Tuesday, August 30, 2011

That 70's Kitchen

The bag of chips on your left will tip you off that I'll be including the casserole recipe that I gave out for this week's Quick Fix.

But before I get to that, I want to pass on the recipes for the ones for the Blackberry Ice cream and Stuffed Baked Tomatoes.

This has to be in the top ten of my favorite homemade ice creams. I think only strawberry and hazelnut gelato can top it. (OK, lemon granita may be better too, but that's because it brings back some wonderful memories of Sicily.)

It's been over ten years that this recipe first appeared in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. This is so easy to make if you live in an area where wild blackberries are available, this goes together very quickly. I think the biggest chore would be gathering the 2 cups of berries and if you live around here, that would take all of about 5 minutes.

Blackberry Ice Cream

2 cups fresh blackberries
1 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Puree berries in a food processor and force through a fine strainer to remove the seeds.
Add sugar to cream and mix until dissolved. Stir in berry puree and lemon juice.
Freeze in ice cream freezer.

I know that stuffed tomatoes do not logically follow ice cream but who wants to be logical? If I remember, most of the 70's were pretty illogical. But there's nothing illogical or difficult for the recipe for stuffed tomatoes which is based on one from Giada De Lauerntiis. These have been a big hit when I've made them for company. They reheat nicely, too for a little lunch for yourself if you're lucky enough to have any left over.

Stuffed Baked Tomatoes

12 Roma tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds and gelatinous matter removed

1/4 plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, minced

Big pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

3/4 cup Gorgonzola cheese

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Place tomatoes, cut side down, on paper towels to drain for about 5 minutes.

Mix olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl large enough to hold the tomatoes. Marinate th

tomatoes in the mixture for 20 minutes or so turning them every so often.

Remove tomatoes to a baking pan draining off some of the oil back into the bowl.

Mix panko and cheese in a bowl with your fingers and fill cavity of each tomato.

Spoon over some of the marinade mixture over each tomato.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the topping has browned.

I also passed on the recipe for the apple tartlets I made last weekend. These also so together quickly and easily. The hardest part is making the pie dough if you go that route and there are so many good recipes out there that use the food processor that I can't see anyone not at least giving it a try before resorting to the dairy case in the super market. I must warn you that these can be addicting so plan on a few trips to the fridge during the night unless you want to give the rest away.

Apple Tartlets

Dough for a double crust pie
4 cups thinly sliced peeled apples
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375°F

Line 12 standard-size muffin tin cups with the pie dough.
Fill with apple slices.
Mix the rest of the ingredient together and pour in cups to fill.
Bake for 40 minutes. Cool completely on rack before removing.

Finally, I come to the casserole, the recipe of which I gave for the Quick Fix segment at the end of the show. Thinking back, I think that recipes from prepackaged foods may have reached their zenith in the 70's. I may be tempted to give out another one from that period for manicotti made with mayonnaise. Yes, I felt that shudder, too.

I first had this dish in the mid-70's during a trip to Arkansas to attend the funeral of a relative in Arkansas. When there is a death in someone's family, friends and neighbors bring by "covered dishes" to the family. (A covered dish being another name for a casserole, a name that's gone out of usage, I'm afraid, but nonetheless one that takes me back to another time.) The "covered dish" I remember from this trip was one that included chicken and Doritos in a cream sauce. At the time, I (or probably most of us) was not concerned about my intake of processed foods. Nor was I reading labels as I do now. That being said, once won't kill you so give a go!

Mexi-chicken Covered Dish

1 chicken, cooked and boned (that's why we have supermarket rotisserie chickens)
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 can Rotel diced tomatoes (do no substitute regular diced tomatoes)
1 medium onion, diced
1 (6.3 oz) package of Nacho Doritos
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix all ingredients except chicken, Doritos and cheese.

In a casserole, layer Doritos, chicken, soup mixture and cheese. Bake for 30 minutes.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Alpaha & Omega

I wish I had a picture of the cauliflower sformata
to post but for some reason, the last time I made one I didn't think to get a picture. But let me tell you, it is a very inviting comfort food to see as well as to taste. Once you read through the recipe I know you'll agree. Please leave the boring steamed cauliflower behind and give this a taste instead.

Cauliflower Sformata

2 pounds cauliflower
2 tablespoons butter plus more for baking dish
1 cup béchamel (made with 1 tablespoon butter, 1 1/2 tablespoons flour and
one cup of whole milk.)
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 pound boiled ham, julienned
Freshly ground black pepper
Small grating of fresh nutmeg
2/3 plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Wash, trim and break into florets the cauliflower. Cook in salted boiling water until just tender. Drain.

In a skillet saute cauliflower in 2 tablespoons of butter, turning it over a few times until well coated. Remove to a bowl and let cool.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Make béchamel.

Put all but about 4 tablespoons of the béchamel in the bowl with the cauliflower and mix well. Add the beaten eggs, ham, salt, pepper, nutmeg and 2/3 cup of cheese and mix together.

Butter a baking dish and add the cauliflower mixture.

Top with remaining béchamel and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake in upper third of oven for about 30 minutes or until a light crust has formed on the top of the sformato. Cool somewhat before serving.

The final recipe is pictured in this blog. The fried egg is optional but, in my opinion, a nice touch making it perfect for a brunch item as well as a busy weeknight meal. OK, so there is a little work involved and it may not be the perfect Quick Fix but it goes pretty fast and is very satisfying!

Stacked Enchiladas
1 8-oz jar mole paste
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 can pinto beans, heated

Diced onion
Grated cheddar cheese
Corn tortillas
Oil for softening tortillas
Fried eggs (optional)
Sour cream (optional) for garnish
Hot sauce (optional) for garnish

In a saucepan, heat oil from mole jar. Add paste and
mash it to cook. Slowly add chicken stock and stir
with a wooden spoon being careful to get any lumps out by
mashing them against the side of the pan.
Heat some oil in a skillet and briefly fry tortillas just
to soften them.
Place on paper towels to absorb excess oil.

Place a tortilla on a plate and top with some of the beans,
cheese, onion and some sauce. Repeat this procedure
with two more tortillas with each serving containing a stack
of three tortillas. Garnish as desired.

Top with fried egg. (Optional)

Pear Desserts

I remember the first time I made this several years ago. Not only was the presentation with the fanned out pears impressive, but the taste was to die for. It made the rest of the meal (whatever that was) pale in comparison.
Here's a hint: If you want to skip the the poaching step, buy some good canned pears or do as I do and put up your own specifically for this dessert. However you choose to do it, give this wonderful French classic a go.
This is, yet again, one of those desserts that will impress your guest(s)!

Pear Almond Tart

4 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 medium-size ripe but firm pears. (about 1 pound 5 ounces)


1/2 cup powdered (icing) sugar
1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds (toasted)
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups regular flour

Almond Filling
2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds (toasted or alternatively, you may add
1/2 teaspoon of almond extract at the same time the egg is added.)
1 tablespoon regular flour
7 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg

Powdered sugar (icing sugar) (optional)

For pears:
Bring four cups water, sugar and lemon juice to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add pears. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until pears are very tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool pears in syrup. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

For crust:
Pulse powdered sugar, almonds and salt in food processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and blend until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Mix in egg yolk. Add flour. Pulse until dough comes together. Remove, flatten into as disk and chill at lea 3 hours.

For almond filling:

Finely grind almonds and flour in a food processor. Mix in 7 tablespoons sugar, the butter, blending until smooth. Mix in egg. Transfer to a bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375F. Roll out chilled dough on lightly floured surface to a 12-inch round. Lift dough into 9-inch diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Trim to 1/2-inch folding overhand in to make double-thick sides. Pierce crust all over with a fork and freeze for 10 minutes.

Line crust with buttered foil (buttered side down) and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake crust until sides are set, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and beans and bake until crust is golden and bottom is set pressing back any bubbles that may form on the bottom about 10 more minutes. Remove and cool on rack.

Reduce temperature to 350°F. Spread almond filling evenly in the crust. Stem, halve and core pears. Cut each into thin slices crosswise. Gently press each pear half to fan slices but keep slices tightly overlapped. Slide a spatula under pears and arrange atop filling like spokes of a wheel with narrow ends in center.

Bake for about 55 minutes or until a wooden skewer or toothpick comes out clean when tested in the center. Cool on rack and remove. Serve wedges with powdered sugar if desired.

On the other end of the spectrum is the dead easy category. But that does not diminish the beauty of this simple and straightforward dessert. Simple in execution and delicious in taste, this Italian Pear Torte is the perfect everyday dessert on the one hand and still nice enough to serve company for a casual luncheon or afternoon tea.

Italian Pear Torte

2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups regular flour
2 pounds fresh pears
9-inch round cake pan
Butter for greasing pan and dotting cake
1/2 cup dry, unflavored bread crumbs

Place baking rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 375°F
Beat eggs and milk together in a bowl. Add sugar and a tiny pinch of salt and continue beating. Add flour and mix to produce a compact cake batter.

Peel, halve and core pears and cut into thin slices and add to batter distributing evenly.

Generously butter cake pan and sprinkle with bread crumbs tapping out any excess.

Pour batter into prepared pan and level off with a spoon or offset spatula.
Make numerous indentations in the batter with your finger and fill with little pieces of butter.

Bake for 50 minutes or until top has colored lightly.

Loosen from pan after awhile and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Whenever I think of pears my mind goes back to my childhood home in Battle Creek, Michigan where we had an enormous pear tree that towered over me and gave us delicious yellow fruit every summer. Funny, as a kid I did not like apples but I looked forward to the juicy, honey-like flavor of the first pear of the season. And I can still see the jars of preserved pears lined up against the wall in our basement along with the peaches, pickles, tomatoes and whatever else my parents could get to "put up."

When I moved to Sonoma County, it was like coming home again because the property had not one but two pear trees on it and before long I was enjoying that childhood gift of summer. (Funny, after we moved from that house in Battle Creek, I was loathe to actually spend money on pears after having gotten them for free for so many years.) What we did not have when I was a child was the amount of recipes for pears that I have since discovered and so I was so happy to devote last Monday's show to the subject.

My childhood in Battle Creek is not the only memory of pears that connects me to family. More recently, a certain salad started showing up at the Thanksgiving table of my family back in Michigan. I had the pleasure of tasting it when I went back on a visit several years ago and it has become a favorite here in the Left Coast as well. I hope you will try it and enjoy it enough to make it a part of your tradition.

Pear and Blue Cheese Salad

3 pears
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Mixed salad greens
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 recipe candied walnuts or pecans (see below)
1 recipe pear nectar vinaigrette

Half and core pears. Thinly slice and brush with lemon juice.
Fan pears out of salad greens.
Sprinkle with cheese and nuts and drizzle with 3/4 cup of vinaigrette.

For the nuts:
Line a baking sheet with buttered foil.
In a heavy skillet, combine 1/2 cup whole walnuts or pecans, 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons butter. Cook over medium heat shaking skillet occasionally until sugar melts. Do not stir.
Reduce heat to low and cook until sugar starts to caramelize stirring occasionally.
Pour onto prepared baking sheet and cool completely. Break into pieces.

Whisk until emulsified:
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup neutral tasting oil such as canola
1/3 cup pear nectar
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

Pears poached in wine is a classic so I was delightfully taken aback when I found this one for pears poached in Belgian dark beer. Having been to Belgium a few times, this has a special place in my heart as I had some wonderful dishes there which featured cooking with their wonderful beer. One of my favorites remains a recipe for rabbit cooked in beer and prunes that I enjoyed for lunch one winter afternoon.

Pears Poached in Belgian Beer

2 bottles (24 ounces) Belgian Rodenbach beer or strong dark beer
1 cup sugar
4 cinnamon sticks (2-inches each)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 strip (2-inches long) lemon zest
4 lemon slices, white pith and peel removed
2 whole cloves
1/4 cup red currant jelly
4 firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored and halved.

Bring beer and sugar to a boil in a non-reactive saucepan large enough to hold the pears. Reduce the heat and add the cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon, ginger, and lemon zest. Stud 2 of the lemon slices with the cloves and add them to the saucepan with the other lemon slices and the jelly. Simmer, uncovered, over low heat for 20 minutes.

Add the pears and simmer, covered, over medium heat until the pears are soft, 25 to 35 minutes, depending on how ripe the pears are. Turn the pears from time to time to make sure that they color evenly.
Remove the pears with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Reduce the poaching liquid over medium heat by about half or until it thickens to a syrupy consistency. This may take as long as 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Combine the pears with the syrup and refrigerate until ready to serve. You can gild these in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 10 days. Let them come to room temperature before serving. Serve with the following Créme Anglais with Dark Beer. Serves 4 to 8.

Créme Anglais with Dark Beer

1/2 cup Belgian Scaldis beer
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large egg yolks
1 cup light brown sugar
5 tablespoons whipping cream

In a small saucepan, heat the beer over medium heat until it starts to bubble around the sides. (If using a vanilla bean, scrap the seeds into the hot beer.) Turn off heat.

Beat yolks and sugar together with the vanilla extract (if using) until thickened and pale yellow, about 3 or 4 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and then gradually whisk in the beer.

Return the mixture to the saucepan and heat very gently over low heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens slightly. DO NOT LET BOIL! Serve warm or cold.

In the past I have not been a big fan of fruit salsas but with my recent interest in Brazilian cuisine, I've been discovering sweet-savory connection that I used to only relegate to the odd currant thrown into the Sicilian recipe. So when I found the pear salsa recipe I was right away interested. This should accompany seafood. I can a spoonful of this atop a crab cake or some grilled jumbo shrimp.

Pear Salsa

1 1/2 pounds of firm but ripe pears
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh lime juice preferably from Mexican (Key) limes
1 large serrano or jalapeño with seeds, minced
1 teaspoon sugar

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill for several hours before using.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chicken and Apple Crêpes

Here is the promised picture and review of the crêpe recipe I featured on the show last Monday.

They turned out well. The only things I would change are the type of chicken I used and the amount of apples.

If you've listened to me much at all, you'll know that boneless, skinless chicken breasts are not in my top ten on the hit parade of favorite foods.

They have to be treated just right or they are just too dry. I decided to try and roast one today for this recipe. Not what I had been hoping for.

If you must use chicken breast, poach it in some water with a combination of celery, onion, carrots, and thyme until just done. Better yet, use thigh meat. I love the deep taste and the moistness.

The other thing I would change is the amount of apples I used. I put about 3 thin (and I do mean paper-thin) slices in each one when I assembled them. I should have put at least twice as many in. Otherwise, it turned out very well and my dinner guest helped himself to seconds.

Hope you will give this a go. You can make everything in advance and put it together at the last minute. Perfect for entertaining!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Crêpes and Chilaquiles

So what does this picture have to do with apples or a tortilla casserole? Well, nothing. But I promised my friend who took this in Sicily that I would put it up on my blog. Now, can you guess what it is? I will spill the beans in the next few days.

Now, on to the apples!

I wanted to include at least one savory recipe on my show the other day that did not include roast pork or pork chops. Yes, I know it's a classic pairing but I wanted to get away from anything that was too pat. Additionally, I gave a recipe for (and made here myself) stuffed and baked crêpes a week or so before during my series on zucchini. I love stuffed and baked savory crêpes and seldom have them so when I came across this recipe I perked up knowing that anything with components that included chicken, blue cheese, apples and béchamel had to be good as well as included in a series on apples. All this being said, I confess that I have not yet tried this but plan in the very near future as I have a quart of milk in the fridge that is a day past the expiration and I hate to throw anything out. So I can promise that in the next few days, there will be a review of the recipe on my blog complete with picture. Now for the recipe.

Chicken and Apple Crêpes

12 crêpes
3 cups diced cooked chicken
2 medium apples, peeled, quartered, cored and cut into thin slices
2 cups béchamel (using 4 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons flour, 2 cups milk, salt, pepper and grated nutmeg)
3 ounces (85gr)Roquefort or other good quality blue cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F/204°C. Butter a 13x9-inch (33x23-cm) baking dish.
Put a few tablespoons of the sauce in the center of each crêpe on the pale side. Place some chicken on the lower third followed by cheese and apples.
Roll up and place seem side down in the baking dish. Cover with remaining sauce and cheese and bake until bubbly and lightly brown, about 20 minute.

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/3 cups milk

3 eggs


2 or 3 tablespoons butter

Put flour in bowl and pour milk in a thin slow stream all the while beating with a fork to avoid making any lumps.

Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition and adding a pinch of salt in the end.

Place 1/2 teaspoon of butter in an 8-inch pan a put on medium low heat.

Stir batter and pour 1/3 of a cup into the pan moving it so it spreads over the entire bottom.

As soon as it is firm, turn with a spatula and cook other side until it, too is firm.

Repeat with remaining batter stirring before adding to the skillet.

The chilaquiles recipe that follows may not be authentic--in fact, I have had chilaquiles in Mexico and they were nothing like the ones in the recipe--but these were the first ones I ever made having gotten the recipe from a cookbook featuring "Mexican" recipes. But then again, one never knows. There are so many different recipes for the same thing that this could very well have come from some region (or maybe just some home) in Mexico. Hope you will give this a try.


10 corn tortillas
cooking oil
6 beaten eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups red chili sauce (available in Latin American markets or the Latin American section of some grocery stores. Las Palmas makes a very good one.)
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup chopped scallions

Cut tortillas in half then stack the half moon slices on each other and cut them into four even wedges.
Heat 1/2-inch oil in a skillet and fry tortilla wedges in batches until crisp and golden. Remove to paper towels to drain.
Remove all but 2 tablespoons of oil from pan. Return tortillas to pan along with eggs and salt and stir over moderate heat until tortillas are coated and eggs are set. Stir in the red chili sauce, 1 cup of the cheese, the water and half the scallions. Turn heat to low, cover and cook for another 10 minutes. Turn into serving dish and top with remaining cheese and scallions.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Apple Rum Cake and Fritters

When I started doing research for Monday's show, I wanted to look in some places that I hadn't gone for other shows. I figured everyone knew how to put an apple pie together, too. So if I was going to have a pie, I wanted one with a twist. I initially considered the Roman Apple Crostata that I started making last year but realized that the crust can be a little involved. Then I came across this animal that can't quite decide if it wants to be a cake or a pie. The book from which it came, Cooking with Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux, calls it a cake. But the pasta frolla, the base for the classic Italian crostata (pie) makes one think twice about such a claim. Although the execution is somewhat involved, there is nothing tricky about making this unique desert. If you want to impress, give this a shot!

Italian Apple Rum Cake

For the pastry bottom:
1 1/3 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
10 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter cut into ten pieces
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

For the filling:
1/3 cup raisins
1 tablespoon rum
Juice of 1 lemon
4 medium cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin
2 tablespoons finely minced almonds

For the cake batter:
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs, separated
1 1/2 teaspoons rum
1/2 cup regular flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons finely ground almonds

Preheat oven to 375°F.
Butter a 9-inch springform pan and lightly dust with flour.
I a food processor fitted with the metal blade, mix the flour,sugar, salt, baking powder and lemon zest. Add the cold butter and pulse 10 or 11 times for one second per pulse. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse just until it comes together. Briefly knead on a lightly floured surface, form into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Remove and roll out into a circle about 13 1/2 inches in diameter. Place in the prepared pan. Dough should come about 1 1/2 inches up the side. The floured tines of a fork can help in this. Put back in the refrigerator while preparing the apple filling.

Place raisins in a bowl and pour the 1 tablespoon of rum over them to plump. Place the juice of the lemon in a bowl. Peel, core and slice the apples into slices about 1/4-inch thick. Add to the bowl of lemon juice turning them from time to time to prevent them from oxidizing.

Sprinkle the bottom of the pastry with the minced almonds. Place the apple slices on the pastry in a concentric circle starting on the outside.
Sprinkle the raisins over the top and return to the refrigerator while you make your cake batter.

Stir the melted butter and sugar together and whisk in the egg yolks and rum. Sift flour and baking powder into mixture stirring as you do. Whisk in milk making sure no lumps form. Stir in the two tablespoons of ground almonds. Whip egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gently fold them into the mixture and pour and spread over the apples making sure it reaches the edge all the way around.

Bake on a baking sheet for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, remove release spring, remove pan and finish cooling.

If the cake was complicated then this recipe for apple fritters is ridiculously easy. Don't expect the yeast-raised version from your favorite bakery. This is not them. This is very light in comparison but still very good. Remember to have hot oil. Nothing worse than a grease-laden pastry to lay like lead in an unsatisfied stomach.

Apple Fritters

3 firm, somewhat sweet, cooking apples
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons rum
Peel of one lemon, grated
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil
Confectioner's sugar

Peel and core the apples, and cut them into slices about 3/8 inch thick.
Put granulated sugar, rum and lemon peel in a bowl with the apple slices turning them over gently a few times and letting them steep for at least one hour.
Put 1 cup of water into a soup plate and sift in flour all the time beating with a fork to prevent lumps.
Pour enough oil into a skillet to come up 1/2 inch.
Remove the apple slices and pat them dry of paper towels. When the oil is hot, dip them in the batter and put as many as will fit without crowding into the hot oil. Fry on both sides until golden. Remove to a rack to drain. Sprinkle with the confectioner's sugar and serve.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Apple-A-Day (in a tasty way)

I should know after living in Sonoma County for so long that apple and pear season are close together and that I am kept busy for weeks trying to keep up. This year they both seemed to hit at the same time. The Gravensteins were later than usual. (Or were the pears early?) In any case, I find myself with plenty of both and hate to see the electric bill next month because we've gotten so much of both that the dehydrator will be going 24/7 just to try and keep up. On the up side to this, I will get to have one of my favorite simple salads that I first enjoyed in Sicily a few years back. If you're staying on the light side, Apple and Pear Salad is the perfect ending to a meal. Easy, delicious and fresh. Those three words say it all.

1 cup water
2 cups sugar
Juice of one lemon
2 firm ripe apples
2 pears

Simmer water and sugar just until sugar melts. Cool and add lemon juice.
Wash, peel, core and dice apples and pears into 1-inch cubes.
Place in bowl and pour syrup over them gently mixing well. Let them macerate in liquid for at least 1/2 hour. At this point you may wish to discard some of the liquid if you find there is too much but you want some to remain. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

A few years back when the apples were coming on fast and furious, I put a call out to friends at the old Nora's Kitchen forum for apple cake recipes. Don't remember how many I got and made but this one from Canada came up a favorite and I've been making it (and sharing the recipe with grateful friends) ever since. Be forewarned: It's gooey, buttery and a certain diet-buster. But it's worth every calorie and gram of fat!

BC Apple Cake

3 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
3 cups, cored, peeled and diced apples

Preheat oven to 350°F
Mix all ingredients and pour into a greased 9x13-inch pan.
Bake for 45 minutes.

4 oz unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup milk

Cook icing ingredients in a small saucepan for 2 1/2 minutes. Poke holes in cake while sill warm and pour icing over the cake.

I don't know where blueberry muffins originated but they have come to be an American classic.

Even so, I was never really a big fan. Like most other muffins (except corn, which I love) I could take them or leave them and would if something better was on the table. These, however, are an absolute treat. The butter crumb topping crowns these glorious breakfast staples which I would even have at midnight or any other time of day.

Blueberry Muffins

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
> 1/3 cup whole milk
> 1 large egg
> 1 large egg yolk
> 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
> 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
> 3/4 cups sugar
> 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
> 3/4 teaspoon salt
> 2 cups blueberries
> For topping:
> 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2-inch cubes
> 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
> 3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
> Put rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 375°F.
> Generously butter muffin tins.
> Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat, remove and
> whisk in milk, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla.
> Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a
> medium bowl. Add milk mixture mixing until just
> combined. (Do not over mix. Some lumps are
> OK.) Gently fold in blueberries distributing evenly.
> Divide batter among the cups.
> Combine topping ingredients in a bowl and rub together with
> your fingers until crumbly. Sprinkle over tops of
> batter.
> Bake until golden and crisp and a toothpick inserted in the
> middle comes out clean. 18-20 minutes.

Cool on rack for 15 minutes and run knife around edges of muffin tops. Carefully remove. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Beginning and the End

I thought I would post my last blog concerning last Monday's show by including a recipe I gave at the beginning as well as the final Quick Fix which has become a permanent fixture on the show. I hope you'll try both of them but if I had to chose one over the other it would certainly be the recipe for green beans, carrots and mortadella that I offered during the first segment of the show. This is one of those recipes that I discovered several years ago and that I must have at least once during the summer when green beans are so fresh and delicious. The addition of the Italian cold cut, mortadella, really makes this unique both in invention and flavor.

Green Beans with Carrots and Mortadella

1 pound green beans
3 or 4 medium carrots
1/4 pound mortadella or boiled ham, diced in 1/4-inch cubes
3 tablespoons butter

Wash, trim and boil the green beans in salted boiling water until done but still firm as they will be cooked a second time.

Wash, peel and cut carrots into sticks about the same length as the beans but a bit thinner.

Put all ingredients in a saute pan and cook on medium stirring things together. When the butter stops foaming, put a cover on and cook until carrots are just tender checking after about 5 minutes or so.

If you don't want to make this a Quick Fix sort of meal, then make some homemade pasta for this fresh, simple sauce. This is the perfect summer meal. Not too heavy and everything is in season. I'll be making it again soon as my tomatoes are now ripening.

Zucchini and Tomato Sauce for Pasta

2 medium zucchini
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups fresh roma tomatoes, peeled and seeded or the same amount of canned tomatoes drained and coarsely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Handful of basil leaves, cut into thin strips
1 pound good quality spaghetti or spaghettini

Clean and shred zucchini on large holes of box grater. Set aside.
Cook garlic in olive oil until in just starts to color.
Add tomatoes, increase heat and cook until they are not watery any more.
Add zucchini, salt and pepper and cook until zucchini is tender, another 5 minutes or so.
Toss with pasta and basil.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

La Pomme e Pomodoro

My father was a strange and adventurous eater.

There was nothing that he wouldn't try and some of the things he ate on a regular basis made one scratch his head on more than one occasion. (Stale popcorn in a glass of milk was not the least of these.)

I can still see him with a bowl of small curd Michigan brand cottage cheese topped by a mound of apple butter. What was that about? As I later learned, it was about his Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. Years later we went to a Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant in Wisconsin called Millie's that served homemade bread with Schmearkase and apple butter to go with. The cottage cheese was my father's substitute for the German soft cheese which I later learned to make. I can never think of apple butter now without thinking of my father and how in his final years, I used to send a jar of homemade Gravenstein apple butter back home for him to have a little happiness and remembrance. I dedicate this recipe to my dad. I know he's looking down and smiling. Miss ya, Derd.

Apple Butter

5 pounds of juicy tart apples

1 cup water

1/4 cup sugar (white or brown) for every cup of apple pulp you end up with

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Wash, core and cut up apples into large chunks and place in a large kettle along with the cup of water over medium heat and cook until soft stirring quite frequently to prevent sticking. Remove from heat and let cool enough to work with and put through a food mill adding 1/4 cup of sugar to each cup of pulp. Return pulp to kettle with the spices and simmer until the sugar melts. Increase heat and stir constantly until the apple butter mounds on the back of a spoon (just about 220°F /104°C). Ladle into clean hot jars leaving 1/4 inch head space for half-pint jars and 1/2 inch for pints. Adjust lids and place in boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

Several years ago I stopped canning whole tomatoes altogether choosing instead to make passata, tomato puree, as I use it more than I do whole tomatoes which, if I really need them, are available canned. (I have found that La Valle, an Italian brand, is very good and worth the extra money.) As I stated on the show Monday, every Italian has his own recipe for passata which is the only true way to make it. This is my version...


Roma tomatoes

Wash and cut tomatoes.
Cook in pot until soft.
Put through food mill.
Cook down to desired consistency.
Add 1/4 teaspoon citric acid to each pint jar.
Fill with puree
Add 1/2 teaspoon salt
Wipe rim
Put on lid
Put on screw top
Process in boiling water bath for 40 min. (That's 40 min after water has returned to a boil.)
Remove, set on a towel and wait to hear the magic sound of the lid inverting.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Although I like all of my shows and really look forward to airing them every Monday, this past show held a special place in my heart.

Putting up food against the lean times has been a practice since the beginning of time. Think of the granaries of Egypt when Joseph told Pharaoh to put up the wheat against 7 very lean years.

I think of my own childhood growing up in a home the parents of which grew up during the Great Depression when putting up food was not a quaint hobby practiced in the homes of the leisure class but a necessity against going hungry.

Although we never knew hunger as children, we did eat lots of canned pickles, tomatoes and preserves. I can still see that counter in our basement in Battle Creek, Michigan that was home to jars of homemade dill pickles, peach jam (from out tree in the back yard), tomatoes...

I can still feel the itch on my skin from the fuzz of the peaches we would have to pick, boil and peel.

Like a precious heirloom passed down, this tradition found its way to my sister who picked up the mantle when she moved to the Traverse City area in the northeastern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan. And I caught the bug when I went to visit her and am still infected!

Since she was my special guest on the show Monday, it's only right that I start off with her recipe for Piccalilli.


12 lbs green tomatoes, chopped
2-3 green peppers, chopped
4 onions. chopped
1 cup salt
3 quarts vinegar
4 cups sugar
1 t ground ginger
1 t cinnamon
2 T mustard seed
2T horseradish - or more, to taste (the original recipe called for a full cup - that year I made a quadruple batch to tone it down! We ate piccalilli for years!!)

Layer chopped onions, 1/3 cup salt, chopped peppers, 1/3 cup salt, chopped tomatoes, 1/3 cup salt. Let sit overnight. Drain. Add remaining ingredients and cook until tender, stirring occasionally .Pack the hot piccalilli into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headroom; adjust lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes 12 pints.

The picture at the top of the page was taken last year after I had finished canning my year's supply of Bread and Butter Pickles. Don't ask me why they are called that as they have neither bread nor butter in the recipe. I only know that they are the first sweet pickle I ever liked and I have an unnatural phobia about running out of them as happened several years back. For some reason I figured I had enough jars to get me through til summer but then I tend to get generous when complimented on my pickles and other preserves and start handing out jars at the sound of the first "mmmm that's good." It was a sad day when I came home from the market with a jar of store-bought bread and butter pickles. Since then, make them like the devil would snatch my soul away if there weren't enough on the shelf to last at least a year and a half. They are really good even if I do say that myself and I hope you'll give them a go. (Oh, as I stated on my show, you don't need a stone crock to make these. Any large glass or other nonreactive bowl will work just fine. Also, play around with the spices. Add more or different ones. Sometimes I'll throw in some mustard seed.)

Bread and Butter Pickles

2 cups sliced onions
6 quarts sliced cucumbers
1/2 cup salt (table, pickling, kosher... I use sea salt)
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons celery seed
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Mix onions and cucumbers and sprinkle with salt. Let stand over night. Next morning, drain, wash and place in crock (or whatever you're using.) Make a syrup of the vinegar, water, 2 cups of sugar and the spices. Pour over cucumber mixture and let stand over night. (If you have a problem with fruit flies, be sure to cover the container to prevent them from sampling (and drowning in) your pickles. Next morning, drain and add 1/2 cup sugar to pickling syrup. Heat and pour over pickles and let stand over night. The third morning, add 1/2 cup sugar to pickles and cook in large pot for 10 minutes. Pack in hot, sterilized pint jars and process in boiling water bath (completely covering the jars) for 10 minutes.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Two Salads, Two Extremes

The final recipes for last Monday's show are so far apart in content and execution that I wonder how they came to be the last I would blog about, would end up sharing the same space as if one might be the opening act for the other. Such a pair are almost at odds. But though they are at the extreme end of one another. They are still both extremely excellent in taste and content.

I am talking about the simple salad of tomatoes, red onions, sweet peppers and cucumbers. Here less really is more. It is a small chamber ensemble which enables each taste to shine and harmonize with its neighbors. Let me share the recipe before I go on to the other extreme.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad

1 cup sweet red onion thinly sliced
1 pound fresh tomatoes
1 regular size cucumber or the same amount in smaller cucumbers such as lemon cukes
Several fresh basil leaves
1 small sweet pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Put the onion in a bowl of cold water and let soak for about 5 minutes. Drain, gently squeeze onion and soak again in fresh water. Repeat this process several times.
Slice tomatoes and cucumbers and place them in a bowl along with the onions.
Tear basil and add.
Cut pepper into strips and add.
Just before you are ready to serve the salad, add oil, salt, pepper and vinegar in that order. Toss to cover all ingredients and correct for seasoning and serve.

The Cobb Salad is as much as a classic as is the Caesar Salad. Unlike the Caesar, the Cobb does not need to add anything to dress it up as this salad wears it's full tux to begin. Born at the famous dining spot of the movie stars, The Brown Derby, this was the brainchild of owner Robert Cobb one night as he scrounged around the kitchen looking to make a snack for Hollywood buddy Sid Grauman, owner of the famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
The next time you watch that famous I Love Lucy episode in which the madcap redhead delivers a pie in the face of movie star Bill Holden, note that in the beginning of that scene, Holden orders a Cobb Salad for lunch. Just a little advertising for this famous dish?
You may not be able to kiss Bill Holden like Lucy did so many years ago, but follow the link to Gourmet's web site and enjoy Mr. Holden's lunch sans the pie.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Greek, Italian and Tunisian Salads

I know that Greek salads are generally open to interpretation and I would not begrudge a man or woman of his or her romaine and pickled beets if it means world peace. But my Greek salad is devoid of these ingredients choosing instead to make a happy family with tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, sweet peppers, sheep's milk feta, pickled hot peppers and imported Greek olives.

(OK, I will hazard a domestic crisis by giving a big thumbs down to the use of those metallic tasting pitted black olives that have invariably shown up on Thanksgiving tables everywhere since they were first introduced to a naive public. You know the ones I mean and if you don't, thank your saint that you were spared the experience.)

So, this is my take on the classic salad that has had staying power all these years in its many interpretations.

Greek Salad

Two large tomatoes, sliced
1 cup thinly sliced sweet red onion
1 cucumber (or 3 lemon cucumbers) sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
1 sweet bell pepper (diced)
1/2 cup Kalamata olives
1/3 cup of pepperoncini peppers
3/4 cup feta cheese, preferably imported Greek sheep's milk feta
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup of red wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
Several grindings of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of good quality dried oregano

Put all the vegetables plus the olives and pepperoncini together in a salad bowl and toss.
Make an emulsion of the olive oil and vinegar.
Add to salad along with the seasonings and toss again.
Crumble cheese into salad and gently toss a final time.

As I stated on the show, the use of bread for a salad seems to cross borders and a quick search found other countries in the Mediterranean with their own versions of bread salad. The first I ever had was a Greek version made for a group of us by friends who had just come back from a long stay on Crete. I have since made different versions but the following is something I love to have for lunch or dinner with nothing else save a glass of Nero d'Avola. (Yes, I know it's red but so what? lol)

2 tomatoes
1 cup thinly sliced sweet red onion
1 sweet pepper
1 cucumber, sliced
1 can good quality tuna
1 can garbanzo beans
3 1-inch thick slices of good quality bread
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 plus 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Slice tomatoes and place in a large bowl along with the onions, sweet pepper, cucumber, tuna and beans. Lightly toss.
Tear up and add the bread.
Whisk oil and vinegar until an emulsion is achieved.
Pour onto salad along with a pinch of salt and several grinding of black pepper. Toss well. You may need to toss a few times more so the bread becomes saturated and starts to break down.

I will admit that I have not tried the following salad but plan to in the very near future. The amount of hot chiles seems a little much at first but then I remember how fiery hot the Tunisians like their harissa, a red paste that the uninitiated should use sparingly. (The spiciest version of the North African condiment I ever had was a tube purchased in Sicily but produced in Tunisia, Sicily's close neighbor to the south.)

Tunisian Mixed Salad

1 cup ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup green bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup hot green chiles, minced
1-1/2 tablespoons vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons mint leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small green apple

Place all vegetables in a bowl. Sprinkle with vinegar, olive oil and mint. Peel and coarsely chop the apple, stirring the pieces to the bowl as you go so as to prevent discoloration. Salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Salpicão de Frango

The more I read the recipe the less unusual it seems when I think back to church potlucks we used to attend. Someone would invariably bring that chic salad that even sounded high faluttin'...the Waldorf Salad. You just knew this is what the wealthy diners at the famous Waldorf Astoria sat down to in that posh room with the low lights and white linen-draped tables.
So this Brazilian fare is not a far stretch to me plus it has some other interesting ingredients. Chicken and mayo. That's classic. In fact, the only thing odd to me is the shoestring potatoes which, for some reason, I never have associated with Brazil. (Not that I've ever been.) But I'm willing to give this a go in the near future.

Salpicão de Frango
1 whole chicken breast, boneless and skinless, poached, cooled and shredded
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, cooked and cooled
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas, cooked and cooled
2 small green apples (Granny Smith or similar) cored, peeled an cubed
1/3 cup seedless raisins or sultanas
2 springs fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup good-quality commercial or homemade mayonnaise
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1 standard package shoestring potatoes

In a large mixing bowl, combine the chicken, grated carrot, corn, peas, apples, raisins, parsley and red onion. Stir well with wooden spoon to combine. Add 1/2 of the package of shoestring potatoes, and stir again. Add the mayonnaise and creme fraiche or sour cream, and stir until all ingredients are combined and coated with dressing. Taste for seasoning and and add salt and pepper to taste (remember that the shoestring potatoes and already salted, so be careful not to over salt).

Put into a large serving bowl, or onto a serving platter, and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 package of shoestring potatoes over the top.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Caesar Salad

I will confess that it took me many years to finally get around to having a Caesar salad. Yes, I'd heard about them forever but never ordered one in a restaurant and...OK, let's cut the bull here. Anchovies!!!! It was a salad with raw anchovies in it. Sure, I had learned to love anchovy sauce over Roman Easter Lamb, in any number of pasta sauces. But this was on a salad. (Notice I said 'on' and not 'in.' ) When I thought of Caesar Salads I thought of Lucille Ball in The Long Long Trailer making a Caesar salad and laying these long, raw anchovies over the top of it. That meant that someone was going to get an entire anchovy fillet on the end of his fork and have to eat and enjoy it. Then in 2004, Gourmet published that wonderful cookbook with the yellow cover that has become, for me, one of my primary "go to" books for superior recipes. Besides having a culinary crush on Ruth Reichl, I have come to trust her love and devotion to food and have not made one thing in the book that disappointed me. So it was only natural that I finally give that invention of Caesar Cardini's a go. (Yes, as I mentioned on the show, the Caesar Salad was created by him in his restaurant in Tijuana and not in some place in Italy. ) I hope you'll give this version a try. You will add it to your repertoire, I promise!

Caesar Salad

3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons olive oil
5 slices good quality while bread, crusts removed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 anchovy fillet
1 large head of romaine lettuce torn into pieces
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mash garlic to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt in a mortar with a pestle, then sir in 4 tablespoons of oil. (or mince and mash to a paste with a large knife, transfer to a bowl and stir in oil.) Force the mixture through a sieve into a bowl.
Spread the cubed bread on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove and toss with garlic and oil mixture. Return to baking sheet and bake 7 minutes longer. Set aside to cool in pan.
Whisk together the rest of the oil, egg yolks, lemon juice, vinegar, Worcestershire, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and anchovy in a large bowl.
Add lettuce and toss, then sprinkle with the cheese, croutons and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well and serve.