February Edition

Greetings,

In the Midwest, where I live, this month is typically a continuation of the cold and snow that arrive in November.  Spring is still months away, and I confess to frequently daydreaming about it, browsing seed catalogs and garden magazines for ideas to use when the ground finally thaws and warms up, it's earthy scent in my nose and some of it under my nails as I dig and plant!  February is a great month to fly away to a warm destination, a break that makes the remainder of winter a bit more bearable.  Since that is not an option this year, I am concentrating on the events that are on deck this month: my brother, son, grandson, and assorted other relatives have birthdays, my wedding anniversary and birthday are this month, there's Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine's Day, and a cooking class to present for a community group.  Not exactly the same as lying under an umbrella on the beach with an adult beverage in hand, but good stuff nonetheless.

There's some good stuff in this month's edition, and plenty to give you inspiration to head into the kitchen and give these recipes a spin!  There's a recipe or two for every occasion in February, and to enjoy everyday at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Without a doubt you are about to discover a dish that will be showing up regularly on your table!

Remember, you can ask any cooking question via the "Ask the Chef" feature!  I will get back with an answer and all the help I can offer ASAP.  I love hearing from all of you.

Be blessed, and get ready to explore all that this month has to offer!

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Bright Citrus Shrimp

Bright Citrus Shrimp

Take a break from "ho-hum" appetizer shrimp with this brightly flavored version! Cooked shrimp are marinated in a mixture of orange and lemon juice, ketchup, vodka, Sriracha and olive oil, with some sweet red onion and bright cilantro.  The flavors pop, and these shrimp are fabulous skewered and offered on a appetizer buffet (think Super Bowl), or dressed up in a martini glass for a romantic Valentine's Day dinner.  Shrimp lovers will be delighted by this change-of-pace offering!

1/2 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice

1/2 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup ketchup

1/4 cup vodka

1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped red onion

1/2 cup finely minced cilantro

1 pound extra-large cooked shrimp

Combine the first 8 ingredients in a medium bowl.  Add the shrimp and toss to coat.  Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours, and up to six hours.

Serve on skewers, in martini glasses, or in a large bowl set over ice on a buffet.

 

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Brother's Keeper Salad with Greek Feta Dressing

Brother's Keeper Salad with Greek Feta Dressing on the side, no croutons

Brother's Keeper Salad with Greek Feta Dressing on the side, no croutons

The Brother's Keeper Salad was my take on a classic Greek salad, and was a favorite of customers at the cafe.  Crisp mixed greens are topped with red onion, cucumber, tomatoes, Kalamata olives and Feta cheese, croutons were optional.  A crusty roll (use the No-Knead Crusty Country Bread dough to make rolls) and a serving of Feta Dressing accompanied the salad.  If you want to up the protein, add chickpeas or tuna.  This is a quick and easy lunch, or make it a bit smaller as a side salad for dinner!  I find myself making this salad and dressing again and again!

Greek Feta Dressing:

3/4 cup white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup feta cheese

1 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine everything except olive oil in a blender and process until smooth. With the blender on low, slowly stream in the oil until combined.  Make this dressing at least three hours in advance so that the flavors can develop.  Store in the refrigerator.

For each salad:

(Add the ingredients to suit personal taste, omitting any that you don't care for)

2 cups chopped Romaine lettuce

1 cup mixed spring greens

Red onion, sliced paper thin

English cucumber slices

Cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, or small heirlooms, sliced

Kalamata olives, pitted

Feta cheese cubes or crumbles (my favorite is from Bulgaria)

Croutons (optional)

Assemble the salads and serve with the dressing on the side.  (For a crowd layer the ingredients in a serving bowl, making 3 layers of each ingredient, so that all of the ingredients are in every serving, from first to last! You can lightly dress the greens and lettuce before layering if the salad will be served immediately.)

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Chicken-Apple Sausage Mac & Cheese with Sage

Chicken-Apple Sausage Mac & Cheese with Sage

Chicken-Apple Sausage Mac & Cheese with Sage

This recipe resulted when I set out to create a dish that was a combination of odds and ends in my 'fridge and pantry that I wanted to put to good use; sometimes, that is how a really delicious dish is born!  I love the contrast of sweet and savory, the creaminess from the cheese sauce, and the subtle herbal notes. It's also faster than typical baked pastas, as after it's prepped on the stove it is simply run under the broiler.  Add a crispy green salad or roasted veggies, and you have a lovely weeknight dinner.  This is "Barry-approved" as well, an avowed sausage hater, so I did something right!

Kosher salt

1 pound cavatappi pasta

1 Tablespoon olive oil

8 ounces shredded Cheddar-Monterey Jack blend cheese

4 ounces shredded Swiss cheese

4 ounces shredded Parmesan cheese

2 ounces unsalted butter

2 Tablespoons olive oil

12 ounces chicken-apple sausage, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 sweet yellow onion, sliced thin

2 medium or 1 very large JonaRed or Honeycrisp apples, peeled, cored, and chopped very fine

1/4 cup cider or hard cider (or a combination of half Marsala-, heathalf apple juice, or 1 T. Apple Jack liqueur and 3 T. apple juice)

1/4 cup flour

3 cups whole milk, heated

1 Tablespoon dried sage leaves, chopped (I used 2 T. fresh, minced, but in the winter when my herb garden is out of commission I use dry)

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced, or 1/2 teaspoon dried

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a 6-quart Dutch oven, 4 quarts of water to a boil and add salt to taste. (Should taste like sea water.)  Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente, about 8 minutes. 

In the meantime, combine the cheeses in a bowl and set aside.

Drain the pasta in a colander and place in a large bowl.  Add 1 Tablespoon olive oil and toss until the pasta is coated.  Set aside.

Wipe out the Dutch oven and heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and the butter over medium-high heat.  Add the sausage and cook until browned, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and onion, and cook until softened and begins to get some golden brown color, 10 minutes.

Add the apples and cook until lightly softened, 4-6 minutes.  Pour in the Apple Jack or Marsala and apple juice or cider and cook, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan until the liquid is mostly evaporated.

Sprinkle the flour over the mixture, stirring to evenly coat all of the ingredients, making sure there are no lumps of flour at all.  Cook for a minute or two.  Slowly pour in the milk, stirring constantly, until it is incorporated without any lumps.  Bring it up to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until is is thickened.

Preheat the broiler.  Spray a 9 X 13-inch baking dish with non-stick spray

Reserve 1 cup of cheese, and add the rest of the cheese, sage, and thyme to the pot.  Stir as the cheese melts and is well incorporated, a minute or so.  Add the cooked pasta and mix well, coating the pasta well with the cheese and sausage mixture.  Remove from the heat and add salt and pepper, to taste.

Pour into the prepared pan, and sprinkle with the reserved cheese.  Broil until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown, 2-4 minutes, rotating the pan if needed.  Remove and let the pasta rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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Spicy Asian Chicken Strips with Bang Bang Sauce

Spicy Asian Chicken Strips with Bang-Bang Sauce

Kids love chicken nuggets and strips!  I firmly believe that most of us are still kids at heart, and an occasional chicken strip satisfies our need for crunchy, fried goodness.  My version has an Asian flair, and the Bang-Bang Sauce is my take on a sauce that accompanies my favorite shrimp appetizer.  For dinner, I serve this with my Herbed Coconut Jasmine Rice and Crunchy Napa Slaw; for a "fast food" meal, serve it with french fries or Sweet Potato Strings and Healthy Veggie Slaw.  They would also be amazing on a Super Bowl Buffet and will satisfy anyone's inner child!  Serves 4

Vegetable oil, for frying

Bang-Bang Sauce:

1/2 cup best quality mayonnaise

3 Tablespoons sweet chili sauce (available in the Asian section of the grocery store)

1 Tablespoon Sriracha sauce

Honey, optional

For the chicken strips:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch strips

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cornstarch

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 Tablespoon Sriracha sauce

1 large egg

1 1/2 cups Panko, Japanese-style bread crumbs

Prep the Sauce:

Whisk all of the sauce ingredients together thoroughly.  Taste, add more hot sauce if you like it hotter, more honey if you want it sweeter.  Cover and refrigerate until time to serve.

Prepare the chicken:

Preheat the oven to 200-degrees and place a sheet pan on the middle shelf. (As the chicken is fried, place it on the sheet pan to keep hot.)

Place a large, deep skillet on the burner and add enough vegetable oil to come up 1-inch deep in the pan.  Heat over medium-high heat.

Combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, and pepper in a bowl and whisk to combine.  Combine the buttermilk, egg, and Sriracha in a liquid measuring cup or small bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined.  Beat into the dry ingredients, whisking until there are no lumps.

Place the Panko in a pie plate or shallow baking dish. 

Set-up the prep area by staging the chicken, batter, and Panko in that order near the skillet.  Dip the chicken in the batter, allowing excess to drip off, then roll in the Panko, pressing lightly to coat.  Place each piece on a small sheet pan until there are enough to fill the bottom of the pan. 

Carefully place chicken in the skillet and cook until deep golden brown, then turn and cook the other side until golden. Drain on a piece of paper towel on a sheet pan, then transfer to the pan in the oven.  Repeat with the remaining chicken until all of the chicken is cooked.

Serve immediately.  Drizzle with the sauce or serve it on the side.

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Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Red Onion Jam

Gourmet Grilled Cheese

Gourmet Grilled Cheese

This grilled cheese hits all of the right notes, and will remain in your memory forever!  Its complex and complementary flavors really do sing.  Pair it with a cup of soup or a salad, or both for lunch and you'll hear music the rest of the day!

For each sandwich:

2 slices sourdough or other crusty bread

Red Onion Jam

1 slice each, Cheddar & Muenster, or your favorites

3 slices crisp cooked bacon

Butter

To make sandwich:

Spread a thin layer of Red Onion Jam on each slice of bread.  Place two slices of bacon on one slice, top with cheese, and place third slice of bacon on top. Place second slice of bread on top and spread with butter. 

Place the sandwich on the panini grill, buttered side down, then butter the top slice of bread and close the grill.  Cook until the cheese begins to ooze out the sides a bit and the bread is a deep golden brown. 

Remove from the grill and allow to rest for a minute or two before cutting in half.  Serve immediately.

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Individual Chocolate Pavlovas with Berries, Whipped Cream & Shaved Chocolate

This is the perfect finale to a romantic dinner! Light and crisp on the outside, marshmallow soft on the inside, these "Pavlovas"(named for the ballerina that these were created for), or meringues, are really easy to prepare and can be made several hours in advance.  Filled with fresh strawberries and red raspberries marinated in Chambord and a sprinkle of sugar, topped with fluffy whipped cream and finished with a shave of decadent dark chocolate, this beautiful dessert is just a little bit sexy.  This has a place on my list of favorite "suitable-for-entertaining" desserts!   Serves 6

Prepare the Berry Topping:

16 ounces fresh strawberries, cleaned & sliced (I use an egg slicer!)

8 ounces fresh red raspberries, rinsed and drained on paper towels

1 Tablespoon Chambord (raspberry liquer)

2 Tablespoons sugar

Combine all in a bowl and set aside.

Make the Pavlovas (meringues):

3 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup sugar

1 Tablespoon + 2 teaspoons sifted cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 325-degrees.  Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper, cut to fit.  Use a 3-inch biscuit cutter or the bottom of a 3-inch glass to draw 6 circles on the parchment.  Flip the paper over so that the meringues will not touch the pencil marks.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) beat the egg whites until peaks start to form.  Sprinkle with the cream of tartar and salt, beat to combine.  With the beater running, slowly add the sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.  Sprinkle the cocoa over the egg mixture and whip just until combined.

Using a spoon mound the meringue onto the parchment-lined pan, using the pencil marks to guide the meringue into circles.  Using a spoon, make an indentation in the middle of each meringue (this will hold the berries).  Place the pan in the oven and reduce the heat to 300-degrees.  Bake until the meringues are dry on the outside and soft in the center, 50 minutes.  Cool the meringues on the sheet pan.

Whipped Cream Topping & Chocolate Shavings

3/4 cup heavy cream

2 Tablespoons powdered sugar

In a chilled bowl, beat the cream and sugar together until peaks form.

2 ounces best-quality dark chocolate, held in the hand to warm a bit, then shaved with a vegetable peeler into little curls

To serve:

Place meringues on serving plates or shallow bowls.  Divide the berries between the meringues, top with whipped cream, and sprinkle chocolate shavings over the top.

Serve immediately.

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Red Onion Jam

Sweet & tangy Red Onion Jam

Sweet & tangy Red Onion Jam

This jam came about as I pondered ways to create a grilled cheese sandwich that was, well, MORE!  The resulting Gourmet Grilled Cheese did not disappoint, in large part due to this component of the sandwich.  This is easy to make (and extremely fragrant while cooking), and will add complexity to a grilled cheese, hamburger, grilled chicken, or pork tenderloin sandwich.  This is good to have on hand; I have even pureed it and used it as the base for a tangy onion dressing!  Use your imagination and definitely try Red Onion Jam.

3 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1 very large red onion, sliced paper thin (about 3 cups)

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

3 Tablespoons maple syrup

3 Tablespoons water

Salt & pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, just until it begins to shimmer.  Add the onions and cook over medium low heat, very slowly, until the onions are translucent and very soft, about 20 minutes or more, stirring or tossing often. Do not rush this process, as the onions need to be completely cooked through before they begin to brown.  Raise the heat to medium, and cook and stir until the onions begin to color a bit, but do not allow them to become very brown.  When the onions are very soft and lightly browned add the vinegar, maple syrup, and water and simmer until the onions are syrupy, but not dry.

Allow to cool at room temperature.  Store in the refrigerator.

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Greek Frittata

Greek Frittata

Greek Frittata

Frittatas are the perfect healthy choice for a weekend breakfast or brunch, and this one is bursting with flavor!  It all starts in a cast iron skillet on top of the stove and is then finished in the oven.  If Greek flavors aren't your favorite you can certainly switch up the ingredients! Make it with potatoes and ham, with Italian sausage, tomatoes, and basil, or all veggie with zucchini, red bell peppers and basil, instead of the Feta, spinach, olives and tomato. The basic recipe of oil, onions, eggs, milk, salt and pepper remain the same. Just be sure that all of the added ingredients are already cooked to avoid a watery frittata!   Serve with a fruit salad and a coffee cake or pastries (and maybe some Mimosas) for a totally delightful brunch!  4-6 servings

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

8 extra-large eggs

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup frozen spinach that has been squeezed dry and chopped (measure after squeezing dry and chopping)

1 plum tomato, cored, seeds and liquid squeezed out, and chopped into small dice

1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese

6 pitted Kalamata olives, sliced

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Place a 8-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add the olive oil and heat until it shimmers.  Add the onions and reduce the heat a bit and cook until the onions are soft and translucent. 

While the onions cook, whisk the eggs just to break up well, then add the remaining ingredients and whisk until well combined.  (Over-beating will cause the frittata to puff up too much, then fall and be very dense.  Use a light hand!)  Add the egg mixture to the skillet, stirring constantly.  Cook for about 5 minutes or so, just until the egg mixture starts to leave the sides of the pan.

Place the skillet in the oven and cook until the eggs are set, about 15-17 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to stand for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

(This dish can also be baked in a greased 11X7-inch baking dish, just pour the mixture into the dish after the mixture starts to leave the sides of the skillet.  Bake as for the iron skillet, adjusting the baking time, as needed.)

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Tomato Basil Soup

Tomato Basil Soup in a No-Knead Country Bread Bowl

This is my favorite version of an iconic soup.  There is an unusual combination of ingredients for a tomato soup, but they work so very well!  There is very little cream in this soup (you may certainly omit it) and it is gluten-free (provided the stock is). Just a rich tomato and vegetable puree that is perfect on a wintry day with a grilled cheese sandwich, or in a bread bowl. Serves 12

3 Tablespoons butter

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 large Spanish onion, chopped (about 3 cups)

5 large carrots, peeled and sliced

2 ribs celery, diced

1 1/2 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced (see video how-to)

3 14-ounce cans whole Italian tomatoes

8 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup sherry

1/3 cup julienne fresh basil

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 Tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

Salt & pepper, to taste

Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium-high heat, add the garlic, onion, carrots, celery, and squash and saute until the vegetable are soft and tender, about 15 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, stock, sherry, basil and cayenne and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until the squash is very tender and soft, about 40 minutes.  Remove from the heat, add the vinegar, sugar, and cream. 

Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until it is very smooth and silky. (If you don't have an immersion blender, carefully process in several batches in a blender.)  Taste, and add salt and pepper to taste.

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Snickerdoodle Bars

Snickerdoodle Bars

Snickerdoodle Bars

Who doesn't love Snickerdoodles?  This iconic cookie is popular with young and old, but they can be a bit labor-intensive to make.  This bar has all of the sugar & cinnamon flavor of the traditional cookie, without forming balls and rolling them in sugar.  Give them a try!

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

8 ounces unsalted butter, softened

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 large eggs

1/4 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375-degrees.  Coat a 9 X 13-inch pan with non-stick spray.

Whisk together the flour, cream of tartar and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.  Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a mixer and beat until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in the buttermilk and vanilla until completely combined.  With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients until combined.  Don't over-mix.

Combine the remaining sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons evenly over the bottom of the prepared baking pan.  Drop half of the batter by teaspoonsful evenly over the sugar mixture.  Wet fingers with warm water, and pat the dough out into an even layer in the pan, wetting fingers as needed to prevent sticking. (The dough will be impossible to spread if fingers are not very wet!)  Sprinkle 3 Tablespoons of the sugar mixture over the dough, the drop the remaining batter over it, and repeat the patting out process.  Sprinkle the remaining sugar-cinnamon mixture over the top evenly.

Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the pan comes out clean.

Cool completely in the pan, then cut into 24 bars.  Store tightly covered at room temperature.

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