Thursday, August 26, 2010

A trio of bruschetta toppings

ItaIlian cuisine - is it a cuisine? Or is it generations of devising from what is fresh and local? My cooking has greatly simplified over the last few years. A little garlic. Some herbs. Let the main ingredient shine.
When my family went camping (I do not partake anymore - in fact the kids won't let me - I bring rain), I had bruschetta toppings for dinner. A trio of them.

I heated up the smallest amount of olive oil possible. Added a handful of sage and then some garlic slivers. Sauteed for 30 seconds and then added a can of cannelini beans. Done in a minute.

After years of making cherry-tomato bruschetta with olives and then topping it with a large slab of fresh mozzarella, I saw Stacey Snacks bruschetta topping - with the mozzarella combined with the tomatoes. Instant love. I used a pint of cherry and pear tomatoes (thank-you garden and thank-you Sadie (dog) for not eating all the candy-sweet pear tomatoes). Added a handful of basil, a handful of Italian parsley, some minced garlic, a minced shallot, 1/2 cup kalamata olives and the perlini mozzarella. I add oil to taste and a touch of white balsamic. You can salt and pepper. I don't.
I also sauteed 8 ounces of mixed mushrooms, with a handful of cherry tomatoes (can you tell the tomatoes were prolific this year?) in a small amount of olive oil.
I added a little chopped red onion and cooked till soft. It was finished with a splash of white wine. Threw in some thyme and Italian parsley. Sauteed a few more minutes and I was done. I had all the dinner I needed.

Three bruschetta toppings. Messy, herby, fresh and savory. In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning played on the CD. I had a book at hand. My evening was complete.

Toasted some bread and poured the wine.
Meanwhile, after two years of being the butt of many jokes as I quickly snap photos before serving dinner... guess what? My daughter is snapping photos. She is our designated Baking Queen and has started a blog: Life and Dessert Brigade - if you have a minute stop by and wish her well. She will be a senior in college and her goal is to blog two times a month.
Life these days - does what life does. Hectic, deadlines and sudden quiet. Sometimes there's writer's block.


Sometimes the writer's block is cuddly.

Which is the reminder to slow down and smell the roses ... or slow down and listen to the purr.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sweets, Spiders and Cherry-Cream Cheese Stuffed French Toast

Vacations are surprises. The bumper sticker outside the funky cafe where we took refuge from a rainstorm.
"You haven't seen that one, Mom? Duh ... it's all over Facebook." It was a good luck omen for the vacation on the lakes.

Bella Curella Italian Cheese and Deli. The Italian cheese factory on a tiny road to our destination. A vacation surprise.

Surprisingly good. Why am I surprised? It's in the heart of the artisan cheese farms in Wisconsin. I made my first purchases there. When we reached Madeleine Island, Kirsten and Matthew looked in the fridge I stocked and noted, "It's just like home. Olives, Parmesan and Italian meats." And on the counter for them - pizzelles.

And then we wondered what it would be like to live on that corner. And how difficult it would be writing your address on scantron forms.

And then we reached the lakes. It's interesting that I choose to vacation on a lake. Always.

And we went down that long and winding road to surprises. Sometimes we found deer. Sometimes it was a wolf.

Food could be basic fare but always delicious. A hamburger with portobello mushrooms and caramelized onions. "Why don't you make caramelized onions with our burgers?" So now, I guess I shall.

Or the Vietnamese short ribs on an Asian slaw from the Mission Grille.

Kirsten left her "vacation burger box" for crab risotto cakes. What your children order from menus is a sure sign of their growth.

Lakes everywhere. Lake Superior. And Green Bay.

Hot chocolate. 90 degrees out and we all wanted it.

Egg Harbor on Green Bay. Lazy days of lakes.

The largest mocha in the world. From the wondrous, funky Village Cafe. We brought home the mugs. (Our condo mugs held 2 ounces of coffee... we were desperate for a "real" mug.) To get the "children" to admit this was better than Caribou Coffee was another vacation amazement.
More long and winding roads. Wild turkeys everywhere. Except when I got my camera out.

Wild roses on the beach. A sweet amazement.

Hollyhocks reaching to the sky.

The honor system: a true vacation amazement. Plunk down your cash and rent a canoe.

And glide into Lake Superior. A gentle bay for a noteworthy stormy, furious lake.

It was only when we spread out our elegant picnic from Fish Creek Market in the Penninsula State Park that we noticed the huge spider webs strewn from tree to tree. Kirsten ate standing - not trusting the picnic tables. We dubbed these woods the "Spider Woods."

And for you: the best breakfast in America. Or so says the viewers of Good morning America.

Cherry-cream cheese stuffed French Toast at the White Gull Inn in Door County. Not for the faint of heart. With the sweet-tart cherries that Door County is famous for. The cherries are reminiscent of the sour cherries sold in Italy. Complementing the creamy dollops of sweet cream cheese, the dish dances and sings. As does your tongue. As will your thankful palate. Find the recipe here.

And here. I'm pretty sure you can get someone to propose to you if you serve this for brunch.
Lazy days on two lakes. Lighthouses, flowers, beaches, good food, harbors, sunsets. I brought my work but did not work. I came home to surprises... but I did not work.

So I wonder why I vacation on lakes ... because the things is... I live two blocks from White Bear Lake. You'd think I'd want a mountain.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A sweetness writ in remembrance

Before leaving for "the Island," I was on a mission to cook every vegetable that was ripe in my garden. I was a sauteing, frying, mincing, chopping, roasting, grilling machine. I returned to the Quinoa Cake from Chocolate and Zucchini but instead of the mushroom-bacon filling, I went with a tomato-basil-fontina cheese combination. I used half-and-half instead of cream and reduced the eggs. Even the non-tomato eater in my house ate this cake.

Tomato-Basil Quinoa Cake Ingredients (Change amounts according to taste)

1 box quinoa cooked according to package instructions (2 cups)

2-3 cups cherry/grape/pear tomatoes. Some cut in half and others left whole

1/4-1/2 cup slivered basil

1/2-3/4 shredded fontina cheese (Pecorino or Parmesan also works - I added some Parm)

1/4 cup half-and-half

2 eggs

salt and pepper to taste

Tomato-Basil Quinoa Cake Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9- inch springform pan.
2. Combine cooked quinoa, tomatoes, basil and cheese.
3. Whisk eggs, cream and salt and pepper. Add quinoa mxiture into cream mixture. Stir well. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 35 minutes. The top should be browned and if you insert a toothpick, it should come out clean.
4. Let stand for five minutes. Run a knife around the pan and remove the clamps. Slice into wedges and serve.

It's grand for any meal - on the side or even as an entree. Add a salad and call it a day. Which is what I finally did. Called it a day. Packed and headed northeast to the Wisconsin side of Lake Superior.

Madeleine Island in the distance - as seen from Bayfield, WI. It's a big lake.

A very big lake. We waited for the ferry. We read the brochure and in it they gave times for the sunset. Sunset time on the brochure! How sweet. How quaint.

How lovely - watercolor, music and poetry created by nature. From the island that is both a wild and tame wonder, we walked the beach.

- The setting sun and music at the close

- As the last taste of sweets

- is sweet at last.

- Writ in remembrance

- more than things long past. - Shakespeare

And so it is now. Writ in remembrance. But a rembrance shared with my family. All four of us. A wonder. A last taste of sweets. A sunset on Madeleine Island.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Meanwhile, back at the vegetables...

Tomato Tatin - Italian Style

I thought about kissing him when he came out of the oven.

I turned him over and fell in love. But I didn't want to blister my lips ... yet. I've been yearning to make a tomato tatin all year. My plum tomatoes weren't ready and I didn't have enough cherry tomatoes, so I used the medium sized early tomatoes and just went with it. I cored five tomatoes (and saved the juicy pulp for tomato bruschetta topping) and snuggled them into a 9-inch quiche pan. Cut side up. And roasted them.

They were brushed with olive oil and a wee bit of salt, pepper, Italian seasonings and roasted in a 425 degree F oven for 35 minutes. Do brush the bottoms well. The tatin is baked upside down and you want them to invert onto a dinner plate later. After roasting, drain any accumulated juices. You want the tart as dry as possible.
Then the fun began.

I dolloped black olive tapenade and fresh (drained) ricotta in every crevice. If I couldn't find a crevice, I just smeared it on. You can use goat cheese, fresh mozzarella, pesto or any combination that tickles your palate.

And covered it with a sheet of puff pastry. (Thank-you Bon Appetit and Chocolate and Zucchini for that time-saving idea). Baked again in a 425 degree F oven for 30-35 minutes.

And it comes out acceptable. Because I used the juicier rouind tomatoes, I did have some juice to drain. And then - I turned him over. After cooling for a few minutes, I put a dinner plate on top and quickly inverted the tomato tart-tatin.

And threw some slivered basil on top. And fell in love. And then I kissed him.

And then, we sat down to a tomato feast.
I roast tomatoes all summer and throw them on everything. Toss with pasta, cool and combine in salads or just pop them in my mouth like candy.

And then ... I came across Proud Italian Cook's Cod with Roasted Tomatoes. I am very susceptible. And fickle. I fell in love again. Once I saw her photo, I had to make the dish.
And did.

And the thing is - I'm not a cod eater.

I am now. Visit Marie at Proud Italian Cook and be prepared to be seduced. The recipe is here. (Do seek out wild-caught, American-Alaskan cod which is fished responsibly).
Meanwhile, back at the other summer vegetables ... I generally chop up whatever is ready in my garden, slice them and toss them with olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper and a little garlic.
And then cover them with shaved Fontina and Parmigiano-Reggiano (I know - way to make vegetables unhealthy, Claudia). And I did so - but not before seeing Ciao Chow Linda's delectable Summer Vegetable Gratin. She put her soon-to-be-roasted vegetables on a bed of caramelized onion and fennel. Oh my. I had to do it. And did. After blissfully eating the entire plate of vegetables (yes, the cheese helps), the family fought for the remnants of the caramelized fennel. I think I can just caramelize fennel and onion and serve it for dinner. Visit her recipe and be prepared to be seduced by fennel.
Breakfast this morning consisted of tomato-zucchini frittatas. Saute 1 cup of halved cherry tomatoes, 1 cup of small sliced zucchini in a small mixture of olive oil and butter. Mix 6-8 eggs with 1/4 cup milk and a dash of salt and pepper (add some basil or thyme if you like). Stir in the vegetables and bake at 350 degrees F for 30-40 minutes. Makes about 10-12 frittata-muffins.

I can't think of a better way to start a day.
Meanwhile, my garden is on steroids.

The Cherry Tomato Plant is seeking world domination.

But the Zucchini wants a piece of the action. It has spilled onto the grass and is headed towards my home. I hear it quietly crawling through the lawn.
The flowers are more complacent. The Black-Eyed Susans sun themselves under the feathergrass.

The impatiens are as high as an elephant's thigh.

And the fluttering butterfly enjoys all.
Mornings in the garden means anything is possible.

And I close with three brief notes. Journey of an Italian Cook now has a page in Facebook. If it pleases you, become a fan. It's all in fun.
I am off to Madeleine Island and Door County for a respite of hiking, biking, berries, lighthouses and fish boils. We are all looking forward to sunrises and sunsets over the big lakes. I will catch up with all of you in a week. And ...
In the early spring and early summer, I suffered two losses. It coincided with two awards that I never acknowledged. I want to thank Cooking with Rosie and Claudia's Foodessa for thinking of me even when I was being a slug. Cooking with Rosie has an Italian flair to it and I enjoy her breezy, sweet style. Foodessa's blog is a feast for the eyes. Visit and savor.
Megan at Foodulation passed this on to me. Foodulation is Megan's ode to healthy and delicious eating. Passionate and sweet, her blog is from theartland with a lot of heart. Thank-you, Megan!
I am supposed to state 7 things about myself, but if it is all right with you - I shall skip that phase. I already put too much of myself on these pages. But I would like to pass this on to some remarkable blogging friends - old and new.
Pat at Mille Fiori Favoriti: it's not a food blog; it's a valentine to NYC, the country and the world. Travel with Pat and see all things new through her perceptive eyes.
Linda at Ciao Chow Linda: I cook from her blog. Constantly. Weekly. And so will you - it's Italian done right and Italian done beautifully.
Claudia at Foodessa for scrumptious flavors and sheer loveliness.
Marie at Proud Italian Cook - Marie always writes as if she just threw these incredible dishes together. She's an artist. Mostly Italian, fresh, local and inspired. You'll cook from her, too.
Velva at Tomatoes on the Vine - another beautiful blog filled with mouth-watering edibles.
Sam at My Carolina Kitchen - draws inspiration from France, the Caribbean, and North Carolina. You'll add her recipes to your list of favorites.
Claudia from What's Cookin' Italian Style (I know - I seem to bond with people named Claudia these days.) Also Italian, Claudia draws from her rich Italian heritage and figures out how to adapt recipes to suit the busy lifestyle of today. Accessible and flavorful and gracious.
If you are amenable, pass the cheer around - to 7 bloggers. State 7 things about yourself (or don't). And if not inclined, know that I appreciate visiting you. Happy August to all. Until next week, ciao.