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French Onion Soup

  • French, Onion soup, Gruyere

French Onion Soup is so hearty and delicious, it is hard to believe it is made of such simple ingredients. Onions, a good quality beef stock, a little wine, and gruyere cheese and you get a special treat.

French onion soup has always been one of my favorite soups, but I find that it can often be very salty. To avoid this, use a stock that is unsalted or at the very least low-sodium.  This way you have control over the amount of salt to use.

The soup is easy to make, but it does take time to caramelize the onions.  Don’t be in a hurry, the reward for your patience is a delight to your taste buds.

Ingredients:
3 lbs – onion
1 tbls – olive oil
2 tbls – butter
4 cups – beef stock unsalted
2 cups – chicken stock low sodium
2 – bay leaves
2 tbls. – flour
1/2 tsp. – sugar
1 tsp – salt
1 cup – red wine
1/2 tsp – black pepper
French baguette
12 oz. – Gruyere cheese

Directions:
Slice the onions in a food processor. In a large, heavy pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter. When the onions are all sliced, add them to the pot along with 1 teaspoon salt. Stir the onions, and cook about 2 minutes.

Once onions start to soften place the lid on the pot, and cook on a medium-low flame for about 20 minutes until the onions become soft. Be sure to stir occasionally to prevent the onions from burning.

Next add the sugar to help the caramelization of the onions. Turn the heat up to medium and cook until the onions become golden brown. This will take about 15-20 minutes. Stir often.

In the meantime, combine and beef and chicken stock in  a small pot and heat on the stove until ready to use.

Sprinkle the flour over the caramelized onions and stir.

Cook about 3 minutes. Next, deglaze the pot by adding the red wine. Stir, scraping all the brown bits from the bottom. Cook about 1 minute to burn off the alcohol, then add the hot beef and chicken stock mixture. I prefer to use both beef and chicken stock for a more complex flavor.

Add bay leaves and black pepper and bring up to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook about 30 minutes. The soup will thicken a little with the help of the flour. When the soup is done, taste and add salt if needed.

Turn on the broiler of the oven. Slice the french bread into 1/2 inch thick slices. Drizzle a little olive oil and toast.

Ladle the onion soup into oven proof crock soup bowls and add the toasted french bread.

Top off with grated gruyere cheese.

Place the crocks on a cookie sheet and place under the broiler. Do not walk away, this does not take long. Cook until the cheese bubbles and starts to brown on the edges.

Carefully remove the entire cookie sheet from the oven. Wait a couple minutes for the soup crocks to cool a little. Handle using oven mits, and place the crocks on a plate to serve.

Enjoy!

 

French Onion Soup, Gruyere Cheese




Italian Easter Bread

My sisters Vicki and LouAnn, 1958

Easter is synonymous with spring, and it is my favorite time of year. Everything is new and fresh.  The trees and flowers are in bloom, and their vibrant colors are at their peak.   As a child, Easter meant new outfits, Easter Bonnets, chocolate, decorated eggs, and Mom’s Easter Bread.

Me and my older sisters, 1960

I have vivid memories of me and my sisters dressing for Mass on Easter Sunday in our new dresses, patent leather shoes, and of course our Easter Bonnets. Mom was known for her beautiful hats. She wore some of the most spectacular hats adorned with flowers, organza and satin ribbon.  It was a special day for us all.

This year I am celebrating Easter with my family in Pennsylvania, and I have the pleasure of baking the Easter Bread with my sister, Louann.  Baking the bread brought back a lot of memories, so I was compelled to look at old photos. I rummaged through all the old photos and found these two photos of me and my sisters. I had difficulty finding a photo of the three of us together, but luckily I found this one of me in the stroller. I was starting to feel a little left out. It’s the typical “third child” syndrome. As each child was born fewer and fewer photographs were taken.

But back to the bread.  It has a wonderful flavor and it has just a hint of sweetness.  It makes great toast, but can also work well with a sandwich. If you want a sweeter version, you can add candied fruits or use a powered-sugar glaze on top with sprinkles.

Ingredients:
6 – eggs
1 -1/4 cups sugar + 1 -1/2 tbls.
1 – cup butter or margarine
1 -1/4 – cup milk
3 -1/2 – packages active dry yeast
6-8 – cups all purpose flour
1 – oz. pure lemon extract
1 – oz. pure orange extract
1/2 – oz. anise extract (or liquor)
1 – oz. whisky

Directions:
Place the butter in a bowl and melt it in the microwave (or you can melt it in a pot on the stove). Add 3/4 cup of the milk to the melted butter and warm slightly, set aside.


Next place 3-1/2 packages of active dry yeast and 1-1/2 tablespoons of sugar to a medium sized bowl. Pour in 1/2 cup lukewarm milk and mix until the yeast is dissolved. Let it set until the yeast begins to bubble and grow in size.

While the yeast is activating, add the eggs to the large bowl of a mixer and whip the eggs until they become frothy, then slowly drizzle in 1-1/4 cups sugar. Continue mixing until well incorporated, about 2-3 minutes. Add the extracts and whiskey and mix for about 1 minute more.

Pour the egg mixture into a large stock pot or large bowl and add the butter mixture and yeast.

Mix together and then add in the flour one cup at a time. The amount of flour you use varies as it depends on the size of the eggs. Don’t be concerned if you do not use all 8 cups.  Mix with a whisk until it becomes difficult to do. Then use your hands to mix the rest. The dough should be a little sticky. Grease the sides of the pot with a little canola or vegetable oil so that the dough does not stick.

Cover the pot with a clean dish towel and place in a warm area to rise until doubled in size. This takes about 3 hours.

Once the dough has doubled in size, use your fists and punch it down. The recipe will make 4-5 loaves. Divide the dough into 4 or 5 loaves. Use a kitchen scale and measure about 18 oz. per bread pan. You have the option to make plain loaves or braided loaves. Grease the bread pans well with shortening or non-stick spray.

To braid the bread, divide the dough into three equal parts. Roll each part into the shape of a log a little longer than the length of the bread pan you are using.

Press the ends of the three logs together and make a braid.

Place the braid in the bread pan, cover with a dish towel and let rise in a warm place until it comes to the top of the pan. This will take about 3 hours.

Prepare an egg wash for the top of the loaves by whisking one egg with 2 tablespoons with water.  Brush the tops of the loaves with the egg wash just before putting them into the oven. Place 2 loaves at a time in the center of a pre-heated 300° oven. Bake for approximately 45-55 minutes.  Check at 40 minutes and continue cooking until golden brown.

This recipes is time consuming, but well worth it.

Enjoy!




Focaccia with Potato, Grape Tomatoes, and Rosemary

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Focaccia di patata con pomodorini e rosmarino

This focaccia is moist and delicious. I like to serve it by itself or along with cheese and various types of salami. I learned how to make this from my best friend, Roberta. The unusual thing about this recipe is that it is made with potato. This is a common method used in Italy. The potato gives the focaccia the perfect texture…it is soft and moist and the crust has just the right amount of crispness. The focaccia also is a great alternative for making a sandwich.

Ingredients for focaccia:
1 – large Idaho potato (5 inches long)
1 – pkg. Active Dry Yeast
1 3/4 – cups warm water
1 – tbls. sugar
5 – cups all purpose flour
1 – tbls. salt
1/4 – cup extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for coating)

Toppings:
15 – grape tomatoes
1 – tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 – tsp. coarse sea salt
2 – tbls. extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:
Scrub a large Idaho potato and place it in a pot of water to boil until a fork can be inserted into it easily, approximately 15 minutes. Remove from the boiling water and let cool completely. Peel the potato and mash with a potato masher or you can use a potato ricer if you have one.

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Take 1 3/4 cups warm water and add one package of Active Dry Yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar. Stir and let stand about 10 minutes while the yeast activates, and becomes bubbly.

After 10 minutes
After 10 minutes

In a large mixing bowl, add the flour. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture.

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Using the dough hook of your mixer, mix the flour and yeast until semi-incorporated, about 1 minute. Next add the mashed potato, salt, and 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil.

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Continue mixing the dough for about 5 minutes.

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The dough will be a little sticky. Turn it out on to a lightly floured board.img_1339

Continue kneading by hand about one minute more until the dough is soft and elastic.

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It should be slightly sticky, do not over work the dough. Pour a little olive oil in the mixing bowl and return the ball of dough to the bowl.

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Drizzle a little oil on top of the dough, cover the bowl with a clean dish towel and let rise for about 2 hours in a warm area. The dough should double in size.

Doubled in size
Doubled in size

Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out on to a lightly floured board and knead by hand for about one minute. The dough should feel smooth and silky.

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After kneading by hand

Pour 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil on a jelly roll pan (12″ x 17″) and spread around to cover the surface. Place the dough on the pan and stretch with your hands to fill the pan with the dough. It does not have to fill the pan completely. Using your fingers, poke holes in the dough.

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Drizzle a little oil over top and spread it around with your hands. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise for another hour until it doubles in size.

Doubled in size
Doubled in size

While the dough is rising, slice in half about 15 grape tomatoes, and chop about 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, but first remove the needles from the stem. Set aside until the dough is ready to go into the oven.

Once the dough has doubled in size, place the tomato halves cut side down on the surface of the dough. Press them in gently. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil over the top and spread it evenly with your hand. Then sprinkle the rosemary and salt evenly over the surface.

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If you do not like rosemary or tomatoes, you can use almost anything you like, such as onion, olives, peppers, and various herbs and spices.  Be as creative as you like.

Bake in a preheated 425° oven for 25-30 minutes, until the focaccia is golden brown.

Remove from the oven and slide the focaccia out of the pan onto a cooling rack.  Let rest about 10 minutes before slicing so that you do not release all the steam.

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Buon appetito!




Corn Muffins

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Corn muffins are one of my favorite breakfast or snack foods.  They have just the right amount of sweetness and are satisfying and delicious.  They are also great toasted with butter.  The nice thing about this recipe is its versatility.  You can make them sweet, more like a muffin as in the recipe below, or you can add less sugar that makes them more like cornbread.

I have also added Greek yogurt in place of some of the milk, which makes the muffins moist; and a little honey to give them a little extra flavor.

1 – cup white corn meal
1 – cup all purpose flour
1/2 – cup sugar
1 – tbls. baking powder
1 – tsp. salt
2 – eggs
1/2 – cup whole milk
1/4 – cup canola oil
2 – generous tbls. honey
5 – oz. container of plain Greek yogurt

In a large mixing bowl, combine the corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix with a fork and make a well in the center. In a small mixing bowl add the eggs, canola oil, honey and whisk until well incorporated.

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Pour the egg mixture into the center of the dry mixture and using a whisk stir the ingredients until they start to form a ball.  Do not use an electric mixer.

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Just as the batter starts to come together, add the yogurt and continue to stir until all incorporated.

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Mix just enough to incorporate the flour, do not over mix.

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Spray a muffin pan with cooking spray so that the muffins do not stick to the pan. Divide the batter equally into 12 muffins.

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Bake in a preheated 425° oven for 15-20 minutes.  Check at 15 minutes by inserting a knife in the center.  If it comes out clean the muffins are ready.

Note:  If you want to make them less sweet like cornbread, use only 1/4 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon honey.




Southern Fried Chicken, Collard Greens, and Corn Bread

img_0981Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I am no stranger to Southern cooking.  There is nothing I like better than going home to visit my family and sitting down with them to enjoy a good meal.  I had a taste for collard greens so my sister, Vicki, and I decided to cook together.  Vicki took the lead on this meal.  She combines the collard greens with kale; they make a great combination.  Since we were having collard greens it only made sense to have corn bread and chicken to go with them.  This is the perfect comfort meal to share with people you love.

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Me and my family

Southern Fried Chicken

Ingredients:
2 – lbs chicken parts with skin
4 – cups all purpose flour
1 – tsp. garlic powder
1 – tsp. black pepper
1 – tsp. salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Directions:
Rinse the chicken parts in cold water and pat dry with paper towel. In a large plastic bag add the flour, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper and mix well.

In a large deep skillet, add enough canola or vegetable oil to fill the pan half way. Heat the oil to 350° or you can test if the oil is ready by sprinkling a pinch of flour into the oil. If it sizzles on impact the oil is ready.

Put about 4-5 pieces of chicken in the flour mixture at a time and mix in the bag until completely coated. Shake off the excess flour and carefully place the pieces in the hot oil. Do not over crowd the chicken. You can cover it with a lid and let cook about 10 minutes on each side. Cook on a medium flame so as not to burn the outside. Turn the pieces over and cook again about 10 minutes. The internal temperature should be 165°. Please note that dark meat and white meat cook at different rates; the white meat cooks a little faster than the dark.img_0961

Continue cooking a few pieces at a time until all the chicken is done. Serve immediately.

Collard Greens and Kale

Ingredients:
2 – bunches collard greens
2 – bunches kale
1 – small onion
6 – strips of bacon
2 – quarts chicken stock
1 – tsp. salt
1/2 – tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 – tsp. garlic powder
1 – tsp. baking soda
Red pepper flake to taste

Directions:
Wash the greens and kale thoroughly in water and drain. Remove the the leafy parts of both the collard greens and kale from the thick stalks. Chop only the leafy parts of the greens into narrow bands and then give another rough chop to cut the bands in pieces.

In a large skillet fry the bacon. Once the bacon is almost cooked through, cut it into one inch pieces. Dice the onion and add it to the bacon and continue cooking until the onion becomes translucent, about 5-6 minutes.

Pour the chicken stock into a large pot and add the bacon and onion mixture along with the bacon grease. Add the black pepper, garlic powder, and salt. If the chicken broth is salted you may want to taste it before you add the salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the greens to the chicken stock, cover with a lid and bring back to a boil. Once it is boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook until tender. This takes about 1 1/2 hours.

img_0956After about 20-30 minutes of cooking, you will notice that the greens are starting to cook down. At this point add the baking soda and stir to incorporate it. The baking soda helps to make the greens tender. Stir the greens occasionally until tender.

Corn Bread
My sister uses Jiffy Corn Muffin mix. I am sure that there are many good recipes from scratch out there, but we find this mix to be very good, so why change it?

Start with 2 boxes of Jiffy Corn Muffin mix. Follow the directions on img_0949the box. Grease a 9″ square baking pan with either canola or vegetable oil. In addition, my sister adds 2 tbls. of oil to the mix, but warm it up first. This is a little trick to make the cornbread more moist. Bake according to the box directions.  Serve immediately.

Enjoy!




French Bread Rolls

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Everyone likes the smell of bread baking in the oven, and these rolls will not be the exception.  These are the same rolls that my mother made every year for Christmas Eve. They are great for any type of sandwich, and easy to make.

Christmas Eve with my family is my most cherished childhood memory.  As most Italian families, we abstained from eating meat on Christmas Eve, and ate fish instead.  However, we celebrated well beyond midnight so we were permitted to indulge in meat at that time. We went to midnight Mass while Mom stayed home and prepared a baked ham and made the French rolls for us to have when we returned.  The rolls were still hot when she served them.  The anticipation of the hot rolls and fresh baked ham made it difficult to stay focused during Mass.

We stayed up most of the night celebrating with family and friends who stopped by after Mass. This was my favorite part of the holiday; spending time with family, talking, eating, and maybe even opening a gift or two.

Ingredients:

3 – cups lukewarm water
1 – tbls. salt
1 – tbls. sugar
2 – pkgs. active dry yeast
2 – tbls. canola or vegetable oil
8 – cups unbleached bread flour

Directions:

Place the yeast, sugar, and water in a medium sized bowl. Stir to dissolve and let rest about 10 minutes until the yeast forms bubbles on the surface. Place the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the yeast mixture in the center and add the oil and salt. Using a fork, begin to mix in the flour.

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Add more water if necessary. Once most of the liquid is absorbed you will need to use your hands to mix the dough. Continue mixing until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn it out onto a lightly floured board and knead until elastic, about 5 minutes.

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Coat a large bowl with a little oil and place the dough inside, then brush a little oil on top of the dough to keep it moist.

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Cover with a clean dish towel and keep it in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured board and knead about one minute. Divide the dough into 32 equal pieces. Form balls and place on a greased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. If you want larger rolls, divide the dough into 24 pieces.  Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

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Ready for oven after rising one hour.

Bake in a pre-heated 400° oven for 25 minutes or until light golden brown.

Remove from oven and brush tops with melted butter, and place on cooling rack.




Challah French Toast with Three Berry Compote

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French toast is one of my favorite breakfast treats, and the Challah bread makes it even better. I like to make a special breakfast to kick off our holiday celebrations.

Ingredients:

1 – loaf Challah bread
3 – eggs
1 – cup whole milk
1 1/2 – tsp. pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Butter for frying

Directions:

Slice the bread on the diagonal in 1″ slices. In a 9″ square baking dish, add the eggs, milk, salt, and vanilla, and whisk until smooth. Heat butter in a large skillet (iron skillet or non-stick skillet are best).

Dip the bread in the egg mixture on both sides until completely soaked with egg.

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Carefully lift the bread with a spatula and place in the skillet. Cook on a medium flame until golden brown, about 3 minutes on both sides.

Three Berry Compote

Ingredients:

3 – cups frozen mixed berries (strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries)
1/4 – cup apricot brandy
1/8 – cup orange juice
2 – tbls. sugar

Directions:

Pour the brandy and sugar in a medium sized sauce pan. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the frozen berries and orange juice. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer, and let cook about 12 minutes.

Serve the french toast with the fruit compote and sprinkle with cinnamon and powered sugar.

Enjoy!




Banana Nut Yogurt Bread

I had some very ripe bananas and decided to make a banana bread.  I took a recipe that I have used in the past and changed a few ingredients.  I added brown sugar along with the sugar in the raw, and instead of milk I used a container of Chobani Greek blueberry yogurt I had on hand.  Blueberries and bananas go well together so I took a chance.  The result was one of the best banana breads I have ever eaten.  It is moist and delicious, with just the right balance of banana and blueberry.  Give it a try, I’m sure you will like it too. 

Ingredients:

2 – cups sifted all purpose flour
1 – tsp. baking soda
5.3 – oz. Chobani Greek Blueberry Yogurt
3/4 – cup sugar in the raw (or granulated sugar)
1/2 – cup light brown sugar
1/2 – cup butter (unsalted)
2 – eggs
1/2 – tsp. salt
3-4 – very ripe bananas
2 – tsp. pure vanilla extract
3/4 – cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Directions:

Cream butter and sugar (butter should be at room temperature). Add eggs and mix about one minute until completely incorporated. Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda and add to the egg mixture in three batches, alternating with the yogurt. Mix until all the flour is completely incorporated.

Add the vanilla. Smash the bananas with a spatula or potato masher and add them to the batter and mix well. Fold in the chopped nuts and pour into a greased bread pan.

Bake at 350°   for 1 hr. – 20 min.  or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Check at one hour.  If the top is very brown, loosely cover with aluminum foil so it doesn’t burn while it finishes baking.




Bruschetta 3 Ways

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Bruschetta is a simple and versatile appetizer to make for any dinner party or holiday gathering. You can use what ever ingredients you like…vegetables, cheese, beans, prosciutto or other cured meats. The only secret is to use good ingredients. Here are three easy ideas for you to try.

Ingredients:
1 – loaf of French baguette or crusty long loaf of Italian bread
2 – cloves garlic
Extra virgin olive oil

Bruschetta #1: Tomato and Basil:

Ingredients:
2 – medium ripe tomatoes
1/2 – medium shallot
7 – fresh basil leaves
1 – tbls. fresh parsley
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
2 – tbls olive oil

Directions:

Dice the tomatoes. I suggest dicing them by hand so they maintain their texture. Place the diced tomatoes in a medium sized bowl. Add finely diced shallot and chopped basil. You can stack the basil leaves together, roll them, and then chop them all at once. This makes it a little easier to do.  Next chop the parsley and add to the tomatoes.  Drizzle the olive oil and add salt and black pepper to taste.  Mix and set aside until ready to use.

Slice the bread on a diagonal, about 1/2″ thick. Place under broiler or toaster oven until lightly golden brown. Do not leave the bread unattended, because it will toast very quickly. Remove the bread from the oven, and take a peeled clove of garlic and rub it on the surface of the warm toasted bread. Brush olive oil over the bread and top with tomato mixture. Serve immediately.

Bruschetta #2: Goat Cheese, Walnuts and Honey

Ingredients:
4 – oz. Goat cheese
4 – oz. raw walnuts
Honey

Directions:

Toast the walnuts (the quickest method is on the stove). Do not chop the nuts. Place them in a dry, heavy skillet on a medium flame. Cook them about 2 minutes until they start to brown. Stir constantly so that they do not burn.  Set aside until ready to use them.

Slice the bread on a diagonal, about 1/2″ thick. Place under broiler or toaster oven until lightly golden brown. Do not leave the bread unattended, because it will toast very quickly under the broiler. Remove the bread from the oven, and spread the goat cheese directly on top while the bread is still warm. Place two or three pieces of walnut on top of the goat cheese, and then drizzle with honey. Serve immediately.

Bruschetta #3: Cremini Mushrooms and Red Bell Pepper:

Ingredients:
1 – red bell pepper
1 – medium shallot
10 – oz. cremini mushrooms
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
1/4 – tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Directions:

Wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp cloth and slice in quarters (more if mushroom is large). Slice the red pepper in half and remove the stem and seeds then make 1/4″ slices. Heat 1 tbls. of olive oil in a large skillet and add the peppers. Cook about 2-3 minutes until they just start to soften. Dice the shallot and add to the peppers along with the mushrooms. Add salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir and sauté until the mushrooms begin to brown and the onions soften. It will take about 6-7 minutes on a medium flame. Stir often to avoid them sticking to the pan.

Prepare the bread in the same manner as for Bruschetta #1.

Buon appetito