Mixing It Up

Until recently I never thought of using these vases on the table, but once they landed there they’ve inspired several settings.  The colors lend themselves to many options and it’s so easy to refresh the flowers.This time around a table runner with some of my favorite colors is the background.

With these pieces on the table, it was easy to add others for a simple at home dinner with friends. Perfect color matches are in these dishes from Target. 

Though I often mix and match, this time I’m sticking with the coordinating salad plates and adding a napkin that introduces a variation in pattern but is true to the color way.

That’s all there is to it.  In less than 10 minutes, the table is set made easy by what was already there.  That is why I rarely leave a table top bare, and it doesn’t bother me at all if the same pieces are used multiple times. It’s fun to see how many different looks can be created from the same elements.

This dinner was preceded by a busy day, and that’s when a slow cooker comes in real handy.  Not only does it provide the freedom needed to do other things, it fills the house with tantalizing aroma.  For sure that was the case with these Asian Style Short Ribs that you just might want to try.

Asian Style Short Ribs

6 lbs. short ribs

salt and ground pepper

3/4 t. 5 spice powder

1/4 c. each hoisin sauce and ketchup

2 T. rice vinegar

2 T. soy sauce

1 T. fish sauce

1 T. honey

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

1 T. minced fresh ginger

5 cloves mince garlic

Season the ribs with salt, pepper and 5 spice powder.  Brown on all sides in a multipurpose cooker or broil until nicely browned.

Mix together remaining ingredients and place all in the cooker being sure to coat the ribs well with the hoisin mix.  Cover and cook on the low setting for about 6 hours or until the meat is very tender.  If the ribs are boneless, cooking time will be less.

For serving, place the ribs in a bowl or on a plate and moisten with some of the cooking liquid.  Garnish with Italian parsley or cilantro and chopped roasted peanuts or cashews.

Serves 6

I can assure you there will be no leftovers!

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Next: Cannoli

fullsizerenderStarting at Sicily’s Catania airport, I was in cannoli heaven!  I’m not sure why, but it is one of my favorite sweets and not a common menu offering in the States.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat really set cannoli in Sicily apart was having it made with fresh, creamy ricotta inserted into just made shells.

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After watching a demonstration of the whole process in Ragusa, I determined that cannoli was doable and would definitely be the dessert for the anticipated Sicilian gourmet gathering.

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The first step was ordering these little tubes around which the cannoli dough is wrapped for frying.  They allow the shells to hold their shape and to slide off easily once they are done.

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Making the shells requires a bit of elbow grease, a pasta maker or rolling pin and a lot of patience.  Might I add that’s it more fun with two as there is opportunity for lots of chuckles.  All done, there is quite a sense of accomplishment!

img_8232-1Most cannoli has a ricotta based filling that may have such as pistachios, candied fruit or chocolate chips as an added ingredient.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThinking that everyone would like it, I opted for a filling with chocolate chips and a subtle taste of orange.  If there is a best hint for making cannoli, it is to use a pastry tube to fill the shells otherwise it’s a messy process.

OK, there you have it, a perfect ending to a Sicilian dinner.  What made it especially fun was the arancini and the cannoli were firsts for some of the diners, and you know how hard it is to introduce new tastes to gourmands.

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Dishing It & Digging It

First the Arancini

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the table set, it was time to get busy in the kitchen preparing the Sicilian dinner.

Without question, one of my favorite foods in Sicily was arancini which I swore not to make noting that it was rather labor intensive.  No way though could I pass on it knowing that it possibly would be a new taste treat, so I bit the bullet and got started.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArancini is basically a risotto ball so the first step is making your favorite risotto being sure not to let it get too soft and mushy.  Al dente is the buzz word.  When it has cooled enough to handle, roll the risotto into golf ball sized shapes with a small mozzarella ball in the middle.  Dip the balls in beaten egg whites and roll them in a mixture of equal parts flour and bread crumbs seasoned with salt, pepper and chopped basil.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce your balls are prepared,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfry then in olive or canola oil over medium high heat until browned on all sides.  A deep fryer would likely be a little more efficient than a skillet.  I must tell you this part can be a little tricky as the balls tend to fall apart if they are handled too much so do use care when moving them around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARemove the balls from the oil and drain them well on paper towels.  Making the arancini is more time consuming than difficult I learned, but the good thing is it can be made a day ahead and reheated in the oven or warming drawer.  That takes a lot of the pain out of preparing the rest of the meal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt serving time, put a heaping portion of  meat sauce in a bowl and top with 2-3 arancini.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and coarsely chopped basil or Italian parsley. Then sit back and enjoy the moans of pleasure that will come from your table.  That makes the effort all worthwhile!

While you may have a favorite meat sauce, I can’t resist sharing Chef Michael’s recipe for Sicilian meat sauce with its flavorful blend of ingredients.

1/4 c. olive oil

1/2 c.  each finely chopped onion, carrot and celery

1 lb. ground pork or Italian sausage

1/2 c. red wine

6 oz. tomato paste

28 oz. can of diced tomatoes

3 c. beef broth

1 T. fennel seeds, toasted and ground fine

2 cloves minced garlic

1 bay leaf

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add the onions, carrots and celery.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the pork or sausage, stir until broken up and cook until browned.

Pour in the wine and cook until it has nearly evaporated.

Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add diced tomatoes, beef broth, seasonings and bay leaf and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours.

Remove the bay leaf and season to taste.

As you might guess, this sauce is great with most any pasta.  Double the recipe, freeze the extra and you have sauce ready for another time.  Not a bad idea!

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In the Kitchen

pb032656After a full day of seeing the sights and tasting food, wine and cheese, we return “home” to don our aprons and head to the kitchen to prepare the evening’s meal under the watchful eye of Chef Michael. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s no mystery about what we are going to fix as in our welcoming folder the menus and recipes for the week are included.  Can you tell that each dinner is a whole lot of food?

img_8110-1Funny how cooking is much more fun with a group, and it took all of us to prepare the evening’s vittles.

We laugh and joke as we mix, stir, slice and dice

 

pb032650and discover that for some things it takes two!

Everyone has a job,

img_8198 some more tedious than others. I have to confess to being nothing more than a cheerleader when it came to making this dessert!

Everywhere in the kitchen is evidence of our effort,

img_8232-1and when all is said and done we turn out some pretty good eats!  Since I have mentioned cannoli more than once in recent posts, you might guess it was my very favorite dessert, one that will be made at home though I might cheat and use purchased shells as making them from scratch requires quite an effort. 

Now that your appetite is whetted, here is a recipe from the kitchen for you to try.  

Sicilian Caponata

2 medium eggplants

3 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 celery stalks, peeled and diced

1/2 c. green olives, pitted and halved

1/4 c. capers

1/4 c. sundried tomatoes, chopped

1/3 c. red wine vinegar

2 T. sugar

1 c. tomato sauce

1/4 c. basil, chopped

kosher salt and black pepper

Cut the eggplants into 1/2″ cubes and place them in a bowl.  Toss with 3 T. of salt and let them sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.  Rinse the eggplant in cold water and drain well.  Squeeze to release excess water, then place on paper towels to dry thoroughly.

Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium high heat.  Fry the eggplant until it’s well browned.  Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.  Return the pan to medium heat and add the sliced onion.  Cook for 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.  Add celery and continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring well.  Last, add the capers and sundried tomatoes and and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the vinegar, sugar and tomato sauce and cook for about 5 minutes or until the mixture is cooked down.  Remove from the heat and stir in the basil.  Season to taste.

The caponata may be used in a variety of ways such as a sauce for fish or pasta or as a spread for crostini.

So, there you have the experience of a Foodie Adventure.  If going to interesting places, staying in a wonderful villa and having opportunity for  hands on cooking appeals to you, you just might want to join in the fun.

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Foodie Adventure #4

For the fourth time, the hubby and I have joined Chef Michael Salmon for a Foodie Adventure, this time in southern Sicily.  Now, before sharing bits of the adventure with you I’ll answer the question I’ve been asked again and again: What is a Foodie Adventure?

The simple answer is it is a delightful week of eating, touring, eating, cooking and eating with 16-20 other fun loving and adventurous folks who come from all over the U.S.  Some will have met on another of the Foodie Adventures so friendships are renewed.  For sure it is an experience to be savored.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChef Michael and his energetic wife Mary Jo of Camden, Maine’s Hartstone Inn always find wonderful places for us Foodies to stay.  This time lovely accommodations are at Cavalonga in wide open spaces  surrounded by olive, citrus and almond trees near Ragusa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we arrive we are greeted with appetizing antipasti trays and refreshing beverages perfect for tired travelers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWaiting in our rooms are lots of happys that Chef Michael and Mary Jo have left for us.  The most important one is the apron that will get lots of use and more than a few stains as we prepare nightly feasts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASettled in, we are ready to begin the adventure.  Each day begins with breakfast prepared by Chef Michael who gets up earlier than the rest of us.

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Then it’s on the bus for a day of visiting local points of interests

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Learning to make cannoli

plus places having to do with food.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALadies, of course, always want to do a little shopping, and the guys just shrug their shoulders and look for the nearest place to have gelato or a glass of wine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALate afternoon we return to our temporary home, wash our hands, don the apron and head to the kitchen to prepare the evening meal under the watchful eye of Chef Michael.  

By the time we are finished, we’ve worked up an appetite for our 4 course meal, and we appreciate it enormously for having worked together to make it happen.

So now you know about a Foodie Adventure.  Next, I’ll have to share a bit of Sicily and a recipe or two from the week.  Do come back.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

Found!

Have you ever put something away and not been able to find it?  I do that from time to time, and the hunt makes me crazy!  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor two years I looked high and low for these candelabra that fit so nicely into a bottle and are terrific on any table. Finally, they’ve been found  hiding in a basket under some books.  How did they get there!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIroning a tablecloth from Provence, I noticed a border of sunflowers which are the last flower to bloom in Maine.  Right away a tablescape that would combine the found candelabra, sunflowers and the cloth began taking form in my mind. What I liked was the notion that the table would have sunny summer colors and at the same time be a lead in to fall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom there it was easy to make the table happen.  Yellow plates, yes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was was a no brainer to accessorize with the cranberry tones of the tablecloth. I’m crazy about the square shape of the cup and saucer….so contemporary looking but from a set of dishes popular in the 1940’s.  Some things just don’t go out of style.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese little guys, cigalles they are called in Provence, are supposed to keep a table cloth from blowing off the table, but here they are used as napkin rings.  They are fun finds from a street market in Gordes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn a matter of minutes, the table is set, and I’m off to the kitchen to prepare gazpacho with which to fill those cups.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATomatoes are at their best right now, and gazpacho is one of my favorite ways to use them.  I throw all the vegetables in the blender with Clamato juice (1-2 cups) and blend until they are smooth. Here I used a mixed selection of tomatoes (4-6 depending on size) and a zucchini in place of the more traditional cucumber.  You can be creative with your vegetable choices.  When the ingredients are well blended, add a teaspoon each of red wine vinegar and sugar and salt and pepper to taste.  If you like a bit of spice, add a touch of Tabasco or red pepper.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI like to top the soup with diced veggies and a dollop of sour cream and when I have it I throw in some chopped lobster.  Hmm, I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!

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A Can’t Miss Favorite

 “Lulu, are we having chowder tonight?”

When the kids come to visit, that’s the first question asked, and I’m happy to respond positively.  Not only is it a family favorite, it is one of those easy to fix failsafe dishes.  Another plus is it’s gluten free which is becoming important to more and more people.

OK, no more wasting time talking about it, here’s how you make it.

Lulu’s Fish Chowder

1 lb. haddock, cod or salmon*

2-3 Yukon gold or red potatoes, sliced

1 onion, sliced

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

1 bottle clam juice, heated to boiling

2 c. milk or half and half, warmed

1 t. dill

2 T. butter

salt and pepper to taste

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn a large baking dish, layer the onions and potatoes.  Sprinkle with garlic and salt and pepper to taste.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALay the fish filet on top and dot with butter.  Add the clam juice and dill.  If you are using fresh dill, increase the amount to at least 2 teaspoons.

IMG_4358 (1)Cover the dish with foil and bake for 1 hour at 350.  The fish should be flaky and the potatoes and onion soft.

IMG_4362 (1)Remove from the oven and add the heated milk.  Stir gently to break up all the ingredients.  Spoon into heated bowls and serve with oyster crackers. A simple green salad is all that is needed to complete the meal.

Make the chowder once, and I’m betting it’ll become one of your family favorites.  This recipe is about 4 generous servings, but, as you might guess, it is easily doubled.

*If using a salmon filet, bake with skin side up and remove the skin when the dish comes out of the oven.

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