Making Peanut Brittle, Take #1

We made peanut brittle from a Food Network recipe. The idea was for Ditalini to bring some to work, and to make small gift packages of what’s left. We’re not totally happy with the results of the recipe, though, so most if it will stay at home and get gradually consumed here. Too thick, not transparent, kind of crumbly, and way too sweet. But then again a lot of people like peanut brittle that way, so I’ll share three photos of its preparation:

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They say much of cooking is chemistry, and you really begin to appreciate that when you’re making candy. At a certain temperature, the mixture of corn syrup and sugar changes, and you have to pay close attention to that candy thermometer.

When you pour the hot mixture into the buttered baking pan, it’s like working with molten lead. You have to be careful … and quick, because it cools and thickens rapidly. Just saying, in case you’ve a mind to try the linked recipe.

As I mentioned, I think we can do better. My sister sent a recipe my father adapted, and I’ll try that next. If it works, I’ll add it to the blog: Making Peanut Brittle, Take # 2.

Shoot, I just realized I need to add a Candy section to the recipe index. For now I’ll file this under Appetizers, and get around to that later.

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Moroccan Meatball Soup

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Moroccan meatball soup

A friend posted a photo of this soup on Facebook. It looked good, so I asked her to post the recipe and last night cooked up a pot for Ditalini and me. It didn’t take long to make, maybe half an hour to get the meatballs ready, maybe 20 minutes for the rest. It was delicious. The cinnamon and sweet potato give it a flavor I hadn’t encountered before … different in a delightful way. This recipe will definitely become a regular on the deMenthe menu!

Ingredients

  • 4 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 lb lean ground beef
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into thin half-moons
  • 4 medium carrots, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 7 cups chicken broth
  • cilantro, chopped

Directions

Heat 2 tsp oil over medium in a pot. Cook onions until they become soft, season with salt & pepper. Add garlic, cumin, and cinnamon and mix well with a spatula. Transfer all to a mixing bowl and add beef. Using your hands, gently mix and shape into balls. Put meatballs on waxed paper until later.

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I may have made my meatballs a little large

Add another 2 tsp oil to the pot and heat over medium-high. Add sweet potatoes and carrots and cook a few minutes, turning the potatoes and carrots over a few times. Add tomato paste and stir until the vegetables are coated, then add broth. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sweet potatoes start to become tender. Add meatballs and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through. Sprinkle with cilantro just before serving.

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Cooking the sweet potatoes and carrots

Note

This is a stand-alone soup, a one-dish meal. Some recipes for Moroccan meatball soup call for it to be served over couscous, and probably have less broth than this version. I love soup but am kind of meh when it comes to couscous, so I like it this way, with crusty bread on the side.

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deMenthe Thanksgiving 2013

We were all here for Thanksgiving: Crouton & Ditalini, our son Baguette, daughter-in-law Truffle, and grandson Pesce, along with our daughter Escargot and her boyfriend. Underfoot, of course, were Mortadella & Ubriaco, along with Baguette’s dog. Our poor old cat spent the day hiding in a closet.

What a great feast we had! Relishes, turkey with stuffing, home-made cranberry dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans with those crunchy French onions on top, and sliced smoked pork shoulder. For desert our dear friends at Costco baked us a pumpkin pie, but Ditalini felt challenged and matched it with a home-made cherry pie of her own.

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DeMenthes & guests, Thanksgiving 2013

I put the pork shoulder on the smoker at 7:30 AM; it reached 170°F at 2:30 PM, 7 hours total. Most pork shoulder smoker recipes call for an internal temperature of 190°F, but that’s only if you want to pull the pork: it’s well cooked at 170°F, and I had planned to serve it sliced anyway. Other than waiting for it to reach 190°F, which would have taken another couple of hours on the smoker, I used this recipe from a Weber Smoker site. If you use a Weber Bullet smoker, try this charcoal/wood technique: it’s what I used yesterday and it worked perfectly. By perfectly, I mean that I didn’t have to add charcoal once; every three hours I’d open the door and put in two or three fresh chunks of mesquite. Super easy. The lightly smoked pork, by the way, was an excellent accompaniment to the turkey.

Oh, before I forget, I did modify the mop I used while smoking the pork shoulder. The recipe I linked to above calls for equal measures of apple juice, vinegar, and vegetable oil; I used half and half cranberry juice and vinegar, leaving out the oil altogether. Pork shoulder is fat enough as it is! I was very happy with the result, too.

I can’t say much about Ditalini’s turkey, other than that she brined it this year, something we haven’t done before. She used a brining kit she bought at the same supermarket where she found the turkey. Very nice flavor, and the meat was moist.

There has to be one kitchen disaster in order for it to count as a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal. Fortunately our disaster was minor. As Ditalini and Truffle were putting everything on the serving table, Escargot discovered the stuffing sitting on the kitchen counter — prepared but somehow forgotten and thus uncooked. Everything went back in the lower oven to stay warm while Ditalini fired up the convection oven on top. The stuffing was done in 30 minutes and we were able to sit down and eat.

Here are a few food photos to make your mouth water. Click on the thumbnails to see ‘em bigger on Flickr.

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Escargot doing KP

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Mopping the pork shoulder

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Appetizers

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The groaning board

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Ditalini’s Easy Jambalaya

Ditalini makes this jambalaya from time to time, and it’s always good. It’s adapted from a Rachel Ray recipe; we call it “easy jambalaya.” The list of ingredients is long, but the dish itself is easy to prepare.

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Jambalaya ingredients, ready to cook (oops, forgot the Tabasco)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 lb boneless, skinned chicken, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 3/4 lb andouille, skinned & sliced
  • 1 lb large shrimp, peeled & deveined
  • 1 med onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded & chopped
  • bay leaf
  • Tabasco sauce (or cayenne pepper)
  • 2-3 tbsp flour
  • 1 can diced tomatoes w/juice
  • 1 can chicken stock
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp poultry seasoning
  • 1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
  • salt & pepper
  • chopped scallions
  • fresh thyme
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Jambalaya in the pot, ready to serve

Directions

Cook rice in 2 cups salted water, leave covered when done. Add oil & butter to a large skillet or heavy pot, heat, and brown the chicken. Add sausage, cook two minutes more. Add onion, celery, bell pepper, bay leaf, and hot sauce or cayenne. Sauté meat & vegetables five minutes, sprinkle flour over all and cook another two minutes. Add tomatoes and juice and the chicken broth. Add the spices. Bring liquid to a low boil until the celery & bell pepper are almost cooked, then add the shrimp. Simmer until the shrimp are pink.

To serve, put a large scoop of rice in each bowl, ladle jambalaya around the rice, garnish with scallions and thyme, salt and pepper as desired, extra Tabasco sauce for those who like their jambalaya spicy.

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Serving suggestion (with option!)

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Appetizer Ideas

We went to a dinner at Poulet en Crote’s last night. Poulet prepared the main course while guests brought side dishes. Ditalini was responsible for bringing appetizers, and here they are:

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L to R: deviled eggs, vegetable platter, stuffed cherry tomatoes, seasoned boiled shrimp, asparagus with prosciutto

There are hundreds of ways to make deviled eggs, and veggies with ranch dressing dip are so standard now you can buy prepared platters at any grocery store, but I wanted to go into a little detail on the three appetizers to the right.

Stuffed cherry tomatoes

Ditalini hollowed out the tomatoes with a small melon baller, then filled them with a mixture of cream cheese, ranch dressing, and chopped bacon.

Seasoned boiled shrimp

Boiled in water with a little vinegar and a tablespoon of Old Bay seasoning, then peeled, served with lemon and cocktail sauce.

Asperagus with prosciutto

Ditalini steamed the asparagus until tender, then marinated the spears in Italian dressing overnight in the fridge. Just before the party she wrapped a thin slice of prosciutto around each spear.

Speaking of dinner, here’s the rest:

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Main dishes, L to R: green beans with sliced almonds, garlic mashed potatoes, corn pudding, prime rib roast, cheddar cheese muffins from Red Lobster (and some sliced sopressata salami)

Poulet made the corn pudding and roasted the prime rib; Moules Frites prepared the green beans; Ditalini made the garlic mashed potatoes; Bock Wurst brought the cheese muffins (and the sopressata as an addition to the appetizers).

This dinner, by the way, is an annual event. Poulet always hosts. Food preparation, as it was last night, is divvied up amongst the guests. The occasion is a confluence of late October and early November birthdays, namely mine, Pommes Frites’, and Osso Bucco’s.

Dinner with friends. What could be better than that?

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Mexican & Tex-Mex Added to Index

Ditalini made another batch of chiles rellenos last night. I couldn’t remember if her recipe was on the blog, so I looked for it and couldn’t find it. No problem, my camera was handy and I started snapping photos, intending to add it this morning.

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Ditalini’s chiles rellenos with Spanish rice and pork tamales

When I sat down at the iMac this morning I discovered the recipe was already up at Crouton’s Kitchen, along with photos I’d taken last time around. The reason I couldn’t find it last night was that it was buried in the Vegetables section of the Recipe Index. I realized this little blog needed a Mexican & Tex-Mex recipe section on the index.

So there you have it, and there’ll be more coming. Cooking … who knew it was so complicated?

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Hasenpfeffer

Hasenpfeffer is also known as braised rabbit in spiced red wine sauce, but the literal translation is “peppered hare.”

We made this dish often when we were first married. That was more than 40 years ago, and rabbit was not as hard to find as it is today. We found some at a local butcher shop, but it came frozen from China, so we took a pass. About a week later, Ditalini found what we were looking for—cut up and frozen rabbit, raised in America—at a high-end grocery store, and we were in business.

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Hasenpfeffer ingredients

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb bacon, chopped
  • 1 5-6 lb fresh or defrosted frozen rabbit, cut in serving pieces
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (or substitute onion)
  • 1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tbs brandy
  • 1 tsp currant jelly
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/8 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/8 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
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Hasenpfeffer cooking in the casserole

Directions

Cook bacon until crisp in a large heavy casserole. Remove the bacon and let it dry on paper towels. Put the casserole with the bacon fat aside.

Wash & dry the rabbit, sprinkle with salt & pepper, then dip the pieces in flour. Heat the bacon fat in the casserole on high, then brown the rabbit in the fat, a few pieces at a time. Transfer browned rabbit to a plate. Pour off all but 2 tbsps of bacon fat. Cook the garlic and shallots in the remaining fat. Pour in the wine and chicken stock and bring to a boil, stirring in any brown bits sticking to the casserole. Stir in the brandy, currant jelly, bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme, and return the rabbit and any juices on the plate to the casserole. Add the bacon, cover the casserole, and simmer over low heat for 1 1/2 hours.

Just before serving, remove the bay leaf and add the lemon juice. The sauce should be peppery; you can add more pepper if necessary. You can dip the rabbit and sauce out of the casserole or arrange the rabbit pieces on a platter and pour the sauce over them.

Note: if you have to use smaller pieces of rabbit they will cook faster, so check for tenderness after 1 hour. We were able to find a chopped-up 5-6 lb rabbit, as per the recipe, and we cooked ours the full 1 1/2 hours.

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Hasenpfeffer on the plate (the sauce went well with the potatoes, too)

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Ditalini’s Family Gnocchi Recipe

Ditalini’s Aunt Joyce, a first-generation Italian-American and today the matriarch of the della Fagiolis, taught us this authentic gnocchi recipe, brought to the USA from Vittorio Veneto when the family emigrated.

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs russet potatoes
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dash of nutmeg

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Gnocchi ingredients

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Ricing the potatoes

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Rolling the dough

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Cutting the dough

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Gnocchi paddle & thumb

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Gnocchi cooling by a pot of sauce


Directions

Bake the potatoes in their skins until done. Using towels and a sharp knife, peel the potatoes and rice them while they’re still hot. Make a mound of the riced potatoes, then shape a depression in the middle. Add in the flour, egg, and seasonings and knead into a soft, elastic dough.

Cut off sections of the dough and roll them into long tubes about 2/3″ diameter. Cut into 1″ lengths. One at a time, roll them gently across a gnocchi paddle with your thumb and arrange the individual gnocchis on a baking pan dusted with flour. When you’ve rolled all the gnocchi, assuming you used 5 lbs of potatoes, you’ll probably have three baking pans worth. Set them aside to cool.

When ready to cook, bring lightly salted water to a boil and add the gnocchi a few at a time. They’re cooked when they rise to the surface. Remove them with a slotted spoon, drain, and place in a shallow bowl. Spoon Italian meat sauce over the cooked gnocchi, toss with the sauce, and serve with grated Parmesan cheese on the side.

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Serving suggestion (with meat sauce & Italian sausage)

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Polenta

I learned about polenta when I married Ditalini. It was what you ate when you were poor, or when you were tired of pasta and wanted something different. Sometime during the 1980s polenta became trendy and today you can find it on upscale restaurant menus.

All it is is ground cornmeal, cooked into a thick mush with salt and water. You can serve it with sauce for an authentic Italian family meal. You can fry leftover polenta in butter and serve it with eggs for breakfast. You can cut slices of polenta, let them cool and harden, and grill them outdoors to serve with Italian sausage, vegetables, or artichokes. It’s great stuff.

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Polenta cooking

Ingredients

  • 2 cups polenta meal
  • 6 cups water
  • salt

Directions

Bring lightly salted water to a boil, then slowly stir in polenta meal with a whisk. When the polenta is well blended, reduce heat to low, then stir with a long wooden spoon or polenta paddle. Ditalini says you need to stir the polenta frequently as it cooks, and I wouldn’t dare try to let it just sit and cook on its own, though I’ve heard that other people do it that way.

Polenta needs to cook about two hours. It’ll form a crust along the sides and bottom of the pot, and that’s when you know it’s done.

Lay out a dishtowel and invert the pot over it so that the cooked polenta falls onto the towel. Shape the polenta into a loaf with the edges of the towel, then fold the edges of the towel over the polenta and let it cool.

To serve, slice off pieces of polenta and transfer to a plate. We normally top the polenta slices with polenta cheese (yes, there is such a thing) or mozzarella, then spoon Italian meat sauce over the top. Leftover polenta gets saved for breakfast or for an Italian family barbecue.

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Polenta with Italian meat sauce, cheese, sausages

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Ditalini’s Family Meat Sauce Recipe

This is the real stuff, a family meat sauce recipe from the Veneto region of Italy, handed down to my wife Ditalini from her family, the della Fagiolis. I’m sure the recipe changed as it adapted to life in the United States, but when Ditalini and I visited the old folks in Vittorio Veneto back in the 1980s, we thought their sauce tasted just like ours, so it can’t have changed too much!

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Ingredients

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Browning meat, onions, garlic

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Browning sausage

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Sauce simmering


Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • small roast or 1 lb Italian sausage (optional)
  • 1 large onion
  • 6-7 large cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 regular (14.5-oz) cans tomato sauce
  • 1 small (6-oz) can tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • pinch of sugar

Directions

Brown the ground beef in a frying pan over medium heat, drain off any fat, and save.  Brown the Italian sausage (or roast), drain fat, and save. While the meat is browning, peel and cut up the onion and garlic, then saute same in olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Once the onions and garlic are slightly browned, add the browned meat to the stock pot. Add the tomato sauce and tomato paste. Use the empty tomato paste can to add three cans’ worth of water to the sauce (that’s 18 oz if you already threw the can away). Last of all, add the salt, pepper, spices, and sugar, then stir. Let the sauce come to a gentle boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for a couple of hours. Half an hour before serving, remove the lid and let the sauce continue to simmer (this will thicken it).

Notes

Use as much garlic as you like – there’s no such thing as too much.  The pinch of sugar helps neutralize the tomato sauce’s acidity. You can make the sauce using only ground beef, but it’s better with two kinds of meat (we use either Italian sausage or a small beef roast).

Serve with gnocchi, polenta, or any kind of pasta.

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