Saturday, April 12, 2014

Spaghetti With Crab, Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

It was Singer’s turn to cook last Wednesday.

We were all yearning for something light and springy, to lift our moods because the weather, to that point, was not cooperating at all.

She did not disappoint.

But talk about disappoint...I am a week behind in my posts — again — and this time, technology is the culprit.  I needed to get a new computer, and not only did I get a new computer, I decided on a new computing experience.  I switched from a conventional laptop to a Mac.  AND, since I don’t have Word for Mac installed yet and had to work in "Pages," I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. 

I apologize in advance for formatting errors.

Anyway, back to last Wednesday’s dinner.  Singer made Spaghetti with Crab, Cherry Tomatoes and Basil.  Loaded with fresh flavors — tomatoes, asparagus, lemons, garlic — this dish was just the Wednesday, mid-week pick-me-up we needed.  Kind of a hump-day happy hour….in a dish.

Speaking of hump-day...have you seen that hump-day commercial with the camel?  Yeah, I'm not crazy about that commercial but, I do have to admit, here I am talking about it so it is obviously a brilliant marketing maneuver. But this got me thinking about the origins of calling Wednesday "hump day."  We already know a few things about Wednesdays.  According to a popular rhyme, children born on this day are full of woe, Christians distribute ashes on Ash Wednesday in Lent, there is an Addams Family character named Wednesday and now we have christened it with this nickname.  

Wednesdays get a lot of attention....besides our dinner club.

Wisegeek.org tells us that if you imagine the work week as a hill, Wednesday represents the apex, and, when workers leave what theVogues call the Five O'Clock World on Wednesday, he or she can now descend the hill and look forward to the weekend.  Of course, with workweek variations and the limitless connectivity we have even when we are not at work, this definition could easily be disputed.  Many European countries try to enforce a strict work week and encourage workers to not check email during non-work hours, but, as you can imagine, technology demands often give this idea the boot.  Or is it the reboot?  

Sorry.

Anyway, two Wednesdays ago, we enjoyed another wonderful evening of each other's company and this fantastic meal. 

Spaghetti With Crab, Cherry Tomatoes & Basil
Adapted from: kitchenmonki.com

Sauce Ingredients
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Garlic Cloves, chopped
Good sized pinch Chili Flakes
Container of Cherry Tomato, halved
1 Lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 cup of white wine                   
1 lb of Canned White Crab, drained
Blanched bunch of Asparagus cut into pieces

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and chilli flakes. Cook until just pale golden, then add the tomatoes. Cook 3 mins more on a high heat until the tomatoes start to break down a little. Toss in blanched asparagus.  Add the lemon juice and cook for 1-2 mins. Remove from the heat and stir in the crab to warm through - not too much or it will break up.

Pasta Ingredients
1 lb of fresh Fettuccine or linguine
1 tablespoon Capers, drained & rinsed (optional)
Handful of Basil Leaves and Parsley roughly chopped

Step 2
Boil the pasta in a large pan of salted water following pack instructions then drain. Mix the pasta in the warm pot with the sauce, lemon zest and capers, and toss the basil through.

When we have dinner at Singer's house, it's always Foodie's turn to bring dessert.  I bring wine and Architect brings salad. We devoured that Panna Cotta you see up there, a recipe courtesy of David Lebovitz and Foodie.

Monday, April 7, 2014

One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Rye

I did not know this until maybe three years ago.

Bourbon, Scotch and Rye are all types of whiskey.  Please don’t judge me; I don’t drink much liquor and only became aware of the difference when selecting spirits to serve guests at my annual holiday party.  Older daughter’s beau finally educated me on the fine art of selecting a different blend of each type of whiskey.  He made me that drink you see right there.

Now, it’s a taste-a-rama.  Then, I saw this article in the New York Times, and you know I love the New York Times, about a Bourbon-Rye Blend from Wild Turkey. 

I decided to buy a bottle for this year’s holiday shindig.

It was a hit.

I would imagine most people, unlike me, know the difference between these three spirits and to those, I apologize if the following tutorial seems a bit elementary.  For all others, please read on and be enlightened.

All whiskeys are made with a grain, water and yeast.  The yeast eats the sugar – the grain used – and the byproduct is alcohol.  Then the entire concoction is distilled, which is the process of separating the grain pieces and other fermentation matter from the liquid, now alcohol.  The more the liquid is distilled, the smoother the flavor of the finished product.  After distillation, all whiskey is aged in oak barrels.  Oak is used because it is a pure wood and environmental notes in the wood often contribute to the taste to the finished product.

Bourbon is frequently associated with the great Commonwealth of Kentucky (did you know that Kentucky was a Commonwealth, along with Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Virginia) and it is made primarily from ground corn, at least 51%.  The mixture is aged (ideally for four years) in new, charred oak barrels. 

Kentucky is playing in the NCAA final game against UConn, who beat St. Joe's and Villanova.  Go Wildcats.

American Rye whiskey, true to it’s name, is made with at least 51% of the rye grain.  Before prohibition, Rye whiskey was the Bourbon of the Northeast, and the production epicenter was located in Pittsburgh, PA.  Rye is also aged in charred, oak barrels for at least two years.   

Scotch is made predominately with malted barley and, as its name suggests, is native to Scotland.  The smoky flavor or “peatiness” of Scotch occurs when the barley is dried in kilns fired using peat. Sometimes, the barrels used to age Bourbon are shipped to Scotland to age the Scotch. Scotch also matures in oak casks for a minimum of three years. 

I word about peat.  Peat is lumps of decayed vegetation such as grasses, mosses, fungi, trees, insects that accumulate in a “bog” and is highly flammable.  Peat is used like wooden logs in Ireland, and when burned, produces a soothing, organic aroma.  Brother tried to bring some home from Ireland last year but Custom officials deprived him of that opportunity.   Below is a photo taken while at a historic bog village in Ireland that displays a typical pile of peat.  And a bike.

So, now we know the difference between Bourbon, Rye and Scotch and rather than merely read this new, useful knowledge and say “that was interesting,” I offer a recipe.  You can use any whiskey, but Bourbon is particularly good.

Bourbon Smash
Recipe courtesy of Geoffrey Zakarian
Form:  Food Network’s The Kitchen

Ingredients
3/4 ounce simple syrup
8 fresh mint leaves, plus 1 sprig, for garnish
3 lemon wedges
2 ounces bourbon
Splash of ginger ale or sparkling water

Directions
Put the simple syrup, mint leaves and lemon wedges into a cocktail shaker and muddle them until the lemons are broken down. Add the bourbon and fill the shaker with ice; using a long cocktail spoon, stir vigorously until very cold.

Fill a rocks glass with ice and use a fine strainer to strain the drink into the glass. Put the mint sprig in the palm of one hand and gently smack it with the fingers of your other hand (this releases the oils and fragrance). Finish off with a splash of ginger ale or sparkling water. Garnish the drink with the sprig and serve.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Turkey Meatloaf

So, I was glancing through some old cookbooks trying to decide what to make for dinner this past Wednesday.

It was my turn to cook.

I always fret.

I came upon this recipe in a cookbook I’ve had for a long time…almost as long as younger daughter is old. 
 
Let me tell you how I know that.  The author is Mary Englebreit and back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, she produced a collection of whimsical little nick-knacks and other quirky items, like paper dolls.

I have always loved paper dolls. I have Jackie Kennedy paper dolls somewhere...I should find them. 

Anyway, one of the paper doll characters looked amazingly like younger daughter when she was a wee toddler…you be the judge:

Paper Doll, Ann Estelle

 
Toddler, Younger Daughter

Total doppelganger, right?!  Doppleganger is German for "double walker."  I'll be in Germany this fall, but more on that later.

This uncanny resemblance is one of the reasons why I bought this cookbook and, many, many years later, paging through it, how I came upon the incredibly good Turkey Meatloaf recipe I made on Wednesday.

Packed with ground turkey, carrots, mushrooms, apples, shallots, parsley and sage, this savory version is a great alternative for those who do not eat beef.  The mushrooms give it the features of its beefy counterpart, but the turkey and vegetables make it a lighter, healthier, and oh-so-tasty option.   

As you may have heard, meatloaf is the quintessential comfort food….I am comforted by the fact that this recipe allows a tasty, non-bovine choice!  I thought about having the leftovers for lunch today, but then I am writing this post on a Friday morning in Lent.  Lunch tomorrow will be meatloaf and American cheese with mustard on whole grain white bread.  YUM.

I doubled the recipe because the Misters joined us.

We allowed them, however briefly, into the inter-sanctum of Dinner Night.

Turkey Meatloaf
By:  Mary Englebreit

Ingredients:
½ cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 large shallots, finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped carrot
10 ounces small white mushrooms, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 pound lean ground turkey
1 ¼ cups fresh bread crumbs
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Directions:
1. In a large nonstick skillet, bring the broth and oil to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and carrot and cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes, or until the shallots are softened. Add the mushrooms, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and let cool.

2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a baking sheet.

3. With your hands, thoroughly mix the turkey, bread crumbs, apple, parsley, and sage into the cooled vegetable mixture. Add the egg and mix well. Divide the mixture in half and on the baking sheet, shape each portion into an oval about 6 ½ inches long, 4 inches wide, and 1 ½ inches high. Transfer the loaves to the baking sheet.   For a Martha-meet-Mary moment, I brushed a glaze of brown sugar, mixed with ketchup and mustard on top before baking.

4. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until cooked through. Let the meatloaf rest, loosely covered, for 5 minutes.

5. Cut the meatloaf into ½ -inch slices, arrange on a platter, and serve.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Gnocchi Heaven

Three of us had dinner at Architect’s house last week; Singer was visiting with her daughter who was home from college.

I’m sorry she missed this meal.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, Architect was telling us about an article she read “Six Steps to Reaching Gnocchi Nirvana.” The articles asks why a simple dish of just three ingredients (potatoes, flour and salt) often causes a culinary calamity.  It goes on to explain how one can consistently achieve “tender, ethereally light, nicely potatoey” gnocchi that doesn’t disintegrate in water and can handle any sauce you toss its way.  
 
We all encouraged her to make gnocchi the next time it was her turn to cook.

She did. 

We were so happy. 

And hungry.

I did a quick search for the article mentioned above that first appeared in Food and Wine magazine in 2008.  Below is an abbreviated version of the six magic steps:
Step one: Start with Yukon Gold potatoes because they have more of the nutty flavor of potatoes used by Italian and Proven├žal cooks who have mastered the art known as gnocchi.
Step two: Bake the potatoes, don't boil them. Water is the enemy of good gnocchi dough.
Step three: Rice the potatoes with a fine potato ricer or, better yet, a drum sieve.
Step four: Use two-thirds all-purpose flour to one-third cake flour.
Step five: Weigh the potatoes after baked and riced.
Step six: Use a bench scraper to incorporate the potatoes and the flour.  Above is a bench scraper, more commonly known as a dough divider.

I’m half Italian (the other half is Irish) and I have always loved gnocchi (made with potato) and cavatelli (made with ricotta).  I remember watching my Italian grandmother – who I absolutely adored – make the dough, roll it out into long tubes, cut off little pieces and flick the pieces with her thumb to create the most special little pocket waiting to welcome her incredible gravy (that's Italian for sauce).  To this day, I can’t do that thumb-flick-pocket thing.   

Birthdays were a big deal in my childhood home and we could request any meal we wanted.  Every year, I requested that my grandmom make me cavatelli, and every year, she did.  It didn’t matter to her that it was July and hot.  She was a grandmom. 

And that’s how grandmoms are.
 
My grandmom is in the picture you see, with the younger me and my aunt and uncle. I used to love that sweater!  I think the year was 1963.  Check out the wall paper.  I remember it so clearly...kitchen utensils in the green-rust-gold shades so popular back then.

Sister sent me this photo....thank you for the memory!

Potato Gnocchi
From: Gnocchi Nirvana

Kosher salt
2 pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread a 1-inch layer of salt in a small roasting pan. Prick the potatoes all over with a fork and arrange them on the salt in a single layer. Bake until fork-tender, about 11/2 hours. Remove them from the oven and slit them lengthwise to release their steam.

2. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. As soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop their flesh into a ricer or tamis and rice the potatoes onto the paper towels in a shallow layer. Let cool completely.

It is important to use a low-rimmed baking sheet because the heat will more
easily circulate around the potato, cooking them more evenly.

3. Working over a medium bowl, sift the all-purpose and cake flours with a large pinch of salt. Measure out 4 lightly packed cups of the riced potatoes (1 pound), and transfer the potatoes to a work surface. Sprinkle the sifted flour mixture over the potatoes and drizzle with the olive oil. Gently form the dough into a firm ball.   The olive oil makes the dough easier to handle.

4. Test the gnocchi dough: Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil. Using your hands, form one 3/4-inch round (a single gnocco). Boil the gnocco until it floats to the surface, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocco to a plate and let cool. It should be light and tender but still hold together. If the gnocco breaks apart in the boiling water, the dough has too little flour; add more. If the gnocco is tough and chewy, the dough has too much flour; cut in a little more of the reserved riced potatoes.

5. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Divide the dough into quarters. Working with one piece at a time, gently roll the dough into a long rope about 1/2 inch wide. Using a sharp knife, cut the rope into 1/2-inch pieces. Roll each piece against the tines of a fork to make light ridges. Transfer the gnocchi to the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Let the gnocchi stand at room temperature for 1 hour to dry.

6. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Add half of the gnocchi at a time and boil over high heat until they rise to the surface, then cook for 15 seconds longer. Using a wire skimmer, transfer the gnocchi to the bowl of ice water. Drain on paper towels and pat dry. Toss with oil and refrigerate for up to 3 hours or freeze the gnocchi on baking sheets in a single layer. Transfer them to an airtight container or resealable plastic bags and freeze for up to six weeks.

Architect served two versions of gnocchi that evening, sweet potato gnocchi with a browed butter and sage sauce and Yukon Gold potato gnocchi with a simple tomato sauce.  To make the perfect borown butter sage sauce, simply melt 4 tablespoons butter in a pan until it is slightly browned, add about 8 sage leaves, slivered and drizzle in the juice of half a lemon.  Toss on your favorite pasta and top with Parmesan cheese.    

We were indeed in gnocchi nirvana.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Lemon Chicken


We had dinner at Foodie’s house last week and she made Lemon Chicken. Lemon Chicken is one of those tangy, herby and savory culinary experiences that, once devoured, make us sit back and sigh with sheer contentment. The lemon totally shines in this dish, and any cut of boneless chicken will work, but Foodie used thighs because they tend to be more flavorful and a bit juicier.  The chicken also dazzles in this recipe and thighs are confident enough to declare, “step aside, lemon and herbs, I’m here too and I intend to make a meaningful contribution!”  And they do.

The sauce.  Well let me say, you could practically drink the sauce.  Just pick up the baking dish and chug away; it’s that good. 
 
I thought about it but comments would have followed and this is a relatively small town.

Thighs add a lot of flavor to this sauce and that fact prompted the question...why do chicken legs and thighs work better in casserole-type dishes? Well, let me tell you why.  As you know, chicken thighs are dark meat and dark meat contains slightly more fat and collagen, and that makes the meat juicer and more flavorful.  Dark meat also contains more nutrients than white meat. 

The dark meat bad rap began many years ago when chickens would run free around the farms of America.  All that scampering made for strong thigh and leg muscles and that, in turn, produced a tougher dark meat.  Hence the American love affair with white meat began.  The chickens of today (sadly) don’t get as much exercise as their turn-of-the-century counterparts so the difference in toughness between white and dark meat is minimal, but the dark meat stills stands up better in casseroles and braises.  
 
I visited Key West in 2008 and the island is filled with beautiful feral chickens, which are protected there.  We had dinner at a charming Key West restaurant and attraction called Blue Haven and as we were dining, the chickens happily sauntered up to our table.  I was born and raised with concrete under my feet (otherwise known as the "city") and do not have a lick of experience with chickens so, for fear of being pecked, I kept my hands to myself, far away from the poultry pilgrims.  Anyway, the chickens roam freely about the island, much like pigeons do in other cities.  Their colors are truly magnificent.
 
I bet with all that exercise their thigh muscles are strong!
 
Lemon Chicken

Ingredients
One large onion
5 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of two lemons
2 lemons, sliced
Salt and pepper
Fresh thyme
1 box frozen artichoke hearts
2 tablespoons of capers
8-10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400°.  Mince the onion and garlic.  Place the chicken thighs, minced onion, garlic, artichoke hearts, capers and sliced lemons in a baking dish, pour the olive oil and lemon juice over the chicken mixture and season with salt & pepper and fresh thyme. Put a few dots of butter on top. Bake it at 400 for about 25 minutes then broil for a few minutes more until the top is browned a bit. Serve with jasmine rice flavored with saffron.


Shamrocks bejeweled the table and we had baked apples with hazelnuts for dessert.

Chicken image from google images.