Sunday, July 25, 2010

Artichoke and Tomato Bruschetta

The heat has been insane lately in Maryland. It's almost too hot to eat anything these days! However, if you're looking for a light, tasty and fresh appetizer that will hold up in this oppressive heat this is it. I saw this post on Proud Italian Cook that included a recipe idea for Artichoke Salsa .
It sounded so good and since I love artichokes I knew it would be a hit. Plus, there is no need to warm up the oven and you don't even have to light the grill if you don't want to! Just cut up some nice French bread to serve this salsa-style artichoke mixture on. I did serve it on grilled flatbread squares, but if you can't stand the heat that extra step is not needed.
This dish is a bit labor intensive - interpreted to mean LOTS of chopping. I chopped everything by hand so it takes a while. But it's worth it. So stay cool and enjoy this yummy bruschetta!

Artichoke and Tomato Bruschetta
Adapted from Proud Italian Cook's blog
1 12 oz jar of marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
1 8 oz jar of pitted kalamata olives, chopped
2 to 3 ripe tomatoes, diced
1/2 of a red onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh Cubanelle or Banana pepper, diced
a handful of basil, chiffonaded
1/2 of a lemon juiced
3 tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
a loaf of French bread, sliced or pitas cut into triangles

After chopping and dicing your ingredients, combine them all in a bowl. Toss with the fresh squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, basil and salt and pepper. Season to taste - go easy on the salt because the olives will add salt as well as the marinated artichokes.
Grill your French bread or sliced pitas over hot coals until grill marks are formed. Serve artichoke mixture over pieces of grilled bread. Top with more basil leaves if desired.
(It also tastes great topped with a little shredded pecorino Romano cheese)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Violet Beauregard's Blueberry Pound Cake

So do you know who Violet Beauregard is?? If you're a closet fan of the classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory film then you know exactly who I'm talking about. This greedy gum-chewer ends up turning into a blueberry before the end of her tour of the factory. The Oopma Loompas roll her away to be juiced, as her father laments, "I have a blueberry for a daughter." Remembering that great scene, I figured this pound cake would be right up Violet's alley.
After a recent trip to a local farmer's market, I came home with an overflowing pint of plump, juicy blueberries. (I wish I had taken a picture but I was trying to bake this cake as quick as I could before the baby woke up to eat so pictures were not in the cards until afterward! So here's a picture of my sweet, little baking interrupter:
Anyway, the blueberries were so beautiful and I knew I would never eat all of them before they went bad, so I figured the best thing to do was bake with them. I didn't feel like making blueberry muffins so I brainstormed on what else I could make. The idea of a blueberry pie was appealing, but I didn't have near enough blueberries for that. So I turned to an old faithful recipe for a super-moist pound cake, added my two cups of blueberries to the batter along with a cup of cinnamon streusel sugar and voila - Blueberry Cinnamon Streusel Pound Cake, or as I like to call it Violet Beauregard's Blueberry Pound Cake .
Bursting with sweet, juicy blueberries this is great for dessert or breakfast. The spicy streusel streaming through the center of the cake adds a flavorful touch. And the crazy amounts of butter along with a block of cream cheese make this THE MOISTEST pound cake I've EVER tasted. It would be a great cake to share with friends or bring to a party because it's truly no-fail! Enjoy!

Violet Beauregard's Blueberry Pound Cake
adapted from Nordstrom Family and Friends Cookbook and Ina Garten's streusel recipe

For the Pound Cake:
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, or 3 sticks, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for preparing the pan
1 8-oz package of cream cheese at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
6 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups ripe blueberries, or 3 cups if you have it (this is my addition)

For the streusel:
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Butter a 10-in tube pan or Bundt pan and then dust the pan with flour, tapping out the excess. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer set on high speed, beat together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides and then beat on high speed for 1 minute longer. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour 1 cup at a time, beating after each addition until the flour disappears. Do not overmix.
Fold in your blueberries.
Next, make your streusel. Combine all the dry ingredients and cut the butter into the flour and sugar mixture with fork or your fingers until you achieve a crumbly mixture. Now you're ready to assemble the batter into your prepared pan.
Pour half the batter into a prepared pan. Next, disperse the streusel mixture evenly over the top of the batter. Finally cover with the remaining half of the cake batter.
Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted into the top comes out clean, about 1 1/4 hours. Remove from the oven and let the cake rest in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert a rack on top of the cake, invert the cake and rack and then lift off the pan. Let cook slightly before serving.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Roasted Tomato and Basil Risotto

I love summer! Every summer I grow herbs on my patio and it's so much fun to plan meals around the fresh supply I have waiting for me. This was one of those meals, inspired by my little herb pots. I love basil. It smells so lovely, with a slight hint of anise. It just reminds me of the summer I spent in Florence, Italy.
This risotto was kind of modeled after a caprese salad, but I left out the fresh mozzarella and substituted grated romano instead. You might think risotto is too heavy for a summer dish - not to mention the 30 minutes spent stirring it over a hot stove. But this risotto has a really fresh light flavor, accented with grilled tomatoes and a ton of fresh basil. I served it with a Grilled Pinot Grigio Pork Tenderloin , marinated in a mixture of fresh rosemary from my herb pots, garlic, dijon mustard, Pinot Grigio wine, olive oil and salt and pepper.
So if you have some extra time give this delicious fresh summery risotto a try. Just crank up your AC for the stirring part.

Roasted Tomato and Basil Risotto
1 pint of cherry tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, minced
5 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 of a vidalia onion (it calls for the whole thing but I don't like that much onion)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup of Arborio rice
1 cup of dry white wine
4-6 cups of chicken stock or water
a handful of chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Fire up your grill or preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a foil pan, toss your cherry tomatoes with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and your 4 minced cloves of garlic. Roast until tomatoes have blistered, either over a hot grill or in the oven - about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Finely chop your onion and garlic. Over medium heat, heat the olive oil along with your butter in a risotto pan or large heavy bottom saute pan. Add your onion and garlic and cook until translucent, about 7 to 10 minutes. Then add your arborio rice and toss often, allowing the rice kernels to toast up a bit, about 7 to 10 minutes. This helps them absorb the liquid more efficiently.
Then add your cup of wine and stir until the liquid is nearly completely absorbed. In a saucepan, heat your 4 cups of chicken stock over low heat. Once warm, add it to your risotto one cup at a time, stirring occasionally so your rice doesn't stick or burn. If the liquid is evaporating too quickly in your risotto pan, turn your heat down to medium low. You'll have to find the perfect temp on your range.
Once all the liquid has been absorbed and your rice is cooked to al dente, remove the pan from the stove. This could take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes depending on your stove and temperature and how often you've been stirring.
Off the heat, stir in the tomatoes, basil and grated cheese until combined. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

40th Birthday Party

My wonderful, loving, very young-at-heart husband turned 40 this past weekend. Here's a pic of the birthday boy by his Happy 40th Birthday sign.
I threw a nice little barbeque pool party for him with about 30 of our friends. We had great weather, a friendly crowd and tons of food. With a little help from my mom, I was able to pull off the following menu:

Homemade Gaucamole
Shrimp Cocktail
Antipasti Skewers (that consisted of marinated artichoke hearts, pepperoni, marinated mixed Greek olives, and marinted mozzarella balls - all store bought and skewered up because people like food on sticks)
Cheddar Ale Spread

Main Course:
Grilled Honey Mustard Chicken
Deviled Eggs
Sundried Tomato Pasta Salad
Baby Greens Salad with Mandarin Oranges, Cranberries, Almonds and Shaved Parmesan

Tropical Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting for the birthday cake
Homemade Apple Pie