Mise en place (Wikipedia: a French phrase defined by the Culinary Institute of America as “everything in place”, as in set up – and a popular display style of food stylists and photographers.)
I’m the original Speedy Gonzalez. I do everything quickly. I just can’t help myself. That’s not necessarily an asset, especially when composing mise en place which requires a steady hand, thoughtfulness, and patience. What? Patience? Being anxious, as always, to get to the end goal I probably could have spent a little more time in the arrangement but, hey, this was my first effort.
Now on to the real stuff – the FOOD!
I love mid-Eastern food and while I don’t know if this concoction is authentically mid-Eastern, that was my intention as I selected the ingredients. To me, acorn squash married with dates and walnuts is right up there topping the list of “tasted and gone to heaven”. Well-seasoned lamb and rice pilaf serve to balance the dish and add their own exquisite flavors.
Ingredients: Lamb (cut in cubes), acorn squash, dates, walnuts, mint, rice pilaf made with brown rice and orzo, yogurt, nutmeg, cinnamon, rosemary, S&P.
• Season lamb chunks with S&P, rosemary, a little olive oil.
• Saute and add mint, dates and walnuts.
• Add fresh grind of nutmeg and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
• Halve and nuke in microwave until fork tender (or do in oven).
• Cut into cubes with skin attached and add to meat in skillet.
• Simmer with a little chicken broth.
• Your favorite recipe; or
• rice, orzo cooked in chicken broth with a little nutmeg and cinnamon; or
• store bought packaged.
Plate rice pilaf, add lamb and acorn squash mixture, and top with a few spoonfuls of yogurt.
Note: For you silly people who don’t like lamb, try pork or chicken cubes.
FAMILY FOOD FIGHT: Battle “Shrimp“
The Back Story
My son, granddaughter and I have been doing Family Food Fights (usually on Sundays) since way before I started this blog. The results have been recorded by my son on his photolog at foodfight. (He’s a much better photographer…and, sometimes, better cook than I am and my granddaughter is not far behind us in both categories!)
From the beginning, it has always been a serious competition to either reinvent or creatively come up with new recipes in tasting-size portions. It starts with our selecting a theme and then we generally operate autonomously. At first, it was all about the food but, as time progressed and we became increasingly interested in recording the process, the art of presentation and creating a photo-worthy dish became significant components of the “battle”.
I think this is a great family activity. It’s fun, it gets the creative juices going, and revolves around the kitchen and sharing meals. And, we genuinely get to enjoy each other’s company…that is, when we’re not vying for a position at the stove or cutting board! And, in the end, we get to eat!
Here is Jim’s process of setting up for the shoot: serious camera, tripod and other equipment (not totally visible), umbrella, foam boards, etc. My modus operandi is plate the food, point, shoot and hope for the best. But with his tutelage, I’m working on being a little more focused (literally and figuratively.)
A week ago our “theme” was shrimp and, interestingly, we independently came up with 3 distinctly different ethnic dishes. I started with a Greek appetizer plate pictured above (recipe below), Cassie followed with a trio of Asian dishes, and Jim went Latin with mojo-marinated shrimp, grilled yuca and pineapple. Here’s my appetizer.
and a Duo-of-Greek-Appetizers and Pita-Chips (phew!)
Shrimp: Marinate shrimp in olive oil, oregano, grated fresh garlic, and a squeeze of lemon. Grill.
Salad: Halve cucumber and hollow out center. Chop fresh tomatoes and dress with lemon, olive oil, garlic and minced parsley. Let sit for a while so flavors meld and then place in cucumber boat.
Dressing: Pulse olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano and a few pitted calamata olives. Add crumbled feta cheese and mix.
Tsatsiki: I used 2% Fage Greek Yogurt with some freshly grated garlic and chopped green part of scallions. I did not add cucumber because I was serving the whole cucumber.
Hummus: Store bought , but a good brand. Added a toasted walnut and served on pita chips.
See all photos of this battle and others at foodfight.
FAMILY FOOD FIGHT: Salute to the Feast of San Gennaro
It doesn’t matter that it’s been almost 15 years since I left New York and that I love living in FL, there are certain things that always take me back to “the city”. Comes the end of September I can’t help but think about the Feast of San Gennaro and the smells of Mulberry Street and I definitely long for New York (for a nano second). So this week our Family Food Fight was a salute to San Gennaro and the Italian food of our collective history.
Jimmy gave us a nice first dish of crispy proscuitto-wrapped fresh figs and followed with his version of sausage & peppers…3 varieties of grilled sausage, a delicious combination of tri-colored peppers & onions cooked in a tomato sauce and a hunk of ciabatta bread.
And what is an Italian street fair without zeppoles? Cassie did 3 versions: lemon-scented, orange-scented and cocoa-infused.
Once again, I’m going to send you over to foodfight for all the photos, but present my contribution here:
Rice Parm and Chicken-Spinach Meatballs a la Siciliana
Rice: Saute a little onion, add 1 cup of rice and toss with oil and onion to coat. Transfer to oven-proof dish and add 1/2 cup of chicken broth and 3/4 of cup of pasta sauce. Sprinkle a handful of parmesan cheese and mix. Flatten mixture. Cover with more parmesan and a handful of shredded mozzarella. Cover dish and bake for 30-40 minutes. Serves 4-6 as a side dish.
Spinach Mixture: I love this technique which I do in my Magic Bullet (favorite kitchen item). Crack egg into one of the mixing cups, add handfuls of fresh spinach, a little parsley, a little basil and pack down. As it starts to break down, you can pack in additional spinach. Pulse to consistency of pesto. Add S&P, a fresh grind of nutmeg. The resulting mixture perfectly distributes the flavors and color for whatever you’re adding it to. (I came up with the technique when I was making an eggs florentine dish…talk about green eggs!)
Meatballs: Mix 1 lb. ground chicken with spinach mixture, some freshly grated garlic, parmesan and flavored breadcrumbs. For the “a la Siciliana”, I add toasted pine nuts and a handful of yellow raisins. Roll small and bake in oven for about 30 minutes. They were very delicious and fun, especially if you like green meatballs. And they’re healthier too since they contain a lot of spinach and are baked.
On the Way Into the Oven
Next Day Leftovers: Meatball with Peppers & Onions Ciabatta Sandwich
And for additional family fun, we play Foodie Fight Trivia (purchased at Barnes & Noble).
Ain’t we got fun?!
More photos on foodfight. Past battles include pizza, 4th of July Reinvented, chicken, grilling, etc.
Ooh…I was so excited to get a ‘chocoholic’ award from Gloria at Cookbook Cuisine. It’s a cute little teddy (it is a teddy, isn’t it?) that gets passed around among food bloggers to show appreciation for their mutual effort. Besides being personally validating for me as a new blogger, it comes at a perfect time when I have been struggling to add a “favorite foodies” list to my blog. Try as I might…and I’ve tried countless times, I can’t seem to get the damn gadget to work. I’m guessing it’s not blogger.com’s fault since so many of you have successfully added this feature. So it’s either some glitch in my template or some glitch in my capability.
Getting this award gives me a perfect opportunity to give ‘props’ to some of the blogs I’ve become acquainted with in the past couple of months…and maybe to introduce you to other newbies, like me, who might need a little TLC and some new friends. Don’t forget, if you’ve been tapped, pay it forward.
Chocoholic Award to:
We Are Never Full: because they are the first blog I started following. Pithy dialogue, NY sense of humor and our similar palates keep me looking forward to their posts. Thanks to Amy who early on advised me to add the RSS feature to my blog as that was the preference of most bloggers. I did that — and then started RSS-subscribing myself. I now have about 50 blogs (and counting!) that I’m looking at.
Spanish Recipes: Nuria’s blog takes me back to my Spanish roots but also engages and entertains me. I’m sorry I didn’t know her when I visited Barcelona in June. Most of all, she has been very generous with information that has helped guide me through the blogosphere.
La Cocina Nathan: He is a non-stop cooking machine and I love his enthusiasm for his Latin heritage.
Bren’s FlaNboyant Eats: I could say the same thing about Bren as Nathan. Hmm…maybe these 2 should meet. Sounds like a match made in Heaven (or the kitchen).
Kalofagas: To Peter…every time I look at your blog, I am transported back to Greece. The wonderful posts about the cuisine and culture make me long to visit again. And, thanks for your supportive comments on my blog.
The Leftover Queen: To Queen Jenn for taking on uniting the food blogger community and for the daily introduction to new sites via the blogroll. Can’t wait to see foodalogue listed. Hint, hint.
Food Fight: A little nepotism here. This is my son’s photolog which records our family food fights. It’s worth a visit, really!
And, thanks to foodbuzz who keeps us all buzzing and for the fun surprise I received in the mail today.
My Foodie Blogroll
Of course, all those mentioned above…and a big shout out to:
Fiordizucca – don’t always understand it, but a picture is worth a 1000 words, right?
SPECIAL THANKS also:
• to those of you who have stopped by FOODalogue and left a comment; and
• to those of you who come up with contests and awards which keep us challenged and in the discovery of each other.
P.S. BTW, while I don’t have a conventional sweet tooth, in keeping with the propaganda that a little chocolate each day is good for you, I’ve taken to a nightly square of very dark chocolate (my favorite is infused with orange) or a couple of chocolate-covered expresso beans. When I’m being really good, it’s a 40-calorie Fudgsicle.
This ends Veggie Pasta Month. Yes, I know the month is not up, but it’s my blog and I get to do what I want . While there’s a limitless variety of veggie pastas and I’d love to tackle them all, right now I’m itching to move on. But, fear not, I saved one of the best – and simplest – for last.
I hope this series showed you that you don’t have to give up pasta, which we all love, to maintain a healthy weight and satisfy the urge for carbs. Just consider your portion size and get creative with your veggies!
I have to give props, as they say, to Judy of Divina Cucina, with whom I spent a foodie afternoon in Florence, Italy. It’s been about 6 years since that afternoon, but I’ve always remembered the pasta in chianti we prepared which was the inspiration for this delicious and simple dish.
mini sweet peppers, garlic, perciatelli (heavy tubular spaghetti), parmesan, red medium-bodied wine, EVOO, S&P.
• Drizzle a little olive oil on peppers and cloves of garlic (with paper shell still attached) and sprinkle with S&P. Cook in high-temp oven, about 400 degrees.
• Cook pasta in salted water for about 2-3 minutes less than recommended (about 7-8 minutes).
• Meantime, put some olive oil in a skillet (about 1/4 cup, more if you’re cooking a full pound of pasta) and turn on heat.
• Add drained pasta and coat with oil. Keep on moderate/medium heat.
• Add red wine (about 1/2 cup) and stir – using the technique of making risotto (slow absorption) – until the wine is absorbed and the pasta takes on the color of wine.
• Add a lot parmesan and black pepper.
• Plate with roasted peppers and garlic cloves.
The YUM factor:
• At your place setting, pick up the baked garlic clove in its skin and squeeze out the juicy goodness onto the pasta.
Thought I’d give a shout out to Tin Roof Merlot, a 2005 vintage, rated 90 points by the Wine Enthusiast and selling for about $8 in Costco. Score!
Note: I hope you enjoyed this series. Please let me know by voting in the poll in the right column. And – in the voice of Schwarzzenager, I’ll be back (to pastas). Ciao for now.
Spinach & Mushroom Sauce…and a scoop of Ricotta!
Veggie Pasta #7
If you ‘grew up Italian’, your family may have been one of those (like mine) that always had ricotta on the table — especially for red sauce dishes. If you’ve never experienced it, give it a try. It’s all goodness!
spinach, baby bella mushrooms, garlic, sweet Marsala wine, olive oil, S&P, nutmeg, toasted pignolis, black olives, your choice of pasta and pasta sauce.
Saute sliced mushrooms with a little garlic in olive oil. When starting to brown, add a splash of Marsala and let cook down. Add spinach at end to wilt. S&P to taste. Add tomato sauce to pan and mix. Add olives. Sprinkle some toasted pignolis and a fresh grind of nutmeg.
Prepare your favorite pasta sauce (or use a jarred one). A word here about jarred sauces – something I never thought I would consider a few short years ago. I definitely lifted my nose to the very idea. However, I’ve learned some brands are amazingly good. My criteria is to always check the ingredients. If the ingredients are the same as those I would use in my own kitchen, I often take the short cut. My preference calls for a sauce made strictly from whole tomatoes (imported San Marzano preferably) and not much else.
Toss drained pasta into pan with sauce and vegetables and plate. ...And, just for today, pretend to be Italian and add a scoop of Ricotta!
Note: This is the penultimate veggie pasta…I’m closing the series this weekend with Pasta Ubriaco (drunken pasta). While I’ll never run out of veggie-pasta combinations to offer up, I need to move on (for now anyway). I’m itching to do some different things.
Escarole Soup with Pasta, CeCe Bean Puree and Basil Oil
Veggie Pasta Month #6
Escarole; CeCe beans (garbanzos, chick peas, whatever they’re called in your neck of the woods); chicken broth; small tubular pasta; Parmesan cheese; chopped fresh tomato; minced onion, carrot & garlic; fresh basil; lemon; olive oil; salt; red pepper flakes.
Finely mince carrot, onion and garlic and soften in large pot with olive oil. Wash and tear escarole leaves into small pieces and add to mixture with chicken broth to cover. Cook till tender.
Blend fresh basil, olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes to a consistency a little looser than pesto.
CeCe Bean Puree:
Heat can of beans (yes, I used a can) in a saute pan with a tablespoon or so of bacon bits for a smokey flavor. Pulse mixture with a little chicken broth or pasta water until beans are slightly pulverized.
Cook according to directions, drain and add to soup.
Layer the Flavors!
• Ladle pasta and escarole soup to bowl.
• Give a quick squeeze of lemon over dish.
• Add Parmesan.
• Layer chopped fresh tomatoes.
• Add spoonful of bean puree.
• Drizzle basil oil.
Please take a moment to vote in polls in right column.
Entrant #5 Veggie Pasta Month
Ingredients: cauliflower, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, fresh basil, olive oil, bread crumbs, red pepper flakes, chicken broth.
Technique: Chop cauliflower into small florets, toss with a little olive oil. Layer in a bake dish with some chopped tomatoes. Add salt, some red pepper flakes, grate fresh Parmesan and sprinkle seasoned bread crumbs. Bake in oven for about 20 minutes.
To Serve: I added a little chicken broth to pan to create a little more of a sauce and then tossed in the pasta and added a chiffonnade of fresh basil.
It’s surprisingly good!
Entrant #4 in Veggie Pasta Month
yellow beets, thyme, fennel seed, nutmeg, garlic, fresh basil, spinach pappardelle, ricotta, parmesan, toasted walnuts, olive oil, S&P.
Beets Cut beets in 1/8. Toss with a little olive oil and dry seasonings. Spread out in pan and bake at 400 degrees (about 20-30 minutes) till tender. Turn beets halfway through process. Salt again when removed from oven.
Sauce Mix ricotta with freshly made pesto from the basil, garlic, olive oil.
Basil Oil Dilute a small amount of pesto with additional olive oil.
Plate beets, pasta, pesto cream sauce, wee drizzle of basil oil.
Sprinkle with parmesan, black pepper, shredded basil and toasted walnuts.
Entrant #3 in Veggie Pasta Month
Acorn squash, spinach, fresh basil, diced tomato, garlic, pesto, parmesan, olive oil, nutmeg, chicken broth. Recommended optional items to spike the flavor: bacon bits, sun-dried tomatoes. Both items going really well with sweetness of the squash and, as mentioned before, they are great accompaniments to green vegetables like spinach.
Note: As always, I’m loathe to suggest portions and measurements and leave that up to you, your appetite, and how many people you’re cooking for.
• Wash squash and leave skin intact. Slice into 4 rings and hollow. Brush the 2 center rings with olive oil, salt & pepper, and bake in oven until tender.
• Meantime, dice 2 end pieces and saute with olive oil, garlic, S&P, and a quick grating of nutmeg. Add a little pesto and chicken broth to moisten the mixture and create a sauce.
• Add freshly diced tomatoes, bacon bits, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach at the end which will just wilt them perfectly.
• Cook pasta separately.
• Drain pasta and mix with sauteed vegetables to coat thoroughly.
• Plate rings and top with saute mixture.
• Add fresh basil, grated parmesan and black pepper.