Heaven on Toast: Venice’s Cicchetti

ciccetti venice

You know how at every party there’s that one person who scarfs down whole platefuls of hors d’oeuvres while everyone else nibbles politely? A person who eats so much when they first arrive that they barely have any room left for dinner?

Well, when I go to parties, that scarfer, is me! [Read more…]

Count Down to Empty Nest

Sorry about my hiatus.

I’ve been juggling hard. Ron and I have been busy: working; trying to sell two Maine houses and the ice cream store prior to our move to Atlanta; trying to get rid of the 2/3 of our belongings that won’t fit in our new, smaller residence—and seeing Lindsey off for her freshman year at Elon University in North Carolina.

My blog is the ball that got dropped last week and won’t be making it back into the air again for at least another week.

But what I’ve lost in writing time, I’ve gained in hours spent hovering over-attentively over my soon-to-depart daughter.

Example—

Usual me: “Breakfast? No, I wasn’t planning to make breakfast.”

Pre-college departure me: “Breakfast? Would you prefer Carrot Cake Pancakes or Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes?” (She choose Blueberry Ricotta)

I hope Lindsey got the message that in this case—food does, to some extent—equal love. I’m really going to miss her.

 

Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes

Adapted slightly from a recipe by Bobby Flay on the Food Network Website.

Serves 4

  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2  tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup ricotta cheese (I used part skim)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk (I used skim)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 cup blueberries (preferably wild Maine blueberries—the tiny little ones. Fresh or frozen are fine.)
  • melted butter for the griddle
  • maple syrup
  1. Preheat griddle or large frying pan over medium heat.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, nutmeg, salt and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk together the ricotta, eggs, milk, and lemon zest in a larger bowl. Add the dry mixture into the wet mixture and stir til just combined.
  3. Gently fold in the blueberries.
  4. Brush a tiny bit of melted butter onto the hot griddle.
  5. Pour about 1/4 cup of batter onto the griddle for each pancake. Cook until golden brown, then flip. Remove from grill when both sides are golden brown.
  6. Brush a little more butter onto the griddle between batches to prevent sticking.
  7. Pancakes can be stacked on a cookie sheet and kept in the oven at 250-degrees until all the batter is cooked.
  8. Serve hot with a drizzle of maple syrup and more blueberries on top.

Paella Risotto

I love one-dish meals. One-dish wonders, I call them.

The reason I like one-dish wonders is because making them relieves me from the pressure of having to coordinate the finishing times of two or three separate meal elements. And honestly, after I’ve got one dish going, I rarely have the energy left to make an accompaniment or side dish.

In other words, we eat a lot of pasta—but there is rarely salad to go with it.

Next to pasta, my favorite kind of one-dish wonders are dishes that include rice. Paella: Bring it on! Risotto, love it but I hate the standing and stirring.

Today I found a solution:

Last week, I interviewed New York chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernadin restaurant for an upcoming issue of Northeast Flavor magazine. To prepare, I went online and watched old episodes of Ripert’s PBS show, Avec Eric.

The episode where Ripert makes paella may have changed my life.

The paellas I’ve made before have been baked in the oven, covered. Ripert makes his version on the stovetop—in an open pan—much like risotto except that all the stock is added at once and there is no stirring! Ripert even uses a Spanish short grain rice that looks very much like Arborio, the rice usually used for paella.

This got me thinking. (I know, dangerous) Is it possible to prepare a risotto recipe using Ripert’s paella technique and thus avoid the incessant stirring?

Last night I experimented on a vegetarian risotto recipe from Everyday Greens by Annie Somerville—which I modified by adding chorizo and omitting the cheese. Instead of adding the stock in increments, I added it all at once—without even heating it.

I did stir a tiny bit when I added each of the other ingredients—largely because my pan is much too large for the small burners on my decrepit old stove, and I was worried the rice wouldn’t cook evenly. The stirring caused my rice to release starch. Coupled with the fact that I added too much stock, I got a somewhat creamier than I’d planned on—but still very delicious result. A perfectly good—but easier to make—risotto alternative, I think.

It made a really great fall meal.

Next time I’m going to experiment with not stirring and adding less stock to get a less soupy, more paella-like consistency. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

 

Risotto Paella with Butternut Squash and Kale

Adapted from Everyday Greens by Annie Somerville

1 small butternut squash cut into ½-inch cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 small bunch of kale, stems removed—about 2 cups packed leaves

2 links Portugese chorizo, sliced thin

1 medium-sized sweet onion—diced

2 teaspoons crushed garlic

1½ cups Arborio rice

7 cups chicken stock

½ cup white wine

 

1. Preheat oven to 400-degrees. Toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil, a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Spread squash on a cookie sheet and roast until almost tender—about 15 minutes.

2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt. Add kale and cook until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and cool. Squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Coarsely chop and set aside.

3. Heat a very large skillet or paella pan over medium heat. Add oil. When oil is hot, add chorizo and brown slightly. Then add onions and garlic. Cook over low heat until the onions are soft and translucent, but not brown, about 5 to 10 minutes.

4. Add the rice and stir for a couple of minutes. Add wine and chicken stock. Heat to a simmer and continue simmering for five minutes.

5. Add the squash to the pan. Stir just to combine. Continue to simmer ten minutes.

6. Add kale to the pan. Stir just to combine. Continue to simmer until rice is desired consistency. Serve.

Serves 6

 

 

 

 

Gingerbread Pear Upside-Down Cake

I’ve been craving cookies, cake, chocolate and all things crunchy since my 18-year old daughter, Lindsey, left to study in Spain two weeks ago. I’d planned to invest my new, empty nest free time in writing, gardening and cleaning up my house. Instead, I’m baking, frying and eating my way up to a larger pants size.

It’s like my ass  has volunteered to single-handedly fill in–or rather up–the void created by Lindsey’s departure.

This weekend, my project was a Gingerbread Pear Upside Down Cake. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

It started over a decade ago with this cake, which was the Martha Stewart Living Dessert of the Month in November of 1998:

Tiny poached pears glistening in a gingerbread trough and drizzled with caramel vanilla sauce. I fell in love, first with the photo and then with the description. Next thing I knew, I’d committed to making this dessert–along with two other desserts and a full turkey dinner–for my in-laws at their house on Christmas Day.

Ron and I had only been married for eight years at the time, and I was still trying to impress Nana with my culinary skills. Nana’s idea of baked good heaven was a Dunkin’ Donut–and I wanted to show her how much better homemade could be.

Unfortunately, I cook the way I used to tackle the 600 yard run they forced us to make in junior high (Part of the dread Presidential Fitness Test. Do they still make kids suffer through that?). When I ran The 600, as we called it, I could never get the hang of pacing myself. So I did what came naturally: I sprinted ahead with a tremendous burst of energy, then slowed–first to a walk, and eventually to a crawl. Finally, I stumbled over the finish just barely–and just ahead of the girls who had walked the entire distance.

Baking the cake was very similar. On Christmas morning, I staged all, of my ingredients, then poached the pears with confidence, smilomg as I inhaled the cloud of vanilla-citrus steam emerging from the stockpot. I measured cake ingredients, stirred to mix, giggled at the spicy ginger-cloves taste the batter left on my tongue.

As the cake baked, I turned my attention to stuffing, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. By the time the cake emerged from the oven, I was exhausted. Ugh, I still have to do caramel sauce, I thought.

I stood at the stove, watching and stirring, watching and stirring. Next time I’m making something I can dcook sitting down, I thought.

Finally, it was time to cut the pear channel into the center of the gingerbread. I followed the directions, but evidentially my tiny pears weren’t tiny enough. They wouldn’t slide into the trough and when I pushed a little, the walls of the cake bowed outward like the stomach of a pregnant woman. #%$!!*^ I muttered.

I grabbed a 40-year old steak knife–the sharpest knife Nana owns–and attempted to remove a thin sliver of cake from either side of the pear well. Now the pears fit–but the cake trough buckled inward.

Ughhh! I sighed. My feet hurt, my head throbbed and I’d lost my appetite. Why was a making this cake anyway? I slopped spoonfuls of caramel onto the cake and plopped the cake onto the table. “Done,” I announced, then collapsed into my chair.

The finished cake leaned slightly, but overall it looked pretty impressive. I took a bite. The pears complimented the spice of the gingerbread perfectly. Not bad.

But it wasn’t my opinion that mattered. I stared at Nana until she looked up from her plate. “It’s good,” she said. I felt the veins in my forehead pulse. After hours of baking that was all she had to say. After hours of work, I hadn’t even come close to my goal of dethroning Dunkin’ Donuts.

I retired Martha’s cake to my list of one-hit-wonder dishes–recipes that are too exhausting to ever make again.

Since then, I’ve been trying to come up with a way to do pear and gingerbread where the active part occurs during the first few steps–while my enthusiasm for baking is still intact.

The answer is this upside-down cake. All of the tiring work (if you consider cutting and coring pears tiring) takes place at the beginning of the process. At the end, when you’ve lost interest in baking all together and wish you’d painted your toenails instead, all you’ll have left to do is to flip the cake onto a plate and serve it.

It’s a race that even I can finish.

Gingerbread Pear Upside-Down Cake

Adapted slightly from the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts 

Note: I researched several upside-down cake recipes to figure out how to make the pear part, then used Moosewood’s Gingerbread with Pears recipe verbatim for the cake. Why tamper with perfection? Their cake is moist and has barely any fat –which helps to make up for the half-stick used for the top. But you can probably use any gingerbread cake recipe with equally wonderful results.

5 pears

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

 

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons baking soda

 

2 egg whites

1/2 cup unsulphured molasses

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

 

1.  Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Lightly oil a 9-inch round baking pan (must have two-inch or higher sides).

2. Peel the pears. Cut lengthwise into halves, then in half again to make quarters. Cut each quarter in half again. At this point, each pair should be cut into eight fairly equal-sized wedges. Core each wedge, then place four of them at the center of the pan, tips touching like a pinwheel. Fill in with four more wedges, then work outward, laying the pear wedges to make a flower-like pattern. When you get to the outside, cut a portion off of a few wedges to create crescents that fit the remaining space.

3. Chop the remaining pear wedges into small bites and set aside.

4. Place the butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Heat low, stirring constantly just until the sugar and butter combine. The sugar doesn’t have to melt, but the mixture should be a consistent texture and no longer look like sugar plopped into a butter puddle. Pour evenly over the pears.

5. Sift the flour, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, salt and baking soda into a bowl. Mix and set aside.

6. In a second bowl, beat the egg whites slightly. Mix in molasses, buttermilk and lemon juice. Add to the dry ingredients and stir just until combined. Don’t over-mix.

7. Stir the remaining pear pieces into the batter–in as few strokes as possible. Then pour the batter into the baking pan over the pears. The batter will come up to within about a quarter inch of the top of the baking pan.

8. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean–about 45-55 minutes. Remove cake from the oven and cool until the pan can be handled easily–but the cake is still warm. Loosen the sides of the cake with a knife, flip the cake onto a plate and serve.

Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Hurricane Comfort

Saturday, when the pre-Hurricane Irene gray skies rolled in, my summer-long plan to eat more healthy went out the window.

I’ve been trying hard to eat more fruit, avoid fried food, and limit my trips to our ice cream store to once a day. Some days, I even succeed.

But when I woke up to fog and drizzle—plus the dread that comes from knowing that 40 or even 60 mile-per-hour winds and torrential rains are a day away—all I could think about was pancakes.

Based on the ingredients I had in my pantry (damn, out of Bisquick) I selected a recipe for Oatmeal Pancakes by Kathy Brown from the September 2010 issue of Cooking Light. The only thing I changed was that I used skim milk—which I had a whole gallon of—instead of buttermilk, which would have required a three-block walk to Hanningan’s market. Too much trouble to go through for just a batch of pancakes.

The pancakes turned out great, but something was missing—and it wasn’t fresh fruit for the top. The problem was that one of my favorite food groups wasn’t represented adequately: chocolate.

Instantly, my mind jumped to oatmeal chocolate chips cookies from my past. My mind zoomed in like an artsy food photograph. The background was a blur—I had no idea who made the cookies, when or where. But the cookies themselves were in sharp focus: I felt the cookies’ gooey texture and the tooth of oatmeal. I tasted melty bittersweet chocolate. I smelled caramelized brown sugar.

This was no longer just a batch of pancakes, it was a mission: Figure out how to make Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Pancakes. I searched oatmeal cookie recipes online and made notes, leaning heavily on Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies.  Then I flipped through numerous cookbooks to research brown sugar pecan syrups.

Next off to Hannigans for more oats, chocolate chips and pecans. Suddenly I had the energy to make it to the store—now that I had something “important” to do. That’s the way I am about projects. I can ignore the ones that relate to cleaning and home organization for months and years, but others–the fun ones–hit me with the urgency of a tornado.  Gotta figure out these pancakes NOW!

The next day, Sunday, I whipped up a trial batch of Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Pancakes against a backdrop of pre-hurricane rain and gloom. Toasty brown pancakes, al dente oatmeal, molassesy brown sugar and bitter-sweet chocolate drizzled with brown sugar syrup and toasted pecans. Total comfort food.

I admit that the pancakes still don’t taste quite as good as an oatmeal cookie—there’s only so close you can get to the flavor of creamed sugar and butter without actually adding creamed sugar and butter. But they were a lot more cookie-tasting than anything that ever came out of the Bisquick box.

As I chewed a perfect bite of chocolate, oat and pecan, I experienced a moment of guilt.  I’d taken healthy pancakes and turned them into candy. But my guilt only lasted for a second. Healthy is relative. My pancakes might be sweet, but at least I didn’t add more butter and sugar to the recipe–and I did use skim milk. Plus, I restrained myself from enhancing the syrup with calorie and flavor-adding tablespoons of butter and bourbon (hint, hint). And the pancakes do contain whole grain oats…

I guess this is about as healthy as I get…

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Pancakes with Toasted Pecan Syrup

Adapted from a recipe by Kathy Brown that appeared in Cooking Light—with heavy influence from a cookie recipe on Smitten Kitchen.

Makes three modest servings or two generous ones

Save steps by using store-bought syrup

¼ cup flour

1 cup quick cooking oats

1 tablespoon brown sugar

½ teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips plus more to sprinkle on top

1 large egg

1 cup skim milk

2 tablespoons melted butter

 

Pecan Brown Sugar Syrup Ingredients:

½ cup chopped pecans

2/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup water

 

1. Mix dry ingredients (flour through chips) in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

2. Heat a skillet or frying pan (I used non-stick) over medium heat. Melt butter in the pan.

3. Combine milk and egg in a small bowl. Mix in melted butter from pan.

4. Return pan to heat in preparation for pancakes. Mix wet ingredients into dry—just until wet. Don’t over-mix as something awful will happen. I have no idea what, but all the cookbooks warn you…

5. Spoon small dollops of batter onto the pan. Flip when the bottom gets brown. Remove from pan when brown on both sides. Serve with Pecan Brown Sugar Syrup and a sprinkling of more chocolate chips.

 

Syrup:

1. Lightly toast the pecans.*

2. Mix brown sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over low heat stirring occasionally. Continue to simmer until about half of the water boils away and the syrup gets body. Do not boil—if the syrup gets too hot it will reach soft ball or hard crack or one of those other candy stages and turn gooey when you pour it on the pancakes.

3. Stir pecans into syrup. Drizzle over pancakes.

 

*I roasted the pecans by spreading them on a sheet of aluminum foil and toasting them on the lowest setting of my toaster over. When the toaster completed its cycle, I stirred the nuts and returned them to the hot toaster oven for a couple more minutes. You can also toast them on the stovetop or in the oven—just watch them carefully. They go from toasty to black almost instantly.

Roasted Sweet Corn Salad

I love corn. On the cob, cornbread, corn muffins, grits–whatever. I think it’s a texture thing. Something about the way it feels between my front teeth.

So when my friend Patricia hosted a Full Moon Chocolate Cake Festival over the weekend, I decided that some sort of corn side dish would be the perfect accompaniment for her Chicken Mole. I wanted something really fresh without too much spice–so it wouldn’t compete with the Mole.

I reviewed the wealth of corn salad variations on Food52–then mixed and matched ingredients . My version has roasted corn–which adds a slightly smoky flavor. It also has a slightly milky texture that comes from adding in the corn pulp/milk left on the cob.

No butter, dairy or oil at all so it’s both healthy and diet food. Although in retrospect, I bet a bit of smoky bacon crumbles might have made it even better.

But then, when isn’t a little bacon a great addition?

 

Roasted Sweet Corn Salad

Makes 4 side dish portions

 

4 ears of fresh corn

1/2 red or orange bell pepper, seeded and chopped into small pieces

1/2 poblano pepper seeded and chopped into really tiny pieces (Only use 1/4 if the pepper is hot)

1/2 small red onion chopped into really tiny pieces

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

4 shakes Chipolte Tobasco sauce

2 tablespoons minced cilantro

3 tablespoons lime juice

1. Shuck the corn and roast it under the broiler or on a gas burner set to medium, turning frequently to lightly brown as much of each ear as possible. Cut kernels from the cob and add to non-reactive mixing bowl. Scrape the cobs with the back of a knife to extract remaining corn milk and pulp. Add to bowl.

2. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl. Mix well. Refrigerate for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally so the flavors marry.

3. Serve chilled or at room temperature. I prefer room temperature.

Adapted from Corn Salad with Some Heat.

 

 

 

 

 

Risotto with Scallops, Peas, Lemon and Leeks

I love anything rich and creamy. And I love one-dish meals. (Mostly because trying to get the main course and the side dishes done at the same time stresses me out–and partially because I’m lazy.) So tonight I made risotto.

It was Lindsey’s 18th birthday, so she picked the ingredients. She did this by flipping through a pile of recipes I’d cut out of magazines. “Can you make the shrimp and arugula one only with scallops instead of shrimp–or the lemon and tarragon one without tarragon?” she asked. So I combined the recipes and got Risotto with Scallops, Peas, Lemon and Leeks.

Risotto with Scallops, Peas, Lemon and Leeks

Adapted from two recipes in the May 2010 issue of Cooking Light

Makes four one-cup servings.

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound sea scallops

6 tablespoons dry white wine

4 cups chicken stock

1 cup fresh or frozen green peas (shelled)

1/2 cup chopped shallot

1 cup chopped leeks (1 large)

1 cup Arborio rice

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel (rind from one medium lemon)

juice of one lemon

1/2 teaspoon salt plus a sprinkle

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus a sprinkle

 

1. Rinse scallops and pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour chicken stock into a saucepan. Heat to a very low simmer. Keep hot.

2. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. When the pan gets really hot add 2 tablespoons of oil. When the oil gets really hot, add the scallops. Cook til golden brown on one side, then flip and cook til golden brown on the other side.

3. Remove scallops from pan and set aside. Add 3 tablespoons of white wine to the pan and stir to deglaze the pan, scraping up all brown bits. Pour wine and scallop juice into a small container and set aside with the scallops.

4. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan. Cook over medium heat. When it gets hot, add leeks and shallots. Stir until tender, about five minutes. Add rice, and stir for one minute. Add wine, stir for another minute. Add scallop juice and wine mixture. Add one cup of hot stock, stir constantly until nearly absorbed–about five minutes.

5. Add remaining stock in 1/2 cup increments, stirring continually and not adding more until almost all of the liquid is absorbed.

6. Add peas with the last 1/2 cup of stock, continuing to stir. When stock is nearly absorbed, stir in cheese, lemon peel, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

7. Serve immediately topping each portion with a few scallops.