Saturday, October 16, 2021

Cheese Stuffed Baguette

I've always considered spaghetti and meatballs to be a complete meal. Protein, veggies and carbs. But my wife begs to differ. She's of the opinion that spaghetti and meatballs are not a complete meal unless there is a warm baguette to dip into the marinara sauce. Begrudgingly, I do believe she is correct.

But there is a way to elevate that simple baguette with one of Italy's greatest inventions. Mozzarella cheese. When you heat that beautiful baguette with some olive oil and mozzarella cheese tucked inside, you end up with an exceptional taste treat. Crisp, toasted bread embracing a wonderful, gooey layer of cheese. Now you are truly ready for some serious dipping. Thanks, Becky.

1 Italian loaf or rustic baguette
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound mozzarella, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
tablespoon dried Turkish oregano

  1. Heat the oven to 400º.  Halve the loaf lengthwise almost all the way through, leaving it attached on one side. Open it, lay it flat and brush the insides with olive oil. Tuck in the mozzarella, then sprinkle with salt and oregano. Close, then wrap tightly with foil. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Unwrap loaf, let cool for 2 minutes, then slice and serve.

A complete meal

Saturday, October 9, 2021


You are right. It does look like lasagna. That's because it is lasagna. But it is not from Italy. Pastitsio is actually a Greek lasagna. And while it looks for all the world like Italian lasagna, the flavor profile is actually quite different.

On the bottom layer, we have pasta. In this case, bucatini...which is like a thick spaghetti noodle with a hole in the middle. But any cylindrical shaped pasta will do. Next comes a hearty layer of cinnamon-kissed beef ragù. Then we top all that with creamy béchamel and a generous dusting of Greek kasseri cheese (you can use adagio or parmesan if you can't find kaserri).

Be forewarned that this is not a quick weeknight dinner. You want to save this recipe for a cold and rainy Sunday. It's a wonderful way to spend the afternoon in your up a really unique and delicious pan of Greek comfort food while streaming "Troy" on Netflix. I know that your family and guests will be duly impressed with the fruits of your labor.

3 pounds ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2, 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Kosher salt
1 pound bucatini
1/2 pound kasseri cheese, grated
4 eggs
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup flour
5-1/2 cups whole milk

  1. In a large pot, add a little olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt, cook until onions are just translucent. Add the ground beef and cook and stir until no longer pink, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Add the 2 cans of tomato sauce and cinnamon, stir and bring to a simmer. Season with salt to taste. Let meat sauce simmer for 3 hours with a lid on, slightly askew. Stir occasionally.
  2. Grate the kasseri cheese and set aside, you want at least 4 cups. 
  3. Cook bucatini in boiling salted water until al dente (I cook a minute or two less than package directions). Drain noodles and when cool enough to handle, put them in a large bowl and mix one beaten egg into the bucatini noodles with your hands. 
  4. Preheat oven to 350º. In a lasagna pan, or other large pan, drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom or coat lightly with cooking spray. Put all of the noodles which were tossed with egg in the bottom of the pan and arrange evenly. Sprinkle with a third of the shredded cheese. Using a slotted spoon, cover the noodles and cheese evenly with all or most of the meat mixture, leaving room for the béchamel layer on top. Sprinkle another third of the cheese over the meat layer. You now have noodles, cheese, meat, cheese layered so far. 
  5. Make the béchamel sauce. In a heavy bottomed large pot, melt 1 stick of butter. Add the flour to the melted butter and whisk to combine well and cook, stirring constantly for a minute or two. Slowly add 5 cups of milk, whisking the whole time. Cook and whisk until it just starts to boil (when it starts to bubble.) Turn off heat. 
  6. In a separate bowl, beat 3 eggs and 1/2 cup milk with a hand mixer. Add this mixture to the pot, slowly, whisking the whole time.
  7. Put back on medium-high heat and cook and whisk until thick and bubbly. When at the desired consistency, cut the heat and let the béchamel sit for a few minutes.
  8. In a small sauce pan, melt 1/2 stick of butter. After the béchamel has rested a few minutes, pour it over the meat and cheese layer, spreading evenly over the top. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the béchamel. Lastly, drizzle or spoon the melted butter on top of the cheese, this is what will brown the top of the pastitsio. 
  9. Put pan into preheated oven and bake for 1 hour, until browned and center is hot. If not browned enough, after 1 hour, turn on broiler and cook another 3 - 5 minutes, watching carefully until top is browned.
  10. Let pastitsio rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Wine pairing: Syrah

Monday, October 4, 2021

Air Fryer Tater Tots


Oh how I love my tater tots. And I love them even more when they are cooked in an air fryer. Golden crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth creamy on the inside. Cooking tater tots in an oven is so 19th century. 

I cook a half of a bag at a time so that I get all the tots in a single layer. Frozen tater tots already have oil on them, but if you're a crispy freak, you still want to add a quick blast of cooking oil. Preheating your air fryer for a couple minutes will also add to that golden brown texture. And then I am going to let you in on a secret ingredient that will forever guarantee that you will never, ever, have leftover tater tots.

Go to and buy yourself a jar of this "Truffle/Parmesan/Black Garlic" seasoning. This stuff is so f*cking delicious that it will take every ounce of will power in your body to not just rip off the cap and free-pour this incredible sh*t into your mouth. What this stuff does to a tater tot can only be described as "sinful".

1/2 bag frozen tater tots (14 ounces)
Cooking oil spray
Kosher salt
Truffle/Parmesan/Black Garlic Seasoning

  1. Preheat air fryer for 2 minutes at 400º.
  2. Place tater tots in a single layer. Then give them a light spray with cooking oil and sprinkle some Kosher salt over them.
  3. Cook tater tots for 8 minutes at 400º. Then remove drawer and shake to reposition tots (if you're incredibly anal, you can turn each tater tot over). Then season tater tots with a generous dusting of Truffle/Parmesan/Black Garlic seasoning.
  4. Return drawer to air fryer and cook tots for another 4 minutes at 400º (please note that 4 minutes will make them really if you would like them a little less crispy, check them after 2 minutes).
  5. Open air fryer and serve tots. Add extra seasoning to taste.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs


Fall is upon us. It's time to move on from summer fare to some heartier dishes. And one of my favorite fall dishes is spaghetti and meatballs. I've always made my meatballs with a traditional recipe, but last week I stumbled on this Cook's Country recipe for stuffed meatballs....and I was hooked.

There's only one important thing to keep in mind when making these meatballs. Moisture is the enemy. If your meatball is too moist, the cheese will ooze out of the meatball during cooking. In our perfect world, the cheese does not ooze out until you cut into the meatball.

So we will be using no white bread, milk or cream in our meat mixture. Panko bread crumbs are a necessity to minimize the moisture. Choose 93% lean ground beef to keep from getting too much fat into the meatball. Mozzarella string cheese is the easiest way to create 15 equal portions for stuffing. And after forming the meatballs, we will brown them in oil and then gently poach them in a simple marinara sauce. 

3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 large eggs
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
1 pound bulk hot Italian sausage
1 pound 93% lean ground beef
3, 4-1/2 inch long sticks mozzarella string cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon dried Turkish oregano
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

  1. Combine panko, 1/2 cup Parmesan, eggs, 2 tablespoons basil, half of garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in large bowl. Add sausage and knead with your hands until incorporated into panko mixture. Add beef and knead until just incorporated. (Do not overmix or meatballs will be tough.) Using greased 1/4-cup dry measuring cup, divide meat mixture into 15 portions and place on plate. 
  2. Cut mozzarella sticks crosswise into fifteen, 3/4-inch cubes (each stick should yield 5 cubes). Place 1 mozzarella cube in center of each meat portion and pinch meat around cheese to enclose. Roll meat between wet hands to form completely sealed meatball. Place stuffed meatballs on plate and refrigerate for 30 minutes or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. 
  3. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add meatballs and cook until browned on 1 side, about 3 minutes. Flip meatballs and cook until browned on opposite side, about 3 minutes. Transfer meatballs to plate. (Sides of meatballs will still appear raw.)
  4. Discard all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet and return to medium heat. Add onion and cook until just softened and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add oregano and remaining garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
  5. Nestle meatballs in sauce with 1 browned side up and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 4 minutes. Flip meatballs so second browned side is up. Cover and continue to cook for 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and let rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove cover and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons basil. Serve meatballs and sauce over hot spaghetti.

Wine pairing: Chianti