Handmade Italian

I think in a former life I must have been Italian.  I have a love for Italian food like no other.  I could watch Mario Batallicook forever. I love the way he uses ingredients from the Italian region he is cooking from.  His depth and breadth of Italian food knowledge is amazing.  My husband and I traveled to Italy a few summers ago and spent about 7 days in the Lazio Region which is home to Rome.  Nowadays, the Lazio Region is the hub of industrial activity in Italy.  We were also able to visit the island of Capri in the Campania Region.  The Campania region is of course where Pizza comes from, specifically from the city of Naples.  The Campania region is where tomatoes got their start as well.  Neopolitans were the first to use tomatoes in food.  And although Limoncello, a delicious lemon liquor, originally got it’s start in the Sorrento region, Capri Island is very well known for its production of beautiful lemons and thus Limoncello.

I have always enjoyed making my own italian food at home.  Of course italian food goes far beyond spagetti and pizza and I have made a number of dishes.  Today I am going to start you with two simple dishes that are familiar enough, with just a little twist, so that you will hopefully try these out yourself.

First we are going to talk about handmade pasta.  You can actually make all kinds of pasta at home with very few ingredients and very few tools.  Pasta can actually be made with just your hands, a rolling pin, and a knife.  Of course a pasta machine is a great tool to have.  I have two types of pasta makers.

The first is a Ronco Electric Pasta Machine. It looks like this:

 

I also have a traditional stainless steel pasta roller.

(click the picture to purchase one through Amazon)

 

Bothmachines are great.  The electric machine comes with all sorts of dies for making different shapes of pasta but is a little loud and a little difficult to clean.  The hand crank machine is limited to spaghetti, fettuccine, and sheet pasta like lasagna, ravioli and tortellini.  For this recipe I will be using the hand crank machine but you can make it without it.

Sweet Basil Noodles

1 1/2 – 2 cups of fresh basil leaves
3 cups organic all purpose flour
3 organic eggs
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbs. water
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Using a food processor, process basil until it is finely chopped.  Add the flour and process until blended.  Add eggs, oil and water and process until a dough ball forms.  Remove and knead on a floured surface for several minutes.  The dough will seem very tough and kindof rubbery which is fine as long as it isn’t too dry. If it is too dry add a little water.  Cover dough and allow it to rest about 30 minutes.  Divide into four balls.

If using a hand crank pasta machine, process the dough beginning on setting one.  I usually run the dough through setting one 8-10 times folding the dough between each pass.  You will now run it through each setting in one long sheet until desired thickness is achieved.  I ran mine through to setting seven.  Repeat with all four balls.  At this point I usually like to lay the sheets out to dry for another 30 minutes.  I find this helps keep the noodles from sticking later on.  After the sheets have rested you can cut them into manageable lengths and run them through the wide noodle cutter on your machine.  If you have a pasta drying rack you need to drape the noodles and dry at least one hour.  I do not have a pasta rack so I looselypile my noodles on a cookie sheet and toss with a little flour to prevent them from sticking.

If you do not have a pasta machine simply roll your dough to a 1/16th inch thickness on a floured surface.  Roll up jelly-roll style and cut into 1/4 inch strips.  Repeat same drying process listed above.

When you are ready to cook the noodles bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Salt the water and add the noodles.  Stir slightlyand then cover to bring back to a boil.  Fresh noodles cook in a fraction of the time and only need to boil for 4-5 minutes so watch them carefully.  After draining the noodles, toss with butter or olive oil to prevent sticking.

Sweet and Spicy Sausage Sauce

2 tbs. olive oil
1 Medium onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
2 Links – sweet Italian sausage
1 link – hot Italian sausage
Tomato Paste
1 28 oz. can San Marzano Whole Tomatoes (Cento is a good brand)
1 14. oz can dice fire roasted tomatoes (Muir Glen is a good brand)
1/4 cup Red Wine (can be omitted)
Salt and Pepper
2 Bay leaves
1 large bunch of basil, chopped
Red Pepper Flake to taste
Parmesan Cheese

In a large pot heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic and saute until translucent.  Remove the casing from the Hot Italian sausage and break into small pieces.  Add to the pot and break up further with a wooden spoon.  Leave the casing on the sweet sausage and slice into bite size chunks.  Add to the pot.  Cook until sausage is cooked through, stirring frequently.  Add about 2 tbs. of tomato paste and stir.  De-glaze the pan using 1/4 cup of red wine.  Add both cans of tomatoes.  Using the wooden spoon break up the whole tomatoes.  Continue breaking these down throughout the cooking process.  Add 2 bay leaves, salt and pepper to taste and and red pepper flake to taste.  Allow sauce to simmer at least 1 hour stirring every 10-15 minutes.   Immediately before serving add the chopped basil and a sprinkle of fresh ground parmesean cheese.

TexMex Recipes

Fish Tacos

I know you may be thinking what I first thought when I heard of fish tacos. GROSS! But they are actually good!  I think the problem with fish tacos is really the image the name creates in our head.  When I think of a taco, I think of something beefy, slightly spicy, with lots of cheese and lettuce.  Throw fish into that mix and it just seems disgusting.  Maybe we need to rename the fish taco.  So lets call it a Crunchy Fish Wrap.  Now doesn’t that sound better?  Last week I made fish tacos, er…crunchy fish wraps, at home for the first time.  They were delicious and right on par with some of the fish tacos I have had in texmex or calimex restaurants.  I forgot to take a picture but I didn’t want you to go without so I drew one.

Here is what you need!

1-2 Breaded Frozen Cod Fillets per person depending on size and cooked according to package.
2 Tortillas per person, warmed slightly
1 medium to large cucumber, peeled and chopped into pieces about the size of the tip of your pinky
1 bunch of cilantro
1 can of purple hull peas or pinto beans, heated
3 Tbs. Mayo
3. Tbs. Thousand Island Dressing
Sprinkle of Celery salt
Sprinkle of Cayenne or ground red pepper
Lime wedges

In a small bowl, combine mayo, dressing, celery salt and cayenne pepper.  Store in fridge until ready to use.
Chop cooked hot fish into bit sized chunks.  Spread tortilla shells with a little of the sauce mixture.  Top with fish, a spoonful of beans, cucumber and cilantro.  Top with a lime wedge and serve.

These are really tasty and make a great light lunch.

 

Chicken Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

I mentioned that I had some wonderful chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce when I was in San Antonio.  Last week I tried my hand at these and they turned out pretty yummy.  Again I forgot to take a picture but here is a drawing!

2 – 3 cups of cooked shredded chicken
1/4 cup sour cream
dash of hot sauce
1 small can green chilies
4 cups shredded cheese (I used extra sharp cheddar and montery jack)
2 tbs. olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, whole
10-12 large tomatillos
1 whole lime
6 Tortillas
Cilantro
Sour Cream for topping

Peel and rinse the tomatillos.  Chop the tomatillos into bite sized chucks.  Heat a saucepan over medium heat and add the olive oil and 2 whole cloves of garlic.  Add the onion and saute until the onion is translucent.  Remove and discard the two cloves of garlic.  Add the tomatillos to the pan along with the juice of one lime, half a small can of green chilies and bring to a simmer.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Allow to simmer at least 15 minutes to allow the tomatillos to cook through and begin to break down.  Use a potato masher to slightly break up the sauce yet leave it quite chunky.

Combine cooked chicken, sour cream, 2 cups of cheese, dash of hot sauce and remaining half of the green chilies in a bowl.  Mix well and divide between 6 tortillas, rolling tightly.

Pour a little of the tomatillo sauce into the bottom of a baking dish and arrange chicken tortilla rolls.  Top with remaining cheese and pour the tomatillo sauce over the entire dish.  Bake in a 350º oven until cheese in melted and enchiladas are heated through.  Top with Cilantro and sour cream. Serve with refried beans and rice. (Zatarain’s Yellow Rice is a good match with all texmex foods.)

 

*A note about Tomatillos.

Tomatillos have been around for ages but a lot of people seem intimidated by them.  Tomatillos, or ground cherries as they are also referred to, were a common staple on the American frontier and come in orange, yellow and purple varieties as well.  Traditional Tomatillos are NOT green tomatoes but are similar distant cousins in the same family but different genus.

When looking for tomatillos in the store there are a few things to look for.  The fruit should be firm with no mushy spots.  The papery husks should be fairly tight on the fruit and not shriveled and wilted.  Tomatillos should have an all over green color.  Avoid any fruit that smells funny, is off color, soggy or wet.

Tomatillos can be stored in their husks, in a paper bag in the fridge for about 3 weeks.  They also freeze well.  To prepare the tomatillos you will need to first remove the papery husk and stems.  The fruit will be very sticky.  This is normal.  You can place your fruits into a colander and rinse before chopping.

 

These recipes are part of Cook It! Blog It!.  Click the Cook It! Blog It! link in the sidebar to find out more and to find tons of other great recipes.

My 30th Birthday!

Well yesterday I turned 30!  It was a good day.  It’s always nice to have a valid excuse to get just about anything you want. “It’s my birthday!”  Of course part of the day included a nice seafood dinner.  Growing up, it sort of became tradition to have Lobster on or near my birthday.  Lobster is my favorite food and we always seemed to be in Maine sometime around my birthday.

I can remember my first interaction with Lobster.  I do not remember the occasion but I remember my parents having a “romantic dinner” when we lived in the blue house in Connecticut.  I only remember that the meal contained lobster.  They ate at home and I am certain my sister and I did not join them.  We probably had TV dinners, the kind with turkey and gravy and the little cherry dessert, in the basement that had been converted into an office/playroom.  I clearly remember wondering why in the world my mom and dad wanted to eat anything with claws and eyes that were still looking at them!

Several years later, after we moved to Vermont, and after our palettes became a little more sophisticated, we began to have Shrimp Cocktail as part of our annual Christmas Eve Snacks event.  Of course Amanda still refused to touch the stuff but that just meant more for the rest of us!  We often purchased our shrimp from a local seafood market called Blood’s Seafood.  One year I put my name into a drawing for, I believe, 10 pounds of lobster.  Several days later I got a phone call that I had won!  I couldn’t believe it.  I still don’t think I was into lobster at this time but I knew my parents were so I was excited for them.  Also, since it was FREE, this was going to be a good time to really give it a try myself.

Dad and I drove down to Blood’s to pick up the lobsters.  I think they even let me look in the tank and pick out the ones I wanted.  They put them into paper bags and we took them home.  Dad placed them in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator.  Several times that day I opened the door to look at these strange crustaceans crawling around.  That night I became obsessed with the red creatures.  I was hooked! (Or would that be Trapped!?)  Lobster became a passion of mine and each summer I had to have it.  I even wrote my freshman biology research report on Lobster when I was in college!

Unfortunately, upon moving to Arkansas, the pursuit of great lobster became a little (okay a lot) more difficult.  The Lobster Shack at Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth, Maine had been on of my favorite places to get them.  You could sit outside, right on the water, to enjoy your meal.  Of course you had to be quick and careful or the seagulls would enjoy your meal too!

Here in Arkansas I have 4 choices for enjoying a Lobster Dinner.  First, I can order live lobsters online and have them overnight-ed from Maine and sent straight to my door.  A good choice but then I have to do all the work!  Second, I can go to the Argenta Seafood Marketin Little Rock.  The drawback is that they ONLY offer lobster on Friday nights and it is well over $30.00 for a meal not including chowder!  Thirdly, we could make the drive to the Hollywood Casino in Tunica, Mississippi where they have an all you can eat Lobster and Crab buffet on Friday nights.  The buffet is reasonable, but the lobsters are small and Tunica is about a 3 hour drive.  Rooms at the casino’s also go from weeknight rates of about $50 to well over $300 for the same room!  The last choice is of course Red Lobster.  This year I chose Red Lobster.  It is close, convenient and comparatively inexpensive.  Instead of just getting Lobster this year I had the New England Lobster and Crab Bake which is their special right now.  It included shrimp, scallops, 1/2 pound of crab legs and a Lobster Tail.  It was really good and I enjoyed it, it just doesn’t have the same feeling it did when I was a kid.

While in Little Rock we also stopped at the Whole Foods store in Little Rock to pick up a few items we can’t get at our Local grocery stores.  We got some San Marzano tomatoes, fresh Greek olives, some gourmet cheeses (Drunken Goat, Amadeus,  Gormandise with Kirsch), some fresh baked bread, soda made with sugar instead of HFCS, fresh halibut, and fresh sweet and hot Italian sausage.

We also tried to go to Sam’s Club for ice cream on our way home.  Sometimes Sam’s Club makes me so mad.  Richie had forgotten his card at home and the lady would not let us in the door!  Oh well.  To make up for it Richie stopped and bought me a Cave City Watermelon.  Trust me, you have not had watermelon until you have had a Cave City Watermelon!  These have to be the juiciest, SWEETEST watermelons I have ever had.  They are very popular around here!  They are more expensive than other melons but well worth the price!

I got some nice gifts for my birthday as well.  I got cards and/or money from my Aunt Sue, Grandma, Nammy, Aunt Bev, Kathy and several of my farmgirl friends.  My sister sent me a BEAUTIFUL hummingbird feeder and “the card” that we have been passing over 12 years.  I had about 8 hummingbirds out there this morning but it is raining so I couldn’t get any pictures of them feeding.

My mom and dad bought me an all day spa package at a local spa.  I am going to get a Swedish massage, a facial, haircut, eyebrow wax, a manicure and a pedicure!!!!! I am so excited and can’t wait to go.  Richie is going to a 3 day chess tournament the 3rd weekend in August.  I plan to go that Saturday.  It’s going to be REALLY nice!

So turning 30 was pretty great.  I don’t feel any older than I did on Thursday.

Charted Crochet

A friend recently taught me about Charted (not filet) Crochet. Apparently it is really popular in Europe and Japan.  We decided to do a crochet-a-long and make a series of doilies.  This sort of frightened me at first becuase doilies are so dainty and I didn’t think I could ever do it.  Debi emailed me a pattern, answered my questions and amazingly I found it to be quite easy!  I was working with a tiny hook and tiny thread so it took quite a bit of time to do.  My finished doily measures about 12 inches across.  I kind of imagined myself as a pioneer girl sitting in my cabin during the long winter and making things for my hope chest.  It was really fun! Thanks Debi for teaching me!  Here is my finished work:

Still Life with Chickens

I just finished reading this book.  I will be adding it to my July Reading List which will come out next week but I thought this book deserved a little more space.  “Still Life with Chickens” by Catherine Goldhammer is a book about starting over.  This charming memoir follows the author and her twelve-year-old daughter through her divorce and subsequent move  from her daughters childhood home in an affluent suburb to a tiny coastal cottage.  In an effort to ease the transition for her daughter, Catherine agrees to get 6 chickens.  The chickens become the bridge from the past into the future.  Part comedy, part farming resource, all soul, this book captures REAL life and its struggles.  I truly enjoyed this book.  It is fairly short and easy to read.  Curl up on a cloudy day and read it till your done.  You wont be disappointed.

If you are interested in purchasing this book, please click here.

I also thought it was time to do an update of my own chickens!  My four girls are doing well and really seem to enjoy the chicken tractor.  It is nice because I can easily move them to fresh grass when needed.  Of course they are enjoying tons of kitchen scraps as well.

Due to the extreme summer heat I have moved my chickens to a new location under the willow tree so they get plenty of shade.  I have also given them a roasting pan which I fill with ice chips every afternoon.  They like to stand in it and eat the ice.

We don’t have any eggs, YET! but I imagine it won’t be long.  I can’t wait!

San Antonio, Texas

Our original plan was to stay in Galveston until Monday and then head to San Antonio for two days before heading home.  Well things didn’t quite turn out that way.  We left Galveston Monday morning after a nice swim and headed toward San Antonio.  The 4 hour drive went by quickly and we arrived around 2 in the afternoon.  After checking into our hotel we decided to go check out the River Walk area.  We opted to drive although it was technically close enough to walk.  Boy am I glad.  Only then did I start to realize the SWELTERING heat.  Now I am from Arkansas and I never expected it NOT to be hot in Texas, mid July.  But this was unreal! A quick check of the car thermometer indicated that the temperature was 112 and rising!  Well I am much tougher than I was eight years ago when I first moved south so we decided to tough it.  We found a parking spot and went to explore the River Walk which was amazing and almost indescribable.

The River Walk is this amazing little “city” under the city.  The river which curved under the streets was lined with restaurants and shops and was a little reminiscent of European city life.  We took a tour of the river on one of the little boats.  Several restaurants launch dinner boats during the evening hours as well.

After the 30 minute boat ride concluded we went back up to the main street level and planned to go to the Alamo.  We got back in our car to drive the 6 or so blocks to the Alamo.  Boy was I ever disappointed!  I know the Alamo was really important in Texas and American history but the way they have preserved this “monument” is really sad.

In the movies, the Alamo is always in the middle of nowhere.  Surrounded by covered wagons, soldiers and seemingly endless fields and desert such as in this picture of a MOVIE SET from a film that featured the Alamo.

In this image, taken from http://www.xanga.com/alecknightman you can see that the Alamo is quite literally smack dab in the middle of the City!

Here is an overhead view.  The Alamo is in the Center. (photo source unknown)

And here you can see what is directly beside the Alamo. A hotel and A DILLARDS!!!????! WHAT?!??!?  That just leaves a little something to be desired.

I don’t know, maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the frustration of knowing my vacation was soon ending but I was left feeling really jaded.  We decided NOT to go through the Alamo.  Instead we haded over to Market Square where we ate at a really delicious Mexican restaurant called Mi Tierra Cafe that was recommended by a friend back home.  The Frozen Margarita was fabulous as was the Enchiladas Verdes de Pollo which was 2 chicken enchiladas topped with a green tomatilla sauce, Monterrey jack cheese and sour cream.  Of course also served with beans and rice. YUM-O!

San Antonio is a great city just not in the sweltering heat of July.  Given the opportunity to return during the early spring, the fall or even during the Christmas holiday I think it would be a wonderful place to visit. So the following morning we packed up our stuff and headed back to Galveston to finish our vacation knowing we would get exactly what we expected: sand in our hair, bellies full of briny water, sun-burned skin, and a great sense of pure relaxation.

 

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

4 cloves of Garlic – 2 minced, 2 whole
1 small onion minced
2 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 28oz. can San Marzano Tomatoes (usually come as whole tomatoes)
1 28oz. can Fire Roasted Tomatoes (any cut is fine I used diced)
3/4 cup packed fresh basil
1 Cup Dry Sherry
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Kosher Salt and Fresh ground Black Pepper to taste

In a medium pot heat 2 tbs. of extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat adding the two whole garlic cloves.  Mince the onion and two additional cloves of garlic in a food processor.  Add to pot and cook until onions are slightly golden.  Meanwhile place the San Marzano Tomatoes and the fresh basil in the food processor and pulse until it is all finely chopped.  When onions are cooked, discard the two whole garlic cloves and add the tomato and basil mixture and the can of Fire Roasted tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes.  Add the Dry Sherry and simmer and additional 10 to 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and use an immersion blender to puree the soup to a desired consistency.  Slowly stir in the whipping cream.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve.

Great Variations to this soup:

During the cooking processes add 1 or 2 chopped chipotle peppers for a  smoky, spicy flavor.

Serve with herbed croutons and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

For a kid friendly version float cheese nips or goldfish crackers in the soup and serve with grilled cheese sandwiches.

After chilling add 1 cup of your favorite spicy salsa (leave it chunky) and serve cold with croutons and a hard boiled egg like a traditional Spanish Gazpacho.

Note: Recipe and Photos are copyrighted to Julie Kohl: Willow Tree Creek Studios.  If using either the recipe or the photo in another application please give credit along with a link back to this site.

This post is part of the Bloggers Cooking Club started by Patty at ModKid Boutique.  Click here for a list of other participants.

Galveston Island, TX

As a kid we spent at least one long weekend at the beach every summer.  We lived only a few hours from Maine and would often camp along the ocean.  Many of our family vacations led us to beaches up and down the Atlantic Coast.  I have always been fond of the sand, the sound of the crashing waves and the moist feeling of the sea spray on my face.  Since living landlocked in Arkansas I have only been to the beach a few times in the last 8 years.  When Richie and I started thinking about where we wanted to go, I knew I needed to go to the water.  There are many places along the gulf coast with great beaches but we eventually settled on Galveston Island, Texas because we would also be able to take a side trip and visit San Antonio.  We had a wonderful and relaxing time.  Richie and I spent hours each day out in the water just playing in the waves.  As far as beaches go, Galveston is not the prettiest place I have ever been but it was a fun atmosphere and less than 10 hours from our house.

Views from our Hotel:

Photos from the Harbor Cruise:

I’ll write more about our San Antonio adventure later!

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