Monday, November 28, 2011

Braised Pot Roast with Leeks

Ah, braising. If you've been following my blog at all, then you know how fond I am of this technique. It makes everything tender and flavorful - meat or vegetables. And it is so easy! And even though it takes a long time, there is little work involved and once the braise is going you can pretty much ignore it and still end up with a a delicious dinner. And the leftovers just seem to get better.

But as much as I love the process, and the layers of flavor you get when you load up with aromatics and root vegetables, sometimes even that is too much work. I had pulled a chuck shoulder out of the freezer and let it defrost overnight in the refrigerator, but by the time it was ready to be braised I was not so ready to braise it.

But braise it I must, so I decided to follow Mark Bittman's lead and make it as minimalist as possible. I decided a leek would add enough flavor to some chicken stock, along with some home-made ketchup and fennel seeds. The carrots, potatoes, and squash could wait for the next day.

I browned the meat in the oven while I cooked down the leeks. The whole thing was in the oven within a half hour and there was very little to clean up when it was done. Easy peasy and out-of-this-world delicious! The next day I didn't even bother with the rest of the vegetables, I just cooked up some potatoes and mashed them with some squash and garlic I had roasted earlier in the week (and was the basis for this Thanksgiving dish) to use as a bed for the roast.

I made it the weekend before I went down to Austin for my nephew's bar mitzvah and I had more of both the beef and the potatoes left over than I could finish before leaving. I gave them to a co-worker so he could have them for lunch. When I got back he asked for the recipe. Can't get better validation than that!

So not only will I give it to him, I will give it to you as well.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Serves 4

2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 leek, cut in half lengthwise, well rinsed and thinly sliced
2 to 2-1/2 lb chuck shoulder roast
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup ketchup, preferably home made (or any tomato-based sauce)
2 cups beef or chicken stock (or water)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 deg. F. and line a baking sheet with foil. Bring the meat to room temperature and put it on the sheet. Season both sides liberally with salt and pepper and bake in the 425 deg. oven for 15 minutes.

While the meat is browning, in an oven-proof dutch oven or heavy pan heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the fennel seeds and cook for 1 minute, being careful not to let them burn. Add the leek and garlic and turn the heat to low. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until they have turned translucent and tender.

Two minutes before the meat is done, raise the heat back to medium-high and add the tomato paste to the leeks and garlic and cook, stirring frequently.

Take the meat out of the oven and lower the heat to 275 deg. F. Put the roast into the pot browned side up. Cook for two to three minutes without moving the meat.

Add the ketchup and the stock to cover the roast about halfway up the sides. Add more stock or water if necessary. Bring to a boil, cover with a tight fitting lid, and put in the 275-degree oven. Bake 2-1/2 to 3 hours, until the meat is falling off of the bone.

Remove the meat from the pot and set it aside, covering loosely with foil. Return the pot with the cooking liquid to the stove and cook over medium heat until it has reduced to the desired thickness.

Can be served immediately or the next day. Store the meat separately from the sauce. Before serving the sauce, remove the cold layer of fat from the top before reheating it.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Veggie Spring Rolls from Bun Mi Express

Happy Thanksgiving! This year I stayed put while some of my family has traveled to Chicago. Space and other challenges make cooking problematic, so we follow a longstanding tradition of eating out when Thanksgiving is celebrated in Chi-town.

And we won't be alone. According to this piece in the Huffington Post, some 14 million Americans are expected to eat out this Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, I thought I would share these veggie spring rolls from what has become my regular takeout spot these days, Bun Mi Express. They were inexpensive, and good, but the ratio of noddles to veggie was too high, in my opinion, and they were rather loosely wrapped. The sauce was good, if maybe a little thick and sweet, but overall it made for a nice meal. While I prefer their sandwiches, these make for a nice change.

So if you, too, eat out for Thanksgiving, or there just weren't enough leftovers to go around, these would make a lovely day-after Thanksgiving lunch.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mashed Potatoes with Butternut Squash and Roasted Garlic

Here is a new take on an old Thanksgiving work horse. It's a little bit of a twist, because it looks like those are sweet potatoes mashed up with the potatoes, but they're not. That's butternut squash in there. And it adds a more complex, savory dimension to the potatoes. Mix in some roasted garlic and a little gruyere cheese and you have an exciting new addition to the Thanksgiving table.

This is another one of those dishes that came about by accident. I was making mashed potatoes and accidentally poured in too much cream and butter, so it was quite soupy. I had to think quickly to figure out how to save them when I remembered that I had some roasted squash in the refrigerator for which I had no clear plans. I knew they would mash well so I figured I had nothing to lose. I mashed them up and added them to the potatoes. They turned the potatoes a lovely shade of orange, so it was a little disconcerting as I was eating them because I kept expecting that sweetness that sweet potatoes added. I don't remember what kind of squash it was, but it was a subtle flavor, adding just a hint of nuttiness.

It was intriguing enough that I decided it was worth playing with it to see if I could come up with something intentional. This time I thought a butternut squash would work better, given it's sturdier texture and more pronounced flavor. I peeled, deseeded, cubed and roasted it in a little olive oil, salt and pepper. I separated, but did not peel, two heads of garlic and scattered the cloves among the squash. I baked it for about 35 minutes at 350 deg. F., until both the squash and the garlic were soft.

The most time-consuming part of this dish is roasting the squash and garlic, and you can do that up to two days ahead of time. After that, it's pretty much like making regular mashed potatoes. But it adds an unexpected, wonderful new dimension to an old favorite so you get the best of both worlds - tradition and innovation.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Serves 6 to 8

1/2 medium butternut squash, (about 1-1/2 cups) peeled, seeded and cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes*
2 heads of garlic, separated but not peeled
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup cream (or milk)
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
Salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste
Parsley for garnish (optional)

*I usually roast the whole squash and use the rest of it for soup, or a frittata, or some other purpose.

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Place squash and unpeeled garlic cloves in a large bowl and add salt, pepper, and the olive oil. Toss well and lay out onto a baking sheet that is large enough to allow for a single layer. Place on a center rack in the oven and cook until the squash and the garlic are tender, about 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. (This can be done up to two days ahead of time.)

Place the cubed potatoes in a pan with salted cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pan, placing it over the low flame. Let the potatoes sit for a minute or two to dry.

Take a potato masher, a ricer, or a food mill (whatever is your usual process) and mash the potatoes, adding the milk and butter about halfway through. Add the mashed squash and mix it in with the potatoes. Add more cream as needed if the mixture gets too thick. Add the cheese and roasted garlic and stir until the cheese is melted and the garlic is blended in.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Good Idea That Didn't Quite Work

Here's a good idea that just didn't make it. The spices are right, it's potatoes and onions, and the yogurt should have made it nice and creamy.

But alas, it was not to be. The potatoes developed that tightness that comes when they are too dry as they cook, and the sauce curdled.

I think the main problems were that the dish I used was too big, so there wasn't enough of the yogurt and stock to cover the potatoes. It's one of those things that I noticed as I was putting the dish in the oven, but for whatever reason decided to keep going instead of pulling it out and adding more liquid.

It's a decent enough idea that it should have worked, so I hope to try it again, since the flavors were there. At least this mistake was still edible, even if it wasn't perfect. You can't always hit a home run, but if you learn something in the process then it's not a total loss.

When I figure out how to make it work, I will let you know how I did it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Silken Eggplant

This is a dish that I made before the Eggplant Braised in Marsala about which I wrote last month. It is equally delicious and went especially well with couscous. If it had occurred to me at the time, I would have added the Marsala, but it was under the radar at the time. Now that I have been using it, I am finding all kinds of uses for it.

I am now firmly convinced that this is the best way to cook eggplant. It is soft, and silky, and the long cooking time allows the flavor of the eggplant to shine.

Couscous cooked with vegetable broth and cranberries highlighted the eggplant perfectly, I added a garnish of toasted walnuts for a contrasting texture, which was much needed.

By now, this is more of a technique than a recipe. Here is how it works:
Trim the ends off the eggplant. Heat a scant tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the eggplant in the skillet, cut side down and in a single layer, and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Turn the eggplant skin-side down and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn the eggplant back over and pour stock or water to cover about one inch of the eggplant. Reduce heat to low, cover, and braise until silky and tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from skillet and reduce the liquid to desired consistency for a sauce.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pasta Shells with Rapini and Pesto

Ah, the joys of modern living. An email with this subject header was waiting for me in my spam folder this morning: "FBI OFFICE GET BACK TO US IMMEDIATELY IF YOU DONT WANT US TO ARREST YOU AND JAIL YOU FOR YOUR OWN G0OD." Do people actually fall for this?

As much as I am constantly complaining about how full my freezer is, there is something to be said for having a little bit of everything in there for those days when you have nothing in the house and need to whip up something fast and easy.

I had a wonderful long weekend in Austin, but I could already tell I was coming down with something potentially virile on my way home from the airport. I had purposely worked my way down to the bare essentials in the kitchen the week before, taking advantage of the opportunity to clear out my refrigerator, so I did not have much and knew I was not going to up for a full-on visit to the grocery store.

Instead, I toted my carry-on bag and backpack into Treasure Island and picked up a few things I knew I needed (milk), a thing or two I knew I wanted (chicken salad, sourdough bread, and - yes - ice cream), and a lovely bunch of rapini that was on sale. I figured I could put together a quick pasta dish and the rapini would be easy to prep and quick to cook.

I have only used rapini once or twice before, and I know that it can be bitter, which I used to hate. I had a low tolerance for it, maybe because my mother had a high tolerance for it and whenever I would complain that something was bitter she would take a bite of it, chew reflectively for a minute, and proclaim definitively that there was nothing wrong with whatever it was at all, and I would have to do my best to force it down. Ah, memories.

Now I find that I like a little bitterness in my food. Not too much, mind you, but some. And rapini has a lovely pungent bitterness, due most likely to its relation to mustard. A little honey or sugar could help offset the bitterness factor, but I find these days that a dash or two of red wine vinegar works just as well and freshens it up enough to offset the bitterness without adding sweet.

While I was thinking about the quickest way to prepare it, I remembered all of those little jars of pesto I had put away over the past few months for future use. What could be more simple? Pasta shells on the larger side (but not the huge ones) seemed ideal for catching the pasta. With little thought and ingredients I already had on hand, I was able to make a delicious dinner, with enough left over for a couple of lunches. Just what I needed to get me through a few days of not feeling like cooking.

You don't really need a recipe for this, but I can tell you what I did.

Makes 2-3 servings

Wash and trim a bunch of rapini and give it a rough chop. While bringing water to boil in a 3-quart saucepan, heat 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds and cook for 1 minute. Add 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes and cook for about 30 more seconds. Add 4 cloves of chopped garlic and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook the garlic for a few minutes. Add the rapini and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, until the greens have started to wilt. If the water is not boiling yet, reduce the heat under the skillet so there is just enough heat to keep the rapini warm without overcooking it.

When the water is boiling, add a heaping tablespoon of salt and then add 1-1/2 cups of medium-sized shell whole wheat pasta. Cook according to package directions, but remove from the water 1 minute earlier than instructed. Save some pasta water to thin the sauce if necessary. If you had to lower the heat under the skillet, raise it back to medium-high and add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar to the rapini, then the pasta. Cook for about 1 minute, adding pasta water if the mixture looks too tight. When the pasta is ready, remove from the heat and stir in about 1/4 a cup of pesto and 1/4 a cup of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese. Add more pasta water if necessary.

Garnish with parsley and more cheese, if desired.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Eggplant Casserole

More work with eggplant. I had eggplant and tomatoes and cheese, which made me think of the dish I used to make that I called Eggplant Parmigiana, but was really more of a lasagna in which I used eggplant slices instead of noodles. It was the first dish I made on a regular basis that I had created myself, using lasagna as a template, and I must say it was pretty good, and it was a great go-to for company. But as my repertoire expanded, it fell by the wayside and I had not made it for years.

One of the reasons that my dish was not a true eggplant parmigiana is because I did not bread and fry the eggplant before layering it into the casserole dish. I just sliced it thinly lengthwise and layered it with the cheese and sauce. In those days, I pretty much used our family's spaghetti sauce recipe, which at that time was the only sauce we knew of for pasta (not to mention spaghetti being the only pasta of which we were aware other than macaroni, which we did not think of as pasta since it came out of that blue box and was mixed with milk, margarine, and that packet of powdered cheese and was one of my all-time favorite dishes. And lasagna noodles, which were a later discovery in our house, and again, was not pasta. It was lasagna!)

My family's spaghetti sauce was a mixture of onions, ground beef, several cans of tomato sauce, tomato paste, ground oregano and salt. (No pepper! Not in our house!) The recipe instructions were to cook it for a few hours but my mother never did, so while it always tasted good to me, it was watery and there would always be a pool of water underneath my spaghetti on the plate. I still remember what a revelation it was to me the first time I made it where I left on the stove to simmer all day, which resulted in a thick, velvety rich sauce. Wow. By then I was also using dried oregano instead of ground, and that also enhanced the flavor a great deal.

These days I usually just heat up some olive oil, add sliced garlic, throw in a can of whole tomatoes, some thyme, basil, salt and pepper, and cook it down for about half an hour and it is delicious with any kind of whole-wheat short pasta.

But I wanted to do something with eggplant. So I decided to make my old standby.

I must say it came out quite lovely. The only mistake I made (and I realized it as soon as I had done it) is that, when layering it, I put in a little bit of sauce, the eggplant, then the sauce, then the cheese. I should have put the cheese before the sauce, especially on the top layer. It didn't really affect the flavor, but it caused the cheese to separate from the eggplant so that there were two separate layers, rather than one cheezy oozy mess of goodness. But that is easily fixed, and I will not make that mistake again.

I am sure I will improve upon this dish in the future, but for now, here is what I did.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Serves 4

1 large or 2 medium eggplants, sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick pieces
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 batch tomato sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 lb fresh ricotta cheese
1 egg
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (1 Tbsp dried), plus extra for garnish
8 oz grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmagiana Reggiano cheese

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. When it is hot, add the eggplant slices in one layer (cook in batches if necessary) and cook until browned, about 2-3 minutes and they release from the bottom of the pan. Turn the slices and brown them on the other side. Remove and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, mix the ricotta cheese with the egg and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. and grease an 8 x 12" casserole dish.

Spread about half a cup of the sauce in the bottom of a greased 8 x 9-inch casserole dish. Cover with a single layer of the eggplant slices (should be half of the total), then cover with half of the ricotta
cheese mixture and half the shredded mozzarella. Spread half of the tomato sauce over the cheese. Repeat one more layer, starting with the eggplant and ending with the tomato sauce.

Bake, covered, for 30 minutes, then remove the cover and sprinkle the Parmagiana Reggiano over the top and bake uncovered for another 30 minutes, until the cheese topping is golden brown.

Let sit for 15 minutes, the serve hot.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Makes 2-1/2 to 3 cups

2 Tbsp Olive Oil
4 to 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano or plum)
2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried basil

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until it just starts to brown. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, thyme and basil.

Break the tomatoes down while bringing to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until the liquid has reduced to desired consistency.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Three Cheese Mac and Cheese

The weather has definitely turned here in Chicago. And it's a turn for the better in my book - cold and windy. Autumn is here and that means one thing: comfort food.

And what better comfort food than macaroni and cheese? I felt so good about the success of my last attempt that I thought I would see if I could improve upon it.

And I believe I did. And it came about kind of by accident. Isn't that how most good things happen? After I decided I wanted to make it, I bought some gruyere cheese, but after I got it home I realized I hadn't bought enough. I didn't want to wait and I certainly did not want to have to go back to the store right then, so I took stock of what cheese I already had in the refrigerator. Thanks to coupons, I actually had quite a bit of mozzarella, some of which was even grated from the last pizza I made. I also had a sizable chunk of pecorino Romano. I no longer remember why I bought that, but it seemed to me that the milder mozzarella would add a smoothness to the nutty richness of the gruyere, and the pecorino would add a sharp bite to finish off the effect.

And as good as my earlier mac and cheeses have been, this was by far the best. It was rich and smooth and full of flavor, and the mozzarella added a lightness that kept it from being too rich.

Adding butter and cheese to the bread crumb topping seemed like overkill to me, so I decided to use just the breadcrumbs. They absorbed enough fat from the cheese and the sauce so I will do it that way from now on.

Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Makes 4 side servings

1 cup whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 recipe basic cheese sauce, made with grated gruyere cheese (recipe here)
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1 Tbsp bread crumbs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. Grease a 1-1/2-quart baking dish.

Cook the pasta 1 to 2 minutes less than package directions and put in a mixing bowl. Stir in a scant tablespoon of cold water to keep the pasta from sticking.

Prepare the cheese sauce and add it to the pasta along with the grated mozzarella and pecorino cheeses, stirring it together. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the mixture into the greased baking dish. Combine the melted butter, breadcrumbs, and parmesan cheese and sprinkle over the top of the casserole.

Bake covered for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake another 30 minutes to brown the cheese and breadcrumb mixture.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (
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