Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tools of the trade

 All-Clad stainless cookware

 All-Clad stainless cookware and others
 Spices, dried herbs, seasonings

  Tools -- organized by wooden (left), plastic (rear), metal (right), spatulas (foreground).
Knife block to the right. 

 Tools --wooden spoons.  And a rubber mallet, one of my favorite tools,
and only $5 at the hardware store.

 Oils, vinegars, food processor

Oils -- corn, olive, peanut.  In re-purposed beverage bottles with bar spouts.

 Kosher salt, ground black pepper and red pepper flakes,
"house seasoning" (salt/black pepper/garlic powder).

Garlic and onions. 
And the big Kitchen Aid mixer to the left. 
Cutting boards to the rear.

 Large oak cutting board, being put to good use.
Dad made this for me before I left for graduate school.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Corn fritters -- sweet and savory

It's summer and the corn is everywhere.  On the cob, off the cob, in a chowder, in a quesadilla, in a pudding, on a pizza with pesto.

And in corn fritters. Especially in corn fritters.

My generic (or sweet) fritter batter is a simple flour-baking powder-egg-milk mixture, with a LOT of corn thrown in.

As my grandmother used to say, "The more you put, the more you find."

This recipe should have at a minimum, one cup of corn kernels.  But it will easily accommodate up to 3 cups or more.  The texture and nature of the fritters will be different, of course, but that's part of the pleasure.  The mixtures in which the corn is just barely held together by the batter make the best fritters.  
1 1/2 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup milk
1 egg
1 to 3 cups corn kernels (can be raw right off the cob, or cut from leftover steamed or boiled ears, or in a pinch or out of season, frozen or canned)

The batter. 

Combine ingredients.  Mix well.  Spoon or scoop about 1/3 cup for each fritter into shallow oil.  (I use an ice cream scoop.)

Fry in ½ inch of oil over medium heat, turning when brown on one side.  Be careful not to fry in oil that is too hot as the interior will remain uncooked while the exterior is overcooked.  

 Gently frying over moderate heat in shallow oil.

The finished fritters, ready for butter and warm maple syrup. 

For the savory fritters, I use the same base, but add lots of other stuff to enhance the savoriness -- onions, garlic, cheese, cumin, pepper, salt, cilantro. 

1 1/2 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup milk (or buttermilk, if you have it)
1 egg
5-6 scallions, chopped (or equivalent finely chopped onion)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
8-10 shots Tabasco or Frank’s Red Hot sauce
1 Tbp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (or 2 tsp ground coriander seeds)
1/2 cup grated pecorino or parmigiano cheese
3 cups corn (about 6 ears)

The final batter will require a bit of your own judgment, so the amount of milk you add can vary according to your own tastes and experience.  A more viscous batter will produce thicker fritters, but ones that will have to fry over more moderate heat so the interiors cook fully.  A less viscous batter will spread in the pan more, producing thinner, crisper fritters.  

If you're so inclined, add 1/2 cup corn meal to the mix, and increase the baking powder by 1 tsp, and milk by about a half cup.  The corn meal will give the fritters a bit more crunch to them and a very pleasing texture.  At this point, you're very close to a hushpuppy, though hushpuppies don't typically contain corn, and are fried in small balls in deep fat.  

If you're the sort who shies away from frying like this, even shallow frying, an option is to add 2 Tbp oil to the batter, then fry the fritters in a pan that has been barely filmed with oil.  The fritters will be less greasy, and more pancake-y, but less crisp.  Still quite good, but different in texture. 

The savory fritters make an excellent side dish, and can be served as-is, or with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt.  Mix some finely chopped herbs (basil, parsley, chives, cilantro), a glug of olive oil, salt, and pepper into the yogurt or sour cream.  Or a dollop of pesto.  Or a spoonful of za'atar.  Or, yes, maple syrup.  Very nice.  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Crabby goodness

Maryland blue crabs, steamed with olive oil, garlic, hot pepper, parsley, white wine.   A much longed-for summertime treat. 

The crabs' watery graveyard.

A dozen-and-a-half feisty crabs were dispatched in a sinkful of hot water. They're gone after about a minute.  Doesn't take long. 

Cleaning the crabs.  

Top shells were pulled off, and the undesirable bits of gut pulled out, and the carcasses brushed under cold running water. I'm not one to start picking guts out of the crabs at the table, though I'm sure some would argue that they bring added flavor.  Let them argue. 

 A cleaned crab, ready for the pot.
The rubber gloves help -- lots of pinchy points on these critters. 

Crabs in their garlicky, winy steambath

A very large pot (this one is the bottom of a big clam steamer) was filmed with olive oil,
half the crabs added, which were then strewn liberally with garlic, chopped parsley,
hot pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, and a few more glugs of olive oil.  Repeat with the other half of the crabs.

Half a bottle of white wine (in this case, a pinot grigio from the Veneto), was added, the lid put on, and the crabs steamed over high heat. 

After about 5 minutes, the lot was stirred up, the lid put back on, and the crabs steamed for another 5 minutes.

 Finished crabs, ready for picking.

A pound of linguine were cooked, and the pot liquor, an elixir of olive oil, garlic, parsley, hot pepper, white wine, and crab juices, was poured over them.  

Grated pecorino was passed at the table.  (Shhh!  Don't tell the Italians.  They would not approve!)

Chewy Italian bread was served alongside.  An occasional slice may have accidentally fallen into the juices in the pasta bowl.  

We drank the remainder of the bottle of pinot grigio with our dinner.   

One of my Italian colleagues once told me, "Il pesce nuota tre volte -- primo, nell'acqua; secondo, nell'olio; terzo, nel vino."  Anche i granchi!

Well-picked and well-eaten. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Summer jewel tones

Quick raspberry refrigerator jam.

Sweet white corn from the cob, slowly simmered in butter.

A weekend's harvest of basil for pesto. 

 Blueberry pandowdy, fresh out of the oven, for the 4th of July BBQ.

Ripe freestone peaches, peeled, pitted, sliced, for jam.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Almost Kinda Sorta Mac-n-Cheese. Maybe.

This is mac-n-cheese, sort of, but just barely.  It’s more like high-end buttered noodles.  It’s creamy and rich without being cheesy.  It’s doable in about 10 minutes. 

You could easily pour the finished macaroni into a baking dish, sprinkle some buttered, herbed crumbs on top, bake it, and call it a gratin de pâtes facile, and impress the hell out of your friends at your next smart dinner party.

Whaddaya mean, you don't have smart dinner parties?

1 lb elbow macaroni
1 stick (4 oz, 8 Tbps) butter
4 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup grated pecorino or parmigiano cheese
Black pepper to taste

Cook elbow macaroni in generously salted water until just al dente.   Before draining, reserve a cup of the cooking water.

Put butter and cream cheese, both softened to room temperature (I have a “soften” setting on my microwave, and it comes in handy for this sort of application), in a mixing bowl.  Add cooked, drained pasta to the bowl and mix, melting the butter and cream cheese to coat the macaroni.  Add pasta cooking water as needed to create a creamy sauce. 

Add grated pecorino or romano and black pepper, and mix well. 

Serve immediately.

I'd show you a photo, but I neglected to take one....

Monday, May 5, 2014

Roast pork shoulder tutorial

I got this message from a friend of mine, stationed overseas.  It's been slightly edited for privacy.  

"...There right before [us] was a 13 pound frozen pork shoulder. [We] bought it immediately, remembering that you had cooked one for your blog and it looked wonderful. So now I am writing asking for more cooking advice beyond "open pan, 325, for about four hours." how did you spice it and how did you make the gravy? We'll send you photos of how ours turned out, giving you full credit if its good, and we probably won't say much to anybody if it isn't."

He was referring to my recent post in which I described a whole pork shoulder that I roasted.  

My reply:

That's a big piece of meat! 

First, does it have the skin (rind) on it?  If so, that's the best!  If the skin had been removed it probably has a fat cap, or layer of fat that was just under the skin. 

You'll see in the blog post that I have the roast inverted on my cutting board.  I cut small slits in the meat, and insert pieces of garlic with parsley leaves (or basil, or rosemary, or thyme, or a combination if you have them) in about ten places in the roast.

I then salt and pepper the roast liberally on all sides, situate it skin side UP in the roasting pan, and as you say, open pan, 325°F, for about 4 hours. 

After you have removed the roast from the oven, remove it to a platter, and pour off all but a couple tablespoons of the drippings.  (If it's easier, you can pour everything off, and re-measure the reserved fat back into the pan.)  Put the pan on the stove top, and add a couple tablespoons of flour to the fat in the pan, stir it around and start scraping up the brown bits in the pan.  Add a few cups of chicken stock (the canned variety is fine), and continue to scrape up the brown bits.  As it cooks, the gravy will thicken.  If the gravy becomes too thick, add more stock or even water, until you have a gravy of your desired thickness.  Check seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Pour the gravy into a serving bowl, and pass at the table. 

Another option for gravy (fussier, but it works well), is to make your gravy ahead in a separate pot on the stove top, using butter instead of pan drippings, and a homemade stock, made with pork bones and aromatic vegetables.  This is how a lot of people make their Thanksgiving gravy, albeit with turkey stock, instead of waiting for the turkey to come out of the oven.

If the skin was left on the roast, you can peel if off, crack it into pieces, and enjoy it with your meal. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Dulce de leche in a can

I first came across this back in my college days, when my roommate Peter, an American who lived in Brazil, made this according to his Brazilian mother's recipe.

He took small cans of sweetened condensed milk, placed them in a pot, covered them in water, and simmered them over low heat on a hotplate for several hours in our dormitory room.  When opened, the cans contained a caramel-colored cream, dulce de leche.  (As his reference point was Brazilian, I don't recall him using that term, a Spanish phrase, but that's what it was.)

Dulce de leche has become the flavor "It Girl," and can be found everywhere, it seems -- yogurt, ice cream, cookies, cocktails.

I ran out of half-and-half last week, and popped open a can of Borden's Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk for my coffee. Eh, it was ok (cafe con leche!), but I'm not fond of that "cooked" milk flavor that SCM and its cousin, evaporated milk, impart to coffee.

So, I covered up the can, and popped it back into the fridge.

I'm frugal by nature, so rather than throw the stuff away, I decided to try to make some dulce de leche.  The can was already open, so I covered it tightly with some aluminum foil, then set it into my 12-qt pasta pot, with the strainer insert.  Added water to the pot, brought it to a simmer, lowered the heat, covered it, and let it steam for about 90 minutes.  When I came back, the water had fully evaporated.  I was a bit surprised by that, considering there were about 4 quarts of water in the pot, and it was on a very low flame.

I removed the foil-covered can with my jar lifter (same one I use for putting up jams), removed the foil, and eureka! there was dulce de leche.  Perfectly done. 

Doing it again, I'd be sure to check on the water level, but no harm, no foul this time around.

Once cooled, it's thick and caramel-y, and great spread between a couple crackers, or on toast.  If I only had some ice cream in the house, I'd try it on that....

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Copycat Duncan Hines Boxed Cake Mix. [[Sigh.]]

This made my brain hurt.

Copycat Duncan Hines Boxed Cake Mix

According to the recipe: "This cake tastes like a boxed white cake mix only better, it has never failed me yet, it is a recipe that I use over and over again for the *perfect* white cake, and so easy to make too! really anything can be addded (sic) to this cake, tiny chocolate chips, nuts, dried fruit, add in some food colouring for a pastel coloured cake with matching frosting, this makes a wonderful birthday cake!--------- * NOTE* as one reviewer stated they omitted the salt, omitting the salt will change the texture of this cake completely, so please do *not* omit, using butter-flavor Crisco is acceptable but will alter the taste somewhat but not the texture ;-) "

Yes, dear, "like a boxed white cake mix, only better."

That's called a scratch cake.

Up next: copycat Cool Whip.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Easter pies: sweet (ricotta)

It's tha-a-at time of year, when we eats lots of pie...

Apologies for that....but this time of year, Italians do eat lots of pie, both sweet and savory. 

After abstaining from meat, dairy, and eggs for the forty days of Lent (back when one did abstain from them for the forty days of Lent), one’s craving for meat and "i latticini" must have been immense.  It’s then easy to understand how a savory pie that contains pounds of meat and cheese bound together only with eggs came about.

The sweet cheese pie, in contrast, is even by today’s standards, pleasantly light and satisfying.  It is nothing at all like a New York-style cheesecake.  This pie is light, sweet, tender, moist, and has a very nice citrus background flavor.  I think you’ll like it.

The meat pie recipe makes a mountain of’ll likely need to double the crust recipe to accommodate all the filling, or halve the filling recipe.

Both pies freeze well.  Sweet pie here, savory pie in the next post.

Crust for sweet pie
2 c  flour
1/2 c  sugar
1 tsp  baking powder
pinch  salt
1 c butter (2 sticks)
1  egg yolk
1/2 c  ice-cold water

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Cut in margarine.  Add egg yolk.  Drizzle water into mixture until it holds together.  Refrigerate 15 - 30 minutes.  Roll out and line pie tins.

Filling for sweet pie
1 1/2 lb  ricotta
6  eggs
1 c  sugar
2 Tbp   cooked rice
2 tsp     vanilla
juice of ½ lemon
grated rind of 1 orange
pinch  nutmeg
cinnamon for top

Beat all ingredients until smooth.  Pour into pie crusts.  Dust top with cinnamon.  (You may also put a lattice top crust, if you desire).  Bake at 350°F until cheese is set and a knife comes out clean, about 35- 40 minutes.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Pasta e ceci

Simple, filling, nutritious, delicious.

A variation on pasta and beans (pasta e fagioli), and like pasta and beans, can be made wholly meatless for Lenten suppers.

2 medium onions, chopped fine
3 carrots, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp hot pepper flakes
1/4 c olive oil
4 strips bacon, chopped or 4 oz salt pork, skin removed, chopped fine (optional)
1 28-oz can tomatoes (I used the "chef's cut" or diced tomatoes.  Whole tomatoes lightly crushed work fine, too.  You can also use canned crushed tomatoes, but I find them a insufficiently chunky for my tastes.)
4-5 cups water (or optionally, chicken stock)
1 19-oz can chick peas ("ceci"), drained and rinsed
bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried thyme
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup ditalini pasta

In a 5- or 6-qt Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat.  If you're using the bacon or salt pork, add it to the pot, and cook until lightly browned and partly rendered.

Add the onions, carrots, garlic, hot pepper flakes.  Saute about 5 minutes, until softened.

Add the chick peas, tomatoes, stock or water, bay leaf, thyme.

Bring to a simmer, lower heat, cover, and let simmer gently for about 30 minutes.  Taste for seasoning, and adjust accordingly.

Bring back to a robust simmer, add the pasta, stir, reduce heat to a low flame, and cook about 12 minutes until pasta is tender.  The soup will thicken considerably as the pasta cooks.  If you prefer it "soupier," add additional stock or water. 

Serve immediately, and pass grated pecorino cheese and hot pepper flakes at the table.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Finding and keeping culinary traditions

I love this article from the New York Times. 

"'Ndunderi" are mentioned in the article.  I've never heard that word, but a quick online search shows them to be essentially gnocchi, though the common thread is that they're gnocchi made with ricotta.  Seems they're a specialty of Ravello, a lovely town atop a cliff on the Amalfi Coast. 

I'm frankly surprised I've not heard of "'ndunderi," as they come from the provincia di Salerno, which is where my family comes. 

Will have to do a bit of investigative work!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Everything that's wrong with American cooking, part 2.


Tiramisù made with JELL-O® Instant Pudding and COOL WHIP®.

Everything that's wrong with American cooking, part 1.  

Friday, March 28, 2014

Gemelli with cauliflower, olives, anchovies

Pasta with cauliflower, olives, anchovies

I'm not aware this has a particular name (comparable to "puttanesca" or "carbonara"), but it's a family favorite, and easy to pull together in just a few minutes.  Omit the chicken stock and the anchovies, and it's completely vegan. 

Beyond the cauliflower, everything is a pantry item.  Dinner on the table within the half-hour.

You can easily substitute broccoli for the cauliflower.

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/4 c olive oil
1 onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3-4 anchovy fillets
1 tsp hot pepper flakes
(salt) and pepper to taste
1/2 c pitted olives, chopped coarsely (like Sicilian oil-cured, or Kalamata, but green Spanish olives from a jar will do, too)
2 Tbp capers, drained
2 c chicken stock (or a combo of stock, wine, water, depending on what you have on hand)
2 tsp lemon zest
1 Tbp lemon juice (optional)
1/4 c chopped parsley
1 lb pasta, such as rigatoni, penne rigate, gemelli, rotini, or similar short pasta.

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium flame.  Add sliced onion, garlic, anchovies, red pepper flakes, black pepper.  (You might need salt, but with the anchovies, unlikely.)  Sauté until the onions are tender, about 4 minutes.

In a separate pot, cook pasta until just barely al dente in amply salted water.  Set aside, reserving some of the pasta cooking water.

Add cauliflower to the onions, stir to coat in olive oil, then add stock.  Bring to a brisk simmer, stir, then cover, and reduce heat to low, allowing the cauliflower to steam until just tender, about 5 minutes. 

Uncover, add cooked pasta, olives, capers, lemon zest, parsley.  Mix well, and let simmer briefly until much of the stock has been absorbed by the pasta.  Add pasta cooking water as desired to ‘loosen’ the pasta as you see fit.  (Any hot liquid you add will certainly be absorbed by the pasta, so tread carefully not to oversaturate it.)  Drizzle with a bit more fresh olive oil at the end.  For an added kick, squeeze lemon juice over the pasta just before serving, if desired. 

Serve, passing grated pecorino cheese at the table. 

If you have any leftovers, definitely add the lemon juice, and serve cold or at room temperature as a pasta salad.