Corn Chowder

Just kind of whipped this together… It went pretty nicely with grilled-cheese sandwiches.

Bacon (let your conscience be your guide. I used ~1/4#)
1# potatoes, 1/2″ dice
1 medium onion, 1/2″ dice
1 red pepper, 1/2″ dice
1/2# frozen corn
1C half & half
Salt & pepper to taste

Dice the bacon and put it in a soup kettle. Fry it until lightly brown. Drain excess fat.
Add onion and pepper. Cook until tender. [1]
Add potatoes, just cover with water. Bring to a boil, simmer until almost tender.
Add corn, bring to a simmer.
Add cream, season to taste[2], and server with Saltines or oyster crackers.

[1] At this stage, one could mix in 2T of flour and cook for two minutes for a thicker chowder
[2] Despite the bacon, it’s not at all salty.

I’ll be working on this over time.

Grandma’s Apple Crisp

I don’t know who “Grandma” is. Peg never, to my recollection, actually mentioned her. She’s talked about her Pap quite a lot, but I don’t think Peg ever met her Grandmother, at least not her maternal Grandmother. I understand her paternal Grandmother never made Apple Crisp to Peg’s knowledge.

Now, if the recipe had been called “Gram’s Apple Crisp” (and Peggy doesn’t know but maybe the computer autocorrected her…), I’d know it could be attributed to one Ruth Hamel, late of Franklin Maine, who might well be the best cook I’ve ever known. I’ve only eaten her food a few times, but I’ve gone through enough of her jelly and jam to make that proclamation. She was one rarely talented creature in the kitchen, and I was proud to call her “Gram” myself. Now if Gram wasn’t the best cook ever to walk the Earth, that mantle rests squarely on the shoulders of her daughter Teddy, and I’ve eaten a lot of Teddy’s cooking over the nearly 20 years I’ve known her.

So this recipe, whatever its provenance, reminded me on another level of my own Grandma Esther, who was my Dad’s stepmother. I never met his mother, missing her by something on the order of a decade. But I peeled these apples with a knife that is exactly like a couple of knives that my Mom got from Esther back in the 60’s. Not a terribly fancy knife, but it has a sharp, thin blade that is just perfect for sending Macintosh apples to their doom. I was using Cortlands, though, so the knife was just a bit too short for cutting through the center of the apple when quartering them. I peel apples just like my mother taught me – halve, then quarter each apple, then scoop out the core, turn it over and in three quick slices cut off the peel as close as you dare. If you miss a little bit, that’s OK. The peel is where the vitamins are.

Assemble your ingredients:
1 C brown sugar, packed (light or dark, it doesn’t matter)
1 C rolled oats
1 C flour
1/2 C (1 stick) butter, melted
3 C apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (Grandma apparently chopped them – I sliced them, and use Cortlands)

1/2 C granulated sugar
2 t cinnamon

Mix the sugar & cinnamon – set aside

Mix the brown sugar, rolled oats, flour, and butter until it forms a crumbly mixture in the bowl.
Lightly grease or butter an 8-inch baking pan

Evenly spread about half of the oat mixture into the pan.
Evenly spread the apples over the mixture. Sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon over the apples.
Top with the remaining mixture.

Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 40-45 minutes, until golden brown.

Personally, I’d serve it with ice cream in a few minutes.

Now, I screwed this recipe up, and it still came out good. I’m not one to carefully read instructions (my cross to bear, not yours), so I mixed all of the ingredients save the apples together, and put all of the mixture on top of the apples until I checked to see whether I was supposed to dot the thing with butter. Ooops. I also got to three cups of apples about halfway through the second Cortland, so I ended up with about four cups of sliced apples, not wanting to waste anything. Heaven forbid I waste half an apple. So I tried to mix some of the mixture down under the apples, but that left some of the apples exposed. But still, it turned out OK. I think it was a bit on the sweet side, so next time around I think I’ll cut the brown sugar by about half to see where that gets me. I’ll keep the apples at three cups, too.

Lobster Arancini

Each Christmas Eve for about the last decade, Peg and I head over to the house of our friends Jonathan and Karen. Karen is from an Italian-American family, and one Italian tradition for Christmas Eve is the Feast of the Seven Fishes. We don’t always make it to the full seven fishes, but I try to bring along a dish in the theme. I also try to compete with Karen and her three sisters, all of whom are excellent cooks.

My attempt this year was Lobster Arancini – golf-ball sized balls of risotto stuffed with a chunk of lobster meat, then rolled in bread crumbs and deep-fat fried. No, not really the healthiest of treats, but this happens only once a year. It may never happen again because these were a pain to make. But oh, were they good!

I made a double batch, but a single batch is probably manageable. For a single batch (and this follows pretty closely with Giada DiLaurentiis’s recipe, as her recipe came up in my research).

This recipe should make about 16 arancini, enough for 4 servings.

Risotto:
2 T butter
1/2 C finely chopped onion (or shallot)
1 C arborio rice
1/2 C white wine
3-4 C lobster stock (or chicken)
1 C grated Parmesan cheese
1 t salt
1 t pepper

Arancini:
2 C Panko bread crumbs
1 egg
8 ounces lobster meat, in 1/2″ cubes
vegetable oil

Heat the stock to a simmer. Melt the butter and gently saute the onions until translucent. Add the rice and cook for about five minutes. Then add the wine, and stir the rice until the wine is all absorbed. The start adding the stock, about 1/2 C at a time, stirring almost constantly until it is absorbed. After 3 cups of stock is absorbed, check to see whether the rice is tender (al dente). If not, add another 1/2 C of stock, and perhaps another, until the rice is done.

Stir in the Parmesan cheese, and let the risotto cool. You’re going to be handling it.

Beat the egg and combine that and 1/2 C of the bread crumbs with the risotto.

Take 2 T of the risotto mixture and form into a firm ball about 2″ in diameter. Make an indentation in the ball, insert a chunk of lobster, and form the risotto around the lobster to seal it completely. Coat the ball with the bread crumbs as you go, and when you have them all done, deep fry them in 350F oil until golden brown, about four minutes.

Drain on paper towels.

Progressive Scalloped Potatoes

We usually make a traditional recipe (Betty Crocker’s was the base recipe) scalloped potatoes, but I had an odd thought the other night and thought since Peg wasn’t home to pooh-pooh the idea, I went with it, and I was pleased with the results – to the extent that this is going to be my lunch for the coming week.

Heat your oven to 350F

2 # peeled potatoes, sliced thinly (1/8″ is ideal, but if you’re knife challenged, anything smaller than 1/4″ is OK. (Hint – take two slices off one side of the potato, then rest it on the flat side for easier slicing. Nobody cares how they look.
1 small onion, diced
1 cup cubed ham, sliced ham, chopped ham, whatever
2 C frozen kernel corn
3 C milk
4 T butter (divided 3 T & 1 T)
4 T flour
salt & pepper to taste

Slice the potatoes as thinly as you can
Dice or slice the ham into smaller-than-bite-size pieces
Dice the onion quite finely

Grease an 9×13 casserole with some of the 1 T butter
In a heavy skillet, melt the butter, add the onion, and saute until tender.
Add the flour and mix thoroughly, then cook the flour mixture (called a roux) for two minutes over medium heat.
Using a whisk, stir in the milk, continuing to stir completely until the mixture (now a Bechamel sauce) comes to a boil for two minutes and thickens. Take the sauce off of the heat.

Pour a thin layer of sauce into the casserole. Layer half of the potatoes in the casserole, and then layer half the ham and half the corn. Evenly distribute half of the sauce, then layer more potatoes, ham, corn, and sauce.

Dot with butter. Cover with foil, bake for 40 minutes. Uncover, bake for another 60-70 minutes until the potatoes are tender but not mushy.

Serve alone, or as a side for ham or anything else. Excellent as a hot picnic dish. Reheats well in the microwave, arguably with more flavor.

Kenda’s Crock Pot Macaroni & Cheese

This recipe comes from Kenda, Peg’s best friend (probably mine, too), and it gets rave reviews everywhere. We normally make a double batch. Peg has some notes. I have some footnotes.

8oz pkg elbow macaroni, cooked until still firm
12oz. can evaporated milk [1]
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided 3c/1c
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper [2]
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese grated

In the slow cooker, combine lightly cooked macaroni, evaporated milk, whole milk, melted butter, eggs, 3 cups cheddar cheese, salt and pepper.
Top with remaining cheddar cheese and parmesan cheese. [3]
Cover. Cook on low 3 hours. Watch the pot – one pot’s “low” can burn
the outside and make it like rubber.[4]

Peg’s Note:

I doubled this recipe when I made it to take to a party.
It really doesn’t need the butter. It makes a very rich mac & cheese dish without the butter in it!!

John’s Note:
I once put 1/2tsp of ground mustard into a double batch, but there was no discernible difference. I was hoping for just a little more “zing”, thinking it would play off of the ham,  but didn’t go strong enough.

[1] Original recipe called for 13oz. Evaporated milk comes in 12 oz cans. Don’t kill yourself over detail if it’s not baking.
[2] Really, does anybody still have white pepper? Black pepper works just fine.
[3] Peg normally mixes the Parmesan in with the main ingredients.
[4] Ask John how he knows.

It reheats well in the microwave, too.!

Chicken & Roasted Red Peppers with Pasta

Peg had a meal out the other night that was good, but didn’t hit the mark. Thinking I could come up with something better…

2 chicken breasts, 3/4″ dice
2 Italian sausages, 1/2″ slice
1/2 small onion, finely diced
2 t minced garlic, about 1 clove
2 T vegetable oil
2 roasted red peppers ( I roasted my own, or use a medium jar of them) 1/2″ dice
2 oz sun-dried tomatoes, reconstituted, 1/4″ slice
1 small jar of artichoke hearts, halved
1 C water
1/2 C light cream
3/4 C grated parmesan cheese
1/2 # dried pasta, or 1 # fresh pasta

In a large pot, heat salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta until tender.

In a large skillet, heat the oil and saute the onion until tender.
Add the garlic and chicken breasts, saute until chicken and sausage are browned.
Add the peppers, tomatoes, and artichoke hearts and saute five minutes.
Add water to saucepan and stir, deglazing the skillet in the process.
After most of the water has evaporated, lower the heat.
Sprinkle the cheese over the skillet’s contents, add the cream, and stir until cheese and cream are well incorporated.

Serve over pasta. Have a salad.

Nota bene – Peggy actually liked this dish, although it didn’t meet her dream expectations. I thought it was a little “busy” what with the tomatoes and peppers AND artichoke hearts. I might try simplifying it by dropping the tomatoes and artichokes, upping the peppers, and lightening it a bit by cutting back on the cheese and substituting yogurt or sour cream.

Back to la cuchina.

Potato Leek Soup with Chicken

Serves 2

3 leeks
2 potatoes
1 medium onion
1 T minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
1 chicken breast
salt
pepper
adobo seasoning (I like Goya – they have several flavors)
2 T chicken base
1/2 C light cream (optional – maybe low-fat yogurt?)
1 Qt water
2 T vegetable oil

Chicken breast was diced 3/4″, seasoned with adobo, and
sauteed.
Onions were coarsely chopped, leeks (white part only) halved, sliced, and washed. Potatoes were diced 1/2″.
Saute onions, leeks, and garlic until just soft.
Add potatoes, chicken base, and water. Bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are tender.
Puree with hand blender, add cream, blend well.
Add chicken, serve.

Washing the leeks is key. I forgot that step in my last batch of potato leek soup, and well, the leftovers went down the drain. It wasn’t worth chewing through the grit in the leeks.

Summer Stew

I don’t really know what to call this. I accidentally made it one year and it turned out pretty good, so I continue to make it on occasion. Sometimes Peggy even requests it. And it’s vegetables!

It should be no surprise that the fresher the vegetables, the better the taste. #1 – your garden #2 – the farm stand #3 – the grocery store

2 T vegetable or olive oil
1 onion, rough chop
1 t – 1T chopped garlic
2 zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
2 yellow summer squash, halved lengthwise and sliced
3 large garden tomatoes. roughly cubed (or a 28-oz can of whole tomatoes, hand crushed)

Heat the oil and add the onions. Cook until tender, and add the garlic.
Cook until the onions are caramelized, just starting to brown,
Add the squash, and let it saute for a bit.
Add the tomatoes, lower the heat, and let it simmer for 20 minutes or so.

A little salt, a grind or two of fresh pepper, voila!

I often serve this over rice for a hearty side dish. Start the rice right after you add the tomatoes, everything is done at the same time.

I’m too lazy to make rice the right way. I use medium grain rice most of the time. And it’s usually Goya rice if you can find it in your area.

2 C water
1 C rice
pinch of salt

Heat the water until boiling (or almost boiling if you’re in a rush like I normally am)
Stir in the rice and add the salt.
Reduce to very low heat and cover.
20 minutes later you have rice.

Deviled Eggs

I have for a number of years been experimenting with deviled eggs as a warm-weather picnic bring-along. I have some devotees who ask “where are the deviled eggs?” even at Christmas. But I was always just winging it, never using a recipe, per se, and never getting consistently good eggs. Too salty, too spicy (too bland was not a complaint I’d heard). It was time to grow up and create a recipe. So here goes for my base line, which turned out pretty good.

1 dozen eggs, plus a couple spares

Eggs are best prepared a day in advance [1]. Best if put in the pot in one layer, laying on their sides, with enough water to cover them by an inch or so. I use a liberal amount of salt (as much as 1/4C) and perhaps a like amount of vinegar. The salt raises the boiling point of water; the vinegar keeps the whites at bay should little leaks evolve. Bring the eggs to a rolling boil, cover, remove from heat, and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain, cover with ice and cold water. The more ice the better. Let them stand for an hour or more, then refrigerate overnight (I don’t have to say “after draining off the water”, do I?).

Peel the eggs, halve the eggs, reserve the yolks in a shallow bowl. “Imperfect” whites can be eaten, fed to the dog, or discarded, your preference. On a good day you’ll have 24 halves, on bad day, 18. No matter. (The deviled egg container I have has 20 indentations. I thought that was a stupid number, until I figured out that I routinely screw up two eggs per dozen. 20 is the perfect average number of indentations.)

Mash the egg yolks with a fork until smooth. This it the only way. Trust me.

Add
1/4 C Miracle Whip
1 T prepared mustard
2 T hot sauce (Tabasco or your favorite)
2 T sweet pickle relish (Cain’s is the local favorite)
1 T Worcestershire sauce (Lea & Perrins is the best)
1 T cider vinegar
1/2 t salt
1/2 t coarse ground pepper

Mix well, and taste. It might need more salt, or hot sauce. If it’s too thick, add a bit more Miracle Whip.

Spoon about 1 t of filling into each of the egg halves, and garnish with smoked paprika, or a sprig of chive, whatever blows your skirt up.

[1] Eggs are also best purchased a week or so in advance. It makes no difference in the flavor, but they are much easier to peel, increasing your final yield.

Leek and Potato Soup

(Apologies to Alton Brown. I read his recipe, and other than leeks and potatoes, rather dismissed it.)

Oh, I also don’t really use recipes per se (so you know this is John, and not Peggy), so these quantities are approximations. This soup is so easy though that you don’t need a recipe, per se…

3 slices of bacon
3-6 leeks (depending on size – the leeks were maybe 1.25-1.5 inches so I used 6 tonight)
5-6 medium potatoes (I used gold potatoes tonight, any boiling potato will do.)
2-4 T Irish butter (really, this stuff is SO good)
2-3 T chicken base (it’s essentially bouillon paste – I no longer use broth of any kind)
1.5 Qt water
salt & pepper to taste (I used no additional salt tonight. There’s plenty in the bacon and chicken base.)

Preparation:
Slice/chop the bacon into little tiny pieces.
Wash the leeks, cut off the green stems and the roots. Slice lengthwise and then slice the rounds finely. Rinse the leeks under plenty of cold water. They tend to get kind of gritty due to the way they’re grown.
Peel and dice the potatoes (always dice before cooking – they’re easier to handle and they cook faster and more uniformly).
In a 6-8 qt soup kettle, melt the butter and saute the bacon until rendered. It doesn’t have to be crisp.
Add the leeks and saute for five or six minutes, until soft.
Add the potatoes, chicken base, and water.
Bring to a boil, turn down and let simmer for fifteen minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Use an immersion blender or food processor to puree the soup. (The immersion blender is one of the great inventions of the 20th century, even though I maintained for years that we didn’t need one. I was wrong.)

Season to taste – just a good grind or three of pepper us usually enough.

Optionally, a half cup or so of heavy cream makes it just delightfully creamy, but with the bacon in this batch, I passed.

There you have it. Serve with Oyster crackers or Saltines if you’d like, but it’s pretty good all by itself.