Archive for the ‘Dinner’ Category

Saturday Night Solo Dinner

I started a new job in early May, and I have not had much time for blogging since. This weekend, though, Scott is out of town and I’m on my own. I decided to cook myself something nice.

We had some frozen salmon in the freezer, so I decided to try something I haven’t done before — cooking it on a cedar plank. A 400 degree oven, a little garlic and honey for a glaze, and 15 minutes later, the salmon was tasty and cooked just how I like it: still slightly raw in the middle.

I picked up a few mushrooms as well, and did them very simply. A hot pan with a dash of olive oil,cook until they’re almost done, then deglaze with white wine, and finish with a pat of butter.


Penne alla Vodka

As promised, here’s the penne alla vodka recipe Scott made for my birthday dinner.

Vodka is not native to Italy, and Wikipedia has three different versions of the dish’s origin. The one with the most detail says that the dish was invented in New York. I don’t know if that’s correct but it sounds plausible. At any rate, it doesn’t really matter – authentic Italian or not, penne alla vodka is really good when made well.

Here’s our version:


2 cups roasted tomato sauce
1/4 pound pancetta, sliced thin
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup vodka
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh minced parsley

1 pound dry penne pasta


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then cook the penne until it is al dente. If you time it right, you should be able to start the water, then the sauce, and the pasta will be ready for the sauce at just the right time. If you’re not that confident about the timing, it’s better to have the sauce waiting for the pasta than vice versa. Overcooked pasta = epic fail (and not very tasty either).

Put the olive oil into a large skillet over medium flame. Dice the pancetta and add it to the skillet. Cook until dark and crispy (but not burned). Remove the pancetta from the pan with a slotted spoon and place the pancetta on paper towels to drain. Add the garlic slices to the pan and sauté until they turn light golden brown.

Add the tomato sauce to the pan, stir to deglaze, and turn the heat to medium-high. Bring the tomato sauce to a low boil, then add the salt and red pepper flakes. Keep the low boil going for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down to low and add the vodka. Stir in the cream, pouring slowly, then keep on stirring as you slowly add the cheese. Tip: don’t add the cheese until the pasta is ready to go.

When the pasta is ready, drain it and put it into a large bowl. Pour the sauce over the pasta, sprinkle the parsley and the pancetta on top, and toss to mix it all together. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6, depending on whether you’re doing it as a main dish or an appetizer.


  • This is one of those recipes where the quality of the ingredients you put into it is absolutely critical. We tried this one night with some pre-cut shrink-wrapped pancetta and it was nowhere near as good as when we make it using freshly-sliced pancetta from a good deli counter. Get the good stuff. It matters.
  • The same goes for the Parmigian cheese. Don’t even think of using that stuff in the green can. Get the real thing.
  • If it’s winter or you don’t have roasted tomato sauce on hand, a 28 ounce can of tomatoes will do fine. Use whole tomatoes and quickly puree them in the blender, don’t buy the pureed ones. Again, quality is key. Use San Marzanos if you can get them. If not, Progresso is a good fallback.

Kecap Manis Braised and Glazed Pork Belly Over Sake-Mirin Risotto

(Serves six, if you’re lucky)

For the pork belly:

3 pounds raw, uncured pork belly, skin on
2 cups kecap manis*
6 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar*
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce*
3 tablespoons Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce (called nouc nam or nam pla)
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 round of jaggery (palm sugar)*+ or ¼ cup light brown sugar

1. Crosshatch pork belly, with cuts ½” apart and ¼” deep. Place pork in a bowl, and combine kecap manis, vinegar, soy, fish sauce and lime juice. Pour over the pork belly and marinate 24 to 48 hours, turning occasionally.

2. Preheat oven to 275˚. Place belly, skin up, in baking pan or oven-safe skillet with two cups of marinade and 2 cups water, covering pork half-way up (add more water if needed). Cover pan with foil (or use lid with the skillet), and bake 3-4 hours. Remove pork from the liquid and cool. Cut belly into 1-inch chunks, with the skin on.

3. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, cook palm sugar until it dissolves and turns amber, and gently toss the pork belly chunks, until coated. (Be careful not to separate the belly from the skin).

For the risotto:

4cups water, plus 4cups saké, hot
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons garlic, finely diced
1 pound fresh cremini mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 cup Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice (preferably, Vialone Nano)
1 cup mirin (Japanese rice vinegar)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

1. Combine water and saké and heat. Simmer on low until ready to use.

2. Heat oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then sauté onion, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.

3. And garlic and muhrooms and sauté, stirring, until mushrooms are browned and any liquid the mushrooms have released has cooked off, about 8 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add mirin and cook, stirring, until absorbed, about five minutes. (Did I mention that risotto is all about stirring? It’s all about stirring.)

4. Stir 1 cup of the simmered saké broth into the rice and stir, keeping it at a strong simmer until absorbed. Continue cooking and adding broth, about 1 cup at a time, stirring and waiting until each cupful is absorbed, until rice is creamy but al dente, 18-20 minutes. (This is what separates the Italians from the weenies. Small blisters should be developing at this point, and your palms should be red and sore from all that figure-8 pattern-stirring with the Big Italian Wooden Spoon, but there’s no whining in risotto-making. Oh, no. Suck it up and keep stirring, all’onda (wavy patterns), as the Venetians say, and NEVER turn your back on your risotto, or it’ll dry out and mound up like a plate of spackle. Trust a northern Italian on this.)

5. Remove from heat, and stir in salt, pepper and remaining butter until butter is melted. (This replaces the need for finishing the risotto with cream or cheese, which would work against the saké/mirin flavor.) Pour a glass of cold saké (really good saké is served cold), and, while congratulating yourself, honor the kitchen gods of Mario Batali, David Chang and Ming Tsai, add saké to self – and get a hold of the pork belly before people start coming by “just to pick”.

* Kecap manis (KEH-chop mah-NEES) is a thick, sweet soy sauce from Indonesia, and is available from Kalustyan’s in New York and on-line, as well as Wegman’s. Kalustyan’s also carries the black Chinese vinegar and the dark soy, which is darker and richer than what you find in the supermarket.

+ Palm sugar is available from Bangkok Market in New York and on-line, and is also at Kalustyan’s, I believe.

Veal Marsal-AHHHHH!


1 pound of veal scallopini
2 eggs
½ cup Italian bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 stick of butter
2 10 oz. packages of mushrooms (baby bellas work the best)
10 oz. demi-glace
2/3 cup Opici Vineyards Marsala (the other Marsalas just don’t compare)
1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in hot water.


1. Heat half of the stick of butter and a fat splash of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat, until frothy. Gleefully throw in the mushrooms, with wild abandon. Sauté until tender. Remove mushrooms from sauté pan and set aside, in a bowl.

2. Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl, and dip the scallopini in them, piece by piece.

3. Dip the scallopini into the bread crumbs and lightly coat. The scallopini are happy now.

4. Add the rest of the butter to he pan, with another splash of olive oil. Lay the scallopini into pan, but leave enough room so the pieces don’t touch. Sauté lightly until golden-brown (about 1 minute per side). Feel free to add butter if needed.

5. Remove the finished scallopini from the pan, and drain on paper towel.

6. This is the fun part. Add the Marsala, and cook for 5 minutes. Admire your deglazing. When it starts looking sticky/syrupy, add in the demi-glace. Splash some of the dissolved (and stirred) corn starch into the sauce to thicken up slightly. Horror! It’s beefy enough, but not wine-y enough! Reel from the shock. Grab Marsala bottle and add in more. A lot more. Cook for 5 more minutes. Taste. The sauce is good, but not great – there should be a rich Marsala taste! There should be a rich Marsala smell coming off of it! There should be fumes! Ma va! Add more Marsala. Calm down. You have plenty of time, and plenty of Opici. Once you realize that, Marsala Nirvana is achieved. This is a state of veal bliss that cannot be taught – merely reached. “Pour not gently into that good night/pour, pour pour/if the Marsala tastes light.”

7. Regain your composure. If the veal is still warm and you’re in a hurry, pour sauce on scallopini and serve. Otherwise, feel free to flip the scallopini into the simmering sauce and let them all lay there happily for a few minutes. Throw family, attracted like sharks by Marsala fumes, out of kitchen. Make them go get you some rosé, and serve. Eh. Va bene.

Mom’s Magnificent Braised Lamb

My mother made this awesome braised lamb for Passover dinner one year and it was easily one of the best things she’s made in a long time – which is saying a lot, considering how good a cook she is. She passed the recipe on to me without attribution, so I don’t know where it came from originally. We’ve tweaked some of the proportions to suit our tastes.

This dish is great for dinner parties, since it doesn’t need a lot of last minute prep work. It’s very rich; any sides you serve with it should be fairly straightforward so that you don’t put your guests into a massive food coma. The last time we made it, we serves some simple roasted potatoes and winter squash as a side dish, plus a full-bodied Pinot Noir. A good time was had by all.


About 3 1/2 pounds of boned lamb (shoulder or leg), rolled and tied
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 cup washed and finely chopped whole leeks
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chicken or veal stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 sprigs fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried
2 whole scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely minced parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Optional: Sprigs of parsley for garnish


Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Sprinkle all sides of the lamb with salt and pepper to taste. The lamb should have decent coverage, but don’t go overboard. You can always add more salt and pepper later if needed.

In an oven-safe casserole dish that’s large enough to hold the lamb, heat the oil over medium heat. Brown the lamb on all sides; it should take at least 15 minutes. Remove the lamb from the pan and set aside.

Add the onions and leeks to the casserole and sauté over medium-low heat until tender and just turning golden, then add the garlic.

Return the lamb to the casserole and add the stock, wine, lemon juice, tarragon and scallions. Bring to a simmer, cover and place in the oven.

Cook the lamb for 5 hours; by then it should be extremely tender. Remove the lamb from the casserole and set aside.

Strain the sauce into a heavy saucepan. Skim off as much fat as possible. Place the solids in a blender or food processor along with 1 tablespoon of the minced parsley. Puree, adding a little of the liquid if necessary. Add this puree back to the sauce, reheat and check seasonings.

Remove the strings from the lamb. Slice the roast down the middle the long way, and then slice each half into serving-sized slices or chunks. Place the meat into a large bowl or platter; pour half the sauce over the lamb and the rest of the sauce into a gravy bowl. Sprinkle the remaining minced parsley over the top and serve.

Serves 6 to 8 people.


  • Lamb can be fatty, so don’t skimp on skimming the fat or it can make the sauce turn out a little too greasy.
  • This dish can be prepared a day in advance, refrigerated overnight, and reheated before serving without affecting the flavor.

Cassoulet a la Lux

Here is my own variation on cassoulet, the classic French winter casserole. It’s strongly influenced by the Bourdain version in his Les Halles cookbook but I’ve made some changes to suit my own tastes. For example, the lingering ghosts of my kosher upbringing pushed me towards creating a version of cassoulet with as little pork as possible – if you used beef bacon, this dish could even be entirely pork-free. If you are a fan of the pig, then feel free to ignore my pork hang-ups and use pork sausage and/or pork shoulder instead of the lamb. The French have a number of variations on this dish, so don’t consider the choice of meats set in stone. They’re not.

Cassoulet is not a difficult dish to make. Its biggest challenges are sourcing the ingredients and the fact that it takes several days to put this dish together. If you have access to a good local specialty store (or plan far enough ahead to buy what you need online) and a little patience, your reward will be a hearty dish full of flavor, comforting and festive.


1 lb white Tarbais beans
4 good-quality sausages (any meat you like)
4 duck legs confit
1/2 to 3/4 lb thick-cut bacon
1 lb boneless lamb (shoulder or leg), cut into cubes
2 tablespoons rendered duck fat
1 sprig of fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
3 bay leaves
1 carrot, peeled and roughly-chopped
1 roughly-chopped onion
6 whole cloves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
8 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 thinly-sliced onion
1/4 cup dry white wine


Day 1:
Bean Prep

Place the beans in a bowl, completely cover with cool water. These beans are thirsty so don’t be meager with the water. Fill the bowl until there’s about 2” of water above the beans. Soak overnight.

Day 2:
Pre-Cooking and Assembly

Drain and rinse the beans. Place the beans in a large pot and cover with cold water. Cut 3 strips of bacon into 2-inch pieces. Make a bouquet garni for the herbs (not required, but helpful). Add the thyme, bay leaves, carrot, onion, cloves, tomato paste, salt, pepper, and bacon to the pot. Bring to a boil on high heat. Once it’s boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 45-60 minutes, until the beans are tender but not mushy. Turn off the heat and let the beans cool in the liquid for about 20 minutes. This helps keep the beans from losing their skins.

Here’s my pot, before the heat went on:

Bean Prep

Strain the beans into a colander with a bowl underneath to collect the cooking liquid. Remove and discard the bacon, bouquet garni and vegetables. Save this bean liquid. You’ll need it later on.

Next, pre-cook the meats.


Tasty Meats

In process:

Browning Stage

Put the duck confit in a sauté pan over low heat to melt the fat. Remove the duck pieces, drain on paper towels, add the rest of the duck fat, and turn up the heat to medium-high. Sear the lamb pieces on all sides until golden brown, and then put them on the plate with the duck. Next, the sausages go into the pan. I keep the sausage skins on for a little extra texture, but you may want to remove them. Brown them, then add to the pile of meats to drain.

Finally, lower the heat to medium, and put the sliced garlic and onions into the pan. Cook until golden brown and translucent. Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Strain the pan liquids and pour them into a blender with the garlic and onion. Puree until smooth.

Debone the duck legs and break the duck meat into smaller pieces for easier eating. Also, slice the sausages, ditto ditto. You don’t have to do this, but it definitely makes the dish easier to serve and eat if you do.

Now, it’s time to bring all these elements together into one glorious whole.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place bacon slices on the bottom of a deep, heavy, ovenproof casserole dish (8 quart, enameled cast iron is best), slightly overlapping them. Cover the bacon with a layer of beans, then a layer of sausages, more beans, then the lamb, then beans, then the duck, then more beans. Add a little of the garlic/onion/fat puree between each layer.

It will look something like this:

Assembling the cassoulet

Finally, pour on enough of the bean cooking liquid to cover the beans. Make sure to save about 3/4 cup of the bean juice for basting during the final cooking. Bake for 90 minutes. Remove from the oven, let it cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.

At the end of Day 2

Day 3:
From Oven to Table

Let the cassoulet and the basting liquid come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, uncover the cassoulet, and put it into the oven. Bake for one hour. Then break the crust with a spoon and baste with the remaining bean juice. Bake for approximately another 15 minutes, until the top has become crusty and golden brown.

Remove from oven and serve.

The Finished Product



  • It’s better to avoid the fancy flavor-smoked bacons for this dish. Definitely buy thick-cut, though.
  • If you can’t find Tarbais beans in your local specialty store and don’t want to buy them online, flageolets or similar white beans will work too.
  • Rendered duck fat adds an amazing flavor to food, which is why you use it. If you can find duck confit locally you should also be able to find duck fat as well. If not, it’s available online.
  • I use Aidells Artichoke and Garlic sausage, but as I said above, suit your own tastes. Just make sure you buy decent-quality stuff.

Tagliatelle From Scratch

Chilly Saturdays are good days to settle in and do the longer cooking projects you can’t do on a weeknight. Today, I took some salmon out of the freezer, and got inspired to make my own pasta rather than go out and buy a box of tagliatelle like I usually do.

Making pasta is not at all difficult, especially if you have a basic pasta machine to help you along, it’s just time consuming. Allow at least two hours if you’re going to make a batch.


1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
(if necessary) water


mise en place

More authentic Italian cooks will use the ‘well’ method to start their pasta – the put their flour out on a flat wooden surface, make a hole in the top of the flour, crack the eggs into the hole, and then use a fork to start bringing the dough together. I’m not quite that authentic, so I put all the ingredients into a big metal bowl and used a wooden spoon to start the dough. You could even use a food processor if you wanted to, although it’s not really necessary. Whichever method you use, the dough will come together within a minute or two of mixing. Then, dump the dough out onto a large, flat surface (I use our wooden dining room table), dust with flour, and start kneading.

One thing about pasta dough is that it’s not a perfect science. The humidity in the air and the size of the eggs you use may mean that one day your dough will be a little wet and other days a little dry. If it’s dry, add water a tablespoon at a time until it’s damp enough to work. If it’s too wet, you can work extra flour in as you knead. You’ll have to judge it by feel.

Kneading the dough, early stages

You’ll need to knead the dough for about 15 minutes, generally, but again, the look and feel of the dough is a better guide than exact time. You want the dough to be smooth and a little shiny, not too sticky, and stretchy but not rubbery. (The photo above was taken fairly early in the kneading process.)

Once the dough is kneaded, divide it into smaller pieces to make it easier to work with. I rolled the dough into a cylinder and then cut in into 6 pieces. If you have a pasta making machine, here’s when you start to use it. You don’t absolutely need one, but it does make things a lot easier.

Rolling out the dough

Assuming you do have a pasta machine, start feeding it through at the widest setting and slowly work your way down to the next-to-thinnest setting. I aim to get each sheet of dough roughly 18″ long (the length from the tips of my fingers to my elbow), but this is not an exact science. Once you’ve gotten the sheet of pasta dough to about the right size and thickness, dust it with a bit more flour, loosely roll it, then slice the dough into 1/3″ noodles. It’s OK to cut them thinner or wider if you prefer. Place the batch on a baking sheet or other convenient flat storage area and start rolling the next sheet.

Rolling the pasta is by far the longest part of making pasta. Don’t rush it — try to find the Zen of the process. The result will be worth it.

A tray of tagliatelle

This batch went into a fantastic lemon cream sauce with asparagus — I would post the recipe, but it’s from the excellent “Cucina Viansa” cookbook, and I don’t want to get into copyright trouble. Oh, and the salmon? Pan-seared and topped with a dash of vinaigrette. No, I didn’t get a photo, sorry. I was too busy chowing down on my fantastic tagilatelle.


  • If you do not have a pasta machine, you can use a rolling pin and elbow grease instead. There’s nothing magical about a pasta machine, it just does the same job a little more evenly and precisely.

Grandma B’s Latkes

Just in time for Chanukah, here’s my maternal grandmother’s latke recipe. Grandma B was born in the Lodz ghetto, and came to America as a child, fortunately long before the horrors of WW2. She loved parties and gathering her family around her, and Chanukah was no exception.


2 lbs potatoes
1 large onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons matzo meal
2 eggs (yolks and whites separated)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
oil for frying


Wash, peel, and grate the potatoes, drain over a large bowl. Discard the potato water but keep the starch left at the bottom of the bowl.

Grate the onions.

Beat the egg whites with a fork until well mixed.

Mix the onion, garlic, egg yolk, salt, and pepper all together with the potato starch. Add the matzo meal and beaten egg whites, continue mixing until all ingredients are nicely mixed together.

Heat about 1/4 inch of oil in a heavy skillet. Drop heaping tablespoons of batter into the oil and fry until golden brown on the bottom. Flip, continue frying until second side is also brown. Remove from heat, drain on paper towels.

Eat and enjoy!


  • Frying oil. Grandma’s recipe calls for corn or peanut oil for frying the latkes, but as The Jew and The Carrot reminds us, these are not the healthiest possible choices. Canola oil is a good alternative.

Glazed Garlic & Honey Chicken Wings

This is a messy dish to eat, but so yummy. Serve it with plain rice and maybe some steamed veggies to make a meal, or alone as an appetizer or party food.

15 chicken wings, trimmed into pieces
1/3 cup soy sauce (I use the reduced sodium version)
3 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup warm water
4 to 6 cloves minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (optional, or add more if you like the heat!)


Whisk the soy, water, and honey in a small bowl until the honey is completely dissolved. (Warm water helps the honey dissolve faster.)

Put a large frying pan (or a wok if you have one) on medium-high heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and ginger and cook for about 15 seconds. Add the wings and cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken skin starts to brown.

Pour in the bowl of liquids and the hot sauce, and turn the heat down to medium-low. Cover and cook roughly 30 minutes, or until the meat on the wings has cooked through. Stir occasionally.

When the chicken is cooked, you’ll want to reduce the sauce down to a glaze. Turn the heat back up to high and cook until the sauce has thickened down to a glaze. You’ll want to stir frequently to make sure nothing burns.

Get a pile of napkins out, serve, and enjoy!

Notes & Substitutions:

  • Powdered garlic and ginger are not good substitutes for fresh. You can skip the ginger entirely if you don’t have fresh, but don’t try substituting powered garlic for the real thing in this dish. It will taste like crap.
  • We often buy whole wings and trim them down to component pieces to save money. The inedible wing tips can be saved and frozen, they are fantastic for making chicken stock.

Cornbread and Sage Dressing

Cornbread and Sage Stuffing

I originally found this dressing recipe on, of all places, the now-defunct site back in the fall of 2000, when Scott and I were getting ready to cook our first big Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve made it pretty much every year since then, although I’ve tweaked it a little over the years to suit my tastes. It’s tasty and not at all difficult; the biggest challenge is the prep time, which can take a while with all the chopping and bread drying.


1 9″ x 9″ cornbread
1 16-ounce loaf sourdough bread
2 cups diced bacon
1 cup diced onion
1 cup shredded carrot
2 tablespoons thinly-sliced fresh sage
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup chicken stock


Preheat oven to 375° F. Cut the cornbread and the sourdough bread into 1/2 inch cubes. Spread onto baking trays and bake for 15 minutes or until the bread has dried out. Set aside in a large mixing bowl.

Cook the bacon in a large frying pan over medium heat until it begins to crisp. Add onions. Cook until the onions soften and start to turn translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the carrots, sage, salt and pepper. Turn heat to low and cook an additional 10 minutes.

Add the stock and the half-and-half to the contents of the pan and stir. This dissipates the heat and breaks up the fat. Then pour the contents of the pan into the mixing bowl and gently mix with the bread cubes until the dressing is moist and well blended. I usually use my hands for this but a large wooden spoon is good too.

Put the mixture into a 13” x 9” x 2” greased baking pan. Cover with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake an additional 15 minutes or until the top is crispy.

Notes & Substitutions:

  • Can be prepared one to two days before and reheated in the oven. Make sure the dressing has reached room temperature before reheating.
  • Cubing and drying the bread can be done a day before and the bread kept, loosely covered, overnight. Use day-old bread for faster drying.
  • If you want to add more turkey flavor, use turkey stock instead of chicken.
  • Substitute 1 teaspoon dried sage for fresh sage if you can’t get fresh.
  • Kosher alternative: use beef bacon instead of pork, and more stock to replace the half-and-half.