Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Episode 9: The Bitch in the Kitchen Meets the Mob

I'm a true crime junkie. I don't mind admitting it. It started when I was a little kid watching old gangster movies with my Dad and eventually led to a bookcase that holds dozens of true crime books. I slip quotes from The Godfather movies into everyday conversations. And yes…one of the cookbooks in my collection is "The Mafia Cookbook" by Joseph "Joe Dogs" Iannuzzi. Sure, he's technically a rat but I'll tell ya – rat or not, the dude's rockin' his kitchen, for sure.

I did a little reading on Joe Dogs - who apparently got his nickname because he was (is?) a big fan of going to the dog races – and from what I've found, this is the basic story…Joe was born in New York in 1931. His dad was a bookie and took him along on his weekly collections. Tom Mix, the cowboy star, was apparently one of his more prominent clients. He would give little Joey a silver dollar every visit. Mama Iannuzzi divorced Big Joe in 1945. Right around that time, little Joey got arrested for the first time. He eventually enlisted and served in the Korean War ("Korean Conflict" my eye…it was a war) as a decorated Marine. Got stabbed in the thigh by a bayonet and was honorably discharged. He became good friends with Tommy "T.A." Agro, a soldier for the Gambino crime family. By the early 70s, he was part of T.A's crew, eventually becoming his top enforcer. By the mid-70s, Joe Dogs was running South Florida for the Gambinos. Activities included extortion, robbery, rigging horse races, drug trafficking, labor racketeering & loan sharking. Through whatever course of events that transpired, Joe Dogs ended up owing T.A. a bunch of money and T.A., not appreciating that, nearly beat him to death with a baseball bat. And thus, a rat is born. Joe Dogs teamed up with a deep-cover FBI agent and by the time "Operation Home Run" was brought to a close, Joe Dogs had helped the Feds get more than a dozen mobsters, including Tommy Agro. He also appeared as a star witness at 5 major mob trials and entered Witness Protection. Like I said…he's technically a rat, but the dude has some great recipes. I used 2 of them for Sunday dinner and to keep with the Italian theme, I turned to Giada DeLaurentiis for dessert.

Couple of notes on this: The red pepper flakes & cayenne are my addition; Joe Dogs doesn't use them in these. And I gotta tell ya, I'm tired of trying to measure things that I don't normally measure…so from here on out, the rule is this…a "pinch" is my thumb & index finger. A "two-fingered pinch" is my thumb & two fingers, etc.

Joe Dogs' Shrimp Scampi – Gourmet Style

  • 2 pounds shrimp – rinsed, shelled & deveined
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed & minced
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper (to taste)
  • Two-fingered pinch red pepper flakes
  • Two-fingered pinch cayenne

In a large saucepan, melt butter over low heat until bubbling. Don't let it brown. Add garlic, shallots & red pepper flakes and sauté until limber, about 3 minutes. Add shrimp & cook on both sides until pink all over, about 4 minutes. When shrimp are done, remove from the pan and set aside. Add cayenne, pepper & cream to pan and stir vigorously. Return shrimp to pan & toss to coat. Pour onto warm serving platter & sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately with rice or noodles. Serves 6.

Joe Dogs' Spaghetti with Garlic & Olive Oil

  • 4 quarts cold water
  • 4 tablespoons salt (sounds like a lot, I know…but this is your ONLY shot to actually add flavor to the pasta)
  • 1 pound spaghetti or linguine
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed & finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Two-fingered pinch red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Freshly grated romano or parmesan, to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain & let stand in pot, adding ¼ cup olive oil & tossing to prevent pasta from sticking. In a large pan, add the rest of the olive oil, garlic & red pepper flakes and sauté until garlic is golden. Add cream & whisk well. Add pasta & black pepper to pan & toss until it's well coated with sauce. Place on warm platter, sprinkle with grated cheese & serve immediately. Serves 4-6.

Giada's Fig & Almond Tart

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled & cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons ice water
  • 3 ½ ounces almond paste, at room temperature, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 6 large or 12 small fresh figs, sliced, stems removed or 20 dried figs, reconstituted (simmer them in water for 5 minutes)
  • ¼ cup apricot jam

Combine the flour, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, lemon zest & salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until blended. Add the butter & pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. With the machine running, gradually add the water until moist clumps form. Turn the dough onto a work surface & form into a ball. Flatten into a disk & wrap in plastic wrap. Chill 1 hour.

In a clean food processor bowl, combine the remaining sugar, almond paste, mascarpone, vanilla & honey. Blend until smooth.

Position oven rack in center of oven & preheat oven to 400°F.

On a large sheet of parchment paper, roll out the dough into an 11-inch circle. Transfer to a large, heavy baking sheet. Spread the almond filling over the dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Arrange the figs on top of the almond filling. Spoon jam over figs. Fold the dough border over the filling to form an 8-inch round, pleating the crust loosely & pinching to seal any cracks in the dough.

Bake the tart until the crust is golden, about 40 minutes. Place the baking sheet on a rack to cool for 10 minutes, and then slide a metal spatula under the crust to free the tart from the parchment. Transfer to a platter & serve. Serves 6-8.


Episode 8: The Bitch in the Kitchen and the Rise of the Egg Whites

I'd never made a soufflé before. Quite frankly, I had always been a little intimidated by the idea. What if it fell? I could never serve a flat soufflé! But when the February issue of Bon Appétit arrived and it was filled with a bunch of chocolate recipes for Valentine's Day, including soufflés, I knew the time had come.

The idea behind soufflés is that stiffly beaten egg whites are folded into the base mixture. The soufflé rises when the air that's been whisked into the egg whites expands. For this reason, they're served right when they come out of the oven. If you wait, they'll deflate.

Your egg whites will whip better if you let them come up to room temperature first. It also isn't a bad idea to rub the inside of your bowl with a little bit of lemon juice or vinegar (just a little on a paper towel!) to make sure there isn't even the slightest smidge of grease on your bowl.

I don't have ramekins so I just used the coffee cups that came with my plate set. I think they're too small for a real cup of caffeine, anyway. The point is that you want something round so it rises evenly.

Bittersweet Cocoa Soufflés

  • 1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar (plus extra for ramekins)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • ½ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 ounces bitter sweet chocolate, finely chopped (do not exceed 61% cacao)

Position oven rack in lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 375°F.

Butter eight ¾-cup ramekins or custard cups; dust with sugar, completely coating to top edge.

Mix cocoa powder, 2 tablespoons milk, egg yolks & vanilla. Mix until smooth. Set aside.

Whisk ½ cup sugar, flour and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan. Pour remaining 2/3 cup milk into measuring cup and whisk just enough of it into the saucepan to form a thick paste, and then gradually whisk the remaining milk in until smooth. Stir over medium-low heat until bubbles begin to form around the edges of the pan. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. While whisking the cocoa mixture non-stop, slowly add the milk mixture a little at a time. (This will slowly bring the egg yolks up to temperature. If you just add it too fast or without whisking, you'll scramble the eggs.)

Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites & cream of tartar in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and beat on high until stiff peaks form.

Stir ¼ of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Don't worry about being gentle yet. You're just out to lighten the chocolate mixture up enough so the rest of the egg whites can be folded in more gently. Add remaining egg whites & chopped chocolate and fold until whites are just blended into batter.

Divide batter among the ramekins and place on rimmed baking sheet. (If you want to make them a day ahead of time, cover & refrigerate them at this point.) Bake soufflés until puffed above the rim of ramekin, about 12 minutes (about 15 if chilled). A toothpick inserted in the center should come out with thick batter attached. Using spoon, form a small indentation in top of each soufflé; spoon dollop of whipped cream into indentations. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Episode 7: The Kitchen Bitch Scratches Her Salsa Itch

Again. And someone else must be scratching theirs too, cuz it turns out salsa has surpassed ketchup as America's favorite condiment. Probably a good thing, considering all the sugar in ketchup. Anyway, I was reading a bit about salsa…

Chiles were first domesticated in Latin America between 5200 BC & 3400 BC. In 1494, a guy by the name of Dr. Diego Álvarez Chanca brought the first chiles to Spain. Not a whole lot is known about the good doctor…but we know this: Isabella & Ferdinand appointed him to tag along with a certain land-stealing slave trader on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. By 1807, the first bottled hot sauces, made with cayenne peppers, appeared in Massachusetts. In 1868, our good friend Mr. McIlhenny bottled his first 350 bottles of Tabasco sauce down in Louisiana. In 1947, David & Margaret Pace began manufacturing their Picante Sauce in Texas. By the 1980s, different salsas were popping up all over the country, from California to New England. In 1994, Pace (by now the number one salsa manufacturer) sells out to Campbell's Soup Company for an unbelievable $1.1 billion. And topping them, Pillsbury announced it was buying Pet Foods (those are the people that make Old El Paso brand) for $2.6 billion. Together, the two companies control just about half the market for Mexican sauces. And by 2000, more households buy salsa than ketchup.

Not doing a traditional salsa, really. (And in my head, I can hear my friend Javier grumbling – with love, of course - about gringos messing with the food of his heritage LOL) It's a corn salsa recipe I found awhile ago in a grocery store ad. It was great with some pork & Monterey Jack on tacos. It would be yummy with chicken or fish too.

  • 1 ½ cups corn, lightly cooked (I used frozen corn, but grilled corn would be amazing to use in the summer!)
  • 1 cup each: chopped tomatoes, orange bell pepper & red onion
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice, plus the lime zest
  • 1 – 1 ½ teaspoons honey (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley **
  • 12 drops green Tabasco (to taste, or 1 jalapeño, finely chopped)
  • ½ teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder & red pepper flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon each: ground cumin & cayenne
  • Salt, to taste

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl & stir well. Serves 4-6.

** The original recipe called for a tablespoon of fresh cilantro. Not a big fan of cilantro…tastes like what I imagine dirty dish water would taste like…so I used the parsley I had in my spice rack.