Sunday, September 18, 2016

Peanut Butter Cake

  Some years ago I was involved in an online food group that put together a cookbook in an effort to raise money for cancer treatments for one of our members.  A member from Canada, Dave, submitted this recipe for peanut butter cake.  As the saying goes, "it was love at first bite."  In addition, it was also the answer to a problem which plagued me and other members of our family.  What to make for my sister-in-law who couldn't eat chocolate but who loved peanut butter beyond words?
  This is always a hit and the icing on the cake is...well, the icing on the cake, a peanut butter butter cream frosting that will guarantee a clean-licked bowl and set of beaters to match.
  Enjoy this foolproof cake and the accolades that are sure to follow.

Peanut Butter Cake

1/2 cup butter (room temp)
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs (room temp)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cold water

Preheat oven to 350°F
Butter and flour a bundt or tube pan.
In a stand mixer, cream butter, peanut butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add eggs one at a time mixing well and scraping down sides of bowl when needed.
Stir in vanilla.
Sift together flour, soda and salt.
Add to cream mixture alternatively with water beginning and ending with flour.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45-55 min. or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Cool for 10 minutes on a rack and then remove from pan and cool completely.
Frost with Peanut Butter Frosting below.

Peanut Butter Butter Cream Frosting

1/4 cup butter (room temp)
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons whole milk

Cream butter with peanut butter and add vanilla.
Add sugar alternatively with milk until light and fluffy.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Oxtails Viccinara Style

  Several weeks ago while in Rome, my companion and I were fortunate enough to happen upon a restaurant that featured several classic quinto quarto (or "fifth quarter") dishes.  This expression, quinto quarto, refers to the parts of the animal that, at one time, were discarded in favor of the better cuts.  They include the liver, heart, thymus glands etc..
I ordered the oxtails which came with a plateful of moist towelettes because at some point, a mere knife and fork will not do the job and you have to eat these messy morsels with your fingers.  (It's worth the less-than-delicate-dining, believe me!)
  Looking around for a recipe for this popular item was a breeze.  However, I decided to combine what I considered to be the best of the three that I looked at which included one by The Queen of Italian Cuisine, the late Marcella Hazan,
another from The New York Times and, finally, a recipe from a book I recently picked up about Roman cooking called Tasting Rome by Parla and Gill.  Borrowing from each one, I came up with a pretty decent recipe which made enough sauce to dress a pound of pasta as well.

Oxtails Viccinara Style

3 pounds oxtails
Kosher salt
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
Handful of parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup chopped guanciale or pancetta
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups white wine
1-14oz can tomatoes, crushed with your hands in a bowl
Salt and pepper
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 heaping tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

  The day before, sprinkle the oxtails with kosher salt, put them in a zip lock bag and store in the refrigerator.
  The next day: Put the oil, carrot, onion, parsley, garlic and guanciale in a large dutch oven or pot and saute until soft.  Turn up the heat and add the oxtails, browning them well on all sides.  If necessary, do them in batches.  Remove and set aside.
  Add the tomato paste and cook it, stirring, until it becomes a deep brick red.
Add the the white wine and let it bubble for about 30 seconds, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen the bits that may have become stuck.
  Return the oxtails to the pan along with the tomatoes, cloves and cinnamon and enough water to cover. Stir turning all the ingredients over several time.  Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and cover the pot letting the contents simmer lightly and cook for two hours.  Stir every half hour or so adding more water if needed.
  At the end of the two hours, add the celery and cook another hour.  Finally, stir in the cocoa powder and simmer for several minutes more.
  If you like, use some of the sauce to dress pasta for a first course serving the oxtails separately on a platter.  I would suggest a short fat cut such as rigatoni that can hold a thick sauce.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Spaghetti Puttanesca

There are several stories as to the origin of Spaghetti Puttanesca (whore's spaghetti).  But I think the one I like the best is the one which states that the street walkers needed something quick and satisfying between clients.  And this is certainly that!  Quick and satisfying, that is! (You don't need to be a member of the world's oldest profession to make and enjoy this classic!)
There are also various versions of the recipe.  Some call for oregano and others don't.  The only herb I add to mine is fresh flat-leaf parsley.  But add whatever you like.

Spaghetti Puttanesca

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 anchovy fillets, chopped
2 dried Calabrian chilies, chopped. (or to taste) Or dried chili flakes.
1 28-oz can of San Marzano tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons capers
1/2 cup kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
Handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
One pound of spaghetti

Put olive oil, garlic and anchovies in a skillet and cook stirring until the anchovies melt into the oil using the back of a wooden spoon.
Add chilies and cook briefly.  Add the tomatoes, capers and olives and simmer for about 25 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water until very al dente.
Remove and add to skillet with sauce reserving the water in which you cooked the pasta.  Cook, adding pasta water as needed, until the spaghetti is al dente.
Add parsley and stir, turning all the ingredients over several times until everything is well combined.
Serve immediately with either Parmigiano  Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Semolina Bread

Based on a recipe by Mary Ann Esposito in her book, Ciao Italia, this bread is as delicious as it is mammouth!  And although it doesn't keep it's moisture well after the first few days, it makes excellent toast or is great for making toasted sandwiches.
  To achieve a nice crust, place a pan in the lower rack of the oven and use either a baking stone or baking steel or cast iron pizza pan.  These make all the difference in the world.  In addition, I use parchment paper instead of corn meal, a trick I learned from chef and cookbook author, Suvir Saran.  

Semolina Bread

1 1/2 cups semolina flour
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 package instant yeast
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
About 2 cups of lukewarm water.  

Whisk together the dry ingredients.  Add one cup of the water and the olive oil and mix.  Keep adding water just until you get all the flour wet but not saturated. (You may not need the entire two cups.)
Scrape onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough in soft and elastic, dusting the surface with a little more flour as needed if the dough is sticking.
Oil a bowl large enough to hold twice the amount of dough and place the dough inside the bowl turning it once to oil both sides.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.
Once the dough has doubled, punch it down, form it into a loaf and place it on a peel that has been covered with parchment paper.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for about 45 minutes.
While the dough is rising, place a baking pan on the bottom rack of the oven and a baking stone or other baking heat condusive object on the rack above.
Preheat the oven to 425° F.
When the loaf has risen, make a few slashes on the top with a very sharp nice or razor blade and slip it onto the baking stone.
Pour a cup of hot water from the tap into the baking pan on the bottom rack and immediately close the oven door.
Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.  Remove to a rack to cool

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Bamboo Shoots

I had almost forgotten about this recipe until I was looking at some old Instagram pics the other day and then not only rememebered the dish but also how good it tasted.
Having thawed out some chicken thighs the other day, I decided to again make this Malay-Chinese dish based on a recipe in the book Southeast Asian Food by Rosemary Brissenden.  Even though I've made a few changes, the recipe is basically the same.
  In her book, Brissenden calls for dark soy sauce.  In its stead I use kecap manis, a sweet soy sauce also known as Javanese soy sauce. If you find it needs more seasoning, you can add a little regular soy sauce.  I prefer using Pear River Bridge light soy sauce but any good quality soy sauce will do.

Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Bamboo Shoots

8 dried shitakke mushrooms, soaked and stems removed and chopped into large pieces
1 pound boned chicken thighs cut into 3-inch pieces
Unbleached all-purpose flour spead on a plate
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 thin slices of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
1 8-oz can bamboo shoots, drained
2 tablespoons Javanese soy sauce (kecap manis)
1/2 teaspoon sugar (or to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large pot.  Dredge chicken pieces in flour and fry in the hot oil until browned on all sides.  Removed and reserve.
Fry the garlic and ginger  (adding more oil if needed) until golden.  Add the mushrooms and fry a few minutes.  Add the reserved chicken and bamboo shoots and turn everything over several time to combine.  Add enough water to just cover along with the remaining ingredients.  Cook stirring from time to time until the chicken is cooked through and a gravy is formed.  Season with regular soy sauce if needed and served with steamed jasmine rice.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Chickpea and pasta Soup

As I type this it is -13°C and the snow has drifted into mountains which I don't feel like shoveling today.
In other words, it is soup weather and I can't think of one much heartier (and heathier) than this gem that I learned to make from a dear friend from Sicily.
  The surprize flavor in this soup is rosemary.  I'm lucky enough to have a plant that has survived inside.  But dried will certainly work too.
  My pasta of choice would generally be ditalini, but has you can see I had to settle for something much smaller.  But use whatever soup pasta you like as well as the chili flakes, which I omitted this time.

Chickpea and Pasta Soup

1/2 pound dried chickpeas
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 sprig of rosemary, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
3 medium roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Chili flakes (optional)
150 grams soup pasta of your choice
Parmesan cheese, grated

Soak chickpeas in water in the refrigerator overnight.  Next day, drain, rinse and put in a pot covering with several inches of water.  Simmer until just done, add salt to taste and simmer until finished.
Drain and reserve the water in which they were cooked.
In a pot large enough to contain all the ingredients, heat olive oil and gently saute rosemary just until fragrant.
Add onions and garlic and saute until golden.
Add chopped tomatoes and cook for a few minutes turning all the ingredients over from time to time until everything is mixed well.
Add cooked chickpeas, four cups of the water in which they were cooked and the seasonings.
Simmer for about 20 minutes and then remove half the soup and put through a food mill or puree in a food processor.
Return to pot along with the pasta and simmer, stirring to avoid sticking, until pasta is done adding more liquid if needed.
Correct for seasoning and let rest a few minutes.
Serve in individual bowls and top with raw olive oil and the grated parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Empadinhas de Palmito

I will never forget my first encounter with palmito (hearts of palm).  It was during my first trip to Brasilia where my dear friend, Erik (who was also my very first Brazilian friend) took me to what he claimed was the best place in the city of Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, to get a pastel, a fried pastry that can have any number of fillings.
Having sampled almost every sort of pastel the previous week whilst eating my way through Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais, I decided to try a filling I hadn't yet sampled. That is when I fell in love at first bite with palmito.  A revelation!
  I still haven't learned to make pastéís (the plural of pastel) yet.  But I did learn to make the wonderful little pies, empadinhas (em-pah-jeen-yahs) with the flakiest crust imaginable...  They also come filled with everything you could ever imagine... The most popular kind is a chicken filling which I will try and post on here at a later date.  In the meantime, try these out!
Note:  I use empadinha forms which I purchased in Brazil to make mine but you can also use mini muffin tins.  They work just fine.

Empadinhas de Palmito


600 grams regular unbleached flour
1 tablespoon salt
300 grams unsalted butter, softened
3 large egg yolks
50 ml water


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium roma tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped fine
1 14-oz can hearts of palm, drained well and chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped scallions
1 8-oz tub mascarpone cheese
3 egg yolks, beaten, for brushing on the tops

To make the dough, sift the flour and salt together.  Work the butter into the dough with your fingers.  Beat the yolks into the water, add the mixture to the flour and mix well with your hands.  Divide the dough into two balls and wrap each in plastic and refrigerate for at least 45 min.

To make the filling, saute the onion in olive oil on medium heat until translucent.  Add garlic and saute about 30 seconds.  Add the tomatoes and saute until the oil floats free, about 20 minutes.  Add the hearts of palm and cook for about 10 minutes.  Add seasonings to taste.  Let cool and fold in parsley and scallions.  Set aside.

To assemble, cut strips of dough from the ball and press them into the forms trying to make them somewhat thin.  (Don't even think of trying to roll this dough out like you would regular pie dough.)
Place a spoonful of the filling in each form and top with another spoonful of mascarpone cheese.
To make the lids, put a piece of dough on a cutting board and spread in each direction using your thumb.  Place it over the empadinha and trim the edges with a small sharp knife.  Press the top dough into where the dough in the forms meets the edge.  Brush with egg yolk.
Place the finished forms on a baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes or more depending on the size of your forms.
Remove from the oven and let rest a few minutes before running the blade of a sharp knife around the inside of the edges to release the pies.
Serve warm or let cool to room temperature and store in plastic bags.  Reheat just before serving.