Stuffed Cucumbers and If It Looks Like a Duck and Walks Like a Duck…

I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any stretch of the imagination but there are times when the military or government are so blatant it beggars belief.  About 2pm on Wednesday afternoon there was a massive boom that shook all the homes over several towns and it lasted just a second or so.  Because it snowed the night before a lot of us thought snow was falling off our roofs but as we only got an inch and most of it melted by then we were very quickly puzzled about what the hell just happened.  It felt like a truck hit the house.

So of course a lot of people were circling their homes and businesses looking for damage.  What was it?  A sonic boom.  Which is illegal over populated areas.  So the MA National Guard are saying it was just normal jet noise.  The only ones that seem to believe that are the people at the MA National Guard.  It isn’t the fact it was a sonic boom that bothers me, though given how it freaked out our dogs I’m ok without the booms, it’s the fact they are lying about it.  I mean, give over people.  Guinness was very needy for about 24 hours.  Murphy was just fine in his armchair of choice.

Fortunately this past Sunday was much quieter.  We got the family together to celebrate a few birthdays and we did a sort of tapas lunch.  Loads of flavours but not a ton of cooking required.  My mum loves peaches so we did up some peach bellinis which was fun and went down very easily!

I came across a recipe for cucumber feta rolls that looked interesting and I did a variation of those for Sunday.

I decided not to make them into rolls as it would be less messy and I wouldn’t have to worry about toothpicks making their way to the floor then into the dogs.  So I sliced the cucumber into 3/4″ or so slices then hollowed out the top.

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My husband found some locally made feta cheese that was quite nice.  Crumble about 4oz and add a few dollops of plain greek yoghurt.

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Slice up a few pieces of sun dried tomatoes.  It’s on my list this summer to try to make some with the tomatoes from our garden.  Should be an interesting experiment!

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Mix with the cheese and yoghurt, add some chopped oregano and salt and pepper.  Squeeze a splash or so of lemon juice and stir it together.  My husband and son don’t like olives so instead of chopping the kalamata olives and mixing them in I just topped most of these with a slice of olive.

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Very easy to make for a dinner party or for a healthy snack.  And I do love the pairing of sun dried tomatoes and olives.

 

Please Spear Me Some Risotto

I’m being an optimist.  Officially it’s 19 days til spring and my fingers are crossed that spring will arrive.  It’s turning out to be a lovely day today with barely a cloud in the sky.  This afternoon snow should be wandering through for the next few days again.

The kids have enjoyed their downtime this past week being off from school and it’s been relatively quiet which is nice.  We’re not those parents that schedule their kids within an inch of their lives but it is nice to have a break in routine.

There was a request for risotto as we haven’t had that recently so I decided to switch it up a bit.  We had some asparagus that needed to be used up and I thought pancetta would be a great pairing.

For risotto I always prepare the ingredients before I start cooking to keep it easy.  I sliced up half a red onion, chopped 4-5 cloves of garlic, and cut up the asparagus.  While I am doing this I heat up the stock for the risotto.  The ratio I used is 5 cups to about 1 1/4 cup of risotto.

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In a large pan melt a couple of tablespoons of butter and saute the onions until softened.  Then add the garlic and chopped up pancetta.  I found this pancetta at the co-op that was uncured and thinly sliced.  I think next time I will get thicker sliced pancetta because while this was tasty the flavour wasn’t as bold as I was hoping for.

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After a couple of minutes add the risotto.  Stir well then add about a third of a cup of white balsamic vinegar.

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Gradually add the heated stock stirring well.  As the liquid is absorbed add more.

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While this is simmering I grated parmesan, asiago, and fontina cheese until I had just over a cup.  In the last five minutes of cooking or so add the cheese.

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In the last few minutes add the asparagus.  You still want it bright and crunchy.  Nothing worse than overdone asparagus.  Also the risotto should be on the slightly al dente side.  Not crunchy but firm.

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With the three cheeses this was really creamy.  And it is hard to go wrong with a bit of bacon.  And the plates were cleared quickly so that is always a good sign. 🙂

I may have asked this question already so if I did I apologise but with new tablets out now I was wondering for those who use their tablets to blog, what do they use?  I need one that I can easily transfer pictures from my camera to the tablet then put watermarks on.  I think the big sticking point is getting the pictures from the camera to the tablet so I can blog on the go.  Thank you for any advice!

Eggplant-Aubergine-Al Badinjan Parmesan

Words fascinate me.  With all the different languages one thing can have many different names.  Take eggplant.  Which is a strange thing to call it as the common ones are large and purple.  But various countries in Europe called it eggplant because they used to be the size of a goose egg and even whitish.  In the UK using the word aubergine shows a bit of the French influence on our language but if you continue back the roots are found in the Arabic word al-badinjan.

Years ago when my mum and I would work together we had a little game we’d play.  This was when the internet was new to us and I would look up the word of the day and try to test her.  It would always be a big word or something really obscure and she would have to try to come up with the definition.  I think I tripped her up a small handful of times.  She has an excellent vocabulary and because she took Latin she could figure out the root of the word.  I may not have the vocabulary she does but I love the history of words.

I asked the kids what they would like for dinner this week and our daughter piped up with eggplant parmesan.  As I’ve never made it before I thought why not?  And really it’s not very difficult to make.  The only time consuming bit is the homemade pasta.  For the tomato sauce I used our homemade base and added our usual group of veg and a bit of red wine.

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Slice the eggplant about 1/4″ thick or so and remove the skin.  I then sliced them in half so it is more manageable.

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Dip them in egg and panko bread crumbs and pan fry in oil until browned then turn them over.  On the browned side I seasoned with salt and pepper and grated fresh parmesan cheese over the eggplant.

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After both sides are browned finish off in the oven to complete cooking.  Toss the pasta in the sauce.  I prefer the Italian way of just letting the sauce coat the pasta rather than have the pasta swimming in the sauce.  Grate more fresh cheese over the dish and serve.

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Super easy to put together and the kids loved it.  And hey, any time the kids ask for a veg based dish I won’t be saying no!  Though we are lucky, they love their veg.  🙂

Bitter Cold So It’s Enchilada Time…

I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year’s.  We had our usual get together with our friends.  At our get together we do a potluck.  There were 8 adults and 7 kids but we always end up making enough for double that amount!  Keeps us going for our Texas Hold ‘Em, dancing, and general goofiness.  It’s always a good time.  It has been the high point of my week as I’ve struggled with a bad cold and winter is being harsh.  The past 24 hours brought us several inches of snow and tonight we are looking at a range of -15F/-26C and -22F/-30C.  At that point though, cold is cold!  The kids are enjoying 2 snow days with lots of PJ time and playing out in the snow until they can’t take the cold anymore.  Thank goodness for hot chocolate.  That will revive any child.  🙂

Because of my cold I’ve been trying to get as much spicy things into me as I can.  Though not always with success.  I tried making our spicy stir fry, which is normally a success, but not that night.  The jalapenos were mild and I screwed up the rice noodles.  So last night I wanted to redeem myself with something that actually had a bit of heat!  My kids wanted Mexican for dinner so I decided to make homemade enchiladas and sauce.

This is a very versatile dish as you make it your own.  Particularly in terms of how much heat you want in your dish.  So if you want to knock your socks off you can!

Pre heat the oven for 375F/190C.  Make the enchilada sauce first so it can simmer to give it time for the flavours to develop.

Mince 2-3 cloves of garlic and about 1/2 a cup of onion and saute in olive oil.

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Once they’ve softened a bit add a 14oz can of tomato sauce, 3/4 cups of water, 1/3 cup of salsa, dried oregano, dried basil, chili powder, ground cumin, lime juice, red pepper flakes, adobe seasoning, and salt and pepper.  I’m not giving measurements for the seasoning as you can tailor it to your tastes.  The main bit is not to have an overpowering taste of tomato.  You want all the flavours to come through.  Let this simmer while you prep the enchiladas.

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I found chicken thighs to use for this dish as they are cheaper and have a lot of flavour.  I cut them into strips and started to brown them in olive oil.

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Once they are about halfway cooked add a few cloves of chopped garlic and about half a large onion that has been sliced.  Then add chopped peppers and a jalapeno.  Go ahead and add mushrooms if you wish.  I left them out of this dish for my son.  That made him very happy.  🙂

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Add a bit of lime juice along with chili powder and cumin as well as about 1/3 cup – 1/2 cup of salsa.  I wanted to try a creamy enchilada so I added about 4oz of low fat cream cheese.

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Spoon the mixture into the middle of the tortillas.

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Roll and place in the seam down in the baking dish.

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Pour the enchilada sauce over the enchiladas and cover with shredded cheese.

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Bake until the cheese melts and starts to brown a bit.

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It is ready to serve immediately.  For the table put out sour cream, salsa, and jalapeno to compliment the dish.

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The kids loved it and I liked how the creaminess balanced with the heat.  And the jalapenos brought some heat this time round!  Just what I needed.  🙂

 

Cheesecake with a Raspberry Lemon Sauce

In the interest of really mixing it up a bit at Thanksgiving we substituted the apple pie for cheesecake.  Gasp!  I know, how can you get rid of the apple pie?  Easy, I wasn’t getting rid of the pumpkin pie!  Because we were acknowledging that my husband had a milestone birthday in November we decided to do cheesecake instead.  He even made it.  Not sure if I should feel guilty that he made his own birthday dessert but he does love being in the kitchen and he makes a fabulous cheesecake.  And I love it when he bakes and cooks.  I get very spoilt when he’s creating.  🙂

The recipe here is a variation of the one in the “Pillsbury The Complete Book of Baking”.  We didn’t use orange peel or chocolate.

Preheat the oven to 325F/160C.

Ahem, if you are on a diet or are pretending to be, this isn’t for you.  For a start, there is 32oz of cream cheese.  The full fat stuff.  I try in a lot of recipes to use low fat when I can but that’s a no-no for this.  So let’s begin!

Grease the spring form pan.

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Then using a plastic baggie crush enough graham crackers to coat the bottom and part of the sides.

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To make the cheesecake you will need 32 oz of cream cheese, 4 eggs, 1 1/3 cups of sugar, 2 T of orange liqueur.

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Cream the cheese in the mixing bowl until it becomes creamy and smooth.

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A bit at a time add the sugar mixing until it is a smooth mixture.  With the mixer on low add an egg at a time, then add the liqueur.  Once incorporated beat for a couple of minutes making sure the sides are scraped.

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Pour into the pan and then bake for an hour.

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Once it is set, allow it to cool for about 10 minutes before removing the form from the bottom.

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For the sauce my husband heated raspberries with lemon and sugar to taste until it was a thick sauce.  Then he strained it to remove the seeds.

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To serve just pour over the cheesecake and enjoy.

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The sauce was a perfect counterbalance to the sweetness of the cheesecake.  A lovely tartness to it.

Get Stuffed….

I love stuffing especially with gravy.  To me it is great comfort food that is dressed up for the holidays.  I generally make this stuffing for Thanksgiving but when we were back in the UK my MIL did up a lovely roast pork with stuffing balls.  If I was smart I would have asked for the recipe.  I wasn’t.  However, I figured I could adjust my usual stuffing, add an ingredient, and make them into balls.  I think they are great because the best part of stuffing is the browned edges with a bit of crispy to it.  Now everyone gets it with their stuffing.

Unlike the spinach balls, I knew I had all the ingredients!  🙂

It’s important to plan ahead somewhat for this dish as the bread needs to be stale.  I usually get a sourdough boule and break it up a day or two before making this.  Leave it out for all the pieces to get a bit hard.  Because these will make the balls the pieces need to be somewhat small.

I baked these at about 350F/175C.  Because we had so many things going on in the oven this seemed the average temp.  These can be baked at a higher temp, just keep an eye on them.

Chop up about a half an onion finely and a few cloves of garlic.  Saute them in olive oil until softened.

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Add two cups of veg bouillon and simmer for about 10 minutes.  While this is cooking chop about a cup of cranberries and several fresh sage leaves.

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Mix the cranberries and sage in with the bread and then work in about a pound of sausage of your choice.  I chose mild Italian sausage for this.  I didn’t want any flavours overpowering the sourdough or the sage.

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Now here comes the messy part.  Just take off your rings and roll up your sleeves!  Pour in the broth with the onions and garlic and mix well.  Take a few minutes to do this so you don’t have any dry bread bits.  Add about a cup of shredded Italian cheeses and mix thoroughly.  Form into balls and place onto a cookie sheet.  As these won’t spread while baking you can keep them somewhat close to each other.  This recipe makes a lot of balls.

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I baked these about 20 minutes or so.  Once they are golden brown check one to make sure it is cooked through.

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These could easily be made vegetarian.  Just remove the sausage.  Though I have to say this is the first time I used meat in stuffing and it worked really well with the sourdough.

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It also paired well with the apple sage gravy I made to go with the turkey.

I Don’t Give a Fig, Actually That’s Not True….

As many of you know I do my best to buy local foods but because some ingredients can’t be grown here and we’ve been spoilt by having them available anyway as I’d be hard pressed to give up real Parmesan cheese.  And wine.  But there are some ingredients that either we just can’t get or are strictly seasonal and we may get lucky here and there.  Figs are such an ingredient.  I have come across many a fig recipe that just makes me envious and I can’t do anything about it because we can’t get figs!  So you better believe when I saw some at the co-op I grabbed them.  They are very expensive so I only got one pack.  Wonder how many I would need to get to make fig bars?

In any case I wanted to do something simple for dinner.  I came across Taste Spotting on Pinterest that has loads of crostinis.  Their version of crostini used brie which I did for my husband but for me I used goat cheese.  I also made up so more buttery mushrooms and baked brie to have with crackers.  Perfect after a long day!

This is super easy but the flavour is amazing.  The ingredients needed are figs, goat cheese, salad greens, prosciutto, and crusty bread toasted.

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You can grill the figs on a proper grill but it was really cold so I took our cast iron grill and did it stove top style.  Slice the figs and place on the hot grill.  I did spray some cooking oil on the grill before heating up.  Cook on each side until grill marks start forming.  You want them to soften and warm through.

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After you toast the crusty bread spread the cheese, layer on prosciutto and salad greens, then top with the fig.

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As I said this was amazing!  This is now one of my favourites by far.  The sweetness of the fig against the savory of the rest of the ingredients was a great balance.  And it takes less than 10 minutes to make.  Perfect!

Crêpes – The Savory Side of Life

Crêpes are a treat we do once in awhile for dinner.  My husband enjoys making them and a few years ago we bought him a crêpe pan.  It also gets a lot of use for my eggs so it was a win-win.  🙂  But I’ve always been impressed that he could make these.  I was also lulled into a false sense of “how hard can this be?”.  So I decided I would give it a go last night.  Parts of it are really easy.  But I quickly learned it takes practice on the actual cooking of the crêpe.  Fortunately we only need 4 good ones as it was just the two of us.

As crêpes are extremely versatile we have fun with sweet and savory.  Generally we stuff ours with some sort of filling.  I wanted two savory fillings this time round.  I bought some rabbit sausages for one filling and chose a lovely apple for the second.  The recipe I used for the batter was from the book Crêpes – Sweet and Savory Recipes for the Home Cook by Lou Seibert Pappas.  Interesting fact from the book crêpes comes from the Latin word crispus meaning crisp.

The batter should be made about 2 hours before the actual cooking and it can be stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours.  You can use a blender, a food processor, or a whisk.  We use the blender.  In the blender I place 2 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1/3 cup water, 2 Tablespoons of melted butter, 1/4 tsp of salt, and a cup of flour.

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Blend for 5 seconds.  Take a rubber spatula and scrape the sides then blend for a couple of seconds.  That’s it.  You don’t want to overwork the batter.

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Cover and chill for at least 2 hours.  For the rabbit filling I chopped up a couple of garlic cloves and some baby portabello mushrooms.  I removed the rabbit sausage from it’s casing and tried to chop it up into small pieces.  Wasn’t that easy.  In a skillet with hot olive oil saute the ingredients to brown the rabbit meat.

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Add a splash of dry sherry and some lemon thyme.  Let that simmer to cook through.  For the next filling I chopped up some sage and apples.

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In a small skillet I melted about a tablespoon of butter and sauteed the sage in it for a couple of minutes.  Then I added the apples to cook.  I wanted the apples softened but not mushy.

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I set aside the fillings and got the batter ready.  Heat a dry pan until hot.  Here is the first tricky part.  You want to rub a bit of butter onto the hot pan.  If you do it too much the batter goes all wonky and won’t spread out.  Because our pan is about 9″ wide we use 1/4 cup of batter at a time.  Remove the pan from the heat and then spread the batter around the pan.  It needs to be poured in then tilt the pan about until it is coated.

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Once the sides start browning and the crêpe can be easily lifted with a spatula flip it over and cook for about 15 seconds to finish off the top side.   Remove and place on paper towels to cool off.  The next tricky bit I encountered as having a pan too hot.  You can end up with a jelly fish shape.

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Cute but not right.  It should look a bit like this:

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Once all the batter has been cooked it is time to stuff them.  And crêpes not used can easily be frozen for another time.  I set the toaster oven to 375F/190C because we need to melt cheese.  For the apple filling I placed a few slices of brie in the center of the crêpe and topped with the apples.

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Fold like a burrito and place in the baking pan.  I scooped the rabbit filling into the center and topped with freshly shredded Jarlsberg.

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I put the rest of the cheese over the two crêpes with the rabbit.  Can’t waste any cheese!  🙂

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Bake until the cheese is melted and it is ready to serve.

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The apple ones came out really blurry so I only have the rabbit ones to show.

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The possibilities for fillings are endless with these.  And it is a delicious way to have dinner.  🙂

 

Risotto with Balsamic Grilled Steak

Sometimes you just have to change things up.  We love risotto but we usually make Risotto with Sherry Mushrooms which is delicious but we have it often enough it can feel like being in a rut.  With the weather turning cool (there was a frost advisory last night) I wanted something a bit more rustic for our risotto.  I was pleased with the result and it went very well with the steak.

After dinner we had to dash out into the cool evening and harvest what tomatoes we could and throw blankets and sheets over the peppers, cucumbers, and celery for the potential frost.  I hope this doesn’t bode for an early winter.  Winter last year was long enough!  Not ready for the heat to go on just yet.  🙂

About an hour before grilling the steak I marinated it in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, thyme and garlic.  I seasoned the steak with salt and pepper.  Whenever I do risotto I like to get everything prepped ahead of time so it goes smoothly.  It’s not hard but it is a huge help having everything lined up.  For this I warmed up 4 cups of vegetable bouillon in a pan and measured out a cup of arborio rice.  I chopped half of a large red onion, finely chopped 3 cloves of garlic, prepped the fresh thyme, and sliced the mushrooms.  I also grated about a cup of parmesan.  The last ingredient needed would be the peas.

Melt about 2 tablespoons in a large skillet.

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Once melted saute the onions for a couple of minutes and once they start to soften add in the garlic.

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After another couple of minutes pour in the rice and stir well.  At this point usually a 1/2 cup of wine or sherry goes in but that would be way too much with balsamic vinegar so just a few splashes of the vinegar will do here.  Stir another couple of minutes.

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I usually add the broth 1/2 -1 cup at a time letting it simmer.  At this point I started grilling the steak.  It was a thin steak so it only needed a couple of minutes per side.

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Once the steak is done, remove and cover to let it rest until it is time to slice it.

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Halfway through cooking the risotto I add the peas to cook because even though they are from our garden they have been frozen.  Keep adding broth as the rice soaks it up.  Also at this point taste test.  If the broth is too salty dilute with some water.  It worked well for me as I made the broth a little too concentrated.

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At this point I saute the mushrooms.  For this dish I love to use shiitake mushrooms.  I heated up some olive oil and added the mushrooms and thyme.  I saute until the mushrooms start to brown then I add them to the risotto.

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I like to cook the risotto like they do in Italy.  You don’t want it mushy, just a little al dente.  Near the end of the cooking add in the cheese and stir well.  It is now ready to serve.  I sliced the steak thinly and placed it over the risotto.

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It was a lovely meal that was perfect for our first real chilly night.  🙂

Zucchini/Courgette Flans

In the interest of complete transparency, I need to confess.  I hate zucchini.  Right up there with Brussels sprouts.  However, we are currently growing them in our garden.  We let our kids each pick a veg to grow and my daughter picked zucchini.  Sigh.  And they are huge!  So of course I have been on the look out for recipes.  Something that would make me like zucchini.  I have recently found the blog Manger which is a wonderful blog with amazing pictures and recipes.  I would love to have her photographer.  Whoever it is knows their stuff.  This past weekend she blogged about Bastille day and in among the recipes was one for zucchini flan.  I thought it would be perfect to try.

Now in her recipe she mentioned using two large zucchinis.  I don’t think she had in mind what I harvested.

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Preheat the oven to 350F/180C

In her recipe she said to thinly slice in half rondelles.  This thing was 3″ in diameter in some spots.  For this recipe I used 1/3 of the above zucchini and cut it up in small triangles.  I didn’t have shallots so I used 1/2 an onion from the farmers market.  These were the sweet ones I found and used last week.

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I finely chopped the onion and a clove of garlic.  Use either a large clove or 2 smaller cloves.  I drizzled a bit of olive oil into a skillet and heated that up.

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Saute the zucchini, garlic and onion.  While this is cooking beat 5 eggs in a large bowl.  Her recipe calls for 4 T of corn starch to be mixed into the eggs.  I had about 2 1/2 T so I supplemented with flour and it came out well.  The hardest part was getting rid of the lumps!

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Grate 105g of cheese like a guyere.  I used the Jarlsberg we have on hand.  I grabbed a handful of fresh mint from our garden and chiffonade the leaves.  Mix all this together.  Once the zucchini mixture starts to become lightly brown remove from the heat.

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Add to the egg mixture and mix gently.  Add the remaining ingredients of 2 T of lemon juice, 1/2 tsp of nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.

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Use a tin with small muffin wells that are sprayed with oil.  Spoon in the mixture.  This made about 8 flans with the size I had.  Bake for 20-25 minutes depending on your oven.

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I had decided to make these when it was much cooler.  The day just got hotter so by the time I needed to make these I didn’t want to cook!  So I thought these would be perfect with a light salad given that the humidity was drifting back up.

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The kids loved these and so did my husband.  The lemon juice and mint added a brightness to the dish.  I would have loved it if it didn’t have zucchini.  My son did ask me if I could make these again for his birthday.  Which is next June so hopefully I don’t forget!  🙂