Food, Recipes, Tablescapes

Foodie Adventure Revisited

Several of our Maine gourmet group joined us in Cortona for the April Foodie Adventure, so when we met for our first summer meal it seemed right to recreate some of what we made.

IMG_1487Setting the table to inspire memories of Italy was easy.  The centerpiece was a $3 find from the local Goodwill.

IMG_1488Clusters of red grapes repeated the look of the clusters on the candelabra.  Talk about an easy creation!

IMG_1394Dishes, each with a different Italian landscape and wine, bought some years ago at TJ Maxx completed the theme.

IMG_1393It’s hard to imagine a table coming together more quickly than this one.  With the plates having so much color and energy, there was no need for more than a simple background.

Now for the meal.  We prepared so many good dinners that it was hard to pick favorite dishes, but I finally decided on mozzarella with prosciutto and tomato confit for an appetizer and seafood pasta for the main course.  The appetizer was a big hit, and you might want to give it a try at your next Italian themed dinner gathering.

IMG_1400PROSCIUTTO BAKED BUFFALO MOZZARELLAWITH GARLIC & TOMATOES

2 T. olive oil

6 thin slices prosciutto

Tomato & Garlic Confit

6 6 oz. balls mozzarella

2 T. basil, coarsely chopped 

Brush the insides of small ovenproof ramekins with olive oil.  Line them with prosciutto, allowing some of it to extend to the top of the dish so it will crisp when baked.

Add 2 T. of the confit and top will a ball of the mozzarella.  Top with another tablespoon of the confit and drizzle with the remaining olive oil.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes and allow to cool for 5 minutes.  Tope with basil and serve with crisp crostini.

Tomato & Garlic Confit

10 plum tomatoes

5 T. olive oil

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

1/2 c. finely chopped yellow onion

4 large garlic cloves, minced

8 oz. tomato sauce

1/2 t. sweet paprika

1/2 t. sugar.

Core and halve the tomatoes lengthwise.  Place them cut side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzle them with 2 T. of olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 40 minutes at 350.

Heat 3 T. olive oil in a medium pan and sweat the onions for  2 minutes over medium high heat.  Add garlic and cook briefly.  Reduce the heat and add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, paprika and sugar.  Cook for 30-35 minutes or until the mixture becomes very thick.

Place the mixture in a food processor and blend to a fine paste.

Note:  I suggest using only 1/2 mozzarella ball or 3-4 little ones as this is quite filling.  Also, when you bake be sure to put the dishes on a cookie sheet to avoid trashing your oven with grease from the prosciutto.  I wouldn’t let the meat overlap  the sides of the dish.

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Tablescape Thursday

 

Food, Recipes

Odds & Ends

Trying to use up everything in the refrigerator before leaving for Maine requires some creativity.  The fruit we can snack on, milk can go on cereal or in a smoothie, but the chicken sausage, spinach, kale, onion and salad fixings are another story.

IMG_1094So what to do with a collection of odds and ends?  Soup  seemed to be the best answer, and here’s what I pulled together.

IMG_1093Add to these a teaspoon of Hungarian sweet paprika which I have enough of to last a lifetime.  I will have to do as what was done in Hungary and put some in everything.

IMG_1101The end result of this concoction was pretty darned good and the accompanying salad’s ingredients used up the rest of the odds and ends.  The only thing missing was a good piece of cornbread!

If you are a soup lover, you might like this one that is hearty but not too heavy and very easy to prepare.

3 c. chicken broth

2-4 chicken sausage links

2-3 c. spinach and kale, torn into small pieces

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cans of cannellini beans

1 can of diced tomatoes

1 heaping t. of sweet paprika (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

Blend all ingredients except for the greens together and simmer for about 20 minutes to allow flavors to blend.  Add spinach and kale and continue cooking until  they are wilted.

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Food, Recipes

Vegetarian Delight

Over the years with no one home but two, most of my friends have quit cooking dinner opting for takeout or restaurants.  That works for me every now and then, but I still enjoy preparing the evening meal because there are so many  things to try.  That makes the hubby very happy as he’d rather eat at home any day!

Another friend and her hubby are the same, so every week or so we share a meal.  They are not meat eaters which at first made meal planning a challenge, but it has gotten easier and done creatively, those meatless meals are downright tasty.

IMG_0566For ideas, I go no farther than these two cookbooks loaded with recipes to suit any palate.  There’s no chance I’ll ever get through the two!

The last dish tried was a mushroom/asparagus/cannellini bean combo that was so tasty not a bite survived.  Of course, meat lovers could add chicken or pork to go with it, but when something is as good as this it’s really not necessary.  Enough said, I’ll share the recipe!

Polenta with Asparagus, Mushrooms & Cannellini Beans

1 1/2 c. vegetable stock

1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms, thickly sliced

2 T. olive oil

1 bunch green onions, including as inch or so of green, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

15 oz. can cannellini beans

1 brunch of asparagus, steamed or roasted

1/2 c. Parmesan (serve on the side for a vegan friend, otherwise add it to the cooked polenta)

1 T. butter (can be left out)

chopped basil, parsley, chives or marjoram for garnish

Make the polenta using a packaged mix or yellow cornmeal cooked with water over a double boiler.  While it is cooking, do the chopping and mincing required to prepare the sauce.  

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan.  Add the mushrooms, season with sea salt and pepper and saute for about 5 minutes over medium heat. (It may be necessary to do the mushrooms in 2 batches depending on the size of your pan.)  Add most of the scallions and garlic and cook for another minute. Then pour in the stock and add the beans.  Simmer until the mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes.

When ready to serve, add the butter and the remaining scallions to the mushrooms.  IMG_0455Spoon 1/2-3/4 c. of polenta into the center of a plate.  Arrange asparagus around it and spoon the sauce over the polenta. Garnish with chopped herbs.

What I like about this recipe is that it’s pretty easy to fix and all you really need to go with it is a hearty, crusty bread to use for soaking up the liquid.  Don’t be surprised when appreciative moans accompany this dish!

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Food, Recipes

Easy Fixins

Do you ever have those days when you’ve been busy all day and when it comes time to preparing dinner you’re out of gas? That’s when I hope there’s something in the pantry or refrigerator that will combine in a simple to fix and tasty meal.

IMG_0291This night there were two salmon filets and a bunch of asparagus, and in just a few minutes they were in the oven roasting away.

IMG_0297While they were cooking, I whisked together a tangy sauce of key lime juice and soy sauce to pour over the fish and asparagus.

IMG_0302In less than half an hour, a healthy and satisfying dinner was ready to go on the table.

Roasted Salmon and Asparagus

2 salmon fillets, skin on

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

1/4 c. fresh lime juice

1 T. soy sauce

1/2 t. sugar

1 t. Ground coriander

Asparagus

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut dry ends from asparagus. Arrange salmon and asparagus in shallow baking pan,  season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Roast until salmon is no longer pink in the middle and flaky and asparagus is tender but still a little crisp, 20-25 minutes.

Whisk together lime juice, soy sauce, sugar and coriander. Spoon sauce over fish and asparagus and serve.

Now, that’s what I call simple and while the salmon and asparagus were roasting, there was even time to sit for a few minutes!  I guess I could have fixed a salad, too, but sitting was just too hard to  resist!

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Food, Recipes

Cooking Light

If you are standing in line at the grocery or drug store checkout and see this magazine, buy it.  I can’t promise you will slim down but be assured you will prepare some very tasty recipes.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve tried many….chicken and vegetable hand pies, meatloaf with mushroom gravy,  basil ricotta ravioli with spinach, lentil shepherd’s pie to name a few, and all were delish.  

A real favorite that sent mouth watering fragrance while cooking was Slow Cooker Sausage Cassoulet.    We are crazy about the traditional cassoulet, but this one is a close second and much easier to prepare.  The recipe is definitely one worth sharing.

Slow Cooker Sausage Cassoulet

1 t. olive oil

1 1/2 c. chopped yellow onion

1 1/2 c. diagonally cut carrot

1 c. chopped peeled turnip

1/2 c. chopped celery

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 15 oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

2 (4 oz.) links fully cooked sweet Italian chicken sausage, chopped*

1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes

3/4 c chicken stock

2 t. chopped fresh thyme

1/2 t. kosher salt

1/4 t. black pepper

1 bay leaf

1 T. unsalted butter

1/2 c. whole grain breadcrumbs

1/4 c. grated Parmesan

2 T. chopped parsley

Heat olive oil in large nonstick skillet.  Add onion, carrot, turnip, celery and garlic; cook , about 5 minutes.**

Place mixture in a slow cooker.  Add beans, sausage, tomatoes, chicken stock and seasonings.  Cover and cook on low 8 hours or until vegetables are tender.

Melt butter in a small skilled.  Add breadcrumbs; cook until browned, stirring frequently.  Remove pan from heat, stir in cheese.  Stir half of mixture into cassoulet in cooker; sprinkle remaining mixture and parsley over each serving.

*I wasn’t able to find chicken sausage links so I used a ground Italian turkey sausage and browned it with the vegetables.  It worked fine as would any Italian sausage.

**If you have a multi purpose cooker, this step can be done in the cooker which means one less pan to clean.

This recipe makes about 6 servings and thankfully, there was enough left for another meal.  The cassoulet may  may have even even better the second time around.

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Food, Tablescapes

Winter = Comfort Food

What is it about winter that turns our thoughts to comfort food?  I guess it’s because winter means colder temperatures, inclement weather and, all too often, gray skies.  All those things make me want to stay inside which generally means spending more time in the kitchen.

For several days I craved chicken pot pie, so I finally broke down and made one.  I didn’t have the traditional ingredients so it was time to look in the pantry and refrigerator to see what might work.    On hand were a couple of chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, leeks, green beans,  mushrooms and a sheet of puff pastry.

While the chicken breasts were cooking in salted water, I chopped and readied the vegetables.  I steamed the sweet potatoes and green beans for a few minutes and sautéed the leeks and mushrooms in olive oil to soften everything up.

Once the chicken cooled enough to cut into bite sized pieces, all the ingredients were mixed together along with salt and pepper to taste and a teaspoon of herbs de provence. Now all that was left was to make a basic white sauce with a little parmesan mixed in and rolling out the puff pastry.

All done, the pot pies were ready to pop into the oven to bake until the pastry was a golden brown.Since the mixture proved to be quite generous, I thought it would be fun to make individual servings in these Polish pottery vessels.  Also, they would make it easier to serve as pot pie can be kinda messy.

They also became the starting point for an easy table setting.  

Flowers and candles were already on the table so adding denim chargers

and woodblock placemats and napkins that I got in India completed a table as comfortable as the food that would be served.  Have I ever mentioned how much I like to keep things simple?  

Oh, I should tell you the pot pies were scrumptious so the nontraditional ingredients combined in a most successful dish.  Now if I can just remember how it was done, I’ll make it again!

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Food, Tablescapes

Frozen!

IMG_0182Does this tell you it’s cold in Houston?  With temperatures the last several days being below freezing, one is not encouraged to venture far from home.  That means it’s only natural to think of warming with comfort foods like soups and stews.

In the refrigerator were most of the makings for beef stew though the pantry was empty of the diced tomatoes and broth I typically use for liquid.  That being the case required some creative thinking, so I added a bottle of beer and at the last minute the remains of some frozen edamame and red pepper and tomato soup that had accompanied a grilled cheese sandwich on another frozen day.  Noting the ingredients, the hubby raised his eyebrows in questioning wonder. 

While the stew was bubbling away,

IMG_0131I got the bar, where we eat most of the time when it’s just the two of us, ready for dinner.

It’s nothing fancy,  but I do choose dishes that go with whatever happens to be on the surface.  If you’ve seen any of my tablescapes, you know that seldom is an eating surface unadorned which makes it very easy to add on.

IMG_0136With fragrant smells emanating from the kitchen, we settled to watch the evening news.  By the time the latest Trump bashing was over, the stew was ready and guess what?  Those extra added ingredients combined for a pretty tasty creation which goes to show you don’t always have to rely on the tried and true.  Cooking is just another way of expressing your creativity.

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