Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

How to make ragu like a nonna:

December 29, 2008


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.

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.



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.
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.


Perfect (insert anything here) cake: Daring Baker’s March Challenge

March 30, 2008

My first Daring Baker’s challenge, completed!!! March’s challenge, chosen by Morven from Food Art and Random Thoughts, was Dorie Greenspan‘s Perfect Party Cake. It is from Dorie’s book: Baking From My Home to Yours, which I don’t have but will probably get soon now that I’ve made this cake. (Also because everyone seems to be raving about it!)

Styled shot: the cake at it’s sexiest

The cake has four layers of moist, lemon scented layers that are dense enough to satisfy a serious cake eater but light enough to be appropriate in a layer cake (only one stick of butter is used in the cake recipe). Dorie suggests using raspberry jam and lemon curd between the layers, which I think would be delicious, but I strayed a little and used grapefruit curd and strawberry jam instead. I also made kind of a mousse out of ricotta and fresh whipped cream and put that between the layers as well to give the cake a bit more height and deliciousness.


The result was interesting (in a wonderful way). Because of the ricotta, the cake tasted subtly Italian, although no one could really figure out why until I told them about the ricotta. The grapefruit curd had a similar effect. Although no one could identify grapefruit as one of the ingredients, the cake was a bit softer in flavor than I think it would have been had I used lemon. I was really happy with the result and would definitely make this cake again. I’m also looking forward to trying different flavor combinations. Check out what all the other Daring Bakers did with this challenge here!

On the Easter table

Easter (aka i’ve been slacking. annnnnd… i’m back)

March 25, 2008

There’s something I really love about easter. When my brother and I were little, Easter was one of the more fun-filled holidays- less of a big to-do than Christmas or Thanksgiving, more kids at the family get-together, and almost as much (if not more) candy than Halloween. Don’t get me wrong, I can be pretty sentimental at times and will never ever lose my love for Christmas, but Easter was just a different kind of fun. Every year my mom would make an indoor easter egg hunt for my brother and me. The hunt was structured around a series of rhyming clues about egg locations. There was one clue to start, and the next clue was hidden with the eggs. It told us where to go next, and so on. This sounds very cute and all, but what you must know is that family quirks can not be stifled and ours were no exception. I wish I had saved the clues my mom wrote out. There was always at least one or two involving “the throne”, as it was known in our family (I really hope I don’t need to explain that to anyone) and eggs (plastic ones!) were frequently hidden at the bottom of piles of laundry, in people’s shoes, and in the dishwasher. The best part for me was that I am older than my brother and there were at least one or two Easters where I knew how to read and he didn’t. Now, I’m not especially proud of this, but I guess I have to admit it since it is documented on video. On those particular Easters, I found great delight in reading the clues to myself silently, and then running off to find the eggs and leaving my poor brother helpless, stomping his foot and yelling at the foot of the stairs. This may not sound very nice of me, but anyone who has a little brother should understand. The opportunities to stick it to a younger sibling didn’t come around all the time, but when they did, you had to take advantage! That’s just the way it was. And don’t worry, he did his fair share of torturing me too. I’m pretty sure it evened out.

saturday morning frittata and grapefruit

So, as you might guess, the days of the rhyming Easter egg hunt are long gone. I did have a nice, relaxed breakfast with my mom though.  I guess you could say we celebrated by making a frittata (above) and supreming about a million grapefruits to have on the side (my idea of luxury).

These days, much of the time leading up to Easter is spent baking and just spending time with the family, which is just fine with me. Every year the scene plays out in a similar way. Since I am the family’s designated baker, I never fail to spend at least three or four hours pouring through cookbooks looking for the the most decadent, most fantastic, most daring dessert candidates. I usually end up with at least five or six potentials, at which point my mom begins to sigh, worried that I will go way overboard and end up begging her to help me wash bowls at two in the morning (let’s just say it hasn’t not happened once or twice before).  

fudgiest chocolate cake 

To make a long story short, this year I narrowed it down to three recipes within a pretty reasonable amount of time.  I ended up making: an the fudgiest chocolate cake (drenched in ganache), grapefruit cupcakes (sugar-free, for my godfather who is diabetic), and a super top-secret recipe which I will post about at the end of the month!  The chocolate cake is based on this one from Deb at Smitten Kitchen, although I ran out of butter just before getting to the mousse layer and decided to go with ganache instead.  Besides, there was already enough butter at Easter!

The cake was absolutely delicious but so, so, rich.  We couldn’t finish it, which was no problem at all for me, because the leftovers are in my fridge right now acting a lot like the best fudge I’ve ever eaten.  Mmmmm.

Hey, we tried...

Fudgiest Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Deb at Smitten Kitchen
Makes at least 10 servings (one 9 inch round, or one 8×8 in square and 12 mini cupcakes, as I did)

8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour

6 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips
6 tablespoons heavy cream

For the cake: Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter an 8×8 square pan; dust with sugar. Prepare one 12-well mini-muffin tray.  Melt chocolate and butter in heavy large saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Cool to lukewarm. Whisk in sugar. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time, blending well after each addition. Mix in vanilla and salt, then flour. Pour batter into pan. Bake until cake just rises in center (tester inserted into center will not come out clean), about 35 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack.  I would recommend keeping this one at room temperature as long as you can, just to keep it a little bit softer.

For the ganache: Melt the chocolate chips and the cream in a double boiler over gently simmering water.  Pour over the cooled cake.  Let drip langourously over the edges… ooh!

 The cupcakes, also borrowed from Smitten Kitchen, were so cute and really good for the kids as well as my godfather.  The recipe is below.

grapefruit cupcakes

Grapefruit Yogurt Cake
Adapated from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa and from Deb at Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar (I used splenda and it worked fine)
3 extra-large eggs
3 teaspoons grated grapefruit zest (approximately one large grapefruit)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar  (I used splenda here too and it seemed OK)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.  ( I just made 12 mini-cupcakes and one mini loaf).

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, grapefruit zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the grapefruit-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and grapefruit juice and pour over the cake.