Olive-Stuffed Italian Bread

>> Monday, December 4, 2017

My siblings share with me a special love for olives - something that has become a bit of a joke at holidays. We would not dream of a holiday celebration or family party that didn't include a big bowl of olives, and my older sister has a really cool olive-serving bowl shaped like a spiral.

Growing up, I only knew of pimiento-stuffed green olives and canned black olives. The first time I tasted a Kalamata olive was a whole new world of olive-y flavor. Now we have olive bars in a lot of our grocery stores, and some of my current favorites are green ones stuffed with almonds and a tri-color mix of olives marinated in herbs. That's where this fabulous bread comes in.

If you make extra chopped olives and don't stuff it in the bread, you can use it as a tapenade for our recipe Crispy Polenta Wedges with Olive Tapenade - or if you end up with extra tapenade after making that recipe, by all means stuff it in your next loaf of homemade Italian bread!


2 cups warm water (110-112 degrees)
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast or 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast from a jar
1 tsp sugar
5 cups white flour, plus 1/2 cup or more for kneading
2 tsp fresh chopped oregano, or 1 tsp dried
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups mixed olives, pitted and chopped (we used green ones with pimientos, Kalamata olives, and oil-cured Italian olives)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg white
1/4 cup sesame seeds


In a mixing bowl, stir together the warm water, yeast, and sugar. Let sit for 20-30 minutes, until the mixture is bubbly (this is called "proofing the yeast"). Stir together the flour, oregano, and salt, then gradually stir into the yeast mixture.

Turn the dough out onto a floured counter or kneading board. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticky.

Grease a bowl that is at least twice as large as the volume of dough. Place the dough in the greased bowl, and then turn it over to coat the other side of the dough. Cover with a damp dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Stir together the chopped olives and parmesan cheese and set aside.

Punch down the dough and divide it in half. Sprinkle a flat surface and a rolling pin with flour. Roll out half of the dough into an 8x12 oval. Sprinkle half of the olive mixture evenly over the surface. Starting at one of the long ends, roll up the dough jelly-roll style, tucking in the sides occasionally, and pinching the end shut. Place it in a greased baking sheet. Repeat with the other loaf.

Cover the loaves with a damp dish towel and allow to rise until dough has doubled - about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut diagonal slashes in the top of each loaf, then brush with the egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the crust is golden and the loaves sound hollow when rapped with a knuckle.

Turn out of the pans and cool on a baking rack. For best results, slice it at room temperature.

Makes 2 hearty loaves.


Hanoi-Style Pork and Chicken Vermicelli Soup (Bún Chả Hà Nội)

>> Saturday, November 25, 2017

Hanoi-Style Pork and Chicken Vermicelli Soup (Bún Chả Hà Nội)

Directly after college graduation, my classmate Melissa went to Vietnam to teach English in Ho Chi Minh City. I've been enjoying her posts on chickens fighting in the street, eating the formidable dragon fruit for lunch, and using the wall-less showers in the corner of apartment bathrooms. Little by little, I hear British phrases creeping into her vocabulary from her fellow teachers. It makes me want to store everything and go live somewhere tropical, especially during the ever-changing cold and damp fall here in Chicago.

Ah, our jobs keep us too busy to travel in the near future. Instead, Joe and I whipped up a savory bowl of this traditional soup from Hanoi. According to Vietnamese chef Eric Nguyen, this is popular street food in found only in that northern city. People eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We simplified his original recipe in the cookbook My Vietnam by using chili-garlic paste instead of a bird's eye chili, and instead of pork terrine, we added tofu that we needed to use up. This was fresh-tasting and satisfying, and the leftovers were just as good.


8 cups hot chicken broth
2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp chili-garlic paste
2 tsp salt
3 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
3 oz pork fillet, cut into matchstick slices
4 oz firm tofu, cubed
9 oz dried rice vermicelli noodles
2 eggs
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp green onions, cut into matchstick slices
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup mint leaves
1 cup mung bean sprouts
Shrimp paste, to taste


In a large pot, stir together the chicken broth, sugar, fish sauce, garlic, chili-garlic paste, and salt. Bring to a boil, then drop in the chicken, tofu, and pork. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the meat and tofu to a bowl and keep it warm; keep the broth simmering until ready to serve.

Cook the vermicelli according to package directions, until it is barely tender. Rinse in cold water and allow it to drain, stirring to prevent it from sticking. Add a little oil if the noodles start to clump - rice noodles can be very sticky.

Slightly beat the eggs. Place a large non-stick frying pan on the stove and warm the oil. Pour about 1/4 of the egg into the pan in a thin layer. Cook for one minute, until just set, then flip it over and cook the other side. The egg should be very tender. Slide the egg off onto a cutting board. Repeat with the rest of the egg mixture, stacking the egg "pancakes" on the cutting board. Then roll the egg stack into a cylinder and cut it into thin slices.

a roll of egg "pancakes"

Cutting egg rolls

Ladle the broth into each person's bowl. At the table, let each guest add vermicelli, then the meats, then the egg strips. If desired, stir a little shrimp paste into the bowl. Top with green onions, mint, and bean sprouts, and provide extra fish sauce for dipping. Store leftovers separately so that the tofu and rice vermicelli don't get gummy by soaking in the broth.

Serves 4-6.


Curried Pumpkin Hummus

>> Sunday, November 12, 2017

Curried Pumpkin Hummus

It's the time of year when I see pumpkins everywhere, and pumpkin recipes are crowding my email inbox. Isn't it gorgeous how they pop out in the same brilliant orange color of falling leaves? Too bad we left the pumpkins from my mom's farm on my sister's front porch when we came home last weekend. Still, peeling and cooking pumpkins is an awful lot of work. A can of pumpkin is much easier.

You can also use any kind of winter squash in this recipe. Those slightly sweet fall squashes pair naturally with Indian spices like curry powder, ginger, and coconut milk. If you use a squash like butternut or acorn, just quarter it, scoop out the seeds, and microwave the pieces for 15-18 minutes, until it's tender. Let it cool a bit before measuring out 2 cups of squash into the food processor.

bowl of fall squashes

Serve this hot with naan and cucumber-yogurt raita sauce, and you have a healthy Meatless Monday meal. Skip the yogurt, and it's vegan, too!

P.S. The toasted pumpkin seeds in this recipe are shelled; we buy them from the grocery store that way. I've never shelled my own but I don't think I'd want to. Sometimes you can find these in ethnic aisles of grocery stores, labeled as "pepitas".


1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained
1 15 oz can pumpkin
2 tbsp sweet curry powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 Thai chili pepper, seeded and minced
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup light coconut milk
1 1/2 tsp sesame oil


Toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry frying pan until slightly browned and fragrant.

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and process on high until smooth and creamy. If you like a little texture to your hummus, reserve 1/4 cup garbanzos, add them towards the end of the processing time, and blend them until the mixture is just a little chunky.

Put the hummus in a saucepan and heat until steaming hot, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Pour into a bowl and top with extra roasted pumpkin seeds, if desired, and serve with naan, pita bread or wedges, or crackers.

Makes about 4 cups of hummus.


Ricotta and Chard Gnocchi

>> Sunday, November 5, 2017

Ricotta and Chard Gnocchi
Angela loves this simple gnocchi soup - ricotta and chard gnocchi in chicken broth.

We were lucky enough to take cooking classes in Italy with people who shared authentic recipes passed down through generations in theif family. One recipe was this ricotta and chard version of gnocchi - a little different than the tender flour or potato dumplings we've had before.

These delicately-flavored dumplings are fairly easy to make and freeze well. You can serve them with melted butter and Parmesan cheese, a meat or tomato sauce, or cooked in chicken broth, which is Angela’s favorite.

A few years ago, we grew multi-colored chard with yellow, white, orange, and red stems and our vegetable garden was gorgeous to look at. We were surprised to see how many re-seeded for the next couple of years. Spinach, kale, or arugula is a good substitute for chard. If you use frozen, make sure you drain it well before using.


1 lb. Chard, spinach, or arugula, rinsed, and stems removed
1 ½ cups low-fat ricotta
2 beaten eggs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp black truffle salt
1/8 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground pepper
2 cups flour
1 tsp. Extra-virgin olive oil
2 quarts broth, meat gravy, or marinara sauce


Finely chop the greens. Add ricotta, eggs, parmesan, nutmeg, salt and pepper, and combine the ingredients.

Spread flour on work surface and dust your hands with flour. Take about 1 tablespoon of the mixture and roll it into a ball with your hands. Continue rolling, dusting your hands and the work surface frequently, until all the mixture is used.

Pour the oil into a large frying pan and lightly brown the gnocchi balls, stirring frequently but gently. In another pot, bring the sauce or broth to a boil, reduce heat, and add all the gnudi. Cook for 3-5 minutes, making sure the gnudi do not stick to each other.

You can serve this with additional Parmesan cheese if you like. We never seem to get enough of that cheese!

Serves 6.

Note: if you are going to freeze the gnocchi, cook them in boiling salted water 3-5 minutes, drain and let cool, and then place in labeled freezer bags.


Pot Roast Paprikash and Hungarian Pilaf

>> Sunday, October 29, 2017

Pot Roast Paprikash and Hungarian Pilaf

At first, I was put off by the word "paprikash". It reminded Joe and me of the "Hungarian goulash" of our childhood. This Midwestern stew was usually made with ground beef and a can of tomatoes and elbow macaroni all cooked together until it was mush, with a tiny bit of paprika that cooks used only for that and for the decorative sprinkle on top of deviled eggs.

But when I was chilled the other afternoon and thinking of making a nice comforting pot roast, I got an email from Better Homes and Gardens with several different pot roast recipes. Like I said, the "paprikash" in the title didn't attract me, but the ingredients did. Oh, this looked so incredibly delicious.

Joe whipped up some Hungarian-style rice pilaf to go along with this. Though we cooked this in the oven, it would work well in a slow cooker, too. When you get home from work, the house will smell amazing, and the rice takes less than 30 minutes to make. It's a Sunday dinner kind of dish for a weekday timetable!


2 pounds beef rump roast
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes
14 1/2-ounce can beef broth
2 cups yellow onions, halved and cut into 1/2-inch slices
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch coins
1 cup red bell pepper, cored and cut into 1/2-inch strips
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
8 ounce carton low-fat sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Rice

1 cup long grain rice
2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced 
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp sweet paprika


Trim the fat off the meat and cut it into quarters.

If using a slow cooker, place the meat in the cooker and sprinkle with the paprika. Top with tomatoes, broth, onions, carrots, and sweet peppers. Cook for 10 hours on low heat or 4-6 hours on high heat.

If using the oven, preheat it to 350 degrees. Brown the meat on all sides, then sprinkle with the paprika. Add the  tomatoes, broth, onions, carrots, and sweet peppers. Bring to a boil, then cover, and place in the middle rack of the oven. Cook at 350 degrees for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

To make the rice, heat the oil in a saucepan, then add the rice and stir until it turns white and slightly toasted. Add onions and garlic and saute until tender. Add the stock, parsley, salt, pepper, and paprika. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, 20 minutes or until the rice is tender and the liquid is evaporated.

When the meat is tender and flaky, put it on a cutting board and shred it with two forks. Skim any fat from the sauce, put the meat and sauce into a saucepan. Whisk together the water and cornstarch, then bring it to a boil and cook 15 minutes, until thickened. Stir in the sour cream and heat on low for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, then serve over the rice.

Serves 4-6.

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