Leftovers

Unlike many people, I like leftovers – especially when the meal the night before was wonderful. I know this is going to sound strange, but my favorite meal of the year is Christmas morning – leftovers from Christmas Eve dinner!  But when I have a day where time won’t allow me to cook, I RRREEEAAALLLLLLYYY appreciate leftovers.

Today is one of those days.  Not only was the day busy, but I’ll be at my Bible study this evening so dinner is either leftovers, fast food, or something way too late in the day.  And today is one of those lucky days where the leftovers are from a wonderful meal – stuffed shells.

Jeff and I worked together to make them and they turned out great.  The filling included: ricotta cheese, spinach from our garden, parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg, fresh parsley, and some sauteed onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes.

When we make a dish that requires tomato sauce, I am so glad that Jeff roasts and cans tomatoes when they are plentiful in the garden!  We sauteed onions, carrots, green peppers, zucchini, garlic and red pepper flakes until they were soft, added some tomato paste, and cooked it until it had a chance to caramelize.  We then whizzed it up in the food processor (allowing it to remain a bit chunky) and added it to a jar of Jeff’s roasted summer tomatoes.  Finally we added some fresh oregano and parsley and the juice and zest of one lemon and allowed it to cook until all the flavors melded together. Mmm mmm mmm!

While the sauce cooked, we cooked the pasta and filled a pastry bag with the filling.  Although you can fill the shells using a spoon, I find using a pastry bag to be more efficient and less messy. I put a layer of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish and filled the shells, nestling them tightly in the dish.  When all the shells were filled, I topped them with sauce and then some parmesan and mozzarella.

 

The finished product was a warm, gooey, delicious pasta treat with a summer-fresh tomato sauce.  It was great the first night and I’m sure it will be even better tonight!!!!

Pizza: Conventional and Unconventional

I LOVE PIZZA!  And I don’t really trust people who don’t like pizza – I mean, what’s not to like?  Bread, tomatoes, cheese….mmmmmmm! I know there are people who can’t eat pizza for health reasons and they are exempt from my mistrust – mainly because if they could eat it, they would.

I like pizza shop pizza (particularly JoJo’s Pizza and Al’s of Hampden (they also offer a great selection of craft beers)) and frozen pizza – SOME frozen pizza; but I especially love pizza we make at home.  I usually call it “Jeff’s pizza,” but the truth is we collaborate.  The dough is all him!  Over many years he has finessed a recipe he received from a good friend of ours – I didn’t even ask him if I could share it because I’m fairly certain the answer would be “no.”

The toppings are where the collaboration happens.  Typically the ingredients we have in the house dictate the kind of pizza we end up making.  We’ve made conventional pizza with just sauce, mozzarella and traditional toppings; and we’ve made many unconventional pizzas – including some ideas we’ve gotten from recipe books and some made from our creative energies, such as:

  • Coney Island – chili instead of sauce, cheddar cheese and sliced hot dogs topped after cooking with yellow mustard and chopped onions
  • White pizza – sometimes with ricotta and sometimes without it, some creamy and others on the drier side
  • Chopped salad topped pizza (without sauce)
  • White sauce, asparagus, pancetta and fried egg
  • Caramelized onion with all kinds of different cheeses and chopped nuts
  • Etc.

Last night we went conventional and unconventional. We made a pepperoni pizza and a caramelized onion and goat cheese pizza.  The following is a photographic walk through the process:

Pizza dough just after being punched down.  Look at the air bubbles.  The dough may look like it’s too wet, but it is actually just right!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaping the Pizza. We don’t worry if the pizzas don’t come out perfectly round.  They taste great no matter the shape!

 

Topping the Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pizza.  The toppings included a brush of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper on the dough, a tiny bit of mozzarella cheese to help the ingredients stick to the pizza, caramelized onions, chopped prosciutto, goat cheese and a tiny bit of mozzarella on the top to hold everything together!  Jeff wanted a few pepperoncini rings and I didn’t so we put them on half!

Topping the Pepperoni Pizza.  The toppings included Don Pepino Pizza Sauce (a good choice if you don’t have the time to make your own), pepperoni (as you can see Jeff had a serious hankerin’ for pepperoni), mozzarella, and dried oregano.

The Finished Products!

Not all our creations are delicious – sometimes we flop; but we always have fun when we make pizza.  It’s a chance to create together and to enjoy our labor of love.  One day we’ll have a brick oven for our pizza and will be able to make more than one at a time – that will make it easier when we make pizza for company.

My remaining pizza challenge is to recreate a white pizza my grandmother used to make.  It was an incredibly tasty dough topped very simply with olive oil, cracked black pepper and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  The pizza was not thin crust, but it was not as thick as a Sicilian style.  I have my mom on the lookout for the recipe……once I master it, I’ll definitely let you know!

In the meantime, let me know your favorite pizza toppings!  I always love to hear what other people like to eat.

Forecast Last Week: Chilly, Chili & Chile

This past week was a busy one….I guess most of us could start a sentence that way. We live in a fast-paced world where cramming one more think into our already over-crowded schedules is expected.  That’s why I am happy the weather has taken a turn toward the chilly.  It seems like when that happens people I start slowing my pace to a more sustainable one.

It’s crazy to say, but Jeff and I only had dinner together two evenings of the last seven.  One was last evening when I made a quick “kitchen sink” pasta. It’s a concept we use to clean out the fridge and, in this case, use up the last of the produce from the garden.  The other dinner together is one I’ll write more about below, but first let me give you a run down of the rest of the week:

  • Monday: write for blog, work on the blog; do some HR consulting work; Me, Myself and Lies Bible study; ride with Jeff to BWI Airport to pick up his parents (we left at 10:30 pm and got home around 3:30 am Tuesday)
  • Tuesday: sleep in a bit to recover from last night; read for Bible study; work on the blog – test and photograph recipes; prep for consulting meeting tomorrow; laundry; walk.
  • Wednesday: consulting meeting; doctor appointment; grocery shop; make chili; dinner with Jeff; write for blog; small group meeting.
  • Thursday: drive mom to doctor appointment in Hershey – wait, wait, wait with Mrs. M (a nice time to catch up!); lunch at Hershey Pantry; shopping; recipe test for baking contest; write for blog; read, read, read for Bible study and some fiction.
  • Friday: make lunch to take to Jeff; have lunch with Jeff; afternoon meeting; laundry; photos for blog; tres bonne annee wine tasting – The Wines of Chile; “dinner” with Ben, Christa & Jeff
  • Saturday: work at Kitchen Shoppe’s Italian Soups and Breads class; final recipe test and photos for baking contest; upload and organize photos from digital camera; read for Bible study; make dinner for me (Jeff was working the homecoming dance); fall into bed after midnight.
  • Sunday: church (a much-needed time of praise and reconnection); work at Kitchen Shoppe’s fundraiser for the Bosler Library in Carlisle, PA; read some fiction; finally connect with Jeff; make dinner; eat together; mindless t.v.; early to bed!

I know there are many of you who add kids activities to this already crowded schedule so I am not complaining by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes I have to remind myself how much I actually have in my schedule so I understand why some things slide!!! Typically there’s exercise in the schedule too, but I’ve been having a problem with my left foot (No, not the movie) and I’ve been instructed to stay off it for a few days!  Which to me only means I have to stop “organized” exercise, not the rest of the activities I do each day.

So, back to the chili.  I had a two-pound piece of sirloin in the fridge and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it; but with the brisk weather I got inspired to fiddle with a new chili recipe.  here’s what I came up with:

Chilly Weather Sirloin Chili

Jeff picked some beautiful Roma tomatoes and Hungarian peppers from the garden and I thought both would be excellent additions to this dish.  I started by halving the tomatoes, placing them cut-side up on a baking sheet and drizzling with olive oil.  I sprinkled them with kosher salt, ground black pepper, brown sugar and red pepper flakes and roasted them in a preheated 350 degree oven until they were caramelized (40 – 60 minutes depending on the size of the tomatoes).  After they cooled enough so that I could handle them, I slid the skins off each tomato half.

While the tomatoes were roasting, I turned my attention to the sirloin.  I cut it into 1 1/2 inch cubes and tossed them in a bowl with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, 4 tsp. yellow corn meal (which will help to give a nice crust to the meat and later thicken the chili), 1 tsp. chili powder, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. cocoa powder until all the meat cubes were well coated.  I heated 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a dutch oven on the stove top and browned the meat in three batches – removing all the meat to a plate when browned.

In the same dutch oven, which now had gloriously browned bits from the meat on the bottom, I added 3 cups diced Spanish onion, 3 diced Hungarian peppers and 1 cup of water to deglaze the pan.  I cooked the veggies, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes until the onions were translucent and the water evaporated.  I added garlic to the pan and cooked, stirring, for one minute more.

I then added to the onion mixture, the tomato paste, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. paprika, 2 tsp. cocoa powder and 1 Tbsp. cumin.  I cooked  the tomato paste and spices with the veggies to caramelize for about 2 minutes.  I then added the browned meat, 3 cups chicken broth, the roasted tomatoes (skins removed) and 1 can each drained and rinsed black beans and red beans.  I brought it all to a boil, lowered the heat to medium low and simmered for 30 minutes.  Of course, the longer you simmer, the better and the chili is even better if it sits over night in the fridge and is reheated – it gives all the flavors time to meld together.

I served the chili over rice and it was a warm, spicy and delicious treat for a chilly day!

Chilly Weather Sirloin Chili

Serves 6 - 10
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish, Soup
Misc Pre-preparable, Serve Hot

Ingredients

  • 20 Roma tomatoes (fresh from the garden is best!)
  • olive oil to drizzle
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • .5 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (for browning meat)
  • 2lb sirloin steak (cut into 1.5 inch cubes~)
  • 4 teaspoons yellow corn meal
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder (divided)
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder (divided)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (divided)
  • 3 cups Spanish onion (diced)
  • 3 Hungarian peppers (diced)
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 3 thin slices tomato paste
  • .5 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 3 cups chicken broth ((I prefer low sodium))
  • 1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can red beans (drained and rinsed)

Note

mmm mmm mmm blog at www.cookeatentertain.com

Directions

Roasting Tomatoes
1. Cut Roma tomatoes in half and place cut side up on a greased half sheet pan.
2. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with 1 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. pepper, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar and 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes.
3. Place in a preheated 350 degree oven and roast for 40 - 60 minutes until caramelized.
4. Allow to cool and remove skins.
The skins can be removed ahead of time using in boiling water, but I find this way less time-consuming and just as easy and it doesn't result in somewhat gritty or mealy tomatoes.
Browning Meat
5. Place the cubed sirloin, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 4 tsp. cornmeal, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. cocoa powder in a large bowl and toss well to coat.
6. In a heavy bottom dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil. Add 1/3 of the meat and cook over medium high heat, browning on all sides.
7. Remove browned meat and repeat with the remaining meat until all meat is browned and removed to a bowl.
Cooking Veggies
8. Using the same pan in which you browned the meat (which should have nice brown bits on the bottom), add the onion, peppers and 1 cup of water to deglaze the pan.
9. Stirring frequently, cook over medium high heat until water evaporates and onions are translucent - about 10 minutes.
10. Add garlic to the pan and cook, stirring for one minute more.
Making Sauce
11. Add the tomato paste, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. paprika, 2 tsp. cocoa powder and 1 Tbsp. cumin to the pan and cook with veggies to caramelize for about 2 minutes.
12. Add browned meat back into pan.
13. Add chicken broth, roasted tomatoes and beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low (low if you have particularly hot burners) and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
The Finished Product
14. Serve over rice and enjoy!

Suppli and Salad

Yesterday was a dreary day, but it gave me a chance to snuggle up with a soft blanket and some favorite cookbooks.  I was looking for inspiration for dinner and feeding my soul at the same time.

I decided I would make Suppli (cheese-stuffed rice croquettes) last night, but God and Kissy had other plans.  We had to take our girl to the emergency vet, where she stayed overnight.  That meant little sleep for us as we waited for updates on her condition.  Apparently, she ate well on vacation too – unfortunately it was from the trash.  She ate some corn cobs, which then got “stuck” in her system.

After talking to the ER vet, we resigned ourselves to the fact that Kissy would either have emergency surgery last night or, best case scenario, they’d be able to stabilize her over night and our regular vet would do the surgery today.  Again, God had other plans.  Many friends prayed for our little Kissy and this morning after we transported her from the emergency vet to our regular vet, we found that our regular vet thought a conservative approach was best.

You see, Kissy’s had a difficult life medically speaking.  We rescued her a little over a year ago and prior to us getting her she had several surgeries – for eye issues, thyroid problems, broken legs, etc.  Because of all these things and because the fluids the ER vet administered over night perked Kissy up, our vet decided surgery would only be a last resort.

They continued to administer fluids, gave Kissy some pain meds and watched her closely today with periodic x-rays to see if/how the corn cobs were “progressing” through her system.  Although Kissy isn’t out of the woods yet, she is at home tonight – with many meds.  We will watch her closely over night and will begin feeding her small meals in the morning and pray she continues to improve.

I know, you’re waiting for me to connect this to comfort food.  Never fear…..After very little sleep last night, much praying (and a little worrying) both last night and today, and an early start this morning to get Kissy from one vet to the other; Jeff and I needed some comfort food.  My mind immediately goes to mac and cheese when I think comfort food, but I thought I’d make the suppli that were on my mind yesterday.  And I’m glad I did.

I adapted a recipe from the food of italy: a journey for food lovers. Making suppli requires first making risotto, which is a mesmerizing process.  The ingredients are quite simple:

Suppli Ingredients 1

3 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, diced
2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
6 cups chicken stock (not pictured), heated in a separate saucepan

AND

Suppli Ingredients 2

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
15 mini mozzarella balls (approximately 6 oz. of cheese)
1 1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs, with 2 Tbsp ground flax seed mixed in
15 small basil leaves

To make the risotto:

  1. Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan.
  2. Add onions and saute 4 – 5 minutes, until translucent.
  3. Add rice and toast for 1 – 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Add a ladleful of the hot stock and stir constantly until all the stock is absorbed by the rice.  Repeat until all the stock is added and risotto is creamy.  The entire process should take approximately 220 – 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in the parmesan cheese, parsley and eggs – be careful to add the eggs slowly and stir vigorously to avoid scrambling the eggs.
  6. Spread on a half sheet pan and cool completely.

To make the suppli:

  1. Heat enough canola oil in a heavy saucepan to cover the suppli when frying.  Heat oil to approximately 180 degrees F.
  2. Divide the risotto into 15 portions.  With damp hands, take one portion and form it into a ball in your hand.
  3. Make a hole in the ball with your index finger and insert a basil leaf and a mozzarella ball.  Cover the hole with rice so that you end up with an oval with the cheese in the middle.
  4. Roll the suppli in breadcrumbs and place on a platter.  Repeat to form all suppli before frying.
  5. Lower a few suppli gently into the hot oil and cook for approximately four minutes – turning to brown evenly – until golden brown.
  6. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.
  7. Serve hot.

I made a salad to go with the suppli.  I started with a nice spring mix and added grape tomatoes and peppers from the garden, a little feta cheese and a few toasted pepitas. I made a quick vinaigrette, dressed the salad and dinner was ready.

Suppli & Salad

The salad was crisp and refreshing and the suppli were warm and crunchy with creamy, oozy mozzarella seeping out of the center.  Mmm mmm mmmm! Now we’ve got our fingers and paws crossed that Kissy’s breakfast tomorrow morning is as comforting to her as tonight’s dinner was to us!

Rules are Meant to Be Broken

There was so much activity in our vacation kitchen that my smile was an accessory to EVERY outfit I wore!  But two things in particular stand out to me as outside the norm.

The first is that I got to cook with my dad.  Not since (1) the days of scrambled egg hoagies when I was young and my mom worked in the evenings or (2) the days of ordering so much pizza from Pizza Village in Bethlehem, PA when I was a teen and my sister was away at college and my mom worked evenings that the Italian guys knew us by phone number have my dad and I spent time in the kitchen together “creating” (or phoning in) a dinner.  But my mom was under the weather on this trip and my dad and I were determined to still serve her fabulous grilled clam pasta; so we set to work shoulder to shoulder under my mom’s direction!

Together we chopped and grated and zested and sautéed and grilled the necessary ingredients to end up with a fabulous, if a bit too spicy but just sassy enough, pasta!

First we cooked the bacon to crispy perfection and removed it from the pan to get crisp on paper towels.  We poured off all but a bit of the bacon grease.  In the remaining bacon grease we sautéed red onion until it was beautifully translucent and the bottom of the pan was a gorgeous chestnut brown.

Then we deglazed the pan with about a cup of Pinot Grigio and let it cook until most of the wine evaporated.  We added the juice of two lemons and let that cook a bit longer.  We added olive oil and chopped garlic, a few too many hot pepper flakes, the zest of two lemons, some cracked black pepper and one or two ladles of the salted water in which the pasta was cooking.  We let that get nice and mellow and put the cleaned, fresh clams on the grill.

 

 

 

 

The clams cooked until they had absorbed the taste of the fire and smoke.  When they opened we put them in a large foil pan and tossed them with the pasta, crisp bacon, oil mixture, zest of two lemons, and some chopped fresh parsley.  The whole, delicious dish was served with grilled Italian bread, some fresh made seasoned bread crumbs for sprinkling over the pasta, and a bit of parmesan cheese.

Which brings me to the second thing that struck me as outside the norm in our vacation kitchen.  Fish with cheese!  Horror of horrors!  Sins against food and man!

I have watched enough episodes of Chopped on the Food Network to hear Scott Conant say at least a gazillion times that it’s just not done.  You don’t serve fish with cheese. It’s not the Italian way.

Well I stick out my tongue and give the raspberries to that sentiment!

As far as I am concerned, if we (cooks everywhere – whether home cooks or Michelin starred chefs) hadn’t pushed the proverbial envelope in the kitchen and broken a few rules along the way, we would still be eating exactly what our ancestors ate thousands of years ago exactly how they ate it!  AND there would be no cooking shows like Chopped on television – Chopped, which judges food based upon CREATIVITY, taste and presentation – not on tradition and rules.  How can we be creative if we do what we’ve always done?  In fact, isn’t the definition of insanity “doing what you’ve always done and expecting a different result?”

Sorry for the rant, but I REALLY had to get that out of my system!

This turned out to be a great meal because I got to cook with my dad, I got to eat the freshest clams I’ve eaten in I don’t know how long, and I got to break a few rules.  So I say eat what tastes good, cook with the people you love, and be innovative in the kitchen.  After all, as Thomas Edison once said, “There are no rules here — we are trying to accomplish something!”

Turn the Beet Around

I think Gloria Estefan would forgive me for the word play on her song title – especially if she tasted the pickled spiced beets from The Village Whiskey – Iron Chef Jose Garces’ Philadelphia restaurant.

The Village Whiskey beets are what inspired my purchase of 10 pounds of red beets at the Lancaster Central Market on Friday. Philadelphia is a little far to drive for an appetizer, so I have to learn to make them on my own.  I hope Jose Garces will forgive my twist on his recipe.

The Village Whiskey makes their pickled spiced beets with baby red and golden beets, but I made mine with oven-roasted, full-grown red beets since I am still waiting for a late planting of beets in my garden to yield results.  Sadly, the rabbits had their way with the beets Jeff planted in the spring.

I roasted my 10 pounds of beets after washing them and wrapping them in foil.  They cooked in a 350 degree oven for approximately 90 minutes (they were big beets).  I let them cool, peeled them and cut them into bite-sized pieces.  While I was peeling and cutting the beets, a pickling solution was simmering on the stove.  Now I don’t know what The Village Whiskey puts in their recipe – that is for them to share or not; but I put some allspice, cinnamon, mustard seeds, thinly sliced onion, thyme, bay leaves, orange zest and orange juice along with some water and different types of vinegars.

After the beets were prepped, I poured the pickling liquid over them and now they are just swimming in the liquid getting happy, subtly spiced, and “pickley.”  Tomorrow I will can them so that I can enjoy them for months to come.  When I serve them, I will likely want the toasted baguette and whipped ricotta that is served at the restaurant with all their pickle selections.

Whether or not you want to try to make pickled, spiced beets on your own; I would HIGHLY recommend a trip to The Village Whiskey if you are in Philadelphia.  The restaurant is small and they do not take reservations, so Jeff and I try to arrive between lunch and dinner.  Not only are the beets amazing, so are the pickled herb cherry tomatoes and the french fries cooked in duck fat – especially when they are topped with delectable short ribs and cheddar cheese.  And if you are keeping up with the latest burger fad, do yourself a favor and do not pass up the Village Burger.  It is served on a buttery, light and flaky sesame bun with lettuce, tomato and house-made thousand island dressing.  I add the caramelized onions and one of the terrific cheese selections.  This is the kind of burger you wake up hungry for!

The Village Whiskey
118 South 20th Street
Philadelphia, PA  19103