Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fried Meatballs

(Editor's note: This week's contribution is courtesy of Dick Schuler, pictured here, originally of Oswego, N.Y., where his grandmother -- his Nana -- was famous in their neighborhood for her cooking, especially her homemade pasta drying throughout the house. Dick is now a resident of Minnesota and is the author of "An Italian Family Cookbook of Family Treasures." He describes his recipes as follows: "Each recipe has is own unique story and the best part is the book open with the family history of my grandparent’s journey from Italy to the U.S. in the early 1900's.")

By Dick Schuler

Nana’s three specialties were her sauce, homemade pasta and the ultimate family recipe, fried meatballs. The unique thing about Italian cooking is each family has a slightly different recipe. Our family sauce had several variations from household to household. Some of Nana’s siblings would use olive oil, some would use pork in place of beef. Nana did not add oil to her sauce so it was always seemed smoother and thicker. She would also change up the meat she would use in her sauce. She would use either ground beef, stew beef or meat balls.

Pasta was served twice a week in our house. I carry on that tradition of having pasta twice a week with my family. Nana would make her homemade pasta noodles the old fashion way. She used an old broom handle and the dinning room table as a work space. She would roll out large sheets of dough with the broom handle and with a knife cut the sheets into long strips. To dry them she would hang them over clothes bars, clothes line and the backs of chairs. The pasta would dry for a day before she would cut it into short lengths and send off paper bags of pasta to our relatives and friends. I can still smell the flour and egg mixture from the old house and hear her hands scrapping the dried dough and flour off the old broom handle between each stroke of the roller.

Our most popular and traditional food is our fried meatballs. For almost 100 years our family has been either frying or adding to the sauce these great flavorful treasures. It was my mother’s job to supply the meatballs at all the family gatherings.

The meatballs were the trademark food from our kitchen on old East Ninth Street in Oswego, N.Y. Everyone wanted to taste the meatballs whenever she made them and most of the neighborhood knew when she was frying them. The aroma of garlic would quickly spread out of the cast iron skillet and into the neighborhood. She was the master of the meatball recipe and my mother was second. My Uncle Joe would try to copy it but he could never get the same taste that came out of Nana’s skillet, I think he was light on the garlic. I was fortunate enough to help them mix and be part of the unique measuring process.

I can get the same results and duplicate the unique flavor to this day. See, the trick is when you add the garlic and you’re not measuring, you would add a little and taste the raw meat mixture until you hit the exact combination and flavor. People tell me I am crazy for eating raw hamburger but this is the only way to tell when you have added the correct amount. But to get this right you still need to know or have experienced the flavor before. Believe me there is no better smell or sound than the sizzling oil in the frying pan than that of meatballs cooking.

3 pounds ground beef
1/2 loaf of stale Italian bread
5-6 teaspoons of garlic power (be prepared to add more)
3 teaspoons fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups ground Parmesan cheese
1-2 eggs (start with one, if mix is too dry add a second

1) Start by breaking up the ground beef in a large bowl;
2) Take the bread and wet with warm water to soften but not saturate, wring any excess water out. Break up the bread into the meat;
3) Add the egg and mix in slightly;
4) Add the garlic, pepper, salt, and cheese. Mix thoroughly using your hands;
5) Now the tough part – taste the mix if you dare to determine if you lack anything. If anything you will need more garlic powder (experience tells me). Shake some in lightly covering the top of the mix and re-mix again. Repeat the test if you like;
6) Use your hands to shape and roll into individual meatballs
7) In a wide and deep frying pan add oil about ¼ inches deep. Preheat on medium and add meatballs. As you add them flatten slightly so they are not a true ball shape, this will allow them to cook more even;
8) Cook for 2 minutes and flip;
9) Once both sides are browned you should be OK to remove and place on a platter or bowl. I usually line the bowl with 2-3 paper towels to absorb any excess grease. Let cool and enjoy.
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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Linguica Hash

By Paul Briand

I distinctly remember my first Homecoming Weekend as an alum of the University of New Hampshire as if it were yesterday, even though it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. A bunch of us planned to meet mid-morning for a big tailgate party before the football game. And we planned to do it up right with Coleman stoves and grills and lots of good food and friendship to share.

I wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary and decided to make a hash, substituting the usual corned beef with linguica, the Portuguese sausage that I had sampled during a then recent visit with a former work colleague living in New Bedford, Mass. New Bedford is a fishing community with a significant Portuguese population. (The mother of Emeril Lagasse, the renowned chef, was Portuguese and he grew up in Fall River, next door to New Bedford, by the way.) I pre-made the hash at home then brought it in a dish that could be reheated on one of the portable stoves.

A word about linguica: It is a pork-based sausage typically seasoned with onions, garlic and paprika. I use a mild version, because of the others I tend to cook for at home. For a spicier version, use chorizo, a Spanish pork sausage made with chili, garlic and paprika.

Package of linguica, about 1 pound
6 medium sized potatoes
1 large Vadila onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Dash of hot sauce

1) Cook the linguica (grilling is recommended, made easy with a Pannini grill if you have one);
2) Cook the potatoes (prepare them as you normally would for baked potatoes);
3) Rough chop both the linguica and potatoes, place in large mixing bowl;
4) Add chopped onions and garlic to mixing bowl;
5) Add parsley, cilantro and pepper to taste and dash of hot sauce, and give everything a good stir;
6) Heat oil in large skillet (I use leftover bacon fat);
7) Add the hash mix and cook through,. using large spatula to turn the mixture so that the hash takes on an even brown texture;
8) Optional: Add half cup of water (or milk), reduce heat, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until water is absorbed and hash is crisp.

Recommended serving: with over-easy eggs; there's nothing like that egg and yoke combining with the linguica and hash.
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Meatloaf - the TV "Throwdown"

By Paul Briand

"Hello, my name is Paul, and I'm addicted to the Food Network."

If there isn't a support group -- like Alcoholics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous -- for Food Network junkies, there ought to be. We can be a desperate lot, watching the culinary experts like Emeril and Bobby Flay when we ought to be doing something more productive. But I view my Food Network viewing as being very productive. In the same way that a good book can inspire me to write, a good cooking show inspires me to cook.

I have three Food Network favorites: "Emeril Live," "30 Minute Meals" with Rachel Ray, and "Throwdown with Bobby Flay." And the more I watch Guy Fiori, who hosts "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" and "Guy's Big Bite," the more he's growing on me.

Each brings something a little different to the table. Emeril Lagasse is a little high end, but I like to watch and learn from his technique. A lot of people dump on Rachel Ray's cooking methods, but I like the 30-minute recipes and the in-the-kitchen shortcuts. I especially like Bobby Flay and his "Throwdown" -- the challenge to go one-on-one against someone else's recipe. He'll choose a popular dish from a local restaurant -- like the meatloaf from the Colucci Bros. Diner in Hyannis, Mass. -- and go to their location in an attempt to one-up them with a better recipe of the same dish.

Since I'm not taking copious notes during a cooking show, I'm often left wondering whether I might be able to find the recipe for a dish that I found intriguing and might want to try in my own kitchen for my own eats at home.

I did some rooting around in the Food Network web site to determine just how easy it is to find a specific recipe. Trust me, they have lots and lots of recipes that are accessible right from the home page. But I wanted to know how easy or difficult it might be to find a recipe for the meatloafs I saw on "Throwdown" this week

There are two ways to do it. If you know the name of the show, you can sort through by name ("Throwdown") and either the episode topic ("meatloaf") or the week that the show aired. You can also click on "TV Schedule" and sort through the information until you find the episode and the recipe you were seeking.

Here are the two recipes from the meatloaf throwdown, with due credit to the postings on the Food Network:

Colucci Bros. Meatloaf
Salad oil
1 carrot, small to medium dice
2 stalks celery, small to medium dice
1 medium onion, small to medium dice
2 pounds ground beef
2 eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dash hot sauce (recommended: Tabasco)
Dash Worcestershire sauce
3 slices bread
1/2 cup seasoned Italian bread crumbs

1) Preheat oven at 375 degrees F.
2) In a medium-sized saute pan, put 2 dribbles of salad oil and heat over medium-high heat.
3) Add the carrots, celery, and onions and saute, about 5 minutes. Put aside and let cool.
4) In large bowl put the carrot mixture, ground beef and remaining ingredients, except for the bread, the bread crumbs and ketchup.
5) Soak the bread in cold water, then squeeze water out (like a sponge) and drain it. Add to the ground beef and mix. (A stand mixer is may help make it easier).
6) Add the bread crumbs and mix.
7) Roll into firm loaf, spread ketchup over the top, and place into preheated oven for approximately 45 to 55 minutes, or until cooked through.
Take out and serve hot.

Bobby Flay's Meatloaf
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large zucchini, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 yellow pepper, finely diced
1 yellow onion, finely diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground veal
1 pound ground beef chuck
1 cup panko (Japanese) bread crumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano
1 1/2 cups ketchup, divided
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1) Pre-eat oven to 425 degrees F.
2) Heat the oil in a large saute pan over high heat.
3) Add the zucchini, peppers, onion and salt and pepper, to taste, and cook until almost soft, 5 minutes.
4) Stir in the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon the red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds. Set aside to cool.
5) Whisk together the eggs and herbs in a large bowl. Add the meat, bread crumbs, cheese, 1/2 cup of the ketchup and 2 tablespoons of the balsamic vinegar and the vegetables and mix until just combined.
6) Mold the meatloaf on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
7) Whisk together the remaining ketchup and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl then brush the mixture over the entire loaf.
8) Bake the meatloaf for approximately 1 to 1 1/4 hours.
9) Remove from the oven and let rest 10 minutes before slicing.

By the way, each "Throwdown" episode has two local judges to determine whose recipe is better. In the battle of the meatloafs, the Colucci brothers beat Flay.
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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Crab Cake Stuffed Peppers

By Paul Briand

By nature of her birthright, my wife Jane loves crab. Born and raised in Maryland, how can she be anything but a crab lover?

We took a Maryland/Delaware vacation two years ago. For the couple of days we were in Maryland, she had to eat crab -- and I'm talking crab for breakfast, crab for lunch and crab for dinner, Eggs Benedict made with crab, crab cakes, and soft shell crab. It was as if some crab-eating gene re-emerged after years of dormancy.

During that trip I got all the benefits of learning about the Blue Crab, for which Chesapeake Bay is famous. I learned about lump crab meat. I learned how to take a mallet and bust into a crab to find said lump meat. I was encouraged, but declined, to read "Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay" by William Warner. But as a souvenir of the crab eating extravaganza, I did acquire some Old Bay seasoning, a requirement in any recipe for Maryland crab cakes.

On occasion I like to surprise Jane with a meal at home of crab cakes. I hit a moment of inspiration -- or madness, the two are closely related after all -- one time when I thought about making the crab cakes as I normally would, but then stuffing them into a red peppers. I make stuffed green peppers with the usual hamburger/rice mixture, so I wanted to vary the theme a little with red peppers and crab.

Here are a couple of variations on that particular theme. You can prepare the peppers as you normally would for stuffed peppers -- halve them, remove stem and seeds, blanch in boiling water, then put into cold water. Or you could try roasting your peppers over a grill beforehand. As for the peppers themselves, red peppers work really well, and I'm experimenting with roasted Poblano chili peppers.

As for the crab, no doubt it's expensive. You can get it prepackaged for about $22 a pound, not something you'll make a habit of, but something that creates a special something for a special eat at home occasion.

1 pound crab meat
1 cup bread crumbs
1 egg
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons lemon sauce
2 tablespoons mustard
Dash of favorite hot sauce
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1) Combine and mix everything into a large mixing bowl except the crab and bread crumbs;
2) Add crab to mixture and mix gently;
3) Add bread crumbs to mixture and blend in;
4) A chilled mixture makes it easier to handle when forming into patties, so put mixing bowl in refrigerator and pre-heat oven to 375 degrees;
5) Halve and seed two peppers (or three peppers, depending on size);
6) Grill for about 5 minutes, turning occasionally;
7) After peppers are grilled, set aside on baking pan sprayed with cooking oil;
8) Remove crab meat mixture from refrigerator and form into patties;
9) In large oiled frying pan, brown patties on both sides;
10) Remove patties and one by one stuff them into halved roasted peppers;
11) Place in oven and heat through, about 5 minutes.
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