Homemade Muesli Streusel Swirl Breakfast Bread

cutloaf2Homemade muesli has become a staple in our house year round. I love to keep quart-sized mason jars full of it in the fridge to have handy for a cold cereal breakfast or to sprinkle over yogurt. It’s so easy to make and so much tastier and healthier than commercially made muesli or cold cereals with additives. But what exactly is muesli, you may ask?

Muesli has Swiss and German roots, hence the decidedly non-english name. It is simply a dish based on raw rolled oats and other ingredients including grains, fresh or dried fruits, seeds and nuts, and is usually eaten for breakfast, but sometimes eaten as a light evening dish in Germany and Switzerland.

In the year 1900, a Swiss physician named Max Bircher-Benner first introduced muesli to patients in his hospital as part of a rich fresh fruit and vegetable diet that was an essential component of therapy. Evidently, he was inspired by a similar “strange” dish he encountered in the Swiss Alps while he and his wife were hiking. The original Bircher-Benner “fresh” muesli recipe consisted of all parts of a fresh apple including the seeds, pips and core, rolled oats soaked in water for 12 hours, nuts, lemon juice and milk or cream and honey mixed together and served immediately before the apple could turn brown. Today’s more commonly known convenient version of a dry or packaged muesli can be stored for months and served quickly with milk, nut milk or soy milk, or it can be soaked overnight and served with fresh fruit. Muesli first became popular in the United States during the 1960’s as part of the wave of interest in health foods and vegetarianism associated with the hippie movement and beyond.

An interesting history, but the bottom line is does it taste good? Why yes it does. And guess what? It tastes even better when you go a step further and make some of it into a streusel for this wonderfully moist and delicious Muesli Streusel Swirl Breakfast Bread that I’m going to tell you about.

You see I had this idea while I was eating my muesli for breakfast one morning. I love cooking with oats and I love incorporating some of the ground oats as a substitution for flour in quick breads to add both flavor and texture, as well as a healthful aspect. So what if I created a bread like that and added a delicious ribbon of streusel made from muesli with all of its dried fruits and nuts…how could you go wrong? I decided to give it a whirl and here’s the result: A fragrant and delectable loaf of quick bread with a very moist crumb and a satisfyingly crunchy topping. It’s a great way to start off your day right or a lovely way to end it with a not too sweet dessert. The orange zest in the batter is key and provides a tiny hit of citrus essence to the bread, enhancing the fruit and nuts in the streusel.

Muesli Streusel Swirl Breakfast Bread certainly is perfect for the fall season, but much like muesli, it’s also great for any time of the year. I’ll be making this bread over and over again and may even try adding some fresh grated apple to the batter (but not the core, seeds and pips) as an homage to the father of muesli. Thanks, Dr. Bircher-Benner!

This is a two-for-one recipe. Try the muesli on its own and experiment with your favorite ingredients, then make this bread and enjoy.


Homemade Muesli
Makes about 10 cups, can be halved

(A variation on Mark Bittman’s recipe, you can use your own personal mix of dried fruit and seeds or nuts. This is what I used to make the muesli in this bread recipe.)

7 generous cups dry, raw rolled oats (not quick cooking or steel cut)
1 cup total mixed raw nuts and seeds (I used sliced, skin-on almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin (pepita) seeds and golden flax seed
1 1/4 cup mixed dried fruit (I use cherries, cranberries and currants)
1/2 cup unsweetened, dry grated coconut
1 rounded teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a very large bowl, combine all ingredients. Store in airtight containers in fridge for up to 2-3 months. To serve, put 1/2 cup in a bowl and top with 1/4 cup milk, nut milk or soy milk. Allow to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before eating and the oats will soften and absorb the sweetness of the fruit.

Muesli Streusel Swirl Breakfast Bread
Makes one 9 x 5 inch loaf

For the streusel:
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup homemade muesli (see above)
2 tablespoons of chopped pecans
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
dash of kosher salt
3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted

For the bread:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats, processed to a fine flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cups of granulated sugar (I use organic cane sugar)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon high quality pure vanilla extract (I use Madagascar bourbon vanilla)
zest of one orange
1/2 cup 2% or whole plain Greek yogurt and 1/2 cup low fat milk whisked to combine

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan by greasing it with butter and set aside.

Prepare the streusel by combining the brown sugar, muesli, pecans, flour, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Add the melted butter and stir until well combined. Set aside.

For the bread, combine the flour, oat flour, baking soda, baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk. Using an electric mixer, in a large bowl, beat the 5 tablespoons of butter and the granulated sugar on medium high speed until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low speed after each addition until well blended. Add the vanilla and orange zest and beat on low speed until well blended. Beating at low speed, add the flour mixture and yogurt-milk mixture alternately to the sugar mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Pour 1/2 of the batter into the loaf pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle with 1/2 of the streusel mixture. Spread the remaining batter over the streusel. Swirl the batter and streusel mixture with a knife or spoon and smooth the top. Sprinkle the remaining streusel over the top of the batter.

Bake at 350 F. degrees for about 50 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan on top of a wire rack. Gently run the edge of a table knife around the edges of the loaf and carefully remove the loaf from the pan by slightly inverting it, trying to avoid losing any of the streusel topping. Cool completely on the rack, streusel side up. Cut into slices and enjoy. As a whole loaf or cut into individual slices and carefully wrapped, this bread freezes beautifully.

*****

What’s up next? My take on a sausage, pepper and onion favorite. Stay tuned…

 

Southern Comfort Food: Pimento and Cheese Squash Casserole

readytoeatHere’s a dish I think you’ll really love as much as we do and it’s a staple of the Southern food culture. A squash casserole full of fresh yellow squash and onions, enhanced with the flavors of homemade pimento cheese…what’s not to love?

I’ve been making squash casserole for years. My version has always included squash, onion, bell pepper, an egg, a knob of butter, extra sharp cheddar cheese and breadcrumbs on top sprinkled with sweet or smoky paprika. My only variations have been in changing the color of my peppers and varieties of cheese. Delicious, and not the stereotypical southern casserole that involves cream soup, sour cream or mayonnaise, which suits me just fine.

However. Sometimes a little decadence can go a long way and change can be good. Really good, in this case.

Pimento cheese seems to have enjoyed a renaissance lately. My mom makes the very best pimento cheese in the world and perhaps I will share that recipe at a later date. It was she who first mentioned adding pimentos to her squash casserole and that gave me the idea to do my own version with a “pimento cheese” spin. When I tasted it, it was transformative! Who knew that those little pimentos could make such a difference in the flavor of this casserole?

Although to be fair, the mayonnaise is really the game changing element from a textural point of view. I use mayonnaise regularly in some things as needed, but generally use a very light hand with it. In this case, the mayonnaise makes this casserole so wonderfully flavorful and comforting, while complimenting the taste of the squash and other ingredients. It adds just the perfect amount of creaminess to the dish without being sloppy or gooey. It’s so good and easy to prepare, you might be tempted to make a meal off of the casserole alone, but it’s even better as an accompaniment to your favorite entree.

I chose squash that was seasonally available to make this casserole, and in this case it was a yellow summer squash with a pale green end. The result was this beautiful “confetti casserole” appearance. Any yellow summer squash will work just as well and taste great.

Pimento and Cheese Squash Casserole
Serves 6

1 lb. of yellow summer squash, crookneck or other, trimmed and sliced into 1/4″ slices
1-4 oz. jar of chopped pimentos, drained
1/2 sweet red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/3 cup good quality mayonnaise
1 1/2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a casserole dish with olive oil cooking spray or just coat it lightly with olive oil.

Place the sliced squash into a medium sized pot, cover it with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to simmer and partially cover the pot with a lid. Allow the squash to cook until it is just tender when pricked with a fork, about 15 minutes. Drain off all of the water, leaving the squash in the pot. Mash the squash with a potato masher until it is well broken up, but not pulverized. Place the pot lid back over the top of the pot and drain the water one more time. Add the butter to the hot squash and stir until it melts. Add the pimentos and red onion and stir. Add the egg and stir well. Then add the mayonnaise, 3/4 cup of the cheddar cheese, the salt and pepper and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish and top with the remaining cheese.

Place the casserole into the oven and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, or until the casserole is set and bubbling and the top is very lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow it to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

*****

What am I cooking up next? A breakfast bread of champions. Stay tuned and Happy Fall…

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End of Summer and into Fall with a Fresh Fruit Crumble

crumbleinbowl2When I was a child, as far as dessert was concerned, I was “all in” for chocolate. Fruit desserts were okay, but somehow a little disappointing. Even with an added bonus of vanilla ice cream piled on top of a slice of apple pie or a warm peach crisp, a fruit dessert still didn’t hold a candle to anything chocolate. And yes, chocolate ice cream on top of a peach crisp or apple pie is just plain wrong.

Fast forward to many years later and I am now “all in” for fruit-based desserts. It’s not that I have given up chocolate, but these days whether it’s spring berries, summer peaches or fall apples, there’s a whole lot of fruit dessert making going on at my house. And my most favorite thing to make is something quick and easy with ingredients I usually have on hand. Enter the fruit crumble.

What’s the difference between a crumble, a crisp and a cobbler, you may ask?

Well, not a whole lot, really. In my opinion, the difference is mostly in the topping, although some cobblers do have a thickening agent added to the filling. For instance, the biscuit, dumpling or crust-like topping of a cobbler is flour-based, whereas a crumble topping is much more streusel-like in nature, has far less flour and often includes spices, oats and nuts. That would place a crisp—which has a higher butter and sugar to flour ratio in its topping than a cobbler, but typically does not include oats or nuts—somewhere in between a cobbler and a crumble.

Of the three, a crumble has become my favorite. The appeal is not only in the combination of flavors that a crumble provides, but in the textural contrast between the juicy, soft and sweet fruit and the toothsome, crispy, crunchy topping. It’s a perfectly balanced dessert. With a scoop of your favorite vanilla bean ice cream melting over a warm serving of crumble, you’re in for a heavenly experience!

Another thing to love about a crumble is how versatile it is. You can make it with berries or stone fruit, or a mix of the two. And when the spring/summer fruits are gone, you can make it with seasonal apples or pears instead…heck, throw in a few fresh cranberries with those apples, if you like. If your citrus du jour is orange instead of lemon, that will work just as well. So really, this is a year-round dish.

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Generally I am not a fan of overly sweet desserts, so my version of fruit crumble relies on less sugar than many recipes, which allows the natural sweetness of the ripe fruit to shine through. The addition of vanilla ice cream becomes an enhancement to the flavor and texture of the dessert, rather than making it overbearingly sweet.

Make this crumble with your favorite fresh fruit, add some vanilla ice cream, raise up your spoon and let’s toast the end of summer and the beginning of the fall season. Bon appétit!

Peach or Fresh Fruit Crumble
Serves 6

For the filling:
7-8 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced to yield about 7 1/2 cups total of fruit
(or you can mix peaches or nectarines, blackberries or blueberries and fresh cherries, or substitute an equal amount of *peeled or skin-on cored and sliced apples or ripe pears instead of stone fruit or berries)
1/2 cup granulated cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
zest of one lemon (or an orange will do nicely, too)

For the topping:
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp kosher salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces

Extra butter to grease your baking dish
Vanilla bean ice cream to serve (don’t skip, life is too short!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter either a 3-inch deep 7 x 11 or similarly sized glass or oval baking dish, and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the peaches (or whatever fruits you are using), sugar, cinnamon and zest and stir to combine well. Set the fruit mixture aside while you make the crumble topping. In a small bowl combine the brown sugar, oats, pecans, flour, salt and cinnamon. Add in the cut butter and mix with your hands until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is in pea-sized pieces.

Evenly spread the fruit into the bottom of your prepared dish. Cover the fruit evenly with the crumble mixture. Place the dish on a foil lined baking sheet before baking to catch any spills, and place into the oven. Bake for 22-25 minutes or until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit mixture is bubbly. Remove from the oven and allow the crumble to cool about 15 minutes or to room temperature. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Leftovers, if any, can be covered with plastic, refrigerated and gently warmed to room temperature before serving.

*Note: If making this crisp with apples or pears, add 1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to the fruit mixture and then proceed with the rest of the recipe as written.

Fresh out of the oven, a sea of crispy crumble over juicy fruit is just waiting for someone to dive in!

Fresh out of the oven, a sea of crispy crumble over juicy fruit is just waiting for someone to dive in!

Tantalizingly Cool and Colorful Mediterranean Tuna Salad

Tunalettucecu1sharpAnd then it was August, just like that!

With the limited time I’ve had to read other blogs lately, I’ve heard more than one fellow blogger out there remark that their lives have been hectic…and I can add my voice to that chorus. I started this post in JUNE, mind you. And since then, I’ve made this recipe several times and still not gotten a post out. As they say: Life is what happens while you’re making other plans. But I am back now and I have a very timely little recipe to share that is perfect for when the temps are very high…like ours are now and have been all summer.

Tuna with peach

BEATING THE HEAT =  SALAD TIME! 

This refreshing Mediterranean Tuna Salad is one I made up after tasting a somewhat similar Tunisian Tuna Salad at a local bakery and market many years ago. I love that this salad doesn’t use mayonnaise for the dressing. Instead, it has a light and lively dressing of fresh lemon juice, good olive oil and some salt and pepper to bind it, as well as to enhance the flavors of the fish, vegetables and herbs. Capers add the perfect little bite to this dish, so please don’t leave them out. Even if you don’t think you like capers, you’ll enjoy them here, I promise! And for those of you experiencing more temperate weather, this salad is great any time of the year.

Since I’ve made this dish several times this summer, I can tell you that it is excellent as a stand alone salad presented on top of fresh leaf lettuce, or equally wonderful paired with green salad and fresh peaches, a Grilled Corn Salad or my Mediterranean Couscous Salad. It also has the added advantage of coming together quickly.

EatingTuna

I hope you are having a lovely summer so far in the northern hemisphere and a mild winter in the southern one. Cheers!

Mediterranean Tuna Salad
Makes 4-6 Servings

2 – 5 oz. cans chunk white albacore tuna packed in olive oil, drained and flaked
20 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/3 cup jarred roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons jarred capers, drained and chopped
1/4 cup fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
1/3 cup red onion, peeled and chopped
16 pieces frozen and thawed artichoke heart quarters, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
More salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine the tuna, olives, red peppers, capers, parsley, onion and artichoke hearts. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad and combine thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Cover and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Stir again before serving.

A trio of deliciously cool salads!

*****

On another note, this blog celebrated its 5th Anniversary on June 15. My how time flies! Thanks to all who have followed me since the beginning and who have joined me along the way. You all make it worth while and make me smile. More to come!

Happy 4th of July!

Wishing a very Happy Independence Day to all who celebrate!

I’ll be back in the kitchen soon.

PeachMelba6B

Peach and Raspberry Tiramisu

 

 

Herbed Ricotta and Olive Tapenade Ravioli with Tomato Sauce and Fresh Basil

Finishedravioli

As mentioned in my last post, my husband and I took a little jaunt to the Highlands, North Carolina area for a weekend early this Spring. We had the good fortune to make reservations at a wonderful restaurant in downtown Highlands, Wild Thyme Gourmet. Last time I shared my version of the dish I ordered that night, the Provençal Vegetable Ragout with Soft Cheese Polenta…truly an out of this world dish.

But that wasn’t the only amazing and inspiring dish on the table that night!

Now I’d like to share a re-creation of the dish my husband ordered, a ricotta and tapenade stuffed ravioli with tomato sauce and fresh basil. My version features the same very easy to make tapenade recipe by Jacques Pépin that I used in the last post, and you can find that recipe here. This tapenade makes an outstanding appetizer on its own served with crostini, as well as an excellent and savory ingredient for use in other dishes.

This fun-to-make ravioli comes together by simply placing a bit of the tapenade and an equal amount of a creamy ricotta mixture onto some pre-made wonton wrappers, then fold, seal, boil, drain and serve with fresh basil and tomato sauce. And when it’s done, get ready for an unbelievable pop of lively flavors that will tingle your taste buds. Va, va voom! I think my version is even better than the dish from the restaurant. Click on the first picture below to scroll through the slideshow with basic instructions for the process, then try out the recipes for the tapenade, ravioli and sauce, and judge how good this is for yourself.

Keeping in mind how versatile the tomato sauce is for other dishes, it is well worth the effort to make your own and spin your leftovers into more delicious dinners. Here are a few ideas for doing just that: Italian Sliders, Pizza with Prosciutto and Arugula, Herbed Turkey and Veggie Meatloaf, Shakshuka (recipe coming soon) and of course, the Provençal Vegetable Ragout with Soft Cheese Polenta. You can also use the sauce as a base for your favorite spaghetti recipe, in a pasta casserole, on a meatball sub and in any recipe that calls for a marinara or red pasta sauce.

Herbed Ricotta and Olive Tapenade Ravioli with Tomato Sauce and Fresh Basil
Serves 2, can be doubled

16 Won Ton Wrappers (such as Nasoya)
16 teaspoons prepared olive tapenade (seriously, try Jacques Pépin’s link above)
16 teaspoons part-skim ricotta cheese
teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest, finely chopped
1 egg lightly beaten to use as an egg wash
1 1/2 cups homemade or your favorite tomato sauce (see recipe below)
Fresh basil leaves for garnish

Mix together the ricotta, thyme and lemon zest in a small bowl. Working one at a time, lay one wonton wrapper on a flat surface and brush just the edges with beaten egg. Fill one half of the wonton wrapper with 1 teaspoon of tapenade and 1 teaspoon of ricotta mixture. Fold over the wonton carefully, opposite corner to corner, to make a triangle and then gently press on the edges to seal. Use the tines of a fork to gently press and completely seal and crimp the edges. Lay each ravioli on a lightly floured surface such as a baking sheet, while preparing the remaining ravioli. Repeat the filling and sealing process 15 more times. When all of the ravioli are prepared, cook in a large pot of boiling and slightly salted water for 3-5 minutes, or until al dente. Drain gently, preferably removing the ravioli from the water with a large slotted spoon. To serve, ladle a small amount of the warmed tomato sauce into each of two large bowls or plates, top with 8 ravioli, then ladle more warmed tomato sauce on top and finish with a sprinkling of chopped and whole fresh basil leaves.

Homemade Tomato Sauce
(Slightly modified from Mario Batali’s Basic Tomato Sauce Recipe)
Makes about 8 cups of sauce

Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
medium red onion, diced
cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
Tablespoons of fresh thyme, minced
1cup shredded carrot
2- 28 ounce cans of whole, peeled tomatoes in juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat olive oil over medium heat, add onion, garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, 8 to 10 min. Add thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often and breaking up the tomatoes with your spoon. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary. Will keep tightly sealed in fridge for one week or frozen for 3 months.

Provençal Vegetable Ragout with Soft Cheese Polenta

finished ragoutwpolentaBSpring has popped here in Atlanta and we are leafed out! It’s been so pretty here, but the weather continues to be fickle…hot one day and downright cold the next with freezing temperatures coming this weekend, which is not good for azaleas. Still, the longer days and beautiful spring colors are most welcome.

A few weeks ago as the first buds were starting to show, we took a jaunt up to Cashiers, North Carolina for the weekend. It was still very much winter there, but the hiking was magnificent. Our close proximity to Highlands—which is only 15 minutes from Cashiers—meant that we could check out some very good new restaurants. One of them was Wild Thyme Gourmet. This restaurant used to be in a very small cottage a block or so off the main street of Highlands. They had little to no seating other than outdoors, but we had lunch there a couple of times and it was good. A few years ago they moved into a much larger space right on the main street and expanded their menu. It is now a fine restaurant worthy of reservations!

The night we dined at Wild Thyme Gourmet, both my husband and I were drawn to the vegetarian dishes on the menu. He ordered the ricotta and tapenade stuffed ravioli with fresh basil and tomato sauce. I ordered a Provençal vegetable ragout with soft polenta. The vegetables were meltingly delicious with a slightly smoky and rich undertone and were incorporated into a tomatoey sauce with briney kalamata olives. This was served atop a nutty and cheesey tasting soft polenta with just a few crumbles of soft, fresh goat cheese scattered on top. Both dishes were outstanding, so much so that the taste haunted me all the way back to Atlanta…and you know what that means!

So here’s my recreation of that delicious dish, which started off by making Jacques Pépin’s exceptionally wonderful version of tapenade which you can see here. While it wasn’t exactly like the dish at the restaurant, we thought it was every bit as good. And you guessed it, the next post will be my husband’s ravioli dish, so stay tuned.

finished ragoutwpolenta2

Provençal Vegetable Ragout with Soft Cheese Polenta
Serves 6

For the Ragout:
medium 
uncooked zucchini, split in half lengthwise
medium yellow summer squash, split in half lengthwise
1 each red, yellow, orange and green bell pepper, halved, stemmed and seeded
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, peeled and diced
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
3 medium plum tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 Tablespoons Kalamata olive tapenade, preferably homemade
12 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1 1/2 fluid oz. Pernod or Pastis liquor
1 1/2 oz. unsalted vegetable stock, preferably homemade
1 Tablespoon Italian Parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh basil, chopped, plus extra leaves for garnish
1 Tablespoon soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled

For the Polenta:
3 cups unsalted vegetable stock, preferably homemade
3/4 cup skim or 1% milk
Tablespoons half-and-half
cup whole-grain yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt

Place the halves of zucchini, squash and peppers on a medium high heat grill or grill pan and grill both sides just until you have nice char marks. Remove from the heat and dice into 1/2 inch pieces.

Place olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the zucchini, squash, and peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are starting to get tender. Add the tomato, tomato paste, olives, tapenade, vegetable stock, herbs and the Pernod or Pastis and cook on low heat, covered, until the tomatoes are soft and all the ingredients are integrated, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn off heat and leave covered while making the polenta.

Bring the 3 cups vegetable stock, milk and half and half to a gentle boil. Add the cornmeal slowly while whisking and then turn the heat to low. Continue to whisk until the polenta is creamy and tender to the bite, about 5-8 minutes. Add the parmesan and some freshly ground black pepper. Taste and add salt if needed. Serve 3/4 cup polenta with 1/6 of the ragout on top. Finish with a tiny sprinkle of goat cheese and a spring of basil, if desired.

*****

For those of you “Jones-ing” for spring, rest assured it is on its way. Here are some pics from our yard and neighborhood to tide you over.

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Light Individual Chicken Pot Pies for Spring!

Plated2 copy2Spring is in the air and I have one more recipe in a lighter vein to share with you as we usher in this beautiful and transitional season. Chicken pot pie!

I really love chicken pot pies any time of the year and I especially love individual ones because you can have a reasonable portion that is just right. Since these pies aren’t the quickest thing to make, it’s wonderful to freeze some of them and then enjoy those goodies at a later date for a quick weeknight dinner. Just thaw, top with your favorite crust, bake, add a salad on the side and you’re good to go.

This particular version of the dish has been lightened up a bit by cutting back on the fat and amping up the vegetables—some of which are roasted, giving them an extra boost of flavor. The filling is still creamy and rich tasting, but uses only a touch of olive oil and butter for flavor, flour to make a roux and some homemade unsalted chicken stock and low fat milk instead of cream to make the sauce. The taste of the sauce is additionally enhanced by a dash of cayenne pepper for a little kick. (You can cut back on the cayenne or eliminate it completely if you are heat sensitive.)

I roasted a whole organic chicken for the meat and made my stock from the carcass, which you can see how to do by clicking on this post. Homemade stock adds unbelievable flavor and richness to any dish, and is well worth the effort. Really there isn’t much effort…you just need to give it a couple of hours on the stove, then cool and strain it. Extra stock freezes well and is really nice to have on hand. You can also buy a pre-roasted organic whole chicken at your grocer and make stock from the carcass, or use a purchased good quality low or no sodium stock to save some time.

outofoven1 copyI made a biscuit topping for the pies in the post I linked to above, but this time I used a bit of puff pastry to top my first round, then topped the pies I froze and thawed later with a purchased refrigerated pie crust just before baking. Any of these options will make a delicious and very satisfying result. My only regret is that we’ve now gone through all of the pies in the freezer, which were as good as freshly made. Time to make some more!

This recipe definitely lends itself to a vegetarian version by substituting another hearty veggie like butternut squash for the chicken, and by using homemade vegetable stock. Enjoy these pies with a spoon to sop up every last bit of the sauce!

Happy Spring!

Light Individual Chicken Pot Pies
Serves 10
Freezes beautifully without crust

small uncooked red potato(es), 1/2 inch dice
1/2 lb. uncooked green snap beans, trimmed and snapped into bite sized pieces
Tbsp olive oil
Tbsp unsalted butter
large uncooked onion, diced
2 large ribs uncooked celery, sliced
large uncooked carrots, peeled and diced
oz. fresh mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered
cloves garlic, minced
tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Tbsp all-purpose flour
cups unsalted home-prepared chicken stock or other unsalted chicken stock
1/2 cup low-fat milk
2 1/2 cups roasted skinless chicken breast and thigh, diced
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped, plus extra for sprinkling on top
Additional salt and pepper to taste
servings Dufour Frozen Puff Pastry (about 1/2 of one sheet in a 2-sheet, 14 oz. package) OR refrigerated pie crust (you’ll need two of them for 10 rounds)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly spray 10 one cup ramekins with cooking or olive oil spray.

Step 1: Make two aluminum foil trays and place on a rimmed cookie sheet. Place the potatoes in one tray and the green beans in the other. Season lightly with salt and pepper and roast until tender and lightly browned, about 20 minutes for the potatoes and 15 minutes for the beans, stirring once. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Step 2: Heat the 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and carrot and sauté for about 4-5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, garlic, a little pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. Stir in the 5 tablespoons of flour and stir continuously for about 4 minutes to cook the flour and make a light roux. Add the chicken stock, stirring, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook another 5 minutes or until the sauce begins to thicken, stirring occasionally. Stir in the milk, then simmer another 4 minutes. Add the potatoes, green beans, chicken, cayenne, salt, pepper, parsley and thyme. Stir well to combine. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed. Divide the filing evenly amongst the 10 prepared ramekins. If freezing any pies, allow the filling to cool in the ramekins, then cover them with plastic wrap and place into the freezer on a flat surface. Once frozen, place the covered ramekins into a freezer bag. Thaw before using and then proceed to step 3.

Step 3: Thaw and roll out the pastry according to the package directions. Cut the pastry with a knife into 10 equal portions if using puff pastry, or if using pie crust make 10 slightly larger rounds to fit over your ramekins and pierce them to vent. Place one portion on top of each of the 10 pies, securing the edges of the pastry around the edge of the ramekin. Brush with a little whisked egg wash and sprinkle with some chopped thyme, if desired.

Step 4: Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Place the ramekins on the foil, evenly spaced, and place the pan with ramekins into the oven. Cook the pies in a 400 F. degree oven for about 20 – 25 minutes, or until the chicken filling is simmering and the pastry is puffed, cooked through and golden brown on top. Watch carefully and if your pastry starts to get too brown, cover it with some aluminum foil. When done, remove from the oven and allow to sit for about 5 minutes before serving. Decorate with a bit of chopped fresh parsley and serve with a green salad on the side, if desired. This makes ten servings, and leftovers will keep well for a day in the fridge and can be reheated in the microwave.

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A Lighter Vichyssoise or Creamed Leek and Potato Soup

soupcu1Want another quick, simple, delicious and lighter soup recipe? This is a “lightened up” fix for an easy favorite…vichyssoise, or leek and potato soup. My lighter version is pureed and creamed, much like the original, but with a simple sub of lightened sour cream instead of copious amounts of heavy cream, you can definitely cut back on the calories and fat without sacrificing the flavor.

I think you’ll find that the sour cream adds a slight tang that naturally complements the leeks and the potato. This version is a little thicker, but is just as velvety as the original. Depending on how starchy your potatoes are you may wish to thin the soup with a bit more broth or water after you puree it. You could even use Greek yogurt as a substitute for the sour cream, but I happen to like the body and smoother consistency that the sour cream provides.

Like the traditional vichyssoise, this soup comes together incredibly quickly and is good hot or cold, which means you can eat it all year long…although this winter we’re leaning towards hot! It’s great to make on a busy weeknight. And it keeps well in the fridge for up to three days. All-in-all it makes for a warming (or chilled) and filling bowl of satisfying soup. We like ours with a bit of cheese toast alongside, which one can righteously enjoy when one has eliminated heavy whipping cream from the ingredients!

If you’ve never made vichyssoise because the name sounded “difficult,” you should really give it a try. What could be easier than throwing these few raw ingredients into a pot, cooking it for 40 minutes, pureeing it with a stick blender and stirring in some sour cream? You won’t be sorry.

Don’t need to worry about fat and calories? Then you can’t beat the original version of Julia Child’s vichyssoise here.

Lighter Vichyssoise or Creamed Leek and Potato Soup
Serves 6

4 cups sliced leeks, cleaned well, white and light green parts only (about 3-4 leeks)
1 3/4 lbs. raw yukon gold potatoes, cleaned, peeled and sliced
6 cups unsalted chicken broth
4 oz. water, plus a bit more for thinning, if needed
1/2 cup light sour cream, not fat free
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives (for garnish)
additional salt and pepper to taste

Place the leeks and potatoes in a large stock pot, add the broth, 1 teaspoon of salt and the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook partially covered until the vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and puree with a stick blender until very smooth. Return the soup in the pot to low heat. Stir in the sour cream, black pepper and add any additional salt, to taste and heat through. If the soup is too thick for you, thin it with a bit more broth or water. Serve the soup hot or cold with fresh snipped chives sprinkled on top as a tasty garnish.

soupcu2

Happy Valentine’s Day!

molten chocolate cake2This is one of my favorite sweet treats to make for Valentine’s Day or any occasion requiring a spectacular dessert. Molten Chocolate Cake. It’s easy to make and you can still make it for your Valentine this evening. It can also be made one day ahead and placed in the fridge, then brought to room temperature and baked when needed. I like to add just a touch of cinnamon to my batter for a little spicy warmth, and use vanilla bean ice cream on top. Make 1/3 of the recipe for two, if that’s where you’re headed. This isn’t my recipe, but it’s one I use over and over again, and I highly recommend it! You can find the recipe by clicking here.

Need more quick Valentine’s ideas?

Coeur a la creme by candlelight...very romantic!

Coeur a la creme by candlelight…very romantic!

Coeur à la crème click here.

Milk Chocolate and Orange Pots de Creme for dessert!

Milk Chocolate and Orange Pots de Creme for dessert!

Milk Chocolate and Orange Pots de Crème click here. Just add a little orange zest to make my version.

flowers

Hope you have a lovely day one and all!