Thursday, July 30, 2009


I can't believe I'm sharing this.  As my fingers tremble trepidatiously over the keyboard, my eyes twitch, sweat begins to pour from my chilled brow like summer rain glistening off a cold marble statue.  A feeling of loss begins to settle in the pit of my stomach, but also a feeling of relief, a kind of unburdening; almost as if I were holding onto a secret too big for me, something too important for the world, that was bigger than my own selfishness.  I can do this.  I can... share.  Elmo tells me that sharing is good for me, that I will get lots of new friends if I share what I have.  I have heard like comments from Big Bird, Ernie, The Count, Snuffleupugus, and even the gluttonous Cookie Monster.  My daughter is obsessed with Sesame Street.

In all seriousness, I have spent years perfecting this recipe.  How complicated could a freakin' meatball possibly be?  Well, for me it has been an obsession, a quest to find the sublime in the simple, and I think I have it.  Years ago in my fledgling period as a young cook, I tried a nice lean ground sirloin thinking that lean ground beef was good.  Big mistake, not enough fat to keep the meatballs flavorful, and they ended up dry and uninteresting.  Then I tried the quintessential Italian blend of ground veal, pork, and lamb.  I gotta say that I enjoyed these, but yet something seemed still to be missing.  The lamb I definitely liked, I liked the slight gaminess to the overall flavor, but the texture still didn't satisfy me.  After that I went to a full fat ground chuck.  Now this I really liked.  It had the fat content to keep the meatball nice and juicy, and had a nice bold and beefy flavor.  Some people say that there should be a delicate flavor to a good meatball.  I have to say, yes, and no to them.  A good meatball should have a delicate texture, but a bold taste.  It's a MEATball for heaven's sake.  It's made with meat, not fairy dust.  After trying many combinations I finally landed on one that I like.  The ratio is 3/4 pounds of ground chuck, and 1/4 pound ground lamb.  With the pork, it had too delicate a flavor for me.  Now don't get me wrong, I love all things porcine, but the ground pork did not work for me.  Perhaps I could get my pork a different way.  Hmmm....

Then came the other ingredients.  The fillers.  Cheese must go into a meatball, and I used the king for a long time.  Parmigiano Reggiano.  This cheese puts a smile on my face.  It is the best of the best, the greatest of the great.  It is also the most expensive of the expensive.  When I was using ground veal, pork, and lamb with the Parmigiano Reggiano I was spending upwards of $25 for all the ingredients to go into a MEATBALL.  The most peasant of foods, it just didn't seem right.  So I opted for my second favorite Italian cheese, the pecorino Romano.  This sheep's milk cheese has just the right flavor to compliment the lamb, and also the perfect salt content for the meat so we can avoid seasoning the meat itself with any salt.  Perfect.  I used dried pre-made canned bread crumbs for a while, but opted out of that for the sake of making my own, not from stale bread, but from fresh bread.  It gave the meat the softer texture I was looking for.

Finally the binders.  This you will say.  OK buddy, you lost me here.  You dropped the ball (pardon the pun) but trust me, I know what I'm talking about here.  For every pound of meat, I use four eggs, and a half cup of whole milk.  WHAT!!???  That's an awful lot of eggs isn't it?  No.  Basically we are making a soft custard inside of the meatballs that hold the ingredients together.  One egg alone makes a tough meatball, we don't want that.  We also don't want it to fall apart.  The breadcrumbs with the egg binders help guard against that.  SO lets go onto the last bit shall we?

The seasonings.  I have used oregano, rosemary, fennel, and every other Italian herb under the sun.  I've even used fresh mint to try and compliment the lamb.  No dice.  I want to taste the meat, but still have a nice herbaceous flavor as a compliment without overpowering.  The director's cut is...  Basil and parsley.  I add garlic and a slight bit of onion as well, but I like to keep it on the simpler side.  But the final secret ingredient is 1/4 tsp of fresh ground nutmeg.

So shall we make meatballs?

You can feel free to double or triple this recipe if you like.  The cooked meatballs freeze well for a couple of months, but really they don't last that long in my house.

3/4 Lb ground chuck
1/4 Lb ground lamb
4 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cup freshly grated french bread crumbs
1 1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup minced or grated sweet yellow onion
5 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup minced fresh basil
1/3 cup minced fresh flat leafed Italian parsley
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
several generous turns of fresh cracked black pepper

Option.  Sometimes when I feel like I need a little pork in my meatballs I add 1/8 lbs of prosciutto that I have diced and crisped in a frying pan.  YUM!

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.  Form into golf ball sized balls and place on a lightly oiled jelly roll pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.   Let them rest in marinara sauce and serve with spaghetti.  

I'm having a hard time hitting the "publish post" button.  My hand is quivering again.  Maybe I won't share.  Maybe I'll keep it.  Yes...  It came to me, my precious...  The ring is mine!!!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Caesar Salad Dressing

There has to be a good dressing for me to eat salad.  I'm sorry, but the green leafy stuff just doesn't interest me.  You can say that I'm an osmosis vegetarian.  I eat everything that eats vegetables, and hope that I can get some level of the nutrition that I need through eating our herbivore friends.  I do, however, get very exited about this Caesar dressing.  Now there are lots of stories about it's origin, but divining real fact from the fiction is difficult, so I'll leave that to you.  You can go on Wikipedia and read all about it.  However I can almost guarantee that Caesar himself did not eat this dressing.  

1 tsp. salt 
3 eggs 
1 1/2 tsp. sugar 
1 Tbsp. dijon mustard 
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
 3 Tbsp Parmesan cheese 
1-2 cloves crushed garlic 
6 tsp. wine vinegar 
1/2 cup neutral flavored salad oil (canola or safflower)
6 drops Worcestershire sauce 
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil   
2-3 anchovy filets Op.

Submerge your eggs into gently boiling water for 60 seconds.  This will make them a little safer to eat raw, or use pasteurized eggs.  Use as eggs as fresh as you can find.  Add all ingredients except for the oils to your blender jar.  Start to blend on medium speed.  Remove the feed cap from your blender jar, and slowly drizzle the oils in while the blender is running.  Refrigerate what you don't use for up to 2 days.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pita Bread

Did you really think I was going to post a recipe for Gyro without another one for Pita?  My partner Jeremy came up with this recipe out of his big black book of secrets that he guards with his life.  Inside are all of his favorite recipes including a cheesecake that is to die for.  We will never post that recipe, however he would be happy to make one for you should you want one.  This pita recipe however we will divulge since it's basically a white, yeast bread dough, and all of these are pretty much the same with just a few variations.  People are scared to death of making homemade bread, and I don't know why.  Just a few decades ago, it was a skill most everyone had, because for one, it's really easy, and two...  It's just plain cheaper.  Flour, water, and yeast.  That's all you need.  It takes about $.50 to make a loaf of bread, and only about 15 minutes of time.  Granted, this pita recipe takes a little longer, simply because you have to bake them individually.  I will tell you that when I put the Gyro into this pita, and bit into this soft but somewhat chewy warm bread, my eyes did roll back into my head for a couple of seconds.  There is a huge difference in flavor and texture between this homemade pita and the crappy pita pockets you buy in the store.  After making these, you will never buy pre-made pita again.

1 package dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar

Ya know the temperature of your bath water after you've been in it for about 20 minutes, and you are so relaxed, but ready to get out because it's no longer hot enough to continue relaxing you?  That's the temperature you need this water.  Slightly warmer than lukewarm, but not hot enough to give you that initial skin scald when you get into the bath.  If you use water that is too warm for this recipe, your dough will overproof, and will not be as good.  Put all of this into the bowl of your stand mixer, or into the bottom of a stainless steel bowl.  Whisk well to combine, and let sit for 10 minutes until it is a beautiful frothy, yeasty goodness.  

3 cups bread flour 
1 1/4 tsp fine grained sea salt

1 cup warm water

Sift together flour and salt into a separate bowl and combine with the yeast mixture and an additional cup of warm water.  Turn your stand mixer on low speed and let the water yeast and flour mix for about 7 minutes.  The dough will be loose, that's OK.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface.  Flour your hands as well, and begin to knead.  The dough will be sticky at first, but just add flour a Tbsp at a time until the dough is still soft, but no longer sticky.  From this point, knead an additional 5 minutes.  Imagine the face of that red haired, freckled kid at school that used to make fun of you, rub dirt into your hair, and punch you in the arm.   That's it, now you're really kneading, be aggressive, you can't hurt the dough.  After the dough is Kneaded, put into a stainless steel bowl with 2 Tbsp of olive oil.  Turn the dough over and over in the oil until it is completely covered.  Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm place in your kitchen for an hour.  

After an hour, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured cutting board.  Roll it with your hands into a log shape, and cut in half.  Cut each half in half again, and then each quarter into three equal pieces.  Roll each into a ball and leave on the board covered with a towel for another 15 minutes.  

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.  Put your pizza stone onto the middle shelf of your oven.  What?  No pizza stone?  That's OK, do you have a stoneware baking dish, or pyrex?  You can use that, just turn it upside down and use the underside to bake on.   Otherwise, go to home depot or Lowes, go to the tile section, and ask for an unglazed, untreated, large floor tile.  They can be up to 16" in width.  MAKE SURE IT'S UNGLAZED, and UNTREATED.  You don't want to be poisoned.  Also the unglazed saucer of a large terra cotta pot makes a great pizza stone.  Using a rolling pin, flour your workspace and pin and roll your dough balls out into 8" disk, or to about 1/8 inch thickness,  and place on the hot pizza stone in the oven.  These go so quickly it's best to do one at a time.  (make sure that stone sits in that 500 degree oven for at least 10 minutes before you cook your pita.)  They should only take about 60 seconds to cook the first side.  (in making these last night, I would actually put one pita into the oven, and then immediately begin rolling out my next one, by the time I was done rolling the next one, the first one was ready to flip.)  When air pockets start to form in the center of the bread, flip the pita over using a pair of kitchen tongs.  Let cook another 45 seconds to a minute, and they are done.  Stack them on a tea towel.   enjoy!

By the way, the pita stays soft the next day too, and a great breakfast is pita and Nutella with sliced banana, YUM!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Döner kebab, Suflaqe, Shwarama, Churrasco, Danar, or Gyro

Döner kebab, Suflaqe, Shwarama, Churrasco, Danar,  or Gyro...   So what’s with all the names?  This dish is made in many countries, and is called many different things. You can find variations of this dish in Greece, Iran, Turkey, Albania, Germany, France, Belgium, Afghanistan, Spain, Italy, and even Mexico city as a popular street chow.   The recipe varies slightly from region to region, and country to country, but it is essentially the same amazing sandwich. Although this takes a little time to prepare, this will provide you with several lunches.  This meatloaf is wonderful cold as well.  If you use quality ingredients and don't eat this with fries or other high fat sides, this sandwich is actually good for you.  Lots of veggies, good protein.  You can eat this relatively free of guilt.  This is not an original recipe but a conglomeration of a couple of different recipes.  

1 medium onion, finely chopped 
1 pound ground lamb 
1 pound ground beef 
1 Tbsp finely minced garlic 
1 Tbsp dried marjoram 
1 1/2  Tbsp rosemary 
1 Tbsp fresh mint 
2 tsp kosher salt 
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Put the onion into your food processor and pulse it about 10 times.  Pour the onions into a tea towel, gather up the ends of the towel and squeeze until almost all of the juice is removed. Discard juice, or drink it if you REALLY, REALLY want to. Return the onion to the food processor and add the lamb, garlic, marjoram, mint, rosemary, salt, and pepper and process until it is a fine paste, approximately 1 minute. Stop the processor as needed to scrape down sides of bowl. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place the mixture into a loaf pan, making sure to press into the sides of the pan. Place the loaf pan into a bain marie or water bath (a water bath will help the loaf cook more evenly and gently) and bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until the mixture reaches 165 to 170 degrees F. Remove from the oven and drain off any fat.  Slice and serve on pita bread with tzatziki sauce, chopped red onion, sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and feta cheese. 

Tzatziki Sauce 

16 ounces plain yogurt or Greek labneh 
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped 
2 cloves garlic, finely minced 
Pinch kosher salt 
1 Tbsp olive oil 
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar 
2 Tbsp lemon juice 
6 mint leaves, finely minced   

Place the yogurt in a tea towel, gather up the edges, suspend over a bowl, and drain for 2 hours in the refrigerator. Or you can use a colander lined with cheese cloth.  If you can find the real greek yogurt, it has already thickened and you don't need to do this step.  Place the chopped cucumber in a tea towel and squeeze to remove the liquid; discard liquid. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the drained yogurt, cucumber, salt, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and mint. Serve as a sauce for gyros. You can store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stuffed French Toast

Pain perdu or French toast may not have come from France.  The origin of this dish is not known, however a recipe for it can be traced back to a fourth century Roman cookbook.  This is the first known printed documentation for this dish.  Pain perdu is just another great recipe borne out of necessity.  What to do with stale bread?  Huh.  Let’s soak it in milk and eggs and fry it, that aught to work.  Here is a variation on the classic recipe.   

8 eggs
2 cups milk 
3 Tbsp sugar 
1 tsp vanilla 
½ tsp grated nutmeg 
½ tsp cinnamon 
16 slices stale French bread (if you wanted to do this as a brunch item, you could use a baguette and make many 2 or 3 bite sized servings as well.) 
1 jar of your favorite preserves 
1 8oz package softened cream cheese 
1/8 cup powdered sugar 
½ tsp vanilla 
1 cup sliced almonds 
2 Tbsp melted butter 
2 Tbsp granulated sugar   

Preheat over to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl combine the eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon.  Whisk together vigorously or put into a blender.  Butter the botton of a 9 by 13” baking dish.  Pour half the batter into the baking dish.  In another bowl, combine the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and half tsp of vanilla.  Beat to cream everything together.  Take 8 slices of the French toast and on each slice put a liberal amount of cream cheese and preserves.  Place the slices jelly side up into the casserole and move them around until all of the batter has been absorbed.  Pour the remaining batter into a bowl, and soak the remaining bread slices in the batter.  Place the soaked pieces on top of the jelly and cream cheese topped slices.  Sprinkle the top with the almonds, brush the tops with melted butter, sprinkle the top with the granulated sugar, and bake for 45 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and delicious. 

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fillet Mignon with Sauce Madiera

If you are going to make demi glace, you should know a few applications of the mother sauce, so we're going to make sauce Madiera today.  The true beauty of being a french saucier is how easy the sauces are to make after you've gone to the trouble of making your mother sauces.  The recipes from that point on have only a handful of ingredients and take shockingly little time to prepare.  This is great when you plan on entertaining, as you probably want to spend time with your guests, and not in the kitchen.  This is why that two day process of making demi glace is worth your time.  With this recipe especially I suggest you use a good Madiera wine, and not the seven dollar bottle available at your mega mart.  You will actually taste a difference.  

4 1 1/2 inch thick fillet steaks
4 long strips of high quality lightly smoked bacon (like applewood)(4 toothpicks)
sea salt
fresh cracked pepper
2 Tbsp softened butter
2 shallots
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 cups wild mushrooms (crimini, hen of the woods, oyster, etc.)
1/2 cup Madiera wine
1 cup demi glace
2 Tbsp softened butter

Wrap your steaks around the edge with the bacon so that they are completely encircled.  Secure with toothpicks.  Rub your steaks with the softened butter, and season with salt and pepper.  Set aside and let the steaks come to room temperature.  Don't worry, your steaks will not rot sitting out for a half an hour.  If the steaks are at refrigerator temperature it will be much harder to get a perfect medium rare, and the center of the steak would still be cold.  Not good.  

Get a stainless steel skillet and place over medium high heat.  Let the skillet come to temperature.  A small droplet of water will dance across it when the temperature is right.  Place the steaks onto the pan and cook each side for 3 minutes.  Remove the steaks from the skillet and set aside.  Add the finely chopped shallots and saute for around 3 minutes or until they begin to caramelize.  Add the mushrooms and garlic and saute until the mushrooms reduce in volume and give up some of their moisture.  Deglaze the pan with the Madiera, taking a moment to scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula.  When all the burnt yummies (or fond) is up off the bottom of the pan add the demi glace and reduce till the sauce coats the back of a spoon which is called a "nape".  Take the sauce off the burner and stir in the second two Tbsp of softened butter.  Spoon sauce over the steaks and enjoy.

Veal Marsala

What?  Another veal dish?  I promise this is the last for a while, but since we just did picatta, Marsala seemed like the most logical progression.  Most everyone likes this dish.  What's not to like.  Now you have a good amount of that veal stock you made in your freezer right?  HA!  this recipe calls for it, so I suggest you get about a cup of it out and start defrosting.  I will give 2 versions of this recipe, one with the veal stock, and the other with a low salt dark chicken stock.  One is going to be noticeably better than the other, but both are outstanding.

8 veal cutlets pounded thin
5 Tbsp seasoned flour for dredging (1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper)
4 Tbsp olive oil 
2 finely chopped shallots
2 garlic cloves finely minced
1 1/2 cup sliced assorted wild mushrooms (criminis, baby portabellas, oysters, etc. I don't like shitakes for this recipe)
1/2 cup sweet Marsala wine
1 cup reduced veal stock
2 Tbsp softened butter
1 sprig rosemary

Dredge your veal cutlets in the seasoned flour and shake to remove the excess.  You will not use all the flour.  Place your stainless steel skillet pan on medium high heat and bring it to temperature.  (please do not use non stick cookware!  The only thing your Teflon is good for is frying an egg, and only for a couple of months before the coating starts coming off into your food.) When pan is hot quickly add oil, and veal cutlets.  Cook for about a minute and a half on both sides or until golden brown.  Remove the veal, and lower the temperature to medium. Add the mushrooms, and saute for about 3 minutes allowing the mushrooms to release a lot of their liquid.  Add your shallot and saute for about one minute, then add your garlic.  Saute another 30 seconds then pour in your Marsala.  Using your spatula scrape up all the burnt goodness from the bottom of your pan.  Add the veal stock and rosemary. Reduce the sauce until it holds to the back of a spoon.  take your pan off the heat and add the butter, stirring constantly to incorporate.  The butter will mellow the sauce and add a nice sheen.  Add the veal back in and serve with a side of buttered noodles just like the picatta.  Enjoy.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Veal or Chicken Piccata

Tradition, tradition, tradition...  Sometimes it's good to be creative in the kitchen and come up with your own unique ideas.  Sometimes you just need to shut up and cook the damn thing the way it was intended.  For instance.  Can you improve Nessun dorma, the greatest tenor aria of all time by putting a rock beat to it, or will you ruin a good thing?  You obviously know my opinion.  If you happen to be a musician running to your staff paper to recompose a perfect aria, you probably won't like this recipe either.  This is the basic, unscrewed around with, and I must say perfect the way it was intended original.  Now I happen to be a true veal lover, and I think making this dish with chicken is an outrage, but I know some of you have a real problem with veal, and I do respect that.  I truly do.  If I had to be the one raising, and then dispatching an infant cow for the sake of someone else's "sophisticated" palatte, I don't think I could do it.  They have such pretty eyes, and hell, it's a baby!  However, if someone else is willing to burden their soul by committing the deed, I'm willing to burden mine by eating it.  This dish needs nothing but some lightly buttered tagliatelle served alongside it.  I like to toss the pasta with just a little parsley, and that's it.  Now you will notice that there is no garlic in this dish.  Contrary to popular American beliefs, Italians do not like big chunks of garlic in their food.  For one thing, it can kill a dish when it's supposed to merely inhance it, and isn't Italy the land of love?  How much num nums can an Italian get from their significant other when they have garlic oil oozing out of their lungs and pores?  Over garlicasizing (to create my own word like a nameless former president might have) is American, and American only.  As more Italian dishes begin to appear on this blog (hello, my last name is Bono) you will see a shockingly reduced amount of garlic in them.  In my opinion, garlic and veal are not great bedfellows for a lot of reasons, but first and foremost, veal is a very delicate meat and buttery in flavor, and I think it needs to be the star of the show.  You will find that my Marsala recipe that will follow later only has a small amount of garlic in it as well.  However, this particular dish does not traditionally include garlic.

2 bacon slices, chopped (or if you can find a good Pancetta by all means use it!)
6 ounces veal or chicken scallops (about 6 scallops), pounded very thin
All purpose flour (for dredging)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1 tablespoon drained capers (optional, but very disappointing if you don't use them.)
2 teaspoons minced fresh sage or 1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
Fresh or deep fried sage leaves (optional)

Cook bacon in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp.  Transfer to bowl using slotted spoon.  Season veal with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour; shake off excess.  Add 1 tablespoon butter to pan drippings in skillet and melt over medium-high heat.  Add veal and sauté until just cooked through, about 1 minute per side.  Divide veal between 2 plates; tent with foil to keep warm. Add wine to same skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits.  Boil until liquid is reduced to 3 tablespoons, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.  Whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons butter.  Mix in pine nuts, capers, minced sage and bacon.  Season with pepper.   Spoon sauce over veal. Garnish with sage leaves if desired and serve.  A cool garnishing idea it to take your sage leaves and drop them into a fryer for about 10 seconds.  They retain their beautiful color, but become crispy.  At some of the restaurants I used to work, we would have deep fried sage and basil leaves as garnishes all the time, they look really neat.

Pastel de tres leches

This is one of my favorite all time desserts.  I love it for it's simplicity, it's flavor, texture, and the fact that even if you screw it up and it falls apart for some reason, you can grab an ice cream scoop, plop it into a wide wine glass with a squirt of caramel and a fresh mint leaf on the top and look like a genius.  Various recipes have appeared for this cake throughout Mexico and Nicaragua.  It's not for certain where the cake originated from, however the Nestle company claims to have helped originate the cake back in the 50's.  I don't care who claims it, just let me eat it.

For the cake:
3/4 cup (about 3 ounces) whole blanched almonds
1 cup (3  1/2 ounces) sifted cake flour
10 Tbsp (5 ounces) unsalted butter 
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract 
6 large eggs 
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar 
the finely grated zest of 1 orange

For the flavoring: 
3/4 cups heavy whipping cream 
3/4 cup evaporated milk 
1 can sweetened condensed milk 
Cajeta (Goats milk caramel) to garnish   

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease and line a 10 inch round cake pan with parchment paper.  Toast the almonds in the oven stirring them occasionally for about 12 minutes.  Cool, then transfer to a food processor along with the flour.  Run the machine until the almonds are pulverized.  In a small pan melt the butter over medium heat, stirring and swirling until nut brown, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, cool briefly, then stir in the vanilla.  Raise the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees.     Combine the eggs, 3/4 cup of the sugar, and orange zest in the large bowl of your electric mixer.  (you will need a heat proof bowl, preferably stainless steel), then choose a saucepan that the mixer bowl will fit into.  Fill the saucepan with one inch of water and bring to a simmer.  Set the mixer bowl over the saucepan, and whisk vigorously for several minutes until the mixture is very warm to the touch and foamy and the sugar is completely dissolved.  Transfer the bowl to the electric mixer and beat for a full five minutes  (The mixture will be as thick as whipped cream that almost holds peaks.)  With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the almond mixture one spoonful at a time, letting one addition disappear completely until you add the next one.  Thoroughly mix 1/4 cup of the cake batter into the butter mixture, then in 2 additions, use a whisk to fold the butter mixture into the remaining cake batter.     Immediately and gently scoop the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is slightly springy on top and the sides begin to gently pull away from the pan, about 35 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely. 

For the flavoring.  Combine the three milks together in a bowl.  With a fork, put several holes in the top of the cake.  Slowly spoon all the milk mixture over the top until it is incorporated completely into the cake.  Garnish with the cajeta.  

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Veal Stock / Sauce Espagnole / Demi glace

So why do we do veal stock last?  It seems to be the natural progression.  I will tell you right off the bat that if you have any moral problems with using veal in your cooking you can substitute beef bones for the veal.  Feel better?  Perhaps you would also like to use a couple of sweaty gym socks to flavor your stock as well.  I have a couple of really old leather shoes you can borrow, I'm sure there's a lot of flavor in those.  Get my point?  I hate to tell you this, but if you want the luscious, creamy, silky, sophisticated flavor and aroma you get from a veal stock, you have to make VEAL stock.  There is no substitute.  Although beef stock has some merit, perhaps in chili, pho, some hearty home style soups, it really has no place as a mother sauce, and veal stock / demi glace, is the mother of them all.  

This particular method is the best one I've come across.  When it comes to making stocks I like to stick with tradition, and I really don't feel like I need to add my own ideas.  I love the way Thomas Keller of the French Laundry makes veal stock, and I love Julia Child too. There are a few steps here, but if you follow them you will end up with enough veal stock that you'll have to have a party to get rid of it all.  Yes, you can freeze it, and I certainly would.  Yes, you need some equipment to do this.  First, at least a 16 quart stock pot.  I suggest a pot with a clad bottom, or a heavy aluminum pot.  "Oh no, aluminum?  Can't I get Alzheimer's disease from aluminum?" you might ask.  I have heard from reliable sources (Chemistry professors) that aluminum you may ingest dietarily will simply pass through your system and cannot be absorbed into the blood steam.  Don't take my word for it though, if you are still afraid of using a lower cost aluminum pot, just buy a stainless steel one.  Second you need 2 different strainers.  1st a regular large colander, 2nd, a fine china cap, or you can use cheese cloth to line your colander.  

The washing and blanching of bones

10 lbs veal marrow bones
double the volume of cold  water

Place the veal bones in your stock pot on medium heat.  Add cold water, and allow the bones to come to a simmer.  DO NOT BOIL (EVER!)  If you boil your stock, the extraction process happens way too fast and will cloud your stock.  Plus you will end up with large globs of particles stuck together that are valuable in flavor but will be lost as you skim because they can't break up in the stock as it cooks.  Yes, the entire process of veal production is cruel, so if you are going to eat it, as I have chosen to do, you have to treat every part of the animal with immense care and respect.  This includes it's bones.  As soon as the simmer begins, remove the pot from the heat and drain into the colander.  Rinse the bones under warm water, and using your hands, wash away any scum that has accumulated on the bones.

The First Extraction

10 lbs washed and blanched bones
12 quarts of cold water
2 large onions
4 leeks roughly chopped
1 celery rib, leaves removed
1 lb carrots quartered, but not peeled
3 cloves garlic crushed
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh parsley
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 fresh tomatoes quartered
10 peppercorns

You will ask before we even begin "Why do we need to do 2 extractions?"  The answer is simple.  The first extraction of flavor from the bones will make a very thick and rich stock, but after a time, the liquid will become thicker and will no longer be able to pull flavor out of the bones.  In order to extract everything you possibly can, you need to re-introduce a thinner liquid that has molecules tiny enough to fit into the small pores in the bones.  These water molecules work like miners getting every bit of precious ore out of the caverns.  Once the first extraction had progressed past 4 hours, the molecules have become way to fat to fit into the mine shafts, so they just bubble around the outside of the bones and don't work anymore.

If you have some cooking experience you will then look over this recipe and say "WAIT!  You forgot to roast the bones to brown them.  You can't make veal stock without browning your bones!"  Watch me.  You will get a cleaner, more sophisticated flavor if you don't.

Clean your pot well, and put bones back into the pot.  Add all the remaining ingredients and place over medium heat.  After about an hour the pot will begin to simmer.  AGAIN, DO NOT ALLOW THE STOCK TO BOIL!  You will ruin it, I promise.

Once the pot reaches a simmer, reduce heat to medium low to keep at a fine simmer and cook for 4 hours, skimming the top with a handheld fine strainer every 10 minutes.  After 4 hours, strain the stock into a large stainless steel bowl nestled in a bed of ice in your sink.  Reserve all the solid ingredients.  Once the stock has cooled, cover and place in your fridge overnight.

The Second Extraction

Clean your stockpot, and put all the solid ingredients back in.  Cover with 12 Quarts of cold water and repeat the same process, allowing the pot to slowly rise to a simmer for about an hour, reduce the heat, and continue to skim every 10 minutes for 4 hours.  Drain into another steel bowl nestled in ice, cool, and place in your fridge overnight.

The Reduction

When morning comes, remove any congealed fat from the top of the gelatinous stocks in your fridge.  Combine both bowls together in a large stock pot, and bring to a simmer on your stove top.  Skim the top often, and cook for 7 hours.  The stock should reduce by half.  You will end up with only about 4 quarts total, but trust me, that's a lot.  Strain the remaining liquid through your china hat strainer 3 times to make a very smooth stock.  Put finished stock into steel bowl in the sink nestled in a bed of ice to cool.  put into 1 pint containers and freeze.

This method produces a silken stock that you will be proud to serve.

The Second Reduction to the Illustrious Demi Glace

I like to take half of my veal stock and freeze it, the other half I like to reduce into a Demi Glace.  What is a Demi Glace?  It means half glaze, and it is important to have some Demi on hand for any occasion.  Demi Glace is half veal stock, and half sauce Espagnole which means introducing a very dark roux to the party.

Sauce Espagnole

  • 1 small carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups hot veal stock
  • 1/4 cup canned tomato purée
  • 2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf

Cook carrot and onion in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, 7 to 8 minutes. Add flour and cook roux over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until medium brown, 6 to 10 minutes. Add hot stock in a fast stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps, then add tomato purée, garlic, celery, peppercorns, and bay leaf and bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat and cook at a bare simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 3 cups, about 45 minutes.

Pour sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids.

For the Demi Glace

Combine 3 cups sauce Espagnole, and 3 cups of reserved veal stock.  Put in a sauce pan, and slowly reduce by half.  This will produce a very thick sauce.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Light Chicken Stock

This could be one of the most frequently used ingredients in all of cooking, and is definitely one of the most important recipes you will ever master.  Why?  Because it is one of the mother ingredients in 2/3 of all sauces, almost every soup you will ever make calls for it, it is in stews, sometimes used to blanch vegetables, etc... etc...  If you decide to make your own stock instead of buying the boxed or canned variety in the soup section of your store you will find two things to be most certainly true.  1. The homemade version tastes better.  Why?  Fresh ingredients for one, and no preservatives to make the stock shelf stable at the grocery store.  2.  It's literally 1/4 the cost.  If you do what I do, and de-bone your chicken before you eat it, and freeze the bones, you will end up with 4 lbs of bones very quickly.  This would include your store bought rotisserie chickens.  All the rest of the ingredients cost less than $3.00.  This will give you about a gallon of stock as opposed to a pint for $3.00 in the grocery store.  Stocks can be very intense in flavor, and very high in protein.  If you skim the top of the pot the next day of the fat, it is almost fat free.  Don't add salt.  Since this is an ingredient, and not a soup, you will want to season what you are using the chicken stock in, not season the chicken stock.

4 lbs chicken bones including the backs, and necks
4 stalks of celery
4 carrots unpeeled
2 medium yellow onions quartered
2 cloves garlic smashed
10 sprigs thyme
10 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves
10 peppercorns whole
2 gallons cold water
1 large bag of ice

place all the ingredients into a 12 quart stock pot.  Place on the stove on high heat, and watch the pot.  You've heard the saying "a watched pot never boils" right?  That's the point, we don't want it to start boiling.  When it starts to bubble and reach a simmer, reduce the heat to medium low.  Skim the top of the pot with a handheld fine meshed strainer or spoon every 10 minutes the first hour, and every 1/2 hour for the rest of the cooking time.  Simmer for 8 hours.  Add water to keep the bones and vegetables submerged if needed.

Stop up your sink, and remove the pot from the stove.  Strain the stock through a fine meshed strainer into a bowl 3 times to remove as much of the solid material as possible.  Clean the pot, and pour the stock back into it.  Place the pot in the center of the sink and pour ice around the pot.  NOT IN THE POT.  Let the stock come down quickly in temperature.  It should fall below 40 degrees.  Put the whole pot in the refrigerator, or a cooler full of ice overnight.  In the morning, open the pot.  Any fat will have solidified on the top of the stock.  Skim the solidified fat off the top.  Freeze in 1 pint zip lock bags for up to 3 months.  I like to freeze a lot of the stock into plastic Gerber baby food containers.  Ice cube trays work well too, just make sure they are wrapped well in foil. 

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dark Chicken Stock

In order to have a real relationship with your kitchen there are some basic elements you need to master right from the start.  Many recipes use chicken, beef, or veal stocks as bases for sauces, braising liquids, or soups, and the stuff you get in the box or can at your mega mart is a poor substitute for the real thing.  For God's sake DO NOT USE BOUILLON CUBES!  Those little cubes are made from chicken flavor, powdered herbs, and copious amounts of MSG.  The base of most French sauces is a good stock, and if you want to develop your "chops" as a true saucier, you need to learn how to make them.  They take time to make, simply because they need to boil on the stove for quite a while.  They take very little time to actually prep.  This first recipe is one of my favorites.  This can be used in place of a veal stock if you are squeamish about using baby cow.

4 lbs of Chicken wings chopped into smaller pieces (remove the meat as best you can from the bones)  I like to save all the bones from chicken I roast myself or even store bought rotisserie chicken bones.  Just put them in a large ziplock and put in your freezer until you have enough to make stock.
2 Tbsp canola oil or other flavorless oil
2 medium sized onions roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic
2 stalks celery
2 large carrots
1 cup dry white wine
10 cups of water
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of parsley

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place a large deep roasting pan on the stove top over high heat.  Add the oil, and then add the chicken pieces.  Cook on the stove top for about one minute then place the roasting pan in the oven for about 45 minutes.  Open the oven and stir occasionally.  The chicken pieces will turn a deep brown, and will become very dry looking.

After 45 minutes add the vegetables and roast for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes stir the mixture and put back in the over and roast an additional 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and place on the stove top on medium heat.  Add the white wine and with a spatula scrape any of the burnt pieces off the bottom of the pan.  Add the water, bay leaf, thyme, parsley and reduce heat to medium low.   Simmer on the stove top until liquid is reduced by 2/3.   Strain liquid into a large bowl.  Using the back of the spoon, squeeze as much liquid out of the chicken as possible.  Pass the reserved liquid through a fine strainer two more times.  The stock that isn't used can be frozen.  If you freeze them in iced cube trays or even better Gerber baby food containers, you can use them in individual servings.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Lettuce wraps 2 Viva la Mexico! (don't drop dead of a heart attack before you're 50)

You can use lettuce wraps for taco shells as well!  Taco meat is easily frozen and well, cheee, tomatoes, etc. can be prepared very quickly for tacos.  I like queso fresco which can be purchased now in most mega marts.  It's a non meltable mozzarella type crumbly mexican cheese that is great for tacos.

2 lbs lean ground beef
3 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground mustard

2 cups crumbled queso fresco
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1/8 cup chopped cilantro
salsa or hot sauce of your choice (preferably the world's greatest salsa-earlier post.)
10 large iceberg lettuce leaves for wrapping

In a saute pan, brown your meat, drain, and set aside.  Toss together with all the spices.  Make tacos inside the lettuce cups and enjoy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Asian Lettuce Wraps (recipe 2 in don't drop dead of a heart attack before you're 50 series)

I actually really love these.  This is a trendy dish that is served in many up-scale Asian fusion restaurants, and I really have no idea how authentically Asian this dish is, however all the ingredients are traditional on some level.  You can make a double recipe of this and it will only get better in the fridge for the next day, and the lettuce, well... it's lettuce, it will keep a few days.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 cups water chestnuts
2 cups mushrooms
6 Tbsp chopped onions
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tsps minced ginger

10 leaves of iceberg lettuce

Stir Fry Sauce

4 Tbsp soy sauce
4 Tbsp Barley Malt Syrup
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil

Dipping Sauce

1/4 cup Barley Malt Syrup
1/8 cup water
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp Ketchup
1 Tbsp lemon juice
splash of sesame oil
2 Tbsp Hoisin sauce (kung moon is a good brand.)
1/2 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp Vietnamese red chili hot sauce

in a lightly oiled saute pan cook the chicken breasts until just cooked through.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.  Chop mushroom and water chestnuts into small pea sized pieces.  When the chicken is cool, chop it into the same small pieces.  Combine with onions, garlic, and ginger.  Toss with stir fry sauce, and set aside to marinade for a couple of minutes.  

Prepare the dipping sauce by combining all the ingredients into a small bowl and whisking together.  Set aside until ready to serve.

In a saute pan on medium high heat, add the chicken mixture and stir fry for 2 minutes.  Serve in the lettuce cups, wrap into a purse and dip into the sauce. Yum.

A Crazy Man

You all have got to see this!  This is a chili pepper seed salesman from Australia that has posted these You Tube videos where he eats his chili peppers and talks about the experience.  Crazy!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Meatloaf (don't drop dead of a heart attack before you're 50 series)

I have to admit I AM a fan of down home comfort food.  Fried Chicken, Barbecue, Macaroni and Cheese, Twice Baked Potatoes, I even like Church Lady Meat sauce and Spaghetti which I think is a Hamburger Helper recipe, I never really asked how it's made.  I'm obviously a fan of all this, because I inadvertently capitalized all the letters at the start of these words without even thinking about it. HA.  But one of the crowned jewels in the comfort food arsenal has got to be meatloaf.  My mom makes the ketchup one, you know with the yellow mustard, brown sugar, vinegar, etc.  I have to say I love it, especially over rice with extra meatloaf sauce.  It makes me feel like I'm still a kid.  However I don't like the way I feel now after I eat it, part of the problem is that I always go for 2 or 3 slices, but there is a lot of grease, and the nutritional benefit is not too great, with the white bread and all.  Here is a meatloaf I think you will like that utilizes steel cut oats, egg whites, turkey (in place of some of the beef) and marinara sauce reduced with a little bit of barley malt syrup (just think a sweeter pizza sauce without the brown sugar.)  Cut this into slices, give each member of your family ONE and freeze the rest right away to avoid the temptation of overeating.  First we'll need to put out MacGiyver hat on.  Buy 2 bread loaf pans at the store that fit inside of each other with at least 1/2 inch of clearance at the bottom.  Using a hammer and nail punch holes in the bottom of one of the pans from the inside out.  When you put the loaf inside of the hole punched pan the grease will drain into the bottom pan, and also steam cook from the bottom.  This will lower the fat content considerably.

1 1/2 lbs ground meat.  1/2 lb pork, 1/2 lb lean beef, 1/2 lb turkey (pork is a lean meat, however not AS lean as turkey, but it has more flavor.
3/4 cup steel cut oats
2 egg whites (the whites are really the glue to the oatmeal, the yolk really doesn't add anything to the party
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 chopped onion
3/4 cup milk 2% will be fine, nonfat won't work really well
1 tbsp dried basil
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp Worchestershire sauce
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried mustard

Combine all ingredients into a bowl and mix well with your hands.   Put the loaf into the loaf pan coat with 1 cup of sauce spread across the top, and bake for 90 minutes at 350 degrees.


1 bottle of your favorite store brand of spaghetti sauce.  I like Classico tomato basil.
1/2 cup barley malt syrup
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Place all ingredients into a saucepan and reduce by 1/3 until thick like pizza sauce.

To serve

Serve over brown rice (I like to make a pilaf kind of brown rice by cooking it in chicken stock with chopped carrots, onions, and parsley.)

To Freeze

Cut one inch thick slices and put on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Spoon a generous amount of sauce over the top of each slice and place lukewarm into your freezer for about 3 hours.  Remove and place frozen blocks into ziplock bags to refreeze.  They will be portioned and individually frozen. 

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Apple Balsamic Salad(series don't drop dead of a heart attack before you're 50)

Here is my first posting in my "eat right so you don't drop dead before your 40" series.  This is a very healthy, yet very tasty salad recipe.  If you are doing this as a make ahead meal, you can make the salad part ahead of time and don't dress it until needed.  Just grab a handful of the greens out, and dress it as you like.

1 granny smith apple (peeled and cored)
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar ( you can use regular balsamic, it just won't be as pretty.  the white stuff is in most mega marts.)
2 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup safflower oil

In a blender, add the apple, vinegar, honey, and salt.  Turn the blender on high, and remove the feed tube at the top.  Drizzle the oil in slowly through the top until all is incorporated.  Will keep for 4 days in the refrigerator.

2 heads romaine lettuce
1 cucumbers sliced
1 red onion sliced (if using this as a make ahead meal, keep the onions separate from the rest of the mix in a baggie)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Combine all ingredients together except for the onion.  Keep in a bowl in your refrigerator until ready to make a salad.  Feta cheese on the top, and some grilled chicken will turn this into a complete meal.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Make ahead meals for next week

I have a dear friend here in Athens who, by her own admission is very overweight.  We've talked at length about our mutual weight problems and what they might stem from.  As an overweight person myself, much of my problem is a distaste for pain, and quite frankly, I hate to sweat, (again, why I live in Georgia I'll never know.)  Therefore I avoid the gym or anything that resembles one like the plague.  Recently however I've begun to look at my 2 year old daughter, 5 month old son, and wonderful wife and think how unfair it would be of me to leave them behind because of my selfish desire to still eat what I want, and sit on my ass instead of exercise like I know I should.  My friend and I are both food addicts, and like an addict I need to start avoiding the triggers that throw me over the edge.  As a working Dad, and being married to a working Mom, even though I am a chef, I find it hard to step into the kitchen to cook a regular family meal.  Of course I get very exited, as you've seen, when I develop a new recipe, but really, unless I want to weigh 400 pounds, I can't eat like I write every day.  I also never get exited about salads.  Rabbit food.  Not my thing, but unless I really want my body to continue to become acidic, I need to eat about 70% green, and raw as much as I can.  If  I'm cooking for a living, cooking for myself really does become a chore, and dammit, I want to be pampered during my off times.  Yes I love Chinese take out, and I'm not talking the vegetarian dishes with the tofu, and the crispy stir fried veggies over brown rice.  I'm talking about the General Tso Chicken which literally has 1/4 cup of sugar in every serving, and Mongolian beef, which has a wonderfully tasty sauce that is comprised of mostly brown sugar.  Not to mention the fried chicken, and fried crispy noodles the Mongolian beef is served on.  Granted, these items will feed me a couple of days because Chinese portions are so big, but is that really a good thing?  Do I need what ends up being 1/4 lb of sugar a day in my diet?  How about the sweet tea, or sodas that might accompany them?  Did you know that at the turn of the century, an average person consumed 5 lbs of sugar a YEAR?  Now the average is 3 lbs a week.  No wonder we all have weight problems, and are diabetic.  Am I going to stop eating the way I do?  Probably not completely, no.  I will still relish the Chinese take out when I can get it, but will force myself to limit my portions, and eat a healthy serving of vegetables with it.  I can also avoid the white rice, and make brown at home.  Cheeseburgers are my biggest weakness.  If I were sentenced to death row, my last meal would be a good grilled cheeseburger, and a large side of French fries.   This meal gives me such a rush of pleasure that I might just choose it over well...  you know...  Nah, I'm not that far gone yet.  So do I say, "Dallas, you can never have another cheeseburger again?"  No.  But I don't need one every day or two.  I can actually plan my cheeseburger excursions with relish, and anticipate the event like a steamy tryst of well deserved beefy burger passion.  Like a romantic weekend away with the wife.  

My friend has complained continually about how inconvenient it is to stand in the kitchen after a whole day of looking after her three kids.  Her weight problem has compounded the inconvenience by actually making it painful to stand for long periods of time.  So what I suggested to her is that she cooks every few days, and makes meals that can be planned ahead, and put away.  Meals that can be defrosted and reheated, but are sensible, and good food choices.  I need to do more of this myself, because I find myself on my way from job to job, and I feel my only choices are the drive though windows.  Granted, you can get salads there now, but I don't.  I need to bring my lunches with me, or have the options at home that will be convenient for me to make.  So this entire next week, is dedicated to my friend, and well... to me too.  There will be salad recipes, a meatloaf, some kick butt salad dressings, and a couple of crock pot recipes that will feed a family of five and take little time to prep.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sugo alla Puttanesca (Whore's Spaghetti)

There are a lot of stories floating around about the origins of this Sauce.  As legends have it, the prostitutes of Italy made a sauce that would lure the men in off the streets and into the "case chiuse"  (or closed houses, Brothels back in the 50's were state owned in Italy, and the shutters were always closed as an ordinance to avoid offending the delicate sensibilities of the neighbors.)  This is a fun legend, but untrue.   It is also legend that the sauce was made from ingredients that reflected more of the pantry than what was found in the garden.  The "civil servants" that worked in these brothels were only allowed one day a week to do their shopping, where "una buona donna" (a good woman) usually did her shopping daily in order to find the freshest of ingredients.  It is more than likely possible that this is more true, but yet it is still not the real story.

This "sugo" or sauce was invented in the 1950's by Sandro Petti, a co owner of a very popular restaurant called Rancho Fellone located in Ischia.  When confronted by a hungry group of guys after the restaurant had closed he explained that the food had run out for the day, and there was nothing left.  The men responded "Facci una puttanata qualsiasi" or “make any kind of trash,” they insisted.  (Puttana, or literally whore was used as street slang for trash or garbage.)  When Petti went back into the kitchen he found 2 olives, capers, and 4 tomatoes, which is the basic ingredients for this sauce.  After some refinement, Petti later served this "sugo" on his menu, calling it "Spaghetti alla Puttanesca."

I love this sauce.   When I think of a dish that epitomizes the soul of Italian cuisine, this is it.  I would call this an important dish.  It's uncomplicated, it's flavors are complex yet simple at the same time, it has elements of the sea, and of the soil, and captures all of the elements of a cuisine, and country that I consider to be one of the most unique and inspired in the world.  Now this is my version of the sauce, and I don't know what Petti's final recipe was, but I imagine it was something like this.

4 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 cloves Crushed Garlic
1/2 medium sized Spanish or Sweet Yellow Onion
5 anchovies (I prefer the salt cured ones, simply soak them in water for about 15 minutes to remove the excessive amounts of salt) you can use canned, but not my first choice
1 diced long hot Italian Chili Pepper (Anaheim Peppers are a good substitute)
1 tbsp capers
1/4 cup pitted dried black olives (Our mega marts in athens both carry these in the deli section)
6 large plum tomatoes or 8 tomatoes from one can of San Marzano tomaotoes Drained and Roughly chopped (my preference to the fresh actually, nothing tastes more Italian that a good San Marzano tomato, unless you have a really good Roma Tomato plant in your garden that you can pick fresh.
salt & Pepper to taste
6 leaves jullianned Basil
1/2 tsp oregano

In a large skillet on medium heat add your olive oil, onions, garlic, anchovies, chili pepper and oregano.  Let these ingredients sweat over the heat for about 1 minute, but do not caramelize.  Add the capers, olives, and tomatoes, and reduce heat to simmer. Don't add your salt.  There is already salt in the anchovies, capers, and olives.  Let the sauce simmer for 10 to 20 minutes allowing the liquid to reduce.  You can add a small splash of white wine to this if you like.  Taste the sauce and if it needs salt, add it.  Toss with spaghetti, and add your jullienned basil to finish.  Since this dish has fish in it, most people typically would not add cheese to this.  Italians will actually add canned tuna to this sauce about 2 minutes before completion to add a protein, but this is not the authentic original recipe.  I would suggest a nice Pinot Grigio with this, or if you like red, go no heavier than a Pinot Noir or a Sangiovese.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Marinara Sauce

As an Italian Chef, I have heard this question a hundred times.  Do you make your marinara from fresh tomatoes or canned?  Ahh...  Trying to catch me using canned ingredients are you?  Because products that come from a can in a restaurant is the seed of all evil, and Marinara is best when it comes from fresh tomatoes.  WRONG!  Marinara is a sauce to be made from tomatoes that have been bottled or canned for the change in season, and not to be confused with pomodoro sauce which uses fresh tomatoes, and is usually not cooked, but tossed lightly into hot pasta as it comes out of the water.  So if your Chef replies, "Of course," he is either unwilling to correct you and is lying to your face, or he doesn't know his butt from a hole in the ground.  Marinara is Neapolitan in origin, and the root of the word is marinaro or "Sailor".  This sauce traditionally was made for sailors when they came home from the sea.  Now I will tell you that not all canned tomatoes are made the same.  There are defiantly superior products, and using a good one will make all the difference.  When making a marinara, you want San Marzano tomatoes. (" San Marzano tomatoes are variety of plum tomatoes, and are considered by many chefs to be the best sauce tomatoes in the world. The story goes that the first seed of the San Marzano tomato came to Campania in 1770, as a gift from the Kingdom of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples, and that it was planted in the area that corresponds to the present commune of San Marzano. They come from a small town of the same name near NaplesItaly, and were first grown in volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.  The volcanic soil is believed to act as a filter for water impurities. Compared to the Roma Tomatoes with which most people are familiar, Marzano tomatoes are thinner and pointier in shape. The flesh is much thicker with fewer seeds, and the taste is much stronger, more sweet and less acidic. Many people describe the taste as bittersweet, like high-quality chocolate." Wikipedia.)  Canned tomatoes are better for sauces for a number of reasons, but depth of flavor is the most important.  Have you ever made a good pot of soup only to find that the next day, after a night in the fridge, it has become a great pot of soup?  The same thing happens to tomatoes when they are canned properly.  Part of it is because tomatoes are blanched before they are canned, and the cooking process changes the chemical makeup of the fruit.  As the product is "aged" in a can like a fine wine, much of the acidity mellows, and a deeper, richer flavor emerges.  You can buy San Marzano tomato seeds in the States, but a lot of the flavor comes from the soil they come out of.  Unless you happen to have a volcano in your back yard, these very expensive seeds are a waste of money.  Buy the imported ones in the can.  They have been aged properly, and all the work is done for you.  I like the Cento brand, but there are even better ones you can likely find in your local gourmet shop.  Here in Athens, the Healthy Gourmet has a good selection.  Now for Marinara, there are only three base ingredients; tomatoes, garlic, and basil.  Some people add oregano, and even anchovies because of the fisherman reference in the name.  This is not a traditional marinara, but the flavors are good if done properly.   The basil is also traditionally dried, because the season to make this sauce is after the basil has died.  I love fresh basil in my marinara, but only added at the very last second, and only along with the dried.

PLEEEEAAASE! don't be one of those people who thinks they are being clever by asking if a chef makes their marinara from fresh tomatoes.  The staff will be laughing at you back in the kitchen.  Now here's the recipe.  Don't blink, you might miss it.

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 32oz cans San Marzano tomatoes, or as close in ounces as you can get.
6 cloves finely crushed and minced garlic
2 Tbsp dried basil
*** 1/2 tsp salt
a few turns of cracked black pepper

Do you have a crock pot?  You know that thing in the big box your friend's mother told him to get you as a wedding present?  If so, open it now.  Crock pots are wonderful inventions.  In restaurants we have giant kettles that look a lot like RTD2.  These are heated along the bottom by steam and are in essence, giant crock pots.   Most restaurants make the marinara they serve in these giant steam kettles.  You have a mini one at home, go ahead and use it. I suggest using a crock pot because no matter how good your pots are, there is a large chance you could burn this sauce, even on low heat, so why incur the risk.   By the way, there is a great book called "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook,"  It is a fantastic book, and you will never look at your crock pot the same way again.  Turn your Crock pot on low, and add the tomatoes.  Using a potato masher, go ahead and crush the tomatoes in the crock pot.  It should be deep enough to not risk soiling your clothes.  Why use a potato masher?  Do you think that little Italian Grandma was using an immersion blender when she was making this sauce for her beloved grandson coming home from months at sea?  Also, if you want tomato soup, make tomato soup.  Add the black pepper.  Now this may seem weird, but put a small fry pan on the stove, and turn it on medium heat.  Add the oil, garlic, and dried basil.  Fry the garlic and basil for only about thirty seconds, and using a silicone spatula, transfer the contents of the fry pan into the crock pot.  Since you can't fry your garlic in the crock pot, this is the only way to really release the essential oils in the basil and garlic, and infuse the oil with all that flavor.  Don't salt your marinara at this point.  Let it cook for an hour or so before you add any salt.  Canned tomatoes usually have salt in them as a preservative, so you may want to taste the sauce before you add anymore salt to make sure it's not salty enough already.  You won't really know if the taste is right until it has cooked a while.  Add about 6 fresh julienned basil leaves right before serving.