Monday, August 31, 2009

The very best brownies in the world

This is another of my mother, RuthAnn Lavin's, fabulous recipes. I know that you can open a packaged mix and have brownies in about 30 minutes, but you can not have these brownies that fast. And these are worth waiting for!

My sweetheart doesn't like walnuts, so I usually leave the nuts out when making them for the family. But I like them best with the nuts included :-)

The Very Best Brownies in the World

4 eggs
2 c sugar
1/4 t salt

4 oz (4 squares) of unsweetened chocolate
1/2 c butter

1 t vanilla
1 c flour
1 c chopped nuts (optional)

Beat the eggs, sugar, and salt together in a large mixing bowl until thick and smooth. Melt the chocolate and butter together, either in a double boiler or gently in a microwave. Let the mixture cool and stir carefully into the eggs, slowly, beating all the time so the eggs don't curdle. Stir in the vanilla and flour until just combined. Fold in the nuts.

Scrape into a 9 x 13 inch pan and bake at 325 for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool and cut.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Many Americans have yet to try plantains, mostly because we don't instinctively know quite what to do with them. They look like large bananas, but they're hard to peel. And they're really starchy, so yuck! when you try to eat them raw.

Plantains need to be cooked to soften them up a bit and to bring out the delicious sweet flavor. Wait until the skins are starting to turn and they'll peel much more easily: simply slit the skin lengthwise and roll them off. Slice up the peeled fruit, and fry them up in some olive or canola oil. Any number of spices can be added if desired: ginger, cinnamon, chilies, curries, etc.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cranberry - almond cornbread

Here's an amazing variation on basic cornbread, especially good in the fall. Follow the recipe for whole-kernel cornbread, but replace the corn and milk with 1 c of milk and 1/2 c each of sliced almonds and dried cranberries. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes. Yum!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Whole-kernel corn bread

I've experimented with a lot of cornbread recipes, and this is the one that my family likes the best. It's moist without being wet and has kernels of corn throughout it for terrific texture.

Whole-Kernel Corn Bread

1 c flour
2/3 c cornmeal
1/3 c whole wheat flour
2 T sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/4 t ground red pepper

1 15 oz can of whole corn
Liquid from corn plus milk to equal 1 c
1 egg
3 T oil

Butter or oil a cast iron skillet and heat it in the oven at 425 while you mix up the rest of the ingredients. Stir the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the wet ingredients and mix together. Pour into the hot skillet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Book review: Don’t Fill Up On the Antipasto

This book is totally adorable! OK, I’ll admit that I’ve been a huge fan of Tony Danza’s, like forever, and if there were ever going to be a man other than Mike hanging around my kitchen, I’d want it to be Tony. And if that man were going to be cooking, unfortunately I wouldn’t want it to be Mike! (Love you, Honey!) Really, honest…my interest in Tony is merely culinary.

This is a sweet little cookbook that showcases the favorite Danza family recipes. Tony’s son Marc, and even his grandson Nicholas get into the act. So it’s part Danza family history, and lots of great recipes. Maybe reading this will get you inspired to put together a cookbook of your own for your family!

You’ll find that most of these recipes are not quick; rather, they are for the family that enjoys cooking together and likes to smell sauce simmering all day. Here’s a sample recipe from that book, that you can find at Amazon:

Sunday Sauce with Meatballs

2 cans (35 ounces each) plum tomatoes with basil

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 cup red wine

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup water

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips

Meatballs and Ribs:

1 pound ground sirloin or lean ground beef, pork, turkey, veal, chicken, or any combination

2 eggs

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup milk

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 pound pork spareribs, trimmed

In our family we use San Marzano plum tomatoes with basil. Strain the tomatoes in a colander to extract the juice, breaking the tomatoes apart with your hands. Discard the pulp. (This eliminates the bitter part of the tomato.)

Next make the meatballs. Put the ground meat in a mixing bowl. Beat the eggs and add them to the meat along with 6 cloves garlic, the bread crumbs, salt, pepper, Parmesan, and milk. Mix this all together with your hands. Wet your hands with water and continue to wet them as you pinch meat from the bowl and roll into 2-inch balls. Roll the balls in the flour.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add 3 cloves chopped garlic and sauté until golden brown. Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the meatballs and sauté over medium-high heat, turning them, until they are brown all over. As soon as you can pick them up with a fork, they are ready. You don’t want them to be well done. (If the meatball slides off the fork when you pick it up, it needs to cook a little longer.)

Cut the ribs apart. Sauté them in the hot oil until very brown and remove. Return the garlic to the oil and add the tomato paste to the pan. Cook, stirring, over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Back to the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add 4 cloves garlic, the onion, red and black pepper and sauté until the onion is soft and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the juiced tomatoes, red wine, Parmesan, and salt. Add the tomato paste and the water and stir together over medium heat. Add the meatballs and spareribs. Bring to an easy boil, then simmer over low heat for 2 hours.

Add the basil and simmer for 15 minutes more. The spareribs should be very tender, falling off the bone, and the meatballs should float in the sauce.

Serves 4 to 6
Copyright © 2008 by Marc Anthony Productions, Inc.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tomato sandwich on a baguette…panini

Depending upon how large a section you slice for each portion, this sandwich can be for lunch or for dinner. We had it recently, on a surprisingly cold rainy summer evening. I heated them, but you can serve them warm or cool. Wrap them in foil to heat in the oven or on the grill and they become known as panini!

Tomato Sandwich on a Baguette

Baguettes, sliced lengthwise
Olive oil
Ripe tomatoes
Basil leaves
Soft mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper

Drizzle each half of the bread with olive oil. Layer on tomato slices, basil leaves, and cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap each piece in some foil and either let it age for an hour on the counter or pop it in the oven or grill at 350 for 10 to 12 minutes.

Image: Stock.xchng

Friday, August 21, 2009

Jerk chicken sauce

Jerk sauce is a Jamaican delight, but not for the faint of heart! This sauce is HOT!!

That said, you can vary this recipe to make it milder or hotter to suit your own family. When my kids were little, Nate could eat the hottest salsa without a tear, but Dani always had stronger taste buds and less tolerance for heat. Now that she’s older, she tells me she’s trained herself to tolerate stronger flavors…so bring it on, Mom!

The basis of jerk sauce is allspice, thyme, and chile peppers. The traditional Jamaican chili pepper is the Scotch Bonnet, which also happens to be one of the hottest chilies on the planet! I usually can’t find them locally, so I settle for chipotle or jalapeno peppers. As for the thyme, it’s nice if you can get fresh, but dried will do it. Same for the allspice: you can use the berries or the powdered dry allspice, whichever is available. There are unlimited variations on this sauce, and it seems that each cook comes up with their own. Many other spices, herbs, and veggies can be added to the mix, but here’s one of my favorites:

Jerk Sauce for Chicken

1/4 c prepared mustard
1/4 c lime juice (about 2 limes)
3 T minced fresh chili pepper of your choice
2 T fresh thyme or 2 t dried
1 T minced garlic
1 T ground cumin or cumin seeds
2 t powdered allspice
Salt and pepper

Crush and mush all the herbs and garlic. Mix together all ingredients and use to coat your chicken. Let the coating dry on the pieces before grilling or oven-roasting. The idea is to get a good crunchy hot crust on the outside of the chicken and to have the meat be tender, juicy, and sweet. To achieve that, cook long and low temp. I use a 350 oven for 45 - 50 minutes rather than a higher faster oven, or if you’re going to grill it, keep the temp medium.

You can use this sauce on pork or firm-fleshed fish as well :-)

Image: Wikimedia: Secretlondon

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Chicken skewers and pineapple sauce

Certain tastes just go together so well, whether you’re making a casserole, a pizza, or (at this time of year), barbecue skewers! I love chicken and pineapple together, and if you throw in a little bit of Canadian bacon and plantains, I’m really happy. But if you serve it with pineapple sauce, I’m in heaven :-)

Here’s what we skewered up the other night that cooked beautifully in just under thirty minutes:

Chicken Skewers with Pineapple Sauce

8 boneless skinless chicken thighs, each cut into 4 chunks
Fresh pineapple, 1/2 cut into chunks
2 plantains, sliced into thick chunks
4 thick slices of Canadian bacon
Other 1/2 of the fresh pineapple
2 T canola oil
2 T lime juice

Alternate your chunks of chicken, pineapple, plantain, and Canadian bacon on the skewers. Grill for about 25 minutes over a medium heat grill, turning frequently.

Place the other half of the fresh pineapple in a food processor or blender and whirl until crushed well. Add the lime juice, oil, and oregano to taste (fresh is best!) and stir. Serve as a sauce with your skewers.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shrimp salad with tarragon and parsley sauce

A creamy and delicious sauce that can be made ahead of time! I like this best either cold or at room temperature rather than warm, so I pre-cook the pasta and mix it with the sauce, and keep it in the fridge for the day. When it’s dinnertime, I spread out some mixed greens on the plate, mix the shrimp into the pasta, and serve it up!

It’s a very refreshing and light dish for hot days, and would also make an excellent side dish in smaller portions for a fancier meal. I added Italian herb bread that I made over the weekend, and the meal was all set!

Shrimp Salad with Tarragon & Parsley Sauce

1 lb pasta (I used rotini)
1 lb cooked jumbo shrimp

1/2 c sour cream (low fat is fine)
1/2 c low fat yogurt
1/2 c flat leaf parsley, chopped
2-3 T tarragon, chopped
2 T capers
1 T lime juice
1 T olive oil
Salt and pepper

Cook up the pasta. Mix sour cream through olive oil together in a large bowl. Add the drained, cooled pasta and the pre-cooked shrimp. Serve on a bed of greens with some good crusty bread.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cold seafood salad for hot nights

Even mid to late August can have some brutally hot days here in New England. When that heat extends into evening, here’s a wonderfully refreshing salad meal. You can whirl the dressing together, toss it with the seafood, and serve it all over a bed of greens for a light but tasty supper!

Cold Seafood Salad

1 lb scallops
1 lb shrimp
3/4 c olive oil
3/4 c flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 c chives, chopped
1 T rosemary leaves, chopped
1/2 t salt

2 lemons

Boil the shrimp and scallops (if uncooked) for just 2 minutes or so until they are tender. Plunge them into cold water to stop cooking, drain and refrigerate until time to serve.

Place olive oil through salt into a food processor and whirl until smooth. Just before serving, toss the seafood with the dressing. Place on a bed of greens with other salad veggies if desired, and garnish with lemon.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Raspberry Corn Muffins

These are best if you can make them with fresh raspberries, bursting with summer flavor, but frozen berries can be used if necessary! You can have these mixed, baked, and ready to eat in thirty minutes easily. They are hearty enough to enjoy with dinner, sweet enough to have for dessert…your choice! This recipe makes 12 delicious muffins.

Raspberry Corn Muffins

2 eggs
1 c milk
1 t vanilla
4 T melted butter or canola oil

1-1/2 c flour
3/4 c cornmeal
3/4 c sugar (less if you’d like)
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt

1-1/2 c fresh raspberries

Blend the eggs through butter in a small bowl. Mix the flour through the salt in a large bowl. Remove about 2 T of the flour mix and use it to flour the raspberries. Make a well in the flour and pour in the egg mixture. Mix until just moistened.

Fill each muffin cup about 1/3 full and add raspberries to each. Fill another 1/3. Bake at 400 for about 17 - 18 minutes.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Peach salad

This is a deliciously cool way to use peaches when they are at the height of their sweet and juicy goodness! I like this salad with white peaches, but any variety will work well. The peach and corn mixture can be served on a bed of greens if you’d like, or spooned into small bowls.

Peach Salad

4 peaches, blanched and skinned
1 c whole corn kernels
1 t olive oil
1/2 lime, grated zest and juice
Salt and pepper
1/2 c almonds, sliced

Boil the peaches for about 2 minutes and immediately plunge them into cold water. Strip off the skins and shop them into chunks. Mix the peaches with the corn through the salt and pepper. Serve and top with almonds.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summertime pizza on the grill

How about a Nectarine and Prosciutto Pizza, from the July/August 2008 issue of Eating Well Magazine? Doesn’t that sound amazing? I really like prosciutto with peaches too, so feel free to substitute. For more variations and oven-baking directions, visit the link above.

Nectarine and Prosciutto Pizza

3/4 cup shredded provolone cheese
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
Yellow cornmeal for dusting
1 pound Easy Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough or other prepared dough
3 tablespoons prepared basil pesto
1/2 cup thinly sliced prosciutto (about 2 ounces)
1 large ripe nectarine or peach or 2 fresh apricots, pitted and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat grill to low. (For charcoal grilling or an oven variation, see below.)
2. Mix provolone and blue cheese in a medium bowl; set aside.
3. Sprinkle cornmeal onto a pizza peel or large baking sheet. Roll out the dough (see To Roll Out Pizza Dough, below) and transfer it to the prepared peel or baking sheet, making sure the underside of the dough is completely coated with cornmeal.
4. Slide the crust onto the grill rack; close the lid. Cook until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.
5. Using a large spatula, flip the crust. Spread pesto on the crust, leaving a 1-inch border. Quickly sprinkle three-fourths of the cheese mixture on top. Top with prosciutto slices, fruit and the remaining cheese.
6. Close the lid again and grill until the cheese has melted and the bottom of the crust has browned, about 8 minutes.
7. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over the pizza and season with pepper just before slicing and serving.

Time to make: 35 minutes

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

White bean puree

You can think of this as Italian hummus! :-)

White bean puree makes a tasty snack on crackers, and is also a great spread to add to the table when you’re making bruschetta. I served this a couple of days after we returned from Italy, when we were already missing the food! Grill up some slices of Italian bread with olive oil, and serve with diced tomatoes mixed with garlic and fresh basil. Serve this puree as well, and you’ve got a great light meal or snack!

White Bean Puree

2 cloves of garlic
15 to 16 oz can of small white beans
Fresh rosemary or sage (or both), chopped
2 T oil
Salt and pepper

In a food processor, chop and process the garlic until diced well. Process the beans until smooth, and then stir in the herbs, oil, and spices. Chill if desired.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cucumber dill soup…no cook for hot nights!

There are times when you just can’t even bring yourself to cook something in the morning so that you can eat it cold at night. It’s just too darned hot! This soup is for those times. It is a perfect accompaniment to sandwiches for supper, and easily clocks in at under thirty minutes to make :-)

Cucumber-dill soup

2 c cucumber, chopped seeded peeled
1/4 c green onions, sliced
2 T fresh dill (or 2 t dried)
1 t sugar
16 oz plain yogurt (low fat is fine)
Salt and pepper to taste (you might want to use white pepper if you have it)
Sour cream and extra dill (optional)

Process everything together until smooth. Top each bowl with a little dollop of sour cream and a sprig of dill if you want.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pesto potato salad

This is a completely scrumptious potato salad without a drop of mayo! I like to serve it slightly warm or at least at room temperature rather than cold…sometimes the olive oil gets congealed and unappealing when you refrigerate it.

If you’d like to make your own pesto, here’s my basic recipe for basil pesto, but feel free to use a good quality store-bought pesto to save time. This recipe cooks up in well under thirty minutes.

Pesto Potato Salad

3 T olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1-1/2 lbs very small red potatoes
2 bell peppers, chopped (I like to use red, orange, yellow, or a combination)
1/2 c pesto
Salt and pepper

Place the olive oil and garlic into a covered casserole dish and microwave it for about two minutes. Chop each potato into quarters and add them to the casserole dish. Microwave for about 8 to 10 minutes, checking from time to time. You don’t want them overcooked. Pop them into the fridge to cool down slightly while you chop the peppers. Stir the peppers and pesto together with the potatoes; add salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Grilled curried shrimp with mint-lime sauce

Shrimp on the barbie is one of the true summertime pleasures that just can’t be beat! I bought jumbo shrimp for this dish, and originally planned to skewer them, but at the last minute Mike and I decided to just do them in our grill pan instead. It’s a “frying pan” with holes cut in the bottom. Since our shrimp were pre-cooked when I bought them, they only took a few minutes. We wrapped a few ears of corn in foil and put them on first. After about 8 minutes, the shrimp went on, and 4 minutes later, supper was served. I added a green salad and the sauce for the shrimp, and that was it. Even with the prep time, this was easily less than a thirty minute meal.

Not everyone will think the sauce is necessary (or even like it)! The beauty of this recipe is that each diner at your table can take or leave the sauce as they choose. I love the sauce, and I think that it adds a lot to the flavor. Try it both ways and see what you like :-)

Grilled Curried Shrimp with Mint-Lime Sauce

1 lb jumbo shrimp
2-3 T sesame oil
2-3 T curry powder or paste
Salt and pepper

1 c plain yogurt
1/4 c fresh mint leaves, chopped
Juice and zest of a lime

Mix the shrimp with the oil and spices in a bowl. Skewer them or pour them out into a grilling pan. Cook for about 4 minutes on the grill.

Mix the yogurt, mint, and lime together and serve on the side as a dipping sauce.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

More experiments with gelato

OK, we really do like the egg-based gelato recipe that I posted about, but a week or so later I ran into a cornstarch-based recipe. Now in times past I would have avoided that, but since we’ve removed all the most of the processed foods from our diet, I don’t worry as much about being overly corn-saturated anymore.

So we tried the new recipe, and we liked it, especially because it was chocolate, but we found it a bit gummy in texture. What I decided to do was to experiment with combining the recipes, using fewer eggs and less cornstarch. We finally hit the combo that we all liked. It’s a bit more fiddley than the other recipe, because of the chocolate, but we thought it was worth it! Plus, with this recipe we didn’t end up having to use any cream at all…even 1% milk worked fine.

So here it is!

Chocolate Gelato

3 c milk (whole, 2%, or 1% - we use 1%)
1/4 c sugar
2 egg yolks
1 T cornstarch
7 oz bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces

Bring 2-1/4 c of the milk just to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. While it is heating, mix the sugar, yolks, cornstarch, and 1/4 c of milk in a small bowl. Beat well until completely smooth, and set aside. Heat the remaining 1/2 c of milk and pour it over the chocolate in a small bowl. When the chocolate is melted, stir it until smooth.

Gradually pour the warm milk into the egg mixture, 1/3 c at a time, whisking constantly until you’ve added more than half of the hot milk. Return mixture to the saucepan; cook over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture gels slightly and coats the back of the spoon. If small egg lumps begin to show, remove from heat immediately. Beat in the chocolate mixture until smooth.

Cover with waxed paper to prevent a skin from forming, and chill for several hours or overnight. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker, and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a sealed container, and freeze until firm. If the gelato is too firm, place it in the refrigerator until it reaches the desired consistency.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lahmahjoon pizza

The original recipe for this tasty and different pizza came from Eating Well Magazine, the July/August 2008 issue. We like to make our own pizza dough, so I changed the process slightly. I also altered a few of the ingredients to make it a bit more to our taste. This pizza features Armenian flavors...slightly sweet and spicy.

Lahmahjoon Pizza

Yellow cornmeal for dusting
1/2 recipe of pizza dough

Olive oil
3-4 shallots, chopped
8 oz ground lamb
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 T molasses
1 t cinnamon
Salt and pepper
1/2 c feta, crumbled
1 T pine nuts

Make the pizza dough and roll/stretch half of it out to a pie, dusted with cornmeal. Preheat the oven and pizza stone to 450. Dust the peel with more cornstarch and bake the shell for 3-4 minutes. Remove from stone and flip it over. Add the toppings and slide it back onto the stone. Bake for 12 to 15 more minutes.

In a large skillet, cook the shallots until soft. Add the lamb and brown it. Add tomatoes and cook until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add molasses and spices and stir together.

Spread meat mixture onto pizza shell. Add feta and pine nuts.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Olive salad, aka muffuletta salad mix

Olive salad is wicked good stuff for slapping on a pizza, making a muffuletta sandwich, or eating by the spoonful! There are lots of variations on this muffuletta filling, and here is my favorite:

Olive Salad Spread

1 c green olives, pitted
1 c black olives, pitted
1/4 c sweet onion
2 T fresh basil
2 T lemon juice
1 T horseradish
2 cloves of garlic
1 T dijon mustard
Splash of Tabasco sauce
Splash of Worcestershire sauce
1/2 c olive oil
Salt and pepper

Cut up the onion and garlic a bit. Combine olives through Worcestershire sauce in a food processor and chop coarsely. Add the oil with the machine running and process until a bit pasty. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate an hour before using.

Muffuletta sandwich

The sandwich consists of a round loaf of crusty Italian bread, split and filled with layers of sliced provolone cheese, Genoa salami, Cappicola ham, and olive salad. It originated in New Orleans!

Pizza dough recipe

Monday, August 3, 2009

Making pizza dough

Pizza with Muffuletta salad mix, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese

Whether you buy pre-made dough, make your own by hand, or use a bread machine (like I do), eventually you've got to figure out how to get that lump of dough shaped into a pizza pie shell. Over on YouTube, Momspizzadough makes it look easy to shape it and get it from the peel onto your pizza stone. I tried is easy!

One of our favorite pizza combos is Muffuletta salad mix plus tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese!

Pizza Dough (for bread machine)

1-1/3 c water
1/4 c olive oil
2-1/2 c white flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1 T sugar
1-1/2 t salt
2-1/4 t yeast

Set machine for dough setting. Shape dough and transfer to hot stone at 450 for about 10 minutes. Add toppings and cook 5 to 10 minutes more. Cooking can be done in oven or on grill.