Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Author Archives: Jovina Coughlin

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You don’t always have to serve meat as a main course in order to make a delicious dinner.
Plant-based recipes consist of fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, but no dairy, eggs or meat. While I would not be happy with a diet devoid of dairy, eggs or cheese, I am very happy to eat whole plant food meals a few times a month. I am not a purist, so I include olive oil in my cooking preparations. We really liked these recipes and did not think they needed the addition of meat.

Try some plant-based recipes every once in a while. They are good for you and the planet.

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Eggplant Caponata

Serves 6 as an appetizer. This also makes a good spread for bruschetta.

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds eggplant (1 large)

1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for the baking pan
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely diced
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups chopped Italian tomatoes
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon agave syrup
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
8 chopped pitted Kalamata olives
1/4 cup minced jarred roasted red peppers
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Basil leaves for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and score once or twice with a knife (not hitting the skin on the bottom.)

Roast face down on foil lined baking sheet that has been sprayed with oil, about 20 minutes or until tender. Let drain on a paper towel for 10 minutes, cut side down.

Scoop the eggplant out of the skin and finely chop.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil (or substitute vegetable broth) over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet. Add the onion, celery, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the Italian tomatoes, vinegar and agave and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the remaining oil, eggplant, capers, red peppers, olives and parsley and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes or until thickened.

Cool to room temperature. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and garnish with basil leaves. Serve with your favorite Italian bread.

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Mushroom Ragu

Serve over cooked pasta, polenta or rice.

Ingredients

2½ pounds fresh mixed mushrooms, small and firm
1/2 ounce dried porcini, soaked in 1 1/4 cups warm water
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary, a tender stem about 4-inches long
1 sprig fresh sage, with 4 big leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or vegetable broth
1 cup shallots, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 1/2 cups canned finely chopped Italian tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup vegetable broth

Directions

Squeeze out the soaked porcini and slice them into pieces about 1/4-inch wide. Strain the soaking water and set aside

Clean, trim and slice the fresh mushrooms into thin slices, barely 1/4-inch wide.

Tie all the fresh herb sprigs together with piece of kitchen twine or enclose the leaves in cheesecloth.

Put the oil or vegetable broth into a large, deep skillet with a cover or Dutch Oven and place over medium heat. Add the onions and shallots and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and stir well.

Cook for 6 minutes or more-stirring often-until they’re soft without any browning.

Add all the porcini and sliced mushrooms into the pan.. Sprinkle with another 1/4 teaspoon salt and add in the herb bouquet, toss briefly, raise the heat a bit and cover the pan.

Cook, covered, for about 3 minutes-shaking the pan now and then to sweat the mushrooms.

Uncover and continue to cook over fairly high heat, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms shrink and the liquid evaporates, 5 minutes or more.

When the mushrooms begin to brown, clear a spot and add the wine and stir constantly until the wine thickens and evaporates. Pour in the porcini water, vegetable broth and  Italian tomatoes.

Bring to a boil, stirring and then lower the heat to keep the sauce bubbling gently and cover the pan. Cook for one hour, stirring occasionally.

If after one hour the mushrooms are thoroughly tender and the saucy liquid has thickened, remove the herb bouquet. If you want the sauce thicker, cook for another 30 minutes.

Taste and add salt, if needed, and freshly ground black pepper.

Use the sauce immediately or let it cool. Store it in the refrigerator for a week or freeze, for use within several months.

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Italian Vegetable Stew

Vegetables that will hold up to long cooking times are the best choices for stews. If you use more delicate vegetables, they should be added toward the end of cooking. Good veggie choices for stews are sweet potatoes, russet potatoes, root vegetables such as carrots, turnips and parsnips, green beans, pumpkin, winter squash and cauliflower. Cutting the vegetables into uniform pieces helps them cook evenly.

I used purple and red potatoes in this recipe to give the stew some added color.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable broth or water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 fennel bulb, cut into 1 inch pieces
3 medium carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 stalks of celery, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 1/4 lbs mixed small purple and red potatoes, cut in half
½ cup red wine
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
One 26 oz container strained Italian tomatoes (Pomi) or tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups frozen Italian or regular green beans, partially defrosted

Directions

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Heat the oil (or water) in a Dutch Oven and add the garlic and onions. Saute over low heat for a few minutes until the onion softens.

Add all the remaining vegetables, except the Italian green beans, and stir until coated with the onions. Add the red wine and bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook 10 minutes.

Add the seasonings, strained tomatoes and tomato paste. Turn the heat up to medium and cook until the sauce starts to bubble.

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Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook the stew for 30 minutes. Add the green beans, cover and cook for 10 or 15 minutes more.

Don’t forget the crusty Italian bread to dunk in the sauce.

 

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salernocanaloneOften overshadowed by its proximity to Naples and by the beauty of the Amalfi coast, Salerno is often overlooked. The province has a Mediterranean climate, with a hot and relatively dry summer (30 °C (86 °F) in August) and a rainy fall and winter (8 °C (46 °F) in January). The strong winds that come from the mountains toward the Gulf of Salerno make the area very windy but also one of the sunniest areas in Italy.

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The province is one of the largest in Italy and the Port of Salerno is one of the most active on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It handles about 10 million tons of cargo per year.

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Today, Salerno is an important cultural center and is divided into three zones: the medieval sector, the 19th century sector and the more densely populated post-war area, with its numerous apartment complexes.

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Salerno is located at the geographical center of a triangle nicknamed the “Tourist Triangle of the 3 P” (namely a triangle touching the corners of the towns of Pompei, Paestum and Positano). The characteristics of this area make Salerno attractive to tourists.

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Some of these sites include:

  • Lungomare Trieste (Trieste Seafront Promenade). This promenade was created from the sea during the 1950s and it is one of the best in Italy, similar to those in the French Riviera.
  • Castello di Arechi is a massive castle created by Arechis II during the Roman-Byzantine era.. Today, it houses rooms for exhibitions and meetings. The Castle offers a spectacular view of the city and the Gulf of Salerno.
  • Centro storico di Salerno. The “Historical Downtown of Salerno” is believed to be one of the best maintained in the Italian peninsula. Its Merchant Street is one of the main shopping streets in the city.
  • Giardino della Minerva, “Minerva’s Garden,” was the first European “orto botanico” (botanical garden).

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Salerno’s cuisine is rich in vegetables, legumes, olive oil, cheese and fish which are the foundation of the Mediterranean diet. The star of Salerno’s cuisine is without any doubt the Campana DOP Buffalo Mozzarella and their San Marzano Tomatoes that are exported around the world. Some other culinary specialties include the White Fig, the Giffoni Hazelnut and the Amalfi Coast Lemon.

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Fruity Tomato Sauce (Pummarola) Salerno Style

Makes approximately 2 cups, enough for 1 pound of pasta

Ingredients

  • 2½ cups (28 ounces) canned, peeled plum tomatoes in juice. (D.O.P San Marzanos are preferred.)
  • 4 tablespoons high quality extra virgin olive oil, or more, to taste
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 small red or yellow onion, minced
  • 1 medium celery stalk, including leaves, minced
  • 1 small carrot minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Small handful of chopped fresh basil
  • Scant ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Freshly milled black or white pepper

Directions

Drain the tomatoes in a colander, reserving their juice; chop and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Stir in the garlic, onion, celery, carrot, parsley and sauté the vegetables until they are completely soft, about 12 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and stir until it’s coppery-colored, about 3 minutes. Then add the tomatoes and their juice, cover partially and simmer, stirring occasionally and gently, until thickened about 45 minutes.

Stir in the basil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and blend in the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, or more to taste.

Note:

If a smooth sauce is desired, take the pan off the stove and allow it to cool somewhat. Position a food mill over a clean saucepan and pass the sauce through it, being sure to press out as much of the pulp as possible. Place over medium heat just long enough to heat through, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining tablespoon olive oil.

The sauce can be made 4 to 5 days in advance and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator, or it can be frozen for up to 3 months. Whether storing it in the refrigerator or the freezer, leave out the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Stir it into the sauce after reheating.

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Linguine or Spaghetti with Anchovies

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 400g linguine or spaghetti
  • Salt and pepper
  • 12 tablespoons olive oil
  • 60g pitted black olives, chopped
  • 2 small red chilies, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon salted capers, rinsed
  • 6 anchovy fillets
  • 60g fresh breadcrumbs

Directions

Add the linguine to a large pan of boiling salted water and boil until al dente.

Heat half of the olive oil in a pan, add the olives, chilies, capers and anchovies and heat, stirring to dissolve the anchovies.

Drain the pasta as soon as it is ready and toss with the sauce.

At the same time, heat the rest of the olive oil in a large non-stick pan and fry the breadcrumbs until slightly brown.

Mix the dressed pasta into the breadcrumbs.

Fry for a few minutes, until a crust forms underneath. Invert onto a warm plate, so the crushed side is on top.

Cut into portions with a knife and serve.

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Saddle of Pork with Milk and Giffoni Hazelnut

Ingredients

  • 1 kg saddle of pork
  • ½ liter of warm milk
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 100 gr of chopped hazelnuts
  • 1 tablespoon of potato starch
  • Sage and rosemary
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • Olive oil and salt as needed

Directions

Brown the onion with some sage and rosemary in warm olive oil. Add the pork and brown on all sides; add the wine and let the pork steam in it for a few minutes.

Then add the warm milk and let it cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the potato starch, stirring until thickened; then mix in the hazelnuts. Let the meat cool.

Slice the pork and place it into a baking dish. Pour the sauce over the meat and warm it into preheated moderate oven for 5 minutes. Serve it warm with mashed potatoes as a side dish.

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Lemon Gelato

Ingredients

  • 200 ml (7 fl oz/ 7/8 cup) lemon juice
  • 350 ml (generous 12 1/4 fl oz/ 1 1/2 cups) milk
  • 150 ml (5 1/4 fl oz/ 3/4 cup) single cream
  • 170 g (6 oz/ 7/8 cup) sugar

Directions

Bring the milk almost to a boil, then add the sugar and, off the heat, stir it until it dissolves.

Pour in the cream and lemon juice. Place the pan in a bowl of ice and, when the mixture is cold, transfer it to the ice cream maker. Follow directions for your ice cream maker.

Pour into a freezer container and freeze overnight. Serve with a sprig of fresh mint.

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It may seem like “slim pickens”, when you look at what fruit is available in the winter in your market. With a second look, however, there are plenty of choices and they great choices for cooking or baking. Look for citrus fruit, apples, bananas, pears and dates. These are all good choices for salads, pancakes and muffins or to garnish main dish meats and fish.

Meyer Lemon Bread

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1 loaf

Ingredients

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 lightly beaten egg
1 cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons finely shredded Meyer lemon peel
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice

Lemon Glaze

2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon lemon zest

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Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom and sides of an 8 x 4 x 2-inch loaf pan; set aside.

In a medium bowl stir together flour, 3/4 cup sugar, the baking powder and salt. Make a well in center of the flour mixture; set aside.

In another medium bowl or measuring cup combine the egg, milk, oil, lemon peel and the 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Add egg mixture all at once to the flour mixture.

Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy). Spoon batter into prepared pan.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pan. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To make a glaze: Combine the glaze ingredients until smooth and spread over the cooled cake. Let harden before wrapping the ;oaf.

Citrus Salad

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Turn this salad into a main course by adding cooked shrimp or chicken. I especially like shrimp in this salad.

Orange Vinaigrette

1/4 cup raspberry vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 shallots, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
Grated zest of 1 orange,

Salad

1 bulb fennel, halved, cored, and thinly sliced
1⁄2 small red onion, thinly sliced
! grapefruit
1 orange
1 tablespoon olive oil

Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Directions

To make the vinaigrette:

Whisk the shallots, raspberry vinegar, honey and salt and pepper together in a mixing bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil in while whisking. Add the orange zest. Set aside

Peel the fruit and cut into segments.

In a large bowl, cover the fennel and onion with ice water and let stand for 10 minutes. Drain and transfer to paper towels to dry thoroughly.

Transfer the fennel and onion to the bowl with the vinaigrette and toss to combine. Lift the fennel and onion from the dressing and transfer to a serving platter.

Arrange the citrus segments evenly over the fennel and onion. (If adding shrimp, arrange it on top of the salad.) Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over the top, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Baked Apple Sauce

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Applesauce can be flavored with maple syrup or cinnamon. You can also add cranberries to the cooking apples to make a cran-applesauce. It makes wonderful tasting pancakes and muffins and is a great side to roasted pork.

Makes 12 servings.

Ingredients

4 lbs. (about 10 medium) assorted apples, such as Macoun, McIntosh, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, Jonagold and Honey Crisp, peeled, cored, and quartered
1/3 cup fresh apple cider or apple juice
4 lemon slices, cut paper-thin
2 tablespoons honey, optional

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place apples, cider or juice and lemon slices in a large heavy, ovenproof casserole with a cover and mix well.. If using honey add it in and toss again.

Bake apples, covered, for 60 to 75 minutes, until very soft and moist. Stir to combine. If it is too wet, bake applesauce, uncovered, for 15 minutes longer.

Cool to room temperature before serving; applesauce thickens as it cools. The applesauce keeps, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 5 days or 6 months in the freezer.

Coconut Banana Pudding

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Ingredients

1 ripe banana, mashed
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 dash salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Honey Bananas

1 tablespoon butter
1 banana, sliced into ¼ inch slices
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon hot water

Directions

In a large sauce pan, melt the butter and stir in the mashed banana.

In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, mix the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the salt, eggs and coconut milk. Stir well and add to the banana in the saucepan.

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly; cook until thickened.

Remove from the heat; add vanilla and mix well. Pour into a storage bowl or 4 individual dessert dishes.

To make the honey bananas:

Melt the butter in a small skillet.

Arrange the banana slices in the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, until lightly brown.

Whisk together the honey and 1 tablespoon of water.

Remove the skillet from the heat and pour the honey mixture over the bananas. Shake the pan to distribute.

Divide the bananas and syrup over the top of the pudding. Chill for several hours before serving.

 


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I live in a climate that is hot about nine months out of the year, so winter time, especially January, is a great time of the year to bake. I can get some extra baking in and save the baked goods in the freezer for when it gets hotter. The recipe for one of our favorite breakfast scones is below.

Soup is another favorite and while tomatoes are not in season, Roma Tomatoes are plentiful and are great for cooking. Salads are hearty at this time of year and chicken salad is a great option. Stuffed vegetables or stuffed meat entrees are very comforting when there is a chill in the air. Try some of the recipes below to warm you up.

Breakfast

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Almond Scones

Makes 8 scones

Ingredients

2 cups self-rising flour (or 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon salt)
2 tablespoons sugar
One 7 oz tube almond paste
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup half-and-half (cream and milk)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
½ cup slivered almonds
Sugar for sprinkling

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and sugar. With a pastry cutter, cut the almond paste and the butter into the dry ingredients until a few pea-sized lumps remain. Stir in the almonds.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, egg and almond extract and add to the flour mixture. With a fork gradually stir the dough until the mixture comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and very gently pat into an 8-inch round about 1 1/2 inches high. Sprinkle the top of the dough with sugar.

Using a chef’s knife or bench scraper, cut the dough round into 8 wedges. Transfer the wedges to the prepared baking sheet, spacing the scones at least 1 inch apart.

Bake in the top third of the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are golden. Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool.

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Roasted Red Pepper and Egg Wrap

2 servings

Ingredients

1 large, jarred roasted red pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
2 large eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons shredded mozzarella cheese
2 medium tortilla wraps

Directions

Cut the pepper into one inch pieces.

In a measuring cup beat the eggs with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and the Italian seasoning. Add the peppers and mix.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet. Stir and cook until the eggs are set.

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Warm the tortillas in the microwave. Divide the cheese in half and sprinkle over each tortilla. Divide the egg mixture in half and place on top of the cheese. Let stand for a few minutes to allow the cheese to melt.

Roll up each tortilla tightly, cut in half and serve.

Lunch

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Winter Tomato Soup

If you don’t like peeling tomatoes as much as I do, here is a technique I use to get around it. I usually purchase fresh Roma tomatoes for cooking and put them in the freezer when I get home from shopping. One day before I am going to cook with them, I place the amount I need in the refrigerator to defrost. The next day, the skins slip right off and are ready for the pot.

Ingredients

6 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, minced
Two 26 oz containers finely chopped Italian tomatoes (Pomi)
1 teaspoon honey
4 cups organic broth (chicken or vegetable)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Optional: add ½ cup half & half to make a creamy version
Basil for garnish

Directions

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Heat the olive oil in a soup pot. Add the onions, cover and cook until they are soft and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the the fresh and canned tomatoes, honey, salt and pepper to taste and the broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes with the cover ajar. Remove the pot from the heat.

With an immersion blender or in a processor, puree the soup. If adding cream, add it here and warm the soup. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and serve hot garnished with basil.

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Open-Faced Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Slow-poaching the chicken breasts keeps them extra moist.

6 servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 scallions, minced
2 medium celery stalks, finely chopped
¼ of a green bell pepper finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
6 slices whole wheat or rye bread, lightly toasted

Directions

In a large saucepan, cover the chicken breasts with water. Bring to a very slow simmer and cook over low heat until white throughout, about 18-20 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a plate and let stand until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Cut the chicken into 1/2-inch dice.

In a large bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the mustard and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the onion, celery, bell pepper, parsley and chicken until evenly coated.

Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Spread some of the chicken salad onto the toasted bread slices and top with tomato slices to serve.

Dinner

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Crab-Stuffed Flounder

This is a hearty entree and only needs one vegetable as a side. flounder comes in large sizes here on the gulf and mine weighed 14 oz. Substitute an equal amount of smaller fillets.

For 2-3

Ingredients

Crab Filling

1 tablespoon each of minced onion, celery and bell pepper
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon seafood seasoning (Old Bay)
1/2 pound lump crab meat

Flounder

12-14 oz flounder fillet or fillets
Paprika
Chopped fresh parsley

Directions

In a small bowl, combine all the filling ingredients, except the crab. Then, gently fold in the crab. Place the flounder in a baking dish coated with olive oil.

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Spoon the crab mixture evenly over the fillet or fillets. Sprinkle with paprika and parsley.

Bake at 400°F for 20-24 minutes or until the fish is cooked through.

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Southwest Stuffed Peppers

January is a good time to try different ethnic cuisines. They can spice up some typical winter produce. While I find an occasional taco or quesadilla tasty, I am generally not a fan of Southwest recipes. This recipe turned out quite well, though, and is a nice change from regular stuffed peppers. It is also good served with a green salad with ranch dressing.

2 servings

Ingredients

1 large green bell pepper
¼ lb lean ground beef or turkey
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 scallion, chopped
½ cup of corn kernels
¼ cup salsa
½ cup Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese, shredded

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut the pepper in half and remove the seeds. Place the pepper halves in a small baking dish.

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat and cook the ground beef until brown.

Turn off the heat and add the scallion, corn and salsa; stir to combine. Spoon this mixture into the pepper shells. Add water to cover the bottom of the dish.

Bake for 45 minutes, until the peppers are fork tender. Drain the water from the baking dish. Sprinkle the peppers evenly with the shredded cheese. Return the baking pan to the oven and bake just until the cheese melts.


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According to the food historian, Clifford Wright, the origin of pasta carbonara is not really known. There are several competing theories, but all are anecdotal.

The first theory is said to come from a dish made in the Apennine mountains of Abruzzo by woodcutters who made charcoal for fuel. They would cook the dish over a hardwood charcoal fire and use penne rather than spaghetti because it was easier to toss with the eggs and cheese.

The second theory is the one that gives the meaning to the dish’s name – alla carbonara or coal worker’s style. This name implies that the dish was eaten by coal workers or that because of the abundant use of coarsely ground black pepper the dish resembled coal flakes.

Another story is that due to the food shortages after the liberation of Rome in 1944, the Allied troops distributed military rations consisting of powdered egg and bacon which the locals used with water to season the easily stored dried pasta.

There is also a theory that in the province of Ciociaria, in the region of Lazio near Rome, pasta was seasoned with eggs, lard and Pecorino cheese. During the World War II German occupation of Rome, many middle class families escaped the occupation and fled to Ciociaria, where they learned about this dish. After the war, Roman cuisine became very popular throughout Italy and this dish became a prime example.

Another story suggests that the famous restaurant in the Campo de Fiori in Rome, La Carbonara, was named after its speciality. Although the restaurant has been open since the early part of the twentieth century and does have carbonara on its menu, the restaurant denies any such connection.

The simplest story, and therefore the most likely, is that the dish had always existed at the family level and in local trattorias. Cheese, pork, olive oil, salt, pepper and pasta were all kept fresh without refrigeration and eggs were readily available at local farms. All that was needed was a pot and a fire. An eyewitness account supporting this theory can be found in a cookbook titled, Sophia Loren’s Recipes & Memories. The actress described how during the filming of Two Women in the late 1950s, in the mountains near Rome, the crew came upon a group of carbonai who offered to prepare food for them. They prepared carbonara. The director, Vittorio De Sica, and Loren had second helpings.  Loren returned the next day to learn how to make the dish. (An accomplished home cook, Loren claimed the recipe was exactly as the carbonai made it but her rendition calls for cream—an addition most carbonara connoisseurs would not agree with. The dish was also popular among the American troops stationed in Italy; and when they returned home, they made “spaghetti alla carbonara” popular in Italian cuisine.

And, the debate goes on….

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Pasta Carbonara

Serves 6

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup minced guanciale, pancetta or bacon (about 1/4 pound)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine or other long, thin pasta
4 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, or more to taste

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.

In a medium skillet, combine the olive oil and pork/bacon and turn heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.

Add salt to the boiling water and cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of water before the draining pasta.

Beat eggs in a large warmed pasta serving bowl. Stir in 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan and the bacon and its juices. When the pasta is done, drain and toss with egg mixture.

Add a little of the pasta cooking water to moisten. Season with plenty of black pepper, and serve.

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january-blog-background-004Think there isn’t much? Not so – there is plenty.

Root Vegetables, Citrus Fruit, Leeks and Onions, Greens, such as kale, Potatoes and Beets are all available in January and make great tasting meals.

Purchasing seasonal foods is a healthy and cost-effective way to approach food shopping. Grocery stores tend to stock up on these items in bulk because they are plentiful, making them less expensive for you—especially when they go on sale or offer buy one; get one free.

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Celery Bisque

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 head of celery, diced including leaves
1 large onion, diced
1 bunch scallions (green onions) or use a leek, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups vegetable stock
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ cup half & half (cream and milk)
Garnish with chopped chives and sour cream

Directions

Heat the oil in a soup pot or Dutch Oven over medium heat. Add the vegetables, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 30 minutes.

Add the broth, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and puree with an immersion blender.

Return the pot to the heat. Stir in the cream and heat on low. Garnish individual servings with chopped fresh chives and sour cream, if desired.

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Lemon Basil Roasted Chicken Breasts

Use any herb you like. When cold nights come in, I bring my herb pots indoors, so I always have fresh herbs on hand.

2 servings

Ingredients

1/2 teaspoon lemon peel
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 whole fresh basil stalk, leaves removed and sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for the baking dish
2 bone-in, medium chicken breast halves, skinned
Salt and ground black pepper
6 very small potatoes
2 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
¼ of a fennel bulb, sliced

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat a shallow baking pan with olive oil.

Place the chicken breasts in the prepared pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Then sprinkle with the lemon zest and juice.

Scatter the potatoes, fennel, carrots and garlic around the chicken.

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Bake, uncovered, spooning the pan juices over the chicken once or twice, for 30 minutes. Sprinkle the chicken with the basil and return the pan to the oven.

Bake 10-15 minutes more or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the chicken registers 170°F and the juices are clear.

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Beets, Red Onion & Orange Salad

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

1/4 of a red onion, thinly sliced
4 small, cooked beets, sliced
1 navel orange
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic, minced
Pinch of sugar
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cup washed, dried, whole Bibb lettuce leaves

Directions

Soak onion slices in cold water for 10 minutes; drain.

With a sharp knife, peel the orange, removing white pith. Slice the orange between the membranes over a mixing bowl to catch the oranges and any juice.

Pour any juice in the bowl into a measuring cup. Add more orange juice to equal ¼ cup.

Whisk together the orange juice, oil, mustard, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in the measuring cup.

Place lettuce leaves on individual salad plates. Arrange beets, onions and orange slices on top. Drizzle with some of the dressing and serve.


 

WINTER MOOD — PALETTE KNIFE Oil Painting On Canvas By Leonid Afremov

WINTER MOOD — Oil Painting On Canvas By Leonid Afremov

It’s January and cold outside with temperatures that will be that way for a few days, even here in the South. To give the house a warm feeling, I bake bread. And, of course, the smell is so enticing.

Below are three bread recipes that are sure to warm you up.

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Cranberry Sweet Potato Muffins

12-15 muffins

Ingredients

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cold mashed sweet potatoes (without added butter or milk)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
Chopped pecans
Cinnamon-sugar

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

In a small bowl, combine the egg, milk, sweet potatoes and butter; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in the cranberries.

Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups half full. Sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon of chopped pecans and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar.

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Bake at 375°F for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in muffins comes out clean.

Cool in the pan 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack. Serve warm.

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Swirled Pumpkin Yeast Bread

This is a large volume dough and if you do not have a heavy-duty large capacity mixer, you will have to make the dough by hand or cut the ingredients in half to make one loaf.

2 loaves

Ingredients

4-1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups quick-cooking oats
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
1-1/2 cups warm water (120° to 130°)
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, the whole wheat flour, oats, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, salt, sugar and yeast.

Beat in the warm water, pumpkin, applesauce and oil just until moistened.

Add eggs; beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining all-purpose flour to form a firm dough.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic,about 6-8 minutes or knead in your mixer.

Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Roll each portion into an 12-inch x 9-inch rectangle and brush with the softened butter to within 1/2 in. of edges.

Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over both doughs. Roll up jelly roll style, starting with the short side and pinch seam to seal.

Place seam side down in two greased 9-in. x 5-in. loaf pans. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

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Bake at 350°F for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

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Sourdough Ciabatta

This is a great bread to serve with your favorite soup.

2 large loaves

Ingredients

2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup sourdough starter
1 1/4 cups water
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
6 cups unbleached All-Purpose flour

Directions

Mix the yeast with the flour.

In an electric mixer bowl combine the milk, olive oil and salt with the paddle attachment. Stir in the flour, a cup at a time, until you have a dough the consistency of drop-cookie batter.

Switch to the dough hook and knead, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth and satiny.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Place the bowl in a warm spot and let the dough rise, undisturbed, about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Punch the dough down and turn it onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough gently and divide it into two pieces.

Form the loaves into torpedo shapes, and place each loaf on a parchment-lined baking sheet. With a serrated knife, make three slashes in the tops of the loaves, each 1/2-inch deep.

Cover with a damp towel.

Let the loaves rise until they look puffy. This should take approximately 30 minutes. While the loaves are rising, preheat the oven to 425°F.

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Brush or spray the loaves with water; a plant mister is good for this job. Bake for 10 minutes, spraying the loaves with water two more times.

Lower the oven to 375°F and bake for an additional 25 minutes.



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