Monday, October 31, 2011

Acorn and Butternut Squash Sformato with Parmesan Cream and Balsamic Glaze

Sformato is a molded dish similar to a souffle, heartier in texture and not as airy. I've seen them made with peas, spinach, fennel, cauliflower, sweet potatoes and carrots just to name a few. It can be served as a first course, a side dish or a light vegetable entree.

Recently I've made both the acorn and butternut squash versions, and I seriously can't tell you which one I liked best, just one taste and you'll be forever hooked! Think about it, intensely flavored squash mixed in with a cheesy creamy goodness that creates a fluffy- like texture and topped off with a sweet balsamic glaze!

Now don't let the ingredients scare you, it's a little on the decadent side but the recipe fills 4 ramekins so do the math, it's not that much. So far I've made this as a side with pork chops and I've eaten it alone just with a salad, a perfect autumn veggie dinner!

Roasting your squash ahead of time makes it all come together really quick. Which ever squash you use cut them in half, scoop out the seeds, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast cut side down on parchment 350F until knife goes through, time varies depending on size of squash. Scoop out the squash and puree in a food processor. Into a bowl place **2 cups of pureed squash** 1 egg** 1/3 cup of grated parmesan or romano cheese** 2 tablespoons of mascarpone cheese** 1/2 cup of half and half** salt and pepper**. Pour the mixture almost to the top of buttered ramekins. Place in a baking pan with water to come about halfway up the sides, cover and bake for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven, or until the mixture is set and cooked through. Let rest a few moments, unmold and serve. 4 servings

Place your little Italian souffle in a puddle of parmesan cream sauce if you so desire, made by reducing cream ( I used half and half) in a pan and sprinkling in some parmesan cheese. To finish it off drizzle on some balsamic glaze!

Recipe inspired by Chef Tony Priolo

I'm quite sure you're going to thank me for this one!

Buon Appetito!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Six wines under £6 from Sainsbury’s

This week it’s Sainsbury’s turn to knock 25% off any wine in their range if you buy six bottles. I thought their wines were showing particularly well at their recent press tasting, especially their own label ‘Taste the Difference’ range. Here are six bargains under £6

Macon Villages ‘Les Côtes Blanches’ 2010 (down from £7.99 to £5.99)
A good chance to pick up a very decent basic white burgundy at a knockdown price. Very useful Christmas drinking - would work particularly well with Christmas leftovers and smoked salmon.

Taste the Difference Coolwater Bay Marlborough Sauvignon 2011
If you’re a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc fan you’ve got to go for this. It’s already down from £8.49 to £6.49, now £4.87 when you buy 6 bottles. (That doesn’t mean I think you should take advantage of the other cut price offers being advertised on top of the 25% off deal which are by and large pretty dull.)

Taste the Difference Tuscan Red 2009 (down from £5.99 to £4.49)
At the full price this is a good value Chianti alternative. At the discounted price it’s a steal. Great drinking with pasta and pizza

Flor de Nelas Seleçao, Dao 2009 (down from £7.99 to £5.99)
Portugal is currently offering some of the best value drinking in Europe and this is a rich, spicy characterful red that you should enjoy if you’re a fan of wines from the Rhone. Good with roasts, braises and pies - posh enough to serve at a dinner party

Taste the Difference Fairtrade Carmenère 2010 (down from £6.99 to £5.24)
A typically Chilean red - very lush and ripe so possibly not for you if you’re a fan of more classic French styles but a great wine to drink with spicy stews and curries - and even with the turkey. And it’s Fairtrade which is always worth supporting.

Chateau David Bordeaux Supérieur 2010 (down from £6.49 to £4.87)
Bordeaux under a fiver? Yes, hard to believe but it’s true. An attractive young fruity claret that would drink well with cold turkey, ham and other Christmas leftovers. Or with hard British regional cheeses like cheddar.

If you don't want to buy six bottles Sainsbury's also has a 'buy 4, save 10%' offer on its range 'in selected stores' (but not locals) which will save you a bit but I'd go for the six if you can run to it. Both offers finish at midnight on November 1st.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hachis parmentier (aka French shepherd's pie)

I've been thinking of making this French take on shepherds pie for a while but what prompted it was having a large bunch of parsley in the fridge. (You can't win with herbs - either you get a ridiculously small packet that costs the earth or a huge bunch that you end up wasting.)

There are of course many ways of making hachis parmentier which is basically a leftovers dish. A lot of recipes base it on a stew but you can make it with mince which is what I've done here having picked up a cut price pack in the Co-op reduced from £2.50 to £1.65. You can add some fried onion and garlic to it (which I did) and some finely chopped carrot and celery if you want. You don't really want it gravy-ish so chuck in half a glass of red wine if you have some and a splash of beef or chicken stock. (It's worth keeping frozen stock in an ice-cube tray when you need this kind of amount.)

The parsley is a touch I remember from a French cookery writer called Mireille Johnston who presented a BBC series back in the 90s. The books that accompanied the series were great but I left the relevant one in France so had to cook it from memory. If your kids don't like 'green bits' as many children don't you could cut the amount of parsley back to a single layer or mix it up with the mince so they don't (hopefully) notice, although, of course, the little blighters always do.

I can't remember if it had a layer of mash at the bottom of the dish but it's a good idea because you get some delicious stuck on crusty bits at the bottom of the pie.

Hachis Parmentier
Serves 2-4 depending on whether teenage boys are involved
2-3 tbsp light olive or sunflower oil
450g minced beef or lamb
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 level tbsp tomato paste
75ml beef or chicken stock (or frozen stock cubes)*
75ml red wine (or 1 tbsp red wine vinegar and an extra 75ml of beef stock)
Pinch of cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A good big handful of fresh parsley, stalks removed and finely chopped

For the potato topping
800g boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into even-sized pieces (halves or quarters depending on size)
25g soft butter
A good splash of warm milk (about 3 tbsp)
40g comté, gruyère or cheddar cheese (optional)
Salt and pepper

You will also need a medium sized shallow baking dish (I used a rectangular dish that was 26cm x 21cm)

Heat a large frying pan, add 1 tbsp of the oil and fry half the mince until lightly browned. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon, letting the fat run back into the pan then discard the fat. Add the remaining mince to the pan, brown it and drain off the fat in a similar way. Add the remaining oil and fry the onion over a low heat for about 5 minutes until soft. Stir in the crushed garlic and tomato paste and cook for a few seconds. then add the wine, if using and beef or chicken stock. Tip the mince back in the pan, bring to simmering point then season with salt, pepper and a pinch of cinnamon. Turn the heat right down and leave on a low heat for about 20 minutes. (If it gets a bit dry add an extra splash of stock or some of the potato cooking water.)

Meanwhile put the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Cook for about 20 minutes until you can stick the point of a knife in them easily. Drain the potatoes, return them to the pan and cut them up roughly with a knife. Mash them thoroughly with a potato masher or fork. Beat in the butter and warm milk. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Butter your ovenproof dish well and cover the base with a thin layer of mash (just over a third of the total). Sprinkle half the parsley over the top (as above) then cover with the mince. Add the remaining parsley then and spread the potato evenly over the top, roughing up the surface with the prongs of a fork. Sprinkle with grated cheese, if using. Place the dish on a baking tray and bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is crisp and brown. (If you make it ahead and cool it down before baking it it'll take more like 45 minutes)

* when you make a batch of stock it's worth reducing it then freezing it in an ice cube tray when you need a small amount of stock for a recipe like this

Monday, October 24, 2011

Soup, Sandwiches and Dessert

I haven't been cooking much lately, it's been a whirl wind couple of weeks here as I lost a much loved cousin of mine to cancer, but recently I had to pull together a quick lunch for visiting family, fortunately I had all the ingredients to make this Sausage and Chard Soup. A big pot of comforting soup simmering on the stove always hits the spot.

Brown 1/2 lb. of crumbled Italian sausage, ( I used spicy)** Toss in 2 chopped carrots, 1 chopped onion and 1 large minced garlic clove** Add 1 1/2 cans of drained cannelini beans ( reserve half can) and a few cups of chopped swiss chard or kale** Pour in 1 1/2 boxes of chicken stock ( reserve the other half box)** If you have a cheese rind or two, put that in** Season with salt, pepper and a sprig of rosemary** Take the remaining 1/2 can of beans and the rest of the broth and place both in a bowl and if you have an immersion blender or just a regular blender give it a whirl and pour into the pot, this will act like a thickening agent. Cook until veggies are tender, it doesn't take long.

In the meantime I sent the husband out to a nearby deli to pick up some Italian Subs consisting of provolone, salami, capicola, mortadella, tomato, onion and oil all on fresh Italian bread.

Worried that it wasn't enough I quickly made some, Peppers and Eggs. Five or six large peppers seeded and cut into strips then sauteed in olive oil until soft, add in a dozen beaten eggs and lots of grated romano cheese, salt and pepper.

This is a big family favorite, such a humble sandwich that tastes like a million bucks! We've been eating this since we were kids, I always top mine with hot giardinera!

No time to bake? No problem! Just make a quick stop at our favorite Italian Bakery, you can never go wrong with Napoleans, Sfogliatelle, and fresh filled Cannoli's!

For all my local peeps if you haven't already done so please check out The Italian Bakery at 82 E. Lake St. Addison, Il. Always consistant and good!

Have I told you that they make a great cannoli cake? We order them all the time! Cash Only.

But my personal favorite are their cannoli's, crunchy and creamy with every bite! Now all you need to do is put on a big pot of coffee, a match made in heaven!

Recently I was gifted by the Fairy Hobmother just for leaving a comment on my friend Claudia's blog which I'm a regular visitor of anyway, a nice surprise in the midst of a very stressfull week. The nice thing is one of you will receive a gift too just by leaving a comment on this blog post from the nice people of "Appliances Online"who are currently promoting the "Bosch" eco friendly appliance range.

I used my gift card towards a new and shiny pizzelle maker, I see all different flavored pizzelles in my near future here on Proud Italian Cook!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wine of the Week: Sainsbury's Moscatel de Valencia

Moscatel de Valencia, a sweet wine from Southern Spain, has always been good value but it's extraordinary that it still costs only £3.89 a bottle (in most branches of Sainsbury's). A whole bottle, not a half, like most other dessert wines.

OK, it's not particularly fashionable but it tastes just gorgeous. It has a deliciously orangey character that would make it a fantastic pairing for apple tart, pie or crumble (served with cream rather than custard), light chocolate desserts (plain rather than with berries) and - thinking ahead to Christmas - Christmas pudding which is always a tricky one to match. You could also partner it with a Spanish style 'flan' or crème caramel.

As the name indicates, it's a muscat, fortified with a little spirit to bring it up to 15%. Drink it nice and cold.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Aggie's Granny’s scones

It's taken me a couple of days to get the recipe I promised you from Aggie MacKenzie's new book. I went for these scones because they look so delicious and involve so few ingredients. I suspect there's more to them than meets the eye - they look so fabulously light but have a go. This is what Aggie says about them:

"These are legendary. My mother’s mother made them almost daily (bread was a once-a-week delivery in the remote north-west of Scotland) and they were eaten with crowdie, which is a cream cheese that’s sharp and dense. My mother does these too, and they are the talk of the area. And of course it’s the recipe I always use. A few ingredients to get together, sure, but my goodness the results are unbeatable."

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: around 10 minutes
Makes 16 scones

40g/1½oz/3 tbsp butter
1 level tbsp golden (light corn) syrup
1 medium egg
300ml/10fl oz/1¼ cups buttermilk 
(if you can get it) or milk
450g/1lb/3¼ cups plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 heaped tsp cream of tartar
1 heaped tsp salt

Preheat the oven to the hottest setting (Have checked this with Aggie who says 240°C/Gas 9) 
and place a large baking sheet inside. Melt the butter and syrup together in 
a pan. Mix the egg and buttermilk together. Put the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add both the wet mixtures to the dry 
ingredients and stir with a large metal spoon. (If you use milk instead of 
buttermilk, the mix might seem too wet 
but fear not.)

Have lots of flour on your work surface 
and empty the mix on to it. Sprinkle on a good layer of flour. Gently roll out into a rough circle about 2cm/¾in thick. Cut up into 16 pieces; some will be square, some will be corners, but they’ll all taste 

Arrange on the hot baking sheet (no need 
to grease), spaced 
a little apart. Put in the oven for about 
7-8 minutes until nicely golden. Cool on 
a wire rack.

From Aggie's Family Cookbook, published by Pavilion Books, price £20.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Six wines for under £6 at Waitrose

Waitrose has one of those increasingly popular 25% across the board discounts if you buy six bottles offer (12 if you buy online) which lasts until next Tuesday. Trawling through my tasting notes I must admit I struggled to reach my self-appointed target of six bottles to recommend under £6 which shows how much prices have crept up lately but here's a half dozen I think you'll enjoy:

Cuvée Chasseur 2010 (down from £4.35 to £3.26)
This warm southern blend of carignan, grenache and merlot is a reliable standby at its full price but well worth snapping up at this reduction if you're planning to mull wine for Hallowe'en, Bonfire Night or even Christmas. Fine with robust pasta dishes and stews too.

Castillo la Paz Tempranillo/Shiraz 2010 La Mancha (down from £6.99 to £5.24)
Something of a poor man's rioja though to be honest there's a lot of cheap rioja around the £5-6 mark at the moment. Has that appealing gentle soft cooked strawberry fruit that's typical of Tempranillo - with a generous lick of vanilla. A good wine for roast lamb or a cheeseboard.

Chapel Hill Pinot Noir 2009 Hungary (down from £6.99 to £5.24)
It's hard to find a good sub £10 Pinot Noir but this is a real steal. Quite light and delicate it could easily pass for a red burgundy twice the price. If you're lucky enough to be able to source cheap pheasant or rabbit this is the bottle to serve with it. (And if you miss the 25% off deal it will be on special offer at £5.24 until November 8th)

Inycon Grower's Selection Fiano 2010 Sicily (down from £6.69 to £5.02)
If you like chardonnay you'll love this rich, full-bodied Sicilian white which would go well with creamy chicken or pasta dishes or recipes with butternut squash. Good party drinking too.

Excelsior Heritage Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Robertson, South Africa (down from £7.29 to £5.47)
A slightly different style from New Zealand sauvignon blanc - less gooseberryish, more citrussy with a lovely streak of lemon peel - this would go well with all kinds of seafod especially dishes flavoured with chilli and coriander. A lot of wine for the money. (Also available on offer at £5.79 from the 19th to November 8th if you miss this offer.)

Tabali Encantado Late Harvest Muscat 2010 Limari Valley, Chile (£7.79 down to £5.84)
You might find this slightly less useful given that it's a) only available in half bottles and b) only in 173 branches but if you can lay your hands on one as part of your cut-price haul it's a real treat. Exotic, honeyed with a fresh lemony finish - and just a touch of orange - it would be delicious with a whole range of desserts from apple crumble to Christmas pud.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pumpkin, Savory and Sweet

I knew I was going to like this recipe the minute I saw the picture in Ottolenghi's book, Plenty. His "Crusted Pumpkin Wedges with Sour Cream" just caught my eye! It's all about the coating that gets pressed into the pumpkin and then when baked, turns crispy and crunchy!

I had the perfect size pumpkin just waiting for this recipe, it weighed about 1 1/2 lbs. I just cut it in half, scooped out the seeds and sliced it into wedges.

I have to say this would be perfect with really any squash, I normally don't cook with fresh pumpkin that often so I was surprised it tasted just like any other squash, so next time I think I'll do this with acorn squash instead because I think the crusted rings would look beautiful on a platter. As far as the taste goes it's absolutely delicious!

Each wedge gets brushed front and back with olive oil then a mixture of grated parmesan, breadcrumbs, fresh parsley and thyme, lemon zest, crushed garlic, salt and pepper. The mixture gets pressed on both sides of the pumpkin and then baked in the oven. I did mine at 400F until deep golden. You can actually see the recipe as you look inside the book on Amazon here. A perfect side dish for the holidays!

If you're a regular reader of my blog you know I love ricotta, I don't think a week goes by where I don't have some sitting in my fridge, as I write this another pound is in there calling my name, so when I saw Martha's," Pumpkin Ricotta Crostata" in her book, "Pies and Tarts", I knew I'd be making it.

She of course did hers a lot more fancy in a tart pan with pasta frolla dough with a pretty lattice pattern on top with pine nuts. I wasn't that energetic so I used Trader Joe's pie dough and made a free form tart and garnished it with pumpkin seeds because I'm still not buying pine nuts.

This is made with canned pumpkin, ricotta and mascarpone cheese flavored through out with vanilla and the spices in a pumpkin pie. Martha uses just nutmeg but I like all the warm flavors you get in pumpkin pie spice.

The perfect quick dessert with a dollop of whipped cream and a nice cup of coffee!

Happy Fall!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Aggie's Family Cookbook: review

You may be thinking 'not another celebrity cookbook' and, if so, I don't blame you. If I didn't know Aggie MacKenzie I'd probably be thinking that too.

But it may surprise you to learn her background is in food rather than hygiene - I used to work for her on Sainsbury's magazine and Good Housekeeping before she became famous for How Clean is Your House. So the cooking thing is not just made up to trade in on her fame.

And this is a real family cookbook. Of things she cooks, her sons cook, her mother cooks and even, her ex and her late mother-in-law cooked (now that is saintly!). It's as if your best friend who's a fantastic cook just handed over all her favourite recipes.

There's lots of fun stuff that's suitable for kids too like 'My take on chicken twizzlers' and Clissold Fried Chicken (a Stoke Newington version of KFC) and tips on how to get your kids cooking. The baking section is particularly good - I'll be posting a recipe later this week, hopefully - but love the sound of Tear-and-share Cheesy Rolls, Scottish Morning Rolls and her 'legendary' Granny's Scones.

The reason why I'm reviewing it on this blog is that - unusually for a celeb - she keeps the cost of food very much in mind, witness the Baked Chicken Casserole she makes "when I need to see off those lonesome bits at the bottom of the fridge", A Great Veg Dish for Leftover Cheese and Eggy Bread with Fudgey Plums "dead quick when you haven't planned a pud." And there are loads of useful tips on meal planning and saving money when you're food shopping.

This is a brilliantly down to earth cookbook that you'll use again and again. You can currently buy it for just over £11 on Amazon but even at the full price of £20 it's well worth the money. One for the Christmas list, defo.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Wine of the Week: Gran Vega Garnacha

I was thinking of making a white wine my wine of the week this week but since the weather has turned chilly and now finally feels like autumn I'm reverting to red again. This time from Asda which seems to permanently have its entire range on special offer.

Don't let that encourage you to go mad in the aisles. There's some pretty dreadful stuff on Asda's shelves but here's one that's a fantastic bargain, even at its full price of £4.18.

It's a modern Spanish red called Gran Vega Garnacha from Bodegas Borsao in the Campo de Borja region, a big lush, ripe blockbuster of a red that would make great drinking with hearty stews or gutsy plates of sausage and beans. And it's currently reduced (until October 17th) to £3.78 which is ridiculous. Make sure you get the 2010 vintage (it needs to be drunk young) and lay in some for mulling on bonfire night.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Crock Pot Roast Beef with Giardinera

I have been making this roast for over 20 years, everyone who eats it wants the recipe, my family loves it and it's almost embarrassing how simple it is to put together! I usually make it one or two times a year, about as many times as I use my crock pot. It's perfect for the fall weather and goes wonderful with either polenta, potato gnocchi or buttered egg noodles on the side.

The cut of meat you get is either a rump roast or a top round. Make slits in the roast with a knife and then stuff slivers of garlic all around. Generously salt and pepper the roast and sprinkle with dried oregano. How easy is that?

The star of this dish is a large bottle of giardinera. Giardinera is a delicious condiment with a mixture of usually carrots, celery, olives, cauliflower, onion, and of course hot or mild peppers, brined and covered with oil, without it it just wouldn't be the same! I hope you could find it in your neck of the woods but here in Chicago I can get it everywhere. There are recipes on the web if you want to make your own.

The other two ingredients are optional, tiny pearl onions and just a bit of stock, less than a cup, but honestly a little water would do just fine!

Just get a nice sear on your roast before you stick it in the crock pot, then pour the whole bottle of drained giardinera on top and then add your water or broth. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or until very tender, it will make plenty of flavorful juice, enough to spoon over your cut roast or to toss in with some buttered noodles. I've also made this in the oven, searing it first, same way but with tin foil laid on top for half the time at 350F, it all depends on what size roast you have.

I personally like to make it the day before we eat it, because when the meat is cold it slices perfectly plus all those flavors get to infuse altogether overnight.

It's amazing how something so simple can tastes so good! Buon Appetito!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Scenes from Chicago Gourmet 2011

Last sunday I attended Chicago Gourmet, an interactive epicurian event showcasing more
than 100 of Chicago's finest restaurants and chefs as well as hundreds of renowned vitners, spirit makers and premium breweries from all over the world. The event was held in beautiful Millennium Park where guests enjoyed live cooking demos, seminars, gourmet tastings and book signings by popular chefs, master sommeliers and winemakers.

I was fortunate to get a front row seat to view the cooking demo between Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto, NYC and Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill, both appeared as contestants on Top Chef Masters, and both said it was one of the hardest things they ever did. It was fun hearing about some of the behind the scene stuff that went on and all the late night partying!

Chef Milliken made quinoa fritters and dulce de leche churros while Chef Waxman was making homemade potato gnocchi that was pan fried and then tossed with diced eggplant, tomatoes, corn, basil and garlic, a recipe from his new book, Italian, My Way.

His tips for making light and airy gnocchi is never working the dough too long and treating it nice and gentle. He also likes to freeze them before they're cooked. His favorite way of cooking them is pan fried straight from the freezer right into the pan with olive oil.

There were tastings from awesome Chicago restaurants, it was a little mind boggling at times because you would go from crab to meatballs, then to mussels, asian, steak, etc, etc.

Note to self, not good to mix foods!

I must say one of my favorite tastings was from Frontera Grill, I love shrimp tacos and this was bursting with flavor!

These beautiful platters weren't too bad either situated near all the tasting tents for all the wineries and other spirits.

Apparently infused vodka and rum is the hot new thing with flavors like, apple, whipped, citrus, espresso, mango, melon, cotton candy, cake and butterscotch just to name a few!

There were lots of cocktails being shaken and poured all day long, I must say these were very popular tents!

Trays and trays of beautiful ruby red crab gazpacho and the most delicious spicy bloody marys with blue cheese stuffed olives, so good!

And of course dessert, there's always room for dessert, especially when it's some Illy coffee and a cannoli!