Sunday, January 28, 2007

"Pasta Light - 80 Low-Fat, Low-Calorie, Fast & Furious Pasta Sauces" - Tuna Nicoise Pasta

Date I made this recipe: January 27, 2007

Pasta Light – 80 Low-Fat, Low-Calorie, Fast & Fabulous Pasta Sauces by Normal Kolpas
Published by: Contemporary Books
ISBN: 0-8092-4177-3 © 1990
Recipe: Tuna Nicoise – p. 56

In my last post, I mentioned that winter in Minnesota means “Get out that Crockpot!” But alas, people, it also means “Watch that waistline!” For those who don’t live in a climate where it’s cold (and snowy and icy and…) 6 months of the year, shivering is one way to burn calories, but sitting in front of the TV set because it’s 10 degrees and therefore too cold to go outside, is not.

Now, I’ve been fortunate to be relatively skinny my whole life but as many women of the pre-menopausal/menopausal age know, there comes a point where fat deposits, heretofore unseen by the naked eye, move in and set up house. In my case, it was right in the waistline and so when I wasn’t shivering, I was devising ways to rid myself of that pocket, tout de suite!

And this is why, for the past several winters, I’ve worked out to several cardio DVDs after coming home from work. (In the summer, I walk around our city lakes like a civilized person should). My three favorites are part of the Crunch series: Fat Burning Blast, Cardio Salsa and Fat Burning Dance Party There’s nothing like a little cha cha cha to make your forget that you just slid your way home on a 15 mile sheet of ice.

So, I’m working out and feelin’ good (or groovy, take your pick) and then wham! Everything I read suggested that cardio was not enough. Oh no, people, now I had to lift weights in order to stay in shape and keep those darn menopausal effects at bay.

Well, for the love of Mike, like I have time for this stuff! But okay, good citizen that I am, I bought, on the recommendation of a friend, Denise Austin’s Boot Camp (Total Body Blast!) DVD because it included a weight-lifting section and Oh.My.God…I want to talk to the person’s responsible dreaming up this weight-lifting thing. (And the friend who thought this DVD was just the ticket!)

Denise is nothing else if not perky. She is perky and encouraging, all at the same time. “You’re an athlete, your training like an athlete.” “You’re a champion.” “You’re doing a great job” (Oh yeah, me writhing in pain is great). What I did not hear was “You’re an animal.” “You’re a tiger.” This would have inspired me. (Okay, I lied. A simple “great job” would have sufficed. I’m past the tiger stage).

Denise is also delusional about the average person’s abilities to follow along with this DVD (And Denise, I mean that in the nicest possible way). Halfway through one routine, all of a sudden she yelled “PUSHUPS!” and we (she) did pushups. We’re not talking girly pushups like we learned in gym. Oh no, we were talking regular guy pushups. As if.

Now people, I would have fallen on the floor laughing at this sudden changeup in the workout had I not already been on the floor trying to stop my arms spasms. And if you think that sounds scary, you just wait until you get to the Flexibility section of the DVD and do the hip exercises. Oh yeah, right, like that position is an exercise move…

At any rate…it was during one of these near blackout-from-pain moments that I remembered that I had the Pasta Light recipe book, given to me many years ago by a friend concerned about my cholesterol level (family history) rather than my weight. (And as lovely a thought as it was, there’s no way this Sicilian gal is bypassing “real” ingredients such as sausage, ricotta cheese, etc. on a regular basis. I’m just saying).

Now, I think at the time I made one dish in the book although I’m not quite sure. While the ingredients are checked off, it appears the recipe page might have just served as a repository for my grocery list, to wit: OJ, picante, chips, Das (as in Hagen Das), Chlorine (?) And Kleenex. (I was probably thinking ahead to the crying I’d do after the DVD finished). And so just in case, I selected another recipe.

This time around, I made the Tuna Nicoise recipe and to my complete amazement, it was really tasty. It didn’t involve a lot of chopping (and thank God for that as my arms were rubbery) and required only a few ingredients I didn’t already have. It was the perfect low-calorie accompaniment to a high-energy workout. At least I think it was high energy. I’ll let you know when I’m out of intensive care. In the meantime, remember people, we can all be champions and athletes in the kitchen with very little effort. It’s the champion outside of the kitchen that I’m working on. (“Okay, time for FOOTBALL DRILLS! Go, go, go…..”)

Tuna Nicoise – Serves 4
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium shallots, chopped fine
1 medium garlic clove, chopped fine
1 small (3-ounce) onion, coarsely chopped
1 small (5-ounce) green pepper, halved, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ½-inch chunks
1 16-ounce can salt-free whole tomatoes
1 tablespoon double-concentrate tomato paste (usually found in a tube. If you can’t find a tube of double-concentrate, the author indicates to double the amount to two tablespoons of regular tomato paste)
2 teaspoons sugar
½ tablespoon dried oregano
½ tablespoon dried basil
1 6 ½ -ounce can white tuna in spring water, broken into rough chunks
1 cup (about 48) medium-sized canned, low-salt, pitted black olives, drained and broken into halves by hand. NOTE: I couldn’t find any olives whatsoever that were low-salt so I bought a can of chopped, black olives and rinsed them.
2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
In a large skillet or saucepan, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the shallots, garlic, onion, and bell pepper and sauté until they begin to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands, and stir in the vinegar, tomato paste, sugar, oregano, and basil. Simmer until thick but still slightly liquid, about 7 minutes. Then gently stir in the tuna, olives, capers, and parsley and simmer until thick and thoroughly heated through, 5 to 7 minutes more.

Spoon over cooked pasta and season to taste with plenty of black pepper. The author calls for medium-sized strands, ribbons, tubes, or shapes. I used bow-tie pasta but probably could have gone bigger if I wanted.

Dietary information per serving (sauce only) provided by the author:
Calories: 206
Fat: 8g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 668 mg

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"Mable Hoffman's Crockery Cookery" by Mable Hoffman - Red & Gold Sweet-Sour Crockpot Chicken

Date I made this recipe: January 20, 2007

Mable Hoffman’s Crockery Cookery by Mable Hoffman
Published by: HPBooks © 1995
ISBN: 1-55788-217-7
Recipe: Red & Gold Sweet-Sour Chicken – p. 139

Well, it had to happen sometime. The weather got colder here in Minnesota, we actually had a snowfall that stuck around for a while and so you know what that means, right? It’s time for the Crock Pot.

Now, once upon a time, my Crock Pot got quite the workout. I used it at home and I even took it on the road when friends and I went on cross-country ski trips. I mean, what’s not to love about a pot to which you add almost all your ingredients and then plug in to cook slowly over the day?

Except in today’s world, I don’t have time to wait 10 to 12 hours for my dinner to be done. And the thing that really annoys me is deciding what I want to eat 10 to 12 hours in advance. I’m kind of an “I want what I want when I want it” gal.

So yeah, team, there on page 139 was a recipe that took only 5 hours with minimal ingredients and so I was all set and ready to go…except, I left the grocery shopping too long and ended up starting this dish at 3:00 p.m. For those keeping track of time, this meant that my husband and I ate around 8:45 or so. Oh well, it was worth the wait. Besides, the football playoff games were on so it’s not like I didn’t have something to grab my attention in the meantime.

Red & Gold Sweet-Sour Chicken – serves 4-6
Mable notes that “You’ll be proud to present this colorful dish on a bed of rice” so that’s exactly what I did!
1 (2 ½ to 3 ½ lb.) broiler-fryer chicken, cut up
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 cup chicken broth
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup vinegar
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup water
1 red bed pepper, cut into chunks
1 mango, peeled and cut into chunks
½ cup jicama strips

Place chicken and onion in a slow cooker. In a small bowl, combine broth, brown sugar, vinegar, hoisin sauce and salt. Pour mixture over chicken. Cover and cook on LOW about 5 hours or until chicken is tender. Turn control to HIGH. In a small bowl, dissolve cornstarch in water; stir into chicken mixture in cooker. Add bell pepper. Cover and cook on HIGH 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in mango and jicama. Cover and cook 5 minutes.

And now for some notes: In one of my recipe reviews, I bemoaned the apparent loss of a 4 pork chop package. I found 3 chops but never 4 which was what I needed. The same thing happened with the chicken: I went looking for a whole boiler-fryer but instead, could only find packages of legs, or packages of thighs or packages of breasts, but never the whole enchilada. So I bought a 4 pound (the only size they had) package of breasts, and even then, the breasts were so large and there were so many of them that I ended up freezing two of them. I’m feeling another crock pot recipe coming on (from another book, naturally).

As to the vegetables, I think they need to cook longer. I’m okay with crunchy peppers but I prefer them to be a little softer.

And then there was the jicama. I took my chef’s knife, split it in two and….ew….it was rotten to the core. I have no idea how I could have figured that out before buying it but suffice it to say, the entire thing ended up in the trash. So alas, dear reader, I cannot comment on whether or not the jicama added anything to the dish but the rest of the meal was just what this gal needed on a colder-than-we’ve-had-for-weeks Minnesota winter night.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

"The Camp Lejeune Platter Parade" - Oven Meal (a/k/a Six layer dinner)

Date I made this recipe: January 17, 2007

The Camp Lejeune Platter Parade by the Officers’ Wives Club, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Published by the Officers’ Wives Club
© 1954
Recipe: Oven Meal (Six layer dinner) – p. 57

I was listening to The Splendid Table the other day on Minnesota Public Radio, hosted by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, while she was doing her segment, Stump the Cook. During Stump the Cook, contestants call in and tell Lynne three ingredients they have in their refrigerator that they want Lynne to incorporate into a dish.

This week’s cookbook recipe was selected because it too, used up ingredients in my refrigerator that were nearing their “toss by” date: green and red peppers and celery, as well as potatoes and onion on the verge of going bad in my pantry. So when I came upon a recipe called Oven Meal (Six layer dinner) in the cookbook, The Camp Lejeune Platter Parade, I knew I had my meal.

Besides the fact that the recipe used up my ingredients, I loved the name Platter Parade (as appears on the spine) and I liked that it was written in 1954 by Marine Corp wives and even some Marines (and commanders) themselves. My dad was a member of the 4th Marines during WWII. He was initially sent to Parris Island, SC (Camp Lejeune is in North Carolina) and then to Maui, Hawaii (well before it was resort central) before going to Iwo Jima where he was wounded in action and received the Purple Heart. My dad’s 83rd birthday is coming up this week so I made this in his honor.

Now, the first day I had this dish, I thought it tasted bland (and indeed, there are no spices except salt and pepper in this dish), but the leftovers were much more flavorful. You might want to experiment by adding a little something to the dish (garlic salt, perhaps) but I made it according to regulations. Don’t want to spend any time in the brig, you know!

Oven Meal (Six layer dinner) – recipe submitted by Mrs. William L. Robbins
2 cups raw diced potatoes
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups raw hamburger
1 cup fine chopped green pepper
2 cups canned tomatoes
1 cup raw sliced onions (note: these will get crispy on you)
Salt and pepper to taste

Place ingredients in baking dish in order given. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 1 ½ hours in moderate over (375). Serves 6.

Note: I wasn’t sure what “canned tomatoes” should look like so I pureed canned, whole tomatoes in my Cuisinart before adding them to the casserole. If I were to do this again, I think I would pulse them just a bit longer to make more of a tomato sauce rather than semi-chunky tomatoes but do what feels comfortable.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

"The Dinah Shore Cook Book" & "Cafe - A Cookbook of Bisbee's Owner/Chef Restaurants" - Pork with Green Chili Sauce and Perfect Spanish Rice

Date I made these recipes: January 7, 2007

The Dinah Shore Cook Book by Dinah Shore
Published by: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
© 1983
Recipe: Pork with Green Chili Sauce – p. 209

Café – A Cookbook of Bisbee’s Owner/Chef Restaurants
© 1995 by Richard Byrd
Recipe: Perfect Spanish Rice from the Mexican Express restaurant – p. 6

People, were you like me? Did you start singing the song Buttons and Bows when you saw the name Dinah Shore? Thought so.

So before we get to the recipe, let’s review a few facts. Dinah Shore started her career as a big band singer. Buttons and Bows was on an album my parents had and I loved singing that song. I also love Shoofly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy (the recipe and the song) that graces several compilation CD’s I own of famous female torch song singers.

Dinah went from being a big band singer to having her own radio shows to having her own TV show. I remember watching her show on TV when I was a kid (which was just yesterday!).

In addition to cooking (Dinah wrote a couple other cookbooks in her day), she hosted several tennis and golf tournaments. Where she found time to do all this, I’ll never know.

Dinah notes that she tested each and every recipe in the book which I find admirable. She also covered a range of recipes from Mexican to Asian to Italian which were all popular in Los Angeles where she lived before spreading out to the rest of the country.

Dinah’s recipe for Pork with Green Chili Sauce caught my eye and it was a good choice. Of course, I just had to sing along with Dinah on Buttons and Bows as I made the dish. Both the recipe and the song are catchy little numbers. Try them – you’ll like them!

Pork with Green Chili Sauce – serves 4-6
2 pounds lean pork, cut into bite-sized cubes
½ cup water
2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup solid-pack tomatoes, drained
2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)
7-ounce can peeled green chilies, chopped or cut into strips (NOTE: Dinah said if you use canned, include the juice. If you use fresh tomatillas, remove the protective leaf surrounding the tomatilla, but don’t peel. Add ¼ water.)
2 hot jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped

Before we go on, let me just say that I scratched my head over “solid-pack tomatoes.” If she mean whole tomatoes, which I used, then I suggest breaking the tomatoes up before adding them to the recipe or you’ll just have big tomato blobs on your hands. If she meant something else, I have no idea. I think you’re okay as long as you use some form of “chunky” tomato as opposed to tomato sauce.

Put meat into heavy-bottomed stewpot, cover with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, add garlic and salt and pepper. Cook, covered, until all water is absorbed, about 25-30 minutes.

Let’s stop right here and parse this paragraph. “Reduce heat” to me means to bring it to a simmer, as opposed to a boil, but people, by doing this, that water was never, ever going to reduce. I finally banked the heat back up (after 25 minutes or no reduction) to just below boiling and man oh man, did that water evaporate, or what? I say keep the heat somewhat high from the beginning and you’ll easily come in at 25-50 minutes.

Once the water is absorbed, discard the garlic. Let the meat fry in its own fat until it starts to turn brown, turning occasionally to brown on all sides. Note: by the time I got done, there was nary a fat globule in sight so I added a little bit of olive oil back into the pan.

Add the onions, cook a few minutes longer to soften. Then add tomatoes, cilantro, chilies, peppers and additional salt if desired. Cook, covered, 30 minutes longer or until pork is tender. Serve over rice.

Speaking of “serve over rice,” I thought plain white rice would be rather boring so I made Perfect Spanish Rice from another cookbook in my collection – Café – A Cookbook of Bisbee’s Owner/Chef Restaurants

What the heck is a Bisbee, you ask? Well, Bisbee, Arizona is an artist community tucked away in the Castle Rock area near Tombstone, Arizona. (Which brings to mind lyrics from The Eagle’s Take it Easy – but we won’t go there and besides, they mentioned Winslow, Arizona…). My parents were vacationing in the area a couple of years ago and my husband and I went down there to visit them. We loved Bisbee as it’s very similar to a couple of “artist” community towns in Minnesota and wouldn’t you know there was a cookbook of recipes just waiting for me.

Now, I can’t say that I was enamored with the Spanish Rice recipe because I wanted it to have more of a tomato flavor than it did but it was a better accompaniment to the pork with green chili sauce than regular white rice. If I had to do it over again, I think I would add more tomato sauce (4 ounces seems a little stingy) and cut back on the water by just a bit. I’m not sure if that would yield the right results but you may want to try it and then let me know how it worked.

And then there’s the onion conundrum. The recipe says to add ½ white onion. I didn’t have a white onion so I used a yellow onion but it didn’t say whether I should add the half as is or cut it up. I followed the directions but the rice may have been more flavorful with chopped onion.

I will say that this made the fluffiest rice I have ever tasted so on that basis, I give it a thumb’s up.

Perfect Spanish Rice (no serving size indicated although 2 cups of rice makes for a lot of rice!)
¼ cup oil
2 cups rice
4 cups hot water
4 ounces tomato sauce
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon
½ white onion

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add rice and slightly toast rice, stirring constantly, not allowing it to burn. Combine hot water, tomato sauce, and chicken bouillon and add to rice. Add onion. Bring to a boil, stir and turn heat to a simmer. Cover and allow to cook for 20-25 minutes. Fluff with a fork when liquid is absorbed by the rice.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

"Breakfast with Friends" & "Mario's Via Abruzzi - The Cookbook" -Eggs with Sausage, Peppers and Potatoes and Linguine with Shrimp Tomatoes and Lentils

Date I made these recipes: January 1, 2007

Breakfast with Friends – Seasonal Menus to Celebrate the Morning by Elizabeth Alston
Published by: Wings Books
ISBN: 0-517-14788-2 © 1989
Recipe: Eggs with Sausage, Peppers, and Potatoes – p. 40

Mario’s Via Abruzzi – The Cookbook – Recipes from and inspired by the Abruzzi region of Italy by Paul Maytan; Foreword by Mario Daniele
Printed in Rochester, NY at Mercury Print Productions
ISBN: 0970629605
Mario’s Via Abruzzi Restaurant in Rochester, NY –
Recipe: Linguine with Shrimp, Tomatoes and Lentils (Linguine Con Gamberoni, Pomodori E Lenticche) p. 56, plus the sauce recipe p. 50

I never make New Year’s resolutions but this year I did resolve to cook a “holiday” breakfast for me and my husband and this was the perfect dish to make as we had leftover sausage from Christmas Eve’s dinner.

I spotted this book at a friend’s house many years ago but only acquired it within the last year or so. Sometimes the hunt for a book takes longer than you think!

Now, Elizabeth Alston truly anticipated having friends over for breakfast as this recipe serves 10. I cut the amount in half and still had some left over although this is not necessarily a bad thing as the dish was really tasty.

Listed below are the ingredients for 10 servings; you can make your adjustments accordingly.

Eggs with Sausage, Peppers and Potatoes
1 pound red or white thin-skinned potatoes, scrubbed
2 tablespoons pure olive or vegetable oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
1 small red bell pepper
1 small green bell pepper
1 cup sliced onion
20 large eggs (note, I used 5 because 10 eggs for 2 people really would have been overkill!)
1/3 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper

Cut unpeeled potatoes into ½-inch chunks and put into a medium-sized saucepan. (Elizabeth says that this should equal 3 cups, but remember this recipe serves 10). Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to moderately-low, cover pan, and cook 6 to 8 minutes, until tender. Drain.

Meanwhile, get out a heavy skillet at least 12 inches across the bottom and 2 to 3 inches deep, put over moderate heat, and add oil. Crumble in sausage and cook about 5 minutes, until chunks are nearly cooked through.

Halve peppers and pull out the seeds and stems. Cut peppers into ½-inch pieces. Add to skillet along with onion and drained potatoes. Cook 15 to 18 minutes, stirring several times, until sausage and potatoes are lightly browned. Pan will seem very full at first, but mixture will gradually cook down. Add another tablespoon of oil if pan gets very dry.

A couple of notes: the pan did get dry, so be prepared to add more oil, and to speed things along, I covered by fry pan and set the heat down low (simmer) so that the vegetables would be nice and tender.

Break eggs into a large bowl, then shortly before serving, add Parmesan, salt and peppers. Beat with a wire whisk or electric mixer until well broken up. Pour into skillet and scramble until eggs are creamy soft and almost as firm as you like them.

If you have this book at home, you might want to turn to the author’s notes about Scrambled Eggs and how to make them, found on p. 193. Personally, I always turn my flame way down because I like a creamy scrambled egg but that’s my personal taste. My favorite way to make scrambled eggs is the way my father did them: fry your bacon in a cast iron skillet, drain some (but not all) of the grease, and add your eggs. Yum! (This method is the equivalent of a heart attack on a plate, but yum!).

Later that evening… after getting completely absorbed in the Rose Bowl game between USC and Michigan (Go Blue! -- Michigan is my home state), I finally made another Italian recipe for New Year’s Day dinner. (By the way, Blue blew it but the game was as interesting as it was aggravating).

In many parts of the world, beans of some sort of other are served as a good luck charm for the New Year. In the south, it’s Hoppin’ John and apparently, in Sicily and Italy, it’s lentils. While I have a fantastic recipe for Lentil soup, I wasn’t in a soup mood but I am always in the mood for shrimp and I love lentils so I selected this one and away we went.

But first, let me just say who knew that Triscuits can be a deadly food item? As I was watching the game, I reached inside a box of Triscuit and felt a sharp pain in my finger. It turns out that I had a Triscuit splinter. I am not making this up. I managed to pull the shard out of my fingernail but it left a little tiny blood mark as a souvenir. Only in my kitchen…

Anyway, this recipe turned out great but I made some adjustments along the way, namely in the amount of oil olive called for in the recipe. In my humble, and Sicilian-American opinion, olive oil should be used to coat the pan. Here, the recipe called for 1 ¼ cups of oil which I just couldn’t bring myself to add that much to the recipe. If you want to try it, be my guest, but I’m thinking you will have a greasy result.

The pomodori (tomato) sauce which you will need to make for this dish, also called for 2 cups of olive oil. Again, I coated the pan.

I also forgot to buy shallots for the recipe and since the stores were closed (it was New Year’s Day), I substituted yellow onion instead. And since tomatoes are out of season, I used diced, canned tomatoes instead of fresh ones. So, all right already, put out a contract on me.

Other than that, I made the recipe as listed but cut the recipe in half to serve 3 people instead of 6. Even then, we had a good portion left over for the next day.

The recipe calls for linguine pasta but I thought the pasta was overkill since the sauce was quite heavy. My husband thought if pasta was used, it should be bowtie pasta or some other pasta to better hold the sauce. I agree with that and would use different pasta the next time around.

Pomodori Sauce (ingredients listed for 6 people)
5 pounds of ripe plum tomatoes (or canned, diced tomatoes of the same weight)
***2 cups extra-virgin olive oil. Use this amount at your own risk. I coated the pan
3 tablespoons fresh garlic, chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 ounces fresh basil, torn into small pieces, or chopped
To taste, crushed red pepper or hot pepper pods
To taste, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Using a paring knife, cut a small x in the top of the tomatoes. Submerge them in boiling water for about one minute or until the skins begin to blister. Remove and cool them down in ice water. Peel and cut in half. Gently squeeze out the seeds and chop. OR – use your handy dandy can opener and open 2 14 ½ ounce cans of diced tomatoes.

Heat the oil in a skillet using high heat add the garlic and fry, stirring often, until the garlic becomes brown, not burned. The garlic should be evenly colored and slightly darker than cardboard or cork. Remove any part of the garlic which is burned. Add the shallots (or in my case, onions), hot pepper, about half of the basil and fry briefly until the shallots begin to soften. The shallots will prevent the garlic from continuing to brown.

Add the tomatoes and continue to fry until the tomatoes are just cooked. Add the remaining basil and extra-virgin oil (or not!) and season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper.

Once you get that going, start the lentil portion of our program...

Linguine with Shrimp, Tomatoes and Lentils (ingredients are for 6 people)
2 ½ pounds linguine pasta (or try using smaller pasta that will hold the sauce)
5 cups salsa di pomodoro all’Abruzzese
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound lentils
**1 ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (again with the oil! I suggest coating the bottom of the pan and calling it a day)
3 bay leaves
6 cloves garlic, whole
¼ pound pancetta, thinly sliced and chopped
1 cup onion chopped 2 quarts water or homemade chicken broth (I used low-sodium canned broth and added a little water to it – about ¼ cup)
To taste, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil (he suggests ½ cup but again, it’s too much) in a large pan. Add the bay leaves and garlic cloves and fry about one minute or until the garlic begins to brown slightly. Add the pancetta and cook for 4-5 minutes or until fat begins to render. Add the onion and cook, allowing the onion to soften.

Pick through the lentils to remove stones or other debris and wash them. Add them to the pan along with the water or chicken stock. Cook for 20 minutes or until the lentils are just done and then season to taste with salt and pepper. Strain the lentils, reserving the liquid, and remove the bay leaves and whole garlic cloves.

Heat up the remaining oil in a large skillet, sauté the shrimp 3-4 minutes or until they are just done. Add the salsa di pomodoro all’Abruzzese and the lentils to the pan and toss gently.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water as directed. Add the pasta to the skillet and cook one minute to allow the pasta to absorb the flavors. If the pasta becomes too dry, add some of the reserved liquid to the lentils to loosen it up a bit before serving.

Monday, January 1, 2007

"Visions of Sugarplums" by Mimi Sheraton & "Christmas Memories with Recipes" (recipe by Beatrice Ojakangas) -- Christmas food

Visions of Sugarplums – A Cookbook of Cakes, Cookies, Candies, and Confections From all of the Countries that Celebrate Christmas by Mimi Sheraton
Published by: Random House
© 1968

Recipe: Prune and Walnut Dumplings – p. 142

Date I made this recipe: December 29, 2006

And now, a word about prunes. Besides being very healthy for one’s constitution, prunes frequently appear in eastern European recipes.

This recipe piqued my interest because a) I had never seen a recipe for a prune dumpling before and b) I just happened to have a box of sugar cubes (sugar cubes are an ingredient) in my cupboard, just waiting for an opportunity like this to come along and c) it came out of a book called Visions of Sugarplums and what better time to make something like this than during the holiday season?

The biggest stumper of this recipe was the dough. The dough was supposed to be soft, not sticky, yet when I combined the required ingredients, including 2 cups of flour, the dough was still sticky. Since Mimi indicated it was “2 cups flour, or as needed,” I determined that I needed more so I added about ¼ cup more to the mixture and that seemed to do the trick…until…

…When I rolled out the dough, it became sticky all over again, despite my using a Teflon-coated rolling pin some friends gave us. I was truly stumped. And when I took the dumplings out of the hot water, I scratched my head even more as the dough’s consistency was more like pasta than a dumpling, or at least dumplings I was used to eating. The dumplings tasted just fine, but I have to tell you that I have no idea whether I hit the mark on the dough or not. I’m thinkin’ no, but maybe one of my dear readers can try these and give me a hint. If all else fails, the filling is delicious!

Prune and Walnut Dumplings – makes about 20

1 to 1 ½ pounds prunes
Sugar cubes

1 egg
½ cup water
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour, or as needed

1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup sugar
Cinnamon (optional)

Soak the prunes in hot water for 1 hour. Remove pits (or buy them pitted) but leave prunes whole. Press ½ cube sugar and a little cinnamon into the cavity of each prune.

Let’s pause for a moment to talk about the above instructions. First, I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that stuffing a water-logged prune with a sugar cube was not the prettiest thing I’ve ever done. Second, Mimi doesn’t indicate how one should go about halving a sugar cube so I’ll tell you my method: place your chef’s knife blade in the center of the cube and whack the blade with the palm of your hand. The cubes split evenly every time.

To make the dough, Combine the egg, water and salt and add enough flour to make a soft but not sticky dough. (See notes on that above). Knead for 3 to 5 minutes on a floured board until dough is smooth but not stiff. Divide dough in half, cover with waxed paper and cut in circles that will fit around the prunes. Wrap a circle (or square) of cough around each prune and pinch the edges closed.

And again we must pause here. Pinching the edges closed on these dumplings proved to be a challenge because that was the only time the dough didn’t stick to anything, even itself. And let me just say that when I got done pinching (and pinching and pinching) I had the ugliest dumplings all lined up that you’ve ever seen. Let’s just say I’m not expecting a call to become a pasty chef any time in the near future.

Once you’ve assembled the dumplings, drop them, a few at a time, in a large potful of rapidly boiling salted water. Keep uncooked dumplings covered with a towel to prevent drying. As dumplings puff up and cook (about 4 minutes), remove with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Continue cooking until all are done. Serve hot, sprinkled with chopped nuts, sugar and cinnamon.

Christmas Memories with Recipes – 25 of today’s master chefs and leading food writers share their holiday-food recollections (whew!)
Published by Wing Books
ISBN 0-517-10190-4 © 1988

Recipe: Mormor’s Meatballs – p. 202
Recipe submitted by Beatrice Ojakangas

Date I made this recipe: December 31, 2006

Wouldn’t you know, of all the famous chefs listed in this book (Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, Marcella Hazan to name a few), I locked and loaded on a recipe submitted by one of Minnesota’s most famous cooking authorities, Beatrice Ojakangas. Beatrice is well known for her expertise on Scandinavian food, and this recipe, a variation of Swedish meatballs (a very beloved Minnesota dish), is mighty tasty on a snowy winter evening like we just had this New Year’s Eve. (Go figure – we had warm temperatures in the high thirties for weeks on end but on New Year’s Eve, rain turned to snow and the next thing we knew, we had us a skating rink!).

Beatrice indicates that these meatballs also make great appetizers, but I served them for dinner with potatoes and peas before heading out to a New Year’s Eve bash.

By the way, "Mormor" was the knickname given to a Swedish grandmother by her grandchildren. Although "Mormor" in this story also served the meatballs with lutfisk (a/k/a lutefisk), nothing on this earth could make me eat fish, much less fish cured in lye, with any meal, meatballs or not, New Year's Eve or not!! (Dying of curiosity about luketfisk? Google or Yahoo the phrase to learn everything there is to know about this interesting ethnic dish).

Mormor’s Meatballs – makes 36 meatballs, 4 to 6 servings
½ c. dry breadcrumbs
½ c. milk
½ pound ground beef
½ pound ground pork
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 small yellow onion, chopped fine
1 egg, slightly beaten
6 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
½ c. concentrated beef broth
2 tablespoons melted butter

In a bowl, mix the breadcrumbs and milk; let stand a few minutes until milk is absorbed. Add the beef, pork, 1 teaspoon salt, allspice, ginger, onion and egg and mix until blended. Shape into balls about 1 inch in diameter.

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Drop the meatballs into the water and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, broth and melted butter; stir and heat until the brown sugar is dissolved to form a glaze. (Note: my husband and I differ on how much sugar is too much sugar in this sauce. I thought it was a little on the sweet side and so I would cut back on the 6 tablespoons. He, on the other hand, thought the ratio was just fine).

Drain the meatballs and place in a single layer in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Spoon the glaze over the meatballs and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes, turning the meatballs by shaking the pan after each 10 minutes of baking.