Sunday, November 30, 2008

Turkey quesadillas

So you've had your fill of turkey sandwiches by now. But you've still got plenty of meat leftover from Thanksgiving and can't face another plate of microwaved turkey and reheated gravy. Time to switch gears with a whole different flavor palate. Think Tex-Mex. Think quesadillas. This is so simple to prepare there's really no recipe.
It's simply a matter of assembly.

Here are the ingredients you'll need:
flour tortillas
leftover turkey meat
onions
bell peppers (any color)
cheese (cheddar or monterey jack)
salsa (I made my own by mincing together fresh tomatoes, onion, green pepper, jalapeno and cilantro, then adding some salt and lime juice. You can always buy a good commercial brand.)

Slice the onions and peppers and fry in a skillet with a little bit of olive oil until cooked through. Then begin the assembly. There are no measurements because you can use more or less of any ingredient to your pleasing. Place one tortilla on a plate. Cover with grated cheese, strips of turkey meat, some of the onions and peppers, and a few tablespoons of the salsa. Place another tortilla on top of the mixture.

If you have a grill with ridges, oil the surface and place it on your stove burners over medium heat. If you don't have a grill, use a cast-iron skillet or heavy steel pan. When the grill or skillet is hot, place the tortilla on top and put a heavy press on top. If you don't have a press, just push down a little with a spatula. Cook for a couple of minutes until the cheese melts and grill marks begin to show. Watch carefully to make sure it doesn't burn. Turn over and grill for a few minutes on other side.


This is what it looks like after all the ingredients are in place and just before you're ready to cover with a second tortilla.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Chestnut, sausage and apple stuffing

Pardon me while I sing a few bars of "The Christmas Song," more readily known by its opening lyrics "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire."
I couldn't help myself as I sat in front of the fireplace yesterday, shaking a pan filled with chestnuts resting on hot embers. I decided to make a chestnut, sausage and apple stuffing for my Thanksgiving turkey and wanted to get a jump-start on the chestnuts.
Chestnuts are used much more commonly in Italy, where towns even hold chestnut festivals (sagre de castagne) in the fall. We visited one such town - Soriano - in October, where chestnuts were roasted on huge mesh-bottomed pans out in the streets. After about twenty minutes of vigorous jostling back and forth by a Soriano resident, where many of the chestnut skins fell away from the nutmeat, the chestnuts were then dumped into a straw basket and handed out free in small paper bags to any and all nearby.
Maybe it was the atmosphere as much as the open fire roasting, but these were the best chestnuts I had ever eaten.
We also visited some friends who live just outside of Rome and gathered dozens of chestnuts from their trees, hoping to bring back some untreated nuts to start our own cluster of chestnut trees. Check back with me in the spring to see if they have germinated.
But I digress.
OK, so back to the fireplace, which is where I sat yesterday, shaking my chestnuts in a pan punctuated with holes on the bottom. Don't ask me where I got the pan. I've had it for a couple of decades. Don't worry if you don't have such a pan, you can use a cast iron skillet. No fireplace? No problem. You can cook chestnuts in the oven too. First, with a knife, cut an "x" on the chestnuts and soak them in water for about 15 minutes. Do this if you're roasting on an open fire too. Drain the chestnuts, put them on a cookie sheet or pan and roast in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, shaking them once or twice. Peel them, using a napkin or paper towel to protect your fingers from the heat and blackened outer skins. There's also a very thin inner skin that needs to come off too. Sometimes it comes off easily, but sometimes it's a battle between you and the chestnut. For all of you who think this is too much fuss, I recently discovered that you can buy already cooked and peeled chestnuts in a glass jar at the supermarket. Whichever way you decide, once you've got the chestnuts, you're ready to make the stuffing.


Chestnut, sausage and apple stuffing

1 16-ounce package Pepperidge Farm cornbread stuffing mix (or any other brand or type of bread)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1 pound roasted chestnuts, broken into pieces
2 apples, diced in large pieces
2 1/2 cups chicken or turkey broth
1 stick butter, melted

Remove the casings from the sausage and saute in the olive oil, breaking it up into clumps. Add the onions and celery and saute until the meat is cooked and the vegetables are limp. Add the chestnut pieces and swirl around to mix the flavors. Pour the stuffing mix into a large bowl and add the sausage and chestnut mixture, plus the apple pieces. Add the broth and the butter, using more broth if necessary to make a moist stuffing. This will make more than enough to stuff a 12-pound bird with enough left for a casserole. Bake the casserole at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Swiss Chard Flan

I wasn't quite sure what to call this recipe - is it a custard, a flan, a tian? It's kind of like a quiche, but without the crust. Call it what you like, but I call it delicious. It would make a nice lunch or dinner with the addition of a salad, but I plan to make it as a side dish this Thanksgiving. You can even assemble it the night before and bake it the next day. If you don't have swiss chard, or don't like it, you can substitute spinach. Actually any vegetable would do for this recipe. I happened to have some orange bell pepper on hand, and added that for extra color and flavor, but it's not essential either. I used asiago cheese in the recipe, but the choice is yours here too - cheddar, parmesan, feta even. They would all work. The important thing is to get going and make it.

Swiss Chard Flan

swiss chard (about 4 cups of raw swiss chard packed into a measuring cup. After boiling and squeezing out the water, you should have about two cups)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt, pepper
5 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 cup asiago cheese, grated

Boil the swiss chard in water for about five minutes and drain. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess moisture and place on chopping board. Mince the chard until you have small pieces. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a saute' pan and add the shallots, garlic and bell pepper. Saute' until soft, then add the chopped swiss chard, parsley, salt and pepper.

Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the milk and grated asiago cheese. Add the swiss chard mixture and mix in the bowl until everything is blended. Pour into a buttered casserole and place the casserole in a bain-marie (water bath). Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Broccoli Romano

Broccoli romano - Until five or six years ago, I had never heard of it, much less tasted it. Flashback to a dinner at "La Cisterna," a restaurant in Rome, when our waiter "Romeo" rips the menus out of our hands and announces, "Stasera mangierete il migliore abbacchio in tutto Roma," or "Tonight you will eat the best baby lamb in all of Rome." He proceeds to choose our entire meal for us, including a platter of broccoli romano sauteed in olive oil, garlic, salt and a little red pepper. I was immediately infatuated with the adorable green vegetable, (and he was right about the lamb) and saw it in nearly every market in the city. I eat it every time I'm in Italy. But finding it here in the northeastern U.S. is a little difficult. I've seen it at Whole Foods, but only as a miniature head. And if you wanted to buy enough to serve for a dinner party, the cost would be so steep you might as well book a flight to Italy (well, not really, but any excuse to travel there and I'm ready.) So you can imagine my joy recently when I stumbled across the vegetable at a local organic farm with a friend for the annual "pig out day," the last harvest of the year.
Whenever I'm in Rome and near a kitchen, I usually prepare broccoli romano as a side dish just the way I had it at "La Cisterna" - parboil it first, drain it, then toss it in a saute pan with some olive oil, garlic, salt and a little bit of red pepper flakes. It's also delicious with a gratinee of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese on top. But after arriving home from the farm earlier this week, I decided to throw together a pasta dish for lunch, using the broccoli romano. If you can't find it, the recipe could be made just as easily with many other vegetables - regular broccoli, broccoli rape, cauliflower, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini - anything. It will be good, but it won't transport you back to Rome (and Romeo) like the broccoli romano does for me.

Pasta with broccoli romano
(serves two)

1/2 pound pasta, any type
florets of broccoli romano, about 1 - 1/2 cups
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
garlic, three large cloves
salt, black pepper
crushed red pepper flakes
chopped parsley
parmesan cheese

Heat a large pot of salted water and add the pasta while you make the rest of the recipe.
Trim the broccoli romano into bite size florets. Parboil in water for about five minutes and drain. Heat half the olive oil in the pan, add the garlic and saute a minute or two. Add the drained broccoli romano, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir for a few minutes then add a small amount of the pasta water (1/4 cup or so) to the broccoli romano and put the lid on the pot. Cook for another five minutes on low heat, being careful not to burn it. Lift the lid and test the broccoli romano to see if it's cooked. Make sure to cook it long enough until it's tender to the bite. Italians like their pasta al dente, but not their vegetables. If there is water remaining in the pan, remove the lid and turn up the heat to help evaporate the water. Drain the pasta and add to the vegetable mixture in the saute' pan. Mix everything together, adding the chopped parsley. Off the heat, stir in the remaining olive oil, and grated parmesan cheese.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jazzin' in New Orleans

videoA short clip of the Jazz Vipers, a group we heard in New Orleans at the "Spotted Cat" on Frenchman Street. It's everything you've ever envisioned of an old time jazz club -- located in a ramshackle wooden house, musicians playing old jazz standards while clutching a cigarette, beer bottle on the side. Later in the evening, a young couple walked in the door, cast off their jackets, and immediately moved to the postage-stamp size dance floor, where they provided even more wonderful entertainment for the crowd as they glided to the music with their well-coordinated dance moves.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Beignets and more in New Orleans

It's not a good idea to visit New Orleans right before Thanksgiving. It's going to be hard getting rid of the extra weight I put on during a long weekend in "The Big Easy." And now more of a food onslaught is in store with the holiday approaching.
But it was worth it. Here is a sampling of some of the temptations I ate during our short stay.
The photo was taken at "Emeril's," the eponymous restaurant named after Emeril Lagasse, whose cooking show can be seen on the Food Network. The pork chop was about two inches thick and smothered in a tamarind glaze and green mole sauce, and served with caramelized sweet potatoes. What a winning and unexpected combination of flavors. Thank you Emeril for that taste experience and also for the recipe, which is posted on the Food Network's website. It's a little involved, but in case you want to try it, here's the link.
We also ate at "August," one of John Besh's restaurants. For those of you who watch the Food Network, you may remember that Besh won the Iron Chef competition against Mario Batali. "August" is an elegant, but not stuffy restaurant, with a more refined and subtle menu than "Emeril's." To give you an idea, we started with an amuse bouche of fish mousse, served in a small egg shell. The meal continued on a high note, including a salad of organic greens with pumpkin seed brittle, blue cheese and pumpkin seed oil vinaigrette. It's a nice contrast of textures and tastes, and one I plan to make in the future for dinner parties. Since I haven't made it myself yet, I'll give you a link to a pumpkin nut brittle recipe on Epicurious.com.

I can't talk about New Orleans food without mentioning beignets - those square-shaped puffy fried "doughnuts" that are a must when visiting the city. The most well-known place to eat them is the Cafe Du Monde, where this photo was taken. They are typically served with Cafe Du Monde's version of cafe au lait, a blend of chicory and coffee. The beignets arrive covered with a blizzard of powdered sugar, so be careful if you're wearing black slacks as I was!! One bite and you'll become enamored of the traditional New Orleans favorite. They sell a beignet mix at the Cafe Du Monde and online, and there are plenty of recipes on the web as well. Most of the authors claim that the mix isn't as good as the homemade recipe, which includes yeast. Here's the link to a recipe from a website that's all about NOLA (New Orleans) food:

Friday, November 14, 2008

Chicken Soup with tortellini and frittate

It's been one of those weeks where getting out of bed was a major effort. You know the symptoms -- runny nose, achy body, ear and chest congestion, blah, blah, blah.
What better way to get back on track than the old remedy so many of you already know - chicken soup. It's such a cliche', but it really does help. It also conjures up lovely memories of my childhood when my mother fussed over me when I was ill.
I had to content myself with canned chicken broth and pastina until I was well enough a few days later to at least put together a few ingredients for a homemade broth - so superior to anything canned! I made some last week too, from the left-over carcass I had after finishing the roast chicken I had cooked. There are many ways to make a good broth, so you can adapt it to whatever cut of meat you like. Sometimes I buy a whole chicken and sometimes I use just the thighs or just the breast and sometimes I add a piece of beef as well, making it more of a "bollito misto." If I'm just using a small piece of meat, I'll also add a bouillon cube, to boost the flavor. I wish I could say this photo was the soup I made, but it's not. I was not prescient enough (or well enough) to think of photography. This photo is the chicken soup we ate when we were visiting my husband's relatives last month in Abruzzo. His cousin Giovanna adds a couple of tomatoes to her broth, which adds color and more flavor. She also adds little squares of frittata, which also boosts the yum factor as well as the protein -- all things that should help you if you're trying to cast off a nasty cold. Even if you're well however, it's a delicious welcome for the body and soul.

Chicken Soup with tortellini and frittate

1 chicken, 3-4 lbs.
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
small bunch of parsley
2 tsps. salt
8-10 peppercorns

I like to start out with skinless chicken, so you have less fat in the soup. If you're just using breasts or thighs, skin them, but don't use boneless ones, if you can help it. The bones add to the flavor.
Place the chicken in a large pot, then add water to cover by at least an inch or two. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Skim off the scum that forms on the top, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about two hours.

If you want to make it like the photo, add two whole tomatoes.
After cooking, strain the soup into a large bowl, and skim off the fat. If you put it in the refrigerator overnight, the fat will solidify and come off easily the next day. Either serve the meat on the side as a separate part of the meal, or break the chicken up into pieces and put back into the soup.

Serve with purchased tortellini (I mean who's really got the energy to make home-made tortellini when you're sick?) and frittate bits, if desired. (For all you non-Italians out there, frittate is just the plural of frittata.)

Frittata

6 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 thinly sliced scallions (or 1/4 cup chives)
3 tablespoons of butter

Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the other ingredients until well blended. Melt butter in a large oven-proof skillet until foamy, and over low heat, add the eggs. Cook for about 10 minutes over low heat until the eggs have set but the top surface is still a bit runny. Place the skillet under the broiler until the top has set. Watch carefully, because it should take no longer than one or two minutes. Remove from the oven and loosen from the pan with a spatula onto a plate. Cut into little squares to serve over the soup.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Carrot Cake

Do you ever forget you've got carrots in your refrigerator and find yourself buying yet another bag of them at the supermarket? It happens to me more than I'd like to admit, and I was getting a bit tired of cooked carrots as a side dish to dinner. So I dusted off an old recipe I used in the 1970s when carrot cake emerged as a standard dessert in my repertoire. Although I loved it then, it was a bit heavy and weighed-down with ingredients, including crushed pineapple and shredded coconut. So I omitted those ingredients this time around and made this version instead, which I have to admit, I like even better. I hope you will too.

I baked this recipe in two 8" x 8" Pyrex glass pans. I dusted one of them with powdered sugar and we ate it right away. The other I put in the freezer, later thawed, and served with a buttercream frosting. You could also make this in a rectangular 8" x 13" pan, or in two 8" round layer pans.

Carrot Cake

2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsps. vanilla
2 cups sifted flour
2 tsps. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
2 tsps baking soda
1 1/2 tsps. salt
1 pound of carrots, grated
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

Grease and flour the pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, beat the sugar, oil and eggs together until pale yellow. Add the vanilla. Sift the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and salt together and add to the wet ingredients. Grate the carrots, either with a food processor or by hand, and add them to the batter with the raisins and walnuts. Mix well.

Pour the batter into the pans and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the cake bounces back when lightly pressed. I also use a toothpick to test. Poke it into the center and if it comes out clean, the cake is done.

Dust with confectioner's sugar when cool, or frost with a buttercream or cream cheese frosting.

Buttercream frosting:

2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
4 tbspns. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
a few tablespoons of milk

Beat sugar, butter and vanilla together and add milk, a tablespoonful at a time, until the frosting is creamy and smooth. This makes enough for one of the cakes - double if making one large 9" x 13" rectangular cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1/2 cup butter
1 8 ounce package cream cheese
2 - 4 tablespoons of milk
1 pound confectioner's sugar

Mix butter and cream cheese with vanilla and gradually add the sugar. Add a little milk, one teaspoonful at a time, to thin it out. Beat until smooth. This is enough for a large 9" x 13" rectangular pan or for two 8" square or round pans.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rose's Manicotti

This is another one of those comfort food recipes that you're likely to make again and again, not just because it tastes great, but also because you can make it ahead of time and freeze it for later.
I can't take credit for it -- It's brought to you via my Dad and his wife Rose, who have frequently served it at their table, and have introduced it at mine as well.
It's unlike the traditional manicotti that you might know, since the filling is contained in a crepe, not in pasta. It's a recipe handed down from Rose's mother and maybe it will become part of your tradition too. It makes a wonderful first course, but with the addition of a salad can also serve as the main course. Since there's no meat in the recipe, vegetarians will be happy too.

Rose's Manicotti

Makes about 20

For the crepes:

4 eggs
1 cup water
1 cup milk
2 tblspns. melted butter
2 cups flour

Beat the eggs slightly. Place the flour in a bowl, and add the eggs, water, milk and melted butter. Beat everything together.
Using a paper towel, smear the bottom of a 7 inch nonstick skillet with olive oil. Over medium heat, pour some of the batter into the pan, swirl around and watch carefully until the batter seems to solidify. Do not let the crepe brown. The color should be similar to the pale color of pasta dough. Flip it over and cook for only a couple of seconds on the other side.

Filling:

2 pounds ricotta cheese
4 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Mix all the filling ingredients together and place some of filling along a straight line down the middle of a crepe. Roll up the crepe and place seam-side down in a baking pan that has been first layered with tomato sauce. Proceed until the pan is filled, then cover with another layer of tomato sauce. Do not put a second layer of crepes over the first.

Tomato Sauce:

Use your favorite tomato sauce - with or without meat. In my family, to use anything but homemade tomato sauce would be blasphemy, but if you resort to a commercial brand, I won't tell. For this recipe, my father and Rose make a meatless sauce that is very smooth, since it enhances the delicate texture and flavor of the crepes.

Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 325 degrees about 1/2 hour.
If frozen, place the pan in the refrigerator the night before serving. Bake at 325 degrees, but you may need slightly more than 1/2 hour until the crepes are heated through and the sauce is bubbly hot.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Day Roast Chicken

It's finally here! Election day takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 4 in the U.S. after what seems like an interminably long campaign. Miranda (the lovely lady in the photo) implores you to vote. No matter what the outcome, you'll be taking part in a historic election.
By Wednesday morning (hopefully) somebody will be declared a winner -- and a lot of people who supported the losing candidate will be feeling pretty glum. It may be small solace for the losers, but I'm posting one of my favorite comfort foods to help you get through the day.
The technique of starting the bird with the breast-side down is just as important as the recipe, so make sure to follow the directions.

Favorite Roast Chicken

1 6 lb. roasting chicken
olive oil
1 lemon
1 large onion
bouquet of fresh garden herbs
dried herbs and spices:
lemon pepper
herbs de provence
paprika
kosher salt

Rinse the chicken with cold water and pat dry. Squeeze one lemon into the cavity and place the lemon inside the cavity, along with a bouquet of fresh herbs. I used fresh thyme, oregano and rosemary, but use whatever you have. If you don't have any fresh herbs, sprinkle inside with dry herbs.
Rub the outside of the chicken with olive oil and place in a greased roasting pan, breast side down. This will ensure moist breast meat and evenly cooked skin. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and the dry herbs: lemon pepper, herbs de provence and paprika. Chop a large onion into quarters and nestle in the pan next to the chicken. Roast in a 375 degree oven for one hour. Turn over so that breast side faces up and sprinkle with the dry herbs. Lower the temperature to 350 and roast for another hour or until juices run clear after piercing a fork into the thickest part.