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Easy and Delicious Pandoro “Christmas Tree”

If you follow this blog, you know I’ve posted a recipe for a Pandoro Christmas tree dessert in the past, filled with either a chocolate mousse filling, or a lemon curd/mascarpone filling. You can view it here. They’re as easy as can be, since the cake itself –  a traditional rich, buttery Italian Christmas treat – is purchased. All you have to do is slice it, drizzle it with some liqueur (or a simple syrup), make the fillings, and assemble the cake.

Making the filling is the hardest part. But this year, I’m making it really easy on myself with a filling made from whipped cream and a boxed vanilla pudding mix. That’s right, I’m taking a shortcut, and I have to confess, I think it’s my favorite of all the ones I’ve made in the past. After all the work that’s required for the Lucullan fish feast we enjoy on Christmas Eve, this easily prepared dessert is a much needed way to present a delicious showstopper without too much fuss.

And while we’re talking about Christmas Eve, I was recently contacted by a local newspaper, whose reporter interviewed me for a feature on holiday food traditions. As a former journalist, I’m used to being the one doing the interviewing, but this time the tables were turned and the reporter asked me lots of questions. He wrote a really nice article about my family, that includes my recipe for stuffed squid, and a photo of my dad and husband, that you can read here. But little did I know that my photo would be plastered on the front page – bad hair day, wrinkles and all! Where’s Photoshop when you need it?

Anyway, back to regularly scheduled programming – and the easy Pandoro Christmas tree. Slice the cake into about seven even layers. If you’re serving it right away, dust the cake first with powdered sugar. It’s easiest to sprinkle on the sugar before you layer it and add the filling, so you can roll it on its side and get better coverage. But if you’re holding it to serve it a day or two later, it won’t matter because the sugar will dissolve into the cake.

Make the simple syrup and add the liqueur. I divided the simple syrup solution and in one I added rum. In the other I added Sambuca. I alternated flavors with different layers. If you don’t want to add liqueur, you can just the simple syrup without alcohol. The cake isn’t particularly dry, but I think it really benefits from some moistening, so don’t skip this step.

Make the instant pudding mix by mixing milk with the mix (using less milk than the box calls for, since you’ll be adding whipped cream. You don’t want it so soft that it pours out of the cake layers.) Fold in the whipped cream.

Spread some of the filling on each layer, placing each layer at a different angle from the prior one, so the tips are in different orientations.

Decorate the edges with berries and slice.

You can see, it holds together very well, even after it’s sliced. Naturally, the bottom slices will be larger portions than the top, so you’ll want to split those in half (or maybe not!)

I’m getting hungry for some again. Time to make another one.

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Easy and Delicious Pandoro Tree
 
Author:
Serves: at least 12 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 1 large pandoro cake
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tablespoons sambuca or anisette
  • 2 Tablespoons rum
  • 1 5.1 oz. box instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • berries to decorate
Instructions
  1. Slice the pandora cake horizontally, in six or seven layers.
  2. Make a simple syrup by heating the water and sugar together until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Let the syrup cool, then divide in two and put the sambuca in one half, and the rum in the second half.
  4. Make the box of instant, mixing it with only 2 cups of milk instead of the 3 cups per instructions on the box.
  5. Whip the 1 cup of cream until soft peaks, then fold the whipping cream into the instant pudding.
  6. Drizzle some of the simple syrup on each layer of the cake, following by some of the pudding/whipped cream mixture.
  7. Continue with the rest of the layers, pivoting each slice so that the points are arranged in a star-like fashion.
  8. Finish by sprinkling with powdered sugar, and decorating the tips with berries.
  9. Optional, find a nice star at a craft shop for the very top.

Turkey Roulade

Maybe you’re “turkeyed-out” after the Thanksgiving holiday, but not me. I didn’t have the traditional bird on the big day. Instead, I was tempted by too many other offerings at Commander’s Palace, a landmark restaurant in New Orleans. My husband and I spent a few days in New Orleans during the holiday week, visiting relatives and expanding our waistlines. (Those of you who follow me on Instagram saw photos of lots of the food we ate, plus the wacky hats and costumes people wore at the racetrack on turkey day).  We ate so many delicious meals at so many wonderful restaurants each day, recommended by my husband’s son and wife, who moved there from New York a couple of years ago.

As much as I love dining out, I also missed the smells and tastes of a good old-fashioned turkey dinner. So after returning home, I restocked at the grocery store yesterday and made a scaled-down version of a Thanksgiving meal for the two of us last night. Instead of a full turkey, I bought a boneless turkey breast and stuffed it with a sausage/dried cherry/pecan stuffing. It was a lot easier to prepare than you’d think (and way easier than cooking a whole turkey) and would make a great meal for company around the Christmas holiday too.

Start out by preparing the stuffing. I used a mixture of bread cubes, cooked and crumbled Italian sausage, dried cherries soaked in rum, toasted pecans, eggs, plus some fresh herbs and spices. If you don’t like dried cherries, use whatever dried fruit you like – cranberries, apricots, or figs for instance.) Don’t like pecans? Then use walnuts, pine nuts or hazelnuts instead.

This is the turkey breast I bought. It was about 1 1/2 pounds and when stuffed, could easily serve four people (maybe five, depending on appetites). Make sure you buy a breast with the skin still attached.

Here’s what it looks like when you flip it around. Obviously, it’s too thick to stuff this, so you have to do a little prep work. It’ll take you only five minutes to complete.

Slice the breast parallel to the counter surface, so that the meat opens like a book. It’s still too thick at this point, so use a mallet (first cover the meat with plastic wrap) and pound it flatter.

This is how mine looked after pounding, and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Be mindful that the skin that was on the meat before you started pounding it, will now be on only a small part of the meat after you’ve pounded it. Here you can see it sticking out at the bottom of the meat. So when you start rolling it up, start from the side that doesn’t have the skin.

Spread the filling around the surface and dot with a little bit of butter.

Roll it up, starting with the length of meat that doesn’t have any skin attached to it. You’ll want the skin to end up on the outside, so if you started with rolling up where the skin is, you’ll have the skin inside the meat, which you don’t want. I hope that’s not too confusing.

See, the skin is right where it should be when you flip it over.

Tie it up well with butcher’s string so that it stays together when roasting.

Then season with with salt, pepper, paprika, some thyme and rosemary (the fresh herbs actually burned midway through the roasting, so I’m not sure I’d do that again). Scatter some onions all around, then pour in some white wine (I would have added some chicken broth too, but I didn’t have any). Drizzle some olive oil over the onions and the meat and roast at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers 150 degrees. Actually, when the thermometer reads 140-145 degrees, take it out, since it needs to rest about ten minutes and the temperature will continue to rise a bit when it’s resting.

Remove the twine and slice.

Enjoy! Happy Belated Thanksgiving. Hope you had a wonderful time with family and friends.

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Turkey Roulade
 
Author:
Serves: serves 4-5
 
A boneless turkey breast, rolled and stuffed with sausage, pecans and dried cherries.
Ingredients
  • 1 boneless turkey breast, with skin on (about 1½ pounds)
  • ¼ cup dried cherries
  • rum, to cover the cherries
  • ½ cup toasted pecans
  • 1 link of Italian sausage
  • about ½ cup diced onion
  • ¼ cup diced celery
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 cups bread cubes
  • about 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • salt, pepper
  • fresh sage and parsley, minced
  • 2 onions, cut in large chunks
  • olive oil to drizzle
  • 1 cup white wine, or chicken broth, or a combination of the two
Instructions
  1. Start by soaking the dried cherries in rum.
  2. Melt one tablespoon butter in a sauce pan and add the onions and celery.
  3. Sauté until wilted, then add the sausage and crumble with a spoon.
  4. When sausage is fully cooked, add it and the onions to a bowl.
  5. Drain the cherries from the rum and discard the liquid.
  6. To the bowl with the sausage, onions and celery, add the cherries, the bread cubes, the eggs, the toasted pecans and seasonings.
  7. Melt the remaining butter and add to the bowl and mix well.
  8. Slice the turkey breast open like a "book."
  9. Using a mallet, pound it flatter, using plastic wrap to protect the meat.
  10. Spread the stuffing over the meat , adding a couple of pats of butter.
  11. Roll up the meat, making sure you end up with the skin on the outside.
  12. Tied it with butcher's string to hold everything in place.
  13. Place in a roasting pan and roast at 400 degrees for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a thermometer reads about 140 - 145 degrees.
  14. The temperature will continue to rise for a short while and should reach 150 degrees.
  15. Let the meat rest, covered with aluminum foil, for at least ten minutes.
  16. Slice and serve.
 

 

Eggplant Parmigiana

I’ve been making eggplant parmigiana for decades, and if you’re like me, you’re making it the way most people (and cookbooks) instruct you to do, that is, frying the eggplant after coating the slices separately in flour, beaten eggs and then bread crumbs. The eggplant tastes great when it comes out of the fryer, with its crunchy coating and makes a delicious side dish as is.  But why fry it crispy, only to coat it in layers of tomato sauce and cheese, that will in essence, render the crispy eggplant completely soggy?

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve said “arrivederci” to the three step process of coating eggplant slices for parmigiana in favor of grilling eggplant for this classic casserole instead. You don’t have to  use an outdoor grill – a stovetop grill pan works just fine.

This method of making eggplant parmigiana is easier, and much lighter, and closer to the way it’s served in Italy. I recently made a couple of casseroles of this for a party, and everyone went back for seconds. I don’t think I’ll go back to the triple coating and frying method again – unless it’s to serve them straight out of the fryer as a side dish.

Place some tomato sauce on the bottom of an ovenproof dish (I use a very basic marinara – no meat, and it’s better if it’s a little on the thin, or runny side since it thickens up when it bakes with the eggplant and cheeses). Layer with slices of eggplant, shredded mozzarella and parmigiana cheese. Continue for two or three more layers, depending on how much eggplant, sauce and cheese you have. When you’ve used the last of your eggplant slices, cover them with more tomato sauce and cheese and place in the oven.

Bake at 375 degrees until bubbly hot and browned on top. If needed, crank the oven temperature to 425 degrees for the last five minutes, but keep a close watch on it because it can easily burn,

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Eggplant Parmigiana
 
Author:
Cuisine: Italian
 
Grilling eggplant, instead of breading and frying, leads to a much lighter eggplant parmigiana.
Ingredients
  • Two large eggplant
  • about 1 - 2 cups tomato sauce (on the thin side because it will thicken in the oven)
  • olive oil to coat the eggplant slices
  • salt, pepper
  • seasoned salt
  • dried basil
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Peel the eggplant, but not entirely.
  2. Peel "stripes" in the eggplant, so some peel remains.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over the slices, and season with salt pepper, (herbed salt if you have it) and dried basil.
  4. Use an indoor grill pan to grill the eggplant slices (I don't like using an outdoor grill for this recipe since I don't want a "smoky" flavor).
  5. Remove the eggplant slices when cooked through, and set aside.
  6. Spread some tomato sauce in a casserole and place a layer of eggplant slices over the sauce.
  7. Spread with a layer of the mozzarella cheese, then a layer of the parmesan.
  8. Repeat with more sauce, another layer of the eggplant and cheeses
  9. If you have enough eggplant, make a third layer, even if it's only a partial layer, in order to use up the rest of the eggplant.
  10. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until the cheese is golden.
  11. If the top is still not golden, turn the heat up higher to 425 degrees, but keep a close watch so it doesn't burn.
 

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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