This week’s obsession, Sicily

In my family, Sicily has always been one of those romantic places I never knew much about. Sure I’ve always wanted to visit, but with so many other wonderful places within the main “boot” I’ve just never thought about prioritizing a visit “way” down there. That is until this week. It seems, only through coincidence, that several friends have recently visited and have come home raving about unmatched beauty, the best food they have ever eaten and people that are warmer than the average Italian native. With all the recent discussion surrounding the topic, Sicily was definitely worth researching.

Sicily

So I began with my most reliable source, Uncle Joey. Over lunch I brought up the topic and his eyes immediately lit up with a sparkle I had not seen in awhile. “Oh honey, it’s the MOST wonderful place I’ve EVER been to!” I was surprised by this immediate enthusiasm. Uncle Joey has been to a lot of places. His heartfelt reflection alone seemed worthy of a trip. He went onto describe what was, at least in his memory, the best trip he had ever taken. The views were so picturesque, and water a color so blue, it was almost magical. He described the freshest fish and meat he had ever eaten, normally accompanied with an innately Sicilian dish called caponata. I had heard of this dish, but had never made it. We discussed the ingredients, what he remembered about the flavor, and I was sent off from our lunch with a task. Make the caponata. If not to try something new, to perhaps bring back the flavor of Sicily that he so enjoyed.

Sicilian Caponata

After researching several recipes, and an intense debate about with raisins or without, eggplant with skins or without, we settled on what seemed to be the closest match to what he remembered. No raisins, and half of the eggplant would remain with skins. We went about chopping eggplant, olives, capers, and carefully salting the eggplant to remove all extra water. We sautéed layer upon layer until all ingredients happily settled into a low simmer. It’s a simple process that takes only a bit of patience. The finished product is one of the most versatile jars of yumminess that I have ever tasted. It’s delicious on crackers, with meat, on a salad or as a pasta sauce. While I’m sure this version is not nearly as delicious as what Uncle Joey had in Sicily, it sure was fun making it and dreaming, if even for a bit, that we might venture there some day soon.

Sicilian Eggplant Caponata

The finished product

This Labor Day we made jam. Darn good jam.

This Labor Day weekend was full of all things expected. Last minute school supply shopping, exchanging one size of jeans for another, buying the right “breakfast” groceries to ensure the kidlets get off to their first day of school with at least something of substance in their bellies. But it was also full of a few indulgent moments. Dinner at Spinasse. Lunch with Uncle Joey. And a fien-fien dinner consisting of potato chips, dip and two margaritas. Another more productive moment included a brief stop at the Ballard Farmer’s Market where we picked up a few flats of the most beautiful berries that we had seen all year. Blackberry and raspberry – big juicy organic pints of yumminess.

Ballard Market Berries

So we decided to make jam. Simple, right? Our moms made jam every summer. We grew up with pantries filled with jam, pickles, carrots, applesauce and the most adorable stacked canned peaches known to man. For the menial task of making jam, our mothers even went out and picked the darn berries themselves. Big buckets full of raspberries, blackberries, even huckleberries. They were hardcore, no doubt about it. Here we were grabbing a few flats at the Market for our jam making adventure. Happily paying the farmers for “picking” our bounty of berries, we went about our task. How hard could it be?

First there was the selecting of the right jars. Do we go the classic (boring) Mason jar route? Or the new stylish Weck jars route with their pretty contrasting color seals and stainless clips? We are designers after all. Presentation is everything. After one trip to Crate and Barrel and one to Metropolitan Market, we selected Weck. Sure they were a little more complicated, but they just look better. And they were different than the classic Mason jars our mothers had used. So they had to be innately better. Right? Jars chosen as a nod to our savvier selves, we were onto the next step.

Next was the selection of the recipe. For the love. There are a lot of simple jam recipe’s out there. From Cooks, to Martha, to Epicurious, to FoodNetwork, to Ball, to the NYTimes. We finally settled on a combination of recipes, making our own along the way. We did appreciate the canning lady’s photo essay. She had lovely pictures, and step-by-step instructions on what seemed to be a very simple process. Plus, she used our Weck jars so that was a good sign.

Finally, there was the making of the jam. The careful measuring of the berries, sugar and lemon. The boiling of the berries, the jars, the lids. The boiling of what seemed like everything. There was careful cooking of the berry concoction to the perfect temperature of 220 degrees. And tasting along the way to make sure we had the right balance of sweetness. Transferring the filled jars to a boiling water bath for sealing was precarious at best. Here is where those Mason jars would have actually been easier. But in the end, we ended up with this most delicious, beautifully packaged jam that I have ever seen. Jam that would make our mothers – dare I say it – proud!

jam

Our efforts created just a few jars. Four each of raspberry and blackberry. Quality not quantity is true in all things in life, including jam.

The best darn brownies EVER

I’m a chocolate fan. A huge chocolate fan. But I’m a picky chocolate fan. I won’t bother with any of that milk or white chocolate nonsense. Just give me the good stuff. Dark chocolate all the way! It’s wonderful. And it’s even good for you.

Dark chocolate is made up of cocoa beans, which are full of flavonoids that act as antioxidants. This power-packed little taste treat can lower your blood pressure, lower your cholesterol and increase your brain-power. The list of health benefits goes on and on. Besides the fact that it actually tastes really yummy.

I’ve been making brownies for years, searching for the ultimate dark chocolate fix. With more failures than I’d like to admit, this time around success was a delightful surprise. Maybe it’s the stout, maybe it’s the salt. Whatever it is, the ingredients combine for a perfectly moist, perfectly sweet, rich chocolate treat.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of dark stout. We used oatmeal stout, which was really delicious.
  • 16 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped, divided. We used a combo of Bakers and Ghirardelli.
  • 2 1/4 sticks butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • Your choice of fancy salt for sprinkling. Our favorite is white flake sea salt.
  • 8 walnut halves to top

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9x9x2″ metal baking pan with foil, leaving a 2″ overhang. Bring stout to a boil in a medium sauce- pan; cook until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 12 minutes. Let cool. Reserve 1/4 cup stout.

Stir 12 oz. chocolate and 1 cup butter in a medium metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until melted and smooth.

Whisk sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in chocolate mixture, then 1/4 cup stout from pan. Fold in flour and 1 1/4 tsp. salt. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake brownies until surface begins to crack and a tester inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 35–40 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool for at least 20 minutes.

Stir remaining 4 oz. chocolate in a medium metal bowl set over a sauce-pan of simmering water until melted and smooth. Add reserved 1/4 cup reduced stout, remaining 2 Tbsp. butter, and 1/4 tsp. salt; whisk until well blended. Pour warm glaze over brownies. Let stand at room temperature until glaze is set, about 40 minutes.

Using foil overhang, lift brownie from pan; cut into squares. Place a walnut on each square, sprinkle with tiny bit of fancy salt.

Best Brownies EVER

Sometimes a simple phone call (and ribs) can make your day

I come from a big family. A big Italian family. Growing up we never really had many friends. We had family. Cousins, uncles, aunts. Who needed friends when we had so much love, so much fun, within our own little circle of Italian goodness. Eventually our big family became really big. My cousins had families of their own, and so on. With such a big group, it was hard to stay connected. It’s still hard to stay connected. But just because things change doesn’t mean that they aren’t as important as they always were. When you are Italian, and a Petosa, family is family. And we are all very important to each other. I was recently reminded of this.

A few nights ago, I received an unexpected call from my cousin Mark. He called just to say hi, just to check in on me, and to (of course) ask me about a recipe for something I posted awhile back. His call put the biggest smile on my face. I have not spoken to him in awhile so it was great to briefly catch up. And talk about food. And life. And food. And love. And food. Which is kind of our life. So this one is for you, “My Marcus.” Thank you for calling to make my day. Cousins are special. And I am grateful for you. And for our little big family.

Ribs. With cheddar polenta. Yum.

Short Ribs with Cheezy Polenta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First, prep ribs
• 1 rack beef short ribs, about 2 1/2 pounds, cut into 4-ounce portions
• 2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 tablespoon soy sauce
• 1 dried ancho chile
• 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
• 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
• 6 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
• 6 tablespoons light brown sugar
• 1/4 cup kosher salt
• 1 gallon water
• Cheddar Polenta, recipe follows

Next, prepare ribs
Season both sides of the ribs with the ancho chile powder. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight. Note, this is an important step. Plan ahead!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place a roasting pan over 2 burners on the stove. Add oil and sear ribs on all sides. Add the soy sauce, ancho chile, onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, kosher salt, and water to the roasting pan, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Adjust the seasoning, to taste, and tightly cover, and transfer to the oven. Cook until the ribs are tender and fall from the bones, about 3 to 3 1/2 hours.

Last, prepare polenta
• 1 1/2 cups water
• 2 cups milk
• 2 teaspoons minced garlic
• 1 bay leaf
• 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
• 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 cup polenta
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
• 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

In a large, heavy saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups of water with the milk, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and slowly add the polenta, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often with a large wooden spoon, until the polenta thickens, about 25 minutes.

Add the butter and stir until melted. Add the cheddar and Parmesan, and stir well. Adjust seasoning, to taste, and serve hot. Over the yummy ribs. Which will be perfect after 3 1/5 hours of cooking.

Note: Thank you JC for sharing this. It’s one of my favorites and is sure to now be a favorite of the entire Petosa clan. For those of you still on the January health program, sadly, this recipe is NOT for you.

Is the “I’m going to be healthy” resolution already getting to you? It is me. Two weeks in. That’s about right.

Is the “I’m going to be healthy” resolution already getting to you? It is me. Two weeks in. That’s about right.

Well, here we are, January 16, 2012 and I’m craving a bag of potato chips, a baguette with a slab of butter, and a salted caramel to finish. My willpower is fading. And fast. Tonight I tried desperately to bring new life to the Tupperware full of grilled chicken breasts that were sitting in the fridge on the fast track to becoming focker food. I do want to eat healthier this year. It’s important for my family, for myself. I get it. And I’m committed to it. That said, I love food. I love cooking. I love a great meal with an amazing bottle of wine. So if this healthy thing is going to work, I’ve got to spice it up a bit.  Surprisingly, my little experiment this evening worked. I took one of my favorite French recipes and lightened it up a LOT. I’m not quite sure of the calorie/fat count, but I can assure you it’s guilt free. And delicious! Try it for yourself. I know you are looking for things to do with those chicken breasts in your fridge.

Guilt free Savory Chicken Crêpes

Guilt free savory chicken crêpes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filling

  • 3 tablespoons butter. I always use salted, but whatever you have is fine
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups nonfat milk
  • 1 1/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup chopped shallot
  • 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 2 cups finely chopped cooked previously cooked chicken breasts
  • Several sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped
  • Splash of your favorite dry white wine
  • 1 lb asparagus

Crêpes

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 cups nonfat milk
  • 1 whole large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted

First, make filling.
Heat the initial 3 tablespoons of butter in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until foam subsides. Whisk in flour and cook the roux, whisking, until pale golden, about 2 minutes. Gradually add milk and broth, whisking, and bring to a boil, whisking. Reduce heat and simmer gently, whisking frequently, until the sauce is silky and thick, about 25 minutes.

Next, cook shallot in a tiny bit of butter in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add this yumminess to the rue sauce, along with the cut up chicken breasts along with the thyme and white wine.

Blanch the asparagus and reserve to serve on the side of your crêpes.

Make crêpes:
Sift together flour, salt, nutmeg, and pepper to taste into a bowl. Whisk together milk, whole egg, and yolk in a small bowl, then gradually whisk into flour mixture. Force batter through a fine sieve into a bowl.  Don’t skip this step. It’s key to assuring you have lump free crêpes.

Heat a dry nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot, I like to use the same one I cooked my mushrooms and shallots in, then brush very lightly with some melted butter. Spoon about ½ cup batter into skillet, tilting to coat bottom. Cook until underside is lightly browned, 6 to 10 seconds, then loosen crêpe with a spatula and flip. Cook until just cooked through, about 20 seconds, and transfer to a plate. Fill with the chicken filling, and fold crepe sides up. Serve with asparagus and a glass of white wine.

Healthy. Yummy. Goodness.

Enjoy! (That’s for you Max)

Pasta Carbonara – Reinvented

Hello World! It’s a bit scary out there. Oh and Pasta Carbonara – reinvented.

The end of 2011 marks so many milestones for me. The end of one of the most challenging and rewarding years of my life – and the anticipation of what 2012 and new beginnings will bring.

I’m excited about the coming year. With it marks a new point in my life. With a healthy family, a growing company, and a foothold underneath myself that I feel I’ve never had before, I finally have the courage and wisdom to express my own voice, my own point of view. With that, I have committed to a goal that I have had on the back burner for several years, to write my own blog. I start with the understanding a blog takes courage and a strong point of view. It takes the ability to deal with criticism and comments both good and bad, to which I say, what the heck.

If anything, this blog is more a vehicle of self-discovery and self-indulgence. What can be the harm in that? So, I invite all of my friends and family in to read about what will be a blog about whatever is on my mind, with topics of food, family and sharing. Of reinventing what “was” for what “is” and what “can be.” Welcome to life with Selina.

First up, dinner tonight. The traditional pasta carbonara was re-imagined into a light and delightful bowl full of tasty surprises.

Pasta carbonara is a favorite pasta dish of mine; it was a delight to see how it was artfully reinvented. The base ingredients were taken from Christmas Eve dinner. Our tradition is to make Beef Wellington with a flaky crust, a perfectly cut, fork tender tenderloin and the gravy rich and flavorful.

Tonight those gravy base layer leftovers from Christmas Eve were served up as the base for this re-invented pasta with a few new secrets added. The net-new was something worthy of a Zagat rated restaurant.