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.