Monday, November 30, 2009

Best sausage and apple stuffing

Do I have a picture of the actual stuffing with deliciously browned bread and all? No. And why is that? Because this year I decided to go and injure myself right before Thanksgiving dinner was done. As a matter of fact, putting the stuffing together was the last thing I did before I slipped and hurt my knee so badly I had to spend the rest of the night with my ass parked on a chair and my left leg up in the air, ice on the knee and all.

How on earth did I manage to hurt myself that bad, one might ask. Actually a lot of people asked, including my mother. Her and dad showed up at my house shortly after the accident bearing gifts of cranberry sauce, pear pie and lots of good quality red wine, only to find their daughter sitting on a chair, chugging a martini and -I'm not ashamed to admit- crying a little. I wasn't crying for the pain, although it did hurt. I was crying because I was so royally pissed and I felt so useless, sitting there, having to tell everyone else what to do to finish the feast I had started to cook. My mother, of course, sprung into action and made the gravy for me, while someone else put my stuffing in the oven. The question though -how did you manage to fall- was still being asked because, according to my family and friends, only old ladies fall down in their house and break their hip. Granted that I didn't have a broken hip, they were still curious. And the answer is really simple: I was rushing around the kitchen and slipped on some water -water that had dripped from one of the coolers, possibly the one were I brined the turkey. Anyway, that's it. That easy. One second you are up and moving, the next you are sitting on a chair with a knee brace and a doctor's appointment on Wednesday. But the good news is that the stuffing turned out great, which made me particularly happy because I love stuffing and I made this one up instead of following the recipes I had. And for those of you who are wondering what happened to my great plans of making a second stuffing with oysters in it... well, you can figure I wasn't exactly in the right shape for that.

SAUSAGE AND APPLE STUFFING:

Cooking spray
2 links hot Italian sausage
10 ounces frozen pearl onions
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 stalks of celery, chopped
3 small red Michigan apples, skin on, chopped
1/2 large fennel bulb, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 loaf of your favorite bread (I used potato bread), cubed and toasted
2 eggs
1 cup chicken broth

In a large skillet brown the sausage in its own fat, crumbling with a wooden spoon. Cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add frozen pearl onions and sprinkle with brown sugar. Cool until the onions are tender and sugar has dissolved, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add celery, fennel and apple (I left the skins on for color, but you can remove them if you like.) Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with thyme and cook for about ten minutes.

Spray a 10x13 baking dish with cooking spray. Mix vegetable mixture and bread cubes in it. In a small bowl beat the eggs into the broth. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over bread and veggie mixture, toss to coat. Bake in a 400F oven for 45 minutes.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Country Cooking of Ireland

About a week ago my boss surprised me by asking me if I had time to squeeze in one extra story in my schedule and I said yes, blindly, mostly because she assured me it was going to be "a quick one". Little did I know, I was in for a treat. A huge treat. Turns out award-winning food writer Colman Andrews, co-founder of Saveur magazine, is coming to Naples -of all places!- to present his new cookbook, "The Country Cooking of Ireland". Also turns out, I get the honor of interview him. On the phone, but still. He e-maild me to tell me he would call me at 3 p.m. and from that moment on I was so excited I could barely function. I know, I sound like a big unprofessional dork, but Colman Andrews has won six James Beard awards -the highest award a food journalist can dream of- and he writes the kind of stories and articles that make me hope that one day I will write like him.

To make a long story short, he called me at 3 p.m. on the dot and he made every second of the interview so pleasant and easy I ended up feeling a little silly for being so nervous in the beginning. We talked about his book, about Gourmet magazine's folding, about ingredients and trends in journalism. It was a conversation I wish lasted longer. And to top off an already great converstion, when I walked into the office the other day I found a copy of his book sitting on y desk. The book itself is a 2-ince high work of art that will speak to your soul about Irish cuisine. Flipping through it remind me of the wonderful vacation my family took in Ireland when I was 10 and also inspired me to go back there asap AND start cooking some serious Irish fare. The recipe, and there is lots of them, range from the most common (think Irish stew and soda bread) to incredible soup, pork and salmon recipes I would have never dreamed of if it weren't for Colman Andrews. The pictures, too, are amzing and make your mouth water with every page you turn. Christopher Hirsheimer is a phenomenal photographer and she can capture detail in her pictures that the naked eye can't.

Well, the really exciting news is that Colman Andrews is going to be here today and I'm going to downtown Naples, at Sea Salt restaurant, to meet the man himself and also chef owner Fabrizio Aielli (a fellow Northern Italian). It's about the most exciting thing that happened to me in a long time so bear with me!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pear pie with caramel sauce

I hope everyone's Thanksgiving was great, although maybe not as eventful as mine. I'm currently sitting on my couch with a big glass of red wine in my hand and a very swollen left knee that hurts like hell. Last night, as the turkey was almost done and we were about to start making oysters Rockefeller I slipped on a little bit of water that was on the kitchen floor and flew up in the air and down on the floor so fast I didn't know what hit me. One second I was happily skipping around the kitchen making Thanksgiving dinner. The next I was landing square on my left knee, putting all my weight on in. It hurt right away. Bad. Tommy and my friends put me in a chair, made me a Martini and elevated my leg (in that order). You know, the things good friends do when you injure your self in the midst of a freaking cooking marathon. Naturally there was no time for dwelling, for my parents were due to arrive in minutes and several things still had to be done -the potatoes had to be mashed, the gravy had to be made, the stuffing was sitting half made half not on the counter. So they left me sitting in my chair, in the kitchen, martini in hand and ice on my knee, and they started running around the kitchen, getting stuff done, following my orders as I barked them out. Within minutes my parents were in the kitchen also, dinner was almost ready and I had rightfully won myself the nickname of "kitchen nazi".

But what's important is that Thanksgiving dinner was fabulous. And boy, was I glad my mom had made this wonderful pie!

PEAR PIE WITH CARAMEL SAUCE

From Cooking Light:

3 ounces all-purpose flour, divided (about 2/3 cup)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 medium firm pears, peeled, cored, and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
1/2 (15-ounce) package refrigerated pie dough (such as Pillsbury)
Cooking spray
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces

Sauce:

1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 375°.

To prepare pie, weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 1 1/2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Add juice and pears to flour mixture; toss gently to coat. Roll dough into an 11-inch circle; fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Fold edges under and flute. Arrange pear mixture in an even layer in prepared crust.

Combine remaining 1 1/2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) flour and 1/3 cup brown sugar in a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons cold butter to brown sugar mixture; cut in with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle butter mixture evenly over pears. Bake at 375° for 1 hour or until lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack 10 minutes.

To prepare sauce, combine 1/3 cup brown sugar, cream, and 2 tablespoons softened butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until thickened. Remove from heat; stir in 2 teaspoons water. Serve at room temperature or slightly warmed with pie.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Italian style pumpkin "pie"

For those of you who were wondering, no, I haven't disappeared into thin air. I was out of town again for the weekend and then I was scrambling to get all my work done before today because I had asked for today off in order to get stuff done for the big Thanksgiving feast. Also my good childhood friend Margherita is coming into town tonight so I wanted to be ready to drink myself sillier-than-usual, without having to worry about prepping food and slaving in the kitchen.

This morning I woke up at 8 to see one of the crappiest, rainiest days of the year outside my window and all I could think was:
a) Margherita is going to be pissed because she's coming here from NYC to get a tan and go to the beach
b) On the bright side I'll get tons of crap done thanks to the inclement weather

Well, we all know what happens to good intentions.

So far I have only placed the bird in a cooler with its brine and cooked some veggies and sausage mixture for the stuffing. Not as much as I thought I'd get done, I admit. But, oh well, no point sitting here feeling sorry for myself, right? After all, I still have to prepare tonight's dinner, so I'm not quite sure why I'm freaking out about tomorrow's.

The only bit of good news that I have is that last night Tommy and I went to my parents' house for dinner and my mom prepared a wonderful, wonderful dish she learned to make while visiting her good friend Dora in Mantua this past September. It's not your average pumpkin pie, and no, it cannot be prepared with canned pumpkin, but it' a delicious appetizer, especially when pared up with good quality Italian cold cuts such as prosciutto, soppressata and breasola. It was so good we decided to make it as a side dish for Thanksgiving tomorrow.

ITALIAN STYLE PUMPKIN "PIE"

1 medium pie pumpkin
1 cup pine nuts
A few pieces of pear mostarda (available at specialty stores)
10 amaretti cookies, crumbled
Nutmeg
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup pecorino romano cheese
3/4 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese
Butter

Grease a pie tin with butter. Cut pumpkin into thin slices and place a layer into buttered thin. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, half the pine nuts, half the amaretti cookies and half the cheese. Make another pumpkin layer and season the same way. Top with a few small cubes of butter.
Cover pie with foil. Cook covered at 385F for about an hour. Serve with cold cuts if desired.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving countdown!



A week from today I'll be tackling Thanksgiving for the 4th time in my life and, also, for the 4th in a row. I have just written a "strategic guide to Thanksgiving" for the paper I work for and was surprised to receive many e-mails about it. Apparently I wasn't the only one to make a few dramatic mistakes the first time I hosted a turkey dinner. I'm no expert now, but I got better with the years and once again I'm pretty psyched to be the one cooking the Thanksgiving feast. If you want to read my witticism about turkey day, here's a link to my article in the newspaper. After long deliberation I have finally come up with my menu:

Oysters Rockafeller
Roasted herbed turkey with truffle gravy
Oyster dressing
Chestnut, sausage and apple stuffing
Mashed sweet potatoes with brown sugar and nut crust
Cranberry chutney
Brussels sprouts with walnuts and apples
Pear pie with strusel topping and caramel sauce

Wish me luck. And yes, I have asked my mother to make a couple of the dishes, especially since with the perfect timing that characterizes us we have been out of town last weekend and we are going out of town again this weekend, so I will have no time to prep for the big day other than Tuesday night and Wednesday (which thank God I have taken off work). Because, you know, we like to make everything a challenge.
We haven't left town for ten months and we decide to do so twice just before we host Thanksgiving and have friends staying with us. Again: wish me luck.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Maritime pork tenderloin marinade


For those of you who are wondering, no, this pork tenderloin is not stuffed with crabmeat (which I'm allergic to anyway) or topped with a skewer of plump Gulf shrimp a la surf & turf. The reason why this pork tenderloin is called "maritime" is because it was made with a lot of love and lots and lots of swearing on a sailboat. I've been down in Key West since Thursday night and, unfortunately, I'm going home tomorrow. But still there have been many fun times, including the making of this pork.

Friday, the 13th, we had no bad luck. But over the weekend, and even today, we had some -let's call them- "moments". Today, for example, we went 7 miles out in the inflatable to dive a new wreck and, of course, the current was so strong we had to give up. Oh, well, we could still go sailing, no biggie. We get back to the marina, get on the sailboat (which is our floating house for the week) and get all read to go. Battery dead - no way we could idle out of the harbor. Yes. No comment.

So instead of going for a sunset sail and spending the night out in the bay on a hook, we went and watched sunset at Mallory Square missed it because traffic was more retarded than usual and ended up scarfing down raw oysters at the Half Shell again (that part of our day I enjoyed a lot!)

When we got back to the marina and on the boat, though, we had the pork I had so zealously marinated all day and Tommy cooked it on the grill with some sweet potatoes -the perfect ending to a less than stellar day. But you know what? I'm still on vacation. So who cares how stellar a day is or isn't or how crappy m food photography can be. This is Key West. People start drinking at 10 a.m.

Enough said.

"MARITIME" PORK MARINADE

2 pounds pork tenderloin
Salt and pepper
1 cup soy sauce
2 minced cloves of garlic
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup dijon mustard
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

Sprinkle pork tenderloins with salt and pepper to your liking. Put pork in a ziploc bag and pour in all other ingredients. Swish around and refrigerate for a few hours, turning occasionally to coat. Discard marinade and grill pork on medium high.

Manatee time!

This post has absolutely NOTHING to do with food and recipes, but I thought it would be worth posting. I was just sitting on the dock here in Key West, getting ready to go diving when this manatee (see cow) came up on the surface and started playing with the hose we were using to rinse our gear. Check it out -I've lived in Florida for almost ten years and have never seen anything like this before!
video

Friday, November 13, 2009

Vacation


I'm on a mini-vacation in Key West, Fla., sailing, diving and trying not to drink before noon. I'll be back to reality on Wednesday and will have many recipe/food related stories to post. Have a great weekend everyone!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gravlax

So I have this thing for salmon -for me to eat it it must be either smoked or wild caught. I refuse to eat the farm raised type mostly because it tastes so fishy it makes my stomach turn and also because if you read how they live in captivity and what they eat it will turn you off it forever. Anyhow, I had a beautiful piece of wild caught salmon in the freezer, but it wasn't really big enough to make an entree out of it, so I decided to make gravlax instead. Gravlax is a Swedish dish and, to my knowledge, the only Swedish contribution to world cuisine. Those of you who have read Stieg Larsson's novels will probably know that all they eat in Sweden is toast, coffee and, when they get all crazy and reckless, cereal. Never in one of his huge books does Larsson mention gravlax -which is a pity because it's delicious and easy to make. The only tricky part is that you have to plan ahead for it because it has to marinate for 24 hours. Other than that it's completly idiot-proof.

GRAVLAX
One pound of salmon fillet, skin on
2 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon black pepper
A large bunch of fresh dill

Place the salmon, skin side down, on a large piece of plastic wrap.

Mix salt, pepper and sugar in a bowl. Sprinkle evenly over salmon, until the flesh is completly covered with salt mixture. Place dill on top of salmon.

Wrap the salmon up, as tightly as possible, in the plastic wrap. Use a second sheet of plastic wrap to wrap again. Place the package in a container (I used a pyrex) and place in the fridge for at least 48 hours. You will notice some liquid forming in the container -it's normal.

After two days open the pacakge, discard the dill and gently wash the salmon with cold water. Place on a cutting board and cut thinly, from the tail end first, detaching each slice from the skin. Serve with dill, crackers, sour cream and slices of lemon.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Orecchiette with meatsauce


When I was little I didn't like meatsauce. This tidbit of information probably won't shock anyone since I have confessed more than once that I used to be a pain in the ass picky eater when I was little. It all started in preschool. I went to a Montessori preschool in Milan and absolutely loved it. We were free to learn what we wanted to learn at our own pace, we could move our little desks wherever we fancied and lunch was served in a beautiful room that had an aquarium in it. It was the best three years of my life and I wish that I could have gone to a Montessori elementary, middle and high school. Hell, I wish I could have gone to a Montessori university and maybe landed a Montessori-style job. Wouldn't that be fun? Being able to to as you wish, getting stuff done because you want to and not because someone is going to fire you? Instead I receive e-mails from HR that remind all of us that we should keep cutesy personal objects on our desk to a minimum and that leggings are not proper office attire. It goes without saying, I wear leggings pretty much every day and have taped the cutest picture of my cat to my cubicle. Yes, I'm a rebel like that.

Anyways, back to preschool. I only have one bad memory of those three years and it has to do with food. Meatsauce, to be exact. On the first week I was attending preschool, on Wednesday, the menu taped on the door read "Vulcano-style meat". It turned out to be nothing other than meat sauce and I hated it. Because we were not allowed to throw away food I sat in the dining room for two hours, well after all the other kids had gone out to play, and had to eat the whole thing. After that incident, every Wednesday, my mom would leave a not asking to subsitute my meal with ham and carrots. See, at the Montessori preschool they did that. They substituted your meal if your parents asked.

And so meat sauce, for a long time, was taboo at my house, until I grew out of this ridicolus stage and started loving it.

MEAT SAUCE:
1 pound ground sirloin
1 pound ground pork
2 slices of bacon
2 carrots
2 stalks of celery
1 onion
Salt and pepper, to taste
A bottle of good red wine
Beef broth
2 bay leaves

Mince the bacon and brown it in a little olive oil in a large stock pot. Mince the vegetables and add them to the same pot. Sautee them for about five minutes. Add the ground meat, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until browned, stirring frequently.

Add a couple of glasses of red wine, lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add enough beef broth to cover the meat, throw in the bay leaves, cover and simmer on very low heat for a couple of hours. Serve over orecchiette.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Polenta, gorgonzola and speck bites


Polenta is in my blood. My mother's family hails from the region of Veneto, where polenta is an everyday staple. She was born and raised in Milano, but when she was little she often visited her cousins, aunts and uncles at their farm in the country, where fruit was freshly picked from the trees and an old aunt was roasting chicken on the spit or making polenta. Making real polenta, you see, is no easy task. You have to stir the thing for more than an hour, without interruptions. Imagine that? Stirring a thick, heavy mass for more than one hour with a wooden stick? Neither can I. Nor my mom, for that matter. She always bought instant polenta, which is lovely and takes 5 minutes to cook and virtually no stirring. And of course I've learned from her because if you think that I can stand there and stir a couldron of bubbly yellow stuff for more than an hour, you're sadly mistaken. I might be a witch from time to time, but not that kind of patient witch.

Instant polenta, as I was saying is perfectly ok and most people will not taste the difference. Some will say they do, but they are bluffing. So buy the instant stuff and make polenta as much as you can. Now that is colder out (at least in places that have normal climates, here in Florida I'm still waiting for some kind of relief from the humidity) it's the perfect dish: comforting, filling and, incredibly enough, low in fat. And if you have leftovers you can make this little appetizer bites, which are delicious.

POLENTA BITES
One package of instant polenta
A slab of creamy gorgonzola
A package of speck (smoked prosciutto, available at Costco)

Make polenta according to directions, then pour it into a large pyrex coated with cooking spray and pat it down. Let it cool completly.

Once the polenta is cool, cut it into bite sized squares and place them on a cookie sheet coated with cooking spray. Broil for a minute, so the polenta squares get a little bit of a crust.

Top each square with a little gorgonzola and a piece of speck.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Gorgonzola and pear baskets

Gorgonzola and pears. A match made in heaven. If you have never tried it, do so immediately -you'll be hooked for life. It sounds like a strange combo, but the tangy and sharp gorgonzola shines when paired up with sweet pears. In Italian we even have a proverb that says "Al villan non far sapere come e' buono il formaggio con le pere", which means don't tell the farmer how good pears and cheese are together. I'm not sure why -perhaps the farmer would eat all the pears and there wouldn't be any left for us?- but then again most proverbs are silly to say the least.

Back to the dish in question... I made this on Saturday for my mom's Halloween party and it was quite the hit. The original idea was to use those little frozen pastry shells, but after seeing how expensive they are (something like $6 for a box of 12 or 15) I decided to experiment with wonton skins. I had used them recently to make ravioli and discovered that they are delicious and cheap, so I thought, why not try and make little baskets out of them? They turned out perfect -pretty to look at and crunchy- so I added one more thing one can do with wonton skins to my ever-growing list. Who would have thought?

GORGONZOLA & PEAR BASKETS

36 square wonton skins
8 ounces ricotta
8 ounces creamy gorgonzola
Salt to taste
3 pears
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 whole cloves
1/2 cup brandy

To make the baskets you'll need a mini-muffin pan. Spray it with cooking spay and gently stuff a wonton skin in each hole. Bake in three batches for 7 minutes in a 350F preheated oven. Remove from muffin pan and place on a tray to cool.

Mix the two cheeses in a bowl using an immersion blender and season with salt to taste. Set aside.

Cut pears into 36 bite-sized pieces, place in a skillet, sprinkle with brown sugar and douse with brandy. Add the cloves and simmer for about ten minutes, until caramelized.

Assemble the baskets just before serving, spooning a little cheese mixture in each and topping with a piece of pear.

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