Sunday, February 28, 2010

Birthday brunch

Had the family over for lunch for Mom and Dad's birthdays.


•  Guacamole & chips
•  Bloody marys
•  Gnocchi with broccoli rabe
•  Potato, onion, pepper frittata
•  Roasted chicken with sausage
•  Roasted cod with buttered herb crumb topping
•  Green salad, walnut oil-champagne vinaigrette
•  Wegman's Ultimate Chocolate Cake

Friday, February 26, 2010

Spinach-artichoke spread

Many of these recipes are similar to this (though usually they're mayo + sour cream), contain a bit more cheese, and are baked and served warm. 

You could probably do that with this spread, but you don't need to.  It's outstanding as-is. 

You'll also notice that I use minced, dried garlic.  This is a great ingredient to have in your spice rack.  It offers the 'oomph' of garlic, without the harshness of raw garlic.  Dried, minced onion is similar, and I find I use it frequently in dips and spreads like this. 

14-oz can of artichokes, drained and chopped
10-oz package frozen leaf spinach, defrosted, and squeezed of excess water
8 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
4 scallions, chopped
3 Tbp minced red bell pepper
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 Tbp dried minced garlic
1/4 c mayonnaise
1/4 c pecorino romano cheese
1 Tbp Worcestershire sauce

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well, either with a good wooden spoon, or your hands.  You'll likely find your hands do a better job.  If you're so inclined, you can do this in a mixer, or even a food processor, though a food processor tends to make it a bit too homogeneous in character. 

Store in a container overnight.  The flavor will be far superior the next day.

Best served with crostini, crackers, pita chips.  This isn't exactly a dip, and chips (potato or tortilla) will not get through this!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Spinach & cheese lasagne

Spinach lasagne – Green lasagne

Cheese filling:
1 1/2 c chopped parsley
3 10-oz packages frozen chopped spinach
2 lb whole milk ricotta
3 c grated cheese (I used a mixture of pecorino, provolone, and asiago)
2 eggs
3 tsp each salt and pepper

Béchamel sauce:
16 Tbp butter (2 sticks)
16 Tbp flour
1 qt milk
2 tsp salt
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbp prepared mustard
1 tsp sriracha sauce
1/8 tsp nutmeg
Salt & pepper

1 1/2 lb spinach pasta sheets
8 oz shredded cheese (I used a mixture of mozzarella, provolone, asiago.)

First, make the cheese filling. Thaw the frozen spinach and squeeze out as much liquid as possible, either by pressing it in a sieve or colander, or by wrapping it in a clean dish towel, and squeezing out the moisture. Combine the spinach with the parsley, ricotta, eggs, and grated cheese. Add salt and pepper. Mix well. It should be a fairly stiff paste – like a biscuit dough in texture.

 The spinach & cheese filling.

Next, make the béchamel sauce. Melt butter in a large saucepot or Dutch oven. Add flour, and cook the flour for a minute or two. Add milk, and whisk well to eliminate lumps. Cook for about 10 minutes until thickened. Add Worcestershire sauce, mustard, sriracha, and a few scrapes of nutmeg – the secrets to a tasty béchamel. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste. The béchamel should not be bland.

 Secrets to a great bechamel sauce.

Assemble the lasagne. In a 13" x 9" x 3" pan, put about 1/2 cup of the béchamel. Smear it across the bottom of the pan. Add two sheets of lasagne. (Typically the spinach lasagne sheets will be fresh, and so require little or no cooking. You can boil them for about a minute, then drain and cool, or simply use them as-is. Your choice might depend on how dry the sheets are when you get them.) Add 1/3 of the cheese mixture. Spread it out across the pasta sheet with a spatula. (An offset spatula works best.) Cover with about 1/4 of the béchamel. Add another pasta sheet. Repeat with the cheese and béchamel. Add another pasta sheet, cheese, béchamel. Finish with a double pasta sheet on top and the remaining béchamel. Cover with shredded cheese.

Smear the bottom of the pan with bechamel.

Cover with pasta sheet.

Spread out some of the cheese-spinach filling.

Add bechamel sauce. 

Spread bechamel sauce evenly. 

 The assembled lasagne, ready for the oven.
 Bake in a 350°F oven for about an hour, until brown on top and bubbling around the edges. Let sit for about 15 minutes before serving.

Baked to perfection.  


Insalata Margherita (Beet and arugula salad)

One of my summer favorites! I serve this to my guests when I'm entertaining outdoors, and it never fails to please. The names comes from the (sort of) green, white, and red of the ingredients, just like the pizza of the same name, though with different ingredients!

Serves 6 - 8
•    2 pounds young arugula, well washed, and spun dry
•    1 pound feta cheese (domestic or imported)
•    6 whole beets
•    1 tablespoon vegetable oil
•    1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
•    1/4 cup vinegar (red wine or balsamic, or a mixture)
•    2 teaspoons salt
•    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
•    1 teaspoon sugar
•    1 garlic clove, crushed
•    1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried)

Wash beets and trim of greens or stems. Place the beets on a generously sized sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Drizzle the vegetable oil over them, then rub the oil around each beet. Fold up the foil and seal them into a packet. Place the foil packet into a baking dish or onto a baking sheet, and roast in a 350°F oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the beets are tender (a knife inserted will come out easily). Let cool fully!

When the beets are cool, rub the skins off. A bit of running water helps doing this. Use a paring knife for any stubborn bits of skin.

Cut up the beets into bite-size chunks. I prefer half-moon shapes, but any shape will do!

Make a dressing with the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, sugar, and thyme. Dress the arugula with about half the dressing in a large mixing bowl, then transfer to a serving platter.  Arrange the beets on top of the arugula. Break up the feta, and scatter over the beets and arugula. Dress with the remaining dressing.

Serve immediately.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Stir-fry pork & eggplant

3 Tbp peanut oil
1 medium onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1-in piece ginger, peeled, and julienned
Hot pepper flakes
4 scallions, chopped
Salt & pepper
1 large eggplant, partly peeled, and sliced into 2-inch logs
1 lb Korean sliced pork shoulder
2Tbp soy sauce
2 tsp toasted sesame oil

There is a very good Korean supermarket near me called H-Mart.  Of the many unique items they offer are Korean-style marinated meats – sliced pork shoulder, chicken thighs, sliced beef tenderloin, and beef ribs.

I enjoy them all, and use the sliced pork shoulder, which has been marinated in a Korean-style hot-pepper paste, for this recipe.  If I were not able to get this product, I would simply use well-marbled end-cut pork loin chops or pork shoulder, and marinate them in some soy and hot pepper for a bit.

Korean-style marinated pork shoulder, cut into bite-sized pieces.
Ok, it looks like roadkill.  But tasty roadkill.

Slice the eggplant into 2-inch logs.  Place the logs in a colander and sprinkle liberally with salt.  Let sit 30 -60 minutes, until some of the eggplant's liquid has drained out.
Eggplant 'logs,' salted and draining.

Heat the oil in a wok, large skillet, or Dutch oven.  Add the sliced onion, garlic, ginger, hot pepper flakes, and half the scallions.  Stir-fry until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes.  Add salted eggplant, and stir-fry over high heat, until the eggplant has softened, about 8 minutes.  Add soy sauce and sesame oil.  Remove the veggies from the pot. 

Onions, garlic, ginger, hot pepper, stir-fried in peanut oil.
Eggplant, added and stir-fried.
Cut the pork shoulder into bite-size pieces.  Add to the wok, and cook over high heat until browned.  Add the remaining scallions, and mix gently.  Combine with the cooked veggies.

Pork shoulder.

Pork shoulder, cooked, with scallions added.

Serve with steamed white rice.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Apple tart

I had a few rapidly fading apples lying about, and some pre-fab pie crusts in the fridge, so I put together a nice free-form apple tart.

4 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1/4 c sugar
1/4 golden raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp mace
1/2 tsp ginger
pinch salt

crystalline brown sugar (turbinado)

Place the pre-fab pie crust onto a sheet of parchment on a baking sheet.

Mix the ingredients, and pile into the middle of the pie crust.  Pull up the edges to form a border, overlapping as you go around the perimeter.  You can see the result in the photo.

Brush the edges with half-and-half, then sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.

 Ready to bake.

Bake at 375°F (convection) for about 45 mins, or until brown and bubbly.

Cool 10 minutes, then remove from the parchment to a serving platter.

Ten minutes of effort for a wonderful dessert!

Cabbage-veggie slaw

Cole slaw, basically, but with a lot of other veggies added. 

1 small head of cabbage
4 carrots, peeled and trimmed
8 radishes, trimmed
1/2 celeriac bulb, peeled
4 Kirby (pickling) cucumbers, partly peeled
3 scallions, chopped

2 Tbp salt

Shred the cabbage in your food processor, using the shredder blade (rather than the slicing blade).  Continue with the other veggies.

Shredded cabbage.

Combine all the shredded veggies in a large bowl, and sprinkle liberally with salt (about 2 Tbp).  Transfer to a colander and let the veggies drain some of their liquid for a couple hours.

Still life with veggies. That knobby thing is half a celeriac bulb.

Veggie confetti.

After draining, about a cup of liquid.

Return the mix to a large bowl.

For the dressing:

1 c mayonnaise
1 c Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
1/4 c coarse-grain mustard
2 Tbp sugar
2 Tbp vinegar
1/4 buttermilk
2 tsp black pepper

Add the black pepper, sugar, and vinegar directly to the slaw.  Combine the other ingredients and dress the veggie mix. 

Where's the pulled pork sammich??

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dollar-store bowls

Dollar-store bowls.  $1 a piece.  2-gallon capacity.  Indestructible.   Non-staining.  Dishwasher safe.  

The best thing in the kitchen.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Escarole soup - -"Italian wedding soup"

There is some restaurateur out there who we can credit with calling this soup "Italian wedding soup."  I have no idea where it comes from because (a) I've been to a lot of Italian weddings and have never had this soup served to me; and (b) the soup might be something special -- because of the labor required for the meatballs -- but it's typical weekday fare for Italian households. 

We just called it escarole soup. 

4 qt chicken stock (unsalted)
1 1/2 – 2 heads escarole, chopped, and washed well
1 c seme di melone or orzo pastina, cooked in 2 cups water with 1 tsp salt (makes about 3 c cooked pastina), or 3 cups cooked white rice
2 Tbp salt
1/4 c olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin or minced (but not crushed)

Bring stock to a boil.  Add escarole and cook about 5 minutes, until tender.  Add pasta or rice, and three dozen meatballs. (See the previous blog entry for that recipe.)  Test for seasoning.  If you used unsalted stock as I did, you will need to add salt. 

Boiling homemade chicken stock.

Escarole, chopped and washed well. 

Escarole, in the soup.

In a small sauté pan, heat olive oil.  Add garlic and toast the garlic gently.  Dump the oil and garlic into the soup, and mix well.

Toasted garlic slices.

Serve hot, passing grated cheese at the table. 


I have a funny story about meatballs.  Then again, who doesn't?

A few years back, I was sitting at lunch with some colleagues.  We were all brown-bagging it and chatting over our meals.  I happened to have brought a couple meatballs with sauce, leftover from the previous night's dinner.

One of my colleagues remarked at how good they looked.  I offered her a sample.  She tried it, and her eyes opened wide.  "My goodness, these are so good!  I make meatballs all the time and they're never this good."

I asked her how she made them.

"Well," she replied, "I use extra lean ground beef."

"Strike one," I said.

"Then I add bread crumbs," she added.

"Strike two."

"Oh dear, what should I do differently?"

The trick to making great meatballs is that you must use fatty meat (ground chuck, typically about 80% lean is perfect), and you need to add some sort of moistened filler, which helps tenderize the meatballs.  So many recipes call for dry bread crumbs, which is a mistake, I think.  Our family's method (shared by many, many old-style Italian home cooks) is to add moistened bread: fresh or slightly stale white bread that has been moistened with either milk or even water.

This recipe makes a lot of meatballs, probably more than would be consumed in one family meal.  Feel free to make the whole recipe, cook the meatballs, then pop the unused ones into a freezer bag for your next pot of sauce. 

3 lb ground chuck (80% lean)
1 1/2 Tbp salt
1/2 Tbp pepper
1 c pecorino romano cheese
3 eggs
1 cup finely chopped parsley
4-6 cloves garlic, crushed
8-9 slices of white bread, processed into soft bread crumbs (about 5 cups loose crumbs; about 12 oz by weight; I prefer Pepperidge Farm or Arnold's white sandwich breads)
1 1/2 cups milk

Pulse the bread in a food processor into crumbs.  They should be soft crumbs.  8 or 9 slices of bread will be about 12 oz or about 5 cups of crumbs.  Add milk to the crumbs, and mix gently to moisten the crumbs.  Let sit 10 minutes.  This will look like a LOT of bread.  Don't worry -- it makes a great meatball.

Moistened fresh bread crumbs

Break up ground beef into a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add eggs, cheese, parsley, garlic, and moistened bread crumbs. With your immaculately clean hands, mix the ingredients well, as you would for a meatloaf.

Beef, eggs, parsley, cheese, salt & pepper.

Adding crushed garlic.

Mixing the ingredients by hand.

Spray a foil-lined baking sheet with release spray.  Use a two-ounce ice-cream scoop to scoop up some of the mixture and roll into a ball.  Line the sheet with the meatballs.  This recipe will make about 72 meatballs. 

A 2-oz scoop works best.

 Six dozen meatballs from this recipe.

40 minutes in a 350°F convection oven.
One meatball may have been removed for quality-control purposes.

Bake the meatballs in a 350°F oven for 40 minutes until browned.  Alternately (and more traditionally) you can fry the meatballs in oil or shortening.  The result will be a crisper, more browned exterior.  [N.B.  I always fried my meatballs, typically in vegetable oil.  More recently, I got a new convection oven, and have found that it produces a beautifully brown meatball that would make you forget about frying meatballs ever again.]

[Recipe revision: I've found that baking the meatballs at 400°F for about 18-20 mins gives a browner result, and if you turn them halfway through baking, they'll brown evenly all over.  I recommend using non-stick aluminum foil, too. ]

If you're using these as part of a tomato sauce, put the cooked meatballs into the sauce about 15 minutes before you're ready to serve, so that they heat through, but don't cook much more.

Ranch dip or dressing

This is a very easy dip or dressing to put together.  It's wonderful with raw veggies or blanched broccoli or crackers.  Thinned out with the buttermilk, it makes a great salad dressing.

N.B.  You see that I'm using dried parsley here.  That's right.  Surprisingly, the dried parsley works better than fresh; fresh parsley seems to go off quickly in this mixture.  

1 c mayonnaise
1 c whole-milk Greek yogurt (or conventional yogurt, or sour cream)

1 tsp each    onion powder
                   garlic powder
                   dried parsley
                   dried dill

1/2 tsp each    salt
                      dried oregano
                      dried thyme

1/4 cup buttermilk (optional)

Combine ingredients.  If you're using it as a dip, don't add the buttermilk.  If you're using it as a dressing, add the buttermilk to thin it out to a pourable viscosity.  (There.  I've said it.  Viscosity.  Wonky, I know.  Blame the chemist in me, but that's what we're talking about here.  Viscosity.)

If you used the conventional yogurt, your result will be less viscous than with the Greek yogurt; conventional yogurt contains much more liquid than the Greek variety

If you have the luxury of time, let the finished dip sit in the fridge for a few hours.  The flavors will develop substantially.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mushroom risotto

I was at my folks' the other night for dinner, and Mom wanted to make risotto as a side dish, so I did it for her.

Here's what I did.  Sorry, no photos!

•  Half an onion, minced.  (or shallots, or leeks, or scallions, or a linear combination thereof)
•  2 Tbp butter + 2 Tbp olive oil.
•  1/2 - 3/4 lb mushrooms, sliced
•  1 1/2 cups rice (Arborio is nice, but hardly necessary; Mom had jasmine rice, which worked very, very nicely.)
•  1/2 cup wine
•  3-4 cups chicken stock
•  Salt & pepper to taste

Saute onion in oil + butter a couple minutes till tender.
Add mushrooms and saute 5-8 minutes until tender.  Season with salt and pepper.
Add rice and stir well, coating it with the oil + butter and until it appears opaque.
Add wine.  Stir well.  Add stock by 1/2-cupfuls and stir frequently.  As the stock evaporates, add more until the rice is cooked and has absorbed the liquid.  Test for seasoning.

Yummy.  Really.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


These are the Italian version of the well known French crêpes.

This dish is a specialty of the city of Teramo, in the region of Abruzzo, on the Adriatic coast. My maternal grandfather was born in the town of Notaresco in the province of Teramo.  In the Abruzzese dialect this is known as "scrippell' m'busse," or roughly, crepes in broth.  I ate scrippell' m'busse in a restaurant in the centro storico of Teramo a few years back.  They were exactly as my grandmother and mother made.  When I returned there a couple years later with my parents, we ate them together in that same place.  We had connected with our past.

Unlike the familiar French uses (sweets like crêpes Suzette), Italian crespelle are more often found in savory dishes.  Manicotti are usually made with crespelle - stuffed with ricotta and covered with tomato sauce.  Our favorite use of crespelle is to fill them with a light sprinkling of dry, grated cheese (romano or parmigiano) and a twist of black pepper, layer them in a large bowl, and cover them with boiling chicken stock.  This is one of the most delightful and satisfying soups you will ever eat.

1/3 c    flour
1/3 c    water
pinch    salt
1    egg

Multiply for as many crespelle as you’d like.  You can figure on about 5 - 6 pancakes per egg, so 6 eggs will give you about 30 - 35 crespelle.  For every six eggs, add 1 tablespoon oil to the batter.  Be certain that the batter rests in the fridge for a good half-hour before you use it.  You might want to thin it out with additional water after it’s rested. 

Heat a nonstick 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  When Mom used to make these in a cast-iron skillet (which she still owns and uses after 40 years!), she’d grease the pan by wiping the hot pan with a slice of bacon folded up and skewered onto a fork.  Works amazingly well.  You can use a vegetable-oil release spray.

Pour about 1/3 c of the batter onto the hot skillet.  Roll the batter around to completely cover the bottom, pouring any excess back into the batter.  Cook until the top bubbles slightly, about 30 seconds.  Flip the crespella and cook for a few seconds on the other side.  Remove to a dish and cool completely.

Pouring the batter into a greased skillet.

The first side cooks.  The edge will curl slightly when it is cooked.

Flipping the crespella with a long stainless spatula.

Cooking the other side.

Sliding the finished crespella onto a platter to cool.

The assembled crespelle.

As said previously, sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon dry, sharp Italian cheese and a twist of black pepper on a crespella, roll it up like a cigar, and layer 4 to 6 in each soup plate.  Ladle on a cup of boiling chicken stock.  Serve and enjoy.

Scripelle 'mbusse.

Pork Chili

This recipe is not unlike my pork stew.  The difference is in the flavorings used.  If you can get the various chili powders -- New Mexico, chipotle, pimenton, etc. -- it will make a vast difference in the flavor.  Supermarket chili powder tends to be rather unassertive in character.   

4-5 lb pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
An assortment of vegetables – carrots, onions, celery, garlic, bell pepper – to make 4 cups
Powdered chili peppers – 2 Tbp each of New Mexico, chipotle, and sweet pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika).   If you don't have pimenton, use a good-quality sweet paprika.
2 Tbp ground cumin
28-oz can crushed tomatoes
Bay leaf
Salt & pepper
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Like my pork stew, pork chili is SO superior to beef, that when you try this, you'll wonder how you've been making beef chili all these years.

This recipe is also different from many chili recipes in two ways:  I do not use ground meat, and I don't add beans.  In that respect it is similar to many Texas-style chilies, though most of them use beef. 

Cut up the pork shoulder into 1-inch cubes.  Season liberally.  In a 5- or 6-quart Dutch oven, brown the pork in batches in a small amount of oil.  (Don’t forget what Julia taught us: dry the meat before you add it to the pot, and don't crowd it!)  Set aside the cooked pork cubes as they're done.

Cube the veggies.  In the same pot, add a bit more oil, and brown the veggies lightly.  Season them well.   Add back the pork. 

Add the chili powders, the cumin, and the bay leaf.  Cook for a minute or two to brown the spice mixture.  Add the crushed tomatoes.

Add the beer.  I love a good amber beer like Yuengling Lager for the cooking liquid.  Add enough liquid so that it barely comes to the top of the mixture of meat and veggies.  You'll probably need 2 to 3 12-oz bottles of beer. 

Bring the chili to a simmer on the stovetop, cover, and put into a 300-325°F oven for two to three hours, until the pork is fall-apart tender. 

Test for seasoning and adjust as necessary.  Add some fresh, chopped cilantro at the end if you like it.  I do!

Serve with steamed, butter rice, sour cream, shredded cheddar or jack cheese, sliced pickled jalapenos, and chopped scallions.

Pork stew

You won't have time to make this for the Super Bowl.  Too bad.  It's really good.

4-5 lb pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
An assortment of vegetables – carrots, onions, parsnip, sweet potato, celery, celery root, turnip, rutabaga, garlic. 
Beer, wine, stock, or a combination or beer + stock or wine + stock
Thyme, bay leaf, salt & pepper

This is a wonderful stew.  I encourage you to do this pork version, rather than a more typical beef.  Pork, shoulder in particular, lends itself so well to slow, moist cooking.

Cut up the pork shoulder into 1-inch cubes.  Season liberally.  In a 5- or 6-quart Dutch oven, brown the pork in batches in a small amount of oil.  (Don’t forget what Julia taught us: dry the meat before you add it to the pot, and don't crowd it!)  Set aside the cooked pork cubes as they're done.

Cube the veggies you have.  At a minimum, you should have onions, carrots, celery, and garlic.  If you have other veggies on hand, by all means use them.  As my grandmother would say about a dish like this, "The more you put, the more you find."  If you're so inclined, you could even cut back on the amount of meat, and load up on the veggies.  It would still be excellent.  In total, you'll want to have about 4 cups of veggies. 

In the same pot, add a bit more oil, and brown the veggies lightly.  Season them well.   Add back the pork. 

Add your liquid.  I love a good amber beer like Yuengling Lager for the cooking liquid, but wine will do fine, too.  If you have some stock (chicken, or pork stock if you have it), you can add a bit of that, too.  Add enough liquid to that it barely comes to the top of the mixture of meat and veggies.  You'll probably need 2 to 3 12-oz bottles of beer. 

Add your bay leave, and a teaspoon of dry thyme.  Hold off on more salt and pepper until the stew is nearly done, as you've seasoned the meat and veggies already. 

Bring the stew to a simmer on the stovetop, cover, and put into a 300-325°F oven for two to three hours, until the pork is fall-apart tender. 

Test for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

If you like a thicker gravy, make a beurre manié (equal parts butter and flour kneaded into a paste) and stir a couple tablespoons into the stew to thicken the sauce.


Snowbound.  Time to make ravioli. 

For the filling:
1 lb whole-milk ricotta, drained overnight in the fridge
1 egg
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 egg
1/4 finely minced parsley

For the ravioli:
48 wonton skins
1 egg, beaten with 2 Tbp water

Ricotta, strained of excess liquid.

Other ingredients.

Assembled ingredients.

All mixed up. 

A good consistency for filling.

Egg wash on the wonton skins.

A modest dollop of cheese filling.  Don't overfill!!

Cover, and press around the edges.  

The finished ravioli.

4 minutes in rapidly boiling salted water,
then sauced and ready to go!