Authors Posts by Barbara Beltrami

Barbara Beltrami

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By Barbara Beltrami

Even in the days when we can access any produce from just about anywhere all year long, when asparagus show up in great quantities in the supermarket at lower prices, when the stalks are pencil thin and the tips tight, we know spring has arrived and we can abandon the brussels sprouts and winter squash that have sustained us through the fall and winter.

It is not uncommon for asparagus to make their seasonal debut at Easter or Passover dinner and then to show up on our tables in many forms and preparations throughout the spring. In addition to the usual steamed, roasted or grilled versions, delightful themselves, there are so many ways to take advantage of this tender green veggie. Ever think of making an asparagus bisque with crab meat? Asparagus pesto? An asparagus and haricot vert (thin French green bean) salad with tarragon vinaigrette? Read on.

Asparagus Bisque

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds fresh asparagus, washed and trimmed, then cut into one-inch pieces

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 leek, white part only, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 ribs celery, sliced into 1-inch pieces

1 large potato, peeled and diced

Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

6 cups chicken or vegetable broth

½ cup cream or milk

½ pound fresh or frozen and defrosted lump crab meat, broken into bite-size pieces

Fresh chives, for garnish

DIRECTIONS: Steam asparagus until soft and just on the verge of turning yellowish green. Heat oil in a medium skillet; add onion, garlic, leek, celery and potato; sauté until onion, leek and celery are opaque, but not golden and potato is soft but not mushy. Add asparagus, salt and pepper and broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Let cool until just warm and puree entire mixture in food processor until smooth. Add milk or cream and pulse a few times. Serve warm or at room temperature. Garnish with crab meat and chives. Serve topped with crackers or croutons.

Asparagus Pesto

Asparagus Pesto

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound fresh asparagus

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup pignoli nuts

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ cup Italian flat leaf parsley leaves

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Wash and peel asparagus; snap off bottoms of stems. Slice into 2-inch pieces. Steam until asparagus are tender but still a nice bright green, 5 to 10 minutes depending on thickness of stems. Place in food processor; add remaining ingredients and process until smooth, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Serve at room temperature with linguine, spaghetti or any delicate pasta, gnocchi, crudités or toasted baguette slices.

Asparagus, Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad with Tarragon Vinaigrette

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound asparagus, steamed until tender but still bright green

1 pound green beans, sliced diagonally into 1-inch pieces and steamed until tender but still a bright green

12 cherry tomatoes, cut into wedges

½ cup minced Italian flat leaf parsley leaves

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

2 to 3 scallions, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, bruised

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice of one medium fresh lemon

1 teaspoon prepared Dijon mustard

1 level tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, minced or 1 teaspoon dried

Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: In a medium bowl toss together the asparagus, green beans, tomatoes and parsley. In a small bowl vigorously whisk together the remaining ingredients to make the dressing. When ready to serve, toss veggies with dressing. Tastes best if not refrigerated. Serve with chicken or fish and crusty French bread.

Curried Deviled Eggs

By Barbara Beltrami

No need to take a hard-boiled attitude toward the surfeit of Easter eggs. I know, I know. How many hard-boiled eggs can a family eat, especially when there are alternatives like marshmallow peeps, jelly beans and chocolate bunnies? Actually, quite a few if they are recycled into other dishes. For eggs-ample, egg salad with green onions and dill, curried deviled eggs and sliced egg canapes, all of which, by the way, make eggs-cellent hors d’oeuvres before Easter dinner.

Egg Salad with Green Onions

Egg Salad with Green Onions

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS

8 hard-boiled eggs

½ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup chopped green onions

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 2 teaspoons dried

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Peel eggs and chop into small pieces. In a medium bowl, combine eggs, mayonnaise, green onions, dill and salt and pepper. Vigorously whip or stir. Cover and refrigerate until using. Serve with bread, crackers, chips, green salad or sliced tomatoes.

Curried Deviled Eggs

Curried Deviled Eggs

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

8 hard-boiled eggs

¼ cup mayonnaise

¼ teaspoon prepared mustard

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh parsley or 1 heaping teaspoon dried

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Peel eggs and slice in half end to end. Gently scoop out yolks and place in small bowl. Add mayonnaise, mustard, curry powder, cayenne, parsley and salt and pepper. Vigorously whip together until mixture has a smooth creamy consistency. Scoop or pipe into hollowed egg whites. Cover and refrigerate until using. Serve with pickles, olives or celery and carrot sticks.

Sliced Egg Canapes with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Prosciutto or Anchovies

YIELD: Makes 16 canapes

INGREDIENTS:

16 slices of French bread (baguette), toasted

1 large clove peeled garlic

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 to 5 slices prosciutto or 16 anchovy filets

3 to 4 hard-boiled eggs, cut into quarter-inch slices

16 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

DIRECTIONS: Rub one side of toasted bread slices with garlic. Drizzle one teaspoon olive oil on each slice. Cut or tear each slice of prosciutto into approximate size of bread slice. If using anchovies, lay one anchovy filet on each bread slice and with a fork, mash into bread. Lay egg slices over prosciutto or anchovies to cover, then sprinkle sun-dried tomatoes on top. Do not refrigerate assembled canapes as bread will lose its crispness. Serve with wine, cocktails or soft drinks.

Matzo Brei

By Barbara Beltrami

Passover is the joyous Jewish holiday that celebrates the exodus of the children of Israel in ancient Egypt from slavery to freedom. As they fled, they had no time for their bread to rise, and that is how we came to eat matzos (unleavened bread) for Passover.

The matzo has come to present itself in many forms, although I think everyone’s favorite is still that pale square megacracker that is a wonderful support system for everything from butter to horseradish to jam to salsa and everything in between.

Since Biblical times, it has also managed to evolve into matzo meal, which then has become the foundation for all sorts of delicious recipes. That being said, my all-time favorites are the traditional ones for matzo balls, matzo brei, and matzo meal pancakes.

Matzo Balls

Matzo Balls

The butt of many a joke, especially at the expense of mothers-in-law, these little round gems turn chicken soup into a treasure.

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 eggs

¼ cup vegetable oil

¹∕₃ cup cold seltzer or club soda

¾ teaspoon salt

1 cup matzo meal

DIRECTIONS: Beat the eggs, oil, soda and salt together. Stir in the matzo meal, adding just enough to make a stiff batter. Chill for at least one hour. Form into 18 balls and cook for 30 minutes in boiling salted water or broth. Serve with chicken soup.

Matzo Brei

Matzo Brei

Not as familiar perhaps as matzo balls, matzo brei is broken up matzos soaked for a short time in warm water or milk, then mixed with beaten eggs and fried. It makes a great breakfast or side dish, and with the addition of whatever your imagination dictates, a delicious main dish.

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 eggs, beaten

1 scant teaspoon salt

1 heaping tablespoon grated onion (optional)

4 matzos

Butter or oil for frying

DIRECTIONS: Combine the eggs, salt and onion (if using). Break matzos into large bite-size pieces and soak in water or milk until softened but not mushy. Add to egg mixture and stir well. In a medium skillet heat the butter or oil; then add matzo mixture to it. Fry until lightly browned and heated through. Serve with maple syrup, apple sauce or sugar. If using onions, serve with sour cream or soft cheese.

Matzo Meal Pancakes

Matzo Meal Pancakes

Because of their crispy exterior and light interior, these pancakes are a nice change from regular ones.

YIELD: Makes 2 to 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 egg yolks

½ teaspoon salt ½ cup cold water

¾ cup matzo meal

3 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Oil for frying

DIRECTIONS: Beat together the egg yolks, salt and water. Stir in the matzo meal; then gently fold in the egg whites. In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil, then drop the batter, one heaping tablespoon at a time, into it. Turn once to brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve with sugar and cinnamon, maple syrup, honey, fruit or jam.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

By Barbara Beltrami

Ah, consider the lowly peanut relegated in most culinary estimations to its more popular descendant, peanut butter. True, you seldom see it on a restaurant menu or even in a cookbook. In western cultures it hardly bears mentioning unless you’re talking about something to munch with your martini. In eastern cultures, however, the peanut, also called the ground nut, plays a larger role in native cuisine.

The recipes below will give you a taste (pun intended) of how the peanut figures into both the western and eastern food cultures and exhibit its versatility according to traditional preferences.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

For the marinade:

½ cup coconut milk

1 teaspoon curry powder

2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic

2 level teaspoons brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

²⁄₃ pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch strips

For the peanut sauce:

1 cup coconut milk

1 tablespoon curry powder

½ cup peanut butter

²⁄₃ cup chicken broth

¼ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:

For the marinade: Stir together the first six ingredients. In a medium bowl, toss with chicken, cover and refrigerate for two hours. If using wooden skewers, soak in hot water until ready to use.

For the sauce: In a small-medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, combine coconut milk, curry powder, peanut butter, chicken broth and brown sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes until heated through. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice, soy sauce, cayenne pepper. Add salt to taste (You probably won’t need much). Set aside to keep warm.

Meanwhile heat grill to medium high, remove skewers from water and wipe dry, then thread marinated chicken onto them. Grill 5 minutes per side or until golden brown and cooked through. Remove to platter and ladle warm peanut sauce over them. Serve with rice and vegetable slaw.

Peanut, Carrot and Mango Salad

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups grated carrots

½ cup chopped roasted salted peanuts

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1-2 teaspoons sugar

One green chile pepper, seeded and diced

¼ cup red or yellow bell pepper, minced

2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

Salt, to taste

One mango, peeled and diced

DIRECTIONS: In a medium bowl, combine the carrots and peanuts. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, chile pepper, bell pepper and cilantro. Combine with peanut and carrot mixture. Add salt and mix again. Fold in mango. Serve immediately with chicken or lamb.

Peanut Brittle

Peanut Brittle

 

YIELD: Makes one pound

INGREDIENTS:

Butter for greasing pan

2 cups sugar

2 cups roasted salted peanuts

DIRECTIONS: Grease low-rimmed baking sheet. In a heavy skillet combine sugar with 2 tablespoons water. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture boils. Steadily, continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture turns golden (it happens pretty quickly!). Stir in peanuts and immediately pour and spread mixture onto greased baking sheet. Allow to cool half an hour, until hard. Then break into uneven, asymmetrical pieces before serving with coffee or tea.

Italian Meatballs

By Barbara Beltrami

It seems as though there are as many kinds of meatballs as there are ethnicities to create and cook them, and like most cuisines they make use of flavors that come from ingredients indigenous to the area from which they originate. Surely meatballs, along with so many other dishes, flavors and culinary creations, have become one of the favorite dishes brought to this country by immigrants and fused into what we’ve come to think of as our own cuisine.

Perhaps the most popular are Italian meatballs simmered in a savory tomato sauce; but there are also Swedish meatballs, flavorfully topped with their pale gravy. These are only a few of the many ways cooks over the centuries have rolled ground meat into tasty orbs. No matter your own ethnic origins, these little round treasures from far away places are sure to please your palate.

Italian Meatballs

YIELD: Makes 8 to 10 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds ground beef, pork or one pound of each

4 large eggs, beaten

2 cups unflavored dried bread crumbs

2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon each fresh flat leaf parsley, basil, and oregano (or 1 teaspoon each dried)

One clove garlic, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

One 28-ounce can tomato puree

One 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, pureed with their juice

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

One whole onion, peeled

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine meat, eggs, bread crumbs, cheese, herbs garlic, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Dipping hands into cold water occasionally, roll mixture into balls the size of a golf or Ping-Pong ball and place on baking sheet with half an inch between them. Bake until brown on top, about 15 minutes, turn and bake another 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat tomato puree and plum tomatoes to a simmer, add oil and onion and stir. Gently drop browned meatballs into sauce and stir to submerge them. Simmer or cook on low flame 2 to 3 hours, until sauce is somewhat reduced and thickened. When ready to serve, add salt and pepper to sauce, if needed, and remove onion. Discard or save for another use. Serve with pasta, crusty bread and a salad.

Swedish Meatballs

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup minced onion

1 cup unflavored bread crumbs

1 cup milk

1 pound ground beef

½ pound ground pork

One egg

One onion, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup flour

¾ cup cream

DIRECTIONS: In a large skillet melt two tablespoons of the butter and sauté the onion until golden brown. In a large bowl, soak the bread crumbs in the milk, add the meat, egg, onion, salt and pepper, and mix thoroughly. Dipping hands occasionally in cold water, shape the mixture into meatballs the size of a golf or Ping-Pong ball and roll in 3 tablespoons of the flour. Reserve one tablespoon of the flour for later.

Melt remaining butter in skillet and brown the meatballs on all sides over medium heat. Shake the pan or nudge the meatballs with a spatula so they retain their round shape. When browned and cooked through, remove and set aside to keep warm. Combine the reserved flour with the cream and with a wire whisk stir gradually into the pan juices. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently until thickened. Pour over meatballs and serve hot with noodles.

Middle Eastern Meatballs

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound ground lamb

½ cup minced onion

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint or 1 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1½ teaspoons grated lemon zest

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

½ teaspoon finely minced dried rosemary

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon dried coriander

1 cup plain good quality Greek yogurt

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 450 F. Mix lamb, onion, mint, cinnamon, lemon zest, salt and pepper, rosemary, and ½ teaspoon cumin. Roll into 16 meatballs and bake, turning once, about 15 minutes per side, until browned. Meanwhile mix yogurt with remaining half teaspoon of cumin and coriander. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with rice or couscous, sliced tomato and cucumber and baked eggplant.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

By Barbara Beltrami

Corned beef and cabbage may be the go-to dish to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but you certainly don’t have to be Irish to love it. In fact, I have seen people who normally wouldn’t go near a vegetable with a 10-foot pole devour cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, and I once knew a vegetarian who confessed that she renounced her vows once a year to eat corned beef.

As with so many holiday meals, the leftovers can be great with definitely a sandwich the next day — thin slices of corned beef between slices of good rye bread slathered with mustard or an open-faced sandwich topped with Russian dressing, sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese for a mouth-watering Reuben. Corned beef and a few boiled potatoes from the original meal can morph into corned beef hash topped with a nice runny-yolked egg or eggs Benedict on a bed of corned beef hash and capped with hollandaise sauce.

And don’t forget the Irish soda bread. Breakfast, lunch, dinner or in between, it’s that other St. Patrick’s Day traditional fare that you don’t have to be Irish to love.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Corned Beef and Cabbage

YIELD: 6 to 8 servings with leftovers

INGREDIENTS:

4 to 5 pounds corned beef brisket plus accompanying spices

One medium cabbage, cut in thick wedges

6 to 8 pared or scrubbed medium potatoes

6 to 8 pared carrots

2 whole peeled onions

DIRECTIONS: Rinse corned beef under cold water. Place in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then cook for two minutes. Reduce heat and remove scum from top of water. Add spices provided. Simmer 3 to 4 hours or until it is tender but can still be picked up with a fork without falling apart. Add vegetables and cook over low heat until they are tender but not soggy. Remove vegetables and set aside to keep warm. Remove meat and slice across the grain. Serve with horseradish or mustard and Irish soda bread.

Corned Beef Hash

Corned Beef Hash

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 to 3 cups diced cooked corned beef

2 to 3 cups diced cooked potatoes

One small onion, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Heat oil in a medium skillet. Combine next four ingredients. Then add the mixture and spread evenly over pan. Cook over low heat without stirring until brown on the bottom. Slide or flip onto plate. Serve with eggs, pickles or salad.

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

YIELD: 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2½ cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

1/3 cup raisins or dried currants

¾ cup buttermilk

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a cookie sheet. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With pastry blender or two criss-crossed knives cut the butter into the dry mixture until it resembles fine crumbs or meal. Stir in raisins or currants and just enough buttermilk so that dough leaves sides of bowl. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead one to two minutes or until dough is smooth. Shape into round loaf and place on cookie sheet. With a floured knife cut a half-inch deep X into top of loaf. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with butter and any of the above-mentioned recipes or toast it and serve with butter or jam for breakfast.

Banana Walnut Bread

By Barbara Beltrami

Rich in fiber and potassium, bananas are considered a healthful addition to most diets and a quick and satisfying snack. However I don’t usually get excited about them. If I do condescend to eat one, it must be just this side of ripe, firm with just a touch of green near the ends. On the other hand, my husband loves bananas that are just this side of rotten, soft and brown and begging for a visit from fruit flies. Those are the ones I use in recipes.

All that being said, I must confess that there are a couple of versions of bananas that I sometimes actually get a craving for. One is a banana on a popsicle stick, dipped in chocolate sauce and put in the freezer. Try that for a summer treat. Another is banana walnut bread, a comfort food if there ever was one. A third is Bananas Foster, a caramel-y dessert made with split bananas cooked with butter and brown sugar in a skillet, a heavely topping for whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. And how about banana-butterscotch cookies, a (somewhat) healthful goody that can be especially appreciated and popular with even the younger set of avowed junk foodies. Come to think of it, maybe I do like bananas!

Banana Walnut Bread

This recipe comes from one of those spiral bound cookbooks put out by some organization that my mother belonged to many many years ago. Although it is torn and tattered, I still cherish it for this recipe and a few others.

Banana Walnut Bread

YIELD: Makes 10 to 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

½ cup shortening

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, well beaten

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 ripe bananas, mashed

¼ cup chopped walnuts

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan. In large mixing bowl, combine shortening, sugar and eggs. Sift together the flour and baking soda and add to wet mixture. Stir in bananas and walnuts. Pour into greased loaf pan and bake one hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm with butter, cream cheese or jam and hot tea or coffee.

Bananas Foster

This dish originated in New Orleans in the 1950s and is traditionally made with a rum flambé. Playing with fire makes me nervous so I leave out the flambé part and just add a splash of rum to the bananas in the skillet right before serving.

Bananas Foster

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

Half a stick of unsalted butter

4 bananas, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise

1½ cups brown sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

2 ounces rum (optional)

One pint vanilla ice cream or 1 pint heavy cream, whipped

DIRECTIONS: In large skillet melt butter over medium heat. Gently add bananas; cook over medium heat until golden, about two minutes; gently turn and cook other side until golden, about two minutes. (Don’t worry if they break; they’ll still taste wonderful!). Remove from skillet and set aside to keep warm. Add brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt to skillet and cook, stirring constantly, over low heat about two minutes. Turn off heat, add rum to skillet, if using, stir, and stand back in case it flames. Return bananas to skillet and gently spoon sauce over them. Place a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream in four dessert dishes. Top with bananas and sauce and serve immediately with vanilla wafers or ginger snaps.

Banana Butterscotch Cookies

I’ve had this recipe a long time, and as with so many old recipes, I can’t remember who gave it to me. There’s something about the combination of bananas and butterscotch that is absolutely intoxicating, especially as the cookies are baking.

Banana Butterscotch Cookies

YIELD: Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies

INGREDIENTS:

2½ cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¾ cup white granulated sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

²⁄₃ cup unsalted butter

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Two very ripe bananas, mashed

2 cups butterscotch chips

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease cookie sheet. Sift together the flour, salt, baking power and baking soda. Cream together both sugars and the butter until light and fluffy. Mix in eggs and vanilla and combine with dry ingredients. Add mashed banana and butterscotch chips and stir in thoroughly. Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheet and bake 12 to 15 minutes. Place on rack to cool before serving.

Banana Oatmeal Muffins with Chocolate Chips

By Barbara Beltrami

I like to think of muffins as healthful cupcakes. Basically individual-sized quick breads, they seem to be synonymous with comfort and warmth and coziness and goodness. According to Wikipedia, the word “muffin” first appeared in 1703 as “moofen,” possibly a derivative of the low German “muffen,” the plural of small cake. That sounds viable. Whatever their derivation, they’ve become a staple of the roster of edibles that Americans have come to think of as the companions for their coffee or tea, the takeout breakfast goodies that make getting up in the morning a worthwhile exercise.

Like many good-for-you foods that I write about, muffins can be adaptable to what you have on hand and what your tastes dictate. Below is a basic recipe for sweet muffins to get you started. I’ve also included a couple of my favorite muffin recipes that are a little different from the basic one. I can pretty much guarantee that when you slip these into the oven on a cold winter morning, the aroma will elicit smiles and maybe even a little conversation from the usual grumps and grouches.

Basic Sweet Muffin Recipe

YIELD: Makes 12 muffins

INGREDIENTS:

¾ cup whole wheat flour

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup milk

½ cup honey

One egg, well beaten

1/3 cup oil

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Stir together both flours, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, thoroughly mix milk, honey, egg and oil. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and add liquid mixture. Stir until just moistened. Let rest for one minute. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin pans two-thirds full. Bake 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve with butter, jam, honey or cream cheese.

Banana Oatmeal Muffins

Banana Oatmeal Muffins with Chocolate Chips

I don’t remember where this recipe came from — I just know I’ve been making it for years and it’s always a hit. Sometimes I add a cup of chopped nuts or chocolate chips; sometimes I don’t.

YIELD: Makes about 14 muffins

INGREDIENTS:

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

One egg, well beaten

½ cup milk

1/3 cup oil

2/3 cup mashed ripe banana

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Stir together the flour, oatmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, mix the egg, milk, oil and banana and add to dry mixture. Stir until just moistened. Let sit for one minute. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin pans two-thirds full. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve with butter, honey, jam, peanut butter or cream cheese.

Pineapple Ginger Almond Muffins

Pineapple Ginger Almond Muffins

With the tang of the pineapple, the zing of the ginger and the crunch of the almonds, these muffins are especially good with tea, but great with coffee too.

YIELD: Makes 16 to 18 muffins

INGREDIENTS:

2½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¾ teaspoon powdered ginger

One egg, well beaten

1 cup buttermilk

¼ cup oil

½ cup dark molasses

1 cup finely chopped canned pineapple, well drained and patted dry

1 cup toasted crushed sliced almonds

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Mix egg, buttermilk, oil and molasses and add to dry ingredients. Stir until just moistened. Gently fold in pineapple and almonds. Let sit one minute. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin pans two-thirds full. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve with butter, cream cheese, jam, honey or yogurt.

Suggestions and tips: Add half a cup to one cup of any of the following. (If adding more than one ingredient, adjust amount of each accordingly.)

Chopped walnuts, almonds or pecans

Raisins or other dried fruit(chopped)

Pared, cored and grated apple or pear

Berries

Chocolate chips

For a nice surprise, fill muffin cups with half a cup of batter, add a heaping teaspoon of jam or brown sugar, then top with remaining batter.

Portuguese Kale Soup

By Barbara Beltrami

Oh, come on! You must have known it was only a matter of time before I, your friendly local recipe writer, zeroed in on that magic new gastronomic and health phenomenon, that newly popular, recently discovered among health-conscious Americans veggie … kale!

Basically a kind of cabbage that doesn’t form a head but produces lots of leaves, some variety of kale is a staple of many European, Asian and African diets. Rich in vitamins, especially vitamin K, which has been found to help blood clotting, this dark green (or sometimes other color) veggie can now be found on supermarket shelves as well as restaurant menus.

Kale is not new to me, however. My mother, who had a knack for finding and cooking what were many decades ago obscure vegetables, made kale regularly. That is, she boiled it. Period. So it wasn’t one of my favorites.

Fast forward several decades and cookbooks, websites and home making magazines are rife with recipes for kale paired with every conceivable as well as some very inconceivable ingredients. Because it is a little bitter and tough by itself, it is best prepared by removing its stems and pairing it with flavors that complement it.

With apologies to my mother, I offer you kale salad,  Portuguese kale soup and kale chips.

Kale, Orange, Avocado and Pignoli Salad

The rough texture of the kale, the tanginess of the orange, the creaminess of the avocado and crunchiness of the pignoli nuts converge on the palate for an interesting taste sensation.

YIELD: 4 to 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

One 12-ounce bag baby kale, washed, dried and de-stemmed

One large navel orange, peeled and diced

One avocado, peeled and sliced

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons orange juice

1½ tablespoons wine vinegar

One tablespoon honey

One garlic clove

One teaspoon dried tarragon or one tablespoon fresh, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

½ cup toasted pignoli nuts

DIRECTIONS: Crush the kale leaves with your hands so that they wilt a little. Place in a large bowl and toss with orange and avocado. In a small bowl whisk together the oil, orange juice, wine vinegar, honey, garlic and tarragon. Remove and discard garlic. Gently toss liquid mixture with kale mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle pignoli nuts on top and serve immediately. Serve with crusty bread and a hard cheese or with any fish, chicken or meat dish.

Portuguese Kale Soup

Hearty as can be, this national comfort food of Portugal has many interpretations by Portuguese immigrants in America, and each one is better than the next. This recipe borrows ingredients from various versions that elaborate upon the basic “caldo verde,” which is potatoes and kale.

Portuguese Kale Soup

YIELD: 6 to 8 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

8 ounces linguica or chorizo sausage, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

One large onion, peeled and diced

4 garlic cloves, sliced very thin

One pound kale, washed, de-stemmed and torn into pieces

2 quarts chicken broth

2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and diced

One 14-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice

One 28-ounce can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Handful fresh flat leaf parsley, rinsed, de-stemmed and chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS: In a large pot over medium heat, brown the sausage slices. Add the olive oil and onion; stir over medium heat until onion is soft and slightly opaque. Add garlic, kale, broth and potatoes. Lower heat slightly and continue to cook until kale is wilted, then add remaining ingredients and simmer, covered, until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Add water or more broth, if needed. Serve hot or refrigerate until used. Pair with Portuguese bread and olive oil.

Kale Chips

Amazingly easy and surprisingly delicious, these munchies are an excellent way to get kids to eat their veggies. In fact, I know of a certain little boy who became a convert from Pringles and Cheetos to kale chips!

YIELD: 2 to 4 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

One pound kale, washed, dried and de-stemmed

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350 F. Toss kale with oil, salt and pepper. Place on baking sheet and bake 10 to 15 minutes until crispy. Serve with yogurt dip or hummus.

By Barbara Beltrami

It had been one of those days from hell — blustery, cold and wet. Battling the mall crowds had left me tired and cranky and both my stomach and I were grumbly. My feet hurt, my back ached and my head throbbed from the unavoidable, ubiquitous and ambient music that blared with a rock beat insistence. All I could think of was getting home, changing into my old jeans, a baggy sweater and fuzzy slippers and grabbing some crackers to assuage my hunger pangs before I collapsed.

But as I came in the door and dropped my shopping bags, an aroma redolent with veggies, onions and herbs greeted me. There simmering on the stove was the pot of soup I had made the day before, removed from the fridge by an elf (bless his husbandly heart) and set to simmer in anticipation of my return from my ill-advised expedition.

It was sipping (read slurping) that steaming bowl of soup that revived me and reassured me that there were still some things that hadn’t been commercialized and that homemade soup was one of them! I sat back, smiled contentedly and reflected on what a nice productive day I’d had and all the bargains I’d found on things I didn’t need. Soup has a way of doing that.

Ribollita

In Italian “ribollita” means reheated. (And doesn’t just about any respectable soup taste better the next day?) This one is chock full of kale, other veggies and beans and is a tribute to its name.

YIELD: Serves 6 to 8

INGREDIENTS:

Two 28-ounce cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

8 cups chopped, well-washed trimmed lacinato kale*

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

2 ounces well-trimmed pancetta, julienned†

2 garlic cloves, minced

One 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes with their juice

4 medium celery stalks, thinly sliced

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves or 2 teaspoons dried

8 cups broth

4 cups cubed crusty leftover bread

salt and pepper, to taste

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS: In a food processor, puree half the beans. Cover and set aside. In a large pot, bring 2 inches water to a boil. Arrange kale on a steamer rack; place in pot and cover with tight-fitting lid. Steam for 3 to 5 minutes, until almost tender. Place a pot or large saucepan (at least 6½ quarts) over medium heat, add olive oil and heat 45 seconds. Add onions, pancetta and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, one to two minutes, until onions are opaque. Stir in tomatoes with their juice, celery, carrots and sage. Reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes, until the vegetables are very tender.

Add the pureed and whole beans, broth, kale to the tomato mixture. Bring the liquid to a boil; reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, about half an hour, until beans and kale are very tender and soup is thickened. Add bread cubes and cook 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper, if desired. Cool to room temperature; cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight. Half an hour before serving, reheat the soup over low heat to a gentle boil; stir frequently. Ladle into bowls and drizzle about half a tablespoon olive oil over each one

*Lacinato kale, a long-leafed dark green variety that resembles Romaine lettuce is preferable and available in most specialty markets, but the more familiar regular kale is okay if you can’t find it.

†Pancetta is Italian bacon available in most supermarket deli departments and certainly in Italian delis.

Cream of Tomato Soup

Warning: You’ll never be happy with the canned version once you’ve tasted this. And do I even need to say how great it is with a grilled cheese sandwich?

YIELD: Serves 4 to 6

INGREDIENTS:

3 tablespoons butter

½ cup chopped onion

4 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

2 cups water

½ bay leaf

1½ teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes

Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: In a large heavy pot or saucepan, melt the butter, then add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened but not browned. Add flour and continue to stir for another minute or two. Slowly add milk, bay leaf and sugar; continue to stir until slightly thickened. Stir the baking soda into the tomatoes, then add the tomatoes to the milk mixture and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer until heated through. Remove bay leaf and discard. Let cool about 15 to 20 minutes; puree in batches in food processor. Add seasonings and serve immediately or refrigerate and reheat before serving.

Lentil and Leek Soup

This hearty soup gets its zing from the addition of just a little vinegar, which acts as a flavor enhancer.

YIELD: Serves 6 to 8

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound dried lentils, rinsed, drained and picked over

2½ quarts broth

4 carrots, peeled and diced

1 large onion, peeled and diced

1 large rib celery, diced

3 medium leeks, thoroughly washed and sliced

1 bay leaf

1½ cups chopped tomatoes

1 cup juice from tomatoes

2 to 3 tablespoons wine vinegar

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

4 scallions, washed and thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS: Place lentils, broth, vegetables and bay leaf in a large nonreactive pot.Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes or until lentils and vegetables are tender. Add tomatoes, juice and, if soup seems too thick, water as needed. Cook 10 minutes. Add vinegar and oil. Stir; cook over low flame 5 minutes more. Remove bay leaf and discard. Adjust seasoning. Garnish with scallions.

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