Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just a Touch of Heat

This sauce began many years ago in the back of my high school history notebook. All those empty pages had to be filled with something, and, it surely wasn’t going to be history. (Poor Mr. P., the thrill of teaching had abandoned him years before I arrived in his class, and I was desperate to find something to keep me awake!) The original recipe still lives there along with many others that have not stood the test of time. Over the years this recipe has been tinkered with and tweaked. Only within the last few years has it stabilized to the recipe below.

Based on a Bolognese Sauce—minced meat and chopped vegetables simmered for several hours and served over pasta--the sauce is best when it sits over night allowing the flavors to develop. Planning ahead is essential. Start the sauce a day or two before you intend it to be served. Hot Italian sausage was settled on after much experimentation as it gives the sauce a wonderful flavor with just a touch of heat. Lean ground beef and sweet Italian sausage can be used, but the flavor will be quite different.

Pasta Sauce A La Bobbie Sue

6 links HOT Italian sausage (1-1/2 lbs.)

1 medium onion, chopped

3 large carrots, peeled and chopped

2 stalks celery w/leaves, chopped

1 green pepper, seeded & chopped

8 large cans whole plum tomatoes w/juice

2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil or 2 tsp. dried

1/4 c. chopped flat leaf parsley

2 bay leaves

4 large cloves garlic chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

Pasta

Parmesan cheese

Select a pot large enough to hold all sauce ingredients and set on the stove. Remove the sausage meat from casings and place in the pot. Break up with a spoon. Turn the burner to medium. Add all the chopped vegetables, and saute until the meat is lightly browned.

Stir in tomatoes, basil, parsley, bay leaves, and garlic. Break up the tomatoes with a spoon. Bring the sauce to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer the sauce uncovered for 2 to 4 hours. The sauce is ready when it is reduced by half. Cover and refrigerate the sauce for 24 hours. Reheat the sauce gently just before serving. When the sauce is ready adjust seasoning. Serve over pasta with Parmesan cheese.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name

What’s in a name? Would a rose by any other name still smell so sweet? My mother used to make a dish she called Creamed Tuna on Toast. Every French Canadian woman of my acquaintance has known how to make this dish. But, come to find out, Creamed Tuna on Toast
is an alias.

The real name for this dish is Tuna Pea Wiggle, this truth was revealed to me by my friend Fernande. I was at her house one evening for dinner, when I asked what we were having she said, “Tuna Pea Wiggle.” I had no idea what she was referring to. Only after the dish was described did it dawn on me that Fernande was talking about Creamed Tuna on Toast! I was stunned. How could such a wonderful dish have such a terrible name? Unappetizing images came to mind mostly having to do with congealed, gelatinous mounds on a plate. Ugh! So, here is the question: What’s in a name? Would Creamed Tuna on Toast still be so good by any other name? Most definitely!

This wonderful dish is classic comfort food. Quick, tasty, inexpensive, and nutritious Creamed Tuna is also versatile. My recipe for this dish reflects changes I have made to lighten the dish to make it more heart healthy. This includes modifying the roux used to make the cream sauce and adding other vegetables besides peas. I prefer to use 1% or 2% milk, but skim milk can be used, too. If this is your choice, just add 1/3 c. of non-fat instant milk to the sauce. This dish is usually served on toast, but it can also be served on rice, as you can tell from the picture above.

Creamed Tuna on Toast
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
½ red pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
¼ c. flour
3 c. 1% or 2% milk (for skim, see above notes)
2 6 oz. cans solid pack white tuna in water, drained
1 c. fresh or frozen peas
Kosher salt
White pepper
Toast or rice

Place a 1-quart saucepan on the stove. Turn the heat to medium and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking add the chopped green pepper, red pepper, celery, carrots and parsley.

Sauté until the vegetables are just tender. Add the flour and stir to combine. When the flour is mixed in, pour in half the milk. Stir to thoroughly combine. Reduce the heat the medium low, and stir occasionally. When the milk begins to thicken add the remaining milk, and stir to incorporate. Continue to cook stirring occasionally until the cream sauce is thickened. Add the drained tuna, breaking it up with the spoon. Add the peas. Cook until the peas are cooked and the tuna is heated through. Add salt to taste and a good grind of pepper. Serve over toast or rice.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Carefully Cared For

I will never own a glass top stove. Yeah, yeah, I know they are the rage and everyone who is anybody wants one. Not me! Nope. Not now, not ever. You are probably thinking, she’ll change her mind. Given time she’ll come around. I have been known to change my mind, for example, I now use a digital camera. But, a glass top stove, I don’t think so. It would mean giving up the life-blood of my culinary accoutrements—the cast iron cookware.

It was 197something. I had just moved to Burlington, Vermont, gotten a job and my very first apartment. My parents had come up to see where I had landed and help me settle in. My mother sent me off to do some kitchen shopping, and instead of buying food, I purchased a set of cast iron frying pans. These pans still hang on the pegboard

in my kitchen as they have in every place I have ever called home. And, quite honestly, their presence alone is sufficient to make any kitchen home. Over the years my cast iron arsenal has grown. The total is now up to 12 pieces. Each piece is a prized possession, constantly used, and carefully cared for. Most of my pieces were not purchased new, but were acquired at yard sales and thrift stores and re-seasoned.

In my family, cast iron cook-ware are heirlooms passed down like the family silver. Bella inherited my mother’s cast iron frying pans, which were gifts from my father. Dad thought he had solved his Christmas gift-giving dilemma, and swelled with pride for four whole years when Mom opened her Christmas package. Dad was crestfallen when Mom told him if he gave her another cast iron frying pan, she’d use it on him. It was back to square one for Dad! My mother used those pans every day for the rest of her life. Even if she never acknowledged it, they were among the best and most thoughtful gifts she ever received from Dad.

There is nothing like a cast iron skillet for holding heat and cooking evenly. When properly seasoned and cared for cast iron is as non-stick as any Teflon coated cooking surface. Cast iron lasts a lifetime, and, as I have already mentioned, has the potential to become a family heirloom. Here are some tips on the proper care and maintenance of cast iron cookware.

Seasoning is the process by which the uneven surface of cast iron is smoothed out and sealed and a non-stick surface is created. Cast iron can be seasoned and re-seasoned as part of its maintenance. Well-seasoned cast iron has a shiny black surface. A non-stick surface can take a year or so to develop, so don’t be discouraged and become lax about cleaning and caring for your cast iron.

This is the procedure I follow when seasoning cast iron cookware: Place a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven; it will catch any drips. Preheat the oven to 350. If you are seasoning a new cast iron piece, remove all stickers and tags. Wash it thoroughly with hot, soapy water. This is the ONLY time you will EVER use soap on your cast iron cookware. Dry the piece thoroughly, and rub it inside and out with a thin, even coating of vegetable shortening. Place the piece upside down on the top rack of the preheated oven directly above the piece of aluminum foil. Bake for one hour. (There will probably be some smoke.) After one hour remove the pan from the oven and place on a on the stove top to cool completely.

Use and cleaning: Heat cast iron gradually. Do not put it on a burner and turn the heat to high or put a hot piece directly into water--either of these could cause your cat iron to crack. Wipe

cast iron clean using hot water. Do not use soap, as this will damage the seasoning. If something sticks to your cast iron, let the piece cool a bit and then pour in some hot water. Let this sit for a while. To scrub, use a stiff bristle brush or a plastic “scrubbie.” Do not use steel wool. Immediately, thoroughly dry the piece, and wipe inside and out with a bit of cooking oil before putting away. This will help prevent rust from forming and protect the seasoning.

Now that you know the essentials of cast iron cookware, get ye to a thrift shop! You will never regret it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stuff It

When my ancestors arrived in Boston from England in the 1630's stuffing must have been part of their culinary heritage. But, it’s been around much longer than that, as anyone who has read “Clan of the Cave Bear” knows! Thanks to Aspicius, author of one of the oldest extant cookbooks, we know that the Romans stuffed everything from pig to dormouse. The French word for stuffing “farce” comes from the Latin word “facire” which means to stuff. The French used it to describe a comedic play (the farce), which was “stuffed” in between other plays. Farce is still used to describe the chopped meats used in sausage. In the mid 1500’s the term stuffing appeared in English cooking for the first time. The Victorians renamed the dish “dressing.” Why? The term stuffing must have insulted their sensibilities, but the rationale behind the change in nomenclature would be a guess. Today the terms stuffing and dressing are interchangeable.

For many years, believing that complicated was better, I strayed from my culinary roots and embarked on a stuffing odyssey. I tried recipe after recipe--corn bread, wild rice and mushroom, and on and on. Each recipe was sophisticated, with complex flavors and complicated ingredients often requiring days of preparation. These recipes all had one thing in common—they did not enhance the poultry experience. Perhaps it was the comfort food factor (which was most certainly lacking) or perhaps it was that those fancy stuffing’s really weren’t all that great! Whatever the reason, my family is happier now that I’ve stopped experimenting and returned to my culinary roots.

This stuffing tastes best with a blend of breads. My choice of breads usually includes Anadama, Oatmeal, White, and Whole Wheat. The weekend before Thanksgiving my bread machine is working overtime churning them out. Although homemade bread is what I use, it’s not a requirement for success. The most important attribute of the bread is that it be firm. Do not use soft bread, what I call "puffo" bread—bread that collapses or sticks to itself when you squeeze it. Artisanal bread can be used as one of the breads, but its texture tends to be too hard and dry to be the only bread used in the stuffing. On careful observation of some of the photographs you will notice that the quantities shown are not those suggested in the recipe below. This is because some of the photographs are from Thanksgiving when we stuffed an 18 pound bird. They are being used here for "how to" purposes.

Notes: On the food borne illness front—NEVER EVER, EVER stuff a bird more than a few minutes before putting it in the oven, it is one of those things that quite simply cannot, under any circumstances be done in advance. Or, put the cooked bird into the refrigerator without removing the stuffing. On the roasting front--Be sure to add 5 minutes per pound for a stuffed bird. Depending on the size this will be between 20 to 45 minutes.

New England Comfort Bread Stuffing
Stuffs a 6 pound bird
6 ½ inch thick slices bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
Olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery with leaves, chopped
1 large tart apple, cored and very coarsely chopped
½ c. dried cranberries
1 Tbsp fresh marjoram, or 1 tsp. dried (not ground)
¼ c. chopped fresh Parsley
1 tsp. kosher salt
A good grind of black pepper

Put the bread cubes into a large bowl, and set aside.

Place a heavy (preferably cast iron skillet) on the stove. Pour in a
bout 2 tbsps. olive oil. When the oil
is hot, add the onions and celery. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add the remaining ingredientsand cook until the herbs are wilted. Scrape into the bowl with the bread cubes. Mix well.




Stuff the neck cavity first. When sufficiently stuffed, pull the neck skin flap down over the spine and secure with a small metal skewer. Fill the abdominal cavity. Do not over fill as the stuffing will expand as it cooks. When basting the bird, be sure to “baste” the stuffing.
Any stuffing that does not fit into the bird can be put into a buttered casserole dish and baked separately.


Pour enough chicken or vegetable stock over the stuffing to moisten it slightly. Bake at 325 with the chicken until the top is browned and crispy. Cover with foil to prevent over-browning.
See my earlier post “The Hallmark of a Good Cook” for roasting instructions.



After transferring the roasted bird to a platter, remove the metal skewer holding the neck flap in place. The stuffing can be removed from the bird to a serving dish, or can be served directly from the bird at the table.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Twisted

My favorite salad growing up was one my mother made with apples. When I asked my mother about this salad, she told me it was called a “Waldorf Salad” and was named after a famous hotel in New York City. When I asked why, Mom explained that it was named for the hotel because a chef there had created the salad and it was what was called a “signature dish” of the hotel. “Oh.” This explanation satisfied my curiosity and I went back to setting the table.

The apple salad remains a favorite. The textures, flavors, and crunch factor are why this salad, for me at least, has such a huge appeal. Over the years I’ve experimented with the recipe, changing, tweaking, and discarding until last winter when it finally came together.

My friend Carol had just come back from Madagascar and presented me with the lovely gift of red peppercorns. These sweet slightly tangy red orbs are technically not a pepper, but a berry, and are called so due to their size and shape. They are sometimes called pink peppercorns. While preparing this dish for a book club meeting, I decided to toss in a few smashed red peppercorns. Oh boy, was it ever delish! My fellow book worshippers were scraping the bowl.

Hints for this dish: Use firm red apples. Fresh lemon juice is best, but bottled can be substituted. Celery is preferred, but 1 Tbsp. celery seed can be used with good results. The mayonnaise---homemade is key to this dish, but use bottled if you must. You absolutely must not use low fat, fat free, or salad dressing products in this recipe. See my earlier post “Hold the Mayo” for a homemade mayonnaise “how to.” This dish is best when made with large, succulent purple grapes, but other varieties can be substituted. Raisins, dark or golden, can also be used. Red/pink peppercorns might be difficult to find. Penzey’s is where I purchase all of my spices, dried herbs, and seasonings. The quality is excellent and consistent and the prices are reasonable. Use a rubber spatula as a mixing tool as it will not bruise the apples. This dish is best when made an hour or two ahead of time allowing the flavors to meld. However, it can be served immediately.

Twisted Waldorf Salad

¾ c. walnuts

6 red apples

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

2 c. halved purple grapes (or 1 c. raisins)

1 stalk celery, chopped

¾ c. mayonnaise

1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

1 Tbsp. red peppercorns

1 tsp. kosher salt

Sea salt or more kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350. Put the walnuts on a cookie sheet with sides. Place them in the oven to toast. Check after 5 minutes. The walnuts are sufficiently toasted when they are a light golden brown and fragrant. Remove them from the oven to cool completely.

Cut the apples in half and then quarters. Cut out the cores. With a paring knife cut the each quarter into ½ inch pieces directly into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the apple pieces with the lemon juice and mix with a rubber spatula to combine. Add the chopped celery and grapes. Break the walnuts into pieces and add them to the bowl. Stir to combine. Add the mayonnaise and white wine vinegar and stir again to combine.

Place the red peppercorns on the cutting board. Crush them with the flat of a large knife. With a scraper, scoop up the crushed berries and tip them into the bowl. Add the kosher salt and a grind of white pepper. Use the rubber spatula to gently but thoroughly combine the ingredients.

If the salad is to be served immediately, taste and adjust the seasoning. If it is being made ahead of time, scrape into an air-tight container and refrigerate. About 20 minutes before the salad is to be served, remove it from the refrigerator to the counter and allow to sit at room temperature. Just before serving, taste the dish. If necessary, adjust the seasoning. Scrape into a dish and serve.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Personal Favorite
















Nothing says Thanksgiving like Pumpkin Pie. It is a personal favorite. So much so that as a kid, it was what I asked for every year as my “birthday cake.” My mother would have made me anything I wanted, but I think she was always silently relieved that I requested Pumpkin Pie. My birthday usually coincides with Thanksgiving, which meant that Mom could just bake an extra Pumpkin Pie.

Pumpkin Pie is one of the easiest pies to make. A little measuring and stirring, and voila!, it's done. Pumpkin puree is the foundation of the pie. Canned works fine, but home made is even better. (See my earlier post “First, You Select A Pumpkin.”)

Pumpkin Pie
1 unbaked 9” pie crust
2-1/2 c. pumpkin puree
¾ c. dark brown sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
¼ tsp. cloves
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk

Preheat the oven to 425. Line a regular pie plate with the crust. Crimp edges so they stand up tall and set aside. Measure the pumpkin puree into a bowl. Stir in the spices. Add the eggs and mix to combine. Pour in the evaporated milk and mix with a whisk until well combined. Pour into the prepared pie plate. Carefully transfer the pie to the preheated oven.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle of the pie comes out clean.

Remove the pie to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm with schlag (whipped cream) or cover the pie and refrigerate until needed, and still serve with schlag! The pie can be made one day in advance.

Makes 1 9” pie.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Slightly Nutty


Biscuits are such a delightful treat. Versatile as well as easy and fast to make, and they bring significant rewards. This biscuit was developed to go with the Lesco with Pork, and instantly became one of DH’s favorites. They are light and tender with a rich and almost nutty flavor. These biscuits also go well with jelly and jam for breakfast or afternoon tea. Your friends and family will clamour for more.

Buttermilk Bran Biscuits

¼ c. bran

1-3/4 c. flour

2 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

¼ c. unsalted butter

1 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400. Select a baking sheet large enough to hold 12 biscuits, and set aside.

Measure all the dry ingredients into a bowl. Cut in the butter using two knives or a pastry blender. Pour the buttermilk over the mixture and mix to combine with a fork. The mixture will be very thick and dough-like. Drop biscuits onto baking sheet using 2 spoons. There will be enough to make 12 biscuits.

Put baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes and check the biscuits. Check the biscuits. If the bottoms and surface “points” are not golden brown bake for a few more minutes.

When the biscuits are done, remove from the oven. Using a metal spatula transfer the biscuits to a towel lined bowl. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Lesco--Hungarian for Really Good!

Pronounced "letcho," Lesco is the Hungarian word for stew. It always has peppers and sweet paprika. Other ingredients vary. In the Northern version of Lesco lard or bacon fat is used to sauté the meat and vegetables. The Southern version uses sunflower oil. I personally prefer the flavor of this Lesco recipe when it is made using bacon. Hungarian paprika must be used, it is essential to the proper flavor of the Lesco.

Recently I’ve begun making this dish in a crock pot, and have been very satisfied with the results. It can also be made on the stove top in a Dutch oven. The preparation of this dish requires cooking bacon and sauteing, providing another opportunity to plug the cast iron skillet and encourage you to acquire one if you have not already done so.

Lesco with Pork

1-1/2 lbs. pork loin, trimmed and cut into 1 to 2 inch cubes

3 slices bacon

1 large onion, chopped

1 tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika

2 16 oz. cans whole tomatoes with liquid or

(1 qt. tomatoes with juice)

2 green peppers, seeded and sliced

2 Tbsp. rice

1 tsp. kosher salt

Black pepper

Vegetable stock

Cook the bacon in a heavy skillet until crisp, remove and place on paper towel lined plate to drain.

Place the pork in the same skillet and sauté in the bacon fat until it is no longer pink. Remove from the skillet and place in a crock pot or Dutch oven. Cook the onion until tender in the same skillet, and then remove to the crock pot or Dutch oven with the pork.


If you are using a crock pot add the paprika, tomatoes with juice, green peppers, rice, salt and a good grind of pepper. Crumble the reserved bacon into the crock pot. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours.

If you are using a Dutch oven, place it on a large burner and add the juice from the tomatoes (reserve tomatoes) and the paprika. If the tomato juice does not cover the pork, add a little vegetable stock. Turn the burner to high, when the liquid boils, reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. At the end of the hour, add the reserved tomatoes, the peppers, rice, salt and a good grind of pepper. Crumble in the reserved bacon. Add a little vegetable stock if necessary. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes.

For both crock pot and Dutch oven preparations: Before serving taste the Lesco and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately with biscuits or a hearty bread.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Works For Me!

Colder weather around here means biscuits. They are the perfect companion for crock pot stews, pot roasts, and well, almost everything.

I make almost exclusively drop biscuits. Why? They are fast, easy and delicious! Unlike regular biscuits, they don’t have to be kneaded, rolled, and cut out. They need only to be stirred and dropped directly onto a cookie sheet. Within 20 minutes of arriving home from work, I can finish whatever is in the crock pot and have piping hot biscuits to go with it. Works for me! Guaranteed, you will love the ease of drop biscuits and how fabulous they taste.

Corn Meal Drop Biscuits

1 c. flour

1 c. corn meal

3 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

Pepper

¼ c. unsalted butter

1 Tbsp. fresh basil or parsley (or herb of your choice) (1 tsp. if the herb is dried)

1 c. grated cheddar cheese (4 oz.)

1 c. milk

Preheat oven to 400. Have a large cookie sheet ready.

Measure the flour, corn meal, salt, and a good grind of pepper into a bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the butter. When the butter has been thoroughly cut in, add the basil, grated cheese and pour in the milk. Stir with a fork until well combined.

Using two spoons drop the biscuits onto the cookie sheet. Put the biscuits in the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes, and check. If the bottoms and surface “points” are not golden brown bake for a few more minutes. When done, remove the biscuits from the oven. Using a spatula transfer them to a cloth-lined basket. Serve immediately, and wait for the compliments.

Makes 12 biscuits.