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Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving is YAMtastic.

  Here's how this all started. My cousin Marc and his wife Shayna decided that it is long overdue that our generation take over the family's Thanksgiving Feast. They sent out evites ('cus, hello, 21st Century) everyone is supposed to check off something they will make and bring. Like most American families we are an eclectic mix of ethnicities. Mostly Italian but with notable members of Latino, Portuguese, and Korean. On our Thanksgiving table it's not unusual to find Tamales, Civeche, Antipasto, Sardines, Rolled Anchovies, Olives and of course all the usual American stuff. God help me but I love stuffing wrapped in turkey skin with cranberry jelly.

 Also my Dad's Old-Fashioned's. It's a Cocktail friends, look it up.

 And sweet-potatoes. Yams are a tuber, Sweet Potatoes are a rhizome. If you say "rhizome" a whole bunch of times it sounds really funny. One is New World, one is Old World. The confusion comes from where you live. You might call a Yam a Sweet Potato, you might call it a Yam. In the stores they are both labeled as Sweet Potato. To add to the confusion canned sweet potato is usually labeled as "yam"
 One is red and one is white.
Someone always makes the Southern-American mess with marshmallows and brown-sugar. Fine. No problem really. More of a dessert than a side-dish at that point. It's not my favorite thing, more of a chore to eat. One dimensional and doesn't really show off the flavor of the main ingredient. Sorry Mom.

 Yes, I'm show-boating. Deal. I wanted to make something special that reflected more of an Italian style.

 My family deserves my best efforts, I don't cook for them enough but I really wish I did.
Here goes nothing.

Chef Nick does Sweet-Potato Lasagna. Shhh they think I'm doing a side-dish.


3 large but regularly shaped red ones
1 large white ones...ya know, or not
2 eggs
pinch of cinnamon
4 shallots
Lasagna Noodles, 1 pound, cooked just under al dente
Ricotta Cheese
some frozen Spinach
2 whole eggs
fresh Parsley
fresh Sage
and Rosemary
and Thyme chopped roughly (it's just like that song isn't it?)

Béchamel Sauce (For all you professionals, we're doing a Mornay)

Goat Cheese (about 3 TB)
Whole Milk (1 qt)
1 egg
pinch of ground Nutmeg
pinch of Chili Powder
1 large clove of Garlic, smooshed

For the top
Some Bread-Crumbs
Asiago Cheese, shredded

and of course, Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper

I'm going to break this down into steps.

Peel the Shallots and slice across to make sticks. Melt some butter in a pan and cook the Shallots until nice deep brown.

deeper brown than this

Peel your YAMS and cut into large pieces, try for uniformity. Cover with water, add a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar and any herb stems you might have left.

Bring to a boil until soft. Drain and TIP put them back in the pot over low heat until dry. Remove to bowl.
Add half your chopped Herbs, good pinch of Salt and Pepper and a scant pinch of Cinnamon. Add the eggs. Mix well and add the Shallots. Set aside.

Cook your noodles. Because we're going to finish by baking we don't need them perfectly done, just a little under. Once done remove from cooking water and deposit them into ice water, remove and put on a plate for later.

ice ice baby

Thaw out the spinach. Place between two dry and clean towels TWIST and SQUEEZE. We need to remove as much water as possible. Combine with Ricotta, some of the Herbs, pinch of Nutmeg and a healthy pinch of Salt and Pepper. Set aside.

And now we make our Béchamel.
I've made it before on this Blog but there seems to be a curse. Every single time, none of my pictures come out so keep your fingers crossed.

Basic stuff
whisk one whole egg in a bowl, set aside
Warm up the Whole Milk. This is why we have microwave ovens. Not boiling for God's sake, just hot. This prevents lumps from forming.
Melt about 2 TB butter over high heat
before it burns, lower heat and
add an equal amount of white flour
Add the pinch of Nutmeg and Chili Powder

stir around until it stops smelling starchy, use your nose, trust me that you'll know

 Continue over low heat and add the milk, keep whisking  You think it won't matter, yes it does. Raise heat to medium. You'll notice a gradual thickening.

Take off heat and with a ladle, add a bit to your beaten egg and stir around until combined. This is called tempering. It allows you to raise the temperature of the egg without cooking it. You'll need the egg's protein to add body and sheen but we do not want scrambled eggs in our sauce.
Add your egg mixture back to the pot, off heat and whisk. Put back on medium heat and keep whisking. It will thicken beautifully. Remove from heat. The "carry-over" heat will work for us. Add remaining Herbs.

 Add the Goat Cheese and Garlic. Whisk until smooth, set aside. The remaining warmth will release all the love from your herbs.

Coat the bottom of an open baking pan with cold Butter. Yes Mom I used your old baking pan, what else?
Lay down a thin layer of the sauce

Put down one layer of the noodles and carefully cover with half the YAM mixture

Cover with another layer of noodles and half of your Ricotta and Spinach mixture. Dump half of your Béchamel on top, press down deep.


Here's the top.
One layer of the cheese.
Mix together by hand 2 TB of cold butter with 1/2 cup of Bread-Crumbs (or so) sprinkle across top.
Cover with shreds of the cheese.

In a 375F oven, bake covered with aluminum foil for 45 Minutes.
Remove foil and bake uncovered for another 20 minutes until it browns lightly.

Remove from oven and let it rest for 20 minutes or so.

 I'm thankful that I still have my Mom and Dad. I'm thankful for my brother Pat and his family. I'm thankful for my Aunts and Uncles and cousins. I'm also very thankful that so many of you are still reading this blog, I couldn't do it without you. Happy Thanksgiving one and all.

 I'm thankful that I am, as always
cooking poor, eating rich
Get your grub on

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Celebrating Autumn. Split Pea Soup.

Even here in my Sonoran Desert the temperatures have dropped. OK sure we aren't expecting snow or anything. It's 65F today with puffy white clouds, crystal blue sky and a nice breeze. Mom would make soup on days like this. One of my all-time favorites is Split-Pea. Creamy without cream. Hearty without a bunch of meat. Slightly sweet and earthy with flavors of vegetables and fresh herbs. Easy Peasy...HAH see what I did there? Grab a bottle of dry sherry, let's do this.


I used about 2 pounds dried split-peas. I'm making a grip of soup but if you don't need to, divide in half.
1 large Onion
2-3 Carrots, peeled
2-3 stalks Celery
1 clove of Garlic, smooshed
Salt Pork. As much or as little you want. Chop it up fine. Hey look, if you're a vegetarian then just use some Olive Oil for the first step.
8 cups either Chicken or Vegetable Stock
1 bottle dry sherry
Pinch of ground Nutmeg
Pinch or so or Chili Powder
2 dried Bay Leaves
Fresh Herbs. Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Mint. Yes, I said Mint, a much under-used herb, brilliant with peas.
and of course. Kosher Salt and fresh ground Black Pepper
In case ya'll didn't know, Peas are in fact Legumes but you won't need to soak them overnight or anything. The British do but I have no idea why.

Dump all the Peas in a Colander and rinse under cold water. Remove any little pebbles or anything that looks wacky.
Grab your vegetables and small dice.

mince up all the Herbs

and small dice up your Salt Pork.

I bet you can see where this is going. Peas as legumes contain a bunch of Starch that will render out and give us that wonderful creamy mouth feel.

Heat up your deep pot and throw in the salt pork.

Toss that around for a bit and add the vegetables with a big pinch of Kosher Salt and Pepper also the pinch of Nutmeg and Chili Powder. Stir that around a bit, we're just sweating. Add all the herbs.

Add all Peas, toss it

 dump in half the bottle of Sherry and all Stock. Bring to a simmer, cover and relax.

 Let it go until everything is soft. Stir once in a while, you'll notice that the Peas will just dissolve.  You can stop there if you want but if you have a Thunder-Stick (hand blender) use that to puree a little, not a lot. Leave some whole, adds to the texture and character.

 I have always believed in that old adage that soups are always better the next day. I'm hungry NOW so I'm not waiting. Once you have it in your bowl, sprinkle a little bit of Sherry on top.

 That wasn't so hard was it? Allowing for prep-time the whole thing takes about an hour and thirty. I remember my Mom would give us bowls of this with piles of Saltines and we would just go nuts.
I made some of my Sausage and Cheese bread because soup without bread is sad. I'll happily share the recipe if you ask.

To all of you I wish a cozy and snuggly Autumn. 
Cooking poor, eating rich
get your grub on

Friday, November 2, 2012

I love Louisiana. Shoulders to New Orleans.

Nobody loves food more than me. Except maybe the city of New Orleans. Laissez les bons temps rouler. Friends, let the good times roll on.

 I do love me some Cajun. Petite bit of French, little bit of Spanish and a fair helping from Africa and Native American. Today I'm doing Meat-loaf. Yeah ok I said it, Meat-loaf.

The Cajun. Once of Acadia, now of the swamps of Louisiana. French speaking people of the backwaters. This is what a cooking poor but eating rich people can do. Je t'aime.

Chef Nick's Cajun style Meat-loaf. Roasted Fall vegetables besides with Red Gravy.


Some ground beef, 'bout 3 pounds
The holy trinity. One part green bell pepper, one part celery, two parts onion, picture below
one clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup blackening powder*
1 egg
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked black pepper

Red Gravy
3-4 slices bacon
1-2 TB flour
chopped Basil
1 dried Bay-Leaf
1 cup brewed coffee
1 can 16z tomato puree
1 TB blackening powder*

Roasted Fall Vegetables
some large chopped root vegetables to include
and whatever, parsnip, carrot, I'm a root-vegetable chop me up and add me
today I got some Brussels's Sprouts, trim and split
Onion, peel and slice large
I got me some peeled Garlic cloves
some bacon slices, chopped
tossed with any oil and add
fresh Thyme, Rosemary, salt and pepper
Place in large roasting pan

mmmm Bacon

I make my own so you can too.
Chili Powder
Cayenne Pepper
Ground Thyme
Ground Oregano
Garlic Powder
Combine with Salt and Black Pepper
looks like 'dis

Here we go wit' some Meat-Loaf

Take your Holy Trinity and sweat in a large pan, add salt and pepper
 Holy Trinity
Remove from heat and add to your ground beef.
Add egg , bread-crumbs and Blackening-Powder.
Don't forget salt

Mix that all together by hand. The warmth of your hands will activate the proteins and give your product some body. Shape into a loaf on a large open pan.
I said Meat-loaf didn't I

Place your pan of vegetables and your loaf in an oven set at 400 degrees. Leave it for now. Gonna take at least an hour. 

Let's move on to Red Gravy. This is basically a Roux finished with Black Coffee and Tomato Puree. Easy.

In a wide pan, render your bacon until brown, all fat pooled in the pan. 
rendering bacon
Once all the bacon is browned, add your flour and stir around until it stops smelling starchy. You'll know, trust me. Toss in the TB of Blackening Powder, toss around, it will all stick together. Add in one big splash all the coffee. Stir around.

You'll end up quickly with a big pile of yuck. Don't worry. Once you add the Tomato it all makes sense.

Now add your Tomato Puree. Stir around on medium heat.

 Add Basil and dried Bay-Leaf, Simmer for a bit. Check seasonings. 
See? I said it would all make sense. 

Your loaf and veggies should be done by now, let the loaf rest. The vegetables may benefit from more time under heat. Turn 'em over and let those go for another while. Look for some brown. 

Plate up, use as much of the gravy as you want. 

This is
Cooking poor, eating rich
get your grub on