1 Year Blogiversary

It’s been a year since I started this blog.  I’m not sure what possessed me to do it in the first place.  Most people think it’s because of the movie Julie & Julia, but that’s not the case.  It was mainly to try to figure out how to do it.

I have never missed a day since I started – sick, hung over, fed up, mad, happy, I still blogged.  For that, I am very proud.  I don’t always follow through with things.  Sometimes I would have a week’s worth of content to spew and other times, I had nothing.  I would wake up in the morning with NOTHING TO SAY!   It’s really been the evolution of apropos – of nothing. 

I suppose I will keep doing it.  Blogging keeps me in the loop and constantly forces me to try to come up with new ideas, which isn’t a bad thing.  

So, apropos of nothing,

Artichoke Spinach Shells

Arty Chokes!

Here is an easy and tasty meal. We are mad, keen on artichokes. I collect any recipe that calls for artichokes. You can substitute anything you like in this recipe. Enjoy.

Artichoke Spinach Shells

Serves 6 – 8

4 cups medium pasta shells, uncooked
10 oz fresh spinach, chopped
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese (12 ounces)
14.5 oz can Italian stewed tomatoes
14 oz can water packed artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 cup low fat sour cream (8 ounces)
1 tsp garlic salt

Cook pasta in boiling water for 5 minutes.

Add spinach and cook uncovered for 6-8 minutes. Drain.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.  Stir in pasta mixture. Transfer to a 3 qt. baking dish. Bake uncovered at 350° for 30 -35 minutes

You can substitute various things.  i.e. cubed ham and peas instead of artichokes and spinach.

Salt & Pepper

Not a lot of people know that I have a fairly extensive collection of salt & pepper shakers.  I started my collection with one simple set of Holstein cows, then a set of lobster claws from my trip to Maine and then I made the HUGE mistake of mentioning my new infatuation to my friends.  Within a few years, it got completely ‘out of control’.  Where can I display this fabulous collection?  I started in the mid eighties and stopped by the time I got married. 

I needed to GROW UP!  It turns out, that growing up is rather boring and completely over rated.  Who was I fooling anyway?  I still don’t feel like a grown up, even though I am the mother of two wonderful daughters. 

My daughter, Zoe, is in charge of taking the photographs for my blog header.  I was at a complete loss.  Of course, I should have shot some lovely heart shaped Valentine’s Day cookies.  We actually did that.  It was just too predictable.  So, while I was stumbling through the “pig sty” of my garage, I espied my three carefully packed boxes of salt & pepper shakers that I have had packed up since we moved from our last house in 2000.

Dare I un-wrap them?  It’s a Pandora’s Box of my life.  Anyway, I did open all three boxes.  Here is just a very small selection of them.  My particular favorite is the White Castle Diner, that my good friend Sandy bought me from an art gallery.  It’s a ‘one of a kind’.

Baby Back Ribs & Young Collards Braised in Apple Juice & Whipped Sweet Potatoes

A Southern Style Meal for a Group of Yankees

My friend, Brady, made an incredible dinner last night to celebrate both our girl’s birthdays. He saw this recipe on the Food Network. It is Tyler Florence’s Baby Baby Rib recipe.   It’s an unusual way to make ribs, but they were falling off the bone good.  He served it with Whipped Sweet Potatoes that were out of this world.

Baby Back Ribs & Young Collards Braised in Apple Juice

Serves 6 to 8

2 slabs (4 lbs) baby back ribs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 bunches young collard greens, washed and rib removed
1 onion, peeled and sliced, 1/4-inch thick
1 head garlic, cut through the equator
1/2 gallon apple juice
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 bunch thyme
Whipped Sweet Potatoes, recipe follows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Season pork ribs with plenty of salt and pepper. Heat a heavy-bottomed roasting pan over high heat and drizzle with oil. Sear ribs on both sides until golden brown for a few minutes per side. Pile both racks of ribs on 1 side of the roasting pan. On the other side, place collard greens, then onion and garlic on top. Pour in the apple juice and cider vinegar, add thyme, then cover with foil, place in the oven and braise for 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours.

When done, remove foil, baste the meat with the pan juices, then cook uncovered for a further 20 minutes until the meat has a nice carmelization and the liquid reduces, forming a sticky glaze on the meat. Place the collard greens and braising liquid on a serving platter and top with the ribs. Serve ribs over collard greens with braising liquid and pureed sweet potatoes.

Whipped Sweet Potatoes

Serves 12

4 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups heavy cream
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 orange, zested
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Put them in a roasting pan and roast for 45 minutes until they are very soft. Remove the pan from the oven.

In a small sauce pot, over low heat, heat the cream with the bay leaves, then keep warm until ready to puree potatoes. Discard the bay leaves before adding to potatoes.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh into the bowl of a food processor. Season with salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange zest, and brown sugar. Add cream and 1 tablespoon of butter and puree until super smooth.

Beef Wellington

Valentine’s Day Dinner

I think going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day is dumb, ditto New Year’s Eve.  You pay twice as much for a mediocre meal and free “all you can down”, cheap champagne or a headache in a flute!  No thanks.

Traditionally, my husband, Eric, puts on a tux, the girls get all dressed up and we have a “fancy” dinner at home, usually, at a table in the living room to make it feel different.

The following is a recipe for Beef Wellington that serves two, you can also make it with chicken as well.

Beef Wellington

Serves 2

2 – 6 oz tournedos (fillets) of beef
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbs unsalted butter
1/4 cup Potted Mushrooms (recipe follows)
1 sheet frozen puff pastry 10” X 8”, thawed
1 egg
1 tsp milk

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Toss the salt, pepper and dried thyme in a small bowl. Rub the tournedos on all sides with the mustard, then sprinkle the spice mixture over them.

Melt the butter in a small skillet, and sear the tournedos on all sides, about 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature. This is to ensure a rosy-red medium rare center

Arrange the tournedos on a small baking sheet, and cover them with mushrooms.

Cut out two 4 – 5 inch circles of pastry. Drape each over one of the tournedos, and pinch the edges in four or five places to enclose the tournedos. Blend the egg and milk, and brush this glaze over the pastry. Decorate the tops with pastry trimmings.

Bake 15 minutes for medium-rare. Serve immediately.

Potted Mushrooms
5 Tbs unsalted butter
1/3 cup minced shallots
1/3 cup minced leeks (white part only)
2 cloves garlic, minced
18 oz. cultivated mushrooms, finely chopped
1 Tbs finely snipped chives
1 1/2 Tbs fortified wine; medium dry sherry, port or madiera
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a 10 inch skillet. Stir in shallots, leeks and garlic. Cook over low heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add mushrooms and the thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushroom liquid has evaporated and the mixture is just moist, 10 minutes. Add wine cook just 1 – 2 minutes more. Transfer mixture to a bowl.

Add chives, salt and pepper and stir well. Serve at room temperature.

(These mushrooms are best the day they are made. Serve the remaining mushrooms alongside the smoked salmon with toasts)

Acron Squash – A Taste of Autumn

acron squashThere is nothing more autumnal than an acorn squash.  They are loaded with vitamins, cheap and delicious.  I love to stuff them with sausages, peas, green onions, butter and some seasoning. You can microwave them or bake them in a little water cut side down until tender.  There is a sticker on the squash with cooking times.  The beauty of this is that you can stuff them with whatever you like.

Sautéed Baby Artichokes

Baby ArtichokesBaby Love

I asked my daughter, Grace, what I should blog about.  She came up with artichokes – it’s a staple in our house.  Of all the things that she will eat!

I love making baby artichokes.  It’s really easy and a great appetizer for any raucous party.  My only problem with artichokes is, you really can’t drink wine with them – it’s dreadful!

Sautéed Baby Artichokes

2 1/2 lbs baby artichokes
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1 cup dry white wine
1 – 2 Tbs capers, chopped

Rinse babies under running water or in a sink of cold water. Set out a large bowl of cold water and add about 3 tablespoons lemon juice (juice of 1 large lemon), or vinegar. (This is often used in recipes and referred to as acidulated water.) Cut off the base of each artichoke right where the stem comes out of the leaves. Drop the cut artichokes into the acidulated water as you work, to keep them from discoloring. (Discoloring doesn’t affect flavor or appearance after the artichokes are cooked.)

Remove the leaves all around the base by peeling back and snapping off until you reach leaves that are yellow at the bottom. Again, keep the cut artichokes in the acidulated water as you work.

Cut off the top third of the leaves (green portion) and discard. If you wish, trim off any remaining green from the base of the artichoke. Remember to put the cut artichokes back in the acidulated water.

Leave artichokes whole, if very small, or cut in halves or quarters. Keep in the acidulated water until ready to cook, then pat dry.

In a skillet, heat the oil with the shallot over moderate heat until it is hot but not smoking and cook the shallot until it is softened. Add the prepared artichokes (see instructions below) artichokes and sauté them over moderately high heat, stirring, for 6 minutes.

Add the wine, cappers, salt and black pepper to taste and simmer the mixture, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the artichokes are very tender.