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Dreamy Creamy Greens: Vegan Broccoli and Spinach Bisque

12 Jan

Happy New Year, dear readers! I am so grateful to all of you who visit and spend some of your time perusing the blog. I can’t believe that Neen’s Notes celebrates its SIXTH birthday this year. Here’s to another year of sharing and cooking wonderful things together.

Like many, I find myself reflecting at the start of a new year on the goals I did or didn’t accomplish, what brought joy or sadness, and even how I changed on a physical and spiritual level. 2013 forced me to re-evaluate myself in the deepest, most raw way. Losing the “definition” of who I was when I lost my job forced me to acknowledge that I was defining me by an occupation that could change at any moment. Gently, I let it tug me toward finally making the leap to start yoga teacher training, let myself go deeper and find a better sense of self and how I connect and interact with everything and everyone else. And I guess it’s pretty obvious that it has been a powerful and eye-opening experience thus far.
I enter 2014 stronger, more flexible (in mind and body), and eager to learn.

Though I don’t make new year’s resolutions, a general mantra of adding more good to life and causing less harm overall has been at the forefront of my mind. And for me, part of causing less harm and adding more good to my culinary life means less meat and more plants. Even as a conscious omnivore who sources animal proteins from local, sustainable sources as best she can, I can’t deny that eating animal protein is an indulgent choice. It has a greater impact on the environment, is less economical than producing plant protein, and is cruelty toward a sentient being. So rather than beat myself up for not going full vegetarian or vegan, I’m simply focused on adding more good to life, learning more plant-based recipes and techniques, and eating more plant-based meals. Taking and wasting less overall is something that would make me feel like a better citizen of the planet.

And of course, anything worth cooking is worth making delicious. This week, I’m sharing a soup that hits all the right notes: It’s creamy, comforting, rich, and earthy, is loaded with health benefits and cleansing ingredients, and is free of most common allergens (gluten, nuts, and dairy). It might not cure whatever influenza plague seems to cling to most cities in the winter months, but I’d call this the best tasting preventative medicine I’ve ever had.

I loved cream of broccoli soup growing up, but always bogged down with milk and cheese. Nothing quite like a rich, salty, cheesy bisque surrounding little florets of broccoli. And while there’s nothing wrong with fat in your diet, I thought “we can do better!” Let’s give the body a break–digesting dairy is difficult. In fact, a whole lot of people lack the lactase enzyme almost entirely. Instead, our friend light coconut milk comes in here and brings the creaminess to the party, while simultaneously raising HDL levels and helping improve the blood cholesterol profile. Broccoli helps to modulate the body’s immune response because it’s loaded with vitamin c and and iron, and the addition of spinach brings even more iron, vitamin a, folate, b vitamins, calcium, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids (talk about a super-food). Ginger adds a special spiciness to the blend, and can also soothe an upset stomach and act as a mild anticoagulant and improve blood circulation. Finally, the soup is simmered with a piece of kombu, an edible sea vegetable that contains a large amount of glutamic acid, which brings that savory, umami taste to the pot. Kombu is a great way to achieve an earthy flavor and body in soups without adding animal protein. It’s also rich in iodine that helps regulate the thyroid, which in turn, helps you stay hormonally balanced and healthy. Why aren’t you eating this yet??

Oh…my bad. Here’s how to get it:

Creamy Broccoli and Spinach Bisque

1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 leek, scrubbed and cut into 1/2 in. coins (discard dark green parts for use in stocks or broths)
1 in. piece of ginger, chopped
3 cups broccoli, rough chopped
3 cups spinach, rough chopped
3 cups unsalted vegetable stock (or water)
1 piece kombu
1 cup light coconut milk
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and leek to the pan and cook until mostly translucent, but not browned, 5-7 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook one minute more.
20140112_101930Add the spinach and broccoli to the pot and mix well.
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Add the broth and spices, raise the heat to high and allow the soup to come to a boil. Once it is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer.
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Add the kombu to the pot and simmer until the broccoli is tender, about 10-15 minutes.

20140112_102729Remove the pot from the heat, discard the stick of kombu, and puree the soup in a blender (working in batches to avoid splatters), or using an immersion blender. Add the coconut milk and return the soup to the stove over low heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
20140112_104033Serve hot, garnished with fresh herbs.

20140112_12094520140112_121018Treating yourself to this soup is a gift in so many ways. Not only does it taste rich and velvety, it feels like it was meant for comfort on a cold winter day, and all those health benefits are a present for your body. And because it’s free of animal products, gluten, and nuts, it’s something you can share with a great majority of folks. And you know, I think food almost always tastes better when shared.
Ciao for now,
Neen

Recipe Megapost: FRACAS 2012

6 Dec

Each winter I go completely overboard and cook a bizarre amount of food in the span of 2-3 days for the Folger Recycled Arts and Crafts Annual Show (FRACAS). The Green Committee holds the event each December and displays creative art pieces made from recycled objects by Folger employees, family, and friends.

After I’m home from the first ingredient run, I have a brief “you are out of your mind” moment, get that five minute panic out of the way, and then move forward. Once prep lists are made and I’ve worked out what needs to be done when / how things should be stored, it’s go time.

I may not be a trained chef, but I’ve been cooking for groups since I was old enough to reach the counter. One of the benefits of being the location of choice for most family holidays was / is getting to spend days in the kitchen working on party food with my family. We put on music, everyone picks a task, and sometimes a bottle of wine even starts floating around. Sometimes grandmothers or aunts even appear, ready to help. We’ve been a pizzelle factory, ravioli assembly line, cookie shapers, manicotti fillers and just about everything in between.

It’s different to do it alone. Fortunately, I never feel alone, because when I’m in the kitchen my family is with me whether they’re physically there or not. There may be several less pairs of hands, but all of their experience sticks right with me. So when this once-a-year madness comes around I go at it with everything I’ve got.

This year, the FRACAS tasting plates were primarily influenced by dishes from France and the Mediterranean. I was inspired by the spirit of our Green Committee to think about being a responsible steward of the earth and used each ingredient in as many ways as possible. I also considered the sustainability and seasonality of what was planned and consulted with friends from the local Arlington County Farmer’s Market in order to prepare a thoughtful, respectful group of dishes. My most sincere thanks go to those purveyors for making available the many local herbs, meats, vegetables, and preserved foods (i.e. dried cherries and strawberry jam). Special thanks to the fine folks at Smith Meadows, Cibola Farms, Toigo Orchards, and Twin Springs.

We begin with the plate of tapenades, spreads, and rillettes…

Smoked Salmon Rillettes
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 8 oz. wild salmon filet, bones removed.
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Juice of half of one lemon
  • 2 tbsp. fresh chives, chopped.
  • 4 oz. of smoked salmon, cut into thin strips and then diced.
  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika

Season the fresh salmon lightly with salt and steam for 8 minutes or until cooked through. Set aside to cool. In a medium-sized bowl, mash together the olive oil and butter until very smooth and then stir in the lemon juice, chives, and smoked salmon.

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Remove the skin and flake the cooked, fresh salmon over the top of the mixture then fold it in gently until well combined. Season with chili powder and salt if needed. My smoked salmon was quite salty and so I did not add any extra salt.

Cover and chill for at least two hours. Allow the rillettes to come to room temperature before serving them. They will stay fresh covered in the refrigerator for up to three days or tightly wrapped in the freezer for up to two months.
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Pork Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 3 lbs. fatty pork shoulder
  • 8 oz. rendered pork fat (lard)
  • 1 leek, thoroughly washed and split lengthwise, leaving one inch intact at the root end.
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 qt. water or veal stock

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Dice the pork into 1 in. cubes and place in a pot. Cover with water by 2 in., bring to a boil, and drain the pork. Return the pork to the clean pot.

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Stuff the thyme and bay leaves into the split leek. Take the celery stalk and put it alongside the leek, then tie everything together with a piece of cotton twine. This is called a bouquet garni.

Stud the onion with the cloves.

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Add 2 qts. of water or stock to the pot with the pork in it, add the bouquet garni and clove studded onion, then bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook until the pork is very tender and falls apart when poked with a fork.

Remove the pork from the cooking pot and transfer it to a plate to cool. Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl and set aside.

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Once the pork has cooled to slightly above room temperature, put it in a mixing bowl and mix on low speed, adding reserved cooking liquid as needed until it is a smooth, spreadable consistency. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

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Put the spread into individual containers and refrigerate until chilled.

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Melt the lard over low heat and then pour a 1/8 in. layer of it on top of each container of rillettes. This seals the containers and keeps the rillettes fresh. Put the rillettes back into the refrigerator and chill until the layer of fat has solidified. Remove from the refrigerator two hours before serving.

Covered, they will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and in the freezer for up to a month.

Mediterranean Olive and Vegetable Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 1 zucchini, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 1 yellow squash, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 4 oz. mushrooms, quartered.
  • 2 medium sized tomatoes, quartered and seeded.
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, pits removed.
  • 1 onion, diced.
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced.
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup basil, chiffonade cut.
  • Salt and black pepper

Broil or grill the red and yellow peppers until the skin is black all over. Put them in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow them to cool.

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Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin, core, and seeds and then ½ in. dice.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, and tomatoes with ¼ cup olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes.

Saute the onion and garlic in 2tbsp. of the olive oil until soft, but not browned and then set aside to cool slightly.

Process the olives, garlic, and onions into a puree. Fold in the balsamic vinegar, roasted vegetables, peppers, and basil.

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Season to taste. Cover and refrigerate for up to a week.

Fig and Olive Tapenade
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 1/2 cup dried black mission figs
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup nicoise or kalamata olives, rinsed and pitted.
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tsp. stone ground mustard
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled and smashed.
  • 1/2 tablespoon capers, rinsed and patted dry.
  • 1 tsp. finely diced rosemary
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and black pepper

In a medium-sized pot, simmer the figs in the water until they are soft and the cooking liquid becomes syrupy. Remove the figs from the water with a slotted spoon and reserve the excess cooking liquid.

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In a food processor, pulse together the olives, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, figs, capers, rosemary until a chunky paste forms. Add the olive oil until the mixture is spreadable.

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The reserved liquid from the figs can be used to thin the spread if needed. Season to taste. Refrigerate for at least one day prior to serving. Covered, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Roasted Garlic with Marinated Dried Tomatoes

  • 1 cup dried tomatoes
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Salt and black pepper

Combine the tomatoes and olive oil and set aside for at least 30 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened slightly. If you have trouble getting the tomatoes to soften, you can put the mixture over very low heat for 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Split the heads of garlic in half horizontally and drizzle olive oil on each half. Put the garlic back together and bundle tightly in aluminum foil. Roast the garlic for 40-45 minutes or until soft and lightly caramelized. Set aside to cool.

Squeeze the softened garlic out of the peel and mash in a bowl. Drain and roughly chop the tomatoes, then mix them into the garlic with the lemon juice and thyme. If you like a chunky texture, stop and season here. If you prefer more of a spreadable consistency, you can puree this in a food processor. Season to taste. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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…The second plate was full of cured pork tenderloin and parma ham accompanied by a few young cheeses and special condiments to brighten everything up. Everything here mixes and matches pretty well, but my favorite was a toast topped with the cured tenderloin and mustard fruit. Salty, sweet, and a little tangy, yum!

Sage and Thyme Cured Pork Tenderloin

  • 4 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and sinew.
  • ½ gallon water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 5 tbsp. DQ Cure #1, also known as pink salt or Instacure
  • 1 cup sugar (you can use a mixture of brown and white)
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch fresh sage

Combine the water, herbs, salt, curing salt and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Set aside and chill until cold in a container large enough to hold the tenderloin.

Add the pork to the container of brine and place a plate on top of it to keep it submerged. Allow this to sit in the refrigerator for 48 hours.

Remove the pork from the brine, rinse and pat dry. Set it on a wire rack over a baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roast the pork until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees, rest, and then wrap and chill. Slice thin on the bias to serve.

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Ancho Chile Spiced Ricotta

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade ricotta. Once the curds have drained, add 1 tsp. ancho chile powder and mix thoroughly. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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Queso Blanco with Roasted Piquillo Peppers

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade queso blanco. Prior to pressing the cheese, fold in 1/3 cup diced roasted piquillo peppers. Store well wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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Mustard Fruit
adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup stone ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored, and chopped into ½ in. cubes
  • 1 dried sour cherries

Place the dried cherries and chopped pears in a clean, quart-sized mason jar and set aside. Cover and shake to mix.

Combine the wine, sugar, vinegar and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the mustard until thoroughly blended and then mix in the mustard seeds.

Gently pour the hot liquid over the fruit in the jar, cover, and shake gently to distribute the liquid. It should generously cover the fruit. Store in the refrigerator for at least two days and up to one month. The longer it is stored, the more pronounced the flavors will become. The dried cherries will also plump up a little bit and they are delicious.

Giardiniera
adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 pound celery, peeled and sliced thin.
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, cut into thin rings.
  • 2-3 cherry peppers, diced.
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced.
  • 1 red onion, quartered and sliced thin.
  • 1 tsp. ancho chile powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. toasted, ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped.
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Pack into a 1 quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month, shaking gently every so often to redistribute the liquid.

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Strawberry Jam Tart with Walnut Crust

Follow the recipe found here for making a strawberry jam tart, but replace the cornmeal with ½ cup finely ground walnuts.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Tart
adapted from the Noble Pig

Tart shell:

  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Zest of one large orange

Filling:

  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup Nutella or other chocolate-hazelnut spread
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Chopped hazelnuts to garnish

Preheat the oven to 325o F.

Melt the 12 tbsp. of butter in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat and brown just a touch. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla, salt, and orange zest until the sugar is mostly dissolved.

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Put the flour in a large bowl and add the butter mixture. Mix until a soft dough forms.

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To form the crust, roll the dough into a ball and then press it into an ungreased 10 in. tart pan with a removable bottom using the heel of your hand. Push the crust approximately ½ in. up the sides of the pan.

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Freeze the crust for 15 minutes and then bake it for 25 minutes or until the edges are just becoming golden. Set aside on a wire rack to cool slightly. Unlike many tart recipes, the crust does not have to be completely cool before the filling is added. It can be warm, but you should be able to touch the sides of the pan.

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Whisk the cornstarch with ¼ cup of the heavy cream. Make sure the cream is cold when you do this.

Combine the remaining 1 ¾ cups cream, chocolate-hazelnut spread, vanilla, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the cornstarch mixture and mix thoroughly.

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Whisking constantly, bring the filling to a boil and boil for one minute or until it thickens considerably.

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Pour the filling into the tart shell.

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Top with chopped hazelnuts and refrigerate until set for at least two hours before serving. Chilling it overnight is ideal for the very easiest cutting serving. Covered, the tart will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.

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Here’s the whole spread waiting to be enjoyed in our photography department. As you can see, I was not the only one contributing delicious goodies. We have a very talented staff, what can I say?

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And that doesn’t even include all of the truly special artwork that was created for the event. Tote bags, planters, wreaths, mobiles, frames, dioramas, models, origami…you name it, my colleagues thought of a creative way to make it. A personal favorite was a giant paper crane made out of a proposed engineering plan. He was pretty cool looking. For my own FRACAS piece I wanted to find a way to save all of the beautiful greeting cards Joe and I received at our wedding, so I made this wreath out of those, fabric scraps left over from making a skirt, a bow from the groomer which Dioji no longer cared to wear, and a broken embroidery ring:

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Well, I hope that this post will sustain you through December, since I’m fairly sure that I’ll go MIA during Christmas baking season. (Dare I try to break the record of 114 dozen treats?) All I’ll say is that a certain grandma gave me a pizzelle iron at my bridal shower and that it’s been calling to me from the cupboard ever since I deemed it acceptable to begin thinking about Christmas.

Warmest holiday wishes to all of you. Remember that what you always have is what you carry in your heart and head, so make it something fun!

Ciao for now,
Neen

Back to Bohemia

18 Jul

By 8:30 am on Saturday morning, it was already sticky and nearing 80 degrees. As I walked up the enormous hill near my house with a cabbage, lengthy French baguette, two pounds of bacon, a carton of eggs, two rolls of paper towels, a bottle of vinegar, two apples, three peaches, some kielbasa, a latte, and a red-eye (a cup of black coffee with a shot of espresso—the only real way to start a day), I wondered what on earth possessed me to stop for groceries on the way back from my morning run.

Oh yes that’s right, I’d woken up at 7 o’clock in the morning with a wild craving…for braised cabbage. What. The. Hell. This is what pregnant women must feel like, I imagine. For me it was just that since we came back from Prague, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the braised cabbage and smoked pork knuckle I had the first night we were there.

I’m sure that part of it was honeymoon bliss combined with exhaustion, but the food just tasted so good. As we kept cool and had a movie marathon day this past weekend, I put on a big pot of goodness to braise. This doesn’t happen often but it came out so right the first time. It’s a simple recipe too, which makes it even better. One bite and I was back in the Czech Republic. Now if only I could get that beer again…hmm…

Braised Cabbage of Happiness

  • 1 head of cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. butter (I used some bacon fat too!)
  • 1-2 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 1.5 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • Black pepper to taste
  • One small apple, grated

Melt the butter in a dutch oven or heavy bottomed saucepan over low heat. Add the onions and sauté very gently for 10 minutes. The onions should be soft, translucent and lightly golden. Add the bacon and cook five minutes more.

Add the cabbage and caraway seeds to the pot and mix well. Cover the pot tightly and cook for five minutes.

Add the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar. Stir everything together thoroughly and then increase the heat and bring the liquid to a boil. Boil for 1-2 minutes and then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer gently for one hour. Stop by the stove and give it a stir every so often. Near the end, add the grated apple. I like to apple to stay crunchy, but if you like it soft go ahead and add it earlier.

If you want to make this into a meal, here’s a quick protein to go with it. Kielbasa is the most similar thing (that I’ve found) to the kranjska klobása served at the food carts in Prague, so that’s what I used. Making it from scratch is definitely in my future, but I digress.

Cut 3 oz. of kielbasa into half moon shapes and fry until lightly browned. Add 1/3 cup of chicken stock, 1/3 cup of beer, and a squirt of spicy barbecue sauce to the pan. Simmer until the sauce reduces to about 1/3 cup. You can also add a few tbsp. of milk if you like a sauce with a little bit more body. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour yourself a frothy beer and enjoy being in a Bohemian state of mind. Dobrou chut’!

Ciao for now,

Neen