Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Everything's relative: White Bean Soup with Sauteed Swiss Chard

It cracks me up how susceptible to suggestion we are.
By we, I mean me.

Here it is November and 70 degrees in Alabama. I'm wearing jeans, a sweater and socks. In New Jersey the temperature drops to about 40 degrees in October and continues to plummet exponentially until April. There, I wouldn't have even dreamed of wearing socks until my feet stuck to floor like Ralphie's tongue to the flagpole in A Christmas Story.

But it is November.
And it's supposed to be cold.

And you're supposed to eat soup.
So when I saw Marti's post on her blog travelcookeat for white bean soup I knew I had to make it.

I'm so glad I did.

 White Bean Soup with Sauteed Swiss Chard

3 cups dried white beans
chicken stock
swiss chard
tomatoes, chopped (I used 2...because I had 3 but wanted 1 for a salad. If I had 4,  I may have used 3)

Saute tomatoes and swiss chard in olive oil for a few minutes. Add beans (which I have soaking in water while I'm sauteing) Just the beans, not the water. Add the chicken stock and some extra water if needed until the beans are covered plus a little more. Bring to a boil then reduce heat & gently simmer until beans are tender and soup has thickened. Sometimes you may have to add more water. Also, add salt . The flavor of the beans will come out beautifully if you do this in the beginning.  (just like spaghetti).

Right before serving, saute up some more swiss chard in just a little olive oil & salt to make it crispy. This makes a great garnish.

But be prepared...there's a reason Beans are known the musical fruit...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bloody Mary

On our way back from an overnight in Nashville, my husband, N, and I took a short detour through the charming town of Franklin, TN.

This is my kind of town.
An eclectic array of small boutiques and mom-and-pop restaurants.
Had I been smart, I would have done my Christmas shopping here.
But I wasn't smart. I was hungry.

We stumbled upon this great little place: 55 South.
It was hopping on a Sunday afternoon with several TVs set to various ball games and lots of people drinking mimosas and Bloody Marys.
I don't watch football...or any other kind of ball, but I do drink Bloody Marys.

We ordered up two and moments later the waitress set down two salt & spice encrusted glasses half filled with ice and vodka.
That was interesting.
Reading the confused looks on our faces she pointed to the far end of the restaraunt and explained their 'Mix-it-yourself' philosophy.

That was really interesting.
And brilliant.

Hands down the BEST Bloody Marys we've ever had.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chocolate & Toasted Pecan Banana Bread Muffins

We eat a lot of bananas in my house.
Tons and tons and tons.

Just this morning my 4yr old, N, and 6yr old, A, were taunting my 8yr old, J, telling him he couldn't possibly eat all the bananas. So he did. 
There were 6.
Then there were none.

I read somewhere that their high potassium content makes them radioactive. 
Which may explain J's greenish glow as well as his ability to cook hotdogs with his bare hands.

My good friend, Julie, makes a to-die-for banana bread. I've asked (and received) the recipe several times, but the Universe must feel it hers and hers alone, for the information slips through my hands like smoke through a screen.  And so I have resolved to place it high on a pedestal and enjoy it when I see her.

Even if that's only once a year...and I have to beg and plead for it like a hungry Labrador scratching at the door to be let in. 

She has the same problem with bananas at her house with her kids. She now hides them up high on a shelf in a closed cupboard so they blacken enough to be used in a recipe. 
The bananas, not her kids...(that would be a little too Grimm...)

However, I must indulge myself more than during my annual trip up North to see my Girls. So every few months when I am lucky enough to harbor over ripe bananas I make banana bread. 

And it is good. Really, it's always good. Like Champagne. Have you ever had bad champagne? 
If you answered yes to that, I don't want to know you.
Just kidding. I do want to know just means more champagne for me.

Banana Bread Muffins 
*adapted from Gourmet

1 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoonful baking soda
1 teaspoonful cinnamon
1/2 teaspoonful salt
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
3 large ripe bananas, smashed
1/4 cup goat cheese
1 teaspoonful vanilla
11/4 cup toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts...) chopped
2 squares semisweet chocolate chopped

2 tablespoonfuls butter
1/3 cup flour
2 tablespoonfuls brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

In a mixer set on high blend together sugar and eggs. Keep the blender going for a while. {Go through that neglected pile of mail or call your girlfriend you haven't talk to in forever}.  When it's nice and thick put the mail away, hang up the phone,  then reduce the speed and slowly add the olive oil. After that add in the bananas, goat cheese, vanilla, nuts and chocolate.

Fold into the flour mixture until just combined. This keeps the muffins tender. If you overmix and they turn out tough, you will be forced to eat these with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream. 
And maybe some chocolate syrup.
Pour into muffin molds and sprinkle on topping. 
Lick fingers.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden on top.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Spaghetti Pizza

Sure, I could write about how amazing my grandmother's pizza was, and how this was my all time favorite thing to make.

I could chronicle the sound of tearing open the little sunshine colored packet of yeast and pouring the granules in to a small cup. Stirring in a little bit of  warm water  mixed with sugar. Anticipating that earthy smell while waiting for it to proof and form teensy bubbles on top.

I could describe her nimble fingers and strong arms as we created her most perfect crust. Soft, crunchy, thick. Sweet.

But I won't do that since I have never been able to repeat it on my own.  Nostalgia is all I have at this point.
My local grocery store must have taken pity on me, so now I buy it there where they make it daily. When I get home, I form it into a ball and place it in a bowl lightly coated with olive oil. Cover it with saran wrap and leave it in a cold oven where I forget about it for a couple of hours.

There it doubles in size.
Like my grocery bill on a yearly basis.

But my kids don't mind, because all they want to do is punch it down.
Bash. Smack. Wollup.
Poke. Prod. And pummel.

Better the dough than each other.

So when the older ones were in school and the babies were napping I made pizza with my four year old, N.
Who hasn't napped in 2 years.

He got to choose his toppings.

Ergo: Spaghetti Pizza.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Grandma's Tinnerino's Meatballs

The meatball.
My go-to comfort food.
These little guys span the globe from Austria to Vietnam. People in Belgium call them ballekes; in Greece they are known as keftedes; in the Philippines they are bola-bola. And of course in Italy it is the well loved polpette .
They can be served as tiny appetizers, in soups and as sandwiches, and of course with spaghetti. No matter what you call it, or how you serve it, a good meatball is one of life's tasty pleasures. 

But it's hard to make a good meatball.
My grandmother made {hands down} the world's BEST meatballs.  At six years old, I was her little sous chef, donning an oversized collared shirt in lieu of an apron. She measured everything in the palm of her little, arthritic hand (measuring cups & spoons are just more dishes to do).
And nothing went to waste. 

Even the stubborn film tenaciously gripping the insides of the emptied cans of crushed tomato got rinsed with a little water and added back into the pot. She piled all her ingredients in a roasting pan: the ground meat (sirloin, pork and veal) with an egg cracked on top at one end; and breadcrumbs at the other.

"Only combine the meat and egg until the meat looks like it's covered in snot" Well, that was a no-brainer... Six year olds are granted PhDs in Mucosal Engineering. Sure it sounds gross, but you'll probably remember it.
I sure did.

Then come the breadcrumbs.  They can't just be added to the snotty meat/egg mixture. First you must add a little water until it feels like the sand at the beach closest to the surf. Then you combine it with the meat.  It's very important not to overmix. "It should feel like a woman's breast" 
I was six. Breast wasn't even in my lexicon. She grabbed my hand and pressed it against her. " this". 
Sure, I had just felt up my grandmother but now I knew what a meatball should feel like. 

There is only one correct way to form a meatball. You grab enough to fit in your hand "Not too much" and roll it into a ball pressing it rather forcefully, as though you were trying to squeeze water out of it.
{Like the way you made snowballs when you were throwing them at kids from the neighborhood who made fun of your shiny new blue plastic coat that you begged Santa for}. 
The newly formed morsels get placed at the end of the roasting pan, opposite the pile of breast-like mixture. As the pile gets smaller you have more room to place them and at the end, you will have a roasting pan filled with perfectly formed meatballs.
Less dishes to do.

Next they get fried. "Don't overcook them! You just want them toasty. They'll finish cooking in the sauce." Well, most parents don't let their small children deep fry meatballs on the stove, and mine were no exception, so this has taken me years to master.
The oil has be hot. It has to pop when you flick a little water at it. And it only takes a couple of minutes to cook each side.
Some people like to blot them with paper towels to remove the excess grease.
Not us.
Nothing gets wasted.

 Then the meatballs get added to the gravy that has been simmering on the stove this whole time. This is where love and patience get added.
Which is genetic.
And tends to skip a generation (or two).
If left alone, the meatballs will titanic to the bottom and burn (and a burned pot is no fun the clean).
So the sauce must be stirred.
A lot.

Because she was only 4 1/2 feet tall (she's shorter now) my grandma would pull her step stool up to the stove to stir. She even had a special way of placing the wooden spoon on the edge of the pot so she could balance the cover on top while allowing enough steam to escape so the gravy can reduce.
This trick she perfected because she was tired of cleaning splattered tomato off her stove and backsplash.
The meatballs are done after a few rounds of poker Hollywood are played.

What's great about meatballs and gravy is that you can use them in so many other dishes: stews, chili, pizza, chicken, soups.
Now that I have five kids who can eat their own body weight daily, and a husband with a tapeworm, I make 20lbs of meatballs at a time.
I have 3 HUGE pots going on the stove and if I'm lucky, I'll have enough left over to freeze.
I'm not exagerating.
I wish I were.

Grandma Tinnerino's Meatballs & Gravy
*this is pared down for a normal family

3lbs ground meat (sirloin, pork, veal)
1 egg
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
finely chopped onion

Add the egg to the meat until just combined (insert snot imagery here).
Add some water to the breadcrumbs until they just stick together and mix into meat mixture. (Insert breast imagery here).
Don't forget your onions.
Press into balls.
Cook in gravy for about an hour.

4 cans crushed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1/3 cup sugar
1 bay leaf
chopped onion
Italian seasoning
1 thick bone in pork chop

In a stock pot add tomatoes, sugar, bay leaf and Italian seasoning. Rinse the insides of the can with some water and add it back into the pot. Sear pork chop on both sides and toss it into the pot. Saute onions in pan after the meatballs have been fried then add to the pot.
Here's the secret: once all the meat has been fried, there will be lots of delectable morsels stuck to bottom of the pan. Scoop some gravy from the pot, add it to the pan and scrape the bottom. This will loosen all that flavor and clean your pan at the same time. Add it to your gravy.
Nothing gets wasted.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Apple Galette

I'm partial to the galette largely due to its free form. It's a no rules, take-it-as-comes, if-you-like-it-you'd-best-enjoy-it-because-the-next-one-will-be-different, kind of dessert.

It's how I roll.

Sadly, I had never made one myself until now.

It took about five tries to get it right...which is contradictory in a way because even when you get it right these will always come out a little different.

But I'm sure a real Pastry Chef will disagree.
I'm okay with that.

My first attempt was a most successful flop: tough crust, wa-a-a-a-y too tart, and burned. In retrospect I probably paid too much attention to it in the beginning, and not enough at the end.
There  may be a life lesson in there somewhere...

I tweaked it several times, and today I created one worthy of dropping off at my neighbor's house because I could not be trusted not to hide in the laundry room and gobble down the whole thing myself.

I probably should have written down the exact measurements.
Maybe that's why these never come out the same.
Perhaps another lesson the Universe is trying to teach me...
Ah well, live and learn.

Apple & Cranberry Galette
* makes 2 small galettes or 1 big one. You decide.

1 cup flour
4oz butter (half stick)
1 tablespoonful sugar
1 egg

In a food processor pulse together flour, sugar & salt. Add butter and pulse until it looks like little peas (let me just chime in here and say that I never understood this analogy. It doesn't look like little peas. It looks more like oatmeal or damp sand perhaps) Add the egg and pulse until incorporated. Form it into a ball, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.

2 apples- peeled and thinly sliced
1 handful cranberries
cinnamon (2 teaspoonfuls perhaps)
brown sugar (I grabbed a large clump out of the bag... 1 teaspoonful I'm guessing)

*I'm guessing these quantities
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup oats
1 teaspoonful brown sugar
1 tablespoonful butter

Pulse together in food processor.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Divide dough in half (or not). Roll out and trim into a circle.
Add apple/cranberry mixture.
Fold edges up.
Sprinkle topping on top. Add some little bits of butter on top. Fat=Flavor.
Lick fingers.
Brush the crust with an egg wash (some water added to a lightly beaten egg) I use my fingers for this because all brushes in my house are paint brushes...even if they didn't start out that way.

Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
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