December 23, 2010


My favorite light display

Thanks for patiently waiting for the recipe. This one is based on a King Arthur Flour recipe from their huge baking book. However, I've adapted it to reflect more of the taste I find in the panettoni I find in Italy. I highly recommend using their Fiori di Sicilia flavoring, which you can find at as it is THE right flavor. Otherwise, use equal parts orange, lemon and vanilla extract to achieve that elusive panettone taste. I urge you to seek out really good candied orange peel or make your own. That vile fruitcake stuff they sell at Christmas time should be against the law and using it will ruin this.

Unless you have baker's biceps, you really need a heavy-duty mixer to get through this formidable dough. Making the biga ahead of time, instead of just relying on yeast doing its job in an hour or two, makes a big difference in rising when a bread like this is so dense with sugars and fats.

If you don't have a traditional panettone pan, you can use a pandoro pan or tube type pan to avoid a doughy center. If you want to be totally traditional, specialty cooking supply stores sell the typical waxed, brown papers to hold the dough in the pan and help force a high rise.

And, should you have leftover panettone ... Jamie Oliver has a recipe for Christmas panettone bread pudding that is the definition of decadence! Rich, rich, rich. We've had it as our Christmas Eve dinner dessert finale four times and I recommend it. For the recipe, go here:


For the Biga (starter):
1 1/2 c. unbleached flour
1/2 c. water
1/2 t. instant yeast (SAF is a good one)

3 large eggs
1/2 c. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 1/2 c. unbleached flour
1/3 c. sugar
5 t. instant yeast
1 1/2 t. salt
2 t. pure vanilla extract
1/2 t. Fiori di Sicilia extract, OR 1/4 t. EACH of pure orange and lemon extract
3/4 c. golden raisins
1/4 c. European style candied orange peel
1/4 c. pine nuts (optional)
Pearl sugar

For the Biga:

Combine the flour, water and yeast, kneading briefly to make a stiff dough. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a towel and let rise at room temperature overnight. Alternatively, if you want to start it farther ahead, you can place the dough in the refrigerator and cover with plastic film and allow it to rise for up to 24 hours.

For the Dough:

In the bowl of a heavy mixer, combine the biga with all the remaining ingredients, except the fruit, nuts and pearl sugar. Knead the dough until it's smooth - it will be sticky at first, then come together nicely. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, covered, in a warm place and let rise for an hour.
Remove dough to board and knead in the fruit, just until the dough accepts the fruit. Don't overhandle! Let it rest for ten minutes or so, then shape into a long log and cut in half. Place each half into the panettone pan lined with the paper or lightly greased or a lightly greased tube pan. Press pearl sugar into the top of the dough, about 2 T. each loaf. Return to a warm place to rise for 2 hours. It may not rise much, but it will become puffy and soft.
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 45 minutes, tenting with foil if it seems to be browning too much on top. Remove from oven and turn onto a rack to cool. Once cool, store in airtight container.
**Note: if you want to make small loaves, bake at 325 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. Watch carefully, as they tend to bake quickly and you don't want them to be dry. Instead of pearl sugar, you can dust with powdered sugar while still warm (not hot).

December 7, 2010


There is nothing quite like the smell of panettone, the Italian Christmas bread found virtually everywhere in Italy when the holidays approach. In the U.S., it's becoming easier to find, although most of the pre-packaged ones can be dry and you should check the date to be sure it's as fresh as possible.

When you first slice or tear into it, the scent is elusive ... notes of citrus, vanilla, honey, flowers ... all mixing and separating ... first one, then another, then one gorgeous scent at once. Can you tell I love the stuff?

Last night I made a batch of panettoncini - mini panettone loaves. I usually bake a whole loaf, but after seeing all the sizes available in the Italian pasticceria OVA, on Milan's fashion street, I decided that individual ones would be perfect both for giving and for breakfast with my latte!

I'm on vacation at the moment, so will post my recipe when I return. Buon Natale!

November 14, 2010


I came up with this recipe recently, while visiting a friend in Italy. Seeing all the vibrantly-colored squashes in the outdoor markets inspired me. I came home with a gorgeous red kuri squash, dug through the cupboards and got cooking. The prep time is about an hour, but you can make it ahead (up to two days) to the refrigeration point and finish it in the oven when you're ready. This would be a vegetarian recipe by simply omitting the bacon (gasp!), unless you're a vegetarian who doesn't eat cheese, in which case my blog is probably not for you - heeeee.

1 lg. onion, chopped
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. butter
4 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped
3 T. sweet Marsala wine
5 c. vegetable broth
1 1/2 c. coarse polenta
1 lb. Kuri or Kabocha squash, prepared (see below)
4 slices meaty bacon, fried and crumbled
1/2 c, sour cream OR 3 oz. cream cheese
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated

Begin by preparing the squash. Quarter it (be careful), seed and peel. Cut into about 1 inch chunks and place in large saucepan.Barely cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 25-30 minutes, or until very soft. Drain well, then mash to a puree and set aside. In a saute pan on medium-low heat, combine 2 T. of the olive oil, the tablespoon of butter, a generoussprinkling of salt, thyme leaves and the chopped onions. Saute very slowly, stirring occasionally,until onions caramelize. Take your time with this. It will take about 40 minutes. If they start browning too quickly, add a tablespoon of Marsala to slow them down and lower the heat to continue. Once the onions are caramelized, add the Marsala to deglaze the pan, then add to the squash puree, along with the crumbled bacon. While the onions are cooking, get out a large, non-stick stock pot.Combine the broth and polenta, whisking well. Bring to a boil, whisking often to keep it smooth. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer, whisking often, and cook the polenta for at least 30 minutes, until it is very thick. Remove from heat and stir in the squash puree mixture and the sour cream, stirring until smooth. Butter a deep, 10 inch pie plate or a shallow, round casserole. Pour the polenta in, smooth over the top and allow to cool completely in the refrigerator to set. You can cover it at this point and wait up to 2 days to bake the torta. Unmold the polenta torta upside down onto an oiled baking sheet, brush it with olive oil, and bake in a 375F oven for 40 minutes. Cover top of torta with grated Parmigiano cheese and bake 10 more minutes, finishing briefly under the broiler to brown the cheese. Cut into wedges and serve.
Serves 6-8 as a main course with a salad.

October 9, 2010


Outside, it's very evident that we live near the Olympic rain forest. The yard is a series of small lakes which I shall start naming soon, the cats are in a foul mood, a flood watch is in effect through tomorrow night and I think I see the beginnings of algae forming between my toes. The only happy ones are the ducks. They think it's marvelous! On a day and night such as this, all I want is comfort food. Today, that meant tackling the enormous hubbard squash from the garden. The thing weighed 14 lbs.! I gave a third of it away, used a third and still have a 5.2 lb. piece left. And more squashies still on the vine.

Big 'un, eh? Hubbards do tend toward the large, but it's only the two of us. So, out came the long Santoku knife and I went to work! I'd been mulling a recipe in my mind since last night. Of course, I wanted to use my own home-cured pancetta. The stuff is freaking delicious! I'm thrilled at the depth of flavor and how easy it is to make. It really only requires patience. That's a bit difficult for me, but I managed it by making two big slabs at once, so now I can start a new cure before I'm all out. Anyway, back to the soup. I cut about a 6 lb. piece of it into manageable slices, peeled and cut it into big chunks. Into an oiled baking pan they went. I painted the tops with more olive oil, sprinkled on coarse sea salt and a generous grinding of black pepper and into the oven for roasting, to intensify the flavor of the squash.

Pretty, huh? The house smelled very autumn-y. I like that word. It's cozier sounding than autumnal. But, I digress. I fried the pancetta, more than I needed to, since I always snitch a fair amount of it. A crowd of dogs and cats was gathering in the kitchen as it crisped. Sorry, guys. No sharing of this stuff! Yes, I actually do say no to them sometimes! And on I went, forgetting the dumping rain outside. Soon, there was hot, sweet, earthy soup to soothe my soul.

Serves 8
Squash sizes vary a lot, and if you can find one of a 3 lb. size, you can halve this recipe and serve 4-6 people.
Feel free to substitute other squash varieties of a similar texture. The amount of chicken broth is variable, depending upon how thick or thin you like your soup. Nice served with crusty bread or toasts.

A 5-6 lb. Hubbard squash
Olive oil - about 1/2 c. total
2 large cloves garlic, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 t. red chili flakes
4 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped and rubbed
4 oz. pancetta, diced
6-8 c. chicken broth, preferably homemade
Approx. 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt
Black pepper, freshly ground

Heat oven to 375 F. Cut squash into thick slices, seed and peel. Cut squash into large chunks - about 2 x 3 inches. Place chunks in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan which has been oiled with 3 T. extra virgin olive oil. Brush squash pieces with olive oil, sprinkle coarse sea salt over them and grind a generous amount of black pepper over all. Roast, uncovered, for 45 minutes, turning halfway through.
Meanwhile, in a large stockpot, heat 3 T. olive oil over medium-low heat. Add onions, garlic and chili flakes and sauté until translucent. Add thyme leaves, remove from heat and let stand until squash is done roasting. When squash is tender and browned in places, remove from oven and add to onion mixture. Add 6 cups of the chicken broth to the pot, cover and bring to boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer for 25 minutes, until squash is very soft. Remove from heat. While soup is simmering, fry pancetta pieces in 2 T. olive oil until crispy and set aside. Using a stick blender, blend squash soup until smooth. At this point, you can decide if you need to thin the soup more or not. Add more chicken broth, as you prefer. Once blended, stir in the crispy pancetta. Allow to stand at least 20 minutes for flavors to blend before serving. Top with parsley, a bit of shredded parmesan or croutons, as desired.

September 29, 2010


my fava plants

Every year, I choose an experimental vegetable or two for the garden. This year, I chose fava beans, cantaloupe and watermelon. In our climate, the latter two are definitely in
the 'unlikely to work' category but after last year's crazy hot summer, I thought I'd risk it. Naturally, this summer was colder and wetter than in many years, so we can move the melons to the 'complete bust' category. The cantaloupes look like tiny, fuzzy
testicles a
nd the watermelons are ... pretty leaves. But, happily, the favas were a great success!

big bowl of beans

I'd always thought of favas as long-season vegetables (true) that needed a lot of heat and dry weather (false). I saw on the seed packet that they do well in coastal climates so I gave them a try. They grew less like beans than like small trees. I could see where the Jack and the Beanstalk story might have come from! The flowers were beautiful - black and white and fragrant - out of which the bean pods slowly emerged. I usually think of fava beans as a spring food, served as a salad with pecorino cheese, mint or parsley and olive oil and salt to dress them. But, here I am in late September harvesting huge pods. I got to work shelling them. The pods are pithy and soft i
nside - the beans grow in a downy bed. The size of beans can vary in each pod.

cozy beans

Favas are fairly labor-intensive to prepare. The process is: shell the beans from the pods, blanch in boiling water for 3-5 minutes, when cool enough to handle, slip the
outer skins from the beans and then proceed with recipe. It's a lot, but I enjoy the process - I just kind of use it as a meditative time. It'd definitely be more fun to do with friends around the table, though. I ended up with about five cups of fava beans from 18 plants.

Many cultures use fava beans in their cuisine. Referred to as broad beans in the UK and other countries, the beans are used in a variety of dishes. Mexico and South American countries eat them fried, as a snack. A typical dish of Puglia is fava bean puree with chicory; the salad with pecorino cheese I mentioned is popular in northern Italy, Umbria has a dish called scafata using favas and chard - Italy has many recipes using fava beans and there are interesting folklore stories surrounding this legume. In Greece, they are eaten in salads and boiled in stews. The middle eastern countries use the dried beans in falafel and also eat it in various purees. In the spirit of the ending of summer, I made this for dinner tonight, in an Italian fashion. Now I want more favas to cook with!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(Insalata fave alla fine dell'estate)

1/4 lb. guanciale, chopped fine (or use pancetta)
4 T. olive oil
3 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
4 green onions, white part only, sliced
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 T. fresh lemon juice
4 c. shelled, blanched and peeled fava beans
2 T. finely chopped Italian parsley
Freshly ground pepper
pinch salt
1/4 t. red chile flakes

Heat olive oil in large skillet and add guanciale. Cook over medium high heat until crispy. Add zucchini, green onions and garlic and saute, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Squeeze lemon juice onto vegetables, add fava beans and continue sauteeing for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat, stir in parsley, pepper and salt to taste. Pour into serving bowl and sprinkle with red chile flakes. Serve warm or cold.

Serves 6 as a side dish

September 25, 2010


Merano, Italy in spring

I'm traveling back to Italy soon, in the beautiful autumn (autunno, in Italian). My good friend in Germany has invited me again to accompany her and her friends to Merano for their twice annual gathering at a small, gemütlich (cozy, in German) hotel in the hills above Merano, with food and a wine list to die for. It also has its own health spa, pool and sauna which are gorgeous. We'll spend 3 nights there, eating, laughing, hiking and shopping in Merano. Last time, I bought the most supple, yummy leather purse for a very reasonable price. Maybe shoes this time? Then, we'll drive back to Munich for a few days before I take the train to Switzerland to visit another friend there.

The autumn is my favorite time to visit, for the beauty of the colors and the heady smell of humus and leaves, the quality of the flushed sunlight, seeing the grapes harvested as we drive through the countryside, the cows enjoying the end of the year before they're put into the barns for winter (cow bells in the early morning is a wonderful sound while still nestled under a big feather bed), the evening fog settling onto the fields like a blanket for the night and not least because of the mushroom foraging opportunities and mushroom and chestnut dishes on every menu. Pure delight for me. My face starts to hurt from all the smiling!

These places are becoming a second home to me and it feels good. It especially pleases me when someone asks me for directions and I can actually help them! Pretty cool.

Now, I'm off to my own woods to hunt for mushrooms - found some chanterelles yesterday. Have to sharpen my eyes for future foraging!

September 12, 2010


Lobster Mushrooms
Hypomyces lactifluorum

Doesn't 'amuse bouche' make you smile just saying it? Today's dish doesn't qualify as a small bite, but it definitely made my mouth happy.
I visited the local farmer's market this afternoon, hoping to find both New Mexico green chiles and some autumn mushrooms. Happily, I came away with both. The lobster mushrooms caught my eye because of their bright orange hue. I can't ever pass them by. I've only ever found one in the wild. Next to them was a big box of glowing, golden Chanterelles, but I went for the lobster boys, because they're harder to come by. The lobster mushroom - also known as the mushroom-eating mushroom,
is actually white, but the orange-red color comes from a symbiotic fungus. The lobster mushroom is actually a mold that parasitizes a Russula or Lactarius mushroom and "eats" it, turning its ordinarily unpalatable hosts into excellent edibles. However, if the host is poisonous, so will the lobster mushroom be. Feeling risky??? You can be confident of those sold commercially, from licensed foragers, but if you're collecting on your own, be sure to confirm the host mushroom before eating.

From a culinary standpoint, they're meaty and hearty, give a gorgeous color to sauces and soups, have a hint of sea flavor which can sometimes have a slightly spicy bite and a delicately sweet depth of flavor that's very satisfying. They have a nice kind of crunch even after long cooking in soups or simmered sauces. No flobby mushroom, this one!

Well, back to my gorgeous specimens. What will it be ~ a wavy risotto, peppered just enough to counter the sweetness of the mushrooms? Or an unctuous sauce of lobster mushrooms, shallots, garlic and cream over tagliatelle? Wild mushroom soup with a hint of Port? Decisions, decisions. It won by only a spore, but I went with pasta. Sometimes, life is just so good.

June 9, 2010

CARBONARA - Fresh as it Gets!

The pancetta I made with my friend has finished it's wet cure and is now dry curing. It cures for 5-7 days. It's been three days so far and it already smells amazing! I'm going to sneak some - cut a bit off the end - and make spaghetti carbonara for dinner. Mmmmmm. I have the homemade pancetta, fresh eggs from this morning, dairy cream in the bottle which has a lovely layer of thickness on the top (gimme a spoon!), loads of beautiful parsley in the garden and even some guanciale from Mario Batali's dad's shop in Seattle. The spaghetti is going to be sublime! I can already hear the angels singing.

I make a hybrid of Marcella Hazan's and Mario Batali's recipes, since I like a little from each one. Yes garlic, no wine, yes parsley, etc. I can't wait for dinner. Time to chill the wine ...

Eggs courtesy of Lola the Langshan, et al.

May 19, 2010


My German grandmother made these often as I was growing up. Oma Katie is 87 now and still makes them. Sometimes, she'd let me help tie them after she'd rolled them. I never got the hang of the roll-up back then. I loved their tender deliciousness, and my child's mind thought they were cute, fun food! Over the years, I've changed the ingredients of the filling to reflect healthier eating habits and new world flavors. Rather than pork sausage, ground beef and butter, I use chicken sausage, olive oil and ground almonds instead of bread crumbs. Though they don't taste like Oma's, I always think of her as I make them and now I have the roll-up down pat! It's still a comfort food for me. The photo is of my roladen, served on Oma's china.
Rather than using white cabbage, Oma used savoy cabbage. The wrinkles help the cabbage "stretch" as you're rolling and the end result is prettier. You'll need some kitchen twine - toothpicks won't work! Trust me on this. If you can't find ground almonds, just put a handful of raw almonds in a pie pan and roast them in a 350F oven for 10 minutes. When cool, grind them in the food processor or with a hand-crank cheese grinder.

A few years ago, my aunt compiled many of Oma's recipes and turned them into a beautiful cookbook for each of the members of our family. What a great gift. I turn to it often, not only for cooking, but because reading it and looking at the photographs brings back memories and smiles.

1 lg. head of savoy cabbage
1 1/2 lbs. bulk chicken sausage
2 green onions, sliced
1 egg
1 c. ground,dry roasted almonds
1/2 t. salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 c. chicken broth
olive oil for frying
Carefully take apart your cabbage, leaf by leaf. It's easier to start at the stalk, slice into each leaf base and peel upward. You won't need the whole head - just about a dozen leaves. In a stockpot, bring about 4 inches of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of salt. Place leaves, one by one, into the boiling water and cover the pan. After 2 minutes, gently turn top leaves to the bottom of the pan and remove from heat, replacing the lid. After another two minutes, drain water from cabbage. Run cold water over the leaves until cooled down. Drain again.
Combine chicken sausage, green onions, egg, ground almonds, salt and cayenne and mix well. Now, you're ready to start making the rouladen! Place one leaf on a cutting board. Cut away the tougher portion of the leaf, at the bottom. Form an oval meatball and place in center of the leaf, like so:

Tuck the sides of the leaf over the meat, then roll from the bottom up:

Now, it's time for the tie-up. Tie the rolls in two places, nice and snug, as the meat will shrink a bit during cooking. Trim the string ends short, since you'll be frying them next.

Once all the little guys are trussed, it's time to fry them briefly. Put some olive oil into a non-stick pan, heat over medium heat, then fry half of the rolls at a time until browned on both sides.

Place next to each other in a 9 x 13" pan. Pour chicken broth over them. Bake at 350F for 35 minutes, turning them over halfway through. To serve, snip the twine, place rolls on a plate and spoon some of the pan juices over the top.
Makes 10-12 rolls, depending how fat you make them!

Oma Katie, Me, my aunt Carol - 2007

April 8, 2010


Since my return from 'across the pond' to visit my Italian friend, I've had pasta on the brain and in my veins (probably literally). I felt like eating something spicy today and had some sugo alla puttanesca (whore's sauce) in the pantry. There are several stories as to how the sauce got its name and various restaurateurs who claim to be the first to make it. No one really knows, but everyone knows it's delicious! In any case, it seems to have first appeared in the 1950's. My favorite story concerns the state-owned Italian brothels in the 50's. The brothels were called case chiuse, or "closed houses" because the shutters always had to be closed, to avoid offending the neighbors and passers-by. The 'civil servants' of the brothels were only allowed only one day a week to do their shopping. I suppose because their clothing, or lack thereof, would also offend? When ingredients ran short, this sauce was made from what could be found in the kitchen. Lucky for me, I didn't need to make my own today, or I'd have had to change my outfit to something more ... harlot-y.

1 lb. penne rigate pasta
1 25 oz. jar puttanesca sauce (I used Trader Joe's brand)
1 lb. hot Italian sausage
Extra virgin olive oil, about 1/3 c. total
8 large crimini mushrooms, quartered
1/2 of a large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 c. dry white wine
1/2 t. black pepper, freshly ground
1/4 t. red chile flakes
3 c. grated parmiggiano reggiano (the real stuff!)
6 slices provolone cheese

Heat oven to 400 F. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add 1 T. salt, then pour in penne. Cook until still quite al dente, then drain and pour back into the pot. Add the puttanesca sauce and stir to combine. In a large skillet, heat 3 T. or so of olive oil over medium high heat. Add mushrooms, sauteeing until browned. Pour in 1/2 cup of the wine and cook one minute longer. Add mushrooms to pot. In same skillet, in 2 T. olive oil, saute the onions and garlic with the pepper and red chile flakes until onions are just beginning to brown. Add them to the pot. Again in same skillet, brown the sausage, breaking up into pieces, but not too much. Add rest of wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add sausage to the pot. Gently combine all the ingredients in the pot. Pour half of the pasta mixture into a 9 x 13 baking pan. Sprinkle pasta with half of the parmiggiano. Cover with the rest of the pasta, then the rest of the parmiggiano, then lay the cheese slices on top. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven until cheese is browning. Let stand a few minutes before serving.
Serves 8



It's finally SPRING! Which means we can all find lively, green, FRESH things at the market again. I mean, I love squash and cabbage, roasts and stews as much as the next person, but it's time again for bright flavors that give a taste-tease for summer bounty to come. Right now, there are young mesclun salad mixes, tiny artichokes, fresh peas and white or green asparagus vying for attention over the tulips and daffodils of springtime.

Here is a recipe I came up with after I bought some of the first local asparagus of the season. I used green, but I'm awaiting the delicious purple-stemmed asparagus we get here in Washington a bit later in the year. White asparagus would also work fine, but the flavor will be more subtle. Contrary to what most people think, thicker stalks of asparagus have more flavor and are just as tender as thin asparagus if trimmed correctly. The best way is to bend the stalk near the base and the stalk will naturally break at the division between woody bottom and tender top. So, don't be afraid to buy those thicker stalks! Assert your asparagus love and get the big ones :-) Either chicken breast or thighs can be used in this recipe. I am a dark meat girl (hey, I'm talking about chicken!) so I prefer thighs. But, for company I would use the breast, as the result is prettier, and I'd also use regular lasagna noodles and precook them the old-fashioned way, but that's just me. I know many people prefer white chicken meat, so make your own call.

1 cube (1/2 c.) butter, divided
6 large scallions, cut on diagonal into 1/2 inch pieces (both green and white parts)
1 lb. green asparagus, trimmed and cut on diagonal into 1 inch pieces
2 t. fresh thyme leaves, rubbed or chopped
2 T. fresh basil leaves, chopped
3 1/2 c. chicken broth
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1 bay leaf
4 T. flour
2 large, boneless chicken breasts, boiled and cut into 1/4 inch strips OR use 5 boneless chicken thighs
1 9 oz. pkg. no-cook lasagna noodles
2 c. fresh, finely grated Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese (or Grana Padano)

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add scallions and cook until wilted, stirring often. Transfer to a bowl. Melt 2 more tablespoons butter in same pan and add asparagus and thyme. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Saute about 4 minutes, until asparagus is crisp-tender, stirring often. Add to bowl with the scallions, then add chopped basil leaves to the vegetable mixture and toss gently to combine. Into a large saucepan on medium heat, put remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and melt. Add 4 tablespoons flour and stir with whisk until bubbly. Gradually add the chicken broth, stirring constantly, then add cream. Bring to a low boil and cook for about three minutes. Sauce will be thickened, but not too thick. The lasagna noodles need the moisture to cook. Remove from heat and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9 x 13" pan. Pour 1/4 of the white sauce into bottom of pan. Lay lasagna noodle sheets on the sauce, breaking gently to fit closely, if necessary. Scatter 1/3 of the vegetable mixture over the lasagna, then top with 1/3 of the cooked chicken, making sure each future piece will have some chicken. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the cheese on the layer, then repeat with noodles, veggies, chicken, cheese two more times. Finish with lasagne noodles on top. Pour remaining white sauce over the noodles, then top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Cover pan tightly with foil. Bake 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until top is bubbling and beginning to brown, about five minutes. Let stand a few minutes before cutting into serving pieces.

January 7, 2010

CHARCUTERIE ~ Meat Transformed

Charcuterie ~ the craft of salting, smoking and curing meat to transform it into something better than its beginnings. The tastes and shapes make it seem like magic, but anyone can make that magic happen. My foodie friend, Tiffany, and I got together this week to see what we could create. Since she's from Louisiana, the theme this time was New Orleans style recipes. We settled on making Tasso, a cured and spiced ham used in many dishes, from jambalaya to sauces to etouffe, and a mild Andouille sausage.

Tasso, dredged in salt and spices

Freshly made Andouille sausages

We bought all the meat, the wood chips for smoking, the hog casings and salt, then hurried back to start the mixtures.The scent of spices was heavy and heady in the kitchen! Cayenne, mace, allspice, thyme, white pepper, garlic, paprika, onion. Swoony smells! We started with the Tasso ~ making two different recipes so we could compare results. One called for "pink salt" - a curing salt that is Valentine pink, for a 4 hour cure. The other relies solely on salt and spices and a 3-5 day cure in the refrigerator. That one is still curing. The kitchen chemistry always fascinates me ~ what happens to the meat after a few hours. The texture and color change; flavor development and intensity. Barely pink pork turns rosy after curing, then reddish after smoking.

Starting the smoking process - soaked alder & hickory chips below

One thing we learned: it's virtually impossible to make sausage without LOTS of sexual innuendos flying ... Don't squeeze it so tight ... Wait! We're gonna have a blowout! ... It's not fitting in the hole ... Oh, that's a nice fat one ... how long do you want them? ... try to push against it as it's coming out ... twist it one way and then the other ... Hmmmmmmmmm. At times, we were laughing so hard, we could hardly hold onto the sausage! HAHAHAHA! When sausage and wine collide, only one thing can happen.

We had to taste-test our sausage before stuffing, didn't we???

Our hard work and laughter paid off in nearly perfect results. Okay, it WAS perfect. I'm just trying to be modest. As we tasted our meats, we could hardly believe that WE made this! The fat content was just right, the meats were juicy, spices were well-balanced and the shapes ... well, we know how to work a sausage. It's all in the handling, baby.

As a note on equipment, we used the Pro KitchenAid mixer with grinder and sausage-stuffing attachments. It leaves something to be desired and didn't work as well as it should have and has design flaws, so next time we will likely try another type of meat grinder and stuffer.

We're already plotting our next meat fest and choosing recipes. One I want to make is sturgeon sausage. Tiffany wants to make a chicken and green onion sausage. We still have 75 feet of hog casings, so lots of experimenting to come!


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