Monday, September 22, 2008

fettuccine with preserved tuna, capers and olives

Another day, another library book to try out. This time a recipe from Simple Pleasures by Alfred Portale. It's a nice cookbook, to be sure...good photos, simple recipes using good but easy-to-find ingredients. The recipe I chose was fettuccine with preserved tuna, capers and olives. Preserved tuna? as in canned tuna? Heck dinners are always a plus. Hold up! He advises that we use high-quality tuna we've preserved ourselves or the fancy imported from Italy stuff in olive oil. I had recently noticed some of this fancier, more expensive canned tuna at the grocery store. The recipe was the perfect opportunity to see why it cost more than double the good ol' chicken of the sea pantry classic (Is it chicken? Or is it fish?).

Okay, I'm a convert. The fancy-pants olive oil tuna was indeed a step above Charlie Tuna. Moist, good, mild flavor. It will probably be a new staple in the iron stef pantry. Alfred did not say whether or not to drain the olive oil before adding it to the pasta. So I drained some of the oil and left some in.

Though I was intrigued by this recipe and drawn to it, I was worried that all these strong flavors...tuna, anchovies, olives, capers...would be too much...too strong.

In the end, the flavors all worked together. However, it was quite strong and rich. We could only eat a fraction of what we'd normally eat when we eat pasta. Which is not a bad thing...especially for my thighs. We also found, thanks to the abundant amount of leftovers, that this is much better eaten cold the next day, like a pasta salad, I suppose. That said, next time, I would use a pasta like penne or rigatoni, to make this more of a pasta salad. When it comes to pasta dishes, I like to either stab or twirl, not both. For long noodles that require twirling, I prefer a smooth sauce, no chunks. For chunky sauces, I like bite-sized pastas, so I can get everything in one fork jab.

Like I said, these flavors were strong, but they worked! Jack even combined the same ingredients a few nights later, sans pasta, to make a bruschetta topping. Yum! And now the recipe, slightly altered from the book's version...

fettuccine with preserved tuna, capers and olives

1 lb. dried fettuccine
¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 anchovy fillets, rinsed, dried and minced
1 ½ cups canned tomato puree
2 Tablespoons capers
¼ cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
3 cans good quality tuna preserved in olive oil
Salt and pepper
Chopped flat-leaf parsley

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until just al dente…about 7 minutes

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wide, deep pan over medium. Add the garlic and cook until golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Add the anchovies and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in the tomato puree and the capers.

Reserve ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain pasta. Stir the tuna and the olives into the sauce, then gradually stir in the pasta cooking water until the sauce attains a pleasing consistency. Add the hot pasta and toss. Season and toss again. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Mmmm...notice the ceasar salad? Jack used the remainder of the anchovies and made the dressing from scratch! It's the only way to go!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Italian-German Hybrid cupcakes

My friend at work, an awesome chick of Italian lineage, is marrying a fine fella of German descent. We held a surprise wedding shower for them last week, and I volunteered to make cupcakes. It's kind of become my "thing" at work...cupcakes for showers...though I can in no way compare my cupcake skillz to that of THE cupcake Stef...for one I spell my name with a "PH" rather than and "F" as my stage name implies. Second, my cupcakes usually involve a box mix. After all these years, baking still intimidates me. It's something I need to work on, but until then, my cupcakes seem to please.

Now, just because I am lame and my baking crutch is box mix, doesn't mean I can't inject a little bit of interestingness into my little cakeys. In this case, I wanted to pay homage to both of the heritages of the happy couple. Italian? Tiramasu! German? Well...German Chocolate Cake!! (Is German Chocolate Cake really German? Is there a lot of coconut trees in Germany?) The thought of how to combine the two into a harmonious cupcake plagued my mind for weeks. Then, the night before the shower, I just went for it. A hybrid of this Tiramisu cupcake recipe and this German chocolate frosting recipe. Ein klein wenig of this, un piccolo of that, and voila! (hey French, who invited you? Eh, my online translation dictionary phrases are actually accurate anyway...) Italian-German cuppycake babies!!

Chocolate Tiramisu Cupcakes

1 package (18-1/4 ounces) chocolate cake mix
1-1/4 cups water
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons instant coffee crystals
2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 30 standard (2-1/2-inch) muffin pan cups with paper baking cups.

Combine all cupcake ingredients in large bowl; stir until well combined.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling two-thirds full. Bake 20 to 22 minutes or until toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean. Cool completely.

German Chocolate Cake Frosting

1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup white sugar
3 egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup flaked coconut

In a large saucepan combine evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolks, margarine and vanilla. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thick. Meanwhile, toast about half of the coconut and the pecans in a 400 degree oven until they have browned slightly….about 8 minutes. Remove frosting from heat and stir in pecans and coconut. Let cool a bit before spreading onto cupcakes.

Tiramisu frosting

8 ounces cream cheese
1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur

combine cream cheese and 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar in large bowl; beat with electric mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add liqueur; beat until well blended. If frosting is too soft, beat in additional powdered sugar or chill until spreadable. Place into plastic bag and squeeze towards one corner of the bag. snip a tiny hole in that corner of the bag, then pipe the frosting onto the frosted cupcakes in desired designs.

So that was it. Espresso-flavored chocolate cupcakes (tiramisu!) with German chocolate cake frosting (seriously, make this. from scratch. it's amazing. you'll never buy the pre-made stuff in a tub again.) and decorated with "marscapone" (with so much going on already, why bother with the expensive would get lost... I used cream cheese). It's like this couple's future babies in cupcake form! ...Is that weird?

I wish I could have thought of a clever name for these. I am open to suggestions. I am also curious as to how you might have combined Italian and German into cupcake speak up!!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Grilled Fennel & Grilled Salmon...BFFs

Jack: “I feel like grilling…what would you like for dinner?”

Iron Stef: “Can you grill fennel?”

Jack: “We can try…”

So began a tale of two dinners. I wanted grilled fennel. Jack’s challenge was to a) figure out how to grill fennel and b) figure out what else to have with it. He came through with flying colors…

As for grilling the fennel, he simply cut the stems off and cut the bulb in half, trimming the root bottom off just enough so that the leaves all remained together in one unit.

For the main dish he chose salmon. He made a baste for the salmon by melting gobs of butter and adding minced garlic, salt, white pepper, lemon zest, and the chopped up fennel fronds. He also put some of the fennel stalks in to further flavor the butter. All this simmered for about 10 minutes then was taken off the heat to steep while the salmon and fennel bulbs were prepped.

He used the fennel butter to brush on both the fennel and the salmon as they were grilling. And that was about all there was to that dinner. It was lovely. Grilled fennel is amazing. And with grilled salmon? A great match.

Such a great match in fact, that the next night we grilled more fennel and more salmon! This time, however, we decided to make a salad out of them, to eat with crusty warm bread.

Grilled Salmon and Fennel salad

1 frozen pre-portioned skin on salmon half
2 medium bulbs fennel, with stalks and fronds
1 can cannellini beans
Garlic powder
Black pepper
Olive oil
2 lemons
Rice wine vinegar

1. Cut stalks off fennel, reserving the fronds. Cut the bulbs in half so you have 2 fairly flat halves that hold together at the bottom.

2. Coat the fennel with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Do the same with the salmon. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the seasoned salmon.

3. Grill the fennel and the salmon on a pre heated grill, brushing occasionally with olive oil. After everything has been turned once or twice, squeeze the juice of one lemon over everything. Continue cooking until fennel is slightly soft and has dark grill marks, and salmon is cooked through.

4. Let everything cool a bit, before slicing fennel into pretty thin strips, and flaking the salmon off the skin (don’t you dare throw that skin out! Eat it! It’s delicious!!). Place into a bowl together. Add rinsed beans. Dress with olive oil, lemon juice and a bit of vinegar, and season with salt, pepper and white pepper. Toss gently and serve with crusty bread.

Yum yum. A perfect end-of-summer salad. And it made a lot, too! Which is great, because the salad is even better the next day, eaten cold. You may want to have a spare lemon around to freshen it up a little.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Zucchini Bread and Beer-An eventful trip to the grocery store

The other evening at the grocery store they were sampling this Zucchini Spice bread from a Schnucks Cooks recipe. I loved the spiciness of it, and since I had all the ingredients for it at home except for zucchini, I decided to make it that very night. It made for good breakfast the next morning, with some cream cheese spread on top and a cup of coffee. I didn't use walnuts, but I will next time. I think this may be my new favorite zucchini bread.

Zucchini Spice Bread

nonstick cooking spray
2 large eggs
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 medium zucchini (8 ounces),
coarsely shredded (about 2 cups)
1½ cups whole wheat flour
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 9 x 5-inch metal loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

2. In large bowl, with whisk, mix eggs, sugars, oil and vanilla. Stir in zucchini. In medium bowl, stir remaining ingredients until well blended. Stir flour mixture into zucchini mixture and mix just until combined and batter is moist.

3. Pour batter evenly into prepared pan. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool bread in pan on wire rack 10 minutes.

Also at the store that night, they were giving tastes of Ray Hill's pilsner. I went up for my sample, and the guy handing them out was Ray Hill himself! Always a sucker for meeting famous people, I bought a 6 pack and had him sign a bottle. But I'm not a complete sucker, because it was indeed some fine-tasting beer.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

pineapple curry rice with grilled curry chicken

This is all Jack's doing. Inspired by the pineapple fried rice I ordered from Thai Kitchen last week, he put together this pineapple curry rice to go with some grilled chicken thighs. I don't know if this qualifies as "fried rice" anymore, but I know it qualifies as "nummy in mah tummy."

The boneless, skinless chicken thighs were marinated in a blend of curry spices (curry powder, cumin, etc...use your favorite ones), which were toasted in a dry pan, and some vegetable oil, for about an hour or 2.

Meanwhile, jasmine rice was cooked, onions were sliced thin, canned pineapple rings were cut into bite-size pieces, and raisins (golden and normal) were soaked in a bit of water. The onions were sauteed in vegetable oil, then some of the curry spices were added, and the raisins, pineapple and rice. Cook everything together, breaking up any clumps of rice, until everything is hot and the flavors have melded.

Grill the chicken, slap it on the rice, enjoy the last days of summer....