Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Weekend

Crepe making for Christmas Eve dinner--

Resulting in spinach-ricotta manicotti with tomato cream sauce--

Panettone French Toast for Christmas morning--

Some of John's favorite Christmas things--

And some of mine--

I hope that you all had a joyous weekend.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Second Time Around

Who knew that the ingredients I used for two Friday night pizzas would show up again on the dinner table Sunday night?

I made a pizza topped with Italian sausage, sauteed onions and mushrooms topped with a mixture of grated cheeses as well as a Margherita pizza using grape tomatoes and mozzarella.  Both were very good served alongside this salad.

The pickled onions gave the salad a nice sweet and sour crunch.

While looking for some inspiration for supper on Sunday, I came across a recipe for pasta using the ingredients I  had in the refrigerator.  I love this kind of cooking, that is making a meal from what is essentially in the pantry.  No outing to the market is involved.  And I get to use the bits and bobs, as Kath would say, so that nothing goes to waste at the end of the weekend.  Mr. No Carbs was just going to have to suffer through two carbohydrate-laden dinners this weekend.

This recipe comes from Philadelphia chef, Marc Vetri, and it's a keeper.  It goes together quickly and is hearty enough for a cold night like last night--and tasty, too.

Orecchiette with Sausage and Cherry Tomatoes
By Marc Vetri                  
Serves 4

1 pound orechiette pasta
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 ounces aged provolone cheese, shredded
3/4 cup reserved pasta water

In a large pot of boiling salted water cook pasta until al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.

Meanwhile, in a large deep skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil until shimmering.  Add the sausage in 1-inch clumps and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until browned and cooked through, about 8 minuets.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a plate.

Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the skillet along with the tomatoes and crushed red pepper; cook over moderate heat, pressing the tomatoes until slightly softened, about 4 minutes.  Add the reserved pasta cooking water, season with salt and cook over moderate heat, scraping up any browned bits and crushing the tomatoes, until the liquid is reduced by half and the tomatoes are nearly broken down, about 5 minutes.

Add the pasta to the skillet along with the sausage and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and cook, stirring, until the pasta is evenly coated, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in provolone.  Transfer to bowls and serve.

Cook's Note:  I used hot Italian sausage and eliminated the crushed red pepper.  I rarely buy pre-shredded cheese, but I had a combination of asiago, fontina, Parmesan and provolone, left from the pizza.  Use whatever you like. If you can't get orecchiette, any pasta that will hold the sauce will do.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Comfort and Joy

Whenever I'm yearning for some comforting food, the first thing that comes to mind is meatballs. Maybe it is because I grew up eating meatballs every week. Hot and steamy, soft and plump, meatballs would appear on the table with macaroni like clockwork each Thursday evening.

So when I came across Mary Ann Esposito's recipe for Pesto Meatballs I just had to try them.  This recipe is a little different from my mother's tried and true weekly meatballs. It combines two different cuts of beef as well as incorporating a tasty pesto sauce into the mixture.  Also they are baked in the oven instead of fried which makes for a much cleaner cook top when you are finished.

Mary Ann Esposito

2/3 cups breadcrumbs
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg
3 heaping tablespoons pesto sauce
1/3 cup grated Pecorino cheese (you can omit part of this if you have already added cheese to the pesto)         
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound ground beef round
1/2 pound ground beef (with higher fat content than round)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Place the bread crumbs in a bowl and pour milk over them.  Let the breadcrumbs soak for a few minutes then whisk in the egg, pesto sauce, cheese, salt and pepper.

Crumble the meats over the bread crumb mixture and use your hands to combine well.  Scoop up about 1/3 cup at a time to form the mixture into meatballs.

Place them on a slightly oiled or silpat-line baking sheet.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until meatballs are lightly browned.

Serve them in tomato sauce as a main course or as a side with pasta.  Very good.

Makes 12 2-inch meatballs

Monday, December 12, 2011

Enjoy Everything


"Enjoy everything." That is how my friend ended her letter to us disclosing her husband's illness.  Everything can change in an instant.

"Enjoy everything" are the words I thought of as John and I brought out the Christmas decorations and all the hoopla that went with them.  You see, I am not one of those people who loves the Christmas season. John thinks I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.  I do not.  I just am not sunny by nature and tend toward melancholy.  But "enjoy everything" resonated with me.

Was I enjoying polishing the silver platters my mother-in law left to me? Not really, but I thought about how much pleasure I get from seeing these beauties shine with use.  My mother-in-law left me some beautiful things--things that she loved but from which she never derived pleasure.  They were always safely locked away for special occasions.

I began to think. I leave my things within easy reach and use them all the time.  I enjoy them! What a concept.

Am I enjoying the fact that our son is not coming home for Christmas for the second year in a row? Of course not.  This just might be the first Christmas Eve in forty years of marriage that John and I are going to be alone.I plan to buy some good smoked salmon and my favorite French Champagne. I'll cook a nice dinner while playing some Christmas Elvis in the background.  And I will enjoy the evening.

There are many things in my life that I wish were different; but they're not.  But I do know this.  I will remember the reason for this season and enjoy the present good health of my family, the laughter of my friends, the warmth of the fireplace and the bounty of food from my kitchen. 

Every day I will try to fulfill my friend's wish for me, enjoy everything, because everything can change in an instant.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Our Winter Kitchen

Stir fried Beef and Broccoli   

Being prepared   

Comfort food

Getting ready for the oven
Dinner last night
Toasted hazelnuts

View from the  kitchen window

Monday, December 5, 2011

Spicy Chicken

To help get me out of this rut I am in, I decided to make an effort to cook some new dishes.

Recently, while reading prolific cookbook author Melissa Clark's book, In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, I came across a recipe that was calling my name.  The recipe for Spiced Chipotle Honey Chicken Breasts with Sweet Potatoes had everything I was looking for in a recipe and more--flavor, spice, color-- and I had all of the ingredients at hand.

The only change I made was to use much less cumin, as I am not a big fan.  Next time I would omit it. Also, I whirred the chipotles into a rough paste instead of mincing them. Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce are a staple in my kitchen.  When I open a can, I roughly puree them in the food processor, transfer them to a glass jar and store them in the refrigerator almost indefinitely. I think they have a special affinity to sweet potatoes.

This recipe turned out to be uncomplicated and quick to put together--not to mention delicious to boot.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Post Turkey Blahs

It was late on Sunday afternoon, and my friend T had just gotten her last child back to where she needed to be after Thanksgiving when she called.

"What are you doing?"
"I'm just deciding what to cook for dinner."
"So, what are you cooking?"
"Aren't you going to invite us for dinner?"
"You don't need an invitation."

And so it goes.

After a little back and forth, we decided that  since T had all of the side dishes from Thanksgiving to accompany the chicken, John and I would go to their house with the main dish in tow.  I prepared Ina Garten's Lemon Chicken Breasts, instructed T to have the oven heated to 400 degrees, grabbed a bottle of wine, and off we went.

While the Martinis were being shaken, the chicken went into the oven, and T heated up the Apple Butternut Squash Soup.  Delicious.

What a nice way to end the holiday weekend.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dinner Tonight

Whenever I see thin sliced boneless shell steaks in the market, I am sure to pick them up.  It takes only four or so thin slices to make a great meal.

One of my favorite dinners in based on Marcella Hazan's recipe for Thin Pan-Broiled Steaks with Tomatoes and Olives.
Thin slices of beef are pounded to 1/4" thick.  Then slowly saute a small sliced onion in olive oil.  When it wilts, add some chopped garlic and continue to cook until the garlic is soft.  Then add about 2/3 cup canned tomatoes, roughly chopped, some black olives, oregano, salt and pepper.  Bring to simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until the oil separates from the tomatoes. Set aside on a low simmer.
Heat a large saute pan until it is smoking hot; quickly grease the bottom with an oil-soaked paper towel. Add the beef slices, brown on both sides, adding salt and pepper.  Do not overcook.  Add the simmering sauce to the saute pan, turning meat quickly and basting with sauce.

All that is left to do is serve while hot.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


First comes the menu.  Easy because each time L and I try to change an item on the Thanksgiving menu we are met with cries of shock and disbelief. So it goes.

Next comes my master list which shows all the dishes being served and the ingredients needed for each.  Check.  Recipes are gathered.  Check.  Then an inventory of what ingredients are in the pantry, and the shopping list is made.  Check.  Grocery store.  Check.

And the cooking begins.  Cheddar cheese crackers to have with a glass of prosecco before dinner; cranberry sauce; corn muffins; the base for the mushroom soup and a ridiculously easy and delicious do-ahead gravy--really!
Tomorrow I will make my family's stuffing with sausage, raisins, pine nuts, parsley and Pecorino Romano cheese.   I'll defrost the pie and crostata doughs I made last week and set into the freezer; the streusel for the crostata; and the pumpkin pie.  There is the table to set and the glasses to polish.  And all the while L will be making all the side dishes that star at this meal.

All there is to do on Thanksgiving Day is to make the crostata, truss and roast the turkey, add the cream and heat up the soup, and make room in the oven for the side dishes. Whew! 

Is all this worth it?  You bet.  We have a lot to be thankful for.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

November Sky

A bright, crisp November morning.  White trails left by travelers in the sky.  I think of journeys to come.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I have lost my voice.  I have lost my words.  I have lost  my passion.  Nothing I do seems to bring them back.

I hope that this is not the end of this blog.  I hope that something brings me back to normal--whatever that is.

In the meantime, I'd like to share a couple of fun recipes.

Lemon-Cornmeal Sheet Cookies
Adapted from a recipe by Martha Stewart, these cookies are delicious and made with an unusual method.

3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon demerara sugar
1 large egg and
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons slice almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in  a medium bowl.

Beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in 1 egg and lemon zest.  Reduce speed to low, and beat in flour mixture.

Press dough into and even 1/4" thickness on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Brush with egg wash; sprinkle with almonds and 1 tablespoon demerara sugar.  Bake until golden, 22-25 minutes.  Let cool on a wire rack, then break into uneven pieces.

The other is a nice little treat to have before dinner with a glass of wine.

Roast some sweet red grapes tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper in a hot oven until they begin to soften, about 20 minutes.  Top toasted bread slices with fresh ricotta, the roasted grapes, a sprinkling of thyme and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Summer Snaps

Although the calendar says September 2, Labor Day Weekend has long been emblematic of the end of summer around here.  And I can't say that I am sorry to see it go.

Nevertheless, it had its moments.

We benefited from S's recent stint in culinary school.

My foray into the summer's coolest craze


Summer's bounty  
Summer's food
Summer fun
Summer past
Cool days ahead

Have a very happy and safe Labor Day Weekend!