Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Carbonara ala Sophia Loren

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
Carbonara has been on my mind for days now and Ramen noodles just don't quite cut it. I just have not had the time to cook a proper meal but I may have finally reached my limit and tonight is the night and I'm making carbonara the way purists of this dish will have it prepared (this was last week prior to me moving to a new place, hence the delay in posting).

There is a mystery on how this dish originated. No exact date nor place have been appointed to this quite popular dish. To drive home this point, here is a narrative describing the origins of Carbonara from the editor of Sophia Loren's cookbook. My memory of carbonara from back home evoked the use of tons of cream which drowns the pasta to an inch of its life. Mushrooms were also added to it as well. However, despite the lingering doubts of the history of this Roman dish, I had to come up with a recipe that combined both Sophia Loren's version while erring on the side of authenticity.

As a graduate student at Michigan State, we once had an Italian postdoc, Silvana and during one of our revolving parties, she made us carbonara for an afternoon party. Jen, our other postdoc on the other hand, was the queen of spaghetti with meatballs and Italian sausages. Silvana made the carbonara whilst we arrived so I was able to watch her make them from scratch. If my memory serves me right, she used cream (a no no apparently for purists) on her carbonara as well and with it, she added the egg yolks. It was a simple dish and yet quite tasty as well.

Now, a few things to point out with regards to this recipe. I used salted pork instead of pancetta. I was not able to find pancetta in the grocery store that I frequent although they had prosciutto but I did not want to use prosciutto at all (it is better left uncooked  draped over a cantaloupe and served as an antipasti). If pancetta is not an option, go for smoked bacon.  Another thing to remember is that the flavor of this dish depends largely on the cheese used. Use a good variety of Pecorino or Grana Padano or something aged that will lend its flavor in contrast to the creamy flavor of the eggs.

*Carbonara ala Sophia Loren - adapted

4 oz pancetta or smoked bacon, diced
5 to 6 egg yolks
black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp cream (optional)
4 tbsp grated pecorino romano or grana padano cheese
1 lb spaghetti or bucatinni

1. Cook the pasta according to packet instructions.

2. In a large saucepan, cook the diced pancetta in 2 tbsp olive oil until  
    it renders most of its fat. Do not burn to a crisp though. If you are
    concerned about the fat in the pancetta, you can remove some of
    it and replace with more olive oil.

3. In another bowl, combine the egg yolks with the cream (if using) and
    whisk until well mixed.

4. Once the pasta is cooked to al dente, add into the pan with the
    pancetta and mix well. Add the egg mixture and quickly mix into
    the pasta to avoid the eggs from curdling.

5. Add the butter and the cheese and finish with a few turns of freshly
    grated black pepper.

6. Serve immediately with more cheese to pass around the table.

*Loren, Sophia. Sophia Loren's Recipes and Memories. GT Publishing Corp. New York:1998

Monday, May 30, 2011

Bizarre Dinner

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Sorry it had been some time since I last posted on the blog but I was in the process of moving to another place and juggling both work and moving did not leave me enough time for blogging. I have a couple of recipes ready to go but I need to find my camera that seems to have gone MIA for some reason (update:found it under my bathroom sink). For now, let me tempt you with a dinner we had planned with the main purpose of pushing our limits when it comes to food, ala Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. We had three contenders and four brave diners representing four different countries: Cedric (French), Oleg (Russian), Kyle (Czech), and me (Filipino).

Beef Tartare

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Cedric took the responsibility of preparing this for us and I had to get over the fact that we were going to consume raw ground beef with only the spices and condiments to make it palatable. The verdict: it was actually quite good. You don't really taste the rawness of the beef but I certainly had an issue with the texture. In the end, I had to mask the texture of the tartare with soft cheese to make me forget that I'm noshing on raw beef. All in all, it went well with champagne and Herbes de Provence flavored oven-baked potatoes and all four of us went for second and third helpings.

Callos ala Madrilena (Callos, Madrid Style)

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My inspiration for the recipe was taken from another favorite blog of mine, Market Manila. Made with beef tripe, beef brisket (I failed to find beef shank that was less than 20 lbs) and tons of caseless Mexican chorizo, it was my favorite of the night but for everyone else, it proved to be too gummy, chewy and just a tad too organic in flavor. Overall verdict: tastes like grass, pee, and something else we'd rather not talk about. Cedric came in with a bias stemming from a bad memory of the horrendous smell of the tripe his Dad cooked in France. Oleg did not like it nor did he not like it. Kyle on the other hand tried to dissect the dish and his overall feeling of it was that his Dad was going to love this dish. Him, not so much! 

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The tripe I bought was actually fairly clean and the pre-cooking/cleaning process was actually not too bad with nary a trace of that funky smell you associate with fresh tripe. Bay leaves and oregano were also added during the cooking process as something that I remembered my Nanay Mercy used when she made this dish for me the last time I was home. I also remembered she used pork legs instead of beef shank to flavor the broth but I wanted to stick close to the recipe presented by Marketman so I went for the beef. 

Braised Beef Tongue in Mushroom Sauce on Risotto alla Milanese

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Final course of the night is a combination of two bizarre dishes. The risotto qualified the bizarre requirement as it was made with saffron and beef bone marrow. The marrow lent a rich flavor to the dish and it was a good foil to the beef tongue that was both velvety soft and subtle in flavor. The dish was topped with a spinach rabe. It was a good way to round up our dinner. The verdict: it was better than the Callos but we were too stuffed by then to really savor the full experience of the dish. The texture of the beef tongue was really fine and it was so tender it melted in your mouth. The mushroom sauce made with roux was silky and added the right texture against the tongue (the beef tongue, that is). The spinach rabe added a bit of heat and spiciness needed to balance the mellow flavors of both the risotto and the tongue.


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We were planning to end the meal with a bang and serve chocolate-coated grasshoppers but the store in town that carried them stopped stocking them since nobody was interested in purchasing them (obviously) so we had to opt for something normal, a Peach Charlotte. It might sound very generic and uninteresting but served with hot espresso, it was a good way to end an interesting meal, to say the least.

All in all, it was a fun dinner with all of us trying to push our limits when it came to food that may be weird to some but is perfectly normal and ordinary to others. I'm just glad I made it past the fear of trying raw beef, something that I do with fish when I eat sashimi. I still love Callos and I'm glad that I don't have to pine for the Callos that my friend Nash's mother makes. She makes one good Callos and so does my Nanay Mercy really but since both are in other countries (Mexico and Philippines), I'm glad that I now know how to make my own version. The tongue, well, I've always loved beef tongue and we even had it for my cousin's wedding that I helped plan but to cook it for regular meals might be a bit too much. Cedric's parents are visiting from France in August so we might have a repeat of the dinner from last night so that gives me a good two to three months of respite from the amount of cooking I had to do for a night of fine dining.

I'm assuming nobody really wants the recipes when the ingredients list include raw beef, beef tripe and beef tongue so I'll just leave it at that. They will be available upon request if any of you have the cravings for any of the dishes we had for dinner last night.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Chocolate Pavlova with Raspberry

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
Spring is here or in other areas, summer is here. Berries are starting to pop up in the produce aisles with prices that makes you want to cry, in a good way. While on a recent trip to Costco, they were selling double pints of raspberries for $3.99. I immediately grabbed two just because it was cheap and I can always think of something to bake and pair them with. Browsing through my stack of cookbooks, a raspberry triffle recipe came into mind but I eventually settled for something I have not made in years, the "Pav!" Pav is short for Pavlova which is a meringue-based dessert from down under created in honor of the Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova. The base is made of pouffy meringue which resembles a tutu and topped with whipped cream and in this instance, fresh raspberries.

An interesting thing to note is that balsamic vinegar is added to the meringue. The reason for this is to create a crusty outer layer while keeping the meringue soft and chewy on the inside. You also don't have to worry about the vinegary taste as the sugar balances out the flavor quite nicely.  A major change I wanted to make is the use of clotted cream instead of the traditional Chantilly cream to top the cake. I came across an English clotted cream while staying at a friend's ex-boyfriend's parents while she was helping me move from Atlanta to Knoxville. Unfortunately, the relationship did not last but my memory of the clotted cream has remained as fresh as ever. Sadly, it is hard to find clotted cream in the local grocery so I turned to my ever trusted website, I revised the recipe a bit and used their quick version of clotted cream minus the lemon zest. The raspberries I think will provide enough zest to the dessert.

The recipe on the whole is from Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer cookbook. Seriously, what would I do without her.

*Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova - Adapted


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6 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp cocoa powder,    sifted
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely    chopped

1. Beat the egg whites  
    to soft peaks and  
    gradually add the  
    sugar until stiff peaks  
    are formed.

2. Sift over the cocoa and add the vinegar and chopped chocolate. Fold 
    gently until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in. 

3. Mound onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in a  
    preheated oven at 350°F. The moment you place the meringue in the
    oven, lower the oven temperature immediately to 300°F.

4. Bake for an hour to an hour and a half. The outside should be crisp  
    while the middle is still a bit gooey. 

5. Leave meringe in the warm oven with the door ajar until it is  
    completely cooled. 

**Topping: - Adapted

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup mascarpone
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Beat the cream with the sugar until soft peaks are formed. Whisk in the mascarpone and the vanilla until well mixed. 

Pile the whipped cream topping on top of the meringue and dot with raspberries and shavings of bittersweet chocolate. 

* Lawson, Nigella. Forever Summer. Hyperion. New York: 2001


Gnocchi in Ragu with Italian Sausage
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I used to buy Gnocchi at Kroger whenever I was hosting an Italian dinner. I usually prepare them with the classic butter with sage sauce and once, I believe as a sweet dish following Giada di Laurentis recipe in her show Everyday Italian. After leaving Atlanta for Knoxville, I forgot about this little piece of gem until I moved back to Bozeman. It was during a rare occurrence when I was the one invited over for dinner and we had gnocchi for the main course. It was then that I remembered how I used to buy this for a lot more compared to the basic ingredients. We either arrived early or the the host was running a bit late but we were able to help him with the preparation and watching him make gnocchi from scratch was both fascinating and a head scratcher on how easy it was to make them.

To prove how easy it is, all you need is to be able to remember your 1, 2 and 3s. 1 is for one egg. 2 are for two cups of flour and 3, for three lbs of potatoes. Still with me? Here's how you do it.

1. Boil potatoes in a large pot until a knife pierces through it. Make sure
    you start with cold water and never overcook your potatoes.

2. When the potatoes are cooked, drain and let them rest for about
    5 minutes. After 5 minutes, peel the potatoes in any way you can
    without scalding your hands. Pass the peeled potatoes through a ricer
    and while still warm, form them into a mound with a well at the
    center on any flat surface.

3. Sprinkle the flour over the potatoes and add one egg into the well
    and start to knead gingerly. You want to keep the volume so do not
    overknead. Sprinkle with flour if the dough gets too sticky. It will
    take about 5 minutes to form a dough that holds its shape and yet is
    still quite soft and elastic.

4. Divide the dough into 8 portions and roll each portion into rods
   about 3/4 inch in diameter and length. To form the ridges, press the
   cut pieces of gnocchi on the concave side of a fork and flick off the
   gnocchi away towards the end of the tines.

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    To cook the gnocchi,
    boil a pot of water
    and season with salt.
    Drop the gnocchi
    one at a time and
    wait for them to
    float. They are cooked
    once they float.
    Transfer the cooked
    gnocchi into an ice
    bath to stop them
    from cooking. Once
    cooled, drop the gnocchi on your choice of sauce or if not using right away, drain the ice water and coat the gnocchi with a generous amount of canola oil.

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
There are a few gadgets that will make you life easier if you ever decide to make gnocchi. First is the ricer. I bought mine for $15 at Bed Bath and Beyond. It was pricey but it has proven to be quite useful. Another indespensable/dispensable (depending on how patient you are) gadget is the gnocchi roller. Given as a gift, I have used it once but I still prefer to do it old-school. Go figure. This little piece of contraption allows you to shape gnocchi ten times faster but do make sure that you do not press too hard or you'll end up with a noodle-shaped gnocchi.

Friday, May 13, 2011


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I have no memory of when I first tasted Truffles. It is most likely from a random purchase at the World Market, a favorite store of mine that sells everything from furniture to wines to kitchen gadgets and even art pieces. It is one place where I can buy crafts from back home so I love this store for that alone (second reason are TimTams). It reminds me somehow of something familiar and a favorite of both me and my Mom, the Negros Showroom.

I also frequent this Chocolatair at Ventura, California whenever I have the chance to attend the GRC conference. They sell wonderful truffles although the proprietor was none too friendly. It was always a tough choice going back to a place that sells something you love but with a bad attitude that puts you off as a customer. More often than not however, the craving overrides principles so despite any personal issues, I go and enjoy their truffles. Where is my pride you might ask, "Who cares, I'm not missing out on my truffles"!

There are different variations of truffles but I think the basic and most simple kind is the best one. No fuss and no gimmicks, just pure chewy chocolate with a hint of liqueur finished with a dusting of cocoa powder. Just dare take one bite and you'll be hooked. I have worked with several recipes of truffles but I think the easiest one that always delivers is Ina Garten's version. I've made some minor revisions but overall, it is so easy to make you'll wonder why you've never tried it before. Here then is the Barefoot Contessa's recipe of truffles.

*Chocolate Truffles - Adapted

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1/2 lb bittersweet   chocolate
1/2 lb good semisweet   chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp Kahlua
2 tsp instant coffee
1/2 tsp good vanilla   extract
Cocoa powder

1.Chop the chocolates
   finely with a sharp
   knife. Place them in a heat-proof mixing bowl.

2.Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just boils. Turn off the
   heat and allow the cream to sit for 20 seconds. Add the instant coffee.
   Pour the cream through a fine-meshed sieve over the chocolate. With
   a wire whisk, slowly stir the cream and chocolates together until the
   chocolate is completely melted.

3.Whisk in the Kahlua and vanilla. Set aside at room temperature for 1
   hour or if you are in a hurry, cool in the fridge but do not freeze.

4.With 2 teaspoons, spoon round balls of the chocolate mixture onto a
   baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes,
   until firm.

5.Roll each dollop of chocolate in your hands to roughly make a round  
   ball. Roll in cocoa powder. These will keep refrigerated for weeks.

Iron Chef Montana, Battle: Chocolate Mousse

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It started funnily enough as part of a regular dinner conversation about desserts that we considered the best that we've ever had. A chocolate mousse in France was mentioned and my mind started whirling with the thought" I bet I could knock that mousse down!" Vincent, my boss at Emory once remarked that it only takes a single mention of a dish and it will grow on me like a weed and before you know it, you'll be at my apartment a week later feasting on the very same dish that was unwittingly mentioned. He was right, as always. Thus, as further proof of this failing, the chocolate mousse battle was born. 

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For the competition, I initially thought of my usual three layered mousse as my contender but I decided to whip up a newer discovery to bring home the spoils of food war. I know I have made this chocolate-glazed hazelnut mousse before but I cannot find any trace of its existence other than a copy of the recipe in my computer. This recipe was, by the way, a happy accident and was discovered while browsing through for mousse recipes. Originally featured at Gourmet magazine in February of 2006, it had been on hiatus in my recipe folder until last year.

*Chocolate-Glazed Hazelnut Mousse - Adapted from Gourmet Magazine via


2 tbsp hazelnuts, toasted and skins rubbed off
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2tbsp unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/8 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Invert bottom of springform pan (to  
    make it easier to slide shortbread base off bottom), then lock on side
    of pan and line bottom with a round of parchment paper.

2. Pulse hazelnuts with sugar in a food processor until nuts are finely  
    chopped. Add flour, butter, cocoa, and salt and pulse just until a     dough forms.

3. Press dough evenly onto bottom of springform pan with your fingers. 
    Prick all over with a fork, then bake until just dry to the touch, about 
    18 to 20 minutes. Cool completely. Remove side of pan and carefully  
    slide out parchment from under shortbread, then reattach side of pan     around shortbread base.


2 tsp unflavored gelatin
6 tbsp cold water
1 cup chocolate hazelnut spread such as Nutella
1 cup mascarpone
3 cups chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
6 tablespoons sugar 


1/2 cup heavy cream
10 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (or semisweet chocolate), chopped

1. Sprinkle gelatin over water in a bowl and let stand until softened,  
    about 5 minutes. Heat gelatin mixture over low heat, stirring, just  
    until gelatin is melted, about 2 minutes. Whisk in chocolate hazelnut     spread until combined and remove from heat.

2. Whisk together mascarpone and chocolate hazelnut mixture in a large     bowl. 

3. Beat together cream, cocoa powder, and sugar in another large bowl  
    with an electric mixer at low speed until just combined, then  
    increase speed to high and beat until cream just holds soft peaks. 

4. Whisk one third of whipped cream into mascarpone mixture  
    to lighten, then fold in remaining whipped cream until well  
    combined. Spoon filling onto shortbread base in pan, gently smoothing     top, then chill, covered, at least 3 hours.

5. Bring cream to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan and remove from  
    heat. Pour over chocolate and let stand 1 minute, then gently whisk
    until completely melted and smooth. Cool ganache by stirring     occasionally, until slightly thickened but still pourable, about 20 

6. Run a warm thin knife around inside of springform pan, then remove  
    side. Slide cake off bottom of pan and transfer to a serving plate.  
    Pour ganache onto top of cake and spread, allowing excess ganache to     drip down sides. 

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
To follow up on the chocolate mousse battle, it was decided by the panel of six overstuffed judges that the two contenders were way too different for them to really make an informed and unbiased judgement so it was declared that both were winners. The only losers were the six of us trying to digest way too much food on a Sunday night. We had Polpette in Umido (Meatballs in Broth) and Gnocchi in Ragu with Italian Sausage prior to the contest (both recipes will be made available soon). All in all, it was a great night for a friendly throwdown. Next on the list is dinner ala Bizzare Foods with Andrew Zimmern.  Beef tongue anyone?

Birthday Brownies

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Brownies as a birthday cake is quite unusual but not for Nigella Lawson and I'm with her on this. Brownies have been relegated to something you make when you are pressed for time or if you can't think of anything else to bake. It is definitely not a birthday staple but I think it should be. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that I will be making brownies for any upcoming birthday parties but it is good to know that I have an option.

Initially featured in the Brownies Inc post, I'm rewriting the recipe as presented in Nigella's book. For some reason, the link featured measurements that are either in grams or pounds. Not an issue for me since I have a scale but for the novice baker, measurements in cups might be an easier way to do things.

*Brownies - Adapted

1 2/3 cup unsalted butter
13 oz bittersweet chocolate
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cup flour
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp instant coffee
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1. Melt butter and chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water.
    Let cool for a few minutes.

2. With a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, add the sugar and coffee and
    mix well.

3. Add the eggs one at a time mixing well per addition followed by the
    vanilla extract and salt.

4. Sift the flour over the chocolate mixture and mix well. Add in  
    the walnuts and pour into a 9x13 baking pan lined with foil (grease  
    the foil with butter to prevent brownie from sticking).

5. Bake in preheated over at 350°F for 20-25 minutes. Do not overbake
    and the top should be pale brown. Remove from the oven and cool  
    to room temperature. Cool even further in the fridge for 2-4 hours.

The brownie is gungy as Nigella would refer to it which translates to very fudgy. The cooling process helps you achieve a clean slice when you cut into the brownie. I like to keep these brownies chilled and serve them paired with a hot cup of tea.

* Lawson, Nigella. How To Be a Domestic Goddess. Hyperion. New York: 2001

Friday, May 6, 2011

Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes - Chinese Version

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Scrambled eggs might seem like a no-brainer but I was never really good at making them. My cousin Jo-Ann was always tasked at making omelets and scrambled eggs as for some unknown reason, she always makes it perfect. Must be the simplicity of how she cooks them without trying to overachieve (my bad) and make a simple dish just the way it should be cooked, simply. 

This dish is now my go-to dish whenever I have no time to cook a full meal. Not an original recipe from my family, I learned of this dish when I stayed at my friend Shujuan's apartment whenever I visit Michigan. She is Chinese and according to other Chinese friends, she is at the level of the pros when it comes to cooking Chinese food. As a kitchen terror herself, she would just candidly say, "Just eat!" whenever I try to dissect what was served in front of me. I finally managed to finagle the recipe from her after some gentle prodding and sly snooping. One thing I never got the hang of though was how she would whack the tomatoes with her butcher knife prior to dicing them. This was just a bit too much for me.

Traditionally served as a *breakfast item in China, I make this dish whenever my cupboard is low on everything else except the basics like eggs, tomatoes and some green onions. Served over a mound of steamed rice, this simple dish never fails to impress.

Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes

6 large eggs
4-6 Roma tomatoes
4-5 stalks of green onions
coarse salt and pepper
1 tbsp milk
4 tbsp canola oil

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1. Crack eggs and add 1
    tbsp of water and 1     tbsp of milk. Season
    with 1/4 tsp salt and a     few turns of black     pepper. Beat lightly
    to mix.

2. Dice tomatoes and     sprinkle with a pinch
    or two of salt. This     allows for the diced 
    tomatoes to start     releasing their juices. 

3. In a large skillet, heat the oil at medium heat and add the egg
    mixture. When the eggs starts to set, break it up and keep stirring
    gently until it is almost set. Transfer to a bowl. 

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4. On the same skillet,     add the tomatoes
    and 2 tbsp of water.     Let it simmer until
    the tomatoes are soft.     At this point, take the
    flat side of your     spatula and press down
    on the tomatoes. You     want to smash them  
    but you don't want to 
    end up with tomato     sauce either. 

5. Return the eggs and mix in with the tomatoes. Add another tbsp or
    two of water if it is a little dry. Check for flavor and adjust

6. Garnish with thinly sliced green onions or chopped parsley or cilantro. 
    Serve hot with steamed rice or a french bread. 

* A correction had been issued by a Chinese friend.  My recipe made it through the scrutiny but the descriptive information did not. Apparently, it is more of a lunch or dinner fare. Thanks for the correction, JW!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Braised Beef

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
I was watching Lidia's Italy just before Easter and Lidia was making Braised Leg of Lamb (Ragu di Agnello) that had me eagerly planning my next dinner party . Braised lamb may evoke thoughts of chunks of meat stewing in a broth and may sound very simplistic but it actually wasn't. For starters, she used a deboned leg of lamb that was butterflied and stuffed with a cheese and bread crumb filling and rolled into a log. The braising liquid used was ragรน, a rustic ingredient that complements this rather laborious meat preparation and gives it a sense of harmony. Being a cook on a budget, I had to give this a try but with a much cheaper ingredient so I settled for a cut of beef round. Served on polenta squares, it lent an air of extravagance that in reality was really quite affordable. 

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To accomodate the fact that I'm still on the fence with regards to cast iron cookware (they are uber expensive), I had to cut down on the size of the beef logs for them to fit into my stewing pot. Thus, I ended up with two medium-sized logs. All in all, it was quite tasty with plenty of leftovers that suited me well enough.  The cooking time will vary depending on the meat you use but you will know when they are done when the meat is fork tender. There is the temptation to keep on braising until the meat is about to fall apart but it kills the presentation of the dish because when you slice it across, you reveal the pinwheel design which is quite stunning. So try to cook it as far as you wish as long as the meat holds its shape.

Here then is Lidia's recipe which I followed closely except that I used beef, not lamb. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  


This post reminds me of Iron Chef Michael Symon's mantra, "Teach someone a recipe and they can cook a dish, but if you teach them a technique, they can cook a hundred dishes." This definitely holds true for risotto. The possibilities are endless for this quite humble yet elegant dish. If you stick to the basics (check my post on risotto and polenta), you can create your customized risotto depending on the season and what is available that appeals to your palate. With spring just around the corner, it is almost time to go mushroom hunting again. With this in mind, I'm presenting Sophia Loren's recipe of risotto with mushrooms.

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My first experience with mushroom hunting was last year at Hyalite Canyon with Oleg, my Russian friend and his godson, Kyle. We trekked the rather dry terrain late in the morning when mushrooms were sprouting from the ground triggered by the rising sun. For a couple of hours, we gathered and had quite the haul. Most notable were a couple of Boletes mushrooms, the biggest mushrooms I've ever laid my eyes on and the yellow Chanterelles that I managed to ignore not knowing they were acutally one of the more expensive varieties when you buy them retail. An added excitement was the fact that we may have picked up some poisonous variety. Thank goodness we didn't. A desperate attempt on my part to find wild mushrooms during the winter months led to the discovery of a frozen pack of mixed wild mushrooms sold by the pound. It sure beats the bland white button mushrooms when making Risotto ai Funghi.  

*Risotto Ai Funghi - Adapted

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
1 lb wild mushroom mix
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 onion, minced
3 or 4 rosemary leaves
1 tbsp fresh oregano 
4 to 5 tbsp olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cup Italian rice    (Arborio)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped basil or    Italian parsley

If using fresh mushrooms, dice them in small pieces and instead of adding them prior to adding in the cooking liquid (chicken broth for this recipe), I prefer to add them at the end when the rice is almost done. This way, the mushrooms are still firm and a bit more intense in flavor. For the frozen variety, add them frozen and allow the cooking liquid to thaw them in the pan with the rice. Add the cream and the basil or parsley, just before serving. Cheese was not a required garnish to finish this risotto but I do love the added dimension it brings to the flavor so go for something sharp like Pecorino Romano or Grana Padano. Follow directions on how to make this risotto based from my previous post. Also, add the aromatic herbs, rosemary and oregano, when you saute the garlic and the onions.

Another favorite of mine is risotto with tomatoes. It is very simple but the flavor is reminiscent of summer. This risotto is cooked a bit differently so I'll have to write it down step by step. This again is a recipe from Sophia Loren, aptly named by her as well not because of the main ingredient but from where she learned the recipe, Geneva.    

*Risotto di Ginevra - Adapted

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4 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
6 medium tomatoes,    stem ends trimmed, cut    in half
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups Italian rice    (Arborio)
Salt and pepper
4 tbsp heavy cream
Grated Parmigiano

1. Pour the oil into a deep saute pan and add the onion. Cook over  
    medium heat stirring until the onions are slightly browned. 

2. Add the tomatoes and the wine. When the skins of the tomatoes start 
    to crinkle, pull on them to remove the skin while in the pan or you  
    can remove them and skin them off the pan.

3. Add the rice and stir in for one minutes. Add water to cover. If the  
    water is absorbed before the rice is cooked, add more water. 

4. When the rice is tender, check for flavor and add salt and pepper as     needed. 

5. Stir in the cream and pass the cheese at the table. 

For this recipe, you can also use vegetable broth instead of water. An alternative is also to use 15oz of diced canned tomatoes. This saves you the time from having to skin them. 

*Loren, Sophia. Sophia Loren's Recipes and Memories. GT Publishing Corp. New York:1998

Monday, May 2, 2011

Pub Crawl : My Version

One of my favorite cooking show is Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello. One problem I have with this show though is that it seems to cater to those with unlimited budget. Watching Michael cook, the extra virgin olive oil seems to flow like water from the tap and every fancy ingredient seems to grow from his backyard ready for the picking. The show is shot I believe at Michael Chiarello's vineyard at the Napa Valley. So if you are a cook on a budget, some of his recipes might set you back on a no food diet for a couple of weeks.

One episode from the show that I drew inspiration from (in other words, affordable) was the Pub Crawl episode. On it, he made a version of shepherd's pie and a beer flavored onion soup accompanied by a beer-based cocktail named Snake Bite for their drink. Since I'm off alcohol at the moment, the Snake Bite has to bite the dust, no pun intended. Both the pie and the soup are definitely worth trying though. 

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
I have made shepherd's pie before and it was not a pleasant experience. I made way too much filling and crammed all of it in my baking dish that it overflowed while baking. This caused the oil from the sauce to smoke which set off my smoke alarm and I had to do a thorough cleaning of my oven before I could bake on it again. For all that trouble, the result was a so-so flavored pie that I had to eat for the whole week. I was never so eager for something in my fridge to go away as quickly as possible. It has been years since my kitchen disaster so I thought I'd have another go at it after watching this episode for the second time. This time though, I used Michael's version with a bit of a tweak, as always. The result was quite good and I have the seal of approval from a friend who was not too fond of shepherd's pie. I may not have made a convert out of her but she certainly finished off her plate which was compliment enough for me. 

The soup was a total surprise to me though. I love onions but I always thought having a soup with just onions was a bit of an overkill. Once you try it though, you realize that it all makes sense. Use the crustiest bread you can find as it lends flavor to the soup once it has soaked up the liquid. Another crucial ingredient is the cheese. Gruyere was the traditional choice but the recipe called for Irish Cheddar cheese. Since I could not find Irish Cheddar cheese here in Bozeman, I settled for a mild Cheddar variety. I also used red wine vinegar as I totally forgot that I had a bottle of sherry in my cupboard. White wine I think will do equally well if you can't find sherry vinegar. I actually had to readjust the flavor by adding a bit of white sugar to balance the acidity of the vinegar. 

*Shepherds Pie with Scallion-Cheese Crust - Adapted


2 tablespoon olive oil
1 lbs ground lamb
3 lbs diced beef
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped very small
1 lb cremini mushrooms
2 level tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup red wine
3 cups beef stock
salt and black pepper to taste


4 lbs potatoes
4 tbsp butter
salt and black pepper
1 cup scallions, cleaned and chopped
1 cup cheddar, coarsely grated

1. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or deep  
   saute pan. Add the onions to the pan and saute until the onions are  
   tinged brown at the edges, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the beef and season with salt and pepper. Brown the meat and  
    be patient. You may have to do this in batches. Alternatively, you  
    can brown the beef prior to sauteing the onions.

3. Add thyme, parsley and cinnamon. Stir and saute for 2 minutes. Next, 
    stir in the flour, which will soak up the juice, then stir in the wine
    and the beef stock. Taste and add salt and pepper, as needed.

4. Cover, turn down the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes

5. In another pan, brown the lamb at medium high heat. Once browned, 
    add the lamb to the beef that has been simmering for 30 minutes  
    together with the mushroom and the carrots. Add the tomato paste. 

6. Simmer for another 30 minutes or until the beef is fully cooked.  
    Check for flavor and adjust accordingly. Keep warm.  

7. Peel the potatoes, cut them into large even-sized pieces and place  
    into a pot of cold, salted water. Bring the water to a boil and cook
    potatoes until they are tender, about 10 minutes. When the potatoes  
    are done, drain off the water, return them to the saucepan, cover  
    with a clean tea cloth to absorb the steam and leave them for about  
    5 minutes. Next, with a ricer, mash the potatoes. Add the butter and     season with salt and pepper.

8. In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, spoon the meat stew and level it out  
    with the back of the spoon. After that, spread the mashed potato  
    evenly all over. Sprinkle the scallions on top of the potato, scatter the     cheese over the scallions. 

9. In a preheated oven, bake the pie at 400°F until the top is crusty and  
    golden, about 25 minutes.

*Killian's Red Onion Soup with Cheddar Crouton - Adapted 

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin    olive oil
5 cloves minced garlic 
8 cups thinly sliced onions
Gray salt
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves,    chopped
1/4 cup sherry vinegar (I    used red wine vinegar)
1 1/2 cups dark beer (I    used Killian's Red)
6 cups beef stock 
6 slices country bread cut 1/2-inch thick, toasted
1/2 lb Cheddar cheese, grated

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the garlic and  
    cook briefly to release aroma. Add the onions and season with salt  
    and cook for about 5 minutes stirring often. Reduce heat to low and  
    cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are     golden brown.

2. Add the thyme, vinegar, and beer. Reduce beer by half and add the  
    beef stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 more minutes.

3. To serve, preheat the broiler. Transfer the soup to an ovenproof  
    serving dish or individual ovenproof soup bowls. Top with toasted  
    bread slices and sliced Cheddar. Broil until cheese melts and starts to     brown slightly. Serve piping hot.