Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Years good luck

Pork and beans have come to signify good luck for the New Years holiday, thus the appearance of hoppin' John, pernil, pork and sauerkraut, and so on.

I put my faith in pork chili, which I've written about before.  I"m making a big pot to bring to a potluck New Years Day supper.

I'd slow-roasted a pork shoulder the other day, a portion of which we ate for pulled pork sammiches.  The rest I've cut up and used in the chili (and the remaining bone was saved for stock).  I also had some sweet Italian sausage in the freezer, so I cooked that up, too.  All the oniony cooking juices from the pulled pork, which I'd saved, were added to the chili as well.  (When the cooled in the fridge, there was a layer of pork fat on top.  I removed that and discarded it, and the remaining juices were nicely gelatinous, meaning that the juices would add not only flavor to the chili, but also body.)

One thing to try -- once you have the whole pot together, put it in a 350-degree oven to cook, rather than on the stovetop, for slow, even cooking. 

And for those of you pondering the beans/no-beans conundrum, read here:   Chili con carne

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Festa della Vigilia

Or Christmas Eve dinner, if you wish.

I'm up early today, and starting in my prep for tonight's Christmas Eve dinner.  It revolves around fish, though there won't be quite as many as seven.

•  Shrimp cocktail and a platter of antipasti -- cheese, salami, olives
•  Spaghettini al tonno -- pasta with tuna sauce -- tomatoes, anchovies, olives, capers, oil-packed tuna
•  Fried flounder
•  Broccoli rabe
•  Roasted filet of beef (for the fish-phobic in the crowd)
•  Green salad
•  Homemade bread

Dessert will be a chocolate whipped cream cake, fruitcake, and one of our favorite Christmas treats, calzoniti (or "cauciun" in Abruzzese dialect) -- chocolate, fruit, and nuts in a fried ravioli treat.

We'll wash it all down with cocktails, wine, iced tea. 

This year, in an effort to streamline the menu, we've foregone the stuffed calamari and the baked clams.  Just not enough folks attending will eat them.  :-(

Monday, December 19, 2011


Anticipating the Hanukkah holiday, I made potato latkes last night, accompanied by a roasted chicken, broccoli sauteed in olive oil and garlic, and a green salad.

I am embarrassed to admit that I was so absorbed in the making of the latkes that I didn't get the opportunity to photograph any part of the process or the crisp, brown, crunchy product.  I have signed affidavits from my dinner guests as to how wonderful they were.

6 medium potatoes
1 small yellow onion or 1/2 cup chopped scallion (or throw caution to the wind and add both)
salt and pepper
4 - 6 T flour
2 eggs

Peel the potatoes and shred in a food processor.  Gather up the shredded potatoes in a linen tea towel (about 2 cups at a time) and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.  Shred the onion and add to the squeezed, shredded potatoes.  Add salt and pepper liberally.  Add flour.  Mix to coat.  Beat the eggs and add to mixture.  Mix well.  Drop by large spoonfuls (you'll want about 3 T of potato for each pancake) into hot olive oil.  Fry until brown on one side.  Turn, and brown on the other side.  Drain on paper towels.  Keep warm in a 200°F oven until ready to serve. 

Serve with apple sauce or sour cream. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving: the leftovers

Two slices of good white bread.  A generous schmear of mayo.  A grind of black pepper.  Thinly sliced leftover roasted turkey.  Pile on the stuffing.  Then crown with cranberry sauce.

Is there anything better?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving: the sides

Quickly, before I head off to the family Thanksgiving dinner -- the side dishes. 

For our cousin-hosted dinner tonight, I did the mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts. 

 Yellow and orange sweet potatoes, bathed in butter, brown sugar,
dark corn syrup, orange zest, and orange juice. 

Brussels sprouts, quickly blanched, tossed in
olive oil with a few garlic gloves.

Roasted at 425°F and turned occasionally, for
about 15 minutes.  Drizzled with more oil, and
seasoned with sea salt and a bit of balsamic vinegar.

Yes, everything I did is in disposable foil pans. :-)

Thanksgiving: the turkey

Unconventional.  Daring.  Scandalous.  Yes, that's how I roast my turkey.

Forget stuffing an 18-lb bird, and roasting it for five hours.  Put the stuffing on the side, cut the bird up -- same way you'd do a chicken -- and roast the pieces.

I cut up the bird last night, and brined it overnight.  This morning, removed the pieces from the brine, arranged in the roasting pan, tucked in the scraps (back, neck, giblets), some cut-up onion, carrot, and celery, seasoned it all lightly (remember, it was brined, so likely will NOT need salt), and poured a melted stick of butter over all.  Added a cup of turkey stock, too.

350°F, uncovered. 

Two hours. Done.  Perfectly.  PERFECTLY

 Cut up like a chicken: breast, legs, wings.  

 With the back, neck, giblets, onion, carrot, celery tucked in,
seasoned lightly, basted with melted butter.  

Two hours at 350°F.  Roasted to perfection.
Neck, back, giblets, veggies, drippings saved for stock.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Prepping for Thanksgiving dinner(s)

But still prepping for two Thanksgiving dinners:

• Thursday with the extended family -- I'm doing mashed potatoes, candied sweets, Brussels sprouts, apple and pumpkin pies -- and the cousins are doing the rest.

• Friday with my circle of friends -- doing Hot Brown sandwiches, mashed potato casserole, mushroom-sage stuffing, Brussels sprouts, cranberry relish, apple pandowdy, sweet potato pie.  Oh, and some gravy.  Carmen insists on having gravy.  So I'll make gravy. 

New name for my blog???

Four Degrees of Separation.  Dang, now I have to change the name of my blog!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving: the soup

Thanksgiving or not, this is a great time of year for soup.  I find few things as satisfying as making a pot of soup.

This is a basic catch-all autumn vegetable soup.  Clean out the fridge, chop it all up, add some good stock, and a bit of thickener (pasta, rice, barley, or oats -- yes, oats), and you can eat for a week.  Dazzle your Thanksgiving guests with a cup of this soup as a first course. 

Here's everything I put in my soup:

From the left-- a large onion, peeled parsnip, half a head of savoy cabbage, bulb of fennel, celery, carrots, well-rinsed leeks.  Oops -- took the photo too early.  I also added six cloves of garlic.

Chop all the veggies.  Add everything except the cabbage to a pot filmed with some oil.  Saute until tender.  Add cabbage, and cover all with stock. (I used unsalted, homemade turkey stock.)  Thyme, bay leaf, salt, pepper.

Like many other recipes I've blogged here, there's much latitude for your creativity.  Add rice or pasta if you like them.  Use veggie broth to keep it wholly vegetarian.  A couple tomatoes squeezed into the soup adds a very nice dimension, too, or a tablespoon or two of tomato paste added with the sauteing veggies.  You could start out by sauteing some cut-up bacon with your veggies.  Dang, that's good, too.  Possible you have a rind of cheese, from pecorino or parmigiano?  Throw that in.  Beans?  Add them if you like them. 

Sauteing veggies.

Simmer 30 mins.  Added half a cup of rolled oats to thicken the soup a bit.  Works remarkably well for that.   
Everything in the pot, covered with stock.

Rolled oats, to thicken the stock and add body to it.

This is the kind of soup that is ten times better the next day than the day it is made.

Just before you serve the soup, drizzle a bit of good olive oil on each bowl as you serve it to your guests.  Or toast some good Italian bread, rub it with raw garlic, and put that crostino in the bottom of the bowl, and ladle soup on top.  Pass grated cheese at the table.

Thanksgiving: the pie

I tried a new recipe -- sweet potato pie.  Can't say I've ever made one.  I've made more apple, peach, bloob, pumpkin pies than I can count, but sweet potato?  Nope. 

Dug up a nice recipe from our friends at America's Test Kitchen (hosts of the TV show of the same name on public television, and Cooks' Illustrated magazine, one of the dullest cooking magazines I've ever come across.  But that's another blog entry altogether.)

Great idea for it -- blind-bake the crust, add the sweet potato custard, then bake.  A beautiful pie results, and the bottom crust is crisp. 

Taste -- very good, though I think I'll go easier on the nutmeg next time.  Peggy didn't like the bourbon flavor in it.  I thought it added a nice dimension, but if it went missing, the result would be equally good.

One of my favorite places for sweet potato pie is the Basic 4 Vegetarian Snack Bar at Reading Terminal Market.  Kick-ass sweet potato pie. 

I'm planning on doing another one for my ThanksFriday dinner with the gang, along with a big apple pandowdy. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thanksgiving: the stock

Few things are as important to a good Thanksgiving dinner than a pot of hot, rich stock simmering on the back burner.

You need stock to make your stuffing (see my last post), to baste your turkey, to make lots and lots of gravy to drown your mashed potatoes, turkey, and stuffing in, and as the base for your post-Turkey Day turkey soup. 

Stock can be made well ahead of time and frozen until you need it.  It takes a few minutes of preparation, and several hours of hands-off simmering.

Start with meat.  For my Thanksgiving supper, I will usually buy turkey parts --  a few pounds of wings, necks, giblets -- roast them until browned, then dump them into the stockpot.  You can make chicken stock if you must for your turkey, but there's no lack of turkey parts in the markets these days.  Bony pieces are the best; you wouldn't simmer turkey or chicken breast meat to make stock. 

Roasted meat, with veggies, ready for the boil. 

Cover the parts generously with cold water.  I will typically make about four quarts of stock at at time.  To the stockpot add an onion or two sliced in half (no need to peel it); a carrot or two; a stalk of celery or two; four to six garlic cloves, smashed; a handful of parsley, stems and all; a dozen or so peppercorns; a bay leaf; and a few sprigs of fresh thyme, or a teaspoon of dried if that's all you have. 

I use a pasta pot for stock -- a large, covered, 12-qt pot with a perforated insert. 

Bring the whole lot to a vigorous boil, then lower to barely a simmer.  Cover partly, and let the stock simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  Turn it off, cover completely, and let it cool down a bit.

 The finished stock.

When it's cool enough to handle, lift out the perforated insert, you're left with about 12 cups of the most awesome stock.  (By the way, I do all this manipulation in my sink.  It's easier to handle large pots of hot liquid at the lower level, and any drips, spills, or splatters won't matter.)

Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate or freeze.  

 Removing the meat and veggies from the pot. 
Keep the bits of meat, dump the rest. 

Do not salt the stock.  It will be very bland now, but you want to have completely unsalted stock so that you can control the salt in whatever recipe you eventually use it in -- stuffing, gravy, soup. 

Depending on what meat you used, you can pick off bits of meat from the boiled bones, and save them for soup later.  You'll see here that these photos were taken when I made a pot of beef stock -- not turkey -- but the process is identical.  That boiled shinbone meat will be excellent in a pot of beef mushroom barley soup.  If you used turkey giblets to make your Thanksgiving stock, save those, and chop them finely to add to your gravy. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thanksgiving: the stuffing

Making stuffing (or dressing, if you insist) for your Thanksgiving dinner is dead easy.  It's a few staples from your fridge, some herbs (dried or fresh), stale bread, and stock.  Dead easy.

For 6 cups of stuffing:

5 cups bread (stale, not so fresh, toasted, whatever you have), cut up into cubes
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 Tbs butter
2 cups stock (chicken is fine, turkey is better)
sage, about 2 Tbs fresh leaves, chopped
thyme, about 2 tsp, dried or fresh
salt and pepper, to taste

Saute the celery and onion in butter until softened.  Set aside.

Onions and celery sauteing in butter. 
An iconic aroma of a Thanksgiving morning.

Put your bread cubes in another bowl.  Warm up the stock slightly -- it doesn't have to be boiling, but it shouldn't be ice cold either.  Pour about a cup of the stock over the bread cubes and mix gently.  Here's where a bit of judgment is necessary: you want to cubes to be dampened, but not sodden with moisture.  If the bread has been toasted or is very stale, add a bit more stock, mix, then cover the bowl and let it sit for 10 minutes to allow the bread to soak in the stock.

The kind of bread you use will determine what your stuffing becomes.  I used a sourdough bread here (frankly, it was the crusts cut off of a loaf which was used for another recipe).  Good white bread is fine.  A French baguette or an Italian loaf is nice, too.  Sure, add some crumbled up cornbread here, if you have it.  That's nice, too.

Bread, moistened with stock, sitting to soften.

Add your softened veggies to the bread cubes, add in your herbs (fresh is best, dried is OK), salt and pepper to taste.  Add more stock if you think the mixture is too dry.  Taste for seasoning. 

 Mixed gently, and tasted for seasoning. 

Again, here's a point of judgment: I happen to like my stuffing very peppery and sagey, so I go heavy on both.  What you prefer is wholly up to your tastes and those of your guests.

 About two tablespoons of chopped fresh sage, from the herb garden. 

You have the basics here for good stuffing to accompany a roasted turkey.  At this point, you can be as creative about your stuffing as you like. Add some cooked rice if you like.  Browned sage sausage.  Apples, finely diced and sauteed in a bit of butter to soften.  Raisins.  Craisins.  Nuts.  Chestnuts.  Mushrooms, sliced or chopped, browned in butter, and finished with a bit of sherry or brandy. 

Arrange the stuffing in a casserole, and bake at 350°F for about 40 minutes until a bit browned and a bit bubbly around the edges. 

Arranged in the casserole and waiting to be popped into the oven. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Doesn't get any better

Sweet potato corn chowder, and a grilled bacon-tomato-cheese sammich.

Even tastier when you make it for someone you love.

Chowder recipe to follow...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pesto days

Fall has arrived and it's time to gather up the remaining herbs in the garden. 

I harvested an armful of basil Sunday, and made pesto to freeze.  Pesto is the best way to store basil.  Basil does not dry well (it dries, but virtually no flavor remains), but whizzed up with olive oil, and frozen, it retains its flavor and color. 

Like many recipes, go with your instincts.  Pull leaves from the plants.  Wash and spin dry.  Load them into the food processor and whiz until you have nearly a paste of basil.  Drizzle olive oil (or any oil, really), until you form a loose paste.  You're done.  You can add ground nuts (pignoli, almonds, walnuts), and grated cheese (parmigiano, pecorino) if you like -- depends how you plan to use it.  If you're looking to keep the basil to add to a simmering sauce during the cold winter, then basil + oil is all you need.  If you want to use it as pasta sauce on its own, then add the nuts and cheese.  A pinch of salt is good, too.

Once whizzed up, the pesto can be scooped into mini-muffin tins and frozen.  Once frozen, they can be popped out and stored in a Ziploc bag in the freezer. 

 A big bowlful of basil leaves, picked over, washed, and spun dry.

 All those leaves make this much pesto. 
Doesn't seem like a lot, but a little bit goes a long way.

 My silicone mini-muffin 'tin.'  Perfect for this.

Pesto filling the muffin tin, and sitting in the freezer.

Once frozen, the knobs of pesto pop right out.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday brunch

A beautiful Sunday brunch, with a gathering of close friends.  Lots of good food, good conversation, and laughs. 

Spumante mimosas
Creamed dried beef over toast
Zucchini frittata
Sliced yellow tomatoes with mozzarella, dressed with garlic oil and pesto
Oven-roasted Italian sausage
Steak fries
Golden raisin muffins
Nectarine pandowdy
Homemade jams -- strawberry, fig, apricot
Coffee, tea

Couldn't have asked for a nicer afternoon.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday in the kitchen

A productive day in the kitchen -- roasted a big pile of red peppers, steamed a few artichokes, and made a pot of pasta e ceci.

I've posted here about roasted peppers before.  The peppers at Gentile's Produce Market were magnificent and cheap -- $1.49/lb.  I bought two grocery sacks full.

I haven't written about steaming or stuffing artichokes, and I should.  Add that one to the list.

 Steamed artichokes, perfumed with lemon and olive oil. 

As for the pasta e ceci, it's a typical bean and pasta soup that's a staple in every Italian kitchen, a minestrone.  Every recipe is identical and different at the same time.  I'll outline a very basic recipe that you can modify to your needs and tastes.

2 large onions
2 large carrots
a big stalk of celery
6 cloves of garlic

Coarsely chop the veggies, and then process in your food processor until finely chopped.  This is what Lidia Bastianich calls her "pestata."  (Others call it a soffritto, but it's much the same thing.)  It's an excellent base for soups, stews, and the like.

In a large Dutch oven, warm 1/4 cup olive oil.  Add the pestata, a bay leaf, and sprig or two of thyme.  Saute the pestata until it starts to color.

Add two 14-oz cans of chick peas ("ceci"), drained, to the pot.  Add 6 cups stock (or water, if you want to keep this wholly vegetarian).

Cut up three ripe tomatoes into large chunks.  Process into a puree.  Add to the pot.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer about 20 minutes until the chick peas are tender.  Salt and pepper as necessary.  Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.  Drop an immersion blender into the pot and puree a bit, leaving some beans whole. 

Add 1/2 pound of ditalini or tubettini pasta.  Bring again to a boil, and cook until the pasta is just tender.  Turn off the heat.  Taste for seasoning.  Add a handful of chopped parsley at the end if you'd like -- it adds a nice color and flavor.  Serve in soup plates.  Drizzle with some olive oil, and pass grated cheese at the table. 

This soup is always better the next day.

Variations on a theme:  Saute bacon or pancetta in the olive oil before adding the pestata.  If you don't have chick peas, any bean will do -- cannellini, pinto, navy, kidney.  If you used dried split peas, you'd have pea soup.  If you don't have fresh tomatoes, use canned whole tomatoes and crush them with your hands before adding.  If all you have is tomato paste, that'll work, too.  Add it to the sauteing pestata, then add your stock or water.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Facebook fig jam

Chalk this recipe up to Facebook!

I recently friended an old high-school friend, Lisa F., on Facebook.  It's been YEARS since we've seen each other, very possibly since we graduated high school sometime in the last century.  (OK, OK, it was 33 years ago.  Happy now?)

Just last weekend Lisa posted on Facebook that the fig tree in her backyard was producing ripe fruit at an alarming pace, and was there anyone out there who'd like some of it?  I chimed right in -- sure, I'll make fig jam.

I went over that afternoon (she lives nearby), and picked up about 5 pounds of beautifully ripe, sweet, dark figs, picked just that morning off her tree.

Just getting reacquainted after so many years was a delight, and the fruit was a wonderful dividend.  I promised Lisa a couple jars of jam.

Got up early this morning and made some fig jam.  Nothing fancy -- figs, sugar, a bit of lemon juice, pinch of salt.  Cook, jars, process, cool.  I rely upon the National Center for Home Food Preservation for my recipes.  I used their Fig Jam without added pectin recipe.  Can't go wrong.  As I've mentioned in previous jammy posts, making jam is not difficult, but it helps to have a couple specialized tools handy, like a jar lifter, a canning funnel, a candy thermometer, and a big steel (not aluminum) stock pot. 

Cut-up figs and sugar, ready to cook.

Staging area, at the ready.

Figs and sugar, boiling hard.

Eight jars of beautiful fig jam. 

Remind me to tell the story of the Italian word for 'fig' some day. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sated in Seattle

I was in Seattle last week on business and had couple very good meals.

Upon arrival, I headed over to Belltown, the Monday location of popular food truck "Where Ya At, Matt." I tried the jambalaya.  Very good indeed.  Smoky, spicy, but not outrageously hot.  Good andouille, chicken, lots of veggies.  Matt himself was not there so I didn't get to meet him.

Monday night I dined at The Walrus and the Carpenter, an oyster bar in the Ballard neighborhood.  Their website said it opened at 4 pm.  Well, I was still very much on east-coast time, and was feeling a bit hungry, so wandered over to the bar at a very unfashionable 4:30 pm.  There was one seat left, at the bar.  Fine with me!

I'm not much of an oyster person, so forewent them.  But ordered a couple of the small plates on the menu, including grilled sardines with a shallot, walnut, and parsley sauce that was knock-your-socks-off good.  I then had their house-cured salmon, sliced and arrayed on the plate with a smear of creme fraiche, a couple slices of tomato, red onion, and a scattering of capers.  All I needed was a bagel!

Dessert was a locally produced, very fresh, very rich ricotta cheese -- an ice cream scoop-sized dollop on top of Ballard Bee honey.  Extraordinary.   The honey was so good I stopped at a local Whole Foods to see if I could find it.  No luck at Whole Foods, but it is available online.  

Dinner Tuesday was another popular Seattle dining spot:  Serious Pie.  It's one of Seattle restaurateur-entrepreneur Tom Douglas's places.  (If you know Stephen Starr in Philly, well, Tom Douglas is the Seattle equivalent, but Douglas, unlike Starr, is a chef.)  Good place.  A bit warm, from the gas oven.  Communal seating, meaning I shared a table with a couple on a date to my left and three business people in town for a sales meeting on the right.  

I got the clam pizza.  Very tasty.  Excellent, tender crust (not crisp or cracker-y in any way, more like a tender focaccia).  Problem was, it didn't taste much like clams.  I picked up the lemon thyme and the pancetta, but the clam flavor was very subtle.  I though I'd get a clam pizza like the ones I knew from Sally's in New Haven, but I was wrong.  The starter, sauteed mustard greens with a blue cheese drizzle, was very good.  

One of the threesome to my right apparently was quite the gourmand, and another was clearly a reluctant eater of new things.  They were friendly, though, and we chatted a bit.  I did have to laugh -- Mr Gourmand was telling Mr Relucant about the pizza Mr Reluctant had ordered -- house-cured guanciale, a soft-cooked egg, and arugula.  Mr Gourmand kept pronouncing it "guan-i-cal-e," but I didn't have the heart to correct him.  I'll add that to the list that includes "vinegar-ette," "maRscapone," and "papper-ika."

Lunch Thursday was at Palisade, a waterfront restaurant overlooking the marina on Elliott Bay, with magnificent views of the Seattle skyline and Mt Rainier.  Excellent salmon bisque and then crabcakes.  Afterwards, my very eager client took me up to a park on a bluff overlooking the bay (Kerry Park), with breathtaking panoramas of the city, the Sound, and the mountains.  

Seattle skyline from Kerry Park, with a ghostly Mt Rainier in the background.

I had some free time Thursday afternoon between client appointments.  I'd seen some signs posted about the Queen Anne Farmers' Market, that afternoon.  Naturally I couldn't resist stopping by and taking a few photos.  The produce was lovely, and the scene lively and fun.  

Thursday night was a business dinner, and I hosted my client at Wild Ginger.  Very, very good pan-Asian food -- noodles, stir-fries, and their signature satays.  Mountain lamb satay and scallop satay to start.  Then a couple stir-fry dishes -- Angkor Wat chicken, Mongolian noodles, and wok-fried barbecue prawns.  Lots of kick, lots of flavor, very pleasant serving staff, and good business conversation to boot.  Heck, with a meal that good, I'm bound to get his business!

After dinner, I rushed back up to Kerry Park and took advantage of the waning dusk light, and got some good nighttime photos of the skyline.  

Sunday, August 21, 2011


RED.  That is all.