Jazzin’ in New Orleans

A short clip of the Jazz Vipers, a group we heard in New Orleans at the “Spotted Cat” on Frenchman Street. It’s everything you’ve ever envisioned of an old time jazz club — located in a ramshackle wooden house, musicians playing old jazz standards while clutching a cigarette, beer bottle on the side. Later in the evening, a young couple walked in the door, cast off their jackets, and immediately moved to the postage-stamp size dance floor, where they provided even more wonderful entertainment for the crowd as they glided to the music with their well-coordinated dance moves.

Beignets And More In New Orleans

Beignets and more in New Orleans

It’s not a good idea to visit New Orleans right before Thanksgiving. It’s going to be hard getting rid of the extra weight I put on during a long weekend in “The Big Easy.” And now more of a food onslaught is in store with the holiday approaching.
But it was worth it. Here is a sampling of some of the temptations I ate during our short stay.
The photo was taken at “Emeril’s,” the eponymous restaurant named after Emeril Lagasse, whose cooking show can be seen on the Food Network. The pork chop was about two inches thick and smothered in a tamarind glaze and green mole sauce, and served with caramelized sweet potatoes. What a winning and unexpected combination of flavors. Thank you Emeril for that taste experience and also for the recipe, which is posted on the Food Network’s website. It’s a little involved, but in case you want to try it, here’s the link.
We also ate at “August,” one of John Besh’s restaurants. For those of you who watch the Food Network, you may remember that Besh won the Iron Chef competition against Mario Batali. “August” is an elegant, but not stuffy restaurant, with a more refined and subtle menu than “Emeril’s.” To give you an idea, we started with an amuse bouche of fish mousse, served in a small egg shell. The meal continued on a high note, including a salad of organic greens with pumpkin seed brittle, blue cheese and pumpkin seed oil vinaigrette. It’s a nice contrast of textures and tastes, and one I plan to make in the future for dinner parties. Since I haven’t made it myself yet, I’ll give you a link to a pumpkin nut brittle recipe on Epicurious.com.

I can’t talk about New Orleans food without mentioning beignets – those square-shaped puffy fried “doughnuts” that are a must when visiting the city. The most well-known place to eat them is the Cafe Du Monde, where this photo was taken. They are typically served with Cafe Du Monde’s version of cafe au lait, a blend of chicory and coffee. The beignets arrive covered with a blizzard of powdered sugar, so be careful if you’re wearing black slacks as I was!! One bite and you’ll become enamored of the traditional New Orleans favorite. They sell a beignet mix at the Cafe Du Monde and online, and there are plenty of recipes on the web as well. Most of the authors claim that the mix isn’t as good as the homemade recipe, which includes yeast. Here’s the link to a recipe from a website that’s all about NOLA (New Orleans) food:

Chicken Soup With Tortellini And Frittate

Chicken Soup with tortellini and frittate

It’s been one of those weeks where getting out of bed was a major effort. You know the symptoms — runny nose, achy body, ear and chest congestion, blah, blah, blah.
What better way to get back on track than the old remedy so many of you already know – chicken soup. It’s such a cliche’, but it really does help. It also conjures up lovely memories of my childhood when my mother fussed over me when I was ill.
I had to content myself with canned chicken broth and pastina until I was well enough a few days later to at least put together a few ingredients for a homemade broth – so superior to anything canned! I made some last week too, from the left-over carcass I had after finishing the roast chicken I had cooked. There are many ways to make a good broth, so you can adapt it to whatever cut of meat you like. Sometimes I buy a whole chicken and sometimes I use just the thighs or just the breast and sometimes I add a piece of beef as well, making it more of a “bollito misto.” If I’m just using a small piece of meat, I’ll also add a bouillon cube, to boost the flavor. I wish I could say this photo was the soup I made, but it’s not. I was not prescient enough (or well enough) to think of photography. This photo is the chicken soup we ate when we were visiting my husband’s relatives last month in Abruzzo. His cousin Giovanna adds a couple of tomatoes to her broth, which adds color and more flavor. She also adds little squares of frittata, which also boosts the yum factor as well as the protein — all things that should help you if you’re trying to cast off a nasty cold. Even if you’re well however, it’s a delicious welcome for the body and soul.

Chicken Soup with tortellini and frittate

1 chicken, 3-4 lbs.
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
small bunch of parsley
2 tsps. salt
8-10 peppercorns

I like to start out with skinless chicken, so you have less fat in the soup. If you’re just using breasts or thighs, skin them, but don’t use boneless ones, if you can help it. The bones add to the flavor.
Place the chicken in a large pot, then add water to cover by at least an inch or two. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Skim off the scum that forms on the top, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about two hours.

If you want to make it like the photo, add two whole tomatoes.
After cooking, strain the soup into a large bowl, and skim off the fat. If you put it in the refrigerator overnight, the fat will solidify and come off easily the next day. Either serve the meat on the side as a separate part of the meal, or break the chicken up into pieces and put back into the soup.

Serve with purchased tortellini (I mean who’s really got the energy to make home-made tortellini when you’re sick?) and frittate bits, if desired. (For all you non-Italians out there, frittate is just the plural of frittata.)

Frittata

6 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 thinly sliced scallions (or 1/4 cup chives)
3 tablespoons of butter

Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the other ingredients until well blended. Melt butter in a large oven-proof skillet until foamy, and over low heat, add the eggs. Cook for about 10 minutes over low heat until the eggs have set but the top surface is still a bit runny. Place the skillet under the broiler until the top has set. Watch carefully, because it should take no longer than one or two minutes. Remove from the oven and loosen from the pan with a spatula onto a plate. Cut into little squares to serve over the soup.

Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake

Do you ever forget you’ve got carrots in your refrigerator and find yourself buying yet another bag of them at the supermarket? It happens to me more than I’d like to admit, and I was getting a bit tired of cooked carrots as a side dish to dinner. So I dusted off an old recipe I used in the 1970s when carrot cake emerged as a standard dessert in my repertoire. Although I loved it then, it was a bit heavy and weighed-down with ingredients, including crushed pineapple and shredded coconut. So I omitted those ingredients this time around and made this version instead, which I have to admit, I like even better. I hope you will too.

I baked this recipe in two 8″ x 8″ Pyrex glass pans. I dusted one of them with powdered sugar and we ate it right away. The other I put in the freezer, later thawed, and served with a buttercream frosting. You could also make this in a rectangular 8″ x 13″ pan, or in two 8″ round layer pans.

Carrot Cake

2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsps. vanilla
2 cups sifted flour
2 tsps. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
2 tsps baking soda
1 1/2 tsps. salt
1 pound of carrots, grated
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

Grease and flour the pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, beat the sugar, oil and eggs together until pale yellow. Add the vanilla. Sift the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and salt together and add to the wet ingredients. Grate the carrots, either with a food processor or by hand, and add them to the batter with the raisins and walnuts. Mix well.

Pour the batter into the pans and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the cake bounces back when lightly pressed. I also use a toothpick to test. Poke it into the center and if it comes out clean, the cake is done.

Dust with confectioner’s sugar when cool, or frost with a buttercream or cream cheese frosting.

Buttercream frosting:

2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4 tbspns. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
a few tablespoons of milk

Beat sugar, butter and vanilla together and add milk, a tablespoonful at a time, until the frosting is creamy and smooth. This makes enough for one of the cakes – double if making one large 9″ x 13″ rectangular cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1/2 cup butter
1 8 ounce package cream cheese
2 – 4 tablespoons of milk
1 pound confectioner’s sugar

Mix butter and cream cheese with vanilla and gradually add the sugar. Add a little milk, one teaspoonful at a time, to thin it out. Beat until smooth. This is enough for a large 9″ x 13″ rectangular pan or for two 8″ square or round pans.

Rose’s Manicotti

Rose’s Manicotti

This is another one of those comfort food recipes that you’re likely to make again and again, not just because it tastes great, but also because you can make it ahead of time and freeze it for later.
I can’t take credit for it — It’s brought to you via my Dad and his wife Rose, who have frequently served it at their table, and have introduced it at mine as well.
It’s unlike the traditional manicotti that you might know, since the filling is contained in a crepe, not in pasta. It’s a recipe handed down from Rose’s mother and maybe it will become part of your tradition too. It makes a wonderful first course, but with the addition of a salad can also serve as the main course. Since there’s no meat in the recipe, vegetarians will be happy too.

Rose’s Manicotti

Makes about 20

For the crepes:

4 eggs
1 cup water
1 cup milk
2 tblspns. melted butter
2 cups flour

Beat the eggs slightly. Place the flour in a bowl, and add the eggs, water, milk and melted butter. Beat everything together.
Using a paper towel, smear the bottom of a 7 inch nonstick skillet with olive oil. Over medium heat, pour some of the batter into the pan, swirl around and watch carefully until the batter seems to solidify. Do not let the crepe brown. The color should be similar to the pale color of pasta dough. Flip it over and cook for only a couple of seconds on the other side.

Filling:

2 pounds ricotta cheese
4 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Mix all the filling ingredients together and place some of filling along a straight line down the middle of a crepe. Roll up the crepe and place seam-side down in a baking pan that has been first layered with tomato sauce. Proceed until the pan is filled, then cover with another layer of tomato sauce. Do not put a second layer of crepes over the first.

Tomato Sauce:

Use your favorite tomato sauce – with or without meat. In my family, to use anything but homemade tomato sauce would be blasphemy, but if you resort to a commercial brand, I won’t tell. For this recipe, my father and Rose make a meatless sauce that is very smooth, since it enhances the delicate texture and flavor of the crepes.

Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 325 degrees about 1/2 hour.
If frozen, place the pan in the refrigerator the night before serving. Bake at 325 degrees, but you may need slightly more than 1/2 hour until the crepes are heated through and the sauce is bubbly hot.

Election Day Roast Chicken

Election Day Roast Chicken

It’s finally here! Election day takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 4 in the U.S. after what seems like an interminably long campaign. Miranda (the lovely lady in the photo) implores you to vote. No matter what the outcome, you’ll be taking part in a historic election.
By Wednesday morning (hopefully) somebody will be declared a winner — and a lot of people who supported the losing candidate will be feeling pretty glum. It may be small solace for the losers, but I’m posting one of my favorite comfort foods to help you get through the day.
The technique of starting the bird with the breast-side down is just as important as the recipe, so make sure to follow the directions.

Favorite Roast Chicken

1 6 lb. roasting chicken
olive oil
1 lemon
1 large onion
bouquet of fresh garden herbs
dried herbs and spices:
lemon pepper
herbs de provence
paprika
kosher salt

Rinse the chicken with cold water and pat dry. Squeeze one lemon into the cavity and place the lemon inside the cavity, along with a bouquet of fresh herbs. I used fresh thyme, oregano and rosemary, but use whatever you have. If you don’t have any fresh herbs, sprinkle inside with dry herbs.
Rub the outside of the chicken with olive oil and place in a greased roasting pan, breast side down. This will ensure moist breast meat and evenly cooked skin. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and the dry herbs: lemon pepper, herbs de provence and paprika. Chop a large onion into quarters and nestle in the pan next to the chicken. Roast in a 375 degree oven for one hour. Turn over so that breast side faces up and sprinkle with the dry herbs. Lower the temperature to 350 and roast for another hour or until juices run clear after piercing a fork into the thickest part.

Squash Soup

Squash Soup

Happy Halloween everyone! I’m sending you a photo of the jack o’lantern all lit up in front of our house. Last weekend our daughter Christina was home and helped design and cut out our annual Halloween pumpkin. There were those slippery pumpkin seeds to deal with, which we salted and roasted and ate in a flash. There were also substantial bits of flesh that were left from cutting out the design. I hated to throw them out, so I incorporated them into a squash soup I was planning for dinner. I already had some butternut squash in the fridge, so I just peeled the pumpkin remains and added them too. There are tons of recipes for squash soup, and some even spice it up with curry. My favorite way is to let the sweetness of the squash take over, with a little boost from the addition of an apple and a pear. You don’t have to add the cream if you want to keep it healthier, but a little bit goes a long way in creating a silken texture. I have even been known to add skim milk when I lacked for cream, or didn’t want to add the calories. I also cubed some bread and toasted it to make croutons. No butter needed – just toss the cubed bread in a heavy bottomed pan, such as a cast-iron skillet, and watch carefully so the croutons don’t burn. Enjoy a warm bowl as you wait for the trick or treaters to arrive. It’s really delicious — and ghoulishly easy to make.

Squash Soup

1/4 cup olive oil
4-5 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (about 1 cup of this was my pumpkin leftovers)
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 large apple, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large pear, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large potato, cut into chunks
5 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
2 tsps. salt
1/2 cup cream

Heat the olive oil and add the onions. Cook until softened and slightly browned. Add the squash (and pumpkin leftovers if you have any) and saute for a few minutes. Toss in the apple, pear, and potato. Add the chicken broth and salt. Put a lid on the pot and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until all the vegetables and fruit are soft and cooked through. Put into a blender, or use an immersion blender to smooth out the soup. Add cream and top with croutons.

“Bocconotti” – Little Chocolate Treats

“Bocconotti” – Little Chocolate Treats

These chocolate treats are one of the many specialties of the region of Italy called Abruzzo. We spent a week there, as part of a recent trip to Italy, visiting my husband’s relatives who live in a small village near the Adriatic coast.
While there, we feasted each day at pranzo (lunch) and cena (dinner), moving from one cousin’s house to another, soaking up the warmth, the hospitality and the good food.
Giovanna, the cousin who is pictured here, cooked up a batch of these cookies the night before we left for us to take back to the U.S. Her culinary skills are well-known among her family and neighbors in Italy. Since returning to the U.S., I’ve been sharing her bocconotti with friends and relatives here, so her reputation has spread to the U.S. as well.
Giovanna gave me her recipe, which uses lard in the dough, but I have adapted it with butter. She also told me she uses a mixture of liqueurs in the filling — “Whatever I have in the house,” she said.
Feel free to do the same, or focus on one particular flavor. You could use rum, or brandy, or an orange-flavored liqueur, for example. Or do as Giovanna does and combine several.
They keep for a month, she said, as long as they are in a covered tin or container. Even though the recipe makes about four dozen bocconotti, you might have trouble keeping them for that long!

Bocconotti

For the dough:

10 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
2/3 cup plus 1 T. sugar
6 egg yolks
3 1/2 cups flour or enough to make a soft dough

Cream butter and sugar in a mixer. Add egg yolks, one at a time, blending well. Add flour and mix until it forms a soft dough. Break off small portions and roll out to the thickness of pie crust. Cut and fit into small metal tart tins.

For the filling:

4 ounces espresso coffee
7 ounces dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1 1/3 cups almonds, toasted and finely ground
3/4 cup plus 1 T. sugar
pinch of cinnamon
peel of 1 lemon, grated
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1/2 cup liqueur, any kind
6 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Put the chocolate into a bowl and pour the hot coffee over it, stirring until melted and smooth. Mix in the almonds, sugar, cinnamon, lemon, egg yolks and liqueur. Fold in beaten egg whites.

Pour into the tart shells. Place on a cookie sheet and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

When cool, melt about 4 ounces chocolate in a bowl with 1 T. oil. Spread over the cooled cookies.

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Gelato

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Gelato

This is my favorite gelato combo – coffee, dark chocolate and coconut – from my favorite gelateria in Rome – Giorgiagel. It’s a tiny outpost in Trastevere on via. S. Francesco a Ripa that you never read about. But after trying all the major, well-known gelaterie, this one could not be matched, at least for my benchmark flavor, dark chocolate – or “cioccolato fondente,” as they say in Italy. It’s wickedly good. Aside from the intensity of the flavor, you get the most for your euro here – this cup or “coppetta” cost only 1 euro – or the equivalent of about $1.40 during my trip. And they add a crunchy cookie. Giolitti, one of Rome’s beloved institutions, is my second favorite gelato spot in Rome. The coconut flavor here is the best I’ve tasted anywhere, with flecks of fresh coconut adding texture and more taste to an already yummy flavor. The coffee is really intense too, but the dark chocolate doesn’t hold a candle to Giorgiagel. The flavors on display in the case are myriad, with a rainbow of fruit sorbets including mango, plum and wild berries. This heaping cone cost 1.50 euro. Located at via Uffice del Vicario, 40, not far from the Pantheon.
The chocolate from Fonte della Salute, via Cardinal Marmaggi in Trastevere, looks darker than most, but it tasted like some thickener had been added in – more like a chocolate pudding. But it certainly looked like there were plenty of pleased customers there. The stracciatella (chocolate chip) nestled next to it, was delicious. cost 1.50 euro
Dark chocolate and caramel at San Crispino – another landmark gelateria in Rome with several locations – one near the Trevi Fountain and one near the Pantheon. Right off the bat, I don’t like the fact that their ice cream is served from covered stainless steel containers, so you can’t see what you’re ordering. Moreover, the price of this meager serving is double – 2 euros – what I paid for a heaping cup at Giorgiagel, and the dark chocolate is much less intense. To round out my tasting, (I had to give flavors other than chocolate a shot after all) I include photos of two other combos – a luscious amarena (sour cherry) and frutti di bosco (wild berries) — and a cup of torroncino (nougat candy) and pistachio. Both from Giorgiagel, and 1 euro each.
Sorry to put this comment from a reader here rather than in the comments section, but it’s because I had to “repost” this after I messed up the placement of the pictures and the text. I couldn’t figure out how to allow the comment from the first post to be visible in the comments section, so here it is under the text: DASKMA said… I totally agree with your assessment of Giorgiagel. We’ve been living in Trastevere for the past nine months and stop here with our daughter several times a week…it is by far the best gelato we’ve found in Rome, especially when you consider taste, price and unpretentious friendliness of the owners and staff. The gelato there is wonderful and deserves to be better known…since they have only been open a couple years, I am sure they will soon get the reputation they deserve….and I also agree with all you said about San Crispino…over-priced and too pretentious for my taste-buds… April 21, 2009 3:51 PM

Poached Pears With Ice Cream

Poached Pears with Ice Cream

After all those photos of Roman gelato, it just didn’t seem fair to all of you who aren’t planning a trip to sunny Italy any time in the future. Besides, my niece Keri who is living in Paris for several months, where she really has no reason to complain about the dearth of wonderful desserts, emailed me with the message “You’re killing me” after seeing all those photos.
So I’m offering a dessert that I first prepared when we were living in Rome where the pears were enormous. We always seemed to have a bottle of red wine on hand as well, so I combine the two with a little sugar, some lemon rind and a cinnamon stick. It’s a dessert you can easily make ahead of time and reheat in the microwave. I also like to serve it at Thanksgiving, for those who want to end their meal with something sweet, but not the heaviness of pies or cakes. Topping it with ice cream is unnecessary, but it’s a perfect complement to the warm, cooked pears. Last night, I tried a new flavor from Haagen Dazs called “caramelized pears and toasted pecans.” yumm.

Poached Pears in Red Wine

6 Pears
1 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup sugar
a few shavings of lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick

Peel pears, cut in half and remove core and seeds. Place into a pan with the rest of the ingredients. Let simmer over medium heat covered, about 1/2 hour, or until fork tender. Keep the lid ajar for the last 10 minutes, to help evaporate and thicken some of the liquid. Best served warm — with ice cream of course.