"The people who give you their food give you their heart" - Cesar Chavez

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Antipasto Platter for the Masses

I made this for our holiday party as a salute to Italy. This dish is a sure crowd pleaser, very easy to make, and it tastes even better when prepared ahead of time. This dish was the first to be polished off and it probably took me the least amount of time to prepare. This recipe is adapted from this Mixed Antipasto recipe from epicurious.com.

Antipasto Platter for the Masses
(12-16 servings)

For the marinade:
3 large garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
2 teaspoons crumbled dried basil
2 teaspoons crumbled dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1 cup olive oil

6 large carrots, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
4 fennel bulbs, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
6 bell peppers, assorted colors, roasted and cut into strips
1 1/2 lbs stuffed green brine-cured olives
1/2 lb sun-drain tomatoes packed in oil, drained cut into strips
1 1/2 lbs marinated bocconcini (small mozzarella balls)
1 lb soppressata (hard Italian sausage), cut into 1/4 inch thick slices and quartered
2 15 ounce jars marinated artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained well
2/3 cup fresh parsley, minced, plus more for garnish

1. To prepare the marinade, whisk together the garlic, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, rosemary, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Have a friend pour the olive oil in a stream into the bowl as you whisk it until the marinade is emulsified.
2. In a large pot of boiling water black the carrots and fennel or 3 to 4 minutes, or until they are crisp tender, drain them and plunge them into a bowl of ice water. Let the vegetables cool and drain them well.
3. In a large bowl toss the carrots, fennel, roasted peppers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, bocconcini, soppressata, artichoke hearts, marinade and the parsley until the antipasto is combined well. Cover and chill overnight.
4. Transfer the antipasto to a platter, garnish with parsley sprigs and serve at room temperature. Bon Appetito!

Friday, January 21, 2011

90 Wild Mushroom and Blue Cheese Triangles

 Why make 90 wild mushroom and blue cheese triangles? If you're having a party, these are a for sure hit and you can make them well ahead of time and freeze them and then simply heat them up when guests arrive. For our holiday party I made 90 spinach and feta spanakopita and 90 wild mushroom and blue cheese triangles. These are like the new, hip cousin to the traditional spanakopita. Both are delicious and have their fans. This recipe was adapted from the inspirational post, "Spanakopita Triangles + Then Some", from the blog Smitten Kitchen. I am a huge fan of blue cheese, so I was excited to see this rather adventurous adaptation to the spanakopita. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Working with phyllo is not easy and the only way to get comfortable with it is to practise, the more little triangles you roll, the faster and smoother you will be at it. I had to make a lot of uneven funky looking triangles before I was able to make them seamless and even.
Wild Mushroom and Blue Cheese Triangle
(About 90 triangles)

3 cups boiling water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups sliced green onions
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 1/2 pounds assorted fresh wild mushrooms, like chanterelles, shiitakes and portabellos, cleaned and chopped small
1 1/2 pounds fresh button mushrooms, cleaned and chopped small
15 ounces blue cheese crumbles
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the green onions and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft - about five minutes.
2. Add the garlic, rosemary and thyme and continue to stir for one minute more.
3. Increase the heat to high and add the fresh mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms are tender and the liquids they have released are evaporated, six to eight minutes.
4. Transfer to a bowl and let cool, then stir in blue cheese, sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Turtle Brownie Sheets

For our large, winter holiday party, we had a dessert buffet of all homemade desserts, with the exception of one decadent chocolate cake from a bakery. One of the items I made were these turtle brownies. It was a first for me in many ways because removing the turtle brownies in one large sheet from the pan after chilling it was a bit of a challenge. It was definitely a test of my patience. These brownies are rich and delicious, taste excellent with milk or vanilla ice cream, and because they are so dense they are best as small, bite-size brownies. They are perfect for entertaining because you can make them ahead of time and store them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks - and they will still look and taste delicious! I found this recipe for Turtle Brownies on epicurious.com. Enjoy!
Turtle Brownies
(64 brownies)

For Brownie Layer:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs

For caramel-pecan layer:
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons water
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups pecans

1. Preheat oven toe 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a square 9 inch glass baking dish, knocking out excess flour.
2. For the brownie layer: whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.
3. Melt the butter and chocolates in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring continuously until smooth, then remove from heat. Let it cool until it is lukewarm and stir in brown sugar and vanilla.
4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating with a wooden spoon after each addition until mixture is glossy and smooth. Add flour mixture and stir until just combined.
5. Spread batter evenly in the baking dish and bake in the middle of the oven until a tester comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack.
For caramel-pecan layer:
6. Bring sugar, corn syrup, water and a pinch of salt to a boil in a 3 quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then boil, without stirring, until mixture turns a golden caramel color, about 15 minutes.
7. Remove from heat and carefully add cream and vanilla (mixture will bubble and steam). Stir in pecans immediately and pour over the brownie layer, spreading evenly. Cool completely in pan on rack.
8. Chill brownies, loosely covered, until caramel is firm, at least 4 hours. Just before serving cut the chilled brownies into 64 1 inch squares, then bring them to room temperature and serve.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Grilling Lemon Rosemary Chicken Skewers in Winter

In the middle of December my mom, sister and I threw a holiday party. About 60 people came over that night ranging from 16 to 80 and I did all the cooking. It was a lot of fun and my first time cooking for such a large event. The party was on Saturday and since I started cooking the Wednesday evening before and I prepared about 4 dishes each evening leading up to the party. All the food I made was finger foods, appetizers with a few large pasta dishes and one antipasto platter. These easy skewers are excellent for a party. I marinated them over night and grilled them just two hours before the party. You can keep them warm on a tray covered with foil in the oven or serve them at room temperature. I was pretty stoked to be back in the Bay Area and, coming from New York, I found our winter so mild. I actually grilled outside barefoot in the middle of December! The most important part of this recipe is the marinade, that is what makes it so delicious. This recipe is adapted from the Lemon Rosemary Chicken Skewers I found on epicurious.com

Lemon Rosemary Chicken Skewers
(96 skewers)

16 skinless boneless chicken breasts halves, about 7 ounces each
96 8 inch bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes, drained
2 1-pint baskets of grape tomatoes
2 1 pint baskets of button mushrooms
2 cups olive oil
2 cups fresh lemon juice
12 bay leaves, broken into small pieces
6 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
8 large garlic cloves, pressed
4 teaspoons kosher salt
4 teaspoons hot pepper sauce

1. Cut each chicken breast lengthwise into 6 thin strips. Thread each strip completely onto 1 skewer, leaving a bit at the end exposed for the tomato or mushroom. Press one grape tomato or mushroom onto the end of the skewer. Place the skewers in large glass or cast iron baking dishes.
2. In a large bowl pour the oil. Whisk in the lemon juice, bay leaves, rosemary, garlic, kosher salt and hot pepper sauce. Pour the marinade over the chicken, moving around the skewers so that the marinade is evenly distributed. Cover and let marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
3. Heat up the grill so that all the burners are on medium high heat. Place the chicken skewers on the grill and grill them for about 4 minutes per side, basting them with the marinade from the pan.
4. Place cooked skewers on a platter, garnish with Iceburg lettuce leafs and enjoy!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mama's Fish House in Maui: The Best Meal of My Life

Every detail about this meal was absolutely EXCEPTIONAL! This was the first time going to Mama's Fish House and it was a special occasion for my Mom, sister - Billie, and I. Mama's Fish House is known on Maui for being the best seafood restaurant and we were excited to try a much raved about place however none of us had any idea on how truly incredible the experience would be! The restaurant is expensive and reservations are required although even with a reservation, we waited about 45 minutes to be seated. No problem though because the restaurant is located on its own private beach with an old fishing boat resting beneath the waving palm trees. You can hear the waves lapping up on the shore from your table and I've been told that during the day you can watch windsurfers gliding around in the ocean.
The outside decor of Mama's Fish House is well thought out and every little detail is bright, colorful, and 100% Hawaiian. Nothing has been left untouched. Here is a picture of my mom, sister and I waiting for our table. We had already decided what we were going to order because we spent about 30 minutes reading the menu in detail.
What I LOVED about the menu and the restaurant, is its appreciation for local ingredients and freshness. The menus are printed daily with the day's fresh catches and even the fisherman who caught the fish! Here is a picture of a section of the menu, you will see that it says the name of the person who gathered the fish:
Here is a photograph of the table set up, Classy Hawaiian, and my sister reading the menu...again:
To start the meal we received a small cup of warm lobster bisque, compliments of the Chef:
The was followed the warm fresh loafs of Hawaiian bread that they bring to every table:
For appetizers we ordered one plate of  "Wild Shrimp Wantons with Macadamia Nut Dipping Sauce." The shrimp were large and fleshy and sitting on a bed of crispy Asian cabbage salad. They had a nice crunchy battered crust that was neither too thick nor oily.
Next we shared an appetizer of "Seared Ahi Sashimi with Cucumber Tamarind Sauce"...wow! The sashimi was so fresh and a deep, gorgeous, magenta color. It tasted buttery and wonderful. The Cucumber Tamarind Sauce was a nice touch. It did not have too strong a taste, so it was a perfect compliment for the sashimi.
In between courses we had a palate cleanser of fresh Poi. Poi is steamed and mashed, wetland taro. Taro is a traditional Hawaiian root crop. Poi has a bland-starchy palate cleanser. My sister initially thought it tasted like baby food, however the fresh poi ended up growing on us both and we nearly finished the bowl they provided for us. Due to lighting issues, I struggled with getting an accurate color of the poi, it was grayish purple:
For the main course I had the "King Salmon, grilled in chili, ginger and soy with papaya salsa, coconut rice and baby bok choy." I ordered the salmon medium rare. It was DELICIOUS! The salmon fillet is perfectly and evenly grilled. The papaya salsa is chunky and a little bit sweet. The coconut rice is very coconutty and served in a little ball on a piece of fresh coconut with flakes of fresh coconut on top of the rice. It was fantastic!
My Mom ordered the house speciality "Mama's Stuffed Mahimahi Stuffed with Lobster, Crab and Maui Onion, Baked in a Macadamia Nut Crust" Wow!! It was warm and when you sliced into the buttery mahimahi, there was packed lobster and crab, cooked to perfection. It was served with a chunk of grilled corn on the cob and roasted asparagus and a pile of flavored, herbed orzo.
Here is a picture of inside the mahimahi, it was difficult to capture the lobster and crap stuffed inside the fish:
For dessert I ordered the "Banana Macadamia Nut Crisp, served warm with homemade Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream." It was exquisite and in my opinion, the best of the three desserts we ordered. This was like Hawaii's comfort dessert, Hawaii's answer to the apple pie is this made with local sweet bananas.
My sister ordered the "Mama's Chocolate Kua Pie, baked in a caramel cookie crust." The pie was a little too dense for us however the cookie crust was lovely and the best part of this dessert. My mom, again going for the house speciality, ordered the "Polynesian Black Pearl, Chocolate mousse and liliko'i cream in a pastry shell." This one was definitely the most beautiful dessert that I have ever been allowed to eat. It actually looked like a black pearl!
Everything about this dessert was truly Divine. The sauce on the plate was no exception. The brown is a milk chocolate, the white is a liquor cream and the light orange sauce is a mango sauce. The pastry shell dipped in the sauce was fantastic!
It is no surprise that the three of us polished off the desserts, with me, admittedly, having done most the damage. Here is a blurry picture my drunk-off-food sister took of me with the empty dessert plates...she took this right before falling into a food coma that would make her literally pass out in the car ride home:
Even her too-dense chocolate pie was finished...
The cherry on the top of the meal was that at the end, they brought out a small plate with cool, lavender scented washcloths and unbelievable fresh coconut sweets with little pistachio crumbles on top:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

....and Ferrara's Buskers Music Festival by Night

Every evening during the Buskers Music Festival, the quiet alley ways and piazzas of Ferrara would come to life with non-stop free live music. Over 900 bands from all over the world came and performed on every street corner and little nook there was.  I hadn't realized what a big music festival this would be and it was so much fun! I went alone however it was easy to meet friendly people from all over Europe who had come in search of good live music. I was there for the first four days of the music festival, which happens every August, and I definitely hope to return in the future! I made friends with two of the bands who were invited to the festival: Broken Boyz from Marseille, France and La Tumabo De Juana from Barcelona, Spain. This post is all about the nighttime scene and food of the festival.....
Broken Boyz is a soul/reggae band with lead vocalist David Bardy (far right in picture), Siryel Werck on the guitar and Patrick Fenez on the drums. Here is a video of them performing at the music festival my favorite song, "Soul Shake Down Party." The band learned their soulful music in New Orleans and brought it back to France!
El Tumbao de Juana was an awesome Latin band with members from all over South America that had met on the streets of Barcelona and had a common passion for music. Mauro, on the bongos would end up hosting my friend and I in Spain the following month. Check out their myspace page here, really good stuff!
The best recommendations always from come from the locals and I was lucky enough to meet a nice young guy on the train who was happy to share his favorite late night eating places in Ferrara. The place was called Pizzeria Orsucci and it's a hole-in-the-wall institution with locals. They had just two things on the menu: beer and padella de ceci, a chickpea flour treat cooked in a wood fire oven.
 Pizzeria Orsucci is located in the old city at Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 76 near Castello Estense. Here is a photograph of the kid working the oven:
Another band I enjoyed is the eccentric Ilhaam Project. "Ilhaam" means inspiration in Arabic. The project incorporates French, Hebrew, Arabic, English in music with a mission for peace. The couple has a really great song which I haven't been able to find online, but the song is about the end of the world approaching and everyone has a big party in the streets. Sort of strange topic, but the song is rather hypnotizing. Here is a picture of the couple on the streets:
The late night food for the post-festival-party-goers is the Cornetteros. Cornetteros are bought from the Cornetteria which is only opened after dark and closes when the sun starts to come up. While the menu lists other items, I saw no sign of anything but these delicious treats inside the cafe: a warm, flaky, chocolate filled croissant with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.
You can find the Cornetteria de Los Cornetteros at Via Carlo Mayr, 99:
Cheers to the Buskers Music Festival! It's hard to go wrong with good food and good music!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Foodie in Ferrara by Day....

I came to Ferrara because I had read about the Buskers Music Festival that takes over the small city. I was drawn to the combination of free live music in a city renowned for its food. Ferrara is in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. Surrounded by 9 kilometers of medieval walls, Ferrara remains calm and tranquil, even during a wild music festival that takes the streets by storm. The classic Italian breakfast was pretty much the only option in Ferrara and I was completely okay with that. I was told by a Ferrara native whom I met on the train to go to Caffe' del Corso for the best breakfast. I don't drink coffee, however, while working at Cefalicchio and for the three weeks after I had a cappuccino every morning and an espresso every night. The breakfast at Caffe del Corso was superb! Warm cappuccino, freshly baked croissant and one of their house specials which is kind of like a tart with a crispy sweet top (I am horrible at trying to explain this.) I highly recommend going to Ferrara for the Buskers festival and when you do, this is the best way to start your morning! Take your time here as the people watching from this perfectly located cafe is prime.
 Caffe' del Corso is located at C. Giovecca 66/68 just outside the old historic castle.
During the day Ferrara is a pretty sleepy town, and it is very easy to get into the relaxed, no rush vibe of the town. One fun thing to do is rent a bike and go along the 9km wall, other than that, there are lovely art museums and lush parks like this one below, Parco Massari.
Obviously if you are going to go to a park, you should get a few things for a picnic. When in Emilia-Romagna, it is imperative to try prosciutto. FOr the best prosciutto, get the Parma stamped kind indicating that is was cured and stored with the highest standards providing for a truly melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto experience. Parma stamped ham is easy to find, it looks like this:
In addition to prosciutto you might like some wine for your picnic and this is especially easy and affordable to get because in all the little convenient stores in Ferrara are these "fill your own" wine stations with large vats of wine and you can choose from red, white or rose and fill your own glass growler:
All over Ferrara are these funny little bridges that are part of the homes, there is at least one on every street:
A traditional snack in Ferrara is the coppie Ferrarese. It is crunchy and hard n the outside and soft and chewy on the inside and rolled like two ribbons. I personally didn't think it was anything special, perhaps I just needed to have one from a better bakery but it seemed like a poor attempt at sourdough bread to me. As you can see from the bag, the bakery where I purchased his Coppie Ferrarese has been around since 1860...
Aside from these bread rolls, everything else in Ferrara was authentic, beatiful and very tasty. Here is a picture of the street where I stayed.