Monday, October 31, 2011

An Italian Feast

"It's getting each other through dark moments in life that friendships deepen."

It seems like the older I get, I have less time to spend with friends. Things get in the way, like work, family and following up on my own interests. Personally, I think one of the greatest things about getting older is that I have been able to focus more on myself, and I'm not all over the place, giving less than 100% to 20 things at a time (though I'm sure 1 or 2 of my friends would say differently!) But I miss my friends. We all have a lot going on: babies on the way, homes that need to be renovated, a wedding to plan and our own interests/family/work to throw themselves into. All that being said, I love going out to dinner with the girls. Since the weather has been more on the nippy side (and to reduce the cost of wine and dinner and more wine at a restaurant) I decided to invite 2 of my girlfriends over for a night of cooking and eating. The one caveat: they need to provide the recipes and do most of the cooking! This freed me up so that I could take pictures and nosh on guac and chips while they slave away in my kitchen! They agreed, and since they're both Italian- it was a buona sera indeed!

On the menu:
Eggplant Rollatini- with a homemade Italian red sauce recipe that is divine
Asparagus Frittata- wow, was this delicious and healthy!
Cucurumao (say that 5 times fast)- we had the most fun with this one; well I did because I'm 12

So, let's get started, shall we?

Tomato Sauce
Tomato sauce (2 medium sized cans- Tutto Rosso Brand sauce)
½ to 1 onion
8-10 whole cloves of garlic
Pecorino Romano Cheese (buy whole and grate fresh)
4-5 stems of fresh basil
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt / pepper
1 tsp of sugar

In a large pan with high heat add extra virgin olive oil
add the sliced onions (cut onions small or big- depending how you like it- we sliced ours all fancy) and saute
Add the garlic, (add full clove or cut in half so it’s easier to remove garlic and saute. Remember not to over cook the onion & garlic because if it's too dark, the sauce will taste funny.
Add the tomato cans, salt & pepper and mix.
Lower the heat to low and let simmer. Remember to keep mixing the sauce. You don’t want it to burn on the bottom of the pan.
Add 1 tsp of sugar. You can adjust depending on how sweet you want it (I prefer a sweet sauce.)
After 20 min of simmering, add basil and a handful of percorino romano cheese
Simmer for an additional 15 min or so. Set aside.

Eggplant Rollatini
2 large Eggplants
1 lb Fresh Ricotta
½ cup Shredded Mozzarella
½ cup Parmigiano Cheese
½ cup All Purpose Flour
Vegetable oil (for frying)
Tomato sauce (that we made)
Salt / pepper
Fresh basil

1. Combine fresh ricotta, ¼ cup of parmigiano and ½ cup of shredded mozzarella in a bowl.
    Add salt / pepper to taste. Set aside. 
2. Slice eggplant into ¼ inch slices. (cut large enough to roll the eggplant & mixture)
     Lightly coat with the all purpose flour. Fry the slices in the vegetable oil.
     Layer a plate with paper towels and place cooked eggplant to soak up the extra oil.
3. Roll the eggplant sizes up using the ricotta mixture & layer into a baking dish that is coated with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Top with more tomato sauce. Sprinkle the remaining parmigiano cheese and basil. 
4. Bake at 350 Degrees for 15-20 minutes.  

My friend Giusi, yes that's her real name (pronounced: Juicy) sent me an ingredient list and I thought it was cute, so I'm posting:
Before I forget, here are the ingredients:
eggs (dozen)
pomodoro pellato (sold in a large can, one is enough)
2 bunches of asparagus
white onions (1 large or 2 small)
salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil

1 large can of peeled tomatoes
1 small onion 
6 eggs
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tsp salt, 1tsp pepper

Slice or dice onion into a pan with olive oil until onions are slightly brown (Do not burn onions).
Dice the peeled tomatoes and pour into pan.  Add salt and pepper.  Let this simmer for about 15 minutes on low heat.
In the meantime, beat 6 eggs (entire egg) and then mix in pan.  Mix frequently for 10-12 minutes.  You don't want it too soup-like, but not dry either.
Serve in bowl with bread.
This is a dish that looks pretty gross, but tastes SO good. 

Asparagus Frittata
8-10 eggs
2 bunches of asparagus (cut a bit of the end off)
1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper

Bring pot of water to a boil and then add asparagus.  Cook until you can stick a fork in the stem, but not too soft.
Remove the asparagus from water and place into a large bowl of ice (maintains crisp texture).
Beat 10 eggs in a bowl, add salt and pepper.

Once asparagus has cooled, cut in smaller pieces and place it in a pan already covered with Pam or olive oil.
Then pour eggs inside pan and let this cook on low heat until the bottom is completely cooked.
Try to flip the frittata so the other side can cook (constantly lift sides so it doesn't stick).
Once both sides are a light brown color and you can cut into it easily, remove from heat and serve.
Special thanks to Josephine & Giusi for a really fun and tasty night!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

I don't often make these (maybe once a year) and always around the Fall time. There's just something homey about walnuts, shredded carrots and a nice, earthy cupcake so I whipped out the Kitchen Aid and made some yummy carrot cupcakes. But like every recipe I have, it makes so many that it's difficult to eat all of them! So I gave my mother some, who in turn brought them in to work, and her co-workers liked them a lot---so for you guys- here's the recipe:
cupcake with a 'tude

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

yield: 24 cupcakes (and a bit more)
2 t baking soda
2 c flour
2 t cinnamon
2 c sugar
4 large eggs
1 c vegetable oil
4 c grated peeled carrots (1 lb. bag)
1/2 c walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Shred carrots and chop walnuts. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, beat the 4 large eggs (with an electric mixer) until they become foamy. Add the oil a bit at a time and mix well. Add the flour mixture and mix well again. Fold in the shredded carrots and walnuts.
Fill baking cups about 3/4 full. Bake for about 18- 20 minutes. Allow cupcakes to cook in their pan for about 10 minutes, and then remove them to cool completely onto a wire rack.
Now, on to the cream cheese frosting.

Cream cheese frosting is so easy to make, and many bakers have their own recipe, where they add or subtract things like milk, vanilla extract, and so on. I'm a bit of a purist, so I just keep it basic.

Cream cheese frosting
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
~ 2 c confectioners' sugar (1/2 lb.)

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese until creamy. Add the confectioners' sugar slowly. If the mixture seems too thick, you can add 1 t of milk. You're ready to ice your cupcakes!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Perfect Potato Soup

It's been a blustery Fall day and now it's a very chilly night. I'm home; I want to settle down and watch the new CW t.v. show "Hart of Dixie" (it's a cute show)--but first, Potato Soup! I honestly don't remember where I got this recipe from; it's been handed to me from someone to whom it was handed to and so on and so on. All I know is it's GREAT, it's easy to make, it tastes fantastic, and it's perfect for cold autumn and winter nights. Serve with some toasted ciabatta bread, or as is. You will love it. Guaranteed.
yield: 6- 8 servings
couple strips of bacon
~6 baked potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, chopped (white or yellow)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
6-8 T flour
3-4 c of chicken stock
1 c half-and-half (or heavy cream)
~1 t dried basil
~1 t dried parsley
1 t salt
couple dashes of hot sauce

First off, you want to bake the potatoes at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Allow them to cool and then peel and cube. Set aside. 
In a large sauce pan place strips of bacon and allow them to brown. Remove bacon to a plate. You should have some wonderful color on the bottom of your pan. In the same sauce pan (using medium-hi heat) add the chopped onion and allow to cook until golden (~8 minutes). Add the minced garlic. Stir in the flour, salt, basil and parsley. This should form something that resembles a roux.

Gradually add the stock and allow this to boil, stirring frequently. 

Add your potatoes, half-and-half and the hot sauce (to taste), stirring often. Lower the heat. 

Ladle into a bowl and devour. You can chop up the bacon and add on top, or garnish with cheese, but I like my potato soup as is. As in perfectly delicious. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Apple Pie!

Where has the time gone? September flew by and I was too busy to post some new recipes! I did however manage to find time to make a scrumptious apple pie, using some delicious fall apples that were freshly plucked. The crust portion is loosely based on a recipe I got from a wonderful woman I met named Marguerite Hill from Virginia. We visited Virginia a few weeks ago and I tried her awesome apple pie so I managed to wrangle the recipe (frantically writing it down in the back seat of a car)...the secret to a great apple pie: put some sugar in the crust!
Marguerite's Apple Pie
2 1/2c all-purpose flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 c shortening (I use crisco)
8-9 T ice water
4 T sugar
1 egg, beaten, for brushing on top

2 1/2 lbs. tart apples, peeled, cored and chunked
2 T fresh lemon juice 
1/2 c sugar
2 T all-purpose flour
1/2 t cinnamon

1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c butter
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a small bowl combine the sugar, flour, and cinnamon for the filling. In a large bowl toss the apples with lemon juice. Sprinkle the contents from the small bowl onto the apples, mix thoroughly and set aside.
In another bowl combine the flour, salt and sugar for the pastry. With a pastry cutter (or using to fork in a scissor fashion) cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add a tablespoon at a time of ice water and stir until the mixture leaves the side of the bowl. Shape the pastry into a ball. Cut in half. Spread some flour on a clean surface and place the 1/2 potion of pastry in the middle. Roll out the pastry so that it fits into a 9-inch pie pan. Spoon the apples into the pastry. 
In a small bowl combine all the ingredients for the topping and spread it over the apples. 
Place the second piece of dough (that you've already rolled out) on top and pinch the edges closed. Take a fork and pierce the top of the pie all around. Using the beaten egg- brush on top for a beautiful golden crust. 
Bake for about one hour. Serve warm with some vanilla ice cream, or a dollop of cream. Savor bite after delicious bite.