Archive | October 2011

When is Pasta Al Denté?

I’ve always heard the Italian term “al denté”  and basically knew what it meant.  It wasn’t until observing  Italian Chef, Lorenzo Boni, demonstrating on behalf of  Barilla Brand Pastas during the two-day festival ” Taste of Atlanta”, that it was driven home as he went into depth on “al denté”.  I couldn’t wait to get home and make my version of this pasta dish.

Chef Lorenzo Boni demonstrating at Taste of Atlanta

Basically, al denté means to cook just under soft. In other words enough firmness to give “chew” to the pasta. Obviously, not tough but not softened.  All that aside, Chef Boni’s tip for good pasta is to remove the pasta from the water just under al denté.  So, if the directions on the box say 10 minutes, cook for eight.   Then, add the pasta to a pan of vegetables or sauce so the pasta can marry the flavors and continue cooking for about a minute longer.  If the pan of pasta and vegetables seem “tight” , add a bit of water from the pan of pasta.  This part is hard for me to remember because I have one of those pan’s that has a lid with holes in it.  In my scenario, I need to remove a cup of water before I turn over the pan with the holey lid.

Do you ever have trouble removing the pasta from the pan to the plate without the pasta slippin’ and slidin’ everywhere but onto the plate?  Here is a good tip.  Take a large two prong Serving Fork along with a Ladle and pick up the pasta and place in the ladle. Now twirl until all the pasta is in the ladle  as Chef Boni demonstrates in the photo below.

This twirling method really works.

For the dish plated in the featured image above, the following is the mise en place of ingredients.

One Butternut Squash, halved then quartered. Remove seeds, Cut elongated slices of squash from within the rind then cut into chunks.
One Zucchini halved then quartered and cut into chunks.
One Eggplant cut into chunks
Four to five Plum tomatoes cut into chunks.  (Alternative)  One can of San Marzano or Muir Glen Brand of Chopped Tomatoes.
One clove garlic, minced.
One medium yellow or sweet onion, thinly sliced.
Salt and Pepper to taste
Fresh Basil
Pecorino Romano or Parmesan Cheese

Place the vegetables on a sheet pan and roast in a preheated oven at 425°F for approximately 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, the water for the pasta should be close to boiling. Be sure to add salt to season the pasta.  Add the pasta when the vegetables have been roasting ten minutes.

After 15 minutes remove the vegetables from the oven and place into a heated sauté pan with a drizzle of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  When the pasta is just under “al denté” add to the vegetables and mix well.  Add a scoop of pasta water to the pan to moisten the vegetables and pasta.

After serving onto a plate, sprinkle with a little fresh basil and grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan Cheese.

Buon Appetito!

Pan Seared Scallops with a Caribbean Flare

Last weekend I was one of the four photographers fortunate to be hired to document the annual event “Taste of Atlanta”. First up on the Kitchen Stadium were three Culinary Students from South Forsyth County School, Cumming Georgia.

L-R, Darian Grooms, Marin Wijma, Mia Kosko

Every year, 20 finalist (schools) from across America come together for a day long, one hour, hot food, iron chef like cookoff. South Forsyth placed 2nd in the Nation this past March losing by, get this… a speck of pepper on the plate.
Observing them work on this kitchen stage was quite rewarding for me. I love to see young adults perform with such discipline. Imagine at 17 years old, producing a meal in front of Master Chefs. It reminded me of a television program I watched about becoming a “Master Chef”. The grueling task each chef had to perform just to receive the title “Master”. I know why I’m just a home chef…no pressure.

I came home from that weekend of photographing and observing many chefs demonstrate for the patrons of Taste of Atlanta and decided I had to try the Pan Seared Scallops with a Caribbean Flare.

mise en place

Most of the ingredients can be prepared in advance to save time when ready to cook. The dry ingredients can be combined well ahead and saved in a container. The onion, corn, celery Jalapeño, Chives and Cilantro can be cut up and placed in containers or storage bags. This leaves the garlic and bacon (not included above) to prepare just before.

Season the Sea Scallop

Dip the Sea Scallop into the Dry Mixture and then Sear in a hot pan on each side for three to four minutes.

The following recipe is a derivation of the dish demonstrated by the Culinary Students at Taste of Atlanta.
For two people, I buy eight Sea Scallops

Wet Ingredients
Dry White Wine

Dry Ingredients
1 tsp Brown Sugar
1/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 Tbls Dry Mustard
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
3/4 tsp Garlic Powder
1/8 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1/4 tsp All-Purpose Flour

Combine these ingredients in a bowl. Rinse the scallops and pat dry. Coat each side of the scallops in the spicey mixture. Set aside.

Prepare the Corn Medley

Dice two slices Hickory Smoked Bacon
Dice one small yellow onion
Corn from two ears. (Alternative) One Medium Size Can of Sweet Corn
Dice one stalk of celery
Peas from Five Pea Pods
Chop 1/2 of Jalapeño – seeds removed.
One Clove minced Garlic
Two oz. of Chicken Stock. ( I use Knorr Brand Concentrate and dissolve one container with a cup of water)
One Tbls. chopped Chives
Two Tbls. Chopped Cilantro
One Tbls. Butter
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a pan, cook diced bacon. When browned, remove bacon bits from pan and place on paper towel to drain. Pour half of rendered bacon drippings into a hot sauté pan and add the onion, celery and corn. While the corn medley cooks for a few minutes, begin to Sear the Scallops in the same pan as the bacon was cooked in. (Tip: In order to Sear, the pan must be hot. Searing keeps flavor and juices within the meat). Sear three to four minutes on each side of scallop.
Return to the corn medley and add the peas, jalapeño and garlic. Cook for one more minute then add the Chicken Stock and cook for another minute. Remove from heat and add the chives, cilantro and butter.

Return to the Scallops and turn them over to sear the other side. When scallops are done. Remove from pan to a plate. Pickup pan from the stove and slowly pour 1/4 cup of that wine I mentioned above into the pan. Now place back on the stove and scrap all the good nurdles off the bottom of the pan and allow liquid to reduce. At this point you could add just a slice of butter to help congeal.

Now for plating. Spoon the liquid wine mixture on to a plate. Place a spoonful of Corn Medley over this and top with a scallop or two. Then slowly walk to your table and place the plate down and sit and proceed to savor the flavor.

I complimented this dish with a new wine I came across. The wine aged in an Unoaked barrel. It was really quite good.

“Cook Like A Rock Star”

I just received my signed copy. Woohoo! I first noticed Anne when a Sous Chef for Mario Bartoli on Iron Chef. I was fascinated with her expertise in handling her position working along side Mario and her calm approach under stress. It was obvious, the people in the control room noticed this woman of finesse in the kitchen because it wasn’t long before Food Network swept her up and gave her not only one show but two. I watched in awe as grease splattered back into her eye when Anne was doing a Charity Competition on the series “Chopped”. She didn’t win those judges over because she stood before them with makeup on half her face and the other half red and blotchy from the grease. Rather, she won because of her calm reserved manner in which she proceeded through delivering a top quality dish as only Anne Burrell delivers.
I can’t wait to get into the Piccolini….

Taylor’s Mom’s Brownie Recipe

A Food Writer’s Blog I follow, Taylor Takes a Taste , was showing a tutorial on the use of Tungsten Lighting and he just happened to include his Mom’s brownie recipe. Any child who believes what their Mom makes in the kitchen is the best, makes me want to try it out.

These are the ingredients. I, of course, cut the recipe in half. Should you want the actual recipe, connect to Taylor’s site I’ve included in this post and scroll to the bottom. If you’re a Tailgater, subscribe to his Tailgating site. He offers up some fine foods from all his travels to football games.

In a deep pot, at least 3.5 or 5 quart size, slowly melt the butter.

Add the sugars and dissolve.
Add the eggs one at a time and work into the mixture.
Add the flour and cocoa, then vanilla and salt.
For this recipe, I baked in an 8×8 size glass pan in a preheated 350° for approx. 35 minutes.
I like to pull out sooner than later for the moistness.
Test with a toothpick and if a small amount of batter adheres to that toothpick, I consider it done. It will continue baking while cooling down but not so much it will be over-baked.

Personally, I thought this recipe was the best. This past weekend, my daughter brought a box of Ghirardelli Brand Brownie Mix. I’ve also made other box mixes. Growing up on Hershey’s, I guess, in my opinion, there is only one chocolate flavor and it’s Hershey.

Apple Pickin’ in Blue Ridge, Ga.

It has been a welcome rainy week here in North Georgia.

A brief dry spell during the morning gave me an opportunity to walk out and grab some shots of one tree in particular that I view from my bedroom window.

There is still a lot of green on the trees surrounding the house as well as the mountains across the way and I speculate by next week fall colors will peak.  Not as dramatically as autumn’s past due to the droughts we’ve had these past years, but pretty nonetheless.

…but with these changing colors comes, Apple Pickin’

This weekend, as all the weekends in October, is U-Pick Apples from Mercier Apple Orchard in Blue Ridge, GA.

Celebrating 68 years of business and still operated by the Mercier Family.

This is the original apple house.  The orchard is the largest in the Southeast.

There are many orchards in
the North Georgia  surrounding areas
that compete for the best fried apple pies.

In my opinion, Mercier’s is the best.
When you get fried pies from other orchards they tend to drip with
grease.  If left long enough in the
parchment paper, one has to peal the pie from the paper.  Euwwwww.
Mercier’s is also known for their dinner plate apple fritters,

Apple Bread

…and Cider.

The only orchard to be licensed to press it and sell it.

So, if you happen to visit this humble
community of Blue Ridge, Georgia, be certain to stop by the Orchard and pluck an apple from a

…and take a bite.

Cabbage and Apples – A Nice Side Dish

What to do with leftover cabbage from yesterdays soup?  Cook it with apples and raisins for a nice side dish to pork  loin or a nice chuck roast.  When I was a kid, it was a very rare occasion that we children were invited to spend a night with my father’s parents. Unfortunately, for them, grandchildren were not high up on their list for sharing themselves. Not, for this grandma.  They ate three hot meals a day and by that era, my mother was not fixing a hot meal more than once a day. It was in October. Sitting on top of a hill (which from a child’s perspective was a mountain) the trees outside their tiny 1930’s, green roof, white frame house abundantly displayed an array of fall foliage.  I remember sitting at the formal dining table for lunch.  I had never eaten cabbage before and we were raised to eat everything on your plate, no options.  At first sight, I gagged, but sticking with my upbringing, I took a bite. I couldn’t believe it.  I actually liked it. At that time it was boiled with bacon grease. I, of course, rarely if ever use bacon grease for seasoning.
To this day, every time I make this dish, in October especially, I’m taken back to that little house on top of the hill.
Simmer the sliced cabbage and apples along with some raisins in water for about 30 minutes.  I added a small amount of Red Wine for flavoring.

Cabbage and Meatball Soup

Today was a rainy day in North Georgia.  I wasn’t in the mood to walk in the rain from the house to the car, drive down the driveway to the gate, get out and open the gate, drive through and close the gate back, drive 16 miles to the grocery store only to return and do the same all over again.  So….I challenged myself to forage from the fridge and pantry and came up with Cabbage and Meatball Soup.  It was really quite delicious.

The following photos show the ingredients and preparation of the soup.

The Ingredients

I use Johnsonville Italian Sausage for my meatballs.  To the right of the sausage is a new item I just discovered.  These are concentrated containers of Stock to add to soups.  They are pretty expensive but I bought both beef and chicken for the purpose of having in the event I ran out of broth or stock.  I used one container for three cups of water. They blended in nicely.  The other secret to many of my dishes is Muir Glen Organic Tomatoes.  I discovered this from Smitten Kitchen when Deb Perelman was out of fresh tomatoes.  Because they are so flavorful,  and really make a difference in the outcome of my dishes, I’ve just about given up on using fresh tomatoes.

Set up a pot for the soup.  Add three cups of Water and one container of Knorr Chicken Concentrate Stock and set the stove on Medium High Heat.

Take chunks of the ground sausage and make into balls about a half inch in diameter.

Brown the meatballs in the skillet.  Place on a paper toweled rack to absorb excess fat.  Place in a pan and keep warm.

Drain the grease from the skillet but keep residue for sautéeing onion.

Slice a whole, sweet onion and sauté until translucent.  Add to the Pot of Water

Next take a half of a head of Green Cabbage and slice or Julienne and add to the soup.

After this, slice two whole carrots in rounds at an angle.  This prevents slices rolling all over your cutting board.  Place these in the Soup.

Allow the soup to cook for about 30 minutes.  Season with Salt and Pepper to taste.  Ladle the soup into bowls and add the meatballs.