Monday, November 16, 2015

Thanksgiving: Turkey Meatballs with Apple-Cranberry Chutney

I write this in Thanksgiving. For the holiday coming up. For the thanks I offer all year round for this life - with all it's roller coaster rides - for this life. 

My offering for the holidays starts with a meatball. And then I go all-American with it. Apples. Cranberries. Minnesota fare. It has a little spice, and a little fruit (and you know that "healthy" thing). You can make a meal for two or feed a crowd. It's a recipe that owes it's heritage to Italy (meatballs) but is decidedly American.

Grandma Gresio, who served a huge turkey (after the lasagne) every Thanksgiving would approve.

It's jazzed-up turkey meatballs coated in cranberry-apple chutney. Turkey and cranberries. Think about it. It seems to work.

TURKEY MEATBALLS: (Makes approximately 28 1-inch meatballs)

1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (crushed red pepper, cayenne)
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
16 ounces ground turkey
8 ounces cranberry-apple chutney
3 tablespoons orange juice (I used apple cider)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray.

Whisk first six ingredients together. Add milk. Whisk and let stand for fifteen minutes. Add egg and mix well. Add ground turkey and mix well.

Form turkey mixture into 1-inch meatballs. (Very sticky stuff - use hands and consider spraying them. After they were formed, I went over them with a spoon trying to get a semblance of meatball shape.)

Place on baking sheet. Bake for approximately fifteen minutes.

While baking, combine cranberry-apple chutney and orange juice. Heat in microwave for 1-2 minutes. When meatballs are done, combine warmed chutney in bowl with meatballs and serve.

Or place in a slow-cooker on low to use as appetizers for guests.

Cranberry-apple chutney recipes can be found here or here. Or you can do what "expedient Claudia" does and buy Stonewall Kitchen's Apple-Cranbery Chutney.*

*I am not on Stonewall Kitchen's payroll nor did I receive coupons or anything for this plug. I am simply - a big fan.

It's been a rough week for our world. I wish you love.  I wish ...

Hugs are in order.

Smiling and greeting and holding doors open for people seem more important than ever. Throwing love into the universe to counter the unloving has to help.

And somehow, on November 16, the earth still brings forth pink smiles. And I am grateful.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Chicken Normandy: A Very Good Idea

I've taken a lot of detours as of late with my "Italian blog." This is my last detour for a bit and I promise you that you will enjoy the journey. It's a side tripe to France - home of sauces that should be served with cholesterol warnings (unless you're French - the sauces don't seem to affect their cholesterol) - home of women who learn to wear scarves before they can walk - home of Monet, Renoir, Impressionism and all things pretty. 

With Calvados, apples, cream and chicken - you have the perfect bridge from autumn to winter. Plus it's Dorie Greenspan's recipe from Around My French Table and when Dorie is your guide, you know you will eat well. It's a worthy addition to any Holiday Wish List (shhh .... I know it's early November). Plus Calvados is always a good idea. Calvados is an apple-brandy that hails from Normandy and a small shot of it during a chilly eve works as well as a fireplace to lull you into thinking you love the winter cold. You may use another apple brandy or even apple cider.

It comes together surprisingly fast (my mantra now that I am a woman "of a certain age").

Chicken, Apples and Cream a la Normande
Chicken Normandy

flour for dredging seasoned with salt and pepper
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts at room temperature (Patted down a bit if thick; I used six)
1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch chunks) (I used 2 medium MN apples sliced thinly and cored but not peeled)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
8 mushrooms (thinly sliced; I sometimes omit)
1/3 cup chicken broth (I use more)
2 tablespoons Calvados, apple jack or brandy (or cider)
2/3 cup heavy cream (I use a little less)
My addition: fresh thyme sprigs to finish


1. Put the seasoned flour in a shallow bowl and dredge the chicken in it, shaking off any excess.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter (I almost always combine the two even when seemingly unnecessary) in a large deep skillet. If the pan isn't large enough for all the chicken, brown the chicken in batches.
3. Cook each side approximately 3 minutes until they are browned.
4. If needed, add in the other tablespoon of oil and tablespoon of butter (I always need). Leaving the chicken in the pan, add in the mushrooms (if using), onions and apples. If the pan won't hold everything, you can briefly take out the chicken while you sauté the mushrooms, onions and apples. Make sure everything is coated with the oil-butter mixture. Saute for 1 minute and then add in the broth. When the broth boils, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about ten minutes. (Tines will vary depending on the thickness of chicken.)
5. Increase the heat and add in the Calvados (if you're feeling very ooh la la Normandie - use a little more). Boil until it is just about evaporated - about 1 minute.
6. Add the cream and with the heat still high, let the cream boil down about 1/4 - about 3-5 minutes.
7. Adjust seasonings, arrange on platter and serve. I finish it with some fresh thyme.

And now it's your turn - serve it with rice, sautéed spinach or crusty bread - what you think is a good idea.

We've had a blissfully warm autumn. Those of us in Minnesota look to El Nino for "short winters" (under 7 months). There is dancing in the streets when the words "El Nino" first appear in the summertime. Yes, the photo below was taken in mid-October, but I am still am amazed that I have geraniums, petunias, shrub roses, sage, thyme, parsley, bridal veils and other assorted happy plants.

Our patio days are numbered, but the "good ideas" are in full force. A fire on the patio is always a good idea. Calvados remains a good idea.

There have been many family discussions as of late. Matthew is poised to get his doctorate in April/May 2016. He has been "job" searching (for a post-doc). (And obsessing. He is his mother's son after all.) And last week, his number one choice came through and he accepted a two-year position at IPK in Gatersleben, Germany. It's a world-class lab for his work (plant pathologist). My "little guy." Living and working in Europe. Such a good idea.

And below:

He came to us exactly one year ago. Cioppino-Pino-Bambino was a very good idea. The days may be shorter, but November is filled with good ideas.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Sauerbraten Tradition

Leaf-turning-pumpkin-mums-hot cider season. October. Thirty-one days of color culminating in an eve of children wandering in the dark in eccentric clothing begging for white sugar.

Love it.

For as long as I can remember, October was sauerbraten season. My father (not exactly Italian!) had sauerbraten on his October birthday since childhood. Great-Grandma Schmidt and Great Aunt Elsie and Great Aunt Helen were always at the helm of this birthday dinner. I do have one of those tug-at-your-heart-holiday tales regarding sauerbraten and my two great aunts carrying a sauerbraten roast, gravy, red cabbage, dumplings and the requisite pitcher of Manhattans on two subways and a bus (from the Bronx to Queens) during a particularly difficult New Year's Eve. Their intent was to nourish body and soul. It was a spirit-saver. The post is here: My Three Magi. There's also a simpler version of sauerbraten there as I hadn't found my mother's yet.

My father passed five years ago. Nobody had the heart to make the sauerbraten for a while. And then my mother joined my father and the sauerbraten meal remained in the past. Until this year. It was time to revive happy celebrations.

My sister brought me the sauerbraten roaster that my mother used for ... let's just kindly say - decades. And I have her metal potato ricer - equally as old. I like tradition. I like playing with new but never, ever discarding the old. And that makes me fortunate because my "old" is filled with loving memory. And I loved, loved having the sauerbraten in that little blue roaster in my oven.

This is one of those things where almost all the work is done ahead of time (chorus of happy singing just started) and the work on the day of the meal (including the gravy) couldn't be easier.  So there's this ingredient list - looks long. It is long - but it's water and two types of vinegar and things like salt and sugar - nothing you need to go find at a specialty store.

And then - you get this. Tender. Warm. Autumn. October. Good.

Marinade and Meat (serves 4, easily doubled)
This is basically my great-grandmother's recipe. The addition of juniper berries and mustard seeds came from Alton Brown and I thought it was fun. I also happened to have juniper berries in my spice closet. Don't go crazy trying to find them. They are easily omitted.

3-1/2 - 4 pound *top round roast
*About the roast? You want a decent roast - certainly not a tenderloin - but not grizzly and fatty (I did trim) and you want a low roast. The sirloin tip roasts I looked at were way too tall. This should be a long, low roast. It soaks in the marinade better. Even my low roast had to be turned daily as it was not completely covered.

Marinade Ingredients - here we go!
2 cups water
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 medium onion - chopped
1 large carrot - chopped
1 tablespoon Kosher salt and 1 teaspoon Kosher salt for seasoning meat
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 bay leaves
6 whole cloves
 12 juniper berries (can omit)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds (can omit)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Before cooking:
1/3 cup sugar

For gravy:
18 gingersnap cookies - crushed

1. Combine water, vinegars, onion, carrot, 1 tablespoon of the Kosher salt, pepper, bay leaves, cloves, juniper berries and mustard seeds in saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer ten minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. Pat meat dry and rub vegetable oil all over. Rub in the teaspoon of Kosher salt. Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat and brown on all sides. (About three minutes a side.)
3. Place meat in a non-reactive container. Poor cooled marinade over it and refrigerate for 3-5 days (I did five days) turning daily if not completely submerged.
4. When ready to cook, place rack in middle of oven and preheat to 325 F. Add the sugar to the marinade. Cook covered for four hours.
5. Remove meat and keep warm.

GRAVY (so easy)
1. Strain liquid to remove solids. Place in pan over medium-high heat. Whisk in gingersnaps and cook till thickened, stirring occasionally. Strain again to remove lumps (I didn't). You also do not need to de-fat this. I did skim the top once. Slice meat and serve.

And do serve with these dumplings. They're surprisingly easy and all the work is done ahead of time (except for the boiling).

Boil the potatoes in their jackets the day before. You can do all the steps except for the actual cooking of the dumplings the morning of the dinner.

Dumplings - makes 12 - supposedly serves 6 - (HA! I doubled the recipe for six people. None were left!)
1-1/2 pounds Russet potatoes (about 2 large). Do use Russet - they are low moisture and the dumplings hold together well
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (you can use more)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 cup cornstarch
1 large egg

DAY BEFORE: Cook scrubbed, unpeeled potatoes in a large pot of salted boiling water for 45 minutes. Refrigerate over night. Really. Just plan on it.

1. Peel potatoes and run through a potato ricer. You can mash them - but the ricer really makes them smooth.
2. Mix in salt and nutmeg.
3. Using hands, mix in flour and cornstarch. Knead until it forms a smooth dough. You can add more flour if it is sticky. I didn't need to.
4. Add egg and mix in using your hands. (The best kitchen utensil by far!)
5. Form dough into balls using 1/4 cup for each.

If making ahead: place balls on a pan lined with wax paper lightly dusted with flour. Refrigerate.

When ready to cook: (I was making 24 dumplings so I started the process 20 minutes before the meat was ready.)

Cook dumplings in nearly/almost not-quite boiling, salted water. Only cook four at a time - you don't want them touching each other and sticking to each other while cooking. Semi-boil for ten-fifteen minutes (until they rise to the top). You can cover them to keep them warm or put them in a warm oven (I turned off the oven when the meat came out and placed the dumplings in it while the other dumplings cooked.)

Do serve with red cabbage. Do buy the jars of red cabbage. You don't have to make everything.

There were six of us for the sauerbraten meal - six family members reliving old tradition that happened to be delicious. And there was sweet remembrance at the table.

These are bonus days. Only one hard frost and I am still enjoying geraniums, shrub roses, petunias, violets, mums and herbs. The burning bushes are bursting fiery red. More candles will get lit as the days get darker.

Our King Maple had to come down this week. We will miss it (and it's accompanying hosta glade). The garden will evolve and the seasons turn. And sometimes you get to return to a past memory. It's different. It, too evolves. But it never goes away.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Summerfall: Eggplant Dip and an Apple-Pear Salad

We pulled the last plants from the garden. It's warm: summer-fall. The crisp nights have just started. September spent too much time in the 80's. (My DNA has changed since I moved to Minnesota. 80 is just plain hot to me.) I am itching to warm cider, throw on boots and scarves and dig out my blue-plaid blanket for cuddles.

Don't tell me that January is coming. I know. I may even be ready. But first, I will work with what I have and that is Summer-Fall. Time to use up the last of summer vegetables before we become squirrels, digging up the roots.

This is Ina Garten's recipe and it's simple (I can write an ode to simplicity these days), healthy (I know it's a buzz word - just throwing it in there and we won't speak about my ten pound weight gain) and quite tasty (most important).

2 eggplants
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons parsley
1 red pepper
1 red onion
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper (I used more)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (use more)
1-1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut eggplants, bell pepper and onion into 1 inch cubes. Toss them in a large bowl with the garlic, olive oil, cayenne, salt and peppers. Roast for 45 minutes. Turn them 1 time halfway through baking. 

Remove from oven. Cool slightly. Put vegetables in food processor and add the lemon juice and tahini. Pulse 3 or 4 times to blend. Adjust salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl and garnish with fresh parsley.

We've gone to the apple orchards a few times. A happy by-product of living here is the easy access to  quite a few orchards. We've come home laden with pies, apple doughnuts and even - fresh apples! (The pies and doughnuts have nothing to do with my weight gain.)

This is one of those salads that you wind up craving in the fall. It's not one of those foods that "you should eat because it's good for you." The fact that it is indeed buzz-word healthy should be ignored. Make this before the only thing fresh in the produce aisles are turnips.

APPLE PEAR SALAD (serves 4) (Recipe from Recipe Runner)
(I'm not going to give amounts. You know how much lettuce and fruit and almonds you want, right?)

1 small apple (or more)
1 small, perfectly ripe pear (or more)
Your favorite tender lettuces: spring mix, butter lettuce, mache, young spinach
Almonds (sliced and toasted)
dried cherries or dried cranberries
feta cheese
bacon (2-4 slices, optional but the salty crunch in the salad is highly recommended by all the humans in the house)

1 minced shallot
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all in a jar and shake and bring to the table - allowing people to add their own dressing and ensuring the salad doesn't get soggy. Soggy salads are sad.

Cioppino-Bambino went to the vet for his first year check-up. 15.2 pounds. When we got him at four months he was 4.1 pounds. But unlike his owner - not overweight. He has landing gear for paws, a true lion's mane (Kirsten wanted him shaved to look like a lion when I had his matted fur combed out; I resisted) and a lemur tail. The vet confirmed that there's a lot of Maine Coon in this chatty boy. 

In true Italian fashion, I currently have sauerbraten marinating in the fridge in honor of my father. (Every Sunday doesn't have to be pasta even though most should be.) Meanwhile, hope you are having a leaf-crunching, apple-laden, blue sky, sugar maple summerfall!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

(Almost) No-Cooking Required

I've been making this no-cook tomato sauce for about nine years. Sometime in 2006, I hosted a summer dinner for my parents. I brought out this no-cook tomato sauce with angel hair pasta and my father exclaimed, "I saw this on the cover of Bon Appetit. I turned to your mother and said, "That's definitely a Claudia meal."

And so it has been. And I treasure that little memory (funny what you remember, isn't it?). I did indeed make it with angel hair pasta for eight years. And the tomato sauce slid off the pasta and happily attached itself to the bottom of the bowl. I got used to eating a forkful of pasta and then a forkful of sauce. Both were tasty enough. And they seemed destined to never be a couple on a fork.

I am making a concerted effort to use up my bounty (the above is what I have been getting twice a day). I have shared with neighbors, given bushels away to the kids and sent bags of bounty to Paul's work. I am serious about growing sunflowers next summer. After all, the Farmer's Market is teeming with vegetables. And I don't can. And I don't intend to start.

In my ninth year of making no-cook tomato sauce, I wised up. I thought, "Aha! Tubular pasta! That's the ticket! The sauce can get inside the tubes and I will finally have pasta and its sauce together on  fork.

Well, no. It slid out of the rigatoni and down to the bottom of the bowl. I supposed I could literally stuff the chopped tomatoes into penne and finally get my double-forkful - but that seems like a lot of work for the summer.

But even if I don't have luck with getting the pasta and the sauce to marry - I do proclaim its deliciousness, it's ability to use up a lot of tomatoes at one sitting and the smiley-face that Paul puts on when he learns we are having this for dinner.

No Cook Tomato Sauce - for four but two are very happy with it
(This is more of a suggestion than a recipe)
8-12 tomatoes (depending on size and variety. I Used about 4 plum tomatoes, 3 San Marzano tomatoes and a bunch of sweet cherry tomatoes.)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves - cut into slivers
1/4-1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley
(can also use oregano and thyme)
3-4 garlic cloves - minced or sliced
1/4-1/3 cup olive oil
salt and red pepper to taste
Parmesan for serving

1/2-1 pound your favorite pasta

Coarsely chop your tomatoes. No peeling or seeding is necessary. Early in the day, combine all the ingredients. Cover and let sit on your cabinet for the day. The flavors will meld - at least the flavors will marry.

These days, I warm the garlic in the olive oil to get rid of the pungent taste. It's a sweeter, gentler sauce. But - not absolutely necessary.

Moving on.

Below is the prettiest soup. I saw it in The St. Paul Pioneer Press and noted that it used up a zucchini, a tomato and a cucumber. And that's been my mission the last few weeks. Use up! It's tangy and refreshing and we have started many a meal with this.

Buttermilk-Yogurt Soup
2-1/2 cups buttermilk
3/4 cup yogurt
1 cucumber - diced
1 tomato - diced
1 zucchini - thinly sliced
4 tablespoons fresh chives
2 tablespoons thyme
salt and pepper to taste

(You can also use thinly sliced radishes, scallions.......)

Combine. Chill at least one hour or overnight.

(Don't you just love recipes like this?)

And from Frank's blog Memorie di Angelina:

Caponata napoletana

And I'll send you to him for the recipe: Caponata Napoletana. It's so good, we have had it as our salad, for lunch and this morning - for breakfast!

I've mentioned before the changes that happen in your sixties - not the obvious - "woe-is-me-I'm-ageing" but the subtle changes that occur. The ability to know yourself and accept yourself in a way that didn't always seem possible before (and I wish it did for me but better late than never). Aside from not loving temps about 75 degrees F anymore (which may be a by-product of finally morphing into a Minnesotan), I've lost my love of cities. I still love visiting the arts and culture and will continue to do so - but when I have time - I look for the green space. Is it the density in the cities? Not sure. But this former New York City diehard can find her thoughts better out in the open. And so we head to Big Sky country tomorrow - just because.

And on our way to Montana, we will be passing through the sunflower fields in South Dakota. (There's poetry out there.)

I hear Will Nelson singing to me, "Big Skies..... smiling at me...."

Or something like that. That song still makes me smile.

Happy mid-August!