Friday, February 29, 2008

Chicken Scaloppine

As many other bloggers have probably already figured it out... you only get the chance to write a blog entry on February 29th once every four years... So here is my chance too and I want to celebrate it with one of my very favorite recipes: chicken scaloppine!!

Recipe for four people:
- 4 chicken breast halves or 8-12 pieces of chicken tenders;
- 1 cup of butter;
- 4-5 fresh sage leaves (optional);
- 1 bouillon cube;
- 1 cup cooking white wine;
- 1 cup white flour;
- 1 cup whipping cream or half and half (optional).

Cut the chicken breast in small pieces and tenderize them (about 1/4 inch thick) or use the chicken tenders directly. Pass them in flour. Melt the butter in a large non-stick frying pan (I use my wonderful Cusinart electric skillet). Add cube and sage to butter, then the chicken. Cook at low-medium heat until chicken is fully cooked (turn it an cook it on both sides). Increase heat to medium and add wine. Keep miving the chicken around the pan to make sure they won't stick to it. Let wine evaporate and decrease heat to low-medium. For a richer sauce, stir cream in it and continue to cook for few more minutes. Serve hot. (Mushpotatoes make a great side dish).


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Oreos Gelato and Italian Hot Chocolate

OREOS GELATO
The base for the gelato (Italian ice-cream) recipe is similar as the one for chocolate gelato:

- 4 egg yokes;
- 180 grams of granulated white sugar;
- 1 tsp of vanilla beans or 2 tsps of vanilla extract;
- 1 and 1/2 cup skim milk;
- 1 and 1/2 cup whipping cream;
- 10-12 Oreo cookies broken in small pieces.

Beat the eggs with sugar and vanilla at high speed (I used my Kitchen Aid mixer). Decrease speed and mix in milk and cream. Pour in a sauce pan and cook on low-medium heat until cream thickens. Stir continually! Place cream in a bowl and place bowl in a ice bath. Stir occasionally until cream is cold. Add to cream to the ice-cream maker. When cream begins to freeze, add the crumbed Oreos. Don't eat it all at once and make sure to share it with others!!

ITALIAN HOT CHOCOLATE
This is definetely another family favorite, particularly in this long Utah winters! In Italy, you would just go to a pastry shop or a bar with your friends to have hot chocolate.
- 2-3 cups milk (any kind, but I prefer whole milk);
- 1 1/2 Tbsp of corn or potato starch (white flour would do it to);
- 2 Tbsp of unsweetened Hershey's cocoa powder;
- 4 Tbsp of sugar;
- 1 cup whipping cream;
- Ground cinnamon powder.

Place the milk, the starch (or flour), cocoa, and 3 Tbsp of sugar in the blender at the lowest speed. Place mix in a sauce pan and cook on low-medium heat stirring continually until hot and dense. Whip the cream with the remaining sugar. Pour hot chocolate in mugs with a generous amunt of whipping cream. Sprinkle a touch of cinnamon on the top. Enjoy heaven!!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pasta al Forno, Ragu Sauce, Bechamel Sauce, Creme Brulee', Four Cheese Pasta, and Spaghetti Carbonara

Another weekend at home with lots of time to play in the kitchen... what more can a man wish for? Because of work and school, weekends dedicated to "wholesome cooking mental therapy" are not taken for granted around here. Here is what I came up with in the past couple of days:

1. Pasta al forno (baked pasta);
2. Creme brulee';
3. Four cheese pasta;
4. Spaghetti Carbonara;
5. European style hot chocolate;
6. Oreo's gelato.

PASTA AL FORNO

It seems that I have been making a lot of this lately. It is a complete meal and it can be stored in the fridge or freezer for that one last minute meal during the week when there is no time to make dinner. I try to make it a little different each time as to keep my hungry crowd interested. By the way, in case I did not mentioned that before, Costco has the absolute best Italian pasta ever. The brand is Garofalo and it is imported from Naples, where they have been making it since 1789 using the old fashion brass equipment to shape and cut the noodles. Believe it or not, the price is better than what you would pay for it in Italy and it is very hard to find it in Italian grocery stores... So you can imagine my surprise when I learned about it and found right here in Utah! :

- Penne pasta;
- Ragu' sauce (meat sauce);
- Bechamel sauce (white sauce);
- Shredded mozzarella cheese;
- Shredded Parmesan cheese;
- Dry basil.

For the Ragu' sauce:
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil;
- 1 carrot finely chopped;
- 1/4 onion finely chopped;
- 1 bouillon cube;
- 1lb lean ground beef;
- 2 cans of tomato sauce (15oz. each);
- salt and pepper to taste;
- 1 pinch of sugar.

Saute the carrot and onion in the oil in a medium size sauce pan. Add the bouillon cube and ground beef. Stir well until beef is brown. Add tomato sauce and 1/2 can of water (about 1 cup). Add salt, pepper and sugar. Continue to cook on low heat for at least one hour, stirring occasionally.

For the bechamel sauce:
- 1/2 cup of butter;
- 1 tsp of nutmeg;
- 1 pinch of black pepper;
- 1/2 cup of white flour;
- 1 qt. milk.

Place butter, nutmeg and black pepper in a sauce pan and melt on low heat. Mix half of the milk with the flour in a blender and add it to the butter together with the rest of the milk. Stir continually on low-medium heat until sauce thickens.

Putting it all together:

Cook and drain pasta. Mix with Ragu' sauce and place in a pyrex pan (13x9). Pour the bechamel on the past with the help of a large spoon. Generously sprinkle the cheeses and add a touch of dry basil for color and taste. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the fridge or freezer until ready to eat it. At that time, bake it for 1 hour at 350F, remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes, or until cheese has melted.

CREME BRULEE'

This is one of our family favorites!! We are probably going to eat it for family night on Monday.

- 3 cups whipping cream (you can use half and half if you want to cut down on the amount of calories and fat...);
- 6 egg yolks;
- 1 cup sugar;
- Pinch of salt;
- 1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla.

Cook cream in a saucepan until hot, without boiling. Mix eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt in a mixer at high speed. Slowly stir in the hot cream. Strain the mix through a tea colander and fill 8 ramekins. Fill to about 1/2 the height 2 medium or 1 large pyrex pan(s) with water and place ramekin with cream for a hot water bath. Place pyrex pan(s) on medium rack in the pre-heated over (300F) for ~60 minutes. Remove pan(s) and let sit until water cools down. Remove ramekins from water bath and cover each one with surround wrap. Place in the fridge until ready to eat (they can stay in the fridge as long as 2-3 days). When ready to serve, remove plastic wrap and sprinkle the top with 1 Tbsp of sugar. You can caramelize the sugar with the classic torch (I got mine as a Christmas present a couple of years ago and I love it!) or by placing the ramekins back in the oven and broil the sugar for a couple of minutes, keeping the oven open and making sure you don't over cook it.

FOUR CHEESE PASTA:

- 1lb Rotini pasta (fusilli);
- 1 Tbsp butter;
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg;
- 1/2 bouillon cube;
- pinch of black pepper;
- 1/2 cup of whipping cream;
- 2 oz of cream cheese;
- 2/3 cup of shreeded mozzarella cheese;
- 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese;

- 4-8 oz of your favorite cheese (in the past I have used Swiss, or Brie, or Gorgonzola cheese). Since I was making this for my children, I used Cheedar cheese.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the numeg, pepper and cube. Add the cream and the cheeses. Stir continually over low heat until all cheeses melt and the sauce is rich and thick. Cook pasta and drain. Mix cheese sauce in and enjoy immediately.

SPAGHETTI CARBONARA

We made this as a side dish for some friends on Sunday evening.

- 1 package of spaghetti (1lb);
- 4 egg yolks;

- 4oz of Pancetta (Italian cured bacon). You can use regular bacon if you like, but it won't be the same. Sorry. I buy my Pancetta at the deli counter at Harmons. They carry the Boar Head brand, which is really good. Have it cut paper thin.
- 1 cup whipping cream;
- 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese;
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- Black pepper and salt to taste;
- 2 Tbps of extra virgin olive oil.

Mix egg yolks, cream, 1 tbsp olive oil, cheese, salt and pepper in a bowl. Set aside. Cut pancetta in small pieces and place it in a fry pan on low-medium heat with oil and garlic. Cook pasta and drain. Mix in the cream sauce and pancetta and serve immediately.

I will talk about the Oreo's gelato and the hot chocolate tomorrow as it is getting kind of late and I am tired (and full). Buonanotte.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Valdostane and Berries Sherbet

For tonight's dinner I prepared two simple dishes with what I had already at home. The main course was my own version of the Valdostana steak:

- 6 small steaks tenderized;
- 6 slices of Swiss cheese;
- 6 slices of ham;
- Extra-virgin olive oil;
- 1 Bouillon cube.

I placed the tenderized steaks in olive oil and sprinkled the Bouillon cube on them. I cooked them in an electric skillet at low heat. When the steaks were nearly ready, I placed a slice of ham and a slice of cheese on each steak, turned the skillet to "warm" heat and covered it to let the cheese melt. I served them with a mix of sauteed vegetables.


For dessert I prepared a berries sherbet:

- 1/2 liter of water (ca. 2 cups);
- 400 grams of granulated sugar (a little less tha one lb);
- 250 grams of frozen berries (Costco mix: raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries) (a little more than 1/2 lb);
- Dry or fresh mint leaves (optional);
- 1 Tbsp of lemon juice;
- 2-3 Tbsp of orange juice (optional).

I boiled the water, sugar and one Tbsp of dry mint leaves for about 5 minutes to make the syrup base for the sherbet. Then I passed the syrup through a tea strainer into a bowl to remove all of the mint leaves and added the frozen berries. Following this step will quickly cool the syrup down. I also added the lemon and orange juice and let the berries and syrup "rest" until completly cool. At this point I blended the whole thing obtaining a rich berry mix similar to a smoothie and placed it in my icecream maker. You can decide to strain the berry mix before placing it in the icecream maker if you prefer removing skin and seeds. However, I like to leave them in for the texture and color they provide to the sherbet and because they are a great source of antioxidants. My kids loved it!

Mexico City Trip (February 8-10, 2008)

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take a short three-day trip to Mexico City, visiting a colleague of mine (Edgar). The main purpose of this trip was to meet with a couple of researchers from Mexico who are doing extensive DNA research on native populations. Mexico counts about 190 diverse ethnic and linguistics groups and it is a true gold mine for population geneticists. Although the trip was fairly quick, my friend packed the time with interesting activities.

The first nice thing was about this trip was that Delta gave me free upgrades to first class for both legs of my flight. Not bad...

I arrived at the Mexico City international airport on Friday afternoon. Mexico City has a lot of traffic and 25 million people that are trying to move quickly to where they need to go... I loved their taxi system made up mainly of grey and white old VW bugs. At every corner, you have people selling food or small day to day items. It is nearly impossible walk on sidewalks as that is the place for the small street vendors. Before Mexico City was built, there was a large lake in this valley. Gradually, the Aztecs brought land in and dry parts of the lake. The city's transportation system was based on the numerous canals that divided each lot of land. Today, most of the lake is gone, but a small section outside the city maintained the canal system with pictoresque boats for tourists to ride. Since I was a tourist, I went on such ride...

Dinner was also a special treat as we ate in an old building called the Tile Palace, which at one point was the residential home of a wealthy Spaniard family.

Edgar came over fairly early on Saturday morning to pick me up at the hotel where I was lodging (the Sheraton in the historic part of town). We spent the whole morning and part of the early afternoon meeting with the two researchers I came to meet. We discussed Native American haplogrouping, collection strategies and a couple scientific papers they recently published.

After our nearly 6 hours meeting, we traveled outside of Mexico City to a place called Teotihuacan, which houses one of the largest and nicest archeological sites of Mesoamerica. The two largest building are the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, which Edgar and I both climbed. My legs were sore for the following three days... I found a site that has some neat information about this place (HERE). I got myself some small souvenirs, including a complete set of Aztecs gods carved in volcanic rock. I hope they will bring me good luck... :)

video

If you don't die from falling off the pyramids, they will finish you in here...

For dinner we went to a place called La Gruta (The Cave). This area has many natural caves that were used by the Aztecs as storage for food and other items, and also as a basement to some of the pyramids they built (used often as burials). This is one of the most interesting places I have ever dined at. We walked two stories underground in a semi-open cave packed with colorful chairs and tables. Dinner was also an interesting experience. We had fried pig skin with guacamole as an apetizer and then I ordered a Mexican sampler as the main dish. I also tried a dish called Mole... which is some sort of tortilla filled with chicken and smothered with a chocolate-base sauce... Not my favorite thing at all...but not bad enough to ruin the overall eating experience.

When I thought I gave everything I had to the day and I was happily getting closer to my hotel, I realized that Edgar had more plans for the evening (it was about 9pm...). We took the subway and visited a station with some models of the city of Mexico through the centuries. Then we walked around the historic center, visiting some more ruins, cathedrals, historical palaces, and some weirdos doing Woodoo like dances on the street. Lastly, we went through the traveling museum/display/exhibit of Ashes and Snow, which this year is hosted by Mexico City (in 2002 it opened in Venice, Italy and it has been in several large world cities since then). If you have never heard of it, you got to check their website at Ashes and Snow. What a surreal experience that was. The music, the images, the videos, the building... it was a walk in a different dimension. The artist, Gregory Colbert, spent years of his life documenting the interaction of animals and humans and his best pieces are part of this great show. If you will ever have the chance, you must go through one of this exhibits!! We completed the dinner with some Mexican flan at the Restaurant/Bar "La Opera."

Sunday was the day of departure. My flight was at 4pm. Edgar suggested we spent the morning touring the Anthropological museum, which is one of the finest collection of Paleoindians and Native mexicans culture and history. It was a journey through the history of this country and continent, something I really appreciate doing since my bulk of doctorate research is based on the genetic history of these people.

I flew home sleeping like a baby and with my mind filled of wonderful imagery from one of the most beutiful and diversified places on earth. This was my third trip to Mexico, but my first one to the country capital.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Baked Pasta, Cream Puffs, and Raspberry Pie

These last few days have been quite uneventful, I think... Last Saturday I spent another afternoon in the kitchen playing around with whatsoever I would find in the pantry and refrigerator. These are the most satisfying moments: when I am not planning any particular dishes and not grocery shopping for a particular recipe! Just looking around the house and getting some good ol' inspiration. My mother is the best at that. I remember looking around the house for a snack and finding little or nothing in the fridge or in the cupboards...then, she would call the family around the table for dinner, and voila'...some great meal was magically there...

I started with some baked pasta, lasagna style, using a large bag of frozen tomato sauce I made last summer from the tomatoes from our garden. While the sauce was cooking in a saucepan, I cooked some ground beef with olive oil and minced onions, carrots, and garlic. It smelled wonderful! I combined the beef with the sauce and let them "mingled" together on low heat for a while. In the mean time, I made some white bechamel sauce using butter, milk, flour and a pinch of nutmeg. Since I did not have any lasagna noodle around the house, I cooked some regular pasta, rotini shape, and mixed the tomato/beef sauce in it. Then I placed the pasta in a pirex pan (9x13) and poured the bechamel sauce on the top. I completed the thing with a generous amount of shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese and a touch of dry basil leaves. I ended up making two pans just in case and we ate one on Sunday and gave the other one to a neighbor.

Then I got a craving for cream puffs. I made two large cookie sheets of them. The recipe is quite simple:

- 1 cup of water;
- 125 grams of butter;
- 1 pinch of salt;
- 150 grams of white flour;
- 4 eggs.

First, you boil the water with the butter and salt. Then you add the flour all together and you mix vigorously to remove all the lumps. While continuing to stir, cook for another 5 minutes, until the dough does not stick to the pan. Place it in a bowl and let it cool down. Add the eggs, one at the time, and stir vigorously until the mix is smooth and silky (I used my Kitchen Aid mixer with the flat attachment). With a chef's icing bag, I made little mounds the size of a walnut (about 1.5 inch from each other) on two greased cookie sheets and baked it for 20 minutes (until golden) at 350F. Do not open the oven!! I let the empty cream puffs cool down on a cooling rack and preapred the filling by mixing a vanilla flavored custard (I made my own, but you can use a Jell-o mix) with freshly whipped whipping cream (sweetened with powder sugar). This was a richer version of a Chantilly cream. With my chef's bag, I filled each puff and placed them in the refrigerator for Sunday dinner. We ate them with a lightly sprinkle of powder sugar on the top.

Sorry for not taking pictures of the two final products described above... I just did not think about it, but I will do it next time... promised.

Instead, I do have a picture of the raspberry pie I made using a broken crust I found in the freezer (it was quite a job to fix it up before I baked it). I used the leftover Chantilly cream from the cream puffs to fill the pie crust and then a bag of frozen raspberries I found in the freezer. I covered the whole thing with a light layer of fruit gelatine to keep the raspberries together until dinner on Sunday night (yep, we had two desserts!!):