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Italian Memories Dinner Party

February15

There were three couples assembled to relive the details of our separate trips to Italy.  One couple had kept a similar itinerary to ours and the other had spent extensive time in Tuscany.  The host served Mario Bateli’s Osco Bucco (recipes in link)–a regional Italian dish that I have never attempted.  She made her decision from five different recipes-an indication of the care that she puts into her cooking.  It was perfection-“fall off the bone” and yet did not tasted “stewed”.  She also prepared his Risotto Milanese (with Saffron)  but admitted that it tuckered her out and decided to forgo her dessert course of poached pears and Carmel sauce.  We had a delicious tiramisu instead.

The wines were beautifully paired and we took over limoncello for after dinner sipping.

Our hosts in Amalfi-who served their own Limencello in their cozy bar

Our hosts in Amalfi-who served their own Limencello in their cozy bar

Limoncello

  • 750 ml bottle of grain alcohol
  • 7 or 8 large lemons (make sure they’re organic and not sprayed, you’re using the peel!)
  • 5 cups water
  • 3 cups sugar

Directions:

  • Wash the lemons thoroughly – scrub them clean of all residue.
  • Using a peeler, take off the skins being careful not to get any of the white lemon “pith” onto your peelings or it will add bitterness to your limoncello.
  • Put the peels into a large, open-mouth jar with the alcohol and seal the lid tightly. Put the date on the bottle.
  • Put the jar in a cool, dry place for one week – once a day, shake the contents well to remix everything. You’ll notice the color of the liquid changing to yellow and the color of the lemon peels fading.
  • One week later, dissolve the sugar completely in water by heating it on the stove. Then cool the sugar-water mixture to room temperature.
  • Strain the lemon peels out of the alcohol and then mix the alcohol with the sugar-water. Usually the color of the alcohol changes from clear yellow to cloudy yellow when it’s combined with the sugar-water.
  • Pour the mixture into bottles which can be sealed tightly and store them in the freezer. If the limoncello is kept “frozen” until serving it becomes thick and syrupy.

These make great gifts; just get some small, pretty bottles and label them yourself and you’ve got a great taste of Italy to hand out to friends and family.  I’ve not tried this yet, but this same recipe can be used with any citrus fruit – orange, lime, grapefruit, etc.

DSCF1036We also took over the antipasto.  It was a recreation of our favourite one while travelling.  Antipasti are very regional depending upon the local ingredients available.  Our favourite was in Ravello and it was primarily a selection of vegetables that had been cooked, marinated and served cold.

The restaurant was called Cumpa Cossismo and it has been run by the same family for decades.  All the dishes served were Netta’s recipes and she still supervises the cooking, greets all the guests and then it appeared that her most important role is collecting everybody’s euros before departing.

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Netta has hosted the likes of Jacqueline Onassis and Mariah Carey.  Having been caught in the rain on this morning-I don’t feel much like a diva in this pic.

Valentine’s Weekend

February13
One of the first courses on our 2nd Honeymoon.

One of the first courses on our 2nd Honeymoon.

It is the time of year that we celebrate St. Valentine.  I have learned that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.   In the end Valentine died for love because when his illegal actions were discovered, he was put to death.

There are many kinds of love, even though the English language does not distinguish between them very well.  In addition, Hallmark has morphed this love celebration into one of romantic love.  In my life, I celebrate the many kinds of love…and its no surprize, I celebrate them with food!

Chicken Crepes at Bistro Dansk

Chicken Crepes at Bistro Dansk

Last night-I dined with my sisters and my Mom and celebrated “storge” which means “belonging”.  My family loves me unconditionally and no matter what the circumstances-I belong.

Schnitzel, Sweet & Sour Cabbage and Pan Fried Potatoes at Bistro Dansk

Schnitzel, Sweet & Sour Cabbage and Pan Fried Potatoes at Bistro Dansk

I intend to repeat this celebration on Sunday night when we have a family dinner with my kids. Unconditional love is even fiercer when experienced as a parent.  This dinner will be attended by my newly married son and his bride.  Their “epithumia” love is apparent.  It is the love of attraction.

Epithumia

Epithumia

Tonight, we join old friends (and I’m talking decades) for a dinner party.  We will celebrate our long-standing friendship and “phile” meaning “cherishing”.

On Monday because it is a long weekend I will celebrate romance or “eros” with my husband.  We haven’t yet decided if it will be with a supper at home or with a quick bite out.

And so that just leaves “agape” love-the act of selfless giving.  I will challenge myself and all of you to shift our concentration on this Valentine’s weekend to this kind of love.

Love is Everywhere!

Love is Everywhere!

City of New Orleans

February11

I’ve got New Orleans stuck in my head.  Likely for a number of reasons: 1)  I just finished reading a book that I loved called “The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Calder” (written by Rebecca Wells of Ya Ya Sisterhood fame) which was partially set in New Orleans 2) we were rooting for The Saints in the Superbowl this past weekend and 3) because just this morning, a reader requested our jambalaya recipe.

My husband and I have always dreamed of seeing three US cities: New York, manhattan2New Orleans and San Francisco.  Only the latter remains on our “to see” list.  We were blessed to travel to New Orleans the winter before Hurricane Katrina and saw the city in all of her beauty.  We only spent 24 hours there but it was jam-packed with eating and merriment. 1stPlaceSanFranciscoCableCarsWe stayed right in the French Quarter at the Hotel St. Marie where we started the evening when our group met up in their cozy lounge.  We soon spilled onto Bourbon Street where we just had to stop for “Huge Ass Beers To Go”.  We had dinner in the outside patio at Tujague’s on Decatur St. – a restaurant established in 1856, where we had a delicious feed of fried catfish.  Next stop was at another restaurant for Jack Daniels and just shucked Oysters.  We continued onto “The House of Blues” for amazing music and ended the evening at Pat O’Brien’s for a cocktail aptly named “The Hurricane”.

The next morning we shopped the Riverwalk Marketplace for Louisiana Hot Sauce and continued to the French Market to watch pralines being made and then to sample Po-Boy and Muffeletta sandwiches.  Just this weekend, we picked up De Luca’s Alba brand’s Muffeletta-Olive Salad Mix to bring back the taste of New Orleans.

We cooked a pre-trip dinner party to get us all in the New Orleans mood.  This was the first time that my husband made his now famous Jambalaya recipe.  It was so popular that a year or so after the trip the group reassembled for a Fat Tuesday party and we served it again.  Now it is a favourite “make ahead” dinner when the guys are heading out to the lake for a cross-country ski weekend.neworleans

The recipe was originally located on a New Orleans website but has been modified to include local kubasa sausage: Doug’s Jambalaya:  Heat a liberal amount of oil in a deep & heavy pan.  Sautee 1 diced onion and 1 minced garlic clove and then add 1 lb. peeled and diced kubasa sausages (or substitute an equal amount of diced ham).  Add 1 small can of tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce to taste, Creole seasoning to taste (can substitute Tabasco to taste).  Add  ½ each, diced green, red and yellow peppers and 10 small banana peppers (with ends cut off).  Let simmer until the onions and peppers soften.  Add 2 cans of diced tomatoes and 1-2 cans of water.  Let it come to a slow boil and then add 2 cans of red beans, 1 can niblets corn and 1 T parsley flakes.  Boil again and adjust seasonings.  When sausages rise to the top, add 15-20 whole, peeled jumbo shrimp (approx. 1 lb.) and simmer for 20-30 minutes more. Serve over rice.  Note: diced chicken breast can substitute for the shrimp or we like it with shrimp, chicken AND ham and kubasa.

My First Reader Request!

February8

A reader emailed me to see if I had a good Ginger Snap recipe.  So here is my favourite:  Cream together 3/4 c margarine with 1 c sugar.  Add 1/4 c molasses and one beaten egg and then beat together.  Combine 2 c flour, 1/4 t salt, 2 t baking soda and 1 t each cinnamon, cloves and ginger.  Add to creamed mixture,  Mix well.  Roll into balls, then sugar.  Press with a fork.  Now the flatter you press the more snap the cookie will have, I slightly press because we like our chewy.  Garnish with a piece of candied ginger.  Bake at 375 for 15 minutes (check after 10 minutes because of variable thickness).  1592874621_b594bb30d5

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Ginger Beef:  This is my quick recipe.  There is a longer version that is likely used by restaurants that includes the step of marinating the beef in a number of ingredients including ginger juice. Cut 1 lb of flank steak (or better but more expensive-sirloin steak).  Place 3/4 c cornstarch in a large bowl.  Add 1/2 c water gradually while whisking and then whisk in 2 eggs.  Toss in beef and stir to coat.  Pour 1 inch of oil into wok, heat until boiling hot, but not smoking. Add a quarter of the beef to the oil.  Separate with a fork and cook, stirring frequently, until crispy. Remove, drain on paper towel and set aside. Repeat until all the beef is cooked.  Drain off all oil except for about 1 tablespoons and add 1 large chopped carrot, 3 chopped green onion, 1/4 c minced fresh ginger and 5 cloves of minced garlic.  Stir fry briefly over high heat.   Combine last 3 T soy sauce, 4 T rice vinegar, 1 T sesame oil, 1/2 c sugar and 3 t crushed red pepper flakes (start with 1 and increase to taste)  and add to vegetable mixture.  Bring to a boil and then add beef.  Heat thorough and serve immediately.
ginger2There are many health benefits linked to ginger.  I am not going to endorse anything that I have not personally tried, but I do know that ginger tea is lovely when you have a cold or the flu.  The recipe is simple.   Ginger Tea: grate  2 T  of ginger root into 2 c of boiling water.  Drink straight or add lemon and/or honey.

A Week in the Life of a Foodie

February6

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I knew that some cash was going to be spent on dining out this week, so I started the weekend off on a frugal note.  I made what we call Refrigerator Soup.  My husband keeps turkey broth in the freezer, so I threw in some chicken for protein and whatever veggies and herbs were in the fridge/freezer.  In addition, I cleaned out my bread box and made croutons which is one of my fav snacks (when you are craving salty).  If you’ve never done this, here’s my recipe:  melt  1/4 c of butter with a 1/4 c of olive oil and mix in 1 T of dried chicken soup stock (or garlic salt but not both).  Toss with cubed bread and spread onto a single layer of an edged baking sheet.  Bake at 375 for 15 minutes and check.  Depending upon the quantity, if not quite browned, stir and bake another 5 minutes or so.

IMG_0353 That night was Cafe Dario for dinner.  Instead of giving my nephew a cash wedding gift, we treated them to a night out with us.  We had a lovely visit and no one had to cook.  I had been to the Cafe for business lunches many times but never for dinner.  The Cafe features a five course dinner for $35.

We started with escargot “El Diablo” simmered with mushrooms, and tomato and covered with melted provolone.  IMG_0358We also tried the mussels and clams cooked with bacon, beer and Serrano chilies and the chipotle BBQ basted elk ribs.  The soup course was a delicious French onion and the salad had a fresh mint sesame vinaigrette dressing (I could have eaten a bowl of it with a spoon).  For entrees we tried the beef tenderloin with chimichurri, the porcini crusted rack of lamb with chocolate mushroom sauce, the bacon wrapped venison loin with brandy blackberry coli and the bacon wrapped chicken breast stuffed with jalapenos and cheddar and served with a cilantro crema.  The dessert was a little piece of tiramisu.  We chose an Argentinian Malbec to accompany the meats.  A delicious and wonderful evening.
Cafe Dario on Urbanspoon

IMG_0364For lunch during the week, I met a friend of mine on the second floor of Deluca’s. I had a lovely visit with a stranger that I shared a table with as I waited for her to arrive.  I chose the pizza covered with olives, roasted red pepper and artichokes and a tossed salad with extra red onions. My friend had the homemade soup and salad.  We were both stuffed for $15.  I also had the opportunity to go out for a last minute Dim Sum date at the Dim Sum Garden.  In my opinion this is the best in Winnipeg and I have been to their location on Rupert Ave. a hundred times.  IMG_0370I especially love their sticky rice and  shrimp dumplings.

I ended the week on a frugal note again and found some frozen hamburger patties in the freezer.  I wanted to go easy on the carbs and get my veggies in,  so we had a huge mushroom cap topper instead of the top half of the bun.IMG_0386

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