Spinach & Basil Eggs en Cocette

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For an easy, elegant, protein packed breakfast, I naturally turn to eggs. There are easily a million ways to enjoy an egg, so sometimes it just comes down to interesting preparation and creativity in presentation. My inspiration came in the shape of  a funny little enameled yellow and white pan of my Grampa’s, which jumped out of the drawer and demanded that I bake in it one morning.

I am not one to argue with cookware, and so I rummaged around in my vegetable bin and was reminded of the giant bag of spinach patiently passing time in the crisper. We all know spinach can look hugely overwhelming when raw, but I am certain I am not the only one who is flabbergasted about just how much it shrinks when cooked! This recipe is a nice way to use up spinach; it almost becomes a crispy vegetable crust for the eggs.

This is literally a one dish meal, requiring only that you dirty the one baking dish or enameled pan, and a cheese grater! Call me crazy, but there is something pleasant about eating out of well-worn, miniature pan that my Grampa used for years.

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Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter

3/4 cup fresh spinach leaves

2-4 large basil leaves, sliced thin

2 large eggs (yes, preferably from free-range, vegetarian fed, happy hens!)

1 1/2 tablespoons or so fresh cream

Generous sprinkling of fresh grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

1) Pre-heat your oven to 375, and melt the butter in the bottom of your ramekin, or in my case, Grampa’s oh-so-ancient enameled dish that it’s a Cousances…before Cousances became the better known Le Creuset.

2) Layer in the spinach, gently pressing it into the bottom of the pan and sprinkle in the basil. Crack eggs on top of greens and pour cream over, slowly and evenly. Add the salt & pepper. Lastly grate the cheese in a fine layer over the top of your dish.

3) Bake  for about 10 minutes, give or take, depending on your preference for yolks.

Remove from the oven and serve hot, with additional salt and pepper if you prefer. Enjoy!

Mediterranean Spaghetti Squash

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What can I say about spaghetti squash? It’s a delicious and nutritious flavorful alternative to pasta, wholewheat or otherwise. Mild in both flavor and texture it’s an ideal base for a variety of spices, herbs and vegetables not to mention a fun hands-on cooking project to complete with children and add a touch of “vegetable sophistication” to the table- in other words something for everyone!

A few suggestions from my critics (which would include my daughter and husband) would include “More cheese!” (Kristina is going through a stage- albeit her whole 2 years of life so far- of demanding cheese morning, noon and night) and oddly enough my usually cream sauce hating husband decided to smother his dish in sour cream. Whether this was a reaction to a calcium deficiency or more of a desire to drown out the residual flavor of the artichoke hearts he took great pains to remove, I don’t know. All I can say to their criticisms is to each his or her own- and the suggestion they make their own dinner next time!

Other ideas for additions to this dish would include grilled shrimp, lemon zest, and red onions- certainly any variations you would want to try can only enhance the humble and oft overlooked spaghetti squash; perhaps even sour cream.

Ingredients:

1 medium spaghetti squash

1 bunch scallions

1/2 cup pitted black olives

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

3 artichoke hearts, sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 sprigs fresh oregano

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

1)      Preheat oven to 400 degrees; slice squash lengthwise and carefully scoop out seeds. Place face down on oiled baking sheet and bake 25 to 35 minutes- or until squash is tender and renders easily.

2)      Prepare a baking dish, and crack fresh salt and pepper over sliced tomatoes,  garlic, and oregano leaves and drizzle with olive oil. Set aside for the time being.

3)      Meanwhile, combine sliced scallions, black olives, artichoke hearts and remaining olive oil in a bowl, tossing to coat.

4)      When squash is done cooking take it out of the oven and set it aside, allowing it to cool to the touch. Turn the broiler on and place tomatoes under broiler for approximately 4 minutes; the fragrance of roasting garlic and tomatoes will be hard to miss.

5)      Using a fork carefully scrape strands of squash out of the halves, piling into a bowl- squash will resemble spaghetti- continue until almost reaching the skin.

6)      Toss spaghetti squash strands in olive and artichoke mixture along with tomatoes. Add salt & pepper to taste and top with crumbled feta before serving.

 

Harvest Soup

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We are finally moved and settled into the house! I could live in the new McCorrie Lane Kitchen, literally, it as almost as large as the entirety our old apartment itself. That may be a slight exaggeration but none the less I am blissfully savoring the delight of having a pot filler (who knew I needed one!) one enormous farmhouse sink and an island sink! Not to mention the overwhelming giddiness that washes over me when I realize I can broil salmon in one oven while baking chocolate cake in an entirely different oven!  Least I sound like I am bragging let me just mention the tedium of constantly sweeping slate floors & caring for natural stone (granite) countertops. Who am I kidding? I relish even the tidying up in my dream kitchen!

Enough about my kitchen- let’s talk about soup! Last fall I shared my recipe for butternut squash soup, one of my favorite dishes in this crisp clean weather. I remember when I was a child and my Mom would make carrot soup, containing straightforward basic ingredients and  straightforward easy instructions, but with the immensely gratifying taste of rich butter mingling smoothly with sweet carrots.

I started thinking I would marry the two; my mothers nostalgic sweet soup and my savory roasted squash soup, then I went a little crazy. After the first attempt I deemed it yummy but ordinary and rummaging about in my vegetable bins I got inspired to add some unexpected flavors which add an intensity and interest to an otherwise traditional soup.

Ingredients:

Half a butternut squash

5 medium to large carrots

2 medium parsnips

Half a bulb of garlic

3 medium red bliss potato’s (unpeeled!)

Half a large red pepper

About an inch chunk of peeled fresh ginger

2 large shallots

4 cups vegetable broth

1 cup half and half

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt & pepper

Goat cheese & sliced scallions for garnish

Directions

1)      Set oven for 425 degrees and allow to preheat ; prepare squash, carrots, parsnips, garlic, potatoes, red pepper and ginger by peeling and chopping into 1 to 2 inch chunks. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with pepper and salt to taste (you can always add more later) and add about 1 cup of vegetable broth.

2)      I used my Grandfathers Schlemmertopf, which is essentially a terra-cotta baking dish with a lid. Be sure to soak the unglazed lid thoroughly immersed in water for a good ten minutes before placing in the oven. In lieu of a Schlemmertopf you can also use any sort of oven proof casserole dish that you can cover. Allow vegetables to roast about 40 minutes, give or take depending on when the carrots & parsnips are easily punctured with a fork.

3)      In the meantime peel and chop the shallots, placing them in a large soup pot with one stick of butter and the remainder of the vegetable broth. Set on a low heat and allow them to simmer.

4)      When the vegetables are done roasting carefully add them to the soup pot, turn off the heat and using an immersion blender starting on a low setting begin to puree the vegetables, turning the blender to a higher setting as you go. Add the half and half and stir in completely.

5)      Serve with about a tablespoon of crumbled goat cheese and sliced scallions.

Quinoa Stuffed Red Peppers

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Tonight, I wanted to create a vegetable side that was more exciting than steamed green beans and incorporated multiple vegetables while being filling and satisfying. I rummaged around the new local market (shamelessly over-priced and yet lacking in the gourmet staples found at my favorite market, Clements), and settled on red peppers and a medley of delicate yet flavorful fillings with which to stuff them! Due to the addition of fresh grated Romano cheese and gently sautéed shallots, no stock is needed to simmer the quinoa (good thing, since I am out of stock!). As usual, with most of my recipes, feel free to experiment in the kitchen, substituting other ingredients where you feel fit, or perhaps having an abundance of a particular seasonable herb or vegetable!

Ingredients:

1 large red pepper, cut in half length-wise, and cleaned

1 medium shallot, thin-sliced

¼ cup chopped mushrooms

¼ cup chopped zucchini

¼ cup grated Romano cheese

1 cup cooked quinoa

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

1)      Set the quinoa to cooking on the stovetop, according to package directions. I use Bob’s Red Mill Quinoa, combining ½ cup quinoa and 1 cup cool water, bringing it to a boil, and reducing to a simmer for about 15 minutes until quinoa is tender.

2)      Slice red pepper length-wise, clean out seeds, and set to steaming for about 10 minutes, or until slightly softened, but still firm (you should be able to insert a fork easily, but with some resistance).

3)      Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

4)      Sautee shallot, mushroom, and zucchini in olive oil for 7-8 minutes;  sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside.

5)      Combine cooked quinoa, vegetables, and cheese in a bowl. You should have about 2 cups of filling.

6)      Stuff peppers; place in olive oil greased baking dish, and bake at 350 degrees covered with foil for 25 minutes. Place under broiler with an extra sprinkle of cheese if you wish, for 3 minutes.

 

 

 

Whole Wheat Provolone & Basil Bread

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Lately, we have been so busy with renovating the old McCorrie Lane kitchen and turning it into my dream kitchen, that I haven’t had time to blog about any recipes. Between pondering the wisdom of the desired white carrara marble (too delicate) and the more functional granite for my coveted island, arguing about shoddy installation on a new half-moon window, and patting myself on the back for insisting on a pot filler, I have neglected my current, tiny, galley kitchen! Which Kevin so lovingly installed back in his bachelor days…who knew I could make such yummy meals in a kitchen previously stocked only with ketchup, Leinenkugel, and paper towels….? Lucky man, my husband!

Hopefully we will be moved into McCorrie Lane by this July, and I will be putting the new old kitchen back to good use. Years ago I was my Aunt Nonie’s sous chef, diligently coring apples, chopping onions (Under running water? While holding bread in your mouth? Really? Anyone know how to keep from tearing up?) and spinning lettuce dry…while the house is given new life and a new family, I will take over as head chef.

Tonight, I finally decided enough was enough, and I wanted real homemade bread to serve with dinner. There are many flavor variations you can use in this recipe- for instance, eliminate or substitute the provolone for romano, omit basil and add oregano, etc. etc.

Ingredients:

2 cups bread flour

2 cups whole wheat flour

½ cup warm water + 1 teaspoon sugar

1 ½  cup water (more or less as needed)

2 ½ teaspoons yeast

Generous pinch of fresh ground pepper

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup grated sharp provolone cheese

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil (any variety)

1 head roasted garlic

Directions 

1)      Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Pull off the outer dry skin from a head of garlic, snip off the tips of the cloves, drizzle with olive oil, and fold into a sealed foil packet. Bake in the oven about half an hour, or until fragrant & soft.

2)      Grate 1 cup of extra sharp provolone, or another robust cheese that you prefer. Coarsely chop about 2 tablespoons of fresh basil. Kristina and I are finally reaping the benefits of the herb garden we have been cultivating on our windowsill. Set aside.

3)      Add 1 teaspoon sugar to ½ cup warm water; stir, add yeast, stir again, and allow to rise into a frothy, creamy, mixture. Meanwhile, combine flours, salt and pepper in a bowl, or a mixer.

4)      Being to work the yeast & water mixture into the bowl with the flours. Slowly add up to 1 ½ cups water while continued to knead the dough. Dough should initially be on the stickier, wet side, even a little difficult to handle.

5)      Turn the dough into a greased bowl and cover with a cotton cloth. Set dough aside in a warm, draft-free place for an hour, or until it has doubled in size. I place the bowl of dough on top on the stove while the garlic roasts.

6)      Punch dough down, and create a bowl in the center. Put the cheese, garlic, and basil, into the hollow, and work through dough, kneading until ingredients are evenly dispersed throughout. On a well-floured work surface, fold dough over on itself repeatedly, creating a ball.

7)      Turn oven to 500 degrees. Put the ball of dough into a dutch oven (any sort of oven-proof glass/ceramic lidded container, preferably round).Allow dough to rise again, about 30 minutes.

8)      Place in preheated oven, covered, and allow to bake 30 minutes.

9)      Take the lid off the dutch oven for the last 10-15 minutes, allowing for a nice browning of the top crust.

10)   Once cooled sufficiently, dump bread out of dutch oven and serve warm! You will find that the crust is crisp and hearty, while the center of the bread has a nice moist crumb studded with cheese and herbs.

Homemade Cream Cheese with Chives & Roasted Garlic

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After a lot of research, a few kitchen mishaps, and figuring out what worked best in my kitchen with my supplies, I had success in making homemade cream cheese! Once I managed to get through the (fun) experimental glitches (“Oh! You look like a chemist!” …really, Mom? Is it the floral print apron, or the giant sterling serving spoon? ;-) out of the way, I was rewarded with a rich, whipped, flavorful cream cheese.

Some techniques call for several hours (12-24) of letting the cheese “rest” before straining out the whey, and an additional 12 hours of straining…I tend towards the impatient side, and was unable to wait that long. Fortunately, I didn’t have to. What I am learning about making soft cheeses, and what I have learned about baking breads, is that there is some room for experimentation. I like to start with a recipe (or several) and adjust it as I go…

As far as flavoring, the options seem to be as boundless as your own taste and creativity. You could omit the garlic and chives, or substitute any fresh herbs you like. Kristina and I are still growing our little seedlings in the window for our herb garden, so we opted for chives, which have been growing like mad next to a rose bush in the yard. Last fall, Grampa and I dug up a cluster of wild garlic chives and planted half in a pot to keep in the kitchen, and transplanted the other half in the garden. Guess which survived the winter? There was something very special that made me feel more connected to him when I used the chives we had cultivated.

This was worth the effort, and much like bread, it seems that most of the work is in the waiting…

Ingredients:

2 cups whole milk

1 ½ cups heavy cream

6-8 ounces plain homemade yogurt

1 packet mesophilic culture

3 drops liquid vegetable rennet diluted in 1/8 cup water

½ head roasted garlic

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Salt to taste

 

*my recipe yields about 8 ounces of cream cheese, but now I wish I had doubled it! Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for upwards of a week…if you don’t eat before then.

 

Directions:

1)      Pour milk & cream & yogurt into a double boiler, and gently warm to about 85-90 degrees. Sprinkle mesophilic culture on surface, wait about 3 minutes, and then stir in thoroughly. Pour in diluted vegetable rennet, stir, turn off heat, cover & let sit 2-3 hours at room temperature.

 

2)      The curds and whey will have separated;you will see a clear yellowish liquid, and solid white clumps that should have pulled away from the edges of the pot. Break up curds gently with a spoon, then pour into a colander lined with cheesecloth.

3)      Allow majority of whey to drain out, shifting the cheesecloth and pushing curds around with a spoon occasionally to encourage complete draining. Gather the edges of the cheesecloth and very gently twist it closed to form a sack. At this point, you can either hang the cheese above a bowl/sink to let it finish draining, or transfer to a yogurt cheese maker (a very fine sieve that sits in a container). I left mine for about another hour before…

4)      Sprinkling in about 1/8 teaspoon of sea salt and whisking it with a fork. Then, mix in chives and coarsely chopped roasted garlic.

 

Twice Baked Potatoes

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I myself have never been able to get too excited about the humble potato…to me, they translate to carbohydrates, which translates to extra time on the elliptical…personally, chocolate is my main motivation to add minutes to my workout. However! I will admit, when prepared properly, with a bevy of classic and tasty toppings, potatoes can earn a place on my table :-)

That, and I am married to a man. That, and I had a Grampa who thought the sun rose & set on the old Irish staple… Therefore potatoes are unavoidable in my life. I welcomed them with open arms (and loads of toppings…and tons of fun for my brandy-new red KitchenAid Immersion Blender) this evening.

Ingredients:

2 large Russet potatoes

2 tablespoons Earth Balance (or butter)

Salt & pepper to taste

1/4 cup fresh chopped chives

1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup cream

1/4 cup fresh fat-free sour cream

…and for the carnivores in your life, 4 strips crumbled crispy fried bacon…

Directions:

1) Scrub potatoes until clean, and either bake them at 375 for about 20 minutes, or do my Grampa’s ahead-of-the-times trick…stab ‘em with a fork, rub liberally with butter, and microwave on high, 10 minutes for two potatoes.

2) Allow potatoes to cool to the touch, or handle with care…slice neatly down the center, scoop out flesh, add to a bowl with the Earth Balance, 1/4 cup cream, salt & pepper, and puree with immersion blender. When filling has been blended to the smooth consistency you prefer, add half the cheese & chives, stir, and stuff back into potato skins.

3) Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees, for about 20 more minutes. When ready to serve, plate topped layers of remaining cheese, chives, sour cream and optional bacon.

 

Garlic & Herb Seared Scallops

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Scallops don’t need a lot of tinkering with. They are delicious with just a quick, plain olive oil sear, but can be enhanced with the addition of flavorful fresh herbs. Goose and I have been growing herbs in the window for a few weeks now, and though our basil is still small and tender, it packs a lot of flavor. I particularly like the scorched bits of minced garlic that cling to the scallops, as they add a sharp flavor and delightful crunch to the otherwise tender and sweet scallop flesh.

Ingredients:

6 large fresh sea scallops

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

4-5 large fresh basil leaves, minced

1/2 teaspoon each freshly ground salt & pepper

Directions:

1) Combine finely chopped garlic and basil with olive oil, salt, & pepper.

2) Toss scallops in mixture, and let marinate in a sealed container for an hour in the refrigerator.

3) Heat a cast iron skillet on medium/high, pour in a drizzle of olive oil, and lay scallops flat in bottom of pan. Allow to sear for about 2-3 minutes, and flip scallops, repeating on other side.

4) Serve hot, with fresh whole basil sprigs for garnish.

Light Asparagus & Summer Squash Quiche

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I love Quiche, but I recognize its usually richly loaded with such yummy heart-stopping thigh-sticking guilt-inducing ingredients as heavy cream, rich egg yolks, warm melty cheese, and a flaky butter-soaked crust. I knew there had to be a better way to do this…consider that despite its heavy base, it’s often sprinkled with delicious, light, flavorful vegetables. I attempt to remake the Quiche into something just as tasty, and definitely more nutritious and artery (as well as beach) friendly!

I know it’s the heavy goodness of the excessive dairy that gives Quiche its lovely appeal, but I compensated by adding flavors in the form of a lemon-infused oil, fresh basil Kristina and I grew in our window, and as always, garlic. We hope you enjoy this meal!

Ingredients:

2 large shallots, sliced

3-4 large garlic cloves, diced

2 tablespoons fresh basil

1/2 cup sliced assorted mushrooms

1 small summer squashed, chopped, & about 8 round slices set aside

1 cup chopped asparagus, & about 8 whole stalks set aside

3 tablespoons lemon grape seed oil, divided into 1 and 2 tablespoons

4 whole eggs

1 1/2 cups egg whites

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 cup unsweetened original almond milk

Crust:

1 cup uncooked oats

1 cup whole wheat flour

3 tablespoons Earth Balance (or butter)

3-4 tablespoons cold water

salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix oats, flour, and water in a bowl; add cold Earth Balance and use a pasty knife to cut through until well blended. Spray the bottom & sides of a spring-form pan (or pie dish) and press crust firmly down. Bake about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

2) Heat 1 tablespoon of lemon grape seed oil in skillet over a low/medium flame, and saute sliced shallots & garlic until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add sliced mushrooms and continue to cook for another 4 minutes. Scoop out and put in a dish; set aside.

3) Add the last 2 tablespoons of lemon grape seed oil to skillet, and saute 8 whole asparagus stalks and 8 sliced yellow squash rounds, about 4 minutes, turning periodically, until slightly browned. Remove from pan, set aside. Put the rest of the (chopped) asparagus & summer squash in skillet, and saute about 5 minutes, until soft. Remove from pan, and set aside.

4) Whisk eggs, egg whites, almond milk, and a touch of salt & pepper, in a large bowl. Add 1 cup crumbled feta cheese, folding into mixture. Pour into spring-form pan (or pie dish), spoon shallot/garlic/mushroom in, as well as asparagus/summer squash. Turn gently into mix; set in oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until mostly firm with only gentle resistance on top. At this stage, lay whole sautéed asparagus stalks in a pin-wheel pattern, spacing summer squash rounds in between. Continue to bake another 15 minutes, or until center is set.

5) Serve hot, or refrigerate and serve cold!

 

Mushroom Soup

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Mushrooms…where to start! I love them. Goose loves them smothered in Earth Balance & cream! Kevin will even eat this soup when I make it. Grampa loved it! I discovered the mushroom a few years ago, after a lifetime of being grossed out by the cute little things.

Grampa loved to tell me how much he loved mushrooms…could this be why I finally decided to give them a chance? He would tell the story of the year he couldn’t get enough mushrooms, literally snacking on them, tossing them in his mouth like buttered popcorn. He chalked it up to, “I must’ve had some sort of vitamin deficiency. I ate them by the box!” He would muss, “My little dog, Typhoon, sat right up next to me when your Grandmother and I would do our coastal R.V trip…I would eat one, and he would gobble one right up…back and forth, until the whole box was empty!”

He made me laugh when he shared the tale of the Big Snow Storm. (You have to be from Rhode Island to know what a crisis a Big Snow Storm created). Anyway, the road was a mess, and he couldn’t get his truck out of the driveway…he abandoned it, and marched up the hill to DeCastros, determined to get his mushroom fix…imagine his bitter disappointment when he discovered the farmstand was closed! Well, he wasn’t disappointed with this soup when I whipped it up for him.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup each:

Shiitake mushrooms

Baby Bella mushrooms

White Button mushrooms

3-4 stalks celery hearts, plus leaves

2 large shallots, sliced

3-4 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped scallions

1/4 cup Earth Balance (or butter)

4 cups organic vegetable broth

1 cup cream

1 cup water

Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

1) Slice mushrooms into hearty slices; set aside. Saute shallots & garlic in melted Earth Balance 2-3 minutes until fragrant, add chopped celery hearts & leaves. Continue to saute another 3 or so minutes.

2) Pour in vegetable broth and water, add mushrooms and bring to a rapid boil. Decrease heat to a simmer, add salt & pepper. Allow to simmer about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3) When mushrooms are softened but still firm, add cup of cream, stir well, and serve! Garnish with chopped scallions and enjoy.

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