Friday, January 21, 2011

Adios, Thanksgiving

I know I said I was at the end of my Thanksgiving-leftover adventure with the turkey pot-pie, but there wait, there’s more! The other day I decided to make risotto, and I needed some sort of stock. Low and behold, there in my freezer was a half-quart of turkey stock made from our Thanksgiving turkey! It made a delicious risotto – I’m sure this would work with any stock, but I’d like to think that my special turkey stock made it extra good.

Portobello Risotto


  • ¼ Cup Butter
  • 1 Onion, chopped
  • 1 Portobello Mushroom, chopped
  • 1 Cup Risotto
  • ½ Cup White Wine
  • 2 Cups Stock (or water)
  • ¼ Cup Parmesan Cheese, grated

Put your stock or water in a saucepan, and start it to a boil. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, melt half of the butter, then sauté the onion until translucent and soft. Add in the mushrooms, and sauté until soft.

Add the risotto into the onions and mushrooms, stir it up so the rice doesn’t stick, then add the white wine. Constantly stir until the liquid is gone, and then add a ladle of stock. Continue to stir until the liquid is gone. Repeat this until the rice is cooked to your liking. It took me until all 2 cups of stock were gone before this happened. The recipe can vary depending on the amount of onion/mushroom, so taste it as you go.

Once the risotto tastes done to you, take it off of the heat and stir in the remaining butter and the Parmesan cheese.

I guess this isn’t the complete end of Thanksgiving as I still have some of the turkey pot-pie filling in the freezer for to make another pie down the road, but it’s the end of creating fun dishes. Adios Thanksgiving, catch ya on the flip side!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Frank's Pepper Bread

This Italian family-favorite comes to you from my late grandfather, Frank Marotta. My grandfather was strong, tough – yet loving, and one of the best bakers I ever met. An Italian-American born in New York City in 1925, he learned to be both street and book-smart while growing up during the Depression. He served in the Navy during World War II, and shortly after the war, he started a family. He learned the art of baking from his mother, Antonetta. Though he worked long hours as both a city and school bus driver, he always found time to bake – he was best known for his pepper bread. I still remember going over to my grandparents’ house and knowing right away that pepper bread was in the oven. He would bring it to every family gathering, and the guests could not wait to get their hands on it.

It wasn’t until I was much older, in my mid-twenties, that I began an interest in these family recipes. My boyfriend at the time, now husband, was particularly interested in learning more about baking. Unfortunately, at that time, my grandfather was very ill and no longer baking. My grandmother passed the recipe to me, but in her old-world fashion, it consisted of a list of ingredients with no measurements. Instructions such as, “make it like you’re making pizza dough” filled the page. For someone who doesn’t know how to make pizza dough, this was not very helpful. I spoke to her over the phone to get more details, but I could tell she’d never measured anything out, and it was all in her head as it was for my grandfather. Relying on my notes from my conversations with her on her hand-written recipe, my husband and I began recreating it.

Through trial and error, we figured out how to recreate this family favorite. Most of the credit needs to go to my husband who knows the chemistry of bread-baking – I was just the taste-tester and pepper sauté-er. I think that if this isn’t spot-on to what my grandfather made, it’s pretty darn close. Just a single bite of this delicious savory bread transports me right back to backyard barbeques with my family, weekends with my grandparents, and basically my entire childhood. I hope you enjoy Frank’s Pepper Bread as much as we do.

4 ½ Cups King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
2 Tsp Salt
2 Tsp Sugar
3 Tsp Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast
1 ½ Cup Warm Water

2 Green Bell Peppers
¼ Tsp Salt
¼ Tsp Pepper
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
¾ Cup Grated Cheddar Cheese
2 Tbsp Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

For the Bread:

1.)   Wisk together the flour, salt sugar, and yeast in a large bowl – create a well in the middle.

2.)   Warm your water to 110° and pour it into the well. Mix the ingredients until combined. Let it stand for 5 minutes to let the water absorb.

3.)   Knead for about 10 minutes it until it’s a smooth ball – you can also knead it with a stand mixer using the dough hook attachment for about 7 minutes until it forms a ball.

4.)   Place the dough back in a lightly oiled large bowl, and cover it with plastic wrap – let it rise for 90 minutes.

5.)   Punch down the bread and let it rise again for 45 minutes.

While your dough is in the long rising stages, you can start on the filling for the bread – see Step 6.

6.)   Wash the bell peppers, cut them in half, remove the seeds and membranes, cut them into ¼ inch slices, and toss them with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the peppers until soft – about 10-15 minutes. Allow them to cool to room temperature before proceeding to the next steps.

7.)   When your dough is ready, divide it in half. Take one of the two sections of dough, and roll it out in a rectangle like you’re making a pizza.

8.)   Place half of the peppers evenly over the dough. Sprinkle it with half of the cheddar cheese, and then sprinkle half of the pecorino on top.

9.)   Roll the dough up long-ways – tuck and fold the ends of both sides in. NOTE: Leave a couple of inches at the end of the dough to avoid the filling bursting out.

10.)   Follow the process above for the second loaf of bread.

11.)  Let the loaves rise on parchment lined cookie sheets for 20 minutes, brush them with olive oil, then slice the loaves with razor blade three times.

12.)  Bake the loaves for 30 minutes in a 400° oven – the bread should be a golden brown color when done.

NOTE: If you’re not going to serve the bread right away, store in the fridge or freezer. Heat it up in a 300° oven for 15-20 minutes to toast up the crust and melt the filling before serving.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Beer Beginnings, Issue 1

by Alan

In the late 80's my Parents opened a small microbrewery and pub. I was around 10 years old at the time, and a brewery meant little to me. At around 13 I began working at the restaurant; cleaning it up before school and helping out with the brewing process in the summers. I was there for every part of the brewing process from grinding the grain to bottling the end product; but I wouldn’t say I actually learned how to brew beer. My parents retired and shut down the operation about 5 years ago; I was plenty old enough to drink beer by that time, but I had just barely started to enjoy it.

It was for my 29th Birthday that my wife got us tickets for the first Santa Barbara Beerfest. That event was my big push into really liking beer, although I don’t think I could look at beer for a day or two after that one. Since that point I’ve been trying out almost any big brewery beer, weird beer,  craft beer, or anything I can get my hands on.  The beer budget is probably a little out of control, but I drink much less beer than I used to with the 24 packs of cheap stuff each weekend (not that I don’t enjoy the cheap stuff beer on occasion). 

For my 31st birthday, my Mom and Dad gave me a Mr. Beer Homebrew kit - basically it's a little two-gallon rig to have some fun with. My Dad wasn’t too stoked with the mention of something that looked kinda hokey coming from the 100 barrel system he had just a few years back, but my mom bought it anyway. I made my first brew a couple days after I got it. After two weeks of hanging out in the plastic keg, it gets bottled with some sugar for bottle carbonating, a day or two in the fridge and viola. I wasn’t wild about the flavor of that first bottle, it was kinda fruity not much backbone, and a cider-ish carbonation. Each bottle after in the next couple weeks just got better and better, and all I could think about was brewing more. Then, what to do after those first couple cans of Mr. Beer pre-mixed extracts were done...?

For Christmas, my awesome wife gave me three more cans of the basic Mr. Beer cans of malted hop, but I wanted to step it up a notch. The wife seemed kinda disappointed at the prospect of not just using what she gave me alone, but after much badgering either she just gave up, or I got through with my argument of doing all malt beer with the gift. I bought some quality yeast, hop pellets, and base malt extracts to do some homebrew. Yesterday was finally the day - I had got my box of goodies from northern brewer the day before and planned my kit for the first brew. 

  • 1 Can Mr. Beer Canadian Draft
  • 19oz Northern Brewer Gold Extract
  • good water (don’t be shitty)
  • 12gm Sterling Hop pellets
  • ~6 Gm Safbrew T-58 yeast

Since I'm not doing any grain boiling or hop schedules, the actual brewing took about 5 minutes. I spent the majority of the time sterilizing the equipment before and cleaning after. Although I expect to spend much more time enjoying the end result, its about a month wait.

I have plans for another three brews, two with Mr. Beer extracts as the base. It's a far cry from brewing with my Dad's system, but the smells of the process really take me back. I'm remembering a lot more about the process I used to follow as a kid, and I'm having a ton of fun actually learning what each step means and reaping the benefits.

Have you ever home brewed? If so, do you have any tips or advice for a new-brewer?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ringing in 2011 with Butternut Squash Ravioli

I know that I already mentioned this amazing meal in my last blog post, but I just had to share it again. I cook a lot, and I think this is the most amazing thing I've ever made!

Yesterday my husband and I were making our weekly grocery list, and I sat looking at this butternut squash that my mother-in-law gave us at Thanksgiving. I recalled having amazing ravioli made with the squash at a friend's wedding over the summer, so I asked my husband if he was up for making some pasta. Since getting the pasta attachments for our mixer a few years ago, he pretty much jumps at the chance to make pasta, so it was no surprise that he was down for it.

Since I'd never made it before, we both started searching online for recipes. It was funny that we both came back with the same one! Here it is - Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter Sauce, courtesy of Emeril Lagasse via

    •    9 tablespoons butter
    •    3 tablespoons minced shallots
    •    1 cup roasted butternut squash puree
    •    Salt
    •    Freshly ground white pepper
    •    3 tablespoons heavy cream
    •    3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus 2 ounces
    •    Pinch nutmeg
    •    1 recipe pasta dough, rolled out into wide ribbons, about 1/4-inch thick
    •    12 fresh sage leaves
    •    1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

To make the butternut squash puree - start by cutting your squash in quarters and scooping out the seeds and sticky stuff. Drizzle the quarters with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place squash on a baking dish and put it in a 400 degree oven for about  50 minutes. When it's cool enough to handle, scoop out the squash, run it through a food processor to puree it, and voila!

In a large saute pan, over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the shallots and saute for 1 minute. Add the squash puree and cook until the mixture is slightly dry, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cream and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 3 tablespoons cheese and nutmeg, to taste. Season with salt and pepper. I went back and forth tasting at this point adding a bit more nutmeg, and salt before it was where I wanted it. Be sure to taste your food! Let it cool completely before making your ravioli.

Make a normal batch of pasta dough, and roll it into sheets - I think my husband used the 5 setting on our roller.

Place 1-2 teaspoons of filling for each ravioli - size depending on how big your cutters are. Either fold them by hand, cut them with cutters, or just do whatever you do to make ravioli!

When all of your ravioli are made, add them to salted boiling water - cook them for about 3 minutes or until they float and look done.

Remove the pasta from the water and drain well. Season the pasta with salt and pepper.

In a large saute pan, melt the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter. Add the sage to the butter and continue to cook until the butter starts to brown. Remove from the heat.

Place some of the pasta in the center of each serving plate. Spoon the butter sauce over the pasta. Sprinkle the 2 ounces of cheese over each plate and garnish with parsley.

I can't even tell you how amazing this dish is! The recipe made so much ravioli that we froze 1/2 of them and even had leftovers of the cooked ones that we ate for lunch today. Seriously good stuff here.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year, New Mindset

I'm coming to the realization that I'm a grown up. This is disturbing, and it makes me what to crawl into a hole and pretend it's not happening. The fact is, it is happening. I have a husband, a dog, a mortgage, a car payment - shit is getting real. As much as I'd like to just act like a selfish princess, I need to start thinking about myself as part of a family unit. My husband and I need to make sure our decisions are based on what's best for us.

The reality of our current situation is very good. We are both employed, and we never go without - I need to keep this in mind when I start to complain about how crappy things are.

I make new year's resolutions every year, and I don't think I've ever stuck to one. Well, that's a lie - when I was 24, my resolution was to have more fun - I'm pretty sure I rocked that one until December 31st! Other than that, I usually fail. This year, instead of trying to lose weight or quit smoking for good, I want to change my way of thinking about things.

First off, I want to stop taking the stress of work home with me. When I'm home, I can't do work, so I just need to stop worrying about it. Work stress makes me quiet, drink more wine than I need to, and ignore my loving husband and loyal doggie - it's no good. To get work off my brain, I'm going to work-out when I get home. For goodness sakes, we're lucky enough to have an exercise room, I might as well use the darn thing! This will help my health, hopefully knock off a few pounds, and improve my stress levels.

The second part of my resolution goes in-hand with the first - I want to start listening more. I find myself getting so preoccupied with work-thoughts that I miss out on things. My husband will often be talking to me, and I will honestly have no idea what he's saying. It's just not right. He needs to be number one in my life, yet work is always making its way into my brain! This needs to end now - it's just not healthy to keep on in the direction I'm heading.

So far I've gotten this year off to a good start. I don't think I've talked about work much, and my husband and I have been working together as a team all day! We started by taking down all of our Christmas decorations, then going grocery shopping, which was followed up by a day of cooking. I saw that King Arthur Flour was promoting a bread recipe contest, so I got the idea that we should work on perfecting a recipe together. It was a lot of fun working out the minute details - we probably still have a few more bread making sessions until we can call our recipe "final." Since so many of our recipes are in our heads, it's hard to actually create the recipe. I'm looking forward to working with him more on it.

We also made the most amazing dinner - Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter Sauce. Seriously, It has to be the most amazing dinner we've ever made. There's nothing like homemade pasta to get the year off to a good start.

Here's to 2011, and actually keeping my new year's resolution to keep work at work where it belongs!

Now onto keeping up with the second part of my resolution. My hubby is downstairs playing Donkey Kong by himself right now, and I need to get down there! Look out jungle - we're gonna reclaim our banana hoard as a team!