Saturday, January 16, 2010

Brad's Kitchen in Brooklyn: Green Apple Risotto

I basically have a few speciality dishes that I am able to make myself from start to finish without any assistance. One I wrote about recently, and that is chicken marsala. The other happens to be various incarnations of risotto. One of my favorites is a recipe I garnered from Mario Batali's Simple Italian Food cookbook, Green Apple Risotto.

Here is the recipe itself, with a couple of slight modifications, and listed in the order ingredients are added:

2 tablespoons unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons Canola Oil
1 large Onion, finely chopped
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
2 cups Arborio Rice (risotto rice)
1 cup dry White cooking Wine
4 to 5 cups Chicken Stock, added one cup at a time
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
A sprinkle of finely chopped Parsley
Salt & Pepper to taste

For this recipe, however I actually do ask my wife Sasha's help on a couple of preparatory items. The first is chopping an onion, which she is quite skilled at and saves me the trouble of having my eyes become watery. The second is peeling and slicing the apples. Ever since I accidentally peeled some of my finger while peeling a small papaya, my wife has been in charge of peeling round fruits or vegetables in our house. The only thing I peel now is cucumbers.

At any rate, the first step is to heat the butter & oil in a caserole dish at medium heat. Then add the chopped onions and cook until they soften but not brown for several minutes. Next add the apples and rice simultaneously and cook for 3-4 minutes. Then add the wine and mix with all the ingredients.

The key once you start adding the liquid, wine in this case, and later the chicken stock, is to make sure there is always some liquid mixed with the rice and other ingredients - at least until the point where the dish is ready. Another tip is to stir with some frequency throughout the process. This way the rice will not stick to the bottom of the dish, which is something you want to avoid.

After a few minutes when you notice the wine has reduced, add the first cup of chicken stock and stir together with the ingredients. Continue to add the remaining chicken stock, one cup at a time at the point where the previous cup has reduced in half. The entire cup adding process & stirring should take about 20-25 minutes. After the last cup of stock has been added and just about fully reduced, you can add in the parmigiano-reggiano cheese, parsley, salt & pepper and mix together fully. Then you are ready to dispatch from the caserole dish into a serving dish for your meal.

If you would like to check out another risotto recipe on this website, check out Sasha's Triple Mushroom Risotto, or Eric's Mussels Risotto.

Risotto on Foodista

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Limoncello (Valentine's Day Special)

One of my parents' friends in Danville, Pennsylvania was reading our site, and suggested that I experiment with some homemade Italian liquors and cordials.  He was kind enough to provide some instructions on how he had prepared homeade limoncello.  When I heard this, I knew that I had to make my own limoncello right away.

I spent a couple weeks travelling around Italy after graduating from Haverford College.  One of the things I remember about Italy (other than its friendly people, natural beauty and that I want to go back with my husband) is the incredible Italian food.  While in Italy, I remember coming across two after-dinner drinks with some frequency - Limoncello (a sweet lemon-flavored liqueur) and Grappa (which I am told tastes like gasoline, but with that description, coupled by a smell to match, I never tried Grappa).  I brought home several small bottles of wonderful Italian limoncello, unaware that it would be a fairly simple process for me to make my own.  Because Italy is such a romantic destination, and limoncello is the perfect sweet ending to a romantic dinner, such as a Valentine's Day meal, I decided to include this in our Valentine's Day Special.  A further note: they have wonderful Italian after-dinner cordials (after a great Italian meal) at my favorite New York Italian, Acappella.

By way of background, limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur, produced mainly in Southern Italy, such as in the Naples area and the Amalfi Coast.  Traditionally, in Italy it is made from Sorrento lemons, but ordinary lemons (like I used) will also produce an excellent quality limoncello.

Here's what you will need:

1 liter Everclear or Grain Alcohol (don't use regular vodka, or the proofage will be way off)
1 old two liter soda bottle
The peels of 20 lemons - Remove the peels using a conventional peeler, not a zester
2 lb of sugar (About 4 cups)
1 liter water (About 4 1/4 cups)

The process of making limoncello is quite simple, but takes about a week.  First, peel the 20 lemons.  Put the peels in a large jar, or a 2 liter soda bottle.  Make sure when peeling the lemons to use a regular peeler and not a zester, and remove only the peels.  Then, add 1 liter of everclear, or another type of grain alcohol to the lemon peels.  Put in a dark closet for a week, turning the bottle or jar upside down once a day.

After a week has passed, remove the yellow liquid from the lemon peels.  The peels should have whitened considerably in color, and have a brittle feel to them.  Filter the liquid through a coffee filter and put aside. 

To prepare the simply syrup, put the water in a pot and add the sugar.  Heat and stir until the sugar is fully dissolved, around a temperature of 115 degrees.  At this temperature, add the syrup to the yellow everclear lemon infusion.  If you add the syrup when it is warm, the limoncello will be a clearish yellow color, and not cloudy, which would be the likely result if the syrup were allowed to cool first.

At this point, you have successfully extracted and made your own Italian limoncello, the perfect after dinner cordial for with a sweet dessert for Valentine's Day.  You can order some 16-17 oz bottles from Specialty Bottle in whatever shape and size suits you, bottle the limoncello and decorate with a pretty ribbon.  This makes a great gift.  My bottles haven't arrived yet, as I ordered them a bit late in the process, so the picture is shown in a large bottle.  I will update the photos early next week when they are bottled for gifts!

The drink should be served chilled, after dinner, as a digestivo.  In Italy, it is often served in chilled ceramic glasses.  The quality of the limoncello I made was excellent, second only to the limoncello I tasted while travelling around Italy.  A funny note from Wikipedia - apparently limoncello garnered some media attention after Danny DiVito gave the following quote in a 20066 episode of the View:  " knew it was the last seven limoncellos that was going to get me."  (sic)

So here they are finally - the bottles that I ordered with the Limoncello.  This makes the perfect gift - my mother in law loved hers. 

If life gives you a lot more lemons, check out the following post from Margie's Kitchen on Boston for many wonderful and inspired ideas on how to cook with lemons.  If life gives you limes instead, try my recipe for Key Lime Bars.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Margie’s Kitchen in Boston: Making Pierogi

photos by Lena

After writing about making crepes and recalling them from my trip to Poland last summer, I began to think about Pierogi, which are really the Pole’s form of ravioli but made in a different shape. These photos of pierogi are entrees from two different restaurants–one in a small village near the Lithuanian border and the other in Krakow.

There are various fillings but the most common are cheese, potato, or sweet cabbage. I must admit that I’ve never made pierogi from scratch; I usually buy them frozen at one of two Polish specialty stores (1, 2) in the Dorchester section of Boston. But I decided to dig out my Polish cookbook to see how difficult they are to make.

Polish Cookery is an English adaptation of what has been referred to as the bible of Polish cooking (UNIWERSALNA KSIAZKA KUCHARSKA (The Universal Cook Book) by Mme. Marja Ochorowic-Monatowa published originally in1911: “Its original purpose, stated rather primly by the author, ‘is to give brides a knowledge of how cooking is done, so that they may supervise the servants properly’” (iii). Well, I don’t have any servants, but I could supervise my husband (he’s Polish) in making Pierogi.
As I mentioned previously, the recipe (page 253 Polish Cookery) for the dough pockets is similar to ravioli, except the pierogi dough uses fewer eggs (4 instead of 2): 2 cups flour, 2 small (or 1 large) eggs, and few spoonfuls of lukewarm water. Mix together until firm and cut into 2 pieces. Keep dough covered in a towel while preparing each piece. If you have a pasta machine roll each piece until it looks like a thin sheet and cut into 13 inch pieces (x 5” or so) (otherwise use a rolling pin). Arrange stuffing by the spoonful along one edge every 2” then fold over the top of the filling dough from the other end. Cut out around the filled sections in the shapes of a half circle using a pastry cutter, then press edges of dough together on the seam side. Any remaining dough can be reshaped and rolled out to repeat the process again. Cook in hot boiled water. When they float to the surface, take out with slotted spoon and serve with butter.
As for filling recipe here is the recipe for cheese filling (253 Polish Cookery):
2 egg yolks, 1 Tablespoon butter, 1 pound of pot cheese, farmer cheese, or cottage cheese mashed, dash of salt, 1 Tablespoon sugar, and ¼ raisins (optional). Mix yolks and butter first, then add other ingredients. Sugar and raisins are added for sweet-tasting cheese filling.
Another easy filling is quite simply 3-4 pitted cherries (or equivalent amount of berries). After pierogi are boiled serve sprinkled with sugar and sour cream. Sounds yummy!


Michelle's Kitchen in Vancouver: Olympic Special

In my continuing special report in honour of the Olympics, I present to you some of my favorite Vancouver restaurants. I've included dining experiences on both the high and low end of the financial spectrum; all fabulous and well worth a try! In no particular order:

1. New Town Bakery: I know, I know, I mentioned them in my last post for their egg tarts and mentioned the steamed buns with pork and vegetables, but these are really THAT spectacular! They also have really good congee, custard buns and a host of other xiao chi (small eats, snacks). 158 East Pender Street, Vancouver, BC V6A 1T3 - (604) 689-7835

2. The Eatery: Some amazing, creative sushi in a hip environment. The UBC crowd likes this one as it's nearby and good. The Bob Marley roll and the Green Hornet are two of my favs. Beware of the loud music if you're sensitive to such things, but otherwise an amazing place! 3431 West Broadway Vancouver, BC V6R 2B4, Canada (604) 738-5299

3. Hime Sushi: When I lived in Vancouver, this was my neighbourhood sushi joint. All the salmon is wild and is that gorgeous ruby colour so you know you're eating good stuff. Their Agedashi Tofu is out of this world, with a nice sprinkling of benito flakes on top and they also have a small selection of some more creative rolls to go with their new renovated look! Easy to eat there on my then-student budget. Also near UBC if you're going for the hockey or figure skating. 4463 West 10th Ave. Vancouver, BC Tel: (604) 224-2121

4. Gotham Steakhouse: Very pricey celeb hangout with private rooms. I was lucky enough to eat there once and had the steak of my life! 615 Seymour St. Vancouver, BC 604-605-8282
5. Cassis Bistro: Rustic, homey French bistro food in a really sexy, comfortable environment. Given the grotty section of Pender St, you'd never know it was there so try this "hidden" gem! Menu constantly changes with the seasons, but if you can get it, the bouillabaisse is fantastic. 420 Pender St W, Vancouver BC V6B1T5 (604) 605-0420

6. Ezogiku Noodle Café: Please, I implore you, try the ramen. It's a revelation. Noodles in a porky yummy broth with more pork. Perfect on a rainy Vancouver day and cheeeeap! You can easily eat for under $10 (CDN) 270 Robson Street, Vancouver - (604) 685-9466

7. Blue Water Café: Another expensive celeb hangout. Justin Timberlake likes to hang out here when he's in Vancouver. Some of the best seafood in the city, another bouillabaisse revelation! 1095 Hamilton Street Vancouver, BC V6B 5T4, Canada (604) 688-8078

8. Harambe: If you've never tried Ethiopian food, it's time to start! Amazing stews and veg dishes served on traditional injera bread. Delish! 2149 Commercial Drive Vancouver, BC V5N4B3Tel: (604) 216-1060

9. Red Sea Café: If I'm mentioning Harambe, Red Sea Café must also be mentioned for Ethiopian food. Truly excellent and the owner is the friendliest man! Small and intimate with just a few tables, I always have fun here. 670 East Broadway Vancouver, BC V5T 1X6, Canada (604) 873-3332

10. Apgujung: My favorite Korean restaurant in downtown Vancouver, I always love their bibimbap and they have the most amazing steamed pork dumplings! Korean barbeque is a nice way to eat with friends with your own grill in the centre of the table. Yum yum! 1642 Robson Street Vancouver, BC V6G 1C7, Canada (604) 681-8252

11. Burgoo: Another neighbourhood hangout for me. Comfort food, amazing soups, fondue and so many others. Try some of their mead for a unique alcoholic treat! And please, try the Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding. Beware, very rich so you might want to share. 4434 W 10th Ave. Vancouver, BC V6R 2H9 604-221-7839

12. Baru Cafe: Honestly, I don't know where to start with Baru. One of the sexiest places in Vancouver and a Point Grey/Dunbar/Kits favorite. South American food and most certainly one of my Vancouver favorites. The ceviches are to die for and the flan revelatory. The Guava glazed Pork is scrumptious, nice small wine selection and one of the best mojitos I've had in Canada! 2535 Alma Street Vancouver, BC V6R 3R8 (604) 222-9171

Honestly, this is just a small taste of what Vancouver has to offer. There are many places that are consistently recommended which I was never lucky enough to go (ie. Tojo's, C, db Bistro Moderne, Market etc.). Vancouver is blessed with gorgeous produce and meats, plus a food industry which is relatively cheap for the class of food you can get. Go forth and eat with gusto! Vancouver rarely lets the hungry diner down.

For my earlier article on the best dessert places in Vancouver, click here.


Sasha's Kitchen: New Orleans French Quarter Beignets ('Doughnuts')


My husband's coworkers are very lucky today, because they are going to get to try some excellent beignets.  As it turns out, I have forty doughnuts, which is certainly more than my husband and I can eat while they are still fresh.  When I prepared this recipe, I forgot that I was cooking for personal reasons, and not to keep a small bakery in business.  Thus, I have quite a few extras.

New Orleans is known for its distinctive cuisine.  This great American city has seen its share of tragedy and heartbreak in the aftermath of Hurricaine Katrina, but has nonetheless maintained its reputation for its ethnic and multicultural cuisine - from Cajan to Creole to to shrimp gumbo to beignets to to King Cakes to chicory coffee.  Everyone I have known who has professed to love New Orleans (which is pretty much everyone I know who has ever lived there) has had numerous memories of the food.  With all this history on mind, I decided to make New Orleans' signature doughnut, the beignet, tonight.  So here's a recipe for you to enjoy, a month and a half in advance of Mardi Gras - New Orleans' biggest party.

Beignets, or New Orleans doughnuts, derive from the French word for "fritter."  According to my reading, beignets have been associated with Mardi Gras, since at least the 16th Century, and are distinctive of New Orleans' famous French Quarter.  It is thought that they may have been introduced to certain provincial / Mediterranean areas of France during the middle ages, while those parts of France were under the rule of the Islamic Moors (from Spain).  Regardless of these origins, the French brought beignets with them in the 18th Century when they settled Louisiana, and the rest is history. 

Beignets are square-shaped fried pieces of yeast dough, usually about two inches in diameter, which are then coated in powdered sugar.  (The doughnuts also instantly reminded me of the funnel cakes I ate as a kid).  If you enjoy coffee, I've been advised that a true New Orleans local would have their beignets with Chicory Coffee, at places such as Cafe Du Monde

Here is the recipe that I used to prepare the beignets, courtesy of the Food Network.  It is important to note that I cut the recipe in half and still made forty beignets.  The recipe I listed here is the half recipe that I prepared.

3/4 cups warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 envelopes dry active yeast  (I used a bit more than the recipe called for, and it worked out fine - just wanted to avoid problems with the dough rising)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup evaporated milk
3 1/2 cups bread flour  (I used King Arthur Bread Flour, which is the best bread flour on the market)
1/8 cup shortening (I used Crisco)
Canola Oil, for deep frying
Several cups of confectioner's sugar

First, put the water, yeast and sugar in a bowl.  Allow to sit in a warm place for 15 minutes until the yeast becomes frothy and is fully activated.  In a separate bowl, beat the egg, evaporated milk and salt.  Mix the egg mixture with the yeast.  Then mix this entire mixture with the flour and shortneing in the basin of your artisan mixer, until it forms a dough.  Then allow the dough to rise, covered, in a well-oiled bowl for about two hours.  The dough will rise, but it will not double in size, like if you were making Challah or Brioche.

Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness and form into 1/4 inch squares.  I actually made some of mine a little bigger than this - not a big deal, as they still taste delicious.  However, keep in mind that they do increase in size during the deep frying process. 

Deep fry, flipping often, until they become a golden color.  You can either deep fry using a deep fryer, in which case I recommend carefully following the operating and safety instructions.  However, you can safely execute this recipe without a deep fryer, by using several inches of oil in a stick pot.  I followed these stepwise deep frying instructions to prepare the beignets with my husband; it was quite safe and easy, too.

Once the doughuts are done frying, put on paper towels for a minute or two to absorb some of the excess oil.  Then, while they are still hot, pick them up with your tongs and toss them in a bag filled with a couple of cups of confectioner's sugar.  Time for some delicious indulgence.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cindy's Kitchen In Brooklyn: Wine and Food Pairing - Italian Ripasso with Four Cheese Lasagna

Week 2 of my (apparently) weekly wine and food pairing column.

This week I made one of my best lasagnas of all time (I'm going to share my secrets below), and paired with a fabulous Ripasso. Ripasso is a wonderful red wine made in the Veneto from Corvina and Rondinella grapes, with complex black fruit flavors and a hint of smokiness. It is typically a higher end wine, generally made by better winemakers, as the process is more intensive. Traditionally, it is made by refermenting the young wine on the skins of the grapes in the early Spring immediately after the first fermentation ends. A more modern - and more expensive - technique is to referment the young wine with dried grapes the next winter after vintage. This gives the wine more body and depth. Producers may blend both techniques, giving the wine a unique freshness and complexity.

The Alpha Zeta Ripasso I drank stood up so well to my big and bold four cheese lasagna, and at the same time, its smooth tannins didn't overwhelm my secret bechamel sauce.

*About the recipe: I hardly ever measure anything, so all measurements are estimates. Just play around and have fun - it's NOT hard to make a good lasagna! For the noodles Barilla seems to be the choice of pastas for professional Italian chefs when they don't have time to make their own pasta; I have started using those "no boil" noodles and I'm impressed - they really help maintain the structure of the lasagna.

1 package lasagna noodles
8-10 ounces good quality tomato sauce (I almost always make my own - it's not that hard! I'll do a follow up post soon with my recipe)
12-16 ounces ricotta cheese (part skim is fine)
1 large egg
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cups milk (2% fat or higher, you can also use cream or half and half; when I make lower-fat version of this recipe I like using Land-O-Lakes fat free half and half)
10 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese (can also be part skim) (if you can't get fresh, try Polly-O; it melts quite well)
2-3 wedges of Original Laughing Cow cheese (yes my secret ingredient!)
4 ounces parmesan-reggiano, freshly grated (again if you cant get your hands on a block of it, go ahead and use the Kraft kind)
1 package frozen spinach, defrosted
salt and pepper
garlic powder
red pepper flakes
fresh basil
drizzle of olive oil

  1. Mix together the ricotta, the egg, and all but 2 ounces of the tomato sauce. Mix in some of the defrosted spinach. Make sure the mixture isn't too liquidy. Doing this will make layering easier.
  2. Make a roux with the butter and flour. Melt the butter, then add the flour. Whisk for a minute until integrated - it should be clumpy. Slowly stir in the milk and whisk for another minute. Then add the laughing cow wedges and all but 2 ounces the mozzarella cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Stir until cheese is melted and is thick and creamy. Keep on low heat until use, so that it doesn't harden.
  3. In a lasagna pan, spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom; this will help the lasagna stay moist and not stick to the pan.
  4. Layer the noodles in a row, overlapping.
  5. Layer the sauce/ricotta mixture evenly.
  6. Top with the cheesy bechamel sauce. Top with grated parmesan-reggiano, garlic, oregano, chopped basil, rep pepper flakes and salt, all to taste. Just don't go overboard on the spices.
  7. Repeat steps 4,5, and 6 two times.
  8. Place one last layer of noodles on top. Top with tomato sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Add some fresh basil leaves on top. Drizzle with small amount of olive oil.
  9. Bake in a 375 oven for 35-40 minutes, or until golden bubbly on top.
  10. Let rest for at least ten minutes before you cut in.

Check out my other post on Wine and Food Pairing with New Zealand Pinot Noir and Lamb

Sasha's Kitchen: Burgers . . . From Rome With Love

Tonight's burger recipe was one of my four-star burger classics - a very simple, easy to prepare Italian burger, which I refer to as "From Rome With Love."  Like my other burgers, this one should be prepared with high quality ground beef.  You will need about 1.25 lbs, which should be enough about four burgers.
My conception of the burger, is that it should be inspired by a particular city or location.  I have already shared by California Burger, inspired by the flavors of Napa Valley.  In addition, I have shared my "Back to College" Burger ,which for me is the Philadelphia Burger.  That burger recipe was inspired by my days of eating Philly cheesesteaks as an undergrad at Haverford College.  Today, I present a burger inspired by the most basic of Italian cusine - tomato, basil, mozzarella.  I travelled to Italy in the summer of 2000 (and hope to go again in the next couple years) and one of my best memories was the incredible Italian cuisine, including quite a bit of homemade Italian mozzarella, often accompanied by basil, balsamic and fresh roma tomatoes.  Here, I have attempted to put just a tiny bit of Italy in my burger tonight.

To prepare the burger, use a grill pan, and grill as long as you desire, depending on your personal preference.  My husband and I like our burgers medium-well, so we grill for a total of about 8 minutes.  For the last minute or so oif the grilling, top with a healthy-size chunk of fresh mozzarella and cover with a piece of tin foil .  You can prepare all four burgers at the same time on your grill pan.

When you are done, put on a toasted bun, and add the basil leaves, a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, as well as a pinch of oregano.  Served to you from Rome with love.

For another writer's take on the burger, click here for Cindy's burger.

Sasha's Kitchen: Blueberry Cream Pie

My initial efforts here were to prepare a blueberry tart, even though blueberries are not in season in the dead of winter. As you may have realized, I love colorful foods and love almost all fruits and vegetables, so when I saw that I could buy what appeared to be good blueberries, I couldn't resist the urge, even though they were twice as expensive as they would be on a balmy July day.  If you are looking for my blueberry pie recipe, with its decorative lattice, click here.

In addition, I remembered when I was ready to prepare the blueberry tart, that I did not yet have a tart pan (something every good baker should have, and that I plan to rectify before summer berry tart season is upon us). Thus, I adapted the original Martha Stewart recipe from the Everyday Food website for a blueberry cream pie. It may look like a pie, rather than a tart, but it was every bit as delicious, judging from how quickly it has disappeared from my refrigerator.

Pie/Tart Crust
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 T sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
1/8 cup ice water (you can add a tad bit more if you have trouble getting the dough to stick)

Combine the flour and sugar in the artisan mixer, and add butter until the mixture resembles a meal.  Beat in the eggs and ice water, until the mixture forms a dough.

Roll out the dough into a pie crust and fit into a pie pan (or a tart dish).  Refridgerate until chilled for 30 minutes.  Then, bake the shell alone at 375 for about 40 minutes, until lightly browned, using pie weights.

To prepare the filling, you will be making a conventional pastry cream, and will need the following:

Filling for Blueberry Cream Pie
2 pints of blueberries  (approximate - you may use slightly less)
1 cup milk
1/2 a vanilla bean, split
5 T, plus 1 tsp sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 T cornstarch
1 T flour
1 T butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
several T quince jam

Place the milk, vanilla bean (cut lengthwise) and 4 T of sugar in a medium saucepan over high heat and cook until almost boiling.  In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, 1 T sugar and cornstarch together.  The resulting mixture will be very thick.  Remove and discard the vanilla bean, and slowly pour the milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking the entire time.  Do this last step over medium high heat, until it thickens substantially for about 1-2 minutes.  Don't do it too long, or it will dry out and burn.

Next, beat the heavy cream with 1 tsp of sugar, using the whisk attachment of your mixer for several minutes, until the mixture has changed form and resembles whipped cream.  Fold this into the egg/milk mixture.

Add the thick, creamy mixture to your pie shell and top with the blueberries.  Glaze with some melted quince jam, using a pastry brush.  The pie (or tart) should be ready to eat, although you can chill it first, if you prefer.  Note that I do not prepare a lattice for this type of blueberry cream pie, like I do with my more conventional blueberry pie (pictured below). 

If you would like to enjoy the pie with a glass of wine, I would recommend doing so with a late harvest risling, or perhaps a Canadian ice wine.

Perhaps the fact that I prepared this recipe at all, in January, shows how much I miss summer fruits in the winter, and how the cold weather has been getting to me over the last couple of weeks.  Does this go against my acclaimed farm to table approach? Not really - because the recipe is certainly meant to be prepared in June or July, using fresh farmers market blueberries. 


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gilly's Kitchen in Queens: Vegan Pumpkin Pie

If you are vegan (or just allergic to certain ingredients), store-bought pumpkin pies are most likely just a hazy memory. I experimented with several recipes just prior to Thanksgiving and settled on this particular pumpkin pie recipe. Please note that this pie does not taste like a store-bought pie, which may tend to have a very dense filling and a very certain taste (I cannot describe it, but store-bought pumpkin pies all seem to taste the same delicious way). This filling, which is also somewhat dense, has a slightly different taste -- still perfectly pumpkin-y, however -- so you might need a few bites to adjust. As usual, my vegan pumpkin pie passes the stepson test (it is also pareve), and is therefore worthy of publication.

This recipe comes from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's "The Joy of Vegan Baking."

You will need:
a pie crust (I used a 9-inch pre-made graham cracker crust from the supermarket, but you should feel free to make your own -- and if you do, 9 inches should be the absolute minimum size)
12 ounces silken firm tofu
2 cups pumpkin puree (I used Libby's)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. In a food processor, blend the tofu, pumpkin puree, syrup, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, ginger and cloves until smooth and creamy. Scrape the bowl if necessary to get everything fully blended. (my own note - my food processor was actually a touch too small to hold all of the ingredients, and I therefore had to make some creative mid-recipe ingredient adjustments, but it turned out well because generic, store-bought pie crusts tend to run a bit small sometimes anyway.)
3. Pour the mixture into the crust and smooth as necessary. (my own note - to get the "homemade" looking swirls as in my photo, don't smooth the mixture perfectly in the crust. Store-bought pies are always perfectly smooth, probably because they are made by machines.)
4. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned and the outermost inch of the filling appears to be set. The remaining filling towards the center will firm up a bit as the pie cools.
5. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. (my own note - I left the pie in the pie pan and just put the pie pan itself on a wire rack to circulate the air.)
6. Let the pie cool until it is at room temperature and then put the pie in the fridge for 1-2 hours to set.

I find that this pie holds well in the fridge for at least 3 days. For all I know, it holds even longer, but we always eat it all by day 3!

Sasha's Kitchen: Restaurant Review: Manhattan's Lupa Osteria

Lupa Osteria has long been one of my favorite Italian restaurant's in New York. Long considered Babbo's less expensive little sister, Lupa shines all by itself. A meal at Lupa never really breaks the bank, but is always an enjoyable food indulgence.

Why did I choose to review Lupa, since it is hardly new to the restaurant scene? It is because I think Lupa presents Italian food in a lively ambiance better than almost anyone else in New York, and I wanted to share of my favorite dining experiences in the city.

If you live in Manhattan and have not been to Lupa, now is the time to make your reservation. You will have to reserve a table at least several weeks in advance, such as on OpenTable, or be prepared for a late night weekday dinner, which is a fun way to enjoy the lively and upbeat atmosphere and delicious cuisine of Lupa. Some of my best memories at Lupa were spontaneous 11 PM meals here with friends when we were out for drinks in the neighborhood. It's worthy to mention that the legendary Mario Batali is also a part-owner of this establishment.

I have dined at Lupa too many times to count. In the beginning, I started coming here around 2001 when I lived in the West Village. It was so good that I kept coming back. When I met Brad in 2004, we started coming here together because it turned out that Lupa had long been one of his favorite restaurants.

My most recent visit to Lupa was a few weeks ago over the holidays with my husband, his sister and her husband. We had a great time at a late night after work dinner, with lively conversation over good food and wine.

My favorite dish on the menu is bucatini all' amatriciana, a pasta dish prepared with the tubular bucatini pasta and the amatriciana. I have actually made this dish at home using my own recipe (click here) but nothing, and I mean nothing compares to the perfection of the crispy guanciale and sauce mastery of Lupa's house "buci." If I had to name the single best pasta dish in any New York City restaurant, this would be it. It's as close to perfection as pasta can be.

The way to order at Lupa is to start with some of their delicious verdure, meats and other small plate appetizers. The menu has a handy Italian index that defines less common ingredients and dishes for you, in case you aren't sure what to order.

During our recent dining experience, we shared several of the verdure, the beets with pistachio and the squash alla romana, both of which we enjoyed. We also ordered a couple salads - my husband and I shared the newest salad on the menu, a salad with apples and Lupa's delicious guanciale, while his sister ordered the escarole, walnut and red onion salad - a Lupa classic. Both were big hits with our table.

For our main courses, my husband and I could not resist ordering the bucatini, because it is simply too good to pass up. In the past, however, I have tried various gnoccis on the menu at Lupa, and this is always a good choice as well - I have enjoyed a goat cheese gnocchi in the past at Lupa, as well as their ricotta gnocchi with sausage and fennel. Some other favorites on the menu are a few of Lupa's daily specials - crispy duck agrodolce on Tuesdays and lamb short ribs on Saturdays, both of which are artfully prepared and mouth watering.

The desserts at Lupa are also enjoyable - we had the black pepper panna cotta and the tartufo, ice cream in a chocolate shell. It was a memorable and enjoyable evening, like every dining experience at Lupa - enjoyed with several glasses of wine, both red and white, from Lupa's extensive Italian wine list.

Eric's Kitchen in Jersey City: Lamb Steak

So this meal started months ago. Jenn and I bought some lamb at the grocery store with the intention of making Lamb Curry. When I tried to ask my mom about her curry recipe and told her what my lamb looked like she said I definitely bought the wrong cut, that it was too lean and it wouldn't make good curry. I had taken the cut we bought out of the package and put it in a freezer bag and into the freezer. I had no idea what cut it was or what to do with it. The next time we went to the grocery store I saw the same cut and took a pic on my phone. Apparently it was a lamb steak.

I looked up what to do with this and found out you can grill, broil or make stew out of this cut. Unfortunately we JUST made split pea soup and London Broil last weekend so I figured I'd do a quick marinade and then grill it.

My marinade:
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Rosemary (you can be generous with rosemary when it comes to Lamb)
Minced garlic
Cracked Pepper

We didn't have all day to marinate it or I would have let it go longer but it was in the fridge in a freezer bag for about 30 minutes. I used my grill pan to sear the lamb steak on each side and cook it medium rare. It was pretty delicious.

I decided to serve this with some rice and green beans since we've been eating a lot of potatoes. Any time I make brown rice I try to make it as interesting as possible. This time I cut up 4-5 large baby bella mushrooms and added them from the start to the rice along with some 'better than bouillon'. You can use chicken broth too but this adds a lot of flavor and ends up tasting almost like a quick an easy risotto. I also add some cracked pepper. As for the green beans I just sauteed them in olive oil with some minced garlic and black pepper.

Lamb is one of the roundtable features of the month at Akitcheninbrooklyn. Click here for SashaInTheKitchen's braised lamb ancho chile tacos and rack of lamb with fresh herbs; and here for Cindy's Lamb & Pinot Noir Wine Pairing.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Rigatoni Pesto With Chicken Sausage and Mixed Vegetables

My green pasta vegetable medley and tomato arugula angel hair pasta were such successes recently, that this week, I decided to do another inventive pasta dish using all the vegetables in the house, plus some high quality chicken sausage.  I used the basil that I had picked up at the grocery store the other day to prepare a basic pesto sauce to go along with my pasta creation.

I never liked pesto much when I was younger - I always preferred a tomato-based pasta sauce.  But, pesto has really grown on me.  I make pasta dishes with two types of pestos these days:  a spicy hazelnut pesto and a basic pesto.  Tonight's dish used a basic pesto which is comprised of the following ingrediants: olive oil, basil and pine nuts (also known as pignolia nuts), plus a bit of garlic.  I certainly will share the hazelnut pesto recipe in a future post.

Here are all the ingredients you will need for this recipe:

1 roll of high quality homemade chicken sausage (I got mine at M&S Prime Meats, a great local store, where they make it fresh on a regular basis), cut into small pieces
1 box rigatoni or penne
1 head of broccoli
1 onion, diced
1-2 sprigs of rosemary
1/2 cup olive oil, plus extra to saute the vegetables
15 (approximate) heads of artichoke (I couldnt get fresh artichokes, unfortunately, but purchased in jars at a high-end Italian market)
4 cloves of garlic, diced
1/4 cup pine nuts (pignolia nuts)
2 cups of loosely packed basil
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
salt and pepper to taste.

First, prepare the pesto in your cuisinart, by adding 1/2 cup of the olive oil, 2 cloves of diced garlic, and the pine nuts.  Blend fully, until it forms a pesto paste.  Yes, pesto is that easy, and the quality of your pesto is dependent on using a high quality extra virgin olive oil, so choose carefully.  I used Olive Oil from Round Pond Estate, in Napa.

Next, saute the vegetables (onion, artichoke and broccoli) with the rosemary in a tablespoon of olive oil.  While this is going on, saute the chicken sausage in olive oil, and add a tiny bit of red pepper flakes (about a quarter teaspoon) if you want to add some spice to the dish.  This is, of course, optional and I opted not to go with any heat tonight.  Season the vegetables and sausage with salt and pepper.  Boil the water to cook the pasta of your choice - tonight I used rigatoni.  Mix everything together and enjoy.  This is easy to make and doesn't take too long, though it does seem to dirty at least half of the dishes, pots and pans in the kitchen.  The great thing about this dish is that it can serve an entire family, or provide for plenty of leftovers!


Sasha's Kitchen: Vegetarian Dinner Party and Simple Winter Squash Recipe

My husband and I had a vegetarian (or vegetable-oriented, perhaps a better term for it) dinner party last night with some friends of ours here in Brooklyn.  Here was the menu:

Appetizer: Baby Acorn Squash (recipe below)
Caesar Salad
Green Apple Risotto (My husband, Brad, prepared this and will post the recipe soon)
Sweet Potato Chipoltle Latkes (Pancakes) with Lingonberries
Rainbow Frosted Honey-Vanilla Cupcakes
Mini Chocolate Souffles (prepared by our friends for us, but something I plan on making for this site very soon)

Below is how to prepare the baby acorn squash, a perfect appetizer or side dish for a fall or winter dinner.  This recipe serves four, but they are so good, that you might want to prepare extras.

2 medium sized acorn squash
4 T butter
4 T brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

And a second variation of the dish, incorporating apples that I will be preparing this weekend for another dinner party:

Diced honeycrisp or gala apples, mixed with 1/2 tsp cinnamon and a 1 tsp of lemon juice

Cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Fill with the butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. Add the apple mixture too, if making that variation.

Bake at 350 F for an hour and a half.

The end result is a very simple, but delicious farm fresh seasonal treat, best prepared using organic or local produce. I really enjoy cooking vegetarian-style. It's not that I don't enjoy meat and fish - I do, and plenty of it. But too much of our eating revolves around the meat entree, and it doesn't always need to be that way. Sometimes it is nice too cook without meat, and it enhances the fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, grains and other ingredients that you are using. I find that I have learned a great deal of how to better work with these ingredients by occasionally leaving meat out of a meal.  Not only is it healthy to occasionally skip out on meat, but it enhances the experience we have eating everything else, as well as the quality of the produce.  I believe this is why I am such a big fan of the farm to table approach to cooking. I plan to do another vegetable-oriented dinner party next weekend, as well.


Eric's Kitchen in Jersey City: Split Pea Soup

Both my girlfriend Jenn and I love good soups and since it's freezing outside I decided it was time to make a good, stick to your ribs, split pea soup. My mom recently made one with turkey kielbasa and said it was delicious and so I decided this would be my approach as well.

My ingredients:
1 lb. dry split peas
1 package turkey kielbasa
1/2 lb. bacon
one bunch of leeks (3 stalks)
one medium Vidalia onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
black pepper
a little old bay seasoning
1lb carrots
4 small potatoes

I chopped all the veggies and the bacon. First I cooked the bacon in a soup pot. You should cook it until it's crispy and all the fat is rendered. Then you need to add your leeks, onions, garlic and spices. This time I got impatient and added all the leeks and onions to the bacon too early and ended up picking out the bits of un-rendered bacon fat the rest of the process.

Once the leeks and onions are soft and cooked, you can add the peas and the water (it should say how much on the package). The first time I tried doing this I just added everything to my corck pot and it took DAYS and the peas never got quite soft enough. This time I cooked it in the pot until they boiled and then simmered it for about 35-45 minutes, covered and the peas were perfect.

Then I added the mixture to the crock pot with the potatoes, carrots & kielbasa and let it slow-cook for 3-4 hours until the potatoes were soft.

The end result was very satisfying and exactly what we were hoping for. Next time I just need to get the bacon more crispy! I also wish I knew a way to make split-pea soup more photogenic!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Margie's Kitchen in Boston: Making Crepes

Crepes are easy to make and have four basic ingredients: eggs, milk, flour and butter. The key to making a good crepe is a good pan and a little agility with one’s wrist. Once made, crepes are easy to store and can be prepared with an infinite variety of possibilities: filled or plain, folded, rolled or shaped into cups (with the aid of a muffin tin), or dessert, main entrée or breakfast fare. I was in Poland recently, and at a rest stop a person was selling fresh crepes rolled up, filled with jelly, and sautéed in butter.

A basic recipe for crepe batter can be found in most comprehensive cookbooks, but the one I like the most is from a quirky little book called Crepe Cookery by Mable Hoffman. Her all purpose batter uses four eggs, ¼ teaspoon salt, 2 cups flour, 2 ¼ cups of milk and ¼ cup melted butter (page 12). You just combine eggs and salt, and then add flour in batches alternating with milk while beating with a mixer or whisk until smooth. At the end of the process add butter. Refrigerate batter for at least 1 hour before making crepes.

I use this basic recipe to make my grandmother’s manicotti stuffed with a mixture of ricotta (part skim) (16 oz.) egg, ½ cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1 cup of steamed or cooked frozen spinach chopped and squeezed of excessive moisture, salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg or mace. Spread a light coating of marina sauce in a 2 quart Pyrex style casserole dish. [I am not embarrassed to admit that I prefer a Vermont brand ― Dell’Amore]. Cover with foil and bake at 375۫ for 50 minutes; take off foil for last 10 minutes.

For the desert recipe shown above, I use the “Basic Desert Batter” from Crepe Cookery, using the same amount of eggs, 1 cup of flour, 2 Tablespoons of sugar (I use only 1), 1 cup of milk, ¼ cup of water, and 1 Tablespoon of melted butter (page 17). This recipe claims to make 20-24 crepes, but with my size of crepe pan it is more like 10-12. As for the crepe production, have on hand 10 inch (or so) squares of wax paper to match the number of crepes you plan to make. When you’ve made one crepe, place it on wax paper and cover with another piece, continuing until you’ve finished all of the batter. I use an 8 inch good quality non-stick sauté pan coated with a small amount of canola oil rubbed around the pan using wax paper. Before heating up the pan on medium heat have the batter ready. It actually isn’t a bad idea to use 2 pans at one time, the process will go much faster, however timing is everything when making crepes, so I choose the slow route using only one pan. Make sure the pan is heated up for at least 5 minutes or more. I use a 1/3 measuring cup to scoop batter into the center of the hot pan. Immediately lift the pan off of the burner and begin to roll the batter as if you had a marble inside the pan that you wanted to keep in a circular motion. Eventually the batter spreads out from the center and up the sides (slightly) of the pan looking like soft pasta dough. Place it back down on the burner for just 10 more seconds and using a very thin heat-resistant spatula take the crepe and flip it over. Heat for about 15 seconds [or until a slight browning of bottom-side surface area] , then turn crepe out onto one of the sheets of wax paper and cover with another. Continue making the remaining crepes. You can store in the refrigerator or freeze in a sealed proof freezer bag.

As for the filling in this featured desert, I used a modified cannoli recipe: 1 ½ cups of ricotta cheese (drained, i.e. let sit in a colander in fridge for about 2 hours), 3-4 Tablespoons confectionary sugar, 3 Tablespoons of Polish cherry vodka (Wisniowa). Take one crepe and spread 1-2 Tablespoons on the bottom of the crepe and then rollover twice. I spooned over the crepe fresh cooked cranberries (because it is in season).

I have yet to explore a “flambé” version but it sounds easy. Basically, I could have heated up the cranberry sauce in a large enough pan to hold the crepes, added a warmed up liquor (about ½ to 1 cup), ignite it (with a long fireplace match), and with a long-handled spoon pour the flaming sauce over the crepes until the flames disappear. Mable Hoffman provides these guidelines:
"Heating the liqueur–Liqueur with high alcohol content (proof) will flame quite high if hot when ignited. Therefore the rule is: The higher the proof, the lower the liqueur’s temperature needs to be when ignited. A 35-proof liqueur should be very hot–but not boiling–when ignited. 80-proof should be warm. Proportionate temperatures should be used for other proofs. It is difficult to flame liqueurs below 35-proof." (page 124)

Just a note: The Polish cherry vodka is 35-proof.


Sasha's Kitchen: Boeuf Bourguigon In Only Four Hours

Boeuf Bourguignon and Julia Child.  The two kind of go together, and invariably draw references to the recent movie Julie and Julia.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  For my purposes, I like to cook and experiment with all types of cooking and dishes, whether they are part of a movie or not.  So eventually, if you cook enough, you are going to try Boeuf Bourguigon, as well as  other French classics like Coq Au Vin (as prepared by Christina in Budapest).  In my case, it has nothing to do with a certain blockbuster movie.  I prefer to think of it as today, I decided to do some French cooking and prepare Boeuf Bourguigon.

To prepare this recipe, I worked with a modified version of the Julia Child original recipe, which I used as a reference.  I made a bunch of further changes, some of which made the dish better (in my humble opinion) and some of which made it easier to prepare.  The recipe I am going to post may not be exactly the authentic Boeuf Bourguigon as approved by the French masters, but it is my version of the dish and one I am very happy to share with others.  I think it is a reasonably authentic and classic Boeuf Bourguigon, and the recipe is one that is relatively straightforward to follow.  My goal was to rework a basic recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon that is almost as good as the original, but can be done in approximately 3-4 hours, rather than 8-10 hours.  This is not to say there's not value in the original long-version, but simply that there's value and reasonableness for a more typical family with other things going on.  So, keep reading below, if you want to learn how to make a delicious Sasha-classic Boeuf Bourguigon.


12 oz beef fry bacon (a healthy alternative to regular bacon for the health-conscious and those who do not eat pork products, but feel free to substitute with regular bacon if you prefer)
1 T canola oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
3 lb lean stewing beef, cut into 2 inch cubes
2 large handfulls of baby carrots
1 onion, diced
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 T flour
1 T tomato paste
3 cups red wine (chianti, bourdeaux, burgandy, or high quality red cooking wine)
3 cups beef stock (approximate; see below)
1 tsp diced garlic
1 sprig thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
2 bay leaves

Braised onions
18 pearl onions
1 1/2 T unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp canola oil
1/2 cups beef stock
salt and pepper to taste
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs parsley

Sauteed Mushrooms
1 lb diced mushrooms
2 T butter
2 T canola oil
4 T brandy

First, prepare the beef fry bacon by sauteing in a dutch oven (Le Creuset!)  in 1-2 T of canola oil.  Cook until crispy, the same way you would prepare bacon.  In a separate pan, saute the onion and carrots in olive oil, for about 10 minutes, until the onions are tender. Remove the bacon and keep the fat/oil from the bacon and use to sear the beef chunks lightly.  Before searing the beef, coat with the 2 T of flour.  I seared very lightly.  Return the bacon to the Dutch Oven, and add the carrots and onions. 

Next, to the Dutch Oven, add the wine and the beef stock.  You can add more or less beef stock, to get the right amount, but make sure the total amount of liquid covers the meat, just barely.  I used store-bought organic beef stock, and that makes a delicious dish.  You could, of course, prepare your own beef stock from scratch, but this takes hours, and I really didn't feel like spending the time today - although perhaps on another day when I had specifically allocated the entire day to the project.  It still was very good tasting so I don't think I sacrificed too much here.
Add the tomato paste, thyme, rosemary, garlic, bay leaves, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil and then put in the oven, preheated to 325 F.  Cook for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until the beef is tender. 

In the meantime, here is how I prepared the mushrooms:

Add the 2 T of butter and 2 T of canola oil and allow the butter to fully melt aat high heat.  Cook the mushrooms about 5-8 minutes.  When the mushrooms are just about done, add the 4 T of brandy and cook for another minute.

To prepare the braised onions, dice the onions and heat the butter and oil in a skillet.  Add the onions and saute for ten minutes over medium heat.  Add the 1/2 cup of beef stock and simmer for 40-50 minutes.

When the meat is tender, remove the Dutch Oven from your oven and empty its contents, collecting the sauce separately.  Distribute the mushrooms and onions over the meat.  Skim the fat off the sauce and simmer the sauce until reduced to 2 1/2 cups of a sauce thick enough to coat a spoon.  If the sauce gets too thick, add a little bit more of the beef stock.  Keep boiling if you need to to reduce the sauce to get it just right.  I served the dish with the sauce, and seasoned with the parsley.  I think I just made French cooking quite a bit easier, but still fun and tasty.

Boeuf Bourguigon on Foodista

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