Tuesday, February 17, 2009
"Is making homemade pasta easy?" my friend Ian asked during a rare midday phone call.
"Sure it is," I replied, "what are you making?"
"I want to make ravioli for our Valentine's dinner," he said, meaning his and his wife, Kristin's, dinner.
We discussed his options; won ton wrappers ("won't that be gross?"), purchasing pasta in sheets and rolling it out himself ("the recipes I've been looking at mention stretching the dough - what does that mean?"), before finally settling on a solution.
"I'll come over on Friday night with my pasta attachment and ravioli tools," I said. There. Settled.
JR and I arrived around 7:30pm, bag o' ravioli tools and a pasta rolling attachment in a brown paper grocery bag - my make-shift Doctor Ravioli house call satchel. Ian had promised to buy the wine - note to you, dear reader: should you ever desire a house call from Dr. Ravs (aka: me), free wine is a powerful incentive. Just so you know.
We immediately set to work, Ian's wife, Kristin, wondering aloud, "So, how did you get roped into this?" Apparently, she didn't notice me fillilng my glass with wine from the open bottle on their counter, but no matter. We set up their stand mixer and blended the Italian "tipo 00" flour, which is made specifically for pasta-making and pizza crusts, along with a splash of olive oil, a pinch of kosher salt, and five eggs. Once the dough came together, we took turns kneading it.
"How long do we knead for?," Ian asked.
"Until it's silken."
"Could you spell that?"
"Silken. S. I. L. K. E. N."
"Yeah, right," he responded. I thought I detected a hint of sarcasm in his voice, to be perfectly honest.
About ten minutes later, with JR barking out commands from his seat at the kitchen table - commands that would eventually earn him the moniker of Foreman - Ian took up the last leg of kneading and brought the dough to a silken consistency. Everyone was thrilled and amazed. Ian especially. And not in a sarcastic kind of way, either. As an added bonus, Ian and Kristin's four-year old daughter found the dough fascinating; she did not miss an opportunity to make indentations into it with her fingers. Her younger sister wasn't so confident that it wouldn't grab back, so she passed on her opportunity to poke at the dough.
With everyone content with their interaction with the dough, we wrapped it in plastic wrap and set it in the refrigerator to rest for a half-hour while Ian made his filling, and JR assaulted him with instruction - generally in terms of what he was doing wrong.
Ian had chosen to make a lobster ravioli for his and Kristin's dinner, but had gone a bit hog-wild with his lobster purchase and brought home double what was required for the recipe he had selected. We watched as he placed the lobster in the food processor, added the ricotta, the shallot, and the egg, JR commenting all the while. When it really got good was when JR began instruction on how to cut, peel and pit a mango, proceeding to relay a brief story that began "you know, when I lived in Hawai'i, I picked mangoes off the trees in my backyard." Showoff. But he was repaid with many unkind words, such as showoff, and even more descriptive terms, to the point where I think Ian, Kristin, and I were ok with the fact that we had never lived in Hawai'i.
Still, in spite of the torment - both being told how to make the filling and being regaled with talk of Hawai'i when we live in cold and dreary New England - Ian successfully finished making the filling, and we started into the rolling-out-the-dough process.
We cut the ball of dough into four pieces, shaping them - to the best of our ability - into rectangles. We then used a rolling pin to flatten the dough out such that the edge would fit into the widest setting on the pasta roller attachment, and began rolling the dough out through the attachement. We passed it through twice on each of the first 4 settings, and then began cutting out the ravioli squares with a ravioli cutter. This is by far the most time-consuming way to make ravioli in my experience, but the ravioli look much more lovely, and for a Valentine's Day dinner, it's worth the effort to make them pretty. It didn't hurt that we now had three people working on the ravioli-creation: Ian, Kristin, and me. Ian rolled out the pasta, I cut the ravioli shapes, and Kristin moved the squares to a baking sheet lined with plastic wrap and dusted with flour. When the ravioli squares covered the entire surface of the baking sheet, she dusted them with flour, draped another sheet of plastic wrap over them, and dusted that with flour. Because Ian had such a large quantity of filling for his ravioli, we made 84 ravioli squares, and then the three of us set to the task of filling the ravioli squares, but not without JR chiming in with instruction now and again, this time from the couch in the adjacent living room as he watched George Lopez or some other golfing celebrity/celebrity golfer speak directly to the camera at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
For each ravioli, you, of course, need two squares of pasta. Kristin perfected the wetting-the-dough technique, and so it goes like this: get a small bowl, like a cereal bowl, and fill it part-way with warm water. Dip your index finger into the bowl to wet slightly. Run your finger around the edge of the pasta square to lightly moisten it - the pasta does not need to take a bath during this process - wetting your finger as needed to moisten all edges of both squares. Now, choose a square and place about a tablespoon of filling into the middle of it. Take the non-chosen square (the one without the filling on top of it), and line up one edge of the square against the edge of the chosen square. Now take one of the two perpendicular edges and seal the two squares together along that edge. At this point, you may need to use your fingers or a small spoon to tuck the filling back into the ravioli so that you can successfully close the remaining two sides. Before you seal the fourth side, be sure to gently expel any air from the inside of the ravioli. Viola! You've made a ravioli by hand. Now place it on a baking sheet that is lined with plastic wrap dusted with flour and repeat until you have constructed - ideally through teamwork - 42 ravioli. If you aren't serving until the next night, place the baking sheet containing them in the freezer for at least an hour and then transfer to a freezer-safe container or large plastic storage bag. If you cover them well enough on the baking sheet and are only going to cook them the next night, you can leave them on the baking sheet.
We were all a little exhausted after the pasta-making was completed - even JR, who seemed pleased that we didn't mess up the ravioli, thanks, of course, to his instruction. We had consumed less wine than we had hoped, given all the hands-on labor involved, but we had 42 very lovely looking raviolis, a third of which were made in Ian's style, a third of which were made in Kristin's style (the most restaurant-worthy of the bunch, I think), and a third of which were made in my style - lots of pasta around the edges and a golf ball of lobster-mango filling in the middle. Perhaps it was the influence of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am? Or just the instruction of the man watching it. Who can know? Ian agreed that pasta-making was easy, if labor-intensive, but he pointed out that I didn't measure the ingredients for the pasta dough recipe, so he wouldn't know how to do it on his own. I'm tricky when I know there could be free wine in my future, you know.
JR and I did wind up eating the lobster ravioli with Kristin and Ian - leaving many, many for a future dinner, might I add, and on Sunday, I made a batch of much-less-expensive-than-lobster Artichoke Ravioli which we served with a Lemon-Cream sauce. This recipe won't make 42 ravioli, but it should make in the 28-30 ravioli range, and 5 of these ravioli is certainly enough. Very, very, very filling.
2 1/2 to 3 cups Italian "tipo 00" flour
5 large eggs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Combine 2 and 1/2 cups flour, eggs, salt, and olive oil in a large mixing bowl and mix until the dough comes together. If it is too sticky, add flour a tablespoon at a time until it is not sticky, but does hold together. If you have a stand-mixer, the paddle attachment works well for this task.
Gather the dough up into a ball and transfer it to a lightly-floured surface. Knead it until it becomes silken. S. I. L. K. E. N. Like silk. You will be incredulous at first, but eventually it gets there and your four-year old will exclaim that it feels like Silly Putty. That is what we're talking about.
Wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to rest for a half-hour.
Meanwhile, make the filling for the ravioli:
1 cup fresh ricotta - please, please, please, I implore you, do not use the type that is shelf-stable for three or four months. You will be missing out on a sweet, fluffy, lovely fresh ricotta experience.
(1) 8.5-ounce can artichoke hearts packed in water - not oil - diced into small pieces (1/4-inch or so)
1/4 cup grated Pecorino-Romano
the zest of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste.
In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, artichoke hearts, Pecorino-Romano, and lemon zest together. Salt and pepper to taste.
Feel free to refrigerate the filling as you probably still have 25 minutes to go while the pasta rests. Once the pasta has had its nap in the refrigerator, proceed to make ravioli as you have read above, OR, if you'd prefer an easier method, you can do this, which I have apportioned from the Butternut Squash Ravioli in a Maple Cream Sauce post:
Roll out the pasta sheets and place them on a well-floured surface - pasta dough is always wanting to stick to itself or the counter if allowed - and create a half-way mark on the short end of the dough as your guide. Place mounds of filling - approximately 1 tablespoon each - an inch or so apart from one another all on the same side of the dividing line. So you have a row of filling mounds, and a row that is naked. Take some warm water in a small bowl, dip your finger in it, and moisten the edge of the dough all around the perimeter. Next, make a line in the same fashion down the length of your dough on your imaginary dividing line, making it real. Then draw a water line between each mound all the way across the dough, such that the line is equidistant from the mound on either side. Gently fold the naked side of the dough up over the mounds, being careful to push out all of the air prior to sealing. This may take a little bit of practice, and you may wind up with an air bubble or two, but neither lack of practice nor air bubbles will ruin the dish. If you have a pasta crimping tool, roll it across the edges to crimp them together and be sure the ravioli are sealed. If not, use the tines of a fork to crimp all around the edge of each ravioli.
You can also use won ton wrappers, which are not gross, to answer Ian's question. The idea is the same, only the wrappers are already ravioli shaped for your ravioli-constructing convenience. Put a mound of filling in the middle of the square, moisten the edges of the wrapper, then moisten the edges of a naked wrapper, and press the moistened edges of each together to seal, also being careful to push out all of the air.
Place ravioli on a plastic-wrap lined baking sheet that has been dusted with flour and either freeze until set and then transfer to freezer storage bags or otherwise, or, if you are going to use them that night, place in the refrigerator until ready to boil.
So now, it's time to boil these bad boys. Once the pasta-cooking water is just about to boil, make the sauce:
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium shallot, diced
the juice of one lemon
2 cups light cream (a one-pint container is equivalent to 2 cups, no need to dirty a measuring cup for this)
salt and pepper to taste
In a large skillet or saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and saute until translucent, approximately 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, stir to combine, and cook for 1 minute. Slowly add the cream, stirring constantly. Cook over medium heat until sauce thickens, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. If the ravioli are not yet cooked through, remove the pan with the sauce from the heat until the ravioli are ready to go.
When cooking the ravioli, you want to be sure that the pasta is cooked properly. While fresh pasta takes far less time than dried pasta to cook, the edges of these ravioli are doubly-dense with pasta. They should take between 5 and 7 minutes to cook, but I like to test the edges of the ravioli for doneness before stopping the boiling. The easiest way to do this without burning yourself is to remove a ravioli with a slotted spoon, run it under cool water and squeeze the edges with your fingertips. If it feels too firm, return it to the pot and cook until a test-ravioli comes out with soft edges.
Transfer cooked ravioli to the Lemon-Cream Sauce pan and spoon sauce over to cover the ravioli. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, salt and pepper additionally if you so desire, and serve them forth.
Yields 28-30 ravioli, enough for 5 to 6 servings.
The Lemon-Cream Sauce in conjunction with the Artichoke Ravioli really helps to break up the monotony of winter with its bright, tangy flavor. If you'd like to go all-out, you could sprinkle each serving with a little bit of grated Pecorino-Romano and toasted pine nuts, but it's delicious all on its own as well, and costs only $11.85 for the ravioli and sauce.
The fresh pasta breaks down as follows: approximately 1 pound of a 2.2 pound bag that cost $2.59. We'll call that half of the bag to account for all that flour for dusting, and that's $1.30. The eggs should be in the range of $1.25 for 5. The olive oil is 11-cents. That totals $2.66.
The filling is as follows: 1 cup fresh ricotta from a 3-cup container that cost $5.99 is $2.00 per cup. The can of artichoke hearts in water was Whole Foods store brand, and cost $2.39. The Pecorino-Romano was $7.99/pound. We used 1/2 ounce in our 1/4 cup, so that's 50-cents. The lemon we'll tally up as half of the cost of the whole lemon being used in this recipe, and that's 25-cents, for a total of $5.25.
The Lemon-Cream Sauce consists of 45-cents in olive oil, a 25-cent shallot, the other "half" of the lemon at 25-cents, and a pint of cream for $2.99, so the tally here is $3.94.
You could also choose to stuff cooked pasta shells or roll cooked lasagna noodles with the filling for an faster take on this meal, then top with the sauce and bake to warm everything through, if you're looking to get out of the whole handmade pasta task, that is.
Dinner tonight: Leftover Artichoke Ravioli in a Lemon-Cream Sauce. Estimated cost for two: $3.95. Even JR cannot eat more than 5 ravioli, so this is 6 servings in my house. And you can see how it all breaks down above, so I won't bore you by repeating those details again.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
I must apologize to you and to the wine. This wine deserves a much more flattering photograph, but, alas, JR and I drank every last drop and so I ask that you will just imagine if you will, the large bowl of a fancy red-wine glass, filled about a quarter of the way with a deep violet-purple wine, with what could most accurately be described as a head of violet bubbles topping this luscious-looking libation. Now, glance down, and you see a wedge of creamy Gorgonzola dolce and red grapes - or perhaps some roasted figs - on a plate at the base of the glass. Doesn't that look fabulous? Yes, that is what I had intended, but the Sparkling Shiraz got the better of me, and all was drunk before a single shot could be snapped. As we drank this sparkler - a happy little just-had-a-Mimosa-style buzz traipsing through my body - I wondered why this wine wasn't more popular.
The lack of popularity of Sparkling Shiraz outside of Australia is evidenced by the incredible dearth of information available on it. I consulted all of the wine reference books in my house - and I think we can agree that more than ten wine reference books would be considered many for a non-professional. Yet, I found only one reference to it, that one being disparaging, citing it as one of the reasons why Australian Shiraz had developed a bad rap. The other reasons for the bad rap of Aussie Shiraz were its use to make cheap whites and fortified wines. Poor fortified wines, they don't deserve that abuse, but that's a topic for another day. In any case, internet research did reveal that Sparkling Shiraz is made using the Methode Champenoise, which introduces the second fermentation in the bottle and results in a more refined bubble than the Metodo Italiano, also known as the Charmat process after its inventor, Monsieur Charmat, which introduces the second fermentation in the vat, therefore prior to bottling.
Long ago, I had read an article on Sparkling Shiraz; the one bit that had stuck with me was that Australians are rather enamored of it, and Americans are not. I sense that this could be tied up in what we might call the Lambrusco Fiasco of the 1970s and 1980s - inexpensive sparkling red wine with a large marketing budget that undermined what a good sparkling red could actually be. Lambrusco seems still to battle this perception of, well, badness, and as it turns out, so, too does Sparkling Shiraz. As a side note, I like Lambrusco, just not the fiasco-style Lambrusco.
Sparkling Shiraz is, of course, made from the Shiraz grape, which is widely planted in Australia. Shiraz likely made its way to Australia from France, where it is known as Syrah, in the vine-cuttings of one James Busby, which he made while he traveled Europe in 1832. According to the Wine Australia website, sparkling red has been made there since the 1860s, and, as they so boldly state, "it's loads of fun".
I have to agree, actually. JR and I sampled - and by sampled, I mean swilled, as the bottle was quickly decimated - Paringa's Individual Vineyard Sparkling Shiraz 2004, which was recommended to me by Frank Gasbarro at Gasbarro's Wines in Providence. I had arrived at the store during the regularly-scheduled Saturday "Tour the Italian Neighborhood" continuing education class visit, in search of a fun, sparkling red - those qualities, I felt, would make it an appropriate Valentine's Day tipple. I also thought a wine with those qualities would make for a good photograph.
Frank and I weaved our way through the mass of people constituting The Tour on our way to consider another sparkling red, though lighter in style, Banfi's Rosa Regale Brachetto d'Acqui. However, while I do like the Brachetto d'Acqui, it retails for around twenty dollars, and we're a bargain operation here, so on the shelf it stayed. As Frank and I discussed my options - Cava, not red, but good and inexpensive, and Prosecco, also not red, but good, and generally inexpensive - he remembered the Paringa Sparkling Shiraz. It met all of the criteria, fun, sparkling, red, and, at $10.99 a bottle, acceptable in price.
JR and I tried the wine on Sunday afternoon. Late afternoon. It was at least four o'clock, ok? We first poured the wine into flutes. This was fabulous for the aforementioned head of violet fizz, but made it difficult for us to get the nose (fancy wine-snob talk for smell) of the wine. We found that the bubbles were better experienced drinking from the flutes, but decided that we and the wine would be better served by using a regular red wine glass. We found that once poured into the red wine glass, the bubbles quickly evaporated, but that we were able to get the full aroma of the wine - hints of honey, cracked black pepper, and berries. There is a lively debate on the topic of which glass is appropriate for Sparkling Shiraz on the Auswine Forum, which, you might imagine, is a forum populated by Australian wine drinkers and industry types. Let it be said that this wine must be near and dear to the Aussies as there are some strong opinions about the virtue of one glass over another. In the interest of full disclosure, JR and I both voted for the red wine glass. That might get us a thump on the head if we let some of the Auswine gang know, so shhhhhh. Let it be our secret, ok?
While we were still sipping from the flutes, JR's first reaction upon tasting was, "wow. Interesting." Followed by, "Refreshing." I thought that the wine was sweet, a bit syrupy - which isn't a bad thing in this case - tasted slightly of honey and very much of blueberry - to my palate, anyway - but wasn't terribly layered or complex. But did I not say that I wanted a fun wine? Yes. I did. And this wine is fun. It benefits greatly from being paired with food, and we did eat some luscious Gorgonzola dolce with it, alas, no red grapes or roasted figs did we have, but the wine goes extremely well with blue cheese. I also thought it would pair well with the Cinnamon Chicken that I had made the night prior, and, it turns out, Australians enjoy Sparkling Shiraz with their Christmas turkey, so poultry is clearly a good match. I may be biased because the only other sparkling red wine of this nature of which I am aware - remember, the Brachetto d'Acqui is a lighter style - is Lambruso, but I thought that the Paringa Sparkling Shiraz would also pair nicely with foods that traditionally match with Lambrusco - cured meats and rich cheeses. A salty yin to the sweet yang of the Sparkling Shiraz. The Paringa Sparkling Shiraz would also make a good substitute for Port in recipes - it turns out that some Sparkling Shiraz is blended with fortified wine, so this makes a bit of sense. JR and I did find ourselves dreaming of a roasted beet salad with Gorgonzola dolce and toasted walnuts as we drank the wine. We both felt that the wine needs food and benefits greatly from food - the contrast with the Gorgonzola was a nearly perfect match. And the importer's website recommends trying the wine with bacon and eggs. Still with the salty, they are, so it seems as though we're all liking the idea of contrast-to-complement for this wine.
If you do choose to drink the Sparkling Shiraz in a red wine glass, we found that the bubbles have a short shelf life - or glass-life, if you will. Our solution to that was to pour smaller amounts into the glass and enjoy the lovely violet sudsy-ness more frequently. Of course, this may have contributed to our killing the bottle in one sitting, but who can know? After all, it was festive and fun to drink, and an interesting wine experience to boot - I mean, how often do you see, let alone drink sparkling red wine - so who could blame us, short pour or no?
Dinner tonight: Italian Sausage with Artichokes Hearts and Rigatoni. Estimated cost for two: $6.08. The sausage is the remainder of the on-sale Whole Foods-made sweet Italian sausage variety. When they were on sale for $3.99/pound, I bought six and froze them in three separate packages. The six cost $6.22, and dividing in thirds, we're calling this serving $2.08. The artichoke hearts are canned Whole Foods store brand, which cost $2.39 for the can. I would use shallot normally, but I have not a one in the house, so I will use one-half of an onion in the saute pan. At 65-cents per pound for yellow onions, with an average medium-sized yellow onion weighing a half-pound, this would be a quarter-pound and so will cost 16 and one-quarter cents, which we will call 17-cents for the purposes of our mathematics. The olive oil will cost around 44-cents, and the pasta will be 1/2 of a box that cost $1.99, so $1.00 in pasta. This is extremely simple to put together, and is darned tasty for six dollars and eight cents.
A quick note: if you do happen to have a Sparkling Shiraz, or even Lambrusco, and happen to show more restraint than we at my house did, and are ABLE to save enough in order to take a photograph of it, please feel free to post it to the Poor Girl Gourmet page on Facebook.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
It's fancy enough for a special occasion (think Valentine's Day, people), has a sweetness from the roasted vegetables that contrasts nicely with the crust, and should cost you in the neighborhood of thirteen dollars and fifty-cents to make. If you serve it to only two people, you will have six remaining servings, so for $3.45 or so, you have a very elegant main dish for you and your date. Or, for thirteen-ish dollars, you can serve your whole clan and a couple of friends, to boot.
Additionally, if you wanted to make the dish slightly more personal, you could create individual pot pies, and I leave that up to you.
Roasted Root Vegetable Pot Pie (with Butternut Squash):
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound parsnips (approximately 4), peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound turnips (approximately 3 medium), peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch cubes (to the best of your ability)
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pound carrots, peeled, and - yes, you know it by now - cut into 1/2-inch cubes
one head of garlic, peeled down to the last layer of skin, leaving that last layer of skin intact, and the top 1/4-inch of the head removed to expose the tops of the cloves within
1 teaspoon thyme
For the gravy:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 leek, white and light green parts only, well-cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch slices across the grain. You do need to be careful in your cleaning of leeks - dirt can be trapped in the layers, so you should first cut them in half down the middle of the stalk, soak them in water, and then agitate them to loosen the dirt. I like the word agitate, and don't often get to use it in a pleasant context, so there we go. Score one for me and agitate. Another way to phrase it is that you should vigorously move the leeks around in the water (to loosen the dirt).
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon thyme
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine that is meant to be drunk by humans. Do not destroy the loveliness of the dish by using anything labeled "cooking wine". You should be able to find a bottle of white wine to use for cooking for five dollars or under.
4 cups vegetable broth (be sure to check the sodium content before you buy. You don't want the gravy to taste like salt-water, after all.)
Savory Pie Crust (click on any one of these highlighted words to be directed to the recipe for Savory Pie Crust)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a large bowl, toss the parsnips, turnips, carrots, and butternut squash with the olive oil to coat. Transfer to a large baking sheet or roasting pan. Sprinkle the salt, pepper, and thyme over top. Wrap the head of garlic in aluminum foil, drizzle olive oil over the cut side, salt and pepper, and seal it in the foil. Roast the vegetables and garlic in the oven on the middle rack until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown on the edges, approximately 45 minutes.
While the vegetables roast, you can make the Savory Pie Crust and the gravy. I would start with the Savory Pie Crust as it needs to spend a half-hour in the refrigerator prior to being rolled out. Once that is done, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and leeks and saute until they are softened and translucent, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Add the mustard and thyme, stir to combine and cook, stirring frequently, for one minute. Add the flour and mix well. Continue to stir frequently. In this step, you are trying to cook the uncooked flour taste out of the flour - which sounds slightly like a tongue-twister. You will begin to see flour sticking to the bottom of the pan, this is desirable as it will provide additional flavor to the gravy, but be careful not to let the flour burn. The flour-cooking process should take approximately 2-3 minutes. Add the wine, stir to combine, and scrape any of the browned flour bits off of the bottom of the pot. Add the broth - and, yes, stir, that's right - then allow gravy to simmer for 25-30 minutes until it is reduced by approximately one-fourth.
Once the vegetables are done roasting, maintain oven heat of 375 degrees.
Transfer the vegetables and roasted garlic to a 13x9 lasagna pan or roasting pan, and cover with the gravy, leaving an inch or so between the top of the liquid and the top of the pan. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the Savory Pie Crust into a rectangle that is approximately 15x11. This does not have to be exact, you just need to have enough extra dough with which to work such that you are able to cover the vegetables and gravy and tuck them in. At least, tucking them in is how I like to look at the process of covering them with pie dough. You want to gently press the dough down into the edges of the pan without causing the filling to jump out, and then tuck any additional dough over itself to create a rolled edge. Make six one-inch slices into the pie dough with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape as the pie cooks. If you have any additional dough, perhaps you'd like to make some root vegetable dough illustrations to adhere to the top of your pie. Or not.
You may have forgotten this step from the Savory Pie Crust recipe, so I will remind you: combine an egg yolk and one tablespoon of milk in a bowl and brush over the top of the crust to give it a nice, shiny finished appearance once baked.
Place the lasagna or roasting pan on a foil-lined baking sheet to avoid messy oven clean-up tomorrow, and bake on the middle rack for 40 minutes, or until the Savory Pie Crust is golden brown. Remove from oven, let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, and then dig in. Serve it forth, and discover that your meat-and-potatoes mate (friend, spouse, or otherwise), in fact, is able to eat and enjoy - complete with exclamations of Roasted Root Vegetable Pot Pie's greatness - an entirely meat-free meal and will also ask to have some packed for his (her, or otherwise) lunch tomorrow.
Yield: definitely 8 servings. If this yields eight servings in my house, it will most definitely do so in yours. We are not light eaters over here. Alternately, you could make individual pies, or you could also forgo Savory Pie Crust altogether and serve this as a Roasted Vegetable Stew. Just be sure to put the vegetables into the gravy before serving if that's the case. It would be confusing to the others if there were no roasted vegetables in the stew.
Dinner tonight: YAY us - YAY leftover Roasted Root Vegetable Pot Pie. I am going to revisit the price breakdown as I altered my plan from when I wrote the breakdown on Sunday prior to actually making the pie. So here goes: Estimated cost for two: $3.45. We used around a pound each of the following veggies: parsnip, $1.99; turnip, 79-cents; carrot, 80-cents; butternut squash, 80-cents. I added roasted garlic, which cost 50-cents for one head. The oil for the vegetable portion of the recipe costs no more than 33-cents (Whole Foods store brand at $7.99 for 67 tablespoons), and the thyme, we'll call 5-cents. The gravy includes one yellow onion, weighing approximately 1/2 pound, which at 65-cents per pound is 33-cents. The leek cost 95-cents. The wine was $5.00 for a bottle of wine meant to be drunk by humans, and we used one cup, which is one-third of a 750ml bottle, so that is $1.67. The broth was Whole Foods store brand vegetable broth which costs $2.19 for 4 cups. The flour cost around 6-cents, the olive oil for the gravy was also around 22-cents, and the butter 17-cents. The mustard was around 40-cents, and the thyme 15-cents. The Savory Pie Crust costs $2.40 to make from scratch. It is $13.80 for eight servings, so for $1.72 and one-half cent, you've got yourself a pretty scrumptious meal, I have to say. I know we're looking forward to the leftovers at my house (could you not tell by the "YAY" and "YAY"?). And it could very well show up again here on Valentine's Day. Freshly made, of course. No leftovers allowed on V-day!
Monday, February 9, 2009
Cinnamon has been an important spice since antiquity. Its origins were kept secret from Europeans by the Arab traders from whom they purchased this useful and expensive spice. Cinnamon was thought to have curative powers, was commonly given as gifts to royalty, and was burned in Roman funeral pyres. To these Europeans, it made sense that it should be such a pricey item, seeing as the Cinnamon birds first had to harvest it in order to construct their nests, and then particularly daring humans had to fake out the birds in order harvest the spice from those nests before it could even begin its journey along the Spice Road. Or so the Europeans were told.
Eventually, Europeans learned that cinnamon is actually the bark of a small evergreen tree that is indigenous to Sri Lanka, which, during colonial times, was known as Ceylon. Both the Portuguese and Dutch colonized Sri Lanka early on - separately, of course - and the Dutch created a monopoly on the export of Ceylon cinnamon. By the time the British took control of Ceylon from the Dutch in 1796, Ceylon cinnamon had competition from its relative, Cassia, which is what we in the United States most often find in our grocery stores. No Cinnamon birds or daring bird tricksters required.
I've never tried Sri Lankan, or "true", cinnamon myself, but I sure do love me some Cassia, which is often sold as Vietnamese cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon, or Indonesian cinnamon. I've been using Vietnamese cinnamon in my baking as that is the type that is readily available in the grocery store I frequent. You might recall that I have a bit of an apple-cinnamon obsession, so I do use a fair amount of cinnamon in my house, but nearly always relegate it to sweet dishes, not savory. That has all changed, now, people.
Many cultures use cinnamon in their savory dishes, but, as I am ever-so-slightly obsessed with the Italian culinary lexicon, and - while my knowledge of Italian cuisine is certainly far from encyclopedic - I don't know of any Italian dishes that feature cinnamon. But I was thinking about cinnamon in a savory context, and realized that cinnamon would pair nicely with chicken - and pork as well - hence, I came up with this concoction. Not only was it scrumptious, but it also fills the house with the wonderful aroma of cinnamon - or Cassia if we're being particular.
Cinnamon-pepper chicken with Orange-cinnamon Sauce:
1 whole chicken, 3-4 pounds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
For the sauce:
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 cup orange juice (you could also substitute apple cider in place of the o.j.)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup raisins
Set an oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Place the chicken breast-side up in a roasting pan or lasagna pan. Salt and pepper the bird, and then rub the cinnamon all over the skin. If you are looking at your teaspoon full of Vietnamese, Chinese, or Indonesian cinnamon and considering how ever you will rub it on the chicken skin, I can assure you it will be easier if you place it in a bowl first and pinch out what you need as you go.
Once the oven is preheated, place the chicken into the oven with the legs facing the back wall and the breast facing the oven door. Roast for one hour, or until skin is crisp and when the bird is pierced, clear liquid runs from it. If you're a bit concerned about your threshold for cinnamon enjoyment as it applies to the bird itself, you can omit the cinnamon, but still roast the bird at 400 for an hour. However, the cinnamon permeates the meat as it cooks and really does elevate the dish. In any case, once the Cinnamon bird is done cooking, remove it from the oven and allow it to stand for five minutes prior to carving.
Approximately 20 minutes before the bird is scheduled to come out of the oven, heat the olive oil in a large saute or fry pan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, and saute until translucent, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Add the orange juice, cinnamon, and raisins, stir to combine, and then simmer gently until the liquid is reduced by half, approximately 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve the chicken with a spoonful or two of the Orange-cinnamon sauce, ideally with a grain such as Sardinian Fregola, which I recommend seeking out in your local Italian market as I have purchased it for $3.59 for a 1.1 pound bag at mine, or Israeli cous-cous, or perhaps a sweet potato, and some roasted carrots or sauteed kale and sit back as the Cinnamon bird transports your family's dinner routine to new heights.
Serves 4 to 6.
If you happen to be the homemade-chicken stock type, you can also salvage the chicken carcass and freeze it in a freezer bag or container until you're ready to make your next batch of chicken stock. It certainly does make the best use of the whole bird, that is for certain.
Dinner tonight: Roasted Chicken Legs with Olives, Crispy Kale, and Polenta. Estimated cost for two: $6.39. The chicken legs were $3.62 for 3. JR will eat one, I will eat one, and one will go to work with JR tomorrow for lunch. Presuming all were of equal size, which, of course defies all probability, but we do need a foundation for our math - they each cost $1.20 and two-thirds cents, so we'll call the two that are for dinner $2.42 to be safe. The kale was $1.99 for the bunch, we will eat about half of that, so $1.00, rounding up. But, if I were really being a stickler, the kale was actually FREE. Whole Foods doesn't charge you if an item rings up incorrectly. When I purchased the kale, there was a lovely sign above it in the produce section indicating that it was on sale for $1.99 - it is normally $2.49. At check-out, it rang up at $2.49. I told the cashier that the price was incorrect. He paged Evan in produce. Evan came to the register, said, "Yeah, the dinosaur kale is $1.99". I concurred. The cashier said, "But it rang up at $2.49, so it's free. Right?" Evan said yes. If Evan and I had our way, balloons would have dropped from the ceiling and a person in a dinosaur costume would have emerged from the hallway beyond the register to celebrate my free dinosaur kale. Alas, there were no balloons or dinosaur costumes, but there was much glee just the same. It's amazing what the occasional free item will do for one's mood. The olives were $5.99/pound for Castelvetrano (green) olives, and we are going to use just a couple of ounces, so that's around 75-cents. As you may remember from the last time we had this dish, it is a riff on a roasted duck with olives that I have had at Latte di Luna in Pienza, Italy. I still haven't seen duck on sale, or duck on offer, for that matter, so we will stick with the much more widely available chicken legs. I will use around 45-cents worth of olive oil in this dish, along with the other half of the onion that was used in the above Orange-cinnamon sauce. So the half an onion costs 25-cents, and I'll throw approximately 10-cents worth of thyme on the chicken legs. I will use 4 cups of chicken broth at $2.19 total using the Whole Foods store brand. The polenta was $2.69 for a bag that has nineteen 1/4 cup servings, and I will use one cup total so that we have leftovers. At 14-cents per 1/4 cup, that's just over 56-cents for one cup. I will use a tablespoon of butter to finish off the polenta, and at $2.79 for 32 tablespoons, that adds 9-cents to the tally. We will eat approximately one-half of the polenta, so half of $2.84 is $1.42. And I will look forward to leftover polenta in tomorrow's lunch. When last we had this, I served white beans instead of polenta, and that menu adjustment would save you 43-cents if you were so inclined.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
It may seem to you that I've been remiss in my bread-baking responsibilities these last few weeks. I've noticed that I haven't posted about bread since the Panettone post in December, but I can assure you, I have been baking bread. And baking, and baking. Each week, I make at least one loaf, and since the start of January, the loaf-of-choice has been a plain white sandwich bread. And now, I am utterly exhausted of plain white sandwich bread, so I decided to make something a little more intriguing - a bread with some spice, some fruit, and some wheat flour. Wow. What a difference. I feel a little spring in my step just knowing I have some Brown Sugar Cinnamon Wheat Bread available for sandwiches, and, if we don't finish the loaf between now and Saturday morning, it will lend itself to creating some fabulous Valentine's Day French toast with a little butter and drizzle of honey. In fact, I think I'll take action to be sure that we don't devour it all between now and then. I'm glad you and I had this little talk.
If you'd like to have a loaf of delicious and slightly-more-healthy-than-white-bread for sandwiches, or, if you're looking for a scrumptious French toast starting block, here it is:
Brown Sugar Cinnamon Wheat Bread with Raisins:
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup turbinado sugar (a.k.a. Sugar in the Raw, or Whole Foods has a good store brand version)
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar (light or dark - either will do)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (which is equivalent to 1 packet active dry yeast)
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
In a large mixing bowl, combine the rolled oats, sugars, butter, salt, cinnamon, and raisins. Add the boiling water and stir to combine ingredients. Let stand approximately 5 minutes until water has cooled slightly.
If using active dry yeast, sprinkle it over the water mixture and allow to dissolve, approximately 5 minutes. If using instant yeast, add the instant yeast and whole wheat flour to the water mixture and mix on medium speed until the flour and yeast is combined with the water mixture. Add the all-purpose flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing on medium speed after each addition until dough forms. Knead by machine or by hand until dough is silken, approximately 5 to 7 minutes by machine and 10 minutes by hand. I like to mix the dough for a few minutes by machine and then finish kneading by hand to be sure it achieves that silken texture. And also because I find it quite satisfying to knead dough, which can help ease stress almost as much as pounding out pork sirloin cutlets for Wiener Schnitzel vom Schwein.
Place the dough in a greased bowl that can accommodate the dough doubling in size. Cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap, set in a warm, draft-free area, and allow to rise until it is double in size. At my house, this took 1 1/2 hours.
Once dough has doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and form it into a loaf. This resembles folding a business letter into thirds - if the business letter were a sphere of dough, of course - and then tucking the short ends over themselves to seal the edges. Place this doughy business letter with tucked short ends into a greased loaf pan. Cover with a clean kitchen towel (the one you just used to cover the dough should suffice. No need to dirty all of the kitchen towels in your house for one loaf of bread.) or with greased plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm, draft-free (sounding familiar?) area and allow to rise until the dough has crested one inch over the top of the loaf pan. The amount of time required will be different from home to home as it is contingent upon the temperature in your house, but at my house, this took another hour and a half.
Place an oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 360 degrees.
Bake the loaf on the middle rack for 33 to 35 minutes, or until the top of the loaf is browned and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from the oven, transfer to a cooling rack, and allow to cool for at least a couple of minutes before cutting into it and serving a slice or two out with butter. Then, cut it as thinly as is possible to have two slices constitute a sandwich, and do that all week long so that you can reserve a slice or two for French toast next weekend. And remember, it doesn't have to be Valentine's Day to partake of French toast, so feel free to continue with this thin-slices-for-sandwiches plan whenever the thought of Saturday morning French toast steers you that way.
Dinner tonight: Roasted Root Vegetable Pot Pie. Estimated cost for two: $4.46. I am using about a pound each of the following veggies: parsnip, $1.99; turnip, 79-cents; carrot, 80-cents; leek, 95-cents; and one onion, which costs 33-cents (1/2 pound of yellow onions that are 65-cents per pound). I may throw in some butternut squash, which, of course, is not a root vegetable, but I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't point that out as I would then have to rename the dish Roasted Root Vegetable and Winter Squash Pot Pie and that would be nearly the equivalent of naming the bread in this post Brown Sugar Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Wheat Bread for Sandwiches and French Toast, and I think we can all agree that each of those are entirely too long a name. So if I use one pound of the ne'er to be mentioned winter squash, it's 80-cents. The gravy will consist of Whole Foods store brand vegetable broth, which is $2.19 for 4 cups, along with a cup of white wine, so using the least expensive white-wine-that-is-meant-to-be-drunk (not wine labeled "cooking wine"), that will be $1.67 as it is one-third of a five-dollar 750ml bottle. I will use around 6-cents in flour, some more onion, so we'll add in another 33-cents for that bad boy, 40-cents worth of Dijon mustard, around 20-cents worth of thyme, and 44-cents in olive oil. The savory pie crust costs $2.40 to make, and it is really easy - you should check out the post on that if you haven't already. So for 6 servings, it costs $13.35, or $2.22 and one-half cent per person. We'll call that $2.23, ok? I like to round up. It makes me feel like I'm not overselling the bargain. Particularly when a half-cent hangs in the balance.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
I think you'd have to agree that a homemade chocolate sandwich cookie does say "I love you". I mean, making this cookie - while there is no question that it tastes infinitely better than a store-bought sandwich cookie - does not save you a single cent. What it does buy you, though, is the respect and admiration of your significant other, closest friends, or family. Notwithstanding the dollar-for-dollar inequity of making the cookie yourself rather than purchasing a pack, it is well worth the effort to bake, cream butter for frosting, and assemble these decidedly sophisticated sandwich cookies. There is a bit of salt in the chocolate shortbread, which contrasts nicely with the chocolate, and the buttercream frosting tastes like a premium vanilla ice cream. And yes, if you wanted to skip the ten or so minutes it takes to make the buttercream frosting, you can just as easily jam a cookie or two into a scoop of vanilla ice cream and call it a night.
With Valentine's Day fast approaching - admitting first that I am a Valentine's Day geek - and thinking that you may want to stay in for dinner this holiday and conserve your resources, this dessert would make a wonderful, very sophisticated, intended-for-adult-palates treat, and yet it doesn't take terribly long to make.
Chocolate Sandwich Cookies for Lovers (I did say I'm a geek about this, didn't I?):
For the Chocolate Cookies:
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is fluffy and pale, approximately 5 minutes.
While the butter and sugar are mixing, combine the flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a mixing bowl, stirring well to combine the ingredients. The last thing you want is one or two cookies with an inordinate amount of salt in them and nearly no salt in the others.
Once the butter and sugar are creamed, add half of the flour mixture. When you first add the flour mixture, if using a stand mixer, start on the "stir" setting to avoid a cloud of cocoa and flour dust floating around your kitchen. Once the first half of the flour mixture is completely combined with the butter mixture, repeat with the second half of the flour mixture until the dough comes together, approximately 2 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a sheet of waxed paper cut to the approximate size of a large baking sheet. Form the dough into a rectangle in the same aspect ratio as the waxed paper. I've worked a long time in television, so aspect ratio, which is an everyday term in television, in this case means that the dough should be in the shape of a rectangle, with the long side of the dough being the same as that of the waxed paper. Sure. There was an easier way to say it, but really, aspect ratio jumped into my brain and wouldn't leave. So you now own it, too.
Cover the dough with another sheet of waxed paper with the dough between the waxed paper, roll the dough out with a rolling pin to approximately 1/4-inch thickness. Gently place the waxed paper-dough sandwich onto a large baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes to make the dough easier to handle when cutting circles out of it and moving those rounds to the baking sheet.
After the refrigeration period is over, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Set an oven rack in the middle position. Transfer the waxed paper-dough sandwich to the counter and line the baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut rounds out of the dough and place them on the parchment-lined baking sheet, approximately 1/2-inch apart. These cookies do grow, but not very much, and even if you have some kissing (see? Geek.), it won't be a problem, they come apart pretty easily.
Bake cookies on the middle rack for 15 minutes, rotating the pan midway through the cooking time. Bear in mind that these are dark brown cookies, so you may question whether they are done at 15 minutes, but I can assure you, they are. You don't want to burn them, that would be very not-sexy. Remove from the oven, allow to cool on the baking sheet for 1 to 2 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack until completely cooled.
For the Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, and cut into pieces
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
2/3 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
I would undertake this process while the cookie dough is refrigerating. The making of the buttercream takes but 10 minutes, including assembling the ingredients, and it needs to refrigerate before you spread it on the cookies, so why not make good use of the in-between time?
Place the butter, vanilla extract, egg yolks, and confectioners sugar in a large mixing bowl and mix on medium speed until creamed. Approximately 5 minutes.
Could it be any easier? No, I didn't think you'd think so. So now take the buttercream, transfer it to a container for refrigeration, and let it chill for at least as long as it takes to bake and cool the cookies.
Once the cookies are cooled completely, bust out with the vanilla buttercream. Using a knife, spread approximately 1 tablespoon - or your desired cream filling amount - of the buttercream on the bottom of one cookie. Take a second cookie, place the bottom side against the buttercream and press gently to level out the frosting. Refrigerate until just before serving. Perhaps you want to place just one on a white plate, sprinkle some confectioners sugar over the plate, and then drizzle some chocolate sauce around the edge of the plate for optimal Valentine's Day presentation purposes. It's just a thought. Then surprise Lover with news that there are 16 or so additional homemade sandwich cookies in the 'fridge. That ought to get you in Lover's good graces if you weren't enough already.
Dinner tonight: Cinnamon-pepper Roasted Chicken in an Orange-Cinnamon Sauce with Roasted Carrots and Fregola (Sardinian pasta in a large cous-cous form, but toasted. Yum.). Estimated cost for two: $8.41. The chicken is large, 4.37 pounds, and at $1.39 per pound was $6.07. We will eat no more than half of it, so that's $3.04. The cinnamon for both the chicken-seasoning and the sauce will be around 20-cents. I never count salt and pepper, so there you have that. The Orange-Cinnamon Sauce will consist of a shallot, so 25-cents, a couple tablespoons of olive oil at 22-cents, a cup of orange juice, which in the size OJ I bought will run me around 70-cents. I am using raisins in the sauce as well, so at $1.99 for 8 ounces, I'll use around 2 ounces, and that's 50-cents. The carrots will be no more than a pound from a 5-pound bag that cost $3.99, so that's around 80-cents. The oil for the carrots will be an additional 22-cents. You know, I might toss some cinnamon on the carrots, too, so let's add another dime. The Fregola was a gift from my brother and his wife - yes, I get food gifts, and, you should not be surprised - I love food gifts. However, I know that it costs around $3.30, and we will use half of that, so that's $1.65. I have a sad-looking pear hanging around the house, so I think I'll throw that into the Fregola, and back when that pear was much more attractive-looking, it cost me 73-cents. Always thinking about how to not have food go to waste, I am. Now, if only I had eaten the pear when first purchased, I wouldn't be in that predicament, but even an over-planner such as myself can run amok once in a while. For 73-cents. I think I'll let that go, and I'd appreciate it if you would as well. Deal?
Thursday, February 5, 2009
If you've read any of the previous posts in which I've described having Ribollita for dinner, you are already aware that it comes from the tradition of cucina povera, or the poor kitchen - also known as peasant cooking - which was the necessary means of cooking throughout Italy for generations. Many of the dishes of cucina povera were designed to utilize leftovers, hence, Pappa al Pomodoro (tomato and bread soup) was a way to use the previous day's bread rather than have it go to waste, likewise, Panzanella, a tomato and bread salad was designed for the very same purpose. Ribollita was often made from another leftover soup, and its name translates to "reboiled", so the soup would literally be recooked and then served over what? Yes, leftover bread.
It is fortuitous for us that those Italian cooks who had no choice but to use every last bit of food in their houses happened also to have fantastic taste. These foods tend to be very tasty despite their humble ingredients, and in many cases, are also quite substantial.
I have made this soup in a variety of ways to determine the easiest method - in the event that you were wondering if I am looking out for your interests, you now know that I am - and it turns out that there is one step at the end that, while seemingly an "extra", is actually vitally important to the garlicky goodness of the soup. If you don't love garlic, well, then, it is an extra. But if you, like me, are enamored of garlic, it is mandatory.
Now, let us make the garlicky Ribollita:
1 1/2 cups dry cannellini beans or Great Northern beans
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 celery rib, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, diced
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
8 cups water
(1) 15-ounce can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
1 bunch cavolo nero (also known as "dinosaur kale") or one small head savoy cabbage, chopped.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon thyme
2 cloves of garlic, diced
a slice of crusty bread for each person partaking of the soup, or - even more in the spirit of cucina povera - leftover bakery bread that you can't believe you let dry out to the point of crouton consistency. If you want your soup to look like the one in the picture above, you may want to toast two slices of bread for each partaking person.
1 tablespoon olive oil (more if you are using more than 4 slices of bread)
1 large clove of garlic, peeled
The night before you plan to make the Ribollita, rinse the dried beans well, sifting through for pebbles, as beans are from the earth, they sometimes carry bits of earth with them to the grocery store. Once the rinsing water runs clear, place them in a large bowl and cover with cold water. The beans will expand to approximately double their dry size, so resist the temptation to soak them in a small bowl, lest you awake to find beans spilling over the bowl edge and cluttering your counter top. Not a very desirable first event of the day, I'm sure you'd agree.
Once you are ready to make the Ribollita, drain the beans and set aside. Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent and all of the vegetables are softened, approximately 8-10 minutes. Add the rosemary and crushed red pepper and stir to combine. Add the beans and stir to coat with the oil. When the beans are well-coated, add the 8 cups of water and the crushed tomatoes, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the beans are cooked through. Trust me, you will know if a bean is not cooked through. In the name of getting all the answers for you, I have tried a not-thoroughly-cooked bean, and there is no confusing it with a thoroughly-cooked bean.
Allow the soup to cool slightly. If you have read about or attempted to make either the Roasted Butternut Squash soup or the Roasted Fennel and Carrot soup, you know that pureeing hot liquid in a blender will most certainly result in kitchen walls, counters, cabinets, and any inhabitants of your household who happen to be in the kitchen, to be covered in whatever hot liquid you thought you might be pureeing. I'm sure I don't need to tell you - oh, but I will - this is extremely undesirable.
Now, that the soup has cooled, use a slotted spoon to remove the beans - at least half, and more than half if you like a thicker soup - to a bowl. There should also be some liquid (as mentioned in the previous paragraph) in the bowl and even some of the vegetables. You can't be sorting out diced celery and carrot pieces prior to pureeing, that would be infuriatingly tedious work. Working in batches, puree the beans and then return them to the stockpot. Once all of the beans you've chosen to puree have been returned to the stockpot, reheat (not reboil - just reheat, but conceptually, you are free to think of it as reboiling if it helps you better connect with your inner practitioner of cucina povera) the soup. Add the cavolo nero or Savoy cabbage at this point. Cook until the cavolo nero or cabbage is cooked through, approximately 20 minutes. Toward the end of the cavolo nero/cabbage cooking time, heat the 1 tablespoon of oil in a small pan over medium heat, add the thyme and garlic, and cook quickly - approximately 2 minutes - until the garlic is good and fragrant. Add the garlicky-thyme mixture to the pot, and give it a good stir. This thyme-garlic saute is the not-extra extra step. You must do it. Trust me. Now, taste the soup and salt and pepper as you desire. I find that Ribollita requires a bit of salt to highlight it's flavor, and kosher salt works best for this task.
Also during this cavolo nero/cabbage cooking time, you'll want to dry out the bread. Essentially, you are making croutons of the bread, so preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the slices of bread on a baking sheet. Drizzle just a little bit of olive oil onto both sides of the bread, they do not have to be doused in oil, a drizzle really will be fine. Bake in the oven until each side is lightly browned, approximately 5 minutes per side. Remove from oven and, using tongs to hold the bread as it will be hot, rub the cut side of the garlic clove over one side of the bread. If you love love love garlic, go ahead and rub both sides of the bread. Your eyes may sting from the heat of the garlic when you bite into your crouton, but, hey, you love garlic, so you already know this.
Place a slice of bread at the bottom of a soup bowl and ladle out some recooked bean and vegetable soup to submerge your crouton. If you so desire, drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over top of the soup, and, heck, for good measure, you could even shave some Parmigiano-Reggiano onto the soup before serving, and then serve it forth, not feeling at all like a peasant, but like a very thrifty modern-day cook who just whipped up a very satisfying, tasty, and garlicky zuppa.
Dinner tonight: Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna. We haven't had this since before Thanksgiving, and I am only too happy to see it return to my dinner table, scrumptious as it is. Estimated cost for two: $4.24. The milk for the Sauce Bechamel is 25-cents per cup at $1.99 per half-gallon. I used 5 cups, so that's $1.25. If you happen to buy gallons of whole milk - I do not for they would spoil in my house and you must know that I hate waste after having read all about cucina povera above - the milk would cost $1.09 at $3.49 for 16 cups for the Whole Foods store brand. The butter is 39-cents, the flour is around 6-cents. The rosemary, if purchased - I have a plant sitting in my house because rosemary is JR's favorite herb - would be about $1.99 for a bunch, and you need about 4 sprigs, so we'll call that 50-cents. The butternut squash should be no more than 80-cents per pound, so that's around $1.60. The olive oil used to coat the bottom of the lasagna pan is around 11-cents, and the lasagna noodles are half of a box that cost $1.59, so we'll round up and call that 80-cents. The largest expense is the Gruyere, but you're worth it, so go ahead and spend the $11.99 per pound. We're only using 3/4 pound, so we'll tally that up as $8.00. The entire lasagna therefore costs $12.71. At my house, this only yields 6 servings, but if you're light eaters, it could be eight servings. However, we do the math based on what happens at my house, and so each serving is then $2.12.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
When I first lived alone - by which I mean the very first apartment I had with no roommates, which was also my only experience living alone - I began cooking in earnest. I had started making up dishes years earlier, but, not insignificantly, the fact that I could afford an apartment on my own also meant I could better afford food. Add to that the fact that I was the only one around, which allowed me to cook or bake whenever I felt like it, and all that with the additional bonus of being able to avoid washing dishes for however long I liked without angering anyone but me.
During this time, I developed this beef stew recipe, which I shared with a friend of mine. She was from a large Irish clan - surprising, being that I live in Massachusetts, that I would have an Irish friend from a large family, I know - and she shared some with her mother, the seventy-plus year-old matriarch of the group. Her mother said it was the best beef stew she'd ever had. Now, I don't know if I should chalk that up to Irish graciousness, but if you don't mind, I'll keep it as a compliment.
A Highly Regarded Beef Stew:
2 pounds beef stew meat
1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, diced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour for coating the beef, plus more if needed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
10 ounces mushrooms, rinsed and sliced
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
(1) 750ml bottle dry red wine
4 cups beef broth
8 carrots (around 2 pounds), peeled and sliced into spoon-friendly pieces
4 stalks of celery, chopped into spoon-friendly pieces
2 pounds of potatoes (generally this will be around 4 medium potatoes), peeled and cubed into what? Yes, spoon-friendly pieces. Remember that you will be eating this with a spoon, so your vegetables must be hoisted to your mouth with said spoon.
2 bay leaves
Combine the Worcestershire Sauce, Soy Sauce, Dijon Mustard, garlic, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the beef stew meat and toss to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, place the flour on a plate or in a bowl. Remove the beef from the refrigerator and coat each piece completely in flour. In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Working in batches, brown the flour-coated beef on all sides, transferring to a plate as they are finished browning. When all beef stew pieces have been browned, add the onion and cook for 2 minutes, until onion begins to soften. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are soft, approximately 5-7 minutes. Add the horseradish, thyme, and Dijon mustard and stir to combine. Add the red wine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook the wine for a minute, then add the beef broth. Add the browned beef, carrots, celery, potatoes, and bay leaves, and stir well to combine all the ingredients in the pot. Cover, and simmer gently on the stove top for 2 hours or until the beef is tender.
Serves 8, but remember either to remove the bay leaves prior to serving or, if it is impossible to locate the bay leaves, inform those eating the stew that they shouldn't eat the bay leaf should they find it in their bowl. At a Superbowl party with some crusty bread, I'll bet you could serve a few more than eight. I find this stew very filling. Of course, if you want to serve a large crowd, feel free to double the recipe, just be sure that your stockpot can contain the gallons of beef stew you're making.
Dinner tonight: Sweet Italian Sausage with white beans and sauteed cabbage. Estimated cost for two: $6.81. The sausage is Whole Foods store brand, and it was on sale for $3.99/pound last week. I bought six and froze the bad boys, and we will have one each tonight. Six cost $6.22, and even though you and I know they aren't all equal-sized, we'll call those two 2.07. The beans are a can of the Whole Foods 365 store brand, which I find to taste better than a lot of the more expensive canned beans they carry, and those were 99-cents, though you could get Goya brand for 89-cents. I'm not going to sweat the dime at my house, however, and so Whole Foods brand it is. The cabbage cost $3.20. We are eating all of that, I assure you. The oil for the cabbage will cost 45-cents, and the garlic, which will be two cloves from one 50-cent head of garlic, which we will call 10-cents. This meal couldn't be easier and it is so darned tasty.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Of late, this has been my go-to appetizer dish whether I'm bringing or hosting. The lemon, rather than the usual tomato sauce served with these ground meats, is an unexpected combination, but it works surprisingly well and they are addictive. Seeing as you might have a Superbowl party to attend this weekend, I thought I'd share.
Lemony Meatballs in a White Wine-Lemon Sauce:
1 pound ground meat (I use a mix of beef, pork, and veal, but you can use a ground meat of your choosing)
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
zest of one lemon (hang onto that lemon - you need the juice of it for the sauce)
2 tablespoons dried oregano
3 - 4 large eggs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups dry white wine (approximately 1/2 of a 750ml bottle)
1 - 1 1/2 cups water
4 bay leaves
the juice of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
salt and pepper
Combine the meat, bread crumbs, Pecorino-Romano, lemon zest, oregano, and pepper in a medium mixing bowl. Mix well knowing that you will have a fairly dry looking mixture on your hands. Add the eggs, one at a time, until the meat mixture holds together. You may only need 3 eggs, however, I have used 4 each time I've made this dish in recent weeks. I did say it was my go-to appetizer, did I not?
Place a piece of waxed paper on a large baking sheet or directly on your counter. Roll the meat mixture into golf ball-sized balls and place on the waxed paper. You will end up with 32 or 33 meatballs. I must add that I've ended up with 33 each of the last two times I've made this.
Place the flour in a bowl or on a plate and roll each meatball in the flour to coat completely. Shake off excess flour and return meatballs to the waxed paper. Resist the temptation to create the meatballs and flour them in the same step. You will only wind up with flour, meat, and egg-induced elephantitis of the hands if you try to combine those two activities.
Once all meatballs are flour-coated, heat the butter and oil over medium heat in a large brazier pan, dutch oven, cast iron fry pan, or another heavy pan with a large cooking surface and deep sides. Once the butter has melted and both it and the oil are hot, add the meatballs and brown on all sides. This may require some maneuvering of meatballs around the pan in order to fit them all, so don't be alarmed if it takes you a few minutes to get all 33 meatballs into the pan. They shrink as they are browning, so eventually you should be able to get them all in and browned. If this does not appear to be the case, remove some that are sufficiently browned and place them on a plate in order to make room for the ones that require browning, then once all are browned, return the removed ones back to the pan for this next step.
Add the white wine to the pan. It will bubble when it first goes in, so pour it slowly to avoid splashing it back in your eyes. Allow it to simmer for a minute, and then add the water such that the liquid comes almost to the top of the meatballs. You'll need to use your best judgment as to whether you need 1 cup or more of water. Add the bay leaves and crushed red pepper. Simmer gently, uncovered, until meatballs are cooked through, approximately 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the juice of that one lemon you zested. Salt and pepper to taste, transfer meatballs and all of the sauce to a serving bowl or casserole dish, and watch them disappear. If you are bringing these to someone else's home, so long as you put them in an oven-proof dish, you can reheat them at 350 degrees for around 15 minutes and they'll be good to go.
If you don't want to share with others (outside of your own household) and are looking for a new dinner option, serve the meatballs and sauce with spaghetti for a spicy-lemony take on the old classic.
Dinner tonight: Baked Rigatoni with Bolognese sauce. Estimated cost for two: $4.30. The ground meat was $3.79 per pound at Venda Ravioli, the carrot, celery, and onion for the soffrito (which is the slowly simmered base of the sauce) were about $1.00, the tomatoes were $2.00, and the amount of milk I'll use in the sauce will be about 50-cents. I'm also using anchovy paste and a bit of tomato paste, so let's call those $1.00, to be generous about it. The total cost of the sauce is $8.29 for approximately 8 servings, so $1.04 per person for that, but we already had two servings of it, so the cost for this dish is $6.24. The pasta was $1.99 for the box, and we'll be using all of that. The cheese was $4.69 for the bag, let's say I use all of that just to be safe. That's $12.92 for 6 servings, so $2.15 per person.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Tannat is a highly tannic varietal, with one theory on the origin of its name being that it is derived from "tannin". Makes sense to me: tannin, Tannat. In its native France, it is blended with less tannic varietals and then aged in oak to counter its inherent tannins. But in the high altitude of Argentina's Cafayate Valley - some 6,000 feet above sea level - the cool nighttime temperatures help to contain the natural tannins of this grape while emphasizing its natural deep violet color. Tannat is known as Uraguay's national wine, so it makes sense that it would eventually gain popularity in neighboring Argentina, though it seems just a speck on the Argentine wine map, where Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec rule. In fact, Tannat is not currently listed as a varietal on the Wines of Argentina website.
However, with the reduced tannins afforded by the high-altitude growing conditions, the don Rodolfo Vina Cornejo Costas Tannat 2006 is a lovely, deep purple-colored red wine with pepper, buttered toast, and a floral tobacco scent on the nose as my olfactory system interpreted it. It was incredibly smooth, thanks to that reigning in of the tannins, and that even with its 13.5% alcohol content. In my first taste, I detected raspberry and black cherry. Also in that first taste, I thought, "wow, smooth." (Have I mentioned "smooth"?) The don Rodolfo site says that their Tannat has eucalyptus on the nose as well as fruit, and there is also talk of leather and spice on the palate in addition to berries. Clearly the berries stuck out more to me than did the leather and spice. So I was close to the official description, but eucalyptus completely escaped me. However, the next time I have this wine, I will be on the lookout (or smell out?) for eucalyptus. It's all about growing the wine vocabulary, after all.
The don Rodolfo estate is one of just a few in the Cafayate Valley, and those few vintners produce 4% of all of Argentina's wine. That four percent is considered to be among the best of Argentine wines by some. The high altitude also protects the vines from pollution and disease, and irrigation is provided to a large degree by melting snow. The Tannat is harvested by hand and aged in stainless steel vats before being bottled and then aged in the bottle for an additional four months. Frank at Gasbarro's Wines in Providence - the man responsible for introducing me to this lovely value wine - informed me that they do not often have don Rodolfo's wines in-stock, due to the small production of the vineyards, but when they do, the wine quickly sells out. At $10.99 per bottle, this is an outstanding, rich and smooth wine that is beautiful to look at as well. If you can buy in quantity, Gasbarro's Wines just increased their case discount to 12% from 10% to help out we budget-conscious oenophiles. This brings the per-bottle cost down to $9.68 from $10.99. When your friends wonder aloud how the winemakers at don Rodolfo got the wine to be such a dark purple without a the mouth-drying effect of assertive tannins, you can tell them. That's just how they roll in the Cafayate Valley at 6,000 feet above the sea.
Dinner tonight: Lemony meatballs with pasta and a white wine-lemon sauce. Estimated cost for two: $3.75. The meat is a blend of pork, veal, and beef, which I buy for $3.79 per pound at my favorite Italian market, Venda Ravioli, in Providence. I will use a pound. The breadcrumbs will cost around 50-cents, the cheese, which is pre-grated Pecorino-Romano cost $4.79 for the amount I last purchased, and I will use half of that, so $2.40. I will use around 10-cents worth of dried oregano - though the oregano I am using grows wild in my garden - plant it once, you have it for life, people, so I'll credit myself the dime in my mental tally. I will use two eggs, which are from our chickens, but if you were to purchase them, as I expect you will, the most they would be is 52-cents. I will use about a half-cup of flour to coat the meatballs, and that costs 11-cents at $3.99 for 19 cups of flour. The butter and oil for frying the meatballs is around 70-cents total. The lemon zest that goes into the meatballs, I will tally up in the sauce figure, so for $8.12, I will have around thirty-two 1-ounce meatballs, each of which costs just a fraction over 25-cents. I estimate that we will have 6-8 meatballs total with tonight's dinner, so on the high end, that's $2.00. The sauce consists of the butter and oil we've used for frying the meatballs, about 1.5 cups of white wine, which cost $5.00 for 3 cups, so $2.50, about a cup of water, and the juice of one lemon, which is 50-cents, so the sauce, which will provide leftovers for the remaining 24 meatballs, is $3.00. To be fair, I'll divide that over 4 servings (8 meatballs x 4 servings =32), and that's 75-cents. The pasta is 1/2 of a one-pound box of Whole Foods store brand fancy Italian pasta that cost $1.99, so that's $1.00. The lemony meatballs also make a good appetizer, so I will be sharing this recipe soon in case you want to have some lemony meatballs at your Superbowl party.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
You have to admit - unless you are superhuman healthy - every once in a while, you crave a little fried somethin' somethin'. There are days when walking past a restaurant that reeks of Fryolator can be the undoing of even the most determined-to-be-fit individual. As I would only fit into that category on January 2 each and every year - January 1st is a holiday, fer crying out loud - the wafting scent of bubbling oil can really send me into a tizzy.
JR makes a dish that I like to call "JR's Famous Breaded Chicken Breasts", and they have many uses: stuffed, with red sauce and melted cheese, or simply with some herbs mixed into the bread crumbs. We haven't had a whole lot of boneless skinless chicken breasts these last few months, and I was missing their fried goodness. As it turns out, pork sirloin cutlets make a darned good vehicle for breading and frying, and are generally less expensive per pound than boneless skinless chicken breasts. They have the added benefit of having an official and oft-maligned name. Pork Schnitzel. Or, were you to be ordering the dish in Austria, Weiner Schnitzel vom Schwein will differentiate it from true Weiner Schnitzel (pssst - "schwein" is the key here).
Weiner Schnitzel refers to veal cooked in the style of Vienna, though - and here is the shocking part given that I am writing about it - it is possible that it originated in Milan where it is known as cotoletta alla milanese. So it seems your suspicions are true. Everything I cook comes right back to Italy. Or may come right back to Italy. There are a few theories on the origin of the Schnitzel dish, so I suppose I shouldn't choose to believe the one that most appeals to me. But, then, isn't that what we humans do?
Regardless of my predisposition to believe this is a dish of Italian origin, we can prove that it satisfies the requirement for fried scrumptiousness, and for very little money. Though it is typically served with lemon and parsley, JR and I enjoyed ours with some sauteed mushrooms and orzo with butter. Why stop with breading and frying when you can add butter to the dish as well, right?
Weiner Schnitzel vom Schwein alla armer Mädchenfeinschmecker (or Breaded Pork Cutlets in the style of Poor Girl Gourmet - I'm sure this is the absolutely 100% correct translation, so don't you worry about a thing. And I had to include the "alla" in there because, well...I think the dish originated in Milano, ok?)
4 sirloin cutlets, approximately 1/4 pound each, pounded to approximately 1/4-inch thickness. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to unleash your frustrations on the cutlets. I whacked the bad boys around with a hefty rolling pin for about ten minutes. Quite satisfying. And they were quite flat when I was done with them.
1 cup panko breadcrumbs - these are Japanese-style breadcrumbs and are more coarse than your standard breadcrumbs. Whole Foods sells a store brand that costs $1.99 for 4 cups, which is a pretty good deal for extra crunchiness, in my humble opinion.
2 teaspoons fennel seed
2 teaspoons dried thyme
salt and pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour for dredging the cutlets
2 eggs, well beaten, for coating the dredged cutlets
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
The cooking time on this entire dish is about 4-6 minutes. However, there is a small amount of prep time as you must first whack the cutlets into submission, which for them means being flattened to about a quarter-inch, then, you will need to coat them with seasoned breadcrumbs. This whole process takes ten to fifteen minutes up front, then an additional 30 minutes to refrigerate the breaded cutlets.
The breading technique is this: mix the breadcrumbs with the fennel seed and thyme, and then add enough salt and pepper to season the crumbs to your liking.
Place the flour, the eggs, and the seasoned breadcrumbs into three separate shallow bowls. If the flattened cutlets are too large to fit in the bowls, you are free to cut them into manageable shallow-bowl-friendly pieces.
You will need to bread each cutlet separately, so to start, dredge the first cutlet in flour so that it is covered lightly over its entire surface. Second, coat the cutlet with egg, and allow excess egg to drain off before moving the cutlet to the seasoned breadcrumbs. Next, cover completely with the seasoned breadcrumb mixture, and finally, transfer the cutlets to a baking sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. Repeat with the remaining cutlets, and then, as you've been made aware previously, you must set the pan with the cutlets in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes. This chilling time is important because it allows the crumbs to adhere to the cutlets rendering a complete crust rather than a crust-in-patches, which is slightly less desirable and would then be referred to as teilweise-Schnitzel, or "partially Schnitzeled" as I translate it to English. My German is stellar, so you should really trust me on this.
Now that your cutlets have been properly refrigerated and all crumbs have adhered to the pork, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large non-stick frying pan. Working in batches if you are unable to fit all of the cutlets in one layer, cook until each side is golden brown, approximately 2-3 minutes per side. If you need to keep the cooked cutlets warm while you fry up a second batch, place them on a pan in an oven that has been preheated to 200 degrees. If you used waxed paper on your refrigeration pan and want to use that same pan for the keeping-warm task, be sure to remove the waxed paper first.
Top with some simply sauteed mushrooms, or perhaps you're a purist and would prefer to go the lemon and parsley route, or maybe some caramelized onions have caught your fancy - feel free to choose a side that suits you. As mentioned previously, I also served orzo coated with melted butter for we cannot have a meal without the ever-present starch dish, but you could just as easily prepare wide egg noodles, mashed potatoes, or pan-fried potatoes (more frying!). No matter what you choose, you still have the satisfaction of a breaded and fried dinner, and sometimes that's exactly what you need.
Dinner tonight: Roasted Chicken Legs and Olives with Crispy Kale and White Beans. Estimated cost for two: $6.91. The chicken legs were $3.12 for 3. JR will eat two, I will eat one. The white beans are 99-cents per can, and, yes, I am using canned. It's a weeknight, so cut me some slack. The kale was $2.49 for the bunch, we will eat about half of that, so $1.25. The olives were $5.99/pound for Castelvetrano (green) olives, and we are going to use just a couple of ounces, so that's around 75-cents. This is a riff on a roasted duck with olives that I have had at Latte di Luna in Pienza, Italy. I may try it with actual duck in the near future, but you'll need to keep me posted as to when duck is on sale, ok? And seeing as I'm not going to be in Pienza, Italy any time soon, chicken legs with olives will have to do. I will use around 45-cents worth of olive oil in this dish, along with a shallot (for the flavoring of the crisping of the kale part), which costs 25-cents, and around 10-cents worth of thyme. If you don't love beans, you could just as easily do this with either orzo (love the orzo), rice, or cous cous.