Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mike's Smokey Bloody Mary [Mike]

MIKE’S SMOKEY BLOODY MARY All good things must come to an end… right? Not for the classic Bloody Mary. It’s a cocktail that’s been around since 1921. Also known as “hair of the dog,” it’s an alcoholic beverage consumed as a hangover cure. After all these years the basic recipe hasn’t changed much. The main ingredients: vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce, salt & pepper. I use Smirnoff Vodka because in New York Times taste tests, it always comes up number one. There are lots of ways to make a Bloody Mary your own; I just discovered that by using a dash of liquid smoke, it makes it special.
MIKE’S BLOODY MARY RECIPE: • One or two shots of vodka • Tomato juice • Worcestershire • Ground pepper • Celery salt • Dijon mustard • Lemon juice • Dash of Liquid Smoke Garnish with celery stalk and wedge of lemon Doctored Bloody Mary: Clamato juice for tomato juice Add horseradish Celery stalks Sliced jalapenos Lime wedge Fresh lemon or lime juice Crisp Bacon slices

Baked Eggplant Parmesan [Zack]

Looking for a veg alternative for chicken parmesean?  This recipe uses baked eggplant - instead of first breading and then frying the pieces.  It's healthier and has a fresher flavor.

I came up with this variation on eggplant parmesean because I made a large batch of breadcrumbs and didn't know what to do with them.  As with all of my experiments, Lauren wants to make sure I use them before I forget about them.  Can't blame her, huh?

If you guys are rocking a veg night a few times a week like we do, give this one a shot.  You can pre-make this and throw it in the oven on a weeknight.


The first step is to wash and then slice the eggplant.  I chose to make almost 1" slices so they'd create a nice bite.

Once you slice them up, salt them fairly generously and then let them sit in a colander for about 30 minutes.  The salt will pull out the water by osmosis and some of the bitterness as well.

While the salt is being mysterious with your eggplant, start a fresh pomodora sauce.  Slice your shallots, mince your garlic, and add it to a heavy-bottomed pot with some olive oil over medium heat.  You'll want to sweat them for about 5 minutes.  Add in your thyme sprigs, basil leaves, and cherry tomatoes.

Cook for another minute or 2, then add in the puree.

Cover the pot and cook for about 10 minutes.  Add a pinch of salt after it's finished cooking to taste.  The sauce can hang out until you are ready to use it.

Pre-heat your oven to 400F / 200C.  Your eggplant should be about finished sweating by now.  Brush the water off of the eggplant, give them a quick squeeze to make sure a good amount of the water is gone, and place on a baking dish with a generous drizzle of olive oil.  Some cracked pepper never hurts.

You should roast them for about 30 minutes until they are nicely browned.

While this is goin, loosely chop your buffalo mozzarella.  Make sure to drain the motz as much as possible.  Mix it together with ricotta.  If you let this sit for a while, the water will naturally run out and you can drain it further.

Go grab your baking dish and spread some red sauce over the bottom.  Take the roasted eggplant out and place over top the thin layer of sauce.  Then add the cheese on top of that.

The final step is to top this with breadcrumbs.  I made mine from scratch, but feel free to use the stuff from the grocery store, combined with a bit of olive oil to give it some oomph.

When you're ready to serve, bake at 400F / 200C until the breadcrumbs are nicely browned and it's warmed through.

(makes about 6 dinner-sized servings)
56 oz tomato puree
12 cherry tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
2 shallots
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 small handful basil

1/2 cup mascarpone
2 motz buffo balls

herbed breadcrumbs to top it all off

Song to dubstep to:  Alex Clare - Too Close
Too Close by Alex Clare on Grooveshark

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Quick and Light: Penne with Asparagus and Fresh Basil [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: easy
Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4

Lots of good veggies and fresh flavors make this a go-to recipe for weeknights when you're tired, starving, yet don't want take-out. Frankly, it beats most restaurant pasta dishes if you use homemade chicken stock, but will work fine with canned stock. A green salad and a hunk of crusty bread round out the meal nicely.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
1/2 pound asparagus, stalks trimmed and cut into 3/4 inch lengths
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup white wine

Several thin slices prosciutto, crisped in a frying pan for a few minutes

8 ounces penne pasta

2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Basil and parsley for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to boil.

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, saute briefly. Add wine, reduce slightly, add stock, asparagus and tomatoes. Cook until asparagus is crisp-tender, 4 minutes or so. Add Parmesan cheese, stir. Add the fresh herbs. Swirl in the tablespoon of butter, taste, and season with salt and pepper.

While sauce is cooking, cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Drain. Return to pot and pour sauce over, stirring. Plate the pasta and garnish with basil, parsley and the crumbled crisped prosciutto.
(I'm sure you see the possibilities with tons of other vegetables--mushrooms, zucchini, snow peas, and/or a quick stir-in of spinach at the last...)

Suggested soundtrack: Phillip Phillip's "Home" (who named him, by the way?) Home by Phillip Phillips on Grooveshark

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cinematic Risotto with Shrimp [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: medium (risotto requires that you stir fairly frequently, so you have to pay attention)
Time: 30 minutes to prep and cook
Serves: 4

Back in 1996, shortly after we had moved to Columbus, this town went nuts over a movie at one of our arts theaters, the Drexel Grandview. The film was Big Night, written by and starring Stanley Tucci. Stanley is one of our South Salem, NY buddies--we'd see him frequently at the kids' soccer games, and occasionally, he'd mention this screenplay he was writing. Big Night turned out to be not only a big hit, but the true start of an amazing film career for him.

Anyway, the local newspaper here in Columbus contacted Stanley's mom, Joan, and she offered up their family risotto recipe like the one in the movie. It's fabulous, and you can short-cut it with no loss of flavor by using chicken stock instead of the shellfish stock the Tuccis make. Either way works.

Shortly after the movie, Joan and Stanley produced a cookbook, Cucina & Famiglia, with another acquaintance friend of mine, Mimi Taft. The shrimp risotto recipe is included in it, one of many good ones from a family well-versed in solid Italian cooking.

1 lb. medium shrimp, cleaned and deveined, shells reserved
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
Few sprigs fresh parsley
5 cups water

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 cup arborio rice
1 small ripe tomato, diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Shellfish stock: Place shrimp shells in a large saucepan. Add whole chopped onion, carrot, celery, parsley and salt to taste. Add water. Simmer gently 25 minutes. Strain and discard shells and vegetables. Set broth aside and keep warm.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet. Add shrimp and freshly ground pepper to taste. Saute just until shrimp are pink. Set aside.

In a large pot or skillet, place 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Over medium heat, saute 1/4 cup chopped onion and the minced garlic. Do not brown. Add rice and stir to coat evenly. Add 1 cup shellfish stock (or chicken broth, if you are substituting), and cook, stirring frequently until rice has absorbed broth. Add wine, more broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring. Add tomato. Stir until rice is creamy and tender but still al dente, about 18 minutes.

Add a little more broth if necessary, add the parmesan, check to see if additional salt is needed, and add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add 1 tablespoon butter at the very end for extra creaminess. Serve immediately.

Suggested soundtrack: Luciano Pavarotti's "Libiamo" from Verdi's "La Traviata"
Libiamo, Libiamo Ne Lieti Calici by Luciano Pavarotti on Grooveshark

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Homemade Flavored Bread Crumb Topping [Zack]

I try to find the good side of all situations in life.  When Lauren and I were visiting Italy, we had to book a hotel room by the airport so we could work remotely for a day (eww).  Since we were at the hotel all day, we ended up eating in the restaurant there.  The food was a little disappointing, but I still came away with a fun concept to try at home!

I had pasta with pears and gorgonzola.  It was topped with crunchy, slightly cheesey bread crumbs.  My mind started racing about how I could sprinkle these on a multitude of dishes to add a crispy and savory element.

These are easy to make and you can store them in the fridge and re-crisp them if needed.  It's a good way to use up that hard bread that has been sitting on your counter while you weren't in the mood for a sandwich.  I started with leftover wheat bread, but you can also do this with store-bought breadcrumbs.


The first step is to make sure that your bread is very dry and crunchy.  We are going to blend them in the food processor, and if the bread is still moist, it won't be fully chopped up.

I took day-old wheat bread and sliced it into strips for maximum surface area.  It will dry out more quickly in the oven.

Put your oven on a low temperature like 300F / 150C and place the bread on a tray.  It should take about 10 minutes to become crunchy, but make sure to watch it!  It will burn very quickly.

While your bread is in the oven, peel and loosely chop the shallots and garlic.  Toss them into your food processor and strip the thyme leaves in there.  Pulse until they are all diced.

Add the toasted bread in the food processor, right on top.

And process until it looks like breadcrumbs.

The next step is to toast these in a frying pan until they are extra crispy.  Add the crumbs into a medium-low frying pan and add 1/3 cup of olive oil.  Toss and cook for about 5 more minutes.

While this is cooking, loosely dice your cheese and put it in the food processor and blend until it's evenly grated.

Once the breadcrumbs are crunchy, remove them to a bowl.  Wait until they have cooled a bit and fold in the grated cheese.

You can use these to top many different things.  I'll post a few recipes using them soon:
  • steamed artichokes with herbed breadcrumbs and salami
  • baked eggplant parmesean
  • any nice pasta dish
  • Italian mac and cheese
  • in halved and then hollowed-out squash, baked
  • to top a roasted lamb rack (halfway through roasting, slather lamb in mustard, then stick the bread crumbs to it and continue roasting)
(makes about 3 cups)
1/3 cup grated parmesean cheese
6 slices wheat bread
1 shallot
2 cloves garlic
7 sprigs thyme
1/3 cup olive oil

Jam to this:  Wax Tailor - Gaurenteed
Guaranteed (feat. A.S.M) by Wax Tailor on Grooveshark

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Bellini (Adapted from Harry's Bar) [Rhonda]

It should be on everyone's bucket list: traveling to Venice, stopping in for a Bellini at the famous Harry's Bar, an iconic fixture slightly west of the Piazza San Marco.

This is the easy version, until that magical trip happens for you.

Degree of difficulty: easy
Time: 5 minutes
Serves: 1

2 ounces chilled peach puree, made from 1 peach
3 ounces chilled prosecco
Pinch of sugar, if desired

To make the peach puree, blend chunks of unpeeled peaches in a food processor, strain through a fine sieve. Add a pinch of sugar if desired.

Put the peach puree in the bottom of a champagne flute, pour in the prosecco and serve immediately without stirring. (I stirred.)

Suggested soundtrack: "Un bel di vedromo" from Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" Puccini / Madama Butterfly: "Un bel di" by Various Artists on Grooveshark

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sauteed Medallions of Pork with Prunes [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: easy
Time: 10 minutes to prep, 12 minutes to saute pork and prepare sauce
Serves: 4

My copy of this recipe, clipped from the New York Times back in the early '80s when I was just learning to cook, is yellowed, dog-eared from time and use, with the word "great!" written in a careful script across the top.

It is that, great. Pierre Franey wrote of classic French recipes and technique for the Times, and while you may say the saute requires a deft hand, the whole thing is easy and delicious. He suggests serving it with parsleyed mashed potatoes--a nice option to showcase the sauce.

8 thin boneless pork tenderloin medallions, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 sprigs fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
1/4 cup finely chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup port wine (red wine works just fine)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup fresh chicken broth or canned
24 pitted prunes
2 tablespoons butter (or 1 tablespoon creme fraiche)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Place pork slices in a flat dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cumin.

Heat the oil in large skillet. When oil is hot, add meat, sprinkle the rosemary over it and cook over medium heat for three to five minutes, until browned. Turn slices over and cook for a few more minutes. Transfer meat to warm platter.

Remove fat from skillet, add onions and garlic and stir until wilted. Add port wine, vinegar, tomato paste and chicken broth. Stir to dissolve brown particles that cling to the bottom. Add prunes and cook until reduced by half.

Add any accumulated juices from the pork. Add butter (or creme fraiche), blend. Remove from heat, add pork cutlets into sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Suggested soundtrack: Ed Sheeran's "Angels to Fly," lovely tune, sad lyricsAngels To Fly by Ed Sheeran on Grooveshark