Aunt Tina’s Stuffed Peppers

February 25, 2012 Appetizer, Entrees, Menu 3 Comments

One of the biggest thrills that comes with writing this blog is being able to share some of my family’s recipes. For this post I am very honored to share with you a stuffed pepper recipe inspired by my Aunt Tina. I use the word ‘inspired’ because, like most Italian family recipes, exact measurements were not specific. This, of course, is the beauty and charm of family recipes. Like one of life’s lessons, you are given just enough instruction and guidance to get started, allowing you to discover and adjust the end results on your own terms. And after a couple of attempts and a few adjustments here and there (the more seasoning, the better), I’ve got to say that this stuffed pepper recipe may be one of my all time favorites!

Another trait that comes with Italian cooking is that, no matter how hard you try, there’s always someone in the family who can cook circles around you. I am fortunate to have a few people in my family who are amazing in the kitchen, and my Aunt Tina is definitely one of them. Anytime my parents would talk about one of her recipes, it is always accompanied with  “my God, it was so good!” or “ohh, you should taste how Aunt Tina makes it.” WIth that said, I’m sure that my attempt at this pepper recipe doesn’t come close to how Aunt Tina would make them. But I am definitely sure that you will like them nonetheless. Just be sure to use fresh ingredients, and don’t hold back on the seasoning…and you’ll be good to go!

Thank you Aunt Tina for sharing!

AUNT TINA’S STUFFED PEPPERS
Measurements were approximated, adjust taste to your liking!

Ingredients:

6-8 cubanelle (Italian frying) peppers

stuffing mixture:
2 cups cubed bread stuffing
4 eggs
1/4 cup grated cheese
1 tbson parsley
salt & pepper to taste
1 tspn garlic powder
1 tbspn fresh basil (plus another 1 tspn for sauce)
you can also add chopped olives, mushrooms, and provolone or blue cheese…whatever your preference is.

1tbspn chopped garlic
cut up plum tomatoes (I used a 12.5oz can of diced tomatoes)

Directions:

Cut off top of peppers, clean out. Mix all stuffing ingredients together, stuff into peppers.

Take a large skillet coated with olive oil, add chopped garlic, let brown. Add tomatoes and  additional fresh basil.

Add peppers to skillet, let cook on medium to low heat for about 20 minutes. Lower heat, put lid on and let cook another 25-30 minutes.

You can add some water, chicken broth and some white wine for additional flavor. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

*Because this is a meatless stuffed pepper, it is also a great dish to serve during the Lenten season!

 

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Fresh Ricotta!

February 11, 2012 Dessert, Menu 1 Comment

Of the few guilty pleasures that I have in life, cheese would have to be one of my favorites. And the one cheese that I most enjoy to indulge in is ricotta. Whether its used as a filling in a pasta dish or a rolantini, or as a key ingredient in an Easter cheese pie or cannoli, there is no denying that sweet, creamy ricotta is decadent, and sinfully delicious. Imagine my surprise when I found out how easy it is to make your own, homemade ricotta…and you don’t even need to milk you own cow to do so!

Unlike traditional cheese making, ricotta is the product of leftover milk from the production of other cheeses. Actually meaning “recooked”, ricotta comes together when you produce curds from heating and stirring up the leftover milk whey along with an acidic liquid (usually vinegar or lemon juice), then strained through cheesecloth and chilled.

Even if you are not producing your own cheeses at home, you can still make your own ricotta by following this simple recipe below that I found on Epicurious.com. All you need is whole milk, heavy cream, lemon juice, salt, cheese cloth and a few hours, and you will have the most delicious, creamy ricotta ever imagined. It can be used in any recipe that calls for ricotta. I’ve already made a few batches for family and friends, and they all agreed that the fresh ricotta is amazing. Even my friend’s 2 year old daughter, who is a ricotta connoisseur, gave my ricotta a thumbs-up. The only trick to using homemade is that because there are no preservatives, there is not much of a shelf life…only about 3-4 days to be exact. So you want to make sure that you have a purpose in mind when making homemade ricotta.

HOMEMADE RICOTTA
makes about 1 lb fresh ricotta
2 quarts whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tspn salt
4 tbspn lemon juice

In a large pot, slowly bring the milk, cream and salt to a rolling boil over moderate heat. Be sure to stir occasionally to prevent scorching. Add lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles.

Pour the mixture into a sieve, or colander, lined with cheese cloth and let drain for just a few minutes. Once liquid is drained, cover and chill ricotta. Use within a few days.

Now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you to give homemade ricotta a try, allow me share a quick and delicious recipe that will make for an unforgettable Valentine’s Day dessert. We’re going to make two ricotta dips, one with almond flavoring and one with nutella. Simply cut up some fresh fruit (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and bananas work well), plate it with the ricotta, some chocolate pieces and cinnamon graham crackers. Spread a bit of the ricotta onto the cracker, top with sliced fruit or chocolate. Try drizzling the almond flavored ricotta with a little honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon. It’s better than just about any cannoli out there!

ALMOND HONEY RICOTTA 
Start by stirring in 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1 tspn confectioner’s sugar into home made ricotta. Adjust measurements according to taste.

 NUTELLA RICOTTA
Stir in 1 tspn nutella into ricotta. Add to cracker, top with fresh fruit. Heaven.

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Braised Mahi Mahi in White Wine

February 4, 2012 Entrees, Menu No Comments

*NOTE – There is a common misconception with mahi mahi. Although mahi mahi are a type of dolphin fish, they are not mammals and do not resemble the porpoises that most associate with the term “dolphin.”

A few weeks back I purchased a 5 quart double-dutch oven, which is a cast iron pot that can be used either on the stove top or in the oven (it’s double-dutch because the lid can also be inverted and used as a frying pan…neat, huh!). After a few night of using it to make popcorn – really good popcorn – I decided to put it to use to make an actual meal. Braising – a combination cooking method using both moist and dry heat (thank you, Wikipedia) – is an excellent cooking method to use with a dutch oven. The most common braised dishes are usually made up of a meat and vegetables – post roast with potatoes and carrots, and chicken cacciatore are two great examples of braised dishes. Typically the meat is first seared at a high temperature and then finished in a covered pot with vegetables and a variable amount of liquid. The liquid will usually thicken into a sauce, and will both tenderize and flavor the meat. A crock pot is another way to braise, over a longer period of time.

Because my wife and I aren’t big red meat eaters, I decided to give braised fish a try. I found some mahi mahi in the supermarket and thought it would be a good choice. It’s a meaty fish that serves well moist, but doesn’t flake apart as easily as flounder or salmon. Tuna would have worked well, but I wasn’t interested in the steak-like texture for this meal. Turns out that the mahi mahi worked fantastic! I braised it up with sliced zucchini and squash (my go-to veggies when preparing fish), diced tomatoes, a little white wine and lemon, and some fresh chopped herbs. Like most fresh fish, mahi mahi is more delicate that a cut of meat or chicken, so there was no need to sear it. I just rested it on top of the cooked vegetables and let all of the liquid and flavors work their magic. The end result was very fresh and flavorful, and the white wine and lemon created just enough of a sauce…almost making it a fish stew. When it came time to serve, the fish was so perfectly cooked that it started to fall apart. I plated it all together and served it family style with a loaf of crusty bread for dipping.

Now that I’ve made the dish, I’d give it a try with salmon as well, just checking up on it as it cooks to make sure it doesn’t fall apart before serving.

If you don’t have a dutch oven, a deep pan should also work well!

BRAISED MAHI MAHI IN WHITE WINE

Ingredients:

1 6oz. fresh Mahi Mahi fillet
1 zucchini, sliced
1 yellow squash, sliced
1 14oz can diced tomatoes, juices drained
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tbspn olive oil, plus more to drizzle on fish
salt and pepper
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup dry white wine
fresh chopped Italian parsley (about a half cup)

Directions:

Heat olive oil in dutch oven (or pan) over medium heat. Add garlic and shallots, cook for 1 minute. Add zucchini and squash, stir so the slices are well coated with the oil, garlic and shallots. Cook until softened. Add the diced tomatoes (remember to drain off the juices, stir together until warmed). Add half of the chopped parsley and some salt and pepper to taste, stir.

Meanwhile, rinse off the fillet, drizzle both sides with oil and season with salt and pepper.

Shift the vegetables to the sides of the pot, creating a little well in the middle. Add the wine and lemon juice, let it heat up and thicken just a bit (about a minute). Stir all of the vegetables into the center again, so they are coated with the lemon and wine.

Place the fillet on top of the vegetables,skin-side down, making sure that it doesn’t sit in the liquid. Cover the pot tightly with a lid. Let it cook for about 3-4 minutes. Add the remaining parsley, cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes, until the fillet is opaque throughout.

Scoop out the vegetables, placing them on a serving plate. Gently remove the fillet, making sure that it doesn’t fall apart completely (it will most likely break into 2-3 parts). Carefully remove the skin. Break apart the fillet into chunks, spread on top of the vegetables.

Serve with crusty Italian bread!

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