Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tacos A New Way

Pouring over recipes on the internet looking for something new to do with butternut squash I came across an idea from the Two Hot Tamales for black bean and butternut squash tacos. I happened to have a can of re-fried black beans on the shelf I have been wanting to use up (where did I ever get those) so I started on my version of their recipe. Theirs started with refried beans so I doctored ours a bit with thinly sliced slab bacon, olive oil, and chicken broth. I sautéed the squash, cut into 1/2 inch dice, in very hot olive oil with cumin, cinnamon, and salt until it was tender. And I made a batch of pickled onions. The gals used shallots but I didn't have any and improvised for what turned out to be the best part of the dish. I can hardly wait to use those leftover pickled onions on sandwiches for James. Simple as can be the ingredients piled on tortillas topped with grated fresh cheese and minced chili peppers. Fast and easy, and very, very filling.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Black-Eyed Peas And More

I'm not sure why but we're still in a Southern state of mind, at least at dinnertime.
While pressing on with my never ending mission to keep clearing out the freezer I spied a well wrapped chunk of Easter baked ham. I love to re-work leftovers and it's just a short leap from ham to soup from soup to greens from greens to black-eyed peas. We had kale and I found fresh peas at the market so I was off and running. First I sauteed some onion, the whites of scallions and chopped garlic in vegetable oil. Then I added in the black -eyed peas, the chopped kale, a shot of tabasco, chicken broth, salt and water and brought the liquid up to a boil. I lowered the flame and let the pot simmer (along with some chunks of ham I added in) until the beans were tender. I fished out the ham, cut it into bite sized chunks and added it back to the stew with the greens of the scallions and a good shot of red wine vinegar.
I served James' Southern stew with biscuits I was storing in the freezer waiting to bake. Another good dinner, another shelf cleared.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Summer Spaghetti

I spent some of the afternoon fretting over what to do with summer squash. Our backyard harvest has been pretty small this summer so mercifully it's not a question I've had to answer too often this year. arts and quiches and stews crossed my mind but I finally settled n a light summer spaghetti. I had all the ingredients in the house. First I I spent some of the afternoon fretting over what to do with summer squash. Our backyard harvest has been pretty small this summer so mercifully it's not a question I've had to answer too often this year. Tarts and quiches and stews crossed my mind but I finally settled on a light summer spaghetti. I had all the ingredients in the house. First I roasted thin slices of yellow squash with whole unpeeled cloves of garlic, thyme sprigs, S&P and a good dousing of olive oil for about 25 minutes at 450º. When the pasta was drained I added it and the squash and a couple of those roasted cloves of garlic (peeled now) back into the cooking pot with a bit of cooking water, a knob of butter, fresh basil, S&P and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. I gave everything a good stir and served the pasta in a bowl topped with a dollop of fresh ricotta and chopped basil. A summery supper.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Another Southern Specialty

I figured I'd follow up last night's low country treat with another Southern specialty, shrimp cakes. It's the kind of cozy, casual, hearty dish that just feels right on a lazy Sunday and I happened to have a fridge full of just the right ingredients left over from last night's dinner with friends.
I'm not sure why more of the country doesn't eat shrimp cakes on a regular basis. It's not like people aren't lining up at Red Lobster for shrimp in all forms, but these quickly pan fried burgers have seemed to stay local. Around Georgia and the Carolinas (and probably Louisiana too) -- almost anywhere with a tradition of shrimping boats gathering a wild harvest you'll find these tasty cakes on menus and in home kitchens. Not too different from crab cakes I make my shrimp burgers with chopped cooked shrimp (1 lb), breadcrumbs (1 cup -- I used last night's leftover cornbread -- cornbread adds a lot of flavor -- and biscuits as my crumbs), chopped scallion (3), minced bell pepper (2 TB), chopped parsley (3 TB), lemon zest (about 1 tsp), tabasco (a good shot), mayonnaise (just enough to hold the mixture together -- about 3 TB), 1 egg, and a good sprinkle of old bay seasoning. I had one ear of corn left in the fridge so I added in about half the fresh corn kernels and formed my shrimp mixture into patties that I let chill in the fridge for a couple hours before sautéing a pan with a shimmer of canola oil. I love the crispy edges doused with spicy cocktail sauce.
On the side a quick salad of steamed green beans, arugula, tomatoes and radishes dressed in a sherry vinegar mustard vinaigrette.
A little down home goodness for a late summer weekend.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Low Country Boil

In the Southeast they know a thing or two about hot summers and entertaining friends. Folks in the Carolinas (South to be exact) make a delicious combination of potatoes, corn, smoked sausage, and shrimp once called Frogmore Stew or, more commonly these days, Low Country Boil. It's a one pot feast, the best kind of summer BBQ, great for a crowd and easy on the cook. I start by bringing a big pot of water (enough to cover all the ingredients) and a bottle of beer to a boil with a good sized scoop of Old Bay seasoning (you could use a Carolina crab boil but I love Old Bay). Then I add in small red potatoes and a peeled onion cut into quarters and let them bubble away for about 10 minutes. Next I add in links of smoked sausage cut n to 2 inch lengths (even though it's not traditional I use a Cajun style andouille for a bit of spicy flavor) and let the covered pot bubble on for 10 minutes more. Ears of corn broken in 3 or 4 rounds go into the pot for another 10 minutes and finally big handfuls of shrimp in the shell steam right on top for just 3 minutes until they are pink and tender.
We bring our boil to the table covered in newspaper alongside a pan of cornbread, melted butter, and -- because we like it not because it's traditional -- cocktail sauce. Part of the fun is reaching in with your hands and sharing the mess with friends like K & D.
I'm not sure what to call this cake. I made up this recipe from the memory of what my grandmother's chocolate cake tasted like. It's almost Devil's Food, it's almost chocolate but has a hint of coffee. One thing I know my grandmother didn't do was use brown sugar in her cake but I love that molasses flavor and combine 1 cup of white and 1 cup of brown sugar when I cream the stick of butter. When the butter is creamed I add in 2 eggs (one at a time), 2 tsp vanilla (tonight I ran out and used scotch instead and really liked the results) 3 TB and 1 tsp vegetable oil and 1/2 cup of hot coffee and beat well.
In a separate bowl I mixed together 2 cups of all purpose flour, 2/3 cup cocoa, a pinch of salt, 1 tsp baking powder and 2 tsp baking soda ( I usually use 2 tsp of cinnamon but I forgot and didn't even miss it). I beat in half the flour mixture followed by 1/2 cup of buttermilk. Then the rest of the flour followed again by 1/2 cup of buttermilk. The batter is smooth and a rich brown color. I baked two 9" layers for 25 minutes at 350º.
I usually top this cake with a coffee buttercream frosting but since I started out tonight to make a red velvet (generally a house specialty) and failed twice with a recipe I have used for at least 10 years ( yes I am embarrassed to admit it) I had a batch of smooth, tangy, delicious, cream cheese frosting at the ready. It turned out to be the perfect foil for the deeply flavored cake.
A Southern style dinner with friends. Lots of leftovers (we missed you Denny) and a great summer night's fun.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A New House Specialty

I think I might have invented this dish. James loves spaghetti aglio e olio. It's a pretty good choice for a hot summer day like today so I started a saucepan going with olive oil, chopped garlic, butter, and crushed red pepper flakes. When I looked down into the bubbling deliciousness suddenly I pictured bagna calda, the Piedmontese dip for fresh vegetables flavored with garlic and anchovies. I mashed several filets of anchovies into the pan until they dissolved in the oil, added in another knob of butter, a bit of chopped parsley and a splash of starchy pasta cooking water and let my new sauce simmer for a couple minutes. I cooked both cauliflower and spaghetti in the boiling water (it is supposed to be a dip for veggies after all) and added my olive oil garlic sauce to the drained pasta and veg along with a handful of parmesan cheese. I gave everything a good toss in the warm pan and brought James a dinner he declared "really good." As in "Wow Honey, this is really good."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Love Cheese, Cheese Doesn't Love Me

Lets face it, cheese is the perfect food. It's protein rich, creamy, tasty, comforting. It melts and grates and spreads. It is the all purpose seasoning.
I eat too much cheese. That was pointed out, in not such direct terms, at my annual physical. Of course I can't put all the blame on cheese. I'm sure beef and butter and even our beloved eggs (yummm roast beef sandwich with butter and cheese) share some of the fault, but cheese is my go to food. When I'm looking for a snack or feeling low or craving something I can't quite describe, I turn to cheese. My lab results are showing the effects of my illicit love.
Among his other, many genetic gifts James does not have the same high marks (not a test you really want a high score in). That combined with his generally less passionate relationship with edibles means he can top this healthy dinner of roasted vegetables and brown rice with an olive oil fried egg whereas I opted for oven-roasted tomatoes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Another Pizza Night

I make pizza a lot. It's just so easy (and a good way to use up some odds and ends in the fridge) and James loves it so much it still feels special to him. Tonight's toppers were thinly sliced red onion, chopped garlic, mortadella (basically Italian bologna but so much tastier), parmesan, mozzarella, and sprinkles of crushed red peppers and dried oregano. After 17 minutes in a hot oven our one dish dinner is crispy and ready to serve. Hardly any leftovers, hardly anything to clean up. Score!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Salad For Dinner

There was a time, the dieting times, when salad for me meant vegetables topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, sometimes livened up with a grilled chicken breast.
These days our salads have become more elaborate and evolved (I'm not really sure it's evolving) into a vehicle for cheese -- our favorite flavor. Tonight's chopped melange mixed roasted potatoes, radicchio, romaine, golden pea shoots, cucumbers from the front yard, black beans, and mozzarella, parmesan, and provolone cheeses -- all dressed in a mixture of olive oil, red wine vinegar and lemon juice. Welcome salad 2011.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Today's Harvest

A pepper heavy day, both sweet and spicy. Here, sprawled across my kitchen counter are chile de arbol, peperoncini, Jimmy Nardello peppers, one bulbous cocozella di Napoli zucchini, a handful of front yard tomatoes (I think these are Ramapos, and Costoluto Genovese that at our house don't seem to ripple quite like in the seed catalogues) and a sprinkling of dried lima beans. I'm going to roast the tomatoes, dry the hot peppers, and I'm saving up the beans for a succotash if our corn matures.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bananas For Breakfast

I can only walk by a pile of browning bananas for so long. Sometimes I toss them in the freezer for a future baking project. Today I decided to take the matter in hand and whip up a quick banana bread for James' breakfast. Quick being the operative word.
First I mashed four medium bananas, added in 1/4 cup melted butter, 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp salt and gave it all a good stir with a wooden spoon. Next I folded in a big handful of chopped cashews and about 1/2 cup of coconut(unsweetened) I found on the pantry shelf . After 55 minute sin a 350º oven we had a warm, slightly tropical breakfast treat, and no more bananas on the counter.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Crabcakes and Steamed Shrimp

A dinner I called, "things to eat with cocktail sauce."
At some point in the summer, though it was now many years ago, I start to miss the summer foods of my youth. For much of the country that might be burgers and hot dogs grilled to a char, for me, and probably many of the kids who grew up near the bay on the Atlantic side of the country summer means crabs -- Crabcakes, steamed crabs, crab imperial, crab fluff. Well, I suppose we thought about crabs all year but in summer the little blue "bugs" that part of the world stakes it's pride on come into season and what spends all year as a mild crab fever becomes an all out frenzy in Maryland. Through the years gazing out on the Pacific side I've become quite the fan of Dungeness crab (the winter crab treat), but when the weather gets warm, sooner or later, it's gotta be blue crab, beautiful swimmers as their Latin name aptly describes.
Tonight I satisfied a little hometown fever with plump crab cakes (blue crab, mayo, egg, cracker crumbs, tabasco, worcestershire, old bay, mustard) and tangy, horseradishy cocktail sauce. Not quite a down home tradition, but just the way James likes it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sliders And Fries

A new view of an old favorite. Fries bubbling away in peanut oil and duck fat.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Open Faced Toasted Sandwich

Toasties we call them around here. Pretty much any sandwich combination, served open faced, and popped under the broiler to melt the cheese topping. The recipe always varies. Tonight James' garlic rosemary baguette was spread with butter and pesto sauce, thinly sliced capicola, mozzarella and provolone cheeses. While still bubbly, fresh from the oven, I drizzled on a spray of balsamic vinegar. Sandwiches for dinner.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Kitchen Sink Antipasto Salad

A big salad for dinner with a little bit of everything - tonight featuring steamed green beans, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, peperoncini, roasted tomatoes (and the delicious flavored olive oil they rest in), endive, radicchio, lettuce, mozzarella, provolone, prosciutto, turkey breast and eggs. On the side, delicious, crusty, red checkered table cloth, o' solo mio style completely inauthentic garlic bread with plenty of butter and cheese.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lasagna With Friends

A couple weeks back, after a disturbing kitchen event I'd rather not detail, I went through and cleaned all our cabinets and shelves. I wiped all the surfaces and put all of our not canned or jarred edibles (flour, sugar, pasta, cereal, popcorn -- everything) in air tight heavy duty storage containers.
Though I generally can make just about any square peg fit my choice of round hole, I simply could not find a container to fit an oversized box of lasagna noodles -- our favorite brand Rustichella D'Abruzzo -- so I pooped them in the freezer for safe keeping.
Now, freezer space is always at a premium in my kitchen so this offending box seemed like a perfect excuse to invite friends for lasagna.
Not content to simply serve up an oven baked pan of hearty noodles like a wayward college dinner party, and eyeing my yard full or fresh produce I set up a tray of appetizers. The tomatoes have finally come in full stop -- we are getting arm fulls of red ripe fruits every other day. I took the last couple days produce, cut them in half drizzled them with plenty of olive oil, springs of thyme and unpeeled garlic cloves. I set the tomatoes in a 325º over for 45 minutes and them peeled off the handily puckered skins. The tomatoes cooked for another two hours until they were roasted to a deep rich almost tomato paste flavor. I slipped the now roasted garlic from its skins and put the tomatoes, thyme, garlic in a jar and covered them with more olive oil. Oven dried tomatoes perfect on crostini as appetizers, on a mozzarella salad, in a sandwich filling or as a quick pasta sauce. These are a new house staple.
To round out our appetizer tray I took the one precious melon we have managed to grow this year, wrapped the slices in thin slivers of prosciutto, and drizzled the savory snack with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Olives, delicious delice de bourgogne cheese (topped with home canned candied kumquats) and a bit of our sauce of the summer, arugula hazelnut pesto finished our selection of nibbles.
I rarely make a starter but somehow I couldn't walk by the mussels at the fish counter, and besides I still had more tomatoes to use up. I sautéed 1 chopped onion and 6 minced cloves of garlic in olive oil until translucent. Next I added in crushed red peppers, dried thyme, chopped parsley, 4 chopped tomatoes, a splash of red wine and a knob of better and simmered the ingredients for about 25 minutes for a nice sauce. I brought the ingredients up to a boil, added in freshly scrubbed mussels and covered the pan. After about 5 minutes at high heat all of the mussels had opened and were just the right starter with loaves of crusty bread to soak up the flavorful broth.
The lasagna was supposed to be the star but I have to admit my layered creation of white sauce, parmesan cheese, and sautéed mix mushrooms --though it got good reviews -- was overshadowed by the seafood first course.
A sweet creamy ending, and a proven winner. Basil flavored panna cotta topped with candied kumquats and served with pinenut rosemary cookies and ear grey shortbreads.
Not a bad dinner for what started as an excuse to clean the freezer.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Favorite Ending

Rosemary Pinenut and Earl Grey cookies.
Details on the dinner tomorrow.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Simplest Spaghetti Of All

James has been away all week and I took an unexpected vacation from the kitchen. Rare.
Tonight as a homecoming meal he asked for spaghetti with a "light sauce," he said. "Maybe just some olive oil . . . and garlic," James explained. Spaghetti Aglio Olio, another Roman classic.
While the spaghetti boiled I heated a good quantity of olive oil (about 3 TB for 1/2 a package of pasta) I tossed in a large pinch of crushed red peppers and two minced cloves of garlic. After just about a minute I turned off the heat and let the garlic continue to infuse the oil. Off the heat I added in a finely chopped fresh red pepper I happened to have in the fridge.
I tossed the hot, drained pasta with the oil (in the pot still warm from cooking the spaghetti) and just a couple TB of pasta cooking water. A shower of fresh ground black pepper and a sprinkle of cheese brought this dish to the table.
"I'm going to be requesting this," James said between mouthfuls. "Is that okay?"
Request this easy are cheerfully taken.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Better Cacio E Pepe

Cacio E Pepe the Roman dish made with warm pasta, cheese (usually Romano), plenty of cracked black pepper and pasta cooking water stirred quickly together until the cheese melts into a sauce is a dinner-time staple around here. Tonight I took the usual recipe one better and added a small knob of butter, some crushed red peppers and a splash of olive oil to the pot as I stirred the drained pasta. It's not exactly the Eternal City's staple dish but it made for a pretty comforting Sunday supper with a wink to Roman tradition.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Yesterday's fajita leftovers become tonight's quesadillas. Cheese and onion with a "dip" of drunken beans.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Homestyle Mexi-Cal

Kind of unusual for us. But the package of Hearst Ranch beef in our freezer said "Fajita Strips" so I figured I'd give it a try. I marinated the meat in beer, tabasco, molasses, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, garlic, S&P, and let it sit for a couple hours. When it came time for dinner I quickly sauteed the meat and in a separate pan a combination of onions, peppers, garlic, jalapenos, and corn I had in the fridge.
Tortillas and meat for dinner? You have to serve beans. I didn't have time to soak dried beans so I started a pan with bacon cooking in a bit of olive oil,with onions, oregano and chopped garlic. I added in canned pinto beans (drained), pickled jalapeno peppers and a good quantity of beer, water, and olive oil and let the beans simmer down for more than an hour to reduce the sauce to a creamy, flavorful mix.
The front yard is overflowing with cucumbers so a quick cooling side I chopped up peeled cukes and radishes and dressed them with crumbled feta cheese, white vinegar, chopped cilantro and olive oil.
I love rice, so any excuse to add it to a meal works well for me. Today I went for an sort of Mexican style starting with fresh chorizo sausage in a pan with olive oil then added in chopped red peppers, onions, and garlic. Next the rice went in. I stirred around until the grains were coated with the oils and then added in one large chopped tomato. After a few seconds for the tomatoes to start breaking down I added in chicken broth (for us it was four cups for 2 cups of rice) and brought the liquid to a boil. Then I covered the pan and let the rice simmer for 20 minutes. Just before serving I fluffed the rice with a fork and stirred in some fresh cilantro and oregano.
Not quite Mexican, not quite Californian, just dinner.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Eat Dessert First

Sometimes it's nice to post dessert first.
This is one of my favorite cakes to make. I call it California Upside Down Cake. I start by melting 4 TBS of butter in a heavy duty baking pan (mine is a 10 inch), then I sprinkle on 3/4 cup of brown sugar, followed by (off heat) concentric circles of stone fruits. Tonight was a mixture of green plums, nectarines, and a peach. The fruit is covered with a batter of 1 cup each butter and sugar creamed together then moistened with 2 egg yolks. Into the wet ingredients I add in a mixture of 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup almond flour, 2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt alternating with 1 cup of milk. In a separate bowl I beat the two egg whites to soft peaks and fold them into the assembled batter to lighten the cake. Once the batter is in the pan the cake bakes for 55 minutes at 350º.
The flavor of our state in an easy delicious cake.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Garganelli With Kale

Garganelli, a specialty of Bologna, are little tubes of egg pasta rolled from squares (not pressed through a die like penne) so there is a little flap of dough that crosses over -- more ridges to grab the sauce.
I started the water boiling and then set out to find ingredients for a sauce. We had two nice bunches of Tuscan kale so I chopped those up and started them in a pan with hot olive oil, a couple of cloves of garlic and dried red peppers. I added about 1/2 cup of white wine and covered the pan to let the kale cook down. There was just the end of some dried chorizo in the fridge so I cubed that and added it to the pan. After about 8 minutes I added in a drained can of garbanzo beans and let the kale keep cooking for a couple minutes covered and then for a few minutes without the lid.
I tossed the drained pasta with parmesan cheese, the kale mixture, and a bit of the pasta cooking water before serving.
The chewy, rich egg pasta was the perfect backdrop for the bitter kale, fruity olive oil, and spicy flavorful chorizo. I rarely make egg pasta but this dish was such a hit with me we may see it more often around here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cauliflower Pizza

Quick easy pizza night. I thinly sliced fresh cauliflower and tossed t with S&P, crushed red peppers, oregano and olive oil. The dressed vegetable covered the waiting rolled crust. I covered the cauliflower with thin strips of prosciutto, a dusting of grated parmesan and thinly sliced rounds of fresh mozzarella. Crispy, delicious, ready in a flash.

Monday, August 1, 2011


I'm on another quest to clean out the freezer and make dinners using up the ingredients I've already stored. That way I can store new and maybe more exciting foodstuffs for future meals. So, instead of stopping for a couple pounds of clams for dinner I dug deep and pulled out a package of wild boar sausage.
Since I was sort of dreaming of clams with fregola, I decided to stick with the small toasted pasta and basically substitute browned sausage for the clams. I started by sautéing chopped red onion in olive oil, along with a couple cloves of garlic and some diced hot peppers from our garden. After a couple minutes I tossed in the sliced sausage links and let them brown in the hot oil. I added in two chopped tomatoes and let them cook down for about 3 minutes before adding in 1 cup each of wine, water, chicken broth, and fregola. I brought the liquid up to a boil, covered the pan and let the pasta simmer for about 25 minutes until very tender.
Since the sausage was a bit more French/Alsatian perhaps than Italian (there is something a bit sweet in the mixture, maybe cranberry or currant or apple), I decided to top James' dinner with a dollop of tangy, washed rind Delice de Bourgogne cheese and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.