Wednesday, March 11, 2009


So, about a week or so ago, I decided, on a whim, to see if my favorite strawberry stand was open. We'd had several warm, sunny days, and it seemed like the perfect time for some berries to me, so I drove on up to Encinitas. It was a lovely drive with my daughter and her BFF to keep me company. We listened to some Earth Wind & Fire as we cruised up the I-5, our hopes sailing high. For a second, as we dropped down the slope that would lead to our exit, I thought my hopes were dashed, but then, as we passed the large tree that was partially blocking the view, I could tell it was open. Yay!
This particular stand has been one of my favorites since we owned out automotive shop in Encinitas years ago. My sister in law and I used to pick up a 3 pack and have berries for lunch as we worked! They are the sweetest, most flavorful strawberries I've had since I was a child eating wild strawberries in my Grandma Ma's kitchen. This current crop is no exception. We bought a 3 pack and headed back to the truck, each of us picking a berry to taste along the way. One bite into the juicy, sunny flavor, and we did an immediate about face to buy more. Half a flat later, we were back in the truck, red lips and smiles on our faces.
So, you may be wondering what I did with those berries? A lot! Aside from eating out of hand. I made strawberry waffles for breakfast, and two desserts: Strawberry Creme Cake and Strawberry Gelato. The Strawberry Creme cake is simple: White cake, layered with sliced strawberries and whipped cream. The whipping cream came from Trader Joe's. I love their heavy whipping cream, because it has a higher fat content than that of regular grocery store brands, so it stays stable much longer once you whip it.
The Gelato is a favorite around here. I make gelato often in the summer months; it's quick, easy, and delicious - and it's healthier than ice cream! Can't beat that!
Here's the recipe for the Strawberry Gelato:
  • about 2 baskets fresh hulled strawberries
  • 3/4 cup sugar (superfine works best, but granulated is fine)
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice (I use Meyer lemon, because it's what I have in the yard!)

In the blender, combine the strawberries, lemon juice, and sugar. Add the milk and blend. Pour into a bowl and add the heavy cream, stirring to combine. Chill for 4-6 hours, until very cold. If you have time, chill overnight for best flavor.
Transfer to your ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's directions. When it reaches the consistency of soft serve, you can serve it immediately. Freeze any leftovers in an airtight container.

I'll post the Strawberry Creme cake recipe if anyone requests it. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Individual Tiramisu - Easy and Elegant Dessert!

If you have a sweet tooth, desserts are probably a large part of your cooking repertoire. In most foods, I prefer there to be some kind of texture, some crunch or crispness. But sometimes, I just want something creamy and yummy and good...and that's when I crave Tiramisu. Loosely translated, the name of the dessert is Italian for "Pick Me Up"...and with the espresso, it's not an unfitting title, believe me! Almost like a trifle, Tiramisu consists of layers of espresso soaked Savoiardi (Italian crisp-style lady fingers) with a mascarpone cream that is out of this world good. I leave out the alcohol, but that is a personal preference. I am happy with the rich coffee flavor, and I am usually serving at least a couple of kids, so it's just better for me to leave it out. If, however, you prefer to add it, you can add 1/4 cup of whatever liqueur you prefer, be it brandy, Kahlua, whatever, to the espresso before dipping the lady fingers. Some recipes also call for a couple tbsp to be added to the mascarpone. I use vanilla.

To begin with, you'll need 6 egg yolks. In a double boiler over simmering water, whisk the yolks with 1/3 cup of sugar until thickened and lemon colored, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl and use the whisk attachment, beating until lightened and fluffy. Add softened mascarpone (remove from refrigerator 20 min prior to use), and use the slower setting to combine it with the egg yolks and sugar. Add 2 tsp good quality vanilla extract. Transfer to another bowl for the time being. In the mixing bowl, whip heavy whipping cream and 2 tbsp sugar just to soft peaks. Do not over-whip. Add the mascarpone and egg yolk mixture back to the mixing bowl.

Turn the mixer on the lowest setting to fold the mascarpone into the whipped cream without overwhipping the cream and making butter. When it is uniformly colored, turn up to medium for about 30 seconds, to aerate a little more. Make espresso. If you have an espresso maker, wonderful. I make 8 two ounce shots, and add a little vanilla bean simple syrup. If you don't have an espresso maker you can use instant espresso or very strong brewed coffee.

Now comes the fun part. For these individual version of this classic Italian dessert, I am using martini glasses. Because of the smaller vessel size, I cut some of the Savoiardi into smaller pieces. Dip the ladyfingers in the espresso for a count of 2 and place in the martini glass to make a layer on the bottom. Top with some of the mascarpone mixture, then another layer of the ladyfingers.

When you're finished with the layering, top with a dusting of cocoa powder or some finely grated bittersweet chocolate. As you can see here, I went for the chocolate. My daughter and her friend could hardly wait to assemble their own! It's an easy and fun dessert to make with your kids too!
And there you have it, Individual Tiramisu, served in a martini glass. Of course, you do have to chill it after assembly; 2 hours if you're really craving, up to overnight. Here is the recipe:

6 egg yolks
1/3 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract (I use double strength, but you can use regular)
12 ounce carton mascarpone cheese
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
espresso, brewed or instant, or very strong coffee (fresh espresso being the preferred choice)
Savoiardi (Italian style crisp ladyfingers)

In a double boiler over simmering (NOT boiling) water, whisk egg yolks and 1/3 cup sugar until heated, thick, and lemon colored. Transfer to mixing bowl and, with whisk attachment, beat until lightened both in color and texture. Add mascarpone cheese, and vanilla, using low setting, until thoroughly combined and uniform in color. Transfer to another bowl. In the mixing bowl, beat the heavy cream with 2 tbsp sugar just until it reached soft peaks. Add the mascarpone mixture back into the mixing bowl with the cream and use the low setting again, until thoroughly combined. Turn to a med setting for 30 seconds. Set aside while you make espresso.
Follow the instructions above for individual Tiramisu, or layer in a glass baking/casserole dish to serve family style.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chicken Saltimbocca with Cappellini & Roasted Artichokes

So, like I said, for Valentine's Day, I made a menu of Chicken Saltimbocca with Cappellini (angel hair pasta) and Roasted Artichokes. Saltimbocca is one of those dishes that take a few steps to make, but none of them are particularly difficult, and the end result is definitely worth the effort!

To begin with you need a few ingredients. Chicken breasts, of course. I like to slice them through the middle to make them an even thickness. Hold your hand on the breast flat, palm side down, and slice parallell to your hand until you can open the breast like a book, then finish separating into two pieces. You'll also need good Prosciutto, a good Italian cheese (I used Asiago, but you can also use Provolone), sage, flour, butter, olive oil, shallots, garlic, white wine, and chicken stock. Angel hair pasta can be purchased fresh or dried, whichever you prefer. And for the artichokes, you'll need the chokes themselves, a nice balsamic vinaigrette, lemon, basil, olive oil, more garlic and egg.

Season about 1 1/2 cups of flour with celery salt (or just salt), rubbed sage, and fresh ground white or black pepper (I used both). Dredge the chicken, dip in a beaten egg wash, then back into the flour. Don't toss the flour yet, you'll need some for later.
Heat olive oil and butter together in a large skillet. As soon as it stops sizzling, begin adding the chicken. Don't overcrowd the pan, or the chicken will be overdone before it browns. Quickly saute the chicken until both sides have good color. Don't worry about it being cooked through, as it will be finished in the oven.

As you pull the chicken from the pan, place it on a foil lined baking sheet. Top each cutlet with a slice of prosciutto. When they've all been added to the sheet, top each cutlet with a single sage leaf and a handful of shredded Asiago (or a slice of provolone).

To the skillet you sauteed the chicken in, add 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots along with 3 cloves of garlic, chopped relatively fine. Add a bit more butter, and saute until the shallots begin to caramelize. Add some of the flour that you used for the chicken--about 3 tbsp. Whisk in 1/2 cup white wine, and 1 1/2 cups chicken stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook, whisking, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Pour over the chicken cutlets and put into a 400*f oven for 10-12 minutes, until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling. Remove from oven and let sit 5 min.
Prepare pasta as you would normally. For the artichokes, which will be roasted before and during the time you have the chicken in the oven, clean and quarter the chokes, and steam in lemon water until almost tender. Drain well. Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with vinaigrette. Place in 400*f oven for 20-30 minutes, until edges have browned and flesh is tender at the heart. Prepare garlic basil aioli by combining 1 egg, 2 tbsp fresh basil, 3 cloves of garlic (peeled), salt & pepper in your blender. Slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup olive oil, and continue to process until thick and creamy. To serve, place 1/2 cup or so of pasta on the plate and add a chicken cutlet beside it. Top with the sauce from the baking sheet. Serve with the roasted artichokes and aioli.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Valentine's Day Meal to Steal Their Hearts!

Happy Valentine's Day!
For me, there's not much else I'd rather eat on Valentine's Day than a homemade dinner, and what better than a delicious Italian meal to make you smile?

There are plenty of place you can buy Italian ingredients these days. One of my favorites is Mona Lisa Italian Foods in Little Italy. It's across the street from what may be the best pasta source in the state, Assenti's Pasta (which I'll review at a later date). Mona Lisa's is split into two places, really...A great Italian Deli & shoppe, and a restaurant. This post will concentrate on the Deli portion, because that is where I went to shop for our Italian dinner of Chicken Saltimbocca, with cappellini and roasted artichokes.

Drive down India Street in Little Italy to the north end, and you'll easily spot Mona Lisa's, with it's big red and green lettering and painting of Mona Lisa's facial features. The traditional Italian color combination of red, green, and white carries on throughout the entire face of the store. There are two sets of red doors, and the one on the left leads you into the Deli side of the establishment, where you'll usually find a crowd gathered in front of the display case.

You can order any one of a number of sandwiches, all made on fresh crusty bread with great ingredients straight out of the deli case. Everything from a simple, but wonderful, Caprese sandwich with it's beautifully soft and delicious mozzarella, to the Deluxe with all it's fabulous, authentic Italian meats and cheeses. Your sandwich is made as you wait, with bread from the well-known Solunto's bakery down the street and the finest ingredients both from here and Italy. The line may seem overwhelming sometimes, but the service is surprisingly quick!

The deli case itself is filled with meats and cheese, each one more delicious looking than the next, as well as ravioli and other fresh pastas. On the right is a selection of olives that would rival any other place in town, along with marinated artichokes, mushrooms, and giardinieri.

Around the left side, you'll find cheeses, salamis, cured meats, and their delicious house-made marinara and meat sauces all packaged up and ready to take home for your own feast. Looking for mascarpone cheese to make your honey some tiramisu tonight? It's here. Some Parmesano Reggiano for that Al fredo? Got it. How about a nice soppressata for that antipasto?

The store itself is small, and often crowded, but everyone is delightfully friendly and polite, so it doesn't seem as small when you're inside! There's a nice selection of Italian liqueurs, spirits, and espresso to the right as you walk in the door. Beyond that is nearly everything you could hope to find in an Italian market. Imported beverages, tomatoes, oils, vinegars. Anyone who's ever made Sunday Gravy knows that you can't find a more flavorful tomato than the San Marzano romas...and here you'll find them in abundance! There is also a large selection of dried pastas, which I do so enjoy, even if I do love the fresh ravioli in the deli case the best!

My purchases for tonight's dinner included a wonderful imported prosciutto, a hunk of Asiago cheese, some cappellini (angel hair) pasta, and marinated artichokes that will be so delicious when they've been roasted to perfection and served with aioli! Recipes and photos to come later!

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. May yours be filled with happiness, sunshine, and love!