Monday, December 10, 2007

Five Spice Crispychews

I'm relatively obsessed with five spice. I have a tendency to use it in anything that calls for- or looks like it may call for- cinnamon. Don't get me wrong, cinnamon has its place. Heck, five spice has cinnamon in it. But, when you compare five spice to cinnamon... cinnamon shows up as a dowdy, quiet cousin who comes to visit from Iowa or Kansas and no, doesn't want to go out clubbing with you and your friends. Cinnamon wants to say home and do economics homework.

Five Spice Crispychews are the sophisticated version of a molasses cookie recipe I had. While the traditional molasses cookie is a bit up front in spiciness, Five Spice Crispychews flirt with you from across the room.

Five Spice Crispychews

1/2 cup butter-flavored Crisco (I don't recommend substituting)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp Five Spice powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup demarara sugar (or granulated sugar) for decoration

Cream the Crisco, butter, and sugars together until very well combined. Add egg and mix well. Add molasses and vanilla, mixing until thoroughly combined. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients, then add all at once to the butter mixture. Mix until all of the flour is combined. Cover and chill for 3 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350*F. Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls (about the size of a walnut.) Roll the balls in the demarara sugar and place on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving 2 inches between cookies. Bake for 11 minutes. Let cool for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to continue cooling.

Yield: 3 dozen

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Quick and Dirty Dinners

There are times when one needs to just throw something together for dinner in order to get "other things" done. While this is all fine and good, I feel that it is essential that said dinner also has to be delicious and not at all in resemblance of the fast-food genre.

I am a firm believer that a small amount of time dedicated to prep work makes the Quick & Dirty dinner such a success. I'm also fond of having a well-packed freezer of items that make Q&D such a staple.

It is inevitable that at some point of an early acquaintance I will ask what a favorite food is. My exhusband's favorite food is stuffed shells. They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach; I say it's actually through his sternum.

Quick & Dirty Stuffed Shells

1 lb package large pasta shells, cooked just almost al-dente, drained, and set aside in cold water (they will cook a bit more when you bake them; you don't want mushy shells)

Filling ingredients:
2 lb part-skim ricotta cheese
2 large eggs (or 1 large egg and 1 egg white; or the equivalent egg-substitute product)
1 cup pulverized crumbs made from prepackaged Caesar-seasoned croutons
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried Italian-style seasoning blend (or 1/4 tsp each dried oregano and dried basil)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
optional: 1 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry, 1/2 lb italian sausage cooked, crumbled, and drained.
3 cups of your favorite tomato-based pasta sauce
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Freezing equipment: gallon-sized freezer bags, baking sheets lined with plastic wrap

Mix all of the filling ingredients until well-blended. Scoop a rounded tablespoon into each pasta shell and set the filled shells aside on the baking sheet. Once the sheet (s) are full, place the sheets in the freezer and freeze the shells until they are completely solidly frozen. Remove from baking sheets and place in the freezer bags.

Preheat oven to 400*F. Spray a shallow baking pan (8x8 for 2-4 servings; 9 x 13 for 6 servings) with cooking spray. Spread 1 cup sauce in the bottom of the pan, arrange shells in a single layer, then top with remaining sauce. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes for small pan; 40 minutes for a large pan. Remove foil and sprinkle with cheese; bake 15-20 additional minutes until cheese is melted and bubbling. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Serving size: 2-3 shells

Thursday, November 1, 2007

I'm somewhat annoyed

I lost the entire post due to some strange error that Blogger is having. I haven't the energy or the memory cells to reiterate what it was that I wrote in the first place. I recall something about my rosebushes and winter coming and needing to be tucked in for a long sleep. At some point, thinking of all of the above today made me think of my favorite bread. It is perfection toasted and slathered with summer preserves in the bleakness of January.

Honey-Oatmeal Bread

2 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup butter, cut in small pieces
2 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 pkg active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105-115*F)
1 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats, uncooked
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
3 Tbsp. toasted wheat germ
3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all-purpose flour

Combine milk, honey, butter, and salt in a saucepan; heat until butter melts. Remove from heat. Cool to 105-115*F.Combine 1 3/4 cups (each) whole wheat and all purpose flour in a bowl. Set aside.Combine yeast and warm water in a 1 cup liquid measuring cup; let stand 5 minutes. combine yeast mixture, liquid mixture, oats, flaxseed, and remaining flour (not the flour you set aside in the bowl) in a large mixing bowl. Mix well. Stir in remaining flour. Dough should be soft but sticky. If using a stand mixer with a dough-hook attachment, knead dough by machine until dough is smooth and sides of the bowl are clean; about 3 minutes. If kneading by hand, turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic; about 8-10 minutes. Place dough in a greased bowl, then flip it over so the entire dough ball is greased. Cover, and let rise in a warm place free from drafts for about an hour; until doubled in bulk (or in the refrigerator overnight; but let come to room temp before proceeding.) Punch dough down; cover and let stand 10 minutes. Divide dough in half. Place on a floured surface. Roll each half into a 15" x 9" rectangle. Roll up, jellyroll fashion, starting at narrow end; pinch seams and ends to seal. Place loaves, seam side down in 2 greased 9" x 5" loaf pans. Brush with butter.Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, 40 minutes or until doubled in bulk. Bake at 375*F for 45 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when tapped. Cover with foil the last 15 minutes of baking to prevent excessive browning. Remove loaves from pans; cool on wire racks.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Wherein Daniela eats meat once again.

There was an undeniable craving for roasted chicken that I just could not deny. Therefore, this ends what shall be known as "the vegetarian streak."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Swedish Apple Pie

After the excitement of the first day of school died down, the thing I looked forward to most was apple picking. It was almost magical to me to go into the pristine rows of gnarled trees, Cortlands and Mackintoshes sparkling in the sun like rubies. We had free roam of the orchard, the musty fragrance of fallen leaves mixed with the crisp coolness of fall air, the softness of my favorite sweatshirt, the crunch of the oranges, reds, greens, and yellows of the foliage underfoot.

My mother's pies never really came out too well. The bottom crust was always doughy and I'd gingerly pick out the delicious filling, being careful not to get any of the crust mixed with my bite.

As I grew older, I baked the ubiquitous all-American apple pie. After a day or so, my bottom crust would get soggy, usually causing me to toss the leftover pie in the disposal. The solution? A pie without a bottom crust, is a cinch to put together, and tastes like you're eleven years old and sitting in the orchard. The top is crispy, delicate and tender at the same time. Take care to get it in the oven as soon as you finish spreading the batter on the apples.

Vegan Swedish Apple Pie

2 1/2 cups peeled, cored and sliced apples; I used a blend of Granny Smith and Cortland
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup margarine, melted (such as Earth's Best)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup soy yogurt*
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9-inch glass pie plate with margarine. Toss apples with brown sugar and cinnamon. In a medium bowl, mix 1 cup sugar, soy yogurt, and vanilla with the melted margarine. Whip with an electric mixer until the mixture is very aerated and nearly white. Stir together flour, soda and salt. Add all at once to margarine mixture and mix until just combined but with no lumps. Spread mixture over the apples. Bake in preheated oven for 65 minutes, or until golden brown.
*(If you eat eggs and dairy products, you can omit the yogurt and the baking soda and substitute a beaten egg; and use butter in place of margarine for similar results.)

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Breakfast Bars (Autumn and Tropical versions)

By now, the entire planet is well aware that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The number one reason for not eating breakfast has something to do with morning time constraints, the snooze button, and the fact that you thought you could stay up all night watching the Gene Simmons Family Values marathon on A&E.

On a lovely Sunday, you could spend 10 minutes whipping these badboys up and you can eat them in the car on your way to work (or rehab, if that's your gig.) They pack a nutritional punch, they're healthy, and they're rather addictive. Though the ingredient list looks daunting, it tends to be of the sort of things that are usually lurking about in your pantry with nothing else better to do. You don't have soy flour? No big. Just leave it out. Don't like pumpkin? Use applesauce. Not a fan of pecans? Use whichever nut you'd like, or leave them out. Hate cranberries? Use raisins. Hate cranberries AND raisins? Use dried apples. I think you get the gist here. These are egg-free, diary-free, and they're full of oaty goodness, which will probably lower your cholesterol. You can thank me later.

Autumn Breakfast Bars

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup oat flour (conveniently made from pulverizing old-fashioned rolled oats in a blender or food processor)
1/3 cup flaxseeds, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant, and pulverized in a blender or food processor.
1/4 cup soy flour
1/2 cup Craisins or raisins or chopped dried apples.
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree; not the pumpkin pie mix (or natural applesauce)
1 medium Granny Smith or Gala apple, cored, peeled, seeded and chopped into small pieces (1/4 inch or so)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375*F. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl, stirring to combine. In a separate bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients along with the apple, dried fruit, and nuts. Stir until the mixture is well combined and spread into a greased 13 x 9 pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Cut into squares while the bars are still warm, but do not remove them from the pan until they are completely cool (as they will fall apart if you take them out when still warm.)

Tropical Version: Reduce packed brown sugar to 2 Tbsp. Omit the maple syrup and water, the fresh apple, the pumpkin, the cinnamon, and the Craisins and pecans and substitute with the following:
1 cup canned pineapple tidbits (not crushed pineapple) well-drained and dried (reserve juice)
1 cup reserved pineapple juice from above; add enough water or apple juice to make one cup if you don't have enough.
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup packed sweetened coconut flakes
1/4 cup finely chopped dried mango and papaya
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts or cashews
1/4 tsp allspice

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Chocolate Silk Pie

Oh, just yum. Glorious, creamy, happy yum. And easy. So pathetically easy you could sleep while making it, and it'd still come out perfectly. It is rich and decadent and chocolate all around. It's not my recipe, since every vegan seems to know how to make it. You can mess with it a bit and it still comes out muy delicioso. It's like discovering Blackbeard's treasure.

Chocolate Silk Pie
1 lb silken tofu, room temperature
12 oz bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao)
one ready-made pie crust; I used the Oreo sort.
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate chips in a double-boiler or in the microwave. Put the tofu in a blender with the vanilla and puree it on high for about 30 seconds, until it is smooth; don't remove the tofu from the blender. Add the chocolate to the blender, and puree it on high with the tofu until the mixture doesn't have any more white streaks. You may have to scrape the sides of the blender down with a rubber spatula. Pour into prepared pie crust and chill for at least 3 hours.

This pie is great. It has sinful mouthfeel but doesn't leave your mouth coated in fat (that would be a clean finish, methinks.) If you've never had tofu, or if tofu makes you all squeevish, give this a shot. Even my husband ate it and gave it high reviews.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I've come to discover...

Vegetarianism really isn't as difficult as I thought it would be. It's quite surprising, really.

In the past week, I've eaten more tofu than I've ever eaten before. It is quite good (when combined with spices and flavorful foods.) I tried it on its own and it's quite bland. Today, I made a stew, and it is amazing. Today is chilly and I've eaten 2 bowls of this hearty, filling stuff.

I can state that I didn't think I would feel as well as I do today. In fact, I didn't realize how badly I was feeling previously. Other than the non-consumption of meat, nothing really has changed. Physically, I feel like I could swim the English Channel. I do start shaking every now and again, but my blood sugar has been fine. I'm wondering what was actually in the food I was eating if I'm possibly going through withdrawal symptoms.

Burger King has veggie burgers. I found this out because I was hungry and thirsty, and I was about to settle on drinking a Coke and not eating a darn thing, until I saw "BK Veggie Burger" on the menu. It comes with mayo on it, so if you're vegan, ask for it without. It is GOOD. I think it actually tastes better than the other menu options. Give one a shot. It doesn't taste like a hockey puck like some veggie burgers did back in the day when they first came out.

I purchased more produce than I think I can possibly get through in a week. Call it farmer's market gluttony. This is what happens when one's market bag is bigger than one's stomach. I'm going to roast a mess of veggies and do a few things with it. I did so on Saturday, and suffice it to say, I ate the whole thing. I even ate it for breakfast on Sunday. Yes, it was indeed that good.

I just ordered two cookbooks by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, one of them called Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, which is quite possibly the best title for a book to date. She has a blog as well, and has recently posted a recipe for Vegan Milano cookies; a spinoff on the Pepperidge Farm cookie of the same name, minus the vegan. I don't know about you, but vegan or not, making these cookies at home would kick butt. You can Google Vegan Milano cookies and her site will show up.

Butternut Squash Stew (loosely based on the Southwestern Stew from Vegetarian Times magazine.)

1 large butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes (or so, doesn't have to be perfect)
2 large sweet onions, diced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, ribs and seeds removed, minced (the whole thing if you want more of a kick)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 dried bay leaf
1 package extra-firm tofu, drained, cubed, and squeezed dry with paper towels.
3 Tbsp. canola oil, divided
4 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. flour

In a stock pot, heat 1 Tbsp of the oil until it is very hot, but not smoking. Add the onions, cooking over medium heat until the onions are browned, stirring often. Increase heat to high. Add the tofu to the pot with the spices, bay leaf, and sugar, stirring to coat the tofu/onions. Allow tofu to brown a bit, about 5 minutes. Add squash and stock to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Simmer until the squash is cooked through and tender, about 25-30 minutes. Mix the remaining oil and the flour together in a small bowl. Add to the stew, stirring constantly. The liquid should thicken. Turn off heat and allow the stew to sit for about 20-30 minutes, reheat if necessary. Remove bay leaf. Serve stew with crusty bread. Yields about 6 servings.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


For my birthday, I've decided that I'm going vegetarian. That's right; no more eating animals and contributing to the pocketbook of factory farming.

I hope those of you reading the blog will stay and discover the versatility of a meat-free diet. If not, that's fine too, of course. To each his own, as they say.

My wonderful husband got me a subscription to Vegetarian Times magazine and new sneakers (which I desperately wanted) and an MP3 player so that my walks will now be skip-free.

It is a good day.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Helen of Troy

I'm quite certain that if David Lebovitz's Cheesecake Ice Cream were a woman in ancient Greece, she would be the ice cream to launch a thousand cones. Everyone as a whole would have been much happier and there wouldn't have been any of that whole murderous mess going on. After all, no one can be angry whilst holding an ice cream cone.

Many would argue that ice cream wasn't brought about until the Victorian era or so (rather, that is when it really increased in popularity,) but this is my blog, and my fantasy, and you should just leave all reason out of it. Reason indeed has absolutely no place in your thoughts if you're eating cheesecake ice cream. I followed the recipe unflinchingly, and whizzed the whole mess up in the blender. It took all of 5 minutes. After the lovely concoction was done churning, I stirred in crumbled bits of graham cracker pie crust. It was rich, creamy, subtly tangy from the sour cream, with a nice hit citrus from the zest. It is the frozen essence of cheesecake. It will make you smile. A lot. You may even find yourself calling your little tub of ice cream, "my precioussssssss," defending your stash while wielding your almighty spoon. Tricksy indeed.

If you haven't purchased an ice cream maker, I have no idea what you are waiting for. You know that box of fluffy cold stuff that you pick up at the grocery store? It's about 80% air. And it is disgusting to boot. Carageenan? I like to pronounce my ingredients, thank you very much. Even the wee million-dollar pints that those two guys make (I'll admit, they do make some mean ice cream) cannot compare to the lusciousness of all that is contained in The Perfect Scoop.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Growing up, there were always herbs right outside my door. My grandparents, who lived with us, would send whomever was passing through the kitchen outside to the little patch of ground right outside the door whenever something was needed. My grandmother would taste whatever she was making at the time, and would tilt her head like she was listening to bats sing to each other.

"Fraaa... va piu basilico. Na poco."** (Fraaaa... go get basil. Just a little.)

My grandmother would call to my grandfather, whose name was Francesco (whom she lovingly called Fra. When she called his name, it faded nicely and the "ahh" sound was always drawn out like a sigh.) **(this is all phonetic spelling; I have no idea how to actually spell things in Italian.)
He would look at me, usually engrossed in my homework, stare until I realized someone was looking at me, then say,

"Dani-eh... va pia basilico per la vostra nonna; va." (Daniela, go get basil for your grandmother; go!)

I would drop what I was doing (seriously, you did not mess with dinner,) run outside, and pick basil until my Nonna would shout out the window, "basta!" (stop!) I'd run in, drop the basil next to the sink, run in the bathroom and wash my hands, and continue whatever it was that I was doing in the first place.

I have mentioned before that I don't really like pasta, since eating it nearly every single night for my entire childhood pretty much ensured that once on my own, I would do everything in my power not to eat it again, unless it was an absolute craving.
"Dani-eh, perche non statei mangare?" ("Why aren't you eating?") This was their typical reaction when I'd see pasta on the table in my late teens. "Non sonno affama," I'd say, promptly call my best friend Debbie, and see what her family was having for dinner.

My grandmother did make a mean pesto, which I would slather on thick slices of toasted bread, top with a bit of mozzarella, and reek of garlic for about an hour or three. This is my version of her recipe, since I never could reach in and measure things that she made. She would toss in a few heads of garlic into the oven whenever she happened to turn it on.

Nonna's Pesto
(I'm allergic to pine nuts, so I never put them in. Do feel free to add 1/2 cup of pine nuts, toasted until they are lightly golden brown.)

2 cups packed basil leaves, meaning that you have to pack them tightly into the cup to measure them.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup pecorino romano cheese
1 head roasted garlic
1/4 baking soda

Heat about 6 cups of water and baking soda in a large saucepan until boiling. Blanch the basil for about 5-10 seconds, and quickly remove it to an ice bath. Dry basil. Place the basil, cheese, and garlic in a food processor or blender. Add 1/2 cup of olive oil, and puree until blended. With the blender running, slowly drizzle in the remaining oil. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week. It will separate, but give it a good stir and all will be well.
It can be slathered on chicken breasts, bread, pizza, steak, tomatoes, mixed with cheese and marinated, mixed with cream cheese for a dip, mixed with roasted red potatoes, the list goes on and on.
Nonna would want you to clean your plate.


I'm quite sorry that I do not have anything new to post about today. I'm currently in the process of canning another round of tomato soup. Please see changes to the recipe, as I've adjusted the amount of sugar to start with. I personally like it quite spicy and slightly sweet, and my kids love it when it is sweet enough to offset a grilled sharp cheddar sandwich. They won't touch it if it even slightly tingles their tongue. So, please heed my advice and start off with only 1/4 cup of sugar.

That said, I'm also chilling a double-batch of David Lebovitz's Chocolate Coconut Sherbet (or Coconut chocolate sherbet.. I don't recall which comes first.) I went to the store this morning and picked up the ingredients for his Cheesecake Ice Cream as well. I'll post how that goes. I received his latest book, The Perfect Scoop, yesterday in the mail and was surprised at how exhaustive it is. I love the anecdotes of how certain flavors came to be; my favorite involves standing in the Barcelona train station at gunpoint. You'll have to read the book for specifics. If you thought ice cream required tempering egg yolks just so and didn't want to deal with that whole mess; The Perfect Scoop is the exact thing that you need. Sure, some of the recipes start off with a French custard base (see yolks.) Most of them do not. I'm dying to make the Lemon Ice Cream, and it is in the plans for sometime next week. I have 4 ice cream cookbooks, and this one definitely trumps them all.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Pommes d'amour

If the only tomato soup you've ever had coincidentally was also the subject of an Andy Warhol piece of artwork, you, my dear friend, are missing out. Fresh tomato soup is like a bowl of sunshine in the dead of winter. It reminds you that in the midst of all of the cold and grey and sharp wind there is an oasis of warmth. You can close your eyes and remember being on the patio listening to the birds chirp, bees humming, the explosion of color all around.

This is liquid hope.

Tomato Soup
(yields about 5 quarts)

12 1/2 lb ripe tomatoes. I use a mixture of whatever I have, usually beefsteak, plum tomatoes, and my mom's yellow tomatoes
half a bunch of celery (about 7 stalks), washed, ends trimmed and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces. If you're up to it, peel the long fibrous strings off.
6 medium-sized onions, chopped
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems removed
2 cups water
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp ground cloves
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. ground black pepper
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp. cayenne pepper sauce (ie. Frank's Red Hot), or more, depending on personal preference.

Core, seed, and chop the tomatoes and place them in a 10-qt stock pot. Bring the tomatoes, water, celery, onion, lemon juice, cloves, and parsley to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until the celery is tender, about 20 minutes. Skim off any foam that has formed. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cooled, puree in a blender or food processor in small batches until all of the soup has been pureed. Return to stock pot and bring to a boil once again. Add 1/4 cup of sugar, salt, pepper, and cayenne sauce, stirring until sugar completely dissolves. In a small saucepan, melt the butter completely. Whisk the flour into the butter, cooking over medium heat for one minute (roux). Add to the soup mixture, stirring until all of the roux is incorporated into the soup, and the soup has slightly thickened. Taste and add more sugar by the tablespoonful until you reach desired sweetness. Remove soup from heat.

At this point, you can fill hot, sterilized quart jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace, and process them in a hot water bath for 35 minutes. Alternately, you can freeze the cooled soup in plastic freezer bags, or plastic freezer containers; just remove as much air as possible from the freezer containers. It will keep in the freezer for about 6 months... if you can manage not to eat it all by then.

This post has been submitted to September's "Grow Your Own" blog event, hosted by Andrea of Do join us!

Astonishingly Similar to the Post Previous...

... but altogether different. Alas, I did not photograph last night's dinner. I will tell you that it was absolutely delicious, and extremely easy to make (c'mon.. you essentially chuck stuff in a pot and call it done.) You may have come to notice that I cook with the spirits a lot. No, that doesn't mean that Elvis is in my kitchen. I cook with far more alcohol than I'd ever have time to drink. It can elevate the simplest ingredients to something noteworthy.

Rustic Beef with Potatoes, Parsnips, and Onion
(serves 4)

2-3 lb chuck roast, trimmed of extra fat
1 large onion, chopped in large pieces
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
4 Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced into about 1 1/2 inch chunks
4 parsnips, peeled and sliced into 2 inch slices, on the diagonal
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 cups cabernet sauvignon
1/2 cup ketchup (really!)
3/4 cup water
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp canola oil
salt and ground black pepper

Pat the chuck roast dry and season liberally with salt and pepper. In a bowl, mix wine, water, ketchup and vinegar until combined. Set aside. In a large saute pan (preferably NOT nonstick,) heat the oil over high heat. Sear the roast on each side until it is dark brown. Remove from pan and set aside. Add parsnips, onion, and garlic to the pan and saute until the parnsips and onion start to caramelize. Add rosemary to pan. Once mixture becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds, add wine mixture, stirring to scrape up any brown bits (fond) on the bottom of the pan. Let mixture come to a rolling boil. Turn heat down to low, add the roast back to the pot, add the potatoes in a single layer and cover. Simmer for 40 minutes over very low heat. Remove roast from pan and allow to rest for approximately 15 minutes before slicing. While the roast is resting, remove cover from pan, increase heat to medium high, and reduce the pan sauce by half.

And yes, licking your plate is uncouth.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Cold Comfort Farm

Herb roasted chicken with roasted potatoes is quite possibly my favorite fall meal. Simple, hearty, and extremely versatile. This requires very little preparation, but tastes like a five-star meal. The potatoes are at once lush and crisp and meltingly good. A glass of pinot gris or sauvignon blanc, and dessert of apple crisp can round out the meal for company. Or you can just lock yourself in the dining room and eat it all yourself. Not that I'm condoning such a thing, but still. You could. It's that good.

Herb Roasted Chicken with Potatoes
1 whole chicken (about 4 lb), rinsed, patted dry, and butterflied (cut the backbone so you can lay the chicken flat. This will ensure crispy skin throughout.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt, divided
1 tsp ground black pepper, more to taste, divided
various fresh herbs, several sprigs of each. I use whatever looks good from the kitchen garden; usually parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (much like the song.)
1 head of garlic, individual cloves peeled (I smash them with my chefs knife to peel them quickly.)
6-8 Yukon Gold potatoes
1 large sweet onion

Season the chicken with 1 tsp salt and half a teaspoon of ground black pepper. Stuff the herbs and half of the garlic cloves under the skin of the chicken. Slice the potatoes and the onion into 1/2 inch slices. In a bowl or a Ziploc bag, toss the potatoes, onions, and remaining garlic with 2 Tbsp olive oil. Place in refrigerator to marinate. Rub the remaining olive oil onto the chicken, place in a separate bowl or bag, and allow to marinate for about 2 hours in the refrigerator. About 2 hours prior to the time you would like to serve dinner, preheat the oven.

Preheat oven to 400*F. Place the potato mixture in the bottom of a roasting pan. Attempt to get them all in a single layer. Sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper. Place a roasting rack in the pan on top of the potatoes. Lay the chicken on the rack, breast side up (see photo.) Roast for about an hour to an hour and a half, or until a meat thermometer registers 170*F in the thigh (do not touch a bone when you measure the temperature.) Remove from the oven and allow the chicken to rest for about 20 minutes. Transfer chicken to a platter and scoop up the potato loveliness into a bowl. Allow your family and friends to think that you are a domestic wunderkind, mostly because you are.

The Jam Pot

Out of all of the acoutrements in my mother's kitchen, the jam pot is the one I covet the most. It's not as if I'm allowed to use it at all, which could be the very reason for its unnatural appeal. I do know that it will be part of my inheritance, if only because I said so. The jam pot is shiny and made of stainless steel, but it has a rather curvy profile. Tallish, like a stock pot, but with a distinctive shape... like a corset.

I have no idea how this pot came to be, where she got it, or why she decided to start cooking jam in it. I want it. I have looked everywhere and haven't seen a pot like it.

My mother entered the jam-making foray a bit late in life. For the past 10 years or so, the entire family looks forward to the time when my mom decides to make the trip to Massachusetts and bequeath upon them the bounty of the jam pot. Nearly half of the conversations I have with my cousins end with, "Oh, and tell your mom that I'm out of raspberry." The more gluttonous cousins eat the jam straight out of the jar with a spoon, usually hidden in an obscure corner of the house so no one else sees them. Closer to home, my mom's pantry would be lined with hundreds of half-pint jars each summer. Raspberry, strawberry, elderberry, blueberry, rhubarb, grape, and currant were all represented, sometimes sharing space with my mother's exotic experiments, like cantaloupe jelly and fig jam.

She'd stand there in the basement kitchen (for that is where jam is made, since it is the coolest place in the house during the sweltering Pennsylvania summers,) stirring with the wooden spoon that my Zio Gabe made for her. When my dad was alive, he'd pitch in by pitting cherries, making labels for the zillions of jars, making toast so he could eat the "dredges" of the jam pot. My parents making jam together is quite possibly one of my favorite memories.

This weekend, I made plum preserves, plum chutney (the recipe on is fantastic,) vanilla peach preserves, and tomato soup. I do not have a pantry, but I have plenty of cabinet space.

Vanilla Peach Preserves
(yield: about 5 half-pint jars)

5 cups peaches, peeled, pit removed, and chopped
4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. antioxidant powder (such as Fruit Fresh)
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 whole vanilla beans, sliced down the middle and seeds scraped out
3 oz pouch of liquid pectin (such as Certo)
pinch salt

In a non-reactive bowl, mix peaches with antioxidant powder, sugar, salt, and lemon juice. Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature. Transfer peaches to a heavy-bottomed 6-qt stock pot and add vanilla beans. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, stirring frequently until all sugar is dissolved. Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim off any foam that may have formed. Return to heat, bring to a boil, and add pectin. Boil for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, remove vanilla beans, and let the preserves stand for 5 minutes before filling hot, sterilized jars. Leave one-half inch of headspace (the space between the top of the jam and the rim of the jar.) Process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes. Let cool completely. Check for proper seals once cooled. If there is leftover preserves or jars that have not sealed properly, refrigerate and use within 2 weeks.

Friday, August 31, 2007

David Lebovitz's Chocolate Coconut Sherbet

I will have to admit that I was a bit wary about the whole "this doesn't have dairy" vibe that this recipe was giving off. I was worried it would be an icy, watery consistency, giving way to what I call, "chocolate water flavor..." (Think chocolate milk, and substitute water for the milk. Got it? Ick.)

I was gloriously wrong. This sherbet is what the Hope Diamond would be like if you could freeze it, add chocolate to it, and eat it with a spoon. It is velvety, dark, and dare I say - naughty. It whispers coconutty sonnets to you.

If you have the patience to wait long enough for it to ripen for a day, by all means do so (Elizabeth couldn't wait, as evidenced by her soft-servishness cone above.)

By all means, get thee an ice cream maker and whip some of this up.

David, you're a genius.

(You can procure the recipe from, or pick up a copy of The Perfect Scoop, David's new book.)

Sea Scallops with With Brown Butter and Lime

I have this rule that I don't eat seafood this far inland. Rules, as you know, are sometimes meant to be broken. This is especially true if you love scallops, haven't had them in a year (due to said rule) and find that there are 6 or so pristine looking scallops at the grocery store fishmonger.

It's a simple sauce, really. After pan frying the scallops in a bit of butter, I added some white wine to deglaze (about 1/4 cup) which was reduced to about a tablespoon or so, added a squeeze of lime juice, a half-teaspoon of sugar, and a tablespoon of butter. I flipped the whole mess on medium-high until the butter browned. A bit tart, a bit sweet, and a bit sour.

Eight thousand degrees

Alas, there is not much to say, other than the fact that it has been ungodly hot here and I have been eating nothing but the Catalan Tomato Bread from Amanda's blog, Figs, Olives, Wine (

I currently have no idea on how to do a sexy html cut, as I am rather braindead at this very moment. I'm starving after doing some yard work and taking a walk most of the morning. And the tomato bread smells like heaven.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Brie and Pear Confit

This is my favorite breakfast. There's nothing like the crunchy, gooey, sticky, slightly salty, sweet, and heady combination of pear confit with brie on a baguette. If you've only had brie baked en croute, I beg you to try this. If you could put love on a plate, I'm quite sure that this is what it would look like.
Brie and Pear Sandwich
(makes 1 sandwich)
6-inch piece of baguette
3 oz brie, rind removed
3 Tbsp. pear confit (recipe follows)
Slice the baguette lengthwise; spread the cheese on one half and the jam on the other half. Place each half on a foil-lined baking sheet, and set under the broiler until cheese is melted; about 45 seconds. Let cool slightly and assemble sandwich.

Quick Pear Confit

3 ripe Bartlett Pears, peeled, cored, and sliced thinly
1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat so that the pear mixture is just simmering. Simmer until the mixture is thick and of jam-like consistency, stirring every few minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Yield: about 3/4 cup.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Evie and Emily are coming down with something, so in the vast nose-wiping marathon - where the finish line is a tissue, not a sleeve - I have not ingested anything other than a cup of coffee.

Until now. I'd give you the recipe for these chocolate chip pecan cookies, but it is not mine. You will find it conveniently located on the reverse package of Hershey's semi-sweet chocolate chips. I substitute half of the butter for butter flavored Crisco (trans fats be damned!) and increase the vanilla to 1 tablespoon.

I am a vanilla whore. There, I said it. Luckily, I can get beans at a really low price (pathetically low, even... and they're excellent, fat, gorgeous beans.) I make my own extract... for those of you wondering why I had a few bottles of vodka laying about. Making your own extract is pathetically easy. I will never understand why someone will pay five dollars for a few tablespoons of the stuff when they can make a liter of it for about $15. It nearly lasts forever, but it does take a bit of time to steep. With my method, I've cut out some of the time altogether, so that your extract will be deep, dark, and delicious in no time.

Vanilla Extract

20 Grade A Tahitian vanilla beans, divided.
1 liter good-quality vodka

A large glass container with a lid, or at least enough rubber bands to make a plastic wrap lid. Glass is important, because if you happen to use plastic, you may get some off-gassing and some funky flavors may ensue.

Chop 18 of the vanilla beans into 1-inch pieces. Reserve the remaining 2 beans. Pour half of the vodka into a food processor with the vanilla beans. Puree those bad boys as well as you can and pour it into the glass container. Keep the original vodka bottle and cap (we're all about recycling, folks.) Add the remaining vodka, cover, and let steep in a cool, dry, dark place for about 3 weeks. Strain the extract through a couple of layers of cheesecloth, squeezing the pulp to coax out any remaining extract. Vanilla beans will sneak into the mix. This is good. Pour the extract back into the bottle from whence the vodka came. Add the reserved 2 vanilla beans. I tend to store it for another few weeks before I use it, but at about halfway through the bottle, I'll start a new one.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Zia Anna's Breadcrumbs

My Zia Anna was the best cook in the family (I'd like to think that I've moved up in rank.) Every single time I went to Cambridge to visit, she had a plate of cold chicken cutlets in the fridge, just for me to take on my trip home... they never made it as far as the I-90 onramp. Hell, sometimes they didn't make it out of the driveway!

The instructions are a bit simple, but crucial. They were dictated over the phone to me by Zia and I guarantee you that you'll never buy prepackaged Italian breadcrumbs from the store ever again (unless you're really in a pinch, and then you'll complain how they taste like sawdust.)

Zia Anna's Breadcrumbs

3 cups homemade breadcrumbs made from stale Italian or French bread
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup minced flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup fresh garlic, minced fine
1 cup to 1 1/2 cups finely grated Reggio Parmigiano cheese

Chuck all of the above ingredients into the food processor until everything is very well blended. Taste the mixture: You should be able to taste the cheese and spicy garlic flavor very well (if not, add more of each until your mouth tastes of garlic and cheese.) Store in the freezer.

Like I said, quite easy to make, but you do have to taste it to make sure the flavor is coming through and hitting you in the face like an errantly thrown shoe. I make so much at a time that I keep one in one of those plastic cereal containers in the fridge, and a few ziploc bags in the freezer. Soon, you'll find yourself using them for everything... even tofu.

So this is tofu.

I must say that I'm rather impressed by my first foray into "plain" tofu. Of course, I've had tofu IN other things, but the only way I've really had it on a stand-out basis was in the hot-and-sour soup from my local Chinese take-out.

I had a real hankering for my aunt Anna's chicken cutlets. Conveniently, I had the breadcrumbs from her recipe in my freezer, but no chicken. Nor did I feel like going to the market to purchase chicken and wait until it thawed, pound it to annoying thinness, and fry away.

I did have a package of extra-firm tofu. I sliced it up, killed a few trees by the embarrassing amount of paper towels that I used to press the excess moisture from them, dipped them in beaten egg, breaded them, and pan-fried them.

Of course, the perfect condiment for cutlets (other than homemade marinara) is hot pepper jelly. They came out crispy and delicious! Not unlike a chicken cutlet (and really, we eat the cutlets for the breading anyway.) They had a very tender quality as well.

So, my leftover tofu is neatly sliced, pressed, and is marinating in some chicken broth that I had in the fridge. Breadcrumb recipe to follow soon.