Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Scallop Risotto & Breaking the Bank

For those of you who have been paying attention, and a few of you have, the recipes for October have been especially frugal. Times are tough and Crabby feels your pain, so I've tried to make some meals and side dishes that won't break what little is left of your bank.

Good news: the market was way up yesterday.

Bad news: I'm spending it all.

Today we're going to open up the wallet a little bit. Crabby had a birthday a while back, and Crabby doesn't roll cheap on his big day. But I didn't want to go completely AIG executive on you, so only part of this meal is expensive. A substitution here or there and this gets to be a very inexpensive meal.

Today's recipe is Scallop Risotto. Before I get into the details, there are some risotto ground rules we need to establish. Risotto is not hard to make but it does require your undivided attention or the attention of a dedicated helper.

There are some people who say you don't have to constantly stir risotto, they are wrong. There are some people who say you can 1/2 prepare risotto ahead of time and then finish it off later, they are idiots. There are some people that say you can prep risotto and then finish any other cooking while it sits on the stove top, these people are beneath contempt.

Risotto is time consuming for 25 minutes. You will need a helper/stirrer to make the timing work with the scallops. The result can be, should be transcendent. So don't be scared, don't be lazy, otherwise you'll never get to enjoy...

Scallop Risotto
by Crabby, Biba Caggiano, Lidia Bastianich, Giada De Laurentiis or any other decent Italian Cookbook


2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli Rice
7 cups of low sodium Fish, Chicken or Vegetable Broth
4 TBSP unsalted butter
3/4 cup finely minced onion
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese

1 Helper/Stirrer

Heat the broth in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat.

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened and a pale yellow color, approximately 5 minutes.

Add the rice and stir constantly for 1 minute, making sure to fully incorporate the rice with the onion.

Stir in the wine and keep stirring until it is almost entirely evaporated.

Now add 1/2 cup of the warm broth and stir to incorporate, (Note: Your typical home ladle measures out a 1/2 cup). Stir constantly but gently. You are trying to fully cover the rice with each ladle of broth, not turn it into some puree of rice.

After the broth is nearly evaporated, add another 1/2 cup of liquid. Stir constantly but gently, (you got it yet?). Repeat this process until you have incorporated 6 cups of the broth, this should take approximately 15 - 20 minutes. The risotto will take on a creamy texture but still have an "al dente" texture.

NOTE: After you have mixed in 4 cups of broth check the risotto for seasoning. Depending on how salty your broth is, you may need to adjust the seasoning at this point. DO NOT add too much salt, the Parmigiano finish is somewhat salty.

When your last addition of broth is almost evaporated add the last tablespoon of butter and the Parmagiano. Adjust the seasoning.

Pan Seared Scallops
by Crabby

12 large Dry Pack Sea Scallops (about 3 per diner), cleaned and tendons removed
1 1/2 TBSP Grapeseed Oil
1 1/2 TBSP Unsalted Butter
Salt & Pepper
1 Additional TBSP Butter
Fresh Chopped Flat-Leaf Parsley (for garnish)

With about 6 ladles remaining in the risotto process hand off the ladling and stirring to your helper and heat a large saute pan over high heat. When the pan is hot add the grapeseed oil and butter. If you have a stove hood, turn it on.

Salt and pepper the scallops.

As the foaming of the butter subsides, add the scallops making sure not to crowd the pan, if necessary, work in batches. Step away from the pan a take on a worried look as you watch someone else stir your risotto.

After 45 seconds, approach the pan and using tongs turn the scallops over. If your pan was hot enough and if you didn't pester the scallops after putting them into the pan, they should have a very nice brown crusty appearance, (if they aren't brown enough for you, allow then to cook 30 more seconds before turning).

After 45 seconds remove the scallops from the pan to a waiting plate and repeat the cooking process with any remaining scallops, (Note: It's unlikely, but you may need to add some oil and butter to the pan before cooking the second batch, please make sure that the pan is hot before cooking the remaining scallops).

Remove the last scallops and turn heat to medium, add 1 cup of the broth being used for the risotto to the scallop pan and bring to a boil. Scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add 1 TBSP of butter and stir to incorporate; remove pan from heat.

Place a scoop of risotto in a bowl, place 3 scallops atop the risotto, spoon on a tablespoon of the deglazing liquid from the scallop pan and sprinkle the bowl with some chopped parsley.

Serve. Eat. Drink. Be Merry. Sing Happy Birthday.

Another garnish suggestion, if you have a bottle of champagne sitting around, drizzle a small amount around the edge of each serving. The bite of the bubbles adds a little something to the meal.

OK crablings, we blew up the budget today, but only for the cost of the fish. You can just as easily make this meal with vegetables and a little pancetta, or shrimp and a couple of diced tomatoes, but no matter how you make risotto, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Garlic Mashed Potatoes - Thanksgiving Prep #2

A food I don't understand is Poi. My college roommate was born and raised in Hawaii, (no, his name doesn't start with Barack O), so he was always receiving CARE packages from home filled with bizarre and exotic foods. One of those foods was poi.

Poi is crushed, cooked taro root that when "properly" prepared forms a thin gruel. It's typically purple in color and is basically liquefied starch. The taste is commonly described as something close to glue or paste. I think the Elmer's people should file for an injunction; there is no way poi tastes as good as Elmer's glue.

Besides poi, my roommate introduced me to sashimi and sushi long before it became the ubiquitous presence it now is. I returned the favor by bringing him home for Thanksgiving every year. One of his favorite dishes was my mother's mashed potatoes. He loved them because they were "lumpy". To him lumpy mashed potatoes were good, it meant finding small bits of potato that you could actually identify and not just some over-processed paste.

So, with thanks to my mom, here's my recipe for Thanksgiving potatoes. I've added some roasted garlic to the basic recipe, but there isn't a ricer or hand mixer in sight. The mashed taters are a little chunky, but if you don't like that, then process them to your specifications. Enjoy...

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
by Bune and Crabby

Roast Garlic

2 heads of garlic
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the bottom 1/4" off the garlic heads, (you want to cut enough off of the base to expose all the garlic cloves). Sprinkle the water on a sheet of aluminum foil. Place both garlic heads, cut side down, onto the foil. Sprinkle with the olive oil. Close the sides of the foil, forming it into a loose pouch.

Place the pouch on a baking sheet and bake for 60 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool (while still sealed) for 30 minutes. When removing the garlic heads, you may want a spatula on hand to help lift any stray cloves from the foil. Squeeze the heads into a medium sized bowl. Remove any garlic paper that drops into the bowl. Mash with a fork.

Set aside. This step may be done 1 to 2 days ahead.

Mashed Potatoes

1 pound russet or Yukon gold potatoes peeled and roughly diced
3 TBSP Butter
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup cream

Place diced potatoes into a large pot. Fill with cold water to just cover the potatoes. Add a generous pinch of salt.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover the pot and cook for 15 - 25 minutes. Note: The cooking time will vary based on the amount of potatoes you're cooking and the size of the diced chunks. The bigger the chunk or greater the amount of potatoes, the longer the cooking time. The potatoes are done when they are tender and crumble when pierced by a fork.

Remove from heat and drain the water. Return to the stove top and allow to cool slightly (about 3 minutes) with the lid off. Add the butter and start mashing, stir the mashed contents from time to time. When the butter is melted and incorporated, stir in the milk and cream.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Add the roast garlic and mix thoroughly into the potatoes.


Note: It's up to you to decide how smooth you want your potatoes. It's up to you to decide if you want more or less butter, or more or less milk and cream. These are the personal preferences that make this side dish your own. Play with it.

Other Notes: Bring the roast garlic to room temperature before incorporating. Also, if you remember, slowly warm the milk, cream and butter before adding to the mash.

OK, crablings, remember these are my ratios, they may not be yours. You may like things drier or moister. Also, there will be visible bits of roast garlic in the mash, (as you can see from the photo), this only adds to the homemade rustic nature of the dish. Relax, the taste is worth it.

Until next time, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gnocchi alla Romana & ESL






Back before your BFF stole your BF, before we worried about WWJD or you "went postal" because your neighbor was all NIMBY about you wanting to put your car up on blocks, we all tried to go KISS by using actual words to converse.

If you've seen a teenager's cell phone lately then you realize that those days are long gone. Today reading a text message is akin to rummaging through the aftermath of an explosion at the alphabet soup factory. CC1 and 2's thumbs fly across the keypads of their phones only to result in messages that look more Cyrillic than English.

I know I sound old, but is it too much to ask what happened to vowels? I understand that language evolves and changes on a regular basis, I'm just trying to figure out when dictionaries were taken over by the publishing house of Dyslexia & Aphasia.

Alright, alright, put on a sweater and have some tea old crab. Besides it's not like you don't change recipes to suit your needs.

You're right. I do change recipes all the time, but I like to think that the result still vaguely resembles the original.


OK, here's a recipe that falls into that category. It's from my favorite future girlfriend, Giada De Laurentiis. Gnocchi alla Romana is a baked side dish that's somewhat involved but not difficult. And it certainly doesn't look like your typical gnocchi dish. It's a good example of WYSIWYG, so enjoy...

Gnocchi alla Romana
by Giada De Laurentiis

3 cups low sodium chicken stock
3/4 semolina flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 TBSP unsalted butter
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Lightly oil a small baking sheet. Beat the egg in a large bowl.

Whisk the stock, semolina flour, and salt in a heavy medium-sized saucepan over medium heat until the mixture bubbles and is very thick (about 10 minutes). Don't walk away - hover over the pot and whisk constantly!

Using a wooden spoon, gradually beat the hot semolina mixture into the egg.

Transfer the gnocchi mixture to the prepared baking sheet, spreading it to form a 1/2 inch thick layer. Move quickly as the dough gets stiff as it cools. Refrigerate until the gnocchi mixture is cold and firm, about 1 hour, or longer if you need to.

Preheat the broiler. Generously butter (2 TBSP) a 10 inch diameter baking dish. Using a 2 inch diameter cookie cutter, cut out rounds from the gnocchi slab.

Arrange the gnocchi rounds in the prepared baking/gratin dish, overlapping the rounds slightly. (the key is to only slightly overlap the gnocchi - you're trying to maximize surface area without giving up presentation factor. Also if you overlap too much the covered parts of the gnocchi can get a little soggy/gummy)

Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and brush over the arranged gnocchi. (You can prepare the gnocchi ahead of time up to this point and refrigerate.) Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and pepper.

Broil until the gnocchi are heated through and golden brown, about 6 minutes.

Voila! A moderately easy recipe that does require a little work and wait, but it's a nice change from the traditional approach. You can serve this as a side dish, or maybe as a first course if you add a little sauce to it. Oh, one more thing, this is the kind of dish that only gets better with a little more melted/crispy cheese, so I always recommend putting on more grated Parm before the broiling starts.

OK crablings, that's it for today, remember U can do it U can cook; C U L8R.

BF Boyfriend
BFF Best Friend Forever
C U L8R See you later
ESL English as Second Language
HRU How are you
KISS Keep it simple, stupid
NIMBY Not in my back yard
ROTFL Rolling on the floor laughing
U C SNL You see Saturday Night Live
WH What's happening
WTF What the heck * Replace heck with four letter word beginning with "f"
WWJD What would Jesus do
WYSIWYG What you see is what you get

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tomato Tree - Day 140, C'est Fini

Revenge is a dish best served cold.*

An unearthly creak.

It had to happen. Mother Nature waits for no man. Three frost warnings and a final night with a low of 30 degrees.

A muted thud.

I picked one last vaguely ripe tomato, the other three we'll try the brown paper bag approach with. I'm not optimistic.

A whispered groan.

The tomato tree experiment is over. It did OK, as Ceres predicted, it produced a lot of small fruit. The tomatoes did show up a little earlier than the "normal" approach, but only by a week. I'm not sure it was worth worrying about crashing stands or blossom end rot, but it certainly was worth a few blog posts.

Sooner or later you have to pay the piper.

So let's drop the curtain on this episode and bid a fond farewell to our Tomato Tree Stand. I don't know if it will be back next year or not; probably by next spring I'll be willing to give it another try, tune in and see.

*Crabby Quiz: Identify the source of the opening line along with it's author. Hint: It was not Ricardo Montalban in the Start Trek Movie, Wrath of Khan.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pot Roast Italiano (Marinata di Carne in Zuppetta) and The Obvious Solution

I have solved the credit crisis!!!

Well, not exactly solved the it, but I have come up with the perfect solution to all our new found poverty. For a limited time only, CrabbyCook will provide you with the answers on how to get by with less.

How Crabby, how? Tell us! Tell us please!!!

The answer is so obvious, so simple that you're all going to slap your foreheads and say "My God, why didn't I think of that?" When you need to have your DVD player set up, who do you got to? Why a 10-old male of course. When you have trouble understanding how to work your cell phone or computer, who do you go to? Who else but a teenager.

Thanks to all those bankers, those so called "Mess-ters of the Universe", we are tumbling into the abyss of the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression. So who should we turn to in this time of need? Who can best tell us how to get by in these tough times?

Who else but the people who made it through the last Great Depression. That's right, starting immediately, I'll be searching for survivors of the Great Depression to become part of CrabbyCook's Grumpy Geezers Depression Survival SWAT Team.

For a shockingly large fee you'll be allowed access to my team of experts who'll regale you, repeatedly, with stories of selling apples, riding the rails, making your own soap and fighting "Gerry". You'll get tips on making tomato soup using hot water and ketchup; you'll learn the words to "Buddy Can You Spare a Dime?"; and if you act now, as a special bonus, we'll include a DVD on how to properly shake your fist at teenagers who are driving too fast.

This is a limited time offer, given that most of my staff is into their late 80-'s and 90's, it's a very limited time. So act now. Don't delay, operators are standing by, though they probably can't hear the phone ringing (I admit there are still a few bugs to work out, but the idea is solid).

While I'm getting all the kinks worked out, here's an updated recipe for an old standby, pot roast. I admit the recipe is a bit fussy, but the result is worth it. When I served this everyone loved the layers and combination of flavors. Enjoy...

Pot Roast Italiano (Marinata di Carne in Zuppetta)

from La Cucina Italiana, June 2008, re-written to be usable by CrabbyC.

1 2lb. chuck roast
1 bottle (750ml) red wine
Salt & Pepper
7 TBSP Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth (plus 14 oz. can in reserve)
1 cup dry white wine
4 fresh oregano sprigs
2 bay leaves
3 TBSP chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
1 pound Tuscan Kale (hard to find) or dinosaur kale, savoy cabbage or Swiss chard
1 TBSP unsalted Butter
1 1/4 pounds fresh Porcini mushrooms (good luck finding those - I used dried)
1 small onion sliced
1 TBSP finely chopped fresh mint
1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
4 - 6 slices country-style bread, lightly toasted

Place roast in a large bowl, add red wine. Cover and chill at least 8 hours and preferably overnight.

Thirty minutes before cooking, remove pot roast from refrigerator and pat dry.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl combine 4 TBSP olive oil with the parsley, 1 tsp of the chopped garlic and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

In a large saucepan combine the broth, white wine, 2 oregano sprigs and bay leaves. Bring to a rolling simmer.

While liquids are warming, heat 1 TBSP of olive oil in a Dutch Oven (Le Creuset) over medium high heat. When oil is hot, brown roast on all sides,(this should take approximately 10 - 12 minutes total). When browned, remove roast from dutch oven and drain off excess fat.

Return roast to dutch oven, pour the simmering liquids over the roast, cover and place in oven. Braise roast until tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Turn roast over halfway through cooking time.

While roast is braising, clean and prep kale. Remove the center ribs and stems and chop leaves into thirds. This is a time consuming process, (unless you're using Savoy cabbage, but the kale adds a slightly bitter bite to the meal that the cabbage won't provide). Set aside kale and wait for the roast to finish.

After 2 1/2 hours, transfer dutch oven to the stove top. Remove the roast from the dutch oven and cover with aluminum foil. Bring the broth/juices mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the kale and cook until just tender, 4- 5 minutes. Remove kale while retaining as much broth as possible.

WARNING: You may need to add the reserved can of vegetable broth after cooking the kale. When I prepped this meal there just wasn't enough broth left for proper presentation.

In a large saute pan, heat 1 TBSP olive oil and 1 TBSP butter. Add 1/2 tsp of garlic and quickly saute, add the kale and cook for 3 - 5 minutes. Transfer kale to a large plate.

Remove the leaves from the remaining 2 sprigs of oregano and roughly chop. Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, add the garlic, oregano, mushrooms, onion, mint and thyme, stir and cook for 5 minutes. (If you are using fresh porcini, add the garlic to the oil, then add the sliced mushrooms and onion, cooking until the mushrooms have given up all their liquid then add the herbs). Add the cooked mushroom mixture to the broth.

Place a slice of the toasted bread in the bottom of a soup bowl. Add some of the sauteed kale. Top with a portion of the pot roast. Drizzle with the garlic-parsley olive oil. Pour in a ladle of the mushroom-broth mixture. Serve.

Crabby Tip: Prep all the bowls up to the point of the broth and transfer the plates to the table. Bring a pot with the mushroom-broth mixture to the table and ladle there. This serves two purposes. One, there's a certain wow! factor to ladling table side. Two, if you ladle in the kitchen, the toast rounds will suck up all the broth before you get to the table, thus eliminating any chance of wow! factor.

OK, I know, a lot of little steps, which drives me nuts. It's not your grandma's pot roast, but it tastes great and adds a little something to an often overlooked meal. You can do this crablings, it's fussy, a little involved, but it's also cheap; remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Gravy - The Nectar of The Gods

I was not always the culinary crab you now read before you. Like most male cooks, I first chose to master the techniques of immolating animal flesh over open flame. From the grill I moved onto mastering chili. There, I took to incinerating taste buds by following the time honored tradition of substituting heat for flavor, (to this day, I detest most spicy foods, not for their heat, but because too often excessive heat betrays a complete lack of cooking skill).

The time had come to seek out professional help. I started taking cooking classes. Fish classes, grilling classes, Italian classes, Chinese classes, all with mixed results. It wasn't until I took a 5 session class called "How to Boil Water", that light finally started to dawn on Marblehead. Week 1 - Vegetables, Week 2 - Stocks & Soup, Week 3 - Fish, Week 4 - Meat & Poultry, Week 5 - Put It All Together.

It was in this class that I finally learned the basics of that most mysterious of dishes - gravy. As far as I'm concerned, Thanksgiving is entirely about gravy. The turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing are merely conduits for transporting gravy to your stomach. A pox on your house if you put sausage or, God save me, oysters in your stuffing. If it can't absorb gravy, it better not be in the stuffing.

Gravy is about melding roasted flavors into a savory sauce that enhances and amplifies everything it touches (including fingers). Gravy can be touchy, but once you begin to master it, a whole new world of taste possibilities opens up. But this will require practice, which is why I'm giving you this recipe now so that you can try it a few times before Thanksgiving. Gravy is not a precise recipe, it's more of a technique that you will get better at the more you try it, so here goes...

Gravy 101
from "How to Boil Water" @ Cooks of Crocus Hill

This recipe is for basic Turkey Gravy.

1 15 lb. Turkey
2/3 cup onion roughly chopped
1/3 cup carrots, roughly chopped
1/3 cup celery, roughly chopped
32 ounces, no-salt/low salt chicken or turkey stock/broth
1 14 1/2 oz can of chicken stock (on standby, for thinning purposes)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Salt & Pepper

Scatter the onion, celery and carrots in the bottom of a roasting pan, (a good old fashioned, heavy-bottomed roasting pan, gravy is much more difficult to accomplish if you're using a disposable roasting pan). Place a roasting rack inside the pan atop the vegetables. Put the cleaned, towel dried turkey on top of the rack. Drizzle 2 TBSP melted butter over the Turkey. Roast until done; I use Alton Brown's approach.

While the turkey is roasting, pour 32 ounces of chicken/turkey stock into a saucepan and warm over low heat.


NOTE 2: If you don't have 32 ounces of homemade stock (a post for another day), then, by far my favorite box stock is Kitchen Basics Unsalted Chicken Cooking Stock. If you can't find that, then go for Swanson's Low-Sodium Chicken Broth. The key is to go for the lowest sodium broth/stock you can find.

When the bird is done, remove from the oven and transfer to a cutting board and lightly cover with aluminum foil. SAVE THE PAN DRIPPINGS!.

NOTE 3: The vegetables will most likely looked burned black and swimming in turkey fat and juices. GOOD!!!

Pour the vegetables, fat and juices into a large measuring cup or fat separator and return the roasting pan to the stove top. Spoon back into the pan as many of the vegetables as you can get. Allow the fat to rise to the top (approximately 2 minutes) of the measuring cup or separator. Slowly pour the collected juices into the saucepan containing the warm broth, stopping before any fat enters the stock. Save this fat!

Turn heat to medium-high under the roasting pan and sprinkle 1/3 cup of flour over the vegetables. Add 1/8 cup of fat to the mixture and start whisking the ingredients together. If there is excess fat still in the roasting pan then add another 1/8 of a cup of flour and mix to absorb. You want the vegetables and flour to congeal into small blobs without any extra fat floating around.
(NOTE 4: This is the most difficult part of the process and the one that requires the most judgement and practice.)

Conversely, you don't want the roux to be too dry with unabsorbed flour flying around, if that happens then add a small amount of fat (if you don't have enough turkey fat, substitute some butter). Cook the roux for 3 minutes, if you don't cook the roux long enough your gravy will have a starchy taste and will get lumpy.

Now, with whisk in hand, quickly add the hot chicken stock, and whisk constantly. Keep whisking until the clumps of roux have all dissolved. Boil gravy for 1 minute, as the gravy boils it will begin to thicken.

NOTE 5: REMEMBER: THE GRAVY WILL THICKEN AS IT COOLS!. So if the gravy is too thick, add some additional chicken stock (from that 14 oz. can in the ingredient list - I know it's cold, but at this stage texture and consistency is the main concern) to thin it out.

Pour the gravy through a strainer into a large saucepan and keep warm over low heat until ready to serve.

I know, a lot of notes along the way. But I didn't promise you easy I promised you magnificent. Gravy takes practice, it just seems to border on black magic. This approach works with any roasting beast: Beef, Chicken, Pork, etc. I didn't get into augmenting your gravy, but, as you can see from the photos, I add sauteed mushrooms. Another good addition would be some finely diced shallots or onion.

Remember: Beast, Roast Mirepoix, Roux, Hot Broth & Whisk.

You can do it crablings, you can make gravy, now go forth and practice before Thanksgiving.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Butternut Squash & Apple Soup or Getting Blood From a Turnip






Every time I pick up the newspaper the headlines get worse. I get it!!! I'm poor! You're poor! We're all poor! Every last penny, pence, drachma and centavo has disappeared from the face of the Earth, sucked up by the evil financial genius, Lehman Defaulto.

I already have a new job search plan. I'm going to put on a sign that says "Will work for mortgage payments" and then stand at the end of the closest exit ramp to a highway. Of course, my plan involves standing in the middle of the ramp, at night, wearing all black. There are some flaws to this plan, but I feel chances are good it will accomplish my ultimate goal.

Come on folks, let's relax a little bit. One share of Ford Motor Company stock now costs less than a grande latte at Starbucks. Am I the only one who thinks that 's a bit odd? Remember, if all goes well, the sun will come up tomorrow. Most of us will still have jobs and life will go on. Maybe life won't be quite as fancy as it once was (like say, last month), but it will go on.

So for the rest of this post I'll assume we've all lived to see another day and that we're hungry. Cooking for yourself instead of going out to dinner can save you a lot of money. Some of the recipes here, like Fettuccine with Prosciutto are amazingly inexpensive if you make a substitution or two, (it's ridiculously cheap if you know how to make your own pasta, but that's a post for another time).

When things get really bad, there's one word that immediately comes to mind: soup. You have a bad cold? Soup! It's cold outside? Cuddle up by the fire and have some soup. Late at night and don't know what to eat? Have a bowl of soup.

Here's a recipe for butternut squash soup. Inexpensive to begin with, but if you make your own chicken or vegetable stock, it would be even cheaper. So take a deep breath, lean back and enjoy...

Butternut Squash & Apple Soup
originally from Gourmet, October 1994, with major adjustments by SSSal

Prep Note: This soup is completely pureed so there is no need to precisely chop the vegetables.

1/2 pound bacon, chopped before cooking
1 medium onion, chopped roughly
1 large leek, white part only, washed well and roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 large butternut squash, seeded, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 medium tart apple, peeled and roughly chopped
32 ounces chicken stock, approximately
2 TBSP heavy (whipping) cream

Accompaniments for serving
Finely sliced apple
Sour Cream or Creme Fraiche
Crumbled bacon, from above

In a dutch oven (Le Creuset) cook bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towels, reserving 1 to 2 TBSP bacon fat in the pan. Add the onion, leek, garlic and bay leaf and cook over medium heat until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.

Add squash, apple and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 2 more minutes to mingle flavors.

Add stock to the pot so that it covers the vegetables by an inch. Simmer over medium heat until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Turn off the heat.

Use a stick blender to puree the soup completely. Otherwise transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and puree in batches. Return to the pot. If soup is too thick add stock to achieve desired texture. Stir in the cream.

Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream, apple slices and crumbled bacon.

Note: You can easily make this a vegetarian dish by eliminating the bacon and substituting olive oil for the bacon fat. Use vegetable stock in lieu of chicken stock.

Double the ingredients for a large crowd. The soup can be made in advance and reheated as you need it. It also freezes well.

Serve with crusty bread and a salad and you have a nice lunch. Consume the entire pot and you have a filling dinner.

OK crablings, try not to let the news get you too down. You still have to eat, so remember, you can do it, you can cook.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fettuccine with Prosciutto, Tomatoes, Peas and Cream & Other Parenting Moments

Parenting moments sneak up on you at the oddest times. It's easy enough to prepare for most events: the first shots at the doctor, the first day of school, the first girlfriend, the first day of driving. You can see them coming a mile away. But then, every once in a while...

We got a pleasant surprise last weekend when CrabCake1 came home for a few days. He's been in Central America working on a Marine Sciences coral reef research project and we hadn't expected to see him until just before Christmas. His visit was a joyous upheaval. Trips to the airport, added food runs, changes to social schedules, no matter, the family was whole again.

One event we didn't change was attending a going away party for neighbors. Since he knows the people leaving, CC1 was invited to come along, even though he'd have to suffer through an evening predominantly populated by middle-age types.

We had a great time. CC1 regaled guests with stories of moray eel encounters, hearing whale songs while diving and dealing with reluctantly friendly non-English speaking natives.

It can be a bit jarring the first time you see your child the way others do. Cute coeds find a mildly amusing anecdote simply hilarious because it's delivered by a tall, handsome, fit and tan fellow student. Husbands look on with mildly bemused jealousy, recalling adventures long past or never taken. A wife leaning in a doorway listening with a lean and hungry look.

He will always be my son, he's just no longer my boy.

By tradition, by rule, returning children get to set the menu and pick their meals. One of CC1's favorites is homemade pasta with prosciutto, tomatoes, peas and cream. It's also one of the meals he loves to help out on. He and SSSal prepare the dough, roll out the pasta and cut it into shape. SSSal bemoans the fact that a couple of years ago I bought an attachment for the stand mixer that greatly speeds up the process, but minimized her one on one time with CC1. Ah well. This meal will work with box pasta, though the taste and texture won't be quite the same. Enjoy...

Fettuccine with Prosciutto, Tomatoes, Peas and Cream
inspired by Biba Caggiano's, Italy al Dente and tweaked by SSSal

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely minced onion
1/2 pound Prosciutto, chopped
2 large cans (28 oz) peeled plum tomatoes
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1 TBSP butter
Scant 1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt & Pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onion and saute, stirring occasionally until the onions begin to turn lightly golden brown. Add the prosciutto and saute another 2 minutes to blend the flavors.

While the onions and prosciutto are cooking run both cans of tomatoes through a food mill retaining all juices and flesh but discarding the seeds. (An alternative is to use canned crushed tomatoes, though for some reason the sauce comes out a bit thick, so use 1 1/2 large cans of crushed tomatoes and add 1/2 cup of chicken stock).

When the onions and prosciutto are lightly golden add the tomatoes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring sauce to a simmer and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the thawed peas and a tablespoon of butter; simmer an additional 2 minutes, stirring to fully incorporate the butter.

Turn off the heat and add the heavy cream. Check for additional seasoning.

Serve sauce over cooked fettuccine.

This sauce can also be prepared with pancetta instead of prosciutto or even good old American bacon if no prosciutto or pancetta is available. If you use ordinary bacon cut back the olive oil to 1 TBSP and saute the bacon for 5 minutes before adding the onion.

OK, we're done for the day. Next time a fall soup and after that, the moment you've all been waiting for, gravy! Until then, remember you can do it, you can cook.

Oh, for you literary types, I'm well aware of the origin of "a lean and hungry look". For a quiz, without using the internet, complete the line, name the source and author.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tomato Tree - Day 126

Frost on The Pumpkin.

Old Jack Frost made a run at the Tomato Stand this weekend. Friday and Saturday night brought clear, windless skies and temperatures in the mid-30's. It wasn't all bad, frost covered lawns offered great photo ops and the mosquito population was decimated. But the Tomato Tree Stand wasn't amused.

The good news? Since the tomatoes were elevated 4 - 5 feet above the ground, they were spared a truly devastating attack. The bad news? Given the tenuous nature of the stand, I was limited in how aggressively I could cover the remaining fruit.

By Monday morning there were only a few branches left. The 6 remaining tomatoes are hanging on, but just barely. There is one tomato that should ripen naturally and one other that will probably survive the brown bag approach. The others, well I'm trying not to concede, but all that's left is to hope for an extended bout of Indian summer.

It's been very busy around here, I'll be back cooking for you in a couple of days.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Quick Apple Tart & Your New Job

Back in the good old days, before everybody went "green", before the housing crisis, the credit crisis and the oil crisis, September and October meant the harvest. It meant a chance to get out in the orchards and pick apples. Sadly, today "U-Pick" is sounding less like a food buying choice and more like your new job description.

As a kid, I remember the entire family travelling to the rolling hills of central Massachusetts to ride on tractors, run among the trees and pick bushels of Cortlands, Northern Spies and Baldwins. The tradition continued when SSSal, WWBob and I would have our own apple picking picnics complete with vichyssoise, country pate and a bottle or 3 of wine. When CrabCakes 1 & 2 arrived on the scene, we showed them the simple joys of cider mills, hot apple donuts, and warm breezes all under a
ridiculously blue Minnesota sky.

As Minnesotan, Robert ZImmerman once eloquently sang, "for the times they are a-changin'", they always have and thankfully, they always will. With all the angst and fear out there, now might be a good time to take a deep breath, relax and remember that life, so far, still beats the alternative.

So let's put down the sharp objects, come in off the ledge and do a little cooking. Here's a recipe for a dessert that ConnecticutJane brought to a recent dinner party. It's ludicrously simple and spectacularly flavorful. Breathe deeply and enjoy...

Quick Apple Tart
Bon Apetit, March 2004 with tweaking by ConnecticutJane

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of 17 oz package), thawed
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 TBSP (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 TBSP cinnamon sugar (2 TBSP sugar mixed with scant 1/2 tsp cinnamon)
1/4 cup apricot jam, melted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unfold pastry onto parchment paper.

Using the tines of a fork, pierce a 1/2 in border around the edge of the pastry, then pierce the center. Arrange apples atop the pastry in 3 or 4 rows, overlapping the apples slightly, while leaving the 1/2" border clear (the border puffs up to become a nice edge around the apples).

Brush apples with melted butter; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, brush melted jam over apples. Bake tart until golden, about 6 - 8 additional minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream and (optional) slivered almonds.

See, everything is going to be OK. A simple, inexpensive and tasty dessert. What could be better?

See you in a few days, until then remember, you can do it you can cook.