Dessert for Dinner? It Must Be Blintzes/The Inauguration!

This election season was a hard one on all of us. So, even if it is January, a time where we  should still be maintaining various healthy-eating resolutions, I think we can all forgive ourselves if the inauguration has left us needing a little more. Personally, it left me needing to take a trip home to my mother’s kitchen, where I’ve been eating my feelings since 1988.

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There we made nalesniki (or as you may know them, blintzes), the favorite comfort food of Polish and Jewish grandmothers and children everywhere. The toppings can vary from fruit sauces to chocolate to Nutella to powdered sugar, but the cheese filling is tried and true. It’s basically dessert for dinner, and who doesn’t need that today? Yesterday we marched, tomorrow we call our congressmen, today we eat blintzes.

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Nalesniki (or, Blintzes)

From Mommy’s Kitchen

Makes 12-16 blintzes

For the Filling:

1 pound farmer cheese

1/3 cup whole milk, plus more if needed

3-4 teaspoons sugar, or more, to taste

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Pastry:

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups cold water

1 egg

pinch of salt

1 2/3 – 2 cups sifted flour

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil, plus more for pan

vegetable oil, or clarified butter, for pan

For the Raspberry Sauce:

12 ounces raspberries

juice of 1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons sugar

For Topping:

sour cream

sugar

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First make the filling. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl using a metal spoon. The consistency should be between whipped cream cheese and regular cream cheese. Add more milk if it is too thick. Add more sugar to taste. I prefer a more tangy/sour flavor, so I err on the side of less sugar (around 3 teaspoons). Set aside.

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Next, get started on the raspberry sauce. Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan (too small and you will get a lot of splatter) over high heat. Mix with a wooden spoon and let the mixture come to a boil. The raspberries should start to come apart. Once a high boil is reached, decrease heat to low and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, until it reaches the consistency of a thick sauce. Add more sugar if wanted. Set aside.

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Now work on the pastry wrap. Place the milk, water, egg, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk quickly until the mixture is foamy. Add flour and whisk. Keep adding flour until the batter has a consistency somewhat more runny than pancake batter. Finally, whisk in the olive oil.

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Heat a small-medium nonstick pan over medium-high heat. The size of the base of the pan will be the size of your wraps. Add olive oil to the pan until it is very lightly coated–just enough to keep the wrap from sticking. Pour in a light coating of batter, just enough to spread over the base. Swirl the pan so the batter is distributed evenly. Once there are bubbles in the batter, flip (should be about 1-2 minutes). Cook another 30 seconds-1 minute. Both sides should be lightly golden brown. You will fry these again, so they should be somewhat lighter than you would like for the final product. Set aside the wraps as you finish them. Repeat until you are done with the batter. You should have 12-16 wraps.

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Once all the pastry wraps are made, begin assembling the blintzes. Place 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons filling on a pancake. Use a small spoon to spread over half of the wrap. Roll up the wrap, beginning with the edge that has filling on it. Set aside, and repeat until all pancakes are rolled up.

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Now, it all comes together! Heat a thin layer of clarified butter or vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add blintzes, rotating as needed, until crispy and golden brown on all sides. This should take 5-8 minutes. Remove from oil and blot on paper towels.

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Pour raspberry sauce on top of blintzes. Serve with sour cream and sugar.

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On Carbo Loading (Or, Why Reason Does Not Equal Logic)

Today I registered for the Brooklyn Half Marathon. Yesterday I entered the lottery for the New York City Marathon. Given the serious training regimens races of this caliber require, it is only sensible that today I share with you a recipe for mushroom lasagne. And before my attempt at athletic prowess lead you to think that this is some sort of health recipe consisting of little more than fresh organic mushrooms, low-sodium tomato sauce, and gluten-free noodles, note that this recipe contains not two or three but, indeed, five different kinds of cheese. And, let’s be honest, that’s not even making mention of the butter and whole milk.

Mushroom Lasagna Slice

I could reason that at the least, such a decadent recipe might be good for carbo loading, but, if we’re continuing with this honesty streak, we know that any of the benefits of the lasagne noodles are negated by the pure fat they are swimming in. If running 26.2 miles won’t hurt your bowels, I’m pretty sure all this dairy might (at least, if you have even a whiff of lactose intolerance). Logically, this should be the last thing I am tempted to eat while training, and, yet…

I’ve been telling myself that now is the time to run these various races because of some recent medical adventures that have left me feeling like now is the time to get started on some of these bucket list items. Lest I panic anyone, I am perfectly healthy and not facing any sort of impending peril. And yet, one week with a few too many doctor’s appointments (even though they didn’t indicate anything wrong) have left me feeling like the time is neigh. Logical? No. Reasonable? I’d like to think so. And what does this have to do with mushroom lasagne and running? Well, if I can’t convince myself the recipe is good for me while training, I can at least reason that I’ll have earned it after the race.

Mushroom Lasagna Section

Mushroom Lasagne

Adapted from Plenty

Makes 6-8 servings

1 1/4 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

1 3/4 cups warm water

11 tablespoons unsalted butter (separated into two portions of 5 1/2 tablespoons)

2 pounds mushrooms, sliced (a mix is best)

1 tablespoon thyme leaves

2 tablespoons tarragon, chopped

4 tablespoons parsley, chopped

salt and pepper

1 shallot, chopped

1/2 cup flour

2 1/3 cup whole milk

13 ounces ricotta

1 egg

5 ounces feta, crumbled

6 ounces Gruyere, grated

1 pound dried lasagne

5 ounces mozzarella, grated

1/2 cup Parmesan, grated

Mushroom Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the dried porcini and water in a bowl for 5 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, making sure to get out as much liquid as possible. Save the liquid for later in the recipe.

Melt 5 1/2 tablespoons of the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the thyme, dried mushrooms, and fresh mushrooms. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it looks like the fresh mushrooms have started releasing some of their liquid. Take the pot off the heat and the the tarragon, parsley, and salt and pepper to season. Set aside in a bowl.

Using the same pan you used to cook the mushrooms, make the béchamel. Melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook for a minute. Add the flour and stir constantly for about 2 minutes, until the mixture turns to a paste but does not change color. Add the milk and the reserved mushroom liquid slowly, whisking with each addition. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and whisk until the mixture is boiling. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the sauce starts to become thick, and then remove from heat. This should take about 8 minutes.

Bechamel

In a separate bowl, mix together the ricotta and egg, and add 3 tablespoons of the sauce you just made. Add the feta. Add the remaining Gruyere to the béchamel.

Being careful so that they do not stick together, pour boiling water over the lasagne noodles. Soak for 2 minutes, then remove and dry on a cheesecloth or tea towel.

Mushroom Lasagna

Prepare a 10 by 14 inch dish to assemble the lasagne. Pour one fifth of the béchamel on the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of lasagne noodles. Add one quarter of the ricotta mix on top, and then one quarter of the mushrooms, and then one quarter of the mozzarella. Repeat again, beginning with the béchamel, until you have used up all of the components. Finish with a layer of a noodles covered with béchamel. Finally, sprinkle the parmesan on top, cover the dish loosely with foil, and bake for 50 minutes. Remove the foil when there are 10 minutes left in the cooking time to allow the cheese to brown. The dish is ready when the cheese is golden and the sauce is bubbling at the sides. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Tomato Pie

No, it’s not pizza! Nothing like it, indeed. You probably won’t believe me until you (make and) try it yourself, but if that’s the case, so be it. Now that we are in the depths of winter and the polar vortexes that it entails, we could all use something that allows for a little summer reminiscing while still sticking to our ribs. So, pick up the best tomatoes and cheese you can, and get baking!

Slice of Tomato Pie

And did I mention you can make a double batch of the pie crust, and freeze the half you don’t use for up to four months? Or, even better, use it to make Cheddar-Crusted Apple Pie with Bacon Lattice. Now that’s a hearty meal.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Tomato Pie

Adapted from Tupelo Honey Cafe

Makes 8 servings

For the crust recipe, see this Cheddar-Crusted Bacon Apple Pie recipe.

For the filling:

1 3/4 pounds tomatoes, sliced into 1/2 inch thick slices (preferably heirloom, definitely a juicy, dense variety that is very ripe)

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup grated parmesan, plus more for garnish

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup panko bread crumbs, plus more for garnish (Italian seasoned, if available)

4 cloves garlic, minced and cooked over a little butter

2 green onions, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Tomato Pie

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Roll out the pie crust and press into a 9 inch pie pan. Cover the edges with alumni foil (to protect from burning), fill the crust with pie weights (or dry beans), and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the crust has browned slightly.

Pie Crust

In a bowl, combine all of the remaining ingredients except for the tomatoes.

Cheese Mixture

Put a layer of tomatoes on the bottom of the pie crust. Cover with a layer of the cheese mixture. Repeat twice, so that you end up with 6 layers (3 of tomatoes and 3 of cheese mixture).

Tomatoes in Pie

Sprinkle some more panko bread crumbs and parmesan cheese on the pie. Bake for about 35 minutes, until the pie is slightly browned and bubbling. Remove the aluminum foil for the last 10 minutes of baking. Let cool for about 5 minutes, and enjoy warm. I recommend pairing with a relatively plain side salad, or another slice of tomato pie.

Slice of Heaven

Artichoke, Spinach, and Cheese, Cheese, Cheese Dip

When I wrote my last post, mere days ago, I was able to point to my budding cold as reason enough to pretty much present the recipe and leave the post at that. Is being on the tail-end of that cold good enough reason to do that again?

Artichoke and Spinach Dip

Probably not, but after seeing that picture, didn’t you just think, holy s***, let’s cut to the chase and get this cheesy goodness cooking? No? Well, I assure you, I am doing you a favor by not wasting your time with verbose proclamations of its sheer amazingness. Instead, I will present you with the following two facts. One: I prepared this dip for Christmas Eve this year, and set it out as the first guests began arriving. Was there any dip left for those that came ever so slightly late? Barely. I tried to stop those early arrivers, they tried to stop themselves, nothing could be done. Two: I first encountered this dip when my friend Steve brought it to a turducken party I threw a few years ago. I have since demanded that he make it for every food-filled event that he attends. Enough said, and thank you for sharing this easy recipe for pure decadence, Steve!

All Chopped Up

Artichoke and Spinach Dip

From Steve Carbonaro

Makes about 12 appetizer servings

1 cup frozen spinach

1 1/2 cups frozen artichoke hearts

1/4 cup mayonnaise

6 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup sour cream

3/4 lb. mozzarella cheese, coarsely shredded (I like to buy high-quality mozzarella and shred it myself)

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Cheesy Dip

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Boil the spinach and artichoke hearts with 1 cup of water. Thoroughly drain the liquid, and chop.

Artichoke and Spinach

Combine the mayonnaise, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, sour cream, garlic powder, salt, and half of the mozzarella in a bowl. Add the spinach and artichoke hearts and mix.

All Mixed Up

Place mixture in a medium-sized baking dish, and sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on top.

Mozz On Top

Bake until the mozzarella is slightly golden brown and bubbly, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Boiled Dip

Serve with crackers or bread. Make sure the main course is almost ready, lest your guests gorge themselves on all the dip–I know I would (ahem, did).

Risotto

Ever wish you could have wine and cheese for dinner? I’m more of a beer girl myself (Could it be any other way when you have a homebrewer extraordinaire for a boyfriend?), but that is not to say I have never come back from work wanting nothing more than a fragrant hunk of cheese to nibble on and a cup (okay, two) of wine to sip.

Not So Secret Ingredients

Either way, we all have our appearances to keep up. Sure, you can eat as the French do every once in a while, but more than once in a week or so and you’re likely to get some dubious looks, and probably a nasty pack-a-day habit. It’s really quite the slippery slope when it comes to French habits.

Up Close and Cheese-onal

But there are ways around this. Namely, risotto. It’s quick to make, tastes sophisticated, and makes you look more like a gourmand than a wino. The recipe below is fairly basic and thus malleable. While you definitely shouldn’t skip on the onion and mushrooms, feel free to substitute the other vegetables with beans, squash, or other goodies!

Mushrooms

Classic Risotto

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 1/2 tablespoons butter

1/2 large white onion, diced

1 1/3 cups Arborio rice

4 cups vegetable stock, heated

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

1/2 cup peas

1 cup shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped

salt, to taste

3 ounces (or more!) pecorino romano cheese

Another Key Ingredient

In a deep skillet over medium heat, heat up the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the onions and cook until translucent and slightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add the rice, and toast with the onion for about 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally so the rice does not burn.

Blanching?

Add the wine, and cook, stirring occasionally until it evaporates.

Carrots

Add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and sit frequently until each addition is incorporated. Add the peas, carrots, and mushrooms halfway through adding the stock. Continue cooking until the rice is cooked but still slightly hard.

Boiling Beauty

Remove from the heat, add the butter and cheese, and mix until incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Enjoy with a some fresh vegetables and a French accent.

Risotto