Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Like no other

For about a month now my favorite potato has been seen in the market – but there are few of them and too many know of their exsistence.

I am talking about the Papa Amarilla an Andean native grown in this country by a few adventurous, high altitude farmers. Those of us who know this particular spud covet its meaty taste (actually it tastes like chicken), golden yellow hue (it makes a Yukon golden look sickly) and creamy interior (that seems to be pumped with butter). It is tuber that has no other to compare it to – oh, sure a fingerling, blushing Desiree or tiny new potatoes have their place and satisfy a dish’s execution this denizen of South America’s mountain top markets holds up all by itself.

Now, I am ready to concede that this potato is not as available as its third cousin twice removed, the russet, but well worth the journey to find it. If you ever wondered what a potato could taste like this is the one to sample. After procuring three pounds of these special, starchy gems I am putting up a base soup to take me through the winter. I freeze quarts of this potato soup to which I can later add cheese, avocado or chorizo sausage depending on my mood.

Papa Amarilla Soup – yields approx. 5 quarts

3 pounds papa Amarilla (a South American variety of potato)
2 pounds onion (approximately 3 medium sized)
2 heads of garlic
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Wash the potatoes well to remove any dirt and debris. Then slice the potatoes thinly and place them in at least a 16 quart soup pot. Peel and quarter the onions. Peel and roughly chop the garlic. Place them in the pot along with the potatoes. Pour over 3 quarts of water (12 cups), and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the flame to a simmer. Cook the soup for 1 hour. Puree the soup, and then return to the pot and correct the seasoning.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007



Thanksgiving Week Soup
1 Turkey carcass – well picked over
1 large Carrot - peeled and diced
4 Celery stalks - diced
3 Russet Potatoes - peeled and diced
2 cups Corn - (fresh or frozen)
2 large Onions - peeled and diced
3 Garlic cloves - crushed
2 Jalapeno Chilies - seeded and diced
2 large Tomatoes - seeds and diced
1/2 bunch Cilantro
1 teaspoon Cumin - ground
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 Lime - juiced

Break up the carcass so it will fit in your soup pot. Then cover it with either water, vegetable or chicken stock to come a few inches over the bones.. Bring the stock to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 1 hour- occasionally skimming off any scum that might float to the top. Remove the carcass from the pot, and add to the simmering turkey stock the onion, potato, celery, chili, garlic, corn, cumin, and carrots. Simmer the soup for another 45 minutes. Then add remaining ingredients, and simmer for an additional 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

It's a bird

So, you are going to make the turkey this year. Apprehensive that it might come out dry? There are a few things you can to do to ensure a moist, flavorful bird.

I am a firm believer in smaller is better. While that 30-pound gargantuan looks impressive dominating the table its meat is sinewy and tough to me. I am more apt to have two smaller creatures positioned as sentinels ensuring that I have cooked a turkey that is more within its natural size. If possible buy a fresh bird, but it you must use a frozen one, make sure you defrost it slowly in the refrigerator over a 24 to 48 hour period.

In order to protect the breast meat of the bird from over-cooking while dark meat finishes cooking I like to blanket the breast with strips of bacon. Lay down some fresh sage or thyme leaves on the breast and fresh pepper, and then cover that with the bacon. The saltiness of the bacon should preclude your need to salt it. Shove two lemons cut in half and a head of garlic broken-up into the cavity of the turkey.

Then place the turkey in a roasting pan that is about 3 to 4 inches high. Pre-heat the oven to 450-degrees. Cook the turkey for the first 30 minutes at 450 and then lower the temperature to 350-dgrees. Baste the bird every 30 to 45 minutes. Figure your cooking time based upon the formula of 12 minutes for every pound. An instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the drumstick (not touching the bone) should read 175 to 180- degrees. Remove from the oven, and let the turkey rest for 20 minutes before carving.

I like to take the drippings along with some white wine and simmer it for 15 minutes, and serve a jus (un-thickened sauce).

Good luck and enjoy.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Getting Readied...

Tens days left before we feast as a nation. Are you prepared? As you decide on your menu for the day there are things you can do in advance to make the day a pleasurable cooking experience verses the stress-filled wreck that ruins many attempts.

Tomorrow take your knives in to be sharpened. A well hone blade makes cutting, slicing and dicing so much easier as you no longer have to fight with the knife to do the job it was designed for. If you do not know a reputable knife sharpener in your area go to the butcher and ask them for a recommendation.

Now, it is time to decide on a menu. Of course, the turkey will be there but what is going around it – stuffing, sides, sauces. Are you like me and enjoy changing it up almost annually. I tend to chose a culture and apply their flavors to my table. I did a Moroccan year and I made a couscous stuffing; sweet potato puree with cinnamon; cranberry sauce with slivers of dried apricot. Since every American celebrates at this table I feel free to beg, borrow and even, steal ideas from everyone. Not that there is any problem with a traditional set-up either. Read M.F.K. Fisher’s “Consider the Oyster” for an old fashion stuffing.

It is paramount that you organize yourself. What must be cooked last minute; what can you do four days in advance and gently work up to the day. I always do a mix of room temperature and hot for the table. This allows me to do plenty of my recipes a day or two in advance. Plus, there is the honest assessment of how much oven space do you, and how much do you really need. Remember the turkey is going to hold court in that hot box for much of the day.

So, have a great day, and over-eat.

Onions Braised in Balsamic Vinegar - yields 6 to 8 servings

1 pound small spring onions or Vidalia onions - peeled and root trimmed
1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 pound unsalted Butter

Pre heat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a 9x4 shallow Pyrex or ceramic baking pan lay the onion in a single layer. Pour over the vinegar, wine, thyme, salt and pepper. Dot the onions with the butter and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 to 40 or until very tender. Serve hot or room temperature.

Fennel Orange Salad – yields 6 to 8 servings

2 fennel bulbs (approx. 1/2 pound)
4 oranges – peeled
1 small red onion – sliced very thinly
1/2 cup walnuts – lightly toasted
1/4 cup chopped chives
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cut the fennel in half and then slice the fennel into paper thin half moon shaped slices. After peeling the orange cut in half and discard any pithy membrane and seeds. Then cut the oranges into 1/4 inch thick half moon shaped slices. Place everything in a bowl and gently toss to combine. Serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


It is one of the fragrances and tastes I seek out during the autumn. Its nose is pungent with a rosy-nose and an apple/pear-like texture. I am referring to the quince. A somewhat obscure fruit that comes to us via the Middle East and visually could be confused with an apple variety Рperhaps that is the mistake Adam made. Though unlike its iconic cousin the quince is not edible raw. It must be saut̩ed, stewed or steamed in order to make it palatable.

They are ripe when yellow, and it releases a potent redolence that is quite floral. It also has a felty-fuzzy covering its outer skin, which inevitably tickles my nasal cavity as I drink up its smell. It is a small prize to pay for such an exotically delicate flavor.

If you have ever made apple butter you now have the opportunity to make another fabulous paste from the quince. The English and Spanish have a long tradition of using this paste as an accompaniment to a cheddar or manchego cheese – along with some Port and crusty bread I am having a heavenly afternoon.

Quince Upside Down Cake – yields 12
2 quince – peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1-cup sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter – at room temerpature
2 eggs
8 ounces ricotta cheese
1/4-cup cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups chickpea flour
1-cup sugar
1-teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a 9-inch cake pan or 12 individual 3/4 ounce ramekins evenly distribute the sliced quince – gently packing them in.

In a 2-cup saucepan add the sugar and 1/4-cup of water. Over a high heat melt the sugar and water together, and cook until the sugar turns a light amber. Pour the caramelized sugar over the quince.

In a work bowl beat the butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and the ricotta cheese to thoroughly combine with the butter. Mix in the cream and vanilla extract.

Sift the chickpea flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Then mix the flour mixture into the butter-base. Pour the cake batter over the quince, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes (for individual cakes15 to 20 minutes), or until cake tester inserted comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. While still warm invert the cake and remove the pan. If any quince has stuck to the bottom gently remove to the cake. Cool the cake completely.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Have you?

Has a hard-skinned, seed-filled pumpkin seduced you yet yet? Or, are you still fighting the terrors of a ghoulishly carved Halloween prop? The market is abundant with possibilities and you should take the plunge. It does not have to say, Libby’s, Libby’s, Libby’s on the label for you to decide to work with pumpkin meat. Yes, I will agree that there is a tad more work involved with getting a fresh, whole specimen that needs to be peeled and further dealt with. Though the flavor rewards leaves commercially dealt products in the dust. You will most likely get more from one tough-skin then you will probably use in that recipe – don’t fret it. Freeze the remaining. I like to freeze the pumpkin meat pureed so it can be easily applied to soups, stews, or baked goods lately on.

Just make sure when you buy the pumpkin it is heavy for its size, and use a chef’s knife when cutting it open. I always wash the seeds free of any fibrous material and pat them dry, and then, I must confess, fry them in olive oil until golden brown. A little sprinkle of salt, and I have a snack or garnish for the finished dish.

Take home a Hubbard Blue, Banana or Kuri – everyone needs a good home.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce- serves 8 to 10
3 cups cooked Pumpkin meat (approx. 3 pound pumpkin or canned)
2 - 3 cups all purpose Flour
3 large Eggs
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1 tsp Nutmeg
2 Tablespoons Salt

If you are using a fresh pumpkin, slice the top off and remove the seeds. Bake the pumpkin in a 350 oven for 30 to 45 minutes, or until fork tender. Scoop out the pumpkin meat and mashed to a smooth mixture. Lay it out on a baking tray and return in to the oven for 15 minutes to evaporate any excessive moisture. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool slightly.

Place the pumpkin meat on a clean work surface and make a large well in the middle. Sprinkle about 1 and 1/4 cups of the flour over the pumpkin. In the well add the eggs, oil, nutmeg and salt and gently beat it to combine. Start mixing in the pumpkin/flour into the egg mixture and working to combine it all together. If the gnocchi mixture feels wet and tacky continue to work in additional flour until the dough mass is not tacky to the touch.

Divide the pumpkin dough mass into 6 pieces. Roll each piece into a log approximately 1 inch round. Cut the log into 1/2-inch pieces. You can either lightly pinch the gnocchi or you may lightly roll the piece up the back of a fork to create some ridges. Hold the
gnocchi on a clean, well floured kitchen towel as you make them so they don’t end up sticking your work surface. Freeze, or cook the gnocchi in a large quantity of boiling water until it floats to the surface, about 4 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Gorgonzola Cream Sauce- yields 2 cups

3 cups Cream
1/8 cup Brandy
1 Tblsp Thyme Leaves - roughly chopped
2 tsp Dijon Mustard
1/8 pound Gorgonzola Cheese - crumbled
Salt and Black Pepper to taste

In a sauce pan bring the cream, brandy, thyme and mustard to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until reduced by half in volume. Whisk in the gorgonzola and add the salt and pepper. Spoon over the gnocchi as soon as it comes out the water and serve.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Dawn has yet to break

Yeasty aromas dance
Heralding the new day

Parmesan Focaccia - yields 1 12x18 bread

5 cups all-purpose flour
1-tablsepoon salt
2 cups warm water
1 packet dry active yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
Black Pepper

12"x17" Baking Tray

Combine the flour and salt together to mix well. Measure the water into a work bowl and whisk in the sugar and yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes. If using a standing mixer place the flour, into the yeast mixture along with 1/4 cup of oil, and work until combined and smooth using the dough hook attachment on the lowest speed – mixing about 5 to 10 minutes. Then add in the parmesan cheese and knead to thoroughly distribute the cheese.

If by hand -- mix all the ingredients together, holding back 1 1/2 cups of the flour, and knead the dough until smooth to the touch. You will need to add in the remaining flour in small amounts while you knead the dough. The dough should not be tacky to the touch.
Gather the dough into a ball, and cover with a dampened kitchen towel, and place in a warm spot. Let the dough double in size -- about 45 minutes.

Oil the baking tray with the remaining oil. Oil your hands and punch the dough down. Press and stretch the dough into the baking tray. The dough will not fill the entire tray at this point. If a hole occurs pinch the dough back together. Let the dough rest again for 20 minutes, covered loosely with oiled plastic wrap.

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. Bake the focaccia for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown and baked through. Cool before cutting.