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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Caprese salad

Caprese Salad (Insalata Caprese in Italian) is a classic summer salad that is very simple to put together. It is both gorgeous to look at and eat. However, would you expect anything less from a dish that is named after a picturesque island of the southern coast of Italy?

With summer finally landing its two feet into the year, salads are a natural choice for a nice, leisurely lunch, or even as a suppertime accompaniment. Caprese salad can immediately become a dinnertime entrée simply by increasing its portion size, while serving some rustic sourdough bread and a great chilled white glass of wine.

The simple ingredient combination is what makes this salad stand out from the rest: fresh mozzarella cheese, ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. And even though additions to the ingredients list would alter it's traditional standing as an Italian Insalata Caprese, some foodies may even indulge in a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Another worthwhile addition would be to add some spring mix or arugula, giving the salad a peppery note that compliments its flavors.

The key to success with this salad, as with any dish, is to use the very best ingredients you possibly can. Organic, local, ripe tomatoes straight from the farmer’s market – need I say more? Use a good quality mozzarella, buffalo preferably or bocconcini, a full-bodied, extra virgin olive oil with a nice fruity flavor, and fresh picked Sweet Italian basil is the natural choice; but, if that is not an option, then a drizzle of some good quality pesto is a great substitute. Lastly, a flaky kosher salt, such as Fleur de Sel would be a worthwhile finish for this dish.

It’s truly a special concoction, with its bold, fresh flavors. So, save the Caprese for the summertime, while farmer markets are buzzing. Besides, it just won’t be the same with January’s tomatoes!

To assemble your salad the traditional way: Slice the cheese and tomatoes in quarter-inch thick slices. You can either chiffonade the basil (by stacking leaves together, rolling them tightly and slicing through lengthwise with a sharp knife, to create thin strips) or use whole leaves. Put several slices of tomato on the plate; top each with a slice of cheese. Drizzle with olive oil (and balsamic vinegar if using). Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and garnish with basil.

Note: You can create individual plates or a big platter to serve at the table by using cherry tomatoes and bocconicini. Pour yourself a nice glass of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc as this would be a delicious pairing with this salad. On the other hand, if you are red wine enthusiast, you can’t go wrong with a nice Chianti. Cut up some fresh sourdough bread to mop up the tasty olive oil and tomato juices accumulated at the bottom of your plate. Trust me when I tell you that this is the best part.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Greek Answer to Bolognese

“Macaronia me kima” (pronounced ma ka RO nia me kee MAH) is a classic Greek dish of pasta and meat sauce. Similar to an Italian bolognese, but different in the sense of flavors. There are no carrots or celery being used, and traditional Greek flavors of cinnamon, allspice and cloves are added.
Meat sauce in Greece is referred to as kima (kee-MAH), which is also the word for ground beef. It’s thicker and more like chili in its consistency than a typical Italian bolognese sauce. Tacos, meaty mac and cheese, even chilli, or any dish that calls for classic braised ground meat can be recreate with this sauce. It is a very versatile sauce and, it’s very easy to make. You only need 10 minutes to prep and then the sauce cooks itself. Just remember to start the pasta about 10 minutes before the kima is done. Once strained, throw the past right in the sauce. Voila! There you have it, makaronia me kima.
It seems that every Greek cook puts his or her own personal spin on this traditional favorite. That is the beauty of this recipe; it can be adapted to your own personal taste and it will quickly become a favorite in your family. Here is my family’s favorite version on this traditional dish.
A nice easy to make comfort food, that will become your family’s favorite
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2-3 berries of allspices (or a nice pinch of ground)
  • Pinch of ground cloves (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 lb. pasta
  • Grated Mizithra or Kefalotyri cheese
  1. In a 4-quart saucepan, add oil and brown the ground beef over medium-high heat until all pink color disappears.
  2. Add the onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about a minute. Add the wine and allow it to simmer a minute or two before adding the next ingredients.
  3. Add, cinnamon, allspice, cloves (if using), salt, pepper, sugar, tomato sauce and water. Bring the heat down to low and simmer uncovered for at least 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be meat with some juice.
  4. Add the parsley and 1/2 tbsp. butter. (The flavors of the sauce will develop the longer if it sits, and it’s sometimes even better the second day after you make it.)
  5. Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Serve pasta with meat sauce topping and don’t forget the grated cheese.
  6. Note: If you cant find Mizithra or Kefalotyri cheese, substitute with Pecorino Roman or Parmesan Cheese

Friday, June 10, 2011

Simply Nutella Mousse

Nutella, a junk food, or rather foodie's marvel, with a European pedigree? 
When I first tasted Nutella, I thought for a moment that I was in heaven, although to my disappointment, I was really sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen.  I was 6 years old.
Up until this day, I can’t forget the "oh my goodness" feeling I got when I ate that chocolate hazelnut spread. Is it better then chocolate? I'm not sure, but for something that was originally made to trick your mind and your taste buds into thinking it's chocolate, well, it's heavenly- so much so, to the point that it’s an obsession, a habit, or even an addiction. If you think this is merely a foodie’s making a mountain out of a molehill, you're just not among the privileged.

For those of you who would like to be initiated into the pleasures of this velvety chocolate hazelnut spread, why are you still here reading this blog? Run! Run to the nearest supermarket!  Fly, if you can! You will find it next to the peanut butter, jam, jelly, marshmallow spreads and several other chocolate hazelnut spread knockoffs that taste perfectly fine, but exist for the sole reason that Nutella is point-blank too good not to imitate. 

Nutella originally comes form Italy and was developed for Italy’s postwar era as a desperate affordable substitute for the chocolate that everyone wanted, but no one could afford to buy.
In 1946 an Italian pastry maker by the name of Pietro Ferrero, needed to find a way to stretch his postwar ration of cocoa. Having hazelnuts over flowing in the piedmont area, he mixed the cocoa he had with ground hazelnuts, cocoa butter and vegetable oil and created "pasta gianduja” or as we know it, gianduja. 
His first batch was said to be 660 pounds. Soon it became so popular that children were asking for a "smear" of pasta gianduja. 
Pasta gianduja had become so popular that it was renamed Nutella in 1964, and spread to the rest of Europe. In 1983, it crossed the ocean. Its following was so strong that it outsold all brands of peanut butter combined. Random; I think not!
In Europe, Nutella is very popular among children and adults. The French and Italians serve it on crackers or croissants as an after-school snack. Greeks spread it on bread and serve it for breakfast, and some even add a layer of butter beneath it to welcome a sweet and salty awakening of the taste buds.  I suspect, however, that most of us, regardless of our zip code, just eat it with a spoon straight from the jar. It's also a common ingredient in various desserts like tortes, layered cakes, and gelatos.
Nutella is not just a junk food with a European pedigree, but an indulgence that feeds the mind and senses.  And since sitting on a plane for 10 hours is not a requirement to indulge in heavenly Nutella, I want to share with you what it's capable of... Introducing Nutella Mousse:

Nutella Mousse

250g Nutella 
175g Greek yogurt (Fage) 
2 tbsp cream cheese 
1 tsp espresso powder, blended with a little hot water 
2 tbsp chopped toasted hazelnuts (optional) 
1/2 cup whipped heavy cream
Little biscuits for dipping
Cherries and halved hazelnuts, to serve 

1. Mix the Greek yogurt , cream cheese, espresso powder and water mix, and the chopped toasted hazelnuts. Then mix in the Nutella. Spoon into 4 little pots and chill.
2. Serve with whipped heavy cream, little biscuits for dipping, topped with a cherry or any other fruit and halved hazelnuts if you like.