Favorite Granola

June 16, 2015

granolaHot oatmeal doesn’t appeal on muggy summer mornings. Looks like this is the time for dry cereal (or what some folks call cold cereal). Even the simplest flakes or o’s aren’t very appealing when we read the label’s nutritional details, knowing they leave us feeling hungry in a couple of hours. I’d like to recommend enhancing dry cereal, with sprinklings of nuts, berries or diced fruits and the good crunch of granola. Here’s a sound summer breakfast that will carry you though the morning.

Most of us don’t realize that granola, almost as common today as corn flakes, grew out of a nineteenth century religious fervor for healthy living, to prepare for The Rapture. Sylvester Graham, Presbyterian minister, promoted graham flour, a stone-ground whole-wheat flour (hence graham crackers). James C. Jackson, founder of The Home on the Hill water cure spa and a Seventh Day Adventist advocating vegetarianism, baked the moistened graham flour in sheets, ground it into granules and suggested this granula as a new breakfast food. John Harvey Kellogg, also an Adventist and sanitarium director, copied the granula, got into a lawsuit, and named his version granola. Charles W. Post copied Kellogg’s cereal but named his Grape Nuts. Even my grandmother’s Dunker Brethren Inglenook cookbook published in 1915 has a graham flour recipe for Granula. Granola then faded into the wings until the hippie movement of the 1960s dusted it off, substituted oats for the graham flour, and the product became a wild success.

The granola recipe I keep going back to is one from the 60s. I came to it through a circle of Quaker friends who cooked with whole grains. It’s sweetened with a puree of dates and brown sugar. Brown sugar doesn’t burn as fast as honey used in most recipes, so this granola easily bakes slowly into crisp clumps, making it perfect to eat out of hand as well as to sprinkle on cereals, fruit or yogurt. It toasts best in a low oven over a period of a few hours, but it doesn’t demand a lot of stirring. It can be half cooked one day and finished off the next. Basically it’s foolproof unless you forget it’s in your oven. During a rainy weekend or a quiet evening, a low oven won’t pump out much heat, and the tantalizing aroma of toasting granola will waft through the whole house. Airtight in glass jars, granola will keep for weeks.

Date Granola

 ½ lb. pitted dates, sliced

½ lb. brown sugar (l cup plus 2 tablespoons)

¾ cup oil (pure olive, canola or sunflower)

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

1 ½ lbs. old fashioned rolled oats (8 ½ cups)

1 ½ cups raw wheat germ or ground flax or a mixture of both

1 ¼ cups dry, unsweetened grated coconut (or coconut powder)

1 ½ cups raw natural almonds coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

Press the dates into a glass measure and add just enough water to barely cover. Soak overnight or microwave briefly until dates are softened. Combine dates, soaking water, brown sugar, oil and vanilla in food processor. Blitz to make a thick puree.

Preheat oven to 250°. Combine oats, wheat germ and/or ground flax, coconut, almonds, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Pour over the date puree. Scrape the processor clean and mix the puree into the oats with your hands, coating all dry ingredients with the puree. Divide the mix between two rimmed baking sheets, patting it out evenly and scrape your hands clean. Bake the granola for an hour, stirring every half hour; then reduce the heat to 200 and continue to bake 3-4 hours or until the granola reaches the desired toastiness. Turn off oven and allow to cool in the oven. Granola will crisp as it cools. Store air tight. Makes 4 lbs.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh Mint Raita

June 3, 2015
Fresh Mint Raita

Fresh Mint Raita

I’m always looking for a little sauce. Just that extra bit of savor and juice brings the meal together. Whether it’s grilled eggplant, steamed new potatoes, sautéed fish or roast chicken with carrots, sauce saves the day. A roast or pan-grilled something lends itself to a pan sauce of simple stock reduction sometimes lifted with a little wine, lemon juice or Dijon mustard swirled in to boil up the tasty pan drippings. But when supper’s a collection of warmed up leftovers, or a big composed salad or something off the grill, there’s always yogurt to bring flavors together. I’m continually telling people that no fridge should be without at least a couple jars or cartons of plain whole milk yogurt. It’s one of our most perfect foods, and little dollops here and there along with a swirl of olive oil take even the simplest bowl of beans and rice to Olympian heights. (See my blog post from September 6, 2014 about homemade yogurt.)

So what are we going to do with this yogurt to turn it into a classic sauce? During the cool, damp spring, mint grows in such profusion I have to keep pulling it up, or it will take over the entire garden. So: gather a hefty handful of mint. If you have no garden mint, look for it in the farmers’ market, grocery store—or substitute parsley.

We’re ready to spend ten minutes turning this lovely green herb into a classic Indian sauce. Raitas, made from all sorts of vegetables, herbs and fruits combined with yogurt, accompany spicy Indian foods, and add zest to almost any table. The green herb part of this raita is best prepared with a mortar and pestle, but if you don’t mind cleaning all the parts, you can also use a food processor. I’m sticking with the mortar, which gives a better result, since the herb meets no heat from a motor. The mortar can also double as a serving bowl. I’ll need a little garlic, salt and a sliver of chili to liven up my green mash, and I’ll dust a bit of ground cumin over the top for a finish. Ready, set, grind.

Fresh Mint Raita

1 small/medium clove garlic

¼ teaspoon coarse salt

2 thin slices green chili (Serrano) (optional)

2 loose cups fresh mint leaves (stripped from 1 ½ oz. bunch mint stems, washed and spun dry)

½-2/3 cup whole milk yogurt (not Greek)

few drops virgin olive oil

pinch ground cumin

Slice the peeled garlic into the mortar; sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Add chili and grind to a paste. Gather mint leaves into a bundle on cutting board and slice with chopping knife. Add mint to the mortar a handful at a time, grinding and pounding with the garlic mixture. Add pinches of salt as needed. (The salt as grit helps dissolve the mint, but take care not to use too much.) In a couple of minutes, the mass of mint leaves will have reduced to deep green mounded tablespoon of intense mint paste. Stir in the yogurt adding more or less to the desired minty-ness and check for salt. Top with a few drops olive oil and a light dusting of ground cumin. Serve with almost anything savory. Makes a scant cup; serves 2-4. Will keep 2-3 days in fridge though color may fade.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

 

 

Asparagus with Poached Eggs and Hollandaise

May 14, 2015
asparagus with poached egg and Hollandaise

asparagus with poached egg and Hollandaise

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, and waiting for real June strawberries makes them sweeter, then surely spring asparagus lives up to its anticipated arrival. When our farmers’ market opened for the season a few days ago, I arrived early at the First Orchards stand for thick purple asparagus and boxes of newly laid pullet eggs—spring treasures in any cook’s book.

Now is the time to eat my fill of asparagus. While it lasts, I make it my main green vegetable and select the purple variety if it’s available, always choosing the thickest spears for prime flavor. When it disappears for the season, I’ve had my fill. I’m not tempted by the imported sallow-flavored spears that turn up in supermarkets throughout the year. It’s easy: Just say no to asparagus from Peru or Mexico when Michigan’s bounty promises to return.

Asparagus and eggs have long been a perfect match. Whether in a quiche, an omelet, a frittata or a soufflé, they are the ideal pair. When a new clutch of hens begins to lay, their first eggs, called pullet eggs, are treasured for richness and flavor. Young chicks are pickier eaters, seeking out the best bits, and their first miniature eggs taste better than what they will produce later in life. The pullet egg season is brief, so be sure to include them in your shopping whenever you see them.

Home again with my basket of asparagus and eggs, one of the best spring treats for brunch, lunch or a dinner first course is quickly cooked asparagus topped with a poached egg. To guild the lily further, add a spoonful of homemade Hollandaise sauce, which is far easier to make than you imagined and your small plate will become ultimate high-end restaurant fare. With a quick wrist and a couple of saucepans, your humble egg and early “sparrow grass” will dazzle royalty.

 Asparagus with Poached Eggs and Hollandaise

For each serving:

3-4 thick spears Asparagus

1 small poached egg

1-2 tablespoons Hollandaise Sauce

Hollandaise Sauce

6 tablespoons butter, room temperature

2 egg yolks (freeze whites for meringue)

2 tablespoons water

pinch salt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Whisk egg yolks with water and salt in a small stainless or Pyrex bowl that fits over a saucepan of simmering water (or use a double boiler). Cook, whisking constantly over simmering water until mixture is hot (test with your clean pinkie finger), begins to thicken and fluff. Gradually beat in butter 1 tablespoon at a time until mixture mounts like a soft mayonnaise. Season with lemon juice, pepper, chopped chives and fresh tarragon if available. Makes about 2/3 cup. Hold the warm sauce near the stove, over lukewarm water.

To prepare the asparagus, cut the spears into 4-inch lengths and diagonally slice the remainder of each stalk. Blanch the spears and slices for 3-4 minutes in boiling, salted water, until just tender. Hold on a warm sheet pan.

To poach the eggs, bring a shallow saucepan or skillet with at least 2 inches of water to a boil, season with salt and add a teaspoon of white vinegar. Crack each egg into a small cup. Use a spoon to swirl the simmering water into a whirlpool and slip in the egg. Make another whirlpool and slip in the next egg, etc. Cook each egg about 3 minutes or until the whites are firm and the yolks still soft. Eggs may be poached ahead of time and reheated in a pan of hot water for a couple minutes. Farm-fresh eggs poach beautifully with few shaggy white tails.

To plate, place three thick warm asparagus spears in the center of a salad plate and nestle a few slices alongside. Top the asparagus with a warm poached egg blotted on a tea towel. Spoon over 1-2 tablespoons of Hollandaise sauce. Garnish with chopped chives or parsley.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

 

 

Floating Island

April 22, 2015
Floating Island

Floating Island

Something’s happened to my tolerance for sweets. I used to be mad for a scoop of ice cream or a slice of cake with my afternoon coffee. I looked forward to the occasional chocolate bar or sticky toffee pudding. Now everything seems too sweet, and I find my tummy tightening when I spread icing on family birthday cakes. Last Christmas while everyone around the table happily tucked into the Buche de Noel (our chocolate and caramelized almond French rolled cake), I was content with a little bowl of poached meringues in crème anglaise. These individual meringues, about the size of a giant marshmallow, and their mother custard have become my current dessert of choice. They pair well with poached fruit, fresh berries, roasted nuts, caramelized sugar and offer the experience of real dessert with a light touch. I recently prepared these floating islands with raspberries for a luncheon pudding, and a swoon fell over the table.

We have here a two-part recipe. Each is easy to make and can be finished well ahead of serving. First there’s the custard sauce, a lightly sweetened rich milk thickened with egg yolk and perfumed with vanilla. Many cooks suggest a crème anglaise as thick as pudding, but I prefer a lighter, thinner sauce, the consistency of heavy cream. Second, we use meringue made from the egg whites. Traditionally the meringue balls are poached in simmering water or milk, but I recently discovered a method of poaching the meringues in custard cups or ramekins where they maintain perfect shapes and are easy to store for several days. The meringues with custard are delicious on their own and they can be made more festive garnished with a few sugar-macerated berries or poached rhubarb and a sprinkling of crushed caramelized almonds. Here’s the perfect pudding for spring—especially suitable now as we’re all trying to use LESS sugar.

Floating Islands or Snow Eggs (Oeufs a la Neige)

 Crème Anglaise

20-22 fl. oz. (2 ½-¾ cups) whole milk* (use larger amount for extra large yolks)

4 large or extra-large egg yolks (save whites for meringue)

2 oz. (scant 1/3 cup) sugar

half a vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* Include ¼ cup heavy cream for extra luxury.

Heat milk with split vanilla bean in 2-quart saucepan. In medium bowl whisk egg yolks with sugar. When milk is very hot, but not boiling, whisk 1/3 milk into egg yolks. Whisk and return milk and yolk mixture to remaining hot milk. Exchange whisk for metal or wooden spoon, and stir custard constantly in a figure-eight motion until it coats back of spoon. Test by drawing finger through custard on spoon; it should leave a definite trail. (As custard cooks, you will notice the fine netting of foam on top develop into a web of larger bubbles on the surface. Once the bubbles disappear, cook the custard about another 3 minutes to reach the doneness test.)

When custard is ready, immediately pour it back into mixing bowl to cool, scrape seeds from inside bean into custard, stirring from time to time to prevent a skin from forming. When custard has cooled to room temperature, add vanilla extract if did not use bean. Pour into glass jar and refrigerate. Makes 3 generous cups.

Meringue

4 egg whites

8 tablespoons sugar

tiny pinch salt

few drops vanilla

Before whipping egg whites, have ready 10-12 small ramekins or custard cups that will fit in a shallow pan of simmering water. (Cook 3 or 4 at a time if necessary).

Whip egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time and beat until stiff. Stir in vanilla. Spoon mounds of meringue into each of the cups/ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap. Place cups in wide skillet of simmering water; cover and cook 5 minutes after water returns to a boil. (You will notice the meringue puffs as it cooks then falls a bit as it cools) Remove cups from water and cool. Store at room temperature 2 hours or refrigerate 2-3 days.

To plate: place a circle of berry slices or halves and juice near edge of small dessert plate; pool 3 tablespoons custard in the center; tip meringue from custard cup and float in center. Sprinkle with crushed caramelized sugar if desired. Serves 8 with extra custard.

Note: try half a recipe for starters, Making 5-6 meringues and 1 ½ cups of custard sauce.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

 

 

Easter Lamb

March 28, 2015

 

carved lamb photo 2 For decades I’ve made the same Easter dinner. Every year I read about new, trendy combinations, fresh starts. Yet I return time and again to the now almost sacramental supper of the lamb. It’s a once a year feast, the whole leg, stuffed with garlic and rosemary, cooked on the bone, roasted medium rare and thinly sliced lengthwise into rippling pink ribbons. It’s a meal so ancient no one knows its origins: desert herders or mountain farmers? We step back in time when we come to this table.

plated roast lamab photo 3Last year before Easter I waited for my leg of lamb. Bill, my butcher, promised to hold a small one when it came in and sure enough at almost the last minute I picked up my slender 8 lb (from shank end to hip) leg. I sawed off the bonier sirloin end, cut the meat into kebabs, and saved the bones for stock. My final “gigot” weighed 6 lbs. I trimmed off mini-bits of excess fat and studded the whole leg with slivers of garlic and tufts of fresh rosemary. Dusted with freshly ground black pepper, the wrapped lamb waited in the fridge until noon the next day. Two hours before roasting I drizzled it with olive oil, sprinkled it generously with kosher salt, and let it come to room temp.

Strawberry/rhubarb pie went into the oven first. Next came the pan of scalloped potatoes that when cooked waited under a towel when it was time to bump up the temp for the lamb. After exactly an hour and fifteen minutes the lamb was done and ready to rest half an hour before carving. I scraped the browned mirepoix into a saucepan, added a quart of good stock and set it to simmer for the sauce while we drank a bottle of champagne in the afternoon sun. Green beans tossed with butter, warm potatoes dauphionoise, rosy sliced lamb, and a dark brown sauce. Dinner is served, everyone inside, time for the Easter lamb.

French Style Roast Leg of Lamb

5-7 lb. bone-in leg of lamb with shank attached.

3-5 cloves garlic

sprig of fresh rosemary (or dry rosemary)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

large onion, carrot, 2 celery ribs and extra garlic cloves

24 fl. oz. (3 cups) lamb or chicken stock

1-2 tablespoons roux

fresh lemon juice to taste

Trim lamb of excess fat. Cut peeled garlic cloves into splinters and remove rosemary needles from sprig. Use small, sharp, paring knife to make deep holes in meat. Widen each hole with finger, and push sliver of garlic along with 3 rosemary needles in each hole. You will need to insert 15-20 slivers of garlic all over leg of lamb. Rub lamb with olive oil; sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Set aside at room temperature 2 hours before roasting. Slice onion, carrot and celery; add a few unpeeled garlic cloves. Place vegetables diagonally over base of 10-by-14-inch roasting pan.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Insert meat thermometer into thickest part of leg. Place seasoned lamb fat side up on bed of vegetables and roast for 20-30 minutes or until sizzling and beginning to brown. Reduce heat to 375°F and roast 30-40 minutes. Remove lamb promptly when thermometer reaches 130°-140°F. Do not roast longer unless you plan to serve well-done lamb; temperature will rise 5-10 degrees as lamb rests for 20 minutes before carving. [To test lamb for doneness without a thermometer, insert long metal skewer into thick section. Hold in place to count of 10; remove skewer and place it just above your upper lip. If skewer is warmer than comfortable, lamb is done.]

To prepare sauce: Lift lamb from roasting pan and pour off excess fat. Remove any vegetable bits that have burned. Pour in stock to soften all browned bits. Scrape cooked vegetables and stock into saucepan. Bring to low boil and simmer 5-10 minutes to intensely flavor stock. Crumble in roux, whisk to dissolve, and simmer to richly flavored sauce. Add fresh lemon juice to taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Strain sauce through a sieve before serving. Carve lamb in thin slices lengthwise in direction of the bone. A 6 lb. leg of lamb will serve 10 and still have leftovers.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

 

 

 

Buttered Cabbage

March 15, 2015
buttered cabbage

buttered cabbage

Supermarkets are rolling out mountains of green cabbage, bakeries icing cupcakes luminous green, to tempt Americans who plan to eat corned beef and raise a ruckus on St. Paddy’s Day. Meanwhile, from Dublin to Dingle, families will have a quieter bank holiday, go to church, and settle around a roast turkey dinner. Legends of fifth century St. Patrick abound as he brought the gospel to native Celts, drove snakes out of the Emerald Isle, and used the three-leafed clover to explain the Trinity. Corned beef is more American than Irish, and it was promoted by our East-Coast Irish immigrants, who salted cheaper cuts of beef to emulate their version of bacon: brined pork loin.

Even now at least a decade after Ireland’s food renaissance, many don’t realize the bounties of goodness that await the traveler. Americans who think an Irish dinner means boiled potatoes and soggy cabbage will have a jaw-dropping experience due to Ireland’s culinary revolution. The island’s patchwork of green pastures produces the best of butter, farmhouse cheeses to rival the French, garden produce nurtured in the rain, grass-fed beef and lamb, the freshest seafood, and the world’s premium smoked salmon. Common Irish veggies like potatoes and cabbages are way ahead of what we buy in our winter markets. Ireland’s mild climate allows harvesting to continue pretty much year round. Farms border towns and cities, so produce doesn’t travel far. Spuds are dug close to selling time, come to market with dirt still on them, and have such rich flavor they can easily be the “center of the plate.” Sweet green cabbage is seldom simmered in lots of water until soft; instead, it’s shredded, cooked with a little butter for just a few minutes.

We’ve shied away from cooked cabbage after bad experiences with the mustard gas smell from overcooking. Quickly prepared cabbage is a distinct vegetable experience—it’s for more than coleslaw. This week, why not buy a crisp green head, shred and quick-cook one of the tastiest (and cheapest) greens. Your Irish eyes will be smiling.

Buttered Cabbage

2 pound head fresh green cabbage

pinch salt

2 tablespoons butter

4 fl. oz. water

additional tablespoon butter if desired

Quarter the cabbage, cutting from the top through the core. Cut away the core and thinly shred the cabbage. There will be about 8 cups shredded cabbage.

In a heavy four-quart pot bring 4 fl. oz. water, 2 tablespoons butter and a good pinch salt to a boil. Add half of the cabbage turning it in the hot butter with a tongs. Add the second half of cabbage and combine it with what you’ve buttered. Cover and cook over moderately high heat for 5-7 minutes, turning it a couple of times with tongs. Add a little water if cabbage seems dry. When it’s tender, taste for seasonings, adding more salt if needed, and stir in another tablespoon of butter. Serve it, sweet and tender, to 4-6.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

 

 

Bread Pudding for Mardi Gras

February 17, 2015
Blueberry Bread Pudding

Blueberry Bread Pudding

Two thousand years ago Romans loved to party. The rulering powers believed the public needed to let off steam. Carnivals and Dionysian feast days marked the calendar. In the fourth century when Constantine announced Christianity as the new religion, a peaceful transition meant holidays needed to stay. Most of the now Western church-related holidays such as Christmas, Mardi Gras, and Easter replaced standing feast days in name only.

Mardi Gras, or Carnival, has ancient roots. When early French explorers settled the region known as Louisiana, they brought their homeland traditions. Not Puritans like those settling New England, these raucous New Orleans Roman Catholic immigrants paraded and feasted before the penitential season of Lent. Feast days of Carnival said goodbye (vale) to meat (carne). On the last day before Ash Wednesday, it was time to use up the kitchen’s fat before a sparse and somber Lenten diet. Thus we have Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday.

In the frugal kitchen of the French housewife, no scraps were wasted. Bits of meat and vegetables went into stocks and soups, and stale bread was saved for French toast, which morphed into the now famous New Orleans Bread Pudding. Who can resist this warm, fragrant dessert that blends the best of a cake, a custard, a soufflé. With some good bread, a few eggs, a little sugar, milk and cream, you can feast like the King of Mardi Gras and find the buried treasure of blueberries in your own bread pudding.

Bread Pudding

12 oz. loaf good French bread, sliced and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (9 cups)

4 eggs

6 oz. (3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon) sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon dark rum or bourbon

knife-point ground cinnamon

8 fl. oz. (1 cup) heavy cream

16 fl. oz. (2 cups) whole milk

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (or other fruit of choice)

cinnamon sugar for sprinkling

In deep bowl whisk eggs with sugar, vanilla, rum, and cinnamon. Blend in cream and milk. Add bread cubes and fold in until thoroughly moistened. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate two hours or overnight to allow bread to absorb all custard.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Divide half of the pudding among 10-14 individual buttered custard cups or spread in a 8-by-10-inch buttered Pyrex dish. Scatter the berries evenly over the pudding and top with the remaining half of the custard-soaked bread. Dust tops with cinnamon-sugar. Bake in water bath (place the filled cups in a deep baking pan and add at least 1/2 inch boiling water). Set water bath in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until individual puds are puffed and golden. (Bake approximately 40-45 minutes for a larger pudding dish or until puffed and lightly browned.)

Serve bread pudding warm or at room temperature with crème anglaise, whipped cream or ice cream if desired. Individual servings of leftover pudding may be quickly flashed in a microwave for a quick warm up.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

 

 

 

 

Beach Fish

January 21, 2015
beach fish

beach fish

Every day from ten to six Vicki cooks fish at the edge of Los Muertos Beach. Her sign reads “Mariscos bajo el Puente” (Fish Under the Bridge), with her kitchen under a low concrete bridge. She stands in soft sand up to her ankles working at a clean oilcloth-covered table lined with seasonings, water jugs, a cutting board, and a couple of knives. Just alongside the bridge her rusted iron “range-sized” grill holds a blanket of smoldering charcoal under a heavy grate.

We order a whole red snapper for dinner, and I wade through sand to observe Vicki. She lifts a shiny red fish from her cooler, flicks off the scales, splits it open along the spine through the belly and head, opening the snapper like a book. She holds the open fish over the sand while she asks me to splash on enough water to wash away blood. She gashes the spanking clean fish twice on each of the skin sides. She sprinkles the inside with salt, pepper, bottled red chili sauce, and Maggi sauce (which alas contains MSG and is sort of a fermented wheat soy-like condiment used in Mexico and called “English Sauce”). She also seasons the skin side, then chops two large cloves of garlic, and stuffs bits into the skin-side gashes and into any crevices on the flesh side. Next, she opens a wire hinged grill cage, places the splayed fish inside, slides down the clasp, and sets the fish over glowing coals. On the edge of her grill there’s a saucepan of melted butter seasoned with garlic and fresh bay leaves. Vicki wields a large paintbrush dripping with this seasoned butter and glosses both sides of the fish as it faces the fire.

We sit on  plastic chairs watching smoke curl. Tantalizing aromas of butter, smoke and garlic mingle. While the snapper cooks for ten minutes on each side, Vicki chops tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro and chilies for a salsa-like salad, and warms a stack of corn tortillas. Her grandchildren play in the sand, her daughter takes orders from other customers, while her husband carries the till in his waist fanny-pack.

As the sky grows rosy with sunset, our steaming fish is ready for the plate. We bid goodbye to the family and walk up the beach to dine on a balcony as night falls.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

 

Tortilla Pizza

December 9, 2014

tortilla pizza  photo-16A grand table lined with trays of bite-sized holiday fare looks like easy entertaining. Though the cook may tremble at tedious finger-food work, larger baked sweets or savories that may be cut in pieces save the day.

Along with shallow quiche cut in squares, appetizer pizzas have been one of my mainstays. I divide a batch of pizza dough into five-ounce lumps, and stretch seven-to-eight inch pizza circles that may be topped, baked, frozen, reheated, and cut into six or eight mini-wedges. All’s fine until I’m asked to include a few gluten-free items. Since most of the powdery, gf flours don’t stretch well or have much flavor, I opt for corn tortillas. Corn tortillas work into the same routine as the regular pizzas and offer gf folks crisp, savory bites.

In almost every corner of Chicagoland from strip mall tiendas to chain supermarkets, El Milagro’s fresh corn tortillas have a regular spot. Actually, they’re better than many tortillas I’ve had in Mexico and worth a place in every home freezer or fridge. Even for a snack or lunch, a corn tortilla quickly toasted over a gas flame or softened in a toaster and spread with peanut butter, drizzled with olive oil and salt or rolled around a morsel of cheese offers nutritious, satisfying flavor.

Whether you need to add some gf items to your holiday party table, or you’d just like a delicious corn tortilla pizza yourself, here’s the plan:

Corn Tortilla Pizza

fresh corn tortillas

olive oil

tomato sauce for pizza (homemade if possible) thick enough

to mound in a spoon

grated cheese—stringy pizza cheese plus grated Parmesan

or a mixture of grated Swiss, white cheddar, Jack or

whatever cheese you have

crumbled goat cheese (optional)

toppings: slivered bacon or pepperoni, diced roasted peppers, halved olives, caramelized onions, sliced canned artichoke hearts

dry oregano, and crushed red pepper

Place tortilla on baking sheet; brush with few drops olive oil. Cover with smear of tomato sauce; sprinkle with grated cheese. Top with second tortilla and press down. Brush the second tortilla with oil, smear with sauce and sprinkle with cheese before topping with any of the listed items, so it looks like a pizza. Lightly sprinkle with crumbled dry oregano and crushed red pepper. Bake in a 450° oven 8-10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the tortilla is crisp. Use a baking stone if you are doing other baking at the time to merit the long heat-up. Tortilla pizzas also bake easily in a toaster oven. Use right away or freeze for handy gf party food. When ready to serve, cut each pizza into sixths or quarters with a chef’s knife.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

 

 

 

 

Pumpkin Bread

November 23, 2014

pu,mpkin breadDecades ago in a booklet on Greek Olive Oil I came across a recipe for pumpkin bread. Actually it’s more of a cake than a bread but falls into place for a tea sweet or a breakfast cake and could easily be dessert with a scoop of ice cream. I see pumpkin bread recipes racing across the screen these days, but each year I take out my 29-ounce tin of the pureed orange stuff and use a pound for the loaves; I still have enough left for a pie.

This quick-mix formula makes plenty for extra cakes to give away. With a half hour’s prep, 40 to 45 minutes baking, and a brush of lemon glaze, six sweet loaves will quickly line your cooling rack. I prefer to use small, 6-by-3 1/2-inch loaf pans, since I’m always advocating small slices of anything sugary. It’s vital that the pans be well buttered and floured before adding the batter so the cake comes out easily. For extra moisture and flavor, I add dried fruit. This can be a mixture of raisins, currants, and dried cranberries, or a more elaborate combo of diced prunes, dates, apricots, and figs, or any combination. Chopped walnuts or pecans may also be part of the fruit mixture.

Since the original recipe came from an olive promotion booklet, olive oil works well, but this is no place for fancy extra virgin olive oil. Those cold-pressed oils should be saved for dressing salads or garnishing since their flavor and many benefits disperse in heat. For any sautéing or baking it’s suitable and much less costly to use a reputable “pure” olive oil. Otherwise, use a standard vegetable oil.

Thanksgiving’s right around the corner, and you can easily fit in a welcome batch of pumpkin bread.

Pumpkin Bread

16 oz. canned pumpkin (2 cups)

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon ground clove

4 large eggs (or 3 extra-large)

21 oz. sugar (3 cups)

6 fl. oz. pure olive oil (3/4 cup) or 8 fl. oz. vegetable oil (1 cup)

6 fl. oz. water (3/4 cup)

16 oz. all purpose flour (unbleached if possible) (3 ½ cups)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

12-16 oz. mixed dried fruit and nuts* (2-3 cups) (optional)

* raisins, golden raisins, currants, dried cranberries, cut dates, figs or prunes, chopped walnuts or pecans.

Butter and flour 6 small or 4 medium loaf pans. Preheat oven to 375°.

In a wide mixing bowl whisk the spices and salt into the pumpkin. Add eggs; beat to combine. Add sugar and whisk like crazy. Pour in oil and blend thoroughly. Place flour, soda and baking powder in sieve and sift 1/3 over pumpkin mixture. Whisk to combine, adding 1/3 of the water. Repeat, alternating the flour and water until all are incorporated.

Fold in optional fruit and nuts. Divide batter equally among the prepared baking pans. Place in preheated oven; bake at 375° 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and bake for another 20-30 minutes or until tests done.

To glaze, mix 2 cups powdered sugar with a tablespoon of lemon juice and few drops of boiling water to make a thin icing. Remove loaves from pans; place on cooling rack and brush icing over warm cakes, allowing some to drip down the sides. As cakes cool, icing will harden.

Wrap carefully and store in a tin or plastic box, or freeze. Makes 6 12 oz. loaves. They’ll be even tastier if allowed to mellow for a day or so.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

 

 

 


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