Sunday, January 27, 2013

Risotto Crab Cakes

Once or twice a month, Paul and I make the great trek to Surdyks in Minneapolis (it requires crossing the Mississippi - something people in the Twin Cities are sometimes loathe to do). It is my go-to place for fresh ricotta (for spoon-feeding myself), mortadella with pistachios, fun pastas (otherwise known as "artisanal pasta") and whatever else strikes our fancy. Last week some risotto-crab cakes struck our fancy.  Inexplicably last week, we had some fresh crab leftover. That doesn't happen often. But I knew what I wanted to do with it.

I came across a recipe for risotto crab cakes here and played with the recipe. It says to use your leftover risotto and I have never had leftover risotto. But who am I to judge? I've never had leftover crab either. (This would be equally good with your leftover lobster if there is such a thing.)

It's the end of January. It's been a dark day of sleet and snow. I think carbohydrate meals were created in January. These are certainly an appetizer but my sister and I could make a meal out of it. I had both kids home and so I continued my double-dipping of carbs - serving it with pasta and shrimp. To be sure there was also broccoli so we were not nutrient-starved. I could hold up my semi-virtuous head.

I love that these are crabby. In fact next time I will probably use less risotto and make them crabbier. Use fresh crab (I used snow crab clusters - use what you can find) or some good canned crab. Play with the amounts - if you want to use one cup of risotto and two cups of crab - go for it.  Use all olive oil or butter for the sauteing or just bake them (I drained them on a paper towel and then threw them in the oven).

Ingredients - makes 8 fairly large crab cakes or 12 smaller ones
2 cups risotto
1-2 cups of crab meat
2 tablespoons of scallions, chives, or favorite herbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter

A primer on "How to make risotto" can be found here. It just adding hot broth and stirring. It's perfect for people who like to get into a zen state sometime during the day.

In a medium-large bowl combine risotto, crab and scallions (or herbs). Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Cover a flat plate with a thin layer of corneal.

Form your mixture into 8-12 balls and flatten slightly. Put them in the dish with cornmeal and press them down. Turn over and do the same. You do not need to coat the sides.

In a large skillet heat the butter and olive oil. When hot, add your crab cakes and cook about 3 minutes per side (until lightly browned on both sides). (Add about 4-6 at a time so as not to crowd). Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately or rewarm in a low oven until heated through.

Serve with an aioli or creme fraiche. It's January. Indulge. A shorter winter month is on its way.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Conquering January with chicken roll-ups and pasta with breadcrumbs

We had a cold spell. Not your namby-pamby cold spell that I read about in other parts of the country. The kind where the thermometer dips to -16 degrees F (Not including wind chill. Although I am still convinced "wind chill" is a diabolical plot to intimidate...)  Air - hurts. It's the coldest we've been in 4 years. I had happily forgotten those winters of yore. Going with the "glass is half-full" philosophy, there are upsides to this cold. Peasant food! I love it. Crave it .... pasta... bread...cheese - all accented with some wild greens. Beans simmering, aromas promising... warmth.

When you need to put on two pairs of sock, long underwear and four upper layers before your jacket, hat and mittens just to walk down the driveway to pick up the mail - you know you are burning calories. So let's consume some.

Chicken rolls stuffed with Ricotta and Spinach* 
from Cucina Povera (my best friend in the winter months) by Pamela Sheldon Johns
*The original recipe does this with pork cutlets - it works equally well with either

Serves 4 (generously)

8 ounces spinach, steamed and chopped (or drain frozen)
1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
sea salt and freshly grated pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
8 chicken cutlets - pounded thin
8 slices pancetta
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup dry white wine

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta and spinach. Season with salt and pepper and nutmeg to taste. (I might add that a little crushed red pepper or some fresh herbs would also do well here.) Pound cutlets to 1/8 inch. Spread a thin layer of the spinach mixture on chicken leaving 1/4" border. Roll it, wrap with a slice of pancetta and keep in place with a toothpick or two. Repeat.

In a large, heavy saute pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and sear the roll-ups about two minutes on each side. (I did four at a time and set them aside.) Add wine and stir to scrape up browned bits. Return roll-ups to pan and simmer briskly for about 7-8 minutes (mine took about 12 minutes) turning them a few times to cook them through. Serve at once.

I would consider placing them under a broiler next time to crisp up the pancetta.

Pasta! Breadcrumbs! What's not to like? In keeping with my "consume calories to beat the cold," I served the chicken with a simple spaghetti with toasted breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Now that's "warm blanket food," isn't it? Pasta and bread. How many more carbs can I add to a carb dish? I toasted some croutons, threw them in the food processor and then did all to taste. (Spaghetti, toasted breadcrumbs, freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Italian herbs, a little olive oil and some of the wine sauce from the chicken.)

In the true days of yore, this is a lot of meat for peasant cooking. But the original pork is more economical and the pancetta would keep the meat moist during the cooking process.
"Carpo pieno, anima consolata." If your stomach is full, your spirit will be calm. And I might add - warm.

Monday, January 14, 2013

So I Had the Ginger Cake and the Sausage Ragu

When you have a decade birthday, you do a lot of thinking. Even if the decade birthday was six months ago. (which it was so I am doing way too much thinking.)  Often "thinking" is not the way to go. Doing something yields better results. But I do the pondering thing. A lot. Between the "decade thing" and the New Year and what-will-I-do thing, early January was spent in  "deep ponder." A fun ponder. Pondering airfare to Arizona or Miami in January. The what-as-I-thinking-ponder as to "why did I decide to write a play 18 months ago that employs physics when I don't understand physics?" ...yeah - had a lot of coffee and wine figuring that ponder out.

And then there's usual "ponder" about taking off the last 12 pounds that apparently love me very much and don't want to leave. And so I scoffed at those last 12 pounds by eating fettuccine with sausage ragu and David Lebovitz's wintry fresh ginger cake. Because doing something is better than pondering.

I had a wee bit too much tomato in the ragu. (Note to self: stop obsessing, so what?)  I edited the ragu by eating the extra tomatoes. And you should, too. Because it's winter and feeding the brain with pasta and ragu is required in January.

Polishing it off with this Fresh Ginger Cake was one of my better ideas. You should make it a New Year's resolution. It's a resolution you will keep. In fact, you could continually roll it over into the next year's resolution and be done with any new resolutions once and for all.

The olive oil in the cake keeps it densely moist inside with a crackle on top (not a crunch mind you) that tickled my fancy. Crackly and pliable? Best of both worlds. Lebovitz serves it with a plum compote that certainly made me sit up and think spring. But some simple sweetened raspberries and a little cream worked just as well.

Because it's made with a generous amount of freshly-grated ginger, this is as fresh as one can get in Minnesota in January. The olive oil I used told me this recipe could pass muster in an Italian food blog. And I don't really care if I'm kidding myself. When it comes to dessert, I can talk myself into anything.

Fresh Ginger Cake by David Lebovitz from Ready for Dessert
(Makes one 9-inch cake, 10-12 servings)
4 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 cup (250 ml) mild-flavored molasses
1 cup (250 g) sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (250 ml) n(I used olive oil - probably made it a wee bit denser)
1-1/2 (350 g) cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup (250 ml) water
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 eggs, room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Butter bottom and sides of 9-inch springform or round cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a food processor (with metal blade) or with a sharp knife, chop the ginger until it is very fine. (I opted for the food processor). Set aside.

In a large bowl mix the molasses, sugar and oil. In a medium bowl mix the flour, cinnamon, cloves and pepper.. In a small sauce pan bring the water to a boil and stir in the baking soda. Whhisk hot water mixture into the molasses mixture. Add the chopped ginger.

Sift the flour mixture intro the molasses mixture and whisk to combine. Add the eggs one by one until thoroughly blended. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes clean - about an hour. Let cool completely. Run a knife around the edges of the cake to help loosen it from the pan. Invert on a plate, peel away the parchment paper and invert back onto the plate you will serve it.

Serve warm or room temperature with whipped cream or a fruit compote. (I added two teaspoons of sugar to winter raspberries. When the juices were running, we drizzled it over the cake or - as my kids did - over the cream and the cake.

Now that you had your dessert first (which is sounding like a most likeable New Year's Resolution), have some sausage ragu. I've posted the recipe before but it's worth another look. I make at least one variation every winter. I am convinced it keeps us sane until spring.

Fettuccine with Sausage Ragu
(barely adapted from Biba Caggiano in Tastes of Italia - serves 6 in my home)
1 pound fettuccine
3 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
1 14-ounce can of low-salt beef broth or 14 ounces of your beef broth
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (I used 1-1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 28-ounce can San Marzano whole tomatoes, drained (I didn't drain but for a truer ragu - you should)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
1/4 cup milk (I used a wee bit more)
Grated Parmesan for serving

Cook the fettuccine according to package directions. Soak the mushrooms in the beef broth for 30 minutes. (I warmed the broth - you don't need to). In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook 3-4 minutes until softened. Add sausage and cook 5-7 minutes until no longer pink. Add wine, mushrooms with broth, tomato paste and tomatoes. Stir to mix well. Bring to a boil and cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally. The tomatoes break down and melt into the meat so you have the tomatoes but not a sauce of it. Stir in nutmeg and milk and simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper (I didn't need it.) Remove from heat and toss with pasta. Pass the Parmesan cheese.

As for those 12 pounds, I've thrown down the gauntlet. I can defeat them. Without sacrificing pasta and a David Lebovitz dessert. Happy 2013, all. May you have ginger cake and sausage ragu in your life.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Sharing Salads with Sadie

If you sat at the right end of the couch, you had to pet Sades. It was required. She nuzzled you until you did. Guests were forewarned of this when they sat there. Anyone who visited was nuzzled and loved by Sadie. And left full of fur.

As we walked along the lake, she actively sought out dead fish to roll around in and was pleased with her aroma. She was a locomotive blazing paths in deep snow, an avid rodent hunter and she loved her vegetables. I never chopped a vegetable without Sadie directly underneath me hoping for an "oops." There were quite a few "oops."

In her older age, she developed a love of artichokes. Both she and the cat came running when I sliced artichoke hearts. And I sliced artichoke hearts all winter. Which was 6 months long. Bear with me - the recipe's coming. It has made my year of "mindful eating" relatively easy. A good salad will do that.

Cats and dogs can be friends.

Sadie loved her tomatoes. In the last years when she was blind, she would sniff them out and have her fill of sun-ripened plum tomatoes. Not wanting her to have an excess of the stuff, I put the tomatoes in pots and moved them around the yard but she sniffed them out. Eventually, I would just have to beat her out the back door in the morning if I wanted tomatoes.

Eight and a half years ago, I went to Petco for guinea pig food and returned with Sadie. One of the best decisions of my life. She was my solution to my mid-life crisis. The kids were graduating from "something" every two years and I could see my child-rearing days were coming to a close. I told Sadie she was never going to graduate from anything.

She was a rescue dog. One look into her chocolate-brown eyes and I was smitten. I don't know if I chose her or she chose me. (My friend Brian did suggest that Sadie chose her human.) For 8-1/2 years she was our stress-buster and our smile.

Her nose was often dyed yellow from zucchini blossoms or red from the tomatoes. And scraped from chasing chipmunks up drain spouts. Sades had a technicolor snout during the summer.

I still find myself setting aside bits and pieces of salads for Sadie. This salad is so simple - I hardly call it a recipe. It's earthy - a bright smile all year - which is why both Sadie and I love it. And easy.

For 2-3 people + 1 salad eating dog:
1-2 packages of thawed artichoke hearts - sliced thin
3 celery ribs - sliced thin
1/2 fennel bulb - again sliced thin
Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano - you determine the amount
Salt and pepper to taste
a fistful of chopped (fresh) Italian parsley

2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon (I do equal amounts)

Think of it as crunchy sunshine. Try it - and share it.

"To some, she's an animal. To me, she is an adopted daughter who is short, furry, walks on all fours and doesn't always speak clearly."

Sadie: 1998-May 2011
Forever in our hearts.