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Fishy Friday – Lenten Round-Up

The kids have been home from school this week for their mid-winter break, which I’m now convinced is some sort of cruel joke on parents. I mean, seriously…whose idea was it to schedule a week off from school in the middle of winter, leaving me stuck inside with three very loud, very active, and very needy children?? I’ve been jumping through hoops all week trying to keep everyone sufficiently content, which has left little time for things like thinking or writing…hence the lack of blog posts this week. Even now, as I attempt to type, the baby is grabbing at my fingers, while the other boys are playing a game which seems to center around making an unusually loud and abrasive growling sound.

This morning I took the boys to meet up with some friends at  a local bounce house, followed by lunch (which turned into second breakfast, since we vacated the bounce house sooner than planned) and ice cream at Friendly’s. It was a feeble attempt to encourage the kids to burn off some of their excess energy so that I had a small chance of a calm afternoon. Though I think the ice cream may be working against my plans. Ugh…this parenting thing is hard!

New recipes coming up next week, but for now here’s a round-up of fishy recipes, which may come in handy for any of you who are observing meat-free Fridays during lent.

Pan-seared Scallops with Pina Colada Salsa and Coconut Rice

Pan-seared Cod over Bean and Basil Puree

Creole Fish Tacos

Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad

Asian-style Fish Tacos

Lobster Pot Pie

Lobster BLT Sandwiches (skip the bacon)

Salmon, Cucumber, and Orzo Salad

Codfish Cakes

Shrimp Scampi Flatbread Pizza (and last year’s Lenten recipe round-up!)

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Pomegranate and Poached Pear ‘Salad’

I’d like to take a moment to officially declare pomegranate as the most fun fruit to eat.

First comes the game of removing the tiny, shimmering pomegranate gems, called arils, from the hard exterior rind. Some people recommend a process of scoring the outer rind of the pomegranate, soaking it in cold water for a few minutes, then breaking the pieces open and allowing the arils to fall to the bottom of the water while the rind floats on top. Others recommend cutting the pomegranate into pieces and smacking the rind with the back of a spoon to loosen the arils, which should eject from the fruit. I like to simply cut the pomegranate into pieces and go to work, pulling apart the fruit piece by piece, systematically releasing the gazillions of juicy arils from within. There’s something incredibly satisfying about peeling back the layers of membrane within the fruit to uncover pockets of the sweet, plump gems.

The small effort of removing the arils yields a great reward; a bowl full of sweet, ruby gems. Pop one in your mouth and enjoy the sweet burst of juice as you bite into each delicious seed. Pick one up the next time you spot them in the grocery store. Now is the time to enjoy this delicious, fun fruit! And they’re super healthy for you too!

If you can stop yourself snacking on this tasty fruit, save some of the pomegranate arils for this delicious composed ‘salad’ of sorts. This seasonally perfect dish would make a very elegant hors d’oeuvre for a holiday party or perfect first course for a seated dinner. (Pretty certain this is going on my Christmas dinner menu!) Fresh pears are poached until tender, then paired with salty gorgonzola and vibrant pomegranate arils, nestled into a crisp leaf of Belgian endive. A simple pomegranate balsamic vinaigrette and candied walnuts provide the finishing touches.

Poached Pears and Pomegranate ‘Salad’

Ingredients

  • 2 heads Belgian endive
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • 1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

For the Poached Pears:

  • 2 ripe, firm pears (Anjou, Bosc, Bartlett…)
  • 4 cups poaching liquid (water, white wine, champagne, apple juice…)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 vanilla bean (optional)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)

For the Candied Walnuts:

  • 1/2 cup shelled walnut halves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Pinch of cinnamon
For the Vinaigrette:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper
Directions

For the pears: Peel pears, cut off tops and bottoms, and cut in half lengthwise. Remove the core, using a melon baller or knife. Place the pears in a saucepan with your poaching liquid. (Any combination of water, white wine, champagne, juice, etc. would be delicious.) Stir in the honey. If desired, add a cinnamon stick and/or a vanilla bean to the liquid. Bring the poaching liquid to a gentle simmer. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the pears from the cooking liquid and allow to cool. Once cool, chop the pears into small chunks and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Walnuts: Heat walnuts in a pan over medium heat for about 3 minutes, until they begin to toast.  Add butter and cook for an additional minute.  Add brown sugar, cinnamon, and about 1 tablespoon water to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly until the water has evaporated and the nuts are glazed. **You may need to add small quantities of additional water to achieve a glaze. Allow to cool. The glaze will harden as the nuts cool. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

For the Vinaigrette: Whisk the oil, vinegar, pomegranate juice, and mustard together. Season with salt and pepper.

To Assemble the Salad: Rinse the endive. Cut off the core end and carefully separate the leaves. Fill each leaf with a bit of the pear, pomegranate, and crumbled gorgonzola. Top with candied walnuts. Arrange on a platter to serve as an hors d’ouevres or plate 2-3 prepared endive leaves per person as a first course. Lightly drizzle with the vinaigrette.

Serves 4-6

Just What the Doctor Ordered – Chicken with Matzoh Ball Soup

This has been a rough winter for my family in the general health department. I blame it on my three year old starting nursery school. Up until this year, my family has been in our own personal germ bubble. The kids stay at home with me and my husband works in an office by himself. Our biggest exposure to germs occurred sitting at the doctor’s office for well-visits. But now, with my little guy in school, we’re exposed to the full spectrum of winter viruses. We’ve become regulars at the pediatrician and it seems like one of us is always on antibiotics for some condition or another. Even our labrosaurus rex has endured a winter full of vet visits and internist appointments! Add that to the ever-accelerating schedule of my normal third trimester prenatal appointments and I’m pretty sure my family is solely supporting the medical community of the Central New York area. You’re welcome doctors, nurses, and midwives.

This week, we’re in the midst of dealing with another virus, which has knocked each of down in succession like a family of dominoes; first one kid, then the next, then myself, and then my husband. Three out of the four of us are still wrapped in blankets and using tissues like they’re going out of style. The contractor, who’s currently remodeling our bathroom, hasn’t removed his face mask in days and it’s got nothing to do with drywall dust!

When all the medicine in the medicine cabinet fails to heal what ails you, there’s only one thing left to try; homemade chicken soup! A few months ago, I shared my step by step guide for preparing a delicious, flavorful chicken soup from a leftover chicken carcass. The process is the same, even if you’re starting with a whole, raw chicken.

  • Throw the chicken in the pot with a bunch of rough chopped vegetables. Use whatever you’ve got on hand; celery, carrots, garlic, onion, shallots, parsley, etc.
  • Cover the chicken and veggies with water.
  • Bring to a boil. Simmer, partially covered, for 3-4 hours.
  • Strain the broth into a pot and set the chicken aside to cool. Discard the veggies.
  • Simmer the broth uncovered, if desired, to reduce the liquid and produce a stronger flavored broth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  • When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull apart all of the meat and throw it in the broth.
  • Add the veggies of your choice to the broth. (I used sliced carrots and leeks.) Simmer, just until the veggies are tender.
  • Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, as desired.

Voila! Chicken Soup!

**Click here to see the full step-by-step guide to making chicken soup.


Typically, I serve my chicken soup over cooked orzo pasta. Other noodles, pasta, or rice work well too. I recommend keeping your pasta or rice separate from the soup. Otherwise, it will absorb the broth, leaving you with undesirable, mushy pasta or rice.

Another alternative to accompany your chicken soup are matzoh balls. To be honest, I have very minimal experience with matzoh balls. It is not something which my family ate often, if ever at all. I’ve ordered a bowl of matzoh ball soup from a deli at one point or another, but I honestly can’t recall the exact taste or texture of the balls. That being said, I’m clearly no expert in matzoh ball making, but I’m always up for a culinary adventure.

From what I gather, there are two schools of thought regarding the preferred matzoh ball texture; sinkers and floaters. Sinkers are more dense and require the edge of a fork to cut apart, whereas the floaters are lighter and more likely to fall apart on their own in your soup. As a matzoh ball novice, I have no strong personal preference. I pulled a few of the best sounding ideas from a variety of matzoh ball sources to develop my very own matzoh ball recipe. The result is a flavorful and tender ball, probably more in line with the sinker variety. Works for me!

Matzoh Balls for Chicken Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 cup matzoh meal
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Directions

Combine the matzoh meal with the salt, onion powder and garlic powder. Set aside. In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks with the vegetable oil until smooth. Set aside. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture. Then, fold the egg mixture into the matzoh meal, just until combined. Do not over mix. Refrigerate for 30 minutes – 1 hour, until the mixture is firm. Form the mixture into 1 – 1 1/2″ balls. Bring a large pot of water to a gentle boil. Carefully drop each ball into the water. Once the balls have risen to the surface, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Do not open the lid as it simmers.* Once cooked, remove the matzoh balls from the liquid with a slotted spoon. You can add the balls immediately to your soup or store separately and reheat with the soup, as desired.

*I’m not completely clear on why you’re not supposed to open the lid, but it seems to be common matzoh making advice, so I think we best obey!

Enjoy and stay well, my friends!

Chocolate Banana Monkey Bars

Children are filled with genius ideas if you listen closely. A few weeks ago, my son was staring longingly into our snow-filled, icicle-rimmed backyard, dreaming of warmer days. And then he exclaimed, Mommy, we should make some monkey bars! In retrospect, he was probably referring to building his own personal playground in our backyard. But, in the moment, as I moved about our kitchen preparing dinner, my mind interpreted his request into a recipe idea. Monkey Bars. Genius!

We paused for a moment to consider the foods which monkeys enjoy. Clearly, bananas were on the top of the list. Chocolate and peanuts decided to tag along for the ride. Our plan came together easily after that. We’d start with a peanut butter cookie crust, topped with our favorite, simple fudgey brownie, mixed with chunks of fresh banana and garnished with crunchy peanuts.

Your monkeys will go bananas for these tasty little treats! Mine sure did!

Chocolate Banana Monkey Bars

Ingredients

  • 15 peanut butter sandwich cookies, crushed
  • 4 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup bananas, chopped
  • 1/4 cup shelled peanuts, coarsely chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8×8 baking dish with cooking spray.

Combine the cookie crumbs with the melted butter, until well blended. Press the mixture into the bottom of the baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven.

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the chocolate chips and butter until smooth, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat. Stir in the sugar, cocoa powder, and salt until dissolved. Stir in the flour. Add the eggs and stir until well blended. Stir in the chopped bananas. Spread the mixture over the peanut butter cookie crust. Sprinkle the chopped peanuts on top. Bake for about 35-45 minutes, until the brownies appear set and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out mostly clean. Cool before cutting into small squares.

Game Day Menu Ideas

Growing up, my family never watched football. We were more of a hockey and baseball kind of clan. But every year we had a big ole Super Bowl Sunday party. I was infinitely envious of my younger sister, whose birthday happens to fall right around the Super Bowl, for she had a guaranteed birthday party each year, long after the rest of us had been weaned off of annual birthday celebrations.

In college, I briefly and half-heartedly tried to get into the whole football thing. I watched games on TV with my new college friends and looked to them to explain the ins and outs of the activity I was so hopelessly clueless about. But, my interest in football was short-lived. Not long after that, I met my husband, who’s more of a guitar and drum kind of guy than a sports fan. So, football remains largely absent from my life.

But in true, inherited non-football-fan fashion, my husband and I are throwing a Super Bowl party this year. Our game day menu is still under construction, but will almost certainly include some adaptation of these Buffalo Chicken Potato Skins and a decadent German Chocolate Cake in honor of my sister’s birthday. (Those recipes to follow after the Superbowl!)

In the meantime, if you’re in search of a few new ideas for your game day celebrations, check out these previously posted Gourmand Mom recipes:

Spicy Beef Chili

White Chicken Chili

Sweet Honey Cornbread

Jalapeno Poppers

Spinach Dip and Fried Wonton Chips

Chicken Wing Dip

Homemade Pizza Dough

Blue Cows in a Blanket

Creole Deviled Eggs

Fresh Tomato or Corn and Chipotle Salsa

Steak Bordelaise Pizza

Buffalo Chicken Pizza


Guinness-Braised Beef

I was suffering from a major case of the lazies yesterday. I could try to blame it on being pregnant, in the same way that I gave myself full permission to wear sweatpants every single day since the day I got that positive test. But, the truth is that sometimes a case of the lazies just strikes out of nowhere and you can either fight it all day or just submit. Thankfully, this particular strain of lazies seems to have been contagious. The boys were equally content to snuggle on the couch with me for a good part of the day, watching an endless marathon of Nick Jr. and Disney programming, which would have been more tolerable if Nick Jr. weren’t airing the video of Big Time Rush’s, Big Night, during every single commercial break. I’ve heard the song so many times now, that it’s become the ongoing soundtrack in my mind and I’m almost convinced I actually like it. DJ, take me away… At one point, I muttered aloud about the song being stuck in my head, to which my three-year-old attempted to manually remove it from my mouth. Kids are so hysterically literal.

But, the family needs to eat, even on lazy days; perhaps, especially, on lazy days. Gathering the motivation to prepare a meal was a challenge, but I had the perfect, sleepy winter-day meal in mind. I’d picked up a tray of stew beef earlier in the week, with only a framework of a plan in mind; some sort of slow cooked beef over hot buttered noodles. Perhaps a stew of sorts? Only, I’m not really a big fan of stews. I love the tender chunks of meat, but can totally skip the thickened broth or the mushy carrots and potatoes which are typically found in a beef stews. Now, braised beef, on the other hand, with its equally tender chunks of meats and rich, comforting sauce, is an idea I can wrap my mouth around.

The actual preparation time for this recipe is minimal. The ingredient list is pleasantly restrained. The technique is simple. Once it’s in the oven, just sit back and let your house fill with the scent of warm, beefy goodness. We’ll start with some chunks of beef. Many grocery stores will sell packages of pre-cut meat labeled simply as Stew Beef. I used a package of lean, no external fat, stew beef. You can use just about any cut of beef, but tougher cuts, such as beef chuck or round work particularly well for braising. The beef is quickly browned on the stovetop, then combined with braising liquids, covered, and slow-cooked in the oven. Towards the end of the cooking time, we’ll throw in a bit of vegetables. I stuck with pearl onions and mushrooms, but you can adapt the recipe to your tastes by adding any variety of vegetables. Potatoes, carrots, green beans, or peas would all work nicely.

The end result is a comforting mix of tender chunks of beef coated in a thick, flavorful sauce served over hot buttered noodles. Perfect, lazy-day comfort food.

Guinness-Braised Beef

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds Stew Beef
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 3 Tablespoons Flour
  • 1 1/2 cups Beef Stock
  • 1 cup Guinness Draught (or additional beef broth)
  • 2 cups Mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups Frozen Pearl Onions, defrosted
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Fresh Parsley, for garnish
  • Hot, Buttered Egg Noodles

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil in a large oven-safe dutch oven pan over medium heat. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Add the beef to the pan and cook for a few minutes to brown on all sides. (Do not overcrowd the pan. You want to beef to brown quickly in the oil. If necessary, brown the beef in batches.) In the pan, sprinkle the cooked beef with flour. Stir to evenly coat the beef in the flour. Cook for a minute or two. Add the beef stock and Guinness. Bring to a boil. Simmer for about two minutes. Cover the pan and place it on the middle rack in the oven. Cook for about 2 hours. During the last 30 minutes of cooking time, add the mushrooms and onions (or your vegetables of choice). Remove the cover during the last 15 minutes of cooking time to help the sauce to reduce and thicken. Remove from the oven and season with a good amount of salt and pepper, to taste.

Garnish with fresh parsley and serve over hot, buttered egg noodles.

**Tip** If you do not have a large, oven-safe dutch oven pan, you can start the recipe in any pan, up to and including the simmering step, and then transfer the mixture to an oven-safe pan or baking dish. Use something with a tight-fitting lid or securely cover the dish with foil before placing it in the oven.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Craisin Cookies

It’s cookie time!

We’re on our fourth consecutive day of non-stop snow around here. They call this Lake Effect Snow, since it results from our proximity to the Great Lakes. It seems to appear without warning and quickly covers the area with mounds of snow, which are practically taller than my children. But, large snowfalls are nothing new to the area, so for the most part, people just move on with their business. Personally, I prefer to hole up in the warmth of my home until the snow stops.

The timing of this particular snow event is perfect though. I had nothing more planned for the week besides baking Christmas cookies. And so, as the snow continues to fall outside, we’re staying warm in the kitchen and beginning this year’s Christmas cookie collection. The tree is lit, the house smells of pine, and we’re well stocked with cocoa and candy canes. It’s time to get our Christmas baking on.

We’re starting with a personal favorite; oatmeal chocolate chip. This is a small variation on a recipe I’ve shared before, which is a slight adaptation of the recipe you can find on the inside cover of a barrel of Quaker Oats. In my opinion, these are truly the best oatmeal cookies ever. They’re perfectly sweet and buttery, with crisp edges and a slightly chewy center. I almost always add chocolate chips and typically some chopped dried apricot when I make these cookies. With the holidays approaching, dried cranberries felt a bit more festive, so we’re swapping the apricots for craisins.

Stay tuned during the next two weeks for more cookie recipes!

Oatmeal Chocolate-Chip Craisin Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups Flour
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 2 sticks Salted Butter, softened
  • 1 cup Light Brown Sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/2 cup White Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
  • 3 cups Quaker Oats
  • 1 cup Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips
  • 3/4 cup Dried Cranberries

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside. In another large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Add the vanilla and eggs to the butter mixture. Blend until well combined. Gradually add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend. Stir in the oats, chocolate chips, and apricots. Form into small balls, about 1 inch diameter, and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for about 14-15 minutes, until the edges begin to brown and the center appears cooked. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for a minute before transferring to a cooling rack.

Makes about 3 1/2 dozen*

*It’s actually more like 4 dozen, if you count the taste-testing cookies, that is… I’m firmly committed to quality control, you know.


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