Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ciao Bella! Southern Italian in your kitchen.

When I went to Italy, I probably ate enough food to sustain a small village. But my favorite Italian food experience was visiting a little restaurant in the middle of nowhere. These farm-based restaurants are called Agriturismo - a combination of the words for "agriculture" and "tourism" in Italian.

Starting in the 1950s and continuing through the 1970s, small scale farming in Italy became less profitable, and, as one might predict, farmers abandoned many farms to search for work in larger towns. But Italians value highly the traditions and produce of small scale production of food, and by 1985 a law defined Agriturismo, and many abandoned buildings and estates were restored, some for vacation homes, and many for agritourismo. These agritourismi allowed the small farmer to augment the income from the farm, and for vacationers to sample the bounty of a rural life in Italy.

There is rarely a menu, as they typically serve whatever is pulled from the garden that day. It is the freshest culinary experience I have ever had.

Parmesan Chicken Tartine


2 chicken breasts, butterflied
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan
1 egg, beaten
1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes with chiles
6 ounces tomato paste
1 can (14 ounces) tomato sauce
1 cup fresh basil
2 gloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
2 tbsps dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 slices of provolone cheese
1 baguette
5 tbsps olive oil

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsps of olive oil. Saute garlic and onion until onion is transparent. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Simmer for 15 minutes, until tomatoes break down. Add basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer for at least 45 minutes, stirring ocassionally.

In a large skillet, heat 3 tbsps olive oil on medium high heat. In a shallow bowl, combine bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Dip chicken in egg and then coat with bread crumb mixture. Place chicken in the skillet and cook until browned on both sides and cooked through.

Slice the baguette and toast it in the oven or a toaster oven. Drizzle the bread with olive oil then place chicken on top of the bread and cover with a slice of provolone cheese. Pour hot tomato sauce over the chicken and top with a sprinkle of cheese and a couple pieces of fresh basil.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Get your brunch on! Sticky buns for all!

As a southern girl, decadent foods are what I do best. Low fat, reduced calorie...that's all well and good. But sometimes you just need to put on your fat pants and fall in love with your food. This little recipe is made for crowd pleasing and super indulgence. As a bonus, here is our first video post!

Sweet & Salty Sticky Buns


3-4 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp table salt
1 tsp kosher salt
2 pkgs active dry yeast
1 cup warm milk (120 degrees)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup softened butter
1 large egg
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup salted peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp butter, melted and cooled

Caramel topping
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup dark corn syrup

In large stand mixer or large bowl, combine 2 cups flour, granulated sugar, table salt and yeast. Add milk, softened butter and egg. Beat on low speed for 1 minute then medium speed for 1 minute. Mix in enough remaining flour to handle dough easily. On lightly floured surface, knead dough until smooth and springy (about 4 minutes). Place the dough in a well greased bowl, turning to coat, then cover loosely with plastic wrap and a towel. Let rise for about 1 hour and 45 minutes or until doubled.

While the dough rises, make caramel sauce. In a saucepan, heat butter and 1 cup brown sugar, stirring constantly until boiling. Remove from heat and stir in corn syrup.

Pour caramel sauce into 13x9 pan and sprinkle with kosher salt and 1/2 cup pecans.

Push fist gently into dough to deflate. Roll dough into a large rectangle on a floured surface. Brush dough with melted butter. In a small bowl, combine1/2 cup pecans, 1 cup peanuts, 1/4 cup brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle over the dough. Roll the dough tightly into a loaf and pinch the edges to seal.

Cut the roll into 1-1 1/2 inch thick slices. Place the slices in the pan about 1/4 - 1/2 inch apart and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled (20 - 40 minutes).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 35 - 45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let rest for 2 minutes. Cover pan with serving dish or cutting board and flip over. Let sit 2-3 minutes. Remove pan and serve.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Falafel: A piece of the Middle East

The origin of falafel is unknown and controversial. However it is widely believed to have originated in Egypt. These delicious fried balls of flavor are gaining popularity in Western countries, showing up in street carts and vegetarian restaurants.

This recipe calls for it to be made with chickpeas, but they are also sometimes made with fava beans. When made with chickpeas, falafel is high in protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber. Chickpeas are also low in fat and salt and contain no cholesterol. They are also high in soluble fiber. And if you don't want to fry them, these little guys are great baked!

Falafel and Tatziki Sauce


1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic
1 can (15 oz.) of chickpeas, drained
1 1/2 tbsp fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tbsp fresh parsley
1 1/2 tbsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 egg

(for sauce)

2 cups plain greek yogurt
1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp fresh cilantro

In a large frying pan, heat olive or peanut oil to 375 degrees. (If you are not sure if your oil is ready, drop a SINGLE drop of water into the pan. If it sizzles, you are ready. If it pops, your oil is too hot.)

In a food processor, combine all falafel ingredients except bread crumbs and egg. Blend well. Then add bread crumbs and blend again. Scrape the mixture out into a large bowl and stir in the egg. Scoop the mixture into balls and place in oil using a slotted spoon.

Cook until sides begin to brown (about 2 minutes) then turn and cook the other side. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and place on a wire rack to cool slightly.

For the sauce, place ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend well. Chill for about an hour and that's it! Enjoy!

Makes about 25 falafel balls.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Never had a fish taco? You are missing out!

While visiting the tiny town of Isla Mujeres, Mexico I had my first fish taco. At first glance, 'fish taco' is not what makes my Western brain go "Mmmm!" But I am not one to pass up an opportunity to try something new. After my first amazing encounter with these delicious treats, I was hooked. I had at least one every day I was in Mexico. It didn't even bother me that no matter where I went, if I asked what kind of fish it was the only answer I got was "It's fish."

Naturally, once I was home I had to experiment with my own version of this delicacy. I am including a recipe for the hottest and most amazing salsa I have ever eaten. We discovered it at a little restaurant on the island and the owner was happy to share his recipe.

Fish Tacos & Onion Salsa


Fish tacos:
1 large cod or haddock fillet, cubed
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1 can beer
corn tortillas (see recipe in previous post)

Onion salsa:
One whole yellow onion, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 dried habenero pepper, minced**

Fill a saucepan with vegetable or peanut oil (about 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep). Heat the oil to about 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, egg, and seasonings. Pour in enough beer to reach a thick yogurt-like consistency. (You can make it thinner if you like. This all depends on how much oating you like on your fish.)

Lightly cover the cubes of fish with flour and then dunk them into the batter. Using tongs, gently drop the fish into the oil. When the edges start to brown, flip the pieces over to fry the other side evenly. Remove the cooked fish cubes from the oil and pat them gently with paper towels.

Serve with all your favorite taco toppings and enjoy!

For salsa:

** Warning: Habenero peppers are EXTREMELY hot. When handling them, use gloves and keep your hands away from your eyes and face.

In a small skillet, heat the olive oil. Add onion and garlic and saute until onions become transparent. Remove from heat and add peppers and salt to taste. It is so simple but bursting with flavor. If you love heat, you HAVE to try it!

Homemade tortillas - You can do it!

Last year Richard and I planned a trip to Costa Maya, Mexico among other places. As part of our plans, we scheduled a day to go into a small village and have lunch with the locals. What we ended up with was much more than that.

If you've never heard of Costa Maya, that's probably because there is NOTHING there. Literally. We boarded a van and drove about 45 minutes North to a small village of Mayan descendants. We bounced along the dirt roads and as we reached our destination, we were inundated with the smells of chicken and peppers.

We walked though the garden at the front of the house and were greeted warmly by a couple of lovely ladies in brightly colored dresses. The 'house' was a small straw and mud structure with large openings on either side.

We sat at a small table while an older woman taught us to shape and cook tortillas. She didn't speak any English but she gestured very directly. If your tortilla was no good, she simply shook her head and slapped it back down on the table.

The tortillas are made from finely ground corn flour called Masa. It has a different flavor and texture than cornmeal, so don't try to cheat! You can purchase Masa at most grocery stores in the Ethnic foods or Chinese/Mexican section. All you have to do is follow the directions on the bag. Basically, you mix the Masa with water until it is the consistency of soft play dough. Roll it into a small ball and then press it flat with your fingers.

The ladies that made us lunch told us that when a girl in the village is able to make a perfect tortilla, then she is ready for marriage. I made one on my first try. ;)

After your tortilla is shaped, cook it on a dry skillet or griddle over high heat. It should start to bubble a little. Once it does, flip it over and let it bubble a little more. Your skillet should be hot enough that you get a nice browning very quickly.

In Mexico, we cooked ours over an open fire but you don't have to go that far. You can also fry them instead to make crunchy tortillas for chips or tacos. So don't be afraid! Go get yourself some Masa and impress your friends with homemade tortilla chips at your next party.