summer food…a feast for the eyes

Lately, I haven’t had much time to invest in blogging. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been eating, obviously. Here are a few of my food memories from summer. And because pictures say more than my words can, here goes. … Continue reading

banana crunch muffins

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I inadvertently left some of the “crunch” out of these delicious muffins.  As the muffins baked, I was cleaning up the counters and saw the chopped walnuts that I had taken out of the freezer but never added to the batter.  I really love walnuts.  I thought about cramming some by hand into the half-baked muffins, but it wasn’t worth the burns.  Then I imagined using a toothpick to kind of poke the nuts into the center of the muffins, but all I had were colored toothpicks (don’t ever buy these, for so many reasons, but the main one being they bleed into everything, especially white frosting) and I could just picture colored holes speckling the tops.

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So I served these semi-crunchy muffins to my arriving friends, apologizing for my forgetfulness.  But as my friends and the empty muffin tins told me, it didn’t matter much.  These little baked treasures have a permanent spot in my recipe box.  And it’s not even because of the crunchy topping; it’s the coconut.  Every person (including the little foodies) said with delighted surprise, “Is there coconut in this?”  Oh, yes.  Coconut and banana.

And walnuts next time.

There are two tips for this recipe: definitely use paper or foil liners so the warm muffins come out in one piece; use a pastry blender to mash the bananas.  For more tips, click over to Work-For-Me-Wednesday at We Are THAT Family.

Banana Crunch Muffins

from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 bananas)
  • 1 cup medium-diced ripe bananas (1 banana)
  • 1 cup small-diced walnuts
  • 1 cup granola
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • Dried banana chips, granola, or shredded coconut, optional

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Line 18 large muffin cups with paper liners.
  3. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the melted butter and blend.
  4. Combine the eggs, milk, vanilla, and mashed bananas, and add them to the flour-and-butter mixture. Scrape the bowl and blend well. Don’t overmix.
  5. Fold the diced bananas, walnuts, granola, and coconut into the batter.
  6. Spoon the batter into the paper liners, filling each one to the top.
  7. Top each muffin with dried banana chips, granola, or coconut, if desired.
  8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool slightly, remove from the pan, and serve.

what’s cooking at the library

Did you know that your local library has cookbooks? I didn’t until my friend Wendy told me that there was half a shelf of Barefoot Contessa books waiting for me. So I went and checked out Barefoot Contessa Family Style and The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and made this:

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I have never really liked chicken pot pie. That bottom layer of soggy pie crust and the soupy filling with a few chunks of chewy chicken disappointed me every time my mom served it. Fast forward 30 years to this glorious reinvention of the 1970s classic: Chicken Stew with Biscuits. YUM! The little foodies LOVED this recipe, as did the adults. It certainly isn’t lowfat and it takes some time, but it’s comfort food through and through. Other than not adding parsley to the biscuit dough, we followed the directions exactly, and it turned out perfectly. The most important part of this recipe is using the bone-in chicken breasts. When roasted, the chicken becomes very tender and is flavored by the constant basting of the skin, which you remove after cooking. This fed the six of us twice, with a couple of lunch servings in between.

I can’t wait to get back to the library to see who else is waiting to be checked out. Any suggestions?

For more tips, check out Works-For-Me Wednesday at We Are THAT Family.

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Chicken Stew with Biscuits

from Barefoot Contessa Family Style

NOTE: To make in advance, refrigerate the chicken stew and biscuits separately. Bake the stew for 25 minutes, then place the biscuits on top, and bake for another 30 minutes, until done.

  • 3 whole (6 split) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade [I used Pacific brand, which is the best broth I’ve found]
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups medium-diced carrots (4 carrots), blanched for 2 minutes [make sure you do this or your carrots will be too hard]
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen peas (2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen small whole onions
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

For the biscuits:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley [we didn’t add this to the biscuits]
  • 1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin. Cut the chicken into large dice. You will have 4 to 6 cups of cubed chicken.
  3. In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock and dissolve the bouillon cubes in the stock.
  4. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the chopped onions over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent.
  5. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the hot chicken stock to the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring, until thick.
  6. Add 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and the heavy cream. Add the cubed chicken, carrots, peas, small whole onions, and parsley. Mix well. Place the stew in a 10 x 13 x 2-inch oval or rectangular baking dish. Place the baking dish on a sheet pan lined with parchment or wax paper. Bake for 15 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, make the biscuits. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas. Add the half-and-half and combine on low speed. Mix in the parsley. Dump the dough out on a well-floured board and, with a rolling pin, roll out to 3/8-inch thick. Cut out twelve circles with a 2 1/2-inch round cutter [or the rim of a glass].
  8. Remove the stew from the oven and arrange the biscuits on top of the filling. Brush them with egg wash, and return the dish to the oven. Bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the biscuits are brown and the stew is bubbly.

barefoot-style scallops

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Sometime back in July, I made scallops. The most succulent, sweet scallops I’ve ever tasted. And I bought them from some guy in a truck on the side of the road. That may sound a little risky to city dwellers, but to us suburbanites in CT, we know that the best seafood and fish come from the seafood truck guy. He only stops in a few nearby towns for three or four days out of the week. The rest of the week, he’s in Maine catching the goodies.

If you are like me, cooking fish and seafood can be a little intimidating. This is a great dish to practice your skills; the prep is simple, the cooking even easier, and the results are delicious. Click here for some how-to videos on cooking seafood that are helpful for anyone who needs some tips.

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As you can see by the serving size, we were hungry. There are two elements that make this recipe a keeper: the freshness of the scallops and the prosciutto di Parma. If your grocery store does not have the “di Parma” type of prosciutto, then use the other. And if you cannot find prosciutto, you could substitute pancetta (Italian bacon) or bacon. Each of these will lend a different flavor, with the prosciutto di Parma adding the most delicate salty and sweet taste. (To find out more about prosciutto, click here.)

Scallop Gratin Over Spinach

Adapted from my much-loved birthday present: Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced (I used a little less)
  • 2 medium shallots, minced
  • 2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma, minced
  • 4 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, plus extra for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Pernod (I did not use this)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (I used half this amount)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 6 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 1 1/2–2 pounds fresh bay scallops (I used sea scallops)
  • about 6 cups baby spinach, rinsed and dried
  • Lemon, for garnish
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. To make the topping, place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (you can also use a hand mixer). With the mixer on low speed, add the garlic, shallot, prosciutto, parsley, lemon juice, Pernod, salt, and pepper and mix until combined. With the mixer still on low, add the olive oil slowly as though making mayonnaise, until combined. Fold the panko in with a rubber spatula and set aside.
  3. Place the wine in the bottom of an oven-proof dish.
  4. With a small sharp knife, remove the white muscle and membrane from the side of each scallop and discard. Pat the scallops dry with paper towels and place in the dish.
  5. Spoon the garlic butter evenly over the top of the scallops.
  6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the topping is golden and sizzling and the scallops are barely done. (If you want the top crustier, place the dishes under the broiler for 2 minutes, until browned.)
  7. Place the spinach leaves on three or four plates (depending on how hungry you are!). Spoon hot scallops over the spinach. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkling of chopped parsley and serve immediately.

three sisters

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I had three sisters over the other night to celebrate our birthdays. No, they’re not nuns, and they’re not my sisters (I have four brothers). These three sisters and their family are great friends of ours. We have a tradition: instead of doing gifts, I usually cook them a big meal in the midst of our birthday season, which in this case is summer.

Here was the menu:

Refreshment
Banana Mango Daiquiris

Appetizers
Hummus with Vegetables and Naan
Savory Palmiers

Entrée
Beef Braciole Pinwheels
Warm Brie with Mache, Honey, and Pistachios
Colorful Corn Salad

Dessert
Baked Chocolate Pudding with
Vanilla Bean Ice Cream,
Chocolate Espresso Beans, and Kahlua

If you have the Barefoot Contessa’s Back to Basics, you’ll recognize several of these recipes. If you have read this post, you’ll be familiar with the beef and the corn dishes. It was all good, but the standout to me, besides the obviously tantalizing banana mango daiquiri, was the appetizer. These palmiers were delicious. I am not a fan of goat cheese, so I substituted feta. I’ve had a thing for puff pastry recently, so I could have inhaled a whole plate of these. But I shared. That’s what cooking for people is all about.

To perpetuate my love affair with all things puffy, I am dying to make these savory gruyere crabmeat palmiers. Let me know if you have any other tasty puff pastry recipes.

Savory Palmiers

adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

  • 1 package frozen Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, defrosted
  • 1/4 cup prepared pesto
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • Kosher salt
  1. Lightly flour a board and carefully unfold one sheet of puff pastry. Roll the pastry lightly with a rolling pin until it’s 9 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches.
  2. Spread the sheet of puff pastry with half the pesto. Then sprinkle with half the feta cheese, half the sun-dried tomatoes, and half the pine nuts.
  3. Working from the short ends, fold each end halfway to the center. Then fold each side again toward the center until the folded edges almost touch. Fold one side over the other and press lightly. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
  4. Repeat for the second sheet of puff pastry using the remaining ingredients.
  5. Cover both rolls with plastic wrap and chill for at least 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F.
  6. Cut the prepared rolls of puff pastry into 1/4-inch-thick slices, and place them 2 inches apart on sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Bake for 14 minutes, until golden brown.
  7. Makes approximately 50.