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KID in the KITCHEN: French Toast Casserole (make ahead!)

30 Dec

We are a fútbol-loving family ( fútbol = soccer in the U.S. and football in most other English-speaking countries except the U.S. where football — rather inexplicably – means gridiron a.k.a. that sport with the helmets and shoulderpads. There’s also Australian rules football, which is actually a form of rugby, but never mind that right now). We particularly follow the English Premier League and support Chelsea, in case you were wondering. We watch it a lot at home, but watching soccer in the U.S. has ceased to mean spectator-in-exile. Increasingly in America you can find people with whom to watch.

This is part of the spread...Can you name the team jerseys in the background? Hint: Only one is EPL

This is part of the spread…Can you name the team jerseys in the background? Hint: Only one is EPL

So that creates opportunities to invite folks to brunch or lunch (EPL matches are played at GMT and so rarely go later than 5 p.m. here in NY) with fellow travelers at home. Buffet-style is best, because the footie runs continuously for two 45-minute halves and if — like me — you are the hostess but really want to watch the action too, you want to get everything done before kick-off and then sit right down with the guests for the first half.

Yes, we used white bread. And it was good.

Yes, we used white bread. And it was good.

So, we invited friends for the 9 a.m. Southampton v. Chelsea fixture this past weekend. In addition to bagels and cream cheese, tortilla española, gravlax, ham and cheese, and mango-prosecco mimosas, my little guy made French toast. Since it would have been insane to try to make French toast to order at game time, we chose a recipe he could do the night before and pop in the oven for 40 minutes before everyone arrived. Thus this French Toast Casserole recipe we adapted ever so slightly from Love, Pasta, and a Tool Belt. It was super-easy, sweet and delicious and has a bread pudding sort of texture and was loved by one and all.

Firm, bread pudding type texture meant the kids could pick it up like a sandwich!

Firm, bread pudding type texture meant the kids could pick it up like a sandwich!

To do it with kids, make sure you have the ingredients, measuring implements, and other equipment at the ready before you get the kids going. It is a breeze!

2014-12-28 13.06.06 french toast casseroleFrench Toast Casserole

Ingredients:
1 stick salted butter
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
12 slices white bread

Directions:
Melt butter and mix with brown sugar and cinnamon until well-blended. Spread half of the brown sugar mixture on the bottom of a 9×13 rimmed baking pan. Lay six pieces of bread over the sugar mixture. Spread the remainder of the brown sugar mixture over the bread trying to make it pretty even. We used a butter knife to spread, but a stiff spatula would also work.
Place remaining six pieces of bread on top. Beat eggs and milk together and pour over the whole thing evenly. If, like us, you forget to put on the second layer of bread, you can lift the already covered slices one by one and slide the unsoaked slices underneath and it will work out just fine. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Heat oven to 350°F and bake uncovered for 40 minutes.

Allow to rest and then serve up!

 

Janssons frestelse/Jansson’s Temptation (Swedish Potato Gratin)

28 Dec

My sister-in-law Annika was born and raised in Sweden and in the 20 or so years since she appeared in our lives, (cue ABBA’s Greatest Hits) she has introduced us to such marvels as aquavit (also called snaps), lingonberry, ginger cookies, and (stop ABBA soundtrack and start spare, percussive track suitable for forbiddingly cold and spare winter landscapes and mythic creatures) the Volvo commercial featuring footballing demi-god Zlatan Ibrahimović. Mmmm.

Thanks to Annika, we like to do a Swedish Christmas Eve buffet table. Or we like to have her do a Swedish Christmas Eve smorgasbord to which we contribute a couple of things.

How it looked going into the oven (sent Annika'photos of my progress so she could advise)

How it looked going into the oven (sent Annika’photos of my progress so she could advise)

Unfortunately she and my brother and my marvellous niece don’t live close enough to us anymore for Swedish Christmas Eve all together, but thanks to IKEA, my dad’s gravlax (salt and sugar-cured salmon) and Annika’s easy potato gratin recipe, (The dish is called Jansson’s temptation) we were able to do a reasonable facsimile this year. Emboldened by the success of this dish, I think I will try her Swedish meatball recipe next year!

Happily, we had leftovers for midnight snacking!

Happily, we had leftovers for midnight snacking!

Important note: The Swedish call sprats (a small fish/herring) by the name ‘anjovis’. DO NOT BE FOOLED. They are not the same ‘anchovies’ as you buy in the tinned fish section of your local supermarket (unless your local supermarket happens to be IKEA). They are not oil or salt-packed Italian anchovies with a strong salty fish character. These are pickled in spiced vinegar and are light and completely different. So beware!

Willy’s online seems to sell them, although a recent check showed them to be sold out! i-Gourmet has them too. I will be trying out tinned “bristlings” which might be the same and I will let you know.

I made it in a pretty pie dish that went straight from oven to table nicely

I made it in a pretty pie dish that went straight from oven to table nicely

Jansson’s Temptation
This is Annika’s recipe, halved, which was more than enough for our family of four. If you want to feed loads of people, simply double the quantities and use a 9×13 oven dish

 About 1 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into thick matchsticks

1 large onion, peeled and sliced

1 tin spiced and pickled Swedish ‘ansjovis’ (sprat filets) – I use “ABBA Anchovy Style Sprat Fillets” from IKEA

1 Cup whipping cream/heavy cream

Butter for greasing the pan

Preheat oven to 425°

Butter an 8×8 dish and spread about a third of the potatoes over the base. Cover with about half of the onion, and place half the ‘ansjovis’ fillets on top (save the liquid that the ‘anjovis’ are in!).
Cover with another third of potatoes, then the rest of the onion, and the rest of the ‘anjovis’. Finish with a last layer of potatoes.

Pour the liquid from the ‘anjovis’ tin over the potato mixture.

Pour the cream over the potatoes – you may need a bit more or a bit less – it depends on the size of the dish you’re using. You want the cream to almost cover the potatoes.

(Other people like to sprinkle breadcrumbs on top and dot some butter slices over the breadcrumbs, but I never do.)

Bake in a 425°oven for about 1 hour. It’s ready when the potatoes are soft and the top layer is getting golden.

 

You may also like:

Gravlax

This years gravlax is phenomenal. EXCELLENT for entertaining as you can divide into pieces for each event.

This years gravlax is phenomenal. EXCELLENT for entertaining as you can divide into pieces for each event.

Scandinavian Shrimp Salad (Skagen Salad)

Creamy, sweet, tangy, chunky, light Swedish Skagen Salad (the best shrimp salad EVER)

 

 

 

4 Effortless Yet Elegant Party Appetizers for Busy People

20 Dec

I was recently invited to do a cooking demonstration at Nassau Community College (where my more usual role is as a full-time ESL lecturer in a language immersion program) for the Mom’s Club, a campus club for student-parents where they get support in their struggle to complete their college education while raising children and often simultaneously holding a full-time job!

So these are women who needed a fun mini-workshop that would include some nifty snacks, some honest conversation and maybe even a few ideas for inexpensive and easy appetizers they can easily prepare for their families. I think this line-up delivered.

All hands on deck!

All hands on deck!

It was a pleasure to cook for this small group — thanks to professors Beth Goering and Molly Phelps Ludmar for inviting me and also providing an electric skillet, bread and soft drinks.

Happy holidays ladies!

Happy holidays ladies!

Together — I put everyone to work, of course — we made Spanish-style garlic mushrooms, cilantro-sunflower seed pesto, black olive and walnut paste, and white cheese and red grape skewers. Everything was done within a half hour, so we had time to sit and eat, which is a rare treat for busy moms!

Not my best images ever, but you get the idea!

Not my best images ever, but you get the idea!

Here are the recipes:

White Cheese and Red Grapes (requires toothpicks!)

Cut Latin style white cheese into cubes about the size of the grapes. Skewer a single grape and a single cube of cheese onto each toothpick (this is a job kids love! and it keeps them busy while you are trying to do other things.) and arrange on a serving platter. The cubed cheese is the base.

Cilantro-Sunflower Seed Pesto (sunflower seeds are a terrific alternative to pine nuts or walnuts for those with nut allergies)

One bunch cilantro, rinsed and chopped (YES you can use the stems)

2-3-4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1/2 Cup sunflower seeds (roasted and salted seeds add a lot of flavor)

Squeeze of freeze lemon

pinch of hot red pepper flakes (optional)

extra virgin olive oil

abundant grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano or Locatelli cheese

salt to taste

Place cilantro, garlic, sunflower seeds, lemon, and optional pepper flakes in a food processor or blender and whirr until chopped. Add olive oil bit by bit (in a thin stream if you can pour while blending) until you achieve a thick paste. Add cheese to taste (start with about 1/4 Cup) and serve over pasta or as a spread for bruschetta, crackers or sliced bread.

For an easy basil pesto (my second grader makes it!) click here.

Black Olive and Walnut Paste (Tapenade)

1 can pitted black olives (or one cup good seedless black olives if you can afford them), drained indifferently

1/4 Cup walnuts (but add them Tbs by Tbs)

1 tsp capers drained indifferently

2-3 anchovies from a jar, rinsed and patted dry with a paper towel

leaves from 3-4 thyme sprigs

optional extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients (except optional olive oil) in a food processor and blend till smooth, adding olive oil as necessary. Serve as a spread for toast or crackers.

For another version heavier on the anchovies, click here.

Spanish style Garlic Mushrooms

2-3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

12 oz white or Cremini mushrooms, stems removed (and saved in the freezer for stock) and wiped clean with paper towel.

3 Tbs dry red wine (I took some mushrooms out at this point to accommodate someone who doesn’t consume alcohol)

1 Tbs chopped parsley

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan, heat the oil until loose and fragrant. Lower heat to medium low garlic and cook gently until golden brown.

Add mushrooms and stir to coat., Allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms start to brown deeply and release their juices. Add wine and raise hand eat to a fast simmer for about 5 minutes, until alcohol has cooked off but there is still liquid. Sprinkle with parsley salt and serve with crusty bread.

For a more complex version of these mushrooms that includes butter, click here.

Hibiscus Mint Iced Tea Lemonade

7 Aug

I am so glad to be back!

There she is! Will find that contact info soon!

There she is! Will find that contact info soon!

We were just in Puerto Rico for a month, which was fantastic and wonderful (especially for my son’s Spanish; he spent his days at a summer camp fending for himself  and emerging victorious!). But for those of us sitting home with nothing but fans blowing hot air around while he frolicked in the pool, it was ridiculously hot.

Putting it together was easy!

Putting it together was easy!

We headed for Rincón’s Famer’s Market a couple of Sundays (Rincón is higher elevation where it is not beachfront, so it is cooler), and we found a young lady selling iced teas…with a twist (now I can’t find her card or I would tell you who she is…).

How pretty is that?

How pretty is that?

Leandro fell in love with the Hibiscus-Mint Iced Tea Lemonade which she said is very popular for kids’ parties. So, of course I had to recreate it at home and I too emerged victorious. This stuff is super-refreshing and delicious, has no caffeine and looks beautiful. I used agave nectar, so I didn’t even have to fuss with sugar syrup….You could try honey too!

 

So refreshing!

So refreshing!

Hibiscus Mint Iced Tea Lemonade

6 Cups hibiscus tea, cooled (I used Tazo’s Passion – 5 teabags to 6 Cups hot water, then steeped for ten minutes)

½ generous Cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (strained to remove seeds and pulp)

¾ Cup agave nectar (you could also make a simple sugar syrup and start with 1/2 Cup)

Several sprigs mint and 1 Tbs chopped mint

Mix all the ingredients in a large pitcher until blended. Remove mint sprigs, stir in chopped mint and serve over ice, with additional sprigs of mint for garnish, if desired.

 

Easy, Hearty, Refried Beans for Bean Dip, Tacos, Burritos, and more

8 Jul

We’ve been having folks over or heading to other people’s houses for watch parties during the World Cup…as die-hard fanáticos del fútbol, this extravaganza of soccer is something we look forward to every four years with great anticipation.

I’ve mostly gonewith tried and true recipes like the incredibly delicious Chipotle Lime Jerk Slow Cooker Chicken and my Seasoned Ground Beef for Sloppy Joes, Tortilla Torcal (Spanish stovetop egg frittata with chorizo, ham and peas from our garden), Grapes and White Cheese (no-cook fab appetizer with just two ingredients — three if you count toothpicks), and such.

Go U.S.A.!

Go U.S.A.! Tim Howard is Hercules!

But for the first U.S. game of the Cup, I also made a new one: bean dip! I was very happy with the results. I did homemade refried beans (recipe below), then just layered it up with salsa and cheese and melted in the oven and served with tortilla chips, sour cream and avocado chunks and everyone liked it. A Lot.

This bean recipe is very versatile for Tex-Mex style foods like nachos, burritos, tacos and the like. Sure you can buy refried beans in a can, but this flavor and texture is more complex and of course the sodium and fat levels are reduced to human proportions. Give it a try!

 

Layered with cheese and salsa, this warm dip is a hot item

Layered with cheese and salsa, this warm dip is a hot item

Refried Beans for Bean Dip or Tex-Mex meals (with garlic scapes)

1-2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbs garlic scapes (or garlic), chopped fine

¼ Cup diced ham (ham steak or deli ham)

½ Cup broth (chicken or veggie; not too sweet)

1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tsp dried)

3 Cups red beans (softened at home or from a can, rinsed and drained)

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a generous pan to medium high. Lower heat and sauté the garlic scapes in the oil until tender. Add the diced ham and sauté an additional minute, then add remaining ingredients and simmer until thickened. Remove from heat and with a potato masher or a fork, mash mixture roughly until you have a thick, rustic paste, adding tablespoons of water or broth as needed. Layer with salsa and cheese in an oven-safe dish and heat up, then top with sour cream, guacamole and olives, or use it to top nachos or stuff tacos and burritos!

Red, White and Blue Shortcake in a (World) Cup

16 Jun

My son’s birthday this year happens to fall on the day of the U.S. National Soccer Team’s opening World Cup match against Ghana. So — being a soccer/fútbol mad family, this is like thematic heaven for us!

USA shortcakeBetween last night and this morning, I banged together class treats that were all red, white and blue, homemade and — while they include cake and whipped cream — also include generous portions of summer fruit.

Very tender and moist cake....

Very tender and moist cake….

I like to think it strikes the right balance between healthy and sweet and it certainly reflects what is important to the little man today.

Pretty decent crumb!

Pretty decent crumb!

And the fact that I put this much time and thought into it reflects 1) my semester finished and I have some extra time on my hands 2) I am indeed the food DIY maniac everyone thinks I am 3) I love this little man so much I want him to be proud of the treats he brought in!

Piled it up nice (and casually no...LOW FUSS!)

Piled it up nice (and casually no…LOW FUSS!)

He went to school in his U.S. kit (with the non-playing Landon Donovan jersey, but never mind…I have to assume Klinsmann knows what he is doing) and seemed very pleased with the whole thing. He was down with a virus last week that has left him with painful bumps in his mouth….so I don’t know whether he’ll actually eat one, but he somehow managed to lick the whipping cream bowl clean all right this morning.

All tarted up for the big game

All tarted up for the big game

I include a link for the recipe for homemade whipped cream. I URGE you to try it…so much more fun and much more velvety and subtle…the kids around here love making it with the hand beater and eating it up! You can also make your own white cake (recipe for a very fluffy and tender one below) or substitute storebought poundcake. If you are going to make your own cake, I suggest you have a look at Paula Deen’s excellent Creaming 101 tutorial. Continue reading

Backyard Foraging: Onion Grass (just like chives!) and cream cheese recipe

14 May

Google “onion grass” and you’ll likely find a lot of advice on how to eliminate it from your lawn. It is called a weed, pesky, unsightly, annoying. But around here the unruly tufts of onion grass that start dotting the emerging lawn in spring are the among the first herbs of the season.  So the way we eliminate it is by harvesting it and eating it!

This is a nice bit just by the raise beds. Note that it is not flat but hollow, and grows to different lengths

This is a nice bit just by the raised beds. Note that it is not flat but hollow, and grows to different lengths

We don’t put down chemical fertilizers or pesticides anywhere in the yard (although the last few seasons of mosquito infestations have us wondering what other choice there is) so there is none of that in our onion grass that we know of. And while we do have plenty of birds and squirrels about, they have those on commercial farms too and we have no dogs, so a thorough washing of the onion grass is sufficient to make it ready for human consumption (This came up in an after-school playground conversation recently, so thanks to Marta for bringing it up!).

A healthy bunch of onion grass. You will have to pick through your harvest.

A healthy bunch of onion grass. You will have to pick through your harvest.

I do NOT recommend pulling it up from anywhere that you are not familiar with. You never know what people throw on their lawns in the crazed pursuit of the perfect carpet of green (heavy sigh). Or what your local government has sprayed.

 

The forager-in-training

The forager-in-training

Now let’s talk identification. As close as I can tell, the botanical name or onion grass is Allium canadense…a member of the onion and garlic (stinking rose) family and very, very similar to Allium schoenoprasum, which we know as chives. Allium canadense is noted for its clumpy appearance in early spring just as the stubble of new grass begins. The blades are actually hollow tubes and taper at the top and grow to wildly different lengths.  They may even curl. I have heard say that they sometimes have bulbs at the bottom, but ours really don’t have much.

 

The potato ricer was not really the right creaming tool. I soon switched to a fork

The potato ricer was not really the right creaming tool. I soon switched to a fork

Important note: there are several look-alike lily species that are toxic. They may or may not have the hollow stem. The general rule is: If it smells like onion, it is onion and safe to eat. If it doesn’t smell like onion, it’s not onion, so leave it be.

With crackers or veggies, or bagels, of course...the flavor of spring

With crackers or veggies, or bagels, of course…the flavor of spring

In the past, I have just snipped what I need (it is somewhat milder than chives, so you may need to double what you would normally use if you bought supermarket chives), but today when I asked my little man to get some, he just grabbed a fistful and tore and that worked out just fine!

A tub of cream cheese with onion grass! Just like chives...only free for the forager

A tub of cream cheese with onion grass! Just like chives…only free for the forager

The following recipe is just a basic cream cheese with chives. You can also try onion grass with Asian recipes or whatever else you fancy. It’s not like you had to pay for it. And as I say to my students “If it’s free, give me three!”

 

Pretty!

Pretty!

Cream cheese and chives or foraged onion grass

8 oz cream cheese, softened

2-4 Tbs chopped onion grass or chives

2 Tbs low or nonfat yogurt or sour cream or milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Garnish with additional chopped chives, if desired.

Cucumber Sandwiches (Wilde Party Essential)

27 Mar

There is nothing that says English high tea quite like cucumber sandwiches. They call to mind white lace tablecloths, starched just so; the fine china; someone’s Aunts Augusta and Elizabeth; itchy wool socks, the smell of wet dogs just come in from a run in the garden, that sort of thing.

But when you are reading Oscar Wilde’s  The Importance of Being Earnest with friends, two things become apparent.

Watch them disappear

Watch them disappear

One is that it is not the prissy or genteel aunts who are nibbling delicately on the the cucumber sandwiches…no, no. they never get a chance. In this play of love and marriage and double entendres, it is the naughty, insouciant young gentlemen who can’t keep their hands off those cucumber sandwiches and who eat them up before anyone else has a chance. If you choose to look into this further, you might make some connections between the rigidity of social norms of the times and the lust for life that busts out around the edges of it all. Or you might not.

The second thing that becomes apparent is that cucumber sandwiches are fantastic. This is the recipe: Good white sandwich bread from a bakery (thanks to David and Citarella), crusts removed (thanks to Ashley), good salted butter (Irish, in this case), and thinly sliced English hothouse cucumbers (unpeeled, by executive decision; if they’d been the thick-peeled American ones, the peels would have had to come off), topped with a sprinkle of sea salt before putting the top slice of bread on, and there you have them.

“Why are these so good?” Lori kept asking me. “What is it?”

And there really isn’t a particular answer to that except that every one of the ingredients was exactly right. But they are really, really good, and I can see plates of these disappearing off the picnic platters this summer at my house.

Why are they so good? Because they are.

Why are they so good? Because they are.

For more on throwing a play-reading party, click here.

When Food Allergies Happen to Food People (Gluten-free champiñones al ajillo)

25 Mar

They sidle up to you in the hallway at work when no one else is around. They approach you with the hangdog expression of a sinner headed to the confessional for the same reason they went last week. Or they send you a hesitant text, dangling uncertainly between apologetic and grief-stricken, unable to tell you directly in person. They are embarrassed, bewildered, ashamed.

They are….Foodies with Allergies and they are coming to your house for a dinner party!

This happened to me during the planning of that play-reading party you’ve been hearing a lot about in my recent posts.

Let me clarify. The food allergies didn’t happen to me, the guests with food allergies did (see how quickly I distance my own foodie self from any suggestion of an allergy?). Two friends, food-lovers both, came to me with their tales of woe. One, (who is already vegetarian, for the love of God) has celiac disease, which means her small intestines can’t tolerate gluten – found in wheat, rye and barley. The other is getting tested for possible lactose-intolerance.

Gluten-free tapas...

Gluten-free tapas…

Now it does seem like food sensitivities and intolerances and flat-out allergies are on the rise in our population. The whole peanut thing has taken over many schools, which have nut-free areas. Gluten-free has been the latest way for companies to flog their products as ostensibly healthier because it has less of something.

Continue reading

Stilton and Toasted Walnut Balls (more Wilde party recipes)

23 Mar

Stilton is to England as Gorgonzola is to Italy, as Roquefort is to France, as Danish Blue is to …oh come on, must I?

As such, this blue cheese was the perfect choice for an Anglo-Irish themed evening during which we were reading Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and drinking Pimm’s and eating beef stew and shepherd’s pie and ushering in St. Patrick’s Day. If it was a bit of a mix of cultural culinary references…well that’s okay by me! I’m American; we screw this stuff up all the time. Just look at the eight page menus at a “Greek diner” and tell me how that makes any sense whatsoever.

A view of the welcome appetizer table. Hot food was later set out in the kitchen for self-service...

A view of the welcome appetizer table. Hot food was later set out in the kitchen for self-service…

So my friend David, who is actually quite famous for his good taste, and who kindly offered to help with the planning and preparations, found the following recipe for Stilton and Toasted Walnut Balls, originally from the BBC. I didn’t so much adapt it as make the instructions more specific to make it more user-friendly. I started it early in the morning and he finished it up a couple of hours before party time.

Rich (very rich, very, very rich) and crunchy and peppery, it has a terrific mix of things going on in every tiny bite. Twenty-six may not seem like much for a party of ten, but trust me, they are very satisfying and most people are not going to have more than two before looking for something more crisp and bracing to balance them.

Continue reading

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