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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! If you're in the mood for a sweet celebration today, you might want to try these lovely little pumpkin cupcakes. They are dense and moist, with just the right amount of spice. The cream cheese frosting is sinfully rich, creamy and velvety smooth. I think they make a spooktacularly winning combination! My little five year old twin nephews thought so.

My little trick for the frosting is to add some Pecan-Pumpkin Butter from Williams-Sonoma. This stuff is awesome! You can spread it on toast or muffins, cook or bake with it or just spoon it out of the jar.

Pumpkin Bliss Cupcakes
Adapted from Deborah Im

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp., plus 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 cup sugar
1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
4 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
¾ cup orange juice

Preheat oven to 350°.

Line the muffin pans with liners or spray them with baking spray.

Sift together the flour, spice, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, pumpkin and eggs, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the oil and the orange juice until the batter is smooth.

Add the flour-spice mix to the pumpkin mixture and fold together until well incorporated, but do not overmix.

Bake 20–25 minutes.

Frost with cream cheese frosting.

Pecan-Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting

2 8 oz packages cold cream cheese
1 stick unsalted butter, firm, but not cold.
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 cup Pumpkin-Pecan butter* (sold at Williams-Sonoma)
1 tsp. vanilla
3-4 cups confectioner's sugar

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and salt together on medium speed until smooth.

Beat in Pumpkin-Pecan Butter and vanilla until combined.

Reduce speed to low and add confectioner's sugar gradually, until the frosting has the sweetness and texture that you want. It should be creamy and dense.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Going for the "Go To" Meals - # 6: Stuffed Jacket Potatoes with Shepherd's Pie Filling

"Pray for peace and grace and spiritual food,
For wisdom and guidance, for all these are good,
but don't forget the potatoes.”

--John Tyler Pettee, 'Prayer and Potatoes'

Who could forget potatoes? With over 7,500 known varieties, the potato is a mainstay in the diet of almost every country around the globe. They come in a myriad of sizes, colors and shapes, and can be prepared in a multitude of different ways. They are the ultimate comfort food. That is why I have chosen Stuffed Jacket Potatoes as this week's "Go To" meal.

Last summer, one of the musical groups that I perform with had the good fortune to participate in a two week concert tour of Ireland and Scotland. From Galway to Glasgow, we shared our music wherever there was someone to listen. We sang in thatched-roof village churches, castles, gardens and cathedrals. We even sang Loch Lomond on the banks of the actual Loch Lomond. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I'll treasure those memories forever.

One of the definite perks of the journey was the opportunity to sample the many wonderful foods available in that part of the world. While I wouldn't be sad if I never ate haggis again, I really enjoyed a lot of the other dishes I had. One, in particular, is stuffed jacket potatoes. Jacket potatoes are what we here in the States call stuffed baked potatoes. I saw them on almost every menu of every cafe and pub I visited. There were even some places that had jacket potato bars, like a sundae bar but with baked potatoes and various fillings.

You can fill a jacket potato with anything your heart desires. The sky is the limit. I've had them filled with seafood newburg, chili, cheesy vegetables, creamed mushrooms, chicken curry and my favorite, shepherd's pie. Any kind of saucy, creamy concoction will work with this dish. The best part is that these spudly little parcels are a complete meal in themselves.

The recipe I am going to give you today is for jacket potatoes with a shepherd's pie filling. I put the potatoes in the oven and prepare the rest of the dish while they bake. You can use whatever kind of ground meat that you prefer. I have made this dish with beef, lamb and turkey. I have also used a combination of beef and lamb, with excellent results. It takes a lot less time than making a traditional shepherd's pie, is easier to serve and it is every bit as delicious!

If you are really feeling lazy (as I do on many occasions), the UK brand, Colman's (think mustard), makes a shepherd's pie seasoning mix. I have tried it and it is really very good. All you need to do is cook the meat and vegetables, add the mix with some water or broth, simmer a few minutes and you're done. I am able to find this product in the ethnic foods section of my local supermarket.

Jacket Potatoes with Shepherd's Pie Filling

4 large russet potatoes
coarse salt
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 1/2 cups diced onion
1 1/2 cups finely diced or julienned carrots
2 tbsp. flour, whisked to remove any lumps
1 tbsp. ketchup
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 cup beef broth
1 can yellow corn
4 tbsp. butter
shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

Turn the oven to 375 degrees. Rub potatoes with olive oil and roll in salt. Bake for 1 hour or until soft inside.

In a large skillet, saute onions, beef and carrots over medium-high heat until meat is no longer pink and vegetables are softening.

Add flour and stir well. Add ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and beef broth and stir to combine. Add corn.

Bring to a boil, then lower and simmer covered for 10 minutes. Remove cover and simmer another 5 minutes or so, until sauce begins to thicken.

Split potatoes down the middle and put 1 tbsp. of the butter in each. Ladle meat mixture on top.

Serve with shredded cheese if using.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Sweet Solitude and Caldo Verde, Tortilla Espanola and Buttermilk Panna Cotta

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry's cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I'll put a trinket on.

-- Emily Dickinson, Nature 27 - Autumn

What do you do on a rainy Autumn night when your family has abandoned you and it is too wet and sloshy to go out? You cook up a storm, that's what! Last Friday, while my daughter was enjoying herself at a Halloween party, and my husband was working late, I did just that. It isn't often that I get an evening alone to do whatever I want. When I cook, there is almost always someone looking over my shoulder, smelling, tasting or offering well-meaning, but unsolicited advice. But the other night, it was just me, myself and I. Sweet solitude!

I have a little composition notebook that I keep to write down things I want to remember. You know the kind, with the black and white marbled cover? That is also where I write down ideas for my posts and recipes that I want to try. I flipped through it and decided on a recipe for Buttermilk Panna Cotta from the November issue of Bon Appetit. I had almost a full quart of buttermilk left over from the banana cake I made for WTSIM...Layered Cake. I adore panna cotta and this seemed like an excellent way to use up that buttermilk.

I was also itching to try to make a dish that I just had the night before. A few days ago, I posted about Tampa's PBS station, WEDU, doing a feature on Jaden from Jaden's Steamy Kitchen. Since I was also going to be on the show, Jaden was kind enough to invite me to the viewing party at a cute little restaurant called Martinis & Tapas. I ordered a dish called Tortilla Espanola and it was heaven on a plate! It was made with eggs, onions, potatoes and Manchego cheese, kind of like an omelet, but oh, so much better. I would liken it to an Italian frittata. Tortilla Espanola is apparently one of Spain's most commonly served dishes, showing up in cafes and tapas bars all over the country. Since I already had all of the necessary ingredients for the dish, I decided to make it too.

(Jaden and Me at Martinis & Tapas)

I rooted around my kitchen, taking stock of what else I had lurking there, to find something to make to go along with the tortilla. I found some fresh kale in the fridge that would soon be at risk if I didn't use it. I had some kielbasa hiding in there too. An idea was beginning to take form. With a little more digging, I was able to scrounge up some canned garbanzo beans and diced tomatoes, some onions and chicken broth. Bingo! Caldo Verde!

Caldo Verde is considered by many to be Portugal's national dish. I don't know if it actually is, but it is certainly one of the country's most popular ones. It is a thick soup, traditionally made with a dark green cabbage or kale, potatoes and a spicy Portuguese sausage called chourico. Now, don't give me a hard time about the kielbasa, okay. This is a very versatile soup and I have seen it made using lots of different ingredients. It was dark and rainy and I wasn't about to go out and hunt down some authentic chourico. Besides, the kielbasa was there. A bird in the hand.

The first thing I did was get into my coziest PJs and dig out one of my favorite movies of all time, Shirley Valentine. (If you've never seen it, do yourself a favor and rent it. It is a gem.) Then, I hit the kitchen. I made the Panna Cotta first, because it needed a few hours to set up. After that, I got the soup simmering, and began slicing and dicing for the Tortilla Espanola.
I found several different methods of preparation for the tortilla. Some recipes called for boiling the potatoes first, others said to slow roast them with the onions in the oven. I believe that most traditional way is to poach them in oil in a skillet. Since, I didn't want to have to deal with cleaning up a lot of oil spatters, I chose to roast them. I decided to add some Serrano ham as well, since I also had that in the fridge.
Flipping the tortilla was a tricky bit, but I was able to manage it with some careful maneuvering. One side of my tortilla got a little singed. Unfortunately, it was the top side. I didn't want to risk flipping it again and having it crack or worse, flop right onto the floor, so I left it. It didn't taste burned at all, but it didn't look so good in the pictures. To illustrate how delicious it was, I have, instead, included a photo of the empty platter after we ate it all up. (That is also why there is a pretty Autumn poem at the top of this post instead of a picture of my whole meal.) Oh well, these things happen, I guess. Sometimes you have to roll with the punches.
As I sat down to enjoy the fruits of my labor, my damp and soggy husband walked through the door. I fixed him a plate and we sat, and ate, and recounted our days. The Caldo Verde was robust, with big, bold flavors. The tortilla's crispy crust gave way to a soft egginess inside. The Manchego had a subtle sharpness that melded into the sweetness of the onion and the creaminess of the potatoes. The panna cotta was divine! The buttermilk gave it a slight hint of tanginess and a light, airy texture. It was satin and clouds.

Tortilla Espanola with Manchego and Serrano Ham
Adapted from Pretty Much Everybody

1 cup extra virgin olive oil4 russet potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thin
1 large onion, sliced thin
coarse salt and ground black pepper to taste
6 large eggs
1 cup grated Manchego cheese
1/2 cup Serrano ham sliced into thin strips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a 13-by-9-inch roasting pan with 2 teaspoon oil.

Arrange a layer of potatoes in the pan, sprinkle with salt, and scatter with some of the onion. Drizzle with about 1/4 cup of oil. Continue to make layers with remaining potatoes and onion, using 3/4 cup of oil in all. Roast for 1 hour, loosening and turning potatoes occasionally with a metal spatula.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs until uniform in color. Season with salt.

Add the roasted potatoes, onion, cheese and ham, pressing down with the spatula so that they are covered with egg. Let sit about 10 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet. Add the egg-potato mixture, flatten with the spatula, and reduce heat to medium-high. Shake skillet, as necessary to prevent sticking.

When the underside begins to brown, slide the omelet onto a plate. Place another plate on top of it, and flip.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in the skillet, remove the top plate from the omelet, and slide it back into the skillet, smoothing out any rough edges with the spatula and continuing to shake the skillet. Cook until bottom side is browned and eggs are set.

Slice in wedges and serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 8 to 10 as a tapa.

Quick Caldo Verde
Adapted from Rachael Ray

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 medium onions, chopped
4 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
1 pound kale, coarsely chopped
coarse salt and pepper
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 pound diced chourico, casing removed
1 quart chicken broth

Heat oil in a deep pot over medium high heat. Add potatoes and onions, cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add garlic, bay leaves, and kale to the pot. Cover pot and wilt greens 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add beans, tomatoes, chourico, and broth to the pot and bring soup to a full boil. Reduce heat back to medium and cook 15-20 minutes longer or until potatoes and kale are tender.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine, November, 2007

2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Assorted frozen berries (such as blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries), thawed

Pour 2 tablespoons water into small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes.

Lightly spray six 3/4-cup ramekins or or one 5-6 cup mold with nonstick spray.

Heat cream, lemon peel, and sugar in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring just to low boil, stirring occasionally. Add gelatin mixture; remove from heat. Stir until gelatin dissolves. Cool mixture to lukewarm, stirring often.

Stir in buttermilk and vanilla; divide mixture among prepared ramekins.

Refrigerate panna cotta until set, about 4 hours. (DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.)

Using small sharp knife, cut around panna cotta in each ramekin or mold. Place plate atop each ramekin and invert, allowing panna cotta to settle onto plate.

Top with berries and serve chilled.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Waiter, There's Something in My...Banana Layer Cake with Mascarpone-Cream Cheese Frosting

Today is my sister-in-law, D's birthday. It is a fitting day to write a post about cake, because, you see, cake is her most favorite thing. There is no mountain too high, no valley too low, nor expiration date too long past to keep her from cake. It doesn't matter what kind of cake it is. All that matters is that it is cake. D is an equal opportunity cake connoisseur. All cakes are welcome, be they sheet, layer, bundt, jelly roll or Charlotte. She does not discriminate on the basis of genoise, chiffon, sponge, pound, Angel Food or Dacquoise. Had she been alive then, she just might have trumped Marie-Antoinette and her infamous "Let them eat cake" comment. Happy Birthday, D. This one's for you!
This month's theme for Waiter, there's something in my..., is layered cake. Andrew of Spittoon Extra is hosting the event, and the criteria is simply to bake a cake with layers, post about it and submit it.
I tossed around a lot of different ideas while deciding what kind of cake to bake for this event. I tried to anticipate what my fellow bloggers might make, so as not to duplicate their efforts. After all, what fun would it be to have twenty chocolate cake entries? (Not half as much fun as it would be to have twenty chocolate cakes laid out in front of you!) I spied some bananas on the counter that were just sitting there, mottling right before my eyes, so I decided to make a banana layer cake. It is one of my favorite kinds of cake, especially when enrobed in a rich cream cheese frosting.
I remembered seeing a banana cake recipe in an old issue of Food and Wine Magazine that looked interesting. Of course, I couldn't find it. I suspect that I threw it out during my last little cleaning frenzy. Isn't that always the way it goes? You hang on to magazines and things for months and months, telling yourself that you might need them someday. They sit, gathering dust and cluttering up your space until you can't stand it any longer. In a fit of exasperation, you run around with a giant trash bag, stuffing it full of the offending items and throw them out. Then, no sooner does the trash truck come and haul it away, you find you actually did need it - and it is gone! Thank God for the Internet!
I decided to double the recipe for this cake because I was afraid that the layers would be too thin and flimsy. Also, I wanted to have extra cake in case I messed up. It worked just fine. I have given you the measurements for the original recipe (one 9" cake), but I recommend doubling it. I ended up with cake layers almost 1" thick, and I think the frosting would have overwhelmed thinner ones. Also, I wanted a little a little "tang" to go with the mellowness of the mascarpone in the frosting, so I added regular cream cheese and increased the amount of confectioner's sugar.
I had never seen a recipe for banana cake that called for beaten egg whites before. It definitely made a lighter textured cake. It wasn't the absolute best banana cake I've ever had, but the creamy, decadent frosting more than made up for it. Personally, I prefer the recipe in my old Silver Palate Cookbook. That one makes a helluva banana cake!

I was really pleased with the look of my cake. Though my cakes may always taste good, a lot of times they look - well- kind of like a kindergarten art project. This time, my layers were even and my frosting didn't get bits of crumb in it. For the photos, I got a little cocky and placed some nice Fall flowers around it. It actually looked pretty! I almost felt bad about cutting out a big slab of it to eat.....almost.
Banana Layer Cake with Mascarpone-Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine, March, 2005
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup mashed ripe banana (1 1/2 large), plus 2 large bananas, thinly sliced
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
3 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups chilled mascarpone (12 ounces)
1 8 ounce brick of cream cheese
2 cups confectioners' sugar (add more or less to taste)

Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line it with parchment paper; butter the parchment paper. Dust the pan all over with flour, tapping out any excess.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla extract. Add the mashed bananas and beat the mixture until smooth.
Add half of the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until the batter is moistened. Beat in half of the buttermilk, then add the remaining dry ingredients and the remaining buttermilk.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until firm peaks form. Beat one-fourth of the egg whites into the batter at low speed. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the rest of the whites until no streaks remain. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake the cake for about 40 minutes, until the top is golden and springy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean; the top will be very slightly cracked. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert the cake onto a rack to cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, beat the mascarpone and cream cheese with the confectioners' sugar at medium speed until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Using a large serrated knife, cut the cake horizontally into 3 layers. Place the top layer, cut side up on a cake plate and spread with one-third of the mascarpone frosting. Arrange half of the bananas in a single layer on the frosting. Top with the middle cake layer. Cover the layer with another third of the frosting and top with the remaining bananas. Cover with the bottom cake layer, cut side down, and frost the top.

Refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mini-Byte: I'm Gonna Be on TV - With Jaden!

Yes, you read it right. Humble, lowly me is going to be sharing the same TV screen with Her Fabulousness, herself, Jaden from Jaden's Steamy Kitchen.

A couple of months ago, Jaden was approached by WEDU, the Tampa area PBS station about being featured on the Emmy Award winning show, A Gulf Coast Journal with Jack Perkins. Jack Perkins is a former NBC correspondent and host of A&E's Biography. Jaden posted about it here.
Anyway, in August, a crew from WEDU trekked down here to Sarasota to film Jaden hosting one of her great cooking classes (a sushi class). Jaden was kind enough to invite me along to be a part of it. It was a ton of fun! They even filmed me saying some nice things about Jaden.
The show will air tomorrow, October 25 on WEDU at 8:00. Anyone who lives in the Tampa Bay area should tune in and show Jaden your support. I will probably end up on the cutting room floor, but in case I don't, I'll be the girl in green!

Going for the "Go To" Meals #5: Pasta Pissaladiere

Well, today has certainly been one of those days. The kind where, from the moment you climb out of bed in the morning, you feel like you're already running behind. And though you have been crazily racing around all day, you still didn't really accomplish that much. was one of those days. That is why I have realized at 11:00 tonight that it is Tuesday and I forgot to write my Going for the "Go To" Meals post for this week. If I write fast and keep it brief, I still might make it.

For this week's selection, I chose a dish I call Pasta Pissaladiere. Pissaladiere is a French version of pizza from Nice, in the South of France. A combination of onions, black olives and anchovies are baked on top of a bread dough and Voila! Pissaladiere. The word pissaladiere comes from the term Pissalat, which is a Provencal condiment made of anchovies pureed with thyme, bay leaves, cloves and olive oil. The Pissalat is spread on the dough before topping with the onions and olives.

In this recipe, I have taken the ingredients traditionally found in a pissaladiere and adapted them to make a tasty and satisfying sauce for pasta. I know you're probably rolling your eyes by now, saying, "Another pasta dish?". But, pasta is quick and easy to make. Plus, pasta can wear anything and still look (and taste) good. The key to success with this dish is to cook the onions on a medium-low heat, until they are very soft and caramelized. This gives them such a sweetness. It is a perfect counterpoint to the saltiness of the anchovies and olives.

Please don't be afraid of this dish if you don't care for anchovies. First of all, they totally dissolve into the sauce, so you can't see them. Second, the sauce does not taste at all "fishy". The anchovies provide a mellow, salty undercurrent of flavor. If you didn't know they were in the sauce, you probably wouldn't guess they were there. Trust me on this. I have served this dish to certified anchovy haters, and they all came back for seconds.

Serve with a tossed salad and a crusty loaf of bread, and you have a great casual meal.

Pasta Pissaladiere

3 tbsp. olive oil
3-4 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
1 tin anchovies in olive oil
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 11 oz jar pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped
1 lb. long pasta
extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (I usually use about 1/4 cup.)
salt to taste
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano to taste

Fill a large stock pot with salted water and bring it to a boil. When boiling, cook pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the 3 tbsp. of olive oil in a large skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat. When hot, reduce heat to medium-low and the anchovies, along with their oil and mush around until they dissolve.

Add the onions and thyme. Gently saute until onions are brown and caramelized, about 15-20 minutes.

Add the olives and pasta water and heat through. If salt is needed, add it now.

Add the pasta to the pot and cook a minute or two for the pasta to absorb the flavors.

Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle on cheese. Toss and serve.


Monday, October 22, 2007

SHF: Caramel Apple-Raisin Pie with Rum Raisin Ice Cream

I am very excited to be participating in my first Sugar High Fridays blog event. This month's event is being hosted by Andrew of Spittoon Extra, and the theme is Drunken Apples. The parameters are simple: prepare a dessert featuring apples and some form of alcohol as the main ingredients and then post about it. I must admit, I was a little daunted at first. I have been enjoying the SHF roundups for many months, drooling over the ambrosial submissions of my fellow bloggers; marvelling over their technical talent and creativity. Could I summon up a tantalizing offering worthy to stand beside theirs? I figured there's only one way to find out.

I dove into my research, rooting through my cookbooks and combing the web for the quintessential apple recipe. Along the way, I came across some interesting bits of information. For instance, did you know that apples are a part of the rose family? I didn't, but apparently they are. I also discovered the probability that no other fruit plays a more prominent role in religion, literature, folklore and mythology than the noble apple. The apple has been around since the beginning of time - literally, having made its first appearance in the Garden of Eden, and gone on to star in numerous subsequent chapters in history.

The superabundance of recipe choices was dizzying! There were cakes and pies and fritters and tarts, and even apple empanadas! The sheer numbers were staggering. This might be a good time to mention that I am terrible about making decisions. I mean, choosing between "original recipe" and "extra crispy" can break me out in a cold sweat! After three days of feverishly comparing and cross-referencing, I began to see web pages in my sleep. Obviously, I was over complicating things. I decided to stop the madness and make my own favorite apple pie. It is cozy and familiar. With a little tweaking, it would fit the Drunken Apples theme very nicely. Just to show off a little, I would also make some homemade rum raisin ice cream to go along with it. Whew! Thank goodness that was settled!

This is a really glorious pie. Instead of mixing sugar and flour into the apples themselves, this recipe calls for a cooked caramel sauce to be poured over the whole pie, crust and all. As it bakes, the caramel sauce gets all sticky and gooey, thickening up the apples as well as caramelizing the upper crust. I added in some rum-soaked raisins with a little of the soaking liquid. I don't use cinnamon in my version, because some in my family can't have it, but you certainly could. You could also swap out the raisins for dried cherries or cranberries. I think it would be delicious either way.

For the rum raisin ice cream, I used David's wonderful recipe from The Perfect Scoop. (By now, I'm sure I don't have to tell anyone how great this book is. If you don't already have it- buy it. You'll be glad you did.) I modified the recipe slightly, altering the proportion of milk to cream. The ice cream turned out sinfully good! It was honestly one of the best ice creams I have ever had. Just as the pie was "sticky and gooey", this frozen delight was "creamy and chewy". The yin and yang of desserts, if you will.

Outside, the day was grey and damp. Inside, as my pie baked and my ice creamed churned, it was filled with the essence of comfort. Curled up on the sofa with a good book, my heart felt warm. I recalled an old favorite quote that aptly captured the spirit of this experience for me:

Caramel Apple-Raisin Pie
Adapted from

1 prepared, unbaked double pie crust (enough for a deep dish pie)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dark rum
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3-4 Golden Delicious apples
3-4 Granny Smith apples

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a small saucepan, combine raisins and rum. Bring to a boil. Let simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat. Cover and let stand for a few hours. (You can prepare the raisins for the ice cream together with these and save yourself a step.)

Roll out pie crust and lay bottom layer in a deep dish pie pan. Keep chilled until you are ready to fill the pie.

Peel, core and slice apples very thinly. Toss in a bowl with the raisins and 2-3 tablespoons of the rum. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour to form a paste. Add water, white sugar and brown sugar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and let bubble for about 5 minutes.
Fill the crust with the apple and raisin mixture. Pour 3/4 of the caramel mixture over the fruit. Cover with the upper crust and crimp the edges of the top and bottom crusts together to seal.

Cut several slits in the top crust. Pour the rest of the caramel mixture over the crust, very carefully so that it doesn't run off the pie.

Bake 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 40-45 minutes, until crust is brown and caramelized.

Serve with rum raisin ice cream. (Recipe below)

Rum Raisin Ice Cream
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop

2/3 cup dark and light raisins (I used red flame raisins, because I had them.)
1/2 cup dark rum (Use as good a rum as you can get. It will make a difference. I used Appleton's)
1-inch strip of orange zest
1 cup whole milk
1 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks

Heat the raisins, rum, and orange zest in a small saucepan. Let simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat. Cover and let stand for a few hours.

Warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup of the heavy cream, and salt in a medium saucepan. Pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warmed milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.

Pour the custard through a strainer and into the cream. Stir until cool over an ice bath, then chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator for several hours.

When ready to freeze the ice cream, drain the raisins over a bowl and reserve the rum. Discard the orange zest.

Measure the drained rum and add more, if necessary, so that you have a total of 3 tablespoons. Stir the rum into the custard.

Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the rum-soaked raisins.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mini-Byte: Pumpkin Scones

This is a little Mini-Byte, dedicated to my new blogger buddy, Belinda from What's Cooking in a Southern Kitchen. I was visiting her site the other day, when I came across her lovely post about her Heart Scones. They looked so good that I was drooling all over my keyboard! I had to make them. She told me to go for it, and I did.

Just for fun, I decided to make the scones in pumpkin shapes, since Halloween is rapidly approaching. I used Belinda's recipe, which you can find by following the link above. I substituted 1/4 cup of brown sugar for the same amount of white sugar. I also added a pinch of pumpkin pie spice. To make it a little interesting, I put a little orange food coloring in the mix. I think I could have used even more. I served the scones with apricot preserves and a dollop of creme fraiche. They were as good as I hoped they'd be.

Thanks, Belinda!

Mark Bittman's Zucchini Pasta

There was an interesting article by Mark Bittman in the New York Times yesterday about one of my favorite topics: pasta. In it, Mr. Bittman discusses the long-standing, basic cardinal rules of serving pasta such as more pasta/less sauce. We all know this. It has been drilled into our heads for years ever since Mario Batali introduced us to the concept of pasta sauces as condimenti, or condiments to the pasta. Just like we wouldn't drown our fries in ketchup soup (Well. some might.), we shouldn't drown our pasta in sauce soup. This is the true Italian way, he told us....and we listened, because, after all, he is Mario.

Now, Mr. Bittman has proposed a new school of thought regarding pasta and sauce. He advocates "turning it around" and "overwhelming" the pasta with brothy sauces brimming with lots of fresh vegetables and herbs. This was certainly welcome news to me, as I have never subscribed to the "less is more" theory concerning pasta or sauces. The more, the merrier, I always say. I was taught to cook it that way, and I always have.

Bittman also referred to a term that I haven't heard in a while - minestre. Oh boy, does that conjure up some memories! Minestre is basically a thick and hearty Italian vegetable soup. The best way to describe it is as a cross between a soup and a stew - a stoup, as Rachael Ray has aptly described it. In our family, Minestre was my grandmother's name for a simmering pot filled with every vegetable that was on its last legs in the refrigerator. (Waste not, want not!) She made it every week. The only constants in that pot were some form of leafy greens, some kind of beans and a short pasta, usually ditalini. What you ended up with was always a crap shoot....uh, I mean surprise. Minestre was strictly a week night meal, never for Sundays. (On Sundays, you had to have the Sunday Sauce.) Even though I was never a great fan of her minestre, somehow, I now find the thought of it very comforting.

Whichever side of the pasta sauce debate you may fall on, the recipes highlighted in Mr. Bittman's article all look worthy of trying. As it happened, I had just purchased some beautiful yellow and green zucchini, so the logical choice for me was Zucchini Pasta. I followed the recipe pretty much as written, except that instead of using pasta water to moisten the sauce, I used a little chicken broth. Why add water, when you can add a little more flavor? I also cooked a whole pound of pasta, since I was making this for four people.

The dish was a hit. It was light and flavorful - the perfect ending to a 90 degree Florida day. The paper-thin slices of zucchini were soft and tender, with just the tiniest bit of crispness. The sauce permeated the pasta without overwhelming it. I'm definitely adding this one to my "Go To" list!

Mark Bittman's Zucchini Pasta
New York Times, 10/17/07

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5-6 medium zucchini, rinsed, trimmed and cut into ribbons or coins
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tomatoes, in wedges or roughly chopped, with their juices
1/2 lb. cut pasta, like ziti or penne
Freshly grated Parmesan or freshly chopped parsley for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Put olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini, onion and thyme, and cook, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper and adjust heat so onion and zucchini release their liquid without browning. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until very tender.

Add tomatoes and their liquid to zucchini and raise heat a bit, so mixture bubbles. Cook pasta until it is nearly, but not quite tender. If sauce threatens to dry out, add a little pasta cooking water.

Drain pasta and finish cooking it in sauce.

Serve, garnished with parsley of Parmesan.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Going for the "Go To" Meals - #4: Pan-Roasted Veal Chops with Calvados, Apple and Cream Compote

It's time for the 4th installment of Going for the "Go To" Meals. Sheesh! Tuesdays sure seem to roll around a lot faster now than they did before. One of the most challenging things that I have found about the "Go To" series is deciding what to make each week. The whole reason I came up with the idea was to show how anyone can prepare an easy and delicious meal in less than an hour. No big deal, right? I mean, I do this all the time. So, why then, am I spending more time obsessing over what to cook than actually cooking? My obsessive/compulsive tendencies aside, I think it is because I want to impress you. I don't want you to find out that many times I, like everyone else, just throw some chicken in the oven or steaks on the grill and call it a night. I want you to believe that I am brilliantly creative, effortlessly concocting one fabulous meal after another (wearing pearls and my 4 inch Manolos). Unfortunately, those of us that live in the real world rarely have the time to do that. But, you know what? It's okay. There is no shame in baking a chicken or grilling a steak, as long it is prepared with love and care - and the appropriate seasonings.

A few weeks ago, I spied the most gorgeous veal chops at the meat counter in my local supermarket. They were almost 2 inches thick with a faint, blush pink color. At over $20.00 a pound, veal chops are not in my standard repertoire, and understandably so. However, for some reason that day they were on sale for the bargain price of only $13.99 a pound. Still a bit steep, but I threw caution to the wind, grabbed four and never looked back. Those beauties were calling out my name!

I firmly believe that when you start out with a really excellent product, simplicity is best. Why cover it up with a lot of superfluous stuff. Would you put a trench coat on David? Of course not! My veal chops would not suffer that indignity either. I decided to pan-roast them with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. To take it up a notch, I also decided to make an apple and shallot compote with a Calvados and cream base. You can skip this, as the chops can really stand on their own. You can also substitute onion for the shallots. I just happened to have shallots. Also, the veal chops can easily be exchanged for pork chops. No need to break the bank.

I seared the chops in my trusty cast iron skillet and finished them off in the oven. While they were roasting, I prepared the compote. I microwaved some Country Crock mashed potatoes (Hey, they beat instant potato buds!), to which I added chopped scallions and roasted garlic, steamed some green beans and that was it. In about 40 minutes, I had a lovely meal that I would have happily ordered in any restaurant.

Pan-Roasted Veal Chops with Calvados, Apple and Cream Compote

For the Veal Chops:
4 veal chops, 1 1/2 inches thick
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tbsp. butter

For the Compote:
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. minced shallots
2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and chopped
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 cup Calvados*
1 cup heavy cream
4 or 5 fresh sage leaves
a few grinds of fresh nutmeg (optional)

Prepare the Veal Chops:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Season the veal chops with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet or saute pan, heat olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Sear the veal chops until nicely browned, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer to a shallow roasting pan.

Bake for about 10 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of a chop registers 155 degrees.

Transfer the chops to a serving dish and let rest while you make the compote.

Prepare the Compote:

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the skillet. Place the skillet over medium heat, add the shallots and saute for 2-3 minutes, until they start to soften. Add a little more butter if needed.

Add the apples, sugar and sage and saute until tender, about 5-7 minutes.

Add the Calvados and increase the heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits and cook until reduced by 1/2.

Add the cream. Bring to a simmer and cook for a few minutes or until reduced by 1/2.
Add nutmeg, if using.

Serve, either on top of veal chops or on the side.


*Calvados is an apple brandy from the French region of Basse-Normandie or Lower Normandy. It is a French brandy similar to cognac and armagnac.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Takeout Chronicles, Chapter 1: Casa Italia

I love to cook. That goes without saying. If I didn't, you wouldn't be sitting here reading this post, because I would be out doing something else instead of writing a food blog. But, let's face it.....Sometimes, there just aren't enough hours in the day to whip up your own culinary masterpiece. And, sometimes, at the end of a long week, you can barely muster up the energy to kick off your shoes when you walk through the door, much less drag yourself into the kitchen to slice and dice and saute. Going out to dinner isn't an option, because your feet are so swollen that you can't get your shoes back on. So, what's a girl (with a hungry family) to do? Why.....get takeout, of course!

The other day, I found myself in the dubious position of having a full day of appointments, as well as a required family event at my daughter's school at 6:00 that evening. Now, why anyone would schedule an event like that over the dinner hour on a school night is beyond me, but they did. So, I found myself needing a plan for dinner that night. I am fortunate to live in a community with a wide variety of restaurants, delis and cafes. It's not San Francisco or New York, but it fancies itself a cosmopolitan little town.

As I drove along, I surveyed my options. One of the items on my "to do" list that day was to stop by my local Italian specialty store and pick up a few things. They always have some really good, freshly prepared foods available for takeout in their deli case. Also, it was Thursday, and I had heard through the grapevine that on Thursdays they feature an Indian menu. Huh! Indian? No, it isn't a typo. I really said Indian. Now, let me explain.
Casa Italia is the name of this unique little den of gastronomy. For over twenty years, it has been the definitive place in town for imported Italian meats, cheeses, pastas, olive oils, wines....and just about anything else Italian that one could want. (Marcella Hazan shops there, for heaven's sake! I swear! I have seen her there!) One of the most unique things about Casa Italia is that it is owned and run by an Indian couple. Raj and Nita Mathur bought the store from its original, and Italian, owner about five years ago when they relocated to the area from London.

I must admit, back when this change first took place, I was a bit anxious. I worried about the fate of my favorite Italian delicacies. Would I still be able to get my beloved Galbani mascarpone cheese? My imported mortadella with paper thin slices of pistachio nuts embedded inside it? My Cento clam juice? I needn't have worried. The Mathurs have not only preserved the integrity of Casa Italia, but improved it. All of the same great products are still there, along with a plethora of new ones. They have expanded the offerings to include items from other European countries like Spain, Greece and France, as well as India. They stock twenty varieties of Indian spices, chai masala (tea seasoning), chutneys, ghee (clarified butter), pappadams, naan, paneer (Indian cottage cheese) and five types of daal (lentils).

Today's menu featured a lamb curry, with sides of pilau rice with peas, daal with palak (lentils with spinach), and green beans with potatoes. I must say that everything looked delicious. I'm a big fan of Indian food, so my mouth was already watering as I loaded my spicy little bundles into the car. Definitely something to look forward to!

Even though each of the dishes could be heated up in the microwave, I decided to simmer the curry on the stove for a few minutes. I served it all in nice china bowls. I felt the food deserved it. The curry had lots of big succulent chunks of very tender lamb. The sauce was seasoned perfectly, with just the right amount of spice. The rice was also perfectly cooked, laced with saffron, spices and emerald green peas peeking out like little jewels. The green beans with potatoes were fragrant, with some interesting layers of flavors and textures. The lentils were mellow and creamy - a little "down time" for the taste buds. All in all, my whole family thoroughly enjoyed this dining experience!

Casa Italia offers Indian cooking classes, courtesy of Nita, as well as Italian cooking classes conducted by noted Italian chef and cookbook author Giuliano Hazan. For the culinarily challenged, the Mathurs offer an ever changing daily buffet of tasty home cooked entrees and sides. When it is not Thursday, you'll find their display brimming with lasagna, ravioli, or chicken cacciatore. In addition, many items like fresh pastas and sauces are available in the freezer case. It's not cheap eats, but you get what you pay for.
Nita graciously granted permission for me to pass her recipe for Green Beans with Potatoes on to you. I hope you'll try it. You won't be disappointed.

Green Beans with Potatoes

1 pound fresh green beans
2 medium-sized potatoes
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
Pinch of asafetida powder
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
4 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
2 chopped, peeled tomatoes (fresh or canned)
1 teaspoon dry mango powder
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup water

Wash beans and remove ends; cut into half-inch pieces.

Peel and dice potatoes into small cubes. Wash and leave to drain.

Heat oil in a frying pan. Add mustard seeds; when they start to crackle, add cumin seeds and asafetida. When cumin seeds turn dark brown, add potatoes and stir-fry for a couple of minutes.

Add chopped green beans; stir-fry for 5-8 minutes.

Sprinkle salt, chili powder, turmeric and coriander powder on the vegetables. Mix well, and fry for 5 minutes.

Add dry mango powder or lemon juice, garam masala and tomatoes and stir.

Turn heat down, cover frying pan and stir occasionally. If vegetables start sticking to pan, add a little water.

Cook till potatoes are tender.

Serve hot. Serves 4 to 6.

--Nita Mathur

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Thrill of the Grill: Churrasco with Chimichurri Sauce

A few years ago, I bought my husband a new barbecue grill for his birthday. This wasn't just any old grill, mind you, but the mother of all barbecue grills. It was the Weber Performer. This grill has it all - 22.5 inch porcelain-enameled bowl and lid, Touch-N-Go gas ignition system, 2 Char-Basket charcoal fuel holders, dual-purpose thermometer, heavy-duty steel cart frame. You name it...this baby has it! What self-respecting husband wouldn't love that?

After I generously congratulated myself on my cleverness in selecting such a cool "man gift", I began to envision lazy weekend afternoons, the heady aroma of charred meat wafting through the air, sipping margaritas on the patio with friends, children frolicking in the backyard.....Whoa! Back up! Frolicking? Well, you get the picture. Unfortunately, my husband did not. While he acted suitably impressed with the gift, and genuinely seemed to love it, several months went by before he actually used it.

He always seemed to have a good excuse - uh, I mean reason - why he couldn't fire up the grill. "It looks like rain." "I don't have any charcoal/propane/wood chips." "The big game is on." All reasonable explanations, but frankly, I was beginning to get a little peeved!

Every so often, I would look out the window at that grill, just sitting there in the corner of our lanai, lonely and unappreciated.

Finally, I could stand it no more. If he wasn't going to use that grill, then I would. I scoured my cookbooks and recipe files for a great "grill" recipe. I found the perfect one. Churrasco Steak with Chimichurri. I had made it before (under the broiler) and it was easy, different and delicious.

Churrasco is a Spanish term that refers to various kinds of fire-grilled meats. It is a very common dish in most South American and Latin American countries, but is particularly popular in Argentinian cuisine. The various components of the dish differ from country to country. In Argentina, churrasco steak is typically a long flat cut of skirt steak, which is cut from the "plate" of the cow. It is actually the diaphragm muscle of the cow. (Ew! I didn't need to know that!) Skirt steak is one of the more flavorful cuts of beef, but it can be tough. It should be marinated prior to cooking in order to tenderize it.

Chimichurri is a sauce/marinade for churrasco that originated in Argentina. It is made with a combination of chopped fresh herbs, dried oregano, garlic, olive oil and some kind of acid. I have heard it referred to as Argentinian "barbecue sauce" and Argentinian "pesto". I think that both are accurate descriptions. There are numerous different variations of chimichurri, but I like to use a combination of fresh parsley, cilantro and mint. I also like to add fresh lime juice for some bite.

I digress.......

With my skirt steak happily marinating in a green sea of chimichurri, I turned my attention to the grill. I had charcoal. I had propane. I had wood chips. I..... had.....absolutely no idea what I was doing! This was going to make it a little difficult to prove my point. Then, I got an idea! I would do what I always do when I want my husband, to do something he keeps putting off. I would start clanging things around, make a huge mess, heavily sigh (really loudly), curse a little and act like a martyr. And, that is exactly what I did.

I will spare you the details of the long, unpleasant dialogue that followed, but suffice it to say that we feasted on a well-grilled churrasco with chimichurri sauce that night! Who actually did the grilling, you ask? Well, who do you think? ; )

I served my churrasco with a black bean and corn salad that was cool and light and the perfect complement to the steak.

Churrasco with Chimichurri Sauce
Adapted from Steven Raichlen and Food and Wine Magazine
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup packed fresh mint leaves
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
juice of 1 lime
1/3 cup cold water
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and black pepper, freshly ground
2 pounds skirt steak
Place skirt steak into a baking dish.

Combine the herbs and garlic in a food processor and finely chop.

Add the oil, vinegar, water, hot pepper flakes and salt and pepper and process until a thick sauce forms. The chimichurri should be highly seasoned.

Pour 1/2 of the chimichurri sauce over the meat and smush it around until well-coated. Marinate the meat for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. Arrange the steak on the grate and grill until cooked to taste, about 2 minutes per side for medium-rare.

Transfer the churrasco steak to plates or a platter and serve the remaining chimichurri sauce on the side.

Black Bean and Corn Salad
Adapted from Apron's Simple Meals

12-16 sprigs fresh cilantro
2 (15.25-ounce) cans black beans
1 (11-ounce) can Mexican-style corn
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
1/2 cup diced red onions
3/4 cup red wine vinaigrette
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Chop cilantro coarsely and place in medium bowl.

Rinse black beans and drain thoroughly and add to bowl.

Stir in remaining ingredients until well blended.

Cover and chill 15 minutes or more. Serve.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Going for the "Go To" Meals - Week #3: Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage

For the third installment of Going for the "Go To" Meals, I have decided to share my recipe for Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage. This is a hearty main dish that is both quick and easy to prepare. Also, its ingredients are very forgiving, and it can be modified to suit almost anyone's dietary parameters. Vegetarian? Switch out the sausage and chicken broth for white beans and vegetable broth. Gluten-free? Use rice, spelt or one of the other many gluten-free pastas on the market. Don't like broccoli? Well......that might be a problem, although, I'll bet you could substitute something like cauliflower. (I might just have to try that sometime.)

This recipe requires only a few basic ingredients: pasta, frozen broccoli, Italian sausage, garlic, olive oil, chicken broth, salt and pepper or seasoning and grated cheese for sprinkling. Most of these are probably already hiding out in your kitchen. Any kind of pasta will work, but I recommend a short variety, like penne, rigatoni or gemelli. All of the cooking can be synchronized so that the pasta and the sauce are both ready at the same time. Toss together a quick salad to go with it, and you'll have flavorful, satisfying and healthy meal in no time flat! It is a true "Go To" Meal!

Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage

1 lb. short pasta
1 lb. Italian sausage links (hot or sweet or a combination of both)
4 tbsp. olive oil and 1/4 c. olive oil, divided (Extra virgin olive oil is best.)
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced lengthwise*
2 14 oz. packages broccoli cuts
1 14 oz. can chicken broth
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Fill a large stock pot with salted water and bring it to a boil. When boiling, cook pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a broiler pan or baking sheet with the sausages. Drizzle a few drops of oil on top and toss. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove and slice the sausages into 1/2 inch rounds. Do this in the pan to retain the juices. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the 4 tbsp. of olive oil in a large skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat. When hot, reduce heat to medium and gently saute the garlic until fragrant and lightly golden.

Raise the heat back up to medium-high and mix in the broccoli. Cover and cook until the broccoli is slightly browned and very tender. This will take about 12-15 minutes, depending on your stove. You will have to keep watch and stir often to make sure that it doesn't burn. If the broccoli mixture gets too dry, add more olive oil a little at a time.

Add the sausage, pan juices and chicken broth. Continue to cook, uncovered, until the liquid reduces by about 1/3.

Add salt and pepper flakes to taste.

Turn off the heat and add the drained pasta to the pan. Toss it all together and drizzle in a little more olive oil. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top.

Serve it right from the pan.


*Slicing the garlic lengthwise gives it a larger cooking surface, thereby reducing the risk of burning it. It also looks prettier.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Serious Eats Coins National Meatloaf Day

Serious Eats has designated October 18 as National Meatloaf Appreciation Day. To celebrate, they are hosting a blog roundup dedicated to the ubiquitous dish. The rules are pretty straightforward. Prepare a meatloaf. Photograph it. Post about it. Submit it. Sure, I can do that. The biggest challenge I faced was deciding what kind of meatloaf to make.

As a busy mom, I have made many a meatloaf. It can be mixed up and put together the night before, drastically cutting down on meal prep time. That comes in pretty handy when you're zooming into the kitchen after a hectic day. It is a tasty, filling and versatile comfort food, that ages well. The leftovers can be eaten as is, or turned into something else, such as sandwiches or meatloaf hash. (Yes, hash. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it!) Meatloaf is also the kind of dish that happily lends itself to experimentation. There are literally millions of variations on this theme. Just for fun, I Googled "meatloaf recipes" and within two seconds had about 1,760,000 listings to choose from. Mind boggling!

I have a couple of tried and true meatloaf recipes that I have relied on over the years. All are pretty popular at my house. As a matter of fact, the Barefoot Contessa's recipe for Turkey Meatloaf was the first that sprang to mind. I love that recipe! But, then I thought, for my very first blog roundup I really should dazzle 'em a little and develop my own original meatloaf recipe. And there, my journey began...........

I prepared my family for this by announcing that the upcoming week would be "Meatloaf Week" at our house. I explained that I would be preparing a different kind meatloaf every night and that they would get to judge which one should be included in the roundup. It was kind of hard to tell by the looks on their faces whether they were happy about this or not, but I didn't care. I was on a mission - a quest, if you will - to find the holy grail of meatloaf!

The first night, I made "Pacific Rim Meatloaf", with chicken, panko, egg, garlic, cilantro, Thai chili sauce and a teriyaki/honey glaze. The original recipe is for burgers with a fabulous mayonnaise sauce laced with ginger, relish and garlic. Something definitely got lost in the translation. The meatloaf was okay, but it didn't pack the same flavor wallop that the burgers did. Using chicken as the only meat made it a little bit dry. Also, without the sauce, it was kind of blah. Nope, this wasn't "it".

The next recipe I tried was "Albondigas Meatloaf". For this one, I used a beef and pork combination with diced chorizo, bread crumbs, egg, garlic, oregano, cumin and canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. I have to say that it was really good. A definite contender.

For my third meatloaf incarnation, I decided to go back to my roots with "Meatloaf Involtini". This was the most involved recipe of the three, requiring several components. Meatloaf Involtini begins with a mixture of ground pork, beef and veal, combined with bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, onion, egg, parsley and milk. It is basically the same recipe that I use for my meatballs. The meat is then spread out on a sheet pan and topped with a filling of garlic, pine nuts and more bread crumbs, egg, parsley and Parmesan. On top of that goes a layer of hot cappicola ham and fresh mozzarella. Actually, you could use prosciutto or any other kind of ham. I like the cappicola because it is a little spicy. Then, the whole thing is (very) carefully rolled up into a log, covered with marinara sauce and baked.

Well, I have just one word to describe this dish. FANTASTICO! Really, it was great! The flavors and all of the different textures in the dish just popped in your mouth. I knew that my search was over. It was a good thing, too. As I sat across the table from my glassy-eyed family that night, I could tell that the novelty of Meatloaf Week was wearing thin! Honestly, I didn't know how much more meatloaf they could take.

So here it is, my homage to meatloaf:

Meatloaf Involtini

For the meatloaf:

1 lb each of ground chuck, veal and pork
1 c. Italian style bread crumbs
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 c. grated onion
1/2 c. minced flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp Italian seasoning
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 c. tomato sauce

For the filling:

1/2 c. Italian style bread crumbs
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. minced parsley
4 cloves crushed garlic
3 tbsp pine nuts
1 egg, beaten
1/4 lb cappicola, sliced thinly
1 lg fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare the meatloaf by mixing all ingredients, except tomato sauce, together in a large bowl until well combined.

Line a baking sheet with wax paper, leaving at least 2 extra inches of paper hanging over each end.

Spread the meat out onto the wax paper, and flatten it , gently nudging it outward until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the first 6 filling ingredients together until it resembles a dry paste. Spread paste evenly on top of meat, leaving a 2 inch border at each end.

Layer the cappicola and mozzarella on top.

Take hold of the wax paper on one end and very carefully begin to roll up the meatloaf. Use the wax paper to help, gently tucking the meat under as you roll. Pinch the seams a bit to seal any openings in the meat. Carefully rotate the meatloaf one quarter turn so that it is lying lengthwise on the pan. (I moved mine to a baking dish.)

Pour the tomato sauce over the top of the meatloaf.

Bake for approximately 90 minutes, until nicely browned. You may need to use a meat thermometer to check for doneness.

Slice and serve.