Friday, January 28, 2011

Popeye Was Right!

I love spinach: salad, creamed, sautéed with bacon and garlic, and stuffed into manicotti tubes and baked in a Pecorino sauce. Popeye had it right, spinach is really good for you; lots of vitamins and minerals, and it can be used in lots of different ways. 

A winter vegetable, the spinach we are seeing right now is gorgeous, dark green in color and full of flavor. 

My Italian family is coming to town in a few weeks, and I need to get a few things into the freezer so that I’m prepared.  It’s a joy to have them come—they have such a love for life, and give me renewed energy.  Tonight I made manicotti stuffed with spinach and ricotta and will freeze it for a luncheon or dinner side dish.  It’s simple and delicious, and can even be made in your slow cooker!

Spinach and Ricotta Manicotti
Serves 6
For the Noodles
One 8-ounce package Manicotti noodles
Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil.  Boil the noodles for 5 minutes (or half the time suggested on the package)  Drain the noodles, and separate them on a sheet of waxed paper or aluminum foil to cool.  

For the Filling
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Two 10-ounce packages baby spinach
Salt and pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/4 cup whole milk ricotta
1 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

In a 10 to 12-inch skillet, heat the oil, and swirl the garlic in the pan for 30 seconds, until fragrant.  Add the spinach, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook until the spinach is wilted, and there is no more liquid in the bottom of the pan. 
Transfer the mixture to a food processor, and add the ricotta, and Parmigiano, pulsing on and off until the mixture comes together.  Transfer to a bowl, and refrigerate if not making immediately.

For the Pecorino Cream Sauce
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese
4 drops Tabasco

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and swirl the garlic in the pan for 30 seconds, until fragrant.  Add the flour, and whisk for 2 to 3 minutes to cook the flour.  Slowly add the broth and cream, bring the sauce back to a boil until it is thickened.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese, whisking until the cheese is melted.  Season with salt if necessary, and stir in the Tabasco; at this point the sauce can be cooled and refrigerated for up to 4 days. 
To assemble:

Coat the inside of a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread a thin layer of cream sauce over the bottom of the pan.  When the manicotti tubes are cooled, fill them with the spinach mixture.  I used a pastry bag, cut the tip off and fit the tip into the tube, and squeezed the filling into the tubes. Lay the tubes on the cream sauce, repeat until all the tubes are filled.  Spread the remaining sauce over the manicotti.  Cover and bake for 30 minutes, uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling, and begins to turns golden.  Let the manicotti rest for 10 minutes before serving.  

Cook's Note:  I used Barilla Manicotti noodles; by cooking them 1/2 the time,they will finish cooking in the oven, rather than becoming mushy.  If you use a no-cook noodle, make sure to make additional sauce, because no-cook noodles absorb more than cooked noodles. 

I hope you'll eat your spinach, just like Popeye recommended, and enjoy the benefits of this great veggie.  Have a great weekend and I'll be back on Monday.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Something Fishy---Take 5

I'm trying really hard this year to eat a lot more fish; I'm the one who teaches people how to overcome their fear of fish, but most often when we go out, I eat fish, and hardly ever cook it at home.  Today I made my way to Point Loma Seafoods and it was hard to choose what to have for dinner, but swordfish won out; there is something so rich (and expensive) about swordfish--it's so delicious.  I love this marinade/baste for swordfish and you can use it for salmon as well.  I served this with steamed broccoli dressed with olive oil, and braised potatoes.  Simply delicious!

Swordfish Baste
For 2 pounds of fish

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
the juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoons Worcestershire
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

  1. Whisk the ingredients together and pour over the fish in a shallow dish. 
  2. Turn the fish in the marinade and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours. 

Baked Swordfish
Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds Swordfish (marinated above)
2 tablespoons butter

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Pour the marinade into a small saucepan, and bring to a boil, add the butter, reduce the heat, and keep at a simmer.
  3. Place the swordfish into an oven proof baking dish, and bake for 15 minutes, until the fish is opaque throughout. 
  4. Remove from oven, transfer the fish to a cutting board, cover loosely with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes. 
  5. Cut the fish into serving pieces, and serve spooning some of the marinade over the fish. 

I hope you had a great day, and I'll be back tomorrow with a few thoughts on slow cooking. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Left-Over Doctor

After testing recipes all week long, I have little bits of leftover dishes that I want to use up. This is where I shine, because I really don't like leftovers, so in order for me to want to eat leftovers they really do have to be delicious. Here's a little sample of how I go about doing this. 

In the fridge I had leftover broccoli and pasta, and a roasted beet salad.  So, I sauteed the broccoli in some olive oil with a shallot and some white wine, added 6 large raw shrimp that I had chopped up, a bit of freshly ground black pepper, and some heavy cream. 

I added the cooked pasta to the skillet, and heated it through. 

 Once it was ready, I served with garnished with Parmigiano (don't tell any Italians---they don't put cheese on seafood) and served it alongside the beet salad. 

It was an awesome combination, and you could definitely add leftover chicken instead of shrimp, and other vegetables--think sugar snap peas, carrots, Swiss chard. 

It's 71 degrees here, and I am looking forward to spending time outside this weekend, and wish you joy wherever you are. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

An (Organic) Apple A Day

After a week of summer-like almost 80 degree weather, it's cool and foggy today; perfect day to put something wonderful into the slow cooker.  

I looked into the fridge and found Honey Crisp Apples, sweet Maui onions, and a pork roast. I don't know about you, but I love the first bite of a crisp, sweet/tart apple, and the organic Honey Crisps we have been seeing in the markets here have been amazing.  They were perfect for this dish that Dr. C. and I had when we visited Normandy, France on a vacation.

   After 3 days of touring following in the footsteps of allied troops, we sat down to a delicious meal that used the bounty from this area.  There are no vineyards in Normandy; the cold and wind from the Atlantic are not conducive for growing grapes, but apples grow in abundance; there is cider in every form, and Calvados an apple brandy is made here. This is a stunningly beautiful area of France, rich in history and pride.  The people are delightful and happy to help you (hear that Parisians??) Although one of our tour guides told us that one in 4 people in Normandy is from the UK! 

This dish is simple to put together, you can make it in a Dutch oven or the slow cooker, either way it's a terrific dinner to serve any night of the week, and even dresses up for company.  

Braised Pork Loin with Apples

Serves 6

2 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil
3 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
One 3-pound pork loin roast
One or two large sweet yellow onions,thinly sliced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 large or 4 medium organic sweet/tart apples for cooking (I used Honey Crisp, because that's what was in the fridge, but Galas, Fuji, Braeburn or even Granny Smiths' in a pinch--no red or golden delicious)
2 teaspoons soup base or demi-glace (see note)
1 cup organic apple juice
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon of water

1/2 cup heavy cream (optional but oh, so good!)
Heat the oil in a skillet.  While the oil is heating, mix together the sugar and mustard.  

Score the fat side of the roast, and smear the mustard mixture over the pork.  

Brown the roast on all sides, watching carefully so that you don't burn the sugar. 

Add the onions and thyme to the pan, and saute for 3 minutes, until softened.  

Transfer the onions to the slow cooker, top with the apples, soup base and apple juices, stirring to blend.  

Set the pork on top fat side down, and cook on high for 4 hours, or on low for 8 hours.  
Remove the pork from the pan, and cover loosely with aluminum foil.  Skim any excess fat from the top of the sauce, bring the sauce to a boil.   Add the cornstarch mixture, and bring back to a boil, until thickened and glossy.  Stir in the cream, and bring to serving temperature.
When the pork has rested for 10 minutes, thinly slice, serve with the sauce over buttered noodles, or mashed potatoes.  

Slow Cooker Savvy:
Most meats will give off a lot of liquid when slow cooked; using less liquid to begin with and using a soup base such as Better Than Bouillon Superior Touch, or a demi-glace like More Than Gourmet or Provimi, concentrates the flavor of the sauce and gives you a nicely rounded flavor. 

I'm posting a bit less this week due to a few obligations that I have but hope to be back up to speed next week.  

Everyone asks what I do with the leftovers; I store them in small microwaveable containers either in the fridge to give to friends and neighbors, or freeze them for Dr. C. when I'm on the road.  No, I'm that that uber-organized that I have a freezer filing system----my freezer is a disorganized mess, but I do label everything so there are no freezer surprises! 

Enjoy your day! 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mama Mia That's a Spicy Meatball

If you are old enough to remember this commercial, you are probably still suffering from indigestion when you eat overly spiced foods.  Today I thought I'd share a great recipe for my Nona's meatballs, which are simple, and delicious and can be made in your slow cooker.  So, let's start with the sauce which you want to get into the slow cooker before you make the meatballs. 

Basic Marinara in the Slow Cooker
Makes about 8 cups

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium or one large sweet yellow onion, like Vidalia, of Maui sweets
2 teaspoons dried basil
Two 28 to 32-ounce cans crushed San Marzano tomatoes
One 28 to 32-ounce can San Marzano tomato puree
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1/4 packed basil, finely chopped
salt and pepper to finish

In a large skillet, heat the oil, and saute the onion and basil for 3 minutes, until the onion is softened, about 3 minutes. 
See that tiny meatball in there?  I was testing the flavor by sauteing it in the onions for the sauce; you can also microwave for 60 seconds to cook the meatball through to see if it needs more salt/pepper/seasoning.
Transfer the mixture to the insert of a 4 to 6-quart slow cooker, and stir in the tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper.  

Cover and cook on high while making the meat balls.  At the end of the cooking time, you will add the parsley and basil, and season with salt and pepper.  (Marinara without meatballs can cook on high for 2 hours, low for 4)

Nona Aleandra's Meatballs
Makes about 16 2-inch meatballs, or 2 Polpetoni (grande meatballs)

3 slices Italian or French bread with soft crust torn into pieces
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot
grated zest of one lemon
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 pound sweet Italian Sausage
1 pound 85% lean ground beef
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Place the bread in a large mixing bowl, and pour the milk over the bread and allow it to be absorbed. (Cook's Note: don't squeeze out the bread, the milk helps to make the meatballs tender)

In a small skillet, heat the oil, and saute the shallot for about 3 minutes, until translucent.  (Cook's Note:  if you just added raw onion/shallot to this it would only taste like raw onion or shallot, make sure to cook the onion or shallot before adding it --- you could even take a few from the marinara and add them into the meatball mixture after they are sauteed---that will work) 

When the shallot has cooled slightly add it to the bowl with the lemon zest parsley, sausage, beef and cheese, and mix with your hands until well combined.  

Shape the meat mixture into balls, I use a portion scoop to do this, and you can make these as small or large as you like.  If you would like, you can actually shape this into two 6-inch meatloaves. Using a portion scoop ensures that they all cook at the same rate; invest in a few sizes, they are great for cookies, muffins, cupcakes, and other batter.

Drop the meatballs into the sauce, and cook on high for 3 hours, or on low for 6 hours.  When the meatballs are done, they will register 180 degrees on a meat thermometer.  

Using a slotted spoon remove the meatballs from the sauce, skim off any fat from the top of the sauce, add fresh parsley and basil to the sauce and taste for seasoning, adding salt or pepper if needed.  Serve the meatballs with pasta, or sauteed vegetables, or over mashed potatoes, or Parmesan polenta. 

A Few Cook's Notes:
Lots of variations can be made the the sauce or the meatballs--you can use your favorite meat mixture (veal, pork, beef) instead of the sausage and beef---I like the flavor that the sausage gives to the meatballs.  If you omit the sausage and use your favorite meat mixture, remember to use extra seasoning with the mixture.
If you would like to add wine to the sauce, 1/2 to 1 cup of a full bodied red like Chianti or Zinfandel will work.  Adding the rinds from your Parmigiano Reggiano will also flavor the sauce.  
We use Pecorino in this recipe because Nona was from Gubbio, in Umbria, and the regional cheese is Pecorino Romano, a sheeps' milk cheese with a sharp taste.  If you would like to substitute Parmigiano, the flavor will be a little less intense.  ALWAYS buy an imported Italian cheese; the difference in the dish is significant.  

I hope your have a wonderful weekend; Dr. C. and I are headed to Palm Springs tomorrow to see old friends that we haven't seen in over 20 years---the weather is supposed to be in the 80's--I'll try and post some photos from the drive. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Side Dishes make the Meal

When I'm testing recipes, sometimes the main course isn't a fave, or it can be bland, and in order to save the dinner, I've got to come up with a side dish that will knock the socks off Dr. C.

Tonight I'm testing a braised chicken in the slow cooker for the next book, and the side is looking pretty darned delicious, without a lot of work. 

I have to admit that gnocchi have never been my go-to side dish, but this recipe, written on the back of a card in my mom's old Settlement Cookbook where I have found lots of recipes with a "pinch of" and "dash of" sounded way too easy, and delicious. You can actually make up the gnocchi ahead of time, then boil (it takes less than a minute for them to be done) and then roll them around in the butter sauce. I think I'm in love!

Spinach Gnocchi with Butter and Parmigiano Reggiano

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

One 10-ounce package baby spinach

Salt and pepper

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

3/4 cup whole milk ricotta

3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1/4 to 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsalted butter

In a 10 to 12-inch skillet, heat the oil, and swirl the garlic in the pan for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the spinach, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook until the spinach is wilted, and there is no more liquid in the bottom of the pan.

Transfer the mixture to a food processor, and add the ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmigiano and 2 tablespoons of flour, pulsing on and off until the mixture comes together. Transfer to a bowl, and refrigerate if not making immediately.

Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil. Form the gnocchi into small ball—I use a small cookie scoop using about a teaspoon of the dough—better to have more gnocchi, than lessJ Roll the ball in the remaining flour, and transfer to the boiling water a few at a time. The gnocchi are done when they float to the surface. While the gnocchi are boiling heat 1/2 cup unsalted butter in a skillet and keep warm. Transfer the gnocchi to the skillet, and turn to coat the gnocchi. Serve the gnocchi garnished with the butter and remaining Parmigiano.

Let's talk ingredients for a minute: My mom always used to say the better the ingredients, the better the dish, and even though Papa John says the same thing about his pizzas, it still holds true today. Use whole milk ricotta; it will make these gnocchi so much more delicious. Freshly grate your nutmeg; there is night and day difference between the pre-ground and the freshly grated. Use imported Parmigiano Reggiano; this cheese has been made according to traditional methods for hundreds of years—that's why it's expensive, and so delicious. Grand Padano is what they discard---don't buy the Mario Batali and Lydia Bastianich Kool-Aid---Grand Padano is a poor imitation—they are paid to say it's as good as Parmigiano but I'll bet one look into their fridge at home and you will find the real thing, and no Grand Padano in sight. Use fresh garlic, no peeled and pureed pulp in some chemical concoction—a head of garlic won't break the bank, and the flavor will come through in this dish. 

Just a side note, as I've gone through the day today I've thought and prayed for the victims of the tragedy in Arizona, mourning the loss with the survivors, and with the citizens of Arizona.  Tragedy is tragedy...loss and sadness and grief...those of us who are old enough, and I am, we have seen leaders assassinated too many times...this day is for the victims, their families, and the survivors, rather than the self-aggrandizement of pundits and politicians who would use this time to make more points or cover themselves.  I celebrate the heroes in Tucson and pray for all those that have suffered loss and those that are recovering from this trauma...they are what this day is about. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Best Stew Known to Man

As I said yesterday, today was a test day for my latest book, and I made what Julia Child once called the best stew known to man.  I took a few liberties with her original recipe here  and Dr. C gave it two thumbs up!  

Prime short ribs from Siesels' meats

Sauteed onions

Altogether now!

Rich wine and beef flavored sauce

Mushrooms and purple pearl onions

Voila!  The blue plate special at Chez Phillips

Since I can't give you this recipe until it's published, I thought it might be nice to give you a recipe for my favorite accompaniment for this dish:  Mashed Yukon gold potatoes with Boursin Cheese.  

Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes with Boursin Cheese
Serves 6  

8 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, and cut into 1-inch chunks
One 5.2 ounce container Boursin cheese
1/4 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Place the potatoes in a 4-quart saucepan with water to cover.  
  2. Bring to a boil, and boil until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. 
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, heat the milk and Boursin, until they are warm. (see note) 
  4. Drain the potatoes, and return them to the pan, and shake over the heat, to dry them out.  
  5. Add some of the Boursin mixture, and mash the potatoes, adding more of the boursin/milk mixture until the potatoes are smooth and creamy.  
  6. Taste for seasoning, and add salt or pepper to taste.  Serve immediately. 

Stay tuned for more side dishes this week; I'm thinking about spinach gnocchi tomorrow with braised chicken and leeks in the slow cooker.