Cooking with Marty Your girlfriend likes my cooking. Wed, 22 Feb 2012 22:17:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Marty’s Pseudo-Italian Spaghetti with Meat Sauce Wed, 22 Feb 2012 22:12:56 +0000 This dish is on the shortlist of the best food ever.

Its list of ingredients is long, and the quantities here make a huge, huge amount of sauce. You’ll most likely fill or slightly overfill an 8-quart stockpot. So be sure you have enough room in your chosen cooking vessel.

The herbs and spices here are my suggestions, but feel free to substitute—except for the parsley, which is absolutely essential. Also feel free to vary quantities to taste; these amounts are educated guesses. This is how I do it, as best as I can convey.

Incidentally, when you sauté the onion and parsley and garlic, you’re making what’s called a soffritto in Italian. Marcella Hazan describes the process in her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

This recipe makes enough for a crowd, with leftovers. It makes an excellent red sauce for lasagna.

Finally, I recommend making this when you have sufficient time to relax and enjoy the process. The prep work is about an hour and a half, and the sauce needs to cook a while to allow the flavors to marry. Typically, I like to make it and cook it a while on one day, then cool and refrigerate overnight.  The next day, take it out, warm it up, and cook it longer. I’ve cooked this sauce as long as seven or eight hours. Generally, it gets better the longer it cooks.

  • 2 pounds ground beef or chuck
  • 1 pound hot Italian sausage
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • 2 large yellow onions, finely diced
  • 3/4 cup loosely packed finely chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 small carrots, washed and grated through the small holes on a box grater (about 1 cup)
  • 3 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, finely diced
  • 8 oz button mushrooms, washed and finely chopped
  • 8 0z baby bella (cremini) mushrooms, washed and finely chopped
  • 2 6-oz cans tomato paste
  • 4 14.5-oz cans tomato sauce
  • 2 28-oz cans whole peeled tomatoes with their juices
  • 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • red pepper flakes, to taste

In a large stock pot or dutch oven, brown the meats in batches. Don’t rush this step; use small batches, about a pound each, and really brown everything. If you’re doing it right, it’ll stick a little.  Scrape the pot to remove the brown bits as best you can. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Put a couple tablespoons olive oil (or classically, lard) into the pan. Add the onions and parsley and cook stirring occasionally, over medium high heat, until just translucent.

Add the garlic and cook a minute or two, stirring constantly, being careful not to burn it.

Add the remaining vegetables, except for the mushrooms, and cook several minutes until soft.

Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they release most of their juices, about 7 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for about 8 minutes, or until the tomato paste has lost its red hue and turned orange. Add the tomatoes and the tomato sauce along with 1 28-oz can water and the wine. Add the thyme, marjoram, basil, and oregano, and stir. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat so that the sauce simmers. Cook it down for several hours, stirring occasionally, until thick and saucy. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.

Serve over cooked spaghetti with Parmigiano-Reggiano passed at the table.

Crispy Polenta Cakes Sat, 24 Sep 2011 09:33:58 +0000 I’ve finally figured out how to make crispy polenta cakes. Make this recipe, then place it into a 9 x 9 pan. Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate a few hours until firm or overnight. Remove from the pan, slice into pieces, and bread them.

You’ll need about a cup of all purpose flour, three or four eggs, and about two cups of panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs). You may, if you wish, season any or all of those items with salt, pepper, or another seasoning blend of your choice.

Place those three items in individual dishes. Dredge the cold polenta in the flour, then into the egg wash, and finally in the panko, pressing down to adhere. Place the breaded squares on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet and refrigerate at least 30 minutes (to set the coating).

Heat 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan and fry until crispy and golden.

Eggs in Purgatory: Spanish Version Fri, 23 Sep 2011 20:56:36 +0000 With food, I sometimes get obsessive. I’ve been thinking about uova al purgatorio for months, ever since a friend of mine sent me a link with a picture and a recipe. Unfortunately, I can’t find that link, but I found this one. It sounds better anyway. And there’s a totally awesome Tiny Kitchen video of it, too. However, I didn’t want my meal to be quite that involved. So I decided to simplify. And then I decided I wanted to use Spanish chorizo.

Part One: The Ragu

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 small red onion
  • 8 oz. Spanish (i.e., dry) chorizo, sliced thin
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 2 28-oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
  • 1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and sliced into 14-inch strips (Heat on a gas burner or under the broiler until charred; place in a tightly sealed paper bag for about 15 minutes; then remove. Peel off the skin with your fingers and seed.)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • A bit of wine

Heat the oil in a narrow saucepan over medium heat; slice the onion in half through the root, and peel it. Place the two onion halves in the pan cut side down and cook for about 20 minutes, turning occasionally to prevent scorching. Be careful not to burn the onion; it can turn the sauce bitter. (Lower the heat of you need to.) Remove the onion and reserve for another use. Add the chorizo and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Sauté for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, the red peppers, and a pinch or two of salt. Add the cinnamon and a splash of wine, if you like. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about three hours. Do not skim the fat. During this time, the tomatoes should completely break down, and you’ll be left with a thick sauce. Taste. Adjust for seasoning.

Part Two: The Main Dish

  • 1 recipe ragu, above
  • 8 eggs
  • parmigiano reggiano cheese

Place the ragu into a wide saucepan with a lid. Thin with about half a cup of water. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce the heat until the sauce is barely simmering. Working quickly, break the eggs into the sauce, season them with salt and pepper, and cover the pan. Cook about four minutes, or until the eggs are poached to your liking.

I served this dish on top of crispy polenta cakes.

Steak in the Summertime Fri, 29 Jul 2011 21:45:22 +0000 With the obvious exception of vegans and vegetarians, most everyone likes steak. The classic charcoal grilling scenario can be terribly hot in the summertime, though, especially down here south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The beauty of the problem with the heat here is that most of us also have cast iron skillets, which are a ready-made solution. Because a cast iron skillet, together with a simple technique, can produce a great steak in a few minutes. And all that without requiring you to go outside and build a fire.

This will work for any steak, but New York strip and tenderloin fillet are especially good candidates. Make sure your cast iron pan is large enough to hold all the steaks you’re cooking flat across the bottom of the skillet. (A high-sided skillet or dutch oven is best; these will splatter.) I should also mention that this technique works best with steaks that are at least an inch and a half thick.

About an hour before cooking, liberally salt both sides of the steak with kosher salt and black pepper. The hour will allow the salt to draw moisture out of the steak, which is then reabsorbed and seasons the meat thoroughly. Don’t skip this step.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Put about two tablespoons of olive oil and two tablespoons of butter in the skillet and place it over high heat on your hottest burner. When the butter is melted and sizzling, place the steaks in the pan, pressing down slightly to be sure they make contact with the bottom of the pan. Sear them for about two and a half minutes. Flip them with tongs or a spatula, press down slightly, and sear the other side for another two and a half minutes.

Then immediately turn off the burner and place the cast iron skillet containing the steaks into the preheated oven. Cook, turning if you like, until you reach an internal temperature of 125° for rare or 130° for medium. Remove the pan from the oven and plate the steaks, allowing them to rest for at least five minutes, loosely covered with aluminum foil, before serving.

“Best Ever” Brownies Sun, 17 Jul 2011 04:14:56 +0000 "Best Ever" Brownies

My late aunt made these and then gave me the recipe years ago. I expect they came from somewhere else, but I don’t know the source. I made them for a party I went to last night, and that’s gotten me thinking about them again. As to whether they’re the “best ever,” I don’t know. But they’re awful damn good.

Make the Brownies:

  • 2 sticks butter, softened, plus extra for the pan
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted (I did this in the microwave. One-minute increments, 50% power.) and cooled slightly
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup all purpose flour, plus extra for the pan
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 – 2 cups chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 13 x 9-inch baking pan.

In the workbowl of a standing mixer at medium speed, cream the butter and sugar until the micture turns light and fluffy, about two minutes. Scrape down the bowl and then beat in the eggs one at a time with the mixer running (you may have to lower the speed). Turn off the mixer and add the chocolate, vanilla, flour, and salt. Combine at low speed. (Scrape down the bowl if needed during this whole process; be sure everything is incorporated.) Add the nuts. Pour into the buttered-and-floured pan, and bake for about 25 minutes; don’t overbake. They’re done when a broom straw inserted into the center comes out clean or with a few crumbs sticking to it. Cool on a baking rack until completely cool.

Make the Frosting Layer:

  • 1/2 stick butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 5 Tbsp whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla

In a medium-size bowl, combine all the ingredients and whisk until smooth. This process will yield a nearly-white frosting. It will be nearly liquid at room temperature. Spread it on top of the cooled brownies (if they aren’t cooled completely, the frosting will melt.) and refrigerate to firm up a bit.

Make the Glaze:

  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tsp butter

In a small bowl, melt the butter and chocolate. I did this in the microwave, too, per the above instructions. Drizzle on top of the frosting layer. Chill to harden.

Cut, serve, and enjoy.

And a Teaser Wed, 06 Jul 2011 08:09:38 +0000 This photo represents some of what you’ll be seeing in the near future in this space. I’ve embarked on a week long journey with beef brisket. Stay tuned.

Biscuits Wed, 06 Jul 2011 07:46:08 +0000 I’ve been thinking for weeks now about sharing my biscuit recipe. Biscuits are one of the quintessential Southern foods, and it shouldn’t be necessary to say that a good biscuit should be part of any cook’s repertoire. They’re also a particular obsession of mine: with the possible exception of pizza, I have spent more time working on biscuits than any other single item I cook.

But I’ve neglected the biscuit recipe, both because I’ve had other Web site work to attend to, and because I think of biscuits as weekend food. Nobody really wants to read about light, fluffy, decadent biscuits during the middle of the week. Then Friday rolls around, and I’ve again posted nothing.

And yet, the blog craves sustenance. So biscuits it is. Midweek and all.


(Adapted, liberally, from Emeril Lagasse’s Traditional Southern Biscuits with nods to every biscuit recipe I made to get here. Seriously, this has been a ten-year project.)

2 cups all purpose flour,* plus extra for shaping the biscuits
1 1/2 tsp table salt
1 1/2  tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening or lard, very cold, cut into quarter-inch cubes
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, very cold, cut into quarter-inch pieces, plus about 3 tsp extra for buttering the pan and the tops
1 cup buttermilk, very cold

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cream of tartar to mix and aerate the flour.
  2. With your hands, incorporate the shortening and the butter. Work quickly, with your fingertips. Your goal here is to wind up with a mixture that has little pieces of flattened fat about the size of a pea. Some pieces smaller. Don’t go crazy here, as your hands will heat up the shortening and butter, but get it all incorporated.
  3. Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour the buttermilk into the well all at once. With a spoon or spatula or other similar flat implement, bring the flour from the sides of the bowl into the center, turning the bowl as you go. Here, you want to mix as little as possible while still combining the ingredients into a cohesive mass. After about 20 strokes, you should have a rough ball of dough.
  4. Dust the counter liberally with flour. Pour the mass out onto the flour. Add more flour to the top of the mass and dust your hands with flour. Using your hands, gently shape and press the mound into an area about ten inches square. You’re looking for about a quarter-inch thick layer of dough.
  5. Using a dough scraper, fold the dough into thirds, like a letter. Then fold it into thirds in the opposite direction so you have a square. Flip it, press it down, and repeat the folding once more. Add flour as necessary, but the wetter you can leave the dough, the better the biscuit.
  6. After the second folding, shape the square of dough into Cut the biscuits with a cutter by pressing straight down and then turning. Once you’ve cut all you can, gather the scraps together and repeat the folding process then cut a few more biscuits. The last little bit of dough can be shaped into one last biscuit. A two inch cutter will yield about 10 biscuits.
  7. Melt a couple tablespoons of butter and use it to coat the bottom of your biscuit pan. I use a 9″ cake pan, for now.
  8. Place the biscuits in the pan. You can squeeze them together if need be. Just remember that biscuits will rise higher if they’re touching each other. Don’t try to separate them.
  9. Preheat the oven to 425°. Be sure the rack is in the middle of the oven.
  10. Brush the tops of the biscuits with another tablespoon or so of melted butter. Cover the biscuits and let them sit on the counter for about 20 minutes.
  11. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven, and brush with more melted butter, if desired. Serve hot (yes, with more butter).

* A note about flour. In the South, we tend to use lower-protein flour such as White Lily for biscuits and cakes. Low-protein flours lead to more tender baked goods. But I’ve used King Arthur All Purpose Flour in this recipe with excellent results. You should try to use an unbleached all purpose flour, and you should avoid self-rising flour for this recipe.

Simple Sides: Baked Potatoes Wed, 22 Jun 2011 22:05:22 +0000 Somewhere on my list of people who ought to be shot is the guy (and it was definitely a guy) who thought of wrapping potatoes in foil before baking them. He’s not up there with the microwave bacon guy, but he sucks all the same.

Wash and scrub your baking potatoes to clean the skins. Line a baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil. With your hands, coat the potatoes with good olive oil and place them in the pan, preferably arranged so they don’t touch each other. Sprinkle them with a coarse sea salt (I like Maldon) and a few grinds of black pepper (yes, freshly ground). Rotate the potatoes for even coverage, but you don’t have to be all crazy about it. Just be sure you get some salt and some pepper on the potatoes.

Bake in a preheated 400° oven for about an hour or until soft when squeezed. Remove from the oven and serve. You may add butter, sour cream, bacon (but not the microwave-kind, and please, no turkey bacon), chives, etc., for a loaded potato experience.

This method leads to a potato with a savory, crisped, and succulent skin. Don’t just eat the heart of the thing, eat it all. That skin contains good and nutritious things; don’t throw it away.

]]> 2
Quick Tip: Steaming Broccoli Mon, 20 Jun 2011 07:54:36 +0000 Marty, that was the best broccoli I’ve ever eaten. What did you do?

Added sugar.

Of course you did.


When steaming broccoli, add about a teaspoon of sugar to the broccoli when you add the salt.

It makes a world of difference.

This Blog Contains No Photos Sat, 18 Jun 2011 17:39:17 +0000 I’m just starting this Blog and have a good deal of work to do to make it right. But I’ve been handed another problem.

What? you say. But you’re so efficient and clever. A problem solver and all that.

True, and I have a tentative solution.

But today, I come to you with a heavy heart. For this day, we must mourn the passing of my Canon PowerShot Pro 1.

Ironically, the trouble began as I was testing the camera to see whether it would be suitable for taking pictures for And I had concluded that I would not replace it, at least not right away.

Gray Johnson, one of my cats, had different ideas.

Here at the Hub of Western Civilization, an IKEA shelf sits next to my computer. Gray likes to sit in the empty bottom shelf. He also likes attention. So he’ll come over and demand petting while I’m sitting at the computer. Such was the case two days ago. And so the scene was laid.

The conflict arose when Gray, walking out of the shelf to start his circling pet-me-now motion, managed to get his cat neck caught in the people-oriented neckstrap of the camera. As you might imagine, Gray panicked and began to run. He ran out of the room. The camera trailed behind, and I heard and saw a loud THWAK as its body hit the doorframe. Gray continued running across the hall and into the living room, and again I heard and saw THWAK as the camera encountered its second door facing. A third THWAK from the TV stand. Finally, Gray managed to extricate himself, and he lit out for the territories (read: hid for hours under my bed).

The camera lay twenty or so feet from its previous position. Its cause of death was severe blunt force trauma.

Let us then pause for a moment and reflect on the Canon PowerShot Pro 1. Bless its heart, it was old and slow-focusing and only capable of eight megapixel resolution. But it was a good camera, and it served its purpose well in its day.

And that’s why you may be seeing a bunch of pictures taken with friends’ cameras and with my iPhone for a while.

I blame the cat.