April 27th, 2015

Bill’s Birthday Pie, no cheating!

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Bill’s favorite dessert is banana-coconut cream pie–and I make it for him every birthday. It combines two of his best-loved ingredients in a lush pudding, mounded in a flaky crust.

In the past, my method was what you’d call the cheater version, a trick that I stumbled upon years ago when I was deep in nightmare catering world. (um, like serving two concurrent dinner parties of 150 and 300 guests, after assembling 230 box lunches and feeding a crew meal of 60 for a music video.)

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I discovered that if you mix half-and-half instead of milk, along with glug of vanilla into instant pudding (I know, I know, blasphemy, how could I?) and stirred it thoroughly for 5 minutes, that it transformed (really, almost instantly!) into a remarkably smooth, rich and luscious pudding.

However, I’m not deep in nightmare catering world. (glory be.)

So I’m sharing the bonafide silken version. The version where you stand over a saucepan with a whisk and a wooden spoon, stirring, stirring. The version where you remember when you stood alongside your Nana, watching, watching, as she did the same. And you mustered all the patience that a child has, waiting for the mixture to thicken, waiting for the bubble and burp, waiting for that moment when you’d get to lick the spoon and clean out the pot.

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BILL’S FAVORITE BANANA-COCONUT CREAM PIE

One reason this pie is great: I place a handful of shredded coconut on the bottom of the pie shell before blind-baking it–while doubling (somewhat) as pie weights, the coconut toasts up beautifully.

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FLAKY PIE CRUST
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons very cold butter
3-4 tablespoons ice water
1/3 cup shredded coconut

Place flour, salt, and cold butter pieces in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a chopping or pastry blade. Pulse until the butter is cut into the flour and resembles little peas. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, with the motor running. The dough will gather into a ball.

Remove and form the ball into a slightly flattened disc shape. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Dust the counter with flour. Roll out and place into a pie pan. Crimp the edges. Prick the surface with a fork. Sprinkle with shredded coconut.

Place on the center rack and bake for 15 minutes, until crisp and lightly browned.
Remove and cool completely before filling.

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Reason 2: Two egg yolks, whisked with half-and-half, sugar, and cornstarch, then added to the warming milk, make this pudding creamy-dreamy. I like to use part raw sugar and part granulated for deeper flavor.

SILKEN VANILLA PUDDING adapted from Cooking Light
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla (or scrape a vanilla bean)
2/3 cup sugar (can split it half demerara sugar/half granulated white sugar)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup half-and-half
knob of butter (optional)

Pour milk in a heavy, non-reactive saucepan. Add vanilla (or scrape seeds from vanilla bean.)
Gently warm on medium low heat.

In a large bowl, add both sugars, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk together. Add half-and-half and egg yolks to this mixture. Whisk thoroughly to combine well.

Add about one cup of the warmed milk to sugar mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Bring to just under a boil–still stirring. This could take a few minutes. Once the pudding begins to bubble and pop, cook for one more minute, then remove from heat. Whisk in a knob of butter until it is fully incorporated if you like.

Spoon pudding into a bowl. If you wish to chill it quickly, place bowl in a large ice-filled bowl for 15 minutes or until pudding cools, stirring occasionally.

Cover surface of pudding with plastic wrap; chill.

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ASSEMBLY
chilled vanilla pudding
2-3 ripe bananas
1 pint heavy cream, whipped with 3 tablespoons powdered sugar + 1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup toasted coconut

Put about half of the pudding into the baked and cooled pie shell. Slice the bananas (about 1/4 inch thick) and layer into the pie. Add remaining pudding. Top with banana slices. Cover with whipped cream. Sprinkle toasted coconut over the top. Cover and chill.

Serves 8-10

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And, just for fun:

EEK IN-A-PINCH CHEATER VANILLA PUDDING
1 3 ounce package instant vanilla pudding
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Dump the instant pudding mix into a large bowl. Bury the box in recycling.
While whisking, slowly add the half-and-half. Continue to stir for about 4 minutes.
Add the vanilla, and stir for another minute.
Cover and chill. Slink off and feel guilty. Then fill the pie, top with whipped cream and serve.
Smile sheepishly when someone asks for the recipe.

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Posted in Desserts, Recipes | No Comments »




April 19th, 2015

apricot-sorghum glazed ham, cornbread with the works

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Ham. Sorghum. Cornmeal. A trio of decidedly Southern ingredients are at the heart of today’s post, in dishes designed to feed a crowd. It is rare that I have the occasion to bake a big ham, or a 12″ by 20″ pan of cornbread, but this month’s potluck gathering, held in partnership with Dirty Pages, was made for that.

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I’ve told you a little bit about this interactive art show: portraits of Nashville women and their beloved “dirty page” recipes that give a glimpse into their cooking lives.

The exhibit has been up since March 19th. Its organizers, local food writers and enthusiasts Jennifer Justus, Erin Byers Murray, and Cindy Wall wanted to do something grand, fun and fitting for the closing of this community-minded show. Partnering with my group for an expanded community potluck was brilliant.

Our April potluck, this time dubbed Dirty Pages+Third Thursday, gathered last week at our Nashville Farmers Market. More than 60 people arrived, many bearing their own favorite dirty page dish. (also present was a photographer/essayist for the New York Times. We’ll be looking for the story over Mother’s Day weekend!)

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My featured Dirty Page recipe, Leola’s Cornbread, was my inspiration. Over the many years, I have respected this recipe for its versatility–and forgiving nature. Even though I’ve altered some aspects of the original, using much less sugar, and all butter instead of margarine–I have found that the ratios of cornmeal to flour to baking powder to wet ingredients to be spot-on. It always works, and tastes delicious.

I’ve seen too many cornbread recipes where there’s more flour than cornmeal, which makes no sense to me!

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This batch has it all. Into the batter, I fold generous amounts of whole kernel corn, chopped jalapenos, green onions, and shredded sharp cheddar–which it readily accepts.

The whole shebang comes together quickly–mixed by hand in a large bowl. I like that part too.

Baking is a breeze. In less than 30 minutes, what emerges is a golden green-flecked slab, enriched with cheese, sparked with heat.

Accommodating, adaptable, this recipe can be cut in half for a smaller needs, baked in an ordinary 9″x13″ casserole. From my big pan, I was able to get 60 small squares, just right for our potluck crowd.

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Now, onto the prize, this ham. Here are some tips for baking a sumptuous one:

When carving away the hide and excess fat, I always leave a layer, which I gently score in crisscross fashion. The fat is essential for insuring juicy meat.

In spicing, I go old school, inserting whole cloves at each intersection.

Hams love fruit and sweet, with a little pungency. In the past, I’ve coated hams in apricot mustard, or brown sugar mixed with brown mustard and spices, or cane syrup-pecan glaze.

Today’s glaze is made with apricot preserves (although peach would be terrific too–and more Southern. I happened to have apricot on hand.) melted with coarse grain mustard and sorghum.
I love the dark mineral sweetness of sorghum; it adds compelling depth to the glaze. Molasses works too, although I find it can be overpowering. Use a little less, if you must substitute.

If I’m baking a half ham (as it usually is sold in shank and butt portions) I rub a small amount of the glaze onto it before baking. For the first hour of baking, I place the ham inverted–the pink meat side down, bone end straight up, so that the scored fat on all sides is exposed. It makes for more even roasting, and juicier meat.

After an hour, I remove the ham from the oven. I slather it with the remaining glaze, and set it upright in the roasting pan to finish. During that last 30 minutes, the glaze will become shiny and charred, imparting its layered sweetness and piquancy.

Leftovers? With a big ham, that’s always the case. A ham bone is indispensable for certain soups, or beans. Here are some excellent ideas and recipes for using up that tasty ham.

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APRICOT-SORGHUM GLAZED BAKED HAM
6-8 pound bone-in sugar cured ham (shank or butt portion)
whole cloves (24 or so)
1/2 cup apricot preserves (peach preserves work splendidly too)
1/2 cup coarse grain mustard
1/3 cup sorghum (you may substitute cane syrup, or molasses–use only 1/4 cup molasses)
1 cup water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Trim the ham, removing tough outer hide pieces and any excess fat. Leave a thin layer of fat to help seal in the juices of the meat. Score the ham in crisscross fashion, cutting into, but not all the way through, that thin layer of fat. Place a clove at each intersection and place into a roasting pan.

Place a saucepan on low heat. Add the apricot preserves, coarse grain mustard, and sorghum. Stir together as the mixture warms. It will become “glazy.” Remove from heat.

Lightly brush the glaze over the ham–reserving most of the glaze for later. Pour the water into the bottom of the baking pan.

Place into the oven and bake uncovered, allowing 15 minutes per pound. (An 8 pound ham requires 2 hours bake time.)

After the ham is 75% done (after one and a half hours for the 8 pounder!) liberally coat the ham with the remaining glaze. Cook for another 30 minutes. The glaze with bubble and brown on the ham.

Allow the meat to rest at least 15 minutes before carving. The ham can be baked in advance and kept warm. It is also delicious served room temperature.

Serves 15-20

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LEOLA’S INSPIRATION: CORNBREAD WITH THE WORKS
3 cups cornmeal
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
4 eggs
3 cups milk
1 pound butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 cups corn kernels (can use frozen or fresh)
2 jalapenos, chopped (add their seeds for extra heat)
6 green onions, chopped
12 ounces shredded sharp cheddar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease a large baking dish (like a hotel pan, 12″ by 20″) or two 9″ by 13″ baking dishes.
Place all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Whisk until the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt are blended.

Break the eggs into a separate bowl and lightly beat. Pour in the milk and the melted butter. Stir well.

Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour in the wet ingredients and stir just until incorporated. Do not overmix–it will toughen the bread.
Fold in the corn, jalapenos, green onions and sharp cheddar.
Pour into the prepared baking dish(es)
Place onto the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. Rotate the pan(s) after 15 minutes.
Remove and allow to cool for 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

Serves a crowd! (makes 48-60 squares)

Dirty Pages Poster

Posted in Breads, Casseroles, Meats/Poultry, Recipes | 10 Comments »




March 29th, 2015

Signs of Spring

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This lacy green array, which reminds me of wallpaper in a summer cottage, is the herb, chervil. A member of the parsley family, it grows well in cool weather. With its frill of carrot-like leaves and mild licorice taste, chervil is one of the quartet of fines herbes, a seasoning pillar of French cuisine.

I have used chervil, in dried form, on occasion. Bearnaise sauce comes to mind.

But I had never found any fresh…until recently, through Fresh Harvest Co-op.

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Which is also where I bought this beautiful rainbow of carrots…

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…and leeks, for this lush tart.

After a long winter of eating hardy greens and tubers, (and, trust me, I’m not complaining,) it sure feels good (uplifting!) to have these early spring herbs and vegetables.

It inspired me to put together a little grazing spread for friends–all of us ready to celebrate longer days, warmer weather, a world in bloom.

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My menu included steelhead trout brushed with fruity olive oil and quick-roasted, artichoke-leek tart in puff pastry-layered with a ricotta-Greek yogurt blend–and those sweet rainbow carrots, oven-browned in thyme.

The chervil found its way into a versatile buttermilk-based sauce–whipped up in a blink.

It tasted fresh and light, grassy and tangy, with a hint of anise. It was delicious spooned over the fish. And, it was also quite nice with the carrots.

For your pleasure, here are the recipes. Be on the lookout for fresh chervil–like most herbs, it is different, and better than its dried form.

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Welcome Spring! Looking forward to all that the season brings.

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SPRING LEEK TART adapted from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook

1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, drained
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed but still chilled
1 large leek, cleaned well and sliced (white and light green parts)
6 artichoke hearts
1/2 large red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a food processor with steel blade, add the ricotta cheese, yogurt, salt, and pepper, and blend until smooth.

Slightly roll out the pastry sheets on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin. Place one piece of pastry onto each baking sheet.

Spread the cheese mixture over the surface of each to the edge all the way around. Cover with roasted leeks, artichokes and bell pepper pieces. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake the pastries until they are golden brown and puffy, about 25 minutes. Rotate the pans halfway through baking time. Remove from the oven and let the pastries rest for a few minutes.

Cut into squares and serve.

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BUTTERMILK CHERVIL SAUCE

2 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh chervil
3/4 cup whole buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 spring onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons good mayonnaise, like Hellman’s
1 teaspoon salt

Place all of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together until the mixture is smooth and well incorporated. Cover and chill.

Makes one cup.

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QUICK-ROASTED STEELHEAD TROUT
2 1/2-3 pounds steelhead trout (or salmon) fillet(s)
3 tablespoons good olive oil
sea salt
coarse ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse the fillet(s) and pat dry. Place onto a baking sheet, skin side down.
Liberally brush the surface with your favorite fruity olive oil.
Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.

Roast for 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the fish rest for 5 minutes,
Remove and cool.

Serve warm, or at room temperature with chervil sauce.
Serves 10-12

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RAINBOW CARROTS ROASTED WITH FRESH THYME adapted from Cooking Light’s Lighten Up America
1 pound fresh carrots, different colors/varieties if you like
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
kosher or sea salt
black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Clean and trim carrots, keeping small ones intact, and cutting long ones into 2-3 lengths.
Peel only if the outer layer seems tough.
Coat the carrots in olive oil and lay them out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle them with fresh thyme, salt and black pepper.
Roast for 20-25 minutes, turning the carrots after 12 minutes.
Serve warm, or allow to cool and serve with dip.

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Fish/Seafood, Recipes, Sauces, Vegetables | 16 Comments »




March 22nd, 2015

“G&G” Garlic-Ginger Pork and Cashew Confetti Rice

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Last month, my friend Irene Emory, owner of Crossroads Cafe in Sewanee Tennessee, was planning a Chinese New Year Celebration Dinner in 8 courses, to be served Friday and Saturday evening. She needed some more hands in the kitchen. We talked, and I decided I could–for the weekend–come out of catering retirement. I packed up my favorite knives and motored south to Monteagle Mountain.

She had designed an ambitious menu: a vegetarian Eight Treasures Soup; steamed Shrimp dumplings–beguiling in their shiny almost translucent wraps; tender Pork Dumplings; Fish steamed in ginger, scallions and mirin; the ever-favorite vegetable stir-fry, Buddha’s Delight; Longevity Noodles topped with exotic mushroom-bok choy; Garlic Chive-Ginger Shrimp; Roast Duck in hoisin plum sauce, and finally, pineapple tarts with fresh fruit salad.

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Irene has a fabulous gas wok stove. We could stand, side by side, each with our own huge wok to prepare our dishes. While I stir-fried vegetables, Irene simmered pork dumplings. We both prepared batches of garlic chive shrimp. The kitchen filled with heady aromatics. More wok-work: Irene made luscious bok choy. I tended to the soba noodles, in this case a quick boil then plunge into ice water: the trick to keep them from getting sticky.

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There’s faucet connected to the stove. The long spigot can swing across the top, which makes refilling vessels a breeze, as water boils and evaporates. Adding a splash of water to the stir-fry created a beneficial sizzle and steam. When the cooking was complete, we could dump the water right onto the rangetop, which was at a slight angle. All the liquid disappeared down a drain. So cool!

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It was fun to cook on that stove–a new experience for me. But what impressed me more was Irene’s cooking: her use of fresh garlic and ginger. Several stir-fries began with a squirt of oil and generous dollops of each ingredient, finely minced. Together, the two pungent tastes imparted this marvelous depth of flavor.

G&G, I thought. I’d put that to use.

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Weather that weekend was berserk. The day was overcast, for my Friday morning drive, and a moderate 40 degrees. Most of the ice and snow from the storm earlier in the week had vanished. Things shifted later in the day. Right before our first dinner service, fat snowflakes began to cloak the mountain in white–3 inches! Late into the night, the snow turned into freezing rain.

By morning, everything was covered in a deceptive icy glaze. I hadn’t seen this since I was a child in New York—it stirred a memory of my siblings and I lacing up our ice skates, and gliding from neighboring yard to yard over ice-glazed snow.

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Despite the wintery precip, both dinners proceeded as planned, with surprisingly few cancellations. Guests enjoyed all of the courses, and appreciated Irene’s gifts of mandarins and gold coins for abundance and good luck in the new year.

After a weekend of so much cooking, it was time to drive back home. On Sunday morning, the temperature had warmed again. The treacherous ice-glazed snow had melted. It was replaced by a blanket of fog, so thick I could barely see a few feet of the road in front of me. It was spooky. I drove onto the wrong highway ramp. After a panicked moment, I turned around, and got behind a big truck. I used him as my guide to descend the mountain.

Soon, the fog was above me. The world cleared. I’d be home soon, armed with new cooking inspiration.

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GARLIC-GINGER PORK TENDERLOIN
adapted from Cooking Light
Marinade:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon red chile flakes

2 pounds pork tenderloin

Glaze:
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup plum preserves

Place all of the ingredients, except for the pork, into a bowl. Whisk together. Place the pork into the mixture and rotate it so that the marinade coats the meat on all sides. Place the pork into a zip lock bag. Seal and refrigerate, allowing the meat to marinate for 2-4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the pork pieces from the marinade and place them onto a baking pan.

Roast for approximately 20-25 minutes. The meat will be slightly pink–do not overcook; the meat will get dry. Remove and let the meat rest 10 minutes while you prepare the glaze.

Place the hoisin and plum preserves into a small pot. Stir together for 5 minutes over medium heat.

Spoon the glaze over the cooling pork before slicing.

Makes 8 servings.

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CONFETTI CASHEW RICE
2 tablespoons peanut oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1 leek, washed and chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 cup red cabbage, cut into shreds
1 pound sugar snap peas, cut on the diagonal
2 cups cooked and cooled jasmine rice
1/2 cup chopped cashews

Using a wok or deep skillet:
Place on medium high heat. Add peanut oil, then the garlic and ginger. With a wooden spoon, vigorously stir the two together for 30 seconds. Add the chopped leeks and red bell peppers. Stir fry for about two minutes. Add the red onion. Continue to stir fry, pushing the cooked leeks and peppers to the side of the wok or skillet. Add the red cabbage–cook for another minute. Finally add the sugar snap peas. It’s okay to add a splash of water to the mixture.
Reduce the heat.
Fold in the rice, a cup at a time. When it is well-incorporated, remove from heat.
Fold in the chopped cashews and serve.

Makes 8-10 servings
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Posted in Gluten Free, Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes | 12 Comments »




February 26th, 2015

Grapefruit Cake, at last

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Soft chiffon crumb, fragrant with zest, dotted with bittersweet syrup, coated in cream cheese icing…

Before I tell you more about this “at last” cake, I need to tell you its backstory,
which curiously begins with cornbread.

Recently I was invited to participate in “Dirty Pages,” a photo and story-telling exhibit about Nashville women and their storied recipes. Each person was asked to submit a favored recipe, one whose splattered, ringed and tattered page demonstrated not only its much-loved use, but told its tale of food–family–community.

I knew immediately where I’d find mine, inside Recipes from Foods of the World. My first cookbook, it was a gift from my soon-to-be mother-in-law, presented on the eve of my wedding in 1974. The marriage didn’t last—but the cookbook is still with me.

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The recipe I had in mind was “Leola’s Cornbread.” Over the years, especially during my catering career, it was a workhorse. My staff and I tweaked and modified the recipe, cut back on the sugar, increased the butter, deleted the margarine, even created a version with buttermilk. We baked it into countless loaves, muffins, hoecakes, croutons, and stuffings. We sparked it with chilis, cheeses, pimentos and scallions.

The recipe became encrusted with cornmeal.

I smile poring over the page: A mess of meal and flour, the blurred notes in the margins jotted by my cohorts Wendy and Tonya, the release of a musty, almost rancid scent from smears of batter, set in now for decades. A veritable “Dirty Page” from my life.

But the cookbook holds other treasures.

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Turning pages, stirring memories–look at that picture of the Grapefruit Cake! When I first saw this as a young cook, I was enchanted by the look of it. I loved the campy tropical staging. But, in my early twenties, I wasn’t crazy about grapefruit, so I didn’t make it. (I know–silly youth.)

My tastes matured, thank goodness. Whenever I–the older, more sophisticated caterer and chef—would peruse the cookbook and land on that page I’d think, “I’d really like to make that cake. I bet it’s delicious.”

I never got to it. Until last week, I had forgotten about it.

Everything in its time, they say. A prompt to review the past, through all my “dirty pages,” and I decided it would be different this time. I was going to make this beauty.

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It took me almost forty one years. But I’ve made it, Amen, at last.

GRAPEFRUIT CAKE WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING AND CANDIED GRAPEFRUIT PEEL
adapted from Recipes from Foods of the World published by Time/Life books, 1972

THE CAKE
2 tablespoons soft butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup fresh squeezed and strained grapefruit juice
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon fresh grated grapefruit zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat the sides and bottom of cake pan(s) with softened butter, then dust with flour.

Sift cake flour, baking flour, and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.
Pour grapefruit juice and oil into a measuring cup. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the 4 egg whites with cream of tartar until they form stiff, unwavering peaks. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the 4 yolks with 1 cup sugar for 4-5 minutes. Mixture will become thick and light yellow.

Beat in 1/2 cup of the flour mixture, followed by 1/4 cup of the juice-oil mixture. Repeat this process until the batter is well incorporated. Beat in the grapefruit zest.

Fold in the egg whites gently but thoroughly. Pour the batter into the cake pan(s); smooth the tops, and place into the preheated oven.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. Check with a toothpick or cake tester for doneness. Remove and cool on a rack for 5 minutes before inverting.

Invert cakes onto racks and remove pans. Allow to completely cool before frosting.

makes a 2-layer 9″cakes, or one 11″ springform round, split

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THE CANDIED PEEL
for great visual “how-to” steps, visit here at Cooking Light
1 grapefruit
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water

Carefully peel the rind of the grapefruit into long strips. Place the strips into a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Drain, add fresh water to cover and repeat. Drain and add 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water, stirring to dissolve.
Cover and place on medium heat. Simmer for 12-15 minutes.

Remove the strips, now supple and glazy, and lay them out on a rack to dry, reserving the syrup.

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CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
1 pound cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 tablespoon grapefruit zest
2 teaspoons grapefruit syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until fluffy. Beat in the zest, syrup and vanilla.
Beat in the powdered sugar, tasting for desired sweetness.

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ASSEMBLY

If you baked the cake in one large (10-11 inch) springform pan, split the cool layer in half.
Dot one layer with reserved syrup from making the candied peel. Spread a layer of frosting and place the other half (or other layer) on top.

Coat the top and sides with frosting.

Decorate the sides with candied peel. Cut the zested grapefruit into supremes–slices or sections without the pith or membrane. Arrange the slices on top of the cake.

Serves 12-16

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Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 23 Comments »




February 10th, 2015

A Celebratory Soup!

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This week, my mom Joanie passed a milestone birthday–85 years on the planet. Jumpin’ Jive, Joanie’s 85! With the exception of some minor aches and pains, she is blessed with good health and a sharp mind. She and my dad (a robust 88!) live on their own, and go about their day-to-day with enthusiasm and gratitude.

Five years ago, she celebrated her 80th with a big hullabaloo. This anniversary, however, she decided to observe on the down-low.

From me, she requested an afternoon of my cooking and company, with time reserved to solve the Sunday NYTimes crossword. Preparing a special meal, dining together, and then escaping with our erasable ink pens into the world of cleverly constructed words: That’s a gift I am happy to provide.

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For our lunch, I made three dishes–puree of cauliflower soup, grilled strip steak smothered in sherried mushrooms, and chocolate pudding parfaits. All three were delicious, but it’s the soup I want to tell you about today.

It is lush and creamy, without a speck of cream. No roux or other thickening agents either. A couple of potatoes, an onion, a parsnip or heirloom yellow carrot work together with the cauliflower to give the soup its silken body.

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Simply put, it is vegetables and broth, simmered and pureed.

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And, with a modicum of embellishments, it elevates to a soup for celebrations.

About those embellishments:
I reserve a handful of cauliflower curds, which I oven roast to crispness and drop into the soup, like croutons. Then I sprinkle in crumbles of gorgonzola–or any blue, which slightly melt into the soup where they fall, supplying little knobs of pungency in select spoonfuls.

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To finish it: A whirl of chili oil–for a brilliant streak of heat, a scatter of sliced green onions for a hit of brightness and fresh taste. (Green onions are a gift. What savory thing isn’t improved upon with a bit of fresh green?)

Joanie and I loved the soup. I was happy, because it was beautiful to serve, delectable to eat and easy to make. The fact that it is gluten free, vegetarian, (and if you omit the gorgonzola, vegan and dairy-free) makes it one that I’ll keep in my repertoire, knowing that I can serve any guest with any dietary preference with confidence.

Now, back to puzzling…got to figure out 94 Down, site of ancient Greek Olympics…four letters beginning with E…

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PUREE OF CAULIFLOWER SOUP WITH CAULIFLOWER CROUTONS
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 parsnip or heirloom yellow carrot, peeled and sliced
2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large head cauliflower, washed, cored and chopped, 1 1/2 cups of curds reserved
1 quart vegetable broth
salt and black pepper, to taste
2-3 green onions, finely chopped
4-5 tablespoons crumbled gorgonzola (or blue cheese)
chili oil

Place a large pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil.
Add onions, carrot or parsnip, and potatoes. Saute for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the chopped cauliflower and continue sauteeing for another five minutes.
Pour in the broth. Stir well. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender–12 minutes.

Remove from heat.

Blend until smooth—I use an immersion blender to puree the soup, but you may use a food processor or regular blender if that’s what you have.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with roasted cauliflower “croutons,” crumbled gorgonzola, green onion, and chili oil, if desired.

Makes 6 servings

Roast the cauliflower curds:
For more tips on roasting cauliflower, with corresponding recipes, visit Cooking Light’s healthy makeovers here.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Toss the cauliflower in a tablespoon of olive oil.
Spread over a baking sheet and place into the oven.
Roast until golden brown and slightly crispy, about 15 minutes.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegetarian Dishes | 16 Comments »




January 26th, 2015

Korean-style Beef Short Rib Tacos

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I don’t know too much about Korean food, but on the rare occasions that I dine on dishes like Bibimbap or Galbi Jjim at one of the homespun Korean eateries here in Nashville, I always experience this brilliant palate awakening. The spices, sugar and chili pepper heat, fermented vegetables and grilled meat hit on all the taste buds: Sweet-salty-sour-bitter-umami.

Envigorating!

And I chide myself: Why don’t I eat here more often? Why don’t I try to cook like this?

The truth is, I tend to cook in my culture-comfort zone–which is a mish-mash of Italian-French-Southern-New American whatever! But today’s post reflects a little expansion beyond that zone.

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It’s not authentic Korean, to be sure. The seasoning of the meat–soy-ginger-garlic-sesame—falls in line. Lashing it with the sweet-sour crunch of pickled red cabbage and grassy fresh cilantro fits too–although it’s much tamer than traditional Kim-chi. And, eating it wrapped in a griddled corn tortilla makes it more like Mexi-Korean fusion.

No matter. The result is simply delicious.

Kogi BBQ, a food truck in the Los Angeles area, gets the credit for originating the cleverly filled tacos over 6 years ago. It’s an idea that has caught on across the country–and inspired all manner of taco fusion treats.

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My prompt started back in December, when I had purchased–and overbought– some boneless beef short rib for a big family meal. (which was a classic French preparation.) I put the extra meat into the freezer, knowing that I’d soon have the chance to use it in a different flavor profile:

Tacos inspired by Kogi, for our community potluck.

I did a little research, and put together my plan.

First: the marinade. Easy to make–what is key is allowing enough time for it to permeate the meat. Six to eight hours, if you start in the morning. A 12 hour-overnight would be even better. Don’t worry if you can’t locate an Asian pear. I used an apple that I already had! The texture and mild sweet fruit taste gets communicated into the mix.

Note: if you cannot, for whatever reason, get short rib then I recommend flank steak. These Korean-style beef tacos at Cooking Light use it to great advantage—marinated and grilled.

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Next: The Sear and the Braise. It’s important to get a nice rich brown finish on the beef. The marinade goes far in that regard, caramelizing as you sear the meat. Once you’ve accomplished that, you smother the strips in deglazed juices from the pan, along with the remaining marinade.

Cover and place into a low oven and forget about the meat for the next two to three hours.

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What emerges, after that time, is succulent beef, steeped in garlicky gingery tastes.
You really don’t need a knife to shred the meat for the filling–pick it apart with a fork.
Save all those braising juices, too.

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I didn’t have the time needed to make Kimchi, which is about a week. Instead, I whipped up a quick pickled slaw, using red cabbage and red onion. In short order, it provided a snappy sweet-sour topping.

Finish the taco with some cilantro and a stripe of Sriracha sauce.

Gosh, these were good.

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KOREAN STYLE BRAISED BEEF SHORT RIB TACOS
3 pounds boneless beef short ribs
marinade and braising mixture
vegetable oil

The Marinade:
1 Gala apple or Asian Pear, cored and chopped
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
3/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons sesame oil
a few pinches red pepper flakes

Place the apple, onion, garlic, and ginger into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse the ingredients together.

Add the soy sauce, mirin, brown sugar, water, and sesame oil. Process until smooth.

Place the meat into a non-reactive bowl or container. Pour about 1/2 of the marinade over the meat (reserving the rest for later use in the recipe.) Make sure the meat is well coated. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Cover and refrigerate–marinating overnight is best.

The Braise:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Place a large skillet or pot on medium heat. Add 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil.
Remove the beef from the marinade and brown the pieces a few minutes on each side.
Place the browned pieces into a shallow baking dish.
Pour remaining marinade over the beef.
Cover with aluminum foil and oven-braise for 3 hours.
When done, the meat will be juicy and fork-tender.

When the meat is cool enough to handle, break it up into small pieces for the tacos. Pour braising juices over the meat. Keep warm until ready to assemble the tacos.

Makes 2 dozen 6 inch tacos

“PICKLED RED” RED CABBAGE AND RED ONION SLAW
1/2 head red cabbage
1/2 large red onion
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Slice the cabbage as thinly as possible and place into a mixing bowl.
Slice the onion as thinly as possible and add to the cabbage.
In a separate bowl, whisk the vinegar, sugar, and salt together.
Pour over the slaw and let marinate for 20 minutes.

TACO ASSEMBLY
warm beef in braising juices
pickled red slaw
1 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves picked and coarsely chopped
24 6 inch corn tortillas
Sriracha hot sauce

Place a skillet on medium heat. Brown the tortillas on both sides–about 1 minute a side.
Spoon in the beef. Top with pickled red slaw, fresh cilantro, and a squirt of Sriracha hot sauce.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Sandwiches | 15 Comments »




January 18th, 2015

Roasted Cauliflower Za’atar

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Happy 2015, friends! I have begun this year in focused down-sizing mode. After living in a wonderful old–and large– house for fifteen years, Bill and I have decided that it is time for a change. Simplify. This calls for a smaller home, more efficient living, in space that better meets our needs.

Before we can make that kind of move, we must start where we are. When you live in the same place for many years, stuff accumulates. You don’t even see it! (so much crammed into drawers and closets!) And if you are planning to live in a third less space—-well—it’s easy to figure out. A third of your things gotta go–at the very least.

It’s imperative to adopt a detached point of view. I find myself in this sort of mental dialogue: Is this something that I have used in the past year? 2 years? More? Probably don’t need it, right? Is this something that I want to pack up and move to the next place? No? The response is simple: Say bye-bye.

It is a gratifying process, this letting go of stuff. Home furnishings, kitchen goods, books, clothing, electronics. We have made countless trips already to the Goodwill and recycling centers. We’re not into selling the stuff–just give it away, right now. (Except for a tandem ocean touring kayak. I know, beyond ironic for life in land-locked middle Tennessee —Bill needs to find a buyer for it!)

With the lightening of our home comes a lightening of spirit. What an uplift. Shedding these often unseen, all unused items also sheds psychic dead weight.

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And now, for a lightening of another kind. After such fun feast-filled holidays, my body could use a little down-sizing too! Today’s recipe fits the bill, for just about anyone. With cauliflower as its centerpiece, it’s vegan, gluten-free, yet meaty and satisfying.

In recent years, cauliflower has demonstrated its versatility, in soups and purees, mimicking chicken piccata, egg salad, rice… This preparation uses just three ingredients. But what fantastic, complex flavors, thanks to za’atar.

Do you know about this seasoning, used throughout the Middle East?

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The word za’atar is Arabic for wild thyme.
But that’s just one of the elements. Crushed sumac, toasted sesame seeds, oregano, salt, and sometimes cumin combine to make a beguiling blend that you can stir into plain yogurt, (terrific dip or marinade) or extend with olive oil to brush onto grilled flatbread.

I read here that some consider Za’atar brain food. In which case, it seems all the more fitting to have it roasted onto the brainlike round of cauliflower.

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I’ve made this dish twice this year–to rave reviews. The rumpled curd becomes crispy, the za’atar mixture caramelizes onto the cauliflower as it roasts. Redolent spices fill the kitchen!

The first time, I served it as a side dish. Another time, I cut the roasted head into florets and cast them over a salad, dressed with citrus fruits and pistachios. Lovely.

If you cannot find za’atar at your global market or specialty spice shop, you can make it yourself. Here’s the recipe.

Here’s to being lighter.

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ROASTED CAULIFLOWER ZA’ATAR
2 tablespoons Za’atar
4 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 head cauliflower, washed, leaves removed, head left intact

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, place the za’atar spice blend. Add the olive oil and stir. Let it sit for about five minutes.

Place the cleaned head of cauliflower onto a baking sheet.
Brush the entire surface with the za’atar-olive oil mixture.

Place into the oven and roast for an hour.

Makes 4-6 servings

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 19 Comments »




December 31st, 2014

Lobster Rolls, Gratitude, and Farewell 2014

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I haven’t gone out for New Year’s Eve–not for many years now. It’s become tradition for friends to come to our place. We cook something extraordinary, something de luxe; then we feast, tell stories, play games, reflect on the year, our moments of gratitude, and talk about what might be in store in the months to come.

Lobster has often figured into the mix.

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For many NYEs, we’d have a community lobster pot. I’d make a spicy-winey poaching bath, and everyone would bring their own lobster tails, ready to take the savory plunge. We’d serve that luscious meat with lemon butter as part of a 4 course seated dinner. It’s very fun, very delicious,

also very laborious.

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So we changed things up.

Now everyone brings an appetizer or two to share. The buffet table fills up quickly with delectables such as Vietnamese Summer Rolls, Fig-filled Brie in Puff Pastry, Bibb Lettuce Cups with grapefruit and avocado, “Cowboy Caviar” (gotta start eating those black-eyed peas!) and baby crabcakes with citrus remoulade.

This year, lobster is part of the scenario, in a more casual–yet still luxurious, way. I decided to make little lobster rolls—of the buttery yeasty Parker House type– flecked with sea salt, then stuffed with lobster salad. I make the same spicy-winey bath to cook them–recipe to follow–so that if you take the notion to just eat lots of poached lobster and drawn butter–well, here ya go.

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For the salad, the meat is lightly dressed. You don’t want to mask that sweet lobster taste. Lemon, green onion, red bell pepper, celery, and a little Sriracha lend it the right crunch and zing.

Notes about the Parker House style rolls: My recipe uses sourdough starter along with a boost of dry active yeast. If you don’t have the starter, no worries. Use 2 packages of yeast, also increasing the amount of flour (add 2 cups) and milk (2 cups) I also use honey instead of sugar.

Recipes for this kind of roll abound on the webs. The main thing to remember about these rolls—which are buttery and rich, yet light as the ethers—is that milk, butter, and an egg are key to making the dough supple and elastic.

If you don’t have time to make the rolls, Cooking Light offers an easy-peasy solution here:
Lobster Roll recipe, using hot dog buns

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LOBSTER SALAD
Spicy-Winey Bath: (for 6 Lobster tails)
6 cups water
2 cups White Wine
1 Lemon, cut in half
2 Celery Ribs and leaves, chopped
1 small Onion, quartered
2 cloves Garlic
1 Bay Leaf
2 teaspoons Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Celery Seed
1/2 teaspoon Mustard Seed
1/2 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes

Place all these ingredients into a large covered stockpot and simmer until onions are softened–about 25 minutes. (this will accommodate up 6-8 lobster tails)

Prepare the lobster tails for their bath: Using kitchen shears, cut up the center of the thin cartilage underside of the tail and snip off the sundry flippers. Gently crack the base of the tail backwards to make it easier to remove meat after poaching. Rinse well.

Plunge the lobster into the gently rolling bath and poach for five-seven minutes. Remove the now bright orange-red tails from the bath. Allow to cool.

Remove the cooked meat. Discard the shells.

The Lobster Salad:
2-3 ribs of celery, finely chopped
3-4 green onions, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, minced
1/2 cup good mayonnaise (such as Hellman’s or Duke’s)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons Sriracha hot sauce
Cooked lobster tail meat, cut or pulled into bite-sized pieces

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SOURDOUGH PARKER HOUSE ROLLS
1 cup “fed” sourdough starter mixed with 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1 cup water
1 cup lowfat milk
1/2 pound butter, divided
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 package dry active yeast
1 egg
4 cups all-purpose flour

The night before: mix your starter in a bowl with flour and water. Stir well. Cover with plastic and leave at room temperature for an hour. Then refrigerate.

Ready to make the rolls:
Remove the sourdough mixture from the refrigerator.

Warm the milk on low heat, add 1/4 pound (one stick) butter, then the honey and salt. Stir until the butter is melted. Remove from heat. When the mixture feels tepid, stir in the package of dry active yeast.

Pour into a large mixing bowl. Add the sourdough mixture.

Using a dough hook, begin to mix, adding the egg, and the flour, a cup at a time.
Knead until the dough comes together into soft elastic mass. Cover and allow the dough to double in size—about 1 1/2 hours.

Melt the remaining 1/4 pound butter in a saucepan set on low heat.

When dough is doubled in size, turn it out onto the work counter that has been dusted with flour. Divide the dough ball in half, setting one piece aside.

Brush baking sheets with butter. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out the dough into a rectangle, about 1/2 inch thick. Brush with melted butter and cut into squares. You should get 16-20 pieces. Roll each piece around your finger and place onto the buttered baking sheet. Leave 1/2 inch space between each roll.

Brush their tops with melted butter and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until rolls are light and golden. Cool on a rack before slicing and stuffing with lobster salad (and a piece of leaf lettuce, if you like.)

TWO GRATITUDE MOMENTS FROM 2014

This year has been rich and full of wonder. The launching of my cookbook, Third Thursday Community Potluck, features high on my list, to be sure. I am so pleased with the result. The book is beautiful. I couldn’t have imagined anything finer. I am so grateful for this accomplishment, at this stage of my life.

Nichole, Domenica, Nancy and Tracy

I am also so grateful for all of the support I’ve received from family and friends for this effort. Here are three blogging friends who came to my book signing in the Washington DC area last month. We knew one another from our blogs, but this was the first time that we met in person. Big hugs to Tracy of Amuse-Bouche for Two, Nichole of And Baby Cakes Three, and Domenica of Domenica Cooks and American Food Roots. Y’all rock! The connections that we make through our blogging, sharing our mutual love of food and community, is what it’s all about.

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Last, and best is grandson Zachary. Bill and I, aka Pops and Nanaroo, enjoyed a wonderful Christmas visit with him. The boy loves food! And he knows that nothing compares to licking the beater.

Happy New Year, Everyone. All best wishes for love peace health and prosperity in 2015.

Nancy

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Breads, Fish/Seafood, Recipes, Sandwiches | 21 Comments »




December 15th, 2014

Great GREENS

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My friend Heather had overbought produce for an event, and found her fridge bursting with 12 bunches of assorted winter greens–curly kale, lacinato kale, and great fronds of Swiss chard. She called me, wondering, what could she do? They were becoming limp, and it would be a shame for them to be fodder for the compost.

We talked about some ideas—making kale pesto and kale chips, blanching and freezing chard, when I said, “I’ll take some off your hands. I’ll make some dishes with them. Then, come to dinner.”

Later that day, she arrived at my door, arms laden with grocery bags, a jumble of green leaves, bright and dark, veined and rumpled, some sturdy and sweeping, some starting to look a bit weary.

Great greens, girl. Gotta get to work.

Before I could figure out their destiny, I had to assess their condition. I trimmed their stems, and plunged them in tubs of fresh water to rehydrate. Within an hour, most of the greens had perked up. The chard plumped and straightened, out of the tub. The rumpled kale regained its bounce.

Now, what to make?

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The thing with greens—any sort really—is that what starts out as monumental quickly cooks down to manageable. Nonetheless, I had enough chard to make a great pot of stewy-soup, and plenty of lacinato kale to make this beguiling recipe I’d just discovered on Food 52.

Both are simple wintertime recipes, hearty and delicious. Most of work is in prepping the greens–cleaning, deribbing, tearing, chopping.

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You begin this soup the way you do most soups: You build a foundation. Saute hunks of portabello mushrooms with diced onions and carrots to get a meaty base before adding vegetable broth and tomato paste. The mushrooms and tomato are the powerhouse duo, making the sienna-colored broth in which the chard simmers a veritable umami-bomb of flavor.

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And this kale gratin? Ridiculously easy. Only 6 ingredients, 3 of them being salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Everything gets tossed into a baking dish and then placed into the oven. That’s it!

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I made two modifications.

The original recipe calls for 3 cups of Cream. I know. So rich, so luxurious, so over-the-top—but I couldn’t bring myself to go there. And, I already had a quart of half-and-half in the fridge. I dialed it back a bit–and substituted the half and half for cream. Instead of placing slabs of sharp cheddar over the top of the casserole, I shredded the cheese–4 ounces each of New York yellow and Vermont white—to generously sprinkle over the mass, the pieces nestling in and around the greens.

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Don’t worry about the tower of kale in your baking dish–it cooks down in that hot oven. Some of the leaves get dry and crispy on the top—and boy, is that ever a boon. (Kale chips!) The cheese, as it bubbles and melts, forms a savory caramel crust too. Scoop through that layer of crunch into this compelling press of green, cooked to tenderness, the kale absorbing the nutmeg-scented dairy in the process–a perfect balance of bitter and sweet.

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I cannot overstate the absolute wonder and earthy delectability of this dish. If it’s this marvelous with half-and-half, the cream version must be Heaven. I just want to be a little mindful of my heart, and not get there too soon.

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SWISS CHARD-PORTABELLO MUSHROOM SOUP
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
1 pound portabello mushrooms, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 quart vegetable stock
1 small can tomato paste
2-3 bunches Swiss chard, stemmed, leaves cut into ribbons

Place a 6 quart pot over medium heat. When warm, add the olive oil. Then add the onions, sauteing them until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and continue to stir and saute for another three minutes. Increase the heat to medium high, and add the mushrooms.
Season with salt, black pepper, and thyme. Stir. The mushrooms may stick to the bottom, but don’t worry–that will add to the flavor of the base.

Pour in the vegetable stock. Add the tomato paste and a cup of water. Stir well.
Add the Swiss chard, folding into the broth. It will collapse as it cooks. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes. Taste for seasonings.

Serve over hot cooked rice.
Makes 10-12 servings

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LACINATO KALE GRATIN adapted from Food 52 and Renee Erickson/A Boat, A Whale, and a Walrus
2-3 bunches lacinato kale (a.k.a. black Tuscan or dinosaur kale)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
3 cups Half-and-Half
1/2 pound shredded sharp cheddar (can be a combination of yellow and white sharps)

Preheat oven to 350 convection or 375 conventional.

Remove the kale ribs and tear the leaves into pieces. Place into a large bowl. Sprinkle the leaves with salt, black pepper and nutmeg and toss. Heap the seasoned kale into a 9 inch by 13 inch baking dish. Pour the half-and-half over the kale, taking care that it doesn’t spill over the sides. Top with shredded cheddar, tucking some of the shreds underneath some leaves.

Place into the oven, middle rack, and bake for 45 minutes (convection) or an hour (conventional)

Let cool for 5 minutes and serve.

Makes 8 servings

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Posted in Casseroles, Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 15 Comments »