Vegetable Witness Protection Program

My vegetables are in the witness protection program.

I fully admit that I will hide, disguise, camouflage, conceal, veil, cloak, bury, and otherwise transform vegetables into recipes that I can get myself my kids to eat.

So when son #2 came home and said he loved pumpkin spice bread, I seized the opportunity to get some beta-carotene seamlessly into his diet in the form of a mock Starbuck’s baked good.

There’s a million pumpkin bread recipes out there, but this one I’ve adapted to make two loaves and enroll some Greek yogurt in the calcium protection program as well.

Pumpkin Spice Bread

Alias: Trick your kid into eating something good.
Alias: Trick your kid into eating something good.

1 15 oz can pumpkin puree
2 1/2 c. sugar
4 eggs
1/2 c. plain Greek yogurt
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 c. water
1 teaspoon vanilla

3 1/2 c. flour
2 t. baking soda
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. nutmeg
3/4 t. ground cloves

1.) Preheat the oven to 350 and spray 2 loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray.

2.) Mix first 7 ingredients together just until blended well in a large bowl or stand mixer.

3.) Mix together dry ingredients together in a separate bowl; add slowly to batter, only mixing until combined.

4.) Bake in a 350° for one hour until firm in the center.

5.) Assume new identity–change names on passports and social security cards.

©2013 Tracey Henry

Fall for hockey food

We have entered into two of my favorite themed-cooking seasons: Fall and hockey.

Seemingly disjointed and rather unculinary-like I know, but humor me with my explanation and invitation to join me on this strange road trip.

First off, Autumn time for food-lovers is a no-brainer but lots of-stomacher. Not only are cool afternoons the best time for comfort foods, but for a solid month you get to turn everything you eat into the shape of a zombie or a witch’s hat. What’s not to love there?

But October also means the NHL resumes its regular schedule and in our house, that’s also a reason to celebrate.

For much of the season, I coordinate our meals to include a signature dish from the Nashville Predator’s particular road opponent. It is a light-hearted theme but also a symbolic gesture of support in cuisine for my favorite team in my favorite medium. Unfortunately, I am also unreasonably superstitious, so depending on the outcome of the game, the dish may or may not be repeated or we might have to eat until every game night until June.

Even if Nashville is your second favorite team in the league, I invite you to enjoy these recipes for nights on the couch watching the game together, or on non-sporting event evenings as well.

We kicked off our 2013-2014 Cup run in St. Louis–a city we happily called home for over five years–with a toast of Toasted Ravioli. Unfortunately, we lost this game so this was probably the last time I’ll make it this season. (That shouldn’t stop you, though.) Toasted ravioli

St. Louis Style Toasted Ravioli

1 package of frozen cheese or meat ravioli, thawed

Breading station of egg and Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs

Vegetable oil for frying

Marinara sauce

1.) Heat a couple of inches of vegetable oil in a deep pan for frying.

2.) Dredge each ravioli in the egg wash and then breadcrumbs. Lightly fry in oil for about 2-3 minutes on each side before drying on a paper towel.

Either serve right away with warmed marinara sauce, or put on a cookie sheet into a warm oven until face-off.

©2013 Tracey Henry

Flank steak and arugula salad with Bearnaise dressing

You know that game, “What 3 foods would you want stranded on a desert island?” My answers change over the years, but if I had to answer that one today, I’d say heavy cream, dijon mustard and wine. Which means I’d like to be stranded in Provence.

I choose wine, because, uh wine, and the others because one can always make a beautiful sauce with cream and dijon mustard. Even if it’s for coconuts. Or driftwood.

And flank steak and arugula! Can I add those to the island? Let’s change the game to “What 5 foods would you want stranded on a desert island?”

Here’s a recipe for three of my five.

Flank Steak Arugula Salad with Béarnaise(ish) dressing

1 1-2 lb. flank steak
3 T. worcestershire sauce
1/3 c. red wine
1/3 c. olive oil
1 T. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

1 small shallot or 1/2 of a large one, finely minced
1 T. dijon mustard
2 T. champagne or white wine vinegar
2-3 T. fresh tarragon, minced
2-3 T. olive oil
salt and pepper

Arugula or arugula spinach mix

You'd beg for longer than a 3 hour tour with this one.
You’d beg for longer than a 3 hour tour with this one.

1.) Prepare marinade in a re-sealable bag, add flank steak. Marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.

2.) Heat grill or grill pan over medium high heat with a little olive oil if in a pan. Grill for approximately 5 minutes per side for medium rare. Transfer to rimmed cutting board and let rest at least 10 minutes.

3.) Make dressing by combining the shallot, mustard, vinegar, tarragon and salt and pepper by whisking in a small bowl. Add olive oil to desired consistency but it should be on the thick side.

4.) Slice the steak against the grain and on an angle into thin slices and place on a large platter of the greens. Drizzle dressing over top.

5.) Pack a steak knife in your lifeboat.

©2013 Tracey Henry

Raspberry Cream Pie

There’s a little farm stand on the North Fork of Long Island that is lined with the usual local produce; potatoes, peaches maybe some tomatoes and sweet corn. But if you look beyond the earthy wooden tables you’ll no doubt notice a line formed outside of an unassuming white door propped ajar by someone’s flip flop.

They’re not waiting for a secret stash of broccoli, they’re waiting for pie.

In exchange for a small fortune ($28-$36 per) pie nirvana awaits. Sure, you can choose the fresh-baked apple, cherry, or strawberry-rhubarb, but people are not paying premium prices for the usual, they’re there for something you can’t find anywhere else–the fruit cream pies.

Now, if you think you have any idea what I’m talking about and it includes a tub of Cool Whip or a package of cream cheese best suited for a bagel, then we might have to fight. No, it’s not a whipped topping dessert or a cheesecake with a can of fruit on top, it’s a delicate Chantilly-like cream with a body, filling and gravity-defying dome of fresh fruit that might cause you to weep at its exquisiteness.

The original cream pie in blueberry. Delish.
The original cream pie in blueberry. Delish.

What also may cause tears is if you happen to try to find the recipe. Google will mock you, message board posters will ridicule you, but your soul will beg you to find it. But you can’t because apparently the angels wrote the recipe with disappearing halo dust and all traces are gone, just a crumb trail back to the Mt. Olympus boulangerie.

So, for humanity’s sake and my attempt at World peace, here is my very best recreation of the greatest pie in the world. Rest assured I will continue my efforts to perfect it until I can charge you a couple of Jacksons, too.

Fresh Raspberry Cream Pie (like Rieremere-Bay)

Filling

2 cups fresh ricotta (or drained store bought)
1 cup sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Raspberry topping

12-16 oz fresh raspberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons cherry or raspberry liqueur, such as Chambord
1/4 c. tapioca

1 Deep dish pie crust shell, baked

1.) Prepare pie shell. The crust isn’t the star of the show here, so use something easy even it’s pre-made or frozen.

2.) Prepare the topping by bringing the raspberries, water, sugar, liqueur, to a gentle boil, just until the berries begin to break down, leaving some whole. Turn off the heat and stir in the tapioca. Let stand about 20 minutes. Chill.

3.) In a cold mixing bowl, mix together 1/2 cup sugar with the ricotta and vanilla until fluffy. Transfer to a large bowl. Rinse out the mixing bowl in COLD water, dry, and whip the cream with remaining 1/2 cup sugar until fairly stiff–about 3-5 minutes.

4.) Gently fold the whipped cream into the ricotta mixture just until combined, then fill the pie shell. Chill for at least an hour until firm.

5.) Top the chilled pie with the chilled fruit topping and then chill again. Chill, baby, chill.

6.) Invite your very best friends or someone in the position to give you a promotion or money and a neurosurgeon standing by because it will blow your mind.

My raspberry cream version of the original pie.
My raspberry cream version of the original pie.

©2013 Tracey Henry

It’ll Cure What Ails Ya Lentil, Sausage and Kale Soup

I am a firm believer in the power of food to heal. And when someone isn’t feeling well, the kitchen is the best pharmacy I know.

This soup is something I’ve been making for a few months for friends as well as myself whenever I need a little a little super food love in a pot.

The only medicine you'll ever need and tastes way better than penicillin.
The only medicine you’ll ever need and tastes way better than penicillin.

It’ll Cure What Ails Ya Lentil, Sausage and Kale Soup

I package dried brown lentils
1 bay leaf
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 med-large onion, chopped
1 lb. Italian sausage, sliced into 1 inch pieces

Olive oil

5 cups water
4 cups beef broth

2-3 cups kale leaves, trimmed and chopped

Parmesan cheese

1.) Put one large pot and one skillet on the stove. In the skillet, heat a couple of teaspoons of olive oil over medium-high heat and cook sausage, onion, celery, garlic and carrots until sausage is browned and vegetables are soft but not mushy, about 7-8 minutes.

2.) Meanwhile, in stock pot, heat another teaspoon of olive oil and gently toast the lentils with a bay leaf for a couple of minutes. Add the water and beef broth and bring to a boil.

3.) When cooked, add the sausage mixture with a slotted spoon to the soup. Bring to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer for 25-30 minutes.

4.) Take a taste. If it needs more liquid, add a cup more water and a bouillon cube. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, stir in the kale. Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

5.) Cancel doctor’s appointment.

©2013 Tracey Henry

I don’t think they do have an app for that

It’s September, so you know what that means? The start of Autumn and the end of bathing suit season.

This past summer I’ve been engaging in the latest fitness scheme in my long line of many. I’ve told you about exercise classes and yoga before, so this summer I decided to try something markedly different–running.

I decided to use technological aids since biology, heredity and sheer will failed to make me a runner to this point in my life, so I bought an app for my phone that promised to ease me from the couch to 5 kilometers in 8 weeks.

At first, it was quite easy. The app, in her sing-song voice set to my “Don’t harsh my mellow” playlist, had me alternating between running and walking every 90 seconds or so. I liked her. The first 3 weeks went by without incident and I was starting to feel as though I really may indeed find my inner jogger.

And then we hit week 6–or as I like to call it–the Weeping Week.

By the end of the fifth week, you find yourself huffing and puffing to a gradual eight minute run. It’s somewhat of a major accomplishment from your initial 90 seconds, so you’re kind of proud of yourself as you queue up week 6 on the old iPhone one unsuspecting morning. As you breeze through your 5 minute brisk warm-up walk, you notice a distinct difference in tone from your robotic friend. She seems testy–she’s playing songs that aren’t from your folk song playlist anymore–they’re from lost tracks of Dick Cheney sings Phantom of the Opera. You consider for a moment that maybe it’s just your imagination–after all you’ve gotten along well together for over a month–but then all of a sudden she says, “Close the pod bay door, Dave,” and thumb tacks and oil start leaking from the treadmill like a Roadrunner cartoon and she tells you to run like your life depends on it for 20 minutes straight.

It will totally harsh your mellow.

If you make it out of week 6 alive, week 7 seems more reasonable. Going from 20 to 22 minutes doesn’t seem so out of left field until she then springs this whole distance thing on you. “Now run for 2.5 miles.” Even at this late day in the workout regimen, that takes me 4 days at my snail’s pace. In my month and a half uphill education my frame of reference for 5 kilometers is equidistant to running to Memphis. Or Albuquerque. I actually have no idea how long that it is, only that Van Morrison sings “Into the Mystic” three times before I get there.

I wish we could end our story now, with our fearless heroine running stealthily all the way down to the finish line of week eight and going on to do marginal at best in local charity and fun runs (an oxymoron, btw) in a size 2 running short. (It’s my dream, leave me alone.)

But alas, I cannot. You see, I am repeating week seven over and over like a girl on a treadmill (mainly because I am) too frightened to move on to the final leg. I don’t feel ready to graduate yet–like my robot app girl has something sinister in mind for my last motivational week. The Acme Road Obstacle Kit is mere child’s play for what’s in store for me on this last week.

My worst fear is she extends bathing suit season another 8 weeks.

And then I’ll need an app to pay me 5K to get me from hiding behind my couch.

©2013 Tracey Henry

Here’s a recipe of protein and carbs you’ll run to in a pinch over and over.

Beef Stroganoff

It looks like a hot mess, but  it's good.
It looks like a hot mess, but it’s good.

(These amounts are the minimums–be generous with all for best results.)

2-3 T. butter
1 T. oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1-1 1/2 lbs. top round steak, sliced into thin strips
1 clove garlic
1-1 1/2 cups beef broth
1 cup sour cream
1 T. flour
2 T. dijon mustard

1.) In a large nonstick skillet, melt butter and oil over medium high heat–add onion and beef.

2.) Cook until onions are soft and beef is nicely browned. Add garlic, cook for a minute or so, add beef broth, bring to boil then turn down heat to simmer for about 10 minutes.

3.) Meanwhile, mix together sour cream, flour and mustard in a small bowl. Add to the pan and cook gently until fully combined and sauce thickens, about 5 more minutes. Do not allow to boil or sour cream will curdle.

4.) Season generously with salt and pepper and serve over hot egg noodles.

It is easy to be cheesy it turns out

Let’s talk cheese, friends. Ricotta cheese. Homemade ricotta cheese.

If I had discovered how easy homemade ricotta cheese was to make earlier in my life, it might have taken a different path. Ricotta from scratch is so easy and so good, I probably would have become a traveling cannoli salesman or something.

You gotta make ricotta
You gotta make ricotta

I have tried both the Barefoot Contessa’s method and Chef Ann Burell’s recipe, and while both taste similar, Ina’s seems to be a bit easier for me. (Use the vinegar, not the lemon juice as well.)

Check out and make some cheese today, because I’m going to refer back to it often with some original recipes in which only the good stuff will do.

Nothing says holiday weekend like moonshine and a Titanic replica

Ah, Labor Day weekend. It’s either the last hurrah of summer or, as we’ve determined earlier, a mid-semester break.

However you refer to it, I hope it means fun, food, friends and family. For us, it means all of those things in a cabin in Galtinburg, Tennessee.

This is a favorite destination of ours for long holiday weekends. If you’ve never been to this eastern Tennessee tourist mecca, it’s a must see attraction if Branson or the TLC network ever close.

I am by no means a historian, but after many trips to this particular fun spot, I’ve pieced together what I think can only be a logical history and a list of things not to miss during your visit.

Robert Ripley–of Ripley’s Believe it or Not Fame–was probably an original settler of the Smoky Mountains. He discovered wax relics of pop culture celebrities as he navigated the foothills in a Go-Kart and airbrushed t-shirt. He also discovered an enormous saltwater aquarium which can still be seen today. (For $38 per adult admission.)

Adding to the unique period architecture of the region which includes a staggering amount of Elvis, King Kong and Marilyn Monroe sculpture, there is an upside down museum next to the curiously beached, landlocked Titanic wreckage complete with a fiberglass iceberg and show tunes. Lest you think that is the extent of the arts in Pigeon Forge, please don’t miss dueling lumberjacks or Hatfield and McCoy dinner theatre.

The original cuisine for East Tennessee natives is pancakes, fudge and chain restaurant food. I assume. You’ll have no trouble finding any. Make sure to wash down your (again, curiously landlocked) Bubba Gump shrimp with some local moonshine, or as I like to call it, “Disqualification from the liver or esophagus transplant donor list.” See if your palate can distinguish the subtle differences between a corn mash and a corn cob pipe accidentally dropped into the still.

And just when you think you can’t stand to see another miniature golf course or a pan for your own gold and gem mine trough, you find the real treasure. Tubing down a crystal clear river with your good friends.  Watching a bear (from a safe distance of course) walk through your backyard for a marshmallow leftover from a roast the night before. Playing “Guess What Left That Scat,” on your cabin balcony. Wine and a sunset on freshly swept said balcony. Stars, lots of them. A place to celebrate something. Or nothing at all.

So I hope this weekend finds you in a spot you can rewrite history. Even if it’s standing alongside of the General Lee at Cooter’s Museum and Fun Park.

Even bears love Party Pasta Salad
Even bears love Party Pasta Salad

This pasta salad recipe speaks to both my midwestern and fake Italian roots. Perfect for a party.

Party Pasta Salad

Vinaigrette:

3 Tablespoons capers (use the rest of the jar for the salad)
3 garlic cloves
1 T. tomato paste
1/4 c. kalamata olives, pitted and sliced (use the rest of the jar for the salad)
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
Pepper to taste
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
3/4 c. olive oil

Salad:

2 boxes rotelle or spiral pasta cooked al dente
1 12 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and rough chopped
1 6 oz. jar kalamata olives, sliced and drained
1 12 oz. jar roasted red peppers, sliced and drained
1 8 oz block mozzarella cheese, cubed
1 8 oz. block of cheddar, cubed
8 oz. salami, cubed
1 small red onion
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped

1.) Pulse first 5 ingredients of vinaigrette in food processor. Add pepper and vinegar, pulse again to blend. With processor running, drizzle in olive oil. (It will seem very salty and vinegary at this stage, but it will mellow out.

2.) Cook pasta al dente, drain and place in large bowl. Add dressing to warm pasta, and add the rest of the ingredients and anything else that sounds good. Lots of different flavors and textures makes this salad different but good.

3.) Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours but better if overnight.

©2013 Tracey Henry

Fresh fig, walnuts and goat cheese pizza

It may seem as though I’m dogging on the South a little bit lately, and I want to set the record straight that this is not the case. There are some things that the South is considerably superior over the geographic North. Namely, grocery stores.

Seriously, North, you don’t know what you’re missing.

And although there are many fine supermarkets to choose from here, Publix is, and has been, my personal favorite for almost 20 years. This is not a sponsored post, (but call me Publix, we’ll talk) but frequently this store, and others, offer excellent, fresh, ingredients and very reasonable prices.

This week, fresh figs, (Brown Turkey, Black Mission, Kadota) are on sale as they are about twice a year. I always want to figure out a way to use them because I just can’t pass them up easily when they are that plentiful and cheap.

So I came up with this recipe using another fine grocery store secret–fresh pizza dough from the bakery section–for a lovely appetizer or light dinner. So easy but it will look and taste as though you’ve hired a personal chef.

Fresh fig, walnuts, and goat cheese pizza
Fresh Fig, Walnut and Goat Cheese Pizza

Pizza dough from the bakery (if you use a tube that’s been sitting in the refrigerator case we’re going to fight.)
Olive Oil
Kosher salt
2-4 fresh figs, sliced thinly
1/4 cup walnuts

2 oz. goat cheese
Honey, enough to drizzle

1.) Preheat the oven to 400°. Divide pizza dough in half, and roll out to desired shape and thickness. (It will rise in the oven.)

2.) Place dough on a pizza stone or baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and lightly salt. Top with sliced figs and walnuts.

3.) Bake for about 15-20 minutes–check frequently so it doesn’t burn. Remove from oven, and sprinkle goat cheese on the warm pizza. Drizzle with honey and enjoy no matter where you live.

©2013 Tracey Henry

Summer’s Not Over Baked Beans

4 Bean Baked Beans
4 Bean Baked Beans

We’ve discussed how they are trying to pretend summer is over for us all by starting school so a-b-c-d-e-effing early, but as long as Labor Day is still weeks ahead, we all know the truth.

Here’s a great baked bean dish to eat every day until September.

Slow-cooker BBQ Beans

(You can also bake these in a 350 degree oven for an hour, but throwing them into a Crock-pot the morning of a cookout is so much easier.)

10 oz of bacon (or more)
1 onion, large diced
1 (15 oz) can of black beans, drained
1 (15 oz) can of garbanzo beans or chick peas, drained
1 (15 oz ) can of red, white or Great Northern beans, drained
1 (15 oz) can of pork and beans with sauce
3/4 c. ketchup
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar

1.) Saute bacon over medium heat until bacon starts to crisp. Add onion, and cook until tender. Place in slow-cooker along with the drained beans, and pork and beans in sauce.

2.) In a small bowl, mix together ketchup, brown sugar and vinegar. Pour over top of bean mixture and stir well.

3.) Cook on low for 4-6 hours.

4.) Get ready to repeat this recipe over multiple times because people will ask.

©2013 Tracey Henry