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Love at first bite — chocolate krispie hearts

Chocolate krispie treats were a staple of school bake sales when I was young — not surprising since they are easy enough for a middle schooler to make his or herself and don’t involve baking.  I’m surprised that I don’t often see the chocolate version in the states.

No exaggeration, these treats came together in less than five minutes. They do take another 30 minutes to cool and set up. Stirring the mixture will be easier if you first grease a rubber spatula with butter or spray it with a canola oil baking spray.  I used milk chocolate chips because I already had a bag in my pantry, but you could certainly use dark or bittersweet chocolate.  Since it is Valentine’s Day, when the treats were cool, I made heart-shaped treats by cutting them out with a buttered a heart shaped cookie cutter.    This recipe makes about six hearts, depending on the size of your cutter, and you will have a extra krispie treats around the borders.  You can also just cut them into the more typical bars.  You will have more treats that way.

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Love at first bite — chocolate krispie hearts

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 6 chocolate krispie hearts, more if you just cut them into bars.

Love at first bite — chocolate krispie hearts

Ingredients

  • 6 oz. butter
  • 10 1/2 oz. (one bag) mini marshmallows
  • 10 oz. milk chocolate chips or grated dark chocolate
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 oz. puffed rice cereal such as Rice Krispies

Instructions

  1. Butter an 8 by 8 dish.
  2. Melt butter in a large saucepan.
  3. Add the marshmallows,chocolate and salt. Stir with a greased rubber spatula until all the ingredients are melted.
  4. Stir in the puffed rice cereal until all the grains are coated with the marshmallow/chocolate mixture.
  5. Turn out into the buttered dish, spread out evenly and pat down the surface until it's even.
  6. Let cool for 30 minutes.
  7. Butter the inside of a heart-shaped cookie cutter. When the chocolate krispie treats are cool, cut out heart shaped treats. You can skip the cookie cutter and just cut them into bars.
http://40shadesofflavor.com/love-first-bite-chocolate-krispie-hearts/

Top Chef Home Edition

This winter, in the 21st century equivalent of “hey kids, let’s put on a show”,  my friend Pete and his friends and neighbors in “Halsted Flats” — a very stylish apartment building on Chicago’s north side — have been holding their own “Top Chef” cooking contests prior to watching the latest episodes of “Top Chef Season 12.”  They recorded the weekly cook-offs on smart phones and posted short videos of “Top Chef Halsted Flats” on Tumblr: topchefhf.tumblr.com

I was surprised and honored to be invited to judge the final contest to decide the winner of “Top Chef Halsted Flats.”  What a fun night of great and inventive food and, of course, wine.  The Girl Power team of Julia and Jojo and the boys’ team of Peter and David engaged in a saucepan to saucepan battle for the title of “Top Chef.”

Top Chef Halsted Flats finalists, David, Pete, Julia and Jojo.

Top Chef Halsted Flats finalists, David, Pete, Julia and Jojo.

Pete and Julia.

Pete and Julia.

 

Julia and Jojo’s three course menu was inspired by the Spice Girls who also provided the soundtrack to the Girl Power kitchen.  Here’s the Girl Power menu:

Top Chef Boystown 047

In case you can’t read it, the first course was “scary” scallops with bacon and cream, “sporty” salmon with a soy and Dijon mustard glaze over “posh” squid ink pasta with truffle and champagne sauce with “Baby Ginger” chocolate and ginger spice cake pops with chocolate frosting paired with ginger beer.

Baby and Ginger Spice cake pops with ginger beer.

Baby and Ginger Spice cake pops with ginger beer.

Pete and David chose an Asian theme — pork pot stickers in a miso broth with ginger and lemongrass, Asian style stir fried pork in napa cabbage cups and an almond cookie with green tea-lychee ice cream, lychee and raspberry syrup.

Asian style pork cups

Asian style pork cups

More than the kitchens became heated.  The three judges engaged in lively discussions about the merits of each dish and the overall menus before awarding the title to Pete and Dave’s team.  Ultimately, the Girl Power team lost points for failing to take full advantage of the theme  they had chosen by not opting to include spices in each course.

Top Chef Halsted Flats winning team David and Peter in Peter's kitchen.

Top Chef Halsted Flats winning team David and Peter in Peter’s kitchen.

In addition to bragging rights, the winning team won the chef’s aprons and a copy of Chicago’s very own Top Chef Stephanie Izard’s cookbook “Girl in the Kitchen.”

For those confident enough in their culinary skills to compete for the real title, Bravo is holding an open casting call in Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 11 for contestants for “Top Chef, Season 13.  Apply here: http://www.topchefcasting.com/

Belfast’s Vibrant Restaurant Scene

In a recent regular Travel Section feature “36 Hours”, the New York Times called a visit to Belfast “an eye opening experience in the best possible way” and praised its vibrant restaurant scene.  The writers gave shout outs to the Taste of Ulster sharing boards at Robinson and Cleaver, the Crown Liquour Saloon and Ox.  Click on the link to read the article and watch the video.

 

Hot toddy with ginger and lemon

I woke up on Sunday morning to this.

Snowy morning Feb. 1, 2015

Snowy morning Feb. 1, 2015

It got worse, the storm eventually dropped more than 19 inches of snow on Chicago.  It was “Superbowl Sunday”, but who really wants an ice cold beer during a blizzard or the next day spent digging out from the snowpocalypse? This is hot toddy weather.   To boost the drink’s heat index, I like to add a piece of crystallized ginger to the whiskey, water, sugar and lemon.  Hot whiskey is sometimes called  “Irish chicken soup” because it’s a folk cure for a cold or sore throat.  I’m not sure whether this hot toddy will cure a cold, but I guarantee that you will feel better after drinking it.

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Hot toddy with ginger and lemon

Hot toddy with ginger and lemon

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. Irish whiskey
  • 1 cube demerara sugar or tsp. brown sugar or honey
  • 1 piece of crystallised ginger
  • 1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Slice of lemon for garnish
  • 1 cup very hot water

Instructions

  1. Boil water.
  2. Add whiskey, sugar, ginger and lemon juice to a glass.
  3. Place a metal teaspoon in the glass to conduct the heat from the hot water away from the glass to prevent it from breaking.
  4. Add hot water to the whiskey. Garnish with slice of lemon.
http://40shadesofflavor.com/hot-toddy-ginger-lemon/

 

Roasted Salmon with Lemon Butter

One of my friends call this roasted salmon “the beautiful dinner.”    There is no doubt that this is a dish that rises to the occasion.  I’ve made it for a gathering to support a friend whose mother had passed away and more recently for a special birthday dinner.  Even the birthday girl’s husband — a notoriously picky eater who is usually just so-so about salmon — asked for second helpings.

Since the flavor of the salmon shines through this simple preparation it is important to buy the best salmon you can find.   In general, wild salmon will have the best flavor, but it is not available fresh year round.   When wild salmon is out of season, seek out a fish monger who sells sustainably farmed fish.  I recently found sweet, melt in your mouth, salmon from Loch Duairt, Scotland at Dirk’s Fish Market in Chicago.

I was inspired by a recipe for whole, baked salmon in Colman Andrew’s “The Country Cooking of Ireland.”  Since I don’t often see whole salmon in Chicago fish markets, I typically use a large salmon fillet.  I usually serve it with boiled new potatoes in their skins with lots of Irish butter or roasted fingerling potatoes and a spinach gratin.

Almost as delicious is leftover cold salmon for lunch the next day served with a peppery watercress mayonnaise.  Watercress is salmon’s natural partner — what grows together goes together.  As a bonus, the bright spring green mayo served with the pink fish is a beautiful plate.  To make the mayonnaise, puree a bunch of trimmed and finely chopped watercress in a food processor with two tablespoons of mayonnaise.   Stir the watercress puree into a cup of mayonnaise.

Roasted Salmon with Lemon Butter

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 4 serving

Serving Size: 3 inch/7.5 cm. per piece

Roasted Salmon with Lemon Butter

The flavor of the fish shines through this simple recipe, so use the best salmon you can find.

Ingredients

  • 2 lb./ 1 kg. salmon fillets
  • 1/4 cup/ 60 kg. Irish butter softened
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F/190 degrees C.
  2. With some of the butter, lightly grease a roasting pan
  3. Lay the salmon fillet on the greased pan.
  4. Drizzle the lemon juice over the fish.
  5. Dot with about 2 Tbsp. of butter.
  6. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes (8 to 10 minutes per lb./15 to 20 minutes per kg.)
  7. Season with salt and pepper.
  8. Cut into pieces about 3 inches/7.5 cm. wide.
http://40shadesofflavor.com/roasted-salmon-lemon-butter/

 

The Irish Secret to Mashed Potatoes

 

Mashed potatoes

Mashed potatoes

Mashed potatoes are surprisingly difficult to get right.   I learned the secret to making perfect mashed potatoes in Ireland, and the Irish certainly know their way around spuds.  I am going to share it with you here.

Great mash begins with using the right kind of potatoes.  There are two kinds — floury and waxy — and they are not interchangeable.   The waxy potatoes are small, new potatoes that are perfect for recipes where the potato needs to hold its shape such as potato salad.  They are also good boiled or pan roasted.  For mashed potatoes, choose a starchy potato — in America that would be a russet (sometimes labeled baking potatoes in the supermarket) or a Yukon Gold.    Three large potatoes will make enough mashed potatoes for four people.  You will also need half a cup of whole milk or cream, two tablespoons of butter and salt and pepper.

Select potatoes that are unblemished and hard as rocks.  I prefer to buy them loose rather than in plastic bags because it’s easier to inspect them for blemishes or green spots.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into uniform quarters.  It’s important that the potato pieces are all the same size so they cook at the same time.

Wash the potato quarters and place them into a pot that is large enough for all the potato pieces to fit in a single layer.  Add enough cold water to cover the potatoes by half an inch.   Add a pinch of salt.  Put the pot on the stove at a high heat to bring to a boil.  When the water comes to a boil, turn the heat down and let the potatoes simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes until the potato pieces are soft in the center when tested with a fork.

Drain the potatoes.  This is the secret to fluffy, floury mashed potatoes.   Place the drained potatoes back into the pot, cover with a clean, cotton dish (tea) towel, cover the pot and place it back on a very low heat for about five minutes to dry out the potatoes.

While the potatoes are drying, heat cream or whole milk and butter in a saucepan.  Warm the cream/butter mixture until the butter melts, but don’t let it come to a boil.

Turn off the heat under the potatoes.  Gradually add the heated cream and butter mixture — you may not need it all.   Mash the potatoes by hand with a potato masher — do not use a hand mixer or stick blender — or worst of all, a stand mixer.  All of them will turn the starch in the potatoes to glue.  When the potatoes are mashed, taste them and season them.   Since the potatoes were cooked in salt, you may only need to add pepper.  If serving the mashed potatoes family-style in a large bowl, make a well in the center of the potatoes and add two tablespoons of butter.

Secret of Chicago’s Top Chefs

Green City Market Cookbook

 

Chicago top chefs Rick Bayless and Stephanie Izard know that great cooking starts with fresh, seasonal ingredients.   They, along with many other top restaurants, shop at Chicago’s award-winning Green City Market, the city’s premier market for local and sustainable food.  The market’s first ever cookbook will be published this month by Agate Publishing of Evanston, Ill.  Organized by season, it includes recipes by Bayless, Izard and other leading lights of the Chicago food scene such as Carrie Nahabedian and Sarah Stegner.   Market vendors, customers and volunteers like me also contributed their favourite market inspired dishes.  I am still thrilled and astonished that my recipe for roasted asparagus lasagna made the book (it’s on page 34.)  I feel a little like a garage band whose song has been included in a compilation album with Bruce Springsteen and U2.

It’s an indispensable addition to the cookbook collection of anyone who likes to cook seasonally, shops at farmers markets or subscribes to CSAs.  The book will be released July 17 at the Chicago food event of the summer, the Green City Market Chef’s BBQ benefit.  It can be preordered on the Green City Market web site here: https://www.greencitymarket.org/cookbook/index.asp

This is me with my dish of roasted asparagus lasagna.

gcm cookbook selfie

 

Who is America’s Top Irish Chef?

2013-09-09_1378748959Chef Cathal Armstrong

 

Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, VA.

Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, VA.

 

I am very proud that one of America’s top chefs is Dublin born Cathal Armstrong, owner of seven restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area and a James Beard nominee. I have been reading about him and his recipes in national food magazines such as “Food and Wine” for years.  I promised myself that the next time I was in the Washington, D.C. area I would make my way to Old Town Alexandria to eat at one of his restaurants.   Last week, I was fortunate enough to eat at the two restaurants named for his children — the counter service “Eamonn’s, a  Dublin Chipper” and the very elegant Restaurant Eve.  “Food and Wine” called him “a one-man urban renewal engine” for revitalizing the Alexandria restaurant scene using French techniques and local produce.  Friends who live in the area confirm that food options in the historic D.C. suburb were dull before he opened his first restaurant ten years ago.  I admire his commitment to the environment by cooking with local, sustainably sourced ingredients — going so far as to plant a garden at his restaurant — and only using environmentally friendly products at this establishments.  He was recognized by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for establishing an organization called Chefs as Parents to promote healthy school lunches.

With its $120 dinner tasting menu, for me Restaurant Eve would normally rank as a special occasion restaurant.  Fortunately, it offers a fantastic deal at lunchtime in the lounge — the “lickety-split” lunch is an unbelievable $14.95 for two courses.  I ate a velvety asparagus soup made with local, first of the season asparagus, shallots, cream, wine and olive oil  that was spring in a bowl and very tasty pork rillettes with a grainy mustard sauce and toasted baquette.

Asparagus soup from Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, Va.

Asparagus soup, Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, Va.

There was quite a crowd in the lounge even after 1 p.m. on a Thursday. Because I was alone, they were able to squeeze me in at the bar.  Supporting my theory that this is often the best seat in the house, a conversation with my dining neighbor, a Restaurant Eve regular, led to an introduction to Chef Armstrong who signed my copy of his cookbook, “My Irish Table.” Co-written with David Hagedorn and published by Ten Speed Press, it includes his take on homey and sophisticated Irish dishes along with recipes from Restaurant Eve.  For more information on the book see the web site: http://www.myIrishtable.com.

This past weekend I tried his very easy version of the classic Marie Rose sauce — an indispensable component of the Dublin Bay Prawn Cocktail.   The rosy sauce is simply mayonnaise, ketchup and lemon juice.  It’s a wonderful accompaniment to seafood.  I don’t understand why it’s not served more often in the States. I substituted large, gulf shrimp for the Dublin Bay prawns.   I can’t wait to try his other recipes and report back here.

More information about Chef Cathal Armstrong, Restaurant Eve and his other restaurants is available at http://www.restauranteve.com.

 

Spinach and Candied Bacon Salad

Spinach and Candied Bacon Salad

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 12 minutes

Total Time: 17 minutes

Yield: Serves 4

Spinach and Candied Bacon Salad

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of spinach, washed and trimmed
  • 6 slices of thick cut bacon, trimmed of excess fat and diced
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup of whole, unsalted pecans
  • 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/4 tsp.cayenne
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 4 oz. of blue cheese, crumbled
  • Dressing:
  • 2 tbsp. maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1. Wash and dry the spinach. Trim stems.
  2. Fry the bacon until crisp and drain off most of the fat. Return the pan to the heat, add the maple syrup and brown sugar. Stir to coat the bacon. Remove from the pan and let cool on parchment paper.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover pecans with water for one minute. Drain using a sieve and shake off excess water. Whisk together the confectioners' sugar, cayenne and kosher salt. Add the pecans. Stir to coat nuts evenly. Place nuts in a sieve and shake off excess sugar. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the sugared nuts on the pan. They tend to clump, so separate them. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, turning nuts over half way through baking. Remove from the oven when they are golden brown. Let cool.
  4. Combine spinach, bacon, nuts and cheese in a large bowl. Whisk together the dressing. Add to salad bowl and toss.

Notes

The spiced pecans are delicious by themselves as a snack. You will have enough of the sugar mixture to coat a cup of pecans, so I advise making a cup of the spiced nuts. Trust me, you won't regret it. I sometimes substitute ground cinnamon for the cayenne.

http://40shadesofflavor.com/spinach-candied-bacon-salad/

In a twitter chat earlier this week I mentioned that one of my favorite toppings for salad greens is candied bacon.  I immediately received a flurry of requests for the recipe.   It is as delicious as it sounds and ridiculously easy to make.   I also include spiced pecans and blue cheese in this salad.   In the autumn, I add slices of crisp, tart apple from the farmers’ market.

If you like this recipe, please share it.

 

 

St. Patrick’s Day Soup

St. Patrick’s Day Soup

Yield: 4 servings

St. Patrick’s Day Soup

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 russet potatoes, washed, peeled and diced
  • 2 leeks – tough outer green leaves removed, washed and chopped
  • ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 ½ pints chicken stock
  • Salt and white pepper
  • 6 oz. watercress, washed and chopped.
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • Shamrock croutons:
  • Shamrock shaped cookie cutter
  • 4 slices whole wheat bread
  • 4 tsps. butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Irish cheddar cheese.

Instructions

  1. In a large saucepan or dutch oven heat olive oil and butter over a moderate heat. Add the onion, potatoes and leeks. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Pour in the chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
  3. Stir in the chopped watercress until it wilts. Add the cream and nutmeg.
  4. Remove from the heat, let soup cool. Puree using a hand blender, blender or food processor.. Adjust seasoning and warm before serving.
  5. Shamrock croutons:
  6. Use the cookie cutter to cut out shamrock shapes.
  7. Butter one side of the shamrock crouton.
  8. Toast under a broiler or toaster oven on toast setting.
  9. Remove from the heat, turn the crouton over and sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese.
  10. Return to the broiler or toaster oven -- cheese side up -- until the cheese is melted and starts to brown.
  11. Ladle warmed soup into bowls. Place the shamrock crouton on top.

Notes

Photo courtesy of Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board.

http://40shadesofflavor.com/st-patricks-day-soup/

Warm up after the chilly St. Patrick’s Day parade with this hearty, watercress and potato soup with festive shamrock croutons.  Watercress is a semiaquatic plant with a peppery flavor that has been eaten in Ireland for centuries.  It was one of the foods given as tribute to Irish kings.  Ireland’s second best known saint, Saint Brendan — who according to legend discoverd North America — was said to have subsisted on watercress.  If the vegetable provided Saint Brendan with the stamina to cross the rough Atlantic it will surely provide enough energy to get through a weekend of Paddy’s Day activities.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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