My Fantasy Dinner Party – What’s Yours?

When I was a little girl, I found Dad’s foot-locker stuck in a corner of the garage, just collecting dust. It was his, from his time in the Air Force. We aren’t talking about a flimsy foot-locker – it was big and sturdy and made to last. That is when I first began “collecting” things. It was my hope chest. I was all of nine or ten at the time. Would you believe, some of the things I had tucked away in that chest I still have today? Yep – stuff you can’t find any more – my tools of inspiration and creativity.

Growing up, there were many parties at our house. While all revolved around food, most were casual in nature – backyard barbecues and such. Only at Christmas and Easter did the “fancy” china make an appearance at the table and everyone dressed for the occasion – the ladies in dresses of the season, the gentlemen in suits. Of course, back then men generally wore shirts and ties and ladies wore dresses, with stockings and high-heeled shoes – even on the weekends. Casual attire was strictly reserved for staying at home, without company.

While a traditional “Hope Chest” held clothing, linens and some household items a young girl would collect in anticipation and preparation of her wedding day, mine was strictly for kitchen stuff. Marriage had nothing to do with it. I longed for my own kitchen, where I could prepare wonderful meals to be served to interesting dinner companions. Even now, I still enjoy spending time putting together elaborate menus for sophisticated suppers. Once upon a time, in our prior life, we hosted extravagant dinner parties. While at times a catering company was hired, the menu was always one I had designed. There were times when all the work of preparing the selected menu was done by me (since I love being in the kitchen) and only a wait staff was necessary to serve and clear while I was free to enjoy the company of our guests.

Granted, for most of us today (yours truly included), an elegant 10-Course dinner party for six is an insane propitiation, yet one can dare to fantasize just a bit.


The Aperitif is a warm welcome as my guests arrive. This allows time for everyone to mingle and gives “late” arrivals a guilt-free appearance. Although the aperitif is served anywhere BUT the dining room, it is considered the first course of the meal.

The second through ninth course are all served in the dining room. (If you don’t have a dining room that isn’t a part of the kitchen – no problem – move the table to the backyard. With proper lighting and a little imagination, this could transport the entire party to another place and time).

With each course, individual china and silverware are placed on the table, then cleared away to make room for more. (Unless you are the Queen with a dining-room table so long that everything fits. In which case, there may not be much in the way of pleasant conversation as your dining companions are in the next county). The key here is to allow ample time between courses, otherwise your guests may faint! Lingering over a glass of wine is a wonderful way to pace the meal nicely.

The final course of the evening is served in the living room (drawing-room, if you have one). This gives everyone a chance to stretch their legs after a long meal and to relax.

And now for the menu –

1st Course – Aperitif
Champagne with Chambord and Strawberries

2nd Course – Hors d’Oeuvers 
Canapés a l’Amiral
Chilled Duck Breasts with a Zinfandel Reduction Sauce Amuse

3rd Course – Soup
Consommé Olga

4th Course – Fish
Poached Salmon with a Mousseline Sauce

5th Course – Sorbet
Lime Sorbet with Mint Garnish

6th Course – Foul
Roasted Quail with Grape Clusters

7th Course – Meat with Two Vegetables
Tornadoes of Beef with Three Peppercorn Sauces
Potatoes Romanoff
Peas in a Cream Sauce

8th Course – Salad
Mixed Greens with Artichoke Hearts

9th Course – Dessert
Chocolate Mouse with Pear Chips and Chocolate Leaves

10th Course – After Dinner Refreshments
Coffee and Espresso
Liqueurs and Wines
Fruit and Cheese Platter
Bite-Size Chocolate and Small Cake Platter

Remember what I said at the start – this is a FANTASY dinner. While recipes are a collection from a variety of sources – cookbooks, magazines and of course the internet, the menu is mine. Pardon me while I dream on . . .


First Course – APERITIF

CHAMPAGNE with CHAMBORD and STRAWBERRIES
1 Magnum Imported Champagne
6 Tablespoons Raspberry Liqueur (Chambord)
6 Strawberries, whole with green tops removed

Pour champagne into 6 long steamed flute glasses.

Add a splash of Raspberry Liqueur (about a tablespoon) to each glass.

Drop one strawberry into each glass and serve immediately.


Second Course – HORS D’OEUVRES

CANAPÉS À L’AMIRAL with SHRIMP BUTTER
Canapés
20 slices (about 1/2-inch thick) baguette
1 teaspoon lime juice
10 small cooked shrimp, halved lengthwise
20 fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons caviar

Place baguette slices on a baking sheet and toast under broiler for 1 minute per side or until lightly golden. Remove from broiler and set aside.

Drizzle lime juice over cooked shrimp halves; stir and set aside.

Shrimp Butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large shallot, peeled, ends removed, minced
1 clove garlic, peeled, ends removed, minced
8 ounces shrimp in shell, rinsed
1/4 cup brandy
4 ounces cream cheese, softened (regular or reduced fat)
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Dash of Vanilla

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until softened.

Increase heat to high and add the shrimp. Sauté shrimp for 4-5 minutes or until the shells are pink and the flesh is opaque. Remove the shrimp and cool. When cool enough to handle, peel and discard shells.

Transfer shrimp mixture to a food processor fitted with the steel blade or a blender. Return skillet to the heat and add brandy. Cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds or until the brandy is reduced to a glaze. Scrape the glaze into the shrimp mixture. Pulse shrimp mixture until it is coarsely chopped.

Add the cream cheese, butter, tomato paste, salt, pepper and vanilla. Process until almost smooth and set aside.

To assemble Canapés: Place shrimp butter in a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tube. Decoratively pipe the shrimp butter onto the toasted baguette slices, or spread mixture on slices using a table knife. Top each with a cooked shrimp half, parsley leaf and a small amount of caviar.

CHILLED DUCK with a ZINFANDEL REDUCTION SAUCE AMUSE
1 cup Zinfandel
1/2 cup soy sauce (Use Japanese soy such as Kikkoman)
1/2 cup Mirin (Japanese Wine)
4 large scallions, green parts only, coarsely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
Two 1-pound Muscovy duck breasts, fat trimmed
2 cups small arugula leaves (2 ounces)

In a medium saucepan, boil the Zinfandel over high heat until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In a large, sturdy, resealable plastic freezer bag, combine the soy sauce, Mirin, scallions, garlic, ginger and Zinfandel reduction.

Gather 10 bamboo skewers in your hand and puncture the duck skin all over, through to the meat. Alternatively, use the tip of a very sharp knife to poke the duck skin all over.

Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the duck breasts, skin side down, and cook over moderate heat until deeply browned, about 8 minutes. Turn the duck over and cook until browned on the other side, about 3 minutes.

Transfer the duck breasts to the bag with the marinade and seal it. Place the sealed bag inside a double layer of sturdy plastic bags, sealing each bag. Carefully lower the duck breasts into the boiling water. Cover, turn off the heat and let stand for 10 minutes.

Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Plunge the bags with the duck into the ice bath and let stand for 45 minutes, or until completely chilled. Refrigerate the duck in the bags for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Remove the duck breasts from the marinade and pat them dry with paper towels. Strain the Zinfandel marinade into a medium saucepan and boil over high heat until it has thickened, about 7 minutes. Using a thin, sharp knife, thinly slice the duck breasts crosswise. Drizzle each plate with some of the reduced Zinfandel marinade and arrange the sliced duck breasts on top. Mound the Arugula leaves on the plates and serve.

Make ahead: The recipe can be prepared up to 3 days ahead; refrigerate the Zinfandel marinade and the cooked duck separately.


Third Course – SOUP

CONSOMMÉ OLGA
Soup
7 cups beef stock
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 leek, finely chopped
1 celery, finely chopped
1/2 tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped parsley stems
1/4 lb lean ground veal or 1/4 lb lean ground beef
salt and pepper
3 egg whites, beaten until frothy
1/4 cup port wine

In tall narrow pot, gently heat stock until body temperature. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together vegetables, parsley, and meat until well combined; add salt and pepper; fold in egg whites.

Whisk heated stock into egg mixture; return to pot and, whisking, bring slowly to boil. When mixture begins to look frothy, stop stirring to allow egg mixture to rise and solidify into a raft. Lower heat to medium-low. Carefully make a vent hole in raft with spoon handle. Simmer consommé gently for 30 minutes.

Leaving pot on heat, carefully push raft down with back of ladle; ladle clarified consommé through cheesecloth-lined sieve into clean pot. Heat until very hot. Stir in Port.

Garnish
6 large sea scallops
1/2 celery , blanched and julienned
1/4 English cucumber, julienned
1 small carrot, julienned

Slice scallops crosswise into 3 pieces, place 3 discs into bottom of each of 6 warmed bowls. Pour hot consommé over scallops; arrange celery, carrot, and cucumber decoratively in each bowl. Serve immediately.


Fourth Course – FISH

POACHED SALMON WITH MOUSSELINE SAUCE
Basic Court Bouillon
7 cups water
1 carrot, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
6 peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup parsley
1 teaspoon of salt
1 1/4 cup dry white wine

In a large pot combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain into an air-tight container and cover tightly. Court Bouillon will keep for up to a week  in refrigerator, for up to a week.

Poached Salmon
6 cups Basic Court Bouillon (see recipe ABOVE)
6 salmon fillets
30 very thin slices of English cucumber
6 sprigs fresh dill

In large shallow pot, heat court bouillon until just below boiling point.

Using a slotted spoon or spatula, gently place salmon into bouillon. Add water if needed to completely cover the fish.

Poach fish for 3-5 minutes or until opaque on the outside and still coral-colored in the center.

Mousseline Sauce
2/3 cup melted unsalted butter
3 tablespoons water
3 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup lightly whipped cream

Melt butter over medium-low heat. Allow the butter to melt undisturbed. Using a spoon, skim froth from the surface of the melted butter and discard. Allow butter to cool slightly.

On top of a double boiler or heat-proof bowl, whisk water and egg yolks together with salt and pepper for 30 seconds or until pale yellow and frothy. Over barely simmering water, whisk mixture for 3 minutes or until it draws a ribbon for 5 seconds.

Remove pan from heat; whisk in warm butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until sauce begins to thicken. Still whisking, pour remaining butter into sauce in a slow steady stream.

Stir in lemon juice and dill. Allow the sauce to cool slightly. Gently fold in whipped cream. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Keep warm by setting over a pot of warm water.

When ready to serve, place salmon on a fish platter. Drizzle with some of the Mousseline Sauce. Pour remaining sauce into a gravy boat, and pass at the table.


Fifth Course – SORBET

LIME SORBET with FRESH MINT GARNISH
6 Small Cordial Glasses or Champagne Coupes
1 Pint Lime Sorbet; purchased or homemade
Fresh Mint for garnish

Place attractive glasses on small plates. Fill each glass with one well-rounded scoop of sorbet. Garnish each scoop with a mint leaf. Place demi-spoons on plates and serve.


Sixth Course – FOUL

ROASTED QUAIL with GRAPE CLUSTERS
6 large quail, about 4 to 5 ounces each
Salt and pepper
1 ½ teaspoons grated garlic
6 large rosemary sprigs, plus 1/2 teaspoon chopped
6 large thyme sprigs, plus 1/2 teaspoon chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 small red boiling onions (about 1/2 pound), peeled and quartered
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 pound grapes, cut into 6 small clusters

Rinse quail and pat dry. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. Put a small amount of grated garlic in each bird’s cavity, as well as the chopped rosemary and thyme. Drizzle birds with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and let marinate at room temperature for at least 1 hour. (You may refrigerate for several hours or overnight; bring to room temperature before roasting.)

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place onions in a small oven-proof skillet or pie pan, and season with salt and pepper. Toss with balsamic vinegar and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to coat. Bake until slightly softened and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Spread remaining rosemary and thyme sprigs on a baking sheet or in a low-sided roasting pan. Lay quail on top of herbs, breast-side down. Roast for about 15 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned.

Turn birds breast-side up and surround with roasted onions and grape clusters. Continue roasting for 10 minutes more. If necessary, put birds under the broiler to crisp the skin.

Let rest 10 minutes. Transfer birds to a large round or oval serving platter. Cluster grapes around quail and serve.


Seventh Course – MEAT with TWO VEGETABLES

TORNADOES OF BEEF with THREE PEPPERCORN SAUCES
Potato Shingles (Base)
1/4 Cup + 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
3 lbs Russet potatoes, sliced 3/16-inch thick
6 Garlic Cloves, minced
Salt & Pepper
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position. Pre-heat oven to 425-degrees.

Peel and mince garlic, set aside until ready to use. Wash and slice potatoes. Set aside until ready to use. Brush rimmed baking sheet with 2 tablespoons oil.

In a large bowl, toss potatoes with ¼ cup oil and garlic. Shingle potatoes tightly into even rows, lengthwise, on baking sheet (about 5 rows). Drizzle with melted butter, season with salt and pepper.

Cover potatoes and roast in oven until just tender, 35-40 minutes, rotating pan midway through roasting process.

Uncover potatoes and roast until spotty-browned, about 15-20 minutes longer.

Cut potato shingles into 18 squares just large enough to hold the petite steaks.

Tornadoes of Beef
18 petite Beef Tenderloin steaks, about 1 oz each
Olive Oil

In a large skillet add olive oil enough to coat bottom of pan, heat over medium heat. Sear steak in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the skillet. Sear each batch of steaks until nicely browned and pink in the middle, about 3-4 minutes per side.

While steaks are browning, begin making Pink and Green Peppercorn Sauce. Once steaks are cooked, make remaining black peppercorn sauces.

Remove steaks, wrap in foil to keep warm and set aside. Add a little more oil, heat skillet and continue to sear remaining steaks. Remove, wrap in foil to keep warm and set aside.

Pink Peppercorn Sauce
1 Teaspoon Pink Peppercorns, crushed
½ Cup Heavy Cream
1 Teaspoon Pimentos, chopped

Place peppercorn in a bag, crush with rolling-pin. Set aside until ready to use.

In a saucepan add pink peppercorns, chopped pimentos and heavy cream. Cook over medium-low heat until cream is reduced and thick, about 15 minuets.

Green Peppercorn Sauce
1 Teaspoon Green Peppercorns, crushed
1 Teaspoon parsley, chopped
½ Cup Brandy

Green Pepper Corn Sauce: Place peppercorn in a bag, crush with rolling-pin. Set aside until ready to use.

In a saucepan place peppercorns, parsley and brandy. Bring to a quick boil and allow to boil about 5 minutes.

Black Peppercorn Sauce
1 Teaspoon Black Peppercorns, crushed
2 Oz Mushrooms, sliced
¼ Cup Whiskey

Place peppercorn in a bag, crush with rolling-pin. Set aside until ready to use.

To the skilled, add peppercorns, mushrooms and whiskey. Bring to a quick boil, scrapping up any browned bits of steak.

To assemble:

Place 3 squares of potato shingles on each plate.

Top each potato square a steak. Pour black peppercorn sauce over 1 steak on each plate, pour pink peppercorn sauce over another steak on each plate and the green peppercorn sauce over remaining steak on each plate.

1st VEGETABLE

POTATOES ROMANOFF
2 lbs whole baked potatoes, grated or chopped small
1/2 cup finely minced onions
2 cups grated white cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cup sour cream
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
6 Small Ramekin Dishes

Bake potatoes in the oven until fork tender, about 40 minutes. Allow potatoes to cool. This can be done in the morning, continuing with the recipe later in the day.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl combine the potatoes, onions, cheese (reserve about a 1/2 cup of cheese for the top), and salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Gently fold in the sour cream until just combined.

Butter 6 individual ramekins, and spoon in the mixture. You want as an irregular surface as possible, with lots of nooks and crannies. Top with the remaining cheese and bake the oven for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.

Place ramekins on small plates to prevent burning your guests and serve.

2nd VEGETABLE

PEAS in a CREAM SAUCE
3 Cups Fresh Peas, shelled from 3-6 lbs Pea Pods or frozen peas, thawed
2 Tablespoons Sugar
½ Cup Heavy Cream
2 Tablespoons Butter
Salt and Pepper
1 Tablespoon Chives, finely chopped

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. SLOWLY add peas to maintain slow boil. Cook until tender, about 8-12 minutes depending on size of peas.

In a saucepan, heat heavy cream to a boil. Cook until reduced by half, about 3-5 minutes. Add peas ¼ teaspoon pepper and butter. Cook until butter has melted and peas are heated through, 3-4 minutes, stirring gently to blend.

Transfer to serving bowl and sprinkle with chives. Serve at once.


Eights Course – SALAD

MIXED GREENS with ARTICHOKE HEARTS
4 cups mixed salad green
1/2 red onion (sliced)
14 oz artichoke hearts (water drained)
1 Small Can Sliced Black Olives, optional
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon black pepper (ground)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Parmesan Cheese, shaved

In a large bowl, combine the mixed greens, onion, and artichoke hearts. Toss with black olive slices, if using.

In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, seasoned salt, pepper, and garlic.

Pour enough dressing over salad to coat, and toss well.

Place individual servings on chilled salad plates. Garnish each plate with shaved Parmesan Cheese and serve.


Ninth Course – DESSERT

CHOCOLATE MOUSSE with PEAR CHIPS & CHOCOLATE LEAVES
Chocolate Mousse
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (good quality)
2 cups heavy cream

Equipment
1 saucepan filled with one inch of simmering water
1 large wire whisk
6 sherry or shot glasses
parchment paper
1 piping bag with plain tip, optional

If you want the mousse to rise above the containers for a dramatic presentation, first make a collar by wrapping a piece of parchment or waxed paper around each container, leaving about 1” excess above the container. Secure the paper with tape or kitchen twine. Prepare your containers prior to making the mousse.

The key to this mousse is the temperature of the chocolate. It should be completely melted but not too hot. The ideal temperature is 122 degrees, which is warm, not hot, to the touch. If you have a kitchen thermometer handy, use it.

In a metal bowl that fits over the saucepan of barely simmering water, ensuring that the bowl does not touch the hot water, add the chopped chocolate and 1 cup of whipping cream. Gently melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is fully melted, but not overly hot.

In the bowl of a stand-up mixer fitted with a wire whisk, add the remaining 3 cups of whipping cream. Whisk the cream until it is thickened only. The cream should not be firm enough to hold its shape. When you remove the whisk from the bowl, the cream should drip off in thick beads.

With a whisk close at hand, pour the warm melted chocolate, all at once into the barely whipped cream. Combine with a whisk until the chocolate mousse is uniform in color. The texture will firm as you combine the chocolate with the cream.

The mixture is now ready to pour into your containers. If you have a piping bag, pour the mixture into a piping bag; this will help get the mousse into the glasses neatly, without any mess.

Managing a piping bag is easy when you use a narrow canister or large-mouthed glass to hold the piping bag in place while you fill it. Simply tuck the narrow end of the bag into the container (tip side down) and roll the large end of the bag over the edge of the container, like a cuff, to hold it in place.

Pipe or spoon the mixture into the glasses and refrigerate until set.

While mousse sets, prepare pear chips.

Pear Chips
1 Pear, Firm & washed
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
lemon zest (white pith removed) from ½ lemon

Equipment
1 Mandoline or single-blade slicer
1 Rimmed baking pan lined with parchment paper

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees.

Combine the sugar, water and lemon zest in a small saucepan and heat the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Slice the pear into paper-thin slices using a mandoline or single-blade slicer/grater.

Using a pastry brush, coat both sides of each pear slice with the sugar-water solution. Place the coated slices on the parchment-lined tray, being careful not to overlap the slices.

Dry in the oven for 2 to 3 hours. To test the chips, remove the tray from the oven and allow the pears to cool for 10 minutes (away from a humid kitchen). If your kitchen is warm, place the tray of pears outside to cool them. Gently peel the pears from the parchment. If they are firm and crisp, they are ready. If not, continue to dry them in the oven for another half hour and test again.

Chocolate Leaves
6 ounces good quality chocolate, chopped into small pieces
12 Small, firm leaves, washed and completely dried
1 Tray lined with parchment paper

Melt the chocolate in a metal bowl placed over a saucepan filled with one inch of simmering water. The bowl should not touch the water. When the chocolate has just melted, dip the cleaned leaves into the chocolate, coating one side, and place on a parchment-lined tray. Place the leaves in the refrigerator to firm the chocolate.

Once the chocolate has firmed, carefully peel back the leaf from the chocolate.

To assemble and serve: Remove the mousse from the refrigerator approximately 20 minutes before serving.

Remove the parchment collar and garnish with the pear chip and chocolate leaf just before serving.


Tenth Course – AFTER DINNER REFRESHMENTS

COFFEE, ESPRESSO, AFTER DINNER DRINKS, FRUITS, CHEESES AND SWEETS

The final course is designed to be served in another room, away from the dining table. To linger with guests and chat about life well into the night.

COFFEE: Brew a pot of coffee and place into an Urn for serving. Place on a tray along cream and sugar. Pour upon request.

ESPRESSO: Brew Espresso upon request. Draw Espresso into demi-cups and serve.

LIQUEURS
Sambuca (my personal favorite – with 3 whole coffee beans in the glass)
Franglico
Grappa
Amaretto
Brandy
Irish Mist
Cognac

WINES
Fortified Wines
Ports
Sherry
Late Harvest Ice Wine
Dessert Wines

While not all the liqueurs and wines are necessary, an assortment is always nice. Take requests and serve in the appropriate glassware.

Create a fruit and cheese platter as well as a small platter of bite-size sweets such as Truffles or mini cakes. These can be purchased or home-made. Simply arrange the offerings onto platters for serving.


I’d love to hear what your Fantasy Dinner Party might be – what would you serve? Who would be at your table? I’d love to sit with the likes of Julia Childs, but only if she were doing the cooking as I am sure my culinary skills would pale in comparison.

Let’s Pack a Picnic Together

With summer upon us, it’s time to think about picnics and the great outdoors.

Rosemarie's Kitchen

I don’t know where you live, but I live in Sunny California.  More specifically,  in the central valley region.  There’s a lot of farmland here – miles and miles of river-enriched soil. Currently we are experiencing one of the worst droughts in recorded history.  That’s bad . . . very, very bad.  We are also enjoying unseasonably warm days.  While that seems good right now, I’d be willing to bet in the long run all this premature sunshine is probably equally bad news – especially for the farmers.  If the warm weather now is a sign of things to come, it’s going to destroy the crops and food prices are bound to soar – everything from fresh produce to meats will sky-rocket (no grazing land, bad – no grain feed, bad).  So let’s not dwell on things we cannot control (like the weather) and make the most of warm winter…

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A Simple Backyard Supper with Flavors of Italy

Summer is finally here with a vengeance! It was cold and rainy mid-week, only to jump into the upper 90s by the weekend. A shock to the system to say the least. The last thing anyone wanted to do was to be stuck in the kitchen cooking. No, truth be told, a bowl of ice cream sounded like the perfect solution.

As wonderful as good ice cream is, it’s not much of a supper no matter how hot the day may be. We needed a good meal that wasn’t going to heat up the house. Yet it was far too warm for Hubby to be tending to a fire. Whatever we had, it had to cook up on the grill quickly. The plan was to make my Grilled Pork Chops with an Italian Relish. After all, twelve minutes or so on the barbecue would be all the “cooking” required. Originally, I had planned to serve up my chops with a side of Creamy Herb Risotto and Smokey Pan Seared Asparagus. While the asparagus would not have required much effort, a good Risotto requires a great deal of attention over a hot stove. Change of plans. And the results were beautiful!

Recently I made a simple pasta with a creamy pepper sauce. Mind you, there are only three of us, so a pound of pasta was more than we could possibly consumed in an evening. This pasta warmed nicely in the microwave. With only a slight modification, my Buttery Garlic-Herb Broccoli rounded out our Italian Supper perfectly.

Now I’d like to share the meal with you. Remember, the pasta can be made a day ahead of time, then gently warmed in the microwave for about 5 minutes. What a great supper for simple entertaining – bright, bursting with flavor. A real “wow” at the table. Serve with a good bottle of Italian wine, and enjoy!

Grilled Pork Chops with Italian Relish
¾ lb Roma Tomatoes, seeded, chopped
¾ Cup Chopped Red Onion
3-4 Cloves of Garlic, chopped (about 1-2 tablespoons)
1 Tablespoon Chopped Fresh Basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
2 Tablespoon Chopped Fresh Oregano or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Oregano
1/3 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste
4-6 Thick, Center-cut Pork Chops, 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick
Sea Salt and Fresh Pepper to taste

Seed and chop tomatoes, place in a medium-size bowl. When chopping the tomatoes, leave some in larger chunks, some in smaller pieces for a less-uniformed appearance.

Chop Red Onions, add to tomatoes. If using fresh herbs (best) chop fresh basil and oregano. Add to tomato mixture. Pour Red Wine Vinegar over tomato mixture, toss to blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let stand for 1-2 hours to allow flavors to mature and fully marry.

Arrange pork chops in a glass baking dish just large enough to hold the chops snugly. Salt and pepper the chops, turn season-side down. (This will prevent the seasoning from washing away when the marinade is added).

Pour relish into a strainer over a glass bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes or so to drain on its own. To complete the draining process and get as much liquid as possible for the pork chops, gently press relish to remove any remaining liquid without mashing tomatoes. Spoon or pour liquid over pork.
Cover glass dish with plastic wrap and let pork chops rest on the counter in liquid goodness for about 40 minutes to an hour, turning occasionally.

While pork is marinating, prepare barbecue grill to about medium-heat. Since the pork is cooked over the heat directly, you don’t want the grill to get so hot that the chops burn or dry out before they are fully cooked.

When the fire is ready, grill pork until cooked through, about 6 to 8 minutes per side.
Transfer pork chops to serving platter. Tent to keep warm and allow to rest for about 5 minutes. When ready to serve, spoon most of the relish over the pork chops, reserving some to pass table side.

Angle Hair Pasta with Creamy Roasted Pepper Sauce
Pasta:
1 lb Angel Hair Pasta, cooked according to package directions
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a large stock pot, bring lightly salted water to a full, rapid boil.

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. (For pasta to cook properly, there needs to be a large amount of rapidly boiling water. The pasta should  freely “dance about” in the water as it cooks. A little oil helps the pasta to dance).

Add pasta, return to a rapid boil and cook until tender but firm, about 5-6 minutes. Drain and rinse quickly under warm water. Allow pasta to drain completely. (Don’t worry about pasta cooling while it drains, it will warm nicely in the sauce).

Creamy Roasted Pepper Sauce
1 Jar (12 oz) Roasted Red Peppers with Juice, reserve ¼-cup chopped peppers
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
2 Cups heavy cream
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Pepper
¼-cup Italian Cheese Blend – Parmesan, Romano and Asiago

Puree roasted peppers with juice in blender. Set aside.

Heat oil in large non-stick skillet with high sides. (Remember, this pan needs to hold both the sauce and pasta). Add garlic; cook 2 minutes over medium-low heat until fragrant.

Add pepper puree, cream, salt and pepper. Stirring frequently, cook sauce over medium heat until hot and bubbly, about 6 minutes.  Stir in ¼ cup cheese. The sauce in now ready for the pasta.

Combine angel hair pasta with pepper mixture. Let pasta warm in sauce over low heat.

Garnish with Color:
½ cup fresh basil leaves cut into thin strips
¼-cup roasted peppers
¼-cup Italian Cheese Blend – Parmesan, Romano and Asiago

Transfer pasta, sauce and all, to large serving bowl.

NOTE: If making ahead of time, allow pasta to cool. Place in a Tupperware container or other microwave safe container with a tight-fitting lid. When ready to serve, warm in the microwave for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a pretty serving bowl and enjoy!

Buttery Garlic-Herb Broccoli with Italian Cheese Garnish
1/2 lb Broccoli
1 Tablespoon Garlic-Herb Blend (McCormick’s has a nice blend)
4 Tablespoons butter, cut into small pieced
1 gallon size zip-lock freezer bag
¼-cup Italian Cheese Blend – Parmesan, Romano and Asiago

Cut broccoli into individual pieces and place into the bag. Season with Garlic-Herb seasoning. Shake bag a little to distribute seasoning. Lay bag flat on a micro-wave safe plate. Distribute pieces of butter throughout the bag.

Seal bag, leaving small gap at the center of closure to vent. Micro-wave on HIGH 90 seconds. Turn bag over, micro-wave on HIGH an additional 90 seconds. Check broccoli for doneness. It should be hot and tender-crisp. If still firm, turn bag again and micro-wave on HIGH for another minute.

Repeat until broccoli is heated through, tender but not “soft”.

CAREFULLY open bag (it will be steaming hot) and empty into a serving dish. Toss gently to incorporate seasoning and butter completely. Just before serving, sprinkle cheese over top of broccoli and serve.


Suggested Simple Dessert: Angle Food Cake with Luscious Glazed Strawberries

Harvest Moon – A Menu to Celebrate The Bounty of Life

When I was a girl, I remember one evening out in the corn field, picking the last of the corn with my Dad. The moon was so bright, and so big I felt I could easily reach up and touch it. I asked my Dad about the moon. (Like all girls; I believed my Dad knew everything). He said it was a harvest moon. When I asked why, he spread his arms out and said because you can harvest by the light of the moon. It was something I have never forgotten. (In case you were wondering, a harvest moon is an annual event. It is the first full moon closest to the fall equinox – usually late September or very early October).

It’s been a little while since I’ve last set about creating a multi-course fixed menu. I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy pairing different dishes together to create a Six-Course Supper.

The menu that follows is designed for “company entertaining”. It’s that welcome excuse to gather a few close friends or family together before the holiday madness descends upon us. While the holidays are magical, those crazy days leading up to “magic” often monopolizes our time to the point that we balance at the brink of insanity. Personal time and catching our breath might just be that time spent standing in the grocery store check out line. I know, we tell ourselves that next year will be different. Next year we will keep it simple. Yeah, right.

October is a good month to host an intimate (although be it casual) supper before all the craziness sets in. There is nothing I enjoy more than to raise my glass to, surrounded by the people who matter most, and let them know what a blessing they are in my life.

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6-Course Harvest Supper

Starter/Appetizer:
Maple-Glazed Bacon Wrapped Scallops

Soup Course:
Butternut-Boursin-Bacon Soup

Main Course:
Brown Sugar Pecan Glazed Pork Tenderloin
Caramelized Apples
Balsamic Glazed Green Beans and Pearl Onions

Salad Course
Baby Greens with Warm Gorgonzola Dressing

Dessert Course
Rustic Apple Galette

Conclusion
After Dinner Coffee
Late Harvest Wines
Assorted Cheeses with Sliced Apples

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Appetizer – If desired serve with a light white wine

While the feast as a whole is a celebration of the harvests of the land, the appetizer selection represent the bounty of the sea. Although scallops have reached their peak in the summer; it is the fall that sees the last of the season. It seemed only fitting to include Scallops are part of the Harvest of Life.

Maple-Glazed Bacon Wrapped Scallops
½ cup Balsamic Vinegar
½ cup Pure Maple Syrup
2 teaspoons Chopped Fresh Rosemary or 1 teaspoon Dried
8-10 Bacon Slices
1 lb Sea Scallops, thawed if frozen
Fresh Rosemary Sprigs, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix vinegar, maple syrup, and rosemary in a small pan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer until glaze is thickened and syrupy, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

Cut bacon slices in half. Wrap a half slice around the circumference of each scallop. Arrange scallops in a baking pan and bake for 8 minutes.

Remove scallops from oven. Drizzle about 1/2 teaspoon glaze over each scallop, then return to oven and bake another 7-8 minutes.

Arrange scallops on a serving plate. Drizzle additional glaze over scallops for decoration and accent with sprigs of rosemary, if desired. (These would also be pretty on individual appetizer plates).

Soup Course

This wonderful Butternut Soup comes compliments of noblepig.com (http://noblepig.com/2013/10/butternut-boursin-bacon-soup/). Although butternut Squash is truly a winter harvest, with well-stocked markets and crops coming from just about everywhere; squash can be readily had even in the fall.

Butternut-Boursin-Bacon Soup
1/3 cup butter
1/2 of a large onion, diced
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 (3-1/2 lb) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 (14.5 ounce) cans chicken broth
2 (5.2 ounce) rounds Boursin Cheese (with Garlic and Fine Herbs – a Costco special)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
6 pieces cooked bacon, crumbled
1 Tablespoon chopped chives

In a large (7 qt) Dutch oven, melt butter over med-low heat. Add onion and celery and cook until slightly softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add butternut squash and thyme leaves, cook for about 8 minutes more. Stir several times. (It is okay if squash begins to brown a little.) Add flour and stir until fully incorporated.

Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Turn down heat, cover and simmer on low for another 10 minutes. Squash should be soft. Using a hand-held blender or regular blender, puree squash mixture until smooth.

Add soup back to the pot (if you removed) and add Boursin cheese, salt and both peppers. Stir until cheese is melted.

Garnish each cup with crumbled bacon and chives.

Note: While this soup can be served by the bowl-full, as a starter to a multi-course meal, you will want to keep your servings small. Coffee mugs or small bowls are better suited for this type of meal.

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Main Course

Brown Sugar Pecan Glazed Pork Tenderloin 
Caramelized Apples
Green Beans and Glazed Pearl Onions

The Glazed Pork Tenderloin is a favorite in our house. I love the wonderful sweetness of the glazed pecans with the succulent Pork Tenderloin. For this meal, I’ve added Caramelized Apples to the Pork. To serve; simply surround the beautiful Tenderloin with the apples and enjoy!

Brown Sugar Pecan Glazed Pork Tenderloin (6)

Brown Sugar Pecan Glazed Pork Tenderloin
3 1/2 pound pork loin roast
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
3/4 cup roughly chopped raw pecans

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Trim the fat from the roast, leaving only a quarter-inch of fat on top that will melt away, creating a nice golden under crust while basting the meat in its flavorful goodness.

Season the pork loin with salt and pepper. Place pork on a roasting rack over a shallow foil-lined rimmed baking pan. (Easy clean up). Roast pork in a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes. (It doesn’t hurt to brush the rack with a little olive oil to prevent pork from sticking and to help with the clean up there as well).

While the pork is cooking, combine the brown sugar and Dijon mustard into a paste. Fold the chopped pecans into the paste and set aside until ready to use. (To chop pecans, work in small batches. Lay pecans in a single layer on a chopping board. Chop with a hand-held food chopper – about 5 or 6 “wacks” should give you nicely chopped pecans. My food chopper is from Pampered Chef – had it for years and love it!)

After pork loin has roasted in the oven for 30 minutes, remove the loin from oven. Reduce heat to 375 degrees. Spread prepared baste evenly over the of the top of the pork loin and return to oven.
Baste the roast about every 15 minutes, scooping up the glaze and nuts that fall off back over the top of the roast.

Continue to roast pork loin until the internal temperature reaches between 145 to 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. (That’s about 20 to 25 minutes per pound). The pork will still have a little pink at 145 degrees, which is safe to eat. At 160 degrees, the pork is well-done. If the glaze starts to burn, simply cover loosely with foil and continue to cook.

Remove pork from oven, tent and let rest for 10 minutes before carving. Surround tenderloin with apples just before serving.

caramelized-applesCaramelized Apples
2 tbsp unsalted butter or margarine
3 tbsp sugar (brown)
2 Crisp Apples (Braeburn, Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, Fuji or Gala)
1 tbsp lemon juice

Peel and core apples. Slice into 1/4″ wedges. Melt butter and sugar over low-medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture is bubbly, about 1 minute. Add apples and lemon juice and cook over medium heat for approximately 10 minutes, stirring constantly.

NOTE: Be sure to use crisp apples . Softer apples will fall apart.

Balsamic Glazed Green Beans and Pearl Onions
1 10-ounce bag frozen baby pearl onions
2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed
2 tablespoons margarine
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Cook onions, according to package directions, until tender. Drain and keep warm.

Cook green beans in a large nonstick skillet in water to cover until crisp tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and keep warm.

In same skillet, melt margarine over medium heat. Add balsamic vinegar and onions. Toss to glaze. Add green beans and gently mix to combine.

Transfer to a serving dish and serve hot.

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Salad Course


Baby Greens with Warm Gorgonzola Dressing
4 slices bacon
3/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, minced
2 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
6 cups mixed baby greens
2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds

Place the bacon in a large, deep skillet, and cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until evenly browned, about 10 minutes. Drain the bacon slices on a paper towel-lined plate; crumble and set aside.

Combine the olive oil, red wine vinegar, white sugar, salt, garlic, and Gorgonzola cheese in a blender; blend until smooth. Pour the dressing into a small saucepan over medium-low heat and warm gently.

Toss the baby greens, almonds, and crumbled bacon together in a salad bowl; drizzle dressing over salad and toss to coat. Serve immediately.

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Dessert Course

Once upon a time, there was a clear distinction between a tart and a galette. Both are French terms for a sweet or savory pastry. A tart is a straight-edged pastry often shaped with the assistance of a tart pan. A galette has a looser definition that is tied to the French word galet, meaning a smooth, flat pebble. Today, the term galette is used primarily to refer to rather rustic, free-form tarts. The galette is made with a single crust of pastry, like a pizza. Often the filling of a galette is very moist and the edges of the pastry are folded over the filling to help contain the juices.
Just one look at this Apple Galette from http://www.familyfeedbag.com/2013/08/apple-galette.html and you can see why it deserves a place on the Harvest Table.

Rustic Apple Galette

Galette Pastry
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg
2 tbsp cold water
1 tbsp white vinegar
To make the pastry, add the flour and salt to a large mixing bowl.
Using a pastry blender, cut butter into flour mixture until evenly crumbly.
In a small bowl, beat egg, water and vinegar with a fork. Add to the flour mixture, stirring just to bring the dough together.
Form dough into a ball and roll out on a sheet of parchment paper dusted with flour. Form a disk 16-18 inches across.
Using parchment paper for support; transfer rolled dough to a rimmed baking tray (at this point it’s okay if some of the dough hangs over the edge). Set aside until ready to fill.
Apple Filling
2 1/2 lbs apples, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices (skins on)
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Core and slice apples, leaving skins on. Place apple slices in a large mixing bowl, set aside.
In a smaller bowl, combine sugar, flour and cinnamon. Sprinkle flour mixture over apples.
To assemble Galette: Pour apple filling into the middle of pastry, spread out to create a circle of filling about 10-inches across.
Fold edges of dough up and over the filling, leaving the middle exposed.
Brush with Finishing, if desired.
Finishing Touch (Optional)
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
Brush top of galette with milk. Sprinkle with sugar. Place in the oven to bake.
To Bake the galette: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place galette in the oven on the lower rack of the over for 10 minutes to firm up the bottom.
Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees, move baking sheet to middle rack and continue to bake 50-55 minutes longer, until pastry is golden and filling bubbling.
Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes. Carefully transfer to serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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Conclusion

After Dinner Coffees
Late Harvest Wines
Assorted Cheeses with Sliced Apples

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 May you always have walls for the winds,
a roof for the rain,

tea beside the fire,
laughter to cheer you,

and those you love near you.

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Still looking for more? Try Harvest Supper Celebration in Six-Courses

One-Skillet Zita Bake with Cucumber Salad and Warm Bread

It’s been a while since I last shared a complete dinner menu. It’s been a while since we last indulged in one of my favorite cuisines – Italian. This one-skillet Pasta dish has been on the weekly menu for a while now, but you know how plans go – by the wayside. Especially during the holidays – last-minute shopping, errands and other distractions. Finally, at long last the timing was right. The Ziti Bake was a new recipe and I was eager to give it a try.

The salad was made, chilling nicely in the refrigerator. Up until the moment when the salad became a reality, the recipe did not exist. I love those kinds of dishes, don’t you? We had tomatoes, cucumbers and shallots on hand. I remembered how much I loved Dad’s Cucumber and Red Onion salads in the summer. Slices of cucumbers and red onion rings marinating in a mixture of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Yum. Why not add some sliced tomatoes to the mix? And why not replace the red onion with a sweet, mild shallot? Dad’s dressing was simply, straight forward. Just a sprinkling of red wine vinegar and a few twists from the pepper mill was all there was to it. I wanted to elevate that simple concept just a wee-bit – a little oil, a little garlic and just a pinch of fresh-ground salt. The dressing was good, but it lacked a little kick. Peering into the refrigerator for something – anything to bring a little zing to the salad, I spotted a jar of Dijon Mustard. Just what the doctor ordered. A smidgen of mustard was all it took to bring the dressing to a new dimension. One taste and I knew I had it right.

On to the bread. The oven was warming, the bread buttered and ready to pop into the oven at the right moment. Everything was right on track, coming along smoothly. I was one happy camper.

Next up, the Ziti bake. The skillet was on the stove, the sausage all crumbled and browned. It was just a matter of adding the various tomatoes, water and pasta to the pan. Cover and let it all cook up nicely while I mixed two bowls of cheese – the first to blend into the pasta, the second to sprinkle on top. That’s when it happened – the horror of realizing a crucial ingredient was missing. Blended Italian Cheeses – a cup of Blended Italian Cheeses. Now mind you, I have an entire drawer in the refrigerator dedicated to cheeses. Sliced cheese, blocks of cheese, bags of shredded, grated and shaved cheeses. Tubs of feta. How is it that I had no Italian blend? Hubby offered to run to the store, but that wasn’t practical at this stage of the preparation. No need to fear, I’d simply make my own blend of cheeses.  That’s when the second realization struck – NO Romano or Mozzarella cheeses. Again, how was that possible? Somehow I had not added the cheeses to my shopping list. Do not panic, I told myself. I could use Monterey Jack to replace the Mozzarella. It would melt nicely and impart a creamy goodness. And I had Parmesan – that was a plus. But what could replace the Romano? It needed to melt nicely, to be a bit strong and distinct. I had considered Feta. And then I remembered picking up a block of Goat’s Milk White Cheddar Cheese. Why not? It would be different. Oh my, sometimes winging it gives rise to some of the most scrumptious combinations. The Goat’s Milk White Cheddar was just what the blend needed – full flavored and delicious. (Before mixing it all together as my top layer of cheese, I made a little ball of Jack, White Cheddar and Parmesan, then popped it into my mouth. Delicious!)

Cucumber, Tomato & Shallot Salad (2)Cucumber, Tomato and Shallot Salad
5 medium tomatoes, cut into slices
1 large cucumber, sliced
2 Shallots, sliced thin
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Salt
1 teaspoon Fresh Cracked Pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard

Slice tomatoes and cucumbers. Arrange on a rimmed serving platter, alternating tomatoes and cucumbers.

Peel and thinly slice shallots. Break shallots into tiny rings and sprinkle over cucumbers and tomatoes.

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper until well incorporated. Add mustard and whisk again until blended. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Pour dressing over salad, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

OSkillet Ziti Bake (5)ne-Skillet Ziti Bake
1 lb Mild Italian sausage, bulk
1 (14.5-oz) can fire roasted diced tomatoes with garlic
1 (8-oz) can tomato sauce
½ (6-oz) can tomato paste
1 Tbsp dried Italian seasoning
16 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
1 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese, divided
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 lb dried Ziti pasta
3 cups water
1/4 Cup Goat’s Milk White Cheddar Cheese, Grated
1/2 Cup Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded

In a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat, brown sausage, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, sauce, paste, Italian seasoning, dried pasta, and water. Stir to combine, cover and bring to a boil. Boil until pasta is al dente, about 15 minutes, stirring about mid-way through cooking time to prevent scorching.

Meanwhile; combine ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper in a bowl. Stir until well incorporated and smooth. When pasta is cooked and most of the water is gone, stir ricotta mixture into the pasta. Cover and remove from heat.

Preheat oven to broil.

In a small bowl, blend remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, Monterey Jack and White Cheddar cheese.. Top skillet with shredded cheese mixture and place in oven. Broil until cheese is bubbly and nicely melted over Ziti. Watch carefully as cheese will crisp and begin to burn quickly.

French BreadWarm French Bread with Garlic Butter
1 Loaf French Bread
4 Tablespoons Butter, melted
2 Garlic Cloves, pressed
2 Teaspoons Italian Breadcrumbs

In a micro-wave safe bowl, warm butter in 10-second increments until melted. Press garlic into butter. Add breadcrumbs and whip to blend.

Preheat oven to 400-degrees. While the oven warms, slice bread length-wise until almost cut through, leaving a little “hinge” to keep the halves connected. Close bread, turn so that sliced side is up, hinged side down. Cut into nice, thick slices without cutting all the way through. This will keep loaf together so that bread is “broken” apart when served.

Place on a baking sheet, open and brush each slice generously with melted butter. Place in the oven open-face and bake until warm, about 10 minutes. The breadcrumbs in the butter with give the tops a nice “crunch”.

Remove from oven, close loaf and wrap in foil to keep warm until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, place loaf in a long bread basket and pass around the table, the breaking bread together as a group to share and enjoy.

 

Winter Comfort – Tomato Soup with Grilled Ham and Two-Cheese Sandwiches

When I first started blogging, one of my earliest “fellow blogger” was Sue over at A Palatable Pastime. Her recipes from A to Z never seem to fail me and her delicious Winter Tomato Soup was no exception.  (http://palatablepastime.com/2015/01/26/winter-tomato-soup/)

The first time I made this soup, I followed her recipe to the Tee. And it was very good. The second time around, I had to put my own spin on things just a bit. It would be impossible to say which is better – they are equally good. It really boils down to personal preferences. My guys prefer the creamier version. All I know is that it’s all good.

There’s something about Tomato Soup that just naturally goes with grilled sandwiches. Some people go for the grilled cheese variety. Some like a Tuna Melt (my personal favorite); while my guys go for Grilled Ham and Cheese on Sourdough. Hubby is strictly an American Cheese kind of guy, while Kiddo and I like to mix it up a bit with Pepper Jack or Smoked Gouda.

Almost from Scratch Wintertime Tomato Soup
1 cup shallots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon roasted garlic, minced
Cracked Black Pepper to taste
28 oz canned  San Marzano tomatoes
12 oz Spicy V-8 juice
2 tablespoons tomato  paste (from a tub)
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh basil, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup Half & Half
Dollop of sour cream for garnish, optional

Heat butter and oil in a stainless steel saucepan. (Don’t use a non-stick pan – you will be using an immersion mixer later and you don’t want to ruin the finish).

Saute shallots until just tender, about 5 minutes. Add minced roasted garlic and give it all a quick swirl. To the saucepan, add tomatoes, V-8 juice, tomato paste, sugar, basil and Marjoram.

Bring soup mixture to a boil, reduce heat, cover and gently simmer for about 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and puree soup using an immersion mixer until smooth and silky. How long this will take depends upon the style of tomatoes used. Whole will take a little longer to puree than chopped or diced tomatoes.

Return pan to low heat, add milk and half and half. Gently heat through without boiling.

Ladle soup into bowl, and dollop with a little sour cream if desired just before.

Grilled Ham and Two-Cheese Sandwiches on Sourdough
8 Slices Yellow Cheese *
8 Slices Pepper Jack Cheese
8 oz Deli Style Ham
8 Slices Sourdough Bread
Butter for grilling bread

Cover four slices of sourdough bread with jack cheese, then deli ham, followed by yellow cheese. Top with remaining sourdough.

Head griddle or flat skilled to about 325 degrees. Brush griddle with a little butter. Place sandwiches on griddle, jack cheese as bottom layer (jack cheese will take a little longer to melt, so you’ll want to have it closest to heat source first).

Grill sandwiches until crisp and golden-brown, about 5 minutes or so. Turn, and grill other side until golden and the cheese has fully melted.

Remove from griddle, cut in half and serve alongside soup.

* Note: When selecting a yellow cheese, use American or THIN Cheddar – something that will melt easily.

Stay warm everyone!

One-Dish Chicken Supper with Potatoes and Gravy

After Brother Dear’s passing in December, his best friend from childhood created a group on Face Book for those of us that shared the same childhood memories, experiences and “rearing”. We all grew up in the same neighborhood, attended the same schools (for the most part) and shared the same childhood. I had always thought much of what I remembered about my childhood was viewed through Rose-colored glasses, and not necessarily the way it was. That is until this group began to share their memories. Now I realize there can be only two explanations – either we are all wearing the same Rose-Colored glasses or we had a wonderful childhood. I’d rather think it is the latter – that we truly had a magical childhood – one that allowed us to be children.

You know the childhood I’m talking about – children played outside until dark. No one locked their doors at night. We shared the same key for our roller skates and drank out of the garden hose. If you wanted to know where your friends were hanging out, you simply looked for the bikes piled up in someone’s front yard. (And we aren’t talking about bikes that were chained up to a light post for fear someone would steal them.) We played in the sprinklers, had our favorite fishing holes, knew how to skip rocks and could bait our own hooks (or get a boy to do it for us). We wished upon stars and believed our wishes would one day come true. Life was good. Life was simple.

Growing up, Sundays were always special. It was a time for the family to gather – cousins, uncles and aunts. Sunday supper was served earlier in the day – and usually consisted of chicken – be it roasted or fried.  We didn’t get big buckets from the Colonial – Dad broke out his favorite, well-seasoned cast iron skillet and fried up the chicken. A big pot of potatoes was mashed and in the summer there was always fresh corn. I’m not sure which I loved more, the mashed potatoes or Dad’s buttermilk biscuits (from scratch). And Dad made the best gravy on the planet.

Sunday dinner meant a properly set table. While the menfolk removed their jackets, a white shirt and tie was usually worn. After all, we had come from Mass – everyone was in their “Sunday Best”. Saturdays were reserved for T-shirts and jeans. Sundays were special, magical times.

When my children were small, I did my best to keep Sundays special. We went “home” for dinner – but then life began to change. Today has become too hectic with long hours at the office. It takes two paychecks to make ends meet.  And Saturdays are gobble up with errands and household chores, leaving Sundays for lazy “recovery” – recharging the batteries emotionally and physically before facing yet another stressful week.

I say it’s time to take back Sunday! Okay, maybe not every Sunday – but at least one Sunday a month can be set aside for a proper supper, and family time well spent.

One-Dish Chicken Supper with Potatoes & Gravy
1 Roasting Chicken, about 4 lbs
1 ¼ Teaspoon Salt, divided
¾ Teaspoon Fresh Ground Black Pepper, divided
6 Oregano Sprigs
1 Lemon, quartered
1 Celery Stock, cut into 2-inch pieces
Cooking Spray
2 Tablespoons Butter, melted
2-3 Medium-size Yellow Onions, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
2 lbs Small Red Potatoes, cut into 1-inch wedges*
¼ Cup Flour
Chicken Stock or broth, about 2 cups
Lemon Wedges and Oregano Sprigs for garnish (optional)

Peel and cut onions, set aside.

Quarter 1 lemon. Cut 1 lemon quarter in half. Set aside.

Remove and discard giblets and neck from chicken. Trim excess fat. Staring at neck cavity, loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between skin and meat.

Combine ½ teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper; rub under loosened skin, over breasts and drumsticks.

Preheat oven to 425-Degrees. Place 4 oregano sprigs, 3 quartered lemon and celery pieces into body cavity. Place 2 spring of oregano on breast meat under the skin. Tuck remaining lemon under skin at thigh joint. Lift wing tips up and over back; tuck under chicken. Tie legs together with kitchen twine. Place chicken, breast side up, on the rack of a broiler pan coated with cooking spray.

Melt butter. Cut potatoes into wedges. Combine ½ teaspoon salt, remaining ¼ teaspoon pepper, melted butter, onions and potatoes in a large bowl. Toss well to coat. Arrange onion mixture around chicken on rack. Place rack in broiler pan.

Bake at 425-degrees for 20 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 325-degrees WITHOUT opening oven. Bake an additional 1 hour or until onions and potatoes are tender and chicken thighs register 165-degrees. Set chicken, onions and potatoes aside; cover and keep warm.

Place a zip-top plastic bag inside a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Pour pan drippings into bag; let stand 10 minutes for fat to rise to top of bag.

Seal bag; CAREFULLY snip off 1 bottom corner of bag. Drain drippings into a measuring cup, stopping before fat layer reaches opening. Discard fat. Add stock or broth to pan drippings to measure 1 1/2 cups total. Pour into saucepan and gently heat.

Combine remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, flour and ½ cup chicken broth in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to liquid in saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Reduce heat to medium; cook 5 minutes or until gravy thickens, stirring frequently with whisk.

Carve chicken; serve with gravy and potato-onion mixture. Garnish with lemon wedges and oregano sprigs, if desired.

* If using very small potatoes, cut potatoes in half rather than wedges. For additional color, look for a variety of small potatoes – purple, red and white are always nice.

Additional Side Suggestion: Brown Sugar Kahlua Glazed Baby Carrots

Spicy Sausage Pasta with Mexican Tortilla Salad and Avocado Dressing

I know – it’s hot outside – as in record-breaking heat. I know, cooking spicy food when it’s this hot is seriously crazy, but this recipe from kevinandamanda.com has been on my menu for a while. Life just kept getting in the way – you know, those mundane things like getting up and going to work everyday, only to return too tired to even think about eating much less cooking. But enough is enough – tonight I cooked! This recipe is one of those easy, throw-together types that are especially welcomed on busy work nights. More importantly, there is no sacrifice of flavor for the convenience of less time in the kitchen.

I made a few changes to the original recipe (as usual). The original recipe sounded awesome, (most anything from Kevin & Amanda is a hit around our house) and I might not have made any changes, except that it made more sense to use what was on hand. Besides, recipes are designed to evolve, each “chef” building on what went before, adding their own personal interpretation. In that way, recipes are living, breathing things.

The recipe calls for 8 oz of penne pasta – had penne – 12 oz of the tri-colored kind. What’s a few more ounces? I was a bit concerned that the extra 4 oz might make a difference in the saucy consistency, but it didn’t.

The original called for a pound of smoked turkey sausage. I used a pound of Chipotle Sausage because that’s what we’ve had in the freezer since making a Costco run.

Finally, the original recipe called for Monterey Jack Cheese. I didn’t have quite enough Monterey Jack (about 1/2 cup shy), so I used Pepper Jack to make up the difference. While the pasta had no impact on the outcome of the recipe, I think the Chipotle Sausage and Pepper Jack really brought out the “spice” in spicy.

Dinner was served with crisp salad tossed in a creamy avocado dressing. It was a nice, cooling complement to the spice of the pasta. While Kiddo and I love avocados, Hubby is not a fan, with the one exception – in my creamy avocado dressing. (Which also makes for a nice spread on BLTs).

Spicy Sausage Pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb Chipotle Sausage
1 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (10 oz) can Ro-Tel tomatoes and green chiles, Mild
1/2 cup heavy cream
8 oz penne pasta
Salt & Pepper to taste
1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
6 Green Onions, thinly sliced (garnish)

Add olive oil to an oven-safe skillet over medium high heat until just smoking. Add sausage and onions and cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add broth, tomatoes, cream, pasta, salt and pepper and stir. Bring to a boil, cover skillet, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until pasta is tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove skillet from heat and stir in 1/2 cup cheese. Top with remaining cheese and sprinkle with scallions. Broil until cheese is melted, spotty brown, and bubbly.

Mexican Tortilla Salad with Avocado Dressing
Avocado Dressing:
1 avocado, mashed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

TO MAKE DRESSING:

Peel and mash avocado.

Place avocado, lemon juice, sour cream, oil, sugar, garlic salt and chili powder in a blender and mix until smooth.

Tortilla Salad:
1 head iceberg lettuce
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (2 ounces)
1/2 cup chopped green onion
1/2 cup sliced Black olives (optional)
4 tomatoes, sliced
2 Corn Tortillas, cut in strips and fried (can substitute with 1 cup crushed tortilla chips)

TO MAKE SALAD:

Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a saucepan. Once hot, fry tortilla strips until golden brown. About 3-5 minutes. Transfer to paper towel lined plate. Sprinkle with salt and set aside.

Tear lettuce into bite size pieces. Chop green onions.

Toss lettuce and onions with salad dressing. Place into tall, clear bowl.

Scatter black olives over top of lettuce.

In a small bowl, coat tomatoes with dressing. Place on top of lettuce.

Place cheese on top of tomato layer.

Top salad with tortilla strips just before serving.

Hope you enjoy!

Patio Entertaining with an Italian Flair – For Father’s Day or Just Because

For my birthday this year (and the year before and the year before – you get the idea), we ate at Vince’s. It’s a small place in the middle of a field – literally, nothing else on the corner except a field of dried weeds. This isn’t a to-die-for Italian restaurant. The food is more along the lines of comfort food – it’s easy to imagine a round, hot-tempered but big-hearted Nonna with a big wooden spoon in her hand and an apron tied around her waist in the kitchen, lovingly cooking up food for her large brood of children, grandchildren and maybe even great-grandchildren. This is further amplified by our usual waiter. He’s an elderly gentleman (I would venture to guess he’s close to eighty) who walks with more of a shuffle than a step. His Italian is better than his English, which add to the ambiance of this quaint eatery. The bread is always warm and keeps coming throughout the meal. And it really doesn’t matter what you order, it comes with a side of Spaghetti.

Anyway, with Father’s Day just around the corner, it got me to thinking about a Father’s Day Menu with an Italian Flair. While it might not be everyone’s cup of tea for Father’s Day, it does change things up a bit.  This menu would also be great for backyard entertaining – just a good excuse to bring people together, break bread and have a wonderful evening.

My “offering” began simple enough – a Father’s Day Barbecue with an Italian Flair. Yet as I rummaged through my recipes, a multitude of courses sprung to mind. With that, the menu itself grew until it began to take on a life of its own.

What started out as a three-course meal (antipasto, main and dessert), expanded into a six-course extravaganza (Antipasto, Primo (pasta course), Secondo and Contorno Course (meat and vegetable course), Insalata (Salad Course), Formaggi e frutta (Cheese and Fruit Course) and finally the Dolce (dessert).  I know, over the top! But what fun – hours leisurely dining as it was intended to be – savored and unhurried.

Rather than present the recipes in order of preparation, I’ve arranged them in order of presentation, beginning with the antipasto and ending with dessert. Just to widen the selection even further, I’ve included two choices of each. Make one, or both for each course if you’re feeling rather ambitious. All I can say is pick and choose from what follows whatever it is that strikes your fancy. Serve it all, or none of it. If you have a family favorite that is always a hit, why mess with perfection? What is offered here are mere suggestions. If all I’ve done is managed to inspire someone to get creative, than my job is done.

*** Antipasto ***

Once upon a time, antipasto was part of the Italian dinner table. It was that plain and simple. Nowadays, with hectic lives and more woman in the workforce, it’s no longer a part of everyday home cooking, but rather reserved for holidays, large family gatherings and special occasions. That said, it seemed fitting to include a selection of antipasto dishes for Father’s Day. The first makes for a beautiful presentation for a smaller gathering, the second will accommodate a crowd.

Asparagus - Italian Pan Grilled

Pan Grilled Asparagus with Prosciutto
2 lb big asparagus
2 oz Parmesan cheese
3 oz sliced raw Italian ham (prosciutto crudo)
1½ oz pine nuts (pinoli)
½ lemon
extra virgin olive oil
salt & black pepper

Remove the fibrous portion from the stalk of asparagus, snapping it with your hands at the point where it breaks easily. Scrape the stalks with a vegetable peeler. Wash the asparagus under cold running water, blanch for 3-4 minutes in lightly salted boiling water. Drain and pass under cold running water. While the asparagus is prepared for cooking, heat the oven to about 400 degrees, then turn it OFF. You’ll be keeping the asparagus in a hot oven that has been turned off.

Heat a griddle or a large frying pan and sprinkle the bottom with salt. Arrange some of the asparagus in a single layer on the grid and cook at medium heat for 2 minutes per side, turning with two forks. Transfer to a serving platter and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with remaining asparagus.

In a bowl, whip 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, one tablespoon of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Remove the excess fat from the slices of raw ham prosciutto crudo and cut into strips, width-wise. Toast the pine nuts for 1 minute in a pan, without adding fat.

Remove asparagus from the oven, drizzle with the olive oil mixture, then sprinkle with pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. Arrange the ham on the side of asparagus and serve.

 

antipasto platter 1Antipasto Platter
1 jar (24 ounces) pepperoncini, drained
1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 cups halved fresh mushrooms
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 pound provolone cheese, cubed
1 can (6 ounces) pitted ripe black olives, drained
1 package (3-1/2 ounces) sliced pepperoni
1 bottle (8 ounces) Italian vinaigrette dressing
Lettuce leaves

In a large bowl, combine pepperoncini, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese, olives and pepperoni. Pour vinaigrette over mixture; toss to coat.

Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight (best). Arrange on a lettuce-lined platter and serve.

 

*** Primo  Course ***

primo is the first course. Typically the food is heavier than the antipasto, but lighter than the course to follow. Non-meat dishes are the stable of any primo. The best examples would be risotto, pasta, soup, polenta, meatless casseroles or lasagna. The serving portions are smaller than the main, or secondo course.

This course was one of the more difficult for me to plan – I love pasta. There are so many wonderful pasta dishes to choose from. I had to keep reminding myself to think light, especially for warm weather dining. As hard as it was, I was able to narrow it down to two suggestions – one pasta and one risotto dish.

Pasta - Simple LinguiniSimple Linguine with Garlic Butter
1 Lb dry or Fresh Linguine, cooked
2 Tablespoons Butter
4-6 Cloves Garlic, chopped
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano

Bring a pot of well salted water to a boil.

Cook linguine until done al dente – cooked but firm to the bite, about 10 minutes for dry, about 3-4 minutes for fresh.

While pasta is cooking, heat a small sauté pan, add butter, garlic and oregano. Sauté until the butter is melted. DO NOT let the garlic brown.

Drain pasta, place in a warm serving bowl. Pour butter mixture over pasta, toss to coat evenly, then serve with a little Parmesan Cheese on the side.

Mushroom RisottoMushroom Risotto
3 1/2 cups Chicken broth
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon mixed dried Italian herbs
6 ounces cremini mushroom, sliced
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine, warmed
2 cups fresh baby spinach
1/4 cup fresh parsley

Empty broth into a 2 quart saucepan and heat until simmering. Keep warm.

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Sauté onions and garlic until softened and fragrant.

Sprinkle dried herbs, followed by mushrooms; sauté until they release their juices.

Add rice and stir quickly to prevent sticking. Add warmed white wine and stir. Once the wine has been mostly absorbed, add the broth, one cup at a time, waiting until each cup of broth has been absorbed before adding the next. Before adding the last one and half cups, add the spinach. Sprinkle parsley before serving.

*** Secondo and Contorno Course ***

The Secondo or Main Course is generally considered the star of the show, the most important course. Typically it consists of a meat, fish or seafood course (Secondo) and a vegetable course (Contorno) offered on separate platters at the same time.  Generally speaking, one meat course is served with one or two sides.

Again, there are so many wonderful Italian dishes to choose from, it was hard to narrow down the selection. The two I’ve chosen were picked, if for no other reason, due to the fact that they are cooked on a grill. So while the dish is Italian, the American tradition of “barbecue” for Father’s Day remains intact.

The first main course recipe is actually a meat and potato dish that is cooked and served together. This goes well with pan-seared asparagus (as pictured). If asparagus is used in the antipasto course, it could be skipped as a side without being missed.

The second main course offered is a chicken recipe that is very simple to make. It’s just a matter of marinating the chicken in Italian dressing, then cooking it on the grill.  There’s something about grilled chicken and corn on the cob that seems to naturally go hand-in-hand.

Since both the potatoes in the first dish and the corn in the second are more of a starch than vegetable selection, I’ve included a summer squash recipe that complements either of the meat courses. It’s colorful and fairly simple to make.

Pork - Grilled Pork with Potato Vesuvio with  Pan-seared AsparagusVesuvio Grilled Pork & Potato Skewers
Ingredients – Pork & Potato Skewers
1 ½-2 lbs small red potatoes (about 1 ½-inch in diameter) scrubbed
1 ½ lbs Center-Cut Pork Tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes
6 lemon wedges

Ingredients – Vesuvio Marinade
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-6 garlic cloves, minced

Ingredients – Garnish
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt & pepper to taste
½ cup chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel

Morning of:

Scrub potatoes. Place potatoes in a saucepan. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to simmer and cook for about 12 minutes or until almost tender when pierced with a fork.

While potatoes cook, cut pork into 1-inch cubes. Set aside until ready to use.

Peel and mince garlic, set aside until ready to use.

Place pork in a large resealable plastic food storage bag. Combine wine, oil and the garlic in a small bowl; pour over pork.

Immediately rinse potatoes with cold water to stop cooking process, drain and add to pork in bag.

Seal bag tightly, turning to coat. Marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours, turning occasionally.

Evening of:

Prepare barbecue grill for direct cooking.

Drain pork mixture, discard marinade. Alternately thread about 3 pork cubes and 2 potatoes onto each of 6 skewers. Place 1 lemon wedge on end of each skewer. Season pork and potatoes to taste with salt and pepper.

Place skewers on grid. Grill skewers, on covered grill, over medium coals 14-16 minutes or until pork is juicy and no longer pink in center and potatoes are tender; turning halfway through grilling time.

While skewers are grilling, chop garlic, parsley and lemon peel. Combine in a small bowl and set aside.

Remove skewers from grill. Transfer to serving platter. Sprinkle parsley mixture over skewers.

To serve, squeeze lemon wedge over pork and potatoes. If desired, plate with pan-seared Asparagus.

Pan-Seared Asparagus
1 pound green asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
juice of 1/2 lemon, freshly squeezed
salt and freshly ground black pepper

The key to this recipe is to cook the asparagus until it is nicely browned, creating a slightly smoky flavor quite unlike that of steamed asparagus.

Rinse the asparagus and trim off the ends, leaving spears about 8 inches long.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and butter to sizzling. Turn down the heat to medium and add the asparagus.

Using a broad spatula, turn the spears over from time to time until they are browned more or less evenly, about 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the asparagus. The spears will remain mainly green, with patches of crispy brown. Check for doneness by tasting a spear. It should be tender but slightly al dente.

Sprinkle the asparagus with lemon juice, salt and pepper, and transfer to a serving platter or individual plates.

 

Italian Grilled Chicken

Italian Marinated Grilled Chicken
1 Bottle Italian Salad Dressing
3-4 Cloves of garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon salt
8 Chicken Thighs, with skin

 

In a shallow baking dish, mix the salad dressing, garlic and salt. Place the chicken in the bowl, and turn to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight or up to 48 hours to penetrate the meat fully.

Prepare the grill for high, direct heat.

Lightly oil grate. Discard marinade, and grill chicken 10-12 minutes per side, or until juices run clear.

Grilled corn with tomato herb spreadGrilled Corn on the Cob with Tomato-Herb Spread
1/2 Cup Butter, softened
4 Tablespoons seeded, finely chopped tomato
2 small garlic clove, pressed
2 Teaspoon fresh parsley, snipped
2 Teaspoon Fresh Basil, finely torn
2 Teaspoon Fresh Thyme, finely chopped
Salt and Ground Pepper to Taste
8 Ears of FRESH Corn
Sugar (if needed)

Additional Garnish
4 Roma Tomatoes, seeded and chopped
6-8 Basil leaves, cut into long strips

Heat coals for grill. In a small bowl combine butter, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, basil and thyme. Stir with a fork until well blended. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside

Bring a pot of water sweetened with a little sugar to a boil. Shuck and clean corn. Cut off tip and ends for an even finish. Parboil corn 5-6 minutes. Remove from water using tongs and allow corn to cool. Insert corn-cob-knobs into each end.

Rub corn generously with herb butter. Wrap each ear of corn in heavy aluminum foil, making sure cob knobs are completely covered. Grill foil-wrapped corn over medium ash-covered coals for 10-12 minutes, turning frequently with Barbecue Tongs to prevent burning.

To serve, unwrap corn, place on a platter and garnish as desired with tomatoes and fresh basil.

Cook’s Notes: The original recipe came from Pampered Chef (without the additional garnish). The first time I made it, there were two problems – cooking time and taste. The corn I had purchased came from the grocery store and not from a wonderful local farmer’s market known for amazing corn, thus the corn wasn’t as sweet as it should be. If you know the grower, skip the sugar but still parboil the ears. When the corn was wrapped well in foil, the cooking time was longer than expected – nearly twice as long as was called for. By par-boiling the ears in sweetened water, these problems were solved.

Summer Squash SauteItalian Summer Squash Saute
4 to 5 Small Zucchini (About 1 Pound)
4 Summer Squash (About 1 Pound)
1 Pint Cherry Tomatoes
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, Minced
2 Tablespoons Fresh Oregano, Chopped
2 Tablespoons Fresh Basil, chopped
2 Tablespoons Fresh Italian Parsley (flat leaf), chopped
1/2 Red Chile Pepper, Finely Chopped (Optional)
Sea Salt
Cracked Black Pepper

Cut the zucchini and squash crosswise into 1/2 inch slices.

Halve the cherry tomatoes.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add all the squash rounds.

Cook, stirring frequently until fork tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic, tomatoes, and fresh herbs.

Stir to mix and continue to cook until the tomatoes soften. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm or at room temperature.

 

*** Insalata (Salad Course) ***

Unlike American meals, when the salad is offered either as a start to the meal or as an accompaniment to the main meal, in Italy, the salad is offered at the end of the meal. If green leafy vegetables are served as part of the Contorno, the salad might be skipped, instead opting to serve a selection of locally produced cheeses.

caprese51Caprese Salad
3 or 4 tomatoes, good quality, such as heirloom
1 lb fresh mozzarella
fresh Italian basil (do not substitute dried)
extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or good quality sea salt

Slice the tomatoes into about 3/8″ thick slices, then slice the mozzarella into the same sized slices.
Arrange the tomato and mozzarella slices into a pleasing pattern on a platter or individual plates. Tuck basil leaves into the arrangement, with a few more in the center. Drizzle with oil and season with salt.

Italian Mixed GreenItalian Mixed Green Salad
3 Cups mixed salad greens – Romaine, Iceberg, Green leaf, Bibb lettuce, Arugula, Escarole and/or curly endive
1 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
½ large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 orange or yellow bell pepper, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

In a large bowl, combine salad greens and vegetables. Sprinkle with parsley, basil and salt. Chill well. Just before serving, drizzle with oil and vinegar. Toss to coat.

 

 

*** Formaggi e frutta (Cheese and Fruit) Course ***

cheese and fruitdeli cheese and fruitThis course is purely optional. It’s simply an offering of local (or as close to local as possible) cheeses and a selection of seasonal fruits. Arrange the cheeses and fruits in an attractive way. Soft cheeses with a few crackers and small bunch of grapes and a few fruits make a nice presentation without a great deal of work. Or better still, have your local deli arrange a nice platter for you.

*** Dolce (Dessert) ***

Dolce literally means “sweet” or “luscious”. One option for dessert would be to find a good Italian bakery, pick up an assortment of pastries – especially cannoli – my personal favorite. To keep it light and refreshing, especially on a warm summer evening, something as simple as Gelato might be a welcomed conclusion. However; for those feeling the need to strut your stuff all the way to the end, Tiramisu would be a good choice for a  “luscious” conclusion to this multi-course flight of the fancy dining experience.  As would  Panna cotta. Either of these can be purchased from a good market or made from scratch.

Lemon TLemon Tiramisu
1-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1/4 cup cubed butter
2 oz  finely chopped white chocolate
1 tbsp finely grated lemon rind
1-1/2 cups whipping cream
1 cup mascarpone cheese
24 ladyfinger cookies, 4 inch

In small saucepan, stir together 1/2 cup each of the sugar, lemon juice and water over medium heat until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

In large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, flour and remaining sugar; set aside.

In heavy saucepan, heat milk over medium heat just until bubbles appear around edge; whisk half into egg yolk mixture. Whisk back into milk in pan; cook, stirring, until boiling and thickened enough to coat back of spoon, about 10 minutes.

Add butter and white chocolate; stir until melted. Strain through fine sieve into bowl. Add lemon rind and remaining lemon juice; stir until blended and smooth. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of custard; refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.

In bowl, whip cream. Place mascarpone in large bowl; whisk in custard. Fold in whipped cream.

Arrange half of the ladyfinger cookies in a 13- x 9-inch glass baking dish. Generously brush cookies with half of the reserved syrup mixture. Spread with half of the mascarpone cream mixture. Repeat layers. Cover and refrigerate tiramisu for 4 hours.

vanilla panna cottaVanilla Panna Cotta Strawberry Coulis
Ingredients – Panna Cotta
1 Cup WHOLE milk
2 ½ Teaspoons unflavored Gelatin
½ Vanilla Bean or 2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
3 Cups Heavy Cream
6 Tablespoons Sugar
Pinch of Salt

Ingredients – Strawberry Coulis
12 Oz Fresh Strawberries, hulled
5-7 Tablespoons Fine Sugar
½ Cup Water, plus extra as needed
Pinch of Salt
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
Extra Strawberries & Blueberries for garnish

To Make Panna Cotta:

For a “fancy” presentation, place 8 glasses on a baking sheet. (You will want to use short, round glasses such as Champagne coupe glasses). Otherwise, use small ramekins lined with plastic wrap. Just be sure to smooth out the wrap to ensure a smooth finish when serving.

Pour milk into medium saucepan, sprinkle gelatin evenly over top, let sit for 10 minutes.

Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Use the tip of a paring knife to scrape out seeds. Combine vanilla seeds, pod and cream in a 4-cup liquid measuring cup.

Make an ice bath in a very large bowl.

Heat milk mixture over high heat, stirring constantly, until gelatin dissolves and mixture registers 135 degrees, about 1 ½ minutes. OFF HEAT, stir in sugar and salt until dissolved, about 1 minutes.

Stirring constantly, slowly add cream mixture. Immediately transfer mixture to medium bowl and plunge into ice bath. Let mixture chill, stirring frequently, until it has thickened to the consistency of eggnog and registers 50 degrees, about 10 minutes. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a pitcher, then pour evenly into glasses or ramekins.

Cover glasses with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 24 hours or up to 5 days.

To Make Strawberry Coulis:

Simmer berries, 5 tablespoons sugar, water and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and berries are heated through, about 2-3 minutes.

Transfer mixture to blender and puree until smooth, about 20-30 seconds. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing on solids to extract as much puree as possible. Stir in lemon juice and sweeten with remaining sugar to taste. Coulis can be refrigerated for up to 4 days; stir in extra water as needed to adjust consistency.

To Assemble: If Champagne coupe glasses were used, simply unwrap panna cotta and spoon 2-3 tablespoons Coulis over top. Garnish with a few sliced strawberries and serve. If ramekins were used, unwrap panna cotta, invert onto dessert plates, remove second plastic wrap. Spoon coulis over top and garnish.

Here’s to a wonderful summer filled with friends and family!

Rockin’ Salsa Verde Chicken with Cornbread Puffs

First off, I want to give special thanks to kevinandamanda.com for this phenomenal recipe, originally posted in November 2012. If you aren’t familiar with Kevin and Amanda, be sure to check them out. Great pictures, step by step directions and terrific recipes that are always a success. To their original recipe, I only made one small change, and it’s strictly a optional, a matter of personal tastes.

This dish is so sensational, I couldn’t wait to share it – literally – the kitchen is a small mess as we speak (but then that’s what Kiddo and Hubby are for – KP duty. Although, Kiddo was a huge help in the kitchen. We make a good team.)

The cornbread puffs don’t really “puff up” but rather are small, drop biscuits packed with flavor that are baked in a thick, spicy salsa verde sauce. The original recipe called for 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped scallions (green onions to some folk) – as fans of green onions, we opted for the larger portion – about 1/2 cup or so.

The sauce is thick (a roue is made first), with incredible flavor.  Kiddo and I decided to kick it up a notch by adding about 1/4 cup of chopped Jalapeno peppers (you know, the ones that come in a jar for nachos and such).  The other change was that the sauce called for 4 tablespoons butter, the cornbread called for 3. That leaves 1 tablespoon “extra” in a stick of butter, so we went with 4 tablespoons in the cornbread. It seemed the more practical thing to do, unless of course you use those big blocks of butter. Beyond that, the recipe is intact.

One more thing before we get to cooking – this recipe is simple to make, the prep work doesn’t take long and the cooking time is about 20 minutes, so it’s perfect for a weeknight meal.

The recipe calls for about 4 1/2 cups of chopped cooked chicken. That’s actually a lot of cooked chicken, so leftover roasted chicken won’t be nearly enough. Which leaves you with one of three options – next time you plan to roast a chicken, roast two.  Reserve one for later in the week to use in this recipe. Used canned chicken (boring – and expensive) or buy one of those roasted chickens in the market – you know the ones that are still hot, intended to be eaten that night for supper. Just take it home, let it cool and pick the bones clean. While it’s messier than buying a bag of roasted chicken meat from say Costco, it’s also a little cheaper since you’ve got to do a bit of the labor yourself rather than pay a butcher to pick the bones clean. Just be sure to keep hubby and whoever else might wander through out of the kitchen so they don’t nibble on the meat before you get it packed away in the fridge.

One final note – if you don’t happen to have an oven-proof skillet, just transfer the saucy chicken into a baking dish, then top with the cornbread puffs and bake according to the recipe.

For The Chicken & Salsa Verde Sauce
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 jar (16 ounces) salsa verde
1 can (5 ounces) evaporated milk
18 oz (about 4.5 cups) cooked, chopped chicken

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Melt butter over medium-high heat in a large oven-proof skillet. Whisk in the flour to make a paste.

Add broth, salsa verde, and evaporated milk and whisk vigorously until thick and bubbly.

Stir in chicken and turn heat to low to keep warm.

For the Scallion Cornbread Puffs
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallion greens
1/4 cup chopped Jalapeno Peppers (nacho style), optional

Heat milk and butter in a small saucepan until melted and steamy.

Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and scallions in a separate bowl with a fork.

Pour in milk mixture and stir to form a dough.

Drop spoonfuls of dough into the skillet with chicken mixture.

Transfer skillet to oven and bake at 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, until cornbread is cooked through, and the edges are crisp and golden brown.

Remove from oven. When serving, drizzle a little of the sauce over the top and you might want to eat it with a spoon. It’s not “soupy” but a fork might be a little messy.

Oh, and if you added the jalapeno pepper, be sure to serve with plenty of ice-cold beverages!