Making the Most of Leftovers

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s we seem to have more leftovers than usual.  Fortunately, the hubby doesn’t mind eating things the second time around so most everything disappears.

When it gets down to a little of this and a little of that, I find that the best thing to do is throw it all in a pot for soup.  That’s just what happened when a few carrots, a potato, green beans and the slivers left from the Thanksgiving turkey were all that were left in the refrigerator.  

I threw everything in a pot with some organic chicken broth diluted with 2 cups of water.  A bit of poultry seasoning, sage, salt and pepper were added and the mixture bubbled away until the veggies were tender.

As the soup was cooking, I opened the refrigerator for some salad fixings and spied what was left of the cornbread dressing.  It was just a dab, and just as I was about to throw it out, I thought why not put it in the soup.

Two things happened.  The dressing thickened the soup to a perfect texture and took the soup from good to very, very good.  It just goes to show there is no end to what you can do with leftovers!

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Farm to Table

In Maine, farm to table is not a trend, it’s a reality.  Dine out or eat at home seafood is fresh from the sea, animal meats are from a nearby farm  and veggies are homegrown. A great place to experience a farm to table dinner is at Point Lookout in Northport, Maine. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat used to be a softball field has been converted to gardens and greenhouses where seasonal produce provides most of the ingredients for the meal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne greenhouse serves as a dining hall where long tables and mismatched chairs are set up for forty guests.

IMG_1851The table decor, candles and simple arrangements of flowers in bottles, is just my style.

All around the greenhouse are arrangements of herbs and vegetables that enhance the ambience.

A temporary kitchen facility is set up outside the greenhouse, so all the food is cooked right there and served immediately.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe menu features what is in season and no two are the same which makes eating there a real treat.

What is a constant is the hot out of the oven focaccia with roasted garlic.  I could make a meal of just that!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith it comes a beautiful salad topped with an array of edible flowers.

The main course is a selection of meat and seafood.  I am always a happy camper when lobster is on the menu.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinishing the main course is a perfectly roasted combination of seasonal vegetables.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time dessert comes, there’s scarcely any room for it, but there are 40 smiling faces around the table!

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What to do With a Puffball

IMG_1830Overnight it seemed, this big blob sprung up in the yard.  Curious, I pulled it up, took it inside for a photo that was posted on Facebook with the question what is it.  Immediately came back a number of responses, mostly from Maine friends, identifying it as an edible puffball.

IMG_1833Edible?  I was a little doubtful but decided to give it a try.  First, I sliced it to find it  a little on the spongey side and solid all the way through.  So began a series of dishes ranging from omelets to risotto to pizza and adding chopped, diced orsliced pieces of puffball.  What was discovered was that a puffball is fairly tasteless until it is seasoned and has a very different texture from other mushrooms with which I am familiar.

IMG_1838Of all the ways it was prepared our favorite was mushroom soup.  I had no recipe  so I chopped a section of the puffball and sautéed it in butter with  some onion and garlic.  Chicken stock was added along with salt, pepper and herbs d’Provence.  The mixture simmered for about 10 minutes and then using a handheld blender(my favorite kitchen tool), I pureed it.  It tasted good, but thinking how it could be improved I added half and half and returned the soup to the stove and heated it through.  Talk about good, the hubby and I both had seconds.  Served with a green salad and some crusty bread, puffball mushroom soup is a simple and yummy dinner.

If you ever see one of these growing in your yard, pluck it right up.  If it’s white all the way through, don’t be afraid to use it, but if it’s yellowish and has a mushy texture, throw it in the trash.

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Odds & Ends

Trying to use up everything in the refrigerator before leaving for Maine requires some creativity.  The fruit we can snack on, milk can go on cereal or in a smoothie, but the chicken sausage, spinach, kale, onion and salad fixings are another story.

IMG_1094So what to do with a collection of odds and ends?  Soup  seemed to be the best answer, and here’s what I pulled together.

IMG_1093Add to these a teaspoon of Hungarian sweet paprika which I have enough of to last a lifetime.  I will have to do as what was done in Hungary and put some in everything.

IMG_1101The end result of this concoction was pretty darned good and the accompanying salad’s ingredients used up the rest of the odds and ends.  The only thing missing was a good piece of cornbread!

If you are a soup lover, you might like this one that is hearty but not too heavy and very easy to prepare.

3 c. chicken broth

2-4 chicken sausage links

2-3 c. spinach and kale, torn into small pieces

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cans of cannellini beans

1 can of diced tomatoes

1 heaping t. of sweet paprika (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

Blend all ingredients except for the greens together and simmer for about 20 minutes to allow flavors to blend.  Add spinach and kale and continue cooking until  they are wilted.

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Foodie Adventure V: CORTONA

If you have followed Lulu’s Musings for a while, you’ll know that one of our favorite travels is Chef Michael Salmon’s Foodie Adventures. The hubby and I have joined him and his wife in France, Spain and three different locations in Italy to enjoy touring and cooking.

Always one of the treats of the adventure is where we stay. This trip our base is a lovely villa near Cortona in Tuscany where the movie Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed. Right outside outside my window are glimpses that remind me of the film.

What happens on a Foodie Adventure is that we see the sites during the day, and if you’ve ever been to Italy you know there’s no shortage of fascinating places to visit.

After a full day, the group, usually 16 to 20, returns to join Chef Michael in the kitchen to prepare the evening meal. Believe me, it takes all of us to prepare the four courses, and somehow Chef Michael keeps an eye on all and gives helpful hints so that we get everything just right.

Presentation is ever so important to Chef, and by the end of the week all of us improve our plating skills.

In addition to everything else, ladies find some time for shopping. Every little town has something tempting to drain the wallet of euros to the chagrin of hubbys.

No place is more costly than The Mall, a famous outlet for designer clothes. Even at discount prices Armani, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Valentino, etc. are priced higher than I am comfortable paying.

While the shopping is going on, you can be sure the men find a good place for gelato!

As the week goes on I’ll share with you some of my favorite parts of the Foodie Adventure and maybe even a recipe or two from Chef Michael’s kitchen. I hope you will join me.

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Frozen!

IMG_0182Does this tell you it’s cold in Houston?  With temperatures the last several days being below freezing, one is not encouraged to venture far from home.  That means it’s only natural to think of warming with comfort foods like soups and stews.

In the refrigerator were most of the makings for beef stew though the pantry was empty of the diced tomatoes and broth I typically use for liquid.  That being the case required some creative thinking, so I added a bottle of beer and at the last minute the remains of some frozen edamame and red pepper and tomato soup that had accompanied a grilled cheese sandwich on another frozen day.  Noting the ingredients, the hubby raised his eyebrows in questioning wonder. 

While the stew was bubbling away,

IMG_0131I got the bar, where we eat most of the time when it’s just the two of us, ready for dinner.

It’s nothing fancy,  but I do choose dishes that go with whatever happens to be on the surface.  If you’ve seen any of my tablescapes, you know that seldom is an eating surface unadorned which makes it very easy to add on.

IMG_0136With fragrant smells emanating from the kitchen, we settled to watch the evening news.  By the time the latest Trump bashing was over, the stew was ready and guess what?  Those extra added ingredients combined for a pretty tasty creation which goes to show you don’t always have to rely on the tried and true.  Cooking is just another way of expressing your creativity.

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It’s a Puffball!

For several days something that appeared to be a mushroom sprang up in the yard and got bigger and bigger and bigger until it was larger than my head.  Thinking to trash it before it took over, I pulled it off the ground and was blown away by how much it weighed.  When I started looking at it, trying to recall my limited mushroom knowledge, the first thing I noticed was it didn’t have any gills.  

Curious now, I took it inside and cut it in half to find that it was dense from top to bottom.  Now, really puzzled, I posted this photo on Facebook and asked for someone to identify it.  Immediately, several Maine folks informed me it was a puffball mushroom that was deliciously edible.

I wasted no time experimenting, first sautéing it in butter to get a feel for the taste.  It was quite mild with a very nice flavor.   Since then it has been used in scrambled eggs and spaghetti sauce and added to stir fried veggies, all of which worked beautifully.

So far so good with no ill effects which led me to think about a soup.  Now, that was a real winner.  The hubby went so far as to say it was the best mushroom soup he’d ever had and that’s something since he loves the one we learned on one of our Foodie Adventures with Michael Salmon.

Quite honestly, to make the soup I just started throwing ingredients…celery, a couple of small potatoes and baby carrots…in the pot and simmered them in chicken stock.  For seasoning, I used a garlic/herb mix, onion powder, dried fire roasted tomatoes, salt and pepper.  When the veggies were tender, I added about 5 cups of puffball, broken into small pieces, and let it cook for a few minutes longer.  While the cooking continued, I used an immersion blender to puree the mix.  At the last minute a cup or so of milk was added.  

Now, for the taste test….scrumptious!  It was just the right thickness with flavor that made taste buds sing.  I don’t know whether or not I’ll ever be lucky enough to have another puffball volunteer in the yard, but my fingers are crossed because I have ideas for a few more things to try.  If you’ve had experience with this unusual mushroom, do share.

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In the Kitchen

pb032656After a full day of seeing the sights and tasting food, wine and cheese, we return “home” to don our aprons and head to the kitchen to prepare the evening’s meal under the watchful eye of Chef Michael. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s no mystery about what we are going to fix as in our welcoming folder the menus and recipes for the week are included.  Can you tell that each dinner is a whole lot of food?

img_8110-1Funny how cooking is much more fun with a group, and it took all of us to prepare the evening’s vittles.

We laugh and joke as we mix, stir, slice and dice

 

pb032650and discover that for some things it takes two!

Everyone has a job,

img_8198 some more tedious than others. I have to confess to being nothing more than a cheerleader when it came to making this dessert!

Everywhere in the kitchen is evidence of our effort,

img_8232-1and when all is said and done we turn out some pretty good eats!  Since I have mentioned cannoli more than once in recent posts, you might guess it was my very favorite dessert, one that will be made at home though I might cheat and use purchased shells as making them from scratch requires quite an effort. 

Now that your appetite is whetted, here is a recipe from the kitchen for you to try.  

Sicilian Caponata

2 medium eggplants

3 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 celery stalks, peeled and diced

1/2 c. green olives, pitted and halved

1/4 c. capers

1/4 c. sundried tomatoes, chopped

1/3 c. red wine vinegar

2 T. sugar

1 c. tomato sauce

1/4 c. basil, chopped

kosher salt and black pepper

Cut the eggplants into 1/2″ cubes and place them in a bowl.  Toss with 3 T. of salt and let them sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.  Rinse the eggplant in cold water and drain well.  Squeeze to release excess water, then place on paper towels to dry thoroughly.

Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium high heat.  Fry the eggplant until it’s well browned.  Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.  Return the pan to medium heat and add the sliced onion.  Cook for 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.  Add celery and continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring well.  Last, add the capers and sundried tomatoes and and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the vinegar, sugar and tomato sauce and cook for about 5 minutes or until the mixture is cooked down.  Remove from the heat and stir in the basil.  Season to taste.

The caponata may be used in a variety of ways such as a sauce for fish or pasta or as a spread for crostini.

So, there you have the experience of a Foodie Adventure.  If going to interesting places, staying in a wonderful villa and having opportunity for  hands on cooking appeals to you, you just might want to join in the fun.

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Tips for Making Risotto

Risotto is a frequent dish at our house because there are so many variations and it’s NOT difficult to prepare.  Many are quite surprised when I say that as for some reason risotto has a reputation for being troublesome.

Part of the reason for this perception is the notion that it has to be cooked and stirred at the last minute meaning that if guests are coming for dinner you are standing at the stove.  Not so!  Risotto can be made before guests arrive except for adding the last liquid.  Right before you are ready to serve, add the last 1-2 cups of liquid and finish it off in only a few minutes.

One of the keys to preparing risotto is to have the liquid, usually chicken or vegetable broth, very hot as it is an important part of the cooking process.  Second is to not overcook.  Like many pastas, risotto is best when it is al dente, otherwise it’s a bit mushy.

No matter what ingredients are added, risotto is a very satisfying meal that requires nothing more than a good salad, crusty bread and a glass of wine.  Go ahead, try it and here’s a recipe sure to be a hit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Butternut Squash Risotto

1/2 pound peeled butternut squash
6-7 c. chicken or vegetable stock
3 T. unsalted butter
1 medium leek, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 c. arborio rice
2 rosemary branches
3/4 t. kosher salt
1/3 c. dry white wine

Finely grated zest of one lemon
1 t. lemon juice or more if you like a lemony taste
Freshly ground black pepper 
1/4 c. chopped salted pistachios
Grated parmesan cheese

 Shred the squash in a food processor or with a grater. In a small saucepan, bring stock to a simmer. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and cook until soft. Stir in the garlic and cook  about one minute. Add rice, squash, rosemary, and salt. Stir until the rice is slightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. 

 Add the wine and let it reduce for about two minutes. Add stock, 1 c. at a time, and cook, stirring often until most of the liquid has evaporated and the risotto has become creamy and thick.  This will take about 25-30 minutes.*  Remove rosemary stems and stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, and black pepper.  Garnish with the pistachios and optional cheese before serving.

*If you are preparing for guests, cook the risotto for about 15 minutes. Five minutes or so before you are ready to serve, finish it off by adding the last 1-2 c. of liquid.  Remember the liquid must be hot.

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Fun In The Kitchen

We do enjoy entertaining at home, and sometimes it’s fun to have everyone get involved in the fixing.  Nothing works better for that than pizza.

pizza/foodYou never know what toppings folks will like, so it’s best to have an assortment ready.

piza/foodTalk about an opportunity to be creative!

pizza/foodChoosing one or two toppings can be a real challenge, so loading up with a variety has real appeal!  Guys especially get into combining ingredients, and it’s always interesting to see how their creations turn out.

pizza/foodSome folks do like to keep their pizza a tad simpler so as not to totally confuse the taste buds!

appetizer/foodOnce the pizzas are in the oven we snack on appetizers.  What could be more perfect than cantaloupe wrapped with prosciutto 

crostini/appetierand tomato mozzarella  crostini?  Yum, it just doesn’t get better!

pizzaWhen the pizzas are ready, we mound slices on a platter so everyone can share.  I’m betting you won’t find any  of these combinations on a menu!

tablescapeWith platter and a caesar salad in hand, off we go to the dining room for some lip smacking fun at a very simple and colorful table.  The plates actually came from Italy so they are a good choice for pizza.

tablescapeLet me tell you, those straw wrapped wine bottles are not as easy to find as they were when we thought them dripping with candle wax was the epitome of table decor!

There you have it, a very fun way to spend an evening with friends!

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