Food/Wine columnist and features writer Jane Dunne never runs out of ideas when it comes to cooking for family, entertaining at home or dining out. Her blog covers the gamut-literally from soup to nuts.
Florentine Meatloaf (6 servings)
I would ordinarily, at this time of year, write something about being in the home stretch, spring just around the corner and daylight savings on the horizon. However, the snow outside my window this Presidents Day in Chicago, is blowing at white-out levels. More comfort food is what I crave - spring/schming!
This almost effortless meatloaf is lighter than most and quite lovely when sliced, showing its spinach and cheese filling. It also uses prepared pesto from the supermarket section and panko bread crumbs, both of which add "oompth".
If you are a reader of The Culinarian, you already know of my love for blood oranges, those beauties of the ruby red flesh and soft, thin peel that taste like a combination of berries and orange. They are sublime and with us through the winter into early spring.
A couple of weeks ago, I gave you a favorite recipe of mine for Roast Pork with Blood Orange Sauce. Here is another recipe for marrying blood oranges with beets in a gorgeous salad.
Mixed baby beet salad with blood oranges, shaved fennel and Montrachet cheese
Many of my friends don't cook anymore. They entertain in different ways with lovely drinks parties, visits to a favorite restaurant, or other outings somewhere in the city, but (alas) no longer with dinner parties at home.
Other friends of mine who still love to gather guests around their dinner tables, do so with gusto and seem to receive as much pleasure as they give.
Certainly that seemed to be the case for my host last November when he served a memorable Sunday night supper for six - a big pot of savory, fragrant and gorgeous red lentil and butternut squash soup, almost addictive in its deliciousness, served with warm flatbread on the side. A pinot noir from Oregon and an Argentinian chardonnay were offered, and a pear tart concluded the meal.
In my opinion, blood oranges are the most gorgeous variety of citrus there is.; the deep red color the result of a mutation that appeared in Sicily's cultivated oranges during the 17th century.
Once so exotic Americans rarely saw or tasted them, this small, sweet and nearly seedless fruit is now also grown in California, Arizona and Texas, making them readily available to us in season (December-April). As for the flavor, to me it's incredible, slightly floral with sweet berry undertones. Blood oranges are great in salads and desserts and are the perfect match for pork, duck or salmon.
One blood orange has 130% of the recommended daily dose of Vitamin C as well as potassium and dietary fiber. Even better, it contains the same good-for-you antioxidant found in red wine.
Over the years, I've often served crostini with pre-dinner drinks or at cocktail parties, but I never thought of using them as accompaniments to soup until one of my brilliant friends did so recently at lunch. Her soup was a smooth and velvety cream of cauliflower with just a hint of curry...a perfect foil for the platter of colorful, flavorful toasts that centered the table. Here are the crostini Sarah presented with her soup but you could go on and on with this, right? Check out the apple crostini at the end.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Slice a baguette into 1/3-inch slices and place them on a sheet pan. Brush lightly with olive oil, season with some coarse salt and bake until golden and crisp, about 15 minutes.
Not to take anything away from our turkey and trimmings and those great leftovers, for the other nights at home during this hectic holiday time, you might try one of these truly delicious winter pastas.
The first, spaghetti tossed in a decidedly different pesto, is equally as delicious as the summery basil and pine nut variety, and comes together quickly. Recently, I watched two kids under 12, almost inhale it. The recipe comes from Chicago food columnist, Leah Eskin.
The second is out of a brand new cookbook, "Melt" (Little Brown, $30) that takes a seasonal approach to comfort food. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy. I think it's the ideal holiday present for anyone who likes to cook.
Recently, a very inventive friend of mine had an important birthday. To celebrate, she invited a dozen women friends to the Sur La Table store on Chicago's Michigan Avenue for a sous vide cooking demonstration and supper.
Sous vide, as many of you know, is the form of cooking in which food is placed in a plastic bag and vacuum sealed. The sealed bag, is then placed in a thermal circulator where it "cooks" in a hot water bath for a prescribed period of time, producing extremely tender and vibrantly flavorful food. Cooking time for sous vide can range from seconds to many hours, depending on what is being cooked. While French chefs have been practicing this style of cooking for close to 30 years, one doesn't see much of it in U.S, restaurants much less the home kitchen. Sous vide equipment is trés cher.
Supper, prepared by Chef Carolyn Coppolo, featured a Beef Wellington entree in which beef medallions, cooked sous vide for an hour plus, are then quickly sautéed before being placed on puff pastry and topped with cremini mushroom duxelles. A sprinkling of black truffle salt is applied and the pastry is then gathered at the top into little purses. After baking in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, the Wellingtons emerge crisp and golden, the meat a perfect medium-rare — no "sog" in sight.
Late September weather along the Lake Michigan Shore has been glorious - literally strings of cloudless, sunshiny days with highs in the mid to high 70's. The deep blue skies look like those one sees in California, and I have a yen for Mexican food shared on a beach at sunset, a light sweater over the shoulders and an ice-cold Margarita in the hand. I remember such an evening with good friends once in San Diego. To temper my nostalgia, I make a big pan of enchilladas and invite a few amigos. No beach, but a great view of Chicago's Lincoln Park!
A travel tip: When in the San Diego area, stay at Rancho Bernardo and you will thank me.
LAYERED CHICKEN THREE-CHEESE ENCHILADAS (6 servings)
It was pretty much as I had hoped. A collection of colleges,some as early as the 13th century, the ancient brick buildings still resplendent through the ages, the chapels seemingly resonating with the choirs of centuries past, the great clocks chiming the hour as we walked through parts of Cambridge University. I stood on an ancient bridge watching those below punting on the River Cam as people have done for untold generations. In the lush meadows nearby, cattle grazed free as they have for hundreds of years.
There in England, with a RoadScholar group on a travel program called "The Spying Game," I was learning more about the infamous Cambridge Five (Blunt, Philby, Burgess, McLean and Cairncross).
Missing from the ancient Cambridge streets were the students on their bikes (it was mid-August, after all.) Frankly, also missing was my anticipation of having any memorable meals at our modern city hotel where we were scheduled to have dinner each night. Wrong! Our private dinners not only pleasantly surprised us, but a couple of the dishes knocked our collective socks off, the creative result of the hotel's young, dashing and inventive Italian chef.
Blueberries - those nutritional powerhouses - each one utterly delicious. I buy them fresh when they are at their peak and what I don't use right away, I freeze.
Just place the berries, unwashed, in a single layer on a baking pan and freeze. Transfer the frozen berries to zip-lock plastic freezer bags and return to the freezer where they will last for six months. Swirled into your pancake batter next January, they'll remind you of the August morning you bought them at the Farmer's Market, popping one, still warm from the sun, into your mouth.
Never wash blueberries until you are about to serve or cook with them. Ever-versatile, here they star in two of my favorite late summer recipes.