Sunday, June 29, 2008

I love fresh mozzarella . . .

. . . but it doesn't keep very well (at least in my experience), so I'm always looking for new recipes that include fresh mozzarella. I'm practically addicted to [my version of] insalata caprese, so I have fresh mozzarella on hand almost all the time during spring and summer.

My insalata caprese is something like this:
2 parts grape tomatoes (sliced in half) to 1 part fresh mozzarella (cubed)
add fresh basil (chopped), if available - use basil from a tube (Gourmet Garden) if not
drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar
sprinkle with sea salt

There are a few shows on the Food Network I really like - Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa and Everyday Italian with Giada DeLaurentiis. The other recipe featured here is Giada's Crostini Alla Romana. I have to be honest: as much as I like Everyday Italian, I did not love this recipe. It had to do with the prosciutto - either I had bad prosciutto . . . or I should have roasted the prosciutto to get it crispy before using it in this recipe. I'm not exactly sure. I think I'll keep looking for another fresh mozzarella recipe I like as much as insalata caprese!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Chicken Parmesan

Wow, why haven't I made this before? That is exactly what I was thinking when I sat down to sample my Chicken Parmesan - the latest Barefoot Bloggers recipe. It was simple and quick, and best of all - my husband liked it . . . lemon vinaigrette and all! Kudos to the Barefoot Contessa for another great recipe (and to Barefoot Bloggers for making me try something new).

I loved the lemon vinaigrette on the salad - but next time I'll either use a little less dressing or avoid topping any of the chicken with the salad . . . it made the top a little soggy by the time I took pictures and finally tasted it. Nevertheless, this makes a perfect weeknight meal!

Parmesan Chicken
4 to 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 extra-large eggs
1 tablespoon water
1 1/4 cups seasoned dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
Unsalted butter
Good olive oil
Salad greens for 6, washed and spun dry
1 recipe Lemon Vinaigrette, recipe follows

Pound the chicken breasts until they are 1/4-inch thick. You can use either a meat mallet or a rolling pin.

Combine the flour, salt, and pepper on a dinner plate. On a second plate, beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon of water. On a third plate, combine the bread crumbs and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan. Coat the chicken breasts on both sides with the flour mixture, then dip both sides into the egg mixture and dredge both sides in the bread-crumb mixture, pressing lightly.

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan and cook 2 or 3 chicken breasts on medium-low heat for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Add more butter and oil and cook the rest of the chicken breasts. Toss the salad greens with lemon vinaigrette. Place a mound of salad on each hot chicken breast. Serve with extra grated Parmesan.

Lemon Vinaigrette:

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Yield: 6 servings

Recipe from The Barefoot Contessa - Family Style, courtesy of The Food Network

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Garden Update

Quick garden update: I have a mole . . . causing quite a lot of damage. Strawberries, zucchini, peppers, corn, and more have fallen victim to the mole. As soon as I can find that little rodent, I'm going to kill it! I bought poisonous worms and mole repellent . . . but I'm having a few issues: a) I don't want to expose my garden (or our dog) to a lot of chemicals and b) I can't figure out which tunnels are the most recent . . . they're everywhere! Help!

The plants not destroyed by the mole are doing pretty well:

My largest pepper


Tomatoes (grape & others)

Monday, June 23, 2008

perfect summer dessert or breakfast

This berry parfait originally started as strawberry panzanella, as seen on 101 Cookbooks. I intended to make the panzanella (a bread salad). . . but after sampling the delicious brown sugar-glazed cubes of bread, I didn't have enough bread to make panzanella! Just kidding - but they are really good! Inspired by a breakfast dish on my recent trip to Aspen, I decided to add blueberries and raspberries, which led me to a parfait rather than the panzanella.

Here's what I think is a perfect dessert - or breakfast - for summer:

Fruit Panzanella Parfait
1 dense, hearty loaf of bread (16 oz.), cut into 1-inch cubes
(really tasty if it is multi-grain and includes seeds/nuts)
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 to 1 1/2 pint strawberries, washed and quartered
optional: 1/4 cup sugar
blueberries and raspberries to taste
1 small container plain (or vanilla) yogurt

Leave bread out, uncovered, overnight. Cut into 1-inch cubes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan, melt butter. Add brown sugar and salt to butter and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Add bread cubes; toss to coat. Pour coated bread cubes onto a rimmed baking sheet (I suggest lightly greasing or using non-stick spray on the baking sheet); bake 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway through, until pieces become golden brown and crispy.

Mash half of the strawberries with a potato masher (or fork) to make a sauce. Add sugar, if using (my suggestion: use sugar if serving for a dessert; skip sugar if serving as breakfast). When bread cubes cool, layer bread, yogurt, strawberry sauce, sliced strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. Alternate layers as many times as serving dish allows. Top with strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.

I think this recipe could easily serve 4-6, depending on serving size (and how many strawberries and bread cubes you snack on during preparation:).

Mmm . . . this is my kind of fruit salad!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Barefoot [Contessa] Bloggers: Pasta, Pesto & Peas

A couple of weeks ago, I joined a new blogging group - the Barefoot Bloggers. The name of this blog has created a little confusion among my friends . . . "barefoot - as in barefoot in the kitchen and . . . . . ?" Uhh, NO! Let me clear this up: Barefoot as in "The Barefoot Contessa." You know, Ina Garten's show on the Food Network? That kind of barefoot.

Now that we have the barefoot issue cleared up, on to the recipe: Pasta, Pesto, and Peas. If I were assigned to give this recipe a tagline, it would be "perfect for spring." It was a perfect accompaniment to a warm evening, a bottle of white wine, and a good group of friends. I recommend inviting several friends, actually, because this recipe makes several servings. The four of us barely put a dent in the bowl and we weren't eating light. You can keep the leftovers covered in the refrigerator overnight, but I found it to taste the best immediately after preparation.

Pasta, Pesto, and Peas

3/4 pound fusilli pasta (I used penne)
3/4 pound bow tie pasta
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 cups pesto, packaged or see recipe below
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cups good mayonnaise (you could easily use less, and/or possibly substitute light mayonnaise)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
1/3 cup pignolis (pine nuts)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cook the fusilli and bow ties separately in a large pot of boiling salted water for 10 to12 minutes until each pasta is al dente (I cooked all the pasta together at one time and it turned out fine). Drain and toss into a bowl with the olive oil. Cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree the pesto, spinach, and lemon juice. Add the mayonnaise and puree. Add the pesto mixture to the cooled pasta and then add the Parmesan, peas, pignolis, salt, and pepper. Mix well, season to taste, and serve at room temperature. 8-12 servings

I used store bought pesto, because our [rural] grocery store didn't have fresh basil and the basil in my garden isn't ready yet. If you would like to make it from scratch, here is the recipe:

1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup pignolis (pine nuts)
3 tablespoons chopped garlic (9 cloves)
5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups good olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Place the walnuts, pignolis, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 15 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute. Use right away or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Recent Acquisitions

I might have mentioned this before . . . I have a little bit of a cookbook obsession. There are worse things, right? Here are my most recent acquisitions:

The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper
I love this book. LOVE it. I don't always agree with the "political" positions, and certainly don't support some parts of their activism, but I can overlook those things. The recipes are great, the information is interesting, and it is beautifully designed. First things to try: ribbons of greens salad; the 65-degree egg; retro garlic bread; black pepper honey steak; and greenbean gremolata.

The Most Decadent Diet Ever
Unfortunately, between gardening and low-carbing, I haven't actually made any of Devon Alexander's recipes yet, but they look amazing - in fact, it's hard to believe it's a 'diet' cookbook! On my list: warm brie chicken breast sandwich; chicken enchilasagna; Godiva brownie sundaes; and peach shortcake. Did I mention this is a diet book? I keep forgetting.

Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals
Simple, yet sophisticated, quick recipes. I found this book in the bargain bin - Sara Moulton probably wouldn't be glad to see it there, but I was! I might not have noticed it on the regular shelves of Barnes & Noble or in the cyber-depths of Amazon. Some of the things I intend to make: quick asparagus lasagna; exotic mushroom pot pie; two-melon, prosciutto, and feta salad; and pineapple flambe.

The Fifth Taste
(hint: it's all about umami)
Okay, this cookbook, with recipes from '25 of America's Best Chefs,' doesn't actually belong to me. It's borrowed from work . . . but I'm still excited about trying out some of the recipes, such as: maxed-out meatloaf; asparagus salad with roasted peppers and shaved parmigiano-reggiano; green bean tempura; and truffle mac and cheese.

The Dean & Deluca Cookbook
My mom brought me the Dean & Deluca Cookbook recently. I remember wandering around, mesmerized by all the gourmet foods, in the Dean & Deluca in Kansas City every time we visited during my high school and college years. Although mom and I agree the book is a little dated, it has good basics. The only downside: no desserts. Not that I need any more dessert recipes . . .
On Memorial Day, I made the deep fried onion rings. They were so fantastic, we ate the whole batch and then decided to go on a temporary low-carb diet to make up for it. Now that we're eating carbs again, I'm definitely going to make the panzanella. You'll know I've turned into a true gourmet food snob when I start making recipes like terrine of foie gras and galician-style octopus. While that is highly unlikely, I know this book will be a good reference for classic recipes for years to come.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

This is My Future Food

Welcome to my garden.

Please ignore the weeds and the untidy edges. It is the first garden I've ever planted . . . I have about 20 gardening books . . . it looks as if I should read less and weed more!

So far I have planted spinach, tomatoes (grape, beefsteak, early girl) bell peppers (several varieties), zucchini, snow peas, carrots, green onions, corn, strawberries, and sweet potatoes. I still have more things to transplant and plant. I also have some container plants, including several herbs. And I'm going to plant a big patch of pumpkins and ornamental corn (in a separate location). I'm a little behind. The weather has been uncooperative and the books don't really address how to fix the weather.

Despite the weeds and the planted-too-late plants, I'm pretty pleased with my garden.

I was beyond excited when I discovered this pepper!

Mmm . . . spinach . . . do you think this is ready to eat?

So now you know why I haven't been cooking and blogging as much . . . I've been reading and weeding. That and I decided to eat low carb for a week or two, which has completely zapped all motivation to cook. Don't worry, the low carb thing won't last long. First, I don't think it is sustainable for me . . . and second, I'm going to the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen (wooooohooooo!) the middle of this month! No way am I going to obsess over avoiding carbs at the Food & Wine Classic!

Although I'm not inspired to cook much right now, I bet my trip to Aspen - and garden fresh vegetables - will probably get me back on track!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen . . .

We have TWO winners! That's right - not one Beef Month recipe contest winner, but two!

We have a very scientific method for picking winners when I have a blog contest . . . I write each name on a little piece of paper, put the paper in a bowl, and hold it up in the air for Ken to draw out a name (or two). So congratulations Megan and Erin - you will both receive a copy of The Healthy Beef Cookbook! (Erin - please e-mail me your address . . . Megan - I'll deliver yours)

Make sure to stock up on beef - you'll need it when you see all the healthful, delicious recipes in your new cookbook!