Tag Archives: home cooking

My Favorite Secret Italian Sauce

italian tomato sauce

You’ll flip when you see how easy it is.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love all types of cuisine. But Italian cooking – that’s my absolute go-to favorite. Many of my favorite restaurants are Italian – in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. Sfixo in Beverly Hills is still – hands down – my favorite local Italian. It’s really fabulous if you’re a fan of dishes that come from northern Italy.

Many people think that all Italian food is basically the same – pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, etc.  But, there are real variations all along the entire country – traditional Italian cooking is strongly region-based. In northern Italy, you’ll find an emphasis on rich cream sauces, polenta and stuffed meats, Southern Italians embrace the Mediterranean diet with tomato sauces and lots of sea food with everything in between.

I travel to Italy as often as possible – at least once a year – and during each visit I make sure that I take at least one cooking class to learn “secrets” from great Italian cooks.  I follow several of them on social media – two have even become friends – Judy Witts Francini (@divinacucina) and Helena Kyriakides (@yummyyummyitaly).  It’s the only real way to understand a cuisine – take a class, tour an area of the country and eat the food!

The truth is, you don’t have to be a great cook to make a great dish – just understand some basic rules of the cuisine. All you really need is a sense of adventure. My recommendation, start small, and work your way up!

For instance, I was watching a post by Judy on how to prepare a simple Tuscan tomato dish (they’re in season right now) that you can use as a sauce, a side dish, or even as part of the main course.  And, in that post I learned a secret about olive oil and fresh garlic (by the way – true Italian cooks uses very little garlic – they prefer to let the fresh ingredients shine).

Ingredients

  • 1 Clove Garlic, sliced (add more if you’re cooking a lot of tomatoes).
  • Whole Cherry Tomatoes (I recommend organic). Use multi colored ones for fun or slightly larger ones that you can cut into fourths.
  • Enough EVOO – that’s “extra-virgin olive oil” to lightly cover the bottom of your frying pan or saucepan. I recommend Long Meadow Ranch Winery Prato Lungo Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It has just the right flavor for Italy.
  • Sea Salt (to flavor).
  • Fresh Basil (to flavor).

Preparation

  • Add sliced garlic to the COLD oil. Here’s the “secret” I learned from my friend: never put fresh garlic in hot oil – it will burn almost immediately and become very bitter. You’ll just have to throw the whole thing away and start over. By adding garlic to the cold oil, the garlic has more cook time in the olive oil adding flavor to the oil and will turn golden very slowly so you can remove any bits that start to get too dark.
  • Medium heat.
  • Sauté garlic till golden.
  • Add the tomatoes to the pan.
  • Add sea salt (to flavor).
  • Slowly cook down the tomatoes until tender and they begin to burst.
  • Add the fresh basil (cut into thin ribbons – chiffonade) at the end if you’re using the tomatoes on pasta.

As I mentioned before, this preparation is very flexible. You can use this as aside for a grilled steak or on top of pounded and sautéed (Paillard) chicken breast with some baby arugula. You can use it to dress up grilled fish, or as a simple sauce for pasta or over small noodles for a simple pasta salad. And personally speaking, the basil leaves are a must – for the aroma and the flavor.

See? It’s so simple. Doesn’t this make you want to jump up and cook?

My best recipe for Beer Steamed Clams

Fran Berger - beer steamed clams

Want to try cooking Clams? Try my “beer steamers” – so easy to do.

A bowl of bear steamed clamsI know a lot of my friends are intimidated by the thought of cooking clams. It’s true that you have to be a little careful with them, but in all honesty, they’re actually one of the easiest things to cook and the reward is high. Clams are really fabulous as appetizers or as part of the main course.

Clams are harvested from all sorts of locales – each type has its own distinctive characteristic and flavor. They grow in both fresh and salt water, and range in all types of shapes and sizes.  Clams are a terrific source of lean protein with just a 3-ounce serving providing 22 grams of protein and only 126 calories with less than 2 grams of total fat. Served fresh, clams are also nutritious – tons of Vitamin A, B and C not to mention iron and magnesium.

Nothing surpasses (for simplicity and ease) steaming clams with a good bottle of beer. I love to serve up a whole pot of “beer steamers” for my guests- serve it with grilled corn on the cob and of course a great salad.

Buy your clams fresh at your local market. In California, we usually get a type called Manila clams – they’re smaller and very sweet. They are also the ones that won’t have any sand in them so you don’t have to worry about the grit.  If you buy a different type of clam ask your fish monger how to clean out the sand before cooking.  Buy clams the day you need them if at all possible.  But, you can also buy clams online. Keep live clams on ice in your refrigerator for one but never more than two days. When you’re ready to cook your clams, sort them for freshness and wash the shells thoroughly in cool water. You don’t have to scrub hard, you just want to get rid of the bits of sand and sea life that you don’t want in the cooking pot!

Now, how about that recipe?

  • Sort the clams for freshness. Throw away any that are even partially open or are cracked or missing pieces of shell.
  • Pour enough beer (a full-flavored beer like a stout) to cover the bottom of a large fry pan or kettle that has a tight-fitting lid. Preferably a glass lid.
  • Turn on the heat and bring beer to a boil.
  • Add the cleaned clams to the pan/kettle. Remember that you’re steaming clams, so make sure that none of them are fully submerged in the beer.
  • Close the lid and bring back up to a boil. If you have Manila clams, cook for 3 minutes or just until they begin to open; 5 minutes if your clams are a larger variety. Be careful not to overcook as they will become very chewy.
  • Watch your pan/kettle closely during the cooking – a glass lid helps with this part – because you want to take them off the heat as soon as they start to open. Also, note that during the steaming process, clams will release their own water as they cook so be sure that your pan is large enough to accommodate any extra liquid. You don’t want that water to overflow and create a big mess.
  • Remove the pan/kettle and place the steamed (and opened) clams in a bowl. They’re ready to serve!

While it is true that clams are easy enough to cook, there are some very important rules that that you need to know:

Rule 1: Cook only clams that have shells that are tightly closed. Don’t cook clams that have broken or cracked shells – and never, never, ever cook ones that look or smell dead. You want your clams as fresh as the market can deliver.

Rule 2: Watch your clams closely during the steaming. The smaller Manila clams will cook within about 3 minutes of cooking: they open up and that’s when they’re done! Larger clams may need more time, up to 5 minutes of steaming.  Once they start to open be sure to remove the pan from the heat.

Rule 3: Discard any clams that do not open up with the rest of them. Cooking longer will not “make” them open – you don’t want to eat them if they don’t open with the group….Trust me.

Once you get over your hesitation and steam your own clams, here’s Rule 4: Have plenty of lemons and melted butter on hand for eating!  Enjoy!!!

Level up your Summer Snacks Strategy!

Summer Fruits

Kitchen Tips: Chill out and stock up on fruits and frozen blueberry “Bites”

Here comes the sun. Summer is one of my favorite times of the year. I’m a sunshine kind of person, so I welcome all of it. Especially the fun part: the joy of cooling off!

There are a lot of different ways to cool off. The first thing you’ll want to do is have plenty of water around. Just plain, every day H2O. The doctors say that we all need to drink at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water every day (think of it as the “8×8” rule). Following this rule is especially important when it’s sweltering.  But, if you’re like me and think that plain water is so very boring then be sure to keep a pitcher of water with sliced citrus or mint and cucumber in the refrigerator – it tricks me into thinking I’m drinking something special and I get my 8 glasses in!

Another trick? Keep lots of cold fruits around. I stash fresh fruit of all kinds, cleaned and cut in bowls in the refrigerator. Things like melon (canary, cantaloupe), pineapple, strawberries, kiwi, and oranges. Make sure that you buy whole fruit at the market and cut them at home yourself. Cutting your own fruit reduces the possibility of bringing a food-borne illness into your home. And besides, you KNOW how clean your cutting board is! Right?

A note on apples. Precut apples start to brown almost immediately. But, you can stop the browning by dabbing them in fresh orange or lemon juice. I prefer orange juice because it enhances the apple taste. I think lemon juice clashes a little. Once I’ve cut my apples (one-eighth slices) and dabbed them with orange juice, I’ll place them on a covered plate in the fridge ready to serve.

Frozen grapes are another great way to cool off.  Buy organic seedless grapes, clean and thoroughly dry them and then place them on a sheet tray in the freezer.  When they’re frozen, transfer them to a Ziploc bag.  Everyone can just reach in and grab a few anytime.

How about frozen blueberry bites – doesn’t that sound delicious? With yogurt! This one is for those of us with insatiable appetites for sweets with just a bit of tart. And the heat of the summer just brings it on even stronger. I saw this video on PureWow. It’s so easy to make. And they are so very delicious.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces of vanilla yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • 1 pint of fresh organic blueberries

Directions

  1. Get a bowl large enough to accommodate 8 ounces of yogurt plus 1 pint of blueberries.
  2. Slowly, with a rice paddle or very large spoon, mix it up and add the lemon juice. Be very gentle – you don’t want to crush the blueberries.
  3. Use your paddle (or large spoon) to scoop out yogurt covered blueberries, one at a time, and set them out onto a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. You can also use wax paper or plastic wrap.
  4. Place the sheet tray with coated blueberries into your freezer for about 2 hours.
  5. Serve!

And now you know the best way to keep those summer snacks coming!

Fresh Eggs!

Egg test

An easy test to make sure that your eggs are fresh and safe to eat.

Eggs are a staple – fried or poached for breakfast, boiled for salads, brilliant as an omelet for a late supper or as an important ingredient in all sorts of recipes. You really don’t want to run out of them.

As we all know, eggs won’t last forever, even in a good refrigerator. Pay attention to those “sell by” dates and rotate eggs (as you would milk) making sure that you use the oldest stock first. But, does that mean you have to be a “date hound” for those expiration or “use by” dates? Short answer is “no.” A friend of mine complained a few days ago that his wife literally pounces on any eggs that remain in a carton after the expiration date – bam, into the trash. Completely unnecessary and overly cautious.

The fact is, assuming they are in constant refrigeration, raw eggs are usually safe for about three weeks after the “sell by” date has passed.

Look it up on Google, and you’ll see that this is a pretty common factoid.

But you still need to be careful – a bad egg is a terrible thing to crack open in your kitchen (it’s a smell that you never forget).

The first test is a visual inspection of the egg. Look for cracks or discoloration of the shell. The egg may even start to give off a certain odor – stronger than normal egg-smell. These are all nature’s signs that you really need to part with that egg.

Still not sure? Here’s a method I learned from my mom. Get a tall pitcher or other container and fill it half-way with cold water. Carefully place each egg into the water. If the egg drops to the bottom of the container – it’s good to eat.  If it lays on its side it’s even more fresh than if it stands on one end on the bottom but either way – they’re both good to eat.

If it floats – the egg is well past its prime. This is the clearest sign that you have a problem. Why does it float? Newly laid eggs have either no air cell or a very small one.  As they begin to cool (just laid eggs are about 105 degrees F!) the contents of the egg contract more than the shell so the inner membrane separates from the hard shell and forms the air cell.  As the egg ages moisture escapes through the shell and air replaces it so the air cell becomes larger.  The bigger the air cell, the more it floats.  So, if your egg is floating on the surface the air cell is big enough to make it buoyant.  Throw the egg away, you definitely don’t want to eat it.

Cool little trick, isn’t it?

Don’t take your Cutting Board for granted!

Thinking about cutting boards today

Cutting board safety tips – there’s a reason that chefs do the things they do.

 

When I owned my restaurants we followed some pretty strict guidelines when it came to food preparation.  Many of the guidelines are written by state regulators. Most of them though are common sense things, like cutting boards.

The fact is – anything that your food touches can be somewhere that it can pick up contamination of some kind. For instance, if you cut up raw chicken, would you use the same cutting board to slice a tomato? Well, if you do and you don’t rigorously clean the board before you start slicing the tomatoes the danger from cross-contamination – the bacteria that naturally occurs in chicken meat – to anything else is extremely high.

But, it might surprise some people that raw, unwashed fruits and vegetables can also carry bacteria. I’ve seen people take raw, unwashed carrots, cut the tops off of them on the cutting board, then place those same carrots that are now washed and peeled back on the same cutting board to slice. Not a good idea.

Cutting boards need to be washed thoroughly and constantly.  Let’s start with our choice of boards.

Wood, Plastic, Glass?

The choice of material can help control the risk of cross contamination.

For a long time, nearly all cutting boards were made of wood. Traditionally they are made out of hardwoods like maple that have a very tight grain and won’t score (scratch) easily. Some people like softer woods like cypress which are less likely to dull knives. Good wood cutting boards tend to be more expensive, are heavy and require quite a bit of care to keep them like new.  You need to carefully wash your wooden board after each use with soap and water and thoroughly dry – regularly oil it with food grade mineral oil, and never put it in the dishwasher.

Plastic or silicone boards also have their advantages and disadvantages. Some people don’t like plastic because it can score from your knife cuts and perhaps trap bacteria but I like that I can put mine in the dishwasher to sanitize.  I replace my plastic boards before knife damage chips away at the surface.

Glass cutting boards are beautiful, won’t scratch or crack and are easy to clean.  BUT, food tends to slip on a glass surface and are also more likely to move around under the pressure of your chopping so the possibility of cutting yourself is a problem. But the worst part about glass boards is that they will dull your sharp knives faster than you can say this sentence!

The Verdict

Some food safety researchers recommend a mix of wood and plastic. I use my wood cutting boards for bread only – that way I don’t ever worry that bacteria is lurking on the surface.  It really depends on personal preference and how careful you are with proper cleaning and care, but obviously, the safest method is to use different boards for different foods.

When I’m cooking I use plastic only. For several reasons. You can buy different colors of plastic boards for different types of food – which all but guarantees that you’ll prevent cross contamination between raw proteins and other foods.  For instance, I use green for vegetables, red for meat (beef, veal, et cetera), blue for fish and white for chicken and other poultry.  This is the rule that’s always followed in restaurants.

Places like Crate and Barrel carry plastic boards that come in all sorts of colors. These boards are kind to your knives, fairly light weight, can be washed with soap and water easily, and if needed they can be soaked in bleach or a vinegar sanitizing solution to keep clean. Another important plus – especially for restaurants – plastic boards are cheaper than wood and can be dumped in the recycle bin when you’re done with them.

Be safe!

Salt and Pepper for Refined Palates

raw salt and peppercorns

Time to refresh two cooking ingredients that we often take for granted.

“Salt is what makes things taste bad when it isn’t in them” – Anon.

Salt and pepper are two of the most important ingredients in cooking – and oh how we take them for granted! Some people lump them together as if they were one ingredient although they have nothing in common. Salt is categorized as seasoning and pepper is a spice.

In ancient times, salt was highly valued and its production legally restricted so that people used it as a method of currency and trade. In fact, the word “salary” comes from the Latin word “salarium” which literally translated means “salt money.” And, the word “salad” also comes from “salt” and began with the early Romans salting leafy greens and vegetables!

Most people think of salt as just plain table salt – highly refined, heavily ground with most of the impurities and trace minerals removed. Table salt is about 97% pure sodium chloride with a dash of iodine added (that was started in 1924).

But restaurant chefs and experienced home cooks know that not all salt is the same. There are many types – and the little differences affect taste, flavor, color, and texture.  Salt comes in many forms: large grain, small grain, flake, and more.

For example, simple sea salt comes from evaporating seawater and is the second most common found and produced. Usually, it’s presented as a larger crystal – less ground – and often has a slightly darker color due to “impurities” and trace nutrients that are left in the salt.  Depending on where it is harvested, the taste will vary.

Himalayan pink salt – which is mined in Pakistan – used to be so rare. It stood out because of its pink color which is due to trace amounts of naturally occurring iron oxide. Nowadays, you can find Himalayan pink on most grocery store shelves.

There’s also Kosher Salt – a larger coarser grain than regular commercial table salt and has a less salty flavor than regular table salt. It’s used in restaurant kitchens everywhere as it’s the easiest to control for flavor – you rarely over salt if you use it in your cooking.  It’s easy to over salt when using table salt.

Salts come from all over the world – France, Italy, Hawaii (there’s a black Hawaiian salt that contains activated charcoal), India, and the Pacific Northwest where a favorite of mine comes from Jacobsen Salt Co in Oregon.

Salt can be infused with different spices like black garlic, ghost chili, rosemary, lemon, truffle, etc.  On one of my trips I discovered smoked salt – it was naturally smoked to give an added flavor to whatever was cooking. But if you find a smoked salt that you want to buy make sure that it is naturally smoked and not infused with liquid smoke (that’s a whole other flavor and not one I prefer).

Pepper has been accompanying humanity for a very long time. Long enough for the ancient Greeks to use it as a form of currency to pay taxes. Naturally, the Romans used it and so did the ancient Egyptians.

Pepper comes from peppercorn – one of the most highly traded spices around the world from ancient times to present day. And there are many different types, all with different flavor profiles that will add a distinct effect wherever it is used.

The best tasting pepper comes from freshly ground peppercorn. But pepper starts to lose flavor almost as soon as it is ground. My tip: grind pepper as you need it, at the very end of cooking or just before serving.

What kind of peppercorn you want depends on the flavor you are trying to achieve. The most popular ones are: black, green, white, red, and pink.
Black peppercorns are the most common variety and are peppercorns that have been left on the vine to ripen and then dried. These produce the strongest flavor and aroma.  There are many varieties of black peppercorns. Tellicherry is from South India and has a sweet, well- rounded taste, Brazilian has a stronger flavor, and Lampong, from Indonesia comes with a citrusy slow burn.

There are green peppercorns, which are under-ripe (picked before the black variety) peppercorn berries that have a fresh and tart taste.  You see them dried, but they’re more common in brine or vinegar. They are slightly aromatic and are great for adding flavor to sauces and meats.
White peppercorns are black peppercorns that have been soaked and the skins removed. These pack a little more punch flavor-wise, but they’re a tad less aromatic. Use them for light-colored sauces and foods when you DON’T want to see black specks!

Red peppercorns have been left to ripen on the vine, so they turn red.  Reds are not usually found because they’re usually dried and turn black, or the skins are stripped, and then they are white.

Pink peppercorns are not really peppercorns!  They’re berries from a South American shrub that still have a peppery bite with some fruity and floral notes.  Use these as a garnish by crushing them with a knife and not in a pepper mill. They’re delicate.

Now that you know a little about salt and pepper – have fun – experiment!

 

A new way to prepare and serve onions?

better way to serve onions?

Tried everything to stop the weeping and smell from onions? Try this!

I happen to love onions: red, white, yellow, green – it doesn’t matter which one, I love them all – when they’re in my food as part of a dish. But not so much when the smell just hangs around the kitchen (sometimes for days) like a guest who hasn’t gotten the hint that it’s time to go home.

And the tears. I don’t like the tears.

If you’re like me, you’ve tried all kinds of “tricks” on how to stop all the stinging and crying that comes with preparing onions. I tried freezing onions, but they’re harder to cut. I also tried cutting onions under water, but the onions get slippery and that’s very dangerous. I even tried holding a piece of bread in my mouth. Less dangerous but you end up looking weird, your eyes still tear and the kitchen still smells.

I even heard about putting a burning match in your mouth – but that’s not one I’m going to try! A friend uses swimming goggles in his kitchen – for cutting onions and crushing garlic. Cute, but another idea I’m NOT going to try.

So, imagine my surprise when I was let in on a professional kitchen secret… twenty years in the restaurant business, and it’s not easy to surprise me anymore!

This is a trick from a friend of mine, Christine Moore who is the founder and chef of Little Flower Candy Co. and Lincoln – two great places to visit for breakfast and lunch or early dinner if you happen to be in Pasadena, CA.

So, okay. We all know that onions are a great way to help build flavor in a recipe in so many different ways but they come with a price.  Look at what we all suffer though: runny nose, stinging eyes, and a really strong smell that fills the kitchen and refrigerator during and after you’ve been cutting, slicing, and dicing.  Not only does it permeate whatever container you’ve put them in but that smell can linger in the kitchen for days. Just when you think that awful smell has finally cleared, you pull out those chopped onions from the refrigerator, you open the container – and you are hit with it all over again!

As it turns out, onions aren’t just a wonderful addition to a recipe they are healthy for you too. They’re full of vitamins, proteins and things that nutritionist call “essential elements” like amino acids which your body really needs to stay healthy.

But all of this goodness comes at a price. Onions are typically grown in sulfur rich soil and that sulfur becomes part of a plant protein (sulfur-based precursors).  When you cut open an onion these precursors meet with enzymes called allinases that produce sulfenic acid which rises as a gas and reacts with moisture – like your eyes and nose – to form a mild form of sulfuric acid! And we all start to cry…

But wait, there’s more. During the chemical reaction, you get thiosulfinates – that’s what produces the raw onion smell. Guess what? That stuff just stinks. It’s not acidic. Which means we can now dispense with that old rumor that the smell is what causes the weepy eyes. Thus, the more you cut, the more of both of these things will fly through the air in your kitchen and your whole house!

Which brings me back to Chef Moore’s little surprise tip, which has been thoroughly tested by me and my friends.

Step one: Fill a bowl with ice water and place a sieve or colander in the bowl so that it is submerged in the ice water.

Step two: Use a sharp knife – you’ll work faster and it damages fewer of those pesky cells that release the allinases – and cut your onion in half.

Step three: Place in the halves in the ice water for a minute. Remove the halves.

Step four: Finish your slicing and dicing of the onion and place those pieces back in the sieve (or colander) and ice water for another minute.

Step five: Remove the sieve. Dispose of the water.

One friend told me that he was preparing a recipe that called for minced onions. He sliced the onion thin, dipped the slices in the ice water, then minced without dipping. The trick worked. He also claims that the onion taste in his dish seemed richer (he was making a soup).

Your cut onions will no longer have a strong smell and will not burn your eyes. Added plus: using this method means that you can store prepared onions to your heart’s desire – and not stink up your refrigerator or your kitchen! One more plus: because the production of acids is limited, cooked or raw cut onions won’t burn your stomach as much.

Isn’t this BRILLIANT? Thanks Chef Moore! Now we can enjoy our onions in peace!

A Different Friendsgiving

How about a Friendsgiving?

Take your Thanksgiving Dinner to a New Level – In 5 Easy Steps!

When I was growing up Thanksgiving was always at our house.  We had a very small family, just 5 of us and no cousins anywhere close by, but my parents did have several close friends and their families would come.

My Dad always made the turkey (he was the good cook in our house!) and I loved the smell of it cooking for hours in the oven.  One of my very favorite food memories is my Dad making what he lovingly referred to as Turkey Carcass Soup the next day with, you guessed it, the carcass of the turkey.  It was always delicious!

Today my siblings live far away, my parents have passed and my close friends are my family.  I know I’m not alone in this situation as my friends and I talk about the looming holidays every year.  Some of them travel to their families to celebrate and some are lucky enough to have family close by but there’s always a group of us that are adrift this time of year.

Now we have what has been dubbed a “Friendsgiving” and I have to tell you it’s the BEST.  It only takes a few friends, 3-4, to pull this off so you don’t need a crowd at all just a little pre-planning and being firm that it’s a POT LUCK – everyone contributes!

Here are the 5 easy steps to pull off your own Friendsgiving!

  1. Plan the menu a few weeks ahead (3 to be safe) and put it up on a Google Doc so that everyone can sign up. Make sure that the menu includes how many servings are needed.  The host ALWAYS makes the turkey (or if you don’t cook- you can buy it already cooked at your local market).
  2. If you don’t have enough chairs and tables, rent them or your friends might have a few extra. You can get very inexpensive table cloths and napkins at Target or IKEA or a local thrift store.  The same thing goes for plates, flatware and glasses.  Target, IKEA or your local thrift store.  They do NOT have to match.  Part of the fun is the eclectic setting!
  3. Set the table the night before. I actually do this every time I have a party.  It saves not only time but also me from going crazy on the day of the party.
  4. Instead of a formal bar – you can use a cooler filled with ice and put bottles in it to keep cold. These are your friends, after all.
  5. Serve dinner buffet style with little cards with the description of the dish and who made it.

Remember, the whole point of this is to gather your friends and share a wonderful meal that everyone has helped create.  Then sit back and watch football!

Crispy Tortellini with Peas and Prosciutto

PIC_crispy-tortellini-with-peas-and-prosciutto

A Brilliant Crispy Tortellini with Peas and Prosciutto

Peas are a wonderful spring vegetable – absolutely delicious freshly shelled – but equally as delicious even when they’re frozen!  The great thing about frozen peas is that you never have to thaw them to use them in a recipe – just toss them still frozen into whatever hot dish you are preparing and they come out perfectly every time.  This recipe is so simple because it uses not only frozen peas but also frozen tortellini – BRILLIANT!  It’s from one of my favorite sites – smittenkitchen.com – created by Deb Perelman and posted on May 9, 2016. Great for a gathering of friends, family, a date night, or colleagues. This recipe serves two; just multiply and it will serve a crowd.

In the Skillet

  • 3 thin slices prosciutto (optional)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 13-14 ounce package frozen cheese tortellini (about 3 cups)
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, no need to defrost
  • 1/3 cup water

To Finish

  • 3 tablespoons crème fraîche or mascarpone
  • Juice of half a lemon, more or less to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • A few fresh mint leaves, cut into thin slivers
  • Grated parmesan (optional)

Heat a large, deep skillet with a lid** over medium-high heat. If using, add prosciutto in a single layer and cook until curling and browned underneath, about 2 minutes. Flip over and let cook until browned on the other side. Transfer a paper towel to blot oil and cool.

Add oil to same skillet and heat it for a minute. Add frozen tortellini in a single layer and cook for 2 to 4 minutes, until they’re browned underneath. Sprinkle with frozen peas and add water to pan. Be careful; it’s going to ROARHISS wildly. Put the lid on, and let them steam for about 5 minutes but don’t go too far because if the water cooks off too quickly, you’ll want to add a splash more. At 5 minutes, all water should have cooked off. Scoop pasta and peas into bowl. If you find any pasta has stuck, just add a splash more water over high heat to “deglaze” them off — loosen them with a thin spatula and toss them around until they’re crisp again.

Immediately dollop on crème fraîche so it melts over the pasta. Squeeze lemon juice over, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, crumble prosciutto over (if using), then slivers of mint and Parmesan, if desired. Dig in. Give your freezer a pat on its back.

Easy Recipe for Gnocchi Skillet with Sausage and Tomatoes

Gnocchi on your Favorite Skillet

Food Memory in the Making with Gnocchi, Chicken Sausage, Tomatoes and your Favorite Skillet

This recipe is so quick and easy to make and looks beautiful on the plate – color in the dish is always important as we eat with our eyes.  It reminds me of a favorite food memory – the first time I ever tasted Gnocchi – they were so soft and delicate.  I found it on a great website, thekitchn.com, in their 23 Romantic Recipes post this week.  One of the best things about this recipe is that you can use store-bought gnocchi and any type of Italian sausage you like. Spicy, anyone? They also suggest that if you want to finish the skillet with Parmesan that you can but that it’s not necessary if you’d rather not have cheese. Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound gnocchi
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 9 ounces (about 3 links) cooked chicken sausage, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick coins
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1 to 2 ounces fresh basil, julienned (1/2 to 1 cup loosely packed)

Preparation

  1. Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling; cook the gnocchi for 2 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and toss with a drizzle of olive oil.
  2. Heat a 10-inch or larger cast iron skillet over medium heat with a light drizzle of olive oil. Add the sausage and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it begins to brown. Push the sausage into a pile at the edge of the skillet and turn the heat up to high.
  3. When the skillet is quite hot, add the tomatoes, skin down, crowding them in if necessary. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until they are blistered, then stir in with the sausage. Cook for 2 more minutes, until both tomatoes and sausage are slightly browned. Stir in gnocchi and cook just until all is combined, but the tomatoes have not broken down into sauce.
  4. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Cooking tip: a cast iron skillet is preferred only because it will give you the best color and sear to the sausage and tomatoes but any skillet will work as long as it does NOT have a non-stick coating.  That will interfere with the browning.

Brunch? How about a Frittata with Fontina Cheese and Mushrooms?

mushroom-leek-and-fontina-frittata

Frittata with Mushroom, Leek, and Fontina Cheese

Eggs are my favorite food and I could eat them all day long for every meal.   Frittatas are almost a perfect egg dish because they don’t have to be served hot to be delicious!  In fact, they can be served at room temperature so they’re a perfect do-ahead entrée when you have friends over for breakfast or dinner.  This recipe for a vegetarian frittata is from the bon appétit test kitchen issue February 2013.

Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 medium leeks, whites and pale-green parts only, chopped
  • 8 ounces crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 12 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 3/4 cup shredded Fontina cheese, divided
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

PREPARATION

  1. Place a rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 350°F. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 10″ nonstick ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add leeks; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until softened and all liquid has evaporated, 8-10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk eggs, crème fraîche, and parsley in a large bowl; mix in 1/2 cup cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Increase the heat to medium-high and add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet. Pour the egg mixture over the mushrooms, shaking the pan to evenly distribute mixture. Cook the frittata, without stirring, until its edges begin to set, about 5 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup cheese over eggs and transfer skillet to oven. Bake frittata until golden brown and center is set, 25-30 minutes.

 

Something for a Rainy Day: Beef Stew with Potatoes and Carrots

Beef Stew with Potatoes and Carrots

Author: Recipe by Maggie Ruggiero

One of the things I love about rainy days is how they beg for me to be in the kitchen for just a little while and after several hours in an oven with no further effort from me. The dish I’ve put together becomes something fantastic making the whole house smell amazing! Those are the days to invite a group of friends over for a Sunday afternoon watching sports or just drinking a great glass of wine together and sharing stories while waiting for the fabulous thing that you’ve put in the oven to finish cooking. I’ve come across a recipe that I’m going to do just that with – it sounds incredible and the reviews are fantastic. It is by the wonderful Maggie Ruggiero and I found it on one of my favorite websites, Epicurious.com, though it was first published in Gourmet Magazine December 2008.

Ingredients

  • For braised beef:
    • 5 pounds boneless beef chuck (not lean), cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 carrots, quartered
  • 3 celery ribs, quartered
  • 2 medium onions, quartered
  • 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 (750-ml) bottle dry red wine (about 3 3/4 cups)
  • 2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 3 cups reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 3 cups water
  • For potatoes and carrots:
    • 2-1/2 pounds small white boiling potatoes
    • 1-1/2 pounds carrots
  • Equipment: a wide 6-to 8-quart heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid
  • Accompaniment: crusty bread

Instructions

  1. Braise beef:
    • Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
    • Pat beef dry and season with 2 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.
    • Heat oil in pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then brown meat, without crowding, in 3 batches, turning, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer to a platter.
  2. Reduce heat to medium, then add carrots, celery, onions, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 12 minutes.
  3. Push vegetables to one side of pot. Add tomato paste to cleared area and cook paste, stirring, 2 minutes, then stir into vegetables.
  4. Add vinegar and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in wine, bay leaves, and thyme and boil until wine is reduced by about two-thirds, 10 to 12 minutes.
  6. Add broth to pot along with water, beef, and any juices from platter and bring to a simmer. Cover and braise in oven until meat is very tender, about 2 1/2 hours.
  7. Set a large colander in a large bowl. Pour stew into colander. Return pieces of meat to pot, then discard remaining solids. Let cooking liquid stand 10 minutes
  8. Cook potatoes and carrots
    • While beef braises, peel potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch-wide wedges. Slice carrots diagonally (1-inch).
    • Add potatoes and carrots to stew (make sure they are submerged) and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until potatoes and carrots are tender, about 40 minutes.

There are a couple of suggestions in the “reviews” part of the recipe posting that I will definitely follow. For instance, take the braising vegetables, puree them and return them to the pot with the broth. Don’t forget to remove the garlic skins, thyme stems and bay leaves before you puree them. I will add mushrooms as well; I do love mushrooms in anything. And do NOT forget that crusty bread. I can’t wait to try this!