Cooking

By Heidi Sutton

Teamwork was the key ingredient at this year’s Junior Iron Chef competition. The annual event, now in its 7th year, was held on March 9 at Whole Foods in Lake Grove. Hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, the one-day cooking challenge, described as “part ‘Chopped,’ part ‘Iron Chef,’ and part ‘Food Network Challenge,’” gave middle and high school students the opportunity to work in groups of three to five to complete a delicious dish of their choosing in under an hour. Fifteen teams from all over Long Island competed this year for the ultimate title of Junior Iron Chef.

“This is an amazing event,” said DJ Anthony Cafaro, from WEHM, who has served as the event’s emcee since its inception. “It’s cool to see some repeat competitors from year’s past and it’s awesome to see a lot of new competitors here,” he said.

The purpose of the event was to encourage budding chefs to learn new cooking skills and lead a healthier lifestyle while promoting the use of local food to support our local farmers and environment. Each team was required to  create a new healthy vegetarian or vegan based recipe that used local ingredients and could be easily implemented into school cafeteria menus.

“This is the seventh year I’ve done this and by far this was the greatest year with the best flavors,” said Cafaro as he tasted all the dishes.

Celebrity chefs Kayla Mitchell and William Connor helped judge the event last Saturday.

Among the 11 judges who graded the dishes based on flavor, health value, creativity and presentation was 14-year-old William Connor from Northport, a past contestant on “Chopped Junior” on the Food Network,  and 13-year-old Kayla Mitchell of Center Moriches who was a contestant on the third season of “MasterChef Junior” on Fox Broadcasting.

High school teams were given a secret ingredient at the last minute, a Sumo Citrus, to incorporate into their dish. Some chose to use the peel, others the juice. While the teams created their dishes, Cafaro kept the ever-growing crowd entertained with fun trivia and giveaways to places like the Long Island Aquarium and concerts.

While the judges deliberated, Executive Chef Jason Keubler and Anthony Cafaro visited each station, tasting each dish and giving feedback to the aspiring chefs. While Cafaro raved over everything that was put in front of him, Keubler gave positive feedback, from “These eggs are spot on,” “Flavors are very balanced,” “Great knife skills,” to pointing out the cleanliness of their workstation and asking them what their greatest obstacle was. “It’s all about teamwork and it shows in your work,” he complimented one team.

First place in the middle school division went to Team G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) from Seneca Middle School in Holbrook. Students Leah Ferraro, Sofia Iacono, Jacqueline Volo and Gianna Scolaro, guided by coach Robert Frontino, won the judges over with their creative Caribbean Breakfast Salad, which was comprised of cinnamon sugared French toast, grilled pineapple and arugula salad with goat cheese, topped with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

“That’s insanely good,” drooled Cafaro as he reached for a napkin. “The cinnamon and the goat cheese go so well together,” agreed Chef Jason. “The color is super vibrant, the spiciness goes with the sweetness with nice textures. Beautiful presentation,” he said adding that he was impressed by how nicely they worked together “just like in a professional kitchen.”

Second place was awarded to The 3 Breakfasteers from Suffolk County 4-H Trailblazers of Yaphank for their Vanilla Fruit Crepes filled with whipped cream and diced strawberries and garnished with blueberries. Corey Burke, Alexis Vladikin, Nora Nemickas and coach Nicole Vickovich made up the team.

The Junior Porters from Greenport Union Free School District grabbed third place for their Mediterranean Breakfast Crepe with an Herbed Whipped Cream. Coached by Katherine Ryan, Rocio Azama, DeShawn Solla, Aleyana Gungar, Ayania Smith and Brynn Dinizio were awarded for their healthy crepe stuffed with baby spinach, sundried tomatoes, black olives and low-fat feta cheese.

Team Almost Master Chef from Sachem North High School in Ronkonkoma captured first place in the high school division. Kaitlyn Seitz, Hailey McKishi, Kayla Salvate and Victoria Corcaran, under the guidance of coach Lindsey Shelhorse, impressed the judges with their Brunch For Lunch Chilaquiles dish featuring homemade tortilla shells topped with fried egg, cheese, onion and cilantro.

Second place was awarded to the Greenport High School’s Bacon Bits – Jhon Ramirez, Tommy Tsaveras, Colin Rossetti, Mateo Arias and Charles Staples – for their Gyro Style Veggie Burger on Whole Wheat Pita, which was served with sautéed onions and tzatziki sauce with a cucumber garnish. The team was coached by Marianne Ladalia.

The Salt Shakers from the Suffolk County 4-H Trailblazers garnered third place. Olivia Unger and Lexington Carrera, under the guidance of coach Adrienne Unger, were given high marks for their crispy Potato Latkes topped with a dollop of sour cream and garnished with chives and scallions.

The Mise en Place (everything in its place) awards were presented to Seneca Middle School’s Taco Bellas (Emma Bollinger, Amanda Madigan, Madeline Turano and Adrianna Sigler with coach Robert Frontino) and Almost Master Chef.

The Public Presentation awards, for the team with the best poster/informational display and judge presentation, were presented to G.O.A.T. and Bacon Bits.

“The kids today were just tremendous,” said Vito Minei, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. “This is truly a Long Island Junior Iron Chef competition with teams coming all the way from Floral Park, Franklin Square and Greenport,” he added. “I want to thank all the parents and families.You should be proud. These kids were fabulous. They all practiced teamwork and each child had an opportunity to shine.”

Brunch for Lunch Chilaquiles 

by Team Almost Top Chef, first place winners in the high school division

Ingredients

Tortilla Shell

10.5 ounces of all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup vegetable oil

7-8 ounces of hot water (110-120F)

Sauce

Diced yellow onion

Diced and seeded jalapeño

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon ground chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3 tablespoons flour

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon salt, to taste

Pinch of cinnamon

Can of tomato paste

2 cups vegetable broth

1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Filling and Topping Ingredients

Can of drained and rinsed black beans

12 oz. Fiesta Blend Cheese (365 Everyday Value Brand)

3 oz. cotija

Diced red onion

Cilantro

6 Eggs

Directions

 Instructions for sauce

  1. Sauté the diced onion and jalapenos to the pan.
  2. Crush and smash cloves of garlic and salt and add to the onion mixture.  Add the cumin and chili powder.  Add the flour, oregano, garlic powder and salt into a small bowl and place it near the stove.
  3. Add the flour/spice mixture.
  4. While whisking constantly, cook until fragrant and slightly deepened in color, about 1 minute. Whisk the tomato paste into the mixture, then slowly pour in the broth while whisking constantly to remove any lumps.
  5. Raise heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, whisking often, for about 5 to 7 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat, then whisk in the vinegar and season to taste with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Add more salt, if necessary.
  7. Stir in the black beans

Instructions for tortillas

To make the dough: In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Pour in the lesser amount of hot water (plus the oil, if you’re using it), and stir briskly with a fork or whisk to bring the dough together into a shaggy dough.Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead briefly, just until the dough forms a ball. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Round the pieces into balls, flatten slightly, and allow them to rest, covered, for about 15 minutes.  Preheat ungreased cast iron griddle or skillet over medium high heat, about 400°F. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll into a round about 8″ in diameter. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Fry the tortilla in the ungreased pan for about 30 seconds on each side. Then cut into wedges and fry them and add salt to taste.

Assembling

Fry the eggs. Layer the fried tortilla shell with spoonful of sauce and cheese.  Top with the fried egg, more cheese, dice red onion and cilantro.

Caribbean Breakfast Salad

By Team G.O.A.T., first place winners in the middle school division

Ingredients

16 oz of arugula

8 oz of goat cheese

2 boxes of raspberries (7 oz. each)

1 pineapple

1 loaf challah bread

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. oregano

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

1/4 cinnamon

4 eggs

2 tbsp honey

Directions

Challah French Toast

Preheat skillet to 350 degrees. Mix eggs in large bowl. In a separate bowl mix sugars and cinnamon. Dip the challah bread slices into egg mixture and then the sugar blend. Cook until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes.

Arugula Salad

Mix oil, vinegar, honey and mustard and whip until blended. Strain the raspberries. Add raspberry juice to oil mixture until smooth to taste. Toss arugula, whole raspberries and cheese together with liquid dressing.

Pineapple

Cut outside skin of pineapple. Cut one inch horizontal slices. Dip in sugar mixture. Grill on both sides for 2 to 3 minutes.

All photos by Heidi Sutton

Buckwheat Noodle Salad

By Barbara Beltrami

I heard a quote the other day. Unfortunately I don’t know its source, but it’s too good not to share. It goes something like this: “There will be peace when everyone in the world has enough noodles to eat.” And it occurred to me that noodles are one of those foods that cross so many cultures around this war-torn world. Call it what you will … udon or tagliatelle or nudel or cabeza, or lokshen, the noodle is a staple of myriad ethnic cuisines. Basically composed of flour and water and sometimes eggs, noodles sustain and enhance so many diets in so many ways …when they’re available. Some food for thought.

Buckwheat Noodle Salad

Buckwheat Noodle Salad

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1/3 cup rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 teaspoons Sriracha

¼ cup peanut oil

¾ pound buckwheat noodles

½ cup freshly grated carrot

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and shredded

3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

4 large or 6 small radishes, thinly sliced

1 handful cilantro leaves, finely chopped

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, ginger, honey, soy sauce, sesame oil, Sriracha and peanut oil. Cook the noodles according to package directions, then rinse in cold water and drain. Add to vinegar mixture and toss well. Top with carrot, bell pepper, cucumber, scallions, radishes and cilantro. Serve at room temperature with grilled shrimp or chicken.

Udon Soup with Baby Spinach, Bok Choy and Tofu

Udon Soup with Baby Spinach, Bok Choy and Tofu

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

One 8-ounce package udon noodles

3 tablespoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon peanut oil

¾ pound tofu, patted dry and cut into 12 pieces

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

One 10-ounce package baby spinach, washed

2 heads bok choy, thinly sliced

6 scallions, thinly sliced

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons tamari

¼ teaspoon sugar

1/3 cup chicken or vegetable broth

DIRECTIONS:

Cook noodles according to package directions. Place 2 tablespoons of sesame oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Season tofu with salt and pepper and cook in oil until golden brown on all sides, about 2 minutes; remove and set aside to keep warm. Add remaining tablespoon sesame oil, peanut oil and veggies to skillet and cook, tossing frequently, until just wilted and soft, then add the red pepper flakes, tamari, sugar and broth plus any juices from the veggies. Ladle into 4 bowls and top with tofu pieces. Serve hot with sautéed sliced beef, chicken, pork or fish.

Noodle Pudding

Noodle Pudding

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 eggs

2/3 cup sour cream

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons sugar

2 cups cottage cheese

5 cups cooked egg noodles

3 tablespoons bread crumbs

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a large bowl beat together the eggs, sour cream, salt and pepper and sugar; stir in cheese and noodles. Butter a 2-quart baking dish and transfer mixture to it; sprinkle with bread crumbs and dot with butter. Bake until thoroughly heated and top is crisp and golden, about 30 to 40 minutes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature with a green salad.

Curried Cauliflower Bisque

By Barbara Beltrami

Many readers have asked me for more soup recipes and who can blame them? Winter chills have a way of making us crave bowls and mugs of hot soup for lunch as well as dinner. I make a huge pot of soup every week, as much, I think, for the comfort of its simmering on the stove as the comfort of ladling it into sturdy mugs and bowls and ingesting a sense of well-being despite what’s going on outside. For a little variety this time I’ve focused on pureed soups, which are smooth and very sipp-able from a mug (I think of them as winter smoothies), and I’ve come up with three favorites: Cream of Tomato and Cream of Mushroom, which are guaranteed to keep you zipping right past that canned soup aisle forevermore, and finally a nice spicy Curried Cauliflower Bisque, which will definitely get your taste buds singing.

Cream of Tomato Soup

Cream of Tomato Soup

YIELD: Makes 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

¾ cup chopped onion

¼ cup flour

4 cups milk

1 bay leaf

1½ teaspoons sugar

Two 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes

½ teaspoon baking soda

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a large pot melt butter over medium heat; add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft but not browned. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, 1 or 2 minutes until a smooth paste is formed. Slowly add milk, then bay leaf and sugar and continue to cook and stir until slightly thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes. In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes,  baking soda and salt and pepper; add to milk mixture and bring just to a simmer; remove bay leaf and discard. Let cool slightly and puree in batches in food processor or blender. Return to pot and, stirring frequently, bring back to simmer or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Do not freeze. Serve with grilled cheese sandwiches.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Cream of Mushroom Soup

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups chicken broth

1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and chopped

2 shallots, peeled and minced

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/3 cup flour

½ cup half-and-half

1 bay leaf

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium-large pot bring chicken broth to a low boil; add mushrooms and shallots and simmer one hour. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter, then whisk in flour until smooth; slowly whisk in half-and-half, bay leaf and salt and pepper and cook until mixture is thickened and smooth, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add mushroom broth to mixture and stir until thoroughly incorporated. Let cool slightly, then puree in batches in food processor or blender; return to saucepan and reheat, stirring frequently, over medium-low flame. Remove bay leaf and discard. Serve immediately with buttered toast or crackers.

Curried Cauliflower Bisque

Curried Cauliflower Bisque

YIELD: Makes 4 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

1 head cauliflower, separated into even florets

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 medium onions, chopped

6 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 teaspoons curry powder or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

DIRECTIONS:

Steam cauliflower until very tender, 10 to 15 minutes depending on size of florets. In a large saucepan heat butter and oil over medium heat; add onions and sauté until soft but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add steamed cauliflower, broth, curry powder and pepper; stir, then transfer mixture in batches to food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Return to saucepan and heat over low flame. Top with yogurt and serve immediately with a cucumber salad.

Kale, Roasted Butternut Squash and Almond Salad. Stock photo

By Barbara Beltrami

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean that you have to wait for spring and summer for interesting salads. In fact, on the contrary, winter veggies offer some great opportunities for crispy crunchy salads that take the blah out of winter fare and are hearty and oh-so-good for you. Of course, there’s kale, the new wonder veggie, roots such as beets and carrots and all the members of the cabbage clan with Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and, of course, cabbage itself, both green and red. Cooked, raw or a combination of both, deftly dressed and seasoned, a winter salad can become a whole meal in a bowl.

Kale, Roasted Butternut Squash and Almond Salad

Kale, Roasted Butternut Squash and Almond Salad. Stock photo

YIELD: Makes 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

3 tablespoons wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

¼ cup + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon orange juice

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced

1 large onion, chopped

2 bunches kale, washed, stemmed and sliced cross-wise into half-inch strips

½ cup toasted sliced almonds

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a shallow baking pan with aluminum foil. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, ¼ cup olive oil, honey, orange juice and salt and pepper and set aside. In a large bowl, toss together the squash, onion and remaining 2 tablespoons oil; spread in foil-lined pan and bake, turning once or twice, until squash is tender but not mushy and onions are golden. Crumple kale by “massaging” with both hands; transfer to serving bowl and toss with squash and onions, dressing and almonds. Garnish with pomegranate seeds if desired. Serve warm with bread dipped in extra virgin olive oil.

Fennel, Red Cabbage, Orange and Red Onion Salad

YIELD: Makes 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

1 fennel bulb trimmed and diced

½ small red cabbage, thinly sliced, then chopped

2 oranges, peeled and thinly sliced

½ red onion, thinly sliced, rings separated

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon or ¼ teaspoon dried

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl toss together the fennel, cabbage, oranges and onion. In a small bowl vigorously whisk the oil, vinegar, garlic, tarragon and salt and pepper; pour over salad and toss again to thoroughly coat. Serve at room temperature with meat, poultry or fish.

Golden Beet, Brussels Sprout and Kohlrabi Salad with Creamy Herb Dressing

YIELD: Makes 8 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

4 golden beets, peeled, trimmed and cut into 8 wedges each

4 medium bulbs kohlrabi, peeled and cut into 8 wedges each

1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise

1 head Boston or romaine lettuce, washed and separated into leaves

¼ cup chopped fresh dill

2/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

½ cup sliced scallions

¾ cup mayonnaise

½ cup plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 F. Wrap beets and kohlrabi separately in aluminum foil. Bake until fork tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile, steam Brussels sprouts until tender but still bright green, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove and place in ice water for 2 minutes; drain. Arrange lettuce leaves on a platter; top with beets, Brussels sprouts and kohlrabi. Place dill, parsley, scallions, mayonnaise, yogurt, vinegar, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until mixture is well blended. Sprinkle vegetables with salt and pepper to taste and pour dressing over them. Serve warm or at room temperature with crusty multigrain bread.

Coeur a la Creme

By Barbara Beltrami

Theirs are stories for the ages. Tales of lovers from myths and movies, life and lore endure. Whether seduced by blind passions or fatal attractions, devotion or desolation, famous lovers whose relationships were long or short-lived affairs of their hearts still evoke notions of romance in our own lives. 

Think Heloise and Abelard, Romeo and Juliet, Mimi and Rodolfo, Tristan and Isolde, Victoria and Albert, Antony and Cleopatra, Lancelot and Guinevere, Napoleon and Josephine, Katherine and Spencer, Rhett and Scarlett, Rocky and Adrian, Jack and Rose, Noah and Allie, Oliver and Jenny, and on and on and on. 

Who knows what these couples would have had for a Valentine’s Day dinner, but here are a few ideas for yours.

Lobster Bisque

Lobster Bisque

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

One 1½ pound cooked lobster

¼ pound unsweetened butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 egg yolk

3½ cups milk

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup dry white wine

Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Fresh parsley sprigs for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Remove lobster meat from shell and chop into half-inch pieces. In a deep saucepan over low heat melt butter; add flour and salt and blend till very smooth. In a deep bowl, beat egg yolk until foamy; add lobster and combine thoroughly; transfer to large saucepan. Stirring constantly, gradually add milk, until smooth, then gradually stir in wine; heat thoroughly but do not allow to boil. 

Transfer to a warmed soup tureen or individual bowls. Garnish with parsley and serve with buttered toast triangles.

Filet Steaks with Artichoke Hearts

YIELD: Makes 2 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 slices white sandwich bread

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cooked fresh artichoke hearts

2 filet steaks, seasoned with coarse salt and pepper

¼ cup dry white vermouth

¼ cup beef broth

DIRECTIONS:

With an inverted glass, cut two discs from the bread. With bottom of glass, press each disc to ¼-inch thickness. In heavy medium skillet, heat half the oil and half the butter. Over medium heat lightly brown bread discs, turning once about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove and set aside to keep warm. In the same pan, turning once, sauté artichoke hearts until tender, about 10 minutes; remove from pan and set aside to keep warm. Add remaining oil and butter, heat, then raise heat to medium high; add steaks and cook, turning once, to desired doneness. Remove steaks and set aside to keep warm. 

Pour sauté fat out of skillet, add vermouth and broth and over high heat, while scraping bottom of pan with spatula to pick up coagulated juices, boil down liquid to 3 tablespoons. Quickly place steaks on plate, top with discs, then artichoke hearts and spoon juices over them. Serve immediately with asparagus and new potatoes.

Coeur a la Crème

Coeur a la Creme

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

*This recipe calls for a heart-shaped mold with a perforated bottom, usually available in fine houseware stores.

1 pound cottage cheese

1 pound cream cheese, softened

 Pinch of salt

 2 cups heavy cream

1 pint strawberries, crushed and sweetened to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl, thoroughly combine the cottage cheese, cream cheese and salt. Beating constantly until mixture is smooth, gradually add the heavy cream. Scrape mixture into mold and place on a deep plate to drain overnight in refrigerator. When ready to serve, unmold onto chilled plate and serve with strawberries and pieces of filled chocolate (preferably from a heart-shaped box!).

Baked Custard

By Barbara Beltrami

We all talk about comfort foods — chicken soup and meatloaf and mac and cheese and the myriad foods that linger in our memory from childhood. But what about comfort desserts? What about those sweet smooth custards and puddings that soothed sore throats and upset tummies, sickbed treats for which we roused ourselves from the fumes of Vick’s Vaporub and aftertastes of stale ginger ale to savor a few spoonfuls of soothing pleasure that would hold us over until the next delivery of a new coloring book and even bigger box of crayons arrived.

Lemon Pudding

Lemon Pudding

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

2½ cups milk

3 egg yolks, lightly beaten

1½ tablespoons very finely grated lemon zest

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium to large saucepan, thoroughly combine sugar and cornstarch. Whisking constantly, add milk and when mixture is smooth slowly add egg yolks, lemon zest and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently and then constantly until mixture is thickened and coats the back of the spoon, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice and butter and pour through sieve to catch any lumps. Divide into individual bowls, cover with plastic wrap and chill. Serve cold with lemon cookies.

Baked Custard

Baked Custard

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 eggs

½ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

Dash of vanilla

2¼ cups milk, heated until not quite boiling

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Beat together the eggs, sugar and salt, add vanilla and milk and briefly beat together. Divide mixture into 4 oven proof ramekins and set them in a shallow pan filled with hot water that comes halfway up their sides.  Bake 45 to 55 minutes until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Remove ramekins from oven. (To avoid hot water sloshing and scalding, let pan with water cool before removing from oven). Cover ramekins with plastic wrap and refrigerate or serve warm with vanilla cookies.

Rice Pudding

Rice Pudding

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups cooked short or medium grain rice

3 cups milk

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup raisins (optional)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine rice, milk, sugar, butter, vanilla, raisins, if using,, and half the cinnamon. Cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is absorbed, about 20 to 25 minutes. Divide evenly among dessert bowls and sprinkle with remaining half of cinnamon. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate or serve warm with raisin cookies.

Super Bacon-Cheeseburger Sliders

By Barbara Beltrami

Research on the internet informs me that sliders date back to the old White Castle hamburgers as well as to the Navy moniker for greasy burgers that slid onto the bun or plate. Their reincarnation has, like many resurrected concepts, produced a whole new phenomenon, most often a beef patty but also a mini-sandwich that can be anything from a turkey Reuben to eggplant parmigiana. Whatever their provenance, sliders are wonderful for large gatherings like Super Bowl parties. Along with the wings and the guacamole and the nachos and chips and dips, the pizzas and heroes and chili, sliders offer super football fare that can be easily grabbed, bitten into, chewed and swallowed in enough time to cheer or curse the latest play.

Super Bacon-Cheeseburger Sliders

Super Bacon-Cheeseburger Sliders

YIELD: Makes 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2½ to 3 pounds ground beef

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

6 slices cheddar cheese, halved

12 slider rolls

6 cooked bacon slices, halved

12 tomato slices

12 red onion slices

12 pickle slices

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat grill or broiler. Separate and pat meat into 3-inch discs, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 3 minutes per side, more or less depending on desired doneness. One to 2 minutes before they are done, carefully lay cheese on top and continue cooking until cheese is melted. Arrange bottom halves of rolls on a platter, slide meat patties onto rolls. Add bacon, tomato, onion and pickles and serve immediately with ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and lots of napkins.

Super Turkey Reuben Sliders

YIELD: Makes 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

12 slider rolls

6 tablespoons prepared mustard

12 slices deli turkey breast, halved

One 14-ounce can sauerkraut, heated and well-drained

6 slices Swiss cheese, halved

¾ cup Russian dressing 

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat broiler. Arrange bottoms of slider rolls on rack of large broiler pan. Spread half a tablespoon mustard on each one; add turkey breast. Next mound the sauerkraut evenly over turkey and top with Swiss cheese slices. Broil 1 or 2 minutes, just until cheese is melted. With a spatula, slide each bottom half with its toppings onto a platter, evenly spread top halves with Russian dressing and serve hot with potato salad and a pickle.

Super Eggplant Parmigiana Sliders

YIELD: Makes 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 egg

1 to 1½ cups bread crumbs

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 half-inch-thick round slices eggplant

One 14-ounce can petite diced tomatoes

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or one teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or one teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or one teaspoon dried

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

¼ cup olive oil

24 half-inch-thick round slices narrow crusty Italian bread

1 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced into 12 rounds

DIRECTIONS:

In a shallow bowl beat egg with 1 or 2 tablespoons water; in another shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs with the salt and pepper. Dip the eggplant slices first in the egg, then in the bread crumbs and then transfer to a plate. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine tomatoes, garlic, the 2 tablespoons olive oil, the herbs and salt and pepper in a medium skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened. Set aside to keep warm.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add eggplant and cook, turning once, until brown on both sides. Remove from skillet and blot with paper towels. Arrange 12 slices bread on rack of broiler pan, top each with an eggplant slice, then a slice of mozzarella. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted. Meanwhile, reheat sauce and remove eggplant from oven. Spoon sauce evenly over melted cheese, top with remaining bread slices, slide onto platter and serve hot or warm with marinated artichoke hearts, peppers and mushrooms.

Pureed Beet Soup with Yogurt

By Barbara Beltrami

I’ve always loved beets. My mother used to make wonderful pickled beets. And like so many then unpopular veggies she made, beets, along with kale, Swiss chard, kohlrabi and cauliflower, have finally been recognized as not only delicious but also healthful. 

Consider roasted beet salad with goat cheese and walnuts. Order up a plate of beet ravioli or risotto at one of the trendy Italian restaurants or have a bowl of beet soup with a snowy dollop of yogurt or sour cream floating on top. Or best of all, try my mom’s pickled beets. Beets and a whole new generation of veggies have come into their own or maybe it’s just a whole new generation that has discovered them.

Pureed Beet Soup with Yogurt

Pureed Beet Soup with Yogurt

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

2½–3 cups chicken broth

4 cooked beets, chopped

1 cup canned diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

½ cup half and half

1 cup plain yogurt or sour cream

4 sprigs fresh dill for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

In a small skillet over medium heat, sauté onion in olive oil 5 minutes or until opaque. In a large saucepan combine chicken broth, beets, tomatoes, onion and dill. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Remove from heat, adjust salt and pepper and let cool slightly. In a food processor or blender, puree in batches until smooth; add a little water if mixture is too thick. Return to saucepan and reheat over medium-low heat or cover and refrigerate if not using immediately. When ready to serve ladle into 4 plates and swirl a little of the half and half through soup, top with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream and sprig of dill. Serve with buttered toasted seeded rye bread.

Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts

Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 whole beets

8 peeled garlic cloves

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon raspberry vinegar

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon prepared Dijon mustard 

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup torn frisée

1 cup arugula

1 cup halved cherry tomatoes

4 ounces crumbled goat cheese

½ cup chopped toasted walnuts

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 F. Scrub, peel and chop beets; peel garlic cloves. In a medium bowl toss the beets and garlic with the two tablespoons of oil, thyme and salt and pepper. Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and spread beet mixture evenly over it. Roast 25 to 35 minutes, until tender. Meanwhile in a small bowl, whisk together the quarter-cup olive oil, vinegars, orange juice, honey, mustard and salt and pepper. Remove beets from oven; let cool 10 minutes. Toss frisée and arugula and place on salad plates; place tomatoes on top of greens, then beets, goat cheese and walnuts and drizzle with oil and vinegar mixture. Serve at room temperature as a side dish or appetizer accompanied by crunchy baguette slices..

Mom’s Pickled Beets

Mom’s Pickled Beets

 

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

4 to 6 medium beets, pared, chopped and cooked

1 medium onion, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl whisk together the vinegar, sugar and salt and pepper. Add the beets and onion and toss to thoroughly coat. Cover, and stirring frequently, refrigerate 3 to 4 hours. Serve at room temperature with pot roast or goulash and noodles.

Traditional Lasagna

By Barbara Beltrami

Lasagna is the answer to a cook’s and diner’s prayer — a favorite one-dish balanced meal that’s always a palate pleaser. And with the availability of no-boil lasagna, which I think produces a lighter, more delicate pasta than the old-fashioned kind that is so difficult to handle, it’s really just a matter of precooking some of the fillings and assembling them in alternate layers with the pasta. Here are two versions.

Traditional Lasagna

Traditional Lasagna

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

¼ cup olive oil

1 large onion, diced

½ pound crumbled Italian hot or sweet sausage meat

½ pound lean ground beef

½ cup dry white wine

2 garlic cloves, minced

One 28-ounce can tomato puree

One 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

Large pinch sugar

Pinch baking soda

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 pound ricotta cheese

1¼ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1 large egg

½ cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Nonstick cooking spray

1 pound no-boil lasagna sheets

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, sausage meat and ground beef and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is golden and meat is brown. Add the wine; stir; then add the garlic, tomato puree, crushed tomatoes, basil, oregano, sugar, baking soda, salt and pepper. Cook over medium-low heat 5 minutes.  

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, egg, parsley, salt and pepper. Coat a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Spread a thin layer of sauce on bottom. Next, place lasagna sheets over the sauce. Place six dollops of ricotta mixture on top of sheets and, with a large spoon or rubber spatula, spread evenly; top with sauce.  

Repeat procedure until lasagna sheets, ricotta mixture and sauce are used up, ending with lasagna sheets, then sauce on top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 30 minutes, until sauce is bubbling at sides. Remove the foil and bake another 10 to 15 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes. Serve hot or warm with a tossed salad and a light red wine.

Roasted Veggie Lasagna

Roasted Veggie Lasagna

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 medium eggplant, cut into half-inch slices

2 medium green or yellow zucchini, cut into half-inch slices

8 ounces sliced mushrooms

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Nonstick cooking spray

One and a half 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried

1 tablespoons fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

6 ounces goat cheese 

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 pound no-boil lasagna sheets

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 425 F. Brush vegetables with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Coat two to three baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray and place veggie slices on them; roast 15 to 20 minutes, until tender. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 400 F. 

Meanwhile in large skillet or saucepan combine tomatoes, garlic, herbs and the three tablespoons olive oil. Cook over medium heat for five minutes. Combine goat and Parmesan cheeses. 

Spread a little sauce in a 13×9-inch nonreactive baking dish; add lasagna to cover, the eggplants slices, overlapping if necessary, then 1/3 of the cheese mixture and finally enough tomato sauce to lightly cover. Repeat procedure using zucchini for second layer and mushrooms for third layer, ending with lasagna topped with tomato sauce. 

Cover with aluminum foil, bake 30 minutes, uncover and bake another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes. Serve hot or warm with a spinach salad and dry white wine.

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Cheese and Broccoli Soup

By Barbara Beltrami

I know of nothing to say to begin this column besides Happy New Year and then the obvious, thank goodness the holidays are over, the eating binge of rich food is finished, and I can go back to my reasonably healthy regimen of healthful eating with an emphasis on veggies, fruits, grains, fish, low carbs and low fats! 

And after all the holiday cooking, what better way to minimize preparation than by making a big pot of hearty soup that will include so many of those ingredients that are so good for you? In fact, make a couple of different kinds of soup, freeze them in meal or serving size containers and voila! you’ve got yourself some easy no muss-no fuss one-dish meals that leave you lots of time for that other important regimen, exercise!

Cheese and Broccoli Soup

Cheese and Broccoli Soup

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 medium onion, chopped

6 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

3 tablespoons sifted flour

2 cups milk

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups coarsely chopped fresh broccoli florets

1 cup finely chopped fresh carrot

1 celery rib, trimmed and diced

1 cup each shredded sharp cheddar, Emmenthal or Jarlsberg and Gouda cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a small skillet sauté the onion in two tablespoons of the melted butter until opaque, about 5 minutes. Set aside. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat whisk together the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and the flour (add a few tablespoons hot water if mixture is too dry) about 3 to 4 minutes, until flour loses its gritty texture. Over medium-low heat and whisking constantly, alternately add the milk and chicken broth until mixture is thickened, about 20 minutes. Add sautéed onions, broccoli, carrot and celery; and stirring frequently, cook uncovered over low heat until veggies are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir cheese into mixture until it is melted; season with salt and pepper. Serve hot with a crunchy salad and bread sticks.

Spicy Butternut Squash and Carrot Soup

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 small-medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks

4 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, diced

4 cups chicken broth or stock

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ cup milk

1½ cups plain Greek yogurt

DIRECTIONS:

In a large covered saucepan, steam squash and carrots until very tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small skillet sauté the onion in the butter until transparent, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer squash, carrots and onion to a large bowl; add about one cup chicken broth. Set aside to cool for 20 to 30 minutes. In a food processor or blender, puree vegetables with a little of the broth in a few batches. Transfer puree to a large saucepan or pot; stir in remaining broth, salt and pepper, nutmeg, ginger and milk and, stirring frequently, cook over medium-low heat until bubbling. Ladle into individual soup bowls and top each one with a dollop of yogurt. Serve hot with a kale salad and veggie chips.

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