Better-than-Baked-Brie Bites

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There’s a lot to love about a good baked brie – golden puff pastry wrapped around a wheel of creamy cheese and a secret sweet surprise (jam, brown sugar, nuts, etc.), where the cheese and jam meld together and ooze out of the flaky crust when you first cut into it. That’s Baked Brie’s brief moment of glory, though, so you’d better eat fast. When the cheese cools, the once-elegant pastry/cheese package turns into a congealed blob, with soggy dough that contributes little more than calories. Your party guests deserve better!  Continue reading

A Winning Slow-Cooker Brisket Ragu

brisket raguI mentioned in my last post that I’ve been doing a lot of whining lately. On the road towards positivity, I thought I’d spin that into a win-win, wine-themed post: a fall-apart tender, red wine-enhanced brisket ragu with cellentani (corkscrew) pasta, and a chance to win tickets to the NYC Wine and Food Festival! I’m feeling more upbeat already. Continue reading

Healthy Cupcakes Take TODAY Show’s Top Prize!

Sue Walter TODAY Show

Can you believe it?? My “Too Good to Be Healthy” Black Bottom Cupcakes landed me on the TODAY Show last Thursday, as a finalist in Joy Bauer’s contest. AND -we won! (We, as in the cupcakes and me, and also as in shared honors with the nervous contestant #1 who fainted right before we went on air.)

Since everyone’s been asking me what the experience was like (and what was in that prize basket?), I thought I’d share some behind-the-scenes highlights.

The real stars of the day!

The real stars of the day!

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Healthier Boxwoods (and Free Holiday Greenery!)

IMG_1701Boxwoods often get a bad rap for being fussy and highbrow – shrubs more befitting Versailles than a New Jersey backyard. Not so, I say! We have at least 5 different varieties of boxwood in our yard (there are about 70 in the Buxus family), and they’re much more Sallie Sue than Marie Antoinette.  These well-mannered evergreen shrubs provide year-round structure in a landscape, and don’t demand much in return. As an added bonus, if you open-prune them in early December, they’ll reward you with free holiday greenery and healthy new growth come spring. 

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Skinny Cream of Broccoli Soup with Aged Cheddar

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Everyone in our house grooves on crispy roasted broccoli, so it’s in heavy rotation on the dinner menu playlist.

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However, no one but me will eat the stems or stalks. I’m not really sure why this is, but I’d guess it’s because the florets get so much crispier than the stalks. Whatever the reason, I end up with pounds and pounds of broccoli stalks that I can’t bring myself to throw out. (We had to stop putting food in our backyard compost pile because the rats and raccoons thought they’d stumbled upon a 24/7 gastropub.)

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So now, whenever I make roasted broccoli, I chop up the underappreciated stems and store them in a gallon-size ziplock bag in the fridge. (They’ll keep for weeks.) When the bag’s full, it’s time to make Cream of Broccoli soup.

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Sandy Aftermath: Trials, Triumphs and What We Ate

As we mark Day 8 without electricity thanks to Frankenstorm Sandy, tempers are getting shorter, temperatures are getting colder, and gas lines are still long (though improving).  We feel isolated from the world, and abashed by our envy of neighbors who have regained power. We find ourselves idling around, mourning cable TV and internet, and complaining about a cold house. But then we snap out of it. Unlike many in the area, we still have a house. We have gas for cooking, and a generator for little luxuries like toast. We have our family intact, and have never had this much quality time together: fireside Scrabble tournaments and roasting marshmallows in the living room; reading books and doing crafts; making pancakes on a weekday. I’d say we’ve been pretty lucky.

And those neighbors with power restored? We can’t begrudge them. We’ve been humbled by their graciousness and generosity – open doors for heat, phone charging, meals and even laundry service! We’re also in awe of those with no electricity but who refuse to be powerless; several neighbors have been working tirelessly to collect clothing and blankets for communities that were truly devastated – not just inconvenienced – by the storm.

With or without electricity, we still need to eat – and a home-cooked meal can go a long way towards restoring a sense of normalcy. I’ve been enjoying the mental challenge of figuring out what to cook next, based on what needed to get used up and what could be prepared over the gas stove or in the toaster oven. Here are some of the things I’ve been cooking – in case you’re also without power and in need of some inspiration:

  • Eggs  – hardboiled, scrambled, ham/egg/cheese sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches with capers, Dijon mustard and Greek yogurt (instead of mayo – decided to toss that).
  • Pasta – bowties with a sauce made from the last of the cream cheese and leftover chicken & wine sauce from the freezer; spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and parmesan; pasta with ham, peas and cream. Haven’t hit the Easy-Mac yet, but it’s in the pantry if we need it.
  • Salad made with canned black beans, red onion, sherry vinegar and formerly-frozen corn
  • Quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches
  • French toast and pancakes
  • English muffin pizzas in the toaster oven
  • Chicken curry made with canned tomatoes, boxed chicken broth and peanut butter
  • Rice, quinoa and couscous pilafs (with sautéed onions and toasted nuts)

Tonight I’m going to make a big pot of Tomato Fennel soup. All neighbors – with or without power – are welcome to stop by for a mug.

We’ll get through this!

PS – On the way to Starbucks to post this, I passed 3 utility trucks working in our neighborhood. Someone heard we might have power as soon as tonight. I’m surprised to feel a twinge of sadness mixed with euphoria and relief; I was hoping for more Scrabble games by the fire. It’s a tradition I hope we’ll continue, even when the cable’s back.

Bovine Bounty Winner

Before Sandy blows off our roof and wipes out our power for a week, I wanted to post the winner of the first Subee’s Kitchen giveaway. Congratulations to Dani F., who will receive this “bovine bounty” bag of dairy-themed gifts! (Winner selected using Random.com.) Dani posted that one of her favorite uses for cheese is her friend Karen’s cheese puff appetizers. Maybe Karen will share her recipe? I love a good cheese puff.

By the way, the cauliflower gratin recipe I promised is still in the works. I made one with cheese and cream the other day, which was rich (imagine that) and delicious, especially served alongside pork tenderloin braised in apple cider. Next I was going to try a version with a white sauce (flour/butter/milk) instead of cream to see which one I liked better. However, this effort has been stalled by Halloween parties and Sandy preparations (gas, water, wine, cat food), so please stay tuned. If we’re in the dark this week, I’ll be posting some “use up the food that’s in the fridge” creations until the laptop runs out of juice.

Speaking of creations, I came up with this one today on the way to Target. I already had the devil costume and shiny white fabric in the attic (I think I’ve alluded to my pack-rat tendencies?), so I just needed to pick up a plastic yellow bowl along with the bottled water and paper towels. Can you figure out what I am?

A Deviled Egg!

A Happy Mother’s Day

I’ve been saying this every year for the past 9 years, but This Is The Best Mother’s Day Ever! I was awoken nice and early – narrowly missing the Tooth Fairy’s departure but in time for sunrise – and presented with a custom-made Breakfast in Bed menu.

After making my selection, I fell back asleep while the Breakfast Fairies worked their magic (under Dad’s supervision). Soon the fairies were back, this time with a tray of goodies, fresh-picked flowers and my Mother’s Day favorite – homemade cards. Those get me every time!

The only thing that could make the day better would be to have my mother here to share in the festivities.  A phone call later will have to do, since she’s 2,401 miles away in University Place, WA. Sorry, Mom – I didn’t even get a homemade card in the mail this year! This post will have to do.

Mom gave me this vintage print years ago, after I had flown the nest and settled far from home (in the Garden State of New Jersey, via DC and Paris). I’m not sure she even remembers giving it to me, but I’m a sentimental sap and borderline hoarder so naturally I saved it. With both of us gardeners (she Master, me apprentice), the Goethe quote seems written for us. (Even though I know the term “garden” is meant figuratively; I take similar liberties when interpreting fortune cookies.) To run with the figurative angle, albeit in a slightly different trajectory – is it a coincidence that Mother’s Day is the unofficial start of Gardening Season? After all, don’t mothers plant the seeds, nurture the seedlings, protect them from environmental dangers, beam with pride at harvest time and delight in the cycle’s repeat?

Happy Mother’s Day to my Master Gardener/Mother, Karen, and to all mothers out there. I’m off to plant some bean seeds and tomato seedlings. (More on that soon!)

Myrtle’s Chicken Pot Pie

Myrtle, my maternal grandmother, made a killer chicken pot pie. Essentially a chicken stew with a pastry crust, pot pie is at once the ultimate expression of love and the ultimate way to use up leftovers.  (Two things near and dear to Myrtle’s heart.) Myrtle’s pie crusts were always perfectly light and flakey, and most of the time she’d make just the tops for everyone’s individual pies; why bother with bottom crusts which would just get soggy from the filling? Indeed!  Myrtle also loaded her pot pies with vegetables from her Hood Canal garden, which was about three times the size of her kitchen. She was doing “organic,” “local” and “seasonal” way before it was trendy.

Myrtle Seeley Langlow

A true romantic, Myrtle would be thrilled to know that my husband credits our engagement to her chicken pot pies. As a thoughtful (and some might say calculated) gesture, I used to make 3 or 4 pot pies at a time for him while we were dating; he’d keep them in his NYC freezer for a midweek respite from General Tso’s take-out.

Many blissful years later, Myrtle’s symbols of love wrapped in pastry still elicit warm emotions. In fact, I’m thinking of making them for this year’s Valentine’s Day dinner. (Maybe I’ll save the Nordstrom bill discussion for afterwards . . .)

Chicken Pot Pie

Over the years I’ve made some tweaks to Myrtle’s recipe – adding some additional flavorings to the sauce, swapping out some of the vegetables, making the pastry with butter instead of Crisco, and sometimes baking the pastry tops separately. Feel free to make your own modifications, including the use of ready-made pastry dough or puff pastry if dough-making is a deal-breaker.

Homemade pastry crust might sound intimidating, but it’s truly simple! (Especially if you use a food processor.) Depending on your ambition or your mood, you can either cook the pastry tops on top of the filling in ovenproof bowls or ramekins, or bake the tops separately on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Ovenproof bowls are not required for this method and assembly is somewhat easier; the pastry crusts also get crisper. Examples of both methods are shown below.

Make the crust:

(Makes enough for about 8 individual pie tops or two 9” pies; freeze unused dough if you’re making a single batch of filling.)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp table/Morton’s salt (not kosher)
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 6 Tablespoons ice water

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and salt; pulse to mix. Add cubed butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the water and pulse until dough sticks together when pinched. (You can do this without a food processor; follow the same steps, but instead of pulsing use a pastry cutter or 2 butter knives to cut in the butter.)

Form dough into 2 discs (I use plastic wrap to help the dough come together and contain the mess.) With a sheet of parchment paper below and a piece of plastic wrap on top, roll out a dough disc to about 1/8” thickness. Using intended serving bowls as a guide, trim dough to fit. (Flush to edge for pre-baked method or with a ½”+ overhang for the bake-together method.) Gather excess dough and repeat until you have enough tops made. Cut out a small shape or initial if desired. (Freeze any leftover dough.) Place dough tops in refrigerator until ready to bake tops or assemble pies.

For pre-baked (cut to shape of serving bowl):

For baked-together (cut to shape of ramekin with 1/2″+ overhang:

Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Prepare the filling:

(Makes 4-6 individual pies, depending on size of bowls; recipe can be doubled if you have a large enough pot!)

  • 3 to 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (or 3-4 cups cooked & cubed leftover chicken)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp dried or 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 fresh bay leaf (optional)
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion or shallot
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery (optional)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry or white wine
  • 1 tsp kosher salt (or 1 chicken bouillon cube)
  • Freshly grated black pepper
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups cooked/leftover or frozen vegetables of choice: diced carrots or chopped green beans (frozen OK; cook 1 minute in a microwave); diced cooked potato or sweet potato; frozen peas or corn (no need to cook; add to sauce right from freezer).

Poach the chicken: (Skip these steps if using precooked/leftover chicken.)

In Dutch oven or heavy saucepan over medium heat, add raw chicken breasts, chicken stock, thyme & bay leaf (if using) and bring to a simmer. Add any uncooked vegetables that you’d like to add to the pot pies. (Carrots & cut green beans were added here.) Simmer gently for about 15 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink in the center. Remove from heat. Remove chicken with tongs and set aside to cool. When pan is cool enough to handle, pour stock through a colander or strainer into a large (4-cup minimum) measuring cup or bowl. Discard bay leaf. Wipe pan dry with paper towel.

Make the sauce:

In same Dutch oven or heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine butter and onion (or shallot), and celery if using, and cook until soft and translucent (about 5 minutes). [Add thyme if using leftover chicken.]

Add flour and cook for another minute or two. Stir in sherry or white wine (will form a thick paste).

Stir in reserved chicken broth 1 cup at a time; whisk until smooth. (As smooth as can be with the bits of onion and celery.) Whisk in salt or bouillon cube, pepper and milk; add chicken and simmer over medium-low heat until sauce is slightly thickened. [Sauce should have a gravy-like consistency.]

Unless you are creating individual custom pies (i.e., carrots in some but not others), add the cooked and/or frozen vegetables to the sauce and simmer until heated through.  Taste sauce for seasoning, adding an additional pinch of salt if necessary. At this point, the filling (or stew) is ready to serve if you are using the pre-baked tops method.

For custom-vegetable pies, distribute the vegetables among pies as desired.

Example of custom vegetable option

For pre-baked tops method:

Remove dough tops from refrigerator. Bake on parchment-lined baking sheet (at 425ºF) for 15 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. Let cool on baking sheet. When ready to serve, ladle hot filling into bowls and carefully top with cooled pastry crusts.

For baked together method:
Remove dough tops from refrigerator. Ladle filling into ovenproof bowls/ramekins. (You can fill six 4-oz  or four 6-oz ramekins with a single batch.) Place on top of filled ramekins, turning under extra dough and crimping edges. (Cut steam vent slits in top of pastry if not doing cut-outs.)

Place pies on a baking sheet and bake at 425ºF for 20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown and sauce is bubbling. Allow pies to cool 5-10 minutes before serving.

For homemade frozen pot pies:

Add filling to mini aluminum loaf pans and top with unbaked pastry dough. Seal/crimp edges and cut steam vents. Freeze in a plastic freezer bag.  Whenever ready to bake, heat oven to 425ºF and bake frozen pie for 45 minutes – 1 hour or until golden brown and bubbly.