Wish Upon A Dish: February 2012

February 29, 2012

Grab a chair and let me tell you a story about a little bird

I am trying to teach my 84 year old father how to make one large batch of something on Sunday, so he can feast on it all week. When I do things like that, memories flood my mind and bring me back to when my grandma did the same with me.

Last night I made a roaster, a small but pudgy bird and between my cooking lessons and that bird, I was inspired to sit down and write this post. It is not so much about the recipes but a small snapshot of a day in the life of Italians in America during 1960, straight from my memory album.

It is well documented that Italians are a frugal bunch as were most Europeans. Times were tough, immigrating to America was sometimes all they had, to look forward too, all coming over with nothing. Since I seem to have acquired the same gene from my Dad, whenever I go for a visit, I make sure my Aunt Jennie (his twin) comes over for cake and coffee and a sit down to let me pick her brain about what it was like growing up in America when your parents spoke no English. Daughters seem to remember family things, sons, well, went to work. She's all I have left of my family's early years.

Allow me to set the scene for you. If you saw the Godfather 2, when Vito was newly married and living in a tenement in NYC, that was my grandparents life. The movie year 1917, Grandpa arrived from Genoa in 1915.

I really can't pull more then 3-4 years of memories out of Jersey City before my grandparents passed away, both within six months of each other when I was 8, and I do seem to remember my grandma more. Along with my memories and Aunt Jennie filling in the blanks, I have been able to travel back in time. I always wished I called her Nonna or something Italian but am sure my mother had us call her plain ole Grandma (she was so German and so Ordinary People). Her given name was Louise, which I did not know until I saw her gravestone.

When my parents had weekend party plans they dumped dropped me & my sister at my grandparents house. This was not a regular "house" but an apartment building that my Grandpa bought in Jersey City, with enough apartments for the first ones to marry and have a family. One unique way to keep the family together. Back then (1920) family was all you had. My grandma arrived through Ellis Island by herself. Single women would travel with a Catholic chaperon, whether it be a family or actual nuns and priests. My Grandfather was already here when she stepped onto American soil. I finally got to visit Ellis Island last year and I stood there and cried. I am teary-eyed just typing this.

Apparently, the local Roman Catholic Church had socials every weekend and that is were they met. Ten kids later the twins were born and then the Depression hit. So, all this leads me to the guts of this post. A woman with 11 children, speaks very broken English has to feed a husband and family on one salary.

Why would I NOT pick my Aunt's brain. You will read this and think I was tying the script from the movie, but ask anyone whose grandparents immigrated from Italy in 1915 and they will tell you, I am not making this up.

I loved the short time I spent at my grandparents, a large vegetable garden in their backyard, with chickens and ducks and a rabbit or two running around helter-skelter. Even though I was there 25 years after the worst of times in America, things might have been better but they were still living in the past. I know immigrant parents never could shake that "living hand to mouth" time in their lives, and lots of those vibes were passed to their children, even when most became educated and financially secure.

Traveling to Jersey City from the town my father settled us in was like stepping out of a time capsule. Washing machines that gave spin cycle a whole new meaning (picture a large pasta roller mounted to the top). Laundry was fun for a 7 year old.

I vividly remembered the small black and white tiled floors in the bathroom that I counted while I was in there doing my "business" and which continued into the kitchen where I used to play imaginary Hop Scotch on the evenly spaced black ones until grandpa scowled that "someone needed to get the ants out of her pants (but always with a smile)". Nowadays people salvage those tiles for big bucks.

The large Formica table that we all sat at for dinner (and yes, Sunday everyone ate upstairs together). The small glass of wine I was allowed to sample (which was made in their basement and me and Frankie always tried to sneak a swig), and the games I would play with my cousins who lived in the same building. We practically lived on the front stairs, playing stoop ball and hide and seek down long alleys that ran between each apartment building, barely large enough to fit the garbage cans we hit behind. It was a magical place and what fun we had. My cousins Frankie and Richard would get me into so much trouble. "But grandpa, Frankie said it was OK to take all those games out of the closet!" and those stories still bring about a chuckle over a bottle of wine on a stoop at our family reunions.

Yes, I am getting to the bird......

After church on Sunday, grandpa would bring in a dead chicken. It didn't even phase me, maybe because I never put 2 and 2 together. They were careful to never let me see the bad stuff. Along with the hen, he would set down a basket of eggs, freshly gathered and probably still warm from when she was sitting on them.
I imagine if I did know the truth, it would be years before I ever ate another chicken.
Grandma would pluck it's feathers, cut off it's head, neck and feet and clean out the innards. She plopped all of it (except the feathers) into a pot of salted water with carrots, celery, onions and any odds and ends of vegetables not eaten during the week. While the chicken simmered away, she made the eggs for breakfast, always with the fried liver, kidneys and heart from the chicken and thick slices of toasted homemade bread. No, I never ate the gizzards, grandma made a small sausage for me.

After breakfast, while grandma did chores, Grandpa would wander off to tend his garden or read the paper under his grapevines and I would sit with him and eat the grapes. I loved that garden and probably drove him nuts with thousands of questions. I never remember him getting mad at the grandchildren, especially me. My Mom always told me, she would look out the window and if grandpa was in his garden, so was I, sitting there on barrels, watching the vegetables grow.

Grandma called when she was ready to make the pasta, which I loved to do. What kid wouldn't love real Play-Doh.
She would pull a chair up against the table because, holding her hand up, I was told...."Susan, you need to be this tall to roll out the pasta". So I was always "that tall". Grabbing an old broom handle as her rolling pin, just as her mother did, she would roll out the dough and then let me, finish it. I did a good job and quickly learned how important thickness was.
Rolling the pasta onto the handle she walked it into her bedroom, where a sheet covered her mattress. Unrolled and perfectly flat, she would open both windows to dry it out. I remember touching the dough to see when it was ready to cut. Thickness is as important as texture.
I learned a lot in a short time but I wanted more.
When it was time to cut, she reversed the process, back to the table but left it in a roll, sliding the handle out the end. I watched her cut 1/2" slices from that roll and my job was to shake them to make little birds nests. Oh, what fun I had, Grandma let me play.

Lunch was usually a soup or a broth of that chicken, cut into tiny pieces. All served in a bowl with whatever greens grandpa picked that day.

Sunday dinners were always family style, 10-11 at the table. The rest of the chicken meat was served on a platter with vegetables and polenta. A simple, wonderfully fresh meal that would take many years for me to appreciate, was really just dinner to me then. I was more excited about everyone eating the pasta I MADE.

I might not remember many things but jelly jar glasses of beer that grandpa smuggled for me and the same for him but wine, is something I always think about every time I see a jelly jar. We must have been a sight to see, my grandpa being a large, muscular man and I, a pixie of a girl, with curly hair and way too much energy. I would watch everything he did, carefully soaking it all in. He was the boss, it was his home and you did it his way.

Story complete, a smile on my faccia (face), I sat here, proof-read and corrected many mistakes. When I was finished and happy, I came to the realization that this story wasn't so much about a little bird ON the table as it was about a little bird AT the table.

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February 27, 2012

Baked Egg in a Chorizo Piperade Sauce

I am alone for a week (if I say this many times during the next four days it's because I have a love/hate relationship with the Nudge's travels).

I love that I don't have to have dinner on the table 15 minutes after he walks through the door.

I hate that I miss him as much as I do (I used to embrace being alone).

I love that I can make just about anything for meals and there is no one to complain about it (I certainly won't).

I hate that I make my most inspired meals when he's not home and there is no one to share them with.

I love that I have my cats all to myself and they shower me with unconditional love (they know when I need taking care of).

I hate that I become a whirling dervish and spring clean the house and no one is here to pat me on the back.

I love Thursday nights because he'll be home on Friday and will offer to take me out for calamari and antipasto, over a bottle of red wine, because he wants to tell me all about his trip.

It's OK, I can always tell him about my week another time, he's so happy to see me.

Last night I made a "off the top of my head" chorizo sauce with orrechiette and a baked egg.

Yum, it was good. All done in my baby cast iron pan. Yes, there is pasta under all that saucy goodness. Yes, I could have eaten it without pasta but why would I? It was only 1/2 cup and there is no one here to complain anyways.

Chorizo Piparaade
makes 1 serving, can be doubled as many times as you want

* 1 Mexican chorizo sausage, casing removed
* 1 large shallot, sliced
* 1/4 cup sliced red peppers
* 2 large mushrooms, halved and sliced
* Olive oil
* 1/2 cup white wine
* 1/2 cup fire roasted crushed tomatoes
* 1 egg
* salt & pepper
* 1/2 cup cooked orecchiette pasta

1. Saute chorizo in olive oil in a heated cast iron pan, breaking up as it cooks. Add peppers, shallot and mushrooms. Saute until vegetables are slightly softened.
2. Add wine and reduce until almost all moisture is gone. Add tomatoes and salt & pepper.
3. Cover and simmer while the pasta water boils.
4. Once pasta is in pot, add egg into the middle of the sauce in the cast iron pan. Cover and simmer until the white is cooked and the yolk is still runny.
5. Strain pasta into serving bowl, slide contents of cast iron pan over pasta and serve.

Hurry home, honey...I hate eating all this good food without you!!

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February 24, 2012

Pretzel-Crusted Pork Chops with Ginger-Mustard Sauce

The one thing I love about Bon Appetit magazine is the "R.S.V.P." section.

There you get recipes, requested by readers, from restaurants where they have eaten a memorable meal. Thirty years ago I requested a Pigeon Peas & Rice from our honeymoon in Barbados. They delivered in spades, not one but three recipes.

I have had this recipe bookmarked in my file for over two years. I admit the pretzel coating caught my eye, but there is much more to this dish. Originally from the Grouse Mountain Grill in Beaver Creek, Co., they used candied orange peel, but I am trying crystallized ginger. This was my first time using it and I'm glad I did.

May I suggest using the food processor on the pretzels?. Once they are ground to pieces that are 1/4" remove them directly into a fine sieve and shake over a bowl until all the fine particles are released into the bowl. I believe this process scrapes the salt off the outsides of the pretzels, making it that much more healthy. Now you can place the crumbles in a heavy plastic bag and roll a rolling pin across them to make the final crumb.

If you need to watch your salt intake this extra step is worth it but you can leave be if you want.

Read the directions carefully, not because they are complex, but there are a few important steps. For more then 4 chops you will need 2 skillets both oven proof. The coating is only on one side and makes perfect sense. It is a generous crust that stays intact while cooking. To crust both sides would have been overkill.

All in all this dish, from range to table, took less then an hour to prepare and if you make the pretzel crumbs ahead, you can reduce that to thirty minutes.

Pretzel-Crusted Pork Chops with Ginger-Mustard Sauce
Crushed pretzels make a better-than-breadcrumb crust.
8 servings

* 1 1/2 cups balsamic vinegar
* 2 tablespoons minced candied ginger
* 2 cups whipping cream
* 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
* 1/2 cup all purpose flour
* 3 large eggs (or 3/4 cup sub)
* 2 cups crushed pretzel sticks (about 5 ounces)
* 8 1-inch-thick center-cut pork rib chops

3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons canola oil, divided

1. Simmer balsamic vinegar in small saucepan over medium heat until reduced to 2/3 cup, about 10 minutes. Transfer to small pitcher.
DO AHEAD: Balsamic reduction can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

2. Mix cream, mustard, and 2 tablespoons candied ginger in heavy small saucepan. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium and cook until sauce is reduced to 1 cup, about 12 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and chill.

3. Place flour in shallow bowl. Whisk eggs to blend in another shallow bowl. Spread crushed pretzels on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Working with 1 pork chop at a time, press 1 side of chop into flour, dip floured side only into eggs, then press into pretzels, coating 1 side only.
4. Transfer to baking sheet, coated side up. Repeat with remaining pork chops, flour, eggs, and pretzels.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

5. Preheat oven to 450°F. Melt 1/2 the butter and 1/2 the canola oil in each of 2 large ovenproof skillets over medium-high heat. Add 4 pork chops to each skillet, coated side down, and cook until brown, about 2 minutes. Turn chops over and transfer both skillets to oven. Roast until pork is cooked through and thermometer inserted horizontally into chop registers 140°F, about 10 minutes. Let chops stand 5 minutes.

Rewarm sauce. Spoon 2 tablespoons sauce onto each plate and place chop atop sauce. Drizzle with balsamic reduction and garnish with grated ginger (optional).

I am serving asparagus that I roasted in the same oven with the chops.

Review: The ginger/mustard/cream sauce was excellent. Just the hint of ginger and sweetness worked off the zip of the mustard and the creaminess of the dairy. The balsamic glaze put this over the top. A great, but extremely easy, thirty minute meal from a restaurant. We both liked the pretzel coating, it was substantial, did not fall off and stayed extremely crunchy. I made extra for storage.

February 23, 2012

Linguine with Clam Sauce

One of my favorite shellfish dishes just happens to be linguine and clams.
I can never get enough, but The Nudge would be happy with twice a year so when I found out my favorite restaurant took it off the menu I was not happy.

My market had clams on sale this week so without missing a beat I ordered 2 dozen little neck clams. I was going to have my linguine with clams and to hell with him. Turns out, he told me, no you're wrong, I don't hate it as much as you think dear, and he said, and I quote "oh, I don't mind if we have this 2-3 times a year". Too funny, huh?

I make mine as simple as can be, relying on the fresh clams for all the flavoring.

Linguine with Clams
makes 4 servings

* 3/4 pound thin linguine
* 2 dozen little neck clams
* 1/4 cup EVOO
* 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
* 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
* 1/4 cup white wine
* Juice from the clams
* Basil leaves
* Chopped scallions or parsley
* Fresh chopped tomato, seeded and juiced (optional)

Steam clams in 1" of water till they just open. Remove to a bowl to cool. Strain the juice through a paper towel, reserve.

In a large saute pan, heat olive oil, garlic and pepper flakes and saute until the garlic starts to brown on the edges, add the white wine and strained clam juice. Simmer until it reduces to about half.

Remove the meat from 1 dozen of the clams and chop into 3-4 pieces.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the box directions, about 8 minutes.

Add the basil to the saute pan along with the chopped clams. When the pasta is done, add it to the sauce along with enough of the pasta water to keep the pasta moist. Add the clams in their shells to the pot, cover for 3 minutes and serve, arranging the shelled clams around the side of the pasta bowl. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.


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February 20, 2012

Creamy Corn Chili Con Chicken Carne

Say that 5x fast.

Why is my timing so bad that I can defrost a bag of cubed cooked chicken to make a chicken chili and I don't have the traditional salsa verde used to flavor it.

Defrosted chicken only waits a day or two the most and this is day two, and I wanted to make a spicy but green style chili without making a trip to the store. Not because I am lazy but because I have a touch of stomach flu and I just wanted a dump and go chili.

I do have a jar of recaito and roasted hatch chilies, but it really cries out for something sour (yes, like a tomatillo). After way too much time Googling, I finally gave up on a sub for the salsa verde and decided to just drop in some pickled jalapenos and lime juice.

I do not have small white beans so I grabbed a can of black-eyed peas, a can of creamed corn, chopped onions and garlic, chopped green chilies, chicken broth, cumin and New Mexico green chili powder.

Turned out with all the little this and thats' I added made this the best chicken chili we have ever had.

* 1 pound chicken meat, leftover or rotisserie
* 1 large onion, chopped
* 3 cloves garlic, chopped
* 1/4 cup Goya recaito
* 1 quart chicken stock
* 2 cans (15.5 ounces each) beans, small and white
* 1 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1 teaspoon New Mexico Hatch chili powder
* 1 teaspoon poultry seasonings
* 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
* 2 tablespoons minced pickled jalapenos
* 1 small can green chilies, chopped
* 5 dashes Emeril's Green pepper hot sauce
* 1 can creamed corn
* 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
* Tortilla chips (optional)

1. Saute onion and garlic in 1 teaspoon canola oil
2. Add recaito and spices and bloom for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
3. Add chicken stock, jalapenos, canned chilies, creamed corn, beans and salt & pepper to taste.
Simmer on a low bubble for 1 hour, stirring every 10 minutes.
4. Add chicken and heat through. Taste for seasonings and add more hot sauce if desired.

Serve with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, and tortilla chips.

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February 19, 2012

Beef, Barley and Mushroom Risotto - Updated

Have you ever made risotto? It's relatively easy, a one pot wonder and a very sexy dish.

Perfect for Valentine's Day, unless you are a diabetic.

One, on a long list, of forbidden foods, I did not want to give up the creamy, saucy, flavorful dish I truly loved.

Risotto is the name for a technique and as cooks have gotten more adventurous in the kitchen, it has been made with many other ingredients including minced calamari (something I will try soon) so all I needed to do was find a suitable substitution.

For me it was barley because as you cook it, it submits a starchy component just like rice,that is technically a starch but it is a resistant starch and extremely good for you. Anything that makes a creamy sauce that is great for your health is as good as it gets in my book. I actually like the taste of barley better.

Barley has nutritional advantages such as high fiber and antioxidant content, as well as being cholesterol free and low in fat. A number of current and ongoing research studies are concentrating on the potential health benefits of barley. Initial results in the lowering of blood cholesterol are promising, but additional studies are necessary to confirm results. For more in depth information on barley, visit this site, you will never look at barley the same way.

Gluten free and extremely diabetic friendly, it was a no brainer, plus I like the flavor of barley. I also love a good thick bowl of beef barley soup, so I took my best loved recipe and risotto-fied it. Worked out better then I could have predicted. You wouldn't even know it was not rice if you use the pearl barley and presoak for 30 minutes. Not totally necessary, but while you are dicing the onions and the carrots, why not rinse and soak the barley.

Although my original version of this dish was good, I have found a way to make it better.

I roast the barley. Adds a nice nutty flavor that pumps up the volume rather nicely.

If you have the time, before you soak the barley, spread it out on a sheet pan, slide it into a 400° oven and toast it dry for 8 minutes (just like you would nuts). Let it cool before soaking.

Only 8 minutes but it adds a depth of nuttiness that brings this dish alive. This may not look good (brown food, you know), but it is an excellent dish. Better than a basic beef stew, you will love this dish.

The last installment of my Braised Beef trilogy, this came together in 30 minutes.

If you do not happen to have a braised beef roast in your fridge, the best substitute would be cooked chop meat. Yes, I suppose you could use ground turkey but that's another post.

Beef, Barley and Mushroom Risotto
makes 4 servings

* 1/2 cup toasted, soaked barley
* 2 cups leftover beef
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 1 cup onions and 1 cup carrots, diced
* 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
* 1 clove garlic, minced
* 1 cup beef broth
* 1 cup chicken stock
* 2 tablespoons soy sauce
* Black pepper
* Handful of peas
* Sour cream
* 1/4 cup Romano cheese, grated

1. Heat oil in dutch oven. Saute mushrooms, carrots, onions and garlic until softened.
2. Add barley and broths. Cook until barley is tender, stirring every 10 minutes, about 25 minutes.
3. Add beef, soy sauce, pepper and peas. Simmer until heated through.
4. Right before serving, add sour cream and cheese.

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February 17, 2012

Potato Wrapped Corvina

Most times a meal is planned standing in front of a supermarket counter. At least this one was. I had no fish on my shopping list, but I found myself ordering and excepting a package of the nicest looking white fish I have seen in my Shop-Rite in a long time.

The corvina looked fresh and was priced right. Since we both love snapper and The Nudge had a Potato Crusted Snapper in Key West, I decided to give it a try.

For those who have never heard of corvina is has a mild, sweet taste with firm, large flaked flesh which is pinkish when raw but cooks up white. The flesh resembles Snapper. In South America Corvina is regarded as a prime table fish and is very popular for ceviche.
Perfect for wrapping in thin slices of potato.

I have made potato encrusted fish before but never posted a recipe.

You have two choices on the potato crust, grated or slices. The slices give a better presentation and a more successful one. It is simple and impressive, good enough for guests.
Can be prepared ahead and then baked in an oven as you are eating the appetizers, leaving you time to enjoy the company.

The key to successful wrapping is to slice them paper thin. They need to be pliable enough to surround the fish. If the slices do not cooperate, nuke them on a platter for 2 minutes. Just make sure to let them cool before Handling. It might take a few tries to get the wrap down, but once you do, you will find it an easy project.

I think this technique is a lovely way to serve a fish fillet. The crusty potato shell works well with the creaminess of the white fleshed fish. You might never serve a naked fillet again. The kids will love it.

Best thing of all, is the control over the potato amount. Four thin slices is an allowable amount for a diabetic diet and the fact that it is fried and not baked is even better.

The sauce was a basic wine, mustard and cream sauce and any vegetable would work well, just keep it light because you want the lovely flavor of the fish to shine through.

Potato-Crusted Corvina
Serves 4

* 1 pound firm white fish (MahiMahi, Grouper, Snapper, Monkfish, Catfish)
* 1 large starchy potato (Idaho, Yukon Gold, Red potato, Boiling potato, or the New potato)
* Salt & Pepper
* 2 shallots, sliced
* 1 tablespoon canola oil
* 1 tablespoon butter
* 1/2 cup white wine
* 1 tablespoon Dijon
* 1/4 cup cream
* Parsley for garnish

1. Slice the potato longways and as thin as you can, I suggest using a mandolin or V-Slicer. They should be transparent. Soak them in a bowl of cold water. Lay two slices side by side, overlapping the edges by 1/2" on a sheet of waxed paper. To the long end overlap 2 more slices, these at least 1" overlapping. You should have 4 slices, 2 side by side and two tip to tail. Salt & pepper them. Place the fillet at the tip end and roll and wrap till the fillet is totally covered. Using the waxed paper around the fillet as if it was a sandwich and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Repeat with each fillet.

2. Heat a cast iron pan or frying pan until hot. Add oil and place two wrapped fillets carefully into pan. Cook on each side for about 4 minutes, turning carefully. They should be crisp and browned. Remove to a baking pan and keep warm in a 250° oven while you cook them all.

3. Up the temperature in the oven to 400° and roast for 20 minutes.

4. In the same frying pan that you used to cook the fish, add the butter and saute the shallot until softened. Add the wine and simmer until it reduces to a few tablespoons. Whisk in the mustard, the cream and boil until it thickens to a light sauce. Add parsley before spooning over fillets.

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February 16, 2012

Baked Ravioli Lasagna

I have a bad habit of not labeling freezer bags. I always forget think I will remember what's in them.

Wrong!! Age has a way of forgetting you used to be able to do that.l

A week later I have been known to pick up a bag or container and have no clue what was in there. The Nudge yells scolds me for this all the time, especially when I send him to the freezer to bring up a bag of something.

Happened to me this week with a bag of frozen ravioli. I knew they were in there, I just forgot what kind they were. Since I never buy plain cheese ravioli it would have been nice to know if it was the lobster & crab stuffed or the artichoke ones.

Taking a chance I defrosted them anyways (and yes, they were a ball of frozen dough) and while they defrosted on the counter, they created such a bond between them they couldn't quite let go cleanly, and I was left with a mess that would be impossible to boil in water.

Taking a page from Mr. Food, I became the fearless and resourceful cook, refused to throw them away and made a lasagna with them (Mr. Food created the infamous ravioli lasagna, and yes, that was probably 30 years ago).
I do know that if you spoon a sauce on top of uncooked pasta, they will cook in the oven as long as you also include a 1/2 cup water and a foil cover.

When I removed the foil, the dish was bubbling away, the ravioli were cooked, the sauce had thickened and all I had to do was cover with Parmesan and Mozzarella cheese, stuff it back in the oven and bake until the top browned....yum

I have to say that I saved the day (with lots of help from Mr. Food). It looked amazing. It tasted great. No one would know it started out as a "ut oh" and I am certainly not going to tell them.

Broken Ravioli Lasagna
makes 4 hearty servings

While the ravioli is defrosting make the sauce:
* 1 pound hot Italian sausage meat, casings removed
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1/4 cup white wine
* 1 bay leaf
* 1 (28oz) can crushed tomatoes
* 1/2 (28oz) can of water
* 1 tablespoon Italian Seasonings
* salt & pepper to taste

* 4oz fresh mozzarella
* 2oz Locatella cheese, grated
* 2/3 cup water
* 1 cup sauce

Saute sausage in pan until browned and no longer pink. Add garlic. Deglaze with wine. Add canned tomatoes, seasonings, bay leaf, water and salt & pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes, covered, on low.

Place ravioli side by side, snugly in one layer in a 9x13 casserole dish.
Spoon enough sauce over pasta to cover, add water. Cover with foil and bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Uncover, top with cheeses and bake until cheese has melted, it is bubbling away and lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

Top with sausage and extra grated cheese.

I might buy ravioli just to make this again.
Imagine my surprise when Martha featured an Everyday Food feature on Baked Ravioli on Wednesday (yes, we had ours on Tuesday night and I have to say mine is better).
They say great minds think alike.

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February 15, 2012

Homemade Cannoli Shells and Filling

Hope everyone had a nice Valentine's Day.
The Nudge is obsessed with cannoli lately. I think he just likes quoting that all too infamous line in a scene from the 1972 film The Godfather in which Peter Clemenza says to Rocco, who has killed Paulie in the car:
"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."

For Valentine's Day I decided to treat him to a homemade batch. So many recipes, so little time. Not having ever made these before, I was swimming in over my head. The first shell, although extremely puffed, stayed circular, but the next two unfurled and fried open (see top of stack).

I had no clue what was wrong, I had followed the recipe to a "T". I went back on line and Asked Jeeves for help and what showed up was a recipe that stated (in caps no less) make sure you roll the dough as thin as you can.
Voila!! Problem solved. I put them through the pasta machine, using the #5 setting and they fried perfectly.

Now my dough recipe worked with 1/16th of an inch thickness but others might work with the 1/8" most of them call for. Mine seemed flakier and puffier then most but we decided we like them that way and the next day, while most become limp, ours were still flaky crisp.

I will stick with this recipe if I decide to make these again. They do require a large amount of assembly work and having a pasta roller did make it easier but having to cut each square into an oval shape seemed more work then I certainly wanted to do. Next time I will just use a piece of dough cut into a rectangular sheet using a pizza cutter, which would halve the tediousness.

Hey, they are homemade and should look that way. Besides, they tasted great.

I made 15 usable shells but the recipe would have made 2 dozen. By 4:30, after re-rolling and shaping 15 shells, I would say I was un-enamored of the whole project, but I did not want to disappoint nor give up so easily.

I am glad I followed through. Next time I have a day to spare I am going to try baking them on wooden dowels cut into 6" pieces.

* 1 1/2 cups flour
* 2 tablespoons Stevia in the Raw
* 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
* 1/8 teaspoon salt
* 1 1/2 tablespoons shortening (I used lard)
* 1 egg, well beaten
* 1 tablespoon white vinegar
* 2 tablespoons Marsala wine
* 1 egg white, slightly beaten
* vegetable oil for deep frying

How to make it
1. Sift together flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Cut shortening in with a pastry blender until the pieces are the size of small peas. Stir in eggs. Blend in the vinegar and cold water. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
2. Add additional flour, if needed, to get a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes. Set out 6 aluminum cannoli tubes. Heat oil in a deep saucepan to 360 degrees F.
3. Cut an oval shaped pattern from cardboard about 6x4-inches. Roll chilled dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/16-inch thickness. Place the cardboard pattern on dough and cut out as many as will fit on the dough. Wrap dough loosely around tubes slightly overlapping opposite ends. Seal ends by brushing with egg white and pressing together. Fry only as many shells as will float uncrowded in the hot oil. Fry until light golden brown, 3-4 minutes. Remove cannoli shells to paper towels to drain. Cool slightly and remove the tubes. Cool shells completely. Continue forming and frying cannoli shells. Using a pastry bag or a small spoon, fill the shells with the filling from both ends. Do not fill the shells until up to an hour before serving, as the filling will make the shells soggy. Sprinkle with with confectioners sugar.

For the Filling:
* 4 ounces ricotta cheese, drained
* 8 ounces Mascarpone cheese
* 1 cup granulated sugar
* 1/4 cup cornstarch

1. Mix the sugar, ricotta and cornstarch in a medium saucepan over medium heat until smooth and dissolved. Stir the sugar mixture into the mascarpone until combined. Return to saucepan and continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens (a few large bubbles should pop at the surface when it has thickened), about 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. Filling should be cold when used to fill the cannoli shells.

Not for every night, but OK for special occasions. If I make these again, I will make them for a party, way too dangerous having them in the house.
I will try to bake them and stuff them with a sugar-free, fat-free chocolate mousse and see if anyone can tell the difference.

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February 14, 2012

Quinoa Eggplant Sliders - Daring Cooks Challenge February 2012

To die for? Yup. Can you imagine something healthy can be sooooo soooo good? They were already healthy made with eggplant, but adding the quinoa put them over the top.

These can be made in advance and baked off right before serving. Buns optional, of course, but if you serve them bunless make sure you put a bowl with extra sauce on the side.


The Daring Cooks' February 2012 challenge was hosted by Audax & Lis and they chose to present Patties for their ease of construction, ingredients and deliciousness! We were given several recipes, and learned the different types of binders and cooking methods to produce our own tasty patties!

When The Nudge told me he really liked quinoa over rice, I almost fell off my chair. Seriously guys, he's lovin' grains. I do not have to hide it in his food anymore, yay!!

These patties not only looked good on paper, they disappeared in 5 minutes. Next time I make a double, no, triple batch. I can even see these Asian style with a spicy/sweet dipping sauce.

I made three versions of the same mixture. I oven fried them, oven baked them and then shallow pan fried them.

I learned a few things. Oven frying does not work with a soft mixture, works better on full pieces like chicken, fish, vegetables, tofu, etc.
Shallow frying isn't all that unhealthy, the amount of oil used to sear these patties was minimal at best.

Winning version:
This worked the best, Using a 1 tablespoon ice cream scoop (love, love, love these) I released the mixture into my cast iron pan that had a teaspoon of canola and olive oil heated to very hot (about 4 minutes). Sauteed them for 2 minutes, flipped them over, repeated and they were perfect. Remember they will roast in the tomato sauce in the broiler right before serving.

This recipe made 18 (1 1/2") sliders, perfect for a family of four or as part of an appetizer platter. Can be made a few days ahead and stored in the fridge, separated by sheets of parchment.

Italian Eggplant/Quinoa Parmesan Sliders with Roasted Tomato Onion Sauce
makes 18 sliders

* 1 pound eggplant
* 2/3 cup cooked quinoa
* 1/2 cup unflavored bread crumbs
* 3 tablespoons parsley chopped very fine
* 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped very fine
* 1 egg
* 3 tablespoons finely grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
* salt & pepper

* 1 1/2 cups onion sliced very thin
* 1/4 cup EVOO
* 1 1/2 cups canned fire-roasted diced tomatoes
* Fresh mozzarella, cut into as many 1/4" slices as there are eggplant patties to cover
* Martin's Potato Dinner Rolls or slider rolls

First we have to roast the eggplant. Simple as can be. Place your eggplant on a rack over a pan (to catch any liquid that might weep out) and bake at 400° for 40 minutes.

Let it rest until you can handle it and remove the skin. Place flesh in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Place over a bowl and let the water drip out for about 30 minutes. With the back of a spoon, press to remove the last of the water. Chop finely, do not process to a puree. You want texture.
While the eggplant is roasting, cook 1/3 cup quinoa in 1/3 cup chicken broth for 15 minutes. Remove to a bowl with the chopped eggplant.
Add egg (or sub), cheese, pepper, parsley, garlic and bread crumbs. If the mixture is too wet add a teaspoon of quinoa flakes.

Saute onions in olive oil until very soft, add the tomatoes and simmer until mixture is thick. Puree to break up tomatoes but not to smooth.

To reheat: Place the tomato sauce in a large baking pan or gratin pan, heat to simmer on the stove. Lay the patties side-by-side and place a piece of mozzarella on each. Slip the pan under the broiler (about 5" from heat source) and broil for 4-5 minutes until cheese is bubbly and browned.

To serve: Place a patty on a roll that has been moistened with a spoonful of sauce, top with another spoonful of sauce and serve.

Serving size: Two sliders with roll

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February 10, 2012

Spanish Chorizo and Chickpea Soup

I was inspired to make this stoup from a post over at Stacey Snacks. I make many more of her recipes then I do all the other blogs that I follow combined. She has the same tastes that I like. Thank you Stacey.

She was inspired by Jamie Oliver.

Like most home cooks, we like to add and remove to suit our families tastes and I felt after it was done, that The Nudge would like a more meaty flavor so I snuck in a diced sausage and threw in a 1/4 cup pasta.

Spanish Chickpea & Chorizo Soup:
makes 4 servings

• olive oil
• 6 oz. chorizo sausage, finely chopped
• 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
• 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
• 2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
• 1 lb fresh spinach, washed and chopped (I used whole leaf frozen spinach)
• 8 fresh tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped (I used a 24oz. can of plum tomatoes)
• 1 15oz can or jar of good-quality cooked chickpeas, drained
• 4 cups chicken stock
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2oz prosciutto, finely chopped
• 1 cooked Italian Sausage, diced
• 1/4 cup elbow macaroni

Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a large pot and add the chorizo. Allow to heat up and cook for a couple of minutes until the fat comes out of the chorizo, then add your onion, garlic and celery. Cook for about 10 minutes.

Stir it around and get some color happening now. Add your spinach, tomatoes, chickpeas and chicken stock. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for around 40 minutes.

At this point I removed about a third of the tomatoes and puréed them in a food processor. Pour it back into the pot, give it a good stir and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove from the heat and stir in the prosciutto and 2 or 3 tablespoons of good Spanish extra virgin olive oil. Divide into bowls. A good crusty bread would be an ideal way to soak up all the juices.

Review: This was excellent and uber healthy. I has the same background flavors as a minestrone. Swap out any white bean if your family does not like chickpeas but if you tell the kids it is the "hummus" bean, they just might eat them.

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February 9, 2012

How to splurge without the guilt

I know I have posted these healthful hints, I will do it again so they are all in one post.

It is OK to use help in a box when you have a diet restriction, as long as there is nothing fake about what you are using. I know Whole Food cheerleaders (count me in too) will be skeptical about this but I am not endorsing the use of these everyday. I am saying that when you need a 'bad food' fix, these are a much better way to go, at a much better nutrition level then the homemade, unhealthy ones AND you won't feel guilty that you fell off the diet scale.

Please also remember, a diabetic diet is not a "diet" per se, like those you go on to loose 5 pounds. A diabetic diet is a life commitment. Without it, you loose your life. We all know whole foods, lean meats, good oil, and lots of grains is what we should all be eating but every once in a while we all crave forbidden foods and if you can eat them with the help of food science, well, why the hell not?

These are my Top 5 favorite healthy splurges....

1. Knorr sauce mixes. If you tweak them a bit, they become wonderful guilt-free splurges.
(Click on each pic to enlarge)

I always have at least 2 of each flavor in my pantry.

2. Dream Whip. Takes 1% milk and makes it 1% whipped cream. Better then Cool-Whip because you get all the nutritional benefits of using real milk and if you use the enhanced milks it is even better. I dare you to taste the difference between the two.
You can find Dream Whip in most grocery stores and I buy mine at Walmart.

3. Smart Beat Mayonnaise. 10 calories a serving, tastes exactly like mayonnaise. The Nudge could not tell he was eating it on a sandwich and he loves real mayonnaise.

4. Butter Buds. They used to be all the rage, now you don't see them advertised much but they are still around. Sprinkle on popcorn, potatoes, vegetables and even use in a sauce.

5. Palm Sugar. When you need a sugar to act like a sugar but without all the "through the roof" glucose readings, this is the sugar for you.
Palm sugar is a nutrient-rich, low-glycemic crystalline sweetener that looks, tastes, dissolves and melts almost exactly like sugar, but it's completely natural and unrefined. It's acquired from the flowers growing high on coconut trees, which are opened to collect their liquid flower nectar. This nectar is then air-dried to form a crystalline sugar that's naturally brown in color and naturally rich in a number of key vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, including potassium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6.

It is never refined or bleached like white sugar. So the nutrients it was made with are still there. That's rare for sweeteners, most of which are highly refined. Even stevia is highly refined in its white powder form (real stevia is a green herb).

None of the manufacturer's know who I am, this is strictly my opinion and items I have tested and have personally used and enjoyed throughout the last two years.

Like anything else we eat, these products should be consumed in moderation but now you don't have to give up your favorite splurges forever.

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February 5, 2012

Miso Pork Tenderloin

Let's just say that easing into eating tofu has been at a stalemate for quite some time in this house.

I know it is good for you but both of us just aren't ready to make that leap.
What I have done to get soy in our diets is to use miso paste, in soups, sauces and marinades. I love that it lasts a long time in the fridge, so I can justify the expense.

I made a quick, flavorful marinade for two pork tenderloins and they spent the night soaking in all that goodness. I will roast them both off and store one for sliders later in the week (but that's another post).

If you can't make that jump to tofu and really know you should, try starting slow with a Miso paste. Make a soup or a broth for fish or you could just make this marinade. I guarantee it is the perfect hop before the skip and the jump.

Miso Marinaded Pork Tenderloins
makes enough for 8 pieces of meat or 2 pounds of seafood
* 1 cup sake (white wine is also good)
* 1 cup Ponzu
* 1/2 cup honey or Agave Syrup
* 2 cups miso paste
* 3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
* 1 cup safflower or canola oil (not EVOO)

Mix in a container and store leftovers in the refrigerator.
Pour half the mixture into a large zip bag and place trimmed tenderloins in the bag.
marinade at least 3 hours, overnight is better.
Remove meat from marinade, dry with a paper towel, rub salt & pepper and oil all over and place in a roasting pan.
Roast in a preheated 375° for 25 minutes. Remove.
Let rest for 10 minutes and slice.

Review: This was the first time using this marinade on pork, it is usually used on chicken. I would say that it was perfect with either meat. The pork remained juicy and the flavor was off the hook. I did not need to salt or pepper the tenderloins, the marinade had everything needed. The Nudge said it was the best pork he's eaten yet. He also loved the chunky apple sauce (I forgot I bought this style) making this meal a complete and healthy one.

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