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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Desserts

I enjoy inviting friends over and usually prepare a meal for them. It can be brunch, or a casual meal by the pool, a BBQ or a more formal meal. The menu below was for a special occasion with some special friends. I wanted to make something different for the main course and came up with Chicken “Wellington”. This turned out to be a delicious meal that my friends loved.

First Course

Italian Onion Soup

Ingredient

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
2 pounds of Tropea onions or red sweet onions – halved or quartered and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sea salt
6 cups beef broth
1/2 cup dry red wine
Croutons
Shaved Parmesan cheese for the topping

Directions

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, add the olive oil and set on the pan over medium heat.

When the oil is hot, add the garlic and let sizzle for about 1 minute. Be careful not to burn.

Add the onion slices and sprinkle with the salt. Stir into the olive oil with a wooden spoon.

Reduce the heat to low and slowly cook the onions for about 15 minutes – stirring frequently.

The onions will reduce in size and begin to develop a light browned color.

Add the wine to the pot and cook until the liquid reduces. Add the beef broth and bring the liquid to a boil.

Cover with a lid, reduce the heat to low and cook for 45 minutes.

Uncover and cook for another 15 minutes, letting the soup thicken a bit.

When ready to serve, pour soup into individual soup bowls, top with croutons and shaved cheese.

Second Course

Stuffed Chicken Breasts In Pastry

Ingredients

One 17.3-ounce package Puff Pastry Sheets, thawed
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts halves
6 heaping tablespoons chive/onion cream cheese, divided
3/4 cup spinach pesto, divided, Recipe Link

Directions

Pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness between sheets of plastic wrap.

Place one heaping tablespoon of cream cheese on one end of each breast and flatten the cheese to make an even layer.

Fold the opposite end of the breast over the cheese and press down. Do the same with the rest of the chicken.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Unfold one pastry sheet on a lightly floured work surface. Roll the pastry sheet into a 16-inch square.

Cut into 4 squares. Do the same with the second sheet of pastry and set 2 squares aside.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons of spinach pesto on each square.

Top each with a folded chicken breast. Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg mixture.

Fold the corners of the pastries up over the chicken and press to seal. Place the pastries on an oiled baking sheet.

Use a small decorative cookie cutter to cut out 6 flowers or other shapes.

Place a cutout on top of each pastry.Brush with the egg mixture.

Bake for 30 minutes. Pastry should be golden brown and flaky and the chicken should register 165 on an instant read meat thermometer.

While the chicken is baking make the wine sauce.

Mushroom Wine Sauce

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves minced garlic
1 shallot, minced
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions

In a medium skillet heat the butter over medium heat. Saute the mushrooms, shallot and garlic for 5 minutes.

Add the freshly chopped parsley, salt and pepper and continue to saute for about 8-10 minutes.

Add the wine, bring to a boil and reduce by about 1/2 over medium heat.

Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the cream. Heat over low and serve with the cooked chicken breasts.

Rapini with Garlic and Oregano

4 Servings

Ingredients

1 bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), ends trimmed and rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 large garlic cloves minced
1/2 dried oregano, crushed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper, crushed
Salt to taste

Directions

Cook broccoli in boiling, salted water in a large saucepan 2 to 3 minutes or until just tender; drain.

Rinse with cold water; coarsely chop and drain again.

Heat oil in the same saucepan. Add broccoli, garlic, crushed red pepper and oregano; cook stirring 3 to 4 minutes.

Season with salt, to taste.

Corn Custard

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter
5 cups fresh yellow corn kernels cut off the cob (6 to 8 ears)
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
4 eggs
2 cups prepared Bechamel sauce, see recipe below
1/2 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal flour (Masa Harina)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease the inside of a 2 quart baking dish.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan and saute the corn and onion over medium-high heat for 4 minutes. Cool slightly.

Whisk together the eggs and Bechamel sauce in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal and then the ricotta.

Add the honey, salt, pepper and the cooked corn mixture. Process until smooth with a stick blender.

Stir in the chopped chives and the grated cheddar cheese. Pour into the baking dish.

Place the dish in a larger pan and fill the pan 1/2 way up the sides of the dish with hot tap water.

Bake the pudding for 40 to 45 minutes until the top begins to brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm.

This dish can be prepared one day ahead and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator one hour before baking.

Béchamel Sauce

Ingredients

3 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
Pinch of salt

To make the béchamel:

Melt the butter over medium heat. When foaming, add the flour and stir briskly with a whisk.

Cook for about 2 minutes, then slowly add the milk, whisking continuously.

Cook for about 3-4 minutes more, until it is of medium-thick consistency, similar to a runny pudding or yogurt.

Remove from the heat and set aside. Makes about 3 cups.

Dessert Course

Vanilla Ice Cream with Berry Sauce and Shortbread Cookies

Slice-and-Bake Shortbread Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen

Ingredients

1 cup salted butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Directions

Beat 1 cup softened butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.

Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract and almond extract until blended.

Stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Gradually add flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating at low-speed until blended.

Shape the shortbread dough into 2 (7-inch) logs.

Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill 4 hours, or freeze logs in zip-top plastic freezer bags up to 1 month.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

If frozen, let logs stand at room temperature 10 minutes.

Cut each log into 1/4 inch t slices. Place shortbread slices 1 inch apart on lightly greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheets.

Bake the shortbread slices for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges of slices are golden.

Remove shortbread from the baking sheets and place on wire racks; let cool completely (about 20 minutes).

Store in airtight containers or in the freezer.

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While my primary cooking focus is on Italian food, I am fascinated with all the cuisines of the Mediterranean region. This geographical area broadly follows the olive tree, which provides one of the most distinctive features of the region’s cooking, olive oil. The region spans a wide variety of cultures such as, the Maghrebi, Levantine, Ottoman, Greek, Italian, Provençal and Spanish. History, as well as the impact of the Mediterranean Sea on the region’s climate and economy, mean that these cuisines share similar dishes, such as roast lamb, meat stews with vegetables and tomato (such as, Spanish andrajos and Italian ciambotta) and the salted cured fish roe, bottarga, found across the region. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and the country of Portugal. This series continues with Spain.

Madrid

Barcelona

The Mediterranean diet is the basis of Spain’s cuisine. The regions of Andalusia and Catalonia are best known for Spain’s olive oil. It is an important ingredient in Spanish salads and soups, such as gazpacho and salmorejo ( a cold soup made with tomato and bread). Whole olives, sometimes stuffed with anchovies or pimento (red pepper paste), are eaten as appetizers and snacks, or added to stews, hot pots and salads.

Spanish Food

Tapas

Some of Spain’s fertile agricultural regions are in Navarre, Andalusia, Murcia,the Balearic Islands and Valencia. Valencia is well-known for its citrus fruits. Other essential Spanish fruit includes bananas from the Canary Islands, strawberries from Huelva and Aranjuez (Madrid), Vinalopó grapes and peaches from Calanda (Aragon).

Valencia Oranges

Bread is traditionally served as an accompaniment to food, often with a little extra virgin olive oil for dipping. Bread with cheese is a common snack, and bread is also used to thicken soups and stews.

Spanish cuisine also features many rice-based recipes and paella is world-famous. Spanish paella is cooked outside on an open wood fire in a large flat-bottomed pan called a paellera and paella can include all types of ingredients including seafood, chicken, chorizo sausage, rabbit and even snails.

The regions in the north of Spain are well known for their milk and dairy products. Traditional desserts, such as cuajada (made with curd cheese) and rice pudding are made from such ingredients. Spanish cheeses include Manchego (Castile-La Mancha), Burgos (Castile-León), Cabrales (Asturias), Idiazábal (Basque Country) and Majorero (Canary Islands).

Spanish Beaches

Omelets and seafood are eaten often. The most popular fish dishes contain anchovies (very common in Cantabria), cod (typical of the Basque Country), “pescaíto frito” (fried fish) in Andalusia and seafood from Galicia. Fish and shellfish are used in a myriad of ways—grilled over hot coals and served with bread and salad, fried in olive oil and served as tapas (small appetizers served hot and cold in bars and bistros throughout Spain to accompany sherry, wine, or beer) dotted through a paella, or enjoyed in a saffron-infused stew with tomatoes, fish, shellfish, potatoes and wine.

Tomatoes, bell peppers (capsicum), potatoes and zucchini have now become synonymous not only with Spanish cuisine, but Mediterranean cuisine as a whole. Other commonly enjoyed vegetables include onions, garlic, asparagus, eggplant, spinach, cabbage, cucumbers, artichokes, lettuce and mushrooms.

These vegetables are used in rice dishes, stews such as cocida (a one pot dish with vegetables, beans and chicken or meat that originated in Madrid but is eaten throughout Spain) as well as soups such as gazpacho (a cold tomato-based soup) and a wide range of salads and vegetable side dishes.

Chickpeas and white beans are used to make hearty bean stews and flavorsome soups. Lentils, such as Spanish pardina lentils, are also added to stews and soups and are used in salads. Green beans and peas are used in a wide range of dishes including paellas and hot pots.

Popular nuts include almonds, pine nuts and hazelnuts which are often ground down and used to thicken and enrich the flavor of stews, sauces and soups. Toasted almonds are also a popular snack.

Meats like dry cured Serrano ham, lamb or chorizo sausage are used in small amounts to add flavor and texture to a dish instead of being the main ingredient.

Chicken is a popular addition to stews and rice dishes and eggs are used in a variety of dishes including tortilla de patatas, a traditional Spanish omelet with eggs, potatoes and onion.

For over 700 years much of Spain was ruled by the Moors (a Muslim tribal people from the Moroccan region of North Africa) and their influence remains today in many of the seasonings used in Spanish cooking including saffron, cinnamon and cumin.

Other commonly used seasonings include smoked paprika, garlic, flat-leaf parsley, pepper, sea salt, white wine vinegar and sherry vinegar, fresh chilies, capers, wine and lemon juice. These seasonings are all used to enhance, not mask, the natural flavors of the food.

Tortilla de Patatas

Ingredients

1 potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
4 eggs
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Cook the potato in boiling water for 4-5 minutes. Drain.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and cook the onion and green pepper for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potato and cook for 2 minutes.

Whisk the eggs together in a bowl with the parsley, salt and pepper. Pour the eggs over the vegetables in the pan, cover, and cook gently over a low heat for 8 minutes.

Remove the lid and place under a hot oven broiler to cook for a minute or until the top is set. Cut into wedges to serve.

Gazpacho

This cold soup is delicious and refreshing—a perfect summertime meal served with bread.

Ingredients

1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 red onion, roughly chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 cup peeled, seeded and roughly chopped cucumber
3 cups low sodium good quality tomato juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Garnish: chopped cucumber, onion or bell pepper

Directions

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth.

Chill in the refrigerator for twenty four hours for the best flavor.Garnish with chopped vegetables, if desired.

Add a few drops of Tabasco sauce for a spicy version.

You could use ripe, fresh tomatoes instead of tomato juice, but you need to skin and remove the seeds first.

Paella

The following paella recipe serves 4, and for best results cook in a 14 or 15-inch paellera. A large shallow frying pan makes an acceptable substitute. Most Spanish Paellas are made with seafood.

Prepare the vegetables:

Finely chop: 1 red onion,1 red and 1 green bell pepper, 4 cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons of fresh flat-leaf parsley.

1 cup of canned peeled tomatoes mashed with a fork.

Prepare the seafood:

Peel and devein 16 large shrimp
Cut 2 squid tubes into rings
Scrub and debeard 12 fresh mussels.
Cover the fish and refrigerate.

Sofrito

Sofrito is a Spanish tomato and onion sauce which is used as a flavor base for a variety of dishes, including paella.

To make the sofrito:

Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in the paella pan over a medium heat and cook the chopped red onion, 2 tablespoons of parsley and 3 of the chopped garlic cloves for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomatoes and 2 teaspoons of Spanish smoked paprika.

cook until all the liquid from the tomatoes has evaporated and the sofrito has the consistency of jam. Transfer the sofrito to a small bowl to cool and wipe the paella pan clean with a paper towel.

Cook the mussels:

Bring a ½ cup of water to a simmer in a saucepan. Add the mussels, cover the pan and steam on a low heat for 5 minutes. Remove the mussels and set aside, discarding any that haven’t opened.

Cook the shrimp and squid:

Heat 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in the paella pan over a medium-high heat. Add the remaining clove of chopped garlic and the shrimp and cook for 1½ minutes. Add the squid rings and cook for a 1½ minutes more. Remove the shrimp and squid from the paella pan and lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and set aside.

Prepare the paella:

Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in the paella pan over a medium heat and cook the diced red and green peppers for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the sofrito back to the pan along with 1½ cups of Spanish Calasparra or Bomba rice and cook for a minute, stirring to coat the grains.

Add 3 cups of heated fish or chicken stock, a pinch of saffron threads, 1½ teaspoons sea salt and ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine, and bring to a bubbling simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, uncovered without stirring. (To make sure the rice cooks evenly you will need to regularly move the paella pan around the heat source, or you can position the paella pan over two burners.)

Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 15 minutes more without stirring. After 15 minutes, turn the heat up to medium-high for a minute or so until you can smell the rice toasting at the bottom, then remove the paella pan from the heat.

Push the cooked shrimp, mussels and squid into the cooked rice and scatter a half a cup of defrosted frozen green peas over the paella.

Cover the pan with foil or a clean cloth and let the paella rest for 5 minutes.

Present the paella in the pan at the table with lemon wedges.

Classic Spanish Flan

Makes 12 servings

For the flan:

4 cups whole milk
2 strips lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar

For the caramelized sugar-coating:

1/2 cup sugar
5 by 9-inch mold

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300º F.

To prepare the caramelized sugar-coating, spread the sugar evenly in the bottom of a small heavy saucepan and place over medium-low heat. It may take several minutes before the sugar begins to melt. Without stirring, watch the sugar closely as it begins to liquefy at the edges. All of it will slowly turn first into a yellowish and then golden syrup and finally into a brown caramel sauce.

When the liquefied sugar is turning from golden to brown, immediately remove the saucepan from the heat. (If you miss this point, the sugar will quickly turn too dark and taste bitter and you will need to discard it and begin again.)

Working swiftly, pour the liquid caramel into the flan mold and tilt to cover the bottom and sides evenly. It is important to do this transfer quickly, as the change in temperature causes the caramel to solidify rapidly. Set aside.

In a saucepan, combine the milk, lemon zest and cinnamon stick over high heat and bring to a boil. Immediately decrease the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes to infuse the milk with the flavor of the seasonings. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a bowl, combine the whole eggs, egg yolks, and granulated sugar and whisk until foamy. Pour the cooled milk through a fine-mesh sieve held over the egg mixture and whisk until well blended. Pour the mixture into the coated mold.

Place the mold in a large, deep baking pan or roasting pan. Pull out the oven rack, put the baking pan on it, and pour boiling water to a depth of about 1 inch into the pan to create a water bath. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until set when tested with a thin-bladed knife in the center. Carefully remove the water bath from the oven, and then carefully remove the custard from the water bath and set aside to cool completely.

You can cover and refrigerate the cooled flan to serve cold, or you can serve it at room temperature. Run a knife around the inside of the mold to loosen the edges of the custard and then invert the flan onto a dessert plate.

Bullfighter Daniel Luque performs during a bullfight as part of the Las Fallas Festival in Valencia, Spain. The Fallas festival, which runs from March 15 until March 19, celebrates the arrival of spring. (David Ramos/Getty Images)


Lunch Menu

Iced Tea
Deviled Eggs
Stuffed Mini Peppers
Mediterranean Grilled Tuna Salad
Spinach Triangles with Tzatziki Sauce
Bread Sticks, Pickles
Dessert: Almond Sponge Cake with Strawberries and Cream

Iced Tea

Republic of Tea: 1 Peach Ginger Iced Tea Bag and 4 Naturally Sweet Tea Bags
Slices of Lemon, Lime and Oranges
Prepare the tea according to package instructions. Pour into a serving pitcher and chill.
To serve: Pour into tall glasses, add ice cubes and fruit slices before serving.

Mediterranean Grilled Tuna Salad

Ingredients

Tuna Marinade

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice (plus lemon wedges for serving)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 cloves garlic—grated
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 lb tuna fillet, one inch thick

For the Salad

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup bottled roasted red peppers , drained and chopped
5 Kalamata (brine-cured) black olives , pitted and chopped
1 large celery rib , chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoon Italian parsley , chopped
1 teaspoon celery seed
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons toasted pignoli (pine nuts) or basil for garnish

Directions

To grill the tuna:

Combine the marinade ingredients in a measuring cup. Place the tuna in a glass dish and pour the marinade over the fish. Chill for one hour.

Cook the tuna on a hot grill for about 10 minutes or cooked through, turning and brushing regularly with the marinade.

Cool the tuna and wrap in plastic. When cold, flake the tuna.

To make the tuna salad:

Whisk together lemon juice and mayonnaise in a bowl. Add the flaked tuna and the remaining ingredients and combine. Season with pepper. Chill until serving time. Garnish with toasted pine nuts just before serving.

Stuffed Mini Peppers

Ingredients

16 mini sweet peppers
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
3/4 cup Italian seasoned panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped finely
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped finely
1/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 lemon, zested
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

In a large rimmed baking pan with heavy-duty foil. Spray lightly with olive oil cooking spray. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the peppers in half so they will lay flat. Lay the peppers on the baking sheet, cut side up. Season the insides of the peppers with salt and pepper.

Mix the breadcrumbs, cheese, anchovy paste, onion, celery. herbs, cayenne pepper and the lemon zest together in a bowl. Toss thoroughly.

Fill the peppers with a little of this mixture and then drizzle the olive oil over the peppers. (If you are making these ahead of time, just cover with some plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook them.)

Roast for 15 – 20 minutes, until the peppers are soft and the breadcrumb mixture is golden.

Deviled Eggs

Ingredients

6 large eggs
¼ cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup olive oil mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Directions

Place the eggs in a saucepan just large enough to hold the six eggs. Cover with cold water and place the pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and cover the saucepan.

Let the eggs rest in the hot water for 12 minutes. Drain the water from the pot and add some ice cubes and cold water to cover the cooked eggs.

Let them cool until you can handle the eggs without burning your fingers.

Gently tap the eggs in several places and remove the shells. Place the peeled eggs on paper towels to dry.

Cut the eggs in half lengthwise. Carefully remove the yolks and place in a mixing bowl. Mash the yolks with a fork. Add the onion, celery, mayonnaise, mustard and salt and pepper. Mix well.

With a spoon fill each egg where the yolk had been with some of the mixture.

Place the eggs on a serving platter and chill. Sprinkle chives over the eggs and serve.

Spinach Triangles

Let the package of filo dough sit in the refrigerator overnight to defrost. Any remaining dough can be kept in the refrigerator well wrapped in plastic for four weeks or it can go back into the freezer.

Makes about 16 triangles

Ingredients

One 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 scallions (green onions), minced
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
48 sheets filo dough, thawed
Olive oil
Tzatziki, recipe below

Directions

In a mixing bowl, combine the spinach with the scallions, parsley, dill, cheeses, eggs, salt and pepper until smooth.
Keep the filo dough not being used, covered with a damp cloth to prevent drying, while you work on the triangles.

Spread one sheet of the dough on a cutting board and brush with some olive oil. Place a second sheet of dough on top and brush with oil. Repeat with a third sheet.

Cut the layered filo in half lengthwise. Place one tablespoon of filling about 1″ from the corner of each strip. Fold one corner of fillo diagonally across to the opposite edge to form a triangle.

Brush lightly with oil. Continue to fold the triangle onto itself. Brush the outside of the triangle with oil and place the triangles seam side down on parchment covered cookie sheets at least 1” apart.Repeat until all the filling is used up.

Bake in a preheated 350ºF oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Rolls can be made ahead and reheated just before party time.

Serve hot with Tzatziki Sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce

Ingredients

1 cup peeled and seeded cucumber, finely chopped
1/3 cup plain 2% reduced-fat Greek yogurt
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Place the chopped cucumber in a fine mesh colander and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of salt.

Place the colander over a bowl and let the cucumbers drain for one hour.

Turn the cucumbers over on paper towels. Squeeze all the water out.

Combine the cucumber and remaining ingredients in a small bowl; cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Almond Flour Sponge Cake

Cake

4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil for the pan

For the strawberry topping:

2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1-2 teaspoons sugar (or more, depending on how sweet your strawberries are)

For the whipped cream:

1 pint heavy cream, well chilled
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an 8″ round cake pan with oil. Swirl the oil in the pan and make sure it goes up the sides.

Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of the sugar listed in the ingredients onto the bottom of the pan.

Separate the egg yolks from the whites.

Using an electric mixer or stand mixer, whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Slowly beat in 1/4 cup sugar. Scrape the beaten egg whites into another bowl and set aside.

In the mixing bowl, beat together the egg yolks, the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the almond extract until smooth.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients — flour, baking powder and salt — and add to the egg yolk mixture. Stir together to form a thick dough.

Fold in the egg whites, 1/2 cup at a time, incorporating them fully between each addition. The final addition should result in a smooth, fluffy batter.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake on the center rack for 30 to 35 minutes, until it’s golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the sides, then turn the cake out onto a serving plate.

Allow the cake to cool fully before topping with strawberries and cream.

For the strawberry topping:

Combine the strawberries and sugar in a small bowl, and set aside to allow the juices to release.

For the whipped cream:

Place the bowl and whisk attachment for your stand mixer or a metal or glass bowl and beaters for your hand mixer in the refrigerator or freezer until they are cold.

Add the cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla to the chilled bowl, and beat on medium-high to high-speed until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat. Chill until ready to serve.


Mushroom Pizza

I often see photos of pizza with salad on top and I had been wanting to try something similar. So, keeping with what is in season, my pizza is made with onions, mushrooms and arugula salad. Serve this pizza with marinated olives and sliced tomatoes. And, don’t forget dessert!

4 servings

Ingredients

1 lb pizza dough, at room temperature
Half a large red onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 oz mozzarella, sliced thin
½ cup feta cheese
1 cup arugula
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions

Heat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Spread the pizza dough in a greased pizza pan.

Heat the oil in a skillet and add the shallots and garlic. Cook for a minute and add the mushrooms.

Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook until all the mushroom liquid is absorbed.

Spread the sliced mozzarella on top of the pizza dough. Spread the mushrooms over the cheese.

Sprinkle the feta on top of the mushrooms.

Bake the pizza until crispy and brown on the edges.

Mix the arugula with the lemon juice.

As soon as the pizza comes out of the oven, top it with the arugula salad and freshly ground black pepper.

Cut and serve.

Italian Almond Carrot Cake (Torta di Carote)

This cake is gluten-free and made with olive oil. It is not your traditional American carrot cake.

You can also buy the carrots shredded from the supermarket.

Ingredients

Carrot cake

1/2 cup regular olive oil, not extra-virgin
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 1/2 cups almond meal/flour
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 lemon, zest finely grated and juiced

Mascarpone cream

1 cup mascarpone
2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons rum

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the base of a 9 inch springform pan with a parchment paper cut to fit the bottom. Coat with olive oil spray.

Add the pine nuts to a small dry pan and toast them over low heat.

Grate the carrots in a food processor or with a coarse grater, and put them on a double layer of paper towels. Wrap the towels around the carrots to soak up the excess liquid.

Using the whisk attachment in an electric mixer, combine the sugar and olive oil until creamy.

Whisk in the vanilla and eggs. Fold in the almond meal/flour, nutmeg, grated carrots, toasted pine nuts the lemon zest and lemon juice.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake pan and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. The batter will be not be very high in the pan.

Bake the cake until the top is risen and golden and a cake tester comes almost clean, about 45 to 50 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it rest on a rack for 10 minutes before removing the sides. Let cool until ready to serve. Transfer the cake to a serving platter.

Combine the mascarpone, confectioners’ sugar and rum in a small bowl. Slice the cake and serve with the mascarpone cream.

 


Fig Tree

 

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22. Worldwide, various events are held to demonstrate support for education about environmental issues. First celebrated in 1970, Earth Day events in more than 193 countries are now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network.

In honor of this idea, our family likes to add a new plant or tree in our garden every year. In the past, we have added a redbud tree, a palm tree, a star magnolia tree, a cypress tree, a lemon tree, a maple tree and, this year, a fig tree.

Cypress

Redbud

Star Magnolia

Palm

Meyer Lemon Tree

Maple

Figs are self-fruiting, so you need only one plant to produce fruit. Mature fig trees can grow be 15 to 30 feet tall. I don’t think I will see this in my lifetime, though. Figs can vary in size, shape, flavor, texture and time of harvest and can be black, green, brown, violet, yellow or purple in color.

Fig trees thrive in the heat of the southern US and Europe. Plant near a wall with southern exposure in the Middle South so they can benefit from reflected heat. In the areas with colder temperatures, plant cold-hardy selections, such as Brown Turkey and Celeste. You can grow figs in big pots and protect them during the winter by storing them in a cool garage or basement. During the first year, as the plants become established, water regularly and mulch. Once established, figs can be very drought tolerant. Fertilize with Espoma Citrus-tone (5-2-6) in late winter and early spring.

Figs are high in fiber and a good source of several essential minerals, including magnesium, manganese, calcium (which promotes bone density), copper and potassium (which helps lower blood pressure), as well as vitamins K and B6.

Figs must be allowed to ripen completely on the tree before picking. They can be enjoyed fresh or dried.

Figs can be eaten whole without any seasonings. They are an excellent addition to salads, cakes and ice-cream. Dried figs can be added to soups, stews or to enrich poultry, venison, lamb dishes.

I am looking forward to making my favorite fig recipes with my own home grown figs in the future.

Fresh Fig Tart

Serves 8

Ingredients

One 9-inch refrigerated pie crust, at room temperature
1 pound fresh figs, stemmed and halved lengthwise
1/4 cup apple jelly, heated
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup chopped pecans

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Press the dough onto the bottom and up the sides of a greased 9-inch tart pan.

Place the figs in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the sugar and lemon juice; toss gently to combine.

Spread the warm jelly over the pastry.

Arrange the figs in a circular pattern on the jam covered pastry. Sprinkle with pecans.

Bake for 35 minutes or until the fruit juices bubble and the crust is browned. Cool before cutting.

Fig Scones

Ingredients

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup brown sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
10 ounces dried figs, diced small
2 cups heavy cream, cold
¼ cup honey

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in the diced figs.

In a small bowl, whisk together the heavy cream and honey.

Using a wooden spoon, stir the heavy cream mixture into the flour mixture, stirring just until the ingredients are moistened.

Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead gently until a soft dough forms, sprinkling more flour in if needed. Divide the dough into two equal balls.

Working with one at a time, pat each one into an 8-inch circle and cut into 8 triangles. Transfer the triangles to the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Small-Batch Fig Jam

Makes about 2 ½ cups

Ingredients

1 lemon
1 orange
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup honey
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 whole thyme sprigs
2 pounds ripe fresh figs, stemmed and quartered

Directions

Remove the strips of rind from the lemon and the orange using a vegetable peeler, avoiding the white pith.

Combine the rind strips and the remaining ingredients in a large, heavy saucepan or large Dutch oven.

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce the heat to medium; and cook 50 minutes or until the mixture thickens, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.

To test for jam stage, place a small amount on a chilled plate. Tilt the plate and the preserves should move sluggishly.

(If testing with a candy thermometer, it should read 220°F.) Discard the thyme and citrus strips.

Pour into refrigerator or freezer storage jars. Store in the refrigerator for several months or the freezer for up to six months.


We must give credit to Sicily for giving us some delicious desserts made with ricotta cheese. Ricotta is not a cheese but a creamy curd. The curd is cooked twice, so the name “ricotta means” re-cooked. The leftover hot whey of milk used for cheese making has milk solids and a protein called albumin, which solidifies under high heat. When the whey is reheated (re-cooked) the solid milk parts are skimmed off to drain, and this is called ricotta cheese.The foam of the whey when it is being recooked is called zabbina in Sicilian.

According to the food historian, Clifford Wright, Professor Santi Correnti, chairman of the history department of the University of Catania and a preeminent historian of Sicily, wrote that during the reign of the Sicilian King Frederick II, in the early thirteenth century, the king and his hunting party came across the hut of a dairy farmer making ricotta and, being ravenous, asked for some. The first depiction of the making of ricotta is found in an illustration in the medical treatise known as the Tacuinum sanitatis, from the eleventh century. (Pictured above.)

Ricotta is used in many Italian desserts, especially for the holidays. Here is one that we like quite a bit.

Amaretto Ricotta Cheesecake

Ingredients

Crust

1 cup almond flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter

Filling

2 pounds whole milk ricotta cheese
2/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
6 eggs
1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur
1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Set a rack in the middle of the oven.

Combine the crust ingredients. Press evenly over the bottom and 1-1/2-inches up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

Place the ricotta in a large mixing bowl and stir it as smooth as possible with a rubber spatula.

Stir the sugar and flour together and then add to the ricotta. Mix thoroughly into the ricotta.

Stir in the eggs 1 at a time. Blend in the amaretto and salt. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 1 1/2 hours tor 1 3/4 hours, until a light golden color.

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

Cool on a wire rack. It will sink slightly as it cools. Cover, and chill until serving time.


Portugal

This is the second post in the series Cooking the Mediterranean Countries. You can read the first post with this link.

Europe’s exploration of the world began in the 15th century and it was Portugal who pioneered what came to be known as the “Age of Discovery”. Portugal was the first to explore the Atlantic Ocean and the west coast of Africa and the first to colonize the Azores and other nearby islands. In 1488, Portuguese explorer, Bartholomew Dias, was the first to sail around the southern tip of Africa and in 1498 his countryman, Vasco da Gama, repeated the trip, making it as far as India. Portugal would establish ports as far west as Brazil, as far east as Japan and along the coasts of Africa, India and China. There were several reasons for the Portuguese to explore the world via the sea, but the overriding purpose was to discover a sea route around Africa to the east, with its rich promise of trade in valuable spices.

Lisbon

When Ancel Keys and his team of researchers studied and characterized the Mediterranean diet and compared it with the eating habits of most of the developed countries during that time period, they identified it as the “Diet of the Poor”. According to Portuguese gastronomist, Maria de Lourdes Modesto and Keys, Portugal was included in their observations and studies, and Keys considered Portugal to have a pure “Mediterranean” diet. However, Salazar, the leader of Portugal at the time, did not want the name of Portugal included in the “diet of the poor”.

While Portugal’s shores are technically not on the Mediterranean Sea, the country is considered to have a typical Mediterranean diet. The basics of the Portuguese diet include vegetables, fruit, good quality bread, unprocessed cereals, dried and fresh legumes (beans, chickpeas, broad beans, etc.), dried fruits and nuts (walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, raisins, etc.), olive oil as the main source of fat and seafood instead of red meat.

A Portuguese breakfast often consists of fresh bread, cheese or jam, accompanied with coffee, milk, tea or hot chocolate. A small espresso coffee (sometimes called a bica after the spout of the coffee machine) is a very popular breakfast beverage.

Lunch, often lasting over an hour, is served between noon and 2 o’clock or between 1 and 3 o’clock, and dinner is generally served late, around 8 o’clock in the evening. There are usually three main courses for lunch and dinner. Soup is usually the first course. A well-known Portuguese soup is caldo verde, which is made with potato, shredded cabbage and chunks of chouriço (a spicy Portuguese sausage) There are a wide variety of cheeses, usually made from the milk of sheep, goats or cows. The most famous are queijo da serra from the region of Serra da Estrela, Queijo São Jorge from the Portuguese island of São Jorge and Requeijão.

Portugal is a seafaring nation with a well-developed fishing industry and this is reflected in the amount of fish and seafood eaten. The country has Europe’s highest fish consumption per capita. Fish is served grilled, boiled, poached, simmered, fried, stewed (often in clay pot), roasted or steamed. Cod is almost always used dried and salted because the Portuguese fishing tradition in the North Atlantic was developed before the invention of refrigeration. Simpler fish dishes are often flavored with extra virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar.

Eating meat and poultry on a daily basis was historically a privilege of the upper classes and meat was not often on the Portuguese table. When meat is eaten it is often in a dish with other ingredients. A typical way Portuguese eat meat is in a dish is called cozido à portuguesa, which somewhat parallels the French pot au feu or the New England boiled dinner.

Typical desserts include arroz doce (rice pudding decorated with cinnamon) and caramel custard.

Santo António festivities

Some Traditional Portuguese Dishes

COZIDO A PORTUGUESA

Portuguese stew is the perfect example of the importance of using all the meat an animal can provide. This stew can include beef, pork, chicken and a variety of pork derivatives such as blood sausages and smoked pork parts.

CALDO VERDE

The most traditional of Portuguese soups is simply: onions, potatoes and kale or cabbage, cooked with garlic and olive oil in a clay pot. This soup would normally be served with a slice of “linguica” ( smoked pork sausage) and cornbread (broa).

BOLINHOS DE BACALHAU

These codfish fritters can be eaten as a starter or snack or along with rice and salad as a main dish. The fritters are made of shredded codfish, potatoes, eggs and parsley and cooked until crispy.

ALHEIRA DE MIRANDELA

Alheira is a type of Portuguese sausage made from meats that may include veal, chicken, duck and rabbit, compacted together with bread. If you have “alheira de caça” it means that it will only have game meat. This unusual sausage was created by the Jewish residents in Portugal when they were forced to convert to Christianity. Their religion wouldn’t allow them to eat pork but by preparing this sausage looking dish, they could easily fool others. The dish has become traditional throughout Portugal.

SARDINHAS ASSADAS

Charcoal-grilled sardines are the most typical dish served in Lisbon. You can eat it in restaurants or from a street vendor during the Santo António festivities in June. They are most often served on top of a slice of cornbread, or with a roasted pepper salad or boiled vegetables.

Cook Portuguese Style Recipes At Home

Caldeirada (Portuguese Fish Stew)

Ingredients

2 onions, sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 bell pepper, sliced (red or green)
1 bunch fresh parsley
1 laurel leaf (bay leaf)
2 lbs (1 kg) fish ( chose from various kinds, mackerel, swordfish, tuna, skate, sea bass, monkfish, hake, haddock, etc.)
6 large potatoes, sliced
4-5 saffron threads
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup olive oil

Directions

In a large pot put layers of onions, tomatoes, fish, peppers and potatoes.

Continue to make layers until all the ingredients are used. Place the parsley, laurel leaf, saffron and salt on top.

Add the wine, water and olive oil.

Bring to a simmer over low heat and cook for about 45 minutes. Shake the pan once in a while.

DO NOT STIR, just shake the pan.

Clams With Chouriço (Portuguese Sausage)

Ingredients

3 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
7 ounces chouriço sausage, sliced
1 sliced leeks or onion
1 chili pepper, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
2 plum tomatoes, diced
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Lemon slice, for garnish

Directions

In a large pan heat the oil and fry the chouriço until lightly browned.

Add the leeks, chili, bay leaf and garlic and saute for 3 minutes.

Add the wine, diced tomatoes and bay leaf and bring to a boil.

Add the clams cover the pan and steam for 5 minutes until all the clams are opened.

Throw out any that do not open. Garnish with lemons and parsley.

Serve with bread to soak up the juices.

Portuguese Cornbread (Broa)

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 (1/4 ounce) packages dry yeast
1 ½ – 2 cups bread flour

Directions

Grind cornmeal to a powder in a food processor. You may skip this step, but the bread will not be as smooth.

Mix 1 cup of powdered cornmeal, salt and water until smooth.

Add olive oil and cool to lukewarm.

Blend in the yeast. Gradually add the remaining cornmeal and 1 1/2 cups of bread flour, mixing constantly.

Add more flour if the dough is still sticky. Knead until firm.

Let rise in a greased bowl until double in volume.

Shape into round loaf and let rise until double.

Bake at 350 degree Fs for about 30 to 40 minutes.

Grilled Red Snapper with Parsley Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 whole red snapper (2.2 lb or 1 kg), cleaned, trimmed
2 garlic cloves, mince
Juice of ½ lemon
Sea or coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

Parsley Sauce

½ cup (125 mL) extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp (30 mL) red wine vinegar
4 tbsp (60 mL) minced red onion
½ cup (125 mL) chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp (30 mL) capers
1 garlic clove, chopped

Directions

Preheat a barbecue or broiler until hot.

Make the parsley sauce in a bowl by whisking together the oil, vinegar, onion, parsley, capers and garlic. Set aside.

Season the fish with garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper and brush or drizzle with oil.

Grill or broil the fish for five minutes on each side. Transfer to a heated platter, spread with parsley sauce and serve.

Portuguese Rice Pudding, Arroz Doce

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
Peel of one lemon cut into long strips (avoid as much of the white pith as possible)
1 cup short-grain rice (arborio is a good choice)
2 cups hot milk (you can substitute some of this with cream, if you like, for a richer consistency and flavor)
Ground cinnamon to sprinkle on top

Directions

Place the water, salt and lemon peel into a medium pan and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low and allow the water to simmer with a lid on for about 15 minutes.

Remove the lemon peel from the water with a slotted spoon and discard.

Add the rice to the water and bring it back up to a boil.

Then reduce it to a simmer and allow the rice to absorb all of the water (about 10 minutes).

Slowly add the hot milk, about 1/2 cup at a time, to the rice mixture. After each addition, allow the liquid to be absorbed before adding the next batch of milk.

Stir frequently and keep the heat at low, so that the rice does not burn at the bottom of the pan. This should take about 25 to 30 minutes.

Pour the rice into a serving dish. Sprinkle the top with the cinnamon.

Chill before serving.



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