Happy Mother's Day!
Today is Mother's Day in the United States, Canada and Australia; countries where most of my readers live. It was 2 months ago in the UK and 3 days ago in Mexico, but most countries that celebrate mothers, celebrate it on the second Sunday of May -- AKA: Today.
Mother's Day is a day dedicated to mothers, motherhood, family bonds and the contributions Moms make to society. Today is officially the 99th birthday of the holiday in the United States.
Miss Anna Marie Jarvis first held a small service, 2 years after the death of her mother, on the second Sunday of May, 1907. The following year, a bigger "official" ceremony took place at the same church in Grafton, West Virginia, as well as a larger ceremony in Philadelphia. Anna Jarvis quit her job and worked tirelessly to write letters to anyone with influence, in an effort to create an official "Mother's Day" (some say it's because she'd had a falling out with her own mother; a relationship she was never able to reconcile before her mother passed away).
With Anna's relentless influence, it spread to New York the following year. It quickly spread to all 46 States, Canada and Mexico. It was also declared an official holiday by the State of West Virginia in 1910. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a joint resolution with Congress, making Mother's Day an official US Holiday.
After that, the story quickly gets a little sad for Miss Jarvis, who grew to resent the influential people and industries that had helped her create her holiday. Within about 5 years of the holiday commencing, she began to publicly loath the commercialization of her holiday. She spent the rest of her life fighting against it. She wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit. She felt that a long meaningful letter should be written, or a personal visit was in order, not a "maudlin, insincere printed card".
While the story never really improves for our heroine, I do think she had a point. Moms are majestic creatures. They are teachers, supporters and miracle workers. They should be treated directly with gratitude and sentiment, not a canned and pre-written poem written by some dude named "Hallmark". I know my Mom deserves a visit! I love my Mom and know she's made countless sacrifices in her life, on my behalf. (Thanks, Mom!)
If you have a Mom and you can visit her, go do it! Make Miss Jarvis proud! If you can't, make it a private moment and write a long letter, with a pen and paper, letting your mother know how you appreciate her. ( ... and then scan and email the attachment, 'cause snail mail takes too long!)
If you ARE a Mom, know that you are appreciated. Most of my readers are Moms and I know I appreciate you. Thank you for your participation in my little corner of the Internet! Karen BP, my heart goes out to you, especially. Consider this my long hand-written letter to you. Let's just assume I have excellent handwriting!
If you are MY Mom ... Mom ... I love you. You're my favorite! I'm going to call you and see if you want to go grab some coffee and walk the dogs, this afternoon. I'd cook you one of the following awesome recipes, but I know how you hate how messy I make your kitchen.
No cards, no overpriced white carnations ... just you, me, a cuppa joe and two little yappy dogs. You in?
All I believe Miss Jarvis wanted was a real family connection and a sincere appreciation for each individual Mom, not "all moms/everywhere". She spent her life fighting what she saw as the hijacking of the meaning, by profiteers. She passed away childless, blind, senile and penniless, from a life devoted to making sure mothers were genuinely appreciated, including her own.
Appreciate your Mom, in a real way ... sincerely.
~ Hallmark Foodie
Spinach, Asparagus & Artichoke Heart Soufflés
A "Soufflé" is a puffy French "cake", made primarily from whipped egg whites. They are always served hot and with immediacy. They are frequently sweet desserts, but not always.
I had my first Soufflé as a kid, at the "City Hotel" in Columbia, California. It was a fancy restaurant in the center of a historic "Gold Rush" town. I'll never forget it, either. This was the kind of place that had "tableside service", meaning they would actually prepare part of the food ... right there at the table! As a child foodie, there was nothing more thrilling than watching our server whip up a classic Caesar Salad, right at the table, or catch a big pan of cherries on fire and pour it over ice cream. This place was special and still stands out in my mind as one of my first introductions to fine dining (circa 1983).
One of the dishes was a "Soufflé". It was so special, that you had to order it BEFORE your dinner. It was made FRESH. Before being ordered, it was merely ingredient parts, scattered around a kitchen. Once the order was placed, in my mind, an army of men and women ran around the kitchen collecting the magic powders and golden elixers required to create the delicate protein matrix holding in all the hot precarious air in place, as this steaming and quivering sweet cylindrical cloud would be carefully delivered from the kitchen. The server would set it down in front of me, where I could smell the caramelized edges of the cake. He'd poke a hole in the middle of it, and then pour a warmly flavored custard sauce directly into the center of my prize. Pure ecstasy!
Perhaps one of these days, I'll do a sweet soufflé. There is no reason I couldn't do one. They are mostly egg, afterall. (egg and hot air, like I imagine an irate Humpty Dumpty would be).
This one was originally designed as a somewhat fancy brunch idea; really any breakfast or brunch, where a little elegance is in order: Mother's Day, perhaps? Easter? Visiting family members? There are so many times in life where a beautiful green soufflé is needed. Now, you have one!
Note: Soufflé's all puff up when baking, but are notorious for "falling" or "deflating" once they are removed from the oven. In this case, they all fell. I suspect it's because of the vegetables within it, but I also may have jiggled them. If you were to remove the vegetables, sauté them, poke a hole in the soufflé after it was baked and pour them in, you're more likely to retain the tall and puffy shape. In all cases, it's still light, green, fluffy and yum.
[ VIEW RECIPE ]
Spinach & Mushroom Stuffed Crepes
This is a really simple recipe, provided you've got the crepes. Even if you don't the crepes are fairly easy, requiring little more than throwing eggs and ricotta cheese into a blender, then making very thin pancakes with the batter.
The rest of this recipe is less a specific recipe and more an invitation to put things inside of a crepe and roll it up! In this particular case, I simply sautéed some mushrooms with a bit of garlic, salt and pepper. Then, right when they were cooked through, I tossed in a big handful of fresh spinach, which immediately shriveled into a nice bundle of green. At the very end, I added some grated parmesan cheese, then rolled the mixture into two crepes! From there, I cut the crepes in half, set them side-by-side and then cut the ends off ... just to square the whole thing off.
However, there are a million things that could be done this way. What about ham and bacon, with perhaps a little onion, mushroom and cheddar cheese? Or, sautéed chicken breasts with some bell peppers, spices and an interesting Mexican cheese, like a Cotija? Or, something like sliced turkey breast from the local deli? Add in a little bit of broccoli, maybe a few diced carrots and some swiss cheese? Quick, easy and beautiful! It's a nice way to start the day!
Photo Note: The crepes were served with Béarnaise Sauce and sprinkled with a little parsely, tarragon and a tiny bit too much paprika. These would have been JUST as tasty with pesto, or marinara sauce!
[ VIEW RECIPE ]
Spicy Cumin-Cheddar Crackers
A while back, I created a hazelnut-parmesan cracker recipe. Not only did it completely blow my mind, in terms of how satisfying the taste and texture was, but it was also enormously popular out on the internet's social super highway. It really felt like a big personal "win", in that it was something that didn't feel like a sub-par replacement. It was the real deal. It was everything I could ever want in a cracker, but with none of the downside! A near perfect food!
However, it DID have its flaws. While it was amazing with things like artichoke-pesto dip, not pistou and other Italian spirited dips and sauces, it somehow fell flat within Latin realm. This left things like Salsa Mexicana sitting without a perfect companion; sin un amigo.
Sure, I've got things like the baked tortilla chips, but this starts with a processed ingredient, which turns some people off (even though equally as many enjoy the ease of such a thing). Additionally, it's got wheat, which is a definitely no-no in many health related circles. In response to those issues, I would often suggest people fry up cheddar cheese and then break it into dip-friendly shards. This seemed to be a satisfactory answer, but ... it's still not a chip. Some dips just need a chip.
Knowing I needed to do something, I kept trying to use various corn products to come up with something like a corn tortilla chip. This all resulted in pure botched failure and frustration. The tastes were all solid, but the texture was wrong, or the carb count was too high. There was never a perfect moment.
Finally, after a request from my own mother (she wanted something to dip into guacamole), I revisited the hazelnut-parmesan cracker. I used that same approach, but with a different nut and seasoning blend. The end result? A more Latin vibed cracker. To verify, I made some salsa and tried it. DELICIOUS! I can only imagine something like a hot gooey cheddar and jalapeño dip! (*** drools on shirt ***)
In the end, my search for the perfect tortilla chip replacement continues. I don't want to downplay how wonderful these crackers are. The texture and flavor cannot be beat; alas they are crackers ... they are not a chip. Some dips just need a chip.
[ VIEW RECIPE ]
Italian Sausage Stuffed Portobello with Sun Dried Tomatoes
This is actually a REMARKABLY simple recipe, with only 5 ingredients. Within the recipe, I offer a link to my own homemade Italian Chicken Sausage (which would be absolutely delicious!), but the reality is, this would be tasty with any raw bulk sausage you could find.
The recipe I'm proposing is more intended as the main course for a dinner, but the idea could EASILY move towards using the smaller portobellos, or even the baby portobellos, known as "Crimini" mushrooms. They could be used as either a main course, or as an appetizer, not entirely unlike a stuffed mushroom! In all cases, it's quick to prepare and bake, but the end result is an exceedingly flavorful mushroom.
Mushroom Tidbit: I scraped the inside of this mushroom cap with a spoon. This does a few things: some of the time sand and debris gets stuck in the "gills" of a Portobello mushroom. Scraping the gills gets rid of this debris. It also eliminates some of the darker muddy colors and flavors. Finally, it also creates a little extra room for our filling! Simply pop the stem out, by twisting and pulling. Then, scrape the inside of the cap with a spoon. Be careful, though. The mushroom is fragile, especially around the edges!
Serving Note: This would be great served with a salad. In the photo, it is perched on a small pile of garlicky baby broccoli.
[ VIEW RECIPE ]
Coq au Vin
Here's a recipe that's a bit of a departure for me. I'm not entirely sure why I chose to go this route with it, but ... I did, and it's done and I think the end result is really quite nice!
In this one, I used a few stranger-than-normal ingredients. For example, I used salted pork belly, instead of bacon. I used pearl onions, instead of onions. I used French Horn mushrooms, rather than a standard button mushroom. I used a specific red wine (Burgundy), rather than a "cooking" wine, etc. It also is just a hair over the normal 10 carb goal (at about 12 carbs per massive serving), but it's also all good whole foods.
I think, for some reason, I wanted to respect the rustic and local origins of this famous and potentially ancient dish (served over 2000 years ago!). I simply didn't want to mess with it! The one thing I DIDN'T do was source a big tough rooster or "cock" as the name of the dish would suggest. I used ingredients which were on the outskirts of what can be reasonably found, without stepping into the truly difficult. I'm sure a big retired rooster can be found, but I confess to not having a direct connection to one. If you happen to find a connection to a stringy old bird, go for it. That would take you that much closer to the real deal!
"Coq au Vin" simply means "Cock with Wine", but in French. It's a dish employing a cooking technique known as "braising", which essentially means "cover and simmer in liquid". Usually, the primary ingredient is seared and then placed in a pot with some flavorful liquids, then covered to hold in the heat and steam (moist heat). This particular cooking method does a great job of breaking down the tough and stringy connective tissues which would be found in the inexpensive retired male chickens found in the French marketplace, back in time ... in history's history. Today, most US cooks use female hens, which are fine and is what I did, but I'm still going to suggest you look for the largest "stewing" bird you can find. More mature birds are larger, serving more people and they tend to be cheaper (by weight). This historic method of utilizing and breaking down the cheap meat from the marketplace, or the old family rooster, is going to serve a big mature chicken quite well.
Thickening Note: Historically the sauce for this dish was thickened with flour or blood. For obvious reasons, we'll be skipping the flour. Because I tend to find "thickening with blood" to be on the oogy side, I'm going to skip that, as well. I've gone with a slight twist, which is to quickly reduce the natural juices from the braising process, by boiling it, rapidly. This will cause a lot of the water to evaporate, leaving behind a rich jus, thickened with natural gelatin. When it starts to noticeably thicken on its own, I whisked in some fresh butter; adding good fats, moisture, flavor, thickening power and a bit of "sheen".
[ VIEW RECIPE ]