Monthly Archives: January 2008

Homemade Garlic Bread

In testing out the meatball recipe last week, I’d sort of forgotten that it makes quite a few, even when not almost-doubled to feed a family of eight plus any random cousins or friends who show up for dinner. So, I was left with quite a few extra, despite the fact that I’d packed up spaghetti and meatballs to take for lunch all last week. This left me with a few choices: I could freeze them for later or try to finish eating all of them.

It isn’t really such a chore to figure out what to do with these as they are so versatile. They can be broken into pieces, mixed with cooked pasta, folded with some ricotta, dusted with grated or thinly sliced, fresh mozzarella, and baked in the oven for about 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Centigrade / Gas Mark 4) to make a hearty main dish for a cold night. Or, just heat up some meatballs and sauce in the oven and melt a slice of Provolone on top. Toss together a pile of fresh greens with olive oil and vinegar and round out with some crusty bread and a glass of red wine.

What could be more heavenly? Even in my current sinus-medicine induced fogginess (the sinus infection is courtesy a co-worker who did not stay home when sick), this sounds absolutely wonderful, if only I had the appetite to try to tackle it. This also got me thinking about another menu classic that I haven’t had in ages.

What could be better to go along with this Italo-American-style classic meal than garlic bread? Several years ago, a co-worker had asked me to give her a recipe for Garlic Bread. I guess I thought it was a sort of strange request because it is one of those things that is so simple to make, and I’ve had it at tons of potlucks or even cooked over a campfire on Girl Scout camping trips. This was a great exercise for me, however, as it was a good chance to actually start writing down those recipes that are just sitting in my head.

At the same time, I had to take a step back culturally, from my surprise at being asked to jot down the instructions for preparing this simple favorite. Garlic Knots, twists of bread, studded with white flecks of garlic and green speckles of parsley, were one of the foods I hadn’t encountered until I moved to New York. Their garlicy-oily aroma enticed me to buy them – once. Then, I found out that their flavor didn’t do justice to their sultry smell.

With these available at almost every pizzeria, why make garlic bread? Still, I definitely prefer peeling open the hot aluminum foil and tearing into a steaming, crusty, oven-fresh, gooey, garlicy, buttery, dripping, hunk of bread. Maybe it’s just that that is part of my childhood Italian meal experience. I definitely tried to snag a piece at every meal where it made an appearance.

So, for Superbowl Sunday next week, maybe the meatball recipe, with spaghetti or in a baked pasta dish, along with some home-made garlic bread, will satisfy the hungry crowd that’s gathered around the TV set to watch the Giants bring home the trophy!

Garlic Bread

Serving size: 2-4 people
Prep Time:
20-30 minutes

Ingredients: (double if using full-sized loaf)
1 8-inch baguette
1/2 stick (1/4 c.) unsalted butter (about 100 grams), softened
2 large cloves garlic, crushed with garlic press
1/8 tsp olive oil (optional if using garlic press)
2 pinches salt
1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
1/4 c. finely chopped fresh, curly-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Centigrade / Gas Mark 6). Slice baguette into 1-inch thick slices, taking care not to cut all the way through, so that the bread is still connected at the bottom.

If using garlic press, skip this step. If, like me, you don’t own one of these utensils, as there would be limited opportunity to use it in comparison to the amount of space that it would take up in the kitchen, follow these steps: Mince garlic on cutting board. With it still on the board, drizzle garlic with olive oil and make sure it is all coated. Sprinkle one pinch of salt on it. Mash garlic and olive oil together to make a rough paste.

In bowl, with a fork, mash together butter, garlic, salt, pepper, and parsley until combined completely. Put bread on sheet of aluminum foil. Scoop up a generous amount of the butter mixture, about 1/4 to 1/2 tsp and stuff it between each slit that you made in the bread.

Wrap bread in the foil and place in broiler. After 5-10 minutes, check to see if butter has melted completely. Open up foil and broil for 3-4 minutes more to toast the top of the bread. Re-cover with foil and keep warm until ready to serve.

Buon appetito!

Meatballs & Spaghetti like Mom Made

When I checked in on Is My Blog Burning to see what upcoming blog roundups were happening, one caught my eye in particular. Serge the Concierge is hosting one asking for meatball recipes. This gave me the perfect excuse to dig out another recipe from my index card file.

Again, the handwriting on this card indicates that I probably copied it down to take it to college with me. It came from a copy of the Betty Crocker Cookbook that is my mother’s. I loved to look at this cookbook when I was a child, leafing through its pages and looking at all the photos of the platters of food. The drawings are a little dated and sort of “Father Knows Best” or “Pleasantville,” but the sentiment of the warmth of home-cooked food eaten as a family still remains – with the lady of the house preparing it, of course.

The recipe on the card is slightly different from that in the cookbook. My mom had made adjustments to spread this out for a large family. She also eliminated the hamburger/pork combination and just used hamburger. The recipe amounts weren’t quite doubled. After testing the cookbook version this past weekend, I actually think that my mom’s proportions are better and tastier.

For the sauce, I also made some changes. I’m not sure about you, but I wasn’t going to spend the time sieving two large cans of tomatoes (per the original instructions) when I can get my hands on great Italian-style passata di pomodoro (make sure no sugar is added). I did use tomato paste and also added a can of finely chopped tomatoes as well. In the hour-long cooking time for the sauce, these will mostly break down and will add a great texture to the sauce. Up here, this is referred to as “gravy.”

This is still a great dish to have on hand and the leftovers are fantastic. Making meatballs is a great activity to get your children, uhem, more “involved” with their food. Have them help out making them. In my family there was also the One Giant Meatball that was made from the last of the meat. Put that on a pile of spaghetti with a little gravy, dust with some freshly-grated Parmesan cheese, and let the kids belt out “On Top of Spaghetti” at the top of their lungs (clean version of course)!

Kitchen Witch Tip

My mother always made meatballs for this dish by putting them into disposable broiler trays and cooking them in the oven. I’ve followed this tip many times with several meatball recipes that call for frying them first and then adding them to the sauce. This has a few advantages. The original recipe for this calls for frying the meatballs in oil. Why add all that extra fat?

Cooked in the trays, the fat in the meat itself helps the meatballs to cook and stay moist, all while keeping their shape. It also is easier to clean those pans instead of scraping lots of bits of meat off of a skillet. You may need to turn them each once for more even browning, but that isn’t a requirement as they’ll all just get put into the sauce anyway to finish cooking. Adding the accumulated juices from the cooking pans is optional, as that will also add extra fat to the sauce, but it does have great flavor.

Buon appetito!

Chicken and Broccoli aka Chicken Divan

Although referred to as “Chicken and Broccoli” on the recipe from my mother’s card file, it really is “Chicken Divan.” If you do a search on the internet for this recipe, you’ll come up with many different versions, but they basically all have chicken, broccoli, cream sauce, and cheese as main ingredients. It originated at a now-closed New York City restaurant (see Wiki) and is the type of casserole-based dish that seems of a era of heavy sauce-based baked main courses.

Growing up in my family, the children generally ate our meals separately from our parents, partially because there were so many of us. This meant that they could have food that was more sophisticated than what we were usually fed on a daily basis. Thus, the repertoire for our dinners was somewhat limited.

Our vegetables at dinner usually followed a cycle of peas, green beans and corn, depending upon the main dish. All of these were canned; we weren’t a frozen vegetable family. Occasionally, we had “salad.” This was usually iceberg lettuce, perhaps with sliced carrots, tomatoes, and celery, all covered in bottled Italian or blue cheese dressing. Mesclun, lightly sprinkled with olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, was nowhere near this picture, not in 1970s suburban Washington, DC. The first time cucumbers and scallions made an appearance in our household, I thought those were exotic additions to our meals.

As I got older, my parents experimented with feeding us broccoli or asparagus with our meals. These were usually dressed with sauce and had previously been canned. They bore no relation to fresh, bright green veggies that I now prefer, being the same olive-grey color as the canned peas and green beans we also ate. Is it any wonder that I avoided this food category? (School lunches were no help either in this regard. I think I’ve blocked out most memories of being served anything remotely associated with vegetables during that time.)

Then, I got older and discovered that properly prepared and carefully cooked, these foods could actually taste good. I now actually enjoy eating them in season and fresh, not canned or frozen (with the rare except of petits pois). In my quest to see if I should include any of the recipes from my childhood in my new binder, I decided to revisit this one. Guessing from the handwriting, this looks to be a recipe I copied down when I was heading to college.

In reproducing this, I made some alterations by using fresh broccoli, instead of the frozen kind listed on the card. I also used chicken breast filets and cut the amount of sauce in half. We never served this with a starch, but, as I discovered when I packed the leftovers to take for lunch this week, rice goes well with this dish. I definitely think that this amended version of a family-favorite is going to find a place in my new recipe binder.

Chicken and Broccoli / Chicken Divan

Serving size: about 4
Prep Time: 1 hour

1 package chicken filets (about 5-6 pieces)
1 bunch broccoli
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. bread crumbs

Cut broccoli into 2-inch pieces, using florets and stems. Cook in steamer until just tender but not mushy. Take out of steamer, stop cooking process by running cold water over broccoli and set it aside.

Put saucepan with one-inch of water on the stove and heat until barely simmering. Add chicken and cook through. Remove chicken and set aside. Boil down the water until it is about 1 tablespoon. Turn off water and reserve for making the sauce.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Centigrade / Gas Mark 3). Mix together the soup, mayonnaise, curry powder, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese until smooth and creamy. Add in reserved water from poaching the chicken.

In small casserole dish (I used an 8”x8” Pyrex® one), first layer the broccoli, then the chicken, and then cover with the sauce. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese on top and bake in center of oven for 30 minutes. Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Buon appetito!

A Change of Direction, sort of

Remember the recipe card file box that I mentioned a while back? When my brother and his girlfriend got married a few years ago, I created a book of family favorites plus threw in a few of my own from my own little recipe notebook (which, for the record, is one of the things I’d grab – after my handbag and passport – if my apartment caught fire). I’m not sure if they’ve ever referred to it, but I do remember it generating some laughter and comments as it invoked memories of meals past.

For the past two years, as faithful readers of this blog will know, I’ve been trying to cover various topics relating to food & eating, food & culture, food & travel, food & New York City, and just food in general. It’s been great to share these thoughts with everyone and to hear feedback on my recipes. I think I’ve learned more about my food philosophy as well as about how passionate and consistent my interest in the culinary realm has been throughout my life.

This year, I’ve decided to try to tackle a project that has been mulling around for me for a little bit. This will also change the course of the blog over the next twelve months. I have decided that it is time to take the recipes that I pulled from the card file and ones that I’d pulled for that cookbook that I did for my brother and his wife, combine them with some of my own favorites, and create my own treasure trove of tried and true, personally tested recipes.

We don’t have a long family history of recipe sharing, unfortunately, but there are definitely some culinary gems that are hidden in scraps of paper and on much-stained index cards. My goal this year is to pull the ones that invoke memories, are family classics or just ones that are good to have on hand and to adapt them for current-day usage with photos to accompany them. I will be using this blog to tell the story of this journey and hope that you will join me along the way.

Buon appetito!

Some New Resolutions

With the start of the new year, it is time to go through last year’s resolutions and see how I managed to do. Then, I need to figure out what sounds like good projects to start for this year. It’s a nice sort of “house cleaning” project, even if I never really do make it through all of them.

Here’s how last year went on a scale of 1 to 10 of achieving my goals:

1. Keep a closer watch on those “things in the back of the fridge” so that fewer foods go bad before their expiry dates and turn into missing science experiments
Result – 7. Yep, managed to do that. Of course a few folks who came to visit said that it was surprising how little food I keep in my fridge for how much I love to cook.

2. Make those recipes that I’ve been pulling from magazines and sort through the ever-growing pile of interesting ideas
Result – 5. So-so. What I did end up doing was not to pull as many recipes from magazines as I had in the past and to cull the ones that I had that were duplicates.

3. Check spices for freshness – don’t end up with anything in the cabinet that looks like old
Result – 8. I made it a mission to use up spices that I had had on hand for a while which also meant that I was able to tackle goal #2, as I then had to look for new recipes in which to use them.

4. Go through my cookbooks and use more recipes from them (and donate or get rid of the ones I will never use)
Result – 7. I got my cookbooks (and other books) out of storage this past year and just cleared them out. What I kept were the classics and some favorites that have given me some reliable recipes. The rest, I sold to a second-hand book store and ended up with some extra cash.

5. Learn new culinary techniques – broaden my skills set
Result – 2. I’m not sure that I really ended up learning anything new, but I did work on my crêpes-making for a post in August in honor of Julia Child’s birthday.

6. Try more restaurants to which I’ve never been and revisit ones I haven’t been to in a while
Result – 4. Again, a bit of a mixed bag here. I did make it to some new places and to a few extra street fairs, but I didn’t make it back to some of the places that I’d been to years ago to see how they are doing.

7. Visit some of the other great food markets in the city – Essex Street, Arthur Avenue, Jackson Heights, etc.
Result – 0. No excuse here. Laziness, lack of motivation. I do need to manage to make it to these at some point.

8. Work on my food photography skills
Result – 5. I have managed to figure some things out and have tried to take better photos, but I still feel like I need to work on a few other things.

9. Blog more and have fewer gaps in posting
Result – 6. I did post more in 2007 than in 2006 but there were some times that I just couldn’t get there. It didn’t help when the cable service was accidentally cut off either.

10. Attempt to make mayonnaise again!
Result – 0. Maybe this is another one for the books for 2008!

Here’s my look ahead at what’s in store for this new year:

1. Eat more whole grains – try to find some great new recipes using these
2. Snack better and try not to cave into the 3:30 p.m. sugar craving to head for the closest snack machine (it’s 4 floors away from where I sit)
3. Practice portion control – don’t let the lunchtime blood sugar slump take over and drive me to heap my cafeteria tray with lots of calorie-laden, starchy food
4. Throw out duplicate recipes – test to find out the definitive version to keep for my files
5. Keep recipe pulling from magazines under control
6. Start a book of Family Favorites recipes to share with my siblings – test and update them
7. Make a binder of my own favorite “Keeper” recipes, with photos
8. Take cooking courses to improve my skills and knowledge
9. Cook more dishes from the books that I already have
10. And, most of all….I will not be jealous of the guy in my office who got Bacon of the Month as a present for Christmas!

Buon appetito!