Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Jewish Penicillin

With the leaves falling, and the days gone short, you'd think it would also be time for bundling up tight in warm jackets and scarves. This year, not so much. We've gone from frigid days in the forties (okay, Northerners, that's pretty cold to us!), straight into warm, blustery days close to the mid-seventies. And then back again.

The unusual weather seems to have finally caught up with DucCat last week, and he spent our entire holiday vacation fighting a losing battle against a monstrous cold/sinus infection. As we couldn't get him to the doctor until Monday, it was time to pull out the big guns: chicken soup with matzo balls.

This recipe is another culled from the treasured "James River Kitchen Cook Book", by DucCat's Mom. This simple chicken soup was given to her by her great grandmother, who brought it to the U.S. from Poland. We've tweaked and coddled the basic recipe just a bit, and have been quite pleased with the results. And while it wasn't quite able to clear up the infection, its comforting warmth and rich flavour went a long way in helping my love make it through the long weekend.

Mom's Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls
For the stock:
1 container More Than Gourmet Jus de Poulet Lié Gold (Classic Roasted Chicken Demi-Glace, makes about 1 cup)
1/2 container Glace de Canard Gold (Classic Roasted Duck Stock, makes about 2 cups)
1 pound chicken parts (backs, necks, feet, etc)
1 stewing chicken, 3.5-4 pounds
1 onion, peeled and halved
3 stalks celery, trimmed and halved
3 carrots, peeld and halved
salt and pepper, to taste
Note: Yes, I use More Than Gourmet stocks with reckless abandon. I'm sure I could spend hours simmering and skimming my way to a freezer full of my own broths and stocks- but I don't. Not to sound like a jingle, but the ease and convenience of their products, combined with their rich, deep flavours, really makes it too easy not to use. So there.

Additions to the stock:
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, trimmed and sliced
3 carrots, peeled and chopped

Matzo balls:
2 Tablespoons chicken fat or oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup matzo meal
dash of salt
2 Tablespoons soup stock
(of course, you could do as I do, and just use Manischewitz matzo ball mix! I add chopped parsley to the mixture, and always separate the eggs. The whites are beaten until stiff, then folded gently in at the last.)

Place all ingredients in a large stew pot; fill with additional water to cover, as necessary.
Cover and simmer until chicken is about to fall off the bone, about an hour and a half. Remove chicken, and chunk the meat; reserve.
Strain and skim the stock, and discard the chicken parts and used vegetables. Heat stock until reaching a lively simmer.

About 20 minutes before ready to serve, add the chopped onion and raw matzoh balls to the simmering stock; cover. They'll puff up, and turn into fat little floating balls of goodness.
When 10 minutes have passed, add the celery and carrots.
In five minutes, add the chunked chicken, and make sure everything is warmed through.

DucCat likes this just as is, but I prefer sprinkling my cup with freshly chopped dill.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Thankful For Appetizers

The family gathered from far and wide to partake in that most American of holidays, Thanksgiving. And any holiday that is all about eating, drinking, and joyful convivality is okay by me.

I was assigned appetzier duty, which I attacked with relish. I flicked my way through a multitude of cookbooks and print-outs, before settling on two recipes that were tried and true, and two quite new.

I’d had it in mind to make a couple of dips/spreads, and really wanted some cute little breadsticks for dunking purposes (double-dippers not welcomed!).

I used last week’s kalamatta olive focaccia recipe, although this time there was enough forethought for a slow, cool rise overnight in the refrigerator.

The dough was portioned out and twisted long and thin, baking into beautiful, golden, olive-flecked sticks.

Dip number one was from epicurious: Thyme and Garlic Cheese Dip. I ran just a hair short of thyme, so made up the rest with some chives. The resultant mixture turned an odd, pale shade of green, much like the floors lining my old elementary school.

It, too, spent a night in the fridge, in hopes of its flavours melding. When tasted the next day, however, the garlic dominated everything. Other than being quite garlicky, this dip was oddly bland.

Like sliced white bread, only green- and garlicky.

There was A LOT of this left over.

Moving on to an old favourite, we have Hot Spinach Cheese Dip. I’m a huge fan of spinach dips, but not so fond of mayonnaise. Discovering this recipe was a real treat, from the zippy-cheesy flavour, to its ease of preparation.

This dip needs to stay piping hot when being served, otherwise the cheese rapidly begins to harden up into an congealed mess. A very small crockpot would be ideal; I ended up keeping a pot warmed on the stove, which worked, but was a bit awkward.

And finally, what proved to be the pre-feast highlight, Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms . These were also a new recipe from epicurious; I prepped the mushrooms and the mixture the night before, and did all the stuffing that morning. In the interest of keeping these bite-sized, I used regular small button mushrooms instead of the stuffers.

It took them slightly longer than the suggested 25 minutes of cooking time, and I ended up finishing them with a blast from the broiler. It was truly worth the wait! Each little mushroomy mouthful was a delightful mix of the herbed cheeses and spicy sausage. My father-in-law gave me a hug and a kiss; my sister-in-law asked for the recipe; DucCat looked at me quite seriously, and said, "These kick ASS!".

While they were the last appetizer to emerge, this platter was the first to disappear. ‘nuff said.

Finally, it was time for some serious Thanksgiving noshing. Appetizers were packed away and little plates cleared, making room for the star of the show: a massive, golden, stuffing-filled turkey. Truly an occasion for which to give thanks!


Hot Spinach Cheese Dip

1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup freshly grated cheddar cheese
1 cup freshly grated monterey jack cheese
8 ounces sour cream
1 tablespoon grated, peeled onions
1 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
3 dashes hot sauce

Combine all ingredients in a large (microwave safe preferably) bowl.
Microwave on high for 2 minutes.
Stir; microwave another 2 minutes.
Stir again and microwave for 1 minute.
Serve piping hot.

Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms

3 Italian hot sausages, casings removed
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
Olive oil
24 large (about 2-inch-diameter) mushrooms, stemmed
1/3 cup dry white wine

Sauté sausage and oregano in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat until sausage is cooked through and brown, breaking into small pieces with back of fork, about 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage mixture to large bowl and cool. Mix in 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic powder, then cream cheese. Season filling with salt and pepper; mix in egg yolk.
Brush 15x10x2-inch glass baking dish with olive oil to coat. Brush cavity of each mushroom cap with white wine; fill with scant 1 tablespoon filling and sprinkle with some of remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Arrange mushrooms, filling side up, in prepared dish. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake uncovered until mushrooms are tender and filling is brown on top, about 25 minutes.

Makes 24.
Bon Appétit
Too Busy To Cook?
November 2002
Louise Pickerel, Muskogee, OK

Sunday, November 27, 2005

SHF/IMBB Cookie Swap

Remembering at the last moment this month's SHF cookie swap theme, I whipped out a batch of my favourite holiday cookies, Cranberry-Lemon Iced Drops.

These cookies were discovered a few years ago when hanging out on Fine Cooking's Cook's Talk Forum. A chef, going by the name of Cookimonster, posted these with great praise. On the lookout for something new, I gave 'em a shot, and was suitably impressed.

The combination of tart cranberry, crunchy pecans, and lively speckles of lemon zest are countered by the citric sweetness of a simple glaze. When these sit covered for a day, they grow soft, morphing into something a little more like miniature muffin tops.

Look at how happy wise Buddha is sitting amongst these cookies. Be as the Buddha.

Read the entire round up at SHF/IMBB Cookie Swap!.

CM's Cranberry Lemon Iced Drops

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups chopped cranberries (I typically use frozen)
lemon glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1. Combine flour, baking powder and cinnamon.
2. Set aside.
3. Cream butter, sugars, and zest until light and fluffy.
4. Beat in egg and vanilla.
5. Gradually beat in flour mixture.
6. Stir in pecans and cranberries.
7. Drop by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto greased cookie sheets.
8. Bake at 350-degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden.
9. Cool 5 minutes before removing from cookie sheet.
10. Whisk together ingredients for lemon icing- taste and adjust, adding more zest if necessary.
11. When cool, drizzle with lemon icing.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. And if cookies are close at hand, all the better.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Stockpot Full of Love

DucCat and I just returned from the movie store with David La Chapelle’s Rize in our hot little hands. I was itching to check it out, but first, needed to peruse the cupboards in search of dinner inspiration.

A quick check revealed a brimming cheese drawer, aging onions, bread rapidly turning stale, and an assortment of LeGourmet stocks. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they were aching to jump into the stockpot to become:

The above picture is a page from DucCat’s mother’s cookbook, a revered tome of family trivia and well-loved recipes. This special book long ago transcended the 'regular' cookbook shelf in favour of the kitchen chopping block, close at hand for any given cook-ly whim.

DucCat began sautéing the onions, while I grated mountains of cheese, and sliced the bread nice and thick for toasting.

As DucCat put the final touches into the burbling, oniony pot, I had to take a quick peek out at Rize.


Oh, my.


I scurried back into the kitchen to help with clean-up, and prepare our little crocks for that final blast of heat.

Soon, all of our once-fading leftovers emerged transformed into some seriously soul-satisfying food.

Oh, and that movie Rize? It may have begun with the dancing, but, as always, it ended in the kitchen.

Julia Child’s French Onion Soup
adapted for the James River Kitchen cookbook

· 3 Tablespoons butter
· 1 Tablespoon olive oil
· 2.5 pounds thinly sliced yellow onions
· pinch of sugar
· 1 teaspoon salt
· 3 Tablespoons flour
· 8 (2 quarts) cups light beef stock, at a boil
· 1 cup dry red wine
· 1 bay leaf
· 1/2 teaspoon sage
· Salt and pepper to taste
· thickly cut slices of hard-toasted French bread
· 1 ½ cups grated Swiss & Parmesan cheeses, mixed (disclaimer: not afraid to go heavy-handed here)

Melt butter and oil in a heavy 4 quart pan or casserole. Add onions and stir; cover and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. When onions are tender and translucent, uncover, riase heat to medium high and stir in salt and sugar.

Cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently until onions turn golden brown. Lower heat to medium, stir in flour; cook and stir for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and add 1 cup into onion mixture with a whisk. Add remaining stock, wine, bay leaf, sage and simmer slowly for 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

If not serving immediately, cool uncovered and refrigerate.

At serving time, toast slices of bread in a 325-degree oven until nicely crisped and hard. Ladle soup in individual crocks or use a casserole. Sprinkle cheese ontop and bake at 350-degrees for 30 minutes, or until soup is bubbly and cheese is melted.

Note: you'll probably want to broil it for the last couple of minutes to obtain a nicely browned cheesy crust.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Lost, but not forgotten, Summer Lunches

I was going through my photo archives recently when I came across a couple of pictures that I had meant to put up on the blog. Somehow, they were passed over, so we'll make a quick trip back in time to a summery, Sunday lunch.

DucCat and I had been out visiting the Williamsburg Farmer's Market on the motorcycle, and returned with a bevy of heirloom tomatoes, bread and cheeses. On the tray, beginning in the upper left, you'll see a very fresh feta. The round of cheese over on the right is some sort of tripe creme (Chaource?), quite luscious, smooth, and just a little nutty.

Beneath that is a pungent specimen Morbier- notice the vein of ash running through the middle! The little blue bowl contains a good dollop of peppery, smoked liverwurst; just above that is a fresh and mild lavender goat cheese.

(DucCat didn't care so much for the lavender goat cheese as an eating-on-it's-own cheese. His attentions became much more entranced a few nights later, when I portioned it out on puff pastry, warmed it in the oven, then drizzled with rose hip honey and toasted pistachio halves.)

Just out of sight are the heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped and lightly dressed in olive oil, salt and basil.

A meal like this, of course, calls for wine, and we had one of my favourites that day:

the 2002 Pacific Peak Chardonnay.

I've mentioned it several times on the blog as our house white wine.

It's light in body, with soft pear and citric fruits, and enough acidity to keep the palate interesting.


Oh, and have I mentioned that it's only $3.99 a bottle? Dude, like, it's totally a no-brainer.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

And soon, there were none left. Hungry, that is.

It’s Saturday night, the weather has turned cool, and the leaves are crunching away underfoot. Why, it must be time for our Annual Fall Solstice Party, and the ultimate Italian feast.

(click for larger image)

Ever seen 'Big Night'? This festive movie about two Italian brothers and their restaurant culminates in one very special dish- timpano di maccheroni, also known as ‘the mythic pasta dome’.

Once before, I attempted the mighty timpano, with a fair amount of success. I found the recipe in Mario Batali’s cookbook, ‘Holiday Food’. The timpano itself wasn’t complicated, but did require several different recipes to be prepared, then assembled into the final dish. When it emerged from the oven, it was indeed an impressive sight to behold. Eating it was an equally impressive feat, with alternating mouthfuls of pasta and meatballs, rigatoni and meat sauce, and threads of piping hot cheese.

It’s been a couple of years since that first trial run, so I figured it was time to invite 14 of our closest friends over for attempt number two.

The house was spotlessly clean thanks to a very hard-working DucCat.
While he was tucking the cats safely behind closed doors, I arranged rows of wine glasses, staggered flower-filled vases, and fanned out cheeky little cocktail napkins.

Oh yes, and there were some appetizers, too.

From the left, we have a wonderfully stinky Tallegio; an incredibly rich blue that I believe is St. Agur; and an ancient Piave, that had been lost for years in a warehouse, and only recently uncovered. I had to cut about an inch or so of intimidating-looking mold off, but what lay underneath was richly structured and complex. Best eaten in small, reverent bites.

Here, soppresatta and genoa, flanked by Costco’s wonderful marinated mushrooms. Simple, yet effective.

This little dish holds one of my favourite spreads, Two-Step Artichoke Tapenade, a deliciously garlic-filled dip that my sister in-law shared with me.

Behind it you see sliced and toasted kalamatta olive bread. I’d meant to prepare this as bread sticks, but ran out of time.

The dough is actually supposed to be focaccia from Baking with Julia. Since I’d waited until the last minute to settle upon making it, the dough never had the benefit of a long, slow rise overnight. I used rapid-rise yeast, and stuffed it in the oven about an hour-and-a-half later. It still tasted as good as fresh bread always does, rich from the olives, and with great texture.

Our guests began filtering in, as the timpano slowly filled the house with comforting, Italian-tinged aromas. An hour into it, I added the eggplant parmesan to the oven, a little something for our vegetarian friends, and a good ‘vegetable’ for our carniverous ones (and DucCat, I mean you).

That magic hour appeared, and I pulled forth the massive timpano. As before, there were some problems in trying to determine when exactly it was done: I let it cook for about 30 minutes longer than specified. After letting it rest for the required 15 minutes, I cut out the first piece.

Again, flashbacks to the first timpano. It didn’t slice at all neatly, and all the pasta-covered goodness came tumbling out in a steaming pile. No matter- it was time to eat!

The timpano still tasted heavenly, half the rigatoni rich with bechamel and prosciutto, the other half liberally doused in meat sauce, pocketed with fat meatballs and gooey threads of cheese. The outer shell of pasta dough had a bit of an odd texture, a little too hard in some places; it also didn’t hold it’s shape once cut into. Perhaps its just meant to be that way.

I forgot to take a photo of the eggplant parmesan, but you can see one here. This Marcella Hazan recipe has spoiled me for life against the flaccid imitations you find at your local red-and-white-checked Ialian-American restaurant. The fried eggplant is rich and complex, bathed in the simplest of tomato sauces, and liberally doused with cheese. Amazingly, there’s no garlic anywhere in this recipe; it is absolute perfection as is.

(I will admit to adding a few extra vegetables this time 'round, much to DucCat's horror. Summer squash, zucchini and portobello mushrooms were sauteed, then added at the last moment to the sauce.)

A couple of our guests brought salad: one magnificent Caesar, and one ‘harvest’ salad. Not only were both excellent, they provided our much-needed greens for the evening.

DucCat of course had a special bottle of wine tucked away for this evening:
a 3-liter Bellini Chianti, the perfect foil to a meal dripping with tomatoes, pasta, and slowly simmered meats.

For such a big bottle of wine, I was amazed at how quickly it disappeared!
Our friends are nothing if not troopers in the face of such excess.

After so much food, I hadn’t planned on making any dessert. Luckily, I’ve caring and concerned friends who pay attention to such important minutae. She came bearing an Amaretto cake, and an authentic bottle of grappa, brought back from Italy by her sister several years ago.

The amaretto cake was just fabulous, light in texture, and exuding amaretto from every airy little crumb. You can see from the shaky blurriness of the photo that I was absolutely quivering with pleasure. She has promised me the recipe, so stay on the lookout for that one!

Now, I’ve heard of grappa before, but have never tasted this liquer. I poured little shots of the ‘Julia’ for each guest, and finally hoisted my own little thimbleful.

Luckily, I was close enough to the sink to lean casually over, and spit that firewater right back out. Nasty stuff, nasty stuff, the grappa!


Aside from the fiery, nosehair-curling grappa, it was a very succesful solstice, and a great segue way into Thanksgiving and the High Holiday season!

Recipe Links:

Artichoke Tapenade
Focaccia Dough- note that I prepared this with rapid rise yeast, letting it rise only one hour. I also added 1 jar of chopped kalamatta olives to the mixture.

Eggplant Parmesan Note: for added veggie goodness, I sauteed mushrooms, summer squash, and zucchini along with this, and added it to the sauce at the last moment.

Timpano di Maccheroni
Ragu Napoletano (Neapolitan Meat Sauce)
Besciamella Sauce
Polpette Alla Napoletana (Neapolitan Meatballs)

Friday, November 18, 2005

Of Dim Sum and Dumplings

I’ve been telling DucCat for sometime now that when the grew grey and cold, we would suck it up, and make our own dim sum. Finally, the weather changed.

Of course, I know that dim sum is more than just dumplings, but here in swanky Newport News, that’s about as close as we’re going to get. I enthusiastically purchased a variety of veggies, meats, and sauces, and soon we were both chopping and mincing away happily in the kitchen.

When everything was finally in tiny,uniform cubes, I pulled out the three recipes I’d had my eyes upon.

After getting everything sorted into seperate batches and mixed together nicely, I finally looked over the instructions to see how the folding was done. At which point, I noticed that one recipe called for the cabbage to be blanched, then completely wrung dry. A tablespoon of chopped ginger was to be carefully steeped in warm water, before being strained over the meat mixture, and the ginger itself discarded.

You'd think by now I'd know to read each and every recipe thoroughly before starting!. It was too late to turn back, so we forged ahead, and spent the next forty-five minutes stuffing and folding our way to dim sum delight.

And finally, that glorious moment came: fresh, fragrant, pillowy gyoza!

Now isn’t that truly delightful? The mandoo-style was probably favourite, with both of the others closely behind it. I think I’d prefer a slightly stronger kimchee flavour in the Pork & Kimchee dumplings, so will definately up the amount of kimchee. The Pork Dumplings, the recipe which I blazed through heedless of detailed instructions, came out just fine. Next time, I'll follow suit and save myself the time of the blanching and straining steps.

We also had a new favourite join our table that night, Stir-Fried Cabbage. I thought it was pretty good with a little heat still on it, while DucCat thought the flavour vastly improved after cooling completely to room temperature. The dumplings were all served with My Korean Dipping Sauce.

I’ve added the recipe titles with ingredients only, but they all link back to the original recipes. Pleast note that on the final Epicurious recipe, I did nothing more than add all the ingredients together, and stuff them into the dumplings. No blanching/steeping/wringing or straining for this girl!

Korean-Style Mandoo Dumplings
1/2 pound minced pork
1/4 cup minced scallion
1/4 cup minced shiitake mushrooms
1/4 cup minced carrot
1 cup chopped bok choy/nappa cabbage
1 teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon black pepper
large pinch of salt
from Mark Bittman’s The World’s Best Recipes

Pork and Kimchee Dumplings
1/2 cup finely chopped shiitake mushroom caps
1/2 cup finely chopped kimchi
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons mirin (sweet rice wine)
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil
4 ounces ground pork
from Cooking Light, MARCH 2003

Pork Dumplings
1 pound well-ground, fatty pork
1 pound Napa cabbage
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 scallions
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine or sherry
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon fine salt
Pinch of white pepper
adapted from Epicurious

My BBM3 Package Arrived!

Last night, I came home to a little surprise:

With delight, I tore back the wrapping paper, and delved into the contents.

There were homemade Rice Krispies™ treats, and M&M's™ chocolate-chip cookies. Let's have a closer look at those little goodies.

There was also a handwritten note explaining that this is her first holiday season out here on the East coast, and the two aforementioned treats remind her of home. She included two family recipes for zucchini-coconut bread and artichoke dip, as well as an insert from her local Stop'n'Shop, and a Connecticut Magazine (this because her newspaper doesn't have a weekly food section).

Thanks, Jess of Iridescent Spark.
And many thanks to Cathy for hosting this whole shindig!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Of Sausages and Pasta and Other Happy Things

Although the weather was resolutely staying warm, I was in full pre-winter mode, filled with thoughts of pots bubbling away for hours on the stove, filling the house with complex, drool-inducing aromas.

Now, I don’t quite have the time for slow-simmering dishes on a weeknight, but a runner-up is pasta laden with hot Italian sausages, rustic tomato sauce, and a hearty coating of crusted cheeses.

DucCat began to fry the sausages, while I prepared the remaining ingredients. Soon, the water was at a boil, and in practically the time it took to cook the noodles, we were ready to throw the casserole in the oven. Our efforts were richly rewarding.

Baked Ziti with Tomato, Mozzarella & Sausage

recipe from Fine Cooking

olive oil
1 large onion, cut into small dice
4 cloves minced garlic
1 pound hot Italian sausage, casing removed, and crumbled
freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup dry red wine
34-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, with their juice
2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano, or about 2 teaspoons dried
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup grated pecorino cheese
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 pound penne (or ziti)
1 pound fresh mozzarella

Heat oven to 425-degrees, and bring a large pot of water to boil.
In a very large skillet, heat about 2 Tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and crumbled sausage, and saute until the sausage begins to brown.
Season with pepper.
If the sausage gives off a lot of fat, pour most off, but be sure to keep a bit for the FLAVA.
Add the red wine and let it boil until mostly gone.
Add tomatoes, with juices, and cook, uncovered, at a lively simmer until sauce thickens slightly. Add oregano and red pepper as this cooks down.
In a large mixing bowl, mix together ricotta, about half or so the grated pecorino, the nutmeg and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain well and toss it with the ricotta mixture until well-coated.
Add the sausage and sauce, and mix again. Add the mozzarella and toss gently.
Pour everything into the baking dish, and sprinkle the remaining pecorino on top.
Bake uncovered until lightly browned (or darkly, magnificently browned in spots, as I prefer).

This will take maybe 20-30 minutes.

Let sit for at least 10 minutes- I like to keep it covered with foil so it all remains juicy. Unwrap with flourish, plate it out, and serve with salad.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Currently thinking of...

(see an un-pixelated image here. Bonus points for anyone who can tell me why some- not all- of my pictures upload pixelated, even when sized to Blogger-friendly proportions.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Sticky, Aromatically Swollen Banana Bread

You know the deal. You buy a bunch of bananas, intent upon faithfully and healthfully eating one every day.

Two weeks later, you glance at the bowl on the far side of the hutch, and realize that those black things used to be bananas. Thankfully, there are recipes out there that highlight the special beauty of bananas gone ripe- way ripe.

DucCat always gets on my case about owning 50 or so cookbooks, yet continuing to get all my recipes from the web. Intent upon bucking the trend, I browsed through my shelves, and finally settled upon Nigella Lawson's, "How To Be A Domestic Goddess".

The recipe was a breeze to throw together, and allowed me to get rid of a couple of bars of chocolate as well. I used the last bits of a Lindt 70%, and an Endangered Species white chocolate/macadamia nut combo.

This is adapted from one of Nigella's favourite books, Jim Fobel's 'Old Fashioned Baking Book: Recipes From an American Childhood'. "If you're thinking of giving this cake to children, don't worry, the alcohol doesn't pervade: you just end up with stickily, aromatically swollen fruit."

Only Nigella could throw out that phrase with such deadpan delight.

Banana Bread

scan't 1/2 cup golden raisins
6 Tablespoons or 3 ounces bourbon or dark rum
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
4 small, very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
9x5-inch loaf pan, buttered and floured (or with a paper insert)

Put the golden raisins and rum/bourbon in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil.
Remove from the heat, cover, and leave for at least one hour, or until the raisins have absorbed most of the liquid, then drain.
Preheat the oven to 325-degrees.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
In a large bowl, combine butter and sugar, beating until well-blended.
Beat in eggs one at a time, then the mashed bananas.
Stir in the walnuts, drained raisins, and vanilla extract.
Add flour mixture, a third at a time, stirring well after each addition.
Scrape into loaf pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 - 1 1/4 hours.
Loaf will be ready when skewer comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging.
Leave in the pan on a rack to cool, before turning out to cool completely.
Wrap well. This will stay moist at least one week.

Variations: Replace 2 Tablespoons flour with good cocoa powder, and add 4 ounces of chunked bittersweet chocolate.

s'kat's notes: I'm not so fond of raisins, so I completely omitted them. I kept the jigger of rum (spiced), and think it helped round out the background flavours. I also omitted the walnuts in the batter, but sprinkled the top generously with chopped pecans.

Chunked chocolate was added- Nigella suggests four ounces, but I was probably closer to six. Now, I'd forgotten to flour the chocolate, so a good portion of it settled to the bottom during baking. If you add the chocolate, just make sure you roll it in some flour and shake off before adding to the mixture.

This loaf was very moist, and kept, tightly-wrapped, for about a week. It possibly could have made it longer, but it didn't stand a chance in this household.

Fishy Wine

Since we were having dream-inspired sushi for dinner, DucCat pulled out a little blast from the past: the Chateau Montelena 2002 Chardonnay.

(Click here for an uncompressed view.)

We had visited Montelena during our wine country excursion a couple of years ago. After having spent several days in the Alexander Valley, it was a bit of a shock to walk into the toweringly impressive Chateau and be charged for a whiff of a pour. Still, we enjoyed the wines, and not only bought a case to ship home, but joined the wine club for future offerings.

This one has a beautiful colour, with spicy apple and citrus flavours. It's a pleasure to swirl around your mouth, letting the bright, clean steel taste flourish.

In retrospect, it may not have been the choice to pair with the variety of flavours on the sushi tray, but it still held its own fairly well.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Fishy Fever Dreams

Last night, I dreamt of sushi.

Beautiful, overfilled platters of vibrantly fresh sushi.

There were dainty rolls of salmon and avocado; tuna glistened comfortably on little pillows of rice.

Tempura shrimp replicated the motion of chilly half-moons of orange,
while kimchee lay wrapped tightly like a spicy present.

Then, I gasped upon seeing this fine little creation:

Naughty, fatty, belly-tuna, how you tempt and toy with me!

I awoke shaken and sweaty. That night, I had no choice but to request Sushi Yama for dinner.

Chateau St. Michelle 2004 Pinot Gris

In an attempt to go above and
beyond the lure of Pacific Peak, I selected the Chateau St. Michelle 2004 Pinot Gris to accompany
my Greek-salmon pita.



Truly, the Wonder White Bread of pinot gris, which I'm starting to think I simply don't like anyways.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Weekend Cat Blogging for eClare- Special Edition!

The usual host of weekend cat-blogging, Clare of eat stuff, has recently been hospitilized due to a rogue dog and a very scared little kitty cat. My felines and I are joining the blogging world in wishing her well.

Shishi would like to say that restfull sleep is one of the best cures ever. Sometimes, you just need to completely relax, kick back, and let nature take its course.

Princess Melange of the Annadrozi (okay, Kiri may call her Mel for short!) sends her amazing healing vibes downwards, downwards, downwards, and trust me- this little girl knows what she is doing.

And, for his first ever blog appearance, the great and almighty Spot. I'd like to say that he has something comforting and indulgent to say, but all I could get out of him was, "If you're lucky, dear girl, next time 'round, you'll come back as me." Then he started licking himself vigorously, and the interview was over.

Anyway, from all three cats and their two humans- we wish the Clare household all the best, and look forward to a speedy recovery.

Much thanks to masak-masak for hosting this weekend's edition.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Splendid Salmon

DucCat rang me one evening. His meeting on the other side of town had run into overtime, and at that late hour, he was going to meet up with a friend and have dinner out.

We'd planned on going out to dinner together, and I didn't have a back-up plan. I pulled open the fridge, where the leftover smoked salmon still sat. Looking over the shelves, I suddenly remembered an email that had arrived earlier in the day.

I subscribe to Lynne Rossetto Kasper's The Splendid Table weekly email, which always includes a recipe. That days had been "Greek Salad Sandwiches with Feta Dressing", and was built to be a weeknight meal. Fast, easy, and most importantly, I had everything that I needed on hand.

I pulled out the last gasp of pita dough that was burbling meekly in the fridge, and fired up the oven. By the time it had reached temp, the prep work was finished, the dressing was ready, and all I needed was a pita to wrap it all up in.

The puff was slightly better this time around, but still pretty small. I'd turned the oven up to it's highest temperature of 500 degrees, but I fear that the yeast was almost dead anyway. As before, it still tasted pretty good.

The recipe makes four, but I only made enough for myself. Without measuring, I threw the ingredients (minus the salt- the feta I had was salty enough) for the dressing into my small chopper, and gave it a whirl.

The consistency was still extremely thick, and the taste wasn't quite right, either. I added a couple of cloves of garlic, more lemon juice, and some sour cream. With another crack of black pepper, it was just perfect- tangy, creamy, garlicky goodness.

Of course, there was still the matter of the salmon. I chunked it up, and added it to the vegetables. This time around, the smoky fish made the perfect counterpoint to the piquant, lively mixture. This recipe will definately make many visits to our kitchen!

Greek Salad Sandwiches with Feta Dressing

Received from Lynn Rossetto Caspar's weekly food email
Recipe from Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals

4 ounces good-quality feta cheese, crumbled (about 2/3 cup)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
Kosher salt and freshly milled black pepper
one 5-ounce packed rinsed baby spinach
4 medium plum tomatoes (about 12 ounces), halved and thinly sliced
6-inch piece English cucumber, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup rinsed and dried fresh mint leaves
1/3 cup pitted, brine-cured olives such as kalamata
6 peperoncini, chopped
four 5- to 6- inch pita rounds cut in half

Combine feta, oil, 3 Tablespoons water, the mayonnaise, lemon juice and oregano in blender/f.p., blending until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Combine remaining ingredients with feta dressing. Divide salad mixture among the 8 pita halves and serve.

s'kat's notes: I made this recipe to serve one, adding more lemon juice, 2 cloves of garlic, a good dollop of sour cream, and smoked salmon.
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