Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cookbook Review: Italian Kitchen by Anna Del Conte

A must-have cookbook!
 I couldn't say "yes" fast enough when Sterling Publishing asked me to review Anna del Conte's new cookbook, Italian Kitchen!  Most of you know that I moved to Naples when I was nine years-old and to Rome when I was 13.  I lived in Italy with my family for seven years, then returned to Rome for a semester my sophomore year with the University of Dallas.  

When my family returned to the States, I was really surprised by what passed for Italian food - keep in mind, this was long before we could import Italian staples like Prosciutto and real Mozzarella.  But the dark, rich, thick sauces and thick crust pizzas piled with tons of toppings were not like anything I'd ever encountered in Italy.  Southern Italian food is seasonal, fresh, and light.  Neapolitan pizza has a thin crust and only a couple of toppings on it.  Anna Del Conte's cookbook is all that I know Italian cooking to be.  

I must have tabbed 30 recipes to try but we decided to start with Risotto con le Sogliole - Risotto with Dover Sole - which was a revelation!  With almost 20 risotto recipes on our blog - and countless others we haven't posted - we were amazed at how much better the results of Anna's recipe were than our traditional method.  So, we'll be using her method from now on.  It was so creamy, delicious, and authentic that we could close our eyes and imagine we were back in Rome!  And the Sole, just slipped into butter for a quick turn, was amazing.  We didn't have any dill in our garden, so I made a gremolata from dried dill and what we did have in our garden:  lime zest and chives.  It was absolutely amazing!  Simple, fresh, and delicious.  

Despite it's elegant appearance and delicious flavor, this dish is so easy to make.  We don't get fresh Sole in California, so we used frozen fillets and they worked great.  This is a perfect dish to make for company because the risotto can sit and the fish can be fried at the last minute.

A perfect meal!

Risotto con le Sogliole

It may seem extravagant to use Dover sole in a humble dish such as a risotto, but I assure you that it is necessary.  You only need a small amount of Dover sole, and it makes a great difference to the dish.  The delicacy and firm texture of the fish is in perfect harmony with the soft creaminess of the risotto; none of the other ingredients disturbs the happy balance of flavors.

Serves 4 as a main course

5 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp very finely chopped shallot
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups light fish stock
1 3/4 cups Italian rice, preferably Carnaroli
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp fresh dill
12 oz skinless Dover sole fillets
4 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan

1.  Heat 4 tbsp of the butter and the shallot in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Add a pinch of salt and saute until the shallot is soft and translucent.

2.  Meanwhile, heat the fish stock in another saucepan to simmering (keep it at the lowest simmer all through the cooking of the risotto).

3.  Add the rice to the shallot and stir to coat with butter, then saute for a minute or so until partly translucent.  Add the wine and let it bubble away, stirring constantly.

4.  Add about 2/3 cup simmering stock, stir well, and let the rice absorb the liquid.  Continue adding stock little by little until the rice is nearly done, then mix in half of the dill and continue cooking.

5.  Meanwhile, heat the remaining butter in a nonstick frying pan.  Cut the fish fillets in half, lengthwise.  Slide them into the butter and saute for 3 minutes.  Turn them over and saute for another minute.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

6.  When the rice is al dente, mix in the Parmesan and the juices from the fish fillets.  Turn into heated dish.  Place the fish fillets neatly over the top and sprinkle with the remaining dill.  Serve immediately

Excerpt from Anna del Conte's Italian Kitchen

So delicious!  If you take a bite & close your eyes, you may find yourself in Italy!

This cookbook is beautifully photographed and filled with recipes we can't wait to try!  Whether you are a novice cook, or experienced chef, if you are looking for an authentic Italian cookbook to add to your collection, this is it!  Anna's instructions are methodical, easy to follow, and yield wonderful results.  First published in four separate volumes, these recipes are now together in a single, exquisite edition.
Here is a wonderful article about Anna Del Conte that was just published in The Independent.  I only hope I will be as creative, productive, and energetic as Anna when I'm in my 80's.  She is truly amazing.  Anna Del Conte is the grande dame of Italian cooking. She was born in Milan and moved to England as a young woman in 1949, where she became the first cookbook writer to specialize in Italian food. She has written seven Italian cookbooks and a memoir.

Buon Appetito!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Baked Sunday Mornings: Cinnamon Chocolate Souffles

I only wish it tasted as good as it looks!

Penzeys Cinnamon Sugar & Scharffen Berger Chocolate

Appearances can be deceiving...this week's Baked Sunday Mornings challenge is for Cinnamon Chocolate Souffles.  I love cinnamon and chocolate, so I was really looking forward to trying these.  I used high quality ingredients and they turned out beautifully. 

BUT, the look on John's face when he took a bite told me something was wrong.  I asked him what is was but he couldn't really describe it, so I took a bite.  It was bitter and salty, as if I'd left the sugar out of the recipe.  I'd love to say we enjoyed this, but we didn't.  I think it would have been wonderful if it had been made with milk chocolate instead of dark, but I don't think I'll give it another try any time soon.

I read and re-read the recipe and I followed it perfectly.  After making over 100 Baked recipes successfully, this was a surprising disappointment.

Until next time...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

French Fridays With Dorie: Quiche Maraichère

Just delicious!
This week's French Fridays with Dorie challenge is for Quiche Maraichère which is essentially a Farmers' Market-inspired dish filled with vegetables and custard, topped with cheese.  I made a couple of changes to Dorie's recipe - I swapped out Asparagus for Red Peppers (because I can't eat them), and I added a little bit of fresh dill to the custard.

Freshly grated Fontina for the top!

One bite of this quiche will take you right back to Les Deux Magots!  It is that good and that fresh.  This quiche will make repeat appearance in our kitchen.

Yummy fresh vegetables!
This quiche is as delicious as it is easy to make!  It was absolutely perfect with a salad for a weeknight dinner.  We think it would also be great with chicken or shrimp added into the mix.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Pizza Bianca with Prosciutto, Brie, and Artichoke Hearts

Yummy, cheesy pizza!
Have you ever gotten halfway through cooking something then realized you don't have all the ingredients?   I was all set to make this week's French Fridays with Dorie quiche.  I even made the pastry...but, I didn't have enough eggs to make the custard, so I wrapped up the pastry - which luckily, Dorie says will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.  (See, Mary, I do dumb things, too!)

Sometimes our most creative meals come from last-minute change of plans.  So, I made some pizza dough and took a look in the fridge - and here's what we came up with.  It's very rich and we think it would be wonderful cut up into bite-sized pieces and served as an appetizer.  (Note:  If you don't like the rind on the Brie, it's easier to remove it after you bake the pizza.)

You could add a little roasted garlic, too.

Pizza Bianca with Prosciutto, Brie, and Artichoke Hearts

Makes Enough Dough for 4 Small Pizzas, 4 Calzone, or two large pizzas.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Fill a 1-cup measuring cup with warm water (105 to 115 degrees F).

Sprinkle 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) Instant Dry Yeast over the water
And drizzle in 1 teaspoon honey
Allow to proof for about 5 minutes, until foamy 

In the bowl of a food processor, add:
3 cups Perfect Pizza Blend Flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Pulse until blended, then drizzle the yeast mixture in slowly with the food processor running.
Then drizzle in 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil - we used Garlic-flavored

Continue to mix until the dough comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl and balls up on the blade, about 5 minutes. 

Turn the dough out onto lightly floured wax or parchment paper and knead for 2 - 3 minutes. 
Wrap the dough in parchment and let it rise in a warm spot for about 20 minutes. (When ready, the dough will stretch as it is lightly pulled.)
Divide the dough into 2 pieces and pat into a disk. 
(At this point, the balls can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days, or frozen, for future use.)
Roll the piece you're using out into a 12-inch circle.

Lightly dust a pizza stone with cornmeal, then center the Pinch the edges of the dough to form a rim.

Slice a wedge of Brie, thinly.
Alternate one slice of Brie with 3 slices of Prosciutto, cut in half.
Scatter Marinated Artichoke Hearts and very thinly sliced Red Onion.
Sprinkle lightly with Truffle Salt.

Slice and serve immediately.

A magical spring afternoon at the Channel Islands Harbor!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

French Fridays with Dorie: Visitandine

So fresh & delicious!

This week's French Fridays with Dorie challenge is for Visitandine which is a simple white cake that was developed by the nuns from the order of the same name.  The nuns sold their cakes in France as a way of earning income for good they could not grow, or make, for themselves.  

Dorie said that it forms a great base for Strawberry Shortcake, and boy, was she right!  This cake is so quick and easy to put together.  We are blessed to have fresh Strawberries year-round in Oxnard so we'll be sure to enjoy this dessert often.

So simple!

While the cake was in the oven, I sliced some strawberries and sprinkled a little vanilla sugar and Licor 43 over them.  While the berries were macerating, I made whipped cream with a little vanilla and powdered sugar.  The combination of textures and flavors was just perfect.  Although the cake absorbed some of the juice from the strawberries, it never go soggy the way some shortcake tends to do.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cookbook Review: The Southern Bite by Stacey Little

Comfort in a bowl!
 I was excited to receive a copy of Stacey Little's The Southern Bite Cookbook from Thomas Nelson Publishers to review.  Stacey Little has accomplished what many of us aspire to - published a cookbook filled with recipes from our food blogs.  Here is an excerpt from Stacey's blog, Southern Bite, that illustrates his fun, down-to-earth style:

Hey, Y'all I'm Stacey!  Feeding people makes me happy.  It’s just about as plain and simple as that.  There are few things in this world that I delight more in than my family and friends gathered around my table enjoying a meal.  The truth is, food makes most people happy – regardless of the chance it might also make them fat.  In the South, we celebrate everything with food: birthdays, anniversaries, funerals and football games.  It’s just one of the many ways a Southerner expresses love to another person.  We feed them. 
Lots more recipes to try!
Reading his cookbook is like being invited into Stacey's home.  His style is easy,welcoming, and friendly and his cookbook includes recipes from four generations of his family.  I didn't grow up in the South, but John did.  Along with Southern classics like Fried Green Tomatoes with Remoulade Sauce, Stacey includes what John refers to as "Church Suppers."  This includes dishes that are easy to take along to potlucks such as Slow Cooker Chili.  In addition, Stacey includes a lot of semi-homemade recipes that include packets of Ranch Salad Dressing Mix, cake mix, and other ingredients that save a little time in the kitchen.

Many of these dishes harken back to when we were kids.  My mom had a Campbell's Soup Cookbook and a Bisquick Cookbook - both of which we cooked from a lot.  Stacey carries these traditions forward adding his own touch to tried and true family favorites.

Great one-pot meal for a weeknight!

John & I both remember having Goulash growing up, so this is the first recipe we agreed to try.    This American classic comfort meal can be whipped up in a single pan on a weeknight.  Rich tomato flavor infuses elbow macaroni that is flavored with Paprika and hamburger.  Of course, it's best topped with gooey melted cheddar cheese!  This is a kid's meal that is equally enjoyed by adults.  We served Stacey's Goulash with Corn Bread to my brother and sister-in-law and all four of us remembered having something like it growing up.  It is so delicious and re-heats well.

I highly recommend this cookbook for busy people who want to cook more at home either because it's more relaxing, or just plain better than going out.  It's a great starter cookbook for anyone who wants to learn how to make comforting dishes for family gatherings.  With over 150 recipes, you're sure to find something to suit your palate.  Next on my list is Stacey's Coconut Cake!

Enjoy, Y'all!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cookbook Review: 300 Best Stir-Fry Recipes by Nancie McDermott

A terrific find!

I was truly honored to receive a copy of Nancie McDermott's newly updated cookbook, 300 Best Stir-Fry Recipes, from her publisher, Robert Rose, for review.  Nancie is a professional food writer and cookbook author, who is Southern by birth.  She fosters her passion for food and culinary history and traditions by cooking and sharing her creations through her writing.  She developed a passion for Asian culinary traditions during her three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand.  

 Remarkably, she brings the ancient culinary method of stir-frying into the modern kitchen.  Nancie helps us understand stir-frying as a method, that can be used for all kinds of flavor combinations.  While this cookbook contains the expected Asian recipes, it also shows how to use a wok to cook a plethora of dishes with flavors from around the world.  For example, Green Chile Pork with Hominy, Cilantro, and Lime, and Greek-Style Shrimp with Tomatoes and Lemon.  

Although we tabbed about 20 recipes to make, we started with Hoisin Shredded Pork with Gingery Vegetables because I bought a fresh poached Bamboo Shoot when I visited LA's Koreatown a couple of weeks ago, and we had Hoisin Sauce on-hand.  Oddly enough, I forgot to buy Green Onions since we always have them, so I finely diced a Red Onion instead.

Full of vegetables, pork, and flavor!

Hoisin Shredded Pork with Gingery Vegetables

8 oz. boneless pork (such as loin or tenderloin)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp dry sherry or Shaoxing rice wine
2 tsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp chicken stock or water
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
3/4 cup sliced bamboo shoots (rinsed if using canned)
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
2 tsp chopped fresh gingerroot
1 cup shredded carrots
1/3 cup chopped green onions

1.  Slice pork crosswise into thin slices, about 1/4 inch (0.5 cm) thick.  Place 2 or 3 slices into a little stack and slice lengthwise into thin little strips

2.  In a bowl, combine soy sauce, sherry and cornstarch and stir well into a smooth sauce.  Add shredded pork and stir to coat evenly.  Set aside for 10 minutes.

3.  In a small bowl, combine hoisin sauce, chicken stock and salt ans stir well.  Set aside.

4.  Place 2 or 3 bamboo shoots into a little stack and carefully slice lengthwise along the grain into thin shreds.  Set aside.

5.  Heat a wok or a large deep skillet over high heat.  Add oil and swirl to coat pan.  Add garlic and ginger and toss well until fragrant, about 15 seconds.

6.  Add pork mixture and spread into a single layer.  Cook undisturbed, until edges change color, about 15 seconds.  Toss well and add shredded carrots.  Cook, tossing occasionally, until carrots are beginning to wilt and pork is no longer pink, about 30 seconds.

7.  Add hoisin sauce mixture and bamboo shoots and toss well.  Cook tossing occasionally, until pork is cooked through, carrots are tender-crisp and everything is coated with a smooth sauce.  Add green onions and toss well.  Transfer to a serving plate.  Serve hot or warm.

Poached Bamboo Shoot

This dish was so delicious and easy to put together.  It smelled wonderful while it was cooking, too.  John served this over steamed white rice.  This was such a great method and flavor combination, that we talked about all kinds of other vegetables that could be added to the mix.  We think this recipe would be equally good with shrimp, or chicken.  Stir-frying is a perfect method for our busy lives.  We are lucky enough to have fresh vegetable available year-round in SoCal, so we're sure to refer to Nancie's book often for nutritious weeknight meals. 

I highly recommend this book if you're looking for an easy way to get more vegetables into your diet and cook healthier meals. The directions are easy to follow and the results, delicious!  She also offers metric measurements for each recipe.  The other thing I really like is that Nancie offers "Tips" for almost every recipe that allows you to customize them to your own preference.  For additional information, visit Nancie's blog.


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