Friday, March 22, 2013

Tuna Casserole Over the Top

I did not grow up in a family where casseroles were served for family dinners.  My mother was a cook in a restaurant, and a casserole was something she just did not make.  So, after I married, I followed that tradition almost exclusively.  I do recall once in a while, that I would make the typical Tuna Casserole with noodles, tuna, canned peas and the dreaded Cream of Mushroom Soup.  I suppose I topped it with crushed potato chips.  You have to think 1970's here.  I really don't remember if our daughters would eat it or not.  I am guessing no, because they never did get into enjoying eating fish like we do.  I just did not make it that often.  In other words, it just did not appeal to anyone that much. 

So, when this week I saw my friend, Eileen who writes the blog Living Tastefully-Passions to Pastry, had a tuna casserole recipe that she found from another blog, it just sounded delicious.  Eileen grew up in the small villages where I did in the Amana Colonies in Iowa.  I did not know her as well as her older sister (Eileen is a lot younger than me), but I find her blog and her expertise in the kitchen amazing.  In fact, when Eileen said she made this tuna casserole twice in one week, I knew I had to try it.

In fact, I have been reading a lot on blogs recently about getting rid of the old Cream of Mushroom Soup and making your own mushroom sauce.  Yes, it was a little putzing in the kitchen to get this all together, but I find it was so worth it.  If the Trout had been home earlier, he could have done all the chopping for me which always helps tremendously.

I have to say, even though I changed a few things because of what I had on hand, this casserole tasted perfect.

I will definitely keep this recipe handy and would even serve this to company.  It was that good!!!

So, coming from someone who does not make casseroles, I would say this is quite an endorsement.

The recipe follows.

Grown-Up Tuna Noodle Casserole

Serve 8

Butter to grease 2 1/2 to 3 quart casserole (I used a 9 x 13 pan)
12 ounces pasta (whatever you like) ( I used penne which I had on hand)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
1/3 cup minced shallots
4 gloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk (I used 1% plus heavy cream to get the right amount)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons capers, drained
2-5 ounce cans chunk light tuna, drained (I used two 7 ounce cans from Costco)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup thinly sliced kale or spinach (I used spinach)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme (I used 2 heavy teaspoons of thyme out of my garden)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
I heavy grind of fresh pepper corns
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Butter the casserole dish and set aside.

Cook the pasta until al dente in a large pot of boiling water.  Drain and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and shallots and cook for about 5 minutes or until shallots are translucent and mushrooms are beginning to soften.  Add the garlic and continue cooking for 1 minute.  Slowly pour in the wine, lower the heat and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.

Add the flour to the pan and stir well to ensure all the mushrooms are coated.  Increase the heat to high and slowly pour in the milk, bringing the mixture to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the milk begins to thicken and starts to look more like a sauce.

In a large mixing bowl, combine cooked pasta, Parmesan cheese, capers, tuna, sour cream, kale or spinach, thyme, salt and pepper.  Pour the creamy mushroom sauce into the bowl and stir to coat all ingredients.  Transfer to prepared casserole and set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter.  Sprinkle in the breadcrumbs and cook until fragrant and slightly toasty.  Sprinkle the crispy breadcrumbs over the top of the casserole and bake for 20 minutes or until the top is lightly brown.  Remove from oven and sprinkle chopped parsley on top.  Serve.  Cover and refrigerate the leftovers for up to 3 days.  The casserole also freezes beautifully. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cream Scones

When Kate at Framed Cooks shared her mother's recipe for "The Best Cream Scones in the World", I knew I had to try them.  And yes, they are simple and very, very good.  Unlike other scone recipes I have tried, these have eggs and less cream in them.  Delicious!

I made two batches.  One with cinnamon chips and one with Craisins.  I shared some with the neighbors and the rest are going with us as we head to Kissimmee this evening to have dinner with friends from Wisconsin.

The Best Cream Scones in the World
by Kate, from Framed Cooks

2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup cold butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup currants, raisins or other dried fruit

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Cut in butter until well-combined.

Mix together cream, vanilla and eggs.  Take 2 tablespoons out of this mixture and set aside.

Add liquid mixture to dry mixture, add currants and mix lightly as possible until just combined.

Pat dough into a 12 inch circle and cut into 12 wedges.  Arrange them on the cookie sheet, tucking the pointed ends underneath.

Brush the tops with the reserved cream mixture and sprinkle with a little sugar.

Bake for 13-15 minutes until golden brown.  Cool on a rack.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The very best Corned Beef ever

Those of you who have been blogging as long as I have, know only too well the friendships that develop with other bloggers.  Sometimes you are fortunate to actually meet a blogger and sometimes you just get to know each other through our mutual writings.  Often I am asked why I blog by people who do not read blogs.  I give a simple explanation, but they just don't get it.  You have to be part of this community to understand the camaraderie that develops through writing and sharing ideas and recipes.

One blogger I  befriended some time ago is Ann, who writes Thibeault's TableAnn lives in British Columbia, writes a blog and still works full time.  Everyone of her recipes that I have tried have proved to be perfect.  She also always takes the time to answer questions about her baking or recipes.

So when Ann posted that she roasted/baked her corned beef and would never prepare it any other way again, I knew I had to try it.  Yes, once again, Ann was right on.

I had a 3 pound corned beef with an envelope of pickling spices enclosed in the packing.  I rinsed the corned beef and placed it on heavy duty tinfoil.  I sprinkled the pickling spices on top and lots of freshly ground pepper (per Ann's suggestion).  I wrapped it tightly and then placed this package on top of another sheet of tinfoil.  Again, I wrapped it tightly and for a third time, placed it on a sheet of tinfoil.  I sealed it tightly, placed the package in a roasting pain, set the oven to 250 degrees F and started my timer.  Ann suggested 6 hours of slow roasting.

As typical, I got a little anxious and opted for 5 hours.  Certainly, the corned beef tasted beautiful, but another hour would certainly enhance the quality of this beef.  Glazing was not necessary, because the flavor was perfect.   I also roasted some carrots and rutabagas alongside in another roaster and boiled some cabbage on the stove top.   This meal was perfect.  I am planning to picking up at least one more Corned beef and will prepare this again soon.  And yes, this time I am going for the 6 hour slow roast.  The meat was tender, but firm, not much shrinkage as usual and now I can hardly wait to enjoy Reubens with the remainder.

Thank you, Ann.  And in case I have not told you before, I would eat in your kitchen any day.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Der Stammtisch

Last fall when we were in France, we were waiting to catch a bus in a small village near Nice.  We had some time to kill, so nearby we saw a German Bierstube.  A good German beer sounded perfect.  We sat outside and I looked into the bar through a window.  I was immediately attracted to something on one of the tables.  Not wanting to look foolish with my camera, but still wanting a photo, I took a picture through the window.

This is a typical German Gasthaus or Bierstube adornment.  It is a metal stand which holds an ashtray and it has a bell.  On one side of a metal plaque it written "Stammtisch" and on the other side is "Reserviert."  It sits on a special table that is reserved for the regulars who come to the bar.  Found mostly in Bavaria, this is  very typical Old World German.  Historically, a sign such as this meant socializing, card playing and often political or philosophical discussions.

The second half of the 19th century, a Stammtisch consisted of local dignitaries such as the mayor, doctor, pharmacist, teacher or wealthy farmers.  Inviting a stranger to take a seat was indeed an appreciated invitation.

Needless to say, the Stammtisch has been in my mind for quite some time now.  Just by chance, I decided to check eBay to see if I could find one.  And, there it was!!!  A real Stammtisch from Germany.  We won the bid and by chatting with the owner, found out that it had been purchased in Germany some years before.  Perfect.  I was so excited.  Today it arrived.

So, I am inviting you all to be guests at my Stammtisch.  I know I will enjoy the novelty of this, especially after having lived in Germany for a year and enjoying all the history and culture this wonderful country gave to us.  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Braised Beef Shanks and Barley Risotto

It was a couple of weeks ago when we viewed a PBS cooking show.  They featured braised lamb shanks with a barley risotto.  Looked delicious.  Copied the recipes and put them aside knowing we would get to them shortly.

Saturday night was the night.  We made a few changes though.  Instead of lamb shanks, which we love, we found fantastic beef shanks at Whole Foods and substituted.  This show went back to when Julia Child had Chef Joachim Splichal cook in her kitchen.  Honestly, I do not think substituting the beef for the lamb was in error.  The smell of this fantastic sauce braising the meat was outstanding.  But the topper of the whole meal was the barley risotto.  Barley was a brave substitute, but I sincerely loved it.    You will find that the barley tends to remain chewy.   Though it does get tender as rice would,  you need to be prepared for the chewy texture which I thought was wonderful.

Braised Beef Shanks with adjustments per Schnitzel's Kitchen

2-3 large beef shanks
salt and freshly ground black pepper
all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For flavoring the braise:

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium leek trimmed, quartered and washed, coarsely chopped
2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
1 large celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 large shallot, peeled
4 large cloves garlic, shopped
unsalted butter

6 ripe plum tomatoes, unpeeled, halved and quartered
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 springs fresh oregano
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Salt and pepper the shanks, dredge in flour, pat off excess.  Set Dutch oven over moderately high heat.  When hot, swirl in enough butter to film bottom of pan.  As butter foam subsides, lay in shanks and saute, turning often with tongs until all pieces are browned on all sides.  Remove from heat and set shanks on side dish.  Leave a film of fat in the pot to cook vegetables.  Return to burner over moderate heat.  Stir in onion, leek, carrots, celery, shallot and garlic into pot.  Add more butter if necessary.  Saute, stirring frequently for several minutes until lightly browned.  Stir in tomatoes.  Raise heat to moderately high, add thyme and bay leaf and cook 4 more minutes, stirring frequently until vegetables are softened and tomatoes render juices.  Return shanks to pot.  Pour on stock and wine.  Bring to a simmer on top of the stove, then cover and set in preheated 350 degree oven.  Shanks are done when meat is tender if pierced with a fork and can be pulled cleanly away from the bone.  This will take approximately 2 hours.

Remove the shanks to a side dish, covering with foil to keep warm.  I just acquired an immersion blender, so this was the first time using it.  It reduced the chunky vegetables beautifully and thickened the sauce nicely.  Then set this braising liquid/sauce over high heat and reduce by half.  I had no fat to discard off the top.  Lamb would probably by a lot fattier.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Just before serving,m swirl butter in the sauce and return to shanks to the sauce to cover.

Creamy Barley Risotto

4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 cup pearled barley (I used Bob's Red Mill)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese plus more for serving
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring chicken stock to a simmer over moderately high heat.  Reduce to low and keep warm.

In a large deep skillet, heat the olive oil.  Add the onion and thyme and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 6 minutes.  Add the barley and cook, stirring for 2 minutes.  Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook, stirring, until nearly absorbed.  Continue adding the stock 1/3 cup at a time and stirring until it is nearly absorbed between additions.

The risotto is done when the barley is al dente and suspended in a thick, creamy sauce, about 35 minutes.  Stir in the 1/2 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano and the butter and season with the sale and pepper.  Serve at once, passing more cheese at the table.

The barley will be much chewier than rice in this risotto, but I loved the earthy taste and thought that next time I would add some rehydrated wild mushrooms to add more earthiness to the flavor.  I will definitely make this again.  It was perfect with the beef shanks and sauce.

In 2003, we were in Italy, Tuscany, and stopped at the Felsina winery.  It was a delightful old winery which produces Chianti Classico wines and olive oil.  It's been a favorite of ours since that tasting way back then.  It just seems that the Chianti Classico's made from the Sangiovese grape are made specifically for wonderful Italian dishes.  This 2006 bottling, which is rated 90 by Wine Spectator,  is described as having "lavender and blackberry aromas followed through to a medium to full body with a solid core of fruit and a tangy aftertaste of citrus fruit and dried cherry."

Do you see The Trout's wine glass?  We love the large, long stemmed glasses, but while sipping and cooking in the kitchen, we have broken several.  We just recently ordered one for each of us, with our names and a cluster of grapes engraved on them, and are so pleased with the quality of these glasses.  I would recommend this business.  If interested in seeing what they offer, go to Tom's Glass Works.  

Friday, March 1, 2013

Celery growing big and strong

On January 25, I posted a picture on Facebook.  I had taken a stalk of celery and cut the root end, placed it in a bowl of water on my kitchen counter. 

I have had people ask me how my cute little celery is doing.  So, I took a picture this week after I had planted it in the garden outside for several weeks.

I am certainly not planning on making stuffed celery for any vegetable tray soon, but this has been fun and I do plan on using the leaves in some soup this weekend. 

I just made sure that the root bottom was submerged in a small amount of water and kept replenishing it. 

I am also pleased to report that my Meyer lemon tree that was planted 2 years ago, is really loaded with blossoms right now.  In November, I harvested 13 lemons.  Then in January, I saw blossoms starting.  Many blossoms are lost to either wind or chance, but I do think we will have more lemons than last year.