Posts Tagged ‘GF’

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like hot dogs and Slim Jims, jerky is one of those “mystery meats” we love but don’t really know how it’s made or what part of the animal it comes from. It’s also the only thing my nieces and my co-workers want from me, so I always make huge batches!
Really excellent beef jerky is a rare treat, and once you have it, you will never go back to that rancid, preservative-filled dog meat you find in a bag at the supermarket. And the best part is: it’s easy to make.
Shop around for a really nice slab of London broil or similar cut. You don’t need to buy an expensive piece of grass-fed beef, but the better the meat, the better the jerky. Remove all the gristle and fat that may be on the meat and then slice it against the grain and on a diagonal, into 1/4″ thick slices. Toss all the meat in a Ziploc bag. Once you’ve done that, all you need to do is make the marinade, marinate the beef overnight, and then dry it the next day. Your final product will be a flavorful beef jerky that is so good, you’ll find it very hard to stop eating it…or to share it.
If you use gluten-free soy sauce and teriyaki sauce (La Choy is the brand I use, found in any supermarket), this recipe can be considered gluten-free. Be careful: regular soy sauce, and even some tamari sauces, have wheat in them. Read the label!
If you have friends that hunt and you can get hold of wild venison, not the farmed stuff, this recipe makes fantastic venison jerky!
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1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated garlic
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh minced peeled ginger
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup teriyaki sauce (I use La Choy)
1 cup soy sauce (I use La Choy)
8 lbs. raw, lean beef, like London broil, cut into 1/4″ thick diagonal slices, against the grain of the meat
Combine all the ingredients except the meat in a large bowl. Whisk it well. Place the meat in a large Ziploc bag, pour the marinade inside, seal it, and refrigerate it overnight. Squish the bag around once in a while, to make sure all the meat surfaces make contact with the marinade. Keep the bag in a bowl to prevent any accidental spillage in your fridge!
The next day, pour off the marinade and discard it. Using a food dehydrator, dry the meat by laying strips in a single layer. You can also dry them in a 140 degree oven on racks slightly elevated off a baking sheet. Drying could take several hours to half a day, depending on how dry and chewy you like your jerky, and how thickly you sliced it.
Jerky in the dehydrator.

Jerky in the dehydrator.

This recipe makes a lot of jerky, but it stores really well in the freezer. I put small amounts into individual freezer bags, then place all of them in one large freezer bag. Thaw as needed.

As a teenager growing up on Long Island, I worked long hours at a local Italian restaurant called Pizza City East in Plainview. (The original Pizza City was in Ozone Park, Queens.) Though the pay sucked, I made some important friendships that have lasted to this day. I also learned many Italian cooking basics: how to open clams for red and white clam sauce, the secrets of great pizza dough, the art of a perfect espresso, and how to make massive quantities of baked ziti.

When I got older and I shared an apartment with my buddy, Don, we would regularly invite a large crowd of people over for a party, and a huge tray of baked ziti was an inexpensive and hugely popular way to feed a crowd that was doing some serious drinking.

The basic ingredients of baked ziti are the same as lasagna, the main difference being the wetness factor. If you make lasagna too wet, the thing will fall apart when you try to slice it. But baked ziti is meant to be sloppy, and it actually shines in its incredible gooiness!

My baked ziti consists of 2 sauces (a meat sauce and a bechamel sauce) and 4 cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, and Parmigiano Reggiano) using pasta that is boiled much firmer than al dente. Technically, I like to use penne, not ziti. It’s firmer, and really works well with this recipe. And there are plenty of great pasta choices out there for gluten-free diets. Our favorite brand of GF pasta is Garofalo.

 

Gooey and delicious!

Meat Sauce…
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 lb. grass-fed ground beef or pastured pork, or a combination of both
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil for sautéing

 

Heat a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the onions until translucent. I finely chop the carrots by peeling them all the way down until there’s nothing but a pile of peeled pieces, then chopping them up so small, they almost melt into the sauce. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beef (or pork) and cook the meat until it browns. Add the parsley, oregano, basil, salt and pepper and mix well.

Empty the can of tomatoes into a blender and blend it until smooth. Add this to the pan and mix well.

Cook the meat sauce for about 10 minutes, then remove it from the heat and set it aside.

 

Bechamel sauce…
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoon all-purpose flour (I use Cup4Cup flour to make it gluten-free)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups 2% milk

 

Bechamel is a basic white sauce. It adds a wonderful creaminess to lasagna or baked ziti.

Melt the butter in a saucepan under medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until you’ve combined the butter and flour and have a light roux.

Add the milk, and keep whisking, making sure you don’t get any lumps in the sauce. Season with the salt and pepper.

Keep whisking until the sauce thickens. Once it does, remove it from the heat and set it aside.

Beautiful baked ziti!

 

12 oz. small pasta, like ziti or penne
4 slices provolone cheese (about 4 oz.)
ricotta cheese (about 8 oz.)
mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 8 oz.)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

For baked ziti, use a deeper pan than you would for lasagna, about 4″ deep.

Take several large spoonfuls (about half) of the meat sauce and the béchamel sauce and mix them together in the pan.

Boil the pasta in a pot of salty boiling water until very firm…firmer than al dente. Drain the pasta and pour it into the pan with the sauces. Mix really well.

Tear the slices of provolone and add them to the pan, mixing them in. Mix in the ricotta cheese, and handful of the mozzarella, and all the Parmigiano Reggiano, stirring really well to get everything mixed together.

If there’s still room in the pan, keep adding equal parts meat sauce and béchamel sauce until you’ve used them up.

Smooth the top of the ziti mix flat with the back of a large spoon, then sprinkle the remaining mozzarella evenly over the top. Sprinkle a little oregano on top, and place the pan in the oven to bake for 30 minutes, or until the mozzarella on top is a beautiful golden brown.

 

Baked ziti, before baking.

 

 

The best mac and cheese ever: baked ziti!

 

Of course, when you’re cooking, there’s always someone hanging around to grab a taste of the baked ziti before it goes in the oven…

 

 

 

 

 

I really love the deep flavor of soy sauce and the sweetness of hoisin on poultry. Peking duck is the best example of this, but since I live in Rhode Island, I don’t get a chance to jump in the car and drive to Chinatown in Boston or New York at the drop of a hat. I had to come up with a plan B…and a good plan B!

I found it while looking through an old Chinese cookbook I had bought many years ago. Written by legendary NY Times food critic Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee, “The Chinese Cookbook” has become my bible for all of my Asian dishes.

I use chicken instead of duck. It’s cheaper, easier to find, and I can easily buy a whole pasture-raised chicken from local farms here in Rhode Island. But it is just as delicious.

As long as you use gluten-free soy sauce and hoisin sauce (La Choy and Kikkoman make them and they’re found in just about any supermarket), this recipe is gluten-free.

 

Cantonese chicken

 

1 whole chicken, about 6 lbs., or 2 smaller chickens (pictured)
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 teaspoons Chinese five spice powder
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
6 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil

 

Remove all the giblets from the chicken and discard. Rub the soy sauce first all over the chicken. (The chicken will absorb the flavors better if you do it before you rub the bird with the oil.) Then rub the peanut oil all over the chicken.

Combine the Chinese five spice, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl. Season the entire chicken, including inside the cavity, with this mixture.

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the chicken in a pan lined with aluminum foil (cleanup will be easier) and bake.

Meanwhile, combine the hoisin sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl. When the chicken is about 15 minutes away from being done, brush it with the hoisin/sesame oil mixture. Cook it another 15 minutes until the chicken has a nice dark glaze. Don’t let it burn!

Let it rest about 15 minutes before carving.

 

It’s Wednesday. You’ve got time to go to the supermarket and buy what you need to make this recipe and the be the hero of the weekend. Seriously, it’s that good!
This is not only our family’s favorite pancake recipe, but it’s the one I always make when guests are spending the night. They are absolutely delicious–the pancakes, not the guests– (throw some bacon on the side and it’s great for hangovers!) and unlike any other pancakes you’ve had.
My wife maintains a gluten-free diet, so I needed to make changes in my original recipe, but my favorite go-to all-purpose GF flour, “Cup 4 Cup,” worked so well in this recipe, there was no difference in taste or texture. Now this is the only way we make ’em and no one notices the difference!
 image
1 cup all-purpose flour (or Cup 4 Cup original multi-purpose flour)
1 1/2 cups stone-ground yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons organic cane sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk (or 1 1/2 cups milk and the juice of 1 large lemon)
zest of 1 organic lemon
1 large egg
3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, slightly cooled
1–2 teaspoons avocado oil
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, preferably wild, rinsed and dried
Whisk the flour, corn meal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl
to combine.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg, lemon zest, and melted butter into the buttermilk to combine.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients in the bowl. Pour in the milk mixture and
whisk very gently until just combined. Do not over mix. A few lumps are OK.
Heat non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon of oil and use a brush to coat the skillet
bottom evenly. Pour 1/4 cup of the batter into 3 spots on the skillet. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the
blueberries over each pancake. Cook the pancakes until large bubbles begin to appear,
about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Using a thin, wide spatula, flip the pancakes and cook until they’re golden
brown on the other side, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes longer.
Chow down immediately!
image

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 last year: 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 Lithuanian koldūnai beat 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.

I keep all my fillings gluten-free, so I can use them in the GF as well as regular koldūnai. There’s no difference in the taste. Gluten-free mac-and-cheese is easily found in a box in supermarkets everywhere. 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.

Finely chop the onion and saute 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. Using a rocks glass as your cutter, cut circles out of the dough. Add a small spoonful 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!

 

Place the koldūnai on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, and when you’re done, place the sheet pan in 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a teenager growing up on Long Island, I worked long hours at a local Italian restaurant called Pizza City East in Plainview. (The original Pizza City was in Ozone Park, Queens.) Though the pay sucked, I made some important friendships that have lasted to this day. I also learned many Italian cooking basics: how to open clams for red and white clam sauce, the secrets of great pizza dough, the art of a perfect espresso, and how to make massive quantities of baked ziti.

The basic ingredients of baked ziti are the same as lasagna, and I make one or the other depending on my mood or what I’ve got in the cupboard. I also like to make my lasagna a little dryer, where baked ziti shines in its incredible gooiness.

My lasagna usually consists of 2 sauces (a meat sauce and a bechamel sauce) and 4 cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, and Parmigiano Reggiano) using pasta that is boiled much firmer than al dente. I like real pasta, not the no-boil sheets, because I think the flavor is better. I’ve tried the no-boils, and I’ve found that they don’t cook evenly. Sometimes you get a nice soft bite and other times it’s completely raw and pasty. There are plenty of great brand choices for lasagna sheets these days, and that includes gluten-free varieties.

lasagna

 

Meat Sauce…
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 lb. grass-fed ground beef or pastured pork, or a combination of both
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil for sautéing

 

Heat a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the onions until translucent. I finely chop the carrots by peeling them all the way down until there’s nothing but a pile of peeled pieces, then chopping them up so small, they almost melt into the sauce. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beef (or pork) and cook the meat until it browns. Add the parsley, oregano, basil, salt and pepper and mix well.

Empty the can of tomatoes into a blender and blend it until smooth. Add this to the pan and mix well.

Cook the meat sauce for about 10 minutes, then remove it from the heat and set it aside.

Hint: I’ve found that no-boil pasta sheets suck up a lot more moisture than already-cooked pasta, so I make my sauce a bit runnier than usual when using the sheets.

 

Bechamel sauce…
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoon all-purpose flour (I use Cup4Cup flour to make it gluten-free)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups 2% milk

 

Bechamel is a basic white sauce. It adds a wonderful creaminess to my lasagna or baked ziti.

Melt the butter in a saucepan under medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until you’ve combined the butter and flour and have a light roux.

Add the milk, and keep whisking, making sure you don’t get any lumps in the sauce. Season with the salt and pepper.

Keep whisking until the sauce thickens. Once it does, remove it from the heat and set it aside.

 

A special 4-cheese all-bechamel sauce lasagna, before cooking.

 

I made 2 different versions this last time. Having tomato allergies and on a gluten-free diet, my wife got a 4-cheese all-bechamel gluten-free lasagna all to herself. It baked up nicely.

4-cheese gluten-free lasagna, after baking.

 

12 oz. lasagna pasta sheets (boiled or no-boil)…or 12 oz. small pasta, like ziti, elbows or penne
4 slices provolone cheese (about 4 oz.)
ricotta cheese (about 4 oz.)
mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced (about 4 oz.)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

If you’re using regular pasta, boil the lasagna sheets in a pot of salty boiling water until very firm…firmer than al dente. Drain the pasta and run cold water over it to stop the cooking process. The pasta will want to stick to itself, so work quickly. Adding a drop of olive oil can help.

Lay a thin layer of the meat sauce at the bottom of the lasagna pan, which will keep the lasagna from sticking. Then start your layers: a layer of pasta, a thin layer of the Béchamel sauce, the 4 slices of Provolone, a layer of pasta, a layer of the meat sauce, small teaspoon-sized dollops of the ricotta, another layer of pasta (press down occasionally to remove air bubbles), another thin layer of Béchamel, the Parmigiano Reggiano, more pasta, more meat sauce, etc….

Make it as thick as you like. I like to cover the final layer of pasta with the meat sauce and then finish the dish with the mozzarella, sprinkling a touch of oregano on top.

Place the lasagna pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly. Shut the oven off, but leave the pan in for another 10 minutes, then serve.

The baked ziti version, using elbow pasta this time, before baking.

 

If you’re making a baked ziti version, your job is a lot easier. Take the cooked, drained pasta and pour it into the pan. Add the meat sauce and some bechamel sauce. Stir in the ricotta, torn up pieces of the provolone, grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and even a few small chunks of mozzarella. Mix it well. Then place more mozzarella on the top, and bake it in the oven for about 30 minutes.

The best mac and cheese ever: the baked ziti version, substituting elbow pasta for lasagna sheets.

 

Of course, when you’re cooking, there’s always someone hanging around to grab a taste of the baked ziti before it goes in the oven…

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not a big beer drinker, but I do like to cook with it. One of my favorite things in the world is beer-battered fish. And it doesn’t have to be greasy if you do it right. (Scroll down to the bottom to see how to make this gluten-free!)

When you fry at home, you can do things the right way: start with clean oil, heat it to the right temperature, and then throw it out when it’s done. When you go to a fast-food place, that oil has sat there all day (if not all week)…it’s been used hundreds of times…it absorbs the flavors of whatever was fried before your food got dropped in there…and quite frankly, it’s beat up.

What got me started with this whole beer-batter-at-home process was stumbling upon some fresh local cod at my neighborhood seafood store: Bridgeport Seafood in Tiverton, Rhode Island. My buddy, Dave, said that the cod came from just off Sakonnet Point that day. Good enough for me!

I always try to fry with healthy oils. For me, that means olive oil, avocado oil, or, pork lard from heritage breed pigs. But none of those choices are cheap. So I allow myself to “cheat” when deep-frying and I use peanut oil or vegetable oil. Using a thermometer, I heat it to 350 degrees. I always watch the temp of my oil…it can get too hot very quickly…and by the same token, the temp can drop quickly if I throw in a whole bunch of fish into the pot all at once. Using one of those deep fryers made for home use is also a good way of cooking and controlling temperature. I’m careful not to put too much oil in my pot (halfway up is fine) or it could spill over, since oil expands as it gets hotter.

Here’s all you need for great beer batter:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur)
12 oz. bottle of beer (Sam Adams Boston Lager works for me)
1 teaspoon salt

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and beat until smooth. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 3 hours.

Cut your fish into pieces that aren’t too big and will fit in your pot easily. The thickness of the fish may vary and so may the cooking times of each piece. When the oil reaches 350, simply dip the fish into the batter and let as much batter drip off as you like before you carefully place the fish into the oil. Fry until golden brown.

 

beer batter

 

What good is fried fish without tartare sauce, right? Don’t tell me you’re using the stuff in a jar after frying the fish yourself!

1/2 cup mayo (I always use Hellmann’s)
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of Frank’s Red Hot cayenne sauce
Grinding of black pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped capers
1 teaspoon lemon zest, using micro plane zester

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, cover with plastic and refrigerate for an hour before using.

 

To make beer-batter gluten-free, substitute GF flour for the all-purpose flour. (I like Cup4Cup.) And now, you can get gluten-free beer that tastes pretty damn good. Use it instead of regular beer, and you’ve got a beer batter that’s gluten-free!

There’s something magical about a simple plate of spaghetti and meatballs. When my parents took me to an Italian restaurant as a child, a plate of spaghetti and meatballs made me feel like the luckiest kid on the planet. And even now, when I prepare a plate of spaghetti and meatballs for my daughter, she can’t wait to sit down at the dinner table. She’s so busy shoveling the food into her mouth, she can’t even speak. I just get a quick thumbs-up between bites…and breaths!

 

meatballs

 

Great meatballs start with great meat. I always use 80/20 grass-fed beef. I don’t use a ton of breadcrumbs as filler. And the tomato sauce is homemade as well, from canned tomatoes. I start with the sauce…

 

B.F.I.M. SAUCE

Inspired by a lovely but large Italian lady I once knew, my Big Fat Italian Mama sauce works well with this hearty dish.

 

 

1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, through a press
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
10 cups ground and peeled tomatoes…or 3 cans (28 oz.) tomatoes pureed in food processor
2 teaspoons each: dried oregano, basil and parsley
3/4 teaspoon each anise seed and fennel seed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves
1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

 

Heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the onions. Cook until the onions are translucent, then add the garlic. Stir for 10 seconds.

Add the tomatoes and cook on high until the orange foam disappears, stirring frequently. Don’t let it burn.

Add the oregano, basil, parsley, anise seed, fennel seed, salt and pepper, bay leaves and tomato paste. Allow the sauce to just come to a boil so that the tomato paste reaches optimum thickening power.

Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for at least an hour, until the sauce reaches the desired consistency. Stir often.

 

While the sauce is cooking, I start the meatballs…

 

 

2 lbs. grass-fed ground beef
1 cup plain breadcrumbs (gluten-free breadcrumbs work well, too)
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs, cracked and scrambled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Mix all the ingredients, except the olive oil, thoroughly but gently in a large bowl. Don’t overwork it.

Pour some olive oil a medium-hot pan (don’t let it burn), make the meatballs, and sear them on all sides until brown.

When the meatballs are nice and brown, place them into the pot of sauce, making sure they are covered. Pour all the little bits and the olive oil from the pan into the sauce as well! Great flavor there.

Cover the pot and cook the meatballs in the sauce on low for a few hours.

Serve the meatballs and sauce over your favorite pasta, and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

 

Making this dish gluten-free is easy: use gluten-free pasta (we love the products from Garofalo) and use GF breadcrumbs in the meatballs. I prefer to buy gluten-free loaves of bread, toasting them, letting the slices cool, then tossing them in a food processor to make breadcrumbs. The flavor is as good as regular breadcrumbs!

 

Yes, you can. Wouldn’t make sense to write a blog about it otherwise, right?

They key ingredient in making a good fritter batter is beer. But up until recently, there weren’t many gluten-free beers to choose from…and the ones that were out there tasted like crap. All that has changed.

Now you can pretty much find a gluten-free craft beer in every state, and there are several regional gluten-free beers as well. Easy enough to find: just go to a good beer store and ask. They almost always carry a couple of brands.

Gluten-free beers can be divided into 2 types: truly gluten-free: brewed with gluten-free ingredients and safe for Celiacs to drink…and gluten-reduced: beers that are brewed with ingredients containing gluten, then had an enzyme added to reduce  the gluten. These are fine for those, like my wife, that have an intolerance to gluten, but are not Celiac. Read the labels!

 

The beer that I used for my recipe is a beer that they say  is “crafted to remove gluten,” meaning there’s still a small amount left in there.

Ultimately, if gluten is not an issue for you, follow the recipe at the bottom of this page. It’s my original, and not only uses a tasty lager full of gluten, but also a special fritter flour, which can be found in many stores.

However, if you have to “live the gluten-free live,” and you’ve told yourself you can never have another fritter, I have good news for you: you can…and they’re delicious! This is a large batch, so feel free to reduce it if needed.

 

In making this recipe, I tested 3 types of gluten-free flour: Cup4Cup all-purpose flour, Bob’s Red Mill GF Baking Flour, and a Canadian brand (not available here yet.) Cup4Cup (far left) was the clear winner for taste and texture of the fritter.

1 lb. all-purpose gluten-free flour (I like Cup4Cup)
2 lbs. frozen or fresh mussels
1/2 cup (or more) gluten-reduced lager beer (I use Omission)
oil for frying (I stay away from canola, but use what you like)

 

Pour an inch or two of water in the bottom of a pot, and place a strainer on top. Pour the mussels, fresh or frozen, onto the strainer and cover the pot. Set the heat on high and steam the mussels until they’re cooked, about 5 minutes. If you’re using fresh mussels, throw out any of the ones that didn’t open. Frozen mussel meats (without the shell) are also available in many areas. They work with this method, too.

 

Steamed New Zealand green-lipped mussels. Available frozen in many stores. Get the plain ones, not the ones that already come with sauce.

Remove the meats from the mussels, and toss them in a food processor. Give them a quick chop…not too fine, because you want to see and taste them in the fritter.

Save the “mussel juice,” the water in the bottom of the pot. It’s got lots of mussel flavor.

Place the flour in a large bowl. Add the chopped mussels. Add a 1/2 cup of the mussel juice and a 1/2 cup of the beer. Mix thoroughly, using a fork or your hands, until you get a batter that’s a bit gooey, but not really wet. You might need to keep adding small amount of broth, beer or flour to get just the right consistency. Once you’ve done that, let the batter rest for 10 or 15 minutes. Keep it at room temperature, and do not stir again! If you need to wait a while before frying, cover the bowl with a wet towel.

In a heavy pan or a fryer, heat the oil to 350 degrees.

 

Once the oil is hot, take small meatball-sized globs in your hands and gently drop them into the oil. Don’t fry too many at once or the oil temperature will drop too quickly. Fry them until they’re golden brown and cooked all the way through. Drain the fritters on paper towels, and season them immediately with salt and pepper.

The dipping sauce recipe I have listed at the bottom is not gluten-free. But most tartare-type sauces usually are, and are equally delicious.

Of course, you can make fritters with anything, from mussels to shrimp to lobster!

 

You’d never know they were gluten-free!

 

Here’s the original recipe, full of glorious gluten!

It was a fall afternoon in Newport, Rhode Island, at the now-defunct Newport Yachting Center’s annual Oyster Festival. We’re gorging on freshly shucked oysters and clams, boiled shrimp, and…what have we here? I never heard of a mussel fritter before, but once I took a bite, there was no turning back.

They couldn’t be easier to make, but it is crucial to have the right fritter batter. And that starts with a Rhode Island product called Drum Rock fritter mix. If you live in New England, you can find it in just about any seafood department at Whole Foods. If you live further away, you can check out their website (www.drumrockproducts.com) or try your luck with a local brand of fritter mix.

 

fritter ingredients

 

If you’re using fresh mussels, be sure to clean them well and remove the beards. Steam them in a pot over a small amount of water. As they open, they will release their flavorful juices and you want to save every drop of that broth for the fritters. Here in New England, frozen mussel meats are available in some seafood stores. All you need to do is thaw them, steam them saving the broth, and you’re ready to go.

For the fritters:
1 lb. fritter mix
2 cups cooked mussel meats
1/2 cup mussel broth (saved from steaming mussels)
1/4 to 1/2 cup good quality beer (I use Sam Adams Boston Lager)
Oil for frying (I don’t use canola oil)

 

Steam the mussel meats until they’re just cooked. Remove the mussel meats, and reserve 1/2 cup of the broth. Pulse the mussel meats in a food processor, but leave ’em chunky…or chop by hand.

Put the fritter mix in a large bowl. Add the mussel meats, mussel broth, and beer. Stir gently until just mixed. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes and do not stir again. (If you’ve got guests coming, you can prepare up to this part ahead of time, covering the bowl with a wet towel, and leaving it at room temperature.)

Using a thermometer, heat the oil in a deep pan to 350 degrees, and using a small spoon or scoop, drop the fritters in the hot oil, turning gently, cooking 3 to 4 minutes until golden.

Drain them on paper towels, and season with salt and pepper immediately. Serve right away!

 

IMG_3043

 

An easy, delicious dipping sauce:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Ponzu sauce

The perfect dipping sauce for these mussel fritters is made from two ingredients: mayo and Ponzu sauce, a citrus-based soy sauce. Combine both ingredients in a bowl. Keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.