Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Spinach, Mushroom & Cheese Strata - a savory bread pudding recipe


When this strata came out of the oven this morning, I knew that it would be the basis of my next blog post.  I like to think of a strata as a savory bread pudding. Unlike the sweet versions, this one is full of wholesome vegetables and, due to the addition of thyme and nutmeg, it makes the kitchen smell a little bit like Thanksgiving. The other good thing about a savory bread pudding is that, even though it lends itself easily to breakfast, it can make a quick weeknight dinner. 





Spinach, Mushroom & Cheese Strata
Serves 4 

2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 sprigs of thyme
8 to 10 mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
10 oz fresh or frozen spinach (if using frozen, make sure to squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can)
6 cups cubed bread
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
1/2 cup grated cheese
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Grease and set aside an 8"x10" baking dish.
2. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the thyme and mushrooms. Cook, stirring regularly, until the mushrooms have browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the spinach. Making use of the residual heat, toss the spinach with the warm mushrooms until it has wilted a bit.
3. In a large mixing bowl, add the bread, green onions, cilantro, cheese and the mushroom mixture.
4. Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pour over the bread mixture and toss well. Pour the pudding mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake at 350 °F for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Serve warm.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Encamaronadas (Cheesy Shrimp Tacos)


It's taco Tuesday at our house today and I could hardly wait to tell you about these tacos. Outside of Mexico, these are probably my favorite. The first part of the recipe calls for a fresh salsa, which essentially is a pico de gallo. Juicy tomatoes, fresh onion, garlic, chili peppers, cilantro, Mexican hot sauce and a bit of ketchup - a mixture that certainly can stand on its own. I remember the first time I made this, the aroma took me straight back to Mexico, particularly to meals we had on the beach looking out at the impossible blue of the Caribbean sea. What I wouldn't give to be in Mexico right now or on any beach in the Caribbean for that matter. The facts are: this is Minnesota, it's ten degrees, and I have no upcoming plans for a sunny getaway. But this is what I like about cooking - it brings some of my favorite places to my home kitchen. 




Encamaronadas (Cheesy Shrimp Tacos)
(Adapted from Rick Bayless)
Makes about 10 to 12 tacos 

3-4 ripe tomatoes, diced
1 small, white onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 serrano chili, minced (you can use more or omit this based on your preference)
juice of 1 small lime
1 tbsp hot sauce (more or less depending on your preference)
1 tbsp ketchup
Salt (to taste)
Approx. 1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp, chopped into small pieces
10 to 12 corn tortillas
1 cup grated cheese

1. Make the salsa by combining the tomatoes, onion, garlic, cilantro, chili, lime juice, hot sauce, ketchup and salt. Mix well.
2. Warm a large skillet over medium heat, add two tablespoons of oil, then add the salsa. Cook for about five minutes. stirring occasionally. Once most of the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables have softened, stir in the chopped shrimp. Continue cooking until the shrimp has cooked through, another two to three minutes. Remove the mixture into a bowl. Wash and dry the skillet, and return it to medium heat.
3. Cover the base of the skillet with a thin layer of oil. Place one tortilla in the base of the pan and heat for about 10 seconds. Flip and add a couple tablespoons of cheese to one side. Top the cheese with about a tablespoon of the shrimp filling. Fold the uncovered part of the tortilla over the filling to resemble a turnover. Gently press flat. Continue cooking until crisp, about two minutes per side. Continue making the encamaronadas in the same way with the remaining tortillas and filling.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Chocolate Mousse


With Valentine's Day just a few days away, desserts take on a very chocolatey tone. And I'm happy to share this simple, intensely rich chocolate mousse with you.  Most mousse recipes that I seen are somehow very complicated and require quite a number of ingredients. This one calls for only two, semi sweet chocolate chips and heavy whipping cream, and can be ready is less than an hour. 

Chocolate Mousse
Serves two 

4 oz semi sweet chocolate
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream 

1. In a double boiler, add the chocolate and 1/4 cup of whipping cream. Allow the chocolate to melt, stirring occasionally. 
2. While the chocolate is melting, whisk the remaining cream until stiff peaks form. Set aside
3. Place the bowl of warm, melted chocolate in an ice bath (a larger bowl with ice and cold water) and whisk until the chocolate thickens a bit and cools slightly. Remove from the ice bath, and gently fold in the whipped cream in two batches, reserving some for the topping. Pour the mousse into serving glasses, and chill for about half an hour before serving. Top with whipped cream to serve. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

French-Style Country Bread


From my oven today: French-style country bread. I found this recipe on the King Arthur Flour website. They provided a detailed but quite lengthy recipe which seemed a little daunting at first. This recipe is  somewhat  time-consuming and requires a bit of extra attention (with a "starter" that has to be prepared a few hours in advance, and instructions such as spritzing the bread in the oven every few minutes for the first fifteen minutes of baking. ) But I was up to the challenge.  After all, I have found that few things are more comforting that freshly made bread. The results are well-worth the time and effort. 

French-Style Country Bread 

Sponge Starter 
1 cup cool to lukewarm water (90 to 100 °F)
1/2 tsp active dry or instant yeast 
1 1/4 cups unbleached bread flour 
1/4 cup whole wheat flour 

Dough 
All of the sponge starter 
1 cup lukewarm water (100 to 115 °F
3/4 tsp active dry or 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp sugar 
1 cup whole wheat flour 
2 1/4 to 2 3/4 bread four
1 1/2  tsp salt

To make the starter: In a larger bowl, stir all of the ingredients together to make a thick paste. Cover with plastic wrap and set on the kitchen counter for about 4 hours or over night. 

To make the dough: Stir down the starter. Add the water, yeast, sugar, whole wheat flour, 2 1/4 cup bread flour (reserve half cup to use if the dough is too sticky), and the salt. Knead the dough for about 10 to 12 minutes to make a soft dough. (I found that this step is made easier by using a stand up mixture.) 

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with lightly greased plastic wrap and a damp towel. Let it rise until almost doubled in size, about 1 to 2 hours. After this first rise, deflate the dough gently and form into a round ball. Place two cookie sheets atop one another and place a semolina or corn-meal dusted piece of parchment paper on top. Gently place the ball of dough on the cookie sheets, seam side down. Cover with a tea towel and let it rise a second time until it is puffy and about 40% to 50% larger, anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes. Slash or cross-hash the bread with a sharp knife and dust with a little flour. 

Preheat the oven to 475 °F  Spritz water into the oven with a clean plant mister and place the bread in the oven. Reduce the heat to 425 °F and spritz with water every few minutes for the first 15 minutes of baking. Bake the bread for about 20 to 30 minutes or until done. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Green Goddess Dressing


This is the month of resolutions. Many of us have resolved to make changes in our lives, most of which involve some improvement to our health. Join a gym. Give up fast foods. Sign up for a weekly yoga class. Go vegan. Eat more salads. With regards to my own eating habits, my goal is to become a little more inventive, by trying new ingredients in (or new methods of making) some traditional dishes. Starting with this dressing - my version of green goddess. The dressing is, understandably, wonderful on salads but don't be surprised if you feel compelled to have it on...well things other than salads. Along with the creamiest of textures, it is both sweet and tangy and can be used as a sauce on pan-seared fish, a topping on tacos, and even as a dip for tortillas or pita chips. What's more, it's vegan! Here's to a happy,  healthy, and adventurous new year! 

Green Goddess Dressing

1 large, ripe avocado
juice of 1 lime
2 to 3 whole cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
4 scallions, roughly chopped
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
salt, to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup water

Add all of the ingredients, except the water, to a blender, and blitz until smooth. With the blender running, slowly add the water, beginning with 1/4 cup, until you achieve your desired consistency. More water will produce a thinner dressing. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to two days.