Coda Alla Vaccinara with spincah gnocchi

Tasting Rome’s Coda alla Vaccinara ( Braised Oxtail)

Coda Alla Vaccinara with spincah gnocchi

I’m going to be brutally honest. A lot of cookbooks are not impressing me these days. They are tritely styled , photographed  and promoted. I like a cookbook with real chops, with substance. I want to be inspired and learn a new twist or turn. I want a cookbook that tells a story and really has a soul. Tasting Rome came along and warmed up some inspiration inside. OK, so I’m Facebook friends with Kristina Gil, and wanted to support her work, but it’s something more. When CS and I went to Rome a few years back, this was the food I was looking for. I was told  by my  friend, that in Italy, Florence and Tuscany beat out Rome culinary wise , but I knew there was layer of old Rome that had amazing food. I had brief glimpses of it here and there, like  that famous food from the old Jewish ghetto quarter that I enjoyed in a New York City restaurant around Broadway.

Tasting RomeAs I flipped through the book I fell upon two recipes I knew I had to try. Both were a longer process, which I love, and involved oxtail. I drove to my favorite Korean store here in Chicago because they really have the best quality and price of oxtails from what I’ve seen. Ones with lots of meat. Oxtail has to be my favorite offal  and the dish I’m sharing with you is what you call  a Quinto Quarto dish, the “fifth quarter” of the animal, the offal. The first quarter of the animal was sold to the Nobility, the second to Clergy, the third to the Bourgeoisie, and the fourth to the military’s soldiers. The fifth quarter was all that remained for those less fortunate, the others.

It was suggested one eat these oxtails with your hands, like the modern day Italian American style gravy made with neck bones or short ribs. I knew CS would want some hearty pasta with it, so I made some spinach gnocchi with leftover roasted potatoes .

Spincach gnocchi prep

I loved the addition of a curious mix of pine nuts and raisins added at the end. I wondered if that was the Jewish influence on some Roman cuisine? The Coda alla Vaccinara  was outstanding and tastes even better the next day.

Braised oxtail in pot

A few things. The  recipe calls for salting the meat with kosher salt a day before. I confess I overlooked that and skipped it. It still turned out great. I also toasted my pine nuts in a dry skillet , as I would advise to always do, because it brings out the flavors and oils on product that may have been sitting on shelves. I freeze my pine nuts to preserve the quality and prevent them from going off.  I also did not use celery as CS hates the vegetable.  It’s something I have to sneak in when he’s not looking . I did ramp up the garlic factor more than what the recipe called for , because that’s my style. That’s the beauty of the dish. You can really add your own spin to this.

The  use of cocoa powder in the end transforms the tomato beefy sauce to the extraordinary. I’ve used cocoa before in savory cooking and it’s always a great little surprise ingredient.

I hope you enjoy this. This recipe just keeps giving and giving. I used some of the sauce , which turns into a rich gelatinous tomato beef stock to make a risotto type dish with barley and lentils . Nothing will go to waste to here. The braised oxtail also freezes very well.

This recipe is reprinted from Tasting Rome  Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City, by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Clarkson  Potter Publishers New York

Tasting Rome's Coda alla Vaccinara ( Braised Oxtail)
Author: 
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Roman
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
 
This recipe is reprinted from Tasting Rome Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Clarkson Potter Publishers New York
Ingredients
  • 2½ oz lardo (cured fatback) or 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3½ lbs oxtail, cut into 3 inch segments
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 5-6 whole cloves
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 6 cups beef broth
  • 2 celery stalks cut into 3 inch pieces
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon Cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder
Instructions
  1. Render the lardo in a large pot over medium -high heat , or heat olive oil until its shimmering.
  2. Add the oxtail segments and cook until browned all over, then remove from the pot and set aside.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onion, garlic, and cloves.
  4. Cook until the onion is translucent and the garlic has just turned golden, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add the tomato paste and cook until it turned a deep brick red, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add the wine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and cook until the alcohol aroma dissipates, about a minute, then add the tomatoes.
  7. Return the meat to the pot and cover three-quarters of the way with the beef broth.
  8. Cover and cook until the meat is just falling off the bone, 5-6 hours, adding more broth if the sauce reduced too much.
  9. Toward the end of cooking, add the celery, raisins, pine nuts, and cacao, mixing well. Simmer for 20-30 minutes more.
  10. Turn off the heat and allow the oxtail to rest for at least 30 minutes., ideally overnight, in the refrigerator. Serve on its own. Use any leftover sauce to dress Gnocchi di Patate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Coco Questionnaire… Five Questions with Eugenia Cheng

Eugenias Bach sheet music

Above is a quick water color I did of some Bach sheet music my dear friend and todays subject Dr. Eugenia Cheng posted on her social media after her long awaited piano arrived from the UK. To see her joy reunited with it via Facebook was palpable.

I can imagine to be separated from it must feel like being separated from a loved one or even a limb.  It’s a part of Eugenia. The piano was a part of her, that was across the ocean, as she settled into her new role here in Chicago at The Art Institute of Chicago.I met  Dr. Eugenia Cheng a long time ago. I lost cost count of the years, it’s been over a decade. Eugenia was and is this brilliant mathematician, who loved to bake, listen to opera and classical music. We met when she became involved on an Opera board I was active in at Lyric Opera Chicago. One would normally feel intimidated by a Cambridge educated classically trained pianist and mathematician. But that’s the beauty of Eugenia, you don’t and that’s why book How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics  is an  international best seller.

How to Bake Pi


I admire her dedication , passion and focus. You don’t see that passion exuded by anyone, as you will with Eugenia. She has weekly salon called Liederstube where other like minded souls can congregate and create more beauty through song.

Eugenia inspires you and makes terrifying subjects fun and interesting, whether it be baking or math. Did you catch her on Stephen Colbert breaking down Puff Pastry?

1) What food makes you happy?

Almost all food makes me happy! But especially chocolate, very dark chocolate that I make from unroasted ingredients.  I eat it first thing in the morning every single day – that’s my only food rule.

2) What food makes you cringe?

Tripe. I’m shuddering even just typing the word. Tripe is a specialty of the region my father is from, and when I went to visit as a child everyone kept giving me tripe to eat as a “special treat”. I discovered that if I held my breath while eating it then I wouldn’t taste anything, but that didn’t stop me from feeling the texture on my tongue…

3) What music do you like to listen to or hum when you cook or bake?

I don’t usually listen to music when I cook as I find it distracting, but if I need to do something for a certain number of minutes sometimes I’ll sing a particular song that I know takes that number of minutes. I went through a phase of singing Strauss’s “Befreit” while whisking egg whites, for example.  At Christmas when I’m roasting my goose I will put on Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. I’m liable to gesticulate to the music though, and this can scare my guests when I start gesticulating while wielding a cleaver.

4) Tell me about a culinary goal? A dish you want attempt, a book you want to write?

I still want to perfect the making of macarons! It is driving me slightly nutty that sometimes they come out perfectly and sometimes they don’t, know matter how carefully I control what I’m doing.

5) Where is your favorite place in the world to eat?

Paris. Paris is a magical place for me where I can eat whatever I want and not get fat. I think it’s because everything is so extremely delicious I don’t need to eat so much to be satisfied, and stuffing my face there would seem like a waste of that deliciousness.

 

Like I said , she’s an inspiration. I only wish I had a strong female influence like this in my life as I tackled the subject of math. Check out her You Tube Channel.

Thank you Eugenia,

Coco

 

 

 

 

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Mango Caipirinhas

One of my favorite drinks is a Caipirinha. I remember being introduced to them by an old friend named Andy ,who had a Brazilian girlfriend and sought to educate me on many things Brazilian. We were at a Brazilian music event in Chicago and I drank eagerly  much to my hung over  regret the next day. They taste so good, but will sneak up on you.This cocktail had found a way into my cocktail repertoire.

In Rio de Janerio recently , I stayed hydrated with a variety of juices from the Sucos Bars scattered on every street,excellent icy cold beers, Mate Tea served from a steel drum containers that blend lemon juice and yerbe mate , plenty of water, and wound the day down with  nice Caipirinhas in traditional or exotic fruit varieties like passion fruit or mango. I felt like a Carioca ( native of Rio de Janerio). The abundance and profusion fruits in Rio amazed me. I wish I could have sampled more. Hortifruti has a amazing selection of fruits and vegetables  indigenous to Brazil. The food,climate, and lifestyle make this the perfect destination to visit. I really felt a connection in Rio and will return.

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Caipirinhas are considered Brazil’s national drink. This pleasant sweet yet acidic cocktail with a kick, consists of limes, sugar, and cachaça ( a spirit made from sugar cane juice,as rum is as well)served over plenty of ice. The original simple form is wonderful, but many like to add a fruit infusion, based on the abundance and variety of fruits. If you don’t have cachaça, there is always a Caipiroska  or Caipivodka using vodka in place of cachaça.

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Mango Caipirinhas
Recipe type: Cocktails
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
 
Ingredients
  • 2 shots cachaça
  • 1 lime cut into wedges, then quarters
  • 4 tsps sugar, preferably raw sugar.
  • half of a mango cubed and cut into small pieces.
  • Crushed Ice
Instructions
  1. Muddle lime, sugar, and mango fruit together.
  2. Add crushed ice to shaker.
  3. Pour cachaça over fruit and ice and shake to blend,
  4. Serve in a chilled glass with the ice.

 

 Influences and Perspectives : Brazil

Farmers Market Vegetables with Old El Paso® Mexican “Hummus” Dip

Old El Paso® Mexican “Hummus” Dip and Simple Summer Entertaining

I don’t know about your summer, but mine has been a whirlwind of entertaining and being entertained. When shopping for clients, or traveling in new locals, I always love to visit the farm stands and Farmers Markets in addition to my usual purveyors. Out of all the markets I have been too , I have to say the Ferry Plaza one in San Francisco is one of my favorites. Chicago doesn’t slouch in that category either. Green City Market attracts locals and the movers and shakers of the culinary world . But my all time  favorite one is in Vienna , the Naschmarkt.

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There is nothing so pleasing to eye and taste buds than fresh produce and food, and the farmers and artisans, and chefs who present them. Simple , beautiful, pure taste. One thing I’m noticing from my clients and the parties I attend, is they simple classic down home fare.  Nothing complex, just the good food speaking for itself without any hocus pocus and additional fanfare. I went to a well known philanthropists annual birthday fete, and the most memorable dish was a simple shrimp and clam boil stand with new potatoes and fresh chucked corn. My clients have been requesting simple roasts, root vegetable gratins, fried green tomatoes sliders, artful salads, and fruitful desserts.

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In another assignment for Old El Paso, I was tasked with using Old El Paso products to complement the wonderful bounty form the summers Farmers Markets. Taking an everyday trendy staple, with Middle Eastern Roots, I played on the legume theme of a classic hummus , using Old El Paso traditional Refried beans instead. Forget Pita, and use Old El Paso Flour Tortillas , deep fried as your tasty chip sprinkled with Sea Salt. A sprinkle of sumac on top of the hummus and WOW. Be creative with your crudite. Give a quick blanch and ice bath to keep its crunchiness. Use various small glasses or verrines, and cutouts to make an artful display and impress your guests with a healthy starter .

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Old El Paso® Mexican “Hummus” Dip and Simple Summer Entertaining
Prep time: 
Total time: 
 
There is a beauty and nature and summers riot of vegetables available at the local Farmers Market. When we shop at them , we feel connected with our earth and community. The past decade, hummus, a Middle Eastern dish of pureed chickpeas, lemon, garlic and chickpeas has become a household staple in American homes and parties. Why not take this recipe and use Old El Paso Refried Beans for a tasty twist on this exotic , and healthy recipe? Serve it up in a spectacular arrangement of vegetables from the farmers market and deep fried soft Old El Paso tortilla wedges seasoned with Sea Salt. Your guests and family will be wowed!
Ingredients
  • Mexican Hummus
  • 1 can Old El Paso Traditional Refried Beans
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • ¼ cup Tahini
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 3 cloves garlic minced finely
  • ¼ cup chopped sundried tomatoes
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil. The fruitier the better.
  • Additional olive oil for finish drizzle
  • 1 teaspoon Sumac for garnish ( found in Middle Eastern section of grocery)
  • Vegetable Tray
  • 1 head cauliflower (blanched and plunged into ice water)
  • 1 /2 lb green beans (blanched and plunged into ice water)
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 yellow squash
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 Sweet Red Pepper
  • 1 pot of boiling salt water
  • Deep Fried Soft Tortillas Wedges
  • 1 package Old El Paso Soft Tortillas
  • Canola Oil For frying ( approx 2-3 cups )
  • Sea Salt
Instructions
  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil.
  2. Make an ice bath in a large bowl.
  3. In a glass bowl combine all ingredients, except finishing oil and sumac, for the Hummus. Take and immersion hand blender and pulse until you have a smooth paste.
  4. Place in serving dish. Drizzle with oil and sumac. Cover loosely and keep refrigerated until serving.
  5. Prep and cut vegetables. Be creative and use cutters for carrots, ripple slicer for squash and zucchini, etc. Add cut vegetable to ice bath to keep color and crispness.
  6. Plunge cauliflower florets and trimmed green beans in to boiling water to blanch for a few seconds. Quickly remove from water with strainer, and add to the ice bath to stop cooking and retain color.
  7. Arrange on platter with dip.
  8. Heat up Deep Fryer at 350-375°.
  9. Cut small piles of soft tortillas into eights wedges.
  10. Fry in small batches until golden. Drain on paper towels and salt.
  11. Serve with vegetable platter.
Notes
Use your favorite vegetables that inspire you. Get creative with presentation. I use bud vases inside glasses to create a more dimensional serving effect. Add some spice of powdered chili instead of sumac, if you prefer your dip on the spicy side. Substitute fresh jalapenos for sundried tomatoes too. Keep it all chilled as the party goes on. Use trays on top of ice.

Happy Summer Eating. Visit the New Old El Paso site for other great ideas and see my recipes here.

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Old El Paso Chicken and Pineapple Tacos with Cabbage Mango Slaw

It’s been a good bit of time since I last posted. In that time I’ve been traveling, working, catering, celebrating and creating recipes . Unfortunately it just hasn’t made it to the blog. Where to begin?

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First Certain Someone spent a lovely week at Half Moon in Montego Bay to celebrate a friends wedding. It was the best experience Ive ever had in Jamaica. Imagine your own luxury villa, butlers, maids, sunshine, private beaches, and just being spoiled. We really  needed it. We will  heading to Portugal and Sweden soon for another destination wedding, and to catch up with family and friends.

I’ve been getting some great catering gigs from consulates, a European airline carrier, and just overall great clients. I’m so happy the word is spreading about Coco Cooks.

And last before we get onto the food. Certain Someone turned 40! We decided to have a belated birthday party at the house in July ( In the fashion of the Queen), as its hard to coordinate everyone’s schedules.

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I made the whiskey bottle cake, and commissioned the label and cigar from a great friend who has amazing talent. Check her out if you need customized toppers for your cakes.

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Now onto the recipe! Yes it another Old El Paso post. I was commissioned to do a total of 12 recipes for them, which are figured on their new website. While I don’t normally use prepared ingredients, I’m not naive enough as chef and career woman, that sometimes shortcuts and convenience are OK, especially when paired with fresh ingredients and creativity. Not everyone has the time nor inclination to make there own spice blends, salsa, tortillas, etc. So accepting the assignment and the challenge , where what motivated me. I love a challenge to think out the box. It’s grilling season and one can create all sorts of good things on the grill, or on an indoors grill, it you don’t have a gas or charcoal grill. I love the sight of grill marks . Check out the recipe and other great ones on the site.

Old El Paso Chicken and Pineapple Tacos with Cabbage Mango Slaw
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Ingredients
  • For Cabbage Mango Slaw
  • ½ head of small green cabbage sliced thinly or grated.
  • 1 carrot skinned and grated
  • 1 mango chopped into small pieces( no skin)
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • ⅛ cup brown sugar
  • ⅛ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ⅛ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 pineapple sliced
  • 2-3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts or boneless skinless chicken thighs.
  • 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 Old El Paso Hard and Soft Taco Kit.( Contains taco shells, soft tortillas, Taco Seasoning, and Taco Sauce)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 320°.
  2. In a glass dish or bowl marinate chicken with 1 packet of the Old El Paso Seasoning and 2 tablespoons olive oil contained in kit.
  3. In a small bowl add grated cabbage, carrot, chopped mango, cilantro, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, olive oil, salt and balsamic vinegar. Mix thoroughly and set aside while grilling chicken.
  4. Using an indoor or outdoor grill, preheat to higher setting to obtain a good sear.
  5. Wrap the soft tortillas in the kit in foil and place in oven. Heat for 10 minutes.
  6. Add chicken to grill and cook several minutes on each side until done.
  7. While chicken is grilling, place hard tacos shells on a placing sheet and add to the oven with soft tortillas. Don’t overcook. Turn off oven after 5 more minutes and keep warm till serving.
  8. Remove chicken from the grill and let reat a few minutes.
  9. Add pineapple slices to hot grill and sear on both sides for a few minutes. Remove from grill.
  10. Slice chicken on the diagonal and serve on platter with chopped grilled pineapple slices.
  11. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
  12. Serve with cabbage mango slaw, soft and crunchy tortillas, and sauce contained in the kit.