Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fast Fettucini with Ham and Jarlsburg

Printable Recipe
What to do with that left over spiral cut ham? Turn it into this quick and creamy luscious treat and you'll be wishing for left over ham more often. After the holidays, finding myself with the end bits of the ham that will no longer give up a decent slice for sandwiching, I thought about this dish we had in Florence, Italy a few years ago and how quickly the chef made it up in his small open kitchen where everyone in the place could watch. This is my replica. Not many ingredients here so it's essential that each one is of best quality.
And here ya go: you'll need 1 Tbs each of butter and flour and about 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes. The cheeses are Jarlsburg and Parmigiano Reggiano, a cup of the first and just a spoonful or so of the second.
Ham, of course. For the photo I had to throw some Boar's head ham slices from the butcher on here because, why? I forgot to photograph the ingredients when I actually made the dish and that won't do for my faithful readers. Sigh, that meant recreating the ingredient plate after the fact. This is going to be a photo-intensive post because I want you to see exactly what the sauce needs to look like every minute along the way so it will turn out perfect for you.

And start some fettuccini or spaghetti cooking with a good tablespoon or more of salt. For four servings you'll need less than half a pound of dry noodles. Whatever time the box lists, set your timer for 2 minutes less so you can test it and be sure to get out of the bath while it's truly al dente and not soft and mushy.

We're getting everything ready before starting the sauce which will go really fast and has to be stirred continuously, no leaving the stove to grate cheese after the fact. You'll need about a cup of the Jarlsburg (or Gruyere would be really good here too, also nutty and richly flavored) and the ham should be chopped up to equal about a cupful also.

Put the 1 cup of cream into the microwave for 1 minute only to warm it. And yes I have written a message on the turntable of my microwave. A demand (or plea) for my lovely twins girls to PLEASE COVER IT! so I will not have crusty stallagtites on the ceiling of my oven from exploded dinnersnacks.

 And now we are ready to commence saucing! Melt the butter over medium low heat until it just begins to foam. Sprinkle in the spoon of flour and immediately stir it in with a whisk. It will really foam up at first; keep it moving quickly to blend and lean in for the fragance to tell you when to add the hot cream, usually within just a minute or so, when the scent changes from a raw floury smell to slightly nutty but it has not browned at all (toss it and start again on lower heat if it browns).

Add the liquid in a steady stream, whisking all the while. The butter/flour mixture will still look thin before the liquid comes in but will quickly thicken as you keep whisking.

As it bubbles along add the red pepper flakes and cheese and finally the ham.

The pasta should be ready now. Before you drain it dip out about a cup of the pasta water to add to the sauce. This will not thin the sauce as much you'd think, just enough to make it coat the noodles better. This also adds some seasoning and starch to the sauce to make it better.

Add this in gradually, still whisking of course. The heat should be high enough for the sauce to bubble steadily and easily incorporate the pasta water completely. If it seems too thin, bubble it just another minute or two to rethicken. All in all, this sauce is ready in less than 10 minutes from start to finish.  And it's ready for the pasta.

I start by adding 2 cups and folding it in with a rubber spatula to see if more is needed. 3 cups at most is all you'll need.  (You can serve the left over pasta tomorrow with a little browned butter and a sprinkle of toasted almonds or pine nuts.)

 Powerful shake or two or three of black pepper.
 Finally, the last touch is that perfect parmigianno. Mmmmm. This one is hardly more than a rind which I saved to add some marvelous flavor to a soup. But that's another blog for another day when I make use of that spiral cut hambone. Don't throw it out! Freeze it if you have to. Stay tuned and we'll make soup in a few days!

Back to our Fettucini - gild it with a hearty spoonful of finely grated parm and serve it up! Give it a taste first to be sure you're willing to share.

1/2 lb Spaghetti
8 oz heavy cream
8 oz jarlsburg cheese
8 oz honeybaked ham or similar good ham
1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs flour

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Yummy Little Sandwiches

Printable Recipe
Spicy Italian Roast Beef layered with creamy, nutty cheese on a just-sweet-enough mini bun. You'll make these to take for a party, a pitch-in, a luncheon (do people have luncheon anymore?). And you'll keep making them for yourself...midnight snack, Saturday lunch, Sunday brunch, oh, anything at all. They're a bit hard to resist. And quick and easy. You've practically got the recipe already, but here's a visual:

Open the 12 pack of Hawaiian rolls and do not separate into individual pieces. Steady them with your palm in the middle of the whole thing and use a long serrated knife to cut them horizontally into a top and bottom. Open them up like a big bread clamshell. On the underside of the top half slather on a goodly layer of Miracle Whip. As much as I love mayonnaise, the real thing, I believe this sandwich needs the tangy goodness of MW to make it just right. 
Now, for the other half o' the bread layer on all of this: 8 oz cream cheese, 2-4 oz blue cheese, handful of smoked almonds. 

Rough chop those almonds with a big sturdy knife. I mean just lay a handful on a chopping block and chop through a few times to at least halve them. Chunkier is better here. NOTE: Everything will mix together better and spread nicely if you give the cream cheese just 10-20 seconds in the microwave till barely warm and very soft.  

Now, layer your very thinly sliced pound of Italian roast beef over all and close that breadclam right up. It's easiest to cut through everything with the long serrated knife just before you arrange on the platter. These will fit nicely back into the "tray" and bag they came in to transport for your event. And they hold quite well for 2-3 days in the fridge!  Incidentally, I find Italian roast beef in the bigger groceries or from my butcher who carries Boar's Head which is my favorite brand. Any Italian roast beef greatly trumps plain old roast beef; so much more flavorful. If you're really tired, go ahead and make this with whatever you've got. It will definitely still be irresistible.
12 Hawaiian Rolls
1 lb Italian Roast Beef
8 oz Cream Cheese
2-4 oz Blue Cheese
1/2 cup Smoked Almonds
Miracle Whip

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Festive Green Salad with Red Poms

Printable Recipe

A perfect salad anytime but especially pretty for the Christmas table. Pomegranate arils dot the bright green romaine lettuce like lovely little holly berries. So pretty without the deadly poison of the holly. Truly, don't get those two mixed up. And drizzled over all, a pink poppyseed salad dressing that's just a bit sweet, just a bit tangy. So, let's whip up a healthy, completely poison free salad!

The assemblage: a pomegranate, dried cherries, romaine heart, and toasty sliced almonds.  For each salad you'll need 1 cup of chopped lettuce and 1 tablespoon each of almonds and dried cherries and 2 tsp pomegranate arils.  Top with 2 Tablespoons dressing which we'll make in a minute. First things first though: how to get the goods out of that pomegranate and a quick way to take the romaine down to easy bite size pieces. My mom used to say that a piece of salad lettuce should always be small enough to bite without cutting up at the table. I do the lettuce cutting ahead of time with that in mind. One Note: Dried Cranberries work just as well in this salad and are just as pretty and red.
A quick way to cut the romaine hearts (which I came up with after doing romaine salads for 80 one day) is like this: Cut a wedge out to remove the core, as pictured here, then slice the whole thing from end to end, flip it over a half turn, and make a second cut the long way. Now you can slice across in narrow strips and get nice bite size pieces quickly.

How to Seed a Pomegranate

Well, you can bash it smartly with a wooden spoon which I've seen Nigella Lawson do on her cooking show with great success. I find that some seeds fly out while lots of splatters ruin everything within two feet of the bowl. 

The better solution is to submerge the pom half in a bowl and sort of flip it inside out. Work the little arils out underwater so that any released juice stays in the water and the waxy membranes float away.

Now the waxy insides can be skimmed off the top and the little red jewels retrieved with a mesh strainer. There will be more than enough for 6-8 salads, maybe more.

Pink Poppyseed Dressing

Mix together in a jar with lid and shake furiously or whisk until all is emulsified:

1 Cup Canola Oil
Less than 1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
    (about 2-1/2 Tbs)
2 Tbs Honey
1/2 teaspoon honey mustard
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
pinch of salt

THE SHOPPING LIST: (for 6-8 salads)
2 Hearts of Romaine
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup Dried Cherries or Craisins
1 Pomegranate
1 cup Canola Oil
1/4 C Red Wine Vinegar
Honey Mustard
Poppy Seeds

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cherry Topped Cream-Drop Cookies

Printable Recipe
Creamy rich and dense with a soft cake-like texture, these cookies are the same cherry drops my Aunt Essie was making in the 40's and which my mom made in later years for us. I've never tasted another one like these.As a matter of fact it's hard to put them in a category - they're not shortbread, much too soft for that; they're not sugar cookies, too rich in flavor. And they're too sticky to be cut with a cookie cutter, even when refrigerated. But I'm not inclined to go to the trouble of cutting out a cookie most days, anyway. Just give me a dough that tastes fabulous and is intended to be baked as a little blob and my needs are met.

So start this little blob with a stick of butter and a cup of sugar and paddle that till it starts looking creamy.

Here's the rest of the line-up to assemble:
1 egg
2 Tbs Cream
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp lemon extract
1/2 tsp salt
2-1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Maraschino Cherry halves, drained and patted dry

So, now that the butter-sugar mixture has been creamed, add the egg and 2 Tbs. Cream and 1 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp lemon extract and blend it in on low untill smooth. Careful with that lemon extract - it's a powerful force and a little goes a loooong way.

Next, the dry ingredients need to be blended well before adding to the dough. I'm of the scoop-and-scrape school of flour measurement because I'm not worried about compacting the flour by scooping it (a very real fear amongst professional flour scoopers) because I scoop it gently and I don't pack it down like it's brown sugar, y'all. Just a gentle scoop and scrape the excess off into a nice big orange bowl. And yes, I have a restaurant server's table crumber that is my favorite scraping device because I'm just that geeky. And because I love to shop in restaurant supply houses because you never know what on earth you'll find in there that you just can't live without .

Where on earth was I? Oh, yeah, the dry ingredients: 2-1/4 cups of flour in a bowl with 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt. Whisk slowly to blend well and prevent the danger of an evil tasting bit of baking powder in any of the cookies your favorite, sweet mother-in-law might bite into later. Now add to the dough and mix on low, gradually speeding up to medium as the flour incorporates. Maybe throw a kitchen towel over the whole shebang until that powdery mess blends in so you don't flour the walls on the mixer side of the kitchen. Just sayin'.
This is how the dough will look when ready. No need to beat it beyond the point when the flour is completely mixed in. It will be creamy but fairly stiff.
I like to use a small mechanical scoop like a mini ice cream scoop. This one dispenses about a tablespoon of dough. I have them in 2 or 3 sizes because they are the quickest, easiest way to make cookies. So much better than spoons and fingers and rolling dough balls in your buttered hands. Although that butter is really good for dry hands if you just rub in the left overs and then wash up at the sink. You may think I'm joking...
 Press 1/2 Cherry into each of these, slightly flattening the balls as you go. Give them about 8-10 minutes in a 350 oven. Really keep an eye on the first batch to determine time for your particular oven. To keep them tender and moist, they should be baked until just done and not brown at all. They will still have just a little "give" when you poke one with a finger. I often take one out and break it open to see that the dough is cooked through and consistently colored all the way through. If so, and it holds together without crumbling, they're ready!  

1 Stick of Butter
1 Cup of Sugar
1 egg
2 Tbs Cream
1 tsp Vanilla
1/2 tsp Lemon Extract
1/2 tsp Salt
2-1/4 Cups Flour
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
Maraschino Cherry halves

We're celebrating the holidays with the Food Network by bringing our cookies to a Virtual Cookie Swap. Just look at these delicious recipes for all the holiday sweets that will be there!

Jones Is Hungry: A Cookie for Chocolate Lovers
From My Corner of Saratoga: Gooey Butter Cookies
The Sensitive Epicure: Speculaas Dutch Windmill Cookies
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Salted Chocolate & Dulce de Leche Fudge
Virtually Homemade: Chocolate Mint Snowballs
Sweet Life Bake: Polvorones de Chocolate
FN Dish: Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip-Bacon Cookies
Thursday Night Dinner: Peppermint Bark Cookies
Mooshu Jenne: Biscotti
Cooking With Elise: Sweet and Salty White Chocolate Cranberry Oat Cookies

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