Tag Archives: maine

Fresh Ricotta Pasta

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One of the things I’ve realized over time, is that a lot of the commercial ready-made products that we buy are a poor imitation of the real thing. What do I mean by real thing? Something that was made by hand, in small batches (artisanal if you will, although these days, I find that word to be a bit trite) and eaten within days of being made.

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The grocery store where I regularly shop has a wonderful deli section, and I’ve always noticed that they sell fresh ricotta cheese by the pound. I’ve only ever used commercial ricotta and I’ve been wanting to try the real thing to see how it compares. My children typically don’t like ricotta. I think it has something to do with the grainy texture. Honestly, I am not a huge fan of the grainy texture either and was curious to see what fresh ricotta was like.

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I decided to make a pasta recipe I’ve tried long ago. The recipe is from a great cookbook called Italian Two Easy: Simple Recipes from the London River Cafe by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. This cookbook, the second by these chefs, is aptly named and has a lot of simple and delicious recipes.

I started by putting a large pot of water to boil on the stove.  While waiting for the water to boil, I enlisted my children to help me cut a pint of cherry tomatoes in half and squeeze out the juice and seeds. I figured if they helped me with cooking the pasta, they’d be more willing to try ricotta cheese again.

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We found using your thumb to push the seeds and juice out was the easiest method, and also prevented them from spraying everywhere. I then finely chopped a clove of garlic and combined it with the tomatoes, seasoning the mixture with salt and pepper and then allowing it to marinate about 15 minutes or so.

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I also put the ricotta into a separate bowl and seasoned it with some salt and pepper. I coarsely chopped about a 1/2 cup of fresh basil. I dumped a pound of orecchiette pasta into the boiling with water with a sprinkling of course salt and cooked until el dente.

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If you’ve never had orecchiette pasta you are missing out. They look like these little suction cups (which is what my eight year old calls them) which allow the sauce or whatever you’re mixing in to nestle perfectly in the pasta. If you don’t have any orecchiette on hand, or can’t find it in the store, than any other small pasta such as bow ties, or campanelle will be a fine substitute.

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While the pasta was cooking I heated the tomato mixture over low heat in a medium size pot. Once the pasta was done I drained it, added it to the tomato mixture, sprinkled in the fresh basil and then gently stirred in the ricotta cheese.  I topped it off with some freshly grated parmesan cheese.

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Delicious – fresh ricotta bares no resemblance to the commercial variety. It’s creamy in texture (no graininess to be found) and very light. It is consistent with my experience: the homemade version is always better. And the girls really loved this pasta too!

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Fresh Ricotta Pasta

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 garlic clove
small bunch fresh basil
1 T olive oil
1 C ricotta cheese
1 pound orecchiette pasta
3 T grated parmesan cheese salt and pepper

Place a large pot of water to boil. Cut tomatoes in half and squeeze out seeds and juice. Finely chop clove of garlic and combine with the tomatoes and olive oil in small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and let marinate for 15 minutes. Put ricotta in bowl and season with salt and pepper. When water boils, add orecchiette pasta to water and cook per package instructions to el dente. Gently heat tomato mixture over low heat in pot. Add cooked pasta and fresh basil stirring together. Stir in ricotta cheese and gently combine. Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

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Rainy Day Comfort

I was perusing my favorite cookbook of the moment, One Pot of the Day published by Williams-Sonoma, when my eye fell on a recipe for meatloaf.  Normally, I wouldn’t consider making meatloaf in spring, since I view it as one of those cozy meals that’s best served when it’s cold and unpleasant outside.

But despite the fact that it is now May, we just haven’t truly reached spring weather yet here in Chicago.  Meatloaf is the perfect meal for this weather.

This particular meatloaf is a little bit lighter than most, because I adapted the recipe by using a proportion of about 3/4 ground pork to 1/4 ground beef instead of 1 pound ground beef and 1 pound ground veal called for by One Pot of the Day.  The flavor also has been enhanced by lemon zest and fresh herbs.

First I cut up four slices of white bread into small cubes and soaked them in a cup of milk.

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While the bread was soaking, I chopped up dill, Italian parsley, and prosciutto.  I grated a  lemon and about a half cup of Parmesan cheese.

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Using my hands – okay, I know it is slightly disgusting, but using your hands is the only way to properly mix ground meat – I mixed in the herbs, lemon zest, and prosciutto.

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I gently squeezed the milk from the soaking bread and added the bread to the ground meat mixture.  I formed all into a loaf shape and topped it off with sliced red onion and more Parmesan cheese.

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While the meatloaf was cooking I roasted some red potatoes and steamed some green beans. The result was a really tasty meal that hit the spot on a spring day that hadn’t yet sprung.

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In fact, it was so delicious I somehow forgot to take a picture of the final meal.  You’ll have to give it a try to see how good it is. Enjoy!

Meatloaf

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

 4 slices of white bread
1 cup milk
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1/4 pound ground beef
2 eggs, beaten
4 ounces prosciutto, chopped
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1/3 cup fresh dill, chopped
zest of 1 lemon
sliced red onion

Preheat oven to 375º.  Cut the white bread into small cubes and soak in milk for 10 minutes.  Mix the ground meat with the eggs, prosciutto, cheese, herbs, and lemon zest.  Add salt and pepper.  Squeeze the milk from the bread and add to the mixture.  Form into a loaf shape.  Top with slices of red onion.  Bake at 375º for one hour.  

Bakin’ Bacon

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Considering that bacon is such a popular food these days, I am surprised that so many people are unfamiliar with the best way to cook it.  For years I fried bacon in a cast-iron skillet on the stove top.  I suffered. Hot grease would splatter everywhere; all over the stove, the counter – even at times it would burn my hands.

Is it worth it?  Absolutely not. But there’s a better way.  Bake it in the oven.

Simply preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Lay out the bacon on a rimmed cookie sheet (or jelly roll pan) to prevent the grease from spilling and pop it in the oven to cook for about 20 minutes.

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Now the time is all yours.  Take a break, read the paper, have a cup of coffee.  If you are feeling particularly industrious, make some pancakes.

Check on the bacon after 20 minutes.  It should be pretty well cooked.  Using tongs turn over each piece.  Return the bacon to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes – the exact time depends on how crispy you like your bacon (we prefer very crispy in this household) and the heating qualities of your oven.

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You’ll find that your bacon will be cooked to perfection. And as a bonus, it will be nice and flat, nothing like that curled up bacon you get in a frying pan.

Immediately remove the hot bacon from the pan and place it on a paper-towel-covered plate to blot the excess grease.  For ease in cleaning the pan, allow the grease to cool; then, while it is still liquid, pour it into a can for disposal.

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So that’s it — bacon baked in the oven.  So very easy!

Battle of the Beef

The other night we had battle of the beef, corned beef that is, since we were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

I grew up eating corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day and it was always prepared in the classic New England style:  boiled with carrots, potatoes and cabbage. I’ll admit it, I’ve never really cared for boiled meat.  I will even admit that I was always a little confused about corned beef, given its texture, color and saltiness.  I thought it was actually a type of ham.

So when I grew up and started celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on my own, I sought out a new way to prepare corned beef that was more to my taste.  Some friends from Texas introduced me to their unique method:  boil the corned beef the traditional way,  but then rub it down with a spice and brown sugar mixture and throw it on the grill.  For years now I’ve made my corned beef Texas style, as I found this method just as flavorful as the traditional but with an extra sweet crunch.

This year I found myself in a perplexing situation.  The polar vortex that has hit the Chicago area hard left my grill trapped in ice.  There was just no way I was going to be able to use it for St. Patrick’s Day.  I started investigating alternative ways to cook corned beef and that is when I stumbled upon the idea of slow roasting it in the oven.

Since I had purchased two packages of corned beef (we were having our neighbors over and I wanted to be sure I would have leftovers), I decided to do a little taste test and try both methods.

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One corned beef I put in a large pot and covered with water, added a can of beer (pilsner), onion, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves and chili pepper flakes.  I brought the whole mess to a boil and then simmered it for about 5 hours.

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When the meat was done, I took it out of the pot and let it rest for about 5 minutes.  Then I covered it with a brown sugar spice mixture and put it under the broiler to get the meat crispy.  Broiling worked pretty well given that grilling wasn’t an option.

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The other corned beef, I slow roasted at a low temperature in the oven for 5 hours.  I put the beef in a roasting pan on top of a sheet of foil, fat side up and then I sprinkled the spice packet that comes with the beef on top.

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Then I slathered the meat with equal parts grainy mustard and honey and sprinkled brown sugar on top.  I covered the corned beef with foil and put in a 325 degree oven.

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Everybody at the dinner party really enjoyed both types of corned beef, but I think that the roasted one came out the best.  The meat was really tender but firm enough to cut into thick slices.  The meat wasn’t stringy and the outside was crunchy and delicious.  I read that parboiling the meat before hand makes it less salty, which I didn’t do this time, but I may try the next time I make it.

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Next year I plan to slow roast the corned beef because it was so easy.  The meal was prepared in one simple step and came out perfectly.

Enjoy!

Texas Style Corned Beef Brisket

1 bottle beer
4 bay leaves
1 t red chili pepper flakes
3 whole cinnamon sticks
12 peppercorns
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 large onion, peeled
1 4-5 pound corned beef, flat cut*

Put all of the ingredients in a large pot.  Cover with water and bring to a boil.  Turn down to a simmer and cook 4-5 hours.  Cool 5 – 10 minutes and then proceed to rub.

* I recommend the flat cut of corned beef only because it isn’t as fatty and doesn’t shrink as much as the point cut when cooked.

Rub

1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 t cloves
1/2 t ginger
1/2 t dry mustard
1/4 t celery seeds
1/4 t caraway seeds

Mix together the ingredients in a bowl.  Pat rub all over the meat.  Sear on a hot grill or put under a broiler until crunchy.

Serves 6

Slow Roasted Corned Beef (adapted from the blog fortheloveofcooking.net)

4-5 pound corned beef (with seasoning packet), flat cut
1/3 C honey
1/3 C whole grain mustard
2 T brown sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Combine the honey and mustard in a small bowl.  Line the bottom of a roasting pan with foil.  Place the beef fat side up and cover with seasoning packet.  Cover with honey mustard mixture and sprinkle brown sugar on top.  Cover the meat with foil and put in the middle rack of oven.  Cook for 4 hours.  Remove foil the last hour to allow to crisp on top.

Serves 6

Soda Bread

Call me thrifty, call me cheap, call me a Yankee, but I do not like to let anything in my fridge go to waste.  I will scour recipes on the Internet merely to avoid throwing out ½ a cup of plain yogurt.

Over time, I’ve developed a repertoire of recipes that I rely on to get rid of certain ingredients.  Have a little extra cream?  Make scones.  Want to get rid of some sour cream?  Make blueberry muffins.

The other day I had some leftover buttermilk.  I turned to my soda bread recipe, the one I’ve used for years.  It calls for a cup and a half of buttermilk, perfect for getting rid of the amount I wanted to use up.

Soda bread is something of a cross between bread and a gigantic scone.  My whole family loves it.  Sliced, it is great when served warm out of the oven, room temperature with butter, or my favorite, toasted with butter.

Start by mixing the dry ingredients and raisins together.  (Note: 3/4 cup of sugar makes this a fairly sweet bread; reduce the sweetness by cutting back on the sugar if you prefer.  You can also modify this recipe by adding two tablespoons of caraway seeds for flavor, though I personally prefer this bread without them.)

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Melt the butter and add the buttermilk and eggs, whisking all together.  Pour the whisked liquid into the dry ingredients and mix together with a wooden spoon.  The result is a fairly sticky dough, similar to that used for scones.

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Knead the dough on a floured counter top.  If the dough is too sticky to handle, add up to 1/2 cup of flour to it.

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Form the dough into a round disc and lay on a lightly buttered baking sheet.  Score an X into the top of the disc.  I like to use a very sharp, serrated bread knife.

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Pop the bread into an oven that is preheated to 350 degrees and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean and the loaf is gold brown.

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As you can see this soda bread loaf is quite large, but we’ve never had any trouble finishing it.  Enjoy!

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Irish Soda Bread, Martha Stewart Everyday Foods

2 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
4 cups flour, plus more for kneading
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup raisins
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly butter baking sheet.  In a large bowl combine dry ingredients.  Melt butter and whisk in buttermilk and eggs.  Stir the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients to form dough.  Knead dough on a floured surface, adding more flour (up to 1/2 cup) if necessary to prevent sticking.  Form dough into round disc and place on baking sheet.  Score X on top of loaf with sharp knife.

Bake 40 minutes or until skewer inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool on wire rack before serving.

Makes one large loaf

Lemon Pepper Mahi-Mahi

I’ll share a little secret with you.  Sometimes when I am feeling less imaginative and am in need of a good recipe, I’ll rely on a recipe on a package.  While it does seem as if I am cheating in the creativity department, here’s my theory:  No business would put a recipe on the packaging for one of its products if the recipe weren’t tried and true, guaranteed to come out the way it should.  So for example, at one point or another, I’ve followed all of the cookie recipes on chocolate-chip packages and the cake recipes on the cocoa and cake-flour boxes.  And all of those recipes turn out good.

In light of the above confession, here is the meal I prepared the other night:  For dinner for my husband and me, I defrosted some mahi-mahi fish fillets from Trader Joe’s.  This type of fish is not a regular on my repertoire so I was in need of some ideas.  Luckily, the package had a couple of great recipes: Lemon Pepper Butter, and Easy Aioli.  I’ve made aioli many times in the past, so I decided to test out the Lemon Pepper Butter, especially since I had most of the ingredients on hand anyway.

First, I took out a half a stick of butter and let it soften while I prepared the other ingredients.  Next, I zested one lemon and chopped up about a quarter cup of fresh, flat-leaf Italian parsley.

Once the butter had softened, I combined the lemon zest and parsley with the butter using a fork.

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The recipe called for Trader Joe’s Lemon Pepper, which I didn’t happen to have, so I substituted Maine sea salt and freshly ground pepper (it just so happens that my father makes his own sea salt).

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imageNow this handy-dandy recipe also included advice on various ways to cook the fish, depending on whether it had been defrosted or was still frozen.  As my mahi-mahi was defrosted, I had these options: on the grill, pan seared, or oven roasted.  I decided to sear the fish in a pan since I like crispy fish, and it’s too cold and snow around here to do any outside grilling.

I heated a heavy cast-iron pan over medium-high heat until it was sizzling hot, added a little olive oil, and seared the filets about three minutes on each side until cooked through.

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I topped the cooked fillets with the Lemon Pepper Butter and served it with quinoa (more on that another day) and a tossed salad.  The mahi-mahi came out crisp on the outside and flaky on the inside.  The Lemon Pepper Butter melted over the fish and created a delicious topping and added flavor to the quinoa.

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Delicious!

Lemon Pepper Butter Mahi-Mahi

2 mahi-mahi fillets

1/2 stick of unsalted butter, softened

zest of one lemon

1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Using a fork, mash together the butter, lemon zest, and parsley until mixed completely.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Heat a heavy-bottom pan over medium-high heat.  Coat pan with olive oil.  Sear fish fillets on each side about 3 minutes until cooked through.  Serve with lemon butter on top.

Serves 2

Catfish Sandwich

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Since we try to eat fish as much as we can in my household, I am lucky to have a grocery store near me that has a pretty decent fish department.  I buy it every time I go shopping, usually at least once a week.  I base my fish selection on what looks good, what is reasonably priced, and what I feel inspired to cook.  This week I chose catfish.

When I was growing up we never ate catfish.  It is not something you typically find on a New England menu, either in a restaurant or at home.  I never knew what I was missing.

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Since I moved to a part of the country where catfish is common, I have cooked catfish many times.  I’ve made this delicious fish sandwich twice, and both times it was amazing.  Amazingly easy to make, too.  Here’s how I did it:

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I first made a seasoning mix of paprika, garlic powder, thyme, oregano, cayenne pepper, coarse salt, and freshly ground black pepper.  (You can adjust the  ingredients to make this as spicy as you like.)  I mixed about 2 teaspoons of this seasoning into about 1/3 cup of mayonnaise.  Then I mixed the rest of the spices into about 1/2 cup of cornmeal.

I prepared a 1 1/2 pound catfish filet for cooking by cutting it into four pieces (I have found 1 1/2 pounds is the perfect amount for a family of four).  I rinsed the pieces in water and patted them down with a paper towel.

I heated about a quarter cup of vegetable oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.  While the oil was heating up, I dipped the fish filets in the cornmeal mixture.

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When the oil was hot (you can test the heat of the oil by sprinkling a little bit of the cornmeal mix in and see if it crackles) I placed the filets in the skillet and cooked them 3 to 4 minutes on each side.  The cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the filets.  Essentially, you want the fish to be crispy on the outside and flaky on the inside when pulled at with a fork.

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While the fish was cooking, I split some brioche rolls, buttered them, and grilled them on a griddle lightly over medium heat (of course, this can be done in a skillet if you don’t have a griddle).

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You can use any kind of rolls you like, but I find brioche particularly delicious for a fish sandwich.   When the fish was done, I put each piece on a bun that had been spread with a bit of the spicy mayo, then topped all with some lettuce.

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Catfish sandwiches – so yummy, and easy to make.  My kids really love them.

Enjoy!

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Cajun Catfish Sandwiches

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons course salt

2 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon thyme

1/2 cup ground cornmeal

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 1/12 pounds fileted catfish, cut into four pieces

4 buns

Mix all of the spices together in a small bowl.  In a separate bowl, add 2 teaspoons of the spice mixture to 1/3 cup of mayonnaise.  Set aside.  Mix the rest of the spice mixture with about 1/2 cup of ground cornmeal.  Cut the fish up into four pieces, rinse in water, and pat dry.  Heat 1/4 cup of vegetable oil in a heavy pan over medium-high heat.  Coat each of the filets in the cornmeal mixture.  When the oil is hot, add the fish to the pan, cooking 3 to 4 minutes on each side until the fish is crispy on the outside and flakey on the inside.  Lightly butter the buns and grill over medium heat.  Serve the fish on buns with spicy mayonnaise and lettuce.

Serves 4