Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tuscan Blueberry Port Chicken Breast

Italians are accustomed to turning to the land for culinary inspiration. For every cook who stops by a supermarket to pick up a roast of beef or some chicken breasts, several more will return from the woods with rabbits, ducks or even wild boar for dinner.
Hunting is an age old tradition in Italy, but one that is still embraced to this day in hundreds of little hilltowns and villages. When in Tuscany on holiday, we'll go out of our way to find roasted duck or rabbit on the menu.

Just north of Rhadda is one of our favorite places for wine tasting, Castello di Volpaia. Tour the winery,taste the superb wines and then enjoy a delicious dinner at the winery's excellent ristorante, La Bottega Their pastas are simply delicious, and the cinghiale, wild boar, is the best we have ever had. It's clearly easy to see why their hunter's style dinners are so popular on their menu. Real Italian fare to celebrate life and the bounty of land.

Back at home I'm often experimenting with new recipes in my kitchen, and as we eat a lot of chicken or turkey this was one of my efforts to replicate a marvelous duck dish with the lightest plum sauce I had the last time we visited La Bottega. I subbed in last of the fresh picked blueberries I had in the freezer along with some organic boneless chicken breasts in place of the duck breast. Though I have made this both ways now, I am sort of torn to which I prefer, the duck or chicken. So if you have an appreciation for game meats, do try this recipe. It's a breeze to prepare and even better, it's a heart healthy recipe too!

Blueberry Port Chicken Breast

1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice- I used POM
4 organic boneless chicken breasts
olive oil
sea salt & ground pepper
2 lemons, sliced
dried rosemary, thyme, parsley
10 shallots, minced
8 oz fresh blueberries
1 cup Port wine
3 TBLS lemon juice

Rinse and pat dry chicken breasts and place in a resealable bag and add pomegranate juice. Push out all excess air, seal and refrigerate overnight or aty least six hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove chicken breasts from the marinade and sprinkle with sea salt & ground pepper.Reserve leftover marinade liquid. Place the lemon slices on top and a sprinkle of dried rosemary, thyme and parsley.Drizzle 2 tsp olive oil over chicken pieces and bake 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees and bake another 25 minutes. Remove the chicken breasts from oven and keep warm.

Transfer 3-4 TBLS of pan drippings to a saute pan and saute shallots until lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. Add the blueberries, remaining pomegranate marinade and Port wine. Bring to a light boil and cook for another 4 minutes to reduce liquids slightly. Stir in the lemon juice, mashing some of the blueberries.

To serve, spoon a large ladle of the blueberry sauce onto a warm serving plate. Thinly slice the chicken or duck breasts and place on top of the sauce. Top with remaining sauce and serve. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Pick Me Up Tiramisu

Today when friends gather, the conversation inevitably turns to food and restaurants. At one recent gathering, a friend was heard to say, “I discovered Italy here in America right here in one of our local restaurants. I was served a fantastic dessert. The waiter called it, tiramisu.” I had to smile to myself, as it’s one of our family favorites.

Though it originated in northern Italy, many have discovered this incredible confection appearing on many restaurant dessert menus.. we even recently spotted it in a small French bistro we enjoy. There are many different recipes for this scrumptious dish and as it’s my Valentine’s favorite dessert, I’ll share my version of tiramisu ( which literally means “pick me up”) I made two of these yesterday, one to bring to a friend this weekend and one for my dear hubby. I had to stash it in the refrigerator under a bed of arugula greens so he wouldn’t spot it ..(and knew that would be the least likely place he’d go hunting for his evening snack. :)

Valentine Tiramisu

30 Savoiardi lady fingers (sponge finger biscuits)
2 cups strong espresso coffee, cooled
½ cup coffee liqueor, rum or brandy
6 oz mascarpone cheese
2 cups heavy cream, whipped
1 pastry cream recipe
2 egg whites
cocoa powder
semisweet chocolate shavings

Whip the egg whites to a soft stage. Add mascarpone cheese, 1 tsp sugar and two tsp liqueor of choice. Blend well and fold it into the cooled pastry cream along with 1 cup whipped cream. In an 8 x8 serving dish, place a layer of lady fingers that have been lightly soaked with espresso coffee. Cover this layer generously with the pastry cream mixture and dust the top with cocoa powder and top with a second layer of lady fingers, but this time, lightly soaked in coffee liqueor or brandy. With the remaining cup of whipped cream cover the top of confection in a decorative fashion. Sieve another light dusting of cocoa powder over the whipped cream and sprinkle with chocolate shavings. I like to make my tiramisu the day before I plan to serve it to give the flavors some time to meld together and set. So cover it and refrigerate until serving time. You can easily make individual ramekins or readily double this recipe for a gang. But no matter which you decide, it’s sure to be a real pick me upper at your table! Enjoy & Happy Valentine’s Day!

Pastry Cream

This is a perfect all purpose pastry cream that can readily be used for a variety of desserts: eclairs, cream puffs, Napoleans, fruit tarts and even layered cakes, and the cream will also accommodate various flavorings such as almond or anise extracts as well.

2 cups milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
½ cup sifted flour
1 tsp vanilla extract

Bring milk to a scalding stage in a double boiler. Beat eggs, sugar and flour together with a whisk and pour it into the scalded milk. Lower the heat and stir with a wooden spoon continuously until thickened. Remove it from heat and add vanilla extract. Allow to cool.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mr McGregors Carrot Ricotta Muffins

I heard these were awesome! Well, if you listen to my sister brag about them, you would think so too! :) My sister use to own a Bed & Breakfast in Vermont and had quite an assortment of daily muffins on her menu for the guests, and as I have been in a muffin making mood lately I thought we'd give these a try. I didn't have enough carrots on hand, but did have a couple of sweet potatoes and because I just love raisins, tossed in a few of these too. Fanny, pictured here was one of our pet rabbits who just loved my carrot patch on our farm.. as well as the lettuce, celery & beet patch. I think she'd give these muffins a big thumbs {err or rather ear up} up. Okay sis, I surely would have to agree with you, these were just yummy! Enjoy.

Carrot Ricotta Muffins

In one bowl sift together and mix well:

2 3/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 TBLS baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice

In another bowl combine & mix together:

3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup sweet potato-cooked, peeled & mashed
1/2 cup white raisins
1/4 cup softened butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/4 cup shredded carrots

Combine shredded carrots into the dry ingredients. Mix well, breaking up any lumps. Make a well in the center of the mixture. Add the milk/egg/ricotta mixture and raisins. Don't overmix--just combine enough to wetten. Spoon batter into greased muffin tins and bake in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tipping the Scales--Fettucini Alfredo Day

I honestly think, the month of February should be declared as the National Go Off Your Diet month.
We can kick off the event, and tipping the scales by celebrating World Nutella Day.

One of my favorite days of the year. Who can possibly resist this sweet, dark hazelnut spread? Yes, I admit it, I'm clearly addicted. In fact, I can be in Nutella heaven just licking it off my fingers each morning before it even reaches my toast. You simply won't want to miss this event! Hundreds of absolutely delicious recipes for you to indulge in. World Nutella Day

Then, there is today, February 7th, in addition to Big Game Sunday,this being the second largest snack day of the year..second only to New Year. Super Bowl Sunday is the time to break out the snacks and enjoy the biggest football game of the year. Sure you can try to burn some of those extra calories cheering hard for your fave team, but that won't cut it if you plan to load your plate up with fried potato skins and cheesy processed dips, followed by what else? Oh yeah! Can after can of beer.

Now just stop a minute here, don't even think about jumping on that scale until after you finish celebrating National Fettucini Alfredo Day!

Would I kid you? Today is in fact the day to really cheat on your diets.

Fettuccini Alfredo has become one of those dishes that everybody makes, and everybody makes a bit differently. To my way of thinking, this indicates the dish is a good one, since everybody adapts it to their own taste (like a macaroni salad). So I can't honestly say there is just one authentic recipe for Fettuccini Alfredo, but I can say that this recipe seems to embody the 'original' concept, but a richer version where a cream sauce lends itself to a glorious pasta dish.

I made this earlier this week as a side dish for five guests. I suppose 'in moderation' is the key like anything else. And just around the corner, Valentines Day. Yikes! But if we tack on an extra five miles of walking each day for the month, we can easily partake in these festivities, somewhat guilt-free!

1 lb fettuccini
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano,plus extra cheese to pass at the table
1/2 cup heavy cream, lightly whipped
a pinch of ground nutmeg
Sea salt and white pepper
Optional* roasted chicken breast, sliced, steamed broccoli florets

Timing is crucial for this dish. Ideally, the pasta and the sauce should be ready at the same time.

Cook fettucini in boiling, salted water to al dente stage.While the fettucine is cooking, place butter in a pan large enough to hold the sauce and all the pasta together, and melt over low heat.
Slowly add lightly-whipped cream to the pan, whisking continually.
Stir continuously until the sauce is hot and slightly reduced.
Still stirring, add grated cheese and nutmeg.
The sauce should thicken and yet be smooth
Add salt and pepper to taste. (At this point, pasta should be cooked)
Drain pasta and add it to the sauce. Mix well. Toss in some chicken slices and steamed broccoli and toss once more. Serve with grated Parmesan to pass at the table.
Now, Are you nearly as full as I am? And we're only halfway through the month. GO for that walk! :)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Delicata & Fig

I made a tray of fig and sage tartlettes last weekend while the children were here visiting and had a half dozen figs left over, so along with some lemon roasted chicken and butternut risotto, made some stuffed delicata squash.

We enjoy all of the squash family but this one is a family favorite, and one of the tastier winter squashes, with creamy pulp that tastes a bit like corn and sweet potatoes, and the last I had stored from the summer garden. A friend had given me some of the heirloom seed that grew very well for me. What I like the most about this tasty winter squash is that the thin skin is also edible. And if you don’t want to stuff them, just halve them length-wise, scoop out the seed and rub them with olive oil, herbs, sea salt & pepper placing them face down in a baking dish and roast them in the oven for about 20 minutes until tender. Aside from the lovely color in the garden, it’s just so delicious to eat! Clearly this season, I will be planting many more!

Stuffed Delicata & Fig
2 medium delicata squash, sliced in half lengthwise, pulp & seed removed
1 medium delicata squash, peeled, pulp & seed removed and diced
1 small zucchini, diced
2 figs, sliced
2 figs, diced
2 slices pancetta, diced
2 shallots finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup diced sweet peppers
2 TBLS olive oil
2 TBLS minced fresh parsley
½ tsp summer savory, minced
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
sea salt & ground pepper to taste
2 oz crumbed feta cheese
3 oz shredded fontina cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup water

Brush diced squash with a bit of oil,salt, pepper, herbs and bake at 375* until just starting to tender. Don't overcook. Remove from oven & set aside.

In a large skillet, saute the zucchini, pancetta, shallots, peppers and garlic in olive oil until peppers are just tender. Add chopped figs,herbs and seasoning. Cook for two minutes longer. Turn off the heat and add gently mix in the cooked delicata squash.

In a separate bowl mix cheeses and one beaten egg together. Add cheese mixture to sautéed vegetables. Divide and spoon mixture into reserved delicata shells.Top with a few fig slices and rizzle each stuffed squash with a bit of olive oil. Place in an ungreased baking dish and pour water into bottom of pan.
Cover and bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until heated through. Uncover and bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is lightly browned. Enjoy!