Tag: recipe

The Secret to Getting Everything to the Table Piping Hot

The Secret to Getting Everything to the Table Piping Hot

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

So what’s the secret? PREPARATION!!

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

Now Is The Time To Start Planning

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

 

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

 

MENU AND THANKSGIVING PREP SCHEDULE

Here’s the Rootsliving Thanksgiving Day menu:

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

SCHEDULE:

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDAY:

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

MONDAY:

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

TUESDAY:

  • Spoon fat off chicken stock and make Root Soup.

WEDNESDAY:

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

THURSDAY, THANKSGIVING DAY:

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

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

 

 

Triple Cornbread Stuffing

Triple Cornbread Stuffing

This stuffing is not for the birds.

 

Ingredients for stuffing
The ingredients for this stuffing are pretty basic: probably things you have on hand.

 

I never recommend cooking the stuffing inside the turkey cavity. Instead, make it and cook it separately. That way, you’ll avoid problems with cooking the bird and won’t have to worry about contaminating the stuffing.

 

Bacon in a frying pan
You only need about 8-10 slices of bacon.

 

This recipe has its roots in African-American life. I found it in the “Black Family Reunion Cookbook,” one of the cookbooks I often refer to when looking to make something different and authentic.

It’s not hard to make, but it’s not as easy as one might think, especially after reading the recipe and finding out you can use canned corn and store-bought cornbread. Making stuffing is an art. After you mix it up, you have to continuously taste it and make adjustments until you get the flavor and consistency just the way you want it.

 

Celery and onions frying
You fry the celery and onions in the same pan you cooked the bacon.

 

I found the original recipe to be a little too dry, so I decreased the amount of toasted breadcrumbs and added about a quarter cup of the bacon grease. The bacon I used was pretty lean so it didn’t create too much grease.

 

Stuffing ingredients in a bowl
Make sure you use a bowl large enough to fit all of the ingredients.

 

Once you mix it up, if you still think it’s too dry, try adding some boiling water: just enough to get the moist consistency you want.

 

Stuffing being stirred in a bowl
The stuffing is ready when you say it is ready. Stir it up and taste it for moistness and flavor until it’s just right.

 

You can serve it as is or if you want to heat it up, try baking it in a 350 degree oven with a few tabs of butter on top. But be careful. I wouldn’t heat it up for more than five or ten minutes or you risk drying it out.

 

Triple Cornbread Stuffing

November 13, 2018
: 10-12
: Medium

Once you mix this up, continuously taste it for moistness and flavor and make adjustments until it's just right.

By:

Ingredients
  • Bacon, 1/2 pound (about 8-10 slices), reserve about 1/4 cup of the cooking grease
  • Celery, chopped, 1 1/2 cups
  • Onion, chopped, 1/2 cup
  • Cornbread crumbs, 4 cups (make or buy cornbread and crumble it into coarse crumbs)
  • Toasted bread crumbs, 2 cups (you can spread regular breadcrumbs on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for about five minutes, but watch it so it doesn't burn)
  • Poultry seasoning, 2 teaspoons
  • Salt, 1/2-1 teaspoon or to taste
  • Cream-style corn, one 17 oz can
  • Whole kernal corn, one 17 oz can, reserve the liquid
Directions
  • Step 1 Fry bacon in a skillet until crisp. Crumble it and set it aside. Save 1/2 cup of the drippings to cook the celery and onion in.
  • Step 2 Fry the celery and onion in the bacon grease until tender but not brown.
  • Step 3 Put the bacon in a large bowl along with the celery and onion. Add everything else: the cornbread crumbs, breadcrumbs, poultry seasoning, salt, and both cans of corn. Also add bacon drippings and some or all of the liquid that came with the whole kernel corn.
  • Step 4 Mix it up good until combined well. If the stuffing isn’t moist enough, add just enough boiling water to get the consistency you want.
  • Step 5 You can serve it as is. Or if you want to heat it up, put it in a baking dish and dot the top with small pads of butter. Bake at 350 for no more than 5 or 10 minutes. Be careful you don’t dry it out.
Classic, No-Fail, American Roasted Turkey

Classic, No-Fail, American Roasted Turkey

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

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

 

turkey in a roasting pan

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fresh or Frozen?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Turkey slices with gravy on a plate

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Classic, No-Fail, American Roasted Turkey

November 12, 2018
: Medium

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

By:

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

 

Sage Gravy For Turkey

November 12, 2018
: Medium

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

By:

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

Boeuf Bourguignon

(Above: Be sure to dry the beef with paper towels before frying. Damp meat won’t brown properly.)

This is the classic beef bourguignon recipe from Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook” cookbook.

It is complicated and can take several hours but it is delicious.

If you’re looking for an easier recipe where you throw everything into a pot and wait 2 hours, try this one: Beef Bourguignon II: An Easier Recipe.

Either version goes well with this meal plan that features a side of torta d’patata: Julia Meets Bruna .  We made that for a Christmas dinner party for six and there was plenty to go around.

 

Tricia holding a plate of beef stew
Tricia holds a plate of beef bourguignon with a slice of torta d’patata during a Christmas dinner party.

Boeuf BOURGUIGNON (From Julia Child)

October 15, 2018
: 6-8
: 4 hr
: Difficult

By:

Ingredients
  • 3-4 pounds boneless beef stew meat cut into cubes.
  • Olive oil
  • 2/3 cup of carrots
  • 5-6 cups of red wine (I used my award-winning homemade zinfandel)
  • 2-3 large, unpeeled cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 2 cups of tomatoes (1 whole unpeeled tomato, cored and chopped, plus a can of drained Italian plum tomatoes)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • Salt
  • 4 tbs flour and 4 tbs of softened butter to make a paste for the finishing sauce, called “beurre-manie” sauce
  • 24 small onions, cooked in oil until brown, and then braised over the stove in a mixture of chicken stock and red wine (which covers them only half way). Cook until tender but not falling apart.
  • 3 cups of quartered mushrooms, cooked in oil and butter and chopped shallots, until tender and golden brown.
Directions
  • Step 1 Dry the meat with paper towels and then brown in batches in a large frying pan with a film of olive oil. Transfer browned beef into a large stockpot.
  • Step 2 Leave a spoonful of the fat in the frying pan and cook the sliced carrots, stirring and tossing until brown. And then scrape them out of the pan and into the stockpot with the beef.
  • Step 3 Pour a cup of wine over the hot frying pan and deglaze, scrapping up all of the bits on the bottom of the pan and then pour over the beef and carrots in the stockpot.
  • Step 4 Add the garlic and four more cups of wine to the stockpot. Fold in the tomatoes. Add the bay leaf, thyme, and salt to taste. The liquid should just about cover the beef. If it doesn’t add more.
  • Step 5 Bring to a simmer on top of the stove, and then cook at a slow simmer for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Step 6 Put a colander inside a sauce pan and drain mixture from stockpot. Rinse out the stockpot and put the beef and carrots back in it.
  • Step 7 Degrease the cooking liquid by skimming a spoon on top to take out the fat (about tablespoons or so). Boil the liquid to reduce it a little and adjust seasonings to your taste. You should have about 3 cups.
  • Step 8 Make the beurre-manie sauce by mixing the flour with the butter with very clean hands until if forms a paste or a lump, resembling dough. Whisk this into the cooking liquid until dissolved and then bring the mixture to a boil again so that the sauce thickens. (Note: If the sauce is not thick enough, make some more of the beurre-manie sauce and repeat.)
  • Step 9 Pour sauce over beef and carrots in the stockpot. And then fold in the onions and mushrooms. Simmer for about 2 minutes to blend all of the flavors.
  • Step 10 Serve on a plate with potatoes and a slice of crusty bread.Eat with a nice glass of zinfandel.
Chard Stuffed with Risotto and Mozzarella

Chard Stuffed with Risotto and Mozzarella

Here’s a recipe from one of my favorite restaurants: La Zucca Magica, in Nice. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed a few years ago, but I have very fond memories. It was an Italian vegetarian restaurant that had gotten much acclaim from guide books and the New York Times.

We didn’t have this dish at the restaurant but I made it when we got home using a recipe that was posted on the New York Times site that has since disappeared. Still, you can watch the YouTube video of NYTimes writer Mark Bittman making the dish.  And I was able to save the written recipe (see below).

There are multiple flavors and textures that work well together in this tasty delicacy. The fresh healthy green of the soft swiss chard leaves; the savory taste of saffron; the bite of the lemon zest; and the sweetness of the Parmesan and fresh mozzarella cheese all make your taste buds dance.

I served this as the third course in a three course meal I created from recipes I got in Southern France. Although none of the courses contained meat, the three courses were very filling. The first course was a cantaloupe gazpacho with crispy prosciutto. The second course was a tomato stuffed with pasta salad. 

Chard Stuffed with Risotto and Mozzarella

October 15, 2018
: 6
: 1 hr
: Medium

By:

Ingredients
  • Vegetable broth (6 cups)
  • Arborio rice (1 cup)
  • Saffron (1 large pinch)
  • Lemon (1 small, zested)
  • Butter (2 tablespoons)
  • Parmesan Cheese (1/2 cup grated
  • I recommend using the best, Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Swiss chard leaves (6 large)
  • Mozzarella (1/2 pound cut into small cubes)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (enough to drizzle over the leaves)
Directions
  • Step 1 Make risotto by heating up 1 tbsp of butter and adding the rice. Stir and then add one up of the vegetable broth. Keep heat on low to medium. When the liquid is absorbed add another cup and stir until all three cups are used. Rice should be barely tender.
  • Step 2 Dissolve saffron in juice of one lemon. Add to rice, along with butter, Parmesan, zest of one lemon and pepper to taste. Allow rice to cool a bit. Rice can be made in advance at this point (up to 1 day), but do not refrigerate it.
  • Step 3 Poach chard leaves in about 2 cups remaining broth for about 45 seconds. Take out, drain on a dishcloth, and cut out the hardest part of central stem. Reserve cooking broth.
  • Step 4 Preheat oven to 400 degrees. With wet hands, form 6 balls of rice 2 to 3 inches across. Dig a hole in each ball and insert mozzarella. Wrap each ball in a chard leaf.
  • Step 5 Put balls in a close-fitting oven pan, with enough reserved broth to come about a half-inch up the sides of the balls. Bake 20 minutes.
  • Step 6 Serve balls topped with a little more broth, more lemon zest, Parmesan and olive oil.
Tzatziki (Greek Dip)

Tzatziki (Greek Dip)

(Above: This Greek dip is healthier and less fattening than sour cream based dips, but tastes just as good, if not better.)

After our first trip to Greece in 2011, I started experimenting with some Greek dishes.

This is a very addictive yogurt and cucumber dip and is served everywhere in Greece, including on Gyros you buy from street vendors. We like it as a dip for lightly toasted pita chips, which we served at our Big Fat Greek Mother’s Day Party.

We also had our friend Chris and his family (who are from Crete) over for dinner and they raved about this dip, so it must be authentic.

Tzatziki (Greek Dip)

October 13, 2018
: 20 min
: 1 hr 20 min

This is easy to make in about 20 minutes but you should let it rest in a refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.

By:

Ingredients
  • Greek yogurt (16 oz.). It’s better with the whole fat Greek yogurt, but I’ve used the low-fat and non-fat Greek yogurts and it’s been great too. It just depends on whether you want to save a few calories or not. Whatever you choose, it’s less fattening and more healthy than any sour cream dip: and much tastier.
  • Cucumber (1 large)
  • Garlic cloves (3 cloves. The recipe I have calls for 5, but I found it too strong. And I love garlic.)
  • Dill (A small bunch. About 1-2 tbsp.)
  • Olive oil (1/8 to 1/4 cup. The recipe I have calls for a 1/2 cup, but I found less is best.)
  • Salt, pepper (to taste)
  • Lightly toasted pita chips
Directions
  • Step 1 Put salt, garlic, and dill in a food processor and mince fine.
  • Step 2 Wash the cucumber and peel strips lengthwise so the cucumber looks like is has stripes. Then grate it and dump it into a colander to drain. You can press down on the small pieces to get more moisture out.
  • Step 3 If the yogurt isn’t already strained, then dump it into a colander too to allow excess moisture to drain out.
  • Step 4 Put yogurt, cucumber, garlic mixture, olive oil, salt and pepper into a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  • Step 5 Cover and store in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Several hours or overnight is even better.
  • Step 6 Serve with lightly toasted pita chips. (Simply cut pita bread into triangles. Brush on olive oil and salt and bake in a 400 degree oven on a cookie sheet until lightly toasted.)

Ma’s Stuffed Peppers

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

Quick, Easy Nutella Cookies

Quick, Easy Nutella Cookies

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Quick, Easy Nutella Cookies

September 20, 2018
: Easy

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

By:

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

 

Cold Taiwanese Sesame Noodles With Peanut Sauce

Cold Taiwanese Sesame Noodles With Peanut Sauce

This is how you make Taiwanese street food.

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

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

Here’s the recipe:

Cold Taiwanese Sesame Noodles with Peanut Sauce

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

By:

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

 

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.
Chickplantasagna is Born

Chickplantasagna is Born

(Above: Layered like lasagna, with eggplant, chicken, and zucchini, chick-plant-asagna was born out of necessity.)

We were hungry.

I had eggplant, zucchini, some leftover cheddar cheese and a new block of Parmigiano-Reggiano in the refrigerator. All day long I thought of those ingredients and asked myself what I could make for dinner. Around 4 p.m., the answer came to me.

 

I just needed chicken cutlets so I stopped at the supermarket on my way home and found some chicken tenders that looked better than the other cuts of chicken there. I brought them home and flattened them between two pieces of aluminum foil (I had nothing else). And that’s where our story (recipe) begins.

 

Zucchini on a cutting board with eggplant slices
You start by slicing the vegetables and baking them. Notice how the eggplant slices (top left) have only a little skin left on them.

 

I don’t believe that salting the eggplant and letting it drain helps get rid of the bitterness so I never do that. Instead, I make sure to buy a really good eggplant: one that is dark in color, one that has a smooth skin without blemishes, and one that is firm to the touch. And I peel the skin, leaving vertical stripes, so that when you slice the eggplant, each slice only has a little skin on it. I believe this helps to keep the bitterness to a minimum.

 

Slices of eggplant on a cookie sheet
Brush the vegetables with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt before baking.

 

After you bake the vegetables, fry the chicken, and saute a tomato and wine sauce, you assemble the dish ending with a layer of cheese and fresh salsa.

 

A close-up of salsa, cheese, vegetables

 

The dish was delicious but it still needed a name. I posted a photo of it on Facebook and asked for suggestions. My friend Katie M. suggested Chickplantasagna. It was the perfect name for a perfect dish.

Chickplantasagna

August 10, 2016
: Medium

By:

Ingredients
  • Chicken tenders (About 9 or 10, flattened by pounding them with a rolling pin between two pieces of wax paper, parchment paper, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil.) Or, if available, use thinly sliced chicken cutlets.
  • Eggplant (1 dark, purple — firm, but not bruised — beauty).
  • Zuchinni (1)
  • Red pepper (1)
  • Cheddar cheese (about 1/4 cup shredded)
  • Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 cup, grated)
  • Fresh salsa (about 1 cup)
  • Tomato Paste, imported and from a tube (about 3 or 4 good squirts)
  • Red wine (about 1/3 cup), and a little water too.
  • Garlic (1 clove, torn open with your fingers)
  • Olive oil, regular, not extra-virgin (about 1/2 cup)
  • Lemon pepper
Directions
  • Step 1 Take the skin off the eggplant by peeling off strips of it using a vegetable peeler. The eggplant will look like it has stripes as some of the skin remains.
  • Step 2 Cut thin (about 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick) slices of the eggplant. Brush olive oil on one side of each slice. Brush olive oil on a cookie sheet and put eggplant, dry side down. Cook in a 450 degree oven, turning over once, until both sides are brown.
  • Step 3 Cut thin slices of zuchhini (about 1/4-inch to 1/2 inch thick). Put oil on both sides. Cut long strips of red pepper (about 1/2 inch thick) and put oil on both sides. Cook zuchhini and red pepper on a baking sheet in a 450 degree oven until done.
  • Step 4 Fry chicken cutlets in a little olive oil and the clove of garlic. Sprinkle with lemon pepper.
  • Step 5 When chicken is done, heat frying pan again. Add the tomato paste and the wine and water and stir. Add salt and pepper. Let the wine and water evaporate a little bit. Stir scraping the bottom of the pan. Add about 1 tablespoon of butter and stir some more. Turn off heat.
  • Step 6 Assemble the dish by putting a little olive oil on the bottom of a ceramic baking dish, along with a few tablespoons of the fresh salsa. Add half of the chicken cutlets. Pour over half of the tomato paste sauce. Add half of the cheeses. Top with half of the zuchhini, red peppers, and eggplant slices. And then repeat this with the remaining ingredients, ending with the rest of the cheese and some fresh salsa.
  • Step 7 Bake in a 350 degree oven until cheese melts.
Short Ribs Provencale

Short Ribs Provencale

(Above: There is a variety of complex flavors in this dish.)

Sometimes you find an amazing recipe: one that outdoes all others for the same dish. This is that recipe for short ribs.

The recipe is time consuming but it’s well worth the wait. I found it on Epicurious. Cookbook author Rick Rodgers said the editors of Bon Appétit magazine asked him to create the ultimate version of braised short ribs and this is what he came up with, based on elements of various short rib dishes he enjoyed at several restaurants. He did this some 15 years ago in 2003, and having made this recently I can say it stands the test of time.

 

A blue dutch oven
You could this dish in a dutch oven for 2 1/2 hours.

 

I took it a step further by using short ribs I got at a local Massachusetts farm. I also had a pound of bacon and a chicken sausage I needed to cook, so I cooked them in the dutch oven before I cooked the short ribs. Before adding the ribs, I took out all of the oil left from the bacon and sausage except for about two tablespoons. I don’t think cooking bacon and sausage is necessary but I do believe it added even more depth to the wonderful flavors found in this dish.

I didn’t have any black olives so I used what I had on hand: olives stuffed with blue cheese. I also served the short ribs over mashed potatoes and covered it all in a blanket of the delicious sauce. Here’s the recipe. Bon appetite!

Short Ribs Provencale (From Rick Rodgers)

May 2, 2016
: Medium

By:

Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 pounds individual short ribs (not cross-cut flanken)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 12 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups hearty red wine, such as Zinfandel or Shiraz
  • 1 3/4 cups beef stock, preferably homemade, or reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • One 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice, drained
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 ounces baby-cut carrots
  • 1/2 cup Mediterranean black olives, such as Niçoise, pitted
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Directions
  • Step 1 Preheat oven to 300°F.
  • Step 2 Heat the oil in a large (at least 6-quart) Dutch oven or flameproof casserole over medium-high heat. Season the short ribs with the salt and pepper. In batches, without crowding, add the short ribs to the pot and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the ribs to a platter.
  • Step 3 Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pot. Add the onion, chopped carrot, and celery to the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, herbes de Provence, and flour and stir until the garlic gives off its aroma, about 1 minute. Stir in the wine and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the broth, tomatoes, and bay leaf. Return the short ribs, and any juices, to the pot. Add cold water as needed to barely reach the top of the ribs and bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Step 4 Cover tightly, transfer to the oven, and bake, stirring occasionally to change the position of the ribs, until the meat is falling-off-the-bone tender, about 2 1/2 hours. During the last 15 minutes, add the baby carrots.
  • Step 5 Transfer the short ribs to a deep serving platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Skim off the fat from the surface of the cooking liquid, and discard the bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until the liquid is reduced to a sauce consistency, about 10 minutes (the exact time depends on the size of the pot). Add the olives and cook to heat them through, about 3 minutes. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
  • Step 6 Spoon the sauce with the carrots over the ribs, sprinkle with the parsley, and serve hot, preferably over mashed potatoes.

 

The Easiest English Muffin Recipe

The Easiest English Muffin Recipe

(These english muffins are much better than store bought and contain only a few natural ingredients. Making anything from scratch isn’t quick or super easy but this recipe is the easiest one I found.)

I made english muffins from scratch for the first time this morning. And I’ll be making these again — maybe every week.

English muffins with butter and strawberry jam
Warm, with melted butter and strawberry jam, I’m going to make these on a regular basis.

 

English muffins are relatively cheap and available at grocery stores so why would anyone want to make their own? Two reasons:

  1. Chemicals: Read the ingredients on any store-bought english muffin package and the list of ingredients is long, with names of things I can’t pronounce.
  2. Taste: I’ve been buying Thomas brand english muffins and the taste is good but it always seems synthetic to me, especially the corn-flavored muffins. Is it real corn flavor or is it a corn flavor that was invented in some lab? I’m not sure. But one thing I’m certain of is the taste of these homemade english muffins far surpasses the store-bought processed ones.

 

English muffins cooking in a black skillet
You cook these muffins in a skillet over a very low flame. I suggest popping them into a 350-degree oven for a few minutes too.

 

I found several recipes online but this one from the kitchn.com was the easiest and used basic ingredients I had in my pantry. You don’t have to, but it’s best if you make the starter and dough the night before and let the dough rise in your refrigerator overnight. One other tip. You cook these muffins in a skillet on top of the stove under very, very low heat (when I did it, you could barely see the flames beneath the pan).

 

Dough balls rising on a cookie sheet
Roll the dough into balls and let them rise for two hours.

 

English Muffins From Scratch

April 18, 2016
: Medium

You can eat these english muffins a few minutes after frying them without toasting them, but I found putting them in a toaster for a minute, just to get a light crackle on them, was best.

By:

Ingredients
  • For the dough starter:
  • All-purpose flour or bread flour, 3/4 cup (3 1/3 ounces)
  • Water, 1/2 cup
  • Active dry or instant yeast, 1/2 teaspoon, (or 2 tablespoons active sourdough starter)
  • For the english muffin dough:
  • Milk, whole or 2%, 1 cup
  • Active dry or instant yeast, 1 teaspoon
  • Sugar, 2 tablespoons
  • Unsalted butter, melted, 2 tablespoons
  • Salt, 1 teaspoon
  • All-purpose or bread flour, 3 to 3 1/4 cups (13 1/2 to 14 1/2 ounces)
  • Cornmeal for dusting
  • Butter for the skillet
Directions
  • Step 1 Make the dough starter: Mix the flour, water, and yeast for the starter in a small mixing bowl. Beat until the batter is smooth and glossy, about 100 strokes.
  • Step 2 Let the starter sit 1 to 12 hours: Cover the starter and place it out of the way for at least 1 or up to 12 hours. The starter will become increasingly bubbly the longer it sits and will double in bulk. The longer you can let the starter ferment, the better the flavor and structure of your finished English muffins. (I let mine sit for about 6 hours and the taste was tangy but mild.)
  • Step 3 Whisk together the milk, yeast, and starter: In the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, combine the milk and yeast for the dough. Scrape the starter into the bowl and use a whisk to break it up and dissolve it into the milk. It should become quite frothy.
  • Step 4 Mix the dough together: Add the sugar, butter, and salt to the bowl and whisk to combine. Add 3 cups of the flour and stir with a stiff spatula until you form a shaggy, floury dough.
  • Step 5 Knead the dough: With a dough hook on a stand mixer, knead the dough until it comes together in a smooth ball, 5 to 8 minutes. Alternatively, knead by hand against the counter. If the dough is very sticky like bubble gum, add extra flour as needed, but err on the side of caution. The dough is ready when it forms into a smooth ball and springs back when poked. It will feel slightly tacky to the touch, but shouldn’t stick to the bowl or your hands. (I kneaded mine by hand and within a few minutes, the dough was smooth and springy.)
  • Step 6 Let the dough rise overnight in the fridge: Transfer the dough to a large bowl lightly filmed with oil. Cover and place in the fridge overnight or for up to 3 days.
  • Step 7 Divide and shape the muffins: Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Use a pastry scraper to divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece gently against the counter to shape into smooth, round balls. (Don’t worry too much if each piece is the exact same size. Mine weren’t and yet I was pleased with the results.)
  • Step 8 Transfer the muffins to a baking sheet to rise: Scatter cornmeal generously over a baking sheet and arrange the balls on top, spaced a little apart. If you have muffin rings, place them around the balls at this point. Sprinkle the tops of the balls with more cornmeal.
  • Step 9 Let the muffins rise until puffy: For dough that was refrigerated, this will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours
  • Step 10 for room temperature dough, this will take about 1 hour. Depending on the size of your muffin rings, the muffins may not totally fill the rings — that’s okay.
  • Step 11 Warm a skillet: When ready to cook the muffins, warm a large skillet over medium heat. Melt a small pat of butter — enough to just coat the bottom of the pan and prevent sticking.
  • Step 12 Cook the muffins 5 to 6 minutes on one side: Working in batches, transfer a few of the muffins to the skillet — allow an inch or so of space between muffins and do not crowd the pan. If using rings, transfer the muffins with their rings to the pan. Cook until the bottoms of the muffins are golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. (I found that I had to keep the flame very low as the muffins cooked quickly and you really want to cook them slowly.)
  • Step 13 Flip and cook 5 to 6 minutes on the other side: Flip the muffins and cook the other side until golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. If you prefer thinner, less puffy English muffins, you can gently press the tops with the spatula to prevent them from rising too much.
  • Step 14 Adjust the heat as needed: If your muffins seem to be browning too quickly on the bottoms (or not quickly enough), adjust the heat as needed. (If you find that your muffins are browning too quickly, throw them in the oven at 350°F to finish baking through.) (I found putting the muffins in the oven for a few minutes was a good idea to ensure the insides were cooked through.)
  • Step 15 Finish cooking all of the muffins: Transfer cooked muffins to a cooling rack. Continue working in batches until all the muffins have been cooked. Add a small pat of butter to the pan between batches to prevent sticking.
  • Step 16 Split and serve! Split the English muffins with a fork, spread with butter or jam (or both!), and eat. English muffins will keep for several days in an airtight container on the counter and are fantastic warmed in the toaster oven. Fresh English muffins can also be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and kept frozen for up to 3 months.
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.

 

Pub Kettle Chips

Pub Kettle Chips

(Above: These chips would go great with watching a football game or just watching the snow fall.)

This was an appetizer eureka!

It isn’t often that I strike gold while dining out but I did on a recent visit to Providence, Rhode Island. By striking gold, I mean tasting something so incredibly delicious and yet so simple to cook it makes you think “Why didn’t I think of that?” This happened on a visit to Union Station Brewery in downtown Providence. The dish? Pub Kettle Chips.

For a mere $7.99 you get a large platter of homemade kettle potato chips with melted cheddar cheese, bacon and sour cream. Mmmm! Goes well with beer (but then again, what doesn’t?)

I recreated them at home by doing the following:

Pub Kettle Chips (From Union Station Brewery in Providence, RI)

December 17, 2013
: Easy

By:

Ingredients
  • Potato Chips (Use kettle chips, such as Utz Mystic Gourmet Dark Russet Potato Chips.)
  • Extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Bacon, cooked and chopped into pieces
  • Scallions, chopped
  • Sour Cream
Directions
  • Step 1 Spread a layer of potato chips on a cookie sheet.
  • Step 2 Sprinkle with extra-sharp cheddar cheese and bake in 350 degree oven until cheese melts and chips are hot.
  • Step 3 Cook bacon and crumble it or cut it into small pieces and then sprinkle on top of chips.
  • Step 4 Sprinkle with chopped scallions. And put a couple of large dollops of sour cream on top.

 

Mushrooms Stuffed With Nepitella Pesto

Mushrooms Stuffed With Nepitella Pesto

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

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

Nepitella plant

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

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

Stuffed mushrooms

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

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

Nepitella Pesto (And Stuffed Mushrooms)

September 4, 2013
: 45 min

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

By:

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

Beef Bourguignon II: An Easier Recipe

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

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

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

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

Beef Bourguignon II: An Easier Recipe

November 9, 2012
: 2 hr 40 min
: Medium

By:

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

 

Pumpkin Gnocchi in an Almond Cream Sauce

Pumpkin Gnocchi in an Almond Cream Sauce

(Above: This gnocchi dish can be served as an appetizer or as a main course.)

In most anything in life, you have to work with what you have. And in cooking, the seasons dictate what ingredients are best or available. On a recent trip to Calareso’s Farm Stand in Reading, Mass. I was intrigued by one pound packages of pumpkin gnocchi.

Now I’ve cooked gnocchi before, usually in a tomato sauce, but the savory pumpkin flavor needed something else. So I brainstormed. Pumpkin pie is good with whipped cream so I opted to go with a cream sauce and a little hint of nutmeg.

But this wasn’t going to be dessert. I had to keep it (dinner) real. Cheese would help keep the dish on the savory side and I decided the nutty taste of fontina, combined with some freshly grated imported parmesan cheese would do the trick.

I then imagined all of this gooey, sweet, savoriness melting in my mouth, but it was missing something: a healthy clean foil to the heavy richness. I decided it needed some greens. I had some broccoli rabe on hand and decided to give it a go.

The result was a sweet, savory, gooey piece of heaven, offset by the bitterness of a good healthy green vegetable. The icing on this savory cake? Thinly sliced almonds.

Note: This will serve four as a main course. Gnocchi is very filling. You don’t need much for each serving.

Pumpkin Gnocchi in an Almond Cream Sauce

October 4, 2012
: 4

This doesn't take long to make, perfect for a weeknight supper. However, it will impress guests too.

By:

Ingredients
  • Pumpkin gnocchi (1 pound)
  • Fontina Cheese (4 ounces, chopped up)
  • Imported parmesan cheese (1/3 cup or to taste)
  • Heavy cream (About 1/4 to 1/2 cup)
  • Scallions (About five or six, chopped)
  • Broccoli Rabe (1 small bunch, cleaned of leaves and stems. Keep only about an inch or two of stem after the floret. Cut florets in half length-wise.)
  • Almonds (About 1/8 cup, sliced thin)
  • Nutmeg (A small dash, just a few specks. Be careful.)
  • Salt, pepper (to taste)
Directions
  • Step 1 Steam broccoli rabe until done, but not soggy. Don’t overcook. It should have some bite. (I used a large pasta pot with a colander insert and steaming basket. It’s one of my favorite and most used cooking tools. )
  • Step 2 Cook gnocchi in a large pot of boiling water for about three minutes (just until they float). Don’t overcook.
  • Step 3 In a saute pan cook the scallions until translucent and then add the cream, heating it up, but don’t let it boil. Add a small dash of nutmeg: we’re talking a few specks here. Nutmeg is very strong and can easily overpower a dish. Taste it. You just want a hint of nutmeg flavor. You can always add more if you like, but once you put it in, you can’t take it out. Be careful!
  • Step 4 Add cream sauce, fontina cheese, parmesan cheese, sliced almonds, and broccoli rabe to the cooked gnocchi and stir until cheese melts and everything is well blended.
  • Step 5 Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with a side salad.
Tomatoes Stuffed With Pasta Salad

Tomatoes Stuffed With Pasta Salad

Here’s another recipe from La Zucca Magica, an Italian vegetarian restaurant in Nice. We had another version of this stuffed tomato when we ate there last month that was equally as delicious and had curry in it. I couldn’t find that recipe online and don’t think I’d do a good job of recreating it either.

I found this recipe from the restaurant on the New York Times site. I used four very large tomatoes but still had too much stuffing left over, which wasn’t a bad thing. It was great to eat all by itself outside the tomato too.

This was a great second course in a three course dinner I recently served that included a first course of cantaloupe gazpacho with crispy prosciutto and a third course of chard stuffed with risotto and mozzarella.

Mangia! Or should I say Bon Appetit!

Tomatoes Stuffed with Pasta Salad

August 8, 2012
: 45 min
: Easy

By:

Ingredients
  • 4 large tomatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, more for baking dish
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 pound spaghetti
  • 3 tablespoons small black olives (nicoise), pitted and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon capers, preferably salt-packed (rinsed with warm water)
  • 12 basil leaves, chopped
  • 2 or 3 marjoram or oregano leaves, or a pinch of dried
  • 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, chopped
Directions
  • Step 1 Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove top third of each tomato.
  • Step 2 Scoop out some flesh and chop it, along with the top third. Salt inside of tomatoes and turn them upside down while you proceed.
  • Step 3 Cook yellow pepper in a tablespoon of oil with half the garlic, until soft. Break spaghetti into little bits and cook in salted boiling water just until tender. Drain and rinse in cold water.
  • Step 4 Mix together the chopped tomato, cooked pepper, spaghetti and all other ingredients except mozzarella.
  • Step 5 Stuff tomatoes, first with cheese, then with tomato mixture.
  • Step 6 Put in an oiled baking dish and bake for about 15 minutes, or until hot. Serve hot or warm.
Meal Plan: Blending French, Italian, Old and New in Southern France

Meal Plan: Blending French, Italian, Old and New in Southern France

(Above: Nice is a fun city that does a great job of blending the old and the new.)

Nice is in Southern France, near the Italian border, and so the cuisine there is a mixture of Italian and French. On our first visit we ate well and were able to pick up some great recipes: some that blend both cuisines and some that take classics and make them new.

Aerial view of the beach in Nice
(The French Riviera in Nice is a great summer spot with many wonderful flavors to explore.)

Three of these recipes we got from our favorite restaurant there, La Zucca Magica: a vegetarian restaurant with dishes so rich, no one missed the meat. Unfortunately, that restaurant has closed but I still have very fond memories of one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

 

Man sitting on a bench overlooking the port in Nice.
(La Zucca Magica, aka the Magic Pumpkin, was located near the port.)

 


Meal Plan: Mostly Vegetarian

When we got back, we had several dinner parties, including one with this meal plan:

 

First course: Cantaloupe Gazpacho With Crispy Prosciutto. (Recreated from Le Comptoir in Nice)

A bowl of orange cantaloupe soup.

 

Second course: Tomato Stuffed With Pasta Salad. (From La Zucca Magica in Nice)

Tomato stuffed with pasta

 

Third course: Chard Stuffed with Risotto and Mozzarella. (From La Zucca Magica in Nice)

Stuffed swiss chard.

 

If you want to have a completely vegetarian dinner, you can either omit the prosciutto in the first course or you can serve this dish instead: Patata Ball in Tomato Sauce (just substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth in this recipe). (From La Zucca Magica in Nice)

potatoes in tomato sauce

 

And for dessert you could serve this tried-and-true classic that has been enjoyed in Provence for many generations: La Tourte De Blettes.(From a recipe card purchased in the market in St. Remy.)

A slice of pie
(La Tourte De Blettes translates to Swiss Chard Pie, but don’t let that fool you. It is sweet and can be served as both an entree and a dessert.)

 

Moussaka

Moussaka

(Above: Maggie holds a plate of Moussaka and Greek salad.)

This is an untraditional moussaka recipe from Julia Child. I changed it slightly. It’s a bit time consuming (about 2-3 hours) to make but worth the effort. And unlike eggplant parmesan, you don’t have the tedious chore of dipping the eggplant in egg and breadcrumbs.

We served this at our Big Fat Greek Mother’s Day Party.”

Moussaka

May 11, 2011
: 10-12
: A Little Difficult (Takes Some Work)

By:

Ingredients
  • Eggplant (2. Make sure they’re firm, shiny and a dark purple. This is key, as I don’t believe in salting eggplant and draining it to get out the bitterness. If you buy a perfectly ripe eggplant without bruises, it won’t be bitter.)
  • Olive oil and Salt (Enough to brush each eggplant slice.)
  • Dried herbs (I used a very small amount of oregano, thyme, and mint.)
  • For the lamb mixture:
  • Ground lamb (1 1/2 pounds)
  • Fresh parsley (1/2 cup, pressed down)
  • Onions (2 medium, to make about 1 1/2 cups, minced)
  • Garlic (2 cloves, minced)
  • Canned Italian plum tomatoes (2 cups, strained and drained)
  • Red wine (3/4 cup)
  • Allspice (1/8 tsp.)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • Egg (1 large, beaten)
  • For the topping:
  • Butter (3 tbsp.)
  • Flour (1/4 cup)
  • Hot milk (2 cups)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • Mozzarella cheese (1 cup, grated)
  • Nutmeg (1 small pinch)
  • Swiss cheese (1/2 cup, grated, to top the topping)
Directions
  • Step 1 Wash and peel the eggplant vertically, leaving vertical, purple stripes.
  • Step 2 Cut thin (About 1/4 of an inch) round disks of the eggplant.
  • Step 3 Brush on olive oil and salt on both sides and lightly sprinkle with the dried herbs. Bake in a 400-degree oven on a cookie sheet. Brown on one side and then turn over. You can cover the cookie sheet with aluminum foil during baking. This should take about 15 minutes for each tray of eggplant. Set aside.
  • Step 4 Chop the parsley in a food processor, remove and reserve. Add the onions and chop with on/off pulses. Remove and saute in a frying pan with 2 tbsp. of olive oil. Add the minced garlic.
  • Step 5 When onions are tender, add the ground lamb. Brown very lightly.
  • Step 6 Fold in tomatoes, wine, parsley and allspice, salt, pepper. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring frequently for about a half hour or until the mixture is thick enough to hold its shape in a spoon. Taste periodically and adjust seasoning.
  • Step 7 Remove from heat and stir in the beaten egg.
  • Step 8 Lightly oil a baking dish (one the size of a good lasagna will do) and line it with a layer of eggplant.
  • Step 9 Spoon half the lamb mixture over it and then add another layer of eggplant. Add the rest of the lamb mixture and end with another layer of eggplant.
  • Step 10 To make the topping, do the following: Cook the butter and flour together for about 2 minutes without coloring, stirring with a wooden spoon.
  • Step 11 Remove from heat and pour in all but 1/2 cup of the hot milk. Whisk vigorously to blend thoroughly.
  • Step 12 Put it back on moderately high heat and whisk slowly until it comes to a simmer. Add in the rest of the milk in drips and drabs. Be careful to scrape the sides and bottom of the pan. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon.
  • Step 13 Whisk in salt and pepper to taste.
  • Step 14 Remove from heat and stir in mozzarella cheese.
  • Step 15 Spoon the hot sauce over the top of the eggplant. Shake the baking dish to allow it to sink down.
  • Step 16 Sprinkle the swiss cheese evenly on top. Bake for 45 minutes in a 350-degree oven until the top is a light brown and bubbling.
  • Step 17 Serve warm or tepid, but not too hot. It’s good cold, too.

 

Vegetable and Cheese Strata For a Breakfast Meeting

The strata took center stage at last week's breakfast meeting.
The strata took center stage at last week's breakfast meeting.

Working from home has its benefits and one of them is being able to plan a breakfast meeting in your own backyard.

Last week I held an editor’s meeting in the great outdoors. No sterile company conference room or institutional cafeteria for us.

Since we’re a new company, the purpose of this meeting was for everyone to meet each other and share notes on how best to get started with the work at hand. Everyone learned from each other and I believe the seeds of friendship were sowed amid laughter and free flowing conversation that lasted more than two hours.

That’s right, a two-hour meeting that was productive and fun. I like to think the food (see below) and music (Beatles) had something to do with that.

Here’s the menu:

Vegetable and Cheese Strata

Fresh fruit bowl

Lemon/Cranberry Scones (OK, I bought these. No recipe here) with butter and strawberry jam.

Fresh Iced Tea

Coffee

Vegetable and Cheese Strata (Recipe from the Feb. 1991 edition of Gourmet Magazine):

Don't tell my son, Gabriel, we borrowed his mug for our meeting.
Don't tell my son, Gabriel, we borrowed his mug for our meeting.
  • Ingredients/Shopping List:
  • Onion (1 1/2 cups, chopped)
  • Scallions (1 cup, chopped)
  • Mushrooms (3/4 pound)
  • Olive oil (3 tbsp.)
  • Red bell pepper (2, about 2 cups, cut into thin strips)
  • Green bell pepper (2, about 2 cups, cut into thin strips)
  • Italian bread (About 1 loaf; enough to measure 9 cups, cut into 1-inch cubes)
  • Extra-sharp cheddar cheese (10 oz or 2 1/2 cups, grated)
  • Parmesan cheese (1 cup, grated)
  • Large Eggs (12)
  • Milk (3 1/2 cups)
  • Dijon-mustard (3 tbsp.)
  • Tabasco (6 or 7 dashes or to taste)

What I did:

Cook the onion, scallion and mushrooms in oil over low heat, stirring until the onion is softened.

Add bell peppers and salt and pepper to taste. Cook over moderate heat, stirring for 10-15 minutes or until liquid evaporates and peppers are tender.

Arrange half of the bread cubes in a buttered shallow (4 1/2-quart) baking dish.

Spread half of vegetable mixture over bread cubes and sprinkle half the cheddar and half the parmesan cheese on top.

Arrange the remaining bread cubes over the cheese layer.

Top with remaining vegetables and then the remaining cheese.

In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, the milk, the mustard, the tabasco, and salt and pepper. Then pour this evenly over the strata.

Chill the strata covered, overnight.

Let the strata stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before baking it in the middle of a 350-degree oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until it is puffed, golden and cooked through.

This recipe serves 8.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

(Note: If you’d like to print this recipe, click here or on the headline on this post and then use the print button at the bottom of the post. In other words, print from the “permalink” not from the homepage.)

Nan’s Mashed Potatoes

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Choosing Your Potatoes

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Nan's (decadent) Mashed Potatoes

April 3, 2010
: Easy

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

By:

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

 

Ribollita Soup

Ribollita Soup

Also known as “Tuscan Bean Soup,” this is a real crowd pleaser. I’ve tripled this recipe and fed nearly 50 people with it at our annual Christmas open house party.

I got this recipe from the Barefoot Contessa, but incorporated a few short cuts so you can make this in about 1 1/2 hours. Using a food processor to chop all of the vegetables also helps make the work go faster.

The taste is sweet and a little sour with a punch of heat from the crushed red pepper flakes. It’s a great, hearty soup on a cold winter night.

Ribollita Soup

December 6, 2009
: About 12
: 1 hr
: 1 hr 30 min
: Easy-Medium

By:

Ingredients
  • 1 large can of cannellini beans (about 19 oz.)
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil, plus extra for serving
  • 1/4 pound diced pancetta
  • 2 cups chopped onions (about 2 onions)
  • 1 cup chopped carrots (about 3 carrots)
  • 1 cup chopped celery (about 3 stalks)
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
  • 1 tablespoon salt (I always use Kosher as it’s the most flavorful.)
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28 oz.) can Italian plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped kale
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cups sourdough bread cubes, crusts removed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (preferably the imported Parmesan Reggiano), for serving
Directions
  • Step 1 Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot.
  • Step 2 Add the pancetta and onions. Cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent. (Stir occasionally)
  • Step 3 Add the carrots, celery, garlic, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Continue cooking over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. (Stir occasionally)
  • Step 4 Add the tomatoes with the puree, the kale, and basil. Continue cooking over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. (Stir occasionally)
  • Step 5 Rinse the cannellini beans under cold water. Puree half of them in a food processor with about 1/2 cup of water.
  • Step 6 Add pureed beans to the soup. And then add the remaining half of the whole beans. And stir.
  • Step 7 Add the eight cups of chicken stock.
  • Step 8 Bring soup to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
  • Step 9 Add the bread cubes to the soup and simmer another 10 minutes.
  • Step 10 Serve hot in large bowls. Sprinkle a little freshly grated parmesan cheese on top. And then drizzle a little olive oil over it.
Our Signature Dish: Root Soup

Our Signature Dish: Root Soup

I’ve always loved vichyssoise soup (served warm) and decided one day to build on that. The result is this soup.

This is the signature dish of Rootsliving. It encompasses everything that Rootsliving is about: it’s simple, uses fresh ingredients of the season, is healthy (so healthy it should ward off the flu) and delicious. And although I invented this dish, I don’t believe I’m the first person to put these ingredients together in a soup.

This is a soup that someone could have made hundreds of years ago, perhaps using the only ingredients they had available. It’s peasant food, created out of necessity and passed down from generation to generation because it’s that good. It stands the test of time. Most of the recipes here are in that category. And I hope I’m not being too indulgent by saying I believe this soup is in that special class.

BONUS: Good, hearty food doesn’t have to be fattening. If you leave out the cream and butter in this recipe, it’s low-calorie. And, if you substitute water for the chicken stock, it’s just as good and zero points for you Weight Watchers out there.

 

Overview of a bowl of soup
The carrots make this soup a bright orange color and sweet.

 

This would make a great first course at Thanksgiving dinner, or any holiday dinner. I serve it on special occasions but also make it a few times a month during the winter to help build up our immune systems. And if you have young children who don’t like to eat vegetables, this is a great way to get some in them.

 

Chopped up vegetables in a soup pot
What could be easier than throwing everything into a pot?

 

The prep for this soup involves lots of chopping, but once that work is done, you just throw everything into a big pot and cook.

 

Leeks on a cutting board.
Don’t let these hairy root vegetables scare you. Put them in their place.

 

If you’ve never cooked with leeks before, don’t fret. They’re big, but not scary. Consider them gigantic scallions if that makes you feel better and treat them the same. Chop off the squiggly roots at the bottom and chop off the leafy greens at the top. Then split them down the middle so you can wash them under a running faucet to get the dirt out.

 

Leeks, sliced down the middle.
That’s better. Part of taming these wild vegetables is cutting off the tops and bottoms and slicing them down the middle so you can clean them properly.

 

After the vegetables are soft, you let the mixture cool down (for at least an hour or so) and then working batches you puree it in a blender.

 

Soup in a blender
WARNING: Make sure the soup has cooled down before putting it in a blender. You don’t want to burn yourself or others if some spurts out the top.

 

Return the pureed soup back into the big pot and heat it up on the stove. Add some milk or heavy cream if you like (this is optional), some butter (also optional), and just a dash of nutmeg. Be careful, nutmeg is very strong. You can always add more if you like but you can’t take it out once it’s in the pot.

 

Orange soup in a bowl
Hearty, rich and sweet, just like you.

 

You can serve it as a first course, or as main course with some crusty bread and a salad. This is a great winter warmer and will soon become part of your comfort food DNA.

 

 

Root Soup

November 4, 2009
: 20 min
: 45 min
: 1 hr 5 min
: Medium

By:

Ingredients
  • 6 leeks (chop off the roots and leaves
  • use just the white and light green part, discard the rest.)
  • 5 cups diced potatoes
  • 3 cups diced sweet potatoes
  • 3 cups diced carrots
  • 8-10 cups chicken stock
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Dash of nutmeg (Nutmeg is strong so use no more than 1/8 teaspoon.)
  • Butter (1-2 tablespoons, or less)
  • Heavy cream (About 1/4 cup)
Directions
  • Step 1 Put everything in a pot (except for the nutmeg, butter and heavy cream) and bring to a boil.
  • Step 2 Lower heat and simmer, covered loosely for about 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are soft.
  • Step 3 Wait until ingredients cool and then puree in a blender in batches (if ingredients are still warm or hot, be careful not to burn yourself).
  • Step 4 Heat up soup, add nutmeg, butter and the heavy cream (don’t let it boil.)
  • Step 5 Serve with a crusty bread (french, ciabatta, italian etc.)
Work Night Dinner: Octopus’s Garden Gazpacho/Sandwiches

Work Night Dinner: Octopus’s Garden Gazpacho/Sandwiches

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

An Octupus’s Garden Gazpacho with Leftover Chicken Hummus Sandwiches

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

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

An Octopus’s Garden Gazpacho

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

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

Octopus's Garden Gazpacho

September 12, 2009
: Easy

By:

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

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

Leftover Chicken Hummus Sandwiches

Ingredients:

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

What I did:

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

 

Dinner on a Moonlit Beach

Dinner on a Moonlit Beach

The summer isn’t over yet.

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

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

Beach Salads and Bruschetta

September 8, 2009
: Easy

By:

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

 

 

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

 

Asian Shrimp Salad

Asian Shrimp Salad

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

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

Asian Shrimp Salad

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

By:

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

 

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.