Monday, January 30, 2012

North Meets South Italian Style

I have trying to use up the myriad of fanciful pasta shapes around the house before buying more of James' favorite Rustichella D'Abruzzo spaghetti. Tonight I reached for a bag or delicate, beautiful croxetti, stamped pasta disks embellished with coats of arms and palm trees. sailboats and other decor that are a specialty of Liguria. Though often served with a pesto or walnut sauce, for our dinner I headed South and whipped up a sauce that is a Roman favorite, a hearty carbonara with prosciutto (I slipped that in instead of pancetta) eggs and parmesan. Italian fusion.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Just For James

"You'd have to be an anaconda to get your mouth around that," james declared while surveying the thick burger on a toasty pretzel roll with griddled potatoes on his dinner plate. Lucky anaconda -- I'm still counting points.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How Many Points Is That?

New Year's resolutions come and go, but let's just say I wasn't the only new member at the WeightWatcher's meeting in town. Sigh.
Tonight's dinner, in the interest of success, was a Weight Watcher's recipe (if you can call it a recipe). Seasoned chicken breasts were drizzled with 1 tsp of olive oil, 2 tsp of lemon juice, fresh thyme and oregano then baked at 400º for 30 minutes in a pan with 1/4 cup of chicken broth in the bottom. I tossed in some mushroom caps to roast alongside the chicken. A small baked potato and a diest-size, zero points pile of steamed broccoli rounded out the plate. I gave James' dish a little extra flavor with a drizzle of olive oil and buttered potatoes.
For those of you keeping track, this is a 10 point dinner. For those of you not -- lucky you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

One Dinner Two Appliances

Everything is easier when you plan ahead. I marinated a pork shoulder roast overnight in about a cup each of lime juice (I had some in the freezer), lemon juice (I had some left over from my apple jelly adventure) and orange juice (I had a few past their prime oranges in the fridge), I added in 1/2 cup of olive oil, salt, pepper, about a TB of dried oregano and about a dozen chopped cloves of garlic. The next morning I put the whole mess (not quite all of the liquid but all of the garlic for sure) along with two sliced onions in the crock pot and let it simmer for about 10 hours on low.
I started some white rice in the rice cooker an after about 10 minutes added in a mixture of sautéed onions, red peppers, cumin, oregano, crushed red peppers, S&P, and a drained rinsed can of black beans. When the rice was ready the beans were heated through and ready to fluff and serve.
A couple slices of totally out of season but still completely delicious avocado and dinner was served.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Not At All Like Ikea

"This is the perfect dinner for a day like today," James declared between bites. "I wanted something hearty but uncomplicated," he explained. Comfort food -- my James was looking for comfort food.
I'm not sure what could be more comforting than meatballs with gravy and mashed potatoes. I seasoned up some meat with a pinch of cardamom, mace, all spice, minced onion and parsley and mixed in bread crumbs, 1 egg, and a dollop of sour cream (no milk in the house). I fried the meatballs in butter until almost cooked through and then removed them to a separate dish. I added flour into the frying pan along with some chopped onions and cooked down the roux until the floury taste would be gone. Then I added in stock and made a thick gravy that I extended with another dollop of sour cream. The meatballs warmed back up in the gravy while I finished the mashed potatoes. Perfect.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Another Place For Apples To Hide

Between chores today I stirred up a batch of oatmeal cookies using some of my homemade applesauce instead of butter. Based on a recipe from my favorite baker, Nick Maglieri, I creamed 2 TB of butter with 1/2 cup of sugar. Then I added in 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1 egg, 1/4 cup of apple sauce and a dash of vanilla. I sifted in 1 cup of flour, mixed with 1 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp baking soda. Just before I portioned the cookies out onto a parchment lined baking sheet I stirred in 1/3 cup of old fashioned oats and a big handful of dried currants. I would have used the more expected raisins but we were all out. The cookies baked for about 14 minutes at 375º. The jar is half empty already.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pasta Again?

Now that I am well into my new life with no dishwasher and dare I say it no housekeeper I have a new found appreciation for the one pot meal. While I dread every evening's dishes I'm getting pretty creative with new combinations.
Tonight I started the water boiling and cooked the pasta --just before the noodles were fully cooked I added in broccoli florets and let both cook together. I drained the pot and reserved about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. While the pasta drained I quickly sautéed some red onion, garlic, crushed red peppers, chopped prosciutto and dried oregano -- it cooks up in just a flash since the pot is still warm from the pasta. I added the pasta and broccoli back into the pot along with a good sized dollop of ricotta cheese and a splash of the cooking water. A couple turns of the spoon and a few sprinkles of parmesan cheese (stirred in and just melted by the warm pasta ad the cooking liquid) and dinner was served. One pot to clean -- success.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Long Cooked Pasta Sauce

I felt like something old fashioned and hearty. Something that would bubble away on it's own while I went about my day. I started with pork spare ribs (cut into two inch pieces) and beef short ribs, cut in half. After seasoning the mat with slat and pepper I browned the pieces well in a pan with olive oil and garlic. I set the meat aside and added two chopped onions, more garlic (I took out the garlic that got very brown with the meat), and a good bit of chopped pancetta. When the onions were soft and translucent I poured in about 2 cups of red wine. When the wine had cooked down so there was very little liquid left in the pot, I put the meat back in, added two large cans of crushed tomatoes, diced oregano, fresh parsley and basil and let the sauce simmer. After about an hour and a half I added in whole links of hot Italian sausage and allowed it to poach in the sauce for another hour.
I served the sauce and the meats over pasta and topped each dish with a dollop of ricotta and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.
Old school meat sauce.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Don't Eat Them For Looks

Delicious, whip up in a flash, but tacos don't rate many points for presentation. The day just seemed to tick away today and then suddenly I looked at the kitchen clock and it was nearly dinnertime and I had no idea what to make. I scoured the fridge. Shelled fresh black-eyed peas, ground beef (well that was in the freezer), cheese, lettuce . . . tacos in the making.
Not quite sure where I was headed I started as I nearly always so with a chopped onion sautéing in some oil. In this case it was bacon fat. Decadent I know but the olive oil bottle was empty (no time to refill) and I had a jar of reserved bacon fat right on the counter. I started the onions going with oregano, crushed red peppers, cumin and some chopped garlic and then added in the fresh beans. Once the meat was defrosted (or I would have added it before the beans I think) I put that into the pan and browned it through. I started to feel like my haphazard taco filling needed a bot more sauce so I poured in a good bit of hot sauce, some duck stock left over the from other day's risotto and the last of bottle of wine from the fridge. I cooked the mixture down until the liquid has just about evaporated and filled warm tortillas with my last minute filling. I topped the meat with chopped lettuce and some flavorful Cotija cheese we got as a gift from the family of a Mexican cheesemaker.
Last minute dinner wrapped in a tortilla -- not pretty but pretty delicious.
"Yummy!" James declared.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Pasta and Peas

A simple dinner.
Start with salted boiling water. Pour in pasta. Two minutes before the pasta is cooked pour a bag of fresh peas into the same water. Drain the noodles and vegetable saving about a cup of the cooking water. In the same pot heat some olive oil with lots of chopped garlic, crushed red peppers, and oregano. Dump the pasta and peas back in along with about 1/2 - 3/4 cup of cooking water and give it a few good turns in the oil. Toss in a handful or arugula and let it just barely wilt from the heat. Serve sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Easy one pot to clean twenty minute dinner.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bake and Serve

I'm not sure how Greek this chicken really is, although I do remember seeing similar dishes in "Greek" diners on the East coast and that's how this mixture of olive oil, lemon, oregano and stock is generally tagged. Honestly it couldn't be easier. I split a chicken into quarters. Season and surround it with potatoes (and because I had them carrots and parsnips) and pour over a mixture of chicken broth, olive oil ad lemon juice (equal parts stock and olive oil -- a little less on the lemon juice) and a heaping tablespoon of oregano. the whole pan bakes for about an hour at 375º -- sometimes I turn up the oven at the end just to brown the skin a bit. It's a perfect one pan, next to no effort dinner for a busy day.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Midwestern Appeal . . . Almost

It started with baked ham. I had a big beautiful piece of baked ham in the freezer that, try though I may, I could never get James to defrost and eat when I am out of town. So it was up to me to put it to use. I sliced the ham and covered it with a glaze of 3/4 cup of brown sugar heated with a splash of hot sauce and 3 TBs of dijon mustard. On the side, the classic: A potato gratin . . . with a twist. My gratin was built with layers of thinly sliced (peeled) sweet potatoes and celery root mixed with crisp, diced bacon, fresh thyme, chopped leeks, and S&P. Once the layers were in place I poured in pure, rich cream and topped the dish with grated Gruyère cheese and a layer of breadcrumbs. The gratin baked for about an hour and ten minutes (the last 20 uncovered), the ham for 25. James had seconds, on everything.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The End Of Apples

I thought it would never come.
James and I finally got all of the apples off the tree and I took on the Herculean task of making sure they didn't go to waste. On day one of battle apple I started with a caramelized apple and thyme marmalade. Flavorful but since our apples are a storage variety and a little softer than many the texture wasn' quite what I had hoped for -- a little more sauce than marmalade. Still I see spring cheeses served with that marmalade and crusty bread and don't expect any complaints. Then it hit me -- Jelly. It takes a lot of fruit, which we have, doesn't require peeling and would be a welcome gift from our little yard.
I chopped and chopped and chopped. Then simmered batch after batch of apples and water. Our small kitchen looked like a science experiment as I left bundle after bundle of cooked apples tied up in cheesecloth to drip juice into waiting bowls, pots, and storage containers. Drip, drip drip, without squeezing (that makes the jelly cloudy) for 24 hours until all of the juice was extracted. Halfway there.
The next morning, batch by batch. I cooked down the juice, sugar (9 cups for 12 cups of juice) and lemon juice (6 TBs for 12 cups of juice) until the mixture boiled then simmered and reached about 225º. That's where I felt the jell had set to my liking. I stirred in a splash of bourbon (1TB) and poured the very hot liquid into sterilized canning jars, wiped the rims clean and added lids and processed the jars in a hot water canner for 5 minutes.
But, there were still the cooked apples to contend with. Sure I thought about feeding them to the neighbor's pigs or staring a whole new compost pile for apple scraps. But, I just couldn't do it. I dug out the food mill James got me last Christmas and set to work. I passed all of the cooked apples though the mill which separated the stems and seeds and left me with a vat of homemade, unsweetened applesauce.
My reward for three days of apple-ing? 12 jars of marmalade waiting for roasts and cheese, 20 beautiful, jewel-toned jars of homemade jelly and 6 more quarts of applesauce waiting to be made into muffins, applesauce cakes (that's gonna be a new family specialty), and low-fat granola. I made my first batch today.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Slightly Sweet Dessert

"What's for dessert, Honey?" James called to me a couple hours after dinner last night. I felt a lump in my throat. I didn't have much to offer. Today I had to set that situation right and whipped up an easy olive oil cake. It's not a particularly elaborate sweet. No layers, no fluffy icing, but it seemed a good compromise in my kitchen where I can barely turn around much less have two mixers going. And, much to my dismay I am still trying to figure out this oven and so anything too delicate seems like asking for trouble.
This is a recipe I grabbed from Michael Chiarello's stint on Top Chef Masters. Despite his questionable performance the "Napa style" chef's version of a maybe French maybe Italian dessert cake is easy, tasty, and not too sweet. For the batter I mixed 3 eggs with 2 1/2 cups of sugar. Then I added in 1 1/2 cups each of milk and olive oil and the zest of 3 oranges. To the smooth liquid I stirred in 2 cups of flour, 1/2 tsp each of baking powder and soda, an a pinch of salt. I poured the batter into a 12 inch pan and baked the dessert at 350º for about an hour.
"When is that cake going to be ready, honey?"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Green Mashed Potatoes

A simple dish for a weekday dinner. Pork chops sautéed in a skillet with onions, garlic, crushed red peppers, and oregano topped with a quick pan sauce of white wine, dijon mustard and butter. For sides I braised some kale (a new house favorite) and boiled some peeled potatoes. Just about three minutes before the spuds were fully tender I dropped in a package of fresh peas. I smashed those potatoes with milk and butter. Cozy, warm, all-American dinner.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Leftover Duck For Makes A New Dinner

Tonight I raided the freezer and made dinner from Christmas leftovers. I stirred together a quick duck risotto with the stock I made from the bones, the fat I rendered from the skin and chunks of meat I saved for just such an occasion. Planning ahead for a day I didn't plan.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Apples Apples Everywhere

There is still a jumbo bag of apples in the hallway. There are still apples on the tree. I spend a couple lazy minutes everyday searching the internet for apple ideas. We have a prolific tree. I have to become an expert.
Today I turned those apples along with onions, butternut squash and some -- dare I call it -- questionable cheese James bought at the grocery store while I was away from home (okay it was Jarlsburg and Babybels not exactly nuclear waste but hardly the snooty, cut to order handmade dairy I generally melt on his toasties). This soup was an opportunity to use up some ingredients.
Based on, of all things, a Food Network Kitchen recipe I stared some butter melting in a pan. Then I dumped in cubed butternut squash (1 1/2 cups), peeled and cubed apples (I think I used 3 medium sized), 1 large potatoes -- peeled and cubed and 1 chopped onion. After about 8 minutes when the onion was soft I tossed in 2 TB of flour and a good handful of chopped thyme leaves and seasoned with S&P. I tossed that around just long enough for the flour to cook a bit and added in 1/3 cup of apple cider and cooked until the mixture became thick. Next went in 4 cups of chicken broth and 1 cup of milk. I covered the pot and brought the liquid to a boil. I reduced the heat to a simmer and let the soup cook until the potato was tender -- about 25 minutes. I puréed the soup in the blender until it was very smooth and added in two cups of shredded cheese which melted into a creamy almost bisque like texture.
Questionable cheese, delicious soup . . . it must be the apples.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bacon Sauce

While flipping channels I stumbled onto "The Best Thing I Ever Ate (in this case Made)" on the food channel. Generally I consider it a very strange proposal that people would tune in to hear someone they don't know rattle on amorously about one dish they ate, but somehow this episode caught my attention. Well really one dish described by Beau MacMillan, a chef I generally don't think much about no matter how often The Food Network hauls him out and tries to make him a super star chef. But as MacMillan went on to describe the pasta made by an Italian American neighbor (a recipe he learned and made his own) I knew it was a dish James would love. Bucatini with Bacon Sauce and Meatballs is a rich tomato sauce flavored simply with bacon, garlic and onions accompanied by meatballs baked in a hot oven. Is it authentically Italian? No, not in the least. Is it warm and comforting and full of the flavors that start you imaging family dinners and red checkered tablecloths? Yes, indeed yes. And that's more than enough for us.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pizza . . . Plain and Simple

Peperoni, mozzarella, parmesan, crushed red peppers, oregano (fresh and dried) and parsley. That's all.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Beef and Guinness Stew

When I make James' Christmas gingerbread I generally have a bit of Guinness left over, waiting in the fridge for a new recipe. This year I shopped in a hurry so I had more left than usual and had to come up with a worthy dish to use it up. I settled on a hearty beef and Guinness stew with parsnips instead of carrots. We had beautiful fresh parsnips in the fridge and it's still 13 miles to the store. Based on a recipe from Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Fenniger I tossed the beef in oil and then flour seasoned with S&P and cayenne. The meat is seared in a hot skillet and moved to an oven proof dutch oven. In the same skillet, with the heat turned down, I left two chopped onions, 2 sliced cloves of garlic, and 2 TB of tomato paste mixed with 4 TB of water to simmer in the covered saucepan while I added peeled, chopped parsnips and several sprigs of thyme to the dutch oven. Next I added the onion mixture to the pot and set the skillet back on the stove with about 3/4 cup Guinness poured in. When the liquid came to a boil in the frying pan I scraped up all of the browned bits left from searing the meat and poured that along with another 3/4 cup of Guinness into the dutch oven. The stew baked in a 350º oven for about 3 hours until the meat was fall apart tender.
About 15 minutes before the stew was ready I mixed up some thyme dumplings with 1 cup flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, plenty of chopped thyme leaves, 1/4 tsp salt, 2 TB melted butter, and 1/2 cup of milk. I dropped the dumplings by TBs onto the simmering stew, covered the pot and returned the dish to the oven for 15 minutes. Beef, beer, parsnips and thyme -- good for what ails ya'.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Little Breakfast Treat

I never make pancakes. James is pretty much a bacon and egg man. Besides, I have a little pancake anxiety. I find it hard to wait for the bubbles to break. I worry about the pan temperature. I hate to think about the flipping.
But, the dutch baby is a different thing altogether.
I make up a quick batter in the blender -- three eggs, a scant 1/2 cup of flour, 1/4 cup of sugar, a pinch of salt. 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract and 3/4 cup of milk. Then I melt two TBs of butter in the oven (preheated to 425º) in a cast iron frying pan. When the butter is melted I pour in the batter and return the pan to the oven for 20 minutes. When the pancake comes out puffy and golden I dot the top with butter and sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Bring your breakfast treat to the table as fast as you can. The pancake deflates quickly -- It's still delicious but not quite as beautiful.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Eggs Poached In Tomato Sauce

The internet recipe I found said this dish is a favorite in Israel. Shakshuka is very much like "eggs in purgatory" favored by the Italians (and me) but with the addition of chick peas and feta cheese -- two of my favorite ingredients and foods. Basically you start the dish by making a spicy tomato sauce. Onions, garlic an a chopped jalapeno go into a pan of olive oil to sauté for about 8 minutes. Those aromatics are followed by a drained can of chick peas, paprika and cumin and another 2 minutes of sautéing. Next you add in a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes with their juice and let the pan simmer for 15 minutes. Dot the sauce with crumbled feta cheese and nestle 6 - 8 eggs into the sauce before popping the frying pan into a 425º over for about 8 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro before serving with warm bread.

Monday, January 2, 2012

One Last Dessert

A quick pound cake as an excuse to use up those last cranberries in the freezer. Working from a recipe a magazine reported to be Jacques Pépin's favorite (I am a sucker for him) creamed 2 1/2 sticks of butter with a tsp of vanilla extract, 1/4 tsp of salt and 1 1/4 cup sugar then added in 6 eggs two at a time. I finished up the wet ingredients with 1/4 cup of milk mixed into the batter. I sifted 2 1/2 cups of cake flour over the batter and folded it in along with a handful of candied Buddha's hand citrus I found at the farmer's market. The recipe called for no baking powder or soda. Even now after eating the cake -- which is dense and flavorful I'm not sure if that was a mistake.
For the topping I simmered cranberries, brown sugar, a bit of honey, segments of blood orange (along with the juice), a cinnamon stick and a bit more of the candied chopped Buddha's hand into a thick sauce I served topping the cake with a dollop of whole milk yogurt.

Happy New Year . . . A Little Late

Another year, another pot of black eyed peas to welcome the calendar change. For 2012 I went crock pot lazy and allowed a spicy black eyed bean and sausage stew to bubble along all day. Into the pot went a coarsely chopped onion, jalapenos, crushed red peppers, garlic, a smoked ham hock (left over from a whole Jamon Serrano), fresh black eyed peas, seared spicy Italian sausage, parsley, chicken broth and canned tomatoes. I left it on low all day and when dinner came around served James' spicy stew (no hot sauce needed) over rice. Happy New Year.