Friday, December 30, 2022

Crustacean Crush and Happy New Year!

Don't tell my husband, although I'm sure he already knows, that I have a major crush on crustaceans; specifically, crab legs! Anyone who's eaten crab legs with me knows that I can plow through them with efficient velocity! (Maybe that's why I prefer to enjoy these babies at home.) King crab is the obvious choice, but I would never turn my nose up to snow crab either. With their sweet, briny flavor and meaty texture, they are an excellent choice for any celebration, like New Year's Eve! However, I'm sure that I am not alone in buying crab legs at the last minute, frozen and without the time to let them thaw overnight. This is the kind of spontaneous purchase you make and then dread when you're not sure what to do with them. Well, I think I can help you out!

(The spoils of my most recent conquest!)

How to Buy, Reheat, and Serve Crab Legs

Purchase at least 1 pound per person.

It is recommended that crab legs be thawed overnight in the refrigerator. If you don't have time, thaw them under cold running water, which is usually what I do.

Unless you buy a live crab, the legs are already cooked. The main goal is to reheat the meat without overcooking or drying it out. Some people like to reheat them in the oven, boil them, or even reheat them in the microwave. My preference is to steam them. 

To steam them, fill a large pot big enough to hold the legs with enough water to come up about 1 1/2" from the bottom. Add half a lemon, one bay leaf, a few peppercorns, and 1/2 cup white wine. Insert a steam basket, like the cheap folding kind available at almost any grocer. If you don't have a steam basket, you can wad up some aluminum foil to hold the crab legs above the water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat, then add the crab legs and cover. The crab legs should be done shortly after you begin to smell them, about 5-9 minutes total. Remove the legs with tongs and place on a serving platter. Serve immediately with necessary utensils (kitchen shears or shellfish scissors, seafood or lobster crackers, and seafood or lobster forks), clarified butter for dipping, and lemon wedges.

Clarified butter is also called drawn butter. Clarified butter is melted butter in which the milk solids have been removed. To serve 4-6 people, melt 1/2 pound unsalted butter (2 sticks) in a small saucepan over low heat. Allow the butter to come to a boil. As it begins to "sputter," it will separate into three layers: foam on top, clear liquid in the middle (this is the clarified butter part you want), and milk solids on the bottom. When the top foam subsides, remove the pan from the heat and skim off the top foam with a spoon. Pour the butter into a measuring cup and allow it to continue to cool. When cool, gently pour the butter through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into another measuring cup, stopping short of the very bottom of the butter where the milk solids lie. You can store the clarified butter in the refrigerator until ready to reheat. Reheat in a small saucepan over low heat until returned to liquid state. (Note: I do not recommend reheating in a microwave. I have had it explode numerous times, even when set under 10 seconds. It's makes a terrible mess and you'll have to start all over.)

What to serve alongside? Take your pick: buttered new potatoes, corn on the cob, green salad, toasted bread, etc. Although, if you are a true crustacean aficionado, the answer is always, "More crab!"

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Celebrate the New Year with Yvette!

As I prepare for a retro New Year's Eve celebration, with Rumaki, a mountain of crab legs, and Seven Layer Jello, I wanted to share some ideas to spruce up your cocktails! You can always pick up a bottle of the delicious French raspberry liqueur Chambord and mix 1/2 ounce with 4 ounces of your favorite Champagne, garnish with raspberries or a lemon twist for a "Kir Royale," or as I prefer to call it, a "Cham-Cham!" Or, you can go ultra-retro by picking up a bottle of once defunct Creme Yvette to make "The Stratosphere!" 

Creme Yvette is a berry and violet liqueur that was originally produced in the late 19th century in Connecticut by the Sheffield Company. Over time, it's popularity dwindled and was taken out of production in 1969. It was the base for such classic cocktails like the Aviation and Blue Moon. However, after an onslaught of requests from cocktail experts, Charles Jacquin et Cie bought the recipe and re-released it in 2009. The original Creme Yvette supposedly had a more purple color, while the new version (made in France with dried violet petals from Provence and berries from Burgundy) has a more reddish hue. So I'm not so sure how blue your Blue Moon would be? Maybe pink? Anyway, whether you are hosting or attending a New Year soiree, why not pick up a bottle that is guaranteed to impress even your most savvy cocktail-loving friends! Only one question remains, who was Yvette? Bonne Annee!


The Stratosphere

Serves 1

Ingredients:
Glass of Champagne
3/4 ounce Creme Yvette
Lemon twist (I prefer raspberries!)

Directions:
In a chilled champagne flute, add the Creme Yvette and top with Champagne. Garnish as desired and serve! Fantastique!

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Romancing the Tin

Many years ago, before my first child was born, my husband and I visited Northern Italy. As we were young and broke, we backpacked across this romantic region of Italy. Besides the amazing architecture, museums, cathedrals, and breathtaking vistas, we fell in love with Caffarel Gianduia 1865 chocolates, (a sublime mixture of milk chocolate and hazelnuts). In fact, one of a handful of treasures we brought back from Italy, was a tin of these magnificent "boat" shaped confections.

In 1826, Pier Paul Caffarel began making chocolates in an ex-tannery located at the edge of old Turin city centre. In 1852, Caffarel introduced it's new confection, called Givu, meaning "stub" in Piedmontese dialect, which became known as the original Turin Gianduiotto. In 1865, during the Turin Carnival, Gianduia (the masked character that is the official representative of the city) handed out Caffarel Gianduiotti to the spectators. From then on, the character Gianduia became associated with the chocolate; hence, Gianduiotto Caffarel became known as Gianduia 1865. The factory has since relocated to Luserna San Giovanni (the birthplace of Pier Paul Caffarel). Here is a look inside!



So, when I ran across this "Giandua Souffle" recipe, by Giada de Laurentiis, I had to try it! These individual chocolate souffles, made with milk chocolate and hazelnut liqueur, are amazing! You want to know what the best part is? You can make them up to 2 days ahead, before baking! It's no wonder they wound up on my holiday menu! Well, even though my Gianduia tin is empty, I still have it and this treasured recipe! Buon Natale!


Giandua Souffle

Makes 6, 6-ounce ramekins

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar, plus 1/4 cup, plus more for ramekins
1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur (Frangelico)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ounces milk chocolate, chopped or chips, plus 6 ounces, chopped or chips (this is by weight, click here for more on food scales)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
Pinch salt
4 eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, if you are going to bake them now. Butter and sugar 6, 6-ounce ramekins, or more if using smaller ones.

Heat the butter, 1 tablespoon sugar, hazelnut liqueur, and vanilla in a double boiler over medium heat until the butter melts. (Click here for more on double boilers.) Remove the butter mixture from the heat, add the 3 ounces of chocolate, and let sit until it melts, about 3 minutes. Place the chocolate mixture in a pie dish and place in the freezer for 10 minutes to firm up. Use a spoon to form the chilled mixture into 6 evenly-sized  balls (truffles) about the size of a walnut. Reserve in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, place the flour in a double boiler and slowly whisk in the milk. Add the salt. Heat the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly until thick, about 5 minutes. Add the egg yolks and continue to whisk constantly. Don't curdle the eggs! Turn down the heat, if necessary! The mixture will thicken to the consistency of mayonnaise in another 3 to 4 minutes. Like this:


Stir in the 6 ounces of chocolate and set aside to let the chocolate melt.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a large bowl or stand mixer. Using a hand or stand mixer, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add in the 1/4 cup sugar and continue whipping until firm peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the warm chocolate mixture.

Place a ball (truffle) of the chilled chocolate mixture in each of the ramekins.


Spoon the souffle mixture over the truffles and up to the rim of the ramekins. (At this point the souffles can be covered and kept refrigerated for 2 days.)

Place the ramekins in a hot water bath (a baking pan, filled with hot water, about 3/4 way up the ramekins) and bake until golden on top and the souffle has risen, about 30 minutes (40 minutes if refrigerated). (The souffles won't rise as high if they were previously refrigerated. That's okay. They sink quickly anyway!) Remove from the oven. (Click here for a tip on how to remove hot ramekins from a water bath.) Serve immediately. Delicious!

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

What's in a Name?

There is no finer roast than Beef Wellington, or is it Boeuf en Croute? This lavish dish consists of a whole beef tenderloin fillet slathered with a sublime mixture of minced mushrooms, shallots, and herbs, (and sometimes pate), a mixture known as "duxelles" in French culinary lingo, then wrapped in puff pastry and baked. It makes an impressive presentation which tastes ever better than it looks! Lucky for me it graced my Christmas table!

The origins of Beef Wellington fall somewhere between fact and fiction. It is standard lore that this elegant entree was named after Arthur Wellesley, who became 1st Duke of Wellington, after defeating Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo. It is said that Wellesley had a love of "a dish of beef, truffles, mushrooms, Madeira wine, and pate cooked in pastry." Perhaps that would be something he had eaten while in France,... perhaps Boeuf en Croute? After all, duxelles were reportedly created in 17th-century France by chef Francois Pierre La Varenne and named after his employer, the Marquis d'Uxelles. In addition, wrapping an expensive piece of beef with indulgent ingredients sounds rather French to me. In fact, if Wellesley did create the rage for Boeuf en Croute, of course England would banish the French name and opt for one featuring their national hero.

Another theory is that Beef Wellington originated in Ireland, known as Steig Wellington. Steig meaning steak in Irish, and coincidentally was Wellesley's birth place. New Zealand also gets into the mix, apparently claiming to have created the dish for a civic reception. The funny thing is, there are no recipes for this dish until the 20th-century...and they appeared in America in the 1940s! In the 1960s, Beef Wellington became quite fashionable at American dinner parties thanks to Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961), which included a recipe for Beef Wellington, not Boeuf en Croute. Hmmm?

Anyway, Beef Wellington may cost a fortune and appear time-consuming, but it is actually quite easy to make! I've made several different recipes over the years, and I've taken all the best components to create what I think is the best version. First, buy the best piece of beef fillet you can find. After all, it is the big ticket item and the star ingredient. In addition, save your money by not using wild or dried mushrooms, use standard cultivated button mushrooms instead. I recommend making the duxelles a day or two in advance, as I think the flavors deepen with time. Then comes the alcohol question. In my mind, it comes down to two, Cognac or Madeira? I choose Madeira. I also embrace the modern addition of a layer of prosciutto to help encase the whole shebang. Easily purchased puff pastry is the final component to create this succulent masterpiece. And finally, with a dish this extravagant, the sides should not be distracting. I serve it simply with pureed potatoes (aka., mashed potatoes) and buttered peas. It is elegant, sumptuous and guaranteed to please!


Beef Wellington (aka., Boeuf en Croute)

Serves 6

Ingredients:

For the Beef
1 center cut beef tenderloin, about 2 pounds
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more to rub on beef
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Kitchen twine

For the Duxelles
1 1/2 pound button mushrooms
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots
Leaves from 2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup Madeira
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the "en Croute"
12 paper thin slices prosciutto
1 pound puff pastry, thawed
Flour, for rolling out pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten with a tablespoon of water, for egg wash

Directions:
For the Duxelles
Place the mushrooms and shallots in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the butter to a large saute pan over medium heat. When melted, add the mushroom/shallot mixture, thyme leaves, and bay leaf, and saute until very tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 8-10 minutes. Pour in the Madeira, bring to a boil, and cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Add the cream and cook a few minutes more. Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Beef
Tie the tenderloin in 4 places to help hold its shape while searing. Drizzle the tenderloin with olive oil and season very generously with salt and pepper on all sides. Heat the 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, sear the beef on all sides. Set aside to cool. When cool, remove the kitchen twine and rub all over with the Dijon mustard. Set aside.

For the "en Croute"
Lay out a long piece of plastic wrap (big enough to encase the beef) on a work surface. Lay out the prosciutto pieces, slightly overlapping, forming a rectangle big enough to encase the tenderloin.


Using a rubber spatula, cover the prosciutto evenly with the duxelles. Season the duxelles with additional salt and pepper.


Lay the tenderloin in the center of the prosciutto/duxelle rectangle.


Using the plastic wrap, pull each long side up and over the tenderloin, then close the ends.


You may have to wrap the whole package with a second piece of plastic to make sure it is secure. Place the whole package on a platter or baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes or so to ensure it maintains its shape.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of puff pastry to a rectangle about 1/4" thick. Place the puff pastry rectangle on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet. Remove the beef from the refrigerator, carefully remove the plastic and place in the center of the puff pastry rectangle.


Roll out the second piece of puff pastry, making sure it is big enough to encase the entire tenderloin generously. Brush the bottom margins of the bottom pastry sheet with the egg wash, then drape the second pastry sheet over, pressing the edges to seal well.


Trim the edges to make a 1" border. Crimp the edges with your fingers.


Refrigerate until ready to bake.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Brush the entire surface of the pastry with egg wash and make a couple slits in the top with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape. Bake for approximately 35-40 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the beef reaches an internal temperature of 125 degrees. Remove from the oven and rest at least 10 minutes before serving in slices.

(Perfect! This dish is supposed to be rare!)

Monday, December 12, 2022

French Pear Cake

I adore this recipe for "French Pear Cake," also known as Gateau Fondant Aux Poires! I have been making it for years, but somehow has never been added to my site? Today's the day! This is a lovely cake that is ideal for dessert, gifts, afternoon tea, or even breakfast! This recipe is French, although; there is an Italian version called Torta di Pere. So maybe a little of both?

This wonderful cake is perfect for those ugly, overripe pears. I use D'Anjou pears. The batter is fairly thick so don't let that scare you. Make sure the butter and eggs are at room temperature before starting. Also, you will need a 9 1/2" springform pan. This easy cake is also enhanced with the addition of vanilla extract and lemon zest! Yum! Try it! You can thank me later!


French Pear Cake (Gateau Fondant Aux Poires)

Ingredients:

3-4 small ripe pears, peeled and quartered or cubed (I use 2-3 D'Anjou and it is plenty, cubed.)
1 cup plus 1 1/2 Tbl (250 g) butter, at room temperature (I just use 2 sticks unsalted butter with good results.)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 1/4 cup (250 g) sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 cups plus 1 1/2 Tablespoons flour (I use 2 cups with good results.)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt


Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 24 cm (9 1/2") springform pan.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until very fluffy and white. Mix in the eggs slowly, one egg at a time. Add vanilla and lemon zest.

In another bowl sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. (I just whisk together.) Add the flour mixture slowly to the egg mixture. Don't over mix.


Pour (or spoon) half the batter into the springform pan. Place the pears on top. Pour (or spoon) the rest of the batter in the pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

I also recommend refrigerating any leftover cake because of the fruit content.

Recipe from mykitchenintherockies.com.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving! Good Luck with the Turkey!



With all the "fun" in the kitchen this week, sometimes it's easy to forget that you need to feed your company breakfast! Don't worry, I've got the best recipe for "Breakfast Strata with Spinach and Gruyere!" This is one of my all-time favorite recipes! The best part is that you make it ahead (always smart with company lingering!) and can be successfully doubled for larger crowds! Everyone always loves it! Don't forget to check my Recipes page for other excellent recipes, e.g., The Great After-Thanksgiving Turkey EnchiladasGratin Dauphinois, and Boursin Creamed Spinach, just to name a few!


Breakfast Strata with Spinach and Gruyere

Serves 6 (or 12 if doubled)

Ingredients:

8-10, 1/2" slices supermarket French or Italian bread (I always make a few extra.)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 medium shallots, minced
1, 10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup medium-dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
6 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 large eggs
1 3/4 cups half-and-half

*If doubled, double the ingredients and use a 13"x9" baking dish greased with 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and bake for about 60 minutes.*

Directions:

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 225 degrees. Arrange the bread in a single layer on a large baking sheet and bake until dry and crisp, about 40 minutes, turning the slices over halfway through the drying time. When the bread has cooled, butter the slices on one side with 2 tablespoons of the butter, set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Saute the shallots until fragrant and translucent, about 3 minutes; add the spinach and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring occasionally, until combined, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl; set aside. Add the wine to the skillet, increase the heat to medium-high, and simmer until reduced to 1/4 cup, 2-3 minutes; set aside.

Butter an 8" square baking dish with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter; arrange half of the bread slices, buttered-side up in a single layer in the dish. (Don't worry if the bread doesn't completely cover the bottom, it will swell as it sits overnight.)


Sprinkle half of the spinach mixture, then 1/2 cup grated cheese evenly over the bread slices.


Arrange the remaining bread slices in a single layer over the cheese; sprinkle the remaining spinach mixture and another 1/2 cup cheese evenly over the bread. (The remainder of the cheese will be added right before baking.) Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl until combined; whisk in the reduced wine, the half-and-half, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the bread layers; 


cover the surface flush with plastic wrap, weight down with whatever you have in the pantry, and refrigerate overnight.


Remove the dish from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature 20 minutes. Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Uncover the strata and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese evenly over the surface. Bake until both the edges and the center are puffed and the edges have pulled away slightly from the sides of the dish, 50-55 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes; serve.

Recipe adapted from The New Best Recipe, from the editors of Cook's Illustrated.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Devilishly Good Chicken!

Foods that are highly seasoned (e.g., mustard, chilies, etc.) or sinfully rich (e.g., chocolate cake) have been referred to as "deviled" since the 18th century. In 1868, The William Underwood Company began selling a mixture of ground ham with seasonings which they named "deviled ham." In fact, their devil logo is one of the oldest trademarked logo still in use today. While I love highly seasoned food, canned ham is not my kind of thing. Trust me. I used to audit food processing plants (like Ballpark Franks), haven't eaten one since!
Image result for deviled ham
The original Underwood Deviled Ham logo.
With Halloween almost here, I want to share this wickedly addictive recipe from Williams-Sonoma for "Chicken Thighs Diavolo." Diavolo means devil in Italian, but only dishes invented by Italian-Americans use the term. In Italy, they would refer to a spicy dish as all-arrabiata meaning "angry-style." I digress. Anyway, these chicken thighs are marinated in a wonderful blend of cider vinegar and five different chili spices, then grilled to juicy perfection. Delicious! I love this marinade so much! In addition, you could use it on practically any cut of chicken or even pork. I don't know who created this spice blend, but they must have sold their soul to the devil to create it!


Chicken Thighs Diavolo

Serves 6

Ingredients:
For the marinade
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon Thai chili paste or red pepper flakes (I use Chili Garlic Sauce by Huy Fung Foods, Inc.)
1 teaspoon hot-pepper sauce (I use Cholula.)
1/2 cup water

For the Chicken Thighs
3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed of any excess skin and fat
1 or 2 handfuls wood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes. (I use mesquite.)
1 large disposable aluminum roasting pan

Directions:
In a bowl, combine marinade ingredients and whisk until the salt and granulated garlic dissolve. Taste and adjust the seasonings; the sauce should be bright red and very spicy. Pour half the sauce into a small serving bowl and set aside.

Rinse the chicken under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, score the chicken to the bone in several places to expose the flesh. Place the chicken in a large disposable aluminum roasting pan, pour the remaining sauce over the top and turn to coat well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 10 minutes before grilling.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for indirect grilling over medium heat.

For a charcoal grill: Sprinkle the wood chips over the coals. Place the pan with the thighs on the cooler side of the grill, cover and cook until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Transfer the thighs to the grate directly over the coals, brush with the marinade from the pan and grill, turning often, until nicely charred on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes more.

For a gas grill: Increase a burner to high. Heat a smoker box half full of chips until smoking, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Place the pan with the thighs over unlit burners, cover and cook until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Transfer the thighs to the grate directly over the heat, brush with the marinade from the pan and grill, turning often, until nicely charred on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes more.

Transfer the chicken to a platter. Serve immediately and pass the reserved sauce alongside.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Albondigas Salvador! The best meatballs you will ever taste!

I tried this mind-blowingly good recipe for "Albondigas Salvador" from Deliciouso! by the sadly now departed Penelope Casas. If you are a lover of Spanish food or a novice, one of her cookbooks is a must. She wrote that this recipe is from Salvador Lucero of Bar Bahia in Cadiz. After further research, I found that Salvador sold the business and these beauties aren't even on the new menu. What a shame.

When I make Ragu alla Bolognese, I always have a half pound ground beef and a half pound ground pork leftover and this is what I make. The ingredients are simple; however, there is a lot of mincing of ingredients which are divided, so pay attention to your mise en place and read the recipe a few times before starting. I will share the breakdown of ingredients to help with any confusion. I serve it with this lovely saffron rice, salad, baguette, and a bottle of Rioja. Desfrute! 


Albondigas Salvador

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/4 cup dried bread crumbs (I use Progresso Italian style.)
3/4 cup chicken broth (1/2 and 1/4)
1 pound mixture of ground pork and beef in equal parts
4 garlic cloves, minced (2 and 2)
2 Tablespoons minced parsley (1 and 1)
7 Tablespoons minced onion (3 Tbl and 4 Tbl)
Generous grinding of black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (I always freshly grind it on a grater or in my beloved nutmeg grinder.)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt (I use 1 teaspoon.)
1 small egg, lightly beaten
2 Tablespoons olive oil (1 and 1) (I use La Espanola as recommended by a dear friend.)
Flour for dusting
1 fresh bay leaf
1 small tomato, skinned, seeded, and chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine (I use Osborne Sherry Fino and it is perfect!)

Directions:

In a large bowl, soak the bread crumbs in 1/2 cup of the chicken broth. Lightly mix in the meat, 2 of the minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon of the minced parsley, 3 tablespoons of the onion, the pepper, nutmeg, salt, egg, and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Shape into 1 1/2-inch balls and dust with flour. (Makes about 20 and can be made ahead and refrigerated.)

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a shallow casserole (I use an All Clad skillet with lid.) and brown the meatballs on all sides. (I remove the meatballs and set aside.) Add the remaining 2 cloves of minced garlic, 4 tablespoons onion, and 1 tablespoon parsley, and the bay leaf. Saute until the onion has softened. (I return the meatballs to the pan here.) Add the tomato, the remaining 1/4 cup broth, the wine, and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Cover and simmer 45 minutes, adding more chicken broth or water, if necessary. (I've never had to add extra.)

*Swedish Meatballs aren't too shabby either!*

Saturday, October 15, 2022

"Milk?"

Wisconsin, the land of cheese, milk, and butter! People from this state are lovingly known as "Cheeseheads," and are serious about their dairy products! In fact, I attended a wedding there a few years ago, and it was the only wedding I've ever seen where waiters and waitresses proudly carried huge trays bursting with glasses of milk; after all, it is the state beverage! My husband just got back from a trip to Wisconsin, and milk is not the only product in great abundance there, they also have tomatoes, lots and lots of tomatoes! So, lucky for me, he brought back a box piled high with beautiful home-grown tomatoes! With my bounty at hand, I knew exactly what I wanted to make, "Soft Mozzarella Poached with Tomatoes and Basil!" This recipe is fantastic! Soft creamy mozzarella surrounded by a pool of sweet tomato sauce and basil! All that is required is a glass of wine and plenty of crusty bread! Although, if you're a cheesehead, you'll probably want milk!


Soft Mozzarella Poached with Tomatoes and Basil

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 lbs fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped, and drained (for help peeling tomatoes, check Techniques), or canned
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2, 8 oz balls of fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese, drained, at room temperature, and cut in half
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
Basil sprigs, for garnish
Crusty bread

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. (Don't burn the garlic!) Remove the garlic and discard. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the tomatoes, and simmer until the tomatoes soften and begin to liquify. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool for 10 minutes. Puree in a blender until smooth.

Twenty minutes before serving, bring the sauce to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. Place the mozzarella, cut-side down, in the sauce so that it is half submerged. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit 6-8 minutes.

In the meantime, cut the basil into thin strips. To serve, place a piece of mozzarella on each plate. Stir the basil into the sauce. Spoon the sauce around the mozzarella. Garnish with basil sprigs and serve immediately, with bread.

Recipe adapted from Weir Cooking: Recipes From The Wine Country, by Joanne Weir.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

When in Rome!

Is there a better place than the Eternal City? Everyone should go at least once in their life. It is truly breathtaking and dripping with history. We checked into the Hotel Hiberia located in a palace in the historical center of Rome. The lovely gentleman at the front desk said, "I have given you a room with amazing views!" I thanked him and when we entered our room I was shocked to say the least! Not only did it have views of almost all of Rome's landmarks, it was a corner room with two windows, and the view from the bathroom was just as stunning! My daughter and I now joke that it will always be the best bathroom in the world! Haha!

After a long day of walking and enjoying la dolce vita, we were starving! I knew exactly what I wanted, one of Rome's four classic pastas, "Cacio e Pepe!" Cacio is a local Italian word meaning cheese from the Latin word caseus. So it's basically pasta with Pecorino Romano, black pepper and mixed with pasta water to emulsify into a mesmerizing sauce of simplicity. However, don't let the minimal ingredients fool you into thinking it's easy! It's all about technique and practice!

We ate at L'Hostaria Boschetto in the Monti District. With it's charming stone arches and everything porcini, I highly recommend visiting! I ordered the Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe to see what all the fuss was. Verdict? Delicious! In fact, the couple next to us asked what I ordered and they nodded in satisfaction saying, "It is the best!"

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe from L'Hostaria Boschetto.

I've been testing every recipe out there to achieve the best version for the home cook. I tried one where you toast the pepper then simmer in pasta water, but found it unnecessary. One fidgety one that alternated heat from simmer to off, then on again, etc. only to have the cheese separate into a total disaster! Also, any recipe that calls for olive oil, cream, or anything else would have the Romans throw you in the Tiber River! Romans have an intense loyalty to their culinary traditions! In fact, one of Stanley Tucci's Searching for Italy shows featured a restaurant that used half Romano and half Parmesan in their Cacio e Pepe. Gasp! Turns out the Roman's refuse to eat there and it's just for tourists basically now.

After all my testing, I have decided that Katie Parla's "Cacio e Pepe Leonardo Vignoli," from her book Tasting Rome, is the best and easiest to achieve the desired result. While the pasta cooks, you add a ladle full of starchy pasta water to the grated cheese in a large bowl with the pepper and mix. When the pasta is cooked, transfer to the bowl, stirring constantly, adding leftover pasta water as necessary to achieve a smooth sauce. Remember the pasta will continue to absorb water so it's better to be a little more on the "wet" side. The classic pasta for Cacio e Pepe is tonnarelli, which I picked up while there. If tonnarelli is not available, buying a high quality spaghetti (not Barilla or Cervasi) is very acceptable. The strands should look a little scruffed up by the bronze dies to help the sauce adhere. Good luck!

*If you want to practice making a single serving use 3 oz pasta, 2 oz Pecorino, and 1/4 tsp black pepper!*

Simplest ingredients!

Cacio e Pepe di Leonardo Vignoli

Turned out great! Finally!

Serves 4-6 

Ingredients:

1 pound high quality tonnarelli or spaghetti
2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano (I recommend purchasing Locatelli Grated Pecorino Romano. I am usually a stickler for freshly grated, but it's a very hard cheese!)
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

*Do Not Add Salt except for the pasta water. Pecorino is Very Salty!*

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt the water. When the salt has dissolved, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of the Pecorino Romano, the pepper, and a small ladle of pasta cooking water. Using the back of a large wooden spoon, mix vigorously and quickly to form a paste. (Personally, I have found that adding a regular size ladle of water or two and whisking to a cream soup consistency works just as well.)

When the pasta is cooked, use a large strainer to remove it from the cooking water and quickly add it to the sauce in the bowl, keeping the cooking water boiling on the stove. Toss vigorously, adjusting with additional hot water a tablespoon or two at a time as necessary to melt the cheese and to obtain a juicy sauce that completely coats the pasta.

Plate and sprinkle each portion with some of the remaining Pecorino Romano and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Recipe from Tasting Rome, by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill.

*I like Chianti with this recipe.*

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Wine Doors and Pizza Napoli 1955

I am recovering from Achilles tendonitis after visiting my beloved daughter in the Renaissance city, Florence. What a beautiful city that escapes the modern aesthetic, choosing to live in it's past of medieval and Renaissance history and breathtaking art. I last visited Florence 24 years ago, and I can say nothing has changed! As Emiko Davies says in her lovely cookbook Florentine, " In every nook and cranny, history seeps out onto the well-trodden stone streets and into the every day."

The first time I visited, I was just out of college, newly married, and surprise pregnant with my first daughter. Although it was very early, I was not able to enjoy the wine culture of Florence. Total bummer. Although, this time I was ready for a party and my 19 year old daughter was able to celebrate with me! Perhaps the best time I have ever had! 

I have to admit the weather was a little chilly and rainy the entire trip, with the exception of Rome (which I will post about soon). With umbrella up, I was surprised to stumble upon the most lovely wine door! Completely by accident! These small stone arch doors, which are supposed to mimic the noble Renaissance palazzos to which they are attached, sold wine to passerby's to help struggling aristocratic families sell wine from their vineyards. Brillante!

I happened to stumble onto the wine door on my way to Pizza Napoli 1955, located Via Dei Neri 73/R, 50122, Firenze, Italia. Tired, wet, and hungry, I was met with a chair to rest, glass of wine, and the BEST pizza I have ever had! The best part is that when my pizza de bufala arrived in all it's pillowy glory, it was heart shaped! So delicious! I highly recommend checking it out if you are ever able! Anyway, when I got home I searched how to shape a heart pizza! I still use my go to My Basic Pizza Dough and this video! Mine didn't turn out as good as Pizza Napoli, but they've got 67 years experience! Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3K0H0-hb9RY

(This is Pizza de Rossa, my daughter's favorite!)

Friday, April 15, 2022

Rabbits, Eggs, and Simnel Cake

In ancient times, Easter was celebrated in honor of the spring or vernal equinox, symbolizing the end of winter (death) and the rebirth of life, as well as the importance of fertility. The word Easter is believed to have originated from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn, Eostre, from whom "east" (where the sun rises), "Easter," and even the female hormone "estrogen" got its name. Eostre's feast day was held on the first full moon following the vernal equinox. Eostre's two symbols were the hare (one with a particularly high libido) and the egg, which symbolizes the possibility of new life.

In European folklore, when wild hares abandoned their nests, they were sometimes taken over by plovers, who would lay their eggs in them. The locals would then find the eggs in the bunny nests. Further, in the 16th century, we see the appearance of the "Easter Bunny" in German writings. The legend said that if good children built a nest out of their caps or bonnets, they would be rewarded with colored eggs. The legend was then brought to America in the 18th century, by German immigrants.

And finally, I must mention the "Simnel Cake," eaten during Easter in the UK, Ireland, and other European countries. Simnel cake is a type of fruit cake, made with a layer of marzipan or almond paste baked in the middle of the cake, and topped off with a ring of eleven marzipan balls, said to represent the true disciples of Jesus (Judas is omitted), and sometimes a ball in the middle to represent Christ. I don't care for simnel cake, but I do have a sublime recipe for "Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries." This recipe from Shelley Wiseman is a light buttermilk cake, filled with a layer of mascarpone cream, and topped off with very sophisticated Sherry-spiked berries. I love this cake so much, it may be my absolute favorite! It makes the perfect ending to any Easter celebration!


Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries

Serves 8-12, (cake and cream can be made a day ahead, store cake covered at room temperature)

Ingredients:

For the cake
2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising), like Swans Down
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For the berries
1/2 cup Fino (dry) Sherry
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups mixed berries, cut if large

For the cream
8 ounces mascarpone (1 cup)
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar

Directions:

For the cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with oven rack in the middle. Butter a 9" round cake pan (2 inches deep). Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, then butter the parchment.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat together the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer at low speed, beat in the buttermilk until just combined. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing after each addition until just combined.

Spread batter in cake pan, smoothing top. Rap the pan on the counter several times.

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Discard the paper and reinvert cake onto rack to cool completely.

Macerate the berries
Bring Sherry and sugar to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Put berries in a bowl and pour hot syrup over them. gently tossing to coat. Let stand at least 15 minutes before serving.

Make cream and assemble cake
Beat mascarpone, cream, and sugar in a large bowl using cleaned beaters until mixture just holds stiff peaks.

Halve cake horizontally with a long serrated knife. Carefully remove top half and reserve. Put bottom half on a plate, then spread evenly with all of the cream and replace top half. Serve with berries. It's Fantastic!


Monday, February 28, 2022

Mardis Gras and the Best Jambalaya!

Mardis Gras (aka., Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday) is March 1, marking the last day of fatty food indulgences before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. While some people around the world celebrate the day eating pancakes, I prefer a delicious bowl of jambalaya! I first acquired a taste for this spicy sausage and seafood-laden dish from a friend in college who made a batch along with freshly baked bread every Sunday. Although I think he used Zatarain's and a tube of Pillsbury, it was always a good time! Just like chili is in Texas, jambalaya is classic Louisiana party food, making it the perfect choice for Mardis Gras!

Jambalaya is a dish steeped in ambiguity. So much so, you can stir up heated discussions regarding just the root of the word "jambalaya!" One theory is that it comes from the Provencal word "jambalaia," meaning mishmash or mixture. Another theory is that it comes from the Spanish word "jamon," meaning ham, combined with "paella," the classic Spanish rice dish. The third theory is that it comes from the French "jambon," meaning ham, with a contraction of "a la" and "ya," the African word for rice. And finally, it might come from the Native American Atakapa tribe's saying, "Sham, pal ha! Ya!" meaning "Be full, not skinny! Eat up!" 

If that's not enough, contrary to popular misconceptions, jambalaya is not specifically a Creole dish. In fact, there are two kinds of jambalaya. Creole which contains tomatoes, and Cajun which does not. I prefer it with tomatoes. I also think the key to a really great jambalaya is tasso. Tasso is a highly seasoned smoked pork. I am lucky to find it locally, but you can order some from cajungrocer.com. Andouille sausage is also authentic; however, if you can't find it or don't want to add it to your Cajun Grocer order, you can substitute Spanish chorizo, not Mexican chorizo, which is not the same thing. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention "the holy trinity." Similar to mirepoix and sofrito, it is the base to most Louisiana cuisine. It consists of finely diced onion, celery, and green bell pepper. I use red bell pepper because I detest green bell peppers in any form. 

Just like cioppino, it's hard to make a bad jambalaya. Jambalaya is very adaptable and can contain shredded chicken, venison, oysters, etc. Feel free to add what you have on hand, or prefer, to make it your own! If it gets too thick, just add some water! So celebrate Mardis Gras this year with a delicious bowl of jambalaya, lots of crusty bread, cold beer, and a bottle of Tabasco (or Crystal) hot sauce. Beads optional!


Sausage and Shrimp Jambalaya

Serves 8

Ingredients:
1/2 cup tasso (or chopped ham), 1/4-inch dice
14 ounces Andouille (or Spanish chorizo, or other smoked sausage), 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper (or green), chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning 
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
1 cup long grain rice
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
Italian parsley, chopped for garnish


Directions:
In a large pot or dutch oven, brown the sausage on each side in batches, set aside. Add the tasso, onions, celery, and bell pepper to the pot and saute until tender. Add the garlic and cook one minute. Add the tomatoes (with can juice), stir and break up with a wooden spoon. (An old-fashioned potato masher works great too!) Add the stock, browned sausage, Cajun seasoning, thyme, cayenne, salt, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Remove the cover and raise heat to a boil. Add the rice, stir, cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Taste the rice to make sure it's done!) Remove the lid and add the shrimp. Cook for 5 minutes or until the shrimp are cooked through. Remove the bay leaves and serve with a garnish of parsley. Add hot sauce to taste at the table, along with crusty bread.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

The Swedish Chef



Swedish meatballs (kottbullar) are a traditional dish consisting of seasoned beef, pork, and/or veal meatballs covered in a brown gravy and are one of the best-known and loved Swedish dishes. The first recipe appeared in print in Cajsa Warg's Swedish cookbook in 1754. Before the invention of meatgrinders in 1845 by German Baron Karl Drais, Swedish meatballs were truly a labor of love and considered a luxury item served at traditional smorgasbords and other special occasions. Swedish meatballs also have deep roots in America's upper Midwest, brought by Scandinavian immigrants with the peak of their migration between 1870-1900. They were also featured at the 1939 New York World's Fair at the Swedish Pavilion's Three Crowns Restaurant, explaining their popularity in the early 20th century with a resurgence in the 1950s and 60s. Swedish meatballs are traditionally served with brown gravy, mashed or boiled potatoes, lingonberry jam or sauce, and pickled (or pressed) cucumbers. 

This recipe, that I found at The Spice Garden, is adapted from Irma Rombauer's The Joy of Cooking and is the best I've ever tasted! The meatballs are exceedingly tender and moist, and the creamy sauce has just the right tang thanks to the addition of sour cream. One tip to remember when incorporating sour cream to a warm sauce is to stir in 1/2 cup of the gravy, 1/4 cup at a time, into the sour cream, whisking very well until incorporated before adding it to the gravy. If you don't do this, more than likely the sour cream will curdle and leave clumps in your gravy. Eek! I like to serve my Swedish meatballs with buttered egg noodles and if you can't find lingonberry jam, cranberry jam makes a decent substitute. So stop buying them at IKEA and make them yourself! They are way better, "bork, bork, bork!"


Swedish Meatballs

Serves 4-6 as an entree.

Ingredients:

For the Meatballs
1, 1" thick slice of bread
Milk to soak the bread
1 1/2 lb ground meat (1/2 lb beef, 1/2 lb pork, 1/2 lb veal, or a combination) (I used 3/4 lb beef and 3/4 lb pork)
2 eggs
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
2 cups beef stock

For the Gravy
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons dry Sherry
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Chopped parsley, for garnish

Directions:
For the Meatballs
Soak the bread in enough milk to saturate it and let it soak a few minutes. While the bread soaks, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.

Wring the liquid from the bread (discard the milk) and add it along with the remaining meatball ingredients (except for the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the 2 cups beef stock) in a large bowl or stand mixer and mix with your hands or mixer until the ingredients are well incorporated. Shape the meatballs into approximately 1" balls, and place on a large plate or baking sheet. (The meatballs can be made ahead and refrigerated until ready to cook.) 

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a deep saute pan over medium/medium-high heat. Drop the meatballs into the bubbling butter and brown them on all sides. (Do not overcrowd! You should brown them in batches, setting them aside on a plate until all the meatballs are browned.) When all the meatballs are browned, return them to the pan and add the 2 cups beef stock, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. When done, remove the meatballs with a slotted spoon and place them on a warm baking sheet and hold in a warm oven.

For the Gravy
Mix the sour cream, flour, dill, and Sherry in a medium bowl. Whisk in 1/2 cup of the stock, 1/4 cup at a time, until fully incorporated. Make sure there are no lumps! Mix the sour cream mixture into the stock and continue to stir until thickened, just a few minutes. Taste and season with salt (if needed) and white pepper, to taste.

To serve, add the meatballs to the gravy and transfer to a platter or serving bowl. Garnish with the chopped parsley.