Beachside Muffaletta

Posted on: Tuesday, June 21, 2016

This past weekend, I was up in Manchester-by-the-Sea to kick off summer. I spent the day at the beach, took a break to regroup, then returned that evening for a casual evening picnic. The start to summer -with long sunny days and crisp evening breezes-is by far my favorite time of year.
I selected easy-to-prepare, travel-friendly dishes inspired by my trip to New Orleans. The star of the picnic was a wonderful layered Muffaletta sandwich. First created in the early 1900’s at the Central Grocery in New Orleans, the Sicilian-inspired sandwich combines cured meats and preserved vegetables piled inside sliced bread (instead of alongside it, which was the classic lunch fare of that time).
I began with the pickled vegetables, tweaking the classic recipe a bit with the addition of Greek Kalamata olives and some capers. I spooned the veggies atop half of my fresh focaccia loaf (I couldn’t find a Muffaletta loaf on the North Shore so had to improvise), then rapidly layered slice upon slice of the sliced meats and cheeses. I wrapped the sandwich tightly, placed it in a cooler with some cajun cole slaw and potato salad, put on a sweater, packed the car, and was back beachside as if I had never left. Once my family and friends were seated on beach chairs with a cold drink in hand, we sliced into the the Muffaletta, eager to see the assortment of layers inside. 

1/2 c pimento-stuffed olives, chopped
1/2 c pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
1/4 c roasted red peppers, chopped
2 T capers
1/4 c chopped fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
1 t dried oregano
1/4 t red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, minced
1 T red wine vinegar
1/4 c EVOO
Salt and pepper

1 large round bread loaf (boule or focaccia)
1/3 lb thinly sliced capicola
1/3 lb thinly sliced salami
1/3 lb thinly sliced deli ham
1/4 lb thinly sliced provolone cheese
1/4 lb thinly sliced mozzarella cheese

In a medium bowl, stir together the pimento-stuffed olives, Kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, capers, flat leaf parsley, oregano, red pepper flakes, garlic, red wine vinegar, EVOO and salt and pepper. Cover and let meld for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Cut the Italian bread loaf in half on a work surface. Spoon the olive salad on the top half of the bread and spread evenly. On the bottom half off the bread, arrange the mozzarella, then capicola, then salami, then deli ham then provolone cheese. Carefully close the sandwich. Wrap the sandwich tightly in plastic and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Unwrap the sandwich, cut into slices and enjoy. Serves 6.

I will be making variations on this beach-friendly stack all summer and encourage you to do the same! 

Baking Steel Pizza Making

Posted on: Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Last Thursday, we took a mini excursion to the other shore, Cohasset, to learn the secrets to crafting a beautifully charred Neopolitan-style pizza. The pro? Andris Lagsdin. A few years ago, Andris was reading Nathan Myhrvold ‘s Modernist Cuisine and discovered that the best conductive cooking surface for pizza is steel. Coincidentally, Andris was working for a family-owned manufacturing company, Stoughton Steel, so decided to create and sell baking steels. He quickly generated an extensive following and garnered acclaim in such sources as Food and Wine, Bon Appetit, and Cook’s Illustrated. Due to the steel’s conductivity, the pizza cooks faster and more evenly resulting in a thin, crisp crust in a matter of minutes.
Upon entering the state-of-the-art Test Kitchen, we were handed an apron and glass of wine. The incredibly warm and friendly Andris and fellow chef, Craig Hastings discussed their passion and “less is more” approach to pizza making as we nibbled on provolone, ham, soppressata, and jalapeno stromboli slices straight from the baking steel.
Andris swears by Jim Lahey of New York City's Sullivan Street Bakery’s No Knead Pizza Dough recipe. He uses just four ingredients: flour, salt, water and yeast. After combining the ingredients, the dough sits at room temperature for 24 hours. After 24 hours, the risen dough is portioned, smoothed into balls, placed in plastic cylinders, and set to ferment for another 48 hours longer in the refrigerator. The full set of instructions are HERE.
After watching Andris gently stretch out some previously fermented dough, lay it on a floured wood paddle, spread a thin layer of tomato sauce (which was a mix of crushed tomatoes and salt) followed by a sprinkle of fresh mozzarella cheese mounds, basil leaves and a drizzle of EVOO, it was our turn to make our own Margherita pizza.
When our pies (some rounder than others) were ready to bake, we took turns opening the oven doors and sliding the pizzas onto the baking steels, preheated an hour earlier at 500 degrees Fahrenheit. We watched the pies bubble and crisp away as we each made a second pizza, this time with an abundance of toppings.
The first bite of Margherita transported us both back to Italy. The dough was crisp, had a wonderful, chewy interior, sporadic charred bubbles, tangy sauce, gooey mozzarella, and the lovely basil aroma. It was pure bliss.
We left with pizza boxes full and with our prepared dough for future pizza making. We highly recommend Andris' cooking class and look forward to trying the baking steel at home - check out all of its uses HERE!


Posted on: Wednesday, May 18, 2016

To brighten up a mid-week rainy day, I drove about thirty minutes east through the back roads of Northern Connecticut and Western Rhode Island to Wicked Tulips Flower Farm, the largest u-pick tulip field in New England. I found myself surrounded by row after row of whimsical, assorted tulips.
Inspired by the vibrant bouquet I gathered for $1 a stem, I popped into my nearest grocery store on the way home to grab some bright veggies for dinner. Ratatouille, (while is also one of my favorite animated movies), is a traditional French Proven├žal stewed vegetable dish that can be enjoyed in the spring or summer. I’ve had a mandoline in the back of my pantry, and thought this was the perfect opportunity to put it to use. The sharp blade created consistency and cut down the slicing time - I prepared my eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and red peppers in record time.
I then fanned the assorted circles around a seasoned baking dish and popped it in the oven. I enjoyed the dish on my patio alongside lemony herb coated haddock, a crusty baguette and crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
Ratatouille Spiral

1/2 cEVOO
1 c tomato puree
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 t dried oregano
1/4 t red pepper flakes
1 medium eggplant
1 medium zucchini
1 medium yellow squash
2 red bell peppers
5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
Salt and pepper throughout

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pour 1/4 cup of EVOO into a circular or oval baking dish. Add the tomato puree, onion, garlic, 1/2 t oregano, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Trim the ends off the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash. Trim the ends off the red pepper and remove the core, leaving the sides as is in a ring.

With a mandoline, (or sharp knife) cut the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and red pepper into 1/16-inch slices. Set aside.  Fan the slices of prepared vegetables onto the tomato-covered baking dish starting from the outer edge and moving in, alternating and overlapping the veggies as you go. Have fun - this does not have to be perfect!

Drizzle 1/4 cup of EVOO evenly over the vegetables and season liberally with lots of salt and pepper. Sprinkle the fresh thyme leaves and remaining dried oregano on top.
Bake for approximately 45-50 minutes, until the veggies are tender, the sauce is bubbling up the sides, and the baking dish rim is bronzing slightly.

‘Tis the start of the season to celebrate fresh produce and color!

Choco Chip Cookie Skillet

Posted on: Saturday, May 7, 2016

Our Mom is the queen of improvisation, especially when it comes to entertaining. Whether she throws together an impromptu tray of smoked salmon on toasts, whips up a platter of lightly breaded chicken with pantry staples, or tops mini bowls of vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of caramel and sprinkling of sea salt, the focus is always on bringing people together over food and fun. 

We had this trend in mind when brainstorming dessert ideas for a Mother’s Day gathering. Instead of taking the time to individually form and bake pan after pan of cookies - why not pour the dough into a skillet and go from there? We added a couple special touches to a basic recipe, and the result was a gigantic, warm and melty chocolate chip cookie. We set the warm skillet on the table straight from the oven, and let everyone grab a spoon and delve in. The interactive method added even more fun to the moment!
Choco Chip Cookie Skillet

3 c all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1/2 t ground cinnamon
16 T unsalted butter
1 c granulated sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
2 t vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 c semisweet chocolate chips
Flaked sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 

In a large bowl, add the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon and whisk lightly to combine. 

In a small bowl, microwave the butter for about 45 seconds. Remove and stir until the butter is just melted. If pieces are still in tact, that’s okay.

In another large bowl, add the melted butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar. Beat on medium until soft and creamy, about 1-2 minutes. Add the vanilla and eggs and beat for 20 more seconds.

Slowly pour in the dry ingredients and mix on low until combined. With a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips and incorporate. Pour the batter into a cast iron skillet. Use your hands to spread the dough out across the entire surface. Sprinkle the surface with flaked sea salt. Bake for 20-22 minutes until the cookie is puffed up and slightly golden. Remove from the oven and enjoy. Serves 8-10.

Feel free to convert any cookie batter to an instant skillet following our method above. You can kick it up a notch with scoops of ice cream, hot fudge, sprinkles and a dollop of whipped cream for a group sundae. Happy Mother's Day!!

Baklava-Inspired Cheesecake Tartlets

Posted on: Wednesday, April 27, 2016

In anticipation of Greek Easter this Sunday up in Manchester-by-the-Sea, we put our spin on a traditional Greek dessert. Growing up, we remember waking up on Easter morning to a sea of tasty pastries, ranging from Galaktoboureko (semolina custard in phyllo), to Kourabiedes (walnut sugar cookies), to Koulourakia (butter cookies), to Baklava. Baklava was always a favorite - sweet, sticky, layers of phyllo, chopped walnuts and honey. 

Our recent take on Baklava introduced a completely different flare, cheesecake. We poured a creamy cheese filling into crispy phyllo cups. The mild filling complemented the nutty crunch and mellowed out the sweet, sticky honey. Instead of walnuts, we added pistachios for a pop of savory and color. We look forward to replicating these tasty phyllo nests this weekend for our family.
Baklava-Inspired Cheesecake Tartlets

12-cup cupcake tin or 12 mini tart pans
16 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 c granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 T flour
1 t vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
1 T lemon juice
6 T butter, melted
18 sheets phyllo dough (9 x 14-inches), each cut into 4 even squares

Honey Pistachio Topping
2/3 c granulated sugar
2/3 c water
2/3 c honey
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t salt

1 1/2 c pistachios, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, flour, vanilla extract, lemon zest, lemon juice and beat on medium speed until combined. 

Brush the bottoms of 12 small tartlets pans or cupcake tins with melted butter. Lay a square of phyllo dough into each tin. Brush a little butter over the dough and continue the layering of phyllo then brushed butter, 6 times in each tin. 

Fill each tin with a 1/4 cup of the cheesecake mixture. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until the phyllo is golden brown and flaky and the filling is set. Cool completely on the counter or on a wire rack and then in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. 

While the tarts are cooling, add the sugar, water, honey, cinnamon and salt to a small saucepan. Turn heat to medium and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the pistachios and remove from the heat. Let cool. When ready to serve, spoon the Honey Pistachio Topping atop the tarts and enjoy. Makes 12 tartlets.

Christos Anesti!

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