Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Inspired Chef's Ode to Christmas: Cappelletti Soup



I don’t know if anyone knows this about the Inspired Chef, but I grew in the suburbs of Cleveland, OH, a nice Jewish girl who loved to celebrate Christmas. I always looked forward to hanging the ornaments on my grandparents’ Christmas tree and couldn’t wait to get up early Christmas morning to spill out the contents of my stocking and open up my presents. At the all-girls school I went to we practiced our holiday carols for weeks before the Christmas Concert (now called the holiday concert to be PC). Thus, I was in for a rude awakening when I moved to New York. Apparently none of my Jewish friends were going to invite me over to decorate their trees or have Christmas Eve dinner like they did back in Cleveland. So, I am very indebted to my Christian friends who have shared their holiday traditions with me. My friend Doreen was kind enough to make me a batch of Cappelletti Soup, which she serves her family to start off Christmas dinner every year.


Cappelletti means "little hats" in Italian, but Doreen says, "When my grandfather brought the recipe over to America from Rimini, Italy, the pasta got flattened in translation so that our family now makes it in a ravioli shape." She remembers growing up watching her grandmother rolling out the pasta dough in one whole sheet on the table.

Atlas Pasta Roller



Doreen makes her own pasta too, but uses a pasta roller and ravioli tray to cut the pasta sheets into small squares that she fills with a ricotta-based mixture with lemon zest and nutmeg. The cappelletti are served in a chicken broth and topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.


Ravioli Tray

Intrigued by making this, but not wanting to spend four hours feeding pasta through a machine, I called up my local Italian deli and asked if I could buy the sheets pre-made. The answer was yes, but they wouldn’t be thin enough for ravioli, so I'd have to pass the sheets through the roller a couple more times to thin them out. I might recommend this route, unless you are a stickler for family tradition, in which case, I totally understand.

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays and merriest of Christmases. And call me if you need help trimming your tree!



Cappelletti
Grandpa Grassi’s recipe, from Doreen Goldstein
Prep time: 6 hours

Filling:
3 pounds fresh ricotta cheese
8 large eggs well beaten
1 pound cream cheese
1 pound freshly grated Parmesan cheese
6 zested lemons
5 nutmegs freshly ground
Salt and pepper to taste
3-6 tablespoons lemon juice to taste

Beat eggs, add cream cheese, and then mix in a blender. Add the rest of the filling and mix in blender. Set aside in refrigerator.

Dough:
Make 8 batches of this so you can use Cuisinart, mix till it comes together. Use extra pasta as fettuccine.

4 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour

Flatten dough so that it will fit through the rollers of a hand-cranked pasta machine. Set rollers of pasta machine at the widest setting, then feed pasta through rollers 3 or 4 times, folding and turning pasta until it is smooth and the width of the machine. Roll pasta through machine, decreasing the setting one notch at a time (do not fold or turn pasta), until pasta sheet is about 1/16 inch thick.

Lay a bottom sheet of pasta over a well-floured ravioli tray and fill pushed-down centers with about a 1/2 teaspoon of filling. Slightly wet the edges then cover with top layer of pasta. Use a rolling pin to press the two layers of pasta together. Start with gentle pressure to press out any air and to form a seal. Then use more pressure to cut the pasta into individual ravioli.  Peel off excess dough from around the ravioli. Turn the ravioli maker over and give the mold a shake.  The ravioli should easily fall out of the mold.  If they don't, tap the edge of the mold against a firm surface such as your countertop. (details here). You can freeze them on cookie sheets so they don’t touch and then put them in Ziploc bag. Will store for months.


Make a chicken stock. Simmer it (do not boil or cappelletti will fall apart) Place fresh or frozen cappelletti in soup and simmer 20 minutes. Do not stir, just gently push down into stock to move it gently.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Marshmallow Chocolate Kiss Dreidels



I had just turned off the lights and was getting comfortable in bed last night when I heard my phone buzzing.  Don’t ask me why I picked it up and looked at my emails but I did.  Andthere was a message from my girlfriend Roberta asking me if I had made the chocolate dreidels for her yet and when could I bring them over to her house? Chocolate dreidels? Needed by tomorrow? What was The Inspired Chef doing when she agreed to that proposition – partying with the mayor of Toronto?

So, of course I couldn’t go to sleep. When I did doze off, instead of visions of sugarplums dancing in my head I had nightmares about spinning dreidels. When my alarm went off at 7 a.m. this morning, I dragged myself out of bed and decided to wipe those darn dreidels off my growing to-­do list. While my coffee was percolating, I started reading the recipe that I had found on the Martha Stewart website and was planning to adapt (FYI, my husband affectionately calls me Martha Stewart on Crack!). Prying my eyes open, I accounted for all the needed ingredients: a bag of marshmallows, chocolate kisses, microwaveable milk chocolate wafers, and thin wooden barbecue skewers.


The trick is to melt the chocolate wafers to a velvety consistency. Once I did this, I dipped the flat bottom of the chocolate kiss into the melted milk chocolate. This serves as the glue that adheres the kiss to the bottom of the marshmallows.


While I let my creations cool in the fridge for 10 minutes, I took my kitchen scissors and cut the wooden barbecue skewers into 3­inch sticks. I then inserted these into the tops of the cooled marshmallow/chocolate kiss combos, allowing me to hold onto the sticks while I dipped the dreidels into the re­melted milk chocolate.

After I had covered my dreidels in chocolate, I set them down on a baking tray covered in wax paper and proceeded to decorate them with assorted blue and white sprinkles.

If you want to see these edible dreidels in person, hop on over to the Festive Holiday Stroll, sponsored by the Ossining Children’s Center this Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22 and 23. (Tickets available at Holbrook Cottage in Briarcliff). They’re on display in my friend Roberta’s house.


Otherwise, here’s the recipe:

Marshmallow Chocolate Kiss Dreidels

12 marshmallows
12 chocolate kisses
8 ounces Chocomaker Simply Melt Milk Chocolate, or similar brand
Thin wooden barbeque skewers, but into 12 3­inch sticks
Sprinkles

1.   Dip flat bottom of chocolate kiss in melted milk chocolate. Press onto bottom of marshmallow. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Repeat to make all 12 dreidels, then refrigerate for 10 minutes.

2.   Cut the wooden skewers into 3­inch­long sticks and insert into the marshmallow tops. Dip dreidels into remelted chocolate and return to baking sheet.  Decorate with sprinkles.

3. Refrigerate until set, 15 minutes.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Trail Bars




Do any of you out there like Kind energy bars? I do! If I’m ever in a rush and don’t have time to whip up a healthy shake or cook some eggs for breakfast., my go to move is to buy a cup of coffee and a Kind bar at the local coffee shop before heading to the gym or to work (depends on the day). Kind bars seem to be the healthiest choice for a girl on the go – full of nuts, dried fruit, vitamins, and antioxidants. Everything’s good, but the price is annoying at $2.50 each. At first I thought about buying in them online in bulk, but then I decided why not make them myself?

I searched the Internet and found several recipes for energy bars that I tried out. The big problem was that they got soft and fell apart once I pulled them out of the frig. What I needed was to find a recipe with ingredients that would bind the bars together so they would stay firm at room temperature. Finally, I was leafing through the pages of Canyon Ranch Cooks when I came across trail bars that had exactly what I was looking for to provide the natural “glue” I needed: brown rice syrup, which has the appearance and consistency of molasses, and almond butter, which is thick and creamy like peanut butter. 


The first step is to pour the almond butter and brown rice syrup into a pan and cook over low heat  until bubbles form. Then you can stir in your favorite fruits and nuts. The original recipe has dried cherries and chopped walnuts. I also cut up some dried apricots and almonds, which I crushed up with a potato masher (great way to get out your frustration!). Then I added the called for quinoa flakes, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, puffed rice, and puffed millet. 


Whoa, puffed millet! I bet you’re wondering just exactly what is that. (Not to mention quinoa, but I already covered that in a previous blog. Puffed millet is pearly white, round, and tiny, about 1/4 inch in diameter. According to Wikipedia, the name refers to “several different annual summer grasses used for hay, pasture, silage, and grain.”


 Also, this just in from thekitchn.com:

Millet is an ancient seed, originally cultivated in the dry climates of Africa and northern China since the Neolithic Era. (A few years ago, archaeologists discovered a 4000-year old bowl of millet noodles in northwestern China!) … Today, millet continues to be a staple for a third of the world's population. Ground millet is used in flatbreads, such as Indian roti and Ethiopian and Eritrean injera (made from teff, a variety of millet). In Eastern Africa, millet is used to make beer. It is also an ingredient in Eastern European fermented drinks and porridges.

Another fun fact, millet is the main ingredient in birdseed. But these trail bars are not for parakeets, they’re for you and me, and they are great for us – low in fat, carbohydrates, sodium, and cholesterol, and loaded with protein and fiber. Plus, they’re delicious!


OK, let’s get back to business. When the mixture is cool enough to handle, press it into a 9 x 13 inch backing pan that’s been lightly coated with canola oil. The best way to do this is to lay a piece of parchment paper across the top and use your palm to smooth out the contents from the middle outward, flattening out the mixture and pushing it in to the corners of the pan.

Let the trail bars cool completely and then cut them into 20-25 bars, depending on the size you want. I like to wrap them individually in parchment paper and store them in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag in the freezer. That way when I’m running out of the house in the morning, I can grab one and be on my way.


TRAIL BARS
Adapted from Canyon Ranch Cooks

1 cup almond butter
1 cup brown rice syrup
3/4 chopped nuts, almonds and walnuts
1 cup dried fruit, cherries and diced apricots
1 2/3 cups puffed millet
1/ 2/3 cups puffed rice
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup quinoa flakes

Lightly coat a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with Canola oil.

In a large saucepan, heat almond butter and  brown rice syrup over low heat until bubbles form. Quickly stir in remaining ingredients and mix well.

When cool enough to handle, press into baking pan. Cool completely. Cut into individual size servings and wrap each one tightly.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dark and Stormy Pineapple



In honor of Father’s Day, I am going to share a great recipe from Esquire’s “Eat like a Man” blog. Fist of all, have you ever seen this online column? Well, I hadn’t, but since my friend Jean sent me a link to the blog’s recipe for “Dark and Stormy Pineapple,” I feel like a whole new male-centric cooking and eating universe has opened up to me. For example, check out this Q&A:

In your opinion, what is the proper portion of hot dogs to eat for breakfast for the average 200-pound man with or without eggs? 

Ali Ahmad, Ventnor, New Jersey

Skinless or cased? It matters.

Who writes this stuff? Apparently, it's Josh Ozersky, aka Mr. Cutlets, the “Eat Like a Man” blogger who describes himself as a James Beard Award-winning food writer, B-list food personality, and noted polymath and deviant. Even though I had to look up the definition for polymath – a Renaissance man - I really like this guy and his sage advice. Here’s another one…

I want to buy a new electric meat slicer for home use. Are any of them any good that are still affordable?
Jeff Schwartz, Margate, NJ

Jesus Christ, Jeff! What is wrong with you? Don't buy an electric slicer, ever, unless you are palsied or lack hands. Cutting things with a knife is a minimum requirement for feeding yourself with dignity. Get two or three great knives, ones that feel right in your hand, and keep them sharp and clean. You can use them for the rest of  your life, and you'll never have to feel like an effeminate cyborg.


Genius I tell you! So, I decided that I wanted to cook like a man and make some "dude food" in honor of Father’s Day. The “Dark and Stormy Pineapple” afforded me just this opportunity. To start it all off, I whipped out my new 8-inch (well, due to “shrinkage,” it’s actually 7 3/4 inches) Shun stainless-steel chef knife. It is so sharp that I felt like a sword-wielding Samurai warrior. I used the knife to lop of the bottom of the pineapple in a single swoop, then repeated my ninja-like skills for the top. With the pineapple now sitting nice and flat, I was able to quickly trim off the rind and all those little brown "eyes" as well.  Then I turned the pineapple on its side and hacked it into inch-thick rounds.



The next step was to make the marinade, a mixture of finely chopped fresh ginger, dark brown sugar, ground pepper, and dark rum, and then brush it over the pineapple disks. Although it doesn’t say to in the recipe, I think it’s best to marinate for up to an hour.


Make sure the ginger is finely minced.


The marinade of rum, dark brown sugar, ground pepper, and ginger.

FYI, the whole reason why it’s called “Dark and Stormy Pineapple” is because the marinade closely resembles the Dark and Stormy drink. According to Wikipedia, “This classic drink is popular worldwide, especially in many British Commonwealth countries, such as Bermuda and Australia. It consists of Gosling's Black Seal Rum and ginger beer over ice ... optionally accompanied by a slice of lime.” Quite the manly drink, it is also featured on the Esquire.com Web site, along with expert commentary by the magazine’s resident cocktail historian David Wondrich, who calls the Dark and Stormy “Bermuda’s poem-in-a-glass.”



According to Wondrich:

The precise origins of the D&S are, as one comes to expect when dealing with matters alcoholic, kinda hazy. What is known is the following. By the mid-nineteenth century, the official daily rum ration of the British Royal Navy consisted of 2 ounces a head of a peculiarly heavy blend of dark rums, dominated by the deeply funky stuff made along the Demerara River in Guyana. Some time after 1860, Gosling Bros., of Hamilton, Bermuda, began marketing its "old rum" -- a peculiarly heavy blend of dark rums. Between 1860 and 1920 the Royal Navy added a ginger-beer bottling plant to its massive Ireland Island Dockyards complex; what the navy was doing bottling ginger beer we don't know, unless it was intended as a temperance measure. If it was, it failed: The swabbies, given the choice between Demon rum and temperance beverage, said, "Fanx, gov, we'll take both." We're with them.


I didn't have Gosling's rum, so I used this Rhum Barbancourt.

Now, on to the next manly step – grilling. I didn’t even know how to turn on the grill until several years ago as that fell in to the realm of responsibilities held by my husband, Bob. But hey, once you can figure out how to turn the gas on, you are good to go. The key with this recipe is you must have the grill on low heat or else the brown sugar will burn. 

So I pilfered my husband’s grilling utensils and went to work. Picking up the pineapple slices with his oversized tongs, I placed them on the grill (which I’d sprayed with Misto, the natural, olive-oil version of Pam).  When I saw the bottoms had started to turn a beautiful, glazed brown color, I flipped the pineapples over with his giant spatula. It’s best to move them around frequently to get even caramelizing. The recipe said it should take 15 minutes, but mine took a bit longer – keep your eyes on the grill is my best advice so that you will end up with nicely-grilled, unburnt pineapple.



The last step is to remove the discs from the grill and squeeze some lime juice over the slices.  I guess if you want to be really manly you could also let out a big belch and scratch your privates, JK!

I brought the pineapple over to a friend’s house and we paired it with grilled tuna, a nice blend of sweet and savory. Another great idea is to serve it is for dessert with ice cream – think French vanilla or dulce de leche – yummy!

Happy Father’s Day to all you men out there. And to all you women, just remember: Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.

Dark and Stormy Pineapple
Esquire, June/July 2013

Ingredients:

1 pineapple
1 tablespoon cropped ginger
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon course ground black pepper
3 ounces dark rum
1/2 lime

Preparation:

Cut off the top and bottom so the pineapple sits flat. Cut off the rind from top to bottom, working your way around. Cut deep enough to get behind the "eyes" (brown spots) of the pineapple, about a quarter-inch deep.

Turn the peeled pineapple onto its side and cut into inch-thick slices. Mix together the ginger, sugar, pepper, and rum, and marinate the pineapple for up to an hour.  Grill over low heat (the sugar may burn quickly over higher heat), turning when the edges start to caramelize. Move disks frequently to get even caramelizing. Timing is very subjective, at least 15 minutes though, but keep your eyes on the grill.

Remove and squeeze lime juice over slices.







Monday, March 18, 2013

Banana Bread, Minus the Oil



Have you ever gone to a spa or restaurant and bought their cookbook, with every intention of making the some of the recipes when you get back home? And then it sits unopened on your bookshelf for years?

Well that was the case with the “Canyon Ranch Cooks: More Great Tastes” cookbook, which was gathering dust on my living room shelf ever since I bought it at the spa’s Lenox Hill location five years ago. That is until last week, when I got inspired to bake a banana bread without using oil.

Most recipes for banana bread call for 1/4 cup of oil. But, that seemed like entirely too much fat to me, so I started looking for healthier options. I found it in the Canyon Ranch cookbook. And you may ask just what is the secret to cutting out the oil? The answer is ... drum roll please… applesauce!

Some of you may be thinking that it can’t possibly taste as good if you don’t use oil, or questioning if it will have the same texture and moistness. Well, if my husband, Bob, is any proof that it is, then I will tell you what he said: “This is the best banana bread you’ve ever made.”


Bolstered by his thumbs up, I made a loaf to bring to my son, Sam, who recently moved into his own apartment in New York City, and he seconded Bob’s opinion. (Note to recent empty nesters, imperative to getting your kids to come back home and visit you is serving them very good food whenever they do bless you with their presence.) 

As an added bonus, the cookbook says its banana bread is only 135 calories per serving. However, and I must note a “Spoiler Alert” here, I had to add bittersweet chocolate chips to my version, so that may cancel out the calories saved by cutting out the oil.

The first step in this recipe is to mash three overripe bananas.  And by overripe, I mean the bananas should have brown speckles all over their skins and be extremely mushy. If you have a potato masher, that works great; or else just use a fork, pressing down the tines to turn the bananas into a pulpy, baby-food-like consistency.   


Next, mix the pulverized banana with a quarter cup of coffee, -- yes, coffee! -- and set aside. Why add coffee? The answer is it adds a rich, toffee flavor to the bread and contributes to the bread’s tenderness.

In another bowl, mix sugar, brown sugar, an egg and the much-touted applesauce. OK, let’s talk about the applesauce now.  How does it work as a substitute for oil?  According to Seasoned Advice on StackedExchangecom:

In baking, the role of oil is to coat the flour, preventing it from combining with the water (or other wet ingredients) and developing guten. Gluten is what causes dough to rise, and also gives elasticity to the final product - what most people think of as "chewiness."

When you're baking, for example, a cake, or even a pie crust, you want to limit the amount of gluten that develops…A good amount of oil or other fat leads to a lighter, moister, less-glutinous result. The pectin in applesauce can also, to a certain extent, help to inhibit gluten formation in a dough.

The trick when your baking is to get just the right amount of applesauce that needs to be substituted for the oil – too much can give your bread a jelly-like consistency, too little will lead to a tough and chewy end product. Also, I like organic applesauces that have been naturally sweetened for the best results.



And now back to the recipe.  Add the applesauce mixture to the banana-coffee combo.  In a third bowl, sift together the dry ingredients: whole-wheat flour, bread flour (I didn’t have any, so I used regular flour), baking soda, salt, baking powder, and allspice.  Add to that the bittersweet chocolate chips and it’s a wrap.  One more note, I recommend that before you add the semisweet chocolate chips (get the big chips, like Ghiradelli's), you first mix them with a tablespoon of flour and shake them up in a small plastic bag. The flour coating on the chocolate chips makes sure they won’t sink to the bottom of the batter.



All that’s left is to pour the batter into a 8 ½ x 4 ½ bread pan that’s been prepped with a thin coating of butter and dusted with flour so your bread will pop right out after baking.  It takes about an hour in the oven, but keep an eye on the bread at the end, as you don’t want it to overcook. When the middle has firmed up and you can stick a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean, then the bread is done. 


As I put the Canyon Ranch cookbook back in its proper place in my living room bookshelf, I promised myself I would return to it sometime soon – or at least within the next five years!


Banana Bread
Adapted from Canyon Ranch Cooks: More Great Tastes

3 small very ripe bananas mashed, about 1 cup
1/4  cup brewed coffee
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup naturally sweetened applesauce
1 whole egg
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup bread flour  (or use regular flour)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4-1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or you can substitute chopped walnuts)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 8 1/2  x 4 1/2 bread pan with butter and dust with flour.

In a small bowl, combine bananas and coffee. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix sugar, brown sugar, and applesauce. Add egg and mix well. Add to banana mixture and mix until smooth.

In a small bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Add to banana mixture and mix until all ingredients are just combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan and bake for one hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on rack for five minutes. Remove from pan and slice when cooled completely.

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