Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Zen of Morning Rituals: Coffee

What does morning mean to me?  Since I am an optimist, I like to consider that magical transition between dark and daylight as pure ripening potential: a time to open my mind to all the possibilities and new experiences looming on-the-horizon, coming my way for the plucking.

As part of my morning wake up, I typically head for the kitchen to prepare a lively pot of hot coffee; it’s my signal that a new day is underway.   

Over a fresh cup of well-made coffee, I spend a little time in quiet contemplation: I write a bit, set a few goals, and I create a list of my to-dos for the day ahead.   Since I look forward to this special time, my morning coffee has become associated with comfort, anticipation, pleasure, and creativity. 

My coffee making history is also a reflection of an ever-changing lifestyle. For many years the plug-in coffee maker with the drip filter was just fine.  It was during those hectic days that the novelty of a built-in timer became a must-have addition. When espresso makers hit the market I was all over that.  During this period, a favorite called the three-in-one made filter coffee, espresso, and also frothed milk for lattes and cappuccinos.  What could be better?! 

When I lived in Florida, the Cuban influence took over and I got hooked on the simple stove-top aluminum espresso maker.  However, I finally had to admit that a little of this espresso was like drinking jet fuel, that the jolt was rocket propelled, and perhaps more suitable for an afternoon pick-me-up. 
This was also a time of serious weather upheavals; we had one wild hurricane after another.  I was in luck.  Armed with the stove-top espresso method and my propane catering stove, I was set and assured of my morning coffee ― under any conditions.    

I’ve always believed the French press was a kinder and gentler way of preparing and enjoying coffee.  In this Zen manner (if that is possible), the coffee beans are not ‘cooked’ over high heat; rather, briskly boiling spring water (preferably) is held briefly to reduce its heat, then a slight amount is poured over the freshly ground beans ― allowing them to expand and bloom.  More very hot water is poured over the ground beans and then allowed to stand for a few minutes to further develop their essential flavors and aroma.  

With that approach to coffee, you can well imagine my reaction.  A small individual portion would surely not suffice.  It was not long before a larger unit was mandatory.  

I have since moved on to an even bigger and better  48 ounce thermal press, plus an electric water kettle ― for the maximum Zen experience. 

Ah, yes, there’s nothing like a fresh cup of coffee to launch my day. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Soup’s On!

According to my calendar, today officially marks the start of fall, and if this weekend’s grey and rainy conditions are any indication, it would appear that it has arrived promptly on schedule.    

Coaxed indoors, I have picked up the challenge launched with last week’s blog and seized the opportunity to expand my chard repertoire and to keep up with my garden’s burgeoning crop. This rapid reprieve from summer’s incessant heat has once again opened the door to all the welcoming possibilities of soup. 

One of my favorite go-to sites for such cooking ideas is   I tend to relate to their food style and I can usually find reliable ideas such as Michael Romano’s Secret-Ingredient Soup.  My imagination was instantly sparked by his chard soup incorporating a good chicken stock, onion, leeks, and carrots, Italian sausage ― and his mystery ingredient, cornmeal.

Armed with this great starting place, I’ve taken Michael’s basic premise and made a few adjustments of my own.  For a little heartier soup, I substituted a link of Spanish linguica, included white beans and added a bit of fresh sage and rosemary from the garden.

Thank you, Michael, for this lovely taste of fall in a bowl. 

Hearty Chard, Bean and Linguica Soup
Inspired by Michael Romano's Secret-Ingredient Soup at  From his book, Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home by Michael Romano and Karen Stabiner, © 2013 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
3/4 cup finely chopped peeled carrot
3/4 cup well-washed thinly sliced leeks
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon dried oregano
8 ounces Spanish linguica sausage, cut up
2 tablespoons medium-grind cornmeal (polenta)
5 cups Chicken or Vegetable Stock
1 ½ cups cooked white beans, such as cannellini or mayo coba
1 teaspoon minced rosemary
1 teaspoon minced sage
4 cups packed stemmed and coarsely chopped kale or chard leaves, or a combination
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving

1.       Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, leeks, garlic, salt, black pepper, Aleppo pepper, fennel and oregano and cook, stirring, until the onion becomes translucent, 8 to 10 minutes, and remove from pot.
2.       Cook the sausage to lightly brown, about 5 minutes; remove and drain.
3.      Drain off the excess fat in pot and return vegetables to the pan.   Stir in the cornmeal. Add the stock, stirring, and bring to a boil.  Add the cooked beans, rosemary, and sage; reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4.       Stir in the greens and cook for 15 minutes more, or until tender.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with grated Parmigiano.  Serves 4 to 6. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Season's Bounty: Chard Torta with Creamy Basil Sauce

My chard crop has officially gone crazy.  Now, when my neighbors see me coming they have begun to back away with eyes glazed over, demurring, “No more chard, thank you.”

Swiss chard is a beautiful and wondrous asset to any garden, especially the rainbow variety, with its brilliant green leaves. Their tall spires generously unfurl amidst a thicket of red, yellow, and orange stems.  One of the benefits of including this friendly vegetable in my garden is that I can avoid the old woody bunches frequently sold at the market.  Instead, I can select younger leaves and pick them while their stems are tender and require minimal cooking. 

Fortunately, I am not even close to tiring of chard, yet.   Not only is it tasty and filling, it is roaring with nutritional value.  As with its relatives, spinach and kale, chard has plenty of vitamin A, C, and K, plus a generous a supply of iron, potassium, and magnesium.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before the combination of chard and millet would collide and become one in my kitchen, like star-crossed lovers.   I will restrain from my praise of millet, since that is a well-known fact here.  Suffice to say, the humble millet provides a perfect backdrop for this torta’s big flavors of chard, bacon, and Coppa ham ― all handsomely bound together with eggs and cheese.  It’s a nice addition to a Sunday brunch and is easily reheated for a mid-week dinner. 

A creamy basil sauce adds the perfect topping and finish for this torta.  The delicious pesto included in the sauce can also be found in the index; or simply scroll back to the previous post, and find it along with another reason to make pesto! 

Chard & Millet Torta
with Creamy Basil Sauce
1 cup millet
1 ¾ cup boiling water
1/3 cup mixed fresh herbs, chopped, such as oregano, thyme, savory
1 tsp. butter of olive oil plus ½ cup bread crumbs or Panko for lining baking dish
4 bacon strips, cut into ½” slices
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
8 cups chard leaves, cleaned, drained, then chopped
2 cups tender stems, chopped
6 eggs
½ tsp. dried chile flakes
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated, and divided
2/3 cup milk
½ tsp. salt
5 slices Coppa ham, sliced into ½” strips

1.  Prepare the millet by adding 1 cup to 1 ¾ boiling water and simmering partially covered until water evaporates and millet is tender, about 20 minutes.  Place in large bowl with herbs and cool.
2.  Coat a large quiche dish or other 2 qt. oven ware with 1 tsp. butter or olive oil and dust it with ½ cup bread crumbs or panko.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
3.  In a sauté pan, cook the bacon until almost crisp, remove and drain.  Cook the onion in about 1 Tbsp. bacon fat until soft; add the garlic and cook 1 minute. 
4. Add the chard stems and cook about 3 minutes.  Stir in the moist chard leaves and toss to wilt slightly, cover loosely and cook 8 – 10 minutes.
5.  Meanwhile, combine the eggs, 1/3 Parmesan, through the salt.  When the chard is cooked, stir it into the millet.   Pour in the egg and milk mixture, then the bacon and the Coppa ham. 
6.  Pour mixture evenly into prepared dish and bake covered for about 40 minutes.  Sprinkle with 1/3 cup Parmesan and bake additional 10-15 minutes or until top begins to brown. Remove and allow to rest a few minutes before cutting.  Serves 4.

Basil Cream Sauce
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 chicken bouillon cube dissolved in 1 cup hot water
1 1/3 cup milk
1/8  tsp. Tabasco sauce, or to taste
1 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated
2 Tbsp. pesto
1-2 Tbsp. minced green onion

1.  In sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter and stir in the flour, cooking with whisk for 2 minutes; add the garlic, stir for a minute to incorporate well.   
2.  Slowly stir in the bouillon mixture to form paste.  Add the milk and whisk until thick, stirring in the Tabasco and the Parmesan.  When well blended and smooth add the pesto; stir in the minced onion; adjust seasoning and serve. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Summer Time Pizza

I love summer pizza when sun ripe herbs and vegetables are at their peak.  Here is a sublime version we recently devoured that is crowned with a glorious tomato-basil salad.

Basil, oh Basil!
 As I pulled the pizza from the oven, the heady aroma of garlic, basil, and cheese was almost too much to bear. Fortunately there is little down time since the last minute topping of the flavorful lemony-dressed arugula salad is ready and waiting.   

We were so into enjoying the pizza that we did not even spare the time to snap a photo of this beauty. Trust me, it is both beautiful and delicious.

The fact is, this yummy pizza is all about the pesto, and amazingly, it seems I have previously failed to provide a recipe for it. 

So, if pesto making is on your horizon,  now is the time to find a good supply of fresh basil, pull out the blender or food processor, and give this one a whirl. The pine nuts are not essential, but they greatly enhance the pesto and provide the mysterious smoky ingredient that binds the texture and flavors of the olive oil, basil, garlic and Parmesan cheese.  Enjoy!

Summer Pizza topped with Tomato-Basil Salad
·         1 Pizza Crust, prebaked
·         1/3 cup fresh pesto (see below)
·         2 roasted red peppers, skinned and seeded, cut into strips
·         ½ large sweet onion, such as Walla Walla, peeled and cut into strips
·         1 cup grated melting cheese such as mozzarella or Muenster, divided
·         2 oz. dry Coppa or prosciutto ham, cut into strips
·         1/3 cup Parmesan cheese grated
·         1 ½  cups sliced baby tomatoes
·         18 or more arugula or romaine leaves cut into thin strips (about 3 cups)
·         1/3 cup fresh basil, julienned
·         juice of ½ lemon (about 2 Tbsps.)
·         1 clove garlic, crushed
·         ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
·         ¼ tsp. salt and pepper, each
·         2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
·         1/3 cup olive oil
For the Pizza:
1.       Spread the crust with a thin film of of pesto.
2.       Cover the pesto with a  layer of onions, then the red pepper.  Sprinkle the vegetables with half of the mozzarella or Muenster.
3.       Top the cheese with a layer of Coppa strips, then the remaining cheese, and finally the Parmesan.
4.       Bake in 425 degree oven for 8-10 minutes or until cheese begins to bubble and brown.
Allow to cool slightly before cutting.
For the Salad and Dressing:
1.       For dressing, in a small jar combine the lemon juice through 1 Tbsp. Parmesan.  Add the olive oil and shake until thick.  The dressing can be made ahead. 
2.       Shortly before serving, place tomatoes, lettuce and basil in a bowl.

To assemble pizza, toss the salad with the dressing until well coated.
Spread the pizza with tomato-arugula salad or drape individual pizza slices with a spoonful of the salad. Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese and serve. Serves 2, or more, maybe.

Pinoli Pesto  
·         2 heaping cups basil leaves, stems removed; washed and dried
·         2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
·         ½  tsp. salt
·         ¼  tsp. black pepper or red pepper flakes
·         1/3  cup pine nuts, toasted
·         1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
·         2/3 cup olive oil

Place all except olive oil in container of blender.  Slowly add the olive oil and blend until all leaves are incorporated and pesto is thick, with a slight grainy consistency.  Yield:  1 cup.  Store in refrigerator. 


Related Posts with Thumbnails