Tea Sandwiches

>> Saturday, April 30, 2011

In honor of the royal wedding, my daughter and I hosted a British-themed play group yesterday morning. Of course, the menu was appropriate for an English tea. We served two kinds of tea sandwiches, scones, biscuits (AKA cookies) and hot tea. Although since we live in Texas, no one took me up on the hot tea!

I love tea sandwiches! I always prefer to nibble on lots of different things rather than having to commit to one main dish, and since tea sandwiches are so small, I can munch on each kind. In case you're not planning on hosting a tea anytime soon, they are also great for baby or wedding showers.

In addition to the two kinds I made, here are a few other ideas for fillings: egg salad; smoked salmon, cream cheese, dill and cucumber; chicken salad; pimento cheese; ham, cheese and honey or dijon mustard; and grated carrot, arugula, and cream cheese on raisin bread.

The Easiest Cucumber Tea Sandwich
1 loaf thin white sandwich bread (I like Pepperidge Farm brand)
1 8-oz pkg onion and chives cream cheese, softened
1 cucumber, peeled and very thinly sliced (use a mandolin if you own one)
salt and pepper
mayonnaise (optional)
minced chives or parsley (optional)

Spread each piece of bread with a thin layer of cream cheese. Top half of the slices of bread with cucumber slices, overlapping them slightly, and sprinkle cucumber slices with a pinch of slat and pepper. Place the remaining slices of bread on top of the cucumber. Remove the crusts and slice each sandwich in half diagonally.

To up the ante a bit, you can spread a very thin layer of mayonnaise on one cut side of the sandwich and then dip it in the fresh herbs.

Pear, Blue Cheese and Walnut Tea Sandwiches
6 T butter, softened
4 oz blue cheese crumbles
2 T walnut, chopped
1 pear, peeled and thinly sliced
1 loaf of bread (your choice which type to use - I used a swirled rye b/c it was pretty but it was too strong of a flavor and really overshadowed the filling)

In a small bowl, mix butter and blue cheese. Stir in the walnuts. Spread a thin layer on each slice of bread. Top half the slices with pear and then cover pear with another piece of bread. Slice into finger sandwiches.


Creamy Baked Ziti

>> Thursday, April 28, 2011

I love this dish for all the veggies packed into the red sauce and the creamy tang that the sour cream gives it. Yum! It makes a lot so I always freeze half and serve half for dinner (and usually a couple of lunches too.)

If you're in a hurry, you can always skip making my red sauce and use a store-bought sauce.

Creamy Baked Ziti
2 T olive oil
1 small white onion, chopped
1 small eggplant, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
8-oz mushrooms, sliced
1/4 c wine (you can use red or white - I always just use whatever I already have open)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 28-oz cans tomato sauce
1/4 c parmesan cheese, grated
1 T worcestershire sauce
assorted fresh herbs - rosemary, basil, oregano, parsley
16 oz ziti, penne, or rigatoni
16 oz sour cream
2 1/2 c shredded Italian cheese blend, divided
1/4 c parsley, minced
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large sauce pan over medium heat, add olive oil. When oil is hot, add onion, eggplant, bell pepper, mushrooms and wine. Saute 5-7 minutes or until veggies are soft and wine has mostly evaporated. Add garlic and saute another minute. Add tomato sauce, parmesan, worcestershire sauce and fresh (or dried) herbs. Stir well. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Cover and allow to simmer while the noodles are cooking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In another large pot, cook noodles according to package directions.

In a small bowl, stir together sour cream, 2 c Italian cheese blend and parsley.

Spray two casserole dishes with non-stick spray. Spoon a little red sauce on the bottom of each pan. Top with noodles. Gently spread a couple of tablespoons of the sour cream mixture on top of the noodles. Spoon red sauce over that. Repeat the layers one more time or until all parts have been used.

Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Top with remaining 1/2 c mozzarella and bake 5 additional minutes.

(If you're freezing one of the casseroles, freeze it without baking.)


Thai Chicken Soup with "Chimichurri"

>> Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I know, I know, chimichurri is Argentinian not Thai. But I made a pork tenderloin with chimichurri last week (which was very good - here's that recipe) and I was still thinking about it when I was planning the menu for this week. Inspiration hit! I decided to make a Thai chicken soup and instead of putting all the herbs and flavors into the soup - where they get diluted and fall into the background - I decided to make a Thai chimichurri-style sauce to spoon on top of the soup. Not only does it look beautiful, the flavors really shine!

To make this recipe more authentic, you could add lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, red curry and replace the basil with Thai basil and the jalapeno with a red Thai chili. It would be really good with shrimp too. I was just using what I had on hand or in my garden. Just keeping it real!

Thai Chicken Soup with "Chimichurri"
for the soup
1 T olive oil or butter
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 8-oz package fresh mushrooms, sliced
1-inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 5-oz package of fresh spinach
8 c chicken broth
2 chicken breasts, cooked and thinly sliced or shredded
1 14-oz can coconut milk
salt and pepper, to taste
cooked rice, for serving

for the "chimichurri"
3/4 c fresh herbs - basil, cilantro, mint - minced (total quantity, not 3/4 c each)
2 green onions, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (optional)
1 lime, zest and juice
1 garlic clove, minced
2 t ginger, grated
1 T rice wine vinegar
1/4 c olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for the sauce. Mix well. Refrigerate until ready to use.

In a large pot over medium heat, add olive oil. Add red bell pepper, mushrooms, ginger and garlic. Saute, stirring often, for a few minutes, or until the mushrooms start to brown slightly. Add the spinach and saute for a minute so that it just starts to wilt. Add the broth, chicken and season with salt and pepper. Let cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes. Lower the heat and stir in the coconut milk. To serve, place cooked rice in the bottom of a soup bowl, cover with soup and top with a generous spoonful of the chimichurri.


Lemon Curd Tart

>> Monday, April 25, 2011

Yet another Barefoot Contessa recipe - I just love her cooking. This was the dessert I brought for Easter dinner and I thought it was pretty darn good. There's just something about lemon desserts that I love!

Here are a few quick cooking notes for next time: I think I'll use a little less dough for the crust as it was fairly thick in comparison to the amount of curd. Also, if you use Meyer or organic lemons, both of which tend to be sweeter than a regular lemon, you may want to cut down on the amount of sugar slightly. I used organic lemons and my curd was just a little too sweet for my tastes. The recipe states that the curd should thicken up after 10 minutes on low heat, but both times I've made this, it has taken close to 20 minutes of medium-low heat.


My Father-in-Law's Favorite Salad

...or at least it's his favorite salad that I make! I've made it several times and it's always a hit. I love the sweetness of the oranges with the crispness of the raw fennel - yum!


½ small shallot, roughly chopped

1 T Dijon

1 T sherry or red wine vinegar

1 small lemon, juiced

1-2 T honey

salt and pepper, to taste

1/3 c olive oil

1 head butter lettuce, torn into bite size pieces

1-2 bunches arugula, torn into bite size pieces

2 oranges, peeled and segmented

½ can hearts of palm, drained and sliced

1 fennel bulb, halved and thinly sliced with some fronds reserved for garnish


For the dressing, combine shallot, Dijon, vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper in a food processor. Pulse to combine and while the motor is running, add in the olive oil in a slow drizzle. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if necessary. Refrigerate for several hours for flavors to marry.

When ready to serve, combine lettuce and arugula. Squeeze the extra orange juice from the discarded membranes into the dressing and stir to combine. Drizzle with dressing and toss to combine. Plate the lettuces. Top with orange segments, sliced hearts of palm and fennel. Garnish with reserved fennel fronds.


Olive, Goat Cheese and Olive Oil Loaf

>> Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My parents own an oriental rug shop, and now that my mom has retired from teaching, she takes the shop on Wednesdays so my dad can have a day off. My mom and her friends started holding "Board Meetings" every Wednesday afternoon at the shop. There's usually anywhere from 4 to 10 regulars who come for gossip, wine and munchies. What better way to celebrate the midpoint of the week?!? Anyway, board meetings are potluck affairs where everyone chips in and brings vino or an appetizer. Being a lazy mom, I usually just bring Finley under the guise that I've brought the entertainment. But every now and then, I get my act together and whip up a tasty appetizer.

I stumbled upon this recipe and knew that I had to try it! I love the versatility of the recipe as you can swap out cheeses and veggies to completely change the flavor profile of the bread. It paired excellently with wine and cheese too.

Olive, Goat Cheese and Olive Oil Loaf
recipe adapted slightly by Erin from Chocolate Shavings blog

3 eggs
1/4 c white wine
1/4 c whole milk
1/4 c olive oil
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 c flour
1/2 c grated Gruyere, tightly packed
4 oz goat cheese, crumbled, plus more for garnish
1/2 c sliced assorted olives, plus more for garnish
2 t fresh herbs (thyme, chives, oregano, basil, rosemary, etc.), plus more for garnish
salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, wine, milk and olive oil until incorporated. Add the flour and baking powder and whisk until blended. Fold in the Gruyere and refrigerate mixture for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Gently fold in goat cheese, olives, herbs, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Pour batter into a greased standard loaf pan and garnish with reserved goat cheese, olives and herbs. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. (I made two smaller loaves and cooked them for 30 minutes.) If the loaf starts to brown too much, cover with foil and continue baking. Let cool a few minutes before removing from pan and slicing. Serve warm.


Mussels in White Wine

I'm not a huge seafood lover (have you noticed the relative scarcity of fish recipes on here?!?) but my dad loves mussels. A few years ago, I started cooking mussels for him for his birthday and Father's Day as one of his presents. Whenever I tell him I'm making his mussels, he usually breaks into song - "I'm in heaven" by Fred Astaire is his usual tune of choice.

Never having eaten much seafood, I was hesitant to try my hand at cooking it. But when I first saw this recipe on an episode of Barefoot Contessa, I decided I could definitely make them. They are so easy to make and everyone (except me!) loves them.

Mussels aren't expensive either (I got mine for $8.99 for 2 lbs) but I would recommend buying them at a seafood shop or gourmet grocery store to ensure getting the freshest mussels possible. If you have a seafood lover in your life, give these a try!

Mussels in White Wine
recipe adapted slightly by Erin from Ina Garten, Barefoot in Paris Cookbook
serves 6 as an appetizer, 2 for main course

2 lbs mussels
1/3 flour
2 T butter
2 T olive oil
4 to 5 shallots, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14.5-oz) can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, juice mostly drained
1/2 t saffron threads (you can omit this if you don't have saffron - it's pretty expensive!)
1/3 c parsley, chopped
1 T thyme (or 1 t dried thyme)
1 c white wine
2 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper
Good quality sliced bread, for serving

To clean the mussels, mix water and flour in a very large bowl. Add mussels and let soak for 30 minutes. Drain the mussels and rinse each one under running water. Remove any "beard" from each with your fingers. Discard any mussels that aren's tightly shut.

In a large stockpot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, saffron, parsley, thyme, wine, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.

Add mussels, stir well, then cover the pot. Lower heat to medium and cook for 8-10 minutes (mine always take 8 minutes), until all the mussels are opened. Discard those that aren't open. With the lid on, shake the pot once or twice. Pour mussels and the sauce into a large bowl and serve steaming hot. Serve with sliced bread for soaking up the broth and make sure to also have a large bowl on the table for the shells.


Ground Beef Stroganoff

I love the flavor of beef stroganoff, but I hate using tenderloin because it's so expensive. You can use a cheaper cut of beef but a lot of the time it isn't tender and/or it takes a long cooking time to make it tender. So for quick and economical weekday cooking, I use ground beef. I made this tonight and everybody (Finley included - and she doesn't usually eat meat or mushrooms!!) cleaned their plates. I call that a winning recipe!

Ground Beef Stroganoff
serves 4

1 lb ground beef (or ground turkey or bison)
4 T butter
1 small white onion, diced
8 oz button mushrooms, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
4 T flour
1 14.5-oz can beef broth
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T worcestershire
1/3 c white wine
1/2 c sour cream (you can use low fat)
salt and pepper to taste
fresh dill, chives, or parsley, for garnish
cooked egg noodles, for serving

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown ground beef and drain off fat. Add butter, mushrooms and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 7-9 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Add garlic and saute another 30 seconds.

Stir flour into mixture. Pour in beef broth and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat and stir in mustard, worcestershire, wine, salt and pepper. Let simmer while the noodles are cooking.

When the noodles are finished cooking, add the sour cream and stir well to incorporate and heat through. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and/or pepper, if needed. Serve over noodles and garnished with dill.


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