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Archive for the ‘Italian’ Category


Vegas Decadence Packed in a Brioche Panini

Vegas is all about one thing: over the top, elaborate, in-your-face, decadence. On my trip to Vegas last week I noticed that was a recurring theme. Gelato at 11 o’clock at night. Extravagant shows put on by Cirque du Soleil. The world’s largest chocolate fountain. Vegas is decadent. Sure, some people perceive its decadence in other more “lewd” ways, but I was there to experience the amazing food. I also learned how to play Craps along the way, but that’s a different blog post.

I uploaded more photos from my Vegas trip to Flickr.

Wynn Hotel
wynn hotel
Beignets Filled with Oozing Chocolate
chocolate_donuts

Restaurant: The Country Club

SW Steak House
steak

Restaurant: SW SteakHouse

Kobe Beef Carpaccio
carpaccio

Restaurant: The Country Club

Duck Coated in a Fig-BBQ Sauce Served on Brioche Bun
duck_burger

Restaurant: The Country Club

Lots of love at Jean Philippe Patisserie
jean philippe patisserie

Restaurant: Jean Philippe Pattisserie

Out of all the dishes I had that week, my absolute favorite, which was not an easy decision to arrive at (as you could see), featured house-made elk sausage. It was the only dish I ordered twice that week. I don’t usually order a dish twice, but I had to make an exception. It was that good. The sausage, you see, was served on a bed of a marble potato hash cooked with pancetta and a mix of sweet peppers and onions. And gracefully balanced atop of the elk sausage rested a perfectly poached egg. It was perfect — no undercooked egg white and a barely warm yolk, still very runny of course. In order to qualify for Las Vegas decadence status, however, you need that extra something. That extra something, in this case, was the beautifully prepared, buttery choron sauce. If you’ve never had choron sauce, just think béarnaise with a bit of tomato purée. Instead of the puree, however, the chef incorporated a fine dice of sun dried tomatoes to achieve a similar flavor with added texture.

Elk Sausage Served with Poached Eggs and Choron Sauce
elk sausage

Restaurant: Tableau

Me and Chef Timothy Henderson at Tableau
chef at Tableau

Photo Credit: M. Scott Smith

Today, I decided to pay tribute to Las Vegas with an equally decadent blog post. I didn’t have to look too far since I have plenty of decadent brioche left over from my previous post. You can’t tell from the photos, but I had made 2 batches of brioche, which left me with 4 total loaves, and 6 sticks of butter less in the fridge. But that’s not enough. In order to come close to Vegas-level decadence, I needed something more. I needed that charon sauce — something to take this already rich bread to new levels of decadence. Chocolate was the answer (as it almost always is).

mise en place
mise en place

With some spotty bananas sitting on my counter, I decided to turn some of my left over brioche into mini chocolate-banana panini.

banana-chocolate
banana-chocolate
wait, wait… some extra chocolate
extra chocolate
panini press
panini press
chocolate-banana brioche panini
chocolate-banana brioche panini

Chocolate-Banana Brioche Panini

yields 4 panini

Components

  • 4 thick slices of brioche (1/2 inch)
  • High Quality Dark Chocolate (50-70% Cocoa)*, medium chop
  • thinly sliced bananas

Putting them all together

  1. Cut each slice of brioche in half.
  2. Layer chocolate chunks topped with a few slices of banana and an extra sprinkling of chocolate. The chocolate will act as a glue and keep the bananas in place.
  3. Melt the chocolate in a panini press or on a skillet over a burner*.

Notes: I used Callebaut Chocolate for these panini, although any high quality dark chocolate also works — El Rey (Venezuela) and Valrhona (France) are a couple of my favorite brands. You could also make your own panini press by placing your sandwich in a large skillet over medium heat and topping it with another heated skillet (cast iron works best because it’s heavy).

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oozing chocolate, creamy banana, buttery brioche — decadence accomplished
chocolate, banana, brioche

Yogurt, plain and simple

Throughout the two-plus years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve never dedicated a post exclusively to yogurt. I’ve used it as an ingredient here and there, sure, but it’s never played a leading role. That’s not acceptable. Not for a Mediterranean food blog, at least. I plan on changing that today.

On my recent trip to Aleppo I was reminded how important yogurt is in Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s everywhere. Cow, goat or sheep. Strained, plain or cooked. In the Levant there’s even a popular refreshing drink called Ayraan (عيران) that’s made from yogurt, but more on that later. Today I need to set things right. Today is all about yogurt.

Before we begin, I’d like to dispel the myth that suggests you should buy a fancy yogurt maker to incubate your milk. Please don’t. If you already have, I won’t hold it against you, but you really don’t need one. If the machine made the job any easier, I can understand, but the truth is, making yogurt is pretty simple.

While I was in Aleppo, Leila (my maternal grandfather’s brother’s wife’s sister), shared with me her way of making yogurt. Take a look:

Before I met Leila, I used to make my yogurt in the pot I heated the milk in. Not anymore. I really like her idea of dispensing the yogurt into smaller jars.

mise en place

Midway through the process (usually as the yogurt is cooling), I like to turn on my oven to the lowest setting and turn it off after 5 minutes. This helps keep my oven barely warm enough to properly incubate the yogurt — which is essentially what the yogurt machine does, except it doesn’t cost extra money and doesn’t limit how much yogurt you can make.

heating the milk

Once you heat the milk to 180 degrees F (a near boil), you need to cool it. I like to use a thermometer, particularly for this step, so that the yogurt starter has an ideal environment to initialize the incubation process. That temperature should be between 107 and 112 degrees F (41 and 44 degrees C).

nestled inside the oven

Since the pizza stone in my oven can retain lots of heat (as can the metal rails), I like to line the base with a kitchen towel before placing the jars of yogurt inside the oven. Then, as Leila mentioned in the video, you want to cover the jars with another towel so they remain warm throughout the incubation.

plain goat milk yogurt

Keep the jars overnight in the oven and move them to the fridge first thing in the morning. It’s that simple — saha wa hana (صحة و هنا)/bon appetit!

Homemade Yogurt

Makes 1/2 gallon

Components

  • 1/2 gallon milk*
  • 10g yogurt starter*

Putting them all together

  1. Heat milk to 180 degrees F (82 degrees C) over medium heat.
  2. Cool the milk between 107-112 degrees F (41-44 C) and slowly mix in the yogurt starter.
  3. Dispense the milk into 4-5, 16 oz. jars.
  4. Place the jars inside a barely warm oven lined with a kitchen towel and cover them with another towel to keep them warm throughout the incubation process.
  5. After 6-8 hours (or overnight) move the jars into the fridge and store until ready to use.

notes: If you don’t have yogurt starter you can use any plain yogurt that has live active cultures. Usually I like to go with the Organic Stonyfield Plain Yogurt. You’ll also get better results by using full-fat milk — 2% milk won’t get nearly as creamy.

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I scream(ed)

I find that when you don’t know how to go about saying something, it’s best to come out and say it. I learned this when I was younger. It’s like pulling off a bandaid…

My Canon Rebel died last week.

It hurt me to even type that, but it’s the truth. If you’re wondering whether it’s safe to leave your camera with a hotel for a couple hours after checkout, don’t do it. I hate to sound jaded, but that’s how my Canon met its horrible fate. The hotel is still investigating the matter, which, I hope, is not code for, let’s see how we could get out of this. So far they’ve been relatively kind and helpful, but I’m still waiting for them to make things right.

The last thing I photographed before my trip was a chocolate hazelnut ice cream. I stumbled upon this recipe for gianduia gelato on epicurious and couldn’t pass it up — it’s like Nutella ice cream. Despite the relatively positive reviews, I added my own twist by spiking the gelato base with hazelnut liqueur. Although it did not bring my camera back, I was happy to find the leftover gelato waiting for me in my freezer after I came home from my dismal trip.

mise en place

The recipe calls for peeled, toasted hazelnuts, ground and steeped in hot milk. I’ve always peeled my hazelnuts by toasting them and rubbing them between a kitchen towel. While this method doesn’t get rid of all the skin, it does a great job of getting rid of most of it with very little effort. There’s also what has been dubbed the Julia Child technique, which requires you to boil the hazelnuts in water with baking soda until the water turns dark. Then you have to allow them to cool before you can peel the skins off. Either method works, although for this recipe, I don’t think you need to worry about getting all the peel off because you’ll be straining everything two steps later.

peeled hazelnuts

Pulse the peeled and toasted hazelnuts with sugar. Remember, the finer you grind your hazelnuts (i.e. the more surface area there is), the more hazelnut flavor will be infused into the milk. I went with a coarse cornmeal grind, but I feel like I could’ve gone further than that.

hazelnuts & sugar

Once the hazelnuts steep in the hot milk for 20-30 minutes, you’ve essentially drawn out most of their flavor. I do not recommend reusing these. If you’re craving gelato with some texture, I recommend setting aside some of the toasted hazelnuts and folding them into the semi-frozen base once it comes out of the ice cream maker.

the last drop has the most flavor, so push

Rule number one: never add cornstarch to a hot liquid without diluting. My solution was to dilute the cornstarch in hazelnut liqueur before adding it to the strained milk mixture.

spiked cornstarch slurry

Once the mixture comes to a boil and reaches its maximum thickening potential, mix in your chocolate. I used a Callebaut 60% chocolate.

+chocolate

The next step is to let your mixture cool completely before adding it to your ice cream maker. The best thing, in my opinion, is to let it go overnight. The colder the ice cream base is before it goes into the ice cream maker, the less ice crystals will form, and the smoother your ice cream will be.

cooled ice cream base

Since this gelato recipe uses cornstarch as a thickener, the base looks almost like a pudding after it is cooled; this is normal. Make sure to taste the base before putting it into the ice cream maker — not only is this a good habit in terms of making sure everything is seasoned correctly, but the base alone makes for an awesome chocolate hazelnut pudding.

gianduia gelato

If you use the ice cream attachment on your kitchen aid, as I did, make sure to whip as little air into the gelato base (i.e. keep your mixer on the lowest setting). This will help create the silky, slow-churned texture that gelato is known for.

chocolate hazelnut gelato

Gianduia Gelato

yields approx 1 quart

Components

  • 2 cups hazelnuts (8 ounces), toasted , skins rubbed off, and cooled
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 3 tbsp hazelnut liqueur
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao), finely chopped

Putting them all together

  1. Pulse toasted and peeled hazelnuts with sugar in a food processor. The result should resemble a coarse cornmeal texture.
  2. Combine the hazelnut mixture and the milk in a heavy-bottom medium sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it reaches a boil, cover and set aside for 20-30 minutes.
  3. A couple minutes before the hazelnuts are done steeping in the milk, combine the hazelnut liqueur with the cornstarch to make a slurry. If the mixture is still a too thick (i.e. or clumpy), add cold milk to thin it out some more.
  4. Strain the ground hazelnuts from the milk mixture and discard.
  5. Return the strained milk to the medium sauce pot, stir in the the cornstarch slurry and boil over medium heat for 2 minutes, making sure to stir constantly. The mixture will be thick.
  6. Remove from heat and mix in the finely chopped chocolate.
  7. Chill the base in the refrigerator overnight, or at least for 4-6 hours, then put it into your ice cream maker to make the gelato.
  8. When complete, transfer the gelato to an air-tight container and freeze until ready to eat.

note: recipe adapted from epicurious.com

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all done

the secret to a greener pesto

Seattle was beautiful. It was refreshing. It was sunny the entire 5 days I was visiting – a miracle, considering it rains roughly 80% of the time out there. I did get back to Annapolis about two weeks ago, but less than 24 hours after my plane landed, I was back at the airport to pick up my parents. My mom had been here before, but this was my dad’s first time at my new place. That means I put everything aside, my blog included, and showed them a good time.

my friends and I in Seattle

(left to right: Me, Charles, Paul, Andy and Nick)

I was in Seattle for the 2009 Web Design World Conference. If you’re into web design and development and ever get the chance to go, I highly recommend it. The speakers were all leaders in their respective fields and gave engaging presentations; these were a few of my favorites: Jared Spool (UI mastermind), Shawn Henry (Queen of Accessibility), Dan Rubin (CSS ninja) and Cameron Moll (design guru).

if only I had a kitchen in my hotel room

Pike Place Market was probably my favorite place to walk around in Seattle. It somehow manages to embody the small town feel of a local market, but on a large scale. The vendors, although swarming with clients, had conversations with you, jugglers and singers entertained small crowds, and best of all, the quality and selection of local produce was unbelievable – it was a fun place to be.

rockin’ local veggies

The market stands were filled with beautiful local vegetables, and the competing venders kept prices pretty low – always a plus.

my lunchtime view of the bay

Most of the lunch venues at the Market have a gorgeous panoramic view of the bay. It was the perfect sight to stare into while I enjoyed my grilled halibut sandwich.

I miss Seattle

The trip back to the east coast was ambivalent. Although I wanted to stay in Seattle forever, and visit Pike Place Market everyday, it was time to go back. I stayed staring out the airplane window for most of the flight back, thinking about what I can blog about once I get home. This pesto, for sure, was at the top of my list.

mise en place

I’ve always been a fan of the arugula-lemon combination. It’s one of those things in cooking that just works – like figs and blue cheese or chocolate and mint. Pesto, however, starts to get dark shortly after it comes together. This can be a problem if you’re dinner party starts in a couple hours or if you’re banking on some leftover sauce to give as gift or enjoy the next day. My good friend Michelle, who is quite the amazing cook, shared with me the secret to keep the vibrant green color in pesto, even days after it is made.

herein lies the secret – blanch your greens

The secret to keeping the gorgeous green color on the leaves is by blanching them in boiling water for 10-15 seconds. This process actually enhances the color of the chlorophyll, but since it is done quickly, it does not break down the greens either.

shock in ice bath

In order to preserve the bright green color the leaves turn, you need to immediately stop the cooking process after 10-15 seconds by plunging the greens into a bowl of ice-cold water. Make sure you drain and dry the greens before adding them to the pesto so as to not water down the sauce.

lemon zest for zing

Lemon zest, similar to salt, heightens the flavors of a dish without adding too much acidity.

extra virgin olive oil to combine

Once you have all the ingredients ready, you’ll want to bring them all together in the food processor with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.

some acidity to make the flavors pop

Adding lemon juice is a matter of personal preference. I do it because I like how that little touch of acidity cuts the fat from the oil and cheese in the pesto. You can play around with different amounts and textures, but in the end you want the lemon flavor to be a subtle note in the background and not overpower the sauce.

Lemon infused, Basil Arugula Pesto

Lemon Infused, Basil Arugula Pesto

yields approx 1.5 cups

Components

  • 4 oz basil leaves, (approx 3 cups, lightly packed)
  • 2 oz arugula leaves, (approx 1 cup, lightly packed)
  • 3/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Boil water in a large pot and prepare an ice bath in a separate bowl.
  2. Salt the boiling water. Add the basil and arugula leaves for 10-15 seconds and immediately plunge in ice bath to stop the cooking and preserve the bright green color in the leaves.
  3. Strain the leaves and pat dry using a clean towel. Combine all the ingredients in the food processor (or blender) and blend until well combined.
  4. Taste for seasoning. Enjoy with pasta or refrigerate with a sheet of plastic wrap on the surface to preserve the green color for up to a week.

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a peak of what’s coming up next!

A world outside of mozzarella & pepperoni

A simple google search for kid-friendly recipes is scary. What shows up, in fact, is a harrowing slew of butter-saturated, sugar-filled recipes written with a complete disregard for health. I discovered this last week because I was looking for just that – simple recipes that I can make with kids.

My friend Beth invited me to cook in front of a class of kindergarten students. Her son is in the class and they were looking for someone to do a cooking demo for the kids’ end of the year party – I was flattered that they thought of me and happily accepted.

I took this as my tiny opportunity to make a difference in the way these kids looked at food. While this was not the time to introduce them to the delicate flavors of perfectly-seared scallops or steak tartare, I wanted to cook with them something they’re familiar with, but probably never had before. I decided to let them make their own pizzas. Instead of just mozzarella and pepperoni though, I brought with me a ton of different vegetables and all sorts of sauces for them to experiment with. Well-aware of the fact that the kids will have a short attention span that rivals mine, I also brought with me my pizza paddle and pizza stone so they could take turns sliding their pizzas into the oven.

flying food is always fun for kids

One of my favorite pizza combinations we made with the kids was a lemon-infused, goat ricotta, white pizza topped with thinly sliced zucchini. The flavors are light, refreshing, and clean — perfect for the hot summer days ahead.

mise en place

Count them – four ingredients; five if you include the extra virgin olive oil. This means no skimping on ingredients! I tried this same pizza with regular ricotta and it doesn’t work. The wow factor just wasn’t there. If you absolutely cannot find goat-milk ricotta, however, not to worry. Mix a semi-firm chevre (like Spanish Capricho de Cabra) with some good quality, fresh ricotta and you’ll get a similar result. Like I said, it won’t be spot-on, but it will get you pretty close.

lemon zest makes me happy

The lemon zest in the ricotta serves two purposes. Not only does it heighten the flavors of the goat cheese, but it also gives the pizza a clean, crisp flavor. I recommend using organic citrus whenever a dish calls for using the zest or rind.

almost paper thin, almost

Zucchini has lots of moisture and moisture is the kryptonite, so to speak, of pizza. To remove some of this excess moisture you’ll want to thinly slice the zucchini (preferably with a mandoline) and fan the slices out on a plate so they’re not on top of each other. Then season the slices with salt and pepper and the salt will start to break down the cell walls of the zucchini, and thus allowing it to give up some of that moisture. Soak it up with a paper towel and your ready to roll.

extra virgin olive oil

The kids were shocked when I hinted at the idea of a pizza without tomato sauce. Their facial expressions were absolutely priceless. And although not many chose to forgo the traditional red sauce, I feel like those that did may have a bright culinary future ahead of them!

Lemon-Infused Goat Ricotta White Pizza With Sliced Zucchini

Lemon, Goat Ricotta & Zucchini Pizza

makes 1 large pizza

Components

  • 24 oz. pizza dough
  • 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 lb goat milk ricotta
  • zest of 1-2 lemons
  • 1 zucchini, thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Zest the lemon(s) and stir the zest into the goat ricotta
  2. Thinly slice the zucchini (preferably with a mandoline), fan out on a plate, season with salt and pepper, and cover with a paper towel to soak up some of the moisture.
  3. Stretch pizza dough to approx 1/8″ thickness – this pizza is better thin than thick – and brush a thin coat of olive oil over the top.
  4. Spread the goat cheese mixture over the top and top with the thin slices of zucchini.
  5. Preferably bake on a hot (550 degrees F) pizza stone for 5-7 minutes or until the crust gets golden brown.

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This is why everyone should invest in a pizza stone:

perfectly crispy crust