Monday, March 31, 2014

Cherry Clafouti

So, what exactly is a clafouti? Well, it's a French dish, traditionally with cherries baked in a flan-like batter. It's sort of like if a pancake and a custard had a baby. It can be served as a dessert, with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream, or for breakfast or brunch with a little powdered sugar. It's really kind of elegant in its simplicity. It's not as sweet as you think it might be, but it's just sweet enough. Cool, huh?
 I must confess I was not familiar with it until I saw Chef Anne making it on Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. It looked so easy and quick, I thought "Why not?' And it turns out that it was exactly as easy and quick as it seemed. And SO tasty!! I love that she adds ground almonds to the batter (which is her own little thumbprint, as she says). It gives it the nicest little bit of texture. I think I'd even carry the almond thing a little further by adding a little almond extract. Cherries and almonds are such good friends, so why not? I think I'd like it better as a brunch item instead of a dessert item. It sort of has that same vibe as French Toast when it comes to having something sweet for breakfast. I love discovering new dishes, don't you?? Try it!!

1/2 stick butter, melted, plus more for baking dish
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for baking dish
1 pound fresh cherries, pitted and cut in 1/2 or 1 box frozen cherries
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch salt
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 lemon, zested
Powdered sugar
Ice cream or whipped cream, for garnish

Preheat oven to 325ºF.
 Generously butter and flour a 7 by 5-inch baking dish or 6 individual, wide, flat gratin dishes. Add the cherries, in an even layer, to the prepared baking dish. In the bowl of a food processor, add the almonds, sugar, flour and salt and pulse until they are coarsely chopped. In a large bowl, using a whisk, combine the eggs, milk, vanilla and lemon zest until they are homogeneous. Add in the melted butter and the flour mixture and whisk until smooth. Pour over the cherries. Bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the center is set and the top is golden brown. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with ice cream or whipped cream or both!

I used an 8x8 baking dish and it turned out perfectly. Just sayin.
I used frozen cherries, but definitely try this with fresh cherries when they're in season. And if you do, be sure to buy a cherry pitter! It's an absolute MUST! I wouldn't make it without it!
Be sure to add the lemon zest. It gives such an amazing flavor and brightens up the whole dish!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Crock Pot Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

 I saw this recipe on Facebook and decided to give it a try. I have to say, though, that I was a little skeptical as I was preparing it, because sometimes the recipes that people post of FB or Pinterest aren't all they're cracked up to be. But let me just tell you.... This one absolutely IS! I LOVED it! It was SO easy, and it was delicious and hearty and comforting and filled with all kinds of "start your day with a good breakfast". This is the perfect do ahead recipe for the family that has a hectic start every morning, trying to get everyone fed and out of the house on time for work or school. You just throw it together the night before, and breakfast is ready in the morning! Perfect, right? I'm not sure where the recipe originated, but it's definitely a keeper!

Nonstick spray
2 apples, peeled, cored, sliced
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups oatmeal
4 cups water

Spray the inside of your crock pot with nonstick spray. Place the apple slices, brown sugar and cinnamon in the bottom. Pour the oatmeal and water on top. Do not stir. Cook on low overnight for 8-9 hours. It's just as simple as that!

 Be sure to spray your crock pot with nonstick spray before you make this. It makes for a MUCH better time of cleaning it afterwards.
 If you have a larger crowd to feed, I bet you could double or triple this recipe (if you have a large crock pot). I've never tried it, though, so this is just a guess. I'll have to give it a try.
I'm also wondering if this would work with peaches. I'll have to give that one a try too!!
 I topped mine with a few pecans, just to give a little crunch. You could also try a few walnuts or just a little granola. Next time I think I'll add a little freshness by topping it with a few fresh berries.
Love it!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish Beer and Cheddar Soup

 I recently made this for my family's Olympics Opening Ceremonies party. (I'm sure every family has an Olympics party, right?) In keeping with the International theme, we always choose foods from different countries for our menu. This time I chose Ireland and Russia. For Russia, I made Beef Stroganoff (which was FABULOUS, btw) and this soup was my Irish contribution.
 It's really easy to throw together and it's rich and hearty. BIG BOLD flavors too! Actually, tbh, this isn't the exact recipe I made for the party. The original batch had a VERY strong beer flavor. (You know that bite that comes from the hops in the beer? yeah, that.) It was fine, but I think it overpowered all the other flavors.  My brother Chris loved it, but I felt that I needed to tweak it a little. So, here is the newer version.
Give it a try and let me know what you think!

1 onion, chopped
2 tbs butter
12 oz bottle lager (recommended: Harp Lager) 
32 oz chicken stock 
Salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs potatoes (peeled and diced) 
2 tbs cornstarch 
1 lb cheddar (shredded) 
8 oz Cheese Whiz
Bacon, crisp and crumbled 
Chopped chives

 In a large heavy pot, saute the onions in butter until they begin to soften. Add the beer and chicken stock and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the potatoes and cook until tender. Stir together cornstarch with a little cold water. Whisk the cornstarch mixture into the soup and reduce the heat to low. Stir in the shredded Cheddar, a little at a time. Turn off heat and whisk in the cheese sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into serving bowls. Top with bacon and chives.

This would be fabulous served in a bread or pretzel bowl. For a little extra decadence, serve with a dollop of sour cream on top.  YUM.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Joey's Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

 When my friend Michele and I decided to have a Disney movie night, of course I decided to make it a dinner and a movie night. So, I asked her what some of her favorites are and she mentioned that she loves scalloped potatoes. I immediately thought, ok, lets do a meat and potatoes thing with some yummy roasted vegetables. EASY! And then I realized that I didn't really have a go-to recipe for scalloped potatoes. It was always something that I just threw together, but I never really paid any attention to what I was throwing. Sometimes I'd throw chives in, sometimes garlic, sometimes I'd even crumble some bacon over the top. So I made it a few more times, just to see which was my favorite version, and this is it! This is the definitive recipe! It's creamy and cheesy and comforting and rich without being too heavy, and it goes perfectly with any meat. Add any kind of veg, and boom, there's your dinner!
 Michele absolutely LOVED it! I also made it for Chris and Claire who gave it two big thumbs up! And actually, now that I think of it, I'll definitely have to make it for my BFF Paul, because potatoes are his all time favorite food. So, give it a try! I KNOW you'll love it!

3 lbs baby red potatoes
1 small onion, finely minced
4 tbs butter
4 tbs flour
2 1/2 cups milk
a splash of dry white wine (optional)
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbs melted butter

Heat oven to 350ºF.
 In a large pot of salted boiling water, par boil the potatoes until they're cooked about halfway through. Slice them into small disks about 1/4 inch thick.
 Meanwhile, in a saucepan, over medium heat, saute the chopped onions in butter until they begin to soften. Add the flour and whisk together to make a paste. Let it cook for another minute or two. Add the milk, shredded cheese, and the wine, if using, whisking until smooth and thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.
 Toss the potato slices with the sauce until well coated, then place in a buttered 9x13 casserole dish. Stir together the bread crumbs, grated cheese, and melted butter. Sprinkle over the top of the potatoes. Bake for 45 minutes or until bubbly and golden.

-Be sure to taste the cream sauce before you toss the potatoes into it. It will need more salt than you think it will! 
-If you're not a fan of Swiss cheese, use another kind of cheese such as Cheddar or any other cheese that melts nicely and has a nice sharpness to it.
-That little splash of white wine really brings a lot to the party. It elevates the flavor to a whole new level, so if you happen to have some on hand, DEFINITELY use it!
-If you'd like to add garlic or crumbled bacon, or chives, go for it!
-You can absolutely assemble it a day or two in advance, and then just pop it in the oven an hour before dinner.
-I didn't bother to peel the potatoes, but if you feel so inclined, knock yourself out!
-You don't really have to par boil the potatoes. You can slice them raw and then proceed as directed, only bake them for a longer period of time until they're tender. Use a fork to test them for doneness.
-Oh one other thing... it's not a bad idea to place the casserole dish on a tray when you place it in the oven, just in case anything bubbles over..... not that I know this from experience or anything....

Monday, March 3, 2014

Joey's Lamb Stew

 If you know me, you know how much I love a fabulous hearty stew. It's just one of those things that makes the whole house smell like home. And as many times as I've made beef stew, oddly enough, I had never tried lamb stew. We never had lamb growing up, probably because it's a tad more expensive than beef. But now that I can afford a little splurge when I feel so inclined, I decided to make it. So, I looked for a few recipes. Basically, many of the recipes that I found can be used for beef or lamb, so I wondered what the difference would be.
 Let me just tell you, if you've never tried it before, you simply must! There is a HUGE difference! For me it was not only the taste, but it was also the texture of the sauce. The meat just fell apart, just as any beef cubes would, but the sauce was so velvety and rich! OMG I couldn't stop eating it.
 So if you're looking for a something other than corned beef or ham and cabbage this St. Patrick's Day, give this one a try. On second thought, don't even wait until then. You should make this right away! Like, today. Like, right now. If you like a hearty stew, I just bet you'll love this one.

Flour for dredging
1-1/2 pounds lamb stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
5 or 6 strips bacon, cut into thin pieces (or lardons)
3 medium onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups reduced-sodium beef broth
3 or 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 lb carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
a bundle of fresh thyme sprigs, tied together
3 or 4 bay leaves
1 pkg frozen peas
few splashes Worcestershire sauce
Fresh parsley, optional

 Heat oven to 350ºF.
Place flour in a large resealable plastic bag. Add lamb, a few pieces at a time, and shake to coat. In a Dutch oven, brown lamb in batches in 2 tablespoons oil. Remove and set aside. In the same pan, saute bacon until some of the fat is rendered. Add onions and continue to cook until they begin to soften. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Add broth, stirring to loosen browned bits from pan. Return lamb to the pan. Add potatoes, carrots, thyme bundle, and bay leaves. Cover and place in oven for about 2 hours. Remove from oven and place pot over low heat on the stove. Remove bay leaves and what is left of the thyme bundle. Make a slurry by adding a few tablespoons of flour to the same amount of cold water. Add to the stew and stir until thickened. Add the peas and Worcester sauce. Adjust seasoning if needed. Top with chopped fresh parsley, if desired.

I like to braise the meat in the oven and then thicken it on the stove afterwards, but you can just simmer it on the stove for a couple hours until the meat is tender and skip the oven altogether. You could also do the whole thing in the crock pot. Just brown it up as directed and then cook it on low for 9 or 10 hours. I'd still wait until the end to add the Worcestershire sauce and the peas.
If you can't find lamb cubes for stew, you can use lamb shanks or chops and then pull the meat off the bones after it is cooked. Not a fan of lamb? Use beef instead!!
Now I'm just waiting for someone to ask how the lamb stew is so I can say "not baaaaaad". LOL