Saturday, February 28, 2009

An unexpected detour

I wasn't going to post about pizza again for a while but after my confident claim that pizza dough was quite forgiving, I feel I must come clean.
Friday night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington on Turner Classic Movies, pizza... sounds like a good night to me and then I try to roll out the dough.
Uh oh.
This dough is not cooperating.
Mind you, this is exactly the same dough recipe I used for my last pie so I was unprepared. The only difference was, this time I made the dough ahead of time and put it in the refrigerator.
Maybe I didn't let it warm up enough on the counter before trying to roll it out but, this was a disaster. Every time I tried to stretch the dough to fit the pan it ripped.
Oh, spit! What to do, what to do? It was too late to scrap the dough and start again. Dominoes delivery does not extend to our neighborhood. I had to make do with what I had. Thin crust is now definitely out of the question so I decided to go with a deep dish pizza instead.
I pressed the dough into the pan and crossed my fingers.
I lined the crust as usual with provolone and topped it with some Italian sausage and red pepper pasta sauce we had on Bow Ties earlier in the week. I put it in the oven at 475 for 10 minutes and checked ... not long enough back in the oven again for another 20 minutes.
At this point, the dough was looking pretty good and was done enough for me to be able to coax it out of the pan and onto the oven rack, topped with a couple of handfuls of shredded whole milk mozzarella. Ten minutes later I slid it out of the oven and onto a rack to cool and hoped for the best.
According to William it was the best deep dish pizza he's ever eaten. (He's been trained to say this.) But, darned if it didn't turn out much better than I dared hope.
There are two morals to this story. The first one is never say something is failproof. The second is, be flexible and work with what you've got. You may not end up with exactly what you had planned, but you just might end up with something even better.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chicken Enchiladas Verde

I love the thought of cooking with vegetables fresh from my own backyard. I have a thriving container garden of all kinds of herbs on the patio, but the most I have gleaned from my vegetable patch is six okra pods, two or three jalapenos, a couple of cherry tomatoes and a wizened little green pepper.

I think I'll try again this year and actually do some weeding and water it every once in a while and see if that helps.

When we lived in Tarpon Springs I had a great garden in raised beds and grew a bumper crop of tomatillos. Too bad I didn't know what to do with them at the time. If you have never used them, tomatillos resemble small green tomatoes in a papery husk and look a little like the Chinese Lantern plants our neighbor, Mrs. Berry, grew when I was a little kid. Their taste is slightly tart and citrusy and are used in Mexican cooking for salsas and sauces. Paired with chicken, they make fantastic enchiladas.
When you buy them, the fruits should be firm and bright green and the husks should peel off easily.


Salsa Verde:

12 tomatillos, husked and rinsed (about 2 pounds)

2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed

1 onion, quartered

Splash white vinegar

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
2 limes, juiced


For the chicken:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)

4 cups of water

leaves from 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

12 ounces queso fresco, crumbled

1/2 tsp garlic powder

salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sour cream sauce:

2 cups of the reserved poaching liquid
3 Tbs butter

1 chicken bullion cube

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 pint (16 ounces) sour cream

Additional ingredients:

8 large flour Tortillas

1 to 2 cups of jalapeno jack cheese, shredded


To make the salsa:
Put the tomatillos, jalapenos, and onion in a saucepan with the vinegar and water to cover.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and poach until the tomatillos are soft, about 10 minutes.

Drain and then put the vegetables in a food processor, add the cumin, and puree.

Add the cilantro, lime juice, and salt and pulse to combine. Set aside.

For the chicken:

Place chicken breasts in a pot that's just about large enough to fit them in one layer.

Add the water, it should completely cover the chicken by at least a half inch to an inch.

Bring the liquid to a boil, the reduce the heat to a bare simmer so that only an occasional bubble breaks the surface. Partially cover the pot. Cook for about 10 minutes, then turn off the heat, and let the chicken finish cooking in the hot water for 10-15 more minutes.

Remove chicken and let it cool then chop coarsely with a knife (you can use a food processor, but if you over process the chicken, you will end up with chicken paste).
Toss the chicken with the chopped cilantro and the garlic powder. Add salt and pepper, to taste
For the sour cream sauce:

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and ground cumin and cook, stirring, 1 more minute.

Gradually pour in 2 cups of the reserved poaching liquid with the bullion cube added.
Stir constantly until it comes to a a simmer. Continue stirring until the mixture thickens enough to coat your spoon. I use a whisk for this... it makes it easier to keep the sauce smooth. Remove from the heat and let it sit for about five minutes then whisk in the sour cream.
Fold about 1/2 to 1 cup of the sour cream sauce into the chicken mixture to bind the chicken. Reserve the rest for topping the enchiladas.

To assemble the dish:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease a large baking dish. Dip a tortilla into the tomatillo salsa and put it on a large plate or cookie sheet. Put a big scoop of the chicken mixture in the center and roll the tortilla like a cigar to enclose the filling. Continue to fill all of the tortillas and put them in the baking dish.
Pour the remaining tomatillo salsa over the top and then the remaining sour cream sauce. Sprinkle with 1 cup of pepper jack cheese, if desired. Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes until bubbly and cracked on top.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I'm working on it.

I have photos and recipes and am in the process of posting: (my addiction to Freecell keeps getting in the way - is there some sort of 10 step program for this, I wonder...)

Chicken fricasee with glazed carrots.

Bow tie pasta with Italian sausage and red peppers.

Chicken enchiladas with a sour cream and tomatillo sauce.

Fried chicken and macaroni and cheese.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hold the Cheese Whiz

A word of advice: If you ever get the opportunity to go to Pennsylvania and have an authentic Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich you must say it is the best one you have ever eaten or the person who took you to the restaurant will be highly insulted.

When I was visiting Emily in New Jersey last year we spent a weekend at Ryan and Kelly's beautiful house on the Delaware River in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. On the way back from a grocery run, Kelly stopped at a quirky old place near Kintnersville to treat me to a real Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich. After we ate, I asked Emily how she thought the cheese steaks compared to the ones I make at home and she said they were good, but not as good as mine and things got a little tense with Kelly saying mine were not authentic and me saying I didn't ask which was more authentic but which one tasted better. The atmosphere was chilly all the way back to the house.

They take their cheese steak seriously folks.

There are whole websites devoted to debating whether the best can be found at Pat's or Geno's, Cheese whiz or provolone, rib eye or sirloin. Chopped or sliced.

A couple of times I've gone a little crazy and made them from tenderloin I had in the freezer. Last night, I made them from sirloin they have on sale at my favorite Mexican supermarket for $2.99 a pound.

Usually getting steak there is problematic because they tend to slice them all really, really thin, but for the purposes of cheese steak, this is exactly how you want them. It probably wasn't necessary but, to get the right texture for a sandwich, I gave the steaks a few good whacks with my meat mallet before cutting them into the finest strips I could without removing the tips of my fingers. Then I marinated them for several hours in the refrigerator in a couple of capfuls of

Dale's seasoning and some black pepper.

Cheese steak sandwiches

2 lbs thin sliced sirloin steak

1 or 2 Tbs of Dales Seasoning

black pepper to taste

2 green peppers cut into 2 inch strips

1 large onion cut into 2 inch slices

2 Tbs vegetable oil

8 ounces of sliced cheese. I prefer provolone but you can substitute American or cheddar or even Cheese Whiz (as long as you don't tell me)

sub rolls or one big 18" to 20" loaf of Cuban or Puerto Rican bread


Pound the meat with a meat mallet to tenderize it then slice it into very thin strips.

Put the meat in a bowl with the Dale's and sprinkle with pepper and marinate in the refrigerator while you chop the onions and peppers or for up to a couple of hours until you are ready to eat.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or electric skillet and saute the onions and peppers until they are limp. If your pan is large enough, you can saute the meat at the same time. If not, remove the onions and peppers and fry the beef strips until they are just cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Slice the bread lengthwise and pile on the meat. Liberally sprinkle peppers and onions on top of the meat then cover with sliced cheese. Cut in to halves or quarters and microwave for about a minute to melt the cheese.

To go with them I made a batch of macaroni salad.

Our Favorite Macaroni Salad

8 ounces of elbow macaroni

1 cup of mayonnaise (I use Hellmann's - William would say Dukes - north is north and south is south and never the twain shall meet)

2 Tbs apple cider vinegar

1 Tbs spicy brown mustard

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

6 hard boiled eggs, chopped

1 cup diced celery

1 cup diced green pepper

1/3 cup of chopped onion


Cook the macaroni in a pot of boiling salted water for about 10 minutes or until done. Drain and rinse in cold water to cool.

While the macaroni is cooking (or while it is cooling) mix together the mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, salt, sugar and pepper. Add the chopped vegetables, egg and macaroni and toss with a couple of spoons until the macaroni is coated in the dressing. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to chill.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Quick and easy carbonara

Most of the meals and recipes I have posted are time consuming to prepare.

Carbonara not only tastes really good, it's quick to fix.

This is one of those emergency meals you can fall back on in a pinch if you remember to keep bacon in the freezer, pasta and evaporated milk in the cupboard and butter, eggs and parmesan cheese in the refrigerator.
TV chefs always warn against using the pre-grated parmesan cheese in a can but it's truly not that bad and it keeps for quite a while on your shelf.

Another thing that makes this dish so appealing is that you can tailor it to fit your diet.

Trying to cut down on calories? Use less bacon or turkey bacon; less butter, skim milk instead of cream and two whole eggs instead of all egg yolks. When you want to splurge, use the whole pound of bacon, a stick of butter, heavy cream, all egg yolks and more cheese.

There is a slight difference in taste between the two versions but both are good. I compromise by using evaporated milk instead of cream and four tablespoons of butter instead of eight.

I happened to use rigatoni last night but fettuccini, spaghetti, ziti or farfalle work just as well.

Carbonara, my version


1 pound of thick sliced bacon

2 cups of evaporated milk

1 whole egg plus two egg yolks

1 cup of grated parmesan cheese, divided

4 Tbs butter

1 pound of pasta



1/8 tsp garlic powder


Cook the bacon until crisp then blot with paper towels to remove as much grease as possible.
Break or chop into small pieces and set aside.

Beat the egg and egg yolks into the milk and then add salt and pepper to taste and the garlic powder. Stir in 3/4 cups of grated cheese.

Melt the butter in a large pan.

Cook the pasta for about 10 to 12 minutes until it is done but not mushy.

When the pasta is done, drain it quickly then put it in the pot with the melted butter and pour in the milk, eggs, cheese and spices.

Turn up the heat and stir constantly until the sauce thickens and coats the pasta. Remove the pan from the heat as soon as the sauce has thickened to your liking and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese.

Add a green salad and some bread sticks and you're all set.

In his book, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian, Jeff Smith offers this version of a lighter carbonara:


1Tbs olive oil

3 Tbs butter

3/4 cup of milk
1/4 cup of sliced and chopped prosciutto
1Tbs white wine vinegar
1/2 pound dry penne pasta
2 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste


Bring a kettle of water to boil for the pasta adding a bit of salt.

Heat a 1-quart saucepan and simmer the oil, butter, milk and prosciutto. Then add the vinegar and continue to simmer for about 5 more minutes.

While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta al dente, drain, and place in a mixing bowl.

If the sauce has cooled during the cooking of the pasta, quickly reheat it.

Add the sauce, the beaten egg yolks and cheese to the pasta. Quickly toss the mixture and check for salt and pepper.

Garnish with additional cheese.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Labor of Love

William and I had a debate over the title to the post about our Valentine's Day meal. He suggested "Food Court," I liked "Courting food" the one I used was the most appropriate. Separately, all of these recipes are pretty easy to make. Trying to make them all at once on one day was a little bit of effort.

Hang on to your hat, this is going to be a long one.
The menu consisted of baked chicken, a gratin of potatoes and Swiss cheese, oven-roasted asparagus, homemade dinner rolls and blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream.
We had errands to run so I didn't get started on any of this until around two in the afternoon. If anybody decides to recreate this menu in its entirety, I suggest starting in the morning and making the dough for the pie crusts and the rolls and then you won't feel like a one-armed paper hanger trying to put it all together.

Blueberry Pie

Crust: makes enough for a 9-inch deep dish double-crust pie -
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup Crisco all-vegetable shortening
7 to 8 tablespoons cold water

Filling :
6 cups fresh or frozen blueberries. If using fresh, lightly rinse and dry them.

1 cup plus 1 Tbs sugar

1/ cup cornstarch

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp finely grated lemon rind

1 tsp vanilla

1 large egg white lightly beaten with 1 Tbs water

HINT: keep the crust cold before rolling it out; brush the bottom of the pie with egg white before filling to prevent it from getting soggy and to get the filling to the right consistency, use about 1/4 cup of cornstarch for each six cups of berries.

Mix the flour and salt together in large mixing bowl. Scatter spoonfuls of the vegetable shortening in the the bowl and work with a pastry cutter until the shortening and flour are combined and look like pea-sized crumbles.

Divide the dough in half; form into 2 thick disks, and cover with plastic wrap. Chill for a least 1 hour.

Remove 1 disk of dough from the refrigerator. Unwrap and roll it out 1/8" thick on a lightly floured surface to fit a 9-inch pie plate.

Press it into the bottom and sides of the pie plate; trim the dough, leaving a 1" overhang.

Chill the pie shell until ready to use. Roll out the second disk of dough to make the top crust, then fold it into quarters and place on a plate; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the blueberries with 1 cup sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, lemon zest and vanilla.

Remove the prepared pie shell from the refrigerator. Brush the bottom and sides with the egg-white mixture to prevent sogginess.

Spoon the blueberry mixture into the pie shell. Remove the top crust from the refrigerator and unfold it over the filling. Trim the overhang to 1".

Moisten the edges where they meet, then press them together lightly and turn under. Crimp the edge decoratively. Cut several decorative slashes in the crust (to allow steam to escape), then brush lightly all over with water; sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar.

Bake the pie in lower third of the oven until the filling is bubbly and crust is golden brown, 1 hour to 1 1/4 hours. Cool on a rack before serving warm or at room temperature. Serves 6 to 8

Since I am not the Food Network test kitchen I did not make this recipe 15 times until I had the perfect pie to whip from the oven and photograph. The pie was very good, but if I make it again I will make an aluminum collar for the outer edge of the crust to prevent it from getting too brown.

I almost fainted when I checked on my pie 10 minutes before it was supposed to come out of the oven and saw how dark the outside crust was. I got the pie out of the oven and, belatedly, put strips of aluminum foil around the edges to keep them from getting darker while the middle of the pie finished cooking. It would have been a lot easier to do this at the beginning while the pie was cool and removed the foil near the end of the baking time than it was trying to mold foil over burning hot crust.

Next up:

Classic Dinner Rolls
Yield: 1 1/2 to 2 dozen rolls.

4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 envelopes (1/2 ounce or 4 1/2 tsp) Fleischmann's Active Dry or RapidRise Yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons salt3/4 cup very warm milk (120 to 130 F)

1/2 cup very warm water (120 to 130 F)

1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened

2 eggs

Poppy Seed or Sesame Seed, optional

In large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, undissolved yeast, and salt.
Gradually add warm milk, warm water, and butter; beat 2 minutes at medium speed of electric mixer, scraping bowl occasionally.

Add 1 egg and 1/2 cup flour; beat 2 minutes at high speed. With spoon, stir in enough remaining flour to make soft dough. Grease top; cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 to 24 hours.
Remove from refrigerator. Punch dough down. Remove dough to lightly floured surface. Shape as desired. Place rolls, about 2 inches apart, on greased baking sheets (or in other pans as directed). Cover; let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 20 to 40 minutes.
Beat remaining egg; brush on rolls. If desired, sprinkle with poppy or sesame seed. Bake at 375 F for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from sheets or pans; let cool on wire racks.
PAN ROLLS: Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Cut each piece into 12 equal sections and roll them into a ball. Place 12 balls in each of 2 greased 8-inch round baking pans. This dough keeps well in the refrigerator for 24 hours so you can use half the dough one day and make a fresh pan of rolls again the next day with the half you have reserved.

Gratin Dauphinois

(Scalloped Potatoes with Milk, Cheese and Garlic)

I think this is the best potato dish ever. It's easy to make, you can use any kind of cheese you like (Swiss is traditional) and it is really hard to screw up. If you can find the Gruyere, buy it and hang the expense.


7 tablespoons butter, divided

2 pounds Russet potatoes, thinly sliced

1 large peeled garlic clove

3/4 to 1 cup shredded Gruyère or Swiss cheese


black pepper

1 to 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk


Preheat oven to 425F.

Slice the potatoes as thin as you can. I use a mandolin - it's quick and easy and cuts all of the potatoes to a uniform thickness.

Rub the peeled garlic clove all over an 11-by-7-inch baking dish or gratin dish then throw the garlic away. When I first read to do this in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I thought it was a mistake, but doing this instead of adding minced garlic to the potatoes adds a subtle hint of flavor without overwhelming the potatoes and the cheese.

Grease the pan with 1 tablespoon of the butter.

Arrange half the potatoes in dish, sprinkle with half the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Dot with half of the butter.

Repeat layers. then pour the milk over the potato layers and bake for 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender, milk is absorbed and top is browned.

I used to hate asparagus. For some reason my mother always seemed to buy the great big stalks and would steam or boil them until they were mushy and, in my opinion, tasted really nasty. I don't know what possessed me to try them again - probably saw The Barefoot Contessa make them on TV - but now I think they are divine.

Choose thin, firm, bright green stalks with tight caps that are a slightly darker green.

When you get them home, cut a good bit of the ends off - they can be dry and stringy, and store them standing in water in the refrigerator until you are ready to roast them.

Oven Roasted Asparagus

1 or two bunches of fresh asparagus

2 to 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil



Lay the asparagus in a roasting pan. Sprinkle with the oil, salt and pepper and toss to coat them.

Roast in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes or until the stalks are slightly browned and tender.

My Mom's Baked Chicken

Whenever I smell this baking in the oven I expect to see my mother in the kitchen, her neck crooked to hold the black telephone receiver to her ear and both hands busy mashing a big pot of boiled potatoes. It is a simple recipe and the drippings make excellent gravy.

I used a six-pound roasting chicken but the method is the same no matter what size chicken you use.

Put the chicken in a bag with about a half a cup of flour. Shake it up until the whole chicken is powdered. Place in a roasting pan, on or off a rack, your choice, and dot with butter. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and Bell's Poultry Seasoning (or a combination of ground sage and thyme).

Bake at 350, basting occasionally with the pan juices until the chicken is done. You can use a meat thermometer if you want, but I like my chicken well done and I take it out of the oven and wiggle one of the legs. If it feels like it is going to pull right off, it's done.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Aerosol pancakes!
File this under "now I've seen it all."
If you can't make pancake batter, stay out of the kitchen....