TNS: Were the instructions written by a Chinese hairless crested?

If you don’t know what a Chinese hairless crested is, it’s this.  Or as I like to call it, “the dog that should not be.”

You may wonder why they are in the title. I will to esplain: these are Lidia Bastianich recipes, and she’s relatively hairless. And Chinese hairless crested are dogs, so they’d be pretty shitty at writing coherent recipes, and so is Lidia Bastianich. Combine all this, and we’re lucky dinner got to the table at all, although thank god it did, because it was good.: Swiss chard cakes crusted with Asiago and tiny, adorable little braciole filled with parsley butter, from Lidia’s Italy, a book I highly recommend for people who like cookbooks with vivid descriptions of other parts of the world, delicious sounding dishes, and recipes and explanations that sound like they were run through computerized Italian-to-Chinese and Chinese-to-English translators.


Why did I call this website “Thursday Night Smackdown”?  I really like 30 Rock.  I guess it’s a little to late to change it to “Some Night of the Week Smackdown.”

I started on the chard first because it has to boil for 20 minutes before you even get to the cake-making part.  I have a stubborn yet unconscious refusal to learn about how greens cook down.  One bunch of Swiss chard?  Doesn’t get you very far.  In fact, it makes exactly the amount I can hold in the palm of my hand as I fail to completely squeeze all the water out of the cooked chard.

Keep this in mind for later.

At the moment, things were still going well.  The drained, cooled, I-thought-I-squeezed-dry chard went into a pan with some sauteed onion and butter and cooked “until the chard is relatively dry.”  Which is hard to gage when the chard is COVERED IN BUTTER.  God knows I do NOT, as a general rule complain about foods covered in butter*, but this was a little tough.  So I cooked it until I was dry-ish and spread it in a bowl, adding black pepper and leaving it to cool.  I’m not sure why you can’t add the pepper while it’s cooking, but with Lidia I also try to hew as closely as possible to the instructions because, as we well know, she can kill you with her mind.

*There are probably some Paula Deen recipes that would create exceptions to this rule.


Macro meat.

While I worked on the chard mixture, Brian beat the meat.


You are FILTHY FILTHY people.  Do you kiss your mothers with those mouths?

Seriously, we had a hunk of top round that had to be cut and then pounded thin.  Lidia recommended using one of those spiky meat tenderizers to first tenderize and the flatten the meat.  We would never stoop so low, and were able to accomplish the task easily by (1) poking the meat with a fork and (2) pounding it flat with an empty beer bottle.

See?  You, too, can experience this same level of elegance in your very own home!  Other devices which have been used in the past to adequately pound various foods thin: empty wine bottles, full wine bottles, rolling pins, bottles of red wine vinegar, poorly closed bottles of club soda*, and ball peen hammers (only if you want it really thin or riddled with holes, which may or not be desired**).

*NOTE: VERY BAD IDEA.

**Though as we learned tonight, a beer bottle used to whack meat at an improper angle can also cause it to be riddled with holes.  The meat, not the beer bottle.  It’s top round, not diamonds.


There was a lot of symmetry between Lidia Bastianich and Julia Child in these recipes, mainly in the form of butter and the liberal use thereof.

Once the meat was pounded – braciole is normally a much larger piece of meat, these were little 5ish-inch oval-like shapes – I smeared them with some compound butter and rolled them up.

It sounds much more impressive when you way “compound butter” than when you say “butter with some chopped parsley mixed it.”  Like, instead of calling Brian “that dopey guy I live with, I call him “my beloved.”*  In each case they refer to the same thing, you just get to sound more refined and not like the fucking pottymouth junkie that you are.

*I don’t. I’m just making a point here.  Actually, I usually call him “fat man,” which is an inside joke with our dogs, for whom we have created voices and with whom we sometimes have conversations.  Just so you know:  all of this happened before I was diagnosed with a mental illness. Also, other people with dogs TOTALLY KNOW WHAT I MEAN and are just too ashamed to admit it.  Weaklings.


I love chard, but I love it more when it’s crusted with cheese.

The cooled chard mixture had a little egg mixed into it, and then we were ready to go with the cake-making.  Whole Foods didn’t have whatever kind of obscure Emilian (a region of Italy) cheese Lidia demanded, so Brian turned to the power of the internet to find a suitable substitution.  We needed a hard grating cheese and ended up with a lovely aged Asiago, which also comes from Emilia.  So there.

Here is what you are not seeing: The first, completely and horribly failed batch of cakes; I tried to form the mixture into cakes and coat them with the cheese, but the Little Lord Jesus obviously didn’t want this recipe to work for me.  Probably because I’m a bad Italian and don’t like olives.

Let us count the myriad of ways in which they were fucked up, and then you can play along at home and see if you can think of anything else that could have gone wrong:

  1. Swiss chard not dry enough to begin with.
  2. Too much egg added to mixture, making it nearly impossible to form cakes.
  3. Lidia’s inexplicable instruction that we lay the cakes directly into a dry, hot pan with no grease of any sort.
  4. Potentially, the last-minute cheese substitution.
  5. A step in the instructions that I completely skipped.  I mean, I’m pretty sure I didn’t but it’s not unprecedented.

I mean, I know it could have been worse; I could have flown into a rage and stabbed the annoying kids who hang out on my stoop with a kitchen knife, or thrown the hot pan full of chard goo at a (closed) window.  Luckily, I’m a fun drunk, even when I’m not drunk, which I wasn’t.

To make something edible, I was forced to abandon my own rules and figure out a work-around.  Bread crumbs in the chard mixture to help it hold together better.  Non-stick skillet.  Butter in the pan.  Result? Crispy cakes, the success of which alleviates any guilt I had at fucking up the actual Lidia recipe.


These are not hot wings, I swear it.

The mini-braciole went through a three-step breading process:  flour, an egg wash full of minced garlic, salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of cinnamon and cloves.  She tells you to “keep the spices in the sieve,” which first, how the fuck do you keep anything in a sieve because is not the VERY PURPOSE of a sieve to allow things to pass though, and secondly, she mentions the sieve as though you should have been using it all along despite the fact that this is the first mention of this particular utensil.

The floured, egged and dusted bundles went into a pan of, you guessed it, butter.  My family is from the south, where we use olive oil like it’s going out of style.  Emilia?  Not so much with the olive trees, more with the cows. It is the home of prosciutto and parmigiana, and therefore my second favorite region of Italy after my home base in Puglia.

The cinnamon-clove smell was really strong while they were cooking up.


Everyone together: BRACIOLE!  Or, since they’re so small, braciolini.

(The polenta was an ad-hoc add-on, because Lidia told me that that’s what Emilians eat with their tiny braciole in the middle of winter.  For good measure, I stirred in the little remaining compound butter leftover along with a spoonful of mascarpone.  As I’ve always said, “A spoonful of mascarpone helps the grits go down, the grits go down, the grits go do-own.”)*

We’ve had some not-so-stellar Smackdowns and it’s especially disappointing after you’ve spent 2+ hours in the kitchen to sit down to a dinner you don’t really want to eat, because by then it’s too late to order anything but Dominoes and the Cheesy Bread is GOOD but man does it give you the runs. So thank god that everything in this meal was freaking AWESOME.

The best part, honestly, was the chard cakes.  I cannot wait for that part of summer where the CSA has chard every week and your neighbors who had the foresight to plant it bring it to you by the armfuls, because I am going to make a version of this cake 10 inches in diameter and eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and second dinner.  Any bitterness was boiled out, the onion was a nice punch, and the crisp cheese crust was not too heavy but added just the right amount of salt and texture.

Not that the meat was any slouch in the tastiness department: it was also really fricking good.  The spice didn’t overwhelm the beef at all, and the butter melting in the rolls basted the meat and gave it the most wonderful texture. And of course Lidia was right on about the polenta, which I normally like only when chilled and sauteed, but was a perfect pairing here.  (The mascarpone did help.)

Final Score: Us 1, Food 0, Lidia Bastianich’s ability to write clear instructions, you have detention for a week.

*I know that you know that I know you know the tune.

23 thoughts on “TNS: Were the instructions written by a Chinese hairless crested?

  1. Hi Michelle (wave). Hope you’re feeling better! The chard looks pretty awesome…but that isn’t why I’m posting. I’m posting because Arianne was a sous chef on Iron Chef last night! She was a sous chef for the challenging chef, and since I don’t actually watch Iron Chef (it is what I flip to during the commercials), I don’t actually know a lot of other information. But I wondered if Arianne is now trying to make her way in the world on the Food Network and if this was the first step. Sort of like hazing.

  2. christie, those are from the second time around, where i pretty much ignored most of the actual instructions. the first try resulted in much weeping and lamentation.

    julianne, not really, but what are your gonna do?

    interesting about ariane. i assume it’s a chef she’s close to. her restaurant is pretty well known ad pretty universally loved where she is, but maybe the TV bug bit her.

  3. Those kind of dogs are gross. This food, however? NOT GROSS. I love chard. I hope to grow a lot of chard this year. Then I can eat things like these chard cakes. Hey, you know what would be REALLY GOOD? If you cooked the chard in bacon grease instead of butter. YUM.

  4. I have to confess. I don’t like chard. Don’t like kale. Don’t like spinach unless it’s heavily disguised. I grew up where turnip greens were a staple, hated ‘em, and they turned me against any kind of cooked greens. Can’t do it. That said, the braciole, which I had no idea what a braciole was, looked pretty sporty. Must try.
    Glad you’re feeling better! Offer still stands for those Rendezvous ribs.

  5. my mom has 2 chinese cresteds. (they’re mill rescues,) my son calls them “crusteds.” they smell bad, too. and have pimples all over. all in all, a great insult, even more than you know.
    Also, when i met my honey, his mom found out I didn’t have a meat hammer. She bought me one when he and I moved in together. “a young woman should always have something like this in her kitchen, especially after the man moves into it.” and then groucho-ed her eyebrows. I have a great MIL.

  6. Ha! In my dog’s head, my husband is “bigger, bald monkey helper,” and I’m “smaller, bald monkey helper.” But both of us answer to the insolent nickname, “Thumbs.”

  7. Usually I’m a silent lurker, but today I felt like commenting. Michelle, I love your blog, I love the cooking adventures and I absolutely LOVE your commentary. I’ve already sent your blog to all my foodie friends! And now I can tell my roommate what to do with the Swiss Chard left over after she makes soup (it was a frickin tree).

  8. My friend has Chinese Cresteds.

    I call them Chernobyl Dogs. I am sure they look that way from too much radiation.

    Srsly … who would want some yappy dog that you have to DRESS so they don’t freeze to death?? Give me a sturdy hunting dog any day.

    ps: I am now looking forward to my first batch of CSA Chard!

  9. kristin, i used a lot of my bacon grease horde making a recipe that i can no longer remember (maybe the toffee)? so i’m being stingy with the rest until i can replenish.

    kay, i don’t really like kale, and i much prefer baby spinach to adult spinach b/c of its milder flavor. i can’t abide any bitter greens. in this particular recipe, the boiling really leeches any lingering bitterness out, and the cakes are really quite savory and salty and crunch and delicious.

    all i am saying, is give chard a chance.

    hihi, i thought i had a greatest mother in law, but you might tie me for “mothers-in-law who take the cake.”

    jenerita, see! this is what dog people do! to ours, my husband is “the fat man” and i am “the nice lady.”

    let the record show that he is not, in fact, fat, and the dogs call every man “fat man.” (e.g., my father in law is “the fat man’s fat man”, his younger brother is “the little fat man,” etc). my husband is just THE fat man.

    kara, yay for delurking! i’m glad you like it here, and thanks for spreading the good word.

    another excellent use for chard: saute with lots of garlic. use to top pizza with ricotta, more garlic and good olive oil. i think there’s an older post about it; SO good.

    mit, they have all kinds of freay skin problem, too. there used to be one who was always at our dog park. his name was hamster, and he had the worst acne ever. shudder.

  10. Michelle, first of all, the chard cakes and braciole both look fantastic. Who’d have thought chard could actually look good?
    Secondly, why are these pathetic creatures even considered dogs? Extraordinarily creepy little things, if you ask me. Thirdly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with holding conversations with your dogs. My boyfriend had a golden retreiver who had a voice curiously like my boyfriend’s Russian immigrant grandfather. My dog (well, now my ex-husband’s dog) routinely held conversations with me. My other dog, who died several years ago and was cremated, still communicates from beyond the grave (or box on the mantle). She’s now referred to as the Dusty Little Dog.

    No, I’ve never been diagnosed as mentally ill (yet).

  11. I think both your chard and you’re braciolini look incredible, and I really wish someone at my house other than me was working on them as I write. While you were cooking such yummy stuff last night, I was still taking Hosea’s TC win and Carla’s loss pretty hard. Poking around on the Internet, I happened across the following, in which Casey went to extraordinary lengths to kick a fellow female chef while she was down. Enjoy!

    http://sidedish.dmagazine.com/2009/02/26/casey-thompson-speaks-out-about-top-chef/

  12. Hi, I found your site a few weeks ago and love it. After having my soul crushed at the office your hilarious commentary is a godsend. I’ve never cooked with chard but this is going to make me try it, those cakes look great! And I’m glad to know there are other foodies who hate olives, very few people seem to share this aversion. I succumbed to peer pressure and tried ‘em in Italy, in Portugal; still find them icky. I love dogs and find most animals preferable to humans, but if you think conversations with yours are strange, you should see what it’s like with cats. Most of their side of the dialogue seems to consist of “why must you insist on not doing what I ask of you?” or else climbing on your head at ungodly hours to get some adoration. I don’t think they even stoop to giving us names. They have mastered the art of sucking up though, just when you’re ready to scream the purring and nudging starts. But I digress. Thank you for sharing your writing and sense of humor with us.

  13. Hahah, my husband LOVES Chinese Cresteds. They make me laugh. I think some of them are cute, but I’d hate to have one of the ugly, retarded ones.

    Our dogs don’t say smart, insulting things. Ever. Our dogs speak in a Forrest Gump voice and call me “Mahhmmuh?”

  14. I’ll admit, I HATE chard….but since I signed up for a CSA myself this year, I plan on learning to love it…lol

    and I *heart* Lidia! I’m a huge fan of family style peasant food of all cultures (my huge ass is apparently a huge fan as well.) I use 2 of her cookbooks more often than most of my others

  15. Those dogs look like they’ve been receiving radiation treatment.

    And yes, the whole dogs…voices thing – YES.

    Love that chard. I will be trying this soon. Thanks for the tips.

  16. wait, the dog’s name was HAMSTER? wow… thats amazing. that might even beat the pit bull on Weeds inexplicably named “Mr Sweaters” by Kevin Nealon.

  17. Okay, this has never happened before. I made the braciole from my copy of that book. Months and months ago. I made a recipe that you did a TNS about! I don’t know why I find that so thrilling haha.

    The only reason I didn’t post about mine was because they turned out good but not great and I couldn’t find the motivation to write about them. Yours look better than mine did. :)

  18. Found my way here from Kay’s blog. Interesting. I’ll be peeking more.

    Re: Chinese Cresteds… I’m surprised to see that nobody seemed to note that the last 4 or 5 winners of the “World’s Ugliest Dog” competition have been Chinese Cresteds (or maybe Chinese Crested mixes… I’ve never gotten close enough to one to verify their purebreed status, nor would I want to).

    Frankly, seems to me they have an unfair advantage in that competition…

  19. Dear Michelle:

    I just found your blog (which I’m enjoying immensely), and I have to say I’m right with you on:

    * The adorability of Jamie Oliver

    * The revolting taste of olives

    and

    * The incomprehensibility of Lidia Bastianich’s instructions

    We eat at Lidia’s in Kansas City whenever we can (read: whenever we can afford it), and it’s always divine, but all attempts to make her recipes have been laughably ill-fated. Did you ever try her recipe for ragu bolognese (printed a few years ago in *Parade* mag)? It was completely whack, and in the end, entirely tasteless. (It involved keeping the sauce ingredients covered with, like, an inch of water at all times, and simmering it for a day and a half or so. Is it any wonder there was no taste left?) And don’t even get me started on the escarole soup…

  20. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » Happiness is a Warm Gun

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