Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bolognese a la Sianessa

I had a craving for bolognese sauce tonight, something I rarely eat, but when I do, it's so satisfying and tasty. This recipe combines my toddler-fooling veggie puree with roasted garlic and red bell pepper to make a reasonably healthy and flavor-packed meat sauce.

1 lb ground chuck or sirloin
1 jar spaghetti sauce (I like Classico sweet basil)
2/3 cup veggie puree
2 red bell peppers
3 cloves garlic
spray olive oil
1/4 cup red wine (syrah is nice)
1 small can tomato paste
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes or more to taste
salt & black pepper to taste
1/2 box elbow noodles, cooked according to pkg directions

On a cookie sheet, place peeled garlic cloves, and halved and seeded peppers with the skin side up. Spray liberally with olive oil, and sprinkle a bit of salt on top. Broil about 5 minutes, watching carefully. The pepper skins should blister and get a bit blackened, but not totally charred. The garlic will brown deeply. Remove from oven and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel skin from peppers -- it should come off easily. Then chop the pepper into 1/2 inch pieces, and mince the garlic. Refrigeration will help the garlic to solidify enough to allow chopping -- if it's too warm it's still mushy. But mushy is ok too.

Next, break up the meat into a deep saute pan. The one I use has sides that are about 3 inches high and is about 10 inches wide, which is a perfect size for thick sauces like spaghetti sauce. Brown the meat in its own fat until no pink is left. While sauteing, add the wine, and sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper, then add the roasted garlic and red bell pepper.

When all ingredients are hot, add the veggie puree and the jar of spaghetti sauce. When all that is incorporated, add the tomato paste, the crushed red pepper and stir until fully incorporated. Simmer, letting all flavors meld, about 5-10 minutes. If the sauce is too dry for your taste, add a bit of water.

Ladle out over pasta of your choice and serve with grated parmesan cheese and more of the red wine. Voila!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Roasted Corn Salad

You can do this the easy way, or if you want to spend more time in the kitchen and feel all virtuous and authentic, you can do it the hard way.

2 cups roasted corn
1 diced English cucumber
1 diced red bell pepper
1 diced very small white onion
1 can rinsed and drained black beans
1 tsp cumin powder
cayenne pepper powder to taste (about 4 shakes)
juice of 1/2 a fresh lime

The hard way: Soak 2 ears of corn in water for at least one hour. Grill over medium heat about 7 minutes, turning every 2 minutes to cook each side. Let cool, then shuck and slice corn kernels off the cob.

The easy way: Buy a bag of Trader Joe's frozen roasted corn. Scoop out 2 cups corn, and don't bother to thaw.

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. The frozen corn will chill the other ingredients. If you use fresh roasted you will need to chill the salad for an hour.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Alfredo Sauce with Secret Veggies

Yet another toddler-fooler, which is rich and delicate enough to impress adults. I'm a fan of pouring it over spinach-cheese ravioli.

8 ounce container low-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup whole milk (you could use heavy cream for better flavor, but it is fattening)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups baby carrots
1 head chopped broccoli
1/2 green bell pepper
1 can chick peas

In a saucepan, saute garlic in olive oil. When golden brown, remove and set aside. In same saucepan, combine ricotta, milk, and parmesan cheese. Add milk as necessary to thin out.

Steam carrots, broccoli and bell pepper until just tender, but NOT MUSHY. It's important not to overcook this, or the texture of the whole sauce gets mealy. Shock with ice water to stop the cooking process. Then place in food processor, add drained chick peas, and garlic. Process all together until it forms a smooth paste.

Add about 1 cup of the veggie mixture to the ricotta sauce, and whisk gently until incorporated. Save the remaining veggie mixture for other "veggie-secret" recipes.

Heat the sauce through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over ravioli and serve.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Classic Chicken Soup

I love this soup at any time of year, and now that the temperature is finally starting to decline a tad, I just couldn't resist the urge. The picture shows the bed of veggies in the pot before adding chicken and water.

1 split chicken breast, on bone, with skin
5 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and chopped
2 cups baby carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, pushed thru press
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 bay leaf
1 heaping tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Possible starches:
1/2 box penne or other bite-size pasta
1 cup white rice
1/2 bag egg noodles

In large stockpot, make a bed of herbs & veggies: onion, carrots, celery, garlic, bay leaf and oregano. Place the chicken breasts on top. Pour in enough water to just cover the chicken.

Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for at least 45 minutes. Take pot off heat, and with a tongs, remove chicken breasts. Place chicken on a plate and allow to cool enough so that you can touch it without burning yourself. Once cooled, remove and discard skin. Slice chicken off the bones, and discard bones. Chop chicken into very small pieces and return to pot.

Some people like to refrigerate the soup to allow the fats to solidify on top, so you can scoop them off and get rid of them, but I don't. There is so little fat in chicken breast already that I feel you really shouldn't sacrifice the flavor this way.

Finally, cook the starch of your choice according to package directions. I like noodles, my husband likes rice, and my daughter is a pasta fanatic, and since all three work very well, I use them interchangeably.

When ready to serve, scoop a generous spoonful of your starch into a bowl. Ladle soup, including plenty of broth, on top. Voila!

Note: you can also make this with potatoes instead of a pasta or rice. Simply add about 1 1/2 to 2 cups peeled and chopped red potatoes to the pot just AFTER it has boiled (otherwise they get overcooked and mushy).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Today's Gripe: Fat

My mother always said, "never trust a skinny cook."

Unfortunately, she never said anything about cooking and tasting and eating so much you feel all your favorite jeans getting tighter!

Damn. Maybe I will start investigating portion sizing, and include some info about that in future recipes. I'm sure I'm not the only person who eats a bit more than she should while cooking something yummy.

Cheater's "Homemade" Pizza Snack

The next time you order a pizza, ask for a cup of extra red sauce on the side. Not the marinara sauce they serve with mozzarella sticks, but real pizza sauce. When you get home and have gobbled down all your pizza, you can spoon the sauce onto English muffins and top with shredded cheese from your regular supermarket, chopped veggies, diced ham, diced meatballs, anything. So easy! I would have added a picture but I ate my little pizza before it occurred to me to post this.

Friday, September 5, 2008

My New Obsession: Alex Sepkus Jewelry

It seems to me that this is becoming a cooking-and-jewelry website. I'm not sure where the two intersect, except that women do the lion's share of cooking in most families, and women also have a stronger fondness for jewelry than do men. Hm.

At any rate, my new favorite jeweler is Alex Sepkus. His work is intricate, organic-looking, and quirky. I love the spirally designs, and the use of lots of tiny stones.

Check his site out:

Easy Ratatouille

This dish is so simple to make and requires so few ingredients that it hardly bears the need to write the recipe down. However, there are a couple of reasons why it's helpful to have a guide, and the main one is that cooking eggplant can be a pain in the ass unless you do it right. I suggest par-baking to eliminate cooking time and also to cut down on the grease. Also, traditional recipes call for green bell pepper, but I think that this has too sharp a flavor, and prefer to use red, orange or yellow pepper for a bit more sweetness.

2 small to medium eggplants
1/2 pint grape tomatoes
1/2 to a whole red bell pepper
1 shallot, minced
2 - 3 cloves garlic, pushed thru press
1 medium zucchini
14 oz. (1/2 large can) crushed tomato
olive oil
pinch of rosemary
large handful of fresh basil, shredded

Preheat oven to 375. Slice the eggplant into thin disks. Brush both sides lightly with olive oil, and arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake on middle rack about 20-25 minutes, turning once midway through, until disks are tender and the oil has been absorbed.

While eggplant is baking, slice zucchini into thin coins, then quarter. Dice bell pepper, and halve the grape tomatoes. Mince the shallot and open canned tomato.

In a large, deep saute pan, saute shallot and garlic in about 1 tbsp olive oil until shallot is soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add another tbsp olive oil, then the zucchini, bell pepper and tomatoes. Cook about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. By now the eggplant should be done, so take it out of the oven, let cool a couple of minutes, and then cut up the disks into at least quarters, to make smallish, bite-size pieces.

Add eggplant to mixture and saute for about 2 minutes, then add the crushed tomatoes and rosemary. Stir frequently while cooking another 10 minutes. (This is the time to open the wine and pour the first glasses. I recommend a pinot noir, or even a muscly rose, if it's summertime.)

One minute before serving, stir in the shredded basil. You might want to reserve a tiny bit to throw on top when you plate the meal.

I like to serve this with mashed potatoes and roasted fennel. You can use the same cookie sheet for the fennel as you used for the eggplant, and use a little spray oil to keep it from burning. Roast about 15 minutes, and sprinkle a large spoonful over the mashed potatoes, but not on the ratatouille. The fennel and potato work beautifully together, especially if you mash the potatoes with heavy cream and a respectable amount of butter!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Salade Nicoise

Recently I ordered this lunch dish at Cafe Luluc in Carroll Gardens. The following recipe is roughly, but not exactly, based on what appeared on my plate. The restaurant served canned tuna and canned olives; I would prefer it as indicated below. Also, it is important to use fresh, not frozen tuna, as frozen fish does not have the same buttery consistency as fresh. This recipe serves four.

1 lb fresh ahi tuna, sushi grade, about 3/4 inch thick
1 to 2 tbsp olive oil
2/3 head Romaine lettuce, chopped into small bite-size pieces
4 hard boiled eggs, thinly sliced
1 cup brine-cured black olives
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
2/3 English cucumber, sliced into thin coins
large handful string beans, trimmed and steamed tender-crisp
1 shallot, finely chopped
12 - 16 anchovy fillets, oil cured

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup light olive oil
1 tbsp parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, pushed thru press
salt and pepper to taste

For tuna, pour a small amount of olive oil into a saute pan and bring heat to high. Sear tuna on each side about a minute to a minute and a half, enough so that the outside is browned or even blackened, but the center is still pink and raw. Season with a tiny bit of salt and pepper.

Whisk together all dressing ingredients and reserve 4 tbps dressing. Toss remaining dressing with lettuce only. Take into account that your guests will be mixing in other salad components on their own, so it's ok to use slightly more dressing than you would use if it were just the lettuce.

Arrange a mound of lettuce at top center of plate. Place seared tuna directly on top of the lettuce and drizzle with a tablespoon of dressing. Create rows of the remaining salad ingredients, except for anchovies, in a radiant design, starting at the lettuce and extending to the edges of the plate.

Garnish tuna with 3 or 4 anchovy fillets.

Allow guests to combine lettuce and veggies to their liking on the plate.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Today's Gripe: Salmonella

As I write this, my husband is lying in bed half-convinced that he's dying. It's 2:25 AM and he's been extremely sick to his stomach for the past 4 hours. I've been awake too, helping him to and from the bathroom, bringing him ice chips, water, cleaning up a broken glass, bringing more water in a plastic cup, and now covering him in blankets to ease the chill he's feeling. I, on the other hand, am still feeling summer's last heat, and am a bit sweaty.

All this thanks to a lovely brunch this morning consisting of eggs Benedict. We went to a French bistro in Carroll Gardens this morning, a place that is usually so packed there's no point in trying to get a table unless you've got an hour to kill on the sidewalk. Matt had been wanting to go to this place for a while, and as we had secured a babysitter, he took me on a daytime date. Trying to watch my waist (although my mother always said never to trust a skinny cook), I ordered a Salade Nicoise. The salad was quite good and I'm sure a version of it will appear on this blog soon. But Matt ordered eggs Benedict, usually my favorite breakfast dish.

It was one of the more awe-inspiring and delicious plates of eggs Benedict I've ever tasted -- and perhaps I'm not sick because I had only one small bite. The eggs were just perfectly poached: soft, yielding whites and a hot, runny yolk that broke over the underlying ham and English muffin like spilled sunshine. The Hollandaise sauce was clearly homemade; it was tangy, creamy, and rich, the perfect foil for the yeasty muffin and delicate egg white. Delightful. Heaven on a plate.

But now I find myself Googling salmonella symptoms and pasteurized eggs. Ugh. But I guess de-germed eggs are the only solution to this awful affliction, unless we want to avoid Hollandaise and soft eggs for the rest of our lives. The horror!