Category Archives: dinner

heaven on route 1

Karl's Sausage KitchenRoute 1 North from Boston is congested, tacky and, at times, terrifying. It runs up , close to the coast, through Chelsea and Saugus until it breaks west a bit to run alongside U.S. 95. The real estate along the road is stuffed to the gills with American commerce: a miniature golf course with a giant dinosaur, an Italian restaurant complete with 1/4 scale leaning tower of Pisa, and a steakhouse with an enormous, glowing cactus. On the right side, as you drive north and reach the end of the stretch of Route 1 that cuts through Saugus is Karl’s Sausage Kitchen, marked with a sign that looks straight out of 1962.

Karl’s is part German butcher, part specialty grocery. It’s the place to go if you are looking for any variety of Haribo gummy candy. They also have about 15 kinds of mustard. But the heart of Karl’s is the butcher shop. They make their own sausages, smoke their own bacon and pork chops, and carry several types of imported deli specialties (like ham, cured sausages, liverwursts, and cheese). My German neighbors tell me that Karl’s doesn’t really specialize in any one region of Germany, but offers up a kind of greatest hits of German charcuterie.

Karl's BaconWhen you go, you must get the bacon. It is amazing. You will never be able to eat grocery store bacon again, so you should buy at least 2 — 3 lbs (that’s as much as I can order without feeling totally embarrassed; otherwise, I would order more). You’ll freeze it and it will be gone before you know it. I also enjoy the house-made bologna — it’s meaty deliciousness without the greasy, gross feeling of the bologna of my youth. As for sausages, I love the fine bratwursts (made with — gulp — veal). Also excellent are the coarse bratwursts (these are a traditional mix of beef and pork) and the plump, red knockwursts. All of these work great in the following recipe, which is an excellent way to enjoy your Karl’s bounty.

Bratwurst & Sauerkraut

Bratwurst & Sauerkraut
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 — 8 bratwursts or knockwursts (about 4 oz. each), punctured several times with a skewer
1 small onion, halved and sliced thin
10 whole juniper berries*
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater
1lb sauerkraut, drained and well-rinsed
1 medium sweet-tart apple, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper

Heat the butter in a 12” skillet with a tight fitting lid over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, add the wursts, and reduce heat to medium. Brown the wursts, turning after about 1 minute. Remove to a plate.

Add the sliced onion, grated carrot, juniper berries and about ½ teaspoon salt to the skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and begin to brown. Add the drained sauerkraut, grated apple, brown sugar and chicken broth to the pan, along with another ¼ to ½ teaspoon salt (depending on the saltiness of your broth). Increase heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a simmer.

Return the wursts to the pan and nestle them in the sauerkraut. Cover the pan, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes or until almost all the broth is evaporated. Taste the sauerkraut and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Serves 4 — 6. Serve with boiled potatoes or noodles and spicy mustard.

*If you’re around these parts, you can buy juniper berries (along with about any other spice you can think of) at Christina’s in Inman Square, Cambridge. And after you’re done shopping, you can go next door to the ice cream parlor for a scoop of burnt sugar, khulfi, pumpkin, fig, fresh mint or Mexican chocolate ice cream.

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mac n’ cheese, please

Macaroni and cheese is a little like chocolate — often it’s ordinary, sometimes it’s sublime, but either way it’s tasty. I will admit that I have been guilty of coming home, tired and hungry, after a long day at work and opening a box of shells and powdered cheese. With enough black pepper, I find this a totally comforting, one bowl dinner. But it always makes me feel sad, because with just a little more energy and not much more time, I could have eaten something wonderful.

Mac n' Cheese

Anne, of course, is a big fan of macaroni and cheese (the woman subsists, essentially, on complex carbohydrates and cheese). So having a recipe for homemade mac n’ cheese that I can put together on a week night with stuff we almost always have on hand is essential to my marriage. I like to bake this version in a low gratin dish because you get a larger surface area for covering with breadcrumbs that get all toasty and crusty when fused with cheese in the oven. The interior, though, is creamy with a significant bite from the cheese. If you enlist a partner to grate the cheese while you boil the pasta and whisk the sauce, you can have the whole thing assembled and in the oven in 25 minutes.

Macaroni & Cheese

½ lb elbows or penne
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the dish
2 tablespoons AP flour
2 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon onion powder (I know, I know – so sue me…)
pinch of nutmeg
10 oz. shredded cheese (I use 6 – 8 oz. sharp cheddar and gruyere for the rest)
1 cup Panko bread crumbs

Pre-heat oven to 350º and butter a 2 quart gratin dish. Cook pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water for about 1 minute less than the package directions for al dente. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, in a 2 quart saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat until foaming subsides. Dump in flour, all at once, and whisk vigorously until the flour is incorporated but the mixture is still pale gold. Slowly whisk in milk and simmer, stirring frequently, over medium low heat until the sauce is thick, about 15 minutes.*

Cream SauceOnce the sauce is thickened, add salt and pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper) and remaining spices, whisking until thoroughly combined. Remove the sauce from the heat and add the 2/3 of the grated cheese by handfuls, whisking to incorporate after each addition. Taste the sauce at this point to see if it needs more salt or pepper. Pour sauce over the cooked pasta and stir to combine.

Pour half the pasta and cheese sauce mixture into the prepared gratin dish. Sprinkle on half the remaining grated cheese. Add the rest of the pasta mixture and sprinkle with remaining cheese. In a small bowl, melt remaining tablespoon of butter and mix with bread crumbs. Sprinkle buttered bread crumbs on top of macaroni and cheese and bake about 30 minutes until hot and bubbling. If your bread crumbs aren’t brown enough for your liking, put the dish under the broiler for 2 – 3 minutes.

Mac n' Cheese on Plate

Serves 4 for dinner, 6 — 8 as a side dish.

* If you want to speed up the sauce, you can warm the milk in the microwave (or on the stove) before adding it to the roux.

pig skin

Last year, I wanted to make ham for Thanksgiving. I was out-voted (we had a turkey). The thing is, how many occasions does one have, other than Thanksgiving, to roast a large piece of meat knowing there will be plenty of folks around to help you eat it?

Ham, Gravy, Cracklings

When I received a fresh ham in my meat pick-up last month, I immediately called my friend Allison, a fellow ham-lover (but also a turkey for Turkey Day purist). When I suggested Sunday, February 3rd for ham dinner, it was only with very mild exasperation that she reminded me that February 3rd was Super Bowl Sunday. Not a problem — ham should be eaten in the late afternoon, before money-hungry networks televise long-awaited sporting events, forcing small children to stay up past their bedtimes.

A fresh ham is essentially a large piece of roasted pork. It has none of the smoky, salty flavor of the ham most of us eat regularly. It’s more like roast pork loin — sweet and clean tasting. This recipe, from the Gourmet Cookbook, ups the ante with a killer gravy and homemade cracklings. That’s right: gravy and crisp, roasted pig skin.

Beer Basted Fresh Ham With Cracklings and Pan Gravy

Adapted from Epicurious

For the Ham:

8 – 10 lb fresh ham
Vegetable oil for rubbing
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1⁄2 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon English-style dry mustard
12 oz. beer (not dark)

For the Gravy:

2 tablespoons AP flour
1 cup beef broth
1⁄2 teaspoon English-style dry mustard
1⁄4 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1⁄4 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons cider vinegar

Ham with RubPre-heat oven to 500°. With a small, very sharp knife, prick the ham skin all over. Make four parallel, ½” deep incisions through the skin, running the entire length of the ham. Rub the ham lightly with oil all over. In a small bowl, combine salt, thyme, sage, pepper and mustard and rub the mixture over the entire ham. Place the ham on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. Place ham in oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325°. Roast for 1 hour. Pour half the beer over the ham and roast for 30 minutes more. Pour remaining beer over the ham and roast for 2 – 2 ½ hours more, until the pork registers 150° on an instant-read thermometer.* (If the drippings appear to be burning, add some water to the bottom of the pan while cooking.)

Peeling off Ham SkinLet the pork cool on the rack in the pan for 15 minutes. Carefully pull the crisp, brown skin off the ham, leaving the fat behind. With scissors, cut the skin into small pieces, arrange on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and roast at 350° for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until crisp and brown on both sides. Transfer cracklings to a paper towel lined plate to drain.

Remove the remaining fat from the ham with a sharp knife. Tent the ham with foil and let rest while you make the gravy. Skim the fat off the juices in the roasting pan. Add one cup water to the pan and deglaze the pan over moderate heat, scraping up the brown bits. Transfer the drippings to a saucepan. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and ¼ cup of the broth until the mixture is smooth. Whisk the flour mixture into the pan with the drippings, along with the remaining broth and the remaining gravy ingredients. Simmer the gravy, whisking, for 5 minutes.

Slice the meat thinly and across the grain. Arrange on a platter with the cracklings. Serves 8 with leftovers. I think the leftovers would make awesome Cuban sandwiches, but I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet.

*The original recipe said to roast until the ham reached 170° — that is way too long. Trust me, my ham was cooked throughout with nary a trace of pink — I think I could have taken it out five degrees sooner. I’m also very curious to know how brining would have affected the texture of the ham and I might try that next time.

breakfast for dinner

Maybe my parents were delinquent, but we had pancakes all the time growing up. Sometimes, we even had them for dinner. To Ellis, this was a radical but welcome concept. After two weeks of mediocre reviews (3/4 of a thumbs up; better without the lemon), I decided I needed a sure thing. Dinner tonight received a “gooooood!”

Pancakes

When I moved into my first apartment, I spent a lot of weekends trying to figure out pancakes. They seem so simple, but bad pancakes are really terrible — burnt on the outside, raw on the middle, flavorless, soggy, sodden, spongy. I ate some real losers. The recipe of choice in our house growing up was from the brown, crumbling edition of Fanny Farmer my mother had probably received as a wedding gift. But when I tried it, the pancakes came out flavorless and kind of gooey inside. Gross.

Pancakes on GriddleIf you still haven’t found a reliable pancake recipe to guide you through bleak times (like, a late night at work and a seven-year old coming over for dinner), let me offer this one. It’s from the folks at Cook’s Illustrated, so, of course, it’s slightly fussy (you have to separate an egg, and then say a little spell and add the parts of the egg to the buttermilk and melted butter in a very particular order), but it’s worth it. These come out great every time; crispy on the outside with a light and fluffy interior. And here are two other tips for pancake making. First, use a griddle. You can make almost the whole batch of these at one time on the griddle, the cakes are easier to flip, and it is easier to maintain the heat when you add the batter. Second, fry some bacon first. Bacon fat gives the most deliciously salty, naughty flavor to the crisp edges of the pancake.

Light & Fluffy Pancakes
Adapted from The Best Recipe by the folks at Cook’s Illustrated

1 cup AP flour
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup buttermilk, at room temperature
¼ cup milk, at room temperature
1 large egg, separated and at room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
vegetable oil or bacon fat for greasing the griddle

Pancake MiseWhisk dry ingredients together in medium bowl. Combine buttermilk and milk in a 2-cup measuring cup. Whisk egg white into milk mixture. Stir egg yolk into melted butter then pour butter mixture into milk mixture. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and whisk lightly and quickly, just until combined.

Heat a griddle over medium-high heat (or, if you’ve been frying up a bunch of bacon on your griddle over low heat, increase your heat to medium-high). Generously grease the griddle with vegetable oil (or bacon fat – yum!). Ladle batter, about ¼ cup at a time, onto griddle. Do not over-crowd the pancakes.

When the first side is brown and little air bubbles have begun to form on the surface (2 –3 minutes), flip pancakes and cook second side (1 –2 minutes longer). Serve immediately with butter, maple syrup or jam.

Serves 2 – 3 pancake lovers.

bossy

If you are a kind and generous person, and your friend tells you that he loves fettucine alfredo, but no one ever makes it for him, and by the way, he’s coming over for dinner this week, what do you do? Clearly, you make fettucine alfredo, even if you find it to be a cloying, dull dish. But, if you’re bossy like me, and you think you know better than a seven-year-old about what to have for dinner, you make lemon pasta and say something idiotic like, “It’s just like fettucine alfredo, but with lemon.”

Lemon Pasta

I suspect that’s where I went wrong. If I’d just told Ellis we were having Anne’s favorite lemon pasta for dinner, I think it might have gone over better. Instead, I teased the poor kid with the promise of his most dreamed-about dish, only to let him down by tweaking it in a slightly adult way. As he said to me, his mouth half full of chicken sausage and a Patriots’ ski cap pulled down thugishly over his eyebrows, “It would have been better without the lemon.” But don’t let this disuade you. This lemon pasta is totally delicious, even if it’s a little adult. I know it looks like a fair amount of cream and butter, but somehow the lemon lifts the whole thing right off your tongue and makes the pasta taste bright. It is, very likely, the only creamy pasta dish I like to eat. But I fear there’s a classic fettucine alfredo in my future.

Lemon Pasta
Adapted From Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons lemon juice
zest from 1 lemon
1 pound fresh or dried fettucine or linguini
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup Parmesan cheese
chopped chives, for garnish

In a large sauté pan with high sides, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in cream and lemon juice to combine and heat through. Cover pan and turn off heat while you cook the pasta. Once the pasta is al dente, remove it from the water, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the cream sauce and toss to coat. Add the lemon zest, salt and pepper. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with a little of the pasta cooking water. Transfer the pasta to serving bowls and sprinkle with a tablespoon cheese and chopped chives. Serves 6 — 8 as a first course.

reinforcements

Our friend Ellis has graciously agreed to have dinner with us once a week to help out with mission eat-down-the-freezer (sub-specialty: meat). Ellis is 7. I’ve known him for over five years and in that time we’ve eaten a lot of meals together. Most of those meals are festive, however, with a prescribed menu. So last night, I quizzed our dinner guest about his likes and dislikes.

Here is some of what I learned: He hates potatoes (who doesn’t like potatoes?). The only time he eats cooked carrots is when they appear in the school lunch. (This shocks me; the chaos of an elementary school cafeteria seems easy cover for ditching your vegetables.) Bacon was once the only breakfast meat he ate, but he recently had sausage at a friend’s house and was quickly won over. Also, Ellis absolutely loves fettucine alfredo, but claims it is rarely served to him. (Remember the days before you had your own kitchen and could reach the stove? Those were hard times, man.)

Stuffed Peppers

Last night we had stuffed peppers and a Caesar salad, which I described as salad with ranch dressing and cheese because Ellis claims he only eats salad with ranch dressing. (He ate the salad. Some day I will tell him the truth — maybe for his bar mitzvah.) I made the peppers because the filling contains three things I know Ellis likes: ground beef, sausage and mozzarella cheese. And, let’s be honest, because I’ve got a problem with freezer capacity, exacerbated since Anne decided to horde half of her birthday turnovers for a rainy day.

It was love at first sight for me and Ellis. After we met, he told his mom he liked my hair. I am unreasonably vain about my hair. To paraphrase Vicki (the crazy, drunk one) from The Real Housewives of Orange County, I pay a lot of money to be blond, not yellow. Ellis is a blond too. We understand each other. He gave the peppers three-quarters of a thumbs-up. I take his honesty as a sign of the strength of our bond.

Stuffed Pepper on PlateI think they’re yummy. The red peppers get all sweet and roasted in the hot oven, and the interior — full of cheese, parsley and tomatoes — is savory, bright and satisfying. And did I mention that there is sausage inside? Plus, you keep them in your freezer, folks, and then just cook up as many as you want whenever you want. So smaht, as they say around here.

Stuffed Peppers
From Cook’s Country (the red-headed step-child of Cook’s Illustrated)

Peppers and Stuffing
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
8 oz. 85% lean ground beef
4 oz. Italian sausage, casings removed
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked, long-grain rice
1 can (14 ½ oz) diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup shredded mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
4 medium red bell peppers

Cut the peppers in half through the stem end, but leave the stem intact. Remove seeds and core and set aside. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook onion until softened and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add the beef and sausage, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon, until meat begins to brown, 6 – 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Place mixture in colander and drain for 1 minute.

In a large bowl, combine meat mixture, rice, tomatoes, mozzarella, Parmesan, parsley, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Refrigerate until well chilled, about half an hour.

Filling Ingredients

Spoon filling evenly into pepper halves. Wrap each pepper in two layers of plastic wrap and one layer of tin foil. Place in zip lock bags and freeze up to two months.

For Serving:
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded mozzarella

Bamboo Skewering PepperPreheat oven to 450º. Cut as many pieces of foil as peppers you’ll be cooking; the squares of foil should be just large enough to cover the stuffing in the peppers. Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray (or brush with oil). Unwrap peppers and cover filling with the foil squares. Using a bamboo skewer, poke several holes in the filling.

Place the peppers, foil side down, on a broiler pan. Brush the backs of the peppers with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until peppers are spotty brown. Remove pan from oven. Flip peppers over and remove foil. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, return to oven and bake 5 minutes more, until cheese is melted.

party like it’s 1974

My parents were married in 1974 and, like a lot of newlyweds of that era, received a Dansk fondue set as a wedding present.

Fondue Pot

(That’s right; that is an authentic, Dansk Kobenstyle fondue pot. I love you, eBay!)

It came with a booklet full of fondue recipes — cheese, chocolate and meat. The cheese fondue recipe included directions that read like a junior high kissing game — smooch the person to your left if you lose your bread in the bubbling cheese, for example. I’ve never been to Switzerland, but I’m sure these directions were the work of some swinging 70s marketeer. I mean, since when are the Swiss sexy? Also, I can tell you from personal experience, this is not the dish to serve if you are looking to get some action because your lover is likely to eat him or herself sick and be plagued by dairy belly for the rest of the evening.

Fondue with Apple

So don’t make this for Valentine’s Day.

But honestly, what could taste better than melty cheese and wine? According to Anne, nothing.

Cheese Fondue

1 clove garlic, cut in half
1 ¼ cups dry white wine
½ lb Gruyère cheese
½ lb Emmenthaler cheese
pinch of nutmeg
2 tablespoons kirsch
1 tablespoon cornstarch
salt and white pepper, to taste

Using a box grater, shred both cheeses and place in a bowl with the nutmeg. Rub the cut side of the garlic clove over the inside of the fondue pot and over the bowl of a wooden spoon. Discard garlic clove. Bring wine to a simmer in the pot over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the cheeses and nutmeg, a handful at a time, stirring constantly with the wooden spoon. The cheese will melt, but it won’t be thoroughly incorporated into the wine.

In a small bowl, mix together the constarch and kirsch to form a slurry. Off heat, add the kirsch mixture to the wine and cheese. Return the pot to the heat, and cook, stirring, until the mixture is thick and incorporated, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper, to taste.

Fondue AccoutrementsPlace the fondue pot on the stand, over a sterno flame. Serve with cubes of crusty French bread, slices of apple and steamed new potatoes. According to my sources, this amount of cheese serves 4 people. I am a little embarrassed to say that Anne and I eat almost the whole thing, every time.