Strawberry Mascarpone Pie

I’ve always enjoyed American-style strawberry pie in which strawberries are suspended in a cornstarch-thickened gel and served with a big dollop of whipped cream. This variation is now my new and preferred favorite, made with puréed strawberries whipped into mascarpone and whipping cream and set in a graham cracker crust. It is light and delicious. I love the flavor combination of strawberries and mascarpone. You can use the filling as a base for other pies by substituting in raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, plums, peaches, apricots, or mangos (or a combination of these fruits). I prefer to make my own graham cracker crust, but feel free to use store bought if you are pressed for time. It would make a nice, easy pie if you are looking for an Easter dessert.

Strawberry Mascarpone Pie
Graham Cracker Crust
1 packet cinnamon graham crackers, slightly crushed
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
generous pinch of cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor combine broken-up graham crackers with nutmeg and cinnamon. Pulse until you have fine crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse until crumbs look wet. Pour into a 9-inch metal pie plate. Press crumbs into the plate. Bake for 10 minutes, then cool on rack.

Strawberry Mascarpone Filling
10 large strawberries, sliced
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup mascarpone cheese
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place sliced strawberries in a food processor with 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar. Puree until smooth. Pour into a 2-cup measuring cup. You should have 1-1/4 cups strawberry puree. In a mixer bowl combine mascarpone, heavy cream and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Beat with a wire whip for 20 seconds to begin incorporating the mixture. Add strawberry puree and vanilla. Beat until you get a thick whipped cream. Pour into prebaked pie crust. Spread to the edges of the pie crust with an offset spatula. Cover pie in plastic wrap and chill 4-6 hours. Serves 8.

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Italian Fig Cookies (Cucidati II)

I posted a recipe for cucidati a few years ago but I recently tried a different dough recipe given to me by my cousin Barbara. I added cinnamon and orange zest to the tender and flaky dough. It is wonderful. The cookies freeze beautifully. You can frost them and top with sprinkles or dust with confectioners sugar if desired. I left them plain for the photo so you could see how they should look when freshly baked. Enjoy them for Easter or other holidays.

Italian Fig Cookies (Cucidati II)
2 cups flour
⅓ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon grated orange zest
¼ teaspoon fine salt
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup shortening
¼ cup milk
1 large egg, beaten slightly
1-½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg white, beaten slightly with a pinch of fine salt for an egg wash

1 cup chopped dried Calimyrna figs, stems removed
1 cup dark raisins
1 cup chopped pecan halves
½ cup honey
½ cup apricot jam
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon orange zest or more to taste
⅓ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
¼ teaspoon fine salt

For the Dough: In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, orange zest, and salt. Mix well. Add butter and shortening and cut into coarse crumbs. In a separate bowl combine milk, egg, and vanilla. Mix with a fork to combine. Slowly mix  the milk mixture into the dry ingredients to form a soft dough. Knead for just a minute to bring dough together into a smooth ball. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill 2 hours.

For the Filling: Combine all ingredients in a food processor bowl and pulse until you get a thick, smooth paste. Chill until ready to use.

Assembly: Cut dough into four pieces. Take 1 piece and roll into a 10-12 inch long rectangle on a lightly-floured surface. Spoon a ½-inch wide strip of filling down the long edge of the dough and roll the dough up over the filling once to form an enclosed log. Cut the filled log away from the rectangular rolled dough, then take that long strip of fig-filled dough and cut into individual 1-inch long cookies. Place cookies seam side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat by adding a strip of filling along the edge of the remaining rolled-out dough and roll it over the filling. Do this with the remaining three sections of dough. Brush each cookie with the egg white. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes until the cookies are set, flaky, and slightly golden. Remove to a rack to chill completely. Makes 75 cookies.


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Easter Couscous Salad

We have couscous salad every Easter to accompany the grilled leg of lamb. It is nice and light and a favorite with the children in the family. I previously posted a summer version with apricots, blackberries, and balsamic vinegar. This recipe has tomatoes instead of summer fruit. The variations could include adding different herbs or citrus, cheese, beans, grilled meat, or other vegetables. I like to make the salad the day before I intend to serve it, since the flavors improve as it chills.

Easter Couscous Salad
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups couscous
1/3-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 large Meyer lemon
1 cup chopped tomatoes or more to taste
1/4 cup sliced green onions (about 1 bunch)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
1/2-1 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste

In a 2-quart saucepan combine stock and butter. Cover and bring to a boil on medium high heat. Once the stock is boiling, stir in couscous. Mix quickly with a fork, then cover and remove from heat. Let sit 5 minutes. Use a fork to fluff the couscous and pour into a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients to the couscous and stir to mix well. Taste and adjust lemon juice, herbs, and salt and pepper to your liking. Chill until ready to serve. Serves 6-8.

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Thai Basil Chicken

Years ago, when we lived in Upstate New York, we frequented a Thai restaurant that served a delicious Thai basil chicken dish. My husband ordered it regularly. After moving away and not finding it at local Thai restaurants I tried to replicate it. The original was made with boneless chicken breasts, but we like chicken thighs so that is what we are using for this recipe. I love the fresh, light licorice flavor Thai basil imparts to the chicken. Enjoy.

Thai Basil Chicken
2 Thai chilis, stemmed and sliced (or more to taste)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1-1/2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs, sliced or cubed
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce (I like Three Crabs brand)
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 bunch fresh Thai basil, rinsed and leaves removed from stem
1 lime, quartered

In a wok or large frying pan heat oil on medium high heat. While oil is heating, place the chilies and garlic in a mortar and pestle. Pound it to make a rough paste and release the oils. Add the chili-garlic paste to the hot oil and cook 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add red onion and cook 2 minutes. Add bell pepper and cook 1-2 minutes. Add chicken and stir to mix. You may want to raise the heat slightly. Add soy sauce, fish sauce, water, and sugar. Stir to mix. Let chicken cook 5-7 minutes or until it is thoroughly cooked and most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove pan from heat. Add basil leaves and stir. Serve with Jasmine rice and a wedge of lime to squeeze over individual portions if desired. Serves 4.

Posted in Chicken, Meat Dishes | 4 Comments

Cod Oreganata

We are about half-way through March and I am growing tired of hearty cold-weather dishes and craving lighter meals such as fish. This recipe has its roots in Sicilian cooking. The flavorful, seasoned breadcrumb topping works well with any white fish or other seafood. You can also use it for pork or chicken.

Cod Oreganata
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil  plus extra for drizzling over fish
1/4 cup white wine
juice of half a large Meyer lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup Progresso Italian-style breadcrumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon dried Greek oregano
salt and pepper to taste
2-1/2-3 lbs. fresh cod fillets or other firm white fish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In an 8×8 square pyrex dish combine 1/4 cup olive oil with wine, lemon juice, and kosher salt. Whisk to dissolve salt. In a separate bowl combine breadcrumbs, cheese, garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Dip both sides of a fish fillet in the olive oil mixture. Sprinkle the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish with some of the breadcrumbs. Lay the oil-dipped fish fillet in the breadcrumbs and sprinkle more breadcrumbs generously over the top of the fillet. Transfer fish to an oiled half-sheet pan. Repeat with remaining fish fillets, dipping them in the oil mixture then topping with breadcrumbs. Transfer to the half-sheet pan. Drizzle each fillet with a bit of olive oil. Bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, until cooked through. Serves 4-6.

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Fried Tilapia in Indian Tomato Masala or Fried Tilapia in Italian Tomato Olive Sauce

Fried Tilapia in Tomato Masala is a favorite Indian dish I learned to make from my cooking teacher Farida. It is a layered potato and fish dish covered with a spiced tomato masala. It does take time to prepare but it can be done in steps over the course of a couple of days. I recommend baking the potatoes the day before and reheating them when ready to serve; the rest comes together easily. I also make a delicious and light Italian version without the potatoes consisting of just the fried tilapia topped with a tomato olive sauce. Both versions, included here, can be prepared using any firm-flesh white fish, and they are both nice options if you are observing Lent. You can decide whether you are in the mood for Indian or Italian.

Fish Masala
Roast potatoes
3 large russet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch slices
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
garlic powder
onion powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil 2 baking sheets. Place potato slices in a single layer on each sheet. Sprinkle the potatoes with salt, pepper and a light sprinkling of garlic and onion powders. Drizzle potatoes lightly with olive oil and roast for 35-40 minutes until potatoes are fork tender. You could also cook the potato slices in the microwave. Set aside.

Fried Fish
6 tilapia fillets or 2 lbs. firm white fish fillets
1 tablespoon kosher salt
juice of half a lemon

Rinse fish fillets and pat dry. Sprinkle both sides with kosher salt; a tablespoon with be enough for 6 fillets. Lay each fillet on a baking sheet and squeeze the juice of half a lemon over all the fish. Cover with plastic wrap and chill one hour, then rinse off salt and lemon juice. Pat dry with a paper towel.

Tomato Masala
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon chopped garlic or garlic paste
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons fine salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 medium Anaheim pepper, seeded and chopped
1 cup chopped cilantro

In a bowl combine tomatoes with water, garlic, and spices. Mix well. Take about 1 cup of the tomato masala mixture and spoon it all over the fish fillets. Heat 3/4 cup of oil in a frying pan on medium heat. There should be enough oil to come about half-way up the fish fillet when frying. When oil is hot fry two fish fillets at a time for 3-5 minutes until golden on the bottom and getting a bit crisp. Gently turn fish over with a spatula and cook two more minutes. Transfer to a 9×13 glass baking dish. Repeat with the remaining fish. Set the baking dish with the fish aside. Keep the frying pan with the cooking oil hot and pour the remaining tomato masala mixture into the hot cooking oil. Let it cook for 10-15 minutes until the tomato mixture begins to darken in color. If it seems like you have a excessive amount of oil floating on the top of the tomato masala pour some of it off, but you do want to leave some because it imparts the fried fish flavor to the tomato sauce. Add Anaheim pepper and cook 10-15 minutes longer until the tomato masala begins to stick to the bottom of the pan. Add cilantro and cook 5 more minutes. Place warmed roasted potatoes on top of the fish in the baking dish. Top with the cooked tomato masala mixture and serve. Serves 4-6.

Fried Tilapia in Italian Tomato Olive Sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onions
2 clove garlic, chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
2-1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
1/2-1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups chicken stock
15 kalamata olives
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
6 tilapia fillets
1 cup flour seasoned with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder
Canola oil for frying

Follow the step above for marinating the tilapia in lemon juice and salt. While the fish is marinating prepare the tomato olive sauce by heating the olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add onions and cook 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add celery. Cook 3 minutes, then add tomatoes and cook 5 minutes. Add chicken broth, oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook about 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender and the sauce is slightly thickened. Add olives and capers. Cook 5-10 minutes longer. Set aside while you fry the fish. Rinse and pat tilapia dry. Take the six tilapia fillets and dip in seasoned flour. Fry in hot oil on both sides, then set on paper towel-lined dish to drain. Place fried fish in a deep serving dish and pour tomato olive sauce over the fish. Serve.

Fried Tilapia in Tomato Masala

Posted in Fish and Seafood, Sauces | Leave a comment

Pasta with Red Kidney Beans

I’m posting this recipe for my son. It is one of his favorite pasta dishes and very comforting for dinner on a cold winter evening. The recipe is adapted from one my great Aunt Rosa made.

Pasta with Red Kidney Beans
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups tomato purée
2 cups water
8 fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1-2 teaspoons sugar
1 (15 oz.) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
3/4 cup pasta cooking water
3/4 lb. elbow macaroni

Heat oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add onion and cook 7-10 minutes until soft and turning golden. Add garlic. Cook 1 minute. Add carrot and celery. Add a bit salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes. Add tomato purée, 2 cups water, basil, oregano and sugar. Cover and cook 10-15 minutes to soften vegetables and evaporate some of the liquid. Add kidney beans and parsley to the tomato sauce. Cook 5 minutes to heat through. Cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Before draining the pasta, set aside 3/4 cup pasta cooking water for the sauce. Then add cooked pasta and reserved pasta water to the tomato sauce with beans. Stir to mix and bring to a simmer. Let cook 3-5 minutes. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if necessary. Pour into a serving bowl. Serves 4-6.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream

This ice cream is always a hit with family and friends. It is rich and creamy and simple to put together. It would be a nice Valentine’s Day dinner dessert. The recipe came from my friend Marie.

Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream
1 large egg
a pinch of salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3-1/2 cup Nutella or other chocolate hazelnut spread
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups heavy cream

In a blender combine egg and salt, then blend until frothy, about 1 minute. Add sugar and pulse to mix. Add Nutella and vanilla, then blend until smooth. Scrape down the blender bowl and add cream. Blend again, then scrape down bowl. Blend until smooth but not so much that you whip the cream. Pour into an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes 1 quart.

Note: If you are concerned about using a raw egg, place all ingredients in a saucepan and, stirring often, bring the mixture to 160 degrees, then let it cool before pouring into an ice cream maker.

Posted in Chocolate, Christmas, Desserts, Easter, Ice Cream, Thanksgiving | Leave a comment

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup

This fragrant and delicious soup is one of my favorites. The recipe is adapted from one I learned to make at a Sur La Table cooking class about ten years ago. I am fortunate to have an Asian market in town that stocks fresh lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, and frozen thinly sliced galangal. My husband has a green thumb so he also grows a small kaffir lime tree to use for Thai cooking. You can use dumplings in place of chicken or try adding a bit of both meat and dumplings. If you need some heat, add a Thai chili.

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup
4-1/2 cups coconut milk
10 thin slices galangal (I use frozen)
5 stalks lemongrass, use bottom 1/3rd of the stalk and cut  into 1-inch lengths then crush it to release flavor
8 fresh kaffir lime leaves, torn in half
1 cup chicken stock
1-3/4 lbs. boneless chicken thighs, sliced into thin strips to equal 3-1/2 cups sliced chicken (you can also use chicken breasts)
5 tablespoons fish sauce (I like Three Crabs brand)
3 tablespoons sugar
juice of 1 medium lime

In a 4-quart saucepan combine 2-1/2 cups of the coconut milk with galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and chicken stock. On low heat slowly bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. This should take 20 minutes or so, allowing the flavors to develop. Let the mixture come to a boil then add chicken, fish sauce, and sugar. Keep the heat on a lower setting and cover. Let simmer for about 7-10 minutes or until chicken is cooked. Add remaining coconut milk and heat just to boiling. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice. Serves 6-8.

Posted in Chicken, Meat Dishes, Soups | 2 Comments

Gyoza (Asian Dumplings)

On the coldest of winter days, when I don’t have to go outside, I enjoy being at home in the kitchen with a project that may take a bit more time than the usual dinner preparation. One of the dishes I like to make on days when I have extra time is Japanese gyoza or dumplings. I learned how to make them when we lived in Japan years ago but have modified the recipe over time. I like to form the gyoza using a dumpling press, which speeds up the process and they look beautiful. You can boil the gyoza or pan fry and steam them. I prefer to pan fry because I like the bit of crunch the pan frying method adds. Gyoza are served with a dipping sauce. I also like to add them to soups such as Thai chicken coconut soup.

Gyoza (Asian Dumplings)
1/2 head Napa Cabbage or a small bunch of fresh bok choy or spinach
3/4 lb. ground pork
1/4 lb. ground chicken (I will sometimes do 1/2 ground pork and 1/2 ground chicken)
1 large egg, beaten
3 stalks green onion, finely minced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2-3 teaspoons sesame oil

2 pkgs. round potsticker wrappers (48 per pack)
bowl of warm water

Dipping Sauce
1/3 cup soy sauce
1-2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar or to taste
1-2 drops sesame oil
a few drops chili oil

Blanch cabbage in salted boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain it well. Squeeze out excess liquid from the cabbage, then finely chop. You want about 3/4 cup of blanched cabbage. Set aside. In a bowl combine both ground meats and egg. Mix well, then add cabbage, onions, garlic, and ginger. Mix well to evenly distribute. Next add salt, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Let filling sit for a few minutes so the flavors can develop. Take one potsticker wrapper and place in the palm of your hand. Dip your finger in the bowl of warm water and run it around the outside edge of the wrapper. Place moistened wrapper in a dumpling press and add 1-1/2 teaspoons filling into the center, then seal shut with the press. Don’t overfill or the gyoza skins will split. (You can also do this by hand without a press by forming the dumpling into a half moon, pleating the edge as you go.) Place filled gyoza on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You can boil the gyoza as you would ravioli in salted boiling water for 5-10 minutes or until they float to the top. You can also fry the gyoza flat side down in a little oil and, once the bottoms are crunchy, add 1/4-1/3 cup of water and cover with a lid to steam for 1-3 minutes. Makes about 75 dumplings.
To Serve: Whisk together dipping sauce ingredients. Place sauce in individual bowls and serve alongside cooked gyoza.

Posted in Appetizers, Chicken, Meat Dishes, Pork, Sauces | 2 Comments