Monday, February 13, 2012

Favorites - February 2012

Diva:  Colleen

Drinks:  Aven
Vodka Tonics with Kumquats

1 shot vodka
tonic water to taste  
1 kumquat cut in half

pour over ice and enjoy

Cucumber Water

10 thin slices cucumber  
1 slice lemon
½ gallon water

Let cucumber and lemon sit in water overnight in the refrigerator, and shake or stir before serving.

Appetizer:  Lovina
Polenta cakes with caramelized onions and fontina

4 c water
4 c half and half
2 c polenta
2 T fresh thyme
white pepper
½  c grated Parmesan
½  c melted butter
Caramelized onions (recipe below - do ahead)
1 ½  c grated fontina (or substitute blue cheese crumbles)

In a large pot, heat water and half and half to just before boiling (small bubbles will form along the edge). Season with fresh thyme, salt and white pepper. Slowly whisk in polenta. Reduce heat and stir continuously while mixture simmers for 10-12 minutes until polenta is thick and creamy and completely cooked. Stir in Parmesan. Season polenta to taste. Lightly sprinkle a sheet pan with water. Pour the cooked polenta out on the sheet pan and spread evenly to about a ¼ inch thickness. Allow to cool for 20 minutes or so. Once cool and firm, cut into small triangles with a pizza cutter.

Heat oven broiler to 500 (F). Transfer polenta wedges to dry baking sheet and brush tops with melted butter. Place sheet on oven rack about 4-6 inches from broiler. Broil for 5-7 minutes until polenta begins to turn golden brown. Remove pan from oven and flip polenta wedges, brush tops with butter, and return to broiler. Broil for another 5-7 minutes until browned. Remove from broiler and top polenta with about 1 tbsp of caramelized onions and sprinkle with about 1-2 tsp grated fontina (or substitute blue cheese crumbles). Return to broiler for 1-2 minutes until cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Transfer polenta wedges to serving tray and serve immediately.

Caramelized onions
8 c thinly sliced yellow onions
¼ c butter
¼ c olive oil
2 T balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

In a large skillet, add butter and olive oil over medium heat until bubbles begin to form. Add onions. Sprinkle with 2 tsp salt (to draw out moisture in onions) and stir. Saute until onions begin to wilt, then reduce heat to medium low. Cook onions for 30 minutes, turning frequently, until onions have turned soft and brown. Pour in balsamic vinegar and reduce for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Soup:  Hallie
Italian Wedding Soup

For the meatballs:
¾  pound ground chicken
½  pound chicken sausage, casings removed
⅔  c fresh white bread crumbs
2 tsp minced garlic (2 cloves)
3 T chopped fresh parsley leaves
¼  c freshly grated Pecorino Romano
¼  c freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
3 T milk
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the soup:
2 T good olive oil
2 leeks
1 c minced yellow onion
1 c diced carrots (3 carrots), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
¾  c diced celery (2 stalks), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
10 c homemade vegetable stock
½  c dry white wine
1 package orzo
12 ounces baby spinach, washed and trimmed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
For the meatballs, place the ground chicken, sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Pecorino, Parmesan, milk, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork. With a teaspoon, drop 1 to 1¼ -inch meatballs onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. (You should have about 40 meatballs. They don't have to be perfectly round.) Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

Cook the orzo separately until al dente.

In the meantime, for the soup, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onion, carrots, leeks, and celery and saute until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil. Puree until the leeks aren’t tough. Add the meatballs and orzo to the soup and simmer for 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra grated Parmesan.

I tried to make this vegetarian and left out the meatballs and egg. Never do that. Keep the meatballs, or it becomes too bland.

Adapted from 2008, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

Salad:  Mary Ellen
Fresh Salad with Danish/French Dressing

Choose your favorite lettuce and top with tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, carrots, mini squares of feta cheese and the dressing.

Dressing: Equal parts dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar-whisked until smooth. Add olive oil 2 T at a time until you get the concentration you want. I like mine fairly concentrated, so I can use less!

Side Dish:  Stacey
Marbled Stuffed Potatoes

4 large russet potatoes
1 large sweet potato
½ c sour cream
3 T butter, cut into pieces
2 green onions, thinly sliced
¾ c shredded sharp cheddar cheese
pinch of nutmeg
kosher salt and pepper
olive oil, for brushing
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Put the russet and sweet potatoes directly on the oven rack and bake for 30 minutes.  Pierce each potato a few times with a fork and continue baking until tender, 15 minutes more for the sweet potato and 20-25 minutes more for the russet potato.  Let cool slightly.

Peel the sweet potato.  Transfer to a bowl and mash lightly with a fork until almost smooth.  Trim a thin slice off the top of each russet potato, cutting lengthwise.  Scoop most of the flesh into the bowl, leaving shells intact.  Add the sour cream and butter to the bowl and mash lightly.  Stir in green onions, ½ c cheese, nutmeg, 1 t salt, and 1 t pepper to taste.  Set aside.

Brush the potato skins with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Generously fill with the marbled potato mixture and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.  Place the stuffed potatoes on a baking sheet and bake until cheese melts, about 25 to 30 minutes.  Enjoy!!

Food Network Magazine

Entree:  Tiffany
Eggplant Roll-Ups

1 large eggplant, cut lengthwise into 8 slices
salt and pepper
4 large eggs
¾ c pesto
2 ½ c bread crumbs
olive oil
¾ c ricotta cheese
⅓ c grated pecorino-romano cheese
1 c marinara (recipe to follow)

Season eggplant with salt and pepper.  In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs and 4 T pesto.  Pour the bread crumbs onto a large plate.  Dip each eggplant slice into the egg mixture, then coat with the bread crumbs.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Working in batches,cook the eggplant until golden, 2 minutes on each side. Transfer eggplant to a paper towel lined baking sheet.  (Instead of frying eggplant, I coated a baking sheet with olive oil and baked it instead at 350, flipping eggplant after about 5 minutes).
In a small bowl, combine the ricotta and 3 T of the pecorino-romano; season with salt and pepper.  Spread 1 T of the remaining pesto on each eggplant slice and top with about 2 T of the cheese mixture.  Roll up each slice.  Bake (at 350) until the eggplant is tender when pierced with a toothpick, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the marinara to a simmer.  Serve the roll-ups with the sauce and remaining cheese.

Rachel Ray

1 T olive oil
1 c chopped yellow onion
1 ½ tsp  minced garlic
½ c  red wine (I used chianti)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 T chopped fresh parsley
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
½  tsp freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper. Cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 15 minutes.

Ina Garten recipe from

*I usually use my favorite jarred sauce (Cucina Antica marinara from the Co-op) when I make eggplant roll-ups.  For Divas, I felt like that was cheating, so I tried this Ina Garten recipe.  I didn’t love how my homemade marinara came out and think this meal is better with the Cucina Antica sauce

Dessert:  Erin

Flan with Caramel Sauce

"Flan" is the Spanish name for vanilla egg custard, topped with caramel sauce. It is a Spanish classic and one of the most popular desserts, served everywhere in Spain. Flan makes a great finish to any meal because even though it is sweet, it is a light dessert. Because it is made in ramekins or a baking dish and not removed until it's time to eat, it "travels" well in an ice chest. Just cover tightly with plastic wrap while en route and un-mold when ready to serve!

½  c sugar
2 c whipping cream*
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
¼  c sugar
½  c blanched almonds for garnish (optional)
sprig of mint for garnish (optional)
sliced berries for garnish (optional)

* To make a lower calorie flan, use 1 cup low-fat milk and 1 cup light whipping cream.

Wipe out six ramekins to ensure that there is no dust in them. Set in a glass baking dish.
Heat 4-5 cups of water in a pot on stove.
Put a heavy skillet or saucepan over medium heat for 30 seconds. Add 1/2  cup sugar. With the back of a wooden spoon, keep sugar moving constantly in skillet until sugar is completely melted, and of a rich medium brown color (caramelized). Carefully spoon caramelized sugar into each of the 6 ramekins or large dish.
Pre-heat oven to 325F degrees.
Scald cream in a saucepan. (Keep a close eye on the pan, so the cream does not boil over.) Remove immediately.
Meanwhile in a mixing bowl, beat slightly 3 eggs. Mix in 1/4 cup sugar. Stirring constantly, gradually add hot cream to egg yolk mixture. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Blend in vanilla extract. Ladle mixture into ramekins.
Carefully remove 1-2 ramekins to provide some extra room. Pour in hot water until there is about 1/2-inch of water in the 9” x 13” baking dish for boiling water bath. Replace ramekins. (If using one large open baking dish, be sure that the dish is tall enough to accommodate the water necessary.)
If the water level does not reach 3/4 of the way up the sides of the ramekins, carefully pour more water in. Bake uncovered in water bath for 50-60 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean when inserted half way between center and the edge of dish.
Note: To ensure the custard does not over-cook, check doneness after 45 minutes, then every 3-5 minutes.
Carefully remove each ramekin from the water bath. Set on a cooling rack until lukewarm, then chill thoroughly in refrigerator. This usually takes at least 1 hour.
When ready to serve, un-mold by running a knife around the inside edge of baking dish. Place a small dessert plate on the top of the ramekin. With one hand under the ramekin and the other on top of the place, turn over. Tap the ramekin and the flan should drop onto the plate. If it does not, carefully “prod” the flan out of the ramekin with a small paring knife. It should slide out of the ramekin onto the plate.
Garnish with whole blanched almonds and/or a sprig of mint if desired.

Lottery:  Ashley