Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Leek and Chestnut Soup

December 2010 357 As much as I enjoy sandy beaches and mild climates, I’d be hard pressed to give up the four seasons, even with all the shoveling required after the recent snowfall here in New Jersey. There’s something warm and cozy about a pot of soup on the back burner and bread baking in the oven that doesn’t feel quite the same when the thermometer is hot enough for gin and tonics and grilled steaks. No, for now, I’ll put up with the shoveling and keep warm in the kitchen.

Obviously if you don’t like chestnuts, you won’t like this soup. But if you do….. well, you’ll love this soup. I wish I could tell you where I got this recipe, but it was handwritten on a paper placemat tucked among the scores of recipes I’ve collected over the years. I adjusted it somewhat in any event, so it’s not exactly the same as the one I wrote down.

If you have ever roasted chestnuts, you know how pesky it is to dig the meat out. Well, I’ve just been clued in to a very easy way to slip the buggers from their shells, and it doesn’t even involve making the traditional little “x” on the shell. Click here to view a video from Philip Rutter, founding president, The American Chestnut Foundation showing you how. It lasts about 15 minutes, but it’s very informative.

But to give you the idea in a nutshell (sorry, couldn’t resist folks), what you have to do instead is slice the raw chestnuts in half, then drop them into boiling water.

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Leave them in for only a couple of minutes, then take them out and work with them while they’re warm. They’re harder to peel after they cool. Take a small spring-loaded pliers in one hand (actually mine weren’t even spring-loaded) and hold the chestnut in the other. Use the pliers to grasp the shell and squeeze - the meat should loosen immediately. Some of them may break into small bits, but in general they’ll come out so much more readily than the traditional method of cutting an “x”, roasting them and getting frustrated when most of it falls apart.

December 2010 216 At this point, the chestnuts won’t be cooked, but you can proceed with this recipe and they’ll cook in the broth. If you want to eat them as a snack, just pop the peeled chestnuts onto a baking sheet and roast in the oven for another 15 minutes or so, depending on how large they are. Be careful not to leave them too long, or they’ll dry out quickly and become hard as a hockey puck since they won’t have their protective coating.

Chestnuts are also sold in jars and in foil bags already fully cooked, and you can probably use those instead if you like. Naturally, the ones you buy fresh are going to taste the best. Take it from this little squirrel friend outside my kitchen door, who seemed to like his chestnut well enough to hoard it under the snow. Hope it’s still waiting for him when the snow melts.

December 2010 314

Leek and Chestnut Soup

Printable Recipe Here

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 1/2 cups sliced leeks (about 3 medium leeks)
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 1 pound chestnuts
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup white wine (or sherry)
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • heavy cream (optional)
  • sour cream

Melt the butter and sauté the leeks, carrots and chestnuts for about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, wine, salt and pepper and continue to simmer on low heat, partially covered, for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the chestnuts are fully cooked.  Put everything in the blender to puree, then reheat, adding cream if desired. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cod Fish Cakes

December 2009 264 Salted cod, or baccala, always makes an appearance in our household on Christmas eve. When I was growing up, it was always served crispy and hot after being floured and fried in deep, hot oil. After I got married, I started preparing it by dipping it in a beer batter first before frying. Then after a camping trip to Canada’s Gaspe Peninsula decades ago, where my husband and son caught enough codfish to feed the whole campground, I came up with a different dish, almost identical to this codfish recipe.

So there we were in the Gaspe and I had tons (well, more like ten pounds) of Codfish to deal with. We gave out lots of it to fellow campers, but kept a few pounds for ourselves. I wanted to try something other than the codfish and onions I had already sautéed for dinner one night but I hadn’t exactly brought my cache of cookbooks to search through.

Lo and behold, in a nearby museum was a display of what life was like in that region for early settlers. Codfish has been an important food source and export there for centuries. (For an interesting book on the fish, read “Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed The World” by Mark Kurlansky.) A cookbook was included in the museum display and I took a peek, coming across a recipe for codfish cakes, using mashed potatoes, eggs, parsley and a few other ingredients. I wrote down the recipe quickly and have used it year after year since then.

Last year, my father found the following recipe in the Philadelphia Inquirer. He made it and brought it to our house on Christmas Eve. It’s really the same recipe I found in Canada, but it calls for balls, rather than the flat “cakes.”  The oval shape is much easier to eat as finger food, making it perfect for any get-together, not just Christmas eve.

The trick is to get out there and buy that baccala. Today. At least if you want to serve it for Christmas eve. Baccala looks pretty unappetizing in the markets, stiff as a board and dry as can be. But after soaking in water for a couple of days (throwing out the water and adding new water a few times each day), the flesh becomes more like the fresh cod you buy in the supermarkets. Except it has that salty flavor that you get only from baccala.


These can be made ahead of time and reheated in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until heated through.

December 2009 266


Recipe from The Philadelphia Inquirer,

Anthony's Codfish Cakes

Printable Recipe Here

Makes 35-40 cakes or 10-12 servings

1 pound salt cod

3 to 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped parsley, plus more for garnish

Dash of hot pepper sauce

2 to 3 eggs, beaten

Salt and pepper to taste

Oil for deep frying

1. Soak the salt cod in water for 18 to 36 hours, stored in the refrigerator. Change the water several times, and check the cod by tasting a bit. You want it to be rehydrated and still salty, but not inedibly so.

2.   Drain the fish from the soaking water and rinse it. Put fish in a 5-quart pot with the potatoes. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 15 minutes. Remove fish with a slotted spoon and let cool a little. Leave potatoes to cook until you can pierce them with a fork.

3.   Mince the cod. Peel and mash the potatoes. Combine cod and potatoes in a bowl with onion and parsley, hot pepper sauce to taste and eggs. Season with salt and pepper to taste, keeping in mind that the fish is salty already, and mix thoroughly. Make sure the mix is not too dry; if it is, add an extra egg.

4.   Heat a 2½-quart pot with about 5-6 inches of oil to about 350 degrees. Shape cod mixture into flattened egg-shaped cakes. Lower a few in the pan and fry them in batches until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. If not serving right away, they can be stored on a rimmed baking sheet and reheated in the oven before serving. Transfer hot cakes to a platter. (They're also great at room temperature.) Garnish with parsley.

Friday, December 17, 2010


 December 2010 230 These cookies are seriously addictive. They’re also seriously tedious to make, which is a good thing. Otherwise, I’d be eating them all year long. They are called “cartellate” and come from the southern Italy. They’re known by other names as well, including “crustoli” or “crostoli” which is how my mother referred to them. She was from Northern Italy, but since she moved to the U.S. as a young war bride after she married my father, much of her cooking reflected the southern Italian roots of her in-laws. 

The traditional topping is vincotto, which is a concentration of the grape must (or mosto). Other recipes call for a fig syrup or honey. Mosto is hard to come by here, and fig syrup isn’t readily available either. But it doesn’t matter because the honey (which is what my mom used) topped with walnuts is equally, if not more delicious.

My mother made these each year at Christmas time, then stored them in huge trays up in the cold attic. Fortunately for me, my bedroom was a few steps away from the attic. I wonder if my mother ever realized how many cartellate were snitched from those tempting trays before they ever made it to the Christmas table.

December 2010 232 To start with, make the dough and roll it through the next to last roller on your pasta machine. Cut it into strips about 6 to 8 inches long, then pinch the strips into little “pockets” about 1 inch apart:

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Take those little pockets and start making a circle, squeezing the sides of the little pockets against each other:

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Keep going until you’ve used up all the “pockets” and a rose-shape is formed. You may need to dab with a little water to get them to stick to each other.

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Place the little rosettes on a floured board or dishtowels. This recipe makes about 60 rosettes.

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Here’s a close-up before it gets fried. All those little pockets will hold the topping.

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Fry them in deep, hot oil:

December 2010 113 After you take them out of the hot oil, drain them with the pockets facing downward, to release the oil. Turn them over and they’re ready for the honey and nuts.

December 2010 116

Walnuts are the traditional topping, but if you want you can experiment with almonds, pecans, filberts or other nuts if you like. Some people smother them with just the honey and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Your call.

December 2010 132  Cartellate or “Crustoli”

Printable recipe here

  • 2 3/4 c. flour
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. sugar
  • 1/4 c. shortening (crisco or butter)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 t. sherry or white wine
  • 1/2 c. warm water


  • honey
  • walnuts
  • cinnamon

Place all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add shortening, eggs, sherry or white wine, and water. Mix until it forms a ball. Knead for a few minutes until dough is smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest one hour.
Roll out dough with pasta machine to the next to thinnest level. Cut into strips about one to one and a 1/2 inches wide and about six or seven inches long.

Pinch one end of the strip and then pinch about 3/4 inch all along the strip, making little pockets. Bring the dough into a circular shape by crimping it together along the strip. Use water to crimp if necessary. Fry in hot oil and top with honey that has been warmed with chopped walnuts. and a dash of cinnamon.


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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Birthday Soufflé For Rich

January 2009 1-28-2009 8-13-60 In what seems like several lifetimes ago, a young girl named Linda (that would be me) met a young fellow named Rich who was not only handsome, but kind, funny, smart and loving - and he knew how to dance really well too. 

Top-2 Fate threw them together that first night, but it didn’t take them long to realize they were meant for each other.


  She baked him a chocolate soufflé early on in the relationship, despite the fact that she was as adept in the kitchen as a pig trying to fly. Which is to say, she didn’t know a sieve from a spatula.

Attempting a soufflé when you’ve never even made a cake is like asking a baby to run before she takes her first steps. So in this case, her good intentions fell flat – literally. The soufflé never rose, but instead sank to the bottom of the dish.

Nonetheless, she scooped out a piece of the chocolate mess and presented it to her beau, whose immediate reply was an auspicious hint at the generosity that was to mark his relationship to her for the rest of their lives:   “Wow, these are the best brownies I’ve ever eaten,”  he said.

January 2009 1-28-2009 8-20-25 The soufflé debacle did little to squash his love for her, nor for her desire to cook for him again. Eleven months after they met, they walked down the aisle to start their lives as a married couple where she had a daily reason for improving her culinary skills.

Rich and Linda - April 11, 1970Forty years of marriage, two children and many soufflés later, Rich always had a soft spot in his heart for her cooking, whether it was a fancy feast or a humble stew. When she started her food blog, he was the biggest booster of Ciao Chow Linda, emailing blog posts to friends and former colleagues.

But regular readers have noticed that the blog came to a halt for a couple of months, a short while after Rich was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and Linda’s world also stood still. Only two months after the diagnosis – coincidentally and symbolically on her birthday, Oct. 21 – the horrible disease claimed the life of a beloved father and husband.Prospero family

He was a man who touched the lives of so many, not just his immediate family and friends. He was an engineer who will long be remembered by business colleagues who admired his skill and enjoyed his sense of humor; by high school students he mentored in robotics for many years and helped them win a national championship last year; by neighbors who benefitted from his fix-it skills and advice; by strangers whose day was graced by his helpful gestures and friendly smile;  and even by the birds and squirrels who still come looking for his handouts. In short, he will be missed by many. Greatly missed.


Today would have been his birthday, and we would have been celebrating with a cake, but sadly the guest of honor is not at the table to blow out the candles. Even though he’s not here physically, he’s still very much here in spirit. For a couple of months now, some of you may have been wondering why the blog had stalled. A few of you knew why the joy had vanished from my life and showed your support across the miles, even though with one exception, we’ve never met. I am so grateful for your concern and am slowly preparing to reclaim my passion of writing this blog, knowing that Rich is following me too. So dear readers, I start by sending you this soufflé recipe in my sorrow, but also in gratitude and in heartfelt tribute to a truly caring, loving man who taught me so much about life and love from the first time I met him, right up to his dying days.

Happy Birthday Sweetheart 

 132 Richard smiling 

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; Who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; Who has left the world better than he found it; Who has looked for the best in others and given the best he had; Whose life was an inspiration; Whose memory is a benediction.”  -Robert Louis Stevenson

My Dearest Richard - May God Bless You and Keep You Safe Always

286 Rich says hi

Arrivederci amore

Chocolate Soufflé

Printable recipe here

Recipe from Walter Royal of Angus Barn restaurant, Raleigh, N.C.

included in the book, Chefs of The Triangle, by Ann Prospero

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 3 squares unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped or grated
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • butter for greasing soufflé dish
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • powdered sugar for dusting

About two hours before serving, mix flour and 1 1/2 cups of the sugar in a 2-quart saucepan, using a wire whisk. Slowly stir in milk until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Cook one additional minute and remove from heat. Stir chocolate pieces into mixture until melted. Temper egg yolks by adding a small amount of hot mixture to yolks to gradually raise their temperature. Then very slowly add yolks to chocolate mixture, mixing well. Refrigerate until cool to lukewarm. Stir occasionally.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 2 1/2 quart soufflé dish with butter and sprinkle with a small amount of sugar. In a large bowl, beat egg whites with mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Sprinkle in remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue to beat until sugar is completely dissolved. Whites should stand stiff. Fold in cooled chocolate mixture 1/3 at a time. Add vanilla and mix. Pour mixture into soufflé dish, leaving one inch from the top for expansion. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until a knife inserted in mixture comes out clean.

When soufflé is done, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Rocky mug

How does a furry little four-legged creature enter your home, proceed to declare himself lord of the manor, and conquer your heart? It all started with the small notice tacked onto the bank’s bulletin board from a family whose cat had recently given birth.

We’re just going to look,” I told the kids. “We’re not going to bring home a kitten, especially since your dad is away on a business trip.”

All the resolve in the world couldn’t trump the imploring gaze of the tiny little kitten who was the last of his brothers and sisters to find a home. He may have been the runt of the litter, but those three little spots marking his nose endeared us to him immediately. In a short while, he was in the car on his way to a new home. Our home. And we had some explaining when the real lord of the manor came home from his business trip.

December 2008 437

In his youth, Rocky was smothered by the affection of two children in the household and soon grew used to the constant hugs and caresses that were showered upon him. He was a docile cat who never scratched a human and rarely dug his claws into furniture. But that didn’t mean he didn’t go after small birds and bunnies (and occasionally other cats and dogs too) in the neighborhood, much to the consternation of me and my husband.

Sept. 2009 013 As he got older, his energy level waned, and he could do little more than just gaze at photographs of birds in the newspaper, dreaming about his youthful, more adventurous past.

May 2010 408

He never managed to capture a squirrel though, even though they were sometimes only a short distance from his grasp.

January 2009 12-31-2008 10-50-52 AM 3264x2448 

Like most cats, Rocky was curious, getting into places he didn’t belong, like here:

June 2010 502 and here:

December 2008 422

As he grew older, he loved to take walks with us down the street, tagging behind us just like a faithful dog. He also loved to sit sentry at the front door, watching the activity on the street:

Rocky doorBut sometimes he shirked his duties and just fell asleep there, bathed by the late-afternoon sun. Copy of March 2008 008 

Many days he could be found outside the front door, watching the neighborhood from his little mat. But even here, he sometimes let down his guard and fell asleep on the job.

June 2010 194 Like most cats, Rocky spent a good deal of time sleeping. He seemed to have perfected the act of sleeping in any position or place, no matter how embarrassing or immodest the pose.

at ease Rocky Dec 2004 

Truly, he could make himself comfortable anywhere – whether in a basket:

Cozy Rocky

a box:

Rocky in boxOr under a down quilt where it seemed like he couldn’t breathe.

Feb. 2010 014

Although sometimes, he would stick his head out for a breather:

The Rock in bed

He sometimes claimed a spot on top of the bed cradled into his master’s arms.

April 2010 692

Snoozing in front of a blazing fire, partly stretched out over his scratch pad was a favorite way to spend a holiday afternoon:

December 2008 521

Or hanging out on the sofa with the people he loved:

December 2008 

He especially loved it if you let him crawl onto your chest:

May 2010 373

Often he would sleep with his nose to the floor and we couldn’t figure out how he could breathe in this position:

July 2009 165

He had a few other unusual habits, including sitting with his paws crossed as if he were following some Emily Post etiquette guide for cats:

March 2010 206He would sit on your clothes and even claim your shoes if you left them lying around:

Rocky and shoes 

And he had a funny extra little pad under his paw that looked like it didn’t belong there:

April 2010 194

  Rocky provided our own in-house inspiration for the annual Halloween jack o’lantern:

come on Rocky

And for wintertime fun in the snow:

 Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 853-1

He lost weight as he grew ill, but seated on the piano bench, he could still look as elegant as Van Cliburn:

August 2009 419He needed little more than food, shelter and affection – but he gave us so much more in return. 

Thank you for coming into our lives 18 years ago Rocky. We miss you.

“Don't cry because it's over.  Smile because it happened.”
-Dr. Seuss

Rocky P.

August 23, 1992 – Sept. 13, 2010 

I'd sing happy birthday but I can't carry a tune

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