Friday, October 31, 2008

Less Meat: It's What's for Dinner

I was recently flipping through Ten Speed Press's spring 2009 catalog. The California publisher has become one of my favorite houses, and not just because it's the home of 101 Cookbooks blogger Heidi Swanson. Ten Speed's books are beautiful, useful and smart. I paused at the page for a book called Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health, Better for the Planet. One of the authors, Tara Mataraza Desmond, is a Philadelphia food blogger who'd just run the Chicago Marathon in approximately the same time I hope to run New York on Sunday--and she loves kettle corn. So do I. I was intrigued.

Her blog led me to a recipe Desmond's coauthor, Joy Manning, recently posted on Serious Eats: Butternut Squash and Sausage Bake. I had some chicken sausage in the fridge, and would only need to buy squash and smoked mozzarella to make the dish. I will say, this isn't the quickest dish you'll make all fall, but it's one of the most satisfying and delicious. Cubes of butternut squash, bits of sausage, softened onions scented with sage and thyme, just enough smoky mozzarella, plus crunchy, buttery breadcrumbs on top. We ate this for dinner with a salad and some bread, and had enough leftover for a few lunches. I wholeheartedly recommend you add this to your fall recipe rotation.

Sure, the dish wouldn't have suffered if I'd included more sausage. But it didn't really need it; there were such great flavors from the other ingredients. I'd never become a vegetarian, but I'm happy to go meat lite.--S

Butternut Squash and Sausage Bake

Serves six to eight

1/4 lb Italian sausage
1/4 c olive oil, divided
3 onions, quartered and sliced
5 thyme sprigs
2 t dried sage
salt and pepper
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1/2 cubes, (about 6 c) seeds and scrapings reserved
1/4 c flour
1/2 c shredded smoked mozzarella
3/4 c chicken stock
3 slices white sandwich bread, cut into cubes [I used sourdough baguette]
2 T melted butter, optional, plus a little extra to prepare baking dish

1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9"-x-12" baking dish.
2. Remove sausage from its casing and cook in a large skillet over medium heat until just browning, breaking up sausage with a wooden spoon as it cooks. [I used chicken sausage, so I simply sliced it, then halved each slice.] Remove cooked sausage and refrigerate until ready to use.
3. Add enough olive oil to the rendered fat in the skillet to equal 2T, and then add the onions, thyme and sage. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, scraping the bottom of the skillet to loosen brown bits. When onions are thoroughly soft, remove and set aside.
4. While the onions cook, simmer the squash seeds and scrapings in the chicken stock for 10 minutes, strain and keep the stock warm over low heat.
5. Add the remaining 2T of olive oil to the skillet. Toss the squash with the flour and arrange in a single layer in the skillet. (If the skillet isn’t big enough, you’ll need to do this in two batches.) Let the squash brown, undisturbed, for 4 minutes then stir the squash as it cooks for the next 4 minutes. Season liberally with salt and pepper and set aside.
6. To assemble the casserole, layer the onions in the buttered baking dish. Dot the onions with the sausage bits evenly, and then top with the squash. Sprinkle the smoked mozzarella over the top, and the pour the stock into the baking dish. Press the top of the casserole with a spatula to evenly distribute the liquid. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.
7. While the casserole bakes, pulse the bread crumbs with the melted butter (if using) in a food processor until you have coarse bread crumbs.
8. After 30 minutes, pull the baking dish out of the oven, remove the foil, top casserole evenly with breadcrumbs and bake uncovered an additional 20 to 30 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the top is nicely browned.

Recipe courtesy of Serious Eats

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pass the Syrup

When I told our house guest last weekend, Darren, that I was making Mac n Cheese Pancakes for breakfast, I didn't get an, "Oooh, that sounds interesting!" or even a grunt of approval. Instead: "Do you eat them with syrup? Because I am SO over pancakes you don't eat with syrup." Apparently Darren had been to some snooty establishment for brunch recently and ordered pancakes that came with a fruit compote. He asked the waiter for syrup and the waiter told him the restaurant didn't have syrup. That's what the compote was for. Excusez-moi.

No such pretentiousness here. The recipe for these pancakes comes from Kenny Shopsin, the locally famous, curmudgeonly short-order cook at Shopsin's General Store here in New York City. (Read my interview with him here.) I doubt Kenny would ever serve pancakes sans syrup (though he allows Lemon Ricotta Pancakes can go without). He's a fan of Grade B maple syrup (incidentally, he is unapologetic about using Aunt Jemima frozen pancake batter).

I was excited to make the mac n cheese pancakes because it also meant test-driving our new griddle. I made the pancake batter from HTCE, and once the griddle was hot enough that water drops bounced off of it, I dropped circles of pancake batter onto the griddle. After about two minutes, I spooned about a tablespoon of cooked, warm elbow macaroni onto the center of each pancake, and then topped it with a thin layer of feather-shredded cheddar cheese. I quickly flipped the pancakes and used the spatula to press them down on the griddle. Once the undersides were golden, about two minutes later, I used "a decisive high-pressure sawing motion to lift and turn the pancakes onto a plate, B-side up." (Don't you love Kenny's instructions?)

Watching this video, I realize I could've cooked the pancakes a little longer, so the cheese got crustier and the mac got oozier. No matter. We spread these babies with butter and poured warm syrup over them, and they were delicious. The macaroni added a different textural element, and the cheese gave them more bite than your average pancake. No pretentiousness here, just some excellent pancakes.--S

Mac ’n’ Cheese Pancakes

Peanut oil, for the griddle
Butter, for the griddle and serving
3 c pancake batter, like Aunt Jemima frozen batter, thawed, or homemade
1 heaping c cooked elbow macaroni, tossed with olive oil and warmed
1 1/4 c shredded cheddar
Grade B maple syrup

1. Clean the griddle by running an oily cloth over it. If the cloth snags, scrape to remove, then wipe down the griddle with peanut oil. Set the griddle over moderate heat.
2. Pour a thin layer of peanut oil over the griddle. Just before you drop the batter, run cold butter across the area where you are going to cook. When it bubbles, drop the batter in 4-inch circles and immediately raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, adjusting the heat as needed, until bubbles appear, 1 to 3 minutes.
3. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of warm macaroni on each pancake, then 1 tablespoon of cheddar. Using a thin metal spatula, quickly turn the pancakes and gently tap to make them uniform in thickness. Cook until golden, about 2 minutes.
4. Serve, macaroni-side up, with butter and warm maple syrup.

Recipe courtesy of Eat Me

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Plan for Pumpkin

I was going to make date-nut bread, but then I started flipping through Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, and saw a recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf. The headnotes said it was "extremely easy" with "impressive" results. "The loaf is incomparably moist, and the pumpkin and chocolate chips pair well together for the perfect accompaniment to a hot cup of coffee or tea." Ummm, change in plans. All I needed was a can of pureed pumpkin and I was set.

As promised, the recipe was really easy. It also made an enormous amount of batter, and since one of our new loaf pans is still residing in my parents' basement with the rest of our wedding gifts, and we only have one in the apartment, I used the leftover batter to make four mini-loaves and six muffins. It was all good, though; the smaller parts baked in less than an hour, while the loaf took about an hour and 20 minutes.

I had a feeling this would work out well, because one of the tastiest brownie recipes I've made lately came from the bakery behind Baked. And it certainly did smell fabulous as it was baking. Turns out, this is a terrific quickbread. Sweet, but not too much; moist and with a nice crispy top crust. I'll come back to the date-nut bread, but for now we're loving the pumpkin chocolate loaf.--S

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf

Makes 2 loaves

3 1/4 c all-purpose flour
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 t ground allspice
1/2 t ground ginger (optional)
2 t baking soda
2 t salt
1-3/4 c (one 15-oz can) pumpkin puree
1 c vegetable oil
3 c sugar
4 large eggs
1 t pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 c (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips [I used chocolate chunks]

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9" x 5" x 3" loaf pans, dust them with flour, and knock out the excess flour.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, baking soda, and salt.
3. In another large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree and oil until combined.
4. Add the sugar and whisk again. Whisk the eggs into the mixture, one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Add 2/3 cup room-temperature water and whisk until combined. With a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips.
5. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet. Do not overmix.
6. Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Gently knock the bottom of the pans against the countertop to even out the batter. Use the spatula to smooth the tops.
7. Bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of a loaf comes out clean, 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time.
8. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes. Invert the loaves onto wire racks and cool completely before serving.

Recipe courtesy of Baked

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Deliciously Unnecessary

Here's the thing about homemade pasta: I know it's not necessary. I live between two excellent shops that carry perfectly respectable dried pasta and pretty delicious fresh pasta. So I'm not going to get all "Homemade pasta is the only option; you simply must make your own, to hell with Barilla!" on you. But. Homemade pasta is really, really good. And the satisfaction of knowing that you (and your pasta machine) spun magnificent fettucine noodles out of flour, eggs and olive oil is not to be underestimated.

Fork and I received the Kitchen Aid pasta roller and cutter attachment as a shower gift. Alas, he was on a fishing trip in Montauk this weekend and missed its debut (but he'll no doubt enjoy the leftovers). So Kate and I gave it a try, and were quite impressed. We followed Lidia Bastianich's recipe for fettucine, using all-purpose flour, eggs, egg yolks, extra-virgin olive oil and ice water. The food processor turned out a soft, stretchy ball of dough in less than a minute, and after it rested for a half-hour, we revved up the stand mixer. Recalling what I'd learned from my mom about making pasta, we began feeding the dough through on the widest setting. We kept running it through, gradually adjusting the thickness setting to four, which resulted in an almost see-through sheet of pasta. Then we ran the sheet through the fettucine cutter, keeping the dough well-floured throughout. We separated the strands and laid them in nests (oh, how I loved those beautiful nests) on floured trays. And so it went for 1 1/2 lbs of pasta dough. The process was easy and fun.

So what to do with all this lovely fresh pasta? We went with Lidia's Fettucine with Squash and Cauliflower, a delicious seasonal dish. Using butternut squash and cauliflower from the greenmarket, plus capers, canned San Marzano plum tomatoes, garlic, onion and hot pepper flakes, we (er, Kate--I had done all the prep work and let her do the cooking!) prepared a warm, cozy, chunky vegetable sauce. The pasta cooked in boiling water for about two minutes, and we tossed it with the sauce, adding lots of pecorino cheese.

The pasta was tender and perfectly cooked, with some little clumps--truth be told, our favorite parts--where we hadn't used enough flour. The squash and cauliflower florets were softened, and the tomatoes strewn throughout added color and texture. We both had seconds, and still barely made a dent in the massive bowl. And this morning I woke up and considered reheating some for breakfast. I held off until lunch, and am digging in right now.--S

Fettucine with Squash and Cauliflower

1/2 c extra-virgin olive oil
3 plump garlic cloves, crushed, peeled
1 small onion, thinly sliced (1 c slices)
3 c butternut squash, cut in 1/2" cubes
3 c cauliflower, cut in small florets (about 1")
4 T small capers, drained
1 t coarse sea salt or kosher salt or to taste, plus more for cooking pasta
1/2 teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
2 c canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
1 lb pound fettuccine
1 c freshly grated pecorino

1. Pour the olive oil into the big skillet and set over medium-high heat. Scatter in the sliced garlic and let it start sizzling. Stir in the onion slices and cook for a couple of minutes to wilt. Spill in all the cut squash and cauliflower pieces, scatter the capers, salt and peperoncino on top and with tongs toss all together for a minute or so. Pour a cup of water into the skillet, cover tightly and steam the vegetables for 2 or 3 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally.
2. Pour in the crushed tomatoes along with a cup of water sloshed in the tomato containers. Stir well and cover. When the tomato juices are boiling, adjust the heat to keep them bubbling gently. Cook covered for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the vegetables are softened, uncover and continue cooking to reduce the pan juices to a good consistency for dressing the pasta, about 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste and keep at a low simmer.
3. While the sauce is cooking, heat the salted pasta cooking water to a rolling boil (at least 6 quarts water and a tablespoon salt). Drop in the fettuccine and cook until barely al dente. Lift them from the water, drain for a moment, then drop onto the simmering vegetables. Toss and cook all together for a couple of minutes, over moderate heat. Moisten the dish with pasta water if it seems dry; cook rapidly to reduce the juices if they're splashing in the skillet.
4. When the pasta is perfectly cooked and robed with sauce, turn off the heat. Sprinkle over the grated cheese, toss into the pasta and serve.

Recipe courtesy of Lidia's Italy

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Sunday may have been the most beautiful day we've had so far this fall. Gorgeous blue sky, warm sun, and where we were, in Orange County, New York, the leaves were just beginning to pop. As the sun set, the air felt cool and crisp. It was so lovely, and when we got back to the City on Monday and received a generous bag of Macoun apples from one of our neighbors, I knew I wanted to use them to make something that would keep that fall feeling going. An apple dessert would of course be a natural, but seeing as I've been eating more than my share of sweets lately and have a marathon coming up in two weeks, I wanted something a tad healthier. So I went with Cranberry Applesauce, the kind of sweet you can eat for breakfast without suffering a sugar crash around 11AM.

This recipe really is a snap, and the applesauce is nice and tart, with a hot pink color that looks almost as if strawberries or raspberries were involved. I used a quarter-cup of sugar instead of a half, and it came out fine, and instead of using a food mill to puree it (our apartment can only hold so many kitchen appliances), I employed my hand blender, which worked perfectly. I've been snacking on the applesauce by itself, but it would probably be marvelous with pork or turkey, too. Oh, and one more thing: it smells divine!--S

Cranberry Applesauce

Makes about 3 cups

4 apples (about 2 lbs), peeled, cored, and chopped
1 c fresh cranberries, picked over
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c apple juice or water
a 3-in. cinnamon stick
a 3-in. strip of lemon zest removed with a vegetable peeler
2 T unsalted butter

1. In a heavy saucepan cook the apples, the cranberries, the sugar, the apple juice or water, the cinnamon stick, and the zest over moderate heat, stirring, for 15 minutes, or until the apples are very soft.
2. Discard the cinnamon stick and teh zest, force the apple mixture through the medium disk of a food mill into a bowl, and stir in the butter. Serve the applesauce warm or chilled. The applesauce keeps, covered and chilled, for 1 week.

Recipe courtesy of Gourmet

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Glazed Over

I made this Glazed Lemon Bread the other night. I had a feeling it would be good--it's from a cookbook I trust, the ingredients are wholesome and tasty, and, if I'm being honest, it involved using our new stand mixer, which made me happy. And it was good. But the best part--the outsides of the bread, which had been doused in lemon glaze--was really good.

I was worried that the glaze--which you pour over the hot bread, just out of the oven, still in the pan--would be too sweet. After all, it's just lemon juice and sugar, melted down into a concentrated syrup. And, I'll admit it, I have a sweet tooth, so just because the glaze was tasty to me, I feared others might find it cloying.

My fears were laid to rest (or my friends are liars), because two of my friends commented that they loved the bread, and that the glaze was the best part. Maybe everyone has a secret sweet tooth?--S

Glazed Lemon Bread

Serves 8

1 2/3 c all purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
2 t (packed) grated lemon peel
1/2 c whole milk
1/4 c fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pan.
2. Stir flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat 1 cup sugar and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Add grated lemon peel. Mix in dry ingredients alternately with milk. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
3. Bake until tester inserted into center of bread comes out clean, about 1 hour.
4. Meanwhile, combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar and fresh lemon juice in small heavy saucepan and stir over low heat until sugar dissolves.
5. Transfer lemon bread to rack. Gradually spoon lemon glaze over hot bread, adding more as glaze is absorbed. Cool lemon bread completely in pan on rack. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Turn bread out onto rack. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature.)

Recipe courtesy of The Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Family Cornbread

As soon as I ate the first spoonful of Heidi Swanson's Roasted Tomato Soup with Smoked Paprika, I knew I should've made something bready to go with it. Grilled cheese, maybe, or toasty garlic bread. It's not that the soup wasn't enjoyable; with its oven-roasted tomatoes, red bell pepper, onions and garlic, it was warm and comfy, with a little more depth than your typical tomato soup. But it needed a go-with.

Enter my grandfather's cornbread. Mulyatz, we call it--though that's the phonetic spelling, and when I asked Pop how it's really spelled, he wasn't quite sure. Mogliacci? Mogliazi? I'd never made it before, but remembered eating it as a child, when Pop would make it. His favorite way to eat it is alongside escarole and beans (as bread), or cut into small squares and served as a hot or cold appetizer. It's basically cornbread amped up with Italian sausage and Parmesan cheese. And what's not to like about that? Pop told me he got the recipe from his mother, who got it from her mother--and while cornbread and polenta are typically northern Italian specialties (and Pop's family is from Naples), this dish has nevertheless been part of our family repertoire for five generations.

Spoonful of soup, bite of mulyatz--now we're talking. I even broke off a few little bits of mulyatz and dunked them into the soup. Just delicious.--S

Mulyatz (cornbread)

1/2 lb Italian sausage
1 small onion
1-2 T olive oil
2 c yellow cornmeal
1/3 c Parmesan cheese
4 c water
Black pepper and salt

1. Grease 13"x9" baking dish with olive oil.
2. Dissolve cornmeal in 2 c cold water. Stir and set aside.
3. Remove casing from sausage, break up into pieces and saute with olive oil and chopped onions.
4. Bring 2 c water to a boil. Pour in the sausage and onions, then add cornmeal and water mixture. Stir constantly until very thick, then add cheese, pepper and salt.
5. Pour mixture into baking pan, spreading out evenly to about 1/2" thick. Let rest for 1/2 hour.
6. Preheat oven to 425. Rub a bit more olive oil on top of cornbread and bake for 1 hour or until crust forms on top.