Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Dear Elizabeth Minchilli; Thank you for Pistachio Cake

 Dear Elizabeth, 

Thank you for your blog, your generosity in sharing your homes in Rome and Umbria, your recipes, the photos, all make armchair traveling so satisfying, especially during this time of quarantine. A few years ago, you posted a pistachio cake recipe on your blog, and although my intentions were to make it immediately, I finally made it tonight since I dug out the pistachio flour from the freezer.  What a delicious treat! Thank you again. I'll preface this by saying, I'm not a baker, but I do love a good bake.  The recipe called for making two loaves, but since the loaf pans I have aren't the same size, I figured I'd try and make it a bundt cake, and it's glorious!  I'm so grateful for your generosity in sharing your favorite places, foods, and your writing and hope one day to meet you in person when we are finally in Italy again.  Gratefully yours, D

Elizabeth Minchilli's Pistachio Cake (adapted)
Makes one 9-inch bundt, or two loaves

The original recipe called for yogurt, I didn't have any so subbed in sour cream, and it's delicious.  

11 ounces salted butter 
2 cups sugar
8 large eggs
3 tablespoons pistachio paste (see link)
1 cup plain yogurt, or sour cream or creme fraiche
1/3 cup pistachio flour (see link)
2 cups 00 flour, or all-purpose (I used 00)
2 tablespoons baking powder
confectioners' sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and coat the inside of a 9-inch bundt pan, or two loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray.  (I use Baker's Joy--never fails)
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy.  
Add the eggs, one at a time, then add the pistachio paste and yogurt or sour cream.  
Add the flours, and baking powder, and beat until blended.  
Transfer to the prepared pan, and bake for 1 hour, until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  
Cool on a wire rack for exactly 10 minutes, then turn out on the rack to cool completely.
Sift powdered sugar over the cooled cake and serve.  

This piece was still quite warm, but none-the-less, it was buttery, and delicious, with a crispy exterior.  
Now that I've made the investment in the pistachio flour and pistachio paste, I may just go into business making these cakes, it's that easy!  I do plan to make another and freeze it to have on hand.  This one will go quickly.  Once again, thanks to Elizabeth Minchilli, if you aren't following her and her daughter Sophie on Instagram and getting their blogs, you are missing out.  Ciao for now.  

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Oldies; Shrimp Florentine

When Dr. C. and I were first married, we were stationed at MCRD here in San Diego with a group of people who were always up for a good time.  When the Queen Mary opened in Long Beach we took the trip up to tour that and the Howard Huges plane the Spruce Goose, which was in a hanger next to the Queen Mary.  On the way home, our friends suggested that we stop at a place called Delaneys' Seafood Shanty in Newport Beach, and it was there, that I fell in love with this dish.  Delaneys no longer exists, but I went home and figured out how to make this rich, creamy, seafood dish.  This is the menu from way back when.  

Look at those prices!  Unfortunately, as with so many family chain restaurants, they were bought by a conglomerate, and eventually, they ruined the food, the ambiance and closed.  
I've loved this dish for years, and my favorite memory was going to my mom's house and saying I wanted to make it for dinner for she and my brothers and sister-in-law.  Mom said my brother Bob would not eat it, he ended up eating 3 full plates.  Proving her wrong was quite satisfactory!  Tonight I asked Dr. C. how he'd like his shrimp and he requested this.  Granted, we don't eat like this every night, but it was a lovely dinner, and since we are still kind of quarantined I like having something to make that has a few moving parts, it keeps me in the kitchen, and that's my therapy.  

Shrimp Florentine
Serves 6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or extra virgin olive oil 
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
2 pounds baby spinach, washed and spun dry
salt and pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

In a large skillet, heat the butter or olive oil and saute the shallots until they are softened about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the spinach, and season with salt and pepper, and nutmeg, sauteeing until the spinach is wilted.  Transfer the spinach to a 13-by-9-inch casserole dish and set aside.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
2 pounds U-15 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup sherry
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk or 1/2 and 1/2
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano 

  1. Wipe out the skillet that the spinach was cooked in and melt the butter.  Add the shallots, and saute for 2 to 3 minutes until the shallot is softened.  
  2. Add the shrimp to the skillet, cook until the shrimp turn pink.
  3. Add the sherry, and bring to a boil.
  4. Remove the shrimp to a plate, and add the flour to the skillet.  
  5. Whisk for 2 to 3 minutes to cook the flour.  
  6. Add the milk, and bring to a boil.  
  7. Season with salt and pepper.
  8. Remove the sauce from the heat, add the cheeses, and stir until the cheeses are melted.  
  9. Add the shrimp and any of their cooking liquid to the sauce.  
  10. Pour over the spinach and bake for 30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling, and the sauce is golden brown.  Allow the dish to rest for 5 minutes, and serve.  
  11. Cook's Notes:  You can use your choice of seafood, this is delicious with crab/shrimp/lobster or any thick fleshed white fish like halibut or seabass.  You can also substitute chicken (cut into bite-size pieces) 
  12. Cook's Notes:  Once the sauce and shrimp are poured over the spinach, you can cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.  
                                                                                  Sauteed Spinach

Saute shallot

Add the Shrimp

Add the sherry (if you prefer, add white wine or white vermouth)

Add the all-purpose flour

Add the milk

Pour over the spinach

Bake until bubbly

I normally serve this with rice, but we're trying to limit carbs, so we served it with a salad

This is really a simple dish to make, and with the advent of pre-washed baby spinach, and peeled and deveined shrimp.  
As we are coming into another week, I hope that you all are closer to getting a vaccine and that you will continue to wear a mask.  Ciao for now!

Monday, March 22, 2021

Chocolate Salted Caramel Chip Cookies

So, I've said this before, I LOVE cookies!  I have my favorites, but I'm always willing to try something new, and that new thing was some salted caramel chips from King Arthur Baking.  I waited a long time to try them since they were out of them and over the summer they don't ship them because it's too hot and they might melt.  These chips are pretty sweet, and I thought they'd probably be too sweet for a chocolate chip type cookie, so I decided to add them to a chocolate cookie---since chocolate and salted caramel are matches made in culinary heaven.  
I picked up some Lindt cocoa in Italy---it's really delicious, and I can't find it readily here.  You can use your favorite cocoa in the recipe.  This recipe is simple to put together, I used a portion scoop to shape the cookies, and then pressed the cookies down once they were on they are on the baking sheet.  

 Chocolate Salted Caramel Chip Cookies
Makes about 24 cookies

1 cup unsalted butter softened
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla paste or extract
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 to 2 cups salted caramel chips (see note)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line baking sheets with silicone, aluminum foil, or parchment. 
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat together the butter, sugars, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, powder, and vanilla.  
Add the eggs beating until smooth.  
Beat in the milk, flour, and chips, until combined.  
Using a portion scoop, or a tablespoon, form the dough into balls and place 2-inches apart on the prepared sheets. Wet your hand, and press each cookie down to flatten.
Bake 12 minutes, until the cookies are no longer shiny, and look set.  Allow them to cool on the baking sheets, then store them in an airtight container.  

Note:  Because these chips are really sweet, I went with 1 1/2 cups, I think 2 cups would be fine.  The chips don't melt, they stay solid in the cookie.  
Note:   I adapted this recipe from the King Arthur website

There they are, just waiting for a glass of milk, a cup of tea, or coffee.  I hope you are all safe a well.  Dr. C and I have been vaccinated, and that feels hopeful.  Ciao for now!

Friday, March 19, 2021

Life Changing Pasta and Stanley Tucci



If you have been asleep at 9 p.m. on Sunday nights you may have missed this great new original series by Stanley Tucci on CNN.  Here, he and his wife are on the Amalfi coast, eating what he described as "life-changing" pasta.  If you dream of Italy, or Italian foods, this is a great show.  He picks a specific region and focuses on the foods of that region, giving you a hint of the flavor there.  Those in the know in Italy have had criticisms about the restaurants he's chosen, or places he's visited, but Italy and its food are the stars here, and with this pandemic, and not being able to travel, I've nothing to complain about.  
So, I was intrigued by the pasta that was life-changing ---come on, when someone says that, you want to try it.  Let me just say that I've eaten some life-changing dishes in my time, but pasta is a food that I grew up with, eat regularly, and teach to students, so this had to be something special. 
Another caveat here, is that when an Italian gives you a recipe they tend to leave out one thing, either an ingredient, or a technique, and it's up to you to figure out why that dish doesn't taste the way it did when you first had it.  This dish is a simple pasta with deep-fried zucchini, a "knob" of butter, some cheese, and pasta.  In this episode, he accuses the sister of the chef for leaving out the butter when she shared the recipe.  Tradition has it, that the dish is from the small city of Nerano, originating at a restaurant in 1952 by a chef named Maria Grazia.  There was really no recipe for this when watching the show, so I decided to go rogue and figure this out.   Just FYI Stanley Tucci is coming out with a book, I'm not sure that there will be recipes from the show, but this is the pre-order page on Amazon.  

Life Changing Pasta All'Amalfitana
Serves 4

1/2 inch extra virgin olive oil (see note below)
1 garlic clove, sliced
2 cups thinly sliced zucchini (2 medium or 4 small)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (the show used aged Provolone, which can be hard to find)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely chopped basil
6 nests tagliatelle or 1/2-pound fettuccine cooked al dente, saving a bit of hot pasta water
salt and pepper

In a large skillet, heat 1/2-inch of extra virgin olive oil, add the garlic, and cook until the garlic is translucent, remove from the pan, add the zucchini, and fry until the zucchini is browned on both sides.  You may have to do this in batches, remove the browned zucchini to a pasta bowl, and continue to cook until all the zucchini is fried.  
Add 1/4 cup of cheese, the butter, and basil to the pasta bowl with the zucchini.
Add the hot pasta to the pasta bowl, and toss to coat, adding some of the pasta water to make a creamy sauce.  Season with salt and pepper, and serve garnished with the remaining cheese.  

I used Garafalo tagliatelle, but you could use fettuccine if you can't find tagliatelle which is sold in nests.
Deep frying isn't my favorite method, but this gave the zucchini an interesting flavor, and I added basil to this since I was afraid the zucchini was going to be too bland.  At the restaurant, they deep fry the zucchini, then refrigerate it overnight, then proceed----I don't have that kind of time, nor do I want to wait, so I just proceeded with the recipe.  
Bottom line:  Would I make this again? As Dr. C. said it is a nice change from the usual.  Was it life-changing?  No, but it's pretty darned good, and I think it's worth the effort.  Anyone that knows me knows that flavor is my big deal, and this is delicious, flavorful and different, so I highly recommend that you try it.  

I have a Woll brand non-stick skillet that I love, heats evenly 

Use really good extra virgin olive oil, none of that $2.00 stuff

toss and serve

I hope you'll try this pasta, and that you'll watch the show, it's a nice way to spend the end of the weekend.  At some point, we'll all get to travel again, and enjoy drinking in the sights, sounds and aromas of foreign lands.  As we crossed the one-year threshold, I still am thankful for time, for the people that I love, and for the vaccine that will help to rid our country of the virus.  Buon appetito! 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Quarantine Kitchen: Cottage Pie


That old Mamas and the Papas tune It Never Rains In Southern California wasn't true today.  We are in for about a week of rain and weather here, and this morning, I woke up to this spectacular double rainbow.  Unfortunately, the pot of gold has remained elusive.  
Last night after two days of prep, I served a cottage pie for dinner.  Cottage pie is a beef stew,  made with ground meat, but I prefer chunks of beef.  The entire dish is covered with mashed potatoes---it's hearty and savory, and delicious.  Now, this isn't a difficult meal to make, it's just that I think it's better when you let the flavors in the stew sit overnight before you serve it, that gives you time to make everything ahead of time, then you just pop this delicious creation into the oven and wait for the accolades.  This dish is the one our future daughter-in-law requested for her birthday dinner.  Shepherd's pie is made with lamb, which is also delicious, so you can decide which one you prefer.  I've also made chicken pot pie and covered that with mashed potatoes---it's just as delicious as you can imagine! 
A few things before I get started, I use Better than Bouillon beef base for this dish, and I don't follow their directions for reconstituting it, giving the stew a richer flavor.  I use Yukon Gold potatoes, but you can use any low starch potato, like a white creamer, or red bliss, I find that Russett baking potatoes give you a softer mashed potato that can sink into the stew.  I don't put green vegetables into the stew, after a long simmer, they become a very unattractive khaki green, rather have them brilliant and green on the side.  I also like to make the stew in the slow cooker since I don't have to tend it all day long, but it's easy enough to make in a Dutch oven.  

Cottage Pie 
Serves 6 to 8

For the Potatoes

2 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, and cut into 1-inch chunks
4 to 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper
heavy cream or milk or sour cream

Put the potatoes into water to cover, and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 20 minutes, or until tender.  
Drain thoroughly, and mash with 4 tablespoons of butter, season with salt and pepper.  You want a really stiff mash here, if your potatoes are really stiff add a few tablespoons of heavy cream, milk or sour cream to the mash.  

Spread the mash about 1/2-inch thick onto a Silpat on a baking sheet.  Cool, cover, and refrigerate to firm up the potatoes.  

For the Stew
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
3 pounds beef stew meat, fat trimmed
1 cup finely chopped onion
4 medium carrots, scraped and cut into large dice
3 ribs celery, cut into large dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup Better Than Bouillon Beef base
3 cups water
3 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups corn kernels, either cut from the cob or frozen and defrosted
4 tablespoons unsalted butter mixed with 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small bits

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil, liberally season the beef with salt and pepper, and brown the meat on all sides.  
Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and sage, and saute until the onion is softened 
Add the tomato paste, and beef base, and simmer for 2 minutes.
Add the water, Worcestershire and bay leaf, and stir to blend. 
Cover and simmer for 3 hours, or until the beef is tender.  Add the corn, and bring the sauce to a simmer, 
Whisk in the butter and flour mixture, bringing the sauce to a boil, until thickened.  

Season the sauce with salt and pepper if needed.  At this point, the stew can be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 4 days, or frozen for up to 2 months.  
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with silicone or aluminum foil.  
Pour the stew into an ovenproof 13-by-9-inch baking dish.  

Using the Silpat, transfer the potatoes to the top of the stew.  Dot the top of the potatoes with the remaining butter, and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the potatoes are golden brown.  

Allow the cottage pie to rest for 10 minutes before serving.  As I said in the intro, I serve peas or green beans on the side.  This is also delicious with a nice vinegary salad.  
Slow-Cooker Savvy: To make the stew in the slow cooker, saute all the ingredients before adding the tomato paste.  Transfer to the slow cooker, and add the remaining ingredients.  Cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8 hours.  To thicken, add the butter/flour mixture, and cook another hour on high.  
Variations:  If you would like to make this with lamb, it's delicious with ground lamb, as well as lamb shoulder.  I sometimes add grated sharp cheddar cheese to the potatoes, but the potatoes I made for our dinner were so good when I mashed them, I decided against it.  There have been times when I haven't had any tomato paste, and just gone ahead and made the dish without it.  It does add another depth of flavor, though, and I keep a tube of tomato paste in the fridge for times when I just need a bit.  On a separate note, one of my friends in the UK suggested adding a can of Heinz baked beans to the stew---this must be a secret ingredient that I haven't found in any recipes for cottage pie, but it would certainly be a surprise!

Today the wind off the ocean has gusted at up to 75mph, and it is downright cold for San Diego at 51 degrees.  As I write this I am thinking about what I can make to ward off the cold, and so far no great ideas, but hopefully, by dinnertime, I'll have it sorted.  We've been enduring this pandemic for so long, I pray each and every one of you is safe, well, and warm.  Dr. C. and I have both gotten our vaccinations; he's had his second shot, I'm due for mine in February.  Grateful for all the healthcare professionals who are helping to stem the tide of this pandemic.  Ciao for now.