Monday, June 21, 2010

"Venetian Cooking" - Rice and Peas in Broth

Date I made this recipe: June 20, 2010

Venetian Cooking – 200 Authentic Recipes Adapted for American Cooks by H.F. Bruning, Jr. and Cav. Umberto Bullo
Published by: MacMillan
© 1973
Recipe: Rice and Peas in Broth (Risi e Bisi – Minestra Di Riso e Piselli) – p. 67-68

Woosh! That’s the sound of my 19th wedding anniversary rushing by.

My anniversary is May 18th but May was so busy that it didn’t even dawn on me that I failed to pay homage to that date until June 18th—one month later. Oh well, oh well. It’s not like my cookbooks were going anywhere.

My husband I went to France and Italy on our honeymoon. But lest you think we wined and dined like kings and queens, we did not. Try “Let’s Go”… on a Honeymoon. We stayed in low-budget hotels and ate good but low-budget meals.

I cannot tell you much about the hotel we stayed at in Venice except that it was run by two sisters who I swear to you reminded me of my great aunts, Angelina and Catherine (twins) - same clothing, same mannerisms and roughly the same age. (My aunts were Sicilian and these were Italian but no matter.) In addition to lodging, the sisters provided meals in their tiny little restaurant.

And so we sat down one night to eat. We were the only people there and practically the only people in the hotel. I guess May is a little early in the season.

So one of us ordered rigatoni and one of us ordered spaghetti. And the one sister shuffled (and I do mean shuffled) off to the kitchen where we heard a furious rush of Italian before she shuffled back to us, looked us in the eye and said “Due rigatoni o due spaghetti”—in other words, “you either get two rigatoni or you get two spaghetti but you don’t get one of each.”

I about hooted. I mean, it’s not like they were busy but apparently putting two separate pots of pasta water on the stove was too much for these ladies.

So we ordered two of something and it was good. And we’ve laughed about that moment ever since.

Even though we spent most of our honeymoon in northern Italy, we didn’t order risotto or gnocchi or any of the dishes normally associated with the north and that’s because my people are from Sicily where red sauce rules. But in honor of our anniversary, I pulled out this cookbook and set to work on finding something fitting for the region and rice and peas it was. (I love peas and I love risotto so what’s not to like about the two of them together?)

So a few notes: first, this recipe is for rice and peas in broth but that’s not what I ended up with. Risotto absorbs broth as it cooks and if I would have just let the rice sit in the broth, the rice would not have been done. So I think the author is slightly misleading on the name of this dish.

Second, there is no way in hell this takes only 18 minutes to make (as directed). To make risotto, you need to add a small amount of broth and let it get absorbed, and then some more until that gets absorbed and so on. I think total time for me was 30 minutes before it was all absorbed so I could add the cheese.

As far as consistency, Andy said that it reminded him of chicken pot pie filling and that’s what true risotto is like—nice and creamy and gooey and good! So again—the broth portion of our program was???!

Nonetheless, I loved this recipe and think you will as well. I could have eaten the entire pan but that would have been quite piggy of me. After all, it was my belated anniversary meal so sharing it with my beloved was essential. And so I ate half the pan instead! And it was molto bene!

Rice and Peas in Broth (sort of!)– serves 4
4 pounds very young peas in the pod (these were $6.00 a pound – ummm…no!) or 2 ½ pounds older peas in a pod, or 1 pound frozen peas ($1.69 – yes!!!)
¼ pound butter (1 stick)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 ounces ham, boiled or smoked, or better, Italian prosciutto crudo, minced)
Salt and pepper
1 ¼ cups risotto rice (otherwise known as Arborio)
6 cups chicken or veal broth, or a mixture
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Shell or defrost the peas. Place the butter and olive oil in a saucepan over a medium flame. When the butter has melted add the peas and other vegetables, and ham if you wish. Sprinkle of some salt and pepper. Cook over medium to low heat until the peas are just turning tender.

Add the rice to the vegetables and mix well. Add broth as needed. (My note: add a little broth at a time until it is absorbed). Cook until the rice is tender but not mush, about 18 minutes. Stir frequently, particularly toward the end of cooking. (Note: risotto requires constant stirring at the end to bring out the creaminess of the rice).

When the rice is ready, stir in the grated cheese and serve in soup dishes.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Cooking with too hot tamales" - Cinnamon Chicken

Date I made this recipe: June 9, 2010

Cooking with too hot tamales by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger
Published by: William Morrow and Company
ISBN: 0-688-15121-3
Recipe: Cinnamon Chicken – p. 96

I bought this book a few months back from Barnes and Noble Used Bookstore (located within the store at the Har Mar mall) and remember thinking “Oh, right. The ‘too hot tamales” – I’ve heard of them.”

So I brought the book home, listed it in my “inventory,” stuck it on the shelf and didn’t think too much of it.

But then Top Chef Masters (Bravo TV) started up again and one of my favorite contestants was Susan Feniger. She was just freakin’ adorable and held her own against the men and that’s something to be admired. But the name still didn’t ring a bell.

And then about two weeks after she was eliminated from the competition, her business partner, Mary Sue Milliken, judged a contest on the Food Network. And I still didn’t make the connection.

And then just like a boomerang, Susan Feniger was back on TV, this time judging a portion of the Food Network show, Chefs vs. City, where two Food Network chefs face off against two other chefs in various cities in contests that have them driving all over (hell’s half acre) to make and/or eat food—oftentimes disgusting food…but I digress.

And duh. I recognized Susan from Top Chef Masters and then decided to read her biography and double duh, turns out she and Mary Sue are the famous “too hot tamales” and wait a minute…ding, ding, ding—didn’t I just buy their book?

People, I did! And so I made a recipe from it. And it was tasty.

There were many fun recipes in this cook book that I would have liked to have tried but this one in particular intrigued me. I have a feeling that the marinade didn’t quite thicken up like it was supposed to but the flavor components were there.

The ladies suggested mashed potatoes as an accompaniment and I decided to try adding some green chilies and sour cream to your basic mashed potato recipe and it lordy, lordy, was boring! (I bet if I added some shredded cheese, though, it would have been outstanding.) And this is why those two are participants on Bravo TV and The Food Network and I am not!

Cinnamon Chicken – serves 4
1 ½ cups dry sherry
½ cup honey
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 (2 ½- to 3-pound) frying, rinsed, patted dry and cut into 8 serving pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a large bowl, mix the dry sherry, honey, lemon juice, garlic, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Add the chicken and toss to coat evenly. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator at least 8 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off the excess, and set aside on a plate. Pour the marinade into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil until it is reduced to about 1 cup and beginning to thicken, 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside.

Heat the oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken until golden on all sides. Pour the reduced marinade over the chicken and place in the oven. Bake about 20 minutes, until cooked through. Serve.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Cook it Outdoors" by James Beard and "KCMR Casseroles and Salad" - Pig Hamburgers and Lentil Confetti Salad

Date I made these recipes: May 31, 2010 (Memorial Day)

Cook it Outdoors by James Beard
Published by: M. Barrows and Company
Copyright: 1941
Recipe: Pig (Pork) Hamburgers – p. 88

KCMR Casseroles and Salads by KCMR Radio, Mason City, Iowa; recipe submitted by Sylvia Duenow
Published by KCMR
Copyright: 1992
Recipe: Lentil Confetti Salad – p. 37

Oh, the pressure.

Memorial Day usually signals the start of the grilling season but for the past two years, our grill has been down and out.

Now, we had the replacement part all ready to go, having purchased it two years ago in, of all places, Pamida (a modern day five and dime store) in my hometown in Michigan. But did we get it installed? No, reader, we did not. Given that half the year is cold and wintery, where was the pressure?

But now it’s fixed and off my husband’s “honey do” list and we have achieved grill and so the only thing left to decide was what to make.

This wasn’t easy because I’ve already cooked from most of my grilling or barbecue cookbooks but then I spied my James Beard Cook it Outdoors cookbook and we were set.

Or were we? James Beard was more of a gourmet (or is it gourmand) than just a chef or a cook and so finding just a basic burger was a challenge. Lucky for us there was the pig burgers recipe (although seriously—can we talk about how unappetizing that name is?); easy to make and fun to eat!

All that was left was to find a salad recipe and for that, I turned to my stash of community cookbooks. Nobody knows how to put together a picnic salad recipe like a hometown cook.

Although the taste flavors of this salad – Italian – clashed a bit with the Asian-oriented pig burgers, I made it anyway as it seemed more heart healthy than some of the others and it took less time (can we talk about the inordinate number of recipes that required overnight chilling?). And on a sunny holiday weekend, I am all about time.

Hope you all had a great Memorial Day weekend!

Pig Hamburgers – no quantity listed but it made about 12 burgers
3 pounds lean pork, ground
½ teaspoon sweet basil (Italian)
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon grated garlic
½ teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper

Mix the pork and the herbs and spices thoroughly, using gingers to blend it all. Shape into think cakes about three inches in diameter and grill over the coals. Serve with buns and barbecue sauce.

Lentil Confetti Salad – makes 5 small servings
½ cup Lentils (1/4 lb)
1 ½ cups water
1 cup cooked rice
½ cup Italian dressing (Can we talk about how many choices there are? Sheesh)
½ cup tomatoes, seeded and diced
¼ cup chopped green pepper
3 tablespoons chopped onion
2 tablespoons pimento
2 tablespoons stuffed green olives
2 tablespoons parsley (garnish)

Wash and drain lentils. (Lentils require no soaking). Place in heavy saucepan, add water and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes. Do not overcook! Lentils should be tender with skin intact. Drain immediately. Combine with rice, pour dressing over mixture and refrigerate until cool. Add remaining ingredients, except parsley. Mix well. Garnish with parsley.