Category:  Holidays

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Spicy Herb Cheese (Homemade)

In Appetizers / Starters, Holidays On December 12, 2014 0 Comments

Think it’s challenging to make homemade cheese? Not at all. For the holidays this year, instead of buying a ready made cheese ball, buy a cheesecloth, whole, organic milk, distilled vinegar and voila! You’ve churned out fresh, homemade cheese!

This recipe is easy since it only requires a one-hour wait time with hardly any labor. The cheese contains fresh oregano leaves and a chili pepper. This exquisite cheese has a consistency that is between burrata and ricotta. Impress them all – Happy Holidays!

Note: Red dots in the photographed cheese are chili peppers.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Wait time: 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes (for cheese curds to set)

Ingredients:
1 gallon whole, organic milk
1/2 cup distilled, white vinegar
1 cheesecloth, set in a medium-mesh, metal strainer over a medium glass or porcelain bowl or saucepot
1-1/2 to 1-3/4 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped Serrano or dried red chili pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano leaves or fresh chives
1 cup walnut meats
Assorted crackers or mini-toasts and raw vegetables

Boil Milk & Let Curds Set:

1. Pour 1 gallon milk into an 6 to 8-quart sauce pot.

2. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, warm the milk until it almost comes to a boil. The milk should not boil.

3. When the milk is hot and has almost come to a boil, set the sauce pot with the milk aside on a cold burner or a trivet set on a countertop.

4. Pour the vinegar into the milk – DO NOT STIR. Set the milk/vinegar mixture in sauce pot aside to sit for 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, making sure to trim the cheesecloth so that you can push it down into a strainer set over a bowl or sauce pot; allow an overhang of about 8 inches.

6. After 10 minutes, you will see curds setting in the milk/vinegar mixture.

7. At this time, gently pour the milk-vinegar mixture into the strainer set with a cheesecloth over bowl or sauce pot.

8. If the sauce pot underneath the strainer is not large enough to take all the liquid, pour only half of the milk-vinegar mixture over cheesecloth.

9. It will take a few minutes for half of the liquid to go through completely.

10. When half of the liquid has gone through the cheesecloth and if bowl underneath does not look large enough to take all the liquid, set the strainer over another bowl or sauce pot.

11. Pour the remaining liquid over the curds in strainer set over bowl or sauce pot.

12. This procedure may take a few minutes.

13. When all the liquid (this is the whey) has been drained and collected in the 2 bowl(s) or sauce pot(s), transfer all the whey to a large sauce pot.

14. Add the salt, black pepper and chopped chili pepper to the whey.

15. Immediately pour they whey with the salt, pepper and chili pepper over the curds in strainer.

16. You may have to wait a few minutes for part of the whey to go through the curds in strainer.

17. As the whey goes through, keep adding the remaining whey mixture until you have poured all of it over the curds.

18. Set the curds/strainer aside to drain for 1 hour.

Form the Cheese & Refrigerate:

1. After 1 hour, scatter the chopped oregano leaves over cheese curds.

2. Lift the sides of the cheesecloth, bringing it up and around the cheese curds and slightly tighten it. If the cheese curds still appear wet, let them finish draining for an additional 10 minutes.

3. After 10 minutes, tighten the cheesecloth around the cheese, gathering it at the center top.

4. Carefully peel off the cheesecloth from the cheese and place the cheese in a 5 to 6-inch round bowl lined with plastic wrap. Make sure the plastic wrap has a 6-inch overhang.

5. Tighten the plastic wrap up and around the cheese and secure it with twine or an elastic band.

6. Cover the cheese in bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 4 hours.

Unmold the Cheese & Serve:

1. TO UNMOLD THE CHEESE: Carefully peel off and unwrap the top part of the plastic wrap.

2. Open up the plastic wrap around the cheese, creating an overhang outside the bowl.

3. Place serving plate over cheese and quickly invert it.

4. Remove the bowl and peel off the plastic wrap.

5. Decorate the cheese with walnuts and serve with crackers, mini-toasts or celery and carrots.

Note: Homemade cheese will keep, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated, up to 5 days.

Text and Photograph ©2014 Nancy DeLucia Real

Eggplant-Turkey Moussaka

In Holidays, Meats, Soups and Stews, Vegetables On November 23, 2014 0 Comments

Moussaka is an eggplant dish from Greece and Turkey. In Greece, it is layered with ground lamb and served hot. In Turkey, the eggplant is stewed with lamb and served warm or at room temperature.

In honor of Thanksgiving, I’m making eggplant moussaka from Turkey. It contains ground meat of the same name – lol! For those of you who are vegetarian, simply omit the ground turkey. Bon appetit!

Prep time: 1 hour
Serves: 4 to 6 (as a side dish)

Ingredients:
1 medium eggplant
1 large tomato
extra virgin olive oil (to brush eggplant and tomato)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (for sautéing the moussaka)
1/2 pound dark ground, organic turkey meat (or lamb)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium brown or white onion, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 of a green bell pepper, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 of a red bell pepper, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup Muir Glen Organic Diced Tomatoes® (canned)
1 cup tomato purée
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Dash freshly-ground nutmeg

Grill the Eggplant & Tomato:
1. Line a 12 X 18-inch baking sheet with aluminum foil; brush foil with olive oil and set aside.

2. Cut off and discard top and bottom of eggplant.

3. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch thick slices and place the on foil-lined baking sheet (previously oiled).

4. Cut the tomato in half and place it (cut-side up) alongside eggplant slices on baking sheet.

5. Brush the eggplant and tomato with olive oil; lightly sprinkle each with salt.

6. Place the baking sheet on a rack positioned 6 to 7 inches away from top broiler element inside oven.

7. Grill the tomato and eggplant for approximately 8 minutes or until eggplant has turned golden brown.

8. When eggplant has turned golden brown, wearing oven mitts, transfer the baking sheet to a counter.

9. Transfer the tomato pieces to a bowl to cool.

10. Turn the eggplant slices over; brush them with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt.

11. Grill the eggplant slices (on other side) for 6 to 8 minutes or until they have turned golden brown.

12. After eggplant is done, set the baking sheet to a counter; transfer eggplant slices to a plate to cool. Set aside.

Prepare the Moussaka:
1. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch skillet.

2. When the oil is hot (do not let it smoke), add the ground turkey (or lamb).

3. On medium-high heat, stir-fry the meat, constantly breaking it up with a wooden spoon.

4. Add the garlic, onion and chopped peppers.

5. Cook the mixture on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes.

6. When onion is translucent, stir in the diced tomatoes and tomato purée.

7. Cook the moussaka for about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomato sauce has thickened.

8. After 4 to 5 minutes, stir in the vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

9. Cook the moussaka for 5 to 6 minutes longer. Taste and adjust seasonings.

10. Serve moussaka alongside one or more recipes from this website:
Hummus Heat with Pitas and Vegetables (see recipe index – Appetizers/Starters);
Persian Cucumber Salad (see recipe index – Salads);
Butternut Squash Risotto (see recipe index – Pastas, Rice & Legumes).

Text & Photograph © 2014 Nancy DeLucia Real

Halloween R.I.P. Carrot Cakes

In Cakes & Cupcakes, Fun Foods, Holidays On October 18, 2014 0 Comments

This year, for Halloween, I transformed my traditional carrot cake into spooky R.I.P cakes. They’re topped with buttercream frosting and, of course, tombstones.

These Halloween carrot cakes are fun to make, especially if you include the kids. Happy Halloween!

Prep time: 20 minutes (for the cupcakes) and 20 minutes (to mix the frosting and decorate cupcakes)
Bake time: 25 minutes
Makes: 12 cakes* (cupcakes)

Ingredients for Carrot Cakes:
2 cups finely-shredded carrots – do this first and set aside in a bowl
1-1/2 all-purpose, unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Make the Carrot Cakes:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. In a 3-cup bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon; set aside.

3. In a 2-quart mixing bowl, combine the eggs, vegetable oil and vanilla.

4. Beat the mixture until it is uniform.

5. Fold in the shredded carrots and walnuts and mix well. The batter will be firm.

6. Line a muffin pan with 12 cupcake papers and divide the batter evenly among them.

7. Transfer the muffin pan to a rack positioned in center of preheated oven.

8. Bake the cakes for 20 to 25 minutes.

9. After 20 minutes, insert a sharp knife in center of one cake. If knife comes out dry, the cakes are done. If not, bake the cakes for an additional 5 minutes.

10. When the cakes are done, transfer the muffin pan to a kitchen counter; set aside to cool for 2 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the buttercream frosting:

Ingredients for Buttercream Frosting:
One package (16-ounces) confectioner’s sugar (this is powdered sugar)
One stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1/4 cup milk
6 drops red food color
9 drops yellow food color

Prepare the Buttercream Frosting:
1. In a mixing bowl and using a hand mixer, cream the sugar, butter and milk together. Alternatively, stand-mixer fitted with a bowl can be used.

2. When the buttercream frosting is creamy and uniform, mix in the food color. This will convert the white frosting into a light orange frosting.

3. When the frosting has turned orange, using a spoon, transfer it to a frosting bag fitted with a star tip.

4. Using a swirling motion, pipe the buttercream frosting onto the cakes.

5. Add a Halloween decoration of your choice to each cake.**

PREPARE CAKES ONE DAY AHEAD: These Halloween cakes can be baked a day ahead, cooked and transferred to a platter. Cover the cakes with plastic wrap and refrigerate them until the next day.

FROST THE CAKES ON THE DAY OF SERVING: Prepare the buttercream and frost the cakes up to 2 hours ahead. Cover them with tented foil and refrigerate until ready to serve.

*Alternatively, you can use a standard loaf pan. This will result in a carrot cake or bread.
**For this recipe, the R.I.P. cupcake kit was purchased at CVS Pharmacy® in Los Angeles.
Text and Photograph ©2014 Nancy DeLucia Real

Refried Beans (Frijoles refritos)

In Holidays, Pastas, Rice & Legumes (Beans & Grains) On May 2, 2014 0 Comments

Last week, I stumbled across these fresh cranberry beans at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market. These beans really captured my attention. Just look at them!

BeansMar'14

They’re fresh and this means that they take less time to cook than packaged dry beans. In honor of Cinco de Mayo, we’re makin’ some frijoles refritos or refried beans. You can add these creamy beans to tostadas and tacos or serve them as a dip with tortilla chips. I’m sure you won’t forget the Tequila shots and/or the Margaritas… y andale! Or, just go for it!

Inactive Prep Time: Overnight soaking, plus 45 minutes to boil the beans
Prep Time: 15 minutes (for refrying the beans)

Ingredients:
1 pound fresh cranberry beans (if using dried beans, allow 20 to 30 minutes more for cooking)
1 yellow or white onion, peeled and halved
3 bay leaves
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 strips of bacon (optional)
3/4 cup peeled and finely chopped yellow or white onion
Half a Serrano chile, finely minced
4 to 6 tablespoons Half n’ Half cream
1 Chipotle chile in adobo sauce, mashed*
Salt, to taste

Soaking & Cooking Directions:

1. Place beans in a 4-quart glass or porcelain bowl; add enough cold water to cover the beans.

2. Cover the bowl and let beans soak overnight.

3. After the beans have soaked overnight, drain them completely.

4. Transfer the beans to a 6-quart sauce pot; add the peeled and halved onion and the bay leaves.

5. Cover the beans with about 2-1/2 to 3 quarts cold water (there should be 3 extra inches of cold over surface of beans).

6. Bring the beans to a boil.

7. After beans come to a boil, set heat on low. Simmer the beans for about 45 minutes or until they are tender, but not broken.

8. Set the sauce pot with beans aside to cool.

9. After the beans have cooled to room temperature, drain them, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

10. Discard onion and bay leaves.

11. Transfer the drained beans to a food processor; process beans into a puree.

Refry the Beans:

1. In an 8-quart sauce pot, heat the oil.

2. When oil is not, add the bacon strips, finely chopped onion and the minced Serrano chile.

3. On medium-high heat, stir-fry the mixture until onion is translucent and bacon turns crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes.

4. After 2 to 3 minutes, remove the bacon strips and discard them.

5. Using a wooden spoon, carefully stir the pureed beans into the stir-fried mixture.

6. Constantly and quickly stir the beans, bringing them to a boil – stand away from stove to avoid hot splatters.

7. Immediately lower the heat setting. If the boil is too strong, cover the sauce pot to avoid hot splatters once more.

8. Constantly stir the beans for about 2 to 3 minutes.

9. After 2 to 3 minutes, add the Half n’ Half cream and the mashed Chipotle chile; continue stirring until the refried bean mixture is uniform.

10. Stir in about 1 teaspoon salt. Taste and adjust seasonings.

11. Serve immediately.

*NOTE: Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce are sold in cans. They can be found in the international foods section of standard supermarkets or in Latin American grocery stores.

Text & Photographs ©2014 Nancy DeLucia Real

Italian Easter Bread

In Breads, Crêpes, Pancakes & Puddings, Holidays On April 4, 2014 0 Comments

Symbolizing fertility, eggs are featured in the traditional foods of many cultures during Springtime.

In Italian gastronomy, colorful eggs are used to decorate baked delicacies at Easter. They are reminiscent of rebirth and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Celebrate Spring or Easter by making this festive bread known as pane di Pasqua. – Italian, for Easter Bread!

Active Prep Time: 45 minutes (for making dough & coloring eggs)
Inactive Prep Time: 90 minutes (for two dough risings of 45 minutes each)
Bake Time: 30 to 35 minutes

Prepare the Yeast Starter:
1/2 cup water
1 envelope (7 grams or 1/4-ounce) active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

1. In a 1-pint metal bowl, combine the dry yeast and the sugar; set aside.

2. In a 1-pint sauce pot, heat the water until it is warm, but not hot.

3. Pour the warm water over the yeast-sugar mixture.

4. Swirl the bowl slightly to mix the dry and wet ingredients gently.

5. Cover the bowl and place it on a wood board for 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, assemble the dough ingredients as follows:

Prepare the Dough:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons rum (light or dark)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3-1/2 to 3-3/4 cups all-purpose, unbleached organic flour

1. Heat the water and milk together in a 1-quart sauce pot until the liquid is barely lukewarm; set aside.

2. After the yeast mixture has risen for 15 minutes, it will look puffy. Transfer it to a 6 to 8-quart mixing bowl or a stand mixer.

3. Whether using a hand mixer or the stand mixer, on low speed, stir in the water-milk liquid, egg, sugar, oil, vanilla, rum, cinnamon and salt.

4. When the mixture is smooth, gradually stir in the flour, 1 cup at a time.

5. Each time you add 1 cup of the flour, make sure the batter that forms is smooth and uniform.

6. After adding about 3 cups of the flour, a dough should form. It will be thick and sticky.

7. At this point, use a wooden spoon to mix in an additional 1/2 to 3/4 cup flour.

8. The dough should amalgamate and become semi firm, but soft and easy to handle.

9. Transfer the dough to a smooth, lightly floured wood board and knead it lightly until dough is uniform. [When kneading, to prevent dough from sticking to the board, lightly add flour to top of dough and wood surface.]

NOTE: Do not place the dough on marble, granite or tile, as these surfaces are too cold and will halt the rising process of the dough.

10. When the dough is smooth, set it aside.

11. Oil an 8-quart bowl; transfer the dough to the oiled bowl.

12. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel; set bowl away from draft and let dough rise for 45 minutes.

13. After 45 minutes, punch down the dough and, with a knife, divide it into 3 equal pieces.

14. Shape each of the 3 dough pieces into a ball; set them aside.

15. Take one dough ball and place it on a lightly-floured wood board. Gently begin rolling the dough ball, stretching it to out, to the sides.

16. As you roll the dough ball, it will elongate.

17. Continue the rolling and stretching process until you have made a strand of dough measuring 23 to 24 inches in length. Set the dough strand aside.

18. Repeat the above rolling and stretching technique for the remaining two dough balls. You should now have three strands of dough.

19. Place the three strands of dough next to each other, to form three rows (they will be parallel to each other):

Dough3Tubes

20. At one end of the dough strands, press them into each other so that they hold together. Begin forming a braid:

DoughBeginBraid

21. After completing the braid, shape it into a wreath. Press edges together to close the wreath (it will be a circle). Set the dough wreath aside:

EasterBread.RawWreath

22. Meanwhile, line an 18-inch X 12-inch baking sheet with parchment paper.

23. Gently lift and quickly transfer the wreath onto the parchment-lined baking sheet.

24. Cover the wreath with a clean kitchen towel; set baking sheet with wreath aside on a wood surface or in a cold oven to rise for 45 minutes.

25. After 45 minutes, preheat the oven to 375°F. In the meantime:

Prepare Egg Wash & Decoration:
3 colored Easter eggs (made a day ahead, per instructions on one Easter egg coloring kit)
1 egg yolk, mixed with 1 teaspoon cold water (this is the egg wash)
Nonpareils candies

1. Place the colored eggs, spaced evenly, over wreath; gently push them into dough until they are snug.

2. Brush top of wreath with egg wash (DO NOT BRUSH THE COLORED EGGS).

3. Sprinkle the wreath with nonpareils candies:

EasterBreadRisenWatermrk

Bake the Bread:
1. Place the baking sheet with wreath on a rack positioned in center of preheated oven.

2. Bake the bread for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, insert a pointed knife in the bread. It should come out clean. If not, bake the bread for 5 more minutes.

3. After 30 to 35 minutes of baking, transfer the baking sheet with bread to a counter to cool (at this point, marble granite or tile counters can be used).

4. Serve the Easter bread warm or at room temperature, but cutting it into 2-inch thick slices.

TO STORE: After the bread has cooled completely, cut it into 4 sections. Wrap each section in plastic wrap and place it in double freezer bags. Freeze the sectioned bread for up to one month.

TO THAW: Remove bread section(s) from freezer bags and unwrap. Place the bread section on a plate, covered with a new sheet of plastic wrap, to thaw for 1 to 2 hours. Slice the bread and serve.

Text & Photographs © Nancy DeLucia Real