A new look at cooking and home decorating...with an attempt to add more greens to the plate, more vegetarian options & hopefully lots of new ideas to explore

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Aunt Sara’s Chocolate Cookies

I scrambled to write down Aunt Sara’s recipe as it was given to me from Diane, an acquaintance of mine. Diane and I met haphazardly, as she spotted me with my arms full of cookbooks, as they often are. We started chatting away about what she was planning to make for Christmas. Diane was in the middle of planning out a feast of the seven fishes for Christmas Eve. We chatted about all of the Christmas cookies that she bakes, and then Diane confessed that she is actually Jewish! She just loves to cook and bake. I bump into Diane often, and the last time I did she gave me this recipe, saying that her “Aunt Sara would be smiling down form the heavens above if she knew that people were baking her cookies”.

Because I am a bit scatterbrained, I keep forgetting to buy gram crackers in the grocery store, so I have not yet tested the recipe. That having been said- it looks very easy to make and I thought I should pass this along to you before I loose the little slip of paper that it is written on.

2 cups chocolate chips (Diane says its ok to mix and match, white chocolate, dark chocolate, and semi- sweet)
2 cups Gram cracker crumbs
2 cups Sweetened condensed milk

Preheat 350
Butter or spray an 9X13” pan
In a mixing bowl combine the ingredients above into a thick “oatmeal” consistency. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes.
(Diane likes to line the pan with easy release foil)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Settling in for winter

With darling children back to school, Halloween costumes ordered, and winter clothing all laundered and ready to wear, I welcome the winter. It is the season of soups and hearty stews.

With autumn in mind, yesterday, I peeled carrots, chopped onions, and minced celery in order to make my first soffritto of the fall. Though soffrittos can vary from country to country, they are usually a mixture of carrot onion and celery. Sometimes in Latin cooking there might be chili minced in as well. In French cooking this cooking base is called a Mirepoix. Yesterday I hand chopped mine because I love the sound and feel of the knife on my heavy wooden cutting board. Often though, you will see soffritto thrown into a food processor. The food processor tends to make the vegetables more watery, but saves vast amounts of time if you are in a hurry.

What was all this work for? - Ragu Bolognese. A specialty from the area of Bologna Italy. The region know as Emilia Romagna is famous for it wonderful Ragus, cheeses, veal dishes, and roasted pears as well as many other specialties. It is a region of Gourmet food items. The milk is what interests me the most. The region has a lot of dairy, so unlike more southern Italian sauces, this sauce is simmered with milk and often has heavy cream added back in at the end, which makes for a “pink” colored sauce. The Ragu is perfect if served with polenta wedges.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tuscan cooking

I have in my mind, drifted far from where I live. Drifted, to a land with beautiful mustard colored fields beautiful sunny, warm days. A land of fennel, Ragu, and Minestrone. A place where no doorbells or telephones ring with requests, but rather, with invitations. A place where people walk rather than ride around in cars or SUV’s . I am not sure why all of a sudden I am in this place in my mind, except to say that I was reminded by a family member the other day about some of our Northern Italian family roots.

It helps, of course, that I have actual memories of the Northern Italian countryside. I lived in Florence for half a year and traveled a bit around the countryside. I have fond memories of the area as well as a sort of “food memory” – a taste memory, if there is such a thing. All of my memories were recalled vividly this morning as I opened a jar of Porcini. The smell that came forth was heavenly. The earthy smell, hearty and warm.

I took the jar and used its contents to create a lovely Risotto. It was everything a good Risotto should be. Creamy but with no cream added. I plan to serve it later with spicy lobster.

I look forward to the months of fall here in my kitchen. Love, I do, the ways that dishes like pork braised in milk (this is both Italian and French), Ragu Bolognese, and panna cotta seem even more delicious and comforting.

I am torn though, as my heart is also in the French countryside- in the land of prunes steeped in Armagnac and hearty Cassoulet, as well as duck confit. Hmmm, what to make next…..

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Spanish “style” oven baked rice

This rice dish takes its direction from the rice dishes of Spain. It has been Americanized though, in that it uses fresh grilled chorizo sausage as opposed to the traditional dried Spanish kind. This is not proper paella. Not even close. But if you are looking for an easy Spanish rice dish for a party, this is it.

3 Tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed to coat the rice
1 Medium yellow onion, peeled and minced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup Arborio rice
1 pound fresh chorizo sausage, grilled until grill marks appear on the outside (meaning its ok if the sausage is still a bit raw inside) – sliced into ¼” slices
1 roasted red pepper cut into medium dice (from jar OK)
2 ½ cups chicken stock
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of ground pepper
1 cup heirloom tomatoes cut into a very rough dice, or sliced

Preheat oven to 375
Into a Dutch oven (5 quart is fine) add the olive oil. Over medium low- medium heat add the onion. Cook for seven minutes. Lower heat if necessary to prevent the onion from taking on too much color. Add in the garlic and stir for 1 minute. If the pan seems dry add another tablespoon of oil. Add in the rice and stir to coat for 1 minute. Add in the sausage and red pepper. Pour in the chicken stock then bring to a boil. Add the Salt and pepper then cover with a lid. Place in the Preheated oven for 25 minutes.

Once the rice has cooked stir and re-season if necessary. Garnish with heirloom tomatoes.

Getting Ready for autumn

Well, today the temperature has dipped a bit and so, it is the perfect day for getting ready for fall. It is the kind of day when I switch out all of the summer bedding, pack up some of the summer clothing and load up on flu medicine and Chap Stick. I have a beautiful new All-clad slow cooker, which is just begging for use.

Around this time every year, I pick a day like today for my annual soup making. Some people use this time of the year for making and storing tomato sauce. Not me. For some reason, the tomato sauce thing has never appealed to me. Perhaps, it is because I prefer to use the San Marzano tomatoes from Italy for sauce rather that fresh tomatoes. Therefore, I make tomato sauce all winter long. Making soup at this time of the year is however, a huge help in the mornings.

Usually I pull out my big red cast iron pot, and make a traditional French pea soup. Once the soup has cooked then cooled I put it into little, single serving size Baggies and store it in my freezer. As need be I can defrost the soup in the mornings and warm it enough to be thrown into a lunch thermos.

After the work of the day a simple supper is in order. I have an easy rice dish, which I would like to share with you, though bear in mind it may be a little too spicy for children.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Grilled Blackened Boneless Rib Eyes

Well, this could not get any easier. If you purchase the best quality steak the result will be a steak as good if not better than anything that you will find in a steakhouse. The grilling method works best due to the smoke. Have some water handy to tame down the fire a bit after the steak is seared.

2 boneless rib eyes, about 1 ¼-1 ½” thick each
6 tablespoons melted butter- clarified butter will work even better
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
And several tablespoons of Chef Paul Prudhommes Blackened Steak Magic- per steak

You will preheat your grill to 450

Steaks must be at room temperature before you begin.

Dip each steak in the melted butter until coated on both sides. Sprinkle the steak with salt, pepper, and Steak Magic on both sides and press the spices gently with your hand. As the spices and the butter become one, the coating will take on a black appearance. Obviously you will season your steak to taste, I have found though that this seasoning is not “hot/spicy” but rather just creates an amazing crust on the steak, so don’t worry about over seasoning.

Place the steaks on the grill for 5 minutes per side. Remove from heat and allow the steaks to rest for several minutes before serving.

Serve with Caesar salad and onion rings.

* Please note, you can make your own blackening seasonings, but honestly I see know reason for this since the Prudhomme’s brand can be found in most grocery stores, if fact we bought ours at a little village market in New England.