Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More Imitations of Italy

Although it's been over a month since I returned, I am still working on trying to recplicate some of the dishes I had in Italy.  For such simple, homemade cuisine, some of it was rather complicated.  For example, my attempt to do the egg-stuffed turkey rolls was not going to make it onto this blog (unless I felt brave enough to post it in the "Flops" category).

One thing I felt pretty sure I could do though was the lasagne dish.  It didn't seem to require any complex techniques and contained basic ingredients: white sauce, zucchini, mozzarella, and noodles.  That seemed easy enough.

I did my best to put a little of my own spin on it.  I added mushrooms along with the zucchini and sauteed them with garlic.  I fried the zucchini in olive oil first before adding it to the lasagne as well.  I like that it added more flavor.  Besides, the extra olive oil it brought to the dish was very much like the olive-oil-soaked dishes we ate on the farm.  The garlic is also my own spin.  I know Italians don't use nearly as much garlic in their cooking as Americans think they do, but as an American, I need my Italian food to be splashed liberally with garlic.

Certainly you could just slice the veggies into the dish raw, but cooking them really does add something to the dish.  I suppose if you're health conscious, you could try spritzing them with olive oil and roasting them instead of frying. 

The recipe is easy, but it is a bit time-consuming as there are several components.  The results are well worth it though.  This is a very tasty dish!

Lasagne Bianchi con Zucchini e Funghi

For Veggie Layer
  • Copious amounts of olive oil for frying
  • Salt
  • 6 small zucchini, sliced thin
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 10 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
For White Sauce
  • 4 Tbl butter
  • 4 Tbl all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart milk
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1 cup grated pecorino cheese
For Assembly
  • 1 package no-boil lasagne
  • 1 pound mozzarella, grated
Lightly salt the zucchini.  Cover the bottom of your biggest frying pan with plenty of olive oil and heat to medium high.  Fry zucchini slices in a single layer until cooked through.  You will need to work in batches.  Set aside.

Lower heat and add garlic to pan.  You might want to add some extra olive oil, but don't go too overboard as the mushrooms will give off plenty of liquid.  When garlic is fragrant, add musrhoom slices.  Cook until they are browned and give off their liquid.  Add zucchini back to the pan and toss together.  Set aside.

In a large saucepan melt the butter and whisk in the flour.  Cook for a few minutes until the roux doesn't taste like raw flour.  Slowly whisk in the milk.  Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and boils.  Add the nutmeg, pepper, and cheese.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place a layer of white sauce at the bottom a 13"x9" pan.  Add a layer of noodles to cover the bottom.  Then add a layer of white sauce, a layer of vegetables, and a layer of grated mozzarella.  Cover with another layer of noodles and repeat until you have used up all of your sauce, vegetables, cheese, and noodles.

Cover with foil and bake 50-60 minutes.

Monday, November 28, 2011

So What Did I Have For Thanksgiving?

As always, I had a fabulous time in Chicago.  Kevin, Mom, MIL and I enjoyed some great meals, some great sightseeing, and of course, lots of quality time with family.   

Our food explorations started before we even left the airport.  The new Jet Blue terminal at JFK has a pretty aspirational food court.  In one area of the terminal you will find a grouping of international restaurants: Italian, Spanish Tapas, Steakhouse, Asian Fusion, and Mexican.  Kevin suggested we give one of them a try.  I said we should try Piquillo, the tapas place.  Some of us had eaten large, late breakfasts, and some of us had eaten small, early breakfasts.  It was 2pm and half of us was starving and half was not really up to eating much.  Tapas fit the bill since everyone could order as many small plates as needed.  I didn't have my camera handy to dig out of my bags, but I had a pretty good deal on a 3-item meal.  For $17 I had a dish of chorizo and potatoes, a dish of asparagus with sherry vinaigrette, and two croquetas.  I was expecting smaller portions with the tasting menu, but they were full-sized plates (which were tapas plates, so they were smallish to begin with).  Considering if I had ordered a la carte, two dishes would have cost me that much, I thought it was a good deal.  The food wasn't brilliant, but it hit the spot. 

We arrived in Chicago in the early evening.  After settling into our hotel, Kevin's brother and SIL took us out to Abruzzo.  It was a nice, casual Italian restaurant.  Once again I forgot my camera.  Although it had been almost 5 hours since my last meal, I had been well fed by the tapas and wasn't looking for anything heavy.  I chose a chicken breast in tomato-basil sauce.  It was a simple grilled breast, so it was perfect for my small appetite.  I was trying to be a good girl and not eat the pasta that came with it, but the sauce was so tasty, I had to eat the pasta to make sure I got every bit of it. 

The next day was Thanksgiving.  Once again we went to Lovell's of Lake Forest.  Once again I had the option of ordering turkey or not ordering turkey.  So I ordered...

*cue drum roll*

...a salad with a tasty mustard vinaigrette.

(What you want more details?)


Roast duck!  No, it's not turkey, but it's still poultry and it tastes better.  My only complaint about this duck is the skin could have been crispier.  I really liked the rice mix on the side.  Behind the duck is a poached pear filled with nuts and granola.

Dessert I was as predictable as always.

They call it the "Muca Muca Cake."  Off to the side is a coffee liberally mixed with Baileys.

The next day we spent walking around Chicago, hiking up Michigan Avenue, fighting the Black Friday crowds, and showing Mom the Art Institute for the first time.  To fortify ourselves for the sightseeing, we started out with an early lunch at the Signature Room.

We had a great table, decorated for Christmas, with a spectacular view.

Once again, I neglected to take photos of the actual food.  I was told the Signature Room is better known for its views than for its food.  I didn't want to eat too heavily after the big Thanksgiving dinner, so I had a Thai chicken salad that was perfectly acceptable.  I really liked the dressing.  The table split some appetizers, most of which were unremarkable except for a flatbread topped with gruyere, caramelized onions, and bacon.  The "flatbread" was actually a thin piece of puff pastry.  I think if I had just ordered that and eaten it all, I would have been just as happy.

Our final meal was at Mortons.  This Mortons has some rather special meaning for our family.  Three years ago it was where Kevin's nephew celebrated his bar mitzvah.  It was the last time Kevin's entire family was gathered together before some of them passed away.  I'll always think fondly of Mortons for that.

The food isn't too shabby either!  I joked I wasn't taking photos of this lovely ribeye for my blog.  I was taking it to hang on my wall.

Still more chocolate cake for dessert.  How did this compare to the Muca Muca?  Hard to say.  This one came with ice cream.  The other one came with creme anglaise and strawberry puree`.  How can one really judge?  We had some chocolate souffle with this as well. 

We went home the next day with full bellies and said hearts knowing we had to leave our loved ones again for a while.  We are all so grateful for the generosity of Kevin's family with both their money and their time.  We hope it won't be too long before we're all together again.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Another Nod to the Season with My Good Friend Dan

I'm very excited about Thanksgiving this year.  Once again I will avoid having to cook for 17 people and I'm heading to Chicago to spend the holiday with Kevin's family.  My mother will be joining us as well this year. (It's like the opposite of most holidays where Kevin's mother celebrates with my family.)  It will be her first time ever in Chicago, so she's very excited.   It will be a nice relaxing holiday since no one has to cook!  We will be back in the same restaurant as last year. 

I'm looking forward to eating in Chicago restaurants.  I can't wait to trash them.  I want to make snarky remarks about kitschy decor and take offensive photos of lamb chops!  (Can you tell I'm really hoping that my brother-in-law is reading this post?  Hi Bob!)

I still had to make one more meal before we left.  I wanted to make something that would remind me of Thanksgiving, but wouldn't actually be too Thanksgiving-like.  I don't know if I'll decide to have a traditional turkey dinner in the restaurant on Thanksgiving day, but I figured it was best to err on the side of caution and make a dinner that was a little different. 

I knew I wanted to make a poultry dish, but which poultry would I choose?  Last week I made a meat loaf with that beloved Thanksgiving meat, turkey.  What would I use for my last dinner before vacation?  Chicken? Duck?

I saw these quails in the freezer at Whole Paycheck and decided it was time to try cooking them.  Experimentation is good for the soul.

I had no idea what the best way to cook them was.  There was a recipe on the side of the package for making them with mushrom stuffing, but I had other ideas for how I wanted to flavor them.  Do I wrap them in bacon?  Put them on skewers?  Pan fry? Roast?

I had a pre-Thanksgiving chat with a friend on the phone while trying to figure this all out.  I said I was trying to figure out how to cook Dan and Marilyn.  He told me not to serve a potatoe with them.  Will anyone reading this laugh at the 20-year-old political humor?

I decided to go with roast.  Jamie Oliver's book Jamie's Italy had a method for roasting quails.  Granted he suggested covering them with pancetta, which I didn't do, and it probably would have moistened the meat a bit more.  I did rest them on a bed of fresh herbs as Jamie suggested though.  I went out on my balcony to pick the thyme and rosemary.  It was a horrific, rainy, chilly night and the 30 seconds I spent out there cutting herbs was torture.  The things I do to feed my family!
What was my sauce? Cranberries!  That was my nod to the season.  I like how at Whole Paycheck I can get loose bulk cranberries so I don't have to buy way more than I need. 

I went a little crazy and decided to try them with tangerines and port wine.  I just went nuts.  I was inspired somewhat by my mother's delicious port-ginger cranberry sauce.

The sauce had a little bitterness that I wasn't fond of, but otherwise had good flavor.  The quails were a tad dry but the flavor was decent.  They are really hard to eat.  You have to work hard for very little meat.  Not sure I'll make them again, but I'm glad I did the experiment.

See you all after Thanksgiving.  Hope you have a wonderful celebration with family and friends and delicious food.  I will leave you contemplating the myster of whether or not I will actually order the traditional turkey dinner...

Wishing you all a very happy happy happy Thanksgiving.  Hope you enjoy your meals and your loved ones, however you decide to celebrate.

Quail with Cranberry Tangerine Sauce

Ingredients for Quails
  • 4 quails
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Several sprigs of rosemary and thyme
  • 4 Tbl butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sweet wine
Ingredients for Sauce
  • 1 cup cranberries
  • 1 cup port wine
  • Juice of 2 tangerines
  • 3 Tbl honey
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 tsp peppercorns
  • 1 Tbl butter
In a small saucepan combine cranberries, juice, wine, honey and cinnamon stick.  Place the peppercorns in a tea ball or cheesecloth bag and add to the pan (you don't want to have to be picking peppercorns out of your sauce later).  Bring to a boil.   Reduce to a simmer and simmer about an hour, letting sauce reduce and craberries soften and lose their shape.  Remove peppercorns and cinnamon stick.  Stir in butter.

Meanwhile heat your oven to 375.  Brush your quails with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place each quail on a bed of rosemary and thyme sprigs on a baking sheet.

Roast 35 minutes.  About halfway through cooking pour the butter and wine over the quails.

Serve quails with sauce. This recipe serves two.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More Meat Loaf Variations

It's not just Christmas that gets rushed.

I was just thinking of how back in my college days the week before Thanksgiving the cafeteria would put on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the students.  For this dinner you had to have your group reserve a table and then you would be presented with a turkey and all the fixings for your group.  The real novelty was that members of the faculty and administration would volunteer to serve the students, so it could be fun to have your prof waiting on you (and you would be nice to him or her if it really was your prof since your grade could hinge on it).  I remember one year my totally non-sports-loving friends and I had the honor of being served by none other than exalted Skip Roderick the soccer coach (kind of like the Joe Paterno of Elizabethtown but without any child molestation scandals). 

It was all very nice until the next day.  Also the following day.  Then the day after that.  You see, the Elizabethtown College cafeteria was no different from any other host of Thanksgiving dinner.  They had to use up those leftovers just like the rest of us.  So for a week we had turkey noodle soup and turkey tetrazzini and hot open turkey sandwiches and turkey croquettes.  After a week of turkey leftovers, we would all go home for Thanksgiving dinner with our families and then spend the remainder of that weekend eating turkey leftovers.

Now (CENSORED) years later, the cafeteria in my office building is offering a special pre-Thanksgiving turkey dinner this week. 

How much of this stuff are we supposed to want to eat?  Does everyone really want constant turkey dinners in November?

Turkey has never been one of my favorite proteins.  I find the meat is often unremarkable and rather bland.  I like things like pork and lamb and duck.  Turkey sandwiches have never topped my list of favorites (although I have often favored them for health reasons).  I like my meatballs and burgers made out of beef and my sausages made out of pork.  (Does that sound slightly off color?)

I used to really hate turkey in most forms, but I guess turkey meat producers are doing a better job of putting out better tasting turkey products.  Still, the way I enjoy turkey most is a whole roasted turkey, covered in nice crispy skin, where I can chow down on drumsticks and pope's noses and cover everything in tasty gravy.  Otherwise, I can take it or leave it.

Then I met my husband who is sensitive to more robust meats.  It's all about the turkey for him.  The blandness is exactly what he loves and craves.  That has put me on a lifelong quest to make turkey meat taste more interesting.

So despite it being a week before Thanksgiving, I'm making a turkey dish.

I've never been fond of meatloaf in general, even the beef variety.  I think that's because I have spent my life eating your standard beef-breadcrumb-egg loaf that was dense and weird in texture and less-than-thrilling in flavor.  I know that meat loaf can be transformed by being made into meatballs as they sit simmering in tomato sauce soaking up moistness and flavor, so there have to be other ways to improve upon it.  Once I started cooking my own meatloaf, I found I could make it taste decent.

One of my favorite variations is my Feathers and Fruit Loaf, but as husband and I are trying to get away from the gluten, I have been keeping it out of rotation.

I saw an interesting recipe for a turkey and veggie meatball on a Paleo website.  I wanted to give it a try so I decided use it as an inspiration for a new meatloaf recipe.  My binder was almond flour instead of breadcrumbs (I have learned I just HATE gluten-free breadcrumbs).

Making this meatloaf was a comedy of errors.  I didn't realize when I was making it that I was out of eggs.  It was dark and rainy outside and I had no desire to get in the car and drive to the supermarket to buy eggs.  I did the unthinkable and walked down the street to CVS and bought the cheap eggs there.  I like to think of myself as an egg snob who always buys fresh, local eggs.  I felt so dirty buying CVS eggs.  I felt less dirty when I paid for them.  They were cheap to begin with, but I found out they were on sale.  Eggs for under $2?  I think I'm a convert! 

Then there was the issue of sides.  I made no vegetables because I felt the meatloaf was veggie-enriched enough.  I still wanted to serve more on the plate than just a slab of meatloaf.  I raided the cabinets for something usable.  I guess I cleaned out the cabinet pretty well in the past.  I had no rice or other grains.  All I had was a box of cornmeal.  Since I had some rice flour in the freezer, I made some gluten-free cornbread on the side.

The meatloaf was really good - for turkey meatloaf anyway.  It was flavorful and light-textured.  Husband has requested I make it more often, so it's a keeper.  I think I'll wait until a few weeks after Thanksgiving though.

Turkey-Veggie Meatloaf

1 package ground turkey
3 carrots, cut in chunks
1 medium onion, cut in chunks
10 ounces cremini mushrooms
2 Tbl tomato paste
2 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 eggs
2 cups almond flour

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

In a food processor puree carrots, onion, and mushrooms until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl and add tomato paste, salt, and smoked paprika.  Taste for seasoning.

Mix in ground turkey and eggs.  Add almond flour.  You may want to adjust your amounts if you feel your mixture is too gloppy and needs more flour to absorb some of the liquid.

Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray.  (You can't free-form this meatloaf.  It's too wet.)  Place turkey mixture into the pan and bake for one hour.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Forget Italy. Let's Go Back to Paris for This Post

Compare and contrast my last two anniversary celebration vacations.  For both trips I went to Europe.  One was spent in a big city.  The next one was spent on a farm.  For the first trip we got around on trains and on foot.  For the next one, we moved around mostly on horseback. One one trip Kevin did all of the talking (French) and on the next one I did the talking (Italian).  For both trips we drank more wine than we ever do at home.  Both trips had fantastic food, but for one of them we ate only in restaurants and the other almost all of our meals were cooked in the farmhouse kitchen. 

We loved our meals in Italy, but when I remember our Paris trip, one of my most vivid memories was of the hearty French food we ate.  One of my most memorable meals was our anniversary dinner at that Paris institution, La Coupole

If you are a regular reader of TERP, you may remeber (I can also jog your memory for you) of how I ordered Jarret de Porc at La Coupole.  Then I realized that I didn't know what "jarret" meant and freaked out for a few minutes until my dinner was actually served to me.  The hock that was my dinner turned out to be perfectly delicious and was an even better choice than I had originally anticipated.  Score one for me.  It was the kind of meal I thought would be once in a lifetime.

Quite recently I caught this post at We Are Never Full.  Amy and Jonny are never ones to shy away from new and different ingredients.  Looking at their rendition of Jarret de Porc, I knew it was possible for me to recreate my Parisian adventure.

The only real obstacle to making the recipe would be finding the ingredients.  Most markets carry smoked hocks since they are such a flavorful addition to legume-based soups.  Fresh ones can be a little trickier.  Not all markets are likely to carry nose-to-tail meats. 

I am very lucky to have the Norwalk Shop Rite just a stone's throw from my office.  (How I will miss this palce after I'm laid off next year!)  I have seen all sorts of interesting animal parts there from fresh tongue to tripe to pork skin to fresh pork neck bones.  It is my supplier of smoked turkey tails.  I made a trip there to see what they could offer me and sure enough I saw pig's ears, necks, jowls, and most importantly, fresh hocks.  I was ready to go.

My intention was to follow Amy and Jonny's recipe.  I was a little puzzled by it.  I am used to regular stewing methods where you brown your meat first and then cook it in liquid. This recipe had it backwards.  First you poach the pork and then you cook it in the oven.  This was my first time cooking with a new ingredient, so I wasn't about to start experimenting.  If it worked for them, then I would do it that way.  If you're going to alter something about an untried recipe, alter the ingredients and not the method.

I did alter the ingredients a bit.  Pork tastes great with reisling and it tastes great with apples.  I replaced two cups of the water in the poaching liquid with two cups of reisling and also added a quartered apple to the mix. 

The hocks were slightly problematic as they stuck to the pan terribly when I roasted them, ripping off some of that lovely skin.  I also think I probably didn't need to roast them the entire recommended time (I guess I just have a hotter oven or used smaller hocks.)  My pan drippings were a little burned. 

I will not post the recipe here, as I don't want to be poaching anyone else's work.  Please refer to the link to We Are Never Full if you are interested in making this.  My only difference in preparing the pork is that I added the apple and the reisling to the poaching pot.

I served it with plain mashed potates instead of garlic-parsley ones and my plating just isn't as pretty (a dish this special probably deserved the light box for the photo, but I was lazy) but it was one tasty dish.  In some ways I liked this better than the one I had in Paris because I was able to really taste the meat naturally and not flavored heavily with sauerkraut.  The reisling and apples gave it some sweetness and some sharpness, but I could still taste lots of porky goodness.  Pork hocks do taste very similar to ribs.  If you're a rib lover, you definitely have to try these.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Imitations of Italy

As soon as we returned from our trip SPP started talking about how I should make the stuff we ate in Italy.

Easier said than done.  The food in Italy was just so darned divine and quite hard to imitate.  Why do you think I keep saying I never want to eat my own cooking again?

But the meals we had in Italy were relatively simple dishes, even if they were so expertly prepared.  I could at least attempt them and make them my way.  I still kept things simple, so there are no official recipes here, just suggestions.

I started with the Zucchini in Parmigiana. 

I thin-sliced 4 zucchini and coated them in egg and then in a mix of a little cornmeal and finely-grated parmesan.  This was my first deviation from the recipe at the farm.  I don't think they breaded their vegetables at all.  I fried them in LOTS of olive oil (they didn't skimp on olive oil at the farm, so why should I?) and layered the slices in the dish with some of the cheese, then put most of the cheese over the top.  I poured 2 cups of my lovingly-made-from-farm-market-tomatoes sauce and baked the thing for 25 minutes at 400 degrees.

It was cheesier and less saucy than the farm version, which I guess is just my American showing.  I only used a half-pound ball of fresh mozzarella to make this and it was still twice as cheesy as the Italian version.  I still liked it a lot and so did SPP.

I served some chick peas boiled with sage and rosemary and a little garlic then doused with olive oil on the side. I was still trying to imitate the meal I had at the farm.
Kevin's favorite dish of the week was the simplest.  He loved the spaghetti with herbs. It's an easy dish, although there is an actual recipe available for it.  It's garlic, parseley, and a little hot pepper in olive oil. 

Then I tried to do their frittate.  These were harder because they were called "omlets" on the farm and weren't exactly like traditional omelets, but also weren't thick like a frittata would be.

I cooked 3 chopped onions until they were super soft, almost caramelized.  Then I browned some mushrooms with them.  I placed them in a small frying pan with lots of olive oil poured 3 eggs over the top.  I cooked that until it was barely set and then placed it in a 400 degree oven until it was cooked and a bit brown on top.  I served it over mixed greens.  Not quite the farm, but pretty good.

I suppose in my kicthen I can keep a bit of Italy with me always.