Saturday, July 9, 2011

Wild Cherry Clafoutis

When I saw Giuletta’s Cherry Clafoutis a few weeks ago, I bookmarked it because I knew I just had to try this with my wild cherries. We have two trees that produce these cherries and the birds actually allow us to share these. They are a little too sour to eat bowls full but they make really good pies. I’m always looking for new ways to make use of them in desserts and there in front of me was a recipe begging to be tried out. It turned out to be one of my messiest baking experiences ever but the result was worth repeating (without the mess next time).
The Ingredients
600 grams cherries washed and pitted
3 eggs
100 grams sugar
Pinch of salt
Drop of vanilla essence
150 ml milk
1 tbsp of rum
90 grams all purpose baking flour
butter to grease baking pan
The Cooking method
So here is where things went a little different from the way they should have.

I used these freshly picked wild cherries which are extremely juicy. So to remove some of their liquid I first washed and pitted them, then I placed them in a bowl with about two tablespoons of sugar and mixed them well. The sugar releases some of the juices and produces about a glass of cherry juice (don’t throw that away, chill and drink, it’s delicious) and this leaves the cherries with a manageable amount of liquid.
In the meantime I prepared the batter as Giulietta described in her blog. That is :
  1. Place the sugar, a pinch of salt and the eggs in a bowl and beat well until the liquid doubles in volume (use an electric whisk) … I beat a little extra.
  2. Add the vanilla and flour and mix in gently with a wooden spoon.
  3. Slowly add the milk and rum
Now here is where I messed up. First let me say that Saturday was a very hot day around here … I blame that for the brain working at half capacityJ. I used a cake tin (yes the type that comes apart into two pieces. Greased the bottom, sprinkled with sugar, placed my cherries and started pouring the liquid.
Oops …. This was a little two liquid for this cake tin …. I was supposed to use a one piece mold.
So I quickly tried to save the situation and turned what was left of my cherry and batter mix into a quiche dish (I had lost about one quarter of the batter by then)
OK the hubby loved this one and thought that it was just the right amount of batter. It was really good, but given the mishaps I am not sure I can reproduce the exact quantities again.
I baked it at 360  degrees Fahrenheit for about 55 minutes.

From My Backyard
The backyard is alive and well. This week we picked the first Santa Rosa plums. They were simply delicious!

As for the wildlife, it doesn't get much wilder. Take a look at this bat who made its home inside our umbrella!

Some of my favorite flowers have blossomed so beautifully too.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Risotto ai Frutti di Mare

A Happy 4th of July to all. I hope that you, your families and friends are all having a wonderful weekend.
Wow! it’s been three weeks since my last post! I have no idea where time has gone. I have of course noticed that our cold rainy spring has turned into a hot summer overnight. Today, I’ll share the recipe I was hoping to share before my computer wows, Risotto ai frutti di mare – one of my favorite ways to make risotto. My laptop wows are not quite over but I managed to identify the problem and know how to bypass it now (still trying to understand the cause though). I hope to get back to visiting all your lovely blogs and sharing ideas very soon. In northern California the temperature hit the 90s today! I know everyone is busy preparing for the 4th so I’ll go straight to today’s recipe, risotto ai frutti di mare.
Risotto ai frutti di mare
Seafood Risotto: The Ingredients

½ lb scallops
½ lb calamari
½ lb medium sized deveined uncooked shrimp
½ lb mussels
Fish stock (I use Bar Harbor all natural fish stock)
300 grams Riso vialone nano
1 glass dry white wine
½ can of tomatoes (puree in a blender)
Two garlic cloves (crushed).
Bunch of basil
4 tablespoons of olive oil

salt and pepper to taste
Seafood risotto: The Cooking Method

Here's the way I prepare this dish:
  1. Wash and clean the mussels and then place in a pot of boiling water with a bay leaf until the shells open. Remove from the fire and drain. Remove the mussels from the shells and set aside.
  2. Prepare and wash all the ingredients. Wash the rice well and rinse all of the fish you will add then clean the calamari and cut into strips.
  3. Pour the olive oil into the pan and sauté the crushed garlic and chopped basil.
  4. Add all of the seafood and sauté for about 5 minutes. Then add the glass of wine.
  5. When the liquid has evaporated to half its volume, remove the fish from the pan and set aside.
  6. Add the rice and the pureed tomatoes. Keep stirring and add the fish stock as needed. It takes about 20 minutes for the rice to cook.
  7. Add all the cooked seafood in the last 3 minutes or so. As soon as the liquid has evaporated, remove from the fire.
  8. Add some chopped basil to garnish. Serve and eat immediately.


I'd like to give a shoutout to Heather from Pass the Cayenne Pepper Please  who put a big smile on my face a few weeks ago when she sent me an email to say I had won some wonderful Chiobani yogurt - I'm looking forward to receiving the coupons to try it out.

From my Backyard

The backyard is alive and well this time of year and, of course, so is the wildlife. So a couple of weekends ago, I was quite pleased to pick some wonderful cherries from our newest tree.

But we did not get to pick a single cherry from our large tree. They weren't quite ready for picking that same weekend. When I went to pick them last Saturday, all the local birds had had a feast. there was literally only a handful left! Our wild cherries however are mostly still there and  I did make a few cherry pies last weekend.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Home made Guacamole

I woke up to the rain again this morning feeling cheated out of one more spring day this year. I know I shouldn’t be complaining when I see the devastation that has taken place in other parts of the country, so I just try to enjoy the feeling of calm that the rain leaves behind. You know our vegetables and fruit mostly feel the same way, they calmly tag along growing very, very slowly without the need to burst out their lovely fruits, even though there is some hope to pick up cherries next weekend. There really has not been enough sunshine for the plants to grow or the fruit to mature.

On rainy weekends I usually have the pleasure to sleep in even if just a little, but since I had to be chauffeur early morning that was not to be. Drop off point was a local school, and as I saw hundreds of anxious teenagers looking for their specific exam room, I felt both sympathetic seeing their obvious anxiety and a sense of relief that my only problem was to find something useful to do for the next hour and a half. By nine o’clock I had already visited Starbucks for a cappuccino to wake me up, been to Home Depot to pick up some new soil for my cacti collection, and yes I couldn’t resist picking up at least one new succulent. Then I went grocery shopping and picked up some cilantro which I needed for my guacamole. We have planted cilantro but it too is taking its time to spring out.

Guacamole as many of you know is originally Mexican (I believe the earliest recorded use of this wonderful dip was by the Aztecs); the word is derived from Nahuatl ahuaca-molli, from ahuacatl (avocado) and molli (sauce). So everyone is in agreement that if you are going to call your dip guacamole, it must be avocado based. There does not seem to be consensus on the other ingredients and the quantities used.
After being introduced to guacamole several years ago I started buying the freshly made guacamole from the deli sections of the food stores, but I always found myself picking out ingredients such as raw onions which I just cannot digest. So I soon started making my own, with the ingredients I like, in the quantities I like. Call it custom made guacamole. Today I am sharing the recipe with you. Whenever I prepare this guacamole for guests my only problem is always that I have never made enough. It vanishes within minutes. So if you like the taste of avocados, I guarantee you will love this. And if you really love that raw onion, just add some chopped onion; just don’t tell me about it.

The Ingredients

The following amounts will serve 4-6 people:
2 ripe avocadoes
2 ripe tomatoes
Bunch of cilantro
1 small or half a larger jalapeno pepper
Juice from 2 limes
1 garlic clove
The Method
Peel the avocados. If you have a mortar and pestle, use it to turn them into a nice thick avocado cream. You can also do this with a simple fork.
Add the crushed garlic and lime juice and mix well.
Peel and remove the seeds of the tomatoes, then chop them very finely
Chop the jalapeno very finely
Wash the cilantro very well (I used half of the bunch in the photo)) remove the stalks and discard. Chop the leaves very finely.
Mix the chopped tomatoes, jalapeno and cilantro into the avocado and lime mix and stir well.
Your Guacaome is ready. Serve with Chips and Enjoy!
Health Benefits of Avocados
California Avocados contain the following key nutrients: Vitamin K (so if you are on a blood thinner, you need to take this into account), B6, E, and C, folate, pantothenic acid, potassium, riboflavin, nacin and fiber. They are rich in monounsaturated fats which help lower cholesterol when used in lieu of saturated fats. I came across this very interesting write up on WebMD about the benefits of avocados.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spring Fruit Salad Bowl

I don’t know about you but I’m ready for this long weekend. It is of course important to pause and take a moment to appreciate that the freedoms we enjoy today come from the sacrifices of those who came before us. It’s been a long week during which I’ve had to work late almost every day. The good news is that since my husband loves to cook too, and since he got home before I did, we were still able to eat a wonderful dinner cooked from scratch every day.  

This lovely melon and strawberry fruit salad is one of the deserts he surprised me with. So pretty and delicious, and yet so simple to make. For those of you planning a barbecue this weekend, this makes for a quick and delicious dessert. Everyone will love it.

The ingredients
One small melon per two servings
Juice of one lemon per 4 servings
The Preparation
  1. Cut the melons in half and remove the seeds
  2. Use a tablespoon size measuring spoon to scoop out the melon
  3. Wash and slice the strawberries
  4. Mix the scooped out melon and strawberries together and pour over the lemon juice.
  5. Fill up each melon half with the fruit and refrigerate.
Enjoy your lovely spring fruit salad!
 Helpful hints on the benefits of Strawberries
Strawberries are very rich in Vitamin C and antioxidants and come with a myriad of health benefits. However, if stored for more than two days after they are picked the amount of Vitamin C and antioxidants you derive from them decreases substantially as do all the other benefits you get from them. So when you see a large box of strawberries at a bargain price, there are a couple of things to consider before rushing to buy it. First and most important, ask when they were picked. Secondly, unless you have plans for their use in the next twenty four hours and are not planning to turn them into jam, take a deep breath and walk away with a smaller quantity, just the amount you will consume in two days.
Thank you all for your support, and passing on my Awards

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge three wonderful fellow bloggers who recently passed on these awards to me. Since I have already told you 7 things about myself just recently I won't waste your time on more and will go  straight to the wonderful people who gave them to me and the bloggers I am passing them on to.

First a shower of awards from Giulia of AlterKitchen. Giulia is a wonderful young lady who is from Piemonte, Italy, a region that's close and dear to my heart. Her blog offers some amazing regional recipes as well as her journey through the adventures on different cuisines. She is writing a bi-lingual blog … so do hop over, you’ll love her recipes if you try them.

Then Tina, my Filipino friend from Pinay in Texas gave me the Sisterhood of World Bloggers award again. Tina is an amazing lady with one of the most interesting blogs around. Tina I wish I had an award to give you but you already have all these same awards. I am so glad that so many other people love your blog as much as I do.

I am passing on these awards as a block of awards to the following deserving bloggers:

My Lil Messy & Cheeky
Velva at Tomatoes on the Vine
Molly at Toffee bits and Chocolate Chips
Karen at Tasty Trials
Sarah of Pearl and Pine
Nami at Just one Cookbook
Biren from Roti and Rice
Roz of la Bella Vita
Adora from Adora's box
Angie from Angie's recipes
Erin from Dinner side dishes and desserts
Luciana of Cucina di casa da Liu
Laurie of the Baking Bookworm
Cooking Gallery

Next Ryan, from Ryan Bakes passed me on the Versatile Blogger award. Again. Thank you Ryan for the compliment. Ryan brings a lot of passion to all the wonderful recipes she tweaks. So do hop along and take a look at her blog. I will pass this award on to to the following very deserving bloggers (I already passed it on to several others when I first received it).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mezza Luna Restaurant in Half Moon Bay

Mezza Luna is walking distance from the sea front at Half Moon Bay. I was excited to learn that the Circolo Trentino di San Francisco was organizing its spring get together here. For a restaurant whose name is the Italian translation of the sea front town where it is located, I had high expectations. So did it live up to my expectations?
First of all I would like to say that the Circolo Trentino di San Francisco get together is never disappointing in itself.  It is a wonderful opportunity to spend some fun time with the young and old. The age range of the members who attended this year was between 1 and 90 years of age. So this is a gathering where you never feel too young or too old – everyone fits right in. My comments only reflect my honest personal opinion of what I thought of this restaurant as a group lunch venue from the logistics and culinary perspectives.

Since my general ratings of this restaurant was very mixed, I'm itemizing my opinions:
The great:
the dessert. They called it torta alla strega. The cream tasted like a zabbaione with strega liquor. It was really excellent.
The coffee. OK I had to make a special request but they did produce a real Italian espresso.
The good:
the starter: A green salad with a house vinaigrette dressing
the first course: Gnocchi al Pomodoro
the fish: cod cooked alla livornese. The fish was fresh and well cooked. I was a little disappointed that it was cod though. Being down by the sea I was hoping for some fresh local fish as the dish was called, "pesce del giorno"
the service:  the manager and waiters were all very courteous and friendly. They did not mind the accordion playing and sing along, and were very accommodating to all our needs.
the not so good:
Bracciola di maiale which was a pork wrap with artichokes. My husband rated  this one; he did not like it, I did not taste it.
the wine (which was kindly offered by the club, was way overpriced for the quality). 
I found the restaurant was totally lacking any resemblance to an Italian seaside restaurant. The table layout was also not the best. We were unnecessarily crammed into a small part of the room with rectangular tables organized in such a way that you did not feel part of a larger party, and could barely move your arm without sticking it into someone else's plate. I think that round tables work much better for large groups.

So to answer that question, well I won't be answering it, because the staff were so nice and the food looked like genuine home food you'd make at home,  and so nicely presented... I think that was my problem ... I had placed my expectations a little too high. Funny how you always tend to like something better when you start off with low expectations. Does that ever happen to you? But to end on a positive note we did all have a wonderful time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Marinating White Fish and a Special 90th Birthday

First of all I want to thank all of you who have showered me with so much love and awards. I have read and appreciated them all but will leave them to an upcoming post because I want to get out these special birthday wishes before heading to work.  But as always first the recipe.
Much of my childhood was spent in what was then a small fishing village. In the summer, you did not need to go to the fish market to buy fish; the fishermen came knocking on your door to sell their daily catch. Yes I know you can only dream of such places today. I don’t know that any still exist. So here’s a fun story I will share with you. The doorbell rang and it was our local fisherman with his daily catch. I was about nine years old at the time and went to ask my mom what fish she wanted. Her response was “make sure it is fresh, you can tell Gianni that next time he can give the type of fish he gave me yesterday to his wife!” I don’t think I was expected to transmit that verbatim, but that is exactly what I did! The next thing I knew was that he assured me that his fish was always fresh and gave me this rather large Cernia and told me to assure my mom it was fresh. I took it and placed it on the kitchen table, and went to ask what I should do with it. I was to cover it with salt and put it in the fridge. When I got back to the kitchen, there was no fish. I screeched out to my sister asking her if she was playing games with me. And then we saw what happened. The fish was not only fresh, it was alive and had jumped out of the plate and on to the floor. I don’t remember who handled it after that, but that was my first lesson with Fresh Fish and my first lesson in thinking twice before repeating what I was told!

So back to fresh fish, well I cannot get hold of fish that fresh, but Whole Foods does a pretty good job in bringing us fish that is reasonably fresh and chemical free. This weekend we cooked Branzino and Tilapia. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures of the Branzino which I baked whole in a rosemary, olive oil and lemon marinade and stuffed with lemon slices and rosemary. Halfway through the cooking I basted with an olive oil, lemon juice and zest, mustard and vinegar vinaigrette.

The Cooking Method

Tilapia does not quite have such a delicate taste as Branzino, so I left it to marinade for one hour before baking to make sure that the baking did not dry it up. I used a similar marinade made up of chopped rosemary, olive oil, lemon zest and juice from one lemon and black pepper to taste.

When cooking fish I always add the salt at the end to avoid the fish drying up. This is one of the easiest dishes to cook. Place it in a preheated oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit and bake from 12 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets. Serve with a salad.
The Special Birthday!

Now for that special Birthday. Some of you in the Italian community may have seen or heard him on TV, but you would have noticed his absence in the last few years. Today is the Birthday of Padre Efrem Trettel, a Franciscan missionary monk whose mission has taken him from his home town in the Trentino region to places as far as China right after World War II. For the last several years he was based in San Francisco but transmitted his programs to TV stations in 20 states. He is now living in an elder care community trying to come to terms with the ailments that come with aging and is always grateful to see a familiar face taking the time to visit him. A group of his long time friends from the Circolo Trentino di San Francisco visited him last Saturday to celebrate this special day with him.
Happy 90th Birthday Padre Efrem!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Parmesan Wraps – a Gourmet Appetizer

I hope that you have all had a wonderful weekend with your families and that those of you who are moms were pampered silly. Today I want to share with you a fun appetizer that I made on Saturday. Parmesan Wraps with a Mediterranean party sandwich filling - they were meant to have a ricotta-based filling but after I had already started making my wraps I realized that I did not have any ricotta so I quickly got to work on an alternative. 

To make the Parmesan Wraps
For the Parmesan wraps you will need plenty of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grate the Parmigiano Reggiano.
  2. Prepare a baking tray with some parchment paper.
  3. Place a cookie cutter on the tray and spoon in a thin layer of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Carefully remove the cookie cutter and move to another spot on the tray and do the same.
  4. I made 4 hearts on each tray (do not try to overload a tray because you will not be able remove and mold them fast enough before they solidify again) – if you are fast, 6 would be the max. If you take your time like I do 4 is the max.
  5. Place the tray in the oven for 3 minutes.  Remove and let the cheese set for about 30 seconds.
  6. Use a spatula to pick up each heart and curve it in your hand. You need to do this fast before they solidify completely.

Here's the filling I used for the eight wraps I made. Note that these Parmesan wraps are very strong tasting, so one wrap should normally be enough for each person. It is intended only as an appetizer.

Filling for 8 wraps
1 boiled egg
1 half large beefeater tomato seeded and diced
Cream cheese
Feta cheese
Some grated Parmesan
About 10 fresh basil leaves finely chopped
2 slices of rosemary ham, finely chopped

Mix all ingredients (except for the grated Parmesan) together in a blender for 30 seconds on puree mode. Add the grated Parmesan.

Fill only just before serving - you do not want the wonderful crispy Parmesan Wrap to get soggy with the filling
My First Blog Awards
WOW! I can't believe that I am even saying this. I've been blogging for just over 5 months now, and to be honest I never expected anything back. At first I had not even realized that there were so many of you out there doing the same, it took me some time to understand how this all worked and how I could make blogging friends.  It has just been an amazing few months. This weekend Tina tagged me twice with awards. First with a bunch of eight awards and then with the versatile blogger award.

Tina shares the most wonderful Filipino recipes on her blog Pinay in Texas Cooking corner. It’s wonderful to read her stories about the recipes she shares and learn a lot about Filipino culture in the meantime. Do pop over to her lovely site and join her followers, I'm sure you will enjoy it as much as I do.
So here are the first eight awards which I have grouped into one picture:

The next award came with some conditions. In order to accept the versatile blogger award, a recipient must share 7 things about themselves and pass it on to another 15 bloggers who deserve it. So first the seven things: I love being creative with food; I was once a certified scuba diver; I love nature; I love to read a good book; I like hiking; I cringe at the thought of eating raw onion and roses are my favorite flowers.

Now the Award as I pass it on to the next 15 deserving bloggers:

The 15 deserving bloggers (ok I think they are 16), are :

Eftychia from Dream of Cakes

Gourmatine from Gourmatine's Blog

Magic of Spice from The ardent Epicure

Katrina from In Katrina's Kitchen

Gwenevere from Apron Apeal

Joshua from Just Eat

Ellie from I love to cook

Hester Casey from Alchemy in the Kitchen

Tammy from Il Dolce Bacio

I love all of your blogs. Please do pass on the Award and put a smile on some unsuspecting blogger's face J

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Tarte Tartin or Upside Down Apple Pie

Tarte Tartin is a classic French dessert. It is essentially an upside down apple pie that is partly cooked over the stove top and partly in the oven, and then flipped over to serve. It is said that the origin of this tart is over 100 years and was accidental. Two sisters whose last name was Tartin ran a restaurant in North Central France. The story goes that one of the sisters was cooking the apples over the stove top and left them to burn. She tried to save them by quickly adding the pastry over the pan and placing it in the oven. When the pastry was cooked she took it out and turned it out of the pan. It is said that it was one of her most successful pies and became the signature pie of the restaurant from then on.

This is one of my husband's favorite apple pies to make. And he never disappoints, it is always so incredibly delicious!
for the Pâte brisée
8 oz plain all purpose flour
Pinch of slat
4 oz butter
1 egg
3 tablespoons cold water
For the Apple Filling
About 2 ½ oz of butter (chopped up)
7 Golden Delicious Apples (peeled and cored)
About 6 ½ oz of sugar
Some prune jam – optional (we use our own home made jam)
The Cooking Method
For the Pâte brisée
  1. Sift the flour and add a pinch of salt.
  2. Make a well in the center and add the egg, water and chopped butter.
  3. Mix it first with a fork and then use your fingertips to blend the ingredients well.
  4. Knead until you have smooth dough. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
For the Apples:
  1. Core and peel the apples and slice them into quarters.
  2. Butter the pan you will be using, making sure that the butter is spread over the entire surface of the pan, then cover with the sugar (leave about two tablespoons of the sugar aside).
  3. Place the apple slices all around the pan, with the curves facing the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan with the apple slices. Now sprinkle with the two remaining tablespoons of sugar and some prune jam.
  4. Place the remaining apples on top. This time with the curved part facing you.
  5. Cook on the stove top until the sugar has melted. Then turn off the fire and leave to cool a little.
  6. Roll out the Pâte brisée, and cover the apples with it taking care to seal the apples well on the sides of the pan.
  7. Place the pan in the oven preheated to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes or until the Pâte brisée starts to inflate, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for a further 15 minutes or until golden.

Remove from the oven and turn the pan over onto a plate.

Voilà la Tarte Tartin!
We like to eat it warm with some cream top yogurt served on the side.

I have linked this post to Seasonal Saturday's at the wonderful La Bella Vita site and to Mangia Mondays.
From my Back Yard

Fava Beans are a staple in the Mediterranean diet. They are said to be native of North Africa and some parts of Asia but were already cultivated in Europe at the time of the Romans. Fava Beans grow well in California too, but for some reason they are outrageously expensive to buy. That's why we grow our own Fava beans. Unfortunately this year the rabbits took a liking to the plants and only a few plants survived and grew back. Here is what the Fava Bean plant looks like. This one grew again after the first plant served as a feast for the wild rabbits. 

And here are the first beans

Fava Beans are not only really good but are very nutritious. They provide you with Vitamins C, A and B1, lots of dietary fibre, as well as Potassium, Copper, Magnesium and several other nutrients. When I finally get some beans off the plants, I will share some of my favorite way to cook them.

What's growing in your back yard or your planters?