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.

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leverage

I always think of rice pudding as something you do with leftover rice. I know others disagree — for some, rice pudding is the main event. As rice pudding lacks chocolate, this is a position I don’t entirely understand.

But, apparently, the rice pudding lovers of the world are not alone. A recent scan of my cookbooks revealed a bevy of recipes that begin with measurements for dry, as opposed to cooked, rice, and then the directions for cooking the rice before adding the milk and cream. But let’s say you just made rice-stuffed peppers and now you have some leftover rice and a seven year-old is coming for dinner and his mother’s advice — “He’ll eat anything as long as dessert is in play,” — is ringing in your ears? What then? Then, this:

Rice Pudding With Spoon

Cherry Vanilla Rice Pudding

2 cups cooked rice
1 ¾ cups whole milk (really, you have to use whole milk)
1 ¾ cups half-and-half
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
½ a vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1/3 cup dried cherries

Rice PuddingIn a 3 quart pot, bring rice, milk, half-and-half, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium low (or lower, depending upon your burner) to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, stirring regularly until the mixture is thick, about 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occassionally, for about 15 more minutes until the mixture is quite thick. Remove from heat and stir in cherries. Pour into six custard cups. You can either eat it warm or cover the cups with plastic wrap, refrigerate and eat it chilled.

Serves 6.

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.

not birthday cake

My co-workers are really into celebrating birthdays; or, at least, they are really into eating free cake. The office rule is that when it’s your birthday, you get to pick the cake and subject everyone else to your tastes. In the last couple of years, there has been a troubling development. Instead of cake, people are requesting fruit and cheese platters, mixed nuts, bagel breakfasts, cookies and raspberry mousse-filled marzipan frogs. It’s distressing, this rejection of the birthday cake. Birthday cakes are so festive, so nostalgic. I can eat a bagel any day of the week, but I need an occasion to eat three layers of moist loveliness coated in butter cream.

So, you can only imagine my reaction when Anne’s response to my inquiry, “What kind of cake do you want for your birthday this year?” was: “I’d actually really like some apple turnovers.” It seems that the anti-birthday cake sentiment has invaded my home, but what was I going to do? True love only comes around once, people.

Apple Turnover

Of course, this was not the first time Anne had mentioned her love of the apple turnover to me. Even picky eaters, it turns out, have food memories, and I think this one is some conflation of Pepperidge Farm and an unauthorized trip with her babysitter to McDonald’s. So, I’d had this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated kicking around for a while. I was attracted to the streamlined puff pastry method (food processor? yes, please) but a little wigged out by the instructions for the filling — grated apples? Doesn’t that just seem like it’s going to be weird?

Turnover InteriorTurns out, who am I to question Cook’s Illustrated? The turnovers were seriously awesome. The pastry is beautiful — all buttery and clean tasting as it shatters under the pressure of your bite. And the apple filling is perfect — nicely cooked and not too sweet. And so orderly; it just fits itself right in that little puff pastry triangle and stays put.

I’m just going to say it: it’s like the old-school (circa 1983) McDonald’s apple pies that you secretly loved, on steroids.

I’m not going to lie — this recipe is a little bit of a project. Cook’s bills the dough as “Quick Puff Pastry,” which it is, compared to the traditional process of beating butter into submission and then folding it into a square of dough a zillion times. But honestly, when it looks like this outside, what else am I going to do but bake? And, hey, a birthday only comes around once a year.

Apple Turnovers
From Baking Illustrated, by the folks at Cook’s Illustrated

For the “Quick” Puff Pastry:
3 cups AP flour
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ¼” pieces
9 tablespoons ice water
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add one quarter of the butter pieces and process until the butter is in dime-sized pieces, about four to six 1-second pulses. Add the remaining butter and process just until the butter pieces are coated with flour, about two 1 second pulses.

Combine the ice water and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add half the liquid to the flour-butter mixture and pulse briefly, until just combined. Keep adding the liquid, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough will clump together in your hand. Turn the dough out onto a work surface. The dough will be dry and shaggy.

FraisageStarting at the part of the dough that is farthest from you, fraisage the dough. This is done by pressing down on the dough with the heel of your hand and pushing away using short, brisk strokes. Using a bench scraper, gather the dough together into a rough rectangle and repeat the fraisage process one more time. Using the bench scraper, and then your hands, pat the dough into an 8”x4” rectangle, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Folding the DoughUnwrap the dough and place it on a lightly floured piece of parchment. Roll the dough out to a 15” x 10” rectangle and then fold the dough in thirds, lengthwise. Starting from the narrow end, loosely roll the dough in thirds again, and press it into a 6” x 5” rectangle. Repeat the rolling and folding process one more time. If the dough becomes to sticky before the second folding, chill it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. When you’ve rolled and folded the dough twice, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour, and up to 24 hours. (I know this looks tricky, but if you mosey on over to my Flickr page, you will see more photos that will take you through the dough step by step.)

For the Apple Turnovers:
4 – 5 Granny Smith apples (2 lbs)
1 ½ cups sugar
3 teaspoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt

Cinnamon Sugar Topping
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 20” x 15” rectangle. (Depending upon how long you’ve chilled the dough, it may be very firm and difficult to work with. Let it warm up a bit on the counter – about 10 minutes, and try giving it a whack with the side of your rolling pin to get it started.) Trim and cut the dough into twelve 5” squares and divide the squares of dough between the two baking sheets. Refrigerate the squares while you make the filling.

Dough Squares

Peel the apples and grate them on the large holes of a box grater. (If you have the grater attachment for your food processor, feel free to use it here.) Combine the grated apples, sugar, lemon juice and salt in a medium bowl.

Filling TurnoversRemove one tray of dough from the refrigerator. Working with one square at a time, place a square on a work surface. (I know what you’re thinking, “Why can’t I just leave it on the sheet?” Because apple juices are going to come out while you’re shaping the turnovers, and you don’t want all that extra moisture on the baking sheet.) Place 2 tablespoons of the filling, squeezed of excess liquid, in the center of the dough. Using a pastry brush or your finger, moisten two adjoining edges of the square with some of the apple liquid. Fold the top portion of the dough over the bottom, making sure to overlap the bottom portion by ¼”. Crimp the edges of the turnover with a fork, and transfer to the baking sheet. Repeat with all the squares and then chill the turnovers for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours. (If you chill them longer than an hour, cover them with plastic wrap.)

Shaped Turnovers

Adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions and preheat the oven to 375º. Remove the turnovers from the refrigerator and brush the tops lightly with water. Sprinkle the turnovers evenly with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Bake the turnovers until golden brown, 30 – 35 minutes, rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom halfway through cooking. Let the turnovers cool on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 12 turnovers.

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.

how ina garten saved my marriage

I know what you’re thinking — you’d always pictured Ina cast in the role of home-wrecker, not home healer. (That luminous skin, that sultry laugh… I’m sure I’m not the only one with a crush on the Barefoot Contessa).

Small FreezerThe root of the problem is that my city-sized freezer, in my city-sized kitchen is too small to safely and coldly store: a small stockpile of nuts and unsalted butter for baking emergencies, 10 pounds of frozen meat from my CSA, mail-ordered raw food for the beagle, some Chinese dumplings, highly-perishable grits sent from a friend in North Carolina and a 5 pound box of organic, wild Maine blueberries.

The problem was really the blueberries. Anne is willing to tolerate my need to horde meat and butter, and she shares my paranoia concerning the pet food industry (and undying devotion to aforementioned beagle), but she drew the line at the blueberries. When the berries arrived (over a year ago), Anne promptly reminded me that she does not like blueberries. But I was undeterred. She’d be won over by my mom’s blueberry pancake recipe. (She was not).

Box of Blueberries

Another obstacle was that all the recipes I knew for things blueberry were items that could not be easily transported to my office and pawned off on my co-workers. (Here, have some delicious blueberry pancakes, hot off the griddle via the Red Line!). It got worse as time went on. Anne would run into Star Market for some staple unavailable at Whole Foods (Hellman’s mayo, for example), and I’d say, “Don’t buy any frozen pizza while you’re there because there is no room in the freezer.” She’d shout back, “Maybe you should eat some freakin’ blueberries!” And on it went. Until now.

Slice of Blueberry Crumb Cake

Last weekend’s episode of Barefoot Contessa featured a blueberry cake with a streusel topping. Perfect for toting to the office, to pot lucks, to friend’s places. The original recipe called for 1 cup of blueberries, but at that rate, I’d still be working on this box by… blueberry season. So I upped it to 2 cups (9 oz.). Also, the recipe calls for using a round baking pan, but next time I might try using a spring form pan, so I can remove the cake for serving on a platter. The cake is like your favorite Entenmann’s crumb cake — but moister (from the sour cream), and with bright little bursts of blueberry and lemon. It’s a little rich for breakfast, but I think it’ll be so nice with your 10:30 coffee break. And now I have a place for all the blueberries in my freezer to go.

Blueberry Crumb Cake
Adapted from Ina Garten

For the Streusel:
¼ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/3 cups AP flour
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Combine the sugars, spices and flour in a bowl. Pour in the melted butter and mix. Set aside.

For the Cake:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
2/3 cup sour cream
1 ¼ cups AP flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
9 oz. (2 cups) fresh or frozen blueberries
confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350º. Butter and flour a 9” round baking pan.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on high speed until light, 4 – 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add the eggs, one at a time. Then add the vanilla, lemon zest and sour cream. With mixer still on low, add the flour mixture until the batter is just combined. Fold in blueberries with a spatula.

Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth with spatula. Using your fingers, crumble the streusel mixture on top. Bake for 40 – 50 minutes,* until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely before serving. Dust top with confectioners’ sugar.

* I used an 8” cake pan, and it took almost an hour to cook the cake.

those clever french

Boeuf Bourguignon

Beef stew. So homely, so ordinary, so thick (and not in a good way). But boeuf bourguignon? So romantic, so enticing, so savory. And it’s not just a change in accent; I think those French are really on to something. Browning the beef in bacon fat? Brilliant! Simmering the meat in a bottle of red wine? Crazy! And braising those fancy little pearl onions separately so they retain their shape and succulence? Genius!

I always assumed my mom’s recipe for boeuf bourguignon was straight from Julia Child (who was practically a minor deity in our house) until I compared the single notebook page of her handwritten notes to the three type-written pages in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I think it’s more likely that Julia’s recipe inspired my mom’s, and I wanted the taste I’d grown up with, so I followed (as best I could) my mother’s notes, occasionally consulting the original for technique.

I promise you’ll lick your plate. The beef is meltingly tender, the sauce is rich and bright and those onions! I think they’re the best part, all buttery and rich from their bath in herbs and beef stock (and you can do them a day ahead or on the stove while the beef is in the oven). Sure, maybe we Americans figured out how to put beef stew in a can, but I think turning low-rent beef cuts, a bottle of wine, some fungi and a few root vegetables into heaven on a plate is an even better trick.

Boeuf Bourguignon
From Julia Child, via my mom

1 lb (aprox) white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced ¼” thick
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 slices thick-cut bacon, sliced into ¼” lardons
1 carrot, peeled and sliced ¼” thick
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 lbs boneless beef (preferably chuck, but sirloin will work) cut into 2” pieces
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine
2 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon sugar
6 – 8 sprigs of thyme, tied in a bundle with kitchen twine
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
braised onions (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 325º. Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Increase heat to medium-high and sauté mushrooms until brown and caramelized around the edges. Remove mushrooms to a bowl with slotted spoon. Reduce heat to medium and cook bacon until fat is rendered and bacon is crispy. Remove bacon with slotted spoon and put in the bowl with the mushrooms. Increase heat to medium-high and sauté carrot until softened slightly and caramelized around the edges, about 5 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.

Season beef well with salt and pepper. In batches, sear beef until well-browned. Remove beef from the pot and set aside. Add garlic cloves to pot and sauté briefly. Add 1 cup of red wine to the pot and simmer vigorously for 2 – 3 minutes, scraping bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release the fond. Return beef and carrots to the pot. Sprinkle with flour. Add bay leaf, bundle of thyme, beef stock, sugar, tomato paste, 1 teaspoon salt and remaining wine.

Bring contents of the pot to a simmer. Cover the pot and place in the lower third of the oven. Cook for 2 hours, add mushrooms and bacon. Cook 1 hour more until a fork goes into the beef with little resistance.

When the stew is finished, remove the pot from the oven. Fish out the bay leaf and thyme and discard. With a slotted spoon, remove the meat and vegetables from the pot and set aside. With a wide spoon (or a gravy separator), de-fat the gravy. Over medium-low heat, simmer the gravy until thickened slightly, about 5 – 8 minutes. Taste the gravy and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Return the meat and vegetables to the gravy. Stir in the braised onions. Serve over noodles or mashed potatoes. If you’re smart, and not a silly girl like me, you’ll slice up a nice baguette to sop up the sauce.

Braised Onions

Braised Onions 24 small, white pearl onions, peeled
1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
½ cup beef broth
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Over medium-low heat, melt butter and oil. Add onions and sauté, shaking the pan to roll the onions so they brown evenly on all sides. Be careful not to break their skins. Add broth, herbs and salt and pepper. Cover the pan and simmer very slowly over low heat for 40 – 50 minutes until tender and most of the liquid has evaporated.