Monthly Archives: April 2016

Clean-Out-the-Fridge Frittata

Ever get to the end of the week and find a hodge podge of little bits of leftovers in the fridge? It certainly happens to us on occasion. What to do other than throw the food out, or into the compost pile? Make a dazzling frittata of course! We even have a special Spanish frittata platter which adds an artistic touch to the presentation.

The difference this time around was that Russ saw an episode on “Cocina con Bruno”—Cooking with Bruno, a Spanish cooking show he watches religiously— where Bruno flipped the frittata in a pan to cook the other side instead of finishing it in an oven. Sounded simple enough? Well it wasn’t. But we all know practice makes perfect, right?

But I digress… A well-made frittata is one of the world’s most perfect foods. It’s cheap, quick-cooking, and an efficient vehicle for leftovers—not to mention equally delicious at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A frittata makes use of fully-cooked leftovers like last night’s roasted potatoes or this morning’s leftover bacon. And it tastes as good (and arguably better) cold or at room temperature as it does warm.

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The first side is starting to set before it is either flipped in the pan, or finished in the oven.

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Russ sprinkles on some grated parmesan before the flip.

If you’re starting from scratch, it’s best to fully cook any addition that might release moisture into the eggs—mushrooms, tomatoes, and summer squash or zucchini are common “wet” culprits than can water down your eggs. Sauté them separately.

This also holds true for aromatics, like onions, and sturdy veggies, like raw potatoes. They won’t get much more tender once you add the beaten eggs. Don’t be afraid of getting a little color on the vegetables: That’s what makes them so delicious!

Frittatas are easy to make, but that doesn’t mean you can throw caution to the wind and guess at the proportions. For every dozen eggs you use, some experts say you’ll need a half-cup of dairy, i.e. six-egg frittatas get a quarter-cup. Want to go smaller than that? Don’t bother. The beauty of a frittata is that it serves a crowd and keeps well. Russ doesn’t use dairy in every case, and this was one of those times.

A good frittata should have the texture of custard: trembling and barely set. You may want a deep golden-brown top, but the reality of it is, when the crust is golden, the interior is over-baked. If you must have a tanned top, try sprinkling cheese over it in the last few minutes of cooking time (if cooking in the oven.) 

Frittata is an egg-based Italian dish similar to an omelette or crustless quiche, enriched with additional ingredients such as meats, cheeses, vegetables or pasta. The word frittata is Italian and roughly translates to “fried”

I found this ideal infographic by June Kim which might help you in deciding (although the specs may differ somewhat) how much of what to throw in, and how long to cook. That is if you don’t do the flip method!

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Our ingredients for this frittata:

  • 6 eggs, slightly beaten (we only had 5 on hand)
  • 2 oz. pancetta, cut in 1/4” dice
  • 1/2 yellow pepper, 1/4” dice
  • 1/2 yellow onion, 1/4” dice
  • 3/4 cup grape tomatoes, cut in vertical slices
  • 2 Tbsp. finely minced fresh herbs: parsley, sage, chives
  • 1/4 cup (at most) parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup dairy (if using)

The whole point of a frittata is that you can make it anytime, with almost anything. Just keep these few tips in mind:

SIZE IT RIGHT

If baking entirely in the oven, any 2-quart baking dish works well for this frittata. For a classic look, cook your frittata in a 12″ cast-iron skillet, then finish in the oven. Larger dimensions will work, too, but will yield shallower frittatas and require shorter cooking times.

GO EASY WITH THE BEATING

Beat the eggs only enough to blend the whites and yolks. Overbeating will cause the frittata to poof in the oven, then fall into a denser layer when cooling.

PRE-COOK YOUR MIX-INS

While just about anything can be stirred into the egg base, you should stick to ingredients that are already cooked. For anything with excess moisture, such as sautéed greens, be sure to squeeze out any liquid first.

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A little slice of yummy goodness any time of day.

The Mexi-Tattata

The following weekend Russ made another frittata, this time incorporating leftover baby fingerling potato slices, red pepper, onion, and heavy cream. However, he also wanted to use some cilantro and a jalapeno that were getting past their prime. Plus we had just purchased a hunk of Habanero-Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese from the Newtown Farmer’s Market.

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The veggies (potatoes, peppers and onion) are precooked to eliminate any moisture.

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Some habanero-jalapeno cheddar cheese is grated into the egg and dairy mixture.

As a final touch to the newly christened “Mexi-Tattata,” he sprinkled in about a 1/4 teaspoon of pimenton to the egg mixture. And instead of trying the flip-method again, he finished it under the broiler. Excellente!

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Take a Walk on the Mild Side, or Not

Curry-scented coconut milk simmers down to a thick and flavorful sauce for carrots, cauliflower, spinach, and chickpeas in this fragrant Indian Vegetable Curry one-pan dish. Eat hot, or not? That is the question.

With no hot curry powder on hand, we used regular Thai Red Curry paste with a touch of cayenne powder. In the end, it was a bit too much on the mild side for our tastes. Maybe actually using hot curry powder would be enough to take it up a notch or two. Point being, if you prefer bold and spicy, try to find hot curry powder, otherwise stick to the Thai red curry paste without any cayenne added.

Like a dingbat, I went and tossed in the entire can of coconut milk instead of just one cup, and wondered why Step 2 mentions adding water if the pan looks too dry. Mine wasn’t even close to dry! However, turns out is was a fortuitous mistake, we like our dishes saucy.

Definitely want to serve over long-grain or Basmati rice.

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk, stirred (not lite)
  • 12 oz. cauliflower florets, cut into bite-size pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 1 large carrot, sliced . inch thick on the diagonal
  • 1 medium yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced engthwise
  • 1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. hot curry powder, such as Madras
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 oz. baby spinach (about 3 lightly packed cups)
  • One 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 medium plum tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice*
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

  1. In a 12-inch skillet set over medium-low heat, stir together the coconut milk, cauliflower, carrot, onion, ginger, garlic, curry powder, and 1 tsp. salt.
  2. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook, stirring often, until the cauliflower is tender when pierced with a knife, about 10 minutes. (If the pan looks dry, stir in water. cup at a time.)
  3. Stir in the spinach, chickpeas, and tomatoes and continue to cook until the chickpeas are heated through and the spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in the cilantro, season to taste with salt, and serve.

On the side: Cook long-grain or basmati rice according to package directions, crushing some saffron threads and adding to the cooking water. Toss chopped fresh cilantro with the cooked rice.

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—Robin Asbell, Fine Cooking

How to dice plum tomatoes

Plum tomatoes tend to have big seed chambers and less inner flesh than round tomatoes, so the most efficient technique for dicing them is a bit different: First, cut a thin slice from the bottom to create a flat surface on which to stand the tomato. Cut wide strips from the top, curving down to the bottom, to separate the flesh from the inner seed core. Cut all the flesh away in this manner, leaving the seedy core of the tomato; discard the core. Cut each strip of flesh lengthwise as wide as you want your dice to be, and then cut these strips crosswise into dice.

Samarkand

Quite by accident while driving home from a dinner out, we passed Samarkand Kebab House, self-described as “the best Uzbeki kitchen in the Philadelphia region.” It’s a BYO on Bustleton Pike in Feasterville, PA, and it caught our fancy.

Several weeks later I called to make reservations for a Friday night to include our friends Barb and Brad. During the res conversation I had some difficulty understanding the woman due to a heavy accent, but we managed to finalize the details, or so I had hoped. She asked which floor we would like to dine on (or words to that affect), and I inquired what the difference was. Apparently on weekends they have loud music and dancing on the first floor. Knowing we would want to converse over our meals, I opted for a second floor table.

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Brad’s image is reflected in the mirrored post across from our booth.

First impressions upon arriving? Well, you walk into the second floor from the parking lot. And for 8:00 on a Friday night, it was all but empty. We were promptly seated at a booth and given menus, although it took a few requests before we finally got our water.

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Barb getting ready to press the “Call” button.

Intrigued by the button on the wall, Barb’s curiosity got the best of her and she pressed it. No loud sirens went off, in fact nothing happened. I’m sure the staff get a kick out of the “Americans” who seem compelled to touch it. During this curiosity phase, we began to peruse the extensive menu.

Both couples decided to split beautifully plated salads and share Stuffed Cabbage (pictured up top), which came with two delicious rolls per plate. Russ and I loved the Mushroom Salad, with marinated mushroom, green peas, black olives, green onions, vegetable oil and spices. And Brad and Barb split the highly recommended Vostochny Salad, with roasted eggplant, tomatoes, red and green peppers with dill, garlic and spices.

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The salad portion of the menu.

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Russ and I really liked our Mushroom Salad.

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Barb’s friends recommended she order the Vostochny Salad.

For dinner we all zeroed in on the Shish Kebabs, which are ordered per skewer (vertel in Russian.) Russ and I each chose a Veggie Shish Kebab assembled with tomatoes, onion, zucchini and red peppers. Our other choices were Salmon Kebab for me, and a Rolled Beef Kebab and Boneless Lamb Kebab for Russ. For our dining friends, Barb got a Chicken Kebab and Brad also chose the Rolled Beef.

The kebabs were accompanied with a small pitcher of spicy tomato sauce which some liberally poured over their entrees.

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An assortment of shish kebabs are reasonably priced per skewer.

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Two veggie, one kebab each of rolled beef and boneless lamb.

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Salmon and veggie kebabs topped with thinly sliced onion and a sprinkle of dill.

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Brad and Barb’s chicken and rolled beef kebabs arrived on the same platter.

Yes, we all agreed, the food was very good and we plan on making a return visit. Let’s just hope that there’s an uptick in patronage in the meantime so that they don’t shutter their doors.

Classically Catalan

Spain is a nation of pork eaters. Their penchant for pork has economic underpinnings because the matanza—the fall slaughter of the family hog—was central to rural life. A country within a country, with its own language, complex history, and a wealth of artistic traditions, Catalunya (to natives) has more in common with neighboring France, than macho Castile—but all share a love of pork. Catalan food blends Roman, Arabic and even Italian influences into one of Europe’s most distinct and emphatic cuisines.

Anya Von Bremzen is author of The New Spanish Table, one of our favorite Spanish cookbooks. Slow cooking brings out the best in a humble cut like pork shoulder and for our selected recipe, Catalan Braised Pork Shoulder With Dried Fruit. The sauce, enhanced with dried fruit and a whiff of cinnamon, is classically Catalan. (If you think the sauce is too sweet, you can add a splash of red wine vinegar to it at the end—we did.)

Generally tending to dine on the later side, this meal was going to be no exception, mostly because we mistakenly bought a bone-in pork shoulder, which of course takes longer to cook. It was going to be a guessing game as to when the roast would come to the requisite 165 degree temperature. In the end, it only added an additional 1/2-hour. Thank goodness because the aromas wafting through the house were causing our stomachs to growl!

Rounding out the meal were roasted baby potatoes with olive oil and rosemary and a very spring-like side salad. With only two of us eating, there were lots of leftovers, perfect for a quick evening meal later in the week…

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Dried cherries and apricots are measured out, while the pearl onions thaw.

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After the pork is generously rubbed with salt, pepper and garlic, it is browned in a dutch oven.

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Using tongs helps hold the pork upright to make sure all sides are seared.

Ingredients

  • 1 boneless pork shoulder, such as Boston Butt (about 4 pounds, trimmed of excess fat)
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper (kosher or sea)
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, crushed with a garlic press
  • 3 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 cup peeled white pearl onion
  • 1cup kirsch (or brandy)
  • 2 cups full-bodied dry red wine (with a lively acidity)
  • 1 cup stock (beef or chicken or both)
  • 3cup pitted dried sour cherries
  • 1cup dried apricot (preferably Californian, halved or quartered if large)
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1 small piece cinnamon stick
  • 2 fresh rosemary sprigs

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Once browned, the casserole is removed form the pot.

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The chopped onion, carrot, and pearl onions are added to the casserole until well-browned.

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Return the pork to the casserole with the sauce of wine, onion, carrot, and pearl onions.

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Remove and discard the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and rosemary sprigs and put the sauce in a bowl for serving.

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Cut the pork into slices, arrange on a platter, and pour some of the sauce over.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325º.
  2. Using kitchen string, tie the pork shoulder crosswise, spacing the ties 1 inch apart. Rub the pork generously with salt and pepper and the garlic.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 5 to 6 quart flameproof casserole or Dutch oven over high heat until almost smoking. Add the pork and cook until richly browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Add the remaining oil while the pork browns, if the casserole looks too dry. Transfer the pork to a bowl.
  4. Add the chopped onion, carrot, and pearl onions to the casserole and brown well, 6 to 7 minutes. Add the kirsch and cook over high heat until it is reduced to about 1 tablespoon, about 1 minute.
  5. Add the wine, beef stock, cherries, apricots, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and rosemary sprigs and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the casserole to dislodge the brown bits. Season the sauce with salt to taste.
  6. Return the pork to the casserole. Cover tightly and transfer it to the oven. Bake the pork, turning it once or twice, until it is very tender and an instant-read thermometer registers 165º, about 1 1/2 hours.
  7. Transfer the pork to a plate and cover it with foil to keep warm. Remove and discard the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and rosemary sprigs.
  8. Transfer the casserole to the stove top and cook the sauce over high heat until it is slightly syrupy, 3 to 5 minutes.
  9. Remove the string from the pork and discard it. Cut the pork into slices and arrange on a serving platter. Pour the sauce over the pork and serve.

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Baby fingerling potatoes are cut in half and mixed with olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper then roasted in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

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Dinner is served with a side salad.

No Cooking Required

Bring out that EASY button again. Some nights (many?) you just don’t feel like cooking, and Spinach and White Bean Salad with Tuna not only fulfills that wish, but you’ll be bowled over by the fabulous taste and healthy ingredients.

The bright, fresh combination of endive and spinach makes this salad an elegant lunch or light dinner. Water-packed canned tuna works fine, but oil-packed tuna has a richer, more satisfying flavor. Whenever possible splurge for the good stuffed packed in olive oil. We wait until La Tienda is having a sale, then we order a lot of Spanish ingredients—in this case, Serrats White Tuna in Olive Oil.

And if you’re using the high-end tuna, drain the oil into a container and use 3 tablespoons of that for the dressing instead of tossing it out. However, if canned tuna in water is what you have, then you will want to incorporate a good extra-virgin olive oil.

As an added bonus we sliced up some pitted black olives as a garnish on the salad. While it is best eaten shortly after tossing the ingredients, we had enough leftover for two lunches the next day. Yes, the spinach was a bit more wilted, but the flavors were just as wonderful.

A make-ahead option is to assemble the salad up to the point of incorporating the endive and spinach, mixing that in just before you serve. This will be a perfect recipe for the hot summer months…

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The capers, garlic, salt and pepper will get minced together as a paste.

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Cut half of a red onion into very thin slices.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbs. brine-packed capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1 medium clove garlic
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 5-oz. cans albacore tuna, drained
  • 1 15-oz. can cannellini or navy beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 6 oz. (6 packed cups) baby spinach
  • 2 heads red or white Belgian endive, coarsely chopped

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Draining the oil from the good Spanish tuna for use in the dressing.

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The garlic caper paste gets mixed with lemon juice and the drained oil.

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Large tuna flakes are mixed into the dressing.

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Just prior to adding the greens, toss in the beans and onion. If you’re not going to eat right away, wait to add the spinach and endive.

Directions

Using a chef’s knife, mince and mash the capers and garlic with 1 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Scrape into a large bowl and whisk in the lemon juice and mustard. In a slow stream, whisk in the oil until emulsified. Add the tuna, flaking it into large pieces, then the beans, onion, spinach, and endive. Toss gently with the dressing and serve.

by Liz Pearson from Fine Cooking

Filet Mignon, Say No More!

Can’t get much easier than this. Bite-sized morsels of beef tenderloin are flavored with garlic, stir-fried and combined with tomatoes and scallions for a simple one-dish meal to serve over rice.

Usually a pricey cut of meat if ordering at a restaurant or buying individual steaks, buying a whole beef tenderloin can be a great way to purchase a deliciously tender cut of beef at a savings and get several meals from it. And thanks to friend Rosanne, she picked us up a whole tenderloin at a great discount several months ago. We sliced it up into filet mignon steaks and packed the remainder as tips, then froze them all individually.

I believe we got eleven, 2″ thick filets plus the tips, averaging out to about $7 per steak, for filet mignon!! You know, the cut of meat that is considered the king of steaks because of its tender, melt in the mouth texture? So tender in fact, a prime filet mignon can literally be cut with a fork. OK, reign me in…

Tenderloin Tips with Garlic and Mushrooms is a quick stir-fry made from the parts of the whole tenderloin, as mentioned above, that are left over after slicing it into filet mignon. Flavored with garlic and combined with tomatoes, mushrooms and scallions, these tender bits of steak make a fabulous one-dish meal to serve over rice.

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Our frozen bag of filet tips of just under a pound thaws on the countertop.

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Minced garlic, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce are combined in a medium bowl.

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Meat chunks are added to the mixture and marinate at least 15 minutes.

Must confess, based on the small amount of liquids, we were concerned there wouldn’t be enough sauce resulting in a dry meal. But at the very end, the tomatoes release their moisture and that tablespoon of butter coerced the other pan juices to meld producing a very flavorful stir-fry.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb beef tenderloin tips, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces cremini or white button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1-1/2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 to 5 scallions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Steamed white or brown rice

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Mushroom slices are stir-fried until lightly golden brown.

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The beef mixture is added to the mushrooms and stir-fried a few minutes more.

Preparation 

  1. Combine the tenderloin tips, garlic, 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil, soy sauce and Worcestershire in a mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat the beef thoroughly. Set aside for 15 minutes at room temperature. (Ours sat in the marinade closer to 45 minutes.)
  2. Heat the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large, heavy skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry until lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the beef mixture and stir fry until browned on the outside, 2 to 3 minutes for medium rare.
  3. Add the tomatoes and scallions and toss to combine. Add the butter and continue cooking just long enough to coat the meat with the pan juices. Remove from the heat.
  4. To serve, plate individual servings of rice and top with the steak mixture.

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We ladled the completed stir-fry over brown rice.

We Lika Dukka

What to do with some leftover spring veggies? Taking stock of what was lurking in the crisper, I uncovered several ounces of fresh sugar snap peas and a handful of asparagus stalks. And then it occurred to me that our latest issue of Cooks Illustrated featured an article on sautéed sugar snap peas, which seemed like a good place to start.

Once I zeroed in on the ingredients, I was hooked! Pine nuts (love ’em), fennel seed (oh yeah), lemon zest (you bet), garlic, red pepper flakes and fresh basil, all winners! Of course there was no mention of asparagus, but since I didn’t have enough snap peas to start with, I decided to combine the two. This was also a teaching moment because I found out the combination of herbs and spices is called a dukka—an Egyptian condiment made of finely chopped nuts, seeds, and seasonings… and now I can pass this knowledge on to you…

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The toasted pine nuts and fennel seeds before they are chopped.

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Starting to finely chop the nuts, seeds, lemon zest and red pepper flakes.

Recipe title: Sugar Snap Peas with Pine Nuts, Fennel Seed and Lemon Zest. Insert the word “Asparagus” and I’m good to go! To ensure that the pods and peas cook through at the same rate, use a hybrid method that steams the sugar snap peas and asparagus briefly before sautéing them; the trapped steam transfers heat more efficiently than air does so that the veggies cook through more quickly.

Cutting the peas in half and the asparagus at a strong angle, further reduces the cooking time, so the pea pods retain more of their snap, and the pockets capture the seasonings rather than letting them slide to the bottom of the platter. Sprinkling the veggies with the dukka dresses up the simple preparation with distinct (but not overwhelming) flavor and crunch.

This veggie side dish is really, really good! Some other seasoning combinations could be: almonds, coriander seed and orange zest; or sesame seeds, fresh ginger and lemon zest. Because I always tend to measure seasonings on the broader scale, we had enough dukka leftover for a future vegetable side, so I put it in a small ziploc in the freezer until ready to use.

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The ingredients prepped and measured.

INGREDIENTS

  • tablespoons pine nuts
  • teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 12 ounces sugar snap peas, strings removed, halved crosswise on bias
  • tablespoons water
  • garlic clove, minced
  • tablespoons chopped fresh basil

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Our snap pea and asparagus side paired with a salmon patty.

DIRECTIONS

Do not substitute ground fennel for the fennel seeds in this recipe.

  1. Toast pine nuts in 12-inch skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add fennel seeds and continue to toast, stirring constantly, until pine nuts are lightly browned and fennel is fragrant, about 1 minute longer.
  2. Transfer pine nut mixture to cutting board. Sprinkle lemon zest, salt, and pepper flakes over pine nut mixture. Chop mixture until finely minced and well combined. Transfer to bowl and set aside.
  3. Heat oil in now-empty skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add snap peas and water, immediately cover, and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Uncover, add garlic, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until moisture has evaporated and snap peas are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes longer.
  5. Remove skillet from heat; stir in three-quarters of pine nut mixture and basil. Transfer snap peas to serving platter, sprinkle with remaining pine nut mixture, and serve.

An Avid Fan of Toban Djan

This Chicken, Shiitake and Watercress Stir-Fry gets deep complexity from Chinese fermented chile-bean sauce, also called toban djan, which can be found in the Asian section of well-stocked supermarkets. Grace Young, award-winning chef-author, extols the virtues of this sauce in her Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge cookbook and we’ve become avid converts.

We couldn’t resist stirring in an extra tablespoon of toban djan at the end. The dish comes together in a snap and is great with rice. Also fabulous as leftovers.

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Chicken, Shiitake and Watercress Stir-fry

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 Tbs. reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. sake or Shaoxing
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs. canola or other neutral oil
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. Chinese chile-bean sauce; more to taste
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 6 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced (about 2-1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup lower-salt chicken broth
  • 1 medium bunch watercress (6 oz.), stemmed
  • 1 Tbs. rice vinegar

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Marinating the chicken chunks in corn starch, sake and soy sauce.

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Browning the chicken in a skillet before removing to sauté the shiitakes.

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Mushrooms cook in oil with chili-bean sauce and ginger.

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After removing from heat, watercress and vinegar are stirred in.

Directions

  1. Put the chicken in a medium bowl and toss with 2 tsp. of the soy sauce, the sake, cornstarch, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Heat a wok or a 12-inch skillet over high heat. Add 1 Tbs. of the oil and the chicken to the pan in a single layer.
  2. Leave the chicken undisturbed for about a minute before stirring, and then cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and partially cooked, about 4 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a bowl.
  3. Return the pan to high heat. Add the remaining 1 Tbs. oil, the chile-bean sauce, and ginger to the pan, and stir to combine. Add the mushrooms, and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 2 minutes.
  4. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan. Stir in the broth and the remaining 1 tsp. soy sauce. Cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is cooked through, about 2 minutes.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the watercress, vinegar, and more chile-bean sauce to taste. Toss until the watercress wilts. Serve hot.

http://www.lynnandruss.com

By Laura B. Russell from Fine Cooking

Pasta with Red Sauce is So Last Season

Pasta night just got a little more interesting. Not just because the chef-author is Pamela Anderson—from Fine Cooking, not Baywatch—but if it gets you to try Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Arugula and Prosciutto, so be it. Your plate will resemble a foodie artist’s palette layering texture with color and flavor with bits of salty prosciutto mixed perfectly with roasted cauliflower, sweet grape tomatoes and peppery arugula.

A mouthful of satisfaction might be a good way to describe it. It’s too bad that most grocery stores only sell a limited amount of gluten-free pasta shapes. Because of that, we used rotini instead of orecchiette.

Our addition: As an extra bonus, add some toasted pine nuts for a mild, sweet, buttery crunch.

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Fresh sage leaves, and yes, a few more than 4 garlic cloves.

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Sage leaves and garlic cloves are put in a mini food processor.

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After the sage and garlic are minced, prosciutto is pulsed until coarsely chopped.

Ingredients

  • Kosher salt
  • One-half medium head cauliflower, cored and cut into 3/4-inch florets (3-1/2 cups)
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 9 large fresh sage leaves
  • 4 large cloves garlic, peeled
  • 6 thin slices prosciutto (about 4 oz.)
  • 12 oz. dried orecchiette
  • 5 oz. baby arugula (5 lightly packed cups)
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

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The cauliflower starts to turn brown after 15 minutes in a hot oven.

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The herb mixture is added to the cauliflower and tomatoes and roasted for another 5-7 minutes.

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Mix the roasted cauliflower mixture, arugula, and cheese into the cooked pasta, and top with pine nuts if using.

Directions

  1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.
  2. Toss the cauliflower, tomatoes, oil, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper on a rimmed baking sheet; spread in a single layer. Roast, stirring once or twice, until the cauliflower begins to turn golden and tender, about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, pulse the sage and garlic in a food processor until minced. Add the prosciutto and pulse until coarsely chopped. Once the cauliflower is golden, toss the herb mixture into the vegetables and continue to roast until fragrant and the cauliflower is golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes.
  4. Boil the orecchiette until al dente, 9 to 10 minutes. Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking water. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Stir in the roasted cauliflower mixture, arugula, cheese, and enough pasta water to moisten. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Top with toasted pine nuts (optional.)

by Pamela Anderson from Fine Cooking

Expanding Our Culinary Chops

During one grocery shopping adventure we spotted breast of veal in the meat case. Russ mentioned he always wanted to cook one of those babies, so we bought it, and froze it for a future dinner. Encouraged by author Molly Steven’s cookbook notation in All About Braising “If you’ve never cooked or tasted a breast of veal, this is the place to start. The simple directness of the recipe brings out all the goodness this inexpensive cut has to offer.” Say no more…

The following photos of Breast of Veal Braised with Garlic, Parsley and Lemon tell a visual story of how gorgeous the meat looks during every stage of the cooking process. The taste was undeniably delicious, however I was not too thrilled about the amount of fat, in some portions, layered within the veal. Yes, you can remove it, but it’s something I’d rather not have to contend with. C’est la vie.

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Browning both sides in shimmering oil.

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The end cap gets browned by holding the breast with tongs.

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Once browned, the meat is moved to a plater where juices will collect.

About that sauce. You can purchase the veal stock, or demi-glace, at the supermarket, usually sold in the meat counter. Demi-glace is one of the rich brown sauces from classic French cuisine, made by simmering bones, aromatics and wine for days, which extracts the gelatin from the bones, concentrates the flavors and thickens the sauce.

D’Artagnan (our choice) offers a classic veal demi-glace made according to traditional methods, beginning with the bone stock, which is slowly simmered until reduced by about half its volume. The liquid is strained, then red wine is added, and finally, a little tomato paste is stirred in. No additional gelatin is needed because the bones are rich in natural collagen. Nor is any salt or flour added. The result is a very concentrated stock that can be used as a base for other sauces, or by itself.

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Mashing garlic cloves and salt with pestle and mortar.

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Adding parsley and lemon zest to the garlic paste.

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Smear the garlic-parsley mixture all over the veal; pushing the seasoning into folds and crevices; then set the veal into a heavy lidded casserole and pour over any juices.

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After 2 hours the veal is braised uncovered for another 30 minutes.

The process from start to finish takes about 4 hours, so plan accordingly. Instead of using both a skillet and heavy-duty casserole as described in the directions, we just used the casserole pot from the get-go. One less item to clean, in our humble opinion.

Our sides included Butter Braised Radishes—something we’ve never tried before—and Mashed Parsnips—a dish we recently tried and fell head-over-heels for! (See blog on mashed parsnips under the Bits N Pieces tab.) Now back to the star of the show…

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Once the veal is fully cooked, set it aside to cool somewhat. Gorgeous!

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With your hands, tug on the rib bones extending from the meat until they come loose, and feel around for any cartilage that may be present, wriggling and tugging until they come free.

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Set the veal (whole or sliced) into a shallow baking or ovenproof serving dish and pour over the degreased pan juices.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 lb. bone-in breast of veal
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Coarse salt
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Grated zest of one lemon
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
  • 1 cup veal stock, homemade or store bought

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Heat oil in a heavy skillet large enough to hold the veal comfortably, over medium heat until it shimmers.
  3. Pat the veal dry with paper towels, and lower into skillet with tongs.
  4. Cook turning once until meat has a deep roasted appearance on both sides, about 8 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter to collect any juices that seep out, and let cool slightly.
  5. Discard fat from skillet and wipe out any charred bits with a damp paper towel, being careful not to dislodge the precious caramelized drippings. Set skillet aside.
  6. To make the garlic paste, drop the cloves into a mortar, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, and smash and grind into a paste. Transfer to a small bowl and add the parsley, lemon zest, and a few grinds of black pepper.
  7. When the veal is cool enough to handle, use your fingers to smear the garlic-parsley mixture all over it; pushing the seasoning into folds and crevices as deep as you can without tearing the meat apart.
  8. Set veal into a heavy lidded casserole (3-4 quart), and pour over any juices that seeped from the veal.
  9. Return skillet to high heat and add the wine. Bring to a boil, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon to dislodge and flavorful bits stuck there, and reduce down to about a 1/3 cup, about 8 minutes.
  10. Add the stock, bring to a boil, and boil for 3 minutes. Pour this liquid around the breast of veal—but not directly over the meat. Cover with parchment paper, pressing down so the paper nearly touches the veal and the edges hang about an inch over the sides of the pot. Set the lid in place.
  11. Slide the pot into the lower part of the oven to braise at a gentle simmer. After about 15 minutes, check to see that the liquid is not simmering too vigorously. if it is, reduce the oven by 10-15 degrees. Continue to braise gently for another 15 minutes more, then, using tongs, turn the veal over.
  12. After 2 hours, turn the veal again, more carefully this time as the meat may be starting to fall off the bone.
  13. Continue to braise, uncovered, so that the surface can caramelize, until the veal is completely tender, about 30 minutes more (2 1/2 hours total.)
  14. Remove the veal from the pot onto a platter or cutting board with a moat to catch the juices.Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes, until cool enough to handle. Turn the oven up to 325 degrees.
  15. With your hands, tug on the rib bones extending from the meat until they come loose. Discard. Feel around the veal for any cartilage that may be present, wriggling and tugging until they come free. You may have to pull the meat apart in a few places, but don’t worry.
  16. Degrease the pan juices as best you can, and taste for salt and pepper. There are two options for serving: carve the breast of veal in the kitchen, and then warm the pieces; or warm the whole glorious thing, present it at the table, and make a ceremony out of carving it!
  17. Which ever way you choose, it’s best to cut the breast into rustic hunks instead of neat slices. Set the veal (whole or sliced) into a shallow baking or ovenproof serving dish and pour over the degreased pan juices. Heat until warmed through, 15 to 25 minutes.

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Giving Mashed Potatoes a Run for Their Money

I’ve always adored mashed potatoes. They are to me that quintessential comfort food that brings back fond childhood memories of Sunday family dinners. Even the pickiest of kids (which I was) usually eat mashed potatoes.

To kick it up a notch yet keep the “mashed” theme, we substituted parsnips for the potatoes and added sweet and savory notes with ingredients such as dijon mustard and honey. In a word “divine!”

This is the second time we cooked them and made sure that we purchased a larger quantity than the paltry 4 little “snips” our first go around. You can use a food processor, ricer, or potato masher to obtain your preferred consistency. Use as a side dish for anything that you would normally include mashed potatoes with. You’ll be surprised how much you like them!

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About 8-10 parsnips equal 1 1/2 pounds, depending on size, and yield about 3-4 cups of mashed parsnips.

Ingredients and Directions

  1. Peel 1 1/2 pounds parsnips and cut into 1-inch pieces (cut out the cores if they’re woody, which is the case in most of the larger parsnips.)
  2. Cook in boiling water until they can easily be pierced with a fork, about 7 minutes. Drain well.
  3. Purée the parsnips in a food processor (preferable), ricer, or masher.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons melted butter,
    1-2 tablespoon(s) cream or milk,
    1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard,
    and a 1/2 teaspoon honey.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Peeled, cored and sliced parsnips are ready to be boiled.

OMG, the Sauce is to Die For!

A “Make It Tonite” weeknight recipe, Sear-Roasted Pork Chops with Balsamic-Fig Sauce—has amazing flavor, is elegant and so easy and quick—and the sauce… oh my … you have to try this sauce! Even if you’re not a fig fan, I guarantee you’ll like this sauce.

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Sear-roasting is a restaurant technique you can easily do at home. For the best sear, you’ll need to get your pan extremely hot first. Then, once you add the pork to the pan, no fiddling! You’ll be rewarded for your patience when the pork takes on a rich, browned crust.

After browning, the pork heads into the oven where it finishes cooking. Be sure that the oven has reached 425°F before starting to sear—most ovens take 20 to 30 minutes to heat up thoroughly.

Rounding out the meal, along with a salad, our side dish was a heavenly Mashed Parsnips with Dijon and Honey, a fabulous change of pace from mashed potatoes. (Stay tuned, will post the parsnip recipe in the near future.) Unfortunately the grocery store only had four relatively small parsnips, which in the end made a paltry 3/4 cup to split between the two of us. But we’re definitely going to add this to our short list…

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Season the chops with salt and pepper.

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Browning the chops in a very hot skillet.

Ingredients for the Pork:

  • 4 boneless center-cut pork chops, 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick (2 to 2-1/2 lb. total)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil, canola oil, or peanut oil

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Dice up the dried figs.

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Cook the broth and vinegar until reduced to a 1/2 cup. 

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After adding the figs, honey and thyme, swirl in the butter.

Ingredients for the Balsamic-Fig Sauce:

  • 1 cup homemade or low-salt chicken broth
  • 3 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped dried figs
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. honey
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions for the Pork:

  1. Heat the oven to 425°F. Turn the exhaust fan on to high. Pat the pork chops with paper towels. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper (about 1 tsp. of each total).
  2. Heat a 12-inch heavy-based ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until a droplet of water vaporizes in 1 or 2 seconds, about 1 min. (If the water skitters around the pan and doesn’t evaporate, the pan is too hot; take it off the heat for about 30 seconds to cool.)
  3. Add the oil, swirl it around the pan, and then evenly space the pork chops in the pan. Cook without touching for 2 minutes. Using tongs, lift a corner of the pork, check that it’s both well browned and easily releases from the pan, and flip it over. (If it sticks or isn’t well browned, cook for 1 to 2 more min. before flipping.) Cook the second side for 1 minute and then transfer the skillet to the oven.
  4. Roast until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 145°F and is just firm to the touch, about 5 to 8 minutes. Using potholders, carefully remove the pan from the oven, transfer the pork to a large plate, tent with foil, and let it rest while you prepare the sauce in the same skillet.

Directions for the Balsamic-Fig Sauce:

  1. Pour off any excess fat from the skillet. Return the pan to high heat and add the chicken broth and balsamic vinegar.
  2. Cook, scraping the pan with a wooden spoon to incorporate any browned bits, until the broth is reduced to about 1/2 cup, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the figs, honey, and thyme and cook until the sauce is reduced by another 1 to 2 tablespoons., about 1 minute.
  4. Add the butter and swirl it into the sauce until it’s completely melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the sauce over the pork chops and serve immediately.

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The balsamic fig reduction is poured over the cooked pork chops.

by Tony Rosenfeld of Fine Cooking

Allium Invasion

As you may or may not know, shallots are from the ALLIUM family: a bulbous plant of a genus that includes the onion and its relatives (e.g., garlic, leek, scallions and chives). With our Slow-Roasted Chicken with All the Garlic stuffed with shallots and scallion greens and surrounded by a cup or more of garlic cloves, a side of Crispy Shallots and the White Onion, Fennel and Watercress Salad, we were definitely on allium overload. Great for your health, not so much for your breath. But we didn’t care, no one else was around.

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This beauty is almost frame-worthy!

About that chicken. Words can’t almost describe how succulent and flavorful this bird was with perfectly crisped skin! And while one of the ingredients was green garlic, we were not successful in obtaining it, stuffing the cavity with shallots and scallion greens instead. Then you let mother nature do the rest. No need to turn, baste or otherwise touch it until time to remove from the oven. Easy button!

Once finished roasting—and we cooked our 4-pounder the full 3 hours, which seemed extreme to us—but the bird was fall-off-the-bone tender, and not dried out at all. We did not turn the garlic and lemon wedges either, as noted in the directions, (we thought it would be difficult given how tightly packed the baking dish was) and they both were roasted to perfection and made tasty accompaniments to the chicken. Lip-smacking good as they say…

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The chicken, lemon wedges and garlic cloves in a 2-quart baking dish ready for the oven.

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A close-up of the somewhat caramelized garlic and lemon after roasting for 3 hours.

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We added thinly sliced radishes to our White Onion, Fennel and Watercress Salad.

And the shallot side dish, it just might be our new addiction. Fung Tu’s miraculous crisp-tangy shallots appeared in a small sidebar in the back of a recent issue of Bon Appétit (recipe follows.) What I didn’t realize, until after we had shopped for groceries, was this sidebar linked to a main article with a recipe for Stir-Fried Asparagus with Bacon and Crispy Shallots.

It was our intention to have the crispy shallots as a side dish—as opposed to a garnish on a side dish—to accompany our roasted chicken dinner. So with that intent, we quadrupled the amount of shallots and increased the other ingredients; eliminating the asparagus and bacon altogether.

The pickling process lends an irresistible acidity and “funk,” so it’s important that you don’t overlook this step. And the key to the crispy coating is the dredge of flour and cornmeal. Thinking regular table salt would stick better than Kosher salt, we liberally sprinkled the shallots immediately after placing them on the paper-towel lined rack. Of course you can make them as a garnish, in which case decrease the amounts shown in the recipe below.

The concept of black vinegar was new to me. Shouldn’t be a problem finding it at our local Asian foodmart, right? Well they carried “brown” vinegar, but no black. Russ swore he previously saw it at our regular grocery store and that’s where we were headed next. Sure enough, in the ethnic aisle with the other Asian ingredients, there it was!

Lessen on black versus brown vinegar:

Chinese black vinegar is an aged vinegar which is typically made from rice, but can also be made from wheat, millet, sorghum, or a combination of any of the four. It has a deep black color, similar to that of balsamic vinegar. It is less sweet, less acidic, and has a strong fragrant flavor that is almost spicy in nature.

Brown (or malt) vinegar is made by malting barley causing the starch in the grain to turn to maltose. Ale is then brewed from the maltose and allowed to turn into vinegar, which is then aged. It is typically distinctive dark brown color. However, most supermarket vinegar is actually extracted from beetroot. It has a strong flavor. As its name implies, malt vinegar has a distinctive malt flavor.

Slow-Roasted Chicken with All the Garlic

Ingredients 

  • 4 green garlic bulbs
  • 1 3½–4-pound chicken
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup peeled garlic cloves
  • 1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges, seeds removed
  • ½ cup olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°. Trim dark tops from green garlic and place in chicken cavity; loosely tie legs together with kitchen twine.
  2. Halve green garlic bulbs and pale-green parts. Place chicken in a 2-qt. baking dish; season with salt and pepper. Tuck green garlic, garlic cloves, and lemon wedges around (make sure everything fits snugly to keep garlic from getting too dark); pour oil over.
  3. Roast, turning garlic and lemon occasionally, until chicken is very tender and garlic is soft and deeply caramelized, 2½–3 hours. Serve chicken with garlic and lemon alongside.

Recipe from Alison Roman of Bon Appétit

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Crisp-Tangy Shallots

Ingredients (our version, reduce quantities if using as a garnish)

  • 1/2 cup black vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sherry vinegar
  • 8 shallots
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free)
  • 3/4 cup fine-grind cornmeal
  • Kosher (or table) salt

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For safety, Russ wears a kevlar glove to thinly slice the shallots on a mandoline.

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We found marinating them in a zip-loc bag was easier than in a bowl. This is the color after one hour.

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The marinated rings are dredged in a 50-50 ratio of flour and cornmeal.

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Even though we tested with a thermometer, we a wanted to make sure the oil was hot enough before we added the first batch.

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Working in batches, we fried the shallots for 3 minutes each time, making sure to let the oil get hot enough again between batches.

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Removing the onion rings with a slotted spoon.

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Each batch is placed onto a paper-toweled lined rack over a baking sheet.

Directions

  1. Lightly pickle thinly sliced shallot rings in a mixture of the black and sherry vinegars.
  2. After an hour, drain, pat dry. Whisk the flour and cornmeal in a shallow bowl, then dredge the shallot rings in the mixture, shaking off excess.
  3. Heat 2″ vegetable oil to 300 degrees. Fry shallots, tossing occasionally until golden brown, about 3 minutes.
  4. Drain on paper towels and immediately season with ample salt.

 

Bellissimo Zuppa

Over-the-top delicious! This hearty Tuscan Sausage, Cannellini and Kale Soup is full of dynamite flavor—most of it from healthy ingredients. The crinkly, deep-green leaves of Lacinato kale (also called dinosaur or black kale) are ideal, but any variety of kale will work.

No surprise I’m sure that we used the hot Italian sausage as opposed to the sweet. Of course, we almost always increase the amount of garlic in any recipe, so this one was no exception. And as I always preach, using store-bought broth or stock is fine, but incorporating homemade takes the soup to another level.

One optional ingredient is a Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, which we keep a small ziplocked stash of in the freezer at all times. A good practice that you should get in the habit of because they come in handy for a variety of recipes, and last a long time.

FYI, one medium celery stalk does not 3/4-cup make, so use at least two—better yet three—stalks. Next time we’ll probably double the amount of kale too. Our final touch was a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. If you’re so inclined, pair the soup with a chunk of crusty multigrain bread. And if you’re lucky enough to have any leftover, it’s perfect for lunch…Bellissimo!

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped (3/4 cup)
  • 1 medium celery stalk, finely chopped (3/4 cup)
  • 1-1/2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbs.)
  • 1 quart homemade or lower-salt chicken or vegetable broth
  • Two 15-oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 6 oz. Lacinato kale, center ribs removed, leaves chopped (about 4 firmly packed cups)
  • 1 Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (1×3 inches; optional)
  • 1-1/2 tsp. cider vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2/3 lb. sweet or hot bulk Italian sausage, rolled into bite-size meatballs

Directions

  1. Heat 1 Tbs. of the oil in a 4- to 5-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 6 minutes. Add the tomato paste and garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 seconds.
  2. Add the broth, beans, kale, and Parmigiano rind (if using). Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer gently until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1/2 Tbs. oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the sausage meatballs, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the sausage to the soup and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook 5 minutes more to meld the flavors.
  5. Stir the cider vinegar into the soup and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Variations

To serve 1 vegetarian and 3 meat lovers: Use vegetable broth for the soup. Reduce the sausage to 1/2 lb. and cook the meatballs in the same fashion. After stirring the cider vinegar into the soup and seasoning to taste, set aside 1-3/4 cups of the soup for the vegetarian before adding the meatballs.

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by Ivy Manning from Fine Cooking

Saluté!

Within a 1/2-day of receiving a restaurant tip from friend Jeremy, I made reservations at the relatively new Italian BYOB, Saluté Ristorante, located in small strip mall on West Trenton Avenue in Morrisville, PA. (In it’s previous life, it used to be Center Fruit Gourmet.)

Friends Barb and Brad accompanied us on our maiden voyage to check out the new digs. The joint was hopping when we got there for our 8:00 Friday night reservation—thank goodness we made one! We were seated immediately at a corner table by the front window. (Top photo shows Barb and Russ with some of the posterized head shots behind them.)

The decor is atypical, with a large lighted tree smack in the center of the dining room and pop-art portraiture pictures adorning the walls. Of those, the only person I recognized was the owner Vincenzo because I had previously perused their website. Another wall sports a “digital” fireplace lending a nice touch to the decidedly modern atmosphere.

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A stock photo showing the dining room with a portrait of the owner Vincenzo, and the digital fireplace.

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A bit blurry, but you get the sense of the lighted tree as a main focal point.

Vincenzo Severino’s cuisine is the encapsulation of his passion for food and his obsession to please his patrons. His inspiration comes from his trips back to his beloved Sicily, where he breathes in as much as he can in order to translate his journeys into new and exciting dishes for his and Kathleen’s customers.

While we scanned the menus, a basket of warm crusty bread was delivered to the table. Then Russ asked our waitress about the possibility of getting gluten-free for his side of pasta. Come to find out, irritatingly enough, you can only get gluten-free if you order a pasta entree, not for your side!

How odd, every other restaurant that we’ve patronized with gluten-free options always allowed for this type of request. But apparently because they serve the pasta side “family-style,” we’d receive only one bowl of ziti to share amongst all diners. Which may have worked if we all wanted gluten-free…

But the food was so good, we decided it was a minor glitch in an otherwise great dining experience. Except for the noise! Wow, it was really loud until many diners finished their meals and started leaving. Perhaps it’s a good thing to arrive on the later side.

Because of the gluten-free debacle, Russ altered his choice and chose the GIAMBOTTA: Sweet Italian sausage with oven roasted peppers and onions with garlic and Italian seasonings. I zeroed in on the ALL’ARRABIATTA: Chicken breasts with hot finger peppers (this was the clincher for me) sautéed in olive oil, garlic and finished with marinara sauce, topped with mozzarella cheese. OMG, the chicken was perfectly cooked and succulent! (BTW, any of these chicken dishes can also be ordered with veal for a few dollars more.)

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For Russ, Giambotta—therefore avoiding the pasta issue.

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Lynn loved her All’Arrabiatta.

Portobello mushrooms was the ingredient that grabbed the attention of both of our dining guests because Barb got the PORTOBELLO: Portobello mushrooms sautéed with sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers over chicken breasts and topped with fresh mozzarella cheese. And Mr. Brad followed suit with the TOSCANO: Chicken pieces with sliced portobello mushrooms, scallions, roasted garlic and pancetta bacon sautéed in marsala wine cream sauce.

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Close up of Barb’s Chicken Portobello.

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Brad’s divine Chicken Toscano.

Let’s suffice it to say, nobody went home hungry, in fact, most of us doggie-bagged a healthy portion of leftovers. Yes, we will definitely go again. But right now I’m getting ready to head out the door for another dining experience at Francisco’s along the Delaware River… Ciao!