November 30, 2013

My Grandmother's Stuffing (and in Praise of a Realistic Thanksgiving)

La Dolce Duchessa's Thanksgiving

What does that subtitle mean?  In praise of a realistic Thanksgiving?  It means that before the meal even started, a bottle of red wine was spilled on the white linen table cloth.  It was because my husband was desperately trying to feed mashed potatoes to the starving almost 19 month old- and some of the wine landed in the mashed potato serving bowl- he said, 'It's on the outside, though, so if we just serve the potatoes from the center, that shouldn't be an issue...'  Then, my son's mango juice cup's lid (one of the only varieties of fruit juice he will consume, but hey, we like mango) went flying and out sploshed the mango juice onto the table cloth in a different area, to which I responded 'hey, now it's a party!'  because, really, what else are you going to say?  Then I spilled red wine on the bottom of my wine glass- 'oh hey, you've ruined the tablecloth!' came the shouts- you know what?  No big deal.  Any of it.  Because my little family was together, happy and healthy, and we even had my wonderful Mom visiting to make her signature stuffing (which is really her Mom's recipe).  So, a roaring success!  Even if the pictures say otherwise!

American Gothic tribute- and our red wine covered table!

Don't sweat the small stuff.  See the big picture.  Enjoy what can be enjoyed- affirm what can be affirmed!  Yes, I love things done well, and elegant food and beautiful tables.  But, that can't be every day.  It just can't.  And that is just fine.  Really.

My Grandmother's stuffing
What does Thanksgiving mean to you?  For me, it always meant stuffing.  Partially because I was a picky eater and for a while, stuffing was the only thing served on Thanksgiving that I liked.  Let me be more specific, I only liked my Mom's stuffing.  Which, was really her Mom's stuffing.  Her Mom, who I haven't talked to you about much before, was from Ireland.  She was very mischievous- I remember clearly when we were visiting her, she secretly placed a five dollar bill in my hand when no one else was looking, and whispered to me not to tell anyone.  I must have been 7 years old, and I thought this was so exciting- and I'm sure no one cared that she gave it to me- her making it our secret made it special.  When she came to visit us at our house, she'd braid my long hair before I went to bed at night, which made it beautifully wavy in the morning.  She was the kind of person who could have fun in a paper bag.  I have always truly envied those people- I've had several friends like that- and I think sometimes my children are like that- it's a quality that is really wonderful, happy wherever you are.  She has passed away now.  When she got older and was in a nursing home, my Mom and I would visit her.  Once, we'd taken her out to eat, and we'd invited a young man that worked at the nursing home.  There was some question about what 'dish' was being considered, and my Grandmother joked that the young man was eyeing one of the beautiful waitresses as his 'dish.'  She was that kind of prankster all the time.  I was in high school during this time, and glitter nail polish was a big part of my life, and I remember bringing glitter nail polish and painting her nails (and her friends in the nursing home, too).  Did I mention she won the nursing home beauty pageant?  And her acceptance speech began, 'I'd like to thank all the little people,' with a royal wave.  I think I'm starting to see where my irreverent streak comes from...  And for that matter my children...

Plain old white sandwich bread is best for stuffing
This stuffing is very simple- but deviations from its simplicity make it worse- take it from me- for years I tried to elevate it by using what I considered to be superior bread, freshly baked, toasted in the oven, hand cut- a complete waste of time.  That all yielded stuffing that was far too crusty.  What you need is some nice, plain white sandwich bread.  And don't cut it.  Tear it into pieces on the couch while watching TV.  If that's good enough for two generations ahead of me, it is good enough for me, too.  And, don't use this horrible new fangled stuff that is poultry seasoning that is salt free (unless it is Bell's).  What!!  No.  It is Thanksgiving.  Embrace the salt!  (We very much embraced the salt this Thanksgiving- instead of turkey, we had a salt crusted roasted chicken and it was soooooooooooooo good...)

Grandma's Thanksgiving Stuffing
(enough for 6-8 people, or 4 people plus leftovers)
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 bunches celery, chopped
1 to 1 1/4 loaves white sandwich bread, a few days old, torn into pieces
2 sticks unsalted butter
poultry seasoning (although salt free, we like Bell's) Bell's Turkey Seasoning
chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

Beginning your stuffing with butter and onion
You may prepare your onion, celery and tear your bread ahead of time.  You may even make this the day before and then heat it in the oven in a deep casserole pan.  This stuffing works with you!  Let's begin!  Start melting one of the sticks of butter in a wide skillet (or whatever you want to use to cook the onion and celery).  The wider the surface, the faster this will go.  Once the butter is almost melted, add the onion and cook over low to medium heat.  Once translucent, add the celery.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion and celery are softened.  You don't want browning, or caramelizing.  That's not what we're going for here.  We're going for cooked, not raw, but still recognizable.  Begin to add a little poultry seasoning.  And, the second stick of butter.

You'll need a large stock pot for the next phase of cooking.  Once the onion and celery are sufficiently softened in the melted butter, transfer to the stock pot.  Continue to heat over low to medium heat, and begin to add the bread pieces.  You'll want to do it a little at a time, and mix, so the butter gets absorbed into the bread.  Begin to add some chicken broth (we used about 2 to 2 1/2 cups for this amount of stuffing, but this will vary based on your bread, so you'll need to eyeball this).  And, some more poultry seasoning.  The adding of the poultry seasoning is to your taste, so continue to taste as you go along.  Remember, white bread is pretty tasteless, so be bold, you want your stuffing to be able to stand on its own.  Keep mixing the bread in, and once you've added in all the bread, see where you are in terms of moistness and flavor.  You don't want it to be too wet, if it is, add more bread, or too dry, if it is, add more chicken broth.  Taste it, and season with salt and pepper.

Before you are ready to put it on the table, spoon it into a deep casserole dish and let it heat and dry out a little in the oven at about 200-225.  Cover loosely with foil- not tight- because you want some drying.  Especially the top, so you can have a nice mix of firm and soft in the final stuffing.

Once its firm and dry enough on top to your liking, remove from the oven and serve.  You may serve it in the warm casserole pan or spoon it into another serving dish, trying to keep the dry portions on the top.  Enjoy!

La Dolce Duchessa's Apple Pie

We also enjoyed a lovely apple pie, for the recipe, click here: La Dolce Duchessa's Apple Pie, why not whip one up for Christmas dinner?  Or a lovely raspberry pie? La Dolce Duchessa's Raspberry Pie

To clean the table cloth, which is a white linen tablecloth, I put it into the washing machine with OxiClean powder and used a hot cycle.  I stopped the machine at the soak step and left it overnight.  I finished the cycle the next morning, and it came out, no problem.  I didn't have to treat the individual stains at all.  Wasn't that easy?  OxiClean

October 27, 2013

EB Strong's Restaurant in Burlington, Vermont and Holding on to a Youthful Appearance

Wagyu burger at EB Strong's, Burlington, VT
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend the weekend in Burlington, Vermont, with some very sweet girlfriends.  I have a few friends who attended the University of Vermont (UVM) and they graciously invited me to tag along for homecoming weekend.  It was, actually, the first time I would every be away from my children, basically since I had the first one almost four years ago.  I would say it was time, wouldn’t you? 

I flew in late Friday night- but not too late to enjoy 90’s night at one of the downtown clubs.  It was ironically attended by people born as recently as 1992, but who am I to stand in the way of music appreciation?  There are some serious classics from the 90’s  (i.e. California Love).  On to Saturday brunch- Leunig’s Bistro & Café on Church Street in Burlington’s downtown area is delightful and delicious, truly.  Visit their website: Leunig's Bistro, Burlington, VT

If you’re able to sit in the tented sidewalk area, there is very nice people watching.  Although we enjoyed the brunch menu and a bellini or bloody mary or two- the local Vermont cheese selection on the menu was very, very tempting.  As you may already know, Vermont has many wonderful locally crafted cheeses.  There’s a lot going on really right in Vermont in the food department!

The inspiration for this post was the exceptional dinner we enjoyed at EB Strong’s Prime Steakhouse, also on Church Street in downtown Burlington.  It apparently took the space of a Japanese restaurant that used to be there- something we learned when a few friends wandered in looking for sushi.  This meal was a truly memorable one- from the salad, to the entrée, to the lovely wine.  And our service was very good. 

Let’s talk about the salad- we shared the wedge salad, which had, are you sitting down?  Candied bacon lardons.  And they were candied with, are you still sitting down?  Maple syrup.  Enough said.  There was a local Vermont blue cheese (Boucher Farm) and the lettuce was incredibly fresh and high quality.  We were already incredibly impressed. 

Illahe 2011 Pinot Noir at EB Strong's
The wine was a recommendation from our waitress- I really enjoy wines from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, you might remember that I have several friends from the Portland / Eugene area, here’s a post from a few years ago about a visit there: Expanding the Mommy and Homekeeping Repertoire in Portland, OR  I told our waitress that I really enjoyed wines from that area and what my budget was (about $40) and she recommended an Illahe 2011 Pinot Noir.  Not only was their wine list extensive, it had a very good range of price points (there were at least two in every category close to $40).  This wine was so delicious.  I can’t do it justice- it is a very, very special wine.

For our entrées, we had the Wagyu burger.  Yes, seriously.  It had a local cheddar, fried pickles (yes!!) a bacon aoli and truffle fries.  It was recommended medium, and I might, if I ever have the opportunity to go back there get it closer to medium well, just because it’s a thick, generous burger, but it was fantastic.  With the Illahe Pinot Noir, perfection.  Get yourself to EB Strong’s!  EB Strong's, Burlington, VT

Although I had left my children at home, not all the people visiting for homecoming weekend did the same- in our hotel, with very thin walls I might add, an adorable, well meaning family was staying next door.  I would guess their little girl was 3 or 4.  Guess what musical instrument was included in their luggage for her to express her joy with?  A recorder.  So, every morning at 7:30 or so, we awoke to serenades from her recorder.  It was hard to be mad about it though, it was so incredibly cute.  And it made me miss my little mischief makers!

On to other matters- being in a college town with a tremendous amount of young people around makes you notice things…  Now, I am fairly happy with my appearance and enjoy looking presentable and nice, although, the goals have definitely changed since I have gotten a little older (mid to late 30’s), had two children, etc.  In my 20’s, the goals would be more ambitious?  They are currently to look ‘not gross.’  Or, ‘not embarrass my husband, children or friends in public situations.’  In any event- I took notice of my under eye area this weekend.  I noticed that is where a lot of my age shows- I have dark circles under my eyes.  I’m not upset about this- I have just noted it.  I am ok with being older than a college student.  It was interesting, actually, they seemed so happy and hopeful and looking forward to life- and not that I’m not, but there are things that have been settled and happened and my life moves forward with those- like a husband and children- and I don’t think about life in such an open ended way any more- like, ‘what will I be when I grow up’ kind of mind set.  Anyhow- they were darling and it was joyful to be near it.  We enjoyed an a cappella concert on campus on Saturday night- if you every have a chance to hear the UVM Top Cats, definitely do- they are hilarious and fun and great singers.  

Anyhow, if you’re looking at your under eye area, try (just from the drugstore) Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Concealer, it’s an under eye concealer that looks like a tiny microphone.  I’ve included a picture here to show you what a difference it makes- I put it only under the left eye in this picture- and you can tell the difference.  (It actually makes such a difference it makes my face look asymmetric!)  You can see the darkness under the right side very clearly, that is the side without the Instant Age Rewind.  So get yourself to the drugstore and put a little spring in your step and look super rested and younger!

Left side concealer, right under eye no product (see?!)


Thank you for reading!  xo

October 25, 2013

Oven Roasted Tomato Pasta with Bacon, Onion and Red Wine


Oven roasted tomatoes
As you may be able to tell, I am having trouble letting go of tomato season...  This week I have experimented with oven roasting very large tomatoes.  We were kindly given two enormous tomatoes, one was bigger than both your fists- and I thought, these are amazing, but what do I do with them?  So, I sliced them thin and roasted them in the oven with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper.  These never made it into any recipe because we ate them just like that (the baby girl helped).  Yum.  We ate them right off the baking sheet.  So, those were gone.  I went to the store and bought the largest tomatoes they had and these two lovely variations are how we ate them this week.  As a crostini topping with a creamy burrata cheese and as one of the main ingredients in a terrific (and easy) pasta dish.  Even my husband, who claims to not like tomatoes, really liked it.  To the tune of seconds.


Oven Roasted Tomatoes
(for the pasta, you'll need 1-2 very large tomatoes, you can make more than that and use it for something else)
Very large tomatoes (as ripe as possible, do not refrigerate, leave on your counter)
olive oil
sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees fahrenheit.  Use a baking sheet with sides (also known as a jelly roll pan).  Coat the sheet with olive oil.  Rinse the tomatoes, then slice them into 1/4 inch wide slices, removing any stem portions.  Place as close together as possible (they shrink while cooking) on the baking sheet.  Top with more olive oil and sprinkle with a good amount of sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  To give you an idea, 3 very large tomatoes filled a large baking sheet, and the total amount of olive oil was probably 2-3 Tbsp and the amount of salt was probably 1 to 1 1/2 tsp.  The amount of black pepper was less than the salt.  Place in the oven and bake for 2 hours.  My oven is uneven and runs a little hot, so I turned the sheet around half way through to make it more even.  If you find you need a little more time because your oven is more true to temperature, that is ok.

Tomatoes before oven roasting
When they are finished, they will look very withered and should have some areas that are browned.  It's ok if some areas of the flesh are still somewhat raw looking, but this should only be a small percentage.  If it's a lot, put them back in the oven for a little while and keep an eye on them.  I make these and then refrigerate them until I need them.

Here they are as a topping to a ball of burrata cheese with some crostini, (made from day old baguette, sliced, a little olive oil poured over them, and put in the oven at 350 for 8-10 minutes).  A good way to use day old baguette!

Oven roasted tomatoes over burrata with crostini
Now, on to the pasta!  I always have bacon and yellow onions.  Always.  They are staples in my kitchen.  Sometimes it's pancetta instead of bacon, but there is little difference between the two- only that pancetta is more dry cured than American bacon.  The cut of meat and largely the preparation of the two is the same.  Oh, and pancetta is round, where American bacon is not.  But otherwise, not a ton of difference.

Oven Roasted Tomato Pasta with Bacon, Onion and Red Wine
(Serves 2 very hungry people or 4 mildly hungry people, adjust as necessary)
4-6 pieces of bacon
1 medium to large yellow onion
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
pinch red pepper flakes
1-2 oven roasted tomatoes (see recipe above in this post)
1/4 cup red wine
1-2 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan
1/2 box pasta (we used mini shells- use something with a similar cup shape to catch portions of the sauce)

The most time intensive part of this recipe is the browning of the bacon and the onion.  But, this can be done with only occasionally stirring.  So, if you need to play costume party sword fight or blanket town with a little one while you do this, you can!  I use a round dutch oven for this, I like the even heating of the enameled cast iron.  Turn on the stove to low to medium heat.  Cut the bacon in small, 1/2 inch pieces and place them in the pot, no need to add any fat or oil, bacon brings its own to the party!  Let the bacon start to cook while you cut the onion into small pieces, doesn't have to be incredibly fine, but pretty small.  After the bacon has started to brown, add the olive oil and then the onion.  Stir occasionally, but let this get pretty brown and caramelize a little.  This is more of a visual cue than a time cue.




Once it's nice and browned, start heating up your water for your pasta.  I've been really liking the Barilla white fiber pastas lately, not only because they have more fiber than regular pasta, but they actually cook significantly faster than regular pasta, anywhere from 4 to 6 minutes.  That's a win-win!  Barilla White Fiber Pasta  So while your water is heating up, add the red pepper flakes to the bacon and onion.  Take the oven roasted tomatoes, 1-2 tomatoes originally, which looks like a significantly smaller amount now, and chop them, fairly small.  Add to the bacon and onion mixture.  Allow them to incorporate and heat up for a few minutes with the mixture.  If your water is boiling, add salt, then your pasta.

Oven roasted tomatoes, chopped


While the pasta is cooking, stir your sauce and add the 1/4 cup of wine.  Some thoughts on wine here- fall is a time in our house when I go through an amazing amount red wine in my cooking.  It's just the right time of year for meats braised in red wine, rich sauces and gravies enhanced with red wine...  I'm getting hungry just thinking about it...  Anyhow, it's gotten to the point where we need to come up with a bit of a solution- so my husband discovered Bota Box.  It's the equivalent of 4 bottles of wine, it's in a box with a dispenser like a cooler, and it is supposed to last (once it's open) and stay fresh for a month.  (He laughed that it won't likely last a month with the rate of pot roasts, lamb stews, pasta sauces and other things that come out of our kitchen!)  Anyhow, so far so good, and it isn't bad to drink, either!  Bota Box

Cooking wine solution!

By now, your red wine should have mostly evaporated from the sauce and your pasta should be done.  Using a slotted spoon or pasta utensil, just simply move the pasta into the pot with the sauce.  Do not worry at all if some of the water comes too- a little bit of water from the pasta is actually a great thing to make the sauce come together and get a little creamier.  Stir to incorporate the pasta and the sauce, add the parmesan, watch it just melt into the dish and disappear.  Enjoy!  We enjoyed this with a lovely mixed green salad with a simple balsamic and white cracked pepper dressing and some good quality olive oil.  I also had some wine from the Bota Box!  It was a lovely end to a lovely day.

Seconds, please!
Thank you for reading!


October 13, 2013

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Heirloom Tomato Salad

I officially say good bye to summer with this salad- it uses the last of the tomatoes from our little patio garden.  Good bye summer!  If you still have green tomatoes on your plants, don't worry, you can ripen them inside your house if the weather is too cold.  It is very easy, just pick the tomatoes while they are green and place them in a paper bag on your kitchen counter.  In the bag with the tomatoes, place a greenish-yellow banana.  Close the bag, but it doesn't need to be air tight.  I use a bag clip on the paper bag like you would use on a bag of chips.  Depending on how green the tomatoes were to begin with, you may need to use a few bananas, replacing the bananas as they become ripe.  The gas that the ripening banana gives off in the paper bag ripens the tomatoes, even though they are off the vine.  Voila!  Sweet summer tomatoes into October!

Cherokee Purple, Green  Zebra and San Marzano Tomatoes
This salad is made of tomatoes that were ripened on my counter in just this way, three types of tomatoes that I attempted to grow this summer, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, and San Marzano.  While I think they are all beautiful and very worthwhile to grow, I am surprised to find the Green Zebra my favorite of the three.  Although they are not red-ish tomatoes, you can tell when they are ripe when the skin turns slightly yellow with green stripes (when unripe, the skin is green with darker green stripes).  Although green and yellow in color, it still packs a tremendous sweet summer tomato taste, but with a lovely vegetable note.  The other two are lovely as well, the Cherokee Purple has lovely purple-red flesh and portions that stay dark green.  The San Marzano is somewhat drier, sometimes called a paste tomato, but it's flavor is very good.

This is very simple, fresh and delicious, and because the ingredients are high quality, you don't have to do much to them at all for it to be exceptional.  And who wouldn't feel incredibly special being served home grown heirloom tomatoes?

Heirloom Tomato Salad
(Serves 2 as an appetizer, increase proportion as needed)
2-3 each of Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra and San Marzano tomatoes (the size of each was relatively small)
A few handfuls of wild baby arugula
Good quality olive oil (I like Frantoia)
Balsamic vinegar
Sea salt
Freshly ground white pepper
Freshly ground Pecorino Romano

Salad before freshly grated cheese is added

Frantoia Olive Oil
Wash the tomatoes and cut them into small pieces or slices, depending on their shape, discarding the stems and any undesirable portions.  Arrange them on the serving plate.  Mound the arugula leaves in the center.  Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt (I like red Hawaiian sea salt, also called Alaea) and some freshly ground white pepper over the salad.  Drizzle some good quality olive oil, I really like the taste of Frantoia olive oil.  Drizzle a much less smaller amount of balsamic in the center of the salad mound.  Remember this rule, you typically want double the amount of oil as you do acid in a salad dressing.  Top with some freshly grated Pecorino Romano.  I find I prefer this to Parmesan frequently, it's very fresh and salty.  Enjoy!

October 12, 2013

Mustard and Panko Coated Chicken Cutlets (An Easy and Delicious Weeknight Option)

Mustard and Panko Coated Chicken Cutlets

These are fantastic- a snap to make and very little cooking time.  Just the thing for your busy schedule!  But, not sacrificing on quality or taste, truly.  You'll be delighted.  Kid friendly, too!

I think we can all safely agree that I have a chicken cutlet addiction.  Who knew I ate so many chicken cutlets?  Not me!  But, they are such an appealing canvas- not only are they delicious, they cook fast and can be made in a multitude of delicious ways- just take a look at these other delectable options:

http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2013/01/blood-orange-fennel-and-mache-salad.html

http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2011/01/chicken-saltimbocca-and-arugula-with.html

http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2013/07/fennel-butter-lettuce-and-avocado-salad.html

http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2011/08/pesto-chicken.html

http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2012/05/little-black-dress-of-chicken.html

So, really, if there is a support group for people who love chicken cutlets, please, someone tell me!

Anyhow- these are fantastic- let's get started!

Mustard and Panko Coated Chicken Cutlets
3 Tbsp Dijon Mustard (I like Maille brand)
2 Tbsp olive oil
freshly ground white pepper
1 yellow onion, finely chopped, browned in 1 Tbsp of olive oil previously
Panko Italian style bread crumbs (I used Progresso brand)
Chicken cutlets (about 8 from 2-3 chicken breast halves)

Yellow onion browned in olive oil
The first step is to finely chop the yellow onion and saute it over low to medium heat in 1 Tbsp of olive oil.  The pieces of onion should brown nicely on the edges and decrease in size.  The picture here gives you a good idea of how they should look.  If you are in a hurry, you can omit these certainly, but if you have the ability to include them, it's very tasty.

Preheat the oven to 500-525 degrees fahrenheit, that's the lower end of my broiler setting.  Although, I know you've probably heard me say it before, my oven tends to run a little hot.  Let's make the mustard spread- in a medium sized bowl, combine the mustard, 2 Tbsp of olive oil, freshly ground white pepper, and the previously browned onion.  I like Maille brand products, but any Dijon mustard will do- just have a sense of how hot it is- I think Maille is a tiny bit on the hot side.  I also really like Maille brand cornichons.  For the bread crumbs, I used Progresso brand Panko Italian style bread crumbs, which I haven't used before, and thought they were quite good.  I think, though, that any panko bread crumbs would be just fine.

Maille Dijon mustard

Mustard mixture

Chicken cutlets with mustard mixture
I buy my chicken cutlets pre-cut and pretty thin, they are rarely more than 1/3 of an inch thick.  If you are creating your own chicken cutlets by cutting them yourself from skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, just cut them as though it is a deck of cards.  You'll be able to get about 2-3 from each chicken breast half depending on their size.  If the thickness is still not to your liking, pound them between two pieces of waxed paper with a mallet.

Spread some of the mustard mixture on either side of the chicken cutlets.  You can see from the picture that it is not a tremendous amount- if you put much more than this you run the risk of making them excessively spicy.  You may use your fingers or a spoon to do it.  Then, coat each side in the panko bread crumbs.  Because these breadcrumbs are bigger than regular bread crumbs, you won't have such a tight, even coat, that is really ok, do not worry.

Place the chicken cutlets (that you are cooking to eat now) on a baking sheet that you have prepared with either high heat cooking spray (I use Pam for grilling cooking spray, canola oil is fine, too, just don't use olive oil at this high heat).  Bake them for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven, turn over carefully, and return to the oven for an additional 5 minutes.  Be careful when touching this baking sheet- the temperature is very high and you may need two pot holders instead of just one.  Enjoy!  Serve with a lovely salad or some potatoes.

Chicken cutlets before baking

The other wonderful thing about these is that once they are prepared, they can go into the refrigerator to cook another time- when you're ready to eat, just preheat the oven and cook for 5 minutes each side.  This can be a real time saver to prepare these ahead of time.  These were kid accepted in our house, so I hope they are in your house, too!  In any event, adults will probably like them!

Thank you for reading!

October 1, 2013

Insane Make Ahead Potatoes

Insane Make Ahead Potatoes

These potatoes truly deserve this name- they are insanely delicious, insanely easy, and insanely reheat-able!  If that isn't music to your ears, I don't know what is- I have been making these about once a week for the past month or two.  The best part about these potatoes is that they are easy to reheat and have them taste as good as, possibly even better than, the first preparation.  For busy people everywhere- Moms or not, that is really, really helpful.

Do you have potato gloves?  If not, click here: Potato Gloves  These are very handy, I recommend getting a pair.  They are very easy to use.  Just put them on and rub the potatoes between your hands under cool water.  All clean and ready to roast!  I just rinse the gloves and put them on the dish rack to dry.  If they are really dirty, I believe you may run them through the dishwasher.

Potatoes on a crisping baking sheet
Also, the baking sheet I use to make these has a special 'crisping' bottom.  Click here to see it on the Williams-Sonoma website: Crisping Baking Sheet  The raised small diamonds on the bottom of the pan make more air flow possible, and this yields nice crispy surfaces on things like roasted potatoes and also cookies!  Technically, this is not a baking sheet, it is a 'jelly roll' pan, because it has shallow sides.  I only own 'jelly roll' style baking sheets, because I use them for lots of things and often there is liquid or oil, and the shallow sides keep it from being a mess!

Insane Make Ahead Potatoes
(Serves 2-3 people as a side dish, adjust in proportion as needed)
1 1/2 lb. 'boiling' or medium to small potatoes (any color or a mix)
3 -4 sprigs of fresh thyme (leaves removed)
1 large garlic clove, through a press
2-3 pinches sea salt
ground white pepper
2 to 2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

Potatoes prepared ahead of time in cool water
There is an additional aspect of these make ahead potatoes that makes me smile, it's that you can prep the potatoes ahead of time and then cover them with cool water in a bowl until you're ready to roast them in the oven.  This is also necessary (to cover them with cool water) because cut potato surfaces begin to 'oxidize' once exposed to the air if they are not cooked in some way.

So, go ahead and don your dashing new Potato Gloves and clean your potatoes.  This size of potato (2-3 inches in length) is sometimes called a boiling potato.  They are often sold in net bags at the supermarket as opposed to individually, as the larger potatoes are.  Once they are washed, cut off any eyes or rotten parts and, leaving the skins in tact, cut into pieces, roughly 3/4 of an inch to 1 inch in size.  If you are going to prepare them now, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you aren't going to prepare them now, place in a bowl and cover completely with cool water.  If you aren't going to prepare them for a long time, put them in the refrigerator.  But a little while on the counter (like an hour or two) is fine.

Adding garlic to the potato mixture
To prepare the potatoes, place in a bowl.  If they have been in water, drain them and pat them dry with paper towels.  Use a colander if you'd like.  They don't have to be bone dry but on the drier side is better so the olive oil can adhere to the surface.  In a bowl large enough to mix them thoroughly, add the olive oil, salt, white pepper, thyme leaves and garlic.  To remove the leaves from a sprig of thyme, hold the bottom of the sprig by one hand's thumb and pointer finger and with the other hand, pinch with your thumb and forefinger and run your fingers from the bottom to the top of the sprig, most of the leaves should come off easily.  Discard the stems.  Mix the potatoes with a spoon and then empty the bowl and any excess oil mixture on to your jelly roll style baking sheet.  Shake the potatoes from side to side to make them spread out evenly and also to coat the bottom of the baking sheet with oil.

Place the baking sheet in the oven for a total of 55 minutes: after the first 20 minutes remove from the oven and move the potatoes around with a spatula, after the second 20 minutes do the same, and after the final 15 minutes, they are ready to enjoy.  These smell especially delicious while cooking!  (A note here, the smaller the potato piece, the faster it cooks.  So this will work well for larger sized potatoes, if yours are smaller, or cut smaller, try a total of 35 minutes and see how they look after the reduced time.  You don't want to overcook them and end up with dried out potatoes.)

We've eaten these with pot roast and chicken, and anything you'd like to eat with them I'm sure will be delicious.  For ideas from our blog, check out these suggestions:

Little Black Dress of Chicken

Chicken Saltimbocca

To save and reheat the potatoes, once they've cooled down a little, you don't have to wait until they've cooled down completely, store them in the refrigerator.  You may use a zip lock bag or a plastic container, it doesn't matter.  When you want to reheat them, preheat the oven to 350-375 and put them on a baking sheet and reheat for 5-8 minutes, you'll have to eyeball it a little depending on the amount.  They will taste just as good reheated.  Hence the 'insane' name!  They may be even better.

Some additional thoughts here- if you plan to make ahead, bake for less time, perhaps just the first 40 minutes, then finish them with the remaining 15 minutes on the occasion you are really going to eat them!

Thank you for reading!

September 23, 2013

State of La Dolce Duchessa... plus Maine 2, Bat Wrangling and Removal and I Love Drive Through Pre School Drop Off

Our baby girl attempting an obstacle course
Dear friends, thank you for your patience, I am so sorry to have neglected you!  It all started with a cold...  It was my 3 year old son's last day of summer camp, a camp that I LOVED because all I had to do to drop him off was put my car in park, and an adorable 'counselor,' which was an energetic young woman- these boys have no idea how good they have it, lovely young ladies paying them undivided attention- whisked him out of his car seat and I simply put my car in drive and came back a few hours later to repeat the effortless drop off...  I have since formulated opinions on local pre-schools based on whether or not they will take my child out of the car or not...  That was Friday, August 9th.  All seemed well.  On Saturday, August 10th, we packed up the car, with both kidlets and my divine sister / beloved Aunt, (Daddy had to stay home and work a few more days) and hit the road to Maine.  Sort of- we were making a stop on the way to attend the wedding of a dear friend- you may remember her as our Ariel from the Disney Princess Half Marathon (I just almost called it the Disney Half Princess Marathon- no no, they are full princesses).  Her wedding was on Sunday- it was lovely and she was radiant, beautiful and gracious, and perhaps had one of my favorite wedding meals ever- eggs benedict, because it was a brunch after the ceremony- seriously, brides to be, everyone loves brunch- a little champagne, a little eggs benedict.  That Saturday night before the wedding, the coughing, the sneezing, and the general little sickly sounds are undeniable from my son's little fold out bed in the hotel.  No one wants to be sick on vacation, poor thing.  Well- he bounced back fairly quickly, but not before 'sharing.'  Must work on kids understanding that not all sharing is good.

At the Union Fair
Flash forward, after the wedding we drive the rest of the way to Maine- where my parents have already arrived at the charming house we've rented for the past several years.  Lovely reunion- and details on a potential bat infestation!!  Apparently, a few nights prior, a nocturnal visitor discreetly entered and attached himself to a closet door in the upstairs living room.  A 'critter control' expert was called.  My mother, being both highly intelligent and highly realistic, has the forethought to ask said 'critter control' expert, 'what do I do if it comes back and I can't reach you?' Because, of course, the bat was shy in front of company.  Apparently, here's what you do- you get one of those sticky traps, like for mice and rats, and you peel off the film, revealing the sticky side, stick it to a broom handle, and then 'stick' it to the bat.  Remove bat from your house, and then outside, with some ability for the bat to drop a few feet to be able to fly again, spray it with Pam.  Yes, you read that right, spray the bat with Pam.  (This raises questions, doesn't it- is generic cooking spray an acceptable alternative, what about olive oil cooking spray, etc.)  So- we were now armed with this knowledge.

Anyhow, I became sick on Monday afternoon, and we are talking about one of those terrible, terrible colds, where you forget what it feels like to be well.  You keep taking decongestant, pain killer, and try to sleep as much as possible, and you still feel like you were hit by a truck.  Basically, it's so bad that while grocery shopping I have an urge to lie down on the floor and rest.  By this time, the 3 year old boy is fine and firing on all cylinders, and the baby girl is sniffly, but not really badly off at all- maybe Wednesday, my sister gets the cold, poor, poor thing.

Bat Removal 101, Bat on Sticky Trap, Pre-Spray
Thursday, in the morning, I'm walking through the upstairs living room, on the mission of retrieving a sweater for my son, and I notice a bat attached to the closet door as I walk by.  At first, my mind just seems to say to itself, 'there's a bat attached to that closet door.'  Then it says, 'THERE'S A BAT ATTACHED TO THAT CLOSET DOOR!!!!'  At which point I apparently started running, and I still have no idea what I ran into and fell over, and I've got two big gashes on my legs.  I run downstairs to let everyone know the bat is back!  The doors on either side of the upstairs living room are closed, my Dad is tasked with the bat removal, which is carried out seamlessly.  The bat is shown to my son outside (fascinating!  Let's name it 'tricky') on the sticky board before the application of Pam cooking spray...  Apparently June is when most bats are born, and then in July they are 'bat teenagers' and they go cruising for places to hang out.  If you do find a bat in your home, be kind, they eat bugs.  Try to remove them humanely and set them free.  PS, they really don't want to fly into your hair.

Ok- so that's been covered, the zombie like malaise of the sickness- which then days later struck my Mom, poor thing.  So, while we weren't anywhere near our full strength, we still enjoyed our annual pilgrimage to Camden, Maine.  Here were some of our favorite stops:

In Wiscasset
Fiddlehead Artisan Supply in Belfast, Maine  This shop is a must for anyone creatively inclined- they have a truly outstanding fabric selection (for babies, children and women), and their patterns and books are incredibly well selected.  Think vintage, classic, and whimsical.  I picked up a book on french knot embroidery that was incredible and makes me want to embroider everything I own with lavender plants made of french knots...

Chez Michel Restaurant, Lincolnville, Maine  This is probably my favorite restaurant up there- and has been for a long time.  I have five words for you: lobster stew, rabbit pate and duck.  That's was I order every time- and my baby girl, who's a very good eater, ate the fried haddock, rabbit pate, lobster from the stew and some duck, too.  Baby approved.  Their lobster stew isn't like the other New England fare- these recipes are French and the lobster stew has a lot of white wine and it's one of the most delicious bowls of food in the world.  Truly!

Rockland Antiques Marketplace  This is a find.  And the prices are good- very good.  I got a lovely silverplate covered vegetable dish for $18 and a vintage stainless cocktail pitcher (for my mixologist husband) for $18.  We also went to the Searsport Antiques Market, and surprisingly, since it's further up the coast and more remote, its prices weren't as good.  Still an interesting selection, though.

If you do find some lovely silver pieces, check out our post on creating your own storage using silver cloth.La Dolce Duchessa Silver Storage

We'll be back soon with lots of terrific recipes and home ideas!  Brace yourself for some insane weeknight potatoes, mustard crusted chicken and other adventures!

Thank you for reading.

Kind regards,

Jessica at La Dolce Duchessa

July 26, 2013

(A Careful and Composed) Cobb Salad

(A Careful and Composed) Cobb Salad
Earlier this week, I had an insatiable craving for a Cobb salad- a really good one.  I have had quite a few Cobb salads in my life and there are a few strong themes- I like grilled chicken, I like including avocado, I like a good green- although sometimes romaine hits the spot- and hard boiled eggs- well executed with nice yellow centers that haven't been cooked too long (which gives them a greenish color and sulfur-like smell).  Creating a well executed Cobb salad requires some precision and attention.  But, it's satisfying, relatively healthy, and a great summer meal.

Let's begin!  First, let's get our chicken marinating, so it can have a nice flavor.

Cobb Salad
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a part of a larger meal
Chicken Marinade
0.75 lb. to 1 lb. chicken tenders (skinless, boneless chicken breast cut into strips about 1.5" wide)
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
pinch (or two) sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 large garlic clove, through a press or finely chopped

Other Salad Components
6 pieces of bacon
2-3 eggs
2-3 handfuls mache or other small, flavorful green
10-15 grape or cherry tomatoes
1/2 avocado
1/2 lemon
2-3 Tbsp. gorgonzola
8-10 olives
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Salad Dressing
1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice (fresh squeezed)
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. olive oil (good quality)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Combine the ingredients of the chicken marinade in a bowl and add the chicken.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  I let the chicken marinate about 45 minutes to an hour.  You can do a little less or a little more- overnight might be too much.

Bacon pieces draining
Take your 6 pieces of bacon and cut them, perpendicular to their length, in pieces about 1/2" wide.  In a pan on the stove (that you'll also use to cook the chicken), cook the bacon over medium-low to medium heat.  When crispy and browned (to your liking), remove the bacon pieces and allow them to drain on a paper towel.  Save the pan with the bacon fat, you're going to use it to cook the chicken (why let it go to waste!).  If you're making this ahead of time, after the bacon is drained, refrigerate the bacon pieces until you're ready to put the salad together.

Now for the eggs.  Making hard boiled eggs is something of an exact science.  You want to do four major things- 1) keep the water at a simmer, not a roiling boil, 2) lower them into the water in some type of vessel that keeps them from moving around and breaking, 3) only cook them for about 12-13 minutes and 4) place them in an ice bath immediately following.  Why all these rules?  Well, back before my kids, I sat next to a guy at work that brought hard boiled eggs in for a snack pretty frequently.  Obviously, admired the habit- healthy, protein makes you feel fuller longer, not a bad idea at all.  But, he must have cooked them for years because they had that slightly bad sulfur smell of the yolk.  This is caused by overcooking.  Just say no!  Ok- bring some water to a simmer and lower 2-3 eggs (I used a wide mesh strainer to hold them) into the water.  The water should cover them, add more if you need to.  Leave them in there for 12-13 minutes, when you remove them (just by lifting the mesh strainer), place them into a bowl of ice water.  If you're making these ahead of time, let them cool before refrigerating them.

Lowering eggs into simmering water

Post boiling ice bath
I think we're ready to put together our salad!  The reason I call it a composed salad is because it isn't tossed and mixed together.  I like this sometimes, I think it makes really beautiful presentation and also, if one of your guests doesn't like a particular component, they can avoid it.

Remember your bacon grease?  Heat it over medium heat and take your chicken out of the refrigerator.  Heat your pan for a good 5 minutes or maybe a few more to really make sure it's hot before you start cooking the chicken in batches.  I did about 2.5 to 3 minutes per side.  This bacon grease may pop a little, so put it on a back burner to do this and your clothes and face can avoid any pops of grease!  Place the cooked chicken on a plate or cutting board to cool.  While all this is cooking, you can assemble your beautiful salad!

Wash and dry (paper towel or salad spinner) your lovely greens and remove any undesirable items.  I used mache, which I like very much, but it can wilt quickly.  So, either you can work fast or leave it until the end.  Place your greens in the first stripe on your platter.

Mache
Next, wash your tomatoes.  I used grape tomatoes and sliced them in half.  You may use any type of small or large tomatoes, just cut them to your desired size.  Place them carefully as your next stripe.

Mache and grape tomatoes
Take your eggs, remove the shells (carefully) and slice or chop.  You'll see that because you cooked them very carefully, the whites are not too firm or rubbery and the yolks are a lovely yellow.  Place the pieces of egg as your next stripe.

Mache, grape tomatoes and hard boiled eggs
Avocado is our next stripe, cut an avocado in half and remove the pit.  Use half of the avocado for something else- feed the baby with it, etc.  While still in the skin, use a knife to cut it (without piercing the skin) once length wise and then across several times so you are cutting it into neat pieces.  Now, gently peel the skin and empty the avocado half into a small bowl.  Dress it with juice of half a lemon.  Arrange the neat pieces as your next stripe on the salad platter.

Mache, grape tomatoes, hard boiled eggs and avocado
Using a spoon, arrange the gorgonzola as the next stripe.  (This is regular gorgonzola, not gorgonzola dolce).

Mache, grape tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, avocado and gorgonzola
Next, arrange the olives- I used Kalamata olives that still had their pits inside, you can use any type of olive, with pits or without.

Mache, tomatoes, eggs, avocado, gorgonzola and olives
Finally, our bacon stripe.

Mache, tomatoes, eggs, avocado, gorgonzola, olives and bacon

Combine the ingredients of the salad dressing in a mason jar, simply close and shake.  So easy, right?  Drizzle about 1/3 to 1/2 of the dressing over the salad.  Sprinkle a little salt and pepper.

Salad dressing made in a mason jar

Your cooked and cooled chicken is now ready- cut it into bite sized pieces and place it over the top of the salad.  Although I prepared 1 lb. of chicken, I used only about 0.75 lb. for the salad.  I saved the rest in the refrigerator for another meal.  Pour not quite all of the remaining dressing from the mason jar over the chicken, another tiny pinch of salt and pepper- and serve!  Enjoy.  This salad can have all its components made ahead of time and then you can just assemble it and serve- even the chicken.  Just refrigerate it after cooking it.

I hope you are all having happy and healthy summers!