Saturday, July 19, 2014

Couscous & Eggplant Salad

This summer salad is the perfect side dish to everything from grilled lamb chops to hamburgers. You have the sweet creamy taste of the eggplant contrasted with the tartness of the sundried tomato vinaigrette and the acidity of the tomatoes complimented by the fresh herbs. This salad is ideal for picnics since it has no mayonnaise.

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients
1 1/4 C Water
1 C Israeli Couscous *
1 ½ tsp Kosher Salt
1 Large Purple Eggplant
1 oz Pancetta (fried & crumbled) *
1 Dry Pint Grape Tomatoes
1 tsp Fresh Thyme (minced)
1 TBS Fresh Parsley minced (Optional)

Directions

Peel and dice the eggplant into ½ inch cubes. Place on a large microwave safe dish covered with two layers of paper towel. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of kosher salt over eggplant and cover with another piece of paper towel (this will steam the eggplant instead of drying out). Cook in the microwave on high for 10-14 minutes until tender. Place in a large bowl.

Bring 1 ¼ C of water to a boil in a small saucepan and add ½ teaspoon of salt and 1 cup of Israeli couscous. Cook for 8 minutes over a low simmer, stirring occasionally. Place in the large bowl with the eggplant.

Dice the pancetta and fry it in a small frying pan over medium heat until it browns and crisps. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in the bowl with the couscous and eggplant.

Slice the tomatoes in half and add them with the vinaigrette and thyme to the bowl with the couscous and eggplant. Mix well and top with the minced fresh parsley. Serve warm or chilled.

* Pronto Substitutes

Pancetta – use 2 slices of Bacon.

Sundried Tomato Vinaigrette – You can use any other vinaigrette.

Israeli Couscous – You can substitute 1 cup of orzo cooked in 2 quarts of salted water.


To print a copy of this recipe go to Couscous and Eggplant Salad

Sundried Tomato Vinaigrette

Sundried Tomato Vinaigrette


Makes about 1 cup of vinaigrette.

Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette Ingredients
1/3 C firmly packed Sun Dried Tomatoes (drained, oil reserved ~3 TBS)
3 TBS Aceto Balsamic Vinegar de Modena
1 Clove Garlic (minced)
¼ tsp Table Salt
1/8 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
2/3 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 TBS of reserved Sun-dried Tomato Oil

Directions

Place all of the ingredients, except the oils, into a blender and process on high until combined and the sun-dried tomatoes are finely chopped. With the blender running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and sun-dried tomato oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

Refrigerate in a tightly closed container for up to 2 weeks.


To print a copy of this recipe go to Sundried Tomato Vinaigrette.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Balsamic Vinegar



I often buy flavored balsamic vinegars from several local stores. However this is not always necessary since you can make several varieties of flavored balsamic vinegars at home and much cheaper. Today’s recipe only used two ingredients, balsamic vinegar di Modena and a chocolate hazelnut spread like Nutella. When you first put it in your mouth you taste the sweetness of the Nutella then you get the tang of the balsamic on the back of your throat. I pour this over ice cream or serve it on the side with a dessert such as the ricotta 
cake shown here. By varying the 
amount of Nutella you can vary the 
sweetness.

Makes ¼ cup

Ingredients
2 TBS Balsamic Vinegar di Modena (Use a good balsamic, like Colavita)
2-3 TBS Chocolate Hazelnut Spread (such as Nutella)

Place the two ingredients in a small container and shake very well.

Room Temperature – If you serve it immediately it will have a saucy consistency.

Refrigerated – If you refrigerate it for at least 1 hour it will firm up and spread like peanut butter.

USES:
·         Pour over fruit
·         Pour over ice cream or parfaits
·         Spread on waffles
·         Serve with cake
·         Spread on a sandwich with raspberry jelly
·         Spread on crackers with an apple slice


To print a copy of this recipe go to Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Balsamic Vinegar.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Ricotta Cake

This afternoon I had the privilege to give a cooking class to a wonderful group of seniors at Carolina House in Wake Forest NC. We started off with Rigatoni with Sausage, Asparagus, And Artichokes fro Giada De Laurentis’ Everyday Pasta cookbook which was fantastic. Then came the dessert. I made a ricotta cake that was a cheese cake surrounded by a yellow cake. It just melted in your mouth and brought a smile to my face. The creamy ricotta filling was surrounded by light moist yellow cake studded with chocolate chips and a hint of lemon – and it was easy to make.
Makes 12-18 Servings
Ingredients
1 box Yellow Cake Mix
2 lb Whole Milk Ricotta
¾ C Sugar
4 lg Eggs
¼ tsp Almond Extract
½ tsp Vanilla Extract
Grated Zest of 1 Lemon
½ C Mini Chocolate Chips

Optional
Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Balsamic
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour a 13-by-9-inch cake pan or a 9 inch round cake pan.
Prepare the cake mix according to the directions on the box, and pour it into the pan smoothing the top.
In a large bowl, blend together the ricotta, sugar, eggs, almond and vanilla extracts and lemon zest until well mixed. Stir in the chocolate chips.


Pour the ricotta batter gently over the cake mix, but don't mix it into the batter. Smooth out the top.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the top is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake sit about 30 minutes before slicing so it can firm up a bit. Place a spoonful of the optional Chocolate Hazelnut Balsamic Vinegar on the side of the cake for dipping.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Creamsicle Cupcake

Every year I go to the Peak City Pigfest where my Stoke & Smoke friends take part in the barbecue competition. The tradition is that I bring dessert for the post competition eating fest – plenty of pulled pork, brisket, ribs and chicken. This year I wanted to make something light and fruity to both complement and contrast with the sweetness of their homemade barbecue sauce. What I came up with was creamsicle cupcakes. The fruity orange butter cream frosting melts in your mouth mixing with the smooth vanilla cream center nestled in a moist cupcake, reminiscent of a creamsicle bar.

Makes 12 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients
1 ½ C All-Purpose Flour
1 ¼ tsp Baking Powder
¼ tsp Table Salt
1 C Granulated Sugar
1 stick (1/2 C or 4 oz.) Unsalted Butter (Room Temp)
1 Lg Egg + 2 Egg Yolks
¾ tsp Vanilla Extract
½ C + 2 TBS Whole Milk

Pudding Ingredients
1 3.4 oz box French Vanilla Instant Pudding
1 ½ C Whole Milk

Icing Ingredients
1 stick (1/2 C or 4 oz.) Unsalted European Style Butter*
1 ¾ C Confectioners’ Sugar
1 pinch Table Salt
2 tsp Orange Zest
1 TBS Orange Juice
1 TBS Light Corn Syrup
½ tsp Vanilla Extract
½ tsp Orange Extract
1-2 drops Orange Food Coloring (Yellow +Red = Orange)

Mellon Baller

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 12-cup cupcake tin with cupcake liners.

In a medium bowl mix together the all-purpose flour, baking powder and ¼ teaspoon table salt.

Using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup granulated sugar, and 1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature until light and fluffy (~3 -4 minutes). Add the egg, vanilla and orange extracts and beat until smooth. Add 1/2 of the flour mixture and beat until combined. Add the milk (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) & beat until combined. Add the remaining flour mixture until combined then beat for one more minute. Fill each cupcake cup 2/3 full.

Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes then place on a cooling rack until completely cool.

In a small bowl mix the instant pudding and 1 ½ C milk with a whisk until smooth. Place in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.

Prepare the frosting by placing all of the frosting ingredients into the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on high until light and creamy. Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour prior to frosting the cupcakes.

Using the small end of a melon baller, scoop out a hole in the middle of each cupcake. Place the pudding into a quart zipper bag with the corner cut off (see photo). Pipe the pudding into the holes you have just cut out.
NOTE: You will have extra pudding, just mix it with the cake holes you just dug out and eat it quickly.

Place the frosting into a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Starting on the outside, pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes mounding in the center. Refrigerate the cupcakes until served.

Pronto Substitutes
European Style Butter – European butter has a higher fat content and give better mouth feel to the icing, however you can substitute regular unsalted butter in its place.


To print a copy of this recipe go to Creamsicle Cupcakes.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Green Bean & Mushroom Salad

Like many Europeans I will go to the grocery store and buy whatever looks fresh. This dish was inspired by the first green beans of the season and some beautiful Crimini mushrooms. The combination of the tender crisp green beans, the meaty mushrooms, and the sweet roasted red peppers bathed in a light citrus dressing came together perfectly. This salad, served either warm or cold, is an ideal accompaniment to grilled pork chops or brought to a picnic. It has no mayonnaise so you don’t have to worry about it spoiling.

Makes 8 servings.

1 lb Fresh Green Beans (tips trimmed then cut in half)
8 oz Crimini Mushrooms (sliced thin) *
1 TBS Olive Oil
½ tsp Kosher Salt Divided
1 C Roasted Red Peppers (jarred peppers sliced)

Trim and wash the green beans and cut them in half. Boil or steam them until crisp tender. Drain and place in a large bowl.

Clean and slice the mushrooms thinly. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet until the oil is rippling. Add the sliced mushrooms and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Saute the mushrooms until they start to turn a light golden brown. Add the mushrooms to the bowl with the cooked green beans.

Drain the roasted red peppers and julienne them into small thin strips. Add them to the bowl with the green beans and mushrooms. Add the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt and the ¼ cup of citrus herb dressing. Toss and serve immediately or refrigerate and serve cold.

* Pronto Substitutes
Crimini Mushrooms – Substitute white button mushrooms.
Citrus Herb Vinaigrette – Substitute your favorite Italian or citrus dressing


To print a copy of this recipe go to Green Bean & Mushroom Salad.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Roasted Honey Ginger Butternut Squash


As spring started to push out the winter chills I had a desire for vegetable but there was nothing fresh at the market. I decided to makeover one of my favorite vegetables, butternut squash. By roasting the squash, the naturally occurring sugars caramelize and mix with the honey, ginger and balsamic to create a vegetable that tastes like dessert. The first time I made them my wife and I were fighting over them. To say the least, there were none left at the end of the meal.

Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients
3 TBS Honey Ginger Balsamic Vinegar *
2 TBS Olive Oil
½ tsp Kosher Salt
¼ tsp Ground Black Pepper
1 Medium Butternut Squash *

Preheat oven to 425°F

In a large bowl whisk together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Cut the ends off of the butternut squash then peel completely. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Slice the squash into ¼ inches thick slices – they will look like half moons. Place the slices in the marinate, coating each slice completely.

Cover the bottom of a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lay the slices on the baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle any remaining marinade on top.

Place in the preheated oven for 35-45 minutes or until soft and they have started to brown at the edges. Flip halfway through.

* Pronto Substitutes

Honey Ginger Balsamic Vinegar – This is available at specialty vinegar stores or you can mix 2 tablespoons of aceto balsamic vinegar of Modena plus 1/ tablespoon of honey plus ¼ teaspoon of ground ginger.

Butternut Squash – You can substitute any root vegetable such as turnips and carrots but your cooking time will vary.


To print a copy of this recipe go to Roasted Honey Ginger Butternut Squash.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Limoncello

Several years ago I had the pleasure to visit the Island of Capri. Situated in the bay of Naples what strikes you when you get off the ferry is the smell of lemons. This is where the Italian lemon liqueur was born and where I developed a taste for this sweet yet tart drink. Making your own Limoncello is easy but you must have patience since the entire process takes two weeks. The wait is worth it.

Makes 2 750mL Bottles

Ingredients
12 Lemons (organic preferred)
1 750mL Bottle of Everclear *
6 C Water
4 C Sugar
Microplane Zester

Rinse and wipe off the lemons. Zest the lemons using a microplane zester. Make sure you avoid the white parts of the lemon skin, this can be very bitter. You can the squeeze all of the zested lemons and freeze the lemon juice in ice cube trays for future use.

Place the lemon zest and the Everclear into a 1 Liter bottle that has been sanitized. Place it in a dark cabinet or closet for two weeks. Stir or shake daily!

At the end of two weeks, make a simple syrup with the sugar and water. Bring the water to a boil, add the sugar and stir until it has turned clear. Cool the simple syrup to room temperature. 

Strain the zest from the alcohol by placing a coffee filter in a strainer over a large bowl. Discard the lemon zest. Add the cooled simple syrup to the strained alcohol then pour it into smaller bottles. 

Store in the refrigerator for at least 5 days before drinking. Limoncello must be store in either the refrigerator or freezer.

* NOTE: Everclear is a brand name for 151-proof (75.5% ABV) grain alcohol. It is also called diesel alcohol.

To print a copy of this recipe go to Limoncello.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Spicy Brussels Sprouts


Holiday meals in our house have taken on a new addition now that I’ve learned how to make Brussels sprouts. All I ever remembered about them growing up was how they stunk up the house and how they were cooked unevenly and were bland. By par-cooking them in the microwave you shorten the cooking time and ensure that they are always cooked perfectly. They have quickly become one of my favorite vegetables. They are salty, spicy, sweet and sour all in one bite.

Makes 6-8 sides

Ingredients
1 lb Brussels Sprouts (cleaned & halved*)
1 TBS Olive Oil
¼ lb Pancetta (sliced thick at deli) *
1 TBS of Garlic Confit (mashed) *
½ C Chicken Broth
1 TBS Fish Sauce
1 tsp Sriracha Sauce
1 TBS Balsamic Vinegar

Clean the brussels sprouts by cutting off the bottoms, slice in half, and remove the outer leaves (see note). Place the in a covered microwave safe bowl with 2 tablespoons of water and cook on high for 5 minutes.

Dice the pancetta into ¼ inch pieces. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until shimmering. Add the pancetta and cook until crisp. Remove the pancetta and place it on a paper towel to drain.

Carefully drain the Brussels sprouts and add them to the hot frying pan. Sautee for 2-3 minutes or until lightly browned. Add the mashed garlic confit and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

Add the fish sauce, Sriracha sauce, balsamic vinegar and pancetta. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half.

* NOTE: Cleaning Brussels sprouts can take a long time. I’ve found that if I treated it like a production line it goes much faster.
1.    Cut off all of the bottoms.
2.    Cut them all in half (many of the unwanted leaves will just fall off at this step.
3.    Peel off any unwanted outer leaves.

* Pronto Substitutes
Pancetta – substitute bacon.
Garlic Confit – puree whole peeled garlic cloves with just enough olive oil to make a paste.


To print a copy of this recipe go to Spicy Brussels Sprouts.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Citrus Herb Vinaigrette

This is one of my favorite salad dressings. It has a light, citrus, floral flavor that brings out the flavors of the salad instead of masking them. This is an ideal accompaniment to to a holiday meal or to a simple supper. 

Ingredients 
¼ C Sugar
3 TBS Water
2 TBS White Balsamic Vinegar*
4 tsp Garlic (minced)
1TBS Dijon Mustard 
2 tsp Lime Juice 
2 tsp Lemon Juice 
2 tsp Fresh Parsley (minced) 
½ tsp Fresh Thyme (minced) *
¼ tsp Dried Oregano
¼ tsp Table Salt
1/8 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper 
2/3 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Directions 
Whisk all ingredients except the olive oil in a bowl until blended. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking. Continue to whisk until you have formed an emulsion. Cover and chill for one hour before serving.

Note: this can be kept in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to one month. If the olive oil hardens in the refrigerator, warm the bottle in your hand and leave it on the counter for 15 minutes to warm up. Shake vigorously before using.

* Pronto Substitutes 
White Balsamic Vinegar – Use white wine vinegar.
Fresh Thyme – Use 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme or ½ teaspoon of dried basil.

The Two-to-One Rule
There is a simple rule to making a salad dressing. Use one part citrus/vinegar to 2 parts oil. From there the variations are endless. If you like a fruity dressing use a fruit flavored vinegar like raspberry balsamic. There is one thing you should never change, always use the best quality vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for the best flavor and mouth feel.

To print a copy of this recipe go to Citrus Herb Vinaigrette.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Easter Pie - Pastiera Napolitana

Every Italian holiday has specific foods associated with it.  One of my favorites is Easter Pie which is a cross between rice pudding and a cheesecake.  This pie is traditionally made with shelled wheat grain, however this is very difficult to get unless you live in an area like New York or Boston where there are a lot of Italians.  I've substituted cooked arboreal rice (risotto) which has a similar texture and taste.  The other oddity about this pie is the way it is cut in rectangles instead of wedges.  I have no idea why this is done, but who am I to question tradition.

Makes 12 servings

Ingredients
2 Pie Crusts (I use Pillsbury refrigerated crust)
9” Cake Pan

Orange Risotto
¼ C Milk
2 C Water
1 TBS Butter
Grated Peel/Zest from ½ Orange
1 tsp Orange Extract
Juice from ½ Orange
¾ C Arborio rice

Filling
6 Large Eggs
2 C Cooked Orange Risotto
2 C Sugar
1 lb (2 C) Whole Milk Ricotta
4 oz Candied Citron or Candied Orange (cubed 1/4")*

Cook the risotto first.  This process will take 30 minutes and requires your full attention.  Place all the Risotto ingredients except the rice in a medium pot and bring to a simmer.  Do not let it boil!  In a separate pot add a ladle (1/2 C) full of the hot liquid and the rice on a medium low heat.  Stir the rice and cook until all the water is absorbed.  Add another ladle full of the hot liquid and cook until all water is absorbed.  Continue adding the hot liquid a ladle full at a time, until all the hot liquid has been absorbed.  The risotto should be creamy and smell of oranges.  Put aside to cool while you prepare the crust and filling.

Preheat the oven to 425°.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk.  Add all of the remaining filling ingredients and mix until thoroughly incorporated.

Roll out your bottom pie crust to 13 inches.  Carefully place it in your 9" cake pan so that it comes up to the top of the side of the pan.  Trim off the crust at the edge of the pan. Pour in the filling ingredients.  On a floured surface, cut the 9" pie crust into 1/2" strips using a pastry cutter.  Place the strips on top of the pie in a lattice pattern (see photo).

Bake at 425° for 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 375° and cook for an additional 55 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean and the crust is golden brown.

* Pronto Substitutes
Candied Citron – use candied orange peel.

Candied Citron
Citron is a fragrant citrus fruit from the Mediterranean that is candied and used in a variety of Italian desserts. You may have trouble finding candied citron but if you can get it, it looks like half of a very plump green pear. I usually have to go to my Italian market to find it.  I buy it when I can get it and keep it in the freezer until Easter.  If you can't get it you can substitute candied orange peel.


To print a copy of this recipe go to Easter Pie - Pastiera Napolitana.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Artichoke Parmesan

Artichokes are a holiday tradition in our house.  They are, by far, my kid's favorite vegetable.  The best part is the heart of the artichoke.  Once you finish scraping the meat off of the leaves with your teeth, you remove the choke (looks like stringy leaves) and you are left with the meaty heart.  It is absolutely one of the best taste sensations you will ever experience.

Artichokes are also considered by many to be an aphrodisiac.  Catherine DeMedici is said to have consumed pounds of artichokes a day to maintain her sexual prowess.

Servings: 4

Ingredients
4 Large firm green Artichokes
4 tsp Olive Oil
4 tsp Table Salt
Pepper to taste
1 tsp Garlic Powder
4 tsp Dried Basil
4 TBS Dried Parsley
4 TBS Grated Parmesan

Rinse the artichokes well in water.  Trim the bottom off of each artichoke so that it can sit on the cutting board without falling over.  Trim off any outside leaves that are sticking out and dry.  Using a sharp knife, cut off the top inch of each artichoke. Grab the artichoke firmly in your hand and bang the top of the artichoke on a cutting board.  This will open the leaves so that the spices can get inside.

Place the artichoke in a heavy bottom pot so that they are snug and do not flip over.  Fill with water so that ¾ of the artichokes are covered in water.  If you still have room in the pot and they want to float around put a mug filled with water in the center.  You want to put them in the water quickly so that they do not start to turn brown.

On top of each artichoke sprinkle the following:
1 tsp Olive Oil
½ tsp Table Salt
Pepper to taste
¼ tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Dried Basil
1 TBS Dried Parsley
1 TBS Grated Parmesan

I usually end up seasoning the stove by the time I'm done.

Bring the water to a light simmer on low heat and cook for 3 hours covered.  Test for doneness by tasting a leaf (scrape the meat off with your teeth) and a fork should slide fairly easily through the center of the artichoke's heart.  The best part is the heart in the bottom of the artichoke (see heart in photo).  This is one meal where you have to keep the best part for last.



To print a copy of this recipe go to Artichoke Parmesan

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Parmesan Fish Sticks


Makes 4 servings of fish sticks

This is an adult version of those frozen fish sticks we all ate as kids.  Growing up Italian, Fridays were always a no meat day and would often consist of fish sticks or pasta.  This reinvented recipe adds savory flavor, a little heat and the crunch of cheese.  Dip them in marinara or tartar sauce and enjoy them with dinner or as an appetizer.

Ingredients

Vegetable Oil Cooking Spray
1 lb Cod (or other thick mild white fish)
2 C Buttermilk
4 tsp Hot Sauce
½ C Grated Parmesan or Roman cheese
½ C Italian Style Panko Bread Crumbs
1/8 C Corn Meal or Polenta
½ tsp Kosher Salt
1 tsp Dried Parsley
½ tsp Garlic Powder
1/8 to 1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes *
 
Dipping Sauce *
2 C Marinara Sauce

Tartar Sauce *
½ C Mayonnaise
½ tsp Relish
1 tsp Basil Pesto
1 TBS Capers drained (optional)

Preheat the oven to 500°F. Coat a large cookie sheet with vegetable oil cooking spray, place a cooling rack on top and set aside. Mix the ingredients for the tartar sauce in a small bowl and refrigerate until used.

In a large bowl mix the buttermilk and hot sauce until thoroughly mixed. Cut the fish into ¾” strips (remember how they looked when you were a kid) and place the fish strips in the buttermilk.  Let them marinate for 15 to 60 minutes.

In a medium bowl mix the grated parmesan, bread crumbs, corn meal, salt, parsley, garlic powder and red pepper flakes.  Remove the fish, one piece of fish at a time and place it in the breadcrumb mixture.  Coat thoroughly and place in a single layer on the cookie sheet. Coat the fish with the vegetable cooking spray. Bake until golden brown and crispy, about 14-15 minutes. Serve immediately with either the heated marinara sauce or the tartar sauce.

Frying Option – You can fry the fish sticks in 2” of oil heated to 350F until golden brown.

* Pronto Substitutes
Red Pepper Flakes – If you are serving this to children you may want to ship the red pepper flakes or you can increase if you want some extra spice..
Dipping Sauce – Here is you opportunity to be creative.  You can use whatever sauce you like such as a tangy chutney or mayonnaise with horseradish.  

Chicken Finger Appetizers
Turn a childhood favorite into an appetizer that everyone will enjoy.  Serve the fish sticks with several different kinds of dipping sauces from mild, to hot, to exotic; the choices are only limited by your imagination.


To print a copy of this recipe go to Parmesan Fish Sticks.