Monday, November 21, 2011

Stuff It

Every year my friend Alisa and I host a Chrismukkah brunch, and the only food that gets repeat play is her breakfast casserole. Coming up with new foods we've never made before is half the fun of planning the brunch, and for some reason, this year, the first food that came to mind was stuffed French toast. I've never actually made stuffed French toast before, so I set out researching recipes. Most had you slicing whole loaves of bread and cutting a pocket into each slice, then stuffing the pocket with your filling. That seemed too time consuming. I've made monte cristos plenty of times, so I decided to go with that dipped sandwich approach.

My first attempt was to make banana stuffed French toast. I sliced a banana up into 1/4 inch coins, laid the coins out on the first piece of bread, covered it with the second, then let each side soak in an egg and milk mixture for a minute per side, then cooked it in a well buttered pan for two minutes on each side. I dusted the tops with powdered sugar and my fiancé and I ate them with syrup. They were good, but the egg mixture didn't soak in all the way, and even if it had, we would have been eating raw egg on the inside and cooked on the outside.

For my second attempt, I decided to add Nutella to the mix. First I toasted just one side of each slice of bread (using the bagel setting on my toaster). Then I smeared Nutella on the toasted sides of the bread, laid the banana coins out as before, soaked the outside in the egg mixture and cooked. I left off the powdered sugar and syrup figuring the Nutella was sweet enough. This was pure heaven! Each bite gave a soft spongey texture on the outside, a crisp bite from the toasted side, and in the middle, gooey, warm, chocolate and banana. Perfection.

I plan on serving these cut into bite sized cubes, maybe with a slice of strawberry on top.

Banana Nutella Stuffed French Toast

4 slices of buttermilk or white bread
1 medium banana, cut into 1/4" slices
4 tablespoons of Nutella or other chocolate spread
2 eggs
1 tablespoon of milk
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter

Toast one side of each slice of bread. Spread Nutella on the toasted side of each slice, then arrange the banana slices on two of the slices of bread. Cover with the remaining slice, Nutella side down, so that you have a layer of bread, Nutella, banana, Nutella, and bread.

Beat the eggs with the milk in a pie plate until incorporated. Rest the sandwiches in the egg mixture for 1 minute on each side.

Heat the butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat until melted. Add the sandwiches to the pan and cook for 2 minutes on each side.

Serves 2.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Easy As (Pizza) Pie

My Uncle Eddie owns a pizzeria in Cairo, NY, and it was one of my favorite places to visit as a kid. My cousins and I would mix soda concoctions at the soda fountain, play video games on the arcade machines, and when the giant mozzarella shredder was running, I'd dip my hand into the pouring shreds and grab a handful of cheese as it rained down into the giant bowl. My cousins all knew how to toss dough, and I always wanted to learn, but never had the courage to ask.

A few years back, the Food Network was airing Pizza Week programming. All pizza, all the time. After watching a couple dough tossing competitions and Alton Brown's "Flat is Beautiful" episode, I decided to give it a try, and found it surprisingly easy. Here's a little step by step guide:

1. Dump your mound of pizza dough onto a floured surface, then flip it over to coat the other side with flour.

2. Press down around the edge of your dough, turning it as you go, and slowly work your way toward the middle, until you have a lumpy, but flattened disk.

3. Pick up the dough and lightly stretch the edges, tugging just enough to expand the disk a bit.

4. Make a fist and place the disk on it. Using your other fist, continue to stretch the dough until it's about 9" or 10" in diameter. Allow the dough to rest on your left fist while flexing your right wrist to pull the dough.

5. With the dough resting on both fists, turn your hands so your left fist is furthest from you and your right fist is closest, one behind the other. As you toss the dough in the air, twist your arms around so the right wrist is the further and the left is closer, like you're turning a steering wheel. The dough should spin in the air, like a frisbee. Then catch it on the back of your hands. Do this about 3 or 4 times.

If you have any round of fabric, you can practice with that.

Margherita Pizza with Roasted Tomatoes

Roasting the tomatoes first is well worth the effort. The tomatoes will burst in your mouth, creating fresh sauce with every bite. But be extra careful of pizza mouth. The tomatoes will be extremely hot. Let the pizza cool a minute or two before serving.

8 oz of cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Pizza Dough:
1 teaspoon of rapid rise or bread machine yeast
1 tablespoon of olive oil (I use a basil infused olive oil for extra flavor)
1 teaspoon of salt
2 cups of all-purpose flour or a half and half mixture of all-purpose and semolina
6 oz of warm water

Pizza Topping:
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 cup of shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup of grated parmesan
1 small bunch of fresh basil
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

To make the dough, add flour, salt, and yeast to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment or bread machine. Pour the liquid ingredients on top and allow the mixer to work the ingredients until the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Allow the machine to knead the dough for another minute. Pull the dough off the dough hook and, with well floured hands, remove the dough to a bowl coated with oil. Cover wit plastic wrap and allow to rise for one hour. The dough should double in size. While the dough is rising you can roast the tomatoes.

Preheat the oven to 500˚. Toss the tomatoes in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pour into an oven-proof pan or baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. The tomatoes should have some black char and look withered.

Once your dough has risen, flatten it into a disk using the instructions above, or if you're really not comfortable tossing your dough, you can press it out into a disk using your fingers and the palms of your hands. Rolling pizza dough is a bit of a Sisyphean task, as the dough will just bounce right back into it's former shape. It's always better to stretch pizza dough.

Once you have your disk, transfer it to a well oiled cookie sheet or pizza pan. If you have cornmeal on hand, you can sprinkle that onto the oil first. It'll help keep the dough from sticking, but it's not entirely necessary. Brush the dough with oil, then layer on your tomatoes. Pres the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon to burst them slightly. Next, sprinkle with garlic, mozzarella, and parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste and bake for 10 minutes.

Chop the basil and sprinkle on the finished pizza.

Serves 2.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Verni Pasta Factory

In the winter, when my sister and I were home from school for a snow day, or winter break, there would always be one day when we didn't want to go outside, there was nothing on TV, and the roads weren't plowed so we couldn't see anyone or have anyone over. That would leave only one thing to do. One thing that would take the entire day. "Dad, can we make pasta today?"

Dad did the most work when it came to making pasta, so it was always up to him, and he never said no. When my parents had remodeled the kitchen upon buying the house, they saved the piece of the counter that was cut out for the sink, and this was our all-purpose workspace. Dad would lay it on the kitchen table, measure out the flour, and dump it in a big pile on the board. Then he'd make a well, crack a few eggs into it, and mix it all together with his hands. I don't remember ever seeing him use a recipe or even use exact measurements, and for pasta, you don't really have to. There are only those two ingredients, and if the dough can be kneaded without sticking to your hands, then you got it right.

We'd assemble the Atlas Pasta Maker and clamp it to the kitchen counter, and this was where my sister and I came in. This was always a three-person job. One person to feed the dough through the rollers, one to turn the crank, and one to catch the pasta. And of course we wanted a turn at every position. But when it was time to run the dough through the cutting rollers, Dad was always the one to catch because he'd then immediately hang the pasta on a collapsible clothes rack to dry. We always made enough to fill the entire rack, but I'd sneak a strand or two off and eat it raw. This was before I knew anything about salmonella.

After the pasta was dry, Mom would boil a giant pot of water, and in a second pot, she'd make alfredo sauce. This was the only way we ever ate fresh pasta. It was always cut into fettuccine and it was always served with alfredo sauce. Then I'd beg her to put ham in the sauce. And when it was all done, we ate every last noodle.

Now I have an Atlas of my own, and make the whole thing myself. Feeding, cranking, and catching is a bit of a challenge with no help, but it's manageable. And my favorite thing to do with leftover Christmas ham is dice it up and throw it into the alfredo sauce.

Verni Family Fettuccine Alfredo

The ratio is 2 parts eggs to 3 parts flour by weight. If you don't have a scale, use the following for 3-4 people:
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs
A pinch of salt

Alfredo Sauce:
1 stick of butter
2 cups heavy cream
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more for serving
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

To make the pasta using a stand mixer, add the flour to the bowl, create a well in the center and add the eggs and a pinch of salt. Using the dough hook attachment, let the mixer run until the dough has gathered into a ball. You may have to scrape down the sides of the bowl. If you don't have a stand mixer, you can do this all by hand. Start with a fork and mix the eggs together in the well, gathering flour little by little as you go. Once the mixture starts to stick to the fork, use your hands to mix the dough until it's smooth. If it's too sticky, add more flour. If it's too dry, add a little water.

Form the dough into a ball, place in a covered bowl, and let it rest for 15 minutes. In the meantime, assemble your pasta machine. When the dough is ready, roll it out into a half inch thickness and cut into 4 pieces. Run each piece through the machine at the thickest setting, and continue through each consecutive setting until you reach the 7th setting. The dough may become sticky throughout this process, so dust the sheets with flour whenever necessary. You will also need to keep the length manageable. I find that around the 4th setting, the pieces will start to become too long. Just cut them in half an continue.

Leave the sheets hanging to dry slightly, about half an hour. If you try to run the dough through the rollers at this point, the dough will be too soft and you'll end up with a single sheet of pasta dough with the markings of where the cutting roller pressed it.

When the dough is still floppy, but you can't feel much moisture, run each piece through the fettuccine roller and hang the pasta to dry completely.

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and while waiting for the water to boil, assemble the sauce.

For the sauce, heat the butter in a medium sauce pan (if you want to add diced ham, this is where you would do that, and let the ham cook for about a minute.), add the minced garlic and cook for a few seconds, just to release the flavor. Next add the cream, constantly whisking as you go, to incorporate it.

Add the pasta to the boiling water. Fresh pasta only takes about 2 minutes to cook, so watch it carefully. When the pasta is done, strain it and reserve about 2 tablespoons of the cooking water to remain in the pot, so the pasta doesn't stick. Remove the sauce from the heat and add the pepper and cheese, stirring to mix thoroughly. Add salt to taste.

Pour the sauce into the pasta and gently toss. Serve with fresh ground pepper and extra grated parmesan.

Serves 4

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Other Fat

I know, it's the holiday season and you're already eating half your weight in Christmas cookies, but maybe you should put down those butter saturated monsters and chow down on some heart healthy olive oil cake. Oh you heard me.

Olive oil is actually a lot healthier than butter. Per tablespoon, olive oil is cholesterol free and contains only 2 grams of saturated fat (the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol), no trans fats, 2 grams of polyunsaturated fats, and 10 grams of monounsaturated fats (unsaturated fats help lower your blood cholesterol). Butter, on the other hand, is composed entirely of saturated fat with the added "bonus" of 31mg of cholesterol.

The FDA recommends replacing 2 tablespoons of your usual fats with olive oil every day, and it surprisingly easy to sub olive oil in for butter when baking. Just do a 1 for 1 swap. As long as you're not creaming the butter (like for frosting) or cutting in cold butter (like for biscuits) you can replace all of the butter with olive oil. The only advantage butter has over oil is that it can solidify, which is why it makes such a great biscuit. The cold butter melts in the oven, creating pockets of air. Olive oil can't do that. But it does make a super moist and rich cake, and you can find flavored oils to really add something special to your recipes, or even use other oils like walnut or hazelnut oil.

Lemon Olive Oil Pound Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1¼ cups sugar
Zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
1½ cups of lemon infused olive oil
⅔ cup whole milk
⅓ cup brandy
⅓ cup fresh orange juice (from about 1 medium orange)

Preheat the oven to 325˚ and arrange a rack in the middle. Coat a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder and salt and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar until combined; add the lemon zest, olive oil, milk, brandy and orange juice and whisk again until combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk until combined.

Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan. Bake the cake, turning halfway through, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let the cake cool on a rack for 30 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the loaf and invert it onto the rack and let cool completely.

Serves 8.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Wizarding World of Butterscotch

Last month, my boyfriend, Shaun, and I went to Orlando to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with his extended family. In her books, J.K. Rowling describes, with great detail, a town just outside the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry called Hogsmeade. There's the pub, The Three Broomsticks, where students drink pumpkin juice and butterbeer, and various shops to buy candy and supplies. An extremely creative art department came up with a spot-on recreation of the books' descriptions for the Harry Potter film series, and that same crew was hired by Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando to recreate Hogsmeade as a theme park.

Once we found out that they had also recreated butterbeer, well, of course we had to try some. I didn't put much thought into what butterbeer would taste like while reading the books, because it was a made up term with no basis in reality. I knew it wasn't actually beer, because children were drinking it, but that was about as far as I ever thought. So after walking through the gates to Hogsmeade, we went straight for the giant red barrel with a huge sign reading
"BUTTERBEER". I bought Shaun a plain one, but got mine frozen. I watched them pull the tap and saw the fizzy substance pour into the mug, then they moved the mug to another tap and white foam was carefully laid on top, like the head of a real beer. Cute.

This was the sweetest and most delicious thing I had ever tasted. It had an overpowering butterscotch flavor, but with an even sweeter marshmallow-like head. I knew there had to be about 600 calories in this mug and I didn't care. I drank the whole thing. As I drank, I picked apart all of the flavors. Shaun and his cousins were insistent that the head was vanilla frosting, but to me it was clearly marshmallow. I just knew it. The soda itself was definitely butterscotch, but there was something else there. Creamy and vanilla. Like cream soda. And after finishing the last gulp, I turned to Shaun and declared, "I could totally make this."

Once we got home, I went to work assembling the ingredients and made a trial batch. I handed the mug to Shaun, and after the first sip, he screamed, "Holy shit! You just made butterbeer!" And so, in time for part 1 of the final chapter in the Harry Potter movies, I give you a true wizard's brew.


1 bottle of good quality cream soda (I used Virgil's)
2 ounces of butterscotch syrup (such as Monin)
2 tablespoons of Marshmallow Fluff
1 tablespoon of heavy whipping cream

Put the marshmallow and cream in a bowl and whisk together using a fork until completely blended and smooth and set aside. Next, pour the soda and syrup into a large 2-cup Pyrex measuring glass at the same time, so they mix during the pouring process. Then pour half into one mug and half into another. Top both mugs with the marshmallow mixture and let sit for a minute. The carbonation of the soda will begin to activate the marshmallow, and it will foam up even more. Enjoy the sugar rush!

Makes 2 servings

Saturday, October 09, 2010

I Am Not a Witch

I’ll freely admit, there are weeks when nothing eventful happens. I will sit at my computer and haven’t a clue what to write about. Years before I would sit staring at a blank page, now it’s a blank screen. I’ve even been known to ask the little Microsoft Word “help guy” in the corner for ideas. He usually just scratches his little computer head and whistles softly.

However, I know from experience that if I sit here long enough with my blank monitor and my blank thoughts, something will land in my lap. Either one of my daughters will call with a fascinating cooking question, or the dog will go by on roller skates, or I’ll hear something pertinent on the news.

Earlier this week when I thought all was lost, I saw a Christine O’Donnell ad on TV telling Americans “I am not a witch.”

Thank you Christine; thank you, thank you, thank you; just in time for the start of the Halloween season. There she is on camera in a simple black dress and white pearls with a gray-blue swirling smoky background, obviously bubbling over from the cauldron. And, do you know what goes beautiful with a simple black dress and pearls—black and orange striped socks. You know she’s wearing them in that video.

Christine goes on to tell the audience, “I’m nothing you’ve heard. I’m you.” Now, for all the witches out there watching this campaign ad, they’re thinking, “well, that’s a misstatement. If you’re not a witch how can you be me if I am a witch?”

This is the time of year when we all should embrace our inner witchness. I actually do that all year ‘round. I am often known to cackle at the kitchen stove when stirring a big pot of something or other.

For all of you out there who have a “secret “ recipe or a recipe with a “secret” ingredient. Come on, we know what you’re doing; you’re brewing!

Christine then goes on to announce, “I didn’t go to Yale.” Well, duh. Of course you didn’t; you went to Hogwarts. You might have been just a C student, Christine, but then so was Bushy and he bragged about it. Be proud of your Hogwarts affiliation. Your alumni card should be arriving in the mail soon.

I’m sure that Christine didn’t write this ad. What’s scarier and creepier is that she read it and said, “Yeah, that’s great. Let’s go with this one.”

I can’t wait to see her next ad addressing masturbation.

Witch’s Brew

A nice garnish would be some very thinly sliced apples or oranges, peel and all. Use your mandoline for this.

4 cups water
1 ½ cups sugar
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
12 whole cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
4 whole allspice berries or 1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 quarts apple cider
3 cups orange juice
Juice of 3 lemons

Stir water and sugar together in a heavy large saucepan. Add ginger, cloves, cinnamon and allspice. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cackle while you stir. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.

Strain syrup and return to pan. Add cider, orange juice and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer. Serve hot. You can spike this with rum or brandy, if you witch.

Makes about 14 cups.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Versatility of Short Ribs

Restaurant Week is a 12 day celebration of food in Los Angeles, with participating restaurants serving up three-course prix fixe menus for $44 and under. Every year I undoubtedly come across a food trend I wasn't aware of while perusing the menus. Last year, sauteed scallops were offered at almost every restaurant, but this year the trend is clearly short ribs.

Spanish red wine-braised short ribs with olive oil crushed potatoes. Braised beef short rib with toasted couscous, wilted greens, and wild mushroom red wine sauce. Short rib risotto with port glaze and parmeggiano reggiano. Spice braised short ribs with creamy polenta and crispy shallots. These are just a few of the entrees listed.

If you're not familiar with them, short ribs hail from the chuck and plate primals, near the shoulder of the cow. They've got lots of connective tissue, which makes them perfect for braising. You can also slice the meat thin (a la Korean galbi), marinate it, and grill it up fast. Braising makes the ribs a bit more versatile, as the low, long exposure to heat and liquid render out all the connective tissue into gelatin, and this gives you the tender, falling apart, texture you want for stews. I like to use short ribs for more unconventional foods, however. You can replace just about any cut of steak with short ribs and make it into something new and wonderful. Beef stroganoff becomes absolutely mouth watering with the addition of short ribs, pulled apart first, and mixed in with all that creamy, mushroomy, awesomeness. Tacos become elevated. But my personal favorite, is adding short ribs to grilled cheese.

Most braised short rib recipes throw in all sorts of vegetables and herbs with the assumption that you're going to make a gravy from the remaining liquid. But for grilled cheese, that's too much unnecessary work. So here's my recipe for simply braised short rib grilled cheese sandwiches.

Short Rib Grilled Cheese

12 ounces of boneless short rib, cut into 2 inch chunks
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 cup of beef broth
¼ cup of red wine
½ a white onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
8 slices of monterey jack
8 slices of good quality sourdough bread
1 tablespoon of butter

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat until it becomes glossy looking. Pat the ribs dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sear the ribs on all sides for just a few minutes per side, then set aside on a plate. Add the chopped onions to the pot and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add wine to the pot and scrape up all the browned bits. Let the wine simmer until almost cooked off, about 6 minutes. Add the beef broth and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Add the ribs and any accumulated juices to the pot, cover, and cook in the oven for 1
½ hours.

Once the ribs are done, pull them from the pot and place them on a plate to cool. Once cooled enough to touch without burning yourself, pull the ribs apart into shreds. Pre-heat a cast iron skillet on the stove top while arranging the sandwiches. For each sandwich, place one piece of monterey jack, then layer the meat on. Top with another slice of cheese and the bread. Heat butter on the skillet and grill the sandwich on each side for 2 minutes. Slice each sandwich diagonally and serve.

Serves 4