Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Enjoying Breakfast and Family: Baked French Toast

If you have ever looked at the Recipe Index on my blog, you might have noticed that, until recently, there were no breakfast recipes.  That's because morning is generally a hurried time of day for us.  We're going in different directions, but like clockwork so that our times in the bathroom are varied, we pass each other in the kitchen as he makes his coffee and I make my tea, and we are out of each other's way during the last-minute rush of dressing and brushing our teeth.  One thing that we never do is sit down at the same table for breakfast.  He has already toasted his slice of quick bread or muffin and moved into the living room for his quiet time while I'm heating my oatmeal and checking my e-mail. 

This weekend gave us a wonderful few days to sleep past eight and then enjoy a leisurely breakfast together.  In addition to the Eggs Benedict cooking class for my husband, we enjoyed Ina Garten's Tri-Berry muffins one morning, and Smitten Kitchen's Baked French Toast recipe another.  We enjoyed our breakfast together, eating our Alabama sausage, some market fresh fruit, a mug of cafe au lait, and each other. 

Orange-Almond Baked French Toast

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 loaf challah bread, thickly sliced
1/4 cup sliced almonds
3 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons orange cognac
1 tablespoon almond extract
1/4 cup orange juice
2 3/4 cups milk
sugar, for sprinkling

Butter a 9 x 13 glass or ceramic baking dish.  Place two layers of bread in the dish, tearing the bread to fill in any holes.  Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the bread, and cover with a third layer of bread. 

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs.  Whisk in the next six ingredients.  Pour the custard over the bread.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, wrap tightly, and refrigerate overnight. 

In the morning, preheat the oven to 425.  Uncover the french toast and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the layers puff up in the middle and the top is golden. 

Cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar or drizzle with maple syrup. 

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Christmas in Springtime: Eggs Benedict

I struggle to find gifts for my husband for any gift-giving occasion.  The trouble is that I love giving gifts, but my husband will rarely tell me anything that he wants.  The conversation goes like this:

Belle: Sweetheart, what do you want for Christmas (birthday, Easter, Valentine's day, etc.)?
Husband: I want a kiss from you.
Belle: What else do you want?
Husband: I want a hug from you.
Belle: What do you want that comes in a box?
Husband: Just wrap yourself up.  All I want is you!
Belle: What do you want that I can buy in a store?

There is generally no response to that last question.  I know his responses are sweet, but are also frustrating because I want him to be able to open something from me.  So, given the fact that he is so contented and wants nothing that can be wrapped in a box, I have to be creative.  And because we currently have no income, I have to find something that is inexpensive. 

A few years ago, I gave him a weekend getaway at a cabin in small town Georgia.  I cooked the entire weekend and we spent the weekend enjoying one another in front of a warm, crackling fire.  He has talked about that weekend ever since.  So, this Christmas, I started thinking along those lines, but on a more frugal budget.  I came up with a "Stay at home getaway," where my husband would choose our menus and activities for the weekend. 

So we celebrated Christmas this weekend, when my husband redeemed his present.  He spent the past few weeks planning the menus.  He requested that we go on a hike and that I teach him to cook a meal.  We picked up a couple of movies, I stocked our refrigerator, and on Friday afternoon we began a much-needed hiatus from school books and enjoyed being in love. 

On Sunday morning, I taught my husband how to prepare Eggs Benedict.  This was the one menu that I chose for the weekend; per his request I chose something that I would like him to be able to cook for me.  What is more comforting than eggs enrobed in a rich hollandaise sauce?  He was an excellent student, and the eggs were divine. 

Eggs Benedict for Two

For the Hollandaise Sauce:

2 egg yolks at room temperature
1 stick of butter, melted and hot
juice of 1/2 lemon
cayenne pepper, to taste
pinch of salt
1-2 tablespoons half and half (optional)

Put the egg yolks in a blender and pulse for 2-3 seconds.  With the motor running, crack open the lid of the blender and add the hot, melted butter in a slow, steady stream.  Add the lemon juice, cayenne pepper and salt.  Finally, add the half & half if you prefer a thinner sauce. 

Pour the hollandaise into a heat-proof glass bowl.  Set the bowl in a saucepan with an inch or two of water, and set over low heat.  This will keep the sauce warm while you prepare the eggs. 

For the Eggs:

hollandaise sauce
2 whole English muffins (Bay's are my favorite)
2-4 slices prosciutto
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350.  Split the English muffins in half and place them on a baking sheet.  Separate the slices of prosciutto and place them on the baking sheet as well.  Set aside. 

Fill an egg poacher with water and set over medium-high heat to boil.  Butter the cups of the poacher.  When the water boils, carefully break the eggs, one at a time, into a bowl and then slide them into a cup of poacher.  Cover with the lid, and set the timer for 3 1/2 minutes. 

When the eggs have two minutes left, place the pan with the muffins and prosciutto in the oven.  Just before the eggs are finished, quickly remove the pan from the oven and place the toasted muffins on two plates.  Top each muffin with prosciutto.  When the eggs are done, carefully remove them from the cup, drain any excess water, and place atop the prosciutto.  Stir the hollandaise sauce, and pour or spoon over the eggs. 

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Monday, March 22, 2010

With a cherry on top...

A cherry tomato that is.

When I taught middle school, January and February were the hardest months.  It seemed that everyone had the winter doldrums.  There was little wind in the sails to move the days along.  Once March and April arrived, everyone was infected with spring (and summer) fever, and it was equally difficult to draw the attention of young minds.  These past few days, I have found myself equally distracted by the beauty and life all around.  I love my classes and am immensely thankful that I have this opportunity, but I am so thankful for the weekend.  It is the time to stop and look around at magnificence, to enjoy friends, to spend time with my husband.    

This weekend was exceptionally glorious; the beauty all around just begged to be celebrated.  And so we did.  We celebrated Friday night with a date night.  I celebrated Saturday with a leisurely brunch outside with a good friend, a long walk outside (a first in a long time), and some alfresco reading.   I celebrated Saturday night by opening the windows in our apartment to enjoy the slight cool breeze and listen to the neighborhood children learning how to play backyard baseball.  My husband and I celebrated Sunday by worshipping with brothers and sisters at church, enjoying their company at lunch, and then strolling down the main street of our neighborhood.  I love moments and days like these.  

As I dive headfirst into another school-week (only four more days until spring break, but who's counting?), I'm going to leave you with our date-night meal.  The combination of oven dried tomatoes, crisp-tender asparagus, basil, and boursin cheese was so fresh. 

Bow-Tie Pasta with Oven-Dried Tomatoes, Asparagus and Boursin

Adapted from Bride & Groom, First and Forever

For the oven-dried tomatoes:

10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved
3 garlic cloves
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
small pinch sugar
pinch salt
4 basil leaves, julienned

Preheat the oven to 225.  In a small baking pan (I used a round cake pan), place the cherry tomato halves, cut side up.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sugar, salt and pepper.  Sprinkle with basil.  Tuck the garlic cloves in between the tomatoes.  Bake for 3 1/2 hours.  The tomatoes should be shriveled, but still have some moisture.  Refrigerate tomatoes and garlic until ready to use.

(Recipe continued below)

For the pasta:

1/3 cup pine nuts
8 oz bow tie pasta
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, and cut into 2-3 inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 roasted garlic cloves, chopped
oven roasted cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh basil, julienned
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup garlic and herb boursin cheese, crumbled (a good herb goat cheese will work, too)
3/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
kosher salt and pepper

Place a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Cook the pine nuts in the dry skillet, shaking or stirring the pan constantly, until the pine nuts are slightly brown on all sides.  Remove to a bowl. 

In the same saucepan, bring six cups of well-salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook for 8 minutes.  Add the asparagus and cook for two more minutes.  Reserve 2/3 cups pasta water and drain the pasta and asparagus in a colander. 

In the same saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes to warm through.  Add the pasta, asparagus and reserved water, tossing to combine.  Add the basil, cheeses, lemon pepper, and pine nuts.  Toss everything together and taste for salt and pepper. 

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I can see clearly now...

What a soaker of a weekend!  Friday was soggy; not wet enough to keep me from ducking in and out of a few stores on a study-free shopping break with a friend, but just a little yucky.  Saturday was a deluge.  Unfortunately, I had no choice but to go to the grocery, but thankfully I had a sympathetic husband who swam with me, and helped me cart the bags into the apartment.  Sunday and Monday were more of the same; the rain didn't keep us away from church and classes but we were glad to stay inside the rest of the time.  I do enjoy the way wet days make you slow down, but I was ready to see the sun again today.

It was in the midst of the weekend sogginess that I decided to make a little bit of sunshine in the form of lemon triangles.  We are sharing these with several friends this week.  I am thankful for the precious time that we have to spend with them; a respite in the midst of the deluge of life!  I want to share the recipe with you, just in case you have a rainy day that needs a little sunshine-y brightness. 

I know that almost every food blog existent has a lemon bar/square recipe, and I am going to add mine to the pile.  I like my lemon triangles to really taste like lemon.  The lemon layer is lip-puckering tart on its own, but is mellowed by the powdered sugar on top and the barely sweet, crisp shortbread.  I was a little overzealous and pulled these out of the pan too early (resulting in the soft, gooey lemon layer); if you refrigerate them overnight in the pan, the triangles will be much prettier.  Either way, they taste, well, like a bright spring day!

Lemon Triangles

1 3/4 cups flour
2/3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter

6 extra large eggs at room temperature
3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about seven lemons)
1 cup flour
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Lightly butter a 13 x 9 inch baking sheet and line with Parchment paper, allowing the paper to come up the sides of the pan.

Pulse the flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch and salt in a food processor. Slice the butter into 1-inch pieces. Add the butter to the processor and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds, and then pulse until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second bursts. Sprinkle the mixture into a lined pan and press firmly with your fingers to form an even, 1/4 inch layer over the entire pan bottom. Refrigerate or 30 minutes, and bake for about 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and flour. Pour over the warm crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature (or refrigerate overnight in the pan).  Using the parchment to pull them out of the pan, transfer to a cutting board and peel the paper down. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut into 20 squares. Then cut each square diagonally to form 40 triangles.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Crazy, Busy, Wife-ing, Reading, Writing, Cooking, Blogging...Whew.

One of my assignments this week was to come up with a six word description which would capture "my story."  You might be thinking...why?  And, is that all you're doing there in seminary? 

Well, let me tell you.  It was a welcome break from the many other assignments.  I am taking fewer classes than last semester, but the load doesn't seem to be any lighter!  And the assignment is legitimate.  We are studying relationship-building in this particular class, and part of relationship building is knowing how to share stories, especially those stories which are life-defining.  Right now, my life would be defined by the craziness of my schedule!  In the meanwhile, I am trying to enjoy the days, be a good friend and wife, and above all, to glorify God.  I fail often, but that is part of life. 

As I shared with you last week, I am craving flavors of spring.  Its right around the corner, and I can't wait!  I love the lighter colors and the bright flavors.  But at the same time, comfort foods are hanging around, giving respite from the chill.  And, today, we are blessed to have friends hanging around too, giving respite from the constant weight of homework. 

I know that I have already featured a Shrimp & Grits recipe, but I had to share another recipe with you for several reasons.  First, because we are honored to have friends over for lunch today.  I truly enjoy spending time with this couple.  It is a joy to see what God is doing in their lives and to share what he is doing in ours.  This is a good enough reason in itself!  Moreover, they are not from the south, so I have the wonderful task of sharing this delicious Southern meal with them.

Second, because my sister gave me a wonderful birthday present a few weeks ago, a cookbook called Glorious Grits.  It is written by Susan McEwen Mcintosh, whose family owns a mill outside of Birmingham, AL.  She is no stranger to grits, cornmeal, or polenta.  The book is filled with beautiful photos and many recipes that I am longing to make, including no fewer than seven Shrimp and Grits recipes! 

And third, because when I came back from my Christmas break, I brought back with me some divine Alabama stone ground grits from Oakview Farms.  The best grits are stone ground.  They take about 30 minutes to cook, but if you take the time, they are creamy goodness with a great depth of flavor.  If you can find grits from a mill, they will most likely need to be refrigerated or frozen because they are actually still have the germ (which both gives them flavor and makes them perishable).  This two pound bag has been waiting patiently on the shelf of my refrigerator for a couple of months, and now is the time to enjoy them!  If you cannot find stone ground grits, quick grits are okay to use, but please do not use instant grits!  And please, never, ever put sugar in grits.

Anniversary Shrimp and Grits

Adapted slightly from Glorious Grits: America's Favorite Comfort Food
For the Gruyere Grits:

7 cups water
1 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups yellow stone ground grits*
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces gruyere cheese, grated or cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
kosher salt to taste

In a large saucepan, bring the water and milk to boil.  Add the salt and whisk in the grits.  Bring to a boil, whisking often.  Turn the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until the grits are thickened.  Remove from heat.

Add the butter, cheese and pepper, stirring until the cheese melts.  Keep warm until serving.

For the shrimp:

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 ounces smoked sausage, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 1/4 low sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup half & half
2 bay leaves
1 1/4 teaspoons Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning
3 pounds raw peeled shrimp
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

While the grits cook, prepare the shrimp.  In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the bell pepper, onion, and cloves in olive oil for two minutes.  Add the sausage and sauté for six more minutes.  Add the wine, and cook until the liquid is almost evaporated.  Sprinkle the flour over the sausage and vegetables.  Stir constantly for three minutes.  Whisk in the chicken broth, half & half, bay leaves and Creole seasoning.  Simmer for seven minutes. 

Just before seasoning, stir in the shrimp.  Cook, stirring often, for three to four minutes, until the shrimp are turn pink.  Remove the bay leaves, and stir in the parsley.  Serve over gruyere grits. 

*If you are using quick grits instead of stone ground, your cooking time will be much shorter, around five minutes.  Check the directions on the grits package for specific instructions.
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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Redeeming Myself

Yesterday, we spent the most glorious couple of hours outside.  My husband and I went to a little lunch restaurant with sidewalk cafe-style seating, and shared stories with some new friends. 

I had an idea that we were going to this little bistro, Anne's Kitchen Table.  Being the food-lover that I am, I scouted out the well-appointed menu online beforehand.  I tried to decide on the most delectable treat on the menu that would not leave me with regrets and heaviness afterward.  I decided on a salad, and had confirmation on the deliciousness of said salad from the raving reviews of a friend.  My goal was to enjoy myself, but to be good simultaneously. 

Well, you know what happened.  We arrived at the cafe, sat basking in the sun, and my good intentions went out the nonexistent window.  The scrumptious and cheese laden paninis drew my attention, and I almost surprised myself when I exclaimed "I'll have the chicken caprese panini, please!"  It was delectable.  I won't discuss my regrets.

So, I'm going to try to redeem myself today with a delicious and perfect-for-spring salad.  The tart apples and unexpected radishes give the long awaited crunch of crispness that is missing in the comfort food of winter.  It is delectable, and you won't have any regrets. 

Apple, Walnut, and Gorgonzola Salad

For the Lemon Poppyseed dressing

2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon prepared mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tablespoon poppyseeds
zest of 1/2 lemon

In a blender, combine the honey, lemon juice, mustard and salt.  Pulse until well combined.  With the motor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream, until the dressing is emulsified.  Add the poppyseeds and zest, pulse once or twice to incorporate.

For the Salad:

6 cups spring baby greens
3 tablespoons lemon poppyseed dressing
5-6 radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 apple, cut into thin matchsticks
1/3 cup glazed walnuts
1/3 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

In a large bowl, toss the baby greens with the dressing and about three-fourths of the radishes, apple, walnuts and cheese.  Arrange the rest on the top of the salad.  Drizzle a little dressing over the top.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Celebrating Spring

I feel like I am coming out of hibernation!  Heavy coats are being replaced by lighter jackets, the temperature is rising above thirty-something, and there is a hint of green under the melting grey and brown snow!  I know that I'm celebrating just a bit early, and I still shiver when I go outside, but it feels good somehow. 

The warmth of the sun mixed with the nip in the air has me longing for everything "spring;" eggs, asparagus, strawberries, artichokes, and much, much more!  I don't think the milder southern seasonal changes have ever drawn such intense longing in me.  There, the desire revolved more around specific calendar dates; Easter provoked the desire for asparagus or Mother's day a longing for brunch.  But now, I find myself craving spring fare, just for the freshness and newness of it all. 

Of course we are in the midst of spring semester, and there is not much time to go and just enjoy these changes.  But a grocery trip and an hour in the kitchen make for a good study break, and so that is just what I did yesterday!  I made this soup, which pronounces "Spring is Here!" in both its ingredients and its name.  It is fresh, chock full of spring vegetables, but still has a welcome warmth.

French Spring Soup
Adapted from Allrecipes

4 tablespoons butter
1 pound leeks, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms
3 new potatoes, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 bunch fresh asparagus, cut into 1/2 to 1 inch slices
1 quart water
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 pinch dill
1/3 cup barley
9 ounces fresh spinach, roughly chopped
1 cup half and half
1/4 cup sherry (optional)

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the leeks, onion, and garlic, and sauté until tender.  Add the mushrooms and sauté for two minutes.  Add the potatoes, carrots, and asparagus, and sauté for two more minutes.  Add the water, broth, salt, pepper, dill, and barley.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  Stir in the spinach, half and half and sherry; cook over low heat for about five more minutes. 

Sprinkle fresh grated parmesan cheese over the soup, and serve with crusty bread.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What is Southern Food? (And Curry Chicken, Part Two!)

My husband came home from a meeting at the school last week telling me that a student group at the seminary is discussing having an International night this semester.  One of the cultures represented?  Southern.  I didn't quite know that we were international, but you know, I love talking about the South so much that I might just go as an ambassador!

Of course, we started discussing just what we might offer if we were to represent sweet Dixie.  We both agreed would have to go with something that most people associate with the south.  I came across a "Southern" food stand at a market up here which offered the exact thing I am talking about.  What is Southern food (to a Yankee)?  It is fried!  Chicken, catfish, okra, cornbread, take your pick.  The fried offerings at that market represent the world's (or the North's) conceptions of everything Southern.  Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of fried food to go around in the South, but there's more to the south than that.  So we kept thinking; what else is as closely associated with the South as fried chicken?  Bingo, there are casseroles!  And these are not just any casseroles, they are made with cans of condensed soup. 

The problem is, apart from a very few exceptions, I don't make can of soup casseroles.  Also, I have never made fried chicken, or anything else that required a large vat of oil, in my house!  It's just not me.  I have an identity crisis; can I call myself Southern?

Well, if you have been reading here for any time at all, or if you are from the South yourself, you know there is more to Southern food than fried chicken and can of soup casseroles.  So, what would you have represent the South?  Me?  I am thinking that shrimp and grits and a taste of real, homemade banana pudding gives a great feel for the comfort food kingdom.  Or maybe I would have BBQ chicken and cornbread, and bread pudding for dessert.  So, hypothetically, if you were asked to make a Southern meal at an International celebration, how would you represent Dixie?  Let me hear from you!

In the meanwhile, I'm going to leave you with one of my few dishes that does use a can of condensed soup (or two!).  It's Curry Chicken, Southern style!  This meal is so fast, and the recipe can easily be multiplied to feed a crowd.  It is one of my go-to recipes when we are entertaining large groups of people for lunch or supper. 

Quick Curry Chicken

1 cup green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cups sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons red curry powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 1/2 cups cooked chicken

Cook the onion in butter until tender, but not brown.  Add the soup; heat and stir until smooth.  Stir in sour cream, spices, and lemon juice.  Add the chicken and heat through.  Serve over hot rice.  Sprinkle condiments over curry as desired. 

Condiments:  flaked sweetened coconut, chopped roasted peanuts, chutney, chopped green onion, chopped hard boiled eggs, crumbled bacon. 

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