Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reading Terminal Market

How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways...

Eat.  Shop.  Relax.  People-watch.  It's all good and I do it every week nearly -- and more often nowadays -- at Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia.

This entry cannot possibly catalog all my feelings about the place, so I won't try.  But I will post some photos as a start. 

In no particular order....











Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Is it too late for cookies? Didn't think so. 

These are cookies that I fondly remember my grandmother (Dad's mom) making when I was a child.  They weren’t a Christmas cookie, as I remember, but one that she made all year round.  "Ciambella" is a wreath-shaped cake or bread.  Thus "ciambelline" are little "ciambelle." 

The dough is basically the same as for the typical Italian biscotti, though with a little more flour to stiffen them up.  I never made these when my grandmother was alive, and so I couldn’t ask her the details.  I do remember that they had a lemony flavor to them, and were quite dry, indicating that she had put in a fair amount of flour in the dough.  I don’t think this recipe makes a cookie as quite as dry as hers were.  I find them as delicate and tender as a madeleines.  Typical of Italian cookies, they’re not very sweet, though the sugar glaze that you top these with makes up for that.

6     eggs
1 ¼ c    sugar
1 c    oil
4 t    baking powder
2 t    vanilla
    grated rind of 1 lemon
    grated rind of 1 orange
1 T    lemon juice
5 c    flour

Beat all ingredients except flour in a mixer until well combined.  Add flour by the cupful until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.  Cover bowl, and refrigerate 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Pick up small portions of the dough and roll with your hands (oil them first to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands) into small ropes.  Fashion the ropes into small wreaths or knots.  Place on parchment-covered baking sheets.  Bake 14 minutes until just colored.  Cool completely on wire racks.

Make a sugar glaze: add water by the spoonful to 1 cup confectioner’s sugar and mix well until you have a smooth glaze.  Dip cookies into glaze and top with colored sprinkles.  Let dry until glaze is hardened completely.  Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dewey's Mom's Friend Anne's Filled Cookies

Dewey's Mom's Friend Anne's Filled Cookies

These cookies, typically baked at Christmastime, are probably Abruzzese in origin, as they contain one of the hallmarks of Abruzzese sweet cookery -- a jammy, nutty, chocolately filling. 

This recipe comes from Dewey's mother's friend Anne.  I have no idea who Anne is, but she made good cookies.  Dewey made them already this year, and I tried them the other day when I stopped by.  I will return to Dew & Tony's for their Christmas brunch on Friday, and have every intention of eating nothing but these with coffee. 

For the dough:
3 eggs
1/3 c oil
1/2 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 - 3 c flour

Beat the eggs with the oil, sugar, and vanilla.  Combine the flour and baking powder in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center, and add the wet ingredients.  Mix well, until a ball is formed.  Knead for a minute or so until the dough is pliable and not sticky. 

For the filling:
2 16-oz jars apple butter
2 c raisins (1 c each dark and golden)
1 1/2 c chopped nuts (walnuts are fine; hazelnuts would be good, too)
1 c chocolate morsels (Dewey suggests the mini-morsels)

Roll out a piece of the dough into a 12" circle, about 1/8" thick.  Spoon on about 1/2 - 3/4 cup of the filling in the center of the circle.  Fold the circle in half.  (Think calzone or empanada.)  Crimp the edges all around with a fork.  Brush with egg wash. 

Bake in a 325°F oven 22-24 minutes, or until golden brown.  You might find they take as long as 30-35 minutes, depending on your oven. 

Cool thoroughly on a rack.  When cool, slice into 'finger' sized cookies. 

Try not to eat all of them at once.

Garlic bread quickie

Garlic bread sprinkle

Garlic bread is one of those items that I've never been fully satisfied with.  I've tried doing it many ways -- using dehydrated garlic powder or crushed raw garlic; a compound butter, or a sprinkle on top of olive oil-brushed bread; toasted, broiled, baked slowly.  Many options.

If I had all the time in the world -- which I rarely do -- I'd make a compound butter with crushed raw garlic, salt, and parsley, spread it onto slices of very good bread, then toast them in a 300°F oven for about 20 minutes, until the toasts were brown and the garlic practically roasted.  This works great, but if you're pressed for time, you end up with butter-sogged bread and raw garlic.  Not appetizing. 

But in a pinch, sprinkling a garlic-powder mixture on top of buttered bread, then running it under a broiler until brown and bubbly, works pretty well, too! 

I use Paula Deen's "house seasoning" as a standard seasoning mix for meats and veggies.  (  I tried that for garlic bread, but it's too heavy on salt and too light on garlic.  So I did a bit of experimenting and came up with this mixture.  It's mostly garlic, with some added seasoning.  I think you could also add some MSG to it (heaven forbid!!), which would lend an even more savory note. 

Once mixed, pour it into an empty seasoning container with a sprinkle-top. 

8 parts garlic powder
2 parts salt
1/4 part black pepper
1/2 part paprika
1 part dehydrated parsley

Butter slices of good Italian bread.  Sprinkle the mixture liberally.  Pass under a broiler or in a very hot oven (425°F) until the butter is brown and bubbly.  Serve immediately.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gnocchi part 2 -- the cavatelli machine

My recently dour mood forced me to go out and buy myself a toy.  I bought a cavatelli machine.

Here's the story:  I was watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, one of my guilty pleasures on the Food Network.  Host Guy Fieri was visiting a mom-and-pop Italian restaurant in Pittsburgh called LoBello's.  We watched as the chef, Ben LoBello, cranked out cavatelli with this nifty, hand-cranked machine.  I was stunned.  I've been around food prep like this for years, and I thought I'd seen it all, but I have NEVER seen this machine.

I feverishly started searching the Web for such a device.  "Hand cranked gnocchi machine," and so on.  Turns out they're called "cavatelli machines."  And they exist.  And you can buy them on, among other places.

I ventured to 9th Street, the Italian Market in Philadelphia, and went to Fante's (  I figured that if anyone would have these, they would.  And they did.  And believe it or not, $5 cheaper than online.  And no shipping.  The machine was $39.99.  Awesome.  I bought it.  Dour mood dispelled!

Brought it home, dug up LoBello's cavatelli recipe from Food Network, and went to work.

2 1/2 cups AP flour
1/2 cup dried potato flakes
Pinch of salt
About 1 cup water

Mix well with dough hook, adding water sparingly until it comes together.  Turn out onto a board and knead a few times.  At this point you can let it rest for a while.  I didn't.

I cut the dough into 4 chunks, and rolled out 4 logs.  I cut each log in half.  

I tried the first in the machine.  Not bad.  I caught them in a baking dish sprinkled with flour.  Tried the second log.  Disaster!  They all stuck together.  Remember the original Star Trek movie?  There's the one scene towards the beginning where they're outfitting the 'new' Enterprise and they want to try the transporter.  The engineer isn't sure it's ready, but they decide to try.  The science officer, a Vulcan (but not Spock), tries to 'beam up' to the Enterprise.  There is a transporter malfunction and a horrific scream, as we watch the Vulcan science officer transform into a blob of protoplasm.  Well, that's what my 2nd try at cavatelli looked like.  :-)

Did a bit a thinking….my logs were too thick, and they were not dry enough.  So I bisected each one, and let them sit and dry for about half an hour.

I tried again.  Success.  I also jettisoned the baking dish, and just let them fall onto the countertop.

I floured them well, and tossed them onto a baking sheet.

They're now drying, ready to be cooked and eaten for dinner.  Yum!

My friend Mark in Florida, whom I taught to make potato gnocchi by hand, and who seems to have fallen in love with the gnocchi lifestyle, will be terribly jealous now.  That's OK.  When he comes to visit next time, I'll feed him nothing but gnocchi and cavatelli.  :-)

Baked stuffed clams for Christmas Eve

Baked stuffed clams have been a fixture of our Christmas Eve dinners for many years.  They are my dad's favorite, and he has typically taken the lead to make them.

Today, I was speaking to my brother on the phone and he wants to make them for his Christmas Eve dinner, but he's never made them before, so he asked me to send him a recipe.

Here it is.  My recipe contains bacon.  If you're sensitive to that, just don't use it, and substitute olive oil for the rendered bacon fat.  Honestly, the clams taste much better with the bacon, but alas, some shun the King of Meats. 

1 dozen cherrystone clams (about 3" across in size), shucked, minced, juice reserved
6 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
2 medium onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
3-6 Tbp olive oil, as necessary
Olives, about 1/2 cup, minced
Anchovies, 2-3 filets, minced
Capers, about 2-3 Tbp, drained well
Parsley, about 1/4 cup, finely minced
Thyme, about 1/2 - 1 teaspoon
Soft white stuffing bread cubes, 1-2 bags, or about 8 cups cubed soft white bread (like Arnold or Pepperidge Farm).  Do not use the toasted bread cubes. 
2 cans chopped clams, drained, juice reserved
Clam juice, 8 oz, or as necessary
Salt & pepper to taste (you will likely need NO salt, considering the bacon, anchovies, olives, and capers)

Stuffing is a bit of a "seat-of-the-pants" assembly in my experience -- you put together the 'wet' ingredients, then add in the dry ingredients (in this case, the soft bread cubes), until you have an acceptable stuffing.  My word to the wise: "Go easy." 

First shuck the clams, saving the shells.  You'll have 24 shells to fill.  Wash the clam shells well, being sure to remove any extraneous bits of shell, beard, or sand. 

Mince the fresh clams, and reserve all the liquor.  Discard any sandy bits. 

In a skillet, sauté the bacon until crisp, and remove to paper towels, leaving the bacon drippings in the pan.  If you're avoiding bacon, start with a hot skillet and a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Add a bit of oil to the bacon drippings if you're using them. 

Add in the vegetables -- onions, bell pepper, and garlic -- and sauté lightly until tender, about 10 minutes.   Add pepper to taste.  Avoid salt at this point. 

Add the anchovy filets, and stir well until they disintegrate.  Again, word to the wise -- "Go easy."  Anchovies are powerfully flavored.  If two filets taste good, that does NOT mean that four will taste better.  It is very easy to overpower the stuffing mix with saltiness and fishiness with too many anchovy filets. 

Add in the olives and capers, stirring to combine.  Add the drained, minced fresh clams and the drained minced canned clams.  Stir to combine.  Add in about half of the reserved clam juices (which you've strained to remove any sand).  Warm through.

Off heat, add the parsley, and cooked bacon, and stir to combine.  Add thyme, mix well.  Taste for salt and pepper. 

Pour the whole mixture into a large mixing bowl.  Add to the wet, warm mixture half of the bread cubes.  Mix well.  Does it hold together?  Does there appear to be enough wet for the dry?  If you need more dry, add a few more bread cubes.  Be judicious in how much bread you add. 

Add the reserved clam juices as you see necessary to moisten the mixture.  This stuffing mix should look more like vegetables and clams, with some bread in it, rather than bread, with some vegetables and clams thrown in.  Does that make sense?

Spray the clam shells with release spray.  Spoon in a couple tablespoons of the clam stuffing mixture, and arrange the stuffed shells on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with some paprika for color. 

Bake in a 375°F oven for about 15-18 minutes, until fully warmed through and slightly browned.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fake meat sauce -- "ragù finto"

Ragù finto

I cooked a pork shoulder last week and had a lot of it leftover.  It was sitting in my fridge -- big chunks just waiting to be put to a good use.

I thought about making a hearty tomato sauce, appropriate for the winter season, using the pork -- dispersing it in a tomato ragù. 

Wow, what a great result.  It's like pork ribs that had simmered in the tomatoes for hours and had fallen off the bone.  The boneless shoulder is fatty and rich, and becomes even more tender in the tomato sauce, and it tends to further fall apart. 

The sauce works very well served on a short pasta like rigatoni or penne rigate. 

1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 carrot, shredded, then minced fine
Salt & pepper to taste

2 28-oz cans tomatoes (1 can crushed, 1 can whole)
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup water

~ 4 cups pulled pork, cubed
Bay leaf
Salt & pepper to taste

Film a 6-quart saucepan with olive oil.  Sauté the onion, carrot, pepper, and garlic about 5 minutes until tender.  Salt & pepper to taste.

Add the crushed tomatoes.  Pour the whole tomatoes into a bowl and crush with your hands.  Add to the pot.  Add wine.  Add the cubed pork with any pork fat, congealed drippings, or roasted vegetables that you saved with the pork.

Add bay leaf, thyme, and salt & pepper to taste.

Simmer the sauce about 45 minutes until you can't stand it any longer and you just have to taste it.  Feel free to drop a piece of Italian bread into it to sample.

Birthday brunch -- Sausage gravy and biscuits

Sausage gravy and biscuits

Last Sunday I hosted brunch for the gang in honor of Larry's 38th birthday.  Well, the 20th anniversary of his 38th birthday.

As the centerpiece of the brunch, I made sausage gravy with biscuits.  A very nice choice!

2 lb sausage meat (I used 1 lb or sage breakfast sausage and 1 lb sweet Italian sausage)
6 T butter
2 T oil
12 T flour
8 cups liquid (stock + milk)
Salt & pepper to taste
Worcestershire sauce

In a 6-quart pot, I broke up the sausage meat, added some water and brought the pot to a simmer to start cooking the meat.  As the water evaporated, I added the butter and oil to help browning , and continued to break up the sausage meat until it was nicely browned. 

I added the flour and cooked it for a minute or two, then added the liquid.  In this case I used 2 cups chicken stock and 6 cups 2% milk.  (My sense is that the 'classic' recipe would use milk entirely, but I had stock on hand and heck, it adds a nice flavor.)

I brought it to a simmer and stirred occasionally until it was thickened, then added salt and pepper to taste.  It will need a fair amount of salt, as you've just added eight cups of unsalted liquid.  I also add pepper with a heavy hand; I think it's appropriate for this dish.  At the end I added about 1 T Worcestershire sauce, which rounds out the savoriness. 

Ladle over freshly baked biscuits, which have been split.  Consume voraciously, as holding back will be utterly impossible.

For the biscuits I used a recipe I found in a recent Saveur magazine:  It's first-rate.  When the biscuits were about 3/4 the way done, I brushed them with melted butter.  Mmmmm.  As I don't have a biscuit cutter, my biscuits weren't round, but square.  After rolling out the dough into a rough rectangle, I merely cut them with my pastry-board scraper.  No scraps, either.

Camera in the kitchen

I really must start keeping my camera in the kitchen so I can get shots of food as I'm prepping it, and post them here in the blog. 

Hmm....I can use my old Fuji digital!

Hotter'n Hell hot pepper relish

Hotter'n Hell Hot Pepper Relish

So, there's this guy up by my former office -- "Oink Johnson" -- and he sets up a BBQ trailer on the roadside every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Aside from the awesome pulled pork that he sells, he offers his home-smoked thick-cut bacon, and what he calls "Oink Johnson's Kill 'Em Dead Hot Pepper Relish."

I'm not one for hyperbole, but I must say right here that his pulled pork is among the best I've had -- and I've had pulled pork all over the US.  My deep, dark business-travel secret is that I hunt down pulled pork and BBQ wherever I'm traveling.  In the southern US, there are many places to be found, but here in the northeastern US, the "pickin's is slim"!  So when I found Oink, I thanked the Great BBQ God in the sky for his providence.

Oink's hot pepper relish made a big hit at the smart candle-lit suppers for which I'm so famous.  (Anyone who gets that reference gets extra credit.)  I serve it with cream cheese and crackers.  The best.

I've probably bought eight or ten jars of the stuff from Oink and used them myself or given them to my buddy Dewey who loves this stuff as much as I do.

A hot pepper relish like this should be easy to make.  At his BBQ trailer, Oink had an ingredient list: peppers, salt, sugar, vinegar.  Can't get simpler than that.  He put it up in 8-ounce jars.  Heck, why couldn't I make this??

The relish is soupy.  It is not a jam or jelly.  It's sweet, vinegary, and profoundly hot, but not cripplingly so -- just enough to enjoy.  There's clearly no pectin, confirmed by Oink's ingredient list.  I did a bit of snooping around on the Internet, and came up with a couple recipes, none as simple as Oink's, but they did give me an idea of proportions.

I gave it a whack, and I think I succeeded.  I bought the peppers, and started in.

6 cups chopped peppers:  about 1/2 hot and 1/2 sweet. 
    (Clearly, this ratio determines which level of hell you decide to descend to)
1/4 cup salt
2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups white vinegar

Chop the peppers in your food processor to a fine mince.  I used about a pound of long, green, hot peppers and a handful of jalapenos, and the balance were red and reddish-green bell peppers.  My ratio was about half-and-half  hot to sweet.  I'd bet that if you made this in late summer with ripe, red peppers it would be awesome, but I wasn't about to pay $3.99 a pound for red bell peppers in December!  In fact, I bought one-dollar grab-bag peppers at Iovine's Produce in Reading Terminal Market.  They were just fine!

Measure out six cups into a mixing bowl.  Add salt.  Cover (I used a damp dish towel to keep the hot-pepper fumes at bay) and let sit an hour or so to draw out moisture. 

Drain the pepper/salt mixture and measure out six cups into a 6-quart stainless pot.  Add the sugar. 

Cook over medium heat until the sugar is fully dissolved.  Add vinegar.  Bring to a simmer, and let cook until it thickens a bit, about 20 minutes or so.  It will not become jammy (there's not nearly enough sugar to get to that point), but it will appear "cooked."

Sterilize eight 8-ounce jars in the dishwasher, and ladle the hot, cooked pepper relish into the jars.*  Seal.  Clean out your pot.  Fill halfway with hot water, and bring to a boil.  Arrange the jars in the pot, cover, bring the water back to a boil, and process for 5 minutes.  Remove with jar tongs.**

The seals will pop as they cool.  When they've cooled to room temperature, refrigerate. 

Dang, I gotta tell you, this stuff is good!!

*  Invest in a canning funnel.  Really.  Best investment you'll make. 
**  Invest in a jar tongs.  Really.  See above.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cabbage soup

It's darn cold out there today and a good day to have a bowl of soup.

I offer this recipe from way back -- from our old neighbor's mother-in-law:

Mrs. O'Brien, the mother-in-law of our former neighbor, was a sweet old woman who made this extraordinary soup, which we adopted to our family repertoire.  We remember her fondly for sharing this recipe with us.

To 6 cups of boiling turkey stock (either canned or made from the carcass or your Thanksgiving bird), add 1/2 of a medium green cabbage, thinly sliced, and (believe it or not), 1/2 c oatmeal.  Let simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the cabbage is cooked and the oatmeal has thickened the broth.

Serve piping hot.  The slight thickening of the oatmeal with the sweetness of the just-cooked cabbage makes this a hearty and satisfying soup.

I recently made a pot with the large amount of turkey stock I had from Thanksgiving.  I first sauteed and onion in some oil and butter, added the cabbage, and sauteed that a bit, too.  I then added the stock, brought it to a simmer, and then added the oatmeal.  This soup gets better and better on the 2nd and 3rd day, so make it ahead.  Serve it with hot pepper flakes and some grated Romano cheese. 

The soup is equally delicious with green cabbage or Savoy cabbage (the wrinkled-leaf variety).

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I had leftover mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving dinner, so of course I made gnocchi with them. 

Doesn't everyone?

Gnocchi are God's gift to humanity, manifested in small lumps of potato-laden, eggy dough.  Lord, thank you!

Making gnocchi is really a process that is better suited to video than text, so I'll merely give the recipe here, and eventually I'll create a video to show how they're made.

Gnocchi di patate
4 c leftover mashed potatoes
4 eggs
4-6 c all-purpose flour

Measure out the potatoes into a large bowl.  Add the eggs and mix well.  You probably won't need salt for these, as the potatoes were already well seasoned when they were served the first time.

Add 4 cups of flour to the potato mixture.  Mix it well with your hands until it comes together as a dough.  Depending on how moist your potatoes are, the dough might need more flour until it is no longer sticky.  Turn out the dough onto a floured pastry board, and give it a few kneads.  If it is still sticky, add some flour until it is no longer sticky.  At this point you can return the dough to the bowl, cover it with a towel, and let it sit for a few hours until you're ready to make the gnocchi.

Cut the ball of dough into 8 equal-sized pieces.  Roll each piece into a log about the diameter of your thumb.  Use ample flour so that it does not stick.

Cut the log into small dumplings, about the size of a big, fat grape.  Again, flour the surface as necessary so the gnocchi don't stick.

Roll each dumpling gently across the floured surface of the board with your index and middle finger, in order to create a 'dent' in the surface.  This 'dent' increases surface area, allowing for better cooking and more area onto which sauce can cling.  (Gnocchi can and are sometimes called 'cavatelli,' which means 'little things that have been gouged.'  Romantic, huh?)  Alternately you can roll the gnocchi on the tines of a fork, which creates a ridged pattern.  Either method works fine, but my grandmothers always used their fingers, so I do, too.

Once you have rolled a whole log into dented dumplings, sprinkle them lightly with flour, toss them with the flour, and remove them to a cookie sheet lined with non-stick foil.

Once you get a sheet pan-full of dumplings, you can freeze them on the sheet pan, and when fully frozen, store them in a zip-top bag for future use.

If you're going to use them right away, boil them in ample salted water until they float, strain out, and serve with a light tomato sauce, a hearty Bolognese-style meat sauce, or with browned butter and sage. 

For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful!  Amen to that!

P.S.  The photo in today's entry is not of my own gnocchi, but of gnocchi gratinè, which I had in a bistro in Paris earlier this year.  Specializing in Italian food.  Run by Arabs.  OK!

I can't live without...

•  Hefty One-Zip® storage and freezer bags.  God bless them. 
•  Reynolds Release non-stick foil (though it's now called Reynolds Wrap Non-Stick).  Stuff like this makes me glad I'm a chemist.  :-)
•  My Dustbuster®.  The awesomest appliance to have in the kitchen.  Or anywhere.
•  Dollar-store mini-baskets.  

How did the world revolve before these things were invented??  Would someone please tell me?!

Mixed-nut brittle

It's tha-a-a-a-at time of year...

OK, nut brittle.  Did the peanut brittle last week.  Had some mixed nuts left over from Thanksgiving dinner, and they were rapidly getting stale.

So I did a mixed nut brittle.  Same exact recipe as peanut brittle, but using mixed nuts.

CAUTION!!  You have to be very careful when you're toasting the mixed nuts.  Almonds and cashews, in particular, toast very quickly.  Make that 'burn very quickly.'  Turns out peanut oil doesn't burn very quickly, but other nut oils do.  So if you leave your mixed, non-peanut nuts in pan in the oven too long, you'll get very toasted mixed nuts. 

Follow the 11/29 recipe for nut brittle, but be very careful about toasting the nuts.  Watch carefully, and remove the pan from the oven as soon as they're toasted.  And no longer!

The best mac 'n' cheese you'll ever have

Really.  Honest.  The best.

1 lb elbow macaroni (I prefer Barilla brand; the elbows have a surface roughness that holds sauce well.)
8 Tb butter
8 Tb flour
4 c milk
8 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 oz shredded asiago cheese
8 oz whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1/8 tsp nutmeg
salt & pepper

Cook the elbow macaroni until just  barely cooked.  Undercooked even.  Drain.  Cool.

Make the sauce.  Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Add the flour and cook a few minutes until you have a nice, uniform roux.  Add the milk, whisking to avoid lumps.  (You can scald the milk if you like.  I'm not convinced it is necessary.)

Cook the sauce until it thickens slightly.  Add the mustard, worcestershire sauce, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.

Pre-heat your oven to 350°F.

Off heat, add the cheddar cheese to the sauce.   Stir well, and let it melt.  It might not melt fully.  It doesn't matter.

Dump the cooked, cooled pasta into a large bowl. Add the ricotta cheese to it and mix it in well. Add the shredded asiago cheese.  Mix well.  Pour in the cheddar cheese sauce.  Mix the whole thing well.  Pour into a greased casserole.  Cover with non-stick foil, place on a sheet pan, and put into the hot oven.  Bake 20 minutes covered.  Remove the cover, and bake an additional 20-25 minutes until bubbly and brown on top.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Peanut brittle

I love peanut brittle.  It's one of those treats that is so good, and easy to prepare at home.  But there are pitfalls to doing a nut brittle at home -- caramelization of the sugar, and in particular, recrystallization of the sugar once it's poured.

I've figured out a few tricks.

1.  Do a wet caramel, and save yourself some indigestion.  Yes, you can make a caramel from just sugar melted and browned over heat, but it is so easy to burn and do wrong, it's not worth it.  Adding some water and starting out with a solution is much, much easier.  It takes a bit longer, but it's easier.

2.  Add a bit of corn syrup:  it prevents recrystallization of the sugar when it's poured over the nuts.  There are so many surfaces on salted nuts and so many opportunities for crystals to form on the salt crystals.  The corn syrup helps prevent the recrystallization.  I've had a few occasions making brittle of watching a beautiful, clear, amber caramel syrup turn into an opaque crystallized mess.  The resulting brittle is edible, but grainy.

3.  Toasting the peanuts in a non-stick foil-lined Pyrex dish helps on a few fronts.  (a) The non-stick foil is a great surface to do a brittle -- peels off without incident.  (b) The toasting helps the taste of the peanuts, and also helps if your nuts aren't too fresh (brittle is a great way to use up stale nuts), and (c) the Pyrex dish is a thermal insulator, so it retains heat very well.  When you're pouring the caramel syrup over the nuts in the hot glass dish, the caramel does not set up immediately, and has time to spread out and cover all the nuts before it solidifies.  It works very well. 

Peanut Brittle

2 cups salted cocktail peanuts
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 T white corn syrup
Pinch of salt

Heat oven to 350°F.

Line a 13" x 9" Pyrex baking dish with a sheet of Reynolds Wrap® Non-Stick Aluminum Foil, with the non-stick side up.  Add peanuts to the pan.  Toast in the oven about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine water, sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a saucepan, and bring to a boil.  Let boil until the sugar is fully dissolved.  Continue to boil until the syrup begins to take on a caramel color.  Watch it VERY carefully -- once it turns color, it will darken very quickly.  Swirl as necessary.  Do not stir it or touch it in any way.  Remove from the heat immediately when it has reached a pleasant amber color. 

Remove the baking dish with the peanuts and rest on a heatproof surface.  Pour the caramel over the peanuts, trying to cover all of them.  The heat of the dish will usually allow the caramel syrup to settle into place before it sets up.

Let cool fully, remove from the Pyrex dish, peel off the non-stick foil, and break into bite-size pieces.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving morning

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday:  it is the beginning of a long weekend; it's an opportunity to spend time with extended family; I get to cook, and cook, and cook; there's dark-meat turkey with gravy and stuffing, one of life's most perfect foods; and I don't have to send a single card or buy any gifts or feel compelled to decorate any part of my house.

It is bliss.

I'm not hosting dinner this year; Mom is.  The family decided a few weeks ago that the extended clan should get together this year.  We haven't done that in many years, and well, who knows who will or will not be around next year.  So, Mom's hosting, everyone is bringing something to dinner, and we'll have a great time.

My contribution is soup and pies.  The soup is a leek and root-vegetable soup (recipe follows).  I'll bake apple and pumpkin pies.

Leek and Root-Vegetable Soup

6 leeks, cleaned well, and sliced
1 large onion, sliced
4 Tb butter

Sauté leeks and onion in butter until well softened.  Salt & pepper to taste.

1 celeriac bulb
2 large yellow carrots
2 large orange carrots
2 parsnips
4 medium russet potatoes

The proportions of the vegetables are not critical.  As my grandmother would have said, "The more you put, the more you find."

Peel, clean, and chop the root vegetables.  Add to the sautéed leeks and onions.  Combine well, and add about 1 Tb salt & 1 tsp pepper.

8 cups chicken or turkey stock (I use homemade unsalted chicken stock.)

Add the stock to the vegetable mix.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat to medium, and simmer until the root vegetables are very tender, about 45 minutes.  Turn off the heat, and let cool to room temperature. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (easiest way) or in batches in a blender.  Taste for seasoning, and adjust as necessary.

Warm up before serving.  If you want to enrich the soup a bit, you can add about 1/2 c heavy cream to it as you're warming it up.   A nice touch, but wholly unnecessary.  

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday Supper

Had the gang over for supper last night.

Rather than serving a dinner of courses -- pasta course, meat, then salad, and dessert -- I put everything out at once:

•  Baked ricotta [recipe follows]
•  Assorted cheeses -- gruyere, gouda, provolone -- with pepperoni slices
•  Baba ganoush
•  Apple chutney [recipe follows]
•  Crostini, crackers, and Ree Drummond's steakhouse dinner rolls [
•  Green salad
•  Mezzi rigatoni with broccoli rabe and oven-roasted sausage [recipe follows]

We grazed and grazed and talked and laughed and had a great time.

Dessert was pumpkin bread [recipe follows] that I'd made earlier Sunday morning.  Mine is chock full of raisins, dates, prunes, and crystallized ginger.  Mmmmmmmmm....

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Union Square Greenmarket

I had the delightful pleasure of indulging a long-time desire -- shopping at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City.

I've made annual trips to NYC during the Christmas season (and other times of the year, of course), and I've always enjoyed strolling the Greenmarket at Union Square (Broadway between 17th and 14th, if you're not familiar with Gotham geography).
Strolling a market like this brings out the creative juices in any cook, and any cook will start thinking about the many dishes he'd like to do with the bounty of produce in front of him. BUT, when you're schlepping to NYC from Philly on the train, schlepping groceries home is not an ideal situation. Consequently all I've ever been able to do is wander and wonder.
Well, this weekend was different. I was up in NYC for other reasons, and I was up there alone, and I timed my visit to the Market right before my departure on the train. It worked out great.

First trick was to find a shopping bag. I didn't bring one, though I'd thought about doing so, so I had to scramble. Turns out there's a Whole Foods Market on 14th St right on the Square. Good-quality shopping totes -- 99 cents! I bought two. Off to the broccoli!

I couldn't resist the gorgeous multi-colored carrots, and bought a bunch of yellow ones. I bought a knob of celeriac. That's a first for me. I'm doing a leek-potato soup for Thanksgiving dinner with the family, and decided I'm going to sneak in a few other root veggies -- the yellow carrots and the celeriac. Got a magnificent, wildly green head of Savoy cabbage (the crinkly kind), and a stalk of celery. The celery is wonderful precisely because it is NOT like supermarket celery from California. This celery is deeply green, has rather spindly stalks, and big, broad leaves, but has a potent, sweet flavor of celery that I've never tasted before. It will be great as part of the base for my soup and for my stuffing.

While I was there I also grabbed a 16-ounce bottle of buttermilk from an upstate New York farm, and a wedge of their cheese, too. Got some lovely wildflower honey, also from an upstate farm.
The New York City Greenmarkets have been around for some years ( and require that vendors sell only produce from the New York area. This time of year there are lots of apples, some pears, but that's about it for fruit. Lots of carrots, potatoes, radishes, greens (broccoli, cabbage, sprouts), squash and pumpkins, and of course, eggs, honey, cheese, and dairy. There are also a couple baked-goods vendors, some meat vendors, and even one selling jarred pickles.
I had to stop myself from buying the entire market. I could've and would've bought more, but very honestly, I would not have been able to carry it all home!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Orphan Thanksgiving

I'm hosting "Orphan Thanksgiving" next Saturday night. It's the time when I invite all my friends over for Thanksgiving dinner, and we have the best time -- good food, lots of laughs, and no family issues!

I do a conventional Thanksgiving dinner -- turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, something green like brussels sprouts or broccoli, maybe sweet potatoes or carrots -- then a good selection of desserts, including pumpkin pie. I might do a lemon meringue pie this year, though I admit that the last-minute effort with a LM pie can be daunting on Thanksgiving. Maybe I'll try a Pennsylvania Dutch-style milk pie (rather like a custard pie) or an apple pie. One thing about my friends, they eat what's put in front of them. They are all good eaters.

A trick I tried a few years ago, and swear by today: instead of roasting a whole turkey, I cut the turkey up (as I would a chicken), and roast it in pieces. First, you can remove pieces when they're done, and second, the whole turkey will cook in about two hours. It's brilliant. And who cares if there's no whole turkey, right? I usually add in a couple extra thighs to the roasting pan, too, because I love dark turkey meat much more than white meat, and there's never enough dark meat on a bird to suit my tastes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Giving it another chance....

I started this blog in 2003, did it for a couple weeks, then stopped dead in my tracks. And I haven't touched it since.
But I find myself with time on my hands, so I'm diving back into it in earnest.
My strength in the kitchen, or so I seem to think, is that I can take one ingredient -- a can of tomatoes, a cup of uncooked rice, two bunches of broccoli -- and create a dish. Or create 6 dishes, thus the title. I'll feature that notion every so often (weekly), but I'll add in a heaping tablespoon of other ideas, too, such as:
• Recipes
• What’s for dinner tonite?
• What I had last night
• Dinner parties – stories
• Dinner parties – menus
• Dinner parties – planning
• Menu plan
• Shopping list and my favorite markets
• Restaurant reviews
• Musings on food and society
• Pet peeves in the kitchen
• Cookbook reviews
• Working through a cookbook
• Food science
• Food on TV
• Food magazines
• Eating and travel

Thanks for your interest, and let's get cooking!