• Stuffed Mushroom Casserole
    Appetizers,  Italian,  Other,  Side Dishes,  Vegan,  Vegetable,  Vegetables

    Mary DiNardo’s Italian Baked Stuffed Mushrooms

    Stuffed mushrooms aren’t just for passing around on trays anymore. This recipe turns them inside out to create a luscious mushroom stuffing, perfect as an appetizer or side dish. Moist, rich in umami, sharp with Parmesan and bright with herbs, it has a marvelous Italian accent. And in the finest Italian tradition, it offers good food in abundance—abbondanza! We’re happy to be able to share this gem from Lisa DiNardo, who grew up surrounded by great cooks and who loves to cook herself. This favorite from her mother, Mary, makes a clever casserole and, as a bonus, offers an option for traditional mushroom canapés. Here’s Lisa’s story: “I grew up in an Italian-American family…

  • Main Dish,  Other,  Pasta

    “Grandma Mac” Creamy Mac ‘n Cheese

    As cozy as a welcome hug, mac ‘n cheese defines comfort food. This creamy version brings comfort to both the eaters and the cooks. And you can make it in a snap with just a couple of ingredients. Forget measuring spoons or cups—the only unit is the “dollop.” And get this: you tell doneness not by time, color or temperature, but by the way it sounds. This recipephany comes courtesy of our sister-in-law Sheila, whose mother Ruth knew how to please her grandkids. Sheila’s children, Ariel and Eli (now with kids of their own), named it Grandma Mac to distinguish a unique dish that, as Eli puts it, offers “zero challenge to the palate…

  • Breads,  Main Dish,  Other,  Sandwich,  Snacks

    Better-Than-Brioche Burger Buns

    In the baking aisle at Stop and Shop many years ago I passed by a young mother with two small children. She was intently surveying the shelves when her little girl reached for a tub of ready-made fudge frosting and begged, “Mommy, can we get this?” “Honey,” she snapped in a reprimanding tone, “if I’m going to go through all the trouble of baking a cake, I’m not going to put that shit all over it.” While her choice of words led me to question her parenting style, the wisdom of them has stuck with me. Yes, it’s all too easy to skimp on finishing touches. Consider the venerable hamburger.  Carefully crafted and perfectly…

  • Breads,  Italian,  Other,  Snacks,  Technique

    Neo-Neapolitan Pizza Dough

    There is no greater glory for flour and yeast than to metamorphose into pizza dough. Yet, hard as we try, it’s difficult to capture the flavor and chew of pizzeria crust at home. What’s the secret? If you ask Christopher Kimball, he’d say the secret ingredient in great pizza dough isn’t an ingredient at all: it’s temperature. Just before baking, bring the dough to 75°F, and it will puff up and give you a lovely crust. In Naples, though, they would offer another, more powerful secret ingredient that’s also not an ingredient: a wood fire. A wood-fired oven radiates the heat of Hades for a quick, dramatic rise. The crust gets crisp on the…

  • Beef,  Chicken,  Ingredient,  Italian,  Main Dish,  Pasta,  Techniques & Ingredients

    Classic Ragù Bolognese Redux: Do Chicken Livers Deliver?

    A comment from an Italian cooking teacher about our Classic Ragù alla Bolognese from Ada Boni got us thinking about what makes a bolognese a bolognese. In particular, are there chicken livers in its DNA? So we put Recipephany’s Research and Testing Institute to work. Here’s what we learned from our deep dive into the evolution of one of the world’s favorite meat sauces. A genetic analysis of bolongese ragù’s ancestry brings you immediately to Pellegrino Artusi’s 1891 seminal cookbook, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. The meats Artusi favored for his “Maccheroni Alla Bolognese” (which is curiously tomato-free in a book with many tomato sauces) were simply veal and…

  • Chris's Fish Tacos Fabuloso
    Fish,  Main Dish,  Mexican,  Other

    Chris’s Fish Tacos Fabuloso

    Two years ago we packed our snorkel gear and headed to Baja California, Mexico. The fish put on quite a circus. A swirl of polka dots and iridescent stripes greeted us as soon as we entered the water. The Baja is also famous for another kind of fish marvel: the fish taco. It originated there, probably before the Spanish arrived. We sought out the best fish tacos in every town we passed through. The Los Claros restaurants won hands down as Baja’s best. We made triply sure by visiting all three—in Cabo San Lucas, La Paz and San Jose del Cabo. Los Claros believes in giving you options. They batter-fry or grill fish while…

  • Breads,  Italian,  Other,  Technique

    Italian Star Bread Secrets Revealed! Make Bakery-Quality Loaves.

    For decades I’ve sought this holy grail of bread recipes. Star bread, the American cousin of what I consider the finest bread in Italy, is the stuff of legends. Italian bakers introduced it to Springfield, Massachusetts, and a few other places in the state about a hundred years ago. Specialty Italian bakeries hooked customers on the twisty-shaped loaves, also called “horn bread” or “bolognese bread.” Those bakeries have dwindled to a handful, and star bread always sells out—often before it reaches the shelves. What makes it so special? The hard, golden brown, impossibly smooth crust has the crunch of a dry breadstick. In contrast, the soft crumb inside is fine, compact, and as bright…

  • Beef,  Latin American,  Main Dish,  Snacks

    Picadillo Tacos

    First, don’t confuse “picadillo” with “peccadillo,” although I often slip into that malapropism. While picadillo-filled tacos are not the least bit sinful, they can give you the same guilty pleasure as nachos for dinner. They fall into that category of slightly messy finger foods that go well with the football playoffs. A quick-cooking alternative to chili, this Cuban-style mélange packs a sweet and tangy punch. It starts with a tomatoey sofrito of aromatics and peppers, then adds a Mediterranean accent with raisins, capers and chopped olives. I first made picadillo from a Boston Globe recipe in 2001. I amped up the flavors and seasonings, figuring the “pica” stands for “picante.” When I finally had…

  • Greek,  Middle Eastern,  Vegetable,  Vegetables

    Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie)

    At the risk of sounding like a midnight infomercial, here is the best spanakopita you’ll ever eat. It’s oniony-sweet, cheesy, and the herbs melt into the spinach to deepen the flavor. I have yet to find a restaurant version that can beat this. We usually see spanakopita as either an appetizer or a main dish. But with today’s “mezze mania,” you can bake up a batch, freeze it, then reheat a few triangles to go along with hummus, a few diamonds of kibbee, or whatnot to turn a meal into a party. I like to bake from scratch, but draw the line at filo. Other than my friend Wendy, who once made it as…

  • Beef,  Dumplings,  Main Dish,  Soups

    Sally Birke’s Kreplach

    First, there was wonton soup. Then came tortellini in brodo. Now, thanks to Szifra Birke, I’ve found kreplach. Years ago, Szifra produced the poignant documentary “Browsing Through Birke’s” (now out on DVD). It’s the story of her parents, Nathan and Sally, who emigrated from Poland and founded Birke’s clothing store, a Lowell, Massachusetts, institution. This documentary had me laughing, blubbering, and feeling instant affection for these extraordinary people. Always looking to connect through food, I asked Szifra if her mother had a signature recipe. She wasted no time in sharing Sally’s prized kreplach and the deeper story behind it. Born Sura Dymantsztajn in Lodz, Poland, Sally no doubt learned to make kreplach as a…

  • Lamb,  Middle Eastern

    Gimme Kibbee!

    This baked version of a Middle Eastern classic is more a meat cake than the little fried footballs also called “kibbeh,” which means “ball” in Arabic. With the slight chewiness of a cookie bar, this cinnamon-spiced diamond of cracked wheat, ground lamb and toasted pine nuts feels kind of like dessert. The passion for kibbee crosses borders in the Middle East. Both Arabs and Israelis claim it and have created as many variations as failed peace accords. This version probably has roots in Lebanon or Syria because it suggests yogurt on the side, a no-no in Israel. However, we also serve it with tahini sauce or mango chutney. You’d think this recipephany came from…

  • Beef,  Italian,  Main Dish,  Other,  Pasta

    Classic Ragù alla Bolognese from Ada Boni

    Dan calls it “faux-lognese,” that sea of tomato sauce with ground beef swimming in it. Real bolognese, Dan argues, is a ragù, or stew, of finely chopped aromatics and meats simmered with just a kiss of tomato paste, wine, and cream. And he knows because Ada Boni, the Mamma of Italian Cookbooks, said so. Ada Boni captured authentic Italian cooking in the landmark  Il Talismano della Felicità, (Talisman of Happiness, or simply The Talisman) (1928) which became Italy’s standard cookbook for many decades, influencing generations of cooks. Boni’s Italian Regional Cooking (1969) has long been Dan’s go-to reference, as trusted as if it were written by his own Italian grandmother, Maria Rosa Nicoletta Maddalena…

  • Main Dish,  Sandwich,  Snacks

    Nancy Osborn’s Cheese Dreams

    I dedicate this post to the memory of Nancy Osborn and everyone who would rather spend their time doing things other than cooking. People, for example, who “baste” a hem, try not to “slice” a golf ball, or, as in Nancy’s case, think of “beat” and “measure” as nouns, not verbs. ———————————————————————————————— Cheese Dreams from Willy Osborn’s childhood reflect a time when modern marvels of food technology tantalized Americans with new tastes, mouthfeels, and convenience. One slice of nutrient-fortified Wonder Bread topped with one perfectly sized slice of shiny Kraft American turned into a toasted cloud fused with molten gold. Homemakers could delight their kids with this wholesome open-faced sandwich in the time it…

  • Asian,  Beef,  Chinese,  Main Dish,  Recipes,  Turkey

    Ma-Po’s Bean Curd from Pei Mei

    In the 90s sitcom Frasier, the sardonic Niles winces when he meets his first hatchback. “Well, there’s a novel idea,” he says. “Name the car after its most hideous feature.” I winced, too, when I found out “Ma-Po” means “pockmarked grandmother.” It refers to the Sichuan woman who first tossed tofu with ground meat in a spicy bean sauce more than a century ago. Was she feisty? Did she like to wear red? We’ll never know because some dunderhead immortalized this gifted chef and her luscious creation by her most unpleasant feature. (We might think the name sounds cute because it includes “Ma,” but actually “Ma” is the part that means “pockmarked.”) Brody’s Second…

  • Chicken,  Other

    Oscars 2015: Imitation Game (or, “Rabbit” Out of the Woods)

    Best-picture nominee The Imitation Game handed me this pun on a platter for Oscars Night 2015. This recipe for Sicilian sweet-and-sour rabbit marinated in red wine and simmered with pine nuts, golden raisins, olives and capers made a tender and deliciously drunken stew with chunks of chicken thighs. Alongside it, we served Grand Goudapesto Rotelle, a baked casserole of corkscrew pasta tossed with basil pesto and grated gouda. It was all much more satisfying than the half-baked Oscars show. As you can see below, Oscar himself is reading up on our Variety Boffo Buffet, which included: The Tequila of Everything Margarita with Eddie Redmayne Pomegranate Juice (to honor National Margarita Day) Birdmanchego Cheese Rosamund…

  • Beef,  Main Dish

    Oscars 2014: Despicable Meat Stew

    Forget Jennifer Lawrence’s retina-burning red gown, Ellen’s shamelessly promotional tweet, and Kim Novak’s wind-tunnel face. The real excitement was at Oscars Diner, where we partied with Drew Barrymore, Vin Diesel, Heather Locklear, and other beloved B-listers. Okay, they were just autographed 8×10 glossies, but even so they were much more animated than some of the live presenters on TV. And so what if Oscars Diner was our place decked out with apostrophe-challenged placemats and menus, wrapped straws, and packaged butter pats? Imagine our guests’ reaction when the heavily tattooed cook and gum-chewing waitress (who looked just like us) introduced themselves as Hank and Gladys! I detected mild amusement. Fortunately, Chris created a fine diversion…

  • Fish,  Ingredient,  Main Dish,  Recipes,  Salads,  Tuna

    Charlie the Tuna Salad

    For 50 years I have credited my Mom’s olfactory alarm system for saving us from one of the deadliest poisons known to man. She religiously poked her nose into every can before ruling it fit for consumption. But my memory hasn’t kept up with that of my 97-year-old mother. She remembers that she rejected the Tainted Tuna because of how it looked. I was 13 at the time, and eager to make Mom’s sweet and crunchy tuna salad, a task I always relished (pun unavoidable). I opened the only can we had on the shelf and handed it to Mom. She took a whiff. Fine. But then she stopped. “It looked nasty,” she says.…

  • Latin American,  Main Dish,  Other

    Anne’s Irresistible Cuban Black Beans and Rice (Frijoles Negros)

    My first taste of Anne Discenza’s cooking was no less than Beef Wellington, perfect tenderloin gift-wrapped in puff pastry. She happily dove into all kinds of cuisines, from epicurean classics to ethnic specialties. She was so generous and passionate about food that she created dishes showcasing local seafood even though her allergies prevented her from taking the smallest taste. She rarely taste-tested as she cooked anyway, since she got all her feedback by simply sniffing aromas mingling in the pan. Following Anne’s memorial service last month, the family gathered in her and Joe’s kitchen. Miriam Discenza told the story of her mother-in-law’s irresistible black beans and rice. ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ Once you make this recipe, you’ll…

  • Hazelnut Biscotti Dipped in Chocolate
    Cookies,  Desserts,  Italian,  Recipes,  Snacks

    Nocciola (Hazelnut) Biscotti Dipped in Chocolate

    Even more than “cashew,” which sounds like a sneeze, “filbert” is the stupidest nut name ever. Fortunately, the NAAFRCP (National Association for the Advancement of Foods Resembling Chick Peas) promoted the more melodious “hazelnut.” Proving that everything sounds better in Italian, “nocciola” rightly implies dark depths of flavor. The hazelnut grows abundantly in the Piedmont Region, and became a cocoa substitute as Italy rebuilt after World War II. This explains why nocciola gelato has the smooth richness of chocolate, and why Nutella tastes like chocolate spread with some hazelnuts, when it’s really the other way around. This recipephany produces a classic, crunchy biscotti with a toastier, more mouthwatering flavor than the almond variety. Because…

  • The Life of Pot Pie
    Main Dish,  Vegan

    Oscars 2013: Life of Pot Pie

    Suggested by Claire, based on Raegan’s mega-veggie curry pot pie, and produced with the help of Chris, Life of Pot Pie became the centerpiece of our 2013 Oscars® Red Carpet Gala last night. It was a tasty and substantial sidekick to the starring course, Dan’s sweet-and-spicy grilled Finger Lincoln Chicken (also known as Poulets Misérables) and nicely complemented Jennifer’s technicolor Beets of the Southern Wild salad. The appetizers were a tough act to follow. Lynn’s half pineapple filled with Naomi Watts-in-This-Dip was a delicious thriller that kept us guessing, a big winner with Emanuelle Pita Chips. Chris’s lavish Ham Hathaway with Hugh Monterey Jackman Cheese Quvenzhané-Quesadillas disappeared as quickly as you could say the…

  • Princess Alexandra Kropotkin's Beef Stroganoff
    Beef,  Main Dish

    Beef Stroganoff: The Story of the Princess and the Recipe

    Why do restaurants name so many dishes by their ingredients rather than after the chef, the locale, or even a favorite patron? In today’s can-you-top-this cuisine, maybe nobody wants to own up to such culinary contortions as “Crunchy Rabbit with Citrus-Chili Paste and Soybean Purée.” (A real entrée at the Jean-Georges Restaurant in New York City. Curiously, it sounds less mouth-watering than Monty Python’s “Crunchy Frog.” Feel free to stop here and view this sketch now.) Brody’s Second Law of Marketing states that if you can’t name it, you can’t sell it. So why not brand a dish with a memorable name? And the granddaddy of them all is Beef Stroganoff. This recipepany comes…

  • Prokas, Sweet and Sour Cabbage and Meatballs
    Beef,  Main Dish

    Great-Grandmother’s Prokas (Sweet and Sour Meatballs and Cabbage)

    Several months ago, I was desperate to track down the story behind Great-Grandmother’s Gingerbread (Over 100 Years Old). Turns out the woman I thought was the great-granddaughter really wasn’t, and that the recipe probably came from an old Brer Rabbit Molasses ad. It recently struck me that I had a story of a recipephany handed down from a great-grandmother. The recipe is for Prokas, it is more than 130 years old, and the great-granddaughter is me. Take that, Brer Rabbit. Prokas is Yiddish for “stuffed cabbage.” Stuffed cabbage hails from all over Eastern Europe, under names like Holishkes, Golumpkis, and Lahanodolmathes. My great-grandmother, Rachel, brought her recipe over from the Ukraine in 1883 along…

  • Chicken croquettes
    Chicken,  Main Dish,  Recipes,  Technique,  Techniques & Ingredients

    Oven Chicken Croquettes à la Mini-Prep

    Ah, comfort food. This recipephany produces a classic croquette from the early 50s. But it is neither deep fried nor béchamel-laden, as you’d find in a diner. So you can take comfort in its wholesomeness. It’s more like a chicken patty, best served with spicy barbecue or horseradish sauce. And surprisingly, it has no onions. More surprisingly, I’ve never been tempted to add any. (Note: Since I posted this, I tried adding chopped scallions. They gave the croquettes a nice little bite and turned them into something like baked chicken salad.) Most important, it’s comfort food for the cook because I get to whirr it up in the Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus Processor my friend…

  • Chicken,  Main Dish,  Techniques & Ingredients

    How to Fowl-Up a Chicken

    Long ago, when I was an advertising copywriter at an agency we affectionately called “the Pit,” I cranked out headlines and calls-to-action for everything from cheesy inflatable pool toys to police-car flashing lights. I didn’t have time to get too friendly with the products, though, since I had to log in every minute of head-banging “creativity.” So it was with excitement that I got to take home a new kitchen gadget, the Poul-Tree vertical roaster. The rack would fit into the chicken’s cavity (okay, up its rear) to stand it upright in the oven. The idea was that the fat would drip away and the bird would brown crisply all over, without any soggy…

  • Asian,  Chicken,  Main Dish,  Recipes

    Olympic Seoul Chicken, or How My Mom Met Frank Perdue

    My brother’s prize-winning peanut butter and provolone sandwich (see the PS in the last post) stuck in my mind like it stuck to the roof of my mouth. So decades later I started dabbling in cooking contests. Once I entered one of my mom’s heirloom recipes with only a minor substitution and it came in third. My mom could have been ticked off. But instead, it stirred up her competitive juices. If her daughter could do well with her recipes, why couldn’t she? Her target: the 1988 Delmarva Chicken Cooking Contest. Her concept: an adaptation of a favorite Asian dish with the name “Saigon” in it. “I added lots of garlic because garlic was…