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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fettuccine with Blue Cheese Sauce

At Eat Well, Eat Cheap, we aim to offer recipes that combine deliciousness, frugality, and healthiness. This one, for fettucine bathed in creamy blue cheese sauce, is spectacularly delicious and pleasingly frugal, but—we'll admit it—it falls considerably short in the health department. But it's so delicious and easy, and makes such splendid use of leftovers, that we're willing to cut it some slack. We deal with the guilt of eating it by eating it only once or twice a year.

After the holidays, we found ourselves with dribs and drabs of several great cheeses, including a French blue and an American blue that were rapidly turning the corner from interesting pungency to hair-raising rancidity. We did not want them to go to waste, and remembered one of our favorite recipes from Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian Cooking, for Fettucine Gorgonzola.

Here's our adaptation:

Fettucine with Blue Cheese Sauce

1 pound fettucine
1/2 cup blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Stilton, Roquefort, Danish are all good, as are any combinations of them)
1/2 cup light cream
2 T. butter
1/2 t. salt
1/2 cup grated parmesan

1. Add fettucine to a big pot of rapidly boiling water. Stir to separate the strands, which like to clot together.

2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the cheese, cream, butter, and salt in a wide saucepan that's big enough to hold the finished pasta. Mash the cheese into the hot butter and cream. Keep warm while the pasta finishes cooking.

3. Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce, quickly mix, and add a couple of tablespoons of the parmesan. Serve with the rest of the parmesan on the side.

Serves four as a guilt-inducing main course, or six to eight as a first course.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Beet Soup with Mushroom Patties

We intended to run Teresa Bobbitt's recipe for the Polish soup barszcz before Christmas, because it's traditionally served on Chrismas Eve. The holidays got away from us, but this recipe is too good to hold for another year. Winter brings wonderful beets to the market, so this can be made anytime you see a nice fat bunch in the store.

Teresa says, "Barszcz can be served as a main course with a big salad, or as the first course of a formal dinner. Both the soup and the patties are quite easy to make and can be prepared several days ahead and reheated."


3 onions
2 celery stalks or 1/2 celery root
2 parsley roots
2 onions
5 peppercorns
2 quarts water
6 medium beets, washed but unpeeled
1 t. dried marjoram
1 to 2 T. lemon juice
1 t. sugar
salt and pepper to taste

1. Simmer carrots, celery stalks or celery root, parsley root, onions, and peppercorns in salted water for 30 minutes. Strain.

2. Boil the beets in a small amount of water for 30 minutes. Run them under cold water, peel them, coarsely grate them, and add them to the broth.

3. Add the marjoram to the broth and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain, and discard the beets.

4. Add lemon juice, sugar, salt, and pepper.

Mushroom Patties

2 T. butter
1 onion, sliced
10 ounces mushrooms, sliced
2 T. water
2 slices whole wheat bread
1 T. dried or 3 T. fresh dill
salt and pepper to taste

2/3 cup butter
2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
2 t. baking powder
2 egg yolks
1 egg
3 T. sour cream
1 egg white

For the stuffing:

1. Sauté onions in the butter until golden.

2. Add mushrooms and two tablespoons of water, and cook on low heat for five minutes.

3. Soak bread in water; squeeze.

4. Place everything in a food processor, add dill, season with salt and pepper, and blend until creamy.

For the dough:

1. Cut the butter into the flour with a knife or a pastry cutter.

2. Add baking powder, egg yolks, egg, and sour cream. Knead the dough for a few minutes, or put the ingredients into a food processor and process until the dough rolls into a ball.

3. Roll out dough into two 18-by-16-inch rectangles.

Making the patties:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place a line of stuffing one inch inside the long edge of each rectangle. Fold the dough over the stuffing; brush with egg white.

3. Cut into 26 patties and place them on a buttered baking sheet.

4. Bake 35 minutes.

Add the patties to the soup just before serving. Serves six.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Six Recipes that Satisfy Both Meat-Eaters and Vegetarians

The current issue of Fine Cooking magazine takes on the always-challenging subject of how to feed a group that includes both carnivores and vegetarians. The editors came up with six easy-to-customize recipes that feed everyone without exhausting the cook. Author Ivy Manning says,

My strategy is simple: Prepare a vegetarian main dish that’s delicious on its own, set some aside for the non-meat-eater, and then add meat or seafood to the rest of the meal. Dinner’s on the table fast, and everyone gets to enjoy the same supper without your having to do double duty in the kitchen.

We can attest to the deliciousness of the recipes—last weekend we had both the chicken and tofu versions of Manning's Thai Red Curry with Chicken and Vegetables, and loved them equally.

Thanks, Fine Cooking, for recognizing the large number of us who cook for "mixed" groups!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Secret to Good Pad Thai

Anybody who loves Thai food has a special fondness for pad Thai, the most popular dish in the Thai repertoire. When prepared properly, this rice noodle concoction delectably balances salty, sour, and sweet flavors. Restaurants usually do a good job with it. But making pad Thai at home can be tricky.

For one thing, recipes vary wildly. Some people swear that ketchup is the key ingredient (indeed, some of the best restaurant versions have a distinctly ketchup-y hue), while others completely scorn it, preferring the tang of tamarind. Some use hefty portions of sugar; others leave it out. Some use lemon juice; others prefer lime.

But the trickiest part of making pad Thai at home is getting your sauce right without making your noodles mushy. Many recipes tell you to add the cooked noodles before you add the sauce ingredients, meaning that as you fiddle around with jars and bottles, trying to get the taste right, your noodles turn to mush.

For years we struggled with this dilemma, until we found a blog post that neatly solved the saucing problem. Pim at Chez Pim (who grew up in Bangkok and considers ketchup "an abomination") points out that if you make your sauce ahead of time, you don't have to worry about getting it right at the last minute, as your noodles fall apart in the wok.

In this excellent how-to for Pad Thai, Pim suggests heating a half-cup of tamarind pulp, a half-cup of fish sauce, and a half-cup of palm sugar (or a third of a cup of brown sugar) until the sugar is melted, then adding chili powder to taste. (You can find tamarind concentrate at Asian markets on online. Most supermarkets now carry fish sauce in their Asian sections; if you've never used it before, bear in mind that a little bit of this salty ingredient goes a long way, so use a light hand until you know how much you like.) Once you have this sauce prepared, it's easy to add it to your pad Thai.

We've had good luck with this recipe:

Pad Thai

8 oz. rice sticks
1/2 pound shrimp or tofu
2 t. cornstarch
2 T. sherry or rice wine
About 4 T. peanut oil
2 eggs, lightly scrambled
2 big cloves garlic, chopped
3 fat scallions: chop whites, cut greens into 1-inch lengths
1/2 cup pad Thai sauce
4 cups bean sprouts, divided
1/2 juicy lime, plus quarters for garnish
3 T. ground roasted peanuts

1. Soak the rice sticks in boiling water until al dente—about five minutes, depending on their thickness and freshness—then run cold water over them and set aside.

2. Mix cornstarch and sherry or rice wine, add to shrimp or tofu, and set aside for a minute or two.

3. Heat two tablespoons of oil in wok and add marinated shrimp or tofu. Stir constantly for a minute or two until the protein is cooked, then remove from wok and set aside.

4. Add a few teaspoons of oil to hot work, then add eggs. When they are lightly cooked, remove them and set them aside.

5. Add a few teaspoons more oil to the hot wok, add the garlic and scallions, and quickly fry.

6. Add the soaked and drained rice noodles, followed by the pad Thai sauce. Stir quickly to mix in the sauce, then add two cups of bean sprouts, the eggs, and the protein. Stir and taste—you may want to add a bit more sauce—but move quickly so your noodles don't get mushy!

7. Turn the pad Thai onto a platter, squeeze the half-lime over it, and sprinkle with ground peanuts. Serve with quartered limes and two cups of raw bean sprouts.

Serves two very hungry people.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Timbales: Elegant and Easy

When we're celebrating an occasion, we like to have a special meal livened up with something we either haven't cooked before or something that we seldom make. This approach has led to some minor disasters, but mostly we end up with great meals.

On Christmas this year we found ourselves in a new house and without visitors, so we knew that we could make anything that sounded good. We decided that the menu would include pheasant pie, prepared using a recipe that Saveur magazine published a few years back. Because Tim brings back a few pheasants from his annual fall trip to South Dakota, what would be a difficult acquisition for most was easy for us, but still special.

To accompany the savory pie, we decided to make red pepper timbales. Timbales are little vegetable-based, custard-like side dishes that for some reason restaurants rarely serve anymore. We have a recipe for broccoli timbales, so we altered it a bit for the roasted red peppers. (In the broccoli version, substitute nutmeg for the hot sauce.)

Roasted Red Pepper Timbales

4 beefy red peppers, roasted, peeled, and seeded
2 eggs
2 T. soft butter, plus enough to grease six custard cups
1 t. sriracha, or other hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Half cup béchamel sauce
Boiling water

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.

2. Wipe the roasted peppers well with paper towels to remove as much water as possible. Puree the peppers in a food processor. You'll end up with about two cups of sauce.

3. Scrape the pepper sauce into a bowl. Add the eggs, butter, salt, pepper, and béchamel. Blend well.

4. Butter the inside of the six custard cups—you can also use coffee cups—and place them in a heatproof baking dish or roasting pan. Pour the pepper mixture into the cups, evenly distributing the liquid among the six cups.

5. Pour boiling water into the baking dish (not inside the cups) so that it comes halfway up the sides of the cups. Place in the oven, being careful not to let the water slosh into the cups. Bake for about 20 minutes, until a knife inserted into the timbale comes out clean.

6. Remove from the oven and let stand about five minutes before unmolding. Run a knife around the inside of the cup before turning the timbales onto plates.

Serves six.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Béchamel: Intimidating to Say, Simple to Make

Sometimes a recipe calls for a pre-sauce, an ingredient you have to make before you start cooking. This requirement may send you looking for something less fussy, especially if that pre-sauce comes with a fancy French name—"Béchamel," for example.

Béchamel is actually really easy. And quick. And versatile. In fact, it's nothing more than the simple white sauce that our mothers used to make.

We made a batch for our Christmas timbales, then used the leftover sauce in another dish the next day. It takes about five minutes and can be added to cream soups and used to thicken other sauces.

You'd never eat béchamel by itself; it always goes into something else to make it richer and creamier. By adding ingredients like salt, nutmeg, and cheese, you can make stand-alone sauces.

Bechamel Sauce

1.5 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 cup milk

1. Heat a saucepan on medium-low heat. Add the butter, then the flour. Stir with a whisk continuously until it is blended thoroughly.

2. Add the milk, stirring rapidly with the whisk.

3. Heat over low flame until the mixture thickens to the consistency of heavy cream, stirring often enough to keep a skin from forming on the top. This should take about five minutes.

Yield: one cup.

What could be simpler?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Simple, Delicious Dish for the New Year: Ribollita

Once we got past the holidays, with their copious quantities of wine and cheese, we decided that some simple eating was in order— and that the Tuscan bread soup ribollita was the perfect match for our good intentions and the frigid weather.

We tasted ribollita for the first time a few years ago, in Tuscany. Our inn was a couple of miles from a delicatessen that seemed to exist primarily to serve the many tour buses that came rolling down the nearby highway. The deli's crude wooden benches and rustic tables contrasted with an enormous case of cheeses, sausages, breads, salads, and roasted vegetables. We ate there a few times, and although everything was great, the ribollita made a particular impression.

On the surface, it's a blah-looking mush of bread, beans, and whatever leftover vegetables the thrifty cook happened to throw in. But the flavor is astonishing, a mix of smoky pancetta, sweet tomatoes, rich broth, and garlic.

A quick Web search shows that versions vary considerably: some are little more than bread, pancetta, and tomatoes, while others resemble vegetable-packed minestrone. Here's the version we made on New Year's Day, which borrowed from several recipes, including Rachael Ray's (yeah, she's obnoxious, but she's often good on Italian dishes, and she possesses an endearingly awful Upstate New York accent that's even worse than Ruth's):


4 T. olive oil
4 ounces bacon (we used veggie bacon, which worked fine)
1 large onion, chopped
4 minced garlic cloves
2 carrots, chopped

1/2 cup red wine
6 cups stock (meat, chicken, or vegetable—we used veggie stock made in large part from the caramelized skins of roasted garlic, and it was great)
1 Parmesan cheese rind

15 ounce can tomatoes, with juice
28 ounce can white beans
4 cups chopped kale
4 cups bread, cut into 2-inch chunks

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the oil in a good-size pot, and fry the bacon for about five minutes.

2. Add onion, garlic, and carrots, and fry until soft.

3. Deglaze with red wine.

4. Add broth, Parmesan rind, tomatoes, and beans, and bring to a boil.

5. Add kale and reduce to a simmer. When kale is cooked through—about 15 minutes, depending on how finely you chopped it—add the bread, and continue simmering for an additional ten minutes.

6. Serve hot with grated Parmesan.

By the time you serve leftovers, the bread in the ribollita will have absorbed all the stock. This nearly solid substance—which barely qualifies as "soup"—is very similar in consistency to what we ate in Tuscany.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ode to Olive Oil

By Pablo Neruda (translated by Jodey Bateman):

Ode to Olive Oil

Near the murmuring
In the grain fields, of the waves
Of wind in the oat-stalks
The olive tree
With its silver-covered mass
Severe in its lines
In its twisted
Heart in the earth:
The graceful
By the hands
Which made
The dove
And the oceanic
Of nature
And there
The dry
Olive Groves
The blue sky with cicadas
And the hard earth
The prodigy
The perfect
Of the olives
With their constellations, the foliage
Then later,
The bowls,
The miracle,
The olive
I love
The homelands of olive
The olive groves
Of Chacabuco, in Chile
In the morning
Feathers of platinum
Forests of them
Against the wrinkled
Mountain ranges.
In Anacapri, up above,
Over the light of the Italian sea
Is the despair of olive trees
And on the map of Europe
A black basketfull of olives
Dusted off by orange blossoms
As if by a sea breeze
The internal supreme
Condition for the cooking pot
Pedestal for game birds
Heavenly key
to mayonaise
Smoothe and tasty
Over the lettuce
And supernatural in the hell
Of the king mackerals like archbishops
Our chorus
Powerful smoothness
You sing:
You are the Spanish
There are syllables of olive
There are words
Useful and rich-smelling
Like your fragrant material
It's not only wine that sings
oil sings too
It lives in us with its ripe light
And among the good things of the earth
I set apart
Your ever-flowing peace, your green essence
Your heaped-up treasure which descends
In streams from the olive tree.