A Matcha Tea Thanksgiving (Oh, so much to be thankful for)!

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You may feel that you have eaten too much…But this pastry is like feathers–it is like snow. It is in fact good for you, a digestive.

– M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

This quote by Ms. Fisher, captures what your taste buds and brain stem will be discussing when you savor the herbaceous flavor of matcha tea in a pillowy swiss roll pastry, or in a green tea butter cookie made from high-fat sweet cream butter (here in Texas, I use Plugra European Style). Especially, when you contrast these flavors with a bite of a bittersweet molasses cookie!

Some claim that matcha tea is an even healthier version of green tea, since it is made from the finely grounded leaves of the camellia sinensis (green tea plant), shade-grown to increase the chlorophyll. Matcha tea is high in antioxidants and amino acids. I don’t know if one is healthier than the other, they both are good for you and taste divine! I love matcha in baking for the flavor, and since pastries are products of sugar and butter– moderation is always appropriate!

Listen to a piece of classical music that was inspired by water – and your baking will be an even greater delight! I’m currently into Jean Sibelius and Mussorgsky!

 

 

“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight”

M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

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Stuffed Shells–An Italian in Austin Version!

For many Americans, nothing comforts like mac & cheese. However, for a girl born speaking Italian with a New York accent … the culmination of comfort and gastronomic l’allegria (joy) is stuffed pasta–shells to be more specific! It is no wonder Botticelli’s Venus is imagined rising from one!

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Season begs for stuffed shells!  There is nothing as festive as the red of a rich marinara contrasted against specks of green basil and Italian parsley, floating in bellows of soft white homemade ricotta and mozzarella cheese, turned golden from baking! These colors are also incorporated in to the liturgy of the early Catholic Church. Red symbolizes the presence of God. Green is used during the beginning of Advent and the Epiphany. Gold symbolizes “joy” and celebration along with white for the high holy days of Christmas (and Easter).

Christmas Dinner
Christmas Dinner Postcard 1890s NY Public Library

There is no hard and fast rule as to what can be incorporated into a shell. This season I am using a good lean Texas smoked BBQ Brisket (finely chopped) for the Meat version. I incorporate this into a chiffonade of fresh basil and parsley, added to the cheese stuffing of mozzarella (shredded in your food processor) and parmesan reggiano. I top with a homemade besciamella (an Italian roux of butter, warm milk, flour, and salt/pepper).

For the cheese version I make homemade ricotta and drain well overnight. Add in the same herb chiffonade, mozzarella, and parmesan reggiano. I bind each version’s ingredients with one organic egg (mixed well). Use a large spoon to fill each shell, cover in besciamella, marinara, and sprinkling of parmesan cheese! Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes (they are done when cheese is bubbling-and the room smells divine). I like to cook them a day ahead and refrigerate until eating (just like enchiladas, I find that they absorb the tastes better) and reheat in a low oven or in a microwave.

 

 

 

 

For the full package, open your favorite red Italian wine, and bake or buy your favorite cheesecake dessert! Eat early enough so that you can enjoy a sunset walk to take in the Holiday sights! Buon Natale a Tutti!

 

Roasted Cauliflower, Carrot and Zucchini Enchiladas with Cotija & Oaxaca Cheese

The New Mexican chile is of medium heat and is a dried Anaheim pepper that is grown in New Mexico.

The Ancho chile is of mild to medium heat and is a ripened and dried chile poblano.

 

Sauce Recipe:

8-12 dried New Mexican and Ancho chiles (combined)

1 medium yellow onion

(2) tsp Mexican oregano

(2-4) tsp cumin

4 cups of your favorite broth (veggie, chicken, or beef)

1 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

“The chile, it seems to me, is one of the few foods that has its own goddess.”

–Diana Kennedy author of My Mexico (aka the Julia Child of Mexico)

Enchilada Recipe:

12 Corn Tortillas

2-4 Green Zucchinis

2 Carrots

½ Head of Cauliflower

10 oz Cotija Cheese

12 oz Oaxaca Cheese

1-2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

Corn tortillas are made from a dough or masa. Once the corn is picked and dried, the kernels are removed and boiled in water with some lime that is added to loosen the skins. This also changes the corn’s flavor, texture, and aroma. The dough is kneaded into small balls that are rolled into thin round tortillas and cooked on a cast iron tortilla griddle called a “comal” for a few minutes.

 

For the Enchilada Sauce:

First, warm up the spices over low heat in a stainless 2-quart saucepan (do not burn-just warm until they release their aroma). For the same reason, take the chiles and warm individually over a low gas flame. If you have an electric stove, you can also warm the dry chiles on a baking tray in a 300°oven for 3-5 minutes. To the spices mixture on stove top add (2) tsp kosher salt, (1) Tbs of extra virgin olive oil, and (1) medium peeled and chopped yellow onion. Let it soften, and next add the dried chiles that you have removed the tops from and de-seeded. Don’t worry if some of the seeds remain. Add 4 cups of your favorite broth (I use veggie, but any flavor will work) and to the saucepan. Finally, place a smaller metal cover over the chiles to help them submerge. Cover the saucepan with the corresponding lid and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low (let cook for ten minutes). Turn off the heat and let sit covered until cooled (minimum ½ hour). Once cooled, puree in batches with your favorite blender. Let rest overnight.

For the Filling:

Lightly brush 2-4 green zucchinis, (2) carrots sliced in half, and half of a cauliflower (thinly sliced) with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Roast in 425°oven until the cauliflower starts to caramelize and the zucchini turns a light golden color. Let cool and rest. Chop the cooled veggies and add crumbled cotija cheese and ½ of the grated Oaxaca cheese.

Instructions:

Warm 12 corn tortillas on two baking sheets in a warm 300 °oven. Turn after 3-minutes per side. Pull and cool to the touch. Add ½ cup of the Enchilada sauce to a 3-quart Pyrex glass baking dish (9 X 13 x 2). Dip each cooled corn tortilla in some of the sauce, and add veggie cheese filling and roll. Place in the Pyrex glass dish.  Cover with some more sauce and the remaining ½ cup of shredded Oaxaca cheese.

Raise the temperature to 425° and cook uncovered for 20 minutes (or until bubbling). I like to cool and refrigerate for at least a day before eating–as it allows the enchilada sauce to enhance in flavor. Just reheat in a low temperature oven or microwave each serving separately.

 

 

 

 

Poblano Spiked Summer Squash & Sweet Potato Soup

I love poblanos in all forms: pasilla (green and fresh), as I am using here, or dried becoming a chile ancho that I use rehydrated in my homemade enchilada sauce!

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication- Leonardo da Vinci

Here in Texas, we have a longer growing/harvest season, and the farmer’s markets are still overflowing with zucchini and summer squash long into the Autumn. Although the bounty of the fall provides many winter versions, I still enjoy mixing in the lighter taste that summer squash provides to many dishes.

I take a creative and colorful perspective to life and food. Diversity of color and flavors thrill me (and, it doesn’t hurt that the more colorful a vegetable–typically the  higher their ORAC antioxidant score). I love the contrast of the bright yellow squash coupled with the dark green of poblanos and jalapeños, in contrast to the orange of carrots, and the purple of sweet potatoes (higher amount of anthocyanins).

 

INGREDIENTS:

(2) Yellow Squash (washed, sliced to your taste)

2 Carrots (washed, peeled and sliced to your taste)

1 small purple sweet potato*

1 poblano pepper

1 jalapeño pepper

4 cups of stock (vegetable of chicken)

2 T red miso

1 tsp of salt added to 2 quarts of water in which to blanch/boil veggies

Handful of greens (I used baby spinach and baby kale)


INSTRUCTIONS

Roast the poblanos over an open gas flame until blackened on all sides (or alternatively, cut in half and broil until outside is blackened). Place in a bowl covered with plastic wrap and let cool for 10 minutes). Scrape of the blackened skin easily, cut in half, deseed and dice. Do not use water to remove skin as it will also remove some of the oils that provide the heat.

Dice the yellow squash with skin on after cleaning and blanch in salted water for 3 minutes maximum. Remove from water and cool in some ice to stop the cooking process (reserve for later use). Next, wash, peel (optional), and slice the carrots. Cook for 7 minutes in the same salted water you use to blanch the squash. Remove and reserve. Finally, wash and peel (or leave skin on if you want even more antioxidants) the sweet potatoes. Dice and  boil in same water that you blanched the squash/carrots in, for  25-30 minutes. Drain and add with the squash and carrots to 4 cups of vegetable stock. Add one finely diced and seeded jalapeño. Bring ingredients almost to a boil, add the diced roasted poblano and turn off the heat. Let cool for 5 minutes. Add 1-2 tablespoons of yellow or red miso. Stir till mixed. Add a handful of your favorite greens and serve!

“An old-fashioned vegetable soup, without any enhancement, is a more powerful anticarcinogen than any known medicine.”

–James Duke M.D.(former scientist at the U.S.D.A.)

Zucca “Baked-Twice” Biscotti

“There are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” – Linus, The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Of all the new world gifts that were embraced by Italian culture, members of the cucurbitaceae family (e.g., pumpkin, squash, gourd) have got to be among my favorite cultural exchanges.

Growing up, traditions and rituals around food were a means of communicating family values and culture. A large part of my heritage can be traced back to Mezzogiorno (Southern Italy), Calabria and Catania specifically. Perhaps that is why zucca (pumpkin) makes its way into so many of the foods I have come to love.

Whenever I have any pumpkin/squash left over from roasting or blanching I keep a half a cup or so around for these wonderful sweet treats.

 

 


Zucca Biscotti Recipe

1/2 stick of unsalted sweet cream butter

3/4 cup of granulated sugar

1/2 cup of pumpkin puree (leftovers or canned)

1 large organic egg

2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

1 T extract (vanilla or lemon)

1 tsp spice blend (I like to use a Chai Spice blend as it has a little heat, but pumpkin pie spice works wonderfully too)

1 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

Wilton Spakling Sugar to decorate

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment. Melt the butter and let cool. In a mixer, blend the cooled melted butter into the sugar. Add the egg and mix until a smooth and lovely yellow color blossoms. Add the pumpkin, spices and extract. Mix until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt until well blended. Slowly add to the mixer (while on a low speed) until just incorporated. If the mixture is too wet put in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour.  Cut dough in half, and fashion separately into two rectangle logs (l=10″; w=2″; depth= 1″) using wax paper to help form, smooth and shape. Roll the logs onto the baking sheet (at least 3″ apart) and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Take out and let cool for 10 minutes. Cut on an angle with a serrated knife into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices. Place back on the parchment (lay flat on their sides) and bake for 5-10 minutes/side.

Casa quantu stai e tirrinu quantu viri

(Home for as long as you need to be, and land as far as the eye can see!)

 

 

 

Butternut Squash Soup with Cheese Ravioli and Pesto

Squash is such an equal opportunity player. It works in soups, pastas, gratins, stews, and baked goods, the list is endless. The versatility of this fruit (technically anything with seeds inside) allows you to experiment without the need to follow a formal recipe. For those who prefer a framework to start from, the following is a general guide. This recipe is very mild (not adding any spices) since I am adding ravioli to the soup bowl before serving and topping with a pesto. I hope you take advantage of the season’s bounty!

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” – L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. Henry David Thoreau

Butternut Squash Soup: (serves 4)

1 medium sized butternut squash (2 ½ Cups diced)

1 medium yellow onion diced

1 T extra virgin olive oil

4 Cups of stock (veggie or chicken)

1 Cup water

Sea Salt to taste

*Favorite brand of cheese ravioli (follow brand’s directions plan on 2/serving)

Parmigiano-Reggiano Pesto:

2 Cups of fresh basil (you can substitute with Italian flat leaf parsley)

¼ Cup of extra virgin olive oil

½ cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

pinch of sea salt

Instructions: I like to sweat my peeled/sliced yellow onion and cubed/peeled butternut squash on the stovetop in my favorite enamel wear pot with a little extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt. Once the onion softens (but not caramelized) I braise in some stock (I use vegetable). Cook on medium to low heat until the squash pierces easily with a fork. Turn heat off and let the soup rest, during which time you can cook the ravioli (plan on one to two/per guest). Puree the contents of the soup pan using an immersion hand blender, and thin with water or stock to your taste. Drain the ravioli (reserve some of the starchy water for the pesto).

Since I am adding ravioli to the soup bowl before serving and topping with a basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano pesto, I keep it simple. For the pesto, add basil, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and a pinch of sea salt (no nuts needed) and pulse in a food processor until creamy/smooth. If the pesto is too thick you can thin with some of the cooled starchy pasta water (left from the ravioli).

Fall Leaves NYPL 1907

Longjing “Dragon Well” (龙井茶) Tea

“Tea tempers the spirits and harmonizes the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness, lightens or refreshes the body, and clears the perceptive faculties.”

–Lù Yǔ, The Classic Art of Tea (733-804)


“The first cup moistens my lips and throat.
The second shatters my loneliness.
The third causes the wrongs of life to fade gently from my recollection.
The fourth purifies my soul.
The fifth lifts me to the realms of the unwinking gods”

Chinese Mystic, Tang Dynasty

Longjing “Dragon Well” Tea (龙井茶)

Today, I am going on a well-deserved vacation by way of a tea pot. My journey begins with a cup of Longjing  “Dragon Well” (龙井茶) tea that originated from the West Lake area of Hangzhou, in China’s Zheijiang Province.

The popularity of Longjing dates back to the Qing Dynasty, when the emperor declared it the official tea of the imperial court. Since that time, Xihu Longjing has been widely regarded as one of China’s best teas, and due to its pedigree and popularity many imitations (i.e., counterfeit teas) exist (who knows the provenance of my own)!

Dragon Well tea embodies the picturesque, terraced, verdant landscapes where it is grown; sun kissed and harvested in the spring (typically in March and April). Key to this variety, the hand-picked leaves (bud/tips) must be fired/dried within a few hours of harvesting to stop the oxidation process. Traditionally, this is done in a hot wok by hand.

To my naïve taste buds, the tea’s flavor is similar to spring baby greens, crisp, light, and sweet–not grassy or bitter. It has an almost nutty depth (I gather from the firing/drying process). Moreover, drinking green tea has validated health benefits, as it is full of vitamins and antioxidants!

The proper temperature to brew this tea is 85°C/160°F (do not boil). Let the tea steep for 3-5 minutes. Drink slowly, close your eyes, and enjoy. Before you know it, you will be transported to a mountainous peak, physically refreshed and wakefully present!