Sunday, August 30, 2009

As a parting gift...... Great Dishes to Cook and Share....

Dinner's almost ready, I can tell by the aroma wafting out of my kitchen, so I put some extra effort into having something especially comforting and yummy since this will be the last dinner I shall cook in my Puebla kitchen for a while, it's rainy and cool and a rather eclectic mix of separate dishes, from different countries even, but when combined will come together for a memorable meal.

My bags are packed, I'm ready to go..... mentally I've been ready for a while working out the wrinkles and possible road bumps I will find along the way; being a "worry wart" and a "perfectionist" means having not only Plan A all set, but Plan B and C waiting in the wings "just in case", so the video to all this has been replayed many times during nighttime slumber that there should be no surprises due to the many times I've practiced all this. Comforting to me yet makes other people nervous, but we all have our ways of dealing with the "unknown" and this works for me.

I will continue to post on this blog as usual and I hope you won't notice too much interruption but a momentary "blip" while I get internet established and running. I will still be available as always and if anyone has any questions or comments, please feel free to post them here and I shall get them right away and respond. No big changes are expected, well maybe I shouldn't say that since my blog reflects what's going on at the time I write it and should have some flexibility after all, right?

So come join me on my latest adventure, this time into the wilds of the US's very own Twilight Zone, Las Vegas.... that in addition to all it's other characteristics also adds the quality of "foodie central" and is one of the reasons it's always great to visit for the food there is varied and amazing.... with the large influx of immigrants from other shores making their homes there has caused the city to grow and add many cultures to it's landscape like Korea Town which is relatively new when compared to Chinatown which now covers an important part of the Southwestern quadrant of the city, like the Indian, Thai and Japanese sections as well which give me a bonanza of shopping venues. The Mexican markets which encompass all the Latin American countries individual ingredients are also well represented and only serve to offer an even more bountiful selection of wonders. For all it's bad points, there are good points too and I am determined to once again revisit each and every one.

So stay tuned as we move forward into more culinary adventures and learn or practice wonderful food traditions..... But in the meantime, here's a fabulous dinner for anyone!

Lamb Ragu on Pappardelle.- This dish like Osso Bucco, are examples of what Italy is all about with their food; strong flavor, meat slow cooked to bring out all it's goodness and a dish that only improves when reheated! Comfort food for sure.....

1 1/2 lbs of lamb shoulder (bone in)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 carrots, finely diced
2 stalks of celery, finely diced
1 tsp dry rosemary or 1/2 stalk
2 tsp dry or 1 bunch of thyme
3 bay leaves
4-5 allspice berries, whole
2 cups imported tomato puree (preferably Italian)
1 Tbl tomato paste
3 sun-dried tomatoes, minced
1 1/2 cups of red wine
1 cup of beef, veal or lamb stock
1/2 cup cream
1/2-1 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
homemade Pappardelle (or pasta of your choice)
A piece of cheesecloth to make a bouquet garni.... see below

Trim your lamb meat of excess fat but still leave some on. Season with salt & pepper and pre-heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown your lamb meat in batches and set aside and reserve.Now lower your heat to medium and add your onions, carrots, celery, parsley and garlic and saute for about 1o minutes or until softened. Make a bouquet garni by rolling your bay leaves, thyme springs, rosemary and allspice berries in a tied cheesecloth and add into the skillet. Add your tomato paste and sundried tomatoes and stir in and cook for a couple of minutes. Now add your wine and simmer for another five min. Add your tomato puree, pieces of lamb and stock and bring to a boil. Add some salt and pepper to taste and cover. Reduce the heat to med and simmer for about an hour. Remove the lid and simmer for another 30 min. You lamb meat should fall off the bone and be fork-tender. Remove the meat from the sauce and continue to simmer the sauce until it gets nice and thick, 30 min more. Get a large pot of water boiling and get your pasta cooking. Separate the lamb meat from the bones and tear the meat into bite-sized pieces. (Unless you want to serve it with the bone, we do) When the sauce has thickened to your liking, add the meat, cream and some grated cheese. Remove the bouquet garni and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Add salt and oil to your water and boil dry pasta until it's "al dente". Strain pasta and divide among your serving bowls. Serve a heaping ladle of lamb ragu over the pasta and grate some Romano or Parmesan and a few turns of fresh ground pepper.

Accordion Potatoes.- Don't discount this easy looking recipe, the results are what matter and these potatoes are superior, you'll love them!

About 10 med potatoes, scrubbed clean
Bay leaves and thyme sprigs
Salt and pepper
2 tbl olive oil
2 tbl butter

Heat the oven to 375°F. Cut slices into the potatoes but without going all the way through, like slits. Insert a few herbs into each slit. Lay them on a baking sheet, and season with salt and pepper then drizzle with oil. Bake until brown, crisp on the outside and soft inside, 45 min to an hour.

Prassopita (Cheese and Leek Pie).- This cousing to Spanakopita is lovely and delicate with the flavors of the cheese and leeks. Can be either a side dish or the star of a meal too! This version is originally from Macedonia and is a historic recipe much beloved there and once you taste it, you'll understand why.....

500gr or 2 cups fresh Myzithra (ricotta) cheese (see the info on Myzithra below)
500gr. or 2 cups crumbled Feta cheese
1 bunch of leeks (3-4), cleaned, chopped (better if they're small and tender)
2 zucchinis, peeled and grated
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 bunch of chopped fresh dill or 1-2 tbl dried dill
salt and pepper to taste

Phyllo leaves, thawed and kept covered with moist towel
8-16 tbl melted butter (preferably clarified)

Cut the green parts off the leeks and save for a soup or stock. Cut the leeks almost to the root and open the layers of leeks to wash really well through cold water.
Finely chop the leeks and place in a large skillet with a few tablespoons of olive oil and saute until softened and translucent. Now quickly grate the zucchini and add to the already cooking leeks. Add some salt and saute on med-low heat, covered for about 15-30 min. Turn off the heat and allow the leek mix to come to room temperature before adding the remaining ingredients (eggs, cheeses, salt and pepper, chopped dill).

Using a baking or sheet pan about 10x17x2", oil the surface well with oil (don't use the butter since this will melt easier. Now lay a leaf of phyllo and cover the pan well, brush with the melted butter, then add more leaves until there's 7 leaves brushed with butter in the pan. Poke some holes into the phyllo. If you can leave about an inch extra around all the edges, better, if not then add the filling and leave an inch all around the pan (you'll need it to seal it at the end).
Spread the filling in a thick even layer and then add 7 more layers of phyllo the same way like in the beginning, try and seal the edges all around by brushing with more butter and then folding under the pie. Brush the top really well and poke any air bubbles there might pop up while finishing the dish.
Bake in a 375 F oven for 30-50 min or until golden brown. Once it's done, put on counter or stove, cover with a towel and allow to rest for at least 15-30 min before cutting and serving to allow the full flavors to be brought out. Fabulous!

A word about Myzithra Cheese (my all time favorite cheese!): According to ancient Crete custom which describes Myzithra as "the most sensuous cheese of the world" and says than when you first sample just-made Myzithra, it's reported that it melts on the tongue and fills the mouth with its sweet warmth......

Myzithra is available in three varieties: fresh (sweet), sour, and aged: Fresh myzithra is unsalted and soft, similar to farmer's cheese and ricotta, and is generally sold in egg-shaped balls. It has a pungent aroma and mild flavor. Sour myzithra, also known as xinomyzithra, is made with goat or sheep milk, yeast, and salt. Aged myzithra (myzithra xeri) is a hard, salty cheese.

Using Myzithra: Fresh and sour myzithra are wonderful in baked desserts like Greek cheesecake and Sweet Cheese Pastries, and can also be added to cooked dishes that call for cheese. Aged myzithra is used as a cheese grating for pasta dishes (you have no idea how wonderful this is!), soups, and vegetable casserole dishes, and is also used as an ingredient in pasta sauces.
If you have the chance, DO try it.......

Almond-Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Prunes.- Here's another too simple looking recipe that might get overlooked due to it's simplicity, don't make this mistake and try these lovely little appetizers, you'll amaze your palate and friends!
24 pitted prunes
24 almonds, toasted
12 slices bacon

These quantities are just used as samples, and you'll want to make more.....

Heat the oven to 450°F. Stuff the prunes with the almonds. Cut the bacon in half and wrap a piece around each prune. Set on a baking sheet and broil about 10 min, turning once, until the bacon is crisp. Serve hot with cocktail picks for spearing once they cool slightly.

Baked Stone Fruits.- Stone fruits? All fruits with pits in them like peaches, plums, apricots, etc. baked until they are soft and wonderful......
2 lbs mixed ripe stone fruits, halved and pitted
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup caster sugar (use superfine or powdered sugar if you can't find it)
2 tbl water
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted.

Fresh Whipped Cream
Vanilla Ice Cream, softened

Butter a baking dish and lay in the fruit halves skin-side down. Dot with butter. Sprinkle with sugar. Add the water to the bottom of the pan. Cover with foil and bake until the fruit is soft, about 10 min. Uncover and finish baking for 10 min, until fruit is slumping. Serve with almonds sprinkled on top, fresh whipped cream and softened vanilla ice cream....MMMMMmmmm

Chocolate Mousse.- Here's a lovely little recipe for real French chocolate mousse. Simple, fast and easy recipe that will delight you!
5 oz dark chocolate
4 egg whites
2 tbl sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp orange zest
1 tbl Cointreau (or other orange or fruit liquor)

Melt the chocolate over a bain-marie (double boiler)until smooth. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks, sprinkle the sugar, and continue beating to a stiff meringue, a minute or two longer.
Beat the yolks with the orange zest and Cointreau in a bowl.
Whisk the chocolate into the yolks. Fold in a spoonful of the whites into the chocolate mixture. Pour the chocolate into the remaining whites and fold gently to combine evenly. Pour the mousse into a serving bowl. Wrap well with plastic (must be covered well!!! Don't skip this step), and refrigerate at least a few hours. Serve topped with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and a little orange zest.

That should take care of Sunday Dinner just fine, don't you think? Great comfort food for a "Von Voyage" meal leaving warm feelings of home..... After all it's only "voyez-toi bientôt" (see you soon) and not "au revoir" (goodbye)......

So even if you 're not planning a trip and need to comfort loved ones, these comforting dishes will make any day special and reward your "get together" with amazing flavors that will remain log after the meal is done. Hope you keep checking in to this blog..... Talk soon....

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