Monday, January 16, 2012

Piselli Con Asparagi E Basilico - Emilia Romagna Week II

I first delved into the culinary traditions of Renaissance Emilia Romagna several years ago, when I took an online food writing course offered by my friend, Monica Bhide. During April of that year (2008), Gourmet magazine featured many Italian recipes, including a handful from Ferrara, a town where the d'Este family kept one of their magnificent homes.

This bright and fresh side dish seemed especially appropriate amid the 60-something winter temperature of late yesterday. We served it beside baked sweet potato and broiled fish. ENJOY!

Piselli Con Asparagi E Basilico
Asparagus, Peas, and Basil
Makes 6 servings (I halved the recipe for me and my husband)

1/4 cup chopped shallots
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 pound shelled fresh peas (2 1/2 cups; 1 3/4 pound in pods) or 1 (10 ounce) package thawed frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
black pepper
Handful of torn basil leaves, about 3/4 cup (VOE: I would likely use the entire 3/4 cup of basil in a half recipe, the next time that I make it)

Cook shallots in butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just tender, about 4 minutes.

Stir in asparagus, peas, sea salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, then seal skillet wiht foil. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender but still slightly al dente, about 8 minutes. stir in basil and sea salt to taste.

Note: Peas can be shelled and asparagus cut 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Emilia Romagna Italian Cuisine - Week 1

Creamy and savory, complex, and seductive, a classic bolognese sauce is well worth the time it takes to make, as I learned on Sunday. The kitchen smelled heavenly for hours and we enjoyed every mouthful. The leftovers even tasted great when cold from the refrigerator, this afternoon.

But making this recipe has far more significance to me than merely exploring the cuisine of a region in Italy renowned for its cheeses, handcrafted meats and balsamic vinegar. My mother's family was Renaissance aristocracy and Isabella d'Este was famous for her patronage of the arts - including sittings for portraits by Da Vinci. The family owned Castello Estense de Ferrara and, later, Villa d'Este, now a 5-star hotel at Lake Como.

To explore the food of Emilia Romagna is to explore the food of my ancestors, a 'task' that truly excites me and I hope you'll enjoy the journey with me. The following recipe is adapted from The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces by Diane Seed:

Tagliatelle Verdi alla Bolognese
Green Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce
          Makes 6-8 servings
1 pound green tagliatelle or egg pasta
5 ounces lean boneless pork
5 ounces lean boneless beef
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
4 ounces bacon, finely chopped
2 ounces Italian sausage or pure sausage meat
1 wineglass white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 wineglass stock
salt and black pepper
5 tablespoons heavy cream
freshly grated Parmesan (optional)
Select lean pork and beef and mince it in a food processor or ask the butcher to mince it for you. Heat the oil and 2 tablespoons butter and add the onion, carrot, celery and bacon. Cook gently for about 10 minutes, then add the pork and beef, sausage (with skin removed) and wine.
Cook gently for 10 more minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the tomato paste diluted in the stock. Stir in and add seasoning to taste. Cook gently for 1 ½ hours.
Stir in the cream and, when the sauce has absorbed it, remove from the heat and keep warm. Cook the pasta and avoid overcooking. Drain the pasta, turn into a heated serving dish and add the sauce, topping the middle of a circle of drained pasta.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Triple Chocolate Torte - Chocolate Week 12

As she observed my chocolate baking binge of the last several months, a friend suggested that I try to create/offer recipes that were a little healthier. Thanks to Sharon O'Dell, St. George Island, FL, my last chocolate recipe of the year - and in this series - fits the bill quite nicely.

Here are the nutrition stats provided by Sharon for her awesome dessert (which I found in a long-forgotten magazine, ripped out, and stashed in my recipe file): 171 calories (24 percent from fat), 4.7 grams of fat (2.5 grams saturated), 44 milligrams of cholesterol, 37 milligrams of sodium, 31.5 grams of carbohydrates, .1 grams of fiber,  and 2.9 grams of protein.

But what you'll remember most about this dessert is the incredibly moist, fudgy inside topped by a light-as-air-crispy 'crust' that satisfies your sweet tooth without overpowering it. Enjoy this as a New Year's Eve or New Year celebration dessert :)

Triple Chocolate Torte
Makes 10 servings
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup boiling water
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons chocolate liqueur
      (VOE: I have so few occasions to use chocolate liqueur that I decided to improvise. I added 1 tablespoon of brewed coffee and one tablespoon of Triple Sec, instead)
4 egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar

sifted powdered sugar
Combine first four ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Add chocolate and boiling water, stirring until chocolate melts. (if you're wondering about the red cast to this mixture, it's a reflection from our Christmas nightlight that stays on, continuously - kind of pretty, huh?) Stir in egg yolks and liqueur.

Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Add 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form and sugar dissolves, about 2-4 minutes.
Stir one third of egg whites into chocolate mixture, and then fold in remaining egg whites. Pour into a lightly greased 8-inch springform pan.
Bake at 375 degrees for 28 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack, for about 10 minutes; remove side of pan, and cool completely (cake will be cracked on top). Sprinkle with powdered sugar.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Teddy Bear Cookies - Chocolate Week 11

This is a December 2008 recipe from my first blog, Visual Traveler, in honor of our family's Christmas traditions. I hope you enjoy wonderful reunions with friends and family, in this magical season.
I started making Teddy Bear Cookies for the holidays many years ago, when my daughters really loved cute things - especially if they were edible. For these now 20-something girls and their friends, it wouldn't be Christmas at our house without them.
I didn't create the recipe, and my original copy is on a tiny, yellowed piece of the Kansas City Star. The only change I've made is to use equal parts of chocolate and peanut butter chips, because one daughter isn't wild about p.b. These cookies are so darn cute, easy, and fun that they're well worth sharing.
Cheery Chocolate Teddy Bear Cookies
 Makes about 4 dozen (VOE - I'm lucky if I get 3 1/2 dozen)

1 2/3 cups peanut butter chips (I use 1 1/3)
 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips (I use 1 1/3)
 (VOE - these are the best alternate proportions I've found; something about the peanut butter amount is important to the consistency)
 2 tablespoons butter
 1 package chocolate sandwich cookies
 1 box teddy bear-shaped graham snack crackers
Cover tray with wax paper. In medium microwave-safe bowl, place peanut butter chips, chocolate chips and butter. Microwave at high for 1 to 2 minutes or until chips are melted, mixture is smooth when stirred, and chocolate and peanut butter are thoroughly combined.
With a fork, dip each cookie into chip mixture and cover completely. Place coated cookies on prepared tray and top each with graham cracker. Refrigerate, uncovered, until set, or about 30 minutes. Store in refrigerator and bring individual cookies to room temperature before eating.
VOEs - You have to work fast before the mixture begins to harden, so pour the teddy cookies and the sandwich cookies in separate bowls for easy access. And don't answer the door or phone unless absolutely necessary.

-Make sure that each teddy bear cookie has both ears and all limbs :)
-Have a rubber spatula on hand so you can move mixture off sides to bottom of mixing bowl.
-After you dip each cookie, scrape the bottom side of the fork on the edge of the bowl to recapture excess mixture.
 -You may have to 'frost' the last half dozen of cookies, as the mixture is used up.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mexican Hot Chocolate - Week 10

(with apologies for the lack of photographs; my email program was not cooperating but I'll add them later on)

Falling temperatures, rainy streets reflecting Christmas lights and a completely darkened sky before 6 p.m. create the perfect evening for sweet and spicy Mexican hot chocolate. A roaring fire and smooth jazz are great complements. And, if you're lucky, you'll have leftovers :). 

Mexican Hot Chocolate
Makes 2 servings

The most readily available brand of Mexican chocolate is Ibarra, which comes in a hexagonal package. If you can't find it, substitute bittersweet chocolate with a hefty pinch of cinnamon. (this recipe utilizes bittersweet chocolate; if you use Ibarra, eliminate the cinnamon in the milk).

3 ounces Mexican chocolate
2 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons cinnamon 
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 teaspoons mild chile powder

Finely chop the chocolate into grainy flakes - a food processor works great for this. Set a saucepan over medium-high heat and add the milk, cinnamon, vanilla and chile powder. When the milk is warmed through and on the verge of boiling, pour the hot milk over the chocolate.

Place the lid on the food processor and then pulse the mixture, removing the top to release steam if needed. Continue blening until the chocolate is completely melted and the milk is frothy. Pour into mugs and garnish with whipped cream and another dash of cinnamon.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chocolate Mousse - Chocolate Week 9

How can such an easy dessert taste so utterly amazing? Granted, you'll dirty several bowls, beaters, a spoon, a spatula, measuring spoons, and a microplane or zester. But that's a small price to pay for such a rich and luscious treat.

Beating the egg whites is probably my favorite part of creating this mousse. I find their transformation from a lightly clouded, thick liquid to brilliant white, stiff and airy 'peaks' nothing short of amazing.

Whatever part of making this dessert appeals to you most, there's no doubt that you'll love the tasty results. ENJOY!

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse
Makes 8-10 servings

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
6 beaten egg yolks
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 tablespoons orange zest
6 beaten egg whites
Melt chocolate. 
Add a little at a time to egg yolks,
flavor, and blend well (notice the puddles of vanilla in the photo, above).
Beat whites until stiff peaks form. Fold into custard. Spoon into individual parfait glasses or ramequins. Chill overnight. Before serving, top with a generous dollop of whipped cream and dustings of cocoa powder and orange zest.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Santa's Favorite Cookie - Chocolate Week 8

Okay, so maybe Santa has a different favorite cookie but, somehow, chocolate chip cookies evoke all sorts of warm, cozy feelings, especially in the face of biting cold and oncoming winter weather.

Several years ago, this recipe began as Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Whole wheat pastry flour, substitution of vegetable oil for half of the original butter, and extra cinnamon to complement the chocolate chips have gradually crept in to this recipe. And I've recently changed from semi-sweet to bittersweet chips.

Enjoy them now and then freeze some to share with extended family when the holidays arrive.

Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 5-6 dozen cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup olive or canola oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
3 cups rolled oats
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat together butter, oil and sugars until creamy. Add eggs, vanilla, cinnamon and baking soda and combine well. 
Stir in flour and then add walnuts. Stir in oats and chocolate chips.
Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 12-14 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 1-2 minutes and then remove from pan to wire rack or a countertop covered with foil and parchment paper.