Not Your Normal Nachos

I had planned to do something with a couple of pork chops tonight.  On the grill, whatever.  I didn't give it a lot of thought when I pulled them out of the freezer this morning.

Everything changed, however, when I got home and found a present from our friend Luigi - a bottle of Gates Kansas City BBQ Sauce! No way could I grill chops tonight.  I have Gates Kansas City BBQ Sauce!  I need to plan using this.  The chops went back into the 'fridge.  I needed another plan tonight.


Mexican is my go-to style of cooking when I don't know what I'm going to cook.  I was thinking tacos of some sort - I had the necessary stuff to pull it off.  Victor came in and said something about Nachos.  The mind started creating...

Our tastes are remarkably similar, but when it comes to tortillas, Victor is more of a flour tortilla kinda guy and I'm definitely of the corn persuasion. I like fried and crunchy, he's more soft.

So... how to combine two different tastes into one dish?!?  Fry up some corn tortilla wedges and bake some flour tortilla wedges.  Pile one type on half the plate, pile the other type on the other half of the plate.


The filling (or is it topping?) was strictly clean-out-the-refrigerator.  I fried up some ground beef with an onion and then added some sofrito sauce and a bit of chipotle powder.  I heated up the leftover polenta from the other night.  Tamales are made with corn meal.  Polenta is corn meal.  'Nuff said.

Fresh corn.  I cut the kernels off an ear.  Pinto beans.  And those fried peppers from the other day.  Lots of them.  And some of the cucumber salad from last night.  Diced tomatoes.  Cheese.

It was one of those dishes that just screamed YUM!

It was messy to eat and every bite was slightly different.  Each chip had a slightly different combination of filling.  It was a lot of fun.  It would make a great communal party dish.

Fun food.

And speaking of fun food.....

I'm thinking a mixed grill of sorts tomorrow.  I have pork chops and pork ribs.  Maybe some steak tips, as well.  Corn on the cob and a salad.

I can't wait!

Substantial Scampi

Victor comes through, again.

I pulled a bag of shrimp out of the freezer this morning, thinking I'd do a bit of a pasta and vegetable dish with it.  Substantial Scampi.  Just a simple this-'n-that dish.

Victor had the same idea - what a surprise, there - and when I got home, said he would take care of dinner.

No need to ever say that to me twice.  I love to cook, but when someone else is cooking, I'm eating.  I know how to vacate a kitchen. Fast.  Before second thoughts can take root.

I was outta there.

Dinner was brilliant in its simplicity... shrimp quickly sauteed in a bit of olive oil and lemon dill butter.  He then added an orange bell pepper, garlic, peas, fresh herbs from the garden, sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes, some shredded parmesan cheese, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.

He then added the cooked mini cheese ravioli, added a bit more cheese, and dinner was served!

He also baked off the last of the no-knead bread dough in the 'fridge.

Shrimp and pasta with warm homemade bread.  Creamy, rich, flavorful, and just what I wanted.

I'm spoiled.

And I love it!

Scrumptious Salads and Fear of Food

Friday weigh-in.  Lost another pound.

I keep thinking that if I was reasonably serious about this, I could actually lose some serious weight.  But, on the other hand, by not really trying to lose a lot of weight - and definitely not dieting - the pounds are actually dropping a bit.  I really do know how easy it is to gain weight.  I could very easily walk into a 12-step program and say "Hello, my name is Tim.  I'm a foodaholic."

I love food.  I love to eat.  I love all types of food, all areas, regions, nationalities, and cuisines.  The absolute perfect vacation for me would be to spend 2 weeks in a place - a villa in Sicily, a flat in Paris, or something in the south of France... Someplace with a reasonably-equipped kitchen, a view, and a marketplace within walking distance.  I could cook and eat for two weeks and never feel the need to "go out and do something".  Hello, my name is Tim.  I'm a foodaholic.

And because I love food so much, I just don't understand how so many people can be afraid of it.  And so ignorant of it.  All day long I overhear conversations from people who "won't eat this because it has carbs in it" or zero in on the 6 grams of fat per serving and completely disregard the 20 grams of protein and other nutrients.

Or won't buy potato chips (1oz =  150 kcal, 10gr fat - 1gr sat, 180mg sodium, 15gr carbs, and 2 gr protein) but pick up bags and bags of "Veggie Chips" (1oz = 150 kcal, 9 gr fat - 2gr sat, 100mg sodium, 16gr carbs, and 1gr protein).  I don't buy a lot of potato chips because I know that while they are really crunchy/salty/good, they're also high in calories.  I can polish off a bag pretty easy.  I don't buy them often.  But I also don't try and fool myself that I can have my junk craving by buying "veggie chips".

Of course, my favorite is the evil of all evils - butter.

You know... butter.  Ingredients:  Sweet cream.

1 tbsp = 100 calories, 11gr fat - 6gr sat, 0gr sodium, 0gr carbs, 0gr protein.

Instead, it's some sort of oil-stuff made to semi-resemble butter.  With all sorts of stuff in it.  "Leading Brand" Ingredients: Natural Oil Blend (Palm Fruit, Soybean, Canola Seed, and Olive Oils) Water, contains Less than 2% of Salt, Whey, Vegetable Monoglycerides and Sorbitan Ester of Fatty Acids (Emulsifiers) Soybean Lecithin, Potassium Sorbate, Lactic Acid (to Protect Freshness) Natural and Artificial Flavor, Calcium Disodium EDTA, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Vitamin E (DL-a-Tocopheryl Acetate) Beta-Carotene Color.

1 tbsp = 80 calories, 9gr fat - 3gr sat, 90mg sodium, 0gr carbs, 0gr protein.

Why would I want to eat something like that?  What on earth is Sorbitan Ester of Fatty Acids?  Oh. Here we go... Sorbitan esters of fatty acid is called sorbitan ester, which is produced by esterification of sorbitol and fatty acid. It is a mixture of sorbitol ester and sorbide ester, which are simultaneously produced as well as sorbitan ester.

In my phony butter spread stuff.  Because Sorbitan Ester of Fatty Acids is better for my body that sweet cream?!?

I don't think so.

I'm not trying to fool myself here, either.  I know what butter is and what it does.  Too much of it - or of just about anything for that matter - is not going to be a good thing.  It's just a matter of knowing what it is you're eating and knowing that too much of even a good thing is not always a good thing.  But real, fresh ingredients will always be better than something that came out of a chemistry class.  Our bodies were designed to eat and process food - not stuff that has been engineered and re-engineered to look like food.  Do you find it a mere  coincidence that as a nation, we have gotten fatter and fatter with the introduction of more and more "light", "lite", and "diet" foods?!?

I don't.

I did put some butter on our homemade whole wheat garlic, fresh herb, and cheese bread tonight.  Not a lot.  It didn't need a lot.

The bread dough was the no-knead to which I added some chopped fresh herbs and garlic, along with a tiny bit of grated cheese I had left over in the 'fridge.

The salads were mixed greens, heirloom cherry tomatoes, zucchini, diced plums, and a bit of cauliflower with a balsamic vinaigrette Victor whipped up.  Topped with half of a thick-sliced grilled boneless pork chop.

Real food.  Stuff my body recognizes as food and knows how to process.

And speaking of real food...

It's time for dessert.

A Raspberry Scrippelle.


We don't get a leftover backlog very often, because when we have them, Victor usually eats them for lunch.   Alas, he's been looking to lose that elusive 10 pounds and has been eating a bit lighter... cottage cheese and fruit and that sort of fun summer stuff.  Great for him, but hell on my dinner planning.  I mean, there's just no way I can continue to make new stuff if there's old stuff backing up in the 'fridge.

So...  those pork chops are on hold for one more night.  Tonight was a revisit with the Mexican Spaghetti Pie and a nice salad.  It's great to see those tupperware containers get emptied out.

Part of the salad was leftovers, also - the last of the Corn and Barley salad from Sunday. The rest of the salad was random odds and ends from the vegetable bin.  It's getting a good clean-out, as well.

And really, this is what cooking is all about.  Taking stock of what you have and making a good meal out of it.  It's not that difficult to grab a recipe, go to the store and buy the exact ingredients you need, and come home and make it.  It's also not that difficult to open the 'fridge and create something with the odds and ends already in the house.  My thought process has always been the worst thing that can happen is I throw it all out and call for pizza.

Well...  while I do admit there have been a few things I probably won't make again, I've never had to call for pizza.

And dessert is a bit of a leftover, as well.  Fruit Cobbler Victor made last night.

It was great...  Cinnamon biscuits atop peaches, pears, blueberries...  a bit of a clean-out-the-'fridge-dessert to begin with!

Leftovers are my friend.


Scallops Wrapped with Zucchini

I've been thinking about this for a while.  Scallops wrapped with zucchini.  How could it be bad?  Especially if they're brushed with homemade lemon dill butter?

Well...  they weren't bad, at all.  In fact, they were so good, both of us were sopping up our empty plates with homemade whole wheat bread.  We haven't done that trick in a while.

My original plan was to grill them outside, but it's a bit chilly and rainy out, so I thought a pan-fry would work just fine.  Victor suggested the panini maker.  It was an excellent idea!  They came out perfectly cooked in just a couple of minutes.

I made the lemon butter last week.  Very basic compound butter.

Lemon Dill and Parsley Butter

  • 2 cubes butter (edited to explain that a "cube" is a "stick" of butter, or 1/4 pound)
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp fresh dill
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

Mince dill and parsley in food processor.  Add the zest of 1 lemon and all the juice.  Add the pepper and mince everything very fine.

Add the butter and pulse until completely incorporated.

Use on seafood, bread, pasta, to cook vegetables, etc.

For the scallops, I thinly sliced a zucchini lengthwise using my mandoline.  I sliced each slice in half, lengthwise, and wrapped one piece around each scallop, securing it with a toothpick.

I then brushed them with melted Lemon Dill Butter and put them on a very hot panini press.  About three minutes later, they were done.

The potatoes were quite easy, as well.  I boiled 2 russet potatoes and drained them.  In a skillet, I sauteed about 2 ounces of diced pancetta with about a quarter-cup of minced onion and 1 minced clove of garlic.  I put the potatoes into the skillet, did a coarse-mash and added about a quarter-cup of sour cream, salt & pepper.  Mixed it all together.

This really was a fun dinner!  The lemon really came through from the butter and the scallop and zucchini went perfectly together.  The potatoes?  Total yum.

And that whole wheat bread...

I'm still making the no-knead bread and loving it!  I tweaked the basic recipe to make a whole wheat version.  Not for any health reasons.  I just happen to like the flavor of whole wheat bread better.

No-Knead Bread

  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 envelopes dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 3 cups lukewarm water

Mix everything together to form a fairly wet dough with no dry spots.  Let rise, partially covered, about 3 hours at room temperature.

Punch down and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make a loaf of bread:

Preheat oven with baking stone to 450°.  Form 1/4 of the dough into a ball.  Place on cornmeal dusted peel or on a piece of parchment paper.  Let rise about 45 minutes.  Make 2 deep slashes in the top of the dough with a sharp knife and slide onto the stone.  If you use the parchment paper, you can place the bread on the paper onto the stone.

Bake for 25 minutes.  Cool completely before slicing.

For a crunchier crust, place a sheet pan on a rack under the stone when preheating the oven.  When you put the dough in the oven, pour a cup of hot water into the sheet pan and quickly close the oven.  The resulting steam will create a crunchier crust!

Tummy's full.  Victor's in the kitchen planning a dessert for later.

I'm a happy camper.

Tuna on the Barbie

It is absolutely perfect weather here.  Perfect.  72°, slight breeze, no humidity.  Did I mention perfect?!?  It's perfect.

Of course, perfect weather requires dinner cooked outdoors on the grill.  And what better thing to grill than Asian-inspired tuna steaks?

I marinated the steaks in a bit of soy sauce, rice wine, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and sesame seeds.  Onto the barbie they went.

Meanwhile, I made a bit of a spicy fruit compote for the top.  I often make cold fruit salsas for seafood, pork, chicken, whatever, but rarely cook it.  Tonight, I cooked it.

I sauteed a shallot in a bit of butter and added one diced peach, and one diced plum.  I cooked them for a bit and then added some rice wine and cooked it down.  I had about a third of a pint of raspberries, so they went in as well.  Finally, I added some sambal oelek for kick.  When the tuna was done, I spooned it on top.

I really like sweet and spicy combinations, and this one worked really well.  And it played well against the slightly soy-salty tuna marinade and the crunchy toasted sesame seeds.

Very simple black japonica rice and cauliflower and broccoli steamed with a bit of soy sauce in the water finished off the plate.

Pork chops are definitely on the menu for tomorrow night.  Grilled with grilled potatoes.

Thursday, I think I'm going to grill scallops.  I need to think of what do do with them...

Mexican Spaghetti Pie

A while back I picked up a package of corn noodles at the Asian grocery store.  I had no idea what I was going to do with them - corn noodles really aren't something I associate with the Far East - but I picked them up, anyway.  I think they may have been 99¢.  Inexpensive and different.  Two of my favorite things.  Into the shopping cart they went.

At home, they went into the cabinet.  And stayed there, languishing amongst the other things I've picked up here and there but have yet to use.

Until today.

Last night, while taking inventory for my grocery shopping this morning, I saw them and took them down.  I decided they were going to be a part of dinner tonight.  I wasn't sure what, but they were going to be dinner.

As I said, corn noodles don't immediately shout out Asia to me, but corn screams Mexico.  I was trying to envision some sort of Mexican spaghetti dish but all I was seeing was tamales.  Then the idea of spaghetti pie hit me.  It's like a tamale pie but with corn noodles instead of masa.  How could it be bad?!?

The answer, of course, is "It wasn't!".

I dirtied several pots and pans making the "one-pot" dinner, but the end result was worth it.  And I sliced it almost immediately after taking it out of the oven instead of waiting for it to set up a bit, so...  no pictures of the plate.  It wasn't exactly photo-quality.  But it sure did taste good.

Mexican Spaghetti Pie

  • 8 oz corn spaghetti noodles
  • 4 oz cheddar cheese
  • 4 oz quesso fresco or ricotta salada
  • 1/2 cup ricotta, drained
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1 jar Sofrito sauce
  • 1 large tomato, sliced
  • butter
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350°.  Butter 10" pie plate.

Cook corn noodles according to package instructions.  Drain and cool.  Mix 1 pat melted butter into noodles.  Add two slightly beaten eggs and the shredded cheddar cheese.

Mix well and place in pie plate, working it up the sides to create a "crust".

Saute onion in a pat of butter or oil.  Add cumin and chipotle powder and cook until fragrant.  Add pork and cook completely.

Spread cooked pork mixture over noodles, staying within the noodle crust.

Mix the ricotta with the quesso fresco.  Spread on top of the pork mixture, covering it completely.

Spoon one jar of Sofrito sauce on top, covering the cheese mixture completely.

Top with sliced tomato.

Bake at 350° for about an hour.

I suppose I should have let it set longer and tried to take out smaller slices.

It didn't look that great falling apart, but it had all the flavors I was looking for!

I can see a few different variations on this.

And who knows...  maybe I'll even find a Vietnamese recipe for the corn noodles.

It could happen!

Burgers and Salads

This was one of those days where I felt like making stuff, but nothing seemed to go together - or, at least, what I had wasn't what I wanted.  I made a black barley and corn salad earlier, Victor had made a huge fruit salad, and I had burger thawing.  But I didn't want burgers.  Or, I didn't want plain ol' burgers.  For a brief moment I thought Salisbury Steak, but gravy didn't go with cold corn salad and fresh fruit.

I grabbed my new Lidia cook book for inspiration.

She had a recipe for a meatloaf - but I wasn't in the mood for meatloaf.  But I did have all the ingredients.  I decided to make the meatloaf into burgers!  I mean...  meatloaf is just a big hamburger with stuff in it, right?!?

So...  dinner is burgers with stuff in them.  Problem solved.

Needless to say, I cut the ingredients waaaaaay down - I pretty much quartered the recipe.  And it came out real good!  Here's her recipe.  Try making the meatloaf.  I'll bet it's good, too!

Polpettone di Manzo con Ricotta

Lidia Bastianich

Serves 8 or more

  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups day- old bread cubes, from a loaf of country bread
  • 3 pounds ground beef (freshly ground preferred)
  • 3 large eggs, beaten with a pinch of salt
  • 1 pound drained fresh ricotta (about 2 cups), plus more for the sauce if you like
  • 1 bunch scallions,finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • ½ cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano- Reggiano
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ pound fresh mozzarella, cut in ½- inch cubes (about 2 cups)
  • ¼ cup extra- virgin olive oil
  • 4 to 5 cups tomato sauce

Recommended equipment: A sturdy roasting pan, 10 by 17 inches or larger

Preheat oven to 375º. Pour the milk over the bread cubes in a bowl, and let soak for a few minutes, until the bread is saturated.

Squeeze the soft bread a handful at a time, pressing out as much milk as you can (discard milk, or give it to a pet), then tear bread into small shreds and toss back into the bowl. Crumble the ground beef into the bowl, and add the eggs, ricotta, scallions, grated cheese, parsley, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Fold and toss everything together, and squeeze the mixture a few times between your fingers to distribute all the ingredients evenly. Scatter the mozzarella cubes on top, and fold and mush them throughout the loaf mix.

Brush the roasting pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Gather the meat mixture in the bowl, turn it into the pan, and shape it into a fat oval loaf. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cover the pan with foil—tent it so it doesn’t touch the meat—and bake 45 minutes. Remove the foil, and continue to bake until the meatloaf is browned all over and completely cooked through, another 1 hour and 30 minutes or so. (If you check the loaf with a meat thermometer, it should reach a temperature of 160º.) Remove the roast from the oven, and let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Heat the tomato sauce to a simmer in a saucepan as the meat rests. Turn off the heat, and, if you like, stir ½ cup or so fresh ricotta into the sauce. Cut the loaf crosswise in the pan or on a cutting board, in slices as thick as you like. Serve on warm dinner plates, topped with a spoonful or two of sauce, and pass more sauce at the table (or, for family- style serving, arrange the slices on a warm platter, topped with some of the sauce). To accompany this meatloaf, I love braised broccoli rabe (broccoli di rape) or escarole, served on a separate plate or platter.

Note: If you love fresh ricotta, as I do, you can stir some into the tomato sauce, too, just before serving the meatloaf.

The Corn, Black Barley, and Bean Salad was a whim.

I had two ears of fresh corn I wanted to use for something other than corn on the cob.  I opened the cabinet and the first thing I saw was the black barley.  Hmmmmm... corn and black barley salad.  Sounds good.  I was thinking black beans would go well with it - but I didn't have any black beans in the cabinet!  Pintos, great northern, and red kidney.  The kidney won.  They're better cold in a salad, anyway.

The dressing was a no-brainer.  Ruth and I used to make a shrimp, corn, and pea salad with a lime and mayonnaise dressing.  I had limes and I had mayonnaise.  A salad was born.

Corn, Black Barley, and Bean Salad

  • 2 ears fresh corn, cut from the cob and blanched (or about 1 1/2 cups frozen, thawed)
  • 1/2 cup black barley, cooked, drained, and cooled (or grain of choice - rice, farro, wheat berries, wild rice, etc...)
  • 1 can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (or beans of choice)
  • 2 tbsp assorted fresh herbs, minced
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 lime - zest and juice
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Mix corn, beans, and barley.  Add the mayonnaise, lime juice, and lime zest.  Add minced herbs, salt and pepper.

Cover and chill.

These are some of the easiest and most basic salads one can make, and they're especially good and refreshing on a hot day.  The lime brings a fresh taste that cannot be compared.  And they're ready in the time it takes to cook the grain.  If you have fresh herbs growing in the garden, just grab some and mince them up.  It really doesn't matter which herbs you use.  It's the freshness that comes through.

You can switch out the vegetable, the grain, the bean, add chicken, shrimp, tofu, or diced cooked pork tenderloin.  The constant is the mayonnaise and the lime.


The Italian Does Italian

We were sitting out in the back yard and Victor said "You didn't take anything out of the freezer this morning".  I hadn't.  There was a package of fresh tortellini in the 'fridge, and some veggies that needed using up.  I told him I thought I'd cook the tortellini and do a  bit of a veg sauce with it.

And it was at that point I heard those two words I just love to hear... "I'll cook".

There's just something about having dinner cooked for me now and again that just makes life grand.

I love to cook and would absolutely hate not being able to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, but it is also just so wonderful to have dinner prepared for me once in a while.  And Victor does know how to prepare a meal!

Where I was going to make one dish, Victor made two - eggplant parmesan and the tortellini melange.

The eggplant was excellent!  He took a baby eggplant and sliced it and breaded it with seasoned panko breadcrumbs.  He overlapped the breaded slices on a sheet pan, added a bit of sauce I had made a few days ago, fresh mozzarella, and a bit more sauce.  Into a hot oven for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, into a hot skillet went some olive oil, garlic, pancetta, yellow zucchini, green zucchini, broccoli and tomatoes.  He cooked it all together and then added the cooked tortellini, some grated cheese, fresh from the garden herbs, and a sprinkling of pepper.

It is funny how the same ingredients can be imagined so differently.  It's one of the reasons why we seldom have the same meal twice.  We do have our favorites that we make now and again, but for the most part, if we're not making a specific recipe,  meals are put together on a whim.

And we have lots of whim in our house!

Leafy Greens

We had our weigh-in at work today.  I only dropped half a pound.  But... considering how we've eaten this week - and that ice cream - I'll take not gaining anything as a positive step forward.  We did do a bit of munching this week.  Well... we do a bit of munching every week, but it seemed a bit heavier this week for this time of year.

Oh.  And it's National Donut day today.  I ate a peanut butter cream-filled donut whatever (that probably had every known ingredient I refuse to knowingly eat) that was divine.  That's the nice thing about standards. They're totally changeable to reflect the situation.

So donut consumed, and a mere half-pound gone, I decided we needed salads, again.

I love salads.  Victor loves salads.  I just haven't been seeing that stellar produce.  Stuff has been "okay".  It hasn't been "OMG!  Eat me right now!".  But it's getting there...  So it's back to those leafy green vegetables.  And everything else under the sun.

Tonight's dinner started off with a bed of romaine.  Not a lot.  And then a few grapes.  I love grapes.  And then some of the hot peppers Victor fried up Monday.  And some baby roma tomatoes.

I heated up a grill basket on the grill and played a bit of clean out the refrigerator.  Yellow zucchini, green zucchini, bell pepper, broccoli, and asparagus.  I drizzled a bit of olive oil on them, some salt and pepper, added some chopped fresh herbs from the garden and it all went into the basket with a piece of London Broil on the grill next to it.


The dressing was fun.  I had a couple of white peaches that were almost past their prime, so into the blender they went with a bit of white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and a pinch of herbs d'Provence.  A drizzle of olive oil made a rich, creamy, and slightly sweet emulsion that worked really well with the beef and the roasted vegetables.

I've decided we need to be ever-so-slightly-good for dessert tonight, so I'm going to skip the chocolate ice cream and make a clafouti.  I picked up some Rainier cherries, that, while not the traditional cherry one would generally use, will still totally rock.

Off to pit.....

Italian-Style Chicken

Another day, another dinner. Another fun recipe from Lidia.  Or, at least, based on a recipe by Lidia.  I got it started, and then our Maytag Repairman showed up to fix the dishwasher.  I hate people standing over me when I work, so I turned everything off and retired to the office while he did what he needed to do.

I liked the concept of her recipe and if I had been standing in the kitchen the entire time I may have made it more or less exactly how she made it, but after having it sit for 30 minutes unattended, I tweaked it a bit.

Her recipe is direct from her website:

Chicken with Olives & Pinenuts

Pollo con Olive e Pignoli

  • 3½ to 4 pounds assorted cut- up chicken pieces
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 plump garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
  • 1 cup brine- cured green Italian olives or oil- cured black Italian olives
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts

Recommended equipment: A 12- inch cast- iron or other heavy skillet or sauté pan, with a cover; an olive pitter

Rinse the chicken pieces, and pat dry with paper towels. Trim off excess skin and all visible fat. Cut drumsticks off the thighs; cut breast halves into two pieces each. Season the chicken all over with the salt.

Put the olive oil and butter in the pan, and set over medium- low heat. When the butter is melted and hot, lay in the chicken pieces, skin side down, in a single layer; drop the garlic cloves and bay leaves in the spaces between them.

Cover the pan, and let the chicken cook over gentle heat, browning slowly and releasing its fat and juices. After about 10 minutes, uncover the pan, turn the pieces, and move them around the pan to cook evenly, then replace the cover. Turn again in 10 minutes or so, and continue cooking covered.

While the chicken is browning, pit the olives (if they still have pits in them). If you’re using small olives like Castelvetrano, use a pitter and keep them whole. If you have larger olives (such as Ascolane or Cerignola), smash them with the blade of a chef’s knife to remove the pits, and break them into coarse chunks.

After the chicken has cooked for 30 minutes, scatter the olives onto the pan bottom, around the chicken, and pour in the wine. Raise the heat so the liquid is bubbling, cover, and cook, gradually concentrating the juices, for about 5 minutes.

Remove the lid, and cook uncovered, evaporating the pan juices, occasionally turning the chicken pieces and olives. If there is a lot of fat in the bottom of the pan, tilt the skillet and spoon off the fat from one side.Scatter the pine nuts around the chicken, and continue cooking uncovered, turning the chicken over gently until the pan juices thicken and coat the meat like a glaze.

Turn off the heat, and serve the chicken right from the skillet, or heap the pieces on a platter or in a shallow serving bowl. Spoon out any sauce and pine nuts left in the pan, and drizzle over the chicken.

What I didn't get was a browned chicken.  It was more steamed.  Not a bad thing, per se, but it looked a little pale.  So...  I had a few baby roma tomatoes that I tossed in, along with a shot of tomato paste.  I used kalamata olives instead of the green Italian olives Lidia suggested  and since the pine nuts on the shelf had seen better days, I tossed in some walnuts.

Worked great.

I added a bit of shredded cheese to the rice for just a bit of creaminess and a splash of balsamic vinegar on the green beans to pretend they were Italian.

Later on, I'll see about having a small scoop of ice cream.

Crespelle with Spinach

I have Lidia's book in hand again tonight.  There are just so many great recipes in this book.  I see a lot of fun in our future!  I've mentioned before how much I like the simplicity of flavors she puts together.

Tonight's dinner is an Italian version of crepes.  These are a bit thicker than their French counterparts, but extremely versatile.  I can see any number of fillings with these - and some pretty fun desserts and other dishes.  Extremely versatile.  I think the recipe sounds a bit more complex than it really is.  There are a mere three steps:  make the crespelle, make the filling, and put it all together.

Crespelle with Spinach

scrippelle agli spinaci
Lidia Cooks From The Heart Of Italy

Italians have many local and regional names for crespelle (what the French, and most Americans, call crepes) and innumerable ways to enjoy them. In Abruzzo, these traditional thin pancakes are called scrippelle and are the versatile foundation for both savory and sweet dishes.

Here's a typically simple casserole of spinach-filled scrippelle, lightly dressed with tomato sauce and a shower of grated cheese. Serve bubbling hot from the oven as an appetizer or a fine vegetarian main dish (even meat-lovers will be satisfied).

The batter for these scrippelle is a bit thicker than the usual crespelle batter, but it is easy to work with and produces a pancake with fine texture. The Abruzzesi use them in all sorts of creative ways: layered with cheeses and sauce like a lasagna or a pasticiatta, rolled and stuffed and baked like manicotti. A popular technique is to stack and slice the scrippelle into thin, tagliatelle-like ribbons. These ribbons are often used as a soup garnish  or in clever desserts.

For the Scrippelle

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp cold water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tbsp soft butter, or as needed

For filling and baking the scrippelle

  • 1 1/2 pounds tender spinach leave, rinsed well, tough stems removed
  • 5 tbsp butter plus more for the baking dish
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cups Tomato Sauce or Marinara Sauce
  • 1 1/4 cups freshly grated pecorino or more, as needed

RECOMMENDED EQUIPMENT: An electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, or a sturdy wire whisk; a 9-inch crepe pan or a 1O-inch nonstick skillet (with a 9-inch bottom); a heavy-bottomed skillet or saute pan, 12-inch diameter or larger; a large baking dish or shallow casserole, 10 by 15 inches, or similar size .

To make the scrippelle batter with an electric mixer: Put the eggs and salt in the mixer bowl, and whisk on medium speed until foamy. Lower the speed, mix in the water, then stop and sift the flour on top. Whisk on low just until smooth. Follow the same mixing procedure if using a hand whisk.

You should have about 3 cups of batter.

Brush the crepe pan with a thin coating of butter. Set over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Ladle about 1/4 cup of batter into the pan, then quickly tilt and swirl the pan so the batter coats the bottom. Let cook about 30 seconds to I minute, until the bottom is lightly browned all over. Flip with a spatula, and cook another 30 seconds or so, until that side is lightly browned.

Flip the crespelle onto a dinner plate. Cook all the crespelle in the same way-a dozen or so total-stacking them on the plate when finished. Brush the pan with butter if it becomes dry or the scrippelle are sticking.

If you won't be using the scrippelle right away, wrap them in plastic wrap when cool, so they don't dry out. Refrigerate, well wrapped, to use the next day (or freeze).

To make the spinach filling: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add all the spinach at once, stir, and cover the pot. Blanch until tender, about 4 or 5 minutes, then drain in a colander. Let the spinach cool, firmly squeeze all the moisture from the leaves, and chop them coarsely. (This step can be done ahead of time: cool and refrigerate chopped spinach for use the next day.)

When you are ready to fill and bake the scrippelle, heat the oven to 425° and arrange a rack in the center.

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in the large skillet over medium heat. Scatter the spinach in the pan, and season with 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, for a minute or so, just enough to heat the spinach through.

Heat the tomato sauce in a small pot until bubbling, then turn off the heat and whisk in 2 table¬spoons of butter until incorporated. Spread another 2 tablespoons of butter, or as needed, in the baking dish, coating the bottom and sides well.

To fill each scrippelle: Lay it flat, scatter about a tablespoon of chopped spinach in the center, and sprinkle Yz tablespoon or so grated cheese on top. Fold the scrippelle in half and then into quarter¬rounds. Repeat until all the scrippelle are filled and folded.

Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce in the bottom of the buttered baking dish. Arrange the filled and folded scrippelle in the dish in overlapping rows, with the pointed ends covered and the pretty fanlike edges visible. Spoon the remaining sauce on top of the scrippelle, in streaks down the center of the rows-don't try to cover them completely. Sprinkle the remaining grated cheese (or a bit more if needed) lightly allover the top.

Cover the pan with aluminum foil, making sure the foil doesn't touch the cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes, remove the foil, and bake until the sauce is bubbling and the gratinato topping is golden and crispy, about IO minutes more.

Serve very hot, right from the dish.

They totally rocked.  The crespelle were substantial without being overwhelming.  Two was definitely an adequate dinner portion.  Of course, we both went back for a third.  And as full as I was, I could have gone back for a fourth.  They really were good.

The beauty of these really is their simplicity.  I can see a mushroom filling with a cream sauce.  Fresh fruit with a caramel sauce.  The possibilities are endless.

And once again, Lidia comes through.

Try it.  You'll like it.