Sunday, March 29, 2009

Can you say IRON CHEF CAT CORA?!?!?!?

That's right my foodies and foodettes, your eyes are not deceiving you. You are indeed seeing me and my dear, dear friend Becky pictured to the left with the one and only Iron Chef Cat Cora.

On Saturday March 28, 2009 Cat Cora graced Orlando with her presence for a tasting and discussion at the Florida Film Festival located in the Enzian Theater. As soon as I read she was coming to town I messaged my partner-in-cooking and told her to get up to Orlando from West Palm Beach because she isn't going to want to miss this! Of course Becky came up (I knew she would), and we tasted four micro-dishes Cat designed and the Enzian chef prepared. While the audience and host Orlando Sentinel Food Editor Heather McPherson asked Cat our deeply burning questions, we were served our appetizers along with complimentary bottled water and Peroni beer. Cat designed for us: Mini Greek Gyros with Garlic Sauce and Spring Greens, Chickpea Fritters with Romesco Sauce and Cornichon, Basque Rubbed Shrimp with Chimichurri Sauce, and Spicy Cinnamon Roasted Pork with Fennel and Citrus Marmalade in Phyllo Cups. While I should be shamed to be so bold as to critique a famed chef's recipes, I personally don't care for fennel so the pork dish was my least fav. The burgers were on the skimpy side with a thin patty and a few sparse leaves of greens, and there was no tzatziki sauce which was a shocking turn-off for a 'Greek' lamb meat dish. Those minor quips side, the Chickpea Fritter was fancy fried fare and I can still taste the fresh heat from the shrimp's dry rub and garlic-heavy chimichurri sauce.

The spices were heavy (just how I like it) and the conversation was candid. For example, when a career US Navy Servicemen asked her advice about opening a restaurant because he loves to cook but has never worked in a restaurant, Cat simply said, "Don't." It doesn't get much more straight-forward than that. Cat Cora presents herself to be a well-rounded, ambitious human who loves her family and her craft. It was a truly inspirational moment in time for both the mind and the palette. Thanks so much to Florida Film Festival for bringing an iron chef to our town for us foodies to slobber over. Oh, and PS - Cat is opening up a new restaurant at Disney pretty soon called Kuzzina so if you missed the tasting you won't miss the whole meal.

Daring Bakers March Challenge: Spinach Lasagna

You better believe that when I read this month's DB challenge was to make a lasagna completely from scratch that I was stoked and then some. Knowing I had a few dinners with friends and family scheduled at the end of the month, last week I dove in headfirst to make the spinach lasagna dish in one night. To be more accurate, 5 hours start to finish but I'm not bragging or anything. :0

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

This recipe challenge had 3 parts: spinach pasta, meat ragu, and a bechamel sauce. My changes to the recipes are in Red. I also want to give a bit of a disclaimer, I don't have pics of the process of making this dish as many DBers do. Once I'm in the zone I can't stop to take pictures because of my laserbream focus.

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)
Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)
Preparation: 45 minutes
Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.
  • 2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more) : I used 4 large eggs + 1 tblsp of warm water here.
  • 10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)
  • *Just because I want to toot my own horn, I don't have a pasta machine and rolled these sheets out by hand-TooT TooT!!
#2 Bechamel
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter: I only had salted butter in the house so I used that and just omitted the salt addition below.
  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
  • 2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Freshly grated nutmeg to taste : I didn't have any nutmeg so I used allspice as an alternative and it worked out nicely.

#3 Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina)
Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours
Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
  • 2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped : I had 2 pieces of hickory smoked bacon in the fridge, so I used that instead of the pancetta.
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
  • 1 small carrot, minced
  • 4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round : My grocery had veal cut for scallopini.
  • 4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel) : I used an andouille sausage here to kick the flavor up a bit.
  • 8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference) : I used beef round instead.
  • 1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma : Omitted this due to the cost. :)
  • 2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine : I used burgundy cooking wine.
  • 1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
  • 2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
  • 3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • *I also chopped up 2-3 cloves of fresh garlic when I sauteed the bacon, onions, celery, and carrot. I am Italian, so it had to be done.*

Other than the noted changes, I made one other major alteration: ricotta cheese. I can live without the mozzarella in a lasagna but I cannot fathom enjoying this dish without the ricotta cheese. The rest of the dish was assembled and baked exactly to the challenge's speficiations and it was so rewarding and delicious! I was able to make 3 lasagnas in 8x6 glass pans: 2 with the meat ragu and 1 that was veg because the ragu ran out. For my veg lasagna, I used asparagus, fresh spinach, onions, hot Italian cherry peppers, and added gorgonzola cheese as well to match the bite of the hot pepper with the bite of creamy cheese. These lasagnas were bells of 2 balls this past weekend and I still have some leftover. I will keep this experience with me always and probably will make my lasagna pasta by hand for the rest of my days. THANKS DB!!!!

Festa Italiana 2009 Part 2 &3

I regret wholeheartedly that I did not post my parts 2 and 3 for the 2009 Festa Italiana in time for the party earlier this month. However, I still want to make good on my promise to my little blogsphere that I would share 3 total dishes for the Festa. I would like to note that the dishes were prepared in time for the festa, just not posted. My bad, I know. For your viewing pleasure, I present Bacon Wrapped Bolognese Meatballs with a Spicy Marinara (PII)

and Onion Garlic Pork Roast with Potatoes, Artichokes, and Asparagus (PIII)

Ok, I think I justified myself in posting my Festa Italiana pics. Sorry there are no recipes. These dishes were made off-the-cuff and I didn't write down the steps I took. Who needs recipes when you have redemption? :)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Festa Italiana 2009 Part 1: Chicken Parmesan Subs

What kind of Italian-American would I be if I turned a blind eye to Marie's of Proud Italian Cook and Maryann's of Finding la Dolce Vita annual virtual Festa Italiana? Furthermore what kind of Festa would I be if I decided I was too busy to share some of my recent dishes bore out of Italian tradition? The answer: A horrible one. If the drift isn't being caught, I am an actual Festa. Don't let my last name of Joyce fool you because my mother is certifiably Loretta Anne Festa, so it is my honor-nay-my duty to participate in the 2009 Festa Italiana or Italian Fest. Since this is an ethnic duty and destiny for me to fulfill I am bringing 3 dishes to the Festa and letting my hosts choose which ones they like best. First up my famous Chicken Parmesan Toasted Subs.

In order to make an exceptional chicken parm sub, you gotta start with your own marinara. Here is a quick and easy sauce to make just enough for subs. If you usually make a whole pot of gravy for the week's meals (as we always did), that's perfect because you'll only need a few tablespoons for these mouth-watering mamas.

A Minuscule Marinara
  • 3 Tblsp. of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 crushed cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp of crushed red pepper
  • 1 28oz can of Centro tomato puree
  • onion powder
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • dried oregano
  • dried parsley
  • 3 fresh basil leaves
  • **OPTIONAL** Many Italian cooks use pork to flavor up their marinara sauce. If a quick sauce is what you're looking for, omit the pork.** If you want to add pork, preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Put 4 pieces of sweet or your favorite flavor of sausage in a pan in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Take the sausage out and let rest 3-5 minutes and cut each link into 3-4 pieces. Set aside.
  1. In a medium sauce pot, heat the olive oil and add the chopped onion, carrot peels, chopped red pepper, garlic, and crushed red pepper. Cook over medium heat.
  2. Add the sausage pieces at this point if you are flavoring with pork also.
  3. Cook until the vegetables are soft.
  4. Add the tomato puree and stir entire contents for about 5 minutes turning the heat up a bit as you stir.
  5. Let the sauce reach a boil and then reduce the heat. Add the salt, black pepper, onion powder, dried oregano and parsley and fresh basil. Start with 1 tsp. of each spice. Stir in the spices and let the sauce cook down for about 10 minutes.
  6. Taste it and add spices as you see fit.
  7. Technically, the sauce is ready when its hot and the flavor is right for you. Of course, the longer you cook the sauce over a low heat the more the flavors get a chance to develop. I like to get the sauce seasoned up and then start my chicken thighs letting the sauce cook just a bit while more.

Breaded Chicken Thighs (2 thighs per sub). I made 2 subs so the recipe here is just for a couple. Its easily doubled or tripled if you're feeding more.
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs.
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • dash of cream or milk
  • 1 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 sub rolls
  • about 10 thin slices of whole milk mozzarella cheese
  • 6-8 fresh basil leaves
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Trim the fat off the thighs the best you can.
  3. Put the flour, beaten eggs and milk or cream, and the breadcrumbs and grated cheese in 3 separate containers.
  4. Dredge each thigh in the flour first, egg mixture second, and then coat in the bread crumbs for the finale.
  5. Put the thighs on a greased baking sheet.
  6. Poke each thigh a few times with a fork. Take 1-2 spoonfuls of sauce and pour it over each thigh. Using the backside of a spoon, rub the sauce into the chicken thighs.
  7. Bake the thighs for 17-20 minutes in the oven.
  8. Take the chicken out of the oven and put your sub rolls in the oven for about 2 minutes for a nice toasting.
  9. Up the oven heat to 450.
  10. Split each baked thigh down the middle and put them in the toasted subs. Put 1-2 more spoonfuls of sauce on top of the chicken thighs.
  11. Take 3-4 fresh basil leaves and put them on top of the sauce.
  12. Next, take 5-4 thin slices of whole milk mozzarella cheese and layer if over the sub.
  13. Line a baking sheet with foil and put the subs on the sheet and into the hot oven.
  14. Let the cheese fully melt and take out to cool. Leave the subs in longer if you like a browned cheese topping.
Takes it! I promise these chicken parm subs will not disappoint any palette! If the kids are a bit picky, omit the basil and they'll be as happy as pigs in mud. You can also keep your sauce going for a good hour or two letting the sausage and sauce intermingle in a marriage of combustible flavor. After this meal, you've got sausage and gravy for another meal so boil up some pasta and BOOM, another incredible Italian meal.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

February 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge: Chocolate Valentino-Flourless Chocolate Cake & Ice Cream

I know, I know. I'm late. But, I did inform our loving Daring Baker community that I was going on vacation to New York City 3 days before the posting date and I got a bit of a pass for my tardiness. Thanks gals (and guys)!!
The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

Never ever attempting either of these items before, I basically followed the recipes kindly given by Dharm of Dad and Wendy. First came the chocolate valentino cake, and mine took on the flavor of white chocolate macadamia nut because that happens to be a favorite of my valentine.

While the final product of the cake came out tasting great probably because I used Ghirardelli white baking chocolate and Hawaiian macadamian nuts on top, I do think my texture was incorrect. Mostly I think I didn't beat my egg whites enough and that's why my cake looks deflated compared to the others I saw on the Daring Bakers website. All in all, it was a great lesson learned so if I decide to make this cake again I know exactly what to do. Plus, my valentine really, really loved it and that is the greatest accomplishment of all.

In order to get my heart shape I actually have a heart cookie cutter older than me that was my mom's. I cut out as many hearts as I could from my round 9"x4" cake and cut the rest up into bite sized pieces. The mini-cake bites were incredibly and one idea I am definitely keeping in the arsenal.

Part two of the challenge was the really intimidating portion: making your own ice cream. I don't own an ice cream maker so I had to do it the old fashioned way. Following Wendy's vanilla ice cream recipe to a T, I found that the final product was more custardy than me and my Valentine would really like. Yet we made the best of it by putting in some more macadamia nuts and enjoyed it just the same!