Tag: Food

The Secret to Getting Everything to the Table Piping Hot

The Secret to Getting Everything to the Table Piping Hot

One of the biggest challenges to hosting Thanksgiving dinner is getting all of the side dishes to the table piping hot (or at least not cold).

So what’s the secret? PREPARATION!!

And how do you that? By making lists. I’m a big believer in writing a list of things to do. I do this every day for daily tasks and also have a “bigger picture” list for projects I’m working on, which may take several months to accomplish.

Now Is The Time To Start Planning

With Thanksgiving only a week away, now is the time to start planning. The first thing you need to do is decide on a menu. Here are some recipes you may want to consider making, along with an overall Thanksgiving prep schedule.

 

Nan’s Mashed Potatoes are the killer side dish for Thanksgiving. If you make just one thing from this menu, make this.

 

MENU AND THANKSGIVING PREP SCHEDULE

Here’s the Rootsliving Thanksgiving Day menu:

  1. Antipasti Platter (You don’t have to make all four. Pick, choose and then assemble.)
  2. Root Soup (our signature dish)
  3. Classic, No-Fail, American Roasted Turkey
  4. Triple Cornbread Stuffing
  5. Nan’s Mashed Potatoes
  6. Green Bean Casserole (the healthier version)
  7. Cranberry Sauce (homestyle or chunky, from a can. Hey, you can’t do everything.)
  8. Quick, Easy, Nutella Cookies (If guests ask what they can bring, tell them pies.)
A tray of breadsticks, stuffed red peppers, and more
You can make any, or all four, of these appetizers on Thanksgiving Day. You just assemble the ingredients (no cooking required).

SCHEDULE:

To make your own cooking schedule, I suggest working backwards. Start at Thanksgiving Day and figure out what food has to be made on that day. In other words, what food can’t you make ahead of time?

Obviously, you wouldn’t want to make the turkey the night before because you wouldn’t be able to serve it moist and hot. Reheated turkey isn’t as good as freshly cooked.

If you plan to make the Rootsliving Thanksgiving Day menu (or a pretty good facsimile), you can follow this schedule.

You’ll notice that I start with cooking a chicken on Sunday. That’s only if you intend to make your own chicken stock for the Root Soup. Store bought is fine and if you decide to use that, then skip that part of the plan.

TODAY-SUNDAY: Decide on your menu. Make a list of ingredients. Order your fresh turkey and make time to food shop.

SUNDAY:

  • Roast a chicken (optional, only if you intend to make your own stock) and eat it for Sunday dinner.

MONDAY:

  • Make chicken stock with the leftover chicken carcass and put it in the refrigerator overnight. (optional)

TUESDAY:

  • Spoon fat off chicken stock and make Root Soup.

WEDNESDAY:

  • Make Nan’s Mashed Potatoes (but don’t sprinkle with paprika or dot the top with butter just yet. Instead put it in a baking dish and refrigerate overnight. Wait to bake it on Thursday.)
  • Mashed potatoes in baking dish.
  • Make Green Bean Casserole (but don’t sprinkle the final layer of French’s crispy fried onions on top. Instead put it in a baking dish and refrigerate overnight. Wait to bake it on Thursday.)
  • Make Quick, Easy, Nutella cookies 

THURSDAY, THANKSGIVING DAY:

Finally,  don’t forget to relax. The holidays are for remembering and celebrating what’s important in life — family and good friends. The food, spirits, and material gifts are secondary.

And if cranky aunt gladys complains that the green bean casserole isn’t warm enough, smile and pour her another glass of wine (it’s counterintuitive, but she’ll be less whiny).

 

 

Classic, No-Fail, American Roasted Turkey

Classic, No-Fail, American Roasted Turkey

This recipe draws inspiration from Native American culture and the harvest celebration for maple sap.

I found it in a local newspaper about 20 years ago and have used it ever since. It’s always delivered a moist, flavorful bird.

 

turkey in a roasting pan

 

The recipe is the work of Chef David Smoke McClusky, who is part Native American. It’s really simple. You just stuff it with a few ingredients. You don’t eat this stuffing. It just adds flavor to the turkey while it cooks.

 

Ingredients to flavor the turkey
You’ll find the turkey neck wrapped in paper inside the bird. Be sure to remove that and the package of giblets before cooking.

 

I recommend cooking your favorite stuffing in a separate baking dish, rather than stuffing the bird with it. That way, you’ll avoid problems with cooking the bird and won’t have to worry about contaminating the stuffing.

 

Raw turkey in a roasting pan
After removing the neck and giblets put the neck back in the cavity of the bird, along with some onion, carrots, celery, and a sprig of fresh sage.

 

Fresh or Frozen?

I always use a fresh turkey. Those that use frozen swear there is no difference in taste and that may be true. But using a fresh turkey is a lot easier to cook. The problem with frozen turkeys is you have to figure out when to put them in the refrigerator to thaw. Frozen turkeys usually take several days to thaw out and you have to time it so that it’s ready to cook on the big day.

 

Turkey with a bowl of maple syrup
The maple syrup adds a bit of sweetness and depth to the turkey flavor but is not overpowering.

 

To make sure your turkey comes out moist, don’t overcook it.  Baste it with its own juices about every 30 minutes. If you don’t have a turkey baster, buy one. This recipe also calls for basting the turkey with maple syrup during the last 30 minutes of cooking, which is a pretty simple thing to do.

 

Sliced turkey on a plate
You can add gravy to this turkey, but you really don’t have to as the meat is never dry.

 

When it’s finished cooking, let it rest for about 15-20 minutes before carving it.

 

Turkey slices with gravy on a plate

 

Get a good sharp knife, and remove one of the legs first; then slice out a breast and slice that into thick pieces. Thin pieces will dry out on the platter faster.

 

Sliced turkey on a plate
This turkey was fork-tender (no knife required).

 

If you’re not convinced or still worried about making sure your turkey is moist, try this trick. Prepare a gravy (see recipe for Sage Gravy, below) and then pour some of it on the serving platter. Add the turkey slices and pieces on top of that and cover it with aluminum foil to keep it warm.

 

Classic, No-Fail, American Roasted Turkey

November 12, 2018
: Medium

This recipe from Chef David Smoke McClusky has never failed me. It's always produced a moist and flavorful turkey.

By:

Ingredients
  • Turkey, 16-20 pounds
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Onion, 1 quartered
  • Carrot, 1 cut into four pieces
  • Celery, 1 rib, cut into four pieces
  • Fresh sage, 1 large sprig
  • Maple syrup, 1 cup
Directions
  • Step 1 Set oven to 350 degrees
  • Step 2 Remove neck and giblets from turkey. Rinse the turkey, inside and out under running cold water and then pat it dry with paper towels.
  • Step 3 Season the cavity with salt and pepper and then stuff it with the neck, onion, carrot, celery and fresh sage.
  • Step 4 Put the turkey in roasting pan and cook for about 3-4 hours. Figure about 15 minutes per pound.
  • Step 5 Baste the turkey with its own juices very 30 minutes or so. During the last 30 minutes, brush on the maple syrup.
  • Step 6 When finished cooking, put it on a platter and let it rest for about 15-20 minutes before carving it.

 

Sage Gravy For Turkey

November 12, 2018
: Medium

Warning: This recipe is a little tricky, especially if you've never made gravy before. It's worth trying and if it doesn't turn out well, don't worry. You can always serve the turkey without gravy.

By:

Ingredients
  • Hot water, 2 cups
  • Cold water, 2 cups
  • Flour, 1/2 cup
  • Chopped fresh sage, 2 tablespoons
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Directions
  • Step 1 Place the roasting pan on the stove and spoon off the fat.
  • Step 2 Pour in the hot water and place the pan over two burners on the stove. Bring the water to a boil, scraping the caramelized juices on the bottom of the pan.
  • Step 3 Turn the heat to low.
  • Step 4 In a separate bowl, add the cold water to the flour a little at a time until if forms a smooth paste.
  • Step 5 Gradually whisk in this mixture into the simmering liquid until the sauce begins to thicken.
  • Step 6 Add chopped sage and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often. Add salt and pepper.

Travel: A Search For My Italian Roots In Carrara, Italy

A Wild Ride Through Italy's Breathtaking (and Controversial) Marble Quarries

FOOD TIP: One of the delicacies of this city is lardo di Colonnata. It is paper-thin slices of pork fat that’s been cured inside a marble vessel for about six months. This is a traditional dish of the area and was what stoneworkers in the quarries ate for lunch. It tastes a little like the fatty part of a piece of the most wonderful prosciutto, only richer with a deep savory flavor that is both aromatic and delicate.

 

Where to stay and eat:

If You Go To Carrara, Italy

Ma’s Stuffed Peppers

(Above: Watch the video to see how these are made. This is an easy recipe and the kids like them too.) (more…)

Best Super Bowl App: AI (Asian-Italian) Chicken Wings

Best Super Bowl App: AI (Asian-Italian) Chicken Wings

This is the killer app for Super Bowl Sunday or for all those games leading up to it. (more…)

Quick, Easy Nutella Cookies

Quick, Easy Nutella Cookies

My friend Antoinette (who was born in Italy and is one of the best cooks I know) brought these to my house for a dinner party. They’re so good, it’s hard to stop eating them. And then when she told me how easy and fast they are to make I had to try it.

 

Nutella on a wonton wrapper and a spoon
All you need is a 1/4 teaspoon of Nutella for each cookie, maybe even a little less.

 

These cookies can be made well in advance. The cookies come out crunchy and sweet. And it’s very hard to stop eating them.

With only three ingredients — wonton wrappers, Nutella, and vegetable oil — these are a breeze to make. You put a dab of Nutella in the middle of a wonton wrapper and then fold it over so you have a triangle. Then you press down on the edges, being sure to get any air bubbles out.

 

A jar of nutella and some uncooked cookies.
Nutella is a chocolate and hazelnut spread, very popular in Italy.

 

Some other recipes recommend sealing the edges with a beaten egg, but I found this wasn’t necessary. I also suggest making up a bunch of these before you start deep frying because the frying goes very quickly and you need to pay attention so that the cookies don’t burn.

 

Nutella cookies frying
Pour about 1/2 inch of oil in a good frying pan and don’t take your eyes of the cookies.

 

Be sure to control the heat too. You don’t want the oil to start smoking. If you see it start to do that quickly turn down the heat or even remove the pan from the flame (if you’re cooking with gas). You want the oil to remain clean and you want the cookies to be lightly brown.

 

Nutella cookies draining on a paper towel.
Transfer the cookies from the frying pan to a plate lined with a paper napkin so they can drain.

 

One final note: I always believed there were many similarities and/or opportunities to blend Italian cooking with Chinese cooking and this recipe proves it. Here’s what you need to do:

Quick, Easy Nutella Cookies

September 20, 2018
: Easy

You can make these at a moment's notice and are great to bring to a party. Just be sure to keep a close eye on them so they don't burn.

By:

Ingredients
  • Nutella (buy a small jar)
  • Wonton wrappers
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Vegetable oil
Directions
  • Step 1 Put a dab of Nutella (less than a teaspoon will do) into the middle of a wonton wrapper. Fold the wrapper over so that it creates a triangle. Press down the edges until they stick.
  • Step 2 Heat about an inch or so of vegetable oil over high heat in a good skillet (I used a cast iron skillet).
  • Step 3 Drop three or four wonton cookies into the oil and cook on each side for about 30 seconds or less (just until light golden brown). Remove cookies to a plate lined with paper towels so the oil can drain.
  • Step 4 Put cookies on a platter and sprinkle powdered sugar over both sides. I used a sieve to sprinkle the sugar evenly.

 

Cold Taiwanese Sesame Noodles With Peanut Sauce

Cold Taiwanese Sesame Noodles With Peanut Sauce

This is how you make Taiwanese street food.

I know because I got a subscription to Universal Yums for my birthday. Each month, I get a box of snacks from a different country along with a fact book about the country.

This month’s booklet included this recipe, which is quick and very easy to make. And it tastes perfect on a hot, muggy night in August.

Here’s the recipe:

Cold Taiwanese Sesame Noodles with Peanut Sauce

August 18, 2018
: 10 min
: 15 min
: 25 min
: Easy

By:

Ingredients
  • Peanut butter (or sesame paste), 1/4 cup
  • Soy sauce, 2 tbsp.
  • Rice wine vinegar, 2 tbsp.
  • Sugar, 1 1/2 tbsp.
  • Garlic, 3 cloves finely minced
  • Ground ginger, 1 1/2 tbsp.
  • Water, warm, about 1/4 cup
  • Asian wheat noodles, like udon or soba
  • Sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
  • Spicy scallion stick (optional)
  • Cucumber slices (optional)
  • Raw carrot cut into thin matchsticks (optional)
  • Shredded chicken (optional)
Directions
  • Step 1 Combine peanut butter (or sesame paste), soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, garlic, ginger, and warm water in a bowl. Set aside.
  • Step 2 Cook noodles according to package directions. Then drain and rinse under cold water. Mix in optional ingredients and then the sauce and stir well.

 

Recipe Videos From Boston’s Best Chefs

This is one of my favorite recipes from the weekly Dorm Room Chef series I produced for the Boston Globe. (more…)

A Quick, Easy, One-Pan, Weeknight Eggplant Delight

A Quick, Easy, One-Pan, Weeknight Eggplant Delight

Turkish Eggplant Casserole: Imam Bayildi

RECIPE UPDATE (May, 30, 2018): So last night I made this dish by baking the eggplant instead of frying it and it tasted just as delicious. I couldn’t tell the difference, except maybe the meal was a little lighter (which was my goal). I’m sure it definitely had less calories. What I did was brush olive oil on both sides of the slices and then bake them on a cookie sheet in a hot (425 degree) oven, being careful to turn each slice over as it turned brown. I  then assembled the dish according to the recipe below.

This dish is similar to eggplant parmesan but without the cheese and without as much work. It is, however, as delicious as that Italian favorite. And a dash of cinnamon sends it to another world.

I got the recipe from the “Feed Me Phoebe” blog. Phoebe describes herself as a gluten-free chef, obsessed with finding the sweet spot between health and hedonism. And I can attest that this casserole feels very indulgent while you’re eating it.

I changed the original recipe slightly, most notably using a large eggplant rather than 2 medium eggplants, and I found that I needed a little more tomato sauce. The next time I make it, I may try baking the eggplant after brushing the slices with olive oil, as the eggplant slices soaked up a lot of oil during the frying process. But maybe, that’s why it tasted so good.

Here’s the recipe, which can be made using just one cast-iron pan:

Turkish Eggplant Casserole: Imam Bayildi

March 23, 2018
: 20 min
: 1 hr
: 1 hr 20 min
: Easy

By:

Ingredients
  • 1 large eggplant (I don’t salt it as recommended in the original recipe as I believe that makes it more acidic. Instead, be careful to select a very firm eggplant with little or no blemishes. The color should be a deep purple. And then peel it vertically in strips so that it looks like it has thin purple stripes before you slice it into 1/4-inch slices, horizontally (the original recipe suggests slicing it lengthwise).
  • Sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon
  • Olive oil. Use a good grade regular frying-style olive oil, not extra-virgin
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • About 18-24 oz of diced tomatoes from a can or box. (The original recipe recommended 14.5 ounces but I found I needed more.)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley, divided in half
Directions
  • Step 1 Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a cast iron skillet (or oven-proof skillet). If you don’t have one, you can use a regular frying pan and then this dish becomes a two-pan meal as you’ll need to bake it all in the end in a small roasting pan or lasagna pan.
  • Step 2 Fry eggplant slices over medium heat until golden brown (about 2 minutes on each side) and add more oil as needed so eggplant doesn’t stick or burn. Remove the cooked eggplant to a plate.
  • Step 3 Add onion to skillet and cook until soft (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic, chili flakes, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and cinnamon. Cook for one minute more, until fragrant. Carefully pour in the tomatoes and simmer until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in half the parsley.
  • Step 4 Remove most of the tomato sauce from the pan, leaving only a thin layer (about 1/4 cup) spread evenly over the bottom. Add one layer of the eggplant in the pan over the sauce and then top with more sauce. Continue to add layers of eggplant and sauce, as if you were building a lasagna.
  • Step 5 Cover with foil and cook in the oven for about 45 minutes until eggplant is soft and sauce is reduced. Garnish with remaining parsley and let it rest for about 10 minutes before slicing it. You can serve it warm or at room temperature.
Caponata, aka: Sweet and Sour Eggplant

Caponata, aka: Sweet and Sour Eggplant

(Above: Caponata on slices of Italian bread makes crostini.)

This recipe is one of the best I found in a very long time. It is a delicious blend of sweet and sour flavors with a mingling of soft and crunchy textures that melts in your mouth creating a desire for more and more. It is addictive.

The recipe, first printed in the 2005 edition of Gourmet Magazine, got the highest score on Epicurious.com: four forks, and the 18 people who reviewed it said they would make it again.

So what is caponata and what can you do with it? It’s a blend of bite-sized eggplant, tomatoes, celery, green olives, and red bell peppers that have been enhanced with some garlic, onion, parsley, basil, sugar and red wine vinegar.

The original recipe called for salting and draining the eggplant presumably to make it less bitter. I don’t believe in this procedure and find that picking a fresh eggplant that is dark purple and firm and with few, if any scars, works better. I also suggest peeling off the skin to create long white and purple stripes.

It is delicious, by itself as a side dish, or when mixed with pasta. It also makes the best crostini when spread generously over toasted ciabatta slices. It’s very versatile and can be used imaginatively in a thousand different ways. I just put the last of it on some lavash bread, along with some goat cheese and arugula to create a roll-up sandwich. It was better than an eggplant (or chicken, or veal) parm sandwich on a braided roll.

This recipe takes a little work but it’s worth it. It makes a big batch that you can enjoy for several days or even a week. Enjoy!!

CAPONATA, AKA: SWEET AND SOUR EGGPLANT

September 20, 2015
: 20 min
: 1 hr 30 min
: Medium

By:

Ingredients
  • 2 lb eggplant (preferably small but not Asian)
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt (preferably Sicilian)
  • 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups olive oil
  • 11 garlic cloves (from 2 heads), chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (preferably from a tube)
  • 1 (28-oz) can whole Italian tomatoes, finely chopped and juice reserved
  • 5 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large red or yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup large green Sicilian olives (6 oz), pitted and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup drained bottled capers, rinsed
  • 1/3 cup red-wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Directions
  • Step 1 Peel the eggplant to create long purple and white stripes. Then cut it into 1/2-inch cubes.
  • Step 2 Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté three fourths of garlic, stirring, until golden, about 1 minute.
  • Step 3 Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
  • Step 4 Add tomatoes with their juice, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Step 5 Bring 2-3 cups of salted water to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart saucepan, then cook celery until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water to stop cooking.
  • Step 6 Heat 1/4 inch oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until it’s hot but not smoking and then fry the eggplant in 4 batches, stirring and turning constantly with a slotted spoon, until browned and tender, 3 to 5 minutes per batch. (Heat oil between batches.) Transfer to paper towels.
  • Step 7 Pour off all but 2 tablespoons oil from skillet, then reduce heat to moderate and cook onion, bell pepper, and remaining garlic, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes.
  • Step 8 Add tomato sauce, eggplant, celery, olives, capers, vinegar, sugar, pepper, and remaining teaspoon sea salt and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes.
  • Step 9 Cool to room temperature, uncovered, then chill, covered, at least 6-8 hours. Just before serving, stir in parsley and basil. Serve cold or at room temperature.

 

City Rebounds With Some Asian Flair

Douglas Tran (top) opened All Seasons Table in Malden in 2007. (Pat Greenhouse Photo/Globe Staff)
Douglas Tran (top) opened All Seasons Table in Malden in 2007. (Pat Greenhouse Photo/Globe Staff)

By Mark Micheli
(This story ran in the Feb. 22, 2015 edition of the Boston Sunday Globe.)

MALDEN — It took Maria Tran 11 tries before she successfully left Vietnam in 1984.

“It was not a trip. It was an escape,” said the owner of Maria’s Beauty Salon in Malden Square, who was one of the 2 million boat people who fled between 1975 and 1995 after the fall of Saigon.

Ten times she was caught and 10 times she was put in jail, from the time she was 14 until she was 18. Finally, she and her younger brother made it onto a fishing boat with 75 others and traveled for two weeks — with little food — to a US refugee camp in Malaysia.

Eventually she ended up in Malden, where she opened her hair salon 17 years ago. At the time, there were few other Asian-owned businesses in Malden Square. Today, they are in the majority.

Malden has a large Asian population, estimated at more than 23 percent of the nearly 60,000 residents. In a stretch of Pleasant Street in Malden Square — from the MBTA station to Main Street — there are 19 Asian-owned businesses, four of which opened in the past 14 months. Another four are scheduled to open this year.

They are filling up storefronts in Malden Square, bringing the vacancy rate to nearly zero, and playing a major role in the city’s downtown revitalization efforts. Those plans include tearing down City Hall to reopen Pleasant Street and replacing it with apartment buildings that include street-level commercial space.

Two large storefronts that have been empty for several years also are under construction and will open as Asian-owned businesses this year.

A 9,000-square-foot space at 21 Pleasant St. — which has been empty since Family Dollar moved out in 2008 — is being renovated into an upscale Asian seafood restaurant called Ming. Nearby at 46 Pleasant St., the five-floor, 28,000 square-foot former Bank of America branch that closed in 2012 is being gutted to house Bling, a 100-seat hot pot restaurant with 25 private entertainment rooms for karaoke, sports-TV parties, and business meetings.

“We looked at Boston, Cambridge, and Malden,” said Yuan Huang, 40, co-owner and managing partner of Bling, who was born in Beijing and came to the United States when he was 13.

Huang said he is one of seven partners who have invested more than $2 million to renovate the former bank building. Some of that money, he said, came from investors in China under a US government program that will help them gain citizenship for investing more than $500,000 in a business that will help stimulate the economy.

Huang said that the convenience of Malden was one of the major attractions, with the Orange Line, commuter rail, bus service, and parking garages all in the city center. Another attraction was the city’s large population of Chinese and college students, two demographics Bling is targeting.

Huang co-owns a real estate company that specializes in residential leasing in Greater Boston, including downtown Malden.

“We have cooperation with all of the Chinese student associations in the city in all the major colleges, and we have an exclusive relationship with them,” he said.

One of the oldest Asian businesses in the square is India Bazaar at 430 Main St. The large Indian grocery store opened in a smaller space about a block away in 1999 to serve the growing Indian population, said Varun Punj, 25. He took ownership of the store about six months ago, when his father died.

Varun Punj owns Indian Bazaar, a food store, one of the oldest Asian businesses in the city. (Wendy Maeda Photo/Globe Staff)
Varun Punj owns Indian Bazaar, a food store, one of the oldest Asian businesses in the city. (Wendy Maeda Photo/Globe Staff)

He said his father and uncle opened the store because there was a need to serve the Indian population here.

“There was only one store in the Greater Boston area, somewhere in Somerville,” said Punj, who moved from India to Malden when he was 6. “I remember as a kid, we used to go down there and it was quite a trip for us, especially not having a car.”

Now, there are two smaller Indian grocery stores and two large Asian supermarkets in Malden. But Punj, who graduated with a degree in business from Suffolk University last year, said he is not worried about competition. He said he will modernize the store and will also follow the business lessons he learned from his father.

“The foundation was already built,” he said. “I’m just continuing his legacy.”

Douglas Tran opened All Seasons Table — an Asian fusion restaurant with live jazz on the weekends — at 64 Pleasant St. in 2007. Business was so good, he expanded into an adjacent vacant storefront three years later to accommodate private functions and overflow crowds that still line up on the weekends.

Many believe his success was the turning point that encouraged more Asian restaurateurs to come to Malden.

Three Asian restaurants opened after All Seasons Table, and another three are scheduled to open this year, all within a few blocks of Tran’s restaurant. Still, Tran said he is not worried about the extra competition.

“Competition will make you better, smarter,” said Tran, 46, who came to the United States from Saigon — formerly the capital of South Vietnam — when he was 11. “It will make you work harder.”

Tran is opening another restaurant in Malden, at 2 Florence St. across from the MBTA station, where the Italian restaurant Artichokes once thrived before moving to Wakefield in 2009. Tran’s B&B Café will feature “new American cuisine.”

“We want to tap into what Malden doesn’t have now,” said Jackie Bouley, a manager at All Seasons Table who is a partner with Tran and All Seasons bar manager Andre Barbosa in the new venture. The restaurant is expected to open in late spring.

Steve Liu, 30, who last May opened Wow Barbecue — about a 10-minute walk from Malden Square on Salem Street — agrees competition is good but for a different reason.

“Malden has become a dining destination, especially for Chinese,” said Liu, who was born in Beijing, has a master’s in business from Babson College, and did a business analysis of the barbecue market in China before opening his restaurant a short walk from his home. “Having more [Chinese restaurants] will attract more Chinese to live here, and that will require even more restaurants.”

Malden Mayor Gary Christenson said his office helped steer business to Malden by streamlining the permitting process. The city also has targeted the Asian community by participating in cultural events in Boston’s Chinatown, as well as by hiring a liaison who speaks Chinese to work in the city’s strategy and business development office.

Still, the mayor admits he is concerned about there being too many Asian restaurants downtown.

“We’ve tried to encourage some of the newer [restaurants] to come up with a niche,” Christenson said. “We want them all to succeed, but realistically I think some duplication will cause that not to be.”

Kevin Duffy, the city’s strategy and business development officer, pointed out that although there are several Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants, there are also immigrants from many other countries who offer other kinds of food. Those restaurants serve Indian, Ethiopian, Cuban, Korean, Mexican, Italian, Haitian, Mediterranean, American, and Brazilian cuisine. Malden Square also has an Irish pub.

“If you come here and open up an ethnic food place, you can’t fake it,” Duffy said. “Someone will call you out on it because they know what it’s supposed to taste like.”

Mushrooms Stuffed With Nepitella Pesto

Mushrooms Stuffed With Nepitella Pesto

It came to me in a dream: nepitella pesto. I thought that maybe I had invented the idea but a quick search online turned up one reference to it at a restaurant in New York called Osteria Morini.

There they team nepitella pesto with buffalo mozzarella on crostini or with fresh whipped ricotta topped with peas and asparagus. I’m sure that doesn’t taste bad, but what were they thinking? Everyone knows nepitella pairs perfectly with mushrooms and artichokes: everyone, in the small minority of people in this country who have heard of nepitella.

Nepitella plant

So let me let you in on the secret. Nepitella is an herb that grows wild in Tuscany (and in my driveway after I transplanted a small plant from my grandmother’s garden about 15 years ago). Some describe it as a cross between oregano and mint, but I believe it’s more like a cross between basil and mint. And I wouldn’t think of cooking mushrooms or artichokes without it.

So when I was inspired to try to make nepitella pesto the logical use for it was to stuff mushrooms with it. And the result was perfect.

Stuffed mushrooms

The pesto by itself, without any cooking, was much stronger than a basil pesto: more earthy and with a sharp bite, almost spicy flavor. But when it cooked inside the mushrooms, the taste mellowed into a more mild buttery flavor: still very earthy but without the sharpness of the raw nepitella pesto.

If you’d like to try this, finding nepitella will be a challenge, but a search online revealed a few places that sell the plant. Or just stop by my driveway: there this evasive plant grows wild in cracks and along narrow dirt patches along the fence.

Nepitella Pesto (And Stuffed Mushrooms)

September 4, 2013
: 45 min

Making the pesto probably takes about 15-20 minutes; add another 20-25 minutes to make the stuffed mushrooms.

By:

Ingredients
  • Nepitella leaves (washed, about a half a cup)
  • Pignoli nuts (about 1/4 cup)
  • Garlic (4-6 cloves)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (about 1/2 cup)
  • Parmesan cheese (About 1/4- 1/2 cup
  • Imported, freshly grated. Don’t use the stuff they sell in a jar
  • Or use freshly grated Romano and/or Pecorino if you’d like to save some money.)
  • Kosher salt and pepper.
  • Mushrooms
Directions
  • Step 1 Put nuts and garlic in food processor with a steel blade and process for about 15 seconds.
  • Step 2 Add nepitella leaves, salt and pepper.
  • Step 3 With processor running slowly add the olive oil until it’s completely pureed.
  • Step 4 Add cheese and process for another minute.
  • Step 5 If you don’t use it right away, put in refrigerator with plastic wrap touching the top or with a film of olive oil on top. This will prevent discoloring.
  • Step 6 To stuff mushrooms:
  • Step 7 Pull off stems, clean caps with paper towel.
  • Step 8 Put clean caps in a baking dish that has been greased with a small amount of olive oil.
  • Step 9 Spoon in nepitella pesto and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. You can serve it as is or with a shaved piece of parmesan cheese on top and/or a pignoli nut.
Beef Bourguignon II: An Easier Recipe

Beef Bourguignon II: An Easier Recipe

Here’s a quicker and easier recipe than Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon.

With temperatures in the 40s yesterday I was looking to make something in my dutch oven. So I looked on the Staub website and found this recipe. It’s time consuming (needs two hours in the oven) but pretty simple to make and dirties only one pan: your dutch oven.

Once you crisp the bacon, brown the beef, and saute the mushrooms, you throw everything back into the dutch oven and wait 2 hours for it to be done. I don’t have the steamer insert so I didn’t make the potatoes as described in this recipe on the Staub website. Instead I opted for mashed potatoes and some crusty bread.

You could also serve it with torta d’patata, according to this meal plan.

Beef Bourguignon II: An Easier Recipe

November 9, 2012
: 2 hr 40 min
: Medium

By:

Ingredients
  • Salt, to taste
  • 5 slices thick-cut smoked bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 lb. crimini mushrooms, stems removed and cut into quarters
  • 2 1/2 lb. beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup beef broth, divided
  • 3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 lb. whole pearl onions, peeled
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup brandy
  • 3 cups red Burgundy wine or Pinot Noir
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Directions
  • Step 1 Heat a 5 qt. cocotte over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crispy, stirring often, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate.
  • Step 2 Add the mushrooms to the cocotte and cook until golden and just tender, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms to the plate with the bacon.
  • Step 3 Season the beef generously with the salt and pepper. Over medium-high heat, warm the cocotte. Working in 3 batches, brown the beef on all sides until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes per batch. Transfer the beef to a plate.
  • Step 4 After the last batch of beef is browned, deglaze the cocotte with 1/2 cup beef broth, scraping up the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Return all the beef, bacon, and mushrooms to the cocotte. Add the flour, stir to coat evenly, and cook for 1 minute.
  • Step 5 Add the carrots, pearl onions, garlic, and tomato paste to the cocotte. Add the brandy and simmer for 30 seconds. Add the wine, remaining beef broth, and bouquet garni to the cocotte and increase the heat to medium-high, bringing the liquid to a boil.
  • Step 6 Transfer to the oven and cook for 1 hour. Check the stew and give it a stir. Continue cooking the stew, covered, until the beef is fork-tender, 30 to 45 minutes more. Taste the liquid and season with salt and pepper, if desired, and discard the bouquet garni.
  • Step 7 Spoon the beef bourguignon into a shallow bowl. Serve with potatoes and garnish with parsley.

 

What Do You Do With Watermelon Radishes?

What Do You Do With Watermelon Radishes?

This is as simple (and colorful) as it gets.

My friend Kristi recently gave me some watermelon radishes she got from a local farm as part of her CSA (community supported agriculture) delivery. I never heard of them and asked how to prepare them.

“Eat them raw,” she suggested. “They’re very good with hummus.”

So I washed and peeled them, and then sliced them into disks. They go well with hummus and make a colorful, healthy appetizer.

Nan’s Mashed Potatoes

A woman passes a plate at a dinner table
That’s Nan, passing a plate of artichokes at Easter Dinner in the Rootsliving dining room.

My brother’s mother-in-law, Theresa McMullen (aka: Nan, short for Nana), is a great cook and one of her specialties is this mashed potato recipe.

 

It’s good for special occasions, like Thanksgiving, and is guaranteed to have your guests asking for more. If they also ask for the recipe, tell them they can find it here on Rootsliving.

 

The recipe is a fairly easy one to follow. A simplified explanation is you make mashed potatoes and then add sour cream and cream cheese to them and bake them until they’re bubbly and hot.

 

A baking dish with mashed potatoes
I may have gone a little heavy on the paprika this time but that’s OK. It’s not a spice that easily overpowers anything.

 

Choosing Your Potatoes

The best potatoes to use are high in starch content, which produces fluffy, and not runny, mashed potatoes. This time I used a combination of yellow Yukons and some Russets (white).  The Yukons have a little less starch but add a buttery flavor.

To peel the potatoes, I recommend using a small paring knife or a steak knife with a good handle. Try to get as close to the skin as you can but don’t worry too much about it. If you end up cutting off and throwing out some of the potato, who cares? You’ll get better at this the more you do it.

 

A bay leaf floats in water over potatoes
Just one bay leaf adds enough flavor to the potatoes as they boil.

 

When boiling the potatoes, I always add a bay leaf and sometime even a peeled onion cut into halves or quarters. And I also boil them in a large pasta pot with a colander insert. This makes it easy to get the potatoes out of the boiling water without any mishaps.

 

Potatoes drain in a colander
A pasta pot with a colander insert comes in handy.

 

The most important tip I can give you is to mash the potatoes by using a ricer. A ricer is a metal contraption that you put a handful of potatoes in at a time and then squeeze it shut so that the potatoes are forced to push through small drain holes and into a bowl.

 

Potatoes in a ricer
I can’t live without my ricer.

 

My mother always used a ricer when making mashed potatoes, so I never gave this a second thought. This prevents lumps. And no one likes lumpy mashed potatoes.

 

Close up of hot mashed potatoes
Cook at 350 until the potatoes are hot and bubbling. This usually takes about 20-30 minutes.

 

So how many calories are in this dish? Probably a million, but hey, we’re not eating them every week. These are good a few times a year, on special occasions.

 

Mashed potatoes on a plate
These creamy potatoes will have your guests asking for the recipe and more.

 

Nan's (decadent) Mashed Potatoes

April 3, 2010
: Easy

This takes a little time but it's easy to make. You basically make mashed potatoes and then add a few ingredients to them before baking.

By:

Ingredients
  • Potatoes (8 pounds)
  • Bay Leaf (1)
  • Garlic powder (just a dash)
  • Cream Cheese (1 8 oz package)
  • Sour Cream (1 16 oz container)
  • Salt, pepper (to taste)
  • Paprika (enough to sprinkle on top)
  • Butter (enough to grease a baking dish and a few slabs to put on top)
Directions
  • Step 1 Boil potatoes with bay leaf until tender. And then mash. I always mash potatoes through a ricer, which prevents lumps.
  • Step 2 Add salt and pepper and garlic powder.
  • Step 3 Beat in the cream cheese and sour cream. I use a hand-held electric beater until the potatoes are smooth and creamy.
  • Step 4 Put potatoes in baking dish that has been greased with butter. Smooth top and dab with butter and sprinkle with paprika.
  • Step 5 Bake in a 350-degree oven until hot and bubbly.

 

Mary’s Chicken (or Seafood) Paella

Mary’s Chicken (or Seafood) Paella

(Above, Mary shows off her kitchen skills and a necklace she bought on her last visit to Spain.)

Watching my friend Mary cook in her kitchen is more exciting than watching Rachel Ray and Giada De Laurentiis battle it out on the Iron Chef. You can see, hear and smell the food cooking, knowing that in a few minutes you’re getting some!

Mary’s a great cook and hostess and last night she and her husband Ray invited a few close friends to their home in Gloucester, Mass. for sangria, tapas and paella, followed by a wine tasting. The tapas included a homemade aloili, stuffed mushrooms, manchego cheese and crackers, a mortadella and ham salad, and bowls of almonds and olives.

But the main course was paella, two in fact: one made with seafood and one made with chicken. Both were perfectly prepared: light, moist, a hundred flavors playing on your tongue at once with only a delicate hint of saffron.

Mary notes: “There are so many variations on this dish. For the fisherman husband who does not like seafood, I leave that out and have chicken and chorizo. You can also make a veggie type with asparagus and beans, etc. I’ve played around with quite a few versions, but usually end up doing something like this… It’s like building layers of flavor all in one pan. Best served with a nice glass of tempranillo or garnacha, and good friends of course. J

Mmm. After eating the tapas and paella we sampled a few bottles of some red Spanish wine. But to be honest, we had so much fun I can’t remember which bottle we liked best.

 

Mary's Chicken (or Seafood) Paella

March 28, 2010
: Medium

By:

Ingredients
  • Olive oil (1/4 cup)
  • Chicken (Boneless thighs and/or drumsticks and/or breasts
  • About 3 pounds)
  • Spanish Onion (1 large, diced)
  • Green bell pepper (1 large, diced)
  • Parsley or cilantro (About 2-3 tablespoons, chopped)
  • Diced tomatoes (1 14.5-ounce can)
  • Chicken broth (4 1/2 cups)
  • Spanish-style chorizo links (1 pound, cut into slices on the bias)
  • Valencia or Arborio short-grain rice (2 cups)
  • Fresh or frozen green peas (1 cup)
  • Saffron threads (Just a pinch)
  • Paprika (2 tsp.)
  • Salt, pepper to taste.
  • Lemon wedges (to serve as garnish)
Directions
  • Step 1 Heat a paella pan or very large, shallow skillet or pot, preferably with 2 handles over high heat. A large cast iron skillet would also work here.
  • Step 2 Pour in the olive oil and let it heat up. Season the chicken all over with salt, pepper and paprika. Sear in the olive oil until brown all over. Transfer to a plate with tongs.
  • Step 3 Lower the heat to medium and saute the onions and bell pepper until softened.
  • Step 4 Stir in the diced tomatoes, chicken broth, and chorizo.
  • Step 5 Bring the liquid to a boil and then stir in the rice and saffron.
  • Step 6 Add the browned chicken pieces. The rice should be completely covered with liquid.
  • Step 7 Cook the paella without stirring for 20 minutes. When the liquid has all been absorbed, pour the peas over the top of the pot, turn off the heat and cover the pot with a kitchen towel.
  • Step 8 Let stand 5 minutes and then serve with lemon wedges.
Katie’s Roast Beef Sandwiches

Katie’s Roast Beef Sandwiches

From left to right, Jay, Kenny, and "Little Kenny."
From left to right, Jay, Kenny, and “Little Kenny.” Click on the photo to hear them play and sing.

This is what RootsLiving is all about.

My friends Kenny and Katie recently hosted what we like to call a “hootenanny,” complete with guitar singing, food, and good friends.

Kenny is a singer/songwriter and he, and my friend, Jay (who you might remember helped me out on the backyard makeover project) played guitar and sang, taking requests from the small audience in Kenny’s dining room.  Kenny’s 16-year-old son, “Little Kenny” also joined in for a few numbers, playing bass.

Katie is one of the best cooks I know. She made a slow-roasted roast beef for sandwiches with Boursin cheese and tomato. And everyone else brought one appetizer. I brought my AI (Asian-Italian) Chicken Wings.

Here’s Katie’s recipe. Please note that this takes some time (24 hours in a salt wrap in the refrigerator), but is fairly easy to make and will be the best roast beef for sandwiches, if you follow the directions exactly.

Katie's Roast Beef Sandwiches

March 14, 2010
: 24 hr
: Medium

By:

Ingredients
  • Boneless eye-round roast (3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pound)
  • Kosher salt (4 teaspoons)
  • Vegetable oil (2 tsp.)
  • Pepper (2 tsp.)
  • Boursin cheese (about 5 or 6 oz. or so
  • enough for as many sandwiches as you’re making)
  • Mayonnaise (about 5 or 6 oz.
  • just enough to make the Boursin cheese spreadable.)
  • French rolls (or any good Italian bread) (Katie got her rolls at Colarusso’s Bakery in Stoneham, Mass. and they were great!)
  • Tomato slices (enough for as many sandwiches as you’re making.)
Directions
  • Step 1 Sprinkle all sides of the roast with the salt. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 18-24 hours.
  • Step 2 Pre-heat oven to 225 degrees.
  • Step 3 Pat the roast dry with paper towels. Rub with 2 tsp. of the oil and sprinkle all sides evenly with pepper.
  • Step 4 Heat the remaining 1 tsp. of oil in a skillet over medium heat and then sear the roast until brown on all sides (about 3-4 minutes per side.)
  • Step 5 Transfer roast to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. And roast for about 20 minutes per pound (Katie’s 4.25 pound roast beef took 1 1/2 hours to cook).
  • Step 6 Shut oven off and DO NOT OPEN OVEN FOR 30 MINUTES.
  • Step 7 Put roast on carving board and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing.
  • Step 8 Mix just enough mayo into the Boursin cheese to make the cheese spreadable (about half and half).
  • Step 9 Put a slice of roast beef in the roll. Spread Boursin cheese mixture on top. Add a few slices of tomatoes. (Note: If you’re having a party — or a hootenanny — you can put the roast beef slices, Boursin cheese spread, tomatoes, and rolls out on separate plates and let your guests make their own sandwiches.)
Joe’s Weight-Loss Chinese Chicken and Vegetables

Joe’s Weight-Loss Chinese Chicken and Vegetables

(Above: This dish is healthy, fast and fresh: just like you.)

My friend Joe, who recently found out he is diabetic and lost more than 50 pounds, credits this dish with his success.

Using brown rice, instead of white, is healthier and has fewer calories.  You can also add other vegetables to it as you see fit. This dish is flavorful and doesn’t feel like you’re cutting calories when you eat it.

Joe with his artwork
Joe Gem at one of his art exhibits north of Boston.

 

Joe is an artist, with a natural born talent for sketching people. You can see his work here. He’s available for commissions, and his prices are extremely reasonable. He lives north of Boston with his partner Karen and their two goldendoodles. He likes to cook and even makes his own dog food.

Two goldendoodles
Amos and Andy are goldendoodles and very well behaved.

 

This dish is as easy to make as you like. Joe buys the brown rice (not fried rice) at a nearby Chinese restaurant and gets the chicken meat from a rotisserie chicken he buys at the supermarket. But if you want to save a few bucks (and know exactly what you’re eating) you can choose to roast a few chicken breasts and make the brown rice yourself.

Vegetables in bowls
Once the chicken and vegetables are chopped, this dish comes together pretty quickly.

You can also buy the vegetables already chopped up at the supermarket, but beware: there’s a huge markup on the price and I’m not sure the chopped veggies are as fresh.  A little slicing and dicing never hurt anyone and it’s a great way to build up your cooking skills, if you’re a novice cook.

Vegetables and chicken in a frying pan
Stir it up in a frying pan with a little olive oil. And don’t forget to add the oyster sauce.

Once you have your veggies chopped and your cooked rice, you simply fry it all with a little olive oil and add a little oyster sauce. What could be simpler (and healthier) than that?

 

Joe's Weight-Loss Chinese Chicken and Vegetables

January 26, 2010
: Easy

By:

Ingredients
  • Cooked white chicken meat (about two breasts) cut into 1-inch pieces. You can roast your own by drizzling a little olive oil in a roasting pan, and adding salt and pepper on the breasts. Then cook for about 30-45 minutes (for bone-in breasts) at 350 degrees. When done, cut 1-inch pieces off the bone. Or you can simply buy a cooked chicken at the supermarket and cut the white breast meat off it.
  • Cooked brown rice. (About 4-6 cups)
  • Onion (1 whole, chopped)
  • Scallions (2 bunches, about 8-10). Cut off the roots and then cut them where the stalks are light green and throw away the leaves. Then slice the remaining ends into tiny discs.
  • Mushrooms (About 8 ounces, cut into quarters)
  • Broccoli (about 2-3 cups of florets, cut up into bite size pieces)
  • Extra virgin olive oil (just enough to coat a frying pan to cook the onions and scallions, and just enough to coat a roasting pan if you’re roasting your own chicken breasts)
  • Oyster Sauce (A few tablespoons, to your taste. Available at most specialty shops or in the Chinese ingredient section of some supermarkets. Make sure it does not contain any high glucose corn syrup. Joe uses Lee Kum Kee Oyster Sauce. I tried the Yummy House brand which has more fish flavor and has only 5 calories per serving to Lee Kum Kee’s 25 calories.)
Directions
  • Step 1 Drizzle a few teaspoons of the extra virgin olive oil to coat the bottom of a frying pan. Add the onions and scallions and cook until translucent.
  • Step 2 Then add the mushrooms and broccoli and cook until the mushrooms are golden brown and the broccoli is tender, but not wilting.
  • Step 3 Add the chopped chicken and stir.
  • Step 4 Add the oyster sauce and stir.
  • Step 5 Add the brown rice and stir.
  • Step 6 Cook until heated well through (about 5 minutes) and serve.

 

 

Work Night Dinner: Octopus’s Garden Gazpacho/Sandwiches

Work Night Dinner: Octopus’s Garden Gazpacho/Sandwiches

Here’s something to kick off a weeknight in the late summer: two quick and easy recipes, perfect to make and eat after a long day of work or to enjoy while you’re working through dinner.

An Octupus’s Garden Gazpacho with Leftover Chicken Hummus Sandwiches

BEWARE: This Octopus's Gazpacho may attract a puss or two.
BEWARE: This Octopus’s Gazpacho may attract a puss or two.

(Tip: Gazpacho should sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before eating, so you could make this the night before. This soup is also very low in calories. For you Weight Watchers, it’s about 4 points per serving with the shrimp — or only 3 points without.)

An Octopus’s Garden Gazpacho

This recipe came from Parade Magaziine via Epicurious. The original name was Farmstand Gazpacho, but my brother Peter (who first made this for me) had the brilliant idea of adding shrimp to it, so I changed the name.

Eating this is like eating a bowl of nature and combined with the shrimp, you may feel like a playful sea otter surfacing from the deep with a fresh morsel in his mouth.

Octopus's Garden Gazpacho

September 12, 2009
: Easy

By:

Ingredients
  • 2 cups, about 1 large, peeled and diced (1/4 inch) cucumber
  • 2 cups, about 2, diced (1/4 inch) red bell pepper
  • 2 cups, about 2, diced (1/4 inch) ripe tomato
  • 1/2 cup, about one small, diced (1/4 inch) red onion
  • 2 cups of tomato juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 dashes Tabasco sauce (You can add more if you like it more spicy. I added four dashes and found that suited my taste)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shrimp (about 16 whole, medium-sized cooked shrimp. More or less to suit your taste.)
Directions
  • Step 1 Place all of the diced vegetables in a large bowl. Add tomato juice, vinegar, oil and Tabasco. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Step 2 Transfer half of the mixture to a blender or food processor and pulse the machine on and off to coarsely puree the ingredients. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine.
  • Step 3 Add eight of the shrimp to the soup. Save and refrigerate the other shrimp to use as garnish around the cup or bowl. Refrigerate gazpacho for 4-6 hours. I put it in the refrigerator for only three hours before eating it and it was fine.
  • Step 4 Put soup in bowls or cups and hook a few shrimp around the rim. Serve with your favorite sandwich.

I made the following sandwiches with some leftover fried chicken and what I had hanging around my icebox. (The tomato and cucumber in the sandwich echoed some of the main ingredients of the soup making this a perfect combination.)

Leftover Chicken Hummus Sandwiches

Ingredients:

  • Good, real, Italian bread (I used a loaf of pane francese)
  • Leftover chicken, sliced thin
  • Tomato slices
  • Cucumber slices
  • Hummus

What I did:

Cover one bread slice with chicken. Put slices of tomato on top and add salt and pepper. Put slices of cucumber on top. Spread hummus on the other slice of bread and make a sandwich.

 

Dinner on a Moonlit Beach

Dinner on a Moonlit Beach

The summer isn’t over yet.

A good way to enjoy the beach is to go at the end of the day when the sun is low, the crowds have left, and parking rates are either reduced or completely waived. Bring dinner and a bottle of wine and watch the sun set.

Here’s what I made for our beach excursion this past weekend:

Beach Salads and Bruschetta

September 8, 2009
: Easy

By:

Ingredients
  • Some ripped up spinach leaves
  • Some ripped up arugula leaves
  • Two tomatoes, sliced and chopped
  • Half a cucumber, sliced thin and then cut into quarters
  • Two tablespoons of anise, chopped into small bits
  • A dozen or so queen-sized, pimento-stuffed green olives, chopped
  • Two tablespoons of capers
  • Half a can of chick peas
  • Half pound of cooked salmon chopped into cubes or two hard-boiled eggs, sliced (I made the salmon for me, but substituted eggs for Trish, because she doesn’t like salmon).
  • Your favorite salad dressing. I used all-natural, bottled Greek dressing.
  • Bruschetta Ingredients:
  • Thick slices of Italian bread, toasted under the broiler
  • Two garlic cloves, gently crushed
  • Three or four tomatoes
  • About 20 fresh basil leaves
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
Directions
  • Step 1 Mix everything in two separate plastic bowls: one with the eggs and the other with the salmon.
  • Step 2 How To Make the Bruschetta: Rub the toasted Italian bread slices with the garlic and drizzle a little olive oil over them. Then slice into thick strips. Wrap in wax paper or put in plastic container.
  • Step 3 Chop tomatoes and put into bowl.
  • Step 4 Stack the basil leaves on top of each other and roll up. Then slice into strips. Sprinkle strips on tomatoes and toss with a little olive oil. Add salt.

 

 

Packing up bruschetta for the beach really isn't that difficult.
Packing up bruschetta for the beach really isn’t that difficult.At the beach, spread the tomato mixture on top of the toast slices and eat as an appetizer before the salad. Pour a glass of wine, watch the sunset, and maybe even take a moonlight dip in the ocean.

 

Asian Shrimp Salad

Asian Shrimp Salad

Good recipes endure. And Trish has been making this recipe for more than 20 years. It’s a favorite appetizer at Christmas time in the RootsLiving house, but she also made it this week when we had our next-door neighbors over for a cookout.

She found the recipe in an old cookbook that a previous tenant left in her apartment before we were married.

Asian Shrimp Salad

August 13, 2009
: About 6 as an appetizer
: 15 min
: 15 min
: 1 hr
: Easy

By:

Ingredients
  • 1/2 lb cooked shrimp
  • 1/4 lb sliced ham
  • 1 small green pepper
  • 4-6 spring onions (scallions)
  • 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
  • For the Dressing:
  • 4 tablespoons of peanut or light sesame oil
  • 4 teaspoons of vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of grated, fresh ginger
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili oil (optional)
Directions
  • Step 1 Cut the ham into ribbons.
  • Step 2 Halve the pepper, remove the seeds, and slice finely.
  • Step 3 Cut the spring onions (scallions) diagonally.
  • Step 4 Rinse the bean sprouts and nip the ends.
  • Step 5 Combine the shrimp and ham with the vegetables in a bowl and chill until ready to serve.
  • Step 6 For the Dressing: Place all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and beat with a fork or whisk until it thickens a little.
  • Step 7 Just before serving, pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat evenly.

 

Quick Appetizers in a Pinch

Quick Appetizers in a Pinch

(Photo by Katie Hogan)

This is so simple, you’ll probably say it’s ridiculous for me to even write about it. But this is a great solution when you’re rushed for time and you promised the host or hostess last week when they invited you over for a pool party that you’d bring an appetizer.

Three words: Supermarket Deli Bar

Head to the deli bar and start filling up those plastic boxes with what looks good. Here I chose grape leaves, stuffed olives and stuffed cherry peppers. I also saw an interesting rolled-up salami and cheese concoction and grabbed that too.

Next stop: The Cracker Aisle

There I picked up some water crackers and some basil crackers. On the water crackers I put slices of the salami, cheese rollup. And on the basil crackers, I made tiny Caprese salad hors d’oeuvres by placing a slice of fresh mozzarella, a slice of tomato and a slice of fresh basil.

Next: It’s All in the Presentation

Arrange on some nice trays or platters. Cover with saran wrap and have someone hold it carefully in their lap while you drive to your destination.

Everyone out of the pool for some fine snacking.

 

Prized Recipe: Chicken with Polenta

Prized Recipe: Chicken with Polenta

(Special thanks to professional food photographer Russell French for photographing this meal. His photos appear courtesy of Russell French Studio.)

This is one of my prized recipes. My grandmother, Bruna, used to make this and it was my favorite dish when I was a little boy.

I remember sitting at her kitchen table, with a glass of red wine mixed 50/50 with ginger ale (that’s what the kids got to drink). I’d pluck out the little black olives that were covered in a red sauce and stick them on all ten fingers, and then eat them one by one. My fingertips would be hot and then instantly cool as I ate each one.

Here’s the recipe from that memory:

Chicken with Polenta: The Chicken Recipe

July 27, 2009
: 6-8
: 30 min
: 45 min
: Medium

This is what you call peasant food, created in northern Italy where my grandmother learned to cook it.

By:

Ingredients
  • Chicken: I like to use a mixture of bone-in breasts and bone-in thighs. For this recipe, you could use four bone-in breasts
  • and four bone-in thighs to serve between 6 and eight people. You could also use a whole chicken, cut up, or even rabbit.
  • Two or three sweet Italian sausages
  • About 16 oz. of mushrooms
  • One can of pitted black olives
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cans of tomato paste (and about the same amount of water)
  • Two or three garlic cloves
  • A sprig of fresh sage or about a tablespoon of dried sage
  • A sprig of nepitella or about a tablespoon of dried nepitella. Can also substitute a combination of basil and mint. (Optional)
  • About four or five tablespoons of olive oil
  • About 1/3 to 1/2 cup of red table wine
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pinch of nutmeg
Directions
  • Step 1 Clean fat from chicken and soak in salted water.
  • Step 2 Boil sausage for about three minutes.
  • Step 3 Fry sausage with chicken, one clove of garlic (crushed), sage, salt and nutmeg in about one tablespoon of olive oil.
  • Step 4 Fry mushrooms in about one or two tablespoons of olive oil, with garlic clove (crushed), and nepitella. And then add to chicken.
  • Step 5 Add red wine, pitted black olives, tomato paste and dissolve with water to make a sauce.
  • Step 6 Heat in oven. If heating in oven immediately after cooking, set at 350 and heat for only about 15 minutes or so. If you’re not going to serve it for a while, turn heat down to 250 or even 200 just to keep warm. (Don’t overcook chicken as it gets tough.)

Chicken and Polenta: The Polenta Recipe

July 27, 2009
: 6-8
: 15 min
: 15 min
: 30 min
: Medium

By:

Ingredients
  • Three cups of corn meal
  • Seven cups of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Directions
  • Step 1 Bring seven cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to a boil over medium high heat.
  • Step 2 Gradually stir in three cups of corn meal in a slow and steady stream. Stir vigorously as you add the corn meal to avoid lumps. Continue to stir vigorously until polenta is a creamy, yet stiff, consistency. (Tip: Have boiling water on hand in case polenta gets too thick.)
  • Step 3 You can either spoon polenta onto plates in a small pile or you can dump the whole pot of polenta on a large wooden board and let it spread out and cool a bit before slicing into rectangles or squares.
  • Step 4 Spoon tomato sauce from chicken dish on top of polenta when serving.

 

Best Coffee and Spice, and at a Reasonable Price

Revere resident Bobby Eustace bought the old shop from Ralph Polcari in 2004. Eustace started working at the shop as a teen.
Revere resident Bobby Eustace bought the old shop from Ralph Polcari in 2004. Eustace started working at the shop as a teen. Click the photo for more information on Eustace.

When you walk into Polcari’s Coffee store in Boston’s North End it’s like walking back in time: a very fragrant time.

The scent of more than 40 different types of coffee beans mingles with the scent of a 100 different freshly ground spices to create one savory and sweet aroma. I imagine if this symphony of aromas came from one dish, it would be one giant parmesan casserole or perhaps a huge pizza pie, topped with something sweet — maybe apples or caramelized onions.

The place is also a feast for the eyes. It’s old world, old school, and full of tradition, with wooden shelves holding glass bins of blackish, brown coffee beans, greenish, gray teas, and multi-colored spices.

Polcari's is one of a few shops in the North End that looks the same as it did 50 years ago.
Polcari's is one of a few shops in the North End that looks the same as it did 50 years ago.

There is a small deli area towards the back of the store and a vertical banner hangs on a wall promoting a summer feast of a patron saint where some customers have attached dollar bills. Usually, during good weather, you’ll see a half dozen old men sitting in beach chairs outside the shop on the narrow roadway catching up on the neighborhood news.

I visit the shop about every six weeks to buy the best coffee beans and loose teas, for the best prices. The mocha-java blend is about $7 a pound, about the same amount you’d pay for A&P brand coffee in the supermarket and this is so much better. The green gunpowder tea sells for $8 a pound. I think the same amount at Starbuck’s wanna-be Tealuxe, would cost you over $30.

Cooking students at a nearby restaurant stopped in to pick up some items as part of their shopping/scavenger hunt.
Cooking students at a nearby restaurant stopped in to pick up some items as part of their shopping/scavenger hunt.

But the reasonable prices are only part of the attraction. The quality is high, especially for the dried spices. Small plastic bags of oregano and basil, about the size of my hand, sell for only a buck and are pungent, not like those little plastic jars you get at the supermarket that often have the scent of sawdust.

Good eating is all about good cooking and good cooking is all about using the best ingredients. Most of my good meals start here.

My Favorite Picks

Mocha Java Coffee Beans. I buy all my coffee beans whole and then grind them up as I use them. The mocha java beans are a hearty, medium blend: not too strong or bitter. Earthy. A good everyday morning cup.
Green Gunpowder Tea. A medium strength tea. Lightly sweet. A fresh, grassy, taste with just a little bitterness. Served best with a little sugar or even peppermint. Makes a great, refreshing iced tea too. Healthy.
Italian Roast Coffee Beans. This is your dark, strong, espresso roast. Add a small piece of lemon peel, sugar, and a good quality dark rum for an after-dinner pick-me-up. Or simply add a splash of sambuca.
Russian Caravan Tea. This is often described as a tea for coffee drinkers. Very strong. Smells like smoke, some have even said, bacon. I love this tea hot, with cream and sugar.
Chamomile Tea. A very light, apple-sweet tea made from dried flowers. Many drink it to relieve stress or to help them go to sleep at night.

(Polcari’s is located at 105 Salem Street in Boston. All photos by Mark Micheli)

What’s On Your Summer Checklist?

Reading a book or watching the sailboats from a beach on this Maine island is a favorite summer pastime.
Reading a book or watching the sailboats from a beach on this Maine island is a favorite summer pastime.

So here it is mid-July. You’re probably stuck, toiling away at work somewhere. Before the summer slips away, it’s time to take stock. What are your favorite things to do in the summer? Make a list now, before it’s too late. And make sure you do everything before that first nip in the air hits in late August (or September, if we get lucky in New England).

I have to confess: this isn’t my idea. I stole it from my friend: musician, humorist, and all-around creative recreationalist, Kenny Hogan. (Hey, instead of coming up with my own ideas for this blog, I need to go out and start checking off my own list. ) You can check out Kenny’s list here.

Here’s the RootsLiving list:

  • Lobster and champagne (served at home or at a cottage on a small island in Maine). There’s no better combination to make you feel like you’re living large.
  • A sit-down dinner outside in the yard with family and friends. (This is an upscale version of a cookout with real dishes, several courses — some made on the grill — and great wine.)
  • A backyard hootenanny, with music supplied by friends who know how to play a guitar and sing. (This often happens after the sit-down dinner in the yard. Hey, most people with talent are used to singing for their supper.)
  • A trip to Hampton Beach, NH. (Or anyplace on a beach near you that has a boardwalk with carnival games and is a great place to people-watch. Note: It’s a known fact that Hampton Beach has more people with tattoos per capita than any place in America.)
  • Listening to a ballgame on an AM radio, preferably in a summer cottage without TV. But in a car traveling late at night is good too.
  • Eating cold, fried chicken in the late afternoon or early evening on your favorite beach (mine is Good Harbor in Gloucester, Mass). There are no crowds then, plenty of room to park. And I have to confess, I often make things easy on myself by cooking up frozen Banquet fried chicken (Don’t tell Martha!).
  • A rowboat on calm seas on a summer day --- Aaaaaah.
    A rowboat on calm seas on a summer day --- Aaaaaah.

    Rowing a boat on a lake or a kayak in calm seas.

  • Attending at least one outdoor concert, preferably a small venue where you can bring a picnic.
  • Attending a minor league baseball game, where the ticket prices and concession stand prices are cheap, and it’s all about the kids, not the players’ egos.
  • Sitting at a raw bar overlooking the ocean, eating the freshest oysters and clams and chasing it down with a cold beer.
  • Picking and eating fresh tomatoes with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
  • Body-surfing on a beach with big waves.
  • Playing bocce in the yard or on the beach.
  • Making dinners with the bounty of the season: fresh seafood, greens, and fruits.
  • Blowing off an item on my “work to-do” list to do one of these fun things. The summer is all about playing hooky.

Please comment below on some of the things that are on your summer checklist.

(Photos by Mark Micheli)

A True Roots Woman

Click on the photo to watch a video of Jen Kearney singing an acoustic version of her latest album's title track, "Year of the Ox."
Click on the photo to watch a video of Jen Kearney singing an acoustic version of her latest album's title track, "Year of the Ox."

Now, here is someone you need to check out: Musician and culinary school-trained chef Jen Kearney.

I saw her and her band, “The Lost Onion,” at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, Mass. last year and was blown away. Her band –six pieces including trumpet, sax, and trombone — played a mix of soul, latin, funk, reggae and rock n’ roll.

Most of the songs were originals. However, one of the surprising highlights was when they ended a cuban-fusion number and then started in on the Led Zeppelin hit, “What Is And What Should Never Be.” The band left the stage for this number, leaving just Kearney on the keyboards and a lead guitarist. The sound was ethereal.

The husky-voiced Kearney (who sometimes sounds like Stevie Wonder or Joan Armatrading) is playing some dates next month in Cambridge, Mass., New York, and her hometown of Lowell, Mass. She also plays in Lowell on Aug. 8 opening up for the Derek Trucks (of Allman Brothers fame) Band.

But what I didn’t know until today is that Kearney is also talented in the kitchen. An article in today’s Lowell Sun reveals she inherited “an Italian cooking gene” and includes a recipe and slideshow of her cooking what she calls “Lost at Sea Frutti de Mare.”

Now that’s a true rootsliving woman!

(I haven’t had a chance to try and make Jen’s dish, but when I do, I’ll be sure to write about it. It sounds – like her music –  incredible.)

Grilled Pork Chops with Peppers and Capers

Grilled Pork Chops with Peppers and Capers

This was the first recipe I made out of my newest cookbook, Mario Batali Italian Grill, and the results were amazing.  Trish commented that she had a hundred flavors mingling in her mouth while she ate this.

 

And although the recipe says it serves six, three of us finished it off as we all had seconds. (Note: Recipe calls for pork chops to sit in brine overnight.)

Grilled Pork Chops with Peppers and Capers

June 18, 2009

By:

Ingredients
  • For the brine:
  • 4 1/2 quarts of water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
  • For the main dish:
  • 6 pork rib chops
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into thin strips
  • 3 yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into thin strips
  • 8 bulb onions, trimmed and quartered, or 2 red onions, halved and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
  • 1/2 cup Gaeta olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons small capers, with their brine
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Directions
  • Step 1 In a saucepan, combine 2 cups of the water, the salt, and brown sugar and heat over high heat, stirring, until the salt and sugar dissolve.
  • Step 2 Pour into a large deep bowl or another container large enough to hold the pork and the brine.
  • Step 3 Add the peppercorns, the bay leaves, and the remaining 4 quarts of water. Stir to mix well.
  • Step 4 When brine is completely cool, add the pork chops. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • Step 5 The next day, heat olive oil in large pot over high heat until very hot. Add the peppers, onions, olives, red pepper flakes, and capers and cook, stirring for 10 minutes, or until the peppers and onions are beginning to soften. Add the wine and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove from the heat, and set aside.
  • Step 6 Drain the chops and pat dry with paper towels. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
  • Step 7 Place chops on hottest part of the grill and cook for 7 minutes, unmoved. With tongs, carefully rotate the chops 90 degrees to create nice grill marks and cook for 4 minutes more. Turn the chops over and cook for 5 to 9 minutes more, making sure they are cooked inside.
  • Step 8 Transfer the chops to a platter, spoon the pepper mixture over it and serve.

 

Tricia eating outside on our patio table
Tricia enjoyed these chops in our backyard.

 

 

Roasted Vegetable Napoleons

Roasted Vegetable Napoleons

I got this recipe more than two decades ago and it stands up to the test of time. It’s from the now defunct Gourmet Magazine, the January 1996 edition. I used to have a subscription to that wonderful publication and saved all of the issues. I still make these stacks a few times a year for family and friends who request them. Trish, particularly, is fond of them.

 

Sliced zucchini on a cookie sheet
Brush the vegetables with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper before baking.

 

They are easy to make. You roast the vegetables on cookie sheets with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then you assemble the stacks, skewered with rosemary sprigs. Bake in the oven at 450 degrees.

Roasted Vegetable Napoleons

June 9, 2009
: 6
: Easy

There's a little bit of work to this: slicing and baking. But it's still pretty simple to make.

By:

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 pound eggplant, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices
  • 1 1/4 pounds zucchini, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices
  • 4 large plum tomatoes(about 1 1/4 pounds), cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices
  • 2 medium red onions cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices
  • 1 pound medium red potatoes, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices
  • 3/4 cup ricotta
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 pound mozzarella, cut into six 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 6 fresh rosemary sprigs
Directions
  • Step 1 Brush cookie sheets with olive oil and place slices of vegetables on them. Brush the vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in a preheated 450 degree oven until tender and lightly browned.
  • Step 2 Stir ricotta, salt, pepper, and thyme in a bowl.
  • Step 3 Assemble the stacks on an oiled cookie sheet as follows: Eggplant slice, ricotta mixture, two potato slices, two zucchini slices, one slice of onion, a slice of mozzarella, two tomato slices, two more zucchini slices, and another onion slice. Top this with more ricotta mixture and then cover it all with an eggplant slice. Make five more of these.
  • Step 4 Put a hole through the stack using a metal or wooden skewer. Then stick a rosemary sprig through that hole. Rosemary sprig should have leaves on the top remaining inch which will stick out of each stack.
  • Step 5 Bake the stacks for about 5 minutes until cheese melts and vegetables are warmed throughout. Serve with a side dish of orzo or rice.