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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sausage, Pepper and Gnocchi Soup

While visiting with my friend Anne, I asked if she had any good soup recipes. She let me flip through her favorite Cooking Light cookbook, and I merged two recipes to make my own creation. I was quite pleased with the result, so here you go:

Brown 9-10 oz. mild Italian sausage (I used 3 links from a 5-link 16 oz. package) with one chopped onion.
Saute over medium heat until the meat browns and the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add two chopped bell peppers and continue to cook another 3-5 minutes.
Add 1 or 2 chopped garlic cloves, plus dried basil, oregano and red pepper (maybe 1/2 teaspoon of each...I didn't measure). Saute until fragrant.
Add 1 cup leftover champagne. ( might be saying there would never be any leftover champagne lying around your house...unfortunately, this champagne came from Walgreens on Christmas Day when options were limited. Need I say more?) Let it bubble away for a few minutes to concentrate the flavor.
Add 1 can of beef broth, 1 cup leftover chicken broth and 1 can of Italian tomatoes. (The recipes I consulted both called for stewed tomatoes, but then I had to try and break them up with my spatula, so I say just go with diced.)
Simmer until your sister finishes her conference call, about 20 minutes. Once she hangs up, turn up the heat, add 1 pound of dried gnocchi and boil for about 2 minutes or until the gnocchi float.

Add 1 cup of chopped fresh spinach and stir until it wilts. Top with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan and pop in a chick flick. (I recommend "One Day" with Anne Hathaway.)

For dessert, rip open those Christmas sweets you packaged up that morning to give away when you were trying to de-sweetify the house. (Pleased to report we did not sink to the level of pulling anything out of the trash can!)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Leigh Ann's Lasagna

In case you weren't aware, my sister is also a most excellent cook. She decided the holiday was a perfect chance to show off a lasagna recipe she learned this summer in Italy.
She planned ahead and made the meat sauce the day before...
 Then she layered it with fresh noodles from Pasta and Provisions and a hot bechamel sauce.

Check out her clever salad...
 Red, white and green -- get it? It's an Italian flag! Ciao, y'all!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Neil's Birthday

In my continuing attempts to knock Ina off her Hamptons hostess perch...the boys let me be in charge of the food for Neil's birthday party.
Nate and Neil invited some friends over to celebrate with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Here's a look at some of the spread...
This Hot Caramelized Onion Dip with Gruyere and Bacon was a big hit. We served it with kettle chips. Definitely a keeper! Note that it yields only two cups, so you'd want to double it for a larger crowd. 
To go with the veggies, Jason made a yummy tzatziki sauce, loosely based on an Ina Garten recipe, with some improvisation.
My friend Dee suggested I make these ham sandwiches, which she said her husband loves...these are a true Southern party classic!
My favorite were the roast beef and asparagus bundles. They were a bit tricky to make but totally worth the effort.
Take a piece of bibb lettuce and pipe some Boursin cheese down the middle. Add a slice of red bell pepper, an asparagus spear, and half a piece of thinly-sliced roast beef.
Tie the bundle with a chive...or a couple of chives, as I finally figured out. I had to knot two chives together to make it work, but I was quite delighted with the result!
Finally, tiny tomato tarts. I modified the recipe a bit and just mixed all of the filling together for simplicity. 

Jason did a fantastic job with the mixed drinks. The big jar was full of a citrusy gin cocktail, and the small pitcher was a whiskey and apple concoction. Thumbs up for both!
I forgot to mention Neil got the morning off to a great start by making us pancakes.

Sunday morning, I amused myself by turning all of our weekend leftovers in to a tasty quiche. First, I caramelized some shallots. Then I added some of the raw veggies and sauteed those a bit to soften them.
I'd rolled out the pastry scraps from the tomato tarts and made another pie crust, which I filled with the veggie mix, leftover roasted chicken from Friday night, and leftover cheese from the tomato tarts.
The filling was about 3/4 of a cup of sour cream, four eggs and a little fresh basil.

Together with Ben's chocolate orange loaf, it was a perfect morning-after brunch. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Entenmann's Experiment

We had a unique little project going on in the Hamptons this weekend. Nate and Neil's friend Ben is a blogger in L.A. (as in a real blogger, peeps -- his blog gets read by thousands of people who don't know him!). Entemann's sent him a a baking kit and a gift card to try some of the recipes in their new cookbook.

We hit the supermarket on Friday evening to buy our ingredients...
A chapter in the book is called "Almost Homemade." We decided to make the Toffee Coffee Pie...grind up chocolate chip cookies for the crust, mix them with melted butter, and press into a pie plate.

Neil and Nate were dogsitting Molly's brother Oliver this weekend, so we had a kitchen full of canine crumb-seekers...
 The baked crust is sprinkled with toffee bits...
 Spread a pint of softened coffee ice cream on top, add more toffee bits, and freeze until firm.

It was a pretty tasty ending to our dinner of roast chicken, mushroom risotto and salad. (Sorry, I forgot to take pictures of dinner. These are all from Ben's camera.)

Next up was a chocolate and orange bread...

Also in production: cookie truffles. Grind chocolate chip cookies in a food processor and blend with softened cream cheese.
 Roll the cookie and cream cheese mixture into balls, chill and dip into melted chocolate.

While the cookie balls chilled, Ben started on the brownie bite cheesecakes.  We were having friends over for Neil's birthday, so I suggested making miniature cheesecakes instead of one big one. The complimentary muffin tin came in handy.

The cheesecake's crust is made of crumbled brownie bites...we didn't have a rolling pen, so Ben improvised. Unfortunately, the brownies stuck to the makeshift rolling pin...

 Plan B worked better.

 The cream cheese filling went into the blender...
 More brownie bits went into the poured filling.

 And, finally, a treat for Neil's birthday -- lemon meringue pie.

Whew! That's a lot of baking. So, how was it?

The orange chocolate loaf was the clear winner, though the cookie balls were a close second. (Personally, I prefer my friend Kevin's version with Oreos.) I'd put the coffee toffee pie in third place, though the crust was a bit hard. The lemon pie was way too tart for me, but Neil enjoyed it. We all had a bite or two of the cheesecakes and agreed they tasted exactly like what they were. We threw them in the trash.

Not sure I'll be repeating any of the recipes...frankly, if you're going to spend your calories on pre-fab baked goods, why not just enjoy them as they are and save yourself the time and messy cleanup?

Check out Ben's blog for his official report...