February is here. Although December was kind to us, January was still cold and long, and we know there is rarely a break from the doldrums of winter in the month of February. The highlights of the month are Mardi Gras, President’s Day (“what do we do with the kids?” day), and Valentine’s Day; the rest of the month is survival of the Midwest winter. This month we are sharing a few of our favorite foods, favorite new recipes, and a sexy, romantic menu for that special Valentine’s Day dinner.

Eggs a la Angela with Oven-Roasted Potatoes
Breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day, and during the week, it is usually a quick bowl of cereal or a piece of toast and a protein shake. But on that lazy Sunday morning, it’s nice to have a leisurely breakfast with minimal work, because let’s be honest, who wants to clean up after a big breakfast?

This egg in a cup is based on a French dish called egg en cocotte, in which you crack an egg in a ramekin and bake in a water bath. We skip the water bath and cook the egg in a thinly sliced ham or turkey-lined ramekin. This method is an easy and delicious option for breakfast any day of the week, but add some oven roasted potatoes and you have a perfect Sunday brunch.

4 large eggs (farm fresh organic eggs are the best)
8 thin slices of black forest ham (we prefer uncured/nitrate free)
Handful of baby spinach, loosely chopped
2 green onions, sliced thinly
1/4 red pepper (or any color you like) loosely chopped
2 slices of your favorite cheese, such as provolone, pepper jack or cheddar, cut into quarters
Salt and pepper
Cooking spray
4 ramekins (6 oz.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray ramekins thoroughly with cooking spray and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Lay two slices of ham into each ramekin, pushing down to create a bowl. Evenly disperse the chopped spinach, green onion, and pepper in each ramekin. Crack eggs into a small dish to be sure no shell falls in. Pour one egg into each ramekin, season with a pinch of kosher salt and a twist of fresh cracked pepper. Place two pieces of the quartered cheese on top of each egg. Place in oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes or until the egg is cooked to your liking.

Remove sheet from oven and let cool until you are able to handle the ramekin with a dishtowel and scoop each cup onto a bed of oven-roasted potatoes (recipe to follow).

Oven Roasted Breakfast Potatoes
5 small red or baby Yukon gold potatoes cut into 1-inch cubes
Enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the potatoes
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
A few good twists of fresh cracked pepper or 1/2 ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. In a bowl, toss all ingredients until well coated. Pour onto lined baking sheet and place in hot oven. Bake approximately 25-30 minutes, until potatoes are golden outside and soft inside, stirring half way through to ensure even browning. When done, remove from oven and adjust seasoning as needed.

Serves four.

Citrus Salad with Fennel Vinaigrette
The heart of winter in the Midwest means very few fresh fruits and vegetables are available. Two items at their peak this month are citrus fruit and fennel bulbs. Taken from Bon Appétit’s Best Recipes 2015, this salad takes full advantage of both. As a light and flavorful meal or a beautiful started to a meal, this dish is a crowd pleaser.

Sesame and Flaxseed Clusters
1 large egg white
3 tbs. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/3 cup white sesame seeds
1/3 cup brown flax seed
1/3 cup golden flax seed

Dressing
1/3 cup high quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 small fennel bulb, finely chopped (reserve fennel fronds for salad)
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 tbs. fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp. fennel seed, crushed
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tbs. honey (we used a local whipped honey)
Salt and pepper to taste

Salad
4 navel/blood oranges, tangerine, and/or grapefruit (we used tangerine, blood orange, and ruby red grapefruit)
1 tsp. of finely grated zest from blood orange (or whichever citrus you use)
10 cups mixed greens, including radicchio, frisée, and endive (about 1 lb.)
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Sesame Clusters
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk egg white in a small bowl until slightly foamy. Whisk in sugar, salt, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg until well combined. Add seeds and toss to coat.

On a parchment lined baking sheet, spoon seed mixture in to small clumps, allowing space in between. Bake until golden brown, approximately 10-12 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

Clusters can be made up to a week ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.

Dressing
Heat EVOO in a medium sized skillet or medium heat until shimmering. Add chopped fennel, shallot, ginger, and crushed fennel seeds. Cook, stirring often, until fennel and shallot are tender (do not let brown), approximately 8-10 minutes. Stir in vinegar and honey until well incorporated. Remove from heat and let cool. Season with salt and pepper.

Can be made a day ahead, cover and chill.

Salad
Using one of your citrus of choice, finely grate 1 tsp. zest and set aside.

Using a sharp knife, cut and peel skin and white pith from all citrus. Cut between membranes to release the segments and place in a bowl and discard membrane.

In a large bowl, toss salad greens, parsley, fennel fronds and citrus segments with the cooled dressing. Top with reserved zest and broken up seed clusters and serve.

Serves eight.

Vegetable Soup
Nothing takes the edge of a cold blustery day like a piping hot bowl of soup. This vegetable soup brings back memories of childhood and is refined by the amazing team at America’s Test Kitchen.

2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, minced
2 ribs of celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, scrubbed and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Kosher salt
5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 medium russet potatoes (approx. 1 lb.) scrubbed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat until shimmering. Stir in the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and sprinkle with 3/4 tsp. salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

Stir in broth, potatoes, and tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add peas. Let soup stand for a few minutes to warm the peas through. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve with warm bread, a spoonful of pesto, and a grate of Parmesan if desired. Soup will hold for up to three days or frozen for up to one month. Reheat over low heat.

Serves six to eight people.

Louisiana Jambalaya
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is known as the last day to be gluttonous before the practice of Lent. Although drinking is usually associated with Mardi Gras, it’s fun to celebrate with the whole family. This delightful and hearty meal makes you feel like you are indulging is something sinful, when in fact, this dish is just steeped in earthy Cajun flavors.

EVOO
1 lb. Andouille sausage
4 chicken thighs (you can substitute 1lb. small shrimp, shelled and deveined)
2 tbs. unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 tsp. fresh thyme, minced (or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme)
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 cup long grain rice
1 cup chopped smoked ham
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
3 tbs. chopped fresh parsley

Season chicken thighs well with salt and pepper. Add one tbs. of EVOO to a Dutch oven and heat over medium heat. Slice Andouille sausage on the bias and add to pot. Sauté until well browned and cooked through. Transfer to plate and set aside. Add chicken thighs skin side down to the same pot and brown until both sides have a golden crust, about five to six minutes per side. Remove and set aside on a separate plate.

Discard drippings from the pan and add butter. Heat until melted and add onions. Cook over medium-low heat for two minutes, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about another two minutes. Add peppers, tomato, thyme, chili powder, cayenne, and a pinch of sugar. Stir well and reduce heat to low and cover, cooking for another 15 minutes.

Remove lid and nestle browned thighs, add rice, sausage, and chopped ham to pot, stirring gently to coat with vegetables. Add the chicken stock and heat to boiling. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the rice is tender, about 30 minutes. (If using shrimp, follow instructions, sans chicken. After the 30 minutes, stir in shrimp and cook, covered, until shrimp are pink, about five minutes longer). Uncover pot, if ingredients are too “wet,” drop temperature to low and stir well and continue to cook until extra liquid evaporates. To serve, remove chicken thigh with tongs and place on plate and spoon rice mixture over top and sprinkle with parsley.

Serves four.

Gordon Ramsey’s Beef Wellington
Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular nights to dine out. It’s a time to get all dressed up and let someone else do all the hard work in the kitchen while you and your significant other sit back and enjoy a nice meal. For many parents and families, going out is not an option, or perhaps you simply want to celebrate at home with a nice romantic dinner, rose petals on the bed, and a bottle of champagne. This Valentine’s Day entrée and dessert will keep the mood going all the way through dessert. It is decedent and looks like it came from a five star restaurant, yet you will barely break a sweat preparing this meal. We order our tenderloins from Cremer’s Grocery. Jeff and his staff will trim the tenderloin for you.

1.75 lbs. beef tenderloin
Extra virgin olive oil for browning
1 lb. wild mushrooms (porcini, oyster, shiitake, baby Portobello, etc.), cleaned well
1 sprig of thyme, leaves only
1 tbs. Dijon mustard
1 sheet puff pastry (Pepperidge Farm puff pastry sheets, 2 per pack, in freezer section)
1 package sliced of Iberico ham (Parma ham can be substituted)
2 egg yolks, beaten with tbs. water
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Wrap tenderloin tightly in cling wrap and chill overnight. The next day remove from refrigerator. Place large skillet on stove, drizzle pan with oil and heat pan until hot. Unwrap tenderloin and sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper and place in hot pan. Sear each side until browned on all sides, about a minute per side. Remove from pan and set aside to cool. Set pan aside.

Chop clean mushrooms finely, place pan back on medium heat, add a swirl of olive oil, then add mushrooms, thyme leaves, and a pinch of salt. Stir and let mushrooms cook down. When they begin to release their juices, turn up the heat to medium high and continue to cook until all of the excess moisture is evaporated, about ten minutes. The end result is something like a mushroom paste (known as a duxelle). Remove mushroom paste from pan and set aside.

Lay a large piece of cling wrap on work service area and place the slices of ham on the cling wrap, slightly overlapping to create a square large enough to wrap the tenderloin when rolled. Spread mushroom mixture evenly over ham. Rub Dijon mustard all over beef and place tenderloin in center of mushroom covered ham. Using cling wrap, roll the ham over the beef, and continue to roll until it is a nice tight log, tying the cling wrap to secure the log shape. Chill for 30 minutes.

Remove one pastry sheet from package and let set out until thawed.

Lightly flour work surface and lie out defrosted puff pastry sheet and roll out to a rectangle to cover the whole tenderloin.

Brush pastry with egg wash. Remove cling wrap from beef and place tenderloin in center of puff pastry, wrapping tenderloin fully, trimming excess and pinch seam to seal. Brush outside of pastry with egg wash and cover with cling wrap and chill for another 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place chilled puff pastry on rimmed baking sheet, score the pastry lightly being cautious not to cut through the pastry and brush again with egg wash. Set in heated oven on the middle rack and bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven, for medium rare. (Add only 2-4 minutes for medium, anymore will leave a dry puck wrapped in burnt pastry). The pastry should be golden brown. Remove from oven and let rest for ten minutes. Slice with a sharp meat knife. You can serve with the sides of your liking. We serve this dish with garlic-mashed potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts. You can add a sauce to this dish if you like, such as a red wine reduction that Gordon Ramsay serves with his (link below), or serve with a horseradish cream. Ramsay’s Shallot and Red Wine Sauce at www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2514/shallot-and-red-wine-sauce.

Serves four.

Chocolate Pots De Crème
No Valentine’s meal is complete without chocolate, and we will not leave you hanging. This is a brilliant chocolate pots de crème, or pot of custard, that is loaded with decedent chocolate and is easy to make, as it is a no bake custard. It is so good, we guarantee you won’t wait until next Valentine’s Day before you make it again.

10 oz. bittersweet chocolate (we use Ghirardelli 60% Cacao baking chips)
5 large egg yolks
5 tbs. sugar
1/4 tsp. table salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup half-and-half
1 tbs. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. instant espresso powder mixed with 1 tbs. water (we use one tbs. strong coffee)

Place chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl; set a fine mesh strainer over the bowl and set aside.

Whisk egg yolks, sugar, and salt together in a medium bowl until well combined, then whisk in half-and-half and heavy cream to incorporate. Transfer mixture to a medium saucepan and place pan over medium-low heat. Cook mixture, stirring constantly, scraping the bottom frequently with a wooden spoon until it is thickened and silky and registers 175-180 degrees on the instant-read or candy thermometer, about 8-12 minutes. Do not let custard overcook or simmer, or you will have scrambled eggs. If it’s your first time making custard, keep your heat on low; it will take more time, but you won’t regret it.

Immediately pour the custard through the strainer over the chocolate. Do not push solids through the strainer. Let custard/chocolate stand for about three minutes, then gently whisk until smooth. Whisk in vanilla and espresso until combined. Lie out eight five-ounce ramekins and divide mixture evenly amongst them. Gently tap each ramekin on the counter to removed air bubbles. Set aside to cool. Once cool, cover with plastic wrap, touching the top of each custard, to prevent a “skin” from forming and chill for at least four hours or up to three days. Let sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before serving.

Top with fresh whipped cream and shaved chocolate, chocolate covered strawberries, or fresh raspberries and cocoa powder.

Serves eight.

We hope you have a great month in the kitchen and stay toasty warm. Remember, the days are getting longer and it’s a leap year! We’ll see you next month with some Mexico-inspired recipes from our adventures in Cabo.

Bring Your Appetite!

For Kids, By Kids
by Hannah Stoner

Cupid starts hanging around this month for a very special day. Can you guess what day I am talking about? Valentine’s Day! This is the day when everyone shows how much they care about one another by giving each other cards, candies, and treats.

Valentine Shaped Pizza
Hearts are a common shape associated with love and Valentine’s Day. Hearts are also the theme shape for this month’s recipe where we will make mini heart-shaped pizzas. Not only will we be making a heart-shaped pizza, but it will also be red due to the color of the sauce. Make a heart shaped pizza for your loved ones as a special treat on Valentine’s Day.

Ingredients:
Pizza dough
Pizza sauce
Your
choice of toppings (cheese, meat, vegetables, etc.)

Tools:
Heart-shaped cookie cutter
Parchment paper
Cookie sheet

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Place a sheet of parchment paper on the cookie sheet. Roll out your dough and use the heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out the crust. Slather on the pizza sauce and place your toppings on top of the sauce. Place on the cookie sheet. Set in the oven for 10-12 minutes. Once the cheese in browned and bubbly, remove from the oven and let stand for three to five minutes to cool.

Enjoy!

 

Angela and Carolyn Linton-Canfield
After 18 years working in the food and beverage industries of Chicago and San Francisco, Angela and Carolyn started a private chef and catering company, Life’s a Feast, in the tri-state area. They embrace their passion of cooking, entertaining, and creating one-of-a-kind experiences for their clients. Carolyn and Angela now share their passion with viewers on their cable show Life’s a Feast, available on Mediacom and their YouTube channel, Life’s a Feast LLC. Both share their expertise on food and wine on our website, their website, as well as their Facebook page. Recipes and photos are the copyrighted and intellectual property of Life’s a Feast, LLC.

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