Friday, September 26, 2014

FFWD ~ Vanilla Vegetable Salad

 FFWD ~ Vanilla Vegetable Salad

This week our French Fridays recipe is for a salad, but it’s really the dressing that’s the star.  The salad itself is several handfuls of greens, a few young carrots, and yellow summer squash. The carrots and squash are shaved with a vegetable peeler, or mandoline into ribbons. Dorie suggests mixed salad greens, I used Arugula, because I love the peppery taste. Easy to assemble! 

The dressing is a mixture of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and a touch of vanilla, whisked together with a bit of sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Yes, you read it correctly…vanilla! I am a vanilla lover, and was totally intrigued by this dressing. 
Dorie writes that she first had this salad in a charming little wine bar in Paris. Leave it to the French to come up with such a delightful combination. I think this dressing would work on any light salad. The hint of vanilla was quite lovely. 
Truly delightful and totally enjoyed!
Making the vegetable ribbons sounds fussy, but was really quite easy. Because I was only making one serving, I used my vegetable peeler to make the ribbons. I then placed them in a bowl of ice water to crisp them up, and let them curl a bit.  You could slice the ribbons ahead of time, and keep them in a bowl of ice water in the fridge, until you’re ready to make the salad. 

We are having some beautiful warm days here in New Jersey (summers last hurrah) and Bill is taking advantage of the end of golf season. So this salad was my lunch, served with a few slices of cheese. It was lovely!  I forgot to mention; the carrots are from my garden! Happy Friday everyone!

The recipe can be found in Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook, Around My French Table. If you’d like to see what the other “Doristas” thought of this dish, check it out here. 

 Loved the hint of vanilla in this dressing…lovely!

Carrots from my garden!  Not so pretty, but sweet and delicious!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Italy Part II ~ The Vatican Museum and a Private Tour of the Sistine Chapel~ Tomato-Ricotta Tart with Almond Pepper Crust

 One of the Mosaic floors in the Vatican Museum

Our last excursion in Rome was an after hours tour of the Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel. Disney did it again!  By arranging an after hours tour, we were able to experience these incredible sites with no crowds. Our Rome guide Christina, shared her exceptional expertise and knowledge, leaving me wishing I had taken an art history class long ago, longing to learn more. The Raphael rooms were exquisite. Much more interesting than I could have imagined! Christina managed to bring their history to life, relating stories of how Raphael created his paintings and, his artistic rivalry with Michelangelo. I was left awed and speechless. When we entered the Sistine Chapel, you could hear an audible gasp followed by silence, as everyone absorbed the magnificent sight of Michelangelo’s most significant work of art!

Laocoon in the Octagon Court
River God
One of the magnificent paintings by Raphael 
Ceiling in the Hall of Maps
 This way to the Sistine Chapel….no photos allowed
Following our evening tour, we were free for dinner.  After a full day of site seeing, we decided to eat in the hotel dining room. My friend Anna, who is from Italy, recommended we try "Bucatini all’Amatriciana” while in Rome. Since she said it’s a "must try” several of us ordered it! It did not disappoint! The Bucatini all’Amatriciana appears on many menus throughout Rome.  It gets its name from the town of Amatrice, about an hour east of Rome. Bucatini is fat spaghetti, with a hollow center. However, it’s the sauce that makes this dish special. The classic sauce gets its punch from the red chili pepper flakes, and black pepper. It consists of just a handful of ingredients, and has a wonderfully spicy flavor. In Italy it is made with thinly sliced guanciale (an Italian cured meat prepared from pork jowl). However, pancetta can be substituted. Delicious! If you’d like to give it a try, you can find a recipe for it at Bon Appetit.

Next up Tuscany!

                                                                              Bucatini all’Amatriciana                                photo by Bon Appetit                

I came home to a garden overflowing with tomatoes! I’ve made a few batches of sauce, frozen several bags of pureed tomatoes, and lastly, but not at all least, I made this wonderful Tomato-Ricotta Tart with Almond and Pepper Crust!

Tomato-Ricotta Tart with Almond & Pepper Crust…ready for the oven
Fresh tomatoes and basil makes this tart delectable
A great way to use up some of those tomatoes
Buon Appetito

Tomato-Ricotta Tart with Almond & Pepper Crust
the crust is adapted from Sweet Paul magazine

Makes one 9 inch tart

Almond and Pepper Crust:
1 cup all­purpose flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (I like my coarse)
1 stick cold butter, in pieces
ice cold water

1½ cups fresh ricotta
1 egg
¼ cup basil leaves, chopped

1½ teaspoons of chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
sliced tomatoes

olive oil for drizzling over the tomatoes, and extra basil

For the crust, place regular flour, almond flour, salt, pepper and butter in the bowl of the food processor and pulse till mixture is crumbly and grainy, the consistency of cornmeal. It should be crumbly and grainy,
Add ice water, a little at a time and pulse until the dough holds together.
Wrap the dough in plastic and let rest in the fridge for 1 hour. (You can make it a few days ahead of time, if you want)
Roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper and place in a well greased tart pan.
Prick the bottom with a fork and freeze for 15 minutes.
Bake at 400F for about 10 minutes, until firm and slightly browned.
Cool on a wire rack.
For the filling: In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta, egg, and basil. Season with salt and pepper and spread onto the tart crust.
Place tomatoes on the top of the cheese filling, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with some chopped basil leaves. Place into the oven and bake about 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese mixture seems cooked through. Cool and serve at room temperature.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

FFWD ~ Seared Shrimp with Mango and Avocado

My version of Seared Shrimp with Mango and Avocado for French Fridays
This week, because I’m posting late, I will get right to point! The recipe picked for French Fridays is Tuna and Mango Ceviche. The few things I know about Ceviche are, it's a popular seafood dish in the coastal regions of South America, and it’s made with fresh raw seafood, cured in citrus juice.  I planned on skipping it. Anyone who reads my blog knows, I don’t do raw fish! However, Dorie gave me a great alternative with the Bonn Idee! To sear or not to sear, that was the question. For those squeamish fish eaters, who don’t do sushi, this was my compromise. It was actually a perfect dish to enjoy on our back deck; for one of our last warm days of summer.

An utterly delicious seared shrimp salad
This dish can be put together rather quickly! The vinaigrette is delicious, made with fresh lime juice, rum and olive oil. Then season with a touch of Tabasco, salt and pepper.  After searing the shrimp, they are arranged on a plate with slices of mango and avocado. I plated mine a little differently then Dorie suggests. First, I used some salad greens. In the center I placed about a half cup of cooked Israeli Couscous. I then arranged the mango and avocado around the couscous, and topped it with the seared shrimp. Finally, drizzle on the vinaigrette and serve! Bill’s version was minus the avocado, with sliced tomatoes. Both versions made a truly enjoyable lunch! I’m glad Dorie gave me a choice this week! Both Bill and I savored our mouthwatering lunch.  Happy weekend everyone!

We loved this…the flavors were wonderful together 
A deliciously special lunch on the deck for the last day of Summer 
Bill’s version…greens, couscous, mango and sliced tomatoes…topped with seared shrimp!

On another note, last week was our anniversary. Bill and I spent a few lovely days in NYC. New York is enchanting in the fall! The temperatures were cool, and the air was crisp with the smell of roasting pretzels waifting around us (venders are on almost every street corner) making our walks delightful! One of our days was spent walking the High Line. We then detoured into the West Village, where we had a marvelous lunch at the “Spotted Pig”. This restaurant has been on my radar for several years, ever since I wrote a piece on April Bloomfield, for the 50 Most Influential Women in food. It was definitely worth the wait! 
    To make the Tuna-Mango Ceviche the recipe can be found in Dorie’s Cookbook "Around My French Table” or here at 
Finally eating at the Spotted Pig…it was worth the wait
Ricotta Gnudi with Basil Pesto….delectable!
These were the best French Fries ever…fried with rosemary and slices of garlic…Bill’s Lunch!

Friday, September 12, 2014

FFWD ~ Basic French Lentils and a Classic Lentil Salad

FFWD ~ Classic Lentil Salad

Hello everyone! It’s time for French Fridays again. This week we have a very basic dish to serve up...French Lentils! Lentils have always been part of my life. I grew up on them. My grandmother would serve them weekly, as part of our meatless Friday menu. How many of you remember those meatless Fridays? Once, while in high school, I went with some girlfriends to the Newbury’s lunch counter, to grab an after school snack. I was really hungry and ordered a hot dog. Then I remembered it was Friday! Being the good Catholic girl I was, I reluctantly walked away from that hot dog. Even though I was starving, and had no money to buy anything else! In my thirteen-year-old mind, I was comforted in knowing I had not committed a sin, that could send me straight know where.

I loved the goat cheese added to this salad…creamy and rich tasting

I was really looking forward to trying Dorie’s Basic French Lentil recipe, and it did not disappoint.
French Lentils, otherwise known as lentilles du Puy, are a smaller, green-gray variety that grow in France. The name comes from the region of France where they are grown. When they are cooked, they hold their shape, which makes them perfect for salads. 

du Puy lentils compared to the normal brown lentil

Dorie’s recipe for the French Lentils is simple and delicious. The lentilles du Puy, are cooked in chicken broth, along with celery, carrots, an onion, cloves, garlic, and a bay leaf till tender.  Once the lentils are cooked, remove from the heat, and add a tablespoon of Cognac and a chopped shallot. These lentils have a rich, deep warm flavor, that I truly enjoyed.

The book gives several options for serving the lentils. Honestly, I loved them right out of the pot…a perfect side dish! However, one option Dorie suggests for serving them, is with a Dijon vinaigrette, as a salad. It’s made with Dijon mustard, walnut oil, sherry vinegar, salt, and freshly ground pepper. I chose to make the salad with the vinaigrette, and added some goat cheese to mine!  A la Dorie! A lovely lunch to say the least! Happy Friday everyone!

This recipe can be found in Dorie’s cookbook, “Around My French Table”, or here at Serious Eats. To see how the other Dorista’s chose to make their lentils, check it out here on the FrenchFriday webpage

Delicious Classic Lentil Salad…Happy Friday everyone!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Individual Puff Pancakes ~ Breakfast on the Back Porch

Magical individual puff pancakes
I’m trying to soak up every bit of summer, before we transition into fall. The temperatures have been in the 80’s and 90’s, but I know fall is just around the corner. Before long it will be chilly and too cold to use our back porch. This morning however, the weather was perfect for an al fresco breakfast! I had some beautiful fresh raspberries, that I had just picked from my garden.  Also, some locally purchased peaches, that were on my counter begging to be eaten.  I thought of my options...French toast, waffles?Ah, but I didn’t want the mess. Then I remembered something I haven’t made for awhile. Puff Pancakes! Sometimes known as Dutch Babies, or German Pancakes. They even fit my summer mood!

These are just a perfectly elegant quick breakfast

I’ve been making puff pancakes for a very long time. You can see a full sized one here, where I posted it a few years back. They are perfect for a lazy weekend breakfast or as part of a brunch menu. The thing about puff pancakes is, they’re like magic! You first mix your main ingredients…eggs, flour, milk, a bit of vanilla, and some orange or lemon zest in a blender.  Place your muffin pan in a hot oven to heat, with a bit of butter in each cup.  When the pan is hot, and before the butter browns, pour the batter in.  Bake for between 15 and 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Magically you will have lovely puffed pancakes, ready to be filled. I always use whatever fruit is in season to fill my pancakes. Fresh fruit throughout the summer, and sauteed apples, or pears in the fall and winter.  I normally make my puff pancake in a 9 inch cast iron skillet or pie plate, but today I thought it would be nice to have individual servings. I decided to use a large (3½ inch cups) muffin tin to make them in. This recipe will make about 5 or 6 puffed pancakes when using the muffin pan.  Magic maybe…but they look great and taste even better!
Hope you’ll give these a try… and add some magic to your breakfast table!

Muffin tin with about a teaspoon of butter in each cup
Baking in the oven…love the magic
Perfect for filling
 This was a perfect way to enjoy our porch for an “End of Summer" breakfast
Wish you could join us!

Puff Pancakes
adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook


2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
dash of salt
1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoon butter


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Put about a teaspoon of butter into each cup of a large muffin pan (my pan is no-stick and each cup of is about 3½ inches), then place in the pre-heated oven, watching to make sure the butter does not burn.
In the jar of your blender, mix together the eggs, milk, flour, salt, vanilla and zest.
Pour the batter only about ⅓ full, into the hot buttered muffin cups. If you do not fill all the cups with batter…put about a ¼ cup of water into each empty cup.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes (or until the pancake is firm, lightly browned and has puffed up around the edges). Squeeze on a little lemon juice and sprinkle with powdered sugar. 
You could also make this pancake in a 9 inch cast iron pan or pie plate. 
I always fill mine with fruit, but the choice is yours!

Other options: Sprinkle with brown sugar, or use some maple syrup
                       Spread with jam  
                       Fill with fresh berries or fruit
                       Lightly sprinkle with Grand Marnier
                       Fill with chestnut cream or sweetened ricotta
                       Instead of vanilla you can add cinnamon or other extract
                       The topping options are endless!

Friday, September 5, 2014

FFWD ~ Curried Chicken, Peppers, and Peas en Paillote

FFWD ~ Curried Chicken, Peppers and Peas en Papillote
This weeks French Fridays recipe is for Curried Chicken, Peppers and Peas en Papillote. It was straightforward, and easy to put together. 
The cooking method en Papillote means “in parchment”.  It allows the meat or fish to stew in its own juices, along with the seasonings and other ingredients you choose to include. Traditionally, the packets are made with parchment paper however, Dorie suggests, you use aluminum foil to make them. This recipe took about five minutes to put together, and twenty minutes to bake. The results were a moist, wonderful meal with no pots to wash.
When I read the recipe, I remembered Bill is not very fond of curry…should I change the seasoning? I actually thought of substituting the curry with Italian seasonings.  Then I thought "if I just cut the curry it might be fine”...WRONG!! 

Dinner on the table in 30 minutes
This recipe called for a teaspoon of curry.  I knew that would be way over the top for Bill. I decided to cut the amount to about a ¼ teaspoon. First slicing the raw chicken breasts into pieces, mixing them in a bowl with chopped red bell pepper, peas and red onion slices, along with the seasonings. This mixture is then wrapped in foil packets, and placed in a 400º oven for about 20 minutes. 
I loved the ease of this recipe. I immediately thought “why don’t I use this method more often for making dinner”? The packets can be made in advance, and popped in the oven at dinner time. 
I really enjoyed this dish. It looked so appealing with all the specks of green and red, and I thought the curry flavor was very slight.  However, Bill picked up the flavor of curry right away and asked, “what is that odd taste on the chicken”?  He reluctantly ate it, but said it would be much better without the curry!  Hmmm…The recipe is for Curried Chicken etc.  Anyway, Happy Friday everyone!

The recipe can be found in Dorie’s cookbook, “Around My French Table” or here where it has been published.

Chicken, seasonings, peas, red pepper, and onion mixed in bowl
Foil packets ready for the oven
I really love the ease of cooking my dinner in this way
I see this dish being a regular on my menu sans the curry

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Benvenuto Italia Part 1, and Fresh Fig Tart with Rosemary Cornmeal Crust

The Coliseum
I recently returned from a fabulous trip to Italy. It was a bucket list trip for me. I’ve always wanted to visit the Mediterranean. We started our trip in Roma! Beautiful Roma!  La Citta Eterna…(The Eternal City). Our hotel was first class, and very close to the Vatican.  We were in Italy for eight days, joining our son and his family there. That of course, only added to the specialness of our trip!  

The first night we were welcomed with a wonderful Italian feast at our hotel. Five courses! The pasta course was exceptional…the sauce so fresh tasting. Food was plentiful, the wine flowed freely, and everyone was full of excitement as Marco and Kathleen (our Adventures by Disney tour Managers) briefed us on our itinerary for the next several days.  Of course, what would dinner be without dessert.  Gelato was a given for my grandsons, but the adults enjoyed a few other options. I had a wonderful Tiramisu. 

Our first full day was spent touring the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps and the gorgeous fountains of Rome. We also visited Trevi Fountain, one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions. Although it was being renovated, it still drew a large crowd to view the spectacular carvings. As I stood in the Coliseum, all I could think about was all the history that had happened in this special and ancient place. It is a jaw dropping, awe inspiring structure, once the center of the Western Civilization!  

The Pantheon
Inside the Pantheon
And now, a great center for fabulous food!  We experienced a most wonderful pizza lunch at Obika Mozzarella Bar (coincidently one opened recently in the Flatiron building in NYC). Our first course was  a delicious antipasto and mozzarella Di Bufula followed by our first Italian pizza…actually four variations of fabulously delicious pizzas!
The next day was spent touring the Vatican. St Peter’s Basilica was our first stop. From our hotel, which was right across the street from the Vatican, our guides walked us over to the Basilica quite early, to avoid lines. We pretty much walked right in. The staggering size and ornate detail of St Peters was phenomenal.  There were markers along the center isle denoting its size compared to all the largest Cathedrals throughout the world. The Basilica has been standing inside the Vatican, since 1626, and is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. The Pietà by Michelangelo is housed in the Basilica. It is simply breathtaking! 
It has long been a favorite of mine, and seeing it in person was thrilling.

The Vatican…St. Peter’s Basilica 
The Swiss Guard
The Pietà  
One last thing to see before our lunch break was a visit to Castel Sant’Angelo, once the tallest building in Rome. It sits on the edge of the Vatican and was once used as a papal fortress and prison. It is a true gem among Rome’s historic sights. It’s connected to the Vatican by an elevated passage called the Passetto di Borgo. If you've read Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown…the castel is even more interesting! 
                                                                Castel Sant’Angelo                                                     stock photo   
We then had a free afternoon. My son recommended we lunch in Trastevere, a short cab ride away (Hmmm…cab rides in Rome short or long are unforgettable experiences themselves).  Old Rome, with beautiful narrow cobbled streets, little shops, venders and many cafes to sit and have a cappuccino or glass of wine.  Our guide Marco, had given my son a recommendation for a restaurant called Sabatini’s.  Located in Piazza Santa Maria, with a large fountain in the center, unbelievably scenic. Our lunch was incredible!  One thing I will never forget, was watching one of the very skilled Sabatini brothers slicing very thin Prosciutto from a ham hock. He performed this task with pride and ceremony. Our walk back, from Trastevere along the Tiber River, was filled with neighborhood sights and sounds of this beautiful area. Walking through long narrow streets, with flowers and vines hanging from windows, finally climbing a seemingly vertical stairway to our hotel.

So much more to tell, but it will have to wait! I think I am running out of space! 

We had a wonderful lunch in Trastevere at Sabitinis 
One of the Sabitini brothers…both in their 80’s…carving the thinest prosciutto I’ve ever seen
Great food, and wonderful atmosphere 
The view from our table…Ryan and Bill checking out the fountain in Piazza Santa Maria 
Lovely winding streets of Trastevere

Seemingly vertical stairway back to our hotel

When I got home, I was so missing the wonderful Italian tarts and cakes that we were served everyday, that I had to bake something! Here is a tart that brings back Italy to me.  Hope you give it a try! Fresh figs and Mascarpone…yum!

Beautiful fresh Fig Tart with Rosemary Cornmeal crust

Gourmet | July 2003

Makes 6 servings
active time:1 1/4 hour
total time:1 3/4 hour

For crust
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal (not stone-ground)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
4 to 5 tablespoons ice water
For filling
1/3 cup sour cream
1 cup (8oz.) mascarpone cheese (you could substitute cream cheese)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons red-currant jelly
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 lb fresh figs

Special equipment: an 11 1/4- by 8- by 1-inch rectangular or 10-inch round fluted tart pan (1 inch deep) with a removable bottom
Make crust:
Pulse together flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add butter and rosemary and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Drizzle evenly with 4 tablespoons ice water and pulse until just incorporated.

Gently squeeze a small handful: If it doesn't hold together, add more water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition and continuing to test.

Press dough evenly onto bottom and up sides of tart pan with floured fingers. Smooth dough with a small offset metal spatula or back of a spoon (floured if necessary), then roll a rolling pin over top of pan to trim dough flush with rim. Chill crust until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Bake crust in middle of oven until center and edges are golden, 25 to 30 minutes (don't worry if bottom of crust cracks), then cool in pan on a rack.
Prepare filling and assemble tart:

Whisk together sour cream, mascarpone, sugar, zest, and salt in a bowl.

Heat jelly and honey in a small saucepan over moderately low heat, whisking, until jelly is melted, about 4 minutes, then cool glaze slightly.

Remove side of tart pan and spread mascarpone cream in shell. Cut figs lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices and arrange decoratively over cream. Brush figs with honey glaze.