Friday, March 18, 2011

Dinner and Scrabble for Two

About 7 or 8 years ago my friend, John, and I began a Sunday night tradition that continues to this day - Scrabble and dinner. Although our Sunday game and meal is not played with the frequency as it was in the beginning, it's become a custom .   The Sunday night dinners were, and are always at my house (other games and meals are enjoyed at John's place).  The opportunity to make meals for two that usually result in enough leftovers for up to 3 or 4 more meals is an irresistible undertaking for a single person like I am.  The possibility of  creating new recipes is also a big PLUS!  BTW - I've kept track of every single meal that I made for all our games (I have, however, neglected to keep track of  the winner of each game. hmmm).  For a recent installment of our mini Scrabble tournament I began the meal plan with dessert first.  Lemon Mousse.  Man, oh man, I had a deep desire for something bright and lemony.  This northeastern winter has dragged on for way too long. If the sun won't show itself in our sky then I was determined to make it to fill up our insides  My go-to lemon mousse recipe is Craig Claiborne's (now, there a name we don't hear enough these days!) from The New York Times,International Cook Book (Harper & Row, 1971).   More on dessert a little further down.  
In an entry dated September 17th, 2004 - Scrabble, John, I wrote "meatloaf - 2 lbs. beef, 1 lb. pork", and  a list of the other ingredients without measurements.  That first meatloaf was a huge success - no, it was an AMAZING success. So much that I made it again, and again until I got the ingredient list and measures just right.


The loaf is super tasty when you eat it just out of the oven with its savory juices juices running - but, I'm just as satisfied to eat it the next day, cold from the refrigerator, sliced and made into a sandwich - on any kind of toasted bread -  garnished with sharp Dijon mustard and a pile of micro greens.  This meatloaf has a pate-like quality.  I admit, I'm lucky to be able to purchase, local, grass-fed ground beef to use for this dish.  I'm not sure that I would be able to be so cavalier about making meatloaf with its main ingredients coming from an unknown source.

Makes a 10-inch by 7-inch loaf

2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork
3 eggs
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 1/2 cups plain whole milk yogurt
3/4 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup tomato catsup
1/4 cup prepared Dijon mustard
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1.   Add the beef, pork, eggs, feta cheese, yogurt, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley and salt to a large bowl.   Using your hands, thoroughly and carefully blend all the ingredients.
2.   Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Make the topping: in a small bowl add the catsup, mustard and Parmesan cheese and thoroughly combine.
3.   Place two sheets of parchment paper on a baking sheet or jelly roll pan. Place the meat mixture on the top sheet of parchment paper and form into a loaf measuring approximately 10-inches by 7-inches.  Cover the loaf with the topping mixture.  Loosely close the loaf with the top layer of parchment paper.  Bake for 45 minutes.  Uncover and bake for 20 - 30 minutes until the outside is browned (slightly black).
4.   Serve immediately.  Leftover meatloaf can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

I served the meatloaf with two salads.  Again, the salads were in response to my desire for fresh and bright - in their case, crunchy too.   Salad #1 - thinly sliced radishes (sliced on a mandolin), crumbled feta cheese, lots of chopped, fresh, flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped black olives, extra virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar.   Salad #2 - shredded carrots dressed with tahini.  I made the tahini in a food processor with tahini (sesame paste), fresh lemon juice, garlic, a pinch of cayenne pepper, salt and  thinned with warm water until it reached the consistency of buttermilk.  Carrots were tossed with the tahini dressing.  The salad was garnished with za'atar - an Arabic spice blend that includes oregano, basil, thyme, savory, marjoram, sumac berries, sesame seeds and dried lemon peel.  Za'atar is available commercially, already blended.  My za'atar was a gift from Haifa, who makes it according to her Lebanese mother's recipe.   My starch of choice to accompany the meatloaf and salads was toasted pita bread.   We did not mourn the the lack of mashed potatoes!


To continue the discussion as to why I love lemon mousse and this recipe in particular.  It tastes like the cloud-version of a sour lemon drop, and it marries so well with berries.  Visually it  knocks me out when combined with intense, purpley blueberries or shocking pink raspberries.   I just happened to have a pint of last summer's blueberries and plums cooked with my brother-in-law's Nantucket honey and creme de cassis, stashed in a lonely corner of my freezer which I was happy to thaw for the occasion.  Actually, I whipped a little extra cream (a bit more than called for in the recipe) and turned all the ingredients into a lemon mousse parfait.

serves 6

2 lemons
4 eggs separated
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon gelatin
1 cup heavy cream plus more more for garnish

1.   Grate the rind of the lemons and reserve.  Squeeze the juice and reserve.
2.   Combine the egg yolks with the rind and sugar and beat vigorously until the mixture is light and lemon colored.
3.   Combine the lemon juice and gelatin and let stand ten minutes.  Heat the mixture over low heat or hot water until the gelatin dissolves, then stir it into the egg yolk mixture.
4.   Whisk the cream until thick and fold it into the moussed mixture.  Whip the egg whites and fold them in.
5.  Pour the mixture into a 2 quart souffle dish and pour into the mousse mixture.  Chill at least two hours.
I made the parfaits by adding the blueberries to the bottom of  large white wine glasses, then a few scoops of lemon mousse, and topped with whipped cream and a few blueberries.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:  In the summertime, when fresh, local berries are available - starting with June strawberries up until August blackberries, with blueberries and raspberries in between - try swirling the fresh berries through the lemon mousse just before it sets. Beautiful, and divinely delicious!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Italy Dish by Dish, the reviews are out!

It's been very satisfying to read the reviews of  Italy Dish by Dish, the culinary guide which I translated from Italian to English.  The satisfaction comes from reviewers who understand the value of the work you've done, and how helpful that labor is  for readers.  Jenn Garbee's description of the book  in LA Weekly  is on point. And so is the entry about it in the widely read blog, 100 miles
Among newspapers all over the country that have talked about the book, The Milwaukee Sentinel seems to get it best, except for a snippy comment about the color of the type. Oh well.
Of course, who's not happy with a mention in the Wednesday food section of  The New York Times.
There are many, many other nice mentions, including ones in the stalwart publishing trade publications, Publishers Weekly , and  Library Journal.
SUSANSIMONSAYS:  Buon Viaggio e Buon Appetito - even from your armchair!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Italy Dish by Dish

I'm pleased to announce the publication of my new book, Italy Dish by Dish.  Well, mine per moda di dire, so to speak - I translated Mangia Italiano, a guide to the regional specialities of Italy written by Monica Cesari Sartoni, from  Italian to English.
I bought the original about 15 years ago in Italy and it has accompanied me on every trip that I make to that country.  When the publisher -The Little Bookroom - of my book, Shopping in Marrakech talked about wanting to find an in-depth guide book to both Italian and French cuisines for the traveler, I said, "I've got an Italian one for you".   Fast-forward, I spent most of the dreary months of last winter simultaneously translating the mouth-watering text, and  starved, with every word that glided into English from the original Italian.  The guidebook is divided by the regions of Italy and within each region there are entries for every part of a meal from antipasti to vini .   The descriptions of each dish most often include the ingredients of the dish and  the method of  its preparation.   Hmmm, I thought - for those with a little knowledge of cooking most of the delicious descriptions can easily be turned into delicious food.
I chose a really easy entry for my first try.  

In the Campania part of the book, in the section entitled, "Pasta, Gnocchi, Rice, Polenta, and Grains"  there's an entry for Fusilli alla vesuviana, that reads, " twisted pasta shapes dressed with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, pecorino and oregano and then baked".
Naples is the capital city of  the  region of Campania.  You could say that tomatoes, mozzarella and oregano are emblematic foods of the area.  
I made the description into a recipe in the first few days of March, in New York City.  Alas, no fresh tomatoes.  I cheated the flavor a bit by mixing a cooked, simple tomato sauce (that I mentioned in the last blog entry) with some chopped, fresh cherry tomatoes.  At this time of  the year, organic cherry or grape tomatoes seem to have more flavor than any other, very red, so-called fresh tomatoes. To my palate, those tomatoes taste something like a cross between a pink angora sweater and and an unripe watermelon. Save this recipe to make again, sometime in August,  with big thick slices of  fabulous, slurpy heirloom tomatoes.
Here's what I came up with:

Serve 6 - 8

Make a simple tomato sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 or 3 cloves garlic peeled, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
1 hot pepper, minced
1 35-ounce  (2 pounds, 3 ounces) tin of  peeled San Marzano (from Campania) tomatoes, stem end removed and squeezed through your hands
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt

1.   Add the olive oil, garlic and hot pepper to a deep saucepan over medium heat and saute until the garlic is golden about 90 seconds.  Add the tomatoes, oregano and salt.  Cook until the sauce is slightly reduced, about 30 - 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, add 1 pound fusilli (I used cavatappi , because I had them in my pantry) to a large pot of boiling, salted water, and cook according to the  manufacturer's directions.  Drain and run cool water over them to completely halt the cooking.

Coarsely chop 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes.

Cut 3/4 pound whole milk mozzarella in to 1/4-inch cubes - should yield 2 cups.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Add the cooked pasta, 2 cups of the simple tomato sauce - garlic removed (there will be some leftover - store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer for future use), the chopped fresh tomatoes, and mozzarella to a large bowl and stir to combine. Taste for salt and add as needed (remember that the pecorino cheese topping will add lots of salt).   Add the mixture to a baking dish.  Sprinkle the top with 1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese.  Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the top.   Bake until the top is golden and the sides of the dish are bubbling, about 30 minutes.   Serve immediately.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:  I want to believe that this dish is called alla vesuviana not only for  Mount Vesuvius, which is the background to Naples, but also because of the way the mozzarella erupts inside the pasta, just like the volcano on top of the mountain  has - well, at least once in the last 100 years.