Category Archives: The Recipe Box Project

Sautéed Green Beans with Almonds

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I grew up on canned products and salad as my options for vegetable-like things.  My journey through adulthood has introduced me to the wonders of broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower, and all sorts of other greens that just never made it onto the childhood menu rotation.  This minimal side dish selection would change for Thanksgiving and Christmas when we received a special treat:  Green Beans with Almonds.

Green Beans

Initially, this was a way to dress up squishy, briny, grey-green canned beans to make them more appealing to our palates.  When I was about ten or so, my mom decided to build a vegetable garden to one side of our house.  This was my first experience with freshly-grown produce.  Green beans were long and slender and crunchy – what a revelation!  (The same kind of vegetable epiphany happened for me with snow peas as well.) I fell in love with these verdant slivers then and try to grab up handfuls of them each year when they arrive at the Greenmarket.

Toasted Almonds

Theories behind how to cook green beans range from the boil the heck out of them until they are breaking apart, which is just too close to the canned ones I was tormented with as a child, to just barely fork-tender and crunchy.  For this recipe, I cook them in boiling water until they get to the latter stage, drain them, and then pop them into the sauté pan along with butter and the toasted almonds.  My mom used to cook all of the ingredients together, but that made the beans drenched in fat and rather greasy; it also involved way too much butter to be healthy.  Cooked my way, they still have a bit of give to them but are soft enough to balance out the meaty, crunchy taste of the nuts while still having a bit of a sheen and richness from the butter.

Sautéed Green Beans with Almonds

Prep Time:  15-20 minutes

Serving Size: 4 people

Ingredients:

1/4 c. slivered Almonds

1/2 pound fresh Green Beans, trimmed on top and bottom

2 Tbsp. unsalted Butter

3/4 tsp. salt

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  Put almonds on a tray in a single layer and place them in the oven to toast.  This will take about 5-10 minutes, but you should check on them a few times to make sure that they do not become too dark or burn.

While the almonds are toasting, put a saucepan of water on the stovetop to boil.  Once the water has boiled, put in 1/2 tsp. salt.  Toss in the green beans and let them cook for 5-10 minutes until a fork inserted in them goes through easily (i.e., “fork tender”).  Remove the saucepan from the heat and drain the green beans.

In a large frying pan, melt the butter.  When the butter is frothy, toss in the green beans and the toasted almonds and stir them around until they are coated in the butter.  Add 1/4 tsp. salt and toss to coat everything.  Serve immediately.

Buon appetito!

This post is also in memory of my mother’s oldest brother who passed away suddenly this past Saturday evening.  I took it pretty hard, even though I hadn’t seen him in a few years.  I wondered why, and then it hit me as I thought about all the great family meals and many, many Thanksgivings and holidays that he had been at our house.  As he didn’t have a wife and children of his own, he usually came to my folks’ place to join us in the festivities, well, and to watch football.

I would relish being a “big kid,” hanging out at the table after the plates had been cleared away, with my mom, their other sister, and him telling stories about growing up in their large, chaotic family while the inevitable family card game was in play.  I don’t think I ever managed to win one of those, even as an adult.

My Mom’s Sausage and Cheese Lasagna

It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog or who knows me that I did the majority of the dinner cooking when I was at my parent’s house over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.  In some ways I didn’t mind.  It gave me a chance to flex my culinary muscles, which doesn’t usually happen cooking for just one person, as I normally do.  I also got to make those big batch kind of meals that feed the small army of folks who grew up in my household but which would mean I’d be stuck eating leftovers for weeks.

So, in addition to the Christmas dinner of Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Horseradish Sauce, a batch of Spaghetti and Meatballs, and roasted chicken, all of which provided great leftovers for several days, I also whipped up a batch of my mother’s Sausage and Cheese Lasagna.  Last year, I wrote about how I wanted to see if this dish would stand up to some of the newer ones I’d come across as part of my Recipe Box Project.  Mom’s won.  It has that right flavor balance of robust tanginess from the tomato sauce, ooey-gooey comfort from the cheeses, heft from the pasta, and hearty meatiness from the sausages, with just a little bit of kick from the red pepper in the spicy sausage to keep the dish from being bland or boring.  It’s even better to eat on the second day.

This is a well-used card

This year, when my brother mentioned that he should get the recipe so that they can make it when they are back home, I said, “Well, it’s in the recipe card file.”  He replied, “Yeah, but that would mean I’d have to write it down.”  I countered, “It’s on my blog.”  He responded, “It’s just easier if you write it out for me.”  Actually, what he really meant to say is, “It’s easier if you not only write it out for me step, by step [as you can see from the card there’s just the ingredients listed, no instructions as to what to do with them], but also to make it, freeze it, and find a way to ship it to them ready-made.”  This is the same reaction I get to many of the recipes that my family wants from me (not to rat out my sisters and any particular cookie recipe or anything).


It was satisfying to see that he, my sister-in-law, my tiny nephew, and my dad all enjoyed eating the lasagna that I made.  Devouring it might be a bit more accurate.  Two-thirds of the pan was gone by the time dinner was over, with everyone, even the little guy, going back for seconds.  This recipe is easily adaptable, too, which makes it work well as a family meal.  Just throw together a green salad and some garlic bread to make it a classic Italo-American dinner.  So, here you are little bro, I’ve written out the instructions for you as I made this last week, but I’m not flying out there to make this for you whenever you want to eat it.

Hey!  How did that spinach note get in there?

Sausage and Cheese Lasagna*

Prep Time: 1.5 hours before the oven time, plus 30 minutes to bake
Serving Size: Depends upon how hungry everyone is, 6-8 people

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 medium Yellow Onion, chopped finely
2 large cloves of Garlic, minced
1 lb. Hot Italian Sausage, casings removed and crumbled
1 lb. Sweet Italian Sausage, casings removed and crumbled
2 Tbsp dried Parsley
1 Tbsp dried Basil Leaves
1 28-oz. can chopped Tomatoes
1 8-oz. can Tomato Sauce
1 6-oz. can Tomato Paste

Warm up olive oil over medium-low heat in a large pan or Dutch oven.  Add onion and cook for three minutes, until the onions are soft.  Add in the garlic and cook for two minutes more, taking care that the onions and garlic don’t burn or turn dark.  Put the sausages in the pot and let them cook until you cannot see any pink parts.  This will take about 10 minutes.  While the sausages are cooking, you can mash them into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon.

Add the dried parsley and basil to the sausage mixture and stir to incorporate thoroughly. Pour in the chopped tomatoes with their juice and the tomato sauce.  Fill the tomato sauce can with water and swirl around to get the last of the sauce out of the pan.  Pour that liquid into the can with the chopped tomatoes and pour that into the pot.  Add the tomato paste. Fill the tomato paste can with water to scrape out the last bits and pour into the pot with the rest of the ingredients.

Bring pot to a medium simmer and turn the heat to low.  Let ingredients simmer for at least one hour.  Turn off heat and let sit while preparing the cheese layer and assembling the lasagna.

Meat Sauce for Lasagna

For the cheese layer:
1 15-oz. container Ricotta Cheese (can use part-skim if you like)
2 large Egg Yolks (save whites for another use)
2 Tbsp dried Parsley
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. ground Black Pepper
1 10-oz. box frozen Spinach, thawed and drained (if using) – optional

Combine first five ingredients in a small bowl and set aside until ready to assemble lasagna prior to baking it.  If you are using the spinach, add it at the end.

Cheese Mixture for Lasagna

To assemble:
10 oz. dried Lasagna Noodles, cooked according to package instructions (you might not use the whole box, so you should cook them in batches)
3/4 cup mixed Italian Cheeses (Fontina, Asiago, Parmesan) – optional
10 oz. box Frozen Spinach, thawed and drained (if using) – optional
1 lb. Mozzarella Cheese, grated (can be part-skim)

Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Put two tablespoons of sauce in a 9x13x2-inch pan and spread it around to coat the bottom.  Place a row of pasta on the bottom of the pan. Spoon over several ladles of sauce and a third of the cheese mixture.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the mixed cheeses on top of that.  If using the spinach, put globs of it (or spread it out, your choice) on top of the cheese layer.  Repeat two more times.  Finish by sprinkling the mozzarella on top of everything.

Ready for the Oven

Place in oven and cook for 20 minutes until heated through and the cheese on top is all melted and gooey.  Increase heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for 10 minutes more to make the cheese golden.  Remove from the oven and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting into squares.  Serve immediately.

Ready to serve and eat

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:
You could use a whole wheat pasta, but here I stuck to a regular one.  I liked the mix of the Italian cheese in addition to the ricotta, but that isn’t in the original recipe.  I omitted the spinach (which I think was an extra item my mom snuck in there anyway).   I also, for this batch, took out the sugar, salt, and pepper from the sauce, as listed on the card, as I thought it had enough flavor as it was.  Leave these things up to yours and your family’s tastes, however, to start your own lasagna tradition.

Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Horseradish Sauce

Happy Holidays to everyone! Now that the presents are bought and hopefully wrapped (did you get any of my Holiday Gift Ideas?), it’s time to settle down and enjoy the celebration, especially if it involves a great family meal. Once upon a time, in my family, we had turkey on both Thanksgiving and Christmas, which made me really bored with that meat. Then, for reasons that are still not clear to me, my mom made a change, and we started having Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Horseradish Sauce for the latter feast. With the exception of one sibling who doesn’t like red meat at all, there haven’t really been any complaints about this switch.

This year, to accommodate various schedules, our actual Christmas dinner was held last night. When I floated this meal as a suggestion for the gathering, it met with little resistance and several “yums.” The other components of the dinner, like the vegetables and desserts,are negotiable, but the core essence remains the same: a rib-in roast cooked slowly to a lovely rare texture, rich custardy Yorkshire pudding, and creamy, home-made horseradish sauce on the side. For me, this is the quintessential family holiday dinner, sitting around a table with my siblings, parents, and other family members.  Sometimes, I think about preparing it at another point in the year, but I can never quite make myself do it.  It wouldn’t feel quite the same.
As you can see, this card with the instructions has been used quite a bit.  It’s tagged as part of the Recipe Box Project I started a few years ago (see the first post for the details).  I’m not sure where the recipe came from originally and haven’t been able to find it on line to attribute it.I’ve made some adjustments to it, as I’m sure my mom did as well.  I consider it part of the evolutionary process.
At least two cooks and then anywhere from two to four other people (not including the little ones) were in the kitchen at any one time, and that’s not including my father who poked his head in from time-to-time to offer“advice” or make a comment.  This process did not end up, by some miracle, in bloodshed, tears, or burnt food.  We even managed to get dinner on the table within 30 minutes of what I had originally guess-timated as our start time.  I consider that to be a success, even if  some folks needed to “pre-ssert” to make it through to then (photo above).  Maybe this is a meal that you can try with your family for next year to make a part of your holiday traditions as it is for mine.

 

Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Horseradish Sauce
Roast Beef
Rib-in roast of beef (you want some fat left on the meat)
1-2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. ground thyme
Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  Let roast come to room temperature.  Rub all over on all sides with the salt,pepper, and thyme (add more as necessary).
Roast in large pan on rack for 20 minutes per pound for rare.  Let roast stand for 10 minutesbefore carving.  Do not discard any of the fat that is in the bottom of the pan. If making Yorkshire Pudding,tent the meat with foil to keep warm as pudding cooks.  Also, do not be offended if any of your relatives decide that they need to cook the meat more in the microwave or on the stove.  This is also an annual tradition in my family.
Yorkshire Pudding
2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
2 c. whole milk
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl.  Create a well in the bowl and pour in the milk and the eggs.  Whisk everything together thoroughly so that there are no lumps in the batter.
Cover and chill batter for two hours.  After removing roast from pan, pour batter into same pan with the beef drippings (melted fat)*.  Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the oven heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake batter for 10-15minutes more until golden brown and cooked through.  Serve with Roast Beef and Horseradish Sauce.
*There needs to be between two to three tablespoons of fat for this to cook this properly.  You canal so add melted bacon fat to the pan to make up the missing amount if the fat from the meat didn’t add up to that much (which is what I had to do last night).
Horseradish Sauce
1 Tbsp. white sugar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 c. plain breadcrumbs
1/2 lb. horseradish, freshly grated plus 2 Tbsp. white vinegar
 OR 2 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
Combine the sugar, mustard, breadcrumbs and horseradish together in a small bowl.  Fold in cream until everything is mixed thoroughly. Chill until a few minutes before serving.  Serve alongside Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding.
Kitchen Witch Tip:
Here’s how the sequence of events played out last night, to assist you with your meal preparation. First, we put the Roast Beef in the oven, as it was going to take about three hours to cook it.  Then, at about the 30-minute mark, I made the Yorkshire Pudding batter and put that in the refrigerator.  At about an hour out from the meat being done, I made the Horseradish Sauce so that it could chill and the flavors could meld.  When the meat came out of the oven, it was placed on a cutting board and tented with foil to stay warm while the Yorkshire Pudding was baking.
By the time the pudding came out of the oven, the Horseradish Sauce was on the table,someone had started to carve the meat for us all to start filling our plates.  Pies and vegetables and other sides were prepared during same time as this whole process, as my parents have two ovens so we could cook two parts of the meal at the same time.  If you have just the one oven, as I do, I’d recommend making the pies in advance and just reheating them that day.
Buon appetito e BuonNatale!

What to do with leftover Thanksgiving Turkey? Turkey Curry, of course!

Turkey Curry

I can hear it already, the sigh emanating from kitchens around the country.  The fridge door is open and the containers of Thanksgiving leftovers are just sitting there challenging you to figure out what to do with them on the third day after the holiday.  Can you really take eating a plate of turkey and the fixings all over again?  Even my own father made a comment today about how he was on his fifth meal of leftovers, and he is usually the first one to figure out how to make a sandwich with everything.

My folks had several creative solutions to this culinary dilemma when we were growing up. Last week, my sister and I reminisced about a few of their choices.  There was Turkey Leftover Soup.  Mmmm…I can visualize the murky grey-brown broth even now, a few decades later.  Chunks of mashed potato floated on top of it.  Green beans rubbery and chewy provided that extra touch of texture.  Some vague semblance of shredded turkey meat would sometimes appear in the thick depths.  Then, a few weeks (or months!) later, we’d find a leftover container of it in the back of the fridge, fuzzy stuff growing on top of it.

Visualize this, but made with Turkey instead of Tuna

Another leftover treat was Turkey Tettrazini.  Just swap out the tuna in Tuna Tettrazini for cooked turkey and voila!, you have a new post-holiday recipe for your files.  I really do believe in not wasting good food, so I’m only sort of tongue-in-cheek about this.  One of the dishes that I did actually like was one that my mother made using recycled Thanksgiving turkey is Turkey Curry.  It is not a fancy dish, or even a typical Indian-style or Thai curry, but, rather, just basic and simple.

This is a take on my mother’s classic Chicken Curry recipe.  Interestingly enough, I don’t actually think that she had an index card in her files for it, so I had to improvise a bit from what I remember the last time I made it under her watchful eye.  I think I managed to capture the spirit if not the essence of it.  I had a meal similar to this one at Gadsby’s Tavern in Old Town Alexandria many years ago, so I don’t think that this version of a curry is that atypical.

Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey Curry (can also be made with chicken)

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Serving Size: 4 portions

Ingredients:
2 tsp. Canola Oil
1 small Onion, chopped into small pieces
1 large clove Garlic, minced
3-4 cups shredded cooked Turkey (light and dark meat)
2 tsp. Curry Powder (I used McCormick’s), plus more to taste
1 1/2 c. Chicken or Turkey Stock
1/2 tsp. Salt

To serve:
1 c. cooked Rice (white or brown)
1/4 c. Taisins
1/4 c. chopped Banana
1/4 c. chopped Walnuts
2 chopped hard-boiled Eggs

Assembly:
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over low heat.  Add the onion to the pan and cook for two minutes until soft and translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute more.  Then, add the turkey (or chicken) and curry powder.  Stir to mix everything together well.

Pour in the stock and bring it to a boil.  Turn down the heat and let the mixture simmer for 20 minutes, until it is rich and thick.  Add the salt and taste.  Adjust the seasoning as necessary.

Turkey cooking in Curry Sauce

To serve, put 1/4 of the rice in the center of each plate.  Pour 1/4 of the curry mixture on top of the rice.  Garnish each plate with equal parts of the raisins, bananas, walnuts, and eggs.  Optional garnishes could also include dried cranberries or leftover cranberry relish or chutney.  The idea is to have a contrast between the spice of the curry and the sweetness of the additions like the dried fruit or the tenderness of the meat with the crunch of the walnuts.

Turkey Curry served up with all the fixings


Buon appetito!


This entry will also be cross-posted at Blogher.

Peanut-Butter Crisscrosses

A week ago, we had some folks in town from an overseas office, and there was a large brainstorming meeting. Normally, when we have a visit from one of our team members from abroad, we have a group pizza lunch followed by bakery-bought cupcakes. This time around, the guys wanted something else, so I decided to make Peanut-Butter Crisscrosses.
I haven’t tried this recipe in a very long time. When it says that it makes almost five dozen cookies, it wasn’t kidding, so I’m glad that I decided to bring them into the office for the rest of the staff to eat as well. In baking these again, I also discovered some interesting things about the science of cookie-making.

From the point of putting them into the 350 degree oven, to ten minutes later when they came out, they didn’t seem to get a lot larger or darken very much, which was not as how I’d remembered them. In doing some research on line*, I found out that the fact that I’d had to use a cup of cake flour, which is lower in gluten, might have had an impact on how they came out in the end, as I should have added more flour to make up for the difference. I also think that the fact that I did use butter (instead of the shortening on the card) and organic peanut butter (we always used a regular national brand), might have had an impact on the final result. I’d also had to add an extra quarter of a cup of regular white sugar to make up for the fact that I didn’t have enough light brown sugar available, which added to the crispiness.

The end result turned out golden-colored and more crispy than chewy. They were light as well, too, with more of a peanut-butter essence flavor than an intense peanut taste. Having not tried these in a long while, I could only draw upon a distance memory of how they should feel in the mouth and on the palate. Everyone in my office seemed to like them just fine.
Buon appetito!
Kitchen Witch Tip:
*There’s lots of articles and research on the Internet about baking and the impact of using different types of ingredients. For these cookies, I consulted a few, including these two: one on flour and one on various cookie-baking techniques.

Sausage & Cheese Lasagna

It would be an understatement to say that it has been cold in the Northeast for the past few weeks. Frigid, bone-chilling, bloody freezing cold. The temperature has been so low on some days that I don’t think that it could have snowed if it wanted to, although the major snowstorm missed us completely yesterday.
In that spirit, I decided to make lasagna. I never really think about doing this just for myself, but I really should. Left over lasagna is wonderful to have on hand. It is perfect for reheating for a quick weekday supper. It is also possible to make it in advance and to freeze it to cook mid-week. Add a side salad and some garlic bread (or deli-purchased garlic knots for the lazier set) accompanied by a glass of red wine, and you could almost be at dinner at your favorite red-checked tablecloth restaurant, Chianti bottle candleholder optional.
I must have also been inspired by what happened a month or so back. When I was in Virginia over the holidays, I asked my dad what he wanted me to make for dinner. I even offered to make him some dishes he could freeze to reheat whenever he got tired of eating his usual fare. What did he want? My mom’s lasagna. So, I pulled out the recipe card from the file and started to get to work.

I did feel a bit pressured to get this right on the first try. My mom’s lasagna was much in demand when we were growing up, and she took a particular pride in this recipe. She had even purchased extra sausage and had frozen it to have on hand, which my father and I found when we were poking around in the freezer. Some pretty high stakes were riding on my producing something that would remind everyone of family dinners gone by, but in a good way.

 
From the card above, you can see that it doesn’t seem to be that complicated to make. It’s just a series of several steps that all get thrown together at the end in one baked dish. I hadn’t realized until I looked closely at the card, but it seems like my mother may have snuck in the spinach which she always used in this recipe. I opted not to mix that into the ricotta as she seems to indicate, but, rather, I alternated between globs of cheese and dots of green when I built the layers.
 

The end result was rich, gooey, hearty, and soul-satisfying. It was a hit with my father and my siblings who were around that night. All the same, I sort of wondered if this was the be-all, end-all of family-style lasagna dishes. Food and Wine magazine had published a Free-Form Sausage and Three-Cheese Lasagna recipe in the January 2010 edition. I was drawn into it by the photo of the finished dish. Would this be the rival recipe to take on my mother’s favorite?
I tried to see what I could pick up at the Greenmarket yesterday to put this together. The folks at Violet Hill Farm had some Italian sweet sausage. Tonjes Farm Dairy had fresh mozzarella. Everything else I would need to pick up elsewhere. Then, I could see if this would match up to the kind of lasagna that haunts one’s dreams.
My finished product looked different from that in the magazine, as I’d added some tomato sauce to the top layer to keep it moist. I also had enough extra cheese that I put some of the Fontina and the mozzarella on top. I think mine looks a bit more rustic and what one thinks of as a homemade dish.
When served up with the fresh basil on top of the finished product, the lasagna is respectably gooey with a snap from the herbs. I didn’t find it as hearty as the one that I’d made at my folks’ place. The flavor overall seemed a bit drab. It didn’t taste bad at all, just not as strong of a dish as the one with which I’d grown up. This is not something that would make the members of a large family run to the table so as not to be stuck with the last, smallest piece.
I could definitely see adding some extra hot Italian sausage to give it some more personality. Another touch I might add, which is a step that is in the first recipe, is to cook the sausage in the sauce for a while and then add the two together to build the layers, as I thought the meat got kind of dry in the baking process. The cheeses were fine but having two soft melty cheeses didn’t create enough of a flavor contrast for me.
As for not having any spinach, well, I didn’t miss that a bit. There’s always salad to add the green stuff to the meal. Overall, I think that Mom’s recipe still wins; however, it was nice to try another option just to see if something else could stack up to it.
Buon appetito!