Friday, April 27, 2012

Special Brunch - Egg Strudel

Mother's Day is coming up!  Have you thought about plans for the mother or grandmother in your life?  For some people that means reservations at a nice restaurant.  If your family is like The Lawyer's, however, that's not very practical.  He has a extended family that includes four generations who are all very close. Family celebrations are large and include everyone from his parents (who are celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary this summer) to several itty-bittys just learning to walk. One of the family's major annual events is their Swedish sausage-making party shortly before Christmas. They work in teams to shove a gooey mass of potatoes, meat and milk into (ahem) "natural casings". I tend to watch from a safe distance and try not to think about the casings.

If you also have extended family gatherings (hopefully sans casings), think about this egg strudel recipe for a wonderful Mother's Day brunch.

 It's visually stunning and makes a lot of servings.  It can even be made in advance and simply baked before the party.  That's why a little orange juice is added to the eggs - the vitamin C helps preserve their color.  Everyone from Generation 1 to Generation 4 will like the ingredients:  potatoes, ham, eggs, cheese, and puff pastry. I would suggest serving it with asparagus in lemon sauce on your prettiest plates, accompanied by mimosas and coffee for the adults and juice for the kids. (On second thought, maybe you shouldn't use your prettiest plates if there are kids involved.  Save them for adult occasions - see below.)

Not only would this make a great Mother's Day brunch, it's ideal for weekend guests or anytime you want to have a special brunch.  It looks very fancy but actually it's really easy - the key is how you cut the puff pastry for braiding.  Just follow the visuals and you'll be fine.

* * click here for a printable recipe copy * *

Egg Strudel
Makes 2 strudels, 8 to 12 servings depending on how they are cut

1 box (two sheets) puff pastry dough (1.1 lb)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup frozen cubed hash brown potatoes
1 cup green or red bell pepper, seeded, diced
½ cup onion, diced
1 cup smoked ham or turkey, diced
11 eggs
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons shredded parmesan

Thaw puff pastry according to package directions.

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add potatoes and sauté 5 minutes. Stir in bell pepper and onion; sauté 3 minutes, then add ham or turkey.

Whisk 11 eggs and chives together. Add them to the pan and scramble just until set and still a bit soft. Season with salt and pepper and take off the heat. Stir in the cream cheese and orange juice until blended. Refrigerate eggs while working on the pastry.

Unfold a thawed pastry sheet on a work surface lightly dusted with flour. Roll pastry to a 12” x 10” rectangle, then transfer to a piece of parchment cut to fit a baking sheet. Trim pastry by cutting off the top corners at an angle and notching the bottom corners (see picture below).

Spoon half the egg mixture down the center, then cut an equal number of strips on both sides at a 45 degree angle. 

 Fold the flaps up over the eggs at both ends, then braid the strips by alternately crossing them over the filling. 
Repeat with the other pastry sheet and remaining egg mixture. Transfer parchment and strudels to baking sheets.

Combine the remaining egg and water by whisking; brush over the tops of the strudels and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. (At this point, strudels may be covered in plastic and refrigerated overnight.) 

 Bake strudels for 20-30 minutes, or until golden. Let cool 5 minutes before slicing.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ravioli with Apples and Walnuts

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Everybody likes pasta, but sometimes you can get a little tired of spaghetti and red sauce.  Plus it's spring, and who wants to stand in the kitchen for hours simmering a marinara sauce?  This recipe is fresh, light and really fast - ravioli stuffed with luscious cheeses and topped with fresh apple, olive oil, toasted walnuts, and parmesan.  It's deceptively simple in terms of ingredients and prep time, but unique enough that it's quite elegant.

The first time I made this recipe I noted that it tasted french (in my world that's a good thing).  I think it was the classic combination of apples and walnuts that did it for me.  Whatever, it certainly is different from your typical southern Italian pasta dish.  Although it's very satisfying and filling as a vegetarian entree, you can add a topping of crispy prosciutto or bacon to keep your carnivores happy if you like. 

You can prepare the topping while the ravioli cooks, so your entire prep time comes down to how fast you can boil water and cook the pasta.  Maybe 20 minutes?  Not bad. 

* * click here for a printable recipe version * *

Ravioli with Apples and Walnuts
Serves 4

1 lb cheese ravioli
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 crisp apple (Braeburn or Gala), cut into matchsticks
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
¼ cup grated parmesan
2-3 thin slices of prosciutto, chopped (optional)
Salt and pepper

Cook the ravioli according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the walnuts (and prosciutto, if using) and cook, stirring often, until the nuts are toasted and the prosciutto is crisp, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the apple, lemon zest, parsley, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper to the skillet and toss to combine. Spoon over the ravioli and sprinkle with parmesan.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tabbouleh and Greek Chicken

It's finally spring and that means lighter meals and grilled foods.  In this post two recipes are featured - one for a salad and one for grilled chicken - that are unusually versatile because they can be served at room temperature, which makes them perfect make-ahead dishes that would be great for a picnic, weeknight meal, or entertaining.

First let's talk about tabbouleh.  Tabbouleh is a Middle Eastern salad traditionally made of bulgur, tomato, finely chopped parsley and mint, often including onion and garlic, seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice and salt.  It's pronounced tah-boo-lee  and may be spelled tabbouleh, tabouleh, tabbouli, or tabouli.  It's become enormously popular in the United States due to it's light and refreshing combination of tastes.  It's one of my favorite salads to accompany grilled food.

I was first introduced to tabbouleh by my friend Patti, who brought it to a picnic at our house.  Her husband Peter wouldn't touch it, probably because it had vegetables in it.  In Peter's defense, he's English.  He probably grew up on boiled beef and bangers. 

Anyway, bulgur is a dried wheat product with a fine grain.  You can typically find it in the rice section of your store, sold in a box under the Near East brand called "Taboule Mix Wheat Salad" (OK, there's another spelling variation).  Just use the bulgur in the box and throw away the spice packet for this recipe.  I also found bulgur in a clear plastic container in the baking aisle of my store, and in the bulk foods section.  If all else fails, head to a natural food store or co-op.

Bulgur reminds me of couscous in texture and cooking method - you just throw it in some boiling water for a few minutes until softened.

Although bulgur is a key ingredient, there are fresh ingredients that are equally key - cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, parsley and mint.  You might be surprised by the amount of parsley in tabbouleh.  It's not a garnish, it's actually one of the top ingredients by volume.  Check out the relative amounts of each ingredient below. 

The recipe calls for two cups of finely chopped parsley, which is actually about two whole bunches of flat leaf parsley.  Measure the parsley after chopping, not before.  Have you ever wondered about that in recipes?  Here's the difference:

"2 cups of finely chopped parsley" = chop first, measure second
"2 cups of parsley, finely chopped" = measure first, chop second

If you can't find good quality tomatoes, use chopped cherry tomatoes instead.  Don't use canned tomatoes for this recipe because they're too soft and watery. As I mentioned, this is a great salad for picnics or pot lucks because the dressing is olive oil based, not mayonnaise based.

OK, on to Greek Chicken.  I used boneless skinless chicken breasts but you can use any type of chicken pieces you prefer.  They're marinated in olive oil, garlic, lemon, and oregano overnight and grilled until beautiful.

They can be served hot, cold, or at room temperature.  Leftovers would make amazing pita sandwiches with a little of the tabbouleh, some lettuce, and a drizzle of cucumber dressing.

* * click here for a printable Tabbouleh recipe * *

Serves 6

1 cup bulgur wheat
1 ½ cups boiling water
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced (about 2 cups)
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced (about two cups)
½ cup diced red onion
2 cups finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ t salt and ½ t pepper

Place the bulgur in a large bowl. Pour the boiling water over it, stir and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let sit for 15 minutes until the water is absorbed and the bulgur is tender. Drain any excess water from the bulgur. Stir in the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, parsley, and mint.

In a small bowl, whisk the oil, lemon juice, zest, cumin, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well to combine. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour or more. Taste and adjust seasoning before serving. Serve cold or at room temperature.

* * click here for a printable Greek Chicken recipe * *

Greek Chicken
Serves 4

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (or other chicken pieces to serve 4)
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
Juice of 1 large lemon
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons crumbled oregano

Trim chicken and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Combine the remaining ingredients in a gallon zip top bag and add the chicken pieces. Seal and shake to coat all pieces well. Refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight (preferable for best flavor).

Heat a grill over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and grill, turning and basting with the marinade, until the chicken is cooked through (about 5 minutes per side). Serve garnished with lemon wedges.

May be served hot, cold, or at room temperature.

Friday, April 6, 2012

In Praise of Asparagus

Asparagus is such a pretty vegetable, not to mention healthy - it contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatories as well as folate (heart health) and vitamin C.  Plus it's delicious!  Fresh local asparagus is one of the first signs of spring but you can also find it almost year-round in the grocery store.  Sometimes the spears are really thick (better for roasting) and sometimes they're really thin (better for stir fries) but for an asparagus tart you want spears that are medium-sized so they don't turn to mush during the baking period and are cooked to crisp-tenderness.

This tart is really easy and fast to assemble and would make a great brunch or lunch entree, a wonderful first course for a dinner party, or even a light vegetarian dinner with a salad.

Although my asparagus was beautiful, it wanted to curve for some reason.  I optimistically thought that I could talk it into straightening out by wrapping it tightly in paper towels and laying it flat in the refrigerator.  Right.  Anyway, I guess it's a matter of aesthetics whether you prefer your tart to have straight asparagus or curved asparagus.  Or maybe you won't have a choice, like me.  Either way, if you're a fan of asparagus you have to give this a try!

* * click here for a printable Asparagus Tart recipe * *

Asparagus Tart
Serves 4 (entrée) or 6 (first course)

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry
1 ½ cups shredded cheese (gruyere and mozzarella mixed)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 lb asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

Thaw puff pastry according to package directions. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Roll the puff pastry to a 10” by 12” rectangle and place on a baking sheet. Pierce the dough all over with a fork.

Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes, then remove and let cool slightly. Brush the crust with mustard and sprinkle evenly with cheese, leaving a 1" edge on all sides.

Cut the woody ends off the asparagus. Tightly line the crust with asparagus spears, alternating ends and tips and cutting to fit where needed. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake 20 minutes until the crust is well-browned and the asparagus is tender. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into squares.