Monday, November 19, 2012

Quick Apple Cake

This simple, buttery apple cake is from the Richard Sax' masterpiece of a cookbook Classic Home Desserts: A Treasury of Heirloom and Contemporary Recipes from Around the World, published in 1994.  It is called "Ligita's Quick Apple Cake" and of it he says:

"Stick a bookmark right here, and leave it in. Sort of a 'quick apple pie without the crust,' this cake has become one of my all-time favorite, most-often made recipes."

That's quite a claim. That, and the quirkiness of the recipe, convinced me to give it a try.

Sax says it's not necessary to brown the butter once it has melted, but it does add a certain richness to the cake. Use a quality butter, such as Plugra.

Think of this as a large butter cookie with apples. Or a a huge apple doughnut. Sax insists "it wants vanilla ice cream." Perhaps. But a good cup of tea or fresh-brewed coffee is just as wonderful.

I ground 4 fresh allspice berries to add to the cinnamon. Next time, I will omit the lemon juice and add a bit of vanilla extract instead. I used two large Honey Crisp apples and one Granny Smith. They were just beginning to get a bit soft, so I sliced them thick.

The "black" apples are heirloom "Black Twig" apples. They are sweet-tart and better in cakes
than in pies . . . that is if you can find them. It's a bit easier if you live near
the Appalachian chain of mountains here in North Carolina.

Serves 8
  • 3 medium-sized tart apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced, about 3 cups
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon mixed with ...
  • ... About 3-4 whole allspice berries, ground. 
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup sifted, all-purpose flour
How easy was that?

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a 10-inch Pyrex pie dish, not using the butter called for in recipe.

Toss the apples in a bowl with the lemon juice, vanilla, if using, 2 tablespoons of the sugar and the cinnamon mixture. Spread apples evenly in the buttered dish.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat; cook until lightly golden, about five minutes or so. Watch carefully to avoid burning. Pour the clear, browned butter into a bowl, leaving any sediment or foam in the pan.

Stir the 3/4 cup sugar into the butter. Gently stir in the eggs; stir in the flour until blended. Spoon the batter evenly over the apples and spread into a layer. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake until lightly golden and crusty. 40-45 minutes.

Cool in the dish on a wire rack. Cut into wedges and serve from the pan warm or at room temperature, with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Flea-Market Bargains!

This past weekend was the flea-market "extravaganza" outside of Charlotte, NC. There is one extravaganza in the spring and then the autumn. Neither is to be missed. The others are the first weekend of each month.

We had great weather. And great bargains. The first was a motherlode of restaurant dishes that I collect. They are not easy to find and then there I was staring at an entire box! The woman who owned the booth said, "Oh, you can have that whole box for twenty dollars." I was dumbfounded. The cheapest I ever paid for one dinner plate was eight dollars! I didn't argue and handed over a Jackson!

The box had one dinner plate with dividers. Very cool. Lots of coffee cups but only one saucer. Restaurant wear is heavy, doesn't chip easily, takes the heat of a dishwasher, and keeps food warmer for longer than most other dishes.

The next bargain was a McCoy 11-inch mixing bowl. I've always wanted a vintage bowl, but the prices can be a bit steep. This one was in great condition. No cracks and the glaze was not crackled. It was $98.00! But the price was crossed out and I thought it said $25. When I finally put my glasses on, it really said "Booth # 25. The new price was 70.00. I told my sister that if it was 50 I'd take it. And then a voice behind me said, "I'll take fifty dollars for it." It was from the woman who owned the booth. I handed over a Grant immediately.

This is the McCoy "window pane" bowl. The next day I saw a smaller one in another shop. It was 98.00! LOL . . . This bowl will sit on my dining room table.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sausages with Cabbage, Onion and New Potatoes

You have to understand this about the South where I live in the middle of North Carolina: We just don't have wind. It's usually blue skies (until chemtrails appear) and, at best, a light breeze. But wind? Forget it. It's blocked to the west by the Appalachian Mountains. Unless, of course, it sneaks in the backdoor--which means from the east/south via the Atlantic coast which means hurricane weather. And so that's what we had for several days courtesy of Hurricane Sandy. Along with overcast skies and unusually cold weather.

People complain. But I'm in heaven.

I refer to such weather as "Michigan weather"--my old home state. All that's missing is the Big Lake itself. Of course, I love it. I want to burrow between my new down comforter and sleep forever. Or eat hot, homey-kind of food. Food that fills you up and hugs you and warms you all at the same time.

Hello, sausages!

This is a one-skillet meal. If you do your chopping the night before, it's a snap to prepare. And since I don't get home from work until after 7 p.m., that is what I've been doing.

Any mild sausage will do. For this, I used Boar's Head kielbasa. I tried others, too. And, truth be told, my favorite was an inexpensive pork sausage from my local Food Lion. In the future, I will also use a good Knockwurst. Just don't use anything too spicy that will overpower the subtle taste of the cabbage.

Once, to brighten things up, I threw in a bit of purple cabbage with the green. Not a good idea. The potatoes tinged a bit on the pink side which I found unappetizing. I also tried it without the chicken stock but noticed the difference. A bit of chicken stock goes a long way. I used new potatoes out of the can (I love new potatoes out of the can (Del Monte brand) and fresh. Either will do. For this recipe, I used fresh.

My heart goes out to the victims of Hurricane Sandy. I wish could feed each and every displaced person this warm meal.

  • 1 pound sausage, cut into serving-sized portions
  • 12-16 ounces shredded Savoy cabbage*
  • 1, 14.5-ounce can new potatoes, drained and rinsed or about 10 small new potatoes, peeled**
  • 3/4 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon caraway seed
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock (canned is fine)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • salt/pepper to taste

Melt one tablespoon butter in a 9 or 10-inch pan. Briefly brown sausages and remove. Wipe pan clean. Add two tablespoons butter over medium/low heat. When melted, add onion and caraway and sweat just until onions are soft and translucent. Add garlic and stir for about one minute. Add cabbage. It will fill the pan. Using tongs and a kind of swirling motion to combine cabbage with onion mixture. When you notice the volume shrinking, add the chicken stock and wine. Salt and pepper to taste. Continue to stir/swirl a bit.

Add sausages and tuck in potatoes. Dot with remaining one tablespoon of butter. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

The cabbage will wilt and cook down to what almost looks like sauerkraut.

If using canned potatoes, 20 minutes is fine. If using fresh potatoes, you may need additional time to cook them through. When the tip of a sharp knife easily slides into the fresh potato, the dish is done. Allow to rest, partially covered, for about 10-15 minutes.

Don't omit the caraway. The amount specified is just enough to season
the dish without overpowering it.

If desired, serve with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of fresh parsley and/or a dab of butter on the potatoes.

*Savoy cabbage is a bit sweeter than regular cabbage.
**If the canned new potatoes are large, cut in half. Or use a larger can and pick out the smaller ones.

I'm sure a good-tasting turkey sausage would do for the pork sausage. Replacing the liquid with unfiltered apple cider is something I plan to do in the future.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Witch Fingers

Fingers, perhaps, from the weird sisters of Macbeth?


Hello, my little pumpkins! Feeling a bit haunted? Chased by hobgoblins lately? Halloween is just around the corner . . . trick-or-treat . . . a night of fright!

I made up these witch fingers at work the other day. In the Produce Department we get in 50 lb. bags of bulk carrots that we trim and sell. But not all are worthy of salvage. As I trimmed away, one reminded me of a finger . . . My imagination kicked into overdrive and this is what I came up with: witch fingers!

They're simple to make. Search for the most gnarly, rubbery carrots you can find. Look for "knuckles" and joints. If they are sprouting "hair," all the better!

For nails, I used pistachio shells. I traced their outline onto the carrot using the tip of a sharp knife then gently removed a bit of pulp. I placed the shell, pointed side down and "stuck" it into the flesh of the carrot. Then I gently pushed down on it to embed it into the carrot to form a kind of cuticle at the base.

I wrapped the ends with rag strips that I first moistened with water. Using a Q-tip, I applied red food color for the blood. I placed them in the refrigerator overnight with a damp paper towel on top. In the morning, the pistachio shells absorbed the liquid and looked translucent and awesome.

I placed mine in a miniature plastic coffin:

A few of these sticking out from the sides of a green salad would be intriguing.

UPDATE: I've now had these for almost one week and the look even better and more shriveled. Sometimes I give them a sprinkle of water and place them back in the fridge to  "bring back to life." LOL.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Very Simple Veal Stew with Polenta

This really is a lovely dish. The veal is mild. The sauce is mild. Even without the polenta, it's delicious on its own. Or with a bit of noodles or mashed potatoes on the side which, in the past, is how I would usually serve it. But this time, I wanted something a bit "lovelier" that would complement but not overpower the simple stew. Polenta with a bit of beef broth and Parmesan did the trick.

I have made this recipe for years. I have no idea where I got it. I did a few quick searches on the Internet and found one on All Recipes, but I know that's not where I got it. Five or so years ago, I included it in a "family cookbook" I gave away as gifts. A similar recipe appears in the vintage "Antoinette Pope Cookbook."

If you're like me, you ask yourself how a simple recipe of meat, onions, a bit of garlic and tomato sauce can work. Well, it does!

Veal is not always easy to find. And, like most meats, it has gone up in price. Sometimes, a supermarket will cut up veal it can't sell into "stew meat" at a lower price. That's the time to snatch it.

I had intended to make the polenta in advance so it could "set up." I thought I'd slice it and give it a quick sear in a pan. But "loose" seemed the way to go. 

Rosemary can be overpowering, so be careful. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

Plate #2 in a series of six that I painted many, many years ago.

Serves 2-3. Easily Doubled
  • 1 lb. veal stew meat, patted dry
  • 6 tablespoons tomato sauce (canned is just fine)
  • 1/4 cup dry, white wine
  • 1-1.5 cups diced onion
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1, 3-inch rosemary frond
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil/butter

Melt a bit of butter and olive oil in a skillet. When sizzling, add the veal and brown. Remove from pan and set aside. You may to do this in two batches. It's not necessary to cook the veal all the way through.

Add onion to skillet and cook just until they begin to soften a bit. Add the garlic. Stir until fragrant. Add the tomato sauce and wine. Add a bit of salt but more pepper. Add the thyme. Reduce to low and simmer for about 1.5-2 hours, covered. About thirty minutes before serving, add the rosemary sprig.

  • 1.5 cups beef broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup polenta (I use Red Mill)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
  • Pepper
  • Smoked paprika (optional)

Bring beef broth, water and salt to a boil. Using a whisk, slowly whisk in the polenta and lower heat to medium. Stir for 15 minutes until thick. Hold the whisk firmly while stirring. The easiest way to do this is to make a fist and insert the handle into it. This gives you more leverage without tiring your hand.

I have to say . . . I do love plain old McCormick black pepper.

Remove from heat and stir in butter and pepper. Add cheese and stir until melted and incorporated. Pour into a lightly buttered/oiled small loaf pan. At this point, I lightly sprinkle a bit of smoked paprika on one half. Cover with cling wrap and allow to "set." You can make this ahead and refrigerate. When ready to serve, slice and fry in a bit of olive oil just until warmed through.

This will make more polenta than you need for this recipe of veal stew. I like the paprika half to use with the stew. The other half I will slice for leftovers.

Yep, I licked the plate!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Pasta with Italian Sausage, Mushrooms, Spinach and Sage

The days are shorter; the nights, cooler. Salad days are waning. Melons are disappearing from grocery-store shelves and farm stands. It's the season of chrysanthemums, monarch butterflies, school buses and summer memories.

When I have a hectic schedule, which means eating on the run, I reach the point to where I just want a good, filling, home-cooked meal. And one that re-heats easily for leftovers. Pasta always feeds those requirements.

Here, it is summoned with Italian sausages, spinach, mushrooms and earthy sage in a velvety and garlicky sauce that nourishes the most basic of hungers. And more.

Some tips about pasta dishes: it is imperative "to taste as you go." Salt a little at a time as you go through the recipe. Many pasta dishes can be bland, even with the brightest and most savory of ingredients, without the distillation of salt. Allow the dish to rest so the pasta can absorb the flavors and to allow the starches to thicken the sauce. As such, always keep a bit of the pasta water on hand or some extra stock to add as needed.

For this recipe, I used Johnsonville Italian sausages, three hot and three mild. I ended up using all but 1/4 cup of a 14.5 ounce can of chicken stock. Add the stock gradually to give the recipe time to absorb and thicken.

  • 1 lb. (about) Italian sausages (I used six links, hot and mild)
  • 1 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 3 cups lightly-packed fresh spinach leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
  • 20 fresh sage leaves, rough-chopped
  • Red pepper flakes, just a pinch
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1, 14.5 oz. low-sodium chicken stock 
  • 10 oz. linguine or spaghetti 
  • 1/2 cup (or more) Reggiano Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Butter

Bring to the boil a large pot of salted water.

In a large pan, fill with water just to cover sausages. Simmer about ten minutes. Remove to cool. Add the sausage water to the pot of pasta water. When sausages are cool enough to handle, slice into pieces. Add a bit of oil to the pan and cook sausage pieces just until brown. Remove.

Add a bit of oil and butter to the pan. Add the onion and cook until soft and just beginning to brown. Add the mushrooms and cook until they begin to reduce. Add the garlic and sage and stir just until fragrant. Salt to taste.

Add the cream and about one cup of the chicken stock. Simmer on low until it begins to thicken a bit. Add the sausage and allow to simmer. Taste and add more chicken stock/salt/garlic if needed, remembering that the pasta will mellow your sauce. At this point, I add a pat or two of butter. Last, add the fresh spinach and stir until wilted. Cover to keep warm.

Cook the pasta. Drain. Add the pasta to the pan, a little at a time. Mix with two forks. Add grated cheese and mix. If necessary, add a bit more stock as pasta absorbs the liquid. Also, taste for salt. Pasta can take quite a bit of salt.

Plate. Garnish with additional sage leaves. Serve. Enjoy!

Yes. I made the dish. The design is based on an Ojibway design I copied
from the Chicago Art Institute. I have six plates, different colors.

Notes: I used up a lot of leftover pasta for this recipe, including whole-wheat spaghetti. I'll do that again since I liked the visual play of textures. Add the thicker pastas to the boiling water first, then the thinner a minute or two later.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Fried Perch with Tarragon Butter Sauce

Summer isn't just about the harvest from the garden. It's also about the fresh catch
of the day!

Geographically, for most of my life, Lake Michigan was my playground.

Nostalgically, thus even more so, from a sentimental point of view, was a small pond in the woods behind my house. Jone's Pond. It was a satisfying, easy mile trek down a well-worn dirt path I often took with my little sisters and our Beagle, Buck. It was one of my most favorite of childhood places. We fished it in the summer. We skated it in the winter. It was home to "suicide hill," a treacherous, turning sled ride that steered itself onto the frozen ice below if one could navigate and avoid the large oak trees. A crumpled sled was cast aside as a warning and a reminder ...

There were other near-by watering holes, too. Schilling's Swamp. Plum Creek.

Of course, where's there's water, there's fish. And the fresher the fish, the better the meal. Summer isn't just about garden produce. It's about the freshest catch of the day, too.

For this recipe, I used fresh ocean perch that were not frozen and had arrived that very day.  I had Brad, my fish monger, choose about one pound of the smallest filets. Lake perch is even better, if you can find them. Or afford them. Blue Gill is good, too. 

When coating a fish as delicate as perch, it's important to use crumbs that are just as delicate or fine as possible. Keep the egg wash light, too. I grew up with "buttered perch" from a family restaurant my siblings and I worked for years. It is still in existence. TIEBEL'S. A plate of buttered perch will set you back a good 40 bucks ... or more. When I worked there ... I think it was around $4.50!

For a summer treat, I finely chop fresh tarragon to season the butter. Tarragon, lemon, salt and perch. It's a simple combination for an incredible summer meal.

I first had this dish at a fancy Michigan restaurant on the shores of Lake Michigan. I loved it then. I love it now. Sometimes, I also use dried "Fines Herbs" which is perfect when paired with any delicate white fish.

  • 1 lb. fresh perch filets (lake or ocean)
  • 2 eggs
  • Milk or cream
  • Self-rising flour
  • Bread crumbs, the finer the better
  • Tabasco sauce (optional)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon finely-minced, fresh tarragon
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh Lemon
  • Oil for frying, about two cups for a 10 - 12 inch skillet.

First, make the butter. Add the minced tarragon to the butter and microwave until melted. Add a drizzle of olive oil. Stir. Set aside.

Rinse, drain and pay dry the fish.

Gently coat with flour. Set aside.

Crack two eggs into a bowl. With a hand-held beater, gently whisk for about two minutes until thick and bubbly. This is important.

This is what a hand-held beater looks like.

Add a bit of Tabasco to the egg mixture. I generally use about 6-12 drops or so. Add 1 tablespoon of milk or cream to the mixture and whisk until blended.

Coat each floured filet into the egg mixture then gently coat with the bread crumbs. Place on a plate.

Keep the fish coating light. 

Heat about 2 cups of oil in a largish cast-iron skillet or heavy pan. When it begins to shimmer a bit, it's ready. If in doubt, put in a crust of bread or two. If it browns too quickly, lower heat. This is probably the trickiest part of frying fish. If in doubt, you could always use a thermometer that measures the heat for you.

Gently slide in a few filets skin side up! The oil will begin to bubble immediately. Cook on each side for about two minutes or so. My filets were small, so 3-4 minutes total did the trick. The first time you flip the fish, moisture will be released and the oil will splatter. Once the flesh begins to crack, it's done. You will constantly have to adjust the heat as you cook and re-add fish.

Nicely browned. Notice how the fish has "cracked." An indication it is done.

Spoon the tarragon butter sauce over the fish. Sprinkle liberally with Kosher or finishing salt and a squeeze of lemon.

Fresh fish will never smell up your kitchen. Bad fish will. So will bad company.

After coating my fish with bread crumbs, I froze three filets for later use.

Notes: I use White Lily Self-Rising Flour. It's finer in texture than regular flour. Cake flour is a good substitute. Regular flour is fine, just be sure shake off the excess. I generally use corn oil or peanut oil, about two cups for a 10-inch skillet.

If you are adverse to frying fish or anything for that matter, it pays to invest in a "hotplate" or portable gas hot plate and fry outside on your porch or in the garage. It's a game-changer, for sure!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Shoestring Herb Fries (and Steak)

Don't those look good? They were!

I've been seeing quite a few recipes on the web for "herb fries" so I decided to wing it. If you have a mandolin, nothing could be simpler. You want "thin" fries, for this recipe. I tried really really thin spaghetti-like fries, but I found them to thin for a wholesome "chew" or bite. I wanted an outside crunch and still just a bit soft interior.

For the herbs, I used rosemary, thyme and lemon. Yes, lemon. Don't omit it. For a final flair, I zested some Parmesan on top. These were a snap to prepare. Save your oil and do it again the next day.

But what made these even better, was pan-searing a porterhouse steak to go with it. All that was missing was a cold beer.

  • 1 russet potato, about 3/4 - 1 pound, thoroughly scrubbed and thinly sliced into fries
  • 1 heaping teaspoon mixed, finely minced herbs of thyme and rosemary
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and thick sliced
  • 1-2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • Peanut oil for frying

Place a good 1-2 inches of peanut oil in a medium pan and turn on medium heat. Add the garlic. When garlic turns brown, remove and discard.

Thoroughly mince the herbs with the zest and chop, chop, chop. Add the salt and with a pestle or the back of your knife, and begin working the salt into the herb/citrus mixture. Don't make it too wet, you still want to "sprinkle" it over the fries.

Cut your potatoes.

Add fries to hot oil slowly, you don't want the oil to bubble over and cause a fire. You may need to do this in two batches. Stir occasionally until brown and crisp. Remove to drain on paper towels.

I added a few "onion' pieces to the potatoes as they fried.

Place in a warm 200 F. degree oven to keep warm and crisp while you prepare the rest. When ready to serve, sprinkle with the herb/citrus salt. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve. You could also sprinkle with a bit of pepper or chile powder.

How to Pan-Sear a Steak

First, you need a cast-iron skillet. I can't imagine not cooking a steak without one.

On one side of your steak, season with a bit of garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. That's it.

Get you skillet HOT! Place a pat of butter in the pan and then lay the steak seasoned side down right on top of the butter. Lower heat a bit and don't move the steak. After about 3-5 minutes, take a peek. It should have a nice crust, even some blackened spots. Sprinkle lightly with a bit of salt. Flip. Lower heat a tad more and cook until it reaches desired doneness. I like mine RARE.

Remove to a plate to rest for a few minutes. Slice thinly on a diagonal. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and serve.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tomato Sauce with Pig's Foot and Sausages

(2021 Update: Weather we like it or not, we eat according to the times in which we live. Right now, those times spell doom for meat. The price is through the roof. Enter spaghetti. It has always been a savior's meal to tough times on the pocket book. Sausages are economical. More and more grocery stores are putting out cuts of meat never seen before because they are cheap. Pig's feet is one on them. Cheese is not cheap, so try to find it on sale. The other day one my favorite grocery stores had pasta on sale for one dollar a box, a real bargain. I bought five.

I recently purchased a new cookbook: "ODD BITS" recipes for the rest of the animal "head to tail." There is a chapter devoted to nothing but feet--from chickens to cattle. Ox-tail used to be considered an "odd bit," but it became so trendy that I recently saw a package for over 20 dollars! Hopefully, the price of pigs' feet won't make us squeal.)

I had been eyeing the packages of little piggy feet (trotters) for several days at my local Food Lion Supermarket. For an authentic Italian "gravy," they are indispensable. But not easy to find. So I purchased a package of four for less than four bucks and a nice package of Italian sausages to prepare a simple, basic sauce or "gravy." 

A pig's foot adds richness to a tomato-based sauce. If ever you've wanted a thick sauce, the pig's foot is what you're after. The pig's foot is very gelatinous (not fatty). After hours of simmering, it lovingly melts into the sauce and melds with the the other meats to create a deep, rich and unctuous sauce.

Look for trotters that are pink and flesh colored. They should have little or no smell. After a good wash, bring to boil in a pan and simmer 5-10 minutes. Rinse again and then slip them into your sauce to simmer for 2-4 hours or until tender and falling apart.

Feel free to add any meats to your sauce. I settled for the sausages and made some quick meatballs* that I add the last hour or so. This is probably the best spaghetti I've had. 

  • 1.5 lbs. fresh Italian sausage 
  • 1-2 pigs feet, sliced down the center (about 1 lb.) washed, lightly boiled and re-washed/rinsed
  • 1 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 6 large cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, including juice, chopped (see update)
  • 1/2-1 cup water (or dry wine, red or white)
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh fennel seeds
  • salt and pepper (more pepper than salt)
  • 2 teaspoons freshly minced rosemary leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh oregano leaves
  • Grated cheese (Parmesan, Romano, etc)
  • Meatballs
In a large pot, add a bit of butter and olive oil. Add onions and sweat just until they turn brown. Add the fennel seeds. Stir. Add the crushed and diced tomatoes. Rinse cans with a bit of water (or wine) and add. Slice/chip garlic cloves into sauce. Add pig's feet and sausages. Dust with pepper and stir. Cover loosely and simmer for 2-4 hours.

The last hour, add the brown sugar, chopped rosemary and oregano and, if using, meatballs. Taste for seasonings adding salt and pepper as needed.

Remove and discard pig's foot (Some people pick the meat off, but there isn't much. After 3-4 hours of simmering, it's pretty much given up whatever it had to offer to the sauce. It may also leave behind tiny chips of bones, so beware.)

Serve over pasta of your choice with a liberal grating or shavings of cheese.

Notes: I used Tuttorosso brand crushed tomatoes with basil. You could complicate things and add green pepper and celery to the onions. My sausage was mild with a bit of heat. If you want a spicier sauce, add a pinch or two of red-pepper flakes to the onions. 

This is a mild-tasting and satisfying dish. The tomatoes are neither overpowering nor acidic. I give it five oinks!

Update: Wow. I've now made this several times. People who eat it want more, more, more. This is Italian "gravy." It is not a marinara sauce of just tomatoes. There's a world of difference between the two. The amount of tomatoes you use will depend on the amount of meat you add. The more meat--the more tomatoes. Start with a balance and go from there.

* Okay... A meatball is not just a meatball. It all depends on how and in what you are going to serve it. I no longer use egg in my meatballs. I use Ricotta. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Salt-Cured Salmon with Whiskey (Gravlax)

I'm always amazed at food or recipes I've heard about for ages but never tried. Salt-cured salmon is one. It was much easier to prepare than I thought and the result was nothing short of wonderful. After two days of "curing" in the fridge, the thin slices of flavored salmon were silky and buttery.

Now I feel even more venturesome to experiment with different flavors and liquors. 

"Gravlax" literally means "grave salmon." Fishermen would bury their salmon in the sand just above the high tideline. The salt in the sand would "cure" the salmon.

Dill is the preferred and standard herb to use when curing salmon. Along with "Aquavit," a Scandinavian liquor. This recipe, adapted from GQ, uses fresh fennel and whiskey. In the future, I could certainly imagine using flavored vodkas. Next time I prepare this particular recipe, I will add a grate or two of orange zest.

This is a great appetizer, especially on a hot summer's day. The prep is pretty simple--season, wrap and wait. Two days later, unwrap, slice and enjoy!

The delicate flavor of the cured fish is easy to lose with too many accoutrements. I prefer naked slices. But to be a bit fancy, I schmeared a bit of cream cheese on a plain water cracker followed by a razor-thin wafer of cucumber that I sliced with a vegetable peeler, a pinch of pepper and a few snips of chive. Lovely.

For this recipe, I used a beautiful center-cut one- pound filet of Sockeye Salmon that my fishmonger, Brad, cut for me. It was thrillingly red and meaty.

                                                                                                              (GQ Photo)

  • One, center-cut salmon filet, skin on
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 2 tablespoons good whiskey (I used Knob Creek)
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 cup coarse salt
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fennel fronds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • Black pepper (I used less)
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

Brush the fish with the whiskey and place in refrigerator while preparing the other ingredients. (The whiskey will absorb into the flesh of the fish.)

Lightly crush the fennel and caraway seeds. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the "cure" of salt, sugar, lemon zest and fennel fronds.

Measure a sheet of cling wrap 3 times as long as the width of the fish and spread on a baking sheet.

Spread half of the salt/sugar mixture on the plastic wrap. Remove fish from refrigerator and place on top on cure mixture, skin-side down. Now pat down the remaining half of the salt/sugar mixture on top of the fish. 

Sprinkle seeds over the top and arrange the sliced fennel over the length of the fish. Sprinkle with pepper.

Wrap tightly. Place skin-side down in a large resealable plastic bag to catch any leaks and place the package on the baking sheet. Place a heavy pot on top. Allow to cure 2-3 days. (Some recipes say to flip every 12 hours or so. I did not.)

When ready, remove fish from plastic wrap. Remove the fennel and rinse the cured fish  under cold water. The fish will have "hardened." Pat dry. 

Using a sharp knife, cut thin slices on an angle. The skin will be tough as leather, but the flesh will be tender and succulent. Enjoy!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Carrot Cake with Candied Ginger and Orange, Honey, Cream-Cheese Frosting

There's just something about this carrot cake that makes people sit up to take notice. Perhaps it's the candied ginger or the surprise of the orange, cream-cheese frosting. I don't know. But whenever I make it and give aways slices, I get comments and notes like this one from my neighbor:

Some carrot cakes are loaded with extra ingredients. So much so, carrots take back-stage billing to coconut, pineapple, raisins, nuts, even chocolate! So when I saw this carrot cake from good-ole gal Betty Crocker I was intrigued. And I love crystallized ginger. But I didn't want just a regular cream-cheese frosting. I thought it deserved a bit more oomph--adding a bit of honey and orange did the trick.

This makes a small cake and is one of many on this site that won't feed a wedding party. I love an 8 x 8 cake. It's perfect for a few people. And if you need bigger, simply make another and stack them. For this, I cut one layer in half and frosted it for a small, double layer which I don't recommend since the frosting is very light and needs to be refrigerated. In the future, I may not even frost the cake at all but add a few spoonfuls on the cake as I cut and serve it.

My workmates pronounced it one of the best carrot cakes they've eaten. The cake itself is very moist and redolent with carrots. The ginger is not at all pronounced. But without it, the cake would be a dud. The orange-honey frosting is, of course, wonderful and the perfect companion to such a simple cake, easily served any season of the year.

Avoid buying "jarred" candied ginger in your spice aisle at the grocery store. It's overly expensive. I buy small tubs of it for a few bucks in the organic section of my local store. It lasts forever. I'm not a fan of using all oil in a cake recipe, so I use part butter and part oil. It makes for a moister cake in my opinion without the greasy taste. Grate your own nutmeg--it makes a huge difference. I also use a combo of white and brown sugar for more taste. 

  • 1 tablespoon AP flour
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (set aside)
  • 1 1/2 cups finely shredded/grated carrots (set aside)
  • 1 1/4 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-grated nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs

Heat oven to 350 F. degrees. Grease an 8 x 8 in square pan. Cut a piece of wax paper or parchment paper to fit in the bottom. Lightly grease it, too.

Using a sharp knife, begin mincing the ginger. It can get sticky, so sprinkle a bit of flour on it as you go.

In a large bowl, mix everything but the shredded carrots and crystallized ginger with an electric mixer on low speed for about one minute or so, just until moistened. Then beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. Now stir in the carrots and ginger. Batter will be thin.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Let rest for about ten minutes or so and remove from pan on a wire rack to cook completely before frosting. Cake will be moist and sticky.

Frost cake. Keep refrigerated.

Honey, Orange, Cream-Cheese Frosting

  • 4-6 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • Orange zest of one orange or to taste

Beat all ingredients together until smooth. Add more sugar as needed. Frosting will be light and a bit runny. Feel free to experiment with measurements.