Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Yesterday evening, we stopped into Mackenthun's (Mak-en-toons), Minneapolis area's best local food offering. What do they have to offer? One word -meat.

We bought blueberry summer sausage, garlic summer sausage (to add to the the venison summer sausage we already have from the local hunters), cranberry turkey wild rice bratwurst (the best brats I ever had were this summer's blueberry wild rice brats from the same), German sausage, and Mackenthun's original brats.

We are freezing these to bring back to NYC with us. 

Tonight I am making a duck we picked up from the same. It's my first duck and have little idea what to do with it. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gaunza In Pictures

Chop, Fry, Drain, Set Aside, Add, Mix, Stuff

One lb mushrooms, one lb genoa salami, one big onion, one bunch Italian parsley.

Fry the onions, then toss in bread crumbs to lightly toast. Some salami fell in. Oops.

Set aside, add one cup grated pecorino romano.

Fry salami and mushrooms.

 1 lb ground pork (seasoned), 2 lb ground beef. Fry, drain, set aside.

Two cups dry, 4 cups wet, Basmati rice -heresy to mom, better to me. She reads the blogs. She doesn't trust different rice.

Add two cups sauce to the cooked rice.

Mix the pork, beef, salami, mushrooms.

Add the onions, bread crumbs to the mix.

Stir in the rice -quantity to your taste. I used most, with one wet cup remaining. Add parsley.

 Almost done. Really.

As many eggs as you wish, boiled, sliced, mixed in.

Now, stuff the bird with it. Just as good in a chicken as a turkey -maybe better? You'll have extra. Be prepared to be stuffed yourself.

Recipe linked to here.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Unreal American

I've been frustrated over the last decade by the conversion of relatively inexpensive, commonplace Italian foods into high-priced delights in NYC. In the 1990s, I could buy fresh Italian loaves for 75 cents, pecorino romano for 4.99 a lb. in Italian neighborhoods. Part of the change is inflation, but the other part is that the working class Italians that used to be the regular customers have become the minority in gentrified Williamsburgh and Carroll Gardens. They've moved out.

That, of course, is the story of NYC. I live in an extremely diverse, immigrant's neighborhood that, from what I hear from old-timers, used to be Italian and Irish. What is lost for Italians is gained by everyone from Albanian to Bangladeshi, Polish to Pakistani, Russian to Ukrainian and me. Food is pretty inexpensive in my neighborhood because people simply won't or can't pay what is being payed in other neighborhoods (I get sticker shock when we're in the Minneapolis suburbs). Five Sunkist oranges for 2 dollars (always), four kiwis for a dollar (now), asparagus bunch for a dollar (now, from Peru), even Organic Valley milk is 2 half gallons for $7 (every day), smoked Kielbasy for 2.99 a lb., and think about the halal butcher's filet mignon for $7.99 a lb.

In my neighborhood, not only can I afford something like real Basmati rice, I have to choose from 5 brands. Ten pound bags go for ten dollars at a local Pakistani market and the bag has a zipper lock. If I buy American basmati, which by every measure is not the same thing, it is often 5 or 6 dollars for the pound. I understand and appreciate that it is more expensive to produce rice in the U.S, but the problem for me is that it is not basmati. No matter how much I spend, the texture is different, the length of the grain is different, the stickiness (or lack of it) is different. So, much like the American counterpart of Italian products, I avoid them. But I am lucky, extremely so, to live in my neighborhood, and have access to these markets that help sustain me.

This year's gaunza will be made with Indian basmati rice -a lighter, better rice than what my family traditionally uses. We will see if my mom notices the difference.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Marie's Mushrooms

Marie and Vince found a bunch of oyster mushrooms in some unnamed park in the tri-state region. Ha! We can't all become foragers! Right? Well, I was the lucky recipient of a portion of what must've been a truckload. I wished I had that perfect oyster mushroom recipe, but alas, I did not. What I did have was blue potatoes, butter, herbs and garlic. And chicken breast. And a saute pan.

In the bag -so many!

The 'gills' suck up water and hold it. Not too much washing, she warned. Over concerned about mites and beetles, I probably soaked in the salty water too long - a minute is too long! These were tough, took a ringing and a squeezing well.

Blue potatoes.

The plate.

Sauteed mushrooms, butter, garlic, herbs, splash of wine, and sliced chicken. Chard on the side, along with potatoes. I think we could have eaten the shrooms alone, but this sort of cooking is not part of my particular cooking skill set -always in experiment, certainly not for guests, mode.

We enjoyed it thoroughly, and somehow it was more enjoyable because these were Unnamed Park mushrooms. Gonna have to get our hunt on.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

If Your In For Some Cake Humor...

Although this is meatloaf, it's certainly disgusting, but I like the bacon diaper. See the cakes here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What About All These Peppers

So many peppers, what to do? How can one eat all these Caribbean hots and Habeneros, and Hungarian hots?

I chopped up 6 or 7 of the sweet bells which have been turning yellow in the bowl. I added one habenero and two caribbean hots. My left hand, the holding hand, is still burning. I sauteed these with some xvoo and then added other veggies on hand. Over brown rice with chicken -all for the coming days' lunches.

But still have more peppers to use.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Seafood "..."

I made this last night and I thought it came out pretty good for, as we used to say, just winging it. Half pound of shrimp, full pound of sea scallops, the rest is vegetable, spices, xvoo, and chardonnay. One fennel bulb, one long red pepper, one onion, some carrot, some broccoli, a tomato, some cherry tomatoes, some parsley, much garlic -all chopped, tossed in the pan with xvoo. Then the white wine, and spices (sage, oregano, thyme, pepper, salt, what else?). The seafood and some butter. Cook it up and spoon it over some brown rice.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Batali's Green Tomato Spaghetti

The question was what to do with all those green tomatoes. The answer: Mario's green tomato spaghetti.

What I had: mint, basil, parsley, garlic, green tomatoes.
What I didn't have: parmigiano, arugula. Trip to Golden Farms -baby arugula, perfect. Uh, no, not that parmigiano. Oh well, use the pecorino Romano I have in the fridge.

The 5 green tomatoes, 1/4 cup of mint, basil, and parsley and two small cloves garlic thrown into the mini-processor and chop chop, grind grind. Salt, pepper (he says generously). The red bits were from a semi-ripened tomato.

Cook ye spaghetti. Toss the whole mess into the hot pasta with a 1/4 cup of XV OO.

Plate er up and grate some cheese. The fruity-nutty flavor of parmigiano would have been better than the salty kick of pecorino Romano on this dish. Why don't I have any in my fridge?

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I thought Marie had a recipe for beef with horseradish, but it was lamb with... Before I looked it up, I was at our local pantry and saw horseradish, and by God, they all looked like this! Really, this is what it looks like before it finds its way into a jar? Now, what do I do with this? Keep it clean.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

BBQ Turkey

At the farm on the beach, a gardening neighbor with tons of herbs gave us a branch of rosemary. We both thought lamb, but didn't want to pay the hefty price. This morning we went to the Cortelyou farmer's market and bought boneless turkey thigh from DiPaolo, with plans to BBQ.

I rolled the turkey with rosemary and garlic, tying it up with butcher's string. Salt and pepper.

A little overcooked, because we were socializing with our neighbors instead of watching the grill. Still, it was moist and tasty.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Carbohydrate Couple

This Friday, my wife Betsy and I are going to the greater Utica, NY area. She is in a 15K run called the Boilermaker, which takes place in and around Utica. We will be "camping" in our new old van and cooking over fire on Friday and Saturday evening at a campground near a mountain stream. Conveniences include fire ring, water spigot, picnic table, and shower nearby at $15 a night.

I'm not much for tents or sleeping on the ground. So van sleeping has proved to make camping seem all the more palatable. I bought two 1/2-inch thick exercise pads (24x72 and resilient) and a queen size foam mattress pad to top those off. This sleeping concoction will sit in the rear of the van, seats removed, over the carpeted (and fairly padded) floor. All that is left to find is a good mosquito net, because open windows is a must.

For dinner on Friday, before we settle in, we'll head to the local market to buy some meat for barbecuing. On Saturday, my wife wants to stick by the tradition of having pasta before a long run. I wouldn't disagree, I love pasta. She suggested fried and I was in love all over again.

Rewind. It's 1974, Hither Hills State Park, near Montauk, NY. The family is on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic. There are picnic tables, and a fire box (cement block with iron grate). Grandpa is boiling water and heating sauce over the coals. This was barbecue -pasta and meat sauce. After, came the perc coffee on the old coals, at nightfall, while kids chilled by sunburn and ocean breezes sat wrapped in blankets sticky with beach sand.

Fast forward. Wait. I don't think we'll go that far. We'll make pasta at home and cart it up in the cooler. We'll bring the cast iron skillet, xv olive oil, the pecorino. Start up the fire and fry pasta in the cool air of a mountain woods' evening. Yep. My grandparents are long gone, but they would be proud.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Chicken And Rice, Halal Cart Style

In a time pinch, I grab the 5 dollar chicken and rice at the Halal cart outside of work. Today, I had an extra 5 minutes, so I went to 60th street, towards Columbus Ave. I saw another Halal cart and thought enough to give it a try. The first question asked after I ordered the chicken and rice was, "Plain rice or spicy rice?" Spicy rice, of course. The rice was darker and the meat was whiter than at the other cart. Hot sauce please, also thicker and darker.

This Halal cart chicken and rice was superficially the same meal as the cart outside of our building, but in taste and texture, another meal altogether. First, the rice was a basmati type, light and long -not the firm, short grain rice of the nearby cart. The rice was also white, not tinted warm and light red, but had been colored by the collection of spices added. It had hints of ginger, cumin and cardamom and was fire hot. The whole dish was less salty too, and without the reddish coloring on the meat. The light, loose rice and small chunks of chicken were harder to pick up with the plastic fork, causing me to eat much slower than I normally would (eating while working has led me to be a rapid eater, shame on me). The heat led my nose to run, fabulously hot was this 60th street cart.

Now I have it in my mind to try to get to try all the carts within 5 minutes. I'm glad that these Halal carts are not being trucked out of the same depot with the same ingredients and recipes. I've not been cooking much lately, in a cooking funk I suppose. I need some new inspiration, I need to have some new meals out.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Kiwi Salad

Wow, Kiwis are cheap -often four for a dollar. I love the tartness and the crunch of the tiny seeds. All the Kiwis I've been getting lately are from Italy, a top producer of Kiwifruit. Although they are grown in every hemisphere, Kiwi are native to regions of China.

I threw together a salad of mixed greens with a slight amount of lemon and olive oil. Then I cut up some Parmigiano-Reggiano and tossed that on top. Then sliced some kiwi and tossed that on too. I was pleased.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Mignon Parmigiana

I have an Italian American mother who doesn't like much -but tomato sauce, pasta (family says macaroni for all shapes) cheese, and meat. So, no surprise I tend to cook this way. But after leaving home, you start eating other people's food and growing your taste. Unlike Ma, and whatever Batali says about real Italians liking mushy broccoli, I like broccoli sauteed firm with garlic and drizzled with a good olive oil, salt and pepper. I chose bread instead of pasta cause it was hot enough in the apartment without a steam engine going. Fairway in Red Hook (across from my wife's studio on Van Brunt) was having a crazy deal on fresh mozzarella (3.99/lb). I bought three -froze two. A can of LaValle san marzanos I had stored from some crazy deal they had on those a few months ago. Basil -garden. Fairway again, they had a deal on filet mignon (4.99/lb) in one of those wet-age bags that I do not prefer -but still a deal for this meal. I cut it up and froze some. Sliced the rest 3/8ths thick, covered it in breadcrumbs and fried it up in xv olive oil, lightly browned. Then into the dish with the sauce and cheese. Its very hard for me to cook for one, which I'm doing all summer. Fortunately I'm learning that leftovers are good. My mom always told us we needed to finish the pot(that meant the rest of the pasta) insisting we'd be hungry and this left an indelible urge to eat everything.

Dip the steak in egg. Then cover in bread crumbs.

Fry it up in the pan.

Have the sauce ready to go. This one has mushrooms.

In a dish layer the steak, sauce, and cheese. Throw some basil on top and yummy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Home Made Street Meat

I eat this about once a week, purchased from a halal cart on the sidewalk in front of school. We don't have many choices in our neighborhood for a quick bite, and this meal checks in at 5 bucks and is relatively healthy (chicken, rice, not greasy). I thought this meal would be quick at home and maybe even more tasty. I added more broccoli than the man at the cart seems ever willing to give me and added the peppers for flavor. On the street, vegetables are 99 percent iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato. I omitted those, working only with what I had on hand, but add those too if you wish. I can only imagine that I missed a spice in my home made street meat, but that said, I think the cumin and paprika approximated the street experience.

For two plates, plus lunch leftovers:

  • 1-1/2 cups rice with added sweet Hungarian paprika for color cooked in the rice cooker
  • 1 cup frozen peas into the rice cooker
  • 1-1/2 lbs boneless chicken thighs.
  • as much broccoli as you like
  • 1 onion -sliced
  • 1 Italian red pepper -diced
  • 1 hot pepper, any kind -diced
  • oil, your choice
  • paprika
  • cumin
  • salt and pepper
  • optional hot sauce
  • optional yogurt or sour cream
Cook your rice as you wish. I added the frozen peas to the rice because my cooker is big enough to accommodate cooking both at the same time. Also, the cooker keeps the finished rice done while I am waiting on the chicken.

Chop up the chicken. I put the chicken in a cast iron skillet and into the oven at 325 degrees with some olive oil, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. I cooked it for about 1/2 hour and pulled it out of the oven (watch the hot handle!) to drain off the fat. I threw into the skillet the sliced onion, chopped peppers, and broccoli florets along with some more paprika, stirred it up and placed it back in the oven for about another 1/2 hour.

Serve the rice and chicken together. I add lots o hot sauce. You could also eat the meat and vegetables alone in a pita. 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ham Casserole

This is the extra large ham that my father-in-law gave to us as we left his home in Minnesota this past holiday. He wants to give us a ham every year. One year, I am ashamed to admit, the ham only made it as far as a rest stop garbage can in Pennsylvania. This year, since the ham was recently purchased and the air was so cold the ham remained frozen for the whole trip in the car's trunk, I decided to keep it.

When I was searching for a white wine at a local liquor distributor, many of the tags on the shelves read "Good With Ham." I do not know why ham is the meat of choice around the holidays in Minnesota, but it is (maybe all the time?). No matter, I decided to cook its 11 pound ass last night.

I am a fan of ham and eat many varieties. My main complaint about this kind of ham is that it is way too salty. I washed it off and cooked it for 2.5 hours at 300 degrees even though it was 'pre-cooked.' So now the question remains, what to do with all that ham? Any ideas?

Below was my first idea. A casserole, which I am learning to appreciate. It's the meal of choice in my wife's Minnesota homeland, and I feel that the best way for me to get accustomed to casseroles is to start making my own. I even convinced myself that baked ziti is a casserole.

 Portuguese Peas, Parmigiano, and potatoes.

Olive oil underneath, sliced potatoes 1/8-inch thick, grated parmigiano.

Small chunks of ham, minced shallots.

More potatoes, then peas, cheese, and shallots. Repeat until dish is full.

On top, one last set of potato slices, cheese, black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.

The result was tasty, but I forgot one ingredient: funghi! Well, I think a casserole is defined by what you have on hand, and mushrooms were not. I still have 9 pounds of ham left. Now what?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Grandfather's Lasagna (adultered!)

I was about to make the meat lasagna, well known in my family as the one that was 8 inches tall and served for lunch(!!) on Thanksgiving day when my grandfather was still cooking. At the last minute I discovered that a guest I assumed was a carnivore was actually just a ichthyovore/crustaceaovore! Never take shrimp eating for meat eating. So, I jumped into college mode and adapted the meaty lasagna to a portobello mushroom and spinach one. I think the last, but first, time I made this was in grad school, to host all my artistic peers at my little place near the Rio. The only difference then: I grew my own spinach -and that spinach was fantastic.

The Vegetables

First I heat up a cast iron skillet, add a drop of olive oil and add the sliced mushrooms.

Mainly, I am looking to pull some moisture out.

I love how these look, like handlebar mustachios.

The same for the fresh spinach, but in a saucepan with a teaspoon of olive oil for each batch.

The Cheeses

Off to the fresh mozzarella: I used salted, but I think it's a matter of preference.  I used one pound and this lasagna was HUGE. Cube it, roughly at 1/2 inch.

Then there's the ricotta cheese, which you all know we say like "ri gaw ta." One pound will probably due for normal people making normal lasagna. I added maybe two pounds to my cheese mixture.  Add to this grated pecorino romano, the salty kick the ricotta needs. We go by taste on this, but I could say add a 1/4 to 1/2 pound to the mixture, depending on the quantity of ricotta. Then add the cubed mozzarella to the mixture and stir it up real good. Put the mixture in the fridge until your ready to layer.

Now I bought way too much ricotta. I had some frozen because I planned to make this lasagna a month ago, but I wasn't sure the freezer didn't kill it. So I bought Caputo's store-made at 6.99 a container -a good price considering the container is 3 pounds! I froze the remaining unused ricotta, and with the remaining unused mixture, spread it on some semolina and sunk into fatty heaven.

Incidentally, this is the cheese grater I use for grating the Pecorino or Parmigiano. I never liked the kind that makes the cheese into a powder. Also, I've been trained by family to insist on this simple knuckle scraper.

Pasta Interlude

There are only so many choices of dried lasagna pasta. I used Ronzoni -it was on sale. I've never used the no boil kind -I don't know why. For my embarrassingly large lasagna, I needed three pounds. I use a large stock pot, 2/3 full of water, salted, with a drop of olive oil. Get that water boiling real good. Cook the pasta till near done, but not al dente like you expect of your pasta dish -a little harder, because it will cook in the oven some.

I remove the lasagna strips from the water with a spoon and a slotted spaghetti spoon, putting them in another nearby pot. I leave the cooking water in the pot, get it up to boiling again, and put in the next batch. Repeat until all three pounds are done. Of course, normal folks who use a pound or pound and a half, will not need to repeat.

After the pasta is removed, let it cool a bit (some will water rinse cool, but I don't). I lay the strips on a plate or cutting board flat just to keep them handy for the layering.

The Layering

I start will a little olive oil rubbed on the pan (in this instance a fairly hardy aluminum pan, doubled, from the corner store). A drop of sauce, made previously, is added to the pan too. Then I lay the first layer of pasta, twice. All pasta layers are double, covering the seams from the layer immediately below. Lengthwise, crosswise, no one cares -go crazy.

On top of the first layer I lay the spinach and globs of the 3 cheese mixture. I add grated Parmigiano  because, well, why stop with three cheeses? Incidentally, I cannot show you the whole pan, it is so large, if I had panned back, detail would be lost!

After adding another two layers of pasta, I add the mushrooms and some sauce. I don't want a sloppy lasagna, so I emphasize keeping the water out of it. For this reason I don't add too much sauce because it's mostly water and because sauce can be added later at the plate. I also do not mix my sauce with the cheeses because I believe (maybe wrongly) that the sauce will turn the cheese quicker when stored in the fridge. Lasagna doesn't have a long fridge life, for me two to three days at best. Freeze for long term storage.

Add another two layers of pasta, gently pressing down with a wooden spoon, and repeat until the layers have overflowed their banks. On top, I slice some more mozzarella, thinly, and lay it across the final layer. I add some sauce. I cover the pan with some aluminum foil and place in the oven at around 275 degrees and cook for about an hour. If you like crispy edges, take the foil off in the last 15 minutes. Cut and serve.

If this were a meat lasagna, it would be filled with something we call fennel meat -which is basically a beef meat loaf filled with fennel seeds, and pork, which can be loin or even country ribs. Both are cooked prior, in tomato sauce (I cook it in the oven, but mom does in a pot), cooled and cubed and layered much like the spinach and mushroom. You can use this sauce for your lasagna, since clearly you're cooking for carnivores.

Grandfather's Lasagna (adultered!)
  • 3 lbs lasagna pasta
  • 1.5 lbs fresh mozzarella -cubed, some slices
  • 2 lbs fresh ricotta (pollyo in a pinch)
  • 1/2 lb pecorino romano -grated
  • 1 lb portobello mushrooms -sliced
  • A lot of fresh spinach -maybe 2 big bags
  • tomato sauce
  • some parmigiano -grated 
  • some xv olive oil
  • baking pan big enough for all this!