Archive for the ‘Special Treats’ Category

How to make ragu like a nonna:

December 29, 2008

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Well, here is the first part of my attempt to be back here on a regular basis. I have been really missing the blog, and although I’ve been cooking regularly, I’ve been so busy that most of the food I’ve made has been weird, thrown together meals that I like but would be embarrassed to post. I mean, who wants a recipe for a couple of eggs thrown on a trader joe’s tortilla with some mashed up black beans and pesto? Besides that, I moved to a new apartment in August and to tell the truth, the light in the kitchen is downright crappy and I just can’t get that enthusiastic about trying to take pictures of my food with almost no natural light. Well. Enough of the complaints. I have a plan for getting better light (a supersize mirror to redirect the sunlight down my alley and in my kitchen window, perhaps?) and will hopefully be back here more regularly from now on. Wish me luck. For now, here’s this ragu.

I don’t kid when I say that this is the real stuff. I won’t say it’s the best, because in my mind, there are a lot of wonderful ways to dress a pasta, and it would be a shame to pick just one favorite. I mean, I wouldn’t want to insult all the other sauces that make me stop dead in my tracks, fork in mouth, and let out a little whimper. But here’s the deal. This is the sauce to warm up a winter night. It doesn’t take more than half an hour of active prep, but it tastes like you’ve been slaving over it all day. And it just gets better after a day in the fridge.

Do yourself a favor and use the ragu sparingly with good pasta. It’s the Italian way to barely coat the pasta with sauce, and if the ragu seems too thick as you’re stirring it into your pasta, toss in a spoonful or two of the pasta water to thin it out just a bit. The starch from the pasta water will help the ragu cling to your pasta.

Ragu Bolognese
Adapted from Mario Batali

Makes about 5 cups

¼ C extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground pork
(you can get the veal and pork ground together at the butcher)
4 ounces pancetta or slab bacon, run through the medium holes of the butcher’s grinder (or chopped fine in the food processor)
One 6-ounce can of tomato paste
1 C whole milk
1 C white wine
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Get the meat ready- if you haven’t had the pancetta ground at the butcher, chop it and then give it a few rounds in the food processor until it’s finely chopped.
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Place a 6-8 quart heavy bottomed pot over high heat. When the pan is hot, throw in half the meat (veal, pork, and pancetta combined) and let it brown, lowering the temperature as necessary to avoid burning the meat. This will take about ten to fifteen minutes, you need to get all the water out of the meat before it will brown. Resist the urge to move it around too much!

When the first batch of meat has browned remove it to a bowl and drain off any of the extra fat, if there is any. Throw in the second half of the meat and brown that too.

While the meat is browning, chop the vegetables.

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After the second batch of meat is brown and you’ve moved it to the bowl, add the olive oil to the pan and then the vegetables, scraping the browned bits up off the bottom of the pan. This should be pretty easy, as the water from the vegetables cooking will help the brown bits release from the bottom of the pan.
Saute the vegetables until translucent and slightly soft, but not brown, about five minutes.

Add the meat back into the pot and then add the tomato paste, milk, wine, and thyme and bring just to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours.  When it is done, it will look like this.  Don’t expect it to be too liquidy, a proper ragu has just enough liquid to moisten the meat.
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Season the ragu with salt and pepper, remove from the heat and let cool. The ragu can be refrigerated for up to two days (I think it’s better on the second day, for sure) and can be frozen for up to one month.

Serve over pasta (fresh is best, but I also love this with a good rigatoni like DeCecco) and garnish with freshly grated parmesan, salt and pepper.
A little tip: If you want to freeze some of the ragu, freeze it in an ice cube tray and once frozen, dump the cubes into a Ziploc freezer bag. That way, you can defrost only as much as you need.

Daring Bakers April Challenge: Cheesecake Pops

April 27, 2008

This was my second Daring Bakers Challenge! I feel like I’ve been lucky as far as challenges go. To be completely honest, I was pretty relieved that I joined the DBs after the Julia Child french bread challenge as I’m really not sure that’s something I’m ready to tackle. I’ve actually got a loaf of bread in the oven right now, but it is of the “almost no knead” variety, and it is about as much of a yeast endeavor as I am prepared to take on.

Anyway… I really liked making these pops. The cheesecake part was really simple. I didn’t realize until the last minute that there was no butter in the recipe, and I think that yielded a very creamy and un-greasy cheesecake. The chocolate part was no problem either. I have to admit, I kind of wish I had tried white chocolate, because as much as I love dark chocolate and cheesecake, I somehow don’t love them together. I think, for me, the dark chocolate is just a bit too strong against the soft flavor of cheesecake. Next time I might add a vanilla bean to the batter to get more flavor out of the cheesecake part. I might also try milk chocolate as a coating, which I think would be less intense. Regardless, these are fun to make, and if nothing else, are hopelessly cute. I would definitely suggest giving them a try!

Check out the thousands of other delicious-lookin cheesecake pops made this month by Daring Bakers HERE.

Cheesecake Pops, adapted from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor

Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs (I used 3 eggs when I baked half the recipe without a problem)
2 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean, seeded
¼ cup heavy cream

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks (I just used bamboo skewers, although this really wasn’t the best idea)
1 pound chocolate, chopped or in chips
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (I ended up using a bit of butter…)
(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.
In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.
Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.
Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.
When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 to 2 hours

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.
Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paperlined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.
Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

I’m a daring baker!

March 10, 2008

Yes, yes, yes, it’s true, after a year or so of shameless spying, I have become a daring baker.  I can’t wait to make the first (secret- shhhhhhhhhhhhhh) recipe.  No peeking till March 30, sorry!  And don’t ask me either, I’m sworn to complete secrecy.   That’s all for now…


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