July 29, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Gorgeous Grilled Veal Chops

Summertime, and the grilling is easy.  Or should be.

So many meat recipes call for elaborate rubs or marinating times of up to 24 hours. That works with planning. These veal chops are perfect for the last minute cook, super delicious and dinner-party worthy. Why wait for the weekend? These can be made tonight, no planning required.

Charcoal-Grilled Veal Chops
serves four

4 meaty bone-in veal chops
2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
¼ c olive oil, more if needed
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
Salt and pepper

1. In a mini food processor, grind the mushrooms into a fine powder.

2. Combine the mushroom powder with the garlic and olive oil. Mix until well blended into a paste; add more oil if the paste is too thick (it should not be runny, but be thin enough to be spread easily).

3. Pat the chops dry and generously season with salt and pepper. Using your hands, rub the porcini paste all over the veal chops evenly and set aside.*

4. Prepare your grill. We love the smokiness of real hardwood charcoal best. Grill the chops until rosy pink inside and slightly springy to the touch, about 5 minutes per side. Let rest for a few minutes so that the juices absorb into the meat.

5. Serve the chops alongside a fresh green salad with your garden’s first early tomatoes, a glass of Pinot Noir at the ready (but surely this isn't your first glass?)

*If you do have time on your side, let the veal chops marinate in the rub for as long as you're able.

July 20, 2010

Daring Cooks Challenge - Chicken with Curried Tomato Almond Sauce

I love almond butter.  There's no denying that almond butter on a slice of crispy toast is a tad dry (try slicking some real butter underneath for just the right amount of creaminess), but you also can't deny the healthy goodness of almond butter.  It never really occurred to me to make my own until I saw this month's Daring Cooks' Challenge.

The July 2010 Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They challenged Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. I opted for the almond butter - natch - and made the delicious Indian-scented chicken dish that was adapted from The Food Network's Butter Chicken recipe.

I made further adaptations to the challenge recipe, using almond milk instead of regular, and cutting down on the (real) butter.  I also used chicken thighs, as I prefer the tasty meatiness of dark chicken meat, and found it a great foil to the rich sauce. 

 Chicken with Curried Tomato Almond Sauce
4 servings

2 c raw whole almonds*
1 tbsp olive oil
6 skinless boneless chicken thighs
Salt to taste
½ tbsp garam masala seasoning
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp black pepper
1 tbsp butter
1 large onion, cut in half lengthwise
1 large garlic cloves, minced
15 oz good quality tomato sauce
⅓ c almond butter
⅓ cup almond milk
½ cup chicken broth or water; more as needed
1 c frozen peas (optional)
Hot basmati rice for serving
Slivered almonds and parsley (optional)

*You will have plenty of almond butter left over.  Use it as a healthy alternative to peanut butter, or in protein shakes.

1.  Turn on food processor, and slowly add almonds in a steady stream. Grind the nuts in the processor until they form a paste or butter. This will take about 15 to 20 minutes for whole almonds; the skin of whole almonds will leave dark flecks in the butter.  

2.  Pat chicken thighs dry and sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Heat olive oil a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken; sautĂ© about 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Cool slightly, slice chicken thighs; set aside on clean plate and keep warm.

3.  Stir garam masala, ginger, cinnamon, and pepper together in a small bowl to make spice blend. Set aside.

4.  In the same skillet, melt the butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook gently for several minutes to infuse the butter and oil with onion flavor. Add the spice blend and garlic and cook for 1 minute or till fragrant, stirring constantly. Add the tomato sauce, stir well, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Remove onions and discard. 

5.  Whisk in almond butter and milk until thoroughly combined with tomato sauce. The almond butter is thick so it takes a while to make a smooth sauce. Return to simmer. Add broth (or water) to sauce to reach desired consistency; return to simmer. Add more broth (or water) as needed to thin sauce as desired.

5.  Stir frozen peas (if using) into sauce. Transfer sliced chicken to sauce. Simmer gently for a few minutes until peas and chicken are heated through.

6.  Serve chicken and sauce over rice. Garnish with chopped parsley and/or sliced almonds if desired.

We neither used the rice nor the garnish, but just had the chicken straight up, with a lovely green salad on the side. Thanks, daring Cooks, for a delicious dinner treat!

July 16, 2010

Summertime Grilled Corn Salad

We take a break from our regularly scheduled Italy posts (and yes there are more to come!) to bring you my take on a fabulous summer grilled corn salad, recently enjoyed at a friend’s house and perfect for outdoor eating. The salad can be made ahead and is a delicious accompaniment to grilled meats or fish.

Sweet and Smoky Grilled Corn Salad
serves 8

10 ears corn, husked
½ c olive oil mayonnaise
1 large roasted garlic clove, minced*
½ chipotle chili in adobo, minced
¼ c lime juice
1½ tbsp ground cumin
½ c grated aged Manchego cheese
3 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram
Salt and pepper to taste

*use one large fresh garlic clove if you don’t have the time or inclination to roast a garlic head.

1. Grill the corn, turning frequently, so that each cob is lightly flecked with brown all around. Cool, cut corn off cobs and place corn in a bowl.

2. In a small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and stir until blended. Combine with the corn, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

NB. The dressing can be made ahead and refrigerated. Combine the corn and dressing while the corn is still slightly warm for easier blending. The completed salad can be refrigerated several hours before serving. Bring to room temperature before serving.

July 04, 2010

La Bella Italia - Eating Toscana Style

What is it about Italian restaurants? There doesn’t seem to be a need for trends or fashion or the “latest”. Instead, Italians just want the very best food experiences, and for that they are both loyal and adventurous. Loyal in that they will go back to the same places over and over again; adventurous in that they will travel far – hours if need be – to experience a meal, but only if (and this is key) they know it will not disappoint.

The trattorie, osterie and ristorantes reflect that sensibility. As we walked the streets of Florence, we saw the same places we had been to 17 years before, serving the same variations on pasta and meats that are simply prepared, and simply delicious. Their enduring popularity is a testament to great food.

This time around we wanted to try new places that were old favourites.  Our first night's dinner also happened to coincide with the Azzurri playing Paraguay in World Cup action, so naturally we wanted to both eat and watch the game.  Trattoria dei 13 Gobbi, at Via Del Porcellana, seemed like the right mix of local flavour and flavours.  "Tredici Gobbi" translates into 13 hunchbacks, and is typical of the off-beat names that one finds in Florence, especially at establishments that have been around for a long time (for example, Coco Lezzone means "smelly cook" but the food is anything but smelly!)

Note the TV screen with the game inside!

Our meal started with the absolutely perfect early summer dish: fiori di zucca: zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and anchovies, lightly battered, fried. and sprinkled with lots of salt.

Better than french fries...

Although every menu offers a full array of dishes, from antipasti, to primi, secondi, contorni (side dishes) and dessert, watch the way the Italians eat.  It's an antipasto (appetiser) and main (secondo), or perhaps a plate of pasta (primo), with a main.  Often no dessert.  Always wine.  While we tourists just can't understand why we've gained wieght in Italy and the locals all seem slender, it's because they pick and choose carefully.  No snacking.  A leisurely lunch.  Eating s-l-o-o-o-w-l-y.  The Slow Food movement, which began in Torino, is aptly named.

But back to dinner.  In one of the rare times we ate like Italians, we too, only ordered pasta.  The winning dish of the evening was Richard's pasta.  The trattoria is famous for its rigatoni, and rightfully so: it's simply dressed with a tomato sauce that's got plenty of cheese, a touch of basil, and not much else.  Like most of the best Italian dishes, three or four ingredients are enough to make the dish memorable.

 House wine, always well priced and good

My kind of dessert: in-season strawberries, a sprinkle of sugar and a squeeze of lemon.

The next day was going to be a mix of culture and shopping: a stop at the famous Farmacia Santa Maria Novella and next on to the Pitti Palace.

The Farmacia is as beautiful as a musuem but smells better

Instead of a full-blown lunch, we thought we'd grab a quick bite at one of the many bars that dot the city.  We stopped in at Enoteca le Volpi e l'uva Enoteca le Volpi e l'uva, a small wine bar tucked next to a trattoria that was filled with bratty American students changing ingredients on every dish they were ordering. 
We were very happy with what Le Volpi had to offer.  Small bites, perfectly paired with boutique wines.  The first "bite" was Peperoncino piccante, a spicy pepper stuffed with anchovies and capers, alongside a single tomato bruschetta, drizzled ever so lovingly with the best olive oil.  The Porcini e tartufo bianco (a small finger sandwich filled with a porcini mushroom and white truffle spread), was equally delicious, and gave me that first longed-for taste of porcini mushrooms.

The next "bite" was even better.  Le Volpi serves a wide variety of crostone, thick slices of toasted Tuscan bread with delicious toppings.  The Crostone con salsiccia al tartufo (melted Asiago cheese and black truffle-infused sausage), was amazingly good. 

Big enough to share, small enough to savor

Yes, it was good!

It was the ultimate Italian lunch - small bites, each distinctly delicious, eaten slowly and with no fuss.  On to the Palazzo Pitti and art for dessert...

The view from the Palazzo Pitti

If you are lucky enough to get fresh zucchini flowers, try this simple recipe.  perfect as an appetiser, it is both easy and impressive - and truly a seasonal dish, a la Toscana.

Fiori di Zucca Fritti (Fried Zucchini Flowers)

1 egg, separated
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
1 c. all purpose flour
pinch saffron
12 zucchini flowers, gently washed and dried, pistils removed
12 anchovies preserved in oil, separated and rinsed
12 small slices fresh mozzarella, about 2 inches long and no more than an inch thick
½ c canola oil
1 lemon, cut into wedges for squeezing

1.  Beat the egg yolk until creamy, and slowly add the oil, water and lemon juice. 

2.  Slowly whisk in the flour, beating to form a light batter with a consistency like heavy cream.  Add the salt and saffron, and set aside for at least one hour.  Beat the egg white and fold into the batter gently.

3.  Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-heat high.  Fold back the petals and stuff each flower with a piece of anchovy and cheese.  Tuck the petals back together so that they enclose the filling.  Holding the flowers by the stem, dip into the batter, letting any excess batter drip off.  Deep fry until golden on all sides, removing as done with a slotted spoon and draining on paper towels. 

4.  Serve the hot flowers on a platter, sprinkled with salt, with lemon on the side for squeezing.