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Happy Lunar New Year 2018–the Year of the Dog! I wanted to make almond cookies to celebrate. So delicate, crispy and loaded with almond flavor, you’ll want to try them, too!

CHINESE ALMOND COOKIES

Cookie dough
1/2 cup Crisco
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
slivered almonds

Egg wash
Whisk together:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon milk

In a large stand mixer, cream together Crisco, butter and sugar on medium speed till smooth. Beat in egg, almond flour and almond extract till well blended.

In a separate bowl, sift together all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add dry ingredients to wet, mixing well. Dough will be fairly stiff.

Preheat oven to 325° F. Scoop dough into 1-inch balls–I used my Zeroll Pink #60 scoop. Place them two inches apart on ungreased baking sheets, then flatten with a spatula, sprinkle with almonds (tap them in a bit to help them stay), and brush with egg wash. By the way, a whole almond in the center is traditional and certainly easier to manage, but I prefer thin almonds and think they look pretty (even if they’re a pain to deal with in these cookies!).

Bake until lightly golden, 15 minutes in my oven. If you’re baking two sheets at a time, halfway through baking time, swap from top to bottom, back to front. Transfer to racks to cool. I sprinkled just a bit of finely ground Himalayan salt over the top to make them extra nice-nice. Makes 45 delicious little cookies you’ll want to bake again and again!

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A juicy lamb patty, simply seasoned with fresh rosemary, salt and pepper, is delicious in its own right. But when I have a vote, I prefer mine with a homemade sauce to take it a level up in flavor.

When I first started making lamburgers , tzatziki was my go-to sauce–that creamy cucumber, lemon and dill sauce you find on a gyro. It had been so long since I made it, I was scanning recipes to refresh my memory how I put it together, when it hit me–most of these recipes are made for more than just two people. The Yankee in me hates to waste food, so I scaled it down and added parsley instead of dill. The traditional sauce is definitely Greek, but in this very Italian kitchen, as Frank sang, I did it my way. There was more than enough for two lamb patties with some leftover to spread crackers or to use a a dip for vegetables.

Not a big tzatziki fan? My other sauce of choice is salsa verde. Not a lamb eater? This would be delicious on fresh, warm pitas.

KATTY’S TZATZIKI

3/4 cup Fage full-fat Greek yogurt
1/2 a lemon, squeezed
2 mini English cucumbers, grated; then squeeze in a paper towel to remove excess water
1 small clove of garlic, pressed
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
drizzle of Meyer lemon olive oil (I love my Seven Barrels oils and balsamic vinegars)
handful of parsley, chopped

Whisk together yogurt, lemon juice and Meyer lemon olive oil. Add pressed clove of garlic and salt. Add some black pepper, too, if you like. Grate two mini English cucumbers, then squeeze in a paper towel or colander to remove excess water. Coarsely chop a handful of parsley and stir in. In just a half hour or so, the flavors will meld nicely enough, but if you prep it ahead of time, it will mellow out the garlic a bit more.

We had our lamburgers with mashed sweet potatoes and spinach sauteed with garlic. Told you they were juicy!

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For the pan:
Generously butter a 9″ springform pan and sprinkle it with 1/4 cup of panko. Set aside.

For the ragu:

half a large sweet onion, diced
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
half a red Cubanelle (or bell) pepper, diced
3-4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 pound hot sausage (my favorite locally is Longhini)
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce (I like Tuttorosso)
2/3 cup frozen baby peas
1/2 cup Chardonnay (or other dry white wine)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Add butter and olive oil to cover the bottom of a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add diced onion, carrot and celery. Cook about 5-7 minutes or till the onion starts to get some color. Add pressed garlic clove; cook for just one more minute. Next add pepper and mushrooms, continue to cook a few minutes. Add tomato paste; cook for another minute or two, then add 1/2 cup of Chardonnay and 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt. Let the liquid cook down for a few minutes, then add the sausage, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks. When the sausage is completely cooked, add the tomato sauce. Combine, then add peas. They’ll warm through in just a few minutes. Once they do, remove the pan from heat, transfer ragu to a large bowl and clean the pan so we can use it to make the risotto.

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For the risotto:
2 oz. mushrooms, diced
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 1/3 cups Arborio rice
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 3/4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
1 tablespoon or so of butter to finish
freshly ground black pepper

Once again, add butter and olive oil to cover the bottom of your trusty large sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion for about 5 minutes, add garlic and cook for just one minute more.

Add the rice and stir continuously till it starts to turn slightly translucent at the edges. Add wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up any the bits from the bottom. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer for a couple of minutes. Add mushrooms.

Meanwhile, heat the stock. It’s handy to use a large glass measuring cup in the microwave. Pour about a half cup or so of warm stock into the rice and continue stirring over medium heat until absorbed, then pour the same amount again. Repeat and keep stirring till you’ve used up all the stock. By then, the rice should be tender. This should take about 30 minutes, total. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F midway through this process so it will be ready to go once we assemble the torta.

Add a good tablespoon or so of butter and two tablespoons of Pecorino Romano;  stir to combine. Remove from heat.

For the assembly:
8 oz. ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced

For the topping:
Combine 2 tablespoons melted butter with 2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs

Let’s put it all together:
Divide the rice in two in the sauté pan.
Evenly press half the rice into the springform with a spatula.
Next add a layer of the ragu.
Add a layer of fresh mozzarella slices.
Cover with remaining rice, then spread buttered panko topping evenly over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20-25 minutes. You’ll want to see the edges of the pan turn a bit golden–23 minutes was the magic number here. Slice, serve, mangia!

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Do you love a pistachio muffin? I do, but those green things we’ve eaten in bakeries and cafeterias–though they hit the spot–aren’t remotely close to the real deal. Part of being small batch authentic is using the best ingredients and techniques in what I bake and cook. So, no green food coloring here. No pistachio pudding from a box. I took about half of an 8 oz. bag of pistachios, shelled them, measured them, chopped them and made these seven beautiful, naturally green-tinted muffins. If you’re a pistachio fan, you really must try them, too!

KATTY’S PISTACHIO MUFFINS
¼ cup butter, softened
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup shelled unsalted pistachios–¼ cup chopped fine, ¼ cup a bit more coarse
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
½  a lemon, zested

Cream butter and sugars. Add egg, vanilla and almond extracts; mix well. Add sour cream and milk. Combine dry ingredients including 1/4 cup of finely chopped pistachios; gradually add to creamed mixture, stir till moistened. Now stir in the more coarsely chopped pistachios and lemon zest.

I’m a big fan of my Wilton silicone baking cups for making muffins. Brush seven of them with melted butter, then spoon the batter to the fill line.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Makes seven of the most delicious pistachio muffins you’ve ever had!

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Someone in my life bought a huuuuuge five-plus-pound pot roast (thanks, Mom, who exactly are we feeding?), so off we go, first to the stovetop, then straight to the oven for a long (4 hours) winter’s nap. It cooks right down to delicious tenderness unattended once you get the party started.

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE’S POT ROAST
3-5 pound pot roast
Kosher salt
black pepper
smoked paprika
2 large sweet onions, peeled and quartered
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
8 carrots, unpeeled, cut in thirds
3 stalks celery, cut in thirds
8 oz. mushrooms, quartered
2 sprigs rosemary
sprigs of thyme
3 bay leaves
3 cups beef broth
1 cup red wine (I used Gnarly Head Old Vines Zin)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Generously season the roast with Kosher salt, pepper and smoked paprika (optional). Heat olive oil to coat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear on all sides until browned, about 15-18 minutes. Remove to a plate.

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Add the onions  browning them on all sides–about 5 minutes or so keep stirring. Move them to a large bowl. Running low on oil? Add a bit more. Now do the same with the carrots and celery–heat, brown a bit, move to bowl. Last, drop the temp to medium, throw in the mushrooms, and when they’ve got some color on them (couple minutes), add the garlic and 1 tablespoon tomato paste and stir fast-fast.

Move the roast back to the pot. Pour in the stock and wine; add herbs. Add in all the rest of the vegetables.

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Put the lid on, then roast for 3 hours for a 3-pound roast. For a 4 to 5-pound roast, plan on 4 hours. The roast is ready when it’s fall-apart tender.

Once the roast is done, remove it from the braising dish, leaving behind all the liquid and vegetables, then season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with your favorite mashed potatoes! It also makes a nice to-go box for someone special.

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You don’t need me to tell you we can make pesto out of herbs other than basil. But I’m here to share because I like how this came out and, selfishly, I’d like to document it so I can do it again.

I bought a rather large container of baby arugula to use for other things earlier this week, so it seemed the right time to change up the pesto game. It’s so easy! Here we go.

ARUGULA PESTO
2 cups arugula, loosely packed
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup pignoli (pine nuts), toasted
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
juice of one lemon
freshly ground pepper to taste

Add nuts to a small skillet over medium heat. Add nuts to pan; cook until lightly toasted, about 4 minutes or so, shaking the pan constantly. Set pan aside to cool a bit.

Add nuts and garlic to food processor; process till minced.

Add arugula, oil, salt and pepper; process until blended, scraping sides as needed. Add lemon and cheese; process until smooth.

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Toss with pasta of your choice–we had gemelli. Be sure to save a bit of your pasta water (or don’t drain the pasta all the way) to blend with the pesto when you initially toss the pasta and pesto together to coat. What you see on top is pure pesto, though.

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Oh, hey--since you’re already here, would you like a bonus round with this easy recipe? It’s called “what to do with a bag of spinach when you thought you were going to make stuffed mushrooms and only had four mushrooms left.” OOPS!

CREAMY SPINACH AND MUSHROOMS
an accidental side dish

1 9-oz. bag fresh spinach
4 mushrooms sliced (more would have been better, then we could’ve stuffed them, but this isn’t science, so, by all means, use more if you have them!)
1 clove garlic, pressed
butter to coat the bottom of a large saute pan
1 oz. cream cheese
dash of salt

Melt butter in large saute pan over medium heat. Add sliced mushrooms. When those have cooked down and browned a bit, add the garlic and stir for just a minute. Add spinach. Cover so it steams down to the point you can stir it all together–this happens pretty quickly.

Add an ounce of cream cheese and a dash of salt. When the cream cheese has melted in to form a creamy sauce, it’s ready to serve.

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Let’s hear it for Yankee ingenuity! And Yankee thrift, too, I suppose. Cheers to that!

 

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Though temperatures reached above 50 degrees today, soup remains the perfect seasonal supper. For one that eats like a meal, complete with loads of fresh vegetables, you can’t go wrong with creamy chicken noodle. ♫ What do I care how much it may storm? I’ve gotta this soup to keep me warm. ♫ With much respect, and sincere apologies, to Dean Martin.

CREAMY CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP
2
 cups dry medium egg noodles
1.25 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in bite-sized chunks
Olive oil to coat the bottom of your pot
1 large sweet onion
3 carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves garlic, pressed
handful of mushrooms (about 6), sliced
generous handful of baby spinach
1 box Kitchen Basics chicken stock (32 oz.)
1 sprig rosemary
a few sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 1/4 teaspoons Kosher salt
black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
fresh parsley to garnish

Coat the bottom of a large pot with olive oil–turn to medium heat. Add onion, carrots and celery. Saute till tender and you start to build some color at the bottom of the pan, about 15 minutes, then add garlic and saute a minute longer.

Meantime, bring a pot of water to boil to cook the noodles. Ideally, the noodles will be finished cooking by the time you’ve finished the soup.

Back to the soup: add mushrooms, continue cooking and stirring for the next 5 minutes. Add chicken and salt; saute about 7 minutes. Add chicken broth, bay leaves and season with pepper to taste. Once it comes to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer.

In a separate medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat, add flour and cook, stirring constantly till flour has browned a bit, about 1 1/2 minutes. While whisking, slowly add in milk. Then whisk in cream, stirring constantly. Remove from heat when it begins to bubble

Remove thyme and bay leaves from soup. Pour milk/cream/flour mixture into soup; add spinach just to wilt. Add cooked noodles. Garnish each bowl with fresh parsley. Stay toasty and enjoy!

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