Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Red Sauce with Sausage

By Paul Briand

Everyone should have a red sauce at their disposal for home cooking. There's no need, frankly, to depend on Ragu or any other canned or bottled brand when there are a lot of people to feed and the menu calls for a hearty red sauce with your favorite kind of pasta.

My red sauce comes from an amalgamation of influences -- from my mother (and her ethnic mix of Italian and Ukrainian), my sister Margaret, a girl I dated a while ago, from reading cookbooks and from a bit of experimenting on my part. In other words, when it comes to eating at various homes over the years I've paid attention, absorbed hints and bits of data, churned them up and made them my own.

Besides the ingredients, what I like to absorb from good cooks is technique. For example, I picked up a technique for cooking the Italian sausage from a Silver Palette cookbook my mother gave me for Christmas in 1999. It recommended pricking the sausage with a fork and boiling them in a large pot or skillet in about a half inch of water over medium/high heat. Then let the water boil away and continue to cook the sausage until brown on all sides. Remove the sausage to a plate, discard the fat, but don't clean the pot/skillet. Add some olive oil and use that accumulated goodness at the bottom of the pot to then start preparing the sauce itself.

The other technique that I picked up but don't necessarily use is the addition of a little sugar to, obviously, sweeten up the red sauce. And the aforementioned bygone girlfriend also shredded some carrot into her sauce to reduce the acidity of the tomatoes.

As for the sausages I like to mix sweet with hot -- I buy a package of each. It creates a surprise in every bite -- sometimes tangy, sometimes not. I also substitute the sausage on occasion with ground beef or ground turkey, depending on my level of nutritional guilt at any one time.

2 - 2 1/4 pounds of Italian sausage (half sweet, half hot)
3-4 cloves garlic, mashed
Green pepper, sliced
Vadalia onion, sliced
8 ounce package of sliced mushrooms
28 ounce can kitchen ready tomatoes
29 ounce can tomato sauce
12 ounce can tomato paste
Cup of red wine
Parsley, oregano, sage, basil - a tbsp of each

1) Cook sausage in large pot or skillet as described above -- prick links with a fork, boil in about half inch water over medium/high heat, let the water boil away then continue to brown sausage on all sides. Set sausage aside, drain fat but don't clean the pot/skillet;
2) Add olive oil, and sautee garlic, pepper, and onions 3 minutes;
3) Add mushrooms and cook mixture another 2 minutes;
4) Add kitchen ready tomatoes and tomato sauce and give a good stir;
5) Add tomato paste and give another good stir to get the paste well into the sauce;
6) Add the red wine and add the parley, oregano, sage and basil;
7) Stir and reduce to a simmer.

Now, I'm sure you've heard it said that the sauce should simmer just about all day. I say, "Fuggedaboutit!" A half hour, 45 minutes tops of simmering and stirring and you'll be good to go. Cook your favorite pasta and toss a salad. One note about the salad: In my mom's kitchen we never, ever had tomatoes in the salad on the nights she served spaghetti and sauce. Too much tomato, she said. I still hold that as sacred today.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Chicken Pepperoni

By Paul Briand

There are lots of things we can take away from sitting through a movie: the quality of a particular performance, the story line, the special effects, whether it's funny or scary. But there's one movie from a long time ago that I remember for one thing and one thing only: chicken pepperoni.

The movie was "Seems Like Old Times," a 1980 romantic comedy written by Neil Simon and starring Goldie Hawn, Chevy Chase and Charles Grodin. The chicken pepperoni was served toward the end of the movie, and while I can't remember the context of the meal at all I do remember thinking: "I have to have that recipe." The idea of combining my favorite pizza topping with chicken went to my culinary yin and yang of eating something spicy and a little naughty (the pepperoni) with something that's fairly common on the family dinner table (chicken).

The movie didn't offer a recipe; it was a scene in which the dish was being served. And at the time almost 30 years ago, there wasn't an Internet to be had to search for a chicken pepperoni recipe. Do a search now and you'll find thousands -- 691,000 if you believe the Google search results.

Back in 1980 it was just dumb cluck luck that I stumbled across a chicken pepperoni recipe in the Boston Herald newspaper, courtesy of Joseph Foti, the chef at Florence's restaurant in Boston, winner of a chicken pepperoni cook-off of some kind. Foti has since died but his recipe lives on in my collection of favorites.

Olive oil
Flour for dredging
4 chicken breasts
1/4 pound pepperoni, sliced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 onion, chopped
2 red peppers, sliced
1 1/2 ounces chablis or other white wine
Pepper, parsley and oregano
1 cup tomato sauce
2 cans artichoke hearts, quartered
1/2 cup peas

1. If not boned already, bone chicken, remove skin, cut into eight pieces
2. Use cooking mallet to pound breast pieces flat
3. Dredge chicken in flour
4. In heated large skillet with olive oil, brown chicken on both sides and remove
5. In clean skillet with dash of oil, briefly sauté pepperoni, drain oil
6. Add chicken to pepperoni
7. Add onions, peppers and mushrooms and sauté three to four minutes
8. Stir in wine and pepper, parsley and oregano
9. Add tomato sauce and stir
10. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally
11. Add artichokes and peas, heat through until bubbly and serve

Makes four to six servings.
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hamburger Stroganoff

In the Briand Special recipe that I posted here a few weeks ago, I said it was the first thing I learned to cook, something my father created by happenstance. But no man -- nor woman, nor child -- can live on Briand Specials alone.

So it fell to my mother Marge to refine my cooking skills, a necessary chore back in college when I went off as a first semester junior to work as a full-time newspaper intern in Gloucester, Mass., for the Daily Times. I would be living on my own, cooking on my own, and my mother felt the need to arm me with some of her dinner recipes.

When I think back on Mom's Hamburger Stroganoff, I have more vivid memories of it as a leftover than I do as the dinner main course. This was back in high school in the mid-1960s and I remember during the weekends, after sleeping through most of the morning that I would get out of bed in search of something with a breakfast element but had the greater substance of lunch.

On those lucky occasions when there was leftover stroganoff I would butter two pieces of toast, heat up some the leftovers and top the toast with the stroganoff. My interpretation of chipped beef on toast? I'm not sure, other than hunger, what drove the interest of having reheated stroganoff on buttered toast, but I remember it being a great weekend brunch when it was available.

1 Vadalia onion, sliced
Two garlic cloves, crushed
1 8-ounce package of sliced mushrooms
1 - 1 1/4 lb hamburger
1 cup beef broth
Sour cream, two tablespoons

1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat
2. Add onion and crushed garlic cloves
3. As onion starts getting limp add mushrooms
4. Add and brown hamburger
5. Once the meat is fully cooked drain off excess fat
6. Add a generous dusting of flour and stir
7. Squirt a generous helping of ketchup into the mixture and stir - the mixture should wet but not runny
8. Stir in the cup of beef broth and adjust heat to low, stirring as the mixture thickens
9. Add two generous tablespoons of sour cream and stir through
10. Add 3 teaspoons of the Sherry.

Serves 4 to 6.

It works well without the Sherry, but not as well ... something about the sweetness of the sherry with the hint of sour cream.

I've served it with a variety of starchy sides -- over egg noodles (which you see most often), or over rice, or with baked potato (you can't let the rest of the sour cream go to waste after all). And leftovers over toast? Why not.
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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Easy spinach and artichoke dip

By Paul Briand

Many years ago, newly single from divorce, a family event required me to bring something either as an appetizer, side dish or dessert. I could have taken a pass, but I was intent on holding my own in the contribution department. So I chose an appetizer, having no idea however what I would make.

What I hit upon after some research, primarily through the web site, was a recipe for a dip that involved spinach, artichoke, various cheeses and garlic.

While my epicurean curiosity was pretty high at that time, it wasn't high enough nor was it well funded enough to seek out and buy all the different types of cheeses that the recipe called for. So I substituted the various fresh cheeses for the bagged shredded cheese. And rather than the water crackers (that I always thought were pretty bland) I opted for Triscuits.

I came away having learned two things: That I could hold my own in terms of contributing to the family table and that fresh garlic in the kitchen is a wonderful thing. I ended up peeling and pressing into the mixture more garlic than was necessary, but I discovered by happenstance that a lot of garlic -- and I mean a lot of garlic -- works well in this particular combination, especially against the saltiness of the Triscuit crackers.

1 can of artichokes in water (do not use artichokes in oil)
1 package frozen shredded spinach
Head of fresh garlic
1 package shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 package shredded Italian blend cheese
8 ounces mayonnaise

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Drain artichoke hearts and dice into small pieces
3. Thaw the spinach in microwave
4. Combine diced artichoke and thawed spinach in mixing bowl
5. Remove husks from garlic cloves and use a garlic press to add garlic to artichoke/spinach mixture (use as much garlic as you dare ... the more the merrier, I say)
6. Stir mayonnaise into mixture
7. Fold package of Italian blend cheese into mixture
8. Fold Monterey Jack cheese into mixture, holding back about a cup
9. Hand mix thoroughly and transfer mixture into a 2-qt glass baking dish (preferably one that has a cover)
10. Use remaining Monterey Jack as topping over mixture
11. Cover and bake until the mixture is bubbling hot, about 20 minutes
12. To add some color and texture to the cheese topping, uncover and continue to bake another 10 minutes
13. Serve hot with Triscuits
Note: This dish is easily reheatable in the microwave in your glass baking dish, and (by the way) I use my baking dish as the mixing bowl ... less to clean up.

It's become a favorite among the family and friends for whom I've made it. It's The Dip, The Biggest Dip at the party. It's a warming dish, tremendously suitable for those chilly and cold evenings of fall and winter, but I brought it as recently as Fourth of July to a family party. It's also very filling; it can almost stand alone as a meal. It holds up very well to reheating and every time you get that blast aroma of the garlic it's well worth it.
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