Love, Winter, and St. Valentine's Day...

We've returned from our month-long sojourn at the Circle B Kitchen West and have just about got ourselves re-acclimated to the reality of our winters here in the Midwest.  This is no small shift, both emotionally and physically, from "winter" on the Central Coast of California.  We've traded the stunning colors of brilliant green hillsides, blue skies and turquoise ocean for varying shades of brown and grey.  Snow is moving in tonight so tomorrow all of this dreary will be clothed in sparkly white and it will be beautiful and lovely, and until it melts away, I'll be a little happier about looking out the window.

And really I haven't had much time for staring out the window anyway.  It's taken all of our time over the past few days to get ourselves unpacked, and get this place up and running again.  I also haven't had time to get to any of the recipes I want to share with you.  Cooking has been mostly about convenience and availability.  I feel pretty derelict in my culinary responsibilities here, but I promise I'll be getting back on the horse very soon.

In the meantime, in looking at the calendar this morning, I realized that exactly one week from today is Valentine's, and perhaps some planning is in order.  And so I thought I might, at the very least, share some of that with you.  Not everyone is into Valentine's Day for all sorts of reasons, and I have my own reservations about it, but in the end, the idea of putting aside a day, an evening or an hour to celebrate love, with food, always ends up sounding pretty awesome to me.

In my mind, food and romance are very easily intertwined.  I suppose we all have our personal ideas of what constitutes romantic foods, but for me, seafood (i.e. shrimp, scallops swordfish) when beautifully prepared can be very romantic.  And pasta... a gorgeously silky pasta is always rather dreamy.  Or a platter of small bites to be shared with a glass of champagne or vino can be quite romantic as well.  Chocolate.  Of course, always chocolate.

So, if you're starting to think about Valentine's, or even if you're not the least interested, here are a few ideas I'm bouncing around on the right side of my brain this week....

...how 'bout a scrumptious LASAGNA that can be (and should be) made ahead so your evening can be totally devoted to your loved one.

Or possibly some gorgeous SCALLOPS with a homemade romesco sauce.

Or one of my personal favorites... SPAGHETTI WITH CLAMS IN PARCHMENT.

There really are few things as wondrous as a perfectly cooked piece of SWORDFISH and I give you step by step instructions on how to do just that.  And an amazingly delicious provencal sauce to go with.

And if you're into a big platter of finger foods to be shared between you...

This is one of our favorites... A SALMON NICOISE PLATTER, complete with yummy roasted salmon, olives, baby mozzarella balls, sliced potatoes, hard boiled eggs and seasoned green beans, and don't forget the fresh, crusty bread.

And there's the ubiquitous PASTA ALLA PUTTANESCA, which is ever so spicy and yummy.

But, of course, in the end, the king of romantic meals might just have to be this GRILLED SEAFOOD PASTA.  It's beautiful and just ever so scrumptious.

And any one of our 300 desserts would be a lovely finish to your Valentine's meal, but here are a few that I'm considering...

These fantastic CREPES WITH MASCARPONE, CHOCOLATE CHIPS AND CHERRY SAUCE.  Soooo good.  

Romantic desserts don't actually have to be chocolate... case in point, this incredibly delicious COCONUT PIE CREAM PUFF.  Doesn't get much better that this!

And then there are these amazing little CREPES FILLED WITH NUTELLA, MASCARPONE AND BANANAS. Not even kidding about how good these are...

And really, people.  Is there any more romantic dessert than TIRAMISU?  I think not.  Yes, make this and life will be complete.  We're done.

Alrighty then, this is what I'm thinking about and pondering for our Valentine's moment here at the Circle B Kitchen. Having been together for 49 years now, The Husband and I don't need a Hallmark-invented holiday to dictate romance, but having said that, neither are we going to turn down any excuse to create a romantic evening with delicious food, a little wine and lots of fun.  Of course, we all know that we don't have to wait until February 14th to make a beautiful meal for someone you love.  Happy Valentine's Day from The Circle B Kitchen!!  

Macaroni vs. Guilt: Macaroni wins

It's been over a month since my last post, and in spite of feeling more than a bit neglectful of my little corner of the interwebs, I've been making good use of my time away.

Firstly, we are still here with family, tending to all the details that families must work through when a loved one passes away.  We'll be returning home within the week, which will bring our stay to almost exactly a month.  We promised ourselves and the family that we would stay as long as we were needed and that time is about wrapped up, with a few extra days thrown in for some R and R.

What cooking I have done during this time has been simple, comforting foods from our "favorites" file, supplemented by a little takeout here and some dinners out there.  I haven't pushed myself to do any recipe testing or photography, but have instead, when not otherwise occupied, taken on the monumental task of recipe organization, which sounds fairly straightforward, but happens to be a ridiculously huge undertaking, with thousands of recipes scattered between Evernote, Microsoft Word and hardcopy files in my office.  My New Years resolution is to get ALL of them into ONE place.  I'll tell you more about that in a bit.

As I mentioned, I've mostly been cooking favorite, comforting dishes, not only because this has been a hard, sad time in our family, but the grief and sadness engendered by national and world news these days also cries out for some serious consolation.  We have found that in our long walks together every morning, in the inspirational marches occurring all over the world, and yes, sometimes in familiar, comforting meals.

And when I talk about comfort food, you can just go ahead and assume there will be pasta involved.  It might be an Asian noodle bowl, it could maybe be a simple pasta with cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper), but the mac daddy of them all (in my personal comfort food bubble) will always be mac n cheese.  Which I never make.  Ever.  Except for the grandkids; yes I will make it for them, but never ever for me.  Ever.  I'm afraid that the guilt of all of those carbs and fat have overtaken my pleasure center so that more than 2 bites of the stuff will send me careening over the ledge of regret and self loathing.

But now I'm excited about it.  I mean really excited.  Last night I made it for us and I had seconds and I was happy.  No, I was beyond happy.  I was ecstatic.  Mac n cheese is back in my life, baby. And we have cauliflower to thank for it.

If you were to ask me what my favorite veggie is, the answer always has been and always will be cauliflower.  In any of its forms and incarnations.  So it really is only fitting that it should be cauliflower to come to my rescue and return my beloved mac n cheese to me.

I know, this isn't anything you haven't heard about already, and actually, it's so 2015.  But as in most food trends, I probably won't be hopping on the trendy bus until everyone's already off and boarded the next one.

So now that you're all already making couscous and cream sauces out of cauliflower and have been for like 2 years, I'm going to be over here hopping up and down in my little corner, saying "oh cool! Yay!  This really IS awesome!"  Good grief.

If you're still with me, I'll tell you how this all came down....  As I mentioned previously, I had no plans to test recipes while I was here.  I didn't bring my camera, so these photos were taken with my phone (except the cauliflower photo up there that I took at home with my real camera).  I didn't have any idea this was going to be as good as it turned out, so I took no process photos.  But it was so good I just had to share.

We're coming to the last few days here and at this point my focus always turns to using up every last bit of food in the fridge before we leave.  And there in the fridge sat this beautiful little head of cauliflower that I brought home from the farmer's market the previous week.  I spied a knob of cheddar and several containers of milk and I knew I had some macaroni in the cupboard, so it seemed a perfect time to give this a try.  

IMG_1767.jpg

Long story short, said cauliflower was broken into little florets and steamed until quite soft, cheese was grated, macaroni was cooked, milk was heated.  Cauliflower was drained and placed in a large bowl and pureed using an immersion blender, adding a little of the cauliflower cooking liquid and some nonfat milk until a silky, smooth sauce was achieved.  Cheese was added, macaroni and seasonings stirred in, and then the whole shebang was turned into a baking dish, sprinkled with parmesan and baked until brown and bubbly.

It was glorious.  We ate it along with some beautiful chicken they grill at the farmer's market here and can I just tell you that my culinary life may never be the same?  OK, my new favorite mac n cheese still has some carbs, but I made enough for a 2-quart casserole dish using only 6 oz of macaroni.  That's not too bad, right?  Whole milk (and cream) were replaced with nonfat milk and cheese was still there in all of it's cheddar glory.  But I'm very likely to try this next time with Gouda or fontina.  Smoked Gouda would be oh so lovely.  

This recipe has now taken its rightful place in the "favorites" file, which brings me back to my earlier topic in regards to recipe organization.  It's going fabulously well thanks to the Paprika app. Yes, I know, you guys have been using it for a long time now, but I'm so in love with it, and I hate sitting here on the 2015 trendy bus all by myself.  So just in case you missed out and are in need of a little culinary organization in your life, you might want to check it out.  So glad I did.  And if you haven't yet used your cauliflower for mac n cheese, here's the recipe...

Cauliflower Mac n Cheese

Click here for a printable recipe

Serves 4 as a side dish; 2 or 3 as a main course

6 oz large elbow macaroni
1 smallish head of cauliflower, cut into smallish flowerets
2/3 cups of milk (I used nonfat)
2-3 cups of grated cheddar cheese
2 T butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper (more or less according to taste)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Cook the macaroni for a couple minutes less than the package instructions. Drain.

Bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil and then add the cauliflower florets.  Bring the water back to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and let the cauliflower cook for about 7-8 minutes or until fork tender.  Alternately, you can steam the cauliflower.

Strain the cauliflower and place in a blender along with the milk or you can use an immersion blender for this.

Blend until the cauliflower is really smooth and silky, adding a little more milk as needed to make a smooth, creamy sauce.  You can also use some of the cauliflower cooking water in place of the milk.

In a medium-large saucepan, melt the butter and then add the cauliflower puree.  Stir in the grated cheddar until well blended and then stir in the macaroni.  Taste for salt and pepper, adjusting the seasoning as needed.

Grease a 2 quart baking dish and then spoon the macaroni into the pan.  Sprinkle the top with the grated parmesan cheese.

Place the pan under the broiler until the top is golden brown and bubbly.  Serve while still warm from the oven.

 

 

 

 

Old Year Passing...

The new year is only days away, and while this is usually my favorite time of year, this new years has taken a different kind of turn.  My dear, sweet Mother-in-Law, who I've been so lucky to call "Mom" for 45 years is slipping away from us.  At 97, she's lived a good, long, happy life, but somehow that doesn't make her passing any less difficult for the rest of us.

I tell you this because we are leaving to go be with her and the family, and it may be a while before I get back to the blog.  We're buying one-way tickets and will be with her for as long as we need to be there.

In the meantime, I wish you all a very wondrous New Year and hope that 2017 is your very best yet.  I hope to be back at some point with some new culinary inspirations, but in the meantime, have yourself some fun in the kitchen and be well....

💜

Patrice

                                                                                                            Mom and I,   2014

                                                                                                            Mom and I,   2014

Raspberry-Nutella Holiday Linzer Cookies

If you’re looking for a distraction from the news these days, baking cookies might just be the way to go.  There are still co-workers and neighbors and holiday guests who would love it if you offered them a plate of these festive little linzer cookies.  And then there’s always the no holds barred distraction of sitting in the corner and eating them yourself.

In any case, it’s the holidays, and no one is going to question why you’re baking cookies.  Here’s how much I’ve needed to distract myself.  Does this seem excessive?…

Just kidding. (About making all of these myself).  Actually this is a photo of the cookies made at our annual family cookie party this year, which included snickerdoodles, Russian tea cakes (aka snowballs), peanut butter blossoms, shortbread cookies, sugar cookies, Grinch cookies, cranberry/white chocolate/macadamia nut cookies and these linzer torte cookies.  The last two cookies in that list were my contributions to the event.  

So if you're feeling the need for a little holiday fun and cheer right about now,  you might consider making some of these scrumptious little linzer cookies.  First of all, they're just so pretty and festive, right?  Secondly, to increase the deliciousness quotient, I added a layer of Nutella to the raspberry filling (because chocolate and raspberry), and while that's not exactly traditional, it was dang awesome in there.

And as an added bonus, they really are fun to make!  Once you've got your dough made and chilled, you just roll it out and cut out your cookie rounds and then cut out the center of half of them using whatever little cutter you might have on hand. 

I wanted to make these a little smaller than usual, so I used a 2 1/4-inch fluted cutter for the cookie and a 3/4-inch star cutter for the center.  I also did some with circle centers and used the round end of a pastry nozzle for that.  Any cutters will work here, so be creative.

Once you have your cookies made and cooled, you'll want to dust the cutout halves with powdered sugar.  I decided to do this before assembling, so that the raspberry jam stars would really stand out.  Then you're just going to take one of those little cookie rounds and spread a little Nutella on it,

And then spread a little raspberry jam on top of that.  And then place a star cookie on top!  You're done!  

Before I go any further, I just have to say that while these cookies are incredibly fun and delicious with all of that jam and chocolate and powdered sugar, you might be happy just eating them plain. I had all of the grandkids here after I made these and dusted the star and circle cutouts with powdered sugar and they ate every last one.

Yeah, I know, they had powdered sugar on them, so of course they ate them, but the cookie itself was a huge hit, owing to its shortbread-like qualities.  Traditional linzer torte cookies have almond in them, so this dough is made with almond flour (and maybe a little butter) which makes them very, very eatable.

Distractions aside, there really is nothing quite like a festive little cookie to bring a little holiday cheer to your afternoon coffee.   If you're into spreading the cheer, here's the recipe...

Raspberry-Nutella Holiday Linzer cookies

Click here for a printable recipe

These are such fun cookies to make.  I used a 2 1/4-inch fluted cutter for the cookies and then a 3/4-inch star cutter for the cutouts.  I rolled my dough thinner than called for which makes a more delicate cookie.  Just watch them closely in the oven... they don't take long to cook!  You might not want to spread all of your cookies with jam and Nutella, as they’re really really good eaten plain.

Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

Makes about 2-3 dozen cookies, depending on the size of your cutters

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups (about 7 ounces) almond flour
2 cups (about 10 ounces) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
1 cup confectioners sugar, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg1 cup raspberry jam
1 cup Nutella (chocolate-hazelnut) spread

DIRECTIONS

Adjust oven rack to middle and lower middle positions and preheat oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, combine almond flour, flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon; set aside. In a large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, and 1 cup confectioners sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla and egg and beat to combine. Add dry ingredients and beat until just combined. Divide dough into two equal portions, wrap in plastic wrap, and let chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes.

On a clean, lightly floured work surface, roll out one ball of dough to a rectangle roughly 8-inches by 12-inches and 1/8-inch thick (I rolled mine a little thinner). Using the larger of your two cookie cutters, cut out an even number of cookies. Use the smaller cutter to cut holes in centers of half of cookies. Place cookies on prepared baking sheet, leaving 1/2-inch space between each cookie. Gather cookie scraps and re-roll until 1/8th-inch thick. Stamp more cookies. Continue until all of the dough is used up and the baking sheets are full. 

Bake cookies until golden, about 15 minutes, rotating back to front and top to bottom once during baking.

Let cookies sit at room temperature until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely. 

Sprinkle the cutout halves with powdered sugar.  Spread the bottom halves with jam and then Nutella. Top with a cut-out cookie.  Serve. 

Uneaten (ha!) cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 or 4 days.