On Sick Leave…

19 02 2011

We apologize for any inconvenience…however our kitchen is currently closed due to the flu.  We’ll be fine…as soon as these bugs get out of our bed and go live with someone else or DIE!  There just isn’t much cooking going on..and I’m totally off schedule with everything, and I do mean everything! I made it to work one day this week…  Quickie soups are about the extent of my energy level.  We play thermometer roulette for major chores…the one with the lowest temp gets to do the chore of the hour!  We feel lousy, but we’re managing to survive!  We’re being doted upon by our loving and protective dog, Jasmine.  If I could only teach her to do some of the other chores too… Right now, she specializes in bed-warming and pillow stealing.  But she’s a love…until she kicks me in the face in the middle of the night! *giggle*cough-cough-cough*  Wish I could kick the symptoms!  I’ll be back on deck, cooking up a storm as soon as I can…

Anyone with TMT posts is still welcome to send them in to me for round-up!!  I can manage to round up the participants meals, even if I can’t toss one together myself just yet!  That will probably be one of the first meals I attempt though…something easy and soothing…  See you back here real soon!





Cooking Italy: Fried Calamari~

13 02 2011

The first recipe on our February Cooking Italy schedule is Fried Calamari, by Marcella Hazan, as presented in her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  The recipe is beyond simplicity…it’s far more work to finish cleaning the calamari!  The result is a light, airy breading that still has plenty of crunch, but doesn’t compete with the very delicate calamari flavor.

I shouldn’t complain about cleaning the calamari.  The tubes were pretty much ready to go… a few still had little flaps attached.  Don’t fret…they pull off very easily and should be added to your cookable collection.  I needed to clean the tentacles a little better. There were still a number of beaks in place.  Simply cut out the beak portion, even up the tentacles and add both sides to your cookables.  The stringy pieces are edible, but kind of make a mess…I sacrificed them.

Now…I could have made things easier on myself by buying rings ready to go, but I found such a great deal on a 3# block of calamari frozen in water that I couldn’t turn it down.  It would have fed 4 nicely, or the 2 of us twice.  I let it melt in its bag in cold water until I was able to start separating the tubes without tearing them.  The tentacles were the worst to separate! LOL!  Half of the package was resealed with a Food Saver (drain as much water away as you can, then fold a paper towel up so it spans the width of the bag.  Put the paper towel in the bag, between the calamari and the seal, and seal.  The paper towel will catch most of the liquid remaining in the bag before it reaches the vacuum chamber.

Tasting Notes~
Very, very light and delicate… Salt is added at the last minute before serving…I couldn’t resist adding a bit of freshly grated parmesan and a bit of parsley for color.  There was sooooo much white!  My oil was really fresh…that’s why there isn’t much browning.   These were fried at 350°-375°.  They cook very quickly!  I served them with a lemon and herb aioli…although marinara is very popular too.  I wouldn’t hesitate to use this recipe again…especially if this sounds really good and I’m tired!  I would like to investigate other recipes now…now that I know where to get the calamari AND how easy this is to do!  I simply love fried calamari, and have made a meal of them more than once!  I love the Chinese version our local restaurant makes too…hmmmm…!  Watch this space!  LOL!  Essentially, this is a keeper and will visit our house again and again!





Cooking Italy: “The Other White Meat” Marsala~

29 01 2011

I finally got a chance to finish the second of two recipes scheduled for Cooking Italy this week.  Our two recipes were Bolognese and Veal Marsala.  I made the Bolognese a couple weeks ago, but had to pick up a bottle of Marsala, so it waited.  In the meanwhile, Sue of Couscous and Consciousness mentioned in a group email that she thought this recipe would work well with pork chops.  That got me thinking… I knew I still had a couple of thick, boneless pork loin chops hiding somewhere in the freezer.  I found them!

This recipe goes together very quickly.  I cut my pork chops into two scallops using a very sharp knife and a horizontal cut.  My husband can’t watch me do that.  I understand.  It was the same for me watching him fall timber.  With a firm, but light touch, pound the chops flat.  The rest of the recipe…sorry, but you’ll need to buy the book…goes according to the book.  It cooks just as quickly as veal or chicken.  Make sure you have all the other components of your dinner finished before you start cooking this…it’s that fast.  I wanted a bit more body to my sauce, so I mounted it with a couple pats of butter in the end.

Tasting Notes~
I have to say that Sue’s instincts were spot on!  The Marsala Sauce was absolutely fabulous with the pork!  Marsala tends to be a little on the sweet side…ok, a lot along the sweet side!  Cooking it down makes those flavors intensify.  There’s no seasoning on the meat as it cooks, so it’s pure essence of whatever protein you choose and the wine.  As the Marsala condenses, it develops a richer sweetish taste with spicy notes.  Perfect with pork!  I’ve got to try this again with chicken, and should it become available, veal!

Excellent selection Angela!





Cooking Italy: Ragu alla Bolognese from La Cucina Italiana~

19 01 2011

This is the third bolognese ragu sause we’ve made in Cooking Italy.  Each has been just a little different…one sweeter than the rest…one meatier than the rest (this one), and one that seemed just right…  That isn’t to say that they weren’t all good sauces…they were, but so very different for being made with the same ingredients (more or less).

This sauce comes from La Cucina Italiana.  Our hostess, Angela, and I both have subscriptions.   From time to time we’ll each get excited about recipes we see there!  This is a recipe from 2009, that was easy to put together, but I found the cooking time estimates to be far from accurate.  The problem is…it’s bolognese…ragu…it wants to be cooked long and slow, and build the layers of flavor slowly…concentrating each addition as much as you can before adding the next component.  I see a lot of hurry-up recipes, and that really doesn’t work.  It’s a precious sauce…it’s worth the time.  Most of the time, a sauce like this is worth doubling…but this one…this one is pretty big to start with.  Neither Angela nor I recommend doubling this recipe.  I got about 8 cups of sauce out of a single batch, BUT…I used more meat by about 3/4 of a pound over all, which also means I adjusted the other ingredients slightly as well.  So…let’s get started!

A little mise en place…onion, carrot, celery and butter to get started with.  Once the veggies have cooked down and are translucent, add the pancetta and sausage.  Cook just until the rawness is gone from the meat.  Add the beef, pork and veal in turn, cooking each until no longer pink and the meat is well broken up.  Cook at a brisk simmer until the meat juices are fully reduced.

Reducing the meat juices reduces the liquids and intensifies the flavors.  We’re going to cook down the initial meat juices, then add tomato and meat broth and simmer that down.  When that has reduced some, we’ll be adding wine.  Some prefer red, others prefer white.  I used a Chianti in my sauce.

Long simmering breaks the meat down as well, especially once you add the wine.  The meat will break down into individual bits rather than chunks so that it’s more likely to spread across the pasta.  The picture above shows how the sauce looked after I stirred in the final addition of milk.  I know it sounds completely odd to add milk to a meat sauce, but it’s part of the character of the Bolognese region.  They have a great deal of milk, so they use it every way they can.  The milk binds the sauce while it mellows the acids in the tomato and wine.  I chose not to pull any of the fat off my sauce.  There really wasn’t all that much when I spread it out over 3 containers and a saucepan.

Here’s our finished sauce with spinach linguini.  I think the tomato paste helped with the deeper red color.  Of course, pureeing the tomato products pretty much made sure that they were dispersed equally throughout the sauce as well.  The tomatoes I used were our own canned San Marzano tomatoes.  I should keep track of how many I use! LOL!  It’s getting time to plant again…how many pints do I need to can for next year?  We’re certainly loving having these!

Tasting Notes~
I’m not sure whether I like this sauce better than Marcella Hazan’s Classic Bolognese…but I like both better than I liked the Essentials Bolognese.  That one was just too sweet for me.  At least as a meat sauce…  I like this one, but it’s expensive…veal…pancetta…  So, if budget has anything to say about it, I’ll be making the Classic Hazan Bolognese for now. Veal is usually rather cost prohibitive where I live, but we keep an eye out!  I’d love to be able to lay all three sauces out side by side for comparison.  With only 2 of us to eat, that’s not likely to happen…unless there’s a BIG potluck! LOL!  Another Cooking Italy chef recently hooked me up with a Mario Batali recipe for bolognese.  There’s another one to try! *Ü*  I’ll give it a try, but the cooking time is very short by comparison…so we’ll see!  Meanwhile, I’ve got a freezer full of bolognese for any occasion!





Cooking Italy: The Frittata~

7 11 2010


This week, Cooking Italy has us choosing any frittata of our choosing.  That leaves the field wide open!  A frittata is basically an omelet with the filling cooked into the egg rather than having the egg folded around the filling.  I’ve been making them for years, using all kinds of ingredients!  I started making frittatas when I was in my 20’s as a way to feed a crowd of men when I had a LOT of eggs and only some odds and ends to put with it.  Serving up thick wedges of “think of it as an omelet in the round” frittata always worked out for me, because it always tasted great!

I selected Marcella’s Stuffed Spaghetti Frittata with tomato, mozzarella and ham…in my case bacon…frittata as a supper entree.   It doesn’t get much easier than this…  In the time it takes the pasta to cook, the tomato sauce cooks, and you have time to dice the cheese.  Prepare a bowl to toss the pasta with the sauce ingredients there…toss your pasta and let it cool…keep tossing it to cool it faster!  I used bacon instead of ham…while the tomato sauce was cooking, I was cooking diced bacon on another burner, and tossing the pasta too.  It was kind of like juggling there for a few minutes!  *giggle*  Since both the tomato sauce and the cooked bacon were both pretty hot, I mixed them together to cool.  As soon as the pasta was cool enough to add the eggs to (have to make sure the pasta doesn’t cook the egg!), I beat them together and proceeded onward!

Here’s where I jumped away from the recipe a bit…  I preheated my oven to 425° and put one shelf at the very top of the oven.  When it was time to put everything together… I heated my sauté pan (one I knew could go into the oven) over a burner as directed with the butter and added the ingredients as directed with one change…I put the tomato-bacon mixture on the first layer of spaghetti, then added the mozzarella.  After that, I added the other layer of spaghetti and popped the whole thing into the oven for 20 minutes.  Perfect.

Tasting Notes~
This doesn’t look like much…but the flavors…oh my!  I cut it into 6 pieces…and I’m glad we didn’t have guests for supper.  I wouldn’t serve less than 1/4 of this as a serving.  1/6 is a nice appetizer serving, but for an entreé serving, serve at least a quarter of the frittata.  One…it’s that good.  Two…it will take that much to achieve the desired fullness quotient.  That’s about 2 ounces of pasta, with eggs and goodies, and that’s about right.  The bright flavor from the tomato is just wonderful…and the bacon added a wonderful smoky touch.  We really liked it and wouldn’t hesitate to have this again.  Bruce said he loved the texture of the spaghetti and the mozzarella combined.  The silkiness of the cheese really did it for him.  Way to go, Angela!!  Thank you for introducing us to another dish that’s another keeper!





Cooking Italy: Pasta é Fagioli~

1 11 2010


The last week of October at Cooking Italy had us preparing Marcella Hazan’s recipe Pasta é Fagioli as described in her book, Essentials of Italian Cooking.   This was particularly fun for me, because 2 weeks ago, I prepared Marcella’s son’s (Giuliano’s) recipe for the same soup from his book, Thirty Minute Pasta.  I confess, now I’m really sorry I didn’t keep just a few ounces of Giuliano’s version frozen for a side-by-side taste comparison.  Hmmm…well…that’s not to say I couldn’t make another batch of Giuliano’s version…oh!  Don’t get me going!  LOL!  They’re both very, very good, and we loved the rich heartiness of both versions.

One of the main differences between Marcella’s version of this soup and her son’s is the beans.  Marcella cooks her beans from raw-fresh (I’ve never even SEEN a fresh-raw cranberry bean in person!) or dried (not available in my town…go figure).  I went for cooking from dried, and didn’t let them soak long enough…that’s why they split open.  In this application that didn’t matter much.  Canned cranberry beans aren’t available here either, which is why I used canned cannellini beans when I made Giuliano’s soup.  I would seriously consider making that substitution with this version as well.

Other than that, most of the ingredients are the same…there’s onion, carrot, celery…tomatoes, beans…I used our own tomatoes, in both recipes.  We have them falling off the vines, still.  Hey…it’s California.  The temps are supposed to be up into the 70’s again…go figure.  By the way…does anyone have any absolutely-to-die-for green tomato recipes??  I have at least a lug…maybe 2…green tomatoes that I’m sure won’t ripen.  Whoops…back to the soup…  There were two other major differences in the soups… Marcella’s recipe called for a ham bone…a bit of pork, even a pork chop while Giuliano’s called for none, and Giuliano’s soup called for a cooked, riced potato, which Marcella’s did not.  Interesting.

Here are the two soups together…

This is Giuliano’s soup on the left.  It had a really thick and robust consistency.  A lot of that was due to the potato, but equally as much due to the thick rich consistency of the beans.

Now we have Marcella’s soup on the right.  The color difference is due to the difference in the choice of beans.  The cranberry or borlotti beans cooked up darker than the canned cannellini beans.

Tasting Notes~
I don’t think it really matters a whole lot which version of this soup you make…you just need to make one of them some chilly Fall night.  They both have incredibly flavor and are truly hearty enough to be supper.  This soup with a little hearty garlic bread…add a salad if you like…toss a small steak on the grill…boil up a few ravioli…paired with or stand alone, this is one of my favorite soups!  It’s got that peasant-rustic quality that draws me in every time!  It also has holding power.  It can be reheated with the addition of a little water or broth quite easily for a quick lunch or to add it as a primi course!  Just don’t deny yourself…either recipe is easy enough to make this a wonderful Autumn treat!





Thirty Minute Thursday…Went to “Mom’s” for Dinner!

28 10 2010

This is the story of how Thirty Minute Thursday went “home” to “Mom’s” for dinner…

While I was doing the “fresh” marketing for the week, I stumbled upon an incredible veal sale at my local market.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!!  For a store that rarely carries any form of veal, there were pounds and pounds of ground veal, veal shanks for osso bucco and some other puzzling cuts that didn’t appeal to me.  I was totally blown away at the price…$4.59 USD per pound.  The last time I looked at veal osso bucco, the last time I actually SAW veal shank, it was $10.00 per pound!  Needless to say, I snatched up a couple packages with my sights on Friday night…until I saw the date on the package.  It wouldn’t be such a good idea to push the shanks until Friday.  Hmm.  Oh well…Thirty Minute Thursday will just have to stretch to Two Hours!!  Sure enough…Osso bucco is one of the dishes I had to take a pass on last year with Cooking Italy.  In the Cooking Italy group, we cook from the Marcella Hazan’s Essential Italian Cooking…and she’s Giuliano’s mother, and that’s how that all works out.  Fasten your seat belts…we’re going to “Mom’s” for this dish!

We turned this into a team-effort.  Since I work throughout the day, my beloved husband, Bruce, agreed to chop the veggies for me so I could work fast when I got in from work, because I only had about 30 minutes to get this prepped and into the oven before I needed to be at another meeting.  When I flew in the door, he lit the oven, I started the veggies, and tied and dredged the veal.  We got it all together and into the oven and I was only a little bit late… I forgot to ask him to pick some thyme for me.  So, I ran short on time because I needed to pick thyme.  Don’t you just love the English language??  Bless Bruce, he kept an eye on the shanks and turned them and basted them as needed while I was away.  I got home just in time to fix some rice, though not risotto…this time.  Rice sounded good to Bruce, so we ran that play, because I knew I could make it all work.  I opted for the gremolada…and loved the flavors!

This is an easy dish to prepare.  It just takes a little time, and some TLC.  We really liked the Milanese version.  I’ll try the Bianco version one of these days.  Maybe I’ll try it the next time I see a sale on veal.  There wasn’t anything I could make scallopini out of.  I checked.  That was another cut I would have been interested in.  I’d think about going back for some of the ground veal…I’m just not sure what I’d use it for…yet.  As soon as I can’t get it, I’ll find 2 dozen recipes that NEED it.  Because that’s How these things work.

Tasting Notes~
This dish is full of complex flavors and textures.  There is an decadent unctuousness that is purely sensuous in almost every bite.  The meat becomes so incredibly tender you don’t need much more than a fork to eat with, but do use your knife to make sure you get every morsel of marrow from the bones.  After simmering in a mirepoix with wine and tomatoes, the marrow has soaked up flavor like you wouldn’t believe.  Think of it as Super Butter.  It’s best to get hindquarter shanks, however forequarter shanks will work nicely too.  Plan for 3/4 – 1 pound per person depending on the size of the center bone.  And don’t forget to call me.