Monday, March 28, 2016

Grilled Asparagus with Romesco Sauce and Apple Balsamic

A few years ago each of us bought the Jerusalem cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi and for the next several months, a meal from the popular publication graced our Dinner Club tables.  C. hosted an entire New Year’s dinner inspired by the delights.

Last week was a M. kind of week.  First, it was her turn to cook dinner for the crew, then she hosted a birthday dinner for Mr. M. featuring the NYTimes Guinness Cake as the finale, a true masterpiece….and quite tasty.

The recipe that M. prepared for Dinner Club was not from our trusty favorite, Jerusalem, but from a later cookbook, NOPI, written by one of the Jerusalem chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi and head chef of the London restaurant with the same name, Ramael Scully.

Many cooks have grown to love the striking, exotic, aromatic and flavorful simplicity of other Ottoglenghi recipes but this new book looked a little intimidating.  So, I decided to read the cookbook reviews of Nopi and one review states…“the book even begins with a disclaimer from Ottolenghi, who writes ‘most of the recipes here will be more challenging for most home cooks.’”

Well M. was not deterred.  She turned to page 18 and whipped up the recipe for Grilled Asparagus with Romesco Sauce and Apple Balsamic.  And, if that weren’t enough, she grilled shrimp to serve along side.

Then, later that week, the birthday Guinness Cake. Sigh.

Grilled Asparagus with Romesco Sauce and Apple Balsamic

Romesco Sauce
1 dried ancho chile soaked in water for 30 minutes, drained, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 oz. whole almonds, toasted
1 3/4 oz crustless sourdough bread, cut into cubes
3 medium plum tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 tablespoon of good quality sherry vinegar
5 teaspoons of olive oil
I medium red chile, seeded and coarsely chopped

2 1/4 lbs asparagus, woody ends trimmed
2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup apple juice
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 oz sliced almonds, toasted
Coarse sea salt and black pepper

Place all ingredients for the romesco sauce in a small bowl, along with 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper.  Stir well, cover, then leave in the refrigerator to marinate for 4 hours, or preferably, overnight.  Transfer to a food processor and blitz to form a paste.  Place in a small plan and warm through just before serving. 

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil and add the asparagus.  Blanch for 1-2 minutes, until a dente, then drain and refresh under cold water.  Set aside to dry.

Place the balsamic vinegar, apple juice and sugar in a small pan and place over high heat.  Cook for 4-5 minutes, until the mixture has reduced by half and has a thick, sticky consistency.  

Place a ridged grill pan over high heat.  Toss the asparagus with the olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt and grill for 1-2 minutes so both sides get scorched.  Plate the asparagus, either on a bed of the romesco sauce or with the sauce on the side, and drizzle the balsamic mix over the asparagus.  Wonderful served with grilled shrimp or chicken.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Chicken Francaise

Perhaps you have a profile on Facebook.  If so, like me, you receive posts from old friends, new friends, work friends, friends of friends, famous people who are not really friends but are kinda like friends because you follow them, and George Takei.  And, also like me, you have probably “liked” various home improvement, self improvement, motivational, retailer, museum, garden center, community theatre and recipe-sharing pages.

I’d like to talk about the recipe-sharing pages. I really only follow a few, because I see the posts of my many friends, acquired through the circumstances mentioned above, and I react — with the new Facebook emoticons — to the mini-videos of recipes that pique my interest.  Like the Chicken Francaise recipe that appeared on

Did you know most cooking for those videos is done on a little table-top burner?

So, the history of Chicken Francaise is a bit interesting, because the dish appears to be French but is commonly associated with Italian cuisine.  As the story goes, back during the 1939 World’s Fair, the light, white and airy cuisine served at a newly-opened French restaurant dethroned the very popular saucy, starchy, heavier, Italian classics.  An Italian chef, who was not happy about the usurping, decided to create a lighter, buttery, French-like dish to lure people back to Italian fare.  That dish was Chicken Francaise, meaning “chicken in the French manner,” made with white wine, chicken broth, garlic and butter. 

Very adaptable, like many other Italian dishes, you can substitute veal or shrimp with this classic and because it is lighter, enjoy it with a dry white wine or a light red, like Pinot Noir.  

I tweaked the recipe below a little after reading some other versions (thank you Rachel Ray!).  Also, this recipe doubles easily! I served a side of risotto with green peas.

Fairly easy, so delicious and a little fancy-pants.    

Chicken Francaise 
Adapted from

2 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless (I used Purdue thin-sliced chicken breasts)
1 cup plain flour
2 eggs
1 handful of fresh parsley, chopped
2 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup white wine (don’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink!)
1 cup chicken stock
3 garlic cloves, peeled and passed through garlic press
Olive oil to coat the plan, more if needed as you proceed
4 tbsp butter, 2 of which coated with flour (the flour will help thicken the sauce)
1 lemon, cut in half.  Cut one half into slices.
Salt and pepper

Butterfly cut your breast (open the breast like a book). Place cling film on a board, add your breast spread open, sandwich it in cling film and flatten using the flat side of a meat mallet or the underside of a saucepan.  You can also place the breast in a ziplock bag before pounding or buy the Purdue thin-sliced breasts.

Crack the eggs into a dish large enough to fit chicken breast.  Season eggs with salt and pepper, give them a light beat. Chop the parsley (keep a few sprigs for garnish) and add half to egg wash.  Add the Parmesan cheese to egg-wash, mix well.

Add the plain flour to a plate.  Toss 2 pats of the butter in the flour and set aside.  To a frying pan on moderate heat, add the olive oil and the uncoated butter pats. Coat the chicken in the flour, shake off any excess flour.  Dip the chicken in the egg wash, make sure it's totally covered and place in hot oil and cook for about 4 minutes each side (depending on thickness).  Flip over once brown and cook the other side.Transfer chicken to a hot plate and rest.

To the same frying pan on full heat, brown the lemon slices.  Then, carefully add the white wine, crushed garlic, squeeze of the other half of the lemon, chicken stock, the remainder of chopped parsley, the flour-coated butter and reduce for 2 minutes on full heat.  Return the chicken to the sauce and continue heating chicken on medium heat. Plate the chicken, and reduce the sauce until it looks a little thicker (not too thick) and pour over the chicken.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Pear Walnut Upside-Down Cake

Okay, so when it comes to Dinner Club Night, I am usually on-the-ball.  I plan my assignment (dinner, salad, wine or dessert) well in advance, make sure my schedule is clear and am typically one of the first to arrive.

Note the word typically.

Last week, our Dinner Club day was switched to Monday, which is not unusual when A. cooks but A. and C. switched turns and this got me all flummoxed up and, damn it, I missed it.

That’s right, you heard me.  I outright, downright, straight-out, categorically missed it.  No excuse other than I wasn't paying attention, which makes me mad because I am told that A. was streaming the music of the Mavericks (I swoon for Raul Malo) and served a delightful chicken and fennel stew.  

What also makes me mad is that I had an outstanding dessert planned.  I look forward to serving these ladies out-of-the-ordinary desserts because they are so effusive with their praise, which is good for a girl’s ego!  

So, on Saturday, since I had all the ingredients (including several very ripe pears), I got up extra early and made the cake I planned to make for Dinner Club dessert….Pear Walnut Upside-Down Cake, from Cooks Illustrated.  I visited my mom later in the day and brought it along...we enjoyed after a nice dinner at a local restaurant that is kind of an institution in the 'hood.  Mother, Sister, and Brother were quite complimentary.  There were no Daughters to be found, but I saved them both a slice.  Lucky girls, because this cake is outstanding….and quite beautiful.  Sort of fancy, not too sweet, and a perfect way to cap off a dinner party.

It's my turn to cook this week...hopefully everyone will show up!

Pear Walnut Upside-Down Cake 
Cooks Illustrated, January/February 2016

Topping Ingredients
4 Tablespoons butter, melted (I used Kerrygold)
1/2 cup pack dark brown sugar (I used light and it was fine)
2 teaspoons of cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 ripe Bosc pears, peeled, halved, cored and sliced (you should get at least 5 slices from each pear)
Honey to drizzle

Cake Ingredients
1 cup walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
4 Tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup of vegetable oil

Topping Directions
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Grease a 9” round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper (cut to fit into the bottom of the pan).  Pour the melted butter on top of the paper, and swirling to distribute evenly.  Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over the melted butter.  Arrange the pears in a circular pattern around the cake pan with the thinnest edges pointing inward.  Fill the middle with some smaller pieces of pear.   I drizzled some honey on top of the pears.  

Cake Directions
Pulse walnuts, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in an food processor until the walnuts are finely ground, around 10 pulses.  Transfer walnut mixture to a bowl.  

Process eggs and sugar in the food processor until very pale yellow, about 2 minutes.  With the processor running, add the melted butter and oil in steady stream until incorporated.  Add the walnut mixture and pulse to combine, about 5 pulses.  Pour batter evenly over the pears…some may show through, but that’s okay because the cake will cover them up as it bakes.  

Bake until a toothpick inserted int the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.  Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Carefully run a butter knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake.  Invert the cake onto a wire rack, remove the parchment paper, allow to cool for two hours, then transfer to a serving platter.  Serve with homemade whipped cream, cream fraiche or frozen yogurt.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Linguine with Tuna, Black Olives and Tomatoes

When I was little, we lived with my Italian Grandmother. Sundays and holidays were a big deal because my dad’s sisters, brother and their spouses and kids came to visit….every week!  It was a delightful time, filled with many happy memories. It was also very loud...a gaggle of Italians make for a spirited time indeed.  Each sibling had their own personality that, even as a kid, I clearly recognized.  Thoughts of my feisty Aunt Adeline (far right) always bring a smile to my face, perhaps because I think I’m most like her.  My wonderful dad is the little guy, Uncle Eddie behind him, Aunt Millie on the left and of course my Grandpop and beloved Grandmom.

Anyway, on Christmas Eve, we would gather and celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes, Festa dei sette pesci.  Today, I would appreciate such a celebration with its wonderful selection of seafaring creatures but, way back in 1965 when I was not yet 10, I’d rather be tarred and feathered and hung in St. Frannie’s school yard than eat anchovies, cod, smelts, eels, squid, octopus, shrimp, or mussels.

I clearly remember the smelts, they were fried.  Fried smelts did not even sound good to me. 

I complained to my Grandmother and she, never wanting to disappoint a beloved grandchild, especially her mother’s namesake (in Italian, Giovanna), prepared the children a special dish of tuna in gravy served over spaghetti, because, there was no compromising on eating fish on Christmas Eve. 

All this brings me to our dinner last Wednesday evening.  It was C.’s turn to cook and she made a dish from a well-loved, falling apart, stained but oh-so-reliable and my kind of cookbook called, 365 Days of Pasta, Linguine with Tuna, Black Olives and Tomatoes.   Even the smell of this delicious dish brought me right back to Christmas Eve on North 22nd Street in Philadelphia. 

Thank you for the wonderful dinner, C., but mostly, thank you for the memory.

Linguine with Tina, Black Olives and Tomatoes

1 can (14 1/2 oz)whole, peeled tomatoes, drained
4 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 can (6 1/2 oz) tuna, packed in olive oil
3 Tablespoons pitted and chopped imported black olives
1 lb. linguine
2 Tablespoons fresh, chopped parsley

Coarsely chop the drained tomatoes.  Heat olive oil in a skillet until warm, add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about one minute.  Add the tomatoes, tuna and black olives, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Add salt to taste.  

Meanwhile, cook the linguine until al dente (firm to the bite).  Drain the pasta and toss with the tuna sauce, sprinkle with parsley and pepper and serve.