May 2010


Last week I was “prescribed” spinach prepared in a cast iron skillet, three times a week. As far as prescriptions go, this is a particularly tasty one. Native spinach is readily available at local farm stands and I’m ready to experiment with new/interesting ways to go green.

Native spinach in world's coolest colander--note grape cut-outs!--from Berruti's Harvest House (Main St., Glastonbury, CT)

I was never a fan of cooking in cast iron. It’s heavy as all get out and I never seemed to grow adult wrists (!), but using two hands helps. Best of all, cooking in cast iron can increase your iron intake.

"It's gettin', it's gettin', it's gettin' kinda heavy..."

So, here’s a quick ‘n easy breakfast idea. Sautee a clove of garlic in a little bit of butter, then add a generous handful of fresh spinach and squeeze a quarter of a fresh lemon.

When the spinach cooks down (just a few minutes), make a little “nest,” crack an egg into the nest, cover the pan and cook to your desired consistency. I let mine cook about 3 to 4 minutes so the yolk could run all over the plate. Mmmmmmmmmmm. Spoiler alert: serious food porn to follow!

Ready for the waterfall effect?

Once the yolk had set a little, I topped it with a slice of fresh mozzarella in the pan. I am determined not to waste one bite of that creamy, dreamy cheese I bought earlier this week for my Capellini Caprese. A sprinkle of Penzey’s California Seasoned Pepper over the mozz completed the dish, served atop buttered toast.

Ahh, yes, the cascade of yolky goodness! Dig in!

I am (iron) woman, hear me roar! “I’ve got the power!” Oh, and true confession? I cooked two strips of Bob Evans maple bacon in that same pan. Dessert, if you will, because I wholeheartedly agree: bacon is meat candy! Please don’t tell Dr. Buckley.

A thank you note to Giada De Laurentiis for inspiring a new dish in Katty’s Kitchen!

Capellini Caprese--everybody wants some!

Dear Giada,   

I’ve seen so many variations on your checca sauce pop up of late, I thought I’d look into how you do it. You see, caprese and I are old friends. Adding pasta to the mix only makes it better in my book.   

Now that I’ve found your original recipes, I took parts from each of them…

SPAGHETTINI WITH CHECCA SAUCE

and
PENNE WITH BABY MOZZARELLA, TOMATOES AND HERBS

…to create a delicious pasta dish featuring locally-made, fresh mozzarella from Liuzzi’s in North Haven, CT…  
 
 

 

 

…along with some fresh oregano and thyme from my own deck.

The Italian flag of fresh produce right heah!

 
CAPELLINI CAPRESE ALLA KATTY

8 ounces capellini
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 ounce piece of Pecorino Romano, coarsely chopped
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
handful of fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
2 sprigs fresh oregano (leaves only)
2 sprigs fresh thyme (leaves only)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Combine all ingredients (except pasta!) in a food processor. Pulse until the tomatoes are coarsely chopped. Do not puree.  

Like this!

 Cook the capellini according to package directions (just two minutes for De Cecco, my favorite in a box). Reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water, then drain. Toss the pasta with the tomato mixture and fresh mozzarella in a large bowl with the 1/4 cup of pasta water. Serve immediamente!

Freshly-made sausages from your favorite local Italian market (this is mine below!) pair beautifully with this dish. 

Public Market (Middletown, CT)

A rare steamed cheeseburger!

The steamed cheeseburger is a Connecticut specialty. But you can’t get one rare at a restaurant. Having grown up in a restaurant that made them, I know this all too well. The good news is, you can make a killer, screamin’ rare steamed cheeseburger at home–so good, you’ll never want to order one out again. Members of the mooing meat club–this one’s for you!

Let’s start with some magic numbers: 80, 20, 5 and 14! Pick up some fresh 80/20 ground chuck. In central Connecticut, my chuck of choice can be found at West Side Market in Rocky Hill. 14 is the number of minutes it takes to cook a 5 oz. burger perfectly rare.

April Katt always wants to know what's cookin'!

I use a double-decker steamer basket to make a little sauna for the burgers and cheddar. Grab a pasta pot wide enough to place your bamboo steamer on top. Fill the pot about a third of the way up with water.

Measuring meat...and yes, that's a tail!

As you bring the water to a boil, grab four small ramekins. My heart-shaped dishes are 1.5 inches deep and 4.5 inches across at the widest point. I use creme brulee ramekins for the cheese. Gently press the meat into each ramekin.

Burger and cheese, pre-sauna

I like to “frost” each burger with sriracha-spiked ketchup and some freshly ground pepper for good measure. I’ve also made steamers topped with coarse ground mustard. Neither is traditional, but I enjoy this little twist on flavoring the meat before cooking.

Frosted and ready!

Next, grab separate ramekins and slice in chunks of your favorite cheddar. McAdam or Hoffman Sharp are traditional. Cabot Seriously Sharp is another fine contender as it melts creamier than the McAdam. Now it’s time for the sauna!

Set the basket on top of your boiling pot and set your timer for 14 minutes to let the burgers steam and the cheese melt.

14 minutes to perfection!

Meantime, get your toast ready. You’ll want a nice, crispy toast. Pain au levain from Whole Foods provides the perfect platform for one of the juiciest burgers you’ll ever have. English toasting bread from West Side is another nice choice. Some of my favorite cole slaw (also from West Side) was at the ready to complete the meal.

Once the timer goes off, simply lift the burger from the ramekin. It will have cooked away from the sides.

Cooked!

Place the burger on your toast, pour the melted cheese over the top et voilà–it’s time to eat! The best part is cutting into the burger and realizing you have reached rare cheeseburger nirvana.

This burger's rarin' to go!

Special thanks to my friend Alan, who kindly shipped me the scale pictured. As you can see, it’s getting lots of use in Katty’s Kitchen!

Is it 5 o'clock yet?

When life has given you lemons, a home-squeezed adult beverage can really hit the spot. One of my recent favorites is Cruzan vanilla mint lemonade. I’ve even made one with cucumbers, too! But for the moment, let’s keep it simple.

Last year’s mint is on the rise on the deck and ready for picking.

Katty and the mint!

And I’ve got a lemon in the fridge and a bottle of Cruzan Vanilla Rum. It must be 5 o’clock somewhere, no? Let’s muddle that one over with a tablespoon of simple syrup. HA HA! Like so:

CRUZAN VANILLA MINT LEMONADE

8 fresh mint leaves (mine were small, so I picked a few extra!)
1 tablespoon simple syrup
1/2 a lemon, squeezed
1/3 cup Cruzan Vanilla Rum
Pellegrino (or any other fizzy, unflavored beverage such as seltzer or club soda)
crushed ice (crushing ice is almost as rewarding as drinking this drink!)

Muddled mint leaves in simple syrup

Muddle mint leaves in simple syrup. Crush ice. If you don’t feel like a few bangs on a sandwich bag to crush the ice, cubes are fine.

Crushing ice is both cathartic and fun!

Cruzan Vanilla Rum & friends!

Fill glass about 3/4 of the way with ice. Pour muddled mint over ice. Squeeze half a lemon. I cut the half in two for easy squeezin’. Throw one of the quarter lemons in the glass. Add rum. Top with fizziness of choice. Serve. Smile. 🙂 Watch your day improve.

Sugar katties--ready to bake!

A local restaurant, Coyote Blue, makes crispy sugar cookies in coyote shapes to serve with their signature dessert coffee. I always shamelessly request extra coyotes and was inspired to make my own–but in cat shapes, of course!

I don’t mind sharing–I have a major development opportunity in the area of rolling dough and cutting out shapes. True to form, I picked a difficult shape to work with, as tails add complication. So here is my self-report card with grades you may recall from your 70s childhood: E for Excellent, VG for Very Good, S for Satisfactory, NI for Needs Improvement.

Effort: VG
Execution: S
The silhouette shapes were challenging to move from baking sheet to cookie rack in one piece; therefore, three of my sugar katties are of the Manx variety. Tip: use a spatula big enough to support each cookie!

Taste: E
Just as good as Janey’s and Coyote Blue’s.

Rolling Skills/Symmetry: NI
Must learn to roll dough evenly. I involuntarily baked a couple of “seal points” because the ears were thinner and baked to a deeper brown color. To replicate this cool effect, attempt to place the ears of the cutter closer to the thinner edge of your dough. Or maybe your dough is all even?!

Seal point and Manx sugar katties coolin' on the rack!

I halved the recipe from my mom’s handwritten version from the Women’s Home Companion Cookbook. By the way, my mom grades recipes, too–does yours? This one was marked “Crisp” and “Excellent!”

SUGAR COOKIES
Halved from the Women’s Home Companion Cookbook

1 3/4 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, well-beaten
3/4 teaspoons vanilla

Joy of Baking recommends chilling the dough “about one hour or until firm enough to roll.” My mom historically skipped this step. She has a magical kitchen and things tend to work out for her regardless.

Roll dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut out shapes and sprinkle with colored sugar. Bake on parchment paper at 400 degrees F for 6-10 minutes, depending how thick you rolled the dough and the shapes you chose. My goal was slightly less than ¼ inch thick. Watch them carefully. You’ll want to pull them from the oven when the edges just begin to brown–or, in this case, when the cats’ ears develop seal points!

 Won’t you be my neighbor? I shouldn’t eat all these cookies by myself, but I just might!

"Welcome to my kitchen, little bear!"

 P.S. Is this not the world’s cutest kitchen timer?

The "supernatural" brownie takes a key lime cheesecake twist!

“Dare to be different,” my mom always said. This weekend, I took her dare to a new place–in the kitchen.

As a big fan of peanut butter and chocolate, I thought that would be a delicious cheesecake brownie swirl. In fact, that still sounds fab and I’ll revisit the idea at some point. But back to my mom. She is not in the “two great tastes that taste great together” camp that is chocolate and peanut butter. And, as this dessert was to be part of her Mother’s Day dinner, I had to go in a direction I hadn’t seen previously for brownies swirled with cheesecake: key lime.

If you’ve ever been to Key West and had frozen key lime pie on a stick, dipped in chocolate, you understand. Or if you’ve ever had a key lime truffle dipped in dark chocolate, you’re there with me, too. As I boldly went where no one I knew had gone before, I decided to try Nick Malgieri’s “Supernatural” brownies as my base. My friend Susan considers them the gold standard in brownie baking, so I abandoned my usual Ghirardelli recipe (which I still love!) and set forth to make something magical.

Mr. Malgieri’s recipe requires buttering the pan, then lining the pan with buttered parchment. I didn’t do that. Here’s what I did.

“SUPERNATURAL” KEY LIME CHEESECAKE SWIRL BROWNIES
adapted from Nick Malgieri’s “Supernatural” Brownies

BROWNIE BATTER
1 stick salted butter
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate chopped into small chunks
2 eggs
½ cup sugar
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup all-purpose flour

KEY LIME CHEESECAKE BATTER
8 oz. Neufchatel cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1/8 cup key lime juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8″ x 8″ pan with butter and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese for about a minute until smooth and creamy. Add sugar, vanilla and key lime juice, beat till smooth. Beat in egg till well incorporated. Set aside.

Place chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat in the microwave on the defrost setting for 30 seconds. Stir and heat for 30 more seconds. If not completely melted, 30 more seconds should do the trick.

Using your stand mixer, whisk together eggs. Add sugars, vanilla and salt; whisk to combine. Stir in melted chocolate and butter; fold in flour. Pour into buttered pan, reserving 1/2 cup of batter. Pour cheesecake mixture over brownie batter. Spoon the remaining brownie batter in large dollops over the cheesecake mixture. Use a butter knife to swirl the batters and create a marbled effect.

Bake till a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Set on a rack to cool.

Dig in--and dig the difference!

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, JANEY!
Thanks for encouraging me–for as long as I can remember–to do my own thing! 🙂 And for always believing in me, whatever my endeavor.
Here’s hoping every mom who’s reading along had a wonderful day, too!

With Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, the idea of a Mexican hot chocolate snickerdoodle caught my attention. Of course, the recipe I saw was vegan and I’m not, so it’s back to the ol’ Steady Habits-style with butter and eggs à  la the same trusted recipe I modified for the chai spice version. This time the snickerdoodle gets a Mexi-twist with chocolate, almond extract, ground chipotle and ancho chili powders. ¡Vámonos!

I spied the vegan version of these cookies on Foodbuzz and loved the concept. Thanks kindly to Two Bites in Suburbia for the inspiration! http://twobites.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/mexican-chocolate-snickerdoodles

The aroma of Mexican hot chocolate as you remove these little treats from the oven is something I wish I could bottle and send your way. Since I can’t, you’ll have to bake a batch for yourself and see.

MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE SNICKERDOODLES
(STEADY HABITS-STYLE, NON-VEGAN!)
A riff on Mrs. Nelson’s recipe, circa 1975, The Hartford Courant, tested by the Connecticut Light & Power Test Kitchen–with twists, of course, from Katty’s Kitchen!

2 sticks butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
2 ¼ cup flour
½ cup Dutch-process cocoa (I used Valrhona)
1 tablespoon baking powder (I used Paneangeli lievito vaniglinato per dolci)*
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground chipotle
¼ teaspoon ground ancho chile

*Thanks to my friend Joanna for explaining  this is a double-acting baking powder, incorporating both baking soda and cream of tartar.

SUGAR ‘N SPICE FOR ROLLING 

1½ tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

Cream sugar, shortening, extracts and eggs. Add dry ingredients. Combine and chill in the fridge for approximately 1.5 hours. 

Use rounded teaspoonful of dough to form small balls. Roll in sugar ‘n spice mixture. Place on ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake at 375 degrees F about 9 to 10 minutes.