Braised Beef and Polenta

It's been a lazy few days around here. Lots of rain, World Series to watch, slight fracture to my foot keeping me close to home... We're midway through Fall and it's beginning to show.

Food-wise, it's one of my favorite times of the year. Soups and stews and casseroles are starting to tell me to cook them. It's almost time to start baking bread in earnest.

If I can't be outside enjoying the weather, I can be inside enjoying the kitchen.

I do like seasonal cooking. My cravings for stews make way for cravings for salads - heavier foods to lighter foods.

I'm really glad I started this Pre-Diabetic Plan back in September - even if I'm not in the official program. This year, I am doing my best to make those heavier foods a bit lighter.

Polenta is a perfect case in point. For years, I have made polenta with whole milk, butter, and cheese. Cook the polenta in the milk, add shredded cheese close to the end, and then a few pats of butter stirred in for even more flavor and creaminess. It's absolutely delicious - and about 530 calories per serving.

For a while now, I've been making it with water, no added cheese, and a tablespoon of butter added at the end. Absolutely delicious - and 225 calories for that generous serving. What I missed by making it as rich as I did, was the actual flavor of the corn.  What a concept! Not saying I'll never make it like that, again, but it won't be for everyday dinner.

Atop the polenta was a really simple braised beef I made with 12 ounces of top round steak, a few mini-peppers, half an onion, a cup of red wine, and a jar of Victor's homemade pasta sauce.

I browned the steak, added the peppers and onion, cooked them a bit, added the wine and reduced it by half, and then added the sauce.

I covered the pan and placed it in a 300°F oven for about 3 hours. I then shredded the meat, stirred everything together, and dinner was served!

Really simple and a great meal for watching the rain fall.


Cold Noodles With Tomato-Peanut Sauce, Pork & Peppers

I was reading the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle - one of four newspapers we subscribe to - and came across a recipe for a cold noodle dish that sounded pretty good. As luck would have it, we had all the ingredients in the house, so I decided to give it a try.

Final result?!? Meh.

It wasn't bad... it just wasn't really good. It was a little too bland. It lacked a punch. Probably the most flavorful part of the dish was one of the chicken meatballs I made the other day.

I used heirloom tomatoes and ground pork. Perhaps a sausage would have helped, but the blandness was in the sauce. I think it needs a bit of help. Some chilis... some ginger... even some nice, salty soy sauce would help.

I really liked the concept, so methinks I'll be trying this one again.

Oh... and a POUND of noodles for 4 people?!? Waaaaaaaaaaaay too much. A standard serving is supposed to be 2 ounces. Even an overly-generous 3 ounces per person would be really filling!

Cold Noodles With Tomato-Peanut Sauce, Pork & Peppers

adapted from the San Francisco Chronicle

Serves 4

  • 1 pound fresh lo mein, udon or dried spaghetti noodles
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for tossing with noodles
  • Diamond Crystal Kosher salt
  • 1 pound ground pork or sausage
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ pound Jimmy Nardello, red bell or other sweet peppers, stemmed and chopped
  • 1¼ cups unsweetened roasted peanuts
  • ¾ pound Early Girl or Roma tomatoes, chopped (about 3 or 4 large)
  • 5 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar or lemon juice (or mix of both)
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro and/or mint, plus more if desired

Instructions: Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling water according to package directions then drain and rinse under cold water, then shake off as much water as possible. Transfer the cool noodles to a large bowl and toss with enough olive oil to coat them. Season with salt and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot and shimmery, add the ground pork, using the back of a spoon or blunt wooden spoon to break the meat into bite-size pieces and crumbles. Cook, tossing and turning every few minutes, until cooked through and you have a mix of crispy browned and tender bits. Season with salt and pepper, then fold in the peppers and cook, tossing and turning until the peppers are softened and tender but still have a fresh pepper taste (taste a piece or two), about 5 minutes. Transfer to a small serving bowl and let cool before serving.

Place ¾ cup of the peanuts, tomatoes, vinegar or lemon juice, garlic, fish sauce and remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil in a blender and blend until smooth. Taste, season with salt, pulse, taste again and season again if needed.

Pour the tomato-peanut sauce into the bowl with the noodles and toss very well to combine. The noodles should look fully coated and there should be some sauce pooling at the bottom of the bowl. If there isn’t, or if the sauce looks too thick, add a few splashes of water at a time, tossing in-between. Season with salt again and taste until it’s sufficiently saucy and delicious.

Chop the remaining ½ cup peanuts. Serve the noodles in bowls with the cooled pork and pepper mix spooned over the top with the chopped herbs and peanuts.





chili burger

Chili Two Ways

I made a pot of chili the other day, thinking chili atop a baked potato was well within our dietary regime. I've been a chili lover since Day One. My mother said that the first solid food I ate as an infant was a chili bean - I was the second child. It seems that I didn't want whatever it was she was feeding me so she gave me a chili bean from what she was eating, figuring I would just spit it out. Not only did I not spit it out, I clamored for more. The rest, as they say, is history.

I don't have a recipe for chili - it's one of those things I just make - and never make the same way twice. This batch was no exception. I had some Chili Con Carne seasoning from Penzey's - spicy flavor but no heat - so I thought I'd start with that. Not bad, but it wasn't a chili base like one of those bags from the grocery store. I added cumin, chipotle powder, oregano, ancho chili powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper...

I soaked the beans overnight and then cooked them for a bit more than an hour. The base was a bit of clean out the refrigerator - bell peppers, onions, half a yellow zucchini, a couple of radishes, garlic cloves, and tomatoes and peppers from the garden all went into the food processor and then into the pot after browning some ground beef with the spices. I let it simmer for a while and then added the mostly-cooked beans to finish in the sauce. And then let it simmer some more.

A cup of chili over half of a baked potato was not a bad dinner!

chili con carne

But wait! There's more!

Tonight, the chili became an open-faced Chili Burger! One roll, split in half, topped with a chipotle mayonnaise - two chipotles in adobo mixed with a couple of tablespoons of mayo - topped with a grilled burger, topped with chili, and then topped with a bit of sour cream. Homemade french fries on the side.

Fun, filling, and oh, so good! Chili, like soups and stews, really does improve with age and this batch aged to perfection!


Chili con Carne

I bought a tri-tip roast on Friday with plans to grill it, today. I knew it wasn't going to be the great summer-like weather we had Friday and Saturday, but - what the hell... we grill all winter long.

What I didn't count on, however, was the totally godawful wet, piercing, bone-chilling wind.

Yesterday, it was in the mid-80s. It was hot. Like July hot. Today, it is cold. January cold.  I just couldn't bring myself to go out there and cook it. I had been out earlier to cook a couple of hot dogs for lunch and seriously considered just leaving them there until May.

Granted, we aren't getting pummeled with snow like the Midwest, but, still... It's April 15th. Our average temperature for April 15th is 66°F. We're a far cry from that right now...

So... the tri-tip was turned into a pot of chili.

I haven't made chili in a while. It was time. And cornbread, too, because I wanted it.

As is customary, I didn't have a recipe and I just winged it with ingredients I had on hand.

I started with lots of onions - chopped and sauteed in bacon grease. I then cut the beef in cubes and then dredged them in corn flour seasoned with chili powder, cumin, and garlic powder. Into the pot to brown.

When it was all getting properly crusty, I stirred in more spices - chipotle powder, smoked paprika, ancho chili powder, Mexican oregano, more cumin... I added a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and brought it to a boil. Then a cup or so of Passata - tomato sauce.

I covered it, lowered the heat, and let it simmer away for a few hours. When the time was right, I added three cans of drained and rinsed black beans. And a bit of S&P.

The result was pretty good, if I do say so, m'self! The meat was tender, the sauce was smoky-hot - but not too smoky hot - and a big dollop of sour cream added the needed respite.

We're supposed to see rain and cold all day tomorrow, as well.

Fortunately, there's enough for lunch!



Orzo and an Egg

Tonight's dinner is brought to you by the fact that I wanted something different.

We have really been in a rut - and the only way to get out of a rut is to just say no. Or something. The rut-ending started with the Sourdough bread. It took three days to get onto the table so I needed something that would compliment it. I was thinking a risotto and while that thought was formulating, I remembered a recipe I had seen about making risotto with orzo. A rut-free dinner was born!

The concept is pretty much identical to making risotto - and pretty much the same ratios of ingredients.

I used:

  • 1 cup orzo
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 cup green beans, sliced small
  • 1 cup cooked beef, diced
  • 1/2 pkg Boursin cheese
  • butter and olive oil
  • 1 egg per person

Saute the vegetables in oil and butter until they begin to soften. Add the orzo and saute until lightly browned.

Add the wine and cook, stirring, until almost fully evaporated. Add the broth, one cup at a time, stirring as you would a risotto.

With the 4th and final cup of broth, add the coked beef and stir everything together.

Turn off heat and let sit about 5 minutes.

Stir in Boursin and check for seasoning.

Serve with a runny fried egg on top.

It really was a fun dinner. It was comforting and familiar, but just different enough to jump-start the rut-removal.

It's snowing outside and I have a lot more sourdough starter, so I think I may play with more bread tomorrow... maybe even a sourdough pizza...

Stay tuned...


Torta di Patate

When I described what I was thinking of making for dinner, tonight, Victor's first comment was You're going to be a force to be reckoned with when you're retired. I think he was making reference to the messes I was going to create, not my culinary abilities, but I'll take it. Some of my kitchen messes truly are legendary  - although his have been getting better since he retired. While it really would be difficult to use every pan in the kitchen - as we have so many - we're both pretty good at using more than two for a meal.

Tonight's meal was brought to us by an email from La Cucina Italiana. The dish was ropes of mashed potatoes coiled in a pan and topped with fresh sardines. And it used more than two pots.

From La Cucina Italiana Magazine


I get regular emails from la Cucina - all in Italian - and have gotten reasonably good at figuring out the gist of what they're trying to say. Google translate is hysterical at translating recipes, but, I kinda get what they're trying to say - being able to cook does help.

I loved the idea of this, but fresh sardines are not all that plentiful out here in 'burbia. Besides, it is Sunday and I didn't feel like leaving the house. I had taken some veal Italian sausage out of the freezer last night, so I thought I could expound on this idea and make a filled torta and use roasted peppers for the topping. The look is really cool and it is all about the visual... And I wanted it to be something Nonna would eat.

The sardine torta is what got the creative juices flowing. As you can see, the dish I came up with is pretty much nothing like the original. It was made in a shallow pan. I made mine in an 8"x3" springform - the one that arrived last week after I made the Tourte Milanese in an 8" cake pan. Do you notice the Italian theme to most of my cooking, nowadays?!?

For my version, I roasted 2 green peppers on the grill and then peeled and seeded them. Next was boiling potatoes. I used a combination of yukon gold and white Jersey sweet potatoes.

Next, I sauteed the sausage with diced onions and a bit of garlic and then set it side to cool. I had an 8oz ball of fresh mozzarella, so I cubed it and mixed it in with the sausage and onions when it was cooled down.

I mashed the potatoes while they were hot and mixed in some shredded Italian cheeses. When they were cool, I added one whole egg and 2 egg yolks, along with some salt and pepper.

I buttered the pan and covered it liberally with bread crumbs.

One the bottom went a layer of potatoes - maybe 1/3" thick. I rolled a rope of potatoes on the counter - lightly floured to keep from sticking - and placed the first rope in the pan along the bottom edge.

I then added the sausage and cheese mixture, mounding it in the center.

I did two more potato ropes, laying strips of roasted green pepper on top. I added a big swirl of potatoes in the middle and then a final rope along the edge because I had the potatoes to do it with. Into a 350°F oven for an hour.


It worked. It really worked. I was most impressed with the fact that it actually held together. Nonna thought it was different - but she cleaned her plate.

The fun thing about dishes like this is you really can do anything with them. You could make it a completely vegetarian filling - broccoli rabe would probably rock - as well as any number of summer squashes... Mix roasted butternut squash with the potatoes...

The possibilities really are limited only by your imagination.

Buon appetito!






One of my more fun cooking styles is clean out the refrigerator. The dish is usually an amalgamation of pieces of this-and-that that are hanging around the 'fridge. Things that are too small for an actual meal and too big or too good to toss - things that just accumulate over time. It's the type of meal that is almost always stellar - and will never be replicated because the odds of having these same items in the 'fridge at the same time are between slim and none.

Tonight's meal started with 2 meaty country pork ribs, a single cooked Italian sausage, a bit of leftover flank steak, a green pepper, an onion, half a basket of mini heirloom tomatoes, and a single ear of corn. Oh. And three pieces of bacon.

I started with the bacon. I chopped it up and let it start to brown. Into the pan went the onion - the smell of bacon and onion cooking together is almost olfactory overload - and after browning everything nicely, I added the ribs.

After went the tomatoes, the green pepper, the corn, the sausage and the flank steak - and then a cup of white wine, salt, pepper, and a great spice blend my friend, Tyler, brought back from Florida - Old St Augustine Minorcan Spice. It's a blend of Datil peppers, Seville oranges, garlic, onion... Not too spicy and with a nice hint of orange.

Good stuff.

I covered the pot and placed it in a 300° oven for a couple of hours. It's cold and damp outside - it was nice having the oven on...

I pulled it out of the oven, shredded the pork and tossed the bones, and then added about a cup of beef broth and a half-cup of rice, mixed it all together, and put it back in the oven for another hour. Covered.

The end result was a rich, meaty rice dish with tons of flavor.

Nonna asked if she could have it for lunch, tomorrow. It was definitely a hit!

And there's more Strawberry Pie for dessert.

Life is good!

Getting Ready For Vacation

Chicken breasts grilled and then stuffed with spicy salsa, avocado, and covered with jalapeno jack cheese

It's time to get things cleaned up around here before we take off on Friday. I have a lot of meals I never posted or talked about. It seems there just aren't enough hours in the day, sometimes - but in just a few days, that is going to change...

Vacation... Sicily... Two glorious weeks with nothing to do but decide whether to slip into the pool or drive down the hill and dip into the Mediterranean.  La Dolce Vita...

I'm pretty psyched about this. We've never been to Sicily, we're going with my big brother and baby sister, and we've rented a 4br villa with a pool in Modica - the unspoiled southeastern corner of Sicily. Dinner will be waiting for us when we arrive - along with 20 liters of local wine. The villa comes with an organic garden, also. I seriously cannot wait.

Veal Marsala - can't wait to get real Marsala IN Marsala
Veal Marsala - can't wait to get real Marsala IN Marsala!

I really have no idea what we're going to do once we get there. My only really need to is to see Mt Etna. It's a pretty awesome deal. There are a few want-tos, as well... Marsala, chocolate - Modica is a chocolate-lovers dream - and a couple of pieces of pottery. And some swimming-in-the-Mediterranean-time. Otherwise, it's 2 weeks of whatever.

Flank steak and peas with pancetta.

I really was psyched to learn about Modica's chocolate - cold-ground just as the Aztecs did a millennium or so, ago. Part of the whatever-time will be exploring our town and sampling as much chocolate as I can. I'll need to sample a lot so I can write about it. Right?!?

Chicken and sausage risotto with carrots.
Chicken and sausage risotto with carrots.

And a few pieces of pottery... We need a salt bowl and a pepper bowl for next to the stove. All of my salting and peppering is done with my fingers. It's just the best way to do it and we have two small Ikea bowls that need replacing. Well... they only need replacing because we're going somewhere that is bound to have something worth replacing them with.

Caribbean-spiced chicken skewers with coconut rice and pineapple.

I'd also like to get a new cake plate. And add a wing onto the kitchen to hold everything.

And eat. Fresh seafood. Little places off the beaten track. And I want to grocery shop and do a bit of cooking, m'self. Two weeks without thinking about time.

La dolce vita, indeed!

Ravioli with Butternut Squash



A butternut squash is the gift that keeps on giving.

You get a lot of bang for your buck with a butternut squash - and with only three of us in the house, one squash is more than one meal. I used half of one for the gratin on Friday and had another half staring at me in the 'fridge when I opened it to start dinner.

The dinner plan was cheese ravioli with Italian sausage and some sauce pulled out of the freezer - a typical 20-minute meal for a Saturday. Without thinking, my hand grabbed the squash. I peeled it and cubed it - and into the sauce it went.

I covered the pot and let it simmer while cooking the sausage under the broiler. I would have grilled them but the grill area is the holding place for our new doors!  Sharpe Builders is creating and installing a brand-new 8' x 16' front window, new doors, crown molding, and insulation in our 1950 rancher. Stellar work and custom quality beyond reproach. I'll post the final results when they're done!

But I digress...

Under the broiler for the sausages, and then into the sauce to simmer a bit more.

I judge my food successes by how much Nonna leaves on her plate. She licked this one clean!

The squash added body and a mellow sweetness to the sauce and it all played perfectly against a plain cheese ravioli. At the same time, I think it would work well with a stronger pasta - like a pesto tortellini or even a gorgonzola pasta. It just worked.

Or maybe a baked pasta dish...




Tortellini and Broccoli Rabe




I headed down to my favorite almost-local produce store - Gentile's Market - yesterday, and came back with several bags of garden goodies. With lots of local produce, as well as national and international products, you really can't beat their prices and selection. I used to drive down there weekly back when we first moved back here, but over the years, I've slowed the trips. It's only about a 20 minute drive but somehow, I don't make the effort, as much.

I'm glad I did, yesterday, though!

I had a bunch of broccoli rabe that I wanted to use, as well as a bunch of exotic mushrooms. What I needed to do, however, was figure out how to get Nonna to eat them - she's not big on the leafy greens. The solution was to make cheese tortellini and a quick fresh tomato sauce, along with some Italian sausage. Nonna got tortellini, sauce, and sausage, and we got the whole shebang!

Everybody was happy!

I did a quick blanch of the broccoli rabe and merely added a pinch of salt and pepper. I will often go crazy with broccoli rabe and add everything from anchovies to raisins, garlic, onions, pine nuts or pistachios. Tonight, I did nothing, at all, because I knew I was going to top it with fresh tomato sauce. It didn't need any competition.

I did the quick sauce and cooked a few sausages in the sauce as it simmered.

Onto the plate went the broccoli rabe, topped with a few tortellini, and then sauce and a sausage.

It really was good. The sweetness of the tomatoes played well with the bitterness of the broccoli rabe - and cheesy tortellini goes with everything.

We had a couple of thick slices of Sunday's Multi-Grain bread, and later will be slices of the Frog Commissary Sour Cream Apple Pie from yesterday.

Tomorrow, I need to figure out something with leeks...




Stuffed Peppers


It's supposed to start snowing in a few hours. Oh joy. Oh rapture.

This really has been the winter that keeps on giving. It feels like January outside. I can smell the approaching snow. I'm totally over it.

But it doesn't do a damned bit of good complaining about the weather - so into the kitchen I went.

Just as this is the winter that keeps on giving, we're using up the last of the pasta sauce that keeps on giving. I used it for ravioli, Victor used it for his double-sauced pasta, and we've had a couple of lunches along the way. A minimal amount of time in the kitchen - once - has resulted in a lot of time-saving meals. And no sugar-laden jarred sauces to deal with.

I really don't care how good the sauce is, whether it's organic or all-natural, or what. I don't buy jarred sauce. I often say that an organic pop tart is still a nutritionally-unsound pop tart. I feel the same way about sauce out of a jar.

So... off the soap-box and back in the kitchen...

Tonight was stuffed peppers. I made a filling of a bit of ground beef, Italian sausages that had been cooked in the aforementioned sauce, cooked whole-grain brown rice, salt, pepper, garlic, Greek oregano, and an egg to bind. They went into the oven - covered - for about 35 minutes at 350° and then I topped them with breadcrumbs mixed with granna padano, garlic, and a pinch of S&P, and then back in for another 10 minutes.

Victor made a tomato salad with green beans and a simple vinaigrette.



I noticed that Nonna was attacking the filling but leaving the pepper. It seems she likes green peppers over red peppers. That's an easy fix for next time.

Cheesecake in the 'fridge for dessert.

Bring on the snow.

Stuffed Cabbage

I have mentioned on more than one occasion that Victor is not a fan of cooked cabbage, so imagine my surprise when he told me he was making me Stuffed Cabbage for dinner tonight!  He said it was his thank you for my painting the bathroom while he was in Dallas.

I really do enjoy coming up with little projects when he travels - especially since he really doesn't travel all that much - but to be treated with a dish he normally wouldn't go near is above  and beyond the call of marriage.  That, boys and girls, is love!

The recipe he found was from The Barefoot Contessa.  Ina is a fun cook and we can usually count on liking what she does.  This recipe really had it all - a sweet-and-savory perfectly-balanced sauce of tomatoes, red wine vinegar, brown sugar, and raisins with a mildly-seasoned beef and rice filling.  Victor's addition was a bit of red pepper flakes to add a bit of heat.

Stuffed Cabbage

Ina Garten


  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes and their juice
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large head Savoy or green cabbage, including outer leaves

For the filling:

  • 2 1/2 pounds ground chuck
  • 3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onions
  • 1/2 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup uncooked white rice
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onions, and cook over medium-low heat for 8 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, brown sugar, raisins, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Remove the entire core of the cabbage with a paring knife. Immerse the head of cabbage in the boiling water for a few minutes, peeling off each leaf with tongs as soon as it s flexible. Set the leaves aside. Depending on the size of each leaf, you will need at least 14 leaves.

For the filling, in a large bowl, combine the ground chuck, eggs, onion, breadcrumbs, rice, thyme, salt, and pepper. Add 1 cup of the sauce to the meat mixture and mix lightly with a fork.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To assemble, place 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Remove the hard triangular rib from the base of each cabbage leaf with a small paring knife. Place 1/3 to 1/2 cup of filling in an oval shape near the rib edge of each leaf and roll up toward the outer edge, tucking the sides in as you roll. Place half the cabbage rolls, seam sides down, over the sauce. Add more sauce and more cabbage rolls alternately until you ve placed all the cabbage rolls in the pot. Pour the remaining sauce over the cabbage rolls. Cover the dish tightly with the lid and bake for 1 hour or until the meat is cooked and the rice is tender. Serve hot.

It was just the perfect meal.  I ate two of them and then sopped up every last drop of sauce with a slice of rustic Italian bread.  I could have easily been sated with one, but it was so good I had to go for it.

Just delish.

But as good as it was, what was even more fun was watching Victor eat it and actually enjoy it!

Will wonders ever cease?  We certainly hope not!