Sunday, November 17, 2013

Birthday Indulgence!


My husband celebrated his birthday last week and I must say I really spoiled him. He was pampered, petted, indulged and WELL-FED! We started the day with breakfast in bed.
Gently Poached Duck Eggs atop Irish Smoked Salmon nestled on Whole Grain English Muffins.

I did not use my own method for poaching (see Perfect Soft Eggs March 9, 2013 blog) because the duck eggs are so large I was not sure they would fully poach so used a more traditional poaching method. I always add about a tsp. of cider vinegar to the water and a tsp. of salt. Bring the water to a gentle boil. Crack the egg in a separate small bowl and slowly slip the egg into the water. Do not boil hard. You may have to coax the whites to keep them together. Look at the size of this duck yolk!

Recently I asked my husband about his favorite lunch as a kid growing up. Without hesitation he said Campbell's tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches so I surprised him with a variation of his childhood favorite. This soup is very easy to make and best if made the day before. I found the recipe online ( and they say the soup stores in the fridge as long as you boil it every 2 days. They also suggest it freezes well, which I am doing with the leftovers so we will see.
Because I was not the Birthday Girl, I put a simple squiggly garnish on my bowl of soup.

2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 large white onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, smashed and peeled
2 Tbsp. flour
3 cups chicken broth (I generally have home-made on hand, but did not this time so used Swanson's.)
28 oz. can whole peeled plum tomatoes (including the juice)
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 sprig fresh thyme
Salt/Pepper to taste
3 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh dill (or other herb like Basil or Chives)
Creme Fraiche Horseradish/Dill garnish, optional

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large soup pot over medium low heat. Add onions and garlic and cook stirring occasionally until soft, but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the flour and stir to coat the onion and garlic. Add the broth, tomatoes, sugar, thyme, 3 Tbsp. dill and 1/4 tsp. each of salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat while stirring the mixture to make sure the flour is not sticking. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes.
Discard the thyme sprig. Let cool briefly and then puree in 2 to 3 batches in a blender or food processor. I know you know this, but use caution when blending hot liquids. They really can explode. I know this from experience. ;-0 Rinse out the soup pot and return the pureed soup to the pot. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt/pepper if necessary. Either put it in the fridge or reheat to serve.

Mix 1/2 cup creme fraiche with 1 Tbsp. minced fresh dill and 1 Tbsp. well-drained horseradish; a little salt and pepper. Because I like to play with my food I put the garnish in a honey-bear plastic bottle and scripted the birthday message on Jerry's soup and used a squiggle design on mine. A simple dollop would also work. The topping added a lot to making a simple classic soup very special.

The grilled cheese sandwiches were made with a smoked Gruyere. Perfect complement to the old-fashioned, comforting soup on a cool fall day.


When I am using a new recipe I usually do not deviate from ingredients or instructions until I have made it once and then do my own tweaking. This was also a new recipe for me from Ina Garten (Food Network's Bare-Foot Contessa) and it was ridiculously delicious! No tweaking necessary!

Kosher salt
1 lb. Cavatappi or elbow macaroni*
1 qt. milk
8 Tbsp. (yes, that is 1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup flour
12 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated (about 4 cups)**
8 oz. extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (about 2 cups)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/2 lb. cooked lobster meat (I used 3 chix-1 1/4 lb. lobsters***)
1 1/2 cups white bread crumbs (crust removed)

*     I like the Cavatappi because it is a little heavier and its curly shape holds lots of sauce.
**   I didn't have enough Gruyere so used 3 cups of each.
*** I steamed, cleaned and chopped the lobster the night before, which made the preparation much easier.

Drizzle olive oil into a large pot of boiling, salted water. Add the pasta and cook per directions; 6-8 minutes. Drain well. Set aside.
Heat the milk in a small saucepan, but do not boil. In a large pot, melt 6 Tbsp. butter and add flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. Still whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a few more minutes (5-8) until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tsp. salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and lobster and stir well. Place the mixture in either 6 to 8 individual buttered gratin dishes or one large buttered casserole. I actually divided into 1 medium casserole and 1 small casserole intending to freeze the small dish. I also wanted to use all of the lobster in the larger casserole so left the smaller one as a plain mac and cheese.

Melt the 2 remaining Tbsp. of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on top.

Jerry is not a major fan of cake so I decided to surprise him with a very special pie. I also know a charming  young lady from Spiddal who would LOVE this pie as it contains her favorite combination of chocolate and peanut butter-GENUINELY. Hi Clodagh!

This pie is fairly easy to make although I did have some mis-steps and since I have promised to share not only the things that go right, but those that don't, I will tell you the story.

A trick for whipping cream is to put the bowl, beaters and the cream in the freezer for a few minutes before you start whipping. The chilled utensils and cream whip up faster so that is what I did. Unfortunately I did not thoroughly read the recipe ahead of time to see that I needed to make the crust and let it cool completely before adding the filling. Because the crust needed about an hour to put together including cooling time, I forgot about the cream which froze nearly solid. I ran it under hot water and loosened it enough to squirt out of the container, but what was intended to speed things up actually really slowed them down! The lesson here, read the directions thoroughly before starting your recipe...and, in this case, make the crust earlier in the day.

For the Crust:
1 3/4 cups chocolate cookie crumbs (I like the Nabisco brand Famous Chocolate Wafers.)
3 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Pinch of salt

For the Filling:
6 oz. cream cheese, at room temp
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter (not chunky or natural; I used Skippy.)
1 Tbsp. vanilla
2 cups heavy cream

For the Topping Drizzle:
2 oz. good quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. peanut butter

To make the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the cookie crumbs, brown sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter and toss with a fork until all the crumbs are moistened. Press into the bottom and up the sides of a 9" pie plate. Refrigerate for 15 minutes, then bake until set, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, powdered sugar and salt until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the peanut butter and vanilla and beat again. In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Stir 1/3 of the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture to lighten it up.

Using a rubber spatula gently fold in the remaining whipped cream. Transfer the filling to the cooled crust. Freeze uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to 1 day covered with plastic wrap.

I put the garnish on before freezing. To garnish the pie: Put the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and heat until melted (2 bursts of 15 seconds). Transfer to a zip-lock baggie and snip the end off one corner and drizzle over pie. Do the same with the peanut butter. We ate this pie after 4 hours in the freezer, but the consistency got even better with longer freezing. This may be the best pie I have ever eaten.

What a day of feasting we had!
Even JoJo got in on the fun!


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