Porchetta

20170127_142719-1600x1200Porchetta is as much a cooking technique as it is a particular recipe.  This one uses a pork belly but can be done by butterflying a pork butt or tenderloin.  The pork belly came from the butcher as a slab about 10 inches by 22, I cut this in half so I was working with a piece 10″ x 11″.20170128_104947-1600x1200The first step is to score it like so – it helps the herbs and spices gain penetration.  I sprinkled kosher salt liberally on the slab and followed that with fresh grinds of pepper.20170128_110359-1600x1200Next came black peppercorns and fennel seeds that were toasted in a dry pan, ground in a spice mill, then added to a dozen or more garlic cloves in a little food processor.  They were whirled about to mince the garlic and then spread on the meat, the fresh herbs were processed to a paste and spread along with the garlic mixture, followed by the zest of 2 lemons.  I wish my patio herb garden had survived, I had to go to town for the herbs:  rosemary, chives, sage.  I also bought a fennel bulb for the fronds to add to the other herbs.20170128_111940-1600x1200Last thing, before it spent the night in the fridge, was to rub it with salt and baking powder in a ratio of 1 tbs salt to 1 tsp of baking powder.  This is to help crisp the skin.  dsc_2071-1600x1200Ta Da!  This was cooked in a 300 degree oven for about 4 hours, then taken out to drain the fats off.  While it’s out, crank the oven to 500 and return the pork roll to really blister the skin, it wants to be crispy!  Watch it closely, it will brown really fast in that screaming hot oven.20170129_122018-1600x1200I mentioned that I bought a fennel bulb just for the fronds but I hate to waste a food item and so tried a braised fennel recipe.  First, slice the bulb into about 1/2″ slices long ways, and brown both sides in a little oil.  Add chicken stock and water to the pan, sprinkle on salt and pepper, cover, and simmer until tender – another 15-20 minutes.20170129_125412-1600x1200Serve the fennel with fresh parmesan and garnish with more of the fronds.

Friday Recipe Exchange: Not Afraid to Experiment

Spinach Tomato Soup

What a week we’ve had here. I retreated to the kitchen often, cooking truly reduces my stress and helps me refocus. And since everyone needs to eat, I have a perfect excuse to retreat and regroup.

Cool weather blew in today, signalling the start of soup season, a great time of year. I have quite a few soup recipes and I began the season with one of my favorites, Tomato-Spinach, pictured above and recipe here.

Next up, Pumpkin Bars, because I needed something to share with friends and this recipe makes a lot. Click here for recipe and photos.

JeffreyW went to the Farmer’s Market and made Refrigerator Pickles, there are plenty of great photos and the pickle recipe here. He went on to use the beans he purchased to make Three Bean Salad, here.

And finally, for the pet lovers, some Bixby pictures and a bit of an update.

It’s the last official weekend of summer, how will you usher it out? What’s on your plate for the weekend? We are going to head up to the mountains to take in some color, which is predicted to be a short show this year.

Sausages with Grapes

For tonight’s featured recipe, I decided to experiment with flavors I would have never thought of on my own. Facebook and blog friend Michael F, shared a recipe on Facebook from Italy, in Italian no less, and the photo intrigued me. I let google translate the recipe (which was a hoot) and went about putting my touches into it.

It was so unusual, my most reliable recipe testers politely declined my dinner invite. Totally understandable. But I will tell you I was pleasantly surprised how well this turned out. If you like pork and apples, this has a similar flavor palate. It was also quick and easy to prepare. I’m glad I decided to experiment.

All right, if you’re up for something new and different, here you go, tonight’s featured recipe.

Sausage and Grapes

  • 8 links Italian sausage (I used spicy, but you could use any style sausage you favor)
  • 1/2 sweet onion, finely diced
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 cup green seedless grapes, washed, dried and halved lengthwise
  • 1 cup red seedless grapes, washed, dried and halved lengthwise
  • salt and pepper to taste (I used none, didn’t need it)
  • angel hair pasta
  • freshly grated Parmesan

skillet

Slice sausage links into four pieces each, add to skillet and fry on medium high for about 10 minutes. Add onion and fennel seeds, cook another 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent. Add grapes, stir until well mixed, cover and let simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes while pasta cooks.

Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain well.

You can toss with the sausage mixture, or serve separately. Serve with Parmesan.

The pasta was my addition. When I asked Michael what would be a good side, he suggested eggplant or roasted potatoes. Roasted zucchini spears would probably work well, too.

Here is the original recipe.

That’s if for this week. Have a great weekend. – TaMara

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Friday Recipe Exchange: Revisiting Fun with Ricotta

Yummy Cannoli by JeffreyW

Yummy Cannoli by JeffreyW

Things are not slowing down here. I put a bid in on a cute little Victorian house, only to face 15 other bids this past week. I did not realize house hunting was going to turn into a full-time job that feels like an episode of the Bachelor, where I go home without the rose each week. Between that and raising a rambunctious 10-month old Great Dane, the weeks are slipping by. Speaking of the Beast, I had to clean out the freezer to make room for his frozen apples halves (apples were on sale, so I stocked up) and his giant beef bones (again, on sale, so I stocked up and boiled a good two week supply). Deep in the freezer, behind the pumpkin, cranberries and leftovers, was a pint of ricotta.

Decided I needed to use it up, so I dug into the archives looking for my vegetarian meatball recipe. That became tonight’s featured recipe, and I pulled up the previous recipe exchange where it was featured and said, “hey, that looks good.” In other words, tonight is a repeat. Next week, though, I’m planning on sharing some fun recipes I’ve been playing with this week.

To start tonight, how about homemade ricotta? JeffreyW has made it and if you click here and he’ll take you step by step through the process.

He then puts his homemade ricotta to good use with Stuffed Shells, as pretty to look at as they are delicious. (recipe and photos here)

I have a great alternative to regular gnocchi, a lighter, easier version using ricotta cheese and a fire roasted sauce to make a simple, quick Baked Gnocchi. (recipe here).

A quick Skillet Lasagna (recipe here) is great for weeknights and a breeze to make.

And a yummy dessert from JeffreyW, a beautiful Cannoli recipe, pictured above and found here.

Finally, for the pet lovers, a Bixby update from the pup himself. If you click here, be prepared, he’s a Beast, standing at his full height on his hind legs.

What’s on your menu for the weekend? Anyone else house hunting? Have you started your gardens in earnest yet?

Now on to the featured recipe. These are very simple to make and are delicious. It’s a great vegetarian alternative for your pasta dishes. They’re light and once you get the technique down, you can play with the flavors and customize them to your palate.

Veggie Meatballs

Most of the recipes I looked at used Italian Breadcrumbs. But I really feel these need fresh breadcrumbs, so I’ve included instructions for making your own. I didn’t season mine because I didn’t want them to overpower the delicate flavors of the cheeses. Fresh breadcrumbs absorb flavors and moisture more than packaged ones, so I thought it gave the whole meatball a better, lighter texture. I added a bit of  garlic powder (fresh garlic did not work with this, it was overpowering and a touch bitter), basil, oregano and fennel. The fennel really took it up a notch. My second round of these, I added a bit of red pepper flake.

Spinach and Ricotta Vegetarian Meatballs

  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (instructions below)
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan, asiago, romano cheese mix
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano or 2 tsp dried oregano, crushed
  • 2 tsp fresh basil or 1/2 tsp dried basil, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder (not salt)
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 eggs, beaten

=======

  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, asiago, romano cheese
  • Olive oil

Breadcrumbs: this took a full 1-lb loaf of day-old Italian or French bread. I bought it from the day-old rack for cheap. I tore it into small pieces, spread out on a baking sheet and dried it in a 200 degree F oven for about 30 minutes. I didn’t want them toasted or seasoned because I thought it would overpower the delicate flavors of these meatballs. Once they were dried, I ran them through the blender. I reserved 1/4 cup for rolling the balls in before cooking.

Meatballs: Mix together ricotta, grated cheeses, spinach and spices. Add the eggs and mix well. Then add the breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup at a time. You want it to come together to form soft balls, but you don’t want it to be dry. Once you can form a soft ball with some structure, you don’t need to add more breadcrumbs.

Scoop up a heaping tablespoon (I used my cookie dough scoop) and roll the mixture into balls.

Mix together 1/4 cup breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup grated cheeses in a bowl and roll each meatball in the mixture, coating on all sides.

You can bake or pan fry these. I chose to pan fry, it used a bit of oil, but it gave them a nice flavor. Baking them would be my option if I was doubling the recipe.

To fry: heat olive oil in a skillet on medium and add the meatballs, leaving enough space between them to easily turn them. They are soft, so it’s a delicate process. The good news is, if you really want them round (instead of kind of flattened) you can reshape them after they come out of the pan. Turn them until they are golden brown on all sides.

To bake: place them on a well oiled baking sheet or use parchment paper. Brush them with a bit of oil if desired. Leave space around each one so they brown evenly and bake at 375 degrees F for 30-40 minutes until golden brown. You can turn them halfway through if desired.

Serve them with your favorite pasta and sauce. If you need sauce ideas, click here for Garden Fresh Sauce and click here for Awesome Sauce.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend – TaMara

============================================

Friday Recipe Exchange: Fun with Ricotta

Yummy Cannoli by JeffreyW

Yummy Cannoli by JeffreyW

I know it’s grilling season, but we’ll have all summer to talk about grilling recipes. This week I wanted to try out a recipe that has been tucked away and waiting for me to put my spin on it.

A while back, I asked you guys for a vegetarian meatball recipe, and you came through with some great ideas. Once I had the general concept down,  I thought it was time to flavor it up a bit more. So tonight’s featured recipe is a vegetarian spinach ricotta meatball. With that in mind, the recipe theme came into focus. The versatility of ricotta cheese, from main course to desserts.

To start, how about homemade ricotta? JeffreyW has done it and you can click here and he’ll take you step by step through the process.

He then puts his homemade ricotta to good use with Stuffed Shells, as pretty to look at as they are delicious. (recipe here)

I have a great alternative to regular gnocchi, a lighter, easier version using ricotta cheese and a fire roasted sauce to make a simple, quick Baked Gnocchi. (recipe here)

Moving on to dessert, a friend of mine has what feels like weekly potlucks at work and she often takes Apple Lasagna, recipe here, that is always a hit.

And finally from JeffreyW, a beautiful Cannoli recipe, pictured above that can be found here.

Now that you have a bunch of ideas for that tub of ricotta, let’s switch things up before we get to the featured recipe. I’d like to know if you’ve ever made your own wine, beer or hard ciders. I’d like to know details, where did you get your ingredients and how did it all turn out? Besides that, what’s on your menu for the weekend?

Now on to the featured recipe. These a so simple to make and taste so good, it’s a great vegetarian alternative for your pasta dishes. They’re very light and once you get the technique down, you can play with the flavors and customize them to your palate.

Veggie Meatballs

Most of the recipes I looked at used Italian Breadcrumbs. But I really feel these need fresh breadcrumbs, so I’ve included instructions for making your own. I didn’t season mine because I didn’t want them to overpower the delicate flavors of the cheeses. Fresh breadcrumbs absorb flavors and moisture more than packaged ones, so I thought it gave the whole meatball a better, lighter texture. I added a bit of  garlic powder (fresh garlic did not work with this, it was overpowering and a touch bitter), basil, oregano and fennel. The fennel really took it up a notch. I think next time I might add a bit of red pepper flake.

Spinach and Ricotta Vegetarian Meatballs

  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (instructions below)
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan, asiago, romano cheese mix
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano or 2 tsp dried oregano, crushed
  • 2 tsp fresh basil or 1/2 tsp dried basil, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder (not salt)
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 eggs, beaten

=======

  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, asiago, romano cheese
  • Olive oil

Breadcrumbs: this took a full 1-lb loaf of day-old Italian or French bread. I bought it from the day-old rack for cheap. I tore it into small pieces, spread out on a baking sheet and dried it in a 200 degree F oven for about 30 minutes. I didn’t want them toasted or seasoned because I thought it would overpower the delicate flavors of these meatballs. Once they were dried, I ran them through the blender. I reserved 1/4 cup for rolling the balls in before cooking.

Meatballs: Mix together ricotta, grated cheeses, spinach and spices. Add the eggs and mix well. Then add the breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup at a time. You want it to come together to form soft balls, but you don’t want it to be dry. Once you can form a soft ball with some structure, you don’t need to add more breadcrumbs.

Scoop up a heaping tablespoon (I used my cookie dough scoop) and roll the mixture into balls.

Mix together 1/4 cup breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup grated cheeses in a bowl and roll each meatball in the mixture, coating on all sides.

You can bake or pan fry these. I chose to pan fry, it used a bit of oil, but it gave them a nice flavor. Baking them would be my option if I was doubling the recipe.

To fry: heat olive oil in a skillet on medium and add the meatballs, leaving enough space between them to easily turn them. They are soft, so it’s a delicate process. The good news is, if you really want them round (instead of kind of flattened) you can reshape them after they come out of the pan. Turn them until they are golden brown on all sides.

To bake: place them on a well oiled baking sheet or use parchment paper. Brush them with a bit of oil if desired. Leave space around each one so they brown evenly and bake at 375 degrees F for 30-40 minutes until golden brown. You can turn them halfway through if desired.

Serve them with your favorite pasta and sauce. If you need sauce ideas, click here for Garden Fresh Sauce and click here for Awesome Sauce.

============================================

SPAM Challenge, Part Deux

Can. Not. Believe. We did this. This is the second of three (3!) Spam posts. The last will serve as the Thursday Recipe Exchange tomorrow. I had checked in with JeffreyW earlier in the week, letting him know we’d been challenge. Then I got busy and was about to scrap the entire idea when he informed me he had already begun. Well, if he was going to jump in, I figured I’d jump in with him.

Never having eaten SPAM before, I really didn’t even know where to begin. I googled a couple of things but nothing sparked me. JeffreyW had already covered a lot of ground. I decided to keep it simple and came up with the pineapple-SPAM-Kabobs, pictured above and the SPAM Pasta Salad below.

For the Kabobs, I soaked wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes before using. I cut the SPAM in large squares and alternated with peppers and pineapple. I grilled until lightly browned on all sides, then coated them lightly in barbecue sauce mixed with pineapple juice. Cooked an additional 3 minutes. Pretty easy.

For the Pasta Salad, I made small SPAM cubes, then I crushed fennel seeds and dried oregano together and mixed with bread crumbs. I dredged the cubed SPAM in the crumbs and fried in olive oil until golden. I cooked tri-colored pasta and tossed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, tomatoes and the SPAM. Again, pretty easy.

This was fun and I enjoyed getting creative in the kitchen again. Would I do it again? Probably not. No matter how you dress it up, it’s still SPAM. But YMMV.

That’s not all there is. Stay tuned for more tomorrow night! Two more excellent JeffreyW creations. Until then…

What’s For Lunch?

I hear this question almost every day.  Usually after I’ve heated my soup or leftovers. Especially the soups.  Nothing warms an office like the smell of a hot, spicy soup on a cold fall day.

So what is for lunch today?  How about a tomato vegetable soup?  The key to keeping it fresh is how the pasta is cooked.  I boil it separately, draining it when it is on the firm side of al dente.  If I’m serving the soup right away, I add it the last 5 minutes and let it soak up the flavors without becoming mushy.  If it’s for lunch, I bring the pasta and soup separately and combine before I reheat.  You can use any pasta you like, but I think the mini-pastas work well – ditalini, tiny shells or tiny elbows – they hold their firmness the best.

Ditalini Pasta

Spicy Vegetable Soup

  • 12 oz pasta, cooked al dente and drained*
  • 1 lb lean ground beef or half ground beef, half ground Italian Sausage
  • 2-14 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 cups diced carrots (I use frozen)
  • 1 cup green beans (frozen again)
  • 6 green onions, chopped (including greens)
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 tbsp crushed garlic
  • 3 tsp dried basil, crushed
  • 2 tsp to 1 tbsp fennel
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • salt & pepper to taste

large saucepan

In saucepan, brown ground beef  (and sausage).  Add remaining ingredients, except pasta, and bring to a low boil.  Cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 30 minutes.  Add pasta during the last 5 minutes.  Serves 4-6 easily.  Serve with garlic bread and salad.

*rinse quickly in cold water to stop the cooking process, but don’t over rinse and lose all that nice starch for the soup.