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Southeast Asian Inspired Pork Stir-Fry with Greens

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In open markets across Southeast Asia, you will find all sorts of leafy greens, a testament to the role that deep green vegetables play in local  cuisines.  This trend has also taken off in the United States.  In part this is due to the growing  awareness of their health benefits but I believe it is also influenced by the increased presence of Hmong farmers at our local summer markets.  The Hmong in the U.S. came mainly from Laos as refugees after the Viet Nam War.  Their peaceful agrarian lives in the hills interrupted, the 2010 census counts roughly as many as 260,000 living within our borders.  Much has been written about their struggles but the beauty of their culture has added one more layer of richness to the U.S. melting pot.  Many have continued their farming practices bringing a wide variety of vegetables to American tables.  I thank them for their contributions.

According to Jill Nussinow, MS, RD, culinary educator in Northern California and author of The Veggie Queen, greens are the number one food you can eat regularly to improve your health.  This statement is strongly supported among the medical community as well.  WebMD asked the Veggie Queen to rank the country’s most widely-eaten greens from most to least nutritious.  Here are her top ten:

  1.  Kale
  2. Collards
  3. Turnip Greens
  4. Swiss chard
  5. Spinach
  6. Mustard greens
  7. Broccoli
  8. Red, Green leaf and Romaine lettuce
  9. Cabbage
  10. Iceberg Lettuce

The recipe I feature today, pairs my love of Southeast Asian flavors with my continued interest in eating healthy and incorporating as many greens as I can into my diet.  I used pork as my protein but this could easily be made with poultry, seafood, beef or tofu.

Here is how it went down:

Southeast Asian Inspired Pork Stir-Fry with Greens

Serves 4

Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis

1 bunch broccolini, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces

5 oz. baby kale (or bigger varieties, stemmed and cut into bite-size pieces)

2 t oil, neutral cooking oil such as, grapeseed

1lb. ground pork

4 cloves garlic, chopped

11/2 T chopped fresh ginger

1 Thai chile, sliced thin

4 T fresh lime juice

1 t palm sugar or light brown sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce (soy sauce could be used but I recommend using fish sauce)

4 scallions, sliced thin (separate whites and greens)

2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

3 c cooked rice (I used brown basmati) or rice noodles

  1. Blanch broccolini in boiling salted water for one minute.  Transfer to an

ice bath to cool.  Drain and set aside with baby kale.

2.  Heat the cooking oil in a large skillet.  Break the pork up into the oil and

cook for a minute or two.  Add the garlic, ginger and chile and cook until

meat is cooked through.

3.  Add the lime juice, sugar, and fish sauce.  Stir over medium heat and

cook with meat for about 2 minutes or until slightly reduced.

4.  Add the kale and stir until greens begin to soften.  Add the broccolini and

stir until heated through.

5.  Stir in the white parts of the scallion.  Serve over rice, garnished with

scallion greens and sesame seeds.

All of the vibrant fresh flavors marry, creating a complete meal perfect for summer and its plethora of green vegetables.  If you prefer other green combinations they can easily be substituted and adjusted to your palate.  I decided on broccolini mainly because we love it and enjoy the crunchiness it provides, balancing the softness of the greens, but regular broccoli or other vegetables could be used.  The chili, fresh lime juice, fish sauce and sugar provide the flavor profile of hot, sour, salty, sweet that the cuisines of SE Asia are known for.  It is the delicate contribution and balance of these flavors that take this simple stir fry to new heights.

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This season doesn’t have to be just about what’s grilling.  This one pot meal may soon become a summer, fall, winter, or spring family favorite.  Just keep it seasonal and it will easily become a regular at your dining table.  Stir-fry Saturday?   Whatever you are serving up today, keep spreading the love, one dish at a time.  Summer love to all of you from my kitchen to yours.  Keep it simple, keep it real.  Until next time, Jeanne.

 

 

 

Spinach Stuffed Portobello with Almonds

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The arrival of spring always gets me fired up waiting for the early vegetables. Around here that translates to ramps, morels, asparagus, arugula and one of my all time favorites, spinach.  This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch but just a few of the early gifts of the season that we look forward to every year.  There are always the standard preparations but the challenge for me is to find tasty new ways to enjoy these jewels while highlighting their natural flavor.  Normally I like to keep it simple with a minimal amount of additions, allowing them to be the star.  Today, however, I am sharing a recipe I recently developed for an appetizer pairing the meaty portobello mushroom with spinach.  Since both the mushroom and the spinach have an earthy flavor, I needed something to balance it out.  I chose cheese for its creaminess and tang and almonds for a bit of crunch.  The result was both beautiful and a treat to the tastebuds.

Let’s take a minute to talk about this very versatile leafy green vegetable.  It is thought that the early Spanish explorers were the ones responsible for bringing it to the United States.  “Popeye” was never without its power-packed goodness to supply him with extraordinary strength and endurance which may have contributed to its early popularity.  Regardless of its history, it is available year round in its raw form as well as frozen and canned.  Experienced cooks know about its shrinkage but if you are a novice in the kitchen, allow this to serve as a warning, a huge amount of raw product will lose considerable volume when cooked.  In part, this is because of the ample amount of water it contains.  There seems to be conflicting information regarding quantity of frozen vs fresh, but suffice it to say, if you are substituting fresh for frozen in a recipe, it will take about one pound of fresh to yield 1- 1 1/2 c after cooking.  That being said, it is often more economical and easier to use frozen when it is incorporated into a dish that is cooked.  I assume I don’t have to expound on the fact that fresh is imperative when it is served raw.  I might just add, it is this writers opinion that canned is never a good option.

For the featured recipe I chose to use frozen for the above reasons of cost and quantity but if you have it in your garden or it is readily available, fresh is a good choice as well.  Here is how it went down in my kitchen.

SPINACH STUFFED PORTOBELLO with ALMONDS

Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis           Serves 6 

6 portobello mushrooms, stem and gills removed

2T extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

4 large cloves fresh garlic, minced

1t bouquet garni spice, dried (other herbs could be substituted)

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 (10 oz.) packages frozen spinach, thawed

1/4 c whole milk or cream

3T sliced almonds, toasted

6 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 c)

3T Pecorino Romano, grated

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Brush mushroom caps with a small amount of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place top side down on a baking sheet.
  3. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute the onion until soft.  Add the garlic and cook another minute being careful not to burn.
  4. Squeeze any excess water out of the thawed spinach and add to the onion mixture.
  5. Season with the bouquet garni, salt and pepper.  Stir well and saute for another few minutes.  Add the milk or cream and stir well.
  6. Take off the heat and add half of the almonds, half the Gruyere and the Pecorino Romano; mix well.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust if needed.
  7. Distribute the filling evenly among the mushrooms and top with the remaining Gruyere and toasted almonds.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender and cheese is melted and beginning to brown.

Can be served, cut into bite-sized pieces, as an appetizer or served whole as a main course with a fresh salad and/or pasta lightly dressed with butter or pesto.

I served this as an appetizer but the portobello is hefty enough to satisfy even big eaters as an entree when paired with complimentary sides.  If you are vegetarian or just an advocate for “meatless Mondays” this recipe is a must have.

Creamy, earthy, crunchy, spiked with a bit of garlic and herbs, I can’t think of a better nod to the season or better way to spread the love, one dish at a time.  I hope you and your family and friends will find this as satisfying as I did whether it is a meal or a snack.  Until next time, may you find hope in the season and embrace its bounty.  Sending love to your kitchen from mine.  Jeanne

 

In the Kitchen with Henry

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Last Sunday afternoon, I was cooking with grandson, Henry, while his brother was getting a trumpet lesson from grandpa.  He arrived with his knife case in hand and was eager to have some instruction on making a quick Soba Noodle Bowl recipe that includes many of his favorite Asian flavors.  We began by making the broth using commercial chicken and beef stock, adding flavor bombs like a whole head of garlic, onions, fresh ginger, dried shiitake mushrooms, chili pepper and kombu, a type of dried seaweed that is added at the end and allowed to steep for 30 minutes (think Umami).  After it simmered and the broth was strained of all the solids we added additional flavor bombs of soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar and fresh lime. “The taste is amazing,” remarked Henry.   Enough said I guess.

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This brings me to the soba noodles.  Neither of the boys had ever had them before but really enjoyed their somewhat nutty taste.  If you are also unfamiliar with them, soba (SOH-buh) is a Japanese noodle made from buckwheat and wheat flour, which gives it a light brown color and a distinct flavor.  They are readily available in Asian markets and in the ethnic sections of many grocery stores.  If desired, you could substitute other noodles such as udon, rice noodles or even thin spaghetti for this recipe.  The same goes for the toppings.  I wasn’t really sure what the boys preferences were so I let Henry know what was available and he chose the ones he liked, which just happened to be all of them.  We just spread them out and allowed everyone to build their own bowl.  Henry agreed with me that this would make a fun interactive party dish.

When it was all prepared and ready to go, we called in the musicians and went at it.  A big success, it went down like this.

SOBA NOODLE BOWL with BEEF       Serves 6-8

Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis

BROTH

8c beef stock

4c chicken stock

1 head garlic, cut in half

1 bunch scallions, trimmed and whites separated from greens

1 large yellow onion, quartered

3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled

4 dried shiitake mushrooms

1 Thai or other chili, optional

1 piece Kombu, wiped lightly with damp cloth

2T soy sauce

1T toasted sesame oil

1T rice vinegar

Juice of 1 fresh lime

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Put both stocks in a large soup pot and add all ingredients except the scallion greens and Kombu.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer.  Cook, covered for 1 hour.
  2. Remove from heat and add the Kombu.  Cover, and steep for 30 minutes.  Strain the stock through a strainer lined with cheese cloth.  Discard the solids.
  3. Return the stock to the stove and heat through.  Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar and lime juice.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

NOODLE BOWL

12 oz. soba noodles, cooked according to package directions, drain and rinsed in cold water

4 eggs cooked soft (boil water, gently place eggs into the pan and cook for 7 minutes.  Remove immediately to an ice bath)

A selection of seasonal toppings such as, asparagus, snow peas, radish, spinach, brocollini, scallion greens, pea or bean sprouts

1 1/2 lbs. of steak, such as flank or skirt cooked and sliced thin

  1. For the vegetables such as asparagus, snow peas and brocollini, I like to blanch them separately for one minute in boiling salted water.  Remove quickly into an ice bath to set color and stop cooking.  Dry on a clean towel.
  2. Thinly slice the scallion greens and radish, if using (I like to do the radish on a mandolin slicer so they are paper thin).
  3. Prepare all the toppings including meat and arrange a selection so everyone can build their own.
  4. Peel and cut eggs in half lengthwise.
  5. To build, place raw spinach in the bottom of the bowl, if using.  Place desired amount of noodles on top of the spinach.  Ladle hot broth over the top and add the desired toppings and 1/2 soft cooked egg/ bowl.
  6. Garnish with the scallion greens and/ or sprouts.

Jeanne’s notes:

This is a shortened version of the stock but a good rich broth is essential for this dish. Make sure you have seasoned it well.  The broth is the star with the other ingredients being the supporting cast.  

You can use any seasonal vegetables you wish so be creative.  Blanching the vegetables makes them a vibrant color and just slightly more palatable than raw.  The soft cooked egg is traditional but of you like it with a harder yolk, cook it a few minutes longer.  If you would rather have chicken than beef, swap out the beef stock and steak for chicken.

Kitchen time with Henry is always a treat as he is an open eager learner who is very observant and gifted with an artist’s eye and passion.  Lucky me.  Love was abundant as a bit of cooking wisdom was passed to another generation along with music knowledge from Grandpa.  These are cherished moments I want to share, knowing they will pass much quicker than we can imagine.

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Before saying goodby, I want take a moment to honor my mother, Annabelle Raffetto, and my grandmother, Jenny Raffetto, who were most influential in my life and development and who first taught me the importance of spreading the love, one dish at a time.  Thank you both for all the priceless gifts.  Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.  I hope you are feeling the love today and everyday.  Until next time, Jeanne

Marinated Lentils with Crunchy Spring Vegetables

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There is a lot of talk these days about “green living” but spring has had the green thing going on for a long time.  This week I taught a class themed, “Spring Soups and Salads” featuring many of the vegetables we associate with this season.  Among them were asparagus, sugar snap peas, spring peas, scallions, arugula, radish and fresh herbs, mint and parsley.  The end of class evaluations and smiling faces verified I made good choices for the featured recipes.  Among the ones I chose is the salad I selected for today’s post, highlighting  the lovely and often underrated lentil.  Lentils are popular in parts of Europe and a staple throughout much of the Middle East and India.  This lens shaped PULSE has long been used as an inexpensive meat substitute and serves as a good source of calcium,vitamins A and B, iron and phosphorus.  In addition to the common brown variety, there are also red lentils, French green and black beluga, all becoming more widely used and more readily available.  These are the varieties I am familiar with, but there may be more.  I welcome learning about them, but I have yet to make their acquaintance.

For this preparation, it is recommended that you use either the French green (that is what is pictured here) or the black beluga.  Both of these varieties are smaller in size and hold their shape and maintain some ‘tooth’ when cooked, not breaking down easily like the red and brown, which would be more suitable for soups or stews.  There are endless possibilities for using these tiny delights. They can be served hot or cold as a side or entree depending what you choose to pair with them.  They are extremely versatile so I urge you to think of them as a blank canvas.  They are perfect for all seasons and will partner well with many spices and seasonal offerings.

Since the first of May makes its grand entrance this weekend,  I have prepared this salad with crunchy radish, celery, and scallion and gave it a garnish of fresh herbs.

Here is how it went down in my kitchen.

MARINATED LENTILS with CRUNCHY VEGETABLES

Serves 4

Recipe from Bon Appetit,  April 2016

1 large onion, quartered through the root

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 c black beluga or French green lentils, rinsed, picked

Kosher salt

1/4 c olive oil

1t coriander seeds

1/2 t cumin seeds

3T sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar (love the sherry)

Freshly ground black pepper

6 radishes, trimmed, very thinly sliced (I shaved them on a mandolin)

4 scallions. thinly sliced

1c fresh parsley and/or mint

1c thinly sliced celery hearts and leaves

  1. Cook onion, bay leaves and lentils in a large saucepan of simmering salted water until lentils are tender but still firm, about 15-20 minutes.  Drain; discard onion and bay leaves and transfer to a medium bowl.
  2. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Cook coriander seeds and cumin seeds, swirling the skillet until fragrant, about 1 minutes.  Add the spice mixture and vinegar to the lentils, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.
  3. Just before serving, top the lentils with radishes, scallions, herbs and celery;  season with salt and pepper.

NOTE:  Lentils (without the vegetables and herbs) can be marinated 3 days ahead.  Cover and chill.  Other seasonal vegetables can be added as you wish.

Lately I have really discovered many uses for sherry vinegar, which is what I used for this.  It might be my new BFF.  Just a small splash can really elevate many dishes.  The marinade infused with the toasted coriander and cumin seeds, is enhanced by the sherry vinegar giving it the perfect amount of warmth along with tang and vigor. The end garnish of fresh parsley and mint give it such a bright finish.  It is well balanced and satisfying and if spring has not yet sprung for you, this is the ticket to take you there.  As with all salad dressings, I always recommend using the best quality extra-virgin olive oil you have.  It makes a difference.

I am happy to report our first garden asparagus made an appearance this week and the local farmers markets have begun their rebirth.  This is such an exciting time of year!  The new calves, lambs and goats are all romping sweetly with their moms in the fields and the pastures resemble the Irish hillsides.  I look forward to tasting vegetables and fruits the way nature meant for them to taste as the seasons evolve.  Whatever you are up to, I hope you are enjoying life and spreading the love, one dish at a time.  Until next time, may good food grace your table and sunshine light your heart.  Sending love from my kitchen to yours.  Jeanne

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Spring Pea Soup with Mint

 

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“Green is the primary color of the world and that from which its loveliness arises.”                     Pedro Calderon de la Barca”

There is much discussion these days about living a “green” life and if that translates to, being more in tune with Mother nature and making conscience decisions regarding caring for the environment, count be in wholeheartedly.  Today, however, green has me thinking about the joy I feel as the spring unfolds and the landscape comes alive with the greenest of greens possible.  The rich hue of the grass is the brightest it can ever be and when you speckle that with the sunny dandelions and regal purple of the wood violet, I would be hard pressed to think of a more spectacular scene.  I always think autumn is my favorite as the leaves display their wide range of color but I must give spring equal billing for its long awaited glory.  I planted herbs on Earth Day in anticipation of their contribution to the summer menu and am anxiously waiting for the day when the threat of cold is gone and we are truly free to indulge our garden passions.

As the weather lifts, our appetites generally shift to lighter fare, but fear not, this doesn’t mean you have to stow away your beloved soup pot.  There are many spring and summer alternatives to those warm comforting cold weather meals.  Today I am featuring a classic, “Spring Soup with Peas & Mint.”  When we think pea soup, our thoughts most likely drift to visions of the army-green variety made with dried split peas, but in this recipe, cooking fresh peas briefly, retains their vibrant color and taste.  The addition of the fresh herbs, lemon and a few final drops of rich balsamic vinegar at the end keeps the finished soup looking and more importantly, tasting, bright.  This springtime staple can be served either hot or chilled.

Although nothing beats the taste of peas directly from the garden, but good quality frozen peas work well in their absence.  That is what I used since the climate here delays the availability of the fresh for now.

Here is how it went down in my kitchen.

SPRING SOUP with PEAS & MINT       Serves 6

Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis

3T unsalted butter

1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4c vegetable or chicken stock

6c shelled fresh peas (from about 6 pounds of pods) or frozen peas, thawed (about 25 oz. or 2 1/2–-10 oz. pkgs)

1/4 c fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1/4 c fresh mint leaves, chopped

Juice of 1/2 lemon, about 2-3T

1/4 c creme fraiche or sour cream, thinned with 2T of heavy cream, whole milk or water

1/4 c aged balsamic vinegar

Chives, freshly snipped

  1. Melt butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.  Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until softened but not browned, 6-8 minutes.
  2. Add 2 cups of stock and bring to a boil.  Add the peas, reduce the heat and gently simmer, about 5 minutes for fresh and 2 minutes for frozen.
  3. Remove from heat and add the parsley, mint and remaining 2c of stock.
  4. Puree mixture in a blender or using an emersion blender.  If too thick, thin with more stock or water.
  5. Taste and add additional salt and pepper, if needed.
  6. Add lemon juice 1T at a time, tasting as you go and adding more if needed.
  7. Serve either hot or chilled garnished with a swirl of the creme fraiche, 6-8 drops of balsamic per bowl and a sprinkle of chives.

With its brilliant color and the fresh taste, this dish captures the essence of the season.  The little splash of acidity and sweetness brought by the balsamic finish is exactly what is needed to bring it to life without masking the natural flavor of the peas.

When I was a  child, dependent on my mother’s culinary creations for sustenance, peas were my hell.  I tried everything from hiding them in mashed potatoes to covering them in jam to disguise their flavor and texture.  I realized later that it wasn’t peas I hated, it was canned peas, with their gray color and mushy texture, that put my tastebuds in a tail spin.  I will never know why the fresh variety, or the much better frozen, escaped my palate.  For some reason it was always the canned that graced our table and there was not even a question about eating them, even if they made me gag.  Mother definitely subscribed to the clean plate club.

Spring’s culinary delights are in the beginning stages here with ramps and dandelion being one of the first of nature’s gifts.  My husband went foraging for ramps this week so I decided to pickle some in hopes of prolonging the brief window of their availability.  I have shared a number of recipes for these wild onions in earlier blog posts so please do a search if that is of interest to you.  Next on my agenda is my dad’s dandelion salad something I look forward to every year.  You will find this recipe on my blog as well.

I do hope you are inspired to dabble in the tastes of spring, be it with peas, ramps, dandelions or asparagus.  Do you have favorites you look forward to all winter?  Feel free to share.  Until next time, remember, “The grass is green where you water it.”  Nurture what makes you happy and keep spreading the love, one spring dish at a time.  Great dishes and lots of love from my kitchen to yours.  Jeanne

 

Feeling the Love

 

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“The secret to living well and longer is:  eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure.”  Tibetan proverb

This has been a most eventful week.  First of all, I celebrated my birthday, which is special in itself, but it also marks the fourth anniversary of my blog launch.  In addition, spring has finally arrived here and it greeted us with so many gifts.  The trees are budding, a momma robin has taken residence in our back porch nest, the peonies have emerged and most importantly, the daffodils chose my special day to burst open and grace us with their sunshine.  Being born, of course, is not something we choose, but I am grateful for my loving family and mentors who nurtured me throughout my life’s journey and helped me develop into the person I am today.  Celebrating another birthday is the best gift of all, but the photos today, expressions of the love I received from those I hold dear, helped to give the day an air of celebration.  I give thanks for being alive and well for another year and am hopeful this coming year will bring peace and happiness and good health to us all.  Reflecting on these events, I cannot help but get a little philosophical.  Please bear with me as I share some of my thoughts with you.

I have learned so much over the last four years of writing my blog.  In addition to the research it requires, which is very informative, I have learned so much from my most interesting and loyal readers.  Thank you for standing by me and sharing my passion.  This weekly exercise has helped me become a better photographer and writer.  It has provided me an opportunity  to make new acquaintances, spotlight people and businesses I respect and a forum for highlighting trends and important food related issues and health concerns.  The creative process of developing recipes and photographing and penning the results,  has lifted my soul.  I believe everyone is an artist and in need of such outlets.

Some of the lessons I have learned from both living and writing are:

  • Food made with love nourishes the body and the soul.
  • You are what you eat and what you eat, eats.  The quality of the food we consume has direct effect on your health and therefore your quality of life.
  • Children are not born picky eaters, they are taught from a very young age what they like and don’t like.
  • Every school should teach gardening so children know where their food comes from and develop a deeper respect.
  • The most masterful chefs are joyous eaters.
  • Food is at the height of flavor when it is grown with care, harvested at its peak and brought to us quickly and directly from the grower.  It is important to support local family farms.
  • Communal meals are an essential ritual for all, but especially children.
  • A good life is not about outward appearances but inward significance.
  • Focusing on the positive makes for a happier life.
  • Butter is a gift of nature, margarine is not.  Trust cows more than chemists when it comes to food.

Reflection also provokes life’s questions.  Some of the ones often on my mind are:

  • Why are women less valued than men?  After all these years, why do we have to continue the discussion of equal pay for equal work?
  • Why are some corporations so greedy they have to spray known poisons on our food in order to boost profits?  Why is it allowed?
  • Why don’t all people in the world have access to clean water, high quality nutritious food and good healthcare?
  • Asparagus is a spring vegetable.  Why eat it in winter?

These are just a few of the things rattling around in my psyche and I felt moved to share them during this time of rebirth and reflection.  Hopefully they have provided you with food for thought and perhaps a spark of interest in influencing positive changes.  Injustices exist because we tolerate them.  Friday, April 22nd is “Earth Day.”  Let’s all pledge to make our own contributions. It can be as simple as buying organic, using reusable shopping bags at the market or vowing to discontinue supporting certain companies and their harmful practices.  Refilling your water bottle as opposed to single use bottles can reduce waste significantly.  Concern for “Mother Earth” helps us all to live healthier, happier lives.  I would love to hear what is on your mind and how you might be making a difference.

“Keep your eyes and hearts open and stomachs full.”  Unknown

I conclude today with more gratitude for my life and for all of you.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas and spread the love, one dish at a time.  Forever grateful,  Jeanne

“When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary, because it tastes like what it is.”  Alice Waters

Signs of spring, at last!  Give thanks for the gifts of our “mother.”

 

 

 

 

Roasted Chicken Ramen

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Last night I was both honored and excited to attend a performance by a group called Bowtime.  The instruments in the quintet were a piano, violin, marimba, bass and guitar which seemed a bit unusual.  The sound they produced, however, brought the enthusiastic audience to their feet and high praise was abundant throughout the theater.  Much of the music they performed was original, written by a former student (percussionist) of my husband, who is a retired high school band director. This young man, along with his wife (violinist), has put together this unique group of musicians and have a sound that is not only beautiful but I think fair to say, one of a kind.  The outstanding talent was rivaled only by the amount of pride felt by those who have witnessed this local boy grow into the fine man he is today.  I congratulate him and the other members of the group.  It looked like they were having fun and they were certainly spreading the love.

While I was watching them play, I began to think how making music and culinary creations share much in common.  Whether you are listening to a symphony orchestra or a bar band, it takes everyone doing their job well to produce a quality sound.  When creating and developing recipes, I liken the ingredients to members of a music group.  Each component plays a vital role to the success of the final product.  It is all about selecting the finest quality and achieving the perfect balance.  The ear knows when that is achieved as do the taste buds.

Yesterday I made such a dish.  My taste buds said, perfect balance and absolute perfection.  I wish I could take credit for this recipe but I must give that to one of my culinary ‘boyfriends’, Michael Symon.  In addition to being a fine chef and restaurateur, he is a record holding Iron Chef, cookbook author and a celebrity on several television shows. I was watching one those said shows the other day when I witnessed Michael make an Asian-inspired chicken stock in a pressure cooker.  It intrigued me that he could reduce a process that usually takes 6-8 hours down to one hour, so I had to try it.  When his beautiful dark stock was finished, he proceeded to use it to make a roasted chicken ramen that looked so good I knew I had to make it.  What comes to mind when you think of ramen?  College cheap eats?  The grocery store variety in a package with that ‘oh too salty’ flavor packet?  If that is the case, it is time to step it up and discover what a steaming bowl of comfort and deliciousness ramen can be when made right.  You will be blown away.  Thank you Chef Symon for this fabulous recipe and tips on making stock under pressure.  The above link will give you the recipe and an added bonus of a video on techniques for the stock.

The beauty of this noodle bowl is the deep flavor of the stock.  The roasting of the chicken and charring of the onion give it that deep brown color and richness.  The addition of the ginger, garlic, shiitaki mushrooms and kombu gave it such depth.  Their individual presence was subtle but together they produced a perfect symphony.  When making the ramen broth, the addition of the sesame oil, soy sauce and rice vinegar gave it complexity and that no denying, Asian flair.  I will have to disagree with the chef on one thing.  He said to be careful not to remove the fat but I did because it just seemed a bit too greasy for me.  Good move I must say.  The condiments are up to you.  I used snow peas, carrots, mushrooms, bean sprouts, jalapenos and scallions.  I also roasted some chicken thighs when I did the wings.  I took the meat off of them (the bones went into the stock), shredded it and added it to the bottom of the bowl under the noodles.  One of the highlights for us was the soft cooked egg.  If soft yolks aren’t for you, you could use a hard cooked egg or no egg.  This dish allows for your personal touch so don’t be afraid to bust out.

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The long standing popularity of noodle houses in Japan has spread to the United States.  New restaurants and food carts featuring some version (s) of this Japanese staple are popping up everywhere.  Nothing could make me happier as I could easily live on noodle bowls.  If you are of like mind, I urge you to get right to making this most satisfying dish.   The stock can be made a couple of days in advance making the finishing so much quicker if you are pressed for time.  I cannot think of a better way to spread the love, one steamy bowl of ramen at a time.  Hopefully, you will agree that it is a perfectly balanced symphony.  Until next time, wishing you spring flowers and sending love to you from my kitchen.  May your week be peaceful.  Jeanne

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Baked “Crab Stuffed” Fillet of Sole

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“With patience, you can even cook a stone.”  Unknown

Recently I taught a class themed “Fish and Seafood.”   I have addressed this subject many times before during my 16 year tenure as a culinary instructor and there is a common thread that always seems to prevail, ‘fish cookery is intimidating’.  One learns from doing and the best lessons are often born from mistakes, so be not afraid.  The first and most important step is finding a fishmonger who is knowledgeable and trust worthy.  Once that is accomplished you can rely on their guidance to select the freshest and best of the day. The most common mistake many cooks make is over-cooking which produces a dry, unappetizing result.  Remember, it is already dead so you need not kill it a second time.

“Be Brave    Take Risks”        Paulo Coelho

I apply the same principle to purchasing fish as I do to buying seasonal produce, ‘let the product be your inspiration’.  For example, this week I visited my favorite fishmonger with salmon on my mind.  Looking over the selection, it was recommended that I consider the sole fillets instead as they were his pick of the day.  So I  followed his advice wondering what else I would need to prepare them.  He must have read my mind and went on to share that an earlier customer said she was going to stuff and roll them.  This got me to thinking about the crab in my freezer waiting for its purpose and there the marriage was made.    

Here is how it went down in the kitchen.

BAKED FILLET OF SOLE STUFFED WITH CRAB

Serves 2-4

Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis

2T Extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 lb. sole fillets, skinless

1 recipe of crab cakes

¼ c freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ c dry white wine

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lemon slices

2T capers, drained

2-3 olive oil packed sundried tomatoes, julienned (optional)

Fresh flat leaf parsley for garnish

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom of an oven proof baking pan with 1T of olive oil.
  2. Lay the fillets out flat on a cutting board. Place 2T of crab mixture in the center of each roll tightly and secure with a toothpick. Place in the baking pan being careful not to crowd.
  3. In a small bowl, mix remaining 1T olive oil with fresh lemon juice and white wine. Pour over the fillets. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Tuck in the lemon slices between the rolls and scatter the capers evenly.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and rolls are heated in the center.
  6. Remove from oven and serve hot. Drizzle sauce oven the fillets, garnish with sun-dried tomatoes, if using, and chopped parsley. Serve extra sauce on the side.

The result was quite impressive yet fairly simple to prepare.  The pairing of the lemon and caper gave it a zesty salty component balancing the natural sweetness of the crab and perfect partners for the mild flavor of the sole.  There is an extra advantage to this preparation as well, enough leftover crab mixture to make 8 crab cakes for dinner the following evening.  Who doesn’t appreciate a “two-fer” right?  I reserved the remaining sauce and reduced it a bit to concentrate the flavor and it became the dressing for the cakes. I added a fresh green salad of arugula and dinner was served.  The above link will give you all the instructions for making and cooking them.

“This is my invariable advice to people:  Learn to cook, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all, have fun!”              Julia Child

We welcomed April this week with announcements of several farmers markets scheduled to resume operation later this month.  This is always reason for celebration in my book.  My hands are anxious to dig in the dirt and see what this year’s harvest will provide.  The most difficult thing is holding back and not planting too soon. The unpredictability of the weather, such as yesterday’s snow storm, serves as a reminder that we are not in control.

Before closing, I want to take a moment to remind my Wisconsin readers that Tuesday, April 5th, that is this week by the way, is election day.  Please please please get to your polls and vote.  Regardless of what your choices are, this is your voice.  Let’s make a big noise.

Just as we must live with an open mind, I hope this post encourages you to shop with an open mind.  Choose the freshest and the best and allow the products to speak to you.  Wake up your creativity.  I think you will be amazed at the results.  Until our paths cross again, keep spreading the love, one dish at a time.  Peace and love to all, from my kitchen to yours.  Jeanne

“No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”    Julia Child

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“Mayo-Less” Egg Salad

 

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When I was  young child, Easter meant a new dress, fancy hat,  and church shoes (often patent leather Mary Jane’s).  In addition, there was the gathering of family centered around food, egg hunts and those coveted chocolate bunnies.  I always looked forward to the holiday.  As I moved into my teens, my father insisted we give up any activity, that was fun and enjoyable, for Lent.  This meant no movies, dances or dates.  Being a social being, this was my private “hell” and I longed for Easter not for the new clothes or treats, but the lifted restrictions on my social life.  As a mother of two, my children and I celebrated with the traditional basket fanfare with EB cleverly hiding the goods prompting the big hunt, followed by a special meal.  Depending on the plans, this meal was either brunch or dinner.  As I get older, what I look forward to the most is less fanfare, sunshine and a relaxing day.  This year it was overcast and rainy and we found ourselves with no plans.  You might think this depressing or sad but I embraced it, gave myself the day off, using my time to create a “Zen garden” terrarium, a project I was very excited to tackle.  It now anchors my dining table as a beautiful centerpiece and reminder to breathe, stay in the moment and carpe diem.  Life is good.

This past week I received a phone call from my neighbor asking if I could do her a huge favor.  She was desperate to unload some eggs from her backyard chickens.  Apparently the ladies are feeling the effects of spring fever producing a dozen eggs a day.  Of course I accepted the offer and fittingly found myself pondering what to do with them.  My mind went to egg salad, my mother’s “go to” for the day after Easter and one of my  all time favorites.  The only thing standing in my way was the nearly 100 calorie/tablespoon mayonnaise required in its preparation. My love affair with this versatile condiment goes way back but, being on a health kick, has caused me to limit its use.  Not wanting to feel deprived, I set out to find a substitute.  The result was this zesty, creamy dressing for a “mayo-less” version.

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Here is how it went down.

“MAYO-LESS” EGG SALAD                                                     4 Servings

Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis

6 hard-cooked eggs

½ avocado

2-3T Greek yogurt, plain

2T Dijon mustard

2T fresh lemon juice

1t garlic powder

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Sea salt and

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2T capers

2T chives, snipped

  1. Peel and chop eggs, set aside.
  2. Combine yogurt, avocado, Dijon, lemon juice, garlic powder, cayenne, salt and pepper. Using a mini food processor or blender, mix to a smooth and creamy consistency.
  3. Taste “mayo” and adjust the seasonings as needed..
  4. Add the capers and chives to the chopped eggs and mix thoroughly.
  5. Add 2T of the avocado mixture and stir to incorporate.  Add additional avocado mixture as needed until it is moist enough.  Taste and adjust as needed.

Note: Additional ingredients such as, celery, dill relish, scallions, parsley or other herbs can be added, if desired.

I think this condiment would serve well in any application where the recipe calls for mayonnaise.  With picnic season approaching, potato salad, slaw, deviled eggs and pasta salads are just a few ideas.  I could also see serving this as a creamy dip in place of traditional guacamole.  Bring on the tortilla chips!

In my last post, I addressed the topic of Easter dinner, my thoughts leaning to some preparation of lamb.  Nice thought, but truthfully, it never happened.  The plans evolved to Hot and Sour Soup and Chicken Lo Mein from the local Chinese take-out.  Not thinking about food preparation left me free to pursue other creative interests as I mentioned above.  In a weird way, it felt somewhat liberating yet not quite in the category of celebratory.  Celebratory in my mind would be my friend’s Easter story, shared on FB, complete with pictures of her homemade pasta and 14 grandchildren.  Now that is a celebration!  I hope she had some good kitchen helpers.

Deep seeded traditions usually prevail for most significant holidays, but it can feel good to bust away from that on occasion and center simply on things that make us happy.  There are many ways to spread the love whether it is just being there for a friend or making those special dishes for those we hold dear.  It is important to keep putting it out there.  I have found it to be contagious.  However it went down in your world this weekend I hope a good time was had by all.  Until next time, I send my love out to you.  Carpe diem.  Jeanne

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Note the meditating frog on the right.  That might be my favorite part.

“The Chill Is Gone”

Behold, my friends, the spring has come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!           Sitting Bull

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Hope springs eternal in the human breast.      Alexander Pope

On this gorgeous first day of spring, I rejoice in the wonders of nature as it begins to unfold and share its rebirth.  This is what I have longed for since the first snow fall.  The beauty of the trees as they birth their leaves and the emergence of the hibernating flowers gives us hope that our favorite things have not abandon us.  My mouth waters as I watch in anticipation for the first signs of asparagus, ramps and other favorite spring vegetables.  As the herbs return my adventurous spirit soars high thinking how they will grace and enhance my culinary creations.  It is the season of new beginnings and endless possibilities that brings with it an unflappable air of excitement.

Life stands before me like an eternal spring with new and brilliant clothes.  Carl Friedrich Gauss

Last week we ushered in daylight savings time.  This is a controversial concept for many, but, not being a morning person, I appreciate the additional evening daylight.  I will say, however, that it never fails to zap me during the initial week of adjustment.  Between that and my class schedule picking up, I haven’t had much energy or time in my kitchen to develop recipes.  I did, however, honor St. Patrick with a meal of corned beef and cabbage made with Guinness, a preparation I borrowed from another blog, Steamy Kitchen which features mostly Asian recipes, but I guess we are all a bit Irish on March 17th.  I also revisited a recipe for shrimp scampi by Ina Garten that I paired last spring with fresh asparagus.  It was a perfect marriage and I cannot wait to get my lips around it again as the season progresses.  Fresh local asparagus has a short life here, so while it is around, I tend to indulge on a daily basis.  That helps me keep the memory of its goodness during the months when it is unavailable, except for that shipped from afar, which always disappoints.  Both of these recipes are quite good.  The corned beef, cooked in the oven, was so tender and the vegetables, cooked separately to retain their crispness, were fresh and inviting.  The scampi, well, it is hard to argue with the combination of garlic, butter and herbs.  Right?  I think you will agree that Ina’s interpretation of this Italian classic is a crowd pleaser.

Easter is fast approaching and I am wondering what culinary creation will make it to our table.  We usually have a low key holiday, but it still calls for a special meal.  As seafood lovers, my thoughts are drifting to Cioppino, an Italian-American fish stew originating in San Francisco.  Not living near the ocean, its creation is entirely dependent on the availability of fresh ingredients.  I guess it remains to be seen.  Hopefully, we can discuss this further next week.

I would love to hear how you plan to spend the holiday.  I know there are many variations for this time of ‘bunnies and eggs’ but hopefully you won’t make the mistake I did one year when I served my grandmother’s braised rabbit.  My children were horrified that I would even consider cooking EB’s cousin on his special day.  My bad.  It never happened again.

I hope this season of new beginnings fills you with hope.  Perhaps it will remind us to be good stewards of Mother Earth and to be grateful for all the beauty she provides.  Hopefully, it will help take the focus off all the anger and hateful rhetoric of the election year and serve to remind us that we are all in this together.  I strongly urge us to embrace each other as brothers and sisters and keep spreading the love, one dish at a time.  It takes many villages to make America kind again.  Until next time, surround yourself with all that feeds your soul.  May the sunlight shine upon you.  Jeanne

I want to do to you what spring does to the cherry trees.      Pablo Neruda