Category Archives: Main Dishes

Sicilian Spaghetti and Gravy

Do you slave over a hot stove for hours perfecting your generations-old spaghetti sauce? The one your grandmother made, the one your mother made, the one your aunt across town made and to whom you traveled on Sundays because “her Romagravy was THE ONE!”

I don’t.  At least not any more.

Blame it on Nino.

He is Nino Elia.  He’s a chef of note here in the Lancaster PA area, who specializes in-home dinner parties, small events, and private cooking classes. Ellen and I met him doing a cooking-class presentation at my new favorite gourmet shop in the area, Zest!  They called it Date Night with Nino!, and boy was it ever.  Sixteen (mostly) cooking enthusiasts who love to get together and have a good time.  This particular event was all about cooking Sicilian.

Nino presented pan-fried Kalamata olives with rosemary and ricotta salata, pollo alla vucciria–which he called Chicken Chaos (aptly named!), and spaghetti con pomodoro arrosto al forno, which basically is spaghetti with oven-roasted tomatoes and basil.  It was all amazing.

When I was single and living in Olde City Philadelphia I used to make the spaghetti dish almost every night, because it is filling, healthy, cheap, and simple.  But I didn’t know it had a name–to me it was spaghetti with a quick, fresh tomato and basil condiment.

Nino has raised this dish to an art form, taking it to a place beyond what I knew of Sicilian cuisine.  It isn’t actually very far from what I used to make, but far enough to have awakened in me a new appreciation for what gets made for dinner in Sicily.  I can imagine this dish being served nightly at homes all over the Italian island, and no one ever tiring of it–in fact, one can imagine alterations from time to time to keep the idea fresh.

So no more long, loving hours in the kitchen with red gravy (save that for some other recipe).  Don’t cook your sauce to death.  This one reeks of fresh ingredients.  But also, it is so quick and simple that you will likely want to make this one of your go-to “dinners in a hurry.”  That’s the way it ought to be.Sicilian Spaghetti

Spaghetti con pomodoro arrosto al forno

Ingredients:

12 ripe Roma tomatoes

5-8 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 bunch fresh basil, divided

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

kosher salt and pepper to taste

Parmesano Reggiano

Preparation:

For the sauce:  Cut the tomatoes in half and place on an olive-oiled baking sheet, skin side down.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic, chopped basil, and olive oil.  Bake for 20 minutes in a pre-heated 400-degree oven.  After 20 minutes turn the tomatoes cut side down an bake for another 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven, cover loosely with foil, and set aside until just before the pasta is finished.  Pick off the skins and half the sauce in a large saute pan over low heat. Chop or mash the tomatoes into chunks, taste for salt and pepper and adjust the flavor.

For the pasta:  Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.  When the tomatoes come out of the oven, add a tablespoon salt to the boiling water and stir once. Then add a box of spaghetti, stir once or twice, and cook for 2 minutes less than the recommended time on the package for al-dente pasta (the timing is important–the pasta will continue to cook after you remove it from the water).  With a slotted spoon, remove the pasta from the water and place it in the pan with the sauce.  Toss lightly to coat the pasta with the sauce.

Serve the pasta topped with the remaining sauce, garnished with more freshly chopped basil, freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Want to see more of Nino?  Check him out at:  https://www.facebook.com/Nino-Elia-145679935496202/

Mangia!

Red Lentil Soup with Curry and Coconut Milk

Meatless Monday.

It’s become a thing in our house, like, I suppose, some of yours.curry

It’s something Ellen has instituted here, and it happens most of the time (except when it doesn’t).  The kids often object, but not all that strenuously unless I produce something with bulgur or faro or some other grain that they perceive tastes like packing peanuts.

So we’re constantly challenged to come up with vegetarian offerings that are packed with nutritional value and interesting genealogy and, oh yes, flavor.

Such is the case with this tasty and fragrant Indian-influenced soup adapted from a recipe taken from the pages of Vegetarian Times.  It’s loaded with flavor—it will perfume your whole house as it cooks—and protein and fiber, and will gain props all round as you serve it up with an interesting hunk of artisan bread or pita wedges or toasted naan, or a scoop of brown rice on the side.

Try this one.  It’s simple to make and memorable, too.

By the way, if you’ve avoided getting an immersion blender, this is the perfect excuse to get one, or ask Santa to deliver one to you this holiday season.

Red Lentil Soup with Curry and Coconut Milk

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 cups cold water.

2 cups sweet onions, chopped

1 cup red lentils

3 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

1 14-ounce unsweetened (light if possible) coconut milk

1  teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon finely round white pepper

1 bay leaf

3 cloves garlic, roughly minced

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly minced

1 tablespoon Indian (or try Jamaican) curry

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Preparation:

In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat.  Add onions and cook, stirring often, until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes.  Add water, lentils, carrots, coconut milk, salt, pepper, and the bay leaf.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are tender, 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small non-stick skillet, heat the remaining oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic, ginger, curry, and cilantro.  Cook, stirring often, until fragrant, 2-3 minutes, then add to the soup.  Remove the bay leaf.

Puree the soup, either in the food processor or blender in batches, or in the pot with an immersion blender, until velvety smooth.  Taste and add a bit more salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve hot with fresh sautéed vegetables, brown rice, and/or a nice fresh bread.

Penne Pasta with Vodka Sauce

So today I’m faced with a challenge.  We went to a new Italian restaurant for supper the other night, and it was wonderful—Salt & Pepper in the new Worthington shopping plaza on Oregon Pike, about halfway between Roseville Road and Landis Valley Road in Manheim Township.  The best Italian food we have had since we moved here, other than homemade.penne

I had delicious linguine and clams in red sauce, E. had an excellent chicken Parmesan and spaghetti, and M. had spaghetti in vodka sauce, a light and creamy red sauce.  It was an excellent meal.

The challenge, then, is to recreate the spaghetti in vodka sauce and make it even better than the restaurant’s version.  I liked it, but I wished it had had a bit more of a spicy bite. I like my red sauces to have a little punch.  Vodka sauce, on the other hand, is not particularly robust, relying on subtle but complex flavors mixed to perfection.

So what to do?

What I’ve done is replaced black pepper with white pepper, minced shallots instead of garlic, caramelized red onions instead of minced yellow ones, and a bit of sweet paprika and more red-pepper flakes than what most recipes call for. These changes add complexity to the dish.  One further adjustment is that I use Absolut Peppar as the vodka in the recipe, but that is a personal vanity.  Most any good vodka will do, but I truly like the layer of black pepper flavor it imparts.  My favorite vodka is Blair and Brown, a true potato vodka made right here in Pennsylvania, but I’d rather savor that on the rocks with a bit of tonic and lime. Perhaps together?

Try this recipe at home.  Use penne or linguine instead of spaghetti, and whole-wheat pastas will add a bit more bite to the dish.  I’m certain you’ll like it, and will serve it to guests.  It’s a true winner, sure to garner oohs and ahs from your friends and naysayers who think that vodka sauce is a bridge too far.  That’s a bridge I willingly cross.

Penne with Vodka Sauce

Ingredients:

1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano) , drained, liquid reserved
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium red onion, minced (about 1/4 cup)

1  tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium shallots, minced

1 teaspoon sweet Spanish paprika
1/4-1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
kosher salt and freshly ground WHITE pepper (much better than store-bought fine-ground)
1/3 cup vodka (try it with Absolut Peppar)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pound penne pasta
2 whole sprigs fresh basil, plus 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Preparation:
1. Puree half of tomatoes until smooth. Dice remaining tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces, discarding cores. Combine pureed and diced tomatoes in liquid measuring cup (you should have about 1 2/3 cups). Add reserved liquid to equal 2 cups.
2. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. To caramelize the onion, add onion and brown sugar and cook over a low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are light golden brown and soft, about 15 minutes. Add tomato paste, and cook, stirring constantly about three minutes; add shallots, paprika, and pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Stir in tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Remove pan from heat and add vodka. Return pan to medium-high heat and simmer briskly until the alcohol is cooked off, 8 to 10 minutes; stir frequently and lower heat to medium if simmering becomes too vigorous. Remove the basil sprigs and stir in cream and cook until hot, about 1 minute.
4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Cook until just shy of al dente, then drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water, and transfer pasta back to Dutch oven. Add sauce to pasta and toss over medium heat until pasta absorbs some of sauce, 1 to 2 minutes, adding reserved cooking water if sauce is too thick. Stir in the minced basil and adjust seasoning with salt. Divide among pasta bowls, garnish with chopped basil, and serve immediately.

Cedar-Plank Grilled Salmon

Summer season.  Grilling.  pacific-rim-cedar-plank-salmon-ssDon’t want to heat up the kitchen any more than is necessary.  So, when company is coming to town and dinner for ten is in order, and half of the guests don’t eat meat (but will eat fish), what’s the imperative?

Why grilled salmon, of course!

Have you ever grilled a big piece of salmon on a cedar plank?  No?  You haven’t lived.  Juicy, smoky, crispy, full of flavor, and just rocking with Omega 3s (I just point that out because at my age I have to be careful just what I put in my body (LOL).

The reality is, I don’t much like fish, any fish.  Can’t say why; I never did like seafood beyond shellfish, but over the years I have learned to like salmon enough to find recipes that I can make and like.  Like my friend Jim Coleman’s Mustard-crusted salmon with shallots and white wine.  And wild salmon gently poached in white wine, pickling spices and black pepper with dill-yogurt sauce.

And now, after experimenting with recipes and techniques, I’ve finally come up with a version of Seattle’s famous cedar-planked grilled salmon that I can say is worthy of my posting here (thanks, of course, to Cooks’ Illustrated, which, if you’ve read this space, know is my bible of cooking technique).

Cedar-plank grilled salmon on the barbecue. I think it has changed my mind about fish.  This is the best piece of fish I’ve ever eaten, and I’m happy to report that I actually made it myself.  It’s slightly Asian in its feel, and it goes incredibly well with quick-sauteed spinach and garlic and a Thai version of my legendary (according to me) cold sesame noodle salad.

So here is my latest adaptation of a published recipe, from Cooks Illustrated to my kitchen to yours.

Enjoy!

Cedar-Plank Grilled Salmon

Ingredients:

1 2½-foot x 6-inch unfinished cedar plank (courtesy of Lowe’s Home Improvement)

2 cups white wine

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1½ tablespoons rice vinegar (buy from an Asian market, not the grocery store)

1 tablespoon dark toasted sesame seed oil (also from the Asian market)

½ teaspoon hot chili oil

1/3 cup light soy sauce

¼ cup chopped chives

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (from the root)

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2½ – 3-pound salmon fillet (one piece, head end is best–I got mine at Costco)

Preparation:

  1. Soak the cedar plank for at least an hour in room-temperature water and 2 cups white wine. Fully submerge the plank in the water; weight down if necessary.
  2. Mix together the vinegar, oils, soy sauce, chives, ginger, and garlic in a 1-gallon zipper-close bag. Roll the salmon fillet small enough to fit into the bag. Zip the bag, turn it over a few times to mix and coat the salmon, and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, up to but no more than an hour.
  3. Preheat an outdoor grill to medium heat. Place the plank on the grates. The plank is ready when it starts to smoke.
  4. Place the salmon fillet in the plank and discard the bag and marinade. Close the cover and grill for 20-25 minutes, until the fish is done (when you can flake it with a fork).
  5. Remove the salmon from the grill, cover loosely with foil for 5 minutes, then cut into serving-size portions and serve immediately.

You can make an extra half-batch of the marinade, set aside, and serve in small dipping bowls with the salmon. It is loaded with flavor.

If you want the Thai version of the Sesame Noodles, search on this site for that recipe, then add 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce to the sauce recipe, and julienne broccoli stems, 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (Thai basil is best), and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro to the noodles before adding the sauce.  It’s a nice change of pace, and will win raves.

Where’s the Beef Beef Stew

I’m officially embarrassed.astew

I’m preparing to cook dinner tonight for my in-laws, and my beloved is out of town, spending a frighteningly well-deserved weekend at the beach with her best friend, knitting and bird watching and beach walking, and ice-cream eating (and heaven only knows what else), and I’m planning to make a recipe from my mother-in-law’s recipe box, a recipe I’ve made dozens of times; it’s maybe my favorite recipe from my wife’s recipe box

So, because I love the recipe so much, I wrote about it in my column a couple of years back, then went looking for the recipe on this site, because the recipe card is worn to the point of not being so readable.

And so, I discovered that this recipe, perhaps one of my all-time favorites, is nowhere to be found on this site. One can Google it, one can search  for it in the newspaper’s archives, or one could come over here and try to decipher the recipe card.

Or one could read it right now. Here. Where it ought to be.

This is beef stew.  Simple, straightforward, and oh, so yummy, that it is likely to become your go-to beef stew recipe of all times.

But because we don’t eat red meat around here any more, I’ve adapted the recipe to our own liking, using chicken thighs instead of beef. Weird, huh?   Okay, let’s call it chicken-thigh stew.  But it’s so hearty that you’ll think of it as beef stew with a difference.

So what I’m going to do here is to re-publish the column I wrote for the paper, and let you see the whole reconstruction plan.  If you want the real beef stew recipe, read through the column to the end, or skip to the bottom for the original.  Either way, it’s a winner.

From the Lancaster Sunday News

A Family Favorite Gets Reimagined, Renamed

Posted: Sunday, January 9, 2011 12:06 am | Updated: 11:59 pm, Wed Sep 11, 2013.

It’s just a little tin box. You probably have one in your kitchen.

But oh, the treasures inside.

The box, adorned with homey images from a simpler time, is stuffed full of 3×5 index cards that Ellen got from her mother. On these cards – faded with age, occasionally smudged with gravy, handwriting made gauzy by the heat and humidity of a working kitchen – is a treasury of recipes collected over decades from friends and family and handed down from generation to generation.

The box contains an amazing range of tastes – from “Adele’s Cereal” to “Ham, Cheese, and Potato Casserole,” to “Porcupine Meat Balls” to “Zucchini Chocolate Cake”. Many of the recipes are from that simpler time, when “fat” was what “healthy” babies were, and when the family cook had most of the day to plan and execute the evening meal, including a loaf of fresh-baked bread.

That’s why this particular recipe caught my eye, and eventually my fancy. It reminded me of meals from my childhood. It was called “Marge Mason Stew.” My mother-in-law’s neighbor many years ago, Marge had created the perfect beef stew recipe – comfort-food good, and very simple. But more to the point, it can be adapted to almost any taste, including for folks who don’t eat red meat, like my family. Having made, and played with, the recipe dozens of times, I now use turkey or chicken thigh meat as a replacement for fatty beef cubes. This produces a stew that is almost identical in flavor and texture to beef stew, lower in fat and totally satisfying. And in a busy world, this recipe is perfect for a slow cooker.

But since this is now turkey stew, and I’ve added a couple of ingredients Marge didn’t have in her original recipe, I can no longer, in good faith, call it “Marge Mason Stew.” Now we call it …

MARGE SIMPSON STEW

1 1/2 pounds boneless turkey thigh meat, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

3 tablespoons whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried parsley

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

3 red or Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed

3 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped

3/4 cup red wine

1/3 cup ketchup

1/2 cup frozen peas

Preheat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat.

Reduce vegetable broth in a saucepan until only 1 cup remains.

Place the flour, salt, pepper and ginger in a large food-storage bag, shake well, then add half the turkey cubes to the bag. Close the bag, and shake well until the turkey cubes are coated with the flour mixture. Place the flour-coated cubes into the pot and stir until they are fully browned and firm to the touch, about 10 minutes. Remove the meat cubes to a bowl.

Repeat with the remaining meat, adding more oil if necessary.

Return the original batch to the pot, add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Then add the broth, and 1/2 cup of wine, bring to a boil, and stir to deglaze the pot. Then add the herbs and ketchup. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

Add the onions, carrots, potatoes and remaining wine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for an additional hour, adding the peas in the last 15 minutes. Serve when the potatoes are tender.

To make this stew in a slow cooker, brown the meat in a heavy pan, deglaze the pan with the wine, place the meat and the glaze in the crock, cover with the remaining ingredients, and cook on the low setting for 8 hours.

Also, double the recipe. It gets better in the fridge.

Marge Mason Stew

Ingredients:aHeartyBeefStew

1 pound stew beef (beef tips are best)

4 tablespoons whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons ground ginger

1 can beef consomme

2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced

1/4 teaspoon each dried basil, dried thyme, paprika

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped carrots

4 baby red potatoes, quartered

3/4 cup red wine

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/3 cup ketchup

kosher salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

Cut meat into 1/2-inch cubes. Prepare a large plastic bag with flour, salt, pepper, ginger. Place half the meat in the bag, toss to coat, and brown in batches in a large, heavy-bottom stew pot to sear. Remove from the pot, repeat with the remaining meat, and set aside

Add the consomme and garlic to the pot and simmer, stirring to remove the brown bits from the bottom of the pot.  Then add 1/2 cup wine, herbs, tomato paste,  and ketchup, and stir well to mix.  Simmer for 1.5 hours.  Add the onions, carrots, potatoes and the remaining wine. Taste and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for another hour.

Serve immediately.

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie (Really!)

Children hate the idea of “Meatless Monday.”pie

Truth be told, I’m not so crazy about it either. Butcher’s son, you know.

On the other hand, my wonderful life partner puts up with most of my foibles, so I figure the least I can do is humor her in her craving for “meatless Monday.”

I try all kinds of ways to deal with the concept—I’ve done risottos, pasta dishes, bean burritos, vegetable pot pie—and I haven’t even scratched the surface of the Moosewood empire, where meatless is a way of life.

So when my beloved handed me a recipe for vegetarian shepherd’s pie (which, I think, is an oxymoron—I mean, have you ever heard of a shepherd rounding up his—or her—lentils at the end of the day?

I mean, “Git along, little legume?”

Somehow it just doesn’t ring right.

On the other hand, I’ve made a bunch of shepherd’s pies over the last few weeks, and I think I’ve got the flavor profile down pretty well, and I have, after all, been making my shepherd’s pies from ground turkey (“Git along, little turkey?”), so why not vegetarian. I have been fairly successful making dishes using lentils of a variety of colors, and the recipe appeared to me to be reasonably open to experimentation, so Lentil Shepherd’s Pie it is.

Guess what?

It turned out to be really good. As most of you vegetarians will attest, lentils can be (a) healthful; (b) tasty; (c) brown; and (d) flexible. And pretty easy to work with, too, taking on the flavor of whatever seasonings one might be tempted to use.

I highly recommend this recipe, and I will actually make it again, amending it as I go to see what other interesting taste profiles I can come up with.

Here, then, is my version of Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie. Adapted from a recently posted recipe from Eating Well, I’ve changed it up some to suit my and my family’s taste buds, and while getting the children to eat it was somewhat of a challenge (getting my children to eat anything beyond mac-n-cheese is somewhat of a challenge), any families whose kids are open to this sort of thing will, I think, actually like this recipe a bunch.

Here it is:

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients:

1 ½ pounds Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes

½ cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons margarine or butter spread (I use Smart Balance)

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

¼ teaspoon fine-ground white pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Olive oil spray

1 large onion, diced

2 medium carrots, diced

½ cup baby peas

1 teaspoon fresh (or ½ teaspoon dried) thyme

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cup vegetable broth

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons tomato paste

½ cup red table wine

1 ½ cups cooked brown lentils

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:

Place the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with water, at least 1 inch over the lentils; bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Then turn off the heat and set aside.

Cut the potatoes into 1- to 2-inch cubes and place in a pot of boiling, salted water, turn the heat down to medium and cook until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain and return to the pot. Add the buttermilk and butter spread, mash with a potato masher and whip until smooth. Set aside.

While the potatoes are boiling, spray an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish with olive oil spray. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add the remaining olive oil, add the onion and carrots, and sauté until soft, about 5-6 minutes. Add the thyme, ½ teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of black pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and stir to combine. Add the broth and cook, stirring, until the sauce begins to thicken, about three minutes. Add the Worcestershire Sauce, tomato paste, and wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Drain the lentils and add, along with the peas, and stir to combine completely.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Spoon the lentil filling into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly. Top with the mashed potatoes, spread evenly, and draw lines into the potatoes with a fork to create ridges. Spray the top with olive oil spray and bake for 30 minutes. Then turn on the broiler and brown the top lightly, rotating once to brown evenly, 6-8 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Around the World in Eight Courses: Egypt, on the Way to the Suez Canal and India

We’ve come round the bend and into the Mediterranean Sea.shakshouka  We’re stopping in Alexandria, Egypt, on our way  through the canal to India.  We’ve been traveling by steamer all night, and are in need of a hearty late breakfast/early lunch meal that includes both lots of veggies and some protein, but not a heavy protein.  The answer is shakshouka.

The word comes either from the Berber word chakchouka, which means vegetable stew, or from the Hebrew leshakshek, which means shake.  Its origin is somewhat disputed; some think it is originally an Israeli dish, others insist its origin is Tunisia, and some of those think that it originated with Tunisian Jews.  Whatever the origin, it is highly popular throughout Mediterranean Africa, especially in Egypt. The upshot throughout the region is that it is sort of a shaken mixture.  That defines it quite well.

In any case, it is a mixture of fragrant spices, and  is served with an egg poached in the vegetable stew and cut-up pitas, to soak up the juices and the egg yolk.

And it is really tasty.  Here’s the recipe:

Shakshouka

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil
3 Anaheim chiles (or 4 or 5, if you like it spicy) stemmed, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 head of garlic, top trimmed off and roasted*
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes with juice, crushed
1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

6 eggs
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Warm pitas, for serving

Preparation:

*Roasted garlic: preheat the oven to 350.  Slice off the top of the garlic head, drizzle 1 teaspoon olive oil over the exposed cloves; leave the head otherwise intact.  Wrap the garlic in aluminum foil and roast for 45 minutes; remove from oven, cool until warm but safe to touch.

Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add chiles and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic (squeeze the garlic from the skins), cumin, paprika, and fennel, and stir to mix well and heat throughout, about 2 more minutes.

Crush the tomatoes in a bowl by hand and add with the liquid to skillet along with 1/2 cup water; reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Crack eggs over sauce so that eggs are evenly distributed across sauce’s surface. Cover skillet and cook until yolks are just set, about 5 minutes. Using a spoon, baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk. Sprinkle with feta and parsley and serve with pitas, for dipping.

Thanks to Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen for the foundation of this recipe, with which I started, but then altered just a bit after trying several varieties.

Ellen’s Chili-party Chili

It’s taken me years to accept a harsh reality:  chilifor popular consumption, Ellen’s chili-party chili is better than mine.  Now I still swear by my own Tex-Mex Tequila-mole-beanless chili, but the truth is, my version is simply not for everyone–it’s an acquired taste, and one has to be a real fan of the Tex-Mex style of chili, but for the larger audience, hers is way better than any of the chili recipes I have in my  holster.  And so, I have spent the day preparing a big batch of Ellen’s chili-party chili, in advance of our annual open house soup and chili party, which, you may already know, is scheduled for the Sunday between Christmas and New Years day.  This year will be our fourth (almost) annual party, and if you’re reading this and you’re in the vicinity that weekend, you’re invited.  If you haven’t found the way here yet, be advised that it will go on with or without you, although we’d love to see you.  We make three soups and a chili.  This years selections will include our usual and most favoritest soup, Ellen and Babs’ Hearty Chicken Chowder  (https://jeffskitchen.net/2012/10/07/ellen-and-babs-hearty-chicken-chowder/); one vegetarian or vegan selection; and one kid-friendly soup; and one chili–we alternate years between a red chili and a white chili; this year’s selection being Ellen’s Chili-party Chili.  The vegetarian selection and the kid-friendly selections have yet to be determined, but will be soon.

We are often asked for the recipes for our productions; all are homemade and from personal favorite recipes.  They are always posted here.  For the party we will produce something in the vicinity of 50 gallons of soup and chili, and you may just come and enjoy.  A kiss for the chefs is all that is necessary for you to bring, but bring your family and your appetite.  This is a fun event, sitting a few days after Christmas, when most folks are either out of town or are tired of leftovers or looking for something else to do rather than cook again.  This is your weekend off.  Let us cook for you Sunday night.

Forthwith, allow me to present to you the recipe for Ellen’s fabulous presentation, of which I just completed 2 gallons, and there will be more to come.

Ellen’s Chili-Party Chili

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups chopped onions

1 whole head of garlic, peeled and cloves chopped.

1 32-oz jar medium (or mild) red salsa

3 pounds ground beef, turkey, or a combination of both

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 4-ounce can chopped green chilis

4 tablespoons ground cumin

4 tablespoons dried or 1 tablespoon freshly chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons ground coriander

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder (optional)

3 12-oz cans Yuengling lager beer (dark beer, ale, IPAs or other beers optional, at your pleasure)

4 28-oz cans or 1 #10 can whole tomatoes, crushed (Cento San Marzanos are my favorite)

7 cans dark red kidney beans

Preparation:

Heat the olive oil in a very large pot over medium-high heat–this recipe is a big one; makes 2 gallons.  Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes.  Add the ground meat and continue to saute until completely browned.  Add the salsa, stir well, turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer 10 minutes.  Add the salt, pepper, chilis, beer, and spices, stir well and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and beans, stir well, and simmer for another hour, stirring occasionally.

Serve with sour cream, chopped scallions, shredded jack or cheddar cheese, and red Tabasco Sauce.

We will have all these and more

Orange Teriyaki Flank Steak and Sweet Potato Fries

I wrote once in my column about Ellen’s little tin box.  It’s magical.  flankChock full of recipes from so many years of collecting. She got the box at Hershey Chocolate World when she was in high school (not really that long ago), and in the ensuing years collected recipes from magazines and newspapers and various other sources, including many of her mother’s recipes, which she wrote down on 3×5 cards.  It features recipes like “porcupine meatballs,” and “shake-and-bake chicken,” and “Mrs. Fuller’s soup,” and “Chowning Tavern’s Brunswick stew,” and corn pudding, and…and…and…on and on and on.  As I said, it’s magic!  Many of the recipes have become part of our current dinner rotation, and I fell in love with her over the meat loaf recipe (romantic, huh?).  The meat loaf is so good that I have abandoned my mother’s recipe and my own recipe, and even the Epicure Market’s recipe, because the one in the tin box is perfect.

That said, I’m going to give you a simple one, a favorite around here, one that gets requested over and over again, and now that I’ve discovered the Char-Broil infrared grill, it’s a 10-minute breeze and a serious winner.  I tend to want my beef done simply–salt and pepper and a little garlic and butter–but this one, a large steak grilled and sliced to serve, just wants a wonderful marinade.  This one is it. Simple and elegant, tasty and memorable.  If you crave a beef supper with a little zing, try this one. Serve it with a simple cold salad and some oven roasted sweet-potato fries.  Fantastic!

Grilled Teriyaki Flank Steak (or London Broil)

Ingredients:

2- to 3-pound flank steak or London Broil

1/2 cup Teriyaki sauce

1/4 cup dry sherry

1 tablespoon fresh orange zest

1 tablespoons canola oil

2 teaspoons freshly ground ginger

 

Preparation:

Combine all the ingredients in a pan large and deep enough to allow the steak to lie flat and to hold the marinade and the steak.

Deeply pierce both sides of the steak with a fork,  at 1-inch intervals.  Place the steak in the marinade, allow to rest for 1/2 hour, then turn.  Turn the steak every hour, marinating for at least four hours, but no more than eight.

Prepare a charcoal grill, allowing the charcoal to turn white, and resting under half the cooking grate; or preheat one burner of a gas grill for 10 minutes.

Allow the steak to come to room temperature before grilling.  Place the steak directly over the hot coals or the burner for five minutes, turn and repeat on the other side.  Then move the steak off the direct heat and continue cooking another five to seven minutes for medium-rare steak–or minutes longer if you prefer your steak more done–until the steak reaches 140 degrees internal temperature  measured with an instant-read thermometer.  Remove the steak from the grill, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and allow to rest 10-15 minutes before slicing.

Slice the steak across the grain and serve with small bowls of Teriyaki sauce for dipping.

Perfect Oven-roasted Sweet Potato Fries

Ingredients:

1-2 large sweet potatoes

1/2 tablespoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Cut the ends off the potatoes, then slice them into 1/2-inch slices.  Turn the potatoes to stack the slices, then slice them into 1/2-inch slices again, to make half-inch by half-inch potato sticks.  Place them in a mixing bowl, add the salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil and toss to coat well.

Lay the fries in a single layer on foil-lined baking sheets (use more than one baking sheet if necessary.  Don’t stack the potato fries.

Bake for 15 minutes, remove from the oven, turn over, and bake for 10 – 15 minutes more. They are done when they begin to brown and crisp.  Serve with the steak, and a dipping sauce of your choice or ketchup or ranch dressing.

 

EASY ON THE BELT LINE EGGPLANT PARMESAN

Eggplant Parmesan. P1000902

Just the mention of this tender, aromatic dish sends Italian-food lovers into spasms of joy, and often, jags of wonderful (or dreadful, I’m afraid) childhood memories.  If your Grandma made this dish, you either loved it or hated it, but there’s no getting around the fact that most adults can’t get enough of this one.  Having grown up in a (mostly) kosher home–some of you know about the time Dad came home, a smoked ham in one hand and a box of gifts from his favorite customers in Chester, PA in the other, and demanded the end to this craziness (his words), and kosher in our house was no more–there was no eggplant Parmesan in our house.  Mom occasionally made spaghetti sauce, but it was about as far from authentic Italian red gravy as salt-water taffy.

I learned my sauce-making skills from the skilled chefs at the Epicure Market in South Beach, and refined them to a honed edge at the feet of an employer named Bud Bruno (the finest Italian chef I ever met) in his little kitchen in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.  What I learned from Bud was the magic of fresh ingredients, really good olive oil, and little else–an authentic red sauce was at the same time simple and complex, with flavors that were meant to go together.  And this one is light as a feather.  Not much oil, no battering and frying of the eggplant, and you can eat as much as you want–it won’t weigh you down.

This recipe doesn’t, however rely on one of those long-simmered, tradition-babied, fussed-over red sauces, but rather all the elements of a perfect red sauce, blended together with love but not with much time or effort.  Just toss the ingredients together in a bowl and let ’em marry in the bowl for a while.  Then go.

Here’s the recipe, and be gentle.  Don’t over think this one.  It can’t really be much simpler.

 

EASY ON THE BELT LINE EGGPLANT PARMESAN

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon good extra-virgin olive oil

6 cloves garlic

1/2 large sweet onion, chopped

2 cups fresh, coarsely chopped plum tomatoes (San Marzano, if you can find them) with their juice

2 tablespoons dry red table wine

2 tablespoons dark balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Olive oil spray

2 egg whites

2 1/2 lbs eggplant, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2″-thick slices

1/2 cup plain dried bread crumbs or 1 cup Panko

1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (about 4 oz)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

 

 

Preparation:

About three hours before serving, sauté the onions and garlic with the good olive oil until tender and transparent, 8-10 minutes at medium heat.   In a medium bowl, stir together tomatoes and their juice, basil, parsley, wine, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, and onions (from here on I’ll call this the sauce).  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

An hour later, preheat the oven to 400°F.  Line two or three baking sheets with foil. Spray the foil with olive-oil cooking spray.

In a shallow dish, beat the egg whites and 2 tbsp of water until foamy, and prepare another shallow dish with Panko. Dip eggplant into the egg whites, then into the bread crumbs, pressing crumbs into the eggplant.

Place the eggplant slices on the prepared baking sheets and spray oil lightly over the slices. Bake 30 minutes, turning over after 20 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.

Spoon 4 tbsp of sauce into bottom of 9″ square glass baking dish that has been sprayed with olive oil. Place half the eggplant over the sauce; spoon half of remaining  sauce over the eggplant; and sprinkle half of mozzarella on top. Repeat with remaining eggplant, sauce, and mozzarella.

Sprinkle Parmesan on top and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until eggplant is piping hot, the sauce is bubbly, and the cheese has to lightly brown.

This dish will serve 4 generously, and leave you with a couple of pieces leftover for lunches the next day.

Or not.

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