Friday, December 24, 2010

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

Last year I called them Everything Cookies and in a previous post I referred to them as Leftover Cookies because I use all of the leftover ingredients from other recipes to create a new combination. As I labeled the cute bakery bags to mail them off, I realized people might think I was giving them cookies that were leftover and not freshly baked for their enjoyment. Hoping they'd have read my blog and understood the reference, I sent them off anyway. Recently, I received a funny email from a favorite friend whose 3 year old is a smart cookie herself, but the confusing name I chose stumped her:

A: "mommy i'm ready for one of miss jenn's cookies!"

M: "oh, sweetie, they are all gone. you ate the last one last night".

A: "but mommy, i just want a leftover one!"
I feel the need to keep "Leftover" in the name because this adorable dialogue makes me smile! My sister suggested E.B.T.K.S for Everything But the Kitchen Sink which gets the point across pretty plainly, too. I had to send an extra large batch off to Michigan on Monday because I kept eating them. Whatever you call them, don't give them all away.
Leftover / E.B.T.K.S Cookies
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (gently packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups old-fashioned oats (not instant)
1 1/2 cups ap flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups nuts
1 1/2 cups dried fruit
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup unsweetened coconut

The last 4 ingredients are where I play! I've used almonds, macadamia and hazelnuts; dried apricots and/or cherries and chopped dark chocolate instead of the chips. I don't always include the coconut, but the batch pictured here does.

Mix sugar, butter, vanilla and eggs together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine oats, flour, baking soda, salt. Add dry ingredients to wet in 2-3 batches, mixing thoroughly in between. Then add all the goodies!! Bake 1 tbsp size dollops 2 inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet at 375 for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden brown. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes then move to cooling racks.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fill your Kitchen with Christmas

I make a variety of goodies every year and my favorite to bake are the Ginger Spice Cookies based on a recipe from Paula Deen. It's only 1 of 2 recipes I've ever made by Ms. Deen. This is because I enjoy going to the gym and wouldn't want to turn that routine into a weight loss regimen I'd inevitably require if I subscribed to her "butter makes everything better" style of cooking.

These Christmas-y cookies make your kitchen smell divine! They're crispy on the edges with a softer chew in the middle. The candied ginger melts slightly in each cookie. They're spicy and just sweet enough to please kids and adults alike. This recipe is a double batch and makes about 6 dozen.

Ginger Spiced Cookies
1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening
2 cups sugar, plus more for rolling
2 large eggs
1/2 cup molasses
4 cups ap flour
4 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup chopped candied ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Using an electric mixer on low speed, cream the shortening and sugar until thoroughly combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and molasses and beat until the mixture is a uniform color. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, candied ginger, cinnamon, ground ginger, cloves and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the mixer and stir on low speed until combined. In your palms, roll the dough into 1 inch size balls and then roll in sugar. Gently flatten with your fingertips and place 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 12 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on sheets then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

p.s. The second recipe I made by Paula Deen was a "Better than Sex" cake I made for a friend's birthday. While it was delicious and didn't last long I think Paula needs to spend more time in other rooms besides the kitchen.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Crescents)

My husband can't stop eating these cookies! Last year I made a similar version that didn't include nuts, but I love the crunch walnuts and almonds add to these festive half moons. I made 4 dozen to bring to a cookie exchange, and another 8 dozen to send to family and friends. They're easy and despite the generous dusting of powdered sugar, they're not too sweet. I based my recipe on one from Saveur magazine. I bet if you substituted almond extract for vanilla and used only almonds you'd get a very fragrant twist! Instead of cutting the log into 48 pieces, I took about 1 1/2 tbsp from the dough to form each crescent and made a few more than 4 dozen.

Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Crescents)

makes 4 dozen

1 cup confectioner's sugar, plus more for finishing cookies
16 tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 oz walnuts and almonds, finely ground in food processor
2 1/4 cups flour, more for rolling

Heat oven to 325 and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat together sugar, butter and vanilla in a bowl. Mix in nuts and flour. Flour and roll into a cylinder; divide into 48 pieces. Roll each into a sausage shape. Taper ends; bend into a crescent. transfer to baking sheets spacing 1" apart. Bake until lightly golden, 12-15 minutes. Sift with confectioner's sugar. Let cool and sift in sugar once more before storing or serving.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Homemade Honeycomb

My European and Expat family and friends might know of a classic Cadbury candy: the Crunchie. This was one of my favorites! They've been making it since 1929 but my first taste was probably around 1990. Several years later I took a trip to London with 4 high school friends from the American School of the Hague. Like much of high school, there are so many memories where I look back and say, "I can't believe we did that!" This London trip included midnight shopping cart rides, toilet paper receipts, clothes hanger wine openers and fiberglass sleeping blankets to name a few! Although there wasn't much sleeping...

On the return ferry to Hoek van Holland we spent the remainder of our pounds in the candy machines. Way back then we could eat pounds of candy and still get into slinky dresses for prom at the Kurhaus! My choice was usually the milk chocolate covered honeycomb Crunchie.

I found a recipe in an issue of Oprah magazine and felt challenged to make my own! After two failed attempts (pictured below. I'm not shy) I researched a few more recipes online and settled on one by Elizabeth LaBau from I finally got the hang of it the result brought me back 15+ years!

Overcooked. Spread with spatula.
Tasted like burnt sugar.

Chocolate Dipped Honeycomb by Elizabeth LaBau, Guide
Prep time: 25 minutes

  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 generous tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 12 ounces dark chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  1. Prepare a rimmed baking sheet by lining it with aluminum foil and spraying the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
    Cooled too fast. Few tiny
    bubbles. Hard as a rock.
  3. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, honey and water in a saucepan large enough so that the mixture can triple in size and still be safely contained. Stir the ingredients together until the sugar is completely moistened. Using a wet pastry brush, wipe the sides of the saucepan to remove any stray sugar crystals.
  4. Insert a candy thermometer and cook the mixture over medium-high heat, without stirring, until the temperature reaches 300 degrees.
    Boiling sugar mixture.
  6. Once the candy is at the proper temperature, remove it from the heat and add the baking soda all at once. Immediately whisk the candy to incorporate the baking soda, and be careful—it will foam up a great deal!
  8. As soon as the baking soda is incorporated, pour the candy carefully onto the prepared sheet.
  9. Allow it to cool and harden completely, then break it into small pieces. Honeycomb can be eaten as-is, or you can dip it in chocolate:
  10. Combine the chocolate and shortening in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave it to melt the chocolate completely, stirring every minute. Note that the amount of chocolate required may vary depending on how thick you made your honeycomb and how many pieces you made.
  11. Using two forks, dip the individual pieces in chocolate so that they are completely covered, and replace them on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining honeycomb and refrigerate until chocolate is set. Best enjoyed within 24 hours.
    Third time's a charm!

    My melted chocolate was quite thick so I chose not to cover them entirely. A quick dip gives the Crunchie taste while leaving the pretty, airy honeycomb exposed.

    Also, don't discard the crumbs! Sprinkle them on ice cream or drop them in the remaining melted chocolate and let it cool in clumps on wax paper with your other honeycomb candies. They're delicious!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Holiday Baking Begins

Baking Season has begun in my kitchen. I went to Costco with my mother in law last weekend and bought a ridiculous amount of sugar, nuts, maple syrup, dried fruit, chocolate chips and plastic wrap. Tomorrow I'm heading to a cookie swap with my mom and I'm looking forward to see what her neighbors are whipping up this year. Here is what's on my list of goodies...I'm making some favorites that make the kitchen smell delightful, and also trying a new honeycomb candy to test my culinary capabilities:

Noci Croccanti (Hazelnut Brittle)
Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Crescents)
Marshmallows (Coconut and Vanilla)
Honeycombs (Chocolate and Plain)
Ginger Cookies
Granola (multiple varieties)
Leftover Cookies (f.k.a. Garbage Cookies)
Cheddar Straws

Luckily I have lots of time off before the holidays so I can relax and bake at my leisure. A few packages will travel cross country and some will show up at work next week. The best part of baking is giving your delicacies to people you care about. Stay tuned for recipes and photos!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! Risotto!

OK, so "Reduce" doesn't exactly make sense. Reusing or Recycling Risotto, however, is a grand idea and definitely deserves exclamation points! Arancini are of Sicilian origin and traditionally made with a simple risotto and filled with a dollop of meat and peas ragu, coated in breadcrumbs and fried in oil. Arancini means little oranges in Italian, which they resemble after frying. I've actually seen versions of arancini labeled "Rice Balls" and sold at local fairs and smaller pizzerias here in New Jersey; which is not surprising since there is a large population of people of Italian heritage in this state. Unless you've been living outside the United States, you probably already knew that and have seen an episode (or season) of one of the growing number of ridiculous programs depicting Italian Americans, especially those from New Jersey, in an unfavorable light. While my husband (not of Italian heritage) finds humor in those programs, I invariably find something better to do while they're on (e.g. cooking, laundry, alphabetizing the pantry). Alas I digress...

Certain foods just do not make great leftovers. Pasta and risotto are two high on my list. Except for perhaps a baked pasta like pasticcio which can be reheated in the oven to a crispier version of itself which is equally delicious. This recipe for arancini calls for leftover risotto rolled into balls and stuffed with a little cube of cheese. Like many Italian recipes, once you learn the method of preparing a dish the ingredient combinations are limitless. Let your risotto refrigerate overnight and work with it just from the fridge to avoid sticky fingers. Once they're coated with breadcrumbs, you can freeze them on a tray and then transfer them to a freezer bag to pop into hot oil for a quick appetizer or dinner with mixed greens.

I used mixed mushroom risotto and muenster cheese because that's what I had around the house. What arancini varieties can you come up with?


2 cups refrigerated leftover risotto
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups breadcrumbs
20 or so cubes of cheese
vegetable or canola oil for frying

Mix 1 egg and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs into the risotto. Scoop about 1 1/2 tablespoons of risotto into your hands and begin to form a ball. Press one cube of cheese into the middle and reform the ball so it's completely sealed. Roll the arancino in the 2nd beaten egg then breadcrumbs until thoroughly coated.

In a heavy bottomed pot heat about 2 inches of frying oil to 350 degrees. Drop 3 or 4 arancini at a time and brown them all over turning occasionally. Scoop them out with a spider skimmer and let drain on a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and Parmesan cheese if desired. Keep them in a low oven until all arancini are cooked. Serve alongside a green salad or simple tomato sauce for dipping.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Talkin' Turkey

I took many steps this year to become a conscientious eater and cook. Books, websites and joining a CSA inspired me to learn more about where the food I enjoy preparing and savoring comes from and the impact it has on species and our environment. It's been enlightening and delicious so far! I hope you too will take an interest.

Hosting Thanksgiving this year was not as daunting of a task as it sounds. I had a lot of help and time off to prepare in advance. Here's a peek at our menu:

Goat Cheese Crostini with Pear Chutney
White Bean and Cilantro Dip
Sweet and Savory Roasted Nuts
Pear Anise Bubbly

Sage Roasted Red Bourbon Turkey
Herb Gravy
Mom's Famous Stuffing with and without Sausage
Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows
Roasted Root Vegetables
Mashed Red Skinned and Yukon Gold Potatoes
Mixed Green and Smoked Gouda Gratin
Cranberry Chutney
Parker House Caraway Rolls
Dad's Delicious Pinot Noir

Dutch Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Homemade Whipped Cream

The turkey came out wonderful! We got a 15 pound Red Bourbon from Griggstown Farm and it was beautiful. Red Bourbons are a heritage breed of domestic turkey named for Bourbon County, Kentucky where it originated in the late 1800's. Here is some more detail from about our bird from

"The Bourbon Red variety was recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1909 and was ambitiously selected and promoted for traits, including a conformation with a heavy breast and richly flavored meat. The Bourbon Red was an important commercial variety through the 1930s and 1940s, however, it declined in popularity as it was unable to compete with the broad breasted varieties. Since 2002, renewed interest in the biological fitness, survivability, and superior flavor of the Bourbon Red has captured consumer interest.
This holiday season, thousands of Americans will forgo their normal Large White commercial turkey to enjoy a different kind of bird. “Heritage” turkeys are enjoying a culinary comeback. Thanks to the joint efforts of breed conservationists, farmers and a movement called Slow Food, demand for heritage turkeys is on the increase, although, it is a unique partnership with consumers that is catapulting heritage turkeys to the attention of food lovers nationwide.
As one of the only domesticated animals to originate in North America, preservation of the rare heritage turkey breeds is like preserving a historical building or rare document. It’s a piece of American history!"
Well said! So, my company's yearly turkey coupon went towards a food pantry donation that included other Thanksgiving fixin's from the grocery store. Isn't that the spirit of giving?
Here is how I prepared my Heritage Bourbon Red:
Sage Butter:
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 T chopped fresh sage
2 T chopped fresh parsley
1 T salt
2 t fresh ground pepper
Mix butter, herbs, salt and pepper together. Roll into a log, wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight. You can make this several days in advance.

Cavity Aromatics:
2 ribs celery, halved
2 quarters of a red onion
2 lemons, halved
1 bunch fresh herbs such as sage, thyme, parsley
Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 350. Remove and save the neck and giblet bag for gravy and stock. Rinse your fresh turkey thoroughly with cold water and dry with paper towels. Generously salt and pepper the cavity and stuff with your prepared aromatics. Don't over stuff the bird; lay any remaining aromatics on the bottom of your roasting pan.

To use the herb butter, you can soften the log in advance and rub along the outside of the skin before placing in the oven. Alternatively, slice the cold log into 1 1/2-2 inch disks. Gently slide your clean hand (ring-free!) between the skin and muscle of the turkey from front to back and both sides of the breast. This can take some time and may require pulling and pushing, squishing and squashing but it will be hard to tear the skin itself so do the best you can. Don't forget to reach on both sides to loosen the skin around the legs. Take slices of your butter and place evenly under the skin on all sides of your turkey. This method will keep you from having to baste the turkey throughout the roasting process since the butter will keep the meat moist and flavorful. Truss your turkey with kitchen twine and pour some water or stock in the bottom of your roasting pan to keep the underside of the turkey from drying out. Place in the preheated oven until a thermometer inserted in the deepest part of the thigh reads 160. Let rest for 20 minutes before carving and enjoy!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Focaccia Frenzy

I tested a few focaccia recipes several weeks ago...I'm trying to find my favorite. I use some cooked potato in the dough to keep it moist and light. These versions are in varying degrees of puffy softness, so I'll keep trying for the perfect combo. Here are some of the fruits of my labor!

cherry tomato and basil focaccia before
cherry tomato and basil focaccia after

fresh rosemary focaccia before

fresh rosemary focaccia after
olive and sage focaccia

onion and asiago focaccia

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cuckoo for Coconut

I remember when we lived in Italy during the summertime in Milan vendors would sell slices of fresh coconut. Their stall would have raw crescents of coconut sitting on a multi-tiered platform with water slowly dripping down to keep the fruit from drying out. Yes, coconut is not a botanical  nut, but the fruit of the coconut palm.

Coconut Palm from our Honeymoon in Hawaii
I love fresh coconut--it's tropical but not an overpowering flavor in the natural form. I recently made a Towering Coconut Layer Cake and it only used 1 1/2 Tablespoons of pure coconut extract! The rest of the flavor came from the unsweetened, toasted chips that coated the outside.

The recipe was contributed by Tyler Florence to the October 2010 issue of Food & Wine. It was a time consuming endeavor, even for my husband who I sent to the liquor store a third time because I kept forgetting the rum for the rum soak. I used some baking methods that were new--like using a total of 16 eggs! The result was delicious.

Prepared Pans

Towering Coconut Layer Cake

Cake Layers
10 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp canola oil
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tsp kosher salt

10 eggs plus vanilla

Rum Soak
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp spiced rum

Buttercream Frosting
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
6 large egg whites
4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted, room temp butter
1 1/2 Tbsp pure coconut extract
2 cups unsweetened coconut chips, toasted

  1. Make the cake layers: Preheat the oven to 350. Butter four 9" cake pans. Line the pans with parchment paper and butter and flour the paper. In a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk, combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla and beat at high speed until the mixture is light, fluffy and tripled in volume. With the mixer on, gradually beat in the oil until incorporated. In a medium bowl, sift the flour with the cornstarch and salt. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the beaten egg mixture until thoroughly incorporated.
    Airy egg-y cake batter
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and  bake the cakes for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. transfer the cakes to a rack and let cool. Unmold the  cakes and peel off the parchment paper.
  4. Make the rum soak: In a small saucepan combine the sugar with the water and cook over high heat, stirring constantly, just until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool, then stir in the rum.
    Baked layer
  6. Make the Buttercream Frosting: In a small saucepan combine the sugar with the water and cook over high heat, stirring constantly, just until the sugar is completely dissolved. Stop stirring, then boil the syrup until it reaches 238 degrees (soft ball stage) on a candy thermometer.
  7. Meanwhile, in a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk, beat the egg whites until firm peaks form. with the mixer at medium high speed, gradually beat in the hot sugar syrup. Reduce the speed to medium and beat until the meringue is cooled to room temperature. Beat in the butter, 2 or 3 Tbsp at a time, until all of the butter has been incorporated. Beat in the coconut extract.
    Final Cake
  9. Brush the rum soak over the cakes. Set one layer on a large plate and spread 1 1/4 cups of the frosting on top; repeat with the next 2 cake layers. Cover with the final cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting evenly around the side and over the top of the cake, swirling it decoratively on top. Gently press the toasted coconut onto the sides of the cake. Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour before serving.

Want a slice?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Crispy Kale

My husband and I hosted a small party to celebrate my mother-in-law's birthday. It was a vegetarian themed menu and one of the appetizers was quite a hit, even with the carnivores. Crispy Kale!

Crispy Kale with lemon garlic creme fraiche

Crispy Kale with Creme Fraiche Dip
adapted from Food & Wine Magazine

1 pound Tuscan or curly kale, stems and large inner ribs removed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil*
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup creme fraiche
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

salt and fresh ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 375. In a bowl toss kale with all but 1 tbsp of the olive oil and half the garlic. Spread the kale on 2 baking sheets and roast in the upper and lower thirds of the oven for about 15 minutes until crisp; shift the pans from top to bottom halfway through. Season the kale with salt and pepper and transfer to a large platter
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the creme fraiche with the lemon zest, juice and remaining garlic and oil. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with the roasted kale.
* Instead of tossing the kale with oil, next time I'll spritz them with an oil mister. Well, once I get an oil mister. Because the leaves don't absorb the oil it just sits on top and makes them feel slightly greasy to the touch.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

Cereal is so expensive! And I like the good stuff, with real ingredients--nothing frosted or loopy or colorful. Last year, in an effort to save money and ensure my breakfast contains ingredients I approve, I started making my own granola. I gathered several recipes from Food and Wine magazine and an episode of Good Eats by Alton Brown and started testing them out. I tried all different varieties and made batches to share with friends and family over the holidays. I'm no longer interested in buying granola from the store! I make big batches and store them in the rolled oats containers I emptied for the recipe. Here's a basic formula I like, with ingredient suggestions and some tasty combinations.

egg whites, oil, sweetener, salt
 Homemade Granola

2 egg whites
1/4 cup oil
1/4-1/3 cup sweetener
3 generous cups of rolled oats (quick not instant)
1 1/3 cup chopped nuts
1/3 cup ground flaxseed
1 cup dried fruit
generous pinch of salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 250.
  3. Whisk your "binders" together: egg whites, oil and sweetener, until light and bubbly. Add a generous pinch of salt and whisk to blend.
  4. Add rolled oats, nuts and flaxseed and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
  5. Line a large 1" rimmed baking pan with parchment paper, nonstick spray or brush with oil. Spread your granola mixture evenly with the spoon.
    chopped nuts and ground raw flaxseed
  7. Bake in preheated oven checking every 10 minutes to rotate the pan and run a spatula through for even toasting. Total baking time is 30-40 minutes depending on your toasty and crunchy preference.
  8. Transfer baked granola to a clean rimmed baking pan set atop a cooling rack. Sprinkle with dried fruit and let cool completely before storing or enjoying.
Oil: Regular olive oil works fine, so does canola or vegetable oil. Try walnut oil for a nuttier flavor.

Sweeteners: Agave nectar, dark or light brown sugar, maple syrup. Maple syrup is really fragrant and my favorite to use. Agave nectar is sweeter than sugar, so you may need less.

Nuts: Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts. I always have almonds and walnuts in the pantry. I prefer to chop them myself but you can purchase blanched or slivered almonds and already chopped other nuts. Just make sure they're raw--if they're roasted and you bake them again, they might be too bitter.

toasted granola
Dried Fruit: Apricots, bananas, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, dates, raisins, strawberries. Other tropical fruit like pineapple, mango, or papaya might be good too.

Extras: Candied ginger, cinnamon, coconut flakes, flaxseed, roasted pumpkin seeds, nutmeg. All of these would be added while your granola is cooling, except the if the flaxseed is raw. Roasted flaxseed (sometimes called "golden") would be added during cooling.

Yummy Combinations:

Combo 1: Dates, raisins, almonds, pecans.

Combo 2: Apricots, cherries, almonds.

Combo 3: Cranberries, almonds, walnuts, ginger.

Keep in mind what all of your ingredients are as you make granola. Cranberries, for example, are tart so you may prefer an extra tablespoon of sweetener. But if you're using sweetened coconut, that might compensate. I'd say trial and error is the best way to experiment, but it's really hard to make "errors"!

dates, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pastitsio = Greek Pasticcio

Staying with the Greek theme from last entry, I forged ahead with what Saveur magazine called "Greek Lasagna" or Pastitsio. I've had this dish at my favorite Greek restaurant in NJ, Pithari Taverna, but it must have been from someone else's plate because I always get Ola Mazi, a medley of vegetarian dishes. Pastitsio is less like lasagna and more like what my Italian relatives refer to as pasticcio. In my experience, the difference between lasagna and pasticcio is ricotta vs. bechamel. Personally, I'm not fond of ricotta cheese and never make lasagna this way, so I opt to prepare pasticcio when the mood strikes for a warm, baked pasta dish. This Greek version includes different vegetables and spices such as green pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg. It's not sweet, but it is less tangy than a pasticcio that includes garlic and basil or parsley.

Meat Sauce:
1/3 cup evoo
2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded & minced
2 medium yellow onions, minced
1 lb ground beef, veal or pork
3 oz dry cured chorizo, minced
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup red wine
1/4 tsp crushed red chili flakes
2 bay leaves
1 2" cinnamon stick
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Bechamel and Pasta:
8 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup flour
4 cups milk
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 eggs, separated
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1 lb No 2 Greek macaroni, bucatini or elbow
2 Tbsp evoo

  1. Make the meat sauce: Heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium high heat. Add peppers and onions and cook, stirring often until soft, 8-10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onion mixture to a plate and set aside. Add ground meat and chorizo to skillet and cook, breaking meat up into tiny pieces, until browned, 6-8 minutes. Add reserved onion mixture along with tomatoes, wine, chili flakes, bay leaves and cinnamon and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Remove sauce from heat, discard bay leaves and cinnamon, and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Let cool.
  2. Make the bechamel: Heat butter in a 4 qt saucepan over medium high heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until slightly toasted, 1-2 minutes. Add milk; cook, whisking often until sauce coats the back of a spoon, 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat, add 3/4 cup cheese and egg yolks; season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir until smooth; set aside.
  3. Heat oven to 350. Bring a large pot of salted water to  boil; add pasta and cook halfway through, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk egg whites in a large bowl until frothy. Stir in remaining cheese; drain pasta in a colander and then toss with egg white-cheese mixture to coat evenly. Set aside
  4. Grease a deep 9"x13" baking dish with olive oil. Place half the pasta mixture on bottom of dish and cover evenly with  meat sauce. Top with remaining pasta mixture. Pour bechamel over pasta, spreading it evenly with a rubber spatula. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 1 hour. Transfer to wire rack; cool 20 minutes before serving.
I omitted the chorizo and used elbow macaroni since the grocery store didn't have bucatini. I could have gone next door to Pithari Taverna where they have a little shop of Greek goods and probably picked up No 2 macaroni, but I was hungry! It's a warm tasting dish with the cinnamon and nutmeg--not my husband's favorite combination but we enjoyed it together one night and I had leftovers for lunch the rest of the week. No pictures of the bechamel because it comes together so quickly and requires constant attention. I divided the dish into 3 pans--two went in the freezer after cooling and refrigeration overnight. It'll be a nice for a low-effort evening!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's all Greek to me

There is an awesome Greek restaurant in Highland Park, NJ called Pithari Taverna. It's small and unassuming...across from a gas station and surrounded by residential homes. My sister in law introduced us to it and it was love at first bite. I've always wanted to travel to Greece--it was my first honeymoon choice. Until we found out November weather in Greece is similar to November weather in NJ...Not exactly the sunny, warm, spend-half-your-time-on-amazing-beaches-and-the-other-half-enjoying-amazing-historical-sites-kind of weather. I feel like Pithari Tavern brings me closer to the experience, though. Somehow we always get the same waitress and she explains why some things on the menu aren't in season or available because of the time of year or upcoming holiday. Greek cuisine seems to hail from similar locavore roots as that of Italy. The Mediterranean influence is familiar to me, being half Italian (that's half Italian from Italy, not half Italian from Brooklyn)  but there are Middle Eastern influences that keep me guessing! A favorite side dish at Pithari Taverna is Lemon Potatoes. They're perfectly tart but the lemon isn't overpowering. You can taste the Greek olive oil and garlic too. Crispy on the outside but creamy inside it's an unforgettable combination. Last week I dared to try to recreate it at home!

Here is the recipe I used by Anthony Gougoutris on

3 lbs Yukon gold potatoes or other waxy potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 cups chicken broth

  1. Cut peeled potatoes in half or wedges. Let them stand in water while preparing sauce.
  2. Combine all other ingredients in a gallon size zipper bag and shake to combine.
  3. Dry off the potatoes and put all of them in the bag. Let marinate for 2 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put potatoes in a large casserole dish.
  5. Roast for 1 hour 10 min turning occasionally, until fork tender. There should be plenty of sauce leftover after roasting.
  6. Crisp under the broiler for 5 minutes if you prefer.
My potatoes came out super lemony which made them slightly too tart. I couldn't taste the oregano or olive oil and the garlic was lost. While the directions don't specify to dump all the marinade in the casserole, it mentioned having plenty of sauce leftover so that's what I did. Next time, I'll use fewer lemons, roast them in a much smaller amount of sauce and definitely let them crisp a bit more. None of these differences deterred us from enjoying every last spud, though.

The first night they were a side dish with chicken cutlets and mixed salad. We finished them off two mornings later in a frittata-like breakfast dish. I warmed the potatoes in a nonstick pan, tossed in some spinach to melt, added 3 whole eggs and 3 egg whites previously whisked, topped with sun dried tomatoes and a few
crumbles of feta cheese. A savory way to start the day!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Eggplant Parsley Dip with Homemade Pita Chips

I love eggplant. It's a delicious, meaty vegetable that's versatile and found in many varieties of cuisines: Italian, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Middle-Eastern, Thai... Sometimes I'll forgo preparing a dish with eggplant because I've been taught to slice it thinly, sprinkle with salt and weight the slices down to help extract the bitter juice. I'm generally not a patient cook, so this extra step is sometimes a turn-off. I learned a tip from Alton Brown, when I had the Food Network Channel. Supposedly, the female eggplant is less bitter and has fewer seeds than its male counterpart. How do you tell the difference? Look at their navel. Male eggplant have oblong navels while females have round ones. I happened across one of each at the CSA last week:

Female and Male Eggplant
But I used them together in the same dish so it's not easy to tell whether there was any impact on flavor. My Saveur magazine focused on Greek cooking and so I attempted Melintzanosalata (Eggplant and Parsley Dip). Melintzano is close to the Italian Melanzana...interested in word origin, here is what I found on

"The ancient Romans did not know about eggplants, so the word melanzana is not of Latin origin. It appears that the introduction of eggplants in the Mediterranean area is due to the Arabs, who got to know it in India. The word mela, meaning apple, and the Arab name of the plant, badingian led to melanzana. For centuries, melanzana had a bad reputation and it was even thought to cause madness. Its name was interpreted to mean mela insana, meaning both insane and not healthy. Such bad reputation comes from the fact that melanzana belongs to the Solanaceae family. It does not cause madness, but it contains the alkaloid solanin, and should not be eaten raw. Even undercooked, eggplant does not taste good." But well cooked, it's delicious!

Roasted eggplant

2 lbs eggplant (about 2 large)
1/2 cup evoo
1 green bell pepper, cored and roughly chopped
1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
1 cup flat leaf parsley leaves
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Toasted pita for serving
Eggplant Draining

1. Heat the broiler. Pierce the eggplants with a fork in several places and broil in the oven until slightly charred and soft, about 20 minutes. Let cool. Peel eggplants; scoop out most of the seeds. Chop the soft eggplant and drain in a strainer for 30 minutes.

2. Heat 1/4 cup oil in skillet over medium high heat. Add peppers; cook for 10 min. Add jalapenos and continue cooking until golden brown, about 7 minutes longer. Transfer to bowl of food processor along with reserved eggplant, remaining oil, parsley, vinegar and garlic. Process until slightly chunky. Season with salt and pepper. Chill to meld flavors. Serve with toasted pita.

**Cook's note: I would add the garlic to the skillet a few minutes after the jalapeno next time for a milder flavor, or use 1 clove minced.


Homemade Pita Chips

12 baby whole wheat pitas
5 Tbsp olive oil
Any other spices or herbs for flavoring

Preheat oven to 375. Halve the baby pitas so you have to small round disks. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and any other seasoning. I used paprika and thyme for one batch, dried parsley, onion and garlic for another. Cook for about 8 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until golden brown. Some will cook faster than others...all are yummy!