Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Quick Cassoulet

I really, really like Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express. I've written about it here before, what can I say? I am usually leery of cookbooks promising too much, too fast, too-anything, but Bittman is an exception. Without fail, each time I prepare one of his recipes, I think, "this is going to be bland, it's too easy, too plain, too...minimal." I thought that with his cassoulet and was, of course wrong again. When will I learn?

1-2 onions, chopped
1-2 carrots, chopped
1-2 stalks of celery, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2-1 package of smoked sausage--depending on how much you want, cut into bite-sized pieces (I used organic turkey keilbasa from Trader Joes)
2 cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 28 oz can of chopped tomatoes (Muir Glen is best and worth the cost)
fresh thyme (you can use 1/2-1 teaspoon dried in a pinch)
bay leaf
a bit of crusty bread (baguette, country loaf, etc), cut into crouton-sized cubes

Heat the oven to 400.

On the stove top warm some olive oil in a pan, add all the veggies and cook until starting to brown, 8-10 minutes. Add the kielbasa and cook for a few more minutes until beginning to brown. Add in beans, tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper and cook until warmed through--about 10 minutes.

While the cassoulet is warming, make the croutons. Toss your bread cubes with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Spread on a cookie sheet and put in the oven. They will be crunchy and golden brown in about 10 minutes.

Serve cassoulet with croutons on top.
Serves 4 generously


Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Minimalist

Mark Bittman's column in the NY Times is one no self-respecting cook should overlook. Simple recipes that focus on the quality of the ingredients and the quality of a life not spent entirely in the kitchen are what he's all about. He does not sacrifice taste, only excess time. Next time you are having guests, check out this list of 101 quick small bites for appetizer inspiration. Figure out what pantry items are common among the list and get to stocking up so you'll never have to run to the store at the last minute. The best kind of entertaining is the kind where you're free to be with your guests!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Best Thing Ever Invented

Seriously. I say it every time I make. So does every one else. Admittedly it's a lot of work... but it is so phenomenal, it's worth it. In the words of Ferris Bueller, "It is so choice." There are many parts you can make ahead of time, so the work isn't really an issue. It is the perfect piece de resistance for any holiday gathering. It is TIMBALLO!

Have you seen the movie Big Night starring Stanley Tucci? In the story of two Italian brothers trying to make it in America as restaurateurs this amazing...er...dish..if it can be called that, is the grand finale of a meal that has lasted well into the night and consisted of multiple courses. The crowd of beached diners break out in spontaneous applause at it's unveiling and you will too, provided you aren't the type with inhibitions regarding applauding food.
There are many types and styles of Timballo and just about anyone who has experienced it will wax eloquent if given half a chance (just google it and read the ensuing declarations of love), but I am partial this one...having never tried any others. It's just that good. I would like to say that some day I'll try some of the others, but I can't promise that when this is what they will be serving in heaven.

There are several steps and the recipe is broken up accordingly. The making of the pastry for the crust, the making of the sauce, the making of the meatballs, hard boiling eggs, making pasta.

Give it a try, you will not be sorry, and please don't be put off by the length of the ingredient list and instructions!

For the Sauce

2 oz dried porcini, soaked in 1 cup warm water for 20 minutes

1 cup evoo

7 oz prosciutto, finely chopped

1 clove garlic

1 onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 pound ground veal or pork or a combo of the two

3 Tablespoons tomato paste

Drain the mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid. Chop the mushrooms and set aside. Strain the liquid through a cheesecloth-lined sieve and set aside.

In a large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the prosciutto and saute until softened, but not browned, 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, carrot, onion and celery and saute until golden, 3-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and the ground meat to the pan and cook, stirring until cooked, 5-7 minutes. Add the mushroom soaking liquid, the tomato paste, stir well, reduce heat to low and cook, covered until slightly thickened, about 1.5 hours. Remove from heat, strain the sauce reserving both the solids and the liquid. Set aside.

(BTW, the above sauce would be magnificent over home made pasta).

For the Pastry

2 3/8 Cups (10.5 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

7 Tablespoons cold, unsalted butter

1 egg, lightly beaten

About 3 Tablespoons milk

In a large bowl stir together the flour, sugar and salt. With a pastry cutter cut in the butter until the flour is the consistency of coarse meal. Stir in the egg and just enough milk to bring the dough together. Divide the dough into 2 portions, one twice as large as the other (these will be the top and the bottom/sides of the crust). Flatten each ball into a disk and wrap separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour (imperative) and up to 8 hours.

For the meatballs

1/2 pound ground pork or veal or a combo

1 egg

1/4 Cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley

2 slices day-old country bread, soaked in 1 Cup milk

Flour for dredging

Olive oil for frying

In a bowl combine the meat, egg, Parmesan, parsley and milk-soaked bread. Season with S &P. Shape into balls 3/4 inch in diameter. Roll lightly in flour. In a skillet pour olive oil to a depth of 1/2 inch. Place over medium-high heat and warm until hot but not smoking. Add the meatballs and cook, turning frequently until browned on all sides, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer to paper towels.

For the Pasta

1 pound zitone or penne

1/2 Cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 eggs, lightly beaten

If you're a die hard foodie, you might make your pasta from scratch, but never fear, a high-quality store bought pasta will be just fine

Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water for for about 8 minutes--or about 2 minutes less than you would if you were cooking it al dente. Drain and place in a bowl. Add the liquid from the meat sauce and the cheese. Set aside to cool, and then when cool, stir in the eggs.

For Assembly

1 pound caciocavallo cheese, sliced 1/4 inch thick (provolone is a good, easy to find alternative)

4 hard boiled eggs, sliced (you'll think this is weird but it's good--have faith!)

1 egg, lightly beaten for egg wash

Preheat oven to 350.

On a floured work surface rough out the larger disk of dough to fit over the bottom and up the sides (with a slight overhang) of a 12 inch spring form pan. Spoon the meat-vegetable solids from the sauce over the bottom of the dough-lined pan. On top of the meat, layer 1/4 each of the cheese, the hard-boiled egg slices, the meatballs, and then the pasta. Repeat the layers three more times to fill the pan.

Roll out the remaining dough and use to cover the timballo, pinching the edges together with the overhang to seal. Brush the top with the egg wash. Chill for at least 30 minutes or as long as 2 hours.

Bake until golden, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Then release the ring of the pan and slide the timballo onto a serving platter. Cut into wedges, and prepare to die.

Serves 10.

Adapted from Italian Food Artisans Cookbook

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tortilla Pizzas, Revisited

I posted on these a while ago, but they bear a write-up again. Jacques Pepin has a wonderful recipe for quick and simple pizzas that are delicious. Great as an appetizer, simple meal, or dinner for your kids...In these months of busyness and houseguests, you really should give them a try.

Preheat oven to 500.
Oil both sides of flour tortillas with olive oil and lay on baking sheets. layer with fresh, thin slices of tomatoes, or if that doesn't suit your fancy, spread on a bit of your favorite pizza sauce*.
Using a microplane grater, grate a bit of parmesan cheese over the sauce, and then lay pieces of mozzerella (preferably fresh) over that. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until cheese is golden brown and bubbly--about 8 minutes. Sprinkle slivers of fresh basil over the top. Cut into wedges and enjoy.

*A great, quick pizza sauce: 1-2 cloves minced garlic mixed/mashed with about 1/4 t kosher salt, mixed into a 6oz can of tomato paste along with 2-3t olive oil, 1/2 t oregano, freshly ground pepper, and (no matter what you think you think) 1/4 t anchovy paste. Spread thinly over pizza crust.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Maple Vinaigrette!

A great Autumn-tasting salad:
baby spinach
blue cheese, crumbled
pear, chopped
dried cranberries
walnuts broken into chunky pieces

For the vinaigrette:
2t dijon
2t apple cider vinegar
2T maple syrup
1/4 C canola or grapeseed oil
put in a jar and shake...adjust to your preferences. With the above salad I like it very sweet and maple-y...It made me want to eat pancakes while laying in a pile of fallen leaves. Wouldn't that be sticky?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Thanksgiving Ideas

I made a thanksgiving meal this past weekend for family that will not be with us on the actual day, and decided to post the new recipes that were good as well as my old stand-bys.
I always make Alton Brown's brined turkey because it is quite simply, the best. Brining is really easy and only requires a bit of work the night before the big day...which of course means your turkey must be thawed! BTW, the juices from this brined turkey are extra tasty so you can make a fabulous gravy by mixing a slurry of chicken or turkey stock with a bit of flour and stirring it into the drippings after the bird is removed. Bring to a boil while stirring and season to taste!
Green Beans
This weekend I tried Alton's green bean casserole. It was good--very similar to the traditional, from-a-can-of-mushroom-soup casserole that has some many devotees, but fresh and therefore much better for you! For a very similar dish that requires a bit more work but is totally worth it, go for green beans with mushroom-madeira sauce--my reigning favorite for this particular meal.
Cranberry Sauce
It's hard to admit, but I love cranberry sauce from a can. I know, so do you. But I usually end up making this cranberry apple sauce because it's fresh, easy and really delicious.

3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 C cranberries (fresh or unthawed frozen)
1 C water
7 T sugar

Bring all ingredients to a boil. Cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. Serve at room temp.
*This is a pretty smooth sauce, but if you don't want any chunks you can blend it up one it is finished cooking.
--Best of Gourmet 2000

I love stuffing. I have probably made a different stuffing every year that I've made Thanksgiving dinner and am still searching for that one that completely knocks my socks off. Here are a few that were close.

Leek and Wild Mushroom stuffing
Country bread stuffing with smoked ham, goat cheese and dried cherries
Savory bread pudding with mushrooms and Parmesan cheese
Apricot and Walnut Stuffing *

* I am a fan of savory rather than sweetish stuffings--so I am admittedly biased. This last stuffing was written of in such glowing terms in a recent issue of Saveur that I had to try it. It was good--much better than I anticipated, but it was less savory than sweet, so while I had seconds, I wasn't dancing in the aisle...but you may be. In the interest of full-disclosure...

Lastly, squash doesn't thrill me so I've got nothing to say about it, and I figure everyone knows how to make sweet potatoes even sweeter and mashed potatoes mashed...so I'll end this long post here. More on desserts later.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Spanish Bean Soup

*Note I have only ever made half of this recipe and it still makes a ton of soup!

4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
5 cans garbonzo beans
1 C tomato sauce
1 t garlic salt
1 t pepper
1 t cumin
1/2 t salt
1 t basil
1/4 t oregano
4 links chorizo, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1.5 lbs cooked ham, diced
1 packet yellow rice seasoning (vigo or goya, or alternatively, you can use some saffron and salt to taste)

Boil potatoes for 15 minutes. Add cans of garbonzo beans, draining only 2 cans. Boil for 10 minutes more. Add reminaing ingredients, stir and cook on low for 2 hours.

This is a thick, hearty stew. Definitely a meal all by itself.