Saturday, September 29, 2007

Italian sausage and broccoli rabe pasta

This dish, from the Puglia region of Italy, can be made in the time it takes to boil the pasta. That's my kind of cooking, especially during the week. My friend happily stuffed himself on this dish so it was either really good or he was starving!

1/2 box of pasta like penne or orrichette
2 Italian sausages, remove from casings and chop into pieces
A bunch of broccoli rape, aka rapini, cut into 1 inch pieces
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/3 c. olive oil
A pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper

1. Cook the broccoli rabe in a large pot of boiling water for 4 minutes. Drain. Reserve the liquid and drink it. This is what we call "pot likker" in Dixie. It is good for you.
2. Add the pasta to boiling water.
3. In a large skillet heat the olive oil. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes and sausage. Cook until the sausage begins to brown.
3. Add the broccoli rabe. Cook another 4 or 5 minutes. Season w/ salt and pepper
4. Drain pasta. Stir the sausage mixture into the pasta.
5. Top with shredded parmesan or pecorino romano.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Watts Grocery: Dessert

I fixed dinner for a friend tonight: pasta w/ broccoli rabe and Italian sausage and a tomato salad (sliced heirlooms drizzled w/ olive oil and balsamic, salt and pepper). Then for dessert we decided to try the newly opened Watts Grocery on Broad Street.

The place is adorable. The colors are invitingly soft blues and greens with some beige, but my fav are the light fixtures -- I love the red hanging lamps! It is modern without being sterile or cold. You can go casual or you can dress up. I tend to dress up because where else am I going to wear silk Prada heels that I got on sale if not out to dinner? Tonight I was wearing jeans however.

The bar is atop a display case of family photos and memorabilia from an old Durham family. While sipping your drink, you can look at an invitation to the January 1941, Inaugural of FDR. My grandfather liked to say that was the last time he voted Democrat. Fortunately the rest of the family didn't follow his lead! Anyway, it is a bit of local flavor, so to speak, without being tacky or kitsch.

I had a chocolate pudding layer cake which was basically chocolate cake with a wonderful, homemade chocolate pudding oozing from between the layers. It was dark, rich chocolate that emphasized the chocolatey flavor by not being overly sweet. A dollop of fresh whipped cream was on the side.

My friend had the apple and blackberry crostata. The tart apples and sweet berries nicely complemented one another. The crust was flaky, buttery, and not at all heavy. It was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

I perused the other menus while I was there. They serve brunch on Saturday and Sunday. The prices are in the $8 range. Lunch is served during the week and the prices are also in the $8 range. Dinner is a bit pricier. The entrees looked very tasty. They are in the $16 range. The steak was $19. My favorite description on the menu was for a salad of butternut squash, spiced pecans, and Stilton in a balsamic vinaigrette. That sounds good to me!

Winter squash and balsamic are a wonderful marriage. One time I made a roasted acorn squash salad with toasted hazelnuts and a balsamic reduction only to find out later that my hapless date loathed squash. He ate every bite that night though. Hahaha!

I cannot wait to try Watts Grocery again.

A recipe for my scallops

I figured out what to do with my gorgeous scallops from the coast. My friend sent me the link to this recipe and video by my hero Mark Bittman on Butter and cream loveliness! MMM.

Scallops with basil and cream:

6 tablespoons butter
12 sea scallops
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 teaspoon slivered garlic
Pinch crushed red chili flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup heavy cream
20 basil leaves, cut in thin ribbons.

1. Put 4 tablespoons butter in skillet over medium-high heat. When foam subsides, add scallops; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brown on both sides, adjusting heat so they brown nicely; they need not cook through. Remove them to a plate.

2. Turn off heat, cool pan a bit and wipe out. Add remaining butter over medium heat. When it melts, add shallots, garlic, chili flakes and a little more salt and pepper. Cook about 2 minutes, or until shallots soften.

3. Add wine, raise heat a bit, and let bubble away for a minute or so until reduced by about half; add cream and repeat. When liquid is thick, return scallops and juices to pan.

4. Cook for about a minute, stirring in half the basil, until scallops are just firm. Taste and adjust seasoning, transfer to small bowls or plates with a bit of sauce, garnish with remaining basil, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Easy Thai shrimp

I am up to my eyeballs in seafood now, but this is a great problem to have! Besides the trove I brought back myself, my friends brought me a pound of massive shrimp from Ocracoke. They also picked up a couple of nice tomatoes from Johnston County on his way back. Now that's friendship for you!

Another friend is coming over for dinner on Thursday and I was thinking of making crab cakes, but now I've decided to make this easy Thai shrimp recipe. I had it a couple of weeks ago and I was very astonished at the simplicity of the recipe. The shrimp is coated in cornstarch and then fried. This puts a light, crispy coating on the shrimp that is very much like tempura. It's just super! What isn't good battered and fried? Ok, Twinkies, but I digress.

I hate peeling and deveining shrimp but the good news is that I have plans for the shrimp shells: shrimp butter. I will probably have to freeze them though because I do not have time to deal w/ the elaborate process of shrimp butter right now.

Thai Shrimp with Jasmine Rice:
4 xl shrimp per person (I could eat 10)
1 cup cooked jasmine rice per person (buy at HT or WholeFoods)
Cornstarch to coat shrimp
Oil to sauté shrimp (I'd do canola or vegetable oil but not olive)

Thai Sauce:
Depending on the heat you like:
Appox. 1 cup Mayo, 1/4 cup honey
1/8 - 1/4 cup Hot Garlic Sauce (a red, Korean sauce available at HT or Target)

Clean, devein shrimp. Toss in cornstarch and sauté in hot oil until pink and firmish. Place on top of rice and drizzle (or guzzle in a corner somewhere by yourself the whole container!) sauce on top.

Fresh seafood: what to do?

At the coast this weekend I bought freshly caught shrimp, scallops and crab. I am stumped on what to make! There are too many options: jambalaya or gumbo with the shrimp, bouillabaisse with shrimp and scallops and maybe some fish, crab cakes w/ the crab or crab Louis salad, seafood Newburg using all of the seafood, paella w/ the shrimp and scallops, or something else.

What do you think I should do with my fabulous seafood purchase?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Favorite coffee

My new favorite coffee is La Golondrina from Colombia available from Counter Culture, the local Durham coffee roasting company. I bought it at the Wine Authorities on University Drive although usually I pick up Counter Culture coffees at Fosters on the Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. My other favorite from Counter Culture is the Pop's Blend.

I like my coffee rich, dark and complex but smooth. I make it extra strong in order to taste the full flavor. La Golondrina fits the bill. I've been looking for this coffee for a while. I like that it is not at all bitter. It is bright without acidity. It's a coffee that tastes very good with milk in it. I make it with 1 scoop per cup plus one extra.

So stop buying Starbucks. Support local business! If you do not own a coffee grinder, go buy one. Everyone should grind their own beans. The coffee tastes better, fresher, richer when ground fresh for each pot.

When I was in Kansas City a few weeks ago, I finally managed to badger my father into making a decent pot of coffee. This is the man, if you recall from my Paris postings, who was happy to get back to the States so he could have a "real" cup of coffee. He made me ask a waitress for "American" coffee, aka brown water. She had no idea so I ordered him a cup of coffee plus a pitcher of hot water. Anyway, when I was home I pleaded and begged and invoked my grandfather who figured out how to make a fine cup of coffee out of FOLGERS! My dad listened and learned. Now when I'm home he's the coffee maker. My mother is secretly delighted because it means he has to get up to put on the coffee!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Federal: I love ravioli!

Since childhood my favorite pasta has been ravioli. Maybe Chef Boyardee is to blame. Who knows. Or maybe growing up in KC where there were always good, old-fashioned Italian restaurants is the reason. In the 70s KC had the kinds of Italian restaurants where the maitre d' packed a gun. On the few occasions we got to eat at those establishments, I nearly always ordered ravioli in a meat and tomato sauce.

I still love ravioli. More often than not I will order it when it appears on a menu and looks half interesting. Imagine my utter delight to see ravioli on the list of specials at Federal tonight. As a side note, I've never had anything but good food at Federal. YUM. Anyway, the dish was fried ravioli stuffed with roasted veggies and ricotta with roasted artichoke hearts in a garlic butter sauce. I could not resist. It fit my criteria of plate-licking good. The artichokes were real ones, not from a jar or can (although these are very tasty in many dishes). No, these were fresh artichokes and they were roasted until almost charred. The ravioli were cooked in water and then thrown into a pan of olive oil until they were lightly browned. The butter sauce was basically melted butter with garlic and parsley. I'd say run to Federal while they still have this on the menu! If you don't like it, I don't want to know!

A few times I've even made ravioli. It's quite a messy ordeal and it would probably be more fun if I'd had some help. One day I'll give it another whirl and let you know how it goes.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Delicious Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts can be ghastly. They suffer mightily from overcooking. Oh the dreadful things I ate in England under the guise of Brussels sprouts!

Fortunately the Brussels sprout can easily be redeemed into a delicious vegetable when properly handled. I discovered how delicious they can be after reading an article two years ago in Fine Cooking about roasting vegetables. Then one year my sister-in-law turned up at Thanksgiving dinner with Brussels sprouts cooked with pancetta and chicken stock.

Here are the two recipes I like:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts:
1 lb or so bag of Brussels sprouts
3T olive oil
salt to taste
black pepper or lemon pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Trim the tough ends off of the Brussels sprouts. In a pyrex baking dish mix the Brussels sprouts with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook 40 minutes or so until they are browned and crisp on the outside and slide off of a fork easily when pierced. The outer leaves will darken and get very crisp like potato chips. Put more salt on them if you like.

This second recipe that my sister-in-law brought to TG is courtesy of the gorgeous Giada de Laurentiis. It is a wonderful way to sneak some green vegetables into one's diet. I sometimes put bacon in it instead of pancetta. It's good either way. In fact, doesn't bacon make everything better?

Brussels Sprouts w/ Pancetta:
1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 ounces paper-thin slices pancetta, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup low-salt chicken broth

Partially cook the Brussels sprouts in a large pot of boiling salted water, about 4 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until beginning to crisp, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until pale golden, about 2 minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts to the same skillet and saute until heated through and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add the broth and simmer until the broth reduces just enough to coat the Brussels sprouts, about 3 minutes. Serve.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New shop: The Wine Authorities

The Wine Authorities have opened on University Drive a few doors down from Thai Cafe and across from Nana's.

The owners used to work at Fowler's and WholeFoods respectively. Their new place is dedicated to bottles from family owned and operated vineyards where they grow their own grapes and make their own wine. As obvious as that should be, apparently this doesn't happen as often as it should. All of their bottles are under $50.

In addition they will sell some cheeses, Michel Cluizel chocolates, and salame that can be paired with the wines. They will also sell some coffee. Imagine my delight to have four of the five major food groups (choc, coffee, cheese, wine, bread) under one roof walking distance from my house! The bread I can get at Guglhupf which is also nearby.

On Saturday they are having a tasting of French wines from 12pm to 3pm. GO! I cannot make it but I'm wishing I was able.

I picked up a gruner vetliner on my way home from work to eat w/ steamed crab legs with melted, salted butter and peas with a dollop of cream cheese. It is the perfect meal: it takes less than 5 minutes to prepare and it is really, really tasty! I pick up frozen crab legs at Harris Teeter. Look for the wild caught ones from Alaska. They seem to taste better, sweet without being fishy.

The vetliner was perfectly dry and a nice accompaniment to the sweetness of the crab meat.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Real potatoes au gratin

I've searched high and low for an elegant and simple recipe for potatoes au gratin. I found all kinds of strange variations including ingredients like cream of mushroom soup and a pound of shredded cheddar and a topping of corn flakes. While I'm sure all of these are delicious, they were not what I was searching for. I did not want an overly heavy, greasy mess that overshadowed the potato and possibly even the main course.

Finally I found what I was looking for in a recipe from my friend's sister. This is a traditional recipe for what the French call pommes de terre dauphinois. I love the humble spud and it doesn't need a lot of over the top treatment to be delicious. This recipe is perfection for the potato. Someday I am going to try to grow my own potatoes in a tire. If anyone has done this, let me know how it works.

Gratin Potatoes:
makes 8 servings

3 large Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 qt. whipping cream
2 minced garlic cloves
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

Layer potato slices in a buttered 13 x 9 baking dish. Stir together cream and remaining ingredients, pour mixture over potatoes. Bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes or until potatoes are tender and mixture is bubbly and golden. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

If you have a healthy heart, you may as well gild the lily and dot the top of the potatoes with some butter. YUM!

Monday, September 10, 2007


A trip to Neomonde is worth the trek to Morrisville (on hwy 54) or Raleigh (Beryl Road). I am a regular for lunch. The staff recognize me. How bad is that? I go at least once a week.

Neomonde is a wonderful Lebanese deli where you can select from a wide variety of items on their menu and in their deli counter. Their hummus and baba ganouj (not Lebanese, by the way) are the best in town. They also have an irresistable chickpea salad. My favorite thing to do is to order their lunchbox special which includes half a sandwich and two sides of salad or their make your own sampler which allows me to select 4 items of my choice. For the lunchbox special I like the falafel sandwich, chickpea salad, and hummus. Chickpea overload!! They also make some really tasty lentils cooked with onions. Everything is delicious. For dessert I like the cashew rosette over the walnut or pistachio baklava. Not so crazy about the mamouls, even though they are named after breasts and therefore have something sexy going on.

If I could choose one food to eat for the rest of my life, it might just be Lebanese. I could eat hummus every day.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Stuffed chicken breast

My mom and I made this recipe for a dinner party. It is fairly easy as long as you get a butcher to pound out the chicken breasts.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (1 teaspoon)

  • 1 shallot, minced

  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

  • 6 cups fresh washed spinach leaves

  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

  • 1/2 cup drained, chopped jarred roasted red peppers

  • 3 tablespoons pitted and chopped Kalamata olives

  • 1 tablespoon chopped capers

  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

  • 2 boneless skinless whole chicken breasts, cut in half and pounded lightly

  • 4 ounces mild goat cheese, at room temperature

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil for brushing chicken

  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the garlic, shallot, and thyme for 2 minutes, until softened. Add the spinach, and saute for 1 minute longer, until just wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the skillet from the heat, and let the aromatics cool.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a small bowl, mix the roasted red peppers with the olives, capers, and balsamic vinegar.

Place about one-quarter of the spinach mixture in the center of each pounded chicken breast. Evenly divide the goat cheese among the chicken breasts, placing a small piece over the spinach; then top with 1 tablespoon of the roasted red peppers.

Fold the top of the breast over the filling to form a package, sealing the bottom of the chicken packages wherever needed. Place the chicken on a baking pan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Uncover, brush the chicken with a little olive oil, and cook an additional 10 minutes, until the chicken is lightly brown.

Place the chicken on a serving platter and sprinkle it with the parsley.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Retro glamour: Easy beef Wellington

Beef Wellington acquires it name from the colorful 1st Duke of Wellington. Among other things, like being the Prime Minister of England, he reformed of his debauched ways for the love of a woman. He later came to regret this love although he owes his great success later in life to the fact that he wasn't a debauched wretch.

He apparently adored beef cooked with mushrooms, pate and Madeira and encased in pastry. What's not to love?

Beef Wellington is elegant and stunningly simple although somewhat expensive to make. It is not for a crowd unless you are loaded. Rather save this recipe for an intimate dinner with three other people who you love enough to splurge on four filet mignon.

Individual Beef Wellingtons:
Serves four
Preheat oven to 425 degree.

Puff pastry, defrosted (one 11x17 in sheet of frozen Pepperidge Farms)
1T olive oil
1T unsalted butter
1 large shallot, chopped
1/2 lb. mushrooms, stemmed and finely chopped
1T fresh thyme (or 1t. dried)
salt and pepper
1/4 c. dry sherry (instead of Madeira)
4 filet mignon (5 oz each)
8 oz. mousse pate (as opposed to country pate)
1 egg, slightly beaten w/ a little water

1. Take the pastry out of the freezer if frozen to allow it to defrost enough to be pliable.

2. Heat oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add shallot, mushroom and thyme. Cook 4 or 5 min then season w/ salt and pepper. Add the sherry. Cook off the liquid until mushroom mixture is dry, about 1 minutes (this burns off the alcohol but retains the flavor of the sherry). Remove from heat and cool. This mixture, by the way, is called duxelles in French cooking.

3. Heat a large skillet. Drizzle some olive oil over each filet mignon. Put meat in hot skillet and sear for two minutes on each side (do not move meat while it is searing). Remove from heat , pat dry to remove any liquid or oil and season w/ salt and pepper.

4. Cut the pate into 4 equal portions (approx. 2 oz. each).

5. Cover a cookie sheet w/ baking parchment (I cannot live without parchment. Go buy some. It keeps your sheets nice and clean and you don't have to scrub them).

6. Open the pastry dough on the parchment. Quarter the dough w/ a sharp knife. Place 1/4 of the mushroom mixture on each piece of dough. Then put 1/4 of the pate on top of each. Finally place a filet on top of the pate.

7. Brush the edges of each piece of pastry w/ the egg wash (this helps seal it so the yummy stuff doesn't leak out).

8. Wrap the dough over the meat, sealing w/ the egg wash and tucking in the ends as if it were a present.

9. Brush each one with the egg wash. Put them in the oven and bake until the pastry is golden, about 12 to 15 minutes. (I found 15 minutes to be a bit too long unless you like your filet medium-well, but I hardly noticed because it was soooo good!).

Put them on a plate with some broccoli or asparagus and pour a nice glass of Bordeaux and you're all set.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The best hamburgers

I'm in Kansas City for Labor Day visiting my family. That is Kansas City, Missouri, not Kansas. When someone says Kansas City they usually mean Missouri. There is a place called Kansas City, Kansas but is a fairly small and seedy part of the Greater KC area. The Chiefs are in KC, Missouri. The KC Royals are in KC, Missouri. The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art is in Kansas City, Missouri. The KC Ballet is in KC, Missouri. I am from Kansas City, MISSOURI. I know this is hard for people to who aren't from here to grasp because, well, Oklahoma City is in Oklahoma, and New York City is in New York. But people, please try to get this right. Please.

So about the food. My family members are good cooks. I enjoy being their sous chef for a few days. Today we grilled hamburgers and they were delicious. My sister in law found a recipe for burgers with cheddar and bacon in Cooks' Country which is another publication from the clever Cooks' Illustrated people.

All-American Burgers:
1 1/2 lb. 85% lean ground chuck
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
8 strips of bacon cooked and chopped fine
4 t. yellow mustard
2 t. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t.pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl mixing with your hands until well combined. Divide the mixture into 4 or 5 equal portions and lightly pack into 1-inch thick patties. Cook on a hot grill. Sear on each side a couple of minutes then let the burgers cook for another 8 or 10 minutes until done. Do not press them down onto the grill or they will fall apart and you'll have cheese and bacon on fire in the bottom of your grill.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Easy hors d'oeuvres

Hors d'oeuvres are my favorite part of the meal...or pre-meal. I am crazy about tiny morsels concentrated with delicious, rich flavors. I could make a meal of them, oh wait, that's tapas! No wonder I love tapas. The French also call them amuses bouches which I find lovely: mouth amusements, literally. Hors d'oeuvres really should require only a napkin and the fingers. No silverware or we've strayed into the area of starter course.

Here are two recipes for ones I ate tonight at a cocktail party made by a friend who is a genius:

Bacon crackers: (these go flying off the plate)
Townhouse or club crackers
Grated parmesan cheese (like w/ a rasp or the small holes on a box grater) Bacon(I always get Hormel Black Label because it won a blind taste test for supermarket bacon in Cooks' Illustrated)

Put the crackers on a cookie sheet. Top each one with a sprinkling of grated parmesan (eyeball it, this is not an exact science). Then wrap each cracker with a piece of bacon. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for about 15 or 20 minutes depending on how done you like your bacon.

Cheese parcels:
1 8oz package of cream cheese, softened
2 small cans of mushrooms (yes, canned mushrooms), drained and chopped up
4 oz or so of crumbled blue cheese or other cheese
1 can of crescent rolls

Combine the cheeses and the chopped mushrooms. Unroll the crescent rolls. Cut 4 smaller triangles out of each crescent roll. Top each triangle with a dollop of the cream cheese mixture. Fold the crescent roll dough around the filling. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.