Sunday, October 25, 2009

Italian Cheese Platter and Cats

We had (have) a cat emergency so I have not been visiting blogs. Kirsten's (daughter) little guy (cat) Pippin suddenly (very suddenly) took sick. Such is life. He was diagnosed with FIP - always fatal - but not positive so we are looking stuff up on the internet and I am spending my time cradling him. Meanwhile, in an effort to let life continue, I continued with my work for the Examiner. Work (especially with food) seems life-enhancing, Pip is on meds and better and there is another possibility- so we are playing a "wait and see" game. Hard - because we also have a very sick family member. On the other hand, we also had a 58th grand anniversary party for my husband's mother and father! Life is circuitous.

I had the most delightful interview/tasting sessions with Dexa Franks, the Cheese Specialist from Kowalski's. (A local grocer.) She helped me put together an Italian Cheese Platter with all the condiments. More information on the cheese and the interview can be found here.

Dexa is always all smiles at work. It makes spending money a lot easier!

The asiago with rosemary and olive oil is actually local (Satori is in Wisconsin). It's won many awards and is a good choice for a firm and slightly pungent cheese. I love to pair asiagos with Sicilian olives. It's close to a provolone.

The goat cheese of a choice was "Il Caprino" complete with shaved truffles! Good with a condiment or alone - very mellow and creamy.

Boschetto also has truffles. It is very mild - gentle. It's firm but not hard and also pairs very well with the condiments.

Piave is a hard cheese in the style of Parmiggiano - but not as grainy and suitable for eating alone (or with some pickled vegetables!)

This is sort-of-camembert (I know not Italian!) and sort of taleggio (yes! Italian!) and made in Mankato, MN. It has a wonderful nutty flavor (which pairs well with almonds) and is a good addition because every cheese platter should have a double-creamy cheese.

And of course you need a blue-veined cheese and Columbus's gorgonzola fit the bill. It is very creamy and spreadable and would do well with a marmalade or jam.

Rosemary crackers from La Panzanella was one of her choices for the cracker/bread portion. I would also thinly slice some rosemary olive oil bread and some ciabatta.

Panforte would be the sweet in the platter. I would love this with the taleggio.

And from Japan (mama Mia! I am straying from Italy) is a citrusy marmalade - made from the Yuzu fruit. It is really nice with the Boschetta and Piave - has a sparkly taste of little stars bursting in your mouth.

Scalia makes anchovy fillets with red peppers - a nice salty addition to complement the harder cheeses.

And a balsamic vinegar jelly for the softer cheeses and the goat cheese.
I will be putting this all together Halloween weekend to try out for Thanksgiving. I'll let you know how it goes. Happy Halloween week all!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The sweet simplicity of a baked apple and a sweet award

I am betwixt and between getting ready for my new teen play Betwixt and Betweened to open locally (November 5th) and prepping for auditions for Stuart Little (opens December 11th). My beleaguered director finally had a whole week go by without anyone dropping out from the cast. And the director just learned that the activities director had no idea a play was being rehearsed in the school and did not allot for that. Hi ho the glamorous life indeed.

So I crave - simple. In season, a touch of sweet and warm. Baked apples. The Italians dress them with just a smidgen of honey, nuts and raisins. Italians certainly do know how to make sure their fruit shines! Enjoy!

Core apples. Peel them halfway down (you can peel them all - but I like the peel to cradle the filling. In a small bowl mix (amount vary to your taste) 1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts or pecans), 2-4 oz raisins, 2-4 T honey and 1 t cinnamon. Stir till combined. Fill cavities of apples. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20-30 minutes (till brown). The inside of the apples turns into a sweet-tart autumns applesauce.

The aroma makes working with missing actors and confused activities directors a breeze! Serve warm - with a little cream if you like...

Or alone (my favorite).

I woke up Saturday morning to something else to savor. Sam from My Carolina Kitchen. Her blog is as delicious as she is. While her focus is on food, she covers events, travel and drops enticing tidbits about the lives that she leads. Head over to her kitchen and be prepared to be enchanted.

I know many of you prefer to be "award-free," so if I err - be kind. I never think of these awards as being exclusive. There is no competition or voting and I feel the bloggers share these graces around.

Here are the rules as they were presented to me from Sam:
- Post the Honest Scrap award on your blog. Present this award to seven others whose blogs you find brilliant in content and/or design, or those who have encouraged you.
- Tell those seven people they've been awarded HONEST SCRAP and inform them of these guidelines and ask that they link back to you.
- Share "Ten Honest Things" about yourself.
Since I do not want this to be too much about me: I am a night person who writes better in the morning. I live with a lot of fur! I wish someone would pay me for worrying. Pasta and cannolis=magic. I grew up surrounded by Gresios but the Scottish and Russian/Austrians relatives were pretty amazing, too. There are things that I hoped would happen, never did happen and I am fine with that. There are things I never thought would happen that did happen and I am blessed by that. I am rediscovering poetry. I can watch a bird for hours. I wish I knew then....
I would like to share this with:
Bunny at Bunny's Warm Oven (I just made her delicious chicken)
Rebecca at Chow and Chatter for her flavorful recipes also build a healthy body
Ruth at I Love Flavour, Me! whose tales are as delicious as her food
Velva at Tomatoes on the Vine whose food has a natural grace
Miranda at My Food and Live Encounters who delivers mouth-watering recipes
Natasha at Five Star Foodie for constant inspiration
Janet at Meatless Mama for making me crave my vegetables

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pasta with Shrimp and Vegetables

In case you were wondering ... Yes. That's another snowfall. Granted, it's being washed away by the rain now - but how silly is that picture? Someone needs to tell Mother Nature the date. Or bring her sacrifices - maybe a pasta dinner.
This is one of my favorite pasta dishes. It looks a wee bit intense - but do remember:
- you can prep the vegetables ahead of time and throw all together when you serve
- the shrimp goes in with the pasta
- you can change the vegetables easily
- you can eliminate the shrimp
It makes a splashy presentation and I bet even Mother Nature's snowy fury would subside after she had some of this.

Think of it as a Pasta Primavera - but for all seasons.
Pasta with Shrimp and Vegetables: Serves 6 (or more)
3/4 pound penne pasta
1 lb shrimp (I do like jumbo for this), peeled and deveined
1/2-3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
4 carrots, cut into matchstick pieces
20 green beans French cut (or ... cough expensive haricot verts)
1 jar marinated sun-dried tomatoes (optional - I like the sweet though)
1/2 cup basil pesto
You may prepare the vegetables while the water boils for the pasta or do it ahead of time. Just cook the pasta according to package instructions. Warm a little olive oil and add the characters. Cover and simmer for 8 minutes - until tender. Blanch the green beans - 1 or 2 minutes in boiling water depending on their size. (Sometimes, I actually make the green beans more tender by slicing them in half and taking out the seeds. Sometimes.)
About three minutes before the pasta is done, add the shrimp and cook all together. When pasta is done, drain and add all the vegetables. Toss with the feta cheese and the pesto. Season to taste with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper and serve.
The tangy cheese, garlicky pesto and sweet vegetables make me want to dance the tarantella through the Italian countryside. A nice thought for a snowy October evening.
If so inclined (truly not obligated!): Tuscan-inspired sirloin tip roast

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Columbus Day Dinner in the Snow

It's coming. And it's measurable. I woke up to the above Saturday morning (October 10th!). Bye-bye plants. Bye-bye summer happiness. Adieu. No matter that autumn is my favorite time of year and there is no autumn this year. No matter that I look like Igor as I approach - slouching and dragging my right foot behind me. No matter. I can cope. The pumpkin lights are out. Pumpkins truly look grand in the snow. So, Columbus Day is a snow day - no biggie, right? Surely somewhere in the Italian Alps there is snow. I shall make-believe I'm there. Half my life is composed of make-believe.

And speaking of Italy and the snow, I have gotten so caught up in - blithely cooking whatever suits my fancy that I have forgotten the purpose of my blog - which was to reach into my sometimes tempermental, worry-wart, enthusiastic and dramatic Italian genes and rediscover my heritage.

So I shall begin anew and do just that. I am the Italian food examiner and I devised an easy meal for Columbus Day: Calabrese appetizer, Gresio chicken cutlets, broccoli with toasted bread crumbs, and spaghetti with garlic and oil. Feel free to take a peek - and I am looking for advice. The head of the examiners say, "No humor, nothing personal, not a blog." But to me - everything is personal. My plays (even the silly ones) are personal. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pumpkin lentil salad, Gourmet Magazine and a young entrepreneur

When you are on Day 15 of a sprained ankle, day 15 of a no-good-terrible cold and day 6 of a wrenched back, somehow you seem to read a lot of news. There certainly is an entrepreneurial spirit in the ten year-old English girl who sought to sell her grandmother on e-bay.

I was always told to be good to your kids because they pick your nursing home. Hmmm ... better be extra good to your grand kids also!

And then of course, there is the sad story of Gourmet Magazine. It's offices are being packed up and this lush, posh magazine has it's last issue in November. 68 years of celebrating food in the best possible way - it is a loss to the food world. Some thoughts can be found here:

This 1989 book has seen me through birthday parties, my first attempts at a serious American beef roast with all the trimmings, holidays, appetizers and desserts. It's pages are stained and it remains beloved of my kids - who had many celebratory meals from this book and Gourmet Magazine.

In the midst of shuffling through news, I also managed to cook here and there. We have had wet, cold weather for six days. Something welcoming was needed. Bon Appetit (sorry, Gourmet!) has a recipe for spiced pumpkin-lentil-goat cheese salad in their October 2009 issue.
The link will give you the detailed instructions. I have to say this was a beautiful autumn side dish - and became my husband's lunch the next day. The tangy mellowness of the goat cheese with the sweet squash and "take me as I am" lentils blended in a way that exclaimed, "October is here." I will make this again. I did some changes. First - I bought chopped and already-peeled squash. Yes, I did. Peeling and dicing pumpkins and squash is probably the last thing I want to do on any given day. So I didn't use the pie pumpkin and nobody minded. Because my pieces were smaller than the pumpkin chunks, I also roasted it for only about 30 minutes. I add more cumin. After assembling all, I thought it needed a taste of - something. So I judiciously dripped a little white balsamic over the salad. It added some zing and tang and I will certainly do that again.

Doesn't that just cry harvest moon, All Hallows Eve and autumn leaves? Meanwhile, join me in a glass of bubbly or a bite of artisan bread and your favorite cheese in celebrating Gourmet's remarkable 68 years and mourning it's passing.