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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: February 2017

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Cosenza is a province in the Calabria region of Italy. The province, one of the very few in Italy with coastlines along two different seas, includes the beautiful Sila mountains with their 3 lakes, Cecita-Mucone, Arvo and Ampollino and the Pollino National Park, founded in 1993.

Cosenza’s roots go back to early man. The province was conquered by the Normans, Saracens, Byzantines and the Spanish. The rich history is reflected in their architecture and their culture. Roman ruins, ancient castles, Norman towers and festivals, like the Montalto Uffugo’s Saracen Festival, mesh the past with the present.

Heinrich Leutemann (1824-1904) "The burial of Alaric in the bed of the Busentinus"

Heinrich Leutemann (1824-1904) “The burial of Alaric in the bed of the Busentinus”

An ancient legend exists in the province dating back to 410 AD about King Alaric, King of the conquering Visigoths. The legend states that once the King conquered Rome, he headed south, conquering and collecting treasures. Once he reached where the Crati river and the Bucenta river met, he died suddenly. These rivers meet in the heart of Cosenza. It is said that his soldiers, along with the help of slaves, buried the King under the river, along with his horse and the treasures, by redirecting the river long enough to build the tomb. His troops then killed all the slaves so no one would know where the treasure was buried.

Cosenza

Cosenza

In the centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, several towns in the Cosenza province refused to acknowledge the new government of the Visigoths. Instead, they built strong city walls and small garrisons to hold out for centuries as semi-independent enclaves until the invasion of the Germanic Lombards in the 560s. In 1500, in spite of resistance, Cosenza was occupied by the Spanish army. In 1707 the Austrians succeeded the Spanish in the Kingdom of Naples, followed by occupation by the Bourbons. From 1806 to 1815, Cosenza fought hard against French domination. In 1860, Calabria became part of the new Kingdom of Italy.

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The province contains the Cosentian Academy, the second academy of philosophical and literary studies to be founded in the Kingdom of Naples (1511) and one of the oldest in Europe. To this day, the area remains a cultural hub with several museums, theaters, libraries and the University of Calabria.

The cuisine has been greatly influenced by past conquerors. The Arabs brought oranges, lemons, raisins, artichokes and eggplant and the Cistercian monks introduced new agricultural practices and dairy products.

Tomatoes are sun-dried, octopi are pickled, anchovies salted and peppers and eggplant are packed into jars of oil and vinegar.

The south Italy, Calabria, locale food - soft sausage nduja, peper, tomato, cheese

Soft sausage nduja, chili peppers, tomato, cheese

The chili pepper is popular here and is crushed in oil and placed on the table with every meal to sprinkle over your food. The chili was once considered to be a cure for malaria which probably accounts for its extensive use in this region.

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The cuisine is a balance between meat-based dishes (pork, lamb, goat), vegetables (especially eggplant) and fish. Pasta (as in Central Italy and the rest of Southern Italy) is also very important.

Some specialties include Caciocavallo Cheese, Cipolla rossa di Tropea (red onion), Frìttuli and Curcùci (fried pork), Liquorice, Lagane e Cicciari (a pasta dish with chickpeas), Pecorino Crotonese (Sheep’s milk cheese) and Pignolata (a soft pastry covered in chocolate and lemon flavored icing).

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Recipes To Make From Cosenza

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Pickled Eggplant

Serve with Calabrian Bread

Ingredients

2 large eggplants, peeled and cut into slices
1/8 cup of salt
2 roasted oil-packed Calabrian chilies, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh oregano, minced or 1 teaspoon dried
3 tablespoons of white vinegar
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Salt the cut eggplant and let it set for 1 hour.

Rinse the eggplant thoroughly under cold water.

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the eggplant for 4 to 5 minutes until tender.

Lay the slices out on a towel to dry.

In a medium size bowl whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, chili peppers, garlic, oregano and pepper.

Place one layer of the eggplant on a plate and drizzle some of the oil mixture on top.

Place another layer on top and repeat until all the eggplant is used up.

Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hour and serve chilled.

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Pane Calabrese

Ingredients

1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast or 2 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Olive oil
Cornmeal
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water

Directions

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast with a quarter cup of the lukewarm water. Pour into a large bowl.

Mix in the flour, sugar, salt, and remaining lukewarm water and mix in until a dough starts to form. If too sticky, add a bit more flour.

Turn out onto a flat surface and knead for 6-8 minutes or until smooth and elastic.

Put the dough into an oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover with a thick towel, and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, divide in half and shape into 2 oblong loaves about a foot long each. The bread can also be shaped into a ring.

Put the loaves on cookie sheets sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover and let rise again for 40 minutes. Loaves will double in width.

In a small dish, beat the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of water. Make 3 slits in the top of the risen bread, a quarter of an inch deep. Brush with the egg wash and put the cookie sheets in the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes at 425°F Then lower the heat to 400  degrees F and bake for an additional 30-35 minutes, until golden and baked through.

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Lagane E Cicciari

Lagane is a flat, wide, fettuccine-like fresh pasta

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
Dash of salt
1/2 cup of water

Directions

Add the salt to the flour and mix well.

Slowly add the water and knead the dough for about 10 minutes.

Form the dough into a ball, cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.

Roll the dough on a floured surface, using a rolling-pin to form a circle about 1/4 inch thick.

Continue to roll and thin the pasta. (Cutting the circle in half will make it easier to handle.)

Roll the dough to form a long log

With a sharp knife, cut the roll into 1/4 inch strips.

Unroll the strips and lay them on a clean, flat surface.

Cook as directed below.

Chickpea Sauce

Ingredients

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, coarsely chopped
One 15 ounce can chickpeas, undrained
One 14 oz can chopped Italian tomatoes, undrained
8 ounces lagane (recipe above) or broken lasagna noodles

Directions

In a small saucepan, combine the garlic, oil, red pepper flakes and rosemary.

Over low heat, cook the garlic until it begins to brown.

Add the chickpeas with all of their liquid and the tomatoes.

Simmer gently, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Boil the pasta in at least 3 quarts of water with 1 heaping tablespoon of salt for 2-3 minutes if fresh pasta or longer for dried.

Just before the pasta is done, remove about half the chickpeas to a bowl and mash them with a potato masher or with an immersion blender. Return the mashed chickpeas to the sauce

When the pasta is done. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and then drain the pasta.

Combine the pasta with the chickpea sauce in a large serving bowl. Toss well. Add a little of the reserved pasta cooking water if the pasta is too dry. (It should not be soupy, however.)

Serve very hot with either olio santo (hot pepper oil) or extra-virgin olive oil to drizzle over the top.

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Galletto alla Diavola (Devil’s Chicken)

Ingredients

1 whole chicken, cut up
2 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon mustard
Olive oil
Breadcrumbs
1 carrot, minced
1 red onion, minced
1 3/4 oz uncooked ham (capocollo), finely chopped
1 cup white wine
1 cup dry Marsala wine

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Mix the eggs with the salt and pepper and mustard.

Dip each chicken piece into the egg mixture, then coat with breadcrumbs.

Grease a baking dish with a little olive oil and then add the chicken pieces.

Pour a little bit of olive oil over the chicken pieces and bake for 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the thickest piece reaches 165 degrees.

In a skillet cook the carrot in oil with the onion and ham.

Season with salt and pepper, then add the white wine and Marsala.

Reduce the heat and let simmer until thickened.

Let the chicken rest for a few minutes, then pour the sauce over and serve.

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Pasta With Broccoli Rabe and Ricotta

This week my market had broccoli rabe and fennel on sale. It was Italian week and all things Italian were a great buy. Naturally, I took advantage of this sale. Used the broccoli rabe in this recipe, half the fennel bulb in the pork scaloppine recipe and I will use the remainder of the fennel in a salad.

4 servings

Ingredients

1 bunch broccoli rabe, trimmed and washed well
Salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (chili)
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
8 oz pappardelle pasta or rigatoni

Directions

Cut the broccoli rabe into two-inch lengths.

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Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When the water comes to a boil, salt generously and add the broccoli rabe. After the water returns to a boil, boil two minutes.

Using a deep-fry skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer the broccoli rabe to a colander.

Do not drain the hot water in the pot, as you’ll use it to cook the pasta.

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Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, cook for a minute and stir in the broccoli rabe.

Toss to coat in the oil. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

Place the ricotta in a large pasta bowl.

Bring the water in the large pot back to a boil and add the pasta. Cook al dente. Ladle 1/2 cup of the cooking water from the pasta into the ricotta and stir together.

Drain the pasta, and toss with the ricotta, broccoli rabe and cheeses. Serve at once.

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Pork Scaloppine With Roasted Vegetables

Florida grown peppers were also on sale, so along with the fennel, I had the makings of a side dish.

4 servings

For the scaloppine

1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoon olive oil
4 slices boneless pork chops, each about 4 oz
½ cup dry white wine

Directions

Trim the pork of all fat. Place the pork slices between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound thin.

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Combine the flour with the fennel, salt and pepper. Dredge the pork slices in the flour mixture, coating each slice well.

Heat the oil in a skillet and add the pork. Cook until brown and turn the slices over. Once brown, add the wine to the skillet and move the slices around until they are coated in the wine.

Remove the pork from the skillet and serve over the roasted vegetables. Pour any juices from the skillet over the pork.

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For the roasted vegetables

Ingredients

Half a fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into ½ inch slices
Half a medium red bell pepper, cut vertically into 1/2-inch strips
Half a medium green bell pepper, cut vertically into 1/2-inch strips
Half a medium yellow bell pepper, cut vertically into 1/2-inch strips
A quarter of a medium red onion, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions

Heat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine fennel, peppers, onion and garlic. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Drizzle oil over top and mix with a large spoon.

Transfer vegetables to a shallow baking pan and bake 30 minutes, mixing once, until the vegetables are tender. Sprinkle with lemon juice and mix gently.

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Fish Cakes

I usually cook extra fish fillets so I can make fish cakes with the extra later in the week. It is one of our favorite dishes.

Ingredients

8 oz white fish fillets or leftover cooked fish
1 cup leftover mashed potatoes
¼ cup chopped onion
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon seafood seasoning (Old Bay)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup Panko crumbs

Directions

Cook the fish if is raw. The fish can be baked, broiler or sautéed. It doesn’t matter for this recipe. Cool if cooking the fish just before making the cakes.

Flake the fish in a mixing bowl and add all the remaining ingredients, except the Panko crumbs. Mix well.

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Divide the mixture into four equal balls. Place on the Panko crumbs, flatten the cakes and coat on all sides. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet and brown the fish cakes on both sides. Drain on paper towels and serve with Tartar Sauce.

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It is a gray and rainy day here – just perfect for a soup dinner. I also know I have a turkey carcass in the freezer that was leftover from the holidays and it is time to put it to good use.
I also save small amounts of leftover vegetables in the freezer in little ziplock bags. These little bags are perfect for adding to soup recipes and they don’t require additional cooking.

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Of course, almost any ingredient that you like can go into a soup pot, but I usually try to vary them, so that it doesn’t seem like the same old soup. In this soup recipe, I used farro instead of rice or pasta. Farro is hulled wheat that has been used in the Mediterranean countries since ancient times. It is often used as a substitute for pasta or rice in Italian recipes.

Hearty Italian Turkey Soup

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For the stock

1 roasted turkey carcass, broken in pieces, plus any additional bones
1 medium onion, cut in half
4 celery stalk tops
3 cloves garlic, cut in half
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
Water

Directions

Place the turkey carcass in a very large soup pot. Add the other ingredients and add enough water to just cover the turkey bones.

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Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a bubbling simmer, partially cover the pot and let the stock cook for two hours.

Remove the pot from the heat. With tongs take the turkey bones out of the stock and place them in a wide bowl to cool. Strain the stock in a colander covered with cheesecloth.

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This recipe makes about 12 cups of stock. I also had about 2 cups of meat from the bones that I chopped and set aside.

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For the soup

12 cups turkey stock
4 cups water
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 cups chopped plum tomatoes or 2 cups canned
3 large carrots, diced
1 cup farro
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup pearl onions (frozen are great-no peeling)
1 cup cooked, diced asparagus
2 cups cooked, diced green beans
2 cups cooked baby lima beans
2 cups cooked peas
2 cups diced, cooked turkey meat

Directions

Rinse the soup pot out and pour the strained stock into the pot. Add the water, salt, carrots, tomatoes and farro.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and cook the ingredients for about 15 minutes or until the farro is tender. Taste one of the grains to be sure.

Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste the soup and add more salt, if needed.

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Strawberry fields in bloom in February near where I live.

Strawberry fields in bloom in February near where I live.

Making healthy breakfasts can be good for you and they can taste really good. Pancakes are always special on the weekend and you can keep them healthy by using a variety of grains and flours. The same with muffins and replace some of the oil with healthy ingredients like applesauce or fruit juice and add plenty of fruit. Eggs are always a good choice but skimp on the fat that is used to cook them and add vegetables, so then they a great choice. Don’t forget fruit. Use whatever is in season. Strawberries are in season here where I live, so they were my choice for the muffin recipe.

Oat & Wheat Pancakes

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Makes about 8 four-inch pancakes

Ingredients

2/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Combine the oats and buttermilk. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl.

Combine the egg, maple syrup and vanilla. Stir into the oat mixture.

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Pour the oat mixture into the flour mixture and stir well.

Heat a grill or large skillet. Lightly grease and drop ¼ cupfuls of batter on the grill. Cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Turn the pancakes over and cook for another minute.

Serve with maple syrup.

Eggs and Potato Hash

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The potatoes can be cooked ahead of time and refrigerated until it is time to cook the hash.

2 servings

Ingredients

2 large Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup each chopped onion and green pepper
4 eggs
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried
4 tablespoons shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and boil until just tender, about 4 minutes. Drain well and spread out on a baking sheet to cool.

Heat a large ovenproof skillet over high heat. When hot, add the olive oil, and then add the potatoes in a single layer.

Lower the heat to medium and cook, tossing occasionally, until the potatoes are crusty and browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the onion, pepper and cook until the onions brown slightly, about 2 minutes.

Off the heat, make 4 small evenly spaced wells in the hash. Break each egg into a small custard cup and then pour the egg into one of the wells. Repeat with the remaining eggs.

Sprinkle the oregano and the cheese over the hash.

Transfer the skillet to the oven (or place in individual baking dishes) and bake until the eggs are cooked to your taste, about 5 minutes for firm whites and soft yolks. Serve immediately.

Fruit Muffins

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12 Muffins

Ingredients

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cup diced strawberries (or other fruit that is in season)
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds or other nuts

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease 12 muffin tin cups.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir to mix evenly. Stir in the chopped fruit and the nuts.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg, oil and orange juice. Add to the flour mixture and blend just until moistened but still lumpy.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling each cup almost to the top. Bake until springy to the touch and a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the center of the muffin, about 25 minutes.

Let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer the muffins to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving, if desired.

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When the children come for a visit, they are not interested in experimental dishes. So, I don’t make recipes that I am testing, when they are here. Tried and true – old favorites –  is what they look for. I have shared some of their favorites in the past and here are a few more. Hope you like them, also.

Roasted Chicken and Potatoes

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Serve this dish with a green vegetable or salad.

Ingredients

Chicken

4 chicken breast halves, bone-in and skin removed
1 slice sandwich bread
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Potatoes

1 pound medium baking potatoes, cut into ¼ inch rounds
One lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a roasting pan or baking dish, combine the sliced potatoes, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread mixture evenly over the bottom of the baking pan. Set aside.

Place the slice of bread in the food processor and process until bread into crumbs.

In small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, garlic powder and tarragon.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Brush the mayonnaise mixture on top of the chicken breasts and spread evenly to coat.

Sprinkle each breast with 1/4 of the bread crumbs, pressing them to adhere to the chicken.

Place the chicken on top of the potatoes in the baking pan. Place the pan in oven and roast for about 45 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees F.

Oven Fried Fish with Tartar Sauce

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I have found that heating the baking pan in the oven before placing the fish on it, will make the fish extra crispy.

Serve this dish with broccoli or spinach and macaroni and cheese.

For every 2 servings, you will need:

Ingredients

1 lb white fish fillets
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 drops hot pepper sauce
1 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
1/4 teaspoon white ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil for the baking pan
Tartar Sauce, recipe below

Directions

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Spread the olive oil in a baking pan and place the pan in the oven when you turn it on.

Dry the fillets with paper towels. Combine the lemon juice, buttermilk, hot pepper sauce and garlic in a shallow dish.

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Combine the white pepper, salt and onion powder with panko crumbs and place in a second shallow dish.

Let fillets sit in the buttermilk mixture for a few minutes. Then coat the fillets on both sides with seasoned crumbs, pressing the crumbs onto the fish.

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Place the coated fish on a plate and refrigerate for several hours.

When ready to cook, place the fillets on the hot baking sheet and bake 12 minutes on the middle oven rack. Using a wide spatula, turn the fillets over after 6 minutes. Serve with tartar sauce, if you like it.

Homemade Tartar Sauce

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Ingredients

½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sweet pickle relish
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon minced capers
Few drops of hot sauce
½ teaspoon agave syrup

Directions

Whisk all the ingredients together in a small serving bowl. Refrigerate until serving time.

Italian Sausage, Tomato and Ricotta Pasta

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Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb hot Italian sausage
1 clove garlic, minced
Half a medium onion, finely diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups fresh (or canned) seeded, diced, plum tomatoes or roasted red peppers
4 large basil leaves, torn into small pieces
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb. rigatoni pasta
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
1 cup ricotta cheese
¼ cup chopped parsley
Salt and black pepper

Directions

Brown the entire sausage on the grill or in a skillet. Set aside until cool enough to handle. When cool enough to touch, slice the sausages into ¼ inch slices.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.

In a large skillet heat the oil and add the onion and garlic. Cook about 3 or 4 minutes to soften the onion. Add the wine and cook over medium high for a few minutes.

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Lower the heat and add the sausage, tomatoes, basil, the red pepper flakes and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down, 6 to 10 minutes.

Cook the pasta in the boiling water, stirring frequently until al dente, about 11 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain well.

Return the pasta to the pot, add the sausage/tomato sauce, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for 1 minute so the sauce and pasta combine.

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Add some of the reserved pasta water to moisten.

Combine the ricotta with the parsley, ¼ cup of the Pecorino cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

Turn the pasta and sauce into a large serving bowl. Drop tablespoons of ricotta on top of the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining Pecorino cheese.

Italian Sourdough Bread

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Some Italian dinners need bread to finish off the meal. This bread is one of the family’s favorite.

Ingredients

3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 cup sourdough starter
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons instant yeast

Directions

Combine all the ingredients in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment until the dough leaves the side of the bowl. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5 minutes.

Let the dough rest in the bowl for 5 minutes. Then, knead again for 5 minutes.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled, about 60-90 minutes.

Place the dough on a floured board and divide in half (about one pound each).

Shape each piece into an 18-inch long loaf and place the loaves, at least 4 inches apart, on a parchment-lined baking sheet or in a lightly greased baguette pan.

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Cover the loaves with lightly greased plastic wrap and let them rise for 1 hour, or until they’re puffy and twice the size. Cut slits across top.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Spray the loaves with water and bake them for about 15 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Remove the loaves from the oven and cool them on a wire rack.

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img_0015No reservations needed for this dinner! Sometimes it is just nice to have a special dinner with your partner in your own home. I try to have this special kind of evening every once in a while. Come up with a menu that is elegant but easy to make and the evening will be memorable. The salad and main dish recipes below are easy and come together quickly. The dessert takes a bit longer but eclairs and cream puffs are not difficult to make. You can certainly make anything you like for dessert, as long as it is special to you. Keep romance alive.

Blue Cheese and Dried Cranberry Tossed Salad

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Ingredients

1 hearts of romaine lettuce, chopped
1/4 of a cucumber, sliced
1/4 of a red onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese

Dressing

3 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions

For the dressing: Whisk vinegar and honey in a small bowl until blended. Whisking continuously, slowly add oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Layer the romaine lettuce with the cucumber, onion, almonds, cranberries and bleu cheese on two individual salad plates. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette just before serving.

Filet Mignon with Leek Sauce

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Serves 2

Ingredients

2 Filet Mignon steaks, about 7 oz each and 2 inches thick
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 large leek, finely chopped white and light green sections of the leek
1/4 cup red wine (such as Cabernet)
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Preheat the grill or broiler. Lightly oil the grill rack or broiler pan. Rub the steaks with the salt, then press the pepper into both sides of the steaks.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cook the leeks for 6 minutes, or until very soft. Add the wine, capers and tarragon.

Simmer for 3 minutes, or until well blended and heated through. Keep warm.

Grill or broil the steaks about 5-6 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer inserted in the center registers 135°F for medium-rare. Place the steaks on individual serving plates.

Top with the leek sauce and sprinkle with parsley.

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients

1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1/4 – 1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook for 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain and place in a large bowl.

Mash the potatoes, adding the buttermilk until moist. Add the chives, cover and keep warm.

Chocolate Filled Eclairs

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Makes 12 medium-sized eclairs

Pastry

3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs

Directions

Heat the oven to 425 degrees F; line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use an eclair pan.

Put the butter in a saucepan with the salt and water; bring it to a boil over medium-high heat and stir until the butter is melted.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour; continue to cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture pulls away from sides of the pan and forms a ball, about 30 seconds.

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Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the eggs to the slightly cooled flour mixture one at a time, beating well with the wooden spoon after each addition — the batter will come apart after each egg is added but will reunite as you stir.

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Mound dough about 1 inch high and 1 to 2 inches in diameter on the prepared baking sheet, leaving about an inch of space between each one. If using an eclair pan simply fill the indentations.

Bake until puffed and golden, about 25 minutes. Remove the puffs from the oven and pierce the bottom of each puff once with a skewer, to keep them from getting soggy.

Return to the oven; prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon and let the puffs crisp up for about 5 minutes. Cool on a rack.

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Chocolate Filling

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions

Place cream, vanilla extract, sugar and cocoa powder into a large bowl. Stir to combine the ingredients. Cover and chill the bowl and the beaters for at least 30 minutes.

When chilled, beat until stiff peaks form.

Glaze

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

In a double boiler over hot, but not boiling water, combine the chocolate chips, butter and corn syrup. Stir until the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth; then add the vanilla.

To assemble the éclairs:

Cut the eclairs in half lengthwise. Pipe or spoon the filling into the pastries, then dip the tops of each one into the glaze.

For best results, serve immediately or refrigerate and serve within several hours.

Note: Puffs can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days; freeze unfilled eclairs for longer storage. If the eclairs soften in storage, they can be crisped up in the oven before filling and serving. To re-crisp; bake uncovered in a 300°F for about 5 to 8 minutes. Cool completely before filling.


sunday-dinner-at-grandma-rafellos

How many folks still hold with tradition and have “Sunday Dinner”? Growing up in my house, a big dinner with family members occurred every week. Family time and lots of good food are Italian American traditions. Once I was married and had children, we didn’t always live near family members. I think this is a common factor today. As a small family we always had dinner together, weeknights and weekends, but they were not the typical big feasts of old. Sunday meals were not much different from weeknight meals, usually. I thought this week I would make a traditional Sunday dinner featuring seasonal ingredients and a roast – a pork roast. The only thing missing from this dinner is the first course pasta dish that we always had in the old days.

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Herb-Crusted Pork Roast

Ingredients

One 3 pound top loin, bone-in pork roast, fat trimmed
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tablespoon coarse or kosher salt
¼ cup minced herbs (I used sage, rosemary, tarragon, oregano and basil)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Pat the pork loin dry with paper towels. Place the roast on a platter or in a baking dish. Rub the roast with the olive oil and press the herbs and salt onto all the sides of the roast.

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Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (up to 24 hours). Bring to room temperature for 1 hour before roasting.

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Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Place the roast on a rack that has been placed inside a roasting pan and cook for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, turn the roast over and baste with 1/4 cup of the wine.

Return the roast to the oven and reduce the temperature to 325°F. Cook for 60-75 minutes longer, turning the roast and basting it with wine every 20 minutes; reserve 1/4 cup of wine for the sauce.

Check the roast after it has been cooking for 60 minutes. Place a meat thermometer in the roast to determine if it has reached 150 -155 degrees F.

If not, continue cooking until the temperature is reached.

Transfer the roast to a platter and pour the pan juices into a measuring cup.

Place the roasting pan over moderate heat on the stove-top; when it starts to sizzle, add the reserved 1/4 cup wine and cook for 2 minutes, scraping up the drippings from the bottom of the pan.

Add to the pan juices in the measuring cup; let the fat rise to the surface, about 5 minutes. Skim off the fat and season the sauce with black pepper.

Carve the roast into thin slices and arrange the meat on a platter. Serve the pan juices on the side.

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Roasted Butternut Squash Puree

I prefer to cook the squash whole. Uncooked butternut squash is a difficult to cut through, however, after baking, it is very easy.

This recipe makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wash a 2 to 2 1/2 pound butternut squash and place it on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake for about 90 minutes or until soft all over, turning the squash halfway through the baking time.

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Cool slightly and cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. With a spoon, scoop the flesh into a bowl and mash the squash.

Stir in 2 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, salt and black pepper to taste.

You can make this early in the day or the day before. Reheat before serving.

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Sautéed Peas

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 celery stalk including the leaves at the top, finely chopped
10 ounce package of frozen peas (or 2 cups fresh peas)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat; add the onions and cook until tender. Add celery and peas.

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Cook until peas are heated through (about 6 minutes). Stir in salt and pepper and serve.

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Apple Rosemary Tart

Ingredients

One 9 inch refrigerated pie crust, at room temperature
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 pounds baking apples, such as Granny Smith or Golden Delicious
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary (do not substitute dried) or 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a small bowl, combine the flour with 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar; reserve.

Peel and core the apples. Slice them into ¼ inch-thick slices. (You should have about 3 cups.)

Place the apples in a bowl and toss them with the lemon juice, the remaining 3 tablespoons brown sugar and the rosemary or cinnamon.

Place the dough on a parchment lined baking sheet and sprinkle the reserved flour/sugar mixture evenly over it, leaving a 2-inch border uncovered.

Arrange the apples evenly over the flour mixture. Fold the edges of the dough over the apples. Moisten your fingers lightly with water and gently press the creases so that they hold together.

Dot the apples with the butter.

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Bake the tart for about 40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown, the apples are tender and the juices syrupy.

Cover the tart with foil halfway through the cooking time, if the crust is browning too rapidly. Let cool for 10 minutes, then slide the tart onto a serving platter.

Just before serving, sift the confectioners’ sugar evenly over the crust.



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