Monday, November 13, 2017

Rigatoni with White Bolognese from Amanda Hesser

Found below is a delightful recipe for “Rigatoni for White Bolognese,” by Amanda Hesser featuring Gourmet Living’s premium cut dried porcini mushrooms.  Ms. Hesser’s recipe was recently published in the New York Times.

Gourmet Living porcini mushrooms

I have long been a great fan of Ms. Hesser after tasting her delicious Shar-Pei Almond Cake that was first published in Cooking for Mr. Latte.  An excerpt of my old blog post (with the recipe) is reprinted below:

“Hands-down, my favorite almond cake is from Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte.  Actually, Ms. Hesser lifted the recipe from Elizabeth, the mother of “Mr. Latte,” (who must be all right) for shortly after marrying him she left writing a food column for the New York Times.  In any event, the following recipe for Almond Cake is “adapted from Elizabeth” and was published many moons ago in the New York Times magazine.   A word of warning:  This cake caves in on itself while cooking and often resembles the face of the delightful Shar-Pei dog.”

While I would like to tell you that I am cutting back on the carbs, the fact that I am eating rigatoni with “heavy cream” suggests otherwise.  In any event, this is a delicious recipe where a call for second helping is almost a certainty.

Rigatoni for White Bolognese

INGREDIENTS (Serves 4 generously)

  • Extra virgin olive oil (from Gourmet Living, of course!)
  • ½ sweet onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound mild Italian pork sausage meat, removed from casings
  • 1 pound ground beef (not lean)
  • 1 ½ cups dry Italian white wine
  • 1 cube beef bouillon dissolved in 2 cups simmering water
  • 1 ½ ounces of Gourmet Living’s dried porcini mushrooms rehydrated in 3 cups lukewarm water
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • ¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

PREPARATION

  1. Add enough oil to a large, deep sauté pan to coat the base and place over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the onion, carrots and celery and sauté until glassy and just tender, about 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the sausage and beef to the pan, breaking it into walnut-size pieces, and brown well.
  2. Pour in the wine and keep at a rapid simmer until the pan is almost dry. Then pour in 1 1/2 cups beef bouillon and lower the heat to medium. Simmer gently, uncovered, until the bouillon is nearly gone, stirring now and then. Meanwhile, chop the rehydrated porcini into small pieces, reserving the liquid.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add mushroom liquid to the sauce to cover the meat halfway (about 1 cup) along with the porcini and continue simmering until the sauce is loose but not soupy, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust salt and pepper; it should be highly seasoned. When the consistency is right, fold the cream in. Remove from the heat and cover.
  4. When the pasta water is at a full boil, add the rigatoni and cook until still firm, but not hard, in the center. When the pasta is almost done, scoop out 1 cup of pasta water and reserve. Drain the pasta and then return it to the pot. Pour the pasta sauce on top and fold in with a wooden spoon. The pasta should not be dry. Add a little pasta water or mushroom liquid to loosen it. (It will continue to soak up sauce on the way to the table.) Serve in one large bowl or in individual bowls, passing the cheese at the table.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.  This recipe is delicious, particularly for those who need a “carb fix!”

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Choosing the Best Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Gourmet Living sells extra virgin olive oil under its own label.   Our products are sourced and bottled in Spain, Italy and California.

Sadly, most “extra virgin olive oil” sold in the United States and many other countries does not meet the standards adopted by the International Olive Council (“IOC”).

While olive oil “blends” are perfectly acceptable under IOC standards, unscrupulous companies misuse the “standards” and lax controls to misrepresent their product to the consumer.

While there is no right answer in choosing the “best” olive oil for you, the video below helps explain some of the key elements in choosing one where the quality and price point suit your palette.

Remember that olive oil is a juice. Like wine, the taste of olive oil is dependent on the olive variety, when it was harvested, soil and climatic conditions and how (and when) the olive was pressed, filtered and bottled.

I like olive oil with a little personality and prefer oils with a fruitiness and peppery aftertaste. Nevertheless, a reviewer of one of our products suggested that the olive oil had a “green” taste.  Personally, I prefer to experience the “taste” and “aroma” of the olive in the oil, but others may be looking for something less fruity.

There are no “right” answers in choosing an olive oil, which is why we suggest choosing several varieties and make up your own mind. Found below are three distinct olive oils that we regularly use in our cooking.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Tuscany, California and Spain

We tend to use the California Picual for quickly sauteing pork and chicken, the Tuscan blend for vegetables and pasta and the Spanish Arbequina for salads. Of the three, the Arbequina tends to have a slightly more elevated flavor profile generally preferred by Europeans.

Like wine, each olive oil has its own distinct flavor profile. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

To learn more, consult Gourmet Living’s FAQ on olive oil.

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Is Olive Oil Better Than Butter for Scrambled Eggs?

In a provocative article entitled “Why the French Can’t Scramble Eggs!”, Christopher Kimballs Milk Street cites the science that olive oil makes puffier scrambled eggs.

scrambled egg

To make a long story short (page 3 in the Fall, 2016 magazine), Milk Street’s talented chefs and scientists have determined that olive “oil gets hotter  faster than butter because butter is 20% water.”

Milk Street cooks argue that eggs cooked in olive oil reach the “scramble” temperature (around 160º) faster than butter which produces more steam “and the protein network traps that steam  . . . to produce quicker, bigger puffs and more impressive scrambled eggs.”

The article goes on to suggest that one should use 1 tablespoon of olive oil for two eggs in an 8 or 9 inch skillet.  Allow the oil to warm slowly over medium heat until it just begins to smoke (very important).  Pour the lightly beaten eggs into the center of the skillet which pushes the oil to the perimeter and cooks the edges of the eggs first.

Stir immediately and begin to fold.  It should take 30 seconds or so for a soft scramble.  Allow the scrambled eggs to rest on a warm plate for another 30 seconds before serving.  The eggs finish cooking off the heat.

Now, I am quite sure the French will disagree with the assertion that olive oil is better than butter for making scrambled eggs, but I am happy with the science and strongly endorse using extra virgin olive oil – rather than butter – for healthy cooking.

Frankly, I would suggest Gourmet Living’s California Picual or Tuscan blend to cook your fluffy scrambled eggs.  We do!

tuscan blend evoo and CA extra virgin olive oil

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Black Truffles Recipe from Marcella Hazan

Late last fall I thought I was going to overdose on truffles while visiting Italy in the fall.  Sure, it was a bit of a spluge, but eating fresh truffles in season is one of those “bucket list” events that must be indulged.

Pasta with Shaved Black Truffles

Unfortunately, the truffle season is rather short and you could pay an “arm and a leg” to find fresh truffles.   Unless you can afford a trip to Italy or southern France, your next best opportunity might be preserved truffles.

Since I had difficulty finding authentic truffles in the U.S., I decided to seek out my own.  Gourmet Living’s truffle carpaccio consists of sliced black summer truffles preserved in sunflower oil.  While summer truffles lack the intensity of black and white truffles, they tend to be more affordable.  Truffle slices are preserved in sunflower oil which tends to have less “flavor” than olive oil which would compete with the distinct aroma and flavor of the truffle.

Found below, is a cozy and special recipe from Marcella Hazan featured her cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.    For those looking for an affordable truffle option, consider Gourmet Living’s truffle carpaccio found below.

Marcella Hazan’s Spaghetti alla Nursina

Ingredients (Serves 2)

  • 2 1/2 to 3 ounces of black truffles (or Gourmet Living’s summer truffles)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 1 flat anchovy fillet chopped very fine
  • Salt
  • 6 ounces (less than half a package) of Italian spaghettini, thin spaghetti

Preparation

  1. If using fresh truffles, clean them with a stiff brush, rinse them briefly, and pat thoroughly dry.  It using preserved truffles, drain them and pat them dry.  Do not discard the liquid; save it to add to a roast or meat sauce.
  2. Grate the truffles to a very fine-grain consistency, using the smallest holes of a flat-sited grater.  If you have a good mortar and pestle, chop them up and grind them to a pulp in the mortar.
  3. Put the truffles into a small earthenware saucepan.  If you do not have earthenware, use enameled cast iron.  Add the olive oil, trickling it in a little at a time, and stirring thoroughly.
  4. Turn on the heat to low, and add the garlic and the chopped anchovy.  Stir with a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes, mashing the anchovy until it is almost completely dissolved into a paste.  Keep the heat low, and do not let the oil bubble.  If the oil becomes too hot, move the pay away from the heat for a few moments.  Add salt to taste, stir once or twice, and remove from heat.
  5. Cook the pasta in 3 to 4 quarts salted boiling water.  Bear in mind that thin spaghetti cooks rather quickly.  As soone as it is cooked al dente, tender but firm to the bite, drain it quickly, and transfer to a war bowl.
  6. Remove the garlic from the truffle sauce, and pour all the contents on the pan over the spaghetti.  Toss thoroughly, and serve at once.

 

 

Gourmet Living Summer Truffle Carpaccio

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Risotto with Dried Porcini Mushrooms

Risotto with Funghi Procini

Eating a great risotto is one of my favorite dining experiences.  For some masochistic reason, I will often order risotto at a restaurant to determine if the chef has enough trained staff in the kitchen willing to carefully add broth at the right time to the arborio rice.  Cooking a credible risotto takes about 20 minutes of concentration and attention to detail.  I am generally underwhelmed by the outcome, but still persist in my hope that a divine risotto will appear at one of my favorite restaurants.

Frankly, it is far easier to prepare risotto at home.  The recipe we use comes from Marcella Hazan’s Essential Classic Italian Cookbook for Risotto with Porcini mushrooms.

Marcella argues that dehydrated porcini mushrooms pack more flavor punch than fresh porcini mushrooms.  I agree!  While there is nothing quite like the taste of fresh porcini mushrooms in Italy, the season is short and why confine yourself to one month out of the year to eat porcini?

The secret to Marcella’s risotto is that we use the liquid that we hydrated the mushrooms to add flavor to the broth that we use to cook the Arborio rice.  Enjoy this great recipe from Marcella and do use Gourmet Living’s premium grade porcini mushrooms when doing so.  The flavor and texture of premium porcini mushrooms makes a huge difference in both the taste and presentation.

Marcella Hazan’s Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms

Ingredients (for 6 persons)

  • 1 ounce imported dried porcini mushrooms (preferably from Gourmet Living)
  • 1 quart of homemade meat broth or 1 cup of canned chicken broth mixed with 3 cups of water
  • 2 tablespoons fine chopped shallots or yellow onion
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups raw Italian Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt, if necessary
  • Freshly grated pepper, about 4 twists of the mill

Preparation

  1. Soak the mushrooms in 2 cups of lukewarm water for at least 30 minutes before cooking.  After the liquid turns very dark, stain it through a sieve lined with paper towels and set aside.  Continue soaking and rinsing the mushrooms in frequent changes of water until the mushrooms are soft and thoroughly free of soil.
  2. Bring the broth or the canned broth and water to a slow, steady simmer.
  3. In a heavy-bottomed casserole, over medium-high heat, sauté the chopped shallots or onion in half the butter and all the oil until translucent but not brown.  Add the rice and stir until is is well coated.  Sauté lightly for a few moments and then add a ladleful, 1/2 cup, of the simmering broth.  Continue adding a ladleful of the simmering broth after the liquid is fully absorbed into the rice.   Stir frequently to avoid having the risotto stick.  When the rice has cooked for 10 to 12 minutes add the mushrooms and 1/2 cup of the strained mushroom liquid, 1/2 cup at a time.  After you’ve used up the mushroom liquid finish cooking the rice with hot broth.  (If you run out of broth, add water).
  4. When the rice is done, turn off the heat and mix in the grated Parmesan and the rest of the butter.  Taste and correct for salt.  Add a few twists of pepper and mix.  Spoon the rice into a hot serving platter and serve immediately with a bowl of freshly grated Parmesan cheese on the side.

Gourmet Living porcini mushrooms

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Improv Pumpkin Soup Recipe

Yesterday we invited our granddaughter over to help make pumpkin cake for her school class. It is never too early to encourage kids to cook and we are fortunate that our granddaughter approaches cooking with much enthusiasm and interest. It could well be that we have another Simone Beck or Nigella Lawson in the making.

pumpkin soup recipe

This is a delicious improv recipe that – while slightly spicy – would be delicious for most any meal leading up to Thanksgiving.

Improv Pumpkin Soup Recipe

Ingredients

  • Medium-size pumpkin
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Small onion (diced)
  • One garlic clove (sliced)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (vegetable broth for die-hard vegetarians)
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 small can of diced chiles (not drained)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1/2 cup of creme fraiche

Preparation

  1. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds. Brush well with oil and roast open half down in an oven for an hour to an hour-and-a-half at 350° F.
  2. Saute the diced onion and slice garlic clove in oil until soft (about 10 minutes)
  3. Scoop out the pumpkin pulp and add to sautéed onion and garlic.
  4. Pour two cups of chicken broth into the mixture and add paprika, ancho chile powder and salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Heat and continue to stir lightly to mix ingredients and then add diced chiles (no need to drain).
  6. Once the pumpkin pulp is mixed well with the other ingredients add the mixture to a blender together with a 1/2 cup of creme fraiche.
  7. Blend well and serve the soup hot.

This is a keeper, particularly for those who like a bit of a kick in their pumpkin soup.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

West African Chicken Stew: A Paleo Recipe from Melissa Joulwan

For the most part, my husband and I are wedded to the Mediterranean diet or lifestyle, but will occasionally venture out and test some new diets.

At the suggestion of my sister-in-law, my husband and I decided to see what the Paleo diet had to offer.  I checked out a few books at the library, but eventually decided on a few cookbooks that I thought provided some interesting recipes.West African Chicken Stew

Before sharing an excellent recipe for West African Chicken Stew from Well Fed 2 by Melissa Joulwan, I would like to make a few observations about the Paleo diet.

The paleo diet is loosely based “on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans, consisting chiefly of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, and excluding dairy or grain products and processed food.”  In effect, it is the food that hunters and gatherers would consume rather than the food farmers who produce from domesticated animals and farmed vegetable gardens, particularly legumes.

As such, it differs considerably from the Mediterranean diet in the sense that you are eliminating one more level of “food processing” from your diet.   Clearly, a reduction in factory-processed and potentially chemically-treated foods is a way to eat more naturally and help restore body health.  In fact, many people have told us that they “feel better” after being weaned from artificially processed foods, sugar and dairy.  Who am I to argue?

The following recipe for West African Chicken Stew is reprinted from the Healthy Foodie Blog, which has some gorgeous photos on how this dish is assembled.  While the author of the blog substituted chicken breasts, I strongly recommend using chicken thighs because they have far more flavor.  We served this lovely stew with coconut cauliflower rice (also available in Well Fed 2).

WEST AFRICAN CHICKEN STEW

Ingredients (Serves 2 to 4)

  • 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil  
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Salt and ground black pepper  
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)  
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated (about 1 tablespoon)  
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)  
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground coriander  
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper  
  • 1 bay leaf  
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes  
  • 1/4 cup water  
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seed butter (no sugar added)  
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract  
  • garnish: minced fresh parsley leaves, sunflower seeds

Preparation

  1. Sprinkle the chicken enthusiastically with salt and pepper. Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes. Add coconut oil and allow it to melt. Add the chicken in a single layer and brown well on both sides, about 10 minutes. (Don’t crowd the pan; cook in batches if you need to.) Remove the chicken to a bowl to catch the juices.  
  2. In the same pot, cook the onions and ginger until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, coriander, cayenne, and bay leaf, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and water, stirring to combine. Nestle the chicken into the sauce, along with any juices it released. Increase the heat to bring the pot to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 25 minutes.  
  3. Remove the chicken from the pot; it will be very tender. Break the chicken into large pieces with the side of a wooden spoon. Add the sunflower seed butter and vanilla to the pot and mix to combine. Return the chicken to the pot and cover. Heat through, about 5 minutes, then serve, sprinkled with parsley and sunflower seeds.

Enjoy.  This recipe is a little spicy but delicious.  It can easily be made ahead of time and reheated.  Thank you Melissa. We love your cookbook!

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

LuLu’s West Indies Salad Recipe

During our delightful getaway to Perdido Key in the Florida panhandle several years ago, our good friends Christy and John F. took us by boat through the intercostal waterways to LuLu’s in Homeport, Alabama.

Lulu's West Indies Salad

LuLu’s is the brainchild of Lucy Anne Buffet, the sister of Jimmy Buffet, who resurrected a small family-owned property in Homeport and quickly turned it into a world famous restaurant. LuLu’s well-deserved reputation is owed in great part to the caring and delightful food that is served there and their friendly staff. This is the real deal for all who appreciate fine food.

LuLu’s West Indies Salad has been adapted by Lucy from a recipe of Bayley’s Steak and Seafood restaurant in Mobile, Alabama. In her delightful cookbook – with a very interesting introduction – entitled Crazy Sista Cooking, Lucy Anne Buffet lays out her recipes in simple yet easy to follow steps.

Now, I did not eat the salad shown below, but I certainly would have given it a go because of its elegant simplicity. Lucy cautions to use the ice cubes as described below to chill the water. I think it probably has something to do with the amount of water added to the crabmeat, but this looks great served with pink champagne.

LuLu’s West Indies Salad

Ingredients (Serves 4-6 as an appetizer)

  • 1 lb fresh jumbo lump blue crabmeat (regular lump crab OK, but watch for shell bits)
  • Salt to taste (1/2 teaspoon)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste (1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 medium Vidalia (or sweet) onion, sliced paper thin, in half moon shapes
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup ice water (with 4-5 ice cubes)

Preparation

  1. Place half the crabmeat gently in th bottom of a glass bowl or plastic container, carefully picking out any shell. Sprinkle with just a smidgen of salt and pepper.
  2. Cover crab with a layer of onion.
  3. Repeat steps with remaining crab, salt, pepper and onion.
  4. Pour oil and vinegar over layers.
  5. Place ice cubes in a liquid measuring cup. Fill with water until volume reaches 1/3 cup and pour over crab. (Ice cubes are essential but don’t pour the cubes into the mixture)
  6. Cover and marinate for at least 2 hours before serving.
  7. When ready to serve, shake bowl gently, or if using a leak-proof plastic container, turn upside down and back upright to gently mix salad.
  8. Serve in a shallow bowl with juice.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

How to Cook the Perfect Soft-Cooked Eggs

The last time I ate a soft-boiled egg was over 25 years ago when a particularly gooey drop of yolk decided to befriend my $150 Hermes tie.  Thanks to a botched job at the dry-cleaner, they have become inseparable friends and, as such, I decided then to give up both expensive ties and soft-boiled eggs.

Nevertheless, our daughter has insisted that I share a recent recipe that appeared on Cook’s Illustrated that explains how you “steam” rather than “cook” an egg to achieve a soft-cooked egg “that delivered a set white and a fluid yolk every time.” Before caving into our daughter’s request, I have decided to share the highlights of Cook’s Illustrated “science” required to achieve the perfect soft-cooked egg.

Science Class:  According to America’s Test Kitchen, the traditional way of cooking soft-cooked eggs is to add eggs to boiling water. Sadly, this lowers the temperature of the water and makes for uneven cooking results depending on when eggs are added, hom many,  and how quickly the water reaches the boiling temperature again after each immersion.

The folks at America’s test kitchen have found that “steaming” eggs in a small amount of water achieves consistently perfect results.

How to Cook Perfect Soft-Cooked Eggs

Note:  This recipe works for any number of eggs.  Use large eggs that have no cracks and are cold from the refrigerator.

Preparation

  1. Bring 1/2 inch of water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Using tongs (or better yet a steamer basket), gently place the refrigerated eggs into the boiling water.  The eggs will not be submerged.  Cover the saucepan and cook the eggs for 6 1/2 minutes.
  2. Remove cover, transfer saucepan to sink and place under cold running water for 30 seconds.  Remove eggs from pan and serve, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

This is a simple and foolproof way to cook perfect soft-boiled eggs.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Kit-Kat’s Protein-Packed Poached Salmon and Quinoa Bowl

Salmon is a rich oily fish.  Salmon is “high in protein, high omega-3 fatty acids, and high vitamin D content.”   Pair salmon with quinoa, which is also a rich source  of protein, dietary fiber, several B vitamins and dietary minerals, and you have a protein-packed meal that is great for diets.

Salmon and Quinoa Bowl Recipe

Inspiration for this wonderful recipe came from my niece, Katherine (aka Kit-Kat).   The beauty of this great recipe maybe prepared beforehand, is relatively simple to prepare and quite colorful.

I prefer to poach the salmon to avoid smells in the kitchen and then break off chunks depending on how many servings I need.  Most diets seem to call for 4 oz of protein and once you add quinoa and some color and greens you have a salad bowl that most gourmands would relish.

You can prepare the bowls before your guests arrive and refrigerate, but do try to bring the bowl to room temperature before serving.  Poached salmon will last about 3 days in the refrigerator.

Poaching Salmon

I have used the following New York Times recipe for years.  Once you poach the salmon, allow to cool to create several flavor-packed protein bowls.  Refrigerate the salmon and you can get several meals or snacks from leftovers.

Ingredients  (2 lbs makes eight 4 oz servings)

  • 1 small bunch fresh dill
  • Center cut for size consistency (roughly 4 oz per serving).  Wild salmon is great, but farm-raised salmon is fine if you are poaching.
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
  • 1 onion, peeled and quartered

Preparation

  • Place small bunch of dill with salmon SKIN UP in a large skillet or saucepan.
  • Cover with water, and add salt, sugar, mustard seeds, peppercorns and onion.
  • Place over high heat and bring to a boil.  Cook for 10 minutes.
  • Turn off heat and let salmon cool in water for an hour.
  • Remove skin.

Kit-Kat’s Poached Salmon and Quinoa Bowl

Ingredients (for eight 4 oz salmon servings)

  • 2 lbs of center-cut poached salmon (see preparation above)
  • 4 oz per serving of cooked quinoa (follow instructions, but drain thoroughly and allow to dry)
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped red pepper
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped scallions
  • Several arugula leaves (optional)
  • Sprig of mint
  • 1 wedge of lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

  • Add warm or room temperature quinoa to bowl
  • Pull apart about 4 oz of poached salmon and place on top of the quinoa
  • Add pepper, scallions and mint over salmon
  • Garnish wish wedge of lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bowls can be prepared beforehand, but cover if you plan to refrigerate.  Serve at near room temperature.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

White Balsamic Vinegar and Jicama Slaw Salad

Balsamic vinegar is frequently used in Italian cooking. In fact, many restaurants will often bring a bottle of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar to your table when dining.

White balsamic vinegar is found less frequently, but is often used in preparing foods where the dark color of balsamic vinegar may cause distraction.

Officially, there is no such thing as “white balsamic vinegar,” it is referred to as “condimento bianco” because it is not regulated by the Italian consortium and is not aged in wooden barrels like most fine balsamic vinegars from Modena.

We have sampled many white balsamic vinegars and found them lacking.  As such, we decided to private label our own white balsamic vinegar to use occasionally with salads and fish.

For those unfamiliar with condimento biancoit tends to be somewhat lighter and less viscous than good quality aged balsamic vinegar.  We find it particularly refreshing on spring and summer salads.

This following recipe is from Rebecca Rather and Alison Oresman and is reprinted in May, 2010 Epicurious from their cookbook: Pastry Queen Parties:  Entertaining Friends and Family, Texas Style.

white balsamic vinegar, jicama slaw salad

White Balsamic Vinegar and Jicama Slaw Salad

INGREDIENTS (12 Servings)

For Salad

  • 1 medium head napa cabbage (about 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 3 medium carrots, grated on the large holes
  • 1 large jicama (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into large matchsticks
  • 1 bunch chopped green onions, white part only
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into large matchsticks
  • 3/4 cup dried currants or dried cranberries

For White Balsamic Dressing

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1 medium lime)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar (Gourmet Living)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds

PREPARATION

To Make the Salad:
Trim off the cabbage root end, thinly slice crosswise, then chop into pieces that can be easily picked up with a fork. Combine the cabbage, carrots, jicama, green onions, apples, and dried currants in a large bowl.

To Make the Dressing:
Vigorously whisk together the garlic, lime juice, honey, oil, mustard, balsamic vinegar, and mayonnaise in a medium bowl until the dressing is thoroughly combined. Whisk in the fennel seeds and pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture. Stir until the dressing evenly covers the slaw. The slaw will be a little soupy, which is just the way I like it. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until ready to serve.

Variation
For those who plan to wear their summer shorts short, you can lighten the dressing: for the 1 cup mayonnaise, substitute 1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise plus 3/4 cup nonfat or low-fat yogurt.

white balsamic vinegar condimento bianco

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Skillet Chicken for Paleo and Mediterranean Diet

During winter, it seems like one’s batteries run down quite a bit quicker than they do on a warm summer’s day.   This is certainly true in my kitchen where I try to focus on hearty meals that I can prepare and then serve on more than one occasion.  Certainly, stews and soups can be refrigerated, so one can often can more than one meal with a little forward planning.

Paleo Mediterranean Chicken Skillet

I recently came across this appealing recipe on Pinterest.  The photograph, shown below, caught my eye and I decided to give this Paleo Mediterranean skillet chicken a go.  While it may be a bit heavy and elaborate for a summer meal, it hit the spot for a chilly evening at home and my husband and I can enjoy the leftovers another day.   The spinach leaves gave this hearty winter recipe a lively bit of color.

The recipe comes from a lovely website called Paleo Newbie, so if you are into Paleo diets, you may want to give it a go.  I can certainly recommend this particular dish – love the artichokes.

One Skillet Paleo Mediterranean Chicken

Ingredients (Serves 2 – 4)

  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 8 oz jarred artichoke hearts, liquid drained
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/3 cup Kalamata olives, chopped
  • 1 lb cooked organic chicken
  • Fresh spinach – a couple of handfuls
  • 2-3 tablespoon olive oil or ghee (1-2 tablespoons to sauté the veggies, another tablespoon for cooking)
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar  (Gourmet Living, of course!)
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped for garnish
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the chopped onions for 3-4 minutes
  2. Add the minced garlic and sauté together one more minute
  3. Add the sliced mushrooms to the sautéed onions and garlic and cook 5-7 minutes until the mushrooms are golden. Add salt and pepper to taste while cooking
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar to the pan then toss in the Roma tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and olives. Sprinkle in the parsley, oregano, and stir a few minutes
  5. Next add the chopped chicken and spinach to the pan – stir and cook 1-2 minutes, or until chicken is heated through. Add more salt and pepper if needed.
  6. Serve hot garnished with the fresh basil

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White Balsamic Vinegar Custard Tart with Seasonal Berries

Balsamic vinegar is frequently found in many Italian restaurants.  In fact, in northern Italy most tables will have a bottle of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.   You need to ask for butter!

White balsamic vinegar is found less frequently, but has become quite popular in preparing foods where the dark color of balsamic vinegar may detract from the colors of other ingredients.

Officially, there is no such thing as “white balsamic vinegar,” it is referred to as “condimento bianco” because it is not regulated by the Italian consortium and is not aged in wooden barrels like most fine balsamic vinegars from Modena.

white balsamic vinegar, balsamic berry tart

We have sampled many white balsamic vinegars and found them lacking.  As such, we decided to private label our own white balsamic vinegar to use occasionally with salads and fish.  In fact, this recipe takes it a bit further and is used in a dessert.

This delightful white balsamic custard tart with a fresh berry topping comes from a 2004 Bon Appetit recipe that is available on Epicurious.  We found it delightful, particularly with Gourmet Living’s new white balsamic vinegar.

White Balsamic Custard Tart with Fresh Berries
INGREDIENTS (8 Servings)

Crust

  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon whipping cream

Filling

  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar (Gourmet Living – Condimento Bianco)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

Topping

  • 2 large strawberries, hulled, sliced
  • 2 1/2-pint containers blueberries
  • 1 1/2-pint container raspberries
  • Note:  Feel free to substitute depending on the season

PREPARATION

For crust:

  1. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in processor; blend 5 seconds. Add butter and blend, using on/off turns, until coarse meal forms.
  2. Add egg yolk and cream. Using on/off turns, blend until moist clumps form.
  3. Gather dough into ball.
  4. Press dough evenly into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom.
  5. Pierce dough all over with fork. Chill 1 hour.
  6. Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake crust until golden, pressing with back of fork if crust bubbles, about 22 minutes. Cool.

For filling:

  1. Stir cream and cornstarch in medium bowl until cornstarch dissolves.
  2. Add eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla; whisk to blend.
  3. Boil vinegar in heavy medium saucepan until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add 3/4 cup water, sugar, and butter.
  5. Stir until butter melts; return to boil.
  6. Gradually whisk vinegar mixture into egg mixture; return to pan. Whisk until custard thickens and boils, about 1 minute.
  7. Strain into bowl; cool.
  8. Spread custard in prepared crust.
  9. Cover and chill tart at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.

For topping:

  1. Arrange strawberry slices in star pattern in center of tart (or some other variation).
  2. Arrange raspberries in star pattern. Surround with blueberries.
  3. Cover loosely and chill until ready to serve. (Can be made up to 6 hours ahead.)

white balsamic vinegar

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Mediterranean Diet, Paleo and Fast Metabolism Diet Compared

I am wedded to the many benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Nevertheless, I will occasionally experiment with other diets to shed a few unwanted pounds.

The Paleo and Fast Metabolism diet’s are two that support the nutritional benefits of the Mediterranean diet.  I believe the Mediterranean diet is far easier to follow as there are less “rules.” One must avoid factory-processed foods and limit the intake of carbohydrates.

As Dr. Kenneth Pelletier points out: “All diets are fad diets. At the same time, all diets work because people pay attention to what they eat while dieting.”

Found below is a brief “high-level” summary of the Paleo and Fast Metabolism diet’s.  The benefits of a “diet” are short-lived unless there is a conscientious change in eating habits.  For this reason, I refer to the Mediterranean diet as a lifestyle change. I consciously seek out seasonal fruits and vegetables and organic chicken and wild-caught fish rather than factory-processed foods and carbs.

Also, dine with family and friends (without the distraction of electronic devices). This encourages and reinforces good dining habits. Exposing children to healthy foods at an early age will most certainly curb obesity.

Paleo Diet Overview

The Paleo diet focuses on eating natural foods that a caveman might eat.  Actually, the diet is a shortened name for “the Paleolithic diet (also called the paleo diet, caveman diet or stone-age diet) and is based mainly on foods presumed to have been available to Paleolithic humans.

The diet focuses on eating natural foods which have not been processed or harvested.  For instance, dairy, cultivated crops (grains, cereals, legumes) and highly processed oils must be avoided.  Foods to consume in moderation on the Paleo diet would include tree nuts (almonds, but no peanuts), organic fruits and natural sweeteners like honey.

The Paleo diet is far more restrictive than the Mediterranean diet.  However, it does steer one clear of that great diet-buster:  factory-processed foods!   Furthermore, there are some wonderful recipes featuring many “forgotten” foods from the Middle East and Africa.  One of my favorites is the West African Chicken Stew, featured in a delightful Paleo diet cookbook from Melissa Joulwan called Well Fed 2.

There are many good Paleo cookbooks.  I will often incorporate many of their innovative and international recipes into my cooking.  My only reservation is that I love cheese, some pasta and the occasional glass of wine with my meal (all No Nos!).

Fast Metabolism Diet Overview

The Fast Metabolism Diet also rejects fast-food and processed foods and is quite similar to the Paleo diet.  Nevertheless, it does allow you to incorporate vegetables and fruits into your diet during certain phases.

Without getting into too much detail, the Fast Metabolism Diet, tricks the body into “not knowing what food comes next,” which causes the body to burn the food rather than store it as fat.  For instance, during one phase of the diet you eat certain fruits but no legumes.  During another phase, you eat legumes, but no fruits.  Overall, the Fast Metabolism diet is a somewhat more balanced diet than Paleo, but you need a spreadsheet to track meals.  Fortunately, there is a Fast Metabolism App for those technically connected.

Also, you eat 5 meals a day (2 snacks).  Again, like the Paleo diet you should avoid eat dairy products, wheat and potatoes.

The Fast Metabolism Diet will help you shed weight – and many family members swear by it.  However, it requires considerable planning and faultless execution (particularly during the first two weeks) to see results.

Summary 

While I have had success with both the Paleo and Fast Metabolism diet’s, I prefer the flexibility of the Mediterranean diet to maintain my weight and still allow me to look forward to enjoying a well-balanced meal.  Nevertheless, there are many things to be said about these diets as they all encourage people to eat healthy non-processed foods.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Chicken and Walnut Salad Recipe

People complain that the Mediterranean diet is somewhat bland and lacking in “bite.” Personally, I have never found that to be the case, but I often look to the Far East for inspiration. Like balsamic vinegar in Italian cooking, I have found that soy sauce tends to add a special flavor that triggers a whole new host of tastes.

Salads are wonderful during the summer. The Chinese chicken and walnut salad below incorporates a number of Asian condiments – hoisin sauce and soya – that add a flavor complexity to an otherwise simple salad. The Napa cabbage has become a frequent ingredient for my summer salad preparations since I enjoy the “crunch.”

Napa cabbage

This recipe is a summer favorite and we normally serve it with shredded chicken rather than shrimp, but for those who are feather-challenged we provide you with a harvested-shrimp alternative.

A note on the dressing: Use it sparingly since it tends to overwhelm the rest of the ingredients. Toss in half of the dressing, taste and then add more if needed. This recipe is derived from several sources from my salad archives.

Chinese Chicken and Walnut Salad Recipe

Ingredients for Salad (Serves 4 easily)

  • 1 bunch of spinach
  • 1/2 bunch of Napa cabbage (don’t substitute)
  • 4 carrots julienned
  • 1 1/2 cups of walnuts
  • 1 red pepper julienned
  • 4 scallions sliced
  • 2 cups of shredded chicken or shrimp
  • 2 stalks of celery sliced
  • 1 small jalapeño thinly sliced

Ingredients for Dressing

  • 1/2 cup of oil
  • 1/4 cup of hoisin sauce (maybe less)
  • 1/4 cup of soy
  • 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon (heaping) of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon (heaping) of ginger
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds

Preparation

  1. Toss salad ingredients together
  2. Mix dressing thoroughly and then add about half of the dressing to the salad and toss thoroughly. Taste and then add more dressing to suit your taste.

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