Monday, July 30, 2007

What We Feed Ourselves

This is primarily a food blog with other random thoughts and pictures thrown in. So, I am usually writing about feeding ourselves. Today, I was thinking quite a lot about the art of feeding ourselves, figuratively speaking, as opposed to what food we put in our mouths. I started my day with a jog in beautiful Santa Barbara, California, which must be one of the prettiest spots on earth. I love my walks or runs there because I take in so many beautiful sights and smells and don't take in many disturbing urban sounds (like I have in Los Angeles.) My soul is nourished through these lovely feelings entering my senses. I got in the car to drive back home, still on a "sensual" high. I chose to drive home along the ocean, thereby filling my senses with more - ocean smells, sounds, breezes, mountainsides, beaches, etc... The importance of what we feed ourselves hit me over the head so strongly, despite the fact that I have thought about this before. The contrast become sadly apparent upon emerging from Santa Monica onto the L.A. freeways filled with congestions, pollution, invasive billboards and ugly buildings. Keeping the balance in life is not easy; we must strive to fill our souls via our senses with beautiful things - sounds, smells, tastes, sights and feelings. So, buon appetito to life!

...and here's a little photo to brighten your day:

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Simple Joys

I don't have any children and don't live close to any family, so when I do get the opportunity to be around my extended family, I cherish the moments. This week, my nephew Nicholas is visiting. He just graduated from Northwestern University and is on his way to Santa Rosa to work with Americorp for the year. I have always loved Nicholas, not just because he is family, but because is a very special, sensitive, kind, intelligent person, and has been since he was a little child. I always felt a close bond with him and this time together this week has been beautiful - especially in this moment in time as he is starting an independent life. I count myself fortunate to be a witness to his changes and a part of his life. Intimacy with family and friends is one of the simple joys in life - and one of the most important!

On a purely selfish note, Nicholas loves food, wine, cooking and experiencing different flavors. Having him around to cook with and for has been such fun. I also had an excuse to go sailing, and we couldn't have picked a better day - it was very hot at home, and on the water it was the perfect sailing conditions - great wind.

Sailing with Nicholas day before yesterday:

Friday, July 27, 2007

Zucchini Ripieni/Stuffed Zucchini -or- Pomodori Ripieni/Stuffed Tomatoes

With summer's always abundant zucchini crops, I love to find and create recipes using this versatile vegetable. This is an old-standby, but one that I continually go back to as it is so delicious.

Zucchini Ripieni
serves four as a side dish
2 large zucchini
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Trim the ends from the zucchini and cut in half in lengthwise. Make a "boat" out of the zucchini using a spoon to scoop out the flesh from the middle, leaving about 1/4" thickness and setting aside the zucchini "meat" to use later. Set zucchini in a baking dish. Finely chop the parsley and the zucchini meat. In a small bowl, combine the parsley, garlic, breadcrumbs, olive oil and zucchini meat along with generous grindings of fresh pepper and some salt. Mix well. The mixture should look crumbly but when pinched should stick together. Fill the zucchini boats with the stuffing pressing down the filling so that it stays put. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the zucchini looks done and the filling is golden brown on top.

This is a great side dish, or a main dish as a vegetarian meal. I find it goes well with a hearty red wine.

Another use for this recipe: Pomodori Ripieni or Stuffed Tomatoes
You can use the same stuffing mixture above, minus the zucchini "meat" to stuff tomatoes. Use Roma tomatoes or small round tomatoes. Cut in half and with a knife carefully remove the internal white membrane, leaving the juices in the tomato. Stuff with the mixture and bake the same, until golden brown and the tomatoes looked cooked. Delicious!!!

Buon appetito!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Easy and Yummy Lima Bean Puree

One of my favorite, easy to prepare dishes is this Lima Bean Puree. I keep frozen lima beans on hand so that whenever I need a quick side dish, or appetizer, I can make this. I originally saw a version of this recipe in the Wine Spectator magazine in an article on Alsace. It was suggested that it be accompanied with grilled escarole and served with a crisp, white wine from Alsace. I can attest that both items are an ideal pairing with this puree. I often serve it with grilled radicchio, or in place of potatoes as a side dish. I also transform it into a bruschetta, by grilling or toasting some really good white bread (baguette or ciabatta, for example), brush it with olive oil, spread the puree on top and add a few curls of pecorino romano cheese. Enjoy, and oh, and don't forget the crisp, white wine!
Empty one box/bag of frozen lima beans into a small saucepan and add about 1/3 cup of chickent (or vegetable) broth. Cover and bring to a boil. As soon as it boils, shut off burner and keep covered for another five minutes. Put everything into a blender with a good squeeze of lemon juice, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup good olive oil. If it needs more liquid to blend, add more olive oil. Taste to adjust seasonings. It should be a smooth puree, not chunky. Serve warm or at room temperature. (This makes enough to feed 3-4 people as a side dish and make at least a dozen bruschettas.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

My Favorite Apron - Do You Know Where It Is From?

There is a unique on-line event called "Show Us Your Apron" in which anyone can show everyone their favorite, most unique, ugliest, funniest, most treasured, etc... apron. The host of this event is Ilva at Lucullian Delights - one of my favorite food blogs. Please check her blog out for inspired and refined recipes and photography, as well as a summary of this fun apron event.

Being that I love to cook, I do own many aprons. However, I only wear this apron while baking during the winter holidays. It gets me in the mood for the festivities, because by wearing it, I can see my grandmothers in their aprons baking up a storm.

This apron has a story, but its origins remain a mystery. I bought it at least 20 years ago at a flea market. I always thought of it as Swedish for two reasons. One, I bought it from a vendor who also sold me a Swedish tablecloth, and so I wanted to believe that this, too, was Swedish. Then there is the fact that I am half-Swedish, so in making myself believe that this is Swedish, and while baking Swedish holiday cookies, I feel oh-so Svenska!

Now, however, I am ready for the truth. I want to find out where this apron is from. It is obviously old - possibly 40 or 50 years old. Its stitching and embroidery are of beautiful quality and detail. I love the the way the strings criss-cross on the back:

With the images of deer or reindeer and the styling, I am convinced it must be from a more Nordic country, but instead of Swedish could it be Swiss or Austrian? Finnish? Russian? Help! I am asking all of you out there for help in figuring out its origins. Will you help unravel the mystery of my favortie apron? Please let me know what you think.

Here is another detailed photo. All guesses are welcome!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Be Your Unique Self

"There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost."
~ Martha Graham

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Selling Lemons the Old Fashioned Way

My last post on Linguine with Shrimp got me thinking about lemons. I ran across this picture I took exactly at this time last year in Italy, south of the Amalfi coast on the coast of Basilicata, to be exact. We were staying in a little, tiny dot on the map called Acqua Fredda - an absolutely wonderful location for anyone interested. Besides the fisherman who delivered his daily catch in a little skiff, the lemons were delivered daily in this adorable red Renault (or is it a Citroen?). The vendor was so friendly that when I asked him if I could take a picture, he insisted on loading my arms with his lemons. When I explained that we were actually heading to a hotel in Rome and immediately onward to the U.S., he still insisted saying that they could be eaten like an orange, "just peel them", in our hotel room. What could I say, except "Grazie."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Linguine Con I Gamberi/Linguine with Shrimp

This is one of our favorite pasta dishes, year-round. The ingredients are always readily available. It is somehow delicate and bold all at once, but definitely not heavy. Enjoy with a cool, crisp, delicate white wine like a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Tocai, Gavi, Orvieto, etc. We like to use Linguine Fini. De Cecco makes one if you can find it, otherwise normal linguine is fine.

Serves 2
1/2 lb. linguine or linguine fini
1/3 cup good olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
red pepper flakes
approx. 15 shrimp, peeled and deveined (if you prefer, you can leave the tails on)
2 tsp. lemon zest
juice of 1/2 a lemon (plus some lemon weges for table)
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley

Bring a generously salted pot of water to a boil. In a skillet add olive oil and garlic and slowly cook garlic. After a few minutes add red pepper flakes. When garlic appears cooked, add shrimp and raise heat just a bit. After a few minutes of sauteeing, add lemon zest. Add pasta to the water and cook until al dente. Add lemon juice and most of parsley (reserving a bit for end) to the skillet. Add a dash of salt to taste. Drain pasta and add to skillet. Toss linguine with the shrimp and transfer to a platter. Sprinkle remaining parsley over top. As an added, delicious touch, sprinkle with a very good olive oil, like one from Liguria, that goes well with seafood. Serve with extra lemon wedges on table.

Buon appetito!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Italy Travel Tips - Avoiding Pickpockets

I came across this fantastic on-line article today about how to avoid a pickpocket in Italy. It is written by an expat who has lived in Italy for many years and in many parts of Italy. She is well-traveled and savvy, not to mention a good writer. This piece is detailed and very important to read if you plan on traveling to Italy (or anywhere for that matter!) It is my opinion that there is actually less crime in the European cities then there is in the U.S., however when we are in Europe, we are obviously tourists and therefore a target. I have been with people who have been robbed and have known others. It always happens quickly and usually expertly. So, be aware, vigilant and prepared, so that you can keep your vacation happy and incident-free. Please read:

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Carciofi alla Griglia/Grilled Artichokes

Yes, another summer vegetable recipe! Well, acutally in California we have access to artichokes almost year-round. This is one of my favorite ways to prepare this fun food.

Quarter a large artichoke or halve a small one. With a spoon, clean out the hairy choke, or center. As quickly as possible put them into a small amount of salted, boiling water. (The longer they are exposed to air, the centers become dark.) Cook, covered in simmering water until they are almost done - when the hearts are almost soft. While cooking, light grill. Remove and drain well. Coat lightly all over olive oil and grill on a medium flame until they get a little crispy with grill marks on all sides. I like to serve this a basil aioli for dipping.

For Basil Aioli: (make aioli from scratch and blend in some chopped basil, or you can use the shortcut version for aioli that I often make)

By hand mix some high-quality mayonaisse, with a one pressed garlic clove, a light squeeze of lemon and some high-quality olive oil. Crush some basil leaves with a mortar and pestle and add to the aioli mixture. Blend well with a fork or whisk. Taste to adjust ingredients.

Artichokes and wine make a terrible marriage, although with the grilled flavor and bold aioli, rose' is not a bad match.

Buon appetito!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Pizzette di Melanzane/Eggplant Pizzettas

I love eggplants, and lucky for me, so does my husband as I am always experimenting with different ways to cook this lovely purple vegetable. Last night we made one of our favorite summer dishes - Pizzette di Melanzane - something we invented as a healthy, but tasty, way to satisfy our pizza cravings. We have also made this in the winter, when we can find a good eggplant, and substitute a homemade pizza sauce for the fresh tomatoes.

You will need:

One large, firm eggplant, cut crosswise in round slices about 1/2" thick
2 large or 3 small ripe tomatoes, chopped in small cubes (cherry tomatoes also work nicely!)
About 2 balls of fresh mozzarella, dried well and cut in small cubes
About 10 large basil leaves, chopped
Dried oregano, salt and pepper
Olive oil

Generously salt the eggplant slices and place in a colander to release their water for at least 30 minutes. Wipe the salt off with a paper towel and brush with olive oil. Grill on low to medium heat until there are nice grill marks on each side and they appear to be cooked.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

While the eggplant is grilling, combine the tomatoes, mozzarella and half of the basil in a bowl. Add a few generous shakes of dried oregano, some salt and pepper. Combine with a little olive oil (maybe 1 Tbsp.)

Place grilled eggplant slices on a baking sheet and top each with some of the tomato mixture. Bake for about 10 or 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown on top. Before serving, sprinkle remaining fresh basil on top.

Serves 2 as an entree and 4 as a side dish.

Don't forget the wine! A fruity, young Chianti or Dolcetto would be ideal. Buon appetito!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Broccoli Spigarello Bruschetta

This is a follow up to my post on finding a new green at the farmers' market called Broccoli Spigarello. In short, if you ever seen this green, BUY IT! It was, hands-down, the most tasty and satisfying green I have ever eaten. As I mentioned, it looks like the leaves from a normal Broccoli bunch, but in doing some research I found it is a variety of broccoli that produces many leaves and only tiny amounts of small florets. The bunch I bought had no florets. Everyone seems to recommend using these greens as you would others like in soups or pastas. I must say, the way I prepared them was very yummy, and they are so delicious that they don't need much at all. These greens taste sweet and do not have the bitter flavor that most other greens do. They have a crunch and texture that makes them hearty and satisfying.

Broccoli Spigarello Bruschetta

Remove the stems (they are woody.) Chop the leaves in a chiffonade and rinse well . In a skillet heat some olive oil and slowly carmelize a clove of garlic that has been quartered along with a light sprinkling of pepperoncini (red pepper flakes.) Once the garlic is carmelized, you can throw it away, or leave it depending on how much you like garlic. With these particular greens, I recommended throwing it away; they only need a light touch of garlic. Then add the greens to the skillet with a small amount (1/4 cup) of water and cover with the flame on medium-high. These greens take a while to wilt as they are crunchy. In the meantime, fry some pancetta or good bacon and drain on paper towels. Toast some sliced, good bread, like ciabatta. Once the water has almost evaporated in the skillet, remove the lid and let the rest completely evaporate. Turn off heat as soon as pan becomes dry. Place the greens on the bread. Drizzle with olive oil and top with a slice of pancetta.

"Wine Blogging Wednesday" - Passionate Spain

Michelle, the "wine girl" at hosts a virtual tasting event called "Wine Blog Wednesday" in which she invites everyone to taste and review wines in a certain category and post their opinions on their own blog or via email to her, where she will post it. I couldn't resist jumping into anything with PASSIONATE in the title, nor anything to do with Spain. This one was definitely up my alley. The criteria for this "Passionate Spain" tasting was to find a value wine, preferably for under $10. So, here is my find:

Marques de Caceres Rioja Rose' 2006: (With apologies to Michelle for reviewing a wine from Rioja, but I couldn't on.) My husband and I are rose' crazy. We find them to be one of the most versatile and food-friendly wines to drink. There is nothing quite so refreshing on a warm summer evening and rose's from Spain are among our favorites. In addition, rose' goes so well with Spanish and all Mediterranean foods. This particular rose' can be found in most grocery stores and we buy it at Trader Joe's for the unbelievable price of $5.99. Many wine snobs out there will turn their nose up at "grocery store" brands or wines this inexpensive. To the contrary, we believe, as do many of our friends in the wine business, that there are loads of good to great wines out there for under $10 and many are made in large quantities, and are therefore found in grocery stores. (That is not to say that all wines found in grocery stores are good; they are not.)

Now, onto the wine. It starts with a powerful nose for a rose'; this is not your delicate, South of France rose'. The nose is reminiscent of Pinot Noir with a touch of earth and berries. On the palate it has a complex structure for a rose' with light tannins. It is full of fruit, particularly strawberries, balanced by minerals and a lively acidity, with a hint of white pepper in the long finish. This rose' would marry well with richer foods like a garlicky aioli, paella, sausages, or a grilled steak. Lastly, we have been drinking this wine for many vintages, and while there are variations due to weather, this wine still shows great consistency, year after year. Drink within the first year, or until the next vintage is released! (It is imported by Vineyard Brands if anyone is searching for it.)

I must say that I almost reviewed many of the whites I have been drinking from the Northwest of Spain, specifically the Albarinos from the Rias Baixas DOC in Galicias. These are worth seeking out and most are $15 and under.