Meredith and Carla Just another WordPress weblog Mon, 21 Mar 2011 14:04:14 +0000 en hourly 1 Bacon Rolled Chicken Thighs with Barley Risotto Mon, 21 Mar 2011 14:04:14 +0000 Carla chix-thighs_1961

“It isn’t often that the words “roll” and “thigh” combine to such harmonious delight. Envision juicy dark meat wrapped in creamy slices of fat streaked bacon. Once browned in a blazing hot pan the bacon tightens to hold the meat snugly. Then comes a steamy bath in sherry-scented barley risotto, cooked slowly to succulent tenderness.” Whoa, wait a minute… I admit I may have read one too many steamy novels while on vacation last week. feet-on-beachAfter all, what’s a girl to do while lounging on a beach? What I’m getting a little carried away about here is DINNER. I’m finally home and able to cook my own food in my own kitchen. And it feels really good.

Though not exactly the dead of winter anymore, it’s still chilly outside and nothing makes my house smell more heavenly than cooking chicken. Even better, this dinner that’s good enough for company is a one pan meal; my new favorite way to cook. I love how the thighs give up so much of their flavor to the grains of barley that simmer below. And thanks to boneless chicken thighs, it takes less than an hour start to finish.

Thighs are so much more interesting when stuffed with something tasty, so bitter onion and garlic flecked escarole and sweet sherry soaked figs are the perfect companions to the already discussed juicy dark meat. Instead of rice, I’ve lately become a fan of making risotto with barley. The grains have a delightful way of bouncing, spring-like when you bite down on them and the cooking time isn’t nearly as critical. Since barley isn’t high in starch, the addition of a little cream adds that velvety quality we’ve come to expect in a risotto. An easy fix.

All that is needed to finish the dish is a sprinkle of lemon zest and a snip from the chives that are now peeking up out of my awakening herb patch in the back yard. back-yard1 I like to serve this dish with a fresh green salad of endive, radicchio, fennel, orange, olives, feta and a simple vinaigrette. Oh, and some good bread. And maybe a bottle of Pinot Noir. Or two. After all, it’s a homecoming celebration, right?

Kitchen Counter Point: I don’t always cook with boned chicken thighs. When I have more time, cooking bone-in results in the best flavor.  There are times, though, when I need to have dinner on the table in under 1 hour or I may want to stuff them. That’s when I opt for the boneless variety. But I almost always cook them sans skin for the simple reason that at the end of the cooking process there is less fat in the dish. I know, I know. I removed the skin and then wrapped the little buggers in bacon, but that’s  because I wanted to inject a smoky element into the dish. If you’re going get a little hinkey about the bacon fat you can pour it off after browning, but I would advise against it. It just wouldn’t be right.


Hands on time: 30 minutes
Start to finish: 50 minutes

1/3 cup sherry or dry white wine
8 dried black mission figs, stemmed and cut in half
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large or two small onions, chopped, divided
1 head escarole, chopped or about 2 large handfuls
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 boned and skinned chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
8 slices bacon
1-1/2 cups pearled barley
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced, divided
Pinch cayenne
Zest of 1 lemon

Bring the sherry and figs to a boil over medium heat (be careful, it might flame up). Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit for 20 minutes so that the figs soften and absorb some of the sherry.

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet with a lid over medium high heat and sauté half the onion for 3 minutes or until it begins to soften. Add the escarole and cook for another 3 minutes or until the escarole is wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two or until the garlic is fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool slightly.

Lay out chicken thighs skin side down and salt and pepper them. Divide the greens and figs among the chicken and roll them up to enclose the filling. Wrap the chicken in the bacon and secure each one with a toothpick.

Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and add the chicken rolls over medium heat. Brown them on all sides, about 5 minutes total. The chicken won’t be fully cooked at this point. Remove the chicken from the pan and add the remaining onion. Saute for about 3 minutes then add the barley to the pan. Stir and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the barley is lightly toasted then add the reserved sherry and cook for about 1 minute or until it mostly cooks off. Add the chicken stock and salt and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and tuck the chicken down into the barley. Cover and cook for 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the barley is tender.

Transfer the chicken to a plate and remove the toothpicks. Stir the cream, 1 tablespoon of the chives and the pinch of cayenne into the barley over medium heat until hot. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as desired.

Mound the barley risotto onto a platter and top with the chicken thighs. Garnish with the remaining chives and lemon zest. Dine happily.

Kitchen Tour Fri, 25 Feb 2011 20:01:25 +0000 Carla  kitchen-story_161


I’ve always been a voyeur of sorts. As a child, I loved to ride in the back seat of the car at night peering into brightly lit homes while making up stories about the lives of the people who lived there. I’d wonder if those bright yellow walls in the living room made for a happy home or if the pink bicycle on the porch belonged to a girl about my age.  I still like to peek into houses at night, so close your blinds if you have anything to hide. There are lots of us out there looking in.

Now that you know I’m a peeping Tom (and I suspect that you are as well), I thought I’d give you a peek at my kitchen. Like most houses, it’s in the back of the house so looking through my windows as you drive by won’t quite do it for you.  But before I show you more pictures of my kitchen as it looks now, I want to show you my kitchen as it looked 5 years ago before the remodel.



What a difference a remodel can make! Since I essentially live and labor in this space it was the gift of a lifetime to be able to upgrade it from the 1960’s and fast forward to the 21st century. People often ask me what I consider the important working facets of a kitchen. So, even though you haven’t asked, I thought I’d show you the best things, from my perspective, about my new-ish kitchen.


My very favorite thing is my dual fuel Wolf range. It could be about having enough btu’s to rival the sun, but  it’s probably the simmer feature since I like to cook stews and braises stove top. And I love the big, big oven. And convection. I love convection. It’s really hard for me to roast or bake in conventional mode when testing recipes (but I do). Convection is great because it cooks fast and browns ever so evenly. If you have this feature on your oven, try it. You’ll become addicted.

Next up on my fave list iskitchen_131 my KWC faucet. It’s all metal and has terrific heft. It pulls out so it’s easy to fill large pots  or to rinse out the sink. The single handle makes it easy to turn on or off with a bump of my wrist. It will last forever. I also love my instant-hot because it gives me hot, hot water in, well, an instant.

Another plus is the extra counterspace my designer wrangled for me by moving the refrigerator to a back/side wall. I finally have space to roll out doughs and spread out.  I fell madly in love with the handmade green tiles I used on the backsplash. It was a splurge, but thankfully they still make me happy every time I look at them. I’m sure the design professonals on tv would tell me that it is too much green and if I wanted to sell my house that buyers wouldn’t be into it…but I don’t care. Each tile has a crackled finish and a deckle edge so they look old and a bit worn in 6 shades of green. They inspired me to collect old crockery in the same colors. I use those bowls all the time.


I always wanted a couch in my kitchen so that people could sit and talk to me while I cook, so I managed to fit one in the old eating area. Leroy, my little dog, likes to sit there when he’s not in my lap, but when the kids come home there is always someone on the couch, which is a good thing. In the winter when the sun is low I get really nice light there and in the summer the light is dappled by the enormous trees outside. It’s a favorite spot.


kitchen_175I didn’t expect to like my sub-zero fridge as much as I do. I looked into the counter depth refrigerators and thought I’d just go along with the less expensive option, but I got a super deal on the sub-z and now I’m glad I went the extra mile. I was needlessly afraid that the shallow space wouldn’t offer me enough storage, but that shallowness makes it so much easier to organize and find things. Plus the ice cubes don’t get funky because they are made with filtered water and the crisper drawers keep veggies fresh for days longer than my old behemoth of a refrigerator which now chills wine, beer and pop in the garage.

That about does it for the short list. And now for the thing I wish I had done differently; I wish I’d put in the soapstone countertops that I truly wanted. I was talked out of it by a salesman who told me that soapstone is soft and chips so I went with the granite for no fuss maintenance. I don’t like the shinyness of it, but my husband loves it, so there you go.

The Nosey Nellie  in me wishes I could see all your kitchens. After all, kitchens are where life happens. Why don’t you send me a picture of your kitchen and tell me what you love about your space? I’ll post some of the pictures in the coming months and we can all be voyeurs…together.

Quince pound cake with Ginger Thu, 10 Feb 2011 18:22:58 +0000 Carla quince-pound-cak_186

I don’t miss summer, but I do miss summer fruit. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the mounds of apples and pears in all their glorious colors and shapes, but the winter is long and options for seasonal fruit forward desserts can become kind of ho hum. The solution: If you look hard, chances are there’s a bin of exotic, local fruit at your market just waiting to be discovered. It’s green and round with a funny little stem end that protrudes like an outie belly button.



No, it isn’t a hybrid of a Granny Smith apple and a Bartlett pear. It’s a quince.

Though they’ve been cultivated for more than 4,000 years we Americans as a whole have not explored their many options. To be fair, I think it’s because most of us don’t know what to do with them. They haven’t been popular since the last century and must be cooked for an hour to be palatable, but to me, that’s part of their appeal. I’d like to make a case for the quince so I’ll begin with the fruit’s more obvious virtues.
     • Quinces are beautiful and kind of sexy. There are few fruits as beautiful nestled in a bowl or basket. They are usually a shade of Martha Stewart green when you buy them, but after sitting for a week or so, they turn yellow and ripe. I’ve had a bowl of quince on my kitchen counter for weeks and have enjoyed looking at them longer than I’d ever have enjoyed a flower arrangement.
     • Quinces have an interesting history. The ancient Romans considered the quince a symbol of love. When given to one’s intended, the fruit signified commitment or a form of engagement ring. It’s true that it does take commitment to bring out the quince’s finer qualities, but isn’t that true of most relationships? Go ahead and think about that for a minute.
     • Quinces are an unexpected ingredient, which makes them cool. After all, it’s interesting to play with an unfamiliar fruit and explore the many ways to use it. How fun to share the discovery and give others the chance to taste an unfamiliar food for the first time. When was the last time you had a slice of tender quince pound cake with quince syrup flavored whipped cream? Case closed.

So there you go. Think beyond the ubiquitous apple and pear. Pick up a few quinces and arrange them in a bowl to beautify your kitchen counter for a week or so. Hand one to your significant other as a sign of your love and then make this buttery, gingery, tart quince pound cake for your loved one’s first taste of quince. It probably won’t be their last.

quince-pound-cak_1871Kitchen Counter Point: Ginger makes its way into this cake in two ways. First the half and half is infused with fresh ginger. The longer the ginger sits in the hot liquid, the more flavor will transfer. Go ahead and get that process going after you’ve started cooking the quince. They’ll be done at the same time. If you can, let it rest while the quince cools for extra flavor. The second ginger infusion is with ground ginger which is sifted with the flour. If your ground ginger has been languishing in your spice rack for the last few years, think about replacing it with a fresh bottle for the best flavor.

Makes one 5 by 9-inch loaf

2 large quince
1 cup apple cider
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
15 peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick

1/2 cup half and half
2 thumb sized knobs of gingerroot, peeled and thinly sliced

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Zest of 1 lemon

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Peel, quarter and core the quinces and slice them very thinly.

In a medium saucepan combine the quince, cider, sugar, honey, water, lemon juice, peppercorns and cinnamon stick and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for 1 hour or until the quince is rosy and tender. Let cool in the syrup and then strain the quince, reserving the syrup.

Scald the half and half and ginger in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat, cover and let the ginger flavor the milk for at least 30 minutes. Strain the ginger from the milk and throw it away.

Preheat oven to 350º

Butter a 5 by 9-inch loaf pan, and line on the long sides with a sheet of parchment that extends up over the top edges of the pan (you’ll use it to lift the cake from the pan after it’s baked) and butter and flour the parchment.

Sift together the flour, ground ginger, salt and baking powder.

Cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat until completely blended. Add the vanilla and zest.

Add the flour and milk in 6 additions and beat on medium speed until fluffy. Spread the batter evenly into the pan and bake on the center rack in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Lower the heat to 325ºF and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the cake is removed with crumbs adhering. Cool the cake on a wire rack until completely cooled. Lift it from the pan with the parchment paper and wrap it in plastic if not using right away.

When ready to serve, beat the whipping cream with 1/4 cup of the quince syrup. Serve the cake, sliced with the quince whipping cream.

Hobo Halibut Dinner with Fennel, Zucchini and Olives Wed, 02 Feb 2011 16:00:28 +0000 Carla hobo-halibut_191

I think I’m on to something here.

I’ve found an easy way to cook a complete meal that virtually eliminates the pot and pan cleanup. And to top it off, it’s delicious enough to serve to company. This sort of discovery fosters images of Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold but it isn’t magic that I use to get this quick meal on the table. It’s a French technique called cooking en papillote (ahn pah-pee-yote). Back in West Virginia where I grew up we called it hobo dinner.

You might have eaten a version of this hillbilly treat consisting of foil wrapped packages of vegetables and meat all scrunched up, sealed tight and cooked over a fire’s dancing flames.  Hobo dinner was our favorite meal back in the 60’s when my family spent weeks at a time boating and camping on an island on the Ohio River.  This song by Nat King Cole always takes me back there.


The dads motored thier dinghys to the marina and work every morning leaving moms and kids to days filled with swimming, fishing and generally lazing about. Our houseboats and cruisers  had small water tanks and even smaller sinks, so cooking over the bonfire with only a few dishes to cleanup was the only way to go. I remember the moms setting out canned potatoes, peas and carrots with the requisite kielbasa, hamburgs and hot dogs. Pandering to my tastebuds even as a child, I loved to assemble my own dinner creation just the way I liked it; with zippy mustard squiggled over the top.

This version, however, is decidedly more French than hobo. After all, we aren’t living on an island in the middle of a river with no access to fresh produce. So the plan for tonight’s dinner is halibut perfumed with the flavors of Provence. This “salad” topping of  zucchini,  fennel, garlic, lemon, thyme and salty olives and capers flavors the fish and underlying potatoes with thier juices as they tenderize on the grill or in a hot, hot oven. A sort of fancified tongue in cheek homage to hobo dinners from days gone by, if you will.

Now that I think of it, mom’s reasons for serving hobo dinner 45 years ago were much the same as mine…it’s a delicious, quick meal with minimal cleanup. No magic required.


Kitchen Counter Point: Fish is a natural when cooking with this method because the envelope in which it cooks traps the steam, maintaining a moist environment for the fish and vegetables. Remember that fish cooks quickly (about 7 minutes per inch) so be sure to slice the vegetables very thinly. You want them to be tender just as the fish is finished cooking.

If you’d like to serve this dish up for company go ahead and use the parchment for a more sophisticated presentation. But you must then cook it in the oven since the paper would combust on the grill. There are many how to’s online that show you how to wrap and fold the paper package into an airtight envelope. Just Google “en papillote and how to”.

Serves 2

1 small bulb fennel, trimmed, quartered and thinly sliced
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil plus more
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 lemon zested
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 olives, halved
1 teaspoon capers, rinsed and lightly chopped
4 new potatoes, very thinly sliced
2 halibut filets, 6 oz each

Two 15-inch long sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil folded in half and then opened back up so that there’s a crease down the middle.

Preheat the grill to 450 degrees F.
Combine the fennel, zucchini, garlic, olive oil, thyme, lemon zest, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper, olives and capers in a medium bowl and toss them to combine the flavors.

Arrange the potato slices in one layer on one side of each of the creased foil sheets. Sprinkle the potato with salt and pepper and lay the halibut filet on top, skin side down. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper and top with the vegetables. (It will seem like a lot of vegetables, but they cook down and shrink as they cook.) If you’d like more flavor, drizzle a little  olive oil over the top. Fold the foil over the fish and roll up the edges, bottom up and over the top, to seal in the juices.

Transfer the fish to the grill, close the lid and cook for about 15 minutes. Carefully remove the packages from the grill (I use a large spatula), transfer them to two heated plates and open them at the table. A waft of steam scented with herbs and lemon will rise up from the package that you won’t want to miss.

If you’d like to bake the papillote in the oven, place a sheet pan on the bottom rack and preheat to 450 degrees F. Transfer the packages to the heated sheet pan (so they can start cooking right away) and bake the hobo dinner for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. It takes a few moments longer to cook in the oven since the heat isn’t as intense.

Variation: Use other vegetables you may have on hand like thinly sliced carrots, cauliflower, grape tomatoes or broccoli. Remember that the fish cooks very quickly, so cut the vegetables into thin or small pieces to insure that they’ll be tender when the fish is done. Other fish to try are salmon, cod, tilapia or trout. Swap out other favorite herbs as well such as basil, rosemary, or tarragon.

One Pan Pasta Carbonara Thu, 20 Jan 2011 20:48:07 +0000 Carla carbonara_190

I’ve recently experienced an epiphany. I love cooking for two.

After so many years of cooking for a houseful, I’m enjoying cooking for only two with no leftovers to wrap up and refrigerate. You know the drill. Despite your best intentions, those guilty leftovers in the back of your fridge are often tossed when you no longer recognize them. So, I’m saving money and wasting less food, which is great. But the second aspect of my inspiration is cooking up an entire meal for two in one pan because, like most of you, I really love to cook because I really love to eat. But I hate to clean up.

So, I’m offering you, forthwith, a meal sure to warm the cockles of your heart on these chilly winter nights; one pan pasta carbonara. This classic dish is rich, garlicky, smoky, salty and cheesy…the epitome of comfort food. The eggy sauce thickens just enough when tossed with the hot pasta, crispy bacon and nutty Parmesan. Though pasta carbonara isn’t exactly health food, I believe that everyone could use a heaping helping of carbohydrate comfort on a regular basis, especially when a recipe is this simple. You decide whether you need it monthly, weekly or daily. I’m not here to judge.

Even with a kitchen full of lovely pots and pans, you’ll appreciate this recipe’s one pan status and the time it saves you to do other more important things…like having epiphanies.

Kitchen Counter Point: Good cheese is a real shortcut to the best flavor, but that often means you must buy a chunk and grate it yourself. If you feel like investing and discovering the best flavored cheese, you’ll find it in individually wrapped chunks in the cheese bin section at your grocery. Real Parmesan Reggiano has a dot matrix design on the rind. Look for a chunk with only one side of the rind (that hard inedible outer covering) attached for the best bang for your buck.

2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon plus1 tablespoon salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano or pecorino Romano cheese
2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley, plus more for garnish (optional)
1/2 pound dried spaghetti noodles, snapped in half lengthwise
4 strips bacon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced

Fill a large pot with about 3 quarts of water and bring it to a boil, covered, over high heat. It will take about 15 minutes. While the water heats, prepare the ingredients so you can work quickly. Combine the eggs, 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, Parmesan and parsley, if using, in a medium bowl. Set aside.

When the water boils add the tablespoon salt and the pasta to the pot. Stir once or twice to keep the pasta from sticking and cook the pasta for a minute or so less than directed on the package. Test the pasta by fishing out a piece and cutting it in half. You should see a small dot of uncooked pasta in the center. The pasta will finish cooking with the sauce.
Reserve 2 tablespoons of the pasta water and add it to the egg mixture. Drain the pasta in a strainer.

Working quickly, return the hot pot to the heat and add the chopped bacon. Cook the bacon until it is crispy, about 5 minutes. Transfer the bacon to the egg mixture and remove the pot from the heat.

Add the garlic to the pot and cook it in the hot bacon fat for about 10 seconds or until it is fragrant. Return the drained pasta to the pot and toss it in the hot bacon fat for about 30 seconds to reheat it. Quickly pour in the egg mixture and toss to blend the ingredients thoroughly. The egg should thicken into a sauce. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper to taste.

Heap the pasta onto two heated plates and garnish with extra parsley if using.

I like to drink Italian wine with Italian food and this classic pasta would taste great with a medium bodied Chianti. Look for Riserva on the label as it generally denotes a higher quality.

Happy Holidays! Thu, 23 Dec 2010 16:02:59 +0000 Carla ornaments_077

So sorry to be tardy in getting another post out. The good news is that I’ve been busy meeting deadlines for an e-book, a couple of magazine articles and finishing the editing on a book to be released in spring 2011.  I hope to get a post online next week, but in the meantime, here’s an easy, easy appetizer to get you over the entertaining hump. It is from Meredith and my book Everday to Entertaining (2011) Happy, happy, everyone!

Crab Dip with Artichokes and Jalapeno

Hands on time: 30 minutes
Start to finish: 1 hour
Makes about 3 cups

In our experience, crab dishes really add razzle-dazzle to a cocktail party, especially when combined with goat cheese, artichoke hearts and nutty Parmesan. When served in a chafing dish (so it stays hot) this retro crabby dip reaches back through time to the 50’s and 60’s when neighbors dressed up and met for hors d’oeuvres and cocktails before dinner. Remember the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. If only Holly Golightly had had the sense to make this little nosh for her guests to nibble, her little party mightn’t have gotten so out of hand.

Must have - Chafing dish: Savvy hostesses love chafing dishes because they keep hot foods hot and require minimal attention during the party. We prefer chafing dishes with a pyrex liner dish and sterno heat source. That way you can fill the pyrex dish with the crab dip and heat it in the oven, then transfer it to the chafing dish and essentially forget about it for the night.

Makes about 3 cups
2 tbsp vegetable oil 25 mL
1/4 cup minced red bell pepper 50 mL
2 green onions, minced 2
1 stalk celery, minced 1
1 clove garlic, minced 1
5 oz goat cheese, crumbled 150 g
1 tbsp pickled jalapenos 15 mL
1 14 oz (400 g) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped 1
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated 75 mL
3 tbsp cup mayonnaise 45 mL
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce 15 mL
1 tsp lemon juice 5 mL
1/4 tsp salt 1 mL
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper 1 mL
8 oz pasteurized crabmeat, drained 125 mL
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, minced 50 mL
1/4 cup toasted almond slices 50 mL
Pita chips

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC)

1. Heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat and add the vegetable oil. Add the red pepper, green onion and celery and sauté, stirring until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl. Add the goat cheese and let the heat from the vegetables melt it.
2. To the bowl add the jalapenos, artichoke hearts, Parmesan, mayonnaise, Worcestershire, lemon juice, salt, pepper, crab and parsley and stir to combine. Transfer to a 4 cup (1 L) oven safe dish and top with the almond slices. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until the dip is hot all the way through. Serve hot with the pita wedges as an accompaniment.
Make ahead: The dip can be assembled 24 hours in advance and kept covered and refrigerated. If baking the dip off cold, add 10 minute to the warming time.

Butternut and Sausage Cellentani with Sage Tue, 26 Oct 2010 17:51:17 +0000 Carla  


In an effort to eat more healthfully, we’ve tried to cut back on processed carbs and saturated fats. Most nights a few locally grown vegetables, a chicken breast and salad constitute dinner with very few sightings of steak, potatoes, bread or white rice. I don’t generally miss those white calories, but lately I’ve had a genuine craving for pasta.

cellentani_176There’s one specific noodle that I find particularly tempting. It’s a little hollow corkscrew shape called cellentani. Barilla makes it so it should be easy for you to find. It has the most seductive spring and chewy bite… I just can’t get enough of it.

While I’m in confessional mode, I might as well admit that I’m losing the battle with sausage as well. Especially Lou’s, a local Sicilian sausage with just a hint of heat, roasted red peppers and fennel.

Now, in my mind, cravings are the human body’s way of telling us what it needs. Obviously, I’m running short on carbs and fat so in an effort to bring my body and mind in sync, I recently decided to make a meal of pasta, sausage, butternut squash and sage. My in-laws had recently gifted us with a few butternut squash from their garden and my sage bush outside was still holding on to plenty of leaves. It doesn’t get much more local or seasonal than that.

And did you know that butternut squash is good for you? It’s full of vitamin C.

There are so many interesting and healthful ways to eat it. There’s soup (with cream), a filling for ravioli (with cheese), casseroles (with cream), gratins (with cheese and cream) or just split a squash lengthwise and roast it in the oven for about 45 minutes (with butter and brown sugar). Tasty options, all.

Did I mention that butternut squash is full of beta carotene? It helps maintain eyes, skin and a healthy immune system. So, not only is this meal local and seasonal but healthy as well. Right?

Feeling better about my choices, I tossed half the cubed squash with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted it in a hot oven until browned and tender. Then I sautéed a leek and a clove of garlic in butter before adding the remaining diced squash and chicken stock. When tender, I whizzed it up in the food processor with a touch of cream. Once the al dente pasta was sauced and tossed with the browned sausage and roasted butternut I topped each serving with a few fried sage leaves, a drizzle of the sage butter and a whisper of shaved Parmesan.

As I set the mounded plates of  hot pasta on the table I informed my husband that butternut squash is a good source of fiber and full of anti-oxidants.

I must admit, it was so delicious. Not like health food at all.


Kitchen Counter Point:  Peeling and dicing a hard skinned squash is easy if you do it in sections. First, using your largest sharpest knife, cut the squash in half lengthwise. If the knife becomes stuck halfway through the squash, just pound the squash on the cutting board once or twice until the knife cuts through and is free. Scoop out the seeds with a large spoon and discard them. Cut the halved squash into quarters. This makes it easier to peel with a paring knife. Once peeled, cut the squash into 1/2-inch slices and then cut them down into 1/2-inch dice. Pretty easy, really.

Serves 4

1 large butternut squash, about 4 pounds
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use
1 medium leek
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups chicken broth, plus more if needed
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream, more if desired
3/4 lb freshly made sausage of your choice
1 lb cellentani noodles or other corkscrew pasta such as rotini
16 whole sage leaves
Parmesan cheese for grating

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Bring a large pot of water, about 1 gallon, to a boil over high heat.

Follow the directions for the squash in the Kitchen Counter Point. Dump half the squash onto a sheet pan and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the squash out in an even layer and roast in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until lightly browned and tender.

While the squash cooks, cut the leek in half lengthwise and wash it under running cold water to remove any grit. Cut away and discard the dark green leaves and thinly slice the white and light green parts. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the butter. When the butter is hot add the leek and salt. Sauté the leek for about 3 minutes or until tender. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the remaining squash, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste and broth and lower the heat to a simmer for about 10 minutes or until the squash is tender. You may have to add more broth as the vegetables cook. There should be about 1/3 cup broth in the pan when the vegetables are tender. Process the mixture in a food processor or blender (be careful it’s hot) until smooth. Return the sauce to the pan and add the nutmeg, cayenne and cream. Reheat and taste for seasoning adding more broth or cream if the sauce is too thick. Keep hot.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and cook the sausage in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Break it up into chunks and cook for about 5 minutes or until no longer pink. Drain and set aside.

In a small fry pan, add the remaining 3 tablespoons butter and heat over medium heat. When the butter is sizzling add the sage leaves and cook them for 1 minute on each side or until crispy. Transfer them as they are cooked to a paper towel lined plate. The butter in the pan will brown lightly. Remove it from the heat if it begins to darken too much. Keep warm.

Add about 1 tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and add the pasta. Cook for about 8 minutes and check it for doneness. It will need another minute or two, but should still have a nice bite and no flabbiness. Drain the pasta well and add it to the squash sauce along with the browned sausage and roasted squash. Toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Mound the pasta onto heated shallow bowls and top each portion with a few fried sage leaves, a drizzle of the browned sage butter and a grating of Parmesan. Serve very hot.

Whopper Brownies Tue, 12 Oct 2010 13:55:15 +0000 Carla whopper-brownies_144

Last week I made the Chocolate Malt Cake from Momofuku Milk Bar for my mother-in-law’s birthday. While it might have been a little more sophisticated than the usual birthday cake, it was worth the effort.  You should have seen the delight on her face when we fired the topping of mini marshmallows and lit the candles with my husband’s propane torch. No matter how old you are, fire and chocolate  are always exciting.

The cake was fabulous and fun, pleasing adults and kids alike.  I liked it so much that I got to thinking about developing an easier to make brownie clone of the cake incorporating the crunchy malted crumbs, malty fudge sauce and of course the toasted marshmallows on top of a fudgy brownie base. Let’s just say I was successful in creating what might best be described as chocolate turpitude on a plate.

Because you’re bad…very bad to eat these brownies. In the 90’s they’d have the words “death by” written in front of them. Personally,  I find turpitude preferable to death. It offers so many more options. But, I digress.

Unlike the cake whose towering three layers were impossible to cut into anything but Fred Flintstone sized slices, these brownies are easily cut into two-bite-sized bricks of deliciousness. I especially like the shy hint of salt, compliments of the un-dissolved flakes of kosher salt in the batter. The brownie base is buttery, fudgy and chewy. Not the least bit cakey. In other words, it’s perfect. The malted fudge sauce gets its flavor from one of my favorite childhood treats… Ovaltine. Christina Tosi, the pastry chef who originated the cake recipe, gets points for creativity here. The sauce is delicious, firms up just right and takes but a minute to make. But that is just the beginning of her malty genius. She used Ovaltine in the crunchy malted “milk crumbs” as well. I think this component is one of the most important to the success of the cake and though a bit weird, this baked mixture of dried milk, flour, sugar, butter, Ovaltine and white chocolate really made the cake sing.  I understand why she developed those little malted crumbs.  But really. Can’t we just use the more easily procured Whoppers, crushed, to top our version? I think so.

Intrigued yet? We’re just getting to the pyro part if the recipe. If you don’t have a propane torch, just set the marshmallow topped brownies under the broiler for a minute to toast them up, but the torch is infinitely more fun because you get to hold the fire.

And who doesn’t love to play with fire? Remember the fun of toasting marshmallows on a stick when you were a kid? I liked to make mine really brown, just a moment before they ignited into flames. And the bonfire itself with its hot licking flames and how you smelled the smoke when you sniffed your clothes and hair the next day. And what kid didn’t love Whoppers? Those irresistible chocolate covered malted milk balls that you might have chomped on while watching a movie like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly back in the summer of 1966?


But, I digress yet again. I guess these fudgy brownies with their Whoppers, Ovaltine fudge sauce and toasted marshmallows take me back to a simpler, less complicated time. I can’t guarantee that they’ll make you feel like kids again, but why not give them a try? It might help you to remember toasting marshmallows in the backyard and chowing down on a whole carton of Whoppers or eating a ridiculous (in a good way) brownie and how it tasted so good that you ate another.

 Chocolate turpitude be damned. Pass me the brownies.


Kitchen Counter Point:  A propane torch is a handy thing to have around the house. I love using it to brown the sugar on top of crème brulée, to char peppers, to brown meringue (as in lemon meringue pie) and even sometimes to caramelize or brown high sugar fruits such as pineapple or berries when topped with a sabayon. It really puts the heat right where you want it. Not like the broiler which has a tendency to over heat the dessert that lies below the surface.  Ace Hardware sells a great little gadget that screws to the top of the tank. All you have to do is turn it on, push a button and the fire is ignited. Beware the wimpy “kitchen torches” sold in cookware shops. They don’t have the mojo to get the job done. 

Makes about 16 good sized brownies
Brownie base
1 cup all purpose unbleached flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Malt Fudge Sauce
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Ovaltine
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Pinch kosher salt
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup crushed Whoppers
3 or 4 handfuls of mini marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Grease a 9x 9-inch baking pan and line it with parchment paper leaving excess paper on two sides of the pan so that later, the brownies can be easily lifted out. Grease the parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set aside

Combine the butter and sugar in a mixer bowl and beat on medium high speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and add the eggs, one at a time and beat until blended. Beat in the buttermilk, corn syrup and vanilla. Reduce the speed and add the dry ingredients in three additions, stopping to scrape down the sides. Beat the batter another minute on medium-high to thoroughly combine. It will be thick.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes. The center should still be a bit jiggly. Transfer to a rack and cool completely. It’s normal for the center to sink a bit on cooling.

To make the fudge sauce, combine the Ovaltine, chocolate and kosher salt in a medium bowl. Set aside. Combine the cream, corn syrup and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Dump the Ovaltine mixture into the pan and let sit for 1 minute, then stir until smooth. (Make the sauce right before assembling or it will firm up and you’ll have to reheat it to a pourable consistency.)

Crush the Whoppers in a heavy duty plastic bag with a mallet or a hammer. Leave some crunchy chunks for texture.

To assemble the brownies, spread a thin drizzle of fudge sauce over the top of the brownies and sprinkle over the crumbled Whoppers. Drizzle over another layer of fudge sauce. If the sauce is too thick, rewarm gently over low heat. Scatter the marshmallows evenly over the top pushing them down into the sauce so that they adhere. Quickly char the marshmallows with the propane torch that’s probably in your garage. If your significant other isn’t the handy type, preheat the broiler and brown the marshmallows in the oven for about 1 minute. Cool the marshmallows. Lift the brownies from the pan and transfer them to a cutting board. Cut the brownies into bars, wiping the knife clean between cuts and serve. The brownies keep tightly sealed for 5 days but they will be gone in 2 or 3.

Corn and Zucchini Chowder with Ham and Fresh Thyme Tue, 21 Sep 2010 14:33:06 +0000 Carla corn-chowder_139

It’s already beginning. That subtle yet noticeable change is in the air. Summer is waning and fall is moving in to take its place. By about this time I’ve usually grown bored with summer meals of cookouts and salads. I actually look forward to fall because now is the time to start thinking about making soup.

Aren’t you excited to unpack the sweaters, light the fire pits and cook up food that warms from the inside out?  My favorite early fall soup is not only hearty but it makes the most of the last gasp of the corn and zucchini season. Though corn can be a little starchy this time of year for eating off the cob, those starches and sugars add up to a delicious bowl of chowder rich with milk and cream, chunks of green zucchini and potatoes, fresh thyme from the herb patch and pink cubes of salty, smoky ham. The finishing touch is a whisper of spicy cayenne over the top of each serving. You’re going to love it. Especially with a nice loaf of crusty ciabatta bread and a glass of chilled Riesling.

To make this chowder even more luscious, I like to smash it up a little bit once it’s cooked to make it thicker and creamier. To accomplish this task I employ one of my favorite kitchen gadgets, the immersion blender. I love this little device because I can stick one end of it into the pot on the stove and pulse it a few times to just blend the soup enough to give it the texture I’m looking for…still chunky but definitely thicker. It’s a cool tool to have if you make a lot of soup and much easier than blending a portion of the soup in a processor. For a lower tech version you can also mash it up a bit with a potato masher. It isn’t quite as much fun, but it gets the job done.


It seems like such a long time ago that Meredith and I were in the trenches writing 300 Sensational Soups, our fourth book in so many years. That was a lot of soup to cook, but one of the most healthy and satisfactory of meal times for our families. No, we didn’t lose weight (it could have been the great bread and dipping oils that accompanied most of these meals) but our families were undeniably happily fed. One of the best things about a pot of soup is the leftovers which  freeze up for a no hassle future meal. My dinner challenged adult children used to love raiding the freezer whenever they’d stop by. It even became a little competitive (Soup Wars), but that’s another story.  So, go on and say good-bye to summer by making a pot of this heavenly chowder which is apparently worth fighting over.

Kitchen Counter Point: To make this soup even cornier (and what could be bad about that?), I like to add the de-kerneled naked cobs to the soup while it cooks. It is amazing how much corn essence ekes out of the cobs after a short cook. Plus, you can pat yourself on the back for extracting extra flavor from something that most cooks would have just tossed in the compost heap.

Serves 6

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 grinds of pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 ears corn, husked and corn cut from the cobs, reserving cobs
2 large zucchini, cut into 1-inch dice
1 large potato, cut into 1-inch dice
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, stemmed and chopped
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups cooked ham, diced
1 cup half-and-half or more if desired
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more for sprinkling
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon sherry or rice vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat and melt the butter. When the butter is hot, add the onion, salt and pepper and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes or until it begins to soften. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute or until the garlic is fragrant.

Add the corn, zucchini, potato, thyme and parsley and cook for another 3 minutes or until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the chicken stock, ham and corn cobs and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the soup, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove the corn cobs and discard them.

Pulse the soup with an immersion blender or pulse 1/3 of the soup in a blender or food processor and return it to the pot. You can also just mash the soup in the pot a few times with a potato masher to thicken it up.

Add the half-and-half, cayenne, nutmeg and vinegar and reheat over medium heat if necessary. Avoid boiling as the cream will curdle. Season to taste with more salt and pepper if desired. Ladle into heated bowls and garnish with a dusting of cayenne pepper on top if you like a little more bite to your chowder.

Variation: This chowder recipe just begs to be messed with, so if you have some sausage lying around, go ahead and substitute it for the ham. Just cook it up with the  onions. Likewise with the herbs. Chives, oregano and basil all work with the corn and I wouldn’t mind a little red bell pepper sautéed up with the onions for a little color. The point is to use what is freshest at the market or what you have in the fridge that needs to be used up.

The Perfect BBLTA Wed, 08 Sep 2010 13:14:12 +0000 Carla  


“Too few people understand a really good sandwich.”
James Beard

Ask me how many sandwiches I’ve made in my life and I couldn’t tell you. As a mother of three (two of them very large boys), I admit to a chronic case of sandwich boredom. Though I do always spread the mayo, ketchup, jelly, peanut butter evenly over the bread slices so that each bite contains the requisite amount of filling, I haven’t  spent as much time thinking about the perfect sandwich as I have about the perfect chocolate chip cookie or beef bourguignon. But the scales have been brushed from my eyes and I find myself in love…nay, besotted with the perfect BBLTA. That’s a basil, bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich, sigh.

It all began with a  really fine August tomato from a local grower. It demanded center stage, no supporting actor status as in a salad, but focused star quality. I happened to have a fresh loaf of sourdough from my local bakery, a ripe avocado on the kitchen counter, a pound of bacon and the remnants of a head of iceberg lettuce in the fridge. Slowly it all started to come together. Tart, sour, crispy, rich, salty and crunchy, oh yeah.

I pulled 4 slices of bacon from the slab and cooked them up quickly in my go-to cast iron skillet. I love to cook bacon in that skillet. There’s something about coating it in bacon grease that just makes me happy. While the bacon cooled on a paper towel lined plate, I sliced the sourdough into thin, less than 1/2-inch slices. I think this is a very important step because if the bread is too thick 1) it can be hard to wrap your mouth around it. 2) the crispy toasted edges are more likely to shred the roof of your mouth, and 3) the bread dilutes the flavors of the delicious inside of the sandwich. So, I advise you to slice your bread once you get it home with a serrated bread knife, preferably offset (see picture). Toast the bread until lightly golden.


OK, now for the fun part. Cut the avocado in half lengthwise and twist it apart. Remove the pit by gently tapping it with the sharp edge of a knife, twist and pry it loose. Carefully remove the pit from the knife and dispose of it. Peel and thinly slice the avocado. Rinse a few leaves of the crunchy lettuce and fresh basil and pat them dry. Slice the tomato thinly.

Now we are at the crossroads of the perfect BBLTA. Does one use store bought mayonnaise on a sandwich of such transcendent purity? That, my friends, is a question that only you can answer. For those of you willing to go the distance, I’ve supplied a simple recipe for mayo which whips up in only a minute or two. It is so delicious, you may never go back to the jarred variety. Since we are talking about a perfect sandwich here, I advise you to give it a try. It will be so much easier to make than you think.

Now we’re in the homestretch. Spread the lightly toasted bread slices with a generous slathering of mayo and lay down the basil leaves, covering one slice. Top the basil with the bacon, avocado and tomato. Salt and pepper the tomato (fleur de sel and coarse ground black pepper is best) then top with the lettuce. Top with the other slice of bread so that the mayo side is down. The mayo acts as glue to hold the slippery lettuce side of the sandwich together on one side and the mayo holds the slippery basil on the other. The avocado is between the bacon and tomato because it will mash somewhat and its richness tastes best between the salty bacon and zippy tomato. These are important points if you don’t want the insides of your sandwich squishing out when you bite down on it.

Press lightly and cut the perfect BBLTA in half with the serrated knife. Share with your best friend or favorite child.

Kitchen Counter Point: There are a few points that that lead to mayonnaise success. 1) Start with pasteurized eggs to be sure that they are safe to eat in a raw state. Pasteurized eggs have gone through a heating process that kills bacteria but still leaves the yolks and whites liquid. 2) Take the egg out of the fridge about 30 minutes before using it so that it loses its chill. Warmer eggs absorb the oil and emulsify better than cold. 3) All spouts are not created equal. Because you have to pour the oil through the feed tube very slowly, some measuring cups will dribble and you will have vegetable oil on your counter instead of in your mayo. I find that the more pointed the spout, the better it pours.


Makes about 1 3/4 cups

2 pasteurized egg yolks at room temperature (save the whites in the fridge for up to 1 week)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne
1 1/2 cups grapeseed oil or safflower oil

Place the egg yolks, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper and cayenne in the bowl of a food processor or blender and pulse a few times. Measure the oil in a measuring cup with a good spout that pours cleanly and doesn’t dribble (see Kitchen Counter Point). Turn on the machine and pour the oil very slowly in a fine drizzle into the work bowl through the feed tube. It should take a few minutes to pour all the oil into the bowl. After about half the oil is added the mayo should begin to thicken and emulsify.  If for some reason the mixture doesn’t emulsify, just remove it from the work bowl, add another egg yolk to the bowl and reintroduce the mixture slowly through the feed tube again. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper and thin with more lemon juice or water if desired. The mayonnaise keeps for up to 5 days refrigerated. Feel free to use the leftover mayo in tuna salad, pasta salad, potato salad, etc.