Now THAT’s Ricotta!

I recently picked up some fresh ricotta at my local 50,000 sq. foot “Italian food emporium” in Boston and it changed me forever. I realized up until now, I had really never tasted ricotta – just poor imitations!

ricotta

“Ricotta Calabro” produced right here in New England – Connecticut to be exact – was amazing!

Don’t just take my word for it – look at the awards the producer has received! link here.

I know something as fresh and amazing as this should be eaten in its original state, but the weather had been unseasonably cool and I had my heart set on some comfort food.

Pasta, cheese and tomato sauce = comfort. Throw in a little Italian sausage and even the husband will find this dish comforting!

I basically just added crumbled, cooked sausage, to some cooked pasta in a oiled casserole dish, coated it with tomato sauce and strategically set up “clouds” of ricotta. I topped it with shredded Parmesan cheese and baked it for 30 mins at 350 degrees until it was just crispy on the edges and bubbling in the middle. Comfort food at its best!

 

 

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Farm Days

August in New England is simply the best there is. Warm days, somewhat cooler nights and full, ripe tomatoes

– life doesn’t get any better than that.

fancy lady

fancy lady

 

Recently I spent a day at the New Hampshire Farm Museum listening to music, learning about daily farming activities before technology made everything easier and visiting some animals. My favorite was a beautifully marked chicken.

Down the street is Mckenzie’s Farm – a glorious operation with amazing produce, still-warm-from-the-fryer cider donuts and pick-ur-own everything – including tomatoes!

Nothing is fresher then a tomato you picked yourself!

farmstand purchases

The day’s bounty!  Homemade pickles, spaghetti squash, just picked blueberries, 2 kinds of garlic, tomatoes I picked myself, summer squash, zucchini and a cuke!

I came home with more tomatoes than this picture – about 10 lbs more!  A “sauce” was in the works!

When I got home I washed, cored and roughly cut the tomatoes. ( I don’t blanch, peel and all that jazz – too much work – and I don’t mind the peels, seeds, etc)

I simply added all the tomatoes to my slow-cooker along with one whole head of fresh garlic and a generous handful of basil leaves from my back yard pot. A little salt and pepper and that was it. I really wanted a “fresh” sauce. I let it cook on high for the day (about 6-8 hours) and stirred it once. The tomatoes were so fresh and sweet that nothing else was needed!

crockpot sauce

After all that time cooking, I used my immersion blender to get the sauce to the smooth consistency I was looking for. I blended the basil and whole garlic cloves right in. Tasted for seasoning (salt & pepper) and let it cook for another hour with the lid half off just to thicken things up a little. I cooled and packed some into the freezer for a taste of summer sometime next January. I used some right away as a sauce for an Italian style turkey meatloaf. It would also make an amazing base for a tomato soup and frankly it was just good enough to drink straight!

Meatloaf mix ( pre-turkey meat) consisted of diced yellow bell peppers, onions, garlic, basil, toasted cheese bread crumbs and

Meatloaf mix (pre-turkey meat) consisted of one finely chopped, spicy Andoullie sausage, a finely diced yellow bell pepper, onions, garlic, basil, toasted cheese bread crumbs, olive oil and an egg to hold it all together.

Italian seasoned turkey meatloaf with mashed potatoes and fresh tomato sauce. Parmesan cheese on top.

Italian seasoned turkey meatloaf with mashed potatoes and fresh tomato sauce. Parmesan cheese on top.

Home Opener- A Day Later

ready for the grill

Home opener for the Red Sox was yesterday – Home opener for my grill was today!

Both have some meaning around here. Red Sox means crowded subway lines during games and neon colored tags on ladies purses worn as a small badge of pride that they were recently at a game. Home opener for my backyard grill means an entire category of cooking opens up after along winter of “same old same old.”

I was planning on cheeseburgers but since I had the grill on I decided to throw on a few other items I had kicking around in my fridge – creating the “trifecta” of baseball grill food: sausage, hot dogs and burgers.

I did put a twist on things by not just making any old cheeseburger, but a green chili cheese sauce burger. (on toasted English muffin cause everyone knows they make the best rolls!)

green chili cheeseburger.jpg

A green chili cheese sauce can easily be made by melting 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of all purpose flour, creating a roux. Add in about a cup of milk whisking constantly till thick. A pinch of seasoned salt and some black pepper to season. Add in 2 slices of provolone cheese and about 4 oz mild cheddar cheese. Whisk in a few dashes of the green Tabasco® sauce and about 2 oz of chopped green chilies (this is half of the small can – if you want to use the whole can, double the other ingredients and make a big batch of cheese sauce for a crowd!)

Serve warm drizzled over burgers, nacho chips or just about anything!

Corn & Tomatoes AGAIN

If you know me, you know I am obsessed with tomatoes.  By September 2013 I had already posted 75 times about tomatoes. I have lost count now.

And nothing goes better with tomatoes than corn! (and steak) I’m always looking for a twist on the corn and tomatoes pairing but this one might be a bit of a stretch.

Corn meal dusted fried chicken and a fresh tomato & vegetable “Ragu.”

plated chicken dish

Just use the standard “FEBruary” technique ( Flour, Egg, Breading) but replace the flour with fine corn meal and the breading with regular corn meal. (Doesn’t everybody have 2 kinds of corn meal in their pantry? LOL!) Oh and add some fine grated Parmesan cheese to the breading part to give it some yummy! (don’t to forget to season with salt and pepper!)

Now for the veggies! Garden fresh tomatoes are key. I happen to have some yellow and red!

Just start with a pan of hot olive oil and throw everything in…Its a quick process ..maybe 8-10 minutes total! ( you don’t want to over cook the asparagus!)

Here’s a couple other of my “twists” on corn and tomatoes! Here, Here and Here!

 

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year!

Nope not Christmas… tomato season!!

This year my “supersonics” just keep on giving and although not quite as big as promised… (I blame that on the gardener not the garden) they are prolific! And the little yellow “pear” tomatoes are happily producing a handful a day at this point!

from the garden

After a while there are only so many BLTs you can eat before you need a chance of pace…

BLT

What? Wait?!!! did I really just write that? I never get tired of a BLT!

But the ugly truth is that when the tomatoes are producing faster than you can make sandwiches, there is only one thing left to do….

MAKE SAUCE!

(or “gravy” as we like to say around Boston.) Here is all you need for a simple sauce…

assembled ingredients

Brown up the meats in a heavy bottom cast enamel pan in some olive oil, turn the heat down a bit and add the finely chopped garlic, dried spices and tomato paste. Let them “bloom” for a couple of minutes and de-glaze the pan with the chopped fresh tomatoes. I like to smooth things out with a tablespoon of sugar and of course don’t forget the salt & pepper. Note that I do coat the pork roast with plenty of salt, pepper and a little bit of onion powder before I brown it to a nice crust on all sides. The sausage is fine as is.

sauce in the making

Sauce in the making!

I like to let the whole thing simmer for at least 4 hours on lowish-medium heat and only serve it when the pork roast is basically fork tender. If you like a smoother sauce, remove the meats for a minute and take an immersion blender to the whole thing until it’s your level of smooth. Also I leave the seeds and skin on my tomatoes but you could easily poach and peel the tomatoes and strain the seeds out if that is your desire.

The finished sauce freezes beautifully and when you take some out around Christmas time it truly will be “the most wonderful time of the year” again!

image

Health Food

You can read about it here but just so you know…. “Salisbury Steak” is considered “health food!”

And so I made some health food the other night.

First I formed the patties with lots of flavor mixed in and browned them up in a heavy bottom skillet. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Next up the all important mushroom browning. And onions. Don’t forget about the onions!

Finally be sure to deglaze the pan with flavorful liquids. Add back in the patties to warm through (if they have grown cold) and serve.

The recipe

1.25 lbs +/- Ground Beef (I used 80-20 blend)

1/2 Tb Onion Powder

1/2 Tb Garlic Powder

1/2 Tb Penzey’s Prime Rib Seasoning

1/2 Tsp Season Salt

1/2 Tsp Ground Black Pepper

Mix all of the above and form oval patties ( I made 3) and fry in a heavy bottom pan with a little oil. (use your favorite type) Remove the patties and set aside with a foil cover. Add 1 small onion that has been diced very small and sauté a couple of minutes till soft. Add 1-1/2 cups chopped mushrooms (I used baby Portabellas) and sauté a few minutes till browned.

Deglaze the pan with: (whisk it all together first)

1.5 Cups Water

1/4 Cup Ketchup

2 tb Steak Sauce

1 Packet of Brown Gravy Mix ( low sodium is best)

Turn the heat down and add the patties back in till they are warmed through. Serve with starch and a green vegetable!

 

Raspberry BBQ

My mother is on the eternal search to find the perfect salad dressing. Not too tart, not to sweet- just perfect for her. This results in her buying and trying many different ones and when she inevitably doesn’t like them she sends them home with me. I pretty much like them all but her salad dressing tastes do run a little sweeter than my preferences. So this is how I find myself at the time of this writing with no less than 3 bottles of raspberry vinaigrette in my refrigerator.

I decided to use one of them up by turning it into a sweet and tangy homemade BBQ sauce. And I think it turned out pretty good. Watch out competitive BBQ participants I might just be on to the next greatest thing!

ribs with raspberry BBQ sauce

I simply combined the rest of a barely used bottle of fat-free “balsamic raspberry” dressing (about 3/4 cup) with about a cup of ketchup, a couple of tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, some Korean hot pepper paste for heat and a cup of water. I added in a couple teaspoons of liquid smoke for that “just off the grill” nuance. I the whole thing simmer over medium heat till reduced by about a third. I used some of it to brush on  my ribs in the last 30 min sof cooking for a nice glaze and poured additional on at serving time for that “finger-licking” delicious rib experience!