23 December 2011

Mufuletta sandwich

Even though it's been a while since the last post, don't take that mean I've stopped cooking!

My latest favorite thing to make is mufuletta, a spicy/juicy spread to put onto bread when making a sandwich. Best served with mortadella, provolone, and cotto salami, it's a bit too spicy for tamer sandwich fare. On the upside, one does NOT need mayonnaise or mustard to make a good sandwich.


The recipe is one I love: it has as many variations as there are people taking the time to write it down. As such, there's also no wrong way to make it.

Here's my version:

1/2 cup giardinara (the spicy preserved vegetables in a jar)

6 garlic-stuffed green olives

1/4 red bell pepper, in strips

2 cloves garlic

2 Tbsp olive oil

pinch of red pepper flakes

grind or two of black pepper

splash of hot pepper sauce

Whirl the ingredients in a food processor until minced.

Apply this directly to your bread, a nice sour dough french bread works a treat. Stack as many meats and cheeses onto this as you can find, and cover with another treated slice of bread.

Wash it down with a glass of grappa, a nice dark ale, or a can of Barq's root beer.


13 July 2011

Recipes From Paradise

In the interest of full disclosure, I make two statements:
  1. I usually play pretty fast-and-loose with recipes.
  2. I don't regularly use recipes.
Like everyone else, most of my meals come from a set of standard dishes I can prepare without too much in the way of unusual ingredients, challenging steps, or close adherence to a recipe.
Part of the point of this blog, however, is to communicate some of what keeps me going week after week. Here's my secret:
Every once in a while, try something new.
That's about it.
Ah, but how does one find something new? That's where a good book is handy.
For instance, I've mentioned that my grandfather was born near Genoa, Italy. In his honor, I like to try out traditional recipes from that region, AKA the Italian Riviera.
The best book I've found for that is by Fred Plotkin (not the most Italian of names, eh?) and is titled Recipes from Paradise: Life & Food on the Italian Riviera.
I love this book. In it I can find all I need to know about Genovese contributions to cuisine: pesto and focaccia. I use their basic methods for making pasta when I really really want homemade pasta. Pasta with pesto, potatoes, and green beans? Plotkin calls for trenette, a flat pasta. I use any flat pasta I have on hand. I also use Yukon Gold or white potatoes instead of plain, and will stoop to canned green beans in the off-season. Pesto? I used to make my own when I lived where I could grow basil, but now I rely on the stuff in a jar from Trader Joe's though I'll often add a splash of better olive oil as a topping.
I haven't found a recipe in this book that I wouldn't try.
But the trouble with regional cookbooks is, well, they're regional. I live in the Pacific Northwest and we just do not have the same foods available. So you have to be willing to experiment a bit.
If you cook as a slave to a recipe, you end up falling back on basic simple dishes. If you're willing to stretch a bit, play a bit, and take a chance, you will find that a whole range of new dishes rise up out of the dull horizon of cheese burgers, hot dogs, and spaghetti.

12 July 2011

Go-to pan: Staub Dutch Oven

I only discovered Staub pans a few years ago. Before that, I'd maintained a small collection of Lodge iron pans. Well, I say "maintained" but I never really mastered the art of getting the ideal seasoning while still getting the pans as clean as I wanted.
Eventually, I realized that keeping a tool I won't use makes no sense. It's a version of my grandfather Francesco's saying: "A bargain on something you don't need is NOT a bargain."
A tool you don't use is not a tool. It's a burden.
I subscribe to Cook's Illustrated magazine, a terrific source for no-nonsense recipes and advice. There I read a recipe for Almost No-Knead Bread that one bakes in a dutch oven.
I love bread.
So I found a small dutch oven on sale at Williams-Sonoma. It was a small Staub, about 7" in diameter and 3" deep. (It's a #20 according to the bottom of the pan).

It's iron, but with an enamel coating inside (dull black) and out. It's got all the advantages of an iron pan and none of the maintenance issues. In addition, this lovely pan has a metal knob (great for worry-free oven use) and little stalagmite drip-cones on the lid to help when braising.
I LOVE this pan. It's uses quickly grew beyond baking bread, of course. This is often the case when you've been holding off acquiring a tool. When you do finally get your hands on it, a whole range of projects open up before you.
I now do pot roasts, roast chicken, and this week I even stretched out and tried Nigella Lawson's Beer Braised Beef, which I will write up later.
Would you like to see how bread looks when baked in the little Staub? I've made the recipe a dozen times. Here's a sample loaf:

I'll post the recipe later.

The Salty Don

This is not the biggest, boldest, or most expensive item in my kitchen's array, but I crank through a lot of this seasoning: Tuscan Smoke from The Salty Don. They are based in Ottawa, Canada.

I'm on perhaps my fourth tin of Tuscan Smoke, a salt blend of smoked sea salt, fennel, rosemary, thyme, basil, and parsley. It sells for about $7 and while that may seem expensive for salt, it's really my go-to spice for a pan of vegetables.

I try to keep to the idea of plate-portions. That is, 1/4 of the plate is protein, 1/4 of the plate is starch, and 1/2 of the plate is vegetables. I've learned that my metabolism really converts starch into fat very quickly, so I try to maximize the veggies on the plate.

Remember I'm cooking just for two, so I'll dice half of a yellow onion and toss it into a pan with some olive oil. Normally I'd just add salt here to begin breaking down the cell walls of the onion, but now I usually toss in a fat pinch of Tuscan Smoke. If I have an bell pepper, that goes in next, and sometimes I'll finish with a diced zucchini near the end.

The spice is light enough that it doesn't overpower rest of the plate, but it keeps the vegetables from being too ordinary. Of course, I don't use it EVERY meal. Any palate will tire of a flavor if hit with it too often.

I've also tried their Smoked Garlic Pepper and the Smoked Sea Salt, but only one of each so far. Clearly, the Tuscan Smoke is my favorite.

About this blog

I love to cook. Even working full time at a job I love, the high point of my day remains the chance to cook dinner for the two of us.
I've been doing this for more than 20 years.
How can it still be fun after that many meals?
Because there are an infinite number of ways to alter a dish to make it into something new. Because (as most poets recognize) working within limits can free you to be creative. Because I like to eat.

In this blog I will be posting recipes I try, reviews of tools I use, and descriptions of things that work (and don't work) for me in my kitchen.

Welcome, and I hope you find some inspiration here. I also hope I can help you avoid falling into a tedious routine. Cooking a good meal doesn't have to take a big piece out of your day. It can be something to anticipate with pleasure.