Archive for December, 2007

Flaky Blood Orange Tart

Food & Wine’s Flaky Blood Orange Tart

We’re taking off for California in a few hours, and I won’t post again until after the New Year. But I wanted to leave you with this beautiful blood orange tart, which I made last week from a recipe in January’s Food & Wine magazine.

I had been trying to figure out what to do with the six blood oranges left over from last weekend’s holiday crostini. After spending $15 on the rotund citrus fruits, I refused to let any of them go to waste. Luckily, Food & Wine gave me the perfect use for them.

I assembled the tart on Tuesday night after work, and then wrapped it in plastic and froze it until Thursday night, when I baked it in the oven for an hour and 15 minutes. While the assembly phase was as labor-intensive as those pesky crostini, the actual baking part was easy: The tart went directly from the freezer into the oven, making it possible for me to relax during our rack of lamb dinner.

When we finally tasted the tart after it cooled, we discovered that the crust was one of the flakiest, most buttery ones I had ever made. Sure, it was slightly charred at the edges, but this small error didn’t make a difference in the overall effect. The acidic, sparkling oranges were balanced by sweet layers of sugar, and I spent the rest of the week eating this crostata for dessert, then for breakfast, and for dessert again. Now that’s what I call a holiday present. Thanks, Food & Wine!

Happy Holidays!


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Holiday Appetizers

Three-Cheese Mini Macs from Food & Wine magazine 

On Saturday night Jim and I threw our annual holiday get-together. We made most of the food ourselves, from a mix of new recipes and old favorites. As always, the night had its share of winners and disappointments:

Three-Cheese Mini Macs from Food & Wine, December 2007
These small starbursts of elbow macaroni and cheddar, American, and parmesan cheeses were the hit of the evening, and were picked off their Pittsburgh Steelers tray faster than I could make them. Most of the labor was done ahead of time, as I prepared the pasta and cheese mixture on Saturday morning, then filled my mini muffin tin and placed it in the fridge until guests started to arrive. After 10 minutes in the oven, then 5 more on the cooling rack, they were ready to go. And I was easily able to cook more of these comfort-food favorites as the night wore on.

Goat Cheese Crostini with Blood Orange and Black Pepper Marmalade, from Bon Appétit, December 2007
For these labor-intensive crostini I spent Friday afternoon painstakingly peeling blood orange sections from their papery membranes. But the result was worth it: a tangy yet sweet jam that perfectly complemented the creamy goat cheese spread. Unfortunately I made a grave error regarding the bread. In the past I have sliced and toasted my bread an hour or so before the guests arrived and then frantically assembled the crostini. I feel silly even writing this, but this year I prepared my bread the afternoon before and sealed it in an airtight container. Of course it didn’t work. The crostini were too hard and crunchy on the night of the party.

Mark Bittman’s Polpetti from the New York Times, November 29, 2006
In this week’s New York Times Dining section, Mark Bittman provides ideas for 101 simple appetizers; where was he when I needed him last week? In any case, for two years in a row I have made his fantastic polpetti (little meatballs) to tons of acclaim. Last year I used ground beef and pork; this year I used ground veal and pork. I doubled the recipe and made them a few hours before party time, then quickly warmed them up in the oven. The veal-based polpetti didn’t brown as much as I expected, but the taste was gentler and more subtle than last year’s beef version. On Saturday night they disappeared so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to take a photo of them.

White Bean Puree from Time Out New York, March 4-11, 1999
I have made this bean dip for the past eight years. For previous parties I used canned white beans as the base for the puree. But last week I bought a bag of dried white beans and soaked those little guys for 8 hours. After another hour or so of simmering on the stove with an onion and some garlic, then a swirl in the food processor with a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil, my bean dip had a fresher taste and lusher texture than ever before. A 15-minute infusion of fresh rosemary completed the task, and added a kick of natural herb flavor.

Holiday Table with Appetizers

We also made some fresh mozzarella, basil, and sundried tomato skewers from Giada’s Family Dinners, a second round of pizzelles, and brownies. And we can’t forget Jim’s awesome homemade egg nog. Just to be sure we had enough food, we also ordered a fresh vegetable plate and some wraps from the gourmet grocery down the block. Interestingly, no one touched the wraps, but the rest of the food was gone by 11 pm. Since the best evidence of a successful party is the absence of leftovers, I’d have to say that things went very well.

Now, what should we make next year?

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Dinner at The Good Fork

Appetizers at the Good Fork in Red Hook, Brooklyn

“Are we there yet?” my sister Melissa asked, as we crawled along the dark streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn, last Saturday night on the B77 bus.

When we finally got off the bus at Van Brunt Street, Melissa and I, plus Jim, Melissa’s boyfriend Nedim, and her friend Jenny strolled the cobble-stoned block until we found the Good Fork. Diners from all corners of the city have ventured out to this transportation-challenged, waterfront neighborhood for chef Sohui Kim’s Korean-inspired comfort food since the restaurant opened in March 2006. Kim, who previously cooked at Savoy and Annisa, owns the restaurant with her husband Ben Schneider.

Van Brunt Street was once rumored to be Brooklyn’s next restaurant row. But since the pioneering bistro 360 recently closed, not much has come in to take its place. Sure, there’s still the popular bakery Baked, and wine bar Tini, but our evening in Red Hook found the majority of storefronts dark and quiet. The Good Fork’s facade was the lone beacon of light on its side of the street.

After shrugging off our winter coats, we settled into the restaurant’s small, rustic back room and started with the pork and chive dumplings, their delicate wrappers unveiling interiors of gentle flavors ($6). My sister has been obsessed with scallion pancakes lately, so we ordered this side dish as an appetizer ($6). Crispy and fresh, they had us fighting each other for the last one. The meaty diver sea scallops, served with bacon, scallions, sunchoke gratin, and a balsamic reduction were clean and salty, appropriate for our night by the Red Hook shipyards ($12).

Next I focused on my main dish of “steak and eggs” Korean style, a grilled, juicy skirt steak topped with a glorious fried egg, served with spicy kimchee rice ($19). (Note to vegetarians: this dish can be made with tofu instead of meat for just a few dollars less.) All of the food I tried, such as some wonderful tempura onion rings from Jim’s burger plate ($11) and a spoonful of cool, fresh lentils from Melissa’s seared duck breast entree ($20), were fresh and clean in their flavors, employing the best seasonal ingredients around. Some even came from Red Hook’s Added Value Farm. The dessert options also showed support for the neighborhood, with Steve’s key lime pie on the menu ($7). I’m a big fan of Steve’s, but I went with the creamy buttermilk panna cotta and blueberry sauce ($7).

After we staggered out into the night, satisfied and happy with our meal, we wandered across the street to LeNell’s, an amazing liquor and spirits store. What seemed to be a crowded tasting event was also a book signing with David Wondrich, author of the new book Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar. While I waited for him to sign a copy, someone even spilled their drink on me, always a sign of an adventurous Saturday night.

Did I say the culinary excitement was dying down in Red Hook? As you can see, I was wrong. I’d hop on that B77 bus any day for another meal at the Good Fork. Who knows what else will happen along the way.

The Good Fork, 391 Van Brunt Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn  T: 718-643-6636

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Holiday Baking: Pizzelles


Whenever we visit Jim’s family in Pittsburgh, his Italian grandmother always sends us off with some of her amazing homemade foodstuffs, such as her hand-rolled gnocchi and her sweet pickled peppers. But at Christmas time Grandma’s attention turns to baking. Brown paper bags and clear plastic containers fill the kitchen and dining room, all containing her homemade holiday cookies for family and friends.

Thin, waffle-like Italian cookies called pizzelles are the stars of her festive baked goods. And Pizzelle ironnow that Jim and I are forming our own holiday traditions in Brooklyn, pizzelles are our buttery link to his family in Pennsylvania. So this week, in between setting up our Christmas tree and decorating our apartment, we pulled out our pizzelle iron and started waffling away. 

I had never heard of pizzelles before I met Jim, but I’ve since learned that they are specialties of Abruzzo on the central east coast of Italy, where Jim’s grandmother was born. My family is from Puglia in southern Italy, a region with its own culinary traditions, pizzelles not included. Those Pugliesi don’t know what they’re missing.

Although pizzelles are traditionally flavored with anise or vanilla, there are many variations, including chocolate, hazelnut, and almond. Supposedly pizzelles are one of the earliest known cookies. The older waffle irons were even made with specific family crests, but today’s electric irons commonly emboss the dough with a flower and basket weave pattern. Feast days are not complete without these celebratory waffle cookies, although I’ve only seen them during the Christmas holidays.

Jim’s grandmother is a wonderful cook and doesn’t use written recipes. She simply knows what feels right, whether she’s rolling out dough for potato gnocchi or Easter bread. So for a definitive pizzelle recipe we turned to the trusty Villaware recipe pamphlet that came with our iron.

Sifting the ingredients for pizzellesMixing the ingredients for pizzelles

We started with a basic mix of eggs, flour, sugar, butter, and baking powder, adding both vanilla and anise oil for a double dose of holiday flavor. The dough was thicker than Jim and I remembered, so we tried to thin it out with a few tablespoons of water. When the iron was hot and ready, we dropped two spoonfuls of dough into the pizzelle molds, held the iron closed for about 30 seconds, and then removed the fragrant disks to a paper towel. We started the process again, opening and closing the iron over the thick dough to efficiently produce twenty-four pizzelles.

Unfortunately, this round of pizzelles was just okay. The anise oil and vanilla subtly flavored the dough, but the final texture of the cooked pizzelles was too dense. During an emergency telephone call to Jim’s grandmother on Sunday she informed us that we had used too much flour. She had just finished making nine-dozen pizzelles, so she knew what she was talking about. Stay tuned for another batch…and a recipe, I hope!

Update: Recipe for Pizzelles
Adapted from the Villaware Prima Pizzelle Baker pamphlet

In our pizzelle-making experiments this year, we’ve determined than Grandma was right (of course): Using less flour than recommended by Villaware makes a lighter, more airy cookie. The recipe below reflects this adjustment; if you prefer a denser pizzelle, add a little more flour to your batter.

  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise oil
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Beat the eggs and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Add the melted butter, vanilla extract, and anise oil. Sift flour and baking powder together, then combine with egg mixture. The batter should be slightly thick, yet you should be able to drop it off a spoon onto your pizzelle maker. Recipe makes 20-24 pizzelles. Enjoy!

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Baked Ziti with Spicy Sausage

The ziti is ready for baking

Just because I write a food blog doesn’t mean I always feel like cooking. Believe me, there are many days when the thought of making another interesting, tasty dinner sends me running for our yellow file of take-out menus.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with ordering in; we all need a night off once in a while. But another way to achieve a respite from dinner duty is to stretch one evening’s meal into two. There are plenty of dishes that taste better on the second day than the first. (At least that’s what I keep telling myself.)

A perfect example is baked ziti with spicy sausage. I make it once a year, only on a cold Sunday afternoon with football playing on the television nearby. Somehow these conditions have become inextricably linked to my ziti-making activities. The dish would probably come out just fine without them, but I’m not about to risk it.

This combination of chewy pasta, gooey, milky mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, and spicy bits of ground sausage is one of my favorite comfort foods. A big tray lasts at least a couple of days, and by the time I warm it up on the second day, the flavors are more strongly pronounced, the texture solid and firm.

I came up with this recipe a few years ago, when I adapted my mother’s meatless version to accommodate Jim’s affection for all foods spicy and sausage-related. You may notice that my recipe does not include ricotta cheese. This is not a mistake. My mother only uses mozzarella cheese in her baked ziti, with maybe a sprinkling of parmesan across the top of the pasta. As a child I used to hate, loathe, and avoid ricotta cheese at all costs; I always felt there was something cloying and heavy about it. And while I have since made my peace with the creamy curds, I still do not want them in my baked ziti. I just don’t.

Remember to scoop your portion of ziti from the edge of the pan. The slightly charred bits are the best. Oh, and one more thing: Do not try to stretch this meal into a three-day affair. I speak from experience. I tried during the week before Thanksgiving, in order to devote more time to my pumpkin pie, but I couldn’t even look at the ziti by the third day. We all have our limits.

Recipe for Baked Ziti with Spicy Sausage

  • 1 1/4 lbs smooth ziti
  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 medium ball of fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into small chunks
  • 6 links fresh, spicy sausage, casings removedBaked Ziti with Spicy Sausage
  • 1/4 cup fresh parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • olive oil
  • salt

Start with the tomato sauce: Heat a dash of olive oil in a saucepan under low heat. Add onions and sauté until softened. Remove onions. Add a can of crushed tomatoes and a pinch of salt. Bring the tomatoes to a boil, stir, and add the water. Simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes. Stir the sauce every once in a while. Once the sauce has thickened, take it off the heat and place aside.

Add water to a large pasta pot and bring it to a boil.

While your water heats, warm a very small dash of olive oil in a non-stick skillet or sauté pan. When hot, add your sausage. Break the sausage up with a wooden spoon as it browns. Once the sausage has cooked through, place it aside.

Add the pasta to the salted, boiling water. Cook until it’s just short of al dente. You can test it by taking a bite. It should not be completely cooked all the way through because it will continue to cook in the oven. Drain.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Add some of the tomato sauce to a large casserole dish and spread it into a thin layer. Mix some of the sauce with the ziti, so that it is well-coated. Add the mozzarella cheese and sausage and mix thoroughly. Add pasta mixture to the casserole dish. Ladle sauce over the top so that it is covered with sauce. Sprinkle some grated parmesan over the pasta.

Bake for about 45 minutes. Let it rest at least 15-30 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

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