These are a few of my favorite herbs

Uh-oh. Here comes the cool, then cold weather. Our garden on the patio is getting rag-tag and starting to slip into sleepiness. The leaves of our two trees– crepe myrtle & crab apple– are dropping, scattering, and painting an abstract landscape on the patio pebble floor.

All spring and summer I had the delight of stepping outside in the middle of cooking–leaving sizzling pans and boiling pots on the stove–while quickly snipping herbs from just outside the door. How I LOVE that. After years of apartment house living in NYC, the multi-herb wonder in the backyard  is my little paradise.

Here are my go-to most loved favorites…

Rosemary

Rosemary

Rosemary. Luckily this pine-needle-like bush carries on through the winter. Even if I’m not cooking with it I have to brush my hand across the leaves whenever I walk by and sniff the scent left on my fingers. Something about that smell is immediately transporting. To where? Some place in the deep soul of plant life that also lives in a happy place on my palate. Rosemary is  lovely with red meats especially lamb. But beef, too. And pork as well. It can be overpowering tho so I usually don’t use it on delicate dishes. Focaccia topping: perfect. Mince up the leaves finely if in a sauce.

Oregano

Oregano

Oregano. This is the one herb that is okay dried, too. It’s a different flavor than fresh, but dried oregano turns a tomato sauce into a pizza sauce. Fresh oregano jumpstarts a pesto (use just a little with your basil or parsley). It’s a surprising, welcome addition to a ravioli filling or roasted vegetable.

Parsley

Parsley

Parsley. I can never grow enough parsley for what I need. Parsley can go everywhere. Sometimes I like just a parsley pesto. Parsley swims abundantly in my artichoke cooking water. Minced in arrabbiata sauce. In the breadcrumb mixture for chicken cutlets. Minced in meatballs. It’s delicate taste can fit anywhere, yet it does add a LOT.

Basil

Basil

Basil. I remember the basil growing in my friend’s terraced garden up in the hills of Liguria. Basil shines in Liguria the most — the land of basil pesto. Where is originated. But it also shines in Napoli where pizza Margherita was born: pizza with tomato, mozzarella, and basil– the colors of the Italian flag.

Mint

Mint

Mint. Mint is the excitement herb. There are so many kinds, you can collect dozens. I grow two kinds of peppermint. The small, pointy leafed kind and a very delicate wide leave that my friend, Kazel, gave me. I also have chocolate mint which I adore. Add mint to your pesto. Break up leaves in a salad, or cooked vegetable dish. In the ravioli with your ricotta. Break up leaves in butter sauce. A mint frittata is stunningly deliciously!

Thyme

Thyme

Thyme. The thyme I grow is a kind I don’t see often. The leaves are feathery and rounded. It grows like crazy and I usually cut a large handful of leaves to top roasting chicken. When the chicken is done the leaves are all browned and stems are brittle. I remove the thyme, some leaves fall onto the meat, and the essence of thyme permeates the dish. Lovely.

Sage

Sage

Sage. Just like it’s name here’s a a wise herb. It almost has a smoky presence and brings an air of mysterious love to your dishes. You can also deep fry it for a crispy deep-flavored garnish to risotto, pasta, and vegetables.

Use herbs. I buy them in the store when winter sets in deep. It’s like insisting the garden be present on your table even in February. Herbs will brighten the dark cold days and positively charm your garden and kitchen in spring and summer. Dance with your herbs. They know all the steps.

10 Kitchen Handy-Dandy Deeds

kitchen

kitchen

I’m sure we all do it. Everyday. A million little shortcuts, tricks, helpful handy deeds in the kitchen. I stopped for a minute to see if I can catch a few of them speeding by. You know…they just happen. You forget you even do them. Try to take note of your handy-dandy kitchen deeds. Let me know yours. We can trade.

(In no particular order):

1. Preserve your green delicates longer.

undo the scallions

undo the scallions

Did you ever have a bunch of scallions or a bunch of parsley start to get all mushy and wet? When you first get them home, before putting them away, take off the rubber bands and twist ties. When they live loose in their bag (while stored) they don’t mush up so fast. (And I collect the rubber bands, which come in handy for all kinds of things.)

2. Magically use less olive oil.

2 olive oil bottles

2 olive oil bottles

A lot of the time we want to drizzle olive oil. Not POUR it. The large pour spouts in most store-bought bottles are pretty wide. So you get a river when you really want a steady creek. Those pretty olive oil decanter bottles you see all the time solve this asap (Trader Joe has millions of them).

olive oil bottles at TJ Maxx

olive oil bottles at TJ Maxx

Pour spouts might vary from one to the next. Some thinner than a drizzle; others just drizzle. So I keep two bottles. One pours faster than the other. I grab the faster one to coat a sauté pan. And the slower-pour for drizzling on top of food.

3. Slice shrimp in half for MORE SHRIMP.

cut shrimp

cut shrimp

Oh so tricky. I love this. Slice them in half lengthwise. Then add them to your dish (sauce? sauté? shrimp cocktail?). Half of a shrimp is just as satisfying to pop in your mouth as a whole shrimp. So you get to multiply them, distributing more shrimp pieces throughout your dish. Ain’t it the truth.

4. Scissors. The hidden hero in the kitchen.

scissor parsley

scissor parsley

Quick and easy. Snip snip snip. Fast-minced parsley. Or almost anything. There’s an ease and child-like play to using scissors. Like you’re getting away with something. Like it’s not supposed to be so easy. I cut sausage, butter, cooked spaghetti, pizza. Any other ideas?

5. Soft butter takes time.

soft butter

soft butter

I leave it out overnight. It’s ready in the morning when I want to bake. And it doesn’t mind leaving its refrigerated home for a dark evening on the kitchen counter. In fact, that stick of butter is on an adventure. It knows what’s coming and can dream about it all night. Transformation into the butterfly of a cake (or some other luscious starring role).

6. Stop your cutting board from running away.

cutting board with damp paper towel

cutting board with damp paper towel

Chasing your board around the table while your hand is busily chopping with a knife is probably not a great way to come up with more ingredients for your new inventive dish. Place a damp paper towel under the board. Keeps it from moving. The photo shows a transparent (yet opaque) plastic cutting board with a square of wet paper towel under it. But same tip works for wood, heavy plastic, etc.

7. Another way to avoid burns.

pot holder alert

pot holder alert

I’m a frittata cooker. Almost all leftovers can be made into a frittata. The last step of the dish is putting the frittata under the broiler. In its frying pan. Of course, when it’s golden and lovely, you take it out from under the broiler. And, of course, you use pot holders to take it out. And then you place the pan on the stove while you go and get a serving platter. LEAVE THE POT HOLDERS ON THE HANDLE. So when you come back and attempt to move a frying pan that you always hold by the handle when sautéing (since you FORGET that this time it’s SUPER hot) the pot holders remind you. (This is very nice of them and I’ve often thanked them for this service.)

8.  Put some salt in the cellar.

salt cellar

salt cellar

We’re always shaking salt from a salt shaker. It’s a nice way to get a gentle sprinkle on food. (And I am certainly a salter while cooking.) But what about when you need a teaspoon of salt? Or a tablespoon? Or when you need a “healthy pinch?” Hence, the salt cellar. It’s at the ready with a small vat of salt for you to poke into. Years ago when I first became fascinated with salt cellars I searched for the perfect one (accumulating non-perfect ones, too). I’ve since lost many from that collection but, in addition to my everyday Le Creuset salt cellar bought at TJ Maxx for a bargain, I still have one that I bought at a Paris flea market.

"sel" cellar

“sel” cellar

It’s got a hinged wooden door on top so your salt is safe from falling sugar, or fruit flies, or dust, or excited spattering stovetop oil. Now I use that one to store tea bags.

9. In the pasta pot: oil and water don’t mix.

IMG_5274

pasta boiling

Don’t do it. You don’t need to. It just gets you some oil-coated American-style pasta. Nah. Spaghetti will not stick while boiling. You don’t need to add oil to the water. Here’s how:

pasta dropped in pot

pasta dropped in pot

I hold the whole bunch in my hand over the center of the boiling water and place the spaghetti upright into the center. The strands will splay more evenly to the sides that way. Then right away get a long wooden fork (or longest fork you have) and poke into the strands, spinning them like you would if you were eating them. Poke in different places and spin to loosen them from each other. This gets easier to do once the noodles soften into the water. Keep poking and spinning now and then until the water comes back to a boil. Now the spaghetti will stay separated as it boils (and you can poke and spin a few more times before done).

10. Not useful. Just pretty

doily dust

doily dust

I just love this trick. When your cake is done and cooled and you’re not going to ice it…just want to dust it with powdered sugar, first place a paper doily on top. I use a small sieve with powdered sugar in it and tap it to dust the whole thing with a good layer of sugar. Then hold the doily with your fingertips on each side and lift straight up. Voila!

I’ve done this in class and students LOVE it. One student came back the next time with a gift: a packet of plastic doilies with many shapes and designs — a Martha Stewart doily-pack. So you can re-use them.

chocolate w doily dust

chocolate w doily dust

Stay tuned for more Hand-Dandy Deeds!

 

St. Joseph’s Day Cakes

St. Joseph cake

St. Joseph cake

March 19th is Saint Joseph’s Day. Time to move on from Patrick and celebrate Saint Joseph and anyone whose name is Joseph. This is your day!

For the last few years I’ve been wanting to make Saint Joseph cakes. Individual-sized pastries luscious and creamy. But then March 19th would come and go and there I’d be with no cake. Not this year. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I’ve eaten them in NY, where you can find them at Italian bakeries. But how do you make them?

I scanned the Web for recipes. I discovered there’s more than one way to make a St. Joseph’s cake. Most recipes used a pate a choux batter. But you can fry the cakes or bake them. Stuff them with whipped cream. Or ricotta. Or a combination of both. Or stuff them with custard cream. Which one is right? Which one authentic? I couldn’t find the answer. Maybe they’re all correct. Each baker with their own authentic recipe.

So I made an executive decision (being the CEO of my own kitchen). I’m gonna use my pate a choux recipe and my custard cream recipe and make St. Joseph cakes!

First make the custard since it needs to be chilled. 5 egg yolks 3/4 cup sugar…

egg yolks and sugar

egg yolks and sugar

Beat with the paddle attachment until pale and thick…

pale and thick

pale and thick

Beat in 3 tablespoons of corn starch. On the stove heat 1 1/2 cups of milk to scalding. Slowly add hot milk to the egg mixture while machine runs on low. Then return the whole mixture back to the pot and heat on medium, stirring with a wooden spoon, until thick. About 5-7 minutes. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and about 1/4 cup rum. Pour into a bowl and place plastic wrap on top of the custard surface. Chill in the refrigerater until cooled.

custard

custard

Now make the pate a choux.

pate a choux ingredients

pate a choux ingredients

In a medium saucepan heat 1 cup of water, 6 tablespoons of butter and a healthy pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Then take off the heat and whisk in 1 cup of flour till combined well. Put pot back on the heat and switch to wooden spoon. Stir rapidly until dough is dry and leaves the sides of the pan easily.

dough in pan

dough in pan

Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on low for a few minutes to cool down the dough. Then add 4 eggs, one at a time until each is incorporated.

pate a choux batter

pate a choux batter

Now the fun part. Get out your piping bag with a large star tip. Pipe a 2-inch circle and swirl back into the center.

piped dough

piped dough

Bake at 425 for about 15 -20 minutes until puffed. Turn down oven to 350 and bake until deep golden, about another 10 minutes. Once out of the oven I poke each pastry with a toothpick to allow steam to escape. Let cool completely. Then cut in half horizontally and fill with custard cream. Sprinkle some powdered sugar on top.

St. Joseph Cake with custard cream

St. Joseph Cake with custard cream

Yes. You’re allowed more than one. Especially if your name is Joseph.

Classic Bolognese Sauce – A Recipe

Classic Bolognese Sauce   photo by Jen McCarter

When a classic is a classic, let’s keep it a classic. I’m all for experimentation. But after the new-fangled dust settles, let’s go back to homey goodness of what definitely works.

Bolognese Sauce. It’s classic version varies slightly but the usual suspects are still hanging around making sure the taste remains superb.

We recently made Bolognese sauce with fresh-made spinach fettuccine in a class of mine. Oh happy day.

Start off with that trio of bottom-flavor goodness: diced onion, carrot, celery…

Amie and I talking soffritto

Amie and I talking soffritto  photo by Jen McCarter

…AND some minced pancetta.

first ingredients

first ingredients  photo by Jen McCarter

Heat a little olive oil in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and pancetta…sauté until softened…

soffrito cooking

soffritto cooking

Lindsay sauteing

Now it’s time to add the meat. Ground veal is the traditional ingredient. We added 1 lb. ground veal and 1/2 lb. ground beef.

ground veal and beef

ground veal and beef

Add it to the cooking soffrito and break up the meat into small pieces as you stir…

Lindsay breaking up meat

Cook meat until it loses its raw color…

browned meat

browned meat

Next comes the dry white wine or dry vermouth — about a cup…

pouring in the vermouth

pouring in the vermouth   photo by Jen McCarter

Cook until wine or vermouth evaporates. Now add the other liquid ingredients. We added a 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes and about 2 cups chicken broth…

add tomatoes & broth

add tomatoes & broth

Season with salt & pepper and bring to simmer. Cook uncovered for about an hour or more until the liquids mostly evaporate and the sauce thickens.

cooked Bolognese sauce

cooked Bolognese sauce

We made some fresh made spinach fettuccine (looking for that recipe? let me know!) to go with our Bolognese sauce…

making fresh fettuccine

making fresh fettuccine   photo by Jen McCarter

Spinach Fettuccine w Classic Bolognese Sauce

Spinach Fettuccine w Classic Bolognese Sauce

Bolognese Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 celery stalk, minced

2 carrots, minced

1 small onion, minced

2 slices pancetta, coarsely chopped

1  1/2 lbs. ground beef or a mixture of beef and veal

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1-2 cups chicken broth

¼ cup heavy cream or milk (optional)

salt & pepper to taste

In a medium heavy saucepan heat the olive oil. When hot add the celery, carrot, and onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the pancetta, cook another 3 minutes. Add the beef/veal and cook, breaking up the clumps until no longer raw. Add the wine. Cook until almost evaporated. Add the tomatoes and broth. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a slow simmer and set heat to low. Let simmer for an hour or two until the liquid has reduced. Add cream and simmer for another 10-15 minutes.

Bonnie serving up the pasta

Thanks to Jen McCarter for some of the photos!

What I Buy at Costco – Part One

Campo dei Fiori, Rome, Italy

Campo dei Fiori, Rome, Italy

Costco ain’t Campo dei Fiori. But…

I resisted for a long time. The idea of paying a yearly fee to shop didn’t sit right with me. But my mom (my voice of reason and still my advisor) encouraged we join. So we did. Little by little we discovered and tried and explored and now have a list of regular stuff we buy and rely on.

Costco’s brand is Kirkland. It’s not the only brand they sell, but when you see the Kirkland label you know it’s reliable and (so far that we’ve tried) really good quality.

Everything is extensive at Costco. Huge produce department, cheese department, meat and fish, big frozen food department, aisles and aisles of jarred, canned, packaged foods. I push around the SUV-sized shopping cart thru aisles stacked, stocked & full…agape at this Museum of Giant Food.

Here’s what helps: my mom and I often share stuff, which means we can get the multi-can package of baked beans, or the large bag of mini-cucumbers, or the 8-to-a-pack artisan romaine lettuce, or the 4-lb package of unsalted butter sticks. And because of my classes I often pick up the “large” size; my menus absorb quantity. STILL a single shopper can do great (helps to have a freezer).

I’ve got a long list of favorites but here’s a partial roundup. It would be fun to take people with me when I shop so I can show them where I get my ingredients. People in my classes often ask. In lieu of that, here’s a Costco shopping tour on a page!

Large Bag ‘O Lemons/5 lbs.

Costco Lemons

Costco Lemons

I LOVE lemons. Not only do they sneak into many of my recipes but I’m in the habit of making Duane and I a lemon elixir every morning. We split a squeezed lemon and a squeezed orange with a little water. It’s a shot of toxic-clearing liver-cleansing goodness. (This morning drink was recommended by Mom, but, added to that, I remember long ago when I was doing a residency at the MacDowell Colony, a long-time-resident writer there would drink a cup of hot water with lemon every morning. She was about 95 years old.) Costco lemons are beautiful and sometimes as large as the ones I found in Amalfi! Here’s something fun to do with lemons inspired by the Amalfi Coast: Click Here for TV Demo SegmentClick Here for Recipe

Columbian Coffee… 3 lbs

Costco Columbian Coffee

Costco Columbian Coffee

Okay. My mom’s advice again. She insists Columbian coffee tastes the best and loves this coffee. I don’t drink coffee (except espresso), but Duane drinks coffee every morning. He’s not fussy about what kind but likes this one just fine (it certainly smells heavenly). The price for the quality is excellent.

Citterio Italian Rosemary Ham… 2 – 1/2 lb. packs

Citterio Rosemary Ham

Citterio Rosemary Ham

Imported from Italy. This ham has a slight hint of rosemary giving it an exotic irresistible spin. Comes in a 2-pack. I cut them apart and freeze one for later.

Already Peeled (except for tail) Raw Shrimp…2 lbs.

Kirkland Shrimp

Kirkland Shrimp

Kirkland brand, 31-40 to a pound. So easy to defrost in 1/2 hour (put in a bowl and run cold water on top, then let sit in cold water until soft). I love shrimp (okay, who doesn’t?). Here’s a fav shrimp recipe: Spaghetti w Shrimp

Grated Parmesan Cheese…3 lbs.

Cello Grated Cheese

Cello Grated Cheese

Yes, I know. Grating your own parmigiano or grana padana is IDEAL. But I go through a lot of cheese in my classes. Not only is grating yourself time-consuming, parmigiano is EXPENSIVE. I found this Cello brand grated domestic parmesan to be a superior quality and it complements so many of my recipes. It’s reliable and affordable. (Put some in a container in your refrigerator, freeze the rest until you need more.)

Campari Tomatoes…2 lbs.

Campari Tomatoes

Campari Tomatoes

The size of these tomatoes is seductively charming. I can’t resist. They have a lovely taste and adapt to cooking or salads or pairing with mozzarella. And their name is Campari (my favorite drink). I love these for making Fish in Crazy Water (Acqua Pazza), which is a tasty, easy way to make fish: Acqua Pazza Recipe

Kirkland Unsalted Butter…4  1 lb. boxes

Kirkland Unsalted Butter

Kirkland Unsalted Butter

Butter? Oh, yes. I often have pastry-based desserts on my class menus: tarts, pies, galettes, and savory pies, too. I use a lot of butter. 1 lb. goes in the fridge, the rest in the freezer until needed. This brand has a great taste and works well in recipes.

Eggland’s Eggs…18 eggs

Eggland's Eggs

Eggland’s Eggs

You can certainly get Eggland’s eggs in any supermarket but this dozen and a half pack is a good price. I like these eggs. They make me happy. Got eggs? Why not make a frittata? Frittata Recipe

Stay tuned for What I Buy at Costco Part Two. In the meantime let me know if you try any of these products and how they turn out. I’m not sponsored by them or anything. Just a shopper, eater, teacher, appreciator!

Lentils are Coins: Let’s Eat a Million

Chef Paulette

Close up of Lentils Lentils

When I lived in Rome my Roman roommate (and soul sister), Enrica, made lentils for lunch one day. In Italy you can get lentils in a can, pre-cooked, like you buy baked beans here. They’re called lenticche in Italian. Enrica emptied the can into a small saucepan and heated the lentils. Then in a small saute pan she heated a little olive oil, added a garlic clove, and cut a few slices of bread into small triangles and fried them to crispy. We each sat down to a bowl of hot lentils topped with crispy garlic croutons. It was, actually, heaven in a bowl.

Lentils are adorable. Have you ever really looked them over? What a sublime invention of nature. So it’s no surprise to me that they represent the possibility of good fortune and prosperity. That they are the go-to traditional meal of New Year’s Eve in Italy. That…

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