Saturday, February 28, 2015

Chi-town challenge

Dear Kristin,

Thank you for the wonderful kitchen gadgets you gave me for Christmas. Having the right tools always makes a job so much easier. I found the bench scraper a real help when it came to chopping up bread dough for my version of chopping block bread. The little hand mitten tweezers are great for removing sun-dried tomatoes from the jar, and the kitchen shears (which you gave me previously) are wonderful when it comes to cutting salami into bite-sized pieces. So, as you can see, I am making good use of the gifts you sent!

Oh - but wait - did I say chopping block bread? Yes - the manna from heaven that you used to get from Mariano's in Chicago. We had it a number of times, and I'm so sad that there is no place up here in Rochester that makes anything similar. I miss it so much, in fact, that I decided to try & come up with a version that can be made by a humble home cook such as myself. It took a couple of tries, but the recipe that follows is pretty close. The beauty of this bread-y goodness is that you can change the toppings pretty freely - I've used salami & sun-dried tomatoes, but you could easily go more Mediterranean and use olives with feta, or maybe you could come up with a sweeter version with apples or raisins or cranberries and nuts - I think the basic dough will work well with either a sweet or savory finish. If going the sweet route, simply eliminate the Parmesan cheese from the dough recipe.

So here's the challenge - while I'm so happy to have you back in New York State, I must admit that there are some things I truly miss about Chicago. Not surprisingly, most of my fondest memories of Chicago are food-related, such as:

Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder
Pequod's Pizza

I came up with the bread course for a Chi-town inspired dinner - I challenge you to come up with another course. Here's a hint - I would absolutely die for some of RoseAngelis' Italian Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce. Is there something that you truly miss from your days in Chicago? See if you can't come up with a home-version of one of your Windy-City favorites.

A word about the chopping block bread dough - this recipe is very loosely based on a recipe for one hour pan rolls found in "The Red Star Centennial Bread Sampler" - a promotional book published by Red Star way back in 1981. That was evidently before the rise (pardon the pun) of the bread machine, so I adapted the recipe to work in my machine. Warning - this just barely fits in my 1 1/2 loaf capacity machine - if yours is smaller you might have to trim the recipe in half.

chopping block bread

for the bread:

4 c. flour
2 pkg. instant dry yeast
2 Tblsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary (or Italian seasoning)
1 tsp. salt
1 c. milk
1/2 c. water
2 Tblsp. butter
1 egg
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese

for the topping:

1/4 c. butter
3 cloves (or more to taste) minced garlic
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese
6-8 slices good quality hard salami, cut into 1" squares
1/3 c. sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped and patted dry

Place ingredients for the bread into your bread machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. Use dough setting for 1 1/2 lb. loaf.

During the last 10 minutes of the bread machine cycle, saute the garlic in 1/4 c. butter until fragrant.

Remove dough from the bread machine after the cycle has finished. Knead on a lightly floured surface about 10 times. Use a bench scraper to cut the dough into small (about 1" square) pillows. Arrange pillows on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a large rectangle, allowing the sides of the pillows to touch. Generously brush the top of the bread with the garlic butter. Scatter the salami and sun-dried tomatoes over the top of the bread. Lightly tuck the salami and tomatoes down into the spaces between the pillows. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese.

Let dough rise in a warm place for 20-30 minutes.

Bake at 375 F. for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned and dough sounds hollow when tapped.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

lazy eggs

Dear Mom,

Christmas was an especially lazy holiday for us this year.  For the past 8 years while living in Chicago, John and I would pack up the Honda-sleigh with Christmas gifts and the pup and cross the winter wonderland of Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania towards either Pittsburgh (John's hometown) or Rochester.  This year, between moving to New York and just a generally crazy year, we opted to stay in NY sans parents and siblings.  While at first this sounded great, we would sleep in as late as we wanted, veg in our PJs and eat what ever we wanted, when the day actually came after the presents were opened we found ourselves drumming our fingers and wondering what to do.  There is surprisingly little good TV on on Christmas day.  The day did start out pretty strong for us though, we had the traditional Christmas Breakfast Casserole and then opened presents, which got us to about 11am.  Then, due to a miscalculation of preparing dinner the night before, the boredom set in.  Next year we'll be heading back out for the holidays for sure.

breakfast casserole
(This doesn't have to be made on Christmas of course, but it works out quite well for that particular holiday because you have to prep it the night before and let it sit in the fridge over night.  Then in the morning it has to sit on the counter for an hour and then in the oven for an hour, so you can open presents in the two hours while its resting/cooking.)

1 lb. breakfast sausage
12 pieces of white bread, cubed with crusts removed
1-1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (not pre-shredded)
9 eggs
3 cups 2% milk
1-1/2 tsp. dry mustard
salt and pepper

Spray a 9x17 glass or ceramic casserole.  Brown the breakfast sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Remove sausage to a plate to cool.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs, milk, dry mustard and salt and pepper together.

In a large bowl toss together bread, cheese and cooled sausage.  Pour egg mixture over bread mixture and fold gently until combined.  Pour mixture into prepared casserole, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night. 

In the morning, remove the casserole from the refrigerator and let it sit on the kitchen counter for 1 hour.  Preheat the oven to 350, and bake the casserole for 1 hour, until browned on top. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

all gussied up

Dear Kristin,

When we were little we used to get brand new outfits for all of the holidays. Easter dresses, Christmas dresses, shoes to match - and oh, yes we even had to wear little white gloves! Why anyone ever thought that putting white gloves on a 4 year old was a good idea, I'll never know. I remember my favorite Christmas dress was one that actually changed color! Somehow, the fabric would appear to be a really pretty forest green if you looked at it one way, and a dark royal blue if you looked at it another way. It had little white satin roses at the collar. The problem was finding shoes to match, I think I ended up with black patent leather Maryjane's. (I wonder how many pairs of those I went through - either wearing them out or out-growing them, I know I must have had at least 3 or 4 pairs by the time I was 5 years old).

Well, those days are long gone. Nowadays, if we get out of our pajamas on Christmas day we have accomplished quite a bit. But, do not fret! Instead of dressing ourselves up, we have evolved and now have taken to dressing up our holiday meals instead. We used to just dress up the holiday ham - putting pineapple rings, maraschino cherries & cloves in a diamond pattern before baking it - but that was as fancy as our food ever got. But there is a whole world of food waiting to join the fashionistas...

Take the lowly cranberry. We usually see it in a gelatinous wobbly mold at Thanksgiving, or studded into various cookies or muffins. I say it's time for cranberries to shine and go for the glory they deserve! So, here is a way to gussy up your cranberries, and make a dessert that is as impressive to look at as it is to eat. Tart, jewel-like cranberries atop a light sweet cake base. This will be sure to earn you a "wow" as you sit back and enjoy your holiday dessert in your Dr. Denton's.

cranberry upside-down cake


5 Tblsp. unsalted butter
2/3 c. light brown sugar
2 1/4 - 2 1/2 c. fresh cranberries (about 8 oz.)


1 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. granulated white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 c. milk (room temperature)
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon


Butter a 9" round cake pan (I use a deep-dish 9" pie dish)

Heat the butter and brown sugar in a saucepan until butter is melted and sugar has dissolved. Continue cooking until the mixture starts to caramelize, about two minutes. Remove from the heat and pour this into your prepared cake pan. Sprinkle evenly with the cranberries. Try to use as many cranberries as you can, nestling them all nice and snug.


Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar until light & fluffy. Beat in the vanilla. Add egg yolks and beat until incorporated. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. (flour, milk, flour, milk, flour)

In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they hold a firm peak. Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter using a large spatula. Pour the batter into the cake pan on top of the cranberries. Smooth the top and tap the pan on the counter to get rid of air bubbles. Bake in a 350 F. oven for 35-40 minutes until top of cake is browned & begins to pull away from the side of the pan and a cake tester tests done.

Remove the cake from the oven and let cool on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan. Take your serving plate and invert it on top of the cake. Hold your breath and invert the cake onto the serving plate. Tapping the pan will help loosen the cake if you need to.

This cake is best served warm, with some whipped cream.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

starch, cheese and fat

Dear Mom,

Well fall here in New York has been beautiful.  Nicer than Chicago I think.  We have mountains and hills here that are currently covered in the most lovely colors of fall foilage, unlike Chicago's remarkably flat, wind-swept terrain.  I've actually been able to get out to the park a couple of times for a run, which is truly enjoyable between the cool, refreshing air and the colors.  As you would expect though, the only reason I work-out is to eat, and as the weather turns colder its time for more starch, cheese and fat.  We have to bulk up for the winter you know.  A great way to get these items into your system is of course lasagna, but if you're not feeling up to the task this dish is slightly easier to put together and will still satisfy you in the cold winter months.

baked sausage rigatoni with home-made gravy

1 lb. dried rigatoni (cooked according to package directions)

3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. italian sausage, crumbled
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
3 tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup white wine
1 28 oz. can plum tomatoes (no salt added)
salt, to taste

1/2 cup parmesan
1/2 cup ricotta
1 cup shredded mozzerella

Preheat oven to 350.

Over medium-high heat in a sauce pan brown the sausage in the olive oil.  Remove to a bowl and set aside.  In the same pan (adding extra oil if necessary) add the garlic and onion.  Cook until fragrant and slightly browned.  Add tomato paste and cook until it is a dark red color.  Add white wine scraping the browned bits up from the bottom.  Cook wine until slightly reduced.  Add can of plum tomatoes mashing with a potato masher into the saucepan.  Adjust seasoning and cook over medium to medium-low heat for 1/2 hour.

In a large bowl toss the pasta with 2-3 cups of the sauce.  Layer 1/2 the pasta/sauce mixture into a 9x13 glass dish.  In an even layer sprinkle the sausage, parmesan and dollops of ricotta cheese.  Ladle about 2 cups of sauce on top.  Top with remaining pasta and sauce.  Sprinkle mozzerella over the top and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes until cheese is bubbly and brown.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

a break from burgers

Dear Kristin,

Yes, I'm also guilty of just kicking back and taking it easy over the summer. Especially now since your dad has retired & does most of the cooking during the week. (Yes, I did marry the world's most wonderful guy!). We have been doing a lot of grilling this summer - especially after we discovered the sausages at Skip's Meat Market which is only a short drive from us. Their chicken taco sausage is my fave.

After a summer of all-American hamburgers & sausages I thought I'd venture out & try something a little different. I was looking for the chicken dish served in many Chinese restaurants that comes in a brown salty sweet sauce & discovered that what I was probably looking for was called Bourbon Chicken. Evidently, it is a Cajun inspired Chinese dish that originated in New Orleans & is named after the famous Bourbon Street. So, don't be fooled - there is no bourbon to be found in this recipe. (Sorry if I disappointed you!)

Anyways, this is a quick dish to put together & your dad & I both love it served with some fried rice & a couple of spring rolls on the side. I based this recipe on one I found at, but as always, I couldn't leave it alone & had to make some changes.

bourbon chicken

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into 1" pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 to 3/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, depending on your tolerance
1/2 c. apple juice
2/3 c. light brown sugar
4 Tblsp. ketchup
2 Tblsp. cider vinegar
2/3 c. reduced sodium soy sauce
2 Tblsp. corn starch mixed with 1-2 Tblsp. water to make a slurry

Brown chicken pieces in hot oil in a large skillet. Remove chicken to a warm plate & keep it warm while you prepare the sauce.

Add all remaining ingredients except the cornstarch slurry to the pan. Bring to a boil, stirring until everything is dissolved. Add the chicken back to the pan and bring mixture back to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until chicken tests done. Bring mixture back to boil & slowly add the slurry. Continue cooking 1 to 2 minutes or until sauce has thickened.

Told you it was easy!!