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Is it just me or when you’re away for a few days you come home to find little bits and odds and ends of stuff in the fridge? Does anyone see these things and think to eat them? Are they still edible? Have they turned into a giant hunk of mold in the container? I hate to waste so I always try find a way to use what I have on hand.

My favorite thing to do with odds and ends in the refrigerator is make a pizza.   The danger with using lots of veggies on your pizza is that it’s easy to have a soggy crust.  Read along and I will tell you my tips and tricks for using up your leftovers on a pizza and keeping the crust crispy.
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I few days ago, I made my way in to the unknown….the back recesses of the fridge to find all of the these ingredients:  sauteed escarole, oil packed sun dried tomatoes, pitted stuffed olives, cooked mushrooms, pepperoncini, roasted yellow pepper strips and grated parmesan cheese.  I was also lucky enough to find a container of my Mom’s nut free pesto in the freezer.  She makes it at the end of the summer and its delicious.  We had been to the store the day before and stocked up on some fresh veggies as the fridge was more than kind of empty since I had been gone.  We got some chopped kale and some more mushrooms, both of which I sauteed in a large batch to have some to put in my eggs the rest of the week.  I also had some shrimp in the freezer (we love shrimp on our pizza) and some four cheese pizza blend.

You might be afraid to put so many veggies on your pizza for fear that it will never crisp up but the secret to using high water content vegetables is as follows:

  1. Roast veggies on the top of the pizza (as I will do with the kale)
  2. Cook out most of the water (which is what I did with the mushrooms, slowly over medium heat and did not salt them until they were mostly cooked, which roasts them and enhances the flavor)
  3. Literally squeeze the liquid out of the greens (which is what I did with the escarole and do with spinach)
  4. Pat dry anything that is in liquid or oil (the pepperoncini, olives, roasted peppers and the sun dried tomatoes)

 

 

 

The next trick to a crispy crust is a pizza stone or an overturned large baking sheet if you don’t have a pizza stone and a very high oven temperature.  Long before you start building your masterpiece, put the pizza stone in the oven at 450 degrees to heat all the way through.  It’s going to take a good 25-30 minutes to heat to 450.  If you are using a baking sheet overturned, it only takes about five minutes.  The key to a crisp crust is sliding the dough on to a hot surface to set it right away.

If you have a pizza peel, use it.  If you don’t, you can use a second overturned baking sheet in it’s place.  Cornmeal.  Cornmeal is the key to success with all pizza but especially a heavy one laden with deliciousness.  Sprinkle your peel (or second baking sheet) with a generous amount (at least 2 tablespoons) of cornmeal and spread it around to the edges of the peel.  Stretch your dough as thin as possible, leaving a nice edge for the crust and lay it on your pizza peel.  Now shake the peel.  Does the crust move freely back and forth?  If not, lift up the crust gently where it’s stick and through some cornmeal in there.  Shake it again…does it move?  You’re in good shape.

The next step is to layer appropriately.  I start with the pesto (obviously) in a very thin layer and then the dried vegetables that don’t need to be cooked, just heated including the escarole, sun dried tomatoes, olives and roasted peppers.  It’s important NOT to put anything that needs to be cooked (such as raw chicken, shrimp, raw mushrooms etc) under the veggies and cheese on the pizza because by the time the crust is crisp and the cheese is melted the raw food will not be cooked through, it will steam being trapped under the cheese and veggies and will cause the crust to be soggy.  Now is time to shake your crust again to be sure it moves freely.  If not, through some more cornmeal under the crust.  This is going to be a heavy pizza with all of the stuff on it so periodically, make sure it moves.

 

 

 

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The next layer is the remaining veggies, all but the kale, the cheese and the raw protein.  Keep in mind, however, that unless chicken, for example is cut very small it may not cook through, even on the top of the pizza.  Seafood, shrimp and/or scallops are a good bet because they cook so quickly as is any other cooked protein.  Time to add the shrimp and then sprinkle with some grated parmesan.
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And finally the kale.  I love crispy kale so it’s the perfect veggie to top the pizza.  Cooked broccoli is also a good bet as both kale and broccoli get very crisp when exposed to high heat.  Then some dried rosemary/oregano/ thyme or whatever you have on hand and some kosher salt and pepper.

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Shake your pizza on the peel once again and if it moves freely, you are all set.  If not, you know what to do.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until shrimp is cooked through and crust is golden brown and crispy.  Remove from oven and let pizza sit for 5 minutes for the cheese to set up and so you don’t burn the roof of your mouth because you’re going to want to eat this pizza as soon as possible!

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20160127_195207.jpgI usually work night and have been traveling quite a bit lately for work and cooking adventures so I was very excited about a night at home and time too cook a meal for my family!  Here’s the perfect recipe even for the pickiest of eaters.  Hands on time is quick, cooking time is fairly fast and you don’t have to do much to have a wonderful dinner that the leftovers are as good as the meal, easy to reheat and simple to make for a small crowd.

I adore chicken thighs.  They are inexpensive (12 pc for 7.20 at Market Basket), delicious, meaty, moist and tender and usually I use my good friend Doug Keiles’ line of rubs (http://www.ribswithin.com/products/) on the meat and put them on the grill or in the oven on a sheet pan and all is right with the world.

Tonight however, I decided that I wanted to make something to go with pasta with Meyer Lemon Oil, parsley and spicy roasted broccoli, which are two favorites in my family and I had the pleasure of not only my immediate family for dinner but Famous Chicka (my niece, Sarah) and my daughter’s best friend Ashley who is a culinary student at Lily’s school for expert assistance.  It’s remarkable how fast you can get things done with extra hands chopping, slicing and stirring!

Pan Roasted Chicken Thighs with Meyer Lemons and Olives

2 tablespoon olive oil

10-12 bone in skin on chicken thighs

2 tablespoons dried Italian Seasoning

2 tablespoon dried rosemary, crushed

1 cup dry white wine

2 large shallots, thinly sliced

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup pitted brined olives (use whatever you have on hand)

2 Meyer Lemons (or regular if you don’t have Meyer), one thinly sliced and seeds removed and one zested and juiced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

With a knife or kitchen shears, remove any excess skin from chicken.  Season chicken liberally with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, Italian seasoning and crushed rosemary.

In a large, heavy Dutch Oven (I use the Le Creuset 9.5 quart French Oven) over medium high heat, heat olive oil until shimmering and nearly smoking.  Place chicken thighs, six at a time, skin side down in hot pan and brown for 5-6 minutes until skin is browned.  Remove from pan to a baking sheet and repeat with remaining chicken.

Drain all but 3 tablespoons fat from pan, reduce heat to medium and add wine to the pan, scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pan while stirring.  Add shallots and cook until shallots are softened, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes.  Add olives and Meyer lemon slices, zest, juice and chicken broth to the pan.  Add chicken back to the pan, skin side up in a single layer.  Cover pan with lid or aluminum foil and place in preheated oven for 25-35 minutes until chicken is cooked through and reaches 165 degrees F.

Remove from oven and set aside, uncovered, for 5 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!

I served mine with spicy broccoli (toss bite sized broccoli pieces in olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, place on a baking sheet and roast at 450 degrees F for 8-10 minutes until slightly charred and softened) and pasta (I used the high protein) tossed with Meyer lemon oil, fresh parsley, freshly cracked pepper and topped with parmesan cheese.

Another veggie that I thing is under appreciated is escarole.  If you sautee it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and some garlic, its initial bitterness and then sweetness on the palate is the perfect accompaniment to the meal and I often toss it with the pasta.

 

Cookies packed and ready for the holidays!

Cookies packed and ready for the holidays

Literally dusting off my cooking blog to share my recipe that I made, along with my sister Kate, in a “sizzle spot” demo at the World Food Championship in Celebration Florida last week.  And dust off I do mean it as I have not blogged at all in two years.  Well, that’s about to change.  Time to get back at it so please follow along and look forward to some simple good recipes and goodness only knows what else with the holidays coming.

The recipe is a take off on a Lufkin family tradition at the holidays.  My Mom always makes these cookies and all of my sisters have followed in her footsteps making them for their own friends and families.  I call my recipe “double duty” because if you add additional flour to the recipe, you can roll them out and make ginger bread people and other cut out cookies.  As you can see by the well worn card, this recipe is a true holiday classic.  I like them spicier than my Mom makes them.  If you compare the handwritten card below (which was a direct copy from her recipe) to my recipe below you will see that there is a lot more spice.

front side of beat up recipe card

front side of beat up recipe card

back side of card

back side of card

Try your best to read my recipe through the stained and tattered card but fear not, I’ll spell it all out below.  However, some interesting tip emerge from the grime such as they reason they are called “Double Duty” cookies.  If you add about 1/2 cup of flour to the recipe you can roll out the dough and make cut out cookies such as gingerbread men.  If you need to make a massive amount of cookies, say 350 for a donation to our local elementary school, you need to purchase 2 large tubs of shortening–one tub is simply not enough–and five double batches of this recipe make a generous 350, even with children around who might like to sneak a little bit of the dough.  Also, did you know that a cup of shortening weighs 6 7/8th oz?  I got sick and tired of measuring it out and making a giant mess so I decided to weigh it on my food scale and that’s how I do it now if I have to make more than one batch.  It’s also important to use fresh spices but to sift your dry ingredients in this recipe because the spices tend to clump, especially the nutmeg, in humid weather.  The picture of the cookies above is what they look like from the recipe below.

Double Duty Molasses Ginger Cookies

2 ¼ cup all purpose flour*

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided

2 teaspoons ground ginger, divided

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup butter flavored shortening

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup sparkling or turbinado sugar

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda and spices and set aside.

In a large bowl cream shortening and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and molasses until well blended. Slowly add flour mixture to creamed mixture and beat again until well combined. Divide dough in to two pieces and tightly wrap  in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

When read to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover four baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a shallow dish, such as a pie plate, place turbinado/sparkling sugar.

Remove one wrapped dough from the refrigerator, keeping second dough chilled until ready to use.  Roll dough into 1” balls and roll balls in turbindo or sparkling sugar mixture to coat. Press balls slightly into sugar if necessary.

Bake 12 cookies per sheet for 10-12 minutes or until tops are slightly cracked and cookies are firm to the touch.

*add 1/2 cup for gingerbread men

My niece "Famous Chicka" posing with the first cut out of 350 cookies last year

My niece “Famous Chicka” posing with the first cut out of 350 cookies last year

 

Blueberry Bars Photo

Dessert Time!  If you know me personally, you know how much I love coconut so I was thrilled  I was approached by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council to create a recipe that challenged me to experiment with different and interesting flavor pairings for blueberries beyond the typical pairing of blueberries with lemon. One of the selecting ingredients/flavors for paring was coconut so I knew right were I was headed.  Although blueberries are amazing to eat by themselves for dessert, their deliciousness is only heightened by coconut!

Check out the website littlebluedynamos.com for more delicious blueberry ideas and if you make these for a holiday gathering or really any time of year, please let me know what you think!  

Polka Dot Coconut Blueberry Bars
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 cup salted butter, cut in to cubes
Pinch salt
1 1/2 cups toasted unsweetened coconut, divided
2-8oz packages cream cheese, softened
1-13.5 oz can coconut milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt
1 1/2 cups frozen high bush blueberries, tossed with one tablespoon flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 9″ x 13″ inch baking dish with foil and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse flour, confectioners sugar, cubed butter, salt and 1 cup toasted coconut until small crumbs form.  Remove I cup flour/crust mixture from processor and set aside.  Press remaining mixture evenly in to prepared pan and bake 18 – 20 minutes or until crust is lightly browned on the edges.  Mix remaining coconut with reserved flour/crust mixture.

Meanwhile, to the processor add cream cheese, coconut milk, cornstarch, egg yolks and extracts and salt and process until smooth.  When crust is ready, pour filling over crust.  Sprinkle blueberries over the filling and sprinkle coconut/crust mixture over the blueberries to cover.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until center is set.  Remove to cooling rack to cool completely in the pan.  When cool, remove bars by lifting foil out of pan and cut to desired portions.  Enjoy!

blueberry coconut bars

Quick Brined Pork with Blueberry Rosemary Pans SauceHello friends!  I was approached by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council to create a recipe that challenged me to experiment with different and interesting flavor pairings for blueberries beyond the typical pairing of blueberries with lemon.  I was “berry” excited to take up this challenge because I love blueberries all year round!  Not only are they delicious, but the nutritional content of blueberries is reason enough to eat them by themselves.  Check out the website littlebluedynamos.com for more delicious blueberry ideas!  This is an easy to make but pretty enough for your holiday table recipe and you will be asked for this recipe…trust me!  This sauce would also be amazing on chicken.  Please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

 

Quick Brined Pork Tenderloins With Blueberry Rosemary Pan Sauce

pork blueberry rosemary brine photo

First, make the brine:

2 cups apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
1 large sprig rosemary
1/3 cup kosher salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Bring all ingredients to a boil in a saucepan over medium high heat.  Pour hot mixture in to a non-reactive bowl.   Fill a large measuring cup or bowl with four cups of ice and top ice with cold water to total five cups.  Pour ice and water in to hot brine mixture and stir.  When ice is melted, add pork, cover and refrigerate for two-three hours.

pork rosemary blueberry brine pan seared

2-1 pound pork tenderloins, cleaned
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup tawny port
1 cup apple cider
1 large rosemary sprig
2 cups frozen highbush blueberries
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons salted butter
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place a baking sheet lightly brushed with olive oil in the oven on the middle shelf.

Remove pork tenderloins from brine and pat dry.

Preheat a large skillet or sauté pan over medium high heat with two tablespoons olive oil until oil is nearly smoking. Season pork lightly with salt and pepper. Sear pork on all sides and place in oven to cook fully, about 15-20 minutes.

When pork is cooked to at least 145 degrees (for medium) allow pork to rest for at least five to ten minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile, reduce heat to medium low and deglaze hot pan with port and cider, holding the rosemary sprig with tongs and scraping the browned bits off of the bottom of the pan while stirring.

blueberry pork sauce 11
Reduce heat to med low and add blueberries, stirring occasionally, and cook until liquid is reduced by half.

blueberry pork sauce 1

Add 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and 4 tablespoons butter to pan and stir until mixture is thickened and syrupy and butter is melted, stirring again with the rosemary sprig and allowing it to cook in the pan with the blueberries.  Some rosemary leaves will fall off of the sprig and in to the sauce–that’s ok.

blueberry pork sauce 1111Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

blueberry pork sauce dinner

Slice pork on the diagonal for a lovely presentation and drizzle sauce over sliced pork. Serve immediately.  I served roasted potatoes and sauteed spinach with garlic with the pork and it made for a wonderful meal.  This pork and blueberry sauce combo is also excellent over a spinach salad, topped with crumbled goat cheese…YUM!

 

 

I was recently contacted to participate in the “Legends of Europe” blogger Market Basket Challenge. The contest highlights Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano and Montasio cheeses and Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto di San Daniele, which are five PDO (protected designation of origin) products from Europe. The campaign is designed to increase awareness of the products and  celebrates the legendary quality, tradition and taste of these five world–renowned PDO products.

I was randomly assigned Montasio cheese which I had absolutely no familiarity with at all, but I was intrigued….how I could, a lover of all things cheese, not have heard of this legendary cow’s milk creation?   I got on the phone immediately to see if I could purchase it locally (we have some pretty great specialty markets and cheese shops around here) but that was not to be. I found an online source (www.igourmet.com) and they had it to me within 36 hours, all ice packed and protected from the elements.

The cheese is a nutty, rich, sharp and very tasty hard cheese that is perfect alone, over pasta (I have tried it) and in my delicious little wine crackers, the recipe I will share with you.  I also created a fall chutney to bring a little bit of Autumn in New England to my cocktail snack and added to Prosciutto di Parma to add a rich, porky saltiness to the mix….the combination is so wonderful!  Because these crackers are so easy to make, you can prepare the dough up to a month in advance and freeze it and you can make the chutney up to five days in advance, wouldn’t this be the perfect appetizer to make ahead share for Thanksgiving or impress your friends and family at a holiday party?  I think so! 

Legends of Europe Montasio Cheese Crackers

Montasio Cornmeal Wine Crackers with Prosciutto di Parma
and Autumn Chutney

6 oz Montasio cheese, shredded
½ cup butter salted, softened
½ cup all purpose flour
½ cup yellow cornmeal
1 ½ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
3/4 cup salted roasted pumpkin seeds, roughly chopped

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine combine Montasio cheese, butter, flour, cornmeal, pepper and thyme.  Process until a ball of dough forms.  Turn dough out onto floured surface, sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and knead in with hands.  Divide dough in half, roll into a 12” log and wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Slice dough on the bias into ¼” crackers, yielding approximately 96 crackers in total. Place crackers on parchment and bake in preheated oven for 9-11 minutes, turning sheets at 5 minutes.

Slide parchment off cooling rack on to a flat surface and allow to cool completely.

For the Autumn Chutney:

1/2 cup fresh cranberries
1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 cup orange juice
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 cup tart apples (such as Macintosh) peeled and diced
1/8 teaspoon salt

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and cook over medium low heat until mixture is thick and syrupy and fresh cranberries have popped, about 15-20 minutes.  Allow to cool and serve with Montasio Cornmeal Wine Crackers

To assemble:

Place 1/2 teaspoon of Autumn Chutney atop Montasio crackers.  Add a thin slice of  Prosciutto di Parma and a curl of Montasio cheese and enjoy!

Crackers are also wonderful with fresh apples, pears, crispy bacon or all by themselves!

What a great da…

Food DemoWhat a great day at the Rockport Harvest Festival!

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