An Impromtu Feast

It was a long day. Everyone was up too early and cranky. I knew The pizza I had started for dinner (chicken parm with onions and peppers and homemade sauce and pesto with grilled eggplant, hot Italian sausage, roasted tomatoes, and red pepper) wouldn’t be done in time for the kids and that I couldn’t wait until after they were in bed. So I had a little feast. The only thing missing was Alexa, and maybe a nice baguette. I made do with decent crackers.

My spread included grilled eggplant, white bean and roasted tomato spread, aged gouda from Trader Joe’s, and sausage. I dipped everything, except the cheese in the spread and layered things on crackers and sipped a glass of wine. I listened to Indigo Girls and remembered simpler times. I put the pizzas together around feeding too kids and holding one, then the other. It was a simple little late afternoon feast that was lovely at the end of a long day, but would have been better with company.

Grilled Eggplant

Technically, it’s not grilled, though you could

Slice eggplant on the diagonal. Sprinkle with coarse salt and layer between paper towels. Weigh it all down (a full tea kettle on top of a towel works nicely for this). Let sit for an hour or overnight.

Remove the weight and blot off any liquid beading on the eggplant.
Coat the bottom of a cookie sheet with olive oil. Spread the eggplant and drizzle with a little more olive oil. (Sometimes I sprinkle this with crushed red pepper flakes too.) Put into a 350 degree oven until the eggplant starts to brown slightly on the edges.
Cool and eat or store. Mine have been in the fridge for about a week and were still good. They are particularly good on pesto pizza.

White Bean–Roasted Tomato Spread

Roast tomatoes.
Drain and rinse can of cannellini beans. Put in a mini food processor with about a cup of roasted tomatoes and some of their oil. Process until smooth. Spread on bread or crackers or use as a dip with veggies (like grilled eggplant).

Coffee Hour Banana Bread

My neighbor Julie and I have a semi-regular coffee hour, though it’s become increasingly less regular lately. I bring cookies or brownies if I have them on hand, and if there is nothing else there are almost always overripe bananas on one of our counters or in one of our freezers. (I’ve been known to buy extra bananas so that they will get overripe and I’ll have them to bake with. She’s been known to find free ones at the co-op. Either way, overripe bananas are good to have on hand.)

Despite the calendar saying summer, it’s been cool and rainy here for too many days. I find myself drinking more coffee than I should just for warmth and wanting sweet comfort foods. Yesterday I made banana bread with chocolate chips. I have three banana breads that I really like:

  • my friend Kate’s greatgrandmother-in-law’s recipe that toasts up nicely and is great with peanut butter
  • Molly Wizenberg’s banana bread with chocolate and crystallized ginger from her Homemade Life (though in looking on her blog for the recipe to link to I found this, which I think I’ll have to try)
  • Julie’s recipe, which is what I decided to make.

I like banana bread as a bread, but this makes great muffins too, which need only 20 minutes of bake time (a plus in summer heat if you happen to get any of that or when you need coffee hour to start now! not in an hour). If you’re too lazy to spoon out muffins, but don’t want to wait an hour, pour the batter into a cake pan. It’s pretty versatile.

Coffee Hour Banana Bread

  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1+ c. mashed ripe bananas (about 4 small–medium bananas)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 c. white flour
  • 1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325° F. Grease loaf pan (or muffin tins or cake pan).  

Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and beat until fluffy. Add bananas and vanilla and mix well. Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl (I admit, I’m lazy and often don’t do this.) Add dry ingredients to the banana mixture and mix until just blended. Fold in the chocolate chips. 

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake loaf for about an hour, muffins for about 20 minutes, and cake for about 30 minutes. Top should be golden and a tooth pick inserted in the center should come out clean or with a few crumbs but no goopiness. Cool as long as you can stand it before serving.

If You Lived Here*, You’d Be Drinking Sangria Right Now

A Birthday Dinner Menu with Chocolate Cake

If you still lived here, you’d come over for birthday dinner. The weather would be perfect (not the cold damp it really is), and we’d have a fire in the chiminea. (Our children would be taken care of and nobody would wake up yelling mommee, mommeeee! And while I’m dreaming, they’d sleep late the next morning too. )

We’d drink sangria and eat tapas (which somehow we are cooking and enjoying while outside by the fire).

We’d have olives and cheese to start. Then we’d eat spanish tortilla and garlicky shrimp (I’ll forget for a moment that you eat neither eggs nor shrimp. It’s my birthday after all). We’d have roasted tomatoes with garlic and olive oil and grilled asparagus. We’d have cheesy stuffed portabellos. And we’d sop up olive oil and juice from all our food with bread.

Then, feeling really full, we’d have flourless chocolate cake with raspberries and barely sweetened whipped cream. (And since the kids are sleeping in we have dark roasted coffee with plenty of cream.)

Given the title, I should be writing about sangria here, but what’s a birthday without cake.

Flourless Chocolate Cake
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 stick butter (every recipe I’ve looked at calls for unsalted, but I always have salted on hand and use that)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 375° F and grease an 8- or 9-inch round cake pan (a springform pan is great, but not necessary) pan. Line bottom with a round of parchment paper (This is important especially if you use a regular cake pan as the cake is quite likely to stick).

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In the top of a double boiler, melt chocolate with butter over barely boiling water, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk until fully combined. Add 1/2 cup cocoa powder to the chocolate mixture (if you are not lazy, sift the cocoa powder over the chocolate mixture) and whisk until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in middle of the oven for 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate.

This is dense and rich and excellent as I described above with raspberries and whipped cream. It also makes a truly decadent layer cake described below.

Flourless Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate Butter Frosting and Ganache Glaze

Make two flourless chocolate cakes as described above.

While they are cooking or even before, make the filling. (It takes a while to chill.)

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 4 Tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup butter ,softened
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

In a medium sauce pan, combine sugar, cornstarch, and cocoa powder and blend well. Gradually stir in the milk, and cook over medium heat until mixture thickens and boils, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (I find it usually takes longer) or until thoroughly cool.

In a large mixer bowl, beat butter and powdered sugar until well blended. Gradually add cooled chocolate mixture. Beat until light and fluffy.

Make the glaze.

  • 3/4 c. whipping cream
  • 8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Place the chopped chocolate in a heavy, heat resistant mixing bowl.

Place the cream in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat. While stirrring, bring just to a boil, stirring. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Put it all together:

Place one cake on serving plate (you can frost the plate under it lightly to keep the cake from sliding). Spread a thick layer of frosting on top of the first cake. It’s optional to cover with raspberries, but I like the way the raspberries break up the chocolate a little. (I usually use raspberries I’ve frozen myself, though I’m sure fresh would be fine. My experience with commercially frozen raspberries, has been that they leak a lot more juice—and don’t taste as good.) Place second cake on top of the frosting/raspberries. Pour glaze over cake and smooth with a flat spatula. You can use any extra frosting to decorate top and sides of cake.

Cut small slices as this is really rich.

*I try not to start things with “if you still lived here,” but I will today, just for my birthday.

Lemon chicken and feta rice

I’m back too, and, my excuse was that I had a baby and I was lucky to get dinner on the table never mind write about it. But we’re settled in and I’m in on the rice theme. I made this for a pot luck dinner tonight. I wanted something quick that didn’t require a long cook because it’s too hot out for that. Oh, and it had to be gluten free.

My ” inspiration” was the package of feta that’s been sitting in my fridge since my last trip to Trader Joe’s and the thin sliced chicken breasts on sale.

For the chicken you’ll need:

  • juice and zest of one lemon
  • 1/3 c. olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped, fresh parsley
  • coarsely ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 lbs chicken breast, pounded or sliced thin

For the rice, you’ll need:

  • 3/4 cup rice (I used a wild rice blend)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 lb. spinach or one big bunch
  • juice from half a lemon
  • 4-5 oz. feta cheese

Mix the lemon juice and zest, olive oil, parsley and garlic in a container you can marinate in. Pepper the chicken, toss in the marinade and let sit for about an hour. 

While chicken is marinating, cook the rice. Set aside in a serving bowl.

Heat oil in a skillet and add the chicken (pour extra marinade into the pan). Cook for about 5 minutes; flip. Cook until both sides are slightly browned and chicken is cooked through. I did this in two batches. 

Remove chicken to a plate. Add a little more olive oil to the skillet. Add spinach to the pan and cook until wilted. Put the spinach in the bowl with the rice. Pour the pan juices and any juices that have accumulated on the chicken plate in with the rice and spinach. Add the additional lemon juice and feta. Mix it all together.

Serve the chicken over the rice.

We ate this warm, but I think it will be good cold too—I’ll let you know.

You could make a vegetarian version of this that would probably be tasty, but I think the garlicy chickeny flavor really added a lot to the rice.

Rice and ____ Gratin

Wow, we are a couple of blog slackers. I don’t know what Sara’s excuse is, but I’ve been in a major cooking rut for quite some time. Cooking for 2 kids and no other adults just got depressing. But…good news! My other half got a new job and is home for dinner at least 4 nights a week now, which has breathed new life into my menu planning.

This week I tried a new recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, Simple Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin. Scratch that. This is THE favorite cookbook in my house. Every single recipe is easy to prepare and full of flavor. There is seriously not one thing we’ve tried that we weren’t happy with. The recipe I made this week was Rice and Leek Gratin. It takes a little advance planning because you need to have 2-3 cups of cooked rice on hand, but is also a great way to use leftover rice. I did made a few modifications to the recipe and would make a few more if I made it again, which I’m sure I will because everyone loved it. One note, you could easily add any other veggies to this. I felt like the leeks alone would be a bit blah so I threw in some mushrooms, and I could picture many other additions–carrots, broccoli, etc–depending on what’s in your garden or market.

1 cup rice uncooked
2 1/2 cups stock or water (I used veg stock)
2-3 leeks, cleaned, trimmed and thinly sliced.
1 tsp fresh chopped thyme
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
1 cup shredded gruyere or other swiss cheese (I used jarlsberg because I’m cheap!)
1/4 cup breadcrumbs mixed with 1 tsp olive oil

Cook the rice. I like to toast mine in a teeny bit of butter before adding the stock.

Saute the leeks in a bit of olive oil until tender. Add any other veggies you’re using. Stir in the thyme and let mixture cool down to room temp.

Mix the veggies in with the rice. Stir in the milk, egg, and some salt and pepper. Stir in the shredded cheese. Press rice mixture into a 2 quart casserole. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top. Bake at 375 for about 30 mintutes, until the breadcrumbs are toasted.

The end of summer

We’ve had two terrible years for tomatoes. Last year was hopelessly wet and late blight ruined much of the crop around here. This year has been terribly dry and my tomato plants drooped and withered. I didn’t have time to water daily, and as the summer wore on we had watering restrictions in place. We got some tomatoes, but not what we should have given the 24 plants I put in, and the tomatoes we did get were small, not the big oval globes I expect of Amish paste, more like a traditional Roma.

Usually we puree our tomatoes and simmer it down to a simple base the we freeze and use later in sauces and chilis, but this year we never got enough at one time to do that with.

So I roasted my tomatoes garlic and olive oil, and I can’t really complain. This is almost worth doing just for the smell. The oven is on for two hours, so it’s a good end of summer, cool day project.

Roasted Tomatoes

Amounts can vary. If you have more tomatoes, add a little more garlic.

  • 12 plum tomatoes
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil + 1/3 c. olive oil
  • salt  to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Spread 2 Tbsp. olive oil on the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.
  3. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Place cut side up in the pan.
  4. Mince garlic. Press a little garlic into each tomato half. Drizzle with the rest of the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.

    Tomatoes ready to roast

  5. Bake for two hours. Baste every half hour with the olive oil and drippings in the pan. When you baste in the second hour, push the tomatoes around to keep them from sticking too much.
  6. Remove from oven and allow to cool some.

Roasted tomatoes

At this point, you can start using the tomatoes as is, or you can chop them. I usually put them in my mini-food processor for a quick spin.

These are good right out of the pan, especially if you have some good bread to sop up the juices. I’ve spread the puree on bread, mixed the puree with mashed cannellini beans as a dip or spread, coated and baked chicken with it, and tossed the roasted tomatoes with pasta. It also freezes well if you need to save a little summer for colder days.

For the love of leftovers

Salmon and Salmon hash

We had salmon last night. I intended to cook it in the oven, but the brief return of summer made the grill look more appealing. I did a half-hearted, quick marinade. Brian grilled it, and we ate with wild rice and spinach sauteed with garlic. And there was plenty left over.

I like salmon, enjoy it for dinner, but usually when I buy it, my mind is on the next morning and salmon hash.

We usually eat it with cheesy eggs. Today, I cooked down some chopped plum tomatoes and resauteed the spinach before I added the eggs. Mmmm. What’s not to like about left-overs?

Salmon hash

  • leftover salmon
  • potatoes (baked the night before)
  • onion
  • salt and pepper
  • parsley
  • butter
  • olive oil
  1. Chop an onion, sprinkle with salt, and saute in a little butter and olive oil until just starting to brown.
  2. Add chopped baked potatoes. Drizzle with a little more oil, and pepper heavily. Add the salmon, chopped coarsely. It will flake apart more as it cooks.
  3. Keep cooking until all ingredients are heated through and potatoes start to brown a bit.
  4. Sprinkle with chopped, fresh parsley.
  5. Serve with cheesy scrambled eggs.