Thursday, May 29, 2008

Not Your Typical Memorial Day BBQ

Let me start by saying I know it's been several days since Memorial Day but hey sometimes blogging has got to take a back seat to other things in your life. For instance the fact that we've been bailing water out of our dishwasher for the past 3 days has not left me much time for blogging.

Anyway, this year instead of the traditional hot dog and hamburger BBQ we usually have on Memorial Day we decided to try something new. Part of that was due to the fact that my husband and I decided to spend Memorial Day alone this year. No pool party, no out of town guests. Just the two of us with a lot, and I mean a lot, of time on our hands.

So we did what we do best and cooked or I should say grilled. We started out with a pear, walnut, feta salad topped with a honey lemon vinaigrette. We make this salad a lot in our house switching out apples for the pear or blue cheese for the feta depending on our mood.

Pear, Walnut, Feta Salad

3 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp thyme
1/3 cup olive oil
1 head of Boston lettuce
1 pear sliced thin
1/2 cup of toasted walnuts
2 ounces Feta cheese crumbled

Mix together first 4 ingredients. Slowly add oil while whisking. Top lettuce with pear slices, cheese and nuts. Pour dressing over top.

We followed the salad with a 7 lb maple bourbon chicken. I'm not sure where I got this chicken recipe but it's something we've been making for a few years now. It's such an easy recipe and the chicken always comes out very moist and flavorful.

Maple Bourbon Chicken Glaze Ingredients
1/3 cup bourbon
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
To make the glaze:
In a small bowl, combine all glaze ingredients. Set aside.
Additional Ingredients
1 7 lb chicken
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Rinse chicken and pat dry. With poultry shears or knife, split chicken length ways along one side of backbone. With breast side up, pull up on two sides of back and press down firmly on breast until bones begin to crack and chicken is reasonably flat. Thread two sturdy metal skewers crosswise through flattened chicken; skewers should run perpendicular to thigh bones, through the breasts, and through the middle of the large wing joints.

Combine oil, garlic, salt, and pepper; brush evenly on both sides of chicken. Place chicken, skin side up, in centre of cooking grate. Grill 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours or until meat thermometer inserted into centre of thigh meat (but not touching bone) reaches 180°F/82°C (170°F/77°C for breast) or until juices run clear and skin is well-browned, brushing occasionally with glaze during last 20 minutes.

Let stand 10 minutes before carving.

On the side we had some grilled asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and speck; topped with a citronette sauce. This was adapted from a Mario Batalli recipe that called for the asparagus to be wrapped in pancetta. We just happened to have prosciutto and speck in the house so we figured why not. All 3 meats go very well with the asparagus and the citron sauce really pulls it all together.

Also on the side we made Alton Brown's recipe for creamy garlic mashed potatoes; which turned out really good.

So although not traditional BBQ fare we still had a great meal made primarily on the grill.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Next Time Mom Just Tell Me What You Want

I kept asking my mother what she wanted for dinner on Mother's Day and she kept insisting she didn't care. "Whatever's easy" she said. Well in our house nothing is easy. We can spend 3 hours making a lunch that takes 5 minutes to eat. As I try to explain to everyone...it's what we like to do. So something "easy" on Mother's Day wasn't even an option.

After much thought here's the menu we put together:

Mother's Day Menu 2008
Appetizers
Roasted Peppers Marinated with Olive Oil and Garlic
Eggplant Involtini
Main course
Rabbit Gauzzetto
Homemade Pappardelle
Dessert
Ricotta Pound Cake
Strawberry Orange Compote Fresh Whipped Cream

I think mom was a bit nervous when I first mentioned making rabbit; but she ate two helpings yesterday and took home the leftovers. So I'm assuming it was good! The recipe was from Lidia's Italian Table by Lidia Bastianich. A gauzzetto is a slow simmering of meats with stock, tomatoes and lots of seasonings. It makes a velvety sauce that coats pasta really well. The meat in a gauzzetto can be substituted for other meats or birds of your choice. I really like this with the rabbit.

Rabbit in Guazzetto
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
3 cups chicken broth
4 fresh bay leaves
4 cloves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/2 lbs of rabbit quartered
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, shredded
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 Tbs tomato paste
1 cup chopped tomatoes
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Soak the porcini in 1 cup of broth until softened about 30 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid. Rinse and chop the mushrooms, discarding any tough bits. Strain the liquid through a coffee filter. Set the strained liquid and chopped mushrooms aside.

Tie the bay leaves, cloves and rosemary together securely in a small square of cheesecloth.

In a large casserole, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the rabbit pieces in a single layer, sprinkle lightly with salt, and cook, turning as necessary, until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Remove the rabbit to a plate.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pot. Add the onion and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Cook stirring often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook stirring until almost completely evaporated, about 5 minutes. Reduce the level of heat to medium, add the tomato paste, and stir until vegetables are coated. Stir in the tomatoes, the chopped porcini with their liquid, and about 1/2 cup of the remaining broth. Bring to a boil.

Return the rabbit pieces to the pot and tuck the cheesecloth into the liquid. Adjust the level of the heat to a simmer, cover the casserole partially, and simmer gently until the liquid is reduced by about half, about 20 minutes. Add another 1/2 cup broth and continue simmering, adding broth and waiting until the liquid is reduced by 1/2 before adding more until rabbit is tender about 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove and discard cheesecloth.

Remove the rabbit from the sauce and skim the fat from the surface. Pull the meat from the bones and coarsely shred. Return meat to pot. Add parsley and reheat to a simmer. Add cheese right before mixing with pasta.

The involtini was a recipe I got from Mario Batali's Molto Italiano book. I added some basil and grated Parmesan on top after baking. (not like it needed more cheese) My mom said the eggplant reminded her of how her grandmother use to make it. (more brownie points for me)

Eggplant Involtini

2 1/2 cups olive oil
3 medium eggplants, sliced lengthwise into 1/3 inch thick slices
1 cup ricotta
1 large egg
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups basic tomato sauce
fresh basil leaves

In a 10 to 12 inch saute pan, heat 2 cups of the olive oil over medium high heat until it reaches 370F. Add the eggplant slices 3 or 4 at a time and fry, turning once, until soft and light golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Preheat the over to 350F

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, egg, and nutmeg and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Lay the eggplant slices out on a work surface and place 1 Tbs of ricotta filling at the base of each slice. Roll the eggplant up around the filling to form a neat roll set seam side down on the work surface.

Lightly oil a baking dish just large enough to hold the eggplant rolls. Pour the sauce into the dish and place the rolls seam side down in the sauce.

Bake until the cheese starts to melt out of the rolls, 15 minutes. Drizzle with the remaining 1/4 cup of oil and sprinkle with fresh basil and grated Parmesan.

The ricotta pound cake recipe was one I'd made before. The recipe is from Gina DePalma's Dolce Italiano. Although the cake is perfect on it's own; I decided to add some orange strawberry compote and some fresh whipped cream as toppings. Whipped cream is so easy to make and tastes so much better than the stuff you get in the can. It's worth the few minutes extra it takes to make.

Ricotta Pound Cake

1 1/2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup fresh whole milk ricotta
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 vanilla bean
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 and position rack in the center. Grease a 9 inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and dust with flour.

In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In a mixer, cream together the butter, ricotta and sugar on medium speed until smooth and light about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping sown the bowl after each. Add the vanilla bean and extract. On low speed, beat in the dry ingredients to combine, scraping down the bowl. Beat the batter for 30 more seconds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and use a spatula to smooth the top. Give the pan a few gentle whacks to remove any air pockets. Bake the cake for 15 minutes, then turn the pan 180 degrees. Lower the temperature to 325 and continue baking until the cake springs back lightly when touched about 25 minutes more.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

ALL of The Lemon Pie

This month's Sugar High Friday is being hosted by Tartlette and she has chosen citrus as her theme. Although I'm a chocolate dessert person myself; my husband loves lemon. So I find myself always looking for new and exciting ways to use them in dessert.

I used to think that all lemon pies were created equal until I came across a recipe in Gina DePalma's Dolce Italiano called All of the Lemon Pie. Like it's name says this recipe incorporates "all of the lemon" when making the pie. This was a new concept for me. Who would think to put the lemon rinds in the pie...but it works. I've made this recipe two times already and everyone seems to love it. This is my submission for this month's Sugar High Friday.

All of the Lemon Pie


2 large lemons
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 sweet tart crust (see below)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbs limoncello
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

The day before you plan to make the tart, wash the lemons well, then slice them as thinly as possible, using a sharp knife. Remove the seeds from the lemon slices and place the slices in a medium nonreactive bowl. Add the sugar and toss to coat the lemon slices. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

The following day, preheat the oven to 325 and position a rack in the center.

On a floured board, roll the tart dough to an 11 inch circle 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a 10 inch tart pan with fluted sides and a removable bottom by rolling the dough around the pin like a carpet and then unrolling it onto the pan. Press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan, then trim it so it is flush with the top of the pan. Chill the tart shell while you make the filling.

Remove the bowl of lemon slices from the refrigerator and place the entire mixture in a blender. Add the lemon juice and blend the ingredients on high speed until the lemon rinds are finely chopped. Transfer the contents of the blender to a medium nonreactive bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, limoncello, heavy cream, vanilla and salt. Add the egg mixture to the lemon mixture, whisking well to combine thoroughly.

Remove the tart shell from the refrigerator and place it on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Pour the filling into the shell and bake the tart for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan so the tart cooks evenly. Bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, or until the filling is set but still pale and the crust is lightly golden. Allow the tart to cool completely on a rack before carefully removing the sides of the pan.

Before serving, dust the surface of the tart lightly with confectioners' sugar, if desired. Serve the tart at room temperature or chilled. Wrapped in plastic it will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.

Sweet Tart Crust

2 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
freshly grated zest of 1 small lemon
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup heavy cream
few drops of ice water

Place the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and citrus zest in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to combine the dry ingredients. Add all of the cold, cubed butter to the bowl and pulse to process the mixture until it is sandy and there are no visible lumps of butter.

IN a small bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and heavy cream. Add the wet ingredients tot he food processor and pulse 3 or 4 times, or until the dough comes together. If necessary, add some ice water, a few drops at a time, to make the dough come together.

remove the dough from the food processor and work it with your hands to even out any dry and wet spots. Form the dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill until firm, 1 to 2 hours, before rolling out. You can freeze the dough well wrapped, for up to 2 months.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Trip Review...Part 2...Boston

Our first night in Boston we were really craving pizza. I had gotten a recommendation from the Boston Chowhounds and decided to give Antico Forno a try. Roughly translated Antico Forno means old oven; which is exactly what takes up the back wall of this tiny restaurant. The brick oven at Antico Forno is not only for pizza. The restaurant cooks or finishes several of it's pasta and meat dishes in it. We started our dinner with the involtini di melanzane. Thin slices of eggplant were stuffed with ricotta and basil and baked in the oven Parmesan style. It was absolutely delicious. We decided to share a pizza for our entree. I let my husband pick and he ordered the capricciosa. The pie was topped with sausage, mushrooms and artichoke hearts. The taste was good but the pizza was a little too wet and the crust not as thin as I'd have liked. Boston's North End is filled with Italian restaurants and pastry shops. So we decided to go elsewhere for dessert. The whole area was really crowded for a Thursday night. We did eventually find a place and enjoyed some espresso and Italian pastries. Day 2 and I was left to wander the streets of Boston alone while my husband worked. (yes, he did actually work on this trip) I stumbled across what's known as the Haymarket. It's a huge outdoor market selling fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, cheese and even fish. It reminded me a lot of the Italian Market in Philadelphia. Crowds of people and everyone shouting.The prices were so good it made me wish I wasn't a tourist. There was so much I wanted to buy. But I wasn't about to cart bell peppers or ears of corn onto the plane. So I just kept walking towards the North End, where I was hoping to grab some lunch. Just as I was rounding the corner onto Salem Street it started to pour. So I stepped into the closest store, Monica's Mercato, to wait out the rain. Monica's is a cute little store jammed packed with Italian specialties. One of which was burrata. The man behind the counter explained to me how they had just gotten the burrata in that morning and how delicious it was. I wanted to try some burrata in the worse way, but once again being a tourist was not helping the situation.
I explained my dilemma to the shop owner and he was very sympathetic. He told me that everyone needs to try burrata and handed me flatware, napkins and even a small plate. I was so excited I left immediately. I made one stop at a bakery to grab a loaf of crusty Italian bread and then headed straight to the hotel. I had totally forgot about the rain. I called my husband, who had just finished working, and told him to meet me in the hotel room ASAP. When he got there we enjoyed a gourmet lunch of burrata and Italian bread on top of our hotel bed. Not the ideal situation but it was still delicious.
For those of you who don't know; burrata is an Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is mozzarella and the inside is a mixture of cream and mozzarella. Burrata has a very short shelf life and can be pretty hard to find. If you've never had it I would highly recommend tracking some down.
Later that night we were walking along the rainy streets of Boston's Beacon Hill area; reminiscing about our rainy trip to Ireland, when we found the Bean Town Pub. With Ireland on the mind pub food just seemed appropriate. There was a crowd at the Bean Town Pub but we were able to get a small table for two in the bar area. The menu was large and included all of your typical pub fare. We enjoyed salads, burgers and some drinks while watching the Red Socks on one of the many TVs around the bar.
The next day turned out to be sunny and uncharacteristically warm. It was so hot by the time we finished our tour of the Boston Public Library that we were able to shed our coats. We did some shopping along Newbury street and stopped for lunch at Bouchee. Not wanting to eat a large meal we decided to split a duck, melting leeks and goat cheese pizza. The waiter talked us into adding some caramelized pears and I'm glad we did. The combination of sweet pears contrasted nicely with the leeks and goat cheese. Bellies full we walked through the Boston Common back to our hotel.
Dinner that night, our last in Boston, was the highlight of the whole trip. So I've decided to write a separate blog about that meal. Stay tuned for Part 3.