Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chickpea Avocado Salad and other goodies


This one’s a quick and simple recipe to help you get through the warm summer days when you have no desire to turn on the oven. You just have to remember to buy the avocados a couple of days before you want to use them in order to give them time to ripen, since they’re always so hard on the grocery shelf. It makes a great lunch or side dish for a picnic.

I also wanted to show you a few products I’ve tried recently that you might enjoy at your next picnic, courtesy of the folks at Olio2Go. One of them is this pear and nut jam made by Maida.

image It’s more of a savory flavor and can be used in the way a good mostarda is used – on a crostino with some goat cheese or ricotta  -

image Or served over a piece of grilled meat.

image The other item they sent me was truly addictive – I ate the entire package by myself – they’re called Sugar “Crack” Almonds from Villa Cappelli. Share with friends if you like, but once you open the package and taste them, you may change your mind.


Chickpea Avocado Salad

printable recipe here

1 13-ounce can chickpeas, drained

1 ripe avocado, diced

1 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half

1/4 cup red onion, diced

fresh parsley and fresh thyme, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

4 T. vinegar (I like white balsamic but wine vinegar or sherry vinegar would be great too)

Open the can of chickpeas and rinse well to get off the “goop.” Place in a bowl with the avocado, tomatoes, red onion, salt, pepper and herbs. Whisk the oil and vinegar, pour over the salad and mix everything together.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chocolate Cherry Brownies


Brownies are a crowd favorite and for good reason. Nearly everyone loves chocolate and brownies are easy to make and no fuss to eat – just grab one and bite – no forks necessary.

There are thousands of variations for brownies and these take the chocolate flavor to a fruity, chewy place with the addition of dried cherries.

My father’s wife Rose made these recently for a church bake sale, but since the recipe makes so many, she was thoughtful enough to bring me some too. They’re good enough to eat on their own, but since they contained dried cherries, why not serve them with fresh cherries that are in season right now, and a heaping scoop of your favorite vanilla ice cream. All those in favor say “aye.”


Chocolate Cherry Brownies

(From Family Circle Magazine)

printable recipe here

  • 1 cup dried cherries (soaked in water for 15 minutes to plump, then drained)
  • 1/2 lb. unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces bitter baking chocolate
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mini chocolate chips

Combine butter and baking chocolate in a microwavable bowl and heat in microwave until melted. Whisk together until blended.

In a separate bowl place 2 cups sugar and whisk in the four eggs, one at a time. Blend in the flour, salt, and vanilla extract. Add the butter and chocolate mixture and the cherries and 3/4 cup of the mini chocolate chips.

Pour into a 10 x 15 inch jelly roll pan that has been lined with nonstick foil. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup chocolate chips.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

Cool on a rack in the pan, then lift out the brownies with the aluminum foil and place on a cutting board.

Cut into 24 brownies. (Rose uses a pizza cutter and a yardstick to get uniform squares.)


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Gorgonzola Cheese Soufflé

imageMention the word “soufflé” and you’re likely to strike fear into the hearts of  most home cooks. Conquer your fears and pick up your whisk, folks, because you’re laboring under a misconception.  Soufflés are not that hard to make. If you can beat egg whites, you’re halfway there. The other half is making the sauce, one that contains butter, flour and milk  - similar to a béchamel, but it also contains egg yolks. Those are the basics for any baked soufflé, but of course what you add to that base can be as different as cheese is from chocolate. The techniques are all the same.

image I have always followed the cheese soufflé recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering The Art of French Cooking.”  Her recipes are long but not because they’re difficult. She just explains every minute detail, and that’s what make her recipes no-fail every time.  I noticed that the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten has a cheese soufflé recipe in one of her cookbooks too, and the ingredients, quantities and cooking directions are exactly the same as Julia’s. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say….

The only difference between mine and Julia’s is the gorgonzola cheese (my nod to Italy) and size of the soufflé dish. She suggests using a 6-cup soufflé dish, but for a really show-stopper of a presentation, use a 4-cup dish and bake it with a buttered wax paper collar taped to the dish. When it rises, it will climb high above the rim. Remove the wax-paper after taking it from the oven and serve immediately. Then take a bite of this gorgonzola cheese soufflé. It’s as ethereal as a sigh.

December 2009 372-1

Don’t like gorgonzola? Think of a soufflé the way you think of a frittata – it’s a blank canvas waiting for your personal touch. Got a bit of leftover ham, or bacon, or asparagus or anything else in the refrigerator you want to use up?

October 2009 865

Follow the same recipe to make individual soufflés instead of one large soufflé. Just bake them for a little less time.

image Here are some photos of what the egg whites should look like after you’ve finished beating them. They should be stiff, but with some luster to them - not so dry they look like Styrofoam.


This is the base mixture of butter, flour, milk, egg yolks. The cheese gets added to this, then the egg whites are folded in.


I poured the mixture into four oven-proof dishes that measured slightly more than one cup each. They don’t have to be the traditional round shape, as you can see.


Fill them about 3/4 of the way up.


They came out of the oven looking like this:

image  Twenty minutes baking time and  lunch was ready:


Gorgonzola Cheese Soufflé

printable recipe here

with gratitude to Julia Child and “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” volume one

  • a 6-cup soufflé mold (I used a four-cup dish)
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 1  Tbs finely grated Swiss or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 3 Tbs unsalted butter, plus more for buttering dish
  • 3 Tbs all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup boiling milk
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • 4 egg yolks (large eggs)
  • 5 egg whites (large eggs)
  • 3 ounces coarsely grated Gorgonzola cheese, or another you prefer, such as parmigiana, gruyere or sharp cheddar

Generously butter a six or four-cup soufflé dish. Sprinkle with the grated Parmigiano Reggiano to cover the bottom and side. Set the oven rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

To make the sauce:
Over moderate heat, melt 3 Tbs butter in a saucepan; Stir in the flour with a wooden spatula or spoon and cook over moderate heat until butter and flour foam together for two minutes without browning. Remove from heat; when mixture has stopped bubbling, pour in all the boiling milk at once. Beat vigorously with a wire ship until blended. Beat in the seasonings. Return over moderately high heat and boil, stirring with the wire whip, for one minute. Sauce will be very thick.

Remove the sauce from the heat. Whisk the egg yolks into the hot sauce one by one, then add the cheese. Transfer sauce to a large bowl, and set it aside.

To finish:
In a clean bowl and with clean beaters, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Scoop a quarter of the egg whites into the bowl with the sauce, and stir together with a wooden spoon. Turn the rest of the egg whites on top; rapidly and delicately, fold them in with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish, and use a spatula to trace a circle in the top of the batter, just inside the rim of the dish. This will help the soufflé to rise freely.

Place the soufflé in the oven, and turn the oven temperature down to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake about  30 to 35 minutes (without opening the oven), until the soufflé has puffed over the rim of the baking dish and the top has browned nicely.  If baking in small one-cup molds, they will need only 15 to 20 minutes in the oven. Serve immediately because it will deflate rapidly.

Serves four.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pesche Con Crema

image Go ahead – grab a peach. But let me warn you this is no ordinary peach. This peach won’t be dripping with juice, although there will be a nice surprise waiting for you at first bite.

image It sure looks like a peach, doesn’t it?

image As do all the peaches in this basket.

image They look a lot fuzzier than most peaches, don’t they? But I promise you, you won’t want to peel them. Just grab one and take a bite.

imageSurprise! Look what’s inside! It’s a dessert that’s kind of a cross between a cookie and a cake. It’s made to look like a peach (pesca) and filled with a pastry cream. I first ate these decades ago in Italy when my cousin Lucia served them, and I’ve been wanting to make them ever since.


Fortunately, I found the recipe in the terrific cookbook “My Calabria” by Rosetta Costantino. The book is filled with beautiful photos, wonderful recipes and lots of information about Calabria, the region that is located in Italy’s “toe.”  It’s a region that sadly, is frequently bypassed by tourists on their way to more well-known areas, but Calabria offers so much in the way of history, art, beautiful sights and great food that it merits a visit. It also happens to be the region my father’s family hails from, so that’s reason enough to grab my interest. Even if your family isn’t from Italy, and your only trip there may be only an armchair visit,  once you see this cookbook, I think you’ll agree it’s one of the best cookbooks on regional Italian cooking available. For the record, I haven’t been paid to endorse the book. I just think it’s a really well written, well-photographed and well-researched cookbook.

Anyway, back to the peaches. I made them to take to the annual picnic held by my Italian chit-chat group yesterday and they were a big hit.

image The recipe makes 24 peaches, and my basket came home empty. They’re not at all hard to make, but they are time-consuming. Figure on two or three hours from start to finish. Let me take you through the process.

image Here’s what the dough looks like after it’s mixed – kind of like a sticky, bread dough.

image Roll the dough into balls.

image Then flatten the balls slightly.

image Bake for about 15 minutes – they’ll be pale on the top, but brown on the bottom.

image I used a small knife to dig out a little “cone” from the interior. See the pile of “cones” at upper right? I didn’t throw them out. I’ll come back to them later.

image I forgot to photograph making the pastry cream. But take my word for it, it’s easy. You should make the cream before you start the cookies, so it can have time to cool. After the cookies are cooled, you fill the shallow cut-out area with the pastry cream. Place two filled cookies together, and when they’re all filled, let them sit in the refrigerator an hour or so. They’ll be firmer and stick together better when you dip them in the liqueur. Add  food coloring to the liqueur to get the desired shade of peach, then dip the cookie into the liqueur and roll it in sugar. Use a toothpick to pierce a small hole on top, and insert some leaves. I used actual peach tree leaves, courtesy of a total stranger who lives a few blocks from me. I walk by the house frequently and I knew the people living there had to be Italian, judging by the large vegetable garden and fruit trees dominating the yard. The lady of the house, who obviously had been working in her kitchen, since she arrived at the door wearing an apron, told me in her heavily accented Italian, to help myself to whatever I wanted.

The leaves really gave the peaches an even more realistic look, but you may not be as lucky as I was, to have an accommodating stranger with a peach tree in her backyard. If you aren’t, then search out some lemon verbena leaves, which also resemble peach tree leaves, or use mint leaves, which are easy to find this time of year.

image Oh and back to those little “cookie cones” that I cut out from inside the cookie. I used some of them, along with some leftover cream, to make a “peach tiramisu” in a  dessert glass. Just layer some of the cream, some of the “cones,” a sprinkling of liqueur and some cut-up fruit in a dessert cup, then repeat the process, ending with fruit on top. I would have used fresh peaches, had they been ripe and in season, but the mango I had in the house was a nice substitute.


Pesche Con Crema

From “”My Calabria” by Rosetta Costantino

Printable Recipe Here

  • For the Pastry Cream
    • 2 cups whole milk
    • Zest of 1 lemon, removed in large strips with a vegetable peeler (I didn’t use lemon zest at all, but instead, used a vanilla bean. I also added 1 T. almond extract.)
    • 4 large egg yolks
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • For the Dough
    • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 tablespoon baking powder
    • 3 large eggs
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 3/4 cup milk
    • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
    • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • For Assembling Peaches
    • 1/2 cup light rum or 6 tablespoons Italian maraschino liqueur plus 2 tablespoons peach schnapps (I used peach schnapps and no other liqueur since I wanted the peach flavor to dominate.)
    • Red and yellow food coloring
    • 1 cup sugar, or more as needed for coating
    • Fresh peach leaves or decorative sugar or chocolate leaves
  1. Make the pastry cream: In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring milk and lemon zest to a simmer over medium heat. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale yellow; add flour and whisk until well combined.

  2. Remove lemon zest from milk and discard; slowly whisk hot milk into egg mixture. Return mixture to saucepan and place over medium heat; cook, stirring constantly, until cream thickens and begins to boil.

  3. Transfer pastry cream to a large bowl; cover with plastic wrap, pressing down on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool completely.

  4. Make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Whisk eggs in another large bowl. Add sugar and whisk to combine. Whisk in milk, butter, and lemon zest until smooth. Gradually add flour mixture, mixing with a fork, until dough is smooth and stiff. Let dough rest for 5 minutes.

  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with nonstick baking mats; set aside.

  6. Using a lightly mounded tablespoon of dough, roll the dough firmly between your palms to make a smooth round ball, about the size of a walnut. Repeat process, taking care to make sure all the balls are fairly uniform in size. Place balls on prepared baking sheets spacing about 1 inch apart; you should be able to fit 24 balls on each baking sheet. Flatten tops slightly with your fingertips.

  7. Transfer to oven and bake until bottoms are lightly browned, about 15 minutes; tops will remain pale. Transfer to a rack and let cool slightly.

  8. Assemble the peaches: While the cookies are still warm, use a small, sharp knife to cut a circle about the size of a quarter on the bottom (flat) side of each cookie, taking care not to crack the edges. Use the tip of the knife to scrape out enough crumbs to make hollow and hold about 1 teaspoon pastry cream. Set cookies aside.

  9. Place rum or maraschino liqueur and schnapps in a small bowl. Add enough red and yellow food coloring to create your desired shade of peach; set aside. Fill a shallow bowl with sugar; set aside.

  10. Fill each hollowed-out cookie with 1 teaspoon filling. Sandwich two cookies together so that the filling comes just to the edge, taking care not to crack or break. Using a pastry brush, brush "peach" with colored liquor and roll in sugar to coat. Transfer to a large airtight container and repeat process with remaining cookies, liqueur, and sugar. Cover container and transfer to refrigerator; let chill overnight.

  11. Just before serving, pierce each "peach" with a toothpick where the two cookies come together and insert the stem of a peach leaf. Alternatively, you can garnish cookies with decorative or chocolate leaves.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lamb Skewers With Mint Chutney


I don’t know why so many Americans haven’t developed a liking for lamb. My only guess is that they never ate it while growing up, or if they did, it wasn’t prepared very well. If you’re cooking a whole leg of lamb, it can be a little tricky to know how long to cook, whether to marinate or how to carve. For this recipe you cut the lamb into cubes, slather them with a great herb and spice mix and grill for only a few minutes.


The recipe doesn’t call for marinating overnight in the herb mixture, but I figured it would only lend more flavor and tenderness to the skewers, so I did, and they were.  The mint chutney was a refreshing and delicious foil for the skewers and something a little different from the typical mint jelly or tzatziki I normally serve with lamb.

I got the recipes from Matt Armendariz’ new book, “On A Stick,” after receiving a complimentary copy in the mail a few weeks ago. 


Matt’s book contains loads of interesting recipes and enticing photos of food on a stick, from appetizers to desserts and everything in between.  There are a few items that seem silly to skewer (spaghetti and meatballs for example) but there are plenty of others that look good enough and easy enough to make over and over again. This lamb dish is one. But there’s also a “fudge pops” recipe that has my name all over it now that warm weather is here.


From the book “On A Stick” by Matt Armendariz

Printable Recipe here

This recipe calls for only 1 1/2 lbs. meat, but if you serve it with side dishes, (I served it with caramelized onions, green beans and Greek potatoes courtesy of a recipe from Peter of Kalofagas.ca),  it easily makes enough to satisfy four or five people.

Lamb Skewers

  • 2 T. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 T. tarragon, minced
  • 1 T. thyme, minced
  • 1 T. rosemary, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 t. cumin
  • 1 1/2 lb. boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes (I bought 1 1/2 lbs. of boneless top round leg of lamb)
  • salt and pepper

Mint Chutney

  • 1 cup mint, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 red onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 T. Greek yogurt (I used a 6 oz. container, it was more like 7 or 8 T.)
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  1. Soak 8 bamboo skewers in water about 30 minutes.
  2. Make the chutney: Place mint, cilantro, onion, yogurt and lemon juice in a food processor with 2 T. water and process until almost smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  3. Preheat grill or grill pan to medium-high and brush with vegetable oil.
  4. Whisk olive oil, tarragon, thyme, rosemary, garlic and cumin in a large bowl. Add lamb and toss until well coated. (I kept the coated lamb in the refrigerator overnight and the lamb was very tender and flavorful when cooked.)
  5. Thread lamb onto skewers and season with salt and pepper to taste. Grill 5 to 6 minutes on each side. Let cool a few minutes before serving with mint chutney.