Sunday, October 31, 2010

On a (fin) and a prayer

I had guests last night and I made cioppino (Italian seafood stew) and homemade rolls for dinner. My guests are Italian, so I was a little nervous because I'd never made cioppino before and it's an Italian-American classic. Well, I got some luck right off the bat, because the store had both the shrimp and clams on sale! In fact, large shrimp were only $3.99 per pound, so I bought an extra pound and it's in my freezer. So I started off prepping the shellfish:

(I may be a bit of a dork, but I think clamshells are gorgeous.) So I shelled the shrimp and gave the clams their "spa treatment." You have to soak clams in at least two changes of water and a little cornmeal to clean out the grit. (Sand is not my favorite condiment in my stew.) I also cut up a pound of red snapper fillets. You can use any mild white fish you like.

Meantime, I started the broth:

It involves crushed tomatoes, garlic, onions, red bell pepper, olive oil, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, lemon juice and red wine. I gotta tell you, this smelled great! I can't really tell you an exact recipe because the amounts were, as my grandmother would say, "by guess and by God."

When the broth came to the boil and smelled really great, I added the seafood.

My guests wanted crab in it, so they brought it. Can you say "yummy?"

I cooked it until the clams opened and the crab was hot, and served it with the rolls I baked. If I do say so myself (and I do), it turned out really well for a first attempt.

Of course, the best part of any meal is the people you share it with! My good friends Paolo and Diane said they really enjoyed the dinner.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Getting sauced on Saturday night

I don't know very many people who don't like spaghetti. Premade sauces are convenient and quick (and if I'm perfectly honest, some of them actually taste pretty good). But they're expensive and sometimes have chemicals or other ingredients that aren't exactly traditional. Besides, making your own is really easy. It takes a few minutes to put together, an occasional stir, and just a low, long simmer. Also, it freezes beautifully, so it's something you can make ahead and have on hand when you need a quick meal. So last Saturday night I decided to make a batch of sauce.

This is basically the recipe my Irish family used when I was growing up. So we start with the basics:

I use three large cans of tomato sauce, one small can of tomato paste, fresh garlic, oregano, bay leaf, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. I start by mincing two or three cloves of garlic (okay, three or four -- I love garlic). Of course you can use a garlic press, but mine is really wimpy so I just mince it with the good old chef's knife.

So I pour the cans of tomato sauce into the pot. I use about a third of a can of water to rinse out the cans and get all the sauce that clings to the insides. Add the can of tomato paste and wisk thoroughly to disperse the paste through the tomato sauce. Add the garlic, herbs, salt, pepper and a generous splash of olive oil. You can make this fat-free, of course, but the olive oil just adds so much incredible flavor.

Wisk the seasonings in thoroughly. Simmer over medium-low to low heat (stoves will vary). You need to keep the heat low and stir every so often because tomato sauce will stick and burn fairly easily. But it's only a few seconds about every fifteen minutes. Allow to simmer for about two and a half to three hours, or until it reaches the thickness you like it. I leave mine for three or even a bit more because I like mine REALLY thick.

There are a lot of ways to vary it. You can add mushrooms:

You can break up Italian sausage and add to the sauce (I personally love sausage and mushroom sauce). You can add black olives, or you can even add meatballs. You can add just about any veggies you like. Let your pantry and your conscience be your guide!

You can also put it on a lot besides pasta. Ever have a hot meatball hero sandwich with melting mozzarella or provolone on it? To die for! You can also use the sauce for pizza, as a baste for chicken or meatloaf -- the possibilities are endless.

As soon as I can afford an immersion blender I'm going to learn to make it from fresh tomatoes (but that's another post).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Our (Occasional) Bread

Sorry, but I haven't made it up to baking daily yet.

I can't think of a better jumping-off point than bread because it's so basic. Every culture has a version of bread, and recent archaeological finds suggest that even our prehistoric ancestors may have eaten bread. So bread it was. I started with bulgur-wheat rolls. It was a cool, damp day so I was afraid the dough wouldn't rise. I needn't have worried:

(Yes, I know -- I needed to use a bigger bowl).

I'm not telling my therapist this, but kneading bread dough is great for working out your frustrations. A sturdy dough like this will take a pounding. I felt SO much more relaxed after kneading the dough than when I started (of course, the glass of wine I had while working probably helped). The recipe was supposed to make a dozen rolls. I was really startled by the size they turned out. Next time I'll make two dozen from the same dough:


But I have to say, they tasted spectacular with the homemade soup I made the same day. I cheated and had two of them.

I felt psyched after the success with the rolls, so I decided to try a loaf (besides, I had another packet of yeast to use up). I probably need to work on loaf shaping, because this was supposed to be round but came out looking more like a giant amoeba:

Of course, I could always call it "rustic" or "artisan" instead of badly formed.

One more packet of yeast in the cabinet. Hmmm...

Come Along With Me!

Hello! My name is Mary and I'm on a journey.

I've always loved food and cooking, but hid from it for too many years. Now, with the help of some dear friends (who are world-class chefs) I'm exploring as much as I can of the culinary world. I hope you'll join me on my Cuisine Quest.