Because the best things in life are simple

Tag: Food

Ma’s Stuffed Peppers

This is an easy one and the kids like them too. Feel free to dip them in ketchup.  (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.

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

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:

Nutella Cookies

September 20, 2018
: 2 min
: 30 min
: 30 min
: Easy

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. (Some other recipes recommend sealing the edges with a beaten egg, but I found this wasn’t necessary). Note: I suggest making up a bunch of these before you start deep frying because the deep frying goes very quickly.
  • 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.
Can’t Beet This Vegetarian Dinner

Can’t Beet This Vegetarian Dinner

Root vegetables and eggplant. A healthy, tasty delight.

After work I felt like cooking, so I went shopping and came home and whipped this up in about 90 minutes (I used left over tomato sauce). All of the recipes except for the beet recipe have been posted on Rootsliving. So, I’m posting a link to the beet salad recipe courtesy of Epicurious.

I never liked beets, but now with this recipe, I love them. And they’re good for you too.

Here’s what we ate tonight:

Eggplant Parmesan (follow the recipe here for chicken parm, but omit the sage leaf)

French Peasant Beets

Stuffed Mushrooms with Nepitella Pesto

The combination of these earthy side dishes blended together well. And a glass (or two) of my homemade zinfandel rounded out the meal.

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.

 

Bok Choy With Raisins (A Winning Side Dish Is Born)

Bok Choy With Raisins (A Winning Side Dish Is Born)

The sweet blends perfectly with the sour in this tasty side dish.
The sweet blends perfectly with the sour in this tasty side dish.

This side dish is a definite keeper. I made it up yesterday, while trying to come up with a good green side dish to go with baked stuffed shrimp.

At first I was thinking of an arugula salad, but didn’t feel like driving three or four miles to a farm stand where I can get it at a good price: less than $2 for a good-size bag. And I wasn’t going to spend $6 or $7 for arugula at the Stop & Shop, just a few blocks from my home. So, I set my sites on the Asian supermarket, which is about a 1/4 mile from my house.

Super 88 doesn’t sell arugula, but they have an amazing selection of bok choy. And it’s cheap.

I thought about stir-frying it with some scallions and then a crazy idea hit me on how to offset the subtle bitterness of the greens with something sweet. Raisins! And just to keep things real, I decided to finish it off with a vinaigrette, a balsamic vinegar being a perfect match to bring out the flavor of the raisins.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • Bok Choy. I used about 15 pieces of the baby bok choy and it was enough for three people. Washed and chopped into 2-inch pieces.
  • Scallions, about 6. Cut off with about 2-inches of green showing and then sliced into small wheels.
  • Peanut oil, about 1 tablespoon.
  • Garlic, one clove, crushed.
  • Raisins, about 1/2 cup. I used regular raisins, but I think golden raisins may work even better.
  • A balsamic vinaigrette, about 2 tablespoons. You could also use Italian dressing.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Procedure:

Heat the peanut oil in a wok, spreading it around to coat the sides.

Add the scallions and cook until translucent.

Add the garlic and the bok choy and stir to coat with the oil. Cook for a minute or two.

Add the raisins. Stir everything occasionally and cook until greens are wilted but the white parts of the bok choy remain crisp.

Add the vinaigrette and stir to coat. Put lid on wok and cook on low heat for a minute. Then turn heat off.

Serve with your favorite protein (chicken, beef, pork, fish, even eggs).

Find more recipes in the Recipe index.

City Rebounds With Some Asian Flair

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.”

Forget the Snow, It’s Stew-A-Palooza – 2015

Forget the Snow, It’s Stew-A-Palooza – 2015

Dorm Room Chef: Dante de Magistris Makes Steak Pizzaiola from Mark Micheli on Vimeo.

(This is one of my favorite recipes from the weekly Dorm Room Chef series I produced during 2014. It’s steak pizzaiola made in a slow cooker: easy and delicious. Watch the video above, or read the recipe below.)

Here’s a collection of stews I compiled from good restaurants and cookbooks. I’ve made them all and enjoyed eating them more. Hopefully, you’ll have some of these ingredients on hand so you can make one of these dishes. But if not, watch the video and look at the pretty photos. It will warm you up more than looking at snow photos on Facebook.

The governor of Massachusetts declared a snow emergency and I’m declaring it stew-a-palooza — 2015!

STEWS TO MAKE ON A COLD WINTER DAY

  1. Geneva’s Quick Chicken And Shrimp Gumbo
  2. Shrimp Saute
  3. Easy Beef Bourguignon
  4. Coq Au Vin Blanc (The same as Easy Beef Bourguignon, only with chicken)
  5. Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon
  6. Blanquette De Veau (French Veal Stew)
  7. Lobster Stew
  8. Steak Pizzaiola

Steak Pizzaiola (in a slow cooker)

January 27, 2015
: 4
: 10 min
: 3 hr
: 3 hr 10 min
: Easy

This is one of my favorite Dorm Room Chef recipes. It’s easy — you just throw everything into a slow cooker and wait — and it’s delicious. Lots of flavors here — tart from the capers; sweet from the peppers; and hot from the red pepper flakes — with none of them overpowering the other. And it makes enough for four hungry college students.

By:

Ingredients
  • 2 lbs sirloin flap beef, (steak tips) sliced thin against the grain (about ¼ inch thick)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, (or more if you like it hot)
  • ½ teaspoon dry oregano
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons capers, plus some of it’s juice
  • 1 can 12 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or pecorino cheese
  • 1 small bunch fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 red or green pepper, sliced up
  • 1 medium size zucchini, sliced in half moons
Directions
  • Step 1 Place all ingredients in a slow cooker, mix it up, put the lid on, turn to high heat, set timer for 3 hours. Serve hot.
Christmas Eve Dinner

Christmas Eve Dinner


(Chef Gina Palmacci from Legal Oysteria demonstrates how to make Antipasti Platter.)

The menu this Christmas Eve for 11 people at our house was as follows:

Appetizers included the prosciutto wrapped bread sticks and parmesan stuffed peppadew peppers demonstrated here by the head chef at Legal Oysteria in Charlestown. And of course dessert included espresso with your choice of poisons: dark rum, sambuca, or grappa.
Chicken in Milk: Strange, but True

Chicken in Milk: Strange, but True

After browning the chicken I poured the grease into a baking dish and roasted potatoes, carrots, parsnips and apples for a side dish.
After browning the chicken I poured the grease into a baking dish and roasted potatoes, carrots, parsnips and apples for a side dish.

This was a pretty simple recipe, albeit an odd one. You basically put a chicken in a pot, brown it on all sides, remove the grease and then add milk, lemon zest and a cinnamon stick. The result is a tender, juicy and sweet, chicken with some unexpected flavors. I’d definitely make it again.

The recipe came from Jamie Oliver. I followed that recipe but took the advice of another cook who recommended cooking it covered for the first hour. Get the recipe here.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Audio Slideshow: Roasted Applesauce

Audio Slideshow: Roasted Applesauce

Click on image to watch a short video on how to make roasted applesauce from scratch.
Click on image to watch an audio slideshow on how to make roasted applesauce from scratch.

Not sure what to do with all of this season’s apples? Make applesauce. Not sure what to do with all that applesauce?

Put it on pork chops. Mix it in yogurt. Add it to oatmeal. Swap it for oil in box cake-mixes. Swap it for sugar in recipes and save about 670 calories per cup. Toss it in a smoothie. Pour some in pancake batter. Spread it on a cracker, a piece of toast, plain bread, or a peanut butter sandwich. Freeze it for later. Eat it with a spoon. Dab a little behind your ear instead of perfume.

OK. The last one is a joke. But you get the point. Applesauce is versatile. And here’s an easy recipe that includes using the skins: the most nutritious part of the fruit that will help keep the doctor away. Read over the recipe below and watch the audio slideshow (above) before you start chopping all of those apples.

Ingredients:

  • Large apples: 9. Try using three different varieties for a more complex flavor.
  • Brown Sugar: 2-3 tablespoons.
  • Cinnamon: 1 tablespoon.
  • Lemon Juice: About 1/4 cup.
  • Brandy: One shot.

What I did:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Wash apples. Cut into quarters and core.

Place apples cut-side down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Bake in oven for about 30 minutes or until apples begin to turn to mush.

Let apples cool for about 10 minutes and then put them in a food processor.

Add brown sugar and cinnamon and pulse in food processor until well blended.

Add lemon juice and brandy and pulverize in food processor until well whipped and skins disappear.

Refrigerate until ready to use.

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.
Cocktail Pitcher Inspires 60s Dinner Party

Cocktail Pitcher Inspires 60s Dinner Party

This is the cocktail set that inspired a night fit for a Mad Man.
This is the cocktail set that inspired a night fit for a Mad Man.

My parents had this cocktail pitcher and glass set from the 1960s and it’s been sitting on a shelf in the RootsLiving butler’s pantry for years gathering dust. So we decided to put it to good use by throwing a 1960s dinner party.

We knew the night would have to start off with some cocktails so deciding on that was no problem. We made a pitcher of Manhattans.

But food for a 60s dinner party could go several ways. Should we go the bean sprout hippie route complete with grass brownies for dessert? Or should we go the chic fondue route, a la Mad Men style?

We chose the latter, minus the fondue.

If you haven't had iceberg lettuce in awhile, try this.
If you haven't had iceberg lettuce in awhile, try this.

We served the Manhattans with appetizers of deviled eggs, tiny pigs in a blanket, and potato chips with onion dip.

For the main course we had beef stroganoff, served with a wedge salad.

And for dessert we had ambrosia, made with Cool Whip.

Surprisingly, some of the easiest things to make got the most raves: don’t underestimate a good onion dip or the power of Cool Whip.

Here are the recipes:

Appetizer/Cocktail Hour

Main Course

  • Beef Stroganoff (This recipe varies from the traditional by serving it over sourdough toast rather than noodles. I also used Delmonico steaks, cut up into 1-inch pieces instead of the tri-tip roast.)
  • Wedge Salad (This made me like iceberg lettuce once again.)

Open up a few cans and you've got ambrosia.
Open up a few cans and you've got ambrosia.

Dessert

  • Ambrosia Salad (I omitted the maraschino cherries and instead used some canned fruit cocktail. I also forgot to buy marshmallows but the dessert was fine without them and plenty sweet.)
  • Tom and Jerry Cocktails (This is a very old favorite, especially in winter. If you’ve never tried this you’re missing out on some great cocktail history. Make it with coffee for an after-dinner dessert.)
Find more recipes in the Food section.
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.

Simplicity at its Lemon-Roasted Best

Simplicity at its Lemon-Roasted Best

Roasted potatoes go well with this dish.
Roasted potatoes go well with this dish.

My friend Jeannie gave me the most beautiful cookbook for Christmas. It’s part of Williams-Sonoma’s “Authentic Recipes of the World” series. And this one focusses on the city of Florence.

Northern italians cook simply with the freshest and best ingredients at hand. And that’s what you should do here.

So splurge: buy a good chicken, not one of those thawed out ones for 99-cents a pound. And use the best lemons you can find. There aren’t too many more ingredients to this dish but here’s the list:

Ingredients:

  • Chicken (1 whole bird, about 3 1/2 pounds, preferably free-range, neck and giblets removed).
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (2 tbsp.)
  • Lemons (2 small)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper (I always use Kosher salt; and always, always, pepper from a grinder.)

What I did:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Rinse chicken inside and out and pat dry with paper towels.

Rub outside of chicken with olive oil, then sprinkle skin and insides with salt and pepper.

Stuff the cavity with two whole lemons.

Put the chicken in a lightly oiled shallow roasting pan and cook for about 1 1/4 hours, until golden brown. Baste occasionally.

Transfer chicken to a carving board and remove the lemons. Then tent some aluminum foil over it.

When the lemons are cool to the touch, cut them in half and squeeze the juice into the roasting pan. Throw the lemons away.

Add 3 tbspoons of water to the pan and place over high heat.

Cook for about two minutes, until reduced by 1/3.

Carve the chicken and arrange on a platter. The pour the lemon pan juices over it.

Makes about 4 servings.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Making Dinner During a Heat Wave

Making Dinner During a Heat Wave

This ancient Italian recipe is quick and easy to make and won't heat up your kitchen.
This ancient Italian recipe is quick and easy to make and won't heat up your kitchen.

Afternoon thunderstorms gave some relief from the Greater Boston area heat wave today.

And so, I returned to the kitchen after a week of take out, cold cereal, and quick omelette dinners.

But it’s still hot. So what’s a well-intentioned cook to do?

Tonight, I’m making some “Easy Week Night Pasta.” Here are some other recipes that won’t heat up the house (too much) but are certain to bring a warm smile to your face:

1.) Beach Salads and Bruschetta

2.) Octupus’s Garden Gazpacho With Leftover Chicken Hummus Sandwiches

3.) Mortadella and Ham Salad Tapas

4.) Grilled Braciole Fit for a Saint

5.) Breakfast for Dinner: Gingerbread Pancakes

6.) Soup & Sandwich Night With Style (Instead of Take Out)

Find more dinner ideas in the Food section.

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.)
Florentine Rags (Cenci)

Florentine Rags (Cenci)

Some people add a little lemon juice or lemon zest to the dough but this recipe did not call for any.
Some people add a little lemon juice or lemon zest to the dough but this recipe did not call for any.

Here’s another recipe from the classic 19th century Italian Cookbook, The Art of Eating Well, by Pellegrino Artusi.

Cenci are a Florentine winter treat, made from Epiphany to Mardi Gras. This deep-fried pastry looks like little rags and tastes a little like fried dough, but not as heavy and never greasy.

Ingredients/Shopping List:

  • All-purpose flour (2 1/4 cups)
  • Butter (2 tbsp.)
  • Confectioners’ sugar (1/3 cup, plus more for dusting the finished cenci)
  • Large eggs (2)
  • Brandy (1 tbsp.)
  • Salt (just a pinch)
  • Water (Optional; 1/4 cup or less; just enough to make dough)
  • Vegetable oil or lard (enough for deep frying)

I recommend using a cast iron skillet when deep frying. Get the oil good and hot, but not smoking.
I recommend using a cast iron skillet when deep frying. Get the oil good and hot, but not smoking.

What I did:

Making the Dough: Mix all of these ingredients in a bowl, making a fairly stiff dough. You may have to add a little water to incorporate all of the ingredients. Knead the dough thoroughly on a lighted floured surface. Add a little flour if dough comes out too soft. Shape into a ball and flour it. Let it rest, covered, for about an hour.

After it rests, the dough will much softer and easier to roll out. (If the dough formed a crust while it sat, knead it a little before rolling it out.) Roll it out into a thin rectangle (about 1/8 inch thick).

Use a pastry wheel (or knife) to cut it into strips as long as your palm and two fingers wide.

Twist and crinkle the strips and then fry them in the hot oil or lard.

Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to catch the extra oil.

Transfer to a clean plate and when cool, dust them with confectioners’ sugar.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Joe’s Weight-Loss Chinese Chicken and Vegetables

Joe’s Weight-Loss Chinese Chicken and Vegetables

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

And it’s 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.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients/Shopping List:

  • 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.)

Here’s what I did:

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.

Then add the mushrooms and broccoli and cook until the mushrooms are golden brown and the broccoli is tender, but not wilting.

Add the chopped chicken and stir.

Add the oyster sauce and stir.

Add the brown rice and stir.

Cook until heated well through (about 5 minutes) and serve.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Emancipation Proclamation Breakfast Cake

Emancipation Proclamation Breakfast Cake

This is quick and easy to make, but joyfully messy with blueberries and honey.
This is quick and easy to make, but joyfully messy with blueberries and honey.

I believe that food can play a role in people learning and appreciating each other’s culture. And with that thought in mind, I’m celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday by making something from one of my “go-to” cookbooks: The Black Family Reunion Cookbook.

This is Emancipation Proclamation Breakfast Cake. An older cookbook published in 1958 with a nearly identical recipe states, “The Emancipation Proclamation New Year’s Day 1863 is celebrated in all parts of the United States.”

However, The Black Family Reunion Cookbook published in 1991 has a note from a woman in Virginia who writes, “In my home state we have commemorated the Emancipation Proclamation on the 8th of August…with basket dinners. Former slaves and descendants of slaves would come from around the country for this grand day of celebration.”

Of course, none of this describes what this pastry tastes like.  So here’s my attempt to describe its delights: If a blueberry muffin and a honey bun had a baby, this would be it.

Ingredients/Shopping List:
  • Butter Flavored Crisco (1/3 cup)
  • Sugar (1/3 cup)
  • Large Egg (1)
  • All-purpose flour (2 cups)
  • Baking powder (1 tbsp.)
  • Salt (1/2 tsp.)
  • Cinnamon (1/4 tsp.)
  • Milk (1/3 cup)
  • Blueberries, fresh or frozen (1 1/2 cups)
  • Honey (1/4 cup)
  • Grated orange peel (from 1 orange)
  • Grated lemon peel (from 1 lemon)
What I did:
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 9-inch pie plate.
Combine Butter Flavored Crisco and sugar in large bowl. Beat with electric mixer until creamy.
Beat in 1 egg.
Combine flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in another bowl. Add alternately with milk to creamed mixture.
Fold in the blueberries
Pat dough out to 1/2 thickness on a lightly floured surface.
Cut into nine 3-inch rounds.
Place one round in the center of the pie plate. Arrange the other eight tilted and overlapping around the center dough circle.
Spread honey over the top. Sprinkle the orange and lemon peel on top.
Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until the dough in the center is thoroughly baked. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Find more recipes in the Food section.
Blanquette De Veau (French Veal Stew)

Blanquette De Veau (French Veal Stew)

This blanquette de veau is easy to make and warms you up on a cold fall day.
This blanquette de veau is easy to make and warms you up on a cold fall day.

Nothing helps me cope with the loss of the summer (my favorite season) than turning my attention to fall cooking and eating: hearty stews and rich soups.

Here is an easy version of a traditional french veal stew. Veal (even stew meat) can be costly, but this is worth it, especially when company comes calling.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 pounds of boneless veal stew meat (cut into 2-inch pieces)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Two 14 1/2 ounce cans of low-salt chicken broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 medium carrots, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • 1 10 oz package frozen peas, thawed, drained
  • Serve with plain white rice (you can add saffron if you like.)

What I did:

Season veal with salt and pepper. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large, heavy pasta pan, sauce pan or dutch oven, over medium heat.

Add veal in batches and cook until brown, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer veal to a plate.

Add onion and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and saute until onion is tender (about 3 min.). Return veal and juices to pan.

Sprinkle flour over veal and stir for 2 minutes. Pour in wine and bring to boil. Add chicken broth and thyme.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 25 minutes.

Mix in carrots and continue simmering until carrots and veal are tender, about 25 minutes.

Add cream and boil until liquids are reduced to sauce consistency (about 15 minutes). Stir in peas and bring to boil.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with rice.

Makes about 6 servings

Find more recipes in the Food Section

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.

 

Eggplant Parmesan Light

Eggplant Parmesan Light

This luscious eggplant casserole is low on calories. For you Weight Watchers, that means only 1-2 points per serving.
This luscious eggplant casserole is low on calories. For you Weight Watchers, that means only 1-2 points per serving.

(The first in an occasional series of low-calorie meal recipes.)

I should weigh 1000 pounds.

After making, eating and writing about food for RootsLiving – with recipes such as Ma’s Stuffed Peppers, Mac and Cheese for Adults, Chicken with Polenta,  and Italian Cheeseburgers — I need to start focusing on some low-cal dishes.

I started creating low calorie meals several years ago when my wife joined Weight Watchers. My criteria for inventing these dishes was that they not only be low calorie — and low in Weight Watcher points — but they also be healthy and just as flavorful as the fattening stuff.

This eggplant parmesan dish meets that criteria by using a red Italian sauce made with carrots that was one of my father’s favorites. He got the recipe from our cousins who live near the walled city of Lucca in Italy. And I can assure you that none of them used this sauce in their favorite dishes because they were watching their weight.

And oh, yeah, there’s one more thing: this eggplant parmesan contains no parmesan cheese.

You could add some and boost the calorie (or points) up a bit. But with the wide-variety of intermingling flavors contained in this dish, I don’t think you’ll miss it.

Eggplant Parmesan Light (About 1 or 2 Weight Watcher points per serving)

(Serves 4)

The red carrot sauce can be used on pasta too or in this case, rice.
The red carrot sauce can be used on pasta too or in this case, rice.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium to large eggplant (Pick an eggplant that is shiny with a deep, rich, purple color. It should also be firm all around, with no soft spots)
  • 1 cup or so of the red carrot sauce (see recipe below)
  • Small thin slices of low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella cheese (just enough to cover each eggplant slice)
  • 1 lemon
  • 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil
  • Salt (I prefer Kosher salt for all cooking)
  • Fresh basil leaves (about 2-4)

What I did:

Brush a cookie sheet with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil so that eggplant slices won’t stick too much.

Peel eggplant and cut into thin slices, no more than a 1/4-inch thick.

Cut lemon into wedges and squeeze juice into small bowl. Brush each eggplant slice with the lemon juice and salt. Then place on cookie sheet.

Bake eggplant slices in batches in a 450 degree oven. Turn slices over being careful not to burn.

Lightly brush olive oil into small casserole dish or baking pan. Put down one layer of eggplant slices. Top each slice with a very thin slice of mozzarella cheese and then cover with carrot sauce.

Repeat until all eggplant slices are used. Place a small piece of fresh basil on top of the top slices.

Bake eggplant in a 350 degree oven until cheese melts (about 10 minutes).

Italian Red Sauce Made with Carrots

  • 1 garlic clove (lightly crushed but kept whole)
  • 1 onion (chopped fine in a food processor or by hand)
  • 4 carrots (chopped fine in a food processor or by hand)
  • 2 celery stalks (chopped fine in a food processor or by hand)
  • 1-2 tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley
  • 1/2 can of tomato paste
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1/2 cup of red wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon of dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil

What I did:

Heat olive oil in a sauce pan. Add garlic and onion and cook until translucent.

Add chopped carrots, celery, and parsley. Saute until soft, stirring often for about 15 minutes.

Add tomato paste and enough water to turn sauce orange (about 3 cups). Cook until water is reduced and sauce becomes thick (about 15 minutes). Stir often.

Add wine and cook for about another 10 minutes, stirring often. Add salt and pepper to taste, and basil.

(All photos by Mark Micheli)

Find more recipes in the Food section.

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.

 

Athens Grilled Chicken

Athens Grilled Chicken

This grilled chicken is easy and quick to make on a hot summer night.
This grilled chicken is easy and quick to make on a hot summer night.

I enjoyed making and eating the St. Rocco Braciole so much I decided to improvise and create a similar dish using chicken and my Greek sensibilities.

The dish is easy to make and is perfect during the hot summer when you’d rather fire up the backyard grill than turn up the heat in the kitchen. A good side dish for this is grilled “Italian” corn-on-the-cob.

Ingredients:

  • Four chicken breasts, pounded and flattened thin. (Make sure the breasts are no more than a 1/4 inch thick.)
  • Greek salad dressing (If you don’t have any, olive oil will do in a pinch)
  • Greek seasoning mix (If you don’t have any, salt and freshly ground pepper will do alone or with dried basil, dried oregano and a pinch of garlic powder if you have it.)
  • 6 oz of crumbled feta cheese
  • Four tablespoons of chopped fresh baby spinach leaves
  • Two tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
  • Eight whole black pitted olives
  • Two red bell peppers

Preparation:

  • Cut the tops off the red peppers. Take the seeds out and slice vertically down the middle.
  • Mix the crumbled feta cheese, chopped spinach leaves and chopped parsley in a small bowl. Cut the eight whole olives into thin slices and add to feta mixture.

What I did:

Place pepper halves on the grill and cook until tender and black lines appear on the skin. Set aside.

Lay the chicken breasts flat on the hottest part of the grill. Sear for only a short time (about one minute) and then flip over.

Working quickly, spread about a tablespoon of Greek salad dressing on each breast and add a healthy sprinkling of Greek seasoning.

Spread the feta cheese mixture on each breast as it cooks.

Cover and grill for about four minutes. Test for doneness by cutting off a small piece and checking to make sure there are no pink parts.

When done, roll it up on a plate and serve it on top of a roasted red pepper half.

(Photo by Mark Micheli)

Find more recipes in the Food section

Grilled Braciole Fit For a Saint

Grilled Braciole Fit For a Saint

This braciole is easier to make and tastes even better than the more traditional braciole that is cooked in an oven.
This braciole is easier to make and tastes even better than the more traditional braciole that is cooked in an oven.

No need to sweat in a hot kitchen for this one. This braciole is cooked outside on the grill and with outstanding results.

“San Rocco Braciole” is a specialty of the St. Rocco Feast in Malden, Mass. and was created by Malden City Controller Domenic Fermano.

I attended the outdoor block party on Pearl Street earlier this month and had the pleasure of buying one of these from a street vendor for only $5. They serve it in a French roll to make it convenient to eat, but I omitted that here as it makes a good dinner without the bread when served with a side dish.

Ingredients:

  • Sirloin beef, sliced thin. (You can use butterflied sirloin or top of the round too. Pound it if necessary between two pieces of waxed paper or saran wrap with a rolling pin. The key is to make sure the meat is tender.)
  • Imported ham
  • Imported salami
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Crushed garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Roasted Cubanelle pepper
  • Your favorite tomato sauce

Cover the meat with the cold cuts and cheese.
Cover the meat with the cold cuts and cheese.

What I did:

Lay the sirloin flat. Drizzle olive oil ontop and then the crushed garlic bits.

Add a slice of the ham and a slice of the salami and then the mozzarella cheese.

Place the meat on a hot grill and cook for three to four minutes. It will cook through on the one side so there’s no need to worry about not flipping it over.

When done, roll it up on the grill or on a plate. Be careful not to burn your fingers.

Place Cubenelle peppers on the grill and turn over so it cooks on all sides.

Presentation:

Place roasted pepper on a plate. Put rolled up braciole on top. Spoon tomato sauce over the braciole and serve.

(Photos by Mark Micheli)

Find more recipes in the Food section

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

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)

In Search of a Good Rose

In Search of a Good Rose

Michael Beier of Ruby Wines held a wine tasting at Brix Wine Shop this month.
Michael Beier of Ruby Wines held a wine tasting at Brix Wine Shop last night..

There’s a lot of talk in the wine world these days about roses. These pale pink concoctions used to be snubbed by many because of the bad rep they got from cheap, jug versions that were often bubble-gum sweet and left you with a pucker worthy of biting into a raw, tart lemon.

But no more: Gourmet Magazine recommends eight great rose wines this year. And a Los Angeles Times critic wrote in May that “there is simply nothing better on a warm afternoon, a salve for sun-drenched, heat-driven thirst.”

Free Wine Tasting

So with that in mind, I decided to get re-educated in rose by attending a wine tasting at the fashionable Brix Wine Shop on Broad Street in Boston. Four roses, all from France and all 2008 vintages, were available for tasting:

  1. Sancerre, Pinot Rose, made by Lucien Crochet for $34.99 a bottle.
  2. Cassis, made by Domaine Du Bagnol for $26.99 a bottle.
  3. Cotes du Ventuoux, made by Chateau Valcombe for $16.99 a bottle.
  4. And Syrah, made by Yves Cuilleron for $17.99 a bottle.
My favorite was one of the cheapest at $17.99 a bottle. Still, I wouldn't call it a bargain.
My favorite was one of the cheapest at $17.99 a bottle. Still, I wouldn't call it a bargain.

Surprisingly, the most expensive ones were not my favorites. They were very tart and without a clean finish. The cheapest Cotes du Ventuoux made with cinsault, grenache, and counoise grapes was mellow and not too tart. But my favorite was the next cheapest, the Syrah: medium-bodied, yet light and refreshing, with no pucker.

Does Price Equal Nice?

So does my love for cheaper wine mean my palate is off or not yet perfected? Certainly not.

“One of the enduring myths of wine appreciation is the idea that price is the greatest measure of quality. I can say with utter confidence that you don’t always get what you pay for – sometimes you get more!,” wine critic Robert Whitley wrote this month.

I’m still looking for more. Although the Syrah was decent, I know I can find better. I’ll continue to look over the summer. Meanwhile, if you have found an exceptional rose, please let me know.

(All photos by Mark Micheli)

What’s On Your Summer Checklist?

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 Must-Have Wild Italian

A Must-Have Wild Italian

This herb grows wild in Tuscany and will grow wild in your backyard too.
This herb grows wild in Tuscany and will grow wild in your backyard too.

Nepitella completes the trifecta of Italian herbs that are a must-have in any Tuscan kitchen. You know about oregano and basil, but what is nepitella?

It’s an herb like no other and one I wouldn’t dream of living without. Some describe it as a cross between oregano and mint, but I believe it’s more like a cross between basil and mint. In reality, it’s in a league by itself.

So what do you use it for and where can you get it? Find out the answers to these questions and more.

More on nepitella at AllThingsTuscan.com

And try this recipe for Nepitella and Mushroom Spaghetti

(Photo by Mark Micheli)

The Perfect Burger

The Perfect Burger

I didn't have time to take a photo of my own hamburgers, but I found this picture which looks about right.
I didn't have time to take a photo of my own hamburgers, but I found this picture which looks about right.

Happy Fourth of July Weekend. And if it ever stops raining (in Boston, it’s been raining almost every day since the beginning of June) you may have a chance to cook out on the holiday.

Hamburgers are best kept simple. They’re the easiest thing to make, and yet most backyard chefs either go the ultra-easy root (buying pre-made patties — yech!) or go overboard trying to jazz up the all-American favorite by adding too many ingredients to the meat and then pounding it into oblivion while trying to shape the patty.

A few years ago, an article in Gourmet Magazine brought me back to my hamburger roots. This is the simplest and best way to make a tasty, juicy hamburger:

Ingredients:

Ground beef (Get chuck or meat with a high fat content. Seventy-five or 80 percent lean is good.)

Kosher salt

What I did:

Put ground beef in a bowl. Sprinkle liberally with Kosher salt.

Take a 1/4 pound or so of the ground beef and very gently form a patty in your hands. Do not pack it with your hands. This is very important. Just stick it together so that it remains a little crumbly but won’t fall apart.

Place patties on the grill. Turn them over once. Do not press them down with a spatula or touch them again in any way. When you see some blood forming on the top of the burger turn it over. Add cheese if you like. Cook until done and serve on a hamburger bun (grilled if you like).

And if it’s raining where you are, you can always cook them inside on a stovetop the same way. Or if you want to give them a little Tuscan sun, try making “Italian Burgers and Fries.” Ciao. Happy 4th!!

A True Roots Woman

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.)

Lenten Spaghetti

Lenten Spaghetti

Good Italian food isn't all about red sauce, as this dish proves.
Good Italian food isn't all about red sauce, as this dish proves.

This is a little different, but very good, simple and easy to make.  Pellegrino Artusi, in his famous 1891 cookbook, said that some might exclaim, “What a ridiculous dish!” But we both like it. It’s Romagnan and a little sweet.

Ingredients

2 1/2 ounces of shelled walnuts

1/2 cup of breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons of confectioners’ sugar

1 heaping teaspoon of spices (see below)

1 lb of spaghetti

Spices

  • The lenten spaghetti recipe calls for a mixture of spices that several other recipes in the Artusi use, so I made a batch of this that I keep in my cupboard. Called “Spezie Fini” or “Choice Spices” you “grind in a bronze mortar” (or chop in a mini foodprocessor; or however you choose to grind):
  • 2 whole nutmegs
  • 2 ounces stick cinnamon from Ceylon
  • 1 ounce (4 1/2 tablespoons) all-spice
  • 4/5 ounce (4 tablespoons) cloves
  • 2 tablespoons sweet almondsThen “strain the powder through a silk strainer” (or whatever) and store it in a glass bottle. It should keep for years with the same potency.
What I did:
Mash walnuts with bread crumbs, and add some confectioners’ sugar and a pinch of spices.
Drain the pasta, season it with oil and pepper, stir in the spices and serve it.
(Should serve five)
(Find more recipes in the Food section.)
Grilled Pork Chops with Peppers and Capers

Grilled Pork Chops with Peppers and Capers

A good companion to the grilled pork chops and peppers dish is grilled artichokes (recipe follows).
A good companion to the grilled pork chops and peppers dish is grilled artichokes (recipe follows).

This was the first recipe I made out of my newest cookbook, Mario Batali Italian Grill, and the results were amazing. My wife 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.)

  • 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
    —————————-
  • 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
It doesn't get more colorful or flavorful than this pepper, onion, and caper mixture.
It doesn't get more colorful or flavorful than this pepper, onion, and caper mixture.

What I did:

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.

Pour into a large deep bowl or another container large enough to hold the pork and the brine.

Add the peppercorns, the bay leaves, and the remaining 4 quarts of water. Stir to mix well.

When brine is completely cool, add the pork chops. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

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.

Drain the chops and pat dry with paper towels. Season both sides with salt and pepper.

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.

Transfer the chops to a platter, spoon the pepper mixture over it and serve.

This dinner was so good we had two pork chops each.
This dinner was so good we had two pork chops each.

Also, try the Grilled Artichoke recipe

Find more recipes in the Food section.

(Photos by Mark Micheli)

Mmm. Mmm. Memphis

Mmm. Mmm. Memphis

Neely’s Barbecue Chicken

Neely's Barbecue Chicken, with corn bread and corn-on-the-cob.
Neely's Barbecue Chicken, with corn bread and corn-on-the-cob.

I promised I’d try to reproduce some of the recipes of the wonderful food we ate during our trip to Memphis (audio slideshow) in April.  And this chicken recipe was easy to duplicate, since I found the recipe on the Food Network, courtesy of the Neelys.

For those who don’t know, Patrick and Gina Neely have their own show on the Food Network.  Their restaurant is about a 10 minute cab ride from downtown Memphis. It doesn’t look like much: kind of a dive with red Formica tables and some neon Bud signs hanging on the walls. But the food is fantastic and cheap!!

This barbecue chicken was my favorite: tender meat with a thousand flavors eminating from a not too spicy, savory barbecue sauce. This is roots cooking at its best.

(Photo by Mark Micheli)

Find more recipes in the Food section.