Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Finger Food – Tortellini with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto
Finger Food – Tortellini with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

Well, you really should use toothpicks, not fingers, to pluck these toothsome morsels from platter to palate. Even so, it is perfect crowd-pleasing finger food.

People of all ages go crazy for these pizza-flavored bites of plump, cheese-stuffed pasta pillows flecked with a flavorful sauce made of sun-dried tomatoes, basil, pepperoni, and fennel seeds. This is equally good served warm, room temperature or cold.

Tortellini with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
Adapted from a pasta salad recipe from
The Nantucket Open House Cookbook

2 pounds of three-cheese tortellini
4 ounces pepperoni, cut into small dice
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 jar (7 oz) sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
1 1/2 cups olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Cook the tortellini according to the package directions until just tender. Drain well.

Prepare the pesto: Place pepperoni, mustard, garlic, fennel seed, and sun-dried tomatoes (with their oil) in food processor with steel blade and process until smooth. With machine running, pour the olive oil in a thin, steady stream through the feed tube and continue processing until the mixture is smooth. Season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste.

Combine the tortellini and pesto in large bowl and toss to coat. Sprinkle with basil.

Serve warm or room temperature on a platter with toothpicks.

Serves a crowd.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Almost Instant Cheese Straw Breadsticks
Almost Instant Cheese Straw Breadsticks

There are a handful of food products which I always keep in stock in my kitchen. Some are staples, like canned tuna fish, from which I can quickly make a meal; or real cream for my coffee. Others are ingredients that I frequently use in other dishes, such as Better Than Bouillon chicken base, which can quickly make small amounts of very decent chicken broth for use in stir fries, pan sauces, and other recipes.

Then there are those items that I keep on hand and may not use for months, but when I do use them, the results are spectacular. Frozen puff pastry is one of those ingredients.

I always keep a box in my freezer for various uses, but my favorite is this easy recipe for wonderful cheese straw breadsticks. This old standby has come in handy on many occasions. I’ve served them as snacks with drinks, as accompaniments to soups, and instead of bread with many a meal. And they are very easily made with only three ingredients that I have on hand at all times.

But even better than the ease with which they are made is how special they are.
They are as impressive as a beautiful woman. They are long and elegant, like her legs. They’re quite attractive too, with their burnished good looks. When bitten, they shatter into flaky melt-in-the-mouth pieces. And their addictive flavor makes you go for another bite.

Almost Instant Cheese Straw Breadsticks

The short cooling period is really important because they get crisper as they cool.

1 package of frozen puff pastry
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Mrs. Dash Original Seasoning Blend

Defrost the puff pastry according to the package directions (it takes about 45 minutes). Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place a large piece of wax paper on the counter and sprinkle with 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese. Unroll half of the puff pastry (the pastry comes in two pieces) and place on top of the cheese. Sprinkle another 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese on the top of the pastry and then sprinkle with some Mrs. Dash seasoning.

Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, pressing the cheese into it, to a thickness of about 1/8 inch. Cut the pastry into twelve long 1/2-inch wide strips (a pizza cutter does this easily). Give each strip several twists, and place them 1/2 inch apart on a greased baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pastry.

Bake until golden, about ten minutes. Allow to cool before serving.

Yield: about 24 large straws.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Most Versatile Summer Side Salad- Thai Cole Slaw
Most Versatile Summer Side Salad- Thai Cole Slaw

With the weather finally turning warm around here (it seems we went directly from winter to summer with no time to enjoy spring), thoughts of outdoor grilling are on the top of my mind. Whether grilling beef, chicken or seafood, I find the best all-around accompaniment to be Thai Cole Slaw.

Cole slaw has always been a classic summertime favorite but this version takes the traditional cabbage salad to great new heights. Instead of a creamy dressing, the crunchy cabbage is dressed with a sauce that exemplifies the 4 counterbalanced flavors of the Thai cuisine: sweet, hot, salty, and sour. The addition of fresh mint provides a cooling sparkle and the garnish of salted roasted peanuts adds another layer of flavor and texture.

Despite its ethnic background, this salad goes surprisingly well with almost anything cooked on the grill, making it a perfect choice to bring to a potluck barbecue.

Thai Cole Slaw

Use the slicer blade of a mandoline or similar slicer to quickly and easily slice the cabbage and onion.

1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
½ tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 large jalapeño chili pepper, seeded and finely minced
2 garlic cloves, minced

½ medium head of cabbage, finely shredded
½ red onion, sliced thinly
2 carrots, grated
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped lightly salted roasted peanuts

In a small bowl mix together all the dressing ingredients until the sugar has dissolved.

In a large bowl, toss together the cabbage, onion, carrot, cilantro and mint. Pour in the dressing and toss well to distribute evenly. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours, tossing occasionally. It will shrink considerably.

Just before serving, add the oil and toss well. Place salad in a serving bowl and sprinkle with the peanuts.

Yield 6 – 8 servings

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Broth of the Gods - Tortellini in Brodo
Broth of the Gods - Tortellini in Brodo

One specialty of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy is Tortellini in Brodo, plump curly pillows of fresh stuffed pasta floating in a flavorful broth, served as a primi, or first course pasta dish all over the region. I tasted many versions of this ubiquitous dish during my visit there this past fall and while the tortellini came in all sorts of exciting stuffing variations, from simple blends of fresh cheeses to ambrosial meat mixtures containing pork, mortadella or prosciutto, what I remember most about them, and the common denominator of them all, was the delicious brodo, or broth.

The brodo was always clear, light and delicate yet incredibly flavorful. I wondered how such a pale clear broth could contain all those subtle yet complex flavors and imagined it must be the result of some sophisticated culinary alchemy with scores of special ingredients. During a marathon pasta-making lesson near the end of my trip, I learned how to create this magical brodo and marveled at the small number of ingredients and the simplicity of its preparation.

Bones and vegetables are standard broth fodder but two of the ingredients in this brodo recipe surprised me; I believe they may be the secrets to this wonderful elixir. One was the pair of chicken feet casually tossed into the pot, whole. At first I thought that there couldn’t be much flavor in those ugly scrawny avian appendages, and then I recalled the rich succulent braised chicken feet I had at a Chinese dim-sum meal a few years ago. One advantage to living in the boonies is that I can get chicken feet from a co-worker who raises chickens, but you can find them in most Asian markets. I suppose a few chicken wings may be used in their place.

The other unexpected ingredient was a piece of rind leftover from a chunk of Parmagiano Reggiano cheese. I’ve used these rinds myself many times in rich dishes like meat sauces, chicken cacciatore, and minestrone soup but I was surprised to see it used in a clear, delicate broth. It really adds a special subtle flavor.

The other broth ingredients were typical: beef bones, beef short ribs, and some basic fresh vegetables. But even the vegetable preparation was unusually simple. In the past when I prepared regular broth or soup, I always chopped the vegetables into small pieces so as to extract the most flavors from them. In this brodo, however, the carrot and rib of celery are dropped into the pot whole and the onion is halved. I imagine this keeps the broth clear because the vegetables don’t dissolve into the liquid while the long cooking time extracts all their flavors

I’ve made and served this brodo of the gods twice since I’ve returned from Italy, once with store-bought tortellini and once with homemade passatelli. Each time I make it I continue to be startled by how such a simple process using simple ingredients can produce a broth so subtly complex.

Try this wonderful broth, adding some fresh high-quality tortellini and simmer to create the classic regional specialty of Emilia-Romagna. Don’t forget a grating of fresh Parmigiana Reggiano cheese on top.

Brodo (Classic Italian Broth)

1 lb beef short ribs, trimmed of excess fat
1 lb beef bones
1 pair of chicken feet
1 whole carrot
1 rib celery
1 onion, peeled and halved
rind of parmagiano, about 1 ½ inches square
salt to taste

Fill a stock pot with cold water. Add all ingredients and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that floats to the surface. Lower heat and simmer gently for 2 - 4 hours.

Strain and season to taste with salt.

I like to make the broth the day before using and refrigerate it overnight. Not only does it taste better, but any excess fat hardens on the top surface and is easily scraped away and discarded.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Twelve Signs That You Are an Epicurean Voluptuary
Twelve Signs That You Are an Epicurean Voluptuary

The dictionary defines a voluptuary as one devoted to sensory pleasures. The thesaurus goes even further, comparing a voluptuary to a hedonist, a sybarite, and even a glutton!

When it comes to food, there is limitless opportunity for stimulation of all the senses. Fresh fruits and vegetables offer a visual array colors and textures, making them feasts for the eyes. Why else are they the subjects of so many still life paintings? The olfactory senses may be titillated equally by the intoxicating aromas of freshly brewed coffee, roasting peanuts, baking cookies, or grilled steak. Textures also play an important role in the enjoyment of food; there is crunchy, creamy, flaky, chewy, melt-in-the-mouth, crispy, dense, airy, unctuous, and so on. The seductive sounds of sizzling bacon or popping corn serve only to increase our anticipation for the consumption of these foods. And then of course there is the sense of taste, on which volumes have been written and needs no further explanation.

Well, when it comes to food and drink, if the voluptuary shoe fits…….

Here are 12 indications that you are an epicurean voluptuary.

1. Your kitchen cupboards contain at least 7 types of vinegar, three kinds of oil, 5 different mustards, and an incredible assortment of hot sauces, jams, and ethnic condiments.

2. When ordering a meal in a restaurant, you insist that your dining companion order different items than you so that you may both try more dishes by tasting each other’s food. If said companion does order the same thing as you, you immediately change your order to something else.

3. You will taste anything once, even if it includes insects, offal, mold or fungus.

4. Your non-foodie tablemates are slightly embarrassed by your exuberant enjoyment and continual commentary of the food you are eating.

5. For your birthday you prefer a gift of a fancy kitchen appliance over sparkling jewelry or high-tech electronics.

6. You plan your vacations around gastronomically rich destinations

7. When traveling to other cities on business, you brave the worst parts of town to visit the local hole-in-wall eateries known for serving the best of the regional fare.

8. You enthusiastically argue the relative merits of wet versus dry barbecued ribs, or the differences between pie crusts made with lard, shortening or butter, or other culinary debates, with the same ardor and emotion that most people exhibit when discussing politics or religion.

9. You actually read cookbooks, cover to cover, like novels.

10. You scoff at all the public criticism of fat. You support fat’s fine culinary reputation by using butter liberally and saving leftover bacon fat and duck fat in jars.

11. The souvenirs you bring home from your travels are primarily foods and beverages; and on more than one occasion you’ve sweated anxiously through Customs, fearing your prized cheese, revered biltong, or other forbidden culinary treasure would be discovered and confiscated.

12. You maintain a food blog. Or subscribe to a dozen of them.

Can you think of other signs that I missed? Please feel free to add them in the comments below.

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