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Upside Down Apple Cake

What? Another apple cake recipe, when there seem to be a plethora of them at this time of year? Well yes, because A) Like cheesecake, you can never have enough apple cake recipes and B) This one is an upside-down apple cake, a cake oozing with sticky, buttery and sugary goodness that I can’t get enough of.

If you’ve followed my blog over the years, you know I’ve made upside-down cakes using lots of different fruits, including the classic pineapple, but also pears, figs, blood oranges, plums, cranberries, peaches, and there are still more to try.

This cake would make a nice addition to the traditional pumpkin pie on your Thanksgiving table, too. I made it twice in the last week or so, once with walnuts added (top photo) and the second time without walnuts, (photos below) but with an extra caramel sauce drizzled on top. It doesn’t really need either item, but the caramel sauce helped disguise a crack in the center of the cake after I flipped it too vigorously onto the plate.

And speaking of the plate, isn’t she a beauty? That two-toned blue and beige platter was made by a friend of mine – a gifted potter named Jacalynn McCord. I hadn’t seen her since we graduated from high school eons ago, but we recently reconnected at a reunion and had a blast catching up. Back when Cher was still not allowed to show her naval on TV,  Jackie and I (along with some other classmates) were members of a folk-singing group. We played the world-famous nursing home/bar mitzvah circuit, singing covers of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan songs – and even cut a record! But that was two or three lifetimes ago.

Jackie went on to study art and become a talented potter and runs a business called Lion Paw Pottery. The name derives from her alma mater, Penn State University, whose mascot is the Nittany Lion. Many, but not all, of her designs feature lion paw prints (for those diehard PSU fans) and she’ll custom-make an item too. You can peruse her website here.  I think her platter shows off this cake beautifully, and I’m sure you readers will be seeing it on future posts featuring other foods as well.

Just a word about the cake – It’s delicious at any temperature, but best the day it’s made, and when it’s warm from the oven, it’s irresistible.

Upside Down Apple Cake
 
Author:
 
Ingredients
  • FOR THE APPLES:
  • ¾ cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • pinch kosher salt
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and sliced ½" thick
  • FOR THE CAKE:
  • 1¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup milk
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease with butter and dust with flour an 8" round cake pan. (I used a springform pan, but some of the butter leaked causing spillage in the oven. If you use a springform pan, place it on a cookie sheet with a sheet of aluminum foil, or parchment paper underneath it.)
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat melt brown sugar, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. Cook until slightly thickened, about two minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder cinnamon, salt and nutmeg.
  5. In another large bowl, using a mixer, beat together butter and sugars until softened.
  6. Add eggs one at a time. then add vanilla.
  7. Add half the dry ingredients to wet ingredients, beating until just combined.
  8. Pour in milk and mix until fully incorporated.
  9. Add remaining dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
  10. Pour batter over apples and bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean 1 hour.
  11. Let cool in pan 15 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack and let cool completely before slicing.
 

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Chicken Involtini in Lemon/Wine Sauce

Tired of boring, dried out chicken breasts? Here’s a way to pack some flavor into these bland cuts of meat and keep them moist at the same time. Start out with a couple of skinless, boneless chicken breasts and cut each one in half, then pound them with a meat mallet between sheets of waxed paper, to make them as even as possible.Next, spread some seasoned bread crumb filling on each one, topping with small bits of butter, less than one tablespoon for all four pieces.

Secure with toothpicks and mix the ingredients for the liquid – chicken broth, white wine, lemon juice and spices and herbs.

Season with salt and pepper, and place a small pat of butter on each chicken piece – about one tablespoon divided among the four pieces. Cook for only about ten minutes.

Doesn’t look like much yet. But just wait.

Top it with the reserved bread crumb mixture and place back in the oven for another five minutes, or until the topping is browned.

Reduce the sauce on the stove top if it’s too liquidy, but the bread crumbs do get absorbed and thicken the sauce.

Serve the involtini with some of the sauce and enjoy!

Chicken Involtini
 
Author:
 
Ingredients
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 5 ounces each)
  • ¼ cup fine, dry bread crumbs
  • ⅛ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably the Sicilian or Greek type, dried on the branch, crumbled
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • ⅛ cup fresh lemon juice
  • a sprinkle of crushed hot red pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
Instructions
  1. Cut each chicken breast half in half crosswise to yield two pieces of roughly equal size.
  2. Place a piece of waxed paper over each piece , and pound with a meat pounder or mallet to flatten slightly.
  3. Toss the bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, ½ teaspoon of the oregano and salt, in a bowl until blended.
  4. Sprinkle each chicken breast with salt and pepper to taste, and spread with a bit of the bread crumb mixture, reserving half the crumbs.
  5. Roll each chicken piece, securing them with a toothpick.
  6. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
  7. Arrange the filled chicken breasts in an ovenproof baking dish.
  8. Stir the wine, stock, lemon juice, hot pepper, the remaining olive oil and oregano and some salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl.
  9. Pour into the baking dish. whack the garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife and scatter them along the chicken pieces.
  10. Bake 10 minutes.
  11. Top the chicken with the butter, the remaining bread crumb mixture.
  12. Return to the oven and bake until the bread crumb topping is golden brown, about 5 minutes more or so.
  13. Remove the casserole from the oven, and if it is flameproof, put it over a medium high heat on the range to thicken and reduce the pan juices, adding more parsley.
  14. If the casserole is not flameproof, remove the chicken pieces and keep warm.
  15. Place the liquid in a pot, then reduce over a medium high flame.
  16. Serve the chicken pieces, removing the toothpicks and spreading the sauce around the chicken, in order to keep the topping crunchy.
 

Chocolate Coconut Tart

Whenever I’m in Italy and the mood for gelato strikes (ok, let’s get real – when doesn’t the mood for gelato strike?), I’m likely to get a flavor that’s called “Bounty” –  coconut ice cream punctuated with small chocolate bits. It’s named for the eponymous candy bar available there, but here in the states, there is a similar candy bar called “Mounds.”

A few years ago I ate a slice of cake in Bellagio that had the same flavor profile, and I was determined to duplicate it at home.

I finally got around to it recently, and while I’m not sure it’s exactly the same, it’s really, really good, especially if you’re a dark chocolate and coconut lover, as I am.

I made two of the cakes, one half the size of the original one, since I was serving the larger one to my Italian chit-chat group and wanted a second, small one to serve guests after dinner the following night. A bit of gold leaf on top makes a nice decoration, but so would a simple dollop of whipped cream.

If you’re making just one tart according to the recipe below, the coconut layer will be thicker than in the photos above, since I made 1 1/2 times the amount of the chocolate cake part, but I spread the coconut quantity over the two cakes (the larger and the smaller version.) I hope that makes sense to you. If you’re still confused, send me an email and I’ll try to explain it better.

Just a word of caution – the chocolate ganache will not stay this glossy if you refrigerate the cake. So if you want to serve it with that sheen but want to make the cake ahead of time — just make the cake without the ganache and place it in the refrigerator (still in the springform pan), then a few hours before you want to serve it, remove from the refrigerator and top it with the ganache while in the springform pan. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes for the ganache to solidify, then release the side of the springform pan. Don’t refrigerate it again or you’ll lose the sheen.

Enjoy! It’s almost like eating a chocolate covered, coconut-cream Easter egg.

Chocolate Coconut Tart (Bounty Torta)
 
Author:
Recipe type: dessert
 
A rich, brownie-like cake, with a coconut layer and a topping of chocolate ganache.
Ingredients
  • FOR THE CHOCOLATE CAKE LAYER:
  • ½ cup unsalted butter melted.
  • ¾ cup white sugar.
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten.
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons espresso coffee
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder.
  • ½ cup flour.
  • ¼ teaspoon salt.
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder.
  • FOR THE COCONUT LAYER:
  • 12 oz sweetened condensed milk (I think the can was closer to 14 ounces)
  • 2½ cups unsweetened coconut flakes
  • FOR THE CHOCOLATE GANACHE:
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 4 oz semisweet chocolate
Instructions
  1. FOR THE CHOCOLATE CAKE LAYER:
  2. Mix sugar and melted butter, with a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Pour into a greased 9 inch springform pan and bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.
  3. FOR THE COCONUT LAYER:
  4. Put the coconut in a food processor and shred into small bits.
  5. Add the condensed milk and combine.
  6. When cake is cooled, spread coconut layer on top.
  7. It will be very dense.
  8. FOR THE CHOCOLATE GANACHE:
  9. Heat cream and remove from heat.
  10. Add chocolate.
  11. Let sit for a few minutes then stir to blend.
  12. Pour chocolate over coconut layer a couple of hours before you serve it and leave it out at room temperature in order to keep the chocolate glossy.
  13. You can refrigerate it if you want, but it will lose some of its gloss.
  14. Remove the ring from the springform pan, and serve.
 

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Lemon Sole in Browned Butter

When I feel like having fish for dinner, I never know what I’ll choose until I get to the store and see what looks freshest. On this particular day, the lemon sole at the fish market was particularly appealing – good size filets that were white as snow and looking quite firm and fresh.

Flounder or fluke, caught in the Atlantic Ocean, are also delicious in this recipe, although they’re not as delicate as sole. However, on my first ever deep sea fishing trip recently, I caught a large fluke that also turned out to be the biggest catch on board that day. So I not only hauled in a great meal, but also the cash prize (the pool) for the largest fish caught. I don’t know how much it weighed, but it was big, as you can see from the photo, and we enjoyed two meals from it.

I didn’t get good photos of our meal that night, so when I saw the beautiful lemon sole for sale at the fish market, I knew I wanted to try to capture better photos and write a blog post about this recipe. Incidentally, if you’re puzzled as to what’s the difference between flounder and fluke, click here to decipher it. I’m still confused, but as long as they both taste good, who cares?

If you’re looking for a quick and delicious way to enjoy fish filets, with this recipe, you can be eating diner in ten minutes from start to finish. Start by seasoning the filets with salt and pepper, then dredging them (and shaking off the excess) then sautéing them in some olive oil and butter. Brown on one side, then carefully flip over and do the same on the other side.

Meanwhile, sauté the slivered almonds until they’re a toasty golden brown, and make the brown butter sauce, keeping a close watch on it so it doesn’t burn.

Place the filets on a platter, then pour the sauce onto the fish through a sieve, so you don’t get any of the dark solid bits that settled on the bottom of the saucepan. Scatter the toasted almonds on top, and a little parsley. If you’ve got lemon balm, try it instead of parsley in recipes like this one. It grows like a weed in my garden and comes back each year with a vengeance. I’m forever finding it springing up in beds all over the yard, where I yank it out, but I try to keep a little patch going for culinary use.

And now — for what in the journalism business is called “burying the lede,” here’s the biggest news of the week.. the month… the year! –  the birth of my granddaughter, Aurelia Jean. Welcome to the world, amore.

Lemon Sole in Browned Butter
 
Author:
 
Ingredients
  • 2 pieces of filet of sole, or flounder, or fluke
  • flour for dredging
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ¼ cup slivered almonds
  • FOR THE BROWN BUTTER SAUCE;
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • juice of half a lemon
Instructions
  1. Make the toasted almonds first:
  2. Take the slivered almonds and put them in a saucepan on medium high heat without any butter or oil.
  3. (If you use butter, the solids will turn brown and make the almonds look "dirty."
  4. Toss the almonds in the pan until they are light golden brown. They will burn quickly so don't leave the pan for a second.
  5. Remove the almonds to a clean plate, while you cook the fish and make the brown butter sauce.
  6. Sprinkle the filets with salt and pepper, and dredge them in flour, shaking to remove the excess.
  7. There should be just a light coating of flour.
  8. In a frying pan, melt the butter and add the olive oil.
  9. When they have reached a sizzle, turn up the heat to medium high, and add the filets.
  10. Cook for just 2-3 minutes until the bottom has turned a light golden brown.
  11. Carefully flip and repeat on the other side.
  12. To make the brown butter sauce, place the butter in a saucepan and turn up the heat to medium. Melt the butter and let it continue to sizzle in the pan. Be careful to keep a close watch on it, because it can go from yellow to dark brown in an instant.
  13. When it is a golden brown color, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice.
  14. Pour over the cooked fish, using a strainer to eliminate any dark solid bits.
  15. Sprinkle the almonds over the cooked fish, and some parsley (or lemon balm) and serve.
 

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Meatless Eggplant “Meatballs”

I’ll be the first to admit that I like a sizzling steak, a juicy pork chop, or a well roasted leg of lamb. I also love vegetables, but don’t think I could ever become a vegetarian voluntarily. But every once in a while, I eat a dish – like this one – that could sway me to the other side. Aside from the health benefits of vegetarian diets (discounting the oil these were fried in), I had further reason to make this dish. We had a bumper crop of eggplants in our garden and it’s a recipe I’ve been wanting to try for a long time.

It’s a traditional dish from Calabria, although plenty of other regions have notable eggplant dishes (caponata from Sicily, for example). Calabria, the region my father’s family is from, was historically one of Italy’s economically poorer regions, so housewives had to be creative with meat so scarce.

This particular recipe is adapted from my friend Domenica Marchetti’s book, “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy,” one of the many authoritative books on Italian cooking that she’s authored.

Start by roasting the eggplant whole, in the oven, until it looks shriveled. It took about an hour and a half to achieve this:

Peel off the skin (it comes off very easily using just your fingers), then scoop out the insides and either use a potato masher or knife and chopping board to mince the flesh finely. Don’t put it in the food processor or it will become too mushy.

Add the rest of the ingredients – bread crumbs, pecorino cheese, eggs, and seasonings. Mix it all together with a spoon by hand.

Roll into balls the size of a golf ball. Make them smaller if you like, and they’d be great cocktail munchies.

Roll them in bread crumbs.

Fry in hot oil until browned.

They’re delicious right out of the frying pan, but they also make a wonderful substitute for real meatballs with spaghetti or bucatini. Drop some in your favorite tomato sauce.

And serve over a heaping bowl of pasta.

Eggplant "Meatballs"
 
Author:
Recipe type: main
Cuisine: Italian
 
Ingredients
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • ½ teaspoon slat
  • 3-4 ounces grated pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • breadcrumbs for dredging
  • vegetable oil for frying
Instructions
  1. Prick a large eggplant with the tines of a fork and place the eggplant on a roasting pan.
  2. Set the pan in a preheated 350 degree oven and roast for about one and a half hours, until the skin looks shriveled and the interior is completely cooked through.
  3. Let the eggplant cool, then strip off the skin.
  4. It should peel off easily with your fingers.
  5. Mince the flesh with a large chopping knife, or use a potato masher to mash.
  6. Add all the rest of the ingredients (except the breadcrumbs for dredging and the vegetable oil), and mix everything together.
  7. Roll into balls the size of a golf ball or smaller if you want to serve them as hors d'oevres.
  8. Dredge the balls in the breadcrumbs and fry in sizzling hot oil.
  9. Turn the balls over to brown the other side, then remove and drain on paper towels.
  10. Serve as is, with a sprinking of parmesan or pecorino cheese, OR, transfer the eggplant meatballs to a pot with simmering tomato sauce, and serve over pasta.
 

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Pork Tenderloin with Figs and Olives

Looking for a delicious main course that’ll impress your guests, but is easy enough for an every day meal? Look no further than this pork tenderloin roast, cooked with figs and olives, a recipe inspired by my friend, Marie, whose blog, Proud Italian Cook, always leaves me hungry.

It’s near the end of fig season here in the Northeastern U.S., and if you don’t have your own fig tree, I hope you have FWF (friends with figs). My own fig tree, a new transplant that produced only one edible fig so far this year, was not up to the task, but fortunately I have a few FWFs, including my friend Dorothy, who invited me to help myself.

The recipe calls for some fig preserves, and fortunately, I still had some I made earlier in the year. But you can easily purchase fig preserves from the store.

I stewed them for a few minutes in port wine to soften them a bit. Careful not to cook them too long, or they’ll lose their shape since they cook further in the oven. Port wine and figs are a match made in heaven, but if you haven’t got port, you can use red wine, or even just water if you don’t imbibe at all. Add a cinnamon stick to the liquid for even more flavor.

Make a paste of fig preserves, garlic and some herbs and spread it over the roast. Surround it with the drained figs, scatter around some olives and sections of red onion. The first time I made this, I browned the meat, but much of the paste burned, causing me to scrape it all off. So I eliminated that browning procedure entirely the second time and it was delicious even without taking that step.

Roast it for about 20-30 minutes at 425 degrees, or until a thermometer reaches 145 degrees.

Let it rest for at least 5 – 10 minutes before slicing, then serve some of that luscious fig and port wine liquid on top.

It’s so tender and flavorful you’ll go back for seconds…. and thirds.

Pop over to my Instagram page here to see more of my food and travel adventures.

Pork Tenderloin with Figs and Olives
 
Author:
 
Ingredients
  • 1 pork tenderloin, 1 to 1½ pounds
  • 1 dozen ripe figs, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 large red onion, sectioned in pieces
  • about ½ cup green and black olives
  • MARINADE FOR THE PORK
  • 2 tablespoons fig preserves
  • 2 tablespoons grainy mustard
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon each minced rosemary and thyme
  • salt, pepper
  • POACHING LIQUID FOR FIGS
  • ½ cup port wine and ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup fig preserves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
Instructions
  1. Place the port wine, water, honey, fig preserves and cinnamon stick in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce the heat, add the figs and poach gently for about five minutes to soften and imbue the figs with more flavor.
  3. Mix the marinade ingredients together and smear over the pork in the roasting pan.
  4. Let the pork sit at room temperature with the marinade for about ½ hour.
  5. Fan out the onion sections around the pork, and also scatter the olives and drained figs in the pan.
  6. Spoon a little of the poaching liquid on the roast and place in a 425 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes or until a thermometer reads 145 degrees.
  7. Remove from the oven and cover with aluminum foil and let it rest 5-10 minutes.
  8. If the poaching liquid is not thick enough to your liking, reduce over high heat for a bit.
  9. Slice the roast and ladle some of the poaching liquid on top before serving.
 

 

How to Steam and Pick Blue Crabs, Maryland Style

If you’ve ever been to Maryland, you know that steamed blue crabs are as common there as lobsters in Maine, or crawfish in New Orleans. Crab houses abound, where you sit down to a table covered with brown paper, waiting for the spicy, steaming crabs to be dumped in the center. A few pitchers of beer or iced tea and plenty of napkins are also required for the full experience.

You can also make steamed crabs Maryland-style at home with minimal effort, provided you live along the Western Atlantic seacoast, the only place where you can find blue crabs.

And when you do find them, they’re not inexpensive, especially the larger size, that can cost about $60 a dozen. Still, if you have the opportunity to buy them, give this a try. They’re delicious, and “picking” crabs while quaffing some beers is a fun way to pass a couple of hours with friends.

Only a couple of ingredients (other than the crabs) are necessary – coarse salt and Old Bay seasoning. Mix them together in a bowl. The proportions are up to you – the more seasoning, the spicier the crabs will be.

Using a pair of tongs, (be careful, those claws can really nip you!), place the raw crabs in a steamer basket or colander, sprinkling a generous layer of the coarse salt and Old Bay over the crabs. Continue layering until the steamer basket is full.

Pour a bottle or two of beer at the bottom of a large pot. Some people use water instead of beer, and some add a bit of vinegar to the liquid. My colander rested just right on the lip of the pot, but with the crabs mounted high in the colander, there was no lid deep enough to fit above the crabs. So I improvised and turned another pot upside down over the colander. The crabs should never be immersed in the liquid, or you’ll have soggy crabmeat.

Steam the crabs on high heat for about 20 minutes.

Cover the table with brown paper (I used cut-up brown paper bags) and dump the crabs in the center of the table.

Now comes the tricky part, the “picking.” But when you’ve done it once or twice, it becomes easy. The first time I ate these, decades ago with friends Kathy and Cliff who live in Maryland, my lips got hotter and hotter from all the Old Bay seasoning, until Cliff demonstrated the right way to “pick” crabs, doing some of the work for me, and handing me the choice backfin pieces.

But I have long since learned to pick crabs and you can too.

 Take a butterknife and stick it under the back of the crab as in the photo below. Then holding the crab in one hand and the knife in the other, lift the body of the crab away from the “apron.”

The apron will come off in one piece, but you still have some cleaning to do.

You need to pull off the gills, those feathery things on either side of the body. I also remove the “mustard,” the yellowish-greenish viscera that’s  part of the digestive system. Some people love it, but I find it gross, so I get rid of it too.

Using both hands, snap the body in two. Then pull the claws off if you haven’t already done so.

The best part of the crab is the backfin meat, and if you practice you can take it out in one large piece. Put your finger on the wide part of the crab body and press gently while pushing upward.

The backfin meat should come out in one piece, but it may take a few tries till you get the hang of it.

Keep picking away at the main body, discarding any shells and cartilage, eating along the way. (Some people serve melted butter with these, but that seems unnecessary to me.) When you get to the claws, you’ll need a mallet and a small knife to help pry the meat loose. (Sorry, I forgot to take pictures of cracking the claws.) Just be careful not to bang too hard on the shell or you’ll end up splintering it into the flesh of the crab.

When you’re all done, gather up all the brown paper and throw everything into the garbage can. Hopefully pick up will come in the next day or two or you’ll have all the local cats hovering over your trash can.

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Fig and Almond Crostata

It’s fig season here in the Northeastern U.S., and if you don’t have your own fig, there are plenty of markets selling different varieties of these luscious fruits. I had about a dozen that were ready to eat and decided to make a free-form crostata for dessert, poaching the figs first in port wine, honey and cinnamon. They’re delicious poached in red wine too, but if you have port wine, it’s a perfect match accompaniment to figs.

The figs become a little moister after poaching, which could make the pastry soggy, so I scattered a layer of sliced almonds as a bed for the figs, to act as a barrier and also give more texture and flavor.

Drain the figs from the poaching liquid and place them carefully over the almonds.

Gather the pastry around the edges, pinching to form a border. Brush with beaten egg, or some milk.

After it comes out of the oven, spread some of the reduced glaze over the top.

It’s delicious just as is, but a bit of ice cream always makes things better.

Fig and Almond Crostata
 
 
Ingredients
  • Serves two to four people (easily doubled to serve eight)
  • 10 to 12 figs, cut in half
  • ½ cup Port wine
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds
  • For the Pastry:
  • ½ cup flour
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons ice water, as needed
Instructions
  1. Bring the Port wine, honey, sugar and cinnamon stick to a boil in a saucepan.
  2. Lower the heat and add the figs. Let the figs simmer for about 5-10 minutes, depending on how ripe the figs are.
  3. Don't let them poach so long that they lose shape.
  4. Drain the figs and set aside.
  5. Meanwhile, turn the heat to high and let the Port wine mixture reduce to about half or until about the consistency of honey.
  6. Don't forget the solution will be runnier when it's hot, but thickens when cooled.
  7. Mix the flour, sugar, salt and butter in a food processor, until it resembles coarse sand. Add the ice water until it starts to hold together. Bring it out onto a board and roll into a ball. Flatten the ball, wrap in plastic and put it in the refrigerator for about a half hour to an hour.
  8. Remove from refrigerator and roll over a floured surface to a circle with a circumference of about 10-12 inches.
  9. Scatter the almonds over the center of the dough, leaving a border of about two inches.
  10. Place the poached figs over the almonds, then fold the pastry over the figs, pinching toward the edges to form a border.
  11. Brush the border with either beaten egg, or milk.
  12. Bake at 400 degrees for about 25-30 minutes or until browned.
  13. Remove from oven, and brush the reduced port wine glaze over the figs.
  14. If the glaze is too thick, put it back on the heat for a few minutes, adding a bit of water if necessary.
 

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Seared Scallops and Corn and giveaway winner

I was at a restaurant recently with an out-of-town friend who ordered scallops for dinner. They arrived looking pale, small, and sitting in a pool of insipid liquid, which was almost unforgivable, given how easy it is to get a good sear and add flavor to scallops with some butter and seasonings.

I’d like to invite her back and cook this recipe for her, especially while corn is at its peak and the scallops at our fish market are particularly fresh right now. We’ve had great corn this summer in New Jersey, but we purchased this delicious sweet corn at a farm stand in upstate New York last week, on our way home from the Glimmerglass Music Festival (where we also got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, but that’s another story).

We could have eaten like normal humans and limited ourselves to one ear of corn each, but what the heck – why not cook all four ears of corn. We could always reheat the leftovers, right? (Wrong, we scarfed them all down in one sitting!)

It’s easy enough to slice the kernels from the cob with a sharp knife.

Sauté the peppers, corn and tomatoes in a skillet with some butter and olive oil, along with the seasonings.

Meanwhile, use a large cast iron skillet to sear the scallops. Heat it until it’s screaming hot, then add the oil and butter. By the way, try to find the largest scallops you can. That way, you’ll be able to get a nice sear on the outside without overcooking the inside. Make sure you dry the scallops thoroughly with paper towels to avoid any moisture from oozing out. If your scallops have too much moisture, or if you crowd too many in a pan, you could end up “steaming” them instead of searing them.

Sometimes, the scallops you buy are so filled with moisture, you wonder if the fish sellers injected them with water to make them weigh more. But these scallops, from our local fish market at the Jersey shore, were large, exceedingly fresh, and not at all weighted down with water. They sautéed beautifully in a minimal amount of fat (about 1 tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil). But feel free to add a little more butter if you’re feeling indulgent. There are few things as delicious as browned butter over sautéed scallops.

The whole dish takes less than 30 minutes to put together, from scraping the corn off the cob to presenting it at table. We ate this as a regular weeknight dinner, but it’s certainly company worthy too.

Don’t you agree?

The inside of the scallop is still moist, while the outside is well seared to a buttery goodness.

And now, for the winner of the giveaway in my last post about lobster fra diavolo  and as my way of saying thank you to one of my readers as I celebrate 10 years of blogging, ta da … drum roll please!!!  Sarah Zimmerman, you’re the winner of the $100 Lobstergram gift certificate, selected by a computer driven, random number generator. Look for the gift certificate in your email.

Thanks to all of you who left comments and have been reading Ciao Chow Linda through the years. To see what’s cooking in my kitchen, or what other adventures I’m up to, connect with me on my Instagram page here.

Seared Scallops and Corn
 
 
Ingredients
  • 10 large scallops (or about ¾ pound)
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. butter (or more if you like)
  • salt, pepper
  • 4 ears corn (or two unless you are a glutton like us)
  • ½ green bell pepper, mined
  • about a dozen red and yellow cherry tomatoes, cut in half.
  • fresh chives
  • fresh parsley
Instructions
  1. Strip the corn off the cob using a knife.
  2. Add one tablespoon butter and one tablespoon oil to a skillet and add the minced green pepper.
  3. Saute for a couple of minutes, then add the tomatoes and corn kernels.
  4. Season with salt, pepper and snippets of fresh chives and add another tablespoon of butter if desired.
  5. Cook the corn mixture over low to medium heat for two or three minutes while you sear the scallops.
  6. Make sure you buy the largest scallops you can find to ensure you get a good sear without overcooking the interior.
  7. Dry the scallops on all sides with a paper towel.
  8. Heat a large cast iron skillet until it's really, really hot.
  9. Add one tablespoon of oil and one tablespoon butter to the pan, then add the thoroughly dried scallops.
  10. Do not overcrowd or you risk "steaming" the scallops.
  11. Let them sear on one side for a couple of minutes only.
  12. Then flip and sear on the other side.
  13. When the scallops are almost finished cooking, transfer the corn mixture to a platter.
  14. Remove scallops from skillet and place over the corn.
  15. Pour any butter/oil left in the pan over the scallops.
  16. Decorate with a couple of strands of fresh chives.
 

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Lobster Fra Diavolo, 10 Years of Blogging, and a Giveaway

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get my fill of lobster – whether it’s steamed and dipped in butter, or whether it’s lobster fra diavolo, as in this recipe. Some people claim it’s an Italian American invention, but I’m not so sure, after eating it several times on my recent trip to Italy, including one night in Rome with this version:

And a couple of times in Sardinia, as in this interpretation:

and this one below. In Italy, they’re called astice, the Mediterranean version of North American lobsters. Italy also has aragosta, similar to North American lobsters, but without the large claws.

When we returned back to the states, I was determined to make this dish at home. It’s not at all hard to make, but can be pricey depending on the size of the lobsters. But it’s a great meal for a special occasion and can be partly prepared ahead of time, making it easy for entertaining.

A few weeks before making the lobster fra diavolo, we enjoyed a Fourth of July steamed lobster feast with friends, from which I saved and froze some of the carcasses. The broth you can make from these adds a great depth of flavor to the lobster fra diavolo, but if you don’t want to fuss with it (or don’t have the lobster shells ahead of time), use bottled clam juice. I simmered this broth for a couple of hours before straining through cheesecloth. It made way more than I needed for this recipe, so I froze the rest, to be used for other recipes in the future, such as a lobster or shrimp bisque.

I love the sweetness of cherry tomatoes and there were an abundance of them in our garden, so for the sauce, I roasted a bunch with some olive oil at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, until they split open.

If you don’t want to use fresh cherry tomatoes, or don’t have any, use the canned. The ones packed in Italy are so deliciously sweet, I like to keep a few cans on hand for other recipes too, like my codfish and chickpeas in tomato sauce.

Follow the instructions for the sauce in the recipe below, and simmer for about an hour. You can even do this the day before.

The best way to make this dish is with fresh lobsters. If you don’t have fresh lobsters near where you live, then frozen lobster tails will make a nice substitute. If you do live near a good fish store, your fishmonger can use a knife to quickly dispatch the live lobsters, then clean them and split the tails in two. I also asked him to break off the tails and claws from the main body, and crack the claws so it would be easier to remove the meat once the dish was served. He was more than happy to do it.

When the sauce is cooked, add the lobster pieces. In the time it takes to boil the water for the pasta, the lobster pieces will be cooked. Remove the lobster pieces to a dish and keep covered to stay warm, then add the pasta to the sauce and mix. Place the pasta in a serving bowl and surround with the warm lobster pieces.

Provide plenty of napkins and some way to crack the shells further, if they don’t open enough.

Eating this dish was almost like being back in Italy (almost).

Buon appetito.

And now for the blogiversary and giveaway. Hard to believe that ten years have gone by since I started this blog. I’ve taken a few breaks from blogging now and then when life has thrown me a curve ball, but even then, getting back to blogging has been a catharsis for me. I’ve met so many wonderful people in person because of Ciao Chow Linda, and it has given me a forum to showcase a few things I love doing – traveling, cooking, writing and taking photographs.

In the beginning, my only readers were family, but through the years, so many of you have come aboard the Ciao Chow Linda train and left comments, or sent me emails and I am eternally grateful for your support. I read all of them and they really encourage me to keep doing what I love best.

As a thank you to one of you (I wish I could do this for all of you), I’m offering a giveaway of a $100 gift card to LobsterGram, so you’ll be able to make this lobster fra diavolo or any other recipe you like, using fresh live lobsters sent directly from Maine. All you have to do is leave a comment on the blog telling me what recipe you’d like to see on Ciao Chow Linda (NOT by email), with a way to contact you if you’re chosen (by a computer generated random number). To increase your chances of winning, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest, and say so in the comments.

Good Luck!

 

Lobster Fra Diavolo
 
 
Ingredients
  • To Make The Lobster Broth (This will make a lot and you can freeze what you don't need. Alternatively, you could buy bottled clam juice.):
  • lobster shells from 2 or three lobsters
  • water to cover amply
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 1 or 2 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • a couple of bay leaves
  • salt, pepper
  • To Make the Sauce (This makes more than you'll need for 1 pound of pasta, but you can freeze what you don't use.)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 celery stick, minced
  • 3 cans cherry tomatoes (14 ounce cans) - or an equivalent amount of freshly roasted cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • ½ cup dry white or red wine
  • salt, pepper
  • fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • dried red pepper flakes, to taste
  • ¼ to ½ cup lobster broth
  • 2 1½ pound lobsters
  • 1 pound linguini or spaghetti
Instructions
  1. Buy two fresh lobsters and ask your fish monger to kill them while they are still alive.
  2. If you don't have access to fresh lobster, you can always use frozen (and thawed) lobster tails, but fresh is always best.
  3. Have the fish monger remove and crack the claws, and break off the tail, then cut it in half lengthwise.
  4. You won't need the part with the lungs and there is so little meat in the legs (also impossible to extract), so don't bother with those.
  5. Make the lobster broth by placing the lobster shells, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, salt and pepper in a large pot, covering amply with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for a couple of hours and reduce slightly to let the flavors intensify.
  6. Drain through a cheesecloth, discarding all but the broth.
  7. You will need only a small part of this broth.
  8. Save the rest to make other recipes, including lobster or shrimp bisque.
  9. To Make the Sauce:
  10. Sauté the onion in the olive oil until soft.
  11. Add the garlic, celery and carrots and sauté over low heat until softened.
  12. Add the tomatoes, the puree, the wine and seasonings and let simmer for about an hour.
  13. Remove about 1½ cups - 2 cups of the sauce and set aside.
  14. You may want to add some back to the pot later when you add the pasta, but you should have enough to put some in the freezer later for another recipe.
  15. To the remainder of the sauce in the pan, add the lobster broth.
  16. Simmer for another 20 minutes.
  17. Add the lobster pieces to the sauce and cook with the sauce over low to medium heat, with the lid on.
  18. While the lobster is cooking, cook the pasta in boiling (salted) water until al dente.
  19. When the pasta is nearly cooked, remove the lobsters from the sauce and set aside on a covered dish.
  20. Drain the pasta, and add it to the pot with the sauce.
  21. Swirl the pasta in the sauce, allowing it to absorb all the flavors.
  22. The pasta should have enough sauce to cover, but not be swimming in sauce.
  23. If necessary, add some of the reserved sauce.
  24. Place the pasta in a serving bowl or dish, and place the lobster pieces all around.
  25. Serve at once.