Thursday, December 30, 2010

Falling in Love with Farro

Part of our Christmas bounty was a basket of hand-picked food gifts from Dan and Renae, stuff they know we’d like to try, if only we could find them! One goodie was a bag of farro and I think I’m in love.

Frankly, I’ve read about farro and the healthy me said, “You really ought to get some ‘whole-grain goodness’ into you.” Then the practical me, in an all-too-rare appearance, said, “But you’d end up eating in all yourself and too much of a good thing is still bad for you.”

So while the spirit was kind of willing, it wasn’t until I had a bag in my pantry that I did something about the urge. Renae provided a recipe from Giada for a farro salad, so yesterday morning, I started the process by cooking the grain and then letting it mellow in the vinaigrette overnight and taste-tested today. A definite hit. I sampled the farro just freshly cooked and I liked it –- nice and chewy, a liitle nutty, a little bit sweet, not overly grainy, as I’d feared. I can see myself eating this warm tossed with some veggies. But the salad! Oooh! After marinating with herbs and tomatoes and the dressing, it had a new life.

If farro is as new to you as me, it’s the Italian name for emmer wheat, and is becoming more available lately, and more popular like a lot of whole grains. If my novice outing with farro is a clue, I’ll be trying a lot more whole grains. Quinoa, anyone?

With the addition of my new Kumato, I was in food explorer heaven yesterday. The kumato was an excellent addition to the salad, but I think I’d rather have eaten it all by itself, sans salad; it was that good.

Farro Salad
From Giada DeLaurentiis

1-1/2 cups farro
2 1/4teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 medium tomatoes, chopped (or Kumatoes!)
½ medium onion, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh chives
¼ cup flat leaf Italian parsley

Put farro in medium saucepan with 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer until tender (about 20 minutes). Add 2 teaspoons salt and simmer 10 minutes longer. Drain and let cool.

In a medium bowl, mash garlic with salt. Whisk in vinegar, then pepper, then oil. Combine farro with tomatoes, onions and herbs. Add vinaigrette and toss to coat. Taste and season again (or not!) with salt and pepper.

Can be made one day ahead and refrigerated. Serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Waiter! There's a Kumato in My Salad!

It's delicious!  It's beautiful!  It is engineered, but when you're hungry for something that's fresh and juicy after all the holiday indulgence (and it's not over yet!) this new kind of tomato called the Kumato more than fits the bill.
My sister brought me one of these mahogany colored gems she bought at Wegman's the other day and I posted the question  here "What kind of tomato is this?" My first comment came bright and early from Wegman's, the store where she bought it. I have only been in a Wegman's a couple times but each time I'm like a kid in a candy store -- so many new and different things to me. And my eyes get bigger than my stomach (and my shopping cart) and I get more than was on my list (which doesn't happen if my husband is along for the ride.)
It has a harder, stronger skin than our usual tomatoes, which means it has a longer shelf life.  (The official Kumato website says they will keep uncut on your counter for up to two weeks.  But do refrigerate them once they're cut.)  They're predominantly available in European countries but are becoming more readily available in the United States as well, especially in more metropolitan areas.
Guess I'll be making more trips to Erie to Wegman's, with a cooler, and without you-know-who.
Tomorrow?  The Kumato in my farro salad.
Kumato product shot

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What Kind of Tomato Is This?

I need to get out more.  My sister brought me this tomato the other day.  Couldn't resist holding it out in her hand and asking "Do you know what this is?"  Well, I didn't, of course, but it looked like a tomato.  "What kind of tomato is this?" I ask.
"Dunno," she responds.  "Just thought you'd like it."
She's lucky -- lives only 30 minutes from a Wegman's, which is the premier supermarket around here.  In the boonies, where I live, I couldn't even get fresh Brussels sprouts when I wanted them. 
I'll look this up later -- and I'll eat it, too; I'm dying to know what it tastes like. In the meantime, maybe you know -- What kind of tomato is this?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Holy Moly! It's Christmas Cannelloni!

The centerpiece of our family Christmas dinner was my all-time favorite Italian dish: cannelloni. Everybody but the littlest kids liked it, but I wanted them all to eat more, longer, because it took a little more than 30 minutes to get it together! The time consuming part was making the crepes. I guess I could have bought dried manicotti shells, but it wouldn’t have been as special. And it had to be special of course . . . it’s Christmas! (And I’ve been so occupied cooking and all, I haven’t made the time to keep up the blog. Ironic, huh?)

The crepe making (as opposed to crepe hanging) really was a fun job, with a little help from some Christmas music cranked up. The first crepe is always a mess – it’s just for practice as Julia says. And once you get the heat just right and your rhythm going, you’re a one-man assembly line. Ethel without Lucy maybe. If you’re interested in making the crepes, go here. Otherwise, just buy the shells. But I have to warn you, they won’t be as good. The crepes are rich and tender and the perfect envelope for the ground beef, chicken liver and spinach ensemble. And the two different colored, and flavored, sauces were just the right finish. A little extra cheese, a little extra butter for browning and the dish is complete. Very Christmassy.

The beauty of the whole dish was, for me, that it could all be done ahead of time, no last minute fussing to get everything to the table, which meant more time for visiting. A good swap of time. And spending time with family is the best part of Christmas. The food comes second.

Adapted from Three Rivers Cookbook #1
From the Child Health Association of Sewickley (PA)
Submitted by Mrs. Edward A. Montgomery, Jr.
Makes 36 cannelloni. Serves 12-16

For Filling:
2-10 ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds ground chuck
6 chicken livers
¼ c grated parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons heavy cream
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil

For Béchamel Sauce:
½ cup butter
½ cup flour
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg (or three or four scrapes of a fresh nutmeg)

For Tomato Sauce:
4-15 ounce cans plain tomato sauce
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano

For topping before baking:
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350. Butter (or spray) two 13 x 9 pans, preferably glass.

Heat oil in a large skillet and cook onion and garlic over moderate heat for 7 – 8 minutes, until soft, not browned. Add spinach and cook for another five minutes. When all of the mixture is gone, transfer to a large bowl.

Melt half the butter in the pan and add the chuck, browning lightly and stirring constantly to break up the meat. Add to bowl. Melt the rest of the butter and add the chicken livers to the pan and cook until lightly browned outside and pink inside. Chop the livers coarsely and add to the bowl. Add Parmesan, cream, eggs and herbs and stir all together until thoroughly blended.

Place about 2 tablespoons filling down the middle of a crepe, fold the edges over the middle and place seam side down in prepared casserole.

For Béchamel sauce: Melt the butter over moderate heat, add the flour, then slowly add the milk and cream. Whisk it together and bring it to a low boil, then turn down to a simmer until sauce coats the wires of the whisk.

For Tomato Sauce: Mix the herbs into the plan sauce. Or just use jarred spaghetti sauce, with very little or mild seasoning.

To assemble: Pour the Béchamel sauce evenly over the filled crepes. Then distribute the tomato sauce evenly over all, too. Sprinkle with Parmesan, and dot with butter. Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes. Slide under the broiler, if you want, for a few minutes to brown the top.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bacon- Wrapped Jalapeno "Thingies": One Easy, Peasy Appetizer

Only three ingredients in these dandy little appetizer treats. How hard can that be? Not very. Zero. Nada. Unless you’re counting cleaning the jalapeno peppers. That does take a little time and patience. And if you’re sensitive, do be sure to wear gloves or you’ll be wondering why your lips are so tingly after you touched them, even after a good hand-washing. I have a nervous habit of rubbing my mouth in my worry/think mode and my lips sure were a-tingling after cleaning these babies!

The creaminess of the soft cheese balances the crispness (and mild heat) of the pepper and the salt of the bacon (what doesn’t bacon perk right up?) for a delightful tumble of flavors in your mouth. And all from three ingredients! I was tempted to complicate this and add some crunch to the cheese (celery? onion? herb?) but there’s no reason. They’re simple. They’re delicious. Try ‘em.

I made these a few weeks ago to take to a party and they were gobbled up, just like Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, said they would. The event was a birthday party for a good friend and as I was putting the last toothpick in the last jalapeno, I remembered that Anna doesn’t like hot things! At the party, she asked if they were really hot and everyone said, “Not very.” So she gamely tried one and immediately ran to the sink and chugged some ice water and fanned her mouth. So if you try these, you’ve been warned. Unless you take out all the seeds, and all the ribs, they’re going to have some heat – too much for some.

I’m thinking New Year’s Eve for my next batch!

Bacon Wrapped Thingies
From The Pioneer Woman

20 (or so) whole fresh jalapeno peppers, each 2-3 inches
2 8-ounce bricks cream cheese, softened
1 pound thin sliced bacon, cut into thirds

Prepare the peppers -- Wear gloves if you have them. Cut the peppers in half, lengthwise. With a spoon, remove the seeds and the ribs. (The seeds and the white membrane of the ribs are where the heat is; so if want more or less heat, remove these parts as much or as little as you like.)

Fill the pepper halves with the softened cream cheese. Wrap a third of a slice of bacon around each half and secure with toothpicks. (You can freeze the peppers at this point, uncooked.)

Bake on a pan with a rack in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Check them to make sure the bacon doesn’t shrink too much, letting the cream cheese ooze out. The peppers should still have a little firmness to them. If you want the bacon to brown a bit, turn on the broiler for a minute or two to finish them.

They’re great served immediately or at room temperature.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tater Tots Grow Up

As a kid, I loved tater tots. One of my jobs, as a 10 year old, was to make dinner. Mom worked all day as a schoolteacher, then after school would go to my father’s pharmacy and do the bookkeeping in those prehistoric days before computers. So by the time everyone was gathered home for dinner, it was late, she was pooped, and I loved to be put in charge of the family’s dinner.

Mom gave me my assignment and went to relax a little. My repertoire was pretty slim at that age and tater tots were on the short list. Dinner was a broiled meat (we often had flank steak), a vegetable (frozen, from a bag), and some kind of starch (frozen French fries or tater tots, sometimes Rice-a-Roni, "that San Francisco treat.")

Now that I’m (very) grown up, my repertoire has expanded but my early lessons in balanced meal planning stuck. But these days, to try and keep my waistline from expanding along with my cooking repertoire, I don’t cook potatoes as often and look for low-carb alternatives.

Suzanne Somers’s Caulifower Tater Tots are one way to do that. Remember Suzanne Somers? The ditzy blond on the old TV sitcom “Three’s Company”? She’s become something of an institution – selling all kinds of health, food and beauty products both on Home Shopping Network and on her own site, and is outspoken about hormone replacement, breast cancer, and carcinogens.

One of her brainstorms was to create tater tots from pureed cauliflower. I’ve often pureed cauliflower and passed them off as mashed potatoes, despite the sidelong looks from my husband. But I’d never tried the tater tots till the other day, even though the well-worn index card I’d dashed down the recipe on would make it seem otherwise. (In how many different ways can I keep recipes! Index cards, magazine and newspaper clippings, scribbled bits of paper, internet pages. I thought my computer was going to help keep me organized, not add to the mess!)

But one day last week, I tried them and I really liked them. (My husband, the ultimate judge, wasn’t around; I froze the rest.) They were surprisingly good, although the texture I got was not as stiff as I would have liked. Perhaps there was too much water in the cauliflower, or too much pureeing. And next time, I’ll add some chopped onion. But they were still pretty good. And my grown up condiment, instead of ketchup? Roasted red pepper salsa.

Cauliflower Tater Tots
from Suzanne Somers

1 pound cauliflower florets
2 T water
4 T butter
2 large egg yolks
1 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place cauliflower and water in 2 quart casserole. Cover and cook in microwave -- 8 to 10 minutes until very soft. Drain and place in food processor. Add butter, egg yolks and cheese. Process until smooth. Put in plastic bag and cut corner to make tip for piping into 1 inch lengths on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until browned.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I'm Thankful for Convenience Food

At the risk of ostracizing myself from my food blogging friends, one of the things I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving is convenience food. That statement goes against every foodie* fiber in my body. But it’s true.

I have a royal ball in the kitchen whether I’m by myself or with company and I love to cook with fresh ingredients and making good ol’ home-made meals from scratch, but I’d be lost without frozen puff pastry, canned tomatoes, or tomato paste in a tube. Or canned artichokes, canned beans or dried spices. Or dried pasta in every shape imaginable or seasoned bread crumbs or boxed chicken broth or bagged lettuce mixes. I like to roast my own red peppers, but jarred ones are pretty darn good. Making my own pastry (well, when it turns out okay) is terrific, but refrigerated dough will often do just fine. I admire people who make their own pumpkin puree, but when canned is so easy, and good, why?

I take great pleasure in planting and tending my own vegetable garden and then reaping the harvest. I buy most of my groceries at a family-owned supermarket that I know buys a lot of fresh food locally. Making and canning my own spaghetti sauce is more satisfying than I would have imagined. Picking my own salad greens in the morning and then having them for lunch is just delightful. We have apple trees and blueberry bushes. My eggs come from my neighbor’s chickens (a few of whom, I’m ashamed to say, my Weimeraner killed.)

I’m a pretty frugal cook: I save leftovers and reprise them into frittatas, soups and anything else I can dream up. I save bones to make my own chicken stock. (Although not always.) And my kitchen is pretty well-equipped – there’s always something new I’ll want! -- with all the tools and appliances I need to do all that.

Still, I can be a lazy cook. And despite the fact that the kitchen is my favorite room in the house, it’s not the only room. We’re all busy people and I’m thankful that on a particularly busy day, I can go into the kitchen and between my refrigerator and pantry, I can whip up a pretty good and healthy meal in 20 minutes. Or, if I plan ahead well enough, my husband and I can come home to a slow-cooker meal, getting the comfort whiffs of a fragrant pot roast as soon as we open the door.

I also am not unaware of the irony that at this season of thanksgiving when we traditionally express our appreciation for all our blessings, especially food, that many people do not have the privilege of arguing over what kind of food is the best, the tastiest, the healthiest. I appreciate all the food science and enterprising manufacturers who make cooking easy and fun for me. I am very thankful that I have the choice to be a lazy cook now and again – and a can opener to be lazy with.

* I still hate the word “foodie” - can’t we come up with something that doesn’t make me sound like a rock-and-roll band groupie? I’m not a gourmet, not an epicurean. I’m a pretty good cook and I like to cook and try new things. I guess that makes me a foodie, but I still don’t like it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

There’s Always Room for Jell-O (Pudding Chocolate Chip Cookies)

My husband is very particular about chocolate chip cookies. Make that desserts in general. Make that things in general.

But I digress. It’s cookies I’m talking about, isn’t it?

Chocolate chip cookies have to be soft but chewy. They have to have nuts. Walnuts are the best. And, of course, they have to have lots of chocolate chips. He’ll eat a whole batch himself. Maybe not all at one sitting, but they would only last, hmmmm, maybe a day and a half.

When we were first getting to know each other and each other’s eating habits and quirks, I learned pretty quickly about his love of chocolate chip cookies. So, of course, I made them. I had always trusted the recipe on the back of the Nestlé’s bag of chocolate chips. Always worked for me. Since I was a teenager, the recipe worked just fine. And the dough? More than edible. A meal.

But he didn’t swoon over them. They were okay. They were good right out of the oven, but then they got too dry, too quickly. So I tried one of the tricks one of his sisters taught me: Stick a piece of bread in with covered cookies and they’ll stay moister. Yes, that worked. But the cookies themselves were still not to die for.

So I interrogated the bakers whose cookies he admired. His sister Lynn. His sister Pam. His sister Lori’s mother-in-law. And the recipe I tried next came form Lynn. And the secret ingredient? Dry vanilla pudding mix. And -- for the first time -- my husband mumbled through the cookie crumbs on his lips, “Now this is what I’m talking about!” (Or “Iff if fwhat im fwawking afouft!”)

Several days ago, I found a blog post from The Meaning of Pie  about chocolate chip cookies. Kelly said that these were her perfected cookies. So, I’m bookmarking them and making a mental note that I’ll try her version, which she said was an adaptation of a Martha cookie. But first, and as what I thought was a special treat, I’ll make a batch of my tried-and-true recipe for my husband.

“How are the cookies?” I ask.

“They’re good. Not quite doughy enough, though,” says he.

“What!?!? I thought these were the ones you liked!”

“Well, they’re the best you’ve made so far. But they’re not the best.”

Guess I’ll be trying a new recipe. In the meantime, here’s the one I have trusted for umpteen years. One caution, though: the raw dough isn’t quite as good as the original Tollhouse c.c. cookie dough.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
2-1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 package (4-serving size) instant vanilla pudding mix
2 eggs
1 12-oz package chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (not optional)

Mix flour with baking soda. Combine the butter, the sugars, vanilla and pudding mix in large mixer bowl; beat until smooth and creamy. Beat in eggs. Gradually add flour mixture; then stir in chips and nuts, if using. (Batter will be stiff.)

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls, about 2 inches apart, onto ungreased baking sheet. Bake ay 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Makes about 7 dozen.

for Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies, use Chocolate Flavor instant pudding mix. (Although I've never tried it.)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Roasted Squash, Apple and Spinach Salad with Feta and Walnuts

The warm roasted squash just nestled so nicely with the cool baby spinach leaves and the crisp chunks of apple in this fall salad. The feta cheese melts just enough to add a creamy tartness to the bed of greens, all topped with a sweetly sour lemon dressing. And the sprinkling of nuts was the crunch that added one more dimension to this fall salad I made.

It's pretty easy to see I really loved this salad.  I’ve been inspired lately by a new cookbook, “Raising the Salad Bar,” by Catherine Walthers, to really think about, even plan -- a novel concept! – what’s going into a salad, what greens, what combinations of fruit or vegetables, instead of my usual habit of going to the fridge and just randomly gathering what’s there for a lunch. Half a pepper, a cuke, couple mushrooms, a carrot. Pretty boring.  I was beginning to approach salads the same way I often do soups -- just chop this leftover and that and add broth or cream, some extra seasonings and have some kind of soup.

This was no leftover salad. Roasting the squash took some extra time, of course, but it was worth it. I’m still delighted to taste how roasting makes such a difference in vegetables! (Wrestling with the butternut squash to peel it, seed it, and get it cut into salad cubes was not so delightful. I’ll need more practice.)

And making the salad dressing, instead of just grabbing a bottle – my husband still loves and always will love his ranch dressing! – was also worth the tiny bit of extra time it took. Every time I make a dressing I tell myself I should do this more often. Usually, I just resort, a good resort, to sprinkling balsamic vinegar on any of my humble “whatever’s there” salads.

Actually, it was the squash from neighbor Dude and the bumper crop of our own apples that also helped with this salad. But I think I’ll be planning to make this one again. I might even get my husband to try my lemon dressing instead of ranch!

Roasted Butternut Squash, Spinach and Apple Salad
with Toasted Walnuts, Feta Cheese and Creamy Lemon Dressing

4 cups (about two small) cubed butternut squash
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 apple, unpeeled, cut in cubes
1 teaspoon lemon juice
10 ounces baby spinach, cleaned and stems trimmed
¼ cup toasted walnut pieces
¼ cup feta cheese

For Creamy Lemon Dressing
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1. To roast squash: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Then – using your best knife! – cut the peel away from the squash flesh and cut into ½ inch cubes. Toss the cubes with the olive oil and salt in a bowl, spread on a rimmed cookie sheet and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring the cubes halfway through.

2. Cut the apple into cubes and toss with the 1 teaspoon lemon juice.

3. Make the dressing: Combine all the dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor and combine well.

4. Combine the roasted squash cubes, spinach, apple and walnuts in a bowl and toss with dressing to coat. Sprinkle the feta cheese on top and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Champagne Carrots and Parsnips with Fresh Dill

A bit of the bubbly always makes things special. And as the holidays roll around you just might have a little bit of champagne left over; although exactly how that could happen is beyond me! But if you do have a little leftover, it would come in handy making this very pretty side dish. It might just be worth opening a bottle – then celebrate something!

A little bit of dressing up takes what could be very ordinary and humble carrots and parsnips several notches up. Adding toasted pecans could take it over the top and worthy of your holiday menu.

Although parsnips and carrots look alike, aside from their different colors, they have distinctly different flavors: carrots are sweeter and parsnips, nuttier. I made up this recipe after reading up on one my sister’s (the anchovy giver) favorite ways to make carrots: carrots Vichy, which, according to The Joy of Cooking, is really nothing more than cooking sliced carrots in water, butter and sugar until the water is absorbed. The “Vichy” name alludes to its origins of using authentic spa water from Vichy, France.

The parsnips are a nice addition, not just for the contrast in color. And the fresh dill adds another layer of flavor – and color.

Champagne Carrots and Parsnips with Fresh Dill
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound carrots, peeled, and cut into ¼ inch slices, about 2 ½ cups
1 pound parsnips, peeled, and cut into ¼ inch slices, about 2 ½ cups
½ cup vegetable stock
1 cup champagne
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon lemon zest
¼ cup fresh dill weed, or 2 teaspoons dried dill
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted (optional)

  • Melt butter in large saucepan.
  • Over medium heat, cook the carrot and parsnip slices in the butter until they begin to brown.
  • Add vegetable stock, champagne, honey and salt. Stir to combine.
  • Adjust heat to a simmer, cover and cook on low until vegetables are just tender, not mushy, about 5 minutes.
  • Remove cover and continue cooking until liquid is almost evaporated.
  • Add lemon juice, lemon zest and dill. Stir to combine and serve.
  • Garnish with pecans, if you’d like. To toast the nuts, spread in one layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly toasted, stirring once or twice.
  • Makes about 8 servings, about 1/2/ cup each

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

From "Mmmmmm. . . . ." Ruth Reichl's Fried Rice

Most people know that Ruth Reichl was the last editor of Gourmet magazine and that she’s written a number of best-selling books, but have you ever read her first book?
“Mmmmmmm: A Feastiary” was published in 1972, and is it ever a treasure.
I was really lucky to get my hands on a real live copy of this out of print book. What a find! Her writing is so honest, sassy, sensual, funny, earthy and sophisticated, all at the same time. The recipes are practical, straightforward, un-fussy, and full of flexibility and flavor.
The first recipe I tried was Fried Rice and it wasn’t really a recipe, of course, more a formula, a how-to, as is most of the book. And the recipe was in a chapter of the book called “Fat Food for Lean Times,” full of ideas for stretching food dollars.
Here’s how she introduces Fried Rice: “Fried rice is one of my standbys. It is easy, delicious, filling and can be made with just about anything you have in the house.” And that’s exactly what I was doing in one of my “gotta use up what’s left in the fridge” modes.
Before the recipe, let me tell you how I got the book: I “borrowed” it from the school library where I was substitute teaching one day. I told the librarian how hard it was to find one of these books – last I checked on Amazon, you could get it for around $80 – and she allowed that I could keep it through the school year. (I didn’t tell her how valuable it was!) I’ve already read it several times, and now I’m really beginning to cook from it. More, soon, in an upcoming installment . . .
Now, without further ado, here’s how Ruth Reichl describes how to make Fried Rice. (One of these days, I’ll figure out how to make printable recipes; in the meantime, please muddle through with me.)

Fried Rice 
From Ruth Reichl’s “Mmmmmm . . . . A Feastiary”
  • Whatever meat or fish or poultry you have leftover in the house, shredded. If you don’t have any meat, it is fine without
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • Salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • Cabbage, green pepper, carrots, if you have them
  • 1 scallion, sliced, if you have it
  • Tomatoes, if you want
  • 3 t sherry mixed with ½ cup chicken broth or water
  • 4 t soy sauce mixed with ¼ t sugar and a little pepper 
Heat pan until very hot. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and a little salt. Heat. Break egg and scramble. Add onion, garlic and other vegetables, except for scallion and tomato, if you’re using them. Add meat. Now add sherry mixture and stir for thirty seconds. Add and stir rice. Cover for 45 seconds. Stir thoroughly. Add soy mixture and, if you’re using, the scallions and tomatoes, and stir again.
Serves 2.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Quick "Preserved" Lemons: A Sunny Pickle from Morocco

It was pure serendipity that I found a piece by Mark Bittman about preserving lemons the day after I couldn’t resist buying a bargain bag of lemons at a farmers market. I love to keep fresh lemons about. They’re nearly magical to me – a bit of juice and zest can transcend every day steamed broccoli to heavenly status.

But I had forgotten that I already had an ample supply and what was I going to do with all of them? The notion of preserving lemons lured me to read on. (And the bargain bag of lemons was past its prime begging for some kind of salvation.)

These “preserved” lemons aren’t really so; they’re kind of like refrigerator cucumber pickles. But it was only going to take a few hours of sitting in sugar and salt to salvage my impetuous purchase. Perfect.

The hardest part of making these lemons was preparing them. Bittman recommends using organic or unwaxed lemons, and if they’re not organic, they’re probably waxed. To remove the wax, you need to blanch the lemons in boiling water for 30 seconds, then rub the wax off with a towel.

The concept of preserved lemons is new to me and I learned that this relish is a staple in Moroccan cooking. It’s a sweet-sour-salty condiment that usually sits for weeks fermenting. Recipes – like most pickle recipes – vary widely and may include everything from shallots and garlic to cinnamon sticks and coriander seeds.

This very simple “minimalist” approach of Bittman’s worked out very well for me. The preserved lemons will last up to a week in the refrigerator – a lot longer than they would for me otherwise! He recommends them as a complement to almost any stew, simply cooked fish or chicken. What did I do with them? I ate them straight from the jar, for one thing; and I added them to a leftover black bean dish and it gave the beans a fresh new life.

Preserved Lemons
from Mark Bittman, The New York Times
4 unwaxed or organic lemons
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Cut the lemons – peel, rind, flesh and all – into small pieces, about ¼ inch or less. Remove as many seeds as you can. Put the chopped lemon into a bowl, add the sugar and salt, cover and let sit at room temperature for at least three hours. Stir every so often. Then place them in a jar and refrigerate. Will keep for a week.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Classic Caesar Salad with a Neo-Classic Dressing

I’m a big fan of the classics. Any classic. Pearls. A little black dress. Red roses. Shakespeare. Beef Wellington. And a great Caesar salad. But I’ve often been disappointed when I order one at a restaurant. The romaine’s wilted, or there’s too much dressing, making the croutons soggy.

Before I go on, I must confess that I have no problem with two of what are considered standard ingredients in a classic Caesar salad: anchovies and coddled, sometimes raw, eggs. For one thing, I get my eggs farm fresh from my neighbor Dude’s roaming free chickens. For another, I’m always well-stocked with good quality anchovies thanks to a sister who always stuffs my Christmas stocking. (Although there were sardineslast year. What’s up with that?)

I know that anchovies are just one of those things that people either love or hate, with the majority in the hate camp. (I love a Julia Child quote I just ran across: “If you don’t like anchovies, well, that’s just too bad.”) And if someone is particularly belligerent about the point, I’ll delight in shocking them by saying, “You didn’t know there are anchovies in that Worcestershire sauce?”

My renewed interest in Caesar salad was ignited a few weeks ago when I helped my sister – not the anchovy-giver – with the end-of-season cleaning at the family’s summer cottage on Lake Erie. After a few hours of dismantling and putting away, she treated me to a delightful lunch at a very nice wine and coffee bar in Westfield, NY, called Sapore.

She ordered what looked – and tasted – like one dandy Caesar salad. (While I, typically, overindulged in a “tortilla espanolla,” a decadently delicious potatoey, cheesy, garlicky frittata-like dish.) As she murmured how good her salad was, saying, “There’s nothing like a great Caesar salad,” I vowed to give it a go with maybe a cheater’s riff.

Since, in my house, I’m the only one who will dare to eat the little fishy things, I waited for a day when I’d be home alone for lunch. I had the romaine ready, crisp and chilled. I made garlic croutons, I opened my anchovies. And I was debuting a new Caesar dressing I discovered in a great new cookbook I bought called, “Raising the Salad Bar,” by Catherine Walthers.

Whirring all the dressing ingredients in a food processor makes short work, and easy emulsifying. The author also suggests a “Lemon-Anchovy Dressing” as an eggless alternative. It has the same ingredients, just no eggs. I’ve tried it, too, and it’s very good, just not quite as rich.

Classic Caesar Salad Dressing
from Catherine Walthers, “Raising the Salad Bar”
1 or 2 egg yolks
3 anchovy fillets
½ teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
Place everything but the olive oil in a food processor and process thoroughly. With the food processor still running, slowly add the oil. Season with salt and pepper, then pulse to combine everything once more.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Spaghetti Squash, Spinach and Feta Toss -- A Great Side

I know that spaghetti squash is supposed to be a great stand-in for pasta for those of us who, at least from time to time, keep an eye on calories and carbs. But frankly, I think that it’s great in its own right, with no apologies, even if it is a dieter’s dream. (A four ounce serving has only 37 calories, but it does need a few extras to jazz it up.)

My last raid into my neighbor Dude’s garden -- “I’m turning it over tomorrow. Get what you can find!” – landed me one nice 4 pound spaghetti squash and two acorn squash. (More about the acorns another time.)

I’d thought about making the squash do the spaghetti substitute gig, but after rooting through a few recipes, I was inspired by the Cookin’ Canuck to make a spaghetti squash and spinach dish. Her recipe had cannellini in it and can be, I’m sure, an excellent meatless main dish. But with no beans and grilled chicken, it was a great meal for us, and satisfied the carnivorous male (and female) in our house.

I loved cutting things into ribbons. The spinach took on a new look mimicking the strands of spaghetti squash and slices of onions. There’s plenty of varying texture and tastes and I could have eaten this without any kind of protein alongside, legume or otherwise, and been quite content.

If you’ve never manhandled a spaghetti squash, it is a hoot to see the humble squash transform itself and take on a new form as you scrape the flesh into noodle-like strands. I so wished I had a kid around while I was shredding it just to see their eyes bug out when you’d say, “See, honey? This is why they call it spaghetti squash!”

Spaghetti Squash with Spinach and Feta
adapted from the Cookin’ Canuck
and Six O’Clock Solutions

1 3-4 pound spaghetti squash
1 bunch spinach, washed and stems removed, about 6 cups (packed) leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup sliced onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup feta cheese crumbed
Salt and pepper to taste

Using a large sharp knife, pierce the squash in several places. Place squash in a glass baking dish and cook in microwave on high for about 15 minutes, turning the squash halfway through cooking. Before handling, let the squash stand for 5 minutes. (I still used hot pads to hold the squash.) Cut it in half lengthwise and scrape out the seed and fibers. Using a fork, twist out strands of spaghetti squash flesh and place in a large bowl.

Working in batches, stack the spinach leaves and cut across the leaves into ¼ inch wide strips.

In large skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook stirring constantly for one minute. Add the spinach ribbons and cook just until the spinach is wilted, about one or two minutes. Add the squash and feta cheese and gently toss. Serve.  Makes four servings.  (Or two helpings for my husband, one for me at dinner, and one for me at next day's lunch!)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How to Cheat on Your Egg Roll

Only days after my sister had sent me a birthday package with (can you believe it!) a cookbook in it, did she confess that there should have been two, but she started to read one of them – and what cookbook giver hasn’t done that? – and got so interested she kept it. I had to know what that cookbook could be: It was “How to Cheat on Your Man (in the Kitchen)."

The sneaky premise the author, Missy Chase Lapine (aka The Sneaky Chef), proposes to us is that you can surreptitiously slide healthy vittles into vegetable loathing husbands and significant others while they’re not looking and they’ll never know they’re eating healthily.

By making purees of cauliflower, garbanzo beans, carrots, spinach, broccoli and the like, you can create a veritable palette of brightly colored vegetable paints and by merely adding them to the traditionally manly favorites – of, let’s say, meatballs (green puree), spaghetti sauce (orange puree), or potatoes (you guessed it - white puree), you can get a pile of nutrients into unsuspecting victims!

Now my husband is really a pretty good vegetable eater. He gets broccoli and cauliflower mixed up now and then and he does think starchy corn is a great vegetable. But if there’s a way we can get our five-a-day in more easily, I’m curious.

All this is a roundabout way of telling you how I decided to make baked egg rolls. I didn’t add any colored puree to the egg roll filling; I was just inspired by the cookbook discussion with my sister to look for ways to eat a little better. I generally like the real thing in its original form, but I’m open to learning new ways of doing things.

I wanted to find a way to cut back on the fat and the calories of one of my favorite fatty foods – egg rolls. I make them at home fairly often, but any deep frying is messy and it always leaves a lingering odor (or is it fragrance?) How would egg rolls be baked, I wondered.

So I scoured my own cookbook library, searched the internet and headed to the kitchen. I found a recipe from Emeril I liked, but he asked for Napa cabbage or bok choy, which would have been great, and I just had regular ol’ cabbage. And several other sources also referred to a Cooking Light version so, relying on safety in numbers, that’s what I did.

The only things I did differently were to use roast pork I had on hand and I just used water to seal the egg rolls.

And while the egg rolls weren’t real crispy, they were pretty good and I’ll try them again, with a few adjustments:
  • Instead of the soy-based sauce, I’ll use mustard next time.
  • I’ll brush with canola oil instead of using vegetable spray.
  • I’ll thicken the filling with cornstarch and soy sauce.
  • I may be adding a few more calories and fat but since my only complaint was that they were a tad dry, that’s a compromise I can live with.

Baked Egg Rolls

from Cooking Light
Egg rolls:
2/3 cup coarsely chopped celery
2/3 cup coarsely chopped carrot
2 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
2/3 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 pound ground turkey breast
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
14 egg roll wrappers
1 large egg white
Cooking spray
3/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
6 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions (optional)

Preheat oven to 425°. Combine celery and carrot in food processor, and pulse 10 times or until finely chopped.Combine celery mixture and cabbage in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap; vent. Microwave at high 5 minutes; drain.

Heat vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, and garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Add turkey; cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in cabbage mixture, 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, and pepper. Cover and chill 15 minutes.

Place 1 egg roll wrapper at a time onto work surface with 1 corner pointing toward you (wrapper should look like a diamond). Spoon 3 tablespoons turkey filling into center of wrapper. Fold lower corner of egg roll wrapper over filling. Fold in corners  Moisten top corner of wrapper with egg white; roll up jelly-roll fashion. Repeat procedure with remaining wrappers, turkey filling, and egg white.

Lightly coat egg rolls with cooking spray, and place, seam side down, on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 425° for 18 minutes or until golden brown.

To prepare sauce, combine 3/4 cup soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, and 1 tablespoon ginger; serve with egg rolls. Garnish with green onions, if desired.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Failed Dinner Becomes a 4 Star Lunch

Although I called my chicken roulade a failure, my husband disagreed. Actually, what he said (and I wouldn’t make this up!) as he waltzed into the kitchen while I was cooking was, “You’re amazing!”

Now what cook doesn’t want to hear that?

He was impressed that despite the fact that we’d been out all day, we were still about to enjoy a nice dinner, not just our usual impromptu frittata, all because I’d done some prep work in the morning before we left the house.

And I was pretty pleased with myself, too.  My chicken roulade was going to have a lightened up filling of Neufchatel cheese, spinach, and dried tomatoes spread on a thin layer of ham on top of the chicken breast.  

I’d done everything right – pounded the chicken breasts, made the filling, got my assembly line going, rolled the filled chicken pieces, tied them, spread them on a baking pan. Popped them in the fridge. Ready to go. I also cleaned and prepared broccoli for a simple side.

So when we got home, all I would have to do was roll the breasts in a little seasoned flour, and cook them in a bit of butter and olive oil on the stove while the broccoli steamed. We’d be eating in fifteen minutes.


Something went awry, not dangerously so, just enough to ruin my image of perfectly fanned pinwheels of chicken on the plate. What happened was this: Despite the steps I’d taken, I hadn’t made sure the chicken was evenly pounded, so when I sliced the perfectly browned rolls of chicken, I found pinkness here and there. In too much of a hurry to make sure it was right.

So I had to put them back in the pan and cook them more and in the process they lost their shape, not their taste, just their good looks.

The chicken un-roulade tasted great and I didn’t screw up the broccoli, dressed with a little lemon zest, butter and a sprinkle of red chile pepper. My husband couldn’t say enough good things about the dinner, commenting only that he wished there was more cheese.

And we tasted it all again in the next day’s soup!

All I had to do was chop up the remaining chicken pieces and filling, along with the leftover broccoli, a bit of cooked rice (kept in the freezer for just such soup-making), chicken broth and some green onions for the ta-da finish. The bit of cheese gave the soup just a smidgen of creaminess and all the other bits of red and green flavored bits tumbled together with the chicken, broccoli and rice for a colorful mélange of flavors. I could barely detect the little bit of nutmeg I’d added to the spinach filling giving just a delicate hint of spice.

I could not have planned it better. If I had, I might have given it five stars – and a name.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ina’s Coconut Cake Topped the Birthday Surprise!

Pulling off a surprise birthday party is no small feat. Planning, coordinating, sneaking around, out-and-out lying. And even if you can keep your own poker face on, you have to trust your compadres, too. But when your efforts are rewarded by a near-speechless, red-faced birthday friend blurting out, “Oh, you rats!” plus a Barefoot Contessa coconut cake, it’s all worth it.

And so it was a couple weeks ago, when our friend Susie was the target of a surprise birthday party on her actual birthday, but a year before one of those big decade milestones we really don’t like drawing attention to.

Susie’s daughter-in-law Courtney and her son Josh, with the conspiring talents of Susie’s (and our) good friend Mary, invited thirty people to their home on a weeknight after a workaday, directed us to out-of-the-way parking places, hid us all quietly (miraculously!) in a closed off den, and plotted how to get Susie to open the door on cue.

(The fact that Mary had -- just the night before -- baked a beautiful coconut cake, Susie's fave, for us all to share at a Wing Night certainly diminished the prospect of Susie even dreaming anyone might have anything up their sleeves. She was feted royally -- with singing, prezzies, even a tequila!)

And it all worked just as planned. (Knowing the party conspirators, I bet they had a Plan B in their back pocket, just in case; that’s why they’re so good at it!)

Courtney baked Ina's celebrated version of Susie's favorite cake. She made two double-layer cakes to accommodate the crowd, and even the most calorie-conscious among us couldn’t resist.  Courtney’s cake did not disappoint:   moist, creamy, sweet, but not cloying.  Delectable.  Food for the gods.

Ina Garten's Coconut Cake

• 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
• 2 cups sugar
• 5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
• 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
• 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 cup milk
• 4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:
• 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
• 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
• 1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
• 6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, then line them parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.

For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until just smooth (don't whip!).

To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Candlelight and My Best Lasagna Made Romance

A romantic dinner – complete with wine, music, candlelight, panoramic view, good food – is a pretty traditional, even cliché, way to celebrate your wedding anniversary. My husband and I marked our 15th last week and we celebrated with all those trappings, with one big difference – our venue.

We packed an ample basket of goodies – a big pan of my best lasagna, safely ensconced in its thermal envelope; a simple tossed salad, greens, dressing and extras carefully separated, of course; our wine, and all the accoutrements I could think of. (Didn’t even forget the wine opener.) We headed up to our private little hill, 1500 feet up, on our farm and arranged our moveable feast in what we fondly call “the shanty.” Earlier in the day, I’d set up a card table and dressed the table – pretty tablecloth, flowers, candle holders stemmed glasses, silverware, china. (Okay, the glasses were plastic, and the plates were the fancy disposables from Marx Foods, but you get the picture -- and despite this picture, we really could see our dinner!) 
The “shanty” is designed for hunting, but it’s no shack, more like an outdoor room. My husband carefully outfitted it with all the comforts of home. It’s heated, insulated, carpeted, and furnished with cushy chairs and a radio, and all four sides have double-hung windows, an opening to an unmatched view.

And nature did her part, too. First, the beautiful sunset. Then the full moon, and a canopy of stars. A night built for romance.

Just as a humble PB&J takes on an elegant air when eaten al fresco, our portable feast had all the ambience of any classy restaurant. I had tried to outdo myself and make the best lasagna I ever had. Now, lasagna’s a pretty staple dish for us, if not weekly, certainly monthly. I’ve tried to make a few adaptations here and there and the occasional shortcut. And here’s what I’ve learned about making classic lasagna:
  • No-boil noodles work, but they’re just not the same when you’re trying to pull out all the stops.
  • Ground beef is okay but sweet Italian sausage is better, but more than a pound is overwhelming. And turkey sausage is a great way to lighten up.
  • Yes, cottage cheese works, but I still prefer the texture and flavor of ricotta.
  • A jarred sauce is okay, too, but homemade is best.
  • Freshly grated Parmesan makes a big difference.
  • Making three layers makes more sense to even things out better, but when your eye doesn’t judge “thirds” too well, a half is the way to go.
  • Spinach in the filling is better than parsley.
  • A little nutmeg grated into the spinach-ricotta filling is a subtle but noticeable difference.
With that, here’s . . . .

Nonna Rosa’s Best Lasagna

12 lasagna noodles
1 mild sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing if necessary
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup minced onion
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
½ cup dry red wine
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 eggs
3 cups (24 ounces) whole milk ricotta cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan
1 (10 ounce) frozen block of chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 grates of fresh nutmeg, or 1/4 teaspoon dry nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 pound mozzarella, thinly sliced
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook the noodles:   Bring a large pot of water to boil. When water is at a rolling boil, add salt and noodles and cook noodles for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain. (I have found that draining the noodles then placing on a parchment lined cookie sheet keeps the noodles from getting too sticky – as opposed to rinsing.) 
Make the sauce:  Brown sausage, onion and garlic in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until well-browned. Add tomatoes, paste, wine and seasonings. Simmer, uncovered for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
Make the filling: Mix eggs in medium bowl. Add ricotta and Parmesan. Mix in spinach. Add seasonings. 
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. 
To assemble: Spread a scant cup of sauce in bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2 pan. Layer half the noodles in pan, spread with half of the ricotta filling. Layer half the mozzarella and half the meat sauce. Repeat. Sprinkle with another ½ cup of Parmesan. Cover with foil. (Coat foil with vegetable spray to prevent sticking.) 

Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Then uncover and bake for 10-15 minute more, to desired brownness. Let sit for 15 minutes before cutting and serving. Makes 12 servings.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oven-dried Tomato "Candy"

Before . . . .

Of course, it’s not really candy, but my oven-dried tomatoes sure tasted sweet! It was my last batch of Roma tomatoes and, frankly, I was tomatoed out, but didn’t want to waste them; so, after reading a couple blog posts (The Teenage Gourmet and Foy Update) I decided to give it a go. I read a couple more articles on the Internet and melded all that I learned together, turned on the oven and started slicing.

I sliced the tomatoes thinly and placed them evenly on a parchment-lined rimmed cookie sheet. A little (very little, like a drop per slice) of extra virgin olive oil and a sparse sprinkling of kosher salt and my “candy-making” had begun.

The pan went into a 250 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 4 hours before I checked them. A peek -- and taste -- revealed that some of the slices were done, so I removed the crinkled ones; some went directly to my mouth. One of the crispier ones tasted just like I’d imagine a tomato chip to taste like, sweet, salty, just the right crunchy. The pan went back to the oven for another 2 hours and then I turned the oven off and let the tomatoes sit in the cooling oven overnight.

 . . . .and after
In the morning, I put the tomatoes into pint jars, covered them with olive oil and added a couple sprigs of fresh thyme. Pretty as a picture.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Massaged Kale Salad: Food Alchemy

Preparing kale this way is true food alchemy – with no cooking involved. By simply “massaging” the little-bit-tough, little-bit-chewy, but oh-so-good-for-you kale, the greens morph into a sweet and tender salad.

Kale isn’t easy to warm up to. It just looks like it could scratch you. I have the same reaction to “Try it. You’ll like it” about kale that most people seem to have about anchovies. (Not me; I love the salty little devils!) But since I like to think I’ll at least try anything once, I decided to try this kale salad after watching an episode of “Aarti’s Party” on the Food Network. The idea that kale could be transformed by a massage was very intriguing. Then again, we all can find a massage soothing. And the kale indeed is soothed by simply getting in there with your bare – clean – hands and smooshing the chopped greens around for a couple minutes. A little TLC can help just about anything, or anybody.

I never had kale as a child. The only “greens” we ever had were the iceberg in our salads and frozen spinach. My mom usually just cooked the frozen block of spinach and then dressed it with cider vinegar and topped it with chopped hard-boiled egg. That’s still one of my favorite ways to have spinach (aside from creamed!) My greens arsenal is much bigger these days but kale is still only a once-in-a-while fling.

The Aarti episode was my initiation to the salad, but then I searched around the internet a bit and discovered it’s a lot more common that I thought! (Reminded me of the last time I explored a kale recipe: baked kale chips. And I had the same “I-can’t-believe-that-this-is-so-good-and-nothing-like-I-expected!” reaction to this salad as I did the chips, which I have made several times since I discovered them.) Some versions included different fruit and various different cheeses; some were dressed simply with balsamic vinegar.

The Aarti version called for mango, but would you believe the store didn’t have any the day I was shopping? So, I strained my brain and opted for nectarine, the closest fruit in taste and texture I could think of. And I also added toasted walnuts (because I had just a handful in the freezer left over) and I added feta cheese (because I wanted to!) I left the dressing alone; it was just the right mix of sweet and tang, a perfect foil for the relaxed kale.

Massaged Kale Salad with Nectarine
Adapted from Aarti Sequeria, Aarti’s Party

1 bunch kale
1 lemon, juiced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Kosher salt
2 teaspoons honey
Freshly ground black pepper
2 nectarines, peeled and diced small, about 1 cup
¼ cup toasted, chopped walnuts

Prepare the kale: Wash and pat dry. Remove the thick ribs by making V-cuts into the large leaves. Then roll the leaves as tightly as possible and cut into about ¼ inch slices, like ribbons.

Place the prepared kale into a large serving bowl and add half the lemon juice, a drizzle – no more than a tablespoon -- of oil, and just a bit of kosher salt. Get in there with your hands then and massage the kale for 2 minutes until the kale starts to soften and wilt.

Make the dressing:  In a small bowl whisk the remaining lemon juice with the honey and freshly ground black pepper. Stream in slowly ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil until it emulsifies and the dressing forms. Add more pepper if you want after tasting.

Pour the dressing over the kale and add the nectarines, walnuts and feta. Toss and serve. Makes about 4 servings. (Three for me, one for my husband.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

You say tomato. I say “Aaargh!

Tomato season is waning but my neighbor’s last-minute generosity spooked me into high gear: What am I going to do with all these extra love fruits (which I love)? And I’m supposed to be going away next weekend?!? Aaargh!! But I survived the onslaught of cherry, plum and Big Boy tommies and our larder is all the richer for it. (It’s just the rest of the house and life that took a back seat for a while.)

In the past week, I taught myself how to make and can spaghetti sauce, I made tomato “junk” – just roughly chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic sautéed in olive oil, then frozen in quart bags -- and I oven dried tomatoes. Of course, we ate some, too. (I must amend: I ate some. My husband, who loves spaghetti, pizza, lasagna and all kinds of red-sauced Italian dishes, does not like fresh tomatoes. Incredible.)

It all started when my neighbor Dude said, “I’m done gardening, Rosie. Had enough. Take what you want. I’m done.” He’d shown me his pantry, his root cellar and his freezer. Yes, indeed, he was ready for anything. He had spaghetti sauce, tomato juice, stewed tomatoes, plain ol’ tomatoes. And he had carrots, beans, hot peppers, corn, pickles of all kinds, and some various and sundry vegetable mixes for which he had no name. “Just stuff I threw together.” Now my 70’s-something widower neighbor didn’t do this ALL himself; his daughter Amy was his primary accomplice. (And I also learned just last evening when I saw another of Dude’s daughters, Jeannie, and her husband Tom, that they usually spend a couple days each year making 170 quarts of sauce. “Why didn’t you get my recipe!?” he asked. )

But I was on my own. Dude loaned me his “Squeezo.” That’s not a clown’s name. It’s his handy-dandy Victorio strainer that, operating something like a grinder, squeezes the juice and pulp from the tomato out one end, and discards the skin and seeds, from the other. (Again, I must my amend: my husband helped; he loved running the Squeezo!)

Dude’s son-in-law Tommy humbly disagrees with the methodology: “No, no, no. Grind first, then strain. The flavor’s in the skin!” My instinct tells me he’s right. Next time, another try. When I’m not feeling quite so lazy about it.

This is the recipe I followed (pretty much) for my first batch – 10 pints. Confidence bolstered by my first effort, I winged it the second time. With great success, I must add. Because I wanted a smoother, marinara-like sauce, I eliminated the vegetables the second time around and beefed up the spices, using dried basil, thyme, oregano, about1/4 cup total, and bay leaves –for the 30 pounds of tomatoes, which yielded 6 quarts. If I sat down and did the math about the cost of things – considering time and labor -- I’d probably have to charge about $5 a quart! But the satisfaction of “I made that and it tastes great and I know where everything came from” is priceless, for sure.

Tomato Sauce
(to can or freeze)
from Stocking Up III

5 pounds Italian plum tomatoes, about 25
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped green pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped carrots
2 tablespoons chopped celery
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
Pepper, to taste
¼ cup lemon juice, if canning

Loosen tomato skins by plunging tomatoes into boiling water for 1 minute, then under cold running water. Remove skins. Cut tomatoes into chunks.

Alternatively, you can just wash and core the tomatoes and puree them in a food processor. Although a bit messy, you save yourself the bother of skinning – and you save some of the tomatoes’ nutrients, which are found in and right beneath the skin.  (Or you can use "Squeezo!")

Heat the oil in a large enamel or stainless steel kettle and sauté onion and garlic. Stir in peppers, carrots, celery, and tomatoes; add parsley, oregano, bay leaf and pepper. Simmer, uncovered until thickened, about 1 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf.

To can, add the lemon juice and pour into hot, scaled pint jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Seal and process in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes.

To freeze, pour into freezer containers.

Yield: 2 pints

Freezing sounds a whole lot simpler, doesn’t it.
First taste of new sauce

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's the Season for Apple Cake

The first time I ever made this cake was the year the small town I was living in at the time hosted its first AppleFest. Rumor had it that Franklin, Pennsylvania, was home to the fabled Johnny Appleseed, if even briefly, and the connection was inspiration for what has blossomed into a three day event that attracts nearly 16,000 people – twice the town’s normal population. (This year the event is October 1-3.)

An apple recipe contest was just one feature of the festival and this Apple Dapple Cake was the First Prize winner. A cookbook was also published with all the entrants’ submissions. I was not very confident in my cooking (especially baking!) abilities back then, so I didn’t submit anything. This cake is one I can’t mess up, though. It’s so moist and thick with appley flavor and the crunch of the nuts and coconut. Over the years of making this, I've changed it ever-so-slightly, just toasting the nuts, and adding coconut; I think the next time I make it, I'll add some cinnamon.

We had this cake for Amy’s “We killed the fatted calf for you” farewell dinner. It didn’t last long, even with just the three of us sharing it.

Apple Dapple Cake
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
2 t vanilla
3 cups chopped apple (any variety)
1 t salt
1 t. baking soda
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups nuts (I used toasted walnuts)
1 cup coconut
For glaze:
4 ounces unsalted butter
½ t vanilla
 ½ cup packed brown sugar
2 T milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly grease 10-inch fluted or Bundt cake pan.

In mixing bowl, combine eggs, oil sugar, and vanilla until blended. Add apples. In another bowl, sift together flour, salt and soda. Add dry ingredients to wet. Mix. Add nuts and coconut. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour, until toothpick comes out clean.

For glaze:  While cake bakes, make glaze. Melt butter, vanilla, and brown sugar together over medium heat. Bring to boil. Remove from heat and add milk. While cake is still warm, pour glaze over cake. When completely cool, remove from pan. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Voila! Pommes le Terre a la Boulangere

I have always shied away from cooking French food. I suppose that’s because, at least subconsciously, I must think that French food is fussy and – therefore – not for me. I was wrong. I have started watching, although not regularly enough, Laura Calder, host of The Cooking Channel’s “French Food at Home” and I was instantly intrigued.

After looking at a couple episodes, I decided to try a recipe I saw on a show in which she focused on s-l-o-w foods. I watched her make a simple potato dish, with such a pretty name – Pommes le Terre a la Boulangére – and I thought, “I can make that!” And I did.

Potatoes Boulangere is a fancy name for this peasant dish, which is really just sliced potatoes and onions baked slowly in broth. Kind of like scalloped potatoes, except no milk or cream. How the dish got its name is quite interesting. (This kind of food history always fascinates me.) Boulanger is the French word, you may know, for baker, and this potato recipe is called “boulangere” because long ago it used to be cooked in the town baker’s oven after bread making had finished for the day.

People used to quite literally take their dishes down to the bakery and have them cooked in the leftover heat of the baker’s big ovens so they could conserve their own fuel. There are a number of variations on how to prepare and cook this simple dish. Some versions do not pre-cook the onions and Laura Calder’s version uses beef broth because she asserts it imbues a richer, deeper taste. But I just had chicken broth. She also did not specify a type of potato and on her show said she used different kinds of un-skinned potatoes for the variety of color. I just used red.

And red passed with flying colors for my daughter’s farewell dinner last weekend. She came home to Pennsylvania from Tampa for an unprecedented 10 days and did a whirlwind of visiting with family and friends. So the day before I was driving her to the airport I pulled out all the stops and made a great dinner. In addition to the potato casserole, there was pork tenderloin with fennel, onions and apples and roasted broccoli with garlic and red pepper and an apple cake. (More posts later!) My husband accused me of “killing the fatted calf.” The two of them didn’t care what the potatoes were called, though; they just knew they were good.

Potatoes Boulangere
From Laura Calder, French Food at Home

3 T butter
1 T olive oil
4 onions, sliced thin
2 pounds potatoes, sliced thin
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Fresh thyme leaves
2 cups beef broth (or chicken broth)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Melt half the butter with the olive oil in a saute pan, and gently cook the onions over medium heat until soft and lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Spread half the onions in the bottom of a casserole. Lay a layer of sliced potatoes on top, season with salt and pepper, and scatter with thyme leaves. Build another layer of onions, then a final one of potatoes.  Dot with remaining butter.  Finally pour the stock over all. Cover the pan with foil, and bake until all the liquid has been absorbed, 2 to 3 hours. Uncover the last hour, if you’d like the top crisper.