Thursday, February 26, 2009
The corner store in my neighborhood - and I use neighborhood loosely, as the "corner store" is actually nearly two miles away from my house - has a selection of wines that are priced at $9.99 each, or 3 for $25. Typically, this sort of pricing scheme for wine makes me nervous because it normally seems to involve wines that you might not truly enjoy drinking. Of course, it also tends to involve wines that are 3 for $10, which is a boon for stocking up on wine with which to cook, but not so much for quaffing. However, this is not the case with this wine - Rocca Bella Negroamaro 2007 - a fruity, eminently drinkable red from Puglia.
I have an admission. My friend Ian, whose lobster ravioli I assisted in making the night before Valentine's Day, is married to JR's niece. Technically, this makes me his aunt. When he went to the aforementioned corner store to ask for this Negroamaro, he said, "My aunt really loves this wine. Argh. I can't remember the name of it." More argh. And argh for me because he is two years older than I am, and there's really nothing more sad for a woman in her late 30s (38 is the new 18!) than being called Auntie by someone older than you. But, it's true. I am his Auntie.
Lucky for Ian, I am also a wine-loving Auntie who is always on the lookout for a bargain. So I had brought a bottle of this Negroamaro over to his house on one of our regular family visits, and he loved it. Here's the deal: it's a deep ruby red in the glass, not terribly complex on the nose, is slightly sweet, tastes of black cherry, and has a smooth finish. And it costs $8.33 per bottle. Under the 3 for $25 scheme, that is. Even at $9.99/bottle, it's a great deal. It is imported by Monsieur Touton Selections, a company known not for high marks on the 100-point scale from the wine press, but for its solid, value wines. This one certainly fits that billing. And my glass. And my budget.
Negroamaro is grown in Puglia, which is the heel of the Italian boot. It has been a site for viticulture as early as 2000 B.C. (I'll let you do the math on that, ok?). Negroamaro is grown predominantly in the southern portion of Puglia, along with Primitivo and Malvasia Nera. Negroamaro is the base of nearly all of the red wines of southern Puglia, and you may have already enjoyed it as part of the blend in another value wine, Salice Salentino Rosso. It tends to be a bit robust, but this bottling is smooth and accessible - perfect for an everyday slosher, as I like to say. Slosher seems like a good word, wouldn't you agree?
Neither Mssr. Touton nor the vintner have a website to which I can direct you, but I do recommend that you seek this bottling out if you're looking for a fruity, easy-drinking red for weeknight imbibing, an inexpensive crowd-pleaser, or a gift for Auntie. Especially a gift for Auntie.
Dinner tonight: Untraditional Bolognese Sauce with Rigatoni. Estimated cost for two: $3.58. 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. The pasta was $1.99 for the box (Whole Foods store brand), and we'll use half of the box, which we will round up and call $1.00. I don't have any Parmigiano-Reggiano in the house (for shame!), so we will sprinkle some pre-grated Pecorino-Romano over our pasta for an additional cost of about 50-cents.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
When I was a kid, my mother was famous for her calzones. I'm not certain how often we actually had calzones, but it seemed like they were perpetually sitting on the counter awaiting the carving of a slice so small as to not be noticed. Mostly because the slicer was sneaking a serving. With three siblings and any number of other friends at the house, you had to be resourceful to insure that you got your fill.
At my most-recent high school reunion, which, yeah, was my twentieth reunion - one of my most dear childhood friends approached me and said, "I've been trying to make your mom's ham and cheese calzone, and for the life of me, I can't get it to come out like hers. I just remember there was always a calzone on the counter at your house."
When you are dear childhood friends, and you spent all of your spare eighth grade time together singing (screaming) Aldo Nova songs while playing air guitar and playing Styx's Paradise Theater, like, three hundred million times, debating all the while as to whether Tommy Shaw was, in fact, the very hottest rock star of the entire early 1980s, you aren't really required to talk about what you've been up to for the past twenty years. But, if you're trying to figure out the mystery of Jan's ham and cheese calzone, you'd better speak up. You don't know how long it might be before you have the opportunity to ask again. (Life is just a fant-ah-see, can we live this fant-ah-see liiiiiife...oh no! Oh no! - Aldo Nova. In case you're looking for a point of reference. I hope this helped. My hair looked like his, too. By accident. It was supposed to look like Joan Jett's. But no. It did not. And that's a story for another day.)
I don't think I've made calzones since the summer before my senior year of college when a whole bunch of my college friends stayed at my dad's house for a Grateful Dead show taking place just down the road at what was then Sullivan Stadium (now Gillette Stadium, for you non-New Englanders). I'm not sure what made me think any of us would actually want to eat, given all of the other activities we were up to, and not being able to foresee my roommate Gabby and my police-escorted roller coaster of a walk toward the open paddy wagon doors, arrestees staring out at us, and then, at the last minute, a who-the-heck-knows-why police change of heart, setting us free. But still, I lovingly made the calzones in preparation for our big day at the stadium. One calzone of Italian cold-cuts, the other, ham and cheese. I believe that Gabby and I sat in the parking lot with our counterfeit Dead tickets (Dude, how could anyone be so cold? Counterfeit tickets? Maaaaannnnn.) eating slightly squishy and overheated - though not yet poisonous - slices of calzone that had been in the car, wrapped in plastic - a known double heat trap - all of that August afternoon and evening until our other ten friends who did get into the show returned to the parking lot.
You know, now that we've been through all of that, I think I know why I haven't made calzones in eighteen years. I'm glad we had this talk.
So this weekend, blissfully unable to recall this scarring calzone memory, I was considering my bread-baking responsibilities, and thinking about just how much JR would enjoy peanut butter and jelly every single day this week for lunch, when it hit me. I had made a batch of meatballs and sauce, why not make a meatball calzone? It's like making the bread and the sandwiches for the week all in one fell swoop. What could be better?
This dough is from the King Arthur Flour website, which you may know I think is the most fabulous resource for bread baking. The dough yields enough for two calzones - ham and cheese as well as meatball, if you're going to make two. However, I didn't have ham and cheese on hand - which is the reason why I had been pondering JR's love/not love of pb&j, after all - so I made 4 dinner rolls, 1 flatbread with pesto and one rolled up individual-type pesto calzone withe the other half of the dough. I think this dough has changed my life. You will please forgive me if every week we discuss calzone fillings instead of bread baking, ok?
Speaking of calzone fillings - you can use anything at all that you like for fillings - if you happen to have made some meatballs and sauce, I used 2 meatballs for this calzone, and with just those two meatballs, a bit of sauce, and about a cup of shredded cheese, JR has enormous calzone slices for his lunch all work-week long. If you were to make ham and cheese, my mother's secret ingredient is Dijon mustard spread over the dough before layering on the ham and the cheese. But don't stop there - if you have leftover chicken and some pesto, toss it on in. Or sauteed spinach or kale and cheese? Yum. Endless, endless combinations. And we will try to explore as many of them as possible, I assure you.
So now, for the dough:
2 cups lukewarm (105 to 115 degrees) water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon yeast
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 cups flour + more if necessary to form dough
1/2 cup flour for dusting counter prior to kneading dough
for the egg wash:
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1-2 tablespoons poppy seeds or sesame seeds (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, combine the lukewarm water, sugar, and yeast. Stir to dissolve the sugar and yeast, and let stand for 5 minutes to allow the mixture to fester. I mean this in a good way. It will bubble. You want that.
Add the one cup flour to the festering yeast mixture and mix well. Add the olive oil and salt, and then add the remaining 4 cups of flour one cup at a time until the dough holds together and pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl. If this isn't happening, add additional flour a tablespoon at a time until it does pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Knead the dough on top of the pile of flour (the 1/2 cup, which, of course, you have scattered on your counter top such that it really isn't a literal pile) until the dough is no longer sticky and is silky, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Let the dough rest on the counter while you grease a bowl in which it will rise, then knead the dough once more for 3 to 4 minutes. Place in the generously-greased bowl, toss to coat the dough, and then cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free area to rise until it is doubled in size, anywhere from 1 to 2 hours depending upon heat and humidity at your house.
Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, remove it from the bowl, and cut it in half. If making two calzones, each half must be rolled out to approximately 10 x 13 inches. If you're confident in your ability to stretch dough by hand, you can also stretch the dough rather than roll it out. If you go the stretching route, one tip is to not use your fingertips as they can punch through the dough, instead, use your knuckles to stretch.
Now, make a layer of your fillings in the center of the dough, leaving at least an inch-wide border free of toppings all the way around the dough rectangle. Once you have filled to your heart's content, begin rolling the dough over itself, starting with the long side, as though you are making a jelly roll. Or an old-style calzone. Not the type of calzone that looks like a clam shell. Once the roll is complete, tuck the short ends under themselves, and be sure that the long end is securely under the bulk of the calzone. If you have any holes in the dough when you roll it over itself, it is possible to patch by taking a small piece of dough, stretching it to fit the hole, then dabbing warm water onto both the part of the dough patch that will be placed on the hole, as well as on the solid dough area around the hole. Once you join the patch dough to the calzone dough, work gently to adhere the patch to the calzone. None will be the wiser once it's been cooked.
Place the rolled calzone on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cover once more with a clean dish towel or a buttered piece of plastic wrap, and place in a warm, draft free area for 1 hour.
Slice 5 two-inch long slices across the top of the calzone(s).
Combine the egg yolk and 2 tablespoons milk in a small bowl and beat well to combine. Brush the surface of the calzone with the wash and sprinkle poppy seeds or sesame seeds over top if desired. I used poppy seeds because I had them, but believe me you, if I don't have seeds here, I will not be purchasing seeds specially for calzone. So don't feel compelled to do so just to follow the recipe.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees about 15 minutes before you want to put the calzone in. Here's a little trick if you want crispy crust, but be sure to use a metal pan for this trick - not a pyrex pan - lest you spend a half hour cleaning bits of shattered glass from inside your oven because you are clearly a dope. Clearly. So, the for the crispy crust trick, place a metal roasting pan on the bottom of your oven just before you start to preheat to 450. The moment before you are going to put the calzone in, add 4 cups of water to the preheated roasting pan. You can see how this might not work well with glass, which, when heated to 450 degrees, will shatter with the addition of one drop of 70 degree water. This addition of water mimics the steam-injection ovens used in professional bakeries. Place the calzone(s) on the middle rack and bake for 15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 400 degrees and bake until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes more.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes so that the filling doesn't all ooze out when you cut into it. Be sure to sample a slice before packing for lunches, and know that if your 9-year old and 7-year old are eating it, they will get a lot more mileage out of it than a middle-aged contractor-man will. At least, I hope they eat less than a large man does. For your sake. And that of your wallet.
Dinner tonight: I am going to Local 121 in Providence for the first-ever Slow Food Rhode Island/Farm Fresh Rhode Island movie night. Starts at 6 - there's a buffet of locally-sourced food available for $15, and the movie is free and starts rolling at 7pm. Come on down! JR gets to have more of the Pancetta and Peas Mac and Cheese while I'm out, and I think he's rather looking forward to it.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
I like a rhyming post title/recipe name every now and again. And here we have one. I made this dish on Sunday because a rainy, 33-degree late-February Sunday requires comfort food. Preferably inexpensive comfort food. So with Ina Garten's macaroni and cheese from Barefoot Contessa Family Style as my guide, I added my favorite uncured pork product (pancetta) and some peas to great effect. See for yourself:
Pancetta and Peas Mac and Cheese:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
10 ounces gruyere cheese, grated
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, thin sliced at the deli and then diced at home into approximately 1/2" pieces)
1 medium shallot, diced
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 cup peas
1 pound elbow macaroni
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (panko are Japanese-style bread crumbs and are more coarse than your average bread crumb)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
For the cheese sauce:
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and use a whisk to blend. Cook until flour mixture is golden brown, approximately 5 minutes, being careful not to let the mixture burn. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly to combine the milk and flour mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture has attained the consistency of pancake batter, approximately 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper, and shredded cheese. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the shallot and crushed red pepper, and cook until pancetta is beginning to for 2 minutes. Add the peas and cook until they are warmed through, approximately 3-4 minutes. Set aside.
Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a small pan, then add the breadcrumbs and stir to coat the crumbs with the melted butter. Set aside. There is much setting aside, as you can see. Not to worry, it's all about to come together now.
Cook the elbow macaroni according to the manufacturer's directions. Drain well. Combine the pancetta and peas, macaroni, and cheese sauce in an oven-safe baking dish with a 3-quart capacity, such as a large lasagna pan. Top the macaroni mixture with the buttered breadcrumbs, and cook on the middle rack for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden brown and the mixture is bubbling. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, and then serve it forth to your rhyming recipe name-loving family. Surely they love a food rhyme. Surely they do.
Yeild: 6 hearty, big-arse, pefect for a crappy late-winter rainstorm, servings.
Dinner tonight. Oh yeah. As there are only two of us in my house - excluding the dog - we get to enjoy this dish twice as leftovers. And tonight is one of those nights. Estimated cost for two: $5.60. The total butter in the dish was 8 tablespoons, so at $2.79 for 32 tablespoons (Whole Foods 365 store brand butter), that's roughly 70-cents. A half-cup of flour is 42-cents at $3.99 for a bag that contains 19 1/4 cups. The milk is half of a half-gallon which costs $1.99, so $1.00. The nutmeg seems negligible, but we'll call that 10-cents. The gruyere is your big expense here, and for 10 ounces, it cost $10.08. Ok, it was just a smidge over 10-ounces because this gruyere cost $15.99/pound (and a pound is 16-ounces, but you knew that already). The olive oil was 45-cents. The pancetta was 1/4 pound at $8.29/pound, so that's $2.08. The shallot was 25-cents, and the crushed red pepper we'll add in as 10-cents. The peas were 1/3rd of a bag that cost $1.29, so that's 43-cents. The bread crumbs cost $1.99 for 4 cups, therefore a half-cup is 25-cents. The elbow macaroni cost $1.39. So for $16.80, you have 6 hearty servings, each of which costs $2.83. If you aren't feeding six adults, or if one or more of your family members have a small appetite, this would easily feed 8, and then the price per person drops to $2.10.
Friday, February 20, 2009
I felt I had to share this with you today instead of the wine post I had planned because any meat-free dish - and given, this is no diet meat-free dish - that JR requests to have packed for his lunch and then says, "can't I have more?" upon reviewing his portion, must be a winner.
I've been on a bit of a cavolo nero, or dinosaur kale, kick lately, but this could be made with any leafy greens - spinach would be scrumptious, swiss chard succulent, and beet greens delectable. This is a multi-step recipe, so if you wanted to get a jump on the prep work, you could certainly make the walnut pesto and cook the greens a day ahead of time and refrigerate them until you're ready to make the Bechamel sauce and assemble the lasagna.
Kale Lasagna with Walnut Pesto:
For the pesto:
1/2 cup (2 ounces) walnuts
1/2 cup packed parsley leaves
1 ounce wedge or 1/2 cup grated Pecorino-Romano
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
For the kale:
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium shallot
2 bunches dinosaur kale (also called Lacinato kale or cavolo nero), rinsed well, dried, and chopped fine - you can chop the kale coarsely if you like, but you may find yourself fighting clumps of kale while eating. Best to try for fork-manageable pieces of kale in the prep rather than at the dinner table.
salt and pepper
For the Bechamel:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups milk
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
For the lasagna assembly:
9 lasagna noodles, cooked al dente (firm, but cooked through)
3/4 cup grated Pecorino-Romano, divided in thirds - you will be using 1/4 cup of cheese per layer of lasagna.
For the pesto:
The traditional way to make pesto is with a mortar and pestle. It's ok to exhale now. Even I don't do this, so I will not ask it of you. A good work-around for making pesto quickly without turning it into an actual paste is to use a mini-food processor or food processor, and pulse each ingredient separately until they are coarsely ground. I did it in this order to avoid having pureed parsley in the processor adding moisture to the pesto ingredients: walnuts, Pecorino-Romano, parsley. Once they are pulsed to a coarse texture - around the size of tiny pebbles for the walnuts and cheese, combine them in a small bowl, add the olive oil, stirring to combine, then salt and pepper to taste.
For the kale:
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until translucent, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Add the kale and saute until all of the kale is softened, turning kale over frequently to be sure kale on the bottom does not burn. This process should take approximately 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
For the Bechamel sauce:Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add the flour and, using a whisk, stir constantly to combine with butter. Continue to cook flour and butter until the mixture is a light golden brown, approximately 5 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking continuously as it is added.
Once milk is added to the roux (the cooked flour and butter mixture is a roux), cook over medium heat for approximately 10 minutes until sauce is thick and has a consistency similar to that of pancake batter, whisking constantly and being careful that the sauce does not scald on the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from heat, stir in ground nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.
Place an oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Now, you are ready for lasagna assembly. Spread enough Bechamel sauce over the bottom of the lasagna pan to just cover it. Place 3 lasagna noodles over the Bechamel. Cover with 1/2 of the cooked kale mixture. Top the kale mixture with 1/3rd of the remaining Bechamel, then sprinkle with 1/4 cup of grated Pecorino-Romano. Repeat for the second layer, and then top with the last 3 lasagna noodles. Distribute the walnut pesto evenly over the top of the last layer of lasagna noodles. You won't have enough to create a carpet of walnut pesto, think of it more as a seasoning, so don't be alarmed that you aren't able to cover the noodles completely. Top the noodles and walnut pesto with the last 1/3rd of the Bechamel sauce, then sprinkle the last 1/4 cup of grated Pecorino-Romano over top. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet, and bake for 45 minutes, or until the lasagna is browned on top and the Bechamel sauce is bubbling on the sides. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before cutting into this gooey kale masterpiece. Serve it forth, and remind yourself that even though you are ingesting a huge amount of butter, milk, and cheese, there has to be some benefit from the leafy greens.
Dinner tonight: Yep. Even though we both had it for lunch, we're going to have it again for dinner. Does this make me lazy? Ahhhh, don't answer that. Besides, I had to revise my math now that I've actually executed the dish, and that has to count for something. Where were we? Right, dinner tonight: Kale Lasagna with Walnut Pesto. Estimated cost for two: $3.84. The kale was on sale for $1.99 per bunch at Whole Foods and you can see I used two bunches. The shallot/olive oil saute will add 45-cents in olive oil and 25-cents in shallot to the tally. The lasagna noodles are 1/2 of a box that cost $1.59, so that's 80-cents. The Bechamel sauce consists of 5 cups of milk for $1.25, butter at 44-cents for 5 tablespoons (out of 32 tablespoons for $2.79), and a little more than 11-cents in flour, with flour costing $3.99 for a 5-pound bag that yields us 76 1/4-cups of flour. We used $1.50 in grated Pecorino-Romano, tossing around 1/2-ounce over each of the three layers of lasagna. Two ounces of walnuts, at 44-cents per ounce is 88-cents. The bunch of parsley I bought cost $1.69, I used about half of that, so that's 86-cents. The Pecorino-Romano for the pesto was not pre-grated, so it was more expensive, $10.99/pound, rather than $7.99/pound for the pre-grated. We used 1 ounce, so that's around 69-cents. We'll call the olive oil for the pesto 3 tablespoons for the sake of rounding up, and that's 33-cents in olive oil. So we got 6 servings for a total cost of $11.54, or $1.92 per serving. Even less expensive than previously predicted. Love that!
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Now, I know that frying is not an everyday cooking technique for most people, and having just burned 307 calories on the treadmill (which does not offset the 308-or-more, likely more, calories I ingested in chocolate chip cookies with my coffee this morning), I feel almost guilty discussing fried food. Almost. Did the admission about the cookies give my lack-of-guilt away? Aw, heck. They were warm. And crispy. Yet chewy. I just made them, fer cryin' out loud. You know you can't pass up warm chocolate chip cookies - it would be a waste of melting chocolate and crisp cookie edges, people.
Ahhhh, but I digress. I made these savory ricotta fritters as part of our Valentine's Dinner at home. Given that they are fried, I would consider them an occasional treat - something for holidays (even made-up sappy ones), or entertaining. In the event that you have made the Artichoke Ravioli, or any other variation on ricotta-filled pasta, and it turns out that you want to use all of the ricotta you have purchased because you, like me, despise food waste, this is a good way to achieve that goal. To be clear, by food waste, I mean both waste of actual product, and waste of a moment of perfection (see above reference to warm chocolate chip cookies, please.). To that end, these are a good, if completely unhealthy, use-up-the-leftover-ricotta treat that are best served right out of the frying pan. And they're not so bad cold, either, in fact. If you'd prefer to be slightly more health-conscious, perhaps the Pasta with Ricotta and Prunes would work better for you. If not, please, dive in:
Savory Ricotta Fritters:
2 cups fresh ricotta
1/4 cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
3 tablespoons Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
1/8th pound (2 ounces) sweet Soppressata, diced
2 tablespoons Cerignola olives (2 olives should do), pitted and cut into a fine dice (optional)
1/4 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
2 - 2 1/2 cups vegetable oil for frying
In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, grated Pecorino-Romano, bread crumbs, Soppressata, olives (if using), and the egg. Mix until well-blended.
Refrigerate the ricotta mixture for 10 minutes.
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Place the 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl. Using an ice cream scoop - ricotta is sticky, people, there's no balling this up with your palms without much waste, and you know how you and I feel about waste - scoop a ball of the ricotta mixture that does not quite fill the scoop. This is also known as a scant scoop, scant being defined as barely amounting to (a scoop, a tablespoon, insert-your-measurement-here). You may need this later. I'm here to help.
Place your scant scoops on the waxed paper, and then, using a couple of spoons, which you will use later in the frying process as well, transfer each scant scoop to the dish with the breadcrumbs and roll around to coat the ricotta scoop completely in breadcrumbs. Place each scoop back on the waxed paper until all are breadcrumb-coated. Now, proceed to heat the oil.
In a large, deep pan, pour enough oil to submerge the bottom half of a ricotta fritter/scoop, approximately 1 inch deep. If you have an oil thermometer, use this to monitor the oil, and when it reaches 350 degrees, you can begin frying. In lieu of an oil thermometer, when the oil begins to shimmer, drop a very small amount of ricotta into the oil. If it sizzles immediately, the oil is hot enough for frying.
Working in batches, carefully place the ricotta fritters in the hot oil, a large metal spoon works well for this. Fry until golden on the bottom, and, using the previously mentioned two spoons, flip the fritters over, cooking until golden-brown on both sides. This entire process should take between 3 and 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain the oil, and serve immediately.
Yields 10 to 12 fritters. Cost: $8.18 including oil for frying.
Dinner tonight: Kale Lasagna with Walnut Pesto. Estimated cost for two: $3.98. The kale was on sale for $1.99 per bunch at Whole Foods. I'm using two bunches. I will first saute it in olive oil with a shallot, so that will add 45-cents in olive oil and 25-cents in shallot to the tally. The lasagna noodles are 1/2 of a box that cost $1.59, so that's 80-cents. The bechamel sauce consists of 5 cups of milk for $1.25, butter at 35-cents for 4 tablespoons (out of 32 tablespoons for $2.79), and a little more than 5-cents in flour, with flour costing $3.99 for a 5-pound bag that yields us 76 1/4-cups of flour. We'll use around $1.50 in grated Pecorino-Romano, tossing around 1/2-ounce over each of the three layers of lasagna. The walnut pesto will be just for the top layer - walnuts are expensive, people. So let's say that I use two ounces of walnuts, which cost 44-cents per ounce, that's 88-cents. The bunch of parsley I bought cost $1.69, I believe that I will use about 1/4 of that, so that's around 43-cents. In the pesto, there will be additional Pecorino-Romano - we'll call it $1.00 to be on the safe side, and probably another 45-cents in olive oil. There will be 6 servings for a total cost of $11.94, or $1.99 per serving. Sweet! And I will share the recipe for this lasagna in the next few days.
If you're new to the blog, I generally announce that I'm making the dish and break down the cost in this "dinner tonight" section, and then post the recipe later. Part of the challenge - and fun, because we need to make it fun lest it become tedious - of eating good food on a restricted budget is coming up with new ideas for dinners. Generally, I brainstorm ideas for the coming week before I do my shopping, and then execute the dish. Many of the meals you read about in this section, I have concocted in my head at the start of the week in which they are posted, and sometimes I like to test the recipe out a few times before sharing it, just to be sure that it really works. Occasionally, because we all have our favorite go-to dinners, the "dinner tonight" recipe is already posted elsewhere in the blog, in which case, a link is provided, and sometimes, the meals are meant to be ideas that you, the reader, can riff off of.
Oh, and if you are new to the blog - where are my manners? Welcome! Sheesh! So rude!
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?