Monday, October 22, 2012
We're trying a new food project this month. About ten years ago a friend sent me two olive trees for my birthday. They were about two feet tall, and looked like rooted sprigs. I potted them and have loved and nursed them ever since. They grew to about four feet after several years and several new pots. Not until we took them to the NC coast and planted them in the ground did they really grow. After two years they are taller than our heads, and for the first time, filled with olives.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Friday, July 20, 2012
|Ciona, one of the beautiful homes where we cooked (and dined!). You can actually see Sienna in the distance.|
|We are instructed through each recipe.|
|Fabulous Radicchio Lasagna|
|Fresh Creme Dessert|
Thursday, July 19, 2012
|Orazio overseeing the dinner.|
|You had to know where to look, or you would never find it!|
|Cantuccini and Vin Santo|
The Chianti region is very similar to the mountains of southwest Virginia, dipping into the foothills at its southern boundary.
As far as I could tell these people are 'living well'. They enjoy life fully. This includes the butcher, the baker and the owners of the beautiful sprawling properties that have been lovingly restored.We didn't lack for good dining, and splurged on a couple of over the top meals, but the one I enjoyed most was recommended by our hosts. They drew a map. There was no sign-not even a name. It was the restaurant of Orazio, the town baker. Our host told us it was one of the last truly authentic Tuscan dining experiences, where we would find a mix of the people in the village having lunch.We finally found the door after passing it more than once. Inside, down a little hall, up a couple of steps and we walked into what could have been the dining room of a modest home.
We had been told we would be greeted by a very stern look--and we were, but it turned into a beautiful smile. This was the daughter of Orazio. She brought water and wine and asked if we wanted pomodoro or bolognese. That was it--our only choice of the meal.
I could see into the kitchen. She began to peel potatoes and pulled out different meats from the local butcher. The meal went on for three courses when Orazio came in--90 year old Orazio--the baker of the village, dressed in his white baking coat. He reached into the bottom of a sideboard and pulled out an unlabeled bottle of Vin Santo , a very sweet dessert wine, and brought it to the table with a plate of cantuccini he had just baked. They were small biscotti to dip into the vin santo. For other diners a basket of fresh peaches was passed.
The meal couldn't have been fresher or more local, and I think you can imagine the flavor. Everyone had an air of contentment--happiness with their life. As the diners finished their meals they stepped into the kitchen to pay. No check, no cash register, just money on the counter and a grazie and ciao to the cook.
They were all 'living well'! In that moment they were contented with their lives, and so was I. There is a lesson to be learned.
|And what meal would be complete without your very own Grappa?|
Easy Summer Pasta Dish with TunaWe had several destinations in mind for day trips while in Chianti. One was to Panzano, only 11 km away from home base, to visit Dario, the Rockstar Butcher. Even with stories on the Internet I was not prepared for the experience. Dario Cecchini who is the butcher of Panzano now has three restaurants in his small village and has been visited by culinary celebrities and written about in many food magazines. The butcher shop becomes a stage with frenzied patrons when Dario takes up his knife. The day we were there he prepared two porchettas for roasting to the blasts of AC/DC. By the end the wine was flowing and the people who filled the tiny butcher shop were cheering. It was amazing! I bought from the shop fresh tuna that he had preserved and sealed. And that night we prepared a very simple pasta dish using the tuna. (I know, tuna from a butcher shop, but it was one of his unique specialties.)
Several days later we returned to Panzano to eat in one of his restaurants and sample the delicious pork and beef dishes, another experience I will never forget. We ate with a long table of guests, including many locals. The sample platter included Tuscan beef tartar, cubes of something that tasted like a fancy meatloaf, pulled pork and porchetta, all delicious.
Life is good in the Chianti region of Tuscany!
Extra virgin olive oil
2 large red onions thinly sliced
4 medium tomatoes diced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 can chickpeas, drained
1/3 cup chopped olives
1 lb. good canned tuna drained
2 or 3 handfuls of fresh arugula
Salt to taste
Freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
12 oz pasta, your choice, prepared according to pkg directions
Add about 1/4 cup olive oil to large skillet over medium/low heat. Add onions and cook until caramelized. Next add the tomatoes, rosemary, pepper flakes, red wine vinegar, and chickpeas. Taste and add salt if needed. Cook until tomatoes lose their shape. Add tuna being careful not to breakup too much and finally the arugula. Immediately toss with pasta and serve with grated cheese.
Saturday, July 14, 2012
|This is Fienile, the building at the top of the photo of the overall property. It was our temporary home, and originally, the hay barn.|
|One of the beautiful views from the main house.|
Sunday, April 22, 2012
If you like peanut butter cookies and Fritos....
I've been saving the Momofuko Milk Bar Cookie recipe for a couple of years. I saw it demonstrated on TV (can't remember which cooking show) and there was so much hype about it, I really wanted to try it. So far, I haven't. It requires the baking of a cookie-like cake to crumble into the cookie batter, and that seems like quite a stretch for me and a cookie. The part of the recipe that is so intriguing to me is the crumbling of your favorite snack foods into the cookie--ie, cereal, peanuts, pretzels, cheezits, chocolate bars, potato chips--whatever your pleasure. I'm still going to try it one day.
Meanwhile, I saw a very simple recipe for a peanut butter cookie that incorporated the same idea. The recipe was in Real Simple, and used pretzels and chocolate chips. The cookies were so good, and so easy. Maybe too easy, because when they were gone I thought I should try it again, this time using Heath Bars, crumbled, and Fritos.
For the cookie to be your FAV, I think you have to use YOUR addictive treats--one salty and one sweet, or even more if you're really willing to walk on the wild side. Final declaration: don't make these things if you're not prepared to gain a few pounds. Maybe that's if you're over sixty. I couldn't stop eating them. However, I gave some to my children, and when I was at their house last week I saw the package still on the counter with the cookies only half eaten. Maybe it didn't include their favorite snacks, or maybe I just have the will power of a slug.
Toffee-Pretzel Peanut Butter Cookies(adapted from Real Simple Daily Email Recipes)
2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup broken salted pretzels
1 cup chopped chocolate toffee bars (about 4 bars)
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Favorite Recipes That Make It Back To The Table Again and Again
Stuffed Pork Loin Rib Roast with Port Sauce
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
A trip to Kroger last week sent me into an Easter frenzy. It all started when I went to the store to buy just a few things for dinner, and couldn't find anything. In one week, they had moved everything in the store to a different place. A shopping trip that should have taken twenty minutes took nearly an hour of in-store browsing.
One look into my basket at check-out showed why grocery stores periodically switch everything around and have us running like mice in a maze trying to find the items on our list. I came home with the cutest flower shaped cupcake wrappers (and no intention of making cupcakes), little plastic eggcups and saucers, a set of appetizer sized plates, and soft baking silicon moulds that make Easter egg and bunny shaped muffins.
Let the Easter baking begin!
I've also been obsessing about carrot cake. The thought process went something like this: spring, new growth, plants and animals regenerating, bunnies, carrots, carrot cake. Maybe not a direct line, but that was my inspiration. Plus, it's Doug's favorite cake. I have a theory--most men love carrot cake, but I think it's really the cream cheese icing they love. I caught Doug finishing off the icing left on the beaters and in the mixing bowl. Not one to often indulge in sweets, I'm pretty sure it's the icing and not the cake that tempts him.
First I made a three layer cake using an old recipe, but it didn't seem moist enough. Back to the drawing board. I added a couple of things that would surely add more moisture and changed a few quantities.
Next up, twelve carrot cake cupcakes, two bunnies, twelve Easter eggs and a single layer cake all from one recipe, and all nice and moist. I've had lots of multi-shaped carrot cake items to share with friends.
Now, here's the funny thing: my panel of judges was split. The guys liked the first cake, and the girls liked the second recipe. I still think it's all that cream cheese icing served up with the three layers of cake!
Recipe #1 (used for the three layer cake)
Hummingbird Bakery Carrot Cake
300g soft light brown sugar (1 ½ cup)
300ml sunflower oil (1 ¼ cup)
300g plain flour (3 cups)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp vanilla extract
300g carrots, grated (about six medium carrots) 3 ½ to 4 cups
grated Zest of half an orange
50g shelled walnuts, chopped, plus extra to decorate (a little less than ½ cup)
50g pecans, chopped, plus extra to decorate (a little less than ½ cup)
For the icing
600g icing sugar (4 ½ cups)
100g butter, at room temperature (1 stick
250g cream cheese, cold (9 ounces)
Preheat the oven to 170C (340°F). Prepare 3 x 20cm (8 inch) cake tins with loose bottoms by greasing then lining the bottoms with greaseproof paper.
Put the sugar, eggs and oil in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment and beat until all the ingredients are well mixed (don’t worry if it looks slightly split). Slowly add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt, orange zest and vanilla extract and continue to beat until well mixed.
Stir in the grated carrots and walnuts by hand. Pour into the prepared cake tins and smooth over. Bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes (mine took 30 minutes, which seems to be the feedback from other cooks, too), or until golden brown and the sponge bounces back when touched. Leave the cakes to cool slightly in the tins before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
To make the icing, beat the butter and sugar with the paddle attachment again until well mixed. Add the cream cheese, then beat again until well mixed. Turn the speed to high and continue to beat until light and fluffy but stop when you reach this point; if you over beat it the mixture will turn runny.
When the cakes are cold, spread about one-quarter of the cream cheese icing over it with a palette knife (I used less). Place a second cake on top and spread another quarter of the icing over it (again, I used less). Top with the last cake and spread the remaining icing over the top and sides. Decorate with walnuts around the edges and chopped pecans on top.
Recipe #2 (used for the cupcakes, eggs and bunnies)
Spring Carrot Cake
(This recipe is an adaptation from the Food Network Collaborating Chefs' recipe.)
Notes: if you have nut allergies in your family, substitute one cup golden raisins.
Taste your carrots. You want sweet, fresh carrots.
I used sunflower oil, but any vegetable oil will be fine.
three-fourths cup vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil)one and one-half cups sugar
one-half cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. Vanilla
one-half cup orange marmalade
4 eggs, room temperature
3-4 cups grated carrots, 6-8 regular sized carrots
3 cups all purpose flour
one and one-half teaspoons baking powder
one-half teaspoon baking soda
one-half teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
one-half teaspoon powdered ginger
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 cup salted sunflower seeds, optionalPreheat oven to 350°.
Prepare three nine inch cake pans by greasing and then adding parchment paper to the bottoms.
Mix the oil, both sugars, vanilla and marmalade until well combined. Add one egg at a time, mixing well after each addition. Now add the grated carrots, stirring until combined.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger together into a separate bowl.
Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk to the oil-sugar-egg mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Don't over-mix.
Fold in nuts.
Pour equal amounts into the prepared cake pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until cake springs back in the middle and tester comes out clean. Allow cakes to completely cool in pans.
If making cupcakes, or using the silicone egg and bunny molds, I only decreased the cooking time one minute to 24 minutes. Just watch beginning at about 20 minutes.Cream Cheese Icing
2 x 8 oz. packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 lb. box confectioners' sugar, plus about a cup more
Beat together cream cheese, butter, vanilla and lemon juice. Add confectioners' sugar a little at a time until well incorporated, light and fluffy and right spreading consistency.Spread icing between layers, then use remainder to ice sides and top of cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
February offers many reasons to celebrate, but our family has added another, and possibly our best to date. At the end of January I became a grandmother to the most beautiful baby in the world. By the time the dust settled, it was February and we were home loving this sweet baby. I've spent two weeks on the grandmother mountain top, and it's a breathtaking place to be.
Oh, yes, there was incredible joy and celebration when our children were born--joy that continues to this very day. But to see our daughter and her husband become 'Mama and Daddy' overnight exceeded anything I've ever experienced. Their caresses soothe the questions and wonder of this little fellow. His eyes strain to make sense, his toes beg to be kissed, and meanwhile the sound of his Mama's voice mesmerizes him; his Daddy speaking 'bebe nino' in his ear stills him and he feels safe and loved. He's beautiful, he's wonderful, and we are so blessed.
Jambalaya, Shrimp or Chicken
1 T extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. Andouille Sausage, sliced into quarter inch rounds
1 medium sweet onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 tsp. Smoked paprika
1 (8oz.) box Jambalaya Mix (I used Zatarain's)
1 (15oz.) can petite diced tomatoes
16 oz. peeled and deveined large shrimp or 1 cooked deli chicken, bones and skin removed and meat shredded
Shredded Monterey jack and mild cheddar cheese as garnish
Add the olive oil to a soup pot over medium heat. Add the sliced sausage, onion, celery and peppers. Cook, stirring occasionally, 4-5 minutes. Add paprika and stir to combine.
Add contents of Jambalaya box, the can of tomatoes (don't drain) and two and one-half cups water. Bring to a nice simmer, cover and low simmer for 25 minutes, or as directed on the box.
If using shrimp, add to the rice mixture during the last six minutes of cooking.
If using chicken, add during last few minutes, just long enough to heat through.
I like the finished jambalaya to be loose, not as liquid as soup, but still loose. Add a little more water or chicken broth if needed.
I know that some frown on using cheese with any seafood, but this is delicious garnished with a nice serving of shredded cheese.
Serve in soup bowls or even mugs.
You can add extras, like sauteed onions and peppers, or change out chili beans for the black beans, chili seasoning for fajita seasoning and ground beef for ground turkey, but this is how we like it. If you don't have an iron skillet, use regular skillet to prepare turkey, seasoning and added cans of beans, corn and tomatoes. Then transfer to casserole dish and top with cheese and prepared cornbread mix.
2 tsp. Extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. Ground turkey
1 packet (1.12 oz.)Fajita seasoning (ie McCormick's)
1 can (15 oz.) seasoned black beans, drained
1 can (7 oz.) Mexican corn, drained (this is a Green Giant product, but you can use any canned corn)
1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes NOT drained
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, or a mixture of your choice
1 box (8 oz.) cornbread mix, mixed according to package directions
Preheat oven to 425°.
Mix cornbread according to package directions.
Spread cheese evenly over tomato mixture in iron skillet. Top with prepared cornbread mix, spreading the mix evenly to edges of pan.
Place in oven and bake until cornbread is fully cooked, the time your cornbread mix recommends, usually about 25 minutes.