Archive for the ‘In Season’ Category

Grilled Rosemary-Fig Pork Tenderloin

October 3, 2011

Pork tenderloin is a favorite in our house, so I make it frequently.  I change-up the flavorings depending on my mood, and sometimes it’s perfect grilled with nothing but a little salt and pepper.

On a recent night I was looking at my overgrown rosemary plant and decided to make use of it.  Rosemary pairs very nicely with pork, and gives it a great Mediterranean flair.  I created a simple marinade from the rosemary leaves, olive oil, garlic, and some fig-infused balsamic vinegar for a decidedly Italian flavor.  By using a ziplock plastic bag in which to marinate the pork, you can easily turn the meat inside the sealed bag, plus you save yourself the trouble of cleaning one extra dish.  And a tip–to easily mix your marinade, put the plastic bag in a large measuring cup and fold it open around the top of the cup.  This makes it easy to pour in ingredients without your bag tipping over and spilling!

The result was delicious, although you have to be careful to keep the grill temperature low, so the sugars in the fig vinegar don’t burn too much ( a little charring is preferable, in my opinion…just don’t go overboard!).  Depending on the size of your tenderloin, the cooking time could vary from as little as 20 minutes, to as much as 45, so just be sure to check it fairly frequently.  I paired the meat with some grill-roasted green beans that I drizzled with some garlic-infused olive oil and sprinkled with salt.  Delicious—-and no inside mess to clean up!

Grilled Rosemary-Fig Pork Tenderloin

Serves 4

1.5 – 1.75  lbs pork tenderloin (one large or two small tenderloins)

2 rosemary sprigs, leaves stripped off and stem discarded

1 glove garlic, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fig balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper

In a large ziplock bag, mix the rosemary leaves, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

Add the pork and seal bag securely.  Shake the bag around so all the meat is coated in marinade.  Allow to marinate in fridge for 1-2 hours (or on the countertop for up to 30 minutes).

Preheat grill to medium heat.  Place pork on hot grates and cook until meat begins to release from grates (this could be anywhere from 7-15 minutes depending on size of tenderloin).

Turn meat once or twice until it has nice grill marks on each side and internal temperature reaches 140 degrees.

Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Optional:  boil reserved marinade in a saucepan on the stove top until reduced to a syrupy sauce.  Serve over meat.  Note–never use marinade that has been in contact with raw pork unless it is thoroughly boiled first.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Blueberry-Banana Breakfast Smoothies

September 26, 2011

One positive thing about losing power for a few days was that I was forced to do a freezer-inventory.  There were quite a few things past their prime which were relegated to the trash.  I also made a few nice discoveries, like a container of homemade pesto that accidentally got pushed to the back of its shelf.  I was also reminded that I had a few bags of frozen blueberries we’d picked earlier in the summer.  They are perfect for pancakes and muffins, but also for smoothies!  By adding them to your blender frozen, they provide the ‘icy’ part of the smoothie without having to water down the flavor with actual ice cubes.

What I love most about these smoothies is that they are both healthy and delicious, and when made with Greek yogurt and calcium-enriched orange juice, they pack the 1-2 punch (protein & calcium).  I use fat-free plain yogurt, which is high in protein and calcium, low in sugar, and adds creaminess.  Don’t worry if you’re kids don’t care for yogurt—-it is undetectable when blended with all the flavorful fruit.

Blueberry Banana Smoothies

Makes 2 cups

1 cup frozen blueberries

1 small banana

1/2 cup plain, fat-free Greek yogurt (or substitute plain regular yogurt)

1/2 cup orange juice (I prefer calcium-enriched)

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend for approximately 1 minute, or until thoroughly combined and thickened.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Smokefest ’11

July 25, 2011

Three summers ago our friends started what has become a July tradition.  “Big Mike” as my kids call him, has been brewing beer and  smoking meat for years, and his girlfriend is a fabulous cook, gardener, and all-around party planner.  When these New York City mice decided to buy a New York country house, they put their talents together and Smokefest was born.

Of course the highlight of the party is the meat.  Mike gets up at 7am  to start the smokers and prepare the 16 racks of  pork ribs and 15 lbs of brisket.  The brisket and half the ribs are prepped simply with salt and pepper, and the other half of the ribs get a dry rub the night before.  He may be a barbeque weekend warrior, but he’s no hack.  In fact, while smoking ribs for a charity event in Connecticut, Jacques Pepin stopped by for a taste and proclaimed “THOSE are some great ribs!”

Daniela makes a wide variety of side dishes—fresh from the garden.  This year she had a 6 foot grill loaded up with summer squash, zucchini, eggplant, onions, and 4 dozen ears of corn.  If that wasn’t delicious enough, she and Mike make a Cilantro-Lime Butter sauce (see recipe below) to brush on the corn which is De. Licious.  There are also salads galore—from potato, to tomato-peach, to cucumber, and more.  This year one neighbor brought some killer mac-and-cheese which you just couldn’t stop eating.

My favorite thing is the “Tavern”, a quaint little outbuilding (which Mike says is a character itself for this party), where little lights are strung along the ceiling, and coolers are filled with homebrewed beer (I loved the “6” a blonde beer), chilled whites and roses, water and soda.  Out back is a fire pit—where my kids spent most of the day filling s’more orders (you could choose from ‘burned’, ‘golden brown’ or ‘plain’ marshmallows, and could have your chocolate ‘very melty’ or just ‘kind of melty’).

It is so much fun to go to a party that’s all about the food.  It’s not anyone’s birthday and no one is being feted.  It’s just a gathering of people who love food, hosted by people who REALLY love food.  I can’t think of a better reason for a celebration!  Go Meat!

Smokefest Cilantro-Lime Butter

Courtesy of Mike and Daniela

3 limes, juiced

2 sticks unsalted butter

1 small bunch cilantro, chopped


In a small saucepan, reduce the lime juice until it is syrupy. Add butter, and melt.  Season to taste with salt and add cilantro at the end.  Brush on grilled corn or any veggies (also makes a great topping for clams!)

Hint:  Mike says you can spice it up by adding 1/2 tsp of chipotle!

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Vote for My Recipe @ Saveur Magazine!

June 21, 2011

Some of you may recognize this recipe as one I taught in my “Sensational Summer Salads Class”…it’s a delicious and colorful salad of roasted red peppers, pine nuts, feta, and olives, perfect as an accompaniment to your next barbecue.    Well, I’ve entered it into a recipe contest at Saveur Magazine, but editors only test the recipes receiving the most votes…so I need your help!  Please take a minute to go to the link below and vote for my “Roasted Red Pepper Salad with Feta” recipe…and more importantly, try it for yourself!  It’s a favorite in my house and hope it will be in yours as well!  Thank you!!

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

White Wine Sangria with Mint

June 13, 2011

Inspiration.  It comes in many forms, in varying degrees of intensity, at unsuspected times, and in unusual locations.  While I was in the waiting room of the doctor’s office I was flipping through a food magazine which I had tucked into my purse, anticipating I’d be there for awhile.  As I looked through the pictures, read the accompanying stories, and browsed through the recipes, I was almost giddy with excitement.  All I wanted to do was run out of that office, plan a menu, whip up some pitcher drinks, and invite friends over for dinner.  The funny thing is that I didn’t actually want to make any of the recipes I was reading about—but yet they inspired me to want to go home and cook and create some of my own.  Yes, these are the things that make a food geek tick.

I love entertaining with pitcher drinks (supplemented with bottled beer and some wine) because they are just fun and easy.  It’s too much work to make drinks on a per person basis, so I just pick a drink that goes with the theme of the menu and whip up a big batch.  This particular warm day I decided to make a white wine sangria with grapes, cherries, some orange slices, and my delicious minted simple syrup.  I’m a very visual person and just imagining the colorful fruits swimming around in a pitcher of white wine made me happy.  Who doesn’t love to pour themselves a glass of cheer?

White Wine Sangria with Mint

Makes 1 pitcher –about 6 -8 glasses (double and redouble as needed)

1 – 750 ml bottle white wine (dry is better, but don’t spend a fortune on it)

2 cups of fruit, a combo of grapes and pitted cherries (or other small fruits)

1/2 navel orange, thinly sliced and quartered

2-3 tablespoons minted simple syrup (see below)

1 liter seltzer

fresh mint leaves

In a large pitcher, combine the wine, simple syrup, and fruit.  Allow to macerate for a couple hours in the refrigerator (okay to skip this step, but I recommend doing it!)

Before serving, add seltzer, fresh mint leaves, and some ice.  Serve cold.

(For minted simple syrup, I combined a bottle of purchased simple syrup in a saucepan with a handful of fresh mint sprigs.  Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and allow to steep while it’s cooling.  Cool completely and strain out the mint before adding to the sangria.  To make this from scratch, combine 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil until sugar is dissolved, add mint, and allow to steep as directed above.)

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Papparadelle with Zucchini Ribbons and Shrimp

May 23, 2011

You’ve probably figured out by now that I love food.  I love thinking about food, I love creating recipes, I love cooking, and I especially love eating.  When one of those recipes I’ve created turns out to also be incredibly easy but doesn’t compromise on taste, well, then you’ve hit the jackpot.

Pasta is one of my favorite things to cook because it is like a blank slate.  There are thousands of different things you could do to make thousands of entirely different dishes.  Different shaped pasta, different sauces, different veggies or protein, different cheeses.    Typically, it’s best to ‘match’ your pasta shape to the type of sauce/condiment you’re using…shorter pastas like penne pair better with chunkier sauces, long, delicate pastas like angel hair work better with a cream sauce, or carbonara (egg) sauce. 

Papparadelle is a long, flat  pasta shaped like a wide ribbon.  I decided to use a vegetable peeler to create the same shape with my zucchini as well.  Then all I had to do was zest and juice a lemon, peel my shrimp (I take the tails off too  for easy-eating), and boil some water.  Everything cooks in the same pot, which makes clean-up extra easy.   Simple, really pretty, and delicious.  That’s the perfect dish trifecta!

Papparadelle with Zucchini Ribbons and Shrimp

Serves 4

12 oz papparadelle pasta

1 large zucchini, ends trimmed and cut into long ribbons using a vegetable peeler (lengthwise)

1/2 lb uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails off

1 lemon

olive oil/salt+pepper

grated parmesan cheese (if desired)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook until about 3 minutes short of al dente. 

Add shrimp and zucchini to the pot along with the pasta and cook until shrimp is opaque and cooked through and pasta is al dente.

Drain the entire thing in a collander and place in a large serving bowl.

Drizzle with olive oil to coat, add lemon juice and lemon zest, and grind some fresh black pepper over the top.  Toss to combine and serve immediately, with grated parmesan if desired.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Easter Egg Salad Sandwiches

April 25, 2011

Coloring eggs is one of my favorite traditions, however come Easter Monday, we always seem to have more pastel hard-boiled eggs than we know how to use.  Luckily, I’m a huge fan of egg salad. 

 I tend to be a bit of  a ‘purist’ about many food-related things.  I don’t like pineapple on my pizza.  I don’t want cherry flavor in my Coke, and other than mayo and salt, I prefer my egg salad “naked”.  Nothing in it or on it was how I rolled.  That was until recently.

Faced with a lot of eggs and produce drawer full of left over vegetables, I decided to step out of the egg carton and try something new.  Being my first foray into experimental egg salad territory, I didn’t get too crazy.  I’d start simply.  Chopped celery was my first addition, and since I hadn’t broken into a cold sweat yet, I decided to also add some chopped scallions.  The color alone was gorgeous–the pale yellow of the yolks with the light green celery and dark green scallion already looked better than my usual version.  But how would it taste?

Delicious.  See what happens when you take a walk on the wild side?  Better watch out, next thing you know I might be ordering chicken on my pizza!

Easter Egg Salad

Makes enough for 3-4 sandwiches

6 hard-boiled eggs

1/3 cup mayo (or more if desired)

1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 stalk celery, finely chopped

2 scallions, finely sliced

Using an egg slicer or knife, dice the eggs and place into a medium bowl.

Add the mayo, salt, celery and scallions and mix to combine.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

A New Italian Easter Tradition

April 18, 2011

Every family has their traditions.  Some are religious in nature.  Some are activities shared by the family at certain times of the year.  Others are food related.  In my family we have traditions in each category, but most tend to be centered around the table.  Special dishes which are made for certain holidays, events, or days.  One of my favorites is Pizza Rustica, or what my family called “pizzachina” (pronoucned pizza-KEENa), which is made at Eastertime.  After forty days of Lenten fasting, the pizzachina is a savory delicacy in every sense.  The slightly sweet crust (sometimes referred to as ‘pasta frolla’), and the rich filling made from egg, ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, densely studded with prociutto (and in some cases, sweet sausage, but not in my family) is a feast for the mouth.  It’s labor-intensive, but well worth the effort.

Many years ago my parents gave me a wonderful book called Festa, which detailed many Italian food-traditions.  It listed a baked sausage bread among the Eastertime foods.  We never made this exact dish in our family, but made something similar for New Year’s called “minulati”.  Both are pretty simple concepts—pizza dough wrapped around crumbled, sweet Italian sausage and baked.  The book described making more of a loaf which would then be sliced, where as the minulati were smaller-sized sausage ‘rolls’.   I received  this book back in 1997, and started making sausage bread at Eastertime, and at Christmastime, and New Year’s, and pretty much anytime I had people over…because it was just so good.  Sometimes if I’m pressed for time I swap the sausage for pepperoni (which doesn’t require any pre-cooking), but the sausage is still my favorite. 

I would never replace the pizzachina on our Easter table, but giving it a little company is never a bad thing!

Easter Sausage Bread

Serves 6+

1 lb of pizza dough (prepared or homemade)

1 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2 -3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

In a large skillet, saute the crumbled sausage until no longer pink, breaking it up with your spatula as it cooks.  (In Festa they also add a garlic clove to the mix, which you could easily do too).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

On a large, oiled baking sheet, stretch the dough out into a rectangle.  Scatter the cooked sausage on top of the dough, leaving a border of about one inch all the way around.  Top with both cheeses, being sure to distribute it evenly around the dough.  Starting at one end, roll the dough up, jelly roll style, and pinch the seam and ends to seal.

Make sure the seam side is on the bottom, and brush with an eggwash if desired (just lightly beat an egg with a tiny bit of water and brush over the top–it will give the loaf a golden brown color and make it glisten). 

Bake for one hour.  Slice and serve hot or at room temperature.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Above photo from Steven Valenti

St. Joseph’s Macaroni, Simplified

March 14, 2011

St. Joseph’s Day, or the Feast of St. Joseph,  is celebrated on March 19th but is not widely recognized in this country.   In countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal, it is also Father’s Day, so holds a greater significance.  However, in my Italian-American family, the day was marked with a special dish.  My grandmother’s “St. Joseph’s Macaroni” is a hearty vegetarian dish;  a thick soup featuring three types of beans and three types of pasta.  Two years ago I posted her original recipe which is made from dried beans.  Dried beans require both overnight soaking and around three hours of cooking time, so this year, I decided to try a ‘short-cut’ version.   By using canned beans I cut my prep time significantly, and I have to say it was still delicious. 

The three types of beans in this dish are red kidney, lentil, and split peas.  The first two are widely available in cans (I actually used pre-cooked lentils I found in the refrigerator section at Trader Joe’s), but I’ve never seen split peas in can, unless you substitute a can of split pea soup, as my mother later suggested.   Therefore, I did have to soak and cook those, but because they are so small they actually cooked in a short period of time (well under and hour).   For the pasta, my grandmother traditionally used broken spaghetti, ziti, and elbow macaroni, and for the most part I stick to the same shapes.  The only other change I made this year is that I left out the fresh fennel from the original recipe, in hopes of my kids liking it a little better. 

By using a few short-cuts, cooking time on this dish is reduced by over 2 hours, but the flavor is not compromised.  I have a feeling my grandmother would have appreciated those 2 precious hours, and so do I.

Simple Saint Joseph’s Macaroni

Serves 8

2- 15 oz cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked lentils
1/4 lb split green peas
2 onions, chopped
1/2 lb pasta (combination of elbows, ditallini and broken spaghetti)
6 oz fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
Olive oil
Place the split peas in a large bowl and cover with water by about 2 inches. Soak for 8 hours or overnight.
Drain peas in a colander and place in a large soup pot with 1.5 quarts of water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until peas are softened.
Add the kidney beans and lentils together with the pasta and return to a boil.  Continue cooking until pasta is al dente.
Add the spinach and stir to combine until it is wilted
Season liberally with salt and drizzle about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil into the dish.
Stir again, and serve hot.
Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Italian Beef Stew with Slow-Cooked Taste

January 31, 2011

It was one of those days when I had the best of intentions.  I was going to hit the gym, the grocery store,  meet a few friends for lunch, load up my crock pot, and then go about the rest of my day.  Well, somehow a dozen other errands cropped up and I didn’t get home until 4pm.  There was clearly no time to slow-cook.  I love the idea of using a crock pot, but let’s face it, it requires a fair amount of front-end organization.

With a counter-full of stew ingredients, I had to think fast.  I had to pick up my kids from school at 4:30 so time was short. I couldn’t do the entire thing stove-top because I had to go out and couldn’t leave my gas burner unattended.  I decided my next best option was to do it in the oven.   I rapid-chopped all my veggies, sautéed them in a big enamelled cast iron Dutch oven, and tossed in the cubed stew beef.  I added some tomato, red wine (it was opened and a day beyond it’s drinking prime, but perfectly good for cooking) and some fresh thyme and threw the entire covered pot into a 350 degree oven. 

When I returned about an hour later, it was just about perfect.  The tomato and wine had reduced down to a thickened, rich sauce, the meat was tender, the veggies perfect.  I let it continue to cook while I made some parmesan polenta on which to serve the stew (since there were no potatoes in it, the polenta served as a starch).  About 10 minutes later, everything was complete and ready to serve. 

And there’s one more bonus— usually to get the best flavor in a crock pot you need to brown everything in a pan before loading it into the slow cooker.  Now you have a pan AND the crock pot to clean.  When you do it the way I described, only one pot is used (be sure you choose one that is oven-proof—both the pot itself AND the cover).  So, maybe there are benefits to being disorganized after all! 

Italian Beef Stew with Parmesan Polenta

Serves 4

1 medium onion, chopped

3 carrots, chopped into 3/4″ pieces

3 stalks celery, chopped into 3/4″ pieces

2 cloves garlic

1.5 lbs beef stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes

1 cup tomato sauce (from a can or jar)

1.5 cups dry red wine

5-6 sprigs fresh thyme

olive oil, salt, pepper

1 cup quick-cooking polenta

1/2 cup (or more to taste) grated parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a 5 quart Dutch oven heat olive oil over medium-high heat.

Saute onions, carrots and celery until softened a bit.  Add garlic and saute an additional minute.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add stew meat and brown on all sides. 

Add tomato sauce, wine, and thyme and bring to a boil.

Cover and transfer to the preheated oven.  Allow to cook, undisturbed for one hour.  Check to see if meat is tender, and return to oven if necessary for 10-15 additional minutes. 

Meanwhile, bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add 1 cup polenta and whisk vigorously until thickened (about 5 minutes).  Add parmesan and butter off the heat and stir to combine. 

Place a serving of polenta in each dish and top with a helping of stew.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.