toscana rustica @ home

     This a variation of a well known Italian restaurant’s Toscana Rustica soup. When I taught a cooking class at our homeschool co-op, a lovely pair of twins brought this soup to class. Their grandmother had worked tirelessly until she mastered the re-invention of their favorite restaurant soup. So, if you're longing for a cozy night in with a your favorite Italian soup, forget about take-out...try this!
I think you'll like the results

5 Italian sausage links, casings removed, or bulk Italian sausage, hot or mild
1 large onion chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced
4 strips bacon, cut up

1 tsp red pepper flakes (you can omit if you used hot sausage)
3 cans of chicken broth or 6 cups homemade stock
2 cans of EVAPORATED MILK ( I use the fat free)

5 medium potatoes, diced
1/2 bunch of Kale, stems removed, and roughly chopped (green leafy veggie near the greens in produce section)

salt and pepper to your taste

Squeeze sausage out of casings, break up and brown in large soup pot. Add onion, garlic, bacon, red pepper flakes. Cook until onion is translucent and bacon is cooked through. Add broth and potatoes. Cook on medium low for  about 20 minutes until potatoes are tender. Add evaporated milk, kale. Taste before adding salt and pepper. Let cook another 10 minutes on low. Serve with some crusty bread and a salad made of sliced tomatoes, basil leaves and fresh mozzarella drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette. Mmmmm!

what's on YOUR nightstand?

What are you reading right now?

I was playing around with my new computer last week and discovered the webcam. After posting a few silly photos, my sister-in-law commented on the 'crazy bunch of books' behind me in the shot. 
That pile was on my bedside table. 

 Some of these are just favorites, read more than once, lovely to look at. 
You can see that many of them have a food theme. Imagine that! 
I'm contemplating which one to read next...
I'm leaning toward one that will be my very first Halliburton, The Royal Road to Romance. Inside, the endpaper is a map and has a bookplate from a previous owner, with a little handwritten note.
I'm always a sucker for a map...

 On the flyleaf, there is a photo of the author standing in front of the Taj Mahal.
I brought this lovely old book home from the Booklady Bookstore at the strong urging of The Housewife... we both have issues with leaving a truly fabulous book somewhere, without a loving home. 
We're sort of like the Humane Society for books instead of dogs.

Have a cozy weekend!

the magic risotto

My name is Food Maven and I'm a risotto-holic...
     Porcini mushroom risotto, lemon-thyme with asparagus, fresh tomato and wilted arugula risotto, shrimp risotto. There are just too many to list. Risotto, Italian in origin, has a comfort food status and a creamy consistency. If you have never attempted to make it, you may be a little intimidated by all that stirring. Never fear! It is one of my go-to lunch or light dinner menus and the variations are endless! The starch in the arborio rice releases when you are stirring, creating a creamy consistency. The rice is cooked in broth or stock which flavors the grains.
sookie and lorelai
     In season one, episode four of the Gilmore Girls, Chef Sookie was lamenting over a popular food critic's proclamation of her famous risotto as 'perfectly fine,' in a review of the inn's restaurant.
     She, believing that her risotto has magical powers, takes this assessment as a pronouncement of mediocrity. Lorelai, upon hearing of this short line in an otherwise stellar review, exclaims, 'Not the magic risotto!' And thus, in my household, a reference was born.
     My baby, eighteen years young, requests magic risotto every once in awhile. She is referring to my recipe with chicken and sweetcorn... Her fave! Who doesn't love chicken and corn? It can be served with a salad or topped with halved grape tomatoes and a couple of basil leaves to make a wonderful meal. I hope you will try this recipes and discover the magical powers for yourself.
food maven's magic risotto
3 T. unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely minced
13 oz., arborio or carnoroli rice
1/2 c. dry white wine
8 cups homemade chicken stock, simmering
2 c. chopped, cooked chicken meat 
1 lb. frozen or fresh sweetcorn
1/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh Italian parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a deep saucepan on low heat, melt 2 T. butter and saute onion slowly until translucent, but not brown. Add rice. Toast the grains for about five minutes. Pour in white wine, stirring constantly until absorbed. Add three ladles of hot stock. Stir until all liquid is absorbed. Toss in chicken and corn, then add more stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring until all liquid is absorbed. Continue to add a ladle at a time, stirring between additions. Taste a grain of rice between each addition, stopping when rice is tender in the center, but still firm to the bite. Take pan off the heat, stir in remaining 1 T. butter, the cheese and season to taste. Mix in parsley and one last ladle of stock. Cover and let rest for five minutes. Serve with extra cheese to pass. Feeds four to six.

rainy days and mondays...

      It is raining outside... on a Monday. Lines of that old Carpenters' song are running through my head, but I'm not down, depressed or even remotely blue.
     This morning, I am cozy and warm, outfitted all in gray and matching the color of the winter sky. Heavy leggings, fur-lined muk-luks and my husband's big fleece pullover, my uniform of choice.
     I love rainy days and Mondays, especially if I get to stay home. It has been uncharacteristically frigid lately in the Coastal South. I have burned through my firewood pile earlier than usual.
      In the mood for making chicken stock, I trotted out to the freezer in the garage to dig for buried treasure. (As soon as it warms up, it has to be defrosted.) I knew I had a few carcasses in there, somewhere... I found six. Wow, it felt like winning the lottery!
     Armed with my Granddaddy's huge Farberware pot, I dumped in the frozen fowl, filled the pot with water and started throwing in stuff... carrots, onion, oops, no celery. Well, celery seeds will have to do. Fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme and sage were hastily gathered outside during a brief break in the morning showers. A few whole peppercorns and a bit of Kosher salt added into the mix, with a couple of bay leaves.
     The remainder of a bottle of white wine and a slightly dried up apple joined the fray, as homage was paid to my friend the Housewife... and her version of homemade stock. (I can be flexible, really I can.) I am thinking about making her Tortellini Soup when I'm done. Mmmm, doesn't that sound good? Click here for a link to her recipe. The house smells amazing and I didn't venture farther than the freezer or herb garden.

Rainy days and Mondays never get me down!

baby, it's cold outside!

     Winter chills are upon us here in Coastal Georgia. While trying to keep warm, I am revisiting some old cookbook friends, looking for ideas for quick comfort food. When the icy rain is pelting your window or snow covers the walk, your well stocked pantry pays for itself a thousand times over.     
     Back in the sweltering month of August, in a post entitled, dear diary... the well stocked pantry, I gave some ideas for basic pantry staples. If you, Dear Reader, heeded my suggestions, you are warm, dry and prepared to cook without venturing into the foul weather.
     Now, if you think of battered, deep fried heaven when I say, 'comfort food,' think again! The following recipes are healthy, but fabulous. With a few changes, they could even feed your vegan friends.
     For all of you whiners and crybabies who dislike things grown in the ground, remember the old commercial that said, 'try it, you'll like it?' The pizza is like a salad on top of a warm crisp, garlicky crust... what's not to love?
     Here are a few ideas for a meal using items you may have on hand. You may need to add a few fresh ingredients to round it out. If you can talk your spouse, older child or neighbor into bringing home the extras, you will have a cozy day in!
Meal one: Homemade minestrone soup with goat cheese and arugula pizza.
     See recipe for minestrone soup in blog post from soup week, zesty beef soup, November 15, 2010. Minestrone is simple and delicious. Chances are you have all the ingredients on hand! Go take a look.
     Hopefully, you have a couple of frozen pizza doughs in your freezer. Take them out to thaw. If you have some fresh tomatoes, slice and seed them, placing on baking sheet. Slice some fresh cloves of garlic as well and toss in with tomatoes, then drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in 300 degree oven until soft.
     Stretch dough until thin. Place on pizza pan or wooden pizza peel. Coat both sides with olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic powder, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake in preheated 450 degree oven for five minutes. Lay roasted tomatoes and garlic on crust. Bake five minutes more or until desired brownness. Remove from oven, top with crumbled goat cheese and fresh arugula leaves. Enjoy with minestrone soup.

Meal two: Black bean soup with warm, buttered tortillas.
      In a saucepan, saute half of an onion and a large clove of garlic, minced, in a teaspoon of olive oil. Add a cup of homemade or canned chicken stock, two large cans of black beans and a some freshly ground black pepper. Add a tablespoon or two of red wine vinegar and taste for salt. Season as needed. Simmer for twenty minutes.
     Warm some flour tortillas in the microwave. Butter each one and fold into fourths. Stack on a plate and keep warm with foil. Serve with a salad.
Meal three:Crispy polenta squares with All'-amatraciana sauce
     All'-amatriciana sauce is a spicy, meatless pasta sauce that can be thrown together in minutes. Each Italian family has their own version. You can make it to suit your family's taste. If you have a meaty, homemade ragu in your freezer, you can top the polenta with it instead, saving even more time.
     Take crushed red pepper, a couple of cloves of garlic, a chopped onion and saute them in a little olive oil. Add a splash of dry, white wine, a large can of diced, fire-roasted tomatoes, a teaspoon of Italian herbs, a tablespoon of capers and a few black or green olives, (or both.) Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Simmer for 30 minutes. It can be served over pasta or polenta and freezes well.
     The polenta can be served crispy or soft. If serving crispy, make polenta early in the day. Place in a square baking dish and let it cool. Cut into squares. Fry the squares of polenta in butter until brown and crispy. Spoon the sauce over the polenta on each plate. Serve with a salad.

baking = math: back in the day bakery

     I have a theory that baking equals math... and math is not my friend. I do have in my limited repertoire, a few fabulous desserts I have mastered, such as a flourless chocolate cake, apple crisp, peach cobbler, a great pecan pie and a decadent homemade brownie recipe.
     I can turn out a pretty good loaf of whole wheat bread, wheat dinner rolls in the shape of a knot and a crusty olive and rosemary baguette. Generally, when sharing the cooking duties with others, I volunteer for the savory part of the meal, leaving the sweet task of baking to the math people.
     When I am cooking, the scene in the kitchen often resembles Edward Scissorhands trimming his neighbor's hedge. Ingredients are flying everywhere, frenzied and chaotic. Sauces and gravies frequently find themselves in my hair. If you've ever seen my wild hairdo, you won't find this hard to imagine.
     I can throw in a couple of ingredients, stir, taste, correct and add something else to achieve the flavor I am looking for. With baking, the method must be precise, measured, calculated and often weighed. Did you get that? All math terms. Baking equals math!
     Thursday, I stopped at Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah to pick up some dessert to carry home to the fam. The wonderful owners, Griff and Cheryl Day were having lunch. We got on this very subject of baking and math! Being fabulous bakers, they laughed when I told them of my theory, agreeing that it could be true. They are currently working on a cookbook and relayed a little of their journey to my friend Gail and I. It is due to be published in 2012... I can't wait to see the finished product!
     We sampled a new cookie, the Mr. Nelson, named for Griff's grandaddy. Simple, delicious shortbread cookies with rich chocolate buttercream in between. I attempted to break the cookie in half, sending the chocolate cream squirting in all directions. I am currently addicted to the star brownie, but can be persuaded to try something new on occasion.
     I brought home the Mexican Hot Chocolate cookies for after dinner. They have a deep chocolate flavor combined with cinnamon and a hint of hot chili. Mmm! How is anyone supposed to make a decision in this place?
Cookbook or no, I am relieved that someone else is taking on the responsibilities of keeping us all in sugar heaven.
Back In The Day Bakery on Urbanspoon

christmas eve-eve... where's the beef?

     One of my resolutions for two thousand eleven is to enjoy more healthy meals that provide proteins other than meat. I recently read that the heart muscle is very stressed when you are consuming red meat. This is because the blood rushes to your digestive system in order to aid in breaking down these difficult proteins. My nephew has endured two kidney transplants in his young life. He is limited on the amount of meat protein he can consume. It is also hard on the kidneys. Now, don't get me wrong... I am still an omnivore, but a little change is good.
     When I was a kid, it was not uncommon to have three different veggies with a meal. Since my grandfather grew them, they did not need dressing up. The flavors were incredible! I am going to try very hard to go back to my quasi-vegetarian 'roots,' in terms of eating. Some foreign cultures consider meat to be a side dish, instead of the main course.
     Ten long years ago, moving to Georgia, we were blessed to become friends with Chelsea and Joe. Since that time, they, along with their four kids, have become our Georgia family. On December twenty-third, we went to their home for our annual Christmas celebration. It was a brisk wintry week and some gourmet comfort food was in order. We decided to keep the meal light, omit a heavy meat dish and concentrate on dessert. We settled on two kinds of risotto, a Caesar salad and sourdough baguettes with a goat cheese and honey spread.
     I made my favorite, Porcini Mushroom risotto with porcinis, button mushrooms, red wine, beef stock,shallot and fresh lemon thyme. Chelsea made one with sweetcorn and cream, topped with fresh, diced tomatoes and shaved Parmesan.
     Dessert was decadent, but simple. Chelsea, being the amazing baker that I am not, made lemon drop cookies, pistachio balls, peanut butter espresso cups and homemade peppermint marshmallows to go into steaming mugs of hot cocoa. 
     My husband wanted to know where the meat was. Joe probably wondered the same, but didn't speak up. The entire crowd was completely satisfied and happy. No one went to bed hungry. I really needed someone to count how many time 'Mmmmm" could be heard.
     With all these things in mind, I am glad I really love vegetables. There are only one or two that I am not fond of. Many of my favorite recipes are sans meat.  In my quest to live healthier, I hope to inspire others to make tiny little changes in the way you eat... baby steps, one day at a time. If I discover a particularly fabulous dish, I will be certain to share. My posts for tomato pie, taco soup and marie's hummus are in the archives. Check 'em out. In the meantime, a risotto recipe is soon to follow! Keep an eye out for it... here.
     Happy New Year! Eat healthy!