December 21, 2015 – December 27, 2015

Pork with glazed oranges

M:                   Tomato Soup with Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad

T:                     Slow-roasted pork with glazed oranges, roast apples,                  home-made bread and salad (pictured above)

W:                   Eggs and Swiss Chard Gratin, Green Salad

Th:                  Christmas Eve / Salumi Plate / Ricotta with fixings

Baked Shrimp Scampi, Home made bread, Salad, Cookies

F:                     Christmas / Ricotta with Fixings, Bucket o’ Guacamole  with    chips (a serious vat of guacamole)      Fillet of Beef / Horseradish Sauce Fennel/Potato Gratin.  Winter Salad with beets and goat cheese  Blackberry – Thyme Tarts  Stilton with walnuts and raisins  Calvados

Saturday:      Stewart holiday gathering at Atria’s

Sunday:       Breakfast with Drew, Julia and Billy: Bacon, Spinach and            Ricotta Frittata, Tomato Scumble, Baked Beans on Toasted Soda                     Bread             Dinner: Tomato Soup, Croque Monsieur Toast, Salad


I hope your Christmas was as wonderful, peaceful, hectic, family-filled and happy as ours. I’m sure it was – nobody is safe from the joyous chaos of this time of year. For me, the beauty is that it is not over yet. For control-freaks, of course, that is the problem.

To help both the control freaks and the happy-go-lucky’s chill at this time of year, I have some suggestions for simple meals and small menus that offer a contrast to the marathon cooking sessions required by Christmas and New Year’s (and Christmas Eve) in our case. These menus give you plenty of time to watch the football game, catch up with family and guests, clean the dishes, make the beds, take out the garbage, marvel at how the kids revert to childhood ways when they come home, and still have time for a martini before dinner. They require minimal ingredients and minimal cooking but pack big flavor. They will remind you of the meals of your youth. The full recipes are at the bottom of the post.

 Swiss Chard and Egg Gratin

Swiss Chard and Egg Gratin. This recipe comes from Jacques Pepin’s stellar new cookbook, “Heart and Soul in the Kitchen.” The book includes not just recipes but a sort of cooking philosophy and a lot of Pepin’s paintings and drawings – he is very good with chickens and flowers. This dish reminds me of something my mother used to serve us when she ran out of ideas – sliced hard-boiled eggs on toast smothered in mushroom soup (Campbell’s, of course) with a little pepper and paprika on top. Pepin’s dish is more elegant and probably healthier, but the vibe is exactly the same – it will drive the winter chill from your bones.

 croques monsieur toasts

Croques Monsieur Toast. Last week I was praising and promoting grilled bread and, for Christmas, Billy gave me a nifty little cookbook entitled simply “Toast.” For the carbophobes in your family this won’t work at first, but when they see how much you are enjoying the result those who are not totally crazed (maybe 40%) will dig in and enjoy themselves. We love a good croques monsieur, but it is awfully fattening, being fried in batter. This is simpler, better for you and simply great to accompany tomato soup or fine with a salad as a light meal on its own. If you’re cooking for yourself and want to make some effort, but not go to a lot of trouble, this is perfect.  The recipe below uses baguette slices to create an appetizer – just switch to large slices of bread for the meal.

Baked Beans on Toast: “You can’t be serious,” is what you are thinking. But I am. This is a typical pub meal in England and everyone who’s been to either Ireland or England knows that baked beans are often served with eggs and ham at breakfast. Add a frittata or a green salad and you have a solid meal. The soda bread in this recipe is a winner all by itself and so easy to make, it doesn’t seem fair. The recipe is highly adopted (and made easier) from a recipe in the great Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food, which Andrew and Julia gave to me as a Christmas present.

Swiss Chard and Egg Gratin:  This is from Jacques Pepin’s “Heart and Soul in the Kitchen.”  He loved this when he was a kid.

Ingredients:  8 Large Eggs (this serves 4) / Bunch of red or white Swiss Chard (about 12 oz), Tsp salt, Tsp ground pepper, TBS peanut oil (canola is okay), 1.5 C sliced mushrooms, 1.5 TBS butter, 1.5 TBS all-purpose flour, 1.5 cups of milk, 1 C grated Swiss cheese (splurge on Gruyere – it makes a difference).

Cooking:  Hard-boil the eggs this way – bring 3 cups of water to a boil and add the eggs (with a sp0on).  Bring the water back to a boil and then reduce and cook at a very gentle boil for 10 minutes.  Pour out the water and shake the pan to crack the egg-shells, then fill the pan with cold water and ice and the eggs cool complete.  Preheat oven to 400 F.  Wash the chard and cut the ribs and leaves into 2 inch pieces.  Pile them, still wet, into a skillet, cover and cook over high heat for about 5 minutes or longer until the chard wilts, then uncover and cook another minute or more until most of the moisture is gone.  Add 1/4 Tsp each of slat and pepper and mix well.  Spread the chard in the bottom of a 5 or 6 Cup gratin pan, peel and slice the eggs and arrange them over the chard.  Heat the oil in the skillet you used for the chard, add the mushrooms and 1/4 Tsp each of salt and pepper and cook until most of the moisture has evaporated (2-3 minutes)  Spread the mushrooms on top of the eggs.  Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium, add the flour and whisk together and cook for 30 seconds, then add the milk and the remaining 1/2 Tsp each of salt and pepper and bring to a strong boil, stirring from time to time until the mixture thickens.   Boil for 10 more seconds, then pour over gratin evenly and top with the grated cheese.  Bake (on a cookie sheet) for 30 minutes, until browned on top.  Serve immediately.

Croque Monsieur Toast:  This is from a recipe in Toast, a cookbook written by Raquel Pelzel.  The recipes in the book are interesting, but the idea is what grabbed me.  We’ve been putting all sorts of things on toasted baguette for some time, and this book freed us up to experiment even further.  In the book, this recipe calls for a large slice of bread to be fried and then put onto a foil lined cookie sheet with the toasted side down.  To save a few calories and avoid cleaning a pan – here’s a lighter recipe with thin slices of baguette.  First, grate about 4 ounces of gruyere and 2 oz. of emmenthaler (or just use all gruyere).  Now mince up some Black Forest ham (any good deli  ham will work).  You’ll need three slices if the ham is sliced thin, just two if not.  Dump the cheese and ham in a food processor along with an egg yolk, 2 or 3 TBS of heavy cream, 1 Tsp Worcestershire Sauce, a dot of Dijon mustard (1/4 tsp or s0) and a pinch of salt.  Pulse blender a few times and scrape down sides.  Now process until the mixture begins to form into a ball – put into a bowl.  Now turn on your broiler and place the sliced baguette on a foil-lined cookie sheet and brush lightly with olive oil.  Put under the broiler* for maybe a minute – keep an eye on these babies, they can burn if you turn your back.  Remove the tray from the oven, flip the baguettes (or not, if your pressed for time), and put a good dollop of the cheese and ham spread on each one – you don’t want to cover all the bread – the cheese will melt and flow and a little bit of crust at the edges looks better and is probably healthier.  Put pan under the broiler again – this will take maybe a minute – keep an eye on it.  (As the folks at our New Year’s Eve party know, these are even good when burnt, but much better when not)

*”under the broiler” in this case means about 6 or 7 ” under the broiler – probably the second slot for your oven rack – I’m surprised I had to tell you this.

Baked Beans on Toasted Soda Bread – This is modified from Tom  Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food.  If you want to make your own soda bread – it’s easy and you should – you’ll need to make the bread at least 3 hours before you want to use it – the recipe is below the bean recipe.  (The day before makes things less hectic).  Tom soaks his beans overnight and cooks them for an hour before he starts the dish.  I just bought a selection of (mostly) cannellini (white kidney beans), garbanzo and butter beans (say 5 cans in all.  Also get a light vegetable oil (rapeseed is great, but I used canola), 7 oz. of good bacon (I think I used 4 or 5 slices, a scant up of chopped onions, 2 garlic cloves grated, 2 x 14 oz. cans of chopped tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of tomato puree, 2/3 Cup of dark brown sugar, 2/3 Cup of red wine vinegar, 3/4 Cup of water, salt and pepper to taste.   Heat the oil over medium heat, add the bacon and fry, stirring until it’s crispy.  Add the onion and garlic and stir for 3 or 4 minutes until the onion softens.  Add every thing but the beans, bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar, add the drained beans and reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook for 1 to 2 hours until you get the thickness your want – season with salt and pepper.  (We also add a good amount of ketchup,  some Worcestershire sauce and dried mustard – but Kerridge does not).  When the beans are ready, turn on your broiler and toast some slices of good bread (for soda bread, see below).  Spread the toast with butter (SWMBO does not use butter in this way) and serve with the beans.

For the soda bread, you need a scant 1.5 C of whole wheat flour and a scant 1.5 C of bread flour, 2 Tsp of baking soda, 3 TBS of softened butter (plus some for spreading on the bread), 1.5 Tsp of Salt, 1 Tsp of cracked black pepper, and 2 and 2/3 C of buttermilk.  Preheat the oven to about 400 degrees F.  Mix the flours, the butter, baking soda, salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Stir in the buttermilk and, using your hands, mix all the ingredients together until a soft dough forms.  (This is a really soft dough).  Transfer to a greased cookie sheet and pat into a loaf shape and dust with a little extra flour.  Bake until golden brown – about 45 to 50 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before cutting.

Extra:  So what’s with the “scant 1.5 C” ?  Well, Kerridge’s recipes are measured in grams, milliliters and degrees Celsius.  I’ve converted that into ounces, cups, TBS and Fahrenheit for you – you’re welcome.


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