Sunday, November 30, 2008


How lovely to find like-minded people, who seem quickly to become friends. So it was with Debbie of Kahakai Kitchen ( , Rachel, The Crispy Cook ( , and Jo of Food Junkie not Junk Food (, my 3 food-blogging friends who, in their time away from the stove, love to read. Please check out their new blog, , where we read and discuss a new book bi-monthly, celebrating it in the way we love best by cooking something inspired by our read.

Our first book was Lily Prior's novel La Cucina, subtitled A Novel of Rapture. We follow our heroine Rosa through the seasons of her life, beginning with the harsh winter she loses her first love Bartolemeo to a blood feud. Rosa purges her soul through her cooking. Who of us has not salved a broken heart with crusty loaves of bread, nibbles of freshly-baked cookies, or pots of braised meats and vegetables? While the spring of her life does not awaken until nearly 15 years later, Rosa meets a kindred spirit in L'Inglese. No longer using her kitchen as catharsis, Rosa enters a period of sexuality matched by her culinary creations. For a light read that is sure to "stir your juices," pick up a copy of La Cucina and discover for yourself how it resolves.

I knew almost immediately what my culinary inspiration would be--not a dish, but an ingredient. The alliterative cacciocavallo cheese was to prove somewhat elusive. In fact, it took trips to 3 different Italian delis in 2 different states before I could lay my hands upon this beautiful, elliptical prize.

Because my heritage is Napolitan and Calabrese, I was somewhat at a loss as to how best to showcase this newly-discovered cheese. After some thought and a bit of research, I decided to go pan-Italian. My first taste of cacciocavallo was as part of a panini comprised of some of my favorite things. The second was a pasta dish. Though neither of them is a Sicilian dish, both were inspired by my discovery of cacciocavallo.


On the eve of the Opening Day of hunting season, I found myself alone to experiment with my Breville Ikon panini maker and my cacciocavallo. My panini was comprised of:
shredded cacciocavallo
sweet soppressata

It was simply a matter of layering the meat and cheese on a ciabatta roll, spooning on some caponata as garnish, and grilling. The panini had salty, sweet, creamy, and crunchy all at once and was delicious with a glass of pinot noir.

Now it was time to get down to some serious use of this wonderful cheese which reminds me of a cross between provolone and asiago. I decided to use one of my favorite pastas--cavatelli--with the Bolognese-style meat sauce I have made since I purchased my copy of The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan back in the early 70's. This incredible meat sauce does not freeze well, so must be used within a few days of making it.

Meat Sauce, Bolognese Style
2 tbs. chopped yellow onion
3 tbs olive oil
3 tbs butter
2 tbs chopped celery
2 tbs chopped carrot
3/4 lb lean ground beef (chuck)
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup milk
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 cups canned Italian tomatoes (San Marzo is my pick), roughly chopped with their juices

I use my wonderful LeCreuset to make all my sauces.

  • Put the chopped onion in with the oil and butter and saute briefly over medium heat until just translucent

  • Add the celery and carrot and cook gently for about 2 minutes

  • Add the ground beef, crumbling it with a fork; add 1 tsp salt and cook just until the meat loses its raw color; add the wine and turn the heat up to medium high; cook until all the liquid has evaporated

  • Turn the heat back to medium, add the milk and nutmeg and cook until the milk has evaporated, stirring frequently

  • Add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly; when the tomatoes start to bubble, turn the heat down to the barest simmer and cook uncovered for 3 1/2 - 4 hours, stirring occasionally

  • Taste and correct for salt

After cooking the fresh cavatelli and topping it with this flavorful ragu, I topped it generously with grated cacciocavallo. A few stirs and it melted beautifully. Along with my new, favorite garlic bread--use roasted garlic with just a bit of butter--I toasted Rosa and L'Inglese and added cacciocavallo to my arsenal of foods of love.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Herb-marinated Loin of Pork

You may not think of it as "fast food," but if you have a few loins of pork on hand, you can have a wonderful dinner on the table in under an hour. Generally sold two to a package, these loins make enough for 4-6; or, in our case, 2 plus lots of leftovers. I've been cooking my way through Ina Garten's newest cookbook, Back to Basics, and had to try her recipe for herb-marinated loin of pork. The bonus is that it is done on the grill, so you don't even have to dirty a pan.

I marinated the pork overnight, but you could marinate for as little as 3 hours. The mixture of herbs and lemons made for a very fragrant dish. The pork was juicy and flavorful. The marinade had really penetrated the meat. Served with pierogi and red cabbage, this was a very quick, but tasty dinner.

grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4-6 lemons)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbs minced garlic (6 cloves)
1 1/2 tbs minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tbs chopped fresh thyme
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Kosher salt
2-3 pork tenderloins, 1 lb each
freshly ground black pepper

Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, mustard, and 2 tsp salt in a 1 gallon resealable plastic bag. Add the pork tenderloins and turn to coat with the marinade. Squeeze the air out of the bag. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight, or at least 3 hours. (I like to put the bag in a bowl, just in case).

When you're ready to cook, preheat the grill. Be sure to brush the grillwith some oil to prevent the pork from sticking. Remove the tenderloins from the marinade and discard the marinade.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then grill, turning a few times to brown on all sides, for 20 minutes--until the meat registers about 140 degrees at the thickest part.

Transfer the tenderloins to a platter and cover tightly with aluminum foil. LET REST FOR AT LEAST 10 MINUTES.
Carve in 1/2 inch thick diagonal slices. The thickest part will be pink; this is just fine. The end parts will be well done--something for everyone. Serve with the juices that collect on the platter.

I have a whole new respect for the Barefoot Contessa. Her recipes are right on the money. There hasn't been one that I've tried that hasn't gotten a "10" and been added to my rotation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bistro Roast Chicken with Maple-roasted Butternut Squash

Let me begin this entry by revealing that I've just spent 30 minutes trawling the internet for an obscure literary term that did not appear in any of the dozens of sites that I perused. But as often happens when you are trying to recall a word or a name, it suddenly just popped into my head. Now, what does a literary term have to do with food? And just what was this literary term?

The term I was struggling to recall was an "objective correlative." A simple definition of an objective correlative is that it is a situation or a series of events or objects that evokes a particular emotion in a reader or audience. What it has to do with food is that I was trying to find a word to convey how certain smells or tastes can evoke so instantly a place visited or an event or occasion. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever caught the aroma of something that immediately triggered a memory so intense that you could almost relive the moment? A well-seasoned roast chicken, for example, transports me instantly to Boston and to the many wonderful visits I've made to that city.

If I could have chosen the place of my birth, it would most certainly have been Boston, Massachusetts. I regret that I didn't discover this wonderful city until after I had completed my undergraduate work and was teaching high school English. I remember vividly my first trip to Beantown in the fall of 1975. I was to return there at least four or five times a year for the next 20 years.

A few weeks ago the magazine section of my local Sunday paper ran an article on bistro chicken and featured a restaurant that I visited many times over the years--Hamersley's Bistro in Boston's South End. While I'm certain there were many fine entrees on Gordon Hamersley's menu, I could never get past his aphrodisical roast chicken. I don't know why I never bought one of his cookbooks, but there in this article was the recipe for this ambrosia. Hamersley's served theirs with roasted potatoes and onions, but my new Barefoot Contessa's Back to Basics cookbook contains a recipe that was calling out to me to audition as a possible side dish for Thanksgiving. Ina Garten's Maple-roasted Butternut Squash did not disappoint except in that it states it serves 6 and the two of us gobbled up every last bite. This WILL be on the Thanksgiving menu this year instead of sweet potatoes.
If you plan to make this roasted chicken, it's best to marinate it overnight, though you can get away with a 4 hour soak in the wet rub. The fragrances wafting through our kitchen were amazing.

Roast Chicken with Garlic, Lemon, and Parsley

1 cup flat leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves
2 shallots
1 tbs freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tbs Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp dried herbes de Provence
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp grated lemon rind

Combine all the marinade ingredients in a food processor and process to a paste. Coat the chicken inside and out with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours.

To Prepare Chicken:
1 (3 lb) chicken
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 head garlic (unpeeled)
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tbs lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Season the chicken with the salt and pepper, place on a rack in a roasting pan. Wrap the garlic in foil and place it alongside the chicken. Roast 1 1/2 hours or until a meat thermometer inserted in thigh registers 170 degrees. Remove from oven and let rest 20 minutes.

Reserve pan juices in the roasting pan. Add the broth and lemon juice, then squeeze the roasted garlic cloves into the mixture. Whisk, stirring to loosen the brown bits. Simmer until slightly thickened and serve with the chicken.

I'm sure you'll love this chicken with any number of sides--mashed potatoes, rice pilaf, gnocchi. But I don't know if I'll ever be able to make it again without making this incredible side dish of butternut squash.

Maple-roasted Butternut Squash
1 large butternut squash
1 head garlic, separated, but not peeled
2 tbs olive oil
2 1/2 tbs pure maple syrup
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 oz pancetta, chopped
16 whole fresh sage leaves (I used poultry seasoning because I couldn't find fresh sage)
French bread, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel and seed the squash (or buy it already done, as I did), then cut it into 3/4 to 1 inch cubes.

Place the squash and the whole, unpeeled garlic cloves on a sheet pan in one layer.
Toss with the olive oil, maple syrup, salt, and pepper.

Bake for 20-30 minutes.

Sprinkle the pancetta and sage (or seasoning) evenly over the squash and bake another 20-30 minutes until the squash and garlic are tender and caramelized.

Serve the roasted garlic as a spread for the hot French bread

There you have it. Simple, straightforward food that is nothing less than ethereal.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Retirement affords one the opportunity to pursue new interests, but also provides the time to engage in favorite pasttimes. I like combining the two, the favorite pasttime being cooking and eating, the new interest being lunch. After years of closing the door and throwing down food as I returned phone calls and emails, prepared reports and budgets, and prayed for a "knockless" lunchtime, I know what it's like to sit down and relish an uninterrupted meal. Yes, lunch is really a meal and it can take longer than 7 1/2 minutes to eat it! Lunching out is great and needs no explanation, but inviting a few good friends to share a midday meal is a new pleasure. I have to confess that lunch is my favorite meal, much to Larry's chagrin. He adores breakfast, with dinner a close second, but for me, lunch is Queen.

Panini are always tempting, but some days, nothing will do but a salad. Last time the "ladies who lunch" stopped by, we had wonderful prosciutto and fontina panini with an apple walnut salad dressed with a fabulous cranberry vinaigrette.

I generally prefer oil and vinegar, balsamic vinegar, to dress my salads rather than cream-based dressings or highly seasoned vinaigrettes. When I was looking for something different to dress this salad, I came across this recipe from This dressing immediately became a favorite and I've made it regularly since. While I prefer it over mesclun, I've used it with romaine and even iceberg lettuce. I generally whip up a batch in my blender and put it in a Mason jar. It dresses over a week's worth of dinner salads as well as a few lunch salads. For lunch, I'll add grilled chicken or shrimp or some ceci. I love it with crumbled cheese--goat cheese, feta, or gorgonzola being my favorites. I can't wait to have leftover turkey to make a real Thanksgiving-inspired salad. I may even toss in some leftover stuffing cut into crouton shapes.


1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 cup red onion, chopped

1 tbs sugar

1 tbs Dijon mustard

1 cup vegetable oil

salt and pepper to taste

chopped walnuts (best if lightly toasted)


In a food processor or blender, combine the cranberries, vinegar, onion, sugar, and mustard. Puree until smooth. Gradually add oil, then season with salt and pepper.

Dress your salad with the desired amount, then sprinkle with chopped walnuts.

Friday, November 7, 2008


Growing up, we didn't eat many casseroles. My mother considered them "ah-mid-i-gan." Since she was a third generation Italian American, that was pretty funny, but she thought peanut butter was poison, too. Certain of her dishes would surely have qualified as casseroles, but casseroles were something that Betty Crocker made, not "real" cooks who didn't need to write down recipes. Find the right ingredients, though, and no matter what you call it, it's delicious, as was this wonderfully rich dish. This isn't something you'd eat every day--unless your metabolism runs on high gear and you have no fear of coronary heart disease. But everything in moderation is my motto.

Pollo e Fontina
1/2 cup flour

1/2 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp ground nutmet

2 lbs chicken cutlets, pounded 1/4 inch thick

3/4 cup canola oil

2 tbs butter

1/2 lb mushrooms, stemmed and cut in half

1/2 pint heavy cream

1/2 lb Fontina cheese, cut into chunks

1/4 lb prosciutto, cut into 2 inch strips

1/2 cup Locatelli Romano cheese, grated

2 Roma tomatoes, sliced into rounds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the flour, salt, a few grinds of pepper, and the nutmeg in a plastic bag, close, and shake to blend. Add the chicken cutlets, a few at a time, and dredge them in the mixture. Place the cutlets on a plate and set aside.

Pour the oil into a large saute pan and heat to medium high. Brown the cutlets on each side, a few at a time. Transfer the cutlets to a shallow baking dish.

In the same saute pan, melt the butter and cook the mushrooms until they begin to brown.

Combine the cream and Fontina cheese in a saucepan over low heat and stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Cover and set aside.

Sprinkle the mushrooms over the cutlets. Lay the prosciutto strips over the mushrooms. Pour the cheese sauce over all.

Place the tomato slices over the sauce and sprinkle with the grated cheese.

Bake for 35 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and browned.

We had lots of leftovers and I diced some of them, added a box of defrosted and squeezed-dry chopped spinach, and used that as a topping for a wonderful pizza, having had dough left from the last Daring Bakers' challenge.

Wow! Just realized this is my 100th post.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


My mother was a wonderful cook, as was her mother before her. No one could touch her beef soup, her Sunday "gravy," her meatballs, her macaroni and potato salad, her cream puffs--to name a few of my favorites. On the other hand, she made some dishes that I wouldn't eat, both as a child and as an adult. Meatloaf was one of those. What made her meatloaf so anathema to me? She put hard boiled eggs down the middle of the loaf so that there was one framed in each slice. Now, this may have looked pretty, but it totally grossed me out. She also topped her meatloaf with "red sauce." Instead of just taking the egg out of my slice and scrapping off the sauce, I steadfastly refused to eat this dish. Many a war was waged over meatloaf. About the only other dish she made that was sure to make me produce gagging noises was her oven-baked pork chops topped with spinach and red sauce. On one memorable dinner, the noises I made were so awful, she insisted I sit at the table until I had finished every bite. I could no more force one bite of that dish down my throat than I could fly, so I bided my time and when her back was turned, I fled the kitchen and locked myself in my room. That was probably one of my most defiant moments. But...back to the meatloaf.

I eschewed meatloaf most of my life, but at some point realized that it had all the earmarks of a dish I could appreciate, minus, of course, the hard-boiled eggs and red sauce. After many years of experimentation, this is my favorite version of meatloaf. It serves 6-8; or, two people can have 2 lavish dinners with lots leftover for sandwiches (preferably on potato rolls). It also freezes well, sliced or unsliced.

You can either wrap the loaf in bacon slices or double the glaze and leave out the bacon.

Brown sugar-ketchup glaze
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tbs dark brown sugar
2 tsp cider vinegar

Meat loaf
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large eggs
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup plain yogurt (you can use milk, in a pinch)
2 lbs meat loaf mix (50% ground chuck, 25% ground pork, 25% ground veal)
2/3 cup crushed saltine crackers

Optional: 8-9 slices thin bacon

GLAZE: mix all ingredients in a small bowl; set aside

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat oil in medium skillet; add onion and garlic and saute 5 minutes.
Mix eggs with thyme, salt, pepper, mustard, Worcestershire, and yogurt.
Add egg mixture to meat in a large bowl, along with crackers and cooked onion/garlic.
Mix well until mixture doesn't stick to bowl.
Shape mixture into a loaf about 9X5 inches.

Cover a wire rack with foil; prick foil with a fork.
Place rack on a shallow roasting pan lined with foil for easy clean-up.
Set formed loaf on rack.
Brush all over with all the glaze (if using bacon).

Arrange bacon slices CROSSWISE (I wasn't paying attention; my picture is the opposite of what you want) over loaf and tuck in ends.

Bake loaf 1 hour. Cool for 20 minutes before slicing.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


I often turn the TV to the Food Channel when I'm flipping through magazines or doing some hand piecing or applique. That's how I came to be watching Tyler's Ultimate the day he did homemade chicken pot pie. When I was young, I loved those Swanson's things--mostly for the crust and the shiny tin that they came in. I could take or leave the filling. The first time I ordered chicken pot pie in the Amish country, I was shocked to discover that there was no crust, rather noodles, which the Amish call dumplings. It was rather like my first experience ordering lobster in Florida--"Where's the claws?" I cried to my waiter.

Although I knew there were shortcuts I could take with this recipe, I decided to do it completely from scratch this first time. It was definitely labor intensive, but definitely worth it as well.

Serves 4-6 (depending on size of container)

Chicken Broth
1 whole 3 lb chicken
1 gallon cool water
2 carrots, cut in 2-inch pieces
2 celery stalks, cut in 2-inch pieces
1 onion, halved
1 head garlic, halved horizontally
2 small parsnips, halved
thyme, rosemary, bay leaf

Pot Pie
1/4 lb (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 carrots, cut in 1/2 inch coins
1 bag frozen pearl onions
1 box frozen peas
1 box frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg mixed with 3 tbs water

To Make the Broth
Put the chicken in a large stockpot and cover with the water. Add the vegetables and hers and bring to a boil. Skim, then simmer uncovered for 45 minutes, skimming as necessary. Remove the chicken carefully to cool and continue to cook down the broth for another 15 minutes. Use a colander to strain the broth; discard the solids. You should have about 8 cups of broth. You will use HALF (4 cups) for the recipe. Freeze the rest.

To Make the Potpie
Wipe out the stockpot and put it on the stove over medium heat. Melt the butter, then whisk in the flour to make the roux, which acts as the thickener. Cook, whisking constantly, for about 4 minutes to get rid of the floury taste. Very, very, very slowly add the 4 cups of chicken broth, stirring constantly. This is a sauce veloute. Cook another 4-5 minutes in this manner, then add the chicken and vegetables* and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine and remove from the heat.

Before adding veggies:

*defrost the peas
*blanch the onions for about 2 minutes, drain

*parboil the carrots for about 5 minutes

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lay the thawed sheets (2) of puff pastry on a lightly floured, cool surface and invert the crocks you are using for the potpies (I made 2 large crocks and 3 mini pie tins) onto the puff pastry and trace a circle just slightly larger with the tip of a knife. Remove the circles carefully to a sheet of waxed paper or a cookie sheet.

Ladle the chicken stew into each crock/tin, filling to the top. Cap each crock/tin with a pastry circle, pressing the dough around the rim to form a seal. Do not cut steam vents.

Beat the egg with the water to make an egg wash and brush some on each pastry round. Sprinkle with sea salt, if desired.

Set the crocks on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes, until the puff pastry is puffed and golden.

I served the potpies with mashed potatoes, but they could have stood on their own.