Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I was going to regale you with tales of granola last week. I made 7 cups of granola, and it was good, but not quite right. Well, actually I overcooked the granola. So I have been chipping teeth on rock hard blueberries and cherries all week. So once I get the timing right, I’ll share that recipe with you.

But this week I have something else. I have Veal Meatball Marsala. I love marsala. It’s a different kind of love then the one I have for mac and cheese. That’s more of a lusty relationship. But marsala, I want to bring marsala home to meet my parents, but only to special occasions like Thanksgiving and Easter. Not to the everyday dinners and foibles of a family.

I’ve had the standard chicken or veal marsala. I’ve had great marsala and I’ve had terrible marsala (I’m looking at you hotel weddings). And unlike mac and cheese, I only like marsala when it’s good or great. Mediocre marsala is just a huge let down. So, if I were to bring mediocre home, it would hit on my sister at dinner.

But on one of the first dates Joe and I ever went on, we ate at a restaurant in Washington DC called Grillfish. And I got monkfish marsala, which was a special for that evening. (I know, because I looked for it unsuccessfully every subsequent time thereafter). Which made me think, that maybe you could ‘marsala’ anything. You know, make a bet , dress it up, teach it how to speak, and then bring it out. With a little work, maybe I could My Fair Marsala anything!

Honestly, though, I only stuck to the standards. Until yesterday. When I was grocery shopping, I found ground veal on sale. It was such a good price that I couldn’t pass it up. But I was at a loss for what to make with it. That’s when I thought – Meatballs! This recipe makes a great weeknight meal that feels a little fancy. It’s the makeover movie for unlocking ground veal’s hidden beauty – with marsala!

Veal Marsala Meatballs

For the Meatballs

1 lb ground veal (although I bet chicken or turkey would be fine too)
1/3 c breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, finely chopeed
½ small onion, finely chopped
2 Tb rosemary, finely chopped
1 egg
Salt and pepper to tatse

For the Sauce

½ onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, diced
2/3 c dry marsala wine
1 c chicken stock
1 Tb rosemary, roughly chopped
1/3 c heavy cream

1 10oz. bag spinach, thoroughly washed

1. Mix all of the ingredients together for the meatballs. Roll into 1 – 1 ½” meatballs.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Place meatballs in pan, but don’t crowd the pan, sauté in two batches if needed. Brown on all sides. Then remove to a plate.

3. Add spinach to remaining oil in pan and cook until just barely wilted. Sprinkle with salt, to preserve color, and remove t another plate.

4. While keeping pan on heat, add more oil if needed and onions and garlic. If there is some spinach water left in the pan, that’s fine. Sauté until onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Then add the meatballs back to the pan. Add in marsala, chicken stock, and rosemary, reduce heat and simmer, covered for about 20 minutes.

5. After 20 minutes, remove lid and continue simmering for another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Just before serving add in cream to help thicken the sauce.

6. Meanwhile cook whatever pasta you want to serve this over.

7. To serve, place pasta on a plate or bowl, add spinach on top of pasta, then spoon meatballs and sauce over everything.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Refried Bean Odyssey

I lived in Southern California for two years and during that time, Joe and I managed to eat a lot of Mexican-American food. There was one hole-in-the-wall spot in Manhattan Beach that we were a little crazy for (and still are!). They had the best refried beans and rice that accompanied every dish they served. I would usually neglect the burrito or whatever I had to pounce on those beans first. They were perfect.

Well, in order for me to get my fix, I thought I could try and make refried beans myself. Not by opening a can and dumping them into a frying pan (but I will say, that in a pinch, those are pretty darn good too). When I worked for the cookbook author, her housekeeper had a recipe for refried beans (which is now in the cookbook - so you won’t be getting that recipe!). She was El Salvadorian and she said that beans are different everywhere you go. Her version of course started out with soaking the beans and then cooking them. Then heating up a little oil, and sautéing some chopped onions in the oil. She then removed the onions, and dumped in her beans and mashed them up with a little salt. She told me I could put the onions back in if I wanted to, but most people didn’t. I asked her if people every used canned beans, and she laughed. I said “no, really. Do people ever use canned beans?” (hoping to alleviate some of my guilt) and she said maybe but they weren’t very good cooks who did that. Ouch.

I usually tried making beans that way, but they never turned out as fabulously as when she made them for me. So while I was in California, one of my coworkers told me her family’s recipe for beans. She said to crumble up some chorizo and cook it with a jalapeno, then take them out, add the beans and mash. Then add the chorizo back to the beans and season them as necessary. You have to add more oil at this point - hence the RE-fried- to thin it out and make the texture more smooth. She also suggested adding some queso fresco to the mashed beans to give it a slightly creamy feel.

She made the beans a few days later and brought them in to work for me to try, they were amazing. I was sold. But, I don’t make those beans every time we have refried beans because of the significant caloric content that they have. But for special events, or to impress people, I will make them.

So last night, I brought the beans over to a pot-luck Taco night at a friend’s place. I think they were pretty good, and judging by some of the portion sizes the beans were being consumed in - I’m guessing other people thought so too.

I tried taking amazing pictures, but it is rather hard to make smashed up sausage and beans look anything more then, well, smashed up beans and sausage.

Judi and Carmen’s Refried Beans

For the chorizo - size, flavor and quality can really depend on where you buy this sausage. So use your best judgment about how much chorizo you want in there. Just don’t put in more chorizo then there are beans (I would say use about ½ to ¾ the volume of sausage to beans)

1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained (or 16 ounces, dried beans, soaked overnight and simmered until tender)
½ small onion, roughly diced
1 link chorizo, casing removed and crumbled
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced in half (pith and seeds removed if you want your beans with less heat)
Olive oil

1. Add about 2 Tb of olive oil to a frying pan and heat until shimmering. Add diced onions, chorizo and jalapeno. Sauté until the onions are translucent and the chorizo starts to brown. Add more oil, if the chorizo soaks up the first amount. Remove the mixture from the pan, but try to keep in as much of the cooking oil as possible.

2. Add the kidney beans and sauté until the beans start to shed their skins and split. Then mash the beans - you can use a potato masher but I like to use the bottom of a heavy glass. Once mashed add the chorizo/onion mixture back into the pan along with any liquid that may have accumulated with them.

3. Add a few more tablespoons of oil, and stir together. The mixture should start to look soft and matte. You don’t want the beans to stick to the pan, but you do want them to brown a little in the oil. Add more oil, if you think it needs it. (this does take a lot of oil, so don’t be skimpy with it). If you have the queso fresco, add it just before you take the beans off the heat. Season with salt and serve.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

German Food, the begining

I was struggling this week for something to cook. I was hoping to have some awe-inspiring, miraculous recipe to post. But alas, I don’t. Instead I have an old standby that I have made and adapted numerous times from its original version. But first let me tell you a little about the progression of this recipe.

As you can guess from the title and description of this blog, I know a little about German food. I studied abroad in Freiburg for a semester while in college and fell in love with the food. I mean what’s not to like - chocolate? check, sausage? check. cheese? check. bread? check. beer? double check. (I could go on, but I’ll spare you on the list of foods I love) We did a lot of cooking in Germany, but we didn’t cook a lot of German food. My exposure came from farmer’s markets, fairs, Biergartens and other restaurants. Mostly, I did a lot of baking while I was there. Just wait until I make my Apfelkuchen recipe in the fall!

But when I came back to the states, my sister’s birthday was coming up. And she decided to have a “German Food” party, for which I offered to cook. My mom had always made us sauerbraten and red cabbage but that was the extent of our German food exposure. So I offered a complete list of foods for my sister and her friends to eat: Potato Leek Soup (it can kind of count as german), Jägerschnitzel, spätzle, red cabbage with apples, sauerbraten, potato pancakes, stuffed tomatoes (you’re surprised about that last one I know) etc. as well as chocolate desserts.

Some friends of mine came over to help me cook and keep me company, and we were having a blast in the kitchen. As my sisters friends came over, they congregated at the kitchen table, in plain view of the kitchen and my antics. If any of you know me - then you know I have a propensity to make a ton of food. Needless to say I managed to make a full 8 quart pot of gravy for the sauerbraten alone. So, with enough German food to feed my sister’s entire graduating high school class, I forgot about the possibility that these 15 year old girls might not want anything to do with German food.

I don’t know if they came out of respect for my sister. Or if they thought German food was like hamburgers and french fries. But only a few of the girls ate anything - and only when we forced them. My friends ate the food, and as we tried to make the night more entertaining for everyone, the only response we got was “Jess, your sister and her friends are so weird!”

That ‘weirdness’ I must say, has yet to disappear - but thankfully neither have the recipes I cooked that night. The Jägerschnitzel recipe is a great way to use cheap cutlets of any kind and an easy way to get dinner on the table quickly. Since Jäger means hunter in German, it was originally made with wild board or rabbit. So I look at this as a versatile recipe. You can use veal, pork, chicken, turkey - whatever. The recipe calls for mushrooms but since Joe doesn’t really like them, I leave them out. But you can add your favorite herbs to this, or leave it as is. I also tossed some spinach into the pasta water at the last moment to add something green into the mix.


As adapted from 2003

1 lb. pork cutlets
2 eggs
¾ cup bread crumbs
Salt and pepper
Canola Oil

5 strips of bacon, diced
1 large onion, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
½ cup chicken stock
½ dry white wine (or a 1 Tbsp lemon juice and ½ c, stock)
2 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp paprika
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp sour cream
Salt and pepper

Egg Noodles

1. Scramble the eggs in a shallow bowl. Combine breadcrumbs, salt and pepper in a separate shallow bowl. Place a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Dredge the pork in the egg followed by the breadcrumbs and place into skillet. You can also double dredge each cutlet for an extra thick coating. Repeat with remaining cutlets, being sure not to crowd the pan. Brown pork on either side for about 4 minutes (or until nicely browned). If the pork is still underdone (depending on thickness, place on baking sheet and keep warm in a 350°F oven until you’re ready to serve).

2. Remove pork from skillet and let rest on a plate (if it’s not in the oven). Drain the fat from the pan, but don’t worry too much about loose brown breadcrumbs. If those crumbs are black however, you should discard them.

3. Add bacon to skillet and sauté until some fat has rendered out, but they are not quite brown. Add onions and cook until onions and bacon are golden. About 5-7 minutes more. Stir in mushrooms (if using) and tomato paste, and sauté another 3 minutes. Add wine, stock, thyme, paprika, salt and pepper. Simmer for about 5 minutes until sauce is slightly thickened, then add sour cream and parsley.

4. Meanwhile boil egg noodles according to package directions. Drain and add a pat or two of butter to keep the noodles from sticking.

5. To serve, place noodles on a plate, lay a cutlet on top, and spoon sauce over.
Serves 4

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Road Kill

Yes, that’s right road kill. I know, it’s a little early to start talking about strange food habits, but please let me explain. My family lives in New Jersey, and we have a family friend that loves to hunt. Every fall he gets a deer permit and hopes for the best. Well, last year he had two processed deer in his freezer and I begged to take some off his hands. He agreed and during Thanksgiving he came by my parents’ place with 2 roasts, and two packages of stew meat. Yum!

When I asked how he had been so fortunate as to get two deer that year, he explained a little further. He had in fact shot one deer and had it processed. But one evening he received a call from another friend who had just hit a deer with her car. (It IS New Jersey, people) And apparently, if you hit the deer, it is legally yours. You may strap it to the roof of your car and haul it away to a processor. Or you call a friend who is willing to take that deer and strap it to his own roof. This is what I like to call modern urban hunting.

So both of these deer were in his freezer, and so far as I can tell neither are labeled as to method of demise. I may have gotten shot and killed meat or soccer mom minivan meat. But either way, I’m taking it.

I made both packages of stew meat early on, but wanted to save the roasts - for what, I don’t know. But I thought I should save them. I had also been looking at venison recipes for a while and most of them call for juniper berries as an ingredient. I wanted to make sure I could get these before I cooked the first roast.

At the local natural foods store in my town, I actually was able to order juniper berries - with one stipulation. I had to buy a pound. Not knowing, what price point I was looking at, I hesitantly asked how much it would be. Turns out, juniper berries are reasonably cheap at seven dollars a pound. I readily agreed and placed my order.
See the juniper berries (they look like peppercorns)

About a week later I got a call that the berries had arrived. And let me tell you, a pound of juniper berries is not a small package. On the upside, while I was checking out, the woman behind me asked if I was a chef, since I was purchasing such exotic ingredients. (I really had to debate what I said to her, but I just laughed and told her no). And now I can give away juniper berries to all who want them.

The first person I pawned them off to is a friend of mine here. Her father had shot a deer in his back yard and I told her about the juniper berries I had acquired. I handed over to her a 4 ounce jelly jar packed to the brim. She asked me if I had any good recipes for venison that included juniper berries, and I said that I usually just “Google” recipes.

A few weekends later we were invited over to sample the recipe she googled - and it was delicious. So I hope you don’t mind Bess, but I made it this weekend and thought it would be nice to share with everyone. Plus if anyone needs juniper berries - I have enough to go around (the recipe only calls for 8!). And I’m sure the US Postal Service won’t mind.

Venison with Juniper Berries - - Cervo al Ginepro
By Kyle Phillips (first result when you Google “venison with juniper berries)

I served this with simple roasted brussels sprouts and a pumpkin and potato mash. I chose pumpkin only because it was free from our community market. But I would suggest using a butternut or acorn squash instead. Basically, try to serve woodsy, earthy flavors with this, since the juniper berries and rosemary will impart a pine-like flavor.

2 1/4 pounds venison, ideally thigh, boned and cubed
1 carrot, diced
1 onion, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
A bay leaf
An 8-inch sprig of rosemary
1 whole cinnamon stick
5-6 whole peppercorns
2-3 whole cloves
8 juniper berries, crushed in a mortar (or the bottom of a glass)
A bottle of dry red wine (I used an inexpensive merlot, but whatever you usually drink is good - just not Arbor Mist please)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter
A shot of grappa or brandy (I used marsala, because I forgot we didn’t have brandy - you can use sherry or marsala, or just more red wine if you want)
Salt to taste

1. After boning and cubing the venison, put it in a large bowl, or large zipper bag with the diced vegetables, herbs, and spices; pour the wine over it all and marinate it for at least several hours, turning the pieces occasionally, or a day if you can.

2. After letting it marinate, heat the oil and butter in a large heavy pot. Remove the meat from the marinade using a slotted spoon (reserve the marinade) and brown it over a medium high heat, seasoning it with some salt. If the meat is not browning because some of the liquid made it’s way into the pot, no worries, keep cooking until the small amount of marinade evaporates, then brown the meat, adding more oil if necessary.

3. Add the grappa/brandy, stirring up any brown bits off the bottom of the pan and continue to cook until it has evaporated.

4. Next, stir in the marinade, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for at least 2 hours. To serve the meat, transfer the pieces from the sauce to a serving dish with a slotted spoon; put the pan drippings and vegetables through a strainer (or blend them, but if you do, be careful to remove the bay leaf rosemary, cinnamon stick and cloves), spoon the resulting sauce over the meat, and serve.

Serves about 6