Rosemary Olive Oil Cake

The Finished Product w BrushstrokeJeff and I are having some friends over for dinner this evening.  It will be a very casual dinner as I try out some recipes for one of the cooking classes I’ll be teaching at the Kitchen Shoppe in the spring.

I am excited for this new journey and have been learning so much along the way.  Each iteration of a recipe teaches me about the effects of all kinds of things – a change in spices, different cooking times, higher or lower temperatures, fresher ingredients – on the end result.  It has been a fun process and I am thankful for the support of my family and friends – those people who are willing to eat not only the successes, but the failures as well!!!

For dessert tonight, we’ll be having Rosemary Olive Oil Cake.  Some people find the idea of baking with olive oil quite strange; frankly I feel sorry for those folks because they are missing out on some amazing moisture and flavor!

I thought I’d show you the process of making this cake.

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Pizza: Conventional and Unconventional

I LOVE PIZZA!  And I don’t really trust people who don’t like pizza – I mean, what’s not to like?  Bread, tomatoes, cheese….mmmmmmm! I know there are people who can’t eat pizza for health reasons and they are exempt from my mistrust – mainly because if they could eat it, they would.

I like pizza shop pizza (particularly JoJo’s Pizza and Al’s of Hampden (they also offer a great selection of craft beers)) and frozen pizza – SOME frozen pizza; but I especially love pizza we make at home.  I usually call it “Jeff’s pizza,” but the truth is we collaborate.  The dough is all him!  Over many years he has finessed a recipe he received from a good friend of ours – I didn’t even ask him if I could share it because I’m fairly certain the answer would be “no.”

The toppings are where the collaboration happens.  Typically the ingredients we have in the house dictate the kind of pizza we end up making.  We’ve made conventional pizza with just sauce, mozzarella and traditional toppings; and we’ve made many unconventional pizzas – including some ideas we’ve gotten from recipe books and some made from our creative energies, such as:

  • Coney Island – chili instead of sauce, cheddar cheese and sliced hot dogs topped after cooking with yellow mustard and chopped onions
  • White pizza – sometimes with ricotta and sometimes without it, some creamy and others on the drier side
  • Chopped salad topped pizza (without sauce)
  • White sauce, asparagus, pancetta and fried egg
  • Caramelized onion with all kinds of different cheeses and chopped nuts
  • Etc.

Last night we went conventional and unconventional. We made a pepperoni pizza and a caramelized onion and goat cheese pizza.  The following is a photographic walk through the process:

Pizza dough just after being punched down.  Look at the air bubbles.  The dough may look like it’s too wet, but it is actually just right!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaping the Pizza. We don’t worry if the pizzas don’t come out perfectly round.  They taste great no matter the shape!

 

Topping the Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pizza.  The toppings included a brush of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper on the dough, a tiny bit of mozzarella cheese to help the ingredients stick to the pizza, caramelized onions, chopped prosciutto, goat cheese and a tiny bit of mozzarella on the top to hold everything together!  Jeff wanted a few pepperoncini rings and I didn’t so we put them on half!

Topping the Pepperoni Pizza.  The toppings included Don Pepino Pizza Sauce (a good choice if you don’t have the time to make your own), pepperoni (as you can see Jeff had a serious hankerin’ for pepperoni), mozzarella, and dried oregano.

The Finished Products!

Not all our creations are delicious – sometimes we flop; but we always have fun when we make pizza.  It’s a chance to create together and to enjoy our labor of love.  One day we’ll have a brick oven for our pizza and will be able to make more than one at a time – that will make it easier when we make pizza for company.

My remaining pizza challenge is to recreate a white pizza my grandmother used to make.  It was an incredibly tasty dough topped very simply with olive oil, cracked black pepper and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  The pizza was not thin crust, but it was not as thick as a Sicilian style.  I have my mom on the lookout for the recipe……once I master it, I’ll definitely let you know!

In the meantime, let me know your favorite pizza toppings!  I always love to hear what other people like to eat.

Forecast Last Week: Chilly, Chili & Chile

This past week was a busy one….I guess most of us could start a sentence that way. We live in a fast-paced world where cramming one more think into our already over-crowded schedules is expected.  That’s why I am happy the weather has taken a turn toward the chilly.  It seems like when that happens people I start slowing my pace to a more sustainable one.

It’s crazy to say, but Jeff and I only had dinner together two evenings of the last seven.  One was last evening when I made a quick “kitchen sink” pasta. It’s a concept we use to clean out the fridge and, in this case, use up the last of the produce from the garden.  The other dinner together is one I’ll write more about below, but first let me give you a run down of the rest of the week:

  • Monday: write for blog, work on the blog; do some HR consulting work; Me, Myself and Lies Bible study; ride with Jeff to BWI Airport to pick up his parents (we left at 10:30 pm and got home around 3:30 am Tuesday)
  • Tuesday: sleep in a bit to recover from last night; read for Bible study; work on the blog – test and photograph recipes; prep for consulting meeting tomorrow; laundry; walk.
  • Wednesday: consulting meeting; doctor appointment; grocery shop; make chili; dinner with Jeff; write for blog; small group meeting.
  • Thursday: drive mom to doctor appointment in Hershey – wait, wait, wait with Mrs. M (a nice time to catch up!); lunch at Hershey Pantry; shopping; recipe test for baking contest; write for blog; read, read, read for Bible study and some fiction.
  • Friday: make lunch to take to Jeff; have lunch with Jeff; afternoon meeting; laundry; photos for blog; tres bonne annee wine tasting – The Wines of Chile; “dinner” with Ben, Christa & Jeff
  • Saturday: work at Kitchen Shoppe’s Italian Soups and Breads class; final recipe test and photos for baking contest; upload and organize photos from digital camera; read for Bible study; make dinner for me (Jeff was working the homecoming dance); fall into bed after midnight.
  • Sunday: church (a much-needed time of praise and reconnection); work at Kitchen Shoppe’s fundraiser for the Bosler Library in Carlisle, PA; read some fiction; finally connect with Jeff; make dinner; eat together; mindless t.v.; early to bed!

I know there are many of you who add kids activities to this already crowded schedule so I am not complaining by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes I have to remind myself how much I actually have in my schedule so I understand why some things slide!!! Typically there’s exercise in the schedule too, but I’ve been having a problem with my left foot (No, not the movie) and I’ve been instructed to stay off it for a few days!  Which to me only means I have to stop “organized” exercise, not the rest of the activities I do each day.

So, back to the chili.  I had a two-pound piece of sirloin in the fridge and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it; but with the brisk weather I got inspired to fiddle with a new chili recipe.  here’s what I came up with:

Chilly Weather Sirloin Chili

Jeff picked some beautiful Roma tomatoes and Hungarian peppers from the garden and I thought both would be excellent additions to this dish.  I started by halving the tomatoes, placing them cut-side up on a baking sheet and drizzling with olive oil.  I sprinkled them with kosher salt, ground black pepper, brown sugar and red pepper flakes and roasted them in a preheated 350 degree oven until they were caramelized (40 – 60 minutes depending on the size of the tomatoes).  After they cooled enough so that I could handle them, I slid the skins off each tomato half.

While the tomatoes were roasting, I turned my attention to the sirloin.  I cut it into 1 1/2 inch cubes and tossed them in a bowl with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, 4 tsp. yellow corn meal (which will help to give a nice crust to the meat and later thicken the chili), 1 tsp. chili powder, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. cocoa powder until all the meat cubes were well coated.  I heated 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a dutch oven on the stove top and browned the meat in three batches – removing all the meat to a plate when browned.

In the same dutch oven, which now had gloriously browned bits from the meat on the bottom, I added 3 cups diced Spanish onion, 3 diced Hungarian peppers and 1 cup of water to deglaze the pan.  I cooked the veggies, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes until the onions were translucent and the water evaporated.  I added garlic to the pan and cooked, stirring, for one minute more.

I then added to the onion mixture, the tomato paste, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. paprika, 2 tsp. cocoa powder and 1 Tbsp. cumin.  I cooked  the tomato paste and spices with the veggies to caramelize for about 2 minutes.  I then added the browned meat, 3 cups chicken broth, the roasted tomatoes (skins removed) and 1 can each drained and rinsed black beans and red beans.  I brought it all to a boil, lowered the heat to medium low and simmered for 30 minutes.  Of course, the longer you simmer, the better and the chili is even better if it sits over night in the fridge and is reheated – it gives all the flavors time to meld together.

I served the chili over rice and it was a warm, spicy and delicious treat for a chilly day!

Chilly Weather Sirloin Chili

Serves 6 - 10
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish, Soup
Misc Pre-preparable, Serve Hot

Ingredients

  • 20 Roma tomatoes (fresh from the garden is best!)
  • olive oil to drizzle
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • .5 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (for browning meat)
  • 2lb sirloin steak (cut into 1.5 inch cubes~)
  • 4 teaspoons yellow corn meal
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder (divided)
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder (divided)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (divided)
  • 3 cups Spanish onion (diced)
  • 3 Hungarian peppers (diced)
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 3 thin slices tomato paste
  • .5 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 3 cups chicken broth ((I prefer low sodium))
  • 1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can red beans (drained and rinsed)

Note

mmm mmm mmm blog at www.cookeatentertain.com

Directions

Roasting Tomatoes
1. Cut Roma tomatoes in half and place cut side up on a greased half sheet pan.
2. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with 1 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. pepper, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar and 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes.
3. Place in a preheated 350 degree oven and roast for 40 - 60 minutes until caramelized.
4. Allow to cool and remove skins.
The skins can be removed ahead of time using in boiling water, but I find this way less time-consuming and just as easy and it doesn't result in somewhat gritty or mealy tomatoes.
Browning Meat
5. Place the cubed sirloin, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 4 tsp. cornmeal, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. cocoa powder in a large bowl and toss well to coat.
6. In a heavy bottom dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil. Add 1/3 of the meat and cook over medium high heat, browning on all sides.
7. Remove browned meat and repeat with the remaining meat until all meat is browned and removed to a bowl.
Cooking Veggies
8. Using the same pan in which you browned the meat (which should have nice brown bits on the bottom), add the onion, peppers and 1 cup of water to deglaze the pan.
9. Stirring frequently, cook over medium high heat until water evaporates and onions are translucent - about 10 minutes.
10. Add garlic to the pan and cook, stirring for one minute more.
Making Sauce
11. Add the tomato paste, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. paprika, 2 tsp. cocoa powder and 1 Tbsp. cumin to the pan and cook with veggies to caramelize for about 2 minutes.
12. Add browned meat back into pan.
13. Add chicken broth, roasted tomatoes and beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low (low if you have particularly hot burners) and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
The Finished Product
14. Serve over rice and enjoy!

Rules are Meant to Be Broken

There was so much activity in our vacation kitchen that my smile was an accessory to EVERY outfit I wore!  But two things in particular stand out to me as outside the norm.

The first is that I got to cook with my dad.  Not since (1) the days of scrambled egg hoagies when I was young and my mom worked in the evenings or (2) the days of ordering so much pizza from Pizza Village in Bethlehem, PA when I was a teen and my sister was away at college and my mom worked evenings that the Italian guys knew us by phone number have my dad and I spent time in the kitchen together “creating” (or phoning in) a dinner.  But my mom was under the weather on this trip and my dad and I were determined to still serve her fabulous grilled clam pasta; so we set to work shoulder to shoulder under my mom’s direction!

Together we chopped and grated and zested and sautéed and grilled the necessary ingredients to end up with a fabulous, if a bit too spicy but just sassy enough, pasta!

First we cooked the bacon to crispy perfection and removed it from the pan to get crisp on paper towels.  We poured off all but a bit of the bacon grease.  In the remaining bacon grease we sautéed red onion until it was beautifully translucent and the bottom of the pan was a gorgeous chestnut brown.

Then we deglazed the pan with about a cup of Pinot Grigio and let it cook until most of the wine evaporated.  We added the juice of two lemons and let that cook a bit longer.  We added olive oil and chopped garlic, a few too many hot pepper flakes, the zest of two lemons, some cracked black pepper and one or two ladles of the salted water in which the pasta was cooking.  We let that get nice and mellow and put the cleaned, fresh clams on the grill.

 

 

 

 

The clams cooked until they had absorbed the taste of the fire and smoke.  When they opened we put them in a large foil pan and tossed them with the pasta, crisp bacon, oil mixture, zest of two lemons, and some chopped fresh parsley.  The whole, delicious dish was served with grilled Italian bread, some fresh made seasoned bread crumbs for sprinkling over the pasta, and a bit of parmesan cheese.

Which brings me to the second thing that struck me as outside the norm in our vacation kitchen.  Fish with cheese!  Horror of horrors!  Sins against food and man!

I have watched enough episodes of Chopped on the Food Network to hear Scott Conant say at least a gazillion times that it’s just not done.  You don’t serve fish with cheese. It’s not the Italian way.

Well I stick out my tongue and give the raspberries to that sentiment!

As far as I am concerned, if we (cooks everywhere – whether home cooks or Michelin starred chefs) hadn’t pushed the proverbial envelope in the kitchen and broken a few rules along the way, we would still be eating exactly what our ancestors ate thousands of years ago exactly how they ate it!  AND there would be no cooking shows like Chopped on television – Chopped, which judges food based upon CREATIVITY, taste and presentation – not on tradition and rules.  How can we be creative if we do what we’ve always done?  In fact, isn’t the definition of insanity “doing what you’ve always done and expecting a different result?”

Sorry for the rant, but I REALLY had to get that out of my system!

This turned out to be a great meal because I got to cook with my dad, I got to eat the freshest clams I’ve eaten in I don’t know how long, and I got to break a few rules.  So I say eat what tastes good, cook with the people you love, and be innovative in the kitchen.  After all, as Thomas Edison once said, “There are no rules here — we are trying to accomplish something!”

Sea Food

Good Morning!

What an amazing morning…..Jeff and I got up early to catch the sunrise on the beach.  I am so lucky to be married to a man who understands that if I am going to get up early enough to see the sunrise I NEED to have some coffee with me.

Sitting on the beach is one of my favorite things in the world – I love hearing the sound of the waves and I marvel at how no two waves are alike – kind of like snowflakes!  I love the smell of the air and how if I stay long enough my lips taste salty.  It is no wonder people flock to the beach and come here for respite.  I can’t imagine being able to look at all this beauty and not attribute it to God!

And speaking of God, we were all grateful last night for the blessings we’ve been given.  We were sitting at the table enjoying a FANTASTIC meal and even better company.  Then after dinner we retired to the deck for drinks and to watch the night sky.

The menu last night was:

Felty cooked the steaks to perfection – a luscious medium rare.  The taters had a light coating of olive oil, salt and pepper and were in the oven for a good 90 minutes.  The outside was perfectly crisp and the inside was succulent and creamy…..mmmmmm……and the corn was sweet and hot……ahhh!

Oh, and it was capped off by a homemade pizzelle with a light dusting of powdered sugar.  Does life get any better than this?

I don’t know if it was especially good food, the spectacular company, or being by the sea – perhaps a combination of all three – but I can truly say it was a memorable meal – one of the best in a while.  I love that great sea food doesn’t have to be seafood!

 

 

What’s for Dinner?

Before Jeff left for work this morning he left a note for me on the kitchen counter that made my heart sing!  Now some of you might imagine a flowery message declaring his undying love; while others may jump to something a bit racier.  But those who know me best will not be surprised to hear that the note read, “Girls [our dogs] did not eat.  Would you mind marinating the lamb chops?”

Lovelier words cannot be spoken to someone who loves to cook, eat and entertain!  In fact, they are two of my favorite words when spoken together – lamb chops.  Clearly you can surmise that I am not a vegetarian –  not that there’s anything wrong with that!  So yes, honey.  Yes, I will marinate the lamb chops.  In fact, I will photograph the process!

To my way of thinking a simple but flavorful Mediterranean preparation is best when it comes to this delicious meat.

I start in my herb garden, a place that gives me great delight – the possibilities are endless and when you lightly brush against the plants you are rewarded with a lovely aroma.  Rosemary is my go to herb when it comes to lamb so I cut some fresh rosemary and immediately pull one of the fresh sprigs through my hand to warm it ever so slightly. Immediately I smell that piney scent and have the slightly sappy feel on my hands like you get when you touch a pine tree.

Back inside I prep my other ingredients.  A fresh lemon, several cloves of garlic and some red pepper flakes. Mmm mmm mmm, my hands smell wonderful.

I season the lamb chops with salt and pepper on both sides and place them in a zip top bag with some olive oil and the juice of one lemon.  I then add the lemon zest, the chopped garlic, the red pepper flakes and the chopped rosemary.  The chops are now resting in the fridge waiting to be grilled to perfection and served with a creamy polenta and some fresh veggies.

Do we always eat this extravagantly?  I wish I could answer, “Yes.”  But the truth is, we’re like so many other couples – busy beyond belief, running from one thing to the next and sometimes too tired to cook.  Some nights dinner is take-out pizza or breakfast food or leftovers eaten in front of the television; but not tonight…..tonight, we just might eat at the table!!!!

Smoke from a Distant Fire!

No this is not a review of 70’s music – it’s a recap of a great meal….So I got an email this morning from my husband, Jeff.  Attached were some pictures from his iPhone of a fantastic meal we ate this past Sunday with friends and I just had to share them.

Some cooking, eating and entertaining is planned in advance and some is spur of the moment.  And although I am not a good spur of the moment entertainer, I appreciate those who are and love the serendipitous feeling of being included in such events.  We got a call on Sunday from our friends Jeff and Holly F. saying “Jenny and Tom (Holly’s sister and brother-in-law) are here.  We have a brisket in the smoker and the kids are all playing, do you want to join us for dinner?”

Well, these are some amazing people – the kind whose company you just don’t pass up, and did someone say “brisket” and “smoker” in the same sentence?  Of course we went.  The only question was what to bring to contribute to the meal.

I remembered a recipe I had recently found for Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.  This being the end of summer, which means our garden is littered with tomatoes, made the decision a no brainer.  Jeff and I worked together on the recipe and during the process of slow roasting the tomatoes our house smelled incredible.  I really wish there was such a thing as “smellavision” because it was an aroma that real foodies would love to share.

As I’m reliving the night in my brain, I am asking myself, “What are the things that made it such a memorable meal?”  The answers include:

  • Amazing friends who share your love of truly good food
  • Spontaneity
  • Good beer and wine
  • A lot of laughs
  • A lively atmosphere
  • Incredible food – smoked brisket, roasted tomato Caprese salad, and oil/salt rubbed roasted potatoes

The brisket was divine……it had been prepared with a simple rub of olive oil, salt and pepper and smoked for several hours.  The resulting smoke ring was a sight to behold.  Thanks, Tom! Please remember the photos were taken with my husband’s iPhone, not in a studio!

The Caprese salad was delicious – a keeper of a recipe as far as I am concerned.  The only change I made was rather than putting whole basil leaves in the salad, I made a fresh pesto for the side – you have to think creatively when kids are involved.  And in my honest opinion, pesto flavors a Caprese salad better than individual leaves of basil.  You can schmear it around and get the basil flavor throughout the salad rather than in isolated pieces.

We dug into the meal and I noticed there was not much talking going on – always a sign of good food.  The conversation we were having was mostly about how good everything was.  We hit a point near the end of the meal when there was only one slice of tomato and one piece of mozzerella left on the platter and just a few slices of brisket remained.  You know that stage, where everyone wants to take the last serving, but doesn’t want to look like a pig. In some company this would have been awkward, but not with these friends – one of us proudly took the last of the Caprese salad while another took a slice of brisket and dragged it through the “dressing’ that remained on the Caprese platter – a brilliant idea.  The next thing we knew, we were all picking up one last slice of brisket with our fingers and following suit!  Mmm mmm mmm.

The meal proved that not all cooking, eating and entertaining has to be stuffy.  Sometimes a last minute invitation and eating with your fingers is the finest dining around!!!