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The Dish

About a year ago, my mom gifted me two new nonstick pans. I was excited, but couldn’t understand why she had spent the money on something I already had—two sad, cheap nonstick skillets from Target. As soon as I cooked with these pans, I realized what the fuss was about. They’re made by SCANPAN, a company in Denmark, and they are zero fuss, easy-to-clean nonstick pans like I have never seen before. The best part? SCANPAN uses recycled aluminum to make their pans, and the nonstick coating is free of carcinogenic chemicals like PFOA and PFOS. Any time I’m whipping up dinner and don’t care to spend extra time cleaning up (which is pretty much all the time), I use these pans. They work like magic for cooking eggs, which, I have to admit is another area of cooking that I haven’t quite perfected. However, with these pans I finally felt comfortable with experimenting, and they’re indirectly responsible for me attempting to perfect fried eggs. Here’s the link to their website: http://www.scanpan.eu/

The broccoli and other veggies simmering in chicken stock.

The broccoli and other veggies simmering in chicken stock.

For this week’s Dish, as usual, I have another soup recipe for you all. My office at work is perpetually freezing—two of my co-workers actually have mini space heaters under their desks—and so I’ve found that warm soup is a warm, welcome reprieve during the day. For lunch this week, I made my version of a healthy cream of broccoli soup that I enrich with nonfat Greek yogurt.

Greek Yogurt Cream of Broccoli Soup

  • 2 entire heads broccoli, stalks trimmed, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2-3 petite red potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
The soup can be blended with an immersion blender or a regular blender/Vitamix. Just be careful!

The soup can be blended with an immersion blender or a regular blender/Vitamix. Just be careful!

In the bottom of a large pot, melt the butter and sauté the carrots, celery, and onion until slightly soft. Add the garlic, sauté briefly, and then add the broccoli, chicken stock, and potatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook until all the vegetables are tender. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and cayenne, if desired. Once the vegetables are done, puree using an immersion blender, or a regular blender in batches. Stir in a dollop or two of Greek yogurt before serving. That’s all for The Dish this week. Have a happy (and vegetable-filled) weekend!

Savory Breakfast Strata

If you’ve never heard of strata, you’ve seriously been missing out. It is one of the most simple, delicious, versatile, and affordable options for breakfast, brunch, or a potluck. Strata is basically a fancy name for a savory bread pudding so named for its alternating layers (strata) of bread, custard, cheese, and various other toppings. The following recipe is one of my favorites, but strata can basically be made with any coordinating combinations of vegetables, cheeses, meats, and herbs that you prefer.

I assembled this one in a flash after dinner on Monday and put it into the fridge to soak overnight. Tuesday morning I woke up a little earlier than usual to take it out, let it warm up on the counter, and then bake it in the oven before heading off to work. My coworkers loved it, and my boss even washed my casserole dish and wrote me a thank you note! I think I may have to make another one very soon since it was such a hit. (Unfortunately/fortunately, the dish disappeared so quickly that I didn’t have time to take hardly any pictures!)

Now here’s your weekly dose of food history:

One of the earliest known strata recipes supposedly comes from a 1902 cookbook by Juniata L. Shepperd entitled Handbook of Household Science.1 Oddly enough, this cheese strata recipe does not include eggs, which are characteristic of most (if not all) contemporary versions. Nonetheless, I’m bound to fall in love with anything featuring copious amounts of cheese, so I suppose I can find it in my heart to forgive Ms. Shepperd for her omission.

As I mentioned above, strata is basically a variation on bread pudding, which has an interesting history. Like many popular dishes nowadays, bread pudding had humble origins. European lower classes in the 11th and 12th centuries repurposed stale bread into “poor man’s pudding” or bread pudding to make the most of their meager resources.2 Even in today’s recipes for bread pudding and strata, using stale bread is crucial so that it adequately soaks up the custard that is poured over it. Custard has a more complicated background, but many food historians are of the opinion that the custard we are familiar with today originated in the Middles Ages, typically as a filling for pies, tarts, and other pastries.3

Regardless of whether you’re making any version of sweet or savory strata or pudding, remember to let your imagination (and sometimes your pantry) guide you when it comes to choosing toppings. Anything goes!

IMG_4470Sausage, Fontina, and Bell Pepper Strata

(adapted from Bon Appétit, June 2009)

  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk
  • 2 cups sliced green onions
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • ½ cup finely grated Romano cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 pound hot Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 1 large red bell pepper, halved, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 1-pound loaf rustic French bread, cut into ½-inch slices and allowed to sit out briefly
  • 2 ½ cups coarsely grated Fontina cheese (or even more, if you prefer things extra cheesy)

Butter the bottom and sides of a 13×9-inch baking dish. Whisk the first 7 ingredients* together in a large bowl, and season well with freshly ground pepper.

The assembled dish, prior to setting and baking.

The assembled dish, prior to setting and baking.

In a large nonstick skillet, sauté the sausage and bell peppers, making sure to break up the meat well. Once the sausage is cooked through and the peppers are brown in spots, remove from the heat.

In the prepared baking dish, arrange half of the bread slices in the bottom, and then pour half of the egg mixture over the top. Sprinkle with one cup of the Fontina, then add half of the sausage/pepper mixture. Repeat this layering process once more. Use the final ½ cup of grated Fontina to sprinkle over the very top.

Allow the ingredients to stand in the dish for at least 20 minutes, occasionally pushing on the bread to encourage it to submerge. (I recommend covering it with plastic wrap and placing it in the fridge overnight with a few small plates on top to aid the bread in soaking up the custard.)

When you are ready to bake the strata, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake until golden brown, approximately 1 hour. If you let the strata set in the fridge, you may want to remove it to the counter prior to baking in order to take the chill off the dish and reduce the baking time. If the top begins to brown too quickly, cover the dish with a GREASED sheet or two of aluminum foil so that the cheese doesn’t burn or stick to the covering.

* I have noticed that when I buy bigger loaves of bread, the designated amount of custard in this recipe (first 7 ingredients) may not be enough. If your strata seems dry after soaking briefly, just whisk together another couple of eggs and a few splashes of milk and cream and pour it over the top. It won’t hurt anything, and it’ll ensure that your strata will turn out moist and not so bready.

Sources
  1. Shepperd, J. L. (1902). Hanbook of Houshold Science. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=HTRDAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA241#v=onepage&q&f=false
  2. McFadden, J. (2008, January 23). Bread pudding originated in 11th century as frugal dish, but has become trendy dessert. The Daily Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2008/jan/23/0123_pudding/?print
  3. Olver, L. (1999) The Food Timeline. Retrieved from http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodpuddings.html#bread

The Dish

So, my first week at the new job went very well! I think I earned some brownie points for bringing in clafoutis to share with my coworkers. Or maybe it’s clafoutis points? Regardless, I’m happy to have a new group of guinea pigs for my recipes and some input from someone other than my mother and our dogs!

However, since moving back home, I have been missing the chicken wings at my favorite college bar and grill. Needless to say, wings probably aren’t something that I should be eating all that frequently anyway, so I’m in no rush to try and find a new place to get my wing fix. Fortunately, I found this recipe on Pinterest a couple years ago, and it is a fabulous vegetarian substitute. It’s also a far less fattening option for when I’m craving greasy bar food. Trust me, this is definitely worth a try!

http://www.persnicketyplates.com/buffalo-cauliflower/

My mom's new Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer!

My mom’s new Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer!

In other news, my mom has been saving for a new Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer for some months now, and she finally made the purchase! Not only am I excited for her to have a beautiful new version of one of her favorite kitchen tools, but this means that I get her old one! I’ve been frequently sending my boyfriend baked goods in care packages, and I am so excited to not have to mix cookie dough by hand anymore! Here’s some pictures of my mom’s new equipment.

I tried out my new mixer this week with a new cookie recipe as well. My boyfriend is a fan of mint and chocolate sweets, so I thought I’d give a cookie version a try. Although it isn’t my favorite flavor combo, these cookies turned out pretty well. They were a big hit with my beau and his roommates too! The only thing I would alter is the amount of green food coloring, though. It’s definitely necessary in order to let people

My new/old mixer atop a kitchen island that my mom got me as a house warming gift.

My new/old mixer atop a kitchen island that my mom got me as a house warming gift.

know that these aren’t the plain old chocolate chip variety, but I don’t think that a brilliant green hue is very attractive unless you’re making them for Christmas or St. Patrick’s Day.

http://www.mccormick.com/Recipes/Dessert/Mint-Chocolate-Chip-Cookies

That’s all for The Dish this week! I hope you all have a fantastic holiday weekend. 🙂

Split Pea Soup

An easy soup recipe that is sure to ‘pease’. However, I don’t suggest aging it for nine days or serving it cold.

It has occurred to me recently that my predilection for soups and stews is a bit unorthodox. I’ve never thought twice about cooking up a hearty beef stew in the height of summer, and I am pretty much always down for a savory noodle soup regardless of the season, weather, and so on. Basically nothing can get between me and my love of food in steaming, semi-liquid form.

Not to mention soups and stews are perfect for feeding a crowd on a budget and for packing (or hiding—hey kids!) nutrient dense veggies into a balanced one-bowl meal. I am a vegetable freak and can never get enough of ‘em, but what I love most about soups is that I can whip up a big batch with little to no effort, have a number of meals already prepared for the week, and have enough leftover to pop a few extra servings in the freezer for later.

My go-to recipe happens to be split pea. As much as I love bacon and ham, I try not to keep such tempting porky goodness on hand all that often. These ingredients lend a great deal of flavor to a soup like split pea, but I’ve found that plenty of vegetables and a bit of spice can go a long way on their own. I’ve included this meatless adaptation below. And believe me, it is just as delicious without the ham!

But now, if you would be so kind as to disregard split pea soup’s traditionally autumnal connotations, here’s a bit of background on the infamous pea:

Although this dish is quite simple, peas have been a staple in the human diet for thousands of years. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of wild pea consumption by humans as far back as 9750 BCE. 1 Apicius de re Coquinaria, a 4th or 5th century collection of popular Roman recipes contains numerous listings simply for the preparation of these round little seeds. 2

As these green legumes spread throughout Europe, the dried versions became a stable and affordable source of food for peasants, while the French regarded fresh peas as a popular delicacy. 1 Once Europeans began exploring other corners of the globe, nonperishable foodstuffs such as dried peas were crucial to their survival and the success of their lengthy expeditions. The classic children’s nursery rhyme “Pease Pudding Hot” refers to a traditional British version of split pea soup that is usually much thicker and is still eaten today.

Split peas are actually pulses, or legumes (seeds) that are dried. Even aside from all the other vegetables in split pea soup, the main ingredient in this dish is high in dietary fiber and folate, low in fat and sodium, and a complete source of (meatless) protein. 3 This is good news for vegans, vegetarians, and individuals who are looking to reduce their meat consumption. Additionally, split peas are gluten-free, low-allergen, and low on the Glycemic Index (GI) meaning they help control appetite and prevent blood-sugar spikes.4

Scientifically, pea plants are also quite extraordinary. They were the stars in Gregor Mendel’s groundbreaking genetics experiments in the mid-1800s that helped to shed light on dominant and recessive traits or genes.5 Today, laboratories are even working on using different forms of pea protein as an egg substitute.4

Peas really are quite fascinating, but let’s get down to the good stuff!

Split Pea Soup

  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 3 small red potatoes, unpeeled and chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed and minced
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 lb. split green peas, rinsed and picked over
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. nutritional yeast (optional)

Combine onion, carrots, celery, garlic, jalapeno, and butter in a large pot over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the chicken stock, parsley, bay leaf, potatoes, and peas. Bring to a simmer and cook until the peas are soft (about 45 minutes to an hour). Stir frequently to avoid burning and sticking at the bottom of the pot. Depending on your consistency preference, more stock or water can be added if the soup becomes too thick. If you prefer a creamier texture, carefully process soup in batches in a blender or using an immersion blender. Serve hot with a piece of good, crusty bread.

Sources:
  1. A brief history of peas. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.bestcookingpulses.com/history.php
  2. Apicius. (2009). Cookery and dining in imperial rome [Apicius de re Coquinaria] (J. D. Vehling Trans.). Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29728/29728-h/29728-h.htm
  3. Peas, green, split, mature seeds, raw. (2014). (No. 16085). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Retrieved from http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/4798?manu=&fgcd=
  4. Pulses: The heart of healthy food [Brochure] (2010). USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council.
  5. Mendel, G., & Bateson, W. (1925). Experiments in plant-hybridisation. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.5962/bhl.title.4532
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