Photoblog: an Italian Family Dinner

Yesterday Ditalini and her Aunt Radicchio made three pounds of gnocchi and a big pot of sauce.

Gnocchi

Gnocchi (from Ditalini’s family recipe)

When it comes to rolling and shaping gnocchi, there’s some twist of the wrist thing I never quite mastered, but Aunt Radicchio, now the matriarch of Ditalini’s Italian-American family, passed the secret on to Ditalini, who passed it on to our daughter Escargot, ensuring that proper gnocchi will continue to be prepared and served on these shores for many years to come.

Sauce

Italian meat sauce (from Ditalini’s family recipe)

Ditalini’s family, the della Fagiolis, makes sauce with two kinds of meat. Here at Château deMenthe we normally use ground beef and Italian sausage. Aunt Radicchio was in charge of yesterday’s sauce, which she prepared with a browned, medium sized chuck roast and hot Italian sausage. In compliance with family tradition we removed the meat from the finished sauce and served it on the side after tossing the gnocchi in sauce and adding some Italian parsley for looks.

Ready to serve, with the roast & sausages on the side

Does that look good? You’d better say yes!

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Photoblog: Dinner with Friends

Crouton dusted off his braised beef short ribs recipe for yesterday’s dinner. This is the one where the ribs cook in a 200°F oven for 11 hours, a recipe he originally learned from Poulet en Crote’s son, a professional chef. Appropriately, Poulet was one of Crouton and Ditalini’s guests.

The honored dinner guest was Radicchio della Fagioli, Ditalini’s aunt, the matriarch of the Italian side of the family (and the woman who taught Ditalini how to make gnochhi). Also joining the deMenthes were the Burgoos, Legume and Lambchop, friends who recently moved here from California.

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Crouton prepped the short ribs Saturday afternoon, browning them and preparing the beef stock and wine liquid to braise them in, then refrigerating the lot overnight. At 6:30AM Sunday he poured the liquid over the ribs and put them in the oven. They came out at 5:30PM, while he was preparing the new potatoes and sautéeing the green beans. The actual work? About an hour. The oven did the rest.

A great dinner? Check. A great evening with friends? Check. What else does anyone need?

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Ditalini’s Scotch Eggs

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Scotch eggs

Ditalini recently learned how to make Scotch eggs, the popular pub appetizer. While we were in Las Vegas with our family for Thanksgiving, she walked daughter-in-law Truffle and grandson Pesce through the process.

Ingredients

  • 6 hard boiled eggs, peeled
  • 1 lb Jimmy Dean’s hot sausage
  • bread crumbs

Directions

Cut the sausage in 1″ patties, then flatten each patty on your hand with your other hand. Holding the flattened patty in one hand, place an egg in the middle and wrap the patty around it, pinching the edges together. Roll the covered egg in bread crumbs and set aside on waxed paper.


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Truffle wrapping an egg

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Finishing the wrapping

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Rolling the egg in bread crumbs

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Pesce takes a whack at it


Using an electric deep fryer or oil heated in a pot, immerse each egg in hot oil for 3 1/2 minutes, then remove, drain, and place aside on paper towels.

Cut the deep fried eggs in half lengthwise. If the sausage is browned through, they are done. If the sausage is still pink inside, place those eggs in a preheated 350° oven for a few minutes until done.

Serve with hot mustard or honey mustard. Scotch eggs are sometimes served with pickles, pickled onions, and cheese.

Notes

It’s a lot easier to buy a six-pack of hard boiled, peeled eggs at the supermarket than it is to do it at home. You may want to experiment with dipping mustards to find one to your own taste.

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A Birthday Dinner Photoblog

It’s been an annual tradition for several years now: Osso Bucco, our friend from Las Vegas, comes down to visit during my birthday week (his birthday is a week from now, so we celebrate together) and we all go over to Poulet en Crote’s house for a gala dinner.

This year Ditalini prepared three appetizer platters to go with Poulet’s dinner. Eventually I’ll get around to adding recipes and directions for some of these appetizers, but for now I’ll just torment you by sharing photos:

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Ditalini’s Scotch eggs

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Ditalini’s cheese tray with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears

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Ditalini’s buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar dressing, with Kalamata olives

The last photo is Poulet’s dinner buffet. As with all of these photos, you can click on it to view the full sized original on Flickr. The Italian meat sauce, by the way, was from the recipe that appears here on Crouton’s Kitchen.

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Poulet en Crote’s dinner buffet: pasta w/Italian meat sauce, baked carrots, garlic bread, Brussels sprouts w/bacon, Romaine lettuce, corn pudding, cheddar biscuits

Since Poulet’s colorful baked carrots were hiding behind the flowers, I took a separate photo.

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Poulet’s baked carrots

Oh, and there were two kinds of birthday cake afterward, Poulet’s own chocolate cake and a carrot cake from the local Safeway.

There were six of us at the dinner and we didn’t eat more than a third of the bountiful feast. What was left over went home with us or to Poulet’s grandchildren.

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Comments Are Open

Dear friends,

Dilalini and I have opened the comments again, which means you can weigh in on recipes and posts here at Crouton’s Kitchen without having to register and log in.

We started requiring commenters to register and log in a few years ago after comment spammers discovered our little cooking blog. That got rid of the spammers, but it discouraged discussion and ideas. We installed some anti-spam plugins, which we hope will fend off most of the comment spam. If any gets through, we’ll manually delete it.

We don’t yet know how effective these plugins are. There’s a possibility they might block some of your comments, especially if you write about things like discount sunglasses or male enhancement products. Stay away from subjects like that and you should be fine!

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Family Fourth of July Cookblogging

Our grandson Pesce stayed with us during the last part of June, joined on the 2nd of July by his parents, Baguette and Truffle, and his Aunt Escargot, our daughter. Escargot’s boyfriend Manzo Bistecca rolled in on the 3rd, and we were all together … save for our granddaughter Biscotto, who was stuck in Seattle … for the 4th of July.

Sadly, the Glorious Fourth has come and gone and Ditalini are alone again, but while the gang was here, such cooking!


Quentin

Chef Pesce

Antipasto & Not Gazpacho

Not Gazpacho w/antipasto tray

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Escargot, Truffle, Baguette, Pesce, Ditalini

Chooks on the spit

Chooks on the spit

Slow braised short ribs

Slow braised short ribs

4th of July 2014

Escargot, Manzo, Crouton, Truffle, Ditalini


Most of the recipes are already up here at Crouton’s Kitchen.

The deMenthe pets are always happy when company comes, because they inevitably talk guests into giving them treats.


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Ubriaco the auxiliary dog

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Peloso the horrible old cat

Schatzi (photo: Paul Woodford)

Mortadella the princess

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Dinnertime truce


Well, you know what they say … the family who cooks together eats together. Or something like that!

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The Second Rule of Cooking Club

If it looks wrong, go with your gut.

Our second cooking club dinner was last night. The theme was Italian, using recipes from the cookbooks of celebrity chef Mario Batali. Ditalini and I were in charge of the antipasto; Magret de Canard, our host, prepared the main dish; Manzo & Anitra Spezzatino brought the salad; Tiburón & Camarón Ceviche prepared a vegetable side dish. Houskový Knedlík was in charge of dessert but couldn’t come, so we raided Magret’s stash of gelato.

It was a terrific dinner. By the time I remembered to take a photo of our antipasto tray there was nothing left, but I did manage to get shots of the other dishes before they disappeared:


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Verdura in Scapece

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Arista alla Porchetta

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Arista alla Porchetta

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Concia di Zucchine


Yes, I know my food photography wasn’t the best last night, but at least this gives you the idea.

Dinner was molto Italiano, not just the food but the company and conversation: we talked and talked and talked some more and didn’t get up from the table for at least two hours. It was a great success … except for the Ceviches’ Concia de Zucchine, or marinated zucchini … which wasn’t their fault. It was Mario Batali himself who ruined that dish!

The recipe for Concia de Zucchini (which you can see on the left side of my plate in the fourth photo, above) comes from a Mario Batali cookbook titled Molto Italiano, and appears on page 447. The zucchini is sliced thinly, made crispy by frying, then marinated and served at room temperature. The marinade, according to Batali’s recipe (and at least four of us looked at it afterward to verify the amounts and ingredients), is made with minced garlic, two teaspoons of red pepper flakes, a cup of fresh basil, two tablespoons of kosher salt, two tablespoons of ground black pepper, and a quarter cup of red wine vinegar.

Two tablespoons of salt? You could brine a 20-pound turkey with that much salt! Even if the recipe mistakenly called for tablespoons instead of teaspoons, that still would have been way way too much salt.

Tiburón thought the measurements were way off when he prepared the dish, but decided to trust the famous chef (like, how many of us have multiple cookbooks in print, never mind our own TV shows?). He worried about it all the way over to Magret’s, and told us repeatedly beforehand he thought it would be too salty to eat. Sure enough, it was.

Something in Batali’s recipe is wrong, and it’s not just the salt … the red and black pepper are way out of proportion too. Afterward Tiburón said he should have gone with his gut.

Hence the Second Rule of Cooking Club: If it looks wrong, go with your gut.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen gross errors in cookbooks … including Julia Child’s classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which omits an important step in preparing her famous Boeuf Bourguignon recipe.

Well, live and learn. I probably would have trusted Mario Batali’s recipe too. Gee, I wonder if he’ll confiscate our tips if we point out the error on his Facebook page?

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Crouton’s Beef & Guinness Stew

We had the richest, beefiest stew at a friend’s home last winter. She told me it was beef & Guinness stew and that I’d find the recipe on line. I pulled a big chuck roast out of the freezer the other day and decided to make it myself. Perhaps I chose the wrong recipe, because I wound up modifying it to make it taste as good as my friend’s stew. Since I modified the recipe I started with, I’m calling this one my own … trial and error, baby!

What trial? What error? When I looked up recipes I found three, each one slightly different. All three called for beef, onion, carrots, and Guinness, but then one added some beef stock while another added chicken stock. I chose the “pure” one, the one that called for Guinness alone. When the stew had simmered a couple of hours I tasted it and found it decidedly non-beefy. I added a can of beef stock, and while I was at it, three small cut-up red potatoes and one sliced parsnip. The result was, as I’d hoped, rich and beefy tasting, one of the best stews I’ve made.

Ingredients

Ingredients, beef & Guinness stew (Phone photo: Paul Woodford)

Ingredients (less beef broth, potato, and parsnip, which I added later)

  • 2 lb rump or chuck roast
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • salt & pepper
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree or paste, dissolved in 4 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/4 cups Guinness
  • 1 1/4 cups beef broth
  • 4 large carrots, sliced
  • 3 small red potatoes, cut into 1″ squares
  • 1 parsnip, sliced
  • sprig of fresh thyme
  • chopped parsley, for garnish

Directions

Trim beef of fat and gristle, cut into large pieces. Mix flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a bowl and dredge the beef so it is lightly coated. Heat a couple of tbsp olive oil in a skillet and brown the beef on all sides, about ten pieces at a time. Remove the already-browned beef as you brown fresh batches.

Beef & Guinness stew

The stew, before I added beef broth, potato, and parsnip

Reduce the heat in the skillet, add the onions, garlic, tomato puree, and browned beef to the skillet, cover, and cook gently for five minutes. Transfer the contents of the skillet to a casserole and pour half the Guinness into the skillet. Bring Guinness to a boil and stir to dissolve the caramelized meat juices in the skillet. Pour over the meat, along with the remaining Guinness and beef stock. Add the vegetables and thyme. Stir and adjust seasonings. Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat, or in a 300°F oven until the meat is tender, 2 to 3 hours. Garnish the beef with parsley and serve.

Beef & Guinness stew

Beef & Guinness stew

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The First Rule of Cooking Club

… is tell everyone about it on your cooking blog.

Ditalini and I are Hash House Harriers, members of a notoriously disorganized hare & hounds trail club with chapters all over the world. After a recent trail, while eight of us were cooling off at a local pub, our friend Magret de Canard told us about the weekend she spent escorting a cookbook author who’d been a speaker at Tucson’s annual book fair. The author was Hugo Ortega, and he’d given Magret a copy of his new cookbook, Backstreet Kitchen. She had the book with her and we passed it around. Somehow the idea of starting a cooking club popped into our heads.

We’re calling ourselves the On-On Gourmet Hash House Harriers, even though the only trails we’ll follow will be culinary ones. We’re going to cook and consume dinners together, once every other month. Our idea is to pick a chef with an online or print cookbook, then draw lots for who’ll prepare an appetizer, salad or soup course, main course, and dessert — all from that chef’s repertoire. Whoever draws the main course will host; everyone else will prepare their assigned courses at home and bring them to the host’s house for dinner. After dinner, we’ll pick a new chef and draw lots for who’ll prepare what for our next meeting, two months down the road.

Our inaugural cooking club meeting was two nights ago, and we started with — who else — Hugo Ortega and his Backstreet Kitchen cookbook. Ditalini and I drew the main course (Slow Braised Short Ribs, pg 164), so we hosted. We were joined by the Spezzatinos, Manzo & Anitra, who prepared the dessert (Pear Tarte Tatin, pg 184); the Ceviches, Tiburón & Camarón, who prepared the appetizer (Mushroom Escargot with Pesto, pg 119), the aforementioned Magret de Canard, who prepared a side dish (Garlic Mashed Potatoes, pg 152), and another single member, Houskový Knedlík, who can’t cook for squat but that’s okay because we named him our resident provisioner of wines & spirits.

All hail Hugo Ortega! The On-On Gourmets Hash House Harriers is off to a great start. Here we are, setting off on our inaugural gastronomical trail (which, I admit, looks very much like sitting down to dinner):

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Magret de Canard, Houskový Knedlík, Anitra Spezzatino

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Manzo Spezzatino, Camarón (standing) & Tiburón Ceviche, Ditalini deMenthe


I don’t remember who’s preparing what for our next meeting (Ditalini wrote it all down, thank goodness), but our next chef is Mario Batali.

And now that I’ve talked up Hugo Ortega and his great cookbook, you’ll be pleased to learn that I’ve posted his Slow Braised Short Ribs recipe, along with some photos of its preparation, directly below this entry.

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Slow Braised Short Ribs

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Slow braised short ribs with garlic mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus

This dish is from Hugo Ortega’s Backstreet Kitchen cookbook. I prepared it for a cooking club dinner the other night, and it was a hit. Although it may appear complicated, it’s actually easy to prepare (if you don’t count peeling the cipollini onions). The only modification I made to Hugo Ortega’s recipe was to double it, since I was cooking for eight. If you’re cooking for a smaller group, cut the ingredients in half.

Ingredients (serves 8)

  • 6 lbs short ribs, cut in 2″ lengths
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • lots of coarsely ground black pepper
  • kosher salt
  • olive oil
  • 2 large carrots, peeled & chopped
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 12 large cipollini onions, peeled & intact
  • 2 large celery ribs, chopped
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 cups water

Directions

Pat the short ribs dry with a paper towel. Dip them in beaten eggs, then roll on a plate covered with ground pepper and salt. Set aside.

Heat about 3 tbsps of olive oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven, then brown the ribs on all sides. Set aside.

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Browning the short ribs

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Browned short ribs with other ingredients

Leave the oil and scrapings from browning the ribs in the Dutch oven and add the chopped white onion, celery, carrots, and cipollini onions. Cook the vegetables for three minutes, gently turning them with a wooden spoon and being careful not to damage the cipollini onions. Add the wine and water to deglaze the vegetables.

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Cooking the vegetables

With tongs, layer the short ribs in the Dutch oven with the vegetables and liquid (which should cover the short ribs about 3/4 of the way). Spoon some of the liquid over the short ribs that are on top of the liquid. Cover the Dutch oven and place it in a preheated 375° oven. Braise until fork tender (3 to 3/12 hours). Check occasionally and add water if necessary (I didn’t need to).

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Short ribs back in the pot, ready to braise in the oven

When cooked, gently remove the short ribs and cipollini onions from the pot with tongs or a slotted spoon. Leave the rest of the cooked vegetables in the pot and throw away, or save for something else (see the notes below). Arrange the ribs and cipollinis on a platter and spoon a little of the cooking liquid over them. Serve with garlic mashed potatoes.

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Ready to serve, buffet style

Notes

You don’t normally see beef short ribs at the corner grocery store. I ordered mine from a local butcher, who cut them into 2″ lengths for me.

The best way to peel cipollini onions is to carefully slice off the root ends, drop a few at a time into boiling water for 30 seconds, then take them out with a strainer and plunge them into a bowl of iced water (to stop them from cooking). When you’re ready for them, pat them dry, snip off the pointy ends of the peels with kitchen scissors, and gently pull off the papery skins.

Ditalini asked me to save the leftover cooking liquid, chopped white onion, celery, and carrots included. She’s going to add some leftover steak and potatoes and make a beef stew with it. Should be heavenly.

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