Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Per Se

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This is no plain brown bag. It’s from “Per Se,” Tom Keller’s bastion of fine dining in New York City’s Time Warner Center, and its contents are all mine, mine, mine. It may be the closest I ever get to Per Se, where the prix-fixe tasting menu will set you back $275.  Per person. My son, a magazine editor, got the goody bag after an industry lunch for journalists. In one of his moments of true clarity, he gave it to the woman who endured nine months of gestation for him. That would be moi. 

Take a peek inside the bag. 

Hmm. What’s this?

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It’s popcorn, but not just plain old popcorn and butter. It’s also got truffled salt.

 Sept. 2009 201  Wait, there’s more. A slice of chocolate, almond and caramel cake:

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Oooh, it gets even better.

This box was included too. What’s inside?

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These lovely French macarons. One can only guess at the flavors. Vanilla bean? almond? coffee? chocolate?

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Sorry to cut this short, but it’s time for me to do some serious research.

You know what a stickler I am for maintaining a strong work ethic.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Individual PotatO Gratin – An “O” food for Ovarian Cancer Awareness

Sept. 2009 153-1Since my fall last Saturday, I’ve been trudging around on crutches and a big black boot worthy of a snowboarder. I thought that might exempt me from cooking for a while, but I was able to get a free pass for only a couple of days. My daughter was home the weekend of my accident and made crab cakes for dinner the first night. The next night, we ate pasta using sauce I had stashed in the freezer.

Monday night’s dinner was looming, and my daughter was back at her place in New York.  By midday I wondered if my husband had given dinner any thought.

“What are you planning for dinner tonight?” I asked.

Silence. No response. Just a blank stare into space.

It was clear that planning dinner, much less making it, was as foreign to him as a pissaladiere.

“Umm, pizza?” he queried.

(Hmm, that’s not too far from a pissaladiere, come to think of it.)

Now I like pizza as much as the rest of ‘em, but I knew that if I left the dinner planning up to him, we’d be eating more pizza than even a Neapolitan could tolerate. That’s when I realized I wouldn’t be able to milk the situation for even one more day, darnit.

I should have figured as much. Even though he lived as a bachelor for many years and prided himself on cooking every night rather than frequent restaurants or indulge in take-out, my husband’s interest in cooking seem to have vaporized in the decades since we got married.

To give you an example, here is a photo (taken by him earlier this summer) of what he typically prepares for himself when I’m not at home to cook:

 June 2009 214

Pretty sad, no? Well, at least he’s drinking San Pellegrino, my beverage of choice. What’s that diver’s knife to the left of the plate doing there? And is he using those gardening gloves for a napkin? He does have a lot of other redeeming qualities, though - really.

So I’m back to my regular spot in the kitchen, although I’m not really complaining. My husband is doing all the clean-up, an arrangement I’ll take any day. And some of my close friends have been extremely generous, not only with phone calls, visits, cards and flowers, but with gifts of food as well. So life is good, even with the boot and crutches, which should all be history in six to eight weeks.

I’ve got a stash of food in the freezer I cooked earlier this summer, and it is coming in handy right now. Last night’s dinner was the stuffed zucchini I blogged about a while back, but I made these potato gratins to accompany them.

The recipe is from Melissa D’Arabian, winner of this season’s The Next Food Network Star. If you follow this blog, you may remember I bumped into her at Chelsea Market this summer and she granted me an interview.  I’ve been wanting to try these individual potato gratins for a long time and finally got around to it. They are baked in muffin tins with gruyere cheese and some cream until they become golden, crunchy and fabulicious. I was practically licking the scraps left in the muffin tins. I plan to make them again and again.

The recipe calls for green onions, but I didn’t have any so I used chives instead. The chives delivered the same delicate oniony flavor. I also substituted a New Jersey-made gruyere cheese from Valley Shepherd Creamery for the Swiss cheese called for in the recipe. It was divine.

Warning: I used a non-stick muffin pan but the gratins stuck anyway. I scooped them out using a spoon, but severely scratched the non-stick muffin tins in the process. Not that I mind – they’re as old as the hills and need replacing anyway. I think I’m going to look for larger muffin tins next time so that one gratin would make a sufficient single serving. With my 40-year old muffin tins, we needed three servings per person (make that four for the husband.)

Individual Potato Gratins

Printer-friendly recipe here

Vegetable spray

  • 2 large russet potatoes, roughly peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese (I used gruyere)
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped (I used a lot of chopped chives)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Spray 8 muffin tins with vegetable spray. Layer potato slices, cheese, and onions into each muffin cup. Season with salt and pepper and top each gratin with 1 or 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. Cover with foil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, removing the foil halfway through cooking time. Invert gratins onto plate and serve.

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This potatO post is my contribution to the “O” Foods for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month contest, put together for the second year in a row by Sara of Ms Adventures in Italy and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso

ovarian_cancer_awareness175-144x300There are TWO WAYS to take part in the O Foods Contest:
ONE: Post a recipe to your blog using a food that starts or ends with the letter O (e.g., oatmeal, orange, okra, octopus, olive, onion, potato, tomato); include this entire text box in the post; and send your post url along with a photo (100 x 100) to by 11:59 pm (Italy time) on Monday, September 28, 2009.
PRIZES for recipe posts:
1st: Signed copy of Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina DePalma, Executive Pastry Chef of Babbo Ristorante in NYC, who is currently battling ovarian cancer, inspired this event, and will be choosing her favorite recipe for this prize;
2nd: Signed copy of Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home by Mario Batali (winner chosen by Sara);
3rd: Signed copy of Vino Italiano: The Regional Italian Wines of Italy by Joseph Bastianich (winner chosen by Michelle).
TWO: If you’re not into the recipe thing, simply post this entire text box in a post on your blog to help spread the word and send your post url to by 11:59 pm (Italy time) on Monday, September 28, 2009.
Awareness posts PRIZE:
One winner chosen at random will receive a Teal Toes tote bag filled with ovarian cancer awareness goodies that you can spread around amongst your friends and family.
From the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund:
Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the United States and is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women; a woman’s lifetime risk of ovarian cancer is 1 in 67.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague and subtle, making it difficult to diagnose, but include bloating, pelvic and/or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly; and urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency).
There is no effective screening test for ovarian cancer but there are tests which can detect ovarian cancer when patients are at high risk or have early symptoms.
In spite of this, patients are usually diagnosed in advanced stages and only 45% survive longer than five years. Only 19% of cases are caught before the cancer has spread beyond the ovary to the pelvic region.
When ovarian cancer is detected and treated early on, the five-year survival rate is greater than 92%.
And remember, you can also always donate to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund at our page through FirstGiving!
Please help spread the word about ovarian cancer.Together we can make enough noise to kill this silent killer.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pepper Jelly

Food 037_edited I didn’t expect to like this pepper jelly – it’s not the kind of food that normally appeals to me. But I became a convert after one taste on a cracker with goat cheese.

There I was at the Trenton Farmer’s market, with a need for only one or two jalapenos.  But when they’re selling whole baskets of the little green beauties for only $1.00, who can resist? Buy now, figure out what to do with them later, I thought.

What I thought of was this pepper jelly. Well, actually I found several similar recipes on many internet sites, including Gifts From Your Kitchen, and have made several batches over the years. They make great gifts, once you convince people to try it. Serve it up at your next party beside a log of goat cheese and watch the converts lick it up.

I’ve also used it slathered over grilled fish and in this baked chicken, combined with fig jam, dried cranberries orange juice and other ingredients. I was inspired by a recipe on “Christie’s Corner,” but didn’t have all the ingredients called for, so I just substituted what I had on hand. Actually, I’ve been meaning to thin out that cache of jam jars that are taking up too much room in the fridge.  Her recipe also calls for regular balsamic vinegar, but I prefer to use the lighter colored white balsamic vinegar.

Pepper Jelly

Printer-Friendly Recipe Here

1 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped jalapeno pepper

5 cups white sugar

1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 (6 fluid ounce) container liquid pectin

Remove stems, veins and most of the seeds of the bell and jalapeno peppers. Use gloves or avoid touching your face after handling peppers. Mince peppers in a food processor (and keep your face away from the opening of the food processor.)
In a 5-quart pot over high heat, combine bell peppers, jalapenos, sugar and vinegar. Bring to a rolling boil; boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes. Stirring constantly, add the pectin and let mixture continue to cool for 2 minutes more. Stir for 1 minute. Pour into hot, sterilized jars and top with sterilized lids. Secure lids with bands and allow jars to cool slowly, creating a vacuum seal.

ADDENDUM: I forgot to add this when I originally posted this, but a reader, “robbing peter” reminded me so I want you to know to avoid any possible food health safety problems: After I make this jelly,  I ALWAYS process the filled and sealed jars in a large pot of boiling water for at least 10 to 15 minutes. This allows for a vacuum seal to be created. After you take the jars out of the boiling water, you should hear a “pop.” Sometimes this happens immediately – sometimes it takes 15 minutes or more. When you hear that “pop” you’ll see that the jar lid itself has become a little concave, snapping in toward the jelly. That’s when you know you have a vacuum seal. 

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 Chicken With Pepper Jelly

Printer-Friendly Recipe Here 

2 boneless chicken breasts (about 6 – 8 ounces each)

2 T. pepper jelly

2 T. fig jam (If you don’t have fig jam or lemon jelly, use apricot jam or orange marmalade)

2 T. lemon jelly

3 T. white balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 cup white wine

salt, pepper

1/2 cup dried cranberries

Combine jellies and jams in small saucepan and melt them over low heat. Then add the vinegar and orange juice and cook together for a couple of minutes. Put the chicken breasts into a heat-proof dish, and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the cranberries over the top and around the pan, then pour the jelly/vinegar/orange mixture over the chicken breasts. Add the wine and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1/2 hour.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Sept. 2009 138 This is the caponata that led to my downfall – literally.  I wish I could say that Saturday’s visit to the emergency room came after a fall on my Harley or a tumble on roller blades (as happened to my 87 year-old father a few years ago).  No, nothing that exciting here – just a mundane walk to harvest a few last eggplants and down I went after a misstep on a piece of wood in the garden.

Consequently, hobbling on crutches put a crimp on my cooking for a couple of days, but I managed to finally get myself back to the kitchen and show those miscreant eggplants who’s boss.  While a sprained ankle and a few loose bone chips may slow me down for a bit, I’m not about to let a 2 x 4 and some eggplant defeat my feet.

Years ago, I took some caponata to the newsroom where I worked. It was a hit, particularly with Chris, a colleague who asked for the recipe. Good thing, because I had to ask him for it recently when I couldn’t find my own copy. Lucky for me, he still had it and sent it back to me via email. This time however, I changed it a bit and added some white raisins to sweeten it up a bit. I think he’d like it even better now. I hope you do too.


Printable recipe here:

2 medium eggplants, diced

1 medium onion, diced

1/4 cup olive oil

2 or 3 large sticks of celery, diced

1/2 green pepper, chopped (optional)

1/2 cup green olives, chopped

3-5 T. capers

about 1 cup of fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (or 1 large can of tomatoes)

1/2 cup raisins

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

2 T. sugar

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Peel the eggplants or leave unpeeled if you prefer. I like to make big “stripes” by peeling away half of the eggplants. Saute the eggplant pieces, celery and onion (and green pepper if using) in the oil in a large pan until soft. Add the olives, capers, tomatoes, raisins and pine nuts and cook for another 20 minutes or 1/2 hour. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and red wine vinegar and cook until the sugar dissolves. Pour it into the pot with the eggplant and stir.

This tastes best at room temperature and improves after a day, when the flavors have had a chance to blend. Serve as a side dish or on sliced, grilled bread as an appetizer.

This recipe makes A LOT. I put several containers in the freezer to pull out in the future for a quick appetizer when company comes.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Nomad Pizza

Sept. 2009 108 If you’ve never eaten pizza yanked out of a wood-fired brick oven, you’ve missed out on one of life’s great pleasures. I’m lucky enough to have eaten it in Naples where pizza was born, and also to have a friend with a real Italian brick oven in his back yard.  After eating such great pizzas, the bar was set pretty high for anything else. But a good contender emerged about a month ago when Nomad Pizza in nearby Hopewell opened its doors and unleashed this big blue behemoth on a grateful public.

Sept. 2009 093 Prior to opening the restaurant, Nomad pizza operated for two years out of a restored 1949 Reo Speedwagon, outfitted with a wood-fired brick oven.  It roamed the region, appearing at seasonal events, local farmer’s markets and private parties.  It was parked at this year’s Communiversity festival, a town-gown event held in Princeton, where I savored Nomad pizza for the first time. Nothing beats eating pizza in Italy, but I have to say, Nomad’s was almost as good as being in Naples.

070602_Nomad_014Sadly, since that time, I haven’t encountered the truck along my usual routes. But fortunately owners Tom Grim (who co-founded then later sold Thomas’ Sweet ice cream) and Stalin Bedon found a permanent home for their pizza at the site of the former Soupe du Jour in Hopewell. The mammoth brick-oven, imported from Italy, is the focus of the room. Diners can watch their pizzas being made and baked right before their eyes.

Sept. 2009 106  Stalin (at left holding pizza peel) and Tom (pushing pizza into the oven)

The room is set up with a large communal table and several smaller ones around the perimeter. Outdoor tables are also available if weather permits.

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The pizzas aren’t heavily laden with toppings, in the tradition of Italian pizzas. The focus is on a great crust, tomatoes, the cheese, basil and olive oil. Of course, it helps to have the dough-stretching technique downpat (two of the pizza makers trained in Italy) and that fantastic wood-fired oven that cranks the heat up to 800 degrees or more. But the freshness of the ingredients is also key, Grim said.

One taste and you’ll agree. All pizzas (there were six on the menu the night we visited) are made with organic and locally grown products whenever possible including the basil, garlic, shitake mushrooms, sausage and pepperoni. Imported from Italy are the San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala and fontina cheese.   The two salads on the menu are also made with locally sourced, fresh organic ingredients. They were delicious, but the pizzas are the real stars here. Like this one with shitake mushrooms:

Sept. 2009 107

And this one with pesto and locally grown organic cherry tomatoes:

Sept. 2009 094 And my favorite, the spicy sausage pizza made with fennel-flavored sausage from locally raised pigs:

Sept. 2009 109

Hungry yet? If you live anywhere in Central New Jersey (or even if you don’t and you want to take a trip to a quaint town brimming with antique shops and eateries) get yourself to Nomad Pizza. They’re open only Wednesdays through Saturdays, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lardo and Family Heirlooms

Colonnata lard 

I ate it for the first time last year in Colonnata, a small Tuscan town high in the Apuan Alps overlooking the peaks of Carrara where Michaelangelo picked out his marble. I’m talking about lardo, but not just any old lard. The lardo from Colonnata is considered the best in the world and is served in some of the trendiest restaurants around the country.  It’s been written about in no less an august publication than The New Yorker.” And “La Cucina Italiana” has featured it in its September/October 2009 issue.

All over Colonnata, signs point to butcher shops where the white back fat is sold, after a seasoning with salt, herbs and spices (black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, cloves, among other things) and a curing in boxes sculpted from Carrara marble.

Colonnata sign

The marble is said to impart a optimal flavor during the six months to twelve months the lard is encased in the tub.  The best way to eat it is to enjoy it simply, such as I did, on a warm bruschetta with bits of tomato. But is this cured pork fat worth all the hype?

Depends on whom you ask.  Ask anyone in Colonnata and you’re likely to receive a rapturous response, but it’s no surprise when the specialty has been made and eaten in the town since the middle ages. Ask any of the diners at New York City’s Babbo or Le Cirque and they’re likely to rhapsodize melodic as well, since they’re literally putting their money where their mouths are. Even nutritionists are on board. On the blog, “Tuscan Traveler,” Dr.  Frank B. Hu, an associate professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health is quoted stating that research shows that lard and butter ”aren’t public enemy No. 1 anymore.” It is instead the hydrogenated fats – margarine, for instance, the so-called “healthy” fat of the 1970’s – that have turned out to be the “bad” fats.

But if you ask me, it’s no more and no less flavorful than eating the fat on a slice of good prosciutto. Call mine an uninformed palate if you will, but I couldn’t detect any of the richness that is supposed to emerge after all those spices and aging in marble tubs.

Still, it was worth taking the trip to Colonnata and eating lardo there, not only for the culinary experience, but also for the tour inside the marble caves at nearby Carrara.  I took the photo below while inside a mountain of marble, where huge slabs are cut using sophisticated equipment. A lot of the excavation takes place in outdoor quarries as well, where there’s also a small museum depicting how the marble was cut before the use of machine-driven steel cables set with diamond splitters. As recently as 35 years ago, dynamite was used to blast the marble blocks out of the mountain. Then they were hauled down to the valley on large sleds pulled by workers.    

trucks inside caves

Many lives have been lost throughout the centuries due to the dangerous work. This photo is of a monument in Colonnata dedicated to the quarrymen (or cavatore) who lost their lives in the marble quarries. In the background, the white stuff you see is not snow, but Carrara marble that’s been chiseled from the mountain.

Carrara memorial

Talking about lardo got me to thinking about these two spoons that are hanging on my kitchen wall. They were carved by my great-grandfather on my father’s side. I knew little about the spoons until I interviewed my father and his sister and asked them about their childhood. That’s when the conversation steered to the spoons and how they were used to stir the huge caldron of tomatoes that were put up in jars to sustain them through the winter. But more relevant to the topic of this post is that the large spoon (about 2 1/2 feet long) was used in stirring the lard that was rendered after the annual slaughter of the pig.

Sept. 2009 089-1

Here’s a closeup detail of the spoons. Rustic, yes, but as precious to me as a strand of heirloom pearls.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Spicy Squash Cupcakes

Sept. 2009 071

I rarely buy yellow crookneck squash, except when I cook a medley of zucchini, yellow squash and carrots, which I did last week. I bought more than I needed however, and wouldn’t you know… The next day my friend Lilli stopped by and gave me even more from her CSA. Now I really had to figure out what to do with this bounty since I’m not crazy about the vegetable on its own.

Sept. 2009 065

That’s when I saw this recipe for zucchini spice cupcakes on Erin’s Food Files. OK, so this wasn’t green zucchini like the recipe calls for, but how different could it be using yellow crookneck squash?  Not so different, I figured. Like the chocolate zucchini cake I posted a while back, the squash is there to lend its moisture (which it does), not its flavor (which it doesn’t). Unless you’re a bloodhound, you’d never know it contains squash.

The cupcakes are full of flavor from all those spices, as you can imagine, and cupcake-y too – not at all dense like a zucchini bread sometimes tends to be, but more like a cake. I could even see this baked in a 9 x 11 cake pan, or two smaller 8 x 8 square pans – one to eat now and one to freeze – if you can keep your husband’s or your kids mitts off them (oh heck, who am I kidding, I ate two before I even frosted them.)

Printable Recipe here

Spicy Squash Cupcakes


Zucchini Spice Cupcakes
from Martha Stewart Cupcakes
Yields: 24 cupcakes (I got 18 regular cupcakes)

3 cups all purpose flour (I used two cups all-purpose and 1 cup graham flour)

1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup vegetable oil (I used canola oil)
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 cups packed grated zucchini (I used yellow crookneck squash grated in a food processor)
1 cup walnuts (about 3 ounces), toasted and coarsely chopped

1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. In another bowl, whisk together oil, eggs, vanilla, and zest until well blended; whisk in brown sugar until smooth. Stir in zucchini, then add flour mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in walnuts and raisins.
Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.
To finish, use an offset spatula to spread cupcakes with frosting (or dust with confectioner’s sugar). Refrigerate up to 3 days in airtight containers; bring to room temperature before serving.

Cream Cheese Frosting

from Martha Stewart Cupcakes

(Reduce this by half and you’ll still have enough to frost the cupcakes)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 pound (4 cups) confectioner's sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and cream cheese until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, and then vanilla, and mix until smooth and combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. If not using immediately, frosting can be refrigerated up to 3 days in an airtight container; before using bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth again.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Southern Italian Jarred Green Tomatoes

Sept. 2009 052

Don’t let those green tomatoes waste away on the vines. Instead, try this unique way of preserving late season green tomatoes - a recipe that comes from the Calabrian side of my family.

This is one of those things you’re either gonna love or you’re gonna hate. There’s no middle ground. Those who like these (like my relatives), really, really like these and they’re always hoping to finagle a jar to take home when they visit.  They’re perfect as an accompaniment to sandwiches or just with a slice of crusty bread.  They’re chewy and redolent of fennel and garlic, so make sure you eat these in the company of others who are also eating them or you’ll be sitting alone quickly.

This recipe is something my Northern Italian mom learned to make from her Southern Italian mother-in-law.  My husband figured out how to make these after my mother died, and he’s taken up the mantle in continuing the tradition.

Outside of my extended family, I’ve never seen anything like these jarred tomatoes. They’re not pickled, since there’s no vinegar involved. You start with average size green tomatoes – really hard, really green tomatoes. No red allowed, not even a teensy spot of it.

more food 052 The first thing to do is cut out the top “eye” of the tomato and slice them about 3/8 to 1/2 inch inch thick. The smaller ones you can cut in half, the larger ones into thirds:more food 054Then liberally sprinkle regular table salt all over them. Don’t use kosher salt or they’ll be way too salty.more food 061
Really, really sprinkle on that salt:more food 060Now take a pottery crock and wash it well. Layer in the tomatoes, pieces of garlic and fennel seed. Keep doing this, layer upon layer until you’ve used up all your tomatoes. If you don’t have one of these crocks or are just making a small amount, you can use a ceramic soufflĂ© dish or something similar.   We do this outdoors because a lot of water will come spilling over the sides. When you’re all done, you’re going to cover it with large, heavy-duty plastic bags.
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Next you want to put something flat over the tomatoes, like a plate. My husband fashioned a piece of Lexan (it even has a thumb indentation for easier removal) to fit the ceramic crock perfectly. Press it down hard over the tomatoes:
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Then place something heavy over the plate to weigh down the tomatoes. Don’t use any metal here. Everything should be crockery or ceramic. We use a crockery jug and fill it with water. The more weight, the better.
more food 074Let this sit for at least two weeks, maybe longer, or until the tomatoes are flattened.  The water will spill over out the side as the heavy crock jug forces its weight on the tomatoes.  The idea is that the salt will draw the water out of the tomatoes and they will flatten considerably. You’ll be amazed at how much water comes out.

After a couple of weeks, you’re ready for the final step. Drain off the liquid in the crock and shake off the garlic and fennel from the tomatoes. Layer the tomatoes in clean mason jars, adding fresh slices of garlic, about a teaspoonful of fennel seeds and about a teaspoonful more of salt per mason jar. If you like things spicy, add slices of jalapeno pepper or other types of hot peppers. Pour a good quality olive oil into the jar, filling it to cover all the tomatoes.

July 2007 080 Close the lid tightly and store in the refrigerator. The olive oil will solidify. Before serving, remove from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. DO NOT use a pressurized canning system to seal the lids or you will ruin the consistency and texture of the tomatoes. You’ll wind up with soft, cooked tomatoes.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Scallops in Lemon-Caper Sauce

Sept. 2009 022 This is a popular recipe that’s frequently found in many cookbooks in one form or another and for good reason. It’s simple to make and it tastes great. At this point, I’ve made it so many times, I don’t bother measuring anything. I’ve made it using various kinds of seafood – shrimp, flounder, tilapia, and even skate wings. It works equally great with chicken, veal or thinly sliced pork too. When you’re making it with scallops, however, follow the directions below in order to get that golden brown crust you see in restaurants. I’m repeating the technique I posted in the past with a scallop, peppers and mushrooms recipe, but here the ingredients are simply olive oil, butter, capers, lemon juice, white wine and parsley – a classic piccata sauce. If you like scallops, this one is a sure hit. 

This recipe is for two people but can easily be doubled or tripled. Read through the entire recipe and have ingredients prepared and ready to go next to the stove. You don't want to be squeezing lemons or opening a bottle of wine while the scallops are simmering. The whole recipe takes less than 15 minutes from start to finish.

Sea Scallops in Lemon-Caper Sauce

For printer-friendly recipe, click here

1/2 - 3/4 lb. large sea scallops (about six to eight scallops – this is important – don’t try this with small bay scallops or you won’t be able to sear them properly without turning them to rubber)

1/4 cup olive oil
flour for dredging

3 T. olive oil
1/2 dry white wine

2 T. capers, or more if desired 

salt, pepper

1 T. butter

juice of one lemon
parsley, chopped

Turn the fan on above your range. Place a cast-iron skillet over your most powerful burner and turn the flame up high under the skillet. Let it heat for a few minutes until it gets very hot to the touch. Then add the olive oil and let that heat for a couple of minutes until it is nearly smoking. Don't leave the kitchen for an instant. Dry the scallops with paper towels and lightly coat with flour. Add the scallops one at a time to the hot oil and cook for about 30-45 seconds on each side. DO NOT CROWD THE PAN with too many scallops or they will start to release liquid and reduce the temperature in the pan too dramatically.
Remove the scallops from the pan and put aside on a plate.
Take the pan off the heat and wipe the inside clean with a paper towel. Let the temperature cool down to medium, then add the 3 T. olive oil, the white wine and the capers. I like to smush the capers a little into the wine. Put the scallops back into the simmering pan with any juices that may have accumulated on the plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste over everything. Let the scallops cook for just a couple of minutes more, then add the butter for flavor and to help emulsify the sauce. Add the lemon juice and parsley, swirl the pan for 30 seconds, then serve.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Grilled Chicken and Pear Salad from “Chefs of the Triangle”

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This recipe is from a newly published book called “Chefs of the Triangle, Their Lives, Recipes and Restaurants” and the author is a friend of mine – Ann Prospero.  Ann has been working hard at interviewing chefs in the North Carolina region known as the Triangle – Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. It’s an area with a food scene that has grown in reputation along with the number of talented chefs who have chosen to make their mark there.


Ann’s book, published by John F. Blair, contains not only informative and well-written interviews about 34 leading local chefs, but also includes 60-plus recipes they were willing to share. All have been taste-tasted by volunteers (like me) who found them to be imaginative and delicious. I’m providing you with one that I tested, but there are scores more that might whet your appetite, including a few that I can’t wait to try: seared scallops with braised fennel; bourbon chocolate hazelnut pie; and pecan-pineapple pound cake with rum. If you can’t find the book in your local bookstores, it’s available at and

This recipe comes from James Reale, executive chef at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill.

printer-friendly recipe here 

Frisee Greens, Chicken, Grilled Pear, Caramelized Onions, Toasted Pecan, and Goat Cheese with Sherry Dressing

serves 1 - 4

1 ½ cups frisee greens

3 ounces grilled chicken breast

1 Bosc Pear, peeled, cored, and cut in quarters

1 Vidalia onion, peeled and cut in julienne

1 tablespoon pecans, toasted

1 tablespoon goat cheese, crumbled, plus extra for plate

½ cup aged sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon roasted garlic

1 shallot

¼ cup honey

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 ½ cups grape seed oil, or similar oil (CCL note - I used olive oil)

Salt and Pepper to taste


Rinse frisee greens in water, and then remove as much water as possible. Cut frisee a couple to times with knife.

Grill chicken breast with salt and pepper. Let cool and then cut into four strips. Grill pear on all sides for about 5 minutes.

Sauté Vidalia onions in pan over medium heat until sugars caramelize and onion is brown. About 15 minutes.

For dressing, in blender add sherry vinegar, roasted garlic, shallot, hone, Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper. Blend for 30 seconds and adjust seasoning as needed. Set aside.

Arrange plate:

In a mixing bowl, place frisee, onions, pecans, goat cheese, 1/8 cup sherry dressing, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix well. Place mixture in the middle of a large plate.

Place four slices of grilled chicken around salad mix. Slice two quartered pears into fans (do not cut pear all the way through so it will fan out) and place on top of salad mix. Place remaining crumbled goat cheese, pecans, and a little dressing around the plate.

Ciao Chow Linda’s note: For two people, I would double the amount of chicken, and rub it with some olive oil before grilling. I also ran out of pecans when I made this but had some candied pecans on hand. They were terrific in this recipe.  The salad dressing (make sure you use the sherry vinegar that’s called for) is really great, but it makes A LOT. You’ll have enough for at least half a dozen more salads, but the dressing keeps well in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It’s Nova Scotia!

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Boy, you’re a smart bunch of readers. So many of you guessed it right. Some of you were thrown off by the photo of the tartan plaids, but Nova Scotia means New Scotland, after all. Yes, that’s where I’ve been for the last eight days. Nova Scotia – Canada’s ocean playground.

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Whether you guessed correctly or not, your name went on a little slip of paper that was put into a bowl. I picked a name at random and the winner is …drumroll please…. Claudia, of Journey of An Italian Cook. Congratulations. I hope you enjoy the cookbook and make some of the recipes to share with us on your blog.

There are lots of things to do in this beautiful province, whether you want to take advantage of the outdoors or stay indoors. There are several museums in Halifax, ranging from fine art to seafaring exhibits. Many of the boats that rescued survivors from the sinking Titanic left from Halifax. The Maritime Museum contains many artifacts from the doomed cruise liner, as well as plenty of other exhibits extolling the seas and the seamen who sailed them.

display of boats at Maritime Museum-Halifax

While you’re in Halifax, you can tour a brewery or two.

copper vats at Keith's Brewery 

Or take a ride on a tall sailing ship

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Even learn how to work the riggings:silhouette on ship

You might even meet some famous people in the art museum there:

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Or get out of the city to a quaint seaside town and enjoy this kind of scenery along the way.

tranquil scene in Cape Breton

There are plenty of lighthouses to see, including this one at Peggy’s Cove:

another view - Peggy's Cove

Visit a historic church. This one is St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Lunenburg.

St. John's Anglican church

On Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, you can enjoy vistas like this on a hike in the national park there:


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Be sure to stop and smell the flowers:

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Relax and do some painting at the beach:

watercolor painting on Singing Pebbles' beach

Or just contemplate on a chair:

chairs at Celtic Lodge

Make a new friend.  Cyrus made himself right at home in our apartment.

Cyrus comes to visit

Eat plenty of seafood of course:

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And top it off with a glass of wine by the bay, beneath a cotton-candy sunset:  sunset Chester