Garden · Home · New Favorite

Layered Baked Ratatouille

Ratatouille is a vegetable side dish filled with wonderful flavors.  Every time I say the word ‘Ratatouille’ I have to smile and think of the Disney animated film Ratatouille. The young rat, Remy, dreams of becoming a famous French chef.  Such a funny film, great to watch with children, grandchildren or in the privacy of your own adult home…no one needs to know you’re watching a cartoon!

Celebrate after watching the film by enjoying the real deal!

LAYERED BAKED RATATOUILLE

2 cups (16 oz.) crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 small onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tsp dry) (plus more for sprinkling)
½ tsp. salt (plus more for sprinkling)
¼ tsp. pepper (plus more for sprinkling)
2 medium zucchini, thinly sliced*
2 medium yellow squash, thinly sliced*
2 small eggplant, thinly sliced*
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1” squares
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese, to top (optional)

  • Preheat oven to 375F.
  • Spread 1 tbsp. olive oil in the bottom of a 9 inch cast iron skillet. In a small bowl, mix the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, onion, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the base of your skillet.
  • Layer the sliced vegetables vertically around the skillet, packing them as tight as you can. (We find that it is easier to layer the zucchini, squash, and eggplant in the skillet and then go back in and tuck the red peppers within the layers after the other vegetables have been filled in.)
  • Season the top of the vegetables with additional salt, pepper, and thyme. Drizzle with more olive oil.
  • Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until bubbly and the vegetables are softened and starting to brown slightly.
  • Garnish with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Recipe from Curiouscuisinere.com

Family · New Favorite · New Traditions

Crusty No-Knead Bread

Crusty Bread that I don’t have to knead?  Just what I needed to go with the soup I was making.  Honestly, the recipe seemed too easy but it worked perfectly.  I baked the bread in my Lodge Dutch Oven and I baked it according to directions.  The crust was a little too brown, but the interior of the bread was perfect and tasted great!

It is wonderful served with soup and also wonderful as a sandwich.  As long as I plan a day ahead, I can make this bread any time!

CRUSTY NO-KNEAD BREAD

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. active dry yeast
1 ½ cups water 
room temperature

  • Form the dough: In a big bowl mix the flour, salt and yeast together. Pour water into the bowl and using a spatula or a wooden spoon mix it until well incorporated. You do not need to activate the yeast before, even though we’re using active dry yeast. The slow rising process will do the trick.
  • Allow it to rise: Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on your counter or inside your unheated oven for 12 to 18 hours.
  • Preheat your oven: Preheat oven to 450°F. Add your cast iron pot to the oven as it’s heating and heat it as well until it’s at 450°F. Usually when the oven is done preheating your pot should be hot enough as well. Remove the pot from the oven and remove the lid from it. Use oven mitts, as to not burn yourself.
  • Shape the dough: Flour your hands really well and also sprinkle a bit of flour over the dough. With your floured hands gently remove the dough from the bowl and roughly shape it into a ball. Sprinkle some extra flour directly into the bottom of the pot. Take the ball of dough and drop it into the pot. Cover the pot with the lid and place it back in the oven. Alternatively, you can also place the ball of dough onto a piece of parchment paper, then lift the parchment paper and drop it in the pot, with parchment paper and all. This could also ensure that your bread doesn’t stick at all to the bottom of the pot. I have found that if I use parchment paper, the bread doesn’t brown so much on the sides, but otherwise it’s still crusty and delicious.
  • Finish the bread: Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on, after which remove the lid and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove the bread from the pot, it should fall out easily. Let cool completely before slicing into it and serving.

Recipe from JoCooks.com

Family · Family Favorites · New Favorite

French Macarons by Daughter Megan

French Macarons are such a light, sweet delicacy.  I never would think of making them, yet, one day, my oldest daughter, Megan, called to say she’d had a dream about making Macarons and was going to bake them that very day.  Megan is the dessert maker in our family, always coming up with something new and delightful. Even so, I thought they would be extremely difficult, especially at Denver altitude.

Never fear!  The results were stunning and delectable.  The only change Megan made to the recipe was reducing the vanilla and adding almond extract to both the cookie and to the frosting. I’ll leave the Macaron making to Megan and praise (and enjoy) the results!

FRENCH MACARONS

For the Cookie

  • 100 g egg whites room temperature or 3 large eggs
  • 140 g almond flour or 1 1/2 cups
  • 90 g granulated sugar just under 1/2 cup
  • 130 g powdered sugar or 1 cup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla 5mL (Megan used 3/4 tsp. vanilla and 1/4 tsp. almond extract)
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar 800mg

For the Buttercream

  • 1 cup unsalted butter softened 226g
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar 100g
  • 1 tsp. vanilla (Megan used 3/4 tsp. vanilla and 1/4 tsp. almond extract)
  • 3 tbsp. water 30mL
  • 1 pinch salt

Instructions

For the Macarons:

  • Sift the confectioners sugar and almond flour into a bowl.
  • Add the room temperature egg whites into a very clean bowl.
  • Using an electric mixer, whisk egg whites. Once they begin to foam add the cream of tartar and then SLOWLY add the granulated sugar.
  • Add the food coloring (if desired) and vanilla then mix in. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form.
  • Begin folding in the 1/3 of the dry ingredients.
  • Be careful to add the remaining dry ingredients and fold gently.
  • The final mixture should look like flowing lava, and be able to fall into a figure eight without breaking. Spoon into a piping bag with a medium round piping tip and you’re ready to start piping.
  • Pipe one inch dollops onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (this should be glued down with dabs of batter). Tap on counter several times to release air bubbles. Allow to sit for about 40 minutes before placing in oven.
  • Bake at 300F for 12-15 minutes, rotate tray after 7 minutes. Allow to cool completely before removing from baking sheet.

For the French Buttercream Filling:

  • Combine sugar and water in medium saucepan. Heat over low heat while stirring until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium- high and bring to a boil
  • Put egg yolks in a stand-mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and beat until thick and foamy.
  • Cook the sugar and water syrup until it reaches 240 degrees F. Immediately remove from heat. With mixer running, SLOWLY drizzle hot syrup into bowl with yolks.
  • Continue mixing until the bottom of the bowl is cool to the touch and the yolk mixture has cooled to room temperature.
  • Add in butter one cube at a time allowing each piece to incorporate before adding the next. Add vanilla and salt. Continue mixing until buttercream is smooth and creamy. (About 5-6 minutes.) Add food coloring if desired.

For Assembly

  • Pipe your filling onto the back of half the shells. Form a sandwich and repeat. Macarons should be aged in the fridge for 1-3 days for best results. This allows the filling to soften the shells inside.

Notes

  • THE MERINGUE!!!! That meringue HAS TO BE STIFF! I had no idea French meringue could be whipped to such a thick marshmallowy consistency but all it takes is a bit of extra whisking. You’ll notice the meringue start to fill the whisk when you’re getting close to the right stage.
  • Sift, Sift, SIFT! Those larger pieces of almond flour will mar the surface of your macarons. Best practice is to sift then whiz in the food processor and repeat two more times. Discard the larger particles, don’t try to press them through the sieve.
  • Use a scale if possible, accuracy helps with this recipe.
  • The mixing will take some practice, you will fold and fold the batter and then use the spatula to GENTLY press the batter against the bowl. You want to remove some of the bubbles but not to many… Continue this until it reaches a thick “lava” consistency. It should slowly fall off the spatula in ribbons and be able to form a figure eight without breaking.
  • Pipe the macarons perpendicular to the surface. If your tip is pointing a bit in any particular direction when you pipe the macarons might be oblong or malformed.
  • Add your coloring to the meringue after it reaches the soft peak stage.
  • When you are finishing the piping motion stop squeezing the bag and pull up with a circular motion.
  • The macarons will be best after 2-3 days resting in the fridge.
  • If you over-bake the shells and they’re too crisp, brush the bottom with some milk before assembly to soften them up.

Recipe adapted from Preppykitchen.com

Family Favorites

Lemon Bars

Who doesn’t love a lemon bar?  I associate Lemon Bars with Spring, warmer weather, longer days, and early spring flowers.  The tart filling paired with the shortbread crust. Yummo!

LEMON BARS

Shortbread Crust

Lemon Filling

2 cups granulated sugar
6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
optional: confectioners’ sugar for dusting

  • Preheat the oven to 325°F (163°C). Line the bottom and sides of a 9×13 baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the sides to lift the finished bars out (makes cutting easier!). Set aside.
  • Make the crust: Mix the melted butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the flour and stir to completely combine. The dough will be thick. Press firmly into prepared pan, making sure the layer of crust is nice and even. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Remove from the oven. Using a fork, poke holes all over the top of the warm crust (not all the way through the crust). A new step I swear by, this helps the filling stick and holds the crust in place. Set aside until step 4.
  • Make the filling: Sift the sugar and flour together in a large bowl. Add the eggs and lemon juice and whisk until completely combined.
  • Pour filling over warm crust. Bake the bars for 22-26 minutes or until the center is relatively set and no longer jiggles. (Give the pan a light tap with an oven mitt to test.) Remove bars from the oven and cool completely at room temperature. I usually cool them for about 2 hours at room temperature, then stick in the refrigerator for 1-2 more hours until pretty chilled. I recommend serving chilled.
  • Once cool, lift the parchment paper out of the pan using the overhang on the sides. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and cut into squares before serving. For neat squares, wipe the knife clean between each cut. Cover and store leftover lemon bars in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
  • Freezing Instructions: Lemon bars can be frozen for up to 3-4 months. Cut the cooled bars (without confectioners’ sugar topping) into squares, then place onto a baking sheet. Freeze for 1 hour. Individually wrap each bar in aluminum foil or plastic wrap and place into a large bag or freezer container to freeze. Thaw in the refrigerator, then dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

Recipe from SallysBakingAddiction.com


 

New Favorite

Smoky Eggplant Dip

Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables. It started with fried Eggplant in my Mother’s kitchen, and through the years I have experienced eggplant in many ways.  I have made Ina Garten’s Eggplant Spread dozens of times.  This recipe is more like baba ganoush, with that wonderful smoky flavor.  The dip would be wonderful served with a fresh Greek Salad.

SMOKY EGGPLANT DIP

Makes about 2 cups

2 medium eggplants (about 1 pound each)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt, or to taste
6 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste), well-stirred if a new container
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced or pressed
Juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste, if desired
Pinch of cayenne or aleppo pepper
Pinch or two of ground cumin
2 tablespoons well-chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
Toasted sesame seeds or za’atar for garnish (optional)

  • Heat oven to 375°F.
  • Brush a baking sheet or roasting pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt.
  • Prick eggplants a few times with a fork or tip of a knife. Over a gas flame, grill or under a broiler, evenly char the skin of your eggplants. I like mine quite smoky and like to leave no purple visible. Transfer to a cutting board, and when cool enough to handle, trim off stem and cut lengthwise. Place cut side down on prepared baking sheet and roast for 30 to 35 minutes, until very, very tender when pressed. Let cool to room temperature.
  • Next Step Option 1: Food Processor: In a blender or food processor: Scrape eggplant flesh from skin and into the work bowl. Add tahini, lemon, cayenne, cumin and 1 tablespoon parsley. Blend in short bursts (pulses) until combined but still coarsely chopped.
  • Taste and adjust ingredients if needed. You may wish to add more salt and lemon.

To serve: Spoon into a bowl and drizzle with remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Scatter with second tablespoon of parsley, and some toasted sesame seeds or za’atar, if desired. Serve with pita wedges or naan.

Recipe from Smittenkitchen

New Favorite

Italian Spaghetti Squash Egg Cups

What do you do when you have a lot of leftover spaghetti squash and Italian sausage? You invent a recipe for egg cups. Through the years, I’ve made many types of egg cups, but spaghetti squash is a new one.  Frankly, I didn’t expect them to be very good, but they were delicious!  I made them and refrigerated them, heating them up in the microwave the next day.  I’ll definitely be making this again, and again.  

ITALIAN SPAGHETTI SQUASH EGG CUPS

5 eggs, beaten
3-4 cups cooked spaghetti squash
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup cooked Italian Sausage, crumbled
1/4 shredded Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
salt & pepper to taste
Extra shredded cheese to sprinkle on top of the egg cups before baking.

  • Mix all ingredients together. Pour into greased muffin tins (they tend to stick so grease generously). Sprinkle extra shredded cheese on top of each cup.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Makes about 16 egg cups

 

New Favorite

Pasta with Chard and Bacon

A few years ago I watched the Rachel Ray episode where she made this dish, sharing it was one of her husband’s favorites.  It’s easy peasy and so delicious!  It reminds me of a pasta with bacon that I made when the kids were small.  Delicious!

PASTA WITH CHARD AND BACON

1 large bunch or 1.5 pounds large, leafy Swiss chard
1/2 pound meaty bacon
2 tablespoon olive oil or butter
1 onion, white or yellow
1 leek
4 cloves garlic
salt & pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons thyme
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup stock, optional
1 pound spaghetti
1 cup pecans
about 3/4 cup heavy cream
about 1 cup grated Pecorino cheese, plus more for serving

  • Gather your ingredients.
  • Place a large pot of water on to boil for pasta.
  • Stem the chard. Chop the stems. Coarsely chop the greens and keep separate.
  • Stack the bacon and cut the bacon into batons 1/8 to 1/4-inch wide.
  • Peel and chop the onion. Halve the leek lengthwise and trim the tough green tops. Run the leek under the water and wash thoroughly. Chop the leek, whites and light greens. Peel the garlic and grate or chop.
  • Heat a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon and render, then remove from pan, if desired. Reserve 2 tablespoons drippings in pan, drain off excess if there is any.
  • Add EVOO or butter to pan and add the stems, onions, leeks and garlic. Season with salt, pepper, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and thyme and soften, 5 to 6 minutes. Add wine and stock if using and let it absorb.
  • Salt boiling water and cook pasta to 1 minute less than package directions for al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup starchy water.
  • Toast nuts while pasta cooks in small skillet over moderate heat.
  • Add cream to sauce, wilt the greens into stems and add a little nutmeg. Return bacon to pan. Drain pasta and add to sauce and greens with reserved water and cheese. Toss pasta 1 minute. Adjust seasoning and serve topped with chopped toasted nuts and pass more cheese at table.

Recipe adapted from RachelRay

Book Club · New Favorite

Crock Pot Beef Bourguignonne

Beef Bourguignonne is savory, hearty meal of tender beef with rich flavors.  I’ve enjoyed it many times with friends in their homes or in a restaurant but this was my first attempt to make it at home.  It was easy to make and even better to eat.

CROCK POT BEEF BOURGUIGNONNE

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
5 lb. beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 thick bacon slices, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 yellow onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
5 garlic cloves, chopped
2 bay leaves
6 fresh thyme sprigs
6 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
1 lb. white button mushrooms, halved
1 bottle Pinot Noir
1 tbps. beef demi-glace

  • Place the flour in a large bowl. Season the beef with salt and pepper, add to the flour and stir to coat evenly. Transfer to a plate, shaking off the excess flour.
  • In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil until almost smoking. Working in batches, brown the beef on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a slow cooker.
  • Add the bacon, carrots, onions and garlic to the sauté pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer to the slow cooker along with the bay leaves, thyme, parsley and mushrooms.
  • Off the heat, pour the wine into the sauté pan and set over medium-high heat. Whisk in the demi-glace and bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the pan bottom. Add to the slow cooker, cover and cook until the meat is fork tender, 6 hours on high or 8 hours on low. Discard the bay leaves.
  • Transfer the beef bourguignonne to a platter and serve with steamed potatoes. Serves 10.
Czech Heritage · Holidays · My Roots

Slovak Sauerkraut Soup

Czech and Slovak heritage is of great interest to me, given my Father’s family roots.  Late 2020, I participated in ‘Czech & Slovak Christmas’ offered through Global Slovakia Academy.  It was a wonderful class, offering education of the Slovak advent and holidays, celebrations and food.

One of the recipes shared was this Slovak Christmas Sauerkraut Soup.  It is traditionally made for Christmas Eve. I was not willing to wait until next December to make the soup!  The ingredients are things our ancestors would have had on hand:  wild dried mushrooms, sauerkraut, smoked sausage, etc.

I love to tweek recipes and decided to add homemade egg noodles for the last hour of cooking and loved the addition.  The soup was thick enough, so I chose not to add the flour and additional water.  This is a hearty soup and great paired with a hearty roll or rye bread.

SLOVAK CHRISTMAS SAUERKRAUT SOUP

1 package (32 oz) sauerkraut
2 quarts chicken or beef broth
6 whole black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
2 cups of dried wild mushrooms
1 klobásaor chorizo (Note: I used Kielbasa)
½ cup pitted prunes
1 large onion chopped
3 tsp sweet paprika
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Optional:  2 tbsp plain flour and 1 cup water
Salt and pepper
Optional:  I added homemade egg noodles to the soup about an hour before serving
  • If you are not keen on the sour flavor of the sauerkraut, you can wash it before proceeding with the recipe. However, we do recommend keeping it as it is – this is when it contains the most goodness and gives the iconic flavor and smell to the soup. Fry the onion in a large pot over medium heat. Traditionally, Christmas Eve dinner was strictly meat-free. Leave klobása out if you wish to stick with the tradition.
  • Place the sauerkraut, broth, peppercorns, bay leaves, salt and mushrooms into a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the sausage, prunes, and paprika. Lower the heat to gentle simmer and allow to cook for at least 2 hours. Our grandmas used to set the soup on lowest heat and keep it simmering until dinner time. It fills the entire house with quintessentially Slovak Christmas smell. (Note:  I simmered the soup on low for 4 hours).
  • Remove the bay leaves from the soup and discard. Season to taste. Serve.
Family · Family Favorites

Snickerdoodle Bars

Snickerdoodles have always been a family favorite.  What do you do when you want a Snickerdoodle but too lazy to make individual cookies?  You find a Snickerdoodle Bar recipe.  I doubled the recipe and made it in a 9 x 13 pan lined with parchment paper.  This recipe is easy and uses ingredients that are in most pantries.  Another recipe that will be made over and over again.

SNICKERDOODLE BARS

  • 1/2 c. Butter, room temp. (can use Vegan butter)
  • 1 Egg room temp.
  • 3/4 c. Granulated Sugar
  • 1/4 c. Brown Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1 1/2 c. Flour
  • 3/4 tsp. Cream of Tartar
  • 1/4 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 3/4 tsp. Cinnamon

Cinnamon Sugar Topping:

  • 2 Tbsp. Granulated Sugar
  • 2 tsp. Cinnamon
  • Allow butter and egg to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line an 8×8 baking dish with parchment paper. Set aside.
  • In a bowl, mix together butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until combined.
  • Add vanilla and egg and stir until fully mixed.
  • Add flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon to the bowl. Fold into the butter mixture until combined. Evenly spread the batter into the baking dish.
  • In a small bowl stir together sugar and cinnamon for the topping. Sprinkle on top of the cookie batter. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before removing and cutting into 16 squares.

Recipe from Mylifeafterdairy