Sunday, March 27, 2011

Plum-raspberry salsa over chicken - sort of Italian

It's cold. Colder still because when the heat comes on, Pipadoodle/Pippin lies by the vent and sucks all the heat into his fur. I am someone who has dwelled in the land of make-believe for a lifetime. (Did I ever tell you I played "make-a-believe" with Grandma Gresio incessantly and it wasn't until I was in second grade that I found out that the phrase was "make-believe?" The wonder of accents.)
So I play "make-a-believe" in my kitchen. And in my kitchen it is warm. Which is what attracted me to My Carolina Kitchen's shrimp and scallops with mango salsa. Sam lives in North Carolina (read: warm!) And cooks a lot of lovely French dishes and others with "a tropical island touch."

I made it with shrimp because it was too cold to go out for scallops. Yes, if it was January - I'd be just fine with 20 degrees. However, it's not January.

The recipe bring tropical breezes, palm trees and all that is good and warm in the world. Find it here. You'll like the blog. I promise. I was so enamoured with the dish - I did think, "How can I make this Italian?" And better yet - how can I make this Italian without having to go out on the day it sleeted and snowed six more inches. (I'm not bitter, really.)

And looked at my lemon plums which have quickly become my new favorite love and the astonishing good raspberries I brought home and played. Come on, Italians have plum trees. Italians have berries...

Poached Chicken with Plum-Raspberry Salsa (serves 4)

  • 4 ripe plums (yes, you may need to wait for summer but we have these lovely, tangy juice lemon plums in the store and so I used that), cut into small chunks (no need to peel)

  • 1 pint raspberries

  • 3 scallions, chopped

  • a few tablespoons of chopped basil

  • a few tablespoon chopped Italian parsley

  • 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

  • 1-2 tablespoon olive oil (to taste)

Poached Chicken

  • 4 small chicken breasts, pounded thin

  • 3/4 cup chicken broth

  • 1/4 cup white wine (optional)

  • 1 tablespoon Italian herbs

  • Additional water to cover

Plum salsa: Combine ingedients and keep at room temperature (covered) up to 3 hours.

Poached Chicken:* Bring liquids to a boil and gently poach chicken till cooked (20-30 minutes). Spoon salsa over chicken and serve. *Alternative, spoon salsa over baked chicken, sauteed chicken, shrimp, tilapia - have fun!

It's not just spring - it's summer!

Italy alert: This is what I know: Rome for 4-5 days, Florence, Liguria. Up for grabs - what do you think? Modena, Bologna, Pisa, Pompeii? September. Looking for restaurants, small towns - my Italian is awful but I have found the Italians to be kind and I do not need "American-friendly." And grazie to those who have e-mailed with suggestions.`

If the weather gods are good it will be above freezing when next I post!

Eat. Live Be. for 2011 - Yes, I'm still there - I never can post at the proper day of the week. For March (all of March) I have been down .2 pounds. Not stellar - but not gaining. The snow day where I started with sausage soup at 9 a.m. and made my way though daughter's chocolate chip cookies probably did not encourage weight loss...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Springy salad with pancetta and peas and yes, orange juice

My mother dressed her salads with oil and vinegar - some herbs, salt, pepper and garlic. Nothing too fancy-schmancy. I was addicted. I scarfed up every lettuce leaf and drank any of the leftover oil and vinegar from the large wooden bowl during clean-up.`
I was 17 when I received knowledge of bottled salad dressings courtesy of my college cafeteria. I am and remain a late bloomer. I was amazed that there were other dressings called "Russian," "French," Ranch," and Blue cheese." To this day, my blue cheese dressing consists of pieces of blue cheese pieces in salad and then mixed with - oil and vinegar!

She didn't whisk the oil and vinegar together - she dressed it directly on to the salad, tossing until it pleased her. It always pleased me. I still think only Italians can properly dress salads although I will give a nod to the French who have whisked some mighty fine vinaigrettes in their time.
This salad adapted from Tastes of Italia, contains no vinegar much to my early chagrin. The acid is orange juice and it brightens and elevates the spring leaves. Which shakes me out of my certainty about the world. The world's salads seem to work best with vinegar. But here it is all sunshine and light with orange juice. I am evolving. Spring wafted from the salad bowl and calmed winter nerves. We were inebriated with the taste of spring.

Spring Salad with Peas and Pancetta
1/2 cup pancetta, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil (can use less)
3 tablespoons of fresh orange juice (I used twice that amount)
1 garlic clove, minced (or I think - a shallot would be good here)
1/3 cup chopped pecans (I used chopped hazelnuts and I used a lot more)
8 cups spring baby greens (I added arugula and spinach)
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 cup frozen peas, thawed (or fresh peas if you can find it - lightly cooked)
1/2 cup Grana Padano, chopped or cumbled (I used freshly-shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano)
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a small-medium skillet combine olive oil and chopped pancetta - cook for about five minutes (until pancetta is crisp).
  2. Add orange juice, garlic and nuts.
  3. Cook for two minutes (I cooked for 30 seconds).
  4. Remove from heat to cool.
  5. When dressing is cool, combine salad ingredients and toss with the dressing. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
`And while spring was being served, the moon took over the landscape. A fitting end to a week where I have become immersed in my new play Under a Midsummer Moon.
I am considering ending the play with my cynical teens chiming in slowly and quietly with:
"I see the moon and the moon sees me.
God Bless the moon and God bless me."
It's a slightly wicked thing to do to my teen actors. But it would be highly effective. And unexpected. Like orange juice for vinegar.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

To Japan with Love

"We are fine" was the subject heading of an e-mail from Kyoko this week. I knew she was probably not in the area where the earthquake and tsunami hit but I wanted to hear from her.

Kyoko came into our life in the Winter of 2002. After years of working a demanding job where there were barely enough hours to commute and work - she had put in enough time to receive a sabbatical. One evening she flashed her mischievous grin and told me, "And I escape to U.S.A."
"Why Minnesota?" I asked.
"Snow. I love snow," she replied.
And as is the way of the world - it barely snowed that year. Kyoko taught Japanese culture at my daughter's middle school - and elementary school. It was the polar opposite of her work in Japan and she revelled in all of it - the kids, the sites, while embracing all things American. Kyoko embraces everything.

She stayed with us for some of the winter. Two years later I received a welcome e-mail in which she announced her intention to experience an American Halloween (she came to the states just after Halloween). And with her boundless enthusiasm - flew from Japan to Minnesota to stay for one day and night - Halloween.

We were the quintessential "busy American" family when Kyoko resided with us. Dinner was always fast. Read: pasta 4 x's a week.

Ravioli with pine nuts and rosemary. With one kid returning late from school because of basketball and another one leaving early to return to school for band, I had years of "what can I make quickly that doesn't come from a window?"

Kyoko did not live on sushi and fish. She loves meat! Weekends often featured beef and pork. The pork chops with blueberry sauce warded off our mild chill.
"We are all fine.But we have still some small earth quakes .

Everything is very unusual and strange.
Three days passed, still all TV channels broadcast only Earth Quake , Tsunami and atomic power plant.
I have never seen like this.
There is nothing in supermarket and no gasoline in gas station.
and all trains stop.
Usually many kids play around my house, but no kids there. People stays at home.

I am very sorry to hear that victims says they want to have blanket.
It was 27F, so cold isn't it? It is snowing now.

I really hope atomic power plant is safe and many people safe."

And so I have joined forces with other bloggers with their "For Japan with Love" disaster relief.
If you would like to participate, please go to Five Minutes Just for Me.
"Every little bit helps. Feel free to ask other bloggers you like to join in on this. Whatever impact we can make will be so awesome."
Visit Ruth Reichl's blog Why Food Matters. These are personal decisions. And please spend some time in thought or prayer or meditation on sending strength to Japan now and in the days, weeks and months to come.
I'm an Italian-American preparing an Irish St. Patrick's Day meal with my heart in Japan. And I am counting my blessings that I can do so.
*Today, March 17 at Living Social Deals, if you donate $5 to Japan disaster relief they will double it. Visit:

Friday, March 11, 2011

From the Heart: Memories and Artichokes

Gifted. That is one of my words for 2010. I was whisked off to L.A. on a flavorful journey courtesy of Bertolli foods, attended the Almost Famous Pellegrino Chef Competition in Las Vegas from the goodness of Foodbuzz, received books such as The Geometry of Pasta to review and if that wasn't enough, have been tinseled with food gifts.

And then last November, Kodak Gallery gifted me with a $50 gift certificate to create a book revolving around my Thanksgiving celebration. As someone who cooked Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas dinner, New Year's Eve dinner and New Year's Day dinner - all for different people - not a lot of photos were taken! (And you must know I was most honored to be entrusted with so many people's holiday plans - it was a pleasure to plan and execute the meals. There's no "sigh of the cooking martry" happening here.)

This winter I was able to properly bring together photos and document the holiday season - the people, the food and the sights. I have far too many photos stored away in books and boxes, it has been a sweetness to have this book in my living room and watch family and friends who were part of the celebrations go through them with happy exclamations.

I am in the midst of creating one from our trip to Ireland. I am so traditional - and went with the black background and the small white border - but there were so many design options to choose from - that I am thinking of having one of my more visual friends come and help me jazz-up the next photo book. The prices are reasonable - and I had over 40 photos in my holiday book.

I want to thank Kodak Gallery for their generosity. I would also like to inform them that my children are already starting animated discussions as to who takes ownership of this book - in the future. (In the far future.) Do check them out - there's an array of gifts and they are wonderfully personal. It's not a one-size-fit-all book. It's my memories - and I take care with them.
Last week, I was gifted once again - my mother came to dinner and brought bags of goodies. My mother does not come over unless she has at least three shopping bags filled with food and books. My grandmother was like that and I intend to continue the tradition. Likewise, I cannot leave my mother's house without a truckload of food. My salad days as an actress are over and I certainly look well-fed, but old habits die hard.

And this artichoke gratin won my heart. Today, it's both a memory and a happy anticipation.

As I dwell in my snow-globe world (Day 119), the green of the artichokes lifted my snow-slogged spirits, the richness of the gratin gave me a glow and the fact that my mother did the considerable work of prepping the artichokes brought me back to the days of my youth. When she cooked and I merely ate. There are a few steps - my mother never turned away from prep.

Baby Artichoke Gratin - serves 10 - from the St. Paul Pioneer Press
(The artichokes in MN are adults - so she used what she could find.)
4 pounds baby artichokes
1 lemon
2 egg yolks
white pepper
1 tablespoon water
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup heavy cream, whipped a bit
3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Artichoke Gratin Preparation
Prep artichokes. (a tutorial on prepping artichokes can be found here. A video tutorial can be found here.) How people figured out how to take a prickly, thistled vegetable and turn it into a creamy delectable to pleases every nerve-ending in your being is a subject for another post
Cook artichokes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. season well with salt. Add the juice of half a lemon (save a tablespoon of that lemon juice for later.) Add prepped artichokes in simmering water. Simmer for 6-10 minutes (until artichokes are tender.) Drain well.
Garlic Aioli: In a blender or in a tall bowl for an immersion blender, combine eggs yolks, 1 pinch of salt, white pepper, water, remaining 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and minced garlic. Slowly pour in your canola and olive oils while pulsing until mixutre begins to emulsify. (Which will happen quickly.) Continue to pulse (if using an immersion blender - keep the blender low towards the bottom of the bowl.) Pulse for about 1 minute until it is the consistency of mayonnaise or - is mayonnaise - which it is.)
Whip your cream.
Mousseline Sauce: In a large bowl gently fold your aioli into the whipped cream. Then fold in your Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Broil: Arrange drained artichokes in 1-1/2 quart gratin dish (or - you know - something similar). Gently spoon mousseline sauce over all. Broil on high for about 3-4 minutes (until some of the sauce is lightly browned on the top). Serve immediately. One serving is 348 calories with a healthy dose of 80 grams of fat. I didn't bother to figure out the points! When an artichoke gratin falls into my lap, I merely say "thank you!"

As current events unfold, I have discovered what for me - is the wonder of blogging. As I read with great interest what is on the dinner table in Japan, Malaysia, Italy, Canada, Syria, Lebanon, France and all across our country - we are a community that comes together for dinner.
We break bread together and take turns stirring the pot. We share, create, laugh, sigh, sizzle and embrace - each other's lives, each other's meals and cultures with respect. Not a bad blueprint for becoming one world.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Carnevale Cheese

Today is Day 115 of living in a snow globe. The only cure is to crack open that snow globe with rich, welcoming food. This weekend was the family Carnevale dinner: 3-cheese appetizers wrapped in toasted hazel nuts, stuffed mushrooms, vegetable pizza, strawberry-arugula-spinach salad with warmed honey-balsamic vinaigrette, linguine with pesto and pizza du grane. (Somehow missed the frappes/bugies this year). All in generous amounts.

I thought it was enough food for 7. The cheese balls alone will fill you up!
Then my mother surprised me with this:

Artichoke gratin. Made with cheese, egg yolks, cream, garlic, oil, butter ... oh my. You tear at the artichoke dripping with thick buttery goodness and make a mighty mess. Garlic oils drip from the tips of your fingers - this is caloric bliss. And if you keep a running conversation with yourself as I do - just just keep telling yourself, "I'm eating a vegetable! This is healthy!"
But that's for a later post. Dream of it for awhile. It's worth the wait.
Today we say "cheese." And I am part mouse. (Don't tell the cat.) I inherited the mouse gene from my mother.

This post is about cheese balls. It contains my beloved ricotta, creamy mascarpone and just-a-tad-biting-gorgonzola dolce - to keep you on your toes. These cheese delectables didn't even mind being upstaged by my mother's artichoke gratin. They held their own. Until there were none left to hold.
They made me feel luxurious - indulged. And after 115 days of looking at snow, I plan an indulgence every day. Because our first crocuses are at least a month away.
Italian Cheese Balls - makes 10
(Adjust amounts according to taste and number needed)
1/2 cup toasted hazel-nuts - smashed a bit
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup gorgonzola dolce (a younger, sweeter gorgonzola than the aged ones)
*garnish: a scattering of fresh Italian parsley leaves - other herbs would also work
Italian Cheese Ball Preparation
  1. Skin and toast your hazelnuts. (I boil them for 10-15 minutes in a quart of water with 2 tablespoons of baking soda to get the skins off. Drain them and shinny those skins off of them in a towel. Then roast them in a 350 degree F oven for 20-25 minutes to dry them and toast them).
  2. Put in a plastic bag and pound some of them. Put them on a plate for later.
  3. With a beater, blend your cheeses. Chill for 20 minutes to make them easier to handle.
  4. Roll them into walnut-sized balls and then roll them in the roasted/toasted hazelnuts.
  5. Put on plate, scatter fresh herbs and serve. Or put plastic over the plate and refrigerate for up to four-six hours (maybe more - who knows - they never last that long).
And I had more than one reason to chortle in my joy this weekend. My short play Mythajawaba has been chosen as one of six plays for Sundog Theatre's 2011 Scenes from a Staten Island Ferry. I have history in Staten Island (school and first apartment) and spent a lot of time on that ferry. I really had fingers and toes crossed for this one (so much so the toes may be permanently disfigured). It's ...quirky - a total steal of Ulysses and the sirens - only now the siren is in the New York Harbor. And even more reason for chortling is - it's looking good that I will go to NYC to see it around the 15th of April.

I'm still going down in weight - even with cheese balls and artichoke gratin so something is going well. (I think you must burn a lot of calories stressing over play acceptances.) The topic this week was recommended reading to help you stay on track. As a manic reader (send me titles) and the proud new owner of a Kindle (love having thousands of books at my finger tips) - my reading is for sheer pleasure. I actually escape from my point-counting, caloric days and don't read for weight-loss inspiration. I am someone who needs to escape. The thing with "mindful eating" is to really figure out what works for you, and if reading helps - read! If eating cheese balls helps - eat cheese balls. Why don't you eat these!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bowled over by ricotta mousse and blogging info

There's something hypnotic about ricotta. If it's mentioned in a recipe, I have to make it. If ricotta cheese jumped off of a bridge, I would likely follow. When ricotta cheese tells me to jump, I ask "how high." When it mentions it is high in "points" (that weight watching thing), I thumb my nose at point values. And yes, it is high in points.
My downward spiral into ricotta-wonderland started as I thumbed through an old Tastes of Italia magazine looking for ideas for Carnevale weekend and saw "ricotta mousse," I knew I would be making it. When my son came home and announced we were going to get another foot of snow next week, I decided that waiting for the weekend was out of the question. I made it today. Even though it is white. Like the terrible stuff that falls from the sky.

Don't be fooled by the cloudy creaminess - it is flecked with toasted, slivered almonds and bejeweled with berries. There are a lot of tastes to lull you into happiness.
Ricotta Mousse (adapted from Tastes of Italia)
16 ounces whole milk ricotta (commercial brand works best in this recipe)
1/3-1/2 cup powdered sugar (you don't need the entire 1/2 cup unless you like it very sweet)
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup fresh berries
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

Ricotta Mousse Preparation
  1. Using a small, dry skillet, lightly toast your almonds.
  2. In a large bowl beat the ricotta and powdered sugar till combined.
  3. In a medium bowl, whip your cream with the vanilla until soft peaks form.
  4. Fold cream into the ricotta mixture.
  5. Fold in your almonds and berries.*
  6. In a small pan or a microwaveable bowl, melt your chocolate.
  7. Spoon ricotta mixture (I know, it's not really mousse) into goblets or ramekins.
  8. Drizzle with chocolate and serve. Or - cover with plastic wrap and store for 24 hours.
*Tastes of Italia used 12 cherries - which are not available here. Inexplicably, the grocer had some mighty fine strawberries so I used that. I will make this again and I will use the cherries... in June. When the snow has melted.

Come September, I will be going to Italy with Minnesota-husband and am looking for some off-the-beaten track villages, restaurants, ideas, foods to be enjoyed. If you have suggestions about places, foods, sites that made your heart skip a beat, please let me know. I am compiling a folder and would be most appreciative.
Meanwhile, David Lebowitz had a most informative and gracious blogging post filled with advice for food bloggers. Find it here. There's a wealth of information and reading Mr. Lebowitz is always a bright spot. And Dianne Jacob has a pointed post on Will Write for Food regarding the new coding that Google search is requiring for its recipes. Find it here. And while you are "finding stuff," if you find my muse, please Fed-Ex her to me. I am in need of her.