Monday, November 26, 2012

Shipwreck Stew

As a kid with an overactive imagination, I loved regaling in stories of shipwrecked pirates eating this hearty, simple stew made from what they had on hand.  I imagine now it was just some clever story my Mom invented to get me to eat my dinner.   

The great thing about this one pot wonder is it's versatility.  You can add whatever you happen to have in the kitchen, from extra veggies to cheese.  It's all fair game.  This is one of my favorite comfort meals when the weather turns cold.  

Shipwreck Stew

Serves 6

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 pound of ground sirloin
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
Kosher salt & freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
2 medium size russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 (14.5 ounce) can of kidney beans, undrained
1 can Campbell’s condensed tomato soup
6 to 8 slices center cut bacon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and saute until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the ground sirloin and thyme and season generously with salt and pepper.  Taste for seasonings and drain off any excess fat.

Meanwhile, place the cubed potatoes in a single layer in the bottom of a 4-quart covered casserole dish.  Pour the undrained kidney beans over potatoes, then add the meat and the onion mixture.  Top the whole thing with the tomato soup, making sure to go all the way to the edge to form a seal.  Lay the bacon slices over the top and cover with the lid.  Bake for 30 minutes covered, then remove the lid and cook for another 20-25 minutes.  It’s done when the whole thing is bubbling, the bacon is crisp, and the potatoes are tender when a knife is inserted in the middle.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Eggnog Pancakes

It's eggnog season!  You know it has officially arrived as soon as the red holiday cups and seasonal lattes reappear at Starbucks.  When I was a kid, it was the Shamrock Shake at McDonald's that I waited for every March, all minty and cool.  Secretly it's still a guilty pleasure, but for now, it's all about eggnog.  

While it's in season, I take advantage of eggnog any way I canPancakes are the perfect vehicle for one of my favorite holiday treats. 

Eggnog Pancakes

Makes 10 pancakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup good quality eggnog
¼ cup milk
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for pan
Unsalted butter, for the pan and to serve
Pure maple syrup, to serve

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, eggnog, milk, lemon zest, vanilla and the oil. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, whisking to make sure everything is combined and there are no lumps. Allow batter to rest for 5 minutes.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a medium, non-stick skillet or on a griddle pan over medium-low heat. When butter starts to bubble, drop pancake batter into the pan using a ¼ cup measure. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until bubbles form on the surface of the pancakes and the underside is golden brown. Carefully flip the pancakes and cook for another minute or until golden brown. Serve warm with butter and maple syrup.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Brilliant Braising

Braising is brilliant!  Why?  Because with very little effort you can take an inexpensive cut of meat and end up with something beautifully rich, tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  The technique is simple; a bit of searing on the stove top and then into the oven, low and slow for a couple of hours.   Just set it and forget it!

tr.v. braised, brais·ing, brais·es
To cook (meat or vegetables) by browning in fat, then simmering in a small quantity of liquid in a covered container.
Brilliantly Braised Short Ribs

Serves 6 to 8
6 to 8 bone-in beef short ribs (about 5 3/4 pounds)
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 ribs celery, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, smashed
12 ounces tomato paste
2 to 3 cups hearty red wine
2 to 3 cups beef stock
1 bunch fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string
2 bay leaves

Season each short rib generously with salt and pepper.  Coat the bottom of a Dutch oven or large stock pot with olive oil and set over high heat.  When the oil is just starting to smoke, add the short ribs to the pan and sear on all sides, about 2 to 3 minutes each side.   Do not overcrowd pan.  Cook in batches, if necessary.

Meanwhile, purée the vegetables and garlic in the food processor into a coarse paste.   When the short ribs are seared on all sides, remove them from the pan.  Drain the fat, coat the bottom of same pan with fresh olive oil and add the puréed vegetables.   Season the vegetables generously with salt and pepper and brown until they start to darken and a crust has formed on the bottom of the pan, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.   Scrape the crust and let it reform.  Scrape the crust again and add the tomato paste.  Brown the tomato paste for 4 to 5 minutes, being careful not to burn.   Add the wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan.  Lower the heat to a simmer and reduce the mixture by half.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Return the short ribs to the pan and add enough beef stock to just about cover the meat.  Add the thyme bundle and bay leaves.  Cover the pan and place in the oven for 3 hours. Check periodically and adding more beef stock, if needed.  Remove the lid during the last 20 minutes of cooking to let the short ribs get deeper brown and let the sauce reduce.  When done, the meat should be incredibly tender but not falling apart.   Serve over mashed potatoes with the braising liquid.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Like a Taylor Swift Song...

I've never believed in keeping recipes secret.  I know there are some of you out there who guard them with your life.  To the grave.  Maybe it's your Mom's favorite cookie recipe, or Grandma's secret to mile-high soufflé.   I've heard people gloat under their breath that if they do share a carefully guarded recipe, they purposely leave out the one ingredient that really makes it sing.  Oops!  Such passive aggressiveness has no place in the world of food - or at least I think so. 

Be that as it may...

I encountered just such a person several years back, and like a Taylor Swift song, I'll never reveal the person's identity.  What I can tell you though, is he arrived at a potluck party with the one dish there that blew my mind.   "It's pastalone," he said.  "It looks delicious.  What is it?" I asked curiously.  "Puerto Rican lasagna," he explained.   I had no idea there was such a thing, but he had me at "Meat filling and cheese, layered with fried plantains."  I was the first person to go in for his dish.   It was awesome.   I don't remember anything else that lined the buffet table that night, or even what I brought to the party, but I couldn't get the pastalone out of my head.  With my mouth still full, I asked him for the recipe.  And just like that...

He shut me down. 

He eyed me as if I was asking for his social security number.  "This is my Nana's recipe," he said flatly.  "I don't give it out." 

Oh. Okay.

I suddenly stopped shoveling the pastalone into my mouth and looked down at the few remaining bites on my paper Dixie plate.  Like a CSI agent I started sifting through the evidence.  I had to figure out what was in this dish.  And so I did.  I pushed through it with my fork, inspecting each ingredient that I could see; the rest was reliant on my sense of taste.  Obsessive?  Sure, but I wasn't about to let this dish slip through my fingers.  I had to have it. 

Meanwhile, back in my home kitchen...

I reconstructed the recipe as best I could.  Surprisingly, I came pretty close with my first attempt.  One more pass and I was confident I had recreated Nana's recipe, maybe even improved on it a bit. 

And now...

When I go to a potluck, this is the dish I bring.  And when I go to a potluck, this is the recipe I share.

(My version of Puerto Rican lasagna)

Serves 8
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ large onion, chopped
½ green bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 1/3 pound ground sirloin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Kosher salt & freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
½ cup green olives, pitted and chopped
1/3 cup golden raisins
Vegetable oil (to fry plantains)
4 large ripe plantains
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature, for buttering dish
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
6 large eggs beaten

In a medium skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté onions, peppers and bay leaf until onions are translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the ground sirloin, oregano and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the meat is no longer pink, about 6 minutes; drain. Stir in the olives and raisins. Set meat mixture aside.

In a heavy bottom skillet heat enough vegetable oil to make a ¼-inch depth over medium high heat. Peel and slice the plantains lengthwise into 1/4–inch strips (about 3 per plantain) and fry until golden and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. Allow to drain on paper towels.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To assemble the pastalone: butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking dish and lay the plantains in a single layer along the bottom, cutting to fit if necessary. Sprinkle one cup of the cheese over the plantains and layer the meat mixture over the top. Sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese over the meat and top with another layer of plantains. Whisk the eggs and pour slowly over the pastalone allowing them to seep into the meat mixture.  

Bake uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes until eggs are set and plantains are tender. Allow the pastalone to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Favorite Autumn Salad

This is easily my favorite Autumn salad of all time.  That's a bold statement, I know, but it doesn't get much better than this.  The combination of slightly bitter endive, peppery arugula, lacy frisée and spring greens give layers of color and flavor.  They're the perfect foil for tart apples, piquant blue cheese, sweet, juicy pomegranate seeds and crunchy candied walnuts, all tossed with a nutty, roasted walnut vinaigrette.  Perfection.

Autumn Salad with Apples, Pomegranate, Candied Walnuts
& Roasted Walnut Vinaigrette

Serves 4
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon shallots, chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup roasted hazelnut oil
¼ cup roasted walnut oil
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

3 heads endive, washed, cut into julienne
1 head baby frisée, torn into pieces
½ pound baby arugula
½ pound mixed greens,(mesclun mix)
2 Granny Smith apples, cut into julienne
¼ pound crumbled blue cheese
Candied walnuts, for garnish
Pomegranate seeds, for garnish

In a medium bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, thyme and shallots. Whisk together and slowly add the oil in a steady stream, whisking to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, toss together the endive, frisee, arugula, mixed greens and apples and blue cheese with the vinaigrette.

To serve, place greens in center of a plate. Crumble cheese over the top, sprinkle on the walnuts and pomegranate seeds.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I Heart Butternut Squash

I've had a long love affair with Butternut squash.  There's something about it's almost psychedelic orange hue that signifies the arrival of autumn.  I love it mashed.  I love it roasted with brown sugar and butter.  I love it in a creamy risotto.  I love it in a soup.  Yikes!  I'm starting to sound like Dr. Seuss. 

Only recently have I tried Butternut squash in a lasagna!  Lasagna is another of my great loves, but the typical meat-laden version can be a bit heavy.  What I love about this version is that it has an incredible lightness to it.  Not light in calories, mind you, but light and airy in texture.  The pureed squash marries perfectly with the tangy goat cheese and together they make four creamy layers cradled between five layers of delicate, fresh pasta.  
Fresh pasta is key!  I'm not suggesting you make your own.  Even I don't have the patience for that, but it can be bought.  I found these lasagna sheets at Whole Foods.  They were surprisingly inexpensive and they are a game changer.  This dish also freezes well, so if you're making one, you might as well make two and tuck the other one away for later.  If you're anything like me, you'll take comfort in knowing that your love affair with Butternut squash is never more than a quick thaw away.    

Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna with Goat Cheese, 
Sage & Crispy Breadcrumbs
 (Adapted from Fine Cooking)

Serves 6 to 8

1 large butternut squash (about 3 pounds), halved lengthwise and seeded
4 medium cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 sprigs fresh thyme plus 2 teaspoons chopped leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 sprigs fresh sage plus 1 teaspoon chopped leaves
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
8 ounces crumbled goat cheese
1 cup finely grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ cup coarse panko breadcrumbs
2 (11 ounce) packages fresh lasagna sheets

Heat the oven to 425°.

Place the squash cut side up on a large sheet pan. Place 2 garlic cloves and 1 sprig of thyme in each cavity. Drizzle squash with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until the squash is browned in spots and very tender when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. 

Discard the thyme sprigs. Peel the garlic and place in the bowl of a food processor. Scoop the flesh of the squash from the skins and add it to the garlic, process in batches until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Reduce the oven to 350°.

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the sage sprigs and cook until the butter is fragrant. Add the flour and whisk until smooth and golden, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Remove the sage sprigs and stir in the goat cheese, ½ cup of the Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, 1½ teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Set aside 1½ cups of the cheese sauce and mix the rest into the mashed squash.

Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium heat. In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, chopped sage, chopped thyme, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the melted butter and toss to combine. 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, season generously with salt. Add the lasagna sheets and cook until al dente, about 2 minutes. Remember, fresh pasta cooks much faster than dried. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool; pat pasta dry.

Spread ½ cup of the reserved cheese sauce over the bottom of a 9x13x3-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of cooked pasta sheets, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Spread 1 cup of the squash mixture evenly over the pasta. Add another layer of pasta and repeat the layers as instructed above, to make a total of 4 squash layers and 5 pasta layers. Spread the remaining 1 cup cheese sauce evenly over the top. Sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture and the remaining ½ cup Parmesan cheese.
Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top is browned and bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Make Ahead Tips:

You can make the roasted squash mixture up to 1 day ahead of assembling the lasagna.

You can assemble the lasagna up to 2 days ahead of baking it. Tightly wrap the baking dish in plastic and refrigerate it. Let the lasagna come to room temperature before baking.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pumpkin Tiramisu

If you're looking for a twist on the traditional pumpkin pie, this is it!  Cloud-like layers of pumpkin mousse and sweet ladyfingers.  This dessert is light, creamy and perfectly spiced. The added bonus - it's so much easier than pumpkin pie! 

Pumpkin Tiramisu 

Serves 8

1½ cups cold heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 (8-ounce) container mascarpone cheese*
1 (15-ounce) can pure pumpkin (not pie filling)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
24 savioardi ladyfingers
¼ cup Kahlua
8 crushed amaretti cookies*

Beat heavy cream, sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Add mascarpone cheese, pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves; beat just until filling is smooth.

Line the bottom of 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 12 of the ladyfingers, overlapping and crowding to fit. Brush with ½ the Kahlua. Spread half of the filling over ladyfingers.
Repeat with remaining ladyfingers, remaining Kahlua, and remaining filling. Smooth the top and wrap tightly and chill overnight.

To unmold, run a small, sharp knife around inside edge of pan. Release pan sides; sprinkle with amaretti cookies.

*Mascarpone cheese (Italian cream cheese) and amaretti cookies (Italian macaroons) are available at many supermarkets and Italian markets.