Monday, February 28, 2011

A Weekend of feast and flop

Friday I wasn't going to cook but my wife called and said the kids were stopping by. I went a got some flounder filets, scallops and shrimps from the freezer. I found a recipe that layered fish, seafood, cheeses and topped with fish. Overall was a hollandaise. I should have known better but I followed the recipe and baked it the prescribed time. It failed msierably. The sauce was thin and basically butter with curdled cheese. While it tasted great I should have made my usual hollandaise or the sauce from Coquille St. Jacques. It would have tightened up better and made the dish delicious. Live and learn.  That was the flop.

On a better note we were invited to dinner at a friends. Now that rarely happens (apparently I put people off and they are afraid to cook for me) but this lady knows her stuff. She made us a variety of Greek dishes one being Moussaka and what she called a greek caccitore. All was delicious and I was sorry I could not eat more (our new lifestyle portions are rather small). She sent some Moussaka home and Ben took it to work and I had a bite of what was left this a.m. This was the feast. Yum.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Holy Bread.... Prosphora

Today I make communion bread for church tomorrow. I always make for the week of something special. Birthdays, anniversaries or feast days for the family. It is this week for Ben's birthday and he won't even be at church! Generally 3 large loaves of a dense white bread with a special "seal" or stamp on the top that the priest uses for the Lamb during the service for communion of the people.

I start each loaf separately, moving on to the next while the last starts to rise. In the Orthodox church the bread has only 4 ingredients: flour, salt, yeast and water. Prayers are said and the task is started. Once risen, the bread is shaped into loaves, stamped and risen again. Off to the oven for a thorough baking but not browning. The loaves should remain as light as possible but still have an internal temp of 200 degrees.


6-8 cups of flour
2 t yeast
2 t salt
up to 3 cups warm water

I usually begin with my KitchenAid and place all the dry ingredients first and mix with the dough hook. Make a well in the center and add about 2 1/2 c. water. Start mixing and drawing in the flour until a dough forms and begins to pull from the sides. I like a wet dough. Once it comes together (adding more of the water as needed but take care to add  just enough)  take it from the bowl and knead it by hand. It should be slightly sticky but dry enough to knead without additional flour. Let it rise covered till double, about 1 hour or more.

Now, my parish priest likes thick round loaves so I bought 3, 4 inch deep 8" cake pans with removable bottoms, non stick and I have 3 seals. I place the deflated dough in there, flour the top lightly and place a seal on the loaf, pressing moderately. Cover and let rise to the top of the pan meanwhile preheating the oven. Carefully remove the seals once the bread has risen sufficiently and place in oven. I can bake all 3 at once on convection at 350.  About halfway through, I place a remote thermometer in one loaf to make sure we get to 200 degrees. Turn out the loaves on a wire rack when finished. I ususally cover them with a clean towel to keep the crust soft. Make sure the towel is not heavily scented (some folks use Downy fabric softner and you can taste it in the finished loaf...ugh)

Some churches like a flatter, round disk but every priest I know likes a fat, thick "Lamb" so I try to keep it pretty thick. Some churches in the Russian diocese bake small double disks rather than a large loaf.

As an old altar boy, I have cut my fair share of doughy, under baked loaves that we are required to serve regardless. But it's gross,  so I make sure my bread is cooked all the way through. I do make a moist loaf of bread though so its not dry and airy like some of the loaves we get. No one complains (yet).

The priest prepares the bread for communion by taking portions from the seal. Specifically, the center of the seal is inscribed IC XC NI KA in Greek letters means Jesus Christ Conquers All. That square becomes the "Lamb". Along the sides of the seal are 9 symbols and an "M". He takes particles from all over the seal for living and departed, the apostles and saints. The M is for the Mother of God.  All of this will be placed in the common cup at the "epiclesis" and then served to the communicants towards the end of the service.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ben's 21st Birthday

We celebrated lastnight at the local Upstream Brewery. We had to celebrate early because Mackenzie had to work. Just family and close friends. Its really not about the meal, although the food is always excellent, but about the company. Even after the kids had left to go do what they had to do, we stayed and laughed. Good dinner companions are always a great find.  Ours are the absolute best. Thanks all.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chickpea, Garlic and Spinach Soup

Meatless Wednesday. I have been wanting to make something with the cans of chickpeas in the pantry so tonight I made a soup. I have to admit I was not sure how this was going to play out but I am very pleasantly surprised.

1 can of chickpeas, drained
1 med onion chopped
4 cloves of garlic minced
1 T olive oil
2 t cumin
2 t coriander
1 carton of good Vegetable broth
2 med potatoes 1/2 inch dice (I used yukon golds and did not peel them)
3 cups chopped fresh spinach
1/2 to 3/4 c cream
pinch of cayenne, salt and pepper

I sauteed the onion and garlic till fragrant. Dumped in the spices and toasted them a bit then added the potatoes, beans and broth. Brought to a boil and simmered till the potatoes were tender.

I gave it a quick buzz with the hand held blender but left it pretty chunky. Added the spinach and heated till wilted then added the cream. Check the seasoning.

Great stuff!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


My lovely bride loves meatloaf. Me? Not so much but I found some pretty good recipes. I generally use lean ground beef (2 pounds) and ground pork (1 pound). Veal is hard to come by here in Omaha lately. 

meatloaf recipe

Tonight I sauteed onions and celery with a bit of garlic. Mixed the meats with 3 eggs, 2/3 c. table cream, 1 1/2 c. panko, some parsley and thyme and the veggies. Placed it on a pan and topped it with the usual ketchup, brown sugar, mustard glaze.  Tonight we have asparagus and mashed spuds.  Your basic family meal with leftovers.  A Layer Cake Primativo (Zinfidel) completed the picture.  This was a good recipe.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Short ribs and mashed turnips with a side of asparagus

I did most of the prep yesterday when the kitchen was already a mess from cooking.

Found 6 pounds of short ribs on clearance so I browned 'em good and then cooked the carrots, celery and onion in some of the drippings. Added some garlic and thyme then a bottle of wine and let that reduce to half before adding 2 cans of tomato paste.

This a.m. I placed the base in the crock pot, added a pound of mushrooms, the ribs and covered it all in beef broth. Its been bubbling away in heavenly perfection as I have been making a new bread recipe. Getting ready to pull the ribs and buzz the sauce after its de-fatted. Then I can reduce the sauce to a gravy. Roast the turnips and mash them with a bit of cream and butter.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Beer Braised Baby Backs and Spareribs

Yum....the ribs spent the night in the fridge coated with my favorite rub. Ben put them in at 250, added a beer and covered them with foil. They spent the rest of the day in a beer bath sauna. About 430 I took em out and grilled them with a bit of sauce.

Slab of spare ribs and babybacks
Sauteed Sprouts

Sprouts Gratin
I roasted a sweet potato and sauteed some sprouts. I made sprouts gratin too, cannot seem to get enough of those babies.

While stuff was a mess, I browned tomorrow's short ribs, made a soffrito and reduced a bottle of cabernet. Added 2 small cans of tomato paste and a sprinkle of thyme. Tomorrow morning I'll put it all in the crock pot and let that simmer away all day. I plan to serve it on a bed of mashed yummy.

The Weekend in Food.....

One of the last weeks before we start Great Lent so it's time to peruse the freezer and use up so things that have been waiting in there. Today I took out pork ribs and have dry rubbed them and put them in the fridge. I will put them in a bit of beer and slow cook them before a final grilling for dinner.

For tomorrow I took out some short ribs for the slow cooker that I will begin tonight before bedtime. These are huge meaty ribs that look like they will make a grand feast.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

Coming right up now, Great Lent is just around the corner so we will be cooking lots 'o fish and seafood as well as some vegan dishes I have been aquiring over the past year. Let's see how interesting we can make it this year. In years past, as Lent has worn kind of get into a rut and just make the same stuff over and over. This year, without the heavy carb load that accompanies Lent, it will be tough to find things to eat. As a rule we don't eat pasta , rice or breads in the house or only in very small amounts. Potatoes are just a once or twice a month event. Hamburger buns? Fugettaboutit. I have found some nice pitas that are low calories (60) and high fiber and make great mini pizza's. (Traditionally during lent, dairy is excluded but we tend not to be able to stick to that). We do  love the Wednesday Pre Sanctified services where the fast is followed strictly and the food is excellent as a rule at the community pot luck. Some of the lentil soups are outstanding as well as the other dishes depending on the attendance for the evening.  I am really fond of the fried calamari that shows up once or twice.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dinner for Two

There is a noticeable lack of veal in the Big O today so I settled for chicken.

Chicken Saltimbucco with asparagus.

I used 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and halved them for cutlets. Dredged them in 1/2 flour and 1/2 cornstarch, sprinkled them with chopped sage, topped them with a slice of prosciutto then sauteed them in a few tbls of olive oil, prosciutto side down till golden. Turn 'em over and saute the other side.  I had placed a plate in the oven at 300 degrees. Placed the finished cutlets on the plate after topping with  a slice of provolone on each cutlet. Remove when the cheese has melted.

To the pan, I added a healthy dose of white wine (Alice White Chardonnay), reduced the sauce then added 2-3 pats of butter for a nice pan sauce. Plated the whole thing with the asparagus that was roasting away in a bit of olive oil and served it with a Straccali Chianti. Yum. Happy Valentine's Day honey.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Dessert Party

Pear Spice Cake with Pecan Praline
Strawberry Pave cake

Almond Joy Tart

Margarita Cheesecake

Flourless Chocolate Cake
Desserts are dressed for the big show. A Pear Spice cake loaded with candied ginger and diced pears. Flavored with browned butter and molasses. Topped with a pecan praline. A French Pave (paving stone) A light lady finger type cake with layers of strawberries in Gran Marinier and buttercream frosted with whipped cream. A Margarita Cheesecake with Tequilla, Triple Sec and lime zest and juice. A tart called "Almond Joy" with a creamy coconut and white chocolate center on an almond crust and topped with ganache. Finally a Chocolate Gateau, a flourless cake made with egg whites and chocolate.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday's Dinner

Up early to make desserts for Saturday. Chocolate leaves are in the fridge.

Dinner tonight? Giant shrimps and lobster bisque. Baker's had a weird ad this week so I took full advantage. The Lobsters for $3.99 a pound were hardly worth it but they'll make great bisque. I picked up some Sopresata for my next pizza adventure...supposed to be so much better than pepperoni. We'll see.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Desserts on the menu for Saturday

A long time ago whilst in Cedar Rapids, we fell into a foodie crowd. Two of the gals were in the business, Marla and Nina.  Marla was a food stylist and recipe developer and Nina was an advertising account manager for major corporations like Tyson Foods. Once a year, they put on a big display for their clients and closest friends, The Dessert Party. About 200 + folks came to the open house and were treated to a breath taking display of cover desserts from Bon Appetit and other foodie rags. The desserts were all expertly executed and displayed so you can imagine my honor when I was asked to participate. Well, then we moved....

For several years we also hosted a similar event in our fair city. Eventually we stopped doing it and went on vacation instead. It has been 12 or more years since we have hosted such an event. There have been though a few diehards that ask about the party almost every time we see them so we are resurrecting a miniature version this Saturday, mostly for family with our good friends Mat and Lori who are lending their house for the occasion. Only 5 desserts and a few quarts of cream compared to the original for which I had purchased gallons of cream and pounds of chocolate, butter and sugar.

So we have been planning for weeks and trying to find old recipes and such,. Apparently I did not keep very good records as I really can't find half the stuff we made before so some things we are winging and some things we have the original like the Pave from and early issue of Cuisine that went out of business in the early 80's.  (Funny, when my daughter started her job at Children's, the ladies immediately asked for this cake again. I don't even remember bring it to them when my wife worked there in the 80's but it must have some staying power.) So that is definitely on the list as well as a Pear Spice Cake, an Almond Joy tart, a cheesecake in this case Margarita and a flourless chocolate something or other. I took Friday off to get everything just so and will post pics as the event unfolds..............................gotta start exercising my piping hand.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Anniversary Dinner

Hmmm....Roasted Salmon with a Teriyaki/ Szechuan glaze with roasted yukons and our favorite sauteed Brussel's Sprouts.

I was Sam's today picking up the usual order of romaine heads and other stuff for the weekend festivities. They always have a nice cut of Steelhead trout. Tasty and moist, it only tales minutes to roast at 400 degrees and lends itself to all kinds of treatments. We had a bit of stir fry sauce  and a bit of Teriyaki glaze. Place it on non stick foil with a smidgen of olive oil. Roast away. I like doing the spuds in the toaster oven, high heat. I don't even turn them over. Let 'em go till they are toasty brown and crsip on one side and so tender in the middle. 15 minutes and dinner is on the table. Took me longer to clean the sprouts.

Happy Anniversary dear....31 years since we became engaged to be married.


I finally used the dough I had made earlier for a pizza. The recipe makes just too much dough for one 18 inch crust but not enough for 2 crusts so I am going to have do some adjusting or make smaller pizzas. 18 inch is just the right size to feed everyone who happens to be here plus have some for lunch the next day. I used the whole batch on one crust and it was thick but delicious and crunchy on the bottom but too much dough for the pan. I can see the airy holes in the thick part of the crust so I know I am on the right track here.

Cold rise is the way to go but you have to plan your pizza day ahead for cold rise.  I cooked the crust on a teflon pan first, dressed it and then placed direct on the stone at a high temp for the final bake. Works great and I don't spill half the stuff in my newly cleaned oven, trying to shake it off the peel.  Still gonna keep my rapid rise recipe I posted earlier because sometimes you just feel like a pizza and haven't a dough in the fridge....but I have started planning ahead. The dough rises slowly in the fridge and can be kept about a week.

Oh is the 31st (I believe) anniversary of our engagement. Happy Anniversary,  Dearest.  What's for dinner?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Someone is trying to kill me....

well....from the looks of this recipe my daughter shared with me....yes. God love her.  Will never make this but it sure looks good........ow, is that chest pain? I only looked at the picture.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Dinner Leftover

I did brine and grill some chicken this afternoon but everyone is busy so there is plenty to eat in the fridge tonight. The chicken looks great, its been so long since I 've grilled out but its suddenly cold again after a temperate afternoon.  So...soup and chicken wings, some cheese and a Sangiovese we bought at Trader Joes thats pretty good, really. $3.99 a bottle.

Have dough in the fridge cold rising from yesterday for pizza later this week.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saturday Cocktails

Company for planning the next big event to take place next weekend. Wine and snacks with a stuffed pumpkin thrown into the mix for a heavy hors d'oeuvres. Extra tasty.  Only a few pumkins left in the pantry...must use them wisely.

Dinnertime rolled around and I had some boneless chicken so made milanese. Dredged the pounded chicken in flour, eggs then panko and pan fried till golden. Topped with romaine salad dressed in a light vinegrette with romano shavings.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Still have chili's that I processed a month ago in the fridge. They remain flavorful and viable so I used them to coat the low carb tortillas tonight and stuff them with shredded left over pork and some cheeses on hand. Baked 'em covered for a while and they came out really great. It's really just an excuse to get sour cream into my mouth.  Topped them with shredded lettuce, tomatoes and salsa.

Processing Dry Chilis

I have been using guajillo, New Mexico and whatever chili looks good at the market really. I generally use a mix of them about a gallon bag full.

I open the peppers, seed them and cover them in boiling water. Let them steep for a good 30 mins. After they have softened up, drain them and reserve the "tea". Process them in batches in the blender or food processor and strain them into a bowl to remove the skins. Use the tea to loosen it up a bit if it gets too thick. To the processed chilis I add salt and pepper, a habenero or jalapeno (depends on the intended consumer) and a good palmful of ground cumin. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Use this for a Chili Colorado base in the slow cooker or like I do. Coat tortillas with it and make enchiladas. None of that nasty canned enchilada sauce for me.  Makes about a quart of chili paste-sauce.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cheesy Chicken Soup

Cold winter day with crappy weather and terrible icy, snowy cold temperatures call for soup. I have leftover chicken so what to do but make the family's favorite soup? Stopped by the store on the way home to pick up 2 zucchini and a package of shredded Triple Cheddar.

I generally don't start this way but I had bacon in the fridge, how bad can that be? asks Ina.

Add to that some 2% Velveeta (well, someone has to justify it's existence and it makes for a creamy soup), a bit of chicken broth and some zucchini and carrots. Sounds like a winner to me. Added a few baking powder biscuits since I spied some leftover buttermilk in the fridge. I love biscuits with sour cream on them. My weakness.

2 strips of bacon
2 T butter
4 T flour
1 large can Chicken broth
1/2 pound velveeta chunked
1 pkg Triple cheddar shredded
2-3 c milk
2 Cooked chicken breasts, chunked or shredded or a rotisserie chicken
2 zucchini  chunked
a handful of baby carrots rough chopped
1 or 2 t Lowry's seasoned salt
1 T dry mustard

This is a pantry soup so I use what I have, hence the baby carrots (sometimes I use canned carrots)  etc.  They used to make it at the hospital cafeteria and that's were I lifted the recipe from but after all these years I am not sure what theirs had in it anymore.

The bacon's is optional but I fried 2 strips in a large marmite (stockpot), till crisp then crumbled it and set it aside. To the remaining fat I added 2 T butter, once melted I threw in the flour and made the roux. I added the chicken broth and let it thicken up a bit then added the cheeses. Add the milk. Gotta watch it as it scorches easily so NO boiling. Added my spices, chicken, bacon and veggies then let it simmer, covered but no boiling. Boiling now will ruin the texture but it will taste OK but will be grainy. Something about it's creaminess that makes it great though if you do it right.  If its too thin for your taste...thicken with a buerre mannie or some cornstarch and milk.


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