay leaves, 2 teaspoons curry powder (more or less to your taste preference) and a smoked ham hock or hambone.  Stir thoroughly, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add 1-quart heavy cream.  Remove bay leaves and ham hock/bone.  Dollop each serving with a tablespoon of sour cream, if desired. 

When serving, the most important part of the presentation is to stand formally beside each guest.  Keeping your back straight, bend from the waist, slowly placing a filled bowl at each plate.  As you are gently withdrawing your hands from the sides of the bowl, do your best imitation of an English Butler saying “Chippewa Soup.”

Roasted Red Pepper Bisque

Roast* 15 large sweet red peppers, or open 1 (one) 48-oz can of already roasted sweet red peppers that have been drained, rinsed and drained again.  Using a food processor that has been fitted with a steel blade, whirl the peppers, in batches, to form a puree.  Reserve. 

In a large stockpot, melt 1/2-cup (1 stick) unsalted butter over low heat.  Add 1 large Spanish onion, cut into a small dice.  Cook gently until translucent, stirring occasionally.  Make a roux by stirring in 1/4-cup flour; cook for about 1 minute to remove the raw flour taste.  Be extra cautious to not brown or burn the the roux;  it should be a “blond” color and have a soft, nutty aroma.

Over medium heat, whisk in 48-ounces (3 cups) chicken stock or broth to break up the roux into a smooth texture.  In order, whisk in 2-quarts half-and-half, 1/2-cup dry sherry, 1cup honey and the reserved pureed peppers.  Bring to a simmer and let cook for 4-5 minutes.  Taste and season with salt and white pepper.  Continue cooking for another 4-5 minutes, until thickened and smooth, stirring constantly to avoid scorching.  Add extra stock to adjust the flavor and consistency of the soup, if needed.   

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each with homemade croutons and a sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley, for garnish.  Makes about 12 cups of bisque. 

*Pick one of the following methods to roast red peppers.  Oven method:  heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 or 3 baking sheets with foil or parchment paper.  Place the whole peppers on the sheets and place them in the oven for 40-45 minutes, turning occasionally, until all sides are blistered and charred.  Remove from the oven and place the peppers in food-worthy paper bags or plastic bags for 10-15 minutes.  Remove the stems, peel and seed.  Outside grill or inside over a well ventilated gas flame on the stove top:  hold the peppers, using tongs, and rotate them until all surfaces are charred.  Place them in an ice bath for 5 minutes.  Remove the skin and seeds.

Happy Hour Parmesan Twists


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Friends are stopping by for a drink after the movie.  A bag of nuts, cubes of assorted cheese and chex mix would be quick, but… well… let’s not go there.  Hours in the kitchen earlier in the day is not exactly appealing either.  Afterall, you want to enjoy the evening, too.

Enter these Parmesan Twists made from puff pastry.  Puff pastry is delicious, impressive and most importantly, very easy to work with.  The puffs pair especially well with Chianti, a yeasty beer or Bloody Marys.

Pre-heat oven to 400F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Roll 1 sheet (from a 17.25-ounce package) of puff pastry, thawed, into a 10-by-14 inch rectangle.  Whisk 1 egg and 1 tablespoon water together.  Brush on pastry.  Sprinkle with 1/4-cup Parmesan, 1 1/2-tablespoons chopped rosemary (or 1-tablespoon dried) and 1/2-teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper.  Lightly press ingredients into pastry with your fingers. 

Cut pastry into 24 strips, each slightly more thatn 1/2-inch wide.  Twist each strip and place on baking sheets.  Bake 10-12 minutes, until golden.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  12 servings.

If you would prefer to make serving time even easier, prepare the twists ahead.  Double the recipe and freeze the second batch, unbaked on cookie sheets.  Seal in a plastic bag and keep frozen up to a month.  Bake while frozen for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden.

Rustic (End of) Summer Vegetable Soup


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First step is to make wide home-made noodles, known as Paparadelle.  Using a pasta machine and your favorite pasta recipe,  (the basics are 4 eggs, 3 cups white flour, tablespoon or two of water and a pinch of salt that has been kneaded until a consistent color and texture.)  Cover the dough with a slightly damp cloth and let rest for 15 minutes.  After the dough has rested, divide into portions that fit through the lasagna cutter of your machine, gradually increasing the pressure until the dough is roughly commercial lasagna thickness. 

Lay half of the noodles flat.  Randomly place snippets of the leaves of fresh herbs, removing the  woody stems first.  Fresh mint, sage, oregano, basil, parsley and thyme are all possibilities.  Lay a second similar sized sheet of prepared pasta dough over the herbs.  Press dough through pasta machine, herbs and all, gradually reducing the thickness of the pressed herb-dough “sandwich.”  Too thick and the noodles are heavy and doughy.  Aim for as thin as possible without tearing dough.  Cut into 1-2″ squares.  Extra pieces can be frozen and stored for about 2 months.

Next, prepare the soup base.  Heat 2 quarts chicken stock to a boil.   Add fresh carrots, red peppers, green beans, corn, and zucchini that have all been cut into a 1/4″ dice for fast cooking.  Keep at steady simmer and cook vegetables briefly, about 5 minutes.  Add noodles.  cook 2 minutes longer.  Serve with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.     

Amazingly light, yet filling and delicious.

15-Bean Soup


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Wash and pick over 1 (16-oz) pkg. of 15-bean soup mix, discarding the seasoning packet.  Soak beans in water overnight.  Drain beans, put in a large soup pot with a ham bone or ham hocks.  Add 10-cups water and 4 cloves garlic, minced.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, skimming off any foam that rises.  Cut 1-lb. Kielbasa into 1″ slices, then into quarters; add to soup and simmer 1 hour longer.  Remove ham bones or hocks from pot and allow to cool.  Shred the meat from bone and return this meat to pot.  Add 1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes, 2 chopped onions, 1/2-cup chopped parsley, 1/4-cup lemon juice, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1/2-teaspoon ground cumin, 1/4-teaspoon dried red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook slowly for an additional 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking.  Garnish with additional parsley.  Makes 8-servings that taste even better on the second day as the flavors blend.  Homemade croutons are a delicious extra touch.