Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Italian Vegan Dinner Tonight

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My blogger friend and artist, Wendie, asked me to consider creating some vegan dishes for my blog. I told her I would consider it, if I could come up with ideas that did not use processed vegan foods. To me a true vegan dish should be made from plants without the addition of meat substitutes or processed dairy substitutes and dressings.

Note: If you are making a vegan dessert then the sugar you use must not have been processed with animal products, as most regular sugar products are. Did you know that? Here is some information on how sugar is processed. Look for brands that say organic, fair trade or vegan on the label.

Of course, the recipes in my menu must be Italian and I did include some olive oil. I consider olive oil to be a healthy oil and part of the vegan diet, since it is a plant-based food.

If there are health issues, then leave it out and use vegetable broth for sautéing, but for most of us olive oil is needed to create a flavorful dish.

Here is my take on a great tasting vegan dinner using all natural, easy to find ingredients. Try it for your next Meatless Monday dinner.

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Pureed Celery Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 leeks, light green and white sections, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds celery (stalks & leaves), diced
  • 2 medium baking potatoes, peeled & diced
  • 8 cups vegetable broth (for homemade vegetable stock see my recipe here)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Directions

In a heavy saucepan, heat the oil and cook the onion and celery until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Add the broth and potato and season with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook until the potato is fork tender, about 20 minutes.

Add the parsley leaves and cook another 4 to 5 minutes.

Use a regular blender to puree the soup until smooth (a hand immersion blender or a food processor does not get the soup really smooth).

Stir in the lemon juice and taste to adjust the seasoning, if needed.

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Crusty Italian Bread

Ingredients

  • 3 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups water

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and yeast. Add water and mix until a shaggy mixture forms.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 12 – 18 hours. Overnight works great.

Cut a piece of parchment paper the size of the bottom of a round cloche baker or dutch oven with a lid and sprinkle with flour. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. When the oven has reached 450 degrees F, place the baker pan in the oven and heat for 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a heavily floured work surface and shape into a ball. Place the dough on the prepared parchment and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise while the baker is heating.

Remove the hot baker from the oven and transfer the dough with the parchment to the baker. With a sharp knife, make a few slashes in the top of the dough. Cover and return to the oven for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes remove the lid and bake an additional 15 minutes.

Remove the bread from the oven and place on a rack to cool. Slice and serve with olive oil for dipping.

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Eggplant Olive Pasta

Serve a mixed green salad with the pasta.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium eggplant, (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 8 ounces dried rigatoni pasta (Check the ingredient list to be sure the pasta is vegan. Good Italian dried pasta should never contain eggs.)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Directions

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the eggplant and the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 5 minutes.

Add garlic and cook, stirring, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Add tomatoes, olives, vinegar, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until the tomatoes begin to break down, 5 to 7 minutes more.

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Turn the heat down and simmer the sauce, while the pasta cooks.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Place the cooked pasta and pasta cooking water in the skillet with the eggplant sauce and heat for about 2 minutes.

Pour into a pasta serving bowl and garnish with basil.

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Vanilla Almond Biscotti

After experimenting with different ingredients to create a vegan biscotti, I decided this recipe had the right combination to form an authentic tasting biscotti.

They are more fragile than traditional biscotti, so handle gently. And, believe me when I say, this is a great tasting biscotti.

Makes about 15 biscotti

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 cup organic sugar
  • 3/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 3/4 cup almond flour/meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 cup sliced almonds

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the almond milk and sliced almonds. Once mixed, slowly add the milk and mix until thoroughly combined. Fold in the 1 cup sliced almonds.

Cover a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place the dough in the center. Form the dough into a log with wet hands, about 10 x 4 inches.

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Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake until the center is firm (about 30 minutes); remove from the oven and place the log on a cutting board to cool for about 20 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.

Using a sharp knife, slice the log on the diagonal into 1-inch thick cookies and place them back on the baking sheet.

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Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the biscotti over and bake for 15 minutes more. Move to a wire rack to cool completely. These go very well with coffee for dessert.

Note: If you would like to decorate the biscotti with a drizzle of frosting for a better presentation, then mix together 1 cup of organic powdered sugar with 2-3 teaspoons of almond milk.

Cooking the Italian Provinces – L’Aquila

Castel del Monte (AQ).

L’Aquila is the largest, most mountainous and least densely populated province of the Abruzzo region of Southern Italy. It comprises about half the landmass of Abruzzo and occupies the western part of the region. The Province of L’Aquila includes the highest mountains of the Apennines (Gran Sasso, Maiella and Velino-Sirente).

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The province is known for its many castles, fortresses and medieval hill towns. The province’s two major cities, L’Aquila and Avezzano, have had rapid economic expansion since the late 20th century, with the growth of transportation, manufacturing, telecommunications and computer industries.

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The province’s major rivers are the Aterno-Pescara, Sangro, Liri, Salto and the Turano; its major lakes are Lago Scanno and Lago Barrea. It once included the largest lake on the Italian peninsula, Lago Fucino, which was drained in one of the 19th century’s largest engineering projects. The lake basin is today a flourishing agricultural area and an important technological district.

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The Romans knew the lake as Fusinus Lacus and founded settlements on its banks. While the lake provided fertile soil and a large quantity of fish, it was known to harbor malaria and, having no natural outflow, repeatedly flooded the surrounding land. The Emperor Claudius attempted to control the lake’s maximum level by digging a 5.6 km (3.5 mi) tunnel through Monte Salviano, requiring 30,000 workers and eleven years of work. They eventually dug 32 wells and 6 tunnels. The lake was drained but with the fall of the Roman Empire the tunnels were obstructed and the water returned to previous levels. Many centuries later, Prince Alessandro Torlonia completed the work of the final draining of Lake Fucino expanding the original project of the emperor Claudius, by turning the Fucino in a fertile plain. In 1977, the tunnels were inaugurated as an archaeological park.

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Throughout most of the 20th century, there were serious population declines in the rural areas, with the near collapse of the province’s pastoral agricultural economy, as people moved to cities for work. Since the founding of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga and Majella national parks, and the Sirente-Velino Regional Park, tourists have been attracted to the mountainous landscapes. Tourism and associated services have boosted the economy of rural L’Aquila and begun to reverse its population decline.

Many of the small villages, locked away in the mountains for centuries, have always depended on local products for their cuisine, especially cheeses, pastas and spices. While many of the dishes bear similarities to recipes one might find throughout Italy, the locals usually provide a regional variation. For example, chili pepper and saffron can be found added to many dishes in L’Aquila. The best-known pasta for the area is “chitarra” (guitar) pasta, which derives its musical name not from its shape, but from the wire-stringed instrument on which it is made.

Much of the region’s cuisine revolves around fresh seasonal produce, roasted meats and cured pork. Santo Stefano di Sessanio Lentils are grown exclusively here. Typical Abruzzo main courses are broadly divided according to geography: lamb in the highlands and seafood on the coast.

Another local specialty is soppressata, which is pork salami whose typical flat section is obtained, after the initial curing period, by placing the sausage between two wooden planks or thick metal sheets. A product uniquely native to Abruzzo in Italy is saffron from the Navelli Plane in the Province of L’Aquila. Zafferano–its Italian name–are the dried stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower and it is the most expensive spice in the world. Why? Because the extraction process is labor-intensive. You can’t harvest the crocus flowers with machinery, only the human hand will do.

Lower costs and a longer shelf life made Pane con le Patate (bread made with potatoes) a staple. By adding potatoes to the bread dough, the leavening agents combined with the potato’s yeasts, yield a type of bread capable of keeping fresh for twice as long as any other type of bread.

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Among Abruzzo’s sweet endings, Parrozzo is the most remarkable. In ancient times, Abruzzo peasants made cornmeal bread in the shape of a dome and baked it in a wood-fired oven. They called this “pan rozzo” meaning ‘unrefined bread,’ as opposed to the regular and more expensive white flour bread. At the turn of the 19th century, pastry chef Luigi D’Amico re-invented the recipe, using eggs instead of cornmeal to obtain the golden color, typical of the ancient unrefined bread. He kept the dome shape,\ and topped it with a dark chocolate coating to reproduce the bread’s charred crust.

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Involtini di Prosciutto con Arugula e Pecorino

(Prosciutto Rolled with Arugula and Pecorino Cheese)

A local prosciutto from Abruzzo is used and it differs from Parma ham because it is a little more salty.

Ingredients

  • 8 to 10 thin slices of prosciutto
  • 8 to 10 shavings of pecorino cheese
  • 2 bunches of arugula (washed with hard stems removed)
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml.) of olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon (strained)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Cured black olives, pits removed

Directions

On parchment paper, arrange the prosciutto in a single layer.

Pour the strained lemon juice in a non-reactive bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly. Drop in the arugula, add salt and pepper and toss thoroughly.

Starting at one end of the slice of prosciutto place a small bunch of arugula. Add 1 shaving of cheese. Roll into a roulade, making sure it remains intact.

Continue with the remaining slices of prosciutto. Arrange on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh ground pepper to taste. Garnish with the black olives.

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Pasta e Lenticchie (Pasta and Lentils)

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 11/2 cups dry lentils (or canned, drained, and rinsed)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta (cut in 1/4-inch pieces)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 pound spaghetti (or egg noodles)
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

Directions

In a medium saucepan, bring salted water to a boil. Add the lentils, cover, and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender but not mushy, about  20 minutes.

Drain and set aside. (If you are using canned lentils, you can add them directly to the frying pan after you sauté the pancetta.)

Using a large pot, cook the pasta according to the package instructions until it is al dente.

Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta, onions, and garlic. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the pancetta is golden, about 7 minutes.

Combine with the lentils and season with salt and pepper. Drain the pasta, but reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Toss the lentils and gradually add water until creamy.  

Sprinkle with Parmigiano and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.

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Arrosticini

Ingredients

  • 4 cups lean lamb, cut into ½ inch cubes  
  • Extra virgin olive oil  
  • Salt and pepper  
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions

Skewer the cubes neatly on well-oiled metal skewers or tiny disposable wooden kebab sticks (pre-soaked briefly in water, so the heat won’t burn the wood).

Marinate the arrosticini in olive oil, salt and pepper. Dribble the skewered meat with lemon juice and roast on the barbecue quickly, 2-3 minutes, turning a couple of times for even cooking.  

Serve with slices of oiled bruschetta.

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Ferratelle

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour  
  • 4 tablespoons sugar  
  • 2 eggs  
  • 1/2 cup olive oil  
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract  
  • A pinch of anise  
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Directions

Work together the eggs, flour, sugar and olive oil to obtain a firm dough. Add the vanilla and a pinch of anise for the aroma.

Heat the waffle pan thoroughly. Grease it with butter and spoon small dollops of dough onto the waffle pan. Close the waffle pan and cook for 20-30 seconds.

Lift the top and use a fork to work the waffle loose. As you bake the ferratelle, be sure to keep the pan heated and well-greased throughout the baking time. Serve with jam.

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Company for Dinner

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This past weekend, I had friends visiting us from Switzerland. I wanted to make a special Italian dinner for them. One that was not a typical Italian-American dinner but a dinner with dishes that are particular to Tuscany; one of their favorite places to visit. Dinner was big hit.

First Course

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Italian Red Onion Soup with Parmesan Crisps

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • Parmesan crisps, recipe below
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 8 cups vegetable broth

Directions

Melt the butter in a soup kettle and cook the onions, covered, for 10 minutes.

Stir in the flour and cook for a minute. Add the salt, pepper, honey and wine and heat until the wine reduces a bit.

Add the broth, bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer for 2 hours. Serve in individual bowls garnished with the crisps.

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Parmesan Crisps

Makes 6 crisps

.Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 °F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (Do not use cooking spray.)

Mound 3 level tablespoonfuls of cheese in 5 inch long strips about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.

Bake until the cheese is melted, soft and a very light golden color, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven and place the baking pan on a cooling rack. Do not disturb the crisps until completely cooled and firm to the touch, about 20 minutes.

Using a thin spatula or knife, lift the crackers from the baking sheet.

Make Ahead Tip: Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

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Sourdough Cheese Rolls

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sourdough starter (at room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup grated Italian cheese (half grated parmesan and half shredded mozzarella)
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Directions

Combine 2 cups of all-purpose flour, yeast, sourdough starter, sugar, butter, egg and salt in an electric mixer bowl. Beat 3 to 4 minutes.

Add baking soda to the whole wheat flour and blend into the flour-yeast mixture. Add cheese and remaining flour to  make a soft dough.

Switch to the dough hook and knead until smooth (5 to 8 minutes).

Place in a greased bowl; turn once. Cover; let rise until double (1 ½ to 2 hours). Punch the dough down. Cover; let rest 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Oil 2 baking sheets.

Divide the dough into 24 pieces and shape into balls. Place on the oiled baking sheets. Cover; let rise until double (25 to 30 minutes).

Bake at 375 degrees F about 20 minutes.

Second Course

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Grilled Italian Sausage with Grapes

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds sweet Italian sausage grilled and cut into 2 inch serving pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound seedless red grapes, halved lengthwise
  • 4 shallots sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons excellent quality balsamic vinegar

Directions

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the grapes, shallots and broth and heat.

Stir pepper and salt into the grape-onion mixture and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the grapes are soft but still retain their shape, 3 to 5 minutes longer.

Reduce heat to medium, stir in the grilled sausages, wine and oregano and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until the wine is reduced and the sausages are hot.

Arrange the sausages on a serving platter and spoon the grape mixture over the top. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and serve.

Quick Creamy Polenta

Ingredients

  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, if using water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup quick cooking polenta
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Bring the broth and cream to a boil. Add salt and butter, then while stirring, slowly pour in the polenta.

Stir until there are no lumps, then turn the heat down to a bare simmer. After 5 minutes, stir in the Parmesan and turn off the heat. Cover the pan until ready to serve.

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Italian Style Peas

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 16 ounces frozen green peas
  • 1 tablespoon chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in onion and garlic; cook about 5 minutes. Add frozen peas, and stir in stock. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover, cook until the peas are tender, about 5 minutes and serve.

Dessert Course

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Ricotta Cheesecake with Cherry Sauce

Cheesecake

  • Soft butter for the pan
  • ½ cup crushed Amaretti cookies
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 pounds ricotta cheese, drained
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Cherry Sauce

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur 
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen dark sweet cherries, pitted

Directions

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Set an oven rack in the middle of the oven.

Butter a 9 inch springform pan. Sprinkle the pan with amaretti cookie crumbles to cover the bottom and sides of the pan.

Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the ricotta, orange zest and sugar. Mix to combine. Beat in the flour.

Add eggs, 1 at a time, and beat until incorporated. Add the amaretto liqueur and salt.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the center of the oven for about 75 minutes, until a light golden color.

Make sure the center is firm and the point of a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool completely on a wire rack. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer to refrigerator until chilled, overnight or at least for 2 hours.

Remove the sides of the pan and serve with fruit sauce.

For the sauce:

Combine the water, lemon juice, amaretto, sugar, salt and cornstarch in a small pot. Whisk until smooth.

Add the cherries and stir. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool.

If you want to serve it warm, you may do so; simply let it cool until it is warm, not hot or cover and refrigerate to store.

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Leftovers Become Dinner

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One of the best ways to cut back on wasted food is to use it in a new recipe before it goes bad. You will notice in the recipes below that I cooked several dinners in the past few weeks and, of course, we had leftovers. I don’t mind meatloaf reheated once or twice, but not more than that. Certainly, I can freeze meatloaf but there are more interesting things I can do with it, as well as leftover pork and chicken. Do you have a leftover recipe makeover?

Pork Tenderloin with Mushroom Wine Sauce

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Becomes Pork Stroganoff

Ingredients

  • 3 cups chopped leftover Pork Tenderloin in Mushroom Wine Sauce (see recipe link here)
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 8 oz wide noodles

Directions

Cook the noodles in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and place the noodles on a medium serving platter.

Heat the leftover pork in a small skillet over medium low heat. Slowly stir in the sour cream.

Pour the meat mixture over the noodles. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

Italian Style Meatloaf

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Becomes Meatloaf Panini

Serve these sandwiches with oven baked onion rings, pickles and a salad for dinner.

Ingredients

  • 4 slices sandwich bread
  • 2 slices leftover Italian Style Meatloaf (see recipe link here)
  • 2 tablespoons spicy Italian peppers, chopped
  • 4 slices Provolone cheese
  • Olive oil

Directions

Layer 2 of the bread slices in the following way: a slice of cheese, a slice of meatloaf, 1 tablespoon of chopped peppers and a slice of cheese. on top of the each meatloaf slice.

Top with the remaining bread. Brush the bread with olive oil.

Warm up a large skillet over medium heat or heat a Panini maker. Place both sandwiches, oiled side down, in skillet or on the Panini press. Oil the bread on the top.

Close the Panini press and follow the directions for your machine.

If using a skillet, cook the sandwich for a few minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown.

Turn the sandwiches over and press down firmly with a spatula on the top of the bread to compress the sandwiches. Cook until golden brown.

Grilled Chicken Breasts

(See recipe here)

Becomes Leftover Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad and Small Batch Chicken Broth

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Being a frugal Italian cook, nothing gets wasted in my kitchen. The chicken breasts I grilled last week were large, so we did not eat all the chicken. I removed the chicken that was left from the bones and reserved it for the Caesar Salad recipe. I also find that some recipes call for a small amount of chicken broth. The breast bones that were left can solve that need.

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Small Batch Chicken Broth

Ingredients

  • 2 leftover chicken breast bones
  • 1/4 of a medium onion
  • Celery top
  • Small carrot
  • Small garlic clove
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Few peppercorns

Directions

Place all the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cover the ingredients with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for one hour.

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Strain the broth and pour into half cup containers. Freeze for future use.

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Leftover Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad

Ingredients

  • Leftover chicken cut into cubes
  • 1 head Romaine lettuce, washed and finely chopped
  • 1 cup croutons
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh Cracked Pepper

Dressing

  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Directions

Combine the anchovy paste, Parmesan cheese, mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard, garlic and Worcestershire sauce to a small bowl and stir together.

Gradually whisk in the olive oil, whisking until the dressing is emulsified.

Place the chopped lettuce in a bowl and toss it with the dressing, cubed chicken and croutons. Add shaved Parmesan and fresh black pepper. Toss and serve.

 

What to Cook in September?

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It’s harvest time and the last of summer’s fresh fruit and vegetables are coming to market. Salad ingredients, beets, cucumbers and peppers are all still available. And there should still be plenty of zucchini, green beans, spinach and corn to play a supporting role on your dinner plate.

The first autumn/winter vegetables are putting in an appearance now in the shape of Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, cabbage, pumpkins and mushrooms,

Apples and pears are plentiful, too. It’s also time to enjoy the last of the berries, plums and tomatoes. Comfort food is back.

Spinach Bacon Quiche

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Ingredients

  • One 9 inch refrigerated pie crust, at room temperature
  • 4 slices bacon
  • Half a sweet onion, diced
  • 2 cups leftover cooked spinach or frozen and defrosted
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 2 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese, divided

Directions

Fit the pastry into a 9 inch pie plate and crimp the edges. Place in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook the bacon until crisp in a medium skillet. Remove and place on a paper towel to drain. Crumble when cool.

Remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan and saute the chopped onion in the remaining bacon fat. Add the spinach, thyme, salt and pepper. Remove the skillet from the heat and let cool.

In a measuring cup, combine the eggs and half & half.

Take the pie shell out of the refrigerator and place the pan on a baking sheet.

Sprinkle 1 cup of cheese evenly on the bottom of the pie crust. Then sprinkle with the crumbled bacon. Spread the spinach onion mixture over the bacon.

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Slowly pour the egg mixture over the spinach. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Place the baking sheet in the middle of the oven. Bake the quiche for about 40-45 minutes until the top is golden and puffy and the quiche does not “wobble” in the center when gently moved

Let the quiche rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Fall Beet Salad

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2 servings

Ingredients

  • Olive oil for coating the beets
  • 3 golden beets
  • 1 Valencia orange, peel removed and sliced into thin rounds
  • 1/4 fennel bulb, sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons shallots, coarsely chopped

Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Zest of half an orange
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Make the dressing: Whisk the orange zest, raspberry vinegar, honey, and salt and pepper together in a small  mixing bowl. Set aside.

For the beets:

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Place the beets on a foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil. Roast for about 45 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool. Peel and cut into thin rounds.

Arrange the beets, orange slices and sliced fennel on a serving dish and sprinkle with the chopped shallots. Drizzle with half of the dressing of the dressing and reserve the remaining dressing to serve with the salad,

Cover the salad with plastic wrap and chill until serving time.

Chicken with Corn Salsa

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2 servings

Corn Salsa (see recipe link here)

For the rub:

  • 2 tablespoons taco seasoning (see recipe link here)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Combine to make a paste
  • Rub the paste over both sides of 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
  • Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

For grilling on a gas grill:

Prepare a gas grill for indirect heat: Turn all burners to high and close the lid. When the temperature inside the grill reaches 400°F, lift lid and turn off one of the burners.

The area over the turned-off burner is the indirect heat area.

Brush the grill with vegetable oil. Place chicken skin side down over the indirect-heat area; close the lid and cook 15 minutes. Turn chicken over, close the lid and cook another 10 minutes.

Move chicken over direct heat and cook, turning once, until skin is well browned and crisp, 3 to 5 minutes.

Watch carefully; dripping fat or any added oils catch fire easily (a small spray bottle filled with water is handy for taming flames).

Place the cooked chicken on individual plates and place corn salsa on the side.

Zucchini Vegetable Kebabs

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The kebabs go well with any grilled meat or fish.

For the Marinade

  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoons pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Whisk together the marinade ingredients in a small measuring cup.

For the Kebabs

  • 2 skewers
  • Vegetables cut into one inch pieces:
  • 1 cup zucchini
  • 1 cup red bell peppers
  • 1 cup red onion

Directions

Combine the marinade and vegetables in a large bowl. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.

Remove vegetables from the marinade and thread on skewers, alternating the vegetables. Place the skewers on the grill and cook 7 to 10 minutes on each side or until tender.

Mac & Cheese

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This makes a wonderful side dish for grilled meat or fish.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dried short pasta (mezze penne, elbows)
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • ¼ cup butter, diced
  • ½ cup instant flour (Wondra)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried yellow mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 8 oz 2% milk Velveeta processed cheese, cut into cubes
  • 8 oz mild cheddar, shredded
  • ½ cup dried plain breadcrumbs

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.

In the same pot mix the cold milk with the instant flour; add the butter and place the pan on medium heat.

Stirring often, bring the sauce to boiling, reduce heat and cook until thickened, whisking often. Add the salt, mustard and cayenne. Add the velveeta cheese and heat until melted.

Add the cooked pasta and mix well. Pour into a greased 9×13 inch baking dish.

Mix the breadcrumbs and shredded cheddar together and sprinkle over the top of the casserole.

(The casserole can be made ahead to this stage and refrigerated until baking time. Add 15 minutes to the baking time if the casserole is refrigerated.)

Bake for about 25-30 minutes until heated through.

 

Quick and Easy Breakfast Treats

img_0008No Yeast Required Cinnamon Rolls

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Ingredients

Makes 16 small or 8 large rolls

Cinnamon Filling:

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft

Dough:

  • 2-1/2 cups self-rising flour (all-purpose flour mixed with baking powder and salt)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and divided

Frosting

  • 1-2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Combine the filling ingredients in a small bowl, then mix with a fork until well blended.

In a another, larger bowl, combine the self-rising flour, sugar and baking soda.

Whisk together the buttermilk and 4 tablespoons melted butter in a separate bowl, then pour into the middle of the dry ingredients. Stir together until the dough just comes together (do not overmix.)

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Knead slightly with your hands until the dough forms into a ball, then slice it in half.

On a lightly floured surface, roll each half into a 12×8 inch rectangle.

Spread half the filling mixture into the center, leaving 1/4″ of the dough clear on all 4 sides, then roll up jelly roll style.. Pinch together the seam and roll into an 8 inch log.

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Cut into 8 one inch slices. Repeat with the other dough half and place the rolls in a greased 13×9 inch pan.

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Note: If you like larger rolls cut each roll in 4 (about 2 inches each) and place in a smaller baking dish and cook for 10 minutes longer.

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Brush the cinnamon rolls with the remaining tablespoon of melted butter and bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.

Whisk together the powdered sugar and milk, one tablespoon at a time, until creamy. Drizzle onto hot cinnamon rolls and spread evenly.

Quick Pumpkin Bread

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice mix
  • 1 cup solid pack pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.Grease and flour a 9×5 inch baking pan.

Whisk the flours, baking soda, salt and pumpkin spice mix in a large bowl. Mix the pumpkin, brown sugar, buttermilk, egg and oil in another bowl until well blended.

Fold the wet ingredients into the flour mixture. Add the pecans and mix.

Pour into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 1 hour in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a rack for ten minutes.

Turn the bread over onto another rack to cool completely.

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf

img_0001-2

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup soft butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup light sour cream (or yogurt)

Glaze

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Garnish with candied lemon peel, if desired

Directions

Coat a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan with nonstick vegetable spray

Preheat the oven to 350°F).

In a large bowl of an electric mixer or a food processor, beat together the sugar, butter, egg, lemon zest and lemon juice, mixing well. Add the buttermilk, mix.

Combine the flour, poppy seeds, baking powder and baking soda in a mixing bowl; add to the sugar mixture alternately with the sour cream, mixing just until incorporated. Do not overmix.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out dry. Place the pan on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.

Remove the cake to a wire rack to finishing cooling.

Glaze:

Combine the powdered sugar with the lemon juice and spread over the cooled loaf. When the frosting is set, garnish with candied lemon peel.

Morning Apple Cake

img_0002-2

8 servings

Ingredients

  • Cooking spray
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 large apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Coat an 8-inch round cake pan with cooking spray.

Beat the eggs and the 1/2 cup of sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in the buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla extract.

Combine flour and cornstarch and fold into the cake batter. Pour mixture into prepared pan.

Layer the apple slices in a circular pattern on top of the cake. Combine the cinnamon and 1 teaspoon sugar in a cup and sprinkle over the apples.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until a knife or metal skewer comes out clean when inserted in the center of the cake. Cool on a wire rack.

img_0004-3

Fall Dinner

photo_8064

Looking forward to fall? One of the nice things about early fall is that the weather is still warm but not too hot and there are plenty of fruits and vegetables to choose from at the markets. This dinner menu I planned for you takes advantage of the season’s delicious offerings, like mushrooms, squash, spinach. pears and pork. This dinner serves four but can easily be doubled for a company dinner.

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Pork Tenderloin in Mushroom Wine Sauce

Pork

  • 1 pork tenderloin (about 1 lb)
  • 1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • ¼ cup porcini dried mushrooms
  • ¾ cup boiling water
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Wine Sauce

  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • Porcini broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.

Combine the porcini and boiling water in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large oven proof skillet. Add the chopped onion and saute until the onion is soft.

img_0006

Add the garlic and fresh mushrooms and continue cooking for another 3 minutes.

Strain the porcini in a fine mesh colander and reserve the drained mushroom water. Add the porcini to the skillet with the fresh mushrooms.

Season with salt and pepper and stir in the oregano and thyme. Set aside.

Butterfly the pork, by cutting the pork down the center, without completely cutting through, so when the two halves are opened they resemble a butterfly.

img_0007

Use a meat mallet to flatten the meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Spread the mushroom filling down the center of the pork and bring the 2 sides up. Use butcher string to tie around the roll at 1 inch intervals.

Season the stuffed pork with salt and pepper and in the same ovenproof skillet heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.

Sear the pork on all sides and place the skillet in the preheated oven.

img_0008

 

Roast uncovered for about 20 minutes or until done to your preference.

Remove the skillet from the oven and place the pork on a platter.

img_0011

 

Place the skillet back on the stovetop. Add the red wine and the strained porcini water and bring to a boil. Cook the sauce until it is reduced by half.

Remove the pan from the from the heat and stir in the butter.

Cut the strings off the pork and slice into thin rounds. Arrange the pork on a serving platter and pour the wine sauce over the slices.

img_0013

Italian Style Spaghetti Squash

Cook the squash a few hours earlier, so it will be cool enough to handle.

Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 spaghetti squash, about 1 1/2 pounds
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Panko  breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Pierce the squash in several places with a sharp knife. Cover a baking sheet with foil and place the squash on top.

Bake for one hour or until the squash is soft and easy to cut with a knife. Remove from the heat and allow to cool until you can handle it.

img_0009

Cut in half lengthwise and allow to cool some more. Remove the seeds and discard. Scoop out the flesh from the squash and place in a bowl.

Run a fork through the flesh to separate the spaghetti like strands.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add the garlic and breadcrumbs.

When the breadcrumbs begin to sizzle and turn crisp, stir in the squash strands and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

img_0010

Toss all together over medium heat until the squash is infused with the breadcrumbs, garlic and oil and heated through, about 5 minutes.

Remove to a warm serving dish, top with freshly grated Parmesan and serve.

img_0012

Sautéed Spinach and Garlic

Ingredients

  • Two 10 oz packages of fresh spinach
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced thin
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Directions

Heat the olive oil and garlic in a skillet. Add the spinach and salt and pepper to taste. Cook just until the spinach is wilted. Stir in the lemon juice. Serve immediately.

img_0003

Pear Turnovers

4 turnovers

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet of frozen prepared puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups chopped peeled pears (about 3 medium pears)
  • 1 egg beaten

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Combine the honey, cornstarch, ginger and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Stir in the chopped pears.

Roll the pastry into a 12 inch square on a floured board. Cut the pastry sheet into four equal squares. 

Spoon 1/3 cup of the pear mixture into the center of each square and brush the edges with beaten egg. Fold diagonally in half and press the edges with a fork  to seal.

With a wide spatula, place the turnovers on a parchment covered baking pan. Brush the turnovers with beaten egg.

Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the turnovers are puffy and golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.


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