Cold weather has truly set in here in North Carolina, so we’ve been hungering for dishes that will warm our insides. One of our favorites is Jerry’s version of curried chicken and potatoes. This one-pot meal is sure to leave you with a warm belly, and its mix of red pepper flakes and curry powder will add some heat to your palate as well.

Curried chicken and potatoes

½ tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

3 split chicken breasts, skin removed

1 medium onion, diced (approximately 1 ½ cups)

4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 ½ tablespoons red curry powder

4 cups potatoes, cut into 2-inch cubes

Chicken stock

8 teaspoons cold water

8 teaspoons cornstarch

Hot, cooked white rice

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.

Combine paprika, salt, pepper and cumin in a small bowl. Spread spice mixture evenly on all sides of the chicken. Brown chicken in olive oil, approximately 3 to 4 minutes per side. Remove chicken from Dutch oven and set aside.

Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes and curry powder to the Dutch oven, and saute until the onion begins to soften, approximately 5 minutes. Add potatoes, then place chicken on top of the potatoes. Add chicken stock until the chicken is almost covered. Bring mixture to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove chicken and cut meat into bite-sized pieces. Add cornstarch to the water and whisk until well combined, then add cornstarch mixture to the Dutch oven. Stir until thickened. Return chicken to the Dutch oven and stir to combine.

Serve over hot, cooked rice.

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Chocolate mousse

January 23, 2009

Like many couples the world over, we plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a few weeks with chocolate and a nice bottle of champagne. Yes, it’s a bit cliché to mark this particular occasion in that way, but we truly believe that any day is a good day for chocolate and champagne, and we’ll use any excuse to indulge.

Jerry has been working on his mousse recipe for years, and he finally has achieved a version that he’s completely satisfied with (that’s very unusual for a culinary perfectionist like him). There really is no other way to describe this dessert than heavenly. The mix of semisweet and bittersweet chocolates gives it an incredibly rich flavor without being overly sweet, and the texture is light and airy. And the best part? It’s easy to make.

So for anyone hoping to impress their significant other on February 14th, we recommend whipping up a batch of this delectable chocolate mousse, topping it with homemade whipped cream and garnishing it with a strawberry and some fresh mint. It’s guaranteed to be a Valentine’s Day treat that your beloved won’t soon forget.

Chocolate mousse

4 tablespoons butter

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces

3 eggs, separated (see note)

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 pinch salt

1 ½ cups whipping cream

Homemade whipped cream, for topping (recipe follows)

In a double boiler (see note), melt the butter and chocolate until smooth, whisking occasionally to ensure even melting and prevent scorching.

In a separate bowl, mix egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and salt until creamy and light yellow in color. With the chocolate still in the double boiler, whisk in the egg mixture until smooth. Remove from heat.

Using an electric hand mixer or stand mixer, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold whites into chocolate 1/3 at a time.

Using an electric hand mixer or stand mixer, whip the whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Fold whipping cream into chocolate 1/3 at a time.

Spoon the mousse into individual serving containers (we use wine glasses for a romantic touch) and refrigerate for at least three hours before serving.

Makes approximately 8 servings.

Notes: This recipe contains raw eggs. Please use caution when consuming raw eggs due to the slight risk of salmonella or other food-borne illness. An estimated one in every 20,000 eggs is contaminated with salmonella, a type of bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, headache, nausea and vomiting. Healthy people recover quickly, but young children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems may develop severe, even life threatening infections. To reduce this risk, use only fresh, properly-refrigerated, clean, grade A or AA eggs with intact shells, and avoid contact between the yolks or whites and the shell.

If you don’t own a double boiler, it’s easy to make one. A double boiler consists of two pans that fit together snugly – the top pan holds the food; the bottom holds about an inch of boiled or simmering water. For this recipe, we use a large glass bowl (big enough to hold the finished batch of mousse) placed atop a round Dutch oven. Please note that the top bowl gets very hot, so make sure to use oven mitts or pot holders when handling. Also, be sure to monitor the amount of water in the lower part of the double boiler, as it can quickly evaporate.

Homemade whipped cream

1/2 cup whipping cream

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Using an electric hand mixer or stand mixer, combine ingredients until thick and creamy.

Makes approximately 4 servings.

More artichoke recipes

October 23, 2008

I feel terrible.

Because I have been completely neglecting this blog while tending to my other, “Mama to the Drama” (http://jamiestamm.wordpress.com/).

And for good reason. The last time I checked the stats for “Dining In” (back in early August), it was getting about four hits per day.

But all of a sudden, the number of people viewing this site has increased tenfold.

The reason?

Well, according to the blog stats, more and more people are searching for artichoke recipes and being led here.

And that makes us incredibly happy. Because we LOVE artichokes. In fact, I don’t know anyone who cooks with artichokes on a more consistent basis than we do.

So today, for those of you who may have found your way to our site via an artichoke search, we have a special treat – five recipes made with our favorite edible thistle. Enjoy 🙂

Because Jerry – the main cook in our family – oftentimes works late hours, it’s not unusual for it to be after 7 p.m. before we get started on dinner. Which means if we ate lunch around noon, our tummies are already rumbling.

So we’ve become big fans of tapenades, which make easy, light appetizers as we work to get dinner on the table.

A tapenade is simply a spread for bread – typically made with olives as the main ingredient, but here we’ve chosen to use artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes instead. This tapenade is wonderfully tangy, with its combination of artichokes and balsamic vinegar, and the sun-dried tomatoes add just a touch of sweetness.

The flavors here are perfect piled atop a thin slice of toasted sourdough bread. We buy ours already sliced from the bakery of our favorite grocery store, but if yours comes in a whole loaf, slice it to approximately ¼- to ½-inch thick.

Artichoke tapenade

3 cloves garlic

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 13.75-ounce can artichoke hearts

2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

½ cup olive oil

1 loaf sourdough bread, cut into thin slices and toasted

Add the garlic, salt and pepper to the bowl of a small food processor and pulse until the garlic is well minced. Add the artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, oregano, thyme and balsamic vinegar and process until the ingredients are well-incorporated. Drizzle in the olive oil and continue processing until the tapenade reaches your desired consistency.

Serve atop slices of toasted sourdough bread.

Another of our favorite appetizers (or meals, if you eat it by yourself) is an artichoke stuffed with bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and marinara sauce.

It’s not the easiest recipe to prepare. You need to be careful while spreading the artichoke’s leaves, making enough room to add the stuffing while keeping the leaves connected to the base, as well as exercising caution as you scoop out the choke, the mass of inedible, immature florets at the center of the artichoke.

But in the end, when you take your first bite of this Italian delight, we assure you that all the time and effort you’ve invested will have been well worth it.

Stuffed artichokes

1 large artichoke

6 to 8 cloves garlic, smashed

2 lemons, cut in half

Salt

Pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup diced onion

1 cup marinara sauce

1 ½ tablespoons fresh parsley

1 tablespoon fresh oregano (or ½ tablespoon dried)

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 cup bread crumbs

Pull off the small bottom leaves around the stem of the artichoke, and cut the stem flush with the bottom of the artichoke so that it will sit flat. Rub lemon immediately over the freshly-cut area to prevent oxidizing (turning brown). Cut the top ¼ of the artichoke off and discard leaf tops, again rubbing lemon over the freshly-cut area.

Place the artichoke (upright) and garlic in a large stockpot with a lid. Squeeze the lemon halves over the artichoke and then add them to the pot. Fill the pot with water until the artichoke is nearly covered. Add 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and continue boiling, covered, for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until the onion is soft, approximately 6 to 7 minutes. Add the marinara sauce, parsley, oregano and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the artichoke from the water and allow it to rest until it is cool enough to handle. Beginning at the outside of the artichoke and working toward the center, gently press down on the outer leaves to spread them out slightly (they should remain “connected” to the artichoke). Then, using a spoon, scrape out the inner leaves and the choke and discard.

Place the artichoke in a Dutch oven and spoon the stuffing into the center cavity, as well as in between the leaves. Pour 1 inch of water or chicken stock in the bottom of the Dutch oven. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes.

For us, there are several keys to a good homemade side dish. First, it has to be easy – not necessarily quick, but easy. We’d like it to be a starch of sorts (Jamie is very particular about having a meat, starch and vegetable at every meal), and if we can incorporate a vegetable into it, too, well that’s great.

And, of course, a side dish with cheese is good, as well.

Perhaps our favorite side dish is risotto because it can meet all of these requirements and, well, it’s just flat out delicious. This spinach and artichoke risotto, which is reminiscent of one of our favorite appetizers – spinach and artichoke dip, is a creamy, cheesy side dish with a touch of tang from the artichoke hearts.

Spinach and artichoke risotto

3 1/2 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups arborio rice

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

¼ cup whole milk

1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1 14-ounce package frozen spinach, defrosted, drained and chopped

½ tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or ½ teaspoon dried)

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a medium saucepan, heat the chicken stock.

Heat another medium saucepan over medium, then add the olive oil and rice, stirring continuously for approximately 1 minute to coat the rice with the oil. Add the salt and pepper and stir, then add 1 ½ cups of the chicken stock. Allow the mixture to come to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until nearly all the liquid is absorbed. Add an additional ½ cup of chicken stock, and allow it to nearly all absorb. Repeat this process until the rice is soft, yet still al dente, which will take approximately 25 minutes (you should use nearly all of the stock).

Add the milk, artichokes, spinach, lemon juice and thyme. Stir, and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese.

We try to use fresh produce whenever possible, but canned artichoke hearts have become a staple in our kitchen.

Artichoke hearts typically come packed in oil or water (which we prefer because sometimes the oil alters the flavor of the heart) and, straight from the jar or can, they make a great addition to salads, pizza or sandwiches.

We also use them often in our cooking. Two of our favorite dishes to make at home are artichoke-and-prosciutto stuffed chicken breasts with Parmesan cheese sauce (we discovered the delightful combination of artichokes and prosciutto as a pizza topping – the tangy flavor of the artichokes matches well with the saltiness of the prosciutto) and steamed artichokes, an incredibly simple side dish that will wow your dinner guests.

Artichoke-and-prosciutto stuffed chicken with Parmesan cream sauce

1 13.75-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice, divided

1 cup Parmesan cheese, divided

½ cup Panko bread crumbs

Salt

Pepper

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 tablespoon parsley

3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts

6 slices prosciutto

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon flour

¼ cup diced shallots

1 cup chicken stock

½ cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine artichokes, ½ tablespoon lemon juice, ½ cup Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, a pinch each of salt and pepper, thyme and parsley until well incorporated.

Using a sharp knife, cut each chicken breast in half (see note). Place a slice of prosciutto on each side of one chicken breast, then add 1/3 of the artichoke stuffing. Secure with toothpicks. Repeat with the remaining chicken breasts.

Place the chicken breasts in an ungreased glass baking dish and bake for 45 minutes.

While the chicken is baking, melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour until there are no clumps remaining. Add the shallots, stirring constantly, for approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock and the remaining ½ tablespoon lemon juice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture begins to boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for approximately 10 minutes. Stir in the cream and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add the remaining ½ cup of Parmesan cheese and cook, stirring frequently, until the cheese in melted and the sauce is smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve each chicken breast topped with the Parmesan cream sauce.

Note: An easy way to halve a chicken breast: Hold your knife parallel to your cutting board and, placing a hand on top of the chicken breast to keep it steady, cut slowly until almost all the way through. You should end up with one large, flat piece of chicken.

Steamed artichokes

1 13.75-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered

4 to 5 cloves of garlic, halved

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon dried Italian spices

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place artichokes in the middle of a piece of aluminum foil, approximately 2 feet in length. Add garlic, olive oil and butter. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and Italian spices, then add the lemon juice. Mix well by hand, then position the mixture in the center of the foil.

Fold the foil lengthwise from the bottom to top, then fold in the left and right sides to form a secure rectangular packet. Cut a small hole in the top of the packet to allow some steam to escape.

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Chicken croquettes

October 22, 2008

Sometimes Jamie hungers for home – literally.

While her parents and siblings live here in North Carolina, the rest of Jamie’s family resides in southeastern Pennsylvania, where she was born and raised. Although she is quite taken with Southern foods, from barbecue and grits to collard greens and sweet tea, on occasion she misses hoagies, true Philadelphia cheesesteaks and her grandmother’s Pennsylvania Dutch breakfast cakes.

Lately, she’s been craving her Aunt Jayne’s chicken croquettes, which were the best she’d ever tasted, but since we’ve already made our trip north for the year, she figured it would be a while until she had them again.

Lucky for Jamie, Jerry loves a challenge, so he set out to recreate Aunt Jayne’s recipe, with his own twists of course, including the addition of a mushroom sauce (Aunt Jayne serves her croquettes with a chicken gravy, but the mushroom sauce is actually a perfect match). The resulting recipe is relatively easy, though labor intensive. But Jamie assures you it’s well worth it. In fact, she now says these are the best chicken croquettes she’s ever tasted (sorry, Aunt Jayne).

While this recipe starts from scratch, it also is a great way to use leftover chicken. If you choose that option, start with the bechamel sauce, and go from there.


Chicken croquettes

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 large, boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Chicken stock (or canned chicken broth)

In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.

Season both sides of each chicken breast with onion and garlic powders, cayenne, salt, pepper and thyme. Lightly brown the chicken in the olive oil, approximately 3 minutes per side. Add chicken stock until the chicken is just covered. Bring stock to a boil, cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and cool in the broth until the chicken is cool enough to handle. (If desired, put the pan in the refrigerator or freezer to speed up this process.)

Bechamel sauce

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon minced shallots

½ cup finely chopped red onion

Salt

Pepper

½ cup chicken stock

½ cup heavy cream

In a large saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk continuously for approximately 1 minute to form a roux. Add the shallots, red onion and a pinch each of the salt and pepper. Cook the shallots and onion in the roux for approximately three minutes, stirring to coat. Add the chicken stock and cream, and allow the sauce to thicken. When the sauce begins to bubble, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.

To assemble croquettes:

1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Salt

Pepper

Vegetable oil

1 cup flour

2 eggs, beaten

1 ½ cups bread crumbs

Remove chicken from stock (see note). Chop the chicken into small pieces and add to the saute pan with the cooled bechamel sauce. Add parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Cool mixture in refrigerator (one hour) or freezer (20 to 30 minutes).

Heat vegetable oil in a deep fryer set to 350 degrees. Place flour, beaten eggs and bread crumbs in separate small bowls.

Remove chicken mixture from the refrigerator or freezer, and form into balls approximately 2 inches in diameter. Dredge each croquette in flour, then beaten eggs, then bread crumbs. Fry the croquettes in vegetable oil until golden brown, approximately 12 to 14 minutes.

Serve topped with mushroom sauce (recipe follows). We recommend mashed potatoes as a side.

Note: Reserve chicken stock for use in the mushroom sauce, if desired.

Mushroom sauce

3 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

3 cups sliced button mushrooms

Salt

Pepper

1 ½ cups chicken stock

1 ½ tablespoons flour

1 cup heavy cream

In a large saute pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add mushrooms and a pinch each of salt and pepper, and saute for approximately 4 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add the chicken stock. Cook until stock reduces by half, approximately 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk continuously for approximately 1 minute to form a roux. Remove from heat.

When stock has reduced, add the roux to the saute pan, along with the heavy cream. Stir. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for approximately 5 minutes to allow sauce to thicken.

Who doesn’t love Italian food? From familiar main dishes like spaghetti and lasagna to decadent desserts such as cheesecake and cannoli, it’s hard to even talk about this category of cuisine without our mouths starting to water.

Italian stuffed shells is one of Jamie’s favorite meals, but Jerry isn’t too fond of the “traditional” recipe for this dish, which includes mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, because he doesn’t like the taste or texture of ricotta. So he developed his own version using muenster cheese instead of ricotta, and Jamie liked it even better than the shells she grew up with (sorry Mom!).

A few notes on this recipe: We really feel that fresh herbs are essential here. It will make this dish cost a little more, but it’s well worth it. Also, the omission of eggs is intentional. While most traditional stuffed shell recipes use eggs as a binder, we find that the fat in the Italian sausage, coupled with a few tablespoons of olive oil, works just as well.

Italian sausage-stuffed shells

3/4 pound mild Italian sausage, casings removed

1/3 cup oregano leaves, chopped

1/3 cup Italian parsley, chopped

1/3 cup basil, chopped

2 tablespoons thyme leaves

1 bulb garlic, peeled and minced

8 ounces muenster cheese, shredded

16 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded and divided

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

20-24 jumbo pasta shells, prepared according to package directions and cooled

Your favorite pasta sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium saute pan over medium-high heat, crumble Italian sausage and cook until no longer pink. Remove from pan. Drain and cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine oregano, Italian parsley, basil, thyme, garlic, muenster cheese, half of the mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese and salt. Mix (it might get messy, but your hands will work best here) until ingredients are well combined. Add sausage and 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and mix again. Add more olive oil as needed until the mixture sticks together when squeezed in the palm of your hand.

Spread 1/ 2 to 1 cup of pasta sauce on the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish (this will prevent the shells from sticking). Stuff shells with the Italian sausage and cheese mixture, and place seam side down in the baking dish. When all the shells have been filled, pour pasta sauce over them, and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella cheese.

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling.

Serves 6 to 8 people.

Chicken Kara

July 23, 2008

Jerry has a problem turning over his kitchen.

In fact, he often assumes control of friends’ and family members’ kitchens when we visit, whipping up lunch and dinner for us, as well as our hosts. And on our annual beach trip each summer, when everyone is supposed to prepare just one dinner, he ends up heading the meal preparation on a near-nightly basis.

So when Jerry’s younger sister, Kara, volunteered to cook for the family on a recent visit, she knew it was a long shot. Kara had hoped to prepare a pork loin dish that she had come up with, and she shared the recipe with her brother. His culinary instincts immediately kicked in, and Jerry asked if he could make the meal himself, substituting thinly sliced chicken breasts for the pork. Even Kara had to admit that the result was delicious.

Though she didn’t get to try out her version of the recipe on us, Kara was still was the inspiration for Jerry’s latest dish, so, in tribute, he named it after her.

Chicken Kara

2 pounds thinly sliced boneless chicken breasts, flattened and cut into 8 to 10 even pieces

Salt

Pepper

Pesto (store bought or homemade, for which a recipe follows)

1 bunch fresh spinach

1 cup Parmesan cheese

8 to 10 slices bacon

1 1/ 2 cups chicken stock

On stove top, preheat large skillet to medium-high heat. Also, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly salt and pepper one side of each piece of chicken and spread each evenly with 1 tablespoon of pesto. Layer evenly with a small handful (approximately 1/ 4 cup) of spinach, followed by approximately 1 teaspoon of Parmesan cheese. Beginning from the narrower end, tightly roll each piece of chicken, keeping the pesto/spinach mixture on the inside. Wrap a slice of bacon around each piece of chicken and secure with a toothpick at each end.

Cook the chicken in the skillet for approximately 2 minutes per side, long enough for the bacon to begin to render and turn crisp.

Place the chicken in a 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Add the chicken stock, and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes.

Pesto

4 to 5 cloves garlic

1 cup roasted pecans

1 cup Italian parsley

2 cups fresh basil

1/ 2 cup Parmesan cheese

1/ 2 cup olive oil

Salt

Place garlic and pecans in food processor and process until fine. Add parsley, basil and Parmesan cheese. As food processor continues to churn, gradually add olive oil until pesto becomes smooth. Add salt to taste.

Years ago, Jerry’s hamburgers were affectionately dubbed “Jerry burgers” by Jamie’s brother’s friends, who frequently mooched meals from us during their college years. We like them best topped with crispy bacon, muenster cheese, pickles and mustard, but feel free to fix them any way you choose.

Jerry burgers

2 pounds ground beef

3 jalapeños, minced

6-8 cloves garlic, minced

1 ½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Preheat grill to medium-high.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients by hand. Form into six patties.

Grill approximately 5 minutes per side, or until sides are well browned.

We must admit that we started making turkey burgers not because they are healthier than hamburgers (which is, of course, an added bonus), but because ground turkey is frequently cheaper than ground beef. We’ve found, however, that we like turkey burgers equally well.

Turkey burgers

2 pounds ground turkey

1 bunch green onions, chopped

3 jalapeños, minced

6-8 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup bread crumbs

1 tablespoon olive oil

Suggested toppings: Pepper jack cheese and salsa

Preheat grill to medium.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients by hand. Form into six patties.

Grill approximately 8 minutes per side.

Apea cake

July 8, 2008

Over Fourth of July weekend, Jamie’s grandmother, aunt and cousin from Pennsylvania visited and brought with them several tastes of home, including shoofly pie, whoopie pies and apea cake. We spent the holiday stuffing ourself with these sweet treats, as we don’t get them very often this far from Amish country.

This recipe for apea cake, a Pennsylvania Dutch breakfast treat, comes from “Uncle Duddy,” the brother of Jamie’s great-grandmother, and was shared with us by Jamie’s grandmother, who lives in Jamie’s hometown of Pottstown, Pa. Apea cake is great with a cup of morning coffee or tea, and it has a wonderful sweetness without being overly sugary.

Perhaps the best thing about this cake is how well it freezes. Jamie’s grandmother recommends baking the cakes in disposable foil pans, cooling them and covering first with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil before freezing. As for how long they can be frozen, Jamie’s grandmother says, “They last for a very, very long time. I always have an apea cake in the freezer.”

Apea cake

4 cups flour

2 cups brown sugar (light or dark; Jamie’s grandmother prefers light brown sugar, her aunt prefers dark)

2 sticks margarine, melted

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon baking soda

Granulated sugar and cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients. Mix well. Divide the batter evenly between two 8-inch pie pans. Sprinkle the top of each cake with granulated sugar and cinnamon.

Bake for 45 minutes, then test with a toothpick to make sure the cakes are done. If not, return to the oven, testing often until the toothpick comes out clean.

There are some times when we walk into the grocery store with absolutely no shopping agenda. There are no good sales, and there’s nothing in particular that we’re craving. So we head straight to the meat department and browse the selection until we find something that makes our mouths water. Last week, it was a beautiful eye of round roast.

Normally, we simply season our eye of round and slow cook it over very low heat, then thinly slice and serve it. But on this particular night, Jerry was feeling a little more creative, so he decided to stuff the roast with spinach, ham and cheese. The result was so delicious that we decided to share the recipe. We hope you enjoy.

Eye of round roast stuffed with spinach, ham and cheese

2-pound eye of round roast

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, shredded

1 cup spinach, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

4 to 5 pieces thinly sliced smoked ham

4 to 5 slices provolone cheese

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

With the “round” part of the roast facing you, begin cutting from left to right, making a 1-inch thick slice. Continue cutting in one continuous piece until you have a flat piece of roast approximately 1 inch in thickness.

Salt and pepper the side of the roast that is facing upward, and then spread evenly with Parmesan cheese. Spread the spinach on top of the Parmesan, and sprinkle with balsamic vinegar. Layer with slices of ham and cheese. Beginning at one end, roll the roast into a spiral shape, and tie securely with two pieces of butcher’s twine. Sprinkle the outside of the roast with Italian seasoning and garlic powder.

Place the roast on a wire rack over a roasting pan. Cook at 500 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 250 degrees and cook for an additional 50 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Cut into ½-inch thick slices, removing butcher’s twine, and serve.

Pizza and stromboli

July 2, 2008

There are few things in this world more delicious than a steaming hot pizza, fresh from the oven and topped with – well, whatever it is you like on your pizza (we prefer pepperoni and mushrooms). Like many families, we have our favorite pizza place, and, while we wouldn’t say that we frequent it, it’s the first place we go when we want a little slice of heaven.

Oftentimes, however, we make our own pizza at home – because it’s fairly easy and fun, especially if you’re cooking with kids. From rolling out the dough to spreading the mozzarella cheese (and usually eating quite a bit of it in the process), our 5- and 2-year-olds happily pull up chairs to the counter to lend a helping hand.

When we create pizza at home, we don’t go for the conventional – there’s no tomato-based pizza sauce to be found in our kitchen. Instead, we usually opt for the following pies smothered with pesto or garlic. We’ve also included a recipe for stromboli.

First, though, you have to make the dough.

Pizza dough

1 packet active yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup warm water

3 cups flour

Combine yeast, sugar, salt, olive oil and water in a small bowl. Mix well. Allow yeast to proof for approximately 5 minutes.

Pour 2 cups flour into a food processor fitted with a plastic blade. Add yeast mixture, and process for approximately 1 minute or until smooth. Add additional flour 1/3 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. After final 1/3 cup is added, continue processing for approximately 2 minutes (the dough should ball up).

Remove dough from food processor to a floured surface and knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Roll dough into a ball and place in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover the dough with a damp towel. Allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, approximately 1 hour.

Remove the dough from the bowl and divide into desired number of equal-sized pieces (we recommend two pieces to make two 12- to 14-inch pizzas or four pieces for four strombolis). Place on floured surface, re-cover with towel, and let rest for an additional 15 minutes.

Now you’re ready to make your pizza or stromboli.

Pesto pizza

Pesto:

4 to 5 cloves garlic

1 cup roasted pecans

1 cup Italian parsley

2 cups fresh basil

½ cup Parmesan cheese

½ cup olive oil

Salt to taste

Pizza dough

1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese

To make pesto, place garlic and pecans in food processor and process until finely minced. Add parsley, basil and Parmesan cheese. As food processor continues to churn, gradually add olive oil until pesto becomes smooth. Add salt to taste.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Roll pizza dough into a large circle (approximately 12 to 14 inches in diameter) until approximately 1/8-inch thick. Leave approximately ½ inch for the crust, and use a spoon to evenly spread approximately 5 to 6 tablespoons of pesto onto the dough. (You should have pesto left over. Refrigerate the remainder, and toss it with some pasta for a quick side dish later in the week.) Spread mozzarella cheese evenly on top of the pesto.

Bake on a pizza stone for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese just starts to bubble and turn brown.

Blanco pizza

Pizza dough

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh or dried oregano

1 head garlic, minced

1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Roll pizza dough into a large circle (approximately 12 to 14 inches in diameter) until approximately 1/8-inch thick. Leave approximately ½ inch for the crust, and lightly drizzle olive oil over the dough. Spread garlic and oregano evenly over olive oil. Spread mozzarella cheese evenly on top of garlic.

Bake on a pizza stone for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese just starts to bubble and turn brown.

Stromboli

½ tablespoon olive oil

½ large onion, diced

8 -ounce package button mushrooms, sliced

Balsamic vinegar

¾ pound mild Italian sausage, cut into ½-inch chunks

½ head garlic, minced

4 1/2 ounces pepperoni

2 teaspoons Italian spice mix, divided

2 cups muenster cheese, shredded

2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

Pizza dough, divided into four pieces

Heat olive oil in large saute pan over medium heat. Saute onions and mushrooms for approximately 3 minutes. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Remove to a plate covered with a paper towel to drain and set aside.

In the same pan, cook Italian sausage until no longer pink. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Roll out one of four pieces of dough into a circle (approximately 8 to 10 inches in diameter) until 1/8-inch thick. Place ¼ of onion and mushroom mixture in the center of the dough, then sprinkle with ¼ of the garlic and ¼ of the Italian seasoning. Add ¼ of the Italian sausage and ¼ of the pepperoni, followed by ¼ of each of the cheeses. Fold over to make a half moon shape, pressing down the sides to seal. Starting at one end of the stromboli, crimp the dough along the outer edge until firmly sealed. Cut 4 to 5 slits in the top of the stromboli. Repeat this process with the remaining ingredients.

Cook on pizza stone for 12 to 15 minutes until cheese is melted and top is golden brown.