Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dusting Off the Cobwebs from My Blog

What’s up, dear readers?

Hopefully my MIA-ness will subside as I wrap up piano lessons this week for my impending maternity leave. I can’t believe it’s here. I can’t believe HE will be here any day now.

I’m officially within the two-week mark of the Jersey Baby’s due date. And if he’s anything like his Daddy and moi, he will be very deadline oriented. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. And me and The Husband tell The Bump every night that we really want to meet him, so please don’t be late. He also was not permitted to come while the Phillies made their dismal World Series run. Nor is he allowed to make a push for this world on Sundays or Mondays due to Daddy’s newspaper deadline.

(I’m kidding about the World Series and Sunday and Monday thing.... Well, not really.)

So, I’m sharing with you a massive dinner that I cooked back during the tail end of summer. These days, everything kind of skeeves me. And I don’t think I could finish a din din this big and substantive.

Give me an apple and banana, and I’m happy.

First up is a Lidia recipe: Veal Chops with Spinach and Pecorino Romano. I actually made the dish with pork chops, because veal chops were nowhere to be found in my moving and shaking town of Hammonton. I would just like to say that I love living here, but sometimes finding the food products you need is such a challenge. Guess that comes with living in the sticks. And that everyone knows your bizness. And you’re likely related to or somehow within Six Degrees of Every Person who Lives in Hammonton.

Anyhoo, here’s the recipe:

Veal Chops with Spinach and Pecorino Romano
Makes 6 servings
From “Lidia’s Italian Table”
By Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

6 loin veal chops, each 1 to 1 ½ inches thick and about ¼ pound
Salt and freshly ground pepper
7 Tbsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 ½ lbs. fresh spinach, tough stems removed, well washed and drained
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1 pint red or yellow cherry tomatoes, stems removed and cut in half
4 basil leaves, washed, dried and cut into thin strips

Prepare a charcoal grill or heat two large grill pans or cast-iron skillets over medium heat for 10 minutes.

Pat the veal chops dry with paper towels and season generously with salt and pepper. Rub 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil over the chops. Grill the chops or cook them in a skillet or grill pan, turning once, until both sides are well marked (or well browned if using a skillet) and just a slight trace of pink remains in the thickest part of the chop near the bone, 15 to 18 minutes, depending on the heat of the grill or pan and the thickness of the chops. Transfer the chops to a broiler pan or sturdy baking pan and preheat the broiler.

Meanwhile, divide the 3 tablespoons of the olive oil between two large, heavy skillets. Add 1 garlic clove to each skillet and cook over medium heat until golden, about 3 minutes. Add half the spinach to each skillet and season very lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the spinach is wilted and tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Season again with salt and pepper. (Alternatively, the spinach can be prepared in one skillet in two batches.) Drain the liquid from the skillets and remove the garlic cloves.

Arrange the spinach evenly over the veal chops. Sprinkle the spinach with the grated cheese and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the remaining 2 garlic cloves and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and basil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing the tomatoes in the skillet, just until wilted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove the garlic cloves. Remove the skillet from the heat and cover it to keep the tomatoes warm.

Meanwhile, broil the chops until the cheese is lightly browned and crisp, about 3 minutes. (If a broiler is not available, set the baking pan in a preheated 475 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 5 minutes.) Transfer the veal chops to plates. Spoon the tomatoes alongside the veal chops and serve hot.


The chops were awesome. And the broiler makes the spinach get a crispiness on. I loved that.

The second dish is Whole Grain Spaghetti with Pecorino, Prosciutto and Pepper. I used regular pasta instead of whole grain. The dish was fantabulous. Very peppery. I had fun grinding the peppercorns with my mortal and pestle.

Both the Lidia and Giada recipe can easily be cut in half. And, I have to say they really worked well together. I thought I was at a fancy pants Italian restaurnt. Kidding.

Here’s the pasta recipe:

Whole Grain Spaghetti with Pecorino, Prosciutto and Pepper
By Giada De Laurentiis

1 pound whole-grain (or whole-wheat) spaghetti

2 tablespoons mixed colored peppercorns, coarsely ground
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups grated (6 ounces) pecorino
6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking: Heat a small, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peppercorns and toast for about 20 to 30 seconds. Add the oil and cook for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.

Drain the pasta reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Transfer the spaghetti to a large serving bowl. Add 1 cup of the pecorino and toss to combine, gradually adding reserved pasta water, if needed, to loosen up the pasta. Add the oil mixture, prosciutto, 2 tablespoons of parsley, and 2 tablespoons of basil. Toss well to combine all ingredients.

Garnish with the remaining pecorino, parsley, and basil.

And the end result:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Amazing Dinner, Courtesy of Lidia

Back in the summer, I made a couple of fabulous Lidia Bastianich dishes that I will share with you today.

Better late than never.

My blogging has taken such a back seat to my real life goings-on. Please accept my apologies!

I’m still cooking and shooting pics like crazy, but finding the time to write has been tough since I’m back to a very full piano-teaching schedule (43 students!). Then there’s all of my baby preparations, obsessions, cleaning compulsions that have taken over my world. Technically, I could write during my frequent bouts of insomnia, but my words would probably be gibberish or psychotic. So, you may want to thank me from shielding you from my insanity.

Anyway, this post involves two recipes both by Lidia, the goddess of Italian cooking.

The first is Stuffed Rolls of Veal. The second is Penne with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Mozzarella. Both are from the amazingly awesome cookbook, “Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen.” I cook from it all the time. This was the first time I made the veal dish. It was so delish, and it is a perfect main course on a chilly night. It’s comforting, but not too heavy.

The penne dish is so easy to make. I often make it when I’m craving pasta and The Husband is working late. I often substitute the mozzarella for goat cheese. In today’s pic, the dish is served with mozzarella. I made it with gemelli instead of penne because that’s what I had. The dish also works great with orecchiette, pasta shaped like little ears. The dish is easy to adjust for portions if you're with a smaller crowd.

The two dishes work really well together because both call for tomatoes and mozzarella. And both have elements that can be prepared ahead of time. So, they work well for a dinner party.

Stuffed Rolls of Veal
From “Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen”
By Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled
½ cup fine, dry bread crumbs
1 Tbsp. fresh chopped Italian parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
12 thin slices veal (1 ½ lbs.)
6 ounces provola (young provolone), fresh mozzarella or Fontina, cut into ¼ by 1 ½-inch sticks.
3 plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded cut into 1/4-inch strips (See note)
Thin lemon slices, optional

Let the oil and garlic steep in a small bowl for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Toss the bread crumbs with half the infused oil and the parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place two of the veal slices between two sheets of plastic wrap and with the smooth side of a heavy meat mallet, pound each slice of veal into a rough rectangular shape about ¼ inch thick. Don’t pound the veal too thin or there is a possibility that the filling will leak during cooking. Repeat with the remaining veal. Divide the cheese and tomatoes evenly among the slices of veal, placing them along the center of one of the longer edges. Sprinkle half the seasoned bread crumbs over the tomatoes and cheese and drizzle on half the remaining infused oil. Roll the scallopine around the filling into compact rolls. Secure the flap with two toothpicks to keep the rolls intact while they cook.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly brush a baking pan into which the veal rolls fit comfortably with some of the remaining infused oil. Arrange the veal side by side and seam side down in the prepared dish. Scatter the remaining bread crumbs in an even layer over the veal and drizzle on the remaining infused oil. Bake until the bread crumbs are golden brown and the cheese in the filling is melted, about 20 minutes. Serve as is or with a slice of lemon.

Note: To peel and seed plum or round tomatoes: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and set a bowl of ice water near the stove. Cut the cores out of the tomatoes and cut a small “x” in the opposite end. Slip a few tomatoes into the boiling water and cook just until the skin loosens, 1 to 2 minutes depending on the tomatoes. (Overcooking will make them soggy.) Fish the tomatoes out of the water with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon and drop them into the ice water. If necessary, let the water return to a boil and repeat with any remaining tomatoes. Slip the skins off the blanched tomatoes and cut the tomatoes in half – lengthwise for plum tomatoes, crosswise for round tomatoes. Gently squeeze out the seed with your hands. The tomatoes are now ready to dice or cut as described in the recipe.

- From “Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen” by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich.

Penne with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Mozzarella
From “Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen”
By Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
Makes 6 servings

1 pound ripe and juicy cherry tomatoes, rinsed, dried and cut in half
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling over the finished pasta if you like
1 tsp. sea salt, preferably coarse
Pinch crushed hot red pepper
4 cloves garlic peeled
1 pound penne
10 fresh basil leaves, shredded
½ lb. bocconcini (bite-size fresh mozzarella), cut in half

Toss the tomatoes, oil, sea salt and crushed red pepper together in a large bowl. Whack the garlic with the side of a knife and toss it into the bowl. Let marinate at room temperature, tossing once or twice, for 30 minutes.

While the tomatoes are marinating, bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat.

Stir the penne into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until done, 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove the garlic from the marinated tomatoes and toss in the basil. Drain the pasta, add it to the bowl, and toss well to mix. Check the seasoning, adding salt and more crushed red pepper if necessary. Gently stir in the bocconcini and serve.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Couscous Overboard

I’m not gonna lie.
This shrimp dish is not exactly my fav. Shrimp Scampi on Couscous is way yummy, but the next time I want Shrimp Scampi, I’m going to stick with the classic.

The dish combines shrimp with a savory tomato sauce. So, if you prefer a red sauce over a white sauce with your seafood, you should totally give this recipe a whirl.

The recipe comes from Giada De Laurentiis’ cookbook, “Everyday Italian.”

My big beef with the recipe is the specifications called for making the couscous.

If you don’t know what couscous is, here’s a brief explanation: Couscous is tiny pasta made of semolina flour. To cook it, you simply bring a liquid to a boil; pour the dry couscous in the pot; stir; put a lid on it: let it sit for five minutes. You can play around with the flavors of the couscous by what you put in the broth. You can also add a variety of fresh ingredients to your cooked couscous such as herbs, zest, juice, veggies, nuts, dried fruits and cheese.

I love me some couscous. It’s quick and easy and delish.

So back to my issue with the recipe: The recipe claims to produce four main course servings while calling for 2 cups of plain couscous. The thing is 2 cups of uncooked couscous yields about 8 servings. Seriously. I had couscous out the wazoo, because you see, dear readers, even though my brain was saying, “This recipe is going to make TONS of couscous,” my hands still measured out 2 cups and poured them into the pan. Brilliant, Susan.

Anyways, despite the couscous measurement insanity, me and The Husband enjoyed the dish, but we concluded that good old Shrimp Scampi over spaghettini or capellini is our tried and true fav.

When I make it again, I will be sure to cut the couscous recipe right in half.

Scampi on Couscous
By Giada De Laurentiis
From "Everyday Italian"

Makes 4 servings

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed, plus 2 garlic cloves minced
2 (8 ounce) cans chopped tomatoes in their juice
1 (8ounce) bottle clam juice
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup water
2 cups plain couscous
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
Chopped parsley leaves, for garnish
In a large pot, heat 1/4 cup olive oil. When almost smoking, add onion, carrot and 1 clove smashed garlic and saute until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and their juice, clam juice and white wine. Bring to a boil and simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes, uncovered. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Carefully pour tomato mixture in the bowl of a food processor and puree. Add a couple of tablespoons of water if needed - you want to end up with a broth. Check for seasoning.

Return broth to the pot. Add 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add 2 cups couscous. Cover pot and remove from heat. Let rest for 10 minutes, allowing the couscous to absorb all the liquid. Fluff with a fork and season with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet, add the remaining 1/4 cup oil and the 2 cloves of minced garlic. Heat the oil, making sure not to burn the garlic. When the oil is hot, add the shrimp and stirring occasionally, cook the shrimp until they start to turn pink, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp or they will become tough. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, red pepper and chopped parsley. Check for seasoning.

To serve, mound the couscous in the center of a platter and top with the shrimp.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Last Hurrah

Holy smokes, it’s October.

That means in a month – give or take a day or two – I’m gonna be a baby mamma.

The Husband and I wanted to give thanks to our parents and my very special Aunt Lorraine and Uncle Frank for all of their help in getting ready for the arrival of the Jersey Bambino. So we had them over for din din. Well, it was really a very special Happy Hour featuring plenty of food and booze.

(Can I just say I’m really looking forward to saying “Cheers” with a glass of red rather than a tall drink of water?)

The event was most likely my last hosting gig before the arrival of our bundle of awesome joy.

So, what did these amazing peeps do to deserve our thanks?

First off, my Moms painted like my entire house. Well, four rooms, but still. It was a lot. One of course was our baby’s Bachelor Pad. Pics are below.

Aunt Lorraine helped me pimp out the nursery with awesome decorations, one of which will not be revealed because it includes the babe’s name. And the baby's name, dear readers, is confidential and top secret to all (except for parents, siblings and a few friends who broke me down during a moment of gleeful weakness.)

Uncle Frank helped The Husband put together the baby furniture. Although, The Husband does get props for hooking up the glider all by his lonesome. You taught him everything he knows, Uncle Frank! So super big thanks!

My mother-in-law hosted a fabulous baby shower for me. It was so awesome. My girlfriend Lauren claims it was the best shower she’s ever been to. Yay!

And that leaves our Dads, who totally rock and have been doling out advice and their fatherly two cents since we announced our pregnancy a minute after it occurred back in the winter. My Dad loves to bear gifts of Phillies swag; The Husband’s Dad loves to offer gifts of the fishing variety.

So, it thrills me to present to you our baby’s abode:

A crib fit for a king or a Phillies all-star or a world famous concert pianist/genius.

The Jersey Girl's baby will listen to soothing music and stories
from the fab glider put together by Daddy.

The perfect toy trunk for all of baby's treasures.

Whenever I walk into the nursery, I just bust out into big smiles. The Husband wants me to point out that the sports theme was totally my doing. He had no say at all. (But the truth is he was my inspiration.)

Have no fear. Music of course will be a major part of the Jersey Baby’s world. When he doesn’t hear his Momma playing Mozart and Beethoven sonatas or Chopin nocturnes, waltzes and mazurkas or a little ragtime, he totally hears my students rockin’ out their greatest hits. And I have a whole slew of music toys stashed away for him! And me and his Daddy love to listen to music all day and night long.

And I can't wait to get my little one involved in my culinary activities.

For our soiree, I made these yum yum Tiny Spiced Meatballs with Tomatoes. The recipe comes from a really cool cookbook I bought a few years ago at Sur la Table. It is called “From Tapas to Meze” by Joanne Weir. I love the cookbook. The pics are gorgeous. It features small plate recipes from Mediterranean countries. Love it.

I followed the recipe to the T, but I did add two eggs to the meat mixture. When I started combining the meatball ingredients, I thought it was looking way too dry for my liking. So, two extra large eggs immediately went in. Let’s face it, dry meatballs are ick nast.

I also mixed up the meat with the seasonings about two hours before baking them. That way, all the flavors really get into the meat.

The recipe makes a good-sized portion, so I recommend serving the meatballs at your next cocktail or tapas party. They were super delish!

Tiny Spiced Meatballs with Tomatoes
From “From Tapas to Meze”
By Joanne Weir

½ lb. ground pork
½ lb. ground beef
½ lb. ground veal
1 cup dry bread crumbs
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 ½ tsp. ground coriander seeds
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp. ground cumin
Pinch of cayenne
½ tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, minced
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups Italian plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, fresh or canned

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a bowl, combine the pork, beef, veal, bread crumbs, half of the garlic, the parsley, ground coriander, nutmeg, cumin, cayenne, ¾ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper. Form the mixture into 32 one-inch meatballs and place on an oiled baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and the remaining garlic, and cook stirring occasionally until soft, 7 minutes. Add the wine and the tomatoes and simmer slowly for 15 minutes. Add the meatballs, the salt and pepper to taste and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve immediately or at room temperature.

Serves 6.

Please note: The Jersey Girl added two extra large eggs to the meat mixture before combining. She also prepared the meat mixture two hours before cooking.