Friday, August 31, 2007

La Festa al Fresco


Liz and Ivonne are hosting La Festa al Fresco 2007. It's kind of like the big block party and every one's invited. The idea is to use fresh, local ingredients and create a dish celebrating the end of summer. I was excited to join in the fun. Eggplant and red peppers are in plentiful supply in my area this time of year. I made a recipe I had been eyeing from the Barefoot Contessa for a roasted eggplant spread. This recipe was very simple but really let the flavors of the eggplant and peppers shine. It's a great appetizer when served with pita chips or sliced baguette

1 medium eggplant 2 red bell peppers, seeded 1 red onion, peeled 2 garlic cloves, minced 3 tablespoons good olive oil 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 tablespoon tomato paste
( I added red pepper flakes)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the eggplant, bell pepper, and onion into 1-inch cubes. Toss them in a large bowl with the garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes, until the vegetables are lightly browned and soft, tossing once during cooking. Cool slightly.
Place the vegetables in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add the tomato paste, and pulse 3 or 4 times to blend. Taste for salt and pepper.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Give us our daily bread...

I must admit I haven't made any bread for a couple of months. Mostly because my husband has been away from home for the majority of the summer. Not really an excuse, I know. I also have to mention I live in an area where bread with any sort of crustiness to it is considered stale. Bread here comes in a plastic bag, is white, and requires no teeth to eat. So buying good bread is not an option. My mother has been an avid bread baker since my early childhood. When we moved to Alabama and I started a new school I was the only child in my class(probably school) that didn't have a sandwich on pure white store bought bread. My sandwich bread was large and brown. My mom also never bought processed cheese, so this to was very different from my classmates who had ham and Kraft cheese on perfectly square, white bread. Come to think of it everything was square. The bread, the cheese, even the meat! At the time I coveted for that square white bread sandwich. Who wants to be the new kid (from up North) that eats weird food? I was that kid! Well thanks to mom, I can barely tolerate store bought bread. I do buy the plastic wrapped excuse for bread but always with a slight disdain, I know what bread is supposed to taste like.
Yesterday I used the last slice of a loaf of preservative loaded store bought bread to make a sandwich. I got out the roasted turkey, the smoked provolone cheese and the Dijon mustard and put it on a piece of bread that may have been over a week old and could probably last another week without molding. Does anyone else think that this somehow goes against nature!!! Maybe that's what's wrong with the world today...lousy bread! Anyway the sandwich being a disappointment, I decided to get off my duff and make some real bread with actual grain in it. I love the King Arthur Flours. They make the most wonderful breads. I used an easy bread recipe from the King Arthur website. This is the recipe I used when I first attempted bread making and it's very forgiving and always comes out great. It's their Classic Sandwich bread recipe, however, I adapted it a bit for this loaf.

The Recipe:

3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour*
1/2 cup milk (skim, 1%, 2% or whole, your choice)**
1/2 to 2/3 cup hot water, enough to make a soft, smooth dough**
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) melted butter, margarine or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 packet active dry yeast dissolved in 1 tablespoon warm water OR 2 teaspoons instant yeast

*For added whole-grain goodness, substitute great-tasting King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour for up to half of the all-purpose flour in this recipe.

**Mix the cold-from-the-refrigerator milk with 1/2 cup of the hot-from-the-tap water to make a lukewarm combination.

Mixing: In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and stir till the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased surface, oil your hands, and knead it for 6 to 8 minutes, or until it begins to become smooth and supple. (You may also knead this dough in an electric mixer or food processor, or in a bread machine set to the dough or manual cycle). Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise till puffy though not necessarily doubled in bulk, about 60 minutes, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.

Shaping: Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, and shape it into an 8-inch log. Place the log in a lightly greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan, cover the pan loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the bread to rise for about 60 minutes, until it’s domed about 1 inch above the edge of the pan. A finger pressed into the dough should leave a mark that rebounds slowly.

Baking: Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for about 35 minutes, until it’s light golden brown. Test it for doneness by removing it from the pan and thumping it on the bottom (it should sound hollow), or by measuring its interior temperature with an instant-read thermometer (it should register 190°F at the center of the loaf). Remove the bread from the oven, and cool it on a wire rack before slicing. Store the bread in a plastic bag at room temperature. Yield: 1 loaf.

©2006 The King Arthur Flour Company, Inc.

***I used 1 1/2 cup of the King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour and 1 1/4 cup of the King Arthur Whole Wheat flour and 1/4 cup of Wheat Germ.


Ten minutes later. After much begging from hubby to let him have a piece while it's warm(hot).
Fifteen minutes later! After several slices each with butter.

There's nothing better in the world than fresh from the oven bread!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fave everyday cookbook

A picture of me with my favorite everyday cookbook for the YumSugar round-up. I love the Joy of Cooking Cookbook because you can find a recipe for almost anything you want to make.

Mint Iced Tea

It's still unbearable hot! I hate to see summer slip away, but I must admit I'm looking forward to temperatures below 95. When I was about 8 years old my family moved from outside Philadelphia to lower Alabama. To call it a culture shock would be an understatement! I had to learn a whole new language( southern English) as well as eat food that was totally foreign(okra, black-eyed peas, grits) to me. Although now a staple of everyday life, at the time I'd never even heard of iced tea before(sweet tea as it's called here). Every time we were invited into someones home they would offer us tea. A dark brown liquid so sweet that it has an almost syrup like quality. During our first summer in Alabama my mother finally asked a neighbor,an older Southern lady, why they drank so much tea. Our neighbor said because tea "cures what ails you." We came to learn the truth in that statement. Before moving South, we didn't even really drink beverages over ice.Maybe a cube or two. Now I find this impossible to imagine because I like my glass so full of ice that the beverage of choice can only fill in the spaces between the ice. Although I still don't drink real southern sweet tea,I find it too sweet,iced tea really does "cure what ails you" especially in summer. My mother started making Mint Iced Tea during that first summer in Alabama and it remains our family favorite. I sure many southerners would find it a sacrilege of true sweet tea. I think it's a wonderfully refreshing perfect summertime drink.
Mint Iced Tea
Bring one quart of cold water just to a boil. remove from heat.
Add one tea bag( I used the family size Luzianne Tea bags)
Let steep for about 10 minutes.
meanwhile bring another quart of water to a boil.
Add a large handful on fresh mint to the water remove from heat and cover pot.
Allow mint to steep for 10-15 minutes.
Pour tea into a large pitcher. Add steeped mint poured through a sieve into the tea.
Add a quarter of a can of lemonade and a quarter of a can of orange juice concentrate to the mint tea
Stir in 3/4 cup of sugar(it seems like a lot but it really does take a good bit of sugar)
Chill and serve over lots of ice!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sunday afternoon

I purchased this cookbook, "Enoteca" by Joyce Goldstein, last week-end. It's a beautiful book full of wonderful, simple Italian dishes. I love that with each recipe she includes wine recommendations. I was itching to try out some of the recipes, so in our usual Sunday fashion, the hubby and I set about to find a good dish to make for dinner. Some people play golf or engage in some other hobby,not us. Sunday afternoons are when we like to find something we've never made before, usually something Italian, and try making it for dinner. Well, I usually come up with some ideas and run them by the hubby and judging by his responses, narrow down the list. An "um well if that's what you want" translates to "I'm not very excited about it but I'll eat it". I try to find something that elicits a response somewhere between "ooh that sounds great", or "Oh make that!!!" If our meal involves making pasta my husband always volunteers for the job. It's somehow manly. Maybe because he gets to use a machine? Anyway, the rest of the prep falls to me which is fine because this way we don't argue on the best method to chop an onion, saute etc...
So this week-end I was excited to try a recipe in our new cookbook. We decided on Cannelloni with spinach, ricotta and prosciutto filling in a rich tomato sauce. I was a little surprised when this met with much enthusiasm from hubby as the recipe contains very little in the way of meat content. Which is the usual standard by which dinner (and all other meal) decisions are made. He may have been distracted by the pasta making opportunity and missed the fact that meat was not really involved. Whatever the case the pasta turned out beautifully and lack of meat was barely noticed. Hubby said it was a very good "vegetarian dish." I pointed out that I don't think vegetarian's eat prosciutto, but the meat/vegetable ratio still makes this a vegetarian dish in his eyes.

The sauce components


Beautiful sheets of homemade pasta made by wonderful husband

The finished product!

Dinner is served

Monday, August 13, 2007

Magic Cake

I needed a dessert in a hurry today for a neighbor that came home from the hospital. As I whipped up my super quick Lemon Daffodil cake it reminded me of a story of a woman told me some years ago. Before I was married, I owned a small restaurant and while talking to a patron one afternoon she told me the story of the "magic cake." She said that her granddaughter (about 4 years old) had recently come to stay with her for the first time by herself. Sometime during the visit she suggested to her granddaughter that they make a cake. At this point she told me that her granddaughter's mother was a person who made everything from scratch and would never use anything pre-made or from a mix. So when she pulled a cake mix from the cabinet, her granddaughter said "That's not how mommy makes a cake." To which the grandmother replied "Well this is a magic cake that grandma makes." Several days after the visit she said she received a call from her daughter. Her granddaughter had told her mother all about the "magic cake" that grandma made. She said her daughter told her granddaughter that grandma may make magic cake but that at home they only made real cake.

We both laughed and I told her about this cake.

I know I know, it's made with (gasp) a cake mix, but in this case I've tried making this cake from scratch and it's just not the same. It may not be real cake but, my mother has been making this cake since I was a child and I still love it! It's simple and delicious- What could be better!
One white (not yellow) cake mix made according to instructions on the box. I bake mine in a flower shaped silicon pan but you can make two 8" or one 9" round. I let the cake cool completely, then split it through the middle.
Mix together one can sweetened condensed milk with 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice. Don't use purchased lemon juice. It tends to be bitter. When the milk has become thick. spread half of it on the bottom layer of the cake. Put the top on layer on the cake and spread the remaining milk mixture on the top. My mother always used a two layer round cake and she iced the sides with a white butter cream icing. I prefer it without the icing because it's less sweet, but the icing is very pretty.
Enjoy magic cake!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Heat wave cure?

It happened this week. It's officially HOT here in the other LA. That's lower Alabama in case you were wondering. The temperature has hit 100 and seems to be determined to stay there for the foreseeable future- UGG! To reward myself for managing to survive so far, I thought I needed dessert! While any sort of ice cream would suffice, what I really wanted was Key lime pie. With the combination of cold/creamy/tangy, Key lime pie was just what I needed to break my 99% humidity induced funk.
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup crushed ginger snap cookies
3 TBS sugar
1/3 cup melted butter
Combine all the ingredients and press into a 9" pie pan.
Pre-heat oven to 350
1 can sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup of Key Lime juice (regular lime juice just isn't the same)
1/2 TBS of lime zest
Combine ingredients, mix until smooth.
Pour filling into prepared pie shell and bake for 15 min.
Allow pie to cool then refrigerate until cold.
Serve with freshly whipped cream.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Home alone

Well my husband has been gone for the past week and it's just been the dog and me. I find it difficult to be inspired to cook for one. Maisy (the dog)is not very discriminating when it comes to meals so I find myself rummaging through the refrigerator for anything that doesn't require any preparation. Preferably something that can be eaten directly from the container. So after two days of eating cottage cheese, cereal and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I decided I needed a real meal. After foraging through the fridge and freezer, I was afraid I might have to make a grocery store run to actually cook anything. That being too much trouble, I was about to go for a grilled cheese sandwich. As I was getting the cheese, I saw bacon in the cheese drawer and inspiration hit! Spaghetti Carbonara- comfort and carbs! I went to my reliable old friend The Joy of Cooking for a recipe and in 15 minutes I had a creamy, bacony, and with a glass of Pinot Grigio, heavenly meal.
Spaghetti Carbonara recipe:
Cook past in a large pot of boiling salted water:
1 pound spaghetti
Meanwhile, combine in a small skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until bacon is crisp:
2 TBS olive oil
6 slices of bacon, chopped
1/3 cup dry white wine
simmer until wine is evaporated. Beat together:
3 lg eggs
salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese or a combination of both
Drain pasta and return it to the hot pot. Immediately add the egg/cheese mixture and the hot bacon. stirring to coat thoroughly; the heat of the pasta will cook the eggs.
Top with a little freshly grated Parmesan and enjoy.
I made half a recipe and the leftovers where wonderful for breakfast the next day:)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

what kind of cookie are you?

You Are a Chocolate Chip Cookie
Traditional and conservative, most people find you comforting.You're friendly and easy to get to know. This makes you very popular - without even trying!