Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cooking 101

Cooking can become a drag no matter how much you love to cook or how skilled you may be in the kitchen, and so an opportunity to brush up those skills was welcomed by members of my Zumba class( yes, I do have to work off those calories) Pam, Julienne, Peggy, Joe and Josie signed up for it and proved to be an enthusiastic audience. Cooking is really all about sharing and I was delighted to share my time, recipes and food with this group of savvy cooks.
The menu consisted of Pan seared chicken au jus with herb mashed potatoes, an easy to prepare meal with possibly great end results. Dessert was a rich Crème Brulee. So I rolled up my sleeves and got busy while they got comfortable with a glass of wine, olive bread, home-made baba ganoush and Joe's freshly baked focaccia.

The chicken cooked tender and juicy, thanks to the brining and I got Joe to mash the potatoes with the ricer while I minced assorted fresh herbs from my window herb garden and prepared the jus. Once the chicken was out of the oven, I plated it over a bed of mashed potatoes and spooned the jus over it. The meal was well received but the Crème Brulee was the most fun. I had made a batch earlier so that it would be chilled to the right temperature. Torching the sugar was the highlight and there was much amusement as Josie tried her hand at it.

It was a great way to spend an evening with an interesting group of people. For me, it was a milestone; teaching people to cook has been on my bucket list. It's a win win situation- doing what I love most and being appreciated for it.

Recipe for Pan-seared Chicken au jus :
4 boneless skin-on chicken breasts
Brine: 2-3 T kosher salt +1 C water
Minced herbs: thyme, rosemary, and parsley
Pinch of Paprika, onion powder, salt and pepper
¼ C Oil
1 T butter
1 C white wine

  1. Rinse the chicken breasts and brine for at least 2-3 hours.  
  2. Remove from the brine. Place in a Ziploc bag with the flour, paprika, onion powder, herbs, salt (optional) and freshly ground pepper.   
  3. Heat oil in the pan and sear chicken till golden on each side.   
  4.  Remove and place on an oven tray. Finish in the oven at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
  5.     Meanwhile, prepare the Jus by adding the shallots and garlic to the pan. When this is fragrant add in the wine. When it reduces, add in the butter.
  6.     Pour over the chicken and serve immediately.

Recipe for Herb mashed potato
4-6 Yukon Gold potatoes cooked
3 T butter
½ cup half and half
salt and white pepper
mixed herbs

  1. Keep the potatoes hot and push them through a food mill adding cold butter with each batch.
  2. Season with salt and pepper and mix in the herbs. Keep warm.
  3. Add the half and half and mix in well before serving.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Pork roast really doesn't need much help in the flavor department, but a surefire way of raising the bar is to stuff it. The effort is minimal and the difference phenomenal. It also helps with keeping it moist, as pork has a natural tendency to dry out in the oven. The range of possibilities is quite remarkable and you can determine the filling based on your mood...
or on what's in the fridge. Mushrooms, bacon, peppers, apples, nuts, goat cheese, figs; the choices are vast and you can get impulsive and create an amazing version of your own.
This one's a crowd-pleaser whichever way you go.

Recipe for Stuffed Pork Tenderloin:
1 (1lb) pork tenderloin
1 tsp paprika
Salt and fresh ground pepper
coarse ground mustard
herbs of choice ( I used fresh thyme )

2-3 cloves garlic sliced
2 T olive oil
1 shallot diced
1/2 cup diced ham
1 cup cooked broccoli rabe chopped ( or spinach)
herbs of choice
crushed red pepper
salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

1. Rinse the tenderloin and pat dry.Cut a slit down the center. Rub with the seasoning, spices and herbs inside out.
2. Heat the oil in a pan and saute the garlic and shallots till fragrant.
3. Add the broccoli rabe, herbs and seasoning. Cook briefly and cool.
4. Fill the tenderloin and tie with kitchen twine. Heat the oil in an oven dish and brown the meat on all sides over high heat. Cover and stick in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 -25 minutes or until the center is no longer pink. Rest for a few minutes, slice carefully and serve.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Nuts about Chocolate cake!

Chocolate cake is probably the world's most popular dessert and even thought everyone has their own recipe and interpretation, what it boils down to is a mouthful of gooey chocolate cake.
Most recipes are fairly complicated; eggs are whipped separately and the egg whites need to be folded in carefully at the end, making sure that the batter doesn't collapse, which can potentially ruin the cake. Done right - they taste like a slice of heaven.
This recipe is relatively easy and tastes just as good. Sometimes there are days when I just don't feel inclined to stand in the kitchen for hours baking, so I take short cuts and I don't think there's anything wrong with that - I get my cake and eat it too!
This is an interpretation of a recipe by Nick Malgieri from his chocolate cookbook. Minute changes as they are, I like taking liberties and playing with recipes and the end product is usually more in my personal style. in this recipe I have used just brown sugar and I toasted my almonds which added a nice crunch and flavor to the cake.

Recipe for Fudgy Almond cake:

1 cup sliced almonds + 1/4 cup for the topping
2 sticks butter (1 cup)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 -2 tablespoons instant coffee
1/2 tsp almond essence
4 eggs
1 cup flour
8 oz dark chocolate melted

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the slivered almonds on an oven tray and toast till crisp and golden. Meanwhile spray a 9 inch cake pan with cooking spray.
2. Beat the sugar and butter with an electric mixer until fluffy and light.
3. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating and scraping the bowl between each.
4. Mix in the coffee and almond essence and finally the chocolate. The batter should be smooth.
5. Add in a cup of the almonds and the flour and combine well. Avoid over-beating as this will make the cake more dense and bready.
6. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. The centre may appear soft - this is okay. it should not be runny.
7. Cool and remove from the pan and cover in ganache. Top with the remaining toasted almonds.

Equal parts whipping cream and chocolate
Heat the cream in a pan and bring to a quick boil. Remove from heat and add in the chocolate. Allow it to sit for a few minutes and mix well. This will thicken as it cools.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter Dinner with Pam.... Home-made Sugo

Most people get Easter eggs from the bunny but I got a fabulous Sugo from my friend Pam. Italian Americans rarely need an excuse to bring out their XXL saucepots and exercise their natural cooking skills. Families gather, eat, drink and celebrate together, so when Easter comes around, kitchens sizzle and bubble in preparation. Pam is no exception and gets busy with a traditional Sugo, something she declares is a fairly gargantuan task and one she tackles a couple of times a year at best. She does it with the same energy and enthusiasm as she does her Zumba classes. ( She teaches Zumba, Spin and Piloxing in her free time!) Not only does she cook this elaborate meal, but she writes the recipe down, takes some pretty cool pics and brings me a bowl of the finished product to taste.
The term Sugo is best described as a sauce that is flavored with meat and served over pasta. Tomatoes usually play a large role but it is the meat that takes center-stage. Pam uses meatballs, Bracciole, ribeye and sausage meat to flavor her sauce. Personally, I felt like it was a taste from the past; it conjured images of a little old Italian Nonna, dressed in a head scarf, with arthritic fingers gently simmering the sauce all day long in some village in Sicily. In our hurried frantic lifestyles a dish like this one classifies as a luxury and is definitely one that requires planning, skills and infinite patience. There's no denying that the end results are awesome but you have your work cut out for you once you decide to cook a Sugo. Pam even sends me a cheat sheet, one she's figured out after years of cooking this dish. "Don't use Oregano - it turns the sauce bitter,"tops the list."Don't use cheap canned tomatoes. Try to mix brands of tomatoes. I have discovered over the years that each brand of canned tomatoes has its unique sin. When you blend brands the compliment each other and even out the "issues". I like to mix Cento imported, with the better quality Tutturosso."
The devil is in the details and I tasted it in this wonderfully comforting and yet sophisticated dish.

Pam's Recipe for Sugo:
1 can each tomato puree, crushed tomatoes and whole peeled tomatoes
I extra can of tomato puree ( optional)
1/ 2 cup Olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion
1 bulb fresh garlic
1 bunch plain Italian flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/4 cup pecorino romano
1/4 lb provolone cheese
2 to 3 hard boiled eggs (optional)
2 raw eggs
1 lb sweet italian sausage links
1.25 lb mixed grind
1 piece of ribeye steak
4 to 6 pieces of bracciole meat
1/2 teaspoon of dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
Extra olive oil for frying
Cooking twine for the bracciole

To make the sauce:
1.In a stock pot, heat the olive oil and saute the onion and 2 cloves sliced garlic. When fragrant add the canned tomatoes and the puree and stir well. Turn off heat and crush the whole peeled tomatoes,add in the
dried basil, stir, reduce the heat and let simmer for about a half hour.
2. Raise the heat and bring the pan to a rapid simmer. Add the raw sausage links and the
3. Sear the ribeye to seal in flavors and place in tomato sauce. Simmer and stir to prevent scorching.Tomatoes are notorious for sticking to the pan and ruining the sauce.
4. While it simmers prepare the meatballs.
To make the meatballs:
Place the bread crumbs and pecorino in the bottom of a mixing bowl and add in the following:
two cloves of minced garlic
mixed grind
2 raw eggs
handful of parsley minced
Mix thoroughly and set in fridge for about an hour ( this helps to blend the ingredients)
Roll into meatballs approx 1.25" in size.
Brown meatballs and let drain on paper towels
Add to tomato sauce and let simmer for an hour stirring occasionally (be gentle when you stir being careful not to break up the meatballs)
5.Prepare the bracciole.
To make the Bracciole
Lay the bracciole meat on a cutting board and pound it flat. Season with salt and pepper and
sprinkle it with minced garlic, minced parsley and small pieces of provolone.
Add 1/2 hard boiled egg to center (optional). Roll up and tie each end closed with cooking twine.
Brown the bracciole in a pan in a bit of olive oil, taking care to only sear it and seal in the juices.
Drain on paper towels and place in sauce.
Let simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally
Turn off heat, skim oils and fat from the top of the pot.
Serve with your favorite pasta sprinkled with crushed red pepper and fresh basil.