Friday, 31 August 2012

United Combi-Nations!

Insalata di Bulgur al Achiote con Avocado, Feta e Pancetta
Achiote Bulgur Salad with Avocado, Feta & Bacon

What do Middle-Eastern Bulgur, Greek Feta cheese and Mexican Achiote paste all have in common? Well, apart from the fact that each are delicious in their own way... not very much at all! Unless of course, some crazy person like me decides to bring them all together onto one plate and helps them to get to know each other...

Together with mild and creamy avocado, smokey and crispy bacon and some assorted herbs and spices, these were indeed perfect ingredients to combine into a delicious Summer salad! Just try it and see- this is how to make it right here...

I started off by boiling the bulgur, about 1 1/2 cupfuls, for 5-6 minutes, along with half a clove of garlic to give it a little aroma without it becoming too overpowering. At that point I added about a tablespoon of achiote paste and a finely sliced Spring onion. I let it simmer for a further minute or two and then turned off the heat, allowing the bulgur to soak up any remaining liquid and to become light and fluffy.

Next, I started to fry the finely diced bacon in a dry non-stick pan, whilst I prepared the other ingredients and whilst the bulgur cooled down. I occasionally stirred it to make sure it crisped-up nicely and evenly, but was easily able to do the rest of the prep work and assembly in the meantime.

The rest of the preparation was very easy! I finely chopped a handful of parsley and added that, I added the juice and zest of 1 lime and added that also- and already the flavors were beginning to get more complex and more delicious! Onwards, ever onwards! Next, came a splash of green Tabasco and a drizzle of olive oil. The next ingredient was about a 4" piece of cucumber from which I removed the seeds and then cut into a relatively fine dice. Once this was all tossed together nicely, I had the base for my salad- Easy!

I cut the avocado into cubes and gently mixed it into the salad and then scattered it with the finely diced and crispy-brown bacon... mmmm! Pretty delicious, but even now not quite enough! So I also crumbled a little Feta cheese on top, scatted it lightly with a few leaves of parsley and added one slice of avocado with a few threads of chili, purely for decorative purposes- but pretty decorative it was at that! A last light sprinkle of ground chili flakes, a last squeeze of lime juice and a drizzle of oil and one of the yummiest salads you will ever know was ready to eat! And you know what? I didn't waste too much time in doing so!

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Your Royal Pieness

Pasticcini Salati di Maiale Trittato, con Salvia e Cipolla
Sage & Onion Pork Pasties

Growing up in England, 2 things I remember well and still love to this day are traditional pork pies and also Cornish pasties. The rich flavor of the meat in an English pork pie is distinctive and special indeed- and handy and fun Cornish pasties are just great, whether you enjoy them hot on your plate with potatoes , vegetables and gravy, or straight from your lunch box as a meal on the go...

I made my pasties this evening using ground pork, a little grated apple, a touch of cinnamon and mustard and a tasty sesame crust... mmmm! Delicious! Take a peek and I will be glad to share how I made them with you- because something this wonderful is just made for sharing!

I started off with the meat filling, which was 150g of ground pork, a finely chopped Spring onion, some chopped parsley, sage, salt and pepper. I seasoned with salt and pepper, added a tablespoonful of Dijon mustard, a pinch of cinnamon and half of as small apple which I peeled and grated.  I mixed everything together well, using a wooden spoon to "beat" all of the ingredients into a smooth paste, until everything sticks nicely together.

I then turned on the oven to 400°F to warm thoroughly and  turned my attention to the pie-crust that was indeed ready to go pizza dough!

I formed the ground meat into 2 hamburger-sized two patties and set them out onto the dough, then laid large thyme leaves on top before folding the pastry over. I pressed it down nicely around the meat and then trimmed the pastry down into 2 equal squares. I sealed off the outside edges using a fork to press the dough together and pricked the surface a number of times to allow excess steam to escape during baking. I sprinkled the 2 pasties generously with sesame seeds and popped them into the hot oven for 15-20 minutes each, with an additional minute under the broiler until the dough was crispy and golden on the outside.

The great thing about these is that they taste delicious hot or cold- which makes them perfect for the Summer especially- but great at any time or any place... some things were simply meant to be! Buon apetito!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Rolling in it!

Rotoli di Tortilla con Spinaci di Amarant, Funghi, Mozzarella e Pancetta
Tortilla Rolls with Amaranth Spinach, Mushrooms, Mozzarella & Bacon

As always, I like to make the best use possible of any left-over produce I may have... nothing makes me sadder than wasting good food! Especially if it is something as nice at the amaranth spinach I bought this weekend or the yummy local mushrooms! No, no, no! Something HAD to be done with them- and that something ended up looking like this!

Using a couple of tortillas and a little imagination, I whipped up this comforting and yummy dish of almost-vegetarian goodness :-) Don't hate me for it! I just couldn't resist throwing the bacon in there! And obviously this dish would work equally well without it. More or less. Haha!

The first thing I did was to blanch the spinach for a minute or so in a little boliling water, then drain it and cool it under the cold top to retain the color. You know my view on using ice cubes. Exactly. Keep things simple... the cold water works just FINE. Wring out any excess water and chop coarsely into more manageable pieces.

Next, I started the bacon frying in a hot non-stick pan, with a little chopped garlic, and once the garlic became translucent, added the mushrooms, which I cut into quarters and then seperated the stems. I seasoned them with salt and pepper and sautéd them for 3-4 minutes until they were nicely brown, the bacon crunchy and the garlic nice and mellow. I then added the spinach and grated everything generously with nutmeg and added a little green Tabasco.

I turned off the heat, got the oven nice and hot at 350°F and got to work on arranging the tortillas in my baking dish. I cut the tortillas into strips of 2-3 ", which I then rolled up and placed standing up in the dish. I then spooned the spinach, mushroom and bacon filling into the rolls evenly. When I was finished with filling, I added some mozzarella cheese on top- but not too much! I didn't want it to become all soggy- obviously the lower part of the tortilla would remain soft and moist and juicy- but I wanted the top to become golden brown and crispy!

A final grating of nutmeg and a sprinkle of crushed black pepper was the finishing touch and after 7-8 minutes baking at 350°F and a further 2-3 under the broiler, dinner was served!

Oh yes, it tasted mighty fine as well as having been so easy, cheap and fun to make! My kind of dinner and I hope maybe yours too some time!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Come, Mr. Tally Man!

Curry di Banane Africane con Pomodorini, Pepe e Basilico
Curried Plantain with Tomatoes, Peppers & Basil

I keep humming Harry Belafonte's banana song ever since I made this delicious plantain curry this evening and thinking of tropical islands in the sun! And all because of a lovely lady with an incredible blog: full of her cool and contemporary take on old, traditional German country-living style. We both decided to see what we could come up with using plantains this evening... this is my creation- but you can also hop on over to her blog to see what she did in the morning!

I have used banana's in the past when making curry sauces, but have not used them as the main component in a dish before. So I wanted to make sure they were spicy and savory enough for it to NOT taste like a dessert gone wrong! And indeed, this tasted like a main course gone incredibly right! Not bad for a first attempt!

I started off by sautéing the strips of red pepper first in a little clarified butter. After 1-2 minutes, I added some grated ginger and garlic and the plantain, which I first halved lengthways and then cut into bite-sized chunks. I then added cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon of turmeric, 1 teaspoon of garam masala, 1 teaspoon of tandoori spice, 1 crushed clove and of course salt and pepper.

After 2-3 minutes of cooking together, when all of the spices had coated each piece of plantain nicely and were beginning to brown, I added a tablespoon of tomato paste and let that blend in for a minute or two before deglazing the frying pan with a little milk. Before I knew it a nice sauce was beginning to form- the plantain naturally thickening it and the milk making it milder and creamier.

At this point I added the halved cherry tomatoes and a good handful of basil... the smell was just intoxicating! Delicious! I added a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper as I wanted to make sure this would be a real curry- and the cool thing is that as spicy as that sounds, the plantain makes for a smooth and delicious flavor rather than a harsh hot taste... which is just terrific!

I added a handful of salted peanuts just as I began to spoon out the rice, so they had a chance to get covered with the sauce and to add a little extra seasoning, to counterpoint the sweetness of the plantain. I then served up the curry and sprinkled it with a few more crunchy nuts as a contrast and garnished with some fresh basil... and then I just sat down and enjoyed!

Thank you Birgit for the idea of cooking with plantain! And thank you all for reading!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Piggy Pizzaz!

Base di Pizza con Cotolettina di Maiale, Ajvar, Pesca e Semi di Finocchio
Pizza Base, Pork Tenderloin, Ajvar, Peach & Fennel Seed

Supper this evening was a simple snack- as you can see ;-) But it was a simply delicious one at that! I came up with this idea in an attempt to just do something DIFFERENT with pork tenderloin- something that would be fun and very informal to eat- and something that would be juicy and full of flavor as opposed to dry and bland tasting as is often the case...

I am pretty sure you can tell from the images that these little beauties were bursting with flavor- spicy, tangy, savory and plain sexy I'd say! This is make your mouth water and lick your fingers stuff here! So turn on that oven and let's get started!

First off, I popped the thin slices of tenderloin into a hot non-stick pan, with no fat (of course) for just 1-2 minutes from either side, until they began to brown nicely. I sprinkled them with a little salt and pepper and set them to one side to cool off a little.

Whilst the meat cooled, I cut the pizza dough roughly to size and formed it into ovals, then set the pork into the center and spread it generously with Ajvar. I also spread a little onto the pizza dough to give it a nice color and and tasty glaze later.

I set the peach slices on top and seasoned with sea salt, coarsely-ground black pepper and a nice sprinkle of fennel seeds... delicious! Into the hot oven it went at the highest setting for 10-15 minutes- with, you guessed it- a light drizzle of honey right at the end!

The pork as SO juicy, benefitting from the short cooking time in the pan and the thick spread of Ajvar in the oven- and the sweet, savory and spicy combination makes this into a really wonderful and satisfying snack!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

A Dinner to Dye For!

Gnocchetti Sardi con Spinaci di Amarant
Sardinian Gnocchi with Amaranth-Spinach

So this was my second dish using the Amaranth spinach and the most fun to date as the lady that sold it to me on the market told me "whatever you cook it with will turn red"... which of course HAD to be tested!

I was originally planning on doing a risotto dish, but opted for the gnocchi instead as I figured they would be good to also eat cold as a pasta salad during these hot Summer days... only of course they were so delicious that I ate them up whilst they were hot anyway!

I kept the method here very basic- pasta dishes are never that much work anyway! I boiled the gnocchi for 8 minutes, according to the instructions on the packaging, and in the meantime, washed and chopped the spinach. I cut the stalks off and chopped those separately- and dropped them into the water along with the gnocchi as they were rather robust and would have needed a little more cooking than the tender leaves.

Whilst the gnocchi were doing their thing, in a frying pan, I sautéed some finely chopped garlic in a splash of olive oil until it was slightly brown, then turned off the heat and added the finely chopped spinach.

When the gnocchi were ready, I drained them, but not too thoroughly and transferred them to the frying pan. I stirred them into the spinach and turned up the heat- and sure enough, as the spinach cooked, it did turn the pasta pink!

I grated it with nutmeg, added a little olive oil and served it up straight away! A nice sprinkle of freshly grated salted ricotta cheese and a couple of decorative spinach leaves did the trick as far as garnishing was concerned... but I was of course more concerned with eating... as it did indeed taste mighty fine!

True Colors!

Insalata di Spinaci di Amarant, Avocado, Cetriolo e Feta
Amaranth Spinach, Avocado, Cucumber & Feta Salad

This beautiful, yet simple salad, is made with avocado, Feta cheese, cucumber and something that I discovered yesterday for the first time at our indoor market here- Amaranth spinach! And isn't it just glorious looking? 

It has a slightly nuttier and stronger flavor than regular spinach, with a very mild, bitter after tone, but is totally delicious- especially in this combination! And you know me by now folks- I am always all for anything different!

I wanted to keep the salad simple, so that each distinct flavor would come through- the rich spinach flavor, the mild avocado and the crispy-fresh spinach.  The Feta cheese added depth to the mix and basically, all I needed was a nice dressing... and I kept that equally simple too!

I mixed a blend of olive oil, honey, orange juice and balsamic vinegar, shook it well in a little bottle until it became a nice emulsion and poured it over the salad. I sprinkled it with some of my seasoned herb salt, with chili flakes, coriander and fennel seeds, rosemary and thyme... and then just simply enjoyed!

Berried Breakfast!

Clafoutis di Avocado, Mirtillo & Menta
Avocado, Blueberry & Mint Clafoutis

At last a sweet breakfast again! Nothing spectacular, nothing complicated, but something good- and just a little bit different. Avocado, mint and blueberries- how does that sound? Not bad for a Sunday morning wake-up call, eh? And just a touch more adventurous and fun than your regular pancakes- although hardly any more work! Which can only be a good thing!

I love avocados- they are so versatile and easy to transform into both sweet and savory dishes, whereby the latter seems to occur much less frequently- which was my main motivation this morning! Its creamy texture makes everything that little bit smoother and more satisfying... and just plain old delicious!

I used 2 eggs and a half of an avocado to make this. That together with a 125g tub of blueberries and a cupful of semolina and a little baking powder was all it took! And this is how I put everything together...

I separated the egg yolks and egg whites of both eggs and first whisked the whites until they were fluffy and firm. I added a pinch of salt for stability and a teaspoon of Stevia for sweetness- you can use sugar if your prefer, but then you would need a little more- probably 2 tablespoons for 2 egg whites.

I then mashed the avocado down a little and added it to the yolks, together with the semolina, baking powder, 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence, 1 tablespoon of baking powder, 2 teaspoons of Stevia and 2 tablespoons of mint syrup. I whisked these together until I had a smooth batter and then stirred it carefully together with the egg whites... simple!

I spooned the pale green fluffy batter into my baking dish and sprinkled it with the blueberries, then popped it into a hot oven, 300°F, for 15 minutes. After that time, I took it out, drizzled it very lightly with honey and popped it back inside, under the broiler, for a minute or two until it became golden brown... delicious!

Fluffy and light, refreshing and nicely balanced between the tangy berries, the fresh mint and the creamy avocado, this was a cool and yummy breakfast treat! Give it a try some time!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Desert Dessert

Fichi d'India, Ricotta Salata, Crescione "Shiso" e un Condimento al "Ras al Hanout"
Cactus Figs, Salted Ricotta, Shiso Cress & Ras Al Hanout Dressing

Cactus figs, or "prickly pears" as they are know, may not be everyones cup of tea- and you may indeed have not ever tried them... unless you are Sicilian that is! These beautiful and prickly fruits come in many colors- pink, yellow and green being the most common, and are well loved on my little southern Italian island. 

The main reasons that people may not like them are pretty easy to understand- they ARE covered in almost invisible, fine thorns and they ARE filled with seeds. If you already get all worked-up abaout eating water melon because of the seeds- these are not for you! You are supposed to eat them, seeds and all- and they are indeed very good for your digestion... but I am not going to go into that matter any further right now!

I decided to make an final course of sorts with these- a cross between a sweet and a cheese course and I have to thank my friend Stephen for the inspiration to combine them with cheese! The combination was great!

Peeling is a little tricky- you MUST be careful how you pick these critters up! Obviously, they are safe to touch in the visibly smooth areas, so take one carefully, lay it on its side first and cut off each end, so that you can then stand it up on your cutting board easily. Now, slice the skin away in sections, revolving the fruit little by little... it really isn't as tricky as you might think.

How to describe the flavor if you have never eaten them? Well, it IS somewhat reminiscent of water melon- juicy and refreshing- but like I said- lots of seeds! The best thing to do is to chew them, obviously, but not excessively so. Enjoy the freshness and the flavor but don't chew everything down as much as you normally might do- just swallow and enjoy!

I arranged the slices and segments of fruit on my serving dish and sprinkled a few, thin slices of salted ricotta around it... not too much as it IS very salty! This is otherwise not really a cheese to nibble on, but in combination with the sweet fruit if works fine. Especially in combination with the spicy dressing!

I made the dressing by blending a little olive oil and lemon juice, then adding a little honey, salt and pepper and some Ras Al Hanout Rouge powder. Maybe a strange combination, but I guess I was thinking of those figs growing on a cactus out in a desert landscape somewhere, and the Arabic part of Sicily's multi-cultural history... who knows?

The only thing that I do know is that the flavors were just fantastic together- especially with a scattering of shiso cress leaves for a bit of peppery freshness! Strange maybe, even weird, but also wonderful! And in any case quite a change from the usual! And I am always all for that! Buon apetito!

Make It Easy!

Cotoletta di Maiale con Funghi
Boneless Pork Cutlets with Mushrooms

You know, sometimes we make things more difficult for ourselves than they need be. A dish like this one really isn't complicated to make- it is quick, easy and just perfect for a Summer's night when you don't want to be stood in front of the stove for hours on end...

So grab yourself a plate and grab yourself a frying pan and in 10 minutes time, you will be tucking-in to a great little meal! If you like the thought of only one pan and one dish to wash... then read on!

I melted a little clarified butter in my frying pan and when it began to sizzle, I held the pork cutlets so that the little edge of fat alone touched the pan, so as to brown them off first. This of course also transferred a lot of good meat flavor to the butter. Next, I set the cutlets down and added a little crushed garlic and browned them off for a minute from each side.

Whilst they were frying, I quickly sliced the mushrooms and finely chopped a Spring onion and they went in next- I pushed the meat aside and let them soak up all of the fat and juices and begin to cook nicely. I sautéed them for 3-4 minutes and then added a splash of cider, a little nutmeg, salt, pepper and some finely chopped chives.

Once the mushrooms were good, I spooned them out onto my serving dish and cranked up the heat on the pork. I added a tiny drizzle of honey and a pinch of cinnamon, flipped the cutlets over so they were well coated and then served them up straight away on top of the mushrooms with a few fresh chives as a garnish... delicious!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Peaches & Herb

Sfogliatini di Pesca e Rosamarino
Peach & Rosemary Pastries

I made these little sweet snacks on the spur of the moment this evening, from the left over puff pastry from last night, a peach, a little rosemary and honey. Couldn't have been easier to make, nor yummier to eat!

I did soak the peach slices in a little Cointreau with a little cinnamon in it before putting these things together, a step you might want to skip if you are fixing these for children... then again maybe not- some peace and quiet might make a welcome change, don't you think? Oh, ok, I will try to remain serious... If you are making family-friendly versions, you can simply leave the alcohol out of the recipe- and pour it into your glass with plenty of ice...

I cut out the pastry using a large cookie-cutter and laid it out on baking paper, then laid 4 slices of peach out in a circular pattern as you can see in the pictures... into something that resembles a rose more or less... let's make them pretty! If you prepare them without alcohol, you can add a light dusting of cinnamon to the peach slices before you add them.

I baked them in a hot oven at 350°F for 15 minutes, then took them out, drizzled them very lightly with honey to give them a nice glaze and returned them for 2-3 minutes under the broiler. Whilst they were becoming a lovely golden brown, I finely chopped some fresh rosemary, which I then scattered over the hot pastries, so that it would stick nicely to the honey coating.

Enjoy hot or cold- either as they are or maybe with some vanilla ice cream or some fresh yogurt for a leaner alternative... Either way, these things are simple to make- and simply great fun!

Putting the "P" in "Egg Plant"

Tagliatelle "Udon" con Piccoli Melanzane Thailandese & Pepe Dolci
Udon Noodles with Bitter Thai Pea Eggplants & Sweet Peppers

If you are not already familiar with these little beauties, you may have trouble accepting the fact that they are indeed eggplants and not fresh peas... because that is about how large they are! Pretty amazing!

I had often seen them in the fridge at the Asian supermarket, and have to admit, thought they must be peppers of some kind- the last thing I thought they could be was eggplants! But there you go- super-miniature versions of their big purple brothers! The surprising thing with these is that they are filled with seeds, making them similar to caper berries to eat and also similarly "bitter" tasting. I would say they are tangy, pungent and slightly peppery with a bitter undertone... in a good way. And this is what I did with them!

After pulling them off their stems and actually feeling them properly, I decided that although small, they would take quite a bit of cooking as they were so hard and firm to the touch. So I opted to boil them for 5-6 minutes in water that I had seasoned with equal parts of sugar and salt- 1 tablespoon of each. I figured the salt would help draw out the bitterness and that maybe the sugar would infuse some sweetness into them... a valiant attempt, but I have to tell you that they were still bitter even after this treatment!

I drained them, rinsed them and set them to one side whilst I brought some more water back up to the boil for the noodles- which were of course next on my list of things to do!

I popped the noodles into the water as soon as it had reached a rolling boil and the eggplants into a hot frying pan with a little Thai "Holy Basil" oil. This is the oil that the basil leaves are preserved in when you buy them in the jar at the asian store. It is seasoned with garlic and chili and is hot, spicy and aromatic! 3 good things yet again! Whilst they were sizzling away, I sliced and added a sweet red pepper, some grated ginger, a little lime juice and a squeeze of honey. Last but not least, came some finely chopped coriander/cilantro and a sliced Spring onion. I stirred these in and turned off the heat... dinner was ready to be served!

I served the vegetables on top of the udon noodles, with a sprinkle of chili flakes and sesame seeds and some fresh coriander leaves as a finishing touch. A good accompaniment would be oyster or soy sauce for a little extra seasoning- and should they prove to be too bitter in taste for you, maybe even some of that sweet Thai chili sauce that goes so well with grilled chicken... but I digress... and I am already thinking of another meal! But that my friends is a story for another time... This time around, dig-in and enjoy!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Quiche me Quick!

Torta Salata die Feta, Pomodorini e Spinaci
Feta Cheese, Cherry- Tomato and Spinach Quiche

Simple and simply delicious, this little quiche was rustled up using, you guessed it, the last few remainders of my fridge! And who knew you could make such a substantial meal out of so little?!?!

You are looking at the results of a half sheet of puff pastry, 1 egg, 1 handful of spinach and one handful of crumbled feta- which really doesn't sound like enough food to satisfy anyone for supper... Oh, but it was! And I was very satisfied indeed!

I started off by quickly blanching the spinach in a little boiling water for 30-40 seconds, then draining and sautéeing it in a little olive oil for 2-3 minutes. I then set it to one side to cool off, but turned on my oven to warm up... cooking is such a strange thing sometimes!

Next, I prepared the other ingredients for the quiche, including cutting of a 2" chunk of feta cheese and crumbling it up, slicing a few (3) cherry tomatoes in half, chopping a Spring onion up finely and grating a clove of garlic with a micro plane.

I cracked the egg into a bowl, added a splash of milk and whisked it together, seasoning with salt, pepper, nutmeg and a little Tabasco, to form a light but flavorful "royale". And wouldn't you know it- that is all of the troublesome prep-work done right there!

Time to put this little baby together! Simply line your baking dish with the puff pastry, pressing it into shape into all the corners and then trimming off any excess with a sharp knife. Arrange the spinach and tomatoes evenly inside and sprinkle the feta cheese into the spaces in-between. Sprinkle the Spring onion on top along with the grated garlic, pour the royale over everything and allow it to seep out and fill the form completely. Sprinkle generously with black pepper, grate with a little more nutmeg, and pop into the oven for 20 minutes at 350°F until deliciously golden brown and fluffy... what a treat! I really enjoyed it- and I hope you do too!