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This past Sunday our dear friends, Sal and Gary, invited us to Brooklyn for a Sunday lunch and cookie making extravaganza with Gary’s Sicilian-born mom, Maria. For a long time, Maria had been wanting to show me how to make a traditional Sicilian Christmas cookie called cuci dati (“sweet things”) in the Sicilian dialect. She had saved some of the fig marmellata she makes every fall with figs from the trees in her Sicily garden so she could introduce me to the proper recipe. The weather was pretty warm so it made it even stranger to be making Christmas cookies in May, but that is what we did. This is just one photo as a hint to let you know that once winter returns and the holiday season is upon us, I will offer the recipe along with instructional photos. Mean of me to entice, but I wanted to give you something to look forward to.

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We have never been a family that celebrates designated, made-up card sending holidays like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day or even Valentine’s Day. We try very hard to celebrate each other every day. However, this year with the loss of our oldest son, Mickey, to lung cancer we have felt a need to celebrate the men in our family. We post this photo of Steve, my husband and loving step-dad, sandwiched between Mickey and his younger brother, Chris in remembrance of Mickey, the father of Alexander and Clara, on Father’s Day.

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Like the rest of America, we eat a lot of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Not because they are my preference, but because those of us on a cardiac-health diet are told to eliminate the skin. To make mine look as though they still have that delicious crisp skin, I lightly coat them in seasoned Wondra flour and sear them in a very hot nonstick (Scanpan, usually) pan with just a hint of olive oil for about 3 minutes per side or until golden. I then transfer to a very hot oven for about another 5 minutes or until just barely cooked through. I allow the breast to rest for another 5 minutes to finish cooking and to hold the juices in before slicing it, crosswise, on the bias. Because they are so large, one chicken breast serves both my husband and me. In this photo, I have transferred the cooked breast to a pan of warm old-fashioned creamy chicken gravy that I had saved (and froze) from a roast chicken dinner. I think if you try my method, you will find that you will end up with juicy meat with a slightly crisp exterior.

 

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With summer almost here I decided that maybe, just maybe I should lose a few pounds. Not that I’m ever going to be seen in a bikini, but just because in the hot New York summer you need to feel lighter. So, since less pounds translates to less food on the plate, I have been trying to eat more salads for dinner. This is one I came up with using ingredients I had on hand. The center is a mixed bean salad that was a bit spicy (black and red beans along with chickpeas, chopped onion and sun-dried tomato, chopped herbs, a little fresh chili, olive oil), around and about some sliced tomato and bits of bufala mozzarella and some fresh basil. I drizzled some balsamic vinaigrette around the edge of the plate and had a very satisfying dinner.

About balsamic vinaigrette I use 2 parts olive oil, 1 part balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. I shake it up in a plastic squeeze bottle and always have it on hand to season salads or sandwiches or to drizzle over grilled meats or poultry. (If you like the flavors you can also add celery salt, onion powder, and/or garlic powder to taste.)

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For the same DeGustibus Cooking School by Miele at Macy’s Herald Square I featured pans and knives from ScanpanUSA and Global Knives, two of my most favorite culinary aids. Scanpan makes superb nonstick cookware that I couldn’t live without. To make one of the tidbits to be served with the sparkling wine, we used the Scanpan blini pan to make the following shallot cakes. In the photo you see Amaral and I, cheering on my biggest supporter, Sarah Afana, as she makes the cakes. You can see how perfectly found they are going to be.

For the class, we also made the tapenade, but you could easily substitute a fine quality commercial tapenade. Each guest just had one cake, but you could do 3 slightly overlapping on an appetizer plate.

 

Shallot Cakes with Green Olive Tapenade

Serves 6

 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

4 large shallots, peeled and chopped

1 large egg, at room temperature

⅓ cup milk

¾ cup self rising flour

Green Olive Tapenade (recipe follows)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Herb sprigs or toasted almonds for garnish, optional

 

Place the butter in a medium frying pan over medium heat. When melted, add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Combine the egg and milk in a small bowl, whisking to blend. Place the flour and salt in a medium mixing bowl and whisking constantly, add the egg mixture along with the cooled shallots.

Place either a blini pan or a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the blini indentations or into the frying pan. You want pancakes no larger than 3-inches. Cook , turning once, for about 2 minutes or until the golden on both sides. Remove from the pan and keep warm.

Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the tapenade and cook, stirring frequently, for about 1 minute or just until heated through.

Top each warm pancake with a small spoonful of the warm tapenade. Garnish with an herb sprig or toasted slivered almonds, if desired.

 

Green Olive Tapenade

Makes about 1½ cups

8 toasted almonds

3 cloves garlic, peeled

7 ounces (about 1 ½ cups) chopped pitted green olives, such as Cerignola

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped Italian parsley

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon well-drained capers

2 tablespoons white balsamic or moscato vinegar

2 teaspoons lemon zest

Pepper

 

 

Combine the almonds, garlic, olives, parsley, thyme, and capers in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process just until coarsely chopped. Scrape the mixture into a mixing bowl and stir in the vinegar and lemon zest. Season with pepper.

Serve at room temperature or slightly warm.

amaral-asparagus

 

Recently I did a hands-on cooking class at DeGustibus Cooking School by Miele at Macy’s Herald Square in New York City. Hands-on means that the paying guests, working with the chef and assistants, prepare the evening’s meal which they will then sit down and enjoy along with accompanying wines. Although I never refer to myself as a chef, for this class I was so designated (I guess it sounds better than chief cook and bottle washer) and Amaral, the long-time general manager of the school, was in charge of his group making an asparagus salad. Amaral and I have worked together for many years and we always have more fun that we probably should. He is a great cook in his own right, but his sense of humor and support of the starred chefs make him a very special person. In this photo, you see Amaral guarding the asparagus that is going to be used to make the following salad.

Grilled Asparagus Salad with Warm Guanciale Vinaigrette and Pecorino

Serves 6

 

30 asparagus stalks of the same size

3 tablespoons olive oil

Zest of 1 orange

Salt and pepper

Guanciale Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

2 hard-boiled egg yolks, sieved

Shaved Pecorino Romano for garnish

 

Break off the tough ends of the asparagus and, using a vegetable peeler, trim about 1-inch of the outer skin off of the bottom of each stalk. As peeled, place the asparagus on a baking sheet with sides. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle on the orange zest. Season with salt and pepper and, using your hands, gently roll the stalks around to season evenly.

Place a grill pan over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus, a few stalks at a time, and grill, turning occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until just barely cooked through and nicely marked. Remove from the pan set aside while you continue grilling the remaining stalks.

Place 5 stalks on each of six luncheon plates. Spoon an equal portion of the vinaigrette over the asparagus, sprinkle with sieved egg yolks, and garnish with a couple of shavings of Pecorino.

 

Guanciale Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ pound guanciale, finely diced

1 shallot, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon minced garlic

½ cup moscato or white balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

Place 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the guanciale and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until nicely browned and slightly crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked meat to a double layer of paper towel to drain.

Keeping the frying pan on low heat, add the shallot and garlic and fry, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Whisk in the vinegar and mustard.

Remove the pan from the heat and slowly whisk in the extra virgin olive oil, whisking in just enough to make a slightly thick dressing. You may not need all of it, depending upon how much fat was released by the guanciale.

Stir the reserved guanciale into the dressing, season with salt and pepper, and use as a dressing for grilled vegetables, wilted greens (such as kale, spinach, or butter lettuce) or other salads.

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Since there are just two of us when I roast a chicken I am faced with quite a lot of leftovers which translates to extra meals without a lot of cooking.  My first go-to is a chicken club sandwich – Steve, my dear husband is a lover of sandwich dinners.  At this time of the year the sandwich is not quite as delicious as it is in the summer with ripe juicy tomatoes on hand, but I chop up some of those sweet Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and they do the job quite nicely.

Even after making our sandwiches, there is still meat on the bones so I put the meaty carcass in a pot with cold water, onion, carrot, celery stalk (if I have it), herbs, and any leftover chicken stock or “jus” I have and simmer up a rich, chickeny broth.  I strain it, discarding everything but any meat floating about and the carcass.  I pull off the meat left on the bones and make a soup that will be dinner one night and a couple of lunches during the week.  For this particular broth, I added some diced carrots and onions along with a bag of chopped organic kale that was lurking in the freezer and some terrific Italian pasta from a brand called Rummo, a family-owned company in Campagna, Italy.  The pasta is what made the soup – it is extremely flavorful and stays al dente so you get that wonderful chewiness that great dried pasta reflects.  I was introduced to this brand by Rita, one of my favorite Italian baristas.  Although I haven’t seen this brand in many stores, Rita purchases it somewhere uptown in Manhattan.  I went on line and checked its availability and found an old review from New York Magazine where 3 NYC chefs rated it extremely low.  I can only assume that the company has changed its process because there is no way I’d rate it at the bottom of a list of dried pastas.  I find it has great flavor and cooks to the perfect “al dente” texture.

 

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