Tag Archives: cooking

My Brazen Attempt at a Chocolate-Raspberry Torte From Scratch


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The end result – my Chocolate-Raspberry Torte

Brazen.  That’s the perfect word to describe my attempt at making a bittersweet Chocolate Raspberry Torte… from scratch.  Well, almost.  I don’t have a chicken coop to retrieve fresh eggs from so a slight exaggeration it is.

Well, it came out LOOKING okay per above… but……..

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The kids didn’t put me up to this although my Little-Cake-Boss-Now-Dreadful-Teenager would have likely devoured it.  Alas, she is gone for a week and a half on a bus vacation with my ex.  No, I don’t know where they are – not even in which state – which is part of the secret life they lead with their mother.  So, I needed a distraction.  Besides, I owed my good neighbors an experiment a treat.  Their two youngest kids were a wonderful influence on my two little rug rats as they were growing up.

I just happened to receive two wonderful Cook’s Illustrated recipe books on a super deal and while exploring it, I came across this challenge – the Chocolate Raspberry Torte.  There you have it.  (ps The two books together weighed at least 15 pounds!)

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Putting it together can be summarized in several steps:

  1. Make the two pieces of bittersweet, flourless chocolate cake;
  2. Make the filling;
  3. Make the ganache for the chocolate glaze; and,
  4. Make the mess putting it all together.

It really wasn’t all that difficult. 🙂

While I would encourage single men trying to impress a lady to subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated (besides, there’s even a short and informative video on how to put this concoction together on their website), the ingredients were as follows:

Bittersweet, flourless chocolate cake:

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, bar or chips (I cheat – I use the chip form.  I used Ghiradelli’s. If you buy a bar, you’ll have to chop it up which is a mess no big deal.)
  • 12 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces, room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp instant expresso powder
  • 1-3/4 cups sliced almonds, lightly toasted (I forgot to do that)
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (I use MacArthur’s)
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 5 large eggs, room temperature (I forgot to take them out, too)

For the raspberry filling:

  • 1/2 cup fresh raspberries plus 16 individual raspberries for garnishing; pick the best ones for the garnishing
  • 1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam (Since my good neighbors are health conscious, I bought an organic product.  In hindsight, it wasn’t as sweet as no sugar was added.)

Chocolate Ganache Glaze:

  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, bar or chips
  • 1/2 cup plus one tbsp heavy cream

You will also need a food processor, two good quality 9″ cake pans, a wire rack, cardboard rounds for the cakes and parchment paper.

Instructions

The cake:

  • Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Grease then line bottoms of the two 9″ baking pans with parchment paper.  Grease the parchment paper then dust with flour.
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Since I don’t have a suitable bowl for this, I always use my trusty Japanese bowl.
  • While the recipe says to melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over some barely simmering water, I cheat (via Cook’s Illustrated).  I zap the chocolate chips and butter for about 1-1/2 minutes at 50% power.  Stop when the chips pretty much lose their shape but don’t overheat.  Whisk gently and let cool 30 minutes, then add vanilla extract and espresso powder.  Whisk gently again.
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Whisking the melted chocolate and butter.  Cool for 30 minutes before adding extract and espresso powder.
  • Process 3/4 cup almonds in food processor until coarsely chopped, six to eight 1-second pulses; set aside to garnish cake.
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Coarsely chopped sliced almonds. Remember to toast!
  • Process remaining cup almonds until very finely ground, about 45 seconds. Add flour and salt and continue to process until combined, about 15 seconds. Transfer almond-flour mixture to medium bowl.
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Ground almond slivers after flour and salt added.
  • Process eggs in now-empty food processor until lightened in color and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. With processor running, slowly add sugar until thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds.
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Before.
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The five eggs after three minutes. Remember to use room temperature eggs!
  • Using whisk, gently fold egg mixture into chocolate mixture until some streaks of egg remain. Sprinkle half almond-flour mixture over chocolate-egg mixture and gently whisk until just combined. Sprinkle in remaining almond-flour mixture and gently whisk until just combined.
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After some folding of the eggs into the chocolate mixture. Note the streaks.
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Addition of first portion of the ground almonds and before whisking.
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After addition of remaining ground almonds. Frankly, I may have over-whisked it. Doing so breaks down the aerated eggs.
  • Divide batter evenly between cake pans and smooth with rubber spatula. Bake until center is firm and toothpick inserted into center comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 14 to 16 minutes.  (ps I over-baked mine as the cake pulled away from the sides.  I’m thinking my oven was too hot so I need to lower the temp next time.)
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One cake before inversion. You do not have to invert the second cake.
  • Transfer cakes to wire rack and cool completely in pan, about 30 minutes. Run paring knife around sides of cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto cardboard rounds cut same size as diameter of cake and remove parchment paper. Using wire rack, re-invert 1 cake so top side (the shiny side) faces up; slide back onto cardboard round.

The filling:

  • Place ½ cup raspberries in medium bowl and coarsely mash with fork. Stir in raspberry jam until just combined. Spread raspberry mixture onto cake layer that is top side up. Top with second cake layer, leaving it bottom side up. (Tricky!) Transfer assembled cake, still on cardboard round, to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet.
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A horrible cell phone pic; it looked much better than this. 🙂 Smooth filling to almost the edge. Placing the second cake on top of this slightly squeezes the filling out.

The glaze:

  1. Melt chocolate and cream in medium heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with 1 inch simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. (Again, I zapped it, this time for about a minute at 50%.  Don’t overzap.)  Remove from heat and gently whisk until very smooth. Pour glaze onto center of assembled cake. Use offset spatula to spread glaze evenly over top of cake, letting it flow down sides. Spread glaze along sides of cake to coat evenly. (Having one of those portable lazy Susan gizmos for cakes helps.  Besides, all men like gizmos.)
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Use an angled or offset spatula to smooth the glaze to the edges and allow to drip down. Use offset spatula to then smooth it around the sides. (Note: I inverted this top cake needlessly.)
  • Using fine-mesh strainer, sift reserved almonds to remove any fine bits. Holding bottom of cake on cardboard round with one hand, gently press sifted almonds onto cake sides with other hand. Arrange raspberries around circumference., placing one raspberry at the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions; evenly place the rest of the raspberries using the first four raspberries as a guide.  Refrigerate cake, still on rack, until glaze is set, at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
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Finished!
  • Transfer cake to serving platter, slice, and serve.

It really wasn’t that difficult… although I forgot to toast the almonds and overbaked the cakes; sorry, Brad!  But now, your lovely wife can show off her own baking skills in your kitchen since since she can now follow the recipe! (Am I in trouble now?)

By the way, this was MY dessert treat calories after this brazen effort:

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Did you know Hostess is now owned by a Mexican company?  What’s made in the US of A anymore?

 

Florentine Bars from Scratch


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My bud, Chef Cathy Thomas of Orange County, CA (link here), had posted on her website a marvelous, yummy looking dessert called “Florentine Bars”.  They are a creation of one of her culinary associates, Chef Wonyee Tom, who serves them up by the dozens at her establishment in Huntington Beach, CA called “Tomgirl Baking Co.”

The topping of dried cranberries and apricots plus sliced almonds in a cream and honey based homemade caramel mixture rests upon a wonderful buttery crust… and like all of Chef Cathy’s recipes, the recipe was detailed and easy to follow.

Even I could follow them!

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To make these, the ingredients are listed below but if you home chefs want to throw together this easy recipe, I’d encourage you to visit her webpage; there’s even a video!  (You know how men are visually minded.)

Video link: http://cathythomascooks.com/2016/02/01/tomgirl-baking-companys-florentine-bar-cookies-are-unsurpassed/

The ingredients are:

Sweet dough crust:
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (3 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1-1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
All-purpose flour for dusting parchment paper

Topping:
1-1/2 cups (5 ounces) sliced almonds (not toasted)
1/3 cup (1 ounce) diced dried apricots
1 cup (2 ounces) coarsely chopped dried cranberries
1/4 cup (1 ounce) all-purpose flour
3-1/2 ounces (7 tablespoons) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (5 ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) honey
1/4 cup (2 ounces) heavy whipping cream
Nonstick spray

Here are some steps I managed to take cellphone pics of:

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Dried cranberries and apricots with sliced almonds.

 

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Softened unsalted butter and sugar ready for the mixer and before egg and flour.  When I add the flour, I set the mixer on the lowest speed briefly until most of the flour is under control.  Otherwise, you will have a plume of flour dust.

 

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Dough in general shape of pan and before rolling out. I crease my parchment paper to mark the pan dimensions; it helps me roll it out.

 

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Ready for the 350F oven.

 

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Making the caramel mixture. You should smell the aroma!  By the way, Chef Tom recommends using a stainless steel utensil to stir but I don’t have one that’ll work.  I’m assuming the wooden spoon may give off infused flavors from dishes past?

 

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Mix in the dried fruits and nuts off heat. It does set up very quickly so move fast!

 

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I slice mine up into triangles when there’s still a smidge of warmth left. (ps I also cut off maybe 1/4″ off the sides for presentation… It may be the best part!)

 

Voila!  Great with coffee…or anytime!

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And as testament to the deliciousness, I had made it for the teachers and staff appreciation luncheon last Friday – and they asked my daughter for the recipe!

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Of course, I texted her the proper link to Cathy Thomas’ website.  You should check it out, too, and get on her email distribution!

http://cathythomascooks.com/

Happy baking!

Glazed Salmon


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My Glazed Salmon for the kids.

Those dreaded words once again echoed in my kitchen.

“Papa, can you make something different for dinner?” asked my soon-to-be-dreaded-teenager, the Little Cake Boss Diva.

Ugh… Which reminds me I am overdue for another “She’s Killing Me” story…  Actually, I have tons but you will be spared.

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Usually, there is no dinner menu for the kids when they are with me… primarily due to my Little Cake Boss Diva.  Her forte is executing her plans – a minute after she changes it.

Even then, she is late.  Always.  You can set your clock to it.  Kinda.

As my old-time buddy had come over as we planned from days ahead, I fretted over what to make that was new.  Then I recalled Stater Bros. had a sale on fresh salmon fillets so that was my first step.  I went to my cooking bible, Cook’s Illustrated, and found this recipe for “Glazed Salmon”.  After scanning the ingredients, I decided this would be it as it had soy sauce.  My son Jack will eat (almost) anything if it had soy sauce and Brooke (usually) eats what I make.

So after talking about old times with my buddy, I dashed off to the supermarket; I only needed a couple of items – like the salmon!  Unfortunately, the fillets were a tad thin; also, they weren’t of the same thickness but they had to make do (Having them the same thickness ensures the fillets cook at the same rate.).

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Ingredients:

For rub:

1 – teaspoon light brown sugar

½ – teaspoon kosher salt

¼ – teaspoon cornstarch

* * * * * *

4 – center-cut skin-on salmon fillets, 6 to 8 ounces each

Ground black pepper

1 – teaspoon vegetable oil

For Glaze:

3 – tablespoons light brown sugar

2 – tablespoons soy sauce

2 – tablespoons mirin (see note)

1 – tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 – tablespoon whole grain mustard

1 – tablespoon water

1 – teaspoon cornstarch

⅛ – teaspoon red pepper flakes

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Preheat oven to 300F.

After I rinsed off the salmon and cut off the real thin parts, I placed them skin side down on paper towels and patted them dry.  I sprinkled them flesh side up with ground black pepper then applied the rub. (Sorry, these are all cellphone pics.)

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Peppered and with rub applied. The rub has dissolved, by the way, so you can’t see it.

The glaze was next.  After mixing the ingredients together in a small sauce pot, I quickly brought it to a boil.  It quickly thickens; remove from heat and cover.  Set aside.

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Heat a non-stick skillet and oil until very hot.  Place salmon flesh side down first and brown for one minute.  Flip and brown the skin side also for one minute, then transfer carefully to a baking sheet, skin side down.  (I have the wonderful Breville Smart Convection Oven, perfect for the small meals – and desserts – I make.)

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Ready to serve!

Spoon the still warm glaze mixture liberally over the salmon, then bake in oven for 7-10 minutes.  Cook’s Illustrated says bake until an instant read thermometer reads 125F for you scientific cooks.  I did turn on the convection fan for the last three minutes.  The salmon came out wonderfully glazed and moist.

Plate and serve!

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Note: Ever notice the white stuff that oozes out from your salmon at times?  It’s from using too high a heat.  It also indicates moisture has been squeezed out of the fish.

I also transferred the browned salmon to a baking sheet as my non-sticks are not oven safe.  If you have one that is oven safe, you can just throw the skillet right into the oven.

Creamy Spaghetti Carbonara from Scratch


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My foolproof creamy Spaghetti Carbonara from scratch.

I had started out thinking this would be another “She’s Killing Me” story; it certainly qualified but this pasta dish turned out so well that it’ll just be another cooking story.  Well, not completely.

But it’s my creamy Spaghetti Carbonara.

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The kids were in Japan for over three weeks and landed at LAX at night on August 17th.  In short, the ex insisted on picking them up and keeping them for a few days.  But she decided it would behoove her to bring them to my house so she changed the schedule at 3 pm the next day.  They were dropped off at my house at 5:30 pm.  Of course, she had selfish reasons and yes, they were in la-la land from jet lag.  They slept for the most part for the first couple of days.

Seriously, I had mentioned to the kids they should have some kids over since school begins August 31st.  Jack just wanted to stay home but my Little Cake Boss Brooke…  That’s a whole ‘nuther story.

All week, between snoozes, she was asking if I would take her and her friends shopping.

“Sure but DON’T make it last minute, OK?” said I.

Just like the previous two times…  Wednesday, no plans.  Thursday, no plans.  Friday, no plans…  Then Saturday, at 3:30 pm, she says, “Can ‘J’ come over?”

I never learn.  “Sure,” I hesitatingly replied.

“…Can sheeee… eat with us,” she cunningly asked.  Never mind I had gone to the supermarket already for just the three of us.

“Oookay” I replied even more hesitatingly.

Then the whammy: “…Can sheeeeeeeee… sleepover?”

Arrrgghhh.

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So I decided to make Spaghetti Carbonara – for the first time.  I thought her friend J would give some feedback if I asked her.  So I went to Cook’s Illustrated… and the pasta dish turned out excellent if I say so myself.

The ingredients are simple and I had them in the fridge already – except for the Pecorino.  Yes, because of my Little Cake Boss, I had to make another run to the supermarket just for the cheese.  Well, actually two since the first place didn’t carry it:

  • 8 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (They’re easier to slice up if you freeze them for a bit.)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 1/2 ounces Pecorino Romano, grated (1 1/4 cups)
  • 3 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Putting it all together was a snap; their instructions are:

1. Bring bacon and water to simmer in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat; cook until water evaporates and bacon begins to sizzle, about 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until fat renders and bacon browns, 5 to 8 minutes longer.

Doing it in the above manner allows the bacon to remain chewy for the carbonara and not crisp up:

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With the water added to the bacon.
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Water’s nearly evaporated, right around eight minutes. A snap!
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Near the end of the cooking cycle. The bacon turned out as advertised! Chewy yet done and substantial.

2. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Strain bacon mixture through fine-mesh strainer set in bowl.  Set aside bacon mixture.  Measure out 1 tablespoon fat and place in medium bowl.  Whisk Pecorino, eggs and yolk, and pepper into fat until combined.

3. Meanwhile, bring 2 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven. (You use less water than normal for this dish to insure the water you will add to the sauce is real starchy.)  Set colander in large bowl.  Add spaghetti and salt to pot; cook, stirring frequently, until al dente.  Drain spaghetti in colander set in bowl, reserving cooking water.  Pour 1 cup cooking water into liquid measuring cup and discard remainder. Return spaghetti to now-empty bowl.

4. Slowly whisk ½ cup reserved cooking water into Pecorino mixture. Gradually pour Pecorino mixture over spaghetti, tossing to coat. Add bacon mixture and toss to combine. Let spaghetti rest, tossing frequently, until sauce has thickened slightly and coats spaghetti, 2 to 4 minutes, adjusting consistency with remaining reserved cooking water if needed. Serve immediately.

Voila!

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Spaghetti Carbonara, creamy and full of flavor – and not heavy!

Most of all, happy faces!

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The Little (and cunning) Little Cake Boss and her classmate friend “J”.

So give this easy and delicious dish a shot.

Someone will love it!
And by the way, they were up until 4 am.  Let me ask you moms: Why do you even call it a sleepover??!

My Shepherd’s Pie from Scratch


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My shepherd’s pie. The kids love it. They even eat the peas!

Well, my kids finally returned from Japan this past Monday; they had been gone for over three weeks.  Believe me, I didn’t like it ONE bit.  Worst part of it was my ex prevented me from emailing with them for longer than the last two weeks of their stay.  What kind of parent would do that, I ask?  There are some other irritating things about this trip – like her postponing applying for the Little Cake Boss’ passport until the last minute.  They finally picked it up from the Federal Building in Westwood two working days before their departure in late July.  No kidding.

But they are back albeit badly jet lagged; they went back to their mom’s today after a groggy week with me.  I had asked them what they would like to eat their second night back now that they are home and Jack immediately, said, “Shepherd’s Pie!”  So Shepherd’s Pie it was.

As a couple of my friends have asked me to provide them with the recipe, I thought I’d take a break from writing about my Leyte pilgrimage.  The pilgrimage was emotionally draining; it still is weighing on my heart, especially when I write about it for my family’s sake.

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On Leyte, July 2015.

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The recipe is quite easy.  I use Rachael Ray’s recipe for this one instead of my standby cooking bible, Cook’s Illustrated.  Besides, she’s as cute as a button.  (Did you know some “pro” chefs on TV don’t think she should be showing people how to cook?)

The ingredients are:

2 pounds potatoes, such as russet, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the pan
1 3/4 pounds ground beef (lean preferred for me)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup beef stock or broth
2 teaspoons Worcestershire, eyeball it
1/2 cup frozen peas, a couple of handfuls
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
For the potatoes, I use russets, about four of the potatoes found in your typical supermarket’s bulk bag.  While I wash the skin, I leave the skin on and drop them into cold water with about an inch to cover.  The reason I start with cold water is that I believe (ha) that the potatoes will cook more uniformly.  I feel that dropping them into boiling water will cook them unevenly, from the outside-in.
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Boil potatoes and remove when done.

Combine sour cream, egg yolk and cream.  Add the cream mixture into slightly mashed potatoes then mash until potatoes are almost smooth.

While potatoes boil, preheat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add oil to hot pan with beef or lamb. Season meat with salt and pepper.  Brown and crumble meat for 3 or 4 minutes.  Add chopped carrot and onion to the meat. Cook veggies with meat 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

In a second small skillet over medium heat cook butter and flour together two minutes. Whisk in broth and Worcestershire sauce. Thicken gravy one minute.  Add gravy to meat and vegetables. Stir in peas.

Preheat broiler to high. Fill a small rectangular casserole with meat and vegetable mixture. Spoon potatoes over meat evenly. Top potatoes with paprika and broil 6 to 8 inches from the heat until potatoes are evenly browned. Top casserole dish with chopped parsley and serve.
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As a side note, I do cook the carrots a bit first, then add the ground beef and onions to brown.  If still frozen, I throw the peas in for a minute before I add the gravy mixture.
Lastly, you’re not going to see the paprika and chopped parsley leaves in the picture above because… I forgot.  Old age sucks.
Enjoy!

Italian Sausage Pasta with Spinach


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My Italian Sausage Pasta with spinach.

So a number of months ago, my kids asked of me the unthinkable – again: “Papa, can you make something different?”

Jiminy Crickets.  How can 12 and 13 year old kids want something different, especially when one likes cheese only pizza and the other only pepperoni?  Trying to make something BOTH will like?  Why couldn’t they be satisfied with my culinary masterpieces (LOL) like:

  • Fettucine Alfredo with Prosciutto
  • Shepherd’s Pie
  • Spaghetti al Limone
  • Gyoza (potstickers)
  • Ma-bo Dofu (Szechuan Tofu)
  • Ham with Homemade Honey Glaze and Scalloped Potatoes
  • Enchiladas
  • CPK’s Pesto Creme Penne Pasta
  • Croquettes (コロッケ)
  • Chicken Katsu
  • Beef Teriyaki with Homemade Teriyaki Sauce
  • Spaghetti and Homemade Meatballs
  • Wilted Spinach Salad
  • Grilled Chicken with Lemon and Chive Pan Sauce
  • Burritos
  • Etc?

Let’s not even address breakfast, like my buttermilk pancakes or waffles from scratch even on school days.  Well, I didn’t milk the cow nor grew the wheat that makes the (King Arthur) flour.  I need to be honest about that.

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So I went to my trusted source.  No, not Cook’s Illustrated.  This time, my oldest daughter Robyn, who’s become quite an accomplished cook herself (She got that from me.).

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My oldest daughter’s prime rib. Yum!

I forgot from which site the recipe came from, but as soon as I said to my kids, “Robyn has a new recipe for pasta,” they said OK!

That’s the magic word, you know.  “Robyn”.  It’s never my saying I’ll make something new.

But this recipe (with a couple of modifications) is ideal for a dutch oven… and it’s easy!

  • 3/4 pound pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound mild or spicy Italian sausage
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can Swanson chicken broth
  • Fresh basil chiffonade (to your liking but I use about two stalks of fresh leaves)
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 bag fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese

Cooking:

  1. Heat a skillet (or Dutch oven)
  2. Add olive oil
  3. Brown onion until transparent
  4. Add Italian sausage.  Crumble and cook until pink is almost gone
  5. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds
  6. Add broth, basil and tomatoes with liquid
  7. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes to slightly reduce. Add chopped spinach and fresh basil
  8. Cover skillet and simmer on reduced heat until spinach is tender.

In meantime, aggressively boil your pasta (I like to use Penne or Ziti) until al dente.  Drain.

Add pasta to skillet and mix together. Sprinkle with cheese and serve immediately.

Done!

And you know what?  The kids liked it…because it was Robyn’s recipe.

Homemade Meatballs and Spaghetti Sauce


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I wanted to take a better picture but this was all the spaghetti that was left after we ate.

You must all be wondering.

What is a third generation Japanese-American doing trying to make Italian meatballs?

It’s as if you saw John Wayne behind the sushi counter asking if you want yellow tail or halibut.

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Well, the schedule has my kids staying this week for Spring Break…and they are bored.  They are so bored, they again asked, “What are we having for dinner tonight?  The same stuff, Papa?”

Egads.

Made them my killer (but now boring) Fettucine Alfredo with prosciutto and green peas Monday night and beef stroganoff yesterday night (with Jack removing every last mushroom from his plate).

From scratch.  None of this sauce out of a bottle or Hamburger Helper stuff.

So….  My son Jack seems to like meatballs for some reason.  He gets it at Subway and at this Italian restaurant in Belmont Shores.  The last time he did, I told him I’d make it.

So I did.

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Just wanted to throw in a random photo… but that pot does have the basil I keep growing for cooking use. When it’s growing good, I use it as a backdrop for my macro pics. BTW, its a picture of a picture of a picture…of chalk. 🙂

I had heard many horror stories about making meatballs.

They were hard like golf balls.

They were just round hamburgers.

So I went to my trusted cooking bible: Cook’s Illustrated.

Their recipes are the Triple T’s: tasty, tried and true and only (old) male buffoons like me can mess them up.  I’ve proven that.

But it turns out their secret ingredient was… buttermilk.  Crazy.  But it worked out wonderfully.  And you used only the egg yolk; using the whole egg does something to the texture, Cook’s Illustrated said.

The ingredients for the meatballs were:

  • 3/4 pound ground chuck (85/15 ground beef can be substituted)
  • 1/4 pound ground pork
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • Two slices white bread (with the crusts cut off) cut into small cubes
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano (my preference)
  • One minced garlic clove
  • Two tbsp minced parsley (I used the broad leaf Italian parsley to make up for my being Japanese-American)
  • One egg yolk
  • 3/4 tsp table salt
  • Pepper to taste

The ingredients for the spaghetti sauce were:

  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • One minced garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, pepper
  • 2 tbsp minced basil
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My rolled meatballs. In hindsight, they should have been a bit bigger… and if you’re wondering what the cardboard egg carton is for, it’s a great (disposable) way to drain your fried foods.

For the meatballs:

  1. Soak the bread in the buttermilk for 10 minutes, crushing the bread occasionally to break it down.  Do not drain.
  2. Combine all the meatball ingredients in large bowl.  (I slice through the mixture using a fork to bring it all together rather than using my hand to mix it.  Keeps the mixture loose.)
  3. Form meatballs (without compressing) about 1-1/2 inches in diameter, rolling mixture in hands.  Set aside.  Complete for remaining mixture.
  4. Heat 1/4″ vegetable oil in 10″ skillet.  (I don’t recommend non-stick.)
  5. Carefully drop meatballs one by one into oil; they should sizzle.  If your skillet is big enough, you may be able to do them in one batch.
  6. Adjusting the flame, keep them sizzling while making sure ALL sides are browned.  Perhaps ten minutes. (I made the mistake of having the heat too high and the meatballs too small.)
  7. Drain.

For the spaghetti sauce:

  1. Drain the oil from the skillet.  Return to range.  Pat away most of the oil BUT leave all the yummy crusty stuff on the bottom.
  2. Heat then pour in about a couple tablespoons olive oil and garlic.  Scrape up all the crusties on the bottom as best you can. Do not burn garlic; no more than 30 seconds.
  3. Carefully pour in the crushed tomatoes.  Continue to scrape up remaining crusties then bring to boil.
  4. Turn down heat then simmer for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add basil and meatballs then simmer for five more minutes.
  6. Adjust seasoning.

They suggested reserving a 1/4 cup of the pasta water.  After draining the al dente spaghetti¹ and returning it to the pot, add back the pasta water and a couple of ladles of the sauce.

Coat then portion out your spaghetti from the still warm pot onto dishes.  Pour a bit more sauce onto pasta, top with three meatballs.  Your kiddies can add Parmesan Reggiano to their liking.

Bon Appetit!

(No, I am not Julia Child.  You are sadly mistaken.)

Note 1: Use ample water; I use more than a gallon for a pound of pasta.  Also add one tablespoon salt immediately before adding pasta.  Stir to make sure they don’t stick together then cover to bring back to boil as soon as you can.  Uncover then rigorously boil for recommended time for al dente.