Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cheese & Tomato Tart

I meant to make this during the summer with peak-of-season tomatoes, but I just didn't get to it with moving in and everything.  We're still getting semi-decent tomatoes here, so I decided to just make it with those.  Well, it was super delicious; I can't even imagine how good it would be with homegrown summer tomatoes.  My husband and I loved this.  (My frozen puff pastry package came with two, so I made one plain one for the kids with cheese and bacon.  Lol.  I knew they wouldn't go for the tomatoes.... weirdos.  And, making this made me realize I need to take advantage of using store-bought puff pastry more often!  It's awesome!!)
Cheese & Tomato Tart
adapted from The Kitchn

2 ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/8-inch slices
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (approx)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (approx)
2 tablespoons finely chopped basil (or dried)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Lay out the tomato slices on a large sheet of paper towels. Cover with more paper towels and allow to drain for approximately 30 minutes (this is crucial to not getting a watery tart). Meanwhile, remove the sheet of puff pastry from the freezer and allow to thaw at room temperature for 30-60 minutes. (Mine was not thawed in 30 minutes and cracked when I tried to unroll it- err on the side of more time to thaw.)

2. Unfold the puff pastry onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, pinching to close any holes in the seams. Using a fork, prick the dough all over to prevent it from puffing up during baking.

3. Sprinkle the puff pastry evenly with shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. Arrange the tomato slices over the cheese. Season generously with kosher salt and pepper. Grate a generous amount of Parmesan cheese on top and garnish with freshly chopped basil or sprinkle on some dried.

4. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the cheese is melted. Remove the pastry from the baking sheet and let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Cut into squares and serve immediately.
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Monday, October 27, 2014

Nutella Banana Bread

A little while ago, I had some bananas that were really turning, so I made banana bread.  I wanted to make a loaf for our neighbors, and thought this would be a good recipe to try; bridging our two countries!  (Banana bread for us, Nutella for Italy.)  Well, it was a hit!  They told us they loved it.  They had never heard of banana bread before.  Then, this last weekend, we brought them Snickerdoodles and Nutella No-Bake cookies.  They said they loved those ones too, but the good sweets are bad for the diet!  ;)
This bread is made with buttermilk, and I just love using buttermilk in baked goods.  It's also scented with cinnamon.  Then you swirl pure Nutella through the batter, and on top.  I even used a little less Nutella than indicated and it turned out perfect!  I didn't have hazelnuts on hand when I made this, but they would be delicious.  

Nutella Banana Bread
adapted from Baking the Goods

4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/3 cupcanola or vegetable oil
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
4 medium sized bananas
4 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, optional
1 cup Nutella (add an extra 1/2 cup if desired)
1.  Preheat the oven to 350°.  Lightly grease and flour two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans and set aside.

2.  Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl and whisk together.

3.  Peel the bananas into a medium bowl and mush them with the back of a wooden spoon until they resemble a puree.  Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the sugar, brown sugar, oil and banana puree on medium-high speed for 3-5 minutes, until fully blended.  Crack the eggs into a liquid measuring cup and whisk in the vanilla. With the mixer on a low speed, slowly add the eggs to the banana mixture. Continue to mix until the eggs are fully incorporated.

4.  Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until the the dry ingredients are absorbed. Then add half of the buttermilk. Mix together and repeat with half of the remaining dry ingredients and the remainder of the buttermilk. Finally add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add 1 cup of the chopped hazelnuts, if using, and mix in by hand.

5.  Fill one prepared pan halfway with the batter. Dollop in about 1/4 cup of Nutella and gently swirl into the batter mixture using a butter knife or a small spatula. Be careful not to over-mix the two, you want a nice line of Nutella swirling through the bread. (If the Nutella is too thick to work with, transfer to a microwave safe bowl and zap it for 15-20 seconds to soften it up a bit).  Cover the Nutella swirled batter with a second layer of batter, fill until the loaf pan is about almost full. Swirl another 1/4 cup of Nutella over the top layer.  Repeat with second loaf pan.  Top both loaves with remaining chopped hazelnuts, if using.

6.  Bake on 350° for 30 minutes, rotate the pans and bake for another 30 minutes. Lower the temperature to 325°, rotate the pans again and bake for 20-30 additional minutes. The loaves should turn a deep golden brown and begin to crack at the top. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.  Cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove the bread loaves from pans and invert onto the rack to cool completely before slicing.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Slow Cooker Tomato Tortellini Soup

Here's another tomato soup recipe (I have a lot on here), and this one is made in the slow cooker, and contains tortellini.  I thought this was very good.  The original recipe was huge, so I cut it down quite a bit.  My local tiny grocery store had very good refrigerated tortellini and also, inexpensive hunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Love it!  My kids love grating that over any kind of food at dinnertime, if I put it out.  Or just grating it into their own hand with the microplane grater and eating it.

Slow Cooker Tomato Tortellini Soup
adapted from

2 medium carrots, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 (28 oz) cans whole Roma tomatoes
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. white sugar
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
8-10 oz refrigerated cheese tortellini (I used cheese + spinach)3
3/4 cup heavy cream
Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan, shredded, for serving

1.  Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add carrots and onions and sauté about 3-4 minutes; add garlic and sauté 1 minute longer.  Pour mixture into a large slow cooker and add the tomatoes, broth, basil, bay leaf, and sugar.  Stir and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover slow cooker and cook on LOW for 6-7 hours or HIGH 3-3 1/2 hours.

2.  Remove bay leaf, then puree mixture well with an immersion blender.  If soup is too thick, add about 1/2 cup of water or broth to thin. Stir in the tortellini, cover and cook on HIGH for 15 minutes longer, or until heated through.  Stir in heavy cream and turn off slow cooker.  Serve topped with the cheese and fresh basil. 

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Friday, October 17, 2014

One-Pot Chicken & Rice

This was a good and simple chicken dish with great flavor.  The rice, chicken and peas all cook together in the same pot.  Add a salad to round this out a bit more.  You may want to use a non-stick pot, because my rice kind of burned onto my stainless steel pot.  It didn't taste bad though; actually, I was scraping those brown parts off and eating them because they tasted good to me!  I used a cut-up chicken for this, but you could probably use chopped boneless chicken if you want; just cook for less time. 
One-Pot Chicken & Rice
adapted from Cake Duchess
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds chicken legs and thighs (or 1 cut-up whole chicken; minus wings)
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup medium- or long-grain white rice
1 3/4 cup vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup peas (frozen)
salt and pepper, to taste
squeeze of lemon juice

1.  Add the oil to a Dutch oven on medium-high heat. (I used stainless steel and the rice stuck badly, but still tasted good.  Will try non-stick next time.)  When oil is heated, add the chicken pieces, skin side down. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper and cook for about 5-10 minutes. Turn the chicken over and sprinkle on a little more salt and pepper (to taste) and cook; approximately 10-15 minutes total. When evenly browned, remove the chicken pieces from the pan.

2.  Remove some of the oil if necessary (you'll just need 2 Tablespoons) and add the onions. Cook until they are transluscent. Add the rice and bay leaf. Stir to combine.  Add the broth and bring to a boil. Place the chicken pieces back in the pan and make sure the rice is surrounding the chicken all around it (not all the rice in one pile underneath it).

3.  Cover the pan with the lid. Lower the heat and let it simmer for about 25 minutes. (If you would like to check the temperature of the chicken, put the thermometer in thickest part of the thigh and temperature should be between 155-165 F) The rice should be tender and the chicken cooked through. If the rice seems too dry and the chicken isn't ready, add another 1/4 cup of hot stock and let it cook for about another 10 minutes. When it is cooked, remove the pan from the heat; add the peas and check the seasoning. Add the lemon juice (optional). Add more salt and pepper, if needed. Remove the bay leaf. Stir together to combine and let the pan sit with the lid on for about 10 minutes.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Local Food

Every Friday morning, my little town has a "Zero Kilometer" outdoor market, where local vendors to come to sell their produce, cheese, honey, meat, and bread. I think these vendors have to grow/make their products in a few-kilometer radius of my town to qualify to sell here.  I love it; it's so cute and quaint, and many people show up to buy things, socialize with each other, and let their toddlers play in the town square.  I've gone for the last two weeks, and my little boy loves it.  He likes buying the food, but most of all, he likes to play on the cute little play equipment on the town square.  We've tried getting gelato once, but he wasn't interested, so I'll take the bigger kids for that.
Cauliflower, apples, fresh pasta, honey, bread, cheese.
The macarons if the first pic are actually from a bakery in the town square, right behind where the outdoor market sets up.  So they are local, too.  :)  Besides the Friday market, there is a bigger market on Saturdays where vendors from farther away come, so there are 2-3 HUGE produce stands, 2 cheese stands, assorted meats/fish, clothing, shoes, etc.  There's a roast chicken stand which is hugely popular and sells delicious roast chicken, fries, and other prepared foods for a very good price.  We tried it last Saturday.  My little town also has 3 very well-stocked grocery stores. It's such a change from where I used to live!  I can get pretty much anything in my little town.  Plus, last Saturday we discovered a bunch more things that I will talk about later (bread bakery, a few delis, wine store, etc).
The two pics above are from my first trip to the Friday market.  I had this plate all set up to take a pic, and my little boy couldn't help swiping one of the apple slices.  My kids love the food from the market; every Friday they ask if I bought some bread that day.  (The market is only in the mornings.) I look forward to exploring the little stores in my town more.
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Monday, October 6, 2014

Fig Jam Brownies

I spotted this recipe at Taste of Beirut and wanted to make them right away because I had just made this Fig & Balsamic Jam.  These brownies were good; mine turned out more cakey, but with a delicious flavor.  (The blog owner responded with some advice about that, see note, below, in recipe.) I used dark cocoa powder so these were intensely chocolate, which went well with the sophisticated flavor of fig.  My kids loved these; I didn't tell them they were fig jam brownies until after they were all gone, just in case, but they seemed to take it in stride, and said "cool!"  (Most of them love fresh figs).  

Fig Jam Brownies
adapted from Taste of Beirut

2 large eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons fig jam
6 ounces unsalted butter
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
3/4 cup all-purpose flour*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Beat the eggs with the sugar in a mixing bowl till thick, pale-colored and the mixture forms a ribbon. Meanwhile, gently melt the butter over the stove (or in the microwave); mix in the cocoa till combined. Cool a bit then add to the egg mixture along with the jam.. Add the flour mixed with the baking powder and salt. (If you want fudgy brownies, decrease the flour by 1/4 cup.)

2. Pour into a brownie pan lined with baking paper and bake in a preheated 350F oven for about 20 minutes. Cool and serve.

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Potato Salad with Pesto & Quail Eggs

One of my local grocery stores had quail eggs the last time I was there, which I thought were so cool, so of course I bought some.  (BTW, in my town alone there are at least 3 well-stocked grocery stores!! Within 1-3 kilometers from my house!  It's awesome.  Italian food... everywhere.)  They sat in my fridge for a while before I decided to finally use them.  I just didn't know what to do with them! Browsing the internet, I somehow came across this recipe.
This is a British recipe, and it's in grams.  I just used my food scale, and didn't bother to convert anything.  I'll leave the grams as-is. Owning a food scale is a really good idea for any kitchen!  :) The recipe calls for a British potato called Jersey Royal, but I believe those are hard to get outside of England, so I used a local, waxy yellow potato that worked well.  I enjoyed this recipe while still warm. Refrigerated, it was good, but the flavors mellowed out.  So enjoy this freshly-made if you can.  Oh, I also cut the recipe in half because my kids don't like potato salad.  
See how tiny quail eggs are?  They are SO small.  That's my three-year old's small hand next to the container of quail eggs.  He was quite fascinated by them.  If you can't get quail eggs, use regular eggs; they taste the same to me.
Potato Salad with Pesto & Quail Eggs
adapted from The Guardian 
I cut this in half, and it still seemed to make a lot

15-18 quail eggs
800g yellow potatoes, cleaned but not scrubbed/peeled
20g basil leaves
20g parsley leaves, plus extra for garnishing
60g Parmesan, grated
60g pine nuts or walnuts
2 cloves garlic, crushed
200ml olive oil
150g frozen petit pois, thawed on counter (petite green peas)
½ tsp white-wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

1.  Put the eggs in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil: simmer for 30 seconds (semi-soft) to two minutes (hard-boiled), according to taste. Refresh in cold water and peel.

2.  Cook the potatoes for 15-20 minutes until soft but not falling apart. Meanwhile, put the basil, parsley, Parmesan, pine nuts and garlic in a food processor and blitz to a paste. Add the oil and pulse until you have a runny pesto.

3.  As soon as they are cool enough to handle, cut the potatoes in bite-size chunks (they will absorb more flavour when hot) and toss with the pesto, peas, and vinegar. Mix well, even crush the potatoes slightly, so all the flavours mix. Taste and adjust the seasoning, being generous with the pepper. Cut the eggs in half and fold into the salad. Garnish with parsley.
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