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!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The beauty that is San Diego

San Diego, February 5th & 6th, 2009
So today I was itching to get out of the house and spend some time by the ocean. This on and off rainy weather of the last few days always makes me want to go to the ocean for some reason. Most people flock to the beach when it's hot and sunny, but my favorite time to go is during and right after the rain. Over the last few days we've been going to La Jolla and later to Point Loma & Cabrillo National Monument to hang out, enjoy the ocean breeze, relish in the weather. And take pictures. We took lots of pictures. It was fun, and cheap too! Plus it was good Mama/daughter time...lots of time to talk and just be.

These shots were taken at the top of the hill at Cabrillo. Passes for the state park are $5 for the day, but only $15 for the year, so an annual pass was what we got. I knew the moment I laid eyes on the view that my daughter would be dying to take pictures here. I mean, just look at it! With the rain having stopped only minutes before, the air itself seemed as clean and clear as I've ever experienced. There was a bit of wind, just enough gusts to keep it interesting.

I even made some friends! lol...The gull was maybe 18 inches from me when I took this shot. I was standing there, watching some pelicans getting ready to take off, when this little guy landed right beside me. He seemed very curious about what I was up to when I started snapping photos of him. Not shy in the least. Much more shy was the little crab I found down by the tidepools. I had an enormous amount of fun just watching him skitter around, dashing away from shadows and hiding amongst the rocks.

These shots were taken in La Jolla, at what we like to refer to as Dr. Seuss Park. One look at the trees here and it is easy to envision any one of the books by Dr Seuss. Who knew those illustrations were more realistic than you could imagine! hehe! The second one above always reminded me of a Sneetch...all it needs is a star on the "belly"!

These are also in La Jolla, closer to Children's Pool where the seals are "pupping". Sadly, it wasn't warm enough to see much of them..but we did see a couple of the pups and one very boisterous mama! I haven't finished resizing the pics yet, but I'll get them up soon. I thought it would be nice, meanwhile, to share with you these two photos, taken about a block and 2 hours apart. What a sunset, eh?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sudden cravings!

I was a bad girl today. It all started with this sudden craving. Remembering a time some 10 or 15 years ago when my husband and I were hard pressed to find something decent to eat on a trip. It was late, and we were not quite in the middle of nowhere, but you could see it from there.
We stumbled upon an Applebee's. Not my favorite place, to be sure, but I was hungry, and didn't see anything else..so we went in. Hmm, something new on the menu. Tequila Lime Chicken. Sounded okay. Chicken breast, marinated in a tequila-lime marinade, topped with a Mexi-ranch dressing and cheese, served atop crispy tortilla strips with a side of Fiesta Rice.
So here I was today, and all the sudden I am craving this chicken. I could have went out and bought all the stuff for the zillion copy-cat recipes online, but it was already 4 pm, and having been sick the last few days, I was just not up for that...so it was into the car for my daughter and I , for a trip to the "Neighborhood". Applebee's, that is :)
I had a hard time finding the Tequila Lime Chicken...mostly because it is not called Tequila Lime Chicken any longer. It is now called Fiesta Lime Chicken. Why, I do not know. In any case, I was assured by our server that it was the very same dish with a new moniker.
Although the portion size has changed (and I am not complaining- two halve breasts was too much, I recall!), the dish is surprisingly unchanged. The chicken was tender, the Mexi-ranch sauce and the cheese were melted and gooey, and except for the corn in the rice, it was actually a pretty satisfying dish, and took care of my craving quite well.
My daughter's dish, that was another story. She ordered the 3 Cheese Chicken Penne, and though she loved the chicken part of the dish, the noodles were overcooked to the point of mush. We let our server, Christine, know and she offered to bring something else after we assured her we didn't want her to remake the dish. We asked to see a menu. While we were waiting, the manager, Joe, came to the table to apologize and asked if he could "buy" her some dessert or maybe a different entree. Guess what she ordered? Yep, Fiesta Lime Chicken!
Between the chicken, and the "Dessert Shots", which are various desserts served in "shot" glasses, it was not a bad meal at all...and the service was good too. Not bad for a Saturday night.