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Crispy Cheesy Pan Pizza

I’m partial to Neapolitan pizza, but when I saw this on King Arthur Flour’s website as its “recipe of the year” I was more than a little intrigued. The company has one of the best websites for recipes anywhere, and I have found that their recipes always produce optimum results. This may resemble a thick crust Sicilian pizza, or maybe you’re thinking Chicago deep-dish pizza. But it’s nothing like either of those. The dough, although thick, is not at all dense due to the long rising time overnight in the refrigerator. In fact, it’s quite light and easily digestible. It’s a snap to bake at home in a cast iron skillet, a technique that produces a crunchy bottom and side crust that crackles when you bite into it. It uses only a half cup of tomato sauce, which gets dolloped on after you’ve spread a layer of mozzarella cheese, ensuring that the dough doesn’t become soggy.

If you’ve made no-knead bread before, this procedure will seem familiar to you. You can check out the King Arthur page for more explicit photos on how to handle the dough (it’s easy).

Leave the dough in the refrigerator anywhere from 12 hours minimum to 72 hours maximum, allowing the dough to develop flavor and great texture. It also gives you lots of flexibility in case your plans change at the last minute and you want to save the baking for the next day. When you are ready to get down to business, just press the risen dough into an oiled cast iron skillet. It does require proper timing and close attention on the day you bake it and the directions seem long, but if you read through them before starting, and follow them exactly, it’s really easy to make.

Spread the grated mozzarella cheese thoroughly all over the dough, all the way to the edges, to get that crispy, crunchy, cheese-y top. Then dollop the tomato sauce on top, (sorry, no photo for that step but check out the King Arthur website) and add the rest of the mozzarella cheese. I also sprinkled a little grated pecorino cheese over everything for a sharper tang. You could add other toppings if you like as well, but don’t get too carried away or you’ll weigh down the dough too much.

When you remove it from the oven, you won’t be able to resist digging into it right away. It pulls away from the pan easily, and you could even slide it out of the pan onto a plate or board for slicing.

Or not. We couldn’t wait to dig in, so we sliced it right in the pan.

We could have eaten the whole pie by ourselves, but used a bit of restraint and saved half for another night. It could serve four for dinner, with a salad or soup on the side. Or it would make a great appetizer, sliced into smaller pieces and served with some drinks before dinner. It may even have you forgetting all about that Neapolitan pizza you thought was your favorite!

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Crispy Cheesy Pan Pizza
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 cups (240g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon instant yeast or active dry yeast
  • ¾ cup (170g) lukewarm water (I had to use almost ¼ cup more water but it depends on the humidity/dryness of the day)
  • 1 tablespoon (13g) olive oil + 1½ tablespoons (18g) olive oil for the pan
  • TOPPING:
  • 6 ounces (170g) mozzarella, grated (about 1¼ cups, loosely packed)*
  • ⅓ to ½ cup (74g to 113g) tomato sauce or pizza sauce, homemade or store-bought
  • freshly grated hard cheese and fresh herbs for sprinkling on top after baking, optional*
Instructions
  1. Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess.
  2. Place the flour, salt, yeast, water, and 1 tablespoon (13g) of the olive oil in the bowl of a stand mixer or other medium-large mixing bowl.
  3. Stir everything together to make a shaggy, sticky mass of dough with no dry patches of flour. This should take 30 to 45 seconds in a mixer using the beater paddle; or about 1 minute by hand, using a spoon or spatula. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to gather the dough into a rough ball; cover the bowl.
  4. After 5 minutes, uncover the bowl and reach a bowl scraper or your wet hand down between the side of the bowl and the dough, as though you were going to lift the dough out. Instead of lifting, stretch the bottom of the dough up and over its top.
  5. Repeat three more times, turning the bowl 90° each time.
  6. This process of four stretches, which takes the place of kneading, is called a fold.
  7. Re-cover the bowl, and after 5 minutes do another fold.
  8. Wait 5 minutes and repeat; then another 5 minutes, and do a fourth and final fold.
  9. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest, undisturbed, for 40 minutes.
  10. Then refrigerate it for a minimum of 12 hours, or up to 72 hours.
  11. It'll rise slowly as it chills, developing flavor; this long rise will also add flexibility to your schedule.
  12. About 3 hours before you want to serve your pizza, prepare your pan.
  13. Pour 1½ tablespoons (18g) olive oil into a well-seasoned cast iron skillet that’s 10” to 11” diameter across the top, and about 9” across the bottom.
  14. Heavy, dark cast iron will give you a superb crust; but if you don’t have it, use another oven-safe heavy-bottomed skillet of similar size, or a 10” round cake pan or 9” square pan.
  15. Tilt the pan to spread the oil across the bottom, and use your fingers or a paper towel to spread some oil up the edges, as well.
  16. Transfer the dough to the pan and turn it once to coat both sides with the oil.
  17. After coating the dough in oil, press the dough to the edges of the pan, dimpling it using the tips of your fingers in the process.
  18. The dough may start to resist and shrink back; that’s OK, just cover it and let it rest for about 15 minutes, then repeat the dimpling/pressing.
  19. At this point the dough should reach the edges of the pan; if it doesn’t, give it one more 15-minute rest before dimpling/pressing a third and final time.
  20. Cover the crust and let it rise for 2 hours at room temperature.
  21. The fully risen dough will look soft and pillowy and will jiggle when you gently shake the pan.
  22. About 30 minutes before baking, place one rack at the bottom of the oven and one toward the top (about 4" to 5" from the top heating element).
  23. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  24. When you’re ready to bake the pizza, sprinkle about three-quarters of the mozzarella (a scant 1 cup) evenly over the crust.
  25. Cover the entire crust, no bare dough showing; this will yield caramelized edges.
  26. Dollop small spoonfuls of the sauce over the cheese; laying the cheese down first like this will prevent the sauce from seeping into the crust and making it soggy.
  27. Sprinkle on the remaining mozzarella.
  28. Bake the pizza on the bottom rack of the oven for 18 to 20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the bottom and edges of the crust are a rich golden brown (use a spatula to check the bottom).
  29. If the bottom is brown but the top still seems pale, transfer the pizza to the top rack and bake for 2 to 4 minutes longer.
  30. On the other hand, if the top seems fine but the bottom's not browned to your liking, leave the pizza on the bottom rack for another 2 to 4 minutes.
  31. Home ovens can vary a lot, so use the visual cues and your own preferences to gauge when you’ve achieved the perfect bake.
  32. Remove the pizza from the oven and place the pan on a heatproof surface.
  33. Carefully run a table knife or spatula between the edge of the pizza and side of the pan to prevent the cheese from sticking as it cools.
  34. Let the pizza cool very briefly; as soon as you feel comfortable doing so, carefully transfer it from the pan to a cooling rack or cutting surface. This will prevent the crust from becoming soggy.
  35. Serve the pizza anywhere from medium-hot to warm. Kitchen shears or a large pair of household scissors are both good tools for cutting this thick pizza into wedges.
 

Black Forest Cake with Birchbark Decoration

I confess. I went off my diet to enjoy two — no, make that three —  slices of this cake. And there’s still a quarter of the cake left. I’ve made it twice now — once for Christmas, when we had a big crowd that consumed all of it. And I made it again last week, when it was just the two of us. But don’t judge – I sliced off a quarter of this cake and took it to my 90+ year-old neighbors to help them celebrate Valentine’s Day. Studded with cherries and hugged by a white chocolate birch bark, this cake would also be perfect to celebrate the upcoming birthday of George Washington – the first president of the U.S.A. who legend says chopped down a cherry tree as a young boy.  You don’t have to embellish it with the chocolate birch bark if you want to make it easy on yourself. Just serve it with the whipped cream frosting and everyone will love it just the same. The cake recipe is from “Alice’s Tea Cup” cookbook, but it’s practically the same as the Hershey’s recipe I’ve been using for decades. Alice’s Tea Cup recipe calls for 1/4 cup sour cream, and I didn’t have it on hand, so substituted plain Greek yogurt instead. The cake is very forgiving and even without the sour cream or yogurt, it’s a delicious cake with a beautiful crumb.

Just a word of caution before baking however. The first time I made this, I put all three cake pans in the oven at once — not a good idea since they came out lopsided. The next time, I baked each cake layer one at a time and it was much more even. When you’re assembling the cake, you could eliminate the liqueur soaking each layer if you’re serving it to young children. But in my opinion, the liqueur adds so much flavor and it’s dispersed enough even for children to handle. I used about 1/2 cup of Cherry Marnier for the three layers, but next time, I’ll increase it to 3/4 cup. If you don’t have Cherry Marnier (I finally finished the bottle I’ve had for more than 40 years), substitute with kirsch or brandy.

The first time I made this, I used amarena cherries from Italy (my favorite), but they are a bit expensive to use in such quantity. This time I bought some jarred pitted cherries that were just fine. After you’ve soaked the layer in liqueur, spread the whipped cream in abundance and dot it with the cherries. Repeat with the second layer, then top with the third layer.

Smear whipped cream all over the sides and top. If you plan to decorate with the white chocolate birch bark, (and I do encourage you to do so. It makes quite a statement.) the perimeter doesn’t have to be perfect since it will be completely covered. Just make sure you have enough whipped cream to help the chocolate pieces adhere.

Making the birch bark is simple. First use a paint brush to “paint” melted dark chocolate marks across a piece of parchment paper. The area you cover in chocolate should be as tall as the finished cake with all the layers and frosting, and slightly wider than the circumference of the cake. After you’ve made the dark chocolate marks, let the chocolate harden. Then melt the white chocolate and let it cool before spreading over the dark chocolate with an offset spatula (I dripped some over the dark chocolate first before spreading with the spatula). This part can be tricky if the temperature isn’t just right. If you spread the white chocolate while it’s warm, or worse yet, while it’s hot, it will melt the dark chocolate and smear it. A little smearing is fine, but you don’t want to lose the characteristic look of the birch bark. If you wait until it’s too cold, the white chocolate will harden and you’ll have a hard time spreading it. I got the idea from “The Cake Girls” – and you might want to check out these directions before trying.

Let the white chocolate bark cool completely. Put it in the refrigerator if your room is too hot. Then slice or break off pieces to use for the decoration. Don’t worry if some of them break in two or three pieces. You can always patch some together on the cake.

I finished it off by piping some whipped cream rosettes on the top. But even that is not necessary if you don’t have the right equipment. Everyone will love it just the same.

Including my husband, who by now has shown remarkable (and uncharacteristic) self-restraint by eating only one slice a day of this cake. As for me, don’t ask. Because unlike George Washington, I may have to tell a lie.

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Black Forest Cake with Birchbark Decoration
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspooon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup hot brewed coffee
  • FOR THE FILLING AND FROSTING:
  • 2½ cups whipping cream
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • a jar of sour cherries in liquid (drained), or amarena cherries in syrup (use as many as you like. I didn't measure but I think I used about 1 cup total)
  • ¾ cup liqueur (Kirsch, or cherry marnier, or brandy)
  • FOR THE BIRCH BARK DECORATION:
  • 12 ounces white chocolate
  • a couple of ounces of dark or milk chocolate
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans.
  2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl.
  3. Add eggs (one at a time), sour cream, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes.
  4. Slowly drizzle in hot coffee, mixing until the batter is blended. Batter will be thin.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of cake comes out clean.
  7. Cool completely before removing from pan and frosting.
  8. FOR THE FILLING AND FROSTING:
  9. Whip the cream with the confectioner's sugar, adding a little at a time, until peaks form.
  10. Be careful not to whip too much or you'll end up with butter!
  11. Take one layer of the cakes and sprinkle generously with the syrup.
  12. Spread some of the whipped cream on top, and dot throughout with the cherries.
  13. Repeat with the second layer.
  14. Add the top layer and spread the remaining whipped cream on the top and sides.
  15. FOR THE BIRCH BARK DECORATION:
  16. Melt the dark chocolate, either at low heat in a double boiler or in the microwave.
  17. Using a paint brush, brush marks on a long piece of parchment paper, using a measurement that's slightly taller than the three cakes would be with the frosting, and a bit wider than the circumference of the cakes.
  18. Let the dark chocolate cool, then melt the white chocolate, being careful not to overheat, or will "seize" on you. If this happens, try adding more white chocolate, off the heat, and stir vigorously.
  19. Alternately, add a small amount of boiling water, one teaspoon at a time, stirring into the white chocolate.
  20. Let the white chocolate cool, then spread over the dark chocolate.
  21. This can be tricky because if you spread it while it's still warm, it will melt the dark chocolate and you'll lose the characteristic marks of the birch tree. But if you let it cool too much, it will harden and be difficult to spread.
  22. Let the white chocolate cool completely (I put mine in the refrigerator), then cut large chunks of it, and press them against the sides of the cake.
  23. If some of the pieces break off, just patch them by pressing into the sides of the cake.
 

Barley, Pomegranate and Orange Salad

While searching for a recipe to serve at my recent book group dinner, where the book was set in Israel, I naturally thought of  Yotam Ottolenghi, the pre-eminent Israeli chef whose cookbooks (and restaurants in London) are a treasure trove of Middle Eastern cooking.  I was surprised to find a salad using bulgur, since I associated the grain mostly with soups. Since pomegranates are a favorite of mine, the recipe was calling my name. Although not included in Ottolenghi’s recipe, I felt the urge to add the oranges — both blood oranges and cara cara oranges — since they were in season and added more color and flavor. The celery leaves are crucial in this recipe, and unfortunately most celery in supermarkets has scant leaves. If you’re lucky enough to find a locally grown bunch of celery, you’ll more likely to find leaves on the ends of the stalks. But even with the supermarket celery, I managed to pluck enough leaves to add to the recipe. This salad is delicious even several days after making it, so keep it in mind for a do-ahead recipe to take to a party.

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Barley Salad
 
Recipe adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's book "Plenty"
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 6 celery stalks (leaves picked and reserved), cut into dice
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 2 small garlic cloves, crushed
  • ⅔ teaspoon ground allspice
  • salt, black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons chopped dill
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • ½ cup pomegranate seeds
  • sections from 2 oranges (I used one cara cara and one blood orange)
Instructions
  1. Cook the barley according to package directions.
  2. Usually, it is simply placed in a pot and covered with water, then boiled for about 30 minutes.
  3. Drain the barley and transfer to a mixing bowl.
  4. Add the celery, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, allspice and salt and pepper.
  5. Stir, then leave to cool completely.
  6. When it's cool, add the herbs, celery leaves, pomegranate seeds and orange sections.
  7. Squeeze the juice from the remaining pulpy part of the orange that's left into the bowl and mix.
  8. Serve.
 

Halibut with oranges and salsa verde

In an effort to eat more low calorie foods and lose some weight before dress shopping for my daughter’s wedding, I have been trying to cut back on the pizza, pasta and pastries and focus on fish, fruit and flavors. (I am constantly sabotaging myself and Superbowl Sunday party foods didn’t help.) Since it’s citrus season, and I can’t seem to get enough of those luscious cara cara oranges and blood oranges, I combined them with a fish that I love to order when eating out — halibut. It’s always so expensive at the fish market, making it a relative bargain on a restaurant menu. But I couldn’t resist buying some when I saw it on sale last week, and a 3/4 pound piece was enough for the two of us. It provided the perfect foil for the oranges and the salsa verde. It couldn’t be much simpler to cook either. Just dry the fish thoroughly, sprinkle with salt and white pepper and place it skin side down in a hot skillet coated with oil. I didn’t use olive oil here since the heat is cranked way up, but rather chose canola oil. You could use peanut or safflower oil, which also have a high smoking point. The skin will start to crisp up, and eventually loosen from the pan. After about five minutes, lower the temperature of the burner.

You could flip the fish over and finish cooking on the other side, or even easier, just leave it skin side down and cover with a lid. It should finish cooking in just a couple of minutes.

While the fish is cooking (or before you even start cooking the fish), make the salsa verde, by finely mincing the parsley, dill, onion, capers and jalapeño. The jalapeño is optional, but I had some candied jalapeño in the pantry and I thought they would add a nice “zip” to the salsa.

Scatter the orange sections and salsa all around the fish.

Serve with some rice and vegetables for a colorful, healthy and easy to prepare dinner that’s fit for company or just you and your partner.

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Halibut with oranges and salsa verde
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • ¾ lb. - 1 lb. halibut
  • 2 tablespoons canola, safflower, peanut or other vegetable oil with a high smoking point
  • 2 oranges sectioned into supremes (I used one cara cara and one blood orange)
  • FOR THE SALSA VERDE:
  • ½ cup finely minced parsley
  • ½ cup finely minced dill
  • a couple of tablespoons finely minced red onion
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • a couple of slices of candied or fresh jalapeno (optional)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • salt, pepper
  • juice that remains in the oranges after sectioning
Instructions
  1. Let the halibut sit on the counter for about a half hour to let it reach a temperature closer to the room temperature.
  2. It will cook more evenly if it's not cold from the refrigerator.
  3. Dry the piece (or pieces) of fish, then sprinkle with salt and white pepper.
  4. Heat the oil in a skillet, then add the fish, skin side down.
  5. Cook at high heat until the skin starts to loosen from the pan.
  6. (Be patient - It will take five minutes or so and it will splatter a lot of oil on your stove).
  7. At this point, lower the heat slightly, and put a lid on the pan to finish cooking.
  8. It should take only a couple of minutes to finish cooking.
  9. While the fish is cooking, section the oranges and make the salsa verde.
  10. For the salsa, combine all the ingredients and stir with a fork.
  11. Remove the halibut from the pan, drizzle the salsa on the fish and around the sides, and scatter the orange sections all around.
 

Lusciously moist chocolate chip banana loaf

I know most of you are familiar with banana bread, but I refuse to call it that. It’s not bread folks. With butter, sour cream, eggs, sugar and more, it’s really cake. So why does everyone call it banana bread? And more irritating, why do I sometimes find it in the bread basket on restaurant tables, when what I really want with my steak dinner is a good baguette or crusty piece of Italian bread.

This recipe is from a website cooked Cookies and Cups  and it’s referred to as “The Best Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Recipe.” While it’s pretty darn delicious, another pet peeve of mine is when recipes are referred to as “the best” or “world’s best.” I mean, come on, have you really tasted every single recipe for that particular dish that’s out there? But enough kvetching. I guess that class decades ago at Columbia Journalism School with Judith Crist critiquing (no, savaging) my work taught me and my classmates how to write without hyperbole. Moreover, years of working in a newsroom with editors breathing down your neck also forced me to write “just the facts, ma’am” (except the editors weren’t so kind in their comments.) But I digress.

What I can honestly say though, is this is the best chocolate chip banana bread/cake/loaf I’ve ever eaten. My decades-old version of this recipe is getting the heave-ho to make room for this one. And you may feel the same way if you give this a try.

It’s simple to make using just a bowl and a wooden spoon to mix. It contains both butter and sour cream, and in addition to the mashed bananas, it uses thinly sliced bananas, making for one moist cake. Make sure your bananas are really ripe — dark brown and ready-for-the-trash can ripe. You’ll get the most intense flavor that way.

After lining the pan with some parchment paper and pouring in the batter, sprinkle with some additional chocolate chips. And use the mini chips, since the large ones have a tendency to sink to the bottom.

Bake it for at least an hour (it took 65 minutes for mine to cook completely), slice and enjoy. It’s especially good when warm, but the next day it’s even better since the flavors have had time to meld.

You could omit the chocolate chips and the walnuts too, if you like, and you’ll still be left with one delicious banana bread, er, loaf, or cake or whatever. It may even be the world’s best. But I doubt you’ll hear that from me.

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Chocolate chip banana loaf
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 3 medium bananas, divided
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1½ cups all purpose flour
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips (and more to sprinkle on top)
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Spray a 9×5 loaf pan with nonstick spray. Line the bottom and up the short sides with a strip of parchment paper. Spray again with nonstick spray.
  3. Set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl mash 2 of the bananas with a fork, leaving them slightly lumpy.
  5. Slice the remaining banana thinly, and set aside.
  6. In a large bowl stir together the butter and sugar.
  7. Mix in the eggs and vanilla and stir until smooth. Add the sour cream, mashed bananas, baking soda, and salt, and stir until blended.
  8. Next mix in the flour until incorporated.
  9. Fold in the chocolate chips, walnuts, and sliced banana.
  10. Pour batter into the prepared pan - sprinkle with a few more chocolate chips -- and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (mine took 65 minutes to completely cook)
  11. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, and then using the parchment paper as handles, carefully lift the banana bread out of the pan to cool on a wire rack.
 

Pot Roast with porcini mushrooms and onions

It all started with a bottle of wine — well, two to be exact. A good friend of my husband’s — who owns an extensive wine cellar — sent us a surprise gift of two bottles of Brunello di Montalcino. He knew we had been in Montalcino a couple of years ago, where we had enjoyed wines from the Caparzo vineyard, so he wanted to repay some hospitality with a bottle of the 2013 and the 1990 vintage. We couldn’t wait to crack open the older vintage first. But I knew I needed to accompany it with a meal worthy of this 30 year-old wine. I had some dried porcini mushrooms I had bought in Italy waiting to be used, so I decided to incorporate them into a rich pot roast.

Start by dusting the meat (mine was a chuck roast that weighed 2 1/2 pounds) with flour, salt and pepper, and browning it in olive oil. Then remove it from the pan.

Add the onions and sauté them in the oil that remains in the pan. They’ll add a sweetness and richness to the dish. While the onions were cooking, I soaked the porcini in water.

The onions reduced considerably and turned a golden color. Those browned bits on the bottom of the pan will add lots of flavor too, once the liquid is poured in and everything has a chance to blend together.

Place the browned meat back into the pan and add the liquids, plus the seasonings — bay leaf, herbs de Provence, salt and pepper.

Place a lid on the pot and put it in a preheated 350 degree oven. Let it cook for two hours, checking it every once in a while.

Remove the meat from the liquid. If you have time to let it cool, let it sit for a half hour. It’s not necessary, but it makes it easier to slice. If you want, you can place the platter in the microwave to reheat it, then add the hot porcini and onion sauce to ensure it’s piping hot when served.

Sprinkle with some minced parsley and serve more sauce on the side.

We drank the wine with our pot roast dinner, accompanied by sweet and sour cabbage, mashed potatoes and carrots. I think we did the 1990 vintage justice. Now onto the 2013!

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Pot Roast with porcini mushrooms and onions
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 2½-3 pound chuck roast, dusted with flour, salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1½ large onions, sliced (about 3 cups sliced onions)
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, crushed
  • ½ cup dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated in 1½ cups water for about ½ hour
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup red wine
  • a few fresh bay leaves (use dried if fresh unavailable)
  • 1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
  • salt, pepper
Instructions
  1. In a heavy Dutch oven, add the olive oil and bring to a medium to high heat.
  2. Dust some flour, salt and pepper on all sides of the chuck roast, shaking off any excess.
  3. Place the meat into the pan with the olive oil and brown all around.
  4. Remove the meat to a platter.
  5. Turn the heat lower and add the sliced onions, cooking them until they caramelize.
  6. Add the crushed garlic and cook for a minute or two, then return the meat to the pan.
  7. Add the red wine, beef broth, the mushrooms and the liquid from the mushrooms.
  8. Add the bay leaves, herbs de Provence, salt and pepper.
  9. Place a lid on the pan, then place it on the middle rack of a 350 degree preheated oven for two hours, checking every once in a while to make sure the meat is immersed in liquid.
  10. After removing the pan from the oven, gently take the meat out of the pan and onto a platter.
  11. This step is not necessary, but it makes for easier slicing, especially if the meat has rested at least a half hour.
  12. Reheat the sauce to make sure it's piping hot, then pour some of the porcinis and sauce over the meat and serve the rest of the sauce on the side.
  13. Sprinkle with a little minced parsley for garnish.
 

Pork Chops in Lemon Caper Sauce and Oven-Baked Polenta

While the calendar says the days are getting shorter, it’s still a long way until warm weather and eating dinner on the patio. With several months ahead of us when the threat of snow is in the air (and on the ground), comfort food sometimes is just the right thing. This dish, which I found in the New York Times, but is originally from Toni Tipton-Martin’s  “Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries of African American Cooking,” fits the bill perfectly for one of those stay-in types of days when the fire is roaring and that bottle of pinot noir pleads to be opened.

I accompanied it with polenta to sop up all that sauce (by the way, the recipe calls for four pork chops but I cooked just two and made the full sauce recipe). I’ve made polenta many times, both the old-fashioned way, stirring for 45 minutes and in the slow cooker. One of my cousins in Italy told me she makes it in the oven, where it practically requires no tending, so I thought I’d give it a try. It really works! And it was soft and creamy, just as I like it.

Broccoli Romano  — one of my favorite vegetables — was available in my supermarket, so I served that alongside the meat and polenta. I’m getting hungry again just looking at the pictures. I hope you give this a try.

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Pork Chops in Lemon Caper Sauce and Oven-Baked Polenta
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 4 bone-in pork chops (about 8 ounces each)
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 very small shallot, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 ½ cups chicken stock, homemade or low-sodium, if store-bought
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons juice
  • Hot sauce (optional)
  • FOR THE POLENTA:
  • 1¼ cups cornmeal (I use Anson Mills)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Dry the chops with paper towels, and season aggressively with salt, pepper and the thyme. Swirl the olive oil into a large skillet, and heat over medium until the oil begins to shimmer. Add chops, and cook until well browned on each side and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer chops to a plate, and cover to keep warm.
  2. Drain the fat from the skillet, then melt 2 tablespoons of butter in it over medium heat until sizzling. Add the shallot and garlic, and sauté until the aromatics soften, reducing the heat if necessary, about 1 minute. Sprinkle in the flour, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Whisk in the wine and chicken stock, raise heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by half, 7 to 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in the capers, parsley, lemon zest and juice and hot sauce to taste (if you’re using it), and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter until it’s melted and the sauce looks smooth. Nestle the pork chops into the sauce, and allow them to warm up for a couple of minutes, then serve, pouring sauce over each pork chop to taste. Garnish with more fresh parsley.
  4. FOR THE POLENTA:
  5. Add the cornmeal, water and milk and salt to a saucepan and whisk together. Place in a 350 degree oven uncovered, for one hour, stirring once every twenty minutes. If the polenta isn't thick enough after one hour, leave it in for another twenty minutes and test again. Remove from oven, add the butter and parmesan cheese and serve.
 

 

Pecan Sticky Buns

When I know I’m going to have overnight guests in the house, I like to prepare at least one special breakfast ahead of time, rather than leave my guests to fend for themselves with only a box of cereal and cold milk. Last year I made a polenta breakfast bake that was a big hit with everyone. This year, I finally decided to make pecan sticky buns. They’re a weakness of mine that I used to order occasionally at Panera’s but has now been taken off the menu. This recipe, from the blog, Dinner At The Zoo, is nearly identical, and makes enough for a crowd. I added some currants, which the original recipe did not call for. You could also add raisins if you like. Or leave them out completely. The recipe called for all twelve pieces to be baked together in a 9″ xy 13″ rectangular pan, but there didn’t seem to be room in the pan I had, so I placed two rolls in separate ceramic round ramekins. I really liked them better in the individual ramekins since the syrupy topping had more room to ooze down the sides as in the top photo. If I had twelve ramekins, I’d bake them all this way. But they were pretty terrific in the rectangular pan too.

The dough is a very supple dough, enriched with eggs and butter, and requiring two rises. Here it is, doubled in size, after the first rise.

Next, you roll out the dough to a rectangle that’s 12″ by 18″ and spread the butter/cinnamin/currants filling over the dough. Then roll up the dough tightly, starting from the long side, cut it into twelve pieces and place each piece on top of the pecan sticky topping.

 The rolls will puff up more during the second rise,  after you’ve spread the filling and rolled them up. Then they get baked in the oven where they’ll increase in size even more. At this stage, I let them cool, and covered them with aluminum foil to place in the freezer. I removed them from the freezer the night before I wanted to serve them, and warmed them at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes before serving.

Flip them over onto a platter, or just a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, then tear apart, or slice to serve.

Having been sick all through Christmas (and still not recovered), I was grateful to be able to pull this out from the freezer and serve while we were opening our gifts.

It’s an indulgence to be sure, but oh so worth it for the holiday or a special occasion. You can start on your diets in the new year.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or whatever holiday you celebrate.

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Pecan Sticky Buns
 
Author:
Serves: 12 rolls
Ingredients
  • FOR THE DOUGH:
  • 1 packet active dry yeast ¼ ounce
  • ¾ cup warm water approximately 100 degrees F
  • ¾ cup warm milk approximately 100 degrees F
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup butter melted
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 5-5½ cups all purpose flour
  • cooking spray
  • FOR THE FILLING:
  • ½ cup butter softened
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  • 2½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ cup currants or raisins
  • FOR THE TOPPING:
  • 2 cups pecans coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup butter
  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
Instructions
  1. FOR THE DOUGH:
  2. Place the water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
  3. Add the packet of yeast and let the yeast dissolve in the water for 1 minute.
  4. Add the milk, sugar, butter, salt, eggs and 5 cups of flour to the bowl.
  5. Beat for 2-3 minutes or until a smooth dough forms.
  6. If the dough is sticky, add more flour, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the desired consistency is reached.
  7. Switch to the dough hook, and knead the dough for 3-4 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
  8. Place the dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it sit for one hour, or until doubled in size.
  9. FOR THE FILLING:
  10. Place the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Stir until well combined.
  11. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a 18"x12" rectangle.
  12. Spread the filling mixture evenly all over the dough.
  13. Starting with the long end of the dough, roll it up tightly, jelly roll style. Pinch the seams to seal the end of the roll.
  14. Cut the roll into 12 equal slices.
  15. FOR THE TOPPING:
  16. Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat.
  17. Add the brown sugar, heavy cream, honey and salt, then bring to a boil.
  18. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 2-3 minutes until glaze is smooth and shiny.
  19. Pour ⅔ of the topping mixture into the bottom of a 9"x13" pan that's been coated in cooking spray. Reserve the rest of the topping for later use.
  20. Sprinkle the pecans over the sugar mixture, then place the rolls on top.
  21. Cover and let the rolls rise until they've doubled, this should take about one hour.
  22. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  23. Bake the rolls for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.
  24. Let the rolls sit for 5 minutes, then invert the pan onto a serving tray.
  25. Warm the reserved topping and drizzle it over the top, then serve.
 

Stuffed Pull-Apart Christmas Tree Bread Knots

Whether it’s a good French baguette or hefty Italian bastone, I love a good loaf of bread, and don’t need any extra incentives to eat more. But this one is irresistible and can weaken my resolve to consume fewer carbs. It’s an easy-to-make stuffed bread treat that’s a kissin’ cousin to pizza. Your family and friends will love it (unless they’re gluten intolerant). With a glass of wine and a side salad, it was dinner for me and my husband last night. We could have eaten the whole thing by ourselves, but we stopped before we became truly gluttinous. You don’t have to make it in a Christmas tree shape, but that certainly does make it festive for the holidays. You could simply make it in a circle or wreath shape, or in a square format. I started out with frozen pizza dough – about a one pound package. Of course, you can make your own dough, if you’ve got the time and inclination. But there’s enough going on at this time of year, that I take short cuts when I can find them.

Start out by rolling or stretching the dough to a rectangle that’s about 6 inches by 16 inches. Have cooked sausage (1 large piece of Italian sausage, with the casings removed — crumbled and cooked in olive oil.) and some shredded mozzarella cheese nearby. Cut the dough into 16 pieces. You’ll need 15 for the actual tree, and one for the stump.

Press the piece of dough into a square shape and into the center of each piece of dough, place a small bit of the sausage and some of the cheese. Pinch the ends together firmly to seal. Make sure none of the filling is visible or it will leak onto the baking sheet.

Arrange the balls into a Christmas tree shape, pinched ends underneath, with the stump (which you have also filled with cheese and sausage) at the bottom.

Brush with beaten egg and bake in the oven. As soon as it comes out of the oven, brush with the garlic-infused olive oil, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, parsley and bits of tomato to decorate. Serve immediately.

Bet you can’t eat just one!

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Stuffed Pull-Apart Bread Knots
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 uncooked pizza dough (about 1 pound)
  • mozzarella cheese, about 2 cups shredded, or 1 large ball
  • 1 cup cooked Italian sausage, crumbled and cooled
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ⅛ cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • a few sprigs of parsley, minced
  • marinara sauce, optional
Instructions
  1. Roll out the pizza dough into a rectangle, about 6 inches by 16 inches long.
  2. Cut the rectangle in half lengthwise, then cut each rectangle into 8 pieces.
  3. Flatten out each piece of dough into a square shape, then holding a piece of dough in your hand, stretch it a bit to accommodate a piece of sausage and a bit of the mozzarella cheese.
  4. Pinch the dough together, enveloping the filling inside the dough, shaping it into a ball.
  5. Place on a silicon baking mat, parchment paper or on a greased cookie sheet.
  6. If you're making a tree shape, you'll need 15 pieces, plus another one for the stump.
  7. If you're making a circle shape, make as many as will fit on your cookie sheet.
  8. After filling the dough, place on the Silpat mat, with the pinched side facing the baking sheet, making sure the dough balls touch each other slightly.
  9. Beat the egg and brush a little of the beaten egg over the dough balls.
  10. Bake in a preheated 15 to 20 minutes or until golden.
  11. While the dough is cooking, gently saute the garlic cloves in the olive oil.
  12. Drain the garlic, retaining the oil.
  13. Brush the oil over the dough, and sprinkle with the grated parmesan cheese and parsley.
  14. Decorate with bits of chopped tomato or roasted peppers.
  15. Serve immediately, with marinara sauce, if desired.
 

Torta Dolce di Ricotta with cranberry topping

Are you wondering what to serve for dessert during the holidays? This delicious and beautiful ricotta cheesecake would be perfect on your table, with its festive cranberry topping.

The recipe is from a wonderful cookbook called “Feast of the Seven Fishes” by Daniel Paterna. While the book contains many seafood recipes and is an ode to the Brooklyn neighborhood where Paterna was raised, this showstopper of a cheesecake really captured my attention. It’s shown without any topping in the book, and you could surely enjoy this cake even without any embellishment. Containing ricotta, rather than cream cheese, it’s not at all heavy and it’s easy to make too.

One tip — I didn’t roll out the crust with a rolling pin as the recipe says. I didn’t even refrigerate it for the recommended half hour. Using my hands, I pressed it into a disk over a piece of parchment paper, then kept pushing with my palm and fingers until it reached 14 inches in diameter.

I then lifted the parchment and pressed it into the greased pan. Don’t worry if some breaks off. It’s easily patched together.

Here’s what the cake looks like as I pulled it from the oven. It puffs up a bit from the eggs, but will sink a bit after removal from the oven.

The little recess on top is a perfect nest for the topping, if you choose to add one. I love cranberries and typically have leftover cranberries after Thanksgiving, but you could serve this plain and simply dusted with confectioner’s sugar, or use other fruit — raspberries, strawberries or whatever you like — to crown this beauty. Buone feste!

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Torta Dolce di Ricotta with cranberry topping
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • CRUST:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra to dust board and pan
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened, plus extra to grease the pan
  • 2 large eggs
  • FILLING:
  • 8 large eggs
  • 3 pounds ricotta cheese, drained of excess water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • juice of 1 orange
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • FOR THE CRANBERRY TOPPING:
  • 1 bag of fresh cranberries
  • ¾ cup water
  • ¾ sugar
  • zest of one orange
  • ¼ freshly squeezed orange juice
Instructions
  1. FOR THE CRANBERRY TOPPING:
  2. Place the cranberries, water, sugar, orange juice and orange zest in a pan.
  3. Turn the heat to high and cook until the cranberries are popping and release their juices.
  4. After about five minutes, remove from heat and refrigerate for a couple of hours, to thicken.
  5. FOR THE RICOTTA TORTA:
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour a 10-inch springform pan, then set aside.
  7. To make the crust, place the flour, sugar and zest on a pastry board or clean, dry flat surface.
  8. Mix thoroughly to combine.
  9. Add the butter and work it into the dry ingredients.
  10. Gather the mixture into a mound and create a well in the center.
  11. Add the eggs, beating with a fork and grabbing the dry mixture until the dough begins to form.
  12. Shape into a disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  13. Meanwhile, make the filling by combining the eggs, ricotta cheese, vanilla, sugar, orange zest, orange juice, lemon juice in a large mixing bowl.
  14. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
  15. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place on a large board or clean, dry flat surface, lightly dusted with flour.
  16. Using a floured rolling pin (I just used my fingers and palms of my hand and pressed it onto a piece of parchment paper) roll the dough out into a large circle, approximately 14 inches in diameter.
  17. Now roll the dough over the rolling pin and carefully unwind it over the baking pan, gently easing it to fit evenly in the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
  18. (I lifted up the parchment paper and placed the dough into the pan. Don't worry if some of it breaks. You can easily patch it.)
  19. Pour or spoon the filling mixture into the crust, leaving about ¼ inch below the rim of the pan.
  20. Place the pan in a preheated oven and bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes, until the center is slighy firm.
  21. Cool for at least 2 hours.
  22. Spread the cranberry topping over the cake.
  23. Carefully run a knife or spatula around the sides of the pan to remove it, so that no crust is pulled away when you release the spring of the pan.