Saturday, December 31, 2011

To All of You

To all of you who read Carb Diva, thank you for your support. Please take a moment to let me know:
  • what you love about this blog (if anything)
  • what you don't like
  • what you want to see in 2012
I wish all of you a blessed New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

K.I.S.S.


Tomorrow a very dear friend will be having dinner with us. She's half Italian, so I'll be cooking Italian gravy with pasta. We'll have crostini as an appetizer and a salad with arugula and grape tomatoes.

But, what will we have for dessert? I thought about making tiramisu, or a zablione, but then my older daughter brought home something new from the grocery store--Jello Pudding "Candy Cane" flavor. That reminded me of a recipe I found years ago in a Pillsbury Bake Off Dessert Cook Book. I have the 1968 issue which includes "Neapolitan Cheesecake".


Neapolitan Cheesecake

Crust
1 cup flour
1/2 cup coarsely crushed after dinner mints
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup butter or margarine

In small mixer bowl, combine flour, candy, and vanilla. Cut in butter, using low speed of mixer until mixture is crumbly. Press into bottom of a 9-inch square pan. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 12-15 minutes or until delicately browned. Cool.


Neapolitan Filling
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 envelope (1 tablespoon) unflavored gelatin
3/4 cup milk
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese
2 egg whites
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup (6-oz. pkg) semi-sweet chocolate pieces, melted
2 tablespoons crushed after dinner mints


In saucepan, combine 1/3 cup sugar, salt, and gelatin. Add milk and slightly beaten egg yolks. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat. Add cream cheese; allow to soften, then beat with rotary beater until smooth. Cool until slightly thickened. In small mixer bowl, combine egg whites and vanilla. Beat at high speed until foamy. Add sugar gradually, continuing to beat until stiff, glossy peaks form. Fold into gelatin mixture. Divide in half. Pour melted chocolate into one portion. Spoon into baked crust. Spoon vanilla filling over chocolate. Sprinkle on crushed candy after dinner mints. Chill at least 2 hours before serving.

*********************************

OK, it's a great recipe, but all that cooking, stirring, beating, whipping, whipping...phew, I'm exhausted just reading it! Here's what Carb Diva did:

Carb Diva Peppermint Cheesecake

Crust
1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter or margarine

Place flour and butter in small mixer bowl. Cut in butter, using low speed of mixer until mixture is crumbly. Press into bottom of a 9-inch square pan. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 12 to 15 minutes or until delicately browned. Cool.

Peppermint Filling
1 pkg. (8 oz.) reduced fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1 pkg. Jello instant "candy cane" pudding mix
1 3/4 cups cold non-fat milk
4 oz (1/2 tub) Cool Whip whipped topping, thawed

Place cream cheese and dry pudding mix in bowl of stand mixer. Beat with wire whisk attachment until creamy and well-blended. Pour in milk and beat on slow speed 2 minutes (mixture will be thin). Let sit for 2 minutes, then fold in whipped topping. Spread on top of COOLED crust. Cover with platic wrap and chill at least 2 hours before serving.

For those of you puzzled about the title for today's blog? It's all about taking a complicated recipe and making it easier. It's not identical, but it's still pretty good. You just need to remember to "Keep It Simple Silly".

Friday, December 23, 2011

I'm in awe of a new blog

I visit quite a few blogs each day--some I enjoy for their content--innovative recipes; some are just so very well written--their words paint such a wonderful picture that I can see, taste, and smell the foods they describe. A few blogs are written by friends. And then, there's the one I discovered today. The Yellow House (http://casayellow.com) is so beautifully photographed!

I've not yet tried any of their recipes, but hope to do that this weekend.

I'll write back and let you know what I've discovered. In the meantime, visit Yellow House--I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Preparing for Christmas Brunch--Potato Casserole

Photo: www.myrecipes.com
We're just one week away from Christmas. Lights are on the porch, the tree is up (and has been de-ornamented by our new kitty at least 3 times!), and packages are wrapped. I've made three types of cookies, and hope to get at least one more completed.

A few days ago I shared with you "My Best Cinnamon Rolls" recipe. My family also likes breakfast casseroles with some combination of potatoes, cheese, onions, and creamy wonderfulness. Last year I prepared Cheesy Potato Casserole and shared that recipe with you. This year, I'm going to try a more heart-healthy recipe from the good people at www.CookingLight.com:



Hash Brown Casserole with Bacon, Onions, and Cheese
  • 6 bacon slices (see NOTE below)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (32-ounce) package frozen Southern-style hash brown potatoes
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) pre-shredded Classic Melts Four Cheese blend, divided
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (10.75-ounce) can condensed 30% reduced-sodium, 98% fat-free cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • Cooking spray
Cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, and crumble. Discard drippings in pan. Add 1 cup onion and garlic to pan; cook for 5 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in the potatoes; cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Combine crumbled bacon, 1/4 cup cheese, green onions, sour cream, salt, pepper, and soup in a large bowl. Add potato mixture; toss gently to combine. Spoon mixture into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup cheese. Cover with foil coated with cooking spray. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Remove casserole from refrigerator; let stand at room temperature 15 minutes. Bake casserole, covered, at 350º for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes or until bubbly around edges and cheese begins to brown.


6 servings

NOTE: I will make this recipe vegetarian by omitting the bacon and sauteing the onions and garlic in 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Vegetarian bacon (cooked according to package directions) or vegetarian sausage can be added if you wish.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Preparing for Christmas Brunch--My best cinnamon rolls

Some of you have asked why I've not been posting as frequently as I had in the past. In my heart and mind I want to post something every day, but these past few weeks at work have been extremely busy. Perhaps things will slow down a bit between Christmas and New Years.

Christmas! Can you believe it's just a little over one week away?

I've also slowed down on my baking of Christmas goodies--partly from lack of time, and partly because I really don't need the temptation of a dozen different kinds of cookies beckoning me to "have just one more". At the last appointment with my doctor, I tried to convince him that the jeans I was wearing weigh 10 pounds, but he wasn't buying into it.

Sigh.

So this year I'm making a few favorite cookies and immediately giving them away to friends and family. But I am still planning our traditional Christmas brunch.

Last year I experimented with a cinnamon roll filled with apples. (Cinnamon Spiral Rolls). Everyone loved them, but I think this year I'll go back to my original recipe--the one I've been using for almost 30 years. The recipe for "My Best Cinnamon Rolls" comes from a "Best of Postal Recipes (1983)" that my brother and sister-inlaw gave to me. It's a compilation of recipes from all of the chapters of the National Association of Letter Carriers--an amazing collection (over 800 pages) of recipes from all parts of our United States. Tried and true, home-cooking recipes. Thank you to Mary Medcalf, Washington State, #202 for the Best Cinnamon Rolls:

My Best Cinnamon Rolls
1 cup boiling water
1 cup instant mashed potatoes
1 cup scalded milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 pkg. dry yeast
2 eggs, beaten
5 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup raisins

In large bowl, mix boiling water and instant mashed potatoes. Add scalded milk, oil, salt, sugar, dry yeast and beat well. Add eggs and flour, cup by cup, and knead 15 minutes. Put in warm place and let rise 1-2 hours.

Divide in half and roll out each half to 10x15-inch rectangle. Spread melted butter on each half of dough.  Mix sugar and cinnamon together; distribute evenly over dough. Add raisins and nuts; roll up and cut  each roll into 6 pieces. Put into 2 greased 9-inch pans and let rise 1 hour. Bake 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Serendipity

I love to create contrasts in the foods I serve my friends and family. Pairing creamy with crunchy, or sweet with savory is what makes food interesting and enjoyable. Even the lowly scoop of vanilla ice cream is elevated (no pun intended) when placed atop a crisp waffle cone.

Last evening I experimented on my family and found a serendipitous combination of sweet and savory, creamy and crunchy that they raved about.


Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Squash and Gorgonzola
1 small butternut squash
1 tablespoon butter
1 500-gram (17.6 oz.) pkg. potato gnocchi
1 1/4 cups half and half
1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola
3 tablespoons hazelnuts, crushed
grated Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

Peel, seed, and dice (about 1/2-inch) squash--enough to make about 2 cups. Heat butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender and well browned. Remove from pan and set aside.

In the same saute pan, bring the half and half to a simmer over low heat. Add the Gorgonzola and stir until the cheese begins to melt.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil over medium-high heat. Cook gnocchi according to package directions. Drain and add to the half and half/Gorgonzola mixture in the saute pan. Add the cooked diced squash and stir gently until all of the gnocchi and squash are coated with sauce and are heated through.

Garnish with hazelnuts and Parmesan cheese. (Makes 4 or 5 generous servings)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Too much decadence!

Photograph: Claire Barboza (www.seriouseats.com)
My blog-friend at www.cakespy.com has published her first book (Cakespy presents 'Sweet Treats for a Sugar-Filled Life'), and it's just as amazing as her website. The only thing that tops Jessie Oleson's sweet tooth is her imagination.


All of her creations sound amazing--the type of thing I'll consume in Heaven when I don't have to worry about inches on my hips. In the meantime, I partake of her genius slowly and cautiously. But sometimes, care needs to be abandoned!


Today was one of those days--Tuesday morning Bible study with brunch. I've brought cakes, pies, and cookies. Hmmm, what about something that combines all of those? Wack-a-doodle? No, Jessie has done that. Here's her recipe for "Cookie Cake Pie."



Cake-Spy Cookie Cake Pie
1 batch (about 2 cups) of your favorite cookie dough, homemade or store-bought
1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
1/2 batch of your favorite cake batter, homemade or from a mix
2 to 3 cups frosting or other topping, such as whipped cream

First, prepare the cookie dough. If you choose to use the kind that comes in a tube from the supermarket, I promise I will not judge you. Whichever you choose, be sure to bring the cookie dough to room temperature before assembling the pie, so that it will be easier to spread.

Place the pie dough in a 9-inch pie plate.

Place the cookie dough on top of the pie crust and, using your fingers or the back of a spoon, spread the dough so that it evenly coats the bottom of the crust. It should be about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. You will probably have extra cookie dough. Set your cookie dough-filled pie crust aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the cake batter as specified in your recipe and then pour it directly on top of the cookie dough until the pie crust is about two-thirds filled (the cake will rise, so you want to leave room for it to do so). You will probably have leftover cake batter.

Place the filled pie plate on a baking sheet (to catch any drips). To ensure that the sides of the cake don't bake too fast, gently place a piece of aluminum foil along the perimeter of the pie, leaving the center exposed.

Put your weighty pie-monster in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes. At this point, take the pie out of the oven and remove the aluminum foil; return to the oven and bake for another 15 to 25 minutes, or until the top is domed and golden, and a cake tester comes out mostly clean. Since the types of dough and batter will vary depending on the choices you've made, you might want to start checking for doneness after the initial 30 minutes.

Let cool. If the pretty domed top of your pie collapses, don't despair; it is just more of a void to fill with frosting. Frost generously with your choice of topping. Garnish as desired.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day - the turkey

Turkey is not a carb. It's a protein. But, I've been asked "how do you fix your turkey?" So, allow me for one day to divert from carbohydrates to an American roast turkey dinner.

We start with one 20-pound turkey. I'm sorry, maybe you wanted something less, but when you consider how incredibly cheap turkey is, how can you consider anything less than 20  pounds? You can use the leftovers in so many (wonderful) ways, and I promise that I'll share some recipes with you next week. And turkey meat freezes beautifully.


What you will need
20 pound turkey
roasting pan WITH lid
roasting pan rack

You will need a covered roasting pan to make this work. Don't do the foil disposable pan. Don't do the open pan. You MUST have a roasting pan with a cover.

Remove the wrapping, the plastic leg ties, the neck and whatever other goodies might be hiding in a bag inside. Rinse your turkey well and then pat dry.

Place the turkey upside-down in the pan on the roasting rack. Most recipes say "breast up". I always roast "breast down" so that the juices trickle down to keep the breast meat moist.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Place the upside-down turkey (uncovered at this point) in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. This will destroy any bacteria lingering on the outside of the turkey.

After 30 minutes, place the lid on the turkey and lower the temperature to 275 degrees F. Roast for 4 hours.

At this point, your turkey will be done--moist, succulent, tender, and most of all--SAFE!

Allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes, and then carve and serve. Or, do as I do--cook your turkey one day before you plan to serve it. Allowing it to rest even more than 30 minutes makes carving super easy, and you can reserve the drippings, refrigerate overnight, and skim the fat from the top to make a healthier gravy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving -- the pumpkin pie


I have a confession to make. I've been holding onto this secret for far too long. It has to do with honesty. I've not actually lied, but I've not told the entire truth either. Isn't withholding information the same as a lie?

Sigh. OK, I'm going to lay it out here for my family and friends. For years I have been serving you tofu in the guise of pumpkin pie. There, I've said it!

I feel better already.

So why use tofu in a pumpkin pie? Years ago when my younger daughter was vegan (no animal products of any kind) I was desperate to find ways to prepare our traditional foods without the use of eggs or dairy products. I discovered this recipe and found that not only did it not taste of tofu, it was also easier to prepare. Traditional pumpkin pie recipes call for eggs--under cook the filling and you have pumpkin goop; overcook and you have pumpkin rubber.

This recipe is fool-proof:

Tofu Pumpkin Pie
1 can (16 oz.) pureed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 pkg (10-12 oz.) soft tofu, processed in blender until smooth (DON'T USE LOW-FAT TOFU)
1 9-inch unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Cream the pumpkin and sugar. Add salt, spices, and tofu and mix thoroughly. Pour mixture into pie shell and bake for 15 minutes. Lower heat to 350 degrees F. and bake for another 40 minutes.

Chill and serve.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving - the salad: Asparagus/Wild Rice Salad

Photo: www.washingtonasparagus.com
tra·di·tion
noun - 1) the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, etc.; 2) a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting.


Tradition. I know that every year on Thanksgiving we will eat turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberries, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. I know that I can depend on my sisters-inlaw to make fruit salad with marshmallows, a green salad, and a macaroni salad with sweet relish. That's our tradition.


And, my family knows that I'm always looking for something out of the ordinary for our family potlucks. That's also a part of our tradition.

Here's a very different salad from the Washington Asparagus Growers Commission:

Northwest Asparagus Wild Rice Salad
2 cups wild rice (uncooked)
3 cups fresh asparagus (sliced thinly, diagonally)
1 cup smoked salmon (slice in small chunks)
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 cup red bell pepper, sliced


Cook wild rice according to package directions. Rinse in cold water. Combine asparagus, salmon, cranberries, red bell pepper, and cooled cooked wild rice. Mix well. Combine dressing ingredients. Toss dressing with salad.


Dressing:
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1/2 tsp. salt

Countdown to Thanksgiving - the salad: Green Bean Salad

Today's recipe is a very simple one, but one that has been in our family for many years.

The holidays have always meant family get-together and get-together always means potluck. Believe me, that is the only way--when you assemble all of the aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, and grandkids we are a BIG group!

My mother-inlaw always brought the green bean salad:

Grandma Eleanore's Green Bean Salad
1 can green beans
1 can wax beans
1 can kidney beans
1 can garbanzo beans
1 green pepper, cut into strips
1 medium onion, cut into rings

Drain vegetables and mix. Make dressing and pour over vegetables. Allow to marinate overnight.


Dressing:
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cooking oil
1 tsp. salt
pepper to taste

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving - the appetizer: Cheese Torta

A few weeks ago my daughter told me about a savory cheesecake she had sampled at Corina Bakery (best bakery in Tacoma!). It was creamy, tangy, and layered with pesto, sun dried tomatoes, and kalamata olives.

Most people would think to themselves "Hmmm, I need to go there and try it." But I'm not "most people". Any time I hear of a wonderful meal at a restaurant (see my posts regarding Olive Garden), or see an amazing slice of bliss in a bakery, I take it on as a personal challenge.

Carb Diva Mediterranean Cheese Torta
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup basil pesto
1/2 cup oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, drained
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup kalamata olives, finely minced

Line a 2 cup container (preferably plastic) with two layers of cheesecloth. Set aside.

Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until very smooth and creamy. Spoon 1/4 of the cream cheese into the bottom of the prepared container.

Spoon the pesto evenly over the cheese. Add a second layer of cheese.

Place the sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Spread the tomato layer over the cream cheese.

Follow with a third layer of cream cheese, then the minced olives, and finally the last 1/4 of the cream cheese.

Fold up the edges of the cheesecloth to cover the top of the cream cheese. Press gently to compact. Cover airtight and chill until firm, at least one hour and up to one day.

To serve, fold back the cheesecloth, invert the container onto a serving plate and remove the container and cheesecloth.

Serve with crackers or crostini.



.

Friday, November 4, 2011

One potato, two potato.... (or another Carb Diva "surf and turf")

I love breakfast--in fact, I'm happy to have "breakfast for dinner" But pancakes, waffles or cinnamon rolls are not really my thing. My number one love is potatoes--creamy and whipped, fluffy and baked, or crispy fried.


Today I had three potatoes in my pantry--one russet and two yams. And a large sweet onion.


What to do?


My thoughts turned to hash. But what protein could/should I pare with a mix of potatoes that are somewhat sweet/somewhat earthy? Ham or bacon are obvious. But I don't do obvious.


...And then I noticed the smoked salmon tidbits in the seafood section of my local grocer. They're not beautiful fillets--but who needs beautiful fillets when you're making hash? Little bits are just fine. And smoked salmon with dense russets, sweet yams, and creamy sauteed onions sound like a perfect match to me.

Carb Diva Smoked Salmon Hash
1 large russet potato
2 medium-sized yams
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 pound smoked salmon
1 tsp.dill weed

Using a small paring knife, pierce the russet potato in several places. Microwave for 3 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the peel and dice the potato.

Pare the yams and dice (about 1/2 inch).

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the diced onion and cook until softened and just beginning to turn golden. Add the pared/diced russet potato and the yams. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until golden.

Mince the smoked salmon and add to the potato/onion hash. Continue to cook and stir until the salmon is heated through.

Sprinkle with dill weed and serve.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sicilian Meatball Soup

Food and Wine Magazine
What to cook for dinner? Some days I find inspiration from the ingredients in my pantry; some days I find inspiration from a recipe my mom made years ago. ....and some days I am absolutely clueless about what to prepare for dinner.

That's when I go to the internet.

I did that today and found a wonderful soup. And (happy day!) the ingredients are already in my pantry. Thank you to Food and Wine Magazine for this wonderful dinner:


Sicilian Meatball Soup

Ingredients
1/2 pound ground beef
5 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 1/2 quarts canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup small pasta shells or other small macaroni

Directions
In a medium bowl, mix together the ground beef, 4 tablespoons of the parsley, the Parmesan, raisins, bread crumbs, egg, half of the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper until thoroughly combined. Shape the mixture into 24 meatballs.
In a large pot, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the carrots, onion, celery, and the remaining garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in the broth, tomatoes, rosemary, and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes.
Add the remaining tablespoon parsley, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and the pasta to the soup. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the meatballs and simmer gently until the meatballs and pasta are done, about 5 minutes longer. Serve with additional Parmesan.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"Italian" dumplings


Photo: www.thehealthyeatingsite.com

I love homemade soups and stews, and I love Italian food. I've been to Italy several times, and my oldest (living) sister has a home there in Aviano--just a hop, skip, and a jump from Venice. Before visiting my sister, whenever I thought of Italy I thought of "pasta". But Italian food is so much more than that. In northern Italy there is less emphasis on pasta--risotto and polenta are the "carbs celeb".


There are two ways of serving polenta--it can be cooked, spread out on an oiled surface and allowed to solidify. Then slabs of the firm polenta are sauted. The other version (and my favorite) is to cook polenta and then, when all of the grains have become blissfully toothsome and creamy, stir in a bit of cream or marscapone cheese and serve the polenta as a creamy puddle of Heaven (....is my bias showing a bit here?).


But there is an in-between stage. No longer soft, but not firm. That's when I think we could make something wonderful, like "Polenta Dumplings".


Polenta Dumplings
3 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth
1 cup quick-cooking polenta
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup half and half

Prepare a large cookie sheet by covering it with a sheet of parchment paper. Spray the parchment with non-stick cooking spray or grease lightly. Set aside.

Bring 2 cups of the broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir the remaining 1 cup of broth into the dry polenta in a small mixing bowl.

Gradually add the polenta mixture to the boiling broth, stirring constantly. When mixture returns to a boil, reduce heat to low. Cook and continue to stir until mixture is very thick (about 5 minutes). Be careful--it will sputter.

Remove from heat. Stir in the cheese and half and half. All to sit for about 15 minutes. Using a small cookie scoop, form about 25 to 30 dumplings, placing them on the prepared cookie sheet. Cover and chill about one hour.

To cook, carefully drop dumplings into simmering soup. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes.






Tastes Like Your Grandma's Vegetable Soup

I woke up this morning craving the vegetable soup my mom made when I was a little girl. It was the 1950's. We lived frugally, but I don't think we ever considered ourselves poor.We had a house and clothes to wear. Daddy had a car, and we had nourishing food every evening. Our meals weren't gourmet--they were frugal, but they were homemade and made with love. Back then there was no "Hamburger Helper", we hadn't heard of McDonalds, and frozen dinners were still relatively new--and a luxury we really couldn't afford.

As I reflect on those days, I'm amazed at how much Mom was able to do with so little. She never measured her ingredients, so there's no written recipe. But in the afternoon, when I got home from school, I usually sat at the kitchen table working on homework while the evening meal was prepared. I was an inquisitive little kid, and liked to observe what was going on in the kitchen. Here's what I think she did:


Mom's Vegetable Soup
1 pound beef for stew
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup dry navy or white beans
1/2 cup dry red kidney (brown) beans
6 cups water
1/2 cup dry lentils
1 medium onion (about one cup), finely chopped
2 medium carrots (about one cup), thinly sliced
1 small stalk celery, finely chopped (no tops)
1 cup diced cabbage (optional)
3 vegetable bouillon cubes
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 medium potato, diced (about one cup)
salt and pepper to taste

  • In a large stock pot saute the beef in olive oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally until browned on all sides. Remove from pot and set aside.
  • In the same pot add white and brown beans and 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Return sauted beef to pot. Cover and simmer about 2 hours or until beans and beef are tender.
  • Add lentils, onions,  carrots, celery, cabbage, bouillon cubes, tomato sauce, and potatoes.
  • Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender
  • Add salt and pepper to taste





Friday, September 30, 2011

Goulash Soup


Photo: Foodistablog
We are enjoying a beautiful "Indian Summer". The mornings are cool--it was 41 degrees F. this morning when I retrieved my newspaper from the front porch. This afternoon we have sunshine, beautiful clear skies, and mid-70's. The days are warm and sunny, but as soon as the sun begins to set, there is a chill in the air. It's time to make another pot of soup.


Today I'm remembering a recipe I've had for years and years (and years). It's called "Goulash Soup". Goulash (for the uninitiated) is a Hungarian stew of meat (take your pick), vegetables (whatever you have), and a healthy dose of paprika. Comfort food at its finest.

Goulash Soup
3 lbs. beef for stew, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 tsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
4 cups beef broth
1/2 lb. potatoes, grated (about 3/4 cup)
1 tablespoon paprika (I prefer smoked paprika)
1 tablespoon tomato sauce
1/4 tsp. dried thyme leaves
3/4 lb. potatoes, pared and diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup dry noodles

Heat olive oil in 4-quart Dutch oven over medium heat; add about 1/3 of the beef to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally until browned on all sides. Remove from pan and repeat with remaining beef. It is important to not crowd the pan. If the pieces of beef are too close together they will not brown properly--instead they will simply steam.

Add more oil to the pan as needed.

To the same pan stir in the onions and cook until onions begin to brown. Return browned beef chunks to the pan. Stir in remaining ingredients except diced potatoes and noodles. Heat to boiling; reduce heat and cover. Simmer 1 1/2 hours or until meat is tender. Note that the grated potatoes will fall apart--they are intended to thicken the soup.

Stir in diced potatoes and noodles and continue to cook until potatoes and noodles are cooked through.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Italian Flag cookies

Photo: familycircle.com
In 1985 Family Circle magazine published a recipe for "Venetians"--a three-layer bar cookie of apricot preserves sandwiched between layers of almond paste cookie dough. Yes, I clipped that recipe over 25 years ago, but I've never attempted to bake it. Somehow 1 1/2 cups of butter seems a bit over the top--even for a Carb Diva.


But last week I borrowed a copy of the May 2011 issue of Bon Appetit from my local library. Guess what? It's the 'Italian Issue' and inside is a recipe for Rainbow Cookies. They look exactly like the ones I saw years ago, but the list of ingredients seems much less decadent. The genius behind these amazing looking treats is the Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi of Torrisi Italian Specialties, New York City.

I think I'll try these this weekend:

Rainbow (Italian Flag) Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp. plus 2 cups unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
  • 12 oz. almond paste (not marzipan), chopped
  • 2 3/4 cups plus 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp.salt
  • 1 tsp.red food coloring
  • 1 tsp. green food coloring
  • 3/4 cup orange marmalade, heated, strained (NOTE: I'm going to use apricot preserves)
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped, melted
  • special equipment

    3 13x9x2" metal baking pans

Preparation

  • 
    Photo: Romulo Yanes
    Preheat oven to 350°. Line three 13x9x2" metal baking pans with foil, leaving overhang; grease with 2 Tbsp. butter; set aside. Put egg whites in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk; beat until soft peaks form. Slowly add 1/3 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a large bowl; cover; chill.
  • Using the paddle attachment, beat almond paste and remaining sugar on medium-low until incorporated, 4-5 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high; gradually add remaining butter. Beat until fluffy. Beat in yolks, then flour and salt. Fold in whites in 2 additions.
  • Divide batter evenly among 3 bowls. Mix red coloring into 1 bowl and green coloring into second bowl; leave third bowl plain. Spread 1 bowl of batter into each prepared pan; smooth tops. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until just set, 9-11 minutes. Let cool in pans.
  • With a pastry brush, spread half of marmalade over green cake. Using foil overhang, lift plain layer out of pan. Invert onto green layer; discard foil. Brush remaining marmalade over plain layer. Lift red layer out of pan; invert onto plain layer and cover cake with foil.
  • Top with a 13x9x2" pan. Weigh down pan with several heavy canned goods to compress cake layers. Refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.
  • Remove cans, top pan, and foil. Transfer cake to a waxed paper-lined baking sheet.
  • Spread half of chocolate over cake in a thin layer. Freeze for 10 minutes. Cover with waxed paper, invert the baking sheet on top, and flip cake. Uncover and glaze with remaining chocolate. Freeze 10 additional minutes.
  • Trim cake to 12x8". Cut crosswise into six 2"-wide strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 96 1/2"-wide cookies. Store in an airtight container.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chili weather

No, that's not a typo. I awoke this morning feeling a chill in the air, and knowing that despite the calendar, it is no longer Summer. This is exactly the type of day for chili. But it's also a day in which I have, at last count, 101 things to accomplish. So I'm going to rely on my pantry and prepare a casserole for our evening meal that has been a hit with my kids since they were little.

Carb Diva's Chili Macaroni Casserole
1 one-pound package macaroni (my kids love the kind shaped like wagon wheels)
2 cans chili (use whichever type is your favorite)
1 cup salsa
2 cups grated cheddar cheese, divided
4 cups crushed tortilla chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well and place in large mixing bowl. Gently stir in chili, salsa, 1 cup of the cheese, and the crushed tortilla chips.

Spray a large cooking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Spread macaroni/chili mixture in dish; top with remaining 1 cup cheese.

Bake uncovered about 25-30 minutes or until bubbly.

NOTE: You can omit the salsa if you prefer a less spicy meal. This is also a great place to "hide" additional vegetables--corn, cooked carrots, or diced zucchini.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hide the veggies

 My daughters have always loved vegetables. In fact, sometimes we will do a total meal of just veggies--roasted finger potatoes with garlic and rosemary, sauted carrots and parsnips with fresh dill, fresh shaved brussels sprouts with dried cranberries and walnuts. I know, I've been blessed.

But a few of my friends aren't quite so lucky, and are always asking me for new ideas on how to get vegetables into their picky eaters. The most recent issue of Cooking Light magazine contains a truly novel idea for creating a healthy macaroni and cheese. Instead of the traditional buttery, heavy béchamel sauce we typically use to create the base, they turned to an unlikely hero for a boost: butternut squash. Combined with nonfat milk and Greek yogurt, the squash adds a rich, nutty flavor, sneaks in some vegetable, and brilliantly mimics the color and creaminess of cheddar sauce. Here's how they did it.

Cooking Light Creamy, Light Macaroni and Cheese
  • 3 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 [1-pound] squash)
  • 1 1/4 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free milk
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) grated pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
  • 1 pound uncooked cavatappi
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Combine squash, broth, milk, and garlic in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until squash is tender when pierced with a fork, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat.

(NOTE: the instructions from Cooking Light do not specify whether or not to cover the saucepan. Some reviewers complained that the finished casserole was dry--not creamy enough. In my opinion, if you do not cover, you will lose a great deal of liquid due to evaporation. Perhaps that's what went wrong. I covered my saucepan and turned the heat to low).

3. Place the hot squash mixture in a blender. Add salt, pepper, and Greek yogurt. Remove the center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Place blended squash mixture in a bowl; stir in Gruyère, pecorino Romano, and 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir until combined.

4. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain well. Add pasta to squash mixture, and stir until combined. Spread mixture evenly into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.

5. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add panko, and cook for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Sprinkle evenly over the hot pasta mixture. Lightly coat topping with cooking spray.

6. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately.

NOTE: I'll be honest--this version of macaroni and cheese looked amazing, and no one could guess the "secret ingredient." That said, it just wasn't my cup of tea. The taste was a bit too sweet. But I also need to confess that I didn't use the expensive cheeses listed in Cooking Light's recipe. I used mostly sharp cheddar and about 1/2 cup of romano. Perhaps if I had used the more assertive cheeses suggested by the author I would have been happier with the end-result. If you try this recipe, please share your comments with me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Anniversary

September. The days are still summer-warm, but the nights are cool and the mornings dew-kissed. Late-summer berries are plump and ripe on the vine. Autumn apples are ready to be picked, and the vine maples in our forest are starting to turn golden-orange. The season of Fall is just around the corner.

I always experience a bittersweet mix of feelings at the start of this season. I'm relieved to be able to settle back into the routine of school and work. But I'm sad to leave the spontaneity of summer and the vitality of flowers in my garden.

And I also recognize that I've been doing this blog for one year. Twelve months, 173 posts. We've explored low-fat, high-fat, no meat, LOTS of meat, 30-minutes or less, or takes-all-day-long.

In the last few weeks I've posted only twice. I'm sorry that work has called me away from writing to and for you. I enjoy this blog--it's my escape from finance, grant writing, losing baseball teams, and house cleaning. Work is starting to settle back down into a somewhat manageable amount, the grant-writing is simmering on the back burner, the team is pretty much toast for this year, and the house can wait.

So where will be go in Year No. 2? I welcome your suggestions, comments, and even your complaints.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Kicked up a notch" french toast

I know it's been a while since I've posted. A long-anticipated camping trip (and preparing for said trip) have kept me away. We returned home this afternoon after spending most of the week at an annual church camp out.


Once a year for the past 15 years our church has reserved a U.S. Forest Service campground near a river just east of the Cascade Mountains. When we first began this tradition, most of us were "tenters", but as the years have passed (and our backs have aged) the majority now arrive in trailers, RV's or 5th-wheels. In the morning the first ones up prepare coffee and visit each campsite offering a hot cup of joe and a warm "good morning". In the afternoons we swim, hike, fish, and do "a whole lot of nuthin" together. There is usually a group campfire in the evening where memories are shared, and stories are told and re-told. The week culminates with a Saturday scavenger hunt, a potluck, and then Sunday morning worship service near the edge of the river.

Now, if you know anything about Forest Service campgrounds, you'll recognize that we were not exactly living the life of luxury this past week. No electricity, no showers, pit toilets, and (as we jokingly say) running water only if you can move that quickly with a full bucket. We ate well but not exactly gourmet. So, in between making PBJ's for lunch and grilling hot dogs or turkey burgers for dinner, I dreamed about food--amazing, decadent, imaginative food.

My daydreams started the way we should start each day--with a good breakfast. I've never cared much for pancakes or waffles. Both tend to get rather boring after a few bites. But french toast is a different story--crisp on the outside, soft and almost custard-like on the inside. So, what could I do to make it even better? I've seen recipes for stuffed french toast, most of them involving cream cheese and/or mascapone. In the words of Emeril, I'd like to kick it up a notch. What about brie? Is there anything more deliciously self-indulgent?

Carb Diva's French Toast with Brie
1 baguette
3 ounces brie, chilled for easier slicing
3/4 cup milk
1 large egg
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon butter, divided
fruit topping (see below)

Slice the baguette on the diagonal (this gives you larger slices of bread), making the slices about 1 1/2 inches thick. Discard the ends or save for another use.

With a sharp knife, cut a slit in the bottom (crust) side of each slice. Slice the chilled brie into small wedges, about 1/4-inch thick and 1-inch square. Stuff one wedge of brie into each slice of baguette.

In a shallow bowl, beat together the milk, egg, and salt with a wire whisk until well blended. Dip the baguette slices into the milk/egg mixture, turning to coat both cut sides.

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add 1 tsp. of the butter; as it melts tilt the pan to coat the bottom. Add as many of the baguette slices as will fit in the pan without crowding. Cook until golden brown on one side (about 2 minutes). Turn over and cook the other side until brown. Remove from pan and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining butter and baguette slices.

Fruit Topping
There are so many things that could be done with this recipe, depending on what seasonal fruits are available. In late Spring I would choose strawberries--slice, sprinkle on a bit of sugar and let sit for a few minutes until juices begin to form.

In summer one could do the same with fresh raspberries or blackberries.

However, my favorite fruit with brie is apples or pears, pared, cored, and thinly sliced, sprinkled with sugar and a generous amount of cinnamon. Let sit for about 30 minutes then place in a small saucepan and simmer over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until apples or pears begin to soften and juices become syrupy.

Baguettes and brie--could french toast be any more "French" than that? Ooh-la-la!!