Friday, October 17, 2014

Tortilla Soup

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Recently I came upon a recipe for Tortilla Soup that reminded me of a memorable one I had years ago at a restaurant in Nashville, Tenn.  After reading at the bottom of the directions that it took six hours to cook, I promptly discarded it.  Not because of the length of time, for I have made some dishes that take this long to nurture, but because I knew that an authentic tortilla soup did not take this long to cook.  So off I went and checked a few of the sources I rely upon, including Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill's Sopa Azteca, and came up with what I felt was an authentic recipe with a few twists.  Two of these were coriander and cumin.  I love coriander seeds for its fragrance and coriander for the nutty and peppery flavor it adds to Mexican dishes.

One of the ingredients I did keep from one of my sources was the addition of Swanson's Tortilla Soup broth, in lieu of regular chicken broth, for more depth of flavor.  I had used their Thai Broth and found it to be a positive addition to some of my Thai recipes.  It had a mild flavor and did not compete with the other spices.  As my best friend would was not offensive.

Tortilla Soup is a filling and flavorful meal that can be made with little effort but one that sings with an unmistakeable Mexican harmony.  Some of the recipes I came across had corn and/or beans, either red or black.  Others used flour to thicken the broth.  I wanted to stick to authentic so I discarded the use of both beans and corn.  As to the flour... it is called tortilla soup...they thicken the broth!

Don't be surprised at the short time it takes to cook the chicken pieces.  I thought it was a misprint.  It's not.  Although I am not an expert on peppers, the Anaheim was a winner.  One had enough heat for our taste.  Add more at your risk and heat tolerance!

 I hope you enjoy this as much as we did.  Madame Mere loved it and she's not much of a fan of Mexican food, though she loves her soups.

We accompanied our meal with this wonderful and inexpensive Rioja voted Wine of the Year for 2013 by Wine Spectator.  Open early and let it breathe!  By the way, it is CVNE and not CUNE as it looks.  It stands for Compania Vinicula del Norte de Espana. and was only $10 at Costco.  

Tortilla Soup

Serves 6


6 tablespoons cooking oil

8 6-inch corn tortillas, halved and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips

1 Anaheim chili, stemmed and seeded

1 onion, chopped

4 large cloves garlic, smashed

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 1/2 quarts Swanson's Tortilla Broth, canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock

3 cups canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree (one 28-ounce can)

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons salt or to taste

1/4 cup lightly-packed cilantro leaves plus 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)

1 3/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4-inch pieces

1 avocado, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1/4 pound cheddar, grated or a combination of cheddar and Monterey

Mexican crema, sour cream or creme fraiche

Lime wedges, for serving


Quickly toast the chile by turning it an inch or two above an open flame for a few seconds until its aroma fills the kitchen. (Lacking an open flame, toast it in a dry pan over medium heat, pressing it flat for a few seconds, then flipping it over and pressing it again.)

  1. In a large heavy pot, heat the oil over moderately high heat. Add half the tortilla strips and cook, stirring, until pale golden, about 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining tortilla strips.
  2. Reduce the heat to moderately low. Add the onion, garlic, and spices; cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the broth, tomatoes, bay leaves, salt, cilantro leaves, if using, and one-third of the tortilla strips. Bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes; remove the bay leaves.
  3. In a blender, puree the soup in batches; pour it back into the pot.  Add the wine.  Add the chicken, bring the soup back to a simmer, and simmer until just cooked through, about 1 minute. Stir in the avocado.
  4. To serve, put the remaining tortilla strips in bowls, top with the cheese, and pour in the soup. Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro, if using, and serve with the lime wedges and crema or sour cream.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Gardening Into Fall... Ornamental Kale

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Until this morning, mild temperatures have been the order of the day here in Georgia and it has been difficult to get into a Fall mood.  Thus far my front yard, as well as my cooking, have been in transition mode waiting for cooler weather to get into the swing of Autumn decorating.  Most of the materials I use are in a room in the basement and you know what is happening down there...les appartements prives de Madame Mere, or the never ending story.

I am so sick of this remodeling that it will be hard for me to enjoy it once the contractor and his crew leave the house.  Suffice it to say they were supposed to be finished by September 1, but the painting and the wood floors are still to be done. I can't even think of what it will be like to go back to normal...whatever normal is.

One of the benefits of the setback has been looking for inexpensive things to transition into the pumpkins while keeping some of the annuals that are still doing well.  Take the geraniums...they just won't quit.  Same with the dahlias.  Enter ornamental kale and cabbage.

I  have never used either so, with guidance from one of the staff at the local nursery, I picked up three kales and one cabbage.  Originally they we intended to go in the ground but there was still too much going on there so I decided to use an urn and  keep it simple,  That way I could move it around come Christmas time.   The kale will turn a deep fuchsia in the winter and the cabbage white in the center. At some point I will have to think of something to replace the white mum I added to the back of the urn. That is, if these things do what they are supposed to do and don't die on me!

It's a shame to replace the white geraniums.  They keep throwing new buds.  If they don't stop soon I will just have to delegate them to the back.

I have never bought this color of chrysanthemum before.  They have turned out much lighter than I thought and I can't wait for them to go away.  They were $10 for the four of them at Costco.  I can't do my favorite burgundy mums unless I pair them with another color so they stand out against the brick and the mulch.  

There's a pot of burgundy mums in the back waiting to be paired with some pumpkins once the pink mums go away.  It's been so dry recently the sprinklers have been going on every day and the walkway is a mess.  It needs another good power wash before someone slips and we lose our house!

As I finish this post, it is cool enough to snuggle with the Sous Chef under my down comforter.  Here comes Fall!

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Painful Lesson...Chicken Meatballs With Ginger And Lemongrass

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This was possibly the most painful meal I have ever cooked.  I can't remember the last time I burned myself to the point of almost fainting from the pain.  Unlike most people whose blood pressure rises when they have pain, mine drops.  Like the mob, I go to the this case the kitchen floor.

I know better than to use my fingers when I am frying instead of easing the food into the frying pan with a spatula.  In this case, it didn't register that these meatballs where also small and flatish, so when I dropped them in, the top of my finger went right into the hot oil.  Ouch is not even close.  My blood pressure dropped and down I went. No I did not faint, but it was close.

Four hours and three vodkas later I was still marinading my finger in iced water.  Every time I took it out it was unbearable.  Of course Madame Mere, after expressing some concern and finishing her wraps quite unperturbed,  pronounced them so so,  not fit for a dinner meal and better for lunch or cocktails .  I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. She is not a big fan of Asian food and the idea of dinner in a lettuce leaf is too much for her to digest.  Like the debit card, Asian and Middle Eastern food are still a work in progress with her.

She is right though, if you make them slightly smaller they would make great cocktail bites. However,  if you are looking for a light dinner, which we sometimes do, this fits the bill.

The original recipe is not accompanied by hoisin sauce;  but I felt that, like the minced chicken in lettuce wraps we adore,  it could benefit from it.  So I drizzled some over the meatballs before wrapping them.

I enjoyed this recipe but I didn't love it.  The burn probably had a lot to do with that. Would I make it again? I might in another lifetime.  Right now it's too painful to even think about it.

Should you ever get a burn, use cool water...not ice.  I used iced water and it was wrong (but very soothing!) Keep the area submerged at least for 20 minutes.  I did it for four hours.  Vodka on the rocks is optional. At some point you will have to take that finger out and go through some pain. Pour yourself another drink, disinfect the surface and put some Neosporin for the swelling.  Do not use butter, unless you want to fry it.  Four days later it looks better and on its way to healing.

 Here are some professional tips from WebMD.  A better site courtesy of my friend Home Before Dark

Chicken Meatballs with Ginger and Lemongrass
Serves 3 to 4


1⁄4 cup
 (2 fl. oz./60 ml) grapeseed oil, plus more  for oiling the baking sheet
1 lb. (500 g) ground chicken
2 Tbs. panko bread crumbs
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. Asian fish sauce
1 Tbs. minced lemongrass, white part only (I used dried)
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
1 1⁄2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
14 small lettuce leaves
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 limes, cut into wedges
Hoisin sauce (optional)


Preheat an oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly oil a baking sheet.

In a bowl, combine the chicken, panko, soy sauce, fish sauce, lemongrass, cornstarch, cilantro, ginger, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Roll into 1-inch (2.5-cm) balls.

Warm a large sauté pan or frying pan over medium heat. Add the 1⁄4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) oil and heat until it appears to shimmer. Add the meatballs and sauté, turning the meatballs to brown evenly on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Drain on paper towels. Transfer the meatballs to the prepared baking sheet and bake until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes.

Arrange the lettuce, green onions, and limes on a platter. Serve the meatballs in a bowl on the side. Instruct guests to place a meatball in a lettuce leaf, top with green onions, squeeze with lime juice, fold and eat.  You can also drizzle with Hoisin sauce.

Recipes adapted from Williams Sonoma
Photos: The Sous Chef

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Billi Bi...An Elegant French Soup

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This fast, easy, inexpensive mussel soup from France is—no joke—one of the world’s most luxurious dishes. Try Billi Bi when you feel deeply deserving of sparkling seafood in a creamy sauce.- Food And Wine

And that just about sums it up.

One of the advantages of having Madame Mere in house is getting to enjoy all those traditional French recipes my daughter deems as too fancy for her taste.  MM and I don't care, we are old school and the fancier the better.  Elegant doesn't necessarily have to be complicated or arduous...Caviar is elegant and all you have to do is open a tin.  The better the quality, the less you need to embellish it.

Last Friday I got Madame Mere motorized and we took on the new Costco in town.  It opened a couple of weeks ago, less than a mile from the house.   I am in is the highlight of the year and that goes to show you how the last six month have been.

There are a couple of things that I have finally managed to get my mother to do and getting on a motorized shopping cart is one of them. The other one we are working on is the debit card. She hates it.  This is a lady who still keeps a register and writes checks to everyone, including the grocery store.  I can't get through to her that she can still enter the amounts on her debit card in her checkbook by keeping the receipts I methodically put in a small envelope.  But come time to "balance her checkbook" the receipts are nowhere to be found (she throws them away to spite me) and I get drilled on each item on her monthly statement that is not in her register.  So the debit card is still a work in progress and the winner of this battle is still to be determined, though I have a slight edge. 

The cart was easier, much to my surprise.  She took to it like a duck to water and, before I knew it, she was off to the races.  First stop...a hot dog for lunch.  The promise of food usually does the trick.

Two hours later and umpteen bags of cookies and bread we were both exhausted and in bed for the night.  It was an expensive outing, like taking a kid to a toy store for the first time and I felt I had just crossed the Rubicon..  One of the things I managed to pick up in the mayhem was a large bag of fresh mussels for $10  which  could not be passed  up.  My daughter is allergic and cannot bear to even smell them, so the bag was sneaked into the back of the refrigerator to be promptly eaten the next day when she was at work.

Moules Mariniere were served for lunch and the leftovers carefully packed for the next day, again out of sight.  I knew I wanted to make a soup, or use the mussels as part of a fish stew.  A mussel risotto was also under consideration but in the end, this old favorite won hands down for it was a cool day, the first of the Fall, and I did not want to fuss.

If you make the mussels, mariniere style one day, the leftovers can be used the next day for this fabulous soup.  It comes together in no time.   I will give you the quick version at the end of the recipe.

 The classic recipe for Billi Bi strains the broth to leave a smooth soup but nowadays the mussels are often left in as an added bonus. In both versions below they feature prominently in the soup. Should you have any leftovers of the broth, you can serve it in small demitasse cups or glasses and pass them around during cocktails. elegant is that! This soup may be served hot or at room temperature.  

If you like mussels, this is one of the best ways to enjoy them.  It makes for an elegant first course for  a dinner party or a main course for lunch with a fresh baguette.  There is no need for anything else, except for a good bottle of white wine, espresso and chocolates for dessert and a short siesta..  Don't overdo the siesta or you will be useless for the rest of the day.  Thirty minutes is more than enough!


As an afterthought, keep this in mind when you are entertaining guests for the weekend.  Mariniere Friday night with frites and Billi Bi for lunch the next day.
Billi Bi, French Mussel Soup  

Serves 4 to 6

  1. Ingredients
  2. 3 parsley sprigs
  3. 2 thyme sprigs
  4. 1 bay leaf
  5. 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  6. 5 shallots, finely chopped (1 cup)
  7. 1 leek chopped (optional)
  8. 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  9. 1 carrot, finely chopped
  10. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  11. Salt (I feel the mussels have more than enough so would not add until the end, if at all)
  12. Freshly ground pepper
  13. Pinch of cayenne pepper
  14. 1 1/2 cups dry white wine (I use 3/4 bottle of wine)
  15. 3 pounds mussels (preferably Prince Edward Island or Penn Cove), scrubbed and debearded
  16. 2 cups heavy cream
  17. 2 large egg yolks
  18. 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  19. Crusty bread, for serving

  1. Using kitchen string, tie the parsley and thyme sprigs with the bay leaf to make a bouquet garni. Melt the butter in a large enameled cast-iron casserole. Add the bouquet garni, shallots, leek, celery, carrot, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and the cayenne. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the wine and boil until reduced by half, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the mussels, cover and cook, shaking the casserole occasionally, until the mussels are wide open, 4 to 6 minutes.
  2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels and vegetables to a large bowl; discard the bouquet garni. Remove the mussels from their shells and add them to the vegetables. Strain the mussel broth through several layers of cheesecloth. Rinse out the casserole.
  3. Return the broth to the casserole. Stir in the cream and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. In a medium bowl, gradually whisk 1/4 cup of the creamy broth into the egg yolks. Whisk the yolk mixture into the simmering soup and immediately remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the mussel and vegetable mixture and the chives and season with salt and pepper. Serve the soup with crusty bread.
MAKE AHEAD The soup can be refrigerated for 2 days; reheat gently.


Quick Version
First day:
Enjoy a meal of  Moules Mariniere:

Finely chop 3 shallots, 5 garlic cloves and some parsley.  In a big pot melt 4 Tb butter and sautee the shallots and garlic until golden brown.  Add the parsley, bay leaf and some thyme.  Add the mussels together with 3/4 of a bottle of white wine. Bring to a boil, cover and steam the mussels until they open.  Remove some of the mussels so you can add 1 cup of heavy cream to the broth. Stir and warm but do not boil.  You can skip the cream here if you want but make sure you add this cup in #3 when making the soup.  Enjoy your Moules Mariniere!

Store the leftovers as follows:
Remove the mussels from the shells, saving some shells for decoration if you want.  Add the mussels to the leftover broth and store in an airtight container until the next day.

Second day:

Strain the mussel broth through several layers of cheesecloth or use a chinois.  Reserve the vegetables and mussels in a plate.

Grate 1 carrot and some celery. Add to the vegetables and mussels set aside...

Go to #3 of the recipe above and proceed from there using the two egg yolks.  If you have added the cream to the moules mariniere only add 1/4 cup here.  If not add 1 cup of heavy cream.  Remember these are the leftovers and you have already downed some of the broth in your first meal!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Madame Mere Has Arrived...To Stay

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If you have been wondering why Lindaraxa has been blogging sporadically for the last three months and posting recipes on canning and coffee cakes lately, this is why.  This post has been on my draft file for a couple of months.  Nothing much has changed.  Les appartements prives de Madame Mere are still unfinished.  She has been on the main floor now going on three months. The contractor is on The Most Wanted List...In that time much has happened, but we are still talking and hugging each other.  

Yes, you read it right the first time.  Madame Mere, Lindaraxa's mother, has arrived to in living with her...and her daughter, two female dogs and Coco the cat, in the same house, forever for the foreseeable future.

For those of you new to this blog, the name Madame Mere was given to my mother by one of Lindaraxa's dearest and oldest friends whose family has known hers for three generations.   There's no way Lindaraxa can pull the wool over this friend's eyes, or vice versa.  Each knows exactly where the other is coming from and where all the skeletons are buried in their respective families. They know each other very well.

The term Madame Mere is one of affection and endearment, nothing else;  but said friend knows Lindaraxa's frustrations with her mother and the different characters and personalities involved.  He loves to tease.  He often telephones Madame Mere, all the way from Paris,  particularly when he knows she needs a good laugh.  Lindaraxa knows that, more often than not, they talk about her, something that gives  Madame Mere  great joy and tons of fuel for the battles ahead.  What MM doesn't know is that these phone calls go both ways.

Letizia Bonaparte, Madame Mere

In case you don't know, Madame Mere was the official name given to Letizia Bonaparte, Napoleon's mother.    Immediately after his imperial accession Napoleon granted titles to his family, including that of 'Prince of the Empire' for Joseph and Louis.  However, Letizia was so chagrined at hers - 'Madame Mère de Sa Majesté l'Empereur' (or 'Madame Mère', 'Madam Mother') - that she boycotted the coronation. The title may well have been a deliberate slight from son to mother over family arguments and the Emperor tried to make amends a year later, in 1805, by giving Letizia a country home with over 200 courtiers, high-ranking servants and vast sums of money. 

Madame Mere died in Rome in 1836.

Laetitia Bonaparte portrait by Ramolino in 1835, age 85
There is much more to this lady that can be found here.  Suffice it to say that the similarities between my Madame Mere and the original are  many  few, except for their strength of character, thriftiness, deep family roots and loyalty to the family.

 Letizia Bonaparte accompanied Napoleon into exile,  something Madame Mere would have done as well.  Come to think of it, in a way, that is exactly what she has done, although I am a far cry from the emperor.  Yes, it is strange that both she and I have come to live together again, with my daughter, in a strange place.  Elba..., now why didn't I think of that before?!  Never in our lives did either of us think that we would move, lock, stock and barrel, to a small town in the north of Georgia.  It is not a place I would have chosen, although I have been relatively content.  It is peaceful here and I get to spend time with my grandchildren, but I miss the sea and my friends and the hustle and bustle of New York City. 

Madame Mere, June 2014, age surgeries on that face, just good genes 

She arrived on June 23rd and life, as we both know it, will radically change. I feel sad for MM having to make this change at this stage of her life but we will do everything we can to make her life as happy and peaceful as possible.  We are building an apartment for her in the lower level of the house where she will have independence and a view of the garden.  Work hasn't started yet and, while we wait, she will be staying in the guest room on the main floor. There are no courtiers or high ranking servants here, although sometimes I think she thinks there are.

Shortly after she arrived, she got to meet her third grandchild, little Harper Glen, now two months old.

Stay tuned...the fireworks are about to start!

Photos 1-3 Google
Photo 4 Lindaraxa

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hot And Humid, With A 50% Chance of Showers... Eggplant Parmigiana

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As I told you in the last two posts, I am still not in the mood for Fall cooking.  Not with this weather. Can you believe I am still wearing shorts and a t-shirt?

What I am doing is taking advantage of the last of the summer crop and buying what looks best on the shelves at the supermarket.  Eggplants caught my eyes last week and, with my daughter gone for a short trip out of town, it was the perfect opportunity to sneak some in the house.  She hates eggplant,.. something about the texture, but Madame Mere and I love it and Eggplant Parmesan is one of our favorite meals.

When I first started this blog over five years ago, one of the first recipes I posted was for this iconic Italian dish.  The recipe was Mario Battali's and the time of the year was Spring.  Goes to show you the difference and the advantages of living in a zone where you can grow things twelve months out of a year.  Here,  it is not until mid July that you can start seeing those plum and fat eggplants or aubergines, as some folks like to call them.

I came home with one medium eggplant, enough for the two of us.  That is really all you need, aside from a crusty baguette and a nice bottle of wine.

This time I used Lidia Bastianich's recipe.  Her addition of basil leaves in between the layers sounded heavenly and it was.  I know people squirm when they have to fry the eggplant and some prefer to bake it to avoid the mess of frying.  I am a purist when it comes to cooking iconic recipes like this and prefer to make them the way they are supposed to be made . I have yet to see a good Italian cook bake instead of fry the eggplant before assembling in a casserole dish.  Besides, once you layer and cover it with tomato sauce and mozzarella it is going to lose its crispiness especially after baking it covered for over 30 minutes.  So put baked eggplant out of your mind and follow the recipe the way it should be.

One of the real drawbacks of this dish is cleaning the dirty pan in which it bakes.  There's no way to avoid it or even make it look pretty for a blog photo.  I take off my hat to those who can. Soak it in dish washing soap overnight.  The next day clean the pan as much as you can and then sprinkle some Bartender's Helper over the bottom and sides and let it sit for a bit.  Clean with a soft pad and rinse. Repeat if needed. That should do it. Do not use a Brillo pad or it will scratch your dish.

Although this recipe is for six, you can adapt it depending how many people you want to serve. You need to figure on three 1/4 inch eggplant slices per person, at least.  So look at the size of  your eggplants, figure accordingly, and make an extra couple of stalks in case someone wants seconds. Also remember, this dish does not need to swim in tomato sauce.  If you have some saved in the freezer, it should take no time.  If not, the recipe I use, also from Lidia Bastianich, takes only 25 minutes to make.


3 medium eggplants, (about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds total)
1 tablespoon sea salt, or kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
all-purpose flour, for dredging
2 cups plain breadcrumbs
freshly ground pepper
½ cup vegetable oil, or as needed
½ cup olive oil, or as needed
Tomato sauce
2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese or imported Fontina cheese, cut into slices 1/3-inch thick
12 fresh basil leaves

Serves 6


Trim the stems and ends from the eggplants. Remove strips of peel about 1-inch wide from the eggplants, leaving about half the peel intact. Cut the eggplant lengthwise into1/2-inch thick slices and place them in a colander. Sprinkle with the coarse salt and let drain for 1 hour. Rinse the eggplant under cool running water, drain thoroughly and pat dry. 

Whisk the eggs and 1 teaspoon salt together in a 13 x 9 inch baking pan or wide, shallow bowl. Spread the flour and breadcrumbs in an even layer in two separate wide, shallow bowls or over sheets of wax paper. Dredge the eggplant slices in flour, shaking off the excess. Dip the floured eggplant into the egg mixture, turning well to coat both sides evenly. Let excess egg drip back into the pan, then lay the eggplant in the pan of breadcrumbs. Turn to coat both sides well with breadcrumbs, pressing with your hands until the breadcrumbs adhere well to the eggplant.

Pour 1/2 cup each of the olive and vegetable oils into a medium skillet. Heat over medium-high heat until a corner of one of the eggplant slices gives off a lively sizzle when dipped into the oil. Add as many of the eggplant slices as fit without touching and cook, turning once, until well browned on both sides, about 6 minutes. Remove the eggplant to a baking pan lined with paper towel and repeat with the remaining eggplant slices. Adjust the heat as the eggplant cooks to prevent the bits of coating that fall off the eggplant slices from burning. Add oil to the pan as necessary during cooking to keep the level more or less the same.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Heat the tomato sauce to simmering, if necessary, in a small saucepan over medium heat. Ladle enough sauce into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish to cover the bottom. Sprinkle with an even layer of grated cheese and top with a layer of fried eggplant, pressing it down gently. Tear a few leaves of basil over the eggplant and ladle about 3/4 cup of the sauce to coat the top evenly. Sprinkle an even layer of grated cheese over the sauce and top with a layer of mozzarella or Fontina, using about one-third of the cheese. Repeat the layering as described above two more times, ending with a top layer of cheese that leaves a border of about one inch around the edges of the baking dish. Drizzle sauce around the border of the baking dish and sprinkle the top layer with the remaining grated cheese. Finish with a few decorative streaks or rounds of tomato sauce. Cover the baking dish loosely with aluminum foil and poke several holes in the foil with the tip of a knife. Bake 30 minutes.

Uncover and continue baking until the top layer of cheese is golden in spots, about 15 minutes. Let rest 10 to 20 minutes, then cut into squares and serve.

Recipe Lidia Bastianich
Photos Lindaraxa


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Last Call...Blueberry Crumb Coffee Cake

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It is the weekend after Labor Day, the unofficial start of Fall.  I don't know about your neck of the woods, but here in Georgia it is sweltering.  As in 90 degree weather, terribly humid and many an afternoon thunderstorm.  The apples are out in the produce department but, better than that, the berries are on sale, as in three for the price of one.

I know I should be posting about Fall recipes, but who can think of the hearth and apple pie when it's this hot.  These next two weeks are usually bad as far as dressing and cooking is concerned.  I used to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to decide what to wear when I lived in New York City. Beige, tan and black, black and tan, but forget white.  Navy? no, too Spring.  Grey was okay. Brown? nah. The next three weeks were a pain to dress.  You never knew what the next day would bring.

It's the same with cooking for the next two weeks.  We are still grilling but late afternoon showers make it iffy.

This coffee cake, like black and tan, is great to have around in this transition period.  Good for brunch, good for tea and a great dessert with coffee.  Madame Mere has been sneaking a piece (a "tiny" little piece) every day for the last week with her espresso right after lunch.   Yes,  you can make this any time of the year with frozen blueberries but it is really not the same.

One day last week, I did my good deed for the week by helping an elderly lady in one of those motorized carts reach for a few baskets of raspberries.  There were six left and she wanted three.  So I picked out the best three and THEN she told me about the special, written in tiny letters over the counter, three for the price of one.  As I stared at the last three baskets after she took off, and I mean took off,  I thought, jeepers three for the price of one? raspberries?! Well obviously I didn't want the discards after selecting the best for the motorized lady but I was consoled to see that the same deal was offered for the blueberry pints.  So that's how this came to be.  That and the recipe I had saved from Maida Heatter, via Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite food blogs.

This cake is called a crumb cake.  I think of it more along the lines of a coffee cake since it reminds me of my mother and her generation. That is what they used to call this kind of cake which was served after lunch or for breakfast together with the infamous percolated American coffee ( insipid and weak!).  I would serve it instead for tea or as part of a brunch.

 Debbie is absolutely right in all her modifications.  First,  why sift the flour when this promises to be a dense cake; and why coat the blueberries in flour when they won't sink to the bottom in a batter this thick.  Two unnecessary steps out of the way.

Do add the walnuts, it makes for interesting mix of texture.

One of the things Smitten Kitchen commented about was the butteriness of the crumble and resisting the urge to add more flour to make it more crumbly.  If you put it back in the fridge, until ready to use, it will be crumblier and easier to sprinkle.

Another thing I did not do was compensate for not sifting the flour by adding an extra tablespoon. Instead, I used White Lily Flour, one of the wonders and great advantages of living in the South.  If you can't find it just use a fine sieve and forget about sifting.

One of the things I like about this cake, or coffee cake, is the fact that it requires just two bowls and one cake pan.  It gets done in no time and it is better the next day and the day after, meaning you are more than safe making it a day ahead.  I have not tried freezing it as there was none left after four days.  Madame Mere and the lady who takes care of her managed to polish it off in three days, with a tiny bit of help from me, so it doesn't look like I will ever know it it freezes well or not.  I just have a good feeling it will.

So, blueberries are on sale, this is an easy cake, no fuss, no mess, it can be made ahead, freezes well and is delicious to boot. What are you waiting for?!

Blueberry Crumb Coffee Cake

Serves 8


For the crumble

5 tablespoons (40 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup, 2 ounces or 55 grams) unsalted butter, cold
Pinch of salt

For the cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour (use White Lily if you can)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup, 2 ounces or 55 grams) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pint or 340 to 455 grams fresh blueberries, clean and dry
1/2 cup whole milk,
1/2 cup (55 grams) walnuts, chopped medium fine (optional)
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)


Heat oven to 375°F. Butter a 9-inch round baking pan (with at least 2″ sides) and dust it lightly with flour; line it with a round of parchment paper.'

Prepare the topping by mixing the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt, then cutting the butter in with a pastry blender, fork or your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.  (I suggest you put it in the refrigerator until ready to use.  It is easier to sprinkle on top later)

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt until combines.

In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar and zest together until light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined.

Beat in 1/3 of the dry ingredient mixture until just combined, followed by 1/2 the milk; repeat with remaining dry ingredients and milk, finishing with the dry mixture. The batter will be very stiff, but don’t fret.

Fold blueberries into cake batter until evenly distributed. Scoop cake batter into prepared pan and smooth so that it is flat. If using walnuts, scatter them on top. Sprinkle with prepared streusel.

Bake in heated oven for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out batter-free. You can let the cake cool complete in the pan on a rack, or just cool it in the pan for 20 minutes before flipping it out onto a cooling rack, removing the parchment paper lining, and flipping it back onto a plate. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if using. 

Do ahead: Cake keeps covered with plastic or foil at room temperature for three days. If longer, it might be best to keep it in the fridge. It gets more moist each day and it is better the day after baking.

Adapted from Maida Heatter via Smitten Kitchen
Photos Lindaraxa


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