Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pasta Sauce

In my opinion one of the so-called time savers that should be jettisoned from the cupboard is jarred pasta sauce. You can make a delicious sauce in less time than it takes to boil the pasta. Seriously. Last night for dinner I made puttanesca sauce. I put a pot of water on the stove to boil then made the sauce. I warmed a few tablespoons of olive oil in a 12" cast iron pan over a medium heat. I added 4 cloves of garlic which I had sliced, and cooked until it began to turn a light golden brown. Then I added about 4 minced anchovies and 6 chopped oil-cured black olives. I cooked this mixture for about 2 more minutes then added a tablespoon of capers, which I rinsed in cold water for a few seconds. Then a can of tomato puree and about a half teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes.
By now the water was boiling in the other pot so I added the pasta. This gave me 8-9 minutes to cook the sauce which was plenty of time. I drained the pasta and sauced it, adding a sprinkle of Parmesan Reggiano and it was great. This really tasted like a restaurant style pasta dish and it took me no more time than I needed to boil pasta. It would be just as fast to make marinara sauce, alfredo sauce or one of several other options.
So, LambertvilleChef readers, what are some of your favorite weeknight pasta dishes to make at home?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Turkey Day

Every year I'm stunned by how many magazines, newspapers and radio/tv shows do another redundant turkey story. So in response, this post is about..... turkey. I have read about brined turkey, braised turkey, deep-fried turkey and barbecued turkey. Some people even roast it whole! Should I stuff it? Should I cover it in a foil tent? Should I marinate it? Wash it first? Or just go out or dinner?
All of these questions are raised every year. The answers are always the same. To avoid dry turkey, always do this, or never do that. I've tried turkey prepared so many different ways and I always go back to the same conclusion. Just roast it! Don't overcook it and it won't be dry. I only eat a roasted turkey dinner once a year. I want it to taste like roasted turkey. Not fried turkey, not barbecued turkey, not mango chili curried turkey.
I stuff mine but don't do that if it makes you uncomfortable. Roast it in a 350º oven until it is 150º inside the thickest part of a thigh. Start by figuring on 15 minutes per pound, but check it about an hour before you think it's ready. Don't turn it, don't baste it, just roast it and you'll get crisp skin, moist meat and it will taste like roasted turkey! Let it rest for about 45 minutes after removing it from the oven. It will finish cooking and become more tender.
Don't tell anyone how long you cooked it because they'll tell you it wasn't long enough. Just serve it and listen to them tell you that they've never tasted better turkey.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sourdough Bread, Part 2

This is a follow-up post to one from last Spring. If you ever want a truly humbling experience in the kitchen, try making sourdough bread. Since last March, I have reached some amazing highs and lows with this ongoing experiment.
After getting some great bread in the early going, my sourdough bread became so dense it never seemed fully cooked. I started tinkering with the flour(s) that I was adding to the starter and to the dough. Nothing worked. I re-read some of my notes that I gathered when I first set out to make my own starter. Then I got what I thought was the "wrong" kind of flour delivered one day and I had to use it because I had nothing else. The starter seemed to REALLY like it, it told me so. Then the bread had better texture after a few days of feeding it to the starter. I was on to something. Then all of a sudden, dense bread again. I mean really dense! I hadn't intentionally changed anything. Back to my notes.
I read about some people letting their dough rise for 8-10 hours, or more. What did I have to lose? I made the dough around 1:00 PM and left it to rise in a loosely covered bowl in my kitchen. By 9:00 PM it had tripled in size. Then I rolled it out and shaped it into dinner rolls, covered it well and left it overnight. Bingo! The next day, around 1:00 PM I baked the rolls. They were nothing short of amazing. 24 hours after making the dough, the bread had a great sour flavor, light crumb and chewy crust. This was it. I had finally got what I wanted and it only took me a year! Then, after about 2 weeks the rolls barely rose. The dough gained size, but it went outward instead of up. I deflated too. The next day it was back to normal. Crisis averted. Then, a few days later, flat again. Boy this is fun! I realized that the dough needed to be a little stiffer. The point when I stop adding flour to the mixer is when the dough forms a ball and stops sticking to the sides. Since I make the dough with starter and high-gluten flour it has plenty of protein, as long as I add enough flour. Turns out this is REALLY important. This is where a recipe is useless and you just have to feel your way through it. I follow the same steps everyday, but each day the "right" amount of flour differs just a bit. Humidity is probably the variable. I'll let you know in a few years. Anyway, I now get consistent bread each day that I think I could sell in a bakery.
Last week I took a small amount of leftover starter and started feeding it whole wheat flour daily. Today I'll make a batch of dough with it and follow the same 24 hour cycle. The biggest problem with whole wheat bread is usually the texture so I'm curious to see if this method yields delicious results. Stay tuned.

Pots and Pans

Just a quick link to a piece in the NY Times by Harold McGee about buying pots and pans for your kitchen. Thought it was of interest.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Potatoes are such a versatile food. They are readily available in so many forms, but I'm talking about fresh, unprocessed potatoes. My favorite variety is fingerling potatoes. They come in a number of types and they all are delicious. Fresh dug potatoes from your garden are probably the best, but farmer's markets and some better grocery stores have them. Seek them out and expect to pay more than regular potatoes but they are well worth it.
I like to roast them in olive oil with just salt and pepper. They also make great mashed potatoes, but so do Yukon Gold potatoes which cost quite a bit less. Another great way to eat them is in a fancy potato salad with roasted cod or cold poached salmon. Try them any way you cook potatoes and you'll see what I mean.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Making Risotto

A great restaurant style dish to make at home is risotto. With a little bit of practice you can make it just like a pro. It does require quite a bit of attention so it may not suit every situation.
First of all, what is risotto? It is a northern Italian rice dish made by adding the liquid incrementally rather than all at once. My rice of choice is Carnaroli rice, although Arborio rice makes great risotto too and is easier to find.
The technique here is really important and should be followed for any risotto dish. Start by warming up your liquid of choice, water or stock, with wine or without. Seafood risotto is great made with shrimp stock. Risotto Milanese should be made with chicken stock, although you could substitute water or vegetable stock for a meatless version. Dice an onion and a little garlic and cook them in olive oil or a mixture of olive oil and butter, over a medium heat. You don't want any color on the onions. Stir using a wooden spoon until the onions and garlic are soft. Add the rice and stir well to coat it with oil. Then add about a cup of hot liquid and stir well. Keep adding the hot liquid a cup at a time until the rice is creamy with small al dente bits in the center. The entire process should take about 20 minutes.
Just about any risotto dish gets parmesan cheese and here is a good way to use the rinds reserved from blocks of parmesan reggiano. Toss a piece of the rind into the pan just as you begin to add liquid. It will give a nice depth of flavor and add richness to your risotto. A few sprigs of fresh thyme added in the beginning works really well too.
Risotto can change with the seasons: asparagus in the Spring; roasted tomatoes and sweet corn in the Summer; Butternut squash in the Fall. The Winter is the perfect time for seafood risotto. Try them all and be creative. If it goes with pasta it probably goes with risotto too.
Risotto can be made ahead of time, then reheated with a bit more liquid when you're ready to serve it. The basic technique is the same, just stop a little sooner and spread it out on a cookie sheet to cool in order to stop the cooking. Then return it to a pan with a little bit of liquid and reheat, season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day Barbecue

If you are lighting the grill this weekend try some natural lump charcoal. It burns much cleaner than charcoal briquettes. Once you start using it I guarantee that you'll never switch back to briquettes.
Briquettes impart a strong flavor from the chemical compounds used in their manufacture. Natural lump charcoal is just what it's name implies, a natural wood product that is 100% carbon. It burns hot and clean and is almost odorless.
I'll be cooking some Griggstown Farm chickens using a rotisserie on my Weber kettle. I like to build a small fire and keep the chickens on the grill for about an hour and a half. I stuff a few sprigs of thyme inside the chickens and season them with just salt and pepper. After taking them off the grill, they rest for about twenty minutes so they will be tender and juicy.