Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Shrimp with Pancetta, Rosemary and Thyme

I love to cook. Always have.

I have spent a lot of time cooking with my dear friend, Charley. At one time in my life, if it was Friday night, I was headed to her house with bottle of wine in tow and ingredients for a previously decided menu in the back seat of my car.

We would put on some r&b and smooth jazz, open the wine and start cooking. Charley is a great cook. She’s also one of those people who preps food well. Every time I’d turn around, she’d have the mise en place in place. Love her!

We did this recipe a lot. A little pancetta sautés in a pan and shrimp, rosemary, garlic and thyme are thrown in the pan to cook and finished with a buttery sauce. Perfect over pasta, your fingers, bread. Whatever.

Eat a little bit, get up and dance to Al Green, sit down and eat some more!

Shrimp with Pancetta, Rosemary and Thyme

¾ pound 21-25 shrimp, tail on
3 fat cloves garlic, sliced thin
A couple of good swirls extra virgin olive oil
A tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
A tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Coarsely ground black pepper
2.5 ounces pancetta, diced
1 small lemon, juiced
¼ cup chicken stock
2 tbsp butter

Put the shrimp, garlic, olive oil, rosemary, thyme, pepper in medium bowl, Mix well and let sit for at least 30 minutes.

Heat large skillet, put a swirl of olive oil in it and heat. When shimmery, add the pancetta and cook, stirring until crispy. Add shrimp mixture and saute until pink and cooked through.

Remove from pan.

Raise the heat and add the chicken stock and lemon juice. Stir until reduced by half. Add the 2 tbsp butter and swirl until sauce is thickened and reduced. Add the shrimp mixture back in and combine well.

Works wonderfully with cavatelli!

Serves 3.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chicken with Vinegar

Chicken with Vinegar.

Sounds delish, doesn’t it.?


But that’s exactly what this meal is.

I love to use chicken thighs in this recipe because they have so much more flavor than breasts. It’s so easy. You brown the thighs in a bit of olive oil and run in the oven for about 20 minutes, take them out and make the sauce with shallots and balsamic or red wine vinegar.

This tastes like you have worked on it all day long. But of course you haven’t. You’ve run in the front door, late as usual, with people showing up in five minutes and you’ve got to look cute, entertain well and not yawn in the middle of dinner because you got up at five to hit the gym and maintain what’s left of your girlish figure.

So, one night, you get home on time, no one’s coming for dinner. You take your sweet time about deciding what to do for dinner, and you fall back on the “They’re going to be here in five minutes and I don’t know what I’m going to serve for dinner” dinner.

Chicken with Vinegar.

A not so delectable name for an oh so delightful entrée.

Chicken with Vinegar

1 good swirl extra virgin olive oil
5 chicken thighs, skin on
¼ cup minced shallots
1 cup balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 tbsp butter

Heat oven to 350.

Set a large cast iron or ovenproof skillet with steep sides over medium high heat. Add oil and wait one minutes. When skillet is hot, place the chicken in it skin side down. Cook for about 5 minutes and turn it and cook three minutes on the other side.

Season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place skillet in the oven. Cook the chicken 30 minutes. Remove to platter and keep warm.

Pour most but not all of the cooking juices out of the skillet. Place it over medium high heat and add shallots. Cook stirring until tender . Takes about two minutes. Add vinegar and raise the heat to high. Cook a minute or two until the vinegar smell subsides. Add ½ cup water and cook for 2 minutes stirring until mixture thickens. Stir in butter. Return chicken and any juices to skillet and turn chicken in sauce and serve.

Serves 3.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Chile Seasoned Pot Roasted Pork

When Groom wants Mexican food, I can usually fix a Haystack or a quesadilla and he’s happy. This morning he started thinking out loud about having Mexican food for dinner. The old Haystack wasn’t in the cards tonight. No vegetarian Mexican food for him this time.

What’s a girl to do?

Find a great recipe and delegate. I found the recipe and I delegated. I had about 3 lbs of Boston Butt in the freezer and I decided to do Rick Bayless’ recipe for Pot Roasted Pork from his fabulous Mexican Kitchen.

Having been put in charge of the pork, Groom rose to the occasion and I’ve got to tell you, he rocked this recipe.

This is so good and so easy. You can cook this in a slow cooker or in the oven for several hours. You make a spice paste with dried ancho and guajillo peppers, spices and herbs and cook it in a bit of olive oil. Then you add the pork, making sure that all the good spice gets all over the pork, add a bit of water and several hours later, you have the makings of an incredible dinner.

A great way to kick off the week!!!

Chile Seasoned Pot Roasted Pork
Adapted from
Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen

2 medium dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
4 medium dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 bay leaves, smashed into thousands of little pieces. .mortar and pestle works best for this
2 tbsp cider vinegar
½ large yellow onion, chopped
4 fat garlic cloves, peeled
2 tsp mixed dried herbs (we use marjoram, thyme, epazote and Mexican oregano)
½ tsp allspice
Good pinch of ground cloves
1 tbsp olive oil
3 pounds lean boneless pork shoulder or Boston Butt
Romaine lettuce
Chopped tomatoes
Sliced Avocado
Corn tortillas

Put the chiles in small bowl and cover with hot water. Let sit for 30 minutes.
Drain and reserve 2/3 cup of the liquid.
Put the chiles and reserved liquid in food processor. Add all the herbs and spices and bay leaves, vinegar, onion and garlic cloves. Process to smooth puree, adding a little water if it gets too dry.

Put large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add oil and heat til shimmers. Add the herb paste all at once.
Stir for about five minutes until it turns dark and becomes a paste. Remove from heat and season with salt.

Preheat oven to 325.

Cut the pork into slabs about three inches thick. Put in pot with the chile paste and then flip it over to cover with the chile, rubbing it with spoon to get it even.
Add ½ cup water around it, cover and put in the oven. Baste often. Cook about 2.5 hours.

If you need to add more water, do it a little at a time. You want just enough liquid to be able to baste the meat.

This works great in the crock pot on low for 4 hours. So good.

Serve with refried black beans, chopped romaine lettuce, thinly sliced radishes, chopped avocadoes, fresh cilantro, Mexican crumbling cheese and salsa with corn tortillas. It works wonderfully with taco shells, too, in a pinch.
Serves 4.

Refried Black Beans

2-14 ounce cans black beans
Good swirl extra virgin olive oil
1-½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chile powder

Heat oil in 10 inch skillet. Sprinkle chile powder and cumin in oil and stir well. Open both cans of black beans and put them and their liquid in the skillet. Mash with spatula and stir until the beans are mashing together and the majority of the liquid is gone. You want these to still have a bit of liquid in them.
Serves 4.


Sunday, February 24, 2008


Spices are fascinating people. Seriously. Think about it. You know them.

Pepper is the tall, dark and handsome guy you wish you knew. A little distant, gorgeous, but fickle. Goes with a lot of dishes.

So to speak.

Saffron is the elegant blonde in the crowd. The one that wears Shalimar and little black dresses and goes to the best parties.

Then there’s Turmeric. He’s the guy that loves leisure suits, loud and always has a joke to tell. But he gets the job done.

Cinnamon, that cute redhead. She changes her tune so fast, she’s deep and spicy and altogether different on many occasions.

Ginger. What can you say about her. She’s hot. She’s sexy. Up for anything.

You get these guys together and you’ve got something going. And in this soup, they do something to lentils and chickpeas that showcases each one of their strong points. It’s at once comforting, to the point, sensual and elegant. Different and familiar at the same time.

Perfect for a cold Sunday night.

2 cups lentils, rinsed and picked over
6 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 - 14 ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
½ stick butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3.4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1-½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 lbs fresh tomatoes, pureed in food processor
Good pinch of saffron threads
Big grating of fresh ginger
Freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces angel hair pasta, cooked
Coarse salt to taste

In large Dutch oven, put lentils and water and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer covered, until lentils are done, takes about an hour. Stir in tomato puree.
Then add garbanzos.

In 10 inch skillet melt butter over medium heat add the onion and saute until starts to soften. This takes about five minutes. Add turmeric, celery and parsley and cook about five minutes. Add cinnamon and cook for ten minutes. Take off the heat and add the saffron, ginger and pepper. Add to the lentil mixture. Simmer covered 15 minutes.

When ready to serve, add pasta to soup. Add coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serve with a big dollop of Greek Yogurt or sour cream and fresh parsley.

Serves 6.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Linguine with Shrimp and Scallops in Thai Green Curry Sauce

Look at the picture. It’s beautiful, if I do say so myself.

This is so easy to do. If you’re in the mood for a bit something different but familiar, some shrimp and scallops in a green Thai curry sauce on linguine will do just fine.

Make this one. It tastes as good as it looks.

Linguine with Shrimp and Scallops in Thai Green Curry Sauce
Adapted from
The Gourmet Cookbook

A couple of good swirls vegetable oil (all we have is olive)
1 red jalapeno pepper
4 green onions, thinly sliced, white and green parts reserved separately
1 pound sea scallops
¾ pound 21-25 shrimp, peeled, tail on
Coarse salt
1 14 ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
1 tbsp Thai Green Curry Paste
¼ cup chicken stock
1 tbsp packed dark brown sugar
1-½ tbsp Asian fish sauce
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
2/4 pound thin linguine
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat a good swirl of oil in skillet over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the chile and white parts of the green onions and cook stirring occasionally until lightly browned. Transfer to paper towel to drain. Set skillet aside.

Pat the scallops and shrimp dry and season with salt. Heat two good swirls of oil in that skillet over medium high heat until hot. Add scallops and cook , turning once, until browned, takes about tow to three minutes on each side. Transfer to a bowl. Cook shrimp in skillet stirring occasionally until almost cooked through, about three minutes. Add the shrimp to scallops.
Add coconut milk. Curry paste, stock, brown sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice to skillet, bring to a simmer, stirring and simmer, stirring occasionally for five minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water. Until done, drain.
Stir scallops and shrimp with any liquid in bowl. Reduce heat and simmer until scallops and shrimp are just cooked through about two minutes.

Transfer seafood to a clean bowl. Add the pasta and cilantro to sauce tossing to coat.
Divide pasta and sauce in bowls. Top with the seafood and sprinkle with green parts of the green onion and chile scallion mix.

Serves 3


Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Frazzly Nub Rice Bowl

Has your week had two Wednesdays in it? Boss been on your case about anything and everything? Have you just not been yourself? If so, you are a member of an elite group. The Worn to a Frazzly Nub Club. This is the club you join when you are running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to do everything perfectly and be the best you can be for everyone. Welcome to the WTAFNC.

Members of this little club have been known to hop in the car and head for the nearest Whopper in the neighborhood . I’ve done that.

A lot.

But, when I’m not in the mood for fattening and I want something that I won’t regret eating , this is what I fix. The Frazzly Nub Rice Bowl.

I’m sure this had a better name at some point, but I can’t remember it.

The principles of it are simple. Rice mixed with veggies and beans. This presents itself much better than it sounds. And you just can’t help but love it. Amazingly enough, there are no herbs or spices in this version. That doesn’t mean you can’t throw them in . Be creative. Top with freshly chopped Italian parsley or cilantro. You can vary the flavored oil drizzle at the end with a spicy chili oil, or a lemon oil or a basil oil if you like. The grating of Parmesan is a wonderful addition, but I’ve done this with feta on top or even Monterey Jack to give it a Mexican flare.

Whatever you do will be fine. And you’ll come out on the other end of a crazy week feeling great and ready to take on the world.

Or not.

The Frazzly Nub Rice Bowl

A good swirl extra virgin olive oil
3 fat garlic cloves, minced
1 medium red onion, diced
¼ cup sun dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
½ red bell pepper, diced
Big splash of dry white wine
1 good size stalk broccoli, peeled and cut into small pieces
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 14 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup Bhutanese Red Rice (if you don’t have this, go get it. The most flavorful rice I’ve had in ages!)
1-½ cups water
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little oil from the sun dried tomatoes

Combine rice, water and a bit of coarse salt in saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook for 25 minutes on low. Let sit while you cook the veggies.

Heat good swirl of extra virgin olive oil in a nonstick skillet. Add the red onion and saute for a few minutes. Then add the broccoli and saute a few minutes, then add the carrots and red bell pepper. Add the garlic and cook for five minutes. Add the zucchini and sun dried tomatoes. Cook for a few minutes. Add a big splash of white wine. Add black beans and cook for five more minutes or until broccoli is done. Add 2 cups of cooked red rice and combine.

To serve, drizzle a bit of the oil from the sun dried tomatoes over the top. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

You’ll instantly feel better.

Serves 3.
You can use any kind of veggie you want. Just be sure to cook the firmer ones the longest.
It’s also great if you use yellow rice as well.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Merguez with Spinach and Golden Raisins on Couscous

Growing up,if someone said we were having sausage, I knew exactly what I would be eating. It would be made of pork, full of flavor and have a lot of salt and sage seasonings. Loved it. Later on I found out that tasty link sausage I loved had hog casings holding in the meat. Hog casings? I put that thought out of my head, or maybe to the side in my head and have enjoyed sausage for years.

I have read about making sausage, and have been intrigued by it, but I’ve got to tell you I am not into hog casings. Can’t help it. It isn’t in me. I like the idea of making your own sausages fresh and grilling them. No preservatives or additives and no hog casings. You can make small amounts and freeze them for quick additions to pasta or stews.

Merguez is the name of a Moroccan lamb sausage. Honestly, I’ve never had the real thing, only these. And we’re crazy about them! Talk about spice! The sensation of hot smoked Spanish pimenton, cumin, coriander and cinnamon combines well with garlic and cayenne pepper. I love the Italian parsley and cilantro in this as well. It’s fresh and bright and is complimented by the couscous and the sweet spinach with golden raisins. Be sure to make the yogurt sauce to go with this. It finishes the flavors beautifully.

A Moroccan Lamb Sausage
adapted from
The Mediterranean Kitchen

1 pound ground lamb
3 fat cloves garlic, minced
About a ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
About a ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tbsp hot smoked Spanish pimenton
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
A good pinch of coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Take out a little bit and fry it until done so you can taste the seasoning and adjust.

You can grill this outside if you want or cook on top of the stove in cast iron skillet.

Pat the mixture into small 3 inch patties. Put on plate and keep cold in refrigerator until ready to cook.

Grill 3-5 minutes per side until cooked through. These freeze wonderfully. Put patty on waxed paper and top with another piece of waxed paper. Keep the paper in between the patties and put in Ziploc baggy to freeze. I freeze six and use six for two people.

Makes 12 small patties.

Yogurt Sauce

½ cup Greek yogurt
½ Meyer lemon, juiced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
About ¼ cup chopped fresh mint

Combine and let sit while you cook the sausages to allow the flavors to blend.
Makes ½ cup.

Spinach with Onions and Golden Raisins

1 pound fresh spinach, washed
1 good swirl extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped sweet yellow onion, chopped onion
good pinch dried crushed red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
good pinch ground cinnamon
1 grating fresh nutmeg
1/2 cup dried golden raisins

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 ounces plain couscous, cooked according to package directions

Heat a good swirl of extra virgin olive oil heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add dried crushed red pepper and garlic, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add spinach and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in golden raisins. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir butter into couscous and season with salt and pepper.
Plate couscous, spinach and sausages. Top with yogurt sauce. Sprinkle with a bit of lemon peel. If you have them on hand, slivers of sweet preserved lemons take this over the top.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Baked Grouper with Wild Mushrooms:Forno con Funghi Trifolati

Oh, Mario. You with the clogs and the enthusiasm and passion for what you do. You have changed my life.

For the better. I can always count on you for a recipe to take food to that special place but using simple ingredients to do it. And you do that with this recipe, Forno con Funghi Trifolati which simply put is Baked Grouper with Wild Mushrooms.

This is a fast, easy recipe that will impress even the most snobby fish eater. Mushrooms and garlic are sautéed together with sun dried tomato paste and thyme and put over grouper filets that you have browned til golden. Then you run it in the oven with white wine and topped with the mushrooms. Couldn’t be easier. Or better. This works with a variety of fish, but the grouper rocks!

So do you, Mario.

Baked Grouper with Wild Mushrooms: Grouper al Forno con Funghi Trifoliati
Adapted from Mario Batali

2 good swirls extra virgin olive oil plus 2 more good swirls later in the recipe
½ pound baby bella mushrooms, cut in ¼ inch slices
3 fat cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1-2 tbsp sun dried tomato paste
2 large pieces grouper filet (about 12 ounces )
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup dry white wine
¼ chopped fresh Italian parsley

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a 12 inch ovenproof saute pan, heat 2 good swirls of olive oil til just smoking. Add the mushrooms, garlic and saute for three minutes. Add the sun dried tomato paste and thyme, and continue to cook about five minutes. Remove the mixture to a bowl and set aside.

Season grouper well with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat remaining swirls of extra virgin olive oil in the same pan and add the fish. Saute until deep golden brown on the first side. Carefully turn the fish, add the wine and put the mushroom mixture in the pan. Put in oven and cook for about five minutes until fish is cooked through. Remove from oven, sprinkle with the parsley and serve.
Serves 3

Monday, February 18, 2008

Rappahannock River Brunswick Stew

I grew up with Brunswick Stew. It’s a chicken stew that probably in its earliest origins was made with the yummy combination of possum, squirrel, groundhog..whatever happened to be passing by. It is thickened with mashed potatoes, has corn and butter beans added. And always, no matter what, if you are making the one, the only Rappahannock River Brunswick Stew, you better put that stick of butter in the pot.

The origins of Brunswick Stew are politely discussed between people who say Brunswick County Virginia is where the recipe originated and the people of Brunswick, Georgia . Maybe politely is putting it mildly. In 1998 the Virginia legislation passed a ruling that Brunswick stew originated in their state.

Georgia did the same.

My mother’s from Virginia. This is the only Brunswick Stew I know.
Thank God she didn’t use possum.

Rappahannock River Brunswick Stew

2-½ to 3 pound chicken, cut up
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups silver queen corn kernels
2 cups butter beans
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 stick butter
2 large Irish potatoes, boil in a pint of water and mashed
Small piece of country ham or lean salt pork
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
Pinch of sugar

Put chicken in large Dutch oven and cover with water (about 1-½ quarts). Add tomatoes and their juice, sugar, onion and salt pork or ham. When the chicken drops from the bones, cool and remove all bones and sinks, cut up meat fine. Add butter beans, cook until tender, then add mashed potatoes and their water, butter and salt and pepper. Finally add the corn. This is better the second day. Freezes well.

Serves 8

This recipe, of course, is best with fresh produce, but the quality of frozen veggies these days makes it possible to do this recipe year round.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Chicken Scarpariello

Groom remembers a dish from a restaurant in Myrtle Beach that he loved. Chicken with pasta and garlic and peppers. He’s made it for years using pepperoncinis. But you just can’t count on those peppers. They are either so damn hot they're inedible or just perfect. Tired of taking chances with the peps, we decided, after much research, to try the recipe with the pickled cherry peppers. Brilliant!

Got a jar of pickled cherry peppers in your well stocked pantry? If not, head to the grocery and buy one of these treasures. Trappey’s makes a good one. Grab some sweet Italian sausage and Italian parsley and you have the makings of a great meal that’s a quick fix for a weeknight.

Chicken Scarpariello
Adapted from lots of recipes but mostly
Lidia’s Italian American Kitchen

6 boneless chicken thighs
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
A couple of good swirls of extra virgin olive oil
¼ pound sweet Italian sausage (I used one made with chicken), cut into 1 inch pieces
5 fat cloves garlic, chopped
4 pickled cherry peppers, cut in half and stemmed
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup dry white wine
½ cup chicken stock
Italian parsley for garnish, chopped
Cooked pasta

Heat a couple of good swirls of extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet. Add the chicken thighs and cook, turning, until golden brown on all sides. Takes about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the chicken as it browns place on plate and tent with foil. Add sausage, adding a bit more olive oil if you need it. Once all the sausage and chicken is done remove all from pan.

Add the garlic and cook til golden. Don’t burn it. Add the peppers, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir. Pour in the vinegar and bring to a boil. Scrape the browned bits and cook til vinegar is reduced by half. Add white wine and boil til reduced by half. This doesn’t take long. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil again. Add the chicken and sausage back to the skillet and stir to coat. Stir. When the sauce has thickened, serve over the hot pasta and garnish with chopped Italian parsley.
Serves 3

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ragout of Pork with Drunken Prunes and Onions

Every now and then you come across a recipe that makes you hold your fork over the plate, while you’re eating a bite, and you use the fork to point at the food while making those nummy noises…mmmmh…oh my…mmph mmph ahhh. Those noises. This Ragout of Pork with Drunken Prunes and Onions straight from the Spur of the Moment Cookbook is one of those recipes. Don’t get all worked up over prunes. What a delight they are when they are paired with pork. That’s a classic combination.

In this recipe from one of my faves, Perla Meyers, prunes have been marinating overnight in dry vermouth. Then pork is seasoned with fresh ginger, nutmeg and braised in a flavorful beef stock, creating a sauce that is sweet and spicy and peppery all at once. The prunes go in for about fifteen minutes, then the secret ingredients are added at the last minute to blow your mind when you take the first bite. And you take your fork and you point at your food and you start with the noises. Enjoy !

Ragout of Pork with Drunken Prunes and Onions
Adapted from Spur of the Moment Cookbook by Perla Meyers

The day before
1-½ cup large prunes, pitted
¾ cup dry white wine, (I used vermouth)
Put prunes in bowl and pour wine over. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight. It does not have to be refrigerated.

A couple of hours before you want to serve
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 good swirl peanut oil
3-½- 4 lbs boneless pork shoulder (Boston Butt), cut into 1-½ inch pieces (trim as much fat off as you can
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ pound pearl onions, peeled
Large grating of fresh nutmeg
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp all purpose flour
2 cups beef stock
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 375. Melt the butter together with the oil in large heavy skillet over medium heat. Sauté the pork in batches until nicely browned on all sides. Remove from the skillet, season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside.

Add the onions to the skillet and sauté until nicely browned. Return the pork to the skillet and add the nutmeg, ginger, and flour, and cook for a couple of minutes or until the onions are nicely glazed. Transfer to Dutch oven.

Drain the prunes, save the wine and add the wine to the skillet. Bring to boil, scraping the bottom of the pan until reduced to about 3 tablespoons and add the beef stock. Bring to boil and pour over pork. Cover and braise in the oven for about and hour and 30 minutes.

Add the prunes and cook again for 20 minutes. Remove the pork mixture and degrease the sauce as you wish. Put the pork mixture back in the pot and set over medium heat.
Combine the vinegar and sugar in small bowl. Add the vinegar mix and bring to boil.
Let thicken and serve with egg noodles.

The trick to this recipe is to use a larger than you need dutch oven. It cooks faster and thickens the sauce beautifully.

Serves 4-6


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lamb Shank Soup with Tomatoes and Shell Beans

I own a lot of excellent cookbooks. I try to cook out of all of them, but it’s an impossible task. This year I made one resolution. I would pick a cookbook I‘d never used and, well, use it. The first cookbook to benefit from my resolution was Chez Panisse Cooking , a beautiful book written by Paul Bertolli with Alice Waters.

I closed my eyes and opened the book and then looked. It was meant to happen. A lamb shank recipe. Imagine that. But such a different take on the lamb shank. A soup. A wonderful tomatoey, garlicky soup base with blackeyed peas (I happened to have them on hand) and topped with a gremolata that brings thoughts of summer to mind. Maybe resolutions aren’t so hard to keep after all.

Lamb Shank Soup with Tomatoes and Shell Beans
adapted from
Chez Panisse Cooking by Paul Bertolli with Alice Waters

A couple of good swirls extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lamb shanks, trimmed of all fat
2 carrots, diced
1-½ red onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
15 cloves garlic, peeled
4 Turkish bay leaves
4-5 springs Italian parsley
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 14 ounce cans San Marzano plum tomatoes, save the juice, dice the tomatoes
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
9 cups water
1 cup fresh black eyed peas, speckled butter beans or flageolets

For the gremolata
Small handful Italian parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
Grate the zest of 1 lemon

Heat olive oil in Dutch oven. Season the shanks with salt and coarsely ground black pepper and add to pot and cook over low heat for 30 minutes, turn to brown the sides. Remove from pot. Throw out any fat and add the carrots, onions and celery. If you need to add a bit more olive oil, go for it.

Raise the heat and brown for 15 minutes, stir to keep from burning.

Take a piece of cheesecloth and wrap the whole garlic cloves, bay leaves, parsley and thyme and add to the pot. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato juice and balsamic vinegar. Put the lamb shanks on top and cover with the water. Bring to gentle boil, reduce the heat to a bare simmer. Cook for two hours uncovered.

Remove from pot when done and transfer lamb to plate to cool. Remove the cheesecloth And discard.

While the shanks cook, simmer black eyed peas in 1 quart water with a bit of salt. When tender remove from heat and set aside.

Bring the heat back up and let pot simmer for 15 minutes. There will be some lovely orangey gray fat and foam that will rise to surface. Be sure to skim all of that off. Be diligent.

When shanks are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones, pull apart and put back in the pot. Drain black eyed peas and add to pot.
Bring back to simmer and taste to season.

Mix the gremolata ingredients together.
Serve the soup and sprinkle the gremolata on top. Or you can do like me and fling the gremolata all over everything for the thrill of it!
Serves 6


Monday, February 11, 2008

Orecchiette with Shrimp, Cannelini, Greens, Tomatoes and Bread Crumbs

I handed Groom some cookbooks Saturday afternoon and asked him to pick something to do for dinner. I love it when he cooks. I can lounge on the sofa and enjoy a glass or so of wine, the fire and music as he takes over the culinary duties. I wanted comfort food, something earthy. He chose a wonderful Italian recipe from Joyce Goldstein with shrimp, cannelini beans, tomatoes and orecchiette.

If you haven’t heard of her, she is one hell of a cook and specializes in Mediterranean food. Her restaurant, Square One, in San Francisco was an amazing place. It closed in the mid nineties and she has continued feed her fans with great cookbooks. The Mediterranean Kitchen, Back to Square One, and Kitchen Conversations are must haves for the cookbook lover. And a grand meal it was!

Orecchiette with Shrimp, Cannelini, Greens, Tomatoes and Bread Crumbs
Adapted from Kitchen Conversations

¾ cup cooked cannelini beans, cooked
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
White wine, enough to cover the shrimp in a wide sauté pan
2/3 pound large shrimp, peeled (we use tail-on shrimp)
1 pound Orecchiette (shells or penne will work fine)
3 tbsp finely minced garlic
4 cups fresh arugula, cut into strips
2 tsp fresh grated lemon zest, kept moist in a little lemon juice
2 cups diced canned plum tomatoes, drained
1 cup toasted bread crumbs, recipe below no substitutions these are great!

Toss cannelini beans with a tablespoon of olive oil. In a wide sauté pan, pour the white wine and bring it to simmer. Add shrimp and cook til just turn pink. Should take three to four minutes. Remove shrimp and set aside and reserve cooking liquid.

Bring large pot of water to boil. Add salt and drop in past and stir well. While the pasta is cooking, warm 3 good swirls extra olive oil in large pan over low heat. Add garlic and cook for several minutes. Add the greens and a few tablespoons of the shrimp cooking liquids. Raise the heat to medium high and stir until the greens are wilted. Add the shrimp, cannelini, lemon zest and tomatoes. Add half the bread crumbs and warm through. Season with coarse salt and black pepper. When your pasta is done, drain it and toss with shrimp and arugula mix. Top with the remaining bread crumbs and serve at once. Serves 4.

Toasted Bread Crumbs

2 cups fresh Italian or French bread, cut in cubes
1 tsp coarse salt
Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 350. Pulse bread cubes in food processor to make coarse crumbs. Spread on a baking sheet . Stir salt and pepper into the oil and drizzle on the bread crumbs. Bank stirring occasionally until golden and crispy but not hard, 15 to 20 minutes.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sweet Potatoes Topped With Spicy Black Bean Chili

Sweet potatoes. You look at them at the store and there are fat ones, long skinny ones and ones fat in the middle with tapered ends. All sizes. And not really pretty if you think about it. Morning glories are relatives of the sweet potato. They got all the looks. And they don’t last long. But packed in the morning glory’s not so pretty relative is a sweet surprise.

There are so many wonderful ways to cook a sweet potato. You can bake it and spice up the center with a grating of fresh ginger and a pat of butter. You can slice them to make home fries and bake in the oven for a hamburger's new best friend. And those yummy dishes that tend to highlight the "sweet" in sweet potato. Sweet potato pie and sweet potato flan even sweet potato pancakes. I love these for breakfast. A lot of goodness comes out of these babies.

One of my favorite ways to serve them is with a smoky spicy black bean chili with zucchini and yellow squash topped with Greek yogurt or sour cream, chunky avocado pieces, a squeeze of fresh lime and chopped fresh cilantro. Pile this on top of a fresh out of the oven baked sweet potato.

Sweet Potatoes Topped With Spicy Black Bean Chili
Adapted from Lighter Quicker Better

2 large sweet potatoes, pick ones that taper on the end with smooth skin, pierce in several places and back for 45 minutes at 400 degrees
Couple of swirls extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet yellow onion, chopped
1 cup diced green pepper
1 cup diced red pepper
1 cup diced zucchini
1 cup diced yellow squash
4 fat cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 cup diced carrots
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cumin
1 -½ tsp ground chipotle pepper
1-½ tsp smoked sweet paprika
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 tsp epazote
1 14 ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes and their juices
½ cup red wine
½ cup water
1 14 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 half avocado, peeled and cut in large dice
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lime wedges
Greek yogurt or sour cream
Fresh chopped cilantro

While sweet potatoes are baking, heat olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, bell peppers and carrot and cook til golden about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and cook and for about five minutes. Add all the seasonings, tomatoes, water, red wine, beans and heat to simmer. Cover and cook about 20 minutes, stir occasionally.

Add zucchini and yellow squash and cook about 10 minutes before serving.
Split the sweet potatoes and mash the pulp. Then spoon chili into the center and tope with yogurt, sour cream, squeeze of lime and chopped cilantro.
Serves two and gives you lots of leftovers.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Chicken Piccata

Cooking can be an exercise for your body as well as your brains. Really, you ask. How do you figure that? Well, it takes a brain to be able to cook and imagine different flavors together, right?. But there are plenty of meals that involve physical exertion to get dinner ready. Not the usual chop, chop, stir, repeat. Oh no. There is the piccata family of excellent food and exercise combined in one meal. The exercise definitely balances out the butter that is always in a piccata.

At least in my humble opinion.

Take boneless chicken thighs or breasts and put between two sheets of plastic wrap and take a rolling pin or meat pounder thingy (obviously I have a rolling pin) and go to town. Be sure to beat using both arms, to balance out your exercise program. Then have a bit of House Red . Flip the chicken and beat again. This is a fast dinner to prep and cook and is loaded with lots of flavor from the lemon, butter and white wine sauce. Added zing comes from the salty oil cured olives added at the last minute.

Piccata in Italian means tasty. It certainly is.

Chicken Piccata
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook

5 boneless chicken thighs, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 good swirls extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp butter
¼ cup dry white wine (I used vermouth)
1-½ tbsp fresh lemon juice (I used Meyer lemons)
¼ cup oil cured olives, pitted and chopped

Take the chicken thighs and put between two pieces of Saran Wrap and bang on them with a rolling pin until flattened to about an 1/8th of an inch, depending on how much you’re enjoying banging the hell out of the chicken.

Put large skillet over medium high heat and swirl in the olive oil. Add 2 tbsp butter and when the foam subsides, add the chicken, several pieces at a time and cook til golden brown on both sides, probably takes about 3 minutes per side. Remove to plate and tent with foil and repeat with remaining chicken thighs.

Pour off any fat in the pan and off the heat, deglaze with the vermouth. Put back on the heat and bring to boil, scraping up the brown bits. Then stir in lemon juice and 2 tbsp butter. Remove from the heat and stir in the olives and freshly cracked black pepper to taste. Plate and garnish with fresh chopped Italian parsley.

Serves 2-3 depending on the size of the chicken thighs.


Monday, February 4, 2008

The Ultimate Pork Chop

We’ve been eating a lot of pork recently. It’s my new favorite meat. I might be late to this dance, but I am making up for lost time! After the success of the pork loin braised in milk, I decided to investigate the chop. Several weeks ago, Terry B at Blue Kitchen offered his version of the bone in pork chop that I have to say is unbelievable. These bone in chops have so much flavor and his stovetop method of cooking them absolute guarantees the perfectly cooked pork chop.

So, of course I have to mess with perfection. Enter Anthony Bourdain and that faboo Les Halles Cookbook. He’s got this killer mustard sauce for pork chops that just dances in your mouth. Combine this with the great herb flavor of the chops. Oh, mama! Two great cooks meet in one recipe.

The Ultimate Pork Chop
adapted from Blue Kitchen and Les Halles Cookbook

Several swirls of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 bone-in pork chops, about 8 ounces each
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tbsp butter
1 small shallot, chopped
1 tsp flour
½ cup dry white wine
1-2 tbsp Dijon mustard
5-10 cornichons, chopped (less is more with these, use sparingly)
1 cup chicken stock

Heat a large skillet to medium. Add olive oil. Terry says the oil will start to shimmer (and it does!), stir in sage, rosemary and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pat chops dry and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium-high and add the pork chops ,directly on top of herb/garlic mixture. Cover pan and cook chops undisturbed for 5 minutes. Turn chops, cover pan, reduce heat to medium and cook until just cooked through, about 5 minutes for chops 3/4-inch thick. Adjust time according to thickness of chops. Transfer chops to a plate and tent loosely with foil.

Return skillet to heat and remove the herb mix. Add 1 tbsp butter. When butter foams, add one small shallot, chopped. Cook for a few minutes until it’s golden, raise the heat and sprinkle with 1 tsp flour. Mix well and add 1/2 cup dry white wine and deglaze the pan. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan. This will reduce fast take liquid down to about a half. Then add 1 cup chicken stock. Stir and reduce down again by half quickly. Take off the heat, add 1 tbsp coarse Dijon mustard and 5 cornichons, sliced and a bit of chopped Italian parsley. Return pan to heat, add any juices from the pork chops. Plate the chops with the sauce and enjoy. An amazing meal from two guys that know how to cook!!!


Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Scone

People who know me know that I just don’t bake. It’s not my thing. Occasionally I’ll find something that I want to bake and try it out, fail miserably and avoid those recipes at all costs. But, just as occasionally, I'll fixate on a recipe, get up the courage to try it, not eat all the dough before I bake it ( I love dough, could be the reason for failures but we won't go there) and it works. Happened with biscotti in 2003.

Recently my fixation landed on scones. Most likely this came from a long stretch of watching old Masterpiece Theatre shows combined with a great recipe from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks. She called it her Mega Scone. Brilliant. Instead of spending time cutting the dough in small scones, and giving me an opportunity to test the dough, she offers the alternative of the monster scone that you cut before serving.

Ok. The dough IS fabulous.

It's fast, it's easy and it works. Even for me.

The Scone
adapted from 101 Cookbooks' Raspberry Mega Scone Recipe

4 cups all purpose flour
3 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 stick cold butter, cut in smallish pieces
¾ cup vanilla sugar (I used this because I put leftover vanilla beans in my sugar at Thanksgiving and it’s all I have)
1-¼ cups vanilla soy or regular whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
¾ cup orange marmalade, raspberry preserves, strawberry jam whichever you like.

Preheat oven to 375.

Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in food processor. Turn it on, and pulse the butter pieces into the flour til it looks like little pebbles. Doesn’t take long to do this at all. Add sugar, milk, vanilla and lemon zest. Pulse it til dough comes together and stop pulsing immediately. Heidi says to add a little more cream if the mix is too dry.

Have a floured piece of parchment paper on counter or use a silpat if you have one. Put dough on it and cut into two equal sized pieces. Roll out into a square, if you can get it into a square, you’re a better roller than me. I was a rectangle the whole time. You want it to be about a half inch thick. Sprinkle with flour if it gets sticky. Take the marmalade or jams and spread on to the dough. Fold the left side in towards the middle and then the right side in on top so you have a long scone thing.

Do the other piece of dough the same way.
Brush the top of the dough with a bit of melted butter.
Bake 25 minutes to when they are golden where they touch the pan.
Let cool and slice into however big a piece you want.

These are even better the second day. If they last that long.