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You’ll never know what puts you on the path to finding something beautiful. Though 2017 was a tough year for me, each step along the way brought me closer to a sunflower field in Northford, Connecticut. And, eventually, those sunflowers led me to a very special friend.

Last July, foot surgery literally kept me off my feet for most of the summer–and eventually tried to drive me out of my mind! But on the way to the surgical center in Branford, we took the back roads. I’d forgotten all about the pleasant scenic route we used to take years ago and looked forward to revisiting it when I head in that direction–which is often!

Toward the end of August, tired of having to ask for help or a ride, I hobbled to my car, determined to drive to Branford. On my way, several cars had pulled over along Route 22 to admire a seemingly endless field of sunflowers. I made my way downhill slowly and carefully (with a cane!) to check them out. I don’t think I had ever seen so many sunflowers! It was a sight to behold.

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Fast forward to October. Once again, I was (for the most part) footloose and fancy-free and regularly taking the scenic route through Durham and Northford, then over the fabulously twisty Totoket Road down to Branford. I found interesting farm stands and garden centers–one with goats (!) and a freestanding holder I needed to hang my Corinthian Bells on the deck. But I drive a coupe and there was no way to fit it in my car. And their last day of the season was the next day! I asked my mom if she’d take her car to pick it up. I mentioned there was a second patch of sunflowers I could show her en route.

Near the sunflower field, we found a tiny farm stand, really just a patio table with an umbrella. As we were picking out a few items, I heard a distinct sound.
“Ma, I heard a donkey!”
“I don’t hear anything!”
“No, it’s a donkey and we need to find it!”

So we headed in the general direction of the sound, down someone’s driveway and THERE HE WAS, in a small pen with a tree, next to a shed. I was standing there saying hello when his owner came by. “His name is Balashi. He’s named after an Aruban beer. Be careful, he bites!”

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“Balashi and the Scary Movie” HAW HAW!

So began a new friendship. Since that drive was already part of my weekly routine, I decided I’d add some time to stop and visit this donkey. And I’d bring snacks–apples, carrots or pears. He’d greet me as if I were the most important person in the whole world and I became very attached. Over time, people would even ask about “my donkey.”

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But the more I got to know him, the more I became concerned for his well-being. It didn’t look as though anyone ever cleaned his pen, his hooves were horribly overgrown and his little three-sided shelter didn’t offer him much protection from the rain and snow. Whenever we had storms, I’d worry. Eventually, he was having trouble walking. I had to help him, but how? I live in a townhouse and, as much as I’d joke about having him sleep over and making waffles, I couldn’t keep him in my basement.

I started looking for stables where I could board him. The sticker shock of paying more per month than I ever shelled out for a car payment in my life set me back for a while.  Then I appealed to our farm friends. As soon as they understood the donkey’s health was in danger, they offered him a place to live. Next, I approached his owner, “You know I love your donkey, don’t you?” I explained our friends could give him more space and we’d provide veterinary care (he went without that for at least six  years!) and a farrier to help with his hooves. Plus, there are mini horses and an assortment of other animals on the farm, so he wouldn’t be alone anymore. “I have to ask my wife,” he said. I waited. And waited. I went to our family’s plot and cried to my grandfather. I always said if Poppy were here, that donkey would already be with us. Then I got the call–the donkey was mine. I couldn’t believe it!

The donkey formerly known as Balashi, and previously known as Jack (c’mon now!), came home July 5th, a day I’ll think of as Donkey Independence Day from now on. And now, a few words from THE DONKEY (sciccareddu in Sicilian) himself!

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A SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT FROM ENZO ANTONIO, SCICCAREDDU!
NOW HEAR THIS! I have a beautiful new life, new home, new family, new start and now a new name befitting both my Sicilian heritage and mom’s ancestry.

My name is Enzo (from “The Art of Racing In the Rain” as well as Enzo Ferrari). It means “ruler of the house/estate.” It also is a variation of Henry (Goodfellas, HAW HAW, Mama’s favorite movie). My middle name is Antonio for Poppy’s father—it means “priceless one.” And not to brag, but my mama tells me I am!

I’m a happy ass with lots to say. I hope we’ll have lots to share with you as I travel the path back to good health. Thank you for being my friend.

Love,
Enzo

P.S. We’d both like to remind you to take time to smell the flowers (or to eat them). And to take the long way home. You never know what treasures you’ll find along the way!

P.P.S. I made special oatmeal carrot cake cookies to celebrate Enzo’s homecoming. I’ll tell you about them in my next post, when we return to our regularly scheduled programming here in Katty’s Kitchen. Till then, ciao!

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Enzo Antonio, donkey of my heart

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Here’s a coconut riff on my beloved CCCs (chocolate chip cookies) that’s everything you’d want in a sugar cookie with coconut to boot. Because C is for cookie. And coconut. And chomp! Crispy outside, chewy within–two more Cs. Treat yourself to a batch of these beauties today!

KATTY’S COCONUT SUGAR COOKIES

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter (1 stick)
¾ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup Baker’s Angel Flake coconut

Cream the butter and the sugars until light. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add lightly beaten egg, vanilla and almond extract; mix just till egg is incorporated. Scrape down the bowl again.

Sift flour, baking soda and salt into a separate bowl. With mixer on low, slowly add dry ingredients. Mix only until combined: do not overmix. Fold in coconut with a spatula.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Adjust racks to lower and upper thirds of the oven. I used my two-tablespoon scoop to portion the dough. Space the cookies two inches apart. Bake 7 minutes, then switch bottom to top/back to front for 7 more minutes, for a total of 14 minutes.

Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for 2-3 minutes before moving them to racks to cool. This recipe yields 17 big coconutty cookies–plus one smaller runt of a cookie, if I’m being honest, and why would I be anything but?! Deeeelightful! Deeeelicious!

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There’s nothing like native asparagus in the spring! Its growing season is short, so now is the time to celebrate what’s fresh and local with a twist on traditional carbonara.

ASPARAGUS CARBONARA
1 pound asparagus
1/4 – 1/3 pound thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into 4-5 pieces per strip
1 pound ribbon-like fresh pasta of choice–I love DiFiore’s mafalda; today I used their fettucine
Zest and juice of one lemon
1/3 cup dry white wine (I use Chardonnay)
2 eggs, 1 yolk, lightly beaten
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 cup reserved pasta water
Olive oil to make one round of the bottom of a large saute pan–about a tablespoon
Fresh torn basil or parsley to garnish
Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Whisk together the two eggs/one yolk with grated Pecorino Romano, lemon juice and zest; set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Tip: place a measuring cup in the colander as a reminder to save some pasta water.

As the water comes to a boil, snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and discard. Then, take a handful of the thicker spears–four or so–and use a vegetable peeler to create long ribbons. Cut the rest on the diagonal into bite-sized pieces–about 1 1/2 inches.

Now that the prep work’s complete, we’re going to multitask!

Simultaneous step A: Cook the pasta and the asparagus
Cook the pasta just al dente, following package instructions. During the last minute of cooking time, add the asparagus. Reserve a cup of pasta water before draining the pasta. Temper the pasta water by whisking it into the egg/lemon/cheese mixture.

Simultaneous step B: Sauté the garlic, add the prosciutto and wine
As soon as you add the pasta to the pot and decrease the heat (to avoid boiling over), have a large skillet ready. Coat with olive oil and bring to medium-high heat. Sauté the pressed garlic for just a minute, then toss in the prosciutto, stirring to coat and warm through. If you’d like to add a bit of heat, sprinkle in some crushed red pepper. Then add 1/3 cup white wine and reduce heat to medium-low.

Combine the steps
Fresh pasta is key here as it cooks faster–and by the time the pasta is cooked, it will be time to drain it, return it to the skillet with the prosciutto, garlic and wine. Toss immediately with the lemon/egg/cheese to coat and thicken for just a minute or two. We’re done! Time to eat!

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Serve with fresh parsley and/or basil. Enjoy! And enjoy your spring or summer or whatever this season is going to be next! 😛

 

 

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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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