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Paris by the sea

Ahh, St. Bart’s.  A quick trip away from the hustle and bustle of New York does wonders for the soul!  Not to mention the delicious French food and laid back vibe…

We lounged on the beach… 

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Enjoyed apres-swim camembert, baguette and rose…

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Lunch at La Marine with the best Kir Royales!

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And drank in the sunset…

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A Twist on Pastitsio

stampsLet the competition begin!

Tony Tahhan from Olive Juice  has organized a really fun food blogging contest called “A Taste of the Mediterranean” that spans a different country each month. You can only imagine how excited I was to get in on the action and meet other bloggers who have the same interests! This month is all about Greece and the contest is also being judged by guest host Peter from Kalofagas

The challenge was to create a funked up version of the classic pastitsio incorporating any flavors from the Mediterranean while still keeping the integrity of the original. I decided to borrow some new ingredients from Italy – prosciutto, sage and mozzarella – and kept the original pasta and bechamel sauce. 


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The result was a bit lighter than the original version and the flavors melded together nicely. I especially liked the prosciutto sauteed with whole tomatoes and wine layered with spinach and cheese. Adding fresh sage leaves to the bechamel while it cooks gives the sauce a hint of the aromatic herb. And this dish only gets better with time! It was even better as leftovers the next day….

Prosciutto and Sage Pastitsio

Ingredients

  • 1lb. tubular pasta – penne or rigatoni
  • 1 lb. prosciutto, coarsely chopped
  • 1 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes, drained
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 bag of fresh spinach 
  • 1 medium size ball of fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tsp. Cavender’s Greek Seasoning
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 cup crumbled feta

Bechamel Ingredients

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3 1/2 cups milk
  • 5-6 fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 5 eggs

Method

  1. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Add whole tomatoes, Cavender Greek seasoning and fresh black pepper and continue to cook another 10 minutes while tomatoes break down and a chunky sauce develops. 
  2. While the sauce cooks, boil a pot of water and blanch spinach in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, until just wilted but still bright green. Remove spinach and set aside. Reserve water and bring back to a boil.
  3. Add pasta and cook until just al dente, 7-8 minutes. Drain and set aside. (Pasta will continue to cook while the dish bakes.)
  4. Add prosciutto to tomato sauce, along with the white wine and cook for another 5 minutes while ingredients thicken. Set aside. 
  5. Cut mozzarella into small pieces and set aside.

For the Bechamel:

  1. Melt 1 stick of butter in a saucepan, let cool. Mix in flour to make a roux and set aside. 
  2. In another saucepan heat the milk and sage leaves to just under a boil and then reduce heat to medium. Add the roux to the milk and stir constantly until a thick sauce forms, 5-10 minutes. 
  3. Remove from heat and set aside.

At this point you should assemble all your  ingredients for the pastisio on a table for easy layering and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

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Assembly:

  1. Add a small amount of bechamel to cover bottom of the pan to prevent pasta from sticking.
  2. Next add the pasta to the pan in an even layer.
  3. The prosciutto and tomato sauce should be added to the pan.
  4. Then layer the mozzarella and spinach on top of the meat mixture.
  5. Next spoon the bechamel sauce over the entire casserole.
  6. Finally, add the feta cheese on top of the bechamel.

Bake in the oven for 50 minutes. I like to turn on the broiler and pop the pan under for a few minutes to give the top a brown and crispy layer.

As hard as it is, let your pastisio sit for at least half an hour. This allows the dish to to really meld and the layers to tighten up. Voila! Enjoy!

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Thank you to Tony and Peter for hosting this month’s Greek pastitsio contest!


Harira is the traditional Moroccan soup used to ‘break the fast’ during Ramadan. For me, it’s a great comfort food and cold remedy during the winter months full of nutritious veggies and wonderful spices. Make a big ‘ole pot and you have enough for leftovers or even to freeze for your next spicy soup fix.

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Harira is very commonly found throughout Morocco, and Marrakech was no exception. In the chaotic Djemma El Fna in Marrakech there are hundreds of food stalls dedicated to every kind of Moroccan food imaginable! Below is a kebab stall where we had dinner one night.


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The crazy beautiful sight of the Djemma El Fna in all it’s glory. Can you imagine this big food party is set up every single night? 


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Harira Recipe – from a recent cookbook I was given as a gift, “Moroccan: A Culinary Journey of Discovery” by Ghillie Basan. There are many recipes for harira and most people tend to add their own twist. I included a small pasta (like pastina) and a little ras el hanout spice blend. Fresh lemon juice and chopped cilantro right before serving adds a bright kick to the soup. I also toasted some pita bread with zaatar and olive oil on the side.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 small carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 lb lean lamb, cut into small chunks
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ras el hanout
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 cups lamb or chicken stock (or water if you don’t have stock)
  • 14 oz canned chopped tomatoes
  • 14 oz canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup lentils, rinsed
  • 1 small bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 small bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 lemon, cut into squares

Method

Heat oil in a deep, heavy-bottom saucepan, add the onions, celery and carrots, and cook over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to color.

Add the garlic and lamb and cook, stirring, until the lamb is lightly browned all over. Add the spices and bay leaves and stir in the tomato paste. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour, or until the meat is tender.

Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, and lentils and simmer gently for an additional 30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft and the soup is almost as thick as stew. Discard the bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste and toss in most of the parsley and cilantro.

Garnish with the remaining parsley and cilantro and serve the soup piping hot with lemon wedges for squeezing over.

Serves 4.


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This past weekend the hubby and I had a little snowy getaway to the Berkshires in Massachusetts – such cute towns in a beautiful natural setting with friendly people. It was an appreciated respite away from Manhattan!

There is a great restaurant scene in the area, especially Great Barrington and Lenox. We had a delish dinner at Bistro Zinc in Lenox – crispy goat cheese salad, vegetable crepes with a balsamic reduction and braised short ribs with homemade pappardelle. Mmm, mmm. Unfortunately I forgot my camera that night so I can’t share the dishes with you, but definitely head over if you happen to be in the area.

Of course we sought out the only Greek spot in the area – the fabulous rustic restaurant Aegean Breeze.  The food was perfect homemade, yia-yia cooking in the kitchen fare, only better! I definitely recommend this place for a little Greek fix. At the last moment I did remember to take a pic of dessert: galactoboureko (sweet milk pie).  

 

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This is my favorite dessert and having tried it in many NYC Greek restaurants I have to say this is the best I’ve had! They nailed the sweet silky custard consistency and flaky phyllo dough covered in syrup.  Luckily I was able to convince Chris to be patient while I took my photo! I think I’ll be making my own version soon and will share the recipe.  

Insalata Caprese

It’s been cold in New York. I mean bitter cold. I’m taking -3 degrees with wind chill cold. Central Park is iced over and gray, and it’s leaving me wanting some sun and warmth!  

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Instead of all the usual warm and comforting food we tend towards during the winter months I felt like changing it up a bit and throwing in a little summer sunshine via the isle of Capri!  Although I haven’t been to Capri, I have been to a beautiful location very close by – Positano – also on the Amalfi Coast. Here, take a look…..


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In the spirit of Italian island living the Caprese Salad is a little bit of la dolce vita. Simple, quality ingredients like plump fresh tomatoes (imported this time of year!), yummy fresh mozzarella, flowery sweet basil and fruity olive oil.  Trust me this salad will help perk up your winter doldrums. Bon appetit!

 

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Did you notice the photo? I think it’s an improvement courtesy of my recent photography workshop. Lamp lighting, tungsten setting, low ISO, macro mode…hopefully this digital photography thing is starting to sink in!

The Art of Digital Food Photography

So I’ve been working on my little blog here for a few months and something has been gnawing away at me…I just can’t seem to get the photos quite right. I see all the beautiful work on www.foodgawker.com and think, “Why can’t I do that?”.  I admit it’s dead of winter with hardly any hours for sunlight, and I’m working away in my small apartment, but there has to be a way!  Well, a lovely friend (who has her own beautiful travel photography site) passed along some information about a food photography workshop run by a professional food photographer here in NYC, Lou Manna. 

Check out his bio, work and info here.

That’s right, I’m forking over the dough to learn how to wrangle my modest digital camera into shooting some tantalizing food photos!  Just for you! I’ll share all the inside secrets soon…wish me luck.

Arancini di Riso

Italian Rice Balls

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Arancini means “little orange” in Italian, and these delicious little fried balls of savory goodness will have you begging for just one more.  The very first time I ever had arancini was in Sicily, where they originate, and I was hooked! I made these with a ragu of ground meat, tomato sauce and peas although you can pretty much fill them with whatever you can imagine.

I’ve only made arancini a few times since the preparation can really take some time (so be prepared), especially if you want to get them just right.  It’s definitely worth the effort and are a great way to treat your friends. This recipe is from one of my favorite Joyce Goldstein cookbooks I mentioned in a previous post – Mediterranean The Beautiful

Ingredients

  • 6 cups of water
  • 3 cups Arborio (risott0) rice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, shopped
  • 1/2 lb ground beef or veal
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 cup shelled peas, blanched for 30 seconds and drained (or frozen)
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • vegetable oil for deep frying

Method

  1. In the saucepan bring the water to a boil. Add the rice, cover, reduce the heat to low and cook until the water has been absorbed, 15-20 minutes. The rice should be al dente but cooked through and still a little sticky. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, and the cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet, cover and refrigerate to cool.
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  2. Meanwhile, in a saute pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and saute until tender and translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add the meat and stir, breaking it up, until it browns, just a few minutes. Add the tomato paste and wine and simmer for 5 minutes. Then add the tomato sauce and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the blanched peas. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg. Let cool to room temperature.img_0756   

  3. To make the rice balls, put the flour in a shallow bowl. Break the eggs into another shallow bowl and beat lightly with a little water. Place the bread crumbs in a third shallow bowl.   

  4. You can make the rice balls small or make them the size of 3-in oranges. Put a few spoonfuls of rice in the palm of your hand and make an indentation in the center with your finger, to form a pocket. Slip a spoonful of filling into the pocket and then “fold” the rice over the filling. Roll the rice into a nicely shaped ball. Then roll the ball in the flour, dip it in the beaten egg, and then roll it in the bread crumbs. Set on a wire rack. Repeat until you have used up all of the rice and filling.
     
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  5. Pour oil into a deep saute pan to a depth of 3-in and heat to 375 degrees, or until a rice ball dropped into oil begins to color within moments. When the oil is ready, deep fry the rice balls, a  few at a time, until they are golden, 4-5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon remove to paper towels to drain briefly, and repeat until all of the rice balls are cooked.img_0763
       

     

  6. Arrange on a warmed platter and serve at once.


Mmm, weekend brunch calls for something a little more special than downing some oatmeal before rushing off to work during the week.  I do love savory flavors and this dish combines some of my basic favorites like feta, tomatoes and olive oil.  Add some crusty Italian bread or  a French baguette and you have a complete meal.  


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You can find the recipe right here at Food & Wine Magazine….

That’s Amore!

Prescott’s Famous Chicken Parmigiana

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 Nothing says comfort food like this Italian favorite – gooey, saucy goodness!  I saw family this past weekend and was treated to this delicious meal, which we only end up having once or twice a year since it’s so rich.

 

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 A definite crowd-pleaser…

 

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Even the smallest guest, little Jonah, enjoyed the Italian pasta.

I’ll have to try and pry the recipe out of Prescott  some day, but for now we have leftovers!

 

I’ve been out of touch for a while now (with everyday life getting in the way) and am happy to be back again cooking! Tagine is a staple in Moroccan cooking and I learned to make this dish through a class with chef Soumia at Riad Zolah in Marrakesh. Tagines have a complex, but mild, spice blend that is enhanced by cooking over a longer period of time.  This is a great dish to make as the weather gets chillier and can serve a large group!

 

One of my favorite cookbook authors, Joyce Goldstein, has published numerous cookbooks on Mediterranean cuisine and this recipe is taken straight from one of her earlier works, Mediterranean: The Beautiful Cookbook.  It’s an oversized cookbook with gorgeous colorful photographs and really explains the food/ingredients and customs differences between countries.  Although it’s out of print now it would be worthwhile to snatch one up if you see it in a used bookstore or online.

I made just two changes from the original recipe: I didn’t use the chicken liver or giblets and I added in a bit of Ras el Hanout, an aromatic spice blend from Morocco.

Djej M’Chermel (Chicken with Lemon and Olives)

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken, 3-3.5 lb., cut into 8 pieces
  • 1.5 c. onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground turmeric or saffron threads
  • 1/4 tsp. Ras el Hanout
  • 4 tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 4 tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1-1.5 c. water
  • peel from 1 preserved lemon, cut into long, narrow strips
  • 1 c. green olives, pitted
  • juice of 1-2 lemons

Method

1. In a large sauce pan over medium-low heat, combine the chicken pieces, onion, garlic, paprika, ginger, cumin, turmeric or saffron, ras el hanout, parsley, salt, pepper and oil. Warm gradually, turning the ingredients in the oil for a few minutes, then add the water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer uncovered, occasionally turning the chicken in the sauce, until almost tender, 30-40 minutes.

 

2. Add the preserved lemon peel, olives and lemon juice and continue to cook until the chicken is very tender, about 15 minutes longer. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more lemon juice if you like. Transfer to a platter. If the sauce is too thin, remove only the chicken to the platter and reduce the sauce over high heat. Then spoon the sauce, olives, and lemon strips over the chicken. 

 

 

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Hmm…what to make next? I’ve been spoiled by my friend Kiran’s baking (see her blog here) and have been twirling around the idea of making a sweet dessert.  Any suggestions?

Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are common in Moroccan cooking and impart food with a deeper, mellow citrus flavor. I’ve only seen the lemons used in savory tagines and pepper salads but think they may make an interesting ingredient in a sweet Middle Eastern dessert. Please let me know if you have other recipes using preserved lemons!  They are quite easy to make although patience is key – it takes a month for the lemons to develop the flavor and become tender.

I preserved both Meyer lemons, which have a sweet flavor similar to oranges, and standard variety lemons. Adding cinnamon, whole cloves, bay leaves or the like will add a delicious taste to the final product! 

Ingredients

  • Lemons + an airtight jar (enough lemons, when quartered, that will fill the jar). I used about 6 lemons for each 3/4 L jar.
  • Salt
  • Water
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
 
1. Scrub, wash and quarter lemons. Squeeze lemon juice into the jar. Cut an inch slit into each quartered piece, fill with salt and place in jar. Continue with remaining lemons.
 
2. Once the jar is filled with the salted lemons and the juice, top off the jar with the olive oil and water to cover the lemons.  They must be fully covered with liquid in order to preserve properly.
3. Keep the lemons for one month without opening; making sure to shake the jar gently every few days. The lemons may develop a whitish film but it’s nothing to be concerned about.

I’ve been told to keep the preserved lemons up 6 months but have read elsewhere they keep for a year.  I leave my jarred lemons on the counter but you may also store them in the refrigerator.

A Glimpse of Morocco

A peek inside the beautiful Riad Zolah in Marrakech.

 Spices, nuts and dates for sale at Jemma El Fna.

A sweet and savory mix of Morocco’s delicate flavorings – cool zucchini and carrot salad, green beans and my favorite, B’stilla

Delicious lamb, apricot and prune tagine at the riad.  More photos and recipes of this exotic cuisine to come…

Vegetarian with Friends

One of my favorite food experiences is being able to take time to prepare a meal and share it with good friends and wine at home.  It was a beautiful, cool autumn day in New York this past Saturday and I invited some friends over for dinner. Since we had a vegetarian in the group I decided to challenge myself in making a veggie-centric menu, loosely following the meze style of dining:

  • Moroccan Sweet Tomato Jam
  • Rosemary Skewered Vegetables
  • Spanakopita

I served Israeli couscous flavored with traditional North African spices as a side and will post more about that dish soon.

Moroccan Sweet Tomato Jam

I learned how to make this cool, sweet tomato jam, which seems to be a mild cousin of the fiery harissa, during a trip to Morocco this summer (more to come on that amazing trip!). It’s a nice complement to meat, vegetables or as a spread on bread.  It’s a favorite of mine already and I’m sure you’ll find it works as a nice accompaniment to many dishes.  I wrote down this recipe to the best of my memory after a cooking lesson at Riad Zolah in Marrakesh.

Ingredients

  • 5-6 ripe tomatoes (preferably on the vine or Roma), quartered with seeds and core removed
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 Tbs sugar
  • water/olive oil as needed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • sesame seeds (optional)

Method

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and add tomatoes, ensuring that the tomatoes fit snugly in the pan. Saute over medium-high heat and add salt and pepper.  Cook for 30-40 minutes, constantly stirring and mashing tomatoes with a flexible spatula. Add cinnamon, sugar, and water/oil as needed to keep the tomatoes from sticking to the skillet. The tomatoes should turn into a paste-like consistency and reduce in volume.  

Turn off heat and remove any chunks or skin that didn’t break down during cooking. Transfer tomato spread to a serving dish, sprinkle with sesame seeds and let cool for an hour (or refrigerate) before serving.

 

Rosemary Skewered Vegetables

I’ve saved this recipe from Self magazine for a few years and finally gave it a go.  I pared it way down to include just zucchini and squash, and didn’t make the white bean hummus dip, but it turned out to be a simple and tasty preparation.  The rosemary adds a beautiful mellow flavor to the vegetables. Note: I could only find short sprigs of rosemary about 3-4″ and they worked just fine.

Spanakopita

Ah, what a classic Greek dish.  Who doesn’t love cheesy spinach cradled in buttery layers of filo? This was the main dish of the meal and was a definite crowd pleaser. I changed up the recipe and substituted Manouri cheese, which has a very smooth and soft flavor, for the traditional Feta. 

There are many recipes online for spanakopita and I basically made this one from memory, no exact measurements except ‘a little of this and a little of that’!  I would have preferred it be a bit thicker and a toastier color and I’ll dive into the details and process for the perfect spinach and cheese pie another time. Maybe I’ll even try to make the time-consuming triangles. Where is yia-yia when you need her?  


An article last week in the NY Times, Fast Food Hits Mediterranean; a Diet Succumbs ttp://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/24/world/europe/24diet.html?partner=permalink&exprod=permalink), featured the growing concern of childhood obesity in Greece as well as in other southern European countries.  The article struck a chord with me because I studied causes of childhood obesity in grad school and I believe the Mediterranean diet is one viable way to keep our weight under control.

So, what’s changed?

A wealthier economy, increases in personal income, infiltration of fast food companies, advertising targeted to youth and the rise in convenience and super markets. Sounds somewhat similar to the U.S. It seems the days of eating locally sourced foods are diminishing, especially for the impressionable taste buds of kids. “It is almost a perfect diet, but when we looked at what people were eating we noticed that much of the highly praised diet didn’t exist anymore, it has just become a notion.”  

I’m curious, what are your thoughts on this recent development? And what do you think of Spain, Italy, Greece and Morocco pushing to have Unesco place the Mediterranean diet on the world heritage list?