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My family and I have spent the last week on the island of St. Martin (which explains why it’s been so long since I’ve posted). Now you must understand that, for a family of foodies like us, dinner each evening was as much of a thrill as spending the day digging our toes into the sand of those pristine beaches. And if the place felt comfortable and familiar, it was for good reason - we are among our kind there. St. Martin is an island full of foodies.
St. Martin has an interesting culture, in that it is half French and half Dutch. Of all of the Caribbean islands that I’ve been to, the food on St. Martin is, hands down, the most elegant (albeit expensive). But that’s not to say that the restaurants are stuffy. While most of them are shorts and t-shirts kinds of places (and very kid-friendly), there is a decidedly French feel to the restaurants. Perhaps it is because a great deal of attention is paid to things like colors on the plate, textures, flavor pairings and presentation, making even the simplest dishes seem indulgent. It’s one of the things that we look forward to when we travel – food that is unique and special. Food that inspires.
Which brings me to this recipe. Bruschetta is a treat that we enjoyed almost every night in St. Martin. Before the main course, we shared a bruschetta plate and salad, a bruschetta plate and escargots, or just a big plate of bruschetta. It isn’t something that I make much at home (unless I’m entertaining), but I’m not sure why I don’t. It seems to instantly elevate meals to gourmet status.
This Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Bruschetta was inspired by one that we enjoyed at a restaurant called Le Moulin Fou in Maho Bay. A glass of champagne, an ocean breeze, a plate of bruschetta, some music in the background and the people I love the most at my side. Damn, life is good!
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
10-12 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. parsley, rough chopped
½ tsp. balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
10-12 slices of baguette, sliced ¼ inch thick
10-12 thin slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Add olive oil to a sauté pan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add onions and sauté for approx. 10 minutes (until they are wilted and lightly browned). Add garlic, mushrooms, rosemary and parsley and continue to sauté, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes or so. When mushrooms are lightly browned, add balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Set aside to cool slightly.
Lightly toast the baguette slices. Spoon some of the mushroom mixture onto each baguette slice and top with a sliver of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Okay, so you know how I said that I was enjoying the lazy days of summer? Well, that laziness is like a faint memory now. For one thing, the kids are finished with their two weeks of day camp. For another thing, I am working hard to set up the new blog, SiciLean™, and “migrate” the recipes and blog posts over from Forty Cloves (not terribly difficult, just time-consuming). I also made the mistake of scheduling all of the appointments that are hard to manage during the school year – doctors, dentists, orthodontist, etc. – over summer vacation, which means that I’ve spent entirely too many hours of the last two weeks sitting in various waiting rooms of various offices.
But I have made a lot of progress on the new blog: I have designed the site and moved a lot of the files from Forty Cloves. I am currently working on creating an index of recipes that will make it easier to find what you are looking for. I am working on some preliminary posts which will familiarize you with the Sicilian diet and outline the SiciLean™ principles/philosophy. And I’m combing through my vast collection of recipes to find ones that I think you’ll love.
It hasn’t left a lot of time for cooking. In fact, I haven’t even turned my oven on in a while. The few meals I’ve made have been either grilled or cold. That means, lots and lots of salad (the easiest of all meals, if you don’t mind the chopping). This Romaine Salad with Strawberries and Basil is a great combination of summer flavors and textures – colorful, crisp, and sweet. Enjoy!
Romaine Salad with Strawberries and Basil
1 head romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
1 ½ cups of strawberries, washed and sliced
1 generous handful of basil
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the chopped romaine lettuce in a medium bowl. Add the strawberries and basil leaves. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a pinch of salt and several (maybe 8 or 10) grinds of black pepper.
Add the dressing to the salad and toss well to combine. Adjust salt and pepper, as desired.
I'd like to send a great big thank you and a cyber-hug to all of you who subscribe to the blog, visit the site regularly and pass it on to others. Forty Cloves has been incredibly well-received and has really grown and blossomed. I appreciate all of your support and I’m excited to share some great news with you.
Many people ask me how I am able to cook and eat this way, and stay so slim. I always respond by saying that it is precisely BECAUSE I cook and eat this way that I stay so slim. I tell them about my 101 year old grandmother who maintains that the key to her health and longevity is her Sicilian diet. Then, I mention my parents, aunts, uncles and, well…just about everyone in our family. We have all grown up on this diet and have continued to eat this way. None of us (and this is not an over-generalization – none!) have struggled with excess weight or the health issues caused by it. (For those of you who claim that we have “good genes,” I say, thank you very much, but please log onto the internet and check out medical statistics for the country of Sicily – some pretty amazing proof that, although my family is rather awesome, it’s not just us!). Eating this way makes sense, not only because the food is incredible, but because it will keep you lean, satisfied, full of energy and feeling fabulous! As if that isn’t exciting enough, here’s one more thing to get pumped up about:
Forty Cloves is undergoing a metamorphosis, and will soon be “SiciLean”. While the food will remain the same, I’ll be sharing a lot more information about the Sicilian diet (the SiciLean philosophy) and its health benefits. I will provide you with:
Make sure to include your email address here and you won’t miss a beat. Once the new site is up and running, I’ll send word to you so that you can come check us out.
Note: If you’re already a Forty Cloves subscriber, you need do nothing. I know where to find you (wow, that sounds creepy).
Thanks, again, and I look forward to catching up with you on SiciLean!
Oh, and here is the Lamb Chop recipe - enjoy!
8 loin lamb chops
4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 tsp. salt
fresh black pepper, to taste
1/4 c. fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Preheat grill to medium-high.
First, rub the chops with about 2 Tbsp. of the oilve oil. Salt and pepper both sides of the chops and the rub in the minced garlic. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 Tbsp. of olive oil, the mint, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add approx. 1/4 tsp. salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Set aside.
Grill lamb chops for approximately 4 minutes per side. When done, transfer the lamb chops to a serving platter and spoon the mint salsa over the top.
It is a good idea to let the chops rest for about 5 minutes before serving. This will allow the juices to redistribute and the meat to become infused with the flavor of the mint salsa.
Let me begin by saying that LOVE the lazy days of summer. As a teacher, I truly appreciate and look forward to this time to regroup and refresh. This week, my kids are in camp all day (this is the first time that they’ve ever been in camp for more than a few hours a day) and the weather has been absolutely fantastic. I have spent the last few days indulging in long runs through my neighborhood, coffee with friends, yoga classes, afternoons spent reading in my backyard, and meals cooked on the grill and eaten outdoors. The stress is melting away, as we speak.
The pace of life, and meals, has already slowed down considerably. Unlike most weeknights spent juggling homework, after-school activities, and dinner preparation (after a full day of work), summer evenings require no juggling, and meals require hardly any time, planning or preparation.
The conversation usually goes something like this:
Me: What do you feel like having for dinner tonight?
Any one of my three family members: I don’t know.
Me: Okay. I’ll see what looks good.
And that’s how I plan for dinner. By not planning anything at all. I go to the store and allow myself to be guided by my senses. What looks good? What smells good? What is calling out to me? In the summer, I have the luxury of time to do this. I can go to the market everyday if I want to, shop unhurried, and prepare dinner mindfully and without distractions. Then, we sit together, chatting and eating and lingering at the table for a long while.
This is what we lingered over last night: Orange and Rosemary Grilled Pork Chops.
Money spent: $10.00
Time spent: 45 minutes
Summertime Sanity: Priceless
3 Tbsp. dark molasses
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1/4 cup orange juice
4 pork chops (I prefer boneless ones, about ½ inch thick)
Salt and pepper, to taste
More fresh rosemary, for garnish (oprional)
In a medium bowl, mix the first 5 ingredients. Set pork chops in a shallow baking dish and pour the marinade over them. Allow to marinate for approx. 30 minutes. When time is up, remove the chops from the marinade and season both sides with salt and pepper. Grill for approximately 6 minutes per side. Garnish with additional fresh rosemary, if desired.
Okay, I'm not one to brag (well, not much!) but this dish has become sort of a signature dish for me. If there's a holiday, special occasion, potluck, or any type of summer gathering, I'm usually asked to make this Frutti di Mare on the grill. It is, actually, a recipe that my friend, Caitlin, shared with me years ago. She, too, is constantly asked to make it.
It is a perfect dish for entertaining because the entire thing can be prepped ahead of time, covered with tin foil and kept in an aluminum pan in the fridge. When the guests arrive, the entire pan goes onto the grill. After 15-20 minutes, the mussels and clams open and the shrimp turn nice and pink. The juices from the seafood, along with the wine, olive oil, grape tomatoes and herbs form a wonderful broth, so don't forget the bread.
I made it last Father's Day (in fact, I make it every Father's Day) and, just as it came off of the grill, my father in law received a call on his cell phone. He stepped away to take the call and, by the time he returned 10 minutes later, there was nothing left. Two pounds of mussels, two pounds of clams, 16 jumbo shrimp and a loaf of Italian bread - gone! This year, he made sure not to stray too far from the table until after the Frutti di Mare was served.
I love to serve it on its own, as an appetizer. Caitlin loves to serve it as a main course, over linguini (the broth makes an incredible sauce). Whichever way you choose to make it, be prepared - you will be asked to make it again and again. But you will also earn major bragging rights.
Frutti di Mare on the Grill
2 lbs. mussels, cleaned
2 lbs. clams, cleaned
16-24 jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/3 c. olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 shallots, sliced thinly
1 pint grape tomatoes
2 lemons, sliced
1 Tbsp. salt
ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped basil
Preheat the grill until hot.
Place seafood in a large, aluminum pan and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the olive oil, white wine, shallots, salt and pepper. Pour over the seafood. Top seafood with the grape tomatoes, lemon slices and fresh herbs, then cover with aluminum foil. Place the pan onto the grill and allow to cook for approximately 15-20 minutes (or until the mussels and clams open and the shrimp turn pink), stirring occasionally. Remove pan from grill and serve.
In February, my family spent a week in Rome and stayed at the most incredible hotel, Albergo del Sole al Pantheon. It is billed as the oldest hotel in Rome, dating back to the 15th century, and its rooms contain some really interesting architectural details (not to mention skeleton keys to open the doors – I kid you not!). The hotel’s location is prime, in the middle of a piazza, smack dab in the center of the city, walking distance to all of the major tourist attractions, and overlooking the Pantheon. This was the view from our window:
Need I say more?? I’m sure I don’t, but I will add another reason to love this hotel – breakfast. Every morning, they serve an incredible buffet breakfast on their rooftop terrace which includes everything from an assortment of freshly baked breads and platters of prosciutto, cheese and hard-boiled eggs, to fresh fruit, granola and homemade ricotta. Yes, homemade ricotta cheese – thick and creamy and warm. Spread onto the rosemary focaccia, it was pure heaven!
I returned from Italy determined to try my hand at making ricotta. I collected quite a few recipes, among them, one from Ina Garten’s book How Easy is That? (thank you, Norma!) I tweaked it slightly and it was absolutely, mouth-wateringly delicious! I love thick ricotta cheese, so I strained it for a good long while. The end result was rich and creamy and the closest thing to what we had in Italy that I’ve tasted.
I will work on the rosemary focaccia, to be sure. Until then, breakfast is a slice of Italian toast, a layer of arugula leaves, the homemade ricotta, a few tomato slices, salt and pepper. If I have prosciutto in the house, I might throw that on, too. For those of you, like me, who don’t love cereal and other “breakfast” foods, this is a perfect way to say Buon Giorno!
4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
In a medium saucepan, over medium-high heat, combine the milk, heavy cream and salt. Bring to a rolling boil, then remove from heat. Stir in the vinegar and allow it to sit for 2-3 minutes until it begins to curdle (It looks pretty unappetizing at this point. Keep the faith). Pour the mixture into a sieve lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter and set over a large bowl. Let the ricotta drain for at least 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, check the consistency. If you’d like it thicker, continue to let it drain. When you are satisfied with the consistency, put into the refrigerator. It will keep for 4-5 days in the fridge.
Makes approximately 2-3 cups.
Our deck has been power-washed and freshly stained, the outdoor furniture cleaned and set out, the grill tank filled with gas and the fridge stocked with a few bottles of rose´. Summer has, officially, begun.
One of the many things I love about summer is the ease of preparing meals. Not much planning, prepping or cooking time is required to make a meal on the grill, not to mention the fact that grilling is, generally, pretty healthy. Just about any meat, fish or vegetable can be grilled, and little more than olive oil, lemon juice and fresh herbs is needed to make it sing. And then there are the skewers - I still haven’t figured out why placing things on a stick makes them taste better, but I’m convinced that it does. If it can be skewered, I’m all over it – no piece of meat, no cherry tomato, no chunk of…anything, really, is safe.
Because grilling is so easy and so good, we tend to do a lot of it (like, almost every night) and so, I’m always looking for ways to keep it interesting. One way I fancy things up is to put something on top of whatever I’ve grilled - a salsa or chutney. Another way is to put something beneath it - a salad, grain of some sort, or vegetable puree.
Since fennel pairs so well with seafood, a fennel puree is the perfect base for grilled shrimp. The pink shrimp (skewered, of course) sitting on top of the creamy white puree look gorgeous, and the sweetness of the fennel complements the tart lemon and garlic flavor of the shrimp beautifully.
Add to that a green salad, a glass of rose´ and a comfy deck chair and you’ve got the makings of a ‘welcome summer’ dinner. Happy June!
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 fennel bulbs, core removed and thinly sliced (chop and reserve some of the fronds for garnish)
¼ cup water
½ tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper (about 12 grinds of the peppermill)
Combine butter and oil in a medium pot, on medium heat. When the butter melts completely, add the fennel slices and toss them so that they are evenly coated with the butter and oil. Add the water and reduce heat to low. Cover the pot and let it simmer gently for 20 minutes. When done, put the fennel, along with the liquid in the pot, into the blender. Add the salt and pepper, and puree until smooth.
Makes about 2 cups of puree.
**Note –this reheats beautifully, so it can be made in advance and heated up when ready to serve**
Grilled Shrimp Skewers
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. paprika
Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 Tbsp.)
Zest of 1 lemon (about 1 Tbsp.)
1 tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper (about 12 grinds of the peppermill)
12 – 20 large shrimp
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, garlic, paprika, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pup the shrimp into the marinade and toss until well coated. Let shrimp marinate for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, heat the grill. When the shrimp are done marinating, skewer them and grill for approximately 2 minutes on each side. Serve by placing skewers on top of the fennel puree and sprinkling with the reserved fennel fronds.
Serves 2-4 (depending on size of shrimp and size of appetite!)
For those of you who haven’t read my previous posts, Spring Fling is a food blogging event that I’m participating in. Each week, a seasonal fruit or veggie is featured and participating blogs post recipes featuring that food. This week, we’re eating and talking strawberries, which led me to this recipe for Strawberry-Cinnamon Muffins (inspired by Ina Garten’s recipe for Tri-Berry Muffins, found in her book, Barefoot Contessa at Home).
I must begin by saying, I’m not a big fan of muffins. In most cases, they’re just cupcakes in disguise. The name “muffin” somehow convinces people that it’s healthy, despite the two sticks of butter, the white flour, and the pile of sugar. While these muffins are made somewhat more virtuous by whole wheat flour and fresh strawberries, I cannot, in good faith, tell you that they are a nutritious meal. As a treat, however, they rock.
They are sweet and cinnamon-y and moist. The strawberries soften and resemble little pockets of jam within the cake and, by adding the sugar last, a slightly crunchy crust forms over the top. The addition of whole wheat flour means that they’re less guilt-inducing than most other sweets. And they are gorgeous to look at. Oh, and did I mention that strawberries are now, officially, in season? They’re at their best (and especially wonderful if you pick them yourself). All in all, I find these muffins to be a perfect indulgence and a perfect way to celebrate strawberries!
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 ¼ cup milk
2 sticks of butter, melted
2 cups of strawberries, diced
1 ½ cups sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease muffin pan, or use paper muffin liners in the muffin pan.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients – the milk, eggs and butter. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones and stir. Add the sugar and the strawberries and gently combine.
Fill muffin cups about ¾ full. Bake until golden and until a tester comes out clean.
Makes about 16 muffins.
Let me sum up last week for you: one solid week of rain, a crazy-busy time of year at work, an even crazier and busier time of year for two school-aged children, a husband away on business, a home improvement project gone awry, and a nasty head-cold/allergy attack (still not sure which). Let’s just say that I spent most of this week with a spoon in my hand, digging deep into the Nutella jar. (Nutella usually acts like a mood-altering drug on me, but this week, even Nutella wasn’t enough).
If ever there was a week when I needed some serious comfort food, this was it. The thing that nobody tells you about comfort food, however, is that it’s not quite so comforting when you have to prepare it for yourself at the end of a day that has drained you, physically and emotionally, with a chorus of whining in the background because your children are “starving” and, yet, don’t seem to want to eat anything that you have in the house! The thought of making dinner (which I usually enjoy) was enough to send me right over the edge, so…
We had breakfast instead. There aren’t many things, in my opinion, which can’t be cured with an egg (yolk slightly runny), a thick slice of buttered toast and a steaming mug of tea. This recipe for Eggs Poached in Tomatoes is made even more comforting by the fact that the eggs are, basically, put into the pan and left to poach – very little standing over the stove is required– which means that while they are cooking, you can get into your pajamas, blow your nose, give your kids a snuggle and remember that, with breakfast, comes a new day.
Eggs Poached in Tomatoes
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, finely diced
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp. dried Italian Seasoning
1/2 tsp. salt
grated parmegiano-reggiano or shredded mozzarella cheese (optional)
Heat olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium-high heat. Add red pepper flakes and diced onion and cook until the onion is translucent (about 3-4 minutes). Pour in the tomatoes, add the Italian Seasoning and salt and simmer for about 4-5 minutes. The sauce will reduce slightly. Add eggs, one at a time, cover the pan and reduce heat, so that the sauce is simmering gently. Allow eggs to poach for approximately 6 minutes (if you like the yolks a bit runny), 8 minutes (if you prefer them more cooked). If you desire, when done, you can sprinkle them with grated parmegiano-reggiano or shredded mozzarella cheese.