Wednesday, December 22, 2010

stay tuned folks...

Hi everyone! I know I'm late with this week's post but I promise I haven't given up for good.

I've been cooking up a storm all week, but for various reasons I decided the results weren't blog worthy. I baked a batch of highly-touted low-fat cookies that I found disappointing. I made homemade caramels (requested by my grandmother) that were delicious but not unique or photogenic. I did bake a killer whiskey-soaked cake but  didn't get good photos so I'll revisit that later. Today it was chewy molasses cookies, which are really good but again, not unusual. So - once the holidays are over and I'm home again I'll get back on track and will hopefully deliver more inspired recipes. This week has been about cookies and confections destined for far-flung relatives. I imagine all you cooks out there know what I'm talkin' about.

Anyway - unless I post sooner, I wish you all happy holidays and fun cooking adventures in the coming week!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

margaritas and grilled chicken with smoked chiles & orange

First, and most importantly, the margaritas. After buying Grand Marnier for margaritas for many years, I recently noticed an orange flavored liqueur by Patron on the same shelf and couldn't resist taking it for a spin. I wish I could have done a side by side taste comparison with Grand Marnier,  but since I didn't have any Grand Marnier at home I could only judge by how my usual margarita mix was affected by this newcomer. It seemed to me the Patron Citronge was less syrupy, and I felt I needed more to attain the same level of sweetness as the Grand Marnier. (Keep in mind, I aim to use as little orange liqueur as possible - just enough to temper the lime while still affording a good pucker.) Overall, I think Citronge is a decent, less costly substitute for Grand Marnier and is probably preferable to triple sec.

As far as tequila goes, I have had an opportunity to taste test many across the price spectrum, and I'm astonished by how well Jose Cuervo Tradicional holds its own against much costlier reposados. I don't see any reason to spend more for a cocktail tequila.

While I'm on the subject of cocktails here, I must put in a plug for the wonderful silicone ice cube tray pictured above. We're all aware of the sorry state of ice cubes today right? Those wimpy, refrigerator-dispensed half moons, or worse, the hollow tubes sold commercially. I remember when ice cubes had substance; you plunked them into a drink and you knew you were good to go for a while. Well, lament no more; these trays make huge rocks! The ice cubes are a little tricky to release at first, but once you get the hang of it it's easy. Just one will get you where you wanna go with the finer beverages.

Margaritas for 4:

1 cup tequila
1 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 cup Patron Citronge
large pinch kosher salt (or salt rims of glasses)

Mix and imbibe.

Now, onto dinner. Throughout my college years until today, I have much enjoyed a classic Mexican pork offering at Sol Azteca restaurant in Boston called Puerco en Adobo: pork marinated in smoked chiles (chipotles) and orange. I hardly ever eat pork, but I have always ordered it there because the smoky orange treatment is so compelling.

I have tried to recreate the marinade at home, guided by recipes online and various cookbooks, but the results have always disappointed. Most call for fresh citrus juices, which sounds good but were ultimately overwhelmed by the smoke and heat of the chipotles. I needed a punch of orange flavor that could stand up for itself, and I finally found it in frozen orange juice concentrate.

Really, my best approximation of  the marinade at Sol Azteca was the simplest, consisting of canned chipotle chilis, orange juice concentrate and salt.

Once I found a marinade/ sauce I was happy with, I was curious to see if it would work with chicken instead of pork. I marinated chicken paillards (chicken breasts pounded very thinly) in the chipotle mixture, grilled them, and served them atop a bed of smashed  garlicky black beans with a bit of reserved marinade drizzled over the top.

Finally, I garnished with an avocado, pineapple, mango and banana salsa. In the end, I have to say, there was not much resemblance between the original muse and my Mexican/ Caribbean creation, but there was something else goin' on here, and it was good.

Chicken and Marinade/ Sauce:

1 can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 can orange juice concentrate
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 3/8 of an inch thickness

Combine chipotles, OJ concentrate and salt in blender. Blend well.

Season pounded chicken breasts with salt. Smear both sides of breasts with about 1/2 cup marinade, reserving extra marinade and being careful to not contaminate reserved portion with raw chicken juices.

Cover chicken and marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours if possible.

Smashed Garlicky Black Beans:

2 cans black beans, in their juices
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
fresh ground black pepper & salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in saucepan; simmer slowly for 1 hour until garlic flavor is mellowed and beans are very soft. Mash beans with potato masher until well thickened but chunky.

Fruit Salsa:

1 ripe Hass avocado, cubed
1 mango, cubed
1/2 cup fresh pineapple, cubed
1 banana, cubed
juice of 1 lime
fresh cilanto, chopped, to taste
salt to taste

Mix salsa ingredients about an hour before serving time and refrigerate.

Grill chicken paillards over high heat a minute or two per side until done. (If they are properly pounded they cook very quickly.) Serve on a bed of black beans, drizzled with some reserved chipotle sauce, with a dollop of fruit salsa on the side.


Note: If your chicken paillard approaches the shape above, you may seize the opportunity to provide the little ones with a geography lesson: yes, Junior, Africa is indeed a continent.

You will have extra chipotle orange sauce. I sometimes freeze it in an ice cube tray, transfer to a zip lock bag, then add it to anything that could use a sweet & spicy kick. Try it as a glaze for ham or ribs.

You can also use it as you would a sweet barbeque sauce, brushing it over chicken towards the end of cooking time to avoid burning. (In this recipe, since the chicken is pounded thinly it cooks very quickly so the marinade doesn't have time to scorch.)

Recommended ice cube trays:

Monday, December 6, 2010

homemade cheese ravioli with simple tomato sauce

The first time I saw fresh pasta made, I must have been very impressed. I say this because even though I don't remember the precise moment, I do recall suddenly morphing into a pasta-making fool in my sophomore year of college. I must have made pasta three times a week in those days, and considering my kitchen's limitations, that was true dedication.

I lived in a tiny, one-room apartment off campus (Yay! A place of my own!) with no counter space and about six feet separating the electric range and my bed. This proximity turned out to be a good thing, when I found myself circling in place looking for somewhere to deposit the pasta draped over my arms so I could continue to roll out more. My bed was typically inundated with odd plates and pans brimming with kitchen overflow (sexy, I know).

I don't know how I strayed so far from making my own pasta, but when I recently found myself  reaching for commercially-made "fresh" pasta in a mega-grocery store, I knew it was time for self-intervention. In the past, my unspoken rule had been, if you're not willing to make your own pasta, eat dried. Quality dried pasta is delicious in its own right, and it has integrity. Brand name "fresh" pasta seems contemptible to me because it's trying to be something it's not - and it fails.

Obviously, if I really wanted fresh pasta I was going to have to dust off the old Atlas machine and get cranking.

This time around, I substituted my usual standby of all-purpose white flour with a semolina and durum flour specially blended for pasta. 

And since I had recently purchased a metal ravioli form I was dying to test, I decided to make basic - but classic - cheese raviolis. 

Finally, in order to allow the ravioli to shine, I opted for a very light tomato sauce using gently cooked home-canned tomatoes.

I began with making the pasta dough so it would have plenty of resting time while I prepared the sauce and ravioli filling.

The following "recipe," from Michael Ruhlman's "Ratio - The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking," is in fact, a ratio: a fail-proof one of 3 parts flour to 2 parts egg that is easily adjusted for any number of servings. The ratio is based on weight, so if you lack a  kitchen scale this is but one of many good reasons to buy one. Otherwise, go by the volumetric quantity of flour provided below.

Basic Pasta Dough (serves 3 to 6)   *This quantity makes 40 large ravioli

9 ounces flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 ounces eggs (3 large eggs)

Combine flour and eggs in a food processor until they just come together.

Turn contents out onto a floured counter and knead 5 - 10 minutes, until very smooth and springy.

Wrap dough in plastic and set aside for at least 10 minutes and up to an hour. (Dough can be refrigerated up to a day before rolling out.)

Very Simple Tomato Sauce

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 -3 garlic cloves, finely minced or put through a press
2 pints home-canned tomatoes, or equivalent commercially canned, pulsed in food processor to a rough puree
5 big basil leaves, torn in two
1 tablespoon butter
salt & pepper to taste

Heat oil in large saucepan; add garlic and cook over medium low heat for about 5 minutes, slowly heating it through and infusing the oil without browning.

Add tomatoes and basil leaves. Simmer gently, covered, for about 30 minutes. Stir in butter and season with salt and pepper.

Makes enough for 4 servings of  ravioli.

Two Cheese Ravioli Filling

16 ounces ricotta
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 eggs
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients well in a bowl; transfer to a zip-lock bag and place in refrigerator until needed.

Rolling out pasta dough:

Before rolling out pasta, sprinkle corn meal over a large sheet pan and set aside.

Cut pasta dough into 4 equal sized pieces; re-wrap 3 in plastic wrap while you work with first piece.

Set rollers on manual pasta machine to the widest setting (# 1 on my Atlas machine). Flatten dough slightly between palms, then feed between rollers to flatten more. Fold dough into thirds and run through rollers again. Repeat this process 6 times, dusting dough with flour if it sticks or catches at all. 


Adjust rollers to next setting (gradually getting narrower) and run pasta through once, without folding. Adjust roller to next setting and repeat running pasta through without folding; continue this way until you have run the dough through the finest setting and you have a long thin sheet of pasta. Place pasta sheet on sheet pan and continue.

You could probably roll out all portions of dough before forming ravioli, but I was concerned the sheets would get too dry in the process so I assembled ravioli with each sheet before moving on to the next portion of dough. (If you aren't living with dry heat and cramped kitchen space, go for it.)

To assemble ravioli:

Spray metal ravioli form with non-stick spray of choice. Cut pasta sheet into segments slightly longer than ravioli form (width should be just right if dough reached maximum width on machine as it was rolled.) 

Place a pasta sheet on metal form, being sure it just overlaps all edges. If necessary, gently stretch dough to edges and apply pressure with fingertips to hold dough in place). Place plastic form over the top and press down very gently to create indentations for filling. Remove plastic form and fill indentations with cheese filling. *** This is very easily done by snipping a corner off the zip-lock bag and squeezing filling through the hole, as with a pastry bag.


Place a second pasta sheet on top of the first, being sure to line up edges again. Roll over form with a rolling pin, pressing down forcefully and rolling back and forth until all the edges have sealed and the raviolis are mostly separated in the form.


Turn form over onto counter to allow raviolis to slip out; give a light nudge if needed to remove them all. Separate raviolis and place on sheet pan.

Repeat process with each portion of pasta dough.

Allow raviolis to sit for 30 minutes before cooking. If you won't be eating all right away, freeze the rest on a sheet pan; then transfer to a plastic freezer bag.

Cook pasta in boiling salted water for about 4 minutes, or until the edges are al dente. (Remove a ravioli from water and slice a small portion off an edge to test.)

Drain ravioli and top with sauce. If desired, drizzle a bit of extra-virgin olive oil over all, and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Do not thaw frozen ravioli before cooking. Increase boiling time a few minutes as needed.

Monday, November 29, 2010

turkey soupy noodles

Many people say the best part of Thanksgiving dinner is the leftovers, and I have to agree. This year, I bought an over-sized turkey with that in mind, and after many sandwiches and turkey dinners I still had a pretty hefty carcass left to attend to - the turkey's, not mine. (sorry)

I knew I wanted to make soup, and I wanted to start with stock made in a pressure-cooker to extract the most flavor in the shortest amount of time. I had previously made chicken stock this way based on a recipe in Gourmet Today cookbook (not sure what is it with the two Gourmet Magazine cooking tomes but I seem to be using them a lot lately) and it was so good for such a small effort I thought I'd never buy canned stock again. I noticed the same cookbook had a "chicken soupy noodles" recipe consisting simply of stock, vegetables and broken lasagna noodles, so I decided to try it using my fresh turkey stock and whatever meat was left clinging to the bones.

This soup is a good antidote to Thanksgiving gluttony, chock full of slurpy noodles but not too rich or heavy.

The recipes below are pretty close to the originals, except for substituting fresh butternut squash I had on hand for some of the carrots in the soup and adding peas at the end for color and pop.

If you don't own a pressure cooker, or what I fondly refer to as a "precious cooker," please go out and buy one! Mine, a Kuhn Rikon, is a regular little workhorse. I'm sure I'll be posting recipes in the future illustrating its usefulness, but Lorna Sass's pressure cooker cookbooks are a great place to start right now.

Pressure-Cooker Turkey Stock

1 meaty turkey carcass, broken down to fit into pot easily
2 celery ribs, cut into 2 inch pieces
2 carrots, cut into quarters lengthwise
2 medium onions, left unpeeled, trimmed and cut into quarters
1 garlic clove
1 bay leaf
large pinch dried thyme leaves
5 black peppercorns
7 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Put all ingredients in pressure-cooker; mix well.

Lock top on cooker; bring up to high pressure and cook for 30 minutes, lowering heat if necessary to maintain steady pressure.

Remove pot from heat; run cold water over lid until pressure is completely reduced.

Remove lid; strain stock through sieve into large bowl; retain solids.

Remove meat from bones; chop roughly.

Skim surface fat from stock with large spoon. Cover and refrigerate if not using immediately.

Turkey Soupy Noodles

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large leeks, dark green parts removed; cleaned and coarsely chopped
3 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
7 cups pressure-cooker turkey stock
1/2 cup fresh butternut squash, coarsely chopped
12 no-boil lasagna noodles (I used Barilla brand)
1/3 cup frozen peas
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
fresh grated parmesan cheese

Heat oil in large soup pot; add leeks, celery and carrots and cook over medium high heat until leeks are softened but not browned. Add turkey stock; simmer until vegetables are tender - about 10 minutes.

Add butternut squash to soup; then break noodles into fairly large pieces and add to pot. Stir well and simmer, uncovered, for about 5 minutes. Add frozen peas; simmer a few more minutes until noodles are cooked to your liking.

Serve with grated cheese on the side, if desired.

Serves 4-6 as a main course.

*Recipes adapted from Gourmet Today; edited by Ruth Reichl; 1009

Recommended reading:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

mabel's raw cranberry sauce

This cranberry sauce is named for my 95 year-old grandmother Mabel, who gave the recipe to me and whom I seem to recall originally got the recipe from her cousin Mildred.

Although Mabel and Mildred were probably preparing this before canned sauces were even conceived, I'm impressed by how well it has stood the test of time. In fact, if you hadn't eaten raw cranberry sauce before, you might think it a modern, fresher alternative to the somewhat stodgy cooked stuff. It offers a pleasingly tart, crunchy contrast to typically rich Thanksgiving side dishes.

Mabel's Raw Cranberry Sauce

1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries, picked over and rinsed
2 large stalks celery, diced
zest of 1 orange, finely grated
segments of 1 orange, roughly chopped
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
scant 1/2 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger, optional

Roughly chop cranberries in food processor. Place in mixing bowl. Add celery, walnuts, sugar, salt and ginger, if using.

Finely zest whole orange into mixture in bowl, avoiding white pith. Pare pith away from flesh of orange with sharp knife and discard. Holding orange in hand, cut segments out between membrane as pictured below. Roughly chop segments and add to bowl. Squeeze juice from remaining orange membrane into mixture.

Mix everything together, cover, and let sit in refrigerator for at least 3 hours - preferably up to a day - to allow flavors to develop. (Sauce tastes less tart after it sits a while, so resist adding more sugar at this point.)

Give sauce a stir occasionally, and taste before serving. If it still tastes too tart, add more sugar to taste.

Makes about 3 cups.

Notes: Obviously, my grandmother didn't own a food processor; she actually ran the cranberries through a manually-cranked meat grinder. Also, the optional fresh ginger is my addition, but I like this sauce equally well without it. Finally, the original recipe did not contain salt, but I find it really brings out all the flavors. This is a great recipe to play around with. Fresh pears or pineapple are tasty embellishments.

Monday, November 22, 2010

potato, leek & kale soup with chorizo

For all the people out there who know they should eat more dark leafy greens but either have an aversion to them or don't quite know how to fit them into their diets, this soup is for you.

When I saw this gorgeous kale at a local market, I couldn't resist it - but then I had to figure out how to make it palatable to my husband. I have long been a fan of traditional Portuguese potato and kale soup, but since the flavor of kale tends to predominate I knew I'd have to counterbalance it with another assertive ingredient to slip it past him. As luck would have it, the same market also had beautiful all-natural Spanish chorizo - perfect for contributing a bit of smoke and chew.

Since I chopped the chorizo in a food processor, a little bit went a long way and I was able to keep the overall fat content low.

I also chopped the kale well before adding it to the pot as a final stealth move; it blended well with the other ingredients and could almost be mistaken for chopped parsley visually.

This soup passed the test. Aaron loved it and insisted it was "blog worthy!"

Note: Spanish chorizo is cured pork sausage colored and seasoned with smoked paprika. Portuguese chourico and linguica are similarly flavored, and while the level of spiciness may vary between sausages and brands, all may be used in this recipe.

Potato, Leek & Kale Soup with Chorizo

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 large leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 6ths
1 bay leaf
3 ounces Spanish chorizo, finely chopped in food processor
8 cups reduced salt chicken broth
1 bunch washed kale (3-4 ounces deveined leaves), finely chopped in food processor

Heat oil in large soup pot over medium high heat. Add garlic and cook until heated through but not browned.

Add leeks, potatoes and bay leaf. Cover vegetables with foil, pressing directly onto surface. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until leeks are softened but not brown and potatoes are "sweating."

Add chorizo and stir to combine. Pour in broth (broth should cover vegetables; add a bit of water if needed).

Raise heat to medium-high; bring soup to a simmer.

Simmer soup, covered, until potatoes are soft. If fat rendered from the chorizo appears on the soup's surface, skim excess with a large spoon.

Mash vegetables roughly with a potato masher, leaving some larger chunks of potato for texture.

Add kale; simmer about 5 minutes, or until kale loses its raw flavor.

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and serve.

Serves 4-6

Sunday, November 14, 2010

rotini with roman beans, cherry tomatoes and feta

Five years or so ago, I discovered a fantastic source for dried heirloom beans online at Rancho Gordo in Napa, California ( Since then, I've seen the company written up in quite a few newspapers and cooking magazines, to the point where I selfishly worried they wouldn't be able to keep up with increased demand and I would go bean-less.

Not that you can't buy dried beans elsewhere, but Rancho Gordo has cool-as-hell beans, with names like "Eye-of-the-Goat,"and "Good Mother Stallard." The website has beautiful photos and descriptions of each bean, and I have ordered many varieties over the years, including the less exotic "Borlotti," which is a favorite in Italy but was foreign to me at first.

One taste of the Borlotti bean though, and I was a believer. Maybe I had just become bored with the old bean standbys, but I couldn't get over its chestnut-like flavor and satisfying, meaty texture.

The only other beans I had enjoyed equally were those my father-in-law grew in his garden in Maine, which he referred to as "shell" beans. I raved about them so much he planted an extra row afterwards just for my husband and me. I canned most of them, and as we were eating our way through them it struck me one day that I loved them so much not only because they were grown with love by my father-in-law, but also because they tasted almost exactly like the beloved Borlottis.

So - back to the internet, where I discovered the same beans that are known as Borlottis in Italy are called Cranberry beans, or Roman beans in this country, although some sources suggest Borlottis have been bred to have thicker skins. Since I recalled seeing canned Goya Roman beans at the grocery store, I bought them and compared them with my home-canned beans. Bingo. Both looked the same, and although the home-canned beans had a fresher quality, they were very close in flavor. The Goya beans would definitely do when the Maine shell beans had run out and I hadn't thought ahead to soak the dried Borlottis.

The lesson of this tale is, if you aren't familiar with any members of this wacky bean family, you've been missing out.  I hope the recipe below helps you on your way to bean nirvana. It is based on a Food and Wine recipe by Christophe Hille using dried Borlottis. While that version is wonderful, I have adapted it using canned Roman beans for convenience and have embellished with feta, spinach, basil and lemon.

Please do check out Rancho Gordo though! The aforementioned Eye of the Goat and Good Mother Stallard beans are wonderful, and their heirloom Borlottis really are the creme de la creme of dried beans. If you have them and you have little extra time, definitely cook them up and use them in place of the canned beans in this recipe.

Rotini with Roman Beans, Cherry Tomatoes and Feta

9 ounces rotini pasta (I like Barilla Whole Grain)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 large cloves garlic, finely minced or put through garlic press
1 can Goya (or other brand) Roman beans, rinsed well
8 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1/2 ounce basil leaves, torn into small pieces
4 ounces fresh baby spinach
3-4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled into chunks
12 pitted oil-cured black olives (easily pitted by hand), chopped
1/2 lemon
grated parmesan or romano cheese, to taste
1/4 cup pasta cooking water

Cook pasta in salted boiling water for the time allotted on the box.While pasta cooks, heat olive oil in a large saute or frying pan over medium high heat.

Add garlic to oil and cook 1-2 minutes until heated through but not browned. Add beans and toss well to coat with garlic and oil. Stir tomatoes into beans and cook until their skins start to wrinkle. Season lightly with salt (olives are very salty) and liberally with fresh ground black pepper. Stir in basil.

Spread spinach leaves and crumbled feta over top of bean mixture. Top with olives. Remove pan from heat, cover, and let sit a few minutes until spinach wilts and feta cheese starts to melt.

By now, the pasta should be cooked, or close to it. ***Before draining pasta, dip a glass measuring cup into pasta water, skimming off at least a 1/4 cup. Set pasta water aside. Drain pasta.

Add pasta to bean mixture in saute pan and toss all ingredients together, adding up to 1/4 cup of pasta cooking water to keep things juicy. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lemon over the top just before serving.

Serve with grated cheese on the side.

Serves 4.

Recommended reading

New York Times article:

"Heirloom Beans" is a wonderful cookbook written by Rancho Gordo founder Steve Sando utilizing many of the products available at his website.