Sunday, February 17, 2019

Why I Cook

MV Britannic

I am an only child who lived in New York City until I was ten years old at which time we moved to Bergen County New Jersey. My American grandfather owned a butcher shop on Broadway in the Manhattan area called Morningside Heights. I ate good - and healthy - food at home, cooked either by my English mother or my Italian-American grandmother.

Every other year, when my mother took me home to visit her parents, we sailed back and forth from New York City to Liverpool on the MV Britannic, a Cunard White Star Liner that took eight, instead of five, days to cross the Atlantic.

Even when I was young, my mother and I ate each meal at the second seating in the dining room. I was never relegated to "nursery tea," which is when most children ate their last meal of the day on board ship. The food in the "grown-up" dining room was delicious, plated by stewards wearing white gloves, using French Service (two spoons in one hand). My favorite steward of all time was a young man, first name Bert, surname Lee, but I didn't "get it" and called him Bertley, like Bentley, one word. He was nice enough not to mind.

Once in England, even though post WWII rationing was still in effect, the food at home was a delight. My grandfather there, in the Wirral, a pork butcher, made his own lovely sausages and pork pies, similar to the ones you can get at Myers of Keswick on Hudson Street in NYC. For high tea - a workingman's meal, not what you would get if you went to the Ritz Carlton to eat crustless sandwiches, eat tea cakes, and drink Champagne - we had pots of tea, crumbly Cheshire cheese, ripe cherry tomatoes, sharp green onions, sometimes freshly-laid eggs softly boiled with Hovis whole wheat bread sliced thin and buttered sparingly, sometimes small fish paste sandwiches, which I liked, and, always, a Victoria sponge cake in the kitchen if you wanted a slice at the end of the meal. I can still, if you know what I mean, "sense" Sunday lunch - often roast leg of lamb with gravy and crunchy roast potatoes, convincing me then and forever that only the English can properly roast a potato!

After getting engaged at 19, I ate Sunday dinner at my future mother-in-law's, where the food was enthusiastically cooked. And when I married a month shy of turning 21, I took the two cookbooks I had received as engagement presents, the 1964 Joy of Cooking and the blue, now well-worn Craig Claiborne New York Times Cookbook inscribed by my friend Kathleen with the Thomas Wolf quote "There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves" - and set myself to the task of learning to cook.

The very first meal I was going to cook, after I got home from work, was going to be meat loaf, but my new young husband was impatient and hungry, and it was going to take too long to get on the table, so I took a tip from Joy and made it like little meatballs in a muffin tin. It was awful, mostly - but probably not only - because I used dried parsley and didn't know to cut down on the amount in the recipe, so it was more like horrible parsley balls. Fortunately, it's been uphill since then. I learned to cook, I love to cook, and, not a surprise, I never used dried parsley again.

My motto became even if I've put in a long day's work, "I'd rather eat late than eat out."

On Board Ship

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Whole Wheat Sablé


Whole Wheat SablésWhole
I have an odd relationship with sweets. I can't say that I don't like them - of course I like them. I like plain single layer cakes, spicy gingerbread, ice cream, creme brûlée, panna cotta, and zabaglione hot or cold. But what I especially like are cookies, and 2018 was the year I learned to bake cookies. It was in some ways a dangerous, enterprise simply because when cookies are good, it is easy for me to eat too many of them - maybe not all at once, but, you know, a cookie here, a cookies there...

You can find lots of excellent recipes for cookies - a rather famous, if not infamous, one appeared in 2018, Alison Roman’s Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread cookies and was justifiably all the rage. And there are many bakers well-known for their accomplishments in the cookie-verse, especially Dorie Greenspan, whose complete collection of books - baking and otherwise - have earned prized space on on my own bookshelf. But when everything was said and done, I had a particular baker as my muse.

Alice Medrich

This was not a surprise to me as I have been familiar with Alice Medrich for a long time. She had already given me a recipe for an almond cake on Page 73 of Pure Dessert, which I make often, and on FOOD52 she taught me the magic of using math to adjust pan sizes when baking.

I have baked lots of her Classic Ginger Cookes in Flavor Flours and her Double Oatmeal Cookies also in Flavor Flours baked as recommended with raisins and walnuts and then adapted to use white chocolate chunks and dry-roasted macadamia nuts in place of the raisins and walnuts. But my personal favorite cookie is the little black dress of cookies. The cookie I know, no matter how many other good cookies I bake, I will turn back to time and time again.

Unadorned Whole Wheat Sablé.

I found the recipe in Pure Dessert, one of the most physically beautiful books in my collection, and then realized the always-reliable Luisa had written about it a long time ago. By the time I got around to trying this recipe, I was already familiar with making logs of dough and had figured out that the best way for me to bake these cookies is to make the dough one day, roll it into logs, refrigerate the logs overnight, and bake them as soon as I get up in the morning. I keep a stainless steel ruler handy as I slice the cold dough into cookies, and I move quickly so they stay cold while slicing with a Messermeister Cheese Knife, which glides right through the dough even if there are chunks of chocolate hidden inside.

I am such a newbie at this that I only bake one tray at a time ensuring that the cookies are evenly baked. Depending on how many cookies I will bake, I keep 4 to 6 half sheet pans at the ready so I never have to use a hot one and line them all with sheets of parchment from King Arthur Flour. I have five cooling trays available and slide the parchment sheets right off the half sheet pans to cool, and then move the cookies off the parchment using a small offset spatula.

These cookies are to me THE BEST. Thanks to Alice Medrich with a hat tip to Luisa.

Full disclosure - Alice Medrich reduced the amount of butter by ¼ stick when she put this recipe again in her book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your Mouth Cookies, and she must have had a reason, but I can’t bring myself to mess with what I think is the perfect cookie.

Whole Wheat Sablé
Adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich
With tips from Dorie Greenspan

4.5 ounces King Arthur All Purpose flour
4 ounces King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-inch pieces
3.5 ounces granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Note 1: When baking, it's a good idea to have an oven thermometer in your oven to make sure the correct temperature is reached before baking.

Note 2:  Once the oven reaches the correct temperature to make sure it's really hot enough, don't put the first tray of cookies in until it has remained at this temperature for at least 15 minutes.

Note 3: When you take a just-baked tray of cookies out of the oven, if you are not going to slip the next tray in the oven immediately, close the oven door behind you since you don't want the temperature of the oven to continue to drop. Open it only when you ready to put the next tray in.

Instructions

Preheat a convection oven to 325°F or a regular oven to 350°F.

Stir the flours together in a bowl, and set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the pieces of butter with the sugar, salt, and vanilla for about a minute, just until smooth. Turn off the mixer. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the flour all at once, turn on the mixer, and beat until the flour is just mixed in. Remove the dough and knead with your hands to make sure the flour is completely incorporated into the dough.

Form the dough into one 12 x 2-inch log or two 6 x 2-inch logs the way Dorie Greenspan does, wrap the log or logs in parchment paper, and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours and, best, overnight. If you want to keep the logs perfectly round, use another Dorie Greenspan tip and cut a paper towel roll open, put the parchment-wrapped log inside, tape it closed with painter's tape, and set in the refrigerator. I like to make two logs because that way the dough doesn't soften too much while I am slicing cookies as I keep the second log in the refrigerator while I cut the first one. This helps keep the cookies round because they don't have time to get soft and flatten too much on the cutting board.

Cut the logs into ¼-inch thick slices, and put the cookies 1-½ inches apart on cool parchment-lined baking sheets.

I bake one tray of cookies at a time on a rack in the middle of my oven.

Bake the cookies until they light brown at the edges. In my convection oven this takes 14 minutes.

Take the tray with baked cookies from the oven, close the oven door to keep the heat in, set the tray on a cooling rack, put the next tray of cookies in the oven, move the sheet of parchment with the cookies on it from the tray to another cooling rack, and when cool enough not to break apart, move the individual cookies with a small spatula to a rack to cool.

These cookies are better the next day, but don't let that stop you from tasting them! Alice Medrich says "They can be stored in an airtight container for at least a month." I doubt they'll be around to test that assertion.

Note: There are two particular books I think anyone wanting to bake cookies should have, and they are Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich and Dorie's Cookies by Dorie Greenspan. They would make a great gift for the aspiring cookie baker.

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Monday, December 24, 2018

No Knead Bread in the Emile Henry Italian Baker

For Joel Who Wants to Make Bread

Ready to put in the preheated oven
Jim Lahey, owner and baker at Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City, devised a recipe for making bread using a very wet dough in a Dutch oven that he contrived to replicate the conditions of a professional steam-injected bread oven. And on November 8, 2006, when the New York Times published Jim Lahey’s recipe for No-Knead Bread in The Minimalist column by Mark Bittman, it was a revelation.  

It turned out, it was a revolution too.  

My Bread by Jim Lahey was published in 2009. Since then his original recipe has been reworked countless times; numerous cooks have adapted his method and written their own books based on it; and plenty of people now bake their own bread at home. 

I am one of them.

In my enthusiasm, I got a number of other bread books, but My Bread is the only one I needed to find what has become my own weekly loaf. After adjusting the recipe using different sizes and shapes of pots, I have figured out what works best for me. It hinges on using a specific pot, the Italian Baker (formerly known as The Long Baker) by Emile Henry. It makes a long loaf, which is especially good for sandwiches and toast - and if tea and toast isn’t the most perfect combination, I haven’t found it.

The first thing I did when I got the Italian Baker was write to Emile Henry to find out if I could preheat the empty Italian Baker in the oven before putting room temperature bread dough in it. The pot is made of Burgundian clay, not part of the Emile Henry Flame Collection, so I wasn’t sure. And even now I, myself, can’t represent to you that it is okay to do that. I can, however, share with you the following response I received from Karla Stears, the corporate chef for Emile Henry on January 17, 2018, and based on this email I have been doing just that when making my loaf of bread. So have two of my friends.

You are correct, the Italian Baker is not part of the flame collection but luckily you ARE able to preheat the Baker in the oven and then add your room temperature dough.

I started out with the first recipe in My Bread and by trial and error adapted it for use in the pot by increasing the bread flour from 400 to 600 grams and making the other ingredient adjustments accordingly. I did up the percentage of salt but not by a lot.

Don’t be alarmed at how long it takes from the time you start until you have a finished loaf of bread. All you do is assemble and mix everything together. After that, the ingredients and time do all the work. You just have to figure out a routine that works with your schedule.


Bread ready to put in banneton
This is how I score the bread
No Knead Bread in the Emile Henry Italian Baker
Adapted from My Bread by Jim Lahey

Note

The first rise of the bread takes from 12 to 18 hours. I have found that a little more than 18 doesn’t do the dough any harm, especially if the temperature is cold. However, the second rise is 2 hours, and I find that it’s better to stick as closely as possible to that timing rather than letting it sit in the banneton much longer than 2 hours.

The amount of time that I bake it for works well for me in my oven, which is a 36-inch Wolf Dual Fuel. My neighbor found that the bottom of her loaf burned if she baked it as long as I do so she has reduced her cooking times to 25 minutes top on and 10 minutes top off. See how yours works out, and adjust if necessary. The internal temperature of the finished loaf should be at least 209°F. 

Special Equipment

The Italian Baker by Emile Henry
A Rectangular Banneton
Mercer Culinary Millenna 10-inch Wide Bread Knife (ATK’s Number 1 Serrated Knife)
Kuhn Rikon 2704 Kitchen Shears (optional but nice to score the bread)
My Bread by Jim Lahey (optional, but very nice to have)

Ingredients

600 grams King Arthur Bread Flour
13 to 14 grams of kosher salt
½ teaspoon yeast (I use SAF Instant)
450 grams cool water
Wheat bran (optional, but nice)

Tip from Nancy Pollard of Kitchen Detail

Learned by watching and testing from Great British Bake Off Master Class: We all use instant yeast now, so add it to one side of your mixing bowl with the flour and other ingredients and the salt on the other side. Salt, when added to the bowl on top of the yeast, weakens and kills those necessary little critters.

Instructions

Put the flour, salt, and yeast in a large bowl, and stir with a fork to combine. Add the cool water, and using the handle of a wooden spoon, mix it all together. (I like using the handle of a wooden spoon more than a Danish whisk for this task). This will take a few minutes, but it will come together. Cover the bowl tightly with a piece of plastic wrap. Let sit in a warm(ish) spot for 12 to 18 hours. I like to do it the night before I plan to bake and leave it overnight on the stovetop with the hood lights on.

Put a linen tea towel in your banneton and sprinkle the bottom with a little flour and a little wheat bran if you have it.

Put a little flour on a wooden board and using a plastic dough scraper (mine is from King Arthur Flour, and I like it), turn the very sticky dough in the bowl out on it. Fold it into a rectangle, as if you were folding a piece of paper to put into an envelope. Then turn the dough in the other direction, and fold it the same way again. You can add a (very) little amount of flour to your hands as you do this because the dough can be sticky, but don’t add too much as you don’t want to add more flour to the dough.

Make sure you have patted it into a rectangle (a little oval-ish), not a square, and place it seam side down in the banneton. Sprinkle a little flour over it and a little wheat bran if you have it (so the tea towel doesn’t stick). Fold the linen cloth over it, and let it sit for two hours. It will expand to fit the banneton.

At the end of the two-hour second rise you want to bake it in a preheated 475°F degree oven in a preheated pot. I count on it taking 45 minutes for my oven to reach that high a temp, and I always put the Italian Baker into the oven 10 minutes after I turn the heat on. To be clear, one hour after the dough has been turned into the banneton, I turn on my oven, and 10 minutes later I put the (naked) Italian Baker in the oven.    

When you are ready to bake the bread, very carefully – because it is so hot - take the Italian Baker out of the oven, closing the door so it doesn’t lose too much heat. Remove the lid, and holding the tea towel tight, turn the banneton upside down over the Italian Baker so the dough plops in. If some sticks to the sides, just nudge it with a silicone spatula, and it will pull right off. 

Now it's time to score the bread.  I find it easiest to do this with kitchen shears instead of a lame, and the one I like best is by Kuhn Rikon. If you look at the picture directly above, you will see how I score it. I snip it right down the middle and then snip side to side.

Put the lid on the Italian Baker, and bake for 30 minutes.

At the end of 30 minutes remove the lid, and bake for another 15 minutes.

Remove the loaf from the Italian Baker as soon as you take it out of the oven. One or two silicone spatulas will help with this. Cool on a rack before slicing.

If this all sounds like a pain, it really isn’t. Like driving a shift stick, it will become second nature. I bake the bread, then slice it, put it in a plastic bread bag, and slip it into the freezer.  King Arthur Flour has plastic bags sized for loaves of bread, and I use those. I toast the slices lightly for sandwiches and darker for toast. Pieces of this bread toasted and cut in half are lovely to serve with cheese.

If I want to make two loaves of bread, I mix a second batch of dough an hour later than the first one and bake it as soon as the first one comes out of the oven. For this reason I have two bannetons, but I do not have two pots.

A just-baked loaf

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Beet Borscht Salad

Adapted from Fruit and Vegetable Stand by Barry Baluster and Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

I adapted this recipe from a 1987 edition of the book Fruit and Vegetable Stand by Barry Baluster. The first time I made it, I read the recipe wrong, and this is what I did. I liked the way it turned out so much that I have been making it this way ever since. It doesn't sound like much, but it's very good and very pretty - definitely greater than the sum of its parts.  I learned how to roast beets from Marcella Hazan. 

Beet Borscht Salad

Adapted from Fruit and Vegetable Stand by Barry Baluster and Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan.

Serves 4 - 6 depending on whether you're using it as a salad or a condiment

Ingredients


4 to 6 medium red beets
Sour cream (I use full fat Breakstone) or Plain Greek Yogurt - full fat 

Instructions


Cut off the long stringy tops of the beets with kitchen shears, trim the root ends if they are "furry," but leave the beets intact. Wash the beets well. Wrap the beets tightly in aluminum foil (I wrap them twice) and bake in a preheated 400°F oven for one hour or until easily pierced with a metal cake tester right through the foil.

When the cake tester slips easily through them, remove the beets from the oven. Open the foil carefully so you don't burn youself. Let the beets cool a little, then slip off the skins. It is easiest to do this under cold running water while they are still warm.


Slice, dice, or quarter the beets depending on your preference. I usually leave them in largish pieces.  Chill.


Serve with dollops of sour cream on top of the beets. Alternatively, toss diced, chilled beets with sour cream. 


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Friday, October 27, 2017

Split Pea Soup



There are some people whose recipes I know I can rely on. That doesn’t mean I want to make every one of their dishes, but the ones that appeal to me have always come through. They include, in no particular order (and are not limited to this list because I'm sure I will forget someone), Pierre Franey, Barbara Kafka, Marcella Hazan, Ina Garten, Nigella Lawson (especially the recipes in How to Eat), Diana Henry, Rachel Roddy, Yotom Ottolenghi (Jerusalem is my favorite of his books so far), Luisa, The Wednesday Chef, Orangette’s Molly, and David Leibovitz, whose blog I follow and whose book My Paris Kitchen I cook from.

For years I searched for the perfect split pea soup recipe and finally struck gold with the one David published on Living the Sweet Life in Paris, on March 15, 2013. With a few tweaks, I spend the winter shuffling between my adaptation of that recipe and Marcella’s recipe for Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup on Page 94 of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

Toast and Blue Cheese is a Good Complement to This Soup
Split Pea Soup
Adapted from David Lebovitz, Living the Sweet Life in Paris Blog

Ingredients

2 slices of your favorite bacon (optional - if you don't use it, use 3, not 2, tablespoons of olive oil)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped, not too fine
1 tablespoon Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base 
1 bay leaf (I use Morton & Bassett.) 
2 potatoes (russet or Yukon Gold), peeled and cubed
300 grams dried split peas, washed and scoured for stones
7 to 8 cups of water (start with 7)
Black pepper
I find that the Vegetable Base makes it salty enough. If you don’t, add salt to taste as it’s cooking.
Sour cream for serving (I use Breakstone Full Fat.)
Homemade garlic croutons are a nice touch as is toasted bread served with a sliver of blue cheese, which is David Lebovitz's idea.  Cambozola Blue and Danish Blue Cheese are especially nice.  

Instructions

Cook the bacon until crisp in a large soup pot. Mine is 5 quarts. Remove the bacon, and set aside to crumble over the soup before serving. Add the olive oil to the pot. Heat it a little, then add the onion and carrots. Cook until the onion is wilted, then add the garlic, bay leaf, cubed potatoes, and the split peas. Sprinkle generously with black pepper and stir.

Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, and put a cover askew on the pot. Stir occasionally. As it’s cooking, if you notice it’s thickening more than you like, add a little more water to get it the way you like it. 

The soup is ready when the peas and potatoes are soft. This generally takes about 45 minutes but can take up to an hour. When it's done, remove the bay leaf. Leave the soup chunky or puree it with a stick blender - you choose.  I leave it chunky. 

Serve with crumbled bacon bits,, if you are using bacon and dollops of sour cream. Leftovers will need to be thinned with water.

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My favorite pot - a 5-quart stainless-steel-lined copper Bourgeat

Monday, August 14, 2017

Soft-Boiled Eggs

When I was a little girl, my English mother would take me home every other year to see my grandparents who lived on the eastern side of the Wirral Peninsula.

My Mother
We would sail from New York Harbor to Liverpool on a Cunard White Star liner, the M.V. Britannic, a ship that took eight days instead of five to cross the Atlantic, and it was on that well-remembered ship I first became aware of how much I liked food.

M.V. Britannic
We had breakfast in the dining room; then steaming cups of consommé on deck at 11:00 a.m. Next, back to the dining room, was luncheon, followed by the 8:00 p.m. evening meal. In what is called the English manner, the steward wore white gloves and stood at each person's  left side and used two serving spoons held in one hand to serve the food onto each dinner plate rather than carrying plates already filled with food to the table. We ate freshly-baked hard rolls with sweet butter, leg of lamb, peas cooked with mint, and craggy roast potatoes.

On Board Ship
I ate caviar for the first time when I ordered it off the menu for myself while sailing home to start first grade after already having learned to read while I was enrolled at The Rock Ferry Convent School during my stay in England. I was five years old.

The steward got a funny look on his face, and my young and beautiful mother looked at him and said in her most English of English accents, "As she eats olives and anchovies, I imagine she will eat caviar. Please bring it to her as she requested." It came on a plate with little pieces of toast and tiny cubes of aspic, which, thankfully, turned out to be only a decoration. My mother was right. I happily ate the salty caviar on the dry crunchy toast.

My grandfather's house
At my grandfather's house the food was good. We ate crumbly, pale orange Cheshire cheese, Hovis whole wheat bread sliced thin by hand and gently buttered, eggs boiled softly after being plucked from under the bottom of a reluctant hen, green onions on their stems, red radishes cut in half through the root end, and cherry tomatoes. Sweets were only presented at the end of tea when we had company, but in the kitchen there was always a sponge cake and, usually, a plate of hand-shaped triangular current scones, available for the taking.

Orange Currant Scones from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
I am sometimes able to get Mrs. Appleby's Cheshire Cheese at Guido's, and I always buy it when I see it, but mostly what I crave from those days are soft-boiled eggs, always good but even better when I am able to get them from local hens. In the afternoon I eat them, as at my grandfather's, with buttered bread; in the early morning, with toast soldiers - pieces of toast buttered and cut into strips to dip into the soft yolks.
Appleby's Cheshire at Neal's Yard, London, October 13, 2017
After trying many recipes and different methods for soft-boiled eggs, this is the one I like best. Please note calling them soft-boiled is really a misnomer as they are not boiled at all, but some expressions die hard.





I got a subscription to Cook's Illustrated magazine with its first issue, and now I'm a digital subscriber to its progeny, America's Test Kitchen. I use it for the usually fool-proof and always thoroughly-tested recipes and the equipment reviews, which have never steered me in the wrong direction.

Special equipment: An egg cup used to be my preferred way of eating soft-boiled eggs, and when I eat them in a cup, I use an egg topper to take the top off. If you don't have an egg topper, you can tap the top of the egg with a knife to crack the top and then use the knife to cut the top off.  However, lately I've just been cracking the just-cooked egg in the middle of the egg on a plate so I can split  it in half and simply eat it with a spoon.

I store my eggs in the refrigerator in the carton they came in, pointy side up. For this recipe, use large eggs that are straight from the refrigerator and still cold. Make sure they have no cracks. I don't prick a hole in the egg, and I always wash eggs before I use them as I often have local eggs from a farm, and it's a habit I have gotten into.

I have found this recipe and the timing works for me. I usually make 1 egg at a time for myself, but this recipe works just as well for up to 4. The eggs are essentially steamed, not boiled.

Soft-Boiled Eggs
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Ingredients

From 1 to 4 large eggs

Instructions

Put an inch of water in a saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Carefully put the egg or eggs into the saucepan, and cover. Reduce the heat a little, and cook for exactly 6 minutes, 45 seconds. Using a digital timer is the best way to ensure you have the time right.

When the time is up, remove the cover, put the pan in the sink, and run cold water into it for 30 seconds to stop the egg from cooking.  Remove the egg or eggs from the pan and eat whichever way you prefer, in an egg cup or just cracked in two. I put a little mound of salt and pepper on my plate to dip my spoon in between mouthfuls.

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Egg Toppers


Monday, December 19, 2016

Manicotti


My Aunt Rita always made manicotti for Christmas Eve, and my cousin Barbara continues the tradition today. The family recipe came from my grandmother, who got it from her mother-in-law, a great-grandmother I never knew. When Nanny made manicotti, she used a black iron skillet so smooth and slick from years of use that the pancakes - called crespelle in Italian and crepes in French - slid right out onto a plate. I can picture her standing at the stove, effortlessly turning them out, so it was with no trepidation that I decided to make them for the first time.

I was 24 years old and as fearless in the kitchen as I was inexperienced. On my lunch hour, off I went to Woolworth’s to buy an 8-inch cast iron skillet. It wasn’t black; it was disappointingly gray, but it came with instructions how to season it, which I presumed would quickly turn it black and non-stick. Ha.  Following the directions more than once – many times more than once - did nothing to make it smooth and slick enough to make the crespelle. No how, no way. After going through eggs and flour at a rapid rate with no success, I picked up the phone in my Kansas City kitchen and called my mother in New Jersey to ask her to post-haste mail me Nanny’s skillet.

“Hi, Mom, will you send me Nanny’s manicotti skillet, please?”

“I can’t.  I got rid of it.” 

WHAT? 

She just, without thinking or asking anyone (specifically me), tossed out something that today is the kind of skillet articles are being written about and people are scouring backyard sales in search of and, if found, plan to leave to their children. In fact, that very skillet probably – hopefully – found its way into somebody else's kitchen.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch, next up was Aunt Rita. Keep in mind, this was a time when long-distance phone calls were punishingly expensive, and random long-distance calls were not in my secretary’s salary bracket. I usually reserved any questions I had for the weekly phone call from my mother on Sunday morning, so my Aunt, who lived in Illinois, was a little surprised to hear from her slightly frantic niece. It turned out she used a non-stick skillet, the kind of skillet most of us wouldn’t have in our kitchens today. The one I got at Woolworth’s was ugly and flimsy - orange with a gray non-stick interior - but it did the trick, and soon enough, I too was standing at the stove effortlessly turning out crespelle, one after another, onto a plate.


To this day manicotti is the only dish I make using a non-stick skillet.  I have with success used my 8-inch All-Clad Stainless Steel skillet, making sure I oil it between each crespelle, and someday I will get around to seasoning the carbon steel crepe pan I have, but a good non-stick pan the right size is for sure the easy way out. 

Aunt Rita's Manicotti

This recipe makes about 13 manicotti.  Three to four manicotti are usually enough for one serving.  (Except for one Christmas Eve in Atlanta when my cousin Gene ate eleven!)

Crespelle

The crespelle ratio, which can be increased, is 2 eggs, ¾ cup flour, 1 cup water.

For the filling made with one 15-ounce container of ricotta, which usually makes enough for four people, I use the above ratio and make the batter out of

2 large eggs
¾ cup flour
1 cup water

Whir the ingredients in a blender, and let sit for one hour before making the crespelle.

Put a small amount of a neutral oil (I use peanut) in a small dish or saucer.

Dip a paper towel into the oil, and swipe it over the bottom of an 8-inch non-stick skillet.  Heat the pan over medium heat until hot.

Make crespelle using approximately 2 tablespoons of batter per crespelle.  The exact amount depends on the diameter of the bottom of the pan you are cooking them in, which can differ from 8-inch pan to 8-inch pan.  (If you have a pitcher with a good pouring spout, you can pour the amount of batter you need into the pan once you get the hang of it.)

Put the 2 tablespoons of batter in the hot pan, and immediately swirl to coat the bottom of the pan.  When the crespelle is cooked on one side, turn it onto a plate with the cooked side up.  (I just turn the skillet upside down, and it plops right out.)  I don't cook the second side.  The crespelle can be stacked one on top of another.  Keep working until all the batter is used up.

Filling

1 15-ounce container of whole milk ricotta
4 large eggs, beaten
1 cup Parmesan cheese grated by hand (You can use a regular Microplane.) 
¼- to ½-pound shredded mozzarella  (You can use packaged "dry" mozzarella for this or "fresh." Whichever you use, grate it by hand on the large holes of a box grater.)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Black pepper to taste - be generous
A tiny amount of grated nutmeg or ground cinnamon
A little salt to taste, keeping in mind that the Parmesan cheese is salty

Mix the filling ingredients together.  Start with the ¼ pound of mozzarella, and only add more if the filling is too wet.  

Prepare the Baking Pan

Lightly butter a half sheet pan.  Coat the pan with a thin coat of whatever tomato sauce you will be using.  

Manicotti

Take a crespelle with the cooked side up.  You will put the filling on the cooked side.  Put about 2-½ tablespoons of the filling onto the crepe, and roll it up loosely like a cigar - definitely not tight as it will puff up when it cooks.  Place it seam side down in the prepared half sheet pan. 

When the pan is filled with stuffed crespelle - now manicotti - put a thin coating of tomato sauce over everything, and place it in a 325 degree oven, and bake for 30 to 45 minutes.  You want the manicotti hot enough so the cheese inside melts.  You will see it puff up.  Serve as is or with a little more sauce on top. 

Obviously, the recipe can be easily doubled for six to eight people.  My aunt used to put the filled unsauced manicotti on top of cornmeal-strewen sheet pans to freeze.  Once frozen she would pop the manicotti into freezer bags for easy storage.  

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Boneless Pork Loin Roast

Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman




Driving home in a heavy rainstorm yesterday, we stopped in Manchester at The Vermont Butcher so we could just squirrel in with good books when we got home instead of making our weekly food-shopping trek.  Among other meats, including the hard-to-find-around-here fresh chicken livers, we got a beautiful boneless heritage pork loin roast with a thick covering of creamy white fat.

All of a sudden, the weather has changed.  The temperature has dropped.  The heat was on when I got out of bed this morning. The leaves have turned color and are falling at a rapid rate.  We're sashaying into winter with an autumn cozy and beautiful enough to take our minds off what it will be like in February when the holidays are over, the ground is covered in snow, and the thermometer reads MINUS 14°F.  I love summer.  Who doesn't?  And, as my friend Sharyn says, what passes faster than a summer?  Nothing.  But I am always happy on the first day I get out my gloves, look for my favorite sweater, and think it might be time to pull on a pair of tights.  That day was two days ago, and my thoughts turned to a change in the kind of food I've been cooking for almost four months, which is why I was so happy last night to have that pork roast waiting to be cooked.

When Tom makes his constantly-requested bone-in pork rib roast with the chine removed, he seasons it with Herbes de Provence and salt and pepper.  That's it.  Not even garlic.  Since I didn't have a jar of Herbes de Provence, I looked up what that is and found the recipe on marthastewart.com.  I didn't make a whole batch, just a pinch of each of the ingredients, going a little heavier on what I like best, leaving out lavender, an ingredient I didn't have.  I took the pork roast out of the refrigerator, patted it dry, added my little Martha Stewart mixture, kosher salt, and black pepper, and let it sit for about an hour until it got to room temperature.




I preheated the oven the 450°F, put a round cake rack in my 12-inch cast iron skillet, set the roast on it, and put it in the oven.  When it was done and had rested for a few minutes, I had fabulous drippings, and juices, and glorious goo in the bottom of the skillet, which I used, after defatting, to bathe some homemade cavatelli.  With some garlicky sautéed spinach, this dinner was a perfect beginning to the meals of autumn. 

Boneless Pork Loin Roast

Adapted from How to Cook Everything, Revised Tenth Anniversary Edition, by Mark Bittman 

This is my pared-down version of Mark Bittman's basic roast pork, Roast Pork with Garlic and Rosemary in How to Cook Everything, Revised Tenth Anniversary Edition.

Note:  The USA Guidelines for safe minimum internal temperature temperature, last modified on October 19, 2018 (which may have been updated since I am writing this, so double-check this information to be sure), state that beef, pork, veal, and lamb (steaks, chopped, roasts) and ham, fresh or smoked (uncooked) are safe to eat cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F with a three-minute resting time.

Ingredients
A 2-to3-pound boneless pork loin roast (not a pork tenderloin)  Try to find one with a good cap of fat on it.
1 tablespoon (or up to 2 tablespoons if you want to be more aggressive with the seasoning) Herbes de Provence*
Salt and pepper to taste
1½ cups of white wine or chicken broth
1 tablespoon of butter (optional)

*If you don't have Herbes de Provence, you can use a pinch of each of these dried herbs:

Thyme
 Savory
Oregano 
Rosemary
Marjoram

Instructions

Take the roast out of the refrigerator, dry it, pat on the Herbes de Provence, and add salt and pepper to taste. You want the roast to come to room temperature before you start to cook it. This will take about one hour. 

Preheat your oven to 450°F. 

Put the roast on a rack in a pan. Place in the preheated oven, and cook for 15 minutes at 450°F.  

Open the oven door, and very carefully, watching out for steam, pour ½ cup of white wine or chicken broth over the roast. Reduce the heat to 325°F. Continue to cook at 325°F, checking every 15 minutes to see if the bottom of the pan is dry. If it is, add a little more liquid. If the meat does not have a luxurious covering of fat on it, baste it.

Depending on its size, the roast will take anywhere from 1¼ to 2 hours to reach an internal temperature of 145°F. To avoid overcooking, start checking it with an instant-read thermometer at 1¼ hours. I use a Thermapen.

Once the meat reaches the right temperature, remove it from the oven, and let it rest for about ten minutes before carving into thin slices.

You can use the pan juices to make a gravy with more of the wine or chicken broth if you like. To do this, remove the roast from the pan, place the pan on a burner on top of the stove over medium-high heat, and either reduce the juices in the pan to ¾ cup or add enough liquid to make ¾ cup. Stir to incorporate any drippings in the bottom of the pan, reduce the sauce to the thickness you like and, if you want to make it a little richer, stir in the optional tablespoon of butter. I usually find that the roast is so juicy, it doesn't need any gravy or jus at all.


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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Chocolate Cake

Adapted from More Home Cooking by Laurie Cowin




This is my adaptation of the Elizabeth David Chocolate Cake that was Laurie Colwin's chocolate cake of choice for a few years.  She found it in the classic French Provincial Cooking and said

To make it takes a little bit of time, but it is time well spent. People simply moan at the taste.  It is perhaps the king and queen of all chocolate cakes.      

If you have More Home Cooking (and I hope you do) and want to check out Laurie Colwin's recipe, see Page 158.   

The Chocolate Cake
Elizabeth David's Chocolate Cake adapted from More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

Serves 6


4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I like Guittard Bittersweet 70% Cacao, which comes in a pink package with three 2-ounce bars in it.)
Cut 6 tablespoons unsalted butter into 6 pieces, and let come to room temperature
⅛ teaspoon salt (I use fine sea salt.)
¼ cup sugar (The original recipe calls for ½ cup, but I reduced it to ¼.)
½ cup ground almonds (I use raw, unblanched almonds blitzed in a food processor.)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon strong coffee 
Elizabeth David recommends adding 1 tablespoon brandy or rum; Laurie Colwin recommends adding 1 tablespoon brandy.  I omit the spirits completely.  You choose.
3 large eggs, separated

Preheat the oven to 300 (not a typo, three hundred) degrees.  Butter an 8-inch springform pan.


Melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave, checking at 30-second intervals to avoid scorching.   
(See Alice Medrich's Water Bath Method for melting chocolate below.*)  Remove from the microwave, and add the butter. Stir until the butter melts from the heat of the chocolate.  Stir in the sugar first to completely incorporate it, then add the ground almonds, vanilla, and coffee, and stir again.  Transfer the mixture to another bowl, which will be cool, large enough to hold all the batter.

In a separate clean bowl, beat 3 large egg yolks with a wire whisk until they are well mixed and turn a bright lemon color.  Stir into the chocolate mixture.


In another clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry.  (I do this by hand in a copper bowl with a large whisk.)  This can be done using a stand or hand mixture.  Carefully fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.

  
Turn the batter into the prepared pan, and bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes.  A cake tester will not come out clean.  Remove from the oven, and place the cake pan on a rack.  The cake may slump, and the top may crack.  This is okay.  Cool completely before removing the sides of the pan.

Best served with lightly whipped cream.


*Alice Medrich, who is the author of one of my favorite dessert books, Pure Dessert, shared a tip for melting chocolate with thekitchn:

Melting Chocolate: Alice Medrich's Water Bath Method

Chop or break your chocolate into pieces and place the pieces in a heatproof bowl; stainless steel is good; tempered glass will also work. Place a wide skillet with about an inch of water on the stove, and put the bowl with the chocolate in the skillet.  Watching carefully, bring the water in the skillet to a simmer, turn off the flame, and wait until the chocolate melts.

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