Bella Tori at the Mansion

This stately lady in Langhorne Borough, Bella Tori at the Mansion, dates back to 1898. Philadelphia entrepreneur, Howard Reifsnyder, built the Greenwood Mansion (as it was known then) as a summer home for his family until it was sold to Mollie Woods Hare in 1921. Then used as The Woods School for Handicapped Children and Adults, until it was purchased in 1999 by Paul Manes who took over 5 years restoring “Bella” to her original grandeur. In November 2005, the mansion reopened its doors as a beautiful victorian restaurant and catering facility featuring Italian fare.

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A few short minutes from our home, Bella has been the site for many a memorable meal, including our wedding dinner reception in 2012, above. We also enjoyed a New Year’s Eve dinner (date forgotten); and an Easter Sunday brunch in 2014, below, after enduring a cross-atlantic flight from Italy when jet lag was so severe, we couldn’t even contemplate the thought of cooking—an unusual predicament for us to be in.

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Our most recent visit was on St. Patrick’s Day with our friends Rosanne and Gary Zarrilli. Granted, Bella’s menu is not even close to Irish, but that didn’t deter us because we started out at home with some decadent Reuben Dip and a bottle of Killian’s Irish Red to tide us over until dinnertime.

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The ride over is literally two minutes from home and we could have walked save the fact that it was blustery cold. Upon arriving at the 9,000-square-foot establishment, we were promptly seated in the main dining featuring a Mercer tile fireplace. The decor is lavish and very Victorian, and the noise level is pleasantly low key.

For starters, we agreed to split a bottle of Marques de Riscal, from one of our favorite wineries in Spain. Our waitress Keira (decidedly Irish) was a small bundle of pep and kept the evening going at a leisurely pace, and was kind enough to take our group photo.

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Even though we noshed on some of that Reuben Dip, we went all out and ordered a few more appetizers. Russ and Rosanne were fixated on the Oysters Bienville, and chose to split the selection. Four beautifully baked oysters with shrimp, bacon, ham and mushrooms were topped with sherry cream and Parmesan bread crumbs. Thoughtfully plated with two forks, they adored them!

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Gary chose the Winter Bella Salad comprised of baby spinach, Bartlett pear, dried cranberries, chévre, pickled red onion, toasted almonds and dressed with a pomegranate vinaigrette. I was torn between that and the Shrimp Le Jon, but with Russ’ persuasion, I opted for the shrimp (because he was going to eat some of it.) Three roasted shrimp were stuffed with horseradish grain mustard, wrapped in bacon and served atop a lemon sun-dried tomato aioli with a basil chiffonade, exquisite!

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There were so many good options under the Entrées, that it was difficult at best to make up our minds. After some back and forth, Russ chose one of his favorites, the Chasseur Veal Osso Buco. Slow-braised in a hunter sauce, it came plated over roasted butternut squash with a side of spinach risotto topped with a citrus gremolata. He was very impressed that they served it with a spoon in the bone to scoop out the marrow—to him, a sign they know what they’re doing.

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Again I was torn between the French Quarter Shrimp & Scallops, which Rosanne selected, and the Dijon Herb-Crusted Rack of Lamb. Choosing the latter, my four ribs (you could also order eight), were perfectly cooked, seasoned panko crusted New Zealand lamb chops which came accompanied by a red wine demi-glace, and paired with grilled asparagus and an overcooked baked potato (the only misstep of the entire experience.)

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Rosanne’s seafood dish of grilled scallops and shrimp arrived in a Creole tasso sauce and were tossed with roasted trinity vegetables, cheese and scallion grits. While Gary didn’t surprise any of us with his choice of Veal Parmitori, a ginormous cutlet, lightly breaded and fried and topped with Pomodoro sauce and aged provolone cheese over a bed of linguine. Suffice it to say, we all denied dessert and took four doggie bags home.

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We’re looking forward to patronizing Bella on a Friday when you can bring your own bottles of wine with no corkage fee (the DaVinci Bar is still open) and they feature a live classical guitarist in the house. It’s a fabulous place to celebrate any special occasion or just because you want a good meal. Below are some pics of that great Sunday brunch.

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Whole-Grain Pasta e Fagioli with Butternut Squash and Sage Pesto

Whole-grain orecchiette or shells star in this makeover of a classic Italian pasta and bean soup. With butternut squash, borlotti beans, and a bright sage pesto, it’s perfect for a chilly evening. And unfortunately here in the Northeast, Winter continues her steady and determined grip on our area, refusing to let Spring usher forth. So we must find ways to counteract the cold…

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Borlotti beans, also commonly referred to as the cranberry bean, is a dappled white and red bean related to the kidney and pinto beans. This is a common bean in Italy where it is used for soups and with pasta. Depending on where you live you may have a tough time, like us, finding this bean at your neighborhood grocery store. You can check your local Walmart store which sometimes stocks these beans. What we didn’t know until after the fact was, you can buy them easily enough online at Amazon.com. In a pinch, we substituted it’s cousin, pinto beans.

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The sage pesto was the “bomb,” it was sooo good I could’ve eaten it with a spoon! Make sure to swirl a generous amount into your pasta e fagioli. While mine was purposely not as saucy as indicated in the directions, any leftover would be fabulous as a condiment, a sandwich spread, or as a topping for baguettes and crackers. That’s of course, if you have any leftover…

Let’s not overlook the health benefits of butternut squash. Low in fat, it delivers an ample dose of dietary fiber, making it an exceptionally heart-friendly choice. It provides significant amounts of potassium, important for bone health, and vitamin B6, essential for the proper functioning of both the nervous and immune systems. The folate content adds yet another boost to its heart-healthy reputation and helps guard against brain and spinal-cord-related birth defects such as spina bifida.

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The squash’s tangerine hue, however, indicates butternut’s most noteworthy health perk. The color signals an abundance of powerhouse nutrients known as carotenoids, shown to protect against heart disease. And, as if that weren’t enough, butternut squash may have anti-inflammatory effects because of its high antioxidant content. Incorporating more of this hearty winter staple into your diet could help reduce risk of inflammation-related disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Feeling better already…

Although I did it the old fashioned way—with a knife—the reason many folks don’t include Winter squashes in their recipes is because they’re a pain to peel, am I right? Yes, you can buy the pre-peeled and diced variety, which can run you upwards of $7 or more per pound at a local grocery store. Compare that to $1.49/lb for the whole squash variety, and you’ve got a very significant savings—the pre-cubed costs over four times more! Well here’s an easy method to peel a whole squash:

  1. Prick the skin of the squash all over with a fork.
  2. Slice off both ends of the squash.
  3. Microwave the squash for about 3½ minutes. This softens the skin considerably.
  4. Let the squash cool enough to handle, or use a towel to hold it, and simply peel away the skin.
That’s it! The skin falls off with very little pressure after a few minutes in the microwave. And don’t worry about overcooking the squash; those few minutes don’t really affect the flesh. Once you’ve peeled with ease, you can cook the squash however you’d like.

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Whole-Grain Pasta e Fagioli with Butternut Squash and Sage Pesto

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: moderately easy
  • Print

Ingredients

For the soup

  • Fine sea salt
  • 6 oz. whole-grain orecchiette, small shells, or other small pasta
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion (about 1 small)
  • 2-1/2 cups diced (1/2 to 3/4 inch) butternut squash
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh sage
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, preferably homemade
  • 1 15-oz. can borlotti (or cranberry or Roman) beans, rinsed and drained (1-3/4 cups)
  • 1 14-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes with juice, crushed
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the pesto

  • 1 packed cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 to 3 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh sage
  • 1 medium clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, coarsely grated on the large holes of box grater (1/2 cup); more, finely grated, for serving
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed

Directions

Make the soup

  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta according to package directions until not quite al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot over medium heat until shimmering.
  3. Add the onion and 1/4 tsp. salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the squash and stir to coat with the oil.
  4. Add the parsley, sage, garlic, and pepper flakes, if using, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
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  5. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until it is evenly distributed and looks slightly darker, 1 to 2 minutes.
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  6. Add the wine and cook until almost evaporated, about 1 minute.
  7. Add the broth, beans, and tomatoes. Stir well, scraping the bottom of the pot, and simmer until the squash is barely tender, 13 to 15 minutes.
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  8. Add the pasta and continue simmering until the squash and pasta are tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
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Make the pesto and serve

  1. Put the parsley, sage, garlic, and coarsely grated cheese in a food processor. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper and drizzle with the oil.
  2. Pulse until finely chopped, adding more oil if necessary to give it a saucy consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and transfer to a bowl.
  3. Thin the soup with water if desired and add 1/4 tsp. pepper. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.
  4. Divide among soup bowls and spoon 1 to 2 Tbs. pesto on top of each serving. Pass the finely grated cheese at the table.

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By Maria Speck from Fine Cooking

Gooey Goodness

March 17 was upon us and we had company coming for appetizers and drinks before venturing out for dinner. I was hoping to serve some Harp lager, but the store had every, and I mean every, brand but Harp! So our next best choice was some Killian’s Irish Red, to pair with the Classic Reuben Dip. And to scoop up all the gooey goodness, we supplied slices of a chewy marbled rye—a perfect starter to kick off a St. Patty’s Day evening.

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Many folks eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day (even if they’re not Irish.)  Well, the Reuben isn’t Irish at all, so it baffles me why it’s an “Irish” staple on this holiday. As one origin story tells it, Reuben Kulakofsky, a Jewish Lithuanian-born grocer residing in Omaha, Nebraska, was the inventor!

No matter, the corned beef, sauerkraut, and rye bread combination all make it feel like it was meant to be Irish. This dip combines all of those classic flavors and transforms them into a fabulously creamy dip. It’s amazing how so few ingredients can pack such an incredible gastronomic punch. Yes, this is a diet-buster, but a little goes a long way…

“Ithe agus taitneamh a bhaint as” (Eat and enjoy!)

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Classic Reuben Dip

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  •  4 oz. onion & chive flavored cream cheese, softened
  •  1 cup mayonnaise
  •  ⅔ cup prepared Thousand Island or Russian dressing
  • 1 cup sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
  • 8 oz. deli corned beef, chopped
  • 2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1 tsp. fresh chives, chopped
  • Dark bread, such as rye or pumpernickel

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Spritz a 1-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
  3. In a medium-size mixing bowl, use a hand mixer to cream together the softened cream cheese, mayonnaise and salad dressing until thoroughly combined.
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  4. Drain and rinse the sauerkraut then squeeze dry using paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible.
  5. To the creamed mixture add the sauerkraut, chopped corn beef, and 1 ½ cup shredded Swiss cheese. Mix together by hand.
  6. Spread the dip into the baking dish and top with the remaining cheese.
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  7. Place into the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes until bubbly and golden.
  8. Garnish with chopped chives. Serve with rye or pumpernickel bread for dipping, and a hearty Irish lager.

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Nature’s Nibbles

Nothing like a little pressure to light a fire under one’s creativity. What prompted this culinary brainstorm was the end of my Master Gardner class where each student had to give a 5-minute presentation on a subject matter of their choice. I decided to talk about how gardening influences my creative pursuits and how that ties in with my social media venues (including this food blog).

IMG_8912At this point in the presentation I am describing the creation of concrete cast elephant ear bird baths. A step-by-step tutorial, is available on my blog.

IMG_3272For a little “bling” I dusted some of the cookies with colorful sparkly powders.

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What does that have to do with food you ask? Well, I do consider cooking and baking an art form. So my final slide in the presentation hinted at the edible snacks I provided the class later that evening. You know I design decorated sugar cookies for all sorts of occasions, so I thought flowers and butterflies would be an appropriate choice for Master Gardners.

Plus, based on some Internet investigation, I concocted a new Sunflower Truffle candy (recipe below) for those who need their chocolate fix—and for a bit of whimsy on the table. The flowers harden up quite well, but if any of the petals break off, just place the bottom end in some real hot water for a few seconds and “glue” them back to the base.

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Now that took care of the sweet component, but I also wanted to provide a savory nibble or two. So after a little research on Pinterest, I found these wrapped cheese lilies and stuffed grape tomato bites that are just adorable. For stuffing purposes, you can basically use anything you want to. I filled the “tulips” with a roasted garlic and herb cheese spread, and the “calla lilies” with tuna salad and a carrot stick. Both were enhanced with some greens like scallions, parsley and dill.

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My final contribution was the cheese and cracker platter. I ordered extra thick cheddar and French gruyere cheese slices from the deli and cut out shapes using mini cookie cutter flower shapes. They were then topped with a hot cherry pepper circle and placed on Roasted Red Pepper Triscuits.

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Since it’s Springtime, these would be a great addition for any gathering you have coming up. Hint, hint…

Sunflower Truffle Candies

  • Servings: 20-24
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

Ganache

  • 8 oz. dark chocolate (70-72% cocoa)
  • 4 oz. heavy cream

Sunflower Base

  • yellow chocolate melts (green melts optional for leaves)
  • mini cupcake liners
  • 2 piping bags
  • mini cookie scoop or fruit baller
  • chocolate jimmie sprinkles

Petal Directions

  1. Make a batch of ganache (recipe below) and set it in the fridge to firm up.
  2. Separate and slightly flatten the mini cupcake liners.
  3. Melt the yellow and green (if using) chocolates separately, and fill piping bags.
  4. Thinly pipe the bottom of the liners with yellow, filling in any gaps, then, while turning, pipe up the sides to create petals.
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  5. Cool completely until set and peel off the liners.
  6. Scoop out the truffles with the mini scoop and roll them in the sprinkles. You may have to roll the ganache balls in your hands a bit to warm them up and soften the outside slightly.
  7. Place the truffles into the chocolate flower cups.
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Truffle Directions

  1. Heat the cream: Pour the cream into a small saucepan and place it over medium-low heat for a few minutes. Keep an eye on the cream — it’s not necessary to boil or simmer it. It just needs to get hot. The cream is ready when you can place a finger in the cream and keep it there for 3 to 4 seconds. Turn off the flame and remove the cream from the stove.
  2. Chop the chocolate: While the cream is heating, chop the chocolate into fine pieces.
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  3. Add the chocolate: Scoop the chocolate into the cream. Stir gently to distribute the chocolate through the cream and then let it sit for a few minutes to give the chocolate time to soften and melt.
  4. Stir the mixture: With a spatula or wooden spoon, stir the ganache. At first it might look spotty and broken but keep stirring until it comes together in a creamy mass.
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  5. Cool the ganache: Set the pan in the refrigerator so the ganache cools. Remove the pan every 5 minutes or so and stir so that the ganache cools evenly. As the chocolate begins to stiffen, stir it more frequently — it will go from soft to very hard quite suddenly. (If this happens, soften the ganache over gently simmering water, stirring until you’ve reached the right consistency again.)

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Optional:
Using a leaf tip, pipe green leaves. Then “glue” the hardened leaves to the petals with some of the melted green.

A chocolate with a higher cocoa percentage such as 70% will make a rich, not-too-sweet ganache. The chocolate jimmies will add some more sweetness.

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Don’t stop with creating yellow sunflowers only. Think “inside the flower bed” and make Purple Coneflowers, White Daisies, or colorful Osteospermums by swapping out the hue of the chocolate melts. The possibilities are endless, and you don’t even need a green thumb…

I have to give a shout out to fellow soon-to-be-Master Gardner Cindy for her beautiful biscotti basket!

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Some of the class sample the snacks during break time:

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Tre Fratelli

We recently dined at Tre Fratelli (three brothers in Italian-speak), a BYO behind an unassuming storefront in the Summit Square shopping center in Langhorne, right on the border with Newtown. Many years ago we patronized the restaurant with good friends Barb and Brad, but hadn’t given it another thought since then because of the plethora of great Italian restaurants within a ten mile radius.

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But it came back on my radar since I’ve been parking my auto nearby when I carpool with a few other ladies to my Master Gardner class. So I made a res for a Saturday night—again with Barb and Brad—and we were pleasantly surprised over the more modern and tasteful, yet muted grayscale decor. (The front of the house is more casual and caters to take-out and pizzas.)

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Behind Barb and Brad was a large sliding barn door separating the other dining room for hosting private parties.

Tasty pizza and flavorful pasta are the restaurant’s big-ticket items, but we opted for three entrées and a hot sandwich. The main dishes were plentiful (more than enough for an ample doggie bag), and instead of sides of pasta, Russ and I chose their vegetable medley. (Gluten-free options available upon request.) With the entrées came a choice of a garden or Caesar salad, Russ’s favorite if he can get it topped with whole anchovies.

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Veal Parmigiana
, lightly fried and topped with tomato sauce, and baked with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. (Russ)

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Bellagio:
Chicken sautéed with prosciutto in a light plum tomato sauce and baked with aged provolone. (Lynn)
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Domani:
chicken with roasted garlic chicken stock, romano cheese and fresh sautéed spinach. (Barb)
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Steak & Cheese Stromboli 
stuffed with mozzarella cheese and served with a side of sauce. Small and large sizes available. (Brad)
The overall consensus was good, and the sound level was very pleasant allowing for easy conversation. But with all of our other nearby choices, we wouldn’t make this our preferred Italian restaurant. However it’s nice to know it’s there in a pinch.

Sunday with a Chance of Meatballs

Very few foods seamlessly cross cultures, but meatballs are one of them. They can run the gamut from Lebanese kibbe, Syrian kafta, Japanese tsukune and Greek kephtedes to Vietnamese nem nuong. Granted, you may not be familiar with many of them, but I’m pretty sure you’ve tasted an Italian meatball or two in your lifetime. For this recipe Toronto-born and San Francisco-based Chef Christophe Hille raises the bar with his Italian Meatballs with Tomato & White Wine Braise.

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They’re familiar and, most importantly, they taste good—which ultimately translates into a food that never goes out of style. What varies are the other ingredients and how the meatballs are cooked—braised, sautéed, roasted, grilled, boiled or fried. In its most basic form, a meatball starts out with ground meat—pork, beef, veal, lamb or a combination thereof. For binding, a starch, usually bread or breadcrumbs (sometimes potato starch or rice) gets mixed in. Eggs or other liquid contribute moisture; while herbs, spices and cheese add flavor. Here, prosciutto scraps impart a deep flavor.

FYI, contrary to popular belief, in Italy you won’t likely find a dish on the menu called spaghetti and meatballs. While it’s largely known as an Italian dish, spaghetti and meatballs actually didn’t originate there. Sure, Italy has their own version of meatballs called polpettes, but they’re different than what you’ve likely had in the past and are primarily eaten sans spaghetti.

Frugal folk have always made use of the little scraps of meat that were left over from butchering, but weren’t big enough to serve on their own—but could be chopped and extended with a bit of day-​​old bread. The range of variations they’ve concocted could, and probably should, keep us in meatballs for a lifetime. But we’re talking just one meal (with probable leftovers) with this recipe.

Since it takes up most of the afternoon to prep and braise, it’s best to make when you have a block of time, most likely a weekend. For us, it was a recent blustery Sunday. We found the recipe in an old copy of the San Francisco Chronicle insert “In the Kitchen,” gifted to us from our brother-in-law who resides in the Bay Area on the “Left” coast. Simply put, these meatballs were fantastic—a definite two thumbs up!

It’s not likely you’ll be able to purchase packages of ground meat in exactly 10-ounce portions. So do what I did and measure 10 ounces each of the pork and beef, mixing any leftover together and make patties out of them. Then vacuum-seal and put them in the freezer until it’s grilling weather.

IMG_3372Following the original directions, we tried to brown the meatballs in a roasting pan in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Even after adding 6 more minutes, they weren’t very browned, as shown below.
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The original directions have you roast the meatballs in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Next time, we’re skipping that step and will only use one large dutch oven. We’ll brown the meatballs in it first, remove them and make the sauce, scraping up any precious browned bits. Then add the meatballs back into the pot and put in the oven for 2 1/2 hours. We thought it a waste of time to try and brown the meatballs in a separate roasting pan. In fact, I added an extra six minutes in the oven and they still weren’t very browned! Saves you from cleaning an additional pan too. The directions below reflect this time-saver.

Italian Meatballs with Tomato & White-Wine Braise

  • Servings: 40-45 meatballs
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

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MEATBALLS:

  • 10 oz lean ground pork
  • 10 oz lean ground beef
  • 1/4 lb prosciutto, finely chopped in food processor
  • 3 oz parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 1 finely chopped small onion
  • 1 minced clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 lb Italian bread, crusts cut off and discarded, bread processed into crumbs
  • 6 oz ricotta cheese (about 2/3 cup)
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • Oil for greasing pan

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BRAISING SAUCE:

  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1chopped carrot
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3/4 cup dry Italian white wine
  • 4 cups puréed, canned tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 Tbsp coarsely chopped basil
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped oregano leaves
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

  1. For meatballs, add beef, pork and ground prosciutto to large mixing bowl.
  2. Add oregano, salt, fennel and red pepper flakes to bowl.
  3. Stir in onion, garlic, parsley and Parmesan cheese. Use hands to mix.
  4. Chop bread into fine crumbs in food processor.
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  5. Add bread crumbs, ricotta and milk to bowl. Add the eggs, stirring until barely incorporated. Using hands, mix until ingredients are blended. (Do not overwork.)
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  6. Roll into 1-1/2-inch meatballs. (Makes about 40-45.) Place meatballs in large dutch oven to lightly brown, turning as needed to brown on all sides. Remove to bowl and cover.
  7. Preheat oven to 300F. Meanwhile, for braising liquid, heat oil in braising pot on medium heat. Add onion, carrot and bay leaf. Cook until carrot is softened, about 6 minutes.
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  8. Stir in wine, scraping bottom of pan. Stir in tomatoes, stock, basil, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper.
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  9. Turn to medium-high and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 5 minutes.
  10. Pour tomato mixture over meatballs. Cover pot tightly and bake for 2-1/2 hours.
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  11. Let sit 10 minutes before serving. Discard bay leaf.
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  12. Serve over cooked pasta of choice.

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This great bag of pasta shapes was part of a gift box from friends Barb and Brad.

IMG_3408We served ours over garlic lumaconi pasta with a side salad and grated Parmesan cheese.

Gift Yourself

Here’s one for your Top Ten most impressive, braised, company-worthy dishes—but you’d rather keep to yourself. We’d been salivating over the Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks in Pinot Noir recipe ever since Russ came across it on, of all places, All-Clad.com by John Shook and Vinny Dotolo.

It was several weeks before we got around to making it, but we did think ahead and put in an order for 4 lamb shanks with the butcher a week prior to braise day. And we were thrilled with the gorgeous shanks, each weighing about 1-pound and trimmed of excess fat.

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It’s a good idea to prep everything before you start cooking.

While it’s not too complicated to prep, it is a time-intensive process because of the 3-hour braise. Whenever one of the kids is in town for a visit, we try to provide a culinary teaching moment, and this time son David was the lucky recipient of making riced garlic mashed potatoes as one of our sides.

IMG_3213David rices the potatoes while Dad tends to the sauce reduction.

Do not skimp or omit any of the ingredients because all together they lend a wonderful depth of flavor that is brightened by the lemon. And the lamb, when done, is so fork tender the meat just falls off the bones. We paired ours with the mashed potatoes which made perfect vehicles for nesting more sauce.

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Directions indicate that the carrots are optional, but they absorbed all of the flavors and were perfect mouthfuls of yummy goodness, so I say, make sure to include them. And simple steamed asparagus rounded out the meal.

Unfortunately, except for a few potatoes, there were no leftovers. And I’m pretty sure, if we had cooked more shanks, David would have consumed a third! Our weather here in the Northeast is still pretty cold and windy, making a perfect backdrop for a long, slow braise. Don’t miss the opportunity to gift yourself and stretch your culinary know-how…

Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks in Pinot Noir

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: moderately easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 lamb shanks, 3/4 to 1 pound each
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes with liquid
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, fronds and stalks removed, halved, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1 1/2 inch lengths (optional)
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 1/2 cups pinot noir
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 fresh mint leaves

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the lamb with 2 teaspoons of the salt and brown in the hot oil on all sides.
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  3. Remove the lamb to a plate and pour off any excess fat from the pan.
  4. Pour the tomatoes into a large bowl and, using your hands, shred them into small pieces. Set aside.
  5. Add the onions, fennel, carrots (if using), garlic, and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt to the pot. Cook, stirring and scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pot, until the garlic is lightly toasted, 3 to 4 minutes.
    IMG_3204
  6. Squeeze in the lemon juice from each half and toss the lemon rinds into the pot. Stir in the wine, tomatoes and ginger, scraping any browned bits up from the bottom of the pot, and bring to a simmer; cook for about 3 minutes.
    IMG_3205
  7. Stir in the cinnamon, coriander, fennel seeds and ¾ cup water, then add the lamb to the pot. Cover and bake in the oven until the lamb is fork-tender and falls easily off the bone, about 3 hours.
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  8. Arrange the lamb shanks on a platter. Stir the butter into the pan juices and, once melted, add the mint. Pour the sauce over the lamb, discard the cinnamon sticks, and serve.
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    IMG_3216

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In a Hurry for Healthy?

Most working folk I know don’t want to have to worry about spending too much after-work time in the kitchen prepping and cooking a healthy meal. Plus it gets mighty boring serving the same ol’ thang week after week, am I right? It pretty much floats my boat, even as a retiree, when I can assemble a nutrient-rich, colorful and flavorful meal and have it on the table in no more than 30 minutes.

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Enter Seared Tilapia with Spicy Orange Salsa. Don’t care for tilapia? This zippy salsa is delicious with just about any type of fish or shellfish, including halibut, shrimp, and scallops. Serendipitously, we had some tilapia fillets in the freezer so they fit the bill for a Meatless Monday menu. I only cooked two fish fillets but was going to make the entire batch of salsa. But once I prepped two of the oranges, I knew it would be plenty—plus any extra wouldn’t hold up well if I tried saving it.

If you don’t want too much spicy heat, don’t use the entire chile. The recipe indicates to use the chile seeds although I think for many people, that would be overpowering. Even though we prefer spicy food, I decided to remove the jalapeño seeds and the salsa was plenty spicy without overwhelming.

The most labor-intensive aspect of the recipe is prepping the oranges and getting the individual segments lose from the membranes. If you’re not too adept at that, it may throw you over the 30-minute mark. Another quick time-saver, our side of garlicky sautéed spinach was an auxiliary nutrient booster, taking but mere minutes to prepare.

NOTE: The salsa can be made up to 2 hours ahead. Cover and keep at room temperature.

Seared Tilapia with Spicy Orange Salsa

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 4 medium navel oranges (about 2 lb.)
  • 1/2 cup small-diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 fresh serrano or jalapeño chile, minced (seeds included)
  • 4 5-oz. tilapia fillets
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbs. mild olive oil

Directions

  1. Using a sharp paring knife, cut off the ends of the oranges to expose a circle of flesh.
  2. Stand each orange on an end and pare off the rest of the peel, including all the white pith, in strips, following the curve of the orange.
    IMG_3074
  3. Working over a medium bowl, carefully cut on both sides of each orange segment to free it from the membranes. Then squeeze the membranes over the bowl to collect any remaining juice. Cut the segments crosswise into 4 pieces and return to the bowl.
  4. Add the onion, cilantro, lime juice, cumin, and 1 tsp. salt and gently stir to combine. Add enough of the chile to suit your taste and stir. Let stand at room temperature for at least 10 minutes to meld the flavors.
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  5. Pat the fish dry and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Heat the oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Cook 2 of the fillets, flipping once, until browned and just cooked through, 1-1/2 to 2 minutes per side.
    IMG_3080
  7. Transfer to dinner plates. Repeat with the remaining fillets. Using a slotted spoon to drain excess juice, top the fish with the salsa and serve.

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By Shelley Wiseman from Fine Cooking

Make Seafood Stock in Mere Minutes

Making seafood stock is similar to making chicken stock; it takes time and attention, but the final result makes it well worth the effort. However, if you have a pressure cooker, the actual cooking time is only 5 minutes as compared to hours using the conventional stovetop method.

Here’s a quick way to make your own shellfish stock with the shells from crabs, shrimp, and lobster. Over the course of time, start stockpiling the shells in ziploc bags and freeze them until you have enough. It’s not above us to ask our waiters to bag up our crab and lobster shells when dining out for this very reason. You can also use mollusk shells, fish heads and bones.

Currently we have a stash of chicken, beef, ham, and now shellfish stock in our freezer. For storing purposes we reuse quart-size yogurt containers for 4-cup measures, and large ice cube trays for smaller amounts. These come in real handy when a recipe calls for lesser amounts such as a half cup or a few tablespoons of broth.

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Seafood Stock in Pressure Cooker

  • Servings: 4 quarts
  • Difficulty: moderately easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 6 cups shellfish shells, from shrimp, lobster, and/or crab
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 16 oz. clam juice
  • 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • Several sprigs parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10-15 whole peppercorns
  • 2 tsp. salt

Directions

  1. Place shells on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast at 400°F for 10 minutes.
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  2. Sauté the onion, celery and garlic on medium-high heat in your pressure cooker until lightly caramelized, about 7 minutes.
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  3. Add the wine and deglaze pan, cook until most of wine is evaporated.
  4. Add clam juice and tomato paste and stir together. Then add herbs, peppercorns and shells. If there is any frond on the baking sheet, mix with a little water and pour into pot. Fill pot with water to 1-inch above shells, (which will float to the top.)
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  5. Cover your pressure cooker and cook on high for 5 minutes. Use the natural release method for about 15 minutes.
  6. Put a colander into a large bowl and pour the contents into it. Using a large spoon, press the solids to release as much of the liquid as possible.
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  7. Ladle through a fine mesh hand strainer into 4-cup containers with lids, and/or into large ice cube trays for smaller servings.
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  8. Cool, and freeze what you won’t be using in the next few days.

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Hearty, Meatless Meal

The combination of lentils, chickpeas, and pasta makes this a filling main-course soup. The robust spices, herbs, and lemon juice deliver big flavor despite the lack of meat in the dish. If you only know lentil soup as a plain and rather homogeneous dish, prepare to be wowed by the Moroccan version known as harira. We sure were!

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Found in our latest Cook’s Illustrated magazine, this Moroccan Lentil and Chickpea Soup is native to the Maghreb region of North Africa. It is full of warm spices and fresh herbs, which play more than just a supporting role, and tastes more like an Italian minestrone. Like countless other regional dishes, harira’s exact ingredients vary from region to region and even from family to family.

This recipe carefully streamlines the ingredient list and technique of this classic Moroccan soup to deliver all the bold North African flavors you’d expect from harira in just a fraction of the time. Using canned chickpeas rather than dried saves about 2 hours of cooking time, and paring down the number of spices to a key five make it a dish most people can prepare without a special trip to the market. Using large amounts of just two herbs makes for quicker prep and a more efficient use of fresh ingredients. Finishing the dish with fresh lemon juice helps focus all the flavors.

IMG_3189The Swiss chard was gorgeous, and even though the original recipe didn’t call for it, we chopped up the stems and included them int the soup.
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Based on several reviewer’s comments, Russ increased most of the spices by 50% and added salt when cooking the chopped onion, celery and Swiss chard stems. These are noted in the list of ingredients below. When it was done we both had to have a small bowl and we were impressed with how tasty it was!

IMG_3190We didn’t have enough brown lentils so we added French green lentils to equal one cup.

For a vegetarian version, substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth and water. You can also garnish this soup with a small amount of harissa, a fiery North African chili paste, which is available at some supermarkets.

Moroccan Lentil and Chickpea Soup

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped fine
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped fine
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 3 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 3 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1 cup brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup orzo
  • 4 ounces Swiss chard, stemmed and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • Lemon wedges

Directions

  1. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, celery and Swiss chard stem pieces and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and starting to brown, 7 to 8 minutes.
  2. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and ginger, and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Stir in coriander, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, and pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Stir in ½ cup cilantro and ¼ cup parsley and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add in broth, water, chickpeas, and lentils; increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and gently simmer until lentils are just tender, about 20 minutes.
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  5. Stir in tomatoes and pasta and simmer, partially covered, for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add chard and continue to cook, partially covered, until pasta is tender, about 5 minutes longer.
  7. Off heat, stir in lemon juice, remaining ¼ cup cilantro, and remaining ¼ cup parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing lemon wedges separately.

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You Totally Can Nail this at Home

Oh baby, are you in for a treat! Clear your calendar for one day some weekend soon because this sumptuous Pork Shoulder Braciola with Ragù could be luxuriating in a gentle simmer all afternoon filling your home with tantalizing aromas. And it wouldn’t be right to cook an herby parmesan-stuffed pork shoulder roast recipe without making a Sunday gravy in the same pot to soak up every stray bit of flavor. Don’t fret, this embarrases that jarred “Ragù” that many of us grew up on.

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We originally started with a recipe from Bon Appétit but then merged it with some aspects from a Giada De Laurentis ragù. We thought her sauce would add more depth of flavor with additional ingredients. Our recipe below incorporates all of those changes.

Off to a dubious beginning, our supermarket didn’t have any boneless shoulder. Not to be deterred, we got the butcher to remove the bone (at no extra cost), and he packaged it with the now boneless meat. Which turned the bad start into a positive because we added it to the Dutch oven so all of that yummy goodness got cooked into the red gravy.

I mentioned the heady aromas which were making my stomach growl in anticipation for hours, but poor Russ had a head cold and couldn’t smell anything. He kept asking me if it smelled good—luckily he was able to taste because the meal was DELICIOUS!

Although not necessary, you may want to serve with crusty bread to mop up the fabulous sauce. We served ours with a small side salad for an uptick in our daily intake of greens and veggies. Go ahead, you can totally nail this recipe some lazy, stay-at-home afternoon…

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Pork Shoulder Braciola with Ragu

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 4-lb. piece skinless, boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt)
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten to blend
  • 1 head of garlic, cloves separated, half finely chopped, half thinly sliced
  • ½ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • ⅓ cup chopped parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped rosemary
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, plus extra for the ragù
  • 3 oz. Parmesan, coarsely grated, plus finely grated for serving
  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 3″ Parmesan rind
  • 2 28-oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes, gently mashed with the juices
  • 1 lb. pasta (any shape)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300°. Place pork shoulder, fat side down, on a cutting board with a short end facing you. Holding a long, sharp knife about 1″ above cutting board, make a shallow cut along the entire length of a long side of roast. Continue cutting deeper into the roast, lifting and unfurling meat with your free hand, until it lies flat (be careful not to cut all the way through). Season generously on both sides with salt.
  2. Mix eggs, chopped garlic, panko, parsley, rosemary, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and 3 ounces Parmesan in a medium bowl. Keeping fattier side of pork shoulder facing downward, smear filling all over top side. Roll up roast and tie closed in 3–4 places with kitchen twine.
  3. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high. Sear pork roast until browned all over, 10–12 minutes total.
  4. Once all of the pork has been browned, reduce the heat to medium. Add the onions and the remaining 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring and scraping up any browned bits.
  5. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes. Deglaze with the white wine and cook until reduced to nearly dry, about 6 minutes.
  6. Add the crushed tomatoes, Parmesan rind, chile flakes and the herb bundle and bring to a simmer. Return the pork to the pot.
  7. Make sure roast is turned fat side up (if there is one), cover pot, and transfer to oven. Roast until a skewer easily passes through meat (a thermometer inserted into the center should register 200–205°), 3-3 1/2 hours.
  8. Remove meat from pot onto platter, cover with foil, and let rest for 30 minutes.
  9. Transfer pork roast to a cutting board and remove kitchen twine. Slice pork 1″ thick.
  10. Simmer sauce gently to thicken, if desired. Taste ragù and season with salt if needed.
  11. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente; drain.
  12. Spoon pasta into a serving dish and top with some ragù; toss to coat. Sprinkle with finely grated Parmesan. Transfer pork to a platter; spoon remaining ragù over.

NOTE: Pork can be stuffed and rolled 2 days before roasting; cover and chill. Pork can also be roasted 3 days ahead; let cool, then cover and chill. Reheat gently in sauce before serving.

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Step-By-Step Pictorial

IMG_3026Finely chop half of the garlic and thinly slice the other half.

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Mix eggs, chopped garlic, panko, parsley, rosemary, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and 3 ounces Parmesan in a medium bowl.

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Cut deep into the roast, lifting and unfurling meat with your free hand, until it lies flat (be careful not to cut all the way through).

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Smear filling all over inside. Roll up roast.

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Tie closed in 3–4 places with kitchen twine.

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Sear on all sides to brown for about 12 minutes total.

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Hand crush the canned tomatoes, leaving some good sized chunks.

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Cook the onions for about 8 minutes, stirring and scraping up any browned bits.

IMG_3045Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes. Deglaze with the white wine and cook until reduced to nearly dry.

IMG_3046Add the crushed tomatoes, Parmesan rind, chile flakes and the herb bundle and bring to a simmer. 

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Return the pork (and bone) to the pot.

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Roast until a skewer easily passes through meat, about 3 to 3 1/2 hours. 

IMG_3052Remove meat from pot, cover with foil, and let rest for 30 minutes.

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Remove bay leaves, parmesan rinds and herb bouquet. Gently reduce the sauce for about 15 minutes to thicken slightly.

IMG_3060After resting, transfer pork roast to a cutting board and remove kitchen twine. Slice pork 1″ thick.

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Transfer sliced pork to a platter; spoon some ragù over meat.

IMG_3070Spoon pasta into a serving dish and top with some ragù; toss to coat. Sprinkle with finely grated Parmesan. Plate individual servings with some pasta, sliced meat, additional ragù and more grated parm if desired. 

Zip-A-Dee Soup-Da

Need dinner in a pinch? Colorful and comforting, this stew-like Speedy Sausage and White Bean Soup satisfies, and in quick fashion. There’s a lot of rosemary in the dish, but it doesn’t overwhelm—the sausage and hearty vegetables can more than handle it. Combined with our homemade chicken stock, this soup was definitely something to write home about!

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To bump up the health factor, increase the amount of kale and beans and reduce the sausage to a 1/2 pound; and/or substitute turkey sausage. Our changes included using cannellini beans (as oppposed to the Great Northern) and a double-dose of curly kale. BTW, all beans are considered low GI, but with a GI score of 31, cannellini beans are clearly one of the least glycemic beans, and this low GI rating is responsible for many of the health benefits of said bean. What’s more, foods with a low glycemic score can help you shed off pounds, especially around the waist… I’m listening…

White Bean 101: Cannellini, Great Northern and Navy are three popular types of white beans. What’s the difference between them you ask?

Cannellini beans are large and have that traditional kidney shape. With a slightly nutty taste and mild earthiness, they have a relatively thin skin and tender, creamy flesh. They hold their shape well and are one of the best white beans for salads and ragouts.

Great Northern beans are smaller than cannellinis and and suitable for any number of uses: salads, soups, stews, ragouts, purees. Their texture is slightly grainy, with a nutty, dense flavor. Popular in North America, Great Northerns look like white baby lima beans.

Navy beans are small and oval and cook relatively quickly. Known as Boston beans, the white coco, pea beans or alubias chicas, Navy beans are perfect for dishes that don’t need the full bean shape to shine: purees, soups, stews and baked beans.

Now that you are a white bean connoisseur, go ahead and use them interchangeably in future recipes—or this one for starters…

NOTE: If your grocery store does not carry bulk sausage, buy the fat sweet links and remove the casings.

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Speedy Sausage, Tomato and White Bean Soup

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: very easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 lb. bulk sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium russet potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Tbs. minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 15.5-oz. can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 14.5-oz. can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 oz. (or more) curly kale, tough stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped (about 2-4 packed cups)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, for serving
  • Crusty bread (optional)

Directions

  1. In a 5- to 6-quart dutch oven or similar heavy-duty pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up, until just cooked through, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
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  3. Add the onion, carrot, and potato to the pot, lower the heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
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  4. Add the garlic and rosemary, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans, tomatoes, and stock, bring to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes, skimming as needed.
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  5. Add the kale and reserved sausage, and simmer for 5 minutes.
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  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with the cheese and with crusty bread, if you like.

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By Christine Burns Rudalevige from Fine Cooking

Chicken and Sparerib Stew Redux

Nearly 2 1/2 years ago we made Chicken and Sparerib Stew from one of our most admired Spanish chefs, Penelope Casas, and we were both a bit disappointed. What we realized—after the fact—was that the spareribs had freezer burn and thus produced the off-putting taste. (Of course, not sure why we didn’t realize that before cooking?!)

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It took us this long to get the courage to try the recipe again, even though everything else we’ve ever cooked from her cookbook, La Cocina de Mamá, was more than memorable. Sometimes you just have to get back on the horse, you know what I mean?

IMG_2319It’s obvious that we like Penelope’s recipes as half the cookbook is tagged!

Penelope’s cookbook often directs you to cut up meat and poultry into many small pieces because the marrow is locked deep within the bones and can’t be extracted efficiently unless the bones are cracked or sawed in half. Russ also theorizes that they use to do so as a means to expand the meal to feed more people. Historically, Spain was a poor country and as Penelope collected her recipes from family, friends, acquaintances and centuries-old cookbooks, she was amazed how home cooks so brilliantly coaxed flavor from the simplest foods.

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Russ begins hacking the whole chicken into pieces.

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After setting aside the edible pieces, the unused chicken parts are added to our “body Bag” in the freezer for later use in making stock.

IMG_2327If possible, buy the 4-ounce piece of pancetta in one thick slab to cut down into 3/4″ chunks.

As before, the quota of carrots, peas and potatoes didn’t seem generous enough so we increased the amount of each by 50%. And the small additions of saffron and cumin give the Guiso Caldoso de Aldea Antiguo stew a haunting flavor.

Chicken and Sparerib Stew

  • Servings: 5-6
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. pork spareribs or baby back ribs, hacked into 2″ pieces, fat trimmed
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • One 3-4 lb. chicken
  • 1/4 lb. pancetta, cut into 3/4″ slices, then into 3/4″ cubes
  • 1 med. carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 Tbsp. minced parsely
  • 1/2-lb. small new potatoes, about 2″ in diameter, halved
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin, preferably fresh ground
  • 1/8 tsp. crumbled saffron threads

Directions

  1. In a shallow casserole, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and sauté the pork ribs until browned, sprinkling with salt and pepper as they cook. Stir in the broth and 1/3 cup water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 1 hour (this can be done in advance.)
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  2. Meanwhile cut the chicken into small serving pieces. Detach the wings and legs, and divide each wing into two parts.
  3. With kitchen shears, divide the breast and each thigh into four pieces. Sprinkle with salt and let sit at room temperature.
  4. Remove the ribs to a warm platter and measure the broth to 1 1/2 cups, adding water if there is less. Skim off the fat that rises to the surface. Reserve the ribs and broth and wipe out the casserole.
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  5. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the casserole and brown the chicken and pancetta, turning once.
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  6. Add the carrot, garlic, onion, and parsley and sauté until the vegetables are softened.
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  7. Add the reserved ribs and broth and the potatoes to the casserole. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes.
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  8. Stir in the peas, cumin, saffron, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and continue cooking for 15 minutes more. Serve.
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Diane with her 24-Carrot-Gold

It was a dead heat as to whether the main entrée, Steak Diane, or our accompaniment, Roasted Carrots with Blood Orange and Rosemary, should take top billing. This version of Steak Diane, classically made with filet mignon, uses a more reasonably-priced flank steak. The beefier profile of the cut holds its own against a daring sauce that highlights cognac, sherry, Worcestershire sauce, and flavorful herbs—no complaints here!

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Our “24-Carrot-Gold” side dish, were a perfect “10”. Roasting the slender veggies whole gives this easy sidekick a dressy feel—as does using blood oranges (regular ones work too, but lack the pizazz.) And that final embellishment of a maple syrup drizzle halfway through roasting, renders a wonderful caramelization to the underside that takes the root veggies to a higher level, guaranteeing a spot in your top ten accompaniments of all time. (Make sure to buy the young tender carrots with the greens still intact.)

As far as the instructions, we did not change a thing for either dish, nor did we a year ago when we made the steak and carrots the first time, so it’s a safe bet to follow the recipes as written—an ideal dinner for two: romantically luxurious and indulgent. I mentioned back then, that Valentines was around the corner, it already came and went this year, but doesn’t mean you have to wait until next year to treat yourself…

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Steak Diane

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 1-1/2-lb. flank steak
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. peanut or vegetable oil
  • 3 Tbs. finely chopped shallot
  • 3 Tbs. medium sherry, such as amontillado
  • 2 Tbs. Cognac
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tbs. lower-salt chicken broth
  • 2 oz. (4 Tbs.) cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • 3 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice, more to taste

Directions

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Pat the steak dry and season generously with salt and pepper. In an ovenproof heavy-duty 12-inch skillet (preferably cast iron), heat the oil over high heat until shimmering hot, about 2 minutes. Brown the steak on both sides, about 4 minutes total.
    IMG_2592
  3. Transfer the skillet to the oven and continue to cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat reads 135°F, about 5 minutes.
  4. Transfer the steak to a platter, cover loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, pour off the fat in the skillet (be careful of the hot handle). Set the skillet over medium heat, add the shallot, sherry, Cognac, and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula to release any browned bits, until the sauce is reduced by half, 2 to 3 minutes.
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  6. Lower the heat to low, add the chicken broth, butter, chives, and parsley and whisk, swirling the pan occasionally, to emulsify the butter; the sauce should look creamy. Remove from the heat, whisk in the lemon juice and season to taste with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice.
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  7. Cut the steak in half with the grain, then slice the meat on the diagonal across the grain into 1/8-inch slices. Serve with the sauce.

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Roasted Carrots with Blood Orange and Rosemary

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Roasted Carrots with Blood Orange and Rosemary

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 lb. slender carrots, peeled and trimmed, leaving an inch of greens at the top if possible
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 medium blood orange or regular orange; zest finely grated and juice squeezed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 Tbs. fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 Tbs. pure maple syrup

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Arrange the carrots in a single layer on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, mustard, and orange zest. Pour over the carrots and toss to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper.
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  3. Pour the orange juice around the carrots. Top with the rosemary. Cover tightly with foil and roast until the carrots are nearly tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
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  4. Uncover, drizzle with the maple syrup, and roast, uncovered, until tender and beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes more. Gently toss, season to taste with salt, and serve.

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Steak recipe by Arlene Jacobs; carrot recipe by Laraine Perri, both from the Fine Cooking “Make It Tonight” series. 

Makin’ a Moqueca

A new one on me, a Brazilian moqueca (pronounced “mo-KEH-kah”) is a fish stew made with firm white fish, onions, garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, and coconut milk. While thumbing through our latest edition of Cook’s Illustrated, the moqueca recipe for Brazilian Shrimp and Fish Stew drew my attention. Doesn’t it seem like every culture with a coastline has their own version of a seafood stew? The French have bouillabaise, the Portuguese bacalhoada (haven’t tried this one either), New England chowder, Southern gumbo and San Francisco cioppino.

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As exotic as it sounds, it’s easy and you probably have most of the ingredients already in your pantry—although you’ll want to get fresh fish. Including prep, the total time involved is less than an hour, so you could even consider making it on a weekday. The combination of rich coconut milk, briny seafood, bright citrus, and savory vegetables produces a broth that’s full-bodied, lush, and vibrant—a particularly complex concoction compared with stews based solely on dairy, tomatoes, or broth.

Well we were ready for a bright, fresh, and filling version of a traditional Brazilian seafood stew. Here, cod and shrimp make for a nice balance of flavor and texture, and both are easy to find. To balance the richness and sweetness of the coconut milk with the bright, fresh flavor of the aromatics, blend the onion, the tomatoes, and a portion of the cilantro in the food processor until you have the texture of a slightly chunky salsa, which adds body to the stew.

The key here is to gently and evenly cook the delicate fish and shrimp by bringing the stew to a full boil, and then add the seafood and remove the pot from the heat. Letting food cook in residual heat provides insurance against overcooking. To finish our moqueca, we added more cilantro and a couple of tablespoons of homemade pepper sauce, which elevated the stew with its bright, vinegary tang.

An enameled cast iron pot such as a braiser works best because they are fabulous for retaining heat, a critical factor when cooking the seafood—which BTW, came out perfectly. A braiser is a wide, heavy bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid. It has shallow sides that are usually sloped, and the domed lid continuously circulates steam to lock in moisture and flavor.

Serve with rice or with crusty bread.

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Brazilian Shrimp and Fish Stew

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

Pepper Sauce

  • 4 pickled hot cherry pepper (3 ounces)
  • ½ onion, chopped coarse
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ⅛ teaspoon sugar
  • Salt

Stew

  • 1 pound large shrimp (26 to 30 per pound), peeled, deveined, and tails removed
  • 1 pound skinless cod fillets (¾ to 1 inch thick), cut into 1½-inch pieces
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 onion, chopped coarse
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
  • ¾ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice

Directions

IMG_2952FOR THE PEPPER SAUCE: 

  1. Process all ingredients in a food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Season with salt to taste and transfer to separate bowl. Rinse out processor bowl.

FOR THE STEW: 

  1. Toss shrimp and cod with garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in bowl. Set aside.
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  2. Process onion, tomatoes and their juice, and ¼ cup cilantro in food processor until finely chopped and mixture has texture of pureed salsa, about 30 seconds.
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  3. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add red and green bell peppers and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.
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  4. Add onion-tomato mixture and ½ teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until puree has reduced and thickened slightly, 3 to 5 minutes (pot should not be dry).
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  5. Increase heat to high, stir in coconut milk, and bring to boil (mixture should be bubbling across entire surface).
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  6. Add seafood mixture and lime juice and stir to evenly distribute seafood, making sure all pieces are submerged in liquid. Cover pot and remove from heat. Let stand until shrimp and cod are opaque and just cooked through, 15 minutes.
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  7. Gently stir in 2 tablespoons pepper sauce and remaining ½ cup cilantro, being careful not to break up cod too much. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing remaining pepper sauce separately.
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