Thursday, December 30, 2010

ON TOP OF SPAGHETTI

From time to time I'll try someone's recipe for meatballs, but I always return to the tried and true. While my mom fried hers--or sometimes browned them in the oven--I prefer to place mine in the sauce raw and let them soak up that delicious sauce as they cook. This recipe makes about 2 dozen meatballs so, should you have any left over, freeze them right in the sauce (as these were) to enjoy an easy night in the kitchen.

1 lb 85% lean ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 cup freshly ground Pecorino Romano (I find Parmigiano too salty)
salt and pepper to taste

Place ingredients in a large bowl and use your hands to mix well. With dampened hands, roll the mixture into uniformly-sized meatballs. (I love tiny meatballs in my baked pasta, but it is labor intensive.) Place the meatballs into simmering tomato sauce and cook for at least 1 hour on low heat.
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TASTE NOTES
I'm setting aside all modesty. What can I say other than I think these are the tastiest meatballs on the planet. You'll just have to try them and decide for yourself, but I'd be very surprised if you didn't like them.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

CROQUE MONSIEUR

I am a firm believer that if you can make a simple white sauce, you can turn a weekday meal into a feast. A simple white sauce is the backbone of any creamy casserole and learning to make one is a skill you won't regret having. I've been emptying out my freezer this week and saving my energies for holiday cooking. With this recent cold snap, we were ready for an encore of my beef soup. Since I had a small hunk of gruyere cheese left over, I decided that some open-faced croque monsieur was just the accompaniment we needed to round out this meal.

Croque Monsieur - 6 pieces
6 slices Italian bread (slice about 1/2 inch thick, on the diagonal)
6 slices ham
3 oz shredded Gruyere
6 tbs white sauce

Toast or grill (I used my panini press) the slices of Italian bread on both sides.
Place a slice of ham on each slice of toasted bread, top with a tablespoon of white sauce, and sprinkle with the Gruyere. Broil (watching carefully) until the cheese is bubbly and starting to brown.
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TASTE NOTES
It is absolutely true that the simple things in life are often the best. With a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio, this was one of our most enjoyable dinners. We both would have happily eaten several more open-faced sandwiches each, but it's all about moderation (unfortunately!). I have refrigerated leftover white sauce and used it within a few days of making it. It reheats best on the stovetop over low heat.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Antipasto

 Our favorite part of Christmas dinner has always been the antipasto. Because I am one of those people who doesn't love buffets because I don't like hot foods touching cold or dry foods coming in contact with sauces, I don't put all of the ingredients on one plate. However you plate it, this glorified salad remains the one constant of every holiday celebration. I hope you and your family enjoyed a very Merry Christmas. We did.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A CHRISTMAS TRADITION: STRUFFOLI








There are those who just don't "get" struffoli; they wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, it's little pieces of fried dough tossed in a honey concoction. I confess I've been lazy for quite a few years, buying struffoli in my favorite Italian bakery with the excuse that theirs is healthier because it's baked, not fried. The truth is that theirs is dry and at $15 for a small plate, it's highway robbery. After watching the episode where Giada and her aunt make struffoli, I decided to resurrect this Christmas tradition. I also decided to give Giada's version a try. Giada's recipe is here. The basic difference between her recipe and the one I've used forever is that she uses lemon and orange zest. Let me say upfront that I gave her method of rolling out the dough, cutting it into 1/2 inch strip, then rolling the balls a try, but immediately returned to the tried and true method of rolling out a rope of dough, cutting it with a pizza cutter, and then rolling. Why make more work; this is somewhat tedious to begin with. As you can see from the pictorial above, it's not rocket science. Making the dough is very easy. Making and frying the struffoli just requires a bit of patience.

I'm submitting this to I Heart Cooking Clubs. Be sure to head over to check out what other sweet treats by Giada were made.
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TASTE NOTES
The addition of the lemon and orange zest elevates the family favorite; props to you, Giada. I made just one batch of these because I find them positively addictive. I will probably resume the annual tradition of making struffoli based on the success of these.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

SIMPLE--AND SIMPLY DELICIOUS--LATKES


I believe in an ecumenical approach to eating. If something is delicious, I eat it. Its ethnic or religious associations don't have to be my own for me to appreciate something tasty. Latkes definitely fall into that category, so it's not surprising that every December as I'm planning my Christmas dinner, I'm also setting aside time to make some of these wonderful Hannukah treats.

Over the years I've made my latkes with hand-grated potatoes as well as with potatoes shredded or chopped in the food processor. All of them are delicious, but some are more labor-intensive than others. This recipe is by far the easiest; the results are equally delicious.

Makes 24-30 latkes
6 large Russet potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, and quartered
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 large egg
1/2 cup matzoh meal 
1 tsp Kosher salt
canola oil

Use the blade attachment of your food processor to chop the potatoes and onion. Add the egg, matzoh meal, and salt, blending well. Process the mixture until it's the consistency of horseradish.



In a large skillet, heat canola oil (enough oil to measure 1/4 inch depth). Drop the mixture by scant 1/4 cupsful and fry 4 minutes on each side. Stir the mixture before forming each batch of latkes since liquid will form as it sits. Drain well on paper towels. Serve with applesauce and sour cream. (You can keep the finished latkes warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve. You can also cool them completely, then freeze them to serve at a later time.)
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TASTE NOTES
This is probably my very favorite way to eat potatoes. The first bite of that crunchy exterior followed by the creaminess of the center nearly made me swoon (I love that word; it's so Victorian!). I have to have a bit of applesauce and sour cream with each bite of latke, so this is definitely not a Weight Watcher meal. But it is so worth it. If you've never made latkes, this is, by far, the simplest recipe you'll ever find. And one of the most delicious.

Friday, December 17, 2010

SPRITZ COOKIES





I am incredibly excited about my latest food toy, a Wilton Cookie Pro Ultra II cookie press. I never had much luck with mom's metal cookie press, so I don't think I've made spritz cookies in over 30 years. It all started when DSO and I went to cut our Christmas tree this weekend. We go to a local tree farm and the owners always put out mulled cider and a plate of Christmas cookies for the customers. It was those lovely little green Christmas trees that put the idea in my head. Our municipality has a volunteer group that provides services such as transportation to and from doctor's visits to local seniors and adults with disabilities. I coordinate the program and along with a number of volunteers will be delivering pointsettia plants to those neighbors this weekend. I like to include a small goody bag of cookies with the plants and thought that the spritz cookies would be this year's treat.

A recipe is included with the cookie press, though Wilton also has a website with many yummy-sounding recipes. I followed the recipe exactly and was amazed at how simple it was to form the cookies. I dyed one-third of the dough green and another third red. I chose just 3 discs, the Christmas tree, the flower (which was my pointsettia), and one that looks like an ornament. The recipe said the yield was 7-8 dozen, but I got 11 dozen. I baked the cookies exactly 11 minutes. I added colored sprinkles before I baked the cookies since I didn't want to use a frosting and they adhered perfectly and did not burn.

I can't say enough good things about the pro-plus. It is simple to fill, requires no wrist-turning or other special move to produce perfectly-formed cookies; it also washes easily. I was disappointed that one of my disks was broken, but emailed Wilton and a replacement is already in the mail.

Here is the recipe from Wilton's site.
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TASTE NOTES
In addition to being festive and dainty, these spritz cookies were a perfect buttery bite. I'll be making more during the week and will experiment with sandwiching some of them with apricot or raspberry jam. I'm in love with my Wilton Cookie Pro Ultra II!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How easy is that? ROASTED SHRIMP WITH FETA

Most days I [try to] forget that I'm in my sixth decade, but when I kept coming across that head of fennel in my vegetable bin and couldn't, for the life of me, remember why I'd bought it, the prolonged senior moment just underscored that I am, in fact, getting older. I write a weekly menu, but there was no clue about why I'd bought the fennel. Then I grabbed my new Ina Garten cookbook, How Easy Is That?, for the recipe for roasted shrimp with feta and there it was!

This is just the second time I've ever cooked with fennel, but it is fast becoming a favorite vegetable. My new cookbook is just as quickly starting to look like my other favorites. I refer to them as my "scratch and sniff" books since the pages tend to be splattered with evidence of my culinary endeavors. This page has some "good olive oil" blots on it.

Serves 4
4 tbs good olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups medium diced fennel
1 tbs minced garlic (3 cloves)
1/4 cup dry white wine (I had to open a split of champagne)
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes (use the fire roasted ones, yum!)
2 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbs Pernod (sorry, had to omit; the fennel took care of the anise flavor)
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 lb (16-20) peeled and cleaned shrimp, tails on (I had colossal, so used them)
5 oz good Feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (I had 3/4 cup Panko, so used it)
3 tbs minced fresh parsley (had to substitute fennel fronds)
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2 lemons

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat 2 tbs of the olive oil in a 10 or 12 inch heavy, oven-proof skillet over medium-low heat. Add the fennel and saute for 8-10 minutes, until the fennel is tender. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the wine and bring it to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the tomatoes with the liquid, tomato paste, oregano, Pernod (if you have it), salt, and pepper to the skillet. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 - 15 minutes.

Arrange the shrimp, tails up, in one layer over the tomato mixture in the skillet. Scatter the feta evenly over the shrimp. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, parsley, and lemon zest with the remaining 2 tbs olive oil and sprinkle over the shrimp.

Bake for 15 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the shrimp and serve hot with the remaining lemon cut into wedges.
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TASTE NOTES
I hope my house smells like this for the next few days! From the moment I tossed the ingredients for the sauce with the sauteed fennel and garlic, my mouth began to water in anticipation. Words can't do justice to this brilliant dish. The saltiness of the feta is the perfect foil for the sweet, fennel-laced tomato sauce. Those fire-roasted diced tomatoes are truly special because I do not care for diced, canned tomatoes and I loved these. I strongly recommend using the Panko in lieu of fresh bread crumbs because the crunch is a wonderful contrast to the creaminess of the cheese. DSO and I made many happy, yummy noises as we ate the shrimp, accompanied by some leftover polenta which I'd sauteed in a smattering of that good olive oil. In the happiest of coincidences, DSO had brought home a piece of baklava (thank goodness official weigh in day is 3 days away). I thought that was a lovely ending to our Mediterranean-inspired dinner. Ina has done it again; the woman never misses!



Friday, December 10, 2010

LUAU MEATBALLS


Ground turkey is such a versatile protein. I like to keep a package or two in the freezer since it's easy to defrost in the microwave and can be used to replace ground beef or pork in almost any dish. These Asian-inspired meatballs would make a tasty appetizer or, served with rice and some Chinese long beans, a satisfying dinner. We enjoyed them in the latter format. I call them luau meatballs because they are on the sweet and tangy side (kids will love them!).

Serves 4
1 lb ground turkey
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
3 scallions, white and light-green parts, chopped
1 large egg
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs finely chopped ginger
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
1/4 cup apricot preserves
2 tbs hoisin sauce

Combine the pork, panko, scallions, egg, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic in a medium sized bowl and mix thoroughly. Shape into 1 inch meatballs.

Mist a small slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray and add the meatballs.

In a small bowl, whisk together the barbecue sauce, apricot preserves, and hoisin sauce and pour over the meatballs.

Cover and cook on low 3 hours. Serve over brown rice. I served with Chinese long beans (recipe here) for a quick and tasty dinner.
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TASTE NOTES
It's unfortunate, but true, that most brown foods just don't photograph well. Don't let that stop you from making these yummy meatballs. They went together very quickly, then simmered away in the slow cooker for a few hours, filling the house with tantalizing smells. Gourmet? No! Crave-worthy? You bet!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"How easy is that?" LEMON CHICKEN WITH CREAMY PARMESAN POLENTA

I know I've said this before, but Ina Garten reigns supreme in my world. I recently purchased her latest cookbook, How Easy Is That, and have bookmarked quite a few recipes to try. At the rate she's going, I'll soon need an entire shelf just for her books. When you eat chicken as much as we do, you're always looking to change it up a bit. Sure I've made Ina's Tuscan lemon chicken, but the lemon chicken breasts looked divine. And, well, yes, we recently became reacquainted with grits and they were delectable, but I'm Italian, so that cheesy polenta was a must.

Lemon Chicken Breasts - Serves 4
1/4 cup good olive oil
3 tbs minced garlic (9 cloves)
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 tbs grated lemon zest (1-2 lemons)
2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp minced fresh thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 chicken breasts, skin on (mine were on the bone; Ina's called for boneless) 6-8 oz each

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Warm the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the garlic, and cook for just 1 minute (don't allow the garlic to brown). Off the heat, add the white wine, lemon zest, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, and 1 tsp salt and pour into a 9X12 inch baking dish.

Pat the chicken breasts dry and place them skin side up OVER the sauce. Brush the chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle them liberally with salt and pepper. Cut the lemon into 8 wedges and tuck it among the pieces of chicken.

Bake for 35-45 minutes for bone in breasts (less for boneless), until the chicken is done and the skin is lightly browned. You can place the chicken under the broiler if you wish the skin to brown more; I didn't. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and serve hot with the pan juices.

CREAMY PAREMESAN POLENTA - Serves 6
4 cups chicken stock (I used low sodium chicken broth)
2 tsp minced garlic (2 cloves)
1 cup yellow cornmeal, stone ground (like Ina, I used Quaker)
1 tbs Kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 cup freshly grated cheese (I prefer Asiago and used it in place of Parmesan; it's less salty)
1/4 cup creme fraiche (I substituted sour cream)
2 tbs unsalted butter

Place the chicken broth in a large saucepan. Add the garlic and cook over medium-high heat until the broth comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and very slowly whisk in the cornmeal, whisking constantly to make sure there are no lumps. Switch to a wooden spoon, add the salt and pepper, and simmer, stirring almost constantly for 10 minutes, until thickened. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot thoroughly while you're stirring. Off the heat, stir in the cheese, sour cream, and butter. Taste for seasonings and serve hot.
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TASTE NOTES
Where were these recipes when I was working full time and had to put dinner on the table in under 30 minutes or risk DSO falling asleep in his mashed potatoes? While there was some prep required for each dish,  both were uncomplicated and easy to get on the table in short order. The sauce on this chicken is the kind you want a loaf of bread to sop up. Given that we're both watching our weight and fat intake, this did not happen. But, in my next life, when I weigh 100 pounds, I intend to do just that. The polenta was a wonderful accompaniment to the chicken. The Asiago added the perfect nuttiness and it was hard not to go back for seconds. I'll be sauteeing the leftover polenta, another favorite way to eat this dish. DSO and I both prefer dark meat, so next time I'll make this with thighs and legs (and cut out the starch so I can enjoy some ciabatta, the better to capture that sauce.




Saturday, December 4, 2010

MAKE IT SIMPLE PASTA E FAGIOLI FOR I HEART COOKING CLUBS


Soup appears in The Food of Love kitchen on a regular basis during the winter months. It is a filling, [mostly] healthy dinner option, and, during these hectic "I have absolutely no time" weeks leading up to the holiday, a simple way to put nutritious food on the table in the shortest possible time. Though I confess that holiday madness is greatly reduced (one perk of growing older), the impending holiday along with my part time job, volunteer work, and quilting pursuits does mimic old times when many more faces appeared around the holiday table and holiday baking  began the day after Thanksgiving.

Pasta e fagioli (pasta fazool for those in the know) is a favorite winter soup. There are many versions of this dish. I favor the "non red" versions. I dislike any tomato whatsoever in my bowl of pasta e fagioli. Forgive me, mom, but the family version has never been a favorite. In a nod to another family favorite (NOT mine), pasta e pisselli, mom would put peas and tomatoes in her version. Peas are second only to the dreaded Z on the list of vegetables that do not pass my lips.

I decided to give Giada's version of pasta e fagioli a try. The biggest difference in her version was her use of red kidney beans; I always use the white (cannellini). Giada's recipe from Food TV is here. My only changes were the use of ditalini pasta instead of elbows, the substitution of prosciutto for pancetta, and the addition of a coarsely chopped carrot for sweetness. I'll add more carrot next time.
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TASTE NOTES
From start to finish, this hearty soup meal was on the table in under 30 minutes. In fact, I made it in the morning, the better to have the whole day to finish up my student evaluations, visit with my sweet great-niece Isabelle, and get to PT on time. Larry and I both enjoyed this version and agreed it was a nice change from the not-so-photogenic cannellini version. The 3 ounces of  pancetta wouldn't have added much fat, but I enjoyed the more delicate flavor of the prosciutto. Also, 3 ounces won't break the bank, but it's a nice little luxury. BTW, it's even better the next day--especially with some freshly baked ciabatta. Please hurry over to I Heart Cooking Clubs to see what other delicious time savers will save you from holiday madness.