Monday, July 27, 2015

Zucchini, Zucchini, Zucchini, Zucchini and Summer

Zucchini chips, zucchini tian, zucchini fries, zucchini roll ups (with prosciutto and provolone - very nice). Zucchini sliced, shaved and spiraled. 20 cups of zucchini chopped up for breads and cakes - later. Much later. Maybe January. I beg my neighbors to take the zucchini, fill bags of zucchini for family members. And I may just wander to a nearby parking lot and put zucchini in the car of anyone with an open car window.

I like the stuff. But we are now empty nesters and 4 zucchini plants is a wee bit excessive these days. Maybe it's time to grow sunflowers....

But for now - I have zucchini. The above zucchini is pasta is really lovely (of course it is! It has carbs!) I spiraled a yellow squash and a large-but-not-club-like zucchini and mixed it with a little pasta. Dressed it with the quintessential olive oil, pepper and Parmesan and five people were very happy at dinner last night. It's an easy, meatless, summer-light meal. And it uses up one large zucchini!

And that's the recipe - all is done to taste. I've done it with pesto and tomato sauce - but those sauces were a wee bit heavy for the delicate squash. 

And these are good. You don't think you're having a potato - but you lap it up anyway. Cut a medium zucchini into 8 pieces. (Slice in half and quarter each half). Dip in an egg wash (1 egg with a little bit of water - beaten). And then roll in 1/2 cup Panko mixed with 1/2 cup of Parmesan. Bake at 425 F for 20 minutes. Serve with Ranch (husband favorite) or marinara sauce (wife favorite).

It's Midsummer.  And it will be Christmas any day now, right? So I am trying to embrace the heat. After being in Minnesota for .... well... that would be decades .... I am no longer wired for heat. When we hit 75 degrees, I think, "'I'm meting." Something tells me I couldn't retire not Florida...

All my recipes this week have been:
a. easy
b. light
c. easy
d. appropriate for "I'm melting weather."

And that would be this: Grilled Swordfish with Lemon Caper Sauce

It does have those scary carbs (breadcrumbs and Panko) but not much. And it's served with a creamy-lemon-caper sauce that is midsummer happiness. It is from both Ciao Chow Linda (find her version here) and Roz's La Bella Vita Cucina (find her version here).

And because it is Midsummer, it's necessary to stay hydrated. I found this recipe for a Cosmopolitan on Kitchen Riff's blog. Don't let the pinky-frou-frou-Sex-and-the-City-association fool you. It's a serious drink. Citron vodka, Cointreau, fresh lime juice and a touch of the cranberry juice.

It was a happy patio last Friday night. Find the recipe here.

We live two blocks off the lake. We picnic on the lake. And inexplicably - we vacation on other lakes.

And when Renegade Theatre selected A Paper Forest as one of their plays for a new Play Reading Series, we used it as an excuse to spend some time at the "Big Lake" (aka Lake Superior).

And while it was wonderful that both husband and son could join me for the reading, I think the highlight for them was the new craft beer Brewery located in Canal Park - right on the lake.

I will embrace the heat because this is Minnesota and by the end of August, our patio might need a little fire for warmth. Wishing you warmth and cool and zucchini and lakes. Happy Midsummer!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Raspberry Lemon Tart and Things

There was a birthday (and a raspberry lemon tart) - which merits a little discussion - because I don't know how to act my age. In fact - I am confounded by my age when I look in the mirror - wondering who this person - in her sixth decade - is? I was good with 40. Fifty was a breeze - although I colored my hair more often. But this sixty stuff - really has me evaluating. And it's not like I turned sixty yesterday. No - it happened a while ago. Of course - wasn't 1990 a while ago?

And rather than churn out another blog entry - I have thought for months where it is going. I've been very sporadic - because I want to veer in another direction (mostly Italian, simpler than ever - because at sixty there is a sense of mortality that didn't come with other decades).

And also sporadic because of this:

This is the tenth draft. In my heyday of posting a few times a week, I noticed that I wasn't writing plays. If you're a playwright - not writing plays is frowned up. June 30th I did finished my 10th draft of And the Universe Didn't Blink (now titled Bound by Stardust). It's been a bridesmaid in every contest it's been entered in - but never the bride and so I begin again. And if you know of a theatre that would like a peak at a play that contains physics, magical realism, the Russian explorer Otto Schmidt, grief and how to hang a mirror on a star to view the past - please send them my way. 

But you're probably here for the tart. The easy raspberry-lemon tart - because if there's one thing I have succumbed to at age 60 - is ease. I will save the time-consuming, detailed stuff for the plays. I found it here. It really is summery-sweet: easy, light, easy, fruity, easy...

Raspberry Lemon Tart - serves 6-8 depending if people want a credit-card slice or something more meaningful

1 sheet puff pastry - thawed but still cold
1 egg for egg wash (and some flour for rolling)
4 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons of cream (I used milk)
1/3 cup lemon curd (homemade or store bought)
1 pint raspberries (I used more because my backyard raspberries are on steroids)
1/4 cup raspberry jam, warmed (I omitted because I didn't have it)
powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees f.
With a little flour dusting, roll into rectangle (they suggested a 10 x 11 rectangle - mine was taller and leaner - because I wish I was taller and leaner)
Transfer to baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Brush the edges with a little water. Fold over each side to create a "lip" on all the edges. Pierce all over with a fork. Gently brush all with your egg wash (a beaten egg mixed with a tablespoon of water).
Bake for 15-20 minutes (mine was getting brown at 15 minutes).
With the back of a spoon, gently press down any bubbles in the middle that puffed. Cool on wire rack.

(Can be made ahead. When cool, wrap carefully in plastic and refrigerate.)

Take out a medium sized bowl. By hand or with electric beaters, beat cheese with sugar until sugar is incorporated. Beat in the milk or cream. Fold in the lemon curd.

(Can be made ahead. Wrap bowl in plastic and refrigerate.)

Pour lemon curd mixture into the middle of prepared tart. Spread evenly to the edges. Place the berries on top. Brush with warmed jam. Sprinkle powdered sugar over all.

I assembled this one hour before serving. It is best not to assemble this too early. Swap out the raspberries for strawberries or blueberries. Use cream cheese instead of mascarpone. Try a raspberry curd instead of the lemon curd. This is a good recipe for playtime.

Another frustration of being 60 is this weight thing. So we often low-carb it during the week (and we won't discuss how high my weight is compared to last summer... shhh ... I said we won't discuss it) ...

But this is a nifty, low-carb treat that I thought I'd share.

Cucumbers topped with chive cream cheese and smoked salmon. 

And apropos of absolutely nothing because I am not writing a play but having fun with blogging, below is a not-so-still-life of Pino and zucchini. The fur-feline loves zucchini! Who knew?

Have a great week, all! 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Lasagna Roll-Ups

And so it came to pass that Claudia succumbed to the 3200 different versions of lasagna roll-ups on Pinterest. After noting that if I eat one strand of pasta my weight goes up three pounds, I knew that if I was going to give into my recent pasta craving, I wanted it a wee bit lightened up. (So I would gain five pounds instead of ten.) Plus - I loved the ease. All was in place before the family arrived and it goes into the oven just a mere twenty minutes before serving. I am not as young as I was when I started this blog in 2007. In fact some people insist I am almost eight years older. Anything that's easy becomes a close friend of mine.

I combined several recipes and somehow wound up with about seventeen roll-ups instead of twelve.  So depending on how you fill them - this feeds six-eight people. Oh - and I made the filling the night before.

Your favorite lasagna
4 cups of your favorite marinara sauce (you could go with 3 cups - but I have a saucy family)
2 eggs
2-1/2 cups ricotta cheese - drained
2-1/2 cups mixture of of shredded mozzarella, Parmesan (you could add asiago or provolone)
1 package spinach, thawed, drained and "dried"
1/4 teaspoon salt (I omitted - the cheese has enough salt for me)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg (you could up that a little bit)

1. Beat your eggs and ricotta. Add the other cheese and mix well. Add spinach, salt, pepper and nutmeg and mix well. (Can cover or put in fridge over night.)
2. Bring the marinara sauce (that you no doubt prepared ahead of time) to a simmer.
3. Boil noodles according to package directions. Lay them flat. Put about 1/3 cup of cheese mixture on each noodle - spreading it evenly over all. Repeat until noodles and mixture are used up.
4. Pour 1 cup of the marinara sauce into your baking dish.
5. Carefully roll up the lasagna noodles and place them seam side down in the baking dish.
6. Drizzle or dot each roll-up with some additional sauce. Add a little Parmesan if you like on top of each roll-up.
7. Bake in a preheated 375 degree F oven for about 24 minutes. Allow to rest for five minutes and serve.

If you dwell with carnivores, you can certainly pass some meatballs and sausages on the side.

I've been living in this nebulous place called "semi-finalist." My last two adult plays have gotten a lot of attention and then been dropped at the last minute. It means one of two things:
- not right for theatre
- not ready yet

Because I don't give up on my plays (especially when I've worked on them for three years), I opt for the "not ready yet" reason. And keep working away - trying to get it ready.

But my "Italian sister" play had a delightful reading this winter - and I am thinking it will find a home.

Of course there's always the possibility that I would get better work done if I paid more attention to the words and less attention to the decoy on the computer.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Spring Bird's Nest Breads

An amazing thing happened in March. Spring arrived in Minnesota. We haven't seen spring since 2012 and we all thought Spring was tired of fighting the North Wind and had left the Northland for good.  It's the season of baking with cream, milk, eggs, wheat and eggs - all signs of spring and new birth.  May I just say how lovely it is to do so when a blizzard isn't raging? Of course Spring did play an April Fool's joke on us when the temperatures soared to 83 degrees F. (Spring does have a cruel sense of humor, "You want warm, I'll show you warm.") But nobody dared say they were hot.

If you have colored, hard-boiled eggs lying around - this is just the recipe to showcase them. It's a sweet bread - no yeast - no proofing. Mix. Let rest. Braid. Eat. (If you want egg salad instead: hardboiled eggs, chopped green olives, celery, fresh dill and light Hellman's mayo - addicting. When the kids were little, we used to leave some for the Easter Bunny and I would tell the kids the Bunny made egg salad. Specifically, this egg salad.)

But try the bread. It's from Cooking with Nonna and couldn't be easier. She made eight breads out of this and I made six slightly larger ones.

4-1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter - softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup whole milk
egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon of water)
Optional sprinkles which are never optional in my home

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.

In a mixer or by hand in a larger bowl, combine sugar, shortening and sugar. When all is well-mixed, add the eggs - mixing well in between each addition. Add vanilla and milk and mix well. In thirds, add the flour and mix - on low speed. When all is added and mixed and doughy - divide into thirds and wrap in plastic. Let it sit in the fridge overnight. While the dough rests, you can rest!

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking pan or two with parchment paper.  Take out your dough balls open at a time and divide in half. Divide in half again and roll each half between your hand until you have a rope about 7-8 inches long. You now have two ropes. Braid them and then twist them into a circle to form the nest.

Repeat with next half. And go on to the next dough ball until you have 6 birds nests. Brush with egg wash and add the not-required-but-recommended sprinkles. Gently push your hard boiled egg in the center of the nest. Bake for 20-22 minutes until the breads are light golden-brown. Cool. Wrap and save or eat right away.

And for my hand-pie loving son-in-law, I have a few of these (because you can never have too much dessert.) Blueberry hand-pies.

Happy Passover, Happy Easter, Happy Eastover, Buona Pasqua, Happy Spring! I hope i's a sweet one for all of you.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Chicken Francese from Carmine Celebrates

They seemed to be on every corner in Queens - the red-checkered-table-clothed Italian-American restaurant. Chianti bottles with candles and identical menus no matter which restaurant you were in. It was coming home when you stepped into these restaurants.

The pasta was spaghetti and meatballs (not Bolognese, not ragu), lasagna (red sauce only) and manicotti. An ambitious restaurant might have had a cannelloni thrown in there. It wasn't until I was a teenager that an alfredo sauce was offered. The meat offering was limited to veal marsala and chicken cacciatore. The fish was shrimp two ways: scampi or fra diablo. Dessert was tortoni or spumoni (I always had tortoni). And there was pizza.

I loved those places. I loved the comfort it gave my young-self. These Italian red-sauce restaurants were certainly not "authentic" or upscale - we couldn't afford upscale. They were the restaurants developed from a large immigrant population that did not have a food specialty store with ingredients flown in from Italy. The ingredients came from wholesalers that were similar to the local Key Foods or A&P. You recreated recipes - that had never been written down - through memory and available ingredients. The makings of red-sauce was widely available!

I still adore those places - although they are harder to find. Maybe it's genetic - this love of peasant food. Or maybe I just need a visit to my childhood.

In 1990, Artie Cutler opened up Carmine's Restaurant in Manhattan paying homage to those southern-italian flavored restaurants. He wanted fresh, old-school comfort food that he would have at Italian weddings.

In December, St. Martin's Press offered me a copy of Carmine Celebrates for review. I very seldom take any offers anymore - but a red-sauced cookbook? Hard to refuse. Ironically, we are still low-carbing it! But we did manage to blow through Grilled Shrimp with Fennel (yes), Roasted Eggplant Dip (another yes) Scallops and Shrimp Scarpariello (yes again) and the Chicken Francese noted below.

It did not disappoint. For the record, I did not use the 3/4 cup of oil; I simply lined the pan with it and let the chips fall where they may. They fell very nicely, thank-you.


1 cup all-purpose flour (I used a lot less)
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/8 teaspoon cracked pepper
3 extra-large eggs beaten
5 tablespoons fresh, chopped Italian parsley
3/4 cup canola oil
1 pound boneless chicken breasts, cut scallopine (I just pounded them thin)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

It's pretty low-carb (not low-fat), very comforting for a boneless chicken breast meal and delivers lots of bright flavors which I crave during the winter. Bunny rabbit food does not work for me come January. Comfort is essential. Ease is even better. Flavor is necessary.

1. For the chicken: whisk flour, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper in a shallow bowl. In shallow bowl, whisk eggs and 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Heat the canola oil in a large sauté pan until the oil reaches 325 degrees F. (I wait until it sizzles when I throw a drop of water in it).

In batches, dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess. With tongs, dunk the chicken in the egg mixture, let excess drip off and slide into the hot oil. Fry briefly until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels.

2. For the sauce: Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter under medium-high heat. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent. Add the white wine and simmer until it is reduced by half. Add the chicken stock, salt and pepper and cook until the liquid has again been reduced by half.

While simmering, add lemon juice and whisk in the remaining butter. Return the chicken and any juices to the sauce and cook until it is warmed through. Put chicken and sauce on platter, scatter with remaining parsley and serve.

This is excellent with spinach sautéed in olive oil and garlic.

Stay tuned: Another recipe from Carmine Celebrates will be coming your way this week. Any suggestions? The Marinated Beef with Cipollini Onion Sauce? The vegetables? Chocolate Torta? Pasta Quattro Formaggi?

Yes, it's winter. And although we have had a lot less of it than the east coast (hello, Boston - do you need pasta and chocolate?), we do get the odd week of arctic air. And then the cats chill. Or rather - warm. Actually, Pippin and Cioppino-bambino are just pretending to get along.