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This weekend’s project (which really did take most of the weekend) was to make tomato paste. I never tackled this before but seemed like it was a worthwhile project to use the overabundance of ripe Roma tomatoes that had suddenly appeared in the basement.
When they were predicting frost a few weeks back, I picked pretty much every single tomato that was left on the vine, most of them, sadly still green as anything. It always is such a pain to do pulling all the tomatoes, particularly when its usually last minute and freezing out, but it seems so wasteful to let these beautiful summer fruits just freeze on the vines. Hence, my basement is now filled with trays and trays of green tomatoes. The problem is that many of them decided to ripen simultaneously. So what does one do with a bounty of tomatoes? There are many things that you can do and I have done a lot of them, yet the tomatoes continue to ripen and beckon for someone to do something with them. This seemed the next logical step.
What is absolutely amazing to me is how concentrated it becomes. I started out with 10 lbs of Roma tomatoes, which is a lot of tomatoes for this batch of paste. I then split them in half, taking out the seeds and put them in a pot. Even split and cored, these tomatoes still filled a huge pot. The tomatoes boiled down for about an hour until they were soft. I then allowed them to cool and put them into the fridge overnight, for no other reason but my own schedule which did not permit me the time necessary for the next steps. The following day, I took those tomatoes out, put them through the food mill on a fine setting to get rid of the skins. I still ended up with a sauce pot full of cooked tomatoes. I added a couple teaspoons of kosher salt and allowed this to boil down for another hour or thereabouts until it was reduced by half. This mixtures was then spread onto a silicone sheet on a baking sheet (covering the whole sheet pan) and cooked for several hours — probably about 4-5 total at 200 degrees, stirring every 1/2 hour or so to keep it from burning until it was reduced down to a thick concentrated paste. This paste amounted to two tiny little jars of paste. But these are not just ordinary jars of paste, no sir, they are tiny little jars of summer. Summer concentrated and squeezed into half pint mason jars covered with a thin layer of olive oil.
They will now reside in my fridge and I will dip into them every time my cooking needs a little taste of summer. Covered with oil and refrigerated, they will last a year. Just in time to do it all again next summer.
Here’s the recipe for bracciole, let me say up front that I cannot take any credit for the recipe, it is my mom’s and my grandma’s recipe. I am merely proud that I am able to continue the tradition.
- 6 pieces of bracciole meat (for those of you that are local to me Wallingford Locker has great bracciole meat)
- 12 slices of bacon
- 1 cup raisins divided into six portions
- 6 pieces of garlic finely chopped
- grated cheese of your choice (I use asiago or romano)
- salt and pepper to taste
- butcher’s twine cut into six pieces each cut about 2 feet in length
- Take meat and season with salt and pepper.
- Place two slices of bacon on each piece of bracciole
- Sprinkle with grated cheese of your choice
- Add one portion of raisins sprinkled on top
- Add one chopped clove of garlic to each piece of meat.
- Roll each piece up. I find that it is easiest to roll up starting from the smaller or thinner end. If any of the raisins or cheese fall out as you are rolling, just stick them back inside.
- When meat is rolled, tie each with a piece of butcher’s twine.
- Place in tomato sauce of your choice and cook on low heat for 3-4 hours. You could probably put them into a slow cooker with your sauce and cook for 6-8 hours although I have not tried this myself.
- When ready to serve, remove each bracciole packet from sauce, cut the twine off (this is important, no one likes string in their dinner!), slice each with a sharp knife into four pieces and serve.
Bagel chips are a popular snack. You can pay about $3.50 or so and grab yourself a bag at the supermarket. But, the next time you buy bagels and have some sticking around, it’s really easy to make them yourself. Usually when I buy bagels, I will buy extra with the thought of bagel chips in mind. When you make bagel chips yourself, you can also season them as you like, either by buying a particular type of bagel (onion, garlic) or season them as you make them. You can also adjust the salt as is best for your dietary preferences.
- Bagels, thinly sliced
- Canola oil
Place the sliced bagels on a sheet in your toaster oven. Brush or spray with canola oil to coat and toast for about 4 minutes per batch. Keep an eye on the first batch so you can adjust your toasting time accordingly. I have had some rather crunchy chips that I thought needed a little more time and it turned out, the “little more” was too much. When they are nicely toasted, season with salt to your taste. If you are seasoning them yourself, now would also be a good time to sprinkle your garlic or onion powder or other seasoning.
Toss into a bowl and enjoy. At our house, these don’t last very long at all. If you really wanted to make bagel chips completely homemade, you could also make your own bagels first. Check out this link for that post.
One of my favorite hobbies is to cook, must be part of my Italian background because I love to see people eat. Mangia, Mangia, as my grandmother would say. It was never much of a problem with four men in the house – there was always someone happy to eat. Now, there are two of us in the house and the cooking presents a bit more of challenge, you see I am used to cooking…a lot (again, the Italian coming through). It’s difficult to figure out how to just make dinner for two, day after day.
We have had our share of good meals and our share of popcorn or PBJ for dinner when neither of us could seem to decide what we should do about that meal. I think, however, that I am coming around. Over the weekend, we felt like carrot cake, knowing full well that we couldn’t eat a whole carrot cake even if we spaced it out over days (carrot cake day #1 is great, day #2 is good, day #3 really, carrot cake again?) so I figured out that I would make a small carrot cake. I searched around and I found a recipe for a small carrot cake but it required a 6 inch cake pan. I searched around in the hopes that I could find something that I could use but not 6 inch cake pan or anything close to it. So I figured I would work with what I had, ramekins and make little carrot cakes – two of them.
They came out resembling little muffins, I cut off the raised tops to flatten them to look more like cakes, then cut each cake in half so there were two layers. The recipe called for a maple cream cheese frosting which was spread on top of one “layer” and then iced on the whole cake–it was delicious! Two little individual carrot cakes for dinner earlier this week.
The recipe was adapted from Betty Crocker’s website. I omitted raisins and walnuts which could certainly be added as you desire.
- 1/4 all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch salt
- Pinch ground ginger
- Pinch ground cinnamon
- Pinch ground nutmeg
- 1 egg white
- 2 tbs packed light brown sugar
- 2 tbs canola oil
- 1 1/2 tps milk
- 1/4 tsp vanilla
- 1/3 cup packed grated carrot ( 1 carrot)
Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting
- 2 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1 tbs unsalted butter, softened
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tps maple syrup
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Spray 2 (6-oz) ramekins with cooking spray.
- In small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside. In medium bowl, beat egg white, brown sugar, oil, milk and vanilla with wire whisk until blended. Stir in flour mixture until combined; stir in carrots.
- Divide batter evenly between ramekins. Set ramekins on baking sheet and place in oven. Bake 17 minutes or until cakes are set and spring back when touched lightly in center. Cool in ramekins 5 minutes; remove from ramekins to cooling rack. Cool completely. Level cake layers with a serrated knife.
- For frosting, in small bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until blended. Beat in powdered sugar and maple syrup until smooth.
- Fill and frost layers with maple-cream cheese frosting.
For those who asked, here is my go-to recipe for the battered onion rings that we put on our salads.
- 2 parts masa harina (corn flour)
- 1 part all purpose flour
- Creole seasoning 1 tbsp
- Jerk seasoning 1 tbsp
- Black pepper 1 tsp
- Salt (when they are cooked to taste)
- Water (enough to thin batter to desired consistency)
- 2 medium onions thinly sliced and separated into rings
- Canola oil for frying
I take two onions and thinly slice and separate into rings. In a small bowl I combine the masa harina (usually 1 cup) with all purpose flour (1/2 cup) and the seasonings. Add enough water to make a batter that is not runny. Add onion rings to batter and mix to coat. Heat canola oil and place onion rings into hot oil. Cook until golden on one side and flip – do the same with the other side. Remove from oil onto tray with paper towel to absorb excess oil. Salt to taste.
Most often, I do more than I need for the salads since many of these guys never make it past the cooling tray. 🙂
I thought I’d share some photos of tonight’s dinner – a fish dinner since Tim is not home and making fish when he can’t eat it (and can really die from eating it) is just downright mean. So, tonight’s meal was haddock with a miso-mayo seasoned glaze and oriental style green beans with chili garlic sauce, soy sauce and garlic.
The other day I found this recipe for chocolate banana bread. I tried it, it was a hit at our house, even among those that didn’t like banana bread.
Personally, I think the chocolate did the trick. How can anyone not like chocolate?
If you’re interested here is the link to the recipe, which can be found at www.cookinglight.com
I made these peach preserves over the weekend with fresh peaches. Oh my goodness, are they good. I found the recipe here at Natasha’s Kitchen and I suggest that you hop on over there to check it out. I adapted it a bit to add a touch of vanilla (about 1 teaspoon) to the peaches before I jarred them. I had my doubts since the recipe takes a couple days to complete, but it seems that it is well worth the wait.
Tim and I went blueberry picking and I may go again today since one of the blueberry pick-your-own places indicated on FB that today is the last day of picking for the season. We came home with two bags full of blueberries and I made a blueberry muffin cake. The original recipe is from Fine Cooking but I tweaked it just a bit to add a streusel topping, the same as on the blueberry muffins that I make. It definitely took the cake, which was delicious without the topping to a different level.
For those of you that asked, here is the recipe:
Blueberry Muffin Cake (adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine recipe)
- 4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly; more for the pan
- 9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 3/4 lb. (2 cups) fresh blueberries
- 4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 2 t. cinnamon
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Butter or spray the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round springform pan.
Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the butter, milk, eggs, and vanilla. Using a silicone spatula, stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until incorporated. Fold in the berries. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly. Tap the pan on the counter once or twice to break any air bubbles.
Mix together the topping ingredients which should make crumbles. Spread the crumbled streusel topping over the cake batter.
Bake until golden-brown and a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. The original recipe says the cooking time is 45-55 minutes which is what worked without the streusel. With the streusel topping, add an extra 15-20 minutes, check occasionally until a tester comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Run a paring knife around the edge of the cake and remove the side of the pan. Transfer the cake to a serving plate and serve warm or at room temperature. Ours didn’t make it to the cooling phase. It was steaming still when we removed it from the pan to eat with a cup of tea the other night for dessert.
December is a month of holidays, eating and traditions– I don’t think that anyone would disagree with me on that. The holiday season can turn even the most cynical of people into those that fawn over a family tradition — or food — or activity.
Over the past few weeks on Facebook, my cousins have been discussing my grandmother’s and their great-grandmother’s recipe for meatballs, homemade pasta and sauce. They have been going back and forth with one of my male cousins and my brother over the recipes, trying to pin down the taste that we all remember so well but don’t all know how to make.
Isn’t it funny how the holidays evoke a special food or a meal that you remember from your youth? For me, Christmas is and will always be associated with antipasto (my dad’s favorite) and baccala salad on Christmas Eve. For my husband, it is his grandmother’s cookies made from leftover pie dough and boiled onions. No holiday was complete unless my Aunt Mary brought the pies (chocolate cream, pumpkin, lemon meringue and apple) which always graced our holiday table. My siblings and I still are trying very unsuccessfully to replicate Aunt Mary’s stuffing — each year one of us tries and each year we agree that it is missing something.
When we are young, we often summarily dismiss our grandparents (or if we’re lucky) great-grandparents when they try to show us something or we just don’t get the recipe since it is “a pinch of this, a little of that” — empty of any concrete measurements and never, ever written down — only memorized in the mind of someone who we usually take for granted until they and their food are no longer with us and we yearn for both.
There are traditions that each of us have, particularly as they surround food, that bring back fond memories. Some of us cook the same foods for each holiday — well, because that is the way we grew up and that is what comes to mind when we think of Christmas.
For my family, Christmas has taken on my different transformations through the years — depending a lot on who was there, or more appropriately, no longer there, to share it with. When I was very young, my grandparents lived downstairs from us and Christmas was a big holiday. The whole family on my mom’s side came to my grandparents for Christmas. My Grandma Caruso made sauce, bracciole, meatballs, sausage and homemade pasta. I remember the pasta making because us kids were the ones tasked with transporting the freshly made pasta onto the clean sheets that were placed on the top of every bed in the house, in order to lay the pasta out to dry. There was homemade chicken soup and of course, antipasto. I remember all that clearly, but the main course, well — after we got done with the antipasto, the soup and the pasta, the main course didn’t get much notice until later for sandwiches or snacking, somewhere after everyone found it in their bellies to have room for the variety of nuts, oranges, grapes and italian pastries that found their way onto the dinner table for dessert.
Then, after my grandfather became sick and eventually passed on, Christmas was a little quieter, since the whole family didn’t gather together anymore and everyone celebrated with their own families and children. That is when I really remember the antipasto, it took center stage at my house and the meal downsized just a bit. Christmas Eve however was still full of fish — we had the eel, the smelts, the baccala salad as long as my grandmother was still alive.
As we got older and Santa took less of a center stage, Christmas Eve became the bigger of the celebrating — still with the fish dishes and with Christmas Eve Midnight mass and presents afterwards. There was still a lot of eating going on–after all opening all those presents makes you hungry and baccala salad is just as good at 2 a.m. as it was a 7 or 8 p.m.
Now, that my grandparents and my dad are all gone, and we all have families of our own, Christmas has been reinvented once again. I have to admit that I have not made an antipasto since my dad died. It just didn’t seem right — although I’m trying to get over that. We often say that Christmas is not the same since he passed, because he was probably the biggest kid and loved Christmas as much, if not more, than any of us actual kids.
Now in our reinvented Christmas, we have some traditions surrounding food and the holidays of our own here at the T’s house– a blend of both of us, with enough of our past to carry our heritage forward for our boys. We have baccala salad on Christmas Eve and I have to say that Tom’s dad is my biggest compadre in the eating of it. I make bread and cinnamon buns which our own own food twist. If I can find it, we have blue cheese spread inside celery that Tom’s grandmother used to make and boiled onions with our dinner on Christmas day, which is usually a rib roast with mashed potatoes and gravy. There is pie, but no longer the sky high pies that Aunt Mary was famous for — no Italian pastries that aunts and uncles brought with them.
I often try to explain to Tom — an only child who grew up with relatively quiet holidays consisting of his parents, grandparents (and some relatives who would stop in for a visit) that the holidays in my world have always been chaotic –lots of people, lots of noise, lots of food and lots of laughter and from the early days –PoKeNo.
Quiet just wasn’t a word that we associated with Christmas at my grandparents’ and parents’ houses — how could it be when Christmas Eve or Christmas Day could easily be upwards of 35 or 40 people, a good portion of which were children and all were related? Even if we just have “family” now (meaning my siblings, their families and our parents) that is almost 20 people!
As I get older, I realize just how important all that “stuff” that I couldn’t have cared about as a kid really is — it is the basis of tradition and family and is a very big part of who we are. To have one of those raucous, loud, cramped Christmases with all of my family and extended family, both my parents and my grandparents would be a dream come true. Alas, it will never happen again because a good many of those people are no longer with us. The way to keep the memories of those we love alive is through tradition–carrying forward those same things that we have always done. Be it the same foods, the same activities or the same type of celebrations.
During December I thought that it would be fun (and therapeutic) to recreate some of those recipes and some of those memories and to memorialize for my own family some of our own traditions and recipes so that maybe, just maybe, someday when they really care, those things will be there for my boys to share with their families keeping the memories of Grandma Caruso, Nan Dotson, Nanny Smith, Aunt Mary and my dad alive for generations to come.