Friday, September 30, 2011

Way Too Easy Veal Ragu

People get all nostalgic listening to old men talk about mama spending all day Sunday making tomato sauce for pasta. (That's gravy if you happen to be in New Jersey.)

Yes, we see Mama in her faded cotton dress bringing an apron-full of tomatoes from her garden and then stirring the pot on the stove for hours on end. Tasting here, seasoning there and all bent over and crippled from all that bending and stair-climbing.

What I could never figure out is how she ever had time to go to Mass if she spent all that time in La Cucina making sauce plus all the other things that go with a Sunday lunch for the family? What I have figured out, though, is how to make a very good ragu in a fraction of the time. And this is no fix-it-fast concoction from Rachel Ray, either.

It's the real deal inspired from a Sicilian recipe I picked up a few years back.

Veal Ragu

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 8-ounce can tomato paste

1 cup minced onion

1 cup minced celery

1 pound ground veal

Salt to taste

Sugar to taste

1 cup frozen peas

Pinch of cinnamon

Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan and brown the tomato paste for several minutes.

Add enough water to make a smooth sauce.

Add onion, celery, ground veal and enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer and breakup meat with a fork.

Continue simmering for about an hour on low.

Add salt and enough sugar to just sweeten it a little.

Add peas and cook until tender.

Add cinnamon.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

From Opposite Ends of the World

An unlikely pair, I know. You may never see these treats from opposite ends of the earth appear together anywhere else again. I'm glad the pleasure was mine!
As you can see by the picture, I have decided to invoke the name of Yoki when speaking of Pao de Queijo, the Brazilian cheese roll that uses tapioca flour (good news for those avoiding gluten) instead of wheat. I was lucky enough to find a box in a Latin American market while in Traverse City, Michigan. I must say they turned out very well.
I first heard of these rolls when Erick, a friend who lives in Brazil, mentioned them in passing on a Face Book post. "Ah, a new food," I thought to myself and went searching the Internet for recipes. (Erick is notorious for neither giving me recipes nor getting into detailed discussions about food.) I found a few and combined them to make a pretty decent roll.
Don't look for these to have the texture of a regular wheat roll. They are chewy on the inside.

Pao de Queijo

1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups tapioca flour
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 beaten eggs
1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
2.Pour butter, water, milk, and salt into a large saucepan, and place over high heat. When the mixture comes to a boil, remove from heat immediately, and stir in tapioca flour until smooth. Set aside to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
3.Stir the cheese and egg into the tapioca mixture until well combined, the mixture will be chunky like cottage cheese. Drop rounded, 1/4 cup-sized balls of the mixture onto an ungreased baking sheet.
4.Bake in preheated oven until the tops are lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes.

I love this scone recipe which came from an odd source. An old friend and his wife came up to visit years ago when I was living in San Francisco. She excitedly gave me a note card on which was a recipe for orange scones. At the time, I had never had a scone nor the desire to sample one. To me they were a dry-looking offering from the less-than-fresh array of eats to be found in the local coffee bar. Thanking her, I stuffed the card in a folder along with other recipes I had either jotted down or cut from the newspaper. Some tried, others not, but all in disarray!

And I don't remember what possessed me to dig that card out one day and try it. But I'm glad my curiosity got the best of me. I'm sure I ate myself sick on them! I wasted no time in calling Ms Scone to tell her how great they were. "Really, they were good. oh." A little confused by her response, I asked her "Haven't you made them?"
"Oh, no. I don't cook. Someone gave me the recipe so I thought I'd give it to you because you do."
Not only did she not cook or bake but she talked her husband into remodeling the entire kitchen to look like one she'd seen on Home and Garden TV.
Oh, well. Here is Ms Scone's recipe for the best scones I've yet to taste.

Orange Scones

2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, cold
1/2 cup raisins or chopped cranberries
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 large egg
3/4 cup whipping cream

2 cups icing sugar
Enough fresh orange juice to make a spreadable icing.

Preheat oven to 400°F.
Mix dry ingredients and cut in butter.
Add raisins or cranberries.
Beat cream, egg and peel.
Quickly mix wet and dry ingredients just until combined. Do not over mix.
Pat into a circle 1-inch high on a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut into 8 wedges.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Let cool and cover with icing.

The Staff of Life

I am currently out in the woods of Michigan practicing what I preached last Monday on the show....bread making!!!!
And I mean lots of bread making. I got up yesterday at 6am to start the process of making whole wheat rolls for 40+ people. I ended up making over 100 rolls for pulled pork sandwiches for my sister's annual Harvest Party, an event that has been taking place out in the Michigan woods of her and her partner's log house for 24 years. (Actually, the party itself is held up by--and in--the barn which is decorated with dried corn, outfitted with long tables for eating and boards groaning with all the food brought by guests and made by the hosts.)
These are the same rolls that I gave the recipe for on the show last Monday. One recipe makes quiet a few and they keep well if sealed in plastic bags. (I quadrupled the recipe when making these for the party!) A little tip for a nice soft roll: after you take them out of the oven, cover them with a kitchen towel as the cool. The result is a very soft roll which is the sort you want. This is the all-american dinner roll.

Whole Wheat Rolls

2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (110 degrees to 115 degrees)
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
1.In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Let stand 5 minutes. Blend in sugar, salt and 3 cups all-purpose flour at low speed until moistened; beat 2 minutes at medium speed. Beat in egg and oil. By hand, gradually stir in whole wheat flour and enough remaining all-purpose flour to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise until doubled. Punch dough down and form into dinner-size rolls. Place on greased baking sheets and cover with a towel and let rise for about 45 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees F for 13-15 minutes. Cover with a towel until cool. This makes a soft roll.

I remember my very first night in Sicily and the very first thing I ate. I immediately fell in love with the place that had produced a bread that I never knew could taste as it did. I have never been able to reproduce the exact taste because I do not have access to Sicilian semolina flour and water. (Actually, semolina is just the word for flour--any type--in Italian. What we call semolina here is Duram wheat flour, the hard winter wheat variety used in making boxed pasta and the delicious bread from Sicily.)
This recipe comes from my friend, Claudia, a displaced Siciliana living in Germany with her husband and son. The measurements here are given in metric weight. If you don't have a kitchen scales, you may think about getting one. I've had mine for several years now and find myself using it all the time. In the meantime, you can sort of guess like I did the other night when I wanted to make this bread and remembered that my mother doesn't own a kitchen scales. The recipe calls for 500 grams of flour total. That is about a pound (very slightly over.)
Just make sure you have 3/4 of that pound be semolina and the rest just regular all-purpose.
But please do make it, it's very good and great for a little olive oil over a slice or perhaps a tapenade or caponata as we had the other night.

Sicilian Semolina Bread
(ala Claudia)

(75% semolina to 25 % plain flour) ....about 500g of
flour per
loaf + 2tsp dried yeast + 1.5 tsp sea salt + good
drizzle of
extra virgin olive oil + approx. 350-400 ml of lukewarm water....make it
a dough and knead with a dough hook for at least
10mins....let it rise for approx. 2 hours, punch it
back,knead it again and shape into a loaf...leave it
prove for another 45mins or so.....spray with water,
sprinkle with sesame seeds, slash then bake at 220C (425F)
approx. 40mins.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Baked Rice, Raita and 3 Curries

I love Indian baked rice and was so happy to find the recipe I gave on last Monday's show. It takes a little time but is really worth it once you taste the various flavors.

Baked Indian Rice

3 cups while basmati rice
4 cups chicken stock
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cups slivered almonds
1 large onion, halved and cut into thin half moon slices
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, halved and sliced crosswise
1 teaspoon Garum Masala
1 teaspoon finely minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

Wash rice in several changes of water until water is clear having removing most of the starch. Let drain for 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Heat oil in a heavy, oven-proof pot over medium heat. Add almonds and fry until golden. Remove and drain on paper towels.
Add onion to pot and cook stirring until golden. Add garlic, jalapeño, garum masala, ginger and salt and cook stirring for one minutes.
Add rice, reduce heat and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
Add stock and cook at a lively simmer until rice becomes dry on top.
Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Removed from oven and let rest for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with almonds and serve.

A raita can be as simple as some plain yogurt with a little seasoning or can almost be an entire salad. The main ingredient is, of course, yogurt. There are so many kinds with so many different ingredients. I offered a simple one. To me, a curry without some sort of a raita is undressed.

Tomato and Onion Raita

2 cups yogurt
1 half medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 small serano chili, minced
several mint leaves, minced
Salt to taste

Mix all ingredients and let stand, covered, in the refrigerator for several hours.

The next recipe is one I came up with when I wanted to combine a vegetable curry with one based solely on legumes. I have changed it from time to time but still prefer my original. Basmati rice and a simple raita makes this satisfying. Of course, some naan could not hurt it.

Legume and Vegetable Curry

half pound each of garbanzos, split peas and lentils
2 tsp tumeric
1 large onion chopped
med head of cauliflower divided into florets
2 largish potatoes chopped
3 tomatoes chopped
For Tempering Oil
1/3 cup veg oil
1 teas cumin seed
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
two inches of ginger minced
10 small dried hot chilies broken up
3 cloves garlic minced
3-inch stick of cinnamon
To Finish
salt to taste
2 tsp garam masala

Soak garbanzos overnight and then place in a large pot along with the other legumes.
Add tumeric and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 min.
Add chopped onion and simmer for 10 minutes longer.
Add chopped vegetables and continue cooking until tender.
In a skillet, heat oil and add garlic and spices stirring constantly to avoid burning for 2 min. If you find that they are starting to burn add a tablespoon or so of water and continue frying.
Pour contents of skillet into pot containing legumes and veg.
Cook slowly for 10 more min. after correcting for salt.
Add garam masala and cook a few more minutes.

Chicken Vindaloo was my introduction to Indian food and had me hooked after the first bite.

There are many good recipes out there but I am offering the first one I ever made and one which I return to now and again even though I have become quite a fan of Pork Vindaloo. (For a great recipe for this, check out Suvir Saran's Indian Home Cooking.)

Chicken Vindaloo

1 large onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoon butter
3 sprigs fresh coriander, minced
2 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon crushed dried red chilies
1 teaspoon dry mustard
One 1-inch peiced of fresh ginger root, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup or more distilled white vinegar
3 pounds chicken pieces

In a large skillet, sauté the onion and garlic in the butter until they are soft and golden but not brown. Grind the herbs and spices in a spice mill. Add them to the onion and garlic, stirring so they do not stick or burn. Add a little water if need be. Add enough vinegar to make a smooth paste. Cover the chicken pieces with the paste and marinade in refrigerator for 1 to several hours. (The longer the time the spicier the chicken will be.)
In a large skillet, place chicken and its marinade adding enough water to reconstitute the paste. Cook on low, covered, for an hour adding more water if needed.
Serve with rice and a raita.

The Quick Fix of the show was also a curry albeit one from Thailand instead of India. But every bit as good. On many a night when I hadn't planned ahead and found myself short of time, I have turned to this delicious curry which takes no more time to cook than the Jasmine rice over which you serve it.

Red Chicken Thai Curry

50 grams red curry paste (Mae Ploy)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Half pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into strips 3x1 inches
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
A mixture of sliced bamboo shoots, red onions and baby corn (about 6 oz)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
Thai basil (or regular if Thai basil is not available)

Fry curry paste in oil until melted.
Add 1 cup of the coconut milk and heat to simmering.
Add chicken and cook a few minutes.
Add the rest of the coconut milk along with 1/2 cup water and heat to simmering.
Add vegetables and cook until onions are tender.
Add sugar, remove from heat, add several sprigs of basil and serve with hot Jasmine rice.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Slow Rising Pizza

I swear there is no reason why a home cook can't make a pizza that will make his local pizzaiolo break down in tears, put a for sale sign on his door, and close up.

I had my first Italian pizza in Rome nearly six years ago and was sure I would never be able to make anything close to that good until I got back to Northern California and missed it so much I knew I had to try!

Unfortunately, we here in Estados Unidos have been raised to think that the most important part of a pizza is the topping and that the more you can load on, the better. That is why we get super thick crusted pies with a mountain of stuff on them which only serves to weigh them down into a soggy-bottomed disc resembling nothing like the pizzas you find in Italy.

I believe the best crust comes from good flour and time. One is equally as important as the other.

If you are lucky enough to live in Sonoma County, California, you can drop into Andy's Produce Market on 116 in Sebastopol and pick up a bag of pizza flour. This is the best flour I have found outside of Italy for making a very fine crust. If you are not so lucky, it is worth the effort to seek out a bag of Caputo 00 flour from Naples. If you don't have an Italian market close by, it is available from several sources online. The difference between regular unbleached and this specially milled flour is remarkable. But even more remarkable is the difference between dough that has only risen for three hours as opposed to one that has taken its own lazy time in the refrigerator for 4 or 5 days. (I suggest a minimum of 4.)After a nice long period in the fridge the dough slowly starts to ferment which changes not only the taste but also the texture. It developes a tangier deeper flavor and a chewy texture that a 3-hour risen dough just can't begin to approach.

I pretty much stick with Marcella Hazan's recipe from The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, in which she suggests using 1 cup of water, 1 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast (I prefer instant yeast if you can find it), 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon salt and about 3 cups of flour.

If you're using instant yeast, there is no need to proof it in warm water first. Merely mix it in with a cup of the flour, add 1/4 cup of water, mix and then add the oil and salt. Add another 1/4 cup of water, some more flour and mix until you get down to the last bit of flour and water. Only add as much water at the end as you feel is necessary then knead as you usually would beating the living hell out of it until it's soft and pliable.

At this point, you may put it in an oiled bowl (turning it once to make sure the top is oiled and does not form a crust) then cover with plastic wrap and let rise for three hours. It is then ready for pizza unless you want a really excellent pizza.

If I am making pizza for just myself, I take a small portion of the dough and stretch it out for a small pizza and put the rest in a Ziploc bag and store it in the fridge for a minimum of 4 days.

Take the dough out about an hour before you plan to make the pie and let it come to room temperature. Make sure the pizza is not too thick and does not have too much on top. This may take a few times but just remember "less is more" when it comes to putting something on pizza.

The only other tip I have is to make sure and use a pizza stone that has been heating up at least a half our at 450°F before you slide the pie onto the stone for 20-25 minutes. Happy baking, my friends!

Russians, Wallbangers and Tiki Huts

Nothing says 70's quite so much as some of the cocktails from that era. Seems like America was just in the mood for something new and wild to consume when along came Kahlua and Galiano to literally satisfy the thirst. It seems it wasn't just a thirst, either. There was a sweet tooth involved in the equation. We started craving really sweet and rich things like Kahlua and cream, or sweet pineapple juice with sweet coconut cream. It's a wonder that that era didn't see the obesity we seemed to be plagued with these days.

What stands out in my mind as the quintessential cocktail of the 1970's is the Harvey Wallbanger. From that sprung the Freddie Fudpucker which just sounded naughty which sent all the newly liberated people into a tizzy thinking they could walk into a bar and talk dirty when ordering a drink. Yes, the repressive days of yore were gone.

Harvey Wallbanger

•3/4 oz vodka
•1 1/2 oz orange juice
•1/4 oz Galliano
•orange slice for garnish
•maraschino cherry for garnish
1.Pour the vodka and orange juice into a collins glass with ice cubes.
2.Add the Galliano.
3.Garnish with the orange slice and maraschino

At about the time the Harvey Wallbanger came out is when I had my first Black Russian, a drink rich, sweet and very true to the time.

White Russian

Ingredients: 1 Part Kahlua, 1 Part Vodka, 1 Part Cream or Milk, ice cubes

Method: Pour the Kahlua and Vodka over ice, into short glass. Top with cream or full cream milk. Serve.

The next drink also came in an ice cream version. I remember going to a place called JC Grundy's in Kalamazoo, Michigan that served nothing but ice cream cocktails. I can only hope it's no longer there. I will never forgive myself for agreeing to go there with a group of hard core waitresses from Battle Creek.

Brandy Alexander

1 ounce brandy
1 ounce dark créme de cacao
1 dash heavy cream

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass

Our final drink of the 70's was popularized in a bad song by Jimmy Buffet called The Piña Colada Song although the drink came out a few years before the song. If you're having a Tiki party, you cannot omit this drink.

Piña Colada

1 ounce brandy
1 ounce dark créme de cacao
1 dash heavy cream

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass

Finally, the drink that became a dessert. Yes, this makes more sense than the ice cream Brandy Alexander. The Grasshopper Pie could be eaten without getting blitzed or sick. A suspicious friend actually refused a piece because he thought I'd made it using real grasshoppers. Looking back, even more remarkable than the fact that he thought I'd made a pie out of grasshoppers, is the fact that he didn't figure out I was gay. Who else would be bringing you a piece of grasshopper pie as you were laying in bed listening to big-hair rock through your headphones? Anyhow, try this out. It won't win you a boyfriend but it's lots of fun all the same.

Grasshopper Pie

1 1/2 cups chocolate cookie crumbs
6 tablespoons butter, melted
3 cups miniature marshmallows
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup creme de menthe liqueur
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, whipped
1/4 cup creme de cacao
3 drops green food coloring
1.Mix together the chocolate wafer crumbs, and 6 tablespoons butter, melted. Press in to the bottom and sides of a 9 inch pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 10 minutes. Let cool.
2.Melt marshmallows with milk over low heat. Chill, stirring occasionally, until mixture begins to set. Blend in creme de cacao and creme de menthe. Fold in whipped cream and tint with green food coloring. Pour into pie crust and sprinkle with grated semisweet chocolate. Chill 4 hours before serving.
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Thursday, September 1, 2011

It Was All About The French

As I mentioned on Monday's show, I think so much of our fascination with French food during the 70's had everything to do with our fascination with Julia Childe the decade before. Without going into a great amount of detail about her unique persona which drew the viewer into her show as much as her recipes for French cuisine (if you weren't around then, look up some old shows on Youtube or check out the DVD Julie and Julia) I will only say that before she debuted on PBS in the 1960's anyone who had thought of executing a French recipe would be daunted by the initial instructions for making a sauce out of a sauce that it took half the day to make in the first place. All this before we have even found that bottle of French Burgundy to reduce. She took what we thought would be a day's worth of effort and threw it together in half and hour. (Did I hear someone say 30-minute meals?) But on top of that, she told us we could do the same thing, convinced us that we too could "master the art of French cooking." And we believed her. And so, it turned out, did our regular restaurants on whose menus started to appear things like croissants and Quiche Lorraine. Suddenly fondue pots were the big thing and every home had one. And I think that's a great place to start with my first recipe which comes from a cousin in upstate New York. Mary Brandt comes from a line of home cooks that had an instinct for good cooking and, in the words of my late aunt, "could make something from nothing." It's that kitchen alchemy that fascinates and has me hoping some of it has been passed on to me.

This is such a simple recipe as long as you watch the heat.

Cheese Fondue

1 small clove garlic,
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 lb. coarsely grated Gruyere, Pinch red pepper, Pinch ground nutmeg, Pinch of baking soda, 1 tbsp kirsch or other cherry brandy, 1 or 2 loaves French bread cut into 1 inch cubes with each cube having crust on one side. Use 1-1/2 qt pot (enameled cast iron is my choice). rub inside of pot with garlic, add wine, set over medium heat, Cook the wine until bubbles form around the edge. Add the cheese gradually, stirring until the mixture is smooth. Do not allow mixture to come to a boil. Add red pepper, nutmeg, baking soda and kirsch, stirring after each addition. Cook until mixture is hot but not boiling and is the consistency of medium white sauce.

When I took my second restaurant job, I was amazed to see people ordering and eating French Onion Soup. Until that time, I had always considered this to be something that came in a packet to be mixed with sour cream and used as a dip for potato chips. I therefore thought it strange and tacky that people were actually eating it. That was until I saw how it was properly executed and that this was not a soup d'jour but something that was on the menu every day. Of course, like all soups in the restaurant, it was made in house and was very popular. (This was no skid row hash house. ) I think this old favorite from the 70's has fallen out of favor having been replaced many times over with the gazpacho's, the hearty soups of the now-so-popular Tuscan region and whatever the latest hip chef has up his sleeve. Great time to put on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and broil a few bowls of that yummy goodness.

French Onion Soup

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 medium onions, thinly sliced
Pinch dried thyme
2 tablespoons dry sherry or Cognac
3 1/2 cups beef stock
Salt and pepper to taste
French bread, sliced and toasted
Grated Gruyere cheese

Heat butter and oil in a soup pot and add onions and thyme.
As soon as they start to brown, reduce heat and cook covered, stirring frequently, until they are caramelized, about 40 minutes.
Stir in sherry or Cognac and increase heat, stirring constantly until the sherry or Cognac evaporates.
Add beef stock and simmer partially covered for 20 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.
Place 8 ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet.
Ladle soup into bowls followed by a a few slices on the toasted bread and a sprinkling of the cheese. Heat under broiler until cheese is melted and brown.

Having left disco in the dust (or so we thought) we were just creeping into the 80's when I had my last restaurant job in Michigan. (A 12-inch spiked Mohawk kept me off the floor and in the kitchen. Small price to pay to be that hip!) A popular hanger-on from the previous decade was our Quiche Lorraine. We made a bevy of these pies every Monday and more than once we had to 86 them before the following Sunday when they became a popular brunch item for that busiest morning of the week.

I don't make these very often preferring a chard or artichoke tart instead. But this is still a hit if you have a little lunch party planned.

Quiche Lorraine

1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch single crust pie
12 slices bacon
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1/3 cup minced onion
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups light cream
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1.Preheat oven to 375°F.
2.Place bacon in a large skillet, and fry over medium-high heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels, then chop coarsely. Sprinkle bacon, cheese and onion into pastry shell.
3.In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, salt, and cayenne pepper. Pour mixture into pastry shell.
4.Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted 1 inch from edge comes out clean. Allow quiche to sit 10 minutes before cutting into wedges.