Saturday, February 16, 2013

Under the Tuscan....gun

Watching cooking shows is my weakness.  I'll often have it on "in the background" and I can hear the host mention one word.....one ingredient....and I have to go in, sit down, and watch.  My TRUE weakness is anything that pertains to Italian food.  I harken back to my childhood....and I'm a goner.

Today I have to go into work at Disney and my husband made me fresh blueberry pancakes (for the second day in a row!) So I wanted something a little "substantial.....but light" (if that makes any sense, LOL) before I had to leave.  I decided to take the fresh basil, fresh strawberries, fresh arugula and some of the mixed greens from a bag in the fridge, and some chunked (is that a WORD?  I think so.) up homemade Italian "toast" I had made ...and make a "salad".  When I got it all together....I had no idea what type of dressing to put on it....so I took about 2-3 tablespoons of Balsamic Vinegar, about 1-2 tablespoons of honey, the juice of 1/4 of a lemon and heated it, stirring constantly.  I brought it JUST to a boil....then let it cool slightly after which time I "drizzled" it over my salad.  The result?  HEAVEN.

But then let me tell you about my OTHER "inspiration" this morning!  This week at Publix, they are selling their pre-made Italian pizza doughs at a "BOGO" (buy one, get one free).  I had gotten two while shopping on Thursday and made a fresh pizza for that night but the other one, due to last minute things that came up late yesterday was still in the fridge this morning.  I didn't really want to make an entire pizza and eat it before work....so I hatched a plan.  I rolled it out onto my cutting board into a large rectangle.  I melted 1/4 of a stick of butter and ran a (large) clove of garlic through my garlic press.  I then used my pastry brush to "brush" about 3/4 of the mixture over the surface of the rolled out dough.  Then I sprinkled on chopped fresh rosemary, chopped fresh basil, and some dried oregano and topped all of THAT off with about a scant 1/4 c. of grated Parmesan.  I rolled it and then placed it into a bread pan that I had sprayed with cooking spray and painted the top of it with the remaining butter/garlic mixture.  I had a small amount of the cheese left so I sprinkled that on as well and baked it for about 40 minutes in a 350 oven.  It was delicious.  My only regret was that I felt I should have rolled it tighter, so if you try this....roll tightly.

I can't wait for my husband to wake up (he works nights, but will wake up before I have to leave today) to try the bread.  I only wish he could've had some while it was warm...and that he could have tried the salad (I ate it all...LOL)

I love coming up with great ideas on my own....and hope you do to.  That's what the adventure of cooking is all ABOUT.  I could eat Italian every day.  I love Mexican food (due to 10+ years spent living in Southern California), I love Greek food (due to many years with Greek neighbors and friends) but I LIVE for Italian food.  I don't think there's ANYTHING that smells more beautiful than fresh basil, fresh parmesan cheese, the smell of garlic cooking in really good olive oil....it's perfume for the senses....and the soul.

Food quote: "La cucina piccola fal la casa grande." (Translation: "A small kitchen makes the home big")

Buon appetito a tutte


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Viva Italia!! Ciao, bambini!!

Growing up with an Italian aunt was one very bright spot of my childhood.  I loved spending time with her, and would stay with her for the longest possible time that I could manage.  She taught me to cook, she taught me religion, she taught me to speak Italian (something I'm working on getting better at now), and she taught me passion...for people, for food....and for life.  She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and I loved everything about her.  When she died, far too soon, I was devastated.  Italian cuisine became my "comfort food" and the smell of fine basil, good oregano, and beautiful mozzeralla or parmesan (or "parmigiano" as she called it) bring her back to me.  Mexican cuisine reminds me of "home" in California...but Italian food reminds me of family....of "famiglia" and my "Zia Caterine")  Ti voglio bene, zia. E mi manchi ogni giorno!

This cake is one that I learned how to make NOT from my aunt...but it is Italian....fully Italian.  I got the recipe from someone from Fiesole, which is a small town near Florence; in the heart of Tuscany.  It is SUPER easy to make, VERY versatile and utilizes a lot of ingredients that I have close at hand; living here in a citrus grove.  Citrus fruits figure very prominently into Italian cuisine.  Give this cake a try, you won't be sorry.

Schiacciata Alla Fiorentina
Butter, for pan (I cannot stress enough the importance of buttering your pan.  It makes removal of the cake...in one piece....possible.  You can also dust the pan (after buttering) with a small amount of flour, but don't use too much)
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1 1/2 T. (yes...tablespoons) baking powder
Zest and juice of one orange
3 large eggs
1/2 c warm WHOLE milk (I've heard you can make it with skim...and I imagine you can make it with other types of milk as well...it's just that the richer the milk....the richer the flavor)
4 T. vegetable oil
Powdered sugar (confectioner's sugar) for topping.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9x13 inch baking pan

Add together the flour, sugar, baking powder, orange zest, orange juice, eggs, milk and oil.  Beat at medium/medium low speed until thoroughly mixed together....about 3-4 minutes

Add the batter to the buttered pan and bake for about 25 minutes.  Test the cake with a toothpick inserted into the center.  If it comes out clean, the cake is done.

Let cool for about 30 minutes on the counter; then flip the cake out of the baking pan onto a platter.

You can sprinkle the top of the cake with powdered sugar or you can slice it and sprinkle it over each individual piece.  This cake is simple and rustic, but it is DIVINE served with fresh fruit and freshly made whipping cream.  It reminds me of a pound cake, but the citrus makes it SO much better.  I've even eaten it for breakfast, spread with some orange marmalade...while drinking my coffee.  :)

Tip:  I have, on occasion, removed some of the orange juice and replaced it with 2 T. of Grand Marnier or Amaretto diSaronno.  Just make sure you don't ADD the liqueur TO the orange juice or you might end up with too much liquid.  If you're going to use one of the liqueurs (and they REALLY enhance the flavor!!) take out 2 T. of the orange juice and replace it with the liqueur.

Food quote:  "Hell....a place where no one is waiting, and nothing is cooking"  Old Tuscan Saying.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Grilled Cheese....YES, please!

Family issues have caused me to deactivate my Facebook (it's tough being a parent.....) so I hope that at least the people who follow this blog will know that I am still alive....and still blogging.  It's liberating to cut FB out of your life for a while....although, it seems, I find SO many things that I think..."oh wow...that'd make a GREAT FB status..." then reality hits.  Additionally, being away from FB means my house is clean, my laundry is all done, I'm studying my Italian and practicing my meditation much more regularly....and I'm catching up on my writing and my blogging.  So here goes.

One of my "comfort foods" is a grilled cheese sandwich.  If you give me that AND some cream of tomato soup....I'm yours.  I'm in the palm of your hand.  Usually this sandwich consists of regular old white bread and Kraft individually wrapped cheese (IS it cheese?  I sometimes wonder) slices.  Sometimes I add sliced tomato.  But I ran across a couple ideas that are AWESOME and have become part of my repertoire.  Thank you to Publix for giving me this "tips"  Here goes:

Chicken, Asparagus & Swiss Grilled Cheese
4 slices whole grain bread
4 slices Swiss cheese
4 slices, deli-shaved chicken breast
8 fresh asparagus spears, trimmed and steamed until "crisp/tender" (although, I made it with GRILLED asparagus...and I must say...awesome)
1 T. basil pesto
1 1/2 T butter, softened.

Top each of 2 bread slices with 2 slices of cheese, followed by 2 slices of chicken breast and 4 asparagus spears.  Spread remaining slices of bread with basil pesto; place on top of the asparagus, spread side down. Brush both sides of each sandwich with butter.

Heat a nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat.  Add sandwiches to skillet.  Cook 2 minutes.  Turn over and cook 2 minutes more or until cheese is melted.

Ham & Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese
Nonstick cooking spray
1 medium onion, very thinly slices
1/8 tsp sugar
Dash of salt
2 tsp spicy brown mustard
1/2 T. prepared horseradish
1 tsp honey
4 slices whole wheat bread
6 slices ham
2 ounces Gruyere cheese

Coat a medium skilled with cooking spray and place over medium heat.  Add onion, sugar and salt to skillet; cover.  Cook for 10 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat
Stir together mustard, horseradish and honey.  Spread 2 bread slices evenly with mustard mixture then layer with 3 slices of ham on each piece.  Place about 2 T. of onions on top of the ham, then place 1 ounce of the Gruyere on top of the onions.  Place the remaining bread slice on top, over the cheese.
Coat sandwiches lightly with nonstick cooking spray.  Preheat a covered indoor grill or panini press.  Place sandwiches onto grill or panini press.  Cover and cook about 5 minutes or until golden brown and cheese is melted.  Don't have an indoor grill (George Foreman variety) or a panini press?  Place the sandwiches in a grill pan (they have "ridges" on the bottom) or a skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Turn sandwiches over, weigh them down (use a heavy pan and place a can or even a brick inside it) and cook for 2 minutes more or until golden brown and cheese is melted.

Grilled cheese is one of THE most versatile sandwiches there is.  Experiment!  Try different types of bread....different kinds of cheese....and add anything you LOVE to the mix.  I've made them with gorgonzola, with bleu cheese....even brie.  I've added anything from dried cranberries to sliced mushrooms to sliced boiled eggs.  Have fun, don't be scared.  If you love grilled cheese, you can't EVER really go wrong.