Sunday, 31 July 2011

Spice Up Your Life!

Tritata di Agnello Tandoori, con Broccoletti e Zucchine
Tandoori Ground Lamb with Broccoli and Zucchini

I have to admit, I am rather pleased with this evenings results in my "let's empty out the fridge before we go on vacation" exercise... that looks good enough to eat there in my photo's doesn't it? But the truth of the matter is that it wasn't too good- it was just perfect! And so easy! And that after only 15 minutes of work... now, how much more could you possibly want?

Start your timer now! Put the rice on the boil, turn on the heat high for your frying pan, and start browning the ground lamb. As soon as it starts to exude it's yummy juices, add tandoori powder, turmeric, cumin seeds, some crushed garlic, some grated ginger and a little tomato paste. Stir well and add a little milk. Sprinkle with coconut flakes and add the stalks of the broccoli- these will need 2-3 minutes longer than the florets. Now add the Zucchini and continue to cook for a further 2-3 minutes.

The last to go in are the florets and a couple of coarsely chopped spring onions... these really do only need 2-3 minutes, after which time the onions are sweet and tasty and have a nice bite to them- just like the florets will! Give the whole thing a little squeeze of lemon juice, add a tablespoon of yogurt and you are ready to serve! See- I told you it was easy, didn't I?

Toss the rice with a tiny pat of butter, press it into a small bowl and turn it out onto your plate. garnish with a few toasted cumin seeds, a sprig of parsley and a few threads of chili and lay the spicy lamb and vegetables out around it. And prepare to enjoy- because I can guarantee that you are going to love this!
Frittelle di Mousse al Cioccolato con Pesche e Mandorle 
Chocolate Mousse Pancakes with Peaches and Almonds

Desperate measures time again. One egg, one peach, one helluva tummy rumble and hungry for something yummy and sweet for breakfast... what ever are we going to do?!? Not a problem- no need to worry because we are going to do this! Grab your whisk, kick on the oven, grab your frying pan- and let's make us an amazing pancake!

Ok, so let's crack that one single egg and separate it. In one bowl, beat the white until stiff and creamy. In another, beat the yolk, together with a half cup of plain yogurt, 2 tablespoons of coconut flakes, a little cinnamon, a little honey, 2 tablespoons of flour and 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder. Oh, and a tiny pinch of salt! You can also add a hint of chili or cayenne, but that really is optional! 

Gently fold the egg white into the creamy, chocolaty pancake mix. And go get your frying pan ready...  

Whilst your pan heats up, quickly cut a ripe peach into thin slices and prepare some slivers of almonds for sprinkling... yum, yum, yum!

Get your lightly buttered pan nice and hot and pour in the pancake mix. After a minute or so, it will start to set and bubbles will begin to appear on the surface... now is the time to add those slices of peach and the almonds! Once it is nicely coated, transfer your frying pan from the stove to the oven to finish it off. After a minute or so in the oven, sprinkle with sugar, so that the peaches and almonds get a slight glaze. 

Fortunately for me, I had just made up a new batch of my powdered lavender and star anise sugar... but regular powdered or granulated sugar is fine. Another 2-3 minutes in the oven and you should be done! 

The great thing about having the yogurt and the beaten egg white in the mix, is that you get a soft and creamy texture, which actually IS very similar to a chocolate mousse! Who knew?? But for sure I will be making this again... and I hope you do too!

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Who Are You Calling Chicken?

Polpette di Pollo & Salami con Melanzane e Zucchine alla Griglia
Chicken & Salami Patties with Grilled Aubergine and Zucchini

It is getting to that critical time now, a week before I leave on vacation and a week in which I have a couple of obligations in the evening, where I am being cautious not to buy too much in the way of groceries. I want to make sure I use up what I have at home before I skedaddle- I am Sicilian and we invented the phrase "waste not, want not". Well actually we didn't- but still- we don't. Either waste, not want. We recycle. And everyone knows that's a good thing, right?

So, with one chicken breast, a hunk of salami, 1/3rd of an eggplant and 1/3rd of a zucchini, I created a meal. That's right- that was basically all I needed. An egg, some breadcrumbs, a little onion and some herbs and spices later, dinner was served and pretty tasty it was too!

I coarsely chopped the chicken, the salami, 1/4 of an onion and a clove of garlic and blended them in my machine with an egg and some breadcrumbs. I added some finely grated salted ricotta, a squeeze of tomato paste, some parsley and seasoned with salt and pepper. I rolled this out like a sausage, and deciding it was a little too large and likely to fall apart in the frying pan, split it in two. I also pressed them down a little flatter, just to get them to cook a little more quickly, as I was still a little wary of the chicken ending up being dry. 

I put them into a dry Teflon pan at a moderate heat and whilst they were starting to sizzle away, sliced up the eggplant and zucchini. Once the patties have begun to sizzle in earnest and exude some yummy fat, add the vegetables and sprinkle with dried oregano and thyme. The rest is plain sailing... keep tossing everything around gently for 9-10 minutes until everything is deliciously golden brown.

I served them up with a light squeeze of lemon juice, plenty of fresh parsley and a good sprinkle of red pepper corns- I love the mild heat and the crunch they add... and of course the splash of color too! Next on the list to be reloaded is some ground lamb... and I am already hatching a plan for that too...

Friday, 29 July 2011

How Green was My Broccoli

Rigatoni con Broccoletti Teneri, Pomodori Secchi e Pangrattato
Rigatoni with Tender Broccoli, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Crispy Breadcrumbs

I have been seeing this skinny-stemmed cousin of the regular, chunky broccoli on the shelves at the supermarket for a couple of weeks now, so I thought I would give it a go. The Germans call it "Spargoli", which is a made-up name, referring to the similarity, visually, between the thickness and color of the stems and those of green asparagus, or "Spargel" as it is called here. A silly name for a super veggie! It has a slightly more bitter flavor than regular broccoli and a nice texture and bite and made for a yummy supper this evening... I am glad I have more left over to create another dish soon! But first, to this plate of light and Summery yumminess!

Let's start off by preparing the "extras" here... so first of all- toast a handful of pine nuts in a dry pan. As Soon as they are done, remove them and fry a couple of rashers of bacon in the same pan... again- no added fat please!! While the bacon is frying, finely chop some parsley and grate some lemon zest. Once the bacon is done, remove it from the pan and add the lemon and parsley and some breadcrumbs. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and keep stirring until the breadcrumbs are crispy and brown. The sun-dried tomato tastes better if you let it soak in a little boiling water for 5-10 minutes for this dish- it makes it a little milder and a little less saltiness and intensity works better in this dish.

So now we are going to start cooking! I went about boiling the pasta in a rather unorthodox way- aren't you glad I did the experimenting and not you? Especially as I can report that it was a complete success? Well I should hope that you do! What I did was, that I boiled the pasta in a mixture of half water-half milk. As soon as this was boiling, I added a crushed clove of garlic and the pasta. As soon as the water comes back up to the boil, add the broccoli. Allow to simmer and remove the broccoli after 5 minutes, after which time it is just perfectly cooked and run cold water over it to stop the cooking process and keep the nice, vibrant green coloring. Whilst you have been busy with the broccoli, the pasta has finished cooking and can now also be drained. Good, eh? It just makes it so nice and easy to time!

Now pop the drained rigatoni back into your frying pan with a little olive oil, toss it gently to get it coated and add the breadcrumbs. Whilst the pasta is warming up again, chop up some mozzarella and pitted black olives, so that you can sprinkle them along with the toasted pine nuts and the crispy bacon, onto your wonderfully tasty, crispy pasta... delicious! Arrange on a dish along with the tender broccoli, grate with nutmeg, grind with mixed peppers and enjoy piping hot with a glass of cold white wine! Again- another quick, easy and cheap meal that is flavorful and good- and that's what I call real home cooking!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

A Perfect Pear

Fette di Avocado con Crosta di Cocco & Ajvar e Gamberetti Piccanti
Coconut & Ajvar-Crusted Avocado Slices with Spicy Shrimp

I had been carrying this idea around in my head for a while- to do a spicy, coconut crusting on pan-fried avocado slices... I just thought the combination would be exotic and cool. And then I got a craving for that old-school shrimp cocktail and avocado combination from the 70's tonight. So, with a tip of my hat to the recipe of old, may I proudly present the future of avocado and shrimp dishes! Now does that look yummy or what?!?!

I wanted something reminiscent of the old cocktail sauce, but less "icky" than the old-fashioned ketchup and mayo version... eeew! I know there are all kinds of "light" versions using yogurt and so on... but I wanted something cooler. I decided to make a mix of Ajvar, whisky, lime juice and cayenne pepper. I stirred these together with a little sea salt and used the mix to marinate the avocado slices in.

Use a relatively firm avocado for this, as you don't want it to fall apart in the pan and it is nice if it has a little bite. Let the slices sit in the Ajvar / whisky mix for 4-5 minutes and then carefully coat with lightly seasoned coconut flakes. This is not an egg batter and you will need to be careful, but it is worth it! And an egg batter would have been so WRONG here... ugh!

I used a dry pan as usual and a moderate heat. Let the avocado brown gently for 3-4 minutes before flipping it over for the first time. This will give the essential oils in the avocado a chance to begin to emerge and will make sure the coconut fixes better. Use two teaspoons to flip the slices over and let them brown gently on all sides. Like I say- you will need to be a little careful at first- but otherwise this is super-easy to do!

As for the shrimp... well they are easier still! I simply fried them at a high temperature, with a few thin slices of Chorizo and a little grated ginger and garlic. After 2-3 minutes, add a squeeze of lime juice, a few drops of Tabasco and a dash of whiskey... and serve them up with the avocado slices on a bed of sliced cucumber. These give a nice, fresh and juicy crispness, which is great as a contrast to the hot and spicy crust of the avocado. But of course, the avocado is lovely and lid on the inside! Some fresh chives, a drizzle of sesame oil and a fine dusting of sea salt and this simple and delicious Summer dish is ready! Go grab a fork!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Roll Me Over!

Involtini di Tacchino con Avocado, Albicocca, Chorizo e Sale Aromatico
Turkey Rolls with Avocado, Apricot and Chorizo and Aromatic Salt

Finally, something resembling a sun ray peeked through the clouds here today- Amazing! It is still rather dull and gray here in Frankfurt, but the occasional patch of blue sky gave us back a little hope that we might just get a taste of Summer yet this year. But just in case we don't... I decided to make another simple dish that tastes OF Summer! Have 10 minutes of time on your hands? Good! Then follow me into the kitchen...

Basically, this is another of those meals that I magic together out of a few little leftovers. I hate letting things go to waste and I often have small amounts of produce that I somehow don't manage to use, living on my own. So this evening, it was a slice of turkey breast, that I considered too thin for yesterdays meal... but that was just perfect for rolling. That and a little of the lavender, star anise and herb salt. Oh and a few more slices of Chorizo. I I took an avocado, an apricot and a little divine inspiration and came up with this delicious and simple combination!

Ok, first things first... take 4 chive leaves, pop them into a plate and pour boiling water over them so that they soften. We are going to use these to tie our rolls up. The rolls are made from 4 turkey strips of about 1 1/2 ". Spread them with mustard and lemon jam, roll them up and tie them into shape. The lemon and mustard are a great flavor combination and the jam will keep the meat moist, juicy and delicious. Fry them at a moderate heat in a little clarified butter, for 5-6 minutes until they are golden brown. You are not going to need any seasoning at all as we are going to use the lavender/herb salt... so on with the rest!

Cut the avocado in half, remove the stone and cut into thin wedges. Do the same with the Apricot and arrange decoratively on your plate. I added the Chorizo for a sudden blast of intense flavor, which went well as a counterpoint to the mild and fruity avocado and apricot. Add the turkey rolls and sprinkle everything lightly with the aromatic salt mix... and say welcome back to the Summertime! Enjoy!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Voulez Vous Manger avec Moi?

Tacchino con Sale alla Lavanda & Cuscus con Chorizo Piccante
Turkey with Lavender Salt & Couscous with Spicy Chorizo

Which of course means, "do you want to eat with me?"- and I am assuming the chances are that you would say "yes", after looking that the picture... looks pretty tasty, huh? The clever thing about it is the flavored salt I created, using typical herbs from the Provence, lavender, red pepper corns and citrus zest, which along with a refreshing, herb-infused couscous, turned some simple turkey into a lovely, light Summer meal... even if it is STILL raining here!

The herbs I used were rosemary, thyme, marjoram, parsley and tarragon, the spices, red pepper corns and a little chili... these all went into my mortar, with some course sea salt, a good pinch of sugar, some grated lime zest and a good pinch of dried lavender. Then out came the pestle and I got to work, grinding it all together into an aromatic blend. It was a little moist, but you are already familiar with this from my "Salt of the Earth"- it is just fine that way! But if you WANT to have a dry seasoned salt. you can pop it onto a tray, spread it out a little and bake it at a low temperature until the moisture evaporates. But not tonight!

For the couscous, I used a mix of parsley, cilantro, mint, spring onions,chives and lemon zest. The way I prepared the couscous was so: pour boiling water over the couscous until it is covered- allow to sit for a minute until it begins to swell up. Stir it up to make sure it is loose and fluffy and cover again with boiling water. At this point, add a little lemon juice and a last little splash of boiling water. Allow it to sit for a further 5 minutes or so and
you should have a nice, light, nutty, fluffy couscous, ready to be dressed and flavored-up I decided to keep the flavors reduced to an herbal minimum... after all- we do have that delicious salt for the turkey- and along with the spicy Chorizo, we have enough other flavors to make this into a nicely blended meal. Add the finely chopped onion and herbs, some fresh lemon juice and a little sesame oil... stir thoroughly and set to one side.

The Chorizo is very thinly sliced and then rolled-up and fried in a dry pan at a low heat... you will soon see how much fat comes out of that sausage! After 5-6 minutes of gentle frying, you should be left with a greasy pan and some pretty, crispy little rolls of spicy sausage- drain them on some kitchen towel, pat dry and try to keep yourself from tasting any! Yum!

Fry the turkey breast pieces in a little olive oil at a moderate heat for 4-5 minutes until golden brown, added a tiny drizzle of honey and lemon juice and get ready to serve!

I dressed the couscous with a little sesame oil and some lime juice and set that out first. Then came the juicy turkey breast, which I then sprinkled with the seasoned salt mix. I decided the dish needed something fresh to liven it up and added a handfull of fresh  watercress.

And there you have it- a strange little mix but a wonderful combination of tastes and flavors! I hope you all enjoy... Bon apetit!

Tarte du Soleil

Tatin di Albicocche & Kiwi con Mandorle Zucchero Profumato
Apricot and Kiwi Tart Tatin with Toasted Almonds and Perfumed Sugar

Another therapy session for me this recipe... a cure for a cold and rainy July Morning. With a sky so gray, my only chance was to make myself a bite or two of Summer for myself today. And what could look more sunny and appealing than this for breakfast? Forget those Danish pastries, today we are speaking French and the only words we need are "Tarte Tatin"!

A Tart Tatin is an incredibly simple affair and I have already one or two of them in my repertoire on this blog... so I won't bore you with repeating the procedure of putting the pie together in a pan, "upside down", placing the pastry on top, baking it in the oven and then turning it out- haha! You KNOW that is all there is to it! But what you don't know yet, is the mix for the perfumed sugar I created for this. But you DO want to find out now, don't you?

To make the perfumed sugar, I decided to pay a little hommage to the country of the Tart Tatin's birth and use some typically French aromas. So I took lavender and anise and ground them, along with a little vanilla powder, into some regular white sugar. I gave it a little extra "zing" by grating a hint of grapefruit zest in to the mix. Basically because I just love the French word for grapefruit- "pampelmousse". And to try a slightly more subtle and alternative flavor to lemon. I didn't use "fresh" vanilla, as I didn't want to end up with a paste- which would have happened making this small amount. But I have placed a vanilla pod into a jar of sugar now to perfume it and will use that as my base next time around. Because the resulting combination of flavors was simply delightful... seriously! Light and floral, fresh and reminiscent of a fresh breeze in the Provence whilst sipping a glass of ice cold Pastis... now isn't that poetic? Ha!

So that was my sunny little breakfast tarte this morning, and all I can say is "Bonjour tout le monde ét bon apetit!"

Friday, 22 July 2011

Foglie di Cavolo Rapa con Ripieno di Maiale su Crema di Fagioli e Basilico
Kohlrabi Leaf Rollade with Savory Pork Filling on a Bean and Basil Purée

You are bound to have gathered by now that I am Sicilian and being Sicilian I am loathe to let anything go to waste. Almost anything can be revamped and reloaded to become something wonderful and new- it just takes a little imagination, which is the most important ingredient in any of my recipes anyway!

So in this dish I made use of both the leftover kohlrabi leaves from last night and the beans from the night before... and who knew that the result would be so amazing? Even if I DO say so myself...

let me start off by telling you the little trick I came up with for preparing the leaves for wrapping. I hate it when they tell you to cut out the tough stalks - and of course they do need to be removed so that the leaf cooks evenly and so that it will be soft enough to roll. Or do they? I think not. Rather than cut them out, I crushed the stalks by rolling over them with a bottle (I didn't have a rolling pin handy!)- Simple. Just break down the structure of the stalk and you will find you can use your full leaf and it will all be as tender, without you having to have the thing fall apart. Pretty neat, eh?

The leaves need boiling for maybe 5 minutes. I lightly salted the water, but being as the leaves ARE a little on the bitter side, you may want to add a pinch of sugar too when you make yours. I am Sicilian so I didn't- lol! We like our bitter stuff!

Also, I find it a little exaggerated when you are always told that you need to drop your food into ice water to stop the cooking process- I have found that regular, cold tap water is more than adequate. So that is tip number 2... it just makes life a little easier in the kitchen...

So now that our leaves are ready, we can whip together our filling. This is going to take you all of 5 minutes, so I am sorry if it looks more complicated and you are disappointed! The filling is made of ground pork, finely chopped spring onion, rosemary, parsley and mint, finely chopped sun-dried tomato and black olives and some grated salted ricotta cheese. That's it- pop it all into a bowl and stir it together- add salt and pepper to taste and you are ready to go!

To shape the rolls, lay the leaves out onto a sheet of cling-film. Now, shape your ground meat into the form you want and fold the leaves up at the sides. Next, start rolling nice and tightly away from you, wrapping the leaves in the cling film as you go. As soon as you have formed your roll, start twisting the ends nice and tight to bring everything into shape... it is very easy actually- a bit like making Christmas crackers! I like to wrap them into a second layer of film, just to make sure that no water gets in during cooking- but even more, so that no juices escape!

Bring some water to the boil, drop down to a gentle simmer and float your roll in there for 10-15 minutes, flipping it over occasionally so that it cooks evenly.

And of course 10-15 minutes is more than enough time to prepare our easy and delicious purée of beans. Drain off the liquids from the can and warm the beans in a small saucepan, along with a clove of garlic, salt, pepper and nutmeg. As soon as everything is piping hot, add a generous, good handful of basil leaves, a couple of tablespoons of grated salted ricotta cheese, grate generously with nutmeg, with a little lemon zest and add a little olive oil. Use an immersion mixer if you have one or transfer everything to a blender... give it a good whizz and you are ready to serve!

I added sun-dried tomato cut into fine strips and a few capers and found this to be a really delicious combination. And if you decide to give this dish a go yourselves... I hope that you do too!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Empire State on a Plate

Torre di Frittata con Patè di Fegatini di Pollo & Bastoncini di Cavolo Rapa Fritti
Pancake Tower with Chicken Liver Paté and Kohlrabi Fries

This is a very brave blog entry- not only because I have dared to prepare chicken-livers again, which are not at the top of most peoples lists, I know... but also because of the dangerous circumstances of this evenings photo-shoot. I think maybe my neigbor has taken to bee keeping as a hobby or something... otherwise, there I have no way of explaining perilous visit of the angry swarm in my kitchen! Boy am I glad I wasn't using any honey tonight!

The frittata's I kept really simple: egg, flour, milk and a splash of sparkling water which helps to make them a little lighter and fluffier. Season with a little salt, pepper and nutmeg and fry until lightly golden in a dry pan if you are me, or a very lightly oiled pan if you are not. You all know me well enough by now!

The chicken liver paté, which wasn't strictly speaking a paté at all, was easier still. I took chicken livers, the green ends of some spring onions, a little garlic, a squeeze of tomato paste, a little celery salt, a few chili flakes, 9-10 leaves of sage, a teaspoon of mustard and a teaspoon of lemon jam. These went into my blender and got whizzed for 10-15 seconds... that's how fast it goes! I then added a couple of tablespoons of breadcrumbs and whizzed it again, just to get everything blended together nicely. Add the breadcrumbs a little at a time- you just want to add them to make the consistency a little firmer- they soak up any excess fluids from the liver and bind the mix of ingredients nicely. The consistency you are aiming for is a soft and spreadable one- not too dense. I spread the first pancake, laid the second on top and repeated the process, so that I had 3 pancakes in all with 2 layers of liver paté.

Wrap the pancakes in aluminum foil and put them into your frying pan with a little water and cook for 6-7 minutes at a moderate heat, then flip the parcel over and repeat for the other side. The water helps to distribute the heat a little better and to make sure that the liver cooks thoroughly. 

Whilst the pancake is bubbling away, you can prepare the fries. Kohlrabi is something I had never cooked before and indeed today was going to be no exception and I was going to make a salad out of it. But at the last minute, I took the slices I had prepared and cut them into sticks and put them into a hot Teflon pan. Kohlrabi is in principle, nothing more than a large cross between a radish, a beet and something akin to a cabbage or broccoli plant. So I did without any oil at first, as they tend to give off a little liquid of their own, I salted and peppered them, added some cumin seed, lemon pepper and a hint of paprika and fried them at a relatively high heat for 5-6 minutes. After around 2-3 minutes, they will change from pale green to white and after a while they will begin to gain a little color. When they began to turn golden brown, I added a little olive oil, a sprinkle of garlic powder, a tiny pinch of sugar a light dusting of nutmeg and this gave them a nice finish.

I unwrapped the pancake, which was still nice and hot in its little parcel and trimmed it into shape. I thought it would be fun to cut little squares and stack them- but whichever way you decide to serve it- the flavor is wonderful all the same! I served it with a dash of Ajvar and a couple of sage leaves as a garnish. As a finishing touch, I gave the dish a scattering of cress and a few slices of cherry tomato to give a nice fresh accent. And there you have it- possibly the tallest, tiniest stack of savory pancakes in the world! Hope you're not afraid of heights!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Rajah, Over and Out...

Curry di Maiale alle Mandorle
Pork and Almond Curry

Time for something spicy and heart-warming on this cold, wet, July evening here in Frankfurt... it just goes on and on! My previous post, with the Granita, was a pure act of defiance, in the face of the coldest most pathetic Summer in history! But this evening, I just threw in the towel and made myself something to give me some exotic and spicy comfort from a far-off land...

This of course is not a traditional Indian curry, it is MY interpretation of such, but it is created in a very similar fashion. I began by dry toasting my spices in my frying pan, and the spices I used were coriander seeds, a cardamom pod, a little vanilla, a little star anise, pepper and fennel seeds. As soon as they begin to give off a fine, roasted aroma, transfer them to a mortar and pestle and grind them into a paste with a little garlic, ginger, coriander stalks and shallots. Add a good pinch of sugar, a little salt and chili to taste.

Cut the pork into bite-sized strips and the carrots and celery in diagonal slices, and fry them at a relatively high heat in a pat of ghee or clarified butter. As soon as the pork changes color and turns white, add the spice paste, a handful of raisins and the almonds. Sprinkle with coconut flakes and keep stirring, then de glaze the pan with a splash of white wine.

As I said- this is not a traditional Indian dish by any means... but it is delicious and easy and that's already two good things it has going for it!

Next, add a good tablespoon of turmeric, a teaspoon of Madras curry powder, a little water and turn down the heat. At this point you can add a generous amount of finely chopped coriander leaves. Some people do not like the flavor of coriander- in which case, you can simply replace them with chopped parsley.

The meat should be nice and tender by now, so around 5 minutes before you are ready to serve, add a couple of sliced shallots- I think they taste much sweeter cooked this way at the end, they retain a little bite and add a nice bit of savory freshness to the curry.

Now turn the heat down to a low simmer and gently stir in some plain yogurt. Make sure the heat is reduced so that it doesn't curdle. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of almond oil and serve with a plain Basmati rice. And if it is as cold where you are as it is here... add a little extra chili for a little extra heat!

Everybody Freeze!

Granita di Bitterino con Arancia
Bitterino Granita with Orange

Shaved ice and popsicles seem to be making a big comeback this year, especially with people re-discovering Mexican "paleta's" and such likes, which really are wonderful... but I ain't Mexican! The guy with the sombrero and the cooks apron- that wasn't me! I am Sicilian and where I come from, we have Granita in the Summer- a wonderfully tart, traditionally lemon-flavored stirred-ice, or an equally refreshing mint variation. Sold as scoops in a cup or a cone, this is a light and refreshing treat on a sweltering Sicilian afternoon... served in a sweet, soft brioche from a street vendor at the sea side, it is almost sublime! Licking sticky sugared drips of lemon juice from your forearms has never been so much fun!

Of course it would not be worth me writing up how to make Granita, as there are a million and one people out there that have already done so and done a much better job than I would! At the same time, the method is simple in the extreme. So let me tell you about how I went about making a stirred, frozen Bitterino version and the troubles I had on the way...

I thought it was going to be a simple affair this one- and it was... and it wasn't! Basically, all you need to do it to pour the Bitterino (or whatever liquid you choose to freeze) into a container and to put it into the freezer. After an hour or so, when the first ice crystals are beginning to form, stir it with a fork and return it. Do this again an hour later. And so on and so forth, until you have a fine-structured mass of powdery, "snowy" ice crystals that you can scoop out and serve. What could be easier than that? Well... choosing a liquid that FREEZES for a start! This stuff took 3 whole days to turn into the flaky red snow you can see in the photos... ugh! But it was worth it- fear not!

I love the bitter, Campari- like flavor of Bitterino and it makes for a pleasant refresher that is not cloyingly sweet. I paired mine with orange segments and decorated it with a couple of mint leaves. I would recommend sugaring the orange segments lightly, as they will otherwise taste too bitter in combination and a little extra sweetness to the oranges is a good thing. A cool thing happens with the orange slices too... as the ice begins to melt, the orange begins to freeze, which is kind of fun! And in any case, it is a easy, do it yourself affair... just make sure you have 2-3 days time to spare and a good stirring arm!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Continental Cowboy

Braciola alla Griglia con una Glassa di Miele & Fagioli Mediterranea
Grilled Pork with a Honey Glaze & Mediterranean Bean Salad

I am pretty sure that Buffalo Bill wouldn't be expecting a dish like this if you told him you had fixed pork and beans for supper... but this is what I fixed for mine this evening!  I didn't get home from work until late, but still got this whipped together in next to no time and managed, with the last of the evenings sunshine, to get a couple of good shots of it too.
The pork was a lean, boneless chop, that I cut into 3 smaller pieces. I marinated it in apple juice, olive oil, crushed garlic, Tabasco and a little salt for 5-10 minutes and the dropped it onto a very hot grill pan and ran for cover!

Pork loves to dry-up on you, so a quick blast at a high heat is a good way to go. I know people always talk about pork needing to be well-cooked... but seriously, people have been saying that since the days that there were no refrigerators. It is like when people talk about red wine being best served at room temperature. Like the temperature of our rooms nowadays, is anything like the temperatures that people were used to back in the day that those words of wisdom were first used...

I like to leave a little juice in my meat, whatever the cut- but of course it is all a matter of personal preference. After 2-3 minutes on either side, I added a good drizzle of honey and a little of the marinade and let the pork glaze and turn golden brown... 5 minutes of cooking in all is more than enough!

I would love to tell you that the beans were fresh from a local farmers market... but they at least came from a freshly opened can! Just like everybody else, I am often short on time and  do make use of some canned goods occasionally- beans, chick peas, tomatoes... stuff that is simply common sense. To go to the trouble of soaking beans or chick peas for a single serving really doesn't make sense. 

So the bean salad is a mix of shallots, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, capers, lemon zest, and watercress. The dressing is lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt and honey, with a little crushed garlic and a little Tabasco sauce... simple and yummy. Takes less that 5 minutes to make... what's not to love about that? It will taste better if it can soak up those good flavors for an hour or so. But if you are in as much of a hurry as I was this evening, pour yourself a glass of sparkling, chilled cider to go with it and enjoy immediately!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

This Little Piggy Stayed Home

Cotoletta di Maiale con Crosta di Senape e Miele
Pork Cutlet with a Honey- Mustard Crust


Amazingly, the weather remains to be a thorn in our side here in Frankfurt and it has been cold, gray and rainy again all day today. Try as I might, the Summer dishes I make just seem a little... out of place right now! A gray sky calls for a different kind of meal- something more traditional and hearty. But I think I managed to pull together the best of both worlds in this simple dish- light enough for a Summer evening, but satisfying enough for the Fall... sigh!

The flavor explosion that is hidden in that breaded topping will turn a simple, boneless pork cutlet into something much more special. It is easy and quick to make and you can even prepare it in advance... which is always a good thing! The meat itself would be rather bland on its own and would tend to dry out rather quickly. This way, you get a lot of flavor, a juicier result and this is how you do it!

For 2 small cutlets, you will need 1 slice of white bread, finely chopped, half an apple, peeled and finely chopped, 1 small shallot finely chopped, rosemary, chives, parsley, mint and a little blue cheese. Put all of these into a bowl, grate with nutmeg, grind with pepper, add 2 tablespoons of honey and 2 of mustard and stir together thoroughly. You should end up with a nice compact mass which you can pat down firmly onto the pork cutlets. Fry the cutlets in a dry pan for 2-3 minutes on a high heat and then finish off in the oven at a moderate heat. This will take 10-15 minutes... which is enough time to to get our little side dishes ready!

The potatoes are simply sliced thinly, pre- boiled for 2-3 minutes only and then fried in only a tiny amount of butter at a moderate heat. If you have the pan too hot, the potatoes will burn before they even have a chance to cook properly! Pop them in the pan, spread them out and leave them be- it is time that will get them nice and brown and not constant stirring!

The other side I made was a compote of dried plum, shallot, port wine, balsamic vinegar, honey and ginger... mmm! Put the dried plums in the pan first, add honey, a little cinnamon, a pinch of salt and crank up the heat. When it begins to get almost critical, de-glaze with a splash of port and add the sliced shallots. Add a little fresh pepper, some grated ginger and a splash of balsamic vinegar and allow to render down into a nice syrupy sauce... this will taste wonderful with the pork!

Time to dish everything up! The potatoes get a light sprinkle of parsley and a little grated nutmeg before serving and then both the pork and the potatoes get a light, seasoning with a fine sea salt. Mmmm!

This is a simple dish, but the flavor combinations work well and compliment each other... and that is what it's all about! Offer this your friends and I am sure you will be complimented too!

Rock 'n' Roller

Involtini Viatnamese con Ripieno di Insalata e Gamberi
Viatnamese Spring Rolls with a Filling of Fresh Greens and Shrimps

Sometimes I get the craziest ideas... like trying to make Vietnamese spring rolls for example. I managed to make something that looks similar and was delicious... but let me tell you- even though the principle is very simple and they require practically no cooking... these things were not easy to make! In future, I will be crossing my Vietnamese restauranteurs palms with silver and putting my feet up... somethings are better left to the professionals!

The only "cooking" involved, is the "boiling" of the rice noodles and the shrimp- neither of which require actual boiling, because basically, you can put them into a bowl together, pour boiling water over them and forget them until you are ready to assemble the rolls. So that's what I did!
For the rolls, you will need fresh mint and cilantro, some lettuce greens, carrot, cucumber and either some leftover cooked pork or ham. Cut all of these ingredients into strips, making sure that the lettuce, carrots and cucumber are nice and thinly sliced. 

Now prepare the "rice paper" wrappers. Simply drop the sheets of rice paper into water and after 2-3 minutes, they will become soft and elastic. As soon as this happens- start praying things will work out... and let the games begin! Make sure you have everything ready and well in reach as you will need to move pretty quickly!

First of all, drain the water from the glass noodles and shrimp. Spread the soft rice paper wrapper out flat and place on a mix of salad greens, cucumber strips, some of the glass noodles, a couple of shrimp and plenty of mint, cilantro. Set this out around 1/3rd of the way up the sheet. Now, take the end of the sheet nearest to your ingredients and pull it over them, nice and snug, whilst folding over the edges to seal. It is pretty tricky work getting the snug fit! But you will find that the wrapper sticks very easily which makes it very easy to seal. I have to admit, I needed to make 4-5 of them before I got the hand of things though! And even then... they really were not as snug, tight and lusciously packed as the real thing! It was pretty frustrating!

One little "invention" I made in addition, was a tasty "relish" of peach, shallot, chili, mint and turmeric. I chopped all of the ingredients finely and added honey and lime juice. A little fish sauce, a little powdered galangal and a few minutes for all the flavors to combine nicely and you have a simple, fruity and alternative dressing to the usual- although I didn't want to miss out on a nice sweet chili sauce! I added some of the freshly chopped shallots I had left over from the relish, which gave it a subtle crunch and a fresher flavor... easy, quick and delicious!

But still not anything like as wonderful as the real thing! Methinks I will be practicing these for a while before I feel good about them!

I served them with a few leaves of endive and more mint and cilantro... and bowed in respect to my Asian friends for their expertise in the kitchen!