Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Casu Marzu

Found in Sardinia, in Italy, casu marzu is a cheese that is home to live insect larvae. These larvae are deliberately added to the cheese to promote a level of fermentation that is close to decomposition, at which point the cheese’s fats are broken down. The tiny, translucent worms can jump up to half a foot if disturbed, which explains why some people prefer to brush off the insects before enjoying a spoonful of the pungent cheese.

I post this for no reason other than to make durian look downright tasty (see my previous post).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


So while Kevin was visiting, he reminded me that last year I promised we would buy and try a durian. If you don't happen to frequent Asian markets like I do, you may never have heard of is the fruit of several species of tree that are indigenous to Asia. The flesh emits a distinctive odor...distinctive, of course, being code word for "rather strange". Some people regard the durian as fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and offensive. My friend Melga hails from Indonesia and loves it. Her husband Vince called it "interesting"...a word which I've found is never a good sign. I had read that the smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense such, it has led to the fruit's banishment from some hotels and public transportation. Anthony Bourdain, a lover of durian, relates: "Its taste can only be described as...indescribable, something you will either love or despise. ...Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother." This somewhat set the stage for our experiment....

You wouldn't want to have one fall out of a tree and hit you in the head, has a thorny armored covering that is so insidious, the cashier at my market wraps it in newspaper before bagging, as it would clearly shred the plastic bag.

Armed with the durian...we proceeded home, where Kevin googled how to open it (pulling along it's 5 seams) in front of the rest of the family. Once opened...we marveled that it didn't smell nearly as bad as we were led to believe...a slight sulfurous smell, and that was all. But the fruit had a  strange looking yellow flesh...and for once, the word "flesh" actually looked like that's what it was. It kind of freaked me out, and most people know I'll eat just about any organ from an animal.

The normally adventurous souls in my house wanted nothing to do with trying it I did. Not vomiting in front of them emboldened them, and they also tried it. It was not unpleasant...we all tried to describe it, but the closest we could agree on was a "mango-like marshmallow chiffon". Kevin found recipes for it...but they were all for desserts, pancakes, and muffins. We decided to put what we didn't eat in the refrigerator until I decided what to do with it.

Which turned out to be to throw it away...when I went back to retrieve it, I found that it had morphed and took on the smell of gym socks filled with rotten eggs. This was the second food (the other being Lima beans) in my life I can honestly say I WON'T be buying again....sorry Melga!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cacciatore di Coniglio Siciliano

The beauty of the language of my Sicilian-Italian heritage is the ability to take something so simple as 'rabbit stew' and make it sound romantic. If you can make the dish the right way, those at the table look at you with affection too. This is a hearty dish of my homeland, whose translation means a Sicilian-style stew made with what a hunter could gather in the field away from home. If he had a slow cooker.

Some people think it barbaric to eat cute animals like rabbits and deer. These people have never been to a farm and seen what the animals they normally eat look there is something barbaric...ever really look at a pig?And...did you know that rabbit has less calories and fat than even chicken breast?

Regardless, my cousin Kevin is here for a visit, so I thought what better way to welcome him than with a meal our great-grandparents fact, my great-uncle & his great-grandfather Charlie (Cologero, really) used to hunt...and I remember him giving my father fresh rabbits and pheasants to grace our table. I give you a recipe for a rich, savory stew that is hearty and tender.

Cacciatore di Coniglio Siciliano

1 rabbit, about 3 lbs, cut into decent sized pieces
day 1:
1.5 Cups of Red Wine
½ head of garlic roughly chopped
2 tbl Chopped rosemary
2 tbl oregano
Prepare a marinade of the above the night before, and let 1 rabbit, about 3 lbs, cut into decent sized pieces, marinade in it in the refrigerator overnight. Then... 
day 2:
¼ lb Smoked Pancetta, diced (bacon if unavailable)
1.5 lb baby onions or onions cut into big chunks
1 lb Crimini mushrooms
1 cup pitted Sicilian Green or Black cured Olives
2 Tbl Capers
1.5 lb Red, Yellow, Orange Peppers, chopped large
1 can whole tomatoes with juice, halved and seeded
Fry the pancetta on a medium high heat in a tiny bit of olive oil until it releases it's natural fat.
Add the pepper and onions and fry until they start to color and soften. Add the capers and olives, set aside after 5 minutes.
Dredge rabbit in flour, brown it in the same pan in some olive oil.  Set aside.
Add the leftover marinade to deglaze the pan. Add the tomato juice from the can, continue until a thickened stock is created.
Add the rabbit and cooked vegetables including the tomato to a crock-pot and cover completely with the stock. Cook on low setting for about 5 hours. Serve with rice, polenta, or bread. I used brown rice.

The fact that I was always a Bugs Bunny fan didn't stop me from embracing the horrifying truth I learned from Monty Python: There are killer rabbits. And we must eat them first.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Leeds Point Corn and Crab Chowder (fat-free!)

I'm a little late posting this one...I blame work, of course. The recent nice weather that required my presence on the beach and in my kayak is not to blame at well time visiting cousins so we could feast and speak of that which excites us....FOOD!

One of my passions is soup, which comes from my Polish heritage...nothing cries more for the joy of soup than living in Eastern Europe and dealing with the long cold winter. Unless you count the joy of vodka. But, I digress...many soups in Eastern Europe have cabbage as a staple ingredient, as it grows well in the cold climate. But the love of soup knows no bounds...and here at the Jersey Shore, we are blessed with 2 of God's greatest gifts....Jersey Corn, and Blue-claw Crabs. Which turn out to make an awesome soup. 

In my version, I have found a way to create decadence and only have 1.4 grams of fat and 58 calories per cup by using fat-free half and half in place of would never know the difference, and I am told this has elevated it to the much vaunted "signature dish" status. The base of this soup is clam broth, another local product that I save when I steam clams.

Leeds Point Corn and Crab Chowder
-2 tbs butter
-1 tbs olive oil
-2 spanish onions, chopped
-2 red bell peppers, chopped (though I used a red and yellow today)
-1 tbs Old Bay seasoning
-4 tbs flour
-3 cups jersey corn kernals scraped fresh from the cob
-1 qt clam broth
-1 qt fat-free half and half
-1/2 lb crabmeat

Heat the oil and butter, saute the onion until translucent. Add the peppers and saute 5 mins more.
Add the Old Bay. Stir. Add the flour, stirring constantly.
Add the clam broth, stir until consistant. Add the half and half, do the same. Bring to a bubble.
Add the corn and crabmeat, simmer 5 minutes...and eat!!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tuscan Pork Normanno

Okay....a little honesty here: I make up the names for these recipes. I know you're likely not shocked, as most Italian dishes end with "alla norma", meaning in the normal manner, whereas "Normanno" means Norman, as in the Frankish and Gallo-Roman conquerors from Normandy. I, on the other hand, am in fact a Norman (italics included), neither a Norman nor normal in any it goes.

Our friend Johnny was visiting from Palm Springs CA, so I thought I'd try to prepare him a dinner that reflected the health conscious west coast, without actually becoming exceedingly healthy. The following dish came to my mind for the abundance of veggies. I originally made it with chicken breast, which is topped with grilled vegetables and a lemon-wine sauce. I must say...I liked it better with pork, which will now be the "signature". I served it with a medley of brown rice/barley/red quinoa. You can find that at good-old Trader Joes. I also made a fat-free Crab and Corn Chowder...I'll post that another day.

Lemon and Wine Sauce
-1 stick butter
-2 Tb Flour
-1 lemon
-1 cup or so white wine

Tuscan Pork Normanno
-Pork loin, sliced into nearly 1 inch medallions, seasoned
-Eggplant, sliced crosswise into 1/3 inch medallions
-Yellow squash, sliced lengthwise into 1/3 inch slices 
-Portobello mushrooms, sliced though so there are 2 medallions each
-Zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/3 inch slices
-Roasted Red Peppers

Marinate the first 4 veggies in a little olive oil and seasoned salt.
Make your choice of side-starch.
Make the sauce by melting butter, add 2 tbs flour, squeeze in a lemon, and add the wine.Keep warm.
My grill has a while I grill those veggies, I pan-fry the pork in a cast-iron skillet on high heat until just barely done.
All that is left is the plating, do it in the order listed, from pork to peppers and top with the sauce.

Please excuse the sloppy plating....I was in a rush, and lost the cork again. The perils of cooking.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Clam Sauce

I am often asked why I am willing to travel 2 hours each way to work. The quick answer is that I prefer to suffer in order to work, rather than suffer to get near a beach (weekend shore traffic is like being placed in a pain amplifier). The other reason.....I have connections. Duane lives in one direction, and he hooks me up with fresh soft-shell crabs. In the other direction, John gets me the freshest clams. In the space of an hour, they go from being stuck in the mud to being devoured by a stick-in-the-mud.

While we usually enjoy them raw on the 1/2 shell, when you buy them 100 at a time you get an occasional request to do something different. I made a bunch by topping them with diced bell peppers, vidalia onion & smoked pancetta, broiled....but that wasn't enough, so the next batch I made into a quick clam sauce. Here for your consideration.

Jersey Fresh Clam Sauce
-3 dozen large cherrystone clams
-3 diced bell peppers (pick a color...I used yellow)
-1 lb fresh baby spinach
-1 bunch parsley
-1 lb mushrooms, sliced
-1 head garlic, diced fine.
-olive oil
-Wondra flour

Put 1/2 inch of water in a pot, and steam the clams until they start to open. Do not overcook!
Reserve the clam broth. Shuck the clams, removing the tough muscled. Chop them.
In a pot, saute the garlic and peppers in olive oil. Add the mushrooms.
When all is good....add the spinach and parsley, about a tbl wondra to thicken.
Add 2 cups of the clam broth, and the clams.

I served this over whole wheat medium pasta shells. You may do whatever you wish. Just be happy as a clam.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Collard Greens

I don't know many collard people. This was not intentional, but rather an accident of my youth. My people were artichoke, broccoli rabe, cabbage, chard, and cardoon people. I spent much time around the block at my grandmother's, (who most called "Mama Rose")...often she would send me into the alley between her house and the garage next store to pick wild cardoon, whereupon she would fry it into delicious patties with egg, grated cheese and breadcrumb.

The fact that they often spray-painted cars in that garage, venting into the alley, and the fact that those patties were likely clogging my arteries at an early age has yet to catch up with me. I loved her dearly, and her cooking...she inspires me to this day, admittedly with a more healthier focus.

But I digress. Back to how I became a collard person.

It was about the year 2000, and we were at the Atlantic City Seafood Festival, and between beer and the ever-present crafters, we decided to go to the food booths to sample some great seafood. Unfortunately, it was over-priced, or utterly fried and dried crap. I mean, $7 for 5 grizzled scallops on a BBQ skewer? Not my cheap ass.

Then, I saw a booth for Kelsey & Kim's Soul Food. Appreciating the irony that this was, in fact, a seafood fest, we saw them serving heaping platters of steaming spicy pulled pork, with a side of this green stuff that was cooked with the pork. Collards! I had never tried them. We got a couple of plates, sat on a hill near the band, and had an unbelievably delicious feast of savory spicy pork, and these rich hearty greens. It turns out to be the perfect green for slow-cooking for hours without having it turn into a liquid. Needing more, and in quantity, I began playing with my own recipe's.

Pulled Pork with Collard Greens
-1 Pork Shoulder
-2 lg bunches Collard Greens
-1 to 2 cup of "sauce" (I use a Georgia Peach/Vidalia Onion Hot Sauce) 

Trim the shoulder of all skin and fat visible. 
Place in a big roasting pan, bony side down. Put in an oven for 1 hour at 350.
Wash collards well. Remove stems, and chop.
Reduce heat to 225, add collards around shoulder, and cover. Cook 4 hours.
Remove collards, then shred the pork with 2 forks. Feast!

Collard Greens with Smoked Pork
I came across smoked pork neck-bones the other day for 50 cents a pound. I wasn't sure what to do with them, but anything on sale for that price is fair game to I made a batch of collards with them. It gave it a rich taste, with all the smoky flavor. My friend Kim's father uses smoked turkey legs, which were also delicious, but I think you would prefer a good pork any day.

-2 lbs of smoked pork neck-bones, turkey legs, etc.
-2 lg bunches Collard Greens

Wash collards well. Remove stems, and chop.
Fill a dutch oven with 1/2 the collards, 1/2 the meat, and repeat. Pour in 2 cups of water.
Cook at 225 for 3 hours.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mediterranean Chicken Normanno

As is my habit, I like to make meals on the wing in the iron chef fashion. The downside is that I like to drink wine. Sometimes I use a very big glass. This usually results in meals that I can’t replicate 6 months later when asked. So….I began keeping a composition book in the kitchen, and when I make something everyone really likes, I write down the recipe, and give it a name. This way, when I’m asked to make it again, I can remember what the heck they are talking about…but then no one else knows what I am talking about. This results in some great conversations.

Diane: Why don’t you make that Chicken thingy again?
Me: What was in it?
Diane: Capers
Me: (looking up all the chicken recipes) Mediterranean Chicken Normanno?
Diane: Whatever
Sometime Later
Nicole: What’s for dinner?
Me: Mediterranean Chicken Normanno
Nicole: What the heck is that?
Me: Something I made once
Nicole: Whatever
Marissa: What’s for dinner?
Me: Mediterranean Chicken Normanno
Marissa: What’s in it?
Me: I made it before… It has stuff in it
Marissa: Sounds great
Still Later
Isabella: What’s that?
Me: Mediterranean Chicken Normanno
Isabella: I don’t like it
Me: It has macaroni in it
Isabella: I like it

So…here is the recipe that they all seem to love (I sense this because they throw that “signature dish” phrase around when I make it...and there isn't any left for me to take to work for lunch.

-2 lbs of whole chicken breast
-2 lbs of whole crimini mushrooms, halved
-1 can pitted olives, halved
-1/2 cup capers
-1 32 oz. can Tuttorosa plum tomatoes, halved and seeds removed. Save the juice.
-3/4 cup homemade pesto
-1 ½ cups of red wine (I open a bottle, and use the “I lost the cork” excuse to finish it)
In a pan/pot, sauté the whole breasts at high heat until brown each side. Set aside
Add the mushrooms…sauté until done.
Add the olives & capers. Simmer 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, pesto and red wine, and simmer 10 more minutes.
Meantime, slice the chicken into thin slices, then add to the pot. Simmer 3 minutes.

I served this on a bed of homemade spinach fettuccine that my daughters and I whipped together just beforehand in an effort to stop them from asking me questions I couldn’t answer. It works.

Sorry if the picture is blurry. I blame it on the missing cork.

Stretching Chicken

I am notoriously frugal. Of course, my friends say that is code for "cheap"...but in reality I hate waste, and will wear things out before I contribute to the trash stream with more "stuff".

The exception, of course, would be food. I will spend anything, without any thought to price, for exceptional ingredients. The nice people at Claudio's at the Italian Market in South Philly will attest to this...I drop large sums (aka my kids college funds) there for cheese and cured meats.

Chicken, of course, does not qualify for exceptional status. I mean, how special is a bird that everyone claims other things taste like? "Alligator", my cousin Kenny recently stated, "tastes like chewy chicken". Rabbit is said to taste like it, reputedly, so do frogs legs. (My father once told me a joke about 2 lesbian frogs...I'll leave it to your imagination.) Oddly, turkey is the same family, but no one ever claims that it tastes like chicken.

So...imagine my glee when Shoprite recently ran breasts on the bone for .99 lb. Armed with $15, I procured 3 packages of 4 each. In keeping with no waste, I was able to convert this fowl product into more than a week of meals for my family of 5. How?

1) I de-boned them into 12 breasts of approximately 1 lb. each. 
2) I cooked the bones, strained the broth, and made over 2 gallons of soup.
3) I picked the meat from the resulting bones, and made chicken salad.

For your consideration, the soup and salad recipes. I was aided by mushrooms, yellow & orange peppers, and vidalia onions which all happened to be on sale this week.

Chicken Soup (one of many versions)
- add 2 or more lbs of well-rinsed chopped escarole to the aforementioned broth
- add a pound of sliced mushooms
- add 2 lbs of carrots, sliced
- add a cup of pastina (a tiny macaroni)
- add a 1/2 head of garlic, chopped
- add some of the picked white meat from above
- simmer, eat. keep in mind you can add just about any veggies to this.
Chicken Salad
- a bunch of the picked chicken, chopped
- 2 yellow and 2 orange bell peppers, diced
- 2 small vidalia onions, diced
- some garlic powder and seasoned salt to taste
- a few tablespoons of mayo, barely enough to moisten
- the family seemed to enjoy eating this on anything, but especially by making wraps with baby spinach leaves and buffalo mayo

Coming recipe using 2 breasts for what I call "Mediterranean Chicken Normanno".

PS...the winning entry in the dish naming contest was "Piccolini con avanzi di merda". It appears some of you have a sense of humor....type it into Google translations and enjoy the translation from Italian. Ciao!