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

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

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 article 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 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

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.

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.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Shellfish Risotto with Saffron

We had dinner at Singer’s house on Ash Wednesday. She served a seafood dish, Shellfish Risotto with Saffron from the Dean and Deluca Cookbook. There used to be a Dean and Deluca on Main Street in Manayunk and I would bring older daughter and baby younger daughter there to enjoy a walk, a cup of coffee and a lovely afternoon of watching the world go by. 

Don’t you just love when you see, hear, smell or eat something that churns-up a wonderful memory?!

Every culture has its own rice staple in its cuisine…the fragrant basmati in India, traditional white rice in China, and in Italy, it’s creamy risotto.  When we were in Italy, we had a delicious and beautiful dish called Amarone Risotto in a charming little restaurant in Verona.  Risotto, a chewy and starchy grain, dances nicely with other flavors, creating a slow and savory waltz on your taste buds.  The fruity, cacao, and spicy notes of the Amarone wine were apparent in this dish, but the grain was certainly hearty enough to be noticed.  The deep red jewel tone of the wine made the dish almost too pretty to eat. 

In Venice, due to city’s proximity to water, cooks often mix seafood with risotto. Venetians frequently serve small plates called “cicchetti” and, I have to be honest, I thought I would scream if presented with yet another small plate of risotto and shrimp, smelt or calamari!  It was interesting the first one or two times, but by the third time I was thinking “what else you got?!”  Now, Milan is one of the fashion capitols of the world, so it makes sense that they introduced a fancy and decadent spice, saffron, to a risotto dish.  So you see, Shellfish Risotto with Saffron is truly a “tale of two cities” offering the best of both. Use the freshest seafood you can find to enhance the flavor experience.

You can read about my trip to Italy here.

Shellfish Risotto with Saffron
From: Dean and Deluca Cookbook

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
1 cup dry white wine
18 small cultivated mussels, scrubbed and bearded (Singer substituted clams)
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and shells reserved
6 sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley
two 3-inch strips orange zest
two 3-inch strips lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 canned Italian plum tomatoes, drained and pressed through a sieve (about 1/2 cup puree)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large leeks (white and pale green part only), quartered lengthwise, sliced thin, and washed thoroughly (about 2 cups)
1 garlic clove, crushed with the side of a knife
1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
1/4 pound bay scallops
salt and pepper to taste
minced fresh parsley for garnish

1. Soak the saffron threads in 2 tablespoons warm water in a small bowl for 20 minutes.

2.  Heat the wine and 1 cup water in a large heavy saucepan to boiling.  Add the mussels, cover the pan, and cook over moderately high heat just until the mussels open, about 3 to 6 minutes, discarding any that do not open.  Remove the open mussels with a slotted spoon, place in a bowl, and reserve.

3.  Reduce the heat under the saucepan to moderate and add the shrimp shells, parsley sprigs, zests, fennel seeds and saffron threads with their liquid. Simmer the mixture, covered, for 15 minutes.  Strain the liquid through a very fine sieve lined with damp cheesecloth and discard the solids.  Measure strained liquid and add enough water to make 5 cups.  Transfer the liquid to a saucepan, add the sieved tomatoes, and bring the liquid to a bare simmer.

4.  Heat the butter and olive oil in a heavy 2- to 3- quart saucepan, and cook the leeks and garlic over moderate heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until very soft but not browned, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the rice, and cook,  stirring constantly, until the edges of the rice become translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add about 1/2 cup simmering liquid to the rice, and cook, stirring constantly and adjusting the heat to maintain a lively simmer (not a steady boil) until all the liquid is absorbed.  Continue adding liquid,  about 1/2 cup at a time, and cook, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next.  After 15 minutes of cooking, add the shrimp, scallops, salt, and pepper, and continue to cook until rice is al dente (tender but still firm at the center), about 5 to 10 minutes longer.  (The risotto should be very creamy; if it isn't, add more liquid.)  About 2 minutes before finishing the risotto, add the reserved mussels with their juices.

5.  Remove the pan from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Arrange the risotto on a serving platter, sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Heart Wreath

I get a lot of emails. 

On purpose. 

I subscribe to many blogs and I scan them for interesting content and ideas that I can customize and make my own.  Every now and again I find inspiration, like this lovely wreath from a Home and Garden Center called Terrain.

I was immediately attracted by its simplicity and meager, but charming collection of botanical beauties, strategically situated on a pretty pussywillow wreath. Terrain offered instructions on how to make the gilding using real flowers but I thought I would try using silk counterparts. 

It would be just as beautiful and last longer.

So, off I trotted to Pier One and Joann’s. 

I purchased several artificial pussywillow branches, silk mini Roses, Ranunculus, flowering Rosemary, and green Hellebore. 

I also purchased floral wire and wire cutters from the best old-fashioned hardware store ever, Deals, in Media, PA.  Older daughter would argue that the Stanley's True Value Hardware on Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia is the best traditional hardware store ever but that debate is not important to this tale.

So here’s what you do:

Clip off two of the pussywillow branches to the same size and form them into the shape of a Bass clef.  These will become the left and right side of a heart….a long, thin heart looks pretty. 

Note:  If using fresh branches, the Terrain instructions say to form each branch into a teardrop, attach some wire to the bottom and let each fresh branch shape overnight.

Using floral wire, attach at both tips.

Lay the heart down and decide where you’d like to place the flowers.

Attach the flowers with floral wire.


I will make a real one when the flowers are in season.  This wreath, whether the flowers are real or silk, is the prettiest little thing ever, don't you think?!