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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Desserts, Food

Next: Cannoli

fullsizerenderStarting at Sicily’s Catania airport, I was in cannoli heaven!  I’m not sure why, but it is one of my favorite sweets and not a common menu offering in the States.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat really set cannoli in Sicily apart was having it made with fresh, creamy ricotta inserted into just made shells.

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After watching a demonstration of the whole process in Ragusa, I determined that cannoli was doable and would definitely be the dessert for the anticipated Sicilian gourmet gathering.

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The first step was ordering these little tubes around which the cannoli dough is wrapped for frying.  They allow the shells to hold their shape and to slide off easily once they are done.

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Making the shells requires a bit of elbow grease, a pasta maker or rolling pin and a lot of patience.  Might I add that’s it more fun with two as there is opportunity for lots of chuckles.  All done, there is quite a sense of accomplishment!

img_8232-1Most cannoli has a ricotta based filling that may have such as pistachios, candied fruit or chocolate chips as an added ingredient.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThinking that everyone would like it, I opted for a filling with chocolate chips and a subtle taste of orange.  If there is a best hint for making cannoli, it is to use a pastry tube to fill the shells otherwise it’s a messy process.

OK, there you have it, a perfect ending to a Sicilian dinner.  What made it especially fun was the arancini and the cannoli were firsts for some of the diners, and you know how hard it is to introduce new tastes to gourmands.

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Dishing It & Digging It

Food, Recipes

First the Arancini

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the table set, it was time to get busy in the kitchen preparing the Sicilian dinner.

Without question, one of my favorite foods in Sicily was arancini which I swore not to make noting that it was rather labor intensive.  No way though could I pass on it knowing that it possibly would be a new taste treat, so I bit the bullet and got started.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArancini is basically a risotto ball so the first step is making your favorite risotto being sure not to let it get too soft and mushy.  Al dente is the buzz word.  When it has cooled enough to handle, roll the risotto into golf ball sized shapes with a small mozzarella ball in the middle.  Dip the balls in beaten egg whites and roll them in a mixture of equal parts flour and bread crumbs seasoned with salt, pepper and chopped basil.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce your balls are prepared,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfry then in olive or canola oil over medium high heat until browned on all sides.  A deep fryer would likely be a little more efficient than a skillet.  I must tell you this part can be a little tricky as the balls tend to fall apart if they are handled too much so do use care when moving them around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARemove the balls from the oil and drain them well on paper towels.  Making the arancini is more time consuming than difficult I learned, but the good thing is it can be made a day ahead and reheated in the oven or warming drawer.  That takes a lot of the pain out of preparing the rest of the meal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt serving time, put a heaping portion of  meat sauce in a bowl and top with 2-3 arancini.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and coarsely chopped basil or Italian parsley. Then sit back and enjoy the moans of pleasure that will come from your table.  That makes the effort all worthwhile!

While you may have a favorite meat sauce, I can’t resist sharing Chef Michael’s recipe for Sicilian meat sauce with its flavorful blend of ingredients.

1/4 c. olive oil

1/2 c.  each finely chopped onion, carrot and celery

1 lb. ground pork or Italian sausage

1/2 c. red wine

6 oz. tomato paste

28 oz. can of diced tomatoes

3 c. beef broth

1 T. fennel seeds, toasted and ground fine

2 cloves minced garlic

1 bay leaf

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add the onions, carrots and celery.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the pork or sausage, stir until broken up and cook until browned.

Pour in the wine and cook until it has nearly evaporated.

Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add diced tomatoes, beef broth, seasonings and bay leaf and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours.

Remove the bay leaf and season to taste.

As you might guess, this sauce is great with most any pasta.  Double the recipe, freeze the extra and you have sauce ready for another time.  Not a bad idea!

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Food, Travel

In the Kitchen

pb032656After a full day of seeing the sights and tasting food, wine and cheese, we return “home” to don our aprons and head to the kitchen to prepare the evening’s meal under the watchful eye of Chef Michael. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s no mystery about what we are going to fix as in our welcoming folder the menus and recipes for the week are included.  Can you tell that each dinner is a whole lot of food?

img_8110-1Funny how cooking is much more fun with a group, and it took all of us to prepare the evening’s vittles.

We laugh and joke as we mix, stir, slice and dice

 

pb032650and discover that for some things it takes two!

Everyone has a job,

img_8198 some more tedious than others. I have to confess to being nothing more than a cheerleader when it came to making this dessert!

Everywhere in the kitchen is evidence of our effort,

img_8232-1and when all is said and done we turn out some pretty good eats!  Since I have mentioned cannoli more than once in recent posts, you might guess it was my very favorite dessert, one that will be made at home though I might cheat and use purchased shells as making them from scratch requires quite an effort. 

Now that your appetite is whetted, here is a recipe from the kitchen for you to try.  

Sicilian Caponata

2 medium eggplants

3 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 celery stalks, peeled and diced

1/2 c. green olives, pitted and halved

1/4 c. capers

1/4 c. sundried tomatoes, chopped

1/3 c. red wine vinegar

2 T. sugar

1 c. tomato sauce

1/4 c. basil, chopped

kosher salt and black pepper

Cut the eggplants into 1/2″ cubes and place them in a bowl.  Toss with 3 T. of salt and let them sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.  Rinse the eggplant in cold water and drain well.  Squeeze to release excess water, then place on paper towels to dry thoroughly.

Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium high heat.  Fry the eggplant until it’s well browned.  Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.  Return the pan to medium heat and add the sliced onion.  Cook for 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.  Add celery and continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring well.  Last, add the capers and sundried tomatoes and and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the vinegar, sugar and tomato sauce and cook for about 5 minutes or until the mixture is cooked down.  Remove from the heat and stir in the basil.  Season to taste.

The caponata may be used in a variety of ways such as a sauce for fish or pasta or as a spread for crostini.

So, there you have the experience of a Foodie Adventure.  If going to interesting places, staying in a wonderful villa and having opportunity for  hands on cooking appeals to you, you just might want to join in the fun.

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Food, Travel

Foodie Adventure #4

For the fourth time, the hubby and I have joined Chef Michael Salmon for a Foodie Adventure, this time in southern Sicily.  Now, before sharing bits of the adventure with you I’ll answer the question I’ve been asked again and again: What is a Foodie Adventure?

The simple answer is it is a delightful week of eating, touring, eating, cooking and eating with 16-20 other fun loving and adventurous folks who come from all over the U.S.  Some will have met on another of the Foodie Adventures so friendships are renewed.  For sure it is an experience to be savored.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChef Michael and his energetic wife Mary Jo of Camden, Maine’s Hartstone Inn always find wonderful places for us Foodies to stay.  This time lovely accommodations are at Cavalonga in wide open spaces  surrounded by olive, citrus and almond trees near Ragusa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we arrive we are greeted with appetizing antipasti trays and refreshing beverages perfect for tired travelers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWaiting in our rooms are lots of happys that Chef Michael and Mary Jo have left for us.  The most important one is the apron that will get lots of use and more than a few stains as we prepare nightly feasts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASettled in, we are ready to begin the adventure.  Each day begins with breakfast prepared by Chef Michael who gets up earlier than the rest of us.

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Then it’s on the bus for a day of visiting local points of interests

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Learning to make cannoli

plus places having to do with food.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALadies, of course, always want to do a little shopping, and the guys just shrug their shoulders and look for the nearest place to have gelato or a glass of wine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALate afternoon we return to our temporary home, wash our hands, don the apron and head to the kitchen to prepare the evening meal under the watchful eye of Chef Michael.  

By the time we are finished, we’ve worked up an appetite for our 4 course meal, and we appreciate it enormously for having worked together to make it happen.

So now you know about a Foodie Adventure.  Next, I’ll have to share a bit of Sicily and a recipe or two from the week.  Do come back.

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Food, Recipes, Table Settings, Tablescapes

What Was I Thinking?

Chef MichaelI have had many a meal created by my favorite chef, Michael Salmon known for his culinary skills at the Hartstone Inn in Camden, Maine, and for his extraordinary Foodie Adventures in Italy, France and Spain.  So, what was I thinking when I said to his wife, who happens to be a good friend, “Why don’t you come for dinner?”

After extending the invitation, I fretted for a bit over the menu and then decided it made no sense to try to outdo the chef!  It would be best to stick with something I knew how to do and that isn’t common in Maine.  The decision….TexMex!

tablescapeTexMex and bright colors are a natural combination so the table was a no brainer.  Sunflowers in orange bottles and a smattering of pumpkins sitting on a colorful cloth made for an easy centerpiece.

tablescapeAs luck would have it, these plates were at the new Dollar Tree, where I stopped for no reason, and matched the colors in the cloth to a tee. Eight plates for $8 is a pretty good deal!

tablescapeAdd to those napkins gathered in what are meant to be wine glass identifiers 

tablescapeand a warm, inviting table is set in just minutes.

As for the menu, nothing fancy.  We will have mounds of beef and chicken fajitas with all the trimmings…sauteed onions and peppers, guacamole, pico de gallo, cheese, sour cream…and  barracho beans seasoned with onions and cumin.  Oh man, I can’t wait!

watermelon margaritaWhile the hubby grills the meat, we’ll enjoy ceviche and homemade chips with a watermelon margarita on the porch.  If you’ve not tried it, watermelon is a super addition to a margarita.

Tres LechesTo finish it all off, there will be Tres Leches Cake, and I have to confess, I make a killer one for which I will even share the recipe.

Tres Leches Cake

1 ½ c. flour

2 tsps. baking powder

4 eggs, separated

1 ½ c. sugar

½ c. milk

Preheat oven to 350. Grease & flour 13×9 inch pan.  Mix flour and baking powder.  In large bowl, beat egg whites until fluffy.  Add sugar gradually, beating to form stiff peaks.  Add yolks, one at a time. Fold the egg mix into the flour mixture and gradually add the milk; mix well but don’t beat.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 30-35 minutes, or til edges are golden brown. Remove from oven; let cake cool.  Puncture the top of the cake with a toothpick and pour the 3 milk topping over the surface and let the cake sit til mixture is absorbed. By the way, I usually do this several hours in advance to make sure the liquid is totally absorbed resulting in the cake being super moist.

Prepare whipped cream topping and refrigerate.  Before serving, cover the top of cake.

Three Milk Topping

1 12 oz. Can evaporated milk, 1 14 oz. Can condensed milk, 1 cup each milk and sour cream.

Combine….do not beat.  Pour over cooled cake.

Whipped Cream Topping

2 c. whipping cream

1 tbsp. Sugar

1 tsp. Vanilla or almond extract

Beat cream; gradually add sugar and vanilla and beat til firm.  

When all was said and done, the meal was a great success and nary a bite was left because everyone had seconds.  Chef Michael may have enjoyed the vittles as much as anyone, maybe because someone else did the cooking.  What do you think?

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Food

From the Chef

Chef MichaelOne of the many perks of going on one of Chef Michael Salmon’s Foodie Adventures is you come home with many yummy recipes.  My favorite main course on the recent Spain adventure was cod served with white beans and chorizo.    It is definitely worth sharing the recipe.

Seared Cod with White Beans and Chorizo Broth

1 c. dried white beans, soaked in cold water overnight

2 bay leaves

2 t. Kosher salt

2 t. fresh thyme leaves

5 cloves garlic

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 c. of cubed French bread

1/2 lb. diced Chorizo sausage

1 red onion

1 T. paprika

4 c. chicken broth

1 lb. shrimp

juice and zest from 1 lemon

2 T. chopped parsley

1 1/2 lbs. cod filets, divided into 4 portions

flour for dredging

Place drained beans in a medium sauce pot with 1 qt. of water.  Add bay leaves, salt, 1 t. of the thyme leaves and 3 cloves crushed garlic. Bring the beans to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender.  Remove from heat and strain.

Finely mince the remaining 2 garlic cloves.  Heat 2 T. of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the cubed bread and minced garlic.  Cook, stirring often, until golden brown on all sides.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Return the pan to the heat and add the diced chorizo.  Cook the sausage, crisping it on all sides.  Remove from the pan and keep warm.

Add 2 T. of oil to the pan and return to medium heat.  Add the onion and cook about 5 minutes.  Stir in paprika and stir for 30 seconds.  Add chicken broth and bring the mixture to a simmer.  Add half of the chorizo and the shrimp and poach for 5 minutes.  Remove the shrimp from the pan and keep warm.  Stir in lemon juice and zest.  Stir the drained beans and 2 T. chopped parsley into the broth and season with salt and pepper.

Season the filets with salt and pepper and dredge with flour.  Saute in olive oil over medium heat for about 3 minutes on each side or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.  

cod with white beansTo serve, spoon some of the white beans and broth into a bowl, top with the fish, shrimp, chorizo, bread cubes and fresh thyme leaves.

These days it is not always possible to get fresh cod, so another meaty white fish such as halibut, hake, haddock could be substituted.    This dish is what at our house we call a moaner, meaning conversation stops and everyone just moans over its goodness!  You will likely find the same to be true.

Oh, if you don’t see the shrimp on top of the fish, it’s because I took the photo before it was added and didn’t notice until all had been eaten.    Those things do happen!!

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