Italian spinach/mushroom lasagna (vegetarian)

I have been making lasagna recently quite a bit. It is not too hot outside yet so I can turn the oven on but we want something on the lighter side too … so this dish seems to fit the bill. Of course, you can make this dish any time of the year. Lasagna is an Italian specialty. Traditionally, it is made with layers of tomato sauce based ragu, cheese and béchamel sauce. In this dish, I replaced the meat with spinach, mushrooms and cheese. I served it with red wine that seemed to compliment it very nicely.

Spinach is a great vegetable for the spring, it is hardy and nourishing for the liver.

Of course, an important part of the lasagna is the pasta. The best is if it is home made but good, high quality packaged pasta will do too.

Also, the cheese is also important. Try to get the best quality you can afford. Honestly, when I was in Italy, the first thing that I noticed was how tasty the cheese was in their dishes. I like to use a mixture of cheeses, here I used fresh mozzarella cheese balls, feta cheese and Parmesan cheese.

I make my own Italian seasoning but of course any store bought mix would work too. I think this is a nicely balanced mixture of spices grown in Italy. They are carefully selected herbs so one herb will not overpower the other. Also, they all are carminative therefore will help with digestion. Historically, we can thank the ancient Greek doctors who added these herbs to dishes so people can get their benefits all year along.

The warming, aromatic oregano is the key ingredient in pasta dishes. I like to use it because it gives a nice, distinctive flavor to Italian dishes. The sweet fennel seeds are acrid and compliment the strong aromatic oregano in the dish. The delicate basil is probably the most loved and popular spice used in Italian cooking. If you can, try to use the fresh plant instead of the dried. Its aromatic flavor is a nice addition to any Italian dish. The pungent chili pepper is not a big part of the Italian cuisine but Italians enjoy adding a little to their pasta dishes. The oregano and the fennel seeds both can offset the heat of some stronger spices.

Italian seasoning

2 TBSP (6 tsp) dried oregano

1 tsp dried basil or handful of fresh basil

2 tsp ground fennel seeds

1/8 tsp black pepper

1/4-1/2 tsp hot red pepper or to taste (optional)

RECIPE

Serves 6-8 people

Ingredients

  • lasagna pasta (I used 10 strips)
  • 10-16oz spinach (frozen is fine too)
  • 4-8 oz chopped up mushrooms
  • olive oil
  • 2 slices of bacon (optional)
  • 1/2 cup of tomato sauce + (more for the top and the bottom if needed)
  • 1 cup of Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup for the filling, 1/2 cup for the Béchamel sauce)
  • 8oz (100g) fresh mozzarella balls
  • 8 oz (200g) of feta cheese
  • 1 Tbsp of Italian seasoning plus more for the top
  • handfull of fresh basil leaves (if you have them)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • About 4 oz grated Mozzarella cheese for the top

Bachamel sauce ingredients

  • 5 Tbsp of butter
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 2 cups of milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 egg yolks (optional)

  • Rosso Piceno wine. Bottled by Saladini Pilastri 2018 (optional) It is the best and not expensive!
  • parsley leaves (chopped)

Directions

Start boiling the water for the pasta (omit if your pasta does not need to be boiled).

Preheat the oven to 400F and have the rack in the middle of the oven.

Making the filling: In a pan, sauté bacon (optional) and mushrooms in a little oil for 5-10 minutes. Transfer into a bowl. Meanwhile wash and take stems off the spinach. If using frozen spinach of course no need to do it. Sauté in a little oil and water. Remove and try to drain off water. Chop spinach well and transfer into the bowl. Add mashed feta cheese, tomato sauce, 1 egg, garlic, 1 Tbsp of the Italian seasoning (see recipe above). Mix.

Preparing the béchamel sauce. It is not too hard, just follow the steps. I used a whisk. Warm up 5 Tbsp of butter on low heat, when melted increase the heat to medium high and add the flour slowly, stirring continuously. Then start adding the milk very slowly, stirring after each addition and wait for a minute to let the flour mixture soak up the milk. When you start seeing bubbles, it is done. Take off heat. Grate some nutmeg. Add 1/2 cup of Gruyere cheese (optional) and 2 egg yolks. Last time I forgot the eggs and the sauce was still fine. So I will add here that it is optional especially if you are already adding cheese. Mix well. I use a double boiler but is not necessary.

Prepare the lasagna pasta according to its directions. If you need to boil the pasta, put it in the boiling water that was started in the first step. Proceed according to its instructions. When done take out of the water and try to make sure they don’t stick to each other. I like to cook the pasta more at the end to prevent sticking. So try to make sure you have everything ready before the pasta is ready so you can start assembling the lasagna.

Assembling the lasagna: Put a thin layer of the béchamel sauce or tomato sauce on the bottom of a 3 Qt size baking dish. (2Qt size will work ok too). Place 1 layer of the pasta strips on the bottom of the pan. Put the filling on top of the pasta, followed by the fresh mozzarella balls (cut up if using the larger balls), pour the béchamel sauce and top it all with another layer of the pasta. Spread some pasta sauce and the shredded mozzarella cheese on the top. Sprinkle some Italian spice on the top.

Turn the oven heat down to 375F and put the lasagna in the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top is nice and golden brown.

Serve hot with a little grated Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley on the top. I really enjoyed a glass of red wine with the dish. I felt like I was in Italy! I would recommend this bottle of red wine if you are looking for one to try (please see details above in Ingredients).

enjoy!

Source

  • Matthew Wood: Earthwise
  • Paul Pitchford: Healing with Whole Foods

Photo, recipe, text by twincitiesherbs.com.

Sauerkraut dish with kielbasa

This delicious dish is very easy to make. I probably should have called it the bachelor/bachelorette sauerkraut dish … but it is not just for the bachelors/bachelorettes, it is the perfect dish whenever you want to make something quick but tasty and healthy. Of course, you can never go wrong with sauerkraut, it is so healthy.

This is a little twist to a Hungarian sauerkraut dish, lucskos kaposzta. Yes, in Hungary, we make it with pork meat. You can certainly use any pork that is cut into cubes and just sauté with the onions and bacon at the beginning. I replaced it here with the kielbasa for a quick meal. On the side, it is not a true Hungarian dish. I actually read that it is just a meal that a chef in the 18th century quickly put together from leftovers but now it is very much part of the Hungarian cuisine.

It is a super easy recipe but I would like to note a few things. The onion has to be finally chopped and the dish needs to be cooked well otherwise it will have a raw taste. Don’t forget to rinse the sauerkraut well with cold water as its liquid it is kept in is very acidic.

There are two types of sauerkraut. One is preserved with vinegar and the other is processed with salt. I prefer the salted version as it is less acidic and is better for health. This version acts as a probiotic and supports gut health and digestive functions. Of course, the vinigar version would be fine to use, too.

RECIPE

Serves 6-8 people

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, finally chopped
  • oil (sunflower, lard)
  • 4 large slices of bacon, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika powder
  • 1 cup of cold meat stock
  • 1 apple, cored, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1/2 tsp mustard
  • 2 lbs of sauerkraut, well rinsed
  • red chili pepper (optional)
  • 1 lb of kielbasa or sausage
  • sour cream to serve
  • rice or potatoes to serve
  • bread
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  • Chop the onions making sure they are finally chopped. Also chop the bacon. Sauté onions and bacon in some oil for about 10 minutes on medium high heat. Sauté the apple pieces for a few minutes.
  • Add the paprika, stir for 1 minute to activate and add the cold stock, stir.
  • Rinse sauerkraut well with water.
  • Add the sauerkraut, stir. Continue adding, the mustard, red chili pepper (optional) and caraway seeds. You can add the meat too. If the meat is already cooked, you do not have to add it at this point. Although I personally like it if any meat is cooked in the dish regardless whether it is precooked or not. If you don’t include it at this step, just add it at the end.
  • Cook for 45-60 minutes until the sauerkraut is well cooked.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Serve with sour cream and your choice of bread, potatoes or rice.

enjoy!

Soup with sauerkraut, potatoes and beans (Jota)

In the summer when we were hiking in the Julian Alps in Slovenia, we found a quaint little restaurant that served simple and very tasty dishes. When we went hiking, we treated ourselves to a delicious lunch every time. Here, I found this interesting soup with sauerkraut, potatoes and beans.

Jota, the Slovenian soup with sauerkraut, potatoes and beans is just a simple dish that can warm your body and soul on a cold winter night or a cool, rainy day in the mountains in the summer.

RECIPE

Ingredients

  • oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 strips of bacon
  • 8oz smoked pork products of your choice (ribs are great)
  • 2 cloves of garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tsp of sweet paprika powder (optional)
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds, 2 bay leaves, 1 Tbsp black peppercorns (optional)
  • 2 cups of uncooked kidney beans or 30 oz canned kidney beans
  • meat stock
  • 1 fresh tomatoes, diced or canned
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 pound potatoes (diced)
  • 1 pound sauerkraut (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 heaping Tbsp of flour
  • sour cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • sausage or eggs, optional

Direction

  • Clean and soak the beans overnight or for at least 8 hours. Rinse soaking water off. Add fresh cold filtered water, bayleaves and cook the beans for 1.5 hour or until soft but not mushy. Set aside.
  • In a large pot, sauté onion and bacon for 10 minutes. Add paprika, stir and add garlic, stir. Add a tomatoes, tomatoe paste, stir and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse sauerkraut. Add potatoes, sauerkraut, caraway seeds, bay leaves, pork and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for at least 30 minutes or until potatoes and sauerkraut are very tender and the mixture is thick.
  • At the end, in a small bowl put 1 Tbsp of flour, mix it with some cooking liquid until smooth. Add into soup and cook for 5-10 minutes.
  • If you like your soup to have a thicker consistency, you can take out the potatoes and put them in a blender with some of the cooking liquid.
  • Add the cooked beans with some of its liquid and warm up the pot so the beans are warm. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve with bread, sour cream, sausage.
  • This can be served right away but will taste better the next day or even just a few hours later.
The menu

enjoy!

Roasted potatoes with rosemary

My recipe today is potatoes with rosemary … yes that is it, just the two main ingredients plus the garlic, oregano and the salt. They should complement many winter meat or vegetarian dishes easily. I like using them in cooking because they both taste great and are good for digestion. I get very excited about rosemary in general as it has such rich and colorful history steeped in the culinary world, legends and folklore.

Rosemary is such a culinary delight, a popular plant in the kitchen especially during the colder months. Chefs use it in a wide variety of dishes from soups, bean dishes to meats particularly for lamb and chicken. It is not just used for enhancing the flavor of a dish but it also helps digestion. Also, it can preserve food, an important consideration in the old days before refrigerators were invented so I can imagine that rosemary was essential in a Medieval kitchen…

The aromatic rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) has been around for thousands of years. It is native to the Mediterranean region. Its Latin name is derived from the words ‘ros’ which means dew, and ‘marinus’ that means sea and as its name suggest it can in fact survive on the spray of the sea air. Persian doctors valued it as one of their best remedies. It has also been recognized as a powerful medicine in the Mediterranean countries. Rosemary along with the other digestive remedies of the region like thyme, oregano, fennel have been used in the culinary world for their medicinal values. Earlier, the ancient doctors started using them in dishes so people could get their benefits on a daily basis. So yes we can thank these wise doctors for all these fabulous dishes.

Ancient cultures thought of rosemary as a protective plant that could ward off evil. If we look at all the benefits that rosemary has, this statement would become more clear and less mysterious. Its health benefits come from its anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-cancer abilities. It is also a restoring remedy as it can improve heart, liver, gallbladder, brain and kidney functions, circulation, digestion and the nervous system. It brings warmth to a cold, debilitated body. In the 13th century, Queen Elizabeth of Hungary claimed that rosemary wine was the secret to her long life and cured her paralyzed legs.

I’m now sitting here at my desk with a bunch of rosemary and sniffing its aromatic oils…

RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs of red potatoes
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 garlic cloves (crushed)
  • leaves of 4 stalks of fresh rosemary or 2 tsp of dried rosemary
  • 1/4 cup of oil

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 475 F.
  • Soak the potatoes in cold water so the dirt can come off easily. I like to leave the peel on but if you prefer you can peel the potatoes without soaking. If using fresh, take the rosemary springs and pull the rosemary leaves back on the vine to get the leaves off. Cut the potatoes into cubes (halves and quarters) and put them in a larger bowl with the oil, crushed garlic, oregano, salt and the rosemary. Toss until the potatoes are well coated.
  • Oil a baking sheet and spread the potatoes on it.
  • Bake in a preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until potatoes are golden and tender. Flip the potatoes twice during baking to ensure even browning.
  • Serve warm, preferably the same day.
  • enjoy!

Sources

Matthew Wood: Earthwise

Photo, recipe, text by twincities.herbs.com

Marinated pork with prunes

It is December now and I am already missing the plums from this summer. Then I happened upon this recipe (source of the recipe) … a dish with pork baked in prune sauce! I really like to prepare meats with fruits and the prunes work nicely with the pork here. Oh and that savory aroma of the prunes cooking with the shallots!!! … I decided that I will be making this recipe for Christmas Eve. I believe it would be perfect for this busy night. It can be marinated ahead of time and then just has to be cooked on the 24th … and after eating this dish I might have visions of sugar plums dancing in my head…

I really like simple meals that have an interesting flavor and this dish does just that. The pork is first marinated in a mustardy sauce and further baked in a savory plum sauce to perfection.The moist pork works nicely with the sweet prunes along with pungent spices and results in a unique sweet and savory flavor. Of course, it needs to be served with some nice wine or grape drink.

I made a few minor changes to the original recipe. I added a little red hot pepper, of course it is optional but for me, some spiciness was missing. I felt that the sweet pork along with the sweet sauce needed a touch of spiciness to balance the dish out. Not sure if it is authentic but this was more to satisfy my personal taste.

Also, I served this dish with brussel sprouts in addition to the potatoes that the recipe already calls for. I served brussel sprouts but any other bitter green leafy vegetable like kale, lettuce would work well. Also, the recipe calls for 2 cups of chicken stock. You can do half white wine and half chicken stock if you wish.

If you can’t find tenderloin or just don’t want to spend so much money, sirloin is a nice alternative. Sirloin, a different part of the pork is not as tender, will require longer cooking time and more cooking liquid. (I cooked it for 15 minutes longer and added an extra 1/4 cup of chicken stock). Honestly, they both taste nice though. Of course, if you want to impress your guests, or just treat yourself to something special, the tenderloin is more superior in flavor so go for the tenderloin!

A few words about the pork. It is sweet and salty. According to Ancient Chinese Medicine, pork is great for the fall and the winter as it is moistening. In fact, pork is moistening for the lungs, kidneys, and the spleen-pancreas. In Europe, it is a popular meat during the cold months especially during Christmas time.

Recipe

Ingredients

1 pork tenderloin (approx. 1.25 pounds) or sirloin
2 TBSP brown sugar
1 TBSP Dijon mustard
4 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cloves of garlic, minced + 4 whole cloves, peeled and slightly smashed
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped (or 1/2 tsp dry)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
10 dried plums (prunes), chopped in half
2 smaller shallots or 1 bigger one, peeled and thinly chopped
2 cups chicken or pork broth or 1 cup of chicken/pork stock and 1 cup of white wine
1 TBSP red wine vinegar
fresh parsley

Dierections

Marinade: In a small bowl mix sugar, dijon mustard, 2 tsp olive oil, thyme, sale, pepper and 2 cloves of garlic. Put the mixture on the tenderloin, evenly spreading it all over the pork. You can put the pork in a zip lock bag or a marinating dish with a lid. Let it marinate in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 F (190C). Take the pork mixture out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature.

Prune sauce: In a pan with oven proof handles, gently heat 2 tsp of olive oil, add shallots and stir. Cook until it start becoming soft and you can smell its aroma – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, the chopped prunes and stir … Now if I may,
I would like to invite you to stop for a few seconds and smell the aroma of the shallots, the garlic and the prunes, it is amazing … after 1 minute add the chicken stock, vinegar and hot pepper (optional). Cook for 5-10 minutes.

Place the pork in the middle of the pan. Put the pan into the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. Cook for an additional 20-25 minutes basting 2-3 times or until the meat is 160F.

When meat’s temperature reached 160F, take the pan out of the oven and cover. Let it rest here for 10 minutes before you start slicing them.

Serve sliced with potatoes, brussel sprouts and some wine. Drizzle the sauce on the top.

enjoy!

Sources

Apple pie with cranberries

Apple pie is a special American dessert. I have always wanted to make it ever since I took the first bite of my mother-in-laws home-made pie like 25 years ago but I was somehow afraid of making it. I even gifted a pie form for my husband’s birthday 15 years ago to make sure that I made it. Ok so a few years ago I ventured into making one from a recipe I found online. I thought all apple pie recipes were the same lol … hmmm not true it didn’t turn out good, in fact it was terrible. Then I found Martha Stewart’s pie recipe … and it was a huge success. I felt such a great accomplishment after I made it. Here I have the full proof Martha’s pie recipe so you don’t have to hunt for a good one.

An apple pie is an important part of the Thanksgiving dinner for many people. The delicious savory apple filling is wrapped in a flaky buttery crust and is served with whipped cream. According to marthastewart.com, there are three basic rules for making a fabulous apple pie: Use the best ingredients, keep the dough cold and when you handle the dough less is more. Have fun making the pie, it is so worth it!

As Martha Stewart says you should get the best ingredients for your pie in other words your pie will be only as tasty as the ingredients are. The most important part of the pie at least as far as taste goes is the apples. When I go to the farmers’ market to get my baking apples, they always give me a mixture of apples. In fact the lady at my favorite stand always gives 7-8 different apples. So how do you select the right apples?

Basically you want baking apples that are firm and keep their shapes while baking. The best apple for this is the Granny smith. If you like your pie more tart you can just use this variety. Ok I know some people want more of a sweet apple pie. There are many other apple varieties that would make the pie sweeter like Cortland, Breaburn, Regent, Harlson. And I always like to add a very sweet one like Fuji, Honey crisp. Once you decide on the type, make sure they are also tasty. It is hard to describe but they should have a zesty flavor. When you try it you know what I mean! Sorry to say but supermarket apples often don’t have this. I personally like to get local apples for this purpose.

The other important part of a good pie is the crust. Of course keeping the surface cold is extremely important … but so is the quality of the flour you use. I would stay away from low quality flours that need to be enriched and have other additives in them. I buy only organic flour that fits this criteria. I used Bob’s Red Mill flour in this recipe but King Arthur’s flour is good too.

The third most important ingredient would be the shortening. The shortening is also crucial for a successful pie crust. Often people use butter flavored sysco shortening because it gives nice results. Well it is a good choice but I am not a fan because it is not that good for health. It is better to get a nice high quality butter or better yet lard if you have access to it. My mother-in-law always made her pies with lard and she honestly made the best pies.

Pie is a cold weather dessert. It is made starting September when the weather gets cold in the Northern hemisphere because it needs to be cold when handling the dough. That is right the work area needs to be cold when you are working the dough to get the scrumptious flaky buttery crust. The pros use special tools to work on that keeps the dough cold. If you don’t have these special tools, no worries. I just open the kitchen window and let the kitchen cool off a bit. It seems to be working fine.

Try to become familiar with the recipe. This is more of a challenging recipe as there are are many steps and specific instructions. I think the video (see below) is very helpful to watch for technique although the video is sometimes a little too cautious. For instance, you can handle the dough by hand. The recipe of the video and the one I’m presenting here are not exactly the same. Please follow my recipe to avoid mistakes.

Ingredients

Crust

  • 2 1/2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour (leveled with a knife)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks of cold unsalted butter in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 5-7 Tbsp of icy cold water

For the filling

  • 7 baking medium sized apples at room temperature (Granny smith, Cortland, Empire ) (about 2-2.5 pounds) (Martha uses 3 pounds of apples)
  • 1 cup of fresh cranberries, optional. Replace with another Granny smith if not used. If frozen do not let thaw.
  • juice of 1 lemon or orange (Martha uses lemon juice)
  • 1 Tbsp of orange peel (optional)
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1/4 freshly ground nutmeg, 1/4 mace or 1 1/2 tsp of Pensey’s apple pie spice
  • 1/2-3/4 cup sugar + little more for the top. If you use cranberries, use 3/4-1 cup of sugar.
  • 2 Tbsp of corn starch or 1/4 cup of flour
  • 1 tsp dried ginger (cut and sifted) or 2 tsp fresh ginger
  • 2 Tbsp cold unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt

For finishing

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp of heavy cream
  • granulated sugar

Prepation

Please watch this video for clarity: https://www.marthastewart.com/341735/apple-pie

Put 1/2 cup of water in the freezer or you can use ice cubes in water. This will be used for the dough in the next step.

Making the dough. Mix flour with the sugar and the salt. Cut the cold butter into the flour with your finger tips, pastry cutter, knives or a food processor. If you are using a food processor, pulse for 10 seconds at a time, paying special attention not to over-process the dough. Stop when coarse crumbs form. The mixture should have pieces ranging from coarse crumbs to the size of small peas. Take water out of the freezer. Add 5 Tbsp of ice water slowly, 1 Tbsp at a time and mix until dough just holds together when pinched. Add more only if needed. The mixture should retain a crumbly texture at his point; it should not be sticky. Again do not over-pulse the dough. If you are not using a food processor, you do not have to worry about over-processing that much, you’ll be most likely ready to stop. Do pay a close attention though what the dough should be like.

the crumply dough

Shaping and chilling the dough. After making the dough, now it will be divided into two parts. Make sure the dough has all the loose pieces incorporated. Wrap each piece tightly with a plastic wrap and refrigerate at least for 1 hour or overnight. You can make this the day before and keep it in the fridge. This will help the crust to be flaky.

the dough wrapped in plastic

Preparing the filling. Wash, peel, core, and cut apples into 1/2 inch-thick slices. I like to use a mixture of baking apples for a more interesting flavor. I used 4 granny smith, 2 cortland and 1 sweeter honey crisp apple. Add the orange/lemon juice and coat the apples well. Don’t add anything to the apples until ready to assemble the pie. When ready add 1 cup of cranberries to get a more interesting flavor or add another apple instead. Then add everything else and mix. I happen to have an apple corer gadget, my daughter made me purchase a while ago. I have to say it was helpful for coring the apples but if you don’t have one, you don’t need to rush out to get one.

Assembling the pie. Your working area is supposed to be cold for this part. I just open the kitchen window while I’m doing this step and it should be cold enough.

Take dough out of the fridge. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk of dough until 1/8 inch thick. I check the diameter by putting the bowl above the dough. I just eye it to see if the dough is large enough in diameter to cover the bowl. The finished dough should be about 1/2 inch bigger than the baking dish around.

The chilled dough

Roll dough around the rolling pin and unroll it over a 9 inch glass plate, pressing gently to fit into pan. Fill it with the apple mixture from above. Roll the other disk of dough in the same manner.

rolled out dough

Drape over the bottom part. Use kitchen shears to trim overhang of both crusts to 1 inch. Press edges to seal. Fold overhang under and crimp edges: With thumb and index finger of your other hand, gently press dough against index finger of other hand. Continue around pie. Make several 3 inch slits in the top crust. This will allow the liquid to evaporate. I have a special clay bird that does this job. If you use the clay bird, you will not have to do this. If using the bird, cut 3 small slits in the middle of the pie, making an opening for the bird. Gently place the bird in and try to wiggle it around the apples. You can find these birds (see picture) at Williams Sonoma in the US -if anybody is interested.

Refrigerate the pie for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 400F.

Finishing the crust for baking. Whisk egg yolk and cream in a bowl; brush over the top of crust. Sprinkle the top with sugar.

Baking the pie. Place pie in preheated oven. Put a baking pan underneath to catch any liquid that escapes during the baking. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 375F. Continue baking until top and bottom crust are golden brown and juices are bubbling in the center for 70 to 85 minutes. Check on the pie after 1 hr and see if it is getting brown too quickly and needs to be covered with aluminum foil.

When ready, take the pie out and let it cool on a wire rack for at least 4 hours before serving. If you are not eating it all the same day, leave it on the counter loosely covered. Do not store in the refrigerator, the dough will get soggy.

enjoy!

Sources

text and photos by twincitiesherbs.com

Spiced orange cranberry sauce

According to my mother-in-law, a good cranberry sauce should have whole cranberries and a nice sauce, so as to not be mushy or dry. I created this cranberry sauce keeping this in mind. It is gently infused with oranges and pungent spices and is slowly baked in the oven. In addition, the alcohol will elevate it to another level that gives an unexpected kick to the sauce. It will go nicely with any savory fall or winter dishes. You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving, go ahead and you can try it now!

I really like how this cranberry sauce turned out. Here is my little story… As a foreigner I did not grow up eating cranberries so I have been relying on the Joy of Cooking cookbook for the recipe. I was contemplating whether to make some changes to the basic recipe or just let the cranberries be what they are and enjoy their true taste.

I started experiementing. First, I put the oranges to the test. Why add oranges, another bitter fruit?!? Ok orange peels are bitter but are also sweet. I found that the sweet oranges paired nicely with the sour cranberries. Perhaps because their common denominator is the bitterness ?!?

In the culinary world, it is well known that pungent spices offset the sour flavors so I also added cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice. They bring a little warmth to the sauce, too. In addition, the allspice gave a nice citrusy flavor. They balanced out the sauce nicely and resulted in a pleasant sweet and sour dish. Again, I can’t imagine the sauce without them.

Oh and the sugar! Most recipes use sugar for cranberry sauce; after all it is a sour dish and sweet can offset sourness. I have nothing against sugar if used well in a dish, meaning it does not overpower the foods that it is added to. I am excited to say that I was able to reduce the sugar a bit in this recipe just by adding the seasonings. Not bad ehhh …

There is more! I used to cook the sauce in a pot that yielded a rather mushy appearance. It did not bother me, I did not even realize I did not cook the cranberries properly. To make sure the cranberries stayed whole, my mother-in-law used to prick each berry one by one with a needle so they didn’t burst open in the pot. I have recently learnt from a chef that slowly cooking them in the oven would give very nice results and the berries stay whole. I would like to mention that cranberries carefully made in a pot can stay whole as well.

I think my recipe made the cranberries more suitable to eat with savory foods, it has a pleasant flavor without overpowering the cranberries. You can keep it in the refrigerator for at least 3 days. The flavors come together while the sauce sits in the fridge. Hope you will enjoy it! Of course, there are many other techniques to cook cranberries that yield beautiful results too.

Cranberry sauce recipe

Serves 2-3 people

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of fresh cranberries (frozen is fine just make sure they are fully defrosted)
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 tsp dried ginger (cut and sifted) or 2 tsp fresh ginger
  • 1 orange (chopped up 4 Tbsp peel and the juice) Chop up the orange peel into very small pieces it tastes great in the sauce.
  • or 2 Tbsp dried orange peel and 1/3 cup of orange juice
  • If you don’t have orange juice you can use 1/3 cup of water and maybe even a little orange essence
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 3 pieces of all spice berries
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2-3 Tbsp of spirit of your choice: whisky, fruit brandy (optional)
  • touch of freshly ground black pepper and salt, to be added at the end
  • pinch of salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

  • Wash cranberries, discard any with blemishes. Combine all ingredient in a baking/glass dish and wait until cranberries start releasing their liquid for about a half an hour. Set oven to 250F and slowly bake for about two hours. Cranberries are ready when nicely cooked but not raw or mushy.
  • When done take the dish out of the oven and remove the larger spice pieces (cinnamon, allspice).
  • Add the salt and the pepper.
  • Serve at room temperature.
  • You can triple this recipe for Thanksgiving for 9-10 people.

enjoy!

Text, photo and recipe by twincitiesherbs.com

Stuffed squash with lentils, cranberries and wild rice (a Midwestern twist)

I love this savory dish … it has a lot of the quintessential foods that I enjoy eating in the fall. The tasty squash is filled with rice, lentils and fall vegetables and all mixed in the melted cheese. It is wonderfully aromatic and tasty.

Squash is one of the main foods in the fall. We are so lucky to have all these different varieties available in the US. They are sweet and have a neutral flavor that make them ideal to accompany fall dishes.

Squashes are native to the Mexico region and may have been around for 10,000 years. They tend to be high in natural sugars, carbohydrates and vitamin A. In general, they all are mildly sweet, have a luscious nutty flavor and have a creamy texture but each variety comes with a unique characteristics and with different vitamin and mineral contents.

Ancient Chinese Medicine considers them to be highly nourishing and warming for the digestive system, anti-inflammatory and help move the Qi, the life force in our body. If we talk about squash we have to mention its seeds as they are equally valuable for health. They are rich in heart friendly dietary fiber, unsaturated fatty acids, and in addition, protein, minerals, and vitamins. They contain tryptophan that is responsible for increased motor decision speed and blood sugar regulating effect. The seeds are also used for remedying intestinal worm problems. They can be roasted in the oven on low heat at 250 F.

RECIPE

Serves 4 people

Ingredients

  • 2 medium sized squash (Choose squash that has a firm outer shell with a scoop friendly inside like acorn, delicata, carneval, sweet dumpling).
  • 1 cup of uncooked wild rice (rice will work too). Wild harvested preferred.
  • 3 cups of stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • 1/3 cup of shallots, finally chopped
  • vegetable oil (sunflower)
  • handful of earthy mushrooms (crimini, shitake, portabello)
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 slice of bacon (optional)
  • couple of fresh thyme sprigs or 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup of uncooked lentils
  • 1/4 dried cranberries or raisins
  • 2 Tbsp of chopped pecans
  • 100g or 4 oz of feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup of hard cheese like gruyere or parmesan cheese and more for the top
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • red hot pepper (I just used a little piece)
  • little freshly ground nutmeg

Preparation

  • Turn oven on to 375 F (190 C). Bake cleaned squash on a baking sheet for 40-60 minutes or until you can easily put the blade of a knife through the flesh of the squash. When done cut in half and scoop out the seeds. The seeds can be saved and roasted.
  • Clean and soak lentils for an hour. Place lentils in a medium pot, add water, thyme spring and bay leaves. Cook for about 45-60 minutes or until they are done, soft but not mushy. When done let it sit in its steam and add more water if needed. Add salt.
  • Heat the oil on medium high heat. Sautee the shallots for 5 minutes. Then add the sliced bacon, sliced celery for 5 more minutes, stir frequently. Add 1 cup of wild rice, 3 cups of stock, sliced mushrooms, thyme and bring to a boil, stir and simmer over low heat with lid partially closed for a 35-55 minutes until the water is absorbed and the rice is fluffy and tender.
  • If using regular rice, cook rice seperate, follow the cooking directions for the rice of your choice. Prepare the vegetables as written above. When ready combine.
  • Set oven to 375F (190 C). In a bowl mix the lentils and the rice mixture. Add the feta crumbles and and the hard cheese. Add the salt, pepper, hot red pepper and freshly graded nutmeg to taste. Mix. Also you can sprinkle salt, nutmeg and pepper inside the squash. Put the stuffing in the inside of the squash. Sprinkle the top with cheese and bake them in the oven for about 20-30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
  • Serve with other vegetables brussel sprouts, beets, cranberry sauce etc.
  • If you have left over rice, feel free to serve with the meal.

Brussel sprout recipe

  • 1 lb of brussel sprouts
  • vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup of stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Heat up some oil in a frying pan. Wash and clean the brussel sprouts, cutting off the ends and yellowish leaves. Cut them into halves. Brown the brussel sprouts for about 10 minutes. Add the stock and cook for about 15 minutes or until they are cooked but not mushy. Actually brussel sprouts need to be more firm so keep an eye on them. Remove and place into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

enjoy!

Sources

Recipe, text and photo by twincitiesherb.com.

Halloween/Harvest bread (barmbrack)

In honor of Halloween, I would like to post a recipe for a special treat called barmbrack (bairín breac). It is kind of the ancestor of the store bought Halloween candies that kids get at night when they go out trick or treating.

Halloween originated from the beautiful ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-een). It means end of summer and is the celebration of the Celtic new year. Samhain divides the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the new year, the dark and the light. Also, they believed that on this day the division between the old (deceased people) and the new (living people) is the thinnest and we get to the souls of our ancestors the closest. It is a mysterious celebration that other cultures observe as well like in Diwali or Mexican Day of the dead.

People offer food for the spirits that appear on Earth during this time period. Barmbrack is the food that is given on Samhain to make sure that the spirits don’t play tricks on us. So yes barmbrack is the ancestor of the Halloween candies. Everybody in the family gets a slice and then they offer some to the spirits. People also went out to sing songs and tell scary stories on this night and received food in exchange.

This is a simple Irish soda bread with the addition of fruits, nuts, seeds and I also added chocolate chips for the occasion. You can add whatever you wish, whatever grows around you. I used fresh cranberries because they are available here right now but traditionally crab apples were used. Otherwise, I tried to keep the recipe to its original form. The Irish also soak the dried fruits in a strong brew of tea for the night but at least for one hour. I really enjoyed this moist sweet bread, there was a surprise in every bite … sometimes cranberries or raisins or prunes or cherries but the most special treat was the bite with the chocolate chips …

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 to 4 1/2 cups flour
  • 5 Tbsp sugar (1 Tbsp if apples are used instead of cranberries)
  • 1 mug of strong English tea (double strength)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup of dried fruits ( I used currants, cherries, prunes)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 nutmeg, 1/4 cloves
  • 1 cup of sliced fresh cranberries or shaved apples
  • 5 Tbsp poppy seed
  • hand-full of roughly chopped nuts of your choice – traditionally hazelnuts were used.
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups of buttermilk
  • 2 Tbsp of a spirit of your choice (I used whisky) – (optional)
  • 1/4-1/2 cups of chocolate chips

Directions

  • Make a strong English tea. Pour it on the dried fruits and leave it on overnight but for at least 1 hour.
  • Wash and slice the fresh cranberries. Put the slices in a small bowl and put in the sugar, whisky and the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves). If you use apples instead of cranberries, use 1 Tbsp sugar only! Let it stand until it releases its liquid.
  • Set oven to 375 F.
  • Measure out the 4 cups of flour, add the baking soda, salt. Whisk together. Work in the butter with hand, knives or electrical mixer. Mix in the poppy seeds.
  • Squeeze the liquid out the dried fruits.
  • Mix in the dried fruits, the cranberries( with the liquid), nuts, chocolate chips. Mix well.
  • Make a well in the middle, add eggs, buttermilk and mix. Add more flour if needed.
  • Put dough on lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball shape.
  • Put it in a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Check to see if it is done. If the blade of a knife doesn’t come out clean, turn the temperature down to 350 F and bake longer 5-15 more minutes.
  • When done, let it cool for half hour before serving.

enjoy!

Sources

Recipe, photos and text by twincitiesherbs.com.

Potato leek soup with kale

The combination of the leeks, potatoes and kale is magical. The synergy of all these vegetables creates the soup’s unique flavor. The pungent leeks pair nicely with the neutral potatoes and the bitter kale balances out the soup. It can be served with or without sausages. This simple tasty soup quickly became a family favorite and its recipe stayed in our recipe box.

Leeks (allium porrum) have been used for thousands of years but have been kind of forgotten in the United States. They belong to the family of the allium vegetables like onions and garlic and are considered to be very good for health. They are milder but have a unique flavor. Leeks have cardiovascular protecting properties, are antiviral and bacterial and help combat the dangerous free radicals. Also, they help the body against cancer and chronic diseases. Not to mention, they are a significant source of vitamins A, B and K, folic acid, niacin, riboflavin, magnesium and thiamin. In natural medicine, they are also used for lung problems. The leeks are available between the early fall and late winter.

The leeks are paired with potatoes (solarium tuberasum). The healthy potatoes are native to the Andes in South America and help the digestion, lubricate the intestines and nourish the kidneys. Furthermore, potatoes neutralize acids in the body thereby helping against so many degenerative diseases. Also, they give cardiovascular protection, improve bone health and protect against cancer. If these were not enough, they also contain potassium, iron, niacin, phosphorus, calcium, zinc and magnesium.

Out of all these vegetables, kale (Brassica oleracea) gives the most interesting flavor to the soup. It is a unique hardy cold-weather green that grows from the fall until the early spring. It gets sweeter with a touch of frost. It is an immensely valuable vegetable in the fall and the winter especially because there isn’t much else growing. It is more warming with a slight bitter pungent flavor and benefits the stomach and the lungs. It also contains calcium, iron, and vitamin A and has a very high chlorophyll content.

RECIPE

Serves 4 people

Ingredients

  • 8 medium sized Russet or Yukon potatoes (about 1.5-2 pounds)
  • 3 medium sized leeks, peeled and sliced
  • butter or home-made ghee (I prefer ghee because it doesn’t burn easily like butter).
  • 2 large slices of bacon or to taste (optional)
  • stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • 1 Italian sausage (optional)
  • 1 tsp paprika powder
  • 1/2 tsp of fennel seeds
  • 1-3 thyme sprins
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1/2-1 cup of cream
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • crushed hot red pepper flakes to taste
  • Parmesan cheese

Directions

  • Wash and slice up leeks. Slice leeks thin with a sharp knife. Use more the white part (cook the greenish part in the stock or discard). Put the sliced leeks in a bowl of cold water for 1/2 hour. This will get all the dirt out of the leeks. Clean well. Strain the liquid using a colander or pat dry.
  • If you decide to keep the peel on the potatoes, clean and soak potatoes in some cold water for 1/2 hour. Scrub off any dirt. If you decide to peel potatoes, you can skip this step. Slice the potatoes thin.
  • Sauté leek slices in some butter or ghee for 5-10 minutes or until you can smell the aroma of the leeks. Add 1 tsp of paprika and fennel seeds to activate for 1 minute and stir. Add 1/4 tsp cold water, stir.
  • Fry up some sliced bacon if you decide to use it.
  • Add potatoes and bacon to the leeks. Pour in the stock enough to barely cover the vegetables. Add the thyme and bay leaves. Start heating the soup carefully until it starts bubbling but not boiling. Quickly, turn the heat down and slowly cook for 1 hour.
  • Meanwhile cook the sausage for 15 minutes in a little oil. Add to the soup at the end.
  • Clean and take stems off the kale. Cut the leaves up into bite sizes.
  • When soup is done, add the kale. It doesn’t need to cook.
  • Add cream, salt, black pepper, hot red pepper flakes. Don’t cook anymore.
  • Serve with a little Parmesan cheese.

enjoy!

Little secrets

  • Never boil the soup. Turn soup down right when it starts bubbling but before it starts to boil and cook slowly for an hour.
  • Add enough liquid to barely cover the vegetables. A few vegetables can even be ‘peaking’ out. Once the soup is done, you can add more liquids.
  • These are my personal discoveries. I keep getting excellent results every time I cook the soup or don’t get if I don’t follow these suggestions.
  • I can’t decide which potato I like more. The Russet is softer and blends in more, supposedly preferred for soups vs the Yucon that holds its shape better but is equally tasty.

Sources

https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/02/08/leeks-benefits.aspx

https://healthbenefitstimes.com/potaoes

Paul Pitchford: Healing with Whole Foods

Recipe, photo and text by twincitiesherbs.com.