“New” Cuisine is Not Always Better

I love retro foods, so when I stumbled across Mary’s delightful website Old Fashioned Recipes, chock full of oldies, but goodies, I hit the jackpot! She provides recipes for award-winning chocolate cake, creamy scalloped potatoes, chicken pot pie, and much more!

Mary was kind enough to include one of my favorite family recipes for my grandmother’s banana cake. It’s nice to know gram’s cake recipe found an audience among people who love simple, yet delicious home cooking.

If you’d like the recipe to Banana Cake with Penuche Frosting or to browse similar fare like your Gramma used to make, then be sure to visit her site!

Four Pantry Items Home Cooks Can’t Live Without

Four Pantry Items Home Cooks Can’t Live Without

I participate in a couple of Facebook groups for self-proclaimed home chefs. I really enjoy seeing what other home cooks are putting on the dinner table. To be honest, most of them put me to shame! One of my favorite groups is The Home Chef’s hangout. The members are very positive and encouraging. I asked them to be my research sample for this blog post and they responded with gusto.

My question to them was: What are your three go-to pantry items you cannot live without as a home cook?

As you can imagine, it was not easy for many to keep their list down to three. 50 home cooks participated. These four items were leaders by a wide margin: olive oil, garlic, pasta, and tomato products. I am beginning to confirm my suspicions that by and large, the group prefers Italian cuisine!

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It makes sense when you consider how many dishes you incorporate at least one of these components into. I start nearly every savory dish with a splash of olive oil!

Of course, any home cook knows you need more than four items at the ready when cooking. Take a look through your pantry and fridge and make sure you have at least the ones listed below. (Please excuse the mess. These were not staged, but probably should have been!)

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Dry Goods
various rices, pastas, flour, sugar, grains, oats, crackers, beans, bread crumbs

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Canned Goods
olive oil, stock, beans, tomato products, tuna, peanut butter, olives, hot sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, artichoke hearts, anchovies, roasted red peppers, various vinegars, coconut milk, evaporated milk, Sriracha, chili paste

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Seasonings
salts, black peppercorns, various dried seasonings/spices dry rubs, creole seasoning, crushed red pepper, pure vanilla

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Fresh Goods
carrots, onions, celery, peppers, jalapeños, potatoes, eggs, lemons, limes, fresh herbs, butter, plantains, avocados, cheeses, frozen peas

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Baking
baking powder, baking soda, yeast, pure vanilla, cocoa powder, brown sugar, powdered sugar, baking chips, honey, raisins

Another day I will highlight a few pantry items I think you should have to really enhance your home cooked meals! Stay tuned. And, feel free to add your three favorite must-have pantry items in the comments below!

I Hit the Jackpot! Expiration Date Lamb

I Hit the Jackpot! Expiration Date Lamb

Some people regularly hit the clearance racks at their favorite clothing stores, but not me. My stomping grounds are the local meat counters on the lookout for deep discounts. When meat is close to its expiration date, the price drops. I see it as a great opportunity to save money on groceries and try new recipes!

My most recent bargain – boneless butterflied legs of lamb. Since lamb is one of my favorites, I grabbed both pieces and gleefully brought them home as visions of stews and kabobs danced in my head!

I threw both packages in the freezer until I started craving some stew.

Lamb Stew à la Bradley Nierenberg

Ingredients

1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp flour
1-1.5 pounds lamb (trimmed and cubed)
Salt
Pepper
1 medium onion (halved and thinly sliced)
2 cups carrots (peeled and cut into chunks) (Full disclosure: I used two ginormous carrots in this stew…my chunks of meat are much larger than they appear next to the carrot coins!)
5-6 sliced baby portabella mushrooms
5-8 bay leaves
2 tsp. rosemary (dried or fresh)
1 cup chicken stock

Directions

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Trim and cube lamb. Season with salt and pepper. Heat butter and oil in heavy bottomed pot. Brown lamb.

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Sprinkle browned cubes with flour.

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Cook 2 minutes longer, stirring so that it does not stick. Remove lamb with slotted spoon and set aside.

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Add a bit more olive oil to the pot and saute onions, mushrooms, and carrots. Reincorporate meat.

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Add bay leaves, rosemary, salt, pepper. Stir.

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Add chicken stock. (Tip: As you can see in the photo, I added too much chicken stock and it never thickened up. I think 1 cup will be perfect. but, if you want more “gravy” then use 2 cups but add more flour.) Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer covered until lamb is tender. This takes about an hour. Uncover and continue to simmer until ready to serve.

Season as needed. Serve with mashed potatoes, egg noodles, or polenta.

What’s in your favorite lamb stew? Please share your recipe with us!

Not Your Momma’s Chicken and Rice

Not Your Momma’s Chicken and Rice

I was in the mood for chicken and rice last week but wanted a healthier option than I grew up with as a kid. I looked through my pantry and fridge for what I had on hand and typed a few of my available ingredients into Bing. Batta-boom. Chipotle Braised Chicken and Rice with Zucchini courtesy of Epicurious was just what the doctor ordered. I have included a link to the original recipes. I made a few twists and turns of my own. If you give it a try, let me know what adaptations you make!

Chipotle and Ancho Braised Chicken

Ingredients

1/2 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leafs
1 T butter
salt
pepper
1 1/2 T olive oil, divided
3-4 pounds chicken quarters
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile pepper
1/2 teaspoon ancho chili pepper
1 cup homemade chicken stock
1 T fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Directions

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Cook onion, garlic, and bay leaf in butter and 1/2 tablespoon oil with 1/8 teaspoon salt in a skillet over medium heat until onion starts to cook down and caramelize, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

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Season chicken with salt and pepper. Brown chicken in remaining tablespoon oil in and transfer to a plate.

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Stir in chile powders and onion mixture into pan and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add stock and simmer.

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Place chicken back in, and ladle some of the onions and broth over each piece. Cover and look on low 25-30 minutes. Turn once or twice to get flavor over entire pieces. Transfer chicken and onions with a slotted spoon to a platter. Skim off and discard fat from sauce, then boil until slightly thickened. Stir in lime juice and cilantro and spoon sauce over chicken.

Zucchini Rice

Ingredients

1 cup brown rice
1 3/4 cups cold water
3 T vegetable oil, divided
1 T coriander seeds, slightly crushed
1/4 teaspoon cumin
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium zucchini cut into 1/2-inch rounds, then quartered
1/2 cup chopped mixed cilantro, parsley, and mint
1 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup pecans toasted and coarsely chopped

Directions

Cook rice and water with 1 T oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt until water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 50 minutes. Place in bowl to cool down.

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Saute coriander and cumin in 2 T oil in skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes.

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Add garlic, zucchini, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Saute until zucchini is crisp-tender, and slightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes.

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Toss zucchini with rice, chopped herb mixture, lemon juice, pecans, and salt and pepper to taste.

This made a delicious and healthy dinner if I do say so myself. I hope you will share your favorite chicken and rice dish! Please leave a comment and remember to friend me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/brad.nierenberg.9 and Twitter https://twitter.com/GourmandBrad

Buon appetito!

Linguine with Meatballs – A Pre-race Feast

Linguine with Meatballs – A Pre-race Feast

Have you ever carbo-loaded the night before a long run? It’s a common tradition with a few of my friends. They recently took advantage of my enjoyment of cooking and requested pasta the night before their half marathon. The simple feast did not disappoint! The menu included linguine with meatballs and my first-ever attempt at focaccia.

First Was Batch Not a Total Success

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Okay, so the focaccia was a little on the crispy side, but practice makes perfect! Since I had never made it before, I found a recipe online that looked simple and tasty. Though it was flavorful, the too crispy outcome came, I believe, from my spreading the dough out too thin on the 9×13 baking sheet. Next time I will only use half the sheet. The only other alternation to the attached recipe is that rather than knead by hand, I used the dough hook on my stand mixer. I should have tried it by hand for a more tender result. Lessons learned and I will correct in the future.

Perfect Pasta and Meatballs

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Truth be told, I prefer my pasta dishes to most others. I’m a bit picky about the doneness of pasta. It’s a culinary skill to get it to the perfect bite. Most restaurants in my experience overcook it in the kitchen so that by the time it is plated and served, it’s overdone. But enough soap-boxing! Here is how I made my big tender meatballs and accompanying sauce! The meatballs are adopted from The Meatball Shop Cookbook and they are delicious. The ricotta cheese is a much better choice than Parmesan or Romano I think.

Ingredients
Meatballs:
olive oil
3 pounds mixture of ground beef, veal, pork (meatloaf mixture)
1 container (14-16 oz) ricotta cheese
2 eggs
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1-1/2 teaspoons dried
2-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1/2-3/4 teaspoons ground fennel

Sauce:
3 boxes Pomi or 3 large cans tomatoes
2-3 cloves chopped garlic
1 large diced onion
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup or so red wine
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

I mix meatballs in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. Form into golf ball size or preferred size balls. Drizzle olive oil and spread out over 9×13 cookie sheet. Place meatballs on sheet and bake at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes. (Turn over at 10 minutes.) They will finish cooking in the sauce.

In the meantime, saute the onion and garlic in a small amount of olive oil in a deep pot. Add the remaining ingredients and slowly cook for 20-30 minutes. Taste for flavor and adjust as needed.

Gently place meatballs in the pot of sauce and continue to simmer slowly until you are ready to serve.

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Cook pasta of your choice al dente. Drain pasta water (retaining a cup which you may want to add to your sauce to improve its flavor and consistency.) Return the drained pasta to the pot and ladle a few spoons of sauce to mix in with the pasta. Serve from a large shallow bowl or platter with meatballs on top.

My runner friends were content and energized for their run the next morning! I was worn out just thinking about all that early morning exercise!

If you want a pasta dish that’s a bit lighter and easier to throw together, try my bacon and roasted tomato recipe!

Buon appetito!

Tomato Soup – A Meal for All Seasons

Tomato Soup – A Meal for All Seasons

I cannot say how many times I’ve turned to tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich when comfort food was just what the doctor ordered! Nothing beats this combo on a cold afternoon. And toward late summer when tomatoes are ripening faster than you can use them, fresh tomato soup is the perfect way to use up the bruised sweet fruits of the vine!

There are countless recipes for tomato soup to be sure. I hope after reading through my variation that you will share your secret additions. All you need is a couple of cans of good quality tomatoes and some heavy cream!

For my toasted cheese sandwiches, I use a small panini grill which gives the perfect amount of crunch to hold up to dipping it in the soup!

Ingredients

2 large cans tomatoes (I use San Marzano)
3-4 garlic cloves, mashed and chopped
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 cup chicken stock (or water or vegetable stock)
1 cup heavy cream
Salt
Crushed red pepper
Black pepper
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp celery seed, thyme, oregano (or whatever seasoning you like)

Directions

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Sauté the onion and garlic about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer for 20 minutes or so.

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Puree in batches in your blender or use an immersion blender to break down the tomatoes and onions. Return the soup to the pot and bring back up to a low simmer and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper to your taste.

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Serve with a grilled cheese sandwich. I love a mix of cheeses such as cheddar and Swiss, or provolone and mozzarella, Gruyere and American. Choose whatever you like best!

Would you care to share your favorite tomato soup recipe? I hope so!

Cookbook Recommendations by Brad Nierenberg

Cookbook Recommendations by Brad Nierenberg

Every so often I like to curl up with a good book and a glass of single malt. This weekend, the books were from my overloaded stack of beloved cookbooks. I know I typically share a favorite recipe each week, but today I’m sharing a few old friends! I hope you will be inspired to share a bit about your favorite sources for recipes as well!

Mr. Food Cooks Pasta
Art Ginsburg
Copyright 1993 by Cogin, Inc.

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I picked up my copy of “Mr. Food Cooks Pasta” back before Borders went out of business. It was tucked away on one of those bargain shelves. It’s been one of my go-to sources ever since. The writing style is easy to read and conversational. And though this little black and white book lacks any pretty photos, I still find myself using it on a regular basis.

Mr. Food, Art Ginsburg, provides a guide for pasta shapes, includes a simple chart for sauces and uses for each shape, and the opening chapter on pasta “particulars” includes a brief history and cooking instructions. Next, one of the best sections, is a quick pasta recipe chart for “meals in minutes.” The follow-on segments include pasta appetizers and side dishes, pasta soups and stews, pasta salads, pasta main courses, family favorites, and pasta sauces.

Since I love to cook and eat pasta, it’s great to have this guide to an easy and delicious meal! I think I’ve made almost every recipe in the book at least once. Many of the dog-eared corners are turned down to save the ones I like best.

Ginsburg is not Italian to my knowledge, but no matter, whether lemon linguine or chicorina soup, this cookbook is a winner in my book.

Barefoot Contessa at Home
Ina Garten
Copyright 2006 by Ina Garten

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Quentin Bacon’s photography in Ina Garten’s fifth cookbook is true food porn! After the cook’s lengthy introduction (and to be honest, I’ve never read it) she leads right into chapters entitled soup and sandwich, salads, dinner, vegetables, dessert, and breakfast.

She includes a nice section of small places to visit in the Hamptons for food. These are places she mentions on her cooking show and would be fun to add to your traveling itinerary if vacationing in the area. The last section called menus takes all the recipes from the cookbook and puts them together into menus you can try at home. I think this is brilliant!

I have not come close to recreating all the yummy recipes in this extensive cookbook, but the ones I’ve made do not disappoint. Her Sunday Morning Oatmeal is a regular in my rotation and I have zero desire to ever try another recipe for coconut cake after falling in love with hers. Where I think she really shines though is in the dinner section. From cornish hens to Asian salmon, there are several delicious and doable recipes in this section.

Holiday Cookies
Martha Stewart
2006 Issue

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Okay, so Martha Stewart’s annual holiday cookie magazine is not exactly a traditional cookbook, but if you could see the tattered pages you would know I use it often. It’s really the perfect cookie guide!

This 2006 version includes more than 100 cookie recipes and the breakdown is spot-on (as my British friends would say). The table of contents features a photo of each cookie and they are categorized as soft and chewy, crisp and crunchy, light and delicate, crumbly and sandy, cakey and tender, rich and dense, and finally, chunky and nutty. Likewise, the recipe index in the very back is alphabetized by cookie with a picture of each one for easy reference.

I wish I had the time (and calorie allowance) to make and test each and every cookie, but rest assure I have given it the old college try! It’s great to have one consolidated source to find a recipes for chocolate chip cookies identified as crisp, chewy, or cakey. After all, some days you prefer one type to another!

If you don’t own your own copy to savor, keep an eye out for this magazine next fall. A complete cookie guide is a must-have for every home baker!

What are your favorite cookbooks? I hope you’ll share the titles below!