Friday, January 29, 2010

Knodel with broth

There are places in our lives that are so magical, so great, they become part of us to the point where, even if we don't visit them for years, they are still there, in our hearts. Val Gardena, a valley north of the city of Bolzano in Northern Italy, is one of those places for me. We used to own a vacation home there and, come hell or high water, we'd spend winter weekends and holidays skiing the magnificent Dolomites around there, and summer vacations hiking and bicycling them. That's where, at the tender age of three, I learned how to ski. That's also where I met one of my best friends in the whole world. In the summer we ran around barefoot and climbed trees. In the winter we skied and beat boys to the bottom of the slope.

The beauty of the valley is staggering, both in the winter and in the summer. The mountains there are a peculiar shade of pink and, at sunset, they almost sparkle. All the houses are painted and perffectly kept, a remiander that the folk there might have an Italian passport, but they are Austrians at heart. The food too is simply amazing there. A blend of Italian and Austrian, the cuisine has evolved and grown and has become much more than just the sum of its parts. One of the dishes I loved the most is knodel with broth, a pretty basic dish of bread dumplings cooked and served in a rich, beefy stock. It's a peasant recipe that uses up stale bread and it's also very easy to make -perfect for when you, or someone in your family, feels a little under the weather.
Serves 4

7 oz. old white bread, such as ciabatta
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper
1 onion, chopped
4 oz. speck or smoked prosciutto, minced
2 tablespoons of parsley, chopped
A pinch of nutmeg
Abundant beef broth
Cut the bread into cubes, place in a bowl and pour the milk and egg mixture over top. Mix well and let rest, covered with a napkin, for about an hour. Don't forget every once in a while to stir the bread so that it absorbs the liquid evenly. 
In the mean time prepare the broth and keep warm. 
In a small saucepan cook the onion gently with the speck until it is translucent, remove from the heat, let cool and  add the parsley.
Mix the onion mixture with the bread mixture. Sprinkle with flour if the mixture is too wet. Shape into balls, roll them in flour and gently lower all of them in the boiling broth. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the dumplings float to the surface. Serve with broth, sprinkle with cheese if desired.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Cioppino" pasta

 Lately I've been literally obsessed with cioppino, the Italian seafood stew and have been ordering at several local restaurants. The best one yet was the one I ate on my mom's birthday at Sea Salt on Third Avenue South in Naples. Not only the seafood -mussels, snapper, shrimp, calamari and scallops- was masterfully prepared and just tender enough, the tomatoes Chef Fabrizio Aielli uses are so red and so flavorful they make your taste buds sing. Or at least they made mine sing, because you know how obsessed I am with good tomatoes.

The idea of making a Cioppino pasta came a coupleof days after my mom's birthday dinner when it was time to decide what to make with the leftover Cioppino. It was too much for me to eat at lunch but it wasn't enough to serve for the two of us at dinner, so I thought, why not make a good pasta out of it? All that I had to do was adding more good quality canned tomatoes (I used Cento) to the stew to thicken it up a little and serve it over pasta with a side of garlic bread. It was out-of-this-world. And of course, next thing I knew, I was looking for a recipe to make it from scratch -which I found and then modified a little on

Adapted from
Serves 6

4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 (28- to 32-ounces) can whole plum tomatoes, drained, reserving juice, and chopped
1 cup bottled clam juice
1 cup chicken broth
18 small (2-inch) hard-shelled clams (1 1/2 pound) such as littlenecks, scrubbed
1 pound skinless red snapper or halibut fillets, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound large shrimp (16 to 20), shelled (tails and bottom segment of shells left intact) and deveined
3/4 pound sea scallops, tough muscle removed from side of each if necessary
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 box short pasta, such as cavatappi or fusilli

Cook garlic, onions, bay leaf, oregano, and red pepper flakes with salt and pepper in olive oil in an 8-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add wine and boil until reduced by about half, 5 to 6 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice, clam juice, and broth and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add clams to stew and simmer, covered, until clams just open, 5 to 10 minutes, checking every minute after 5 minutes and transferring opened clams to a bowl with tongs or a slotted spoon. (Discard any unopened clams after 10 minutes.)

While clams are cooking prepare past according to package directions.

Lightly season fish fillets, shrimp, and scallops with salt and add to stew, then simmer, covered, until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf, then return clams to pot and gently stir in drained pasta. Garnish with parsley, if desired. 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Spicy pork chili

So here's the thing: I couldn't care less about football or Superbowl. I'll be brutally honest with you: I find the game too long and not packed enough with action to hold my interest and, until yesterday, I was convinced -hopeful, really- that Superbowl Sunday was today. I say hopeful because after Superbowl is over there is a few months  of peace and quiet when I don't have to listen to football talk. Not that anyone would directly talk to me about football, but you know, they talk loud enough for me to hear. And if they are not talking they are updating their Facebook status with all-caps nonsense about the Colts or whoever else could make it to Superbowl.

One thing I like about Superbowl is the chili-eating aspect of it because chili happens to be one of my favorite dishes. Besides the fact that I love soupy meals, I like the fact that everyone makes chili in a different way and, at least when it comes to food, I will never get bored at a Superbowl party. I have three or four favorite chili recipes so far -this particular one is the latest addition. It's from -yet again- the Jan./Feb. issue of Cooking Light and it's made with pork instead of beef. I had to change the recipe a little bit, mostly because I forgot to buy some of the ingredients, but it turned out amazing: the ham hock gives it a wonderfully smoky flavor and the Mexican hot sauce delivers a nice kick.


Cooking spray
2  pounds  ground pork
3  cups  chopped onion
1  chopped green bell pepper
3  garlic cloves, minced
3  tablespoons  tomato paste
1  cup beer
3  tablespoons  chili powder
1  tablespoon  ground cumin
2  teaspoons  dried oregano
3/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
6  tomatillos, quartered
2  bay leaves
2  (14 1/2-ounce) cans plum tomatoes, undrained and chopped
1  (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained
1  (7 3/4-ounce) can Mexican hot-style tomato sauce
1  smoked ham hock (about 8 ounces)

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add ground pork to pan, season with salt and pepper to taste; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to slightly crumble. Drain well. Transfer pork to an electric slow cooker.

Recoat pan with cooking spray. Add onion and bell pepper; sauté 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add tomato paste; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in beer; cook 1 minute. Transfer onion mixture to slow cooker. Add salt, chili powder, and next 9 ingredients (through ham hock) to slow cooker. Cover and cook on HIGH 5 hours. Remove bay leaves and ham hock; discard.

Serve with fresh cilantro, chopped green onions, or sour cream if desired.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Gingerbread muffins

Is it finally Friday? I don't know about you, but this week -instead of feeling shorter because of the holiday- felt longer. It must have something to do with the fact that the wait is killing me already. Wait for what, you might ask? I'm not going to say it because I'm superstitious like that. Let's just say that is something really important, something that I've been dreaming of for a while and something that, unfortunately, doesn't depend on me in the slightest way. All that I could do, "my part", is done. And now I have to wait until the end of March to receive an answer. I know, right? If I'm already going crazy on January 22, can you imagine what my state will be on, say, March 15? Ugh. Better not think about it.

But I digress. Since it's Friday, it means that I'm publishing a recipe I've learned from another great food blog: The Ungourmet. A while ago, Kim posted a wonderful recipe to make gingerbread loaves with icing and, since I didn't have mini pans and I don't much care for icing, I thought: Why not make it into muffins? It was quite the good idea, even if I say so myself. They turned out packed with gingery spiceness, the perfect match to my morning coffee. Even Tommy, who usually only praises banana nut muffins said that these were a great alternative. And thank God for that, because it's freaking banana season here in Florida and, to be honest, if I eat another banana I'll have a meltdown.

(Adapted from The Ungourmet)
Makes 12 muffins

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup raisins
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tsp fresh minced ginger
1 egg

In a bowl combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, raisins, cranberries and almonds.

Place butter in a large bowl and using an electric mixer, beat until creamy. Add the molasses, water, ginger, and egg. Mix to combine. Add the flour mixture and beat until well combined.

Divide evenly into a muffin pan. Placepan into a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Meatless Thursdays: Portobello "steaks"

I know, the movement is actually called "Meatless Mondays", but to mix things up a little I have decided to pick Thursday as the meatless day of the week. The decision of going vegetarian once a week wasn't easy -at least not for "someone" who shall remain nameless that lives in this household. See, I can go days without meat and I don't even notice. Although I like my Bolognese as much as the next guy, my favorite pasta recipes don't contain any meat. And when it comes to pizza, I only really like cheese pizza. So it's not THAT hard for me. I have recently started making some good vegetarian soups and have been eating them for lunch everyday since December. It's incredible to see what a diffrence it makes to skip meat for lunch. I feel lighter (it's only a feeling, mind you, I still weight the same) and more energetic, and I don't go into that comatose after-lunch state anymore. You know the one -when you feel like crawling under your desk and take a nap.

So how did I convince my better half to go meatless once a week? It all happened because of our friend Jayne and her Portobello "steaks". We happened to stop by her house one night about a month ago and her and her husband were about to eat said "steaks". One bite convinced Tommy that not only they were delicious, but they also had that steak texture he so longs for. And as easy as that Meatless Thursdays had begun.

The recipe is so quick and easy it definitely falls in the "life-saver" category, so try it next time that you are starving and you still have to go to the store at 8 p.m. I served mine with mashed potatoes (Simply Potatoes!) and sauteed spinach. Voila'. Gourmet meal in under 20 minutes.

Serves 2

2 large portobello caps
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 cloves of garlic, smashed
Worcestershire sauce, about 1/2 cup

Preheat oven to 350F.

Wash the mushroom caps carefully and rub them with olive oil. Spray a pyrex with cooking spray, place mushroom caps in it and season both sides with salt and pepper. Place them smooth side down and pour Worcestershire sauce in them. Let it soak for a few minutes.

Add garlic cloves to the pyrex, flip the mushroom caps so they are smooth-side-up and cook in the oven for 10-15 minutes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chicken with peppers in balsamic sauce

Yesterday for some reason -lots of work, teeth cleaning, crazy traffic- I was sooo tired the last thing I wanted to do was to fuss in the kitchen once I got home. I'm glad I had picked this recipe from the Jan./Feb. issue of Cooking Light because it was ridiculosuly fast to make and turned out delicious. In the magazine it was served with mascarpone mashed potatoes, but I opted for regualr ones since my local grocery store must think that mascarpone is made of gold and wants $8 for a small tub. Also, I figured, since January is a month when everyone is supposed to lose weight and we aren't losing any around here, we could live without the extra fat and calories in the mascarpone.

Today is going to be a repeat of yesterday, only instead of teeth cleaning I have to go see the CPA and I have a ridicolously late hair appointment at 6:30, which means I won't be home before 8:30... so I wish I had another super-fast super-good recipe to make. Oh, wait. I do! You'll read about it tomorrow...

From Cooking Light

3/4  teaspoon  salt, divided
3/4  teaspoon  fennel seeds, crushed
1/2  teaspoon  black pepper, divided
1/4  teaspoon  garlic powder
1/4  teaspoon  dried oregano
4  (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2  tablespoons  olive oil, divided
Cooking spray
1 thinly sliced red bell pepper
1 thinly sliced yellow bell pepper
1/2  cup  thinly sliced shallots (about 1 large)
1 1/2  teaspoons  chopped fresh rosemary
1  cup  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon  balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 450°.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Combine 1/2 teaspoon salt, fennel seeds, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, garlic powder, and oregano. Brush chicken with 1 1/2 teaspoons oil; sprinkle spice rub over chicken. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to pan. Add chicken; cook 3 minutes or until browned. Turn chicken over; cook 1 minute. Arrange chicken in an 11 x 7–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes or until done.

Heat remaining olive oil over medium-high heat. Add bell peppers, shallots, and rosemary; sauté 3 minutes. Stir in broth, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high. Stir in vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Serve bell pepper mixture over chicken.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pork chops with sweet potatoes, apples and raisins

This morning I went to the farmer's market and, as predicted, it was a real zoo. And may I ask what the hell is wrong with pushy old people that practically walk over you to get their hands on the tomatoes? I mean, geeze! I tried to get to the tomatoes for about five minutes and eventually gave up because these old ladies just wouldn't decide which ones to choose and in the process kept elbowing me to keep me from reaching the case. The funny thing is that -due to the temperatures in the 20s and 30s we experienced at night for a couple of weeks- the produce at the farmer's market today looked pretty crappy. Regardless of that, these ladies were acting as if they had never seen better tomatoes in their life -so I let them have them, while I stocked up on squashes, onions and potatoes.

So it looks that this winter we won't be having the usual beautiful, tasty tomatoes and that we'll have to survive on recipes that were clearly not intended for Florida. These pork chops are a perfect example. I found the recipe in Susan Branch's "Heart of the home", a collection of recipes from Martha's Vineyard. Of course I changed it a bit but that with me it's a given.

Serves 6

6 large sweet potatoes
6 bone-in pork chops
Salt and pepper
6 red apples
1 cup raisins
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 onion, minced
3 ribs of celery, minced
2 cups breadcrumbs or cubed bread (I used cubed bread)

Preheat oven to 400F.

Peel and cut the potatoes in large chunks, then boil them for about twenty minutes. Heat a little oil in a pan, season chops with sal and pepper and brown them on both sides in the oil -about two minutes per side. Remove from pan and with a sharp knife cut a deep slit in the side of each chop.

To make stuffing melt a little butter in a pan, cook onion and celery in it until soft, seasonw with salt and pepper and add breadcrumbs or cubed bread. Fill each chop with stuffing.

Place stuffed chops and sweet potatoes in a baking pan. Halve and core the apples and place them around the chops. Sprinkle with raisins. Sprinkle apples with cinnamon and season the whole dish with salt and pepper. Cover the pan with foil and cook for about 30-40 minutes.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Chicken in milk

Look! It's Friday and I actually
a) posted something
b) remembered to post a recipe I learned from a fellow food blogger

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, here's a link to last Friday's post where I'm bitching about FollowFridays on Twitter. The point is, I'm going to try, every Friday, to post a recipe I have discovered on someone else's blog. That way not only you get a good recipe, you also learn about an amazing food blog.

Anyhow... this week I have discovered that in November everyone (well, everyone except me apparently) was talking about Jamie Oliver's crazy new recipe -chicken cooked in milk with lemon and cinnamon. Now, before you hit the "back" button on your browser and never come back again, let me tell you this: it sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but I swear it's good. And if you don't believe me, see what Shiv from Pithy and Cleaver has to say about it. That's where I learned about this recipe in the first place -and her pictures are so great, I couldn't resist. Plus, I reasoned, if veal and pork are good cooked in milk, why not chicken?

Well, let me tell you this: I am glad I tried it. It wasn't just good, it was delicious. The meat was tender and juicy and the sauce, once strained, was lemony, garlicky and finger-licking good. The chicken smelled so good we actually had to put the cat in the laundry room because he looked like someone who's on a mission to jump on the cupboard and steal the bird. We promised him we would give him a little piece of chicken later on, but then it turned out to be so good that we ate all of it -yes, just the two of us.

(adapted from Pithy and Cleaver)

A 4 lbs. chicken
1 pint milk
3 sticks cinnamon
4 small sprigs of sage
10 cloves garlic, smashed and unpeeled
zest of 2 lemons
Salt and pepper
1/4c olive oil
2 tsp buter

Preheat the oven to 375F

Pick a a dutch oven that has a well-fitting lid and that would fit your chicken snugly. Melt the butter with the oil over medium-high heat, season the chicken generously with salt and pepper and then fry it in the butter/oil mix until the skin is uniformly brown. As Anthony Bourdain would say, be careful not to tear the freakin' skin.

Remove from heat and drain off the butter and oil from the pot.

Add the milk, cinnamon, lemon zest, sage, and garlic to the pot with the chicken. Place in the oven and cook covered for 1/2 hour; remove the lid, and then cook for another hour.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Healthy cookbooks article

So I've started this monthly series for the Naples Daily News about cookbooks. Each month I get to pick a theme and I recommend five or six books that fit into that theme. They mostly are part of my insane collection of almost-200 books, but sometimes I ask a local expert or chef for their opinion too. Anyway, I thought I'd share it with you. This is the intro to it. To see the original story click here.

It happens every year. As soon as the last drop of champagne is drunk and the smoke from the fireworks has dissipated, we all start discussing about our New Year’s resolutions. You know the drill. Smokers are swearing that that patch is going to be on their arm by tomorrow morning. Kids promise their parents that this year their rooms aren’t going to be quite as messy.

And of course we all say that we are going to lose some weight — no matter if it’s five or 50 pounds — and live healthier lives.

After gorging non-stop on turkey, ham and prime rib since Thanksgiving, our stomachs — and our hearts, arteries and so on — need a break. So why do most of us fail when it comes to keeping up with our resolution? After indulging in rich and tasty treats for over a month, it’s hard to get excited about a grilled breast of chicken and steamed vegetables.

That’s where diet-friendly and healthy-eating cookbooks come in. There is such a thing as delicious, satisfying food that is good for you and for your waistline. You just need the right recipes.

‘Cooking Light Complete Cookbook: A Fresh New Way to Cook’

(Oxmoor House, 2008) $34.95

Photo with no caption

Cooking Light is one of the most successful food magazines out there for a reason: Their recipes are healthy and always delicious. Their ring-bound cookbook showcases a whopping 1,200 recipes that will help you stay on track from your morning breakfast to your midnight snacks. Get inspired by looking at the beautiful, all color pictures, and learn kitchen tricks and shortcuts from the Cooking Light test kitchen. Before you know it you will be an expert healthy cook yourself.

‘Weight Watchers Take-Out-Tonight!’

(Fireside, 2003) $16.95

Photo with no caption

Are you craving a Reuben sandwich? Can’t wait to sink your teeth in a cheesy enchilada? The good news is that you don’t have to blow your daily calorie allowance whenever you are in the mood for your favorite take-out specialty. And you don’t have to join the Weight Watchers weight loss program to enjoy their renditions of deli, Italian, Chinese, Thai, Greek and Mexican all time favorites such as nachos, pad thai and spaghetti and meatballs. The book doesn’t have many pictures, but the recipes are easy to follow and turn out tasting as good as their fat- and calorie-laden counterparts. What’s not to love?

‘1,001 Low-Fat Vegetarian Recipes’

(Surrey Books, 2006) $19.95

Photo with no caption

You don’t need to be a vegetarian to love this book. All you need is the will or the curiosity to consider having a delicious vegetarian meal every once in a while. On top of nutritional values and diabetic exchanges, each recipe is labeled with an icon that will let you know if the recipe is vegan, lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian and lacto-ovo-vegetarian friendly. When you can have paté of wild mushrooms and eggs racheros with two salsas you won’t have time to miss meat and poultry.

‘The Mayo Clinic / Williams-Sonoma Cookbook’

(Oxmoor House, 2002) $58 paperback

Photo with no caption

Forget about dreary hospital meals and insipid, bland food. Mayo Clinic and Williams-Sonoma have partnered up to offer a cookbook that aims to teach people to “find pleasure in eating well.” Flip through the first few pages and learn about what your nutritional goals should be, then dive into the recipe section and discover recipes for all occasions, from easy roasted vegetable fajitas to sophisticated rosemary lamb and white beans. Each recipe comes with a picture, nutritional values and informative short paragraphs that teach readers about the properties and benefits of both common and uncommon ingredients.

‘1000 Low-Fat, Salt, Sugar & Cholesterol’

(Parragon Publishing, 2003) Out of print, available online

Photo with no caption

This book ain’t for sissies. It weighs more than 8 pounds and is bigger than the Latin dictionary I used to do translations with in high school. Incidentally, it’s also a lot more fun and is more beautiful to look at than my dictionary. Every recipe, and yes there are 1,000 of them, comes with a photo.

Some of them are higher in fat than what one might expect, mostly because it was written for the European market, where low-fat and fat-free products aren’t readily available. Still, with a few easy substitutions, its recipes are winners — especially the spicy tomato and chicken skewers and the lobster and avocado salad.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Black bean soup

As the cold temperatures continue, I hurry up and make all those recipes that I don't get to make often because of the stupid Florida heat. Along them, there is one that technically is sort of a local specialty, but I still can't bring myself to make if the temperature is over 70. I'm talking about Cuban-style black bean soup. If you are ever in the Naples/Fort Myers area, drop everything you are doing and run to a little place of Bonita Beach Road called Taco Mix. You can read the review I've written about Taco Mix on the Naples Daily News here, and learn how wonderful and appetizing everything they make is. Or you can just go ahead and make the soup, which alongside the sandwich Cubano and Daniel's amazing burritos is one of my favorite things to order there.

(serves 4-6)

1 pound dried black beans
5 cups chicken broth
2 cups chopped onion
2 tablespoons ground cumin
3 bay leaves
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, finely chopped
Fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Sour cream

Soak beans overnight or quick-soak them according to package directions.

Combine beans, broth, onion, cumin, bay leaves and chiles with their sauce in an electric slow cooker. Season with salt to taste. Cover and cook on Low for 10 hours. Stir in juice.

Serve soup sprinkled with 2 teaspoons chopped cilantro and a dollop of sour cream.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Slow roasted tomatoes

I don't think this will come as a surprise. I'm a tomato junkie. You aren't surprised, right? I mean, I'm Italian, for crying out loud. While most people have blood running through their veins, I'm not ashamed to admit that my veins are filled with a curious mixture of tomato sauce, red wine and the occasional leaf of basil. I love tomatoes so much that if I had to pick one thing to eat for the rest of my life it would be great tomato sauce over bread. Crazy, right? But -I swear- there's no steak, no oyster, not even a truffle that can hold a candle to a perfect tomato. Or, at least, that's the way I feel.

So imagine my excitement when I spotted this recipe on the December 2009 issue of Cooking Light. Aromatic slow roasted tomatoes? It's just one of those things that I can't resist. And after trying the recipe, I can tell you one thing: they are delicious. And since they have to cook in the oven for about six hours, making them will warm up your kitchen nicely. What else do you want on a cold winter day? Cooking Light wants you to slow roast them for a whopping 7 1/2 hours, but I ran out of time at 6 and they were already perfect. So there, I just saved you a hour and a half.

(adapted from Cooking Light, December 2009)

1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise (about 16 medium)
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 200°.
Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl, tossing gently to coat. Arrange tomatoes, cut side up, on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Roast at 200° for about 6 hours.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Risotto with porcini mushrooms

Many of you might not know this, but the arctic cold wave that is plaguing the United States has made its way to Florida, where we haven't seen the 70s since 2009. I know, to most of you that's nothing and, to be honest, it's nothing to me as well. I grew up in the cold and enjoy it, so I have a hard time sympathizing with people bitching because they have to put a sweater on. I mean, come on. Ten days of cool weather aren't the end of the world, right?

To tell you the truth, I'm enjoying this cold spell. I like to wake up to a house that is naturally cool (no heating to be had, it's a Florida house!) and I'm having tons of fun wearing all my boots and sweaters and jackets. Lows in the 30s? Bring it on! Highs in the 50s? Great! And you know why? Because it give me the perfect excuse to make my favorite winter dishes, stuff that I would never be making if it were 75 outside. Risotto is a perfect example. Rich, creamy, winter-y. Just the way comfort food should be. We made it at my parents house the other night and, as always when my dad makes risotto, it was amazing. Remember: the key to a great risotto is giving it your undivided attention.


A one-ounce packet dried porcini
1 small onion, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil + 3 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups Arborio or Vialone Nano rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup frehsly grated Parmigiano
A quart of simmering beef broth

Steep the porcini in warm water for fifteen minutes.

Mince the onion and sauté it in oil and butter mixture. When it's translucent, stir the rice into the pot. Sauté the rice for several minutes, until it becomes translucent, stirring constantly.

Stir in the wine, and continue stirring until it has evaporated completely. Then stir in two ladles of broth, and while it's absorbing, chop some of the mushrooms, while leaving some in bigger pieces. Add the mushrooms to the rice, then continue adding broth a ladle at a time, stirring occasionally. As soon as the rice is al dente, turn off the heat, stir in the remaining butter, half the cheese, a little bit of ground pepper, and cover the risotto for two minutes. Serve with the remaining grated cheese.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Homemade granola

For work reasons (i.e. we received a memo warmly inviting us to do so) I had to open a Twitter account and, against my nature and better judgment, I tweeted (or tweetered?) all summer and did my best to become a good little tweeter. Well, besides the fact that I failed miserably, I also discovered several things about Twitter that annoyed me beyond belief. One of them was Follow Fridays. For those of you who are lucky enough not to know what Follow Fridays are, they are this day-long torture where people you follow announce to everyone who they follow, so every other post looks like this:
FF#@sweetiepie, @bigdude, @kingofthemorons, @franny_loves_joey... and so on. Like, you know, someone cares. I have nothing against publicizing or letting people know about a good product, or book, or blog, but what's the point in publicizing something without saying what the hell it is?

So here's the thing, I decided to do something slightly more useful and tell you about a great recipe I've found on a great blog -in case you don't read it already you should start doing so now.


Adapted from The Kitchen Witch
(who adapted it from Bon Appetit)

4 cups toasted whole grain cereal
3 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup hazelnuts
1 cup honey
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cup mixed dried fruit (I used raisins, golden raisins, cranberries, pineapple, apples and cherries)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 275.

Mix cereal, oats, nuts, almonds and hazelnuts in large bowl.

Bring honey and oil just to boil in a small saucepan; drizzle over cereal mixture and toss to coat.

Spread mixture onto a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and dry, stirring every 15 minutes, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Scatter dried fruit over. Sprinkle cinnamon over and toss to incorporate evenly. Cool granola completely in pan on rack, stirring occasionally to prevent clumping.

Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Mock salmon tartare

Once again I'm being horrible at posting regularly, but trust me, there is a reason. And I mean a real reason -not just the fact that I'm lazy. I'm trying very hard to concentrate on something that is important and have to do so for another ten days. Then I can go back to my normal self and be horrible about posting regularly for no other reason than my laziness.

Anyway, I thought I'd post this recipe because it's fast and easy, relatively healthy and very, very yummy. I call it a "mock" tartare because it's made with smoked salmon, so technically it isn't a tartare at all.


1 pound smoked salmon
1/2 cup fat free yogurt
1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
1/4 cup spicy mustard (increase quantity if you like a more robust flavor)
3 tablespoons capers
1/2 red onion, minced
1 lemon
Salt and pepper

Cut salmon into small pieces, season with salt and pepper. Place in a bowl, mix in red onion and capers and dress with lemon juice. Stir well, cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Before serving mix remaining ingredients until well combined. Stir into salmon mixture and serve with slices of toasted bread.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Pappardelle with lobster sauce

Ahhh, the New Year is here. I'll tell you what -2009 couldn't go away fast enough. I had such great expectations and hopes for it and it turned out to be a pretty crappy year for many reasons that I'm not going to dwell on. The whole decade, really, was quite a disappointment. Yes, there were some good times, but there were some really bad ones too. So one -me- can only hope this year and this decade are going to be better. And one -me- can also do something about it, instead of sitting one's -my- ass and just wait for things to happen and happen in a perfect way.

There is no perfection in life, love or friendship. There will always be flaws, tiny ones maybe, but flaws nonetheless. That's why I love cooking. Of course I love it because I find eating to be one of the greatest pleasures in life, but the real reason why I love getting behind the stove is that it gives me control over a tiny -but important- part of my life. Because when it comes to cooking, to food in general, there is such a thing as a perfect dish or a perfect meal. It doesn't happen very often, but it has a greater chance to happen then, say, finding the perfectly paid perfect job or a perfect person to perfectly spend the rest of your perfect life with. Perfect dishes are possible and I take great comfort in knowing that I can make them every once in a while. If had been good at math, I'd probably find comfort in knowing that the mathematical laws that rule the universe are perfect and unchangable. But I'm far better at cooking, so I find soothe and comfort in knowing that if you mix great ingredients and you pay attention to what you are doing you can make a perfect lobster sauce, just like the one pictured above.

And yes, I have just said that it myself. It was perfect. I wish you could have all been there to try it. Happy 2010, everyone. Let's make this year the best year of our lives (so far).


4 tablespoons of butter
4 tablespoons of olive oil
Cognac or brandy
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup of diced onions
4 lobster tails, with shells
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
Salt and pepper

Heat a frying pan over medium heat, add olive oil and butter and let them melt. Add onions and garlic and sautee for a couple of minutes. Add the lobester in their shells into the pan until they turn bright red. Add a couple ounces of cognac, and ignite (be careful because the flames will be high for a few seconds). Allow the cognac to burn off , remove the shells and carefully extract the meat from the shells. Return meat to pan, add the tomato sauce, season, bring to a boil, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes at reduced heat. Add the cream. In the mean time cook pasta. When pasta is done strain, add to the pan and mix well with sauce before serving.


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