Friday, December 27, 2013

An Italian-American Holiday Tradition: Turkey Meatballs (from Molto Italiano)

These are so good and so easy! 

Spaghetti and meatballs at Christmas was one of the family traditions I loved best growing up in my 
Italian-American household. For days before the holiday, my Uncle David would tend-to and simmer a big pot of red sauce with meatballs, pork sausage and sometimes pork ribs too. We'd dip slices of fresh Italian bread slathered in salted butter into the sauce to satisfy our hunger pangs as the hours until Christmas ticked by. Then, on the big day, we'd heap the meatballs and sauce, dark and rich, onto al dente spaghetti and top everything off with grated parmesan cheese! 

*I grew up on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Every Wednesday and Saturday my grandfather would bring fresh loaves of Italian bread from the Sunrise Bakery to our house. Last time I checked, their bread is now only sold at Crosby's Marketplaces (in Beverly and Hamilton, MA) and perhaps only on Saturday mornings. If you live near there you should definitely try it!

My uncle would also make a big roast beef that was perfectly pink inside and crusty and delicious outside (my mom always called it "roast beast" ala The Grinch). It was a real treat to get a delicious crusty slice off the end of the roast right after it came out of the oven. Salty goodness.

Because I was/am too preggers to travel this year, the hubby and I hunkered down in NYC, just the two of us and our bump, and decided to make spaghetti and meatballs with red sauce our Christmas Eve tradition. I used Mario Batali's turkey meatball recipe because it is fabulous, easy and the meatballs always come out nice and fluffy. This recipe is particularly great because the turkey meat is much lighter than the usual pork/beef variety. Bonus!  

I followed Batali's recipe almost exactly. I didn't make his sauce, however, or my own for that matter. I just used Whole Food's Organic Italian Herb Tomato Sauce to which I added a teaspoon of dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme and 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary. It was SO good.

Mario Batali's Turkey Meatballs from Molto Italiano (only very slightly altered)
Polpettine di Tacchino
Yield: about 30-40 small meatballs
2 lbs ground turkey
1/2 cup milk, any fat content you have on hand is fine
2 large eggs, beaten
2 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs, I pulsed mine so they ranged from fine to chickpea sized
4 gloves garlic, minced finely
1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced finely
1/2 Tablespoon red pepper flakes
Tablespoon kosher salt
Tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 475.

In a large bowl toss together the bread crumbs, garlic, rosemary, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Add the milk and eggs and toss everything to combine it. Add the meat and gently massage it with your fingers or a wooden spoon. Your don't want to overwork the meat, but you do want to get all the lumps and knots of meat kneaded out and work the entire mass into a fluffy consistency. 

Gently roll a heaping tablespoon of the mixture between wet palms to shape. Be careful to use a light touch and not pack the meat together into a hard ball. Place each meatball just a little apart from the next in a casserole dish coated with olive oil. 

Once the meatballs are all formed. Cook them for 15 minutes at 475While they're cooking, make a simple sauce or doctor up a jarred one. 

After 15 minutes remove the meatballs from the oven and reduce the heat to 350. Toss the meatballs in the sauce and bake for an additional 45 minutes to 1 hour. Garnish with chopped parsley and Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve hot with crusty bread and al dente spaghetti. So good!!!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Amanda Hesser's Chocolate Dump-It Cake

This double-chocolate cake is good. I mean damn good. If you are a cake lover, you'll be in heaven. If you are not a cake lover, which neither my husband nor myself are, you'll still be in heaven. So there!

This cake is very rich but also light somehow, so you won't feel like you're about to have a heart attack after just a few bites. Amanda notes that her family refrigerates this cake, which was a big reason why the recipe appealed to me, and I highly recommend the chill. The result is a dense, rich, moist, cool cake that is simply everything a cake should be (but so very rarely is). 

I do have to say that the recipe is a bit fussy, or rather the frosting is, but after a couple of run-throughs I'm sure it feels like a no-brainer and the frosting is good enough (chocolaty, creamy and not too sweet) that it's definitely worth learning. 

Amanda Hesser's Chocolate Dump-It Cake from Food52
Yield: 10 respectable slices
cups sugar
ounces unsweetened baker's chocolate
1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
1 cup water
cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
teaspoons baking soda
teaspoon baking powder
teaspoon iodized sea salt
cup milk (I used low-fat)
teaspoon apple cider vinegar (I used Bragg's, shaken)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
teaspoon vanilla
sliced almonds for decoration (optional)

For the frosting:
1 1/2 cup Nestle’s semisweet chocolate chips, melted then cooled but still viscous
1 1/2 cup sour cream, warmed slightly

First things first, set your sour cream out on the counter so it will come to room temp and then begin to warm up by the time you are ready to ice this bad-boy.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. 

Place the sugar, unsweetened chocolate, butter and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until all of the ingredients come together, then remove from the heat. The chocolate may look a little grainy but this is ok.  

Stir the milk and vinegar together (to make quick buttermilk) and set aside. 

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together and also set that aside.  

Grease and flour your cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment, which you should also grease and flour. Amanda suggests using a 9-inch tube pan as the batter is quite wet/soupy and the edges can become dry before the center sets. I don't have a tube pan, so I used two 8 x 1 1/2 inch cake pans and tried to be sure not to over-bake.

Set the pans on a cookie sheet(s) to catch any drips. Mine didn't even come close to dripping/overflowing but if you use a tube pan and it's rather full, I'd be sure to follow this step just in case.

When the melted chocolate mixture is just warm to the touch, whisk it into the milk mixture and then add the slightly beaten eggs and vanilla. Then whisk in the dry ingredients until just combined. If the batter is very lumpy, which mine was despite having sifted the dry ingredients, you may want to pass it through a sieve using your whisk to get the flour lumps out. 

Pour the batter into your prepared pan(s) and bake in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes (but check at 20-25) until a toothpick in the center comes out clean

Let the cake cool in it's pan for about 10 minutes or so, then remove it, being sure to support the cake while you do so. Finish cooling it on a rack.

Now for the frosting, and sorry I didn't take any photos of this process...

While the cake cools, melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler. The melted chocolate and sour cream must be at about the same temperature to mix without becoming lumpy/grainy, so this part is a bit tricky. 

The chocolate will start to solidify at room temperature, or at least mine did, so I set it in a cold water bath to cool it while I set my sour cream on top of the warm oven to warm it gently to get the cooling/warming timing to aline more quickly.

I occasionally stirred both (separately) to get rid of any cold/hot spots. Using an instant read thermometer, I then checked the temps until each got both to about 78 degrees. I then briskly whisked a small amount of each together in a separate bowl to check to see if they'd meld and they did. 

Once you reach this step and the temps are good, just dollop a generous scoop of each in the new bowl and briskly whisk together a little at a time until smooth. NOTE: if you get a lumpy frosting, you can set the bowl in a warm water bath and whisk to try to get it to come together again. You can also try passing it through a sieve to remove the lumps.

Be sure the cake is completely cool before icing with an offset spatula for the best results. Press sliced almond onto the sides for a pretty finish if you like. 

After icing, refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. The frosting is soft, so refrigerating helps it to set up nicely. I liked the cake even better the next day. Yum, yum, yum!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lactation Cookies with Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Dried Cranberries and Toasted Pecans

I baked these lactation cookies for my dear friend Melissa who just gave birth to a breathtaking baby girl!Melissa and I have been co-preggers until now, we even started trying to conceive around the same time in a half-joking (but luckily successful) pregnancy pact. I am over the moon for Melissa and so excited to join her in new-mommy-hood in less than a month and a half! 

*I sent the special ingredients along with the cookies in her care package so she won't have to go scouting for them if she decides to make more!

The main ingredients that make lactation cookies "lactation cookies" are brewer's yeast, flaxseeds and oats. All are considered to be galactagogues, aka substances that improve lactation. Please note that brewer's yeast is bitter. I bought the debittered variety too and I can still taste just the slightest hint of bitterness in the final product (just the faintest after-taste). I think most folks wouldn't even notice it, as these cookies are really yummy, but do keep the bitterness factor in mind and stick to the 2 Tablespoons of brewer's yeast in the recipe. 

Flax is also bitter if it's rancid, so be sure to taste test it first to be sure that it's fresh, even if you just bought it. I'm warning you about this because, unfortunately, I had to toss my entire first batch of this recipe because it was so dang bitter. Arghhhh! 

To balance the brewer's yeast, you'll also want to keep the sugar at 2 cups (I know, ouch), feel free to use agave or honey for half the brown sugar if you want. Being that these are for lactating mom's who need a bunch of extra calories, fat and nutrients to feed their little ones, not to mention a kick of sugar to help get through the day, I feel ok about the richness of this recipe. Plus I used (and generally always do) all organic ingredients and whole grains, so these are pretty darn wholesome all things considered.

Lactation Cookies with Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Dried Cranberries and Toasted Pecans
Based on Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Lactation Cookies by Noel Trujillo 
Yield: about 3 dozen cookies @ 2 tablespoons of dough per cookie
4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons flax seed meal *Taste this before proceeding to ensure it's not rancid/bitter
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon iodized table salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup steel cut oats *feel free to just use whatever oats you have on hand
1 cup dark chocolate *or any chocolate variety you like (optional)
1 cup raisins or dried cranberries
2 cups toasted chopped pecans
2 Tablespoons brewer's yeast *Note: brewer's yeast is bitter so stick to 2 T

Preheat your oven to 350°F. 

Place your pecans on a cookie sheet and toast for about 10-12 minutes until fragrant. 

Grind your flaxseeds, if they aren't already ground, and hydrate them with the 4 Tablespoons of water. I used golden flax seeds,, which are supposed to be more nutritious than the darker variety, and ground them in my spice/coffee grinder. Be sure to taste your flax meal mixture before moving forward with this recipe. If it tastes bitter that means it's gone rancid and you'll need to toss it out and get some fresh flax.  

I used my stand mixer for this whole process but you can use a handheld mixer if you prefer and just fold in the ingredients once you get to the flour stage. Cream the butter and brown sugar until it's fluffy. Add the eggs and then the flaxseed mix (taste test first!) and vanilla. Add the brewers yeast (just 2 Tablespoons), baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add the flour. Stir in the oats, dried cranberries, dark chocolate chips and toasted chopped pecans. 

Using a tablespoon or soup spoon, scoop the batter in rounded mounds of about 2 tablespoons each. Roll them between wet palms, flatten slightly and set about and inch apart on your baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let them set up for a few minutes on the pan, then move them to a rack to finish cooling.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Banana Cream Pie for Thanksgiving? Yep, that's right!

I hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving!

Ours was wonderful and busy. My husband's folks came to NYC from Nashville and we ran all over the city checking out the holiday windows and taking care of various to-do's like building the baby's crib (pictured below!). We also still managed to make and consume a gigantic feast. Priorities, y'all!

The one menu item I wanted to share with you is for the only thing that I completely followed someone else's recipe for. That's a rarity for me but this custard is totes off-the-hook! Also, I recognize that banana cream pie is a pretty unorthodox Thanksgiving item but my husband requested it and I love banana cream pie so I thought, what the heck.

About 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about a pack and a half of crackers)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the crust:
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Pulse the graham crackers into a fine crumb in your food processor (or break them up in a bag using a rolling pin or something similar). Pulse in the salt. On low speed, add in the butter until the crust starts to pull away from the sides. Press the crust into a 9 or 10 inch glass pie dish. Bake for 15 minutes until fragrant and golden. Allow the crust to cool while you make your custard.

Custard: I followed this recipe from the Memphis restaurant McEwen's on Monroe as posted on Epicurious. This is an outstanding custard recipe. It's crazy easy and insanely good. 
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4-5 ripe bananas, peeled, cut on the bias

To make the custard:
Whisk the sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the whipping cream and whole milk gradually, then add the egg yolks. Split a vanilla bean and scrape in the seeds then toss in the vanilla bean husk. Whisk the custard over low-medium heat until it thickens (and I mean thickens) and just comes to a boil, about 6-8 minutes. Pull it off the heat as soon as it comes together. This will happen all at once, so do not leave the pot once you get started. 

Whisk in the unsalted butter and vanilla extract. Find and discard the vanilla bean husk. Transfer the custard to a large bowl set in an ice bath to cool. Cover completely with plastic wrap so a skin does not form. Stir occasionally so the custard cools consistently throughout.

To construct your pie: This is how I wanted my bananas to look but I was too rushed for time.
Spread 1/2 of the custard over your pre-baked crust. Top with sliced bananas, then spread the rest of the custard over that. Cover the custard with bananas sliced on the bias and chill. Ideally you should chill the pie for about 8 hours but I chilled mine for only two and it was still awesome though it was definitely even better the next day.  

Oh and here's the crib!