I am so excited about this post, because it’s my first time taking part of “The Secret Recipe Club”.  If you haven’t heard about it, it is a group event in which each month you are assigned one food blog to cook a recipe from and another blogger will be matched with your blog.  The assignments are distributed a few weeks in advance, but every post must be published on the exact same day and  at the exact same time!  How cool is that?  😉

This event grew so much that now they have 4 different groups with “reveal days” a week apart.  Today is THE DAY for group D. By the way, we are all newbies in this group, this is the first reveal for our group.  I was assigned the blog Tami’s Kitchen Table Talk, and you can visit her nice virtual spot by jumping here.  Tami not only is a member of The Secret Recipe Club, but the hostess of group D, so of course it added a lot of hyperventilation to my first time in the event.  Getting to cook from your boss’ blog, so to speak…  WOW!

Tami has two kids, 8 and 13 years old, so her blog is perfect for those with young kids and/or teenagers, who must face all the stresses of an extra-busy life, and still bring a nice meal to the table.  In her blog, you will find a lot of sweets, cookies, and countless options to feed the whole family.   I spent quite a bit of time reading it, and finally decided to make her “Pasta e Fagioli”.  First, because it is a classic Italian recipe I’ve always wanted to try. And second, because the weather is perfect for it right now. Since I have no choice but accept that the days of temps in the upper 90’s are over, I might as well make soups and stews…  😉

(slightly modified from Tami’s Kitchen Table Talk)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pancetta, diced
2 (4 to 6-inch) sprigs rosemary, left intact
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 large fresh bay leaf
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 small carrots, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
salt and pepper
1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans
1 + 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes  (with juices)
2 cups water
1 quart chicken stock
1 + 1/2 cups ditalini pasta  (I used half ditalini, half elbows)
grated Parmigiano cheese for serving

Heat a deep pot over medium high heat and add oil and pancetta.  Cook until the pancetta pieces are golden brown, add the rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, chopped veggies and garlic.   Season everything lightly with salt and pepper (pancetta is already quite salty, so keep that in mind).

Saute everything together for a couple of minutes, add the beans, crushed tomatoes, water, and chicken stock.  Increase heat to high, when boiling add the pasta, and reduce to medium heat.   Cook stirring every once in a while, until the pasta is al dente (8 to 10 minutes).  Remove the rosemary stems and the bay leaf before serving.

Laddle soup on bowls, and serve with a nice piece of bread, with plenty of cheese grated on top.


to print the recipe, click here

This was a perfect meal for an unexpectedly chilly evening, in which we almost had to turn our heating system on.   One of the reasons we didn’t was this warm and soothing soup, that made us feel all cozy and comfy.  Thanks, Tami! Leftovers  were my lunch for the two following days. On the last day, it became almost a regular pasta dish, I did not add additional liquid, just shaved some more cheese on top and enjoyed it immensely that way too.   The beans give extra creaminess and substance to the dish,  and the pancetta a subtle “meaty” presence.

If you want to go make this soup vegetarian-friendly, simply omit the pancetta, and  use vegetable stock instead of chicken broth.  It will still be wonderful, I guarantee it.

Tami, it was nice to “meet” you through this event, I will be  reading your culinary adventures from now on!

Note added after publication: at the end of this post you will find a little icon with “Links in collection” – just click on it to see the full list of blog posts from our group, all published this morning, at 7am US central time. And if you want to see who got my blog, click here to visit Jenni’s siteShe made one of my favorite recipes! 😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Mesmerizing Lemon Bars

TWO YEARS AGO: Pizza Napoletana

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This recipe brings me nice memories!  It was featured in my favorite cooking show of all times, David Rosengarten‘s Taste, that aired on the FoodTV from 1994 to 2002.  Because of this particular episode I bought my first clay pot, a nice unglazed Romertopf, that unfortunately ended up shattered to pieces during a move.   This recipe, low in fat but full of flavor, was one of the first dinners I cooked for Phil when we were dating.  As I said, it brings me wonderful memories…  😉

(from David Rosengarten)

3 dried ancho chilies
2 chipotles canned in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon ground cumin
pinch of ground cloves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 boneless loin of pork (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
1 medium white onion, very thinly sliced

Toast the dried ancho chilies by putting them in a preheated 200°F oven for 3 minutes, do not let them burn. Remove the toasted chilies from the oven and open them up. Remove and discard the seeds and stems. Place the chilies in a bowl and cover with very hot tap water.

When chilies are soft (after about 15 minutes), remove them from the water and place them together with the chipotles in the work bowl of a food processor, along with the garlic, oil, cumin, cloves, salt, and pepper. Pulse to make a rough paste. Rub the paste all over the pork loin with your fingers. Cover the rubbed pork and refrigerate for 8 hours. Remove it from the refrigerator 1 hour before you want to start cooking.

Make a bed of half the sliced onion in the clay pot. Lay the marinated pork loin over it. Cover the pork with the remaining onion. Do not add any liquid.   If your clay pot is unglazed, you may have to soak it (or only its lid) in water before using.  Follow the instructions for your clay pot, but almost any brand needs to go in a cold oven, so place it in the oven and turn it to 300F.  Once it reaches the temperature,  cook, covered for one hour. Do not open the pot. After one hour, remove the roast from the oven. Let it sit in its broth, still covered, for 10 minutes. Slice the roast thinly and serve.

“Life is a matter of taste…”  ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

I cannot praise this recipe enough!  The color in the photo was not enhanced by Photoshop or any other trick.   The chilies give the onions an amazing red/orange tint, and the clay pot locks in moisture, so that the dish creates its own juices.   I left the onions whole around the side of the serving dish, because Phil prefers to avoid them, but you could remove them together with some of the cooking juices and process, making a spicy sauce to spoon over the meat. Thickening it with some type of starch would be optional. I like this preparation on the lighter side.    Whatever you choose to do, the key is to cut the pork in very thin slices.  They will be tender and juicy, almost as if you brined the meat before cooking.

I’ve made this exact recipe without marinating for several hours, and it was still delicious, but if you have 8 hours to spare, do as David suggests.  He knows what he’s talking about…

Almost ready to go into the oven….

I now use a glazed clay pot, and actually prefer this kind because it cleans better.  Neat freak that I am, using cast iron pans and clay pots that should not be washed with soap and water is a bit of a problem.    So, a glazed pot suits me much better!  😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Panmarino

TWO YEARS AGO:  A Classic Roast Chicken (still the most popular blog post in this site!)

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Last week’s winner meal in our home, two thumbs up from both of us, this recipe is a bit unusual for a “cacciatore,” as it contains very few ingredients, and omits the traditional peppers and onions that most versions are loaded with.  Two little twists in the recipe:  the use of porcini mushrooms and the way it handles the parsley.  Normally, parsley is added at the end of cooking to preserve its freshness, but in this case Chiarello adds most of it right at the initial stage, and saves some for sprinkling on top of the dish at serving time.  My main modification, as often happens with braised chicken thighs, was to increase cooking time by a long shot.

(from Michael Chiarello – Casual Cooking)

1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup hot water
6 chicken thighs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons finely chopped Italian  parsley
3/4 cup tomato puree
1/2 cup  chicken broth
1/2 cup water

Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl or glass, and add the hot water. Leave them sitting in the water for 30 minutes.  Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon; finely chop. Strain the liquid through cheesecloth to catch any dirt or solids, and reserve.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil on a large skillet, add the chicken, skin sides down; cook 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown, turn and cook the other side for 3 to 4 minutes.  Transfer chicken to a platter; remove all but 1 tablespoon of oil from skillet.

Add garlic to oil in skillet; cook over medium heat about 30 seconds, stirring occasionally, until fragrant. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the parsley; cook for a minute, stir in mushrooms, tomato puree, chicken broth, 1/2 cup water and reserved mushroom liquid; heat to a simmer. Add chicken, skin sides up; reduce heat to low. Cover; cook until done to your liking (I cooked for 50  minutes in a very gentle heat, turning the pieces a couple of times during cooking, ending with them skin side up).

Transfer chicken to a serving platter. Increase heat for sauce to high; boil sauce 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. To serve, spoon sauce over chicken; sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon parsley.


to print the recipe, click here

(click to enlarge the images)

Dried porcini mushrooms are one of my favorite ingredients. They wait patiently inside the bag, and once you add warm water, they soak it, turn all soft, and fill your kitchen with that intense mushroom-y smell that is a sure sign of a fantastic meal ahead.   Michael Chiarello hit the jackpot when he combined porcini and parsley, in  a sort of minimalist approach that needs nothing else to shine.   According to his recipe, you only need to cook the thighs for 20 to 25 minutes.  I always go for a “falling off the bone” tenderness, and that is not even close to happening in less than half an hour. Use your own favorite method.

This was a very tasty recipe, perfect to make ahead for entertaining.  We enjoyed it with some orecchiette soaked in the cacciatore’s sauce, and stove-top blasted broccoli.

For another version of this delicious dish, jump to Rufu’s blog clicking here

ONE YEAR AGO: Donna Hay’s Thai-Inspired Dinner

TWO YEARG AGO: Panettone

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Those who are familiar with low-carb diets know that cauliflower is the number one choice as a substitute  for potatoes, and even rice.  Indeed,  I’ve seen recipes in which the florets are grated and used in what it’s called  “cauli-rice.”   I don’t think it would fool me, though, I love rice way too much!  😉  Now, back to puree…

Potatoes have enough starch to produce a creamy and smooth texture when cooked and mashed.  Other veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, even parsnips, end up with a more watery and grainy texture.  For that reason, most recipes will coach you into adding a lot of butter, heavy cream, or some type of cream cheese.   Sally Schneider, author of  “The Improvisational Cook,” came up with a very clever twist: she cooks the veggie in milk (low fat is fine), and adds to the cooking liquid an apple and a little bit of pasta (like angel hair).  The result is amazing.  Never in a million years I expected Phil to urge me to blog about a cauliflower recipe. His exact words were:  “make sure you really pump this recipe up, it’s awesome”!

(adapted from “The Improvisational Cook“)

1 medium cauliflower, core and leaves removed
1 small apple, peeled and cored, chopped
1/2 quart low fat milk
1/2 quart water
1/2 ounce angel hair pasta, broken in pieces
1 tsp salt
pinch of sugar
ground white pepper

Cut the cauliflower florets and stems roughly into pieces. Add the pieces to a pan with the milk/water, apple, bring to a gentle boil.  Add the pasta, salt, and sugar.   Cook, stirring every once in a while, until the cauliflower is tender (25 minutes).

Remove 1/4 cup from the cooking liquid and reserve. Strain the vegetables (the rest of the milk/water can be used for soups later), place them in a food processor and puree for a couple of minutes, until completely smooth.  Make sure to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice.  If too thick, add some of the reserved cooking liquid.

Return the puree to the pan, place it over very low heat, add white pepper, taste, and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper.


to print the recipe, click here

Schneider’s book is perfect for those who like to use recipes as a starting point instead of a rigid set of rules.  She opens each subject with a section called “Understanding,” explaining the reasoning behind the recipes in that section.  Finally, she offers  suggestions to improvise on your own.
I absolutely love this approach!

This puree is silky-smooth, you won’t taste the apple, but it really does something to “tame” the cauliflower flavor, so even those with “cauliflower issues” will be pleased.   Of course, because there’s a small amount of pasta in it, this dish won’t be as low in carbs as a pure cauliflower version, but it is still  much lighter than mashed potatoes.   Sometimes, it’s exactly what we crave…

ONE YEAR AGO: Vegetarian Lasagna

TWO YEARS AGO:  Brazilian Pao de Queijo (Cheese Breads)  – a classic!

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Talk about an American classic!  The sourness of this bread is quite unique,  but not everyone is fond of it.  For some, it’s a little excessive, but I happen to love it.  In fact, I’ve considered buying a commercial SF sourdough starter  to try and mimic this bread at home.  However,  the fact that soon that population would change by incorporating yeast and bacteria present in our own environment, made me reluctant to go for it.   Sure, it would be nice to bake a few loaves with a “close to the original” taste, but then I’d be left babying three starters instead of the two I own… and I already take care of way too many strains of bacteria in the lab!  😉

Browsing through the pages of “Bread Alone,” I spotted a recipe for San Francisco Sourdough, and almost did not pay attention to it, thinking that it would involve the authentic starter.  Nope.  Daniel Leader developed his own recipe for it, coaching a regular starter into a slightly increased level of acidity, resulting in a bread that, according to him, would be very  close to the original.

(from Daniel Leader’s Bread Alone)

for the poolish
4 oz starter (mine was at 100% hydration)
4 oz bread flour
4 oz water

for the dough
8 oz water
all the poolish
13.5 to 16 oz bread flour
1/2 Tbs salt

Make the poolish the day before you want to bake the bread, by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl and leaving at room temperature for 24 hours, preferably from 74 F to 80 F, covered with plastic wrap.

Next day, pour the water at room temperature in the bowl of a KitchenAid, mixer, and add the poolish, breaking it up gently with a wooden spoon, and stirring until dissolved.  Add about 1 cup (5 oz)  of the total flour and the salt, and stir until combined.   Place the dough hook in, keep adding the rest of the flour (you may not need all of it), and knead for about 12 minutes at the second speed of the machine.

Remove the dough to a slightly floured surface, knead it by hand a few times, place it in an oiled bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let it rise for 2.5 hours, with quick cycles of folding after 45 minutes and 1 hour and 30 minutes. After the second folding cycle, leave the dough undisturbed for the final 60 minutes of bulk fermentation.

Place the risen dough over a slightly floured surface, and without de-flating it too much, form it into a ball.  Let it rise 45 minutes.  Shape the dough as a boule or any other shape you prefer, place it in an appropriate container for the final rise, and leave it at room temperature for 1 hour.

Bake it in a pre-heated 450 F, with steam, for a total of 45 minutes, decreasing the temperature to 425 F after 10 minutes of baking.  If using a cover to create steam, remove the cover after 30 minutes.    Let it cool over a rack for a couple of hours before slicing it.


to print the recipe, click here

My main modification of the recipe was to include two folding cycles after kneading in the KitchenAid because I felt the dough lacked structure and strength.   I used regular, supermarket bread flour, so it’s possible that it behaved differently from the book’s description.   For the most part, I tend to bake my breads with regular bread flour, not going out of my way to find the one with “a touch of germ,”, or “harvested during Spring, under a full moon.”    😉

Did the bread deliver the promise in the taste department?  YES!  When I tried a piece all by itself to get the real taste of the crumb, it immediately hit me as VERY similar to a San Francisco sourdough, so if you live hundreds of miles away from the Bay Area and develop a craving for that bread, this recipe will soothe you.

A more authentic shape would  be a torpedo type loaf, but I have a weakness for round bread, so that’s how I shaped mine.  Round, oblong, it doesn’t really matter. It hit the spot.  Awesome bread!

I am submitting this post to Yeastspotting

ONE YEAR AGOA Real Oscar Winner  

TWO YEARS AGO: Pane Siciliano

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