Category Archives: All Recipes

#Pie Day with #UpSouthCookbook’s Buttermilk Pie

Buttermilk Pie in Pie PanButtermilk Pie

I’ve been waiting for a while for just the right moment to post about this recipe. #PieDay seems like an appropriate time, donchathink?  This custard-like, fragrant concoction is a Southern staple, and I’d heard about it for years, although my mother didn’t make this kind of sweet really ever.  For all the desserts I’ve made, I’d also never tried my hand at this one until Nicole Taylor (aka Food Culturist) asked if I’d recipe test it for her Up South Cookbook last year.  Now, I’m hooked on it and can think of all sorts of events at which it would be perfect to bring to the table.

Buttermilk Pie in Tart Pan

Buttermilk Pie in tart form

The original pie in the photo that leads off this post found an audience at a shiva for a friend’s father.  The creamy, cool interior and flakey crust was admired and devoured by the assembled guests.  The photo at the top of this paragraph was a bit of a re-creation on my part.  For the annual #PieParty that is put together by a couple of fellow NYC food bloggers, I swapped out the pie plate for a tart pan and let it cook a tiny bit longer for some more color and a brûlée effect.  One of the chefs at our host location, the Institute of Culinary Education, happily consumed the few leftovers that remained, calling it one of the best baked goods he’d ever eaten.

UpSouth Cookbook

 Up South Cookbook

For my next cooking adventure with this recipe, I think I’m going to morph it even more and make tartelettes.  I have this great Nordic Ware pan that I’ve used to make mini crostate that I think will work out really well.  Nicole includes the pie crust recipe as well in her cookbook; it’s one that is super easy to pull together.  I’ll likely double that and make one batch of the filling, with its scent of cardamom, nutmeg, and vanilla that casts a lovely, warming perfume as it bakes.  That way, more guests can enjoy this taste of the South and of the regional hospitality that goes along with a slice of pie.

Kitchen Witch Tip:

Use the best-quality, full-fat buttermilk in this recipe.  It is so worth the end result to spend that bit of extra time and money to track it down.  In the NYC area, you can find Five Acre Farms products or visit the Union Square Greenmarket and pick up some from Tonje’s Farm Dairy.  

Dinosaurs Bake Biscuits for #Dinovember

1 - Dinosaurs set up mise en placeT-Rex explains that setting up the ingredients beforehand makes it faster to get the biscuits done

Sometime last year, I bumped into the Facebook page for Dinovember. It might have been around Christmastime, when I was looking for a present for my dinosaur-obsessed nephew. It was right after Dinovember had passed, and I was captivated by the creativity of the originators of this month-long activity as well as by the responses of their ardent followers.

2 - Pour in flourVelociraptor and Dilophosaurus pour in the flour

This year, I said that I was going to take part in the adventure. It reminds me so much of what my mother used to do with us kids: give us whatever materials were lying around and let us be as creative as we wanted to be. Inevitably, with brothers, this turned into sword fighting with craft paper tubes (well, until they snapped in half) and turning wiffle bats into lightsabres.

3 - measures out the saltAnkylosaurus measures out a bit too much salt

Blankets became capes, worn while running around the house singing the Batman and Robin theme song (reruns were a snow day tv treat). Almost anything, including leaves from the magnolia tree in the front yard, could be a Star Trek communicator or a phaser, depending upon the mood and the storyline that we would have made up.

3 - Tears foil from new tin of baking powderVelociraptor figures the easiest way to open the new tin of baking powder is just to rip the foil with his teeth

When I visit my nephews and nieces, they have tons of toys and games to choose from. They also seem equally adept at organizing the vast collection of Fisher Price people, animals, and gear that my parents accumulated over the decades and in creating their own worlds with them. For me, Dinovember is a chance to re-capture some of that whimsy which which I grew up, and to share it with the little (and not-so-little) ones in my life.

4 - tall enough to reach baking sodaBrachiosaurus is the only one tall enough to measure the baking soda

This year, after way too much Halloween candy, it seems like the dinosaurs in my home wanted to get off on the right foot (paw?) by making buttermilk biscuits from scratch from a recipe I’d posted on this website a few years ago. They seemed to have learned something from when I was in culinary school because they not only prepared a mise en place before getting started, they also cleaned up after themselves.

5 - work together to mix dry ingredientsVelociraptor and Dilophosaurus mix together the dry ingredients

The biscuit recipe is one that I’ve used before from Thibeault’s Table.  I’ve made these biscuits dozens of times.  They are also perfect to bake up a big batch and to freeze to keep on hand.  As I had leftover buttermilk from a pie that I’d made from The Up South Cookbook for #PiePartyICE hanging out in the fridge, I’m really glad that the dinosaurs saw fit to use it up making biscuits for Sunday brunch.

6 - Stegosaurus jumps in to helpStegosaurus decides to help out mixing the butter into the flour

This biscuit recipe in a slightly different format, adding chives, sharp cheddar cheese, a bit of dry mustard, and a kick of cayenne pepper, are the ideal appetizer to bring to holiday party, which I’ve done several times.  They are the basis for my Ham Biscuits that I’ve made for many gatherings and which are always a huge hit.  I’m wondering if I can convince the dinosaurs to make another batch!

7 - Makes a well for the liquidAnkylosaurus makes a well for the liquid

8 - Brachiosaurus pours in the buttermilkBrachiosaurus wonders if it would be rude to bathe in the buttermilk

9 - Cut out the biscuitsIf we all work together, this will go much faster!

10 - Ready for the ovenT-Rex asks if they should each mark their biscuits before they are baked

11 - Stegosaurus & Brachiosaurus confer on clean-upStegosaurus and Apatosaurus confer on how to clean up the biscuit-making mess

12 - Dinosaurs clean the dishesEveryone chips in to lend a hand with washing the dishes

13 - Hot biscuits from the ovenIt’s almost too much to have to wait for the biscuits to cool

14 - what to spread on the biscuitsButter, jam, honey or everything?  The dinosaurs are divided on what to put on the biscuits

Post15 - everyone gets their favoriteFinally, a decision is reached to put honey on one half and jam on the other

Buon appetito!

Porcini-Truffle Risotto

Porcini-Truffle RisottoPorcini-Truffle Risotto

If you don’t like mushrooms and think that truffles smell like feet, you’ll probably want to click away from this post right now.  This dish of Porcini-Truffle Risotto is not for you.  Instead, it is for those who love the earthy, funky aromas and flavors of the funghi that live in the rich soil only to be revealed at that perfect moment of creation.  I’m also posting this now, as another round of wintry weather is threatening to bring a chart-topping snowstorm our way, and this risotto is one of the most comforting ways I can think of to ride out the blizzard that is to come.

Dried porcinisDried porcinis

Fresh porcini mushrooms are even more rare to locate, at least I haven’t seen them for sale very often.  I would see them during the Fall, briefly, very briefly, when I lived in Bologna in the main food market.  A few places also served them with the local pasta during the season.  Mostly, even in Italy, I used them in dried form, like I do here.  The fresh ones had a much milder flavor and were super fragile to handle.  Porcinis are one of the few food items that I think are even better in dried form than in fresh.

IngredientsIngredients

After living in Italy, I found truffle oil, which some chefs like and some think is a culinary scourge.  While I admit that this condiment does get over-used and can completely kill a dish, I also think that it does have its time and place, sometimes.  I’ve waited for the sales that O & Co. has to pick up truffle oil as well as jarred truffles, which I then make into a compound butter.  The rice is Vialone Nano, one of several kinds that can be used for making risotto.  That, I bought at the Mercato Notturno that the Greenmarket had a few months back.  With these few ingredients, plus some homemade vegetable stock that I had in the freezer, I was set to go.

Porcini-Truffle Risotto

Prep Time: about 45 minutes to 1 hour (includes soaking time)

Serving Size: 4 main course or 6 primi piatti

Ingredients:

1 packet Dried Porcini Mushrooms (about 20 grams)

1 tsp. Truffle Butter

1 tsp. Truffle Oil

1 medium Shallot, minced

1 tsp. Kosher Salt

1 c. Risotto Rice

2 1/2 c. Vegetable Stock

1/4 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground

1 tsp. Truffle Butter

1/4 c. Grana Padano, freshly grated

Truffle Oil for garnish

1 tsp. Chives, chopped

Assembly:

Re-hydrating porcinisRe-hydrating porcinis

Place dried porcini mushrooms in a shallow bowl.  Pour just enough boiling water over the mushrooms to cover them.  Set aside and let the mushrooms re-hydrate while preparing the rest of the ingredients.  Pour the vegetable stock into a small saucepan and let it come to a low boil.

Shallots cookingShallots cooking

In medium saucepan, melt the butter along with the truffle oil.  Add the minced shallots and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the shallots are soft and almost translucent.  Season with a pinch of salt.

Adding risotto riceAdding rice

Stir in the rice.  Make sure that each grain is thoroughly coated in the fat from the butter and oil.  Let it cook for about a minute, but do not let it get browned.

Beginning to add stockAdding stock

Pour a ladleful of stock over the rice and stir to make sure that the liquid is incorporated throughout the risotto.  Let the risotto cook over low heat, absorbing the stock.  Once it looks like all the liquid is gone, add another ladleful of stock, taking care not to let the risotto lose so much liquid that it starts to stick to the pan.

Chopped rehydrated porcinisChopped re-hydrated porcinis

While the risotto is cooking, remove the porcini mushrooms from their soaking liquid.  Do not discard the liquid.  Chop the porcinis until they are about the same size as the shallots.  These to do not have to be even pieces, just not really giant-sized ones.

Incorporating porcinisAdding porcinis

When the rice has just about doubled in size, and when, in tasting it, there’s a bit of give but still a chalky element to the risotto, add the porcini mushrooms along with any accumulated liquid from them.  Do not add the soaking liquid.  Stir to incorporate.  Add the black pepper and 1/4 tsp. salt at this point as well.  Continue stirring the risotto and adding more stock until the risotto is on the verge of al dente.

Adding truffle butter and grana padanoAdding truffle butter and cheese

Just as the pasta gets to the al dente state, turn off the heat.  The risotto will continue to cook a bit more even after the heat its off.  Add the remaining butter plus the Grana Padano and stir them into the risotto.  Taste for seasoning.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Plated Porcini-Truffle RisottoPorcini-Truffle Risotto

Immediately transfer the risotto to warmed plates.  If desired, drizzle each portion with an extra bit of truffle oil.  Sprinkle the chopped chives on top of the risotto.  Serve right away.

Buon appetito!

International Day of Italian Cuisines (IDIC) 2015

Eggplants on the counterEggplant – a key component of this year’s dish

Today, January 17th, marks the 9th International Day of Italian Cuisines.  This year, Eggplant Parmesan (parmigiana di melanzane) is the highlighted national dish.  As in past years, this is a celebration of Italian heritage and food culture as well as a way of emphasizing that what makes the cuisine of this country held in such high esteem is the attention to detail and quality of ingredients.  For this year’s feature, this is no less true than in past years.  The freshest, meaty eggplant combined with sweet-tart tomato sauce, peppery basil, and creamy mozzarella cheese come together on one plate in this recipe.

Eggplant ParmEggplant Parmesan – from a recipe from Food & Wine

I didn’t really grow up loving eggplant.  My mother actually tried to sneak it into quite a few meals that she fed to our clan, which was quite unsuccessfully received.  I think a few of my siblings still have nightmares about the time she tried to incorporate it into tacos.  Thankfully, I wasn’t around for that one.  Somewhere along the line, however, I tried this marriage of fried vegetables and gooey cheese with rich tomato sauce and fell in love with it.

Tray of Eggplant ParmesanEggplant Parmesan – from Mamma Agata Cooking School

When I lived in Italy, I discovered that this is considered a secondo, or second course, served after the pasta course.  I’m not sure why I would have thought it was a regular first course, but maybe that’s just because I grew up with just eating one course for Italian-style meals.  When I assisted Gennaro of Mamma Agata’s Cooking School a couple of years ago, he gave me several tips on how he prepares his version of parmigiana di melanzane, which I shared in my post about their cooking class.

Eggplant ParmesanServing of Eggplant Parmesan

As with any classic recipe, there are many regional variations.  I have seen recipes that call for dredging the slices in flour and then egg and then breadcrumbs and then fry them.  Some folks just dip them in flour and fry them.  There’s been recipes that call for roasting the eggplant instead of frying it.  Then, there’s the cheese: Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, mozzarella, mozzarella di bufala or any combination thereof.  Even on the IDIC website, the post about “The Authentic Parmigiana: A Glorious Italian Dish” has several adaptations.

Eggplant Parm sandwichFor the leftovers – an Eggplant Parm Sandwich

The organizers have included a recipe on their website, which recognizes some of these variations but still keeps to a pretty straightforward interpretation of its preparation.  Whatever way you decide to make it, the use of the best and freshest ingredients possible is still the most important way to prepare this dish.  That is in keeping with the letter and the spirit of what the International Day of Italian Cuisines represents.

Buon appetito!

IDIC 2012

IDIC 2014

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti 1Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

At a friend’s annual New Year’s Day party this year, a fellow guest asked me about why it’s so difficult to replicate restaurant dishes at home.  There’s several reasons why this might be true, I replied.  Having your own prep team to make stocks and sauces and pulling together mise en place is one aspect.  Another is the access to top-notch ingredients.  Still another is that restaurant recipes are scaled for service, and when they are modified for home cooking, sometimes they just don’t work.  Case in point, are these Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti that I brought to that same party.

Original RecipeOriginal biscotti recipe

I was given this recipe when I was a culinary student at the International Culinary Center, working at L’Ecole.  The then-Pastry Chef rattled it off to me one night just before the start of our (the students’) part of service.  What I’d liked about these biscotti when I’d snacked on them one night was that they weren’t too sweet.  They also had a nice crunch to the outside and a firm texture on the inside, without that teeth-shattering consistency of some Italian-style confections.  In looking at the proportions on this card, it shows that making the recipe using these ratios would yield a lot of cookies.

Re-scaled recipeRe-scaled recipe

There’s also the issue of measurements.  The original recipe has a mixture of pounds, grams, cups, teaspoons, a real mish-mash of amounts.  Truthfully, this isn’t all that uncommon in restaurant chef recipes either, which is another reason that trying to scale them to work in a home kitchen doesn’t always produce the same results.  Still, I was hoping that my math skills and baking knowledge would enable me to wing it through this recipe, as it was my contribution to the party, along with a bottle of Ronnybrook Farm‘s fabulous, seasonal eggnog.

Wet ingredients mixed togetherWet ingredients mixed together

So, I divided the amounts by eight, basing that on the quantity of eggs and flour, as that seemed easy enough to do.  It got a little tricky when I tried to scale down the 1.5 pounds of butter, but I think I got it right.  As the only actual directions on the card said to use the creaming method, I mixed the softened butter and sugar together and then added the eggs.

Dry ingredients mixed togetherDry ingredients mixed together

Then, I mixed together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  I gradually added the flour mixture to the egg mixture.  The combination ended up being much drier than I’d expected it to be.  I’ve only ever made biscotti once, and that was a while ago, so I was still a bit skeptical that this was going to turn out all right.  I tossed in the chocolate chips (actually a chopped up chocolate bar) and the pistachios and formed the batter into two logs that were sort of biscotti-shaped.

Dough prepared for ovenDough ready for the oven

The only other instructions on the card were the baking temperatures and times.  I baked one of these loaves intact the entire time.  The other one, I cut into pieces after the first baking.  In the past, I’d remembered in making biscotti and mandelbrot that before the second time in the oven, the loaves had been sliced into cookies.

Baking two waysBaking biscotti two ways

Turns out that, in this case, I didn’t really need to do that step at all.  The dough was very soft when I’d cut into it.  Waiting until after all the baking cycles were done proved to make it easier to handle the loaves and to make more evenly-sized cookies.  I let the biscotti cool on the baking sheet on the stove top, letting the carry-over cooking dry them out just enough to give them that crunchy factor.  I made these the evening before the party, and they held up very well.

BIscotti out of the ovenBiscotti cooling

They were very well-received at the party, both in taste and texture.  The host agreed with me that they could have been just a hair sweeter and that maybe the cocoa powder that I used wasn’t exactly right.  I’d thought about going the Dutch-processed route, but stuck with a more general variety.  The fun thing about playing around with recipes is that there’s always the next time to try to make it better.

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

Prep Time: about 1 hour

Portion Size: about 2 dozen biscotti

Ingredients:

3 ounces Unsalted Butter, softened

1 c. White Sugar

2 Large Eggs

2 c. AP Flour

1/2 c. Cocoa Powder

1 tsp. Baking Soda

1/4 tsp. Salt

1 c. Pistachios, shelled

1/2 c. Chocolate Chips (or chopped chocolate bar)

Assembly:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Whip butter and sugar together until smooth and light in color.  Add the eggs and beat into the sugar mixture until thoroughly incorporated.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  Stir to mix together.

Gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and incorporate completely.  The dough will be quite dense.  Add in the chocolate and pistachios and fold them into the batter as best you can.

On a parchment-lined baking tray, form the batter into two biscotti-shaped logs.  Bake them for 15 minutes.  Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the biscotti for 12 minutes.  Rotate the baking tray and bake them for another 12 minutes.

Remove the baking tray from the oven.  Cut the biscotti logs into 1-inch (2.5 cm) slices and let them cool on the baking tray for 10-15 minutes.  Eat them within a couple of days, if they last that long.

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti 2Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

Buon appetito!

Dry-Brine Turkey for Thanksgiving 2014

The TurkeyThe Turkey

I’ve been absent from the writing portion of this website for a little while now.  Catering and events busy season kicked into gear, and I had also taken a full-time position in a catering kitchen at the end of July.  Those factors, plus some personal things I’ve been dealing with for the past few months resulted in a blog and recipe-testing hiatus.  Hopefully, you were all still keeping up with me via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  What has gotten me back into the swing of things is this gorgeous, fresh turkey from Cascun Farm in Greene, NY, which I prepared for the Thanksgiving feast that I hosted on Thursday for the “Castaways,” or “Orphans” gathering this year.

Set up for guestsGetting ready for guests to arrive

Having spent quite a few Thanksgiving holidays far away from family over the years, both in New York City and when I was living overseas, I really enjoy these get-togethers.  I’ve celebrated the day for a several years with a few of the same folks who were at my apartment on Thursday.  Then, there were other people whom I was meeting, and whose food I was trying, for the first time.  It’s always an interesting dynamic and can get quite lively, with stories shared of holiday meals and family traditions.  So, I knew that I had to make sure that the turkey was delicious and flavorful.  No pressure at all for the hostess of this meal, right?  Nope.  None at all.

Finished TurkeyThanksgiving 2014 Turkey

The fact that I’d never, ever cooked a turkey before shouldn’t matter, should it?  An article in Bon Appetit about dry bringing the bird and spatchcocking it.  I decided against using the latter technique and for using the former.  After consulting a few websites about cooking time, I figured that allowing about three hours cooking time would work for a turkey of this size (about 12 pounds).  In the end, I realized that the turkey is just a large chicken, and I treated it (lovingly) just like that, stuffing herb butter under the skin and basting during cooking to promote a golden, crispy skin and moist meat.  There was hardly any left over at the end of the evening, definitely not enough to make Turkey Curry.  I can put this down as a success and look forward to next year’s meal.

Dry Brine Turkey

Prep Time: Overnight for the turkey to brine, plus 3 hours cooking time (allow for 3 1/2 hours with resting time)

Serving Size: About a pound of meat per person (we served 11 people)

Ingredients:

1 12-pound Turkey, preferably fresh

To Brine:

1/2 cup Kosher Salt

1 Tablespoon Thyme, fresh, chopped

1 Tablespoon Rosemary, fresh, chopped

1 Tablespoon Sage, fresh, chopped

To Cook:

3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, softened

2 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 teaspoon Thyme, fresh, chopped

1 teaspoon Rosemary, fresh, chopped

1 teaspoon Sage, fresh, chopped

Dry Brine MixtureDry Brine Mixture

Unpack the turkey.  Remove the neck, giblets, etc. and reserve for making gravy or stock.  Put the turkey on a rack placed on a baking sheet and let it sit for a few minutes while making the brine mixture.  Combine the salt, thyme, rosemary, and sage in a bowl.  Sprinkle the salt mixture all over the turkey, making sure to coat the entire bird thoroughly and evenly.

Turkey brining in the fridgeTurkey brining in the fridge

Put the turkey in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 8-12 hours at least.  Some folks I spoke with in the catering kitchen said that they leave it even longer.  When ready to cook the turkey, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Take the turkey out of the refrigerator and rinse off the brine.  Pat it dry.

Butter-Herb MixtureButter-Herb Mixture

Make the herb butter by mixing together the unsalted butter, olive oil, and herbs.  Notice that there’s no salt added.  The brine will have seasoned the meat, so there is no need to add extra salt.  Plus, with the gravy and stuffing and side dishes, there will be plenty of seasoning on everything.

Butter under turkey skinButter stuffed under turkey skin

Gently pull the skin away from the meat and stuff the herb butter underneath the skin of the breast and legs.  Try to distribute it as evenly as possible.  Place the turkey in the oven and let it cook for 30-40 minutes.  Baste the turkey, brushing the melted butter and fat over the legs and breast meat.  After that, turn the temperature down to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and continue to cook the turkey for another 2 1/2 to three hours,* until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Finished TurkeyThe finished turkey

Remove the turkey from the oven.  Tent it with foil and let it rest for 30 or so minutes while making the gravy and reheating the side dishes.  Carve the turkey and serve.

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

Balancing out the cooking time to have moist breast and thigh meat was one of the concerns that I had.  One way around this is to place foil over the breast meat if it looks like it is getting overcooked.  Basting the meat every 30 minutes or so also helps to keep the meat moist and juicy.