Archive for the ‘Recipes’ Category

I love onions! Raw, sautéed, caramelized, yellow, Spanish, Bermuda, Vidalia, Texas Sweets, scallion, pearl, Crimini, Walla Walla…they can do no wrong. In fact, my family gave me the Lithuanian nickname: “Ponas Svogūnas.” (“Mr. Onion.”) I answer to it proudly.

I also love vodka martinis! So if I’m going to buy a top shelf vodka like Stoli Elit or Belvedere, I’m not going to ruin it with jarred cocktail onions, brined with cheap vermouth, found in the bar mixers section of my local supermarket. Who knows how long those nasty things have been sitting on the shelf?

No, I’m going to make my own cocktail onions to enjoy a proper Gibson!

The Gibson martini is simply one with onions instead of olives, and the story of its origin is somewhat unclear. According to one story, it was invented by Charles Dana Gibson, who created the popular Gibson Girl illustrations. Supposedly, he challenged Charley Connolly, the bartender of the private club, The Players, in New York City, to improve on a martini. Connolly simply substituted an onion for the olive and named it after Gibson.

Another story claims a man named Gibson dropped an onion in his water-filled martini glass to differentiate between his own drink and that of his colleagues, who were imbibing heavily.

Some stories about the Gibson don’t even mention an onion. (?)

And yet another story, now considered the more probable one, is that the Gibson martini was invented at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco in the 1890’s by Walter D. K. Gibson. There is documentation as early as 1898 to back that up.

Whatever story you want to believe, the Gibson martini was originally made with gin, not vodka, but that’s strictly a personal preference–and I don’t use any vermouth.

 

 

My first attempt at homemade cocktail onions was not a success. I bought pearl onions and did what the package instructions said: I dropped them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then moved them to ice water to let them cool. Then a gentle squeeze on one end of the onion would make it pop right out of its skin. Easy, right?

Well, it didn’t work out that way. For one thing, the onions got soft…not what I wanted. I had to cut one end of the bulb with a knife. And even then, when I squeezed the onion, the part that popped out was about half the size of the original onion…there was a lot of waste.

 

 

After brining, they tasted OK, but they never had that crisp bite I wanted. They were mushy. I realized that boiling was not the way to go.

 

A lot of waste.

I knew there had to be a better way. Then I discovered already peeled pearl onions at Whole Foods. I have to be honest…I won’t use any other onions now. They’re big, plump, and exactly what I want.

 

Sure, these are much larger than the onions you find in a jar. But tell me how that’s a problem!

 

 

 

1 lb. pearl onions, peeled, ends cut off
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2  cups water
3/4 cup sugar (I like turbinado sugar)
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt (per quart-sized Mason jar)
2 cloves garlic

 

Combine the white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, and peppercorns in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring it to a boil, making sure the sugar dissolves completely. Remove it from the heat.

 

 

Slice the ends off the onions.

I’ve found that if I allow the brining liquid to get inside the onions, especially these larger ones, they’ll get tastier faster…and who doesn’t want that? So I take a thin metal or bamboo barbecue skewer and push it through the center of the top of the onions, all the way through the center of the bottom of the onions. Now there’s a little “tunnel” for that brine to get in, and it can work its magic from the inside out!

Not skewering the onions simply means it’ll take longer for that brine to seep in…but that’s perfectly fine if you want a not-so-briny onion.

 

 

In a quart-sized Mason jar, add the teaspoon of salt and garlic cloves. Pour a little of the hot vinegar liquid in the Mason jar to dissolve the salt. Add the onions to the jar, as tightly as you can, then fill the jar to the top with the vinegar liquid.

Screw the top of the jar on tightly, and turn it upside-down a couple of times to mix everything together. If it looks like the level of the liquid has gone down a bit, open the jar and top it off with the vinegar liquid, then re-seal it.

Let the jar cool to room temperature, then move it to the fridge. You can use the onions as soon as the craving hits you, but they’ll taste better if you give them a few days to a week.

 

 

Many thanks to my friend, Arthur Shapiro, who suggested I write a bit about the origins of the Gibson. Follow Arthur’s blog, “Booze Business,” on Instagram and Facebook. http://www.boozebusiness.com

 

Cheers!

Although we’re about as far away from picking fresh asparagus from my garden as we can be here in Southern New England, once in awhile I give in and buy some at the supermarket. As long as the stalks are nice, green, and thin–I don’t like the fat ones–I’ll buy some to prepare this simple but delicious recipe.
Prepping asparagus is easy, and you don’t need a knife to cut off the woody bottoms of the stalks. Simply bend the stalks at the bottom and they will naturally snap off at the right point.
My daughter loves this dish, and as any parent will tell you, if your kid is craving a dish that has vegetables in it, count yourself lucky–and make it!!
4 mild Italian sausages, sliced into pieces 1/2″ thick
1 lb. penne pasta
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh trumpet mushrooms (white button mushrooms work, too)
2 cups fresh asparagus, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, passed through a garlic press
1 cup homemade chicken broth
6 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Have the pasta water boiling, and add the pasta, cooking until just a bit more undercooked than al dente.
Heat a large pan, and drizzle in some olive oil. Sauté the sausage pieces until browned and cooked through, but not over cooked. Remove the sausages from the pan and place them in a separate bowl. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat left behind in the pan.
Place the pan back on stove and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, and sauté for 10 seconds. Add the sage, and saute for 10 seconds, stirring. Add the chopped mushrooms and saute for a few minutes, then add the chicken broth, and simmer until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Pour the contents of the pan into the bowl with the sausages.
Return the pan to the stove, add a little more olive oil, and on medium heat, sauté the asparagus pieces. Cook them until they are al dente, not too soft. Once the asparagus has reached this stage, return all the contents of the sausage/mushroom bowl to the pan to heat through. Drain the pasta, and add it to the pan as well, combining all the ingredients. If it looks too dry, add a little pasta water to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
Make sure you serve this hot, with grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top, and drizzle lightly over the top with extra virgin olive oil.

 

I’ve had Clams Casino in many different forms. Back when I worked in Italian restaurants in New York, we would make a breadcrumb mixture, press it onto a freshly opened whole clam, and then place a small piece of bacon on top before it went into the oven. It was good, but the clam often stuck to the shell, and many people didn’t want to gulp down a whole clam like that.

 

Oyster knife (left) and a clam knife (right.) Different tools for different jobs.

 

When it was time for me to make my own recipe, I decided that I would chop the clams and mix them into the breadcrumb mix, so that every bite was the same.

 

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion (about a 1/2 an onion)
2 garlic cloves, squeezed through a garlic press
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup unflavored bread crumbs
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly cracked black pepper
2 dozen medium neck clams
1/3 lb. bacon, cut in small squares to fit the clam shells
Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onions, and sauté them until they’re translucent. Add the garlic, and cook for 10 seconds. Add the wine and simmer for a minute. Add the bread crumbs, and stir the mixture until it becomes thicker, like a paste. Add the parsley and oregano. Season with pepper. (There’s going to be plenty of salt in the clam juice and bacon, so no salt is needed.)

The bread crumb mixture.

Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool.
It’s time to open the clams. If you know how to do that, open them over a sieve with a bowl underneath so that the clam meats and juices are captured. Discard any broken shells, but save the good ones.
If you struggle with opening clams, this method makes it a little easier: Bring a large pot of water to boil, and drop the clams into it, about 10 at a time, for 30 seconds. Don’t let them open! Remove the clams with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl to cool. Continue doing this in small batches until all the clams have been in the water. You’ll find this makes opening the clams much easier. Then proceed as above.
Once you’ve shucked all the clams, let the clam juice sit for a bit, so that any grit settles to the bottom of the bowl. Then pour off the clean clam juice and add it to your bread crumb mixture. (Don’t worry if it looks soggy at this point.)

Looking a little soggy, but that’s OK.

I like to hand chop the clam meats instead of using a food processor. You want tasty clam chunks, not too big but not mush. Add the clams to the the bread crumb mix.
At this point, if the clam mix looks very soggy, simply add a little more bread crumb to dry it out.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Line a large baking sheet with foil. Separate the clam shell halves and wash them, making sure you don’t have any shell fragments left in the clam shell.  Fill them with the clam mixture, mounding them slightly, and placing each one on the baking sheet.

Clams and bacon…delicious!

Cut the bacon in small squares to fit the clam shells. Place a small piece of raw bacon on the top of each clam.
Bake until the clams are just cooked through, the topping is golden, and the bacon is cooked, about 30 minutes.

This makes a great appetizer, but it’s hard to just eat a few!

I’m a fan of Berkshire pork, also known as kurobuta pork. It’s a heritage breed with wonderful, tasty “good” fat, which gives the meat fantastic flavor any way you cook it. I get it on line, and keep a stash of cuts (pork belly, pork chops, ribs, etc.) in my freezer.

But I was craving a pork loin the other day, and not having one of those in my arsenal, I searched for one in my local store. I found one that was humanely raised and organic, with a nice layer of fat on top ideal for low-and-slow cooking…certainly worth a try.

There are as many pork rubs out there as there are barbecue fanatics, and nobody has “the best” rub. The best rub is the one you make with the ingredients that you like. So, go with your favorite flavors, and you won’t go wrong.

This time around, I used this combination…

 

 

2 tablespoons Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal. See note below.)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika

 

Combine these in a bowl and set it aside.

 

Not all Kosher salt weighs the same, so equal measurements of different brands will give you different levels of saltiness and different results. The two biggest brands are Morton’s and Diamond Crystal, but Diamond Crystal is less dense…it weighs less than Morton’s. Keep that in mind as you salt your food. That’s why you’ll see Kosher salt measured by weight, not by volume, in many recipes.

I had a 4-lb. pork loin this time. I removed it from its wrapper and placed it in a tray for seasoning. I gently scored the fat cap with a sharp knife so the fat melt while cooking, and so that I could really rub my spice blend into every bit of the meat.

I inserted a meat probe in the deepest part of the loin, so that it would notify me when my pork loin reaches its optimum temperature.

 

The pork loin, probed and ready.

 

I let the meat sit at room temperature for at least an hour, bringing the internal temperature of the meat from 33 to 68 degrees.

I use an electric smoker, so I plugged it in and set the temperature for 250 degrees. I added hickory chips through a side chute, so it smokes the meat while it cooks.

 

In the smoker…

 

It used to be that the recommended minimum cooking temperature for pork was 160 degrees. But today’s pork is different than our mama’s pork, and the current recommended temperature is 145 degrees. Personally, I don’t want to eat pink pork, but I also don’t want to dry it out…so I split the difference: I cook the pork until the thermometer reads 145, then I remove it from the smoker, cover it in foil, and let it rest for 20-30 minutes. In that time, the temperature of the meat still rises a few degrees, and that’s when I’m OK to serve it.

 

I’m notified when the pork reaches the desired temperature.

 

I leave the probe in the pork so I can monitor the temperature while it’s resting. Jumped 1 degree by the time I brought it into the kitchen!

 

Resting, wrapped in foil. My small pork loin went up a total of 4 degrees, to 149. But larger cuts of meat will experience an even bigger temperature jump.

 

Delicious and perfectly smoked!

 

The relatively flat pork loin actually tightened up and became rounder during the smoking/cooking process.

 

 

 

 

I always thought that spaghetti squash was a sort of “gimmick” vegetable. But once I roasted it, I realized just how delicious it could be. And I hit the “squash lottery” this season, when I harvested over a dozen from my garden. Squash is a great lower-carb substitute for pasta in a dish like this.

 

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Cooking them is easy. I wash them, cut them in half, and remove the seeds and membrane with a spoon. I flip them onto their backs, skin side down, and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on them. A little sea salt and pepper, and then I flip them back down, skin side up, on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. Into a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30–40 minutes. When they’re soft to the touch, I remove the sheet pan from the oven, flip them back over again, and let them cool to room temperature. Then I simply scrape out the flesh with a fork, and it comes out in strands, like spaghetti.

 

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While the squash roasts in the oven, I make the meatballs…

 

2 lbs. ground grass-fed beef
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs, cracked and scrambled
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and form them into meatballs. (I like to use an ice cream scoop to make the job easier.)

Place the meatballs on a baking sheet that’s been rubbed with some olive oil. (I usually line the pan with non-stick aluminum foil as well.) Cook the meatballs for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees, until they’ve browned nicely.

 

Meatballs happily cooking low and slow in the rich tomato sauce.

 

As for the sauce…

2 cans (28 oz.) of tomatoes, pureed (preferably San Marzano tomatoes)
olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

In a large pot, sauté the onions in a little olive oil until translucent. Add the pureed tomatoes and cook at medium heat until the foam disappears.

Add all the herbs and spices and mix well. Continue cooking on medium heat, lowering to a simmer if the sauce seems to be boiling too hard.

Add the meatballs to the sauce when they’ve finished cooking. (I like to include all the fat and juices that came out of the meatballs while cooking.)  Make sure all the meatballs are covered with the sauce. Place a lid on the pot, and simmer on low for at least an hour.

 

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Scrape the spaghetti squash and place a mound of it in the center of the serving dish. Top it with the meatballs and sauce. Grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over the top, or do what I did this time, and cut a slab of mozzarella into small cubes and toss that on top. A little sprinkle of oregano and olive oil for good measure on top.

 

Substitutions: If you’re not in the mood for spaghetti squash, it’s safe to say your favorite pasta will work quite well.

This dish is easily made gluten-free simply by using GF breadcrumbs in the meatballs. I like to buy frozen gluten-free bread, like Udi’s, and toast the slices. Then I break them up and toss them in a food processor. In a minute, I have really tasty breadcrumbs that are as good as regular bread.

And if you’re going with pasta, then a GF pasta, like Garofalo, is a delicious gluten-free substitute.

 

 

My dog, Fellow, stood by me in the kitchen while I made this dish. I decided to name it after him. It makes a great Thanksgiving appetizer.

Since the first time I created this dish, I’ve made some improvements. First, a little history…

The original Oysters Rockefeller recipe is a closely guarded secret, created in 1899 at the famous New Orleans restaurant Antoine’s. Jules Alciatore, the son of founder Antoine Alciatore, developed the dish when they had a shortage of escargot, substituting locally available oysters. Antoine’s is still the only place in the world where you can be served the original Oysters Rockefeller recipe.

Search on line for Oysters Rockefeller, and you’ll find hundreds of recipes that claim to be the real thing. Most of them use spinach in the dish. The folks at Antoine’s claim there wasn’t any spinach in the original recipe.

My version, my Oysters Rock-a-Fellow, is a cheesier, gooier version than the original, but I think it’s one you will enjoy. I use larger, meatier oysters like Wellfleets from Cape Cod or local Rhode Island oysters, but use what you like. And, as I show you below, you can make the cheese portion of this dish the day before, saving yourself a lot of work.

 

24 oysters, washed to remove grit
2 cans beer (any extra beer you have is fine)
5 black peppercorns
2 teaspoons salt
2 garlic cloves

Scrub the oysters under cold water to get them clean.

In a large pot, pour in the beer, peppercorns, salt, and garlic cloves, along with enough cold water to fill the pot about halfway. Turn the heat on high and bring the pot to a boil. This liquid will add flavor to the oysters and will further clean the outside of the shells.

The moment you reach a boil, turn the heat to medium and drop in 6 oysters, letting them bathe in the liquid for only 30 seconds. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl to cool. If the oysters open, they’ve been in there too long! You want them to stay closed. Do the same with the rest of the oysters, 6 at a time. Once all the oysters have had their 30 seconds, move the oyster bowl to a cutting board. Discard the liquid in the pot.

Pour Kosher salt onto a sheet pan lined with foil. Once the oysters have cooled enough for you to handle, carefully remove the top shell off each one, and lay them on the bed of salt in the sheet pan, trying not to spill any of the precious oyster liquor inside.

 

Salt holds the oysters in place.

 

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.

 

 

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 cup low-fat milk
salt and pepper
3 cups (tightly packed) fresh arugula, finely chopped, about a 5 oz. container
6 oz. mild cheddar cheese (the white one), grated
6 oz. mozzarella, grated
Fine bread crumbs (Using GF breadcrumbs will keep this dish gluten-free)

 

In a sauce pan, melt the butter and then add the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is translucent.

Add the milk, season with salt and pepper, and then add the arugula a little at a time, letting it wilt before adding more. Use all the arugula.

Once all the arugula is in the saucepan, sprinkle the cheese in a bit at a time, letting it melt, until you’ve used all the cheese: the cheddar and then the mozzarella.

Pour the gooey cheese mix into a lasagna pan, smooth it out with a spatula, and place it in the fridge to cool.

 

 

You can actually do this all the day before, because the cheese mix hardens and becomes easy to cut into cubes with a sharp knife.

 

 

Then simply place a cube of the cheese mix on each oyster…

 

 

…sprinkle a little bread crumb on top…

 

 

…and bake in the 425-degree oven for about 8–10 minutes until it’s golden and bubbly.

 

 

 

Whoever said that cheese and seafood don’t go together, never tried this!

 

I buy Udi’s gluten free frozen bread for my breadcrumbs. I take the loaf, toast the slices, then put them through the food processor. The taste is far better than buying pre-made GF breadcrumbs. Use regular breadcrumbs if you don’t need to worry about gluten.

If you’re really strict about gluten, you can use GF beer in the pot of water or simply eliminate the beer altogether.

 

My Mom loved that nasty, gooey cranberry log that oozes out of the can. It would hit the bowl with a splurt and would wiggle for about an hour. I’m more than happy to avoid that and make this delicious side dish, which has become mandatory at our Thanksgiving table every year…

 

 

 

1 medium-sized butternut squash, washed and peeled with the seeds removed
Olive oil
Salt
1 cup fresh cranberries
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup pumpkin seeds or pepitas
¼ cup sesame seeds
¼ cup maple syrup, more if you like it really sweet

 

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Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Once you’ve washed, peeled and seeded the butternut squash, cut it into ½” chunks. Sprinkle a little olive oil and salt on them and toss them to coat. Then spread the squash cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake them for about 30 minutes or until they’re golden on the edges.

Remove the squash from the oven and pour the cranberries into the hot tray. Mix gently. Pour the squash/cranberry mix into a smaller, deeper baking pan.

Increase the oven to 425.

In a separate bowl, combine the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. Sprinkle the seeds evenly over the squash/cranberry mixture. Drizzle the maple syrup over everything and place the baking pan in the oven. Cook for another 20 minutes, until the seeds have roasted.

 

Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away. Time to talk turkey! No matter what method you prefer to cook your bird, brining it beforehand will make it so much tastier and juicier. You really need to try it…and it’s easy to do.

It’s basic high school science: the brine has a greater concentration of salt and water than the molecules of the protein (in this case, a turkey) that is soaking in it. By simple diffusion, the protein molecules suck up the salty water and keep it. When you cook the meat, some of the water evaporates, but the meat still has far more moisture in it than it would have without the brine soaking, and the result is a moister, more delicious bird.

Some people use giant syringes to inject their turkeys with crazy solutions, but I think that the old way is still the best when it comes to brining. Get a big pot, fill it with the brine, and soak the bird in it. Done.

Here’s my tried-and-true turkey brining recipe. Once the brining is done, you can cook the turkey whatever way you like best. I use a method where I grill it inside a Weber grill with charcoal. It comes out smokey and absolutely amazing. I’ll have that info in my next blog.

You must brine a thawed bird, so use your favorite method to thaw your turkey so that it’s ready on Thanksgiving morning. Brining can take 4 to 6 hours, so start early!

For this recipe, you’ll need a large pot to boil the brine ingredients, and then a larger pot to hold the turkey submerged in the brine. I use a turkey no bigger than 15 lbs. for two main reasons: there are only 3 people in our family, and the Weber grill I use can’t handle anything bigger.

 

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1 gallon of water
2 onions
3 carrots
3 stalks celery
1 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons whole allspice
4 bay leaves
1 gallon of ice water
14–15 lb turkey, thawed

Pour the first gallon of water in a large pot. Quarter the onions, carrots and celery (no need to peel them) and add them to the water. Add the salt, black peppercorns, brown sugar, allspice, and bay leaves.

Let the pot come to a boil for a few minutes. Remove it from the heat and let the brine cool down to room temperature.

Remove the giblets from the thawed turkey and place the bird in a container just big enough to hold it and 2 gallons of liquid.

Pour the now-cooled brine over the turkey, then pour in the gallon of ice water.

 

Make sure the turkey doesn’t float up by placing a plate on top. Put the turkey container in the fridge (or a cold garage or basement) for 4 to 6 hours, flipping the turkey over in the container halfway through.

Drain the turkey, rinsing off any spices that stuck to it, then pat it dry with paper towels. Now it’s ready to cook, using your favorite recipe.

If I’m brining a turkey for Thanksgiving, I do the brining in the morning and the turkey is ready to cook by early afternoon. And grilling it on a Weber grill only takes a couple of hours. It’s fast, requires no basting, and is absolutely delicious! That’s next time…

 

 

My dog, Fellow, is so used to my crazy work schedule, that he really gets unhappy if I miss his 4AM and 4PM feeding times. That creates a problem on weekends, when I’d like to get a little extra sleep…”little” being the operative word, since he lets me “push it” to about 5:30AM before he really starts to whine.

This morning, when we set the clocks back an hour, that meant I got up at 4:30 instead of 5:30. There was no way I could fall back asleep, so I did the next best thing: I cooked.

Making koldūnai is a labor of love…one that takes time. And I had that this morning…in spades!

 

 

I think I spent half of my childhood in the kitchen, watching my Mom and grandmother make koldūnai (kohl-doo-nayh), the Lithuanian version of a pierogi, by hand at lightning speed. They would roll a simple dough into a log about 1″ in diameter, then cut it into 1″ pieces, twirling each piece between their fingers to make a flat pancake, filling each with a small spoonful of meat or mushrooms, then fold it over, crimping the edges to make a crescent-shaped dumpling. It blew my mind that they could crank out over a hundred of these little masterpieces in no time, placing them on a cookie sheet and freezing them until it was time to cook.

 

 

Always on the lookout to make my job easier, I discovered a new tool a couple of years ago: a device that makes faster work of koldūnai production, though they do come out much smaller. It’s a ravioli maker, and the Lithuanian purists I chatted with on social media didn’t like it. I was willing to give it a try if it meant that I could save myself a lot of time.

 

 

Simply roll out a sheet of dough on top of it.

 

 

Add a spoon of filling (in this case, ground beef) in each area.

 

 

Then roll out another sheet of dough on top of that and press down with a rolling pin.

 

Voila! Out pop 37 mini-koldūnai at once!

 

I first tried it with gluten-free dough, with limited success. The dough needs to have elasticity for the device to work properly and that’s something that is sorely lacking in any gluten-free dough I’ve made over the years. Gluten-free dough tends to dry out quickly and simply break rather than bend. But, that said, I managed to make a decent amount of them so that my wife, who maintains a gluten-free diet, could enjoy them, too.

 

Always great to have a helper in the kitchen!

 

One of the main reasons why I prefer Lithuanian koldūnai over Polish pierogis is the filling. For me, standard pierogi fillings like potatoes, cheese, and sauerkraut just don’t cut it. My Mom would mix ground beef with chopped onions sautéed in butter, a couple of eggs, and milk crackers soaked in milk. She’d add salt and pepper, then spoon that mixture into her koldūnai.

The other stuffing, usually reserved for special holidays like Christmas Eve and Easter, was made from mushrooms. Italy may lay claim to the porcini, but the fact of the matter is, Lithuania is porcini heaven. And when they’re dried and reconstituted, their incredible flavor is so intense, you don’t need many of them to flavor a large amount of regular button mushrooms. We’d get our dried boletes from relatives in Lithuania every year. Mom would place a handful in some boiling water and let them steep until they swelled up and could easily be chopped and added to the other mushrooms. She’d then pour the mushroom liquid into the pan as well, not wasting a bit of that magical porcini flavor. The mushrooms were simply sautéed in butter, cooled, then used to fill the koldūnai.

 

I found that my Mom’s log method was too much work. I roll the dough out into a sheet with a rolling pin, then cut circles with a glass. Yes, that’s mac-and-cheese in the forefront.

 

A few years ago, I decided it was time to try my hand at making koldūnai. As I recall, my Mom simply mixed water with flour to make the dough, kneaded it into a log, and off she went. I decided to go with the rolling pin and glass cutting method in addition to the ravioli maker, because I wanted to compare the classic crescent-shaped koldūnai with the newer mini’s.

The biggest challenges I had with making my own koldūnai was my own clumsiness and lack of experience. Once I got the hang of it, things moved along steadily, and it didn’t take long for me to make a decent batch–not all perfect, but not bad for a first try.

 

The rolling pin method.

 

This time around, I made four kinds of koldūnai: traditional (ground beef as well as mushroom) and non-traditional (mac & cheese and pulled pork.)  Patty’s Pierogis, a restaurant in nearby Fall River, Massachusetts, and featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” is where my daughter first had mac & cheese pierogis. She was instantly hooked and begs for them every year.

Here’s my beef recipe…

1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 pat of butter
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I use gluten-free)

I make my gluten-free breadcrumbs with Udi’s frozen GF bread that I toast, then chop in a food processor. I think it tastes better than store-bought GF breadcrumbs in a can, and it tastes as good as regular breadcrumbs.

Finely chop the onion and sauté it in the butter until translucent. Let it cool, then add it to 1 lb. of thawed ground beef. Add the egg and the breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Mix the ingredients thoroughly and keep the meat in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

 

Two pots of boiling salted water: one for the meat-filled koldūnai, and one for the mac-and-cheese filled koldūnai.

Two pots of boiling salted water: one for the meat-filled koldūnai, and one for the mac-and-cheese filled koldūnai.

 

In my childhood home, you cannot possibly serve koldūnai without sour cream on the side and without spirgučiai (spir-guh-chay), chopped and fried bacon and onions that are sprinkled on top.

1 lb. bacon, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped

In a large pan, fry the chopped bacon until it’s almost crisp. Never drain the fat! Add the chopped onions and cook until they are soft. Set aside.  (My Mom always kept a stash of spirgučiai in a container in the fridge, and sprinkled them on anything and everything.)

 

duni 4

Making the dough is simple.

2 cups all-purpose flour (gluten-free or regular)
1 cup water

I don’t use salt in the dough because I boil the koldūnai in salted water later.

Combine the ingredients in a bowl, mixing with your hands. Keep adding flour in small amounts until the dough isn’t wet and sticky. When it forms a nice ball, remove it from the bowl and place it on a floured surface and knead it a bit more. Cut the ball into quarters, and work with these smaller pieces of dough.

If you’re using the ravioli maker method, each quarter will  make one sheet of dough for the top or bottom of the ravioli maker. If making them by hand, each sheet will give you about 8 crescent-shaped koldūnai.

For the rolling-pin method, roll each quarter out until the dough is about 1/8″ thick. Cut circles out of the dough using a cookie cutter, rocks glass, or whatever else you have handy. Add about a teaspoonful of filling in the center of the dough, then fold the edges over and pinch them with your fingers. Flip it over and pinch again, making sure none of the filling seeps out. A tight edge means the koldūnai won’t break open when you put them in boiling water.

 

Who knew a rocks glass had more uses than just to hold a great Manhattan?

 

Some stuffed with mac and cheese!

 

I recently discovered these “pierogi makers.” You lay the dough in them, add your filling, and then close them. They automatically crimp the edges for you.

 

I always double-check the crimped edges, because your koldūnai will fall apart in the boiling water if you don’t seal them well!

 

Place the koldūnai on a sheet pan dusted with flour, and when you’re done, place the sheet pan in the freezer.

 

Ready for the freezer!

 

Sometimes the chef gets punchy after making koldūnai all day long!

 

Get a large pot of salted water boiling. Drop the koldūnai in gently, being careful not to overcrowd them. If the dough is thin, the koldūnai will be ready when they float up to the surface. A thicker dough will need longer cooking. The best way to know if they’re done is by taking one out, cutting it open and having a look (and taste!)

When plating, sprinkle generously with spirgučiai, and serve with sour cream on the side.

 

 

My conclusion: When all is said and done, the old ways are still the best. Although the ravioli maker did a good job, in many ways it was just as time-consuming. And the finished mini-raviolis did not have the dough-to-filling ratio that I find so satisfying with classically made koldūnai. We sampled both side-by-side, and there really was a difference. I’m sticking with the classic methods for now! Mom will be proud.

 

The hand-painted Christmas trees in the photos are from our friend, Don Cadoret, an artist here in Tiverton, RI. Check out all of his work at: http://www.doncadoret.net.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Much like my radio job, I don’t mind doing requests! So thanks for asking for a re-post of this one. It’s a great cocktail to make when entertaining guests for the holidaze!
At first, it seemed almost silly to try to make one…but the classic James Bond martini has always fascinated me. I’m not talking about the clichéd Sean Connery “vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.”  I’m talking about the real James Bond martini, which appeared in Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel “Casino Royale” and only appeared in the most recent “Casino Royale” motion picture starring Daniel Craig.
Bondtini
To quote the novel:
‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’ ‘Oui, monsieur.’ ‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s (gin), one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.  Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?’ ‘Certainly, monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleasant with the idea. ‘Gosh that’s certainly a drink,’ said Leiter. 
Bond laughed. ‘When I’m … er … concentrating.’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.’ 
He watched carefully as the deep glass became frosted with the pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising of the shaker. He reached for it and took a long sip. 
‘Excellent,’ he said to the barman, ‘but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.’ 
Bond named this drink the Vesper martini, after the character Vesper Lynd, portrayed by Ursula Andress in the 1967 adaptation, and Eva Green in the 2006 adaptation of “Casino Royale.”
My version of this classic drink remains true to the original, though I’ve changed brands due to personal preference. In the novel, Bond just asks for “vodka.” (Of course, this was back in the 1950’s when we didn’t have hundreds of brands to choose from!) My choice for best-bang-for-the-buck grain vodka is Tito’s. Made from corn, it has just enough of an edge, which is what this drink needs.
Bond asks for Gordon’s gin. I’m partial to Hendrick’s for this application. Again, in the 50’s, what good British agent wouldn’t drink Gordon’s?
And the original Kina Lillet had its formula changed in the 1980’s to keep up with the times by reducing the quinine, which made it bitter. The French aperitif wine, Lillet, is today’s version: a blend of wine grapes, oranges, orange peels and quinine. Lillet is not a vermouth, though you’ll find it in the vermouth section of your favorite liquor store. Some aficionados claim the martini is just not the same without the original Kina Lillet formulation, but I find that the drink works just fine for me.
ingredients again
So…measurements true to Bond:
3 oz. Hendrick’s gin
1 oz. Tito’s vodka
1/2 oz. Lillet
I prefer combining these over ice in a cocktail shaker, and I stir, not shake. I strain it into a chilled martini glass and I’m happy with the lemon peel…but happier with three olives instead.
Cheers!
Bondtini2
A side note: the correct pronunciation of Lillet is Lih-LAY. Grammatically in French, the double-l would make it sound like Lih-YAY. So to keep that from happening, they spelled it Lilet for a while until the French were used to the correct pronunciation, then they went back to Lillet on the bottle.