Tuesday, June 29, 2010

IWAD #3 - Beware of Limoncello!

Last night was another Monday, which meant another night of Italian cooking (and wine drinking). I went shopping for all of the ingredients in the morning so I would be well prepared and overcome any obstacles that I may encounter (as in my pizzelle fiasco). Our appetizer for the night was "Fried Calamari with Tartar Sauce". I have to admit that I was very nervous about making this. Even though I love eating Fried Calamari out at restaurants, making it was a whole different story. I kept wondering if the grocery store I go to would even have squid. I was dreading cutting it up into those little rings and chopping off the head. Actually, I'm not even sure what real squid look like, other than watching the Giant Squid show on the Discovery Channel. Anyways, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my grocery store (HEB) had frozen bags of pre-cut calamari rings. I also had never deep fried anything before EVER! This meant picking up a deep frying thermometer as well which I was very excited the store had.

One thing that surprises me about this cookbook I am using is the difficult easiness it has about it (if that even makes sense). Let me explain. Some of the recipes sound so complex, yet turn out to be fairly easy. Here, I am referring to the Tartar Sauce. Now, I am well aware that you can buy a jar of tartar sauce pre-made, but this recipe asks you to buy mayonnaise to make your own tartar sauce. Am I the only one that thinks that is silly? Shouldn't it be asking me to make the mayonnaise to then turn into the Tartar Sauce? Well, I made the Tartar Sauce earlier in the day and forgot about it in the refrigerator until 1/2 the Calamari was gone, but it was good. I guess after all of this rambling on I should tell you that the "Fried Calamari with Tartar Sauce" turned out delicious and I would recommend everyone afraid of trying it to try it! The only thing I added to the recipe (because of preference and disliking tartar sauce in general) was a small 8 oz can of tomato sauce w/basil, garlic, and oregano (heated) for dipping along side the tartar sauce. YUMMO!

For the main course we had "Skillet Pasta Roma". This is a very good dish of noodles, italian sausage, and tomatoes. A pretty uneventful dish I must say. Essentially, all you do is put everything in a deep skillet and 30 minutes later it's ready. I felt like I was making a upscale hamburger helper! The only thing I did differently was use Fusilli pasta rather than Rotini because that's what the picture in the book shows. And yes, to those of you who know me and are wondering, I DID put onions in this. I dislike onions very much, but surprisingly when they are cooked down in this dish you don't even notice them. I also added the optional mushrooms (cremini's) and grated Parmesan on top.

And then we got to dessert. You know, maybe dessert just isn't my forte! This "Limoncello Strawberry Dessert" was nearly inedible. It is probably my fault, but I thought I was getting the right ingredients. Let me tell you all that Angel Food Cake is NOT Pound Cake! This recipe calls for Pound Cake (another one of those things that I felt guilty not making myself, as the Mayo incident above) and for some reason Angel Food Cake is what I thought of, so that's what I bought. Hey, the picture looks like a Strawberry Shortcake. I'm really not sure it would have made a difference, but that Limoncello, Italian Lemon Liquor, was way too overwhelming for the rest of the ingredients. It has a very stout liquor flavor! It then made sense that it is 30% alcohol. I do plan to try it with Pound Cake soon and will update you on the results.

"Fried Calamari with Tartar Sauce"

  • 1 pound cleaned squid (body tubes, tentacles or a combination), rinsed and patted dry
  • 3/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Vegetable oil
  • Lemon wedges (optional)
  • Recipe for Tartar Sauce following
  1. Prepare Tartar Sauce; set aside. I made this early in the day and refrigerated it until use. Line baking sheet with waxed paper. Cut squid into 1/4 inch rings.
  2. Spread bread crumbs on plate. Beat egg and milk in small bowl. Add squid; stir to coat well. Transfer squid to bread crumbs; toss to coat. Place on prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate 15 minutes.
  3. Heat 1 1/2 inches oil in large heavy saucepan to 350 degrees; adjust heat to maintain temperature of oil. Fry squid in batches, 8-10 pieces at a time, 45 seconds or until golden brown. (Squid will pop and spatter during frying; do not stand too close to saucepan.) Do not overcook squid or it will become tough. Remove with slotted spoon; drain on paper towels.
  4. Serve immediately with Tartar Sauce and lemon wedges, if desired.
"Tartar Sauce"
  • 1 1/3 cups mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers, minced
  • 1 small sweet gherkin or pickle, minced
  1. Combine all ingredients in small bowl; mix well. Cover; refrigerate until ready to serve.
"Skillet Pasta Roma"
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage, sliced or crumbled
  • 1 large onion, coarsley chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) Diced Tomatoes with Basil, Garlic & Oregano
  • 1 can (8 ounces) Tomato Sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 ounces uncooked rotini or other spiral pasta (Fusilli)
  • 8 mushroooms, sliced (optional)
  • Grated Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley sprigs (optional)
  1. Brown sausage in large skillet. Add onion and garlic. Cook until onion is soft; drain. Stir in undrained tomatoes, tomato sauce, water and pasta.
  2. Cover and bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, 25-30 minutes or until pasta is tender, stirring occasionally.
  3. Stir in mushrooms, if desired; simmer 5 minutes. Serve in skillet garnished with cheese and parsley, if desired.
"Limoncello Strawberry Dessert"
  • 1 pound strawberries
  • 1 cup limoncello (Italian lemon liqueur), divided
  • 1 (10 ounce) pound cake, cut into 8 slices
  • Sweetened whipped cream
  • Shaved chocolate
  • Fresh mint leaves (optional)
  1. Stem and slice strawberries. Set aside 2 cups sliced strawberries. Coarsley chop remaining strawberries; transfer to medium bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons limoncello; let stand about 10 minutes.
  2. Place 2 slices cake on each of 4 dessert plates. Drizzle 1 tablespoon limoncello over each slice.
  3. Combine sliced and marinated strawberries. Evenly divide strawberry mixture over cake. Top with dollop of whipped cream. Sprinkle with chocolate. Garnish with mint leaves. Serve with remaining limoncello.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

IWAD #2- Yummy Risotto!!

I had so been waiting for this IWAD night! Last night we made another 3 course dinner! It started with "Asparagus & Prosciutto Antipasto". YUMMY! I even taught Brandy a new technique when cooking asparagus. I do watch The Food Network on TV quite often and they all do this! After rinsing the asparagus under cold water to clean it, hold each end and bend it slightly. It will automatically break at a certain point. That is where you should cut the spears to get rid of the hard ends. While munching on our appetizer we started the main course of "Risotto Bolognese". I had never made a risotto before, but I love it and order it out at Italian restaurants all of the time. This defintely turned out restaurant quality and was very delicious. It was pretty easy as well, but a little time consuming. Then for dessert...oh, for dessert...sigh. I am just not very great at desserts I guess. Don't get me wrong, this one turned out tasty, but the work I put into the damn thing was so not worth it. I made Cannoli Napoleans. You will notice that the recipe calls for 12 vanilla pizzelles. Well, my local grocery store, HEB doesn't carry them. Apparently the only place that does is Mandola's Italian Market, which is a good 30-40 minute drive from where I live, and with a 2 year old about to take her afternoon nap (of which I need for my sanity) I was not about to put her in the car and drive for pizzelles. "I guess no dessert for tonight" I thought. Wrong! My lovely Brandy decided to email me a link with a recipe for them. So I noticed I had all of the ingredients I needed to make them, AND I have a Pizzelle Maker! It has never been used, but it was an attachment for my Emerilware Waffle Maker (of which I don't know where the manual is). So, I'm thinking great, I can make them! Then the chaos begins.

Before I put my daughter down for her nap I whip up the batter to make them. After I put her down I heated up the pizzelle maker. The recipe states to leave it in for 45 seconds, but my machine says 2-2.5 minutes. Now I am confused. The recipe also states to use 1 tablespoon of batter per pizzelle and I decided to eyeball it instead of using a measuring spoon. The first batch (2 at a time and I need 12 of these things) I leave on for 1 minute and is a little under done, oozing out the side of the maker, and slightly sticks to the pan. I took them out, sprayed down the pan with cooking spray, added some more (less) batter, and closed the lid. Okay, 2 minutes this time...BURNT! So, I scrape out the pizzelle maker again and decide to try one more time. (Keep in mind that this naptime is supposed to HELP my sanity). Once again, I spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray, add batter, and close the lid. Wait 1.5 minutes this time...happy medium. NOPE! Burnt again and so stuck to the pan I can't even get them out. I'm DONE! No dessert tonight! I unplugged the maker so it could cool down, threw the batter in the fridge, and decided to get in my workout of Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred, which is a major stress reliever I will tell you!

After cooling down I decided to give these damn pizzelles one last try. After all, I had already made the filling for the dessert. So, I thoroughly clean the pizzelle maker, dry it off, and plug it in until it's heated. This is when I realize how this pizzelle maker works...duh! There is a light on the machine that goes off when it's heated and ready. This is when I spray it with nonstick cooking spray and drop in the batter. I wait 2 minutes and open the lid...PERFECT PIZZELLES!! I closed the lid and the red light was back on. I waited until it re-heated and the light went off, sprayed the pan, dropped the batter, closed the lid, and waited 2 minutes...AGAIN PERFECT PIZZELLES!! After all of the stress I put myself through I felt very silly. If only I had the user manual for the maker it would have been easier, but I wound up with more than enough pizzelles and a very yummy dessert for after dinner!

"Asparagus & Prosciutto Antipasto"
  • 12 asparagus spears (about 8 ounces) -I just bought a bunch and used as many as we wanted
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) crumbled gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 package (3-4 ounces) thinly sliced prosciutto
  1. Trim and discard tough ends of asparagus spears. Simmer asparagus in salted water in large skillet 4-5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain; rinse with cold water until cool. Drain; pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Combine cream cheese, gorgonzola cheese and pepper in small bowl; mix well. Cut prosciutto slices in half crosswise to make 12 pieces. I bought more than enough prosciutto and didn't cut them in half but used a whole piece per asparagus. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly over 1 side of each prosciutto slice.
  3. Wrap each asparagus spear with prosciutto slice. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.
"Risotto Bolognese"
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) uncooked Arborio rice
  • 4 cups SWANSON Chicken Broth (Regular, Natural Goodness or Certified Organic), heated
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 1/2 cups PREGO Fresh Mushroom Italian Sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. Heat the oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. I used a 3 quart saucepan and it worked fine. Add the onion and cook until tender. Add the rice and cook and stir for 2 minutes or until the rice is slightly browned.
  2. Stir 1 1/2 cups of the broth into the rice mixture. Cook and stir until the broth is absorbed, maintaining the rice at a gentle simmer. Continue cooking and adding broth 1/4 cup at a time, stirring until it's absorbed after each addition before adding more.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the beef in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until it's well browned, stirring frequently to break up meat. Pour off any fat. Stir the sauce and black pepper into the skillet. Heat to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Cook for 5 minutes or until the beef is cooked through, stirring occasionally.
  4. Spoon the rice mixture on a serving platter. Spoon the beef mixture in the center. Season to taste. Serve with the cheese, if desired. We did!
"Cannoli Napoleons"
  • 1 container (15 ounces) whole milk ricotta cheese -I used low fat
  • 3/4 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 12 vanilla pizzelles
  • 1/3 cup grated semisweet chocolate
  • Sweetened whipped cream
  • 6 tablespoons chopped toasted pistachios -To toast nuts, place in single layer on ungreased baking sheet. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally
  1. Combine ricotta cheese, mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar, orange peel and vanilla in large bowl. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
  2. For each napolean, place 1 pizzelle on dessert plate. Spread 1/4 cup ricotta mixture over pizzelle. Sprinkle generous 1 teaspoon chocolate over mixture. Repeat layers. Top with dollop of whipped cream. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon pistachios. Serve immediately.

Mid-Week Dessert

It wasn't exactly Monday yet, so no IWAD, but on 6/14/10 I decided to make another dessert out of my "Italian at Home" cookbook. It sounded yummy and the picture in the cookbook looks delicious! Well, I wouldn't say it's anything to rave about. It was pretty easy to make, but it didn't quite taste like I hoped for. Maybe it's because I was expecting something different. Who knows. It kind of tasted like blackberry yogurt...not disgusting, but just not like a dessert.

One problem I had making this was measuring the blackberries. I bought 2 bags of frozen blackberries because, of course, the bags don't tell you how many cups are in them. I measured out one bag, and hey, 3 cups exactly. Once I began re-measuring, as I tend to do, and pouring the cups into my food processor to puree them it was only 1 1/2 cups of berries with tons of juice left in the bowl. Well, then I took out the other bag of blackberries and defrosted them in the microwave this time, because I was impatient, and it took nearly 2 bags of frozen blackberries to make 3 cups of thawed blackberries. Not sure if I was supposed to measure them pre-thawed or thawed, but whatever! The other problem I had was when I went to the grocery store and was looking at the whipping cream. Was I supposed to get heavy whipping cream or just whipping cream? Who knows?! I went with regular whipping cream. And then, the last thing you're supposed to do in this recipe is to unmold onto serving plates. Well, good luck with that! We wound up eating ours out of the ramekins.

"Blackberry Panna Cotta"
  • 3 cups frozen unsweetened blackberries, thawed
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 envelope (1/4 ounce) unflavored gelatin
  1. Process blackberries in food processor or blender until smooth. Combine cream, buttermilk and sugar in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add blackberry puree. Bring to simmer over low heat.
  2. Pour water into small saucepan. Sprinkle with gelatin; heat over low heat, swirling pan until gelatin is dissolved. Pour into blackberry mixture. Stir until combined.
  3. Strain mixture through fine mesh sieve or strainer, pressing down with rubber spatula. Pour evenly into 6 (8 ounce) ramekins or custard dishes. My mixture made 9 dishes, but they may have been smaller than 8 ounces. Refrigerate 6 hours or until set. To serve, unmold onto serving plates.

New Adventure

So, last weekend I bought an Italian Cookbook at Barnes and Noble in their bargain priced book section. It is titled "Italian at Home: Favorite Restaurant-Style Recipes". I have always enjoyed eating Italian food out at restaurants and decided I would pick one night a week and try some new recipes out of this cookbook. I am talking 3 course meals once a week and have chosen Mondays (for now) as my night for IWAD, or Italian Wine and Dine. I also have the pleasure of a volunteer sous chef, Brandy! A while back she told me that she would like to learn how to cook a wider variety of foods, and since I love to cook (and I cook 4-5 nights a week) she asked if we could cook together. Well, back then it didn't work out, but that's a whole other story. For now, she is happily (I think...maybe it's the wine involved) being my sous chef.

On our first IWAD last Monday, 6/14/10, we made a wonderful appetizer called "Caprese-Style Tartlets". It was very easy to make and they turned out very yummy! The only recommendation I would have is to be sure to slice the tomatoes very thin so the juice doesn't squirt out and burn you when you bite into them. I also didn't bother with refridgerating the tomatoes in pesto for 30 min to overnight because I didn't read the recipe ahead of time and didn't have time to waste. Not sure that it would have made much of a difference anyways.

For the entree we made "Pest Chicken Mac & Cheese". Not exactly the most sophisticated of names, but I'm not sure what else you could call it. The dish was very tasty, but the sauce did turn out a bit thick. I will take the blame for that though, as I probably cooked it too long. There are two things that bothered me about this dish. First, cooking the pasta and the chicken should be a step in the recipe, not something you find out needed to be done after you get to the last step. Another reason the sauce was too thick was because I didn't have the pasta and chicken ready in time.

For dessert we attempted to make "Minted Pears with Gorgonzola". The first step was to peel the pears and leave the stems on. Well, poor communication from me to Brandy resulted in stemless peeled pears. The second mistake I made was to leave the juice mixture simmering in the pan for longer than 20 minutes. The result was burnt honey mint grape juice. It made a wonderful air freshener though :) I did, however, have to thow my husbands old (supposedly non stick) pan in the trash after that. So, for dessert we had more wine and sauceless, stemless, grapejuice soaked pears. I didn't even bother with the gorgonzola at that point.

"Caprese-Style Tartlets"
  • 3 tomatoes -Small/medium sized
  • 3 tablespoons pesto -I get low fat pesto..yes, there is such a thing...or you could make your own
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry (thawed) -In order for me to make six 4 inch rounds I needed 2 sheets (each package comes with 2) and you can make up to eight tartlets
  • 6 oz fresh mozzarella cheese -I just bought a log and sized however much I needed from it
  • 2 tablespoons kalamata olive tapenade -This was by the jarred tomato sauce in my grocery store
  1. Slice each tomato into thin slices (about 1/3 inch thick). Discard tops and bottoms (DUH!). Place tomato slices in resealable food storage bag with pesto, tossing to coat. Refrigerate 30 minutes or overnight. (Like I said before, I didn't refrigerate, but continued directly with step
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Cut out 6 (4-inch) rounds from sheet of pastry. I used a plastic cup that had a 4-inch diameter rim and made 8 rounds out of 2 sheets of puff pastry. Top each round with 2 slices marinated tomato. Bake 12 minutes or until pastry is golden brown and puffed.
  4. Preheat broiler. Turn your oven to "broil" setting. Slice mozzarella cheese into 1/4 inch thick slices. Top each tartlet with 1 slice of cheese. Broil 1 minute or until cheese is melted. Top tarts evenly with tapenade. Serve warm.
"Pesto Chicken Mac & Cheese"
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter -I used margarine
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces fontina cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup pesto
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 package (6 ounces) baby spinach
  • 1 package (16 ounces) radiatore or penne pasta, cooked and drained -I couldn't find radiatore and used penne
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and chopped
  1. Bring milk and garlic to a boil in small saucepan. Reduce heat; keep warm. Discard garlic. Make sure you leave the garlic clove formed (not chopped up) so you can fish it out of the milk with a slotted spoon.
  2. Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat; whisk in flour. Cook and stir 2 minutes. Gradually add milk, whisking constantly until smooth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook and stir 10 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat. Make sure it doesn't get too thick as the cheese is going to thicken it further!
  3. Add cheeses to the sauce, whisking until smooth. Stir in pesto; season with salt and pepper. I didn't add any additional salt and pepper. Toss spinach, pasta and chicken with pesto mixture until spinach wilts. Serve immediately.
"Minted Pears with Gorgonzola"
  • 4 whole firm pears with stems, peeled
  • 2 cups concord grape juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
  1. Place pears in medium saucepan. Add grape juice, mint, honey, cinnamon stick and nutmeg; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer, covered, 15-20 minutes, turning pears once to absorb juices evenly. Cook until pears can be pierced easily with fork. Remove pan from heat; cool. Remove pears with slotted spoon; set aside. Discard cinnamon stick.
  2. Bring juice mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Place pears on individual serving plates. Pour juice mixture over pears. Sprinkle gorgonzola cheese evenly around pears.