Leftovers

I found myself with an assortment of leftovers the other day – artisan bread that was a couple days old, cherry tomatoes that were starting to get a little wrinkly, some bits of steak, a nub of sweet onion, some fresh parsley just coming to its last days.

Of course my first thought was “Panzanella!”  That famous Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes tossed with olive oil and vinager.

For seasoning, I keep it simple. I like the flavors of the good olive oil and red wine vinegar to shine through. In addition to that I use plenty of salt, pepper and some granulated garlic. I like the granulated garlic here because its far less aggressive then using raw garlic and it distributes evenly throughout. No one is going to bit into a piece of raw garlic when when you use the granulated garlic.

I usually mix all the ingredients except the bread and let it sit for a while. This time also allows the natural juices of the tomatoes to help with this dressing. By tossing the bread in last you can judge how much bread cubes you want to add, keeping the ratio of wet ingredients (dressing, tomatoes, herbs etc) to around 1-2. (1 part wet ingredients to 2 parts bread) I usually don’t toss in the bread till about 10-15 mins before serving. That way the bread gets moistened but not soggy. The dressing should just just barely coat everything in the bowl.

The beauty of this salad is that it is perfect served room temperature. Of course if you are adding meat like I did – keep the wet ingredients (including the meat) refrigerated till about 30 mins before serving time. You want to get the chill off before serving, and toss in the toasted, cubed bread about 15 mins before serving.

final

The simplicity of leftovers!

Author’s notes:

Basil is often used in a panzanella salad but really any fresh, soft herb you have on hand is great in this.

When it comes to the olive oil in this, make sure you break out the good stuff because it is gives a lot of flavor and richness.

Onions – I happen to have some sweet onion on hand. I wouldn’t use a red onion unless you dice it fine and keep the amount low. A red onion can sometimes over-power a dish. Shallots are natural excellent choice for this dish.

 

 

Steaming Meat

Steamed meat doesn’t sound appealing at first. But when you add cheese everything suddenly seems ok.

Steamed Cheeseburgers. Made famous by Ted’s in Meriden Connecticut are worth the trek if you find yourself anywhere in New England. If you are not then get yourself a “Burg’r Tende’r” and get busy steaming at home!

My first reaction when I was invited to a “steamed cheeseburger” event was “huh?” My host explained the backstory about Ted’s in Meriden (which happens to be her hometown) and how she purchased one of these contraptions a while back so she could have a little taste of home here in Boston.

burgr tendr

I feel like everyone needs a “Steam Cheeseburger Chest!”

It was MUCH smaller than I imagined – think “easy bake oven” size! The tiny part at the bottom holds the water to create the steam. The door opens to reveal shelves that hold trays of meat and cheese.

trays of cheese and burger

That’s cheese in the top 3 trays (with room for 2 more trays on the top shelf) and ground beef in the rest.

The ground beef trays get a head start by about 5 minutes and the cheese goes in after that for about another 5 mins. So 10-12 mins total.

The amount of cheese that goes in the trays is somewhat excessive but the idea is that once it melts it really “pours” over the burger and really almost envelops the burger!

cheese trays

can there ever be too much cheese?

melted cheese

Add other toppings as you wish!

The steamed burger is the juiciest – most delicious – burger and the amount of cheese is just perfect!!

Now off to the world wide web to see about getting one of these contraptions for myself!

 

 

Living Simply

I had to take a long break from Cabinet Stew recently to attend to my mother who was ill and recently passed away. I have returned from this sad hiatus with a renewed respect for my time left on this earth and an appreciation for living more simply.

My mother was a 40 year vegetarian and a general health enthusiast. She never felt the need to “clutter” her plate with complicated ingredients, bold spices or fancy preparations. She felt nature was best left untouched as much as possible. At the same time she never passed up the chance to try something new, leading us as a family, to one “off the beaten path” bakery to another. By ten years of age I already knew where to get the best spanakopita (greek spinach pie) in my hometown.

My father in contrast was a man who appreciated a sausage as another might appreciate a vintage car or rare wine. He was a connassuier of hot dog carts, hash browns and strangely, fresh radishes. (which he ate like candy from a bowl in front of the TV)

Having observed both of them my whole life, I shaped my own eating habits around a combination of them. I love bold flavors and never pass up a good hot dog. I think nostalgically of my father when I eat radishes. However I don’t think twice about having a meal that doesn’t contain meat – in fact I don’t even recognize it as a “vegetarian” meal – its just simply a meal. I never met a vegetable or fruit I don’t like. And of course I have to seek out the most obscure local joints to try something new.

Today I salute my mother and her simple tastes.

simple-breakfast

Toast spread with Ricotta di Pecora (raw sheep milk ricotta) – topped with maple syrup and Honey Dew melon.

 

 

 

 

Easy-Fancy Potatoes

Hasselback Potatoes are the perfect blend of  “easy but looks fancy!”

What are they? Basically they are baked potatoes that have been sliced in a decorative manner. They were a Swedish invention at the “Hasselbacken Hotel” in Stockholm, where they are called “hasselbackspotatis,” back in the 1700s.

I decided to test these out as a possible Thanksgiving dish. We were always more of a baked potato family than a mashed family so a twist on the family standard seemed like a good idea. I washed and sliced some potatoes, poured melted butter and seasoning over them as the many internet recipes suggest and baked them in a high oven ( 450!!!) for 50 mins. They were easy and they look impressive, but I think next time I will slice and bake them with just a bit of oil rubbed onto the potatoes and at a slightly lower heat. I will save the butter-garlic-topping for when they come out of the oven because I noticed that garlic pieces burned unless you conscientiously tuck each one into a slice – who has time for that on thanksgiving!

Here is a look at my “test drive”

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Stuffed, Shelled or Stacked?

These are the questions I ponder when making a filling for a pasta dish. Will this be better stuffed in a Cannelloni? or bursting out of over-sized shells? or perhaps layered in a lasagna?

Recently I was test-driving a filling for the upcoming thanksgiving dinner.

A “rift” on sweet potato casserole if you will. I took baked sweet potatoes, scooped out the flesh, mixed it with copious amounts of butter, salt and pepper and didn’t stop there.

I proceeded to mix up a basic béchamel sauce (flour/butter roux with milk and fresh nutmeg) and mixed in some fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. This got folded into the sweet potato and “voila” a delicious pasta filling was created!

Since I only had the shells in the house, I boiled up a few and tested this filling out.

img_0131

test driving my filling in the shells

It was good, but I have concluded that this would be better stuffed into Cannelloni pasta. This is the long tube like pasta. (Like a giant ziti)

I think I will also stuff the pasta with just the plain sweet potato filling and save the béchamel for pouring over the top. Baked and served at the thanksgiving table this will be my new twist on “sweet potato casserole” – no marshmallows needed.

Patty Pan

Such a funny, odd name.  What is a “patty pan” anyway? I mean I know it’s a type of squash but that must be named after something? My husband thought maybe it was an another name for a cupcake-like thing. A quick search of the inter-webs told me that  “The name “pattypan” derives from “a pan for baking a patty”. Its French name, pâtisson, derives from a Provençal word for a cake made in a scalloped mould.”

I may have styled this photo just a tiny bit :)

I may have styled this photo                         …just a tiny bit 🙂

The husband was pretty close to right on this one. Yup, a wife has actually admitted in writing that her husband was right! (just this one time)

I bought a couple of Patty pan’s from the farmer’s market at the Brimfield antique show this past week, along with a variety of summer squash called “Zephyr” along with some tiny little potatoes, Cipollini onions, some beautiful tomatoes, a few tomatillos and some tasty golden raspberries. No trip to the farmer’s market is complete without some corn on the cob, so I picked some up!

And of course since I was there to shop antiques – there was a small side table purchased!

The Patty Pans are small but mighty. They can be sliced or stuffed.

patty-pan-with-cupI sliced up mine along with most of my other farmer market finds and spread them all out on sheet pan with olive oil  and spices and roasted them . This is a great way to cook them easily, all at once. Later they can be arranged on a platter for a meal, snacking or sandwiches.

 

Interested in Brimfield? it happens 3 times a year near Sturbridge Massachusetts – here’s a link for more info and here is some pictures I took….

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Who Needs A Ring Anyway!

Or maybe I am just cranky that I couldn’t keep my fresh pineapple rings as rings!

I tried to make the quintessential pineapple upside down cake- all pretty with perfect rings, but when the first one broke apart I knew I would have to just embrace the pineapple “chunks”  instead.

pineapple upside down cake 1

I choose the 9×12 baking dish size purely because that was the only dish I had that matched one of the baking choices on the back of the box cake instructions. Yep…I used a box cake mix. I did cut up a fresh pineapple and used real butter and brown sugar. I also added a splash of vanilla to the cake mix. That counts as “homemade” right?

It always better to let someone else do what they do best, like say my friend “Betty” – she is a great baker – so I can focus on what I do best…EAT!

cake piece

Author’s Tips

Spray the baking dish liberally with baking spray first.

1 stick softened, salted butter and 3/4 cup (lightly pack) dark brown sugar make the most amazing base to place the pineapple on. Just smear it together right in the baking dish and spread evenly as possible across bottom of the dish.

A light dusting of ground cinnamon over the pineapple chunks (rings) nestled in the sugar/butter mix goes a long way towards adding flavor.

No need to get a mixer out for that box cake mix- just follow box directions for adding water,oil, eggs and whisk it by hand for a minute or two till smooth and pour over the top.

Pro-tip: rotate the dish 1/2 way thru baking time for a nice even cake.

Mandatory to let the cake cool a solid 15 minutes before turning it out (upside down) on a pretty platter or simple wooden board. It will still be smoking hot (all the sugar-fruit holds the heat!) so let it cool just a few minutes longer before cutting the pieces.