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cooking cove

By Barbara Beltrami

Nothing says “I love you” more than a home-cooked dinner on Valentine’s Day. Well, of course, there are certain tokens of love that come in tiny boxes, I suppose. Let’s not underestimate them! There are also dinners out in fancy restaurants with champagne, candlelight and bills the size of your mortgage payment, gargantuan heart-shaped boxes of chocolate that blow away your New Year’s diet resolutions, and sexy lingerie that may be anything but after you’ve eviscerated the box of chocolates.

Except for those tiny-boxed things, forget the other stuff. Get out the vacuum, throw all the usual clutter under the bed or in the hall closet, make yourself a shopping list, tie on an apron and whip up your own elegant candlelight dinner.

Chill the champagne and whip up an elegant and delicious dinner that won’t break the bank or your back. Leave time for a nice long bubble bath or shower and squeeze into that dress or suit you bought for that occasion last year and haven’t worn since.

Start with a dozen oysters (you know what they say about oysters!) and some champagne. Move on to citrus-flavored chicken with a nice dry white or red wine, and finish up with a chocolate-raspberry cake. And don’t forget to light the candles.

Oysters Rockefeller

They say these oysters are so named because they’re “as rich as Rockefeller.” Time to update the name maybe?

YIELD: Makes 2 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons butter

One garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons bread crumbs

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 rounded tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

One shallot, peeled and minced

½ cup frozen chopped spinach, cooked

1 tablespoon anise liqueur

Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

Dash hot pepper sauce

One dozen fresh oysters, opened on the half shell

2 cups kosher salt

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 450 F. Melt one tablespoon butter in small skillet. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and mix with bread crumbs, oil and Parmesan cheese. Melt remaining tablespoon butter in same skillet. Add shallot and spinach and cook, stirring frequently, until shallot becomes translucent, one to two minutes. Remove shallot and spinach.

Add liqueur to pan and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Stir in salt and pepper and hot pepper sauce, stirring constantly over low heat for 30 seconds. Add to bread crumb mixture. (There will probably be only a little bit); mix thoroughly.

Generously spread kosher salt around bottom of small shallow baking pan. Set oysters in salt and surround each one with enough salt to keep it from tilting. Distribute the spinach mixture evenly over oysters, then top with bread crumb mixture. Bake until tops are golden, about 10 minutes, but check often. Serve with lemon wedges and crusty bread.

Citrus Roasted Chicken

I wrote about this chicken almost two decades ago and when I run into people from way back then, they still mention how much they love this recipe. It’s also great re-heated the next day.

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

One 2-3 pound chicken, cut up

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

½ cup sugar 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour

One egg, beaten

¾ cup orange juice

¾ cup grapefruit juice

¼ cup dry white wine

½ cup toasted sliced almonds

One orange, sliced

Fresh parsley

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350 F. Wash chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in a shallow baking pan.

In a small or medium saucepan mix sugar and flower. Add egg, orange juice, grapefruit juice and wine. Stir thoroughly. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is slightly thickened. Pour over chicken. Bake, uncovered for one hour or under tender and done.

Sprinkle with almonds. Garnish with fresh orange slices and parsley. Serve with rice, and a crisp green salad or cooked green vegetable such as broccoli or green beans.

Chocolate Fudge Cake with Strawberries

Chocolate and strawberries are so Valentine-y. If there are any leftovers, you can cut the cake into squares and pass it off to the kids as brownies.

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 squares unsweetened baking chocolate

One stick unsalted butter

2 eggs

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup chocolate chips

One pint fresh strawberries, washed, dried, hulled and halved top to bottom

¼ cup currant jelly, melted

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease an 8-inch springform pan. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate squares and butter over low heat. Cool. In mixer bowl, beat the eggs. Add the sugar, then the melted chocolate and butter; continue beating till blended. Stir in the flour and the vanilla extract. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth with spatula.

On outer rim of batter, sprinkle a one-inch-wide circle of the chocolate chips; then make a small circle of them in the middle. Bake 25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, then remove from pan. Arrange halved strawberries, cut side down, around remaining surface of cake, overlapping if necessary. Brush tops of strawberries with melted currant jelly.

Serve with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and a nice cup of espresso.

Easy Buffalo Wings

By Barbara Beltrami

The big game on Feb. 5 is normally one of the most exciting events of the winter season. Bisecting the drab doldrums of January and February, it glues zealous sports fans to their TVs and ignites passionate tempers to not just a few expletives. In a feeding frenzy that alternately consoles and celebrates the vicissitudes of the afternoon’s plays, this annual game between the two best pro football teams evokes and stimulates the most American of appetites.

Although traditional fare is centered largely on some combo of spicy buffalo wings and blue cheese dips and spreads, many spinoffs of those flavors come to mind. There are Sloppy Joe’s, a goopy ground beef and barbecue sauce concoction served conventionally over open hamburger rolls, but just as good over toasted crusty bread.Then there are iceberg lettuce wedges with blue cheese dressing, bacon, cherry tomatoes and red onion. And because the day wouldn’t be complete without Buffalo something, here’s an easy recipe for wings.

Sloppy Joe’s

Sloppy Joes

YIELD: Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

¼ cup oil

One large onion, chopped

One medium carrot, peeled and diced

One medium green bell pepper, washed, seeded and diced

2 pounds lean ground beef

Two garlic cloves, minced

¾ cup ketchup

One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons A-1 sauce

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

8 hamburger buns or 16 slices lightly toasted crusty bread

DIRECTIONS: In a large skillet, heat the oil for 30 seconds. Add the onion, carrot, and green pepper and sauté, stirring frequently, until onions are opaque and pepper starts to turn color, about 5 minutes. Crumble the ground beef and spread around the skillet; cook, stirring frequently with vegetables, until meat is browned. Add garlic, ketchup, tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, A-1 sauce, vinegar, and brown sugar.

Cook over low-medium heat until vegetables are tender and liquid is evaporated, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in parsley and seasoning. Serve hot over open buns or bread slices with cole slaw and french fries.

Iceberg Lettuce Wedges with Blue Cheese Dressing

Iceberg Lettuce Wedges with Blue Cheese Dressing

YIELD: Serves 8 to 12

INGREDIENTS:

One head iceberg lettuce, washed, drained and trimmed

1 cup mayonnaise

½ cup light cream or half-and-half

½ cup sour cream or plain yogurt

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¾ cup crumbled blue cheese

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 to 6 slices crispy cooked bacon, crumbled

Cherry tomatoes, quartered

Thin slices red onion, separated into rings

DIRECTIONS: Slice the lettuce into as many wedges as you desire. Combine the mayonnaise, cream, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, blue cheese and seasoning. With a wire whisk, beat ingredients for 30 seconds. Arrange wedges on a platter. Pour dressing sparingly, and serve remaining dressing in a small bowl to be passed around. (It can also be used as a dipping sauce for buffalo wings in recipe below). Sprinkle bacon, tomato quarters and onion rings over wedges.

Easy Buffalo Wings

Easy Buffalo Wings

YIELD: Serves 6 to 8

INGREDIENTS:

12 to 16 chicken wings

4 ounces unsalted butter

One large garlic clove, minced

¼ cup Frank’s or Tabasco hot sauce

Salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 425 F. Wash and dry wings. With a knife or poultry shears, separate the wings at the joint. Cut off wing tips and discard or save for another use (such as soup stock). Melt butter with garlic. In a large bowl, combine mixture with hot sauce and salt. Add wings and toss to coat. Place wings in shallow baking pan and drizzle with remaining sauce. Roast 10 minutes on each side, basting often, or until golden brown. Serve with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing.

Risotto with Clams

By Barbara Beltrami

When I first met my husband who is Italian and whose parents emigrated from northern Italy, I had never heard of risotto. I grew up in a town with a lot of Italian families, but they were mostly from the southern part of Italy where risotto is uncommon and pasta is king. In the north, risotto may well be the go-to comfort food. Made from either arborio or carnaroli, short-grained varieties of rice that are available in most specialty supermarkets or Italian grocery stores, a good risotto is creamy and porridge-like, and oh, so buono.

There are probably as many risotti as there are pasta shapes and sauces; the basic ingredients marry well with nearly all veggies and even some fruits, cheeses, meat, fowl or fish, although the latter are much more rare. Using the Basic Risotto recipe and cooking tips below, you can create a risotto with pretty much anything you want.

Basic Risotto Recipe

YIELD: 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 to 4 cups broth

3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

One medium onion, finely chopped

One celery rib, washed, trimmed and finely chopped

1 cup arborio or carnaroli rice

1 cup dry white wine

Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: (1) In a medium saucepan, bring broth to a boil; reduce heat and keep at a simmer. (2) Heat oil in heavy saucepan for 30 seconds to one minute over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about two minutes. (3) Add rice, stirring constantly, for one minute over low-medium heat. (4) Add wine and half a cup of the broth, stirring constantly, until all the liquid is absorbed. (5) Continue adding broth, half a cup at a time, stirring frequently, until each addition is absorbed before adding more broth. The risotto will be ready in 15 to 20 minutes when the rice is tender and the mixture is creamy. You may not need all the broth or you may need more liquid, in which case just add a little hot water, half a cup at a time.

Risotto with Spinach and Gorgonzola Cheese

Risotto with Spinach and Gorgonzola Cheese

INGREDIENTS:

One 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach

One recipe for Basic Risotto (above)

3 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

DIRECTIONS: Cook spinach according to package directions; cover and set aside with its cooking liquid. Make Basic Risotto recipe with the following changes: Add spinach and its liquid between steps 4 and 5 in basic recipe. Reduce heat to low and add cheese, stirring vigorously until cheese is melted. Serve with salad or baked winter squash.

Risotto with Clams

Risotto with Clams

INGREDIENTS:

3 pounds littleneck clams

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves thinly sliced

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

One recipe Basic Risotto (above)

1½ cups finely diced tomatoes (optional)

1/3 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

DIRECTIONS: Scrub the clams well in a generous amount of cold water, then soak them in cold water for 30 minutes. Drain them and put them in a large pot with the olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cover and steam open the clams, about 5 minutes. Drain them and reserve the liquid. Strain liquid through damp cheesecloth or coffee filter to catch any sand. Set clams aside. Measure liquid and substitute for equal amount of broth to be used in Basic Recipe (left). Make Basic Risotto; when risotto is about 3 minutes from being done, add the tomatoes, clams and parsley. Stir well and finish cooking. Do not add cheese. Serve with crusty bread and a salad.

Risotto with Zucchini

INGREDIENTS:

2 medium zucchini, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise and sliced thin

One small onion, sliced very thin, rings separated

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

One recipe for Basic Risotto (above)

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS: Heat the oil in a large skillet; add zucchini and onions. Saute until they start to turn golden, about 5 minutes; add the garlic and saute for another minute. Don’t let the garlic burn. Remove and set aside. Season with salt and pepper. Make the risotto. About two minutes before it is ready, add the zucchini and onion and stir well for another two minutes. Pass the grated cheese at the table. Serve with a tomato and mozzarella salad.

By Barbara Beltrami

Of all the crustaceans and mollusks that go under the heading of seafood or shellfish, it seems that shrimp is the most popular. Shrimp cocktail, an American first-course staple served in a stemmed dish with a tangy sauce, has been around for as long as I can remember. Now it’s more popular as a trayed hors d’oeuvre.But there are myriad other preparations for this most versatile crustacean.

Years ago, when I was a young cook and wanted to impress my dinner guests, I used to make Shrimp Newburg. Swimming in its creamy sherry sauce in a large (probably fake) scallop shell or ramekin, it was a really impressive starter or entrée. Italian cooks smother shrimp with tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and a generous sprinkling of hot pepper to create fiery Shrimp Fra Diavolo. And for a quick, simple no-nonsense palate pleaser, grilled breaded shrimp served with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice becomes a real go-to dish for an hors d’oeuvre, appetizer or main dish.

Shrimp Fra Diavolo

Shrimp Fra Diavolo

 

YIELD: 2 to 4 servings

INGREDIENTS: One pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste

1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 cups diced tomatoes, canned or fresh

One cup dry white wine

3 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup fresh chopped flat leaf parsley

DIRECTIONS: In a medium bowl, toss the shrimp with the salt, dried red pepper flakes and oil. Transfer shrimp, oil and seasonings to a medium skillet; cook until pink, turn and cook one more minute. Remove with slotted spoon or fork and set aside to keep warm. To the same skillet, and remaining oil, add onion, tomatoes, wine, garlic and parsley. Cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is evaporated and sauce has thickened. Return shrimp to skillet, mix with sauce and cook over medium-low heat, just until heated through. Serve over a bed of linguine, spaghetti or fettuccine.

Shrimp Newburg

Shrimp Newburg

YIELD: 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

One pound small shrimp, cleaned and deveined

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 cups half-and-half

½ cup sherry wine

DIRECTIONS: In a medium skillet, sauté shrimp in two tablespoons of the butter; set aside to keep warm. In the same skillet melt remaining butter and combine with the flour, cayenne, salt and pepper. Gradually stir in the half-and-half; continue stirring until sauce is smooth and slightly thickened; add sherry and stir 30 seconds more. Add shrimp, stirring frequently, until they are heated through. Do not overcook. Serve with rice or angel hair pasta.

Grilled Breaded Shrimp

Grilled breaded shrimp

YIELD: 4 servings of two skewers or 8 servings of one skewer.

INGREDIENTS:

8 twelve-inch wooden skewers, soaked in hot water for one hour

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

One clove garlic, minced

½ teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

40 large shrimp, peeled and deveined

Lemon or lime wedges

DIRECTIONS: Preheat broiler or grill. Combine oil, bread crumbs parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Toss shrimp with mixture to coat. Place on soaked skewers, five shrimp to a skewer, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Grill 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown, rotating skewers after one or two minutes. Serve with lemon or lime wedges, salad and crispy potatoes.

By Barbara Beltrami

The winter holidays are a time of rewards. Toys for good little children. Electronic devices for good big children. Baubles and bangles and bicycles. Sweaters and scarves and sleds. (I don’t know…these days does Santa still leave coal for bad children?)

And of course, sweet indulgences for having endured the holiday hassle, the spartan salads and remarkable restraint of the past year’s daily fare, the life of lattes instead of lunch and denial instead of dessert.

From January to November with a few hops off the wagon in between, we all feel guilty about satisfying our sweet teeth (tooths?) But come December, it’s Wahoo! Bring on those cookies and candy canes and chocolate Santas. And hey! What’s for dessert?

Here are three of my favorite desserts for the holidays. They’re all festive enough for a holiday table and easy enough for a special family treat.

Apple Tartapple-tart

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup solid vegetable shortening

2 teaspoons sugar

4 tablespoons ice water

3-4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into thin crescent-shaped slices

1/4 – 1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

1/4 cup confectioners sugar (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 425 F. In an electric food processor, blend the flour, salt, vegetable shortening and sugar; pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water and process again until mixture forms ball.

Remove, place between two sheets of waxed paper and roll out into large circle that will fit bottom and sides of a well-greased 8- or 9-inch spring form tart pan. Gently lift top paper away and invert crust over pan. Peel away bottom sheet. Spread and pat dough against bottom and sides of pan. With rolling pin, remove any irregular pieces from top edge of pan. (Don’t worry if you have to patch crust as the apple slices will cover it.)

Arrange apple slices in attractive circles to fill crust. Sprinkle with granulated sugar; dot with butter. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until crust is golden and apples are tender. Set aside on rack to cool: Gently remove tart from pan by pushing bottom of pan up. It is best to avoid trying to remove tart from bottom, but go ahead if you are brave. Before serving, sift confectioners sugar over top, if desired.

Cheesecake with Raspberry Topping

INGREDIENTS:

For the crust:

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup melted butter

For the filling: 

Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened at room temperature

5 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup granulated sugar

1 pint sour cream

For the topping:

1 pint fresh raspberries, gently rinsed and thoroughly dried

1/2 cup currant jelly, melted

Fresh mint sprigs for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix graham cracker crumbs with sugar, then with melted butter. Line sides and bottom of 9-inch spring form pan (with flat bottom insert in place) with crumb mixture.  Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F.  In large electric mixer bowl, with mixer at medium speed or “cream,” beat cream cheese, egg yolks, vanilla, lemon juice and sugar until smooth. Add sour cream and continue beating until well blended.

In clean mixer bowl, beat egg whites until stiff.  Fold into cheese mixture. Turn cheese mixture into crumb-lined pan.  Bake 1 hour, then turn off oven and let sit in oven 1 hour longer. (When cake comes out of oven and cools, it may sink.  Do not be alarmed! The berries will cover that.)

When cooled to room temperature, run knife blade around edge of pan to loosen crust. Be sure to keep blade pressed hard against inner rim. Unclasp side of pan and lift gently from bottom. Refrigerate until ready to serve or glaze.

Spread berries evenly around top of cake. With pastry brush, coat berries with melted jelly; let set. Refrigerate. When ready to serve, garnish with mint sprigs.

Profiteroles with Pistachio-Rum Ice Cream and Chocolate  Sauce

YIELD: Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup water

1 stick butter

1 cup flour

4 eggs

1 pint pistachio ice cream, softened but not melted

1 cup chopped red and green candied fruit or fruit peel

3 tablespoons rum

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate pieces

8 ounces heavy cream

DIRECTIONS:

For the profiteroles: Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a baking sheet. In medium saucepan, heat water and butter to rolling boil. Over low heat, vigorously stir in flour until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat and vigorously beat in eggs, one at a time until mixture is smooth. Drop the dough into 8 equidistant mounds onto baking sheet. With finger tips, pat mounds into symmetrical domes.  Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until puffed and golden brown.  Allow to cool. With a sharp knife, slice about 1 inch off  tops; reserve. Carefully and gently scoop out soft dough from center; discard.  Five or 10 minutes before serving, let ice cream mixture soften a little;  fill the puffs with it and top with reserved sliced-off tops.  Stack into a pyramid and drizzle with chocolate sauce.

For the filling: Fold one cup of the candied fruit and the rum into the ice cream.  Return to freezer.

For the sauce: In a small saucepan, heat cream and chocolate pieces together.  Mix with wire whisk over medium-low heat until it reaches the consistency of chocolate pudding. Remove from heat. Let stand till just warm or room temperature. Refrigerate.  Reheat in double boiler. Add more chocolate if sauce seems too thin. Let cool a little after reheating so it’s a little less runny.