Archive for the ‘food/recipe’ Category

Comfort Dal

January 12, 2019

yellow Dal soup

Here we are in mid January, a few weeks out from the holidays–cold outside and snow forecast for tonight.  Though there are a few broken Christmas cookies left in the tin, most days now, I’m ready for simple fare.

dal package

When I first tried Floyd Cardoz’s Yellow Dal from his book Flavorwalla, I never thought it would become a staple. I’ve taken his basic recipe and made it more of a soup that makes a restorative lunch on busy days and an addictive snack spooned cold right out of the jar. This simplest of dals takes only about 30 minutes to cook, is very inexpensive, highly nourishing and satisfying. The following recipe uses no fancy spice mix or exotic seasonings, but it has just enough of a lift to keep you spooning on. This is not a


recipe that needs to be exact. Follow the basic plan; use what you like and what you have on hand.

Indian dals or lentils have long been staples in my kitchen ever since Asian friends in Tanzania introduced them to me decades ago.  Even in dusty single-shop East African villages, there’d be bins or gunny bags of lentils to be weighed out and wrapped in newspaper cones, along with rice and salt. The name Dal comes from a Sanskrit world meaning “to split”

and dals are always split pulses—

softened onions and garlic

beans, peas or lentils. For example “chanas” are chick peas, and “chana dal” is the same bean peeled and split.  All lentils are high in protein, quick cooking and take well to seasoning. Plain brown lentils may be found in every American grocery store, but when you see the small, pink Masoor lentils or split red lentils, snatch them up to keep in your pantry. I buy them in a four-pound bag in the Asian section where they cost around a dollar a pound. They’re also often in the bulk area of

cooked dal

natural food markets. They fit into any nutrition plan, and most of all they are delicious.

Warm yourself with a bowl of this dal garnished with a dollop of plain yogurt and crusty sour dough toast along with a cup of chai masala and you’ll feel at peace with winter.

Yellow Dal

1 cup (7 ounces) Masoor dal, pink lentils

2 tablespoons butter, ghee, coconut oil or olive oil

½ medium onion cut in small dice

2-3 cloves garlic minced

½ Serrano chili sliced

½ cup chopped tomato, fresh or canned

½ teaspoon turmeric

4 cups water


handful of baby spinach, blanched, chopped kale or broccoli rabe (optional)

handful chopped cilantro or parsley (optional)

Most lentils today are well cleaned, but it’s wise to look them over for bits of chaff or a rare pebble by running your fingers through the dry lentils.

Warm the butter or oil in a medium soup pot. Saute the onion and garlic until softened and transparent. Add the lentils, chili, tomato, turmeric and water. Stir, bring to a boil and simmer covered until the lentils are mushy tender (20-30 minutes). Test by mashing a few lentils between your fingers. Season with salt and for a pureed soup texture, stir quickly with a whisk or a rotary beater.

While still hot, add the blanched, chopped greens and cilantro.

Taste for seasonings adding more salt if needed. You could also add a pinch of cayenne for added chili and a squeeze of lime juice if desired.

yellow Dal soup

Makes 6 generous cups of soup.


Iman Bayildi or Stuffed Eggplant

August 25, 2018


Long ago and far away in a legendary city by the sea, I bought a little paperback book. The year was 1964; the city-Dar es Salaam (haven of peace) established by Arab traders in the mid 19thcentury; the sea-the Indian Ocean; the book- Round the World in Eighty Dishes by Leslie Blanch. This 4-by 7-inch now tattered and stained book filled with exotic recipes accompanied by fanciful, curlicued drawings brought me delight and inspiration as I set about preparing tasty meals with

cut eggplant

limited provisions in a remote village of Tanzania.

The author, an English artist and novelist, traveled the world with her French diplomat husband and later on her own. She tells intriguing stories about each of the fabled recipes with tantalizing names such as The Emir’s Jewels, Rosy Dawn Dish, Roquebrune Tartine. Fortunately many of the recipes called for vegetables available occasionally in our local village market such as onions, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Eggplant,

squeezed eggplant

sometimes called garden egg in Africa, brinjal by Hindi speakers, aubergine by the Brits, is beloved by the Indians and Lebanese who often form the merchant class in African cities and villages. The vegetable grew well in small, cultivated gardens or shambas near plentiful water.

Thus eggplant it was when eggplant was in season. We had moussaka with minimal meat, poor man’s caviar (eggplant salad or spread), ratatouille and of course Iman Bayildi meaning the dish that

filling cooked

made the Iman swoon. This vegetarian stuffed eggplant is practically a national dish in Greece, Turkey and around the Middle East.  In Ms. Blanch’s recipe for this fatal eggplant preparation which caused the priest to faint, the vegetables are boiled, stewed and baked over pages of description. Nowadays, we take the same ingredients in a simplified formula and still reach a swoony result.

Iman Bayildi  (Stuffed Eggplant)


open ready

1 12-15 oz. black or purple eggplant

2-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion (8-10 oz.)

2-3 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (thyme, marjoram, basil, parsley, etc)

small pinch crushed red pepper (optional)

2 medium-large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced  (a generous cup)


(reserve the squeezed out tomato juice, strain out seeds)

Salt, pinch sugar

Remove the green cap from the eggplant, halve lengthwise, and cut the flesh into wide cross hatch without piercing the skin. Sprinkle generously with salt and set aside to let the salt draw excess water from the eggplant.

Meanwhile, peel, quarter and thinly slice the onion. Gently sweat the onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil (cover with butter wrappers or

served with yogurt

parchment). As the onion softens add chopped garlic, herbs and red pepper. Once the onion is fully wilted and the garlic fragrant, remove butter papers, add tomatoes, salt, pinch of sugar, and simmer until all the tomato juice has cooked away. Taste for seasoning.

Rinse salt from the eggplant and squeeze away excess moisture. Scrape the tomato mixture from the frying pan. Add another spoon of oil and sauté the eggplant, cut side down over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Turn the eggplant over and sauté for 10 minutes, covered.

served with cherry tomatoes

Lower the heat if it seems to be frying.

Taste the eggplant flesh. If it tastes salty enough, leave them as they are, or sprinkle with salt if needed. Place the eggplant shells in an oiled baking dish cut side up, fill them with the tomato mixture, pour around 2-3 tablespoons reserved tomato juice and bake in a 375º-400ºoven for 30-45 minutes or until very soft, slightly caramelized and temptingly delicious.

The stuffed eggplant may be served warm, but they are best at room temperature preferably with a spoonful of plain, homemade yogurt or a chiffonade of fresh basil and halved cherry tomatoes. Serves 2-4

More Free Food-Stuffed Wild Grape Leaves

July 17, 2018

Wild Grape Vines

High summer, high heat, high humidity. Everything’s lushly green and growth pushes garden fences. Weeds abound and wild things encroach. I used to collect bowls of mulberries along my walk through the play field until the park district removed the low branches. Yet still wild grape vines cover fences and climb tree trunks. Before the Japanese beetles chew them to bits, gather ye grape leaves while ye may. They are edible; they are free.

Grape leaves play a role is all Mediterranean cuisines. They cover fish for grilling, line pots for steaming and most notably hold rice or meat fillings for Greek Dolmades. Stuffed grape leaves make welcome appetizers, picnic food or casual snacks to keep in the fridge. You may buy prepared grape leaves in jars in supermarkets, or you may take a basket, scissors and clip some on a morning walk when it’s cool. Check the vines making sure you see a few tentative green grapes forming along the stems to insure you’re into the proper plant. When nibbled grape leaves are tart.

Filling Leaves

To prepare for filling, cut any excess stem from the leaves and blanch them for two to three minutes in boiling, salted water. Once drained and cooled, the leaves may be stacked, wrapped and refrigerated or frozen.

Lamb or beef fillings are common, but rice is a good keeper and accessible for a wider range of food preferences. Made with organic brown rice, lots of fresh herbs and good olive oil, stuffed grape leaves are delicious to eat, highly nutritious and a summer’s delight.

Stuffed Wild Grape Leaves

24-30 grape leaves

Ready to Steam

½ cup brown rice (organic round grain if possible)

1/8 teaspoon turmeric (optional)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2/3 cup finely chopped onion

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

a few slices chopped green chili (optional)

¼ cup chopped dill, parsley or mint

2 tablespoons currants (or 1 T each chopped dried tart cherries and raisins)

salt to taste

Ready to Eat

Juice ¼ lemon

Additional olive oil

Trim stems from grape leaves, blanch is boiling water and cool. The leaves will lose their bright green color and turn drab; that happens to greens with acid content. Grape leaves taste tart.

Cook rice with turmeric and pinch of salt until tender but not mushy. (A rice cooker is perfect here; cook 1cup rice to make the cooker work properly–freeze half for the next batch of stuffed leaves or use for rice salad.) Gently saute onion in 1tablespoon olive oil until soft and translucent. Add garlic and optional chili the last couple minutes.  Combine 1 heaped cup cooked rice, cooked onion, chopped herbs, currants and salt to taste.

On a clean counter or cutting board, place one grape leave at a time vein side (underside) up. Use a heaped teaspoon of filling centered in the lower third of the grape leaf. Fold the stem end up, the sides in and continue to roll up like a mini burrito. Line a heavy pot with three grape leaves and place the filled grape leaves snugly together in the pot. Make two layers of filled leaves if necessary. Sprinkle the rolls with juice of a quarter of a lemon, top with three more leaves. Sprinkle over a scant half-cup of water. Place a saucer on top to weight down and then the pot lid. Steam the filled leaves over low heat for a good half an hour. Remove lid, lift off saucer and cool. Before removing from the pot, drizzle over a generous twirl of good olive oil. Serve cold or at room temperature. Makes 20-24 dolmades






Opera Ball Punch

May 9, 2018

Don always ordered special refreshments for the university’s Opera Ball. Whether tea sandwiches and fancy small cakes or an assortment of tapas and mini tarts, it was a mad scramble to get the trays ready in time. When the request came in to include a fruit punch, desperate for time, I turned to frozen juice concentrate.

What evolved at the last minute became our standard Opera Ball Punch, and to this day it’s still a respectable alcohol-free party potion. It’s refreshing, not sticky sweet and enjoyable for both adults and children.

As May fills our calendars with end of the school year celebrations, graduations, picnics and parties, a quickly prepared, inexpensive punch is a handy formula to have in one’s recipe file. When I needed fruit punch for a group last week, I noticed that the original frozen grapefruit juice concentrate was no longer available in my large suburban supermarket. Instead I substituted low sugar, high fructose corn syrup free, lemonade. We also found that the punch flavor improved with a rest of a few hours in the fridge after mixing.

The punch may be fancied up with a fruit studded ice ring, a bouquet of fresh mint sprigs or plain with jingling ice in a frosty pitcher. Keep it tart adding just club soda for a last minute sparkle or sweeten it with ginger ale instead.

punch fixings

Opera Ball Punch

2 12 oz. cans frozen orange juice concentrate

1 12 oz. can frozen pineapple juice concentrate

1 12 oz. can frozen lemonade concentrate (low sugar)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 liter club soda or ginger ale, chilled

Stir together the juices plus 18 cups of

my grandson mixing punch

water in a 3-gallon soup pot or plastic

container. Add vanilla. Decant into jars and refrigerate a few hours. Just before serving pour into pitchers or a punch bowl; stir in a generous amount of ice and the chilled club soda or ginger ale. Serves 30 or more.


Brother Peter and Frank’s Slaw

July 31, 2017

“Don’t miss the chance to reconnect,” chirped Barbara, as we walked through the park several weeks ago. I had just recounted how a manuscript fact-checking search linked me with Brother Peter Farnesi whom I met 53 years ago at Nandembo mission near Tunduru in Southern Tanzania. Google led me to the Salvatorian headquarters, and even though I had only a first name, a place and a date, I discovered Brother Peter, now 91, living in a retirement community in Milwaukee, not far from here.

When my choir mate, Amanda, mentioned traveling to Milwaukee to deliver her MFA thesis, I asked to come along and my quest was underway. Of course after all these years, I had no memory of his appearance, but when a lively gent bounded down the hall of the Alexian Village, I knew this must be Brother Peter. The hours flew by as we talked memories, both of us happy to recall and relate stories we could easily visualize from the experience of being there.

The son of Italian immigrants, Peter grew up in the San Joaquin Valley. He worked as a cowboy, rodeo performer, farmer, cook, carpenter before he was drafted. While in the army he felt a call to give his life to serving others. Joining the Salvatorian Brothers, he accepted a mission assignment in Tanganyika. When he reached the Nandembo station in 1960 it was a bare bones, Benedictine house. (In the African bush, missions were developed a day’s journey apart, for means of communication, supplies and basic contact with the outside world.) Over his 24 years at Nandembo, Brother Peter built a carpentry school for boys, a domestic science school for girls and a medical dispensary as well as a farm. The mission farm boasted 50 head of Zebu mixed cattle, flocks of hens, a drove of pigs as well as a large vegetable garden and an orchard of cashew trees. It was ‘shoulder to the wheel’ work for decades for this master craftsman and Jack-of-all-trades. Days were long and hot, often with distress calls to drive a villager to the hospital 30 miles away in the middle of the night.

Brother Peter lovingly fulfilled his commitment to live among and to help the native people. “No man wants to hear the gospel if he is starving or sick” but when bellies are filled this man may ask, “ Who is this God you pray to?”

Peter told the story of a local woman who came to the mission garden, saw a large beautiful cabbage and asked to buy it. “No, madam, I will not sell it to you,” he responded. “But I will give you seeds and teach you how to grow the same cabbage in your own garden.”

All the white missionaries are gone now from Nandembo. The African Salvatorians are carrying forward, and I’m sure Brother Peter is warmly remembered there. I left Milwaukee feeling I had stood in the shadow of a living saint, a man who walked among the neediest and gave his life to their service.

Cabbages were often available in East African village markets and this southern cole slaw recipe from my good friend Frank is welcome on any continent, in any climate, at any time of year.

Slaw fixings

Frank’s Cole Slaw

3 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons white vinegar (wine, rice or distilled)

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ tablespoons oil (olive, sunflower or canola)

½ teaspoon celery seed (optional)

1 lb. green cabbage (6 cups shredded)

¼ large sweet onion (½ cup chopped)

½ green pepper (½ cup chopped)

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

In a small bowl, combine sugar, vinegar, salt, oil and optional seeds. Whisk to disslove sugar and salt dissolve. (This mixture may be boiled.)

Frank’s Saw

Shred cabbage using a Japanese mandolin if possible. Finely chop onion and pepper. Combine shredded and chopped vegetables in wide bowl. Pour over the dressing. Toss and allow cabbage to wilt for at least half an hour. Refrigerate until ready to use. Drain excess liquid before serving. Will keep for almost a week in the fridge. Serves 4-5.


Note: red cabbage and red onion may be substituted for green; shredded carrots, diced apple may be added.


Rhubarb Ginger Jam

May 19, 2017

As I heaved yet another heavy load of weeds from my community garden plot, Elizabeth stopped by to say hello. She noticed the lush rhubarb plant in the front corner and asked if I’d tried Rachel’s rhubarb and ginger jam. ‘It’s lovely with a bit of aged cheddar; I’ll send the recipe,” she added and set my mind whirling. I’ve poached, stewed and roasted rhubarb. Baked it into pies, tarts, muffins and braised it with meats for Persian Khoresh. My sister sent a similar rhubarb ginger jam recipe a few years ago but then I had only the old fashioned green pie plant so my jam wasn’t rosy. Now that I have this healthy clump of red rhubarb, it was time to revisit the jam.

Rhubarb may be one of our most ancient cultivated perennial vegetables, though we use it as a fruit. It’s thought to have originated in Siberia and has long played a major role in traditional Chinese medicine. As we learn more about natural plant healing properties, rhubarb offers benefits for our bones, eyes and brains; it’s claimed to fight cancer, memory loss and tummy troubles At its very best right now, pick rhubarb for a healthy, delicious treat.

A fruit conserve goes nicely with cheese for dessert or a course on it’s own. The quince paste, membrillo, is trendy while in winter, little fig and almond cakes with fennel add that holiday touch of sweetness. This tart rhubarb jam fills in at any time and the punch of ginger makes it a perfect complement for crumbly cheddar, soft goat cheese or creamy Brie. It’s equally good on toast or biscuits or baked into pastry for jam tarts. If your rhubarb plant needs stalks pulled to prevent bolting and to keep it going through the summer, now’s the time to put up a few jars of jam. This small batch recipe will take only a few minutes to prep and about 15 minutes to cook, so in very little time, you’ll have something special to enjoy now or hold for later.

Rhubarb Ginger Jam

 16 oz. sliced rhubarb (4 cups)

15 oz. sugar (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons)

tiny pinch salt

4 teaspoons grated, peeled fresh ginger (use microplane)

grated rind ½ lemon

2 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely chopped candied ginger (optional)

Remove leaves and end bits from rhubarb and weight 16 oz. clean stalks. Cut into ½ inch slices.

Cover cut rhubarb with sugar; add pinch salt, grated ginger, lemon rind and lemon juice. Mix well and allow to stand an hour or overnight until the juices start to run. Bring the mixture to a slow boil stirring occasionally. Increase heat and continue a steady boil, stirring occasionally, for approximately 15 minutes or until the mixture is jam thick. (test by watching jam drop thickly from a spoon, or place a blob on a small, ice cold saucer to check for the set.)

Have ready 2-3 sterilized jam jars and lids heating in a small pot of simmering water. Ladle the hot jam into the hot jars, wipe any drips from the jar rims and tightly pop on the lids.,Jam should seal as it cools. If you are uncertain of a seal, store in the fridge. Makes about 2 ½ cups jam




Magic Vinegar Chicken

April 8, 2016
Vinegar Chicken

Vinegar Chicken

Eons ago I learned to make Vinegar Chicken. When I feel the yen for fried chicken, this is my go-to response. My method is so simple that it could be called “cooking without a recipe.” The dish finds a place in most French cookbooks, and it seems an odd combination. When we stop and think, however, we realize that the acid in the wine vinegar boils away after its tenderizing touch to the protein, and the essence of wine is left to make a lovely glaze. I didn’t think it could work, but it’s magical.

Almost everyone enjoys fried chicken, yet we know we shouldn’t overindulge in fat. Here’s a quick week-night chicken sauté doused with a splash of basic wine vinegar that lifts a simple bird to irresistible flavor. The Vinegar Chicken (sounds much better as Poulet au Vinaigre) combines the golden skin of carefully turned pan-fried poultry plus a rich, amber glaze with minimal fat. Remember that chicken cooked ON the bone has lots more calcium as well as more nutrition and taste all around. The Whole Food concept of eating doesn’t mean boneless, skinless. Likewise many French cookbook recipes call for larger quantities of vinegar, unnecessary in the US where vinegar has a higher acidic content. This smaller dose late in the cooking gives a savory yum—the umami of perfect deliciousness.

Wanting fried chicken without the FRY, then simply sauté and seal in the lip smacking flavor with vinegar.

Vinegar Chicken, Poulet au Vinaigre

3-3½ lb. frying chicken cut up or 2-2½ lbs. bone in, skin on chicken thighs

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

10-12 cloves garlic (papery skin on)

3-4 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar

½ teaspoon flour

1 teaspoon tomato paste

¾ cup chicken stock or water

1 tablespoon butter (optional)

Dry chicken pieces with paper towel; sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in heavy skillet (cast iron if possible) and sauté chicken over moderate heat until golden. Strew in garlic cloves after chicken has cooked 5 minutes. (Cover pan with spatter screen to contain grease.) Turn the chicken several times as it cooks, making sure it is nicely browned on all sides and done, 20-30 minutes depending on size of pieces.

Measure vinegar into small cup near stovetop. Pour or spoon off excess fat. Reduce heat;  quickly sprinkle over vinegar and immediately cover with lid. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove chicken to a warm platter, stir flour and tomato paste into dripping. Add stock or water and boil up to a rich sauce. Swirl in butter if desired. Pour sauce over chicken. Squeeze softened garlic from paper skins to enjoy along with the chicken. Serves 4.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon






Summer Squash Cakes

August 5, 2015

summer squashcakes photo-18Hiricas lived in a shabby wooden farmhouse on a couple of acres next to our place. All their linoleum-floored rooms were dark—a dim porch with a ceiling swing and stacks of rumpled Czech newspapers, a black heavy table and buffet in a dining room that was never used, and a low ceilinged grease-stained kitchen with a coal range and smells of old world garlic. For eight-year-old me, this was Gothic. I was drawn almost hypnotically to cross the east orchard and rap at their back screen door. I didn’t venture into the dirt cellar basement, but I’d climb the creaky stairs to the kitchen always hoping there’d be something good to eat—something I’d never find at home.

Now many decades later, there are only a few tastes I remember. In autumn there were sweet, doughnut-like fried rolls filled with the freshly ground poppy seeds harvested from the opium poppies grown alongside the gravel driveway. That creamy, soft, nut flavor can’t be duplicated from the usually stale poppy seeds sitting on grocery shelves. Those rolls and the walnut potica remain a memory.

But back to the subject: In the heavy afternoon heat of late summer, I might find a plate of fried summer squash left on the oilcloth-covered kitchen table. Mrs. Hirica, always eager to offer something to her curious neighbor, helped me buy my first cookbook about European food—a collection of Czech recipes.

Last Sunday I found an almost too large, lumpy skinned yellow summer squash in my garden. It was about seven inches long and too mature to grill or stir-fry. It was from my own carefully tended vine, too precious to toss on the compost heap. I remembered Hiricas’ decadent and delicious squash cakes. My mind whipped back to a memory of something I hadn’t put on a plate in almost forever. As a treat for a meatless Monday supper, my lumpy skinned squash became creamy-centered, crisp cakes served with a pool of basil scented yogurt sauce. Tucked next to a corn and kale pilaf alongside beans stewed with tomatoes and zucchini, a crookneck squash took me home again.

Summer Squash Cakes

1 yellow summer squash no more than 3 inches in diameter



1 egg

1 cup fine, dry bread crumbs

olive, canola or grape seed oil

Remove stem and blossom ends from squash. Cut into ½ inch slices. Sprinkle both sides of slices lightly with salt and allow to stand on a wire rack for 15-30 minutes. Blot away excess moisture with paper towel.

Prepare a plate of flour, a bowl of beaten egg and a plate of breadcrumbs. Dust each slice of squash with flour, dip in egg and then coat with breadcrumbs. Place the crumb covered slices back on the wire rack to dry a few minutes.

Heat a heavy cast iron skillet filmed with oil, and add the squash slices to the hot oil making sure they aren’t crowded. Keep the heat moderate. The squash will need to cook 10-15 minutes per side or until the coating is nicely browned and the center is tender (when pierced with a toothpick). Serve the squash cakes immediately, hold in a low oven or cool to room temperature and leave on the kitchen table for your little neighbor who might knock looking for a snack.

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



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