Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Back to the Basics/ Baked Chicken and Potatoes

When I first started this blog, I had in mind an easy cookbook which my3 daughters could refer to in order to see their grandmother's and great grandmother's recipes. It since has become a tale of how two cultures could live in harmony, ie., my New York influenced Italian American heritage and my wife's Guyana bred Indian heritage. Cooking for her has made me a better cook and possibly even a better man, but my original purpose has been somewhat obscured by the more immediate one of getting dinner on the table every night. Old readers will recall that ours is a part time marriage so to speak, with a now two day a week hiatus on Mondays and Tuesdays which allows me to eat meat and Neeta (Current Wife) to make food for her two grown up boys for the week. Well, after a discussion recently with the only daughter who actually reads my blog, I thought I would return to my original purpose and get down some of my mom's and grandma's old recipes for what consisted of our basic diet as kids. Yes, there are other family recipes in the pages of my blog, but I thought I would in the posts that follow, provide some basic Ambrosino recipes especially those that contained meat. Perhaps some day, my grandchildren, who up to now aren't even interested in eating, might be curious about what their grandfather was doing all that time in the kitchen. Perhaps. So with that next generation in mind, I give you your great grandma's recipe (slightly altered) for baked chicken and potatoes.

So first I marinated the chicken in the morning with a little sliced onion, a clove of garlic minced, 1/2 a lemon squeezed, a splash of Lemoncello  (or white wine) a little dried thyme, some olive oil and salt and pepper. I then covered the dish in plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge till about 5:00 PM

At 5:00, I preheated the oven to 375 degrees, added some baby carrots and a cut up russet potato to the baking dish, and cooked it for about an hour, stirring the vegetables and turning over the chicken every 20 minutes. For the last 15 minutes, I turned the oven up to 425 degrees. My instant read thermometer read 160 degrees to tell me the chicken was done perfectly.

Grandma's baked chicken and potatoes! With a little salad, a nice meal that my kiddies always enjoyed.

Friday, September 23, 2011

More pesto? Whole wheat gnocchi with zucchini, heirloom tomatoes and pesto

Believe it or not, this is a perfect week night recipe if you happen to have access to a Trader Joe's supermarket. You can find the vacuumed pack potato gnocchi like these elsewhere, but TJ's imports this one made with whole wheat flour that I find very good. Remember, I said it's a week day recipe. If you have the time or inclination to make gnocchi from scratch, knock yourself out. It actually isn't very hard, but this one is ready in minutes. The baby heirloom tomatoes are also a staple of Trader Joe's . As I did in the previous post, you must start with making pesto. And yes, I realize if you use a mortar and pestle, your pesto will be much better.
Forgive me Grandma, but if you had a food processor you might take the shortcut too. 
So, start with the pesto and while it's happening, bring a pot of water to the boil  and season it with salt. For both Neeta and I, I used two small to medium zucchini. Using a spoon, I scraped out the seeded middle sections of the vegetables and cut them into 1/2 inch slices (as you can see in the picture above if you look at the zucchini section at the bottom of the plate). Also, I cut 1/2 a small onion into dice and grated a little Grana Padano for finishing.

As always, begin by browning some minced garlic in 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil. As soon as you smell the garlic in the pan, add a teaspoon of red pepper flakes.

Now, add the zucchini to the pan, salt it and adjust the heat to medium. Cook the zucchini for about a minute so that it browns slightly.

Now, add the onion to the pan and adjust the heat to medium low. Keep an eye on the garlic. If it looks like it's getting too dark, add a bit of the pasta water to the pan.

As you wait for the zucchini and onion to soften, cut a handful of the heirloom tomatoes into quarters. 

Now add the tomatoes to the pan and dump the gnocchi into the boiling water.The gnocchi only takes 2 or 3 minutes to become tender. When they do, they will float to the surface of the water. While waiting, spoon about 3/4  cup of the boiling water into the vegetables. This will create a little sauce with the tomatoes.

As soon as the gnocchi begin to break the surface of the boiling water scoop them into the vegetable pan with a strainer or spider. Stir them briefly into the vegetables and turn off the heat. Now, spoon the pesto into the pan and plate the gnocchi and vegetables finishing with a sprinkle of cheese.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Good Husband/ Pasta Fagiole with Pesto

What to do with the abundance of basil leaves growing on my fire escape? My wife doesn't like basil, mint, parsley or cilantro unless the leaves are processed as in pesto.This is mildly annoying since I love all of those herbs as an addition to my dishes. But, being the exceptional husband I am, I try to comply with the peculiarities of her food tastes.Two weeks ago, I found a recipe (on Chow) for a white bean humus which included basil leaves. It was quite good, so I decided to try another bean dish (pasta fagiole) using pesto in place of the usual tomato sauce. The results were equally good and will be added to my repertoire. 

So, for the two of us, I used one garlic clove minced, one celery stalk diced, 1/2 a medium sized onion diced, about 1 cup of white kidney beans (I used my own beans with their water flavored with olive oil, red pepper and garlic. If you use canned beans, drain them and add more spice and garlic to the recipe), 1 cup of dried pasta (small noodles or shells suitable for soup) , tomato paste and pesto sauce to taste. If you use canned beans, also have some chicken stock handy or in a pinch, you can use pasta water.

To make the pesto sauce, you need a cup of tightly packed basil leaves, 1 clove of garlic minced, a handful of pine nuts lightly toasted, and about 3/4 cup of grating cheese (Peccorino Romano, Parmigiana or Grana Padano) in the bowl of a food processor, blender or mortar and pestle. 

 Turn on the motor and slowly add olive oil till the mixture is incorporated. I add a little salt and a sprinkle of Vitamin C powder to keep the color a bright green. Set aside.

Now, you may begin cooking the garlic, celery and onion in a heavy pot over medium heat. Salt it and stir occasionally till the vegetables are soft (approximately 5 minutes).
Meanwhile, add pasta to a pot of boiling water well salted.

Some may argue that it isn't necessary to add tomato paste, but I find it adds to the taste. I also squirted a little hot sauce to the pan. Notice I've cleared a hot spot to allow the tomato paste to toast awhile and remove its' raw taste.

After a minute, I stir the paste into the vegetables.

Finally, I add the beans to the pot. Since I cook my beans in a lot of water and add additional olive oil, garlic and hot pepper flakes at the end of their cooking time, I don't think chicken broth is needed, so I added about 1&1/2 cups of the pasta water to the pot and cook it for about 5 minutes. Then, I add the drained pasta and cook it an additional minute. Finally, I turn off the heat and add the pesto to the pot. The basil pesto is a fresh sauce so don't allow it to cook. I waited about a minute with the pan off the heat before adding it.

I just learned I have a few new regular readers of my blog from the Philippines. Welcome and please feel free to comment or ask any questions you may have. Salamat!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Father's Day and our Anniversary


Well, first of all there hasn't been too much to blog about, food wise. On Father's Day weekend, we traveled to the Catskills for a birthday party for a good friend. They asked everyone (about 40 people) to bring a dish to share. Naturally, I made something that was enough for at least 10 people as did most other guests. The result was enough food to feed the entire 42nd Division. We had to leave early to travel back to the city because the next day was Father's Day and my granddaughters expected me to come early. They live at the beach 
(on Rockaway Peninsula to be exact) so we dined outside on their deck facing the bay which is formed by the peninsula. My daughters (all three of them) are no strangers to the kitchen, so the food was great. Pictured above is an appetizer of fried eggplant rounds with fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil. We also had cheese ravioli, steak pinwheels pictured above, salmon (for Neeta) and a salad I made of cherry tomatoes and watermelon. Oh, did I mention the platter of Italian pastry for dessert? My daughter Patty who prepared the meal used mostly semi-prepared food which she obtained at great cost from Italian delicacy stores which is how you entertain if you juggle two kids with a high powered job that splits you between New York and Boston every week. I couldn't do it.

The following weekend was our sixth wedding anniversary. We ate a quiet dinner together on Friday night with a movie afterwards. On Saturday, we ate out at a noisy restaurant in Brooklyn which served enormous portions to enormous Italians who have never learned the knack of speaking so that only the people at your table could hear the conversation. Sunday, we returned to a quiet dinner in the afternoon and after some exercise, one hour of the Mets game while CW shot the breeze with her sister in the bedroom, then two good movies ala Netflix (which we love) before bed at 10 PM. The food I'd like to share about concerns the salad I made for Father's Day and the salsa I used to dress the fish we ate on Friday night.

Pictured above is a version of a"summer salad" my mom used to make back when the produce stores carried locally grown vegetables. Mom would simply slice a tomato or two and dress it with some fresh basil or dried oregano and olive oil. She would add some sliced onion and let it sit while she prepared the meal, returning to it occasionally to gently mix the tomatoes in the oil and serve it (at the end of the meal) with nice crusty bread. In my hubris, I thought I invented the idea of adding watermelon chunks to the salad to give it a different, sweeter taste. I have since learned that many cooks use a variation of this salad. (Fame alludes me again!) I also had the idea of making a variation of the salad by adding some heat.I tried it for Friday's anniversary dinner by adding some hot sauce and habanero chilies and lime juice to the salad. I actually prefer to make the salad with quartered cherry tomatoes and red onion mostly for aesthetic purposes.The hot version can be used as a topping or as a dip.

I noticed I'm nearing my 100th post and I'm getting a little sick of myself, so don't be surprised to learn that I'm starting another blog. The only trouble is I have no idea yet for what to write about. More later!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

You're coming on Tuesday?/ Grilled swordfish on rice salad

Wait a minute.  You're coming Tuesday? You mean, instead of Wednesday? Both days? What the...? OK, I don't like my precious little schedule disrupted. As anyone who reads this blog knows, my Current Wife and I have this "arrangement" where, as I like to put it, we are married only four days a week. The three other days I don't shave, I can eat meat, watch as much baseball as I like,  stay up late, eat out of the pot and do other "single guy" things to my heart's content. Now, due to some (temporary) glitch in her work schedule, she's going to be around for the next 3 Tuesdays. What is this?

So I find out about this last Friday. Suddenly, I recalled all the conversations about how she has to cook for her sons on Tuesday. No, she can't on Monday because they need lunch for the week. (huh?) I can't even remember all the stuff she told me when we first were married and(she) decided on all this. That was before all my married friends (those in long term marriages especially) started telling me I should write a book on how to stay happily married. Oddly, I heard this mostly from the women. Anyhow, I've learned what a nice deal it is and have come around to really appreciating our weekly "marriage breaks". Now this! Oh well, I decided to be gracious about it and serve the left over lasagne (which I would have eaten myself) on Wednesday. I looked in my freezer and found two smallish sword fish steaks. I still had a couple of tomatoes and some corn from the Farmer's Market and some avocado from Trader Joe. Easy, I'll make rice salad with guacamole, corn, tomatoes and what's that in the back of the 'fridge? Artichoke hearts. So, in this order, I 1., Marinated the swordfish in lime zest, olive oil and a little salt and pepper; 2.,  I made a dressing of lime juice, cumin, cilantro and olive oil;
3., Boiled the (abborio) rice in a pot of salted water; 4., Made guacamole with two avocados mashed, one clove of chopped garlic, cilantro, red onion and diced tomato; 5., I cooked the corn, fished out the artichoke hearts and sliced another tomato. After the rice cooled, I combined all but the guacamole, and when my "Tuesday wife" appeared, grilled the swordfish steaks and arranged them over the cooled rice salad with the guacamole on the side.BTW, you don't add the salad dressing till the last moment. You know, I could get used to 5 days a week!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Weekend Update/ Lasagne with mushrooms, peas and "sausage"

I haven't been posting anything new for awhile, mainly because I do occasionally cook something I've done before, and because I've been spoiled by Trader Joe's Supermarkets. Perhaps corrupted is a better word since I've discovered that some of TJ's prepared meals taste every bit as good as anything I can make, and sometimes it doesn't pay to resist that. Take our Friday meal as a perfect example. TJ's makes a Tuna in Red Panang Curry which is excellent. We have very good Thai restaurants in New York so I can say I know what a good Thai curry should taste like. This meal is every bit as good as anything I've tasted in the better Thai restaurants. It comes packed in tin foil and needs to be boiled in water for 5 minutes before eating. I usually cook some rice on the side and dinner is ready in 15 minutes. And, unlike many prepared meals,it's a perfect portion for two people. At $1.99, why pay a chef to make this? Why indeed? This is why I can't find any work.

On Saturday, we visited the Farmer's Market in Union Square and bought some greens, heirloom tomatoes and Jalapeno Cheddar Bread which formed the basis for our Saturday dinner, escarole and beans in brodo (in this case, organic vegetable broth from Stop and Shop, a bargain at $1 for a 17 oz.container)  with toasted Jalepeno Cheddar bread. I made beans earlier in the week, and they've found themselves in many of my dishes. 

On Sunday, I made lasagne again incorporating my latest "find" from Trader Joe. This time it was sausage patties made from texturized vegetable protein. I know, not very Italian, but I've been encouraging Neeta to try more protein sources (hoping she might one day dare eat a piece of chicken). Anyway, mixed with the sauce, cheese and vegetables the sausage patties were actually pretty good. I cooked them, then broke them up and layered them with  mushrooms,  peas and cheese . Very nice, if I may say. The last lasagne I made, I mentioned that readers should try using fresh ricotta instead of the stuff sold in the plastic tubs. I mentioned then that Lynn Rosetto Kasper has a good recipe for making fresh ricotta in her book, The Splendid Table. It's such a simple recipe that I thought I would reprint it to encourage you to try it. One pound will be more than enough to make a tray of lasagne. Remember, you have to mix the ricotta with Parmesana reggiano, one egg, s & p, some grated mozzarella and a pinch of nutmeg.

2 1/2 quarts whole milk
3/4 cup less 1 tablespoon heavy cream (not ultra- pasteurized or sterilized)
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt (optional)

Working Ahead: The cheese must be made in one session from start to finish; count on about 1 1/2 hours. Much of this time is semi-unattended cooking.You should be in the kitchen, but you don't need to be hovering over the stove.

Cooking the Milk into Curd: This recipe may seem daunting in its detail, but it is really quite easy. Because cheesemaking is unfamiliar to many, the instructions lead you through the process step by step. Keep in mind that slowly heating the milk mixture develops a soft ricotta curd. Fast heating hardens the curd, producing a very different cheese.

     Stir together all the ingredients except the salt in a heavy 6-quart saucepan with a nonreactive interior. Set the pan over medium-low heat. Cook 40 minutes, or until the
milk reaches 170 degrees F. on an instant read thermometer. Keep the heat at medium-low.
To keep the curd large, do not stir more than three or four times. If you lift it with the spatula, you will see sandlike particles of milk forming as the clear whey begins separating from the curd. As the milk comes close to 170 degrees F, the curds will be slightly larger, about the size of an uncooked lentil. When the temperature reaches 170 degrees F, turn the heat up to medium. Do not stir. Take 6 to 8 minutes to bring the mixture to 205 to 208 degrees F when measured at the center of the pot. The liquid whey will be almost clear. By the time the cheese comes to 205 degrees, the curd should mound on the spatula like a soft white custard. At 205- 208 degrees F, the liquid will be on the verge of boiling, with the surface looking like mounds about to erupt. Turn off the heat and let the cheese stand for 10 minutes.

Draining the Cheese: Line a colander with a double thickness of dampened cheesecloth. Turn the mixture into it, and let it drain 15 minutes, or until the drained cheese is thick. Turn the cheese into a covered storage container, add salt if desired, and refrigerate the ricotta until needed.

The finished cheese keeps 4 days in the refrigerator.

Source: The Splendid Table, 1992 by Lynn Rosetto Kasper, William Morrow and Company, p. 454

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memories/ Pasta with Brocolli, Mushrooms and Pesto

I'm not sure if it's the Memorial Day weekend or what, but my thoughts lately have been on many of the friends and acquaintances in my past. On Mother's day, we visited the grave where my Grandmother, Mom and Dad are laid to rest. How I miss those days when life seemed so simple. I'm old enough that I can look back on my childhood, my early adulthood, my "middle" adult hood and nowadays and see them as distinct periods. There was a "kid" I worked with at the restaurant in Brooklyn that joked about me way back then. " Che is so old,' she said," he played GI Joe with Jesus!"Now that kid is in her 40's and has 3 of her own and I am beginning to feel the weight of the years every morning when I wake up and need to walk around a little so I won't feel quite so stiff.

Anyhow, the friends and relationships from the past have been on my mind a lot lately and while I miss many of those I no longer see much of, I am profoundly grateful that they played a part in my life. Back in 1975, when our restaurant was just getting off the ground, one of the owners was using the kitchen to make food for herself and a few other workers. She put together a simple dish of pasta and broccoli cooked in chicken stock and garlic. The story goes that a customers saw it and asked if she could make some for their table and it became the first entree on the little menu that at the time only consisted of sandwiches made in pita bread. I thought of that the other day when I was considering what to do with the mushrooms and broccoli I had bought earlier in the week.This is my version cooked in pesto. We called it "Pasta con Broccoli". I call it a good memory. Thanks, Andrea.

The pesto came about because I had fresh basil and mint from the salads I've been making with our meals.The Current Wife loves pesto, but painstakingly removes all traces of fresh herbs found in her salad. Go figure. When I prep my broccoli, I remove the stalks, peel and slice them, then cook them in boiling water for 2 and 1/2  minutes prior to cooking the florets.

I remove the broccoli with a metal "spider" after an additional 2  and 1/2 minutes. I use the same water to start my pasta. At the same time, I heat about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet.

Since I'm flavoring my pasta with pesto, I use a few pine nuts in the dish. Here, I'm frying them briefly with some red pepper flakes to begin.

Next, come the mushrooms and after they cook, the garlic which goes in last so not to burn while the mushrooms cook (but you all know that!)

Lastly, the pasta and broccoli get added to the pan to cook for a minute. Reserve 1/2 a cup of the pasta water to add to the pesto. Mix it in and serve. 

I hope all of you had an enjoyable Memorial Day and found time to remember our fallen heroes, those who died in combat, or in service to our city , and the innocent victims of Oklahoma City, Washington DC , Pennsylvania and New York.