Friday, December 28, 2018

Celebrating Italian-Style

What’s cooking? Crostini di Ricotta con Uva Rossa (Crostini of Ricotta with Red Grapes)

For a compulsive person with an inability to say no – that would be me – the holidays offer a number of traps that my hubby refers to as self-inflicted wounds. This year the problem was acute. Dinners for 8, 16, and 13 so far, with one to come for 12 on New Year’s Eve. And something like 400 decorated cookies – for the neighborhood party, my children and grandchildren, and one of those dinner parties. What was I thinking?

Then in the run-up to sending those cookies to my grandchildren, I discovered that my cache of cookie tins was down to zero. I stopped in at my local Container Store, where they always have a good supply, and discovered... nothing. A couple of very small tins, and a couple of very large ones, but none of the Goldilocks size that holds exactly three dozen cookies.

I grabbed a nice young man who was working there and challenged him.

“You sure?” he said.

“Pretty sure,” I said.

“Well, let’s go check. There might be some in a couple of other places around the store.” But no. Only more of the very big ones, which would mean baking more cookies, and the very thought of restarting the baking process had me ready to weep.

We discovered some square tins, which I thought might do, and some middle-sized tins that my helper swore to me were the middle-sized tins they’d always had. Still, when you’ve bought as many of these things as I have, you develop an eye for the right size. But how to prove it? I had a lightbulb moment.

“I’ll call my daughter-in-law,” I said. “She might have some of the old ones that we can measure.”

Sure enough, she had some. “So tell me what the measurements on them are. I’ll need height and diameter,” I said. The mathematician in me had awakened and figured to compare the volumes of these various tins. Even with different shapes, I could know how many cookies would fit.

“Hold on,” she said. “I have to find a measuring tape.” There followed a lot of rustling around, and a raised voice as she asked the darling children what they had done with the measuring tape.

“She’s looking,” I said to my helper. Finally, sounding slightly frustrated, my DIL said, “Well, I can’t find the measuring tape. So do you have a Metrocard [NYC Transit card]?”

“Uh, yes...,” I said, as I dug through my purse. Then she added brightly, “It’s the same height as a Metrocard.”

“Ok,” I said, “but I also need the diameter...” And that’s where the train derailed. In desperation, I bought a few of the faux-middle-sized tins and headed out. Amazingly, on my way home, the cookie gods smiled at me. My friend Elaine called to say that she’d just been to Michael’s where they had cookie tins on sale. The exact right size. A Christmas miracle.

And at that point, I also knew what to get my son and daughter-in-law for Christmas: tape measures.

* * *

On one of my many trips through the grocery store this season, I happened upon a display of Italian delicacies, and found a recipe for an hors d’oeuvre that sounded unusual, festive, and delicious. I was right on all counts. You get a full range of tastes – from the sweetness of the grapes to the salty pancetta and the slightly bitter, garlicky flavor of the shallots. The cool creaminess of the ricotta adds a great visual and textural contrast to the grape/pancetta/shallot mix. So it’s not just tasty – it’s also gorgeous.

Because of the slicing and dicing, this is a tiny bit tedious in the making; but if you enlist your mate or another helper in dicing the pancetta and slicing the grapes, it can all be done in an hour. Mise en place will again be very helpful, so start with the slicing and dicing. Once you begin cooking, the process moves along pretty quickly – less than 25 minutes on the stove. And while you’re cooking, your “helper” can make the little toasts.

Crostini of Ricotta with Red Grapes

Adapted from Central Market, Austin, Texas.

Serves 8-10.

1 baguette, cut diagonally in ½-inch thick slices
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove (optional)
10-12 ounces of ricotta (as fresh as you can find)
1-2 heaping tablespoons of honey (the KG fave is acacia honey)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces pancetta, sliced to thickness of bacon and cut in ½-inch dice*
1 pound seedless red grapes, sliced in half lengthwise
4 shallots (about 6 ounces), thinly sliced
¼ cup of dry white wine
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (plain or fruit-flavored balsamic; I used fig balsamic)
Garnish: 1 bunch basil, chiffonade

*Kitchen Goddess note: Pancetta is essentially Italian bacon, but the two products aren’t made the same. Bacon is cured with salt, then smoked and sliced. Pancetta is cured with salt, black pepper, and spices and rolled into a cylinder. It is never smoked. Most of the time, you’ll find it in your grocer’s deli area, where you’ll have to have it sliced to order. For this recipe, you’ll want to get it sliced thin, 
but not wafer thin. Tell the deli guy/girl you want it about the thickness of bacon.

Preheat the oven to 350º or set it on broil. Brush one side of the baguette slices with olive oil, lay them on a baking sheet, and bake them for 10 minutes, or run them under the broiler for 45-60 seconds, until lightly toasted. You’ll have to keep an eye on the broiler version – they can burn in a heartbeat when you’re not looking. Brush the other sides and repeat to get both sides lightly toasted. The KG also rubs one side with a clove of fresh garlic, but that’s up to you. Set the crostini aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the ricotta, the honey, and salt/pepper to taste. Don’t be stingy with the pepper – it adds great flavor. Set aside the flavored ricotta.

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the diced pancetta until golden. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the pan. To the fat, add the shallots and sauté for 3 minutes, until they appear soft.

Add the grapes, stir together well, and increase the heat to medium-high. Leave the grapes and shallots to cook undisturbed for 5 minutes, then stir occasionally as the mixture cooks for another 5-6 minutes. The finished grapes are prettiest if they experience some browning, so try to get the cut side of the grapes exposed to the bottom of the skillet as much as possible. If the shallots start to burn, remove them to the bowl or plate with the pancetta, or push them to the side of the skillet.

Pour the wine into the skillet and stir well to scrape up any bits of pancetta/shallot/grape from the bottom. Add the pancetta back to the pan, and continue to cook, stirring, until the liquid in the pan has reduced to almost nothing. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vinegar.

Serve the grape mixture atop crostini that have been spread with the ricotta, and sprinkled with chiffonade of basil. The Kitchen Goddess likes to serve the grape mixture and the ricotta in separate bowls, so that guests can assemble the crostini themselves, but you can also assemble them and serve on a tray or plate.

By the way, this should go very well with champagne or another dry sparkling wine.

Happy New Year to you all!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

And We’re Off to the Races!!!!...

What’s cooking? Butternut Squash with Royal Trumpet Mushrooms and Holiday Hummus

I don’t know how this happened, but someone has posted a list of tasks for me to accomplish.  As if I didn’t have enough to do, now I also have to...

1. Make a chart.
2. Clear out the fridge.
3. Dry-brine the turkey.
4. Set the table.
5. Get some candles.
6. Get my mise en place.
7. Gather my timers and Post-It Notes.
8. Figure out ways my guests can help.
9. Butter the turkey.
10. Buy a box of zip-lock bags.

Just a little joke, folks. I hope yesterday’s list was helpful. Today’s post will be mercifully shorter, mostly because the Kitchen Goddess is reaching that state of mind that causes her prince to hide out in his office.

How lucky we are that we can take the time to focus on a giant meal for friends and family? Back in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast, my little church in Summit, NJ, was connecting with a church in a Louisiana neighborhood whose congregation had been hit hard. We held a dinner to benefit that church, and I volunteered to set the tables. For centerpieces, I decided to focus on what would be lost if you lost everything. I started with a table to show canned and boxed foods, but as I gathered some for the display, I realized what a small part of “everything” that is. So on another table, I piled sheets and towels; another got books and CDs of music. On another, I made a display of family photos. One table even had piles of toilet paper, toothbrushes, and packages of soap. It’s amazing when you think about it that such insignificant items can mean so much when they’re lost.

According to a TED talk I heard recently, by Brother David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar, it’s not happiness that makes us grateful – instead, gratefulness actually makes us happy. So the key to happiness is grateful living. Which is why, every year, as I get into the postings around Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of how grateful I am that you are reading this blog. It’s a small thing, but meaningful to me.

Ok, enough of philosophizing and back to cooking.

I know most of you are well into the preparations for Thanksgiving. So today’s dishes will not likely end up on your table. But that doesn’t stop them from being good ideas for another day. Because you know what will happen after Thanksgiving? We’ll all have another meal to cook!

And now I feel much better because Food & Wine Magazine just sent me an e-newsletter with “28 Next-Level Thanksgiving Vegetable Side Dishes.” Today! Well, well, look who else is running behind.

The first of today’s dishes was a real surprise to me, mostly because I couldn’t find either of the main ingredients and had to punt. The original recipe called for kabocha squash with black trumpet mushrooms. And as hard as I looked,... no kabocha today. At least, I looked sort of hard... for a good 5-10 minutes, until I spotted my old fave, butternut squash, already cut in nice, neat cubes. I decided to call a squash a squash, so into the cart it went.

I made more of an effort for the black trumpet mushrooms, because they sounded so cool, and you know what a soft spot the Kitchen Goddess has for strange, cool foods. The produce guy at Whole Foods told me they’d have some Sunday night after they unpacked their latest shipment. But when I returned around 9pm, what they had was black truffles – for a mere $90 per ounce! Not at all what I wanted. They had Royal Trumpet mushrooms (a.k.a. King Oyster mushrooms) instead, and those looked sufficiently cool that I bought some.

The dish is exquisite. Beautiful for starters. Earthy and slightly sweet from the butternut squash, a light nutty flavor from the mushrooms, and a noticeable tang from the Madeira. Woof. So this punt was a field goal. My prince and I will not wait for Thanksgiving to polish it off.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Royal Trumpet Mushrooms and Madeira

Adapted from a recipe by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby in their book, Vedge (Workman Publishing) 

Serves 6.

To trim the mushrooms, just remove the fibrous base.
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut in ¾-inch dice (about 4 cups)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
½ pound Royal Trumpet mushrooms, wiped clean, trimmed and sliced ⅛-inch thick
½ cup chopped shallots (2 medium-sized)
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 large cloves)
½ cup Madeira
½ cup chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
Here's how they look sliced.
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Toss the squash in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of the oil, and half the salt and pepper. Line a large baking pan with baker’s parchment and spread the squash out on it in a single layer. Roast 25 minutes, or until fork-tender.

While the squash is roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large sauté pan at high heat, until the oil shimmers. Add all at once the mushrooms, shallots, garlic, and remaining half of the salt and pepper. Stir together well, then cook 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, while the mushrooms brown.

Once the mushrooms are reasonably brown, pour in the Madeira and use a spoon to deglaze the pan. Continue cooking for 2-3 minutes, to reduce the Madeira by half.

Kitchen Goddess note: Deglazing is a cooking technique – typically using wine or vinegar or stock – for removing and dissolving browned food residue from a pan. The residue acts to flavor sauces, soups, and gravies. My teacher at the Culinary Institute told the class that not making use of the “fond” (the name for that residue) would land you in culinary hell.

Add the stock and the rosemary, stirring another 1-2 minutes, until the liquid becomes syrupy.

Transfer the squash to a serving dish, and spoon the mushroom mixture on top. Serve immediately.

* * *

My Louisiana grandmother loved to say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” She was a stubborn woman. This next dish reminds me of that phrase, as it represents a way to get your friends and family to eat beets. My hubby, who holds strong feelings against beets, admitted that this hummus is “not bad,” which is as high a praise as a beet dish is likely to get from him. “In the end,” he continued, “it’s still beets.”

I love beets, but I was disappointed in my first run at this dish. It had a nice texture but was a bit bland. So I checked my Flavor Bible for possible adjustments, and found that balsamic vinegar is a recommended pairing with beets. I had a bottle of White Lemon Balsamic Vinegar in my pantry, and after adding only 2 tablespoons to the mix, it seemed like the angels sang. A good sign. Now I give it to you. And I’ve changed the name, to make it easier for you to fool your guests.

Holiday Hummus (Roasted Beet Hummus with White Lemon Balsamic)

Adapted from

2 medium beets
1 19-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
Juice and zest of 1 large lemon
2 tablespoons tahini*
2 tablespoons white lemon balsamic vinegar (or plain white balsamic vinegar)
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Garnish: toasted black and white sesame seeds, roasted and salted sunflower seeds

Kitchen Goddess note on tahini: Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds, and a feature of many Middle Eastern dishes. You can only buy a giant economy size container of the stuff, but that’s okay, because it lasts forever. Mine had actually separated – the oil from the solids – but as I had little recourse at that time of night, I threw the whole mess into my Vita-Mix and blended the hell out of it. That worked perfectly, so I scooped what I wasn’t using for the hummus back into its container and sent it back into the fridge for my next use some six months from now. Must try to make hummus more often.

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Without washing or peeling the beets, roast them in a covered oven-proof container for 45-60 minutes, or until they are tender enough to be easily pierced with a knife. Remove them from the oven and let them cool.

When the beets are cool, rub the peel off and cut the flesh into large chunks. Add the beets to the bowl of a food processor.

Add the rinsed and drained chickpeas, as well as the garlic, to the food processor, and pulse until the texture is not quite smooth.

Add the lemon juice/zest, the tahini, the balsamic, and the salt/pepper, and process continuously until the mixture is smooth. While the processor is running, slowly drizzle in 3 tablespoons of the oil and continue to process until the mixture is very smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve the hummus with toasted black and white sesame seeds and a sprinkling of sunflower seeds. Drizzle on the final tablespoon of olive oil.

And my wishes for a happy and grateful thanksgiving to you and yours.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Kitchen Goddess Tips for a More Stress-Free Thanksgiving

What’s cooking? Roasted Carrots with Turmeric and Cumin, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

It’s that time again. The food day of all food days. You think you’ve got it all under control ... until you don’t. Uncle Harvey will call to say he’s bringing his nephew who just showed up on a business trip from Wisconsin and isn’t it great that he can stay for the big dinner? Or Darla, who was going to bring the pumpkin pie, texts you that she’s got chills and a fever, and will be spending the day in bed. Shit happens, as they say.

So the first thing you have to remember is that, in the words of the great Gilda Radner, “It’s always something.” Pour yourself a glass of wine and try to relax while you figure out how many of the gears in your Thanksgiving machine have to be adjusted. In my case, there’s always an appetizer I can delete. A few other thoughts on maintaining sanity:

1. Make a chart that includes every food you’ll be serving, including the ones being cooked by other guests. Assign days when you’ll cook them, what dishes they’ll be served in, and which utensils you’ll need for serving. These sorts of decisions – if made at the last minute – will cost you precious energy when you realize you’ve put the green beans in that bowl you were saving for the mashed potatoes.

2. You’re going to need all the room that’s possible in your fridge, so find a large cooler and move all the condiments from your fridge into the cooler. You won’t need most of them for this meal, and you may decide that the 2-year-old mango chutney can go straight into the trash. Add a couple of large zip-lock bags of ice to keep the chill, and you can move that cooler to the basement or garage or laundry room – wherever you have the space.

3. Whether you’re wet-brining or dry-brining or not brining your turkey, let it sit for its last 24 hours in the fridge without any covering at all. This air-drying technique produces extra-crispy skin on the cooked bird. If you’re still trying to decide on the brining question, take a look at an excellent piece by Kim Severson in The New York Times last week, “The Rise and Fall of Turkey Brining.” 

The group favoring dry-brining over wet-brining includes an impressive number of food scientists (e.g., Kenji López-Alt, Harold McGee, and Christopher Kimball) and other food stars like Ruth Reichl and Ina Garten, so the Kitchen Goddess will this year be trying her hand at the dry-brining method. I’ll let you know...

4. Set the table Wednesday night. That way, when you wake up on The Day, you don’t have to worry about it. And if, like the Kitchen Goddess, you are still winding things up with a couple of dishes when the guests arrive, at least it will look like you’re ready.

5. Don’t forget the candles – they create a mood that’s friendly and warm. Besides, everyone looks better in candlelight; it’s prettier and more flattering than electric light. And candles are a symbol of hospitality and hope. I direct you to a past post – HERE – with all you need to know about adding candles to the scene. Tealights in particular can be used in glasses or containers of all sorts, so even if you don’t have candlesticks you like, you can add candlelight to the table.

6. Remember the mise en place. Much of your chopping and measuring can be done the day before; put the chopped veggies or other ingredients into zip-lock bags and label them for when you’re ready to do the actual cooking. It’s by far the most efficient way to work.

7. Assemble a gaggle of timers for the multiple dishes that will all be at different stages, and Post-It Notes to help you keep track of which timer is working for which dish. These are the sorts of issues that prompt moments of crazed hilarity– or unladylike language – for the Kitchen Goddess.

8. Let your friends and relatives help. Most of them are happy to have something to do rather than stand around watching you, and the camaraderie it generates will add to the festive atmosphere. So have a couple of tasks in mind that you can lay off to the first volunteers.

9. Skip the basting. It’s a needless distraction. Rub the turkey inside and out with seasoned butter, add orange or lemon slices, an onion, and a couple of handfuls of herbs, and stick it in the oven. Take it out when it’s done.

10. Everyone loves leftovers, so have ready a box of quart-sized zip-lock bags your guests can use, so you won't be eating the meal for the next week.

And now for some ideas to fill in the blanks in your menu. The KG took a stroll down memory lane, checking out dishes she’s posted in years past. Here are four of her best (click on the title to link), followed by two fresh ones.

Asparagus Coins with Chive Oil and Parsley Water – One of my all-time faves for its unique look and fresh taste. Cooking time is very short; do the prep the day before.

Smashed Carrots with Feta and Mint – This one is making an appearance on the KG’s Thanksgiving table. Gorgeous, delicious, and different, and easy to make ahead.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Tangy Whipped Cheese Sauce – A delicious way to eat cauliflower – nutty and sweet – and you can make the cheese sauce the day before.

Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Leeks – Another dish that will grace the Kitchen Goddess’s table. Bright and colorful, and a great mix of flavors. The beans can be steamed a day ahead.

If none of these ideas tickle your fancy, here are a couple of new thoughts: Roasted Carrots with Turmeric and Cumin, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta. These are both easy, and need little monitoring as they cook. And my prince has given both dishes a thumbs-up, even though he says, “In the end, they’re Brussels sprouts.”


Roasted Carrots with Turmeric and Cumin

Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman in The New York Times.

Serves 6.

10 medium carrots (just under 1½ pounds), peeled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or mild chili powder
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Preheat the oven to 425º.

Cut the carrots in half lengthwise and crosswise. For the thicker carrots, cut lengthwise into quarters. Slice the carrots crosswise into pieces 2-3 inches long. Your goal is to have the pieces be more or less the same thickness, so that they reach a level of uniform doneness in the roasting. (At the CIA, the saying is, “Look the same, cook the same.”) Put the carrots in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper, and thyme leaves. Hang onto that bowl for later.

Heat a heavy baking sheet (traditional quarter sheet pan, about 9x13 inches) in the oven for 3-4 minutes. Remove the hot pan and distribute the carrots on it in a single layer. Roast 25-30 minutes, stirring the carrots midway. When the carrots are tender, they should also be lightly caramelized.

While the carrots roast, place the cumin and coriander seeds in a small saucepan or skillet over medium/medium-low heat and toast 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan or stirring until you can smell their aroma. (Don’t let them burn!)Transfer the seeds to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and pulverize to a fine powder. Add the ground spices to a small bowl along with the soft butter, turmeric and Aleppo pepper (or chili powder) and stir until well combined.

Kitchen Goddess note on the spices: It is perfectly acceptable to use already ground spices, but do heat them a bit in a skillet or saucepan before adding them to the butter. Starting with the seeds simply gives you more flavor. But don’t go buying coriander seeds or cumin seeds just for this recipe – try them if you use those spices frequently and want to get stronger flavor.

Remember that large bowl? When the carrots have finished roasting, transfer them to that bowl and add the spiced butter mix and most of the mint. Toss gently, until the butter and spices are well distributed across the carrots. The carrots will need salt, so adjust salt and pepper seasoning to taste. The carrots can be served immediately or set aside and served at room temperature. Sprinkle the reserved mint on top.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, January 2001.

Serves 4.

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
3 ounces pancetta, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of ½ lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons water (if needed)
Garnish (optional): 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

Prepping the sprouts

Prepping the pancetta
Preheat the oven to 450º.

In a medium-sized bowl, toss the prepared sprouts with the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and salt and pepper. Transfer the sprouts to a quarter sheet pan (9x13 inches), and spread in a single layer with the cut side of the sprouts down. Sprinkle the pancetta around and on top.

Roast in the upper third of the oven for 25 minutes, or until the sprouts are tender and have begun to brown. Remove all to a serving dish. If any brown bits (called the fond) stick to the pan, add the water and stir/scrape to remove them, then add that to the serving dish.

As you know, the Kitchen Goddess has an irresistible urge to garnish. For these lovable sprouts, she drizzled pomegranate balsamic vinegar (though plain balsamic would also do) and tossed some pomegranate seeds on top. Extra delicious, if you ask me.

Kitchen Goddess note: These sprouts needn’t be served piping hot, but they'll get a bit mushy after a night in the fridge. My recommendation is to prep the sprouts and pancetta the day before, then pop them into the oven a half hour before you plan to serve. In fact, you could assemble the baking pan, with sprouts, olive oil, lemon juice/zest, salt/pepper, and pancetta, then wrap the whole thing tightly with cellophane wrap and refrigerate it overnight. Take it out 30 minutes before roasting, to let everything come closer to room temp. Where there’s a will,...

The Kitchen Goddess will be back tomorrow with two more dishes that might fill in some holes in your menu. In the meantime,... start your engines!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Catching Up

What’s cooking? Orecchiette with Corn and Zucchini, Jalapeño, Feta, and Basil

Back when our sons were still in high school, the family had a protracted dinnertime debate, lasting many evenings, as to when – if ever – we’d be supplying our two teenagers with their own cell phones. Of course, it seems like a no-brainer these days, when even middle schoolers have them; but those were the dark ages, and we could barely rely on the boys to hang onto their winter jackets. Why would we entrust them with fancy pieces of technology?

Finally, one night, with frustration practically steaming out his ears, our younger son looked across the table at me and said in his most earnest voice, “Mom – you don’t understand – we’re falling behind.”

We did eventually cave to this desperate plea for relevance, with no dire consequences. But the phrase, “We’re falling behind” has stuck with us as a family meme as my husband and I lurch our way forward technologically.

It came up again this week in the final flourish to get our taxes in on time. For whatever reason – I’ll say it’s him and he’ll say it’s me – we seem incapable of getting each year’s documentation together until the very last minute. Unlike the President and his family, we actually send the government what appears to be the right amount of money in April; we just don’t have all the records in order, and that process of gathering and spreadsheeting and packaging it up takes the next six months.

So the accounting firm we use sent the final forms in an email on Tuesday. Grumpy dutifully printed them out and we signed them.

“Will you please fax these back?” he said.

“I would,” I said, “but the router connecting my printer to the internet died over the summer and I haven’t replaced it.”

That was already too much tech for him, but he understood that we had a problem. “I’ll call around and find a friend who’ll do it for us,” I said.

An hour later, I had to admit defeat. “I haven’t faxed in years,” was the common reply from our friends. The CPA firm suggested scanning the signed forms and sending the scanned file, but the printer that also scans was the one that wasn’t communicating with us, and in any case, neither of us understood how to scan. “It turns out,” I said to my mate, “that once again, we’re falling behind.”

Eventually, we found another dinosaur friend with a fax machine, so the government got its pound of flesh in time. And I now have one more technology to conquer: scanning.

* * *

In the less complicated world of food, I can still get corn on the cob in the grocery stores around here, so I’m hoping that means you can get some, too. If not, I’m sure today’s recipe will be wonderful with frozen corn, because it’s really wonderful regardless. And while the original recipe (from The New York Times) featured only corn, the Kitchen Goddess really wanted a more nutritionally complete dish, so she added zucchini squash. You might want to experiment with green beans (cut into ½-inch pieces) or spinach or broccoli florets. Go wild.

Even with the extra chopping for the zucchini, this is a great dish for those nights when you don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen – and even the KG has lots of them, so pay attention. Once you get your mise en place, the whole process will take 30 minutes.

Mise en place!

The pasta in this recipe is orecchiette, which means “little ears.” Its tiny bowl shape is really fun, and perfect for nestling the corn with a little bit of sauce in each bite, but the dish works equally well with fusilli (corkscrew shaped) or farfalle (bowtie) pasta. Flavorwise, I loved the way the salty feta balances the sweetness of the corn, and the tiny kick from the jalapeño adds a nice, perky finish. As the feta melts, it also brings a rich creaminess to the dish. And don’t forget the basil leaves – fresh basil is still readily available in stores, and the fresh aroma will remind you of the best of summer.

Orecchiette with Corn and Zucchini, Jalapeño, Feta, and Basil

Adapted from Colu Henry in The New York Times, August 2018

Serves 4.


1 pound orecchiette pasta (farfalle or fusilli will also do)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
4 ears corn, shucked and kernels sliced off (about 3 cups kernels)
2 cups zucchini, cut in ½-inch dice
Kosher salt
8 ounces crumbled feta cheese
½ cup chiffonade* of basil, plus more whole leaves for serving
Flaky salt, for serving (optional)

*Kitchen Goddess note on chiffonade: Easier than it looks, the term “chiffonade” comes from the French word “chiffon,” meaning “ribbon.” As a culinary term, “chiffonade” is a knife technique for cutting leaves into long, very thin ribbons. Start by stacking 8-10 leaves on top of each other.  I like to put the bigger leaves at the bottom and layer the smaller ones on top. Gently roll the stack lengthwise into a cigar shape and slice it thinly across the roll, using a very sharp knife so as not to bruise or tear the leaves. Continue slicing all the way down the roll to the stems, 
then gently toss the ribbons to
separate them. The oils in the 
leaves are delicate so try to 
make the chiffonade as near in 
time as you can to the serving.


Cook the pasta in a large pot of well-salted water until it is not quite al dente, which will take about 10 minutes (note the directions on your pasta box). Reserve 1-2 cups of the cooking water before draining the pasta.

While the pasta cooks, make the sauce. Start by melting 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large (10-12-inch) skillet over medium heat. When the butter is hot, add the jalapeño and cook it 2 minutes, until it’s soft.

Add the corn and cook about 4 minutes, stirring only occasionally in order to get the kernels to brown slightly. Move the corn to the edges of the skillet and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the zucchini to the center, cooking another 3-4 minutes. Again, stir only occasionally in order to get the zucchini pieces to brown slightly. Season with salt to taste.

Add ½ cup of pasta water to the skillet, raise the heat to bring the vegetables to a simmer, and cook until the water has reduced enough to become sauce-like, which will take about 2 minutes .

Stir the pasta into the vegetables and toss to mix well with the sauce. Sprinkle the feta cheese around the dish and pour on an additional ½ cup of the pasta water, tossing until the cheese is melted and the pasta is thoroughly covered with the sauce. If necessary, you can add in another ¼ cup pasta water.

Make the basil chiffonade and stir it into the dish. Serve immediately, garnished with the whole basil leaves. Season with flaky salt, if desired.

This recipe makes a great light meal with nothing more than a green salad and maybe some fruit for dessert. Serve with a nice dry white wine, or my favorite, a dry French rosé. Ms. Henry in the Times wrote that the pasta also works great as a side dish for grilled beef, like a flank steak or a skirt steak, but I haven't tried that. Sounds good, though.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Summer Reading: Words for Nerds

What’s cooking? Pan-Roasted Summer Squash with Tomatoes and Ricotta

The Season of Summer Reading is coming to an end, and I’m still struggling to get through the list I assigned myself when we left for New Jersey early this summer.

I’ve always been a reader. From the early days of Nancy Drew and the Little House series to
my current, battling obsessions with memoir, non-fiction, and The New Yorker magazine, I can disappear into those pages for hours at a time. Coming up for air brings the same disoriented sensation as if emerging from a deep dive into a swimming pool.

And yet, here I am with a box of books in which I’ve made hardly a dent. Ah, well.

The dent I did make is mostly in two categories: wordsmithing and (surprise, surprise) food-related subjects. So in the spirit of sharing...

If you love language and the nuances thereof, I found two fun books. Ok, maybe “fun” is overstating it, but I had fun reading them.

Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, by Kory Stamper, tells the story of how dictionaries get put together, and the people who do it. Perfectly described by Publishers Weekly as “A witty, sly, occasionally profane behind-the-scenes tour.” I enjoyed learning about the methodology and the quirky personalities that come into play; mostly, I marveled at the writing, which is eloquent without sounding stiff or pretentious. Ms. Stamper is herself a lexicographer with Merriam-Webster, so it’s not a surprise that words like “defenestrate” (to throw something or someone out of a window) flow naturally through her writing. But I grinned to see her use “highfalutin,” (pretentious or fancy), one of my Louisiana grandmother’s favorite words. Stamper also introduced me to “cromulent,” which means acceptable or fine and was coined by Lisa on The Simpsons.

Less than 30 pages into Between You & Me:
 Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris, I found the author taking a trip to the offices of Merriam-Webster where Ms. Stamper works. I blinked in disbelief, feeling as if I’d come across books written by sisters with different takes on the same family life. Norris is a copy editor at my all-time favorite magazine, The New Yorker, so I was naturally drawn to a story of the inner life thereof. Another writer whose facility with the language has me in awe, Ms. Norris has a wicked and irreverent sense of humor, attested to in blurbs by a handful of New Yorker writers. Am I jealous? Well, yes. Amid the fun – like a chapter on the history of profanity in print and a romp called “Ballad of a Pencil Junkie” – are a few I recommend that you gloss over, like her digression on nominative cases of pronouns (zzzzz ...see what I mean?). But these are small issues within a fun book on language.

Taking a break from the hilarity of grammar and spelling, I’ve been dipping into a much more widely appealing collection of short essays – more like oral histories – from characters on the New York food scene. In Food and the City, compiled/written by Ina Yalof, we hear moving stories from chefs, line cooks, street vendors, bakers, butchers, and a film crew caterer, on how they got where they are and how they feel about what they do. The stories are mostly very short – 3-5 pages – and I have the most fun just jumping around the book. Great for reading before bedtime, as there’s never a sense of “OMG, what’ll happen next?!” But a unique and fascinating broad brush across the food landscape of New York.

Finally, in a tribute to the late Anthony Bourdain, I picked up Kitchen Confidential, the tell-all romp that started his career as a chef/entertainer. And a romp it truly is. Not a literary masterpiece, but who cares? It’s a fun and shocking window into the culinary world, and I’m enjoying it.

* * *

The Kitchen Goddess hasn’t stopped cooking, but much of it has been about revisiting summer favorites. One downside of being always on the lookout for what’s new is that what’s old-but-wonderful gets lost in the wash. So I’ll apologize for not bringing more new dishes your way, dear readers, and vow to be more productive as we move into the fall.

What have I been serving? Here’s a random sample:

Linguine with Herb Broth and Clams

Golden Beet Soup

Eton (Strawberry) Mess

Roasted Tomato-Bacon-Goat-Cheese Galette

My prince and I have also spent a ridiculous number of nights in the local restaurant scene this summer. The accidental theme to our activities this year was about getting together with friends we haven’t seen in a great while. Which usually entails long dinners where someone professional does the cooking. Another consequence is that I have not lost any of the weight I’d planned to lose. Sad.

What to do? The Kitchen Goddess weighed in – literally – and decided we should have some veggie-centric meals while the veggies are still fresh. For this post, that would mean tomatoes and a sampling of the rainbow array of summer squash. Also a new technique: pan roasting. You will be amazed at the sweetness that emerges from extended cooking of veggies at high heat.

The eagle-eyed among you may notice that this dish bears a remarkable similarity to one of the carrot dishes in my last post. Apparently, this business of practically burning one’s veggies in a mix of spices and other flavorings and serving them atop ricotta is another new thing in the food world. Once again, the Kitchen Goddess has your back.

Pan-Roasted Summer Squash with Tomatoes and Ricotta

Adapted from Molly Baz in Bon Appétit, June 2018

Kitchen Goddess note on ricotta: Fresh ricotta is so amazing in this dish. If you can’t find a store where the ricotta is truly fresh (2-3 days old), you either (1) make some yourself – the recipe is here, or (2) buy the freshest you can find and stir a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream into it. Cream is a major ingredient in ricotta, and a little fresh cream will improve the texture and flavor of a standard grocery store ricotta.

This recipe is not just good for you – it’s also very good, period. And easy. The tomatoes and zucchini are a classic flavor combo; add the crunch of the hazelnuts or pignoli and the light tartness of the ricotta – which pairs well with the sweetness of the roasted veggies – and you have a low-cal winner. That touch of richness from the ricotta helps it work as a complete meal.

Makes 4 servings.

I used a mix of pattypan, zephyr, and zucchini squash.
1 pint sweet cherry tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus some for drizzling the finished dish
1½ pounds medium-sized summer squash
1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus some for flavoring/finishing the dsh
¼ cup toasted pignoli (pine nuts), or hazelnuts
Freshly ground black pepper
zest and juice of ½ lemon
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese (if not overly fresh, mix in 2 tablespoons cream)
Flaky sea salt
Toasted country-style bread (for serving)

For the dressing:
1 handful of mint sprigs, divided
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
¾ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Make the dressing: Take 3 sprigs of mint in one hand and gently smack them with the other hand. (This is a bartender’s trick to warm the mint slightly and release the oils that give it that quintessential aroma.) Mix the smacked mint in a large bowl with the garlic, vinegar, sugar, Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes), and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Set the dressing aside.

Kitchen Goddess note on the dressing: The first time I made this dish, I discovered too late that the mint I had was long dead. Ex the mint, the ingredients were strangely reminiscent of Wish-Bone Italian Salad Dressing, so I bagged this part of the recipe and used my friend Wish-Bone instead. The second time I made it, I had good, fresh mint, and made the dressing as originally planned. I can’t say that I noticed a huge difference, though you may be a bigger food snob than the KG. But the fresh mint is a nice touch in both the dressing and the garnish. Just saying...

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Gently toss the tomatoes in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and sprinkle them with a pinch of salt. Pour them onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with baker’s parchment, add the thyme, and roast 30-40 minutes or until the tomatoes have begun to split and release juice.

While the tomatoes are roasting, cut the squash in half lengthwise, and sprinkle the cut sides with the 1½ teaspoons of kosher salt. (This process will get the squash to give up some of its water, which will intensify the squash flavor.) Set the squash in a colander to drain over a bowl for 15-30 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels. Cut the squash into pieces about 2 inches long.

While the tomatoes roast and the squash drains, toast the pignoli nuts (or hazelnuts) in a small skillet over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, or on a rimmed baking sheet in a 350° oven for 10-15 minutes. If you use hazelnuts, chop them into large pieces; no need to chop pignolis.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet – preferably cast iron – at medium-high until it shimmers. Arrange the squash cut side down in a single layer in the skillet, and cook for about 5 minutes, moving the pieces around (don’t turn them over!) in the pan to ensure even browning, until golden brown on the cut side. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the skillet (if you don’t have a lid, use a baking sheet), and continue to cook until very tender, 12-15 minutes. Transfer the squash to a plate, cut side up, and let it cool slightly.

Sprinkle the squash with the reserved dressing (or Wish-Bone); season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Discard the mint sprigs.

While the squash is soaking up the dressing, mix the ricotta with the lemon zest and the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a small bowl; season to taste with kosher salt.

Spread the ricotta in the bottom of an oven-safe dish. Top with the squash pieces and their juices. If you want, run the dish in the oven for another 5-6 minutes, to warm the ricotta. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the lemon juice over the top. Scatter the pignoli (or hazelnuts) and leaves from the remaining mint sprigs over the squash. Drizzle on a little extra olive oil and sprinkle with finishing salt.

Serve with toast.