Friday, September 19, 2014

Fig & Balsamic Jam

We have a few fig trees in our new yard here.  They were ripe when we moved in (over a month ago!) but we were so busy we didn't do much with them, except eat a few (two of our sons love fresh figs).  There were so many they couldn't keep up, though, and sadly, a lot of them rotted on the tree. Then, a friend who also lives in Italy posted on Facebook that she made some fig jam with her neighbor's figs, and I thought it would be a shame to let all of mine go to waste. So she inspired me to make jam the very next day.  I hope I'm not posting this too late; this was made about 2 weeks ago, and I think the fig season is over now, here, at least. Hopefully somebody can still use this recipe.  :)  
I was going to make the same recipe my friend posted, but I didn't have enough fresh lemon juice on hand.  So I had the idea to search for a Balsamic Vinegar jam recipe and was happy to find this one! It smelled pretty "earthy" when it was boiling away, but it tastes awesome; not earthy, and not even vinegary; it's nice and sweet.  The Balsamic adds a really nice flavor.  I also added a few cinnamon sticks to the mixture.

This jam is really good on bread, but I also want to try it paired with different cheeses.  Fig jam always reminds me of fall.  :)  My 3-year old absolutely LOVES this jam.
Fig & Balsamic Jam
adapted from Food

2 lbs fresh figs, (any variety) stems removed and coarsely chopped (do not peel)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (use a good-quality sweet balsamic)
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1.  Combine the figs, sugar, balsamic vinegar, and a cinnamon sticks in a large saucepan and attach a candy thermometer to the pan (optional). Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, stirring to break up the large pieces of fig, keeping a chunky consistency, until the jam reaches 220 degrees F. Remove from the heat. (I just cooked until about 215, because it was super thick already.  I would just cook to whatever consistency you like in jam.  At 215, the jam is not runny at all.)
2.  Remove the cinnamon sticks and stir in the lemon juice to taste. Spoon the jam into a canning jar or other storage container, cover, and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for up to 1 month. (Store in the freezer for longer, probably up to one year.)
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Monday, September 15, 2014

Mini Caprese Salads

We're trying to eat as much Caprese Salad as we can before really good tomatoes are out of season. The tomatoes are SO good here; especially these large grape tomatoes.  I've seen appetizers like this, with tiny fresh mozzarella balls, grape or cherry tomatoes, and basil on a toothpick to form tiny Caprese Salads, so I made this for us a few days ago.  Here in Italy, one can buy balsamic vinegar already reduced, which is the coolest thing ever; I love it.  Every time I've tried to make balsamic reduction, I always have to do it twice, because I always burn the first round, and burnt vinegar is so, so stinky.
Mini Caprese Salads
adapted from Cooking with Lucas

Grape or cherry tomatoes
Mini fresh mozzarella balls
Small fresh basil leaves
Good olive oil
Balsamic vinegar, or thick Balsamic reduction
salt and pepper, to taste

1.  Using toothpicks, skewer a tomato, mozzarella ball, and a basil leaf in rows on each toothpick.  Lay out on a platter, and drizzle olive oil and balsamic reduction or vinegar over.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper if desired.  Serve.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Classic No-Bake Cookies

Back in April, I posted two recipes for "fancy" (ha ha) no-bake cookies; one using Nutella, the other using Biscoff.  Those were delicious, but the other day, I made regular old-fashioned no-bakes, using cocoa powder and peanut butter. I figured I'd post the recipe here, so I don't have to go looking next time.

I use one from Allrecipes that includes a little less sugar, and also includes a little longer boiling time. A too-short boiling time is why sometimes batches will turn out gloppy and soft without ever setting up.  I'm not sure why one minute works for some people and not others, but I personally need to boil one and a half to almost two minutes for my cookies to come out properly.  I boil these for almost 2 minutes, and they come out perfectly, for me.  Your humidity, kitchen, pan, underwear, and sea level might make a difference.  I'm actually not sure what makes a difference.  So if you try these and they don't work out for you, experiment a little with the boiling time.  These cookies are like making fudge, where enough liquid has to boil off to form them correctly.
Classic No-Bake Cookies
adapted from Allrecipes
Makes 2-3 dozen, depending on size
1 3/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
3 cups quick-cooking oats
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.  Have peanut butter, oats, and vanilla ready to go (measure out pb and oats).  In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine sugar, milk, butter, and cocoa.  Bring to a boil, and cook for 1 1/2 minutes (can cook for 1 minute + 45 seconds to make sure they set up).  Remove from heat, and immediately stir in peanut butter, oats, and vanilla. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto wax paper. Let cool until hardened.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Scrambled Eggs with Feta, Ham, Tomatoes & Basil

Moving is hard.  We're still not fully unpacked and still waiting for some of our furniture to arrive.  I haven't really found my cooking mojo since we got here and am just making easy things or old favorites when I do cook.  Since I haven't been cooking much, we don't usually have leftovers for me to eat for lunch.  So I've been making this flavorful scrambled egg dish a few times a week at lunchtime.  I know people don't need "recipes" like this but it's all I've got right now.  :)  Lol!! Maybe it can at least provide some inspiration to someone out there.
Scrambled Eggs with Feta, Ham, Tomatoes & Basil
by What A Dish!

2 eggs
splash of milk
a bit of salt and pepper
olive oil
2 pieces deli ham, chopped (this is good without, too)
handful of grape tomatoes, rinsed and halved
1-2 tablespoons crumbled Feta cheese
3-4 basil leaves, washed and chopped or snipped

1.  Heat a small non-stick skillet over medium heat and add a bit of olive oil.  (I usually use stainless steel or cast-iron cookware, but will only use nonstick for eggs.)

2.  In a small bowl, crack the eggs and whisk with a fork.  Whisk in the milk.  Pour mixture into the hot pan, and let set for a little bit, and then scramble.  A small silicone spatula is the best tool for this. Add the ham and cook for a minute, then add the Feta.  Turn off the heat, and add the tomatoes. Place mixture on a plate and add basil on top.  Enjoy.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Cooking Class!

Last week, my husband and I met a friend and took the bus downtown to attend a cooking class.  Cooking with Lucas was awesome. We learned about food, made delicious food, ate it, and met some great people. This one happened to be a tomato class.  So we made two types of tomato sauce for pasta, bruschetta (pronounced brusKetta), we learned about and tasted his sun-dried tomatoes (those take days, so we didn't make those), and the class favorite, Caprese salad with really, really good fresh mozzarella.  I'll just post a bunch of pics below for you to enjoy.

Chopping onions for the long-simmered tomato sauce; the copper pot is a great pot for simmering sauces; as the sauce doesn't jump out of it at all.  Lucas buys the pots locally.

A huge pan of fresh cherry tomatoes and olive oil, ready for roasting.  Above, the finished sauce on some good pasta with fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.  So simple and good.
 Preparing the bread and tomato topping for a delicious bruschetta.
Lucas with his very good olive oil that he imports from another part of Italy.  Cool olive oil dispenser!  Three photos below are of the Caprese salad.  So delicious, flavorful, and fresh.  Really, really good.  Fun to photograph, too obvs. 

This is a painted fresco on Lucas's kitchen ceiling.  It was really awesome.  He lives in a historic downtown apartment building that used to be a castle and is nestled against the old city walls, right by the big archway into the "old" part of the city.  The whole experience was amazing and I really want to take more classes.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hotel Eatin'

We're in the hotel still, but I when we first got here, I bought a small 220v crockpot so I could cook here if needed, and I knew I'd need a 220v one soon enough anyway.  (I had 3 110v, or "American" crock pots before moving from our last place, but I finally sold the one I bought in 2001.  Lol.  Still have the others, coming.)  Anyway, last Sunday I made this shredded taco beef for tacos in the crockpot.  (BTW; in lieu of the spices I don't have on hand right now, I used half a taco seasoning packet.)  Since the kids don't love eating this meat in tacos for some reason, we had a lot leftover.
The next day, I wanted to use the rest of the beef, so I made quick microwave nachos with it.  This isn't really a "recipe" fit for a food blog, but I really got nothin' else.  Lol.  If we do eat in the hotel, it's been bread & cheese, fruit salad, Frito Pies, toast, crackers & cheese, ice cream and hot fudge...... (there is a small stove and a small pan, so I did make homemade hot fudge recently).  Luckily there is a plethora of delicious Italian restaurants out there for us to explore, so we're not eating too poorly.  I do want my own, larger  kitchen though.

Anyway, I'll be posting this as a recipe.... I know you can figure it out yourself, but you're welcome anyway. And loooook!!!  My first microwave recipe!!!  I think.

Shredded Beef Microwave Nachos
from yours truly

leftover shredded beef from tacos
shredded sharp cheddar cheese
favorite tortilla chips
sour cream
pickled jalapeno peppers
any extras you like, like fresh tomatoes, veggies, garnishes, etc.

1.  First, you need to warm up the leftover beef and break it into small enough pieces.  Place it on a microwave-safe plate and warm up for 30 seconds or until warm.  Cut or shred into smaller pieces using 2 forks or a knife.

2.  Lay out chips in a mostly single layer on a larger micro-safe plate.  Lay on shredded cheese, as much or as little as you like.  Then, layer on the warmed shredded beef.  Microwave for 30-60 seconds, or until cheese is melted.  Top with sour cream, jalapenos, and anything else you like.  Eat.  :)

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bowties with Asiago, Mascarpone, & Zucchini Blossoms

I finally cooked something in our tiny, barely stocked hotel kitchen!  Besides toast.  (We had to buy our own toaster... lol.)  After our trip to Asiago , I wanted to use up the Mascarpone and Asiago cheese we brought back.  This dish was perfect for that.  We picked up some Asiago Speck (like Prosciutto), too.  We visited a local grocery store where I got the mini bowties, and then I searched for asparagus, so I could make this old fave.   The store didn't have any asparagus, so instead, I got tiny, finger-sized zucchinis with the blossom still attached!!  They were SO cute and cheap; it was only 50-something Euro cents for 6-7 of them.  

I made the pasta with the above ingredients and it was SO good and flavorful, and everything I used was local, made in this region of Italy or a nearby.  Except the garlic, for some reason, which was from Spain. (Spain, I still love you.)  I love being able to use local ingredients like this- it was harder to do this when I lived in the Azores.  
I'll definitely make this dish again, with the changes and the fresh mascarpone & Asiago.  We get the keys to our house today, but won't move in right away.  In a few weeks though, I hope to be able to cook from my own kitchen!!  

Bowties with Asiago, Mascarpone, & Zucchini Blossoms
adapted from here

1/2lb mini bowtie pasta
1/2 cup pasta water, reserved
2T unsalted butter
1T extra virgin olive oil
1 large fresh garlic clove, minced
4-5 ounces Asiago speck or Prosciutto, coarsely chopped
1/2lb tiny zucchini with flowers attached, gently washed, dried, and chopped
1/2 cup (about 4oz) mascarpone cheese
salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup pine nuts, shelled pistachios, or a mix (toast first, if desired)
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup Asiago (medium to old-aged; I used 6 months aged) cheese, shredded
fresh grape tomatoes, optional

1.  In a large pot, cook pasta according to package directions, until al dente (about 7-10 minutes). Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water.

2.  Saute garlic, for 1 minute, in melted butter and oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add Asiago speck or Prosciutto and chopped zucchini and chopped zucchini flowers and sauté over medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes, until zucchini is crisp-tender. Do not overcook.

3.  Reduce heat to medium and add pasta and mascarpone; toss until cheese melts and coats pasta; slowly add reserved pasta water, as needed, to moisten (I used just a few tablespoons).

4.  Remove from heat and add toasted nuts. Toss with Asiago cheese and fresh basil. Season with salt & pepper (you may not need any additional salt). Top with fresh grape tomatoes, if desired.  Serve immediately.
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